Dunne on the Official Information Act

Retired politicians who are now outside the pressures and responsibilities of Parliament can give some good insights into topical issues.

The last National Government was strongly criticised, with good reason, for abusing the principles of the Official Information Act. Labour has already been criticised by a number of journalists for the disingenuous withholding of information.

Peter Dunne wrote recently about the OIA.


When it was passed in 1982, our Official Information Act was widely applauded and welcomed. It was seen as a positive step (at the height of Muldoonism) that would give the public much greater access to hitherto secret government information, thereby improving accountability by making government business and processes more transparent. Over the last thirty-odd years it has generally met its objective, although some major creaks are now starting to become obvious.

During my years in Parliament I worked with the Official Information Act (the OIA) extensively – and also in a variety of different roles. These included being a non-government MP seeking information about some aspect or other of government policy; or a Minister charged with providing such information; or, as an appellant to the Ombudsman urging the overturn of some obviously outrageous decision to deny my ever-so-reasonable request, or as a defendant urging the Ombudsman not to uphold a request to overturn a decision not to release certain information because of its sensitivity.

I came to know the OIA pretty well, and, as such, am reasonably well placed to offer some observations about its strengths and weaknesses.

While the role and purpose of the OIA is a fundamental part of our governance structure, the reality is that it is really only non-government politicians and the media, with an occasional irrelevant appearance from some or other otherwise unemployable graduate lawyer fancying themselves as a modern day Mr Haddock of A.P. Herbert fame, who get involved with the OIA. However, this is an issue where the often differing, but occasionally coinciding, interests of the media and the politicians do need to be taken into account and addressed. Our modern Mr Haddocks, though, can be ignored, and left to keep looking for real jobs.

The most obvious criticism of the OIA…

…is that governments, including the present one, can and do play games with it, either by denying or delaying the release of information on a technicality; treating requests so literally as to render them meaningless; or, releasing a swathe of documents at the most inconvenient of times – 3:00 pm on the Friday afternoon of a long weekend is the common classic example here.

I have always found such game playing to be petty and silly, and I think it should come to an end. Certainly, it was generally my practice as a Minister to pro-actively release all the major documents of a Budget or major policy decisions in my portfolios within a few weeks of their being made, and to indicate at the time of the policy announcement that such a release would be forthcoming. I do not recall the sky ever falling in as a consequence.

And then there is the scope of the OIA. There has long been criticism at the exclusion of Parliament, and in recent years, there have been questions raised about the exemption for agencies like the Crown Law Office. My view is clear. I see no reason why the Parliamentary Service should be excluded, but I do think Members of Parliament in their roles dealing with constituents and the public and as members of a political party should not be covered by the OIA.

Any citizen who seeks to approach an MP, as either a constituent or as an interested member of the public, is entitled to the unconditional assurance that their dealings with the MP will be absolutely protected from disclosure – a standard similar to the Catholic Church’s Seal of Confession, if you like. The provisions of other pieces of legislation such as the Privacy Act and the Protected Disclosures Act are important protections here as well.

Equally, political parties are not public bodies like government agencies, and therefore should not be subject to the OIA. But in many other areas of their activities MPs are already subject to various forms of accountability – their expenditure, for example – and there is no reason why these areas should not be subject to the OIA.

Similarly, while I do not think it fair or practical that the Courts, the Judiciary, or Crown Law should be subject to the OIA with regard to individual cases – for obvious reasons – nor should the details of legal advice provided to Ministers on specific matters under consideration at the time come within the OIA’s ambit, again for obvious reasons, a case can be made to allow for more sunlight in other areas, including when a matter has been resolved.

So what to do?

The OIA is a cornerstone of our public accountability structure, so it is important that it is seen credibly in that role. The perception of a genuine commitment to transparency is as important as the reality. It is not necessarily the case at present.

Therefore, it is time for a joint working party, involving the Ombudsman’s Office, the news media, and the politicians (not just the government of the day) to be convened to prepare a new OIA that upholds its original principles and the good things about the current legislation, but which also modernises its scope, processes, and, if possible, operating culture in the light of contemporary circumstances. And then we should commit in these rapidly changing times, to carrying out a similar review every five years.

 

Trying to make English an official language

Nothing is set by being submitted as a Member’s Bill – first it has to be drawn, and the odds are against that. Then if it is drawn it needs to pass through Parliament.

Clayton Mitchell wants to make English an official language of NZ – this might just have supplanted Nuk Korako’s “lost luggage” bill as the biggest waste of Parliament’s time…

Is this trying to fix a problem that doesn’t exist?

English has long been the de facto official language.

Māori  was also made an official language, in 1987.

And New Zealand Sign Language became a third official language in  New Zealand Sign Language Act 2006.

From the Māori Language Act 1987:

Recognition of Māori language

3 Māori language to be an official language of New Zealand

The Māori language is hereby declared to be an official language of New Zealand.

4 Right to speak Māori in legal proceedings

(1) In any legal proceedings, the following persons may speak Māori, whether or not they are able to understand or communicate in English or any other language…

(4) Where, in any proceedings, any question arises as to the accuracy of any interpreting from Māori into English or from English into Māori, the question shall be determined by the presiding officer in such manner as the presiding officer thinks fit.

It’s quite clear from this that it was intended that Māori and English were to be co-official languages.

 

Kaye versus Davis on Partnership Schools

It’s fair to say that Kelvin Davis has been unimpressive as Labour’s deputy leader. He is also in an awkward position over Partnership Schools, last year having threatened to resign if they are closed. Current Government policy seems to be to shut them down.

Davis was questioned by Nikki Kaye in Parliament today in his role as Associate Minister of Education (Māori Education).

@GwynnCompton tweeted:

Wow! just demonstrated in the House that Kelvin Davis may have given preferential treatment to Partnership Schools he’s connected to, and the cold shoulder to those he’s not. Needs to be stood down immediately by pending an investigation.

Not only should Davis had recused himself from any dealings with He Puna Marama Trust due to his role as Associate Education Minister, but he then knowingly ignored another Partnership School in his electorate!

3. Hon NIKKI KAYE (National—Auckland Central) to the Associate Minister of Education (Māori Education): What discussions and visits has he had with schools to discuss Māori education and any opportunities for improved achievement?

Hon KELVIN DAVIS (Associate Minister of Education): I’ve visited schools and have had many discussions as both Associate Minister of Education and as the local MP for Te Tai Tokerau. We are working on ways to improve achievement, including removing national standards and increasing the supply of Māori and Te Reo teachers.

Hon Nikki Kaye: Has he made any undertakings to a partnership school helping young Māori that he would ensure that their school would be approved as a special character school?

Hon KELVIN DAVIS: No.

Hon Nikki Kaye: When he said in relation to a discussion about Māori education, “I’ve been working closely with He Puna Marama Trust, and the CEO and the senior management there and we’re very confident that together we’ll make sure this transition happens very easily with very little fuss.”, was he speaking to this partnership school in his capacity as a Minister?

Hon KELVIN DAVIS: No. And when I was speaking to them, I talked them through the information that the Minister has made publicly available to allay the fears of the scaremongering and misinformation that the Opposition has been bandying around.

Hon Nikki Kaye: When he said yesterday in Parliament in relation to Māori education, “I’ve had communications with some current charter schools.”, has he had any communications with partnership schools that are not in his electorate; if so, which ones?

Hon KELVIN DAVIS: No.

Hon Nikki Kaye: Can he confirm that when he said yesterday that he’d had discussions with charter schools in his electorate that he has given preferential treatment to some partnership schools in his electorate but the cold shoulder to others?

Hon KELVIN DAVIS: The premise is just wrong.

Hon Nikki Kaye: Isn’t it true that he made himself available to discuss education impacting young Māori with He Puna Mārama, but when Villa Education Trust, in his electorate, sent him 50 pieces of correspondence, the only thing they got back was being asked to be taken off their mailing list?

Hon KELVIN DAVIS: I have absolutely no idea what the member is talking about.

Hon Tracey Martin: Can the Minister confirm, or is he aware of, other Associate Ministers of Education who have had interaction with the sponsors of Villa schools or conversations with chief executives of charter schools such as Vanguard—among the other Associate Ministers of Education?

Mr SPEAKER: No, that’s actually not a matter that is the Minister’s responsibility.

Later in the afternoon the Education Amendment act was debated. First up Minister of Education Chris Hipkins referred to Partnership Schools:

The bill provides for the removal of charter schools from the New Zealand education system. This fulfils a clear commitment made by Labour, by New Zealand First, and by the Green Party from the moment the charter school model was first mooted.

The bill does include transitional provisions, which means that the repeal of this legislation will not affect existing charter schools that are currently in operation. This bill has no impact on them at all. In parallel with this legislative process, we are having conversations with those existing charter schools about how they might come into the public education system, and there are a range of options for that on the table.

I think it’s unfortunate that some members of this House have been encouraging schools not to take part in that negotiation process. They would prefer that those schools closed rather than continued to educate and people. They would rather turn those young people into—well, make them into—footballs for their political purposes rather than acting in the best interests of those young New Zealanders.

I am aware, from the feedback that I’ve had so far, that the operators of the existing charter schools have largely ignored those urgings from the members opposite and are engaging in good faith about how they can continue to deliver education for young New Zealanders, and I encourage them to keep doing that. When we said that we were going to negotiate with them in good faith, that is exactly what we meant, and we are going to live up to that commitment.

Nikki Kaye in response:

Look, the National Party is opposing this bill, and we’re opposing it for a range of reasons. I think my message to the Government is they may be quite surprised at how many people end up submitting on this bill. The number of parents that are writing to the Prime Minister and the Minister of Education regarding the removal of national standards is phenomenal.

I’ve given speeches in this House and, as I said before, I protested on the weekend. I know that there are members opposite, including Kelvin Davis, who threatened to resign if these partnership schools were closed. The reality is—here are the facts.

Kelvin Davis:

So when they’re all open next year, what are you going to do?

Nikki Kay:

The facts are that what this legislation and what the ministry is doing—and they confirmed this at select committee so members can yell all they want, but they actually can’t deny these facts—is that the partnership schools are being given these options: mutually terminate, terminate, or see out your contract. The model is gone. That means that those partnership schools close.

Davis has given a speech in response:

Hon KELVIN DAVIS (Associate Minister of Education): Tēnā koe, Madam Assistant Speaker. Well, that was a waste of breath. The member may as well have not even started speaking.

…Then we get to charter schools themselves, and the model is going. Now I remember in the election campaign, and it’s well documented, that I said that I would resign if any of those schools—the two schools up in the far north—were closed. Now I could say that as the member of Parliament for Te Tai Tokerau, safe in the knowledge—with my educational background—that there were alternatives that would be able to be implemented, because we can close the model but the schools don’t have to close.

Now, here’s the test. All those people over there who are saying I need to resign—

David Seymour: You do.

Hon KELVIN DAVIS: —and I’ll take David Seymour there—if those schools’ doors are open on day one of next year, if the same teachers are teaching in that school, if those same children are there wearing the same uniforms, will that member resign? Will any of these members resign if the school is still operating, albeit under a different model?

Erica Stanford: What about the other charter schools in your electorate?

Hon KELVIN DAVIS: No, it won’t be a charter school. Will that member over there who’s spouting off—will she resign? Yes or no? Put up or shut up. Put up or shut up. You don’t have any moral mandate—

The ASSISTANT SPEAKER (Poto Williams): Order! Order!

Hon KELVIN DAVIS: —to sit there and bellow your—

The ASSISTANT SPEAKER (Poto Williams): Order! Order! Do not bring the Speaker into the debate.

Hon KELVIN DAVIS: My apologies, Madam Assistant Speaker. But those people over there do not have any moral mandate to call for my resignation if they’re not prepared to resign for themselves if those schools—the doors are open, the same teachers are there, and the same children are sitting in front of them. They—silence now, isn’t there? Silence now.

Erica Stanford: Go to Vanguard.

David Seymour: Point of order, Madam Speaker.

Hon KELVIN DAVIS: So—oh, “Go to Vanguard.”

Erica Stanford: Why won’t you? You’ve never been.

Hon KELVIN DAVIS: No, I haven’t been, and why would I go to a school where I don’t support the model? There you go.

The ASSISTANT SPEAKER (Poto Williams): Order! I apologise—point of order, David Seymour.

David Seymour: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I apologise for interrupting the member’s speech, but I just wanted him to know that if he’s happy to yield some time, I’ll happily answer the question.

The ASSISTANT SPEAKER (Poto Williams): That’s not a valid point of order.

Hon KELVIN DAVIS: OK, so there’s been—

Hon David Bennett: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I’d just like to confirm that I heard the Minister say he would not go to a school that he did not like the model of. Is that true?

The ASSISTANT SPEAKER (Poto Williams): That’s not a valid point of order. Please sit down.

Hon KELVIN DAVIS: Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. Look, there are hundreds of schools across the Tai Tokerau, and what the members over there forget is that when you are a Māori member of Parliament in an electorate seat—not only do I have my electorate but in the Tai Tokerau there’s 10 other electorates. If they think it’s a hard job getting around the schools in their electorate, well, then, they need to realise that it’s actually 10 times harder for a member of Parliament in a Māori electorate.

But they’re saying, why don’t I go and visit Vanguard Military School. Look, I’ve had my Associate Minister delegation since 5 December. Since 5 December, there were about 10 school days towards the end of the year. Now anybody who has any knowledge of the education system knows it’s not a good idea for some boffin from Wellington to go to a school at the end of the year, because that’s when you’re having teacher-parent interviews, that’s when the teachers are doing reports, and that’s when the school production’s on. Those people over there don’t understand those pressures because they have never ever been in the education system. Now, they’re saying, “Oh, why haven’t I gone to the three”, or whatever number of fingers they’re holding up. They forget that there are hundreds of schools in my electorate, because it’s 10 times the size of their electorate.

Then there’s been all the misinformation. There’s the scaremongering, there’s the misinformation, and there’s members going around and ringing up saying, “The sky’s going to fall in if these schools close.” Look, there’s nothing to stop those same schools delivering what they are delivering now. It’s just a different model, and that’s really what they’re scared about. They’re scared that these schools are going to be successful despite the fact that they won’t be called charter schools. That’s what they’re scared of. They’re scared of our success.

Now we need to look at what the difference is. Oh no—actually, no, sorry. I’m just going to go through some of the propaganda that’s been promulgated in the media and supported by these guys. I see in today’s paper that the Villa school was complaining about “Davis’ visits to another charter school.” Sorry, since I’ve been the Associate Minister, I haven’t visited any other charter schools. So that’s fallacy number one.

Then it says that “Davis had been in negotiations with”—I haven’t been in negotiations. All I did when they rang me up was take them through the information that the excellent Minister of Education has proactively released and talked them through it, and as soon as you talk them through that information, then all their concerns sort of dim down and die away because they’re actually getting the facts.

But, of course, they want to make out like there’s some big conspiracy—that there’s favouritism amongst the charter schools. Well, actually, I’ve reached out to the Villa Education Trust and I got in touch with their academic manager last night, and I said, “Look, give your boss”—whatever his name is—”my phone number. He can ring my office.”, but, no, there’s been no contact. Although I asked him to give my office a ring, there’s been no contact. Now I think that that person is, again, scared that they can be successful without the charter school model. That’s what their real fear is. That’s what their real fear is. They’re buying into the misinformation and the scaremongering of the members opposite, and then they are coming up themselves—

The ASSISTANT SPEAKER (Poto Williams): I apologise to the member. His time has expired.

Petty Parliament

Noted in Open Forum yesterday:

Gezza:

What a complete waste of taxpayers’ money by Labour members in the General Debate.
Instead of debating an issue of governance or legislative importance the tossers spent nearly all their time one after the spouting lame insulting jokes & putdowns with ludicrous speculations on who would be the next leader of the National Party.

Mefrostate:

I agree with you entirely. Far too much parliament time is wasted on cheap shots and distractions, and any Labour MP who has engaged in soapboxing about the National leadership race will lose respect in my eyes.

As an example I just watched Chris Hipkins and he spent an annoying two minutes grandstanding.

Hipkins is Leader of the House, so this is very poor from him, although to his credit he began by acknowledging Bill English:

I want to begin today by acknowledging the Rt Hon Bill English in his decision to stand down from Parliament after close to 28 years of service to this House and to the people of New Zealand. He deserves to be acknowledged. I haven’t always agreed with Bill English—in fact, I have probably disagreed with him more than I have agree with him—but I think he does deserve to be recognised for the service he has given to the people of New Zealand and for the determination that he has shown over that period of time through a number of ups and downs that he’s experienced in this House.

He then went on to shower praise on his Government, not mentioning the awkward situation of Partnership Schools that he is primarily responsible for.

Then he took shots and Nation MPs.

I do believe one of the things that was stated today by one of those contenders, Simon Bridges, when he said “I’m focused on Simon Bridges”. Everybody in the House will believe that Simon Bridges is focused on Simon Bridges. He clearly appears to be appealing to the young fogey contingent within the National Party; that’s his key demographic. A barbecue at Simon’s place has already had the desired effect: the vacancy has been created and he’s off.

It’s the same with Judith Collins. Now it will be interesting to see how Judith Collins fares. It’s a little bit like giving the wicketkeeper a bowl when you’re playing cricket. It means you’ve given up on winning the game. That would be what would happen if Judith Collins was to become the leader of the National Party. It would be like an admission of defeat and they just needed somebody to fill in the shoes.

There is, of course, Amy Adams. She is the ultimate compromise candidate: the worst of everything. She is the worst of everything: no values, no profile, and absolutely nothing that would be attractive to the voters. By the time Amy Adams is done preparing for her race, the race will be over, but she’s certainly in the running.

Then, of course, we’ve got Jonathan Coleman. I have been told on good authority that Jonathan Coleman has secured his first vote to be the leader of the National Party. It is his own, but he has at least determined that he is going to be voting for himself.

Then, of course, we’ve got Steven Joyce. He’s mulling it over. He’s just trying to figure out whether he’s got a ladder tall enough to get himself out of his $11 billion hole so that he can make a run for the top job of the National Party.

But then there is the mystery candidate out the back there: Mark Mitchell, who’s throwing his name into the ring. Mark Mitchell used to be dog handler. Now that could come in handy if he does succeed in becoming the next leader of the New Zealand National Party.

I feel like I’ve watched this movie before, as the National Party tears itself limb from limb as they decide who the next leader of their party is going to be. And it is nice to be part of a strong, cohesive, and unified Government that’s focused on delivering for New Zealanders. We have seen real results in the first three or four months that we have been in Government and we are barely getting warmed up.

This is quite ironic, given the amount of limb tearing Labour went through over their leadership for nearly nine years, and how weak and un-cohesive Labour was during much of that time.

Next up for Labour was Meka Whatiri (Associate Minister of Agriculture):

The first question, though, is what kind of track is this? Hard and fast? Soft and slow? A bit of bounce? That might let someone keen and unexpected charge through the field, like the old show pony “Craving Coleman”, bloodline out of “Naked Opportunity” and “Desperation”. He may still come out of nowhere to surprise, but he will break a leg and will then have to be put down, like the last time he ran.

Then we have “Crusher Collins” in the blue silks, who may also be guilty of interference when that two-year-old “Brylcreem Bridges” tries to pass her on the inside. Look for the illegal use of the whip.

Very silly stuff from the Minister of Customs and Associate Minister of Agriculture, Local Government and Crown/Māori Relations.

Gezza again:

True Mefro. Same. An illustration of the difference today. How have we ended up putting up with this sort of crap (from all parties at times) and paying them to waste time just playing silly buggers & spouting rubbish.

An illustration
Speech 7 – Labour – Jackson

Unbecoming of the Minister for Employment.

Speech 8 – National – Stanford

 I find it so interesting that the only thing the last three Labour MPs could speak about was the National Party leadership race. Do you know why that is? I’ll tell you why that is. That is because they are deflecting, because the issue of the day is charter schools and they don’t want to talk about it. They will do anything in their power not to talk about charter schools.

Stanford looked quite capable -and she showed the preceding Labour Ministers up.

She is a first term MP, taking over the safe East Coast Bays electorate when Murray McCully retired – she had previously worked for McCully in his electorate office, and before that has worked in export sales and producing local television shows. Too soon for her to stand for the leadership, and too soon to judge her capabilities, but she looks promising, especially in contrast to the Labour speakers before her.

The next Labour speaker, Willow-Jean Prime:

What I find interesting is that, in this general debate, I would have thought that the other side would have used this as an opportunity to do their speeches for the leadership campaign. I’m surprised, actually, that they didn’t. They are trying to find somebody who can match the very popular Jacinda Ardern, our current Prime Minister. They are trying to find somebody with youth. They are trying to find somebody who can appeal to a different generation. We’ve seen these tweets and these reports and these updates coming through.

What I challenge the other side to do is to find a leader who has as much heart as our Prime Minister has. We are a Government with heart, versus the Opposition.

Very ironic given the content of her fellow Labour MP’s speeches that did focus on the National leadership, that would hardly appeal to a different generation with heart.

Also guilty of dirty politics are several co-authors at The Standard who posted Who will be National’s next leader?

Mickysavage has built up some credibility with generally thoughtful and reasonable posts over the past year or two, but this drags him back down to trash talk level.

There are times in politics, like when another party is going through a process, that fools should not open their mouths to prove their pettiness.

It is a real shame to see Parliament’s General Debate wasted on petty, pathetic politics. It’s sadly no surprise to see The Standard stoop.

Labour spin 100 day achievements

Slight irony here, but journalist Lloyd Burr (Newshub) is annoyed about Labour’s 100-day embellishment

It’s not a revelation that politicians embellish their achievements. It’s less usual to see journalists criticising rather than repeating their PR.

An email arrived into my inbox a few days ago with the subject line “We did this!”. It was from Labour, about its 100-day plan.

 

The email claimed the plan had been completed. And it mostly has. Mostly.

But the subject line didn’t read ‘We mostly did this!’. It shouted from the rooftop how Labour had proven itself in government.

It talked about how it had done what it had promised to do. It used words like “delivered”, “achieved” and “commitment”.

That’s called spin. It has massaged the truth. Massaged its promises. Embellished what has really happened in 100 days.

Burr details What Labour Has Not Achieved:

1. “Ban overseas speculators from buying existing houses”

It hasn’t banned them yet. It has just introduced a Bill that will ban them, but that Bill is months off from becoming law.

2. “Introduce legislation to make medicinal cannabis available for people with terminal illnesses or in chronic pain”

It has introduced changes to the law regarding medicinal cannabis, but those changes are minor and conservative. It won’t make products available to terminally ill and chronically ill patients. It will just prevent them from being prosecuted. The Prime Minister admits she would’ve liked more changes – but New Zealand First’s conservatism meant she couldn’t change the law properly.

3. “Hold a Clean Waters Summit on cleaning up our rivers and lakes”

This never happened. Winston Peters vetoed it.

4. “Set the zero carbon emissions goal and begin setting up the independent Climate Commission”

The target has not been set and it hasn’t begun setting up the independent Climate Commission. All that’s been announced is a period of public consultation on what the target should be and how the commission would be structured.

Other claimed ‘achievements’ are also debatable – the Government has set up inquiries and commissions as listed in  Taking action in our 100 day plan:

  • Begin work to establish the Affordable Housing Authority and begin the KiwiBuild programme
  • Set up a Ministerial Inquiry in order to fix our mental health crisis
  • Establish the Tax Working Group
  • Establish the Pike River Recovery Agency and assign a responsible Minister
  • Set up an inquiry into the abuse of children in state care

The Government has done what they said what they would do, but these are only starting points and there is no guarantee they will achieve much if anything in this term of government.

Some of those issues were promoted as needing urgent attention when Labour was in opposition. Now they have to wait until the Authority/Inquiry/Working Group/Agency report back to the Government, then the Government needs to decide what they will do, then they have to do it (if they can get it through Parliament).

Nine of the seventeen pledges are either not achieved or far from being achieved.

 

Inquiry into abuse in state care

For a long time abuses of children in state care has been a serious and unresolved problem.

As promised by Labour (Taking action in our first 100 days), the Government has launched an overdue inquiry into these abuses.


Inquiry into abuse in state care

A Royal Commission of Inquiry into historical abuse in state care has been announced by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Minister of Internal Affairs Tracey Martin today.

“We have a huge responsibility to look after everyone, particularly our children in state care. Any abuse of children is a tragedy, and for those most vulnerable children in state care, it is unconscionable.

“Today we are sending the strongest possible signal about how seriously we see this issue by setting up a Royal Commission of Inquiry,” says Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.

“This is a chance to confront our history and make sure we don’t make the same mistakes again. It is a significant step towards acknowledging and learning from the experiences of those who have been abused in state care”.

A Royal Commission is a form of public inquiry. It has the same legal powers as other public inquiries, but is generally reserved for the most serious issues of public importance.

Former Governor-General, Rt Hon Sir Anand Satyanand, will chair the Royal Commission.

“The independence and integrity of the inquiry and the process it follows are critical and Sir Anand has the mana, skills and experience necessary to lead this work. The process will be responsive to the needs of victims and survivors and support them to tell their stories,” says Jacinda Ardern.

Minister Martin said that the draft terms of reference approved by Cabinet task the Royal Commission with looking into what abuse happened in state care, why it happened and what the impacts were, particularly for Māori. They also ask the Commission to identify lessons that can be learned from this abuse today.

“We have set a wide scope. The time period covered is the 50 years from 1950 to the end of 1999 and, unlike some similar overseas inquiries, the Royal Commission will take a broad view of abuse and consider physical, sexual and emotional abuse and neglect,” says Minister Martin.

The ‘state care’ definition covers circumstances where the state directly ran institutions such as child welfare institutions, borstals or psychiatric hospitals, and where the government contracted services out to other institutions.

“We know this is an issue that has affected not only people who were abused in state care, but their families, whānau and wider communities too. It is therefore crucial that members of the public, including victims and survivors, have a chance to have their say,” Minister Martin says.

The Minister said that Sir Anand’s first task was to consult on the draft terms of reference for the Royal Commission. “We want people to have their say before we even start.”

The draft terms of reference provide for the Inquiry to provide its final report within the current Parliamentary term and a process for agreeing to any extensions to reporting deadlines if needed. They also authorise the Inquiry to make interim findings or recommendations and consider ways of working that will ensure public understanding of its work.

Following the consultation period, Cabinet will make a final decision on the terms of reference, the additional Inquiry members and the final budget for the Inquiry.

The Inquiry, which is formally established today, will start considering evidence once the terms of reference are finalised and published.

For the Inquiry: royalcommission.statecare@dia.govt.nz

More information can be found athttp://www.dia.govt.nz/Royal-Commission-into-Historical-Abuse-in-State-Care

 

Ardern v English on poverty measures

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern tried to reach out to Bill English and National over proposals to better measure poverty, but it has become a messy stoush.

RNZ: PM ‘saddened’ at claims Nats not consulted on poverty Bill

Reducing child poverty was a strong focus for both National and Labour during the election campaign, and the government promised a bi-partisan approach.

Ms Arden contacted National Party leader Bill English late last year about consulting on the draft bill.

In the letter dated 13 December, Ms Ardern included a “key summary of the proposed Bill”.

It said there would be child poverty targets but they would not be included in legislation so as to not “bind future governments to any particular target”.

The letter sought feedback from Mr English, along with an offer for a briefing from officials.

With the bill due to be introduced to Parliament tomorrow, Mr English told Morning Report this morning his party has had no opportunity to influence the shape of the bill.

Ms Ardern said she was “saddened” to hear this, as she had reached out last year.

“I hope we did provide that opportunity, again we have a select committee process to go through as well on top so I still hope we’ll get support from all parties.

She said she would happy to still work with National outside of the select committee process as the Bill progresses through Parliament.

English is miffed that the Government are dropping the Better Public Service targets

Mr English said the Better Public Service targets were a key component of this policy, which he raised in his response to Ms Ardern.

But there had been no chance to discuss the targets before they were scrapped, he said.

“The government’s on its timetable, it wants to get the Bill introduced before the end of the 100 days, I don’t think they ever seriously intended … that there would be a serious bi-partisan effort on it.”

This came up in question time in Parliament yesterday.

2. Rt Hon BILL ENGLISH (Leader of the Opposition) to the Prime Minister: Does her Government intend to retain the Better Public Service Targets to reduce the number of people on a benefit by 25 percent, reduce the number of serious crimes being committed by 10,000, and reduce the number of children hospitalised for preventable conditions by 25 percent?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN (Prime Minister): No. We will have our own system for monitoring and reporting on performance against our priorities. Our targets will reflect our different priorities from the previous Government and will look beyond simple measures and, in fact, to underlying causes.

Rt Hon Bill English: Did the Prime Minister consider past success of selected targets that addressed areas of persistent social dysfunction, such as reducing welfare dependency, reducing reoffending rates for criminals, holding the numbers of children affected by child abuse, and lifting educational attainment among Māori and Pacific students?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: I think it’s fair to say that probably all Governments share an ambition for reducing crime and improving employment. Our point is that we have a set of priorities that get to the root cause of some of the issues that we’re seeing in New Zealand. A great example, for instance, would be our ambition to measure and target directly issues like child poverty. That’s getting to the root cause of an issue rather than just some of the symptoms, as past Better Public Services (BPS) targets did.

Rt Hon Bill English: Why does the Government persist with the view that poverty in New Zealand is purely a function of income, when the evidence is overwhelming that low educational achievement, family violence, long-term welfare dependency, and serial criminal offending have a huge impact on persistent deprivation and material hardship?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Because the evidence points to material hardship as being one of the most consistent drivers of poor outcomes for children. We’ve never argued that that in and of itself was the only issue that needs to be looked at, which is why, of course, we’re also requiring—and will, as a Government, focus more broadly on—a child well-being strategy for the very reasons that the past Minister points out.

Rt Hon Bill English: So can the Prime Minister confirm that the Government is therefore going to abandon a focused approach to social dysfunction, caused by the factors that I’ve referred to, and limit its approach to addressing deprivation simply to the measurement of income?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: No, because, in fact, as the member well knows, we’ve also included material hardship as one of the things that we would like to include and hold ourselves to account on. Our point is that we, in fact, want to be broader in the accountabilities we hold ourselves to as a Government. The BPS targets that the last Government had were quite narrowly focused. They looked at symptoms rather than root causes, and in some cases were manipulated and didn’t lead to improved outcomes.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Will it help in the efficacy of future measurements that she discovered family and child poverty before she entered Government, not nine years after it?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: The Deputy Prime Minister makes a very good point. We have long held a view, based on research and evidence, that if we wanted to improve the well-being of children we could not ignore poverty as long as the last Government chose to.

Rt Hon Bill English: Has she seen comments by the State Services Commissioner, who said that the Better Public Services targets achieved real results: “More kids are getting immunised. Fewer kids are being physically abused. Participation in early childhood is on the increase. [And] 40,000 fewer working age people are receiving benefits compared with three years ago. That’s a whole bunch of things that change lives.”, and why does she think that achieving those things doesn’t change lives and ought to be stopped?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: This Government has no problem with the issue of targets, with priority setting, with goals as a way to drive the focus from the Public Service and the Government. Our point is we will have our own. In fact, the last Government changed their own targets several times during their time in Government, and it will not surprise the member that we have a different set of priorities—a broader set of priorities—than them.

Rt Hon Bill English: Can the Prime Minister confirm that the Government’s priority is the measurement of income only, and the other factors that determine material hardship and deprivation reflected in the targets set by the previous Government are now going to be ignored by the new Government—factors such as persistent—

Mr SPEAKER: Order! I think the member—[Interruption] Order! I’ll just ask the Leader of the Opposition to shorten his questions up to one or two, rather than three or four.

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: No.

Rt Hon Bill English: Has the Prime Minister seen the data that show that maternal and baby care are much more likely to be satisfactory when mothers enrol with their lead maternity carer in the first trimester of their pregnancy, and has she instructed the Public Service to stop focusing on that measure, which was initiated in May last year?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: I am being very consistent in the point here that we need to be much broader in the goals that we set ourselves. I take, for example, the rheumatic fever Better Public Services target that the last Government set. That did nothing to resolve the long-term driver of rheumatic fever, which is cold, damp, overcrowded housing. In the same way, if we want to improve maternal outcomes, we have to look at the barriers as to why women aren’t enrolling with lead maternity carers, and they are complex and often involve deprivation.

Rt Hon Bill English: Can the Prime Minister therefore confirm that the target that was set to lift to 90 percent the proportion of women enrolled in the first trimester with their lead maternity carer has now been abandoned, and if so, why?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: We have our own set of priorities. They will be replaced, and they’ll be released in good time.

Rt Hon Bill English: So can I take it, then, the Prime Minister is confirming that target has been abandoned, and people working in social and health services are no longer to be trying to enrol women earlier? And if she has abandoned it, what other measures has she taken to ensure that those women who weren’t enrolled will get better maternal care in the next 12 months?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: The implication that those who work in our health services will no longer be interested in the health and well-being of pregnant women in New Zealand is, frankly, an insult. Of course they are, but we’re also saying that this Government’s priority is that those mothers also have decent housing, that they are free of harm and abuse, and that they have decent incomes. We want to get to the root cause of problems, not just the short-term issues.

Medicinal cannabis bill passes first reading, doesn’t pass the compassionate test

The Government Misuse of Drugs (Medicinal Cannabis) Amendment Bill passed it’s first reading in Parliament yesterday, but it has failed to pass muster as a decent, compassionate bill.

Minister of Health, David Clark, introduced the bill.

This bill makes three key changes: it provides people who have a terminal illness a statutory defence to the charge of possessing and using cannabis, it will allow us to make regulations to set quality standards for medicinal cannabis products, and it removes cannabidiol from the Misuse of Drugs Act so that it is no longer a controlled drug. This bill does not make any changes to the recreational use of cannabis.

Making regulations to set quality standards for medicinal cannabis products will in time be worthwhile.

The last Government effectively already removed cannabidiol from the Misuse of Drugs Act so that it is no longer a controlled drug – it can now be supplied on prescription.

And the first change is a crock. It will remain illegal for cannabis to be grown or supplied, so people who are terminally ill will have to rely on someone breaking the law.

This bill will make medicinal cannabis more readily available and will help bring relief to people suffering a terminal illness or those in chronic pain.

That is very poorly worded (Clark read from a prepared speech).

The bill will do little to make medicinal cannabis more readily available (in the main it will be illegal to make it available).

And it provides no legal or medical relief for those in chronic pain or suffering from a debilitating illness if they are not certified as dying (within 12 months).

A major part of this bill is the development of a medicinal cannabis scheme. This will include an advisory committee to review the current requirements for prescribing medicinal cannabis, setting minimum product quality standards to improve patient safety and give medical practitioners confidence, and allow for the domestic cultivation and manufacture of medicinal cannabis products. In time, this scheme will lead to a greater supply of quality medicinal cannabis products worldwide, including products made here in New Zealand. The bill will allow for quality standards to be set for all medicinal cannabis products, whether produced domestically or imported.

Sounds ok, but this will take time to implement. Years probably.

We know, however, that in the interim there will be people with a terminal illness using illicit cannabis. That is why this bill establishes a defence to the charge of using and possessing cannabis or a cannabis utensil for people who have been diagnosed with a terminal illness. Giving the terminally ill a statutory defence for the possession and use of illicit cannabis will mean they are not criminalized in their final days. This is the compassionate thing to do while the medicinal cannabis scheme is established.

Someone who is dying probably won’t like being criminalized “in their final days” but it will be of little real consequence. It is unlikely the police would try to prosecute them now anyway, and they would probably die before the court process completed.

This is the compassionate thing to do while the medicinal cannabis scheme is established.

Terminally ill people are likely to rely on family, whānau, and friends to source illicit cannabis for them. We do not propose extending the statutory defence to cover the range of people who could supply cannabis to terminally ill people.

It is not ‘compassionate’ to force family, whānau, and friends to act illegally to supply cannabis. This is an awful aspect of the bill.

This legislation will not please all of the campaigners for medicinal cannabis…

An admission of it’s inadequacies.

…but it goes further than any previous Parliament has gone. It represents real progress in making these products more widely available. This bill is a real step forward that all Government support parties are pleased to sign up to.

In some ways it is a real step forward, or it will be, eventually. But in other ways it is abominable.

If Parliament wants to go further, it has the opportunity when it considers a member’s bill in Chlöe Swarbrick’s name.

When Clark said that he will have known, or at least should have known, that the Swarbrick bill is likely to fail at it’s first vote in Parliament today, so to suggest that as a solution to the inadequacies of his Government bill is embarrassing for him and for Labour.

This bill does offer some progress (in the future) on supply and use of some medical cannabis products, but it is a slap in the face of family and friends of those who are dying and might want some relief, and it ignores the needs and wants of the many people suffering from chronic pain and debilitating illness but not at imminent risk of dying.

Electoral Integrity Amendment Bill

Peters is dumping on the Greens’ cannabis bill. They owe him nothing.

Parliament resumes this week

Parliament will kick off in 2018 tomorrow (Tuesday 30 January). The order paper includes:

  1. Electoral Integrity Amendment Bill – first reading
  2. Misuse of Drugs (Medicinal Cannabis) Amendment Bill – first reading
  3. Education (Teaching Council of Aotearoa) Amendment Bill – first reading
  4. Social Security Legislation Rewrite Bill – second reading
  5. Conservation (Infringement System) Bill – first reading
  6. Dairy Industry Restructuring Amendment Bill (No 2) – first reading

So the new Government is busy implementing their policies, but this is just the beginning of an ambitions programme. Much of this was signalled in Labour’s 100 day pledge, but that is mostly initiating things that will take some time.

Henry Cooke (Stuff): 100 days is almost up, but the real fight is just beginning

After five weeks off, Parliament will finally sit again on Tuesday, just in the nick of time for the new Government.

The deadline for their talked-up “100-day plan” of 17 goals is this Saturday.

Before then Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and National leader Bill English will both give major speeches on Wednesday, hers on child poverty, his a scene-setting “state of the nation” speech to supporters. Ardern will also speak at Laneway festival on Monday.

So political junkies will have a lot of words to digest this week.

…the 100-day plan will not really end on the 100th day of the sixth Labour government.

The battles set up over the last two and a half months will last through until at least 2019, and possibly longer.

Of those 17 tasks in the 100-day plan just three are left: the establishment of an inquiry into abuse in state care, the introduction of workplace legislation, and new legislation to put a child poverty measure into our official statistics.

These are all just the beginning of something much larger.

In fact, almost all of the 17 goals are simply the start of something: legislation introduced, working groups set up, inquiries established.

Outside of the education portfolio little about New Zealand has materially changed since Ardern became Prime Minister.

Good legislation takes time, as does good social policy waiting for funding allocations (this will really kick off in the annual budget in May). There is one certainty – there is never enough money to meet all needs and wants.

Governments work slowly because it matters that they get things right the first time, and financial changes naturally shape themselves around financial years.

By the middle of the year poor and middle income families will be receiving a lot more from Working for Families and a lot more paid parental leave if their families grow.

But the families package, as expensive as it is, is not a structural change to the way New Zealand operates: it’s a shift in funding from tax relief to various benefits already administered by the Government, and a single new one – the simple Winter Energy Payment.

In the immediate term these kind of funding shifts can change individual lives, but this Government clearly has ambitions beyond that, for change that can’t be undone by a future Finance Minister short on cash.

Those kinds of changes – kicked off by the 100-day plan, but nowhere near completed – will dominate the term.

And unless a promise is broken it won’t all happen this term – the tax working group will make recommendations, but Ardern has committed to going to another election before implementing tax changes.

Political scientists don’t generally think that big speeches like the ones coming up this week matter, but politicians definitely do.

It’ll be worth watching both of them to see how each leader is planning to take on the battles this year will bring.

What Ardern and English say this week may give us some hints about how they will approach the year and the term, but it will take months and years to see how their actual actions pan out.