IN COMMITTEE Selecting the Select

Sometime this month the select committees of the 48th Parliament will be appointed. These committees will – in as far as it is humanly possible – be proportional to the party membership in the House. So, who decides who goes where?
Well it is not, as you may have thought, the guys who won on election night. Select committees are creatures of the Parliament; not the executive branch of government. Membership of committees is the responsibility of the Business Committee, which is the committee generally charged with keeping the wheels of Parliament nicely greased and turning smoothly.
While it will be highly influential throughout the term of the next Parliament, in sense, the Business Committee’s big moment comes right here at the beginning. It gets to decide which MPs – other than those who have achieved the lofty heights of cabinet portfolio – get to sit on what committee.
For many MPs, especially those in the early stages of their parliamentary career, it is in the select committee rooms, rather than on the floor of the House, that they really get chance to strut their stuff. So this is big deal and that being the case it will come as no surprise to learn that the membership of the Business Committee itself is the subject of the first round of horse trading.
Generally speaking, parties seek to place their “safe hands” on this one and normally every party represented in Parliament has somebody on it.
Last time the line up was as follows: the chair was the Speaker, Margaret Wilson, who was of course also Labour. New Zealand First was represented by Peter Brown, National by deputy leader Gerry Brownlee, United Future by Gordon Copeland, the Greens by co-leader Rod Donald, the Progressives by Matt Robson, ACT by Ken Shirley, and Maori by Tariana Turia.
What they agree to matters. And especially who gets to chair particular committee matters lot. There was time when the government of the day provided all the chairs and majority of the members of any given committee. Under MMP neither is any longer the case.
Select committees have considerable powers, not just in the scrutiny of legislation and over the performance – financial and otherwise – of government bodies. They also have the power to conduct inquiries into just about anything they so choose, and to call citizens to appear and testify.
Indeed, in the case of the Privileges Committee – invariably referred to as the “all powerful” Privileges Committee – the powers are almost draconian. So, while recent headlines may have been dominated by the tricky business of coalition formation, know that behind the scenes and beyond the purview of the media, this month’s sharp-edged stuff is all about select committee membership and dominance.

Julie Collier is editor and publisher of Select Committee News.

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