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Corin Dann: MPs at their best in gay marriage and drink debates

opinion Corin Dann

By Corin Dann ONE News Political Editor

Published: 1:30PM Friday August 31, 2012 Source: ONE News

New Zealand First leader Winston Peters argued this week that Parliament's conscience votes on gay marriage and the drinking age were an undemocratic relic of the past.

Apparently rather than trust issues of morality to a temporary group of elected MPs with differing views, the public should be given a direct say on moral issues via a public referendum.

This was a bit of a cop out I think.

It allowed New Zealand First MPs (they voted against the bill as a block) to vote against gay marriage, whilst at the same time look slightly progressive and open to the idea if there was public support.

Putting aside the fact that polls show a majority of Kiwis do back gay marriage, I think we can still trust MPs to make these kinds of decisions, so long as MPs treat the votes with respect and courage.

By and large this week our MPs did not let us down.

In fact I thought a number of MPs from all sides of the argument on gay marriage and the drinking age did themselves proud.

Most it seemed had clearly thought long and hard about the issues and were able to clearly articulate why they chose to vote the way they did.

Some showed great courage in voting for the bill despite knowing it might cost them politically as their local communities may have been against it.

Others lambasted their own political colleagues for not seeing things the way they did.

The conscience votes this week were also a great chance for New Zealand to see some backbench MPs who never get much exposure.

There were some standouts for me.

National's Jamie-Lee Ross and Paul Hutchison along with Labour's David Clark all gave heart felt and considered speeches supporting gay marriage.

While Labour's Su'a William Sio and National's Tim Mcindoe were also impressive with their arguments against.

While on the drinking age I thought the Green's Holly Walker was very accomplished.

Maybe it's just the fact that I have only been back covering Parliament for four months and its taking me a while to get back into the feel of the place.

But generally speaking I feel like Parliament and in particular Question Time has started to get more interesting in recent weeks.

When I first arrived back in May I was a bit taken aback to see how little media interest there seemed to be in Question Time.

Perhaps it was just a quiet phase and the opposition was failing to land any decent blows on the government.

But in the last couple of weeks Ministers including the Prime Minister have taken some real heat in Parliament over cost savings at KiwiRail, and child poverty rates.

So far John Key in particular has been more than up to the challenge, the way he slapped down a question from the Greens MP Metiria Turei this week on universal child allowances was brutal and reminiscent of Sir Michael Cullen in his heyday.

But the government should be wary, if the opposition can keep up this sort of heat and run strong issues day after day then mistakes will happen, the pressure tell.

Crikey, even Winston Peters has been giving up some of the limelight lately and letting some of his New Zealand First backbench MPs ask questions.

Both Brendan Horan and Richard Prosser have acquitted themselves well with questions to Ministers on Kiwi Rail and navy frigates.

Yes, while he may not like conscience votes, Peters would be one of the first to attest, I'm sure, that Question Time is still a vital piece of our Parliamentary Democracy.

Let's hope the action we've seen in the House over the last few weeks continues.

Read more Corin Dann opinion

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