Monday, February 18, 2008

Sensible sitting hours

Poneke has a post about the ridiculous and inhumane hours our MPs (and by extension, their staff) work. While Parliament only sits three days a week, from 14:00 - 22:00 (and 14:00 - 18:00 on Thursdays), the demands of constituents, cabinet, caucus, and committees (and of course the media) essentially make it a 24/7 job, with no time at all for eating and sleeping, let alone relaxation or families. Throw in the ban on MP's leaving the parliamentary precinct on sitting days, and it's like 120 rats, stuck in a too small cage, with no escape - no wonder they're at each other's thoats all the time!

This is terrible, but believe it or not, it used to be worse. Browsing back through old Hansards when researching the history of the OIA, I was shocked to read that Parliament was routinely sitting till 3 or 4 in the morning (presumably it started later, but still...). No wonder Muldoon and the Revolutionaries seem utterly mad in retrospect - it was because they were psychotic and hallucinating from sleep deprivation! (Actually, that explains a lot...)

Poneke's proposed solution is to shift Parliamentary sitting hours to a more normal 10:00 - 18:00, with committees meeting while the House sits (something that already happens to some extent). This would be a lot more humane, and possibly allow our MPs to get a good night's sleep. The problem, as Poneke points out, is that politics is a game which rewards time invested - so even if sitting hours change, the demands of parties and the media may mean that there's not that much benefit to MP's. Still, there's no harm in trying, and our Parliament would I think be a lot better if our politicians were able to have lives as well as jobs.