Russel Norman’s valedictory statement

Russel Norman was not everyone’s cup of green tea but he believed strongly in what he stood for and he was a significant force behind the improvement in Green vote (but could also be responsible in part for it hitting an apparent Green ceiling).


There are a number of interesting and important points in his speech including:

  • Agitators are a set of interfering, meddling people…
  • The state of democracy in New Zealand
  • The fourth estate
  • A bad culture around dissent
  • Sustainability
  • There are too many cows
  • Justice and inequality and poverty

Some of these topics may be worth exploring separately.

Inthehouse video: Valedictory Statement – Dr Russel Norman – 22nd October 2015

Draft transcript:

Valedictory Statements

Speech – Dr RUSSEL NORMAN (Green)

Dr RUSSEL NORMAN (Green): I rise to pass a few comments and a few thanks at the end of my 7 years as a member of this Parliament and 9 years as co-leader of the Green Party.

I want to start with a little story from Queensland. Some of you may know that I was born in Brisbane—if my accent does not give me away. The thing about Brisbane is that, aside from having a very right-wing Premier for many years, who was very anti-democratic, Joh Bjelke-Petersen, who of course was a Kiwi expat, but I have never held that against New Zealand, it also had a terrible history of the treatment of Aboriginal people.

After the frontier wars, Aboriginal people were locked up in concentration camps, called reservations. There was a reservation near Cairns, called Yarrabah. In Yarrabah there was of course a lot of conflict between the Aboriginal people of the Yarrabah reservation and the white overseer, who also owned the store and sold rancid meat, amongst many other things.

The conflict developed between Percy Neal, who was a leader of the Yarrabah community, and the white overseer. Percy Neal, in his argument, spat on the screen door that separated the two of them and for this he was charged with assault and put before a magistrate.

The magistrate said he was an agitator. He said Mr Neal was an agitator. The magistrate sentenced him to 2 months’ jail, with hard labour, for spitting on the screen door. Percy Neal appealed to the Queensland Supreme Court, which in active injustice, increased that penalty to 6 months’ hard labour for spitting on the screen door.

Eventually the appeal went to the High Court in Canberra, the highest court in Australia, and was heard in front of Justice Lionel Murphy. The thing about Lionel was that he was a little bit of an agitator himself, and was appointed by the Whitlam Government on to the High Court of Australia. Lionel wrote a judgment about this case. I just want to quote a little bit of Lionel Murphy’s judgment.

He said, and I am quoting from Justice Murphy: “That Mr Neal was an agitator or stirrer in the magistrate’s view obviously contributed to the severe penalty. If he is an agitator, he is in good company. Many of the great religious and political figures of history have been agitators, and human progress owes much to the efforts of these and many who are unknown.

Agitators are a set of interfering, meddling people…

As Oscar Wilde aptly pointed out: ‘Agitators are a set of interfering, meddling people, who come down to some perfectly contented class of the community and sow the seeds of discontent amongst them. That is the reason why agitators are so absolutely necessary. Without them … there would be no advance towards civilisation.’ ”

Lionel Murphy finished with a very famous quote, where he said: “Mr Neal is entitled to be an agitator.”

I use this quote to tell a little bit about my story about Queensland, and growing up in Queensland, but it is also about the value of activists and agitators—people who challenge the status quo and people who have the courage to stand up against the established order and try to win other people to those ideas.

I believe that activists and agitators have a critical role in human progress. I have been very proud to call myself amongst one of them—one of the many. The other reason I bring it up is that democracy itself is never absolutely secure nor finished.

Joh Bjelke-Petersen was a deeply anti-democratic figure.

I believe that democracy is a lot more than voting once every 3 years. In fact, I think in some ways that is the least part of it. It is all the institutions and culture that sits around it.

The state of democracy in New Zealand

I want to use my remarks to voice my concern about the state of democracy in New Zealand. Democracy is not a black and white thing.

There are gradations of democracy. Putin has elections once every several years, or whatever, but that does not make Russia a democracy.

Some of the institutions I think we should be deeply concerned about: access to information, and Government information in particular, is critical to the functioning of a democracy. In my view, the Official Information Act is relatively moribund now in New Zealand. It is very, very difficult to get information from the Government that the Government does not wish to release. That is a problem.

There was the Jane Kelsey case recently, where the High Court found against Tim Groser, and the Chief Ombudsman, I mean, shamefully, supported Tim Groser in this illegal activity, under the Official Information Act, of suppressing information.

I think we have got a problem with access to information in this country, and that is a critical part of our democracy. Written questions—it is very difficult to get written parliamentary questions answered any more. It is hard to get straight answers. How do you have a proper democracy if you cannot access information?

Question time—let me try to be diplomatic. Lockwood Smith said that a straight question deserves a straight answer. I loved question time with Lockwood Smith. It was one of the highlights of my parliamentary career. He was electric. He made Ministers answer questions. Question time was answer time.

It is no longer answer time, and I think that is a big problem for our democracy because if you cannot access information, it does not work.

The fourth estate

The second institution that I think really matters is the media, the fourth estate. This is not a complaint about a status quo bias to the media. Sure the media does have a status quo bias.

Media institutions are large financial institutions, existing in the status quo, and no one should be surprised that they do tend to have a bias towards the status quo. That is not my gripe.

My gripe is the resources available to journalists. Journalists used to have to produce one or two stories a week in some cases. Now they have to produce four a day. It is very difficult for journalists to do their role in our society, to hold the Government and powerful institutions to account, when journalists do not have the resources to do their job. I think this is a problem for all of us, and I think it is a problem for our democracy.

A bad culture around dissent

I also think we have developed a bad culture around dissent. Look at what happened to Eleanor Catton, look at what happened to Nicky Hager, and what he is currently going through, after the police raided his house because he dared to criticise and get involved in the Cameron Slater issue—one of the Government’s favourites.

There is a bad culture around dissent, in my opinion, and it makes it difficult for people to speak out. The culture that exists matters in a democracy—whether we have a real democracy or not. That is important.

And finally there is the investor-State disputes settlement clauses. These are about placing restrictions on democratically elected Governments. That is why they exist.

So I would say we can fix this. Democracy is an evolving institution. It is a living institution. But it will take a concerted effort from civil society groups and those outside of this institution, I suspect, as much as those within in it, in order to make our democracy healthier than it currently is. That is the first thing I wanted to say.


The second thing I wanted to say was around sustainability. Finite resources, I think, is one of the key insights that the green movement brings to the world—that the small “g” green movement brought to the world. That is, resources are limited and the ability of the planet to absorb our pollution is relatively limited.

There is a connection between democracy and sustainability and that connection became apparent in what happened to Environment Canterbury. The reason why the elected councillors were removed from Environment Canterbury was because the people of Canterbury started to vote for councillors who wanted to restrict the dairy sector. It is as simple as that. That has been stated pretty publicly by the agriculture Minister at the time.

That in my opinion is very problematic because in order to protect our democracy and in order to protect our environment we need a functioning democracy. This is really important and I think that was a classic illustration of it.

But there is a bigger problem, and this came out in the environment report that was released yesterday, and that is around dairy intensification. We need to confront the fact that we have got a big problem now. It has been growing for probably 15 to 20 years but it is now an astronomically large problem around dairy intensification.

It is causing massive climate change emissions, water pollution, water abstraction, compacted soil as the Environment Aotearoa report said, biodiversity loss, and polluted aquifers.

When you think about the fact that if you take water from the Canterbury aquifer—parts of the Canterbury aquifer—and feed it to infants, that water is so polluted that those infants will die. The medical officer of health in Canterbury has said that and it should be a wake-up call that we have got a major pollution problem on our hands.

There are too many cows

It needs to be said that there are too many cows. We just need to say it because it is true. The world is finite. There is not infinite capacity to absorb our pollution. There are too many cows and I think we need to confront that fact and we need to deal with it if we are going to clean up our environment.

One of the great things about my job is that I went on this dirty rivers tour. You know, I went and paddled in lots of dirty rivers—dozens of them; not hard to find—and there are communities all around the country that are trying to protect their rivers.

There are courageous people in rural communities who are speaking out about the impact of dairy intensification on their rivers and their communities and we need to listen to the voices of those people.

I do not think that leadership is going to come from Government and I do not think it is going to come from the industry because there has been plenty of time to fix this problem and it is not getting any better—it is getting radically worse.

It is going to rely, I think, on the NGO sector and the community sector to speak out in order to save our rivers and to protect the natural environment of New Zealand, not to mention the climate change emissions that are coming out of the agriculture sector because, of course, the agriculture sector does not face a price on its greenhouse emissions, so what would you expect.

Justice and inequality and poverty

The third thing I just want to touch on briefly is about justice and inequality and poverty. We have said it 100 times but it has got to be said: there is too much poverty and inequality in New Zealand. Things got worse after the new-right reforms. The Gini coefficient got worse after the reforms of the 1980s and 1990s but things have not really got any better and that is a major problem.

People say the Government cannot do everything. Well, that is true. The Government cannot mend a broken heart; but the Government can fill an empty stomach. That is within our capacity. We can do those things and I think we should, and I think we have a moral obligation to deal with the issues around poverty and inequality.

Honestly, I think it strikes to the very heart of our democracy as well, because when you sit in a society that is highly stratified and you look below you and think “Goodness me, that could be me if I speak out, if I do the wrong thing. If I lose my job, I can’t pay the mortgage, feed the kids, that could be me next.”

It makes everyone very frightened and on edge and it does not give the peace of mind and the stability that a mature democracy needs in my belief.

A few thanks in my closing remarks

I would like just give a few thanks in my closing remarks. Firstly, I would like to thank my partner, Katya Paquin. Katya has not only been a tremendous personal support to me but also a real political support as well. Katya used to be the political director for the Green Party before she got a much more important job, which is looking after our three beautiful kids: Tadhg, Frankie, and Stella.

Aside from doing a fantastic job bringing up those beautiful kids, Katya has been a key political support for me and has provided me with enormous insight into politics. To Tadhg, Frankie, and Stella I would just like to say you have changed me in ways that I never expected—as having kids does to you. But it was only possible really to bring up those kids because of the community we lived in and I would like to thank the people at playcentre, and at kindy, and I would like to thank Katya’s mum, Mary, who has been very, very supportive of us, and also my mum, Ollie May.

My mum is one of those people who is very disrespectful to authority—still is—and I suspect that that was very, very helpful. I do think that those in power often have a vested interest in telling you lies. It is true—it is just true.

So I think it is very important that people look at people in power and do not believe everything they say, take it with a grain of salt, and think for themselves, because the people in power are not always going to tell you the truth.

I would like to thank my brothers and sisters: Linda, Peter, Richard, Alan, and Sandra. I come from a big family. I also thank my friends. You cannot do the kind of work we do here or have a great life without great friends, and I thank Helen and Steve, Rebecca and Steve, John and Paula, Jeff and Roddy, and lots of other people who have been great friends of mine and great people support to me during all of this.

In terms of my staff I have been really blessed with fantastic staff. I thank my assistants Jo Beaglehole, Anna Hynes, Izzy Lomax, Charlie Chambers, and Simon Tapp . You have gone beyond the call of duty.

To all the staff who have supported me over the years—there are too many people to mention. But I thank Ken Spagnolo, Robert Ash, Babs Lake, Andrew Campbell, Holly Donald, Paul Benzeman, Scott Compton, Katya Paquin, Michael Pringle, Sarah Holm—there are more and more of them.

The Green Party, I think, has been extremely blessed with very, very talented staff over the years. I would also like to thank the members of Green Party, and also the members of all political parties.

Democracy has survived only because people join political parties and get engaged in them voluntarily. So although I disagree with people who might be members of other political parties, I certainly respect the fact that they get involved in democracy. I think it is really important.

But I would particular like to thank the members of the Green Party, especially the Rongotai branch, who have been incredibly supportive to me. To the co-leaders I have worked with—Rod, who tragically died, Janette, and Metiria—and good luck, James—it has been great to work with you.

I thank all the Green MPs. It has been great to work all of you—those of us who are here, those of us who have come before. I think the Green MPs have made a huge difference. I would like to really thank the green NGOs, or the environmental NGOs.

Environmental NGOs often have to do the heavy lifting of protecting New Zealand’s natural environment on behalf of everybody else in the courts, day in, day out, and everywhere else. Really, they are often doing the job that the Government should be doing to protect our natural world. It is the environmental NGOs that end up doing it. So I would really like to acknowledge their work.

I would also like to thank the voters, the 250,000-plus people who voted for us at the last election. Thank you for your act of faith in voting Green. I hope you got what you wanted, and I hope that you continue to support the Greens.

I thank all the parliamentary staff: the cleaners, the messengers, the Clerk’s Office, all the people who provide the food and the security, but especially the Parliamentary Library.

Particularly when you are in Opposition it would be very, very hard to do your job without the Parliamentary Library. So I would really like to thank the library staff for all their hard work over the years.

In conclusion

In conclusion I would just like to say that my view is that humanity faces some really big challenges in the decades ahead, particularly around sustainability and climate change, and around inequality and poverty, but also around democracy. I think that democracy faces some big challenges globally, actually. But we also have huge opportunities.

The world is finite—that is true—but human creativity is infinite. Human generosity is infinite. Human courage is infinite. So we have access to some fantastic resources.

As well as facing these big challenges and problems we have inherited from the past, we have also inherited lots of great things from the past, and we have the opportunity to really create a world of abundance for everyone and for all of us living within the finite limits of the natural world.

I think that it is an opportunity that we really should grasp with both our hands, because our children deserve nothing less.

Finally, I would like to dedicate my time here to the people who stand up for a better world regardless of the cost. We are all entitled to be agitators, as Justice Murphy said, and we should exercise that entitlement frequently, and I intend to do so. Kia kaha.


Members’ bills

Three new Members’ bills were drawn today.

Carmel Sepuloni’s Social Security (Pathway to Work) Amendment Bill

This bill removes the disincentives to engage in part-time work by lifting the threshold of how much persons can earn before their benefit is reduced by abatement rates.

Dr Russel Norman’s Climate Change (Divestment from Fossil Fuels) Bill

This Bill will direct public fund managers to divest from companies directly involved in the exploration, mining, and production of fossil fuels

Clare Curran’s Telecommunications (Interception Capability and Security) Amendment Bill

This bill amends the Telecommunications (Interception Capability and Security) Act 2013, establishing a Technical Advisory Board to which matters must be referred in instances where the Minister will be required to exercise his or her discretion or prescribe an additional area of specified security interest.

Russel Norman leaving Parliament

It’s not really surprising to see Russel Norman announce that he’s leaving Parliament. This is how he annolunced it via email:

I’ve got some news.

At the end of October, I’m going to be leaving Parliament. I am stepping down as a Green Party MP to take over as the Executive Director of Greenpeace New Zealand.

I am looking forward to the new challenges and the hard work I’m embarking on. But of course, at a time of change like this, I’m also finding myself looking into the past.

It’s sure going to be the end of an era for me. I’ve been a Green Party MP for over seven years (and was Co-leader for nine) and when I look back at what we have achieved over the last decade… crikey! Working with others, we not only achieved really practical things, like home insulation, rail electrification and bikeways, we also won many more people to the ideas of sustainability.

During my time with the Greens we have campaigned hard on issues that really matter to New Zealand. When I am an old man looking back I’m going to be proud of the part I have played in giving hundreds of thousands of New Zealanders a voice in opposition to asset sales, protecting our fresh waterways, shining a light on secret spying and the secret TPPA deal, and pushing for some desperately needed real action on climate change.

This is probably the last email you’ll get from me as a Green MP, and the only thing I want to say is thank you. Thank you for your support, your energy, your passion and your action. Thank you for the part you play in driving forward new ideas and solutions against the old headwinds of fear and inertia.

My work, and the work of all of us MPs, would have been nothing without your support and action – on the ground, outside of Parliament, in the real world.

It’s been a huge privilege to represent your voice. But it’s time for me to leave and step into a new challenge, with Greenpeace New Zealand.

My leaving, of course, also opens up a seat in Parliament for the amazing Marama Davidson, the next on the Green Party list. Marama will be a great addition to the Green team and will make a massive contribution.

So, for one last time, thank you and kia kaha.

Dr Russel Norman

Green Party MP

Parliament is a tough gig, especially at party leader level. Norman can justifiably be proud of what he has achieved.

Norman first stood for Parliament in Australia in 1990. He moved to New Zealand ih 1997.  He first stood here in 2002 and was placed seventeenth on their list. He didn’t stand for an electorate in 2005 but was placed tenth on the list. However that wasn’t enough to get him into Parliament.

He became party co-leader from outside Parliament in 2006 after the death of Rod Donald., defeating Nandor Tanczos. In 2008  when Tanczos resigned the next two on the Green list stood aside so Norman could take a seat in Parliament.

Since then Greens increased their number of MPs to fourteen in 2011 and held steady at that in 2014. Greens were kept out of power largely due to Labour’s failure to impress since Helen Clark lost and left.

Interesting to see that Norman is moving to lead Greenpeace in New Zealand,

McLay has learnt the correct answer

In Question Time in Tuesday Todd McLay, speaking for the Minsiter of Trade, four times avoided answering a reopeated question from Russel orman on the TPP. See  Todd McClay: arrogant stonewalling.

He was prepared for a repeat of Norman’s line of questioning yesterday and had answers ready.

7. Dr RUSSEL NORMAN (Green) to the Minister of Trade : Will the New Zealand Parliament be able to modify the text of the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement if the Government signs the TPPA; and is it Parliament or Cabinet that ratifies the TPPA?

Hon TODD McCLAY (Acting Minister of Trade): I welcome the question from the member. The Cabinet Manual and the Standing Orders set out the procedure for Parliament’s examination of international treaties, and, as with all international treaties, Parliament is not able to amend parts of a treaty. However, Parliament has significant involvement prior to ratification of an agreement. Although it is the executive that ratifies treaties, Parliament has an important role to play in the treaty examination process. The executive will only ratify a free-trade agreement after Parliament’s completion of treaty examinations.

Dr Russel Norman : So would a correct summary of the Minister’s answer be that the New Zealand Parliament is not able to modify the text of the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement once the Government has signed it, and that it is Cabinet, not Parliament, that ratifies the treaty?

Hon TODD McCLAY : As with my first answer, the rules around this, in so far as the Cabinet Manual and the Standing Orders are concerned, are clear. But it is correct to say that no one single country can amend an agreement unilaterally and therefore not one of the 12 countries can amend the agreement, should agreement on the Trans-Pacific Partnership be reached. This is the same with agreements that we sign up to under the World Trade Organization and the UN. It is also important, I think, to note that for New Zealand the reason this is something that is in place is so that any hard-fought gains that we receive through that negotiation cannot be changed following agreement.

Dr Russel Norman : Does it strike him as a particularly democratic process when the elected members of the House of Representatives have no ability to influence the negotiation because it is done in secret, elected MPs cannot modify the agreement once it has been signed in secret by the Government, and nor does Parliament have any decisive say over whether New Zealand ratifies the agreement?

Hon TODD McCLAY : It strikes me that this is the same procedure that has been followed for a number of agreements that have gone through this Parliament—indeed, it is the same procedure that took place in the China free-trade agreement, the Hong Kong agreement, and, most recently, the Korean agreement. But I would say, as has been publicly stated, that if the Trans-Pacific Partnership is agreed, we are likely to see a different procedure in the way that it is followed through in this Parliament than was the case with China. It will be close to the Korean agreement, where the agreement was available prior to signing. Certainly, the parliamentary process must be finished before ratification will take place.

Dr Russel Norman : Has he seen the statement by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade’s lead negotiator on the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement, which said that all explanatory material from the Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations, such as briefings to Ministers, would be kept secret for 4 years after the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement comes into force; and will not keeping that material secret make it very difficult for ordinary New Zealanders to get their heads around the detail of the treaty, which is the size of a book and is written in—

Mr SPEAKER : Order! The Hon Todd McClay—either of those two supplementary questions.

Hon TODD McCLAY : The procedure that will be followed here is that the agreement will be available for the honourable member, others in this Parliament, and the public to see prior to signature. We will need to follow the same procedure that has been in place in this Parliament for all other agreements through the treaty examination procedures before ratification takes place. Our Minister of Trade is negotiating the very best deal possible for New Zealand. The Government has said that it will sign up to the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement only if it is in the best interests of New Zealand. I think the public will have plenty of time to go over the very detailed text of this agreement before that member gets to cast further doubt upon it.

Dr Russel Norman : I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. My question was specifically about the explanatory material—

Mr SPEAKER : Order! No, I listened very carefully to the question. It was not specific enough; in fact, there were at least two questions in the question. I cannot help the member if he does not ask a concise question to get the answer that might be more satisfactory to him.

Even Danyl Mclauchlan sees the problem with Norman’s approach.

Danyl Mclauchlan ‏@danylmc

If Parliament could modify a trade agreement wouldn’t all the signatories do that and trade agreements be completely pointless?

Yes. The Green approach to trade deals – have all negotiating positions publicised, then when reaching an agreement putting the treaty back to the New Zealand Parliament to discuss, then the Greens can discuss it internally, then Greens can organise protest marches and petitions against it, then if Parliament agrees to ratify the agreement Greens can organise a ‘Citizen’ initiated referendum and insist that if the public are against the treaty we should withdraw, then the Greens still only get about 11% in the next election.

Graeme Edgeler ‏@GraemeEdgeler
It’s why the US negotiators needed fast track authority :-)

Rob Hosking ‏@robhosking
@danylmc Yeah. This is godawfully silly stuff. Student Union politics of the worst kind.

Norman is showing the lack of experience Greens have of being in Government – it’s fine to have democratic ideals, but the reality of running a country means that the Green way isn’t necessarily the best way, nor a way that would work.

Norman must know that the Green way would make it virtualy impossible to reach any meaningful trade agreements.

Good to see that McLay learnt from his poor responses the previous day.

Todd McClay: arrogant stonewalling

Question Time is an important part of our democratioc and parliamentary process. There is a requiremet for Ministers to answer questions put to them by the Opposition.

The Opposition often complain about inadequate answers or avoiding answering. Yesterday Todd McClay, speaking on behalf of the Minister of Trade, avoided answering when Russle Norman asked the same question four times.

The initial question:

25.08.15 – Question 9 – Dr Russel Norman to the Minister of Trade

Which stakeholder groups have been briefed as to the draft content of the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement since the completion of the last round of negotiations in July; and which groups have been briefed as to the process going forward for the agreement?

After another question:

Dr Russel Norman : Will Parliament be able to modify the text of the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement after the Government has signed it?

Hon TODD McCLAY : The member needs to be careful not to get ahead of himself. There is still a negotiation under way, and the Government has been clear that we will sign the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement only if it is for the overall good of New Zealand and the New Zealand economy. What I can confirm is that should we be successful in negotiating a high-quality agreement that is good for New Zealand, it will follow the same parliamentary process as other similar agreements.

Dr Russel Norman : I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. It is a very simple—

Mr SPEAKER : Order! I can anticipate the point of order. I am going to invite the member to ask that question again.

Dr Russel Norman : Thank you. Will Parliament be able to modify the text of the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement after the Government has signed the agreement?

Hon TODD McCLAY : The member needs to be careful not to get ahead of himself. There is no agreement under the Trans-Pacific Partnership yet. Should there be an agreement it would have to be in the overall best interests of New Zealand for the Government to sign it, and the process will be the same as every other trade agreement that is put before Parliament.

Mr SPEAKER : I will allow the member an additional supplementary question.

Dr Russel Norman : Will Parliament be able to modify the text of the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement after the Government signs it?

Hon TODD McCLAY : The process that will be followed for the Trans-Pacific Partnership, should it be successfully negotiated and concluded, will include a national-interest assessment, followed by enacting legislation. That is the normal process that we follow in this House with all agreements, including the New Zealand – Korea free-trade agreement, the New Zealand – China free-trade agreement, and all other agreements that have been negotiated successfully in the interests of New Zealand.

Dr Russel Norman : I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. It was a very simple question. The Minister is not answering a very simple question.

Mr SPEAKER : Order! It is a very simple question that has now been repeated twice. I see little point in repeating the question a third time, but the member certainly has an additional supplementary question, if he wants to use it.

Dr Russel Norman : Will Parliament be able to modify the text of the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement after the Government signs it—yes or no?

Hon TODD McCLAY : I refer the member to my previous answer. This agreement, should it be concluded, will follow all other agreements that have come through this House. The agreement will go before the Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Committee, which will be able to put a report back to Parliament.

Dr Russel Norman : I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I seek your clarification and direction. What can the Opposition do when a Minister simply refuses to answer a question?

Mr SPEAKER : The Minister did not refuse; he gave an answer that did not answer the question—I agree with that. There is nothing I can do. It is the responsibility of the Minister to answer questions in this House. I judge whether the question has been answered. On either occasion, I did not think it had been satisfactorily addressed, so I gave the member additional questions to use. It will be now for the public and this House to judge the quality of the answer that has been given by the Minister.

McClay spoke, but effectively refused to answer the question four times.

I judge the quality of the answers as very poor. Avoiding answering the question once was poor form. Four times is disgraceful. It looks like arrogant Government stonewalling.

I’m not judging the merits of Norman’s question, just the abysmal quality of ther responses.

From Speaker’s rullings:

Accountability to the House

4 Ministers have a responsibility to the House, and through the House to the country, to account for the public offices they hold. Question time is an important element of this accountability. Ministers should therefore take questions seriously and endeavour to give informative replies to the questions that they are asked.

5 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.

I think McClay failed in his responsibilities.

McClay is MP for Rotorua, and is:

  • Minister of Revenue
  • Minister of State Owned Enterprises
  • Associate Minister of Trade
  • Associate Minister of Foreign Affairs

Flag Referendums Bill passed

The New Zealand Flag Referendums Bill passed it’s third reading in Parliament yesterday. Radio NZ reports:

Parliament passes law to change flag

Legislation clearing the way for referenda on changing the nation’s flag has passed its third and final reading in Parliament.

The bill was passed by 63 votes to 59 with the support of National, United Future, ACT and the Maori Party.

The first part of the referendum is expected to be held later this year, when voters will pick their favourite of four proposed flag designs.

As we know the process to seek and select alternate flag designs is well under way, with the top forty designs now chosen.

I find it odd that the legislation enabling this has only just passed. There has already been considerable effort and expenditure.

It was interesting to watch the twelve speeches in Parliament on this Bill.

Government speakers promoted the process, but more notably Opposition speakers spoke against the flag change process but didn’t look convinced by their own arguments, especially Trevor Mallard, Grant Robertson and Russel Norman.

Bill English (National):

This Bill will give New Zealanders the opportunity for the first time ever to vote on the flag that represents them and their country.

Trevor Mallard (Labour):

I’m an old fashioned Parliamentarian and I think the role of the Prime Minister is to stand up in this Parliament and to state his views.I waited through the first reading of this legislation. I waited through the second reading of this legislation. I waited through the committee stages for John Key to get on his feet and to give his views.

He went on to complain about the lack of Key’s contribution to the debate – but kept calling it Key’s ‘vanity project’. There’s not only a contradiction on that, there’s also a huge contradiction in Mallard’s and Labour’s pro-change but anti this change stance.

And Andrew Little did not appear to speak on Labour’s contradictory stance.

Alfred Ngaro (National):

It’s disappointing to see that a member…to see that he’s come to a point where he knows and he’s agreed, in fact at select committee he agrees with the changing of the flag. He told us that. It’s in Hansard.

He said that changing the flag is the right thing to do, yet today in this house, to the open public of New Zealand he’s only opposing it out of spite.

Grant Robertson (Labour):

I’m one of the members of the Labour party who thinks that there is a place for a new flag for New Zealand.

But I’m equally a member of the New Zealand public who’s angry with John Key for turning a process…I, along with a lot of other New Zealanders am angry with John Key that a discussion about this, a discussion about out national identity, has become a vanity project for him, and there’s absolutely no doubt that that’s what’s happened.

Ironically as Mr Mallard says, the vanity doesn’t extend to coming to parliament to actually talk about the flag change.

They are trying to argue two opposites at the same time, Unconvincingly.

Labour are intent on trying to depict it as a John key vanity project – but Robertson did not look or sound angry. His argument sounded contrived and insincere.

Russel Norman:

This Bill is of course a classic form over substance Bill. So the form of course is actual pattern on the flag…so it’s really about some people saying they want to change the pattern.

But a flag, the reason why the pattern matters is that it actually refers to a deeper substance, and the deeper substance that it refers to is the constitutional arrangements of the country, ah that’s the thing that really matters.

Norman gave a subdued fairly passionless speech. He wanted to change much more than the flag – he wants to change the constitution along with it.

However the Greens have also campaigned against the flag change as not the right time to put any resources into changing anything while there are ‘more pressing matters’. To be consistent they would not want constitutional changes to be addressed until there are zero hungry children and zero damp houses in New Zealand. That’s never.

Marama Fox (Maori Party):

I think this is an important discussion, and it’s important because I absolutely agree with a lot of the objections about why we’re doing this, but actually I absolutely agree that I’d like to see a change in the flag, and I’d like to see a change in the flag because I’d like to see something that does symbolise our duality of nationhood.

Should we be spending this amount of money on doing it? I’d like to think not.

Should we have put a constitutional change first before we put a flag change in? Absolutely agree with that.

Constitutional change would be much more complex, would take much longer and would be much more expensive than the flag change process.

The Maori Party voted for the Bill.

Links to the all the speeches:

New Zealand Flag Referendums Bill – Third reading – Part 1 Bill English
New Zealand Flag Referendums Bill – Third reading – Part 2 Trevor Mallard
New Zealand Flag Referendums Bill – Third reading – Part 3 Alfred Ngaro
New Zealand Flag Referendums Bill – Third reading – Part 4 Grant Robertson
New Zealand Flag Referendums Bill – Third reading – Part 5 Jacqui Dean
New Zealand Flag Referendums Bill – Third reading – Part 6 Kennedy Graham
New Zealand Flag Referendums Bill – Third reading – Part 8 Jono Naylor
New Zealand Flag Referendums Bill – Third reading – Part 9 Russel Norman
New Zealand Flag Referendums Bill – Third reading – Part 10 Marama Fox
New Zealand Flag Referendums Bill – Third reading – Part 11 Chris Bishop
New Zealand Flag Referendums Bill – Third reading – Part 12 Jenny Salesa
New Zealand Flag Referendums Bill – Third reading – Part 13 Nanaia Mahuta
New Zealand Flag Referendums Bill – Third reading – Part 14 Joanne Hayes, Lindsay Tisch, Tim Macindoe

Final Trans Pacific Partnership negotiations

Final negotiations for the Trans Pacific Partnership are currently under way in Hawaii.

There’s a lot of politicking going on but it’s all based on very limited information – as is normal for trade negotiations they are being done ‘secretly’.

We have to wait until there’s an official announcement about what has been negotiated before we know whether the pros might outweigh the cons for New Zealand or not.

Russel Norman and the Greens were complaining yesterday, in Question Time in Parliament and on Twitter:

The Govt has told other countries our negotiation position on , so why keep it secret from NZers?

If they need to ask that they should be asking themselves if they are ready to be a part of Government. Negotiations frequently need to be un-publicised.

I suspect the Greens don’t publicise all the negotiations they have within their party. That’s normal too.

Greens may need to experience the reality of being a part of Government to understand how things work. Transparency is a good ideal to aspire to, but can sometimes be counter-productive, especially in international negotiations.

Once we find out what is in the final agreement we will be able to judge whether it will be good for New Zealand overall or not.

Until then the guessing and scaremongering and naivety will continue. And I guess Norman will continue to pander to his base as he cannot contribute to the negotiations in Hawaii.

Greens reshuffle spokesperson roles

The Green party has announced a reshuffle of spokesperson roles following the election of James Shaw as new co-leader.

Shaw has taken on Climate Change, with Metiria Turei continuing her focus on Inequality.

Most notable is the promotion of Julie Anne Genter to the Finance role, taking over from Russel Norman. Genter has been one of the Greens’ most capable and prominent spokespeople in her previous role on Transport (which she retains).

Interestingly Genter is still only ranked ninth in the Green pecking order, having dropped a place from last year’s list after the promotion of Shaw.

New portfolio line-up for the Green Party

New portfolios
MP Portfolio
Metiria Turei Inequality

Building and Housing (inc. Social Housing, HNZ)

Maori Affairs

James Shaw Climate Change

Economic Development

Russel Norman Trade

Justice (electoral)

National Intelligence and Security (inc. NZSIS, GCSB)

Kevin Hague Health (inc. ACC, Sport & Recreation)


Rainbow Issues

Eugenie Sage Environment

Primary Industries

Land Information

Canterbury Earthquake Recovery

Earthquake Commission

Gareth Hughes Energy and Resources

Tertiary Education, Skills and Employment

Science and Innovation



Wellington Issues

Catherine Delahunty Education (inc. Novopay)


Human Rights

Te Tiriti o Waitangi

Kennedy Graham Foreign Affairs (inc. Defence, Disarmament, Customs)

Veterans Affairs

Senior Citizens

Julie Anne Genter Finance (inc. Revenue, SOEs)



Mojo Mathers Commerce and Consumer Affairs (inc. Regulatory Reform)

Disability Issues

Animal Welfare

Jan Logie Social Development (inc. Women, Community and Voluntary Sector)

State Services

Local Government (inc. Civil Defence)

Rainbow Issues

Dave Clendon Tourism

Small Business

Criminal Justice (inc. Courts, Corrections, Police)


Denise Roche Workplace Relations and Safety


Immigration, Pacific Peoples, Ethnic Affairs

Internal Affairs (inc. Statistics, Arts Culture & Heritage, Ministerial Services, Racing, Gambling)

Auckland Issues

Steffan Browning Organics




Food Safety

Speaker condemns Simon Bridges’ ‘level of arrogance’

In Question Time in Parliament today the Speaker gave Minister of Transport Simon Bridges leeway after being advised his response to an initial question by Green MP Julie Anne Genter would be lengthy.

12. JULIE ANNE GENTER (Green) to the Minister of Transport : What percentage of the National Land Transport Programme announced yesterday will be spent on new rail infrastructure?

Mr SPEAKER : Before I call the Hon Simon Bridges, I have been advised that this answer may be longer than normal.

Part the pay through the reply the Speaker gave Bridges further opportunity to detail his response despite protestations of Genter.

Mr SPEAKER : Order! I would be grateful is the member would show some courtesy to the Minister and to the House. I announced at the start of the question that it would be a longer answer than normal. As I am listening to the answer, it maybe is a reason why a percentage will not be given. If the member would only listen to the answer before raising a point of order, I think we would all be far more grateful. Would the honourable Minister wish to continue with his answer.

The lengthy answer resumed.

Hon SIMON BRIDGES : In regards to the 2015-18 National Land Transport Plan, we are investing over $2 billion in public transport regarding rail, some $380 million going on passenger rail subsidies, $40 million on park-and-ride infrastructure, and $172.6 million towards other rail infrastructure—about 1.5 percent. Of course, in Budget 2015 there is a further $210 million for KiwiRail and another $190 million signalled for thereafter. The member should stop being tricky, should stop cherry-picking the statistics—

Bridges was stopped by the Speaker there. The questions and answers continued. Afterwards, following Labour MP Damien O’Connor being ordered to leave the House, Russel Norman raised a point of order.

Russel Norman : This is to do with the answer given by the Minister to question twelve. I would ask you to look at the record of the Hansard, because the question on notice written down was a very simple straight question and in the answer the Minister attacked the Member asking the question, accusing her of being tricky and various other things.

I think that is completely unreasonable, and i would think, I would ask you to intervene when a Minister does those kinds of personal attacks on a very straight question, and actually hold the Minister to account.

Mr SPEAKER :That is a very fair point of order that’s been raised, the Minister’s office advised my office just prior to Question Time it would be a longer answer than normal. I think the Minister genuinely attempted to answer the question.

His last comment was, ah, to accuse the Member of being tricky, that was a very unnecessary and in fact inflammatory remark. As soon as it occurred I brought that answer to a conclusion.

But answers like that from any Minister show a level of arrogance that does not show them in good light in this House.

In some ways this seems like a minor infraction and a minor point but the snarky dig from Bridges was totally uncalled for after he had been given leeway to give a lengthy answer.

Being condemned as arrogant by the Speaker (who happens to be from the same party) is a justified reprimand for Bridges.

Ministers should be above this sort of petty arrogance.

Shaw a good bet for the Green future

It’s hard on Kevin Hague to miss out on the Green co-leadership. He’s a good guy who works hard with anyone to progress worthwhile policies and issues. But the Greens have gone for an alternative that’s a better bet for their future.

James Shaw was chosen as the new male co-leader, a Parliamentary novice against Hague’s experience. He was suggested as a leader of the future before getting into Parliament eight months ago.

When Russel Norman announced he was stepping down  Shaw initially said he wouldn’t be in the contest to replace Norman, but then he changed his mind. He must have sounded out support, or supporters encouraged him, and put himself forward.

I think Shaw is a good bet for the Greens. He is more likely than most to work well across the political spectrum and more likely than moist to attract a wide range of voters. He has solid Green credentials but also has solid business experience.

His biggest handicap was his lack of Parliamentary and leadership experience, but that’s not a big issue here as he is co-leader and is not in sole charge. He will have Metiria Turei’s experience alongside him, and Norman has promised to help him learn the leadership ropes.

I think it’s possible, even likely, that Shaw will quickly become more attractive to potential voters than Turei, who is fairly left of left and doesn’t appeal much to people outside the faithful Green flock.

Shaw is as good bet for the Green future.


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