The Green Party has always stood for modernising our Parliament so that it is more democratic, MPs are more accountable, and the public can more easily engage with what happens there.
One aspect of Parliament we have long had an issue with is the use of government “patsy questions” during Question Time. This typically involves government backbenchers asking their own Ministers easy, scripted questions, which highlight the work that the Government is undertaking. In the last term of the New Zealand Parliament almost 40% of all questions asked to Ministers were from their own government parties. Such questions do nothing to strengthen democracy or increase Government accountability, and, in the modern age of social media digital communication, do little to enhance public engagement. In fact, they are more likely to add to the public’s cynicism about Parliament and politics in general.
Putting democracy before politics - giving our oral questions to National
The principles of creating a stronger democracy and greater Government accountability matter more to the Green Party than using patsy questions to pay Parliamentary lip service. As such, we will hand over most of our allocated oral questions for the remainder of this parliamentary term to the office of the Leader of the Opposition, in the hope they will be used to hold us and the rest of the Government to account.
In practice this means the Green Party will give up to 42 questions to National over the course of this year and up to 50 questions next year. National will also have the use of Green Party supplementary questions, as determined by the parties week to week.
This offer has no strings attached. National is free to use their additional questions to hold Green Party Ministers to account, they can be asked by any National MP to any Government Minister and can be passed on to any other opposition party.
Greens will hold the Government to account
The only exception to the opposition using Green Party questions is if we wish to use them to hold the Government to account on issues where we disagree with Labour or New Zealand First. Our Confidence and Supply Agreement with Labour allows us to agree to disagree on issues, and we may wish to ask questions of Government ministers in the House on those.
We anticipate this will not be a common occurrence.
The Green Party will also be using the review of parliamentary standing orders, which occurs every term, to seek permanent changes to Question Time. We have no expectation that any other party will follow our voluntary stand on questions and are comfortable with that. This is a Green Party decision based on our values and principles.
The best way to achieve long-term change is to change Parliament’s rules. The standing orders review, which is likely to kick off next year, is the most appropriate place for that to happen. The Green Party will use this review to put up alternative proposals on how Question Time can better serve its purpose – to hold the elected government to account.