Friday, October 07, 2011

A reminder

Some Parliamentary history, courtesy of Wikipedia:

Before 1771, the British Parliament had long been a highly secretive body. The official record of the actions of the House was publicly available, but there was no such record of debates. The publication of remarks made in the House became a breach of Parliamentary privilege, punishable by the two Houses. As more people became interested in parliamentary debates, more individuals published unofficial accounts of parliamentary debates. Editors were at worst subjected to fines. Several editors used the device of veiling parliamentary debates as debates of fictitious societies or bodies. The names under which parliamentary debates were published include Proceedings of the Lower Room of the Robin Hood Society and Debates of the Senate of Magna Lilliputia.

In 1771 Brass Crosby, who was Lord Mayor of the City of London, had brought before him a printer called Miller who dared publish reports of Parliamentary proceedings. He released the man, but was subsequently ordered to appear before the House to explain his actions. Crosby was committed to the Tower of London, but when he was brought to trial, several judges refused to hear the case and after protests from the public, Crosby was released.

While this happened in Britain, it is part of our Parliamentary tradition, and it shows what we're up against: a mindset that Parliament belongs to its members, not the people, that they can and should control what is said about them. And its not just photos of the gallery which they prohibit. Standing orders prohibit any use of film or other images for "satire, ridicule, or denigration", as well as
reflecting on the character or conduct of the House or of a member in the member’s capacity as a member of the House
Which is what every single one of us does as citizens and voters. And if some MP doesn't like what we think of them, or how they look when caught asleep in the Chamber, or giving obscene gestures to other MPs, then they can haul us before a kangaroo court of their mates, with no rules of evidence or independent review, and subject us to arbitrary punishment without limit.

And they do use this power. The Herald today. Matt Robson, when he pointed out that Peter Dunne's love of beer money compromised his role as an MP. TV3, when they filmed Ron Mark giving the finger to someone. There is a litany of abuse here. And it is simply objectionable in a free and democratic society. Over the centuries, we've emasculated the monarchy and reined in the executive. Now we need to do the same to Parliament.