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Flavell Speech: Appropriation Bill

Appropriation (Parliamentary Expenditure Validation) Bill

Te Ururoa Flavell; Treaty Spokesperson; Maori Party

Tuesday 17 October 2006; 5.30pm

Kia ora tatou.

For months this Parliament has been swooned with three little words, and they haven’t been “I Love you”.

“Pay it back” has been the constant call.

Today, Mr Speaker, we see how this Government addresses the political inferno that has erupted around paybacks.

We thought that last Thursday the Government had the guts to ‘fess up, to come clean, to plead guilty that a $447,000 pledge card is unlawful expenditure. And we welcomed the Prime Minister’s statement to that effect.

Compliance with Party and member support appropriations under Vote Parliamentary Service is a critical part of doing our job.

Mr Speaker, the Maori Party accepts the report of the Auditor-General and Controller, Kevin Brady, and understands, only too well, the importance of concepts so freely bandied around in this chamber - honesty, integrity, accountability.

We endorse, unreservedly, his comments for the need for prudent management of public money. We also share his concern around the significant breaches of the appropriations.

And we were looking forward to robust debate about what is a legitimate “parliamentary purpose” as opposed to “electioneering purposes” at the table of the Parliamentary Service Commission and the Appropriation Review Committee.

But no, Labour had to reshuffle the cards before they were even dealt, and introduce an appropriations bill as a confidence and supply matter.

We are all under the scope of public scrutiny - and the Maori Party has stood up to that scrutiny and ‘paid it back’. We paid the dues, all $53.70 cents worth. That was the right thing to do, the honourable thing to do.

I want to talk about this concept of honour.

Is it honourable to accuse an official of besmirching the reputation of politicians?

Is it honourable to send ‘strongly worded’ dispatches to Parliamentary Services, to apply more pressure in making them pay a bill to distribute the infamous pledge card?

Is it honourable to take money from the public to pay for political electioneering, not just in 2005, but in 2002 and in 1999 as well?

Is it honourable to introduce legislation to validate unlawful spending?

Mr Speaker, the honour comes in admitting a wrong has been done, and offering to pay it back.

The honour comes in meeting our responsibilities as Members of Parliament to the taxpayers of this nation.

The honour comes in being accountable to the citizens of Aotearoa.

Mr Speaker, the response from the Speaker to the Auditor General’s report was a stunning display of verbal gymnastics. I quote in particular:

“if there is no validation, reimbursement does not purge the unlawfulness. Without legislation the unlawfulness remains.’

So what is the issue at hand? Is it the unlawfulness? Or is it the lacking of validating legislation to ‘purge’ unlawfulness?

Clearly, the latter has prevailed, with today’s introduction of legislation whipped up under the frenzy of urgency.

We absolutely agree that in the Court of Public Opinion, this Parliament has been found guilty of crimes against the taxpayer - the expenditure of some $1.2 million of parliamentary funds spent unlawfully on electioneering by MPs.

We need to have a speedy resolution to the issue, if we are ever to build confidence in the public, that we won’t be summed up in a Tui ad that might read - “MPs can be trusted not to fritter away taxpayer funds for their own election campaigns - yeah right”.

The Maori Party considers the question of transparency to be central to the debate at hand.

Mr Speaker, when our whanaunga break the law they get charged, prosecuted, plead guilty or not guilty, enter a plea bargain, get immunity because they are prepared to give evidence against another person or if convicted get fined, home detention, community service or even incarcerated.

I have never heard of any of them seek retrospective legislation to validate their unlawful behaviour. The Maori Party has to ask - where did the old maxim, "do the crime, do the time" go? All of a sudden the high-minded Parliamentary moral police are silent.

While paying up will not purge the unlawfulness, is it not transparently obvious that in wanting to pass retrospective legislation all this Parliament will do is to validate, or legalise, the illegal? The logical upshot of this, is that the most guilty parties will then claim what they did was not unlawful and therefore expect that they will not have to pay their dues. Mr Speaker, this is cheeky and arrogant, and it knows no bounds.

We can not resile from the fact that this whole inquiry into Parliamentary spending came into being because of the lack of transparency, the fuzzy boundaries if you like between departmental, ministerial and political advertising that was evident through the Working for Families promotion.

And we ask the question - as indeed the Maori Party has asked on a number of occasions - where is the honour in introducing policy which actively discriminate against the 250,000 New Zealand children who have at least one parent on a benefit?

How can this Government sit, silent, knowing it has forced the Child Poverty Action Group to the High Court to take legal action over the ‘in-work payment’ - the $60 a week which beneficiary families are prevented from accessing?

How ironic that on this day, International Anti-Poverty Day, we are discussing on one hand, an Appropriation (Parliamentary Expenditure Validation) Bill to justify unlawful spending by MPs - MPs who will soon benefit from another payrise - while on the other hand, this Government is denying money to our most vulnerable families.

Mr Speaker, we absolutely agree with the Speaker’s advice that the matter must be considered seriously if public confidence in Parliament is to be maintained.

And in honour of this moment in history, we want to shift the rhetoric from a focus on ‘payback’ to a drive to ‘pay forward’.

The concept of payback with it notions of revenge, punishment, retribution. We want, instead, to promote the notion of paying forward.

Paying forward is an investment in the future. It says “I will care for you, I will look after you”.

Paying forward is a way of contributing to the well-being of the people. It is a promise for compassion, a commitment to integrity.

Mr Speaker, how much more honourable would it be for the record Government surplus of $11.5 billion to be spent on the future of Aotearoa?

We could invest in justice. Treaty justice.

We have been told, repeatedly, that $1.3 Billion until 2010, is all that the country can afford to payback the land alienation and confiscation of over 150 years.

I would remind this House, of the advice from Professor Margaret Mutu, that the settlement claims equate to approximately 0.6% of what the claims are really worth.

Hirini Moko Mead of Ngati Awa, in describing the direct negotiations process, explained it as, and I quote:

“Very often, there is no negotiation, but rather there is a statement that this is the Crown’s policy and this is what you have to live with”.

Our people have gone into settlements, accepting the deals done are at best a compromise which was by no means compensation to respond to the magnitude of the loss.

And even when, as in the case with the Te Arawa Lakes Settlement, the settlement contains confiscations anew, through the intervention of a new concept, the Crown Stratum.

Mr Speaker, ‘Paying Forward’ would acknowledge the grievance had occurred, and that the claimants could be supported to achieve fair and durable settlements.

Mr Speaker, the opportunity provided by the Auditor-General’s report, was indeed a turning point in the history of this nation.

But the hard work will come with ‘paying forward’ in setting a pathway for the nation.

Now is the time to invest in our future, a future based on honesty, accountability, and on justice.

We could invest in our ongoing health as a nation - ensuring we retain quality medical specialists rather than losing them to international salaries.

We could invest in Maori, Pasifika, sole parent and benefit dependent families for whom poverty has become entrenched.

We as a nation could pay forward, clawing back our reputation internationally from a nation that breaches the human rights of indigenous peoples, to a nation that upholds the rights of every citizen to achieve optimal well-being, Mauriora.

This is an opportunity to truly pay forward; to invest in a new direction in setting a pathway for the nation. Now that would be extraordinary legislation that we would sign up to.

ends

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