Bennett v Ardern on the secret document

The Opposition targeted both the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister in Parliament today, trying to establish that there was ministerial responsibility for the coalition negotiation ‘notes’. This line of questioning seems likely to continue.

Bill English must have been otherwise occupied, or tactically left it to his deputy.

First up – Paula Bennett versus Jacinda Ardern.

2. Hon PAULA BENNETT (Deputy Leader—National) to the Prime Minister: Does she stand by all her answers to Oral Question No.1 yesterday; if so, does she also agree with the Deputy Prime Minister’s answers to Oral Question No. 2 yesterday?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN (Prime Minister): Yes, and yes, in the context in which they were given.

Hon Paula Bennett: Does the Prime Minister stand by her answer yesterday in the House in relation to the 33-page coalition document that “nothing has been given to Ministers”; and, if so, how does she reconcile that with her Minister for Children’s comments yesterday that she has a copy?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: As was clearly stated in the House yesterday by the Deputy Prime Minister, he acknowledged that before his members became Ministers, they were aware and familiar with negotiation documents.

Hon Paula Bennett: So can the Prime Minister confirm no other Ministers currently hold a copy of the 33- or 32-page coalition document?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: As I said in the House yesterday, as Prime Minister I have not circulated any document to Ministers since they have been sworn in, and, as the Deputy Prime Minister outlined yesterday, his members may have had contact with negotiation documents before they were sworn in.

Hon Paula Bennett: How many Ministers have a copy of the document?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: As I’ve already said, I have not circulated that document, as Prime Minister, to Ministers.

Hon Paula Bennett: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker.

Mr SPEAKER: Yes, I think I can anticipate it. I think I am going to ask the Prime Minister to have another go at answering the question.

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: I can only answer in reference to my role as Prime Minister, and as Prime Minister I have not circulated any such documents from the coalition negotiations to my Ministers.

Hon Paula Bennett: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. That’s not the question I asked. If she doesn’t know how many Ministers have it—I was very clear, very precise, because that’s what you ask of us—I think it’s fair for her to say that.

Mr SPEAKER: Well, I’m not sure that the Prime Minister has responsibility for documents that were circulated to people who are Ministers, before they were Ministers. I think that’s what the member’s asking, and when I’m contemplating whether or not people kept documents, that is certainly not something for which she has responsibility, or I would expect that she would have knowledge.

Hon Simon Bridges: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Speaker’s ruling 156/4 makes clear that the Prime Minister can be questioned about coalition agreements, and so my submission is she is here, the questions are to be answered, and if they’re able to be answered, well they should be answered.

Mr SPEAKER: Yes, and the area that the Prime Minister can be asked about is how they do affect Government policy. She’s indicated, certainly in the House yesterday, that currently they are not. Then, I think, because they are not the formal coalition documents, they’re not the things that have been signed and published, and in fact we’ve had an assurance today that the Prime Minister has not circulated them to Ministers. So I think we’ve reached a point where people are going to have to be more innovative in their questioning if they’re going to be in order.

Hon Paula Bennett: Can the Prime Minister confirm that no employee of Ministerial Services currently holds a copy of the long coalition document?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: I know that of course some of my staff have been privy to negotiation documents. In fact, some of them were at the negotiating table. But my expectation of my staff now, as Government, is that they work to the confidence and supply agreement, the coalition agreement, and the fiscal plan, because those are the official agreements that we have signed up to.

Hon Paula Bennett: Have any officials seen the document?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: As I have previously said, I as Prime Minister have never circulated this document to officials, nor have I circulated it to Ministers. [Interruption]

Mr SPEAKER: Order!

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: I don’t know how I could be any clearer. I have not circulated—

Mr SPEAKER: Order! I am going to remind both some very loud members on my left and the Prime Minister that when I do stand up, everyone should be quiet. What I was interrupting the Prime Minister to say is that she has completed her answer. There was no need to add any more to it.

Hon Paula Bennett: How does she reconcile, then, her answer just now with her statement yesterday, and I quote, “Nothing has been given to Ministers. Nothing has been given to Government departments or officials.”—so have any Government officials seen the document?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: No, which is what I just said.

Hon Paula Bennett: No, it’s not what you said, so it’s great that you finally did.

Mr SPEAKER: Order! Ms Bennett, I did not answer the question.

Hon Paula Bennett: Sorry, I thought it was an inside voice. Does she agree, then, with her Deputy Prime Minister, as she stated yesterday, that work is going on on the GDP per capita and the unemployment measure—both things that you agreed to during the negotiations?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: The reference to unemployment measures is in the coalition agreement, which has been circulated publicly and widely, and the reference to GDP measures was in the Speech from the Throne. As I’ve said, where there are areas that we will pursue, we will put them out in the public, which is exactly what we have done.

Hon Paula Bennett: Then has the finance Minister got a copy of the document, since both of those policy areas are in it, and has he seen it to be working on those measures?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: The member for Wellington Central was at the negotiating table. He was privy to all of the negotiating documents and discussions because he was there.

 

 

6 Comments

  1. Corky

     /  November 29, 2017

    Yep, great milling by Bennett. However, the Prime Minister was rock solid. The speaker needs a brain gym session before assuming the chair.

    Question: Honourable Corky: Prime Minister, you have stated there are no plans for Winston
    Peters to travel to North Korea in an unofficial capacity. Can you tell the house why Winston still thinks that’s a possibility?

    PM….Ummm.

  2. duperez

     /  November 29, 2017

    Was the stuff the John Key and John Banks discussed in the cafe, part of a coalition negotiation?

  3. David

     /  November 30, 2017

    Poor Jacinda doesnt look like she is enjoying things, she doesnt even stand up straight and is way too defensive for a PM. I remember watching when Key was first elected bounding to his feet batting away questions, skewering the questioner, going way off topic with gusto and generally having a fantastic time…poor old Lockwood forever trying to bring him to order. This is pretty dire in comparison.

  4. Blazer

     /  November 30, 2017

    [Incorrect name] is a laugh….the Proime Minister….

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