Nicholson gave his wicket away .. now he must be demoted
Using cricket analogy a few weeks ago, I said that A.J. Nicholson, the leader of government business in the Senate, has not been particularly skillful at batting deliveries with some pace, especially when they threatened the throat. I said then that he would be better suited to come after the roller, especially after the "idiot" thing he pulled on Robert Montague.
Nicholson has again been exposed as lacking the technique to deal with even the most harmless of deliveries. His latest indiscretion came on Friday, playing down the wrong line to a harmless delivery from Marlene Malahoo-Forte and getting himself stumped.
Since his inexplicable, unwise and offensive 'flexi-rape' retort in the Senate, calls have come for Nicholson to resign or be sacked. Having played yet another reckless shot - 'flexi-rape' being the most egregious - Nicholson should, by now, recognise he is a liability to his team. He should get no prodding, he should just take off his pads, his tips and toss his bat aside and volunteer for a demotion in the batting order.
While Nicholson has apologised for his comment, which I do believe was not meant as an insult, significant damage has been done to the quest of making the current Senate the best since Independence. Should Nicholson continue as the leader of government business, it could be an unnecessary distraction, and may even help to sap the energy of the Opposition from which cooperation is required.
Having been in the Senate since 1998, Nicholson, perhaps more than anyone else, should have been quite familiar with Standing Order 34, which says that a member should be heard in silence. The rules state that a member shall not interrupt another member except by rising on a point of order, whereupon the member speaking shall resume his seat and the member interrupting shall simply direct attention to the point which he desires to bring to notice and submit it to the president or chairman for a decision.
The Standing Orders also provide for a structured interruption whereby a member is permitted to elucidate some matter raised by the member in the course of his speech, but only if the member speaking is willing to yield.
CAUGHT WITh PANTS DOWN
None of the aforementioned conditions was satisfied last Friday, and Nicholson, who as foreign minister is the chief diplomat, was caught with his pants down when he stepped over the line. Perhaps if he had glanced at Standing Order 34 when he rose to intervene, using Standing Order 35 as his basis 15 minutes earlier, Nicholson would not have found himself in such hot water.
Standing Order 35 deals with content of speech, and states
that members should confine presentations to the subject matter being considered. Opposition Senator Ruel Reid was dancing about the place when he made his contribution to the flexi-work bill and Nicholson, like his fellow Government senators, was not amused.
And when Malahoo-Forte rose to speak, Nicholson appeared as if he had heard enough. In fact, he had earlier asked what more was left to be said on the bill, having recognised that almost every member of the Senate was inclined to speak.
Having watched the entire sitting of the Senate last Friday, I am convinced that Nicholson was attempting a joke. I think he meant no harm, but he engaged mouth before brain and must face the consequences.
Malahoo-Forte had taken the position that the bill had too many gaps and was being overhyped. Hence, she was making calls for a regime for mandatory written contracts to workers and for improvement in the social infrastructure to take account of the fact that the law would now allow women to do night work.
Never mind that those laws were being observed in the breach, Malahoo-Forte felt it necessary for attention to be paid to the potential of rape and other abuse that may befall women when the new law is passed.
No one had to agree with her. I did not, but Nicholson was clearly annoyed. Apparently thinking that Malahoo-Forte was being ridiculous, he found an ugly way of asking if she wanted a clause on rape to be included in the bill.
I have listened to my tape more than 10 times and I am now sure he did use the words "yuh waah flexi-rape?". I, therefore, erred in my reporting of the matter when I quoted Nicholson as saying, "What? Flexi-rape?"
Malahoo-Forte, in her contribution to the debate, said: "It is now making it lawful for women to work at nights, and I understand that we have equality of opportunity for men and women, and I can understand that. But you know, we also have high incidence of rape at nights."
Montague echoed: "Yes."
Malahoo Forte: "We have abduction of women and children."
Nicholson: "Rape? Yuh waah flexi-rape?"
And then there was laughter from the government benches, and protest from the opposition side.
So there it was - a harmless, wayward delivery, but Nicholson, lacking finesse, got himself
Floyd Morris, the president of the Senate, intervened, but it wasn't to reprimand Nicholson. His purpose was to restore calm and for Malahoo-Forte to complete her presentation.
REFUSED To WITHDRAW
After Malahoo-Forte closed, Kamina Johnson Smith, an opposition senator who speaks on gender affairs, asked the president to intervene. Inexplicably, Nicholson was stunned.
"You really take that up. I am withdrawing nothing. Really? Foolishness! Really? Foolishness! Really? Really? Really? Joke!" Nicholson said.
"Man caah run a joke again?" he continued.
But rape is no joking matter.
And irrespective of how weak a point may be, he has a responsibility to be courteous.
The reluctance of Nicholson to withdraw the comment, and the manner in which he later obliged, makes it even more difficult for him to continue as House leader.
Floyd Morris, the president of the Senate, has signalled that he would not be granting any latitude, henceforth. This is coming a little late, but welcomed nonetheless.
Morris has asked the clerk to arrange a session for members to be retaught the Standing Orders and the rules of debate. He also said he would be stringent and follow the Standing Orders.
The refresher courses and Morris' new approach need now to be accompanied by a new leader of government business in the Senate. Justice Minister Mark Golding is clearly overworked, but he pilots almost all bills in the Senate. He is made of that sort of material which is in short supply.