Questions And Answers - December 6 2005
Questions And Answers - December 6
Questions to Ministers
Trade Barriers—Energy Efficiency and Labelling
1. JEANETTE FITZSIMONS (Co-Leader—Green) to the Minister for Trade Negotiations: Has he told China, Korea, and Argentina that New Zealand rejects their claim that energy-efficiency standards and labels should be treated as non-tariff trade barriers; if not, why not?
Hon JIM SUTTON (Minister for Trade Negotiations): Not yet. The World Trade Organization negotiations are still at the point of winnowing out and identifying non-tariff barriers for further action. At this stage, it would be premature for New Zealand to initiate bilateral exchanges with individual members on single items identified through the initial phase. If I were to engage with China, Korea, and Argentina on whether energy-efficiency standards should be treated as non-tariff barriers, our starting point would be that energy-efficiency standards can be an effective instrument to achieve energy-efficiency savings. World Trade Organization rules allow members to set standards that contribute to a healthy environment, as long as the standards are necessary, transparent, and applied in a non-discriminatory way.
Jeanette Fitzsimons: Given that notification of those attempts has been around on the website for over a year now, would it not be a good idea to try to influence the final form in which those proposals are put; and will the Minister not make the strongest possible statement at the Hong Kong ministerial meeting next week against these measures—which would weaken every country’s efforts to limit climate change—and not trade away our energy-efficiency standards and labels in return for increased market access for agricultural products?
Hon JIM SUTTON: I think it unlikely that this matter will require debate at the Hong Kong ministerial meeting. However, I do welcome the honourable member’s support, as recently as yesterday, for removing unnecessarily complex regulations on some products. New Zealand has been actively involved in work to address non-tariff barriers that affect the use of timber in building construction.
H V Ross Robertson: Given the Minister’s response that the issue is unlikely to be raised, will the Government therefore speak out strongly against that?
Hon JIM SUTTON: The Government takes the need for environmental standards very seriously, and those measures are developed in a rigorous way to ensure compliance with World Trade Organization (WTO) agreements. WTO rules—including the agreement on technical barriers to trade, which covers standards and technical regulations—allow members to pursue environmental objectives as long, as I said, as the standards are necessary and non-discriminatory.
Jeanette Fitzsimons: Is the Minister aware that the United States wants the WTO to outlaw tax concessions for the purchase of small-engined cars, on the grounds that it discriminates against large-engined cars; and will the Government make it clear that it has no truck with such proposals, given the effect they would have on the efficiency of the New Zealand vehicle fleet and the cost of our oil imports?
Hon JIM SUTTON: My great sympathy for the member’s position on this is curtailed by the realisation that the WTO will have its work cut out to liberalise trade, without taking on the burden of the Kyoto Protocol, as well.
Jeanette Fitzsimons: Do I take it from the Minister’s answer that he believes that the WTO should proceed to make its decisions about non-tariff trade barriers without any consideration of the effects they might have on other international treaties such as Kyoto?
Hon JIM SUTTON: Absolutely not. It is the long-established policy of this Government that progress in trade should not be purchased at the expense of going backwards on either environmental or labour issues.
Jeanette Fitzsimons: Is the Minister aware that a flood of cheap, inefficient Chinese air conditioners could cause a power blackout in Auckland, as it nearly did a few years ago in Brisbane; and why will he not now make a clear statement at the WTO that energy efficiency standards are non-negotiable?
Hon JIM SUTTON: Because I am not the Minister with responsibility for energy efficiency.
Social Development and Employment, Minister—Confidence
2. Dr DON BRASH (Leader of the Opposition) to the Prime Minister: Does she have confidence in her Minister for Social Development and Employment; if so, why?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK (Prime Minister): Yes, because he is a hard-working and conscientious Minister.
Dr Don Brash: Does she regard it as an acceptable standard of conduct for the Hon David Benson-Pope to circulate material to the media that deliberately misrepresented the police report into accusations that he had assaulted pupils; if not, what advice does she have for the Minister?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: The matter could have been handled better, and advice will be forthcoming to the Minister.
Dr Don Brash: Why should the public have any confidence in the Hon David Benson-Pope when his own office leaked part of the police report to the Herald on Sunday, which stated in a story that Mr Benson-Pope had declined an interview; or does she think that is acceptable behaviour, since it is clearly modelled on her own conduct in the case of former Police Commissioner Peter Doone?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: It is for Mr Benson-Pope to decide how he handles that matter.
Dr Don Brash: Why should the public have any confidence in the Hon David Benson-Pope when he told Parliament on 12 May this year that he “refuted” allegations that he had ever tied a student’s hands, yet the police said there was “sufficient evidence to say that this incident did occur”; does she not see that her Minister for Social Development and Employment now has zero credibility with the media and the public?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: The member might want to refer to the legal advice offered by Mr Benson-Pope’s lawyer on Morning Report this morning.
Dr Don Brash: Why has she allowed the Hon David Benson-Pope to get away with misleading the media, when she declined to accept such conduct from the Hon Lianne Dalziel and dismissed her from her portfolio?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I have dealt directly with the matter of the misleading of the media by referring the staff member concerned to Ministerial Services.
Dr Don Brash: Is it not a bit rich for the Prime Minister to criticise Rongo Wçtere for the early release of the audit report into the wânanga, when one of her own Ministers did exactly the same thing when his office selectively and deliberately leaked parts of a police report and even suggested that the leak came from the police?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: To the best of my knowledge no one has ever breached an Auditor-General’s embargo before.
Dr Pita Sharples: Can the Prime Minister recall saying on 28 June 2000 that the then Minister of Mâori Affairs, Dover Samuels, had to be sacked from his portfolio because he could not be effective while “allegations, controversy, and public debate swirl around him.”, and how can she maintain David Benson-Pope in his Cabinet position while allegations, controversy, and public debate swirl around him?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: Both matters were referred to the police for full investigation. The reality is that both Ministers referred to are Ministers today.
Civil Union Act—Marriage Act
3. GORDON COPELAND (United Future) to the Minister of Justice: Does he agree with the statement made to the House by former Associate Minister of Justice the Hon David Benson-Pope that “marriage has always been, and will continue to be, available solely to a man and a woman”; if so, is this still Government policy?
Hon MARK BURTON (Minister of Justice): Yes.
Gordon Copeland: Does he agree with the advice tendered by the Ministry of Justice to the then Attorney General, Dr Michael Cullen, that the Court of Appeal’s decision in the Quilter case may be reconsidered in light of recent overseas judgments; if not, why not?
Hon MARK BURTON: I note that the Quilter case constitutes the current position of the law in New Zealand. There has been no such appeal.
Russell Fairbrother: On what does he base his answer to the principal question?
Hon MARK BURTON: As I have just referred to, in part, in my reply to the previous supplementary question, the legal position has been clearly stated in Quilter v Attorney-General in 1998. The Court of Appeal held that the Marriage Act applies only to marriage between a man and a woman. Nothing since then has changed the situation.
Gordon Copeland: Will Cabinet, in light of David Benson-Pope’s confirmation that marriage should continue to be solely between a man and a woman, and in light of the Minister’s acknowledgment of the advice from the Ministry of Justice that the Quilter decision may be reconsidered, vote in support of my Marriage (Gender Clarification) Amendment Bill, which codifies and confirms that marriage is exclusively between a man and woman; if not, why not?
Hon MARK BURTON: As I have already indicated, there is no such basis to reconsider the position, so no. To vote in favour of the bill, in my view, would constitute a poor process and a complete waste of Parliament’s time.
Gordon Copeland: I seek the leave of the House to table the advice tendered by the Ministry of Justice and the Attorney-General on 9 May 2005, which states that the Quilter decision may be reconsidered in light of overseas decisions.
Gordon Copeland: I seek the leave of the House to table a DigiPoll taken on 25 July 2005, which shows that 57 percent of New Zealanders believe that marriage can be only between a man and a woman.
Madam SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection? There is objection.
Hon MARK BURTON: I seek leave, for the benefit of members’ full information, to table a copy of the Ministry of Justice’s advice to the Minister of Justice on the Marriage (Gender Clarification) Amendment Bill.
Social Development and Employment, Minister—Police Decision
4. JUDITH COLLINS (National—Clevedon) to the Minister for Social Development and Employment: Who from his office supplied parts of the police files involving historic allegations against him to the Herald on Sunday, and did he authorise that action by his office?
Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE (Minister for Social Development and Employment): It is clear from my press release of 4 December that I authorised my press secretary to give a briefing to the Herald on Sunday.
Rodney Hide: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. That question was put down on notice, so the Minister had some considerable time to look at that question, but that was not a complete answer to the two parts of the question that were asked. I suggest to you that, to have some discipline in question time, a question on notice should be answered.
Madam SPEAKER: I thank the member. The Minister did address the question.
Judith Collins: Where did the Minister’s staff member get the police report from, and what instructions did the Minister give his staff member about the release of that material?
Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: The report came from the CD-ROM that we had obtained from central police in Wellington. Although I was not aware of any restraint placed on me with regard to the files in my possession, in hindsight I recognise that releasing details was not the wisest course of action.
Judith Collins: At what point on Sunday did he learn that his office had misled the media about the leak of the police file, and why did he not issue a statement clarifying his position as soon as he realised that selected parts of the report had been leaked?
Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: At some time on Sunday afternoon, as soon as I was made aware of that issue, I had it corrected. As the Prime Minister commented earlier, the staff member involved was in error, and it is now a staff disciplinary matter.
Judith Collins: Was the Dominion Post report of Saturday, 3 December correct when it stated: “Social Development Minister David Benson-Pope has asked police to withhold parts of a report into allegations that he bullied pupils while he was a teacher.”; if so, what was the nature of those deletions?
Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: As part of an Official Information Act process, I have every right—as does any other individual when a report is being considered for release—to ask for material to be deleted. The only material that my lawyer or I asked to be removed was to do with matters that were completely irrelevant to the investigation.
Judith Collins: Does he understand why people might think he is deceitful, when he states that the release of the police report is in the hands of the police, then his office leaks it; when he states he is not available for comment, yet he releases selected highlights that favour him; and when he says he is no longer restrained in speaking to the media, then refuses all invitations to do so; if not, does he accept that the people of New Zealand can no longer have any confidence in him as a Cabinet Minister?
Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: Can I stress that the analysis that was released was in no way selective. I do—[Interruption] I will happily request leave to table that analysis at the end of this question time. Can I stress that I believe I have acted in a perfectly upfront way in all matters, and have not been deceitful.
Judith Collins: Does the Minister agree that by his actions he misled the media, he misled the public of New Zealand, and he has misled his parliamentary colleagues, and will he now simply do the decent thing and resign?
Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: No and no.
Judith Collins: I seek leave to table an excerpt from the police report. This is the report from Detective Sergeant Inglis. It has 10 pages, and it is the report that the Prime Minister did not have time to read.
Madam SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection? No objection.
Judith Collins: I seek leave to table a document that was handed out by staff from Mr Benson-Pope’s office in the press gallery yesterday, entitled The Weaver File: New Evidence. These are the excerpts.
Madam SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection? No objection.
Judith Collins: I seek leave to table a transcript of the Radio New Zealand Morning Report interview that the Prime Minister has today referred us to in relation to so-called legal advice from Mr Benson-Pope’s lawyer.
Madam SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection? There is no objection.
Rodney Hide: In light of the police report released yesterday on CD-ROM, does the Minister stand by his statement to the House on 12 May, where he said: “I find such allegations ridiculous, and I refute them.”, and: “I am quite happy to confirm”—[Interruption] Well, Mr Peters can sit on the side and try to chip. He has done it three times, and I actually look to you, Madam Speaker, for some protection. I am entitled to ask a question without interruption.
Madam SPEAKER: There is always too much chatter when people are asking the questions, so I ask members to keep their comments to themselves. I ask Mr Hide to please repeat his question.
Rodney Hide: My question—[Interruption] He has just done it again. I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. The Minister has just done it again despite your advice that he should not be doing it.
Madam SPEAKER: I am sorry; I did not hear what the member said, to be frank.
Rodney Hide: It does not matter what he said; the point is that he interrupted when I was asking my question.
Madam SPEAKER: I did not even hear the interruption, and I apologise for that. I ask the Minister to please refrain from any comment, and I ask the member to complete his question, please.
Rodney Hide: He will get his chance.
Madam SPEAKER: Would the member please just ask his question without comment.
Rodney Hide: In light of the police report on the CD-ROM that was released yesterday, does the Minister stand by the statements he made in this House on 12 May in respect of the two claims of assault that “I find such allegations ridiculous, and I refute them.”, and that “I am quite happy to confirm, and repeat, my statement earlier that I have not been guilty of, or involved in, any inappropriate behaviour in my 24 years as a secondary school teacher.”; in light of the police report, if he does stand by these claims, why does he?
Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: I am pleased to confirm that I am one of the 19 people who either do not recall the alleged events or do not believe they happened.
Judith Collins: Which statement does the Minister stand by: his one to the House on 12 May 2005, when he said in respect of the tennis ball allegation: “I find such allegations ridiculous, and I refute them.”, or the statement he made in a press release a day ago: “I have no recollection of these events, and I do not believe what was alleged happened.” And is his softer tone a result of nine former pupils saying that it did happen, and the police believing them, not him?
Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: I must repeat for the member that I am one of the 19 people who either do not recall the alleged events or do not believe they happened.
Rodney Hide: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. We actually have ourselves now in a very difficult situation, because the Minister has actually changed his answer without personal explanation. What he told the House on 12 May was that it did not happen. He did not say that once, he did not say it twice, and he did not say it three times; he denied it categorically four times, in no uncertain terms.
What he is actually trying to say now in the House, to avoid having a breach of privilege raised against him within time, is that he cannot recall. If that is going to be his answer, he needs to correct his original statement to the House. The Minister is quite entitled to make a personal explanation, and he needs to be clear about what he is saying. Is he denying the charges categorically, as he did on 12 May, or is he now telling the House that he cannot remember?
Madam SPEAKER: I thank the member for his point of order. The Minister is required to address the question. It is not for the Speaker to judge the quality of that reply; that is for others to do. The matter that the member has raised is, of course, a debatable matter, and could be refuted in the context of the debate. I would remind not only that member but all members who are raising points of order that question time is not the time for debate, and that the Speaker cannot reopen question time that took place in May, when that matter was, in fact, debated.
Judith Collins: Did the tennis ball incident happen, or are these nine people who say it did happen lying?
Madam SPEAKER: The Minister does not have ministerial responsibility for his teaching at that time. He is responsible only for actions as a Minister. Maybe the member would like to rephrase her question.
Judith Collins: Does the Minister stand by his statement in the House on 12 May 2005 that the incident did not happen, or are the nine people who say it did happen lying?
Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: I have just answered that question twice.
Rodney Hide: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. We are again getting into the situation where Ministers burn up supplementary questions from this side of the House by failing even to address the question. I think three or four supplementary questions were asked and the Minister did not address them. This is a very, very important point in this House. The Minister was asked whether he stood by his statement, and had those nine people committed perjury. It is an important point because either they have committed perjury, or the Minister has misled the House and the three former students who are supporting him have committed perjury. This is a very important point.
Madam SPEAKER: I thank the member for repeating a previous point of order. The Minister did address the question. The answer may not have been satisfactory to members; that is for others to judge. But he is perfectly entitled, as all Ministers are, to repeat an answer to a previous question. That is addressing the question, when the question that was asked was similar to the one before.
Judith Collins: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. Can you not simply ask the Minister to give a straight answer to a straight question, instead of this mucking around?
Madam SPEAKER: The member knows that that is not a point of order, and it is not for the Speaker to take that responsibility. It is for members to ask questions, and it is for Ministers to respond to them in the context of the Standing Orders. As members know, and as has been repeated many times, it is not the Speaker who is the judge of the quality of the questions or the answers.
Judith Collins: Does the Minister stand by his statement to the House on 12 May 2005 concerning the tennis ball incident that “I find such allegations ridiculous, and I refute them.”; can he please give us a straight answer?
Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: For the member’s benefit, I repeat that I am one of the 19 people who either do not recall the alleged events, or do not believe they happened. Furthermore, I would add that the police made the decision not to prosecute, and that is where the matter lies.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Does he see any connection between the leader of the National Party’s inability to remember a conversation with senators a matter of months ago, and the Minister’s inability to remember something that happened 20 years ago?
Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: I do not believe I have responsibility for the memory loss problems of the Leader of the Opposition.
Rodney Hide: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. My point of order is why you would ever allow that question to be asked in this House, when it was clearly out of order. We sit here trying to get a straight answer, yet that member can put an incorrect question that does not comply with the Standing Orders—it was clearly outside the Standing Orders. I was actually waiting for you to rule it out. It was clearly out of order.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Surely the point at issue is the question of someone’s memory. All I am asking is if someone cannot remember a conversation he had with such senior and august people as senators from the United States a matter of months ago, is it fair, by comparison or by way of connection, to liken that to someone who cannot remember what happened 20 years ago?
Madam SPEAKER: Thank you; I thank members. That was not a point of order. As members know, and as has been ruled upon before, members are entitled to ask hypothetical questions. That question was hypothetical, and a response was given. But I would say to members that there are times when perhaps such questions would be better not asked. We shall now move on.
Teachers—Professional Development Support
5. MOANA MACKEY (Labour) to the Minister of Education: What reports has he received about professional development support given to teachers?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY (Minister of Education): The Government has invested more than $100 million in 2005 for professional development of teachers, including over $20 million to enable teachers to lift students’ literacy and numeracy standards, around $12 million to increase teachers’ skill and confidence in the use of information and communications technology, and around $7 million to support professional development of school principals. Those are all very good policies.
Moana Mackey: What reports has he seen on professional development advice given to school principals?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: I have seen a report from the Post Primary Teachers Association (PPTA) that describes one piece of professional advice to a college principal as “unprovoked, malicious, unethical and inexcusable”. That advice concludes: “Yes, I do have a knife in your back, so be careful!”. The comment was made by National’s current associate education spokesperson, Allan Peachey, to a college principal in his own Tamaki electorate. Although Mr Peachey has apologised for being caught out, he has not yet explained his words or reassured the school that he has no intention of putting them into action.
Question No. 6 to Minister
SIMON POWER (National—Rangitikei): I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I note the Minister of Police is not in the Chamber today and I seek leave of the House to hold this question over until the Minister is present.
Madam SPEAKER: Leave is sought. Is there any objection? Yes, there is objection.
Social Development and Employment, Minister—Police Decision
6. SIMON POWER (National—Rangitikei) to the Minister of Police: Does she agree with her colleague the Minister for Social Development and Employment that the Southern Police District commander used “bozo-ish” language when saying that there was a prima facie case against the Hon David Benson-Pope; if not, why not?
Hon PHIL GOFF (Acting Minister of Police): The Minister states that she has read the media release issued on 23 November 2005 by the southern district commander, at the time he decided the police would not prosecute. The Minister is satisfied with the language Superintendent Fraser used. Mr Benson-Pope had told her that it was wrong to use the language he used, and that he regretted it. The Minister has conveyed Mr Benson-Pope’s regrets to Superintendent Fraser.
Simon Power: What exactly does she consider “bozo-ish” about the police report that found a prima facie case against Mr Benson-Pope, including the aggravating factors of Mr Benson-Pope’s position of authority and his complete denial of the charges, or does she perhaps not consider any of that to be “bozo-ish” at all?
Hon PHIL GOFF: I have a copy of the press statement that Superintendent Fraser made, and I have to say that the reasons he has given for not prosecuting appear to me to be totally sensible. There is nothing—
Hon Dr Nick Smith: Answer the question.
Hon PHIL GOFF: I am answering the question, if members want to listen instead of interrupting. Superintendent Fraser states, for example, that the alleged events happened more than 22 years ago and the victims were not motivated to lay complaints with the police for many years. He states that if the person at the centre of the inquiry did not have a high current public profile, it was unlikely that the matter would have surfaced in the way it did in 2005. I agree with the superintendent.
Simon Power: Is the Minister concerned that Mr Benson-Pope, through representatives speaking on his behalf, has accused the police of leaking information on two occasions, both of which accusations have not been true, and what action will she be taking about those accusations against police in her ministry?
Hon PHIL GOFF: On behalf of the Minister of Police, I say there is no evidence of the police leaking any of that information and therefore it is not appropriate to blame the police. That view has been conveyed.
Hon Dr Michael Cullen: Is this the same Superintendent Fraser who, 12 days ago in this House, the National Party implied was lying when he said he was subject to no external pressure in the decision he had arrived at; if so, has the Acting Minister had any indication that an apology has been made by the National Party to Superintendent Fraser?
Hon PHIL GOFF: I am appalled that any member of this House, including one who has had experience in the area of justice and been a Minister of Justice, would, without foundation, claim that a superintendent of police is lying. I would invite any member who has the courage to make such a defamatory statement to make it outside the House, where legal action would certainly be taken against him. I think that the member’s comments were absolutely deplorable and a smear against that superintendent, who has a fine record in the police force.
Simon Power: Will the police be taking any action against Mr Benson-Pope for releasing details of the police file to the media prior to the papers being made public by the police, or is the Minister happy for that “bozo-ish” behaviour to be overlooked simply because he is a Cabinet colleague?
Hon PHIL GOFF: I doubt whether the police would take any action for that, although that is a decision for them. The reason they would not take that action is that no offence was committed.
Simon Power: Whose definition is correct: the one in Butterworth’s New Zealand Law Dictionary, which considers a prima facie case to be “when the evidence in his or her favour is sufficiently strong for his or her opponent to be called on to answer”, or Mr Benson-Pope’s definition, which is “simply that someone has laid a complaint”; and is the Minister concerned that perhaps Mr Benson-Pope does not quite realise how close he came to being taken to court over the prima facie case of assault that was found?
Hon PHIL GOFF: The member has just made an assumption that he is in absolutely no position to make. The words “prima facie” of course are Latin for “at first view”, which gives the member the impression of what a prima facie case is. It is evidence that is sufficient to raise a presumption of fact or to establish the fact in question, unless rebutted. Can I add to that Professor Henaghan’s comments that the existence of a prima facie case did not necessarily mean a prosecution was cut and dried, but it did mean that the police had enough to start a prosecution if they chose. I think those are accurate definitions of “prima facie”.
Human Rights—United Nations Special Rapporteur
7. Dr PITA SHARPLES (Co-Leader—Mâori Party) to the Minister of Mâori Affairs: He aha te tana whakautu ki te kôrero a te kairipoata mo te Roopu Whakakotahi tangata o te Ao, ara, a Rodolfo Stavenhagen, “Kei te tino awangawanga, kei te tipu ake te ahua o te rawa kore i waenganui i te Mâori me etahi atu, a, kei muri te Mâori a haere ana.”?
[What is his response to the following statement from Professor Stavenhagen, the special rapporteur on the situation of human rights and fundamental freedoms of indigenous peoples, that “There is also widespread concern that the gap in social and economic conditions is actually growing larger and that an increasing proportion of Maori are being left behind.”?]
Hon PAREKURA HOROMIA (Minister of Maori Affairs): He maha ngâ kôrero a te professor i roto i âna kôrero ki ngâ nûpepa mô tana haere mai ki konei. Ko çtahi o âna kôrero e pâ ana ki ngâ whanaketanga o te iwi Mâori e whakaatu mai ana ahakoa e kitea ana te ahu whakamua a te iwi Mâori. He nui tonu ngâ mahi hei mahi.
[An interpretation in English was given to the House.]
[Professor Stavenhagen made a number of observations in his press release about his visit here. Some of his observations about Mâori development indicate that while Mâori have made positive progress, there is still work to be done.]
Dr Pita Sharples: How does the Minister reconcile the fact that the Government’s own figures reveal that the unemployment rate for Mâori has steadily increased over the last year from 8.3 percent in September 2004, to 9.1 percent in September 2005, with the fact that the unemployment rate for Pâkehâ has steadily decreased over the same period; and given that the gap looks to be increasing, how can the Minister say that it is actually closing?
Hon PAREKURA HOROMIA: I te wâ i whakamanatia ai tçnei Kâwanatanga, 20 pai hçneti te maha o ngâ tângata kâore i te whiwhi mahi. I tçnei wâ kua taka mai tçnei maha mô tauiwi ki te 3 pai hçneti, â, mô te Mâori 9 pai hçneti, â, kei te heke haere tonu. He tino rerekçtanga tçnei.
[An interpretation in English was given to the House.]
[When this Government came into power, the unemployment rate was at about 20 percent. The general rate is now at 3 percent, and the Mâori rate is at 9 percent and decreasing. This is a huge difference.]
Te Ururoa Flavell: Could the Minister identify where inequalities have been reduced in Mâori health, specifically, life expectancy; in Mâori education, specifically, school-leaver qualifications; and Mâori household ownership rates?
Hon PAREKURA HOROMIA: He nui ake anô ngâ take i roto i ngâ take pçrâ i a te hauora me ngâ take katoa. He maha tonu ngâ paetae kua taea e te iwi Mâori i roto i ngâ ono tau kua hipa ki muri. Hei tauira: te rçkota mô te tino maha o ngâ Mâori kei te whiwhi mahi; te whiwhi i ngâ tino rawa me ngâ taonga i roto i ngâ wâhanga e pâ ana ki ngâ ngahere, ngâ haonga ika me çrâ atu e riro ana mâ te Mâori e whakahaere.
[An interpretation in English was given to the House.]
[There are really many aspects in matters such as health and others. There have been a number of important achievements for Mâori over the last 6 years: for example, the highest employment for Mâori on record; and key commercial assets in the primary production sector are now being managed by Mâori, with the fisheries allocation process under way.]
Rodney Hide: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. That was a very long answer that the Minister of Mâori Affairs gave, and I am assured by my colleagues to my left that it was a very good answer. Unfortunately, I think the translation into English was somewhat truncated, and those of us who are still struggling with te reo would maybe like a fuller translation.
Hon PAREKURA HOROMIA: I am pleased to assist my colleague over there, who is searching keenly to understand our language. What I said was that I agreed with my colleague Te Ururoa Flavell about all those aspects pertaining to health and education—that there were a lot of things to be done. I also was quite explicit that this Government has created a record for Mâori participating in the workplace. Beyond that, I also said that assets such as forestry and fish are now being steered and managed by Mâori governance. That is what the translation was.
Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. It appears that the answers that Mr Horomia is giving are somewhat out of sync with the responses coming from the interpreter. I am not sure; perhaps it is that the numbers on the pages are not corresponding, because they both appear to have the answers in front of them. Maybe in future we should just publish the answers and completely do away with oral questions to the Minister of Mâori Affairs.
Madam SPEAKER: I thank the member for his point of order. I just remind members that it is not a translation that is given; it is, in fact, an interpretation. It was a summary of the answer, and the Minister obliged on the point of order that was given.
Hone Harawira: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. Is it appropriate, if a member gets up and asks: “How long is a piece of string?”, if the Minister answers: “Mary Jane”? The question that was asked was about inequalities in terms of Mâori health, specifically life expectancy; Mâori education, specifically school-leaver qualifications; and Mâori household ownership rates; and the answers that were given were about forestry and fisheries. He did not actually answer the question at all.
Madam SPEAKER: I thank the member for his point of order. The Minister did address the question, obviously not to the satisfaction or the specificity of the member, but a full answer was given.
Dave Hereora: E whakaae ana te Minita ki ngâ kôrero o te kaikôrero mô te Whakakotahitanga o ngâ Iwi o te Ao?
[An interpretation in English was given to the House.]
[Does the Minister agree with what was said by the representative of the United Nations?]
Hon PAREKURA HOROMIA: E whakaae ana au ki te nuinga o âna kôrero nô te mea e tautoko ana i ngâ mahi kua mahia e te Kâwanatanga.
[An interpretation in English was given to the House.]
[I agree with the majority of what he said, because it supports the work the Government has done.]
Te Wânanga o Aotearoa—Development Adviser
8. Hon BILL ENGLISH (National—Clutha-Southland) to the Minister for Tertiary Education: Did the Government pay $127,605 for the services of a development adviser appointed in June 2002 to assist the council of Te Wânanga o Aotearoa to improve governance of the institution and to attend council meetings; if so, did that adviser report to the Ministry of Education or Ministers?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Minister for Tertiary Education): Yes, and Mr McNally reported on his work assisting the council, in the first instance, to the Tertiary Advisory Monitoring Unit. I am advised that some reports are made direct to Ministers.
Hon Bill English: Does the Minister agree with Trevor Mallard, who wrote to the wânanga on 20 June 2005 telling it he had made a preliminary decision to sack the wânanga council and replace it with a commissioner; if so, why?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Yes, I can confirm that my predecessor wrote that letter, and I agree that he had made that preliminary decision.
Hon Bill English: Why has the Government today backed down on its threat to sack the council, when the Auditor-General has just issued a report that found financial mismanagement, badly managed conflicts of interest, and an institution to which the Government will pay well over $100 million of taxpayers’ money this year?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: The process begun by my predecessor was, due to the intervention of the election, clearly out of time. There were legal doubts about whether that could be completed. More important, the High Court has found—and this is now subject to appeal so I must be careful how I phrase this—that the council reconstituted itself, and a number of members have resigned from the council. The residual council has been engaged in working with the Crown manager and Crown observer—the same person—to reconstitute a great deal of the operations of the wânanga. Progress is being made very significantly in relation to the matters raised by the Auditor-General’s report, which, of course, was for the years 2002, 2003, and 2004.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: In the interests of advising the National Party freshmen who came in here on the backs of Ôrewa I and Ôrewa II, I ask the Minister whether he remembers—[Interruption]
Madam SPEAKER: No. I agree; the member will please be seated. Could the member please comply with the Standing Orders when asking the question, and remove all superfluous comments and just ask the question directly.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I am happy to do that, Madam Speaker. Does the Minister remember which party, when in Government, maintained a cap on funding to Te Wânanga o Aotearoa, and which party, governing by itself in 1999, uncapped funding, which led to the present situation of that institution?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: The wânanga was approved for creation in 1993, under the previous National Government. The funding was uncapped in 1999. Of course, when people who represented the wânanga and the Aotearoa Institute came to this Parliament only a few short weeks ago to protest against the Government’s actions in intervening in the wânanga, they were met by a delegation from the National Party.
Hon Bill English: Is the Minister now asking Parliament to believe that the content of the Auditor-General’s report released today should reassure members that the wânanga council should not be sacked, when back in June Trevor Mallard told the council that it met all six statutory criteria to be sacked and replaced by a commissioner; and what is it in the Auditor-General’s report that should give this Parliament so much reassurance?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Nothing in the Auditor-General’s report—which is a sorry picture indeed of what was happening in the wânanga. The difference is that the council that is now running the wânanga is not the council that was in office in July 2005, as a large number of members of that council have now been deemed to have resigned. If, of course, the situation changes in any shape or form, I reserve the right to do one of three things: first, to restart the commissioner process; second, to investigate and to apply for the possibility of a statutory manager, and preliminary work has already been undertaken on that; and, third, if necessary to come to this House for support for legislation, which has already been drafted and is being held in reserve.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Have any of the Minister’s officials been confused by the sight of the National Party visiting the wânanga in the pre-election period, hongi-ing and talking to its people in the most friendly terms inside, on the marae and in the institution, and then going out and saying something totally different to the media?
Lindsay Tisch: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. How can that have any reference to the debate going on at the moment? The Minister has no responsibility for that. What happens in the election period for National is our business, and that member is completely out of order. His question should be struck out for that reason.
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I was asked whether I have any reports that my officials had been confused by those matters, and I would be very happy to respond on that matter.
Madam SPEAKER: There was so much noise I did not actually hear the end of the member’s question, so I was waiting before I ruled on it. I ask the member to repeat the question, please.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Has the Minister received any reports from his officials regarding any confusion they may have in their minds, they having seen National Party members in the pre-election period go to the wânanga, hongi with all the senior officials of that institution at their place of domicile, and then go outside and say something totally different and opposite to the New Zealand media?
Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. Whether officials are confused is hardly a question that a Minister can answer. The reality is that most Ministers, particularly in that Minister’s ministry, are extremely confused, and it would be no surprise to find that officials throughout the Government are confused. If the Minister were to stand up and say that he has seen reports about confused Ministers, that would come as no surprise, but we would be very pleased if he would table all of those reports.
Madam SPEAKER: I thank the member. I ask the Minister to reply.
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: No, I am not aware of my officials ever being confused by anything that National members say—I am not sure that they are interested in that. I am aware that Mr Wçtere stated at one point that he was looking forward to the election of a National Government, which would help him to reinstate himself to his position in the wânanga.
Hon Bill English: Given that the Minister has said he is aware of the letter that Trevor Mallard wrote to the council on 20 June 2005 with his decision to sack the council, which of the six criteria for sacking that the council then met but now do not apply, which means that the Minister has backed down on the threat that was issued?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I explained to the member that my legal advice was that fundamentally the process was out of time. More important, I explained to the member, and I will repeat it for him, that the High Court has ruled that, in effect, a large proportion of the council has resigned. The people who are now, in effect, functioning as the council do not represent the same kinds of views, attitudes, and practices that the Auditor-General’s report has condemned. Therefore, it is possible that we are able to arrive at a satisfactory outcome without further heavy-handed intervention. I repeat that I keep in my back pocket the possibility of, firstly, sending in a commissioner, which requires a consultation process that takes weeks; secondly, sending in a statutory manager; or, thirdly, legislation, which I am sure the National Party will then find a reason to oppose.
Hon Bill English: When will the Government exercise some accountability in respect of the two Ministers and hundreds of officials who sat and watched the financial mismanagement and badly managed conflicts of interest for the last 5 years, and who did nothing about it?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: It is completely incorrect to say that nothing has been done about it. Apart from the fact that the primary question refers to one particular intervention in that respect, a Crown observer was appointed in February, the council appointed a Crown manager in March, and the commission process started in July. The Government is continuing to work with the new, smaller council at Te Wânanga o Aotearoa. There is every reason to believe that the problems of governance and management that pertained for a number of years at the wânanga are now being addressed. I repeat that should any part of that situation change, I will invite members opposite to vote, if need be, for legislation, which is already drafted, to provide for intervention.
Defence—Exercise Silver Warrior
9. DIANNE YATES (Labour) to the Minister of Defence: What was the purpose of Exercise Silver Warrior and what were the results of the exercise?
Hon PHIL GOFF (Minister of Defence): The purpose of the exercise was to test the effectiveness of the Army’s motorised battalion, now that modern, state-of-the-art equipment has replaced vehicles that were 20 to 40 years old. The initial feedback from the New Zealand Army is that it believes that the exercise demonstrated that the battalion now meets the required level of capability, and it was pleased with the results.
Dianne Yates: What feedback was received about the performance of the new Pinzgauer light operational vehicles in the exercise and in actual operational use?
Hon PHIL GOFF: Very positive feedback has been received. There were, as the House will be aware, some initial teething problems following delivery of the light operational vehicles. In particular, there was a problem with the transmission overheating, but that problem has been dealt with at the expense of the manufacturer, and the vehicles have performed well. The Pinzgauers have recently been deployed in Afghanistan, and work under what are probably the harshest conditions anywhere in the world. When soldiers who had used the Pinzgauers came back, I spoke to them, and they were hugely positive about what the vehicles had been able to do. They believed that those vehicles had some really important advantages over alternative options such as, for example, Humvees.
Dianne Yates: Why was it necessary to purchase the light armoured vehicles that Exercise Silver Warrior was based on?
Hon PHIL GOFF: The M113 armoured personnel carriers that the LAVIIIs replaced were purchased way back in the 1960s and were over 35 years old. The truth is that our participation in peacekeeping in Bosnia in the mid-1990s highlighted that the Army lacked the means to be able to move and manoeuvre its forces with the necessary degree of protection and speed to ensure the effectiveness and survivability of the force. We were unable to operate in peacekeeping or any other operations in anything other than a low-risk environment, and it is an absolute disgrace that the National Party deployed our forces with such antiquated equipment.
United States Relationship—Australian Assistance
10. Hon MURRAY McCULLY (National—East Coast Bays) to the Minister of Foreign Affairs: What assistance did he seek from the Australian Minister for Foreign Affairs, Alexander Downer, to bring about a stronger relationship between New Zealand and the United States, and what assistance did Mr Downer promise to provide?
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS (Minister of Foreign Affairs): I advised Mr Downer, on our meeting at APEC in Korea, that New Zealand was interested in continuing to make progress in our relations with the US, and that any assistance would be appreciated as we paddled our own canoe or waka. Mr Downer undertook to refer to New Zealand’s interest in taking forward its relationship with the US, when he next saw the US Deputy Secretary of State, Bob Zoellick.
Hon Murray McCully: Did the Minister see the public statement from the Prime Minister on 25 October that New Zealand did not need any help from Australia, because we could “paddle our own canoe”, and why did he ignore her instructions, just over 2 weeks later, and ask Mr Downer for help anyway?
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: It is because the Prime Minister would have received erroneous information via the press, which I have no difficulty in proving, and I challenge any of those up in the press gallery to say otherwise. I want to say very clearly that the Prime Minister and I share the same objective of progressing our relations with the US. Is that not great news? It is in the interests of all New Zealanders for the Government to work to further strengthen relationships with all our key partners, including the United States. This requires patient, sustained effort. I make no promises to have this all sorted out by lunchtime.
R Doug Woolerton: What report can the Minister give the House on his work to advance New Zealand’s interests since his appointment?
Hon Dr Nick Smith: Tell us about the baubles.
Madam SPEAKER: Would members please just settle down so that we can all hear the answer.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Yes, I ask Rodney Hide to take a pill—a Valium, or something.
Madam SPEAKER: Would the Minister please address the—
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: I know he suffers from the condition of recognition hunger, but he should not be dominating proceedings here. I have represented the New Zealand interest successfully at the APEC ministerial meetings, and at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Foreign Ministers meetings. I have participated in ministerial consultation with the European Union presidency, and have undertaken a bilateral visit to the United Kingdom, and, knowing as I do people like Andy Irvine, I was personally invited by him to the rugby. Without exception, the 21 counterparts that I met from around the world warmly congratulated me on my appointment, and said they looked forward to seeing me again in the near future.
Gerry Brownlee: Can the Minister, as a hard-working and conscientious Foreign Minister, itemise which official engagements or which official discussions he had relating to his ministry during his visit to Scotland, a visit during which he was able to find time in his busy and pressing schedule to view the All Blacks at Murrayfield from the royal box; and does he stand by his plea to the New Zealand media, made just 1 day before he attended the rugby at Murrayfield, to give him a second chance and stop criticising him for taking the baubles of office?
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: I am not concerned about members of Parliament who report the erroneous comments of journalistic meerkats. The reality is that I purely pointed out that I had hardly got the job, and surely the media would give me a chance to try to do this job. However, I know that I was overly optimistic in that respect. But let me make this very clear: I could set out all 21 meetings that I have had in respect of overseas counterparts, including the meetings in Glasgow and in Edinburgh, and including meetings with business groups that relate to New Zealand interests. I might add that that was over the weekend. But, more important, I was not at both the rugby league and the rugby, as some members of the media again reported.
Hon Murray McCully: Can the Minister tell the House which is the official foreign policy position of the Government: the Prime Minister’s position that the relationship with the United States does not need to be improved, and that we do not want any help from Australia; or his position that the relationship does need to be improved, and that we would appreciate some help from Australia?
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: Let me just say that the Prime Minister agrees with me, and I happen to agree with the Government’s position, that it is in the interests of our foreign policy that we improve our relations with every nation—in particular, those that are old trading partners and allies.
Hon Murray McCully: Could the Minister explain to the House why, if he and the Government are so unified on this matter, the Acting Minister of Foreign Affairs, Dr Cullen, told the House 2 weeks ago that the Minister of Foreign Affairs had not sought assistance from the Australian Minister, when, in fact, he had sought assistance, as he has just confirmed today?
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: I am not certain why certain members of this Parliament want to engage in what are simple verbal semantics, but the reality is—[Interruption] It is purely semantics. I made it very clear to Mr Downer that if there were discussions in negotiation with the United States, and New Zealand came up, I would appreciate it if he would put a good word in for us. Which person in my position would not do that? Which Foreign Minister in a similar circumstance would not do that? I want to refer to what some correspondents now think of this, and I will read from an article where a commentator states: “I am getting heartily sick of the childish nonsense that the ACT party and the National Party have been indulging in ever since the election.”
Hon Murray McCully: Can I ask the Minister to explain the public statement made by his colleague Mr Goff that he had told the Australian Minister for Foreign Affairs, Mr Downer: “Policies from Winston will not be policies spun off the top of anybody’s head, but the policy of a Labour-led Government.”, and can he tell the House whether his request for help from Mr Downer was, to use Mr Goff’s terms, the policy of the Labour-led Government or policies spun off the top of somebody’s head?
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: It was made very clear at the time this Government was formed and the various portfolios were decided upon that the Foreign Affairs policy of this country would be that of the will of Parliament as expressed by Cabinet. It is pretty axiomatic, really, when we think about it that way, and I do not get—
Hon Dr Nick Smith: But you’re not in Cabinet.
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: We can see why the member did not last long as deputy leader of the National Party, can we not? In fact, how long did he last—did he make 48 hours? No. [Interruption]
Madam SPEAKER: Order!
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: The simple, plain fact is that the policy articulated by the Minister of Foreign Affairs is the policy decided by Cabinet, and it always has been.
Hon Murray McCully: Can I ask the Minister whether he found it helpful that his colleague Mr Goff chose to reveal to the New Zealand media that Mr Downer had asked for an explanation as to the role that the Minister plays as our new Minister of Foreign Affairs; if so, in what way did Mr Goff’s revelations to the media assist with our representation overseas?
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: Again, this is in line with certain media reports and certain interpretations. For example, the fact that one Green member in Europe—in all those Parliaments—asked the question was painted as “Peters in trouble in Europe”. There is a certain pattern behind this. Frankly, in the case of Mr Downer, he did ask me the same question as to how we think we will get on in the next 3 years as a Government, and I said that, given who we are facing, we will roar in.
Hon Murray McCully: Can the Minister inform the House whether the Prime Minister’s actions in calling into question his attempt to improve the relationship between New Zealand and the United States have simply served to reinforce the view he expressed in this House on 15 May 2003 that Helen Clark is “the only politician in the Western World who can talk on foreign affairs with both her feet in her mouth”; if not, why not?
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: I can understand why someone who is the only member of this House who can eat a banana sideways would be asking that question, but the reality is that it is 2005 and things have moved on. I also say that, in trans-Tasman, that member promised there would be fireworks in the House today, and I want to know why we have just faced a damp squib. I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I have looked at the questions today and I want to know whether you vetoed any questions on Foreign Affairs from either the ACT party or the National Party, because if that was the fireworks that were promised, then I am going to ask the Prime Minister for a new job.
Madam SPEAKER: Would the member please be seated. The member knows that is not a point of order.
Screen Productions—Government Encouragement
11. LYNNE PILLAY (Labour—Waitakere) to the Minister for Economic Development: What steps is the Government taking to encourage large-budget screen productions to New Zealand?
Hon TREVOR MALLARD (Minister for Economic Development): The Large Budget Screen Production Grant recipients have injected around $363 million into the New Zealand economy, producing direct economic benefits of up to $227 million.
Lynne Pillay: How do Kiwis benefit from having a greater number of large-budget screen productions in New Zealand?
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: Obviously, a lot of cash goes in, there are numerous jobs, fantastic creative skills are developed, and there are tourism spin-offs. There are forthcoming films—King Kong, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, and River Queen—that are all providing a tremendous opportunity—
Shane Ardern: Which one’s the Minister in?
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: I think we know which one that member will star in—although it is a real shame that Don Brash has promised to scrap that fund.
Carbon Tax—Income Tax Thresholds
12. JOHN KEY (National—Helensville) to the Minister of Revenue: Does he accept that scrapping the proposed carbon tax would also mean the end of proposed increases in personal income tax thresholds; if not, why not?
Hon PETER DUNNE (Minister of Revenue): No, and, in fact, no decisions have been taken since the election on either the carbon tax or the level of personal tax thresholds.
John Key: What are the reservations he has about the carbon tax that led him to say in a recent radio interview: “Our view is that the carbon tax is unworkable.”?
Hon PETER DUNNE: My view has always been that the way in which the carbon tax has been designed to date makes it unworkable. That is why, as part of the agreement with the Labour-led Government, we agreed to have an independent analysis of it before any final decisions were made. The reality is—[Interruption]—if the member would just be quiet for a moment; he has this tendency to rush in—until that review is completed, no decisions will be made on the outcome.
Craig Foss: Does he agree with Treasury’s assessment that the carbon tax will have almost no effect on people’s behaviour, in which case, does he think the purpose of the carbon tax is solely to raise revenue; if not, what is the purpose of the carbon tax?
Hon PETER DUNNE: I think that the two connections that the member has made are actually inconsistent; if it is to have no impact on people’s behaviour, it probably will not raise a great deal of revenue. It is those sorts of issues that lead to the need for an independent review, which is what we have obtained, what will be carried out, and what will be the basis of any decisions that are eventually made.
Chris Tremain: Will he be listening to the results of the poll on United Future’s own website, which asks: “Is Labour’s proposed carbon tax good for NZ?”, and where 71 percent of respondents have so far voted “No”?
Hon PETER DUNNE: I will certainly be listening to it, for the very simple reason that I instigated the question.
John Key: Could the Minister confirm that when he answered my first supplementary question before and he confirmed his quote “our view”, was he answering “our view” as the view of the Government, for which he is the Minister of Revenue?
Hon PETER DUNNE: In my first answer to the member I dealt with his substantive question, and I said in response to it that no decisions have yet been made on either the carbon tax or the level of personal income tax thresholds. I do not recall making any reference to “our view”, as the member quotes, in response to that question.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I think it is fair that the House has some clarity from the Minister. In his original answer he described the carbon tax as unworkable, and my colleague John Key sought clarification as to whether he was speaking on behalf of the Government. I think this goes to the core of our Standing Orders and the accountability of Ministers. It is very plain in our Standing Orders that Ministers are, in fact, answering on behalf of the Government. We have a quite bizarre arrangement whereby we have Ministers who pretend they are not part of the Government. I think it is proper for you to clarify to the House whether the Minister of Revenue was, in fact, doing just that.
Madam SPEAKER: I thank the member. When a Minister is responding, the Minister is always replying on behalf of the Government.
Hon PETER DUNNE: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I think the confusion that has arisen is that the question that was asked is as printed on the Order Paper. I have quoted twice the answer I gave in response to Mr Key’s question. I think what he meant to refer to was his first supplementary question, not his substantive question.
John Key: He said that.
Hon PETER DUNNE: No, he did not. He said in response to my first question, and that was what I answered. I am happy to deal with the point, but the question that was asked first was the one I answered first.
John Key: Because the Minister said he could not recall using the term “our view” before, I seek leave to table the transcript of his interview on National Radio, on Checkpoint, where he was introduced as the Minister of Revenue and where, in answering the questions, he said: “our view is that the carbon tax is unworkable”. He is the Minister of Revenue, and we should therefore be able to assume he is answering as the Government.
Hon Dr Michael Cullen: Madam Speaker, it is true, of course, as you have just ruled, that in speaking in the House any Minister speaks on behalf of the Government. But the Minister is perfectly free, in speaking on Checkpoint, to speak as the leader of United Future; “our view” is clearly referring to the United Future party’s view.
Hon PETER DUNNE: I do not want to make a confusing situation even more so, but the original question from Mr Key, as I said in my previous answer, related to his first question. As for the supplementary question that he gave, where he ran the “our view” quote, only now do we discover that the “our view” quote was actually from a Checkpoint programme.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: So?
Hon PETER DUNNE: Well, it is actually two different things. The reality is when I spoke on the Checkpoint programme—[Interruption]
Madam SPEAKER: The member is speaking to a point of order, not having a debate, so would the member please be heard in silence.
Hon PETER DUNNE: It is a very simple issue. The “our view’ referred to in the Checkpoint programme was made in my capacity as leader of the United Future party. I do not recall—and I am happy to be corrected on this point—using the words “our view” in the House this afternoon.
John Key: I raise a point of order.
Madam SPEAKER: No, I need no more help on this particular point of order. It is not a point of order. I think, however, the clarifications that were given were quite helpful as to who was speaking in what capacity. But I repeat that, in this House, when a Minister speaks he or she speaks on behalf of the Government.
John Key: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I ask you to consider for a moment the point of order Dr Cullen raised, in which he said it was quite possible for the Minister, in this case, to be answering a question using the term “our view” and not be representing the Government. I assume that is therefore the interpretation Dr Cullen would have when Mr Peters answers a question on foreign policy—that when he uses the term “our view”, he would be referring to his own position. That is not the position in terms of their support agreement.
Madam SPEAKER: No, the member is relitigating my ruling. When Ministers speak in this House, they speak on behalf of the Government. When they speak outside, that will be a matter of the context.
Dr the Hon Lockwood Smith: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. There is an issue here that actually goes a little further than I think you have allowed so far in your ruling. If you have just ruled that the two Ministers who are outside Cabinet and have ministerial responsibilities, when speaking outside this House are not speaking as Ministers and therefore are not accountable as part of the Government, are you ruling that we cannot question them in this House as Ministers for what they say outside this Parliament? Because if you are ruling—
Madam SPEAKER: No, I am not.
Dr the Hon Lockwood Smith: Well, I humbly suggest that you actually clarify the situation, because what you have just told this House leaves it very messy.
Gordon Copeland: I would like to point out that in your ruling you were very, very clear. You said that “outside” the House depends on the context. That seems to have escaped the member who raised the point of order.
Gerry Brownlee: Madam Speaker, you cannot have a different context, surely, for someone who is speaking about a matter that is part of a ministerial portfolio. This is one of the things that we asked you to consider a few weeks ago, because we have an absolute right to question Ministers about their involvement in their portfolios as they relate to the Government. But what are we supposed to do? Are we supposed to ask the Minister whether on this day he had on his Minister’s hat or his party leader’s hat? Or is it incumbent upon Ministers, on each occasion, to explain exactly what they are there for? There is no guidance at all for this House at the present time, just press statements made by various members of the Government and also a speech—
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Sit down!
Madam SPEAKER: Please, the member has not finished his point of order.
Gerry Brownlee: We also had a speech from Michael Cullen saying that we live in a time of an evolving constitution. Ministerial responsibility is important. This House has a right to know what its bounds are, if they are being changed. You, Madam Speaker, as the person who claims the privilege of the House, do have a role in ensuring we know exactly what those bounds are.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: The issue of whether it is in context is very important. If a member of United Future or New Zealand First was speaking at a New Zealand First conference one would expect him or her to be speaking about his or her party’s policy and the party’s position. I have noted from reading Hansard and other reports that some members in this House are being deliberately obtuse on this matter. It is best evidenced by the fact that lawyers from the National Party side of the House are not arguing that. All those who are unqualified—the sort of home-made Blackstones of the National Party—are getting on their feet and embarrassing themselves in front of their back bench. Their back bench must be deeply concerned that that is the kind of constitutional argument being put up here by the National Party—[Interruption] I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker.
Madam SPEAKER: No, the member is still continuing on his existing point of order.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Madam Speaker, I am entitled to have my point of order heard in silence, not this barracking that you are hearing right now. Again they refuse to keep silent.
Madam SPEAKER: They do.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: My point is simply this. The issue of whether a speech is being made in a certain context is fundamentally important. If one is speaking in this House as a Minister obviously one is speaking on behalf of the Government’s position. But outside this House, in a range of different venues, it may well be, as you say, Madam Speaker, that the context is as a party leader with a party policy. Now, anybody could understand that, but I can see why Gerry Brownlee cannot.
Hon Dr Michael Cullen: I think the position is very clear. The National Party has made a hash of question time and is now trying to resolve the matter by points of order—and we see the foremost member himself. [Interruption] If I might point something out, having the advantage of the microphone over the members opposite—
Madam SPEAKER: Ruling on the point of order—
Hon Dr Michael Cullen: There is a very important point—
Madam SPEAKER: Well, I wish to hear it in silence, otherwise members will be leaving this Chamber.
Hon Dr Michael Cullen: I would have made this point earlier. The reason why no objection was taken to the original question is that it brought into issue the personal income tax thresholds, which are clearly within the province of the Minister of Revenue. But the policy responsibility for the carbon tax does not lie with the Minister of Revenue, it lies with the Minister responsible for Climate Change Issues, Mr David Parker, and the Minister of—
Hon Pete Hodgson: Finance.
Hon Dr Michael Cullen: That is right, myself. So the issue that is being raised by members opposite is actually irrelevant in any case because the member who is answering the questions is not responsible for the carriage of the carbon charge policy either inside the House or outside it.
Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker.
Madam SPEAKER: No, I am sorry, I have heard enough. If this is a different point of order the member may raise it, but the member has already spoken once on this point of order, and I am ruling. There has been considerable debate and discussion on it. The point I made in my original ruling was that when a Minister speaks as a Minister in this House, or if members want clarification, outside the House, he or she speaks for the Government. The point I made about context is that the Speaker does not know, outside the House, whether that person is speaking as a Minister. That is the ruling.
Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. Does that ruling then go against the view that Dr Cullen has, that someone such as Mr Dunne, in fact, cannot answer a question like this because he does not speak for the Government other than on the very tight and narrow bounds of his portfolio?
Madam SPEAKER: Yes, it does.
Gerry Brownlee: He can’t speak for the Government?
Madam SPEAKER: Yes, I rule that it does.
Gerry Brownlee: I am sorry, I will ask a question. You have just given a ruling in which you said that if a Minister speaks in the House he speaks for the Government. Now I have just asked you whether that counters the view that Michael Cullen offered, which was that Peter Dunne could not answer this because he is not the Minister responsible for Climate Change Issues, nor is he the Minister of Finance. You said: “Yes, that’s right.” Now which is it to be? We need to have those bounds clearly understood and clearly spelt out for us.
Madam SPEAKER: No, I thank the member. When a member is speaking as a Minister within his or her portfolio obviously he or she speaks for the Government. My understanding of the point that Dr Cullen was making was that the question actually referred to matters that were outside the specific ministerial responsibilities. I hope that clarifies it for the member, in which case then that would not be the case.
Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. The question then arises, why did Mr Dunne answer the question? It further arises, why was the question directed—given that the Government chooses who answers questions—to the Minister of Revenue?
Hon Dr Michael Cullen: If the member cared to read the principal question, carbon tax is not actually the principal part of the question. It is a question of if the carbon tax went what are the implications for the income tax thresholds, which, of course, is part of the portfolio responsibility of the Minister of Revenue. That is why the original question was in order. I could have raised a point of order during one of the supplementary questions, but unlike members opposite I do not bob up every few minutes on a point of order just to hear myself speak.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: I seek leave to table the National Radio transcript in which Mr Peter Dunne is described as the Minister of Revenue, and stated: “Our view is that the carbon tax is unworkable.”
Madam SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection? There is objection.
Hon Maurice Williamson: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I pray for your indulgence in this because I want to refer to a number of Speakers’ rulings. It relates to the manner of questions and the manner of answers to questions, and it flows on from my colleague Hone Harawira, who used the piece of string and Jack and Jill answer. First of all, Speaker’s ruling 154/6 states: “Questions are an important means by which Ministers are accountable to the House. For a Minister to respond in an irrelevant manner is to act contrary to the spirit of the question process. It is incumbent on Ministers to treat questions in a manner that is consistent with their constitutional responsibilities.” Speaker’s ruling 154/1 has within it the words: “Ministers should therefore take questions seriously and endeavour to give informative replies to the questions that they are asked.” Speaker’s ruling 155/2 states: “If some information can be given in addition to the bare facts asked for …” then the ruling states that the Minister can do so. So basically the Minister should reply with the bare facts and provide some supplementary answer. Speaker’s ruling 153/3 states: “An answer to a question ought to be given if it can be given consistently with the public interest; …”.
Now, I want to tell you, Madam Speaker, that in my 18 years in this place I have seen a deterioration in the ability of members of this House to hold the executive to account—very simple “yes”, “no” questions. I remember once asking the Minister for Tertiary Education whether student debt had gone up or down. The Minister would not answer the question and the Speaker’s ruling was that he had addressed the question. I came away from this House not knowing what the answer was. I asked the Speaker Jonathan Hunt afterwards what the answer was. He did not know, either. So the Minister had not addressed the question because it was specific. I can understand in some questions that are wide ranging, calling for an opinion, or need a fairly lengthy answer, why members on this side may be unhappy with it. But when my colleague Judith Collins asked a very specific question: “Does the Minister stand by his statement?”, I would like you to refer to each one of those Speakers’ rulings, made by a number of Speakers, and say that it is in the interests of this House, it is in the interests of holding the executive to account, and it is actually in the public interest for the Minister to be held accountable by you, rather than the excuse, “Oh well, he addressed the question.” As Hone Harawira did, he could just say “Jack and Jill”, and he has addressed the question. If it is a specific question of that nature, you say to the Minister: “It was a specific question. It deserves a specific answer”, and the Standing Orders and the Speakers’ rulings, I think, back that up.
Madam SPEAKER: I thank the member for his observation and dissertation on the Speakers’ rulings. They have, of course, been noted. I do not think any Minister has, at least in this session, responded in an irrelevant manner, though I do accept that it may not have always been satisfactory. But I think the matters have been taken seriously.