Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Democratic transparency X

Perusing the Hansard of the final passing of the HART Bill, it seems that the National Party has continued to support secrecy right up until the end, based on a spurious distinction between having the vote recorded in Hansard and merely tabling a list:

PETER BROWN (Senior Whip-NZ First): As far as New Zealand is concerned this is ground-breaking legislation - at least, that is the view of New Zealand First. I therefore seek the leave of this house to request that the parties that split their vote, table the split - in other words, who voted for and who voted against - so that this can be recorded in Hansard and so that the view of the public can be respected, in that a check can be made of the voting if they so wish. I seek leave for that request to be put to the party whips.

LINDSAY TISCH (Junior Whip-National): National is quite comfortable about giving people the names of those who voted for and those who voted against. However, seeking leave for that to be recorded is a dangerous precedent. It is not necessary under Standing Order 144. We are quite happy to give the names out - there is no difficulty with that - but we would oppose leave to have the names recorded.


LINDSAY TISCH (Junior Whip-National): I understand from the Business Committee that it was agreed that the names could be tabled, which is different to having them recorded. I said, in speaking to the point of order earlier, that National is happy to table the names - I have them here. We are happy to table them, which is different from recording them. So I seek leave for National to be able to table the names of members who voted for and those who opposed.

Document, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.

So they're happy to reveal their votes, but only in manners which make it more difficult for the public to scrutinise them. While National did indeed give up the information when I asked, it took a month of nagging - far too long. And while documents tabled in the House can be viewed by the public, they are far less accessible than the official Parliamentary record, which is available free on the web.

This has to stop. Democracy demands transparency, and that requires that every vote be properly recorded in Hansard and made rapidly available to the public. Anything less - such as the position taken by Mr Tisch - smacks of secrecy, and calls the public's ability to hold our representatives to account into question. Parliament's Standing Orders must be amended, and until they are, those parties which value democratic accountability must use their ability to deny leave to ensure that transparency is maintained.