Salient: Victoria University Students' Paper. Vol. 30, No. 13. 1967.
Loss of esteem?
Loss of esteem?
Parliament has declined in prestige almost to the point of disrepute during the post-war era. And a four year term is not going to recapture the lost esteem, though of course it will help. Other more pressing reforms beckon.
It is a fiction to talk of Parliament "governing." As Professor Aikman has recently argued, Parliament's modern function is to scrutinise, investigate, criticise and advise. This demands that the backbencher be well informed. And a not-so-docile public is aware the backbencher thirsts for reliable debating material. This accounts in some degree for Parliament's (the gas chamber's) loss of prestige. For our own sakes some steps need to be taken to inject integrity and purpose into the House of Representatives.
• Increasing the number of members.
• Emphasising committee work.
• Extending parliamentary sessions.
• Providing more research facilities and personnel.
• Increasing salaries.
On comparison with Scandinavian countries of similar size, New Zealand should boast something like 120 MPs. At the moment there are too few members serving on too many committees and trying to represent too large electorates. About half the members hold some sort of office — surely an absurdity.
In the committees, party lines are bridged — there is no need to score debating points. A true scope exists for investigation and analysis. But too often committee work is shrouded in secrecy and there is insufficient authority for a committee to demand evidence from public servants or other men of power.
If the committees are to work more effectively they must become more than the sandwich between chamber debates. An extended session could provide the framework. Adequate short adjournments during session time would allow committees to meet and consider an issue in reasonable depth. The stop-go nature of present committee work is unsatisfactory, based as it is on the hope that a committee may meet on a Wednesday morning — there's only one Wednesday in a week, and it is not enough.
Members are greatly hampered by the lack of research organs Generally if research is done the member has to do it himself, and he just does not have the time. Improvements are drastically needed in the provision of facilities and independent personnel. Only when a member can draw on researched material is he in a position to scrutinise Cabinet policy, let alone advise on alternative lines.
Parliamentary salaries are geared to comparative civil service salaries. It is a comparison that doesn't apply. Salaries should be adjusted so as to attract our potential best.
Let our system of Government grow to the maturity of informed debate and tough questioning of Ministers and Civil Servants. We have an arduous journey to undertake — the administration of a modern state.