14 Feb 2019

Select committee cancellation 'partisan politics' harming real people - submitter

3:50 pm on 14 February 2019

The cancellation of a select committee yesterday over a political spat was an erosion of democracy that puts real people in harm's way, one of the people who had spent weeks preparing to submit at the committee says.

Select Committee Room in Bowen House

An empty select committee room in Bowen House. Photo: Office of the Clerk, Parliament

The Finance and Expenditure Committee was due to begin at 8am yesterday but was short one Labour MP, after one called in sick and the replacement was 30 seconds late.

National MPs walked out in protest and that meant the hearing could not proceed. Hearings included the Pike River Agency, and the appearance of the Finance Minister Grant Robertson.

ActionStation director Laura O'Connell Rapira was due to make a submission to the committee "on behalf of around 8000 New Zealanders" that was focused on calling for full funding for sexual violence support and prevention agencies.

Laura O’Connell Rapira

Laura O’Connell Rapira Photo: Supplied

She said yesterday's political spat was an erosion of democracy that puts real people in harm's way.

"I guess my main message to any MPs listening to this is just to remember that real people with real problems suffer the consequences when they decide not to do their job because of political grandstanding."

"Especially on this issue that we were submitting on - because it's one in three women, one in seven boys, one in two trans people will be sexually assaulted or violated at some point in their lifetime and that is horrific.

She said the lobby group was not at first told why the cancellation happened.

"It was actually on Twitter that we saw National MPs and Labour MPs going at each other, blaming one another for what had happened.

"For all intents and purposes it looks like partisan politics got in the way of this."

"I was like 'are you serious?', we have spent collectively hundreds of hours, and weeks and weeks of our time and loads of emotional and actual labour putting together the submission so we can help facilitate democratic processes to make better laws."

"The night before when you're going to present to MPs the next day about an issue that's really close to your heart, there's a lot of emotional labour that goes into it as well."

She said the select committee could be quite an intimidating process, but was "a really important part of democracy".

"Select committees are one of those few places where we have some sort of participatory democracy where ordinary citizens - the voters and the taxpayers who pay our MPs and elect our MPs get to interface with the decision makers to help them make better decisions for all of us.

She said politicians should be tearing down the barriers to participation, "not making it harder for us to have our say".

"We're in a political moment, I think, when we need to not throw democracy out the window but we really need it to go deeper."

The blame game

Labour and National are at loggerheads over the cancellations.

The committee chair, Labour's Michael Wood, said National could have made up the numbers but refused.

Labour MP Michael Wood in committee

Labour MP Michael Wood. Photo: VNP / Phil Smith

"It's incredibly disappointing because today we had about 15 submitters who had flown in from all around the country to submit on the budget policy statement to give their say on what the government's priority should be.

"So their time has been completely wasted."

National MP David Carter was outside the meeting and said the walkout wasn't a stunt.

"The select committee's scheduled to start at 8am, National MPs arrived. We look across the table - there's meant to be seven government MPs at 8am ready to start the meeting, there's four there.

"This is happening all the time, National's saying Labour needs to get themselves organised.

"Their job is to make sure they're there, attending a select committee, and they regularly fail to do so."

He said the National MPs were "ready to participate" despite the party's MPs standing outside the room which ensured there was not enough members for a quorum.

"The Labour members could not get out of bed to get there on time."

Speaker of the House David Carter

National MP David Carter Photo: VNP / Daniela Maoate-Cox

"Those people came to submit to a select committee but particularly to ... government members. They are the ones with the power within the democratic process after the last election, the Labour and New Zealand First members needed to be there at 8am to hear those submissions."

"At 8.05am I said to the chairman Michael Woods 'this is happening too often, get your people here'. He had plenty of time to do so and failed to do so.

"I feel very sorry for the submitters."

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said she has made it clear she expects MPs to turn up when they're supposed to.

"[ I ] absolutely have an expectation that MPs fulfil their roles and requirements while they're in this complex."