Today Trevor Mallard was ejected from the House. As is to be expected he took exception to this and took to Twitter to express his displeasure:
This is once again likely to bring the issue of Twitter use in and around the House to the fore. As many of the people who read this blog will know the Speaker, David Carter, has referred the issue of the use of social media, and in particular Twitter, in the House to the Privileges Committee. Firstly it was referred to the Business Committee. When this happened, I email the Speakers Office:
Dear Mr Speaker.Having watched question time and seen that you are going to have, I believe, the Business Committee look at the use of Twitter by MPs from within the House. I am prompted to email you to find out if there will be any public, or academic, in put on this process? There are a number of us blogging and researching the political use of Twitter. There are many advantages to be gained for MPs, and Parliament as a whole, from effective use of Twitter. However, in the last couple of weeks there have been some issues, Judith Collins, John Key’s comments about those who use Twitter, and now this incident. I would hate to see these used as reasons to tighten up on MPs use of social media. I have already blogged about today’s incident, http://wp.me/p4jhfj-jN. However I would appreciate the opportunity for the public to have an input in to this process before any hard and fast decisions were made.I look forward to hearing from you.
The reply that I received from David Carter’s Senior Secretary was:
I am writing in response to your email of 13 May requesting that the public be given the opportunity to comment on whether Members of Parliament should tweet from the debating chamber.
The increasing use of social media by Members both in and outside the House is a relatively new phenomenon, but does have implications for how Parliament operates.
It is an evolving issue and one that I take a keen interest in.
I have referred this matter to the Privileges Committee. It will be for this Committee to determine how it will consider this matter.
Thank you for your interest in the workings of Parliament.
Rt Hon David Carter
Speaker of the House of Representatives
Senior Private Secretary
Office of Rt Hon David Carter, Speaker of the House of Representatives
I then took the step of emailing, via the Parliament website, the Committee Secretariat. Unfortunately due to the way the website works, I do not have a copy of the email I sent. However I did chase them up when I had not heard anything. I received an email in reply which informed me that my original email had been tabled with the committee and it was up to the chair and the committee to decide what to do. It also informed me that Privileges was meeting to discuss the issue last Thursday, the 19th, however that session was not open to the public. I have not received any communication from the Privileges Committee since that meeting.
After today’s events I thought I would have another look at the membership of the Privileges Committee:
Chairperson Finlayson, Christopher National Party, List
Deputy-Chairperson Parker, David Labour Party, List
Member Brownlee, Gerry National Party, Ilam
Member Graham, Kennedy Green Party, List
Member Hipkins, Chris Labour Party, Rimutaka
Member McCully, Murray National Party, East Coast Bays
Member Peters, Winston NZ First, List
Member Robertson, Grant Labour Party, Wellington Central
Member Tolley, Anne National Party, East Coast
Member Turia, TarianaMaori Party, Te Tai Hauāuru
Of the 10 Members of the Privileges Committee 60% of them are either not on Twitter, do not run their own account, or have sent less then 300 tweets. Add to this only two of the MPs are under 45, Grant Robertson 43 and Chris Hipkins 36. There are non of the high usage MPs like Gareth Hughes, Trevor Mallard, Judith Collins, Peter Dunne, Clare Curran. People who on the whole actually get the strengths and weaknesses of Social Media. The Committee should be open to having active users of Twitter, both MPs and non MPs, appear before it, to help it understand the strengths that social media offers.
I am not confident that the decisions made, and rules set, by the Privileges Committee will encourage MPs to engage with voters on social media. I suspect if they try to clamp down hard, which is the outcome I suspect, MPs like Trevor Mallard and Clare Curran will fight the system, National MPs will back away from engaging even more than they already do, and voters will be poorer for it. Privileges need to find a balance, something that will take the edge off the worst instances, but that still allows MPs and voters to engage, even when the MPs are in the House. There is much talk at the moment about the lack of engagement with politics shown by many, particularly young people. Yet here we have a group of 10 people, the majority no using the platform concerned, making decisions that could block off one particular avenue to help increase the level of engagement and interest. It is paramount that the decisions made are based on solid information and understanding of the tools, and not made by a bunch of MPs who, on the whole, have never used the tool and are likely to have little understanding.