Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Written questions

DPF has produced some statistics on written questions in this term of Parliament. I did a similar exercise last year (covering three years, not one), with similar results - there are a handful of top questioners (Tony Ryall and Katherine Rich rate consistently highly), followed by a long tail of those less active. United Future seems to be asking more questions than the Greens this term, but otherwise the party order is pretty much the same.

DPF's data is however incomplete - he's left out the results for the leader of the opposition, (National's) chief whip, and deputy speaker. For the curious, their numbers are:

  • Lindsay Tisch: 5
  • Don Brash: 1
  • Clem Simich: 0

DPF justifies this omission on the grounds that these three MPs have significant other duties. This is fair enough in the case of Simich, but as for the others it is worth noting that DPF has listed the stats for every other (non-government) party leader and whip. The inescapable conclusion then is that he has omitted the data just to avoid making two major players in his party look bad.


The number of written questions is an interesting statistic, but it is not in isolation an accurate statistic for analysing who is active as an MP, and who is not.

Front bench National MPs must ask many more oral questions in the House. They must do many more media interviews. Electorate MPs have many more meetings with their constituencies than list MPs. MPs with some portfolio responsibilities have many other means at their disposal for finding out information on their portfolio than simply asking written questions. Some MPs have many more select committee responsibilities. Some MPs have leadership responsibilities. Others have very large responsibilities in the House. Others are destined to ask many more written questions because they have "hot" and complex portfolios, and are allocated more research staff to devise questions.

By your insinuation, I/S, Don Brash must be a lazy MP, as he asks so few written questions. That is as silly as somebody calling Helen Clark lazy.

What would be useful is an analysis of written questions, oral questions, time spent in the House, time spent in select committee meetings, amount of media coverage, meetings with constituents, degree of leadership responsibility, etc. If you can get all of that data, at best you would still struggle to figure out which MP is lazy, and which one isn't.

We know who the laziest Minister is. We know who the laziest MPs are. We also know who the least effective Ministers and MPs are. And you don't need the yardstick of very narrow written questions numbers to figure that out.

Posted by Insolent Prick : 9/20/2006 03:06:00 PM

Don brash has portfolio responsiblity for the SIS and while he get brefings from the director of the SIS he should be asking more questions on this topic, right lets find out what the one question was

Posted by red : 9/20/2006 03:17:00 PM

here is his one question:

672 (2006). Dr Don Brash to the Prime Minister (17 Feb 2006): Further to her reply to oral question 2 on 16 February 2006, when did she or any of her Ministers know that the Chief Electoral Officer had ruled that the pledge card constituted election material and should therefore be included in Labour's return of electoral expenses; and what specific actions did they take to ensure that their overall spending did not exceed the maximum allowed?
Rt Hon Helen Clark (Prime Minister) replied: I have not received any advice as Prime Minister regarding these matters.

Posted by red : 9/20/2006 03:19:00 PM

IP: The number of written questions is an interesting statistic, but it is not in isolation an accurate statistic for analysing who is active as an MP, and who is not.

Indeed, and I say as much in my previous post on the issue. This isn't the be-all and end-all of MP performance, and Brash asks his share of oral questions (something which is a bit harder to track).

That said, my point stands: DPF gives the statistics for the leaders of the Greens, ACT and the Maori Party, all of whom have leadership responsibilities, and leaves us to judge for ourselves whether the balance between leadership and questions should lie. But he doesn't do it for Brash. Why not? The only answer is that Brash's stats don't look too flash, and he'd rather spare him the embarassment of having it pointed out.

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 9/20/2006 03:36:00 PM


I really don't think the leadership responsibilities of the Greens, Act, and the Maori Party are comparable to the leadership responsibilities of the National Party, with 48 MPs.

Don Brash has one portfolio responsibility as Leader--the SIS. Hardly great scope for written questions. Every other Party leader has roughly the same number of portfolio and select committee responsibilities as their party colleagues. No compelling reason why their output of written questions should be lower.

That said, my own view is that the statistics should probably cover all Opposition MPs. There are compelling reasons for differences. Again, interesting statistic, but in isolation not huge.

Difficult to gauge speaking time in the House, but not impossible to extract the data. Virtually impossible to get MPs to release their diaries to see just how active they are, and how much quality there is in their activity. Relatively easy to gauge media presence of individual MPs.

Posted by Insolent Prick : 9/20/2006 03:52:00 PM

The LOTO gets probably 10 times the invites that the minor parties get. Also the time taken to manage a Caucus of 48 and staff of 30 is simply massive. Plus there aare numerous party responsibilities.

The suggestion that it would be a good use of a LOTO's time to do written PQs is absurd. I'd sack any LOTO who was spending their time on a task which the other 47 MPs can do perfectly well.

The LOTO needs to spend his time on the stuff no-one else can do.

Smaller parties are different. The leader of a small party is far far less a manager than of a major party. Same goes for the senior whip.

I'm surprised NRT takes such an lazy swipe at Brash. To suggest he does not pull his weight aand is not diligent is absurd.

Posted by David Farrar : 9/20/2006 03:54:00 PM

DPF: I'm surprised NRT takes such an lazy swipe at Brash.

Actually, I'm taking a "lazy swipe" at you. I agree that Brash's position means he has significant other demands on his time. Unlike you, however, I think people are perfectly capable of judging for themselves whether or not Brash is doing a good job (and exactly what that job should entail). And I think they should be given the opportunity to do so, rather than having the statistics massaged by a spindoctor in an effort to make his leader look good.

(I also think that if you had any faith in your own argument, you wouldn't feel the need to engage in such crude manipulations. Should we take the fact that you felt the need to bury the statistics as indicating that you don't think he's pulling his weight - or simply that you have utter contempt for the ability of the rest of us to make our own judgements on the matter?)

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 9/20/2006 04:22:00 PM


David clearly used a selection of data for his analysis. I don't think it actually mattered whether he included the LOTO in the data, because no sensible person would include the LOTO in the analysis anyway.

If DPF was trying to spin things, he would have included Government members' written questions as well, which are fuck-all, since they just go and ask the minister and don't require parliamentary rules to have their questions answered.

Bloody red herring, actually. The point is it's an indicator of activity. If one MP has a very low written question count, it's reasonable to ask why, and what else they're doing. Nobody seriously argues if Don Brash is an active MP. Clearly, those MPs with very large numbers of written questions are busy. Those with very low WQ counts could have some good reasons; if they don't, then it could be an indicator that they're lazy wastes of space.

Posted by Insolent Prick : 9/20/2006 05:15:00 PM

IP: If DPF was trying to spin things, he would have included Government members' written questions as well, which are fuck-all, since they just go and ask the minister and don't require parliamentary rules to have their questions answered.

When I did this exercise last year, I included every MP inthe House - because I think people can judge for themselves. But then, I am not a spindoctor.

And, to get back to the substantive issue: Doug Woolerton and Maurice Williamson have lifted their game a little. Neither is a top performer, but at least now they seem to be doing something to earn that salary...

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 9/20/2006 05:19:00 PM

There's no reason somebody couldn't do an analysis of how many oral (and follow-up) questions members asked, and perhaps how many words their speeches total up to.

Unfortunately, time spent in the house and such is almost impossible to measure unless you've got somebody there watching the debates all day. Maybe somebody could go ask the Brethren. Don?

Posted by Anonymous : 9/20/2006 09:11:00 PM

NRT - I was explicit in my post that I had excluded three MPs. There was nothing hidden or spinning about it.

As IP said if I wanted it to be political, I would have included Labour backbench MPs, but I also excluded them.

I also excluded Peters and Dunne even though they do still ask questions.

Posted by David Farrar : 9/20/2006 10:15:00 PM