Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Refusing to answer

Question time today started with Metiria Turei hauling Gerry Brownlee over the coals over his desire to dig up the conservation estate. She has just asked a detailed question about the relative value of minerals versus conservation. In response, Brownlee said... nothing. He did not even rise to respond, just shrugged his shoulders and refused to answer. He did not hide behind the claim that it would not be in the public interest to answer - he simply did not bother to respond. And the Speaker has allowed him to get away with it.

I have never seen this happen before, and with good reason. Question Time is the primary means by which Ministers are held to account by Parliament. If they can simply refuse to answer - not claim public interest immunity (which is open to some examination and challenge), not quibble over Ministerial responsibility (another favoured tactic), but simply refuse and stand mute - then that task is made impossible. Both Brownlee and the Speaker have failed our democracy today.