Thursday, October 27, 2005

The Brown amendment

Something I missed and have just picked up while browsing Hansard for formatting data: in October last year, NZ First Deputy Leader Peter Brown kicked up a stink about the practice of secret split voting. On several controversial pieces of legislation - notably the Human Assisted Reproductive Technology Bill, but also reportedly the smoke-free legislation - parties were splitting their votes without any indication of who had voted which way. This made it impossible for the public to know what our representatives were doing or to effectively hold them to account for their votes. However, in the closing hours of the last Parliament, Michael Cullen moved an amendment to the Standing Orders to ensure that, when this occured, names were recorded so that MPs could be held to account. And even National - whose whips bitterly opposed any requirement for transparency - have come round:

SIMON POWER: Although initially reluctant to move in this direction, we had an interesting conversation in our caucus whereby we formed the view that this particular issue was more about the public’s expectation of knowing how particular members of Parliament voted, rather than a mechanism that may or may not suit a larger party on issues where that party has some members voting against the majority—or, indeed, on the odd occasion the numbers may well be even. So I say to Mr Brown that that is a fair rule to change.

I guess lobbying MPs actually had some effect for once...

Here's the revised sections of the Standing Orders [PDF]:

144 Procedure for party vote


(2) If a party casts a split-party vote the member casting the vote must deliver to the Clerk at the Table, immediately after the vote, a list showing the names of the members of that party voting in the various categories.


(5) The number of votes cast for each party and the names of the members of a party voting in each category on a split-party vote are recorded in the Journals of the House and in Hansard.

Darren Hughes christened the change "the Brown amendment", and its well-deserved. I don't like NZ First much, and I like Peter Brown even less, but on this he has done our democracy a service, and he deserves our thanks.