The recent publicity over Trevor Mallard’s term as Speaker had me reflect on his 13 predecessors since 1975.
By far the most unpopular was Labour’s Gerry Wall, who was a pariah in the new liberal thinking Labour Party of 1984. When Basil Arthur died in 1985 Lange gave Wall the job, knowing they could eject him on age grounds inside two years, which they duly did.
Gerry was a doctor and a rigid Catholic who campaigned against abortion and once proposed imprisonment for anyone promoting homosexuality.
He was an appallingly unfair Speaker and during his very short time in the saddle, it was claimed he managed to eject every National MP, most at least twice.
By contrast his successor, Labour’s Kerry Burke (1987-90) was undoubtably the most popular ever. He turned a deaf ear to convention and procedural infringements and to everyone’s satisfaction let things rip.
Two amusing Speaker recollections spring to mind. The first about 1978 followed after I was Rob Muldoon’s dinner guest in 1978 in the Prime Minister’s private dining room.
Over dinner I regaled him with the research going back to the 1929 Stock Exchange crash, about the use of the word “Fundamental.” Prior to 1984 Labour politicians were unable to speak without using it. Analysis showed it was, and still is today, a substitute for having nothing to say and is inserted in arguments as a prefix to imply an assertion is so obvious as to need no explanation. The current Human Rights boss uses it in every utterance.
Muldoon was fascinated, albeit he probably thought I was exaggerating.
We’d had an early dinner as the full House was sitting and Rob needed to be there.
So, as was a conventional courtesy at the time he took me downstairs to the floor of parliament and into a small area at the rear of the chamber, to sit for 5 minutes or so with me.
As we walked in then new MP David Caygill rose to speak. “Fundamentally,” he began and Muldoon let out a loud roar. Caygill stopped nervously while the MPs on both sides and Speaker Harrison all looked jittery, in those days, all in fearful thrall to Rob.
David tried once more. “Fundamentally” he began again, eliciting another loud roar of delight from Muldoon. Caygill then gave up and sat down.
Years later in my office, David, by then Finance Minister, was having drinks and I reminded of this incident. He certainly remembered it but by then had abandoned use of the “fundamental.”
A funnier incident occurred in the mid-1990s. I was Mike Moore’s dinner guest and to say the least, we both over imbibed.
“Let’s go into Parliament,” Mike said and so we did, sitting in the balcony quite late at night with only a handful of MPs present. Speaker Peter Tapsell looked up and gave us a wave. For the past decade Peter and I had done many fishing trips together in the Chathams and on the Tongariro.
On his feet droning on opposite us was Labour’s Geoff Braybrooke. Geoff was a funny bugger and on spotting us, promptly changed topic and launched into a marvelous absurdity involving fascist tendencies in something innocuous, I don’t recall specifically now, but the likes of the girl guide movement. Mike began shouting encouragement from the balcony. Peter looked uncomfortable but said nothing whereupon an usher came over and hesitantly asked Mike to desist.
“How dare you,” Mike exploded. “I’m a bloody MP and I’m entitled to interject” and the usher beat a retreat.
I could see Peter was embarrassed so after more outrageous stuff for our benefit from Braybrooke and shouting encouragement from Mike, I dragged him out, to Tapsell’s great relief.
I’d rate Peter second behind Kerry Burke as a Speaker for the same reason, namely not being too precious about the rules.