MPs behaving badly or just winter blues?

8:31 pm on 30 June 2021

Power Play - Senior politicians indulged in name calling and taunting opponents in the Chamber this afternoon, prompting the Speaker to remark about the very high level of public feedback he's been getting about question time - and not in a positive way.

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Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Opposition Leader Judith Collins clashed over whether 'Karen' would be considered hate speech. Photo: RNZ

The subject to hand? - whether 'Karens' would be protected under the proposed hate speech laws.

National leader Judith Collins was running a roll call of commentators critical of Jacinda Ardern and her minister Kris Faafoi's grasp of the new laws they've proposed.

A main worry for the opposition party is whether someone could end up before the courts for making an "off colour" joke or for firing off an ill-advised Facebook post.

Judith Collins had earlier tweeted, posing the question "Will calling a middle-aged white woman a 'Karen' now be a crime under Jacinda Ardern's law?, to which she received her answer, from the prime minister.

"Mr Speaker I also disagree with that statement and I also, as it happens, disagree with the member's statement on Twitter that somehow it will become illegal to call someone a Karen.

"That is absolutely incorrect and - I apologise - that means these laws will not protect that member from such a claim."

Not content with that, leader of House Chris Hipkins continued the trolling of Judith Collins, referring to a column today in which former National Party MP Chris Finlayson savaged the party and the current leader.

Speaker Trevor Mallard called them to order, telling MPs since last Wednesday he had received "significantly more public reaction to misbehaviour in the House than I've had for some time".

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Deputy Prime Minister Grant Robertson had some quips of his own. Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

Deputy Prime Minister Grant Robertson however was not about to take the high road, telling the House about the northern polar blast that had hit the capital - "specifically one that emerged from the legal offices of Chris Finlayson, Esq.".

Finlayson's missive was a "cheery reminder of his trademark subtlety and diplomacy", Robertson enthusiastically told the House.

"Declaring a State of Emergency for the National Party is probably not before time, but Mr Finlayson made his reasons starkly clear.

"Reason number one: brand destruction, and I quote from Mr Finlayson -'I don't think ever, in my life, I have seen brand destruction as devastating as that,' and bear in mind Chris Finlayson was around when Bill English took National to 21 percent, so he knows a fair bit about a terminal brand.

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Speaker Trevor Mallard had his work cut out for him today. Photo: Dom Thomas

"Reason number two: leadership, or lack thereof - quoting Mr Finlayson again, "The National Party is going through ... [the] agonies [it is] because of the failure of the president and the leadership".

"It's Chris Finlayson's empathy that I've really missed around here," Robertson concluded.

"Quote Mr Finlayson: 'You're talking to the wrong person if you expect me to express any sympathy for the current plight of the National Party, they deserve everything that's come to them', and he told the journalist, 'Put that in your article: they deserve everything that they've got'."

After question time ACT leader David Seymour said there was sometimes a bit of fun in the House that occasionally crossed the line, but it was much preferable to the alternatives, "such as that used in Pyongyang or Beijing, but I think on balance our system's better".

Senior Labour Minister Andrew Little agreed Parliament was a place where ideas were vigorously contested, "sometimes humorously, but always respectfully".

"That said, it is the middle of the year, it's dark in the morning and it's dark at night. I bet everybody is looking forward to a lengthy recess to recharge their batteries and recover ... recover a bit of equilibrium as well.

"Look, this is a place where people look at behaviours and expect us to be examples and we should be trying to do that."

Is it the silly season then?

"Mid-year silly season ... Parliament is, you know, sometimes people's nerves fray, people's tempers fray, things don't go quite the way you know people want and it's time to take a deep breath, say 'we can do better' and pick ourselves up and dust ourselves off and carry on and do the next best thing."

The ACT Party gets the last word - issuing a media statement in the name of MP Karen Chour, who called on the prime minister to say whether New Zealand's Karens will be deemed a protected group.

"Would, for instance, erasing Karens by carelessly merging them with the nation's Judiths amount to hate speech?" she asks.

"If the prime minister can't explain why a scenario as basic as this would not be actionable under the laws she's proposing then she should dump the law and apologise to every Karen from the Cape to the Bluff."

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