Kaye and Hipkins working together on language teaching bill

This is a very good sign from two younger senior politicians – Minister of Education Chris Hipkins is supporting Former education minister Nikki Kaye’s members’ bill – the Education (Strengthening Second Language Learning in Primary and Intermediate Schools) Amendment Bill – to at least the committee stage in Parliament.

NZ Herald:  Ex-education minister Nikki Kaye signs up sitting Minister Chris Hipkins to progress bill for teaching languages

Foreign language learning in primary schools looks likely to become commonplace for Kiwi kids with widespread political support for a private member’s bill promoting second-language teaching from a young age.

Former education minister Nikki Kaye has won the support of current Education Minister Chris Hipkins and the Labour caucus, plus the Greens and Act, to progress her bill to select committee.

The bill is also likely to extend the provision of Māori language teaching in schools as well as foreign languages.

The bill requires the Government to set 10 priority languages – likely to include Mandarin, Spanish, French, Japanese, Korean, Pacific languages and possibly Hindi as well as official languages Te Reo Māori and New Zealand Sign Language.

It also requires the Government to resource the provision of those languages in primary and intermediate schools.

Kaye said a number of issues would need to be worked through at select committee.

“These include investing in workforce development to ensure we have the teachers and that adequate time is given for schools to implement this. I realise this could be phased in over a number of years.”

The bill won’t come up for its first reading vote until next year but she has had a commitment in writing from Labour, the Greens and Act that they will support it. New Zealand First is still considering it. Kaye was particularly complimentary about Hipkins.

“He has been incredibly generous and understanding that while there may need to be some changes to the bill in the future, that he is supportive to send it to select committee.”

Hipkins said there was real value in second-language learning.

“Kids who do a second language generally tend to do better in their first language,” he said.

“It is not going to be something that any Government can deliver in three, six or even nine years. It is going to be something we are going to have to work on over a long period of time.”

He said one of the areas of debate would be around the concept of priority languages, the role of Pacific languages, the focus on Asian languages in the context of economic partnerships and the traditional European languages which have taught for a long time.

“I’m not sure whether we should restrict down to a small list of priority languages but the bill gives us an opportunity to have that discussion.”

He welcomed the opportunity to have a discussion about what was taught in schools, including language learning, on a cross-party basis rather than being divided along party lines.

This is a good bill to have put into the Members’ ballot, so good on Kaye for that. Lucky it was drawn.

And it is very good to see the ex-minister and current Minister, from normally opposing parties, working together to get this bill debated and worked over in Parliament. It doesn’t guarantee it will end up passing, but this shows our MPs and parties are capable of working together on policies of common interest.

I would like to see more of this cooperation between the Government and the Opposition – it does happen quite a bit as business as usual in Parliament but usually gets little or no attention.

Holding to account, and even attacking opponents constructively, are important parts of our democratic system, but those actions should be exceptions rather than the norm.

Unfortunately media tend to prefer to report on conflict rather than cooperation, but I think that most voters would prefer to see more working together between all our representatives in Parliament.

This cooperation on Kaye’s language bill is a very good sign.

Government appointed Speakers are always contentious, but Mallard…

…is the one currently in the gun for being tough on National MPs, and particularly struggling to tolerate Leader of the Opposition Simon Bridges. And National are getting more vocal (reckless) in criticising Mallard’s protection on Government MPs, particularly Jacinda Ardern.

Bridges and Gerry Brownlee were turfed out of Parliament by Mallard yesterday – see Bridges, Brownlee ordered out of Parliament – which shows that the intolerance and antagonism is unlikely to diminish.

Why would Ardern need paternalistic protection of the Speaker? From what I’ve seen she is capable of standing up for herself quite adequately in Parliament.

Audrey Young (NZH): Bridges punishment was fair but Mallard’s intolerance is an ongoing problem

Parliament’s Speaker, Trevor Mallard, has an inbuilt bias against National Party leader Simon Bridges and a soft spot for Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.

That much has been clear since Mallard took the chair just over a year ago. Bridges gets under his skin.

But what is also clear is that Bridges crossed a line in the House today and cannot credibly object to having been thrown out by Mallard.

No one is complaining that Bridges and Brownlee got turfed out yesterday – least of all Bridges. He has used the additional publicity to voice his accusation that Mallard protects Ardern.

It was during questions to the Government about the Karel Sroubek case that Bridges accused Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern of “ducking and diving”.

Such a description is not unusual in the cut and thrust of politics, and barely raised anybody’s eyebrow – except Mallard’s.

Mallard stood up to object – we don’t know whether he was about to make Bridges withdraw and apologise and put him on a final warning.

But before he could mete out punishment, Bridges said: “Here comes the protection.”

That was the offending phrase and that got him ejected from the House – and for that there can be no objection.

It crossed a line. It can be easily argued that Mallard was too quick to leap to the defence of Ardern after she was accused of ducking and diving – not that she requires any help from Mallard in the chamber.

Mallard crossed a line the day before.

Mallard’s intolerance was on display yesterday when he referred to Bridges’ questions as “smart-arse” which is also an appalling lapse by a Speaker to the Leader of the Opposition.

Mallard did apologise for that remark.

And during an exchange with Brownlee, he basically agreed that tighter standards apply to Opposition questions than to answers by Government Ministers.

He can’t stand a bit of cross-house banter and he seemed personally offended when MPs interject in the second person.

The sadness of Mallard’s speakership is that he had hopes of inserting himself less into Question Time than other Speakers, but he is doing the exact opposite.

On Newshub this week, Winston Peters tried to suggest that Mallard was not behaving like a Labour MP, but that is not true. It is impossible to take the politics out of the politician.

It would be difficult for Mallard – a Labour Party member since 1972, a Labour MP since 1984 (with a one term break when he lost his seat in 1990), a member of the Labour-led Cabinet from 1999 to 2008, and a parliamentary colleague t of Ardern’s in Pa – to  become totally impartial.

On a good day, when he is in a good mood and does not expect perfection, when he is in a mood to help the Opposition hold the Government to account, Mallard is the best of Speakers.

His stewardship of the House as the Opposition sought answers from the Government over its decision to exempt Te Arai Development from the Overseas Investment Amendment Bill was exemplary.

The stakes were high. He bent over backwards to be fair to all. It was the House at its best because Mallard was at his best.

Unfortunately, the good days don’t come often enough.

The last couple of days were not good for Mallard.

Today may be different – neither Ardern nor Bridges will be in Parliament today. But Brownlee may be.

 

Sroubek’s estranged wife ‘afraid for her life’, questioning of Lees-Galloway, Ardern continue

The Karel Sroubek immigration issue remains in the headlines after Sroubek’s wife has spoken out, saying she is afraid for her life. She also raises questions about the actions of the Immigration Service, who tracked her down at a safe house.

Immigration Minister Iain Lees-Galloway is still in the firing line, and Winston Peters is using the issue to try to score political hits.

Stuff:  Karel Sroubek’s estranged wife is ‘afraid for her life’

The estranged wife of drug smuggler Karel Sroubek feels vulnerable and afraid for her life, the House has been told.

National Party justice spokesman Mark Mitchell said she gave him a six-page letter that contained permission to speak on her behalf.  He said she had been threatened by gangs and was “genuinely scared”.

She was taking a massive risk speaking out and said she was forced to write the letter of support so her convicted smuggler husband did not get deported from New Zealand.

It was this letter that Immigration Minister Iain Lees-Galloway put so much weight on when making his original decision to grant Sroubek residency.

One of the biggest questions that needed to be answered was how immigration officials tracked the woman down, when she was in a police safe house, Mitchell said.

“Yes, she made a submission in Sroubek’s support, but she says this was made under duress. She doesn’t want him to stay and has changed both her phone number and address, because of what she says are threats to her safety.

“The unwelcome visit by Immigration NZ to discuss her statement, a visit she later received an apology for, makes the situation worse.”

This was raised in Parliament’s Oral Questions (question time) yesterday. First, Simon Bridges to the Prime Minister (represented by Winston Peters):

2. Hon SIMON BRIDGES (Leader of the Opposition) to the Prime Minister: Does she stand by all her statements and actions relating to Karel Sroubek, including that information was “provided by his wife, for example, who I understand is the National Party’s informant”?

Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS (Deputy Prime Minister) on behalf of the Prime Minister: Can I just say, on behalf of the Prime Minister, yes. And on the other matter, that question was put in this Parliament to the Leader of the Opposition and his colleagues, and we’re still waiting for an answer.

Hon Simon Bridges: What does she say to the claim made by Mr Sroubek’s estranged wife and family that the Prime Minister’s Government’s statements have been “beyond appalling” and have caused immense stress for the estranged wife, and feelings of utter hopelessness?

Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: On behalf of the Prime Minister—who can say that personally she wasn’t directly involved in those statements. On behalf of the Prime Minister, can I say when that matter was put to both the National Party associate, and I’m happy to give that person’s name. The National Party’s associate—

Hon Simon Bridges: Does she think tarnishing a victim’s reputation by inferring they are politically motivated and pushing her to feel utterly hopeless aligns with her kinder, more compassionate way of governing?

Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: On behalf of the Prime Minister, can I say “compassionate” and “kindness” are her middle two names.

Hon Simon Bridges: Does she think tarnishing a victim’s reputation by inferring they are politically motivated and pushing her to feel utterly hopeless aligns with her kinder, more compassionate way of governing?

Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: On behalf of the Prime Minister, can I say “compassionate” and “kindness” are her middle two names. And I just want to make this very, very clear: when a party has a penchant for leaks like their internal polls, like their PR to their caucus on how to handle questions from the media, and on this matter, they’re not to be trusted.

Peters effectively dismisses the concerns of Sroubek’s wife.

Hon Simon Bridges: Is she aware that in order to elicit changed statements from the estranged wife of Mr Sroubek to bolster the Minister’s decision, police and immigration officials turned up unannounced at her home leaving her feeling extremely vulnerable, exposed, and under threat?

Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: On behalf of the Prime Minister, the reality is that the Prime Minister was not aware of that.

Hon Simon Bridges: Does the Prime Minister know personally any of the people who made representations on Mr Sroubek’s behalf?

Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: On behalf of the Prime Minister, there’s no way that I can answer that question.

That question is likely to come up again, to Ardern when she is next in Parliament.

Also in Question 4:

4. Hon MARK MITCHELL (National—Rodney) to the Minister of Immigration: Does he stand by all his statements and actions in relation to Mr Karel Sroubek?

Hon IAIN LEES-GALLOWAY (Minister of Immigration): Yes, based on the information and advice available to me at the time.

Hon Mark Mitchell: Does he stand by the statement that Karel Sroubek’s estranged wife has declined to participate in Immigration New Zealand’s review of his decision to grant Sroubek residency?

Hon IAIN LEES-GALLOWAY: Yes.

Hon Mark Mitchell: Is the Minister aware that on 5 November, immigration officials arrived unannounced at a house that the estranged wife of Karel Sroubek was staying at, known only to police as part of a police safety plan?

Hon IAIN LEES-GALLOWAY: I’m not aware of the details of how the investigation was carried out. That is a matter for Immigration New Zealand and the police force.

Hon Mark Mitchell: Did the Minister, prior to 5 November, have a discussion about the location of the estranged wife of Karel Sroubek with the Minister of Police or anyone from his office?

Hon IAIN LEES-GALLOWAY: No.

Hon Mark Mitchell: Is the Minister aware that the estranged wife of Mr Sroubek told immigration officials that she was happy to help but would like her lawyer and support person present and was frightened of the target on her back becoming bigger?

Hon IAIN LEES-GALLOWAY: I was told that the person in question declined to participate in the investigation.

Hon Mark Mitchell: Does the Minister believe the estranged wife of Karel Sroubek is a National Party informant, as stated by the Prime Minister, or a woman who is frightened of Mr Sroubek and sought help from the Opposition when it became obvious the Government was standing by its decision to grant Mr Sroubek residency?

Hon IAIN LEES-GALLOWAY: I only know the matters that are relevant to the decision that I made. Those are that Mr Sroubek’s estranged wife provided a letter of support for him, that media reporting then suggested that there was some question about that support, and that when asked to elaborate on that and participate in the investigation into those matters, she declined.


I have been sent these comments:

I think you might agree that as reported this is a significant development in the saga, & a very disturbing one in terms of

  • how Peters appears to have, typically, maligned a genuinely frightened victim of this arsehole, Sroubek
  • how the Immigration Service appears to have ignored that she was in a police-organised safe-house & visited her unannounced to question her statement, and
  • how Lees-Galloway appears to have been totally incompetent and not had any feel for what it seems like should have signalled things didn’t add up, and
  • how INZ needs to be slapped around thoroughly for their incompetence.

Peters disgusts me but, from the story as reported here, this would be one of the worst examples of his political recklessness and disgraceful callousness.

I do agree that this is a significant development in the saga, with some disturbing aspects.

I expect this will continue in Parliament today. If Jacinda Ardern is present she should be well prepared, but the Opposition seem to be well informed and prepared as well.

I have seen claims of some sort of direct or indirect links between Ardern and Sroubek, but they are not substantiated, so at this stage speculation is not appropriate here. It is likely to be up to Ardern to address this herself.

 

Maggie Barry accused of bullying staff

Another MP has been accused of bullying, this time National’s Maggie Barry. she disputes the allegations. This further puts the spotlight on the pressures of being an MP, and whether some MPs abuse their power. There will always be an unavoidable power imbalance, but the important thing is that that is not abused.

NZ Herald: Former staff accuse National MP Maggie Barry of bullying

National MP Maggie Barry has been twice investigated over bullying claims this year – including accusations she expected staff to do political party work on taxpayer time, which would be unlawful.

The Weekend Herald can reveal two employees in Barry’s four-person office have accused her of bullying since May – one in a personal grievance complaint, and the other during the investigation of that complaint.

Barry concedes there were issues raised by former staff, but they were resolved “by mutual agreement” and “there was no finding that bullying or harassment had occurred”.

And she is backed up by a different former staff member who said she never saw any bullying behaviour from Barry, though she added that everyone has different ideas about what constitutes bullying.

I think that is an important point. One person could feel ‘bullied’ in a situation that another person sees as a normal type of employer/employee relationship.

Here different employees have different views on how things happened.

The Weekend Herald has obtained documents which show that during its investigations in August this year, Parliamentary Service heard allegations that Barry:

• swore and yelled at staff;
• called an employee “stupid”;
• used derogatory terms about other elected officials, which made staff uncomfortable;
• referred to people with mental health issues using offensive terms like “nutter”;
• discussed her employees’ sexuality in the workplace;
• expected staff would do work for the National Party during office hours, which they felt unable to refuse while knowing it was wrong, because they were scared.

One staffer told investigators he believed there was a huge power imbalance and that Barry was “terrifying” and could “destroy my career”.

When questioned by Parliamentary Service in August, Barry denied all of the allegations.

“In particular, she disputes the claims regarding her attitude and comments attributed regarding people with mental health issues,” the investigation notes from her interview read.

“[She says] she does not use profanities and doesn’t swear or behave inappropriately… MB absolutely refutes that she expects staff to complete party work during work time.”

However, the Weekend Herald has heard recordings which appear to show Barry swearing in a work context, and others where she appears to call a local board member “barking”, one a “waste of space”, and another “a duplicitous piece of shite”.

Again, some people may see ‘colourful language’ as acceptable, others may think otherwise.

It has also seen messages from Barry – who rarely used email but instead spoke into the voice-to-text function on her phone – appearing to request political work be completed during office hours.

Examples included writing her column “Maggie’s Messenger”, where she encouraged people to vote for Northcote MP Dan Bidois, and completing a “Super Blues” brochure for an over-60s National Party conference.

A former staffer who came forward to the Weekend Herald told Parliamentary Service that, during some weeks, up to half his work was party work. Parliamentary rules strictly stipulate party work is not part of support staff’s job.

According to her interview with investigators, Barry knew it was against the rules.

But in a different recording obtained by the Weekend Herald, Barry said the opposite to the staffer the day he was due to give evidence for his co-worker’s personal grievance case.

In it she said writing brochures on office time was “legitimate”, while acknowledging the investigators would not be impressed if they found out.

“It’s how the world goes around,” she said. “You know the lay of the land.”

I think that politicians have been bending this rule for a long time. I know it has happened, but I don’t know how common it has been.

When questioned by the Weekend Herald yesterday, Barry said Parliamentary Service had looked into allegations from former staff.

“The allegations were vigorously denied and disputed and were thoroughly investigated by Parliamentary Service. There was no finding that bullying or harassment had occurred.

“The issues have all been resolved professionally and by mutual agreement. I have wished the employees concerned well and so I am surprised to see they are being repeated in a partial, selective and incomplete way.”

She said she had “constructive and positive employee relationships”, and may refer the recordings of her to police.

Secret recordings of MPs (and staff as per Todd Barclay) seems to be a trend, and a worrying one.

At the time, leader Simon Bridges said he didn’t believe there was an environment of abuse and power within the party. Barry also spoke out, saying bullying behaviour had “no place” in National.

The former staffer who spoke to the Weekend Herald said hearing that had made him feel sick.

“When you’re the subject of bullying investigations it takes gall to claim that Jami-Lee Ross was a one-off, that there are no other bullies that the party is aware of,” he said.

But the staffer said the final straw for going public was when he saw his former job advertised and feeling “awful” that the next person would go through the same experiences he had.

“I just couldn’t take it. Parliamentary Service as an employer has an obligation to ensure its staff are safe. They can’t guarantee that if they recruit someone to work for Maggie,” he claimed.

He said Parliamentary Service clearly knew about Barry’s behaviour – his manager from the service had even warned him during his induction Barry could be a difficult boss.

When he later complained to the manager that he was having trouble, he says he was told to document any inappropriate behaviour – which is why he had the recordings.

Ok, maybe appropriate, especially if something serious was revealed.

The former staffer supportive of Barry, who did not want her name published, said that Barry could be “firm”, but had never seen anything resembling bullying from Barry – though she added that everyone had different definitions.

“On different days, people have different sensitivities, and people have different lines of what they can and can’t tolerate.”

She was surprised when the personal grievance case surfaced and the other former staffer stopped coming to work.

“It came as a huge shock to me that that particular person didn’t step into the office again. I was blindsided. I was told not to contact him by Parliamentary Service. I had no idea.”

She also said that new staff members sometimes mistook parliamentary work for party work, and it often took time to realise what material, for example, should and should not carry a National Party logo.

Clare Curran was exposed in Parliament this week when it was revealed one of her electorate staff gave material to Work & Income offices that had Labour logos on it.

One thing is obvious – MPs and their workplace practices are suddenly under a lot of scrutiny.

Food Country of Origin Bill passes final reading

This has taken a while, starting well before the current government took over, but the Greens deserve praise for the passing of the Consumers’ Right to Know (Country of Origin of Food) Bill. The Members’ Bill was introduced to Parliament on 8 December 2016 so has taken two years to get through.

I think that labelling should clearly show the country of origin of food so consumers can make informed choices.

I detest labels that say things like ‘packed in New Zealand’ or ‘some contents may come from overseas’.

An actual label (I just checked): ‘Made in New Zealand from local and imported ingredients’ (tomato sauce).

But most good in my pantry do now name the country of origin, perhaps in anticipation of the law change.

Food retailers should be open and honest about their products. It’s a shame it has taken a law to force it.

Rankin, Ardern, Peters respond to Parliament’s bullying and harassment review

The behaviour of MP versus MP is not included in the Review into bullying and harassment at Parliament, it is dealing with staff only, but it has raised the issue of poor behaviour from MPs.

The Speaker Trevor Mallard’s past behaviour in Parliament has been pointed out, including a conviction for fighting with another MP and attacks on a consultant. In 2007 Mallard pleads guilty to fighting, says sorry to consultant

Mallard pleaded not guilty to an assault charge, but today pleaded guilty to the lesser fighting charge and agreed to pay $500 to the Salvation Army’s Bridge drug and alcohol programme.

Shortly after the conclusion of the hearing, Mallard apologised in Parliament to Ms Leigh, who he had been accused of unfairly attacking under parliamentary privilege.

And yesterday, in response to Mallard launching the review – ‘He was a bully’: Christine Rankin accuses ‘crude’ Trevor Mallard of bullying

Former Work and Income NZ chief executive Christine Rankin says she was subjected to a campaign of bullying from senior ministers who wanted her out – and that Speaker Trevor Mallard was among them.

“I think anyone can look back on my situation 18 years ago and accept that it was the biggest bullying situation that has ever happened in this country that we know of,” she told Newshub.

She says she was taunted and comments were made about the way she looked. She claims she was even told that her earrings were a “sexual come-on”.

“Incidents have occurred over many years in these buildings which are unacceptable,” said Mr Mallard when announcing the inquiry earlier this week.

Ms Rankin says she was relentlessly bullied by senior Labour Party ministers after they took power in 1999, and that group included now-Speaker Mr Mallard.

“He was a bully,” she told Newshub. “They were all bullies and they revelled in it.”

She says ministers would whisper and laugh about her during meetings – with Mr Mallard using language that still makes her too uncomfortable to repeat.

“He was crude and rude and it was directed at me.”

Mallard has probably changed a lot since then, especially since he took on the responsibility of Speaker. His past behaviour shouldn’t stop him from addressing that sort of behaviour now. Tolerance of harassment has significantly diminished.

Parliament should set an example (a good example) to the population, and the review is a good to do this.

Hopefully MPs will learn something from it. Robust debate is an essential part of a healthy democracy, but in the past MP behaviour has gone far further than that with attacks on opponents capable of being seen as bullying and harassment.

Quite contrasting reactions from Jacinda Ardern and Winston Peters.

NZ Herald: Winston Peters has ‘no idea’ why bullying review into Parliament is taking place

Most MPs welcomed the review, including Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, who said Parliament was not immune to such issues.

“It is high pressure. There’s long hours. There’s no excuse, though, for that to result in poor behaviour, so it’s worthwhile to undertake this exercise,” Ardern said.

But someone’s nose seems to be out of joint – or perhaps there are feelings of guilt.

New Zealand First leader Winston Peters has poured cold water on Parliament’s review of workplace bullying and harassment, saying he has “no idea” why it is taking place.

Peters said he had not been consulted, adding that being told in advance did not amount to consultation.

“I’ve got no idea why this is being requested by the Speaker at all. I have not been consulted on that matter, so I’m not prepared to make any comment at all.”

Asked if he supported the review, Peters said: “We’ll find out when the review happens.”

He joked that the media had subjected him to bullying.

“I’m going to tell the interviewer that the only person being seriously bullied around this place for a long time is one Winston Peters – by people like you.”

Given Peters’ use of the media to attack people that’s ironic.

And given Peters’ manner towards journalists trying to interview him the question of bullying could easily be put to him – but Peters has long used attack as a form of defence.

At least Mallard has recognised moves to address and reduce poor MP behaviour, seemingly having learned from his own mistakes and unsatisfactory behaviour in the past.

If anything Peters is getting worse now he is in one of the most powerful positions he has attained in Parliament. A sense that his longevity in Parliament gives him some sort of right to act as he pleases highlights how out of step his combative and cantankerous approach is in the modern world of politics and in society in general).

Review into bullying and harassment at Parliament

The Speaker, Trevor Mallard, has announced an external review into the bullying and harassment of staff at Parliament.

Note that this doesn’t address behaviour between MPs in Parliament or via the media, and it doesn’t address bullying and harassment of MPs by media.


Independent review launched into bullying and harassment at Parliament

Speaker of the House, Rt Hon Trevor Mallard, announced today that an independent external review into bullying and harassment of staff within the Parliamentary workplace will take place.

“Bullying and harassment are not acceptable in any workplace. It’s important that people at Parliament feel respected, safe, and supported each day coming to work,” the Speaker said.

The review will begin in early December 2018 and is expected to take at least four months to complete. It will look to:

  • Establish whether bullying and harassment (including sexual harassment) has occurred and, if it has, the nature and extent of this towards staff employed or engaged since the 51st Parliament (since October 2014). This includes contract staff, who regularly work on precinct, and former staff who no longer work in the Parliamentary workplace.
  • Review how previous complaints have been handled; whether policies, procedures, and related controls are effective; how they compare to best practice and the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015; and whether there are any barriers to reporting or making complaints
  • Assess the culture of Parliament as a place to work and allow for consideration of other matters brought up in the review.

A draft report, with findings and recommendations, will be presented to the Speaker and the Chief Executive or General Manager of participating Parliamentary agencies. Following the delivery of the report, the agencies will consider how to action the report’s recommendations.

At an appropriate time, the report will be made public.

Who is leading the review?

Debbie Francis, an experienced consultant and independent external reviewer, will carry out the review. Debbie has previously led performance improvement reviews at Parliament, and elsewhere on behalf of the State Services Commission. Her recent work on bullying and harassment at the New Zealand Defence Force will be of particular value to this review.

The Speaker is sponsoring the review and will work with the agencies for which he is responsible to address the findings.

Participating in the review

The review will provide current and former Parliamentary staff with an opportunity to share any relevant experiences of bullying and harassment, including sexual harassment, within the Parliamentary workplace. The review covers people employed or engaged by the Parliamentary Service, Ministerial and Secretariat Services, and the Office of the Clerk since the 51st Parliament.

 

Sroubek affair continues to dog Lees-Galloway

Minister of Immigration Iain Lees-Galloway has made a mess of deferring the deportation of Karel Sroubek, and has made more of a mess of the handling of it when it was pushed by National.

He now admits he didn’t read the whole report given to him before making a very important decision about someone’s future, and he made the decision within about an hour. This seems to contradict assurances he gave to Jacinda Ardern that he had given the matter “careful consideration”, which could put her in a difficult position.

In Parliament today:

Question No. 2—Immigration

2. Hon MICHAEL WOODHOUSE (National) to the Minister of Immigration: Did he meet with officials on 19 September 2018 to discuss the deportation liability of Karel Sroubek, also known as Jan Antolik; if so, at what time?

Hon IAIN LEES-GALLOWAY (Minister of Immigration): Yes, at 4.30 p.m.

Hon Michael Woodhouse: Can he confirm he first considered Karel Sroubek’s case on 19 September 2018, as indicated in his answer to written question 27289?

Hon IAIN LEES-GALLOWAY: Yes.

Hon Michael Woodhouse: Can he confirm he wrote to Karel Sroubek’s lawyer confirming his decision to grant residency that same day?

Hon IAIN LEES-GALLOWAY: I understand that the letter was post-dated to that day, but I am advised that it was sent on the 21st.

SPEAKER: Backdated, I think the member means.

Hon Michael Woodhouse: Can he therefore confirm it took him less than an hour to make his decision to grant residency?

Hon IAIN LEES-GALLOWAY: As the decision maker, it’s important that I base my decision on accurate and robust information. Immigration New Zealand prepared a comprehensive file, detailed information, which I used to make that decision, following exactly the same process that that member used when I made that decision. I made that decision on that day.

Hon Michael Woodhouse: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. A helpful elucidation of the process which did not address the question, which was “Can he confirm he took less than an hour to make that decision?”

SPEAKER: Well, I’ll ask the Minister to have another go at it. I mean, days don’t finish at half past five., but carry on.

Hon IAIN LEES-GALLOWAY: I made the decision on that day using the information that I had available to me.

Hon Michael Woodhouse: Why was this decision, one which the Prime Minister has said he gave “careful consideration to” and was “a very difficult decision”, decided just minutes or hours after being presented to him?

Hon IAIN LEES-GALLOWAY: Because I used the comprehensive file that was prepared by Immigration New Zealand and presented to me. As a decision maker, it is important that I base my decision on accurate and robust information. Publicly available information may be wrong or unfairly prejudicial. That’s why it is important to have a robust process to prepare the information for my consideration.

Hon Michael Woodhouse: Is it common practice for him to consider cases to, in his words, “weigh matters of public safety and the criminal behaviour of the individual involved” just minutes or hours after being presented to him?

Hon IAIN LEES-GALLOWAY: I used the same process that the member used when he was Minister.

RNZ: Immigration Minister made Sroubek decision in just one hour

Immigration Minister Iain Lees-Galloway has admitted he took only an hour to decide to let Karel Sroubek stay in New Zealand and did not read the entire case file.

In response to questions in Parliament, Mr Lees-Galloway confirmed he made his decision on the same day he received the file.

He later told reporters he took “an hour or so” to make up his mind and said that was “much, much longer” than he’d taken on other cases.

“I took the time that I felt was necessary. I certainly asked questions. I certainly looked closely at different aspects of the file,” he said.

Mr Lees-Galloway said he went through the summary with his officials, but admitted he did not read the file in its entirety before making his decision.

“I read the aspects of the file that I felt were necessary to make the decision that I made.”

The minister defended his decision-making, saying he followed the exact same process as the previous government.

“This is the usual process for these decisions.”

Mr Lees-Galloway said he’d since read the full file “several times” and stood by the decision he made on the basis of the information provided.

Asked whether in hindsight he would have taken more care and time, he insisted he was “thorough” and had given the case “due consideration”.

“That’s the job.”

It appears that Lee’s-Galloway did not do a thorough enough jonb in making his decision, and has done an awful job of dealing with the flak.

Also today Sroubek put out a media statement:

Following the Minister of Immigration recently cancelling my liability for deportation there have been numerous reports and statements about me made to and reported in the media.

Much of what has been said about me and my circumstances does not present the true picture.

In 2010 I faced charges. I was properly acquitted at trial, as were all of the other people charged. Comments made about that case in the media are not balanced, and in particular do not reflect that the key prosecution witness’ evidence was discredited.

The National Deputy leader by her questions in Parliament has implied I may have had something to with an alleged burglary of a property I have an interest in. The allegation I was involved in that burglary is completely without foundation. I was not involved in the burglary.

Until New Zealand Immigration reports backs to the Minister and I have had the opportunity to respond to him on any issue he may wish to raise I will be making no further comment or statement.

And National are not backing off.

NZ First proxy voting for Jami-lee Ross

Winston peters has announced that NZ First will proxy vote for Jami-lee Ross in Parliament in his absence – the vote will be the same as the national party vote. Peters has claimed it is for democratic integrity and ensuring Ross’ electorate gets a vote in Parliament, but that sounds bogus. The vote will make no difference to anything.

Peters said that NZ First whips were asked ‘weeks ago’ by Ross and have just agreed to vote on his behalf, despite Peters saying that Ross should resign.

It does nothing to give Botany voters representation in Parliament – only Ross can do that, or better, by resigning someone with a mandate could do that.

Peters may think this is getting one over National but it just makes him and NZ First look stupid.

Peters sounded grouchy when interviewed on Checkpoint trying to explain this.

 

Rental property letting fees banned

The Government is banning the charging of letting fees to tenants. My initial thought was that this ban would just move the costs, and it will, but it may be a reasonable change – letting fees are incurred by the landlord so are best paid by the landlord. Whether they recover those though increased rentals is up to them, and the best way to do it.

Stuff:  Parliament bans letting fees on rentals

Tenants will no longer have to pay letting fees to agents and landlords, after Parliament voted to ban the practice.

Housing and Urban Development Minister Phil Twyford estimated the change, which comes into force on December 12, could prevent the handover of up to $47 million in payments he said were “unfair” and had “no economic rationale”.

“This will make a real difference to struggling families. There are significant costs associated with moving to a new rental property, which many families are now forced to do every year.

“When moving into a new rental property, tenants can face up to four weeks’ bond, two weeks’ rent in advance – and one weeks’ rent as a letting fee – in addition to moving costs,” he said.

“Letting fees are unfair. They have no economic rationale and there is no relationship between the amount of the charge and cost of the services provided.

“Banning the charging of letting fees to tenants is a good first step in improving the life of renters, while we continue our broader review of the Residential Tenancies Act.”

I don’t agree with all of that, but even if the cost of letting is covered by higher rental charges it may be easier for some to pay a little bit extra a week or month rather than a lump sum up front.

This would work fine for fixed term rentals, which are common for student accommodation. But it could be to the detriment of longer term renters, unless rental charges were lowered (or not raised as much) after the letting costs had been recovered.

But while the law change will now come as no surprise to the industry, it’s unlikely to be welcomed. The Real Estate Institute of New Zealand (REINZ) said in August, it would like to see tighter regulation in the market but had concerns about how the costs of letting fees would be covered if they were abolished.

“Letting fees covered  property inspections, advertising, viewings, background checks on tenants, liaison with landlords and processing the tenancy agreement,” Bindi Norwell, REINZ chief executive, said.

“So actually, they do quite a lot of work. So someone has got to pay for that.”

But as a cost to the landlord it should initially at least be paid by the landlord.

peterwn at Kiwiblog:

I disagree with most of Phil Twyford’s proposals for residential tenancies, but I do concur with his plan for abolishing letting fees paid by the tenant.

My reason is, the letting agent is chosen by the landlord and works for the landlord so it is anomalous that the tenant should pay the fee. The landlord should and is given an incentive to either negotiate fees or dispense with the agent altogether. Some agents structure things to extract a fee each year. Naturally, letting agents and property managers are squealing like stuck pigs over this as if it is the end of the world as they know it.

They say it will cause rents to increase. Rents may well increase – slightly but the amount is small and in any case increases due to shortage of flats etc would be far higher. Tenants would no doubt prefer a slight rent increase rather than having to fork out the fee in addition to initial rent payment and bond. A few landlords could leave the game over this but are more likely to leave because of the other proposals affecting residential landlords which will have far greater adverse effects. My heart bleeds for them.