Parliamentary question spat

Labour Ministers are effectively refusing to answer written questions submitted by the National Opposition.

National MPs are submitting many more questions in response, and Labour are crying foul.

Last Friday:

Other media picked up on this.

NZH: National denies questions are ‘Parliamentary spam mail’

Labour has called it the Parliamentary equivalent of spam mail but National is unrepentant about lodging more than 6000 written questions to ministers in the past month.

Opposition MPs can lodge written questions to ministers, with the answers then published online. Since Labour came to power National has lodged thousands, with many asking what meetings a minister held on a specific date.

National’s Leader of the House, Simon Bridges…

…acknowledged a “side effect” of that approach would be to test the new Government and its staff.

“Is part of this around testing the Government more broadly and is that a side effect of what we are doing? Okay, maybe. But the primary reason for doing this is to get substantive answers on what they are doing at this stage of their Government so we can understand their priorities.

“We are not getting answers inside or outside of Parliament. That necessitates us asking more detailed and specific questions. If we were getting answers to what we feel are reasonable questions, we wouldn’t have to ask so many.”

Labour Leader of the House, Chris Hipkins…

…said the tactic was the parliamentary equivalent of spam mail, and would not lead to much useful information.

“All New Zealanders, regardless of whether they voted for us or not, want the Government to be effective. I don’t think they want a Government that’s bogged down with trivialities and time-wasting. If the Opposition want to focus their energies on that, we’ll just get on with the job of delivering for New Zealanders,” Hipkins told Newshub.

“At the end of the day, questions like this don’t really serve the public interest. They simply soak up huge amounts of time, and that’s time and money and energy that could be put into serving the public.”

Bridges…

…said his party would continue to ask questions, but numbers would drop if “good, basic” answers were provided.

New Zealand Parliament (August 2016): Hundreds of written questions asked every week, even when Parliament isn’t meeting

Written questions, and especially their answers, provide a huge amount of information of interest to New Zealanders. Even during the recent month-long recess, the questions kept flowing in and being answered.

Written questions are a key tool to help Parliament hold the Government to account. During the July recess, 1159 written questions were asked.

MPs can direct a written question to any Minister about a subject that the Minister is responsible for. There is no limit to how many questions an MP may ask. The total number asked in 2015 was 16,180.

Ministers have six working days to provide a written answer to each question. Each answer is first sent to the MP who asked the question. Three days later, the answers are published on Parliament’s website.

What is the aim of Parliamentary questions?

Both written and oral questions are used by MPs to get information from Ministers.

Written questions usually seek information that may be used in an upcoming debate or question time in the House, or through the news media.

Oral questions are asked and answered on days that Parliament is sitting. An answer is required from the Minister during that day’s question time. That answer can be tested during question time with supplementary questions.

This process keeps Ministers and the organisations for which they are responsible on notice that their activities can always be under scrutiny.

So it’s an important part of our Parliamentary process. Asking written questions is an important job for an Opposition.

Graeme Edgeler gives some examples of non-answers at Public Address: Questions, but no answers

To NZ First Minister Ron Mark:

8560 (2017). Hon Mark Mitchell to the Defence (Minister – Ron Mark) (16 Nov 2017): What meetings, if any, has the Minister attended between 26 October 2017 and 15 November 2017, including subject, attendees, and agenda items?

Hon Ron Mark (Defence (Minister – Ron Mark)) replied: I meet regularly, formally and informally, with officials and various stakeholders. A range of issues are discussed. If the Member would like to be more specific I will endeavour to answer the question.

To Labour Associate Minister Kris Faafoi:

8449 (2017). Hon Simon Bridges to the Immigration (Associate Minister – Kris Faafoi) (16 Nov 2017): What meetings, if any, did the Minister attend between 26 October and 29 October inclusive, including subject, attendees and agenda items?

8448 (2017). Hon Simon Bridges to the Immigration (Associate Minister – Kris Faafoi) (16 Nov 2017): What meetings, if any, did the Minister attend between 30 October and 05 November inclusive, including subject, attendees and agenda items?

(to 8449) Hon Kris Faafoi (Immigration (Associate Minister – Kris Faafoi)) replied: I meet regularly, formally and informally, with officials and various stakeholders. A range of issues are discussed. If the Member would like to be more specific I will endeavour to answer the question.

(to 8448) Hon Kris Faafoi (Immigration (Associate Minister – Kris Faafoi)) replied: I meet regularly, formally and informally, with officials and various stakeholders. A range of issues are discussed. If the Member would like to be more specific I will endeavour to answer the question.

A narrower question to Labour Minister Stuart Nash:

8393 (2017). Chris Bishop to the Police (Minister – Stuart Nash) (16 Nov 2017): Did the Minister have any meetings in his capacity as Minister of Police on October 27, if so, what people and organisations did he meet with on that day, where were the meetings held and what were the main items of business?

Hon Stuart Nash (Police (Minister – Stuart Nash)) replied: I meet regularly, formally and informally, with officials and various stakeholders. A range of issues are discussed. If the Member would like to be more specific I will endeavour to answer the question.

Same fobbing off response. That both Labour and NZ First Ministers are using the same non-reply suggests a coordinated tactic from the Government.

Bishop has followed up:

11778 (2017). Chris Bishop to the Minister of Police (22 Nov 2017): Did the Minister have any meetings in his capacity as Minister of Police on October 27 between 8 and 9am, if so, what people and organisations did he meet with at that time; where were the meetings held and what were the main items of business?

11779 (2017). Chris Bishop to the Minister of Police (22 Nov 2017): Did the Minister have any meetings in his capacity as Minister of Police on October 27 between 9 and 10am, if so, what people and organisations did he meet with at that time; where were the meetings held and what were the main items of business?

That’s why the number of questions is so high.

Edgeler, a stickler for proper Parliamentary process, commented:

The replies are due by Thursday. Hopefully Bishop, and the other MPs (all of whom seem to have been specifically invited by Ministers to ask more granular question) will have the answers to which they are entitled.

So far, Bishop’s hour-by-hour requests only cover the first two days the Minister of Police was in office, although the essentially rejected day-by-day requests covered several weeks. The Minister should consider himself lucky. Far from being aghast that National MPs have asked “a whopping 6254 written questions”, I am instead surprised by their forbearance. They are being denied information they ought to have. By rights, they should have asked more.

Ministers seem indifferent (at best) to their responsibilities.

National has escalated things and has now got some publicity. This will put pressure on the Government and it’s Ministers to comply sensibly.

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28 Comments

  1. David

     /  November 27, 2017

    Its pretty shitty behaviour from Labour and just a blatant attempt to grind down the opposition and waste their time when they have a fraction of the resources available to them. For all those who expected better things from Ardern they will happily dismiss this and as for the Greens participating in this charade well thats just hypocritical.
    This will now result in a big bill for the taxpayer when Ardern could have just instructed her ministers to answer honestly and openly, one is left with the suspicion they are being sneaky and hiding who they are meeting with.

    • Zedd

       /  November 27, 2017

      @David

      seriously.. what planet are youz on ?
      What a load of CRAP !
      & youz call us ‘loonies’ (left).. may I suggest you reread this drivel you wrote ?????

      • David

         /  November 27, 2017

        @Zedd
        Earth
        Agree the governments behaviour is crap
        Didnt call anyone Loonies, perhaps you are self identifying.

  2. Alloytoo

     /  November 27, 2017

    This government appears to be hiding an awful lot awfully early.

  3. Trying to swamp the Government with bumph. Childish nonsense from National.

    • Do you disagree with “increasing public participation, openness, and transparency around official information”?

      • duperez

         /  November 27, 2017

        Does it matter whether we agree with those or not? It is simply a game being played by our politicians.

        You know, like, “Hon Christopher Finlayson to the Minister responsible for the GCSB
        What meetings did the Minister decline on 9 November?”
        And 10 November, 11 November, 12 November, 13 November? December 25th anyone?

        Simon Bridges even rates a mention on here. I know he’s keen that we know what goes on so it’s good he’s right into it asking the big questions : “Hon Simon Bridges to the Immigration (Associate Minister – Kris Faafoi) (27 Nov 2017): What meetings, if any, did the Minister attend between 26 October and 29 October inclusive, including subject, attendees and agenda items?”

        Hopefully he will the ask the critical followup questions: 007007(2017). Hon Simon Bridges to the Immigration (Associate Minister – Kris Faafoi) (16 Nov 2017): What morning teas were provided at meetings, if there were any, the Minister attended between 26 October and 29 October?

        007008(2017). Hon Simon Bridges to the Immigration (Associate Minister – Kris Faafoi) (27 Nov 2017): What varieties of milk were provided at morning teas at meetings, if there were any, the Minister attended between 26 October and 29 October?”

        In another time there was a another politician called Simon Bridges:

        “Emails from the Transport Minister show he told his own ministry that its plans to withhold information from a Labour MP were at odds with its promise to be open and transparent. …

        Documents obtained by RNZ show the Transport Ministry was going to claim that information about the fraudster Joanne Harrison did not exist – despite knowing that it did.

        Another email obtained by RNZ shows Mr Bridges recommended in May that the Ministry not give further interviews about Harrison, and only provide written statements to the media.”

        https://www.radionz.co.nz/news/political/335373/transport-ministry-accused-of-dodging-oia-request

    • Zedd

       /  November 27, 2017

      Toutoko RG.. my thoughts exactly.
      I heard a reporter say (TV3) that it was like spamming.. filing the ministers inboxes up with drivel & nonsense, just because they can.. they actually seem to think ‘its clever’ BUT as you said ‘Childish nonsense’, esp. when many are asking the same questions over & over; its actually an abuse/waste of tax-payer money, that the Natz claim to be SO concerned about ! 😦

      Then their ‘supporters’ cry “foul” when other point this out. I’m so glad they got booted out 😀

  4. Blazer

     /  November 27, 2017

    National turning accepted protocol on its head in opposition,just as they plumbed new depths in…Govt.

  5. Ray

     /  November 27, 2017

    It’s not as if this is a new tactic, Labours Trevor Mallard knows that!
    https://www.stuff.co.nz/the-press/national/election-2011/99254200/Labour-promised-transparency-in-Government-but-they-seem-to-be-buckling-on-that-early
    It’s almost funny the way lefties have this brain fade once they are in the driving seat.

    • Ray it’s okay when it’s them

      • Fight4NZ

         /  November 27, 2017

        So your saying not only should National not be a bunch of petty sore loser pisspants but they should know better as well. I’m afraid that’s just how spoiled children behave.

  6. Alan Wilkinson

     /  November 27, 2017

    Labour hiding or getting a hiding already?

  7. Zedd

     /  November 27, 2017

    I commented on this yesterday, in ‘Media watch’.. Its NOT about Nats are ‘holding the Govt. to account’ (as Bridges claims) that is the issue; but the fact that they are asking the same questions over & over & also different Natz MPs are asking the same questions.. just to ‘fill up the Ministers in-trays’. Surely these Opposition MPs can find better ways to spend their time (rather than wasting tax-payers money on this futile exercise ?) How immature/childish.

    I keep hearing the Oscar Wilde quote (recently stated by Grn MP Jan Logie) Nats. “know the cost of everything.. BUT the value of nothing” Tautoko ahau 😦

    • Same thing the former Opposition do.

      If they want to look transparent they’d better sop having PRIVATE ‘ away from Parliament “LABOUR caucus meetings hadn’t they. Charging us for the pleasure while they dodge being accountable.

      Not happening Zedd – well, not for long anyway. They have a tenuous grasp on power as it is.

      • Zedd

         /  November 27, 2017

        we put up with 9 LOOOOOOOONG years & you SMUG Tories are struggling after one month in opposition; come on get with reality !

        I think it is more evidence that Natz are ‘STILL in denial’.. get over it & move on; Lab/NZF/Grns ARE the Govt. Stop wasting our time !!

        • High Flying Duck

           /  November 27, 2017

          The only people who are struggling Zedd, are the new three headed hydra of Government.
          They are finding out how big a mess you can make when fluffy idealism has a head on with reality.
          The questions are to find out about meetings with lobbyists which are not being disclosed, so they have a genuine democratic purpose.
          If the Government really does believe in transparency this information should be in the public domain without the need for questions to be asked on it at all.

          • Alan Wilkinson

             /  November 27, 2017

            Exactly. Could just be published on their website daily.

          • Zedd

             /  November 27, 2017

            @HFD

            all I can say/repeat to you Tories; “What a pack of SORE LOSERS”
            stop crying about it & grow up FFS.. Natz are NOW in Opposition !! 😀

            • High Flying Duck

               /  November 27, 2017

              I guess when you’ve got no argument that is all you can fall back on.
              No-one is crying Zedd.
              Just calling out hypocrisy and relentless backtracking at an unprecedented level from a Government quite clearly unable to formulate a coherent plan to govern.

        • Ad hominem shows losing an argument to a degree. I’m not a Tory. I’m not smug, I just happen to think we’ve the most inept and hypocritical government ever formed is all.

          • PDB

             /  November 27, 2017

            Zedd thinks anyone to the right of John Minto is a ‘Tory’. Only one month in and this govt is a leaderless shambles already.

          • Zedd

             /  November 27, 2017

            ‘I just happen to think we’ve the most inept and hypocritical government ever formed is all.’ sound like a SORE LOSER to me !!
            Give them a break; They’ve been in power about a month.. enuf said

            you obviously are a ‘zero-tolerance to the centre-left’ though..
            “OH DEAR, HOW SAD !!”

            • PDB

               /  November 27, 2017

              By your rants it appears the only sore loser is you Zedd…the new govt falling apart inside the first month must really annoy you as too the fact that Labour is essentially just trying to run the economy like National (backtracking/watering down just about all their major campaign promises) but with (in future) more borrowing and untargeted spending.

              Labour don’t need Winston causing havoc for the new govt to fall apart as obviously they are quite capable of doing that themselves.

              In time the Greens will be thankful they were not invited to the top table. Over the next wee while watch their support grow steadily at the expense of Labour.

            • Zedd

               /  November 27, 2017

              @pdb
              B-S.. the new Govt. is: Labour/NZF/Greens 😀

              still in denial 😀 😀 😀 😀 😀

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