Dyson Sent to Privileges Committee

by Desk Editor on Wednesday, December 2, 2015 — 12:22 PM

On Tuesday 1 December the Deputy Speaker ruled on a matter of privilege regarding comments made about the Speaker by the Hon Ruth Dyson.

Mr SPEAKER: I propose to vacate the Chair in favour of the Deputy Speaker, in order that he might rule on a matter of privilege.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER: A matter of privilege pertaining to comments about the Speaker reported to have been made by the Hon Ruth Dyson have been raised as matters of privilege by Tim Macindoe. Because the—[Interruption]—I am on my feet. Because the matters relate to the Speaker, he has asked me to consider and rule on them. It is suggested that the comments complained of could each amount to contempt of the House, in that they reflect on the Speaker in his capacity as Speaker. On Twitter, comments from an account in Ms Dyson’s name say the Speaker is: “Incompetent. Biased. Doesn’t like job. Lazy. Sexist. Doesn’t give a toss.” The matter of privilege raised is significant.

In a recent report, unanimously supported by members, the Privileges Committee stated that: “Reflections against the Speaker or other presiding officers, and in particular any comment that alleges that they have been biased in performing their duties, are among the most serious reflections that can be made about members.” I have considered the matters raised and considered their degree of importance. The member concerned clearly does not consider the comments to be serious, though she stated in a letter to me that the Standing Orders exist to prevent personal attacks on members. It is for the Privileges Committee to determine whether the comments, in this instance, amount to contempt. Consequently, I rule that a question of privilege does arise from the comments made from Ms Dyson’s Twitter account in that they may constitute a reflection on the Speaker in his capacity as Speaker. The question therefore stands referred to the Privileges Committee.

In recent weeks I have been in the unprecedented position of referring three matters to the Privileges Committee, each relating to reflections on the Speaker in his role as Speaker. This House has long considered the Speaker to be in a special position and that attacks on the Speaker have been thought to undermine the integrity of the House. The Speaker does not participate in debate and cannot respond to criticism or personal attacks in the way that other members can. It is not reasonable for members to take advantage of that fact, even when they strongly disagree with a decision of the Speaker. Members are entitled to disagree with a ruling and are free to say so. However, they should not turn that disagreement into a personal reflection. [Interruption] And you are out of order, and I am on my feet. It makes it difficult for the Parliament to function effectively and lowers the public opinion of this place even further. I recognise that the previous matters that I have dealt with were activated and responded to as strategic party political decisions.

On receipt of these latest complaints I sought to initiate a more restorative and conciliatory approach than a simple ruling, in order to gain some consensus. This required all parties to agree to take their guns off the table and discuss matters around the table. But I could not get agreement from parties—[Interruption] I am speaking. You cannot make a point of order while I am on my feet. Sit down. [Interruption] Order! The member cannot raise a point of order while I am on my feet, and he knows that. [Interruption] You continue to do the same thing. You cannot speak while I am on my feet, and you know that. I ask the member to desist. I could not get agreement from the parties involved. I repeat that the public will not respect an institution that continues to play brinkmanship by ramping up accusations that lead to the expense of members’ time in the House and in committee making determinations against each other. I will now vacate the Chair for Mr Speaker to conduct the general business of the House.

GRANT ROBERTSON (Labour—Wellington Central): I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. During your ruling you, effectively, predetermined what you consider to be the outcome of the Privileges Committee complaint that you have just referred. You went into some depth, well beyond what would normally be required and what would be desirable when you are referring a matter to the Privileges Committee. You made accusations about the intent of members of this side of the House—another matter that would be considered by the Privileges Committee. That speech you have just given will in itself lead to disorder and undermine the work of the Privileges Committee. In fact, it makes it very difficult for Opposition members going into that Privileges Committee knowing that you have predetermined, effectively, the outcome.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER: Of course this is not question time in respect of the Deputy Speaker, but my response is that I have given a clear ruling. I have, hopefully, given the House a clear understanding of how I ended up making that ruling and given some transparency to the process I have gone through. I am not a member of the Privileges Committee, and I stand by the ruling. I will now vacate the Chair for Mr Speaker to conduct the general business of the House.

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