Dr Michael Bassett

Dr Michael Bassett

Newspaper Columns

The Herald and Constitutional Propriety


Has anyone else noticed that the New Zealand Herald seems to have thrown constitutional propriety to the winds? In today's paper on page A7 there is a photo of Labour's Auckland affairs spokesman, Phil Twyford, standing outside the meeting of the select committee hearing submissions yesterday on the latest bill dealing with the Super City. In the audience is the same small group of the usual suspects who have been tracking around the city for years opposing everything that any government, Labour or National, has planned for the city. The reporter covering the story - you guessed it - is Bernard Orsman. He is the one who was censured last year by the Press Council for a serious misdemeanour. This time Orsman reports that yesterday's demo was "organized by Labour's Auckland issues spokesman, Phil Twyford, who accused the Government of blocking its ears to cries for a different kind of Super City".

Let's leave aside the fact that most of the submissions opposing the super city are from the same small group who last year broke up public meetings called by MPs to discuss the super city. I witnessed them at work with my own eyes. Yesterday they were lending themselves (temporarily) to Twyford. Also on hand, of course, was the crusading Orsman, who is just as determined as they are to deny due process to the legislation. Believe it or not, Orsman just happened to have a photographer alongside him too. And the Herald was happy to carry the beat-up. Twyford must have thought all his birthdays had come at once!

The real issue in this case is not this disgraceful journalism. Neither Orsman nor the Herald's editor seems to realize that a constitutional outrage was being perpetrated. Twyford who was trying his hand at rabble-rousing is a member of the parliamentary select committee who were meant to be meeting inside to hear the submissions, and then to deliberate on them. Popping outside during lunch or afternoon tea to stir up a rag tail and bob tail army of opponents is completely inappropriate in such a situation. Just imagine if a judge hearing a court case decided to duck out during the break, megaphone in hand, to stir up supporters of the defendant appearing before him/her. Even the Herald just might realize this to be constitutionally improper? Possibly even Bernard Orsman?

Today's story for the Herald should not have been about the views of the tiny number of crusaders who are permanently in opposition mode to change. Instead, the Herald should have concentrated on the need to remind legislators that they must not engage in behaviour like Twyford's. At the very least, Labour leader Phil Goff should remove him from the select committee. He has demonstrated an inability to understand his role as an MP and to act appropriately. His responsibility is to listen to submissions, act fairly, and not to pre-judge anything.

Michael Bassett
Formerly Labour's Minister of Local Government