Q+A - March 29, 2009: Dr Lockwood Smith and Alexandra
Lang interviewed by Paul Holmes
PAUL Welcome to both Dr Lockwood Smith the Speaker of the House and his fiancée Alexandra Lang. You've got a muscle car too, Ron Mark with a Mark III Zephyr and you've got some big Falcon.
DR LOCKWOOD SMITH Well on these dreadful roads Paul you've gotta have something good to get around them.
PAUL Yeah but you could put blue stripes on it like a boy racer.
LOCKWOOD Cobras only come out one colour.
PAUL Tell us about this - welcome to the programme Alexandra too and thank you very much for coming on. Tell us about this love affair that started what 40 years ago?
LOCKWOOD Forty years, we met in 1970 yeah.
PAUL Met where?
LOCKWOOD Well Alexandra had been an AFS student in America and one of her best friends from Wanganui days, Wanganui High School days was going out with my best mate.
PAUL Were you at university then?
LOCKWOOD Yeah Massey University and it was Alexandra's close friend who introduced us.
PAUL And was it automatic was it light bolt, stars?
ALEXANDRA LANG No I don't actually remember meeting Lockwood, but it was light bulbs fairly fast.
PAUL And of course Lockwood sang a bit of baritone around town in those days.
ALEXANDRA That's right and I was his accompanist.
PAUL You were the pianist, yeah.
ALEXANDRA I was.
LOCKWOOD But then the relationship developed beyond that Paul too.
PAUL Yes well you of course, was it intense?
LOCKWOOD For a while there year.
PAUL And then you go off to do your PhD in Adelaide, what happens Alexandra?
ALEXANDRA And I stay at Wanganui High School teaching.
PAUL Yes and then he gets another interest, another love interest in Adelaide?
LOCKWOOD Yeah I'm pretty embarrassed about that Paul.
PAUL No that's alright it was a long involvement.
LOCKWOOD Yeah we didn't see each other then for 20 odd years, what was it 24 years until I was Minister of Education and just happened to be visiting Wanganui High School, I didn't even know Alexandra was teaching there cos we'd lost contact totally and chance had it that her headmaster there was my French teacher in the third form at Ruawai District High School, and he and another friend of Alexandra's organised for me to meet Alexandra, it was a total surprise, and I remember telling the assembly because I spoke to the school assembly of course as Minister, I said they were lucky to have on their staff one of the finest people I'd ever met.
PAUL You said that?
LOCKWOOD Yeah, in front of all the kids.
ALEXANDRA That caused me a few problems I have to say Paul.
PAUL So did it really rekindle there?
ALEXANDRA No it didn't rekindle there my marriage broke up and I decided that I was gonna sweep the men who'd stuffed my life around out of it and Lockwood was one of them, and that's how it started.
PAUL You married Alexandra you went on to have family, you have a grandchild or grandchildren.
ALEXANDRA I have four children, three daughters and a son.
PAUL But people are amazed at this development Dr Lockwood Smith because I think the country really thought that you were a confirmed bachelor.
LOCKWOOD Well one of the interesting things about parliament Paul especially from the days I became you know spokesperson on Education, it dominates your life totally, I virtually for you know 15 years had no private life at all, and it is very hard on people's private lives if you're heavily involved say as a Minister or in a senior position in parliament.
PAUL But did you think at any stage you would get married?
LOCKWOOD Once I got back with Alexandra I mean I always wanted to get married in deed but I just didn't happen to have the right situation but once I got back involved with Alexandra it seemed to me it would happen one day.
PAUL Do you think he's gonna marry you really or is he gonna stay married to the parliament?
ALEXANDRA I think he has a deep affection for parliament but he will be married to me. We will be married to each other.
PAUL Parliament will be the mistress. Mr Speaker let's speak about your deep affection for parliament. You didn't particularly want to be Speaker did you, you wanted to be a Minister.
LOCKWOOD It was something I never thought of Paul you know over all the years I've always been at the sharp end of policy, in the intro you showed all the things I've been involved in and being Speaker is something that never occurred to me really.
PAUL But did the little Asian hands do for you in the campaign?
LOCKWOOD I'm told not I mean I was only telling a reporter what the industry told me is a serious problem and I'm told that wasn't the problem but in fact I understand that the Prime Minister wanted a Speaker he thought could actually make parliament work better, cos it's in the government's interests to have parliament working well.
PAUL How do you think you're doing as Speaker?
LOCKWOOD I'm doing the best that I can, I mean I've set out to do things a bit differently, I didn't want to take it on unless I could make a difference, I was concerned over my time in parliament I felt parliament had deteriorated and I think question time the public felt question time had become a farce, and that's not good enough, no parliament's too important for that.
PAUL Are you getting much resistance from your National Party colleagues in insisting, trying to insist that ministers answer questions sensibly and fulsomely?
LOCKWOOD Gotta give them credit Paul they've really stepped up to the mark, I guess initially they thought goodness what's Lockwood doing here but because things had got so bad you know ministers could say almost anything and the Speaker would say they'd address the question, but over the summer I read Margaret Wilson's academic writing on the issue, I read Standing Orders very carefully, I read Speakers' rulings over the years very carefully and I just arrived at a different opinion. My interpretation of the Standing Order is different from hers.
PAUL What about that business we played at the top of the programme though, Keith Locke and the blank bit of paper?
LOCKWOOD I as Speaker can't refuse to put leave if someone seeks leave to table a document, I'm working on getting agreement that some of these things like daily newspaper articles and some of that sort of stuff that people do not - members do not seek leave to table that sort of thing, it's wasting parliament's time.
PAUL What does a Speaker do, I think most people think that a Speaker really you know sits there for an hour during question time and wears a funny wig sometimes and a black cloak and goes away, what does a Speaker do?
LOCKWOOD Actually the Speaker acts as Minister in a range of areas, the parliamentary service is one of the portfolios if you like, the Speaker's responsible for the office of the Ombudsman, the office of the Auditor General and the office of the Clerk of Parliament. The Speaker's in charge of all those things and the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment. Actually the Speaker in sort of name sort of is responsible for the entire complex down there, it's quite a fascinating job in that regard.
PAUL Mr Speaker the Speaker is the boss.
LOCKWOOD That's what they say yeah.
PAUL The Speaker is the boss. Do you get much interference from your boss?
LOCKWOOD No, no I've gotta say I've withdrawn from caucus of course, I'm no longer involved in policy issues with the National Party, and they leave me, they respect the fact I've gotta be seen to be independent.
PAUL What does he bring to the role of Speaker do you think, apart from that affection for parliament, what kind of qualities would Lockwood Smith bring to the Speakership?
ALEXANDRA Well I think he brings a dignity, and I believe he knows, he's really familiar with the workings of parliament over many years and I'm sure that helps, and intelligence. I'm not saying other people haven't had that, but that's what I think he brings.
PAUL One important thing too I spose Alexandra is Mr Speaker's been in Opposition, does that help you as Speaker?
LOCKWOOD Absolutely Paul, I mean I've asked more questions in parliament than any other member of that parliament there, I've answered as many questions in parliament as any other member of that parliament, and it gives you a feel for the place because you know if you try to apply the Standing Orders continuously you'd never get anywhere, you've gotta have a feel for the way the place ebbs and flows.
PAUL You've said that that tough love doesn't work down there.
LOCKWOOD I think you know a light handed regulatory approach with clear boundaries is what's needed.
PAUL I spose too the other thing as he says he's asked more questions than anyone else, answered more than anyone else Alexandra and he's worked in the place for so long since 1984 when he first went into parliament, that he has a sense of empathy perhaps for other members no matter what party, sense of compassion?
ALEXANDRA I would hope so yes.
PAUL Do you think you do?
LOCKWOOD Oh undoubtedly I think it's something that I wondered whether I could make the big shift from being a person at the hard end of policy but it's actually been easier than I thought, and you've got to respect all members, that's hugely important, if you don't respect the members how do you expect them to show respect to the Speaker, you know that's a really important issue.
PAUL Are you enjoying the job?
LOCKWOOD I am, because I feel I am making a difference and the public I mean the reaction from the public's been fabulous. We've had letters from Australia even congratulating us on how question time is now being conducted and of course we get through question time in under an hour these days, it used to take up to an hour forty, the government's getting through more business, you know the taxpayers' money - I'm actually running the office of the Speaker on half the budget too so you know we're actually saving the taxpayers quite a lot of money.
PAUL Of course Mr Peters isn't there which might speed up question time a little bit, do you miss him in the House?
LOCKWOOD There are one or two others though Paul that perhaps also have a bit of a reputation for testing Speakers and to me ...
PAUL Names - names?
LOCKWOOD In not going to name anyone Paul, I don't want to do that, but the approach of the Speaker makes a big difference, you know one thing I don't tolerate is points of order being used for matters that don't relate to order. The previous Speaker I'd allow people to raise all sorts of things on a point and that would lead to disorder and you make a rod for your own back if you do that.
PAUL Dr Cullen I think was offering to help you in the role of Speaker?
LOCKWOOD He's been helpful, I've had a chat, I invited all parties to come and have a chat to me about how they'd like to see it go and I found Michael Cullen actually being very helpful.
PAUL Do you get aggravation - I did ask you this I know, I asked you whether you got your leader laying down the law a little bit on how you might be ruling and so forth and you said no not at all you're being left alone - what about other colleagues are they resisting?
LOCKWOOD No not at all Paul, it's been fascinating they've really stepped - when I made it clear I expected clear questions to be answered in the public interests, unless of course the Minister was to argue it wasn't in the public interests to answer it, but they've really stepped up and it's interesting, some of the feedback I've had is even government departments are putting more work into preparing better answers for their ministers now that's not a bad thing.
PAUL Not a bad thing, a very good thing Mr Speaker. So anyway my gosh I've just seen that ring, this is the ring Dr Smith gave you on Christmas Day.
ALEXANDRA That's the ring.
PAUL Can we have a little look, hold I up nice and clearly we'll get the camera in there to have a look, just hold your hand steady there, which one is the engagement ring Alexandra?
ALEXANDRA This one it's the wedding ring and engagement ring, because I had the three diamond and it was to enhance it.
PAUL You had it specially made very secretly Mr Speaker?
LOCKWOOD Yes Paul I wanted to do that and that was a problem for me though where did I go, I knew nothing about getting rings made.
PAUL Do you still go round the country taking bulls to shows?
LOCKWOOD The next one's the Royal Easter Show here in Auckland Paul, I'll have a team - Alexandra and I will have a team there of eight cattle and the big bull, he's almost one and a half tons.
PAUL Very good so the wedding is July 4th.
ALEXANDRA It is.
PAUL A day of freedom?
ALEXANDRA Well I rather thought the cartoonists might make quite a thing of that, but it actually is the first Saturday of the school holidays and being a high school counsellor school holidays become quite significant for things like this.
PAUL Exactly so, it is no secret that you have lived together now for some time, about eight years you've been back together?
ALEXANDRA Nearly ten years.
PAUL And where do you have the wedding at parliament?
LOCKWOOD In the Legislative Council Chamber Paul and the Grand Hall right behind that on front of that, it's a lovely place for it, for the reception too.
PAUL Is he marrying you or is he marrying the place?
ALEXANDRA Well it's a lovely place.
PAUL It is a lovely place, and it's going to be a fabulous celebration. Big wedding?
LOCKWOOD It'll be a biggish wedding I guess Paul because there'll be a lot of friends coming from overseas. One of the lovely things is Alexandra's father sadly has passed away, Dudley passed away some years ago but being an American Field Scholar she had an American family and her American family are coming out here for the wedding and her American father will give her away.
PAUL Oh fantastic.
ALEXANDRA Salvatore Sisarillo.
PAUL That's his name? That is very nice. That's lovely. Thank you for showing us the ring, thank you very much for coming on the programme, continue the good work Mr Speaker.
LOCKWOOD Thanks Paul.