Speaker rules Key should have answered Slater/feral question

The Speaker has reviewed Question Time on Wednesday where Russel Norman quizzed John Key on the amount of contact he had with Cameron Slater. See Question Time – Norman versus Key.

David Carter has ruled that Key could legitimately refuse to respond to most of the questions as the contact was ” None in my capacity as Prime Minister” (although Key’s evasiveness wasn’t a good look).

However the Speaker says that as there was a direct connection with his job as Prime Minister with one question he should have given an answer.

NZ Herald reports Key should have answered WhaleOil question – Speaker:

Mr Key said he did not speak with Mr Slater in his capacity as Prime Minister and therefore was not obliged to answer drawing fierce criticism from Dr Norman and Labour’s Chris Hipkins.

Having reviewed Mr Key’s responses overnight, Mr Carter today said that was likely correct for most of Dr Norman’s questions. However, one where Dr Norman asked if Slater was correct when he said Mr Key had told him the mother of a car crash victim was “the same woman f-ing feral bitch that screams at him when he goes to Pike River meetings” should have been answered.
The question “made a connection to the actions of the Prime Minister in response to Pike River Mine Tragedy,” Mr Carter said.

“A connection having been made to a matter of ministerial responsibility an informative answer should be given.”

This question was not specific enough for Key to have to answer:

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.

After points of order had been made about Key’s evasiveness these questions were asked.

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.

The Speaker says of that last question “A connection having been made to a matter of ministerial responsibility an informative answer should be given.”

No doubt Norman will be sharpening his question son this for the next Question Time.

Today’s NZ Herald editorial is fairly scathing of Key’s avoidance and the potential precedent it sets in Speaker gives PM, ministers a licence to duck for cover:

The simple fact is that most people assume the Prime Minister is fulfilling just that role. If they took a telephone call from Mr Key, they would not think to ask whether he was speaking as the Prime Minister or as the leader of the National Party. The obvious exceptions to this preoccupation are his involvement in party conferences or election campaigns. Then, quite clearly, he is a party leader.

As much should have informed Mr Carter’s examination of the transcripts of the question-time exchange. This makes the outcome of the Speaker’s quick inquest and his effective sanctioning of the Prime Minister’s behaviour all the more unsatisfactory.

Mr Carter said yesterday that Mr Key’s non-informative responses were correct for nearly all Dr Norman’s questions. The only exception involved one dealing with the Pike River tragedy, in which a clear connection was made with ministerial responsibility.

In large part, Mr Carter has invited the Prime Minister and his ministers to don their hat of choice at any time as a means of evading awkward questions.

It is hardly a recipe for integrity or the engendering of a greater degree of public respect for the nation’s politicians.

And they point out a potential problem for Key.

The Prime Minister began his third term by warning National MPs and ministers that he did not want to see any hint of arrogance creeping into their behaviour.

Fast-forward a month and that very trait was implicit in John Key’s response to questions in Parliament about the nature and frequency of his conversations with Cameron Slater.

Key risks voter wrath if he keeps avoiding addressing the degree of his association with Slater.

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