Russel Norman probed John Key on dirty politics links in Question Time yesterday – see previous post Key does a Runner from attempted Norman conquest.
Key avoided answering but it raised some issues (via Norman and Chris Hipkins) that the Speaker said he would consider.
It was good to see reasonable points of order rather than the more common cantankerous attacks on the Speaker. Making a good case is far more likely to succeed than hissy fitting.
3. Prime Minister—Communication with Blogger
[Sitting date: 22 October 2014. Volume:701;Page:4. Text is subject to correction.]
3. Dr RUSSEL NORMAN (Co-Leader – Green) to the Prime Minister : How many times since November 2008 has he spoken with blogger Cameron Slater on the phone and how many times, if any, has he texted him?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY (Prime Minister): None in my capacity as Prime Minister. [Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER : Order! [Interruption] Order! When I remain on my feet, I do not expect interjections to continue from my left.
Dr Russel Norman : Given the Prime Minister’s previous statements to say that he regularly talked with Mr Slater on the phone, is the Prime Minister now claiming that when he talked with Mr Slater he was talking with Mr Slater as the leader of the National Party, not as the Prime Minister; and does he wear a different hat when he takes those phone calls?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY : I am not now claiming that. That has always been the claim.
Dr Russel Norman : Did he call Cameron Slater to discuss the backlash Slater received after describing a young car crash victim as a feral who deserved to die; if so, what did he tell Slater about the dead man’s mother?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY : I have never rung Cameron Slater in my capacity as Prime Minister.
Chris Hipkins : Has he ever phoned or texted Cameron Slater on a phone funded or provided by Ministerial Services?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY : I am not 100 percent sure of that, but what I can say is that—as Prime Minister Helen Clark would have told him—that is not the test of whether it is in my capacity as Prime Minister.
Dr Russel Norman : I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. [Interruption] Mr Speaker—[Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER : Order! I do not need the Leader of the House’s assistance at this stage.
Dr Russel Norman : The Prime Minister gave an answer to the primary question on notice, on the basis that he never called Mr Slater as the Prime Minister. We have now established that there are occasions where he used the prime ministerial phone to call Mr Slater. I would ask you to rule as to whether the Prime Minister’s original answer was within the Standing Orders of the House, given that he himself has now acknowledged he used a prime ministerial phone to call Mr Slater.
Mr SPEAKER : Order! In regard to the answer given by the Prime Minister to the first question, that answer was definitely in order.
Rt Hon Winston Peters : I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. There is something particularly disturbing about the Prime Minister’s answer, because it would appear that any Minister can make this claim and say: “Not in my capacity as a Minister.” Around about now, we have got no accountability at all in this Parliament if you allow that to stand.
Mr SPEAKER : In regard to the very first question that was asked, the Prime Minister is perfectly entitled to answer it in the way he did. He is then responsible for that answer. Further supplementary questions have been asked that attempt to tease this issue out. They are equally in order.
Dr Russel Norman : Why did he tell Cameron Slater that the dead man’s mother was the same woman who sometimes confronted him at Pike River meetings?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY : I am not going to describe conversations I have in capacities other than those as Prime Minister.
Dr Russel Norman : Was Cameron Slater correct when he said that the Prime Minister told him that the dead man’s mother—so these are the Prime Minister’s own words—was “ … the same woman f—ing feral bitch that screams at him when he goes to Pike River meetings.”? Is Cameron Slater correct that that is what the Prime Minister said?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY : I made clear at the time that that was not correct.
Dr Russel Norman : Is it not the truth that until the Dirty Politics book came out, he chose to have regular dealings with Cameron Slater, a man who is a hired gun for the tobacco industry, whose blog subjected a public servant to death threats, and who celebrated the death of a car crash victim, calling him a feral?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY : Over the time I have been Prime Minister, the answer to that question is no.
Dr Russel Norman : Is it appropriate for the Prime Minister or his staff to use an attack blogger like Cameron Slater as a platform to “get their message out”, as the Prime Minister’s spokeswoman described it on 12 December last year?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY : The Government and Ministers do talk to bloggers, for a variety of reasons. The reason we talk to social media is that they are part of the overall media that communicates with New Zealanders. That would be no different from other political parties. I have seen that member quoted on numerous blog sites. One assumes that he and his office talk to them, and I am sure he and his office probably talk to Nicky Hager.
Dr Russel Norman : Did he instruct his staff to cease all links with Cameron Slater after the blogger accused an alleged sexual attack victim of bringing it on herself, or after Slater described a car crash victim as a feral who deserved to die? Did the Prime Minister direct his staff to cease all contact with Cameron Slater after Slater made those comments?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY : No.
Dr Russel Norman : Does he not think that he should set a standard for the Prime Minister’s office by directing his staff to cease all contact with the attack blogger Cameron Slater, after Cameron Slater accused an alleged sexual attack victim of bringing it on herself, and Slater described a car crash victim as a feral who deserved to die? Would it not set a standard for the Prime Minister’s office to direct his staff to no longer have contact with Cameron Slater?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY : I have made it clear that we do not endorse many of the stories or comments that are run by a range of different bloggers, but, no, I will not be instructing my staff to do that.
Dr Russel Norman : Is he saying it is business as usual for the Prime Minister of New Zealand and his staff to deal on a regular basis with the most vicious and notorious blogger in New Zealand and for his staff to leak information to that blogger in order to intimidate public servants and silence his political opponents?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY : I do not believe that to be an accurate statement.
Chris Hipkins : I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I ask that after question time you review the overall question here today, because I suspect this issue is going to arise again around the distinction between the Prime Minister’s other capacities and his capacity as Prime Minister. The issue that I would like you to consider—[Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER : Order! This is a point of order.
Chris Hipkins : —is that, in fact, it is the content of the communications and not the means by which they are transmitted, or the hat that the Prime Minister claims to be wearing at the time that he makes the communication, that is at issue here. So if the Prime Minister is communicating with someone about matters relating to his role as Prime Minister and about activities he has undertaken as Prime Minister, then they are, by nature, prime ministerial activities that he should be answerable for. So I ask you to give some further consideration to the interchange today, and, in fact, perhaps come back with a more substantive ruling on the matter, because it seems to me that the Prime Minister could stand up and give any answer to any question and say: “Well, I wasn’t doing that as Prime Minister.”, and therefore would not be held to account.
Rt Hon JOHN KEY : I think it has been well established in this House for a very long period of time that Prime Ministers wear a variety of different hats, and that includes as leader of the National Party, and can include as a citizen. I fondly remember sitting in this House for years hearing Helen Clark saying that she made statements, or had conversations, or undertook actions as the leader of the Labour Party. I happen, for the record, to use my Ministerial Services – funded cellphone to ring my wife. When I ring my darling wife and when I put the cat out at night, I do that in my capacity as a husband, not as Prime Minister. [Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER : Order! I am on my feet. In regard to the very first point Chris Hipkins raised, I certainly give an assurance I will review the interchange today. As to the appropriate course of action following that review, I will be bound. If it is necessary to come back with a further more substantive ruling, I will consider doing so.
Dr Russel Norman : I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. [Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER : Order! This is a point of order. [Interruption] Order! We just need to get the rules straight for everybody. This is a point of order, and it will be heard in silence.
Dr Russel Norman : Thank you for that ruling. Given that it related to my questions, I would just like to make one point with regard to the point that Mr Hipkins made, which was that the issue was about John Key acting as Prime Minister—
Hon Gerry Brownlee : What’s the point of order?
Mr SPEAKER : Order!
Dr Russel Norman : The point of order is that it is relevant to this question because he was acting as Prime Minister in the Pike River capacity. That is why it is relevant to this question.
Mr SPEAKER : The attempt to raise a point of order is not actually adding to the situation. I have given an assurance following the point of order raised by Chris Hipkins that I will have a look. I always review the transcripts of question time. As to what action may then be required, that will be determined by the conclusions I make in that review.
Dr Russel Norman : I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker.
Mr SPEAKER : Is it a fresh point of order? I have dealt with this matter. If it is a fresh point of order I am happy to hear it, but we are not going to relitigate this matter any further.
Dr Russel Norman : Thank you, Mr Speaker.
Mr SPEAKER : Is it a fresh point of order?
Dr Russel Norman : Yes. Mr Speaker, while you were on your feet, and several times while I was trying to make a point of order, the Prime Minister interjected even after you had directed him not to. It seems to me that if we are going to have order in this House, it is very important that the Prime Minister in particular should set an example of not speaking while the member with the call is trying to speak.
Mr SPEAKER : That is a reasonable point of order to raise. I did not actually hear the Prime Minister continuing in a conversation. I did hear it from another frontbencher of the Government. The member is making a fair point. I do not want to get into a habit of ejecting many members on any day, but points of order should be heard in silence, particularly when I call the House to order and ask for the point of order to be delivered. For members to continue to interject is going to create problems and leave me with no choice but to ask that member, be it a Minister or a Prime Minister, to leave the Chamber.