Brownlee Explains National Vs Greens Scrap
Brownlee Gives Scoop Lowdown On Nats Vs Greens
Over the last few weeks parliamentary duels have been thin on the ground. However Nationals' Deputy leader Gerry Brownlee has not spent all holidays enjoying the warm Canterbury sun – he's been hounding the Government and the Green Party over arrangements for Green Party liaison positions paid for by Ministerial services. Scoop rang Mr Brownlee in an effort to discover why he was hot under the collar over the two positions - one advocating buying NZ made goods the other working on energy efficiency proposals.
Scoop: What is your main bug bear regarding the two positions? Is it that the Greens are being paid through ministerial services and they are not in formal coalition with Labour?
Gerry Brownlee: It's kind of an evolving story. Firstly, ministerial services advertised in November for persons to fill two positions accounting to the Green Party – either Jeanette Fitzsimons or Sue Bradford - as they discharge their portfolio responsibilities. Now, why do people who are outside of Government have portfolio responsibilities and why are ministerial services paying for their salaries and how does all this work? There is a Public Finance Act that prohibits exactly what they are proposing to do.
Scoop: What section [of the Public Finance Act] does this arrangement contravene?
Mr Brownlee: You'd have to clear that with the Auditor-General. The Auditor-General is looking into it. They confirmed to me on the 21 December that they think it is an unacceptable arrangement and they are going to be looking into it. Internal Affairs are now describing those jobs as ministerial liaison positions. The most recent evolution is that the Greens Chief of Staff [Deborah Moran] will be half time. She will be working for the Public Service half the time and working for the Greens the other half.
That bends State Service rules about what you can and can't do as a civil servant. All around it is a very shonky arrangement headed by Helen Clark and Michael Cullen in order to shore up support.
Scoop: You don't buy the argument that this situation is just MMP evolving?
Mr Brownlee: No I don't. If that is the case then the Government of the day would be able to buy off anyone in their position. There's another word for that!
Mr Brownlee: A one party state! We still have a Westminster system where the Crown is still the head of the state. The idea is that you have collective responsibility when it comes to advice given to the Crown and that advice is contested by the Opposition. Until that constitutional arrangement is formally changed then all of our laws bind the Government to that position. Helen Clark and Michael Cullen deciding they want to step outside that is not acceptable.
Scoop: Do you think this could be a bit of a storm in a teacup over semantics. What if there was a Green liaison position funded from the ministries responsible for implementing the respective policies?
Mr Brownlee: Why would they do that. Why don't they have liaison positions for every party. This [arrangement] is about maintaining numbers and it is using taxpayers dollars. In NZ there are some strong acts which bind the way the Government can spend taxpayer dollars. This sits well outside that and it would be wrong to simply accept it.
Scoop: Does the arrangement contravene the Cabinet Manual?
Mr Brownlee: I think the Cabinet Manual got tossed out the door as soon as the Winston Peters coalition arrangements were announced. It is an important document that they have just dismissed. It is just another chink in the constitutional armour
Scoop: What if the Auditor-General comes back and says to the Government 'no - you can't do this.' Would that be a concern should you be in power sometime in the future?
Mr Brownlee: The fact is in New Zealand you claim constitutional authority by having numbers in Parliament– if you can use taxpayers dollars to buy those numbers then I think the country is in some trouble.