English versus Ardern on the coalition document

Opposition leader Bill English questioned Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern on the so-called secret coalition document in Parliament today.

Ardern:

I have never denied the existence of these documents. The question is whether or not everything that was enclosed in them were agenda items that we will pursue, and some of them we will not. That does speak to the heart of whether it is an official document. As I say, I welcome the Ombudsman looking at this issue. I welcome him giving his consideration to the question.

 

Draft transcript:


Question No. 1—Prime Minister

1. Rt Hon BILL ENGLISH (Leader of the Opposition) to the Prime Minister: Does she stand by her Government’s policy that they will “strengthen New Zealand’s democracy by increasing public participation, openness, and transparency around official information”?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN (Prime Minister): Yes. In fact, later today the Government will be releasing the Cabinet paper on the change-negotiating mandate for the Trans-Pacific Partnership, to ensure greater transparency for New Zealanders around that deal—transparency that, I have to say, they didn’t have under the last Government.

Rt Hon Bill English: Has she seen references by the Deputy Prime Minister to a 38- or 33-page document as containing “[directions] to ministers with accountability and media strategies to ensure … the coalition works.”?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Yes. The coalition document has been released and is publicly available, but, as the Deputy Prime Minister said yesterday, when it comes to other ideas that were discussed, if they are found to be workable and are likely to be progressed, then details will of course be released and made public.

Rt Hon Bill English: Is there a document including content she described yesterday in answer to a question about the previously mentioned document: “Every government has a work programme—things … they look in to. [At] The moment … we see some benefit and that it’s something that will progress, that’s the point at which it will be made public.”, and does that mean there is such a document with policies in it that have not yet been made public?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: We’ve always been very clear that in the course of a negotiation, a range of documents are exchanged. The question is whether or not all of them will be progressed and whether or not they are official. Nothing has been given to Ministers; nothing has been given to Government departments or officials. Those issues that are progressed and become Government policy will be made public.

Rt Hon Bill English: Is there a 33-page documented draft arrangement between Labour and New Zealand First that you are working from when determining—

Mr SPEAKER: Order! I’m not working from any such document. The Leader of the Opposition will try again.

Rt Hon Bill English: Is there a 33-page documented draft arrangement between Labour and New Zealand First that the Government is working from when determining the Government programme?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: The coalition agreement that we are working to has been released and is publicly available. Those are the policy and programme items that we are committed to. As for any other documentation through the course of negotiation, we’ve been open that they have existed. That does not mean that those are the firm commitments that we have signed up to, nor that they will ever be progressed. [Interruption]

Mr SPEAKER: Order! [Interruption] Order! I just want to ask Dr Smith to, if he is going to interject, interject using the proper form of a member’s name.

Rt Hon Bill English: What, then, does she believe the Deputy Prime Minister was referring to in his description of a 38-page document as “a document of precision on various areas of policy commitment and development”?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: As I’ve said, there were other documents exchanged during the course of the negotiation, but the one that we are committed to and working to is in the public domain. As the Deputy Prime Minister said yesterday, if any of those other policies or ideas that we discussed are pursued, they will be publicly released and they will be made available.

Rt Hon Bill English: Has she seen the statement by the Deputy Prime Minister that the document includes policy issues such as the measurement of unemployment—”[We’re actually] agreed to work on”—and that that might mean policy commitments have been made, similar to those in the public coalition document?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Yes, I was actually standing next to him as he said it.

Rt Hon Bill English: So what is the difference between policies agreed on in the already published coalition document and policies referred to by the Deputy Prime Minister that are agreed in this 33-page document?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: You can hardly argue that that particular item was secret given that the Deputy Prime Minister said it out loud yesterday while I was standing next to him. The point is that, as we’ve said, if there are policy items or agenda items that we choose to pursue, we will make them public at that time. The only items that we have officially committed to have become part of our coalition agreement and are made publicly available already.

Rt Hon Bill English: Is it the case that the document that has been referred doesn’t exist or is it the case that it exists but she is withholding it under the Official Information Act because she believes it not to be official information?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: I’ve acknowledged that there are documents that were exchanged during the negotiations, as there will have been by the Opposition. I welcome the Ombudsman looking at this issue. I welcome him making a decision on whether or not we’ve made the right classification of this documentation. [Interruption]

Mr SPEAKER: Order! Mr Brownlee, very close.

Rt Hon Bill English: Given her description that documents were exchanged, is it the case that one of those documents was a 33- or 38-page document including directives to Ministers, policy items that were agreed, policy item that would be worked on, but she is withholding it because she does not regard it as official information?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: I have never denied the existence of these documents. The question is whether or not everything that was enclosed in them were agenda items that we will pursue, and some of them we will not. That does speak to the heart of whether it is an official document. As I say, I welcome the Ombudsman looking at this issue. I welcome him giving his consideration to the question.

[Interruption]

Mr SPEAKER: Order! Mr Brownlee, very close.

Rt Hon Bill English: Given her description that documents were exchanged, is it the case that one of those documents was a 33- or 38-page document including directives to Ministers, policy items that were agreed, policy items that would be worked on, but she is withholding it because she does not regard it as official information?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: I have never denied the existence of these documents. The question is whether or not everything that was enclosed in them were agenda items that we will pursue, and some of them we will not. That does speak to the heart of whether it is an official document. As I say, I welcome the Ombudsman looking at this issue. I welcome him giving his consideration to the question.

6 Comments

  1. Kitty Catkin

     /  November 28, 2017

    There will be tears before bedtime.

  2. Corky

     /  November 28, 2017

    Bills wearing a great tie. Give this issue another day, then move on. I’m guessing Kelvin Davis is about due for another misstep.

  3. What. Alot. Of. Nonsense. Bill: grow up.

  4. robertguyton

     /  November 28, 2017

    Jacinda handled this perfectly. Bill’ seemed as pedantic goose 🙂

  5. Alloytoo

     /  November 29, 2017

    What’s Jacinda trying to hide?

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