Pretty much every day is casual Friday at the Scoop offices. However, as journalists, we do from time to time have to
present a respectable front out on the job. Usually it’s Mondays, when I attend the Prime Minister’s press conferences.
Scoop editor Alastair Thompson takes impish pleasure in springing surprises on his staff. So naturally, on the day I
turned up for work in an AC/DC T-shirt, hoody and sneakers, Alastair told me we were off to Parliament to be accredited
to the press gallery. He chucked me a white shirt, which I mixed and matched with the hoody and an emergency tie I keep
in my car glove box, and away we went. Luckily, on that day it was only the Youth Parliament sitting, so I could
acquaint myself with the press gallery virtually unnoticed.
Yesterday afternoon looked like it could be pretty quiet at Scoop, so Alastair suggested I celebrate my accreditation to
the gallery and go to my first real sitting of Parliament. Of course, I was unshaven and wearing casual clothes.
The rules of the press gallery are: you must wear a jacket and tie, which I interpret as: look respectable. Alastair,
however, interprets it literally, and presented me with an old blue jacket, which may fit him, but not me. I’m wearing a
blue op-shop golf shirt, which I took out of retirement after I saw Leslie Nielson wearing an identical one in Spy Hard.
That’s no excuse, I know. On goes the glove box tie and Alastair’s jacket to complete the look. You could say it showed
a certain I don’t know what. Je ne sais quoi would definitely be pushing it.
“Don’t worry about the sneakers, they can only see you from the waist up,” said Alastair. I took him at his word. Then,
when relieving myself in the Parliamentary men’s room, I noticed a wooden box by the mirrors the like of which I’d never
seen in any public facilities. Curious, I opened the box, to find shoe polish and a brush. I could only take it as a
little reminder to Parliamentary staff to look sharp at all times.
The measure was undoubtedly instigated by the Speaker of the House, Jonathan Hunt. The Rt. Hon. Jonathan Hunt, better
known as Mr Speaker, is a stickler for procedure and detail, and I wouldn’t put it past him to install boxes of polishes
in all the Parliamentary toilets, to help everyone to meet his exacting standards.
To me, Jonathan Hunt is definitely the star of the show. I’m relatively new to Parliament, only starting listening to
Parliamentary broadcasts when I started at Scoop three or four weeks ago, so my observations may be a little naïve. But
the Speaker’s nickname, Father of the House, would suggest I’m not alone in this. He’s a tough Speaker, who appears to
thoroughly enjoy the minutiae of procedure, controlling the house with a headmasterly authority. I was glad my perch in
the Press Gallery was out of his sight line.
If the Speaker had a cane, Trevor Mallard would have very sore hands. He pushed Mr Hunt a little too far today,
muttering comments linking a member to convicted paedophile Bert Potter. As it was, The Speaker made him withdraw and
apologise, and then leave the house for his thoroughly objectionable interjection.
Yesterday’s Sludge Report
was tabled by ACT leader Richard Prebble. The Report says the undisclosed sum paid out to one of the Mongrel Mob linked
former Mangaroa Prison inmates in compensation for abuse received at the jail was $90,000, which went on a new car and a
Harley Davidson hog. Justice Minister Phil Goff said he could not corroborate the report, but said he is appalled that
taxpayers have had to shell out for the Mongrel Mob “scumbags.”
No one was sitting in the seat next to National Member Murray McCully, which in itself is pretty unremarkable given the
way members roam and float, but I couldn’t help noticing a 10kg sack of Rua potatoes in the seat (I failed my eye test
for a new drivers licence, but can read a label from the press gallery. It don’t make sense) I thought perhaps the
witch-like Sandra Lee from across the house had cast a spell on a National party Member, turning him into the sack of
potatoes. Things got stranger when John Carter cryptically moved the potato sack onto National finance spokesman Bill
English’s desk. I looked away for a second, and the potatoes had disappeared. Spooky. Or perhaps it’s just a bit of
obscure National party humour.
Later, I realised the potatoes were actually part of Jenny Shipley’s family shop, which she said showed the cost of a
typical weeks groceries had increased by $17 a week.
The nicest members of the house have to be the Green Co-Leaders, Jeanette Fitzsimmons and Rod Donald. Ms Fitzsimmons seemed like a
ray of goodness next to the baying dogs of ACT. And I couldn’t help thinking of Mr Donald, with his bright flowery tie,
as a Playschool host.
For the most part, question time
seemed a little subdued yesterday, with the members probably realising that the real news is in New York, where Prime
Minister Helen Clark is amongst the largest collection of world leaders ever assembled, at the United Nations Millennium
Summit. She’s telling the world how Kiwi soldiers are saving United Nations staff in West Timor, and telling off the
Australian Prime Minister for his human right’s shortcomings.