Brian Edwards Media

Lockwood Loses the Plot




There’s general agreement that Lockwood Smith has been an excellent Speaker. His quiet, natural authority has allowed him to control the House without getting to his feet every few seconds to call for order. He has refused to allow Ministers to get away with non-answers to questions. If any party is unhappy with him, it is considerably more likely to be the National Party than anyone in opposition, perhaps the ultimate tribute to his impartiality.

But yesterday the Speaker seemed to lose the plot when he warned the media that their coverage of MPs’ expenses bordered on lobbying and that, if it continued, he would treat them as lobbyists. The media, he said, should ‘stop parroting a view’.

He then issues this threat:

‘If the newspapers do want to have a view and want to lobby on it, I’m very happy to issue them with a lobbyist card and relieve them of their [Press Gallery] offices here, and if they want to be lobbyists – fine.’

This somewhat petulant outburst had all the hallmarks of an attack on the freedom of the press to rigorously examine and question the judgement, decision-making and personal behaviour of our lawmakers, including the Speaker himself. Dr Smith seemed to be confusing best practice  journalism with lobbying. And he seems piqued at the suggestion that the rules which govern MPs’ expenses, which only he can administer,  might be flawed or in need of change. His personal integrity, he seems to feel,  is being called into question:

‘You’ve seen how principled I’ve been in the chamber. I’ll take the same approach of other things as well.’

To which one might reply, ‘And if you do, Mr Speaker, we’ll all be delighted to pat you on the back.’

In the meantime, the media are not only within their rights to question every alleged example of ministerial double-dipping on expenses, particularly when the person concerned is the Deputy Speaker, who ought to know better, but also to actively campaign for an overhaul of the parliamentary rules and regulations that have made such scandals, in Britain and here in New Zealand, possible.

As Pete Hodgson observed, ‘When questions of a presiding officer of Parliament are raised, they must be followed through. The integrity of Parliament deserves that.’

The integrity of Parliament probably also requires the Speaker not to abuse his power by threatening to ‘relieve’ Press Gallery journalists of their offices when he perceives some criticism of himself or his job in their investigations.

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  1. Good points, BE!

  2. Brian, I am surprised at your reference to best practice journalism when talking about the New Zealand reporting efforts. I seem to remember that you extolled the virtues of Australian journalism after a recent trip there and were less than complimentary about ours. What has changed?

    • Brian, I am surprised at your reference to best practice journalism when talking about the New Zealand reporting efforts. I seem to remember that you extolled the virtues of Australian journalism after a recent trip there and were less than complimentary about ours. What has changed?

      Nothing has changed, Judith. I didn’t say there was no good New Zealand journalism. This is an example of an area where the New Zealand media have quite properly demanded answers from our politicians. I expressed admiration of Lockwood Smith, but he’s out of line here.

  3. Has Lockwood something to hide then?
    Been around a long time.
    Good to hear about yr cat comn back.

    • Has Lockwood something to hide then?

      I don’t know of anything that Lockwood has to hide. Perhaps this was just a rush of blood to the head.

  4. Not so much “a rush of blood to the head” as ‘payback time’. Lockwood has been quietly stewing in the Speaker’s chair, waiting for his moment to exact his retribution. For, it was the press, some 14 months ago, that dined out on his clumsy ruminations regarding his fulsome admiration of the dexterity of Asian farm workers’ hands, and the nimbleness of their fingers in getting grapes off the vine, plucking fruit off the trees and shelling peas in the pods. His expressed consternation as to whether Pacific Islanders could tell the difference between a toilet pan and a vanity basin, didn’t help his ministerial aspirations, either. So, no glory with the vaunted “Yes, Minister” greeting — and the sycophancy that goes with it — instead, it was “Mr. Speaker, Mr. Speaker…”

    The chipper Mr Speaker and his hitherto strained alacrity transmutes into a brooding dark angel, threatening the parliamentary press credentials of the media, who were largely responsible seeing him relegated to the Speaker’s chair. The media’s reporting of Titch-Titch Tisch and his covert siphoning off taxpayer money to optimise his housing entitlements, provided just the excuse Lockie-boy needed. Now, he’s threatening to issue an edict, which equates to Gordon Ramsey threatening to banish a Maitre D’ of one of his Michelin-star restaurants, to the back of the kitchen to scrub pots. And there’s a frisson of fear with that.

  5. 5

    michael keir-morrissey

    There is no such ‘general agreement’. ‘ Excellent speaker’ bedamned -the guy is and always has been a pompous quizmaster. At every tiny ruling, he makes a condescending and theatrical speech. Yes, the same Lokie who rammed through bulk funding and had to escape through a lav window at Otago University. He’s excellent alright – excellant pousuer. With a nasty streak. His performance in the house has been very much flattered by the fact that the barracking opposition that plagued Margaret Wilson is now on the government benches. Even today they clap like performing seals when some tory prat makes a snide remark.
    I believe your characterisation of him as an excellent speaker is fatuous. Lockwood Smith is a dangerous fake.

    • There is no such ‘general agreement’. ‘

      No, you don’t agree, but there is general agreement and he is an excellent Speaker, a fact not changed by all that gratuitous abuse. And the word is ‘poseur’. Cheers.