Ruling on Unparliamentary Language

by Desk Editor on Thursday, November 12, 2015 — 8:13 AM

On Wednesday 11 November the Speaker David Carter delivered a ruling on Personal Reflections and Unparliamentary Language – Procedure for Objections. The ruling is as follows:

Mr SPEAKER: Honourable members, yesterday, following points of order in question No. 1, I undertook to review the Hansard. I have now done so. I have, on this occasion, also watched a video replay of the proceedings. Although the interchange between members was a robust one, there was a point at which the Prime Minister made an unparliamentary remark in saying: “you back the rapists;”. I did not clearly hear the comment at the time because I was on my feet calling for order. When order was restored, I then admonished the Prime Minister sternly, telling him that when I rise to my feet, I expect him to resume his seat. Had I heard the remark properly, or had it been drawn to my attention at the time, I would have ruled it to be unparliamentary and required the Prime Minister to withdraw it and apologise for it. Though I accept that members might have been offended by the remark, no member raised an objection at the time.

Approximately 4½ minutes later, Grant Robertson took a point of order on the remark made by the Prime Minister, claiming that those words had been repeated. There is no evidence of that remark being repeated. My rulings then addressed more the subsequent comments by the Prime Minister, which, though very robust, were not unparliamentary. When I hear a remark I consider to be unparliamentary, I must deal with it. Yesterday I did not; I should have. However, if I do not do so, it is always open to members to test a particular remark with the Speaker, according to Speaker’s Ruling 60/4. But I do ask that members raise unparliamentary comments or remarks at the time they are made. It is difficult to deal with them when they are raised much later.

I will also take this opportunity to remind Ministers of Speakers’ Ruling 196/7: “Ministers, when replying, should address the question, and refrain from making comments that are not relevant to the question that was asked; without terms of abuse being part of the answer.”

There is one other matter of yesterday’s behaviour that I wish to comment on. This debating Chamber and the select committee rooms are the proper places for robust political debate to occur. For such robust political debate to be taken outside this Chamber and to public areas of our parliamentary complex steps into an area of danger. I would hope that members would consider this carefully in the future.

JAMES SHAW (Co-Leader—Green): I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Thank you for reflecting on that, Mr Speaker. We were hoping that you would ask the Prime Minister to rise and withdraw his remark and to apologise for it. He did say on a number of occasions that he felt that not just the Labour Party but Opposition MPs, including Green Party MPs, were backing rapists, and I would ask that you ask him to—

Mr SPEAKER: Order! I gave serious thought. First of all, I disagree that there were a number of occasions at which that comment was reported. As I said in my ruling, I have studied it very carefully. It was a comment, but it was stated only once. I cannot ask a member to withdraw a comment subsequent to the event if it is not dealt with at the time. We had a very good example of that when only last week there were allegations made in this House that some people claimed to be racist and I was then asked, in hindsight, for that remark to be withdrawn. I cannot do that. That is the point I am making in my ruling. I want to deal with these matters at the time. It is important that I jump on them, but if I do not, then you as members must jump to your feet at that occasion so we can deal with it at the time. If a withdrawal and apology is demanded, then I can exercise that. [Interruption] Order! To the Leader of the Opposition, I am on my feet.

METIRIA TUREI (Co-Leader—Green): I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. My point of order is just to understand the chronology. As the Hansard is printed on the parliamentary website, Marama Davidson asked her oral question and the Prime Minister then responded with an answer that ended with: “If those members want to protect sex offenders, rapists, and murderers, go ahead.” Mr Robertson then stood up to take a point of order. You dealt with a number of points of order with Mr Robertson and Mr Hipkins, as is expected, and then I raised the exact point of order with you, saying that we took offence to that comment. There was no sooner opportunity to do that. We did so at the time, and you refused to accept it.

Mr SPEAKER: I was hoping I had made it more clear in my ruling. The comments to which the member then refers I do not consider to be unparliamentary. I totally agree that the earlier comments, which I quote in my ruling, are unparliamentary. The problem with the situation yesterday is that it was 4½ minutes after those comments were made before any member suggested that offence was taken.

JAMES SHAW (Co-Leader—Green): I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Just in reference to your ruling about what was and what was not unparliamentary, in 2003 a Speaker ruled that it was unparliamentary to allege that the Opposition was supporting gangs. That was under Speaker Hunt in 2003. So I find it odd that it is parliamentary language to say that the Opposition is supporting rapists and murderers but it is not parliamentary to say that it is supporting gangs. There are some other examples of unparliamentary language, such as “angry smurf”, “shag spiders”, “Barbie doll”, “bigot”, “chicken”, “monkeys”, “sewer rat”, and “gutless”, and they—

Mr SPEAKER: Order! Bring the point of order to a conclusion.

JAMES SHAW: —have all been ruled unparliamentary. I find it extraordinary that you could say that it is parliamentary to say that members of the Opposition are backing rapists and murderers.

Mr SPEAKER: Order! I invite the member to go back and carefully study Hansard. The words that he has quoted are in fact Metiria Turei’s interpretation of the words as she felt they occurred. [Interruption] Order! I do not want to start by asking members to leave the Chamber. When I am on my feet I expect silence from all members. As I have ruled, when I interpret the other comments that were made, though they were robust, I do not consider them to be unparliamentary. The first comment, the one at which offence was ultimate taken, was unparliamentary. I should have dealt with it. I did not. It should have been raised with me at that time.

CHRIS HIPKINS (Senior Whip—Labour): I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I just note that question No. 4 quotes the comment that the Prime Minister made, which you have now deemed to be unparliamentary. I just want to seek some reassurance from you that as that comment has not been withdrawn, and remains part of the parliamentary proceedings and parliamentary records, the Opposition is still able to question the Prime Minister on that, and in fact quote from it, because as long as it has not been withdrawn then it is still part of the parliamentary proceedings.

Mr SPEAKER: I can give an assurance that the question is in order. Those words are now part of the parliamentary proceedings, so the question can be asked. I will be hoping for a fair amount of quiet so I can very carefully listen to the answers from the Prime Minister, but if the Prime Minister intends to attempt to repeat such words, then I will be acting accordingly.

GRANT ROBERTSON (Labour—Wellington Central): I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I hope I can ask for your indulgence, as the member who raised the point or order, to clarify a matter. I raised the point of order after the Prime Minister used the phrase “protect”—and there were other things, but he used the phrase “protect the rapists”. You, Mr Speaker, I take it, are drawing a distinction between using the phrase “back the rapists” and “protect the rapists”, because you could perhaps understand why both of those phrases would be, I would have thought, unparliamentary and certainly offensive. But I just want to clarify that that is the distinction you are drawing—“backing” is unparliamentary; “protecting” is not.

Mr SPEAKER: No, no. Again, the member needs to actually quote the words that were said, and I happen to have them. The Prime Minister, towards the end of the answer, says: “If those members want to protect sex offenders, rapists, or murderers, go ahead. I am not going to.” I see nothing unparliamentary in that, as I have already stated categorically. [Interruption]. Order! [Interruption] Order! I am on my feet.

DENIS O’ROURKE (NZ First): I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I seek leave that the House request the Prime Minister to withdraw—

Mr SPEAKER: Order! No. Again, that was ruled on only yesterday. You cannot seek leave on behalf of another member.

METIRIA TUREI (Co-Leader—Green): I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. [Interruption]

Mr SPEAKER: I just want to check—[Interruption] Order! I have a point of order from Metiria Turei. I just want to check that we are not spending more time relitigating a ruling that I have already given.

METIRIA TUREI: No, Mr Speaker.

Mr SPEAKER: Fresh point of order—Metiria Turei.

METIRIA TUREI: As the victim of a sexual assault, I take personal offence at the Prime Minister’s comments, and ask that you require him to withdraw and apologise.

Mr SPEAKER: Order! The Prime Minister, whilst I have been in the Chair, has not said a word today. I cannot ask him to withdraw and apologise when he has not even made a comment today.

DENIS O’ROURKE (NZ First): I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. In response to the last point of order that I raised, you mentioned that I was seeking leave on behalf of another member; I was in fact seeking leave that the House request the Prime Minister to withdraw his interjection from yesterday.

Mr SPEAKER: That is not within the Standing Orders.

JAN LOGIE (Green): I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. As a victim of sexual assault and an advocate for survivors—

Mr SPEAKER: Order! [Interruption] Order! No. This is a point of order, so I say to members on my right-hand side that I will hear it in silence. I apologise to the member.

JAN LOGIE: As a victim of sexual assault and an advocate for survivors, I would ask that the record expunge the comment from the Prime Minister.

Mr SPEAKER: Again, as I have attempted to explain, that cannot be done. What happened yesterday happened yesterday. Collectively, it was not addressed well at the time. The time has passed.

CHRIS HIPKINS (Senior Whip—Labour): I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I do accept that you have made a previous ruling with regard to the comments of Ron Mark—that as they had happened previously, they could not be withdrawn—and, indeed, you have made a similar ruling with the Prime Minister’s statements yesterday. I wonder whether you could indicate to us which of the Standing Orders you are drawing on in making that ruling, because we have had a good look through the Standing Orders and can find no Standing Order that prevents you from asking anybody to withdraw and apologise for a comment because it happened on a previous day.

Mr SPEAKER: Was there a further point of order also from Poto Williams? I will hear them all and then rule.

POTO WILLIAMS (Labour—Christchurch East): I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. As the victim and survivor of family violence, and an advocate for victims of violence, I take personal offence at the comments of the Prime Minister—

Mr SPEAKER: Order! No—we are now getting to the stage when there could be a series of these points of order. I have ruled that—[Interruption] Order! I do not want to ask the junior Labour whip to leave, but—

Carmel Sepuloni: I didn’t say anything.

Mr SPEAKER: I saw the member say something.

Carmel Sepuloni: I didn’t say anything.

Mr SPEAKER: Order! The member did. I saw it. I am trying to allow members to stay in the—[Interruption] Order! [Interruption] Order!

Sue Moroney: It was me, Mr Speaker, and I am happy to go—I am really happy to go.


Catherine Delahunty: Point of order.

Mr SPEAKER: No, I just want to deal with Chris Hipkins. If I am assured that it is a new point of order and not the same one, then I will hear it. Chris Hipkins, it is a matter of custom in this House that, as with any issues such as these, if offence is taken then it must be dealt with immediately. It cannot be dealt with subsequently, otherwise we would have all sorts of campaigns in here with people going over their Hansards weeks and weeks in the past, taking subsequent offence, and then requesting a withdrawal to be delivered. I will hear from Catherine Delahunty on the assurance that it is a fresh point of order, and not in any way the types of points of order—

CATHERINE DELAHUNTY (Green): I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. It is a fresh point of order; it is not a campaign, Mr Speaker. As a victim of sexual—

Mr SPEAKER: Order! [Interruption] Order! The member will resume her seat. [Interruption] Order! No. I am moving on from here. I was assured that it was a fresh point of order; I have just been let down by Catherine Delahunty. I will hear from the Hon Nanaia Mahuta, but I certainly hope that she is not flouting the rules of this House.

Hon NANAIA MAHUTA (Labour—Hauraki-Waikato): I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. As a trustee of the Waikato Women’s Refuge, Te Whakaruruhau, I take personal offence—

Mr SPEAKER: Order! The member will resume her seat immediately. I now will require any member who takes a point of order along the same lines to immediately leave the Chamber.

MARAMA DAVIDSON (Green): I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. As a victim of—

Mr SPEAKER: Order! The member—[Interruption] Order! The member will leave—[Interruption] Order! The member will leave the Chamber.

  • Marama Davidson withdrew from the Chamber.

CLARE CURRAN (Labour—Dunedin South): I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. As somebody who has experienced an attempted—

Mr SPEAKER: Order! [Interruption] Order! I now require the member to leave the Chamber.

  • Clare Curran withdrew from the Chamber.

Dr MEGAN WOODS (Labour—Wigram): I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I take offence at the Prime Minister’s statement—

Mr SPEAKER: Order!

Dr MEGAN WOODS: —and require that he apologise.

Mr SPEAKER: Then the member must also, for consistency, leave the Chamber.

  • Dr Megan Woods withdrew from the Chamber.

CHRIS HIPKINS (Senior Whip—Labour): I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. It is a completely different issue, Mr Speaker.

Mr SPEAKER: I have been assured that a few times this afternoon, but I will take the member at his word.

CHRIS HIPKINS: It is a very different issue. In the considered ruling that you gave at the beginning of question time, you also referred to another incident that occurred outside the House, prior to question time yesterday. What I would like to seek from you is an assurance that no member of Parliament whilst in a public place in the parliamentary complex, or proceeding to the debating chamber, will be in any way impeded in their parliamentary business by any security service, either parliamentary or otherwise—[Interruption]

Mr SPEAKER: Order! This is a—[Interruption] Order! [Interruption] Order!

CHRIS HIPKINS: I am raising a point of order.

Mr SPEAKER: This is a point of order. [Interruption] Order! If we want to see a few gaps on this side, I can assist. Quiet—silence please, through the point of order. Would the member complete his point of order.

CHRIS HIPKINS: I am seeking an assurance from you that no member of Parliament will be impeded in any public place, or while proceeding to the Chamber, by any security service, whether they be parliamentary or otherwise.

Hon SIMON BRIDGES (Deputy Leader of the House): I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker.

Mr SPEAKER: I will hear from the Hon Simon Bridges.

Hon SIMON BRIDGES: I accept what the member says in his seeking assurance. Of course, I also seek an assurance that other members of Parliament, while they are also coming to Parliament, are not impeded by other members of Parliament unduly and unreasonably in the way that they do their job.

Mr SPEAKER: To—[Interruption] Order! [Interruption] Order! I am expecting silence from my right, as well. I give the member an absolute assurance that if any example was given to me whereby a member was impeded from making progress to this House for parliamentary business, I would take a very dim view of that. The point I made in my earlier ruling was that I think we need to make sure that we concentrate our political debates here in this Chamber and in select committee rooms, and make sure they do not move to the public areas of Parliament; otherwise, I can see occurrences like this happening not only on the way to question time but potentially in places like Copperfields. I think that would be a very sad day for this House.

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