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The BulletinDecember 8, 2023

MPs settle into new roles as parliament cranks back into action

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There may be less than a fortnight left in the political year, but politicians seem determined to make the final days count, writes Catherine McGregor in this excerpt from The Bulletin, The Spinoff’s morning news round-up. To receive The Bulletin in full each weekday, sign up here.

Question time is back

After two weeks of sniping via media releases and impromptu stand-ups, the government and opposition finally got their chance to go properly head-to-head with the first question time of the new parliament. Prime minister Chris Luxon’s most notable answer was on the Treaty principles bill. The Act-National coalition agreement promises to support Act’s proposal to the select committee stage, suggesting National was reluctant to support it any further. On Thursday Luxon seemed to confirm that assumption, saying of the bill “that’s as far as it will go”. The session featured plenty of hints as to the parliament to come, writes Jessica Mutch-McKay. Speaker Gerry Brownlee acquitted himself well, coming across as “funny, quick to apologise and across the rules”, she says, while Labour’s Chris Hipkins, Megan Woods and Grant Robertson were the “three amigos of interjections”, throwing out barbs while “eating from a container filled with pick’n’mix”. That’s not to suggest Labour’s taking its new role lightly, however. According to The Post (paywalled), opposition MPs inundated the government with more than 3000 written questions over just two days this week.

An emotional debate on the Israel-Hamas war

Hipkins’ first question to Luxon, on the war in Gaza, ended up being gazumped somewhat by a surprise debate on the topic which took place before question time kicked off. The debate largely hinged on just two words of foreign minister Winston Peters’ statement on the House’s official position. Instead of calling for a ceasefire immediately, Peters urged all parties in the war to take urgent “steps toward” a ceasefire. Hipkins and Green Party foreign affairs spokesperson Golriz Ghahraman both argued the statement was not strong enough, while Labour’s Damien O’Connor went even further, calling for “an end to this depravity, this genocide, this slaughter” in Gaza. Earlier in the day Act MP Simon Court accepted a petition delivered by Brian Tamaki and a group of pro-Israel protesters asking the government not call for a ceasefire. A counter-protest attracted several hundred Palestinian supporters.

Peters says he ‘made’ three women prime minister

Both in and out of the debating chamber, the parties are getting used to their new roles. After three wilderness years out of parliament, Peters appears keen to remind the public of his political mana – and sometimes, it seems, to claim achievements that werre not his own. “In my career, I made three women prime minister,” he boasted in a speech at parliament, referring to Jenny Shipley, Helen Clark and Jacinda Ardern, New Zealand’s only female PMs. The comment was “gross”, “sexist”, and “unhinged”, according to members of the audience. Remarkably, moments later, Peters denied he’d claimed credit for the three prime ministerships. “That’s your narrative,” he told Newshub’s Amelia Wade. Meanwhile Labour is struggling to come to grips with its diminished status, writes former United Future leader Peter Dunne. Hipkins and his fellow MPs have been “supercilious”, “bitter” and “smug” in their recent comments, Dunne claims. “Sneering at the new government’s actions… simply plays into Luxon’s hands that voters were right to make the change they did.”

Hipkins reflects on what went wrong

Peters’ speech was part of the Victoria University of Wellington post-election conference, a political tradition dating back to 1987, where party leaders reflect on their election strategies and results. Joel MacManus was there and says it was a chance for Chris Hipkins to open up about Labour’s loss, and whether the party was on a hiding to nothing from the start. “A succession of ministerial scandals didn’t help the mood that had already hardened against our government,” said Hipkins. “By the time we launched our campaign slogan ‘in it for you’, which was decided some time earlier, many in the public were already feeling that they were anything but our priority.”

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