Speaker appears to protect Peters from questions in Parliament

Trevor Mallard started in his role as speaker promising a better way of managing the parliamentary bear pit, but as time goes on he is raising eyebrows rather than standards.

In a bizarre exchange in Parliament yesterday he seemed to be protecting Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters from questioning over a serious claim that an NZ First minister was behind a threat made by new MP Jenny Marcroft (as alleged by National MP Mark Mitchell – see NZ First claims ‘misunderstanding’, Peters instructs apology to Mitchell).

Oral Questions — Questions to Ministers

Question No. 2—Deputy Prime Minister

2. Hon PAULA BENNETT (Deputy Leader—National) to the Deputy Prime Minister: Does he stand by all his statements and actions?

Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS (Deputy Prime Minister): Yes, I do, in their context.

Hon Paula Bennett: Does he believe his actions and those of other Ministers have met the bar set in 2.57 of the Cabinet Manual, which states: “Ministers are expected to act lawfully and to behave in a way that upholds, and is seen to uphold, the highest ethical standards.”?

Mr SPEAKER: Order! I’m going to ask the member to rephrase the question to make sure it is entirely within the responsibility of the Deputy Prime Minister. He has no responsibility for any other Ministers.

Hon Paula Bennett: Thank you, sir. Does he believe his actions have met the bar set in 2.57 of the Cabinet Manual, which states: “Ministers are expected to act lawfully and to behave in a way that upholds, and is seen to uphold, the highest ethical standards.”?

Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: Yes, and compared with that member and her colleagues, my actions are as pure as the driven snow.

Hon Paula Bennett: When he said yesterday in his statement as Deputy Prime Minister, “Mr Mitchell may have misunderstood her underlying point.”, what was the underlying point Mr Mitchell misunderstood?

Mr SPEAKER: Order! Because this is a very finely tuned matter, I’m going to do what I did with Dr Smith last week and seek an assurance that that statement was made by the Deputy Prime Minister and, in the body of the statement, uses that appellation for the Minister.

Hon Paula Bennett: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I expected your question on that. I have a copy of it that’s clearly under the Deputy Prime Minister, and clearly has it written as his statement. I’m happy to—

Mr SPEAKER: Yes, the member tables it and continues with the question.

Hon Paula Bennett: Thank you. Would you like to hear the statement again?

Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: No, I heard it. We’re not slow learners over here. Can I just say that when I was first made aware of—

Hon Gerry Brownlee: Just answer the question.

Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: Well, if you keep quiet for five seconds, old man, you’ll hear it. [Interruption] Can I just say that when I first heard of a report of this conversation, I knew that someone had got the wrong end of the stick, and so I thought, seeing as my colleague had allowed another parliamentary colleague to get a mistaken impression, that we should correct it as fast as possible. I thought that was the right thing to do. I mean, there’s nothing big about this, but we’re surely not going to have Mr Mitchell trying to make a mountain out of a molehill?

Mr SPEAKER: Order! Having listened to the reply and looked at the statement, I accept the member’s word, and it is very clear that it is headed “Deputy Prime Minister”. It is, however, clear to me that there is nothing in the statement that is the responsibility of the Deputy Prime Minister.

Hon Paula Bennett: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. In all fairness, the statement that has been put out is clearly “Deputy Prime Minister”. It doesn’t even say “Leader of New Zealand First” on it. I double-checked that. So he has made those comments as the Deputy Prime Minister and, as such, he has responsibility for them as the Deputy Prime Minister and should be answering accordingly.

Mr SPEAKER: I think you have to go quite a lot further than mislabelling a statement—[Interruption] minus three supplementaries—in order to bring something into ministerial responsibility. He might be responsible for mislabelling a statement, but there are areas which he is not responsible for, and the activities of Ministers, as was made very clear by the Prime Minister, as all senior members of the Opposition will know, is a matter for the Prime Minister and not the Deputy Prime Minister.

Hon Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I think the problem with your ruling is that it ignores the fact that the Rt Hon Winston Peters, putting out a release under the banner of the Deputy Prime Minister, has made an accusation against one of our members that he now, apparently, simply cannot be questioned upon. It is not an unreasonable thing to ask him “What did he mean? What was the other side of the story, which my colleague apparently has not understood?” To say that the House can’t question the Deputy Prime Minister about a statement he makes as the Deputy Prime Minister, I think, begins to—frankly, it just shields him from any of the normal scrutiny that would go on someone who makes, from a ministerial position, such an accusation.

Hon Chris Hipkins: The closest example I can think of where the House has dealt with this matter before was when the then Labour Opposition was trying to question the then Prime Minister, the Rt Hon John Key, about statements that he had made in his capacity as the leader of the National Party, but he had made them at his prime ministerial press conference. The Speaker of the House at the time—I can’t actually recall what the exact issue was, but I remember arguing about it—argued that he had made those statements in his capacity as leader of the National Party even if the venue in which he had made them was his prime ministerial press conference. The question is not where a statement is made or how it is cited or the title that is used in citing; it’s whether the Minister has ministerial responsibility for the matters in question. In this case, the Deputy Prime Minister does not have ministerial responsibility for the issues he’s being questioned about.

Hon Nikki Kaye: I did want to rise to speak because you have taken three Opposition questions as a result of my outburst. I am, frankly, appalled that, in this House, a Minister could put a statement out with the words “Deputy Prime Minister” and then, as Speaker, you could somehow know that he wasn’t acting in his responsibility and he had mislabelled the statement. That’s why you got the outburst. I would ask you to reflect on this. It’s a very serious matter. It’s not possible, in my view, for the Speaker to know what’s inside a Minister’s head. They’ve issued a statement in the capacity as Deputy Prime Minister.

Mr SPEAKER: Can I just make it absolutely clear to Nikki Kaye that I am quite offended by her comments then. I know what the responsibilities of the Deputy Prime Minister are, and that’s what’s important, and I ruled that way.

Hon Gerry Brownlee: There is no comparison between the example given by the Hon Chris Hipkins and the current situation. For a start, if a person is being interviewed by a group of journalists in a stand-up situation, they may well be asked a range of questions and they may answer them without actually specifying “I am now taking this hat off and putting this hat on.” That was, you will recall, established well by the Rt Hon Jonathan Hunt, when he sat in the chair that you now occupy, some years back. But, in this case, the Deputy Prime Minister, on the Deputy Prime Minister’s letterhead, put out a statement making an accusation against a colleague of mine, suggesting, effectively, that my colleague had got the wrong end of the stick. We’re just now saying, “Well, what was the right end of that stick?” He must know for him to have made that statement. Given that this is not a trivial matter, any suggestion that someone gets in the road of a member of Parliament doing their work—the elected work that they are sent to this place for—is a serious matter. Therefore, for Mr Peters to simply say, “Well, you know, the Hon Mark Mitchell must have got the wrong end of the stick or got the wrong meaning, etc.”, cannot just stand as a statement by the Deputy Prime Minister that says, “Close off; nothing to see here.” Surely, he can be questioned about what he actually meant?

Mr SPEAKER: If, in the body of the statement, which I’m sure the leader of New Zealand First approved, it had said “Deputy Prime Minister”, I would have had more sympathy. But the fact that it has been printed by a press secretary on an inappropriate letterhead does not—[Interruption] minus another three—bring it within the Deputy Prime Minister’s responsibilities.

Hon Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Does that mean that a Government press secretary should know the difference between a letterhead that says “Leader of New Zealand First” and that of Deputy Prime Minister? You can only assume that it was done through the offices that are located on the ninth floor, which are Government offices—ministerial offices—not party offices.

Mr SPEAKER: In actual fact, I think, as the member is aware, there are a number of people who are employed in those offices who are dually employed, including in his own leader’s office.

Hon Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker.

Mr SPEAKER: A further point of order?

Hon Gerry Brownlee: Yes it is, because that implies that there is some level of bad behaviour going on in the Leader of the Opposition’s office—in other words, using of taxpayer funds illegitimately, unreasonably—and that is not the case. But it would be worse if that was somehow to be the reason why there would be an excuse for the Deputy Prime Minister to make an accusation on Government letterhead, using Government resources to make that accusation, but then not come under any scrutiny in the House whatsoever.

Mr SPEAKER: I do want to, if I can, draw this to a close as soon as I can, and I want to be very careful about reflecting on mistakes made by staff members—especially a person who has had quite a history around these buildings, working for a number of parties. But it is clear to me that someone made an error in putting it on this letterhead.

Hon Louise Upston: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I’ve got two points of order. The first is around the process of tabling documents and the supplementary question from the Hon Paula Bennett. You, as Speaker, had then asked for the document, and yet there wasn’t a process of tabling it. So my question is: have you made a ruling, as a result of that action, that you have to sight any documents that are made by members of this House in a supplementary question before you allow them to be raised on the floor?

Mr SPEAKER: The answer to that is no, and I let the member ask her question. Carry on—second point.

Hon Louise Upston: Sorry, Mr Speaker, on that first point—

Mr SPEAKER: No, no, the first point’s been dealt with. If the member has a separate point of order, she may raise it, but that point of order has been dealt with. Second point of order?

Hon Louise Upston: The second point of order is the assertion that you’ve made, Mr Speaker, about a staff member making an error. As a member of this House, I’m curious as to what’s led you to that conclusion, given that it is a document that’s on letterhead from the Deputy Prime Minister.

Mr SPEAKER: The member will resume her seat now. If she is curious about my rulings and requires tutelage, I’m happy to explain it to her but not to take up the time of the House. I’ve made an indication to members that if they don’t understand my rulings, if I’ve not been clear enough, then I’m willing to talk to them about it, but points of clarification—or points of curiosity, as this one might be characterised—are not allowed under the Standing Orders. I’m going to warn the member: she’s disputed my ruling once already; if she disputes it again, I will view it very seriously.

Hon Louise Upston: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. In terms of the Speakers’ ruling that you have just used, could you please bring that to the attention of the House? I’ve been listening to the comments around me and I just want to know what that ruling is, please.

Mr SPEAKER: Well, I think the member’s now trifling with the Chair.

Hon Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Thank you, Mr Speaker. My point of order is simply that if we are now to move on from this—get it all nicely resolved; everyone is happy to an extent—is it reasonable that we, effectively, lose six supplementaries because of a mistake made by one of Mr Peters’ staff members?

Mr SPEAKER: No. The six supplementaries have been lost because members on my left breached the Standing Orders.

Fletcher Tabuteau: Is the Deputy Prime Minister aware of any molehills that have been transformed into mountains of late?

Mr SPEAKER: And three of the supplementaries have just been given back because the member knew that that was not a proper question.

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23 Comments

  1. Alan Wilkinson

     /  March 28, 2018

    Mallard in the mud. So he is ruling that only the PM can answer questions about the behaviour of coalition Ministers when it is obvious she will not be in a position of knowledge or responsibility for what they have been up to. Disgraceful.

    Reply
    • Gezza

       /  March 28, 2018

      Yes I was embarassed watching that display of bias & protection of the DPM by Trev. The question what was the underlying point Mr Mitchell misunderstood still needs to be answered. Peters & Marcroft should both be being hounded by the Press for answer to this.

      I watched the whole session on the 10 pm replay on Parliament TV. Trev re-awarded all 6 lost supplementary questions to the Opposition by the end of Q12.

      Reply
      • David

         /  March 28, 2018

        Mallard must have been embarrassed to hell about his performance so gave the questions back.

        Reply
        • Gezza

           /  March 28, 2018

          Well I enjoyed Trev early on, thought he got off to a good start, was quite happy to back some of his more contentious decisions where he would cite actual Speaker’s rulings. But he’s been getting steadily more & more partisan & over this matter he’s been utterly partisan & very shoddy. Up there with any of Carter’s protectionist rulings. Watching the disbelief & shambles that erupted & how he dealt with it is worse than just reading the transcript.

          Reply
      • NOEL

         /  March 28, 2018

        I’m confused too.
        I thought Mitchell’s bitch was around Section 409 (1) The House may treat as contempt any act or omission which – (b) obstructs or impedes any member or officer of the House in the discharge of the member’s or officer’s duty or (c) has a tendency, directly or indirectly, to produce such a result.

        This appears to be focused on another area 2.57 of the Cabinet Manual, which states: “Ministers are expected to act lawfully and to behave in a way that upholds, and is seen to uphold, the highest ethical standards.”

        Opening shots with Section 409 to follow??????

        Reply
        • Gezza

           /  March 28, 2018

          I don’t think any Opposition party worth its salt would let this go at Trev so blatantly protecting an offender in the House from answering an obvious question. Trev simply invented a reason why the Deputy PM didn’t have to answer.

          Reply
  2. Gerrit

     /  March 28, 2018

    Mallard has sunk to an even lower level as speaker than that very low bar set by Margaret Wilson. How low can he go? Will he stop all supplementary questions as a form of bullying?

    Pedantically protecting Peters for what reason?

    Reply
    • If he doesn’t protect them the COL goes down and his cushy number is gone.
      His petulance, were it not so childish, would be quite amusing in a kindergarten

      Reply
  3. artcroft

     /  March 28, 2018

    Just as well we can rely on the Minister for Open Govt to tackle Mallard and set his head straight on this issue… or am I just being naive.

    Reply
  4. David

     /  March 28, 2018

    I had hopes Mallard would want to end his long long tenure as a fair and strong speaker perhaps like Lockwood Smith. He is getting worse now and is running interference which is probably an indication of how awful the coalition is behind the scenes, maybe giving them some space to get their act together.

    Reply
    • Traveller

       /  March 29, 2018

      I’m sorry, but some here know I have never had confidence in this man as speaker. He is who he is. He’s no intellect, granted he has some cunning, but at heart he’s more the street fighting pugilist than the considered statesman. He may have a lighthearted side to him, but always present is the fierce partisan and the overt party loyalist. Try as he might, his true nature will out, does out and he’s about the worst choice for the position imaginable.

      Reply
  5. Zedd

     /  March 28, 2018

    Q) Did Speaker Carter constantly expel opposition MPs (esp. Mr P), but rarely ever did likewise with Natl MPs.. Key once only, in 9 LOOOOOONG years !

    a) All of the above.. talk about total one-eyed view from the right.. as per usual.

    Reply
    • Gezza

       /  March 28, 2018

      Focus.

      Reply
    • David

       /  March 28, 2018

      Its very hard to get chucked out when you are the recipient of the question. Peters constantly clashed with Carter who obliged by chucking him out and one could say on occasion Peters got what he wanted.
      We have an allegation a minister instructed an MP to muzzle another MP, we have the text message and we have a very rare and quick apology from the deputy PM and our democracy has reached a level where we cant ask questions about what perhaps is corruption.

      Reply
      • Kitty Catkin

         /  March 28, 2018

        Ha ha ha, I thought you said that Winston Peters had made an apology….oh, good heavens, you did say that,,,,

        Reply
  6. Kitty Catkin

     /  March 28, 2018

    There are probably good reasons why a Speaker has to be a former politician, but perhaps someone neutral could be considered (like a judge) for this.

    I once heard a professional arbitrator (?) at a meeting where the two sides were totally opposed and one man was very bolshy as always. The young woman was superb, money well spent. Everyone had a chance to speak, Mr Bolshy was politely and calmly not let to hog the proceedings (this took some skill) If the Speaker could be like that, it would be excellent.

    Reply
  7. Gezza

     /  March 28, 2018

    Today’s Question Time – Question 3. Bennet to Peters. Peters “explains” what the underlying issue was that Mitchell missed.

    Reply
    • Gezza

       /  March 28, 2018
      Reply
    • David

       /  March 28, 2018

      After Mallards performance yesterday he was hardly likely to allow it today but the opposition was right to keep plugging away if only to put Mallard on the spot.

      Reply
  8. duperez

     /  March 29, 2018

    Mallard, as he has to be, is interested in the nuances. That ethereal stuff though is of no interest to those on the sidelines baying for blood or resignations.

    It’s a bit like some of convoluted quagmire stuff in court for some of the Dotcom cases. Lawyers arguing esoteric points, enjoying the theatre while from the edges it was, “Get on with it, we’re not interested in that, kick the bastard out!”

    The referee in a game, the one with the whistle sees the game from the position he has been put in and rules accordingly. It’s all a bit like that whether we can see the mental gymnastics or not.

    Reply
  1. Speaker appears to protect Peters from questions in Parliament — Your NZ – NZ Conservative Coalition

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