Wednesday, October 21, 2015

A question of privilege

Yesterday at the beginning of Question Time Speaker of the House David Carter announced that the Privilege's Committee would be investigating the alleged retaliation of Maritime New Zealand against a business whose director gave evidence against them in a select committee hearing. While I oppose some of the privileges of Parliament - notably their purported power to punish members of the public who criticise MPs - one thing I do agree with is their power to punish anyone involved in

intimidating, preventing, or hindering a witness from giving evidence, or giving evidence in full, to the House or a committee...

assaulting, threatening, or disadvantaging a person on account of evidence given by that person to the House or a committee

In order for Parliament to function effectively, people need to be able to give evidence to its inquiries without fear of retribution. We protect witnesses before the courts from retaliation and abuse (in fact, intimidating or retaliating against a witness is a serious crime), and its entirely proper that Parliament has the power to investigate and punish attempts to pervert its proceedings in this manner. And its done so in the past - those of us with long memories may remember that Television New Zealand was investigated and fined for just such a contempt in 2006, after it had effectively sacked its acting Chief Executive for criticising its Board before the Finance and Expenditure Committee. That was in the context of an employment relationship, which the Privileges Committee notes can be complicated; a state agency using its regulatory powers in retaliation (as apparently alleged) is both less complicated and far more serious. And if Maritime New Zealand is found to have done this, I'd expect the relevant staff to be resigning immediately.