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