Flavell: Privilege — Members’ Pecuniary Interests
Privilege — Members’ Pecuniary Interests—
Te Ururoa Flavell, Maori Party
Tuesday 23 September 2008; 4pm
Tena koe, Madam Speaker. Kia ora tatou te whare.
As my colleague, Dr Russel Norman has noted, this matter has been rather a difficult one for all of us.
The matter before the Privileges Committee, to examine the question of compliance with the Standing Orders relating to pecuniary interests, has been one that the Maori Party has taken seriously.
I want to acknowledge the officials who provided support to the Committee and gave clarity to myself on some of the key issues. I want to also acknowledge Simon Power, the Chair, who lead the process in a thoroughly impartial way and also assisted me when asked. Ka nui te mihi ki a koe. Thank you also.
Madam Speaker, it was disappointing to learn of the Prime Minister’s comments around the process of the privileges committee – alleging it was totally unsatisfactory in terms of any natural justice; and that the whole process has become politicised, favouring one side.
That is not an observation I share nor is it behaviour we in the Maori Party have indulged in during the sitting of the Privileges Committee. I have appreciated the thorough way in which evidence was requested, the expert assistance of the officials as I stated earlier, and the willing cooperation of those who forwarded information to us for our perusal. I leave that matter there.
Madam Speaker, the allegation as to whether a contempt of the House has occurred is one which challenges both the institution of Parliament, and the constitution of our Party as a whole.
It’s not about personalities; it’s not around political agendas.
For me and the Maori Party, at the heart of the allegation is whether the member had knowingly provided false or misleading information; or knowingly failed to make a return of pecuniary interests by the due date. Kaore i koo atu kaore i koo mai – that’s it. Now, these are substantial issues and I am clear that the Committee gave them serious attention.
I must say that there were a number of other matters that were raised during the discussions but I am pleased to say that we were all kept on track and focused on the specific matters by the Chair.
In considering the matters before the Privileges Committee, the Maori Party has the benefit of kaupapa which instruct us on such serious matters of state.
These kaupapa tuku iho are the foundation principles of the Mäori world, and guide us as to the way in which we operate.
There are tikanga that we apply to every situation – be they matters before the Privileges Committee or any bill that comes before the House – we are driven by the kaupapa, enshrined in our constitution.
These kaupapa are indeed, what distinguishes us as the strong and independent Maori voice of Parliament.
It is not in anyone’s interests to burn bridges, to diminish the mana of individuals, to conduct politics on the basis of personal attack. Yet it is behaviour we have seen members of this House indulge in.
Through our kaupapa, we endeavour to express ‘manaakitanga’ towards others, be they political allies or opponents. We believe that it is important to treat each other with respect and to act with integrity at all times. We want to ensure that our relationships with all parties are elevating and enhancing; we are not into character assassination.
It was good advice that our co-leader, Tariana Turia gave to us three new Members when we arrived here. “Throw a rock and expect to get a grenade back”.
When we talk ‘rangatiratanga’, we want to ensure that the conduct and activities of the parliamentary team, leaders and the organisation as a whole are reflective of the attributes of rangatira. It is about walking the talk, following through on commitments made, upholding due respect for honesty.
We are dedicated in our pursuit of ‘kaitiakitanga’, requiring an active exercise of responsibility in a manner beneficial to resources and the welfare of the people.
These are just three of the foundation principles which I have tried to follow in the deliberations of the matter before the committee.
In looking at the whole matter, some key questions needed to be asked. One thing, amongst others is clear. Money went from a donor and it reached the intended person, a politician.
Question One is, did that donation meet the standard of being a gift?
As Clause 7(1)(b) of Appendix B of Standing Orders requires, members need to return a description of each gift (including hospitality and donations in cash or kind) received by the member with a value of more than five hundred dollars; together with the name of the donor of the gift.
In considering whether the payment was a gift, was it going to ultimately benefit the receiver? I was clear it would. The intent of the donor was straight forward – to assist the member in being able to meet his moral obligation to see that his lawyer’s bills were paid.
Question Two. Did the receiver have knowledge of a payment before making the deadline for making a return at the time? While the evidence conflicted, what happened on the 14th December 2005 led me to the belief that the receiver knew some money was to change hands to benefit him.
Questions Three and Four: Did the gift meet the threshold that would require it be declared in the return of pecuniary interests and did the member undertake an honest attempt to account for the payment in their return?
Well as the Select Committee report states, “if the members knows of an interest and decides not to declare it, the member would have “knowingly” failed to declare an interest if it were subsequently established to be a pecuniary interest”.
If someone got a koha, it seems to me that they were required to at least investigate, if it fitted the threshold or not. If that member was receiving advice from others like lawyers about money, then that person should have advised the member. This did not happen, neither of the people involved did what was required to meet the conditions required.
The exchange of money was known about, there was an expectation from parliament that koha be declared, it wasn’t, therefore this case fits the definition of contempt.
While a lot of evidence was provided to the committee for us to consider, for me, the three or four questions were all that mattered – not the party, the politician or the political agendas.
I need to say that for me, that there were gaps and inconsistencies of knowledge in all of the information. But at the heart of the matter was the subsequent obligation to report the payment in the formal disclosure of pecuniary interests.
Madam Speaker, the Standing Orders are very clear about the requirements upon us all to make an annual return of pecuniary interests each year, as of 31 January.
In the case of the donation received from Owen Glenn, this process wasn’t followed; and consequently the majority of the committee has found the Member to be in contempt. While there are recommendations that come out of the report, with the election at hand, we leave this matter in the court of public opinion.
I want to say from the outset, that no-one in the Maori Party takes any pleasure from the whole series of events.
But honour is important to us, it was important to our tupuna, it must continue to guide us.
As I believe Mark Twain once said, honesty is the best policy – when there is money in it. And indeed, the procedures around the register of pecuniary interests for Members of Parliament have an important function in keeping us all honest; and ensuring our transactions are transparent.
This is a very grave matter for this Parliament, and we have formed the view that the censuring of the member is sufficient concern to cause us all to reflect.
In referring this matter to Privileges on the 5th August, Madam Speaker specifically referred to the implications of this matter for the reputation of members and of the institution of Parliament. She said then, and I quote, “The issues raised are not peculiar to Mr Peters; they have the potential to affect members generally”.
We in the Maori Party listened carefully to her korero, and we believe it is timely, yet again, for all members to reflect on the value of a Code of Conduct to assist us all in enhancing our public reputation.
Perhaps it is timely for the parties who have failed to sign up to a Code of Conduct – Labour, National, NZ First, and Progressives – to reconsider an opportunity to sign up to a Code which will help MPs carry out their duties and importantly, help the public have confidence in their Parliamentary representative. That could be a positive outcome to come out of this sad situation.