Bennett v Peters on the secret document

Following her questioning of the Prime Minister, Paula Bennett also quizzed and the Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters in Parliament today, trying to establish that there was ministerial responsibility for the coalition negotiation ‘notes’.

Bennett focused on timing of when Peters described the 38 page document and the following day when he became Minister, and when the font was changed that reduced the size of the document to 33 pages.

Peters doesn’t do himself nor the Government any credit by trying to play a know it all comedian.

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

Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS (Deputy Prime Minister): To the first part, the honourable member asked nine questions—or attempted questions—yesterday. I answered the six successful questions, and I stand by all of those answers. To the second part, the Prime Minister was asked nine questions yesterday. I heard them, I read them, I agree with them, and today’s Wednesday.

Hon Paula Bennett: You’re amazing.

Mr SPEAKER: Thank you, Ms Bennett.

Hon Paula Bennett: On what date was the coalition document abbreviated?

Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: I have no idea as to the exact date that a smart staff member decided to change the font and take the coalition document down from 38 to 33 pages. We were rather busy at the time, and you’ll understand that that wasn’t our major concern.

Hon Paula Bennett: How, then, does the Deputy Prime Minister know that that was done by a staff member under New Zealand First when, in fact, he doesn’t know the date of when the font was changed, and on 25 October he stated that it was 38 pages long, and then, on 26 October, he was sworn in as a Minister? So was one of his secretaries sitting there at midnight on the 25th deciding they would change the font to make it more precise?

Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: Well, if one wants to behave like a Philadelphia lawyer you might ask a question like that, but the reality is that it was changed and it was changed by a person in our operations and that person has confirmed it with me since then so that I could come here and, with pointed accuracy, answer these questions.

Hon Paula Bennett: Is that person employed by Ministerial Services?

Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: Can I just make it very clear that until we were sworn in, those people were paid for by Parliamentary Service, and that’s why it’s not caught by the Official Information Act.

Hon Paula Bennett: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I was very, very precise in: was that person employed—

Mr SPEAKER: Yes, yes, and what I am yet to see the relevance of is whether a particular Parliamentary Service employee is now employed by Ministerial Services. I’m not sure that it’s a relevant question.

Hon Paula Bennett: So, actually, this does go to the heart of whether or not this is an official document, and I believe—and the point that I’m trying to make in here is that if it’s been worked on since he’s been a Minister by a ministerial staffer, then that actually makes it an official document. Now, we can argue whether that’s right or wrong, but that’s my line of questioning, and I would like to pursue it by having my questions answered.

Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: Speaking to the point of order, it would be apparent to the meanest mind that to form a coalition, you have to have an agreement. It is quite possible, therefore, that it’d be inevitable the agreement would be decided upon in writing before the coalition is signed off, not after.

Hon Simon Bridges: I think this goes to the very basic point we were discussing earlier in the points of order, which is that, in terms of Speaker’s ruling 156/4, coalition agreements can be the subject of questioning, and it’s really about whether it’s Government business. That’s fundamentally the question of whether it’s Parliamentary Service or Ministerial Services. So this has to be, I’d suggest to you, a relevant line of questioning for us to pursue.

Clayton Mitchell: Referring to the point that the member raised with Speaker’s ruling 156/4, it actually specifically talks about the Prime Minister, not the Deputy Prime Minister.

Mr SPEAKER: Right, well, I think we’ll leave that point on one side. I think the important question is whether or not someone has been working on something as a Ministerial Services employee. I have heard the Deputy Prime Minister say that the change was made before the change of Government and, therefore, you know, people might have a different angle. There might be a question of further work on the document, and the member might want to pursue that. But at that time of change, I think we’ve had a pretty clear assurance that it couldn’t have been a Ministerial Services employee, because the Rt Hon Winston Peters, at the time, was not a Minister.

Hon Paula Bennett: Well, one of the answers that he’s given this time was that, actually, he wasn’t sure of the date, and I have—

Mr SPEAKER: Yes, and I, unlike some other members, have been listening, and I have heard him say that it occurred before the change of Government.

Hon Simon Bridges: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker.

Mr SPEAKER: If this is going to be pursuing the same matter, Mr Bridges, I don’t want to hear it. If it’s a completely new matter, I will.

Hon Simon Bridges: This is in relation to a critical matter for both the Government and the Opposition. That’s why I raise these points of order. The point of order is this: I appreciate the position you’ve outlined in terms of facts. I agree; I was listening to that. But what the member has asked is whether this person is now a Ministerial Services worker. That is—

Mr SPEAKER: The member will resume his seat. If that’s an area of questioning that the members want to pursue, they can. But it will be slightly challenging getting it within order for a new question. It’s not currently relevant.

Hon Paula Bennett: When he clearly stated on 25 October that there was a 38-page document, he was then sworn in as a Minister the following day. Is he saying that between him discussing his 38-page document and being sworn in, that the font was changed in that document and it was by a New Zealand First staffer and not by someone ultimately—well, they could have been employed by Ministerial Services?

Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: This might sound like an earth-shattering event, but the reality of it all is that—

Hon Simon Bridges: You thought it was pretty important back then.

Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: And so did you at the time, I recall, and you’ve never recovered. I want to say it very clearly that my memory was of that size, and I was told by the staff member that, actually, we fonted it down to 33 pages. That’s why I corrected it when the members were asking the question, in the interests of accuracy.

Hon Paula Bennett: So why doesn’t the Minister just simply release the document that he describes in many different ways, or, as the Herald said today, it is “a fruitcake of disparate ideas and undeveloped policy”.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I regard that as a compliment, coming from that paper—and its declining readership explains why. So I won’t waste my time or Parliament’s or the listeners’ time.

Hon Paula Bennett: Why have you got it safely locked in a safe in your office, when a secretary has it on a computer and, simply, keeps changing the font?

Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: Because—if I could just say it from a chronological point of view—it was fonted down and then went to the safe. Anyone that’s got any sense of logic would have worked it out before making a fool of themselves, but there’s an old English saying: the malady of ignorance is being ignorant without knowing it.

 

16 Comments

  1. patupaiarehe

     /  November 29, 2017

    Hypocrisy at it’s finest, Ms Bennett quizzing the deputy PM about ‘secrets’….

  2. duperez

     /  November 29, 2017

    I watched the exchange as it happened and was surprised at something Peters didn’t say.

    When Bennett asked “Why have you got it safely locked in a safe in your office?” I expected him to answer with something to the affect that she would be well aware that it is not unknown for private, secret information in Ministerial offices to find it’s way into the public domain.

  3. Did anyone notice the totally admiring expression on the Prime Minister’s face throughout this performance? She was completely entertained and approving and seemed to be looking up to a respected elder…literally and figuratively.

    Very revealing.

    • Blazer

       /  November 30, 2017

      Yes Winston is an old campaigner and eats the likes of Bennett/Bridges…for breakfast..albeit a very ..sour one.

    • duperez

       /  November 30, 2017

      I noticed that. It reminded of Bill looking at John when John was in full flow with some cutting retort.