Since the installation of the Hon David Carter as Speaker of the House of Representatives, I have had a chance to listen, read, and consider his level of competence in the role. He succeeded Dr the Right Honorable Lockwood Smith (yes he really did insist on doctor coming before Rt Hon) and as many Parliament watchers expressed at the time, the shoes to be filled were large. The former Speaker chaired the house with humor balanced by a patriarchal piety. The crimson stripes on his black robes and his imposing stature gave him the ability to be intimidating without the need fore fire and brimstone bellowing. Furthermore he made a definite effort to push Ministers for an answer, he took standing orders seriously, and this was to the benefit of question time.
Speaker Carter on the other hand is dry as the last summer, catastrophically boring, with a selective ear discerning statements that bear little resemblance to what is reflected in the hansard. Concerning standing orders and the rules of the house he has an almost bottomless deficit, the extent to which he pushes for answers is allowing the question to be repeated. Addressing questions rather than answering them seems to be the way now. He has a comic fear of disturbance, cutting off members when they start to say something witty, something Lockwood allowed periodically knowing it was better if the house lets of steam once in a while.
It may be to the governments benefit that the new Speaker is such a dunce, even though for the moment the Prime Minister can run rings around David Shearer and the uncomfortably flat Labour party. The rest of his government is taking hits, Phil Goff thoroughly embarrassed Chester Burrows who was answering on behalf of the Police Minister, about the closing of several Auckland stations. While Key is popular (and he is likely to remain so until the election) and the Opposition Leader is so verbally strained, question time is likely to be unremarkable. But once the inevitable dissatisfaction becomes evident to pollsters, the Prime Minister will be glad to have a Speaker who won’t push him to take account, and answer questions.