Comment: Every political party wants to be transparent in government, but for the most part it’s the number of seats won, not good intentions, that determines how true that is.

Select committee chairs, questions in the House and the influence political parties have on committees drastically change depending on how many votes are won by governing parties versus opposition.

Labour’s landslide 2020 win was the first ever single majority government under MMP and the impacts of that are wide-reaching.

It holds the chair roles on all but one of Parliament’s select committees and has a majority on each.

It gets five or six of the 12 questions at 2pm in the House on sitting days while the other four parties share the rest.

Legislation and decisions around who or what can be scrutinised by Parliament is made by just one party.

None of this is surprising or wrong – to the victor goes the spoils and Labour well and truly thumped everyone else at the last election.

Put National in the same boat and it would undoubtedly be doing a similar thing because the structures of Parliament are designed in that way.

There have been plenty of examples this term where Labour MPs have blocked people from being made to front at select committee.

Green Party MP Chlöe Swarbrick has repeatedly tried and failed to get Labour to approve Treasury coming before Finance and Expenditure committee to discuss its house price modelling.

Likewise, National’s Chris Bishop has been denied requests to have the Director-General of Health appear, and his colleague Paul Goldsmith most recently got obstructed by Labour MPs when he called for the Police Commissioner to front over the Parliament protest.

It was Labour’s Justice Committee chair, Ginny Andersen, who put an end to Commissioner Andrew Coster appearing, but when Newsroom approached her she didn’t want to discuss why.

In a text exchange she said the matter was “well covered by the PM at post-cab yesterday. I have nothing further to add’’.

Select committee chair roles are highly sought-after as they’re stepping stones to a future ministerial post.

But Andersen didn’t even think her position of power meant she had to explain to the public why she had made that decision.

She wanted it left for Jacinda Ardern to speak to, begging the question of what the chair’s role is other than a mouthpiece for the Beehive’s ninth floor.

Just how democratic can select committees really be when the chairs are focused on doing what is necessary to get the next promotion?

But that’s not just a Labour Party issue, it was the same under National’s John Key and speaks to a wider structural issue within Parliament.

In 2016, for example, National MPs wouldn’t support a Labour motion put forward at the social services committee for a homelessness inquiry.

After two years of Parliament being suspended on and off, moved online and adapted due to the ongoing pandemic, it’s as good a time as any to look at how it could perform better for the public.

Yet, halfway into the electoral term and there are already hints that some within Parliament are open to change.

Last year Speaker Trevor Mallard rebuked Labour’s health committee chairperson, Liz Craig, for not running the committee in “compliance with the spirit of the last Standing Orders’’.

He gave Bishop four extra supplementary questions in the House to use in his interrogation of Covid Response Minister Chris Hipkins after he concluded Labour MPs had used up too much of the select committee’s time asking patsy questions and obstructing the Opposition from doing its job.

Swarbrick has also publicly criticised Labour MPs and called for patsy questions to be done away with on select committees.

Both Hipkins, who is also leader of the house, and his shadow counterpart Chris Bishop have previously indicated a desire to make some changes to the way the House is run in an attempt to make it more democratic.

And ACT leader David Seymour has a member’s bill proposing the introduction of a four-year term to Parliament if the Government turns control of select committees over to the Opposition.

There’s an election around the corner and all parties are now turning their attention to policy ahead of the 2023 campaign.

After two years of Parliament being suspended on and off, moved online and adapted due to the ongoing pandemic, it’s as good a time as any to look at how it could perform better for the public.

The power and influence politicians have on New Zealanders’ lives has never been in the spotlight more. Improving transparency and accountability couldn’t come sooner.

Jo Moir is Newsroom's political editor.

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