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Turia: Parliamentary Expenditure Validation Bill

Appropriation (Parliamentary Expenditure Validation) Bill

Tariana Turia; Co-leader of the Maori Party

Third Reading; Wednesday 18 October 2006; 4.30pm


Mr Speaker, there is a lesson in this for all of us.

Mr Brady, was doing his job, which was to point out the need for tight controls in order to establish the legal legitimacy, let alone any moral authority, of Government and of Parliament. This concept, of doing the job, is something that has resonated throughout this debate.

We in the Maori Party have been very keen to learn the ropes, 'Mahia te mahi'.
We understand the importance of the rules, we know that is expected of us if we are to be the best representatives we can be for our constituency.
That 'best' is to act with honesty and integrity; and to uphold the notion of collective responsibility; that we must all take ownership of our performance; our practice; and our behaviours.

Collective ownership; that ability to think of the good of the team over and above an individual impact, brings with it additional obligations and responsibilities.
And I want to acknowledge, that the concept of collective responsibility is hurting many MPs today who are now in the position of paying for mistakes which they may not have played a part in.

The cost of making mistakes is far less for the Maori Party, in terms of dollars and cents, but like the other parties in this House, we made a mistake too.
We stand here today knowing, that with the exception of the Progressives, no matter what the amount was involved, there has been a misuse of public money by all parties of this Parliament, including ourselves.

We don't need to point the finger at each other, or add further to what one paper called, our 'day of shame'. No-one is absolved of blame. Indeed I recall the words, "let he who is without sin, cast the first stone". Having an eye to history however, means we can learn from our past and ensure that we never go down that road again.

If there is one clear outcome from the Auditor-General's report, it is the hope that we all, as a Parliament, will be focused on our application of Parliamentary Purposes.

There is a greater waste of public money on a daily basis when the public and those of us in this chamber, are subjected to the constant 'free for all' erupting in the House - the name-calling, MPs being labelled a bunch of fruit cakes, a pack of crooks, and the general bluff and bluster that some people, erroneously perceive as 'doing the job' of an MP. We have had days, weeks, months of abusive tirades, accusations of corruption, profiteering, leadership crises; stolen elections, and now reports which confirm illegal activity; unlawfulness of parliamentary spending, inappropriate and mis-appropriated expenditure. It seems to have been a contest of wits - who can call each other the worst names; whose crime is the greatest.

The debate has at times bordered on desperation, an air of hysteria apparent as politicians scramble to denigrate each other.
There is no reason why the value of robust debate has to be sacrificed by the constant barrage of personal abuse.

This whole issue has been about protocols, processes, and rules.
We knew from day one that Members must not use parliamentary resources to solicit money, votes or membership. We also knew that as a Maori Party, that we would be under higher scrutiny than the others because this is our experience in the community - we have to be twice as good and twice as clean as others.
And we have been generally appreciative of the clear guidance we received from Parliamentary Services; from Member Services; from Finance; from the Parliamentary staff who work so hard to create an environment which engenders respect.

I would hasten to suggest that the rules of the job simply require some common sense.

Mr Speaker, my colleague, Mr Harawira, referred yesterday to the description from the Clerk of the House, in defining the role of Members as encompassing "a considerable amount of legal freedom".

And with freedom, comes responsibility. And with responsibility, comes discipline.

A critical issue that has arisen as a result of this whole debarcle, has been the recommendation that Parliamentary Services will be required to "immediately institute controls and processes to pre-approve expenditure". Dr Cullen himself has stated this to be "a significant change from current practice".

This is one of the most critical issues in this legislation - and it is central to our opposition to the Bill.

The proposed changes raise a raft of constitutional questions around the very way in which democracy will work. Who will decide what expenditure is to be approved? Who will police the processes to make the critical judgements about what is a parliamentary purpose; and what is electioneering?

It is being said that the Controller and Auditor-General's view threatens long established conventions on how we 'do the job' of an MP.

I want to make it explicitly clear - the Maori Party absolutely supports the need to be accountable, to be seen to be exercising responsibility in our use of the public purse. And it is essential that we restore the public confidence in this regard.
But respect does not flow on as a consequence of prescriptive rules - it follows from the proper exercise of responsibility; of kaitiakitanga.

The high standards we follow in working within the 'legal freedom' of an MP's role, must be balanced by the application of common sense.
I want to raise the issue today, that although Labour has been the party most under the spotlight with this legislation; that all parties in this House are equally open to scrutiny which may be defined as unlawful, whether or not we were aware of it at the time.

The key issue for moving forwards as an MMP Parliament is that we must all take ownership, and all participate in the process of a broader solution. If we are all part of the problem; let us also all be part of the answer.
If there are to be significant changes, they must be signed up to equally by all of the political parties, regardless of size. Mr Speaker, as the debate raged on last night, I came across a letter from the Congregational Leaders Conference of Aotearoa, representing the Catholic Religious Brothers, Priests and Sisters of our country. And I want to share their comments, because there is a message inherent in their words that we could all consider. They said: "We prize and respect our democracy and the values that underpin it. At this time we wish to express our distaste at recent events in the political arena. Not only are the character assassinations, innuendo, details of the private lives of politicians etc causing untold personal distress to politicians and their families, they also bring our democratic process into disrepute and are a misuse of taxpayers money".

No wonder the faith of the Congregational leaders is being sorely tested. But all is not lost.

I recall the advice of Te Ururoa Flavell, when he stood at the First Reading to move from a situation of paybacks (revenge and punishment) to a philosophy of pay forwards (investing in our future). We need to invest in honesty, in integrity, in accountability.

I welcomed the words of Gordon Copeland last night, in explaining how they would pay back their debt, because it was a question of public perception and moral judgement.

Sentiments which were also expressed yesterday by Greens leader, Jeanette Fitzsimons, who described the obligation as a moral one; and Metiria Turei this morning, "to do the right thing, because it is the right thing to do".

We need to pay forward with consistent moral standards, upholding best practice, abiding by the rules in the pursuit of kotahitanga. We also need to value the capacity of the public service to deliver free and frank advice - and we should demonstrate the maturity to consider it, in the spirit in which it is given.

The Maori Party wants to be part of a Parliament which New Zealanders can indeed look at with admiration; so that they can tell us : "We prize and respect our democracy and the values that underpin it".

At this time of such turmoil and dis-repute, we need to invest in a Parliament which can once again earn back the respect of the people we are elected to represent.

A Parliament not for politicians; not for the public purse but a Parliament for the People.

Doing the Job in the best way that we can.

ENDS

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