“It’s a matter of principle. Every woman and man should feel safe in the workplace.” (Judith Collins, November 25, 2021)
“I thought it was a bad process, I thought it lacked due process from a lawyer.” (Simon Bridges, November 25, 2021)
These statements are also correct. And if Parliament were a court, Judith Collins and Simon Bridges could make their case before a judge. After all, Bridges and Collins both know a courtroom.
Parliament, despite its status as the country’s supreme legislative body, is a strangely anarchic place.
There are two key concepts of natural justice – an anti-bias rule and the right to a fair hearing. In the past 48 hours, Bridges hasn’t had either.
The addressee of the complaint, then Leader of the Opposition, Judith Collins, was clearly biased against Bridges. A demotion was pronounced before Bridges had a chance to present his case to his caucus colleagues, the National Party board of directors or voters.
Traditionally, Parliament is a hierarchical place. The leaders of their respective parties are the rulers. They determine the order of the list, the allocation of portfolios and usually also the media favorite jobs like regular TV panels. But they only do it on the basis of the confidence of the caucus.
Parliamentary regulations attempt to balance the power of Parliament by providing some protection of natural justice to the general public – those who might be appointed or discussed in parliamentary proceedings or special committee hearings. But this does not apply between deputies.
The terms of reference for Debbie Francis’ last year’s review of bullying and harassment in the parliamentary workplace in New Zealand explicitly excluded conduct between MPs and went so far as to say that problems had arisen. raised.
Our Westminster system, built around MPs organized into political parties, demands that natural justice be overturned. Caucus discipline and the need to demonstrate this outside means that MPs rarely get a chance to make their point. If they do, the need for the leader to be seen as acting decisively means the MP will most likely be punished again.
This is reinforced in the MMP system, where many MPs rely on the list for their place in Parliament. This increases the expectation of MPs dancing with whoever brought you. It was the party machine that got you into parliament, and no deputy is bigger than the party.
If a leader acts decisively, he must be sure that his decision will be supported by the caucus. If not, the unit’s exterior display will quickly be undermined.
This appears to be what has happened in the last 48 hours. Collin’s decision to act against Bridges in a late-night press release didn’t just upset Bridges supporters. He told everyone in the caucus that if allegations were made against them, it was unlikely that they would have a chance to make their case before they too were publicly scolded.
In natural justice, there is also a principle of double criminality. Once tried for a crime, you cannot be tried again. Jacqui Dean filed her complaint in 2017. Then Deputy Prime Minister Bill English received it, spoke to both parties and an apology was issued. Nothing has changed between that date and Wednesday to trigger new litigation on the issue.
The discussion, especially over the past year, on raising the standard of behavior in Parliament would of course be a natural opportunity to provide an example of misconduct. But it is also an opportunity to show how the problems should be handled. Nothing in Dean’s later statement suggested that she had a problem with the actions of the management team at the time.
No one defended Bridges’ actions. He himself admitted his guilt and apologized. Several times.
Rather than using this incident as a way to show ways to deal with issues like this, it was used as political football. Thus demonstrating that even a discussion about bullying and harassment cannot protect you from bullying and harassment from your boss.
Everyone deserves to feel safe in their workplace. To do this, people deserve the opportunity to act, and at least to be heard before their peers. Natural justice may be the antithesis of party discipline, but given that we are talking about MPs’ livelihoods, shouldn’t those principles at least be respected?
* Brigitte Morten is a senior consultant for Silvereye. Prior to that, she was Senior Ministerial Advisor to the Minister of Education in the National Government-led Government, and Advisor and Campaign Manager for the Australian Liberal Party.