Opposition MPs have been greatly amused by John Key’s “no clue” comments in Parliament today and seem to think it’s the news of the day, but it’s worth lo0king at the context:
[Sitting date: 16 April 2013. Volume:689;Page:14. Text is subject to correction.]
10. GRANT ROBERTSON (Deputy Leader—Labour) to the Prime Minister: What role, if any, did he play in recommending the appointment of Ian Fletcher as Director of the Government Communications Security Bureau?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY (Prime Minister) : As I have publicly stated before, I agreed with the State Services Commissioner’s advice that a potential short list of people identified by a recruitment consultant for the job should not be considered by an interview panel. I agreed with Iain Rennie to look elsewhere to fill the position. I rang Ian Fletcher and said that if he was interested in the position, he would need to go through a process and should call Maarten Wevers in the first instance. The interview panel was unanimous that Mr Fletcher was suitable for the position, and Mr Rennie then recommended his appointment to me. I took his appointment to Cabinet and it was agreed. I then recommended the appointment of Mr Fletcher to the Governor-General.
Grant Robertson: Why did the Prime Minister not give that information in his correction that he gave before the start of question time today?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Because it was not necessary.
Grant Robertson: Why did he not tell New Zealanders the truth about his role in the appointment process when he was asked direct questions about it in this House and by the media?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: As I have said on numerous occasions, when the member asked me, it was a supplementary question to question No. 12., I was not expecting that particular question, and frankly the phone call was so unmemorable I had not remembered it. But I was the not the person who filled in my tax return—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! That adds nothing to the quality of the answer.
Grant Robertson: Why did he say 2 days after the question in the House “I didn’t undertake the recruitment, that was fully done by the State Services Commission …”, when he was the person who rejected the short list, he was the person who suggested Ian Fletcher, and he was the person who made a phone call to Ian Fletcher—2 days after the question was asked in the House?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Because in the context of the question I was asked I believed that to be correct. The recruitment was undertaken by the State Services Commissioner, and that is actually accurate in terms of the way it was done.
Louise Upston: Can the Prime Minister tell the House what reports he has seen of the Auditor-General’s view about the appointment of Ian Fletcher?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Funnily enough, I can. I have seen the Auditor-General say that he does not intend to carry out an inquiry into the appointment of Ian Fletcher. Let me quote from the Auditor-General: “The Prime Minister has responsibility for this appointment. Unlike for chief executives of other government departments, the relevant legislation”—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! [Interruption] Order! I have a point of order from the Rt Hon Winston Peters.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. With the greatest respect to the House and to the Auditor-General, if she has had a gender change, we should know about it.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The Prime Minister has every right to answer the question that was put by Louise Upston, if he wishes to continue.
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: To continue: “The Prime Minister has responsibility for this appointment. Unlike for chief executives of government departments, the relevant legislation does not prescribe any particular process that has to be followed before making that appointment. … The State Services Commission provided support to the Prime Minister in this appointment process. … It is relatively common for recruitment processes to adapt as they progress …”. [Interruption] The members might not like it, but the Auditor-General says “No problems.”, the State Services Commissioner says “No problems.”, and, in fact, there is nothing wrong with the appointment. Ian Fletcher was the best candidate for the job.
Grant Robertson: How did he come to have Ian Fletcher’s phone number when he called him in July 2011?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: No clue.
Mr SPEAKER: No. Order! It was a reasonable question, which I do not think should be difficult for the Prime Minister to answer. How did he come to have the phone number?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I genuinely have no clue. I do not know how I got the number.
Grant Robertson: In light of his last answer that he is clueless about—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! No, that will only lead to disorder. Would the member just ask his supplementary question. [Interruption] Order! If the member wants a supplementary question, he will ask it.
Dr Russel Norman: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. It is a perfectly reasonable question. The Prime Minister said he had no clue—
Mr SPEAKER: As to how he got a phone number.
Dr Russel Norman: Mr Robertson said he was clueless. That is the same thing.
Mr SPEAKER: No. Order! That is not a helpful comment from Dr Russel Norman. Would the member please ask his supplementary question.
Grant Robertson: Can the Prime Minister understand why New Zealanders are struggling to believe anything that he has got to say on this matter when he cannot even answer the question of how he came to have Ian Fletcher’s phone number?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: No, because I did not, at that point, have Ian Fletcher’s mobile phone number. To the best of my knowledge, I actually rang the directory service to get the Queensland number. I do not actually have his number.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Parliamentary question time will become a total waste of time if the Prime Minister can make it up as he goes along. He told the House that he happened to have Ian Fletcher’s number. Now he explains, weeks later, that he went and found it somewhere else; he did not have the number. What is the truth here? That is the purpose of question time.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! It is pretty clear to me that on reflection he had time to remember how he now recalls that he got the number. I do not think that is unreasonable at all. [Interruption] Order! The most important thing—
Rt Hon Winston Peters: It is not important whether it is strictly clear to you. What is important is that it is not clear to the rest of the country or anybody else in the House how you derived that understanding.
Mr SPEAKER: Well, the Prime Minister has now given an answer that has made it a lot clearer.
Grant Robertson: In light of the Prime Minister’s last answer, can he tell the House how he managed to get a mobile phone number from a directory service when you cannot get mobile phone numbers from directory services?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Because when I rang the Queensland service, it was redirected to that mobile.