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Source: New Zealand Parliament


31st August – 2nd September 2015

Good afternoon

I have the honour of presenting the report ‘Challenges Facing Parliaments’. Parliament, through which the will of people is expressed in a properly functioning democracy. It is an important institution – but it can be a fragile one.

I am pleased to be here amongst my fellow Speakers and parliamentarians.

I acknowledge the great diversity of our Parliaments and our circumstances. Particularly, the differences between developed and developing countries.

I recognise the challenges that smaller and developing democracies have. I see that the institutional capacity of the stronger more established parliaments must be made available and shared with these countries.

We have a responsibility to work with our neighbours, in my case in the Pacific region. Gathering here, as we reflect on a new development agenda to end poverty in all its forms, reminds us of the tremendous but not insurmountable challenges that we face together.

One of the roles of Speaker, I most value is being an advocate for the Parliament. The role of Speaker is interwoven with the place itself – my authority and standing is dependent on the respect with which the public hold the institution of Parliament.

You have the paper before you – this describes some common challenges and opportunities, including:

  • public scepticism, sadly deserved due to the actions of some politicians;
  • declining voter turnout, a global trend we must all address;
  • the capacity of parliaments, and its ability to reform and make use of technology;
  • the composition of parliament, particularly gender balance and the participation of indigenous people; and,
  • executive dominance, a particular challenge for the smaller democracies.

In New Zealand, we have started a significant conversation about how effective parliamentary scrutiny actually enhances government outcomes. The New Zealand Parliament is one of the longest continuous parliaments and internationally regarded as a well-functioning democratic institution. I don’t want to get complacent.

No Parliament can afford to stand still, and we have recently strengthened the financial and legislative scrutiny functions of our parliamentary committees.

Promoting a strong and open democracy is high on my list of priorities. Public respect for the institution will grow when the public is informed about what Parliament is doing and is able to participate.

The relevance and legitimacy of parliaments is at stake if we do not move with the fast pace of communications and technology. A well-functioning democracy relies on openness and transparency of information; indeed it is core to making any Parliament as an institution more effective.

I am proud that my Parliament is open, transparent, and accessible. Proceedings are broadcast through a variety of media, and a huge volume of information, including evidence and advice provided to select committees, is routinely published. Committee hearings are open to the public and public input is nearly always invited. Expenditure on parliamentary travel and entitlements is released at regular intervals and all members are required to disclose pecuniary and other specified interests annually.

At the heart of this is maintaining public confidence by being open about expenditure of public money, enabling the public to hold elected representatives to account; and allowing for informed public debate.

I challenge you all; shine the light on your Parliaments. Do not stand for any sniff of corruption or complacency – because your citizens certainly will not. Share both your successes and your challenges with your people. Be honest and the public perceptions of politicians and the standing of your Parliaments will be better for it.