HERALD WEEKLY ISSUE 570:29 June 2011

Norman appears before Privileges Committee

Atiu MP Norman George appeared before the Parliamentary Privileges Committee this morning, facing the body that was set up to look into whether he showed contempt by not showing up for the Parliamentary sitting on February 18. It was a courtly affair, conducted in the realm of Parliament and all its judicial appearances in the functions of making law. Even the written submission from George had the appearance of a court document. And by all accounts, it was a fair and balanced process – made transparent by Speaker of Parliament Sir Geoffrey Henry, who is chairing the committee.
The substance of the morning session – the third that the Committee has conducted – was George’s submission of eight pages plus attachments, which he introduced and spoke to throughout more than an hour of questions from the members. As a lawyer, the MP’s arguments were presented on the basis of facts, he said – an approach, which the Speaker also referred as the focus of the Committee’s process.
In his legal references, George referred extensively to attachments pulled from the Parliamentary Practice of New Zealand, and the writing of David McGee QC – a reference also utilized by Constitutional Law expert Alex Frame (see separate article).
The crux of the argument over whether there was contempt on the part of the Member centres on the reasons given for not attending Parliament, in February. In George’s view, he said he felt “aggrieved” at having been subjected to “rushed short notice”. He deemed the sitting as non-critical and was “unhappy with the casual haphazard way in which this proud institution was being treated”. The MP said he wanted to make an “impact statement” thereby sending a message to the new government: ‘be careful what you do’.
Chairing the session, and raising slightly pricklier questions, Sir Geoffrey put it to George that the latter’s attitude toward the sitting was “too light”. Treating the Royal Summons from the Queen’s Representative the way he did was specious, the Speaker said. The Standing Orders (53) carried a proviso that allowed the QR to summon the House on shorter notice than the usual 7 days’ requirement. The Member had to have been aware of this and should have treated the summons as the most appropriate opportunity to attend the sitting and take the prescribed Oath of Allegiance.
But George held to his argument that the proviso in Standing Order 53 was a “bottom line” alternative and that the ‘first appropriate opportunity’ reference in the Constitution for Members to take the Oath, implies flexibility. As such, he took his own circumstances into account as well as those of the Parliament in general.
The Committee process will be continuing next week. On hand for the deliberations are two legal opinions, and today’s formal submission from George. The legal opinions were obtained from Crown Law and this has been reviewed by Dr. Alex Frame, a renowned expert on the Cook Islands Constitution.

Herald Issue 554 09 March
- Norm exposes Trio of Doom
- Briefs from PM’s media conference Tuesday
- Tourism Industry ponders $5 million draft strategy
- Norman George resigns from Cook Islands Party
- Letter of Resignation from CIP
- Norman selfish says Prime Minister

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