Head of KiwiBuild wasn’t working, now resigns

Last May Minister of Housing Phil Twyford praised the appointment of Stephen Barclay as Head of KiwiBuil:

It was revealed in December that Barclay, wasn’t working, but details weren’t given. Twyford refused to clarify – see Q+A: Phil Twyford “not my job to know” why KiwiBuild CEO not working:

Corin Dann: Do you know why he’s left the job..?

Phil Twyford: No, and I haven’t been advised on that, and it would be really inappropriate for me to comment…

Corin Dann: You don’t know why the CEO of KiwiBuild has not  been in the job since November.

Phil Twyford: Mmm. I know that he’s not at work, um but it’s literally not my job to know, and there are other people who deal with that, and they are, and I’m focussing on trying to get houses built.

Corin Dann: Has he actually resigned?

Phil Twyford: Corin, I can’t comment on this…It’s a matter relating to an individual public servant, and I simply cannot comment on it.

Barclay has now resigned from the job.

RNZ:  KiwiBuild head Stephen Barclay officially resigns

The head of KiwiBuild, Stephen Barclay has officially resigned from the role.

In a statement issued on his behalf, it was announced that he would step down from today.

Housing Minister Phil Twyford’s office said he would not be commenting on Mr Barclay’s resignation as it was an employment matter.

RNZ understands Mr Barclay’s absence arose from an employment dispute following the KiwiBuild unit’s transfer to the Ministry of Housing and Urban Development.

In a statement, the Ministry of Housing’s chief executive Andrew Crisp said he recieved Mr Barclay’s letter of resignation just after 12pm today.

“I am considering how this affects the employment process currently underway,” Mr Crisp said.

KiwiBuild and Twyford have been under fire for some time, and this has given the Opposition more ammunition.

However, the resignation “does not bode well” for KiwiBuild, which “has already shown itself to be a much more difficult beast than Phil Twyford, or the government seem to anticipate,” National Party housing spokesperson Judith Collins said in a statement.

Mr Barclay was appointed to the position in May, but had been absent since November. There should be more transparency about what had happened, she said.

“It’s taken three months for Mr Barclay to exit from a role he held for only four months,” Ms Collins’ statement read.

KiwiBuild had been “fraught with issues”, including houses not selling, and the policy was not working. Mr Twyford should be upfront about why its head could not last a year in the role, she said.

Twyford has kept distancing himself from this.

But he won’t be able to keep distancing himself from the under performance of KiwiBuild if he can’t get the massive housing project cranked up this year.

Nonsense over written questions

National have been criticised for the number of written questions they have been submitting to Ministers. But National claim that Ministers are refusing to answer questions and avoiding answering questions, forcing National MPs to write multiple versions of very similar questions.

I think it’s sad to see such petty use and abuse of democratic processes. I think the responsibility is largely on Ministers to live up to their transparency hype.

RNZ: National’s written questions blitz at a new level – professor

A barrage of written questions from the National Party is heaping pressure on ministerial offices, prompting one to restructure and a government agency to hire a new staff member.

In the year since forming the government, ministers have received 42,221 written parliamentary questions from National MPs. That’s around 800 a week, or 115 a day, weekends included.

Several ministers have been caught tripping up over the process – which the National Party calls incompetence.

But Auckland University Emeritus Professor Barry Gustafson said the exercise appeared to be more of a fishing expedition than anything to do with policy.

That’s an odd comment from a professor. There’s more to effective Opposition than querying policy. Aren’t written questions basically there to enable fishing expeditions?

“They cast a hundred or thousand hooks into the sea and hope that they’ll pull up one fish.”

The opposition was searching for inconsistencies in ministers’ answers or something they could develop to embarrass the government.

“It’s getting well away, when you do that, from the original intention of written questions – which was to hold the government accountable on major policy matters and actions.”

“…and actions” is an important addition there.

The actions of two Ministers have already resulted in them stepping down or being sacked.

A spokesperson for Immigration Minister Iain Lees-Galloway said his office had requested additional staffing to deal with the high volume of written questions and official information requests.

“This was unavailable so the office restructured to employ a staff member to coordinate responses,” he said in a statement.

There have been important questions to ask about the deferral of an extradition.

Housing Minister Phil Twyford said the KiwiBuild unit in the new Ministry of Housing and Urban Development had to hire someone with the primary job of answering opposition questions.

Mr Twyford said he was committed to answering questions properly as they were an important part of the parliamentary process.

But he said “there’s no doubt that the volume and the trivial nature of some of the questions is a deliberate tactic by the opposition to tie up government staff resources.”

I think there’s quite a bit of doubt about Twyford’s claim.

National housing spokesperson Judith Collins stood by every one of her questions.

Opposition MPs had to ask very specific questions when a minister refused to answer broader questions properly, Ms Collins said.

“You end up having to send maybe five or six questions, when one decent answer was all you actually wanted.”

I’ve seen examples of this.

I thought the Greens were supposed to be into transparent Government.

Other ministers’ offices had pulled people off their usual posts in various ministries, which Prof Gustafson said was a waste of taxpayer money.

“You’re going to clog the system up with a lot of quite trivial and unnecessary [questions].

So who should decide which questions are too trivial? It certainly shouldn’t be left to the Ministers.

Prof Gustafson said both sides were guilty.

In 2010 the Labour MP Trevor Mallard, now Parliament’s Speaker, wrote and sent 20,570 questions to National ministers.

While Mr Mallard would not comment on whether he thought that was appropriate, he said he had noticed that “ministers who proactively release material are subject to fewer questions”.

In other words, Ministers who are transparent don’t get hassled with so many questions. Ministers who try to play avoidance games get more questions. There’s a simple answer there.

National MP Chris Bishop (@cjsbishop):

Here are some things written questions are used for:

  1. To find out who Ministers are meeting. Because that matters.
  2. To find out what papers they’re getting. Because that matters (I usually then OIA ones I’m interested in).
  3. To see what they’re taking to Cabinet
  4. To get stats. Eg how many new police have been hired by new government. Because they made promises around that.
  5. To track how the govt is going on fulfilling its commitments in the coalition document. Eg thanks to written questions we know that Stats Minister James Shaw as done absolutely nothing about starting a review of the official measures of unemployment, even though it’s in the coalition document.
  6. To dive further into detail behind Ministerial answers in the House, where supps are severely limited.
  7. To get the government to provide evidence for statements they make. What Ministers say matters. And the proof for statements (or lack of it) matters.

In short, written questions are bloody important. We’ve asked a lot, cos we’re working hard. Written questions brought down Claire Curran and have provided material for innumerable press releases and oral questions.

Good government matters. Good opposition makes governments perform better. Written questions are a vital tool of Parliamentary accountability.

I thought the Greens had committed to something like that, but James Shaw or his staff don’t appear to be practicing what they have preached.

All parties play games and play the system in ways they think will help them achieve what they want.

National were bad in how they played Official Information requests. But this Government is looking like they could be worse, despite ‘promising’ to be better.

What I think the main problem here is – we have a Government that claimed they would improve transparency, that they would be the most transparent government ever, but their actions suggest the opposite.

Politics and Kiwibuild

The Government used the first couple take possession of a KiwiBuild house in a publicity promotion for their policy.

Then an uproar erupted over criticising KiwiBuild, using the couple as an example.

Judith Collins got involved, which attracted a lot of criticism. and so it goes on.

Twyford defends KiwiBuild

Minister of Housing Phil Twyford has conceded that Kiwibuild is not for poorer people, but for ‘middle New Zealand’. He is correct that they can’t afford new house mortgages – but that was clear years ago when he was promoting it as a fix for homelessness.

Twyford said that Judith Collins criticising the first Kiwibuild house owners as having travelled the world is mean spirited.

Collins yesterday:

And:

It didn’t help that the purchaser described winning the Kiwibuild draw as like winning Lotto.

 

 

 

A big day for Simon Bridges

Yesterday was an awful day for Simon Bridges, and for the National Opposition, but I actually think Bridges handled the mess reasonably well, stepping up in difficult circumstances, showing he may have some leadership abilities after all. To me he came across ok at his media conference, speaking better than normal – having to speak off the cuff on important matters, and no lame scripted platitudes nor his normal boilerplate criticism of the government.

There were signs of solid support from other National MPs like Judith Collins and Maggie Barry. I can imagine most if not all National MPs being very pissed off at what Jami-Lee Ross had inflicted on them, their party, and on their prospects in the next election. It was a possible sign of real solidarity rather than feigned fawning.

How Bridges handles today may determine whether he survives as National leader or dives irrecoverably.

The National caucus will meet to consider what to do about Ross over what now looks like his very likely leaking of Bridges’ expenses (the original offence), him almost certainly being the MP who sent messages asking for the inquiry to be called off because of mental health pressures (was that real or was it a desperate attempt to escape exposure), and his very clear deliberate damaging of Bridges and the National party yesterday.

Bridges also referred to other matters:

I also discussed with Jami-Lee other matters concerning his conduct that have come to my attention and suggest, together with the leak, a pattern.

MP Maggie Barry gave more of an indication what this referred to:

What a disloyal disgrace this flawed & isolated individual has become. Having now read the PWC report I personally believe the unpleasant & bullying pattern of behaviour of Jami Lee Ross has no place in an otherwise united National Caucus under our leader Simon Bridges.

I think that Bridges and National caucus have no option but to dump Ross from the caucus, on his behaviour yesterday alone.

How Bridges manages this publicly will show his mettle as a leader. If he is as decisive as he is able to be it may end up enhancing his leadership prospects.

There are limits. Ross cannot be removed as an electorate MP by anyone but himself or the voters at the next election. He could continue to spit the dummy, causing ongoing problems for Bridges, but his credibility is wrecked and if Bridges does ok handling it then he may build his leadership mana.

From what I’ve seen so far I don’t think the stuff yesterday about donations is a big deal. MPs and parties (plural) fiddle their donations, usually within lax rules, and generally the public don’t care much.

Yesterday looked more like an attempted hit job on Bridges. That may not harm him.

Ross also claimed to have a secret recording of Bridges “discussing with me an unlawful activity”. As Judith Collins said, he needs to “put up, or to shut up”. It also raises the question of whether making a secret recording is an unlawful activity itself. It is certainly political career ending action or threat.

Bridges has a chance of coming out of this ok, of actually looking like a leader. There will be difficulties and repercussions for National, but that’s what leaders have to deal with. If Bridges does it well his job may be more secure.

On the other hand if he fluffs it he will be toast.

So it’s a crucial day for Bridges and his leadership, and also for the National Party.

There’s an old saying in politics that goes something like ‘it’s not the original issue that causes the damage, it’s how it is handled’. The same could apply here.

I think voters know leaders will find themselves in difficult situations dealing with difficult people. That’s politics. The key here will be whether Bridges steps up as a leader to sort things out or not.

There were glimpses yesterday that this  could be the un-wimping of Bridges.

Collins versus Swarbrick

Judith Collins made another unfathomably bad taste tweet attack again today, and Green MP Chloe Swarbrick was one prepared to call her out for it.

A reprehensible crime punished with a sizeable prison sentence, but a reprehensible response from Collins:

Swarbrick stood up to Collins:

A poor look for Collins, and Swarbrick shows more maturity than most MPs.

Also:

Meth house victims being compensated, unfathomable response from Collins, Bridges

People who were unnecessarily evicted from state houses due to extreme testing for methamphetamine contamination will be apologised to and compensated.

Housing NZ to right meth testing wrong

A report by Housing NZ into its response to methamphetamine contamination shows the organisation accepts its approach was wrong and had far reaching consequences for hundreds of people, Housing and Urban Development Minister Phil Twyford said.

“Housing NZ acknowledges that around 800 tenants suffered by either losing their tenancies, losing their possessions, being suspended from the public housing waiting list, negative effects on their credit ratings or, in the worst cases, being made homeless.

“Housing NZ is committed to redressing the hardship these tenants faced. This will be done on a case by case basis and the organisation will look to reimburse costs tenants incurred, and make discretionary grants to cover expenses such as moving costs and furniture replacement.

“They will also receive a formal apology from Housing NZ.

“This is what government accountability looks like. Housing NZ are fronting up, acknowledging they were wrong and putting it right.

“The approach to methamphetamine from 2013 by the government of the day was a moral and fiscal failure. Housing NZ had been instructed by then ministers to operate like a private sector landlord. This led to the wellbeing of tenants being ignored.

“Even as evidence grew that the meth standard was too low, and ministers acknowledged it wasn’t ‘fit for purpose’, the former government continued to demonise its tenants. At any time they could have called for independent advice. Our Government is choosing to do the right thing.

“Under the helm of chief executive Andrew McKenzie, Housing NZ is a very different organisation. It has a new focus on sustaining tenancies, being a compassionate landlord and treating drug addiction as a health issue. This whole sorry saga would not occur under the Housing NZ of today.

“The meth debacle was a systemic failure of government that hurt a lot of people. Our Government is committed to putting this right,” Phil Twyford said.

It was a debacle, and good to see genuine efforts to compensate in part at least.

It is difficult to fathom the National response. Judith Collins:

In Parliament today:

2. Hon JUDITH COLLINS (National—Papakura) to the Minister of Housing and Urban Development: Is it acceptable for Housing New Zealand tenants to smoke methamphetamine in Housing New Zealand houses?

Hon PHIL TWYFORD (Minister of Housing and Urban Development): Methamphetamine is, of course, illegal and is doing immense damage to communities across New Zealand. Our Government does not condone the smoking of methamphetamine anywhere; however, the member needs to understand the counterfactual: it is not acceptable for the Government—for any Government—to throw tenants and their children on to the street and make them homeless. We recognise that making people homeless does not solve a tenant’s problems or help people overcome addiction; it just moves the problem to somewhere else and makes it worse for the person involved, their family, their children, the community, and the taxpayer.

Hon Judith Collins: Where meth testing showed residues exceeding previous standards, can this meth have gotten into Housing New Zealand houses any way other than smoking or baking meth?

Hon PHIL TWYFORD: No, but there was no consistent baseline testing done by Housing New Zealand over those years. There is no way of knowing whether the hundreds of people who were made homeless under this policy had any personal responsibility for the contamination of those houses. Frankly, I’m shocked that the member, who used to be a lawyer, would think that that is OK. Is this the modern, compassionate face of the National Party?

Hon Judith Collins: When he said that “800 tenants suffered by … losing their tenancies,” is he saying that these 800 tenants were all wrongfully evicted from Housing New Zealand houses?

Hon PHIL TWYFORD: It depends what you mean by “wrongfully evicted”. Clearly, some of the 800 people—and I believe many of those people—had their tenancies terminated and were evicted without natural justice, without proper evidence of the case, on the basis of a bogus scientific standard. All of those people—all of the people who were evicted, bar some for whom the standard of contamination was more than the 15 micrograms per 100 centimetres that Sir Peter Gluckman recommended as a sensible standard—were convicted on the basis of a scientific standard that the previous Government allowed to persist for years on the basis of no scientific evidence that exposure to third-hand contamination posed any kind of health risk to anybody

Hon PHIL TWYFORD: There are many contradictory reports swirling around on this issue, but one that I’ve seen that makes a lot of sense is where, and I quote, “people were unfairly removed. If that’s the case, they should be compensated, and Housing New Zealand management should answer for it.” That’s exactly what today’s report does, and that quote is from Judith Collins.

Hon Judith Collins: Will people who smoked meth in Housing New Zealand houses now be given $2,000 to $3,000 compensation?

Hon PHIL TWYFORD: The point of the compensation is to compensate people who wrongly had their tenancies terminated and their possessions destroyed and who, in some cases, were made homeless. Those are the people who will receive a payment under the assistance programme.

Hon Judith Collins: Will people who sold meth in Housing New Zealand houses now be given $2,000 to $3,000 compensation?

Hon PHIL TWYFORD: No.

I have no idea who Collins is trying to appeal to by highlighting a problem that happened under the National-led government.

Simon Bridges joined in as he barked at a number of passing cars today.

Alleging “compensation for meth crooks” is a fairly crooked attack.

Bridges on Woodhouse and Collins on Chelsea Manning

Simon Bridges was asked whether he backed Michael Woodhouse saying as Immigration Minister he would not let Chelsea Manning come to New Zealand to speak, and whether he backed Judith Collins promoting what some have claimed is fake news.

Morning report (RNZ):

Suzi Ferguson: On Chelsea Manning, Michael Woodhouse said he would have denied the visa if he was the minister. Do you back his comments that Chelsea Manning shouldn’t have been able to come to New Zealand?

Simon Bridges: He’s got strong views on that and he’s entitled to them. What I would say is pretty simple. Actually I don’t care where you are on the spectrum, whether you’re hard left, hard right, freedom of speech matters and you should be able to do that. Al of that said, I do think there’s an issue of the immigration rules here.

Now if Chelsea Manning is allowed too come to New Zealand on the rules, good for her. She should get out there and say what wants from the rooftop.

If though what the Government has done is bent the rules for her, I would like to understand why that is, I think it’s a slightly different issue to the free speech one, but look, I feel strongly about, um and I’ll stake my claim on.

Suzi Ferguson: What about Judith Colins comments that Chelsea Manning was a traitor whose actions led to people losing their lives or having them put in danger? That’s not actually true, so do you support her using fake news again?

Simon Bridges: Well I haven’t gone through and read Chelsea Manning’s Wikipedia page, I don’t know the ins and outs of everything that she done.

My basic sense of it is though, she was convicted of very serious crimes. Now President Obama commuted those sentences, but serious matters and that’s really my point.

Bridges trying to divert and seeming to avoid answering.

Free speech is incredibly important, but you also have to have rules…

Suzi Ferguson: Do you back her using fake news though, because it’s not the first time in the last few weeks?

Simon Bridges: I would argue it’s not fake news actually if you look at what Chelsea Manning’s history is and what has happened there. Judith Collins is entitled to say what she said.

Suzi Ferguson: Ok, that’s not actually what was every proven in court.

Ferguson moved on to another topic (identifying the leaker of Bridges’ expenses) and Bridges also left it at that and moved on.

That’s some fairly tame questioning and some vague and weak responses from Bridges.

 

 

Collins unrepentant over fake news link

The dangers to politicians of being active in social media were highlighted again today when Judith Collins used an online ‘news’ article to demand a response from Jacinda Ardern.

This is known to be a conspiracy web site, and this was pointed out to Collins along with the real legal situation in France.

Stuff:  Judith Collins defends linking to fake news article on France consent laws

Senior National MP Judith Collins is standing by a tweet linking to a an article that made false claims about France’sage of consent laws.

France had already made sex with any children younger than 15 an offence, but it did not automatically classify all such sex as rape – neither does New Zealand.

The new law makes it far easier for prosecutors to do so by introducing a new offence of “abuse of vulnerability”. Critics have argued that the new law does not go far enough, but not that the law goes backward.

Collins responded to those on Twitter who asked why she was tweeting out fake news by tweeting to reputable news sources covering the same topic, but in a deeply different way.

She told Stuff she didn’t necessarily “agree” with every article she tweeted but wanted to draw attention to the issue.

“I’m just concerned about the story about France itself,” Collins said.

Collins said she didn’t buy into “conspiracies” about liberals pushing paedophilia worldwide, despite sharing the article which suggested liberals were doing just that in its first paragraph.

And:

It would have been embarrassing, but admitting a mistake and apologising would have been better than digging deeper into the world of real fake news and conspiracy mongering.

Speaker reprimands Phil Twyford

The Speaker Trevor Mallard has come down quite hard on Minister of Housing and Urban Development Phil Twyford for giving flippant answers to written questions submitted by Judith Collins. Twyford wasn’t in Parliament to face the flak.

The Opposition (National) were given 20 additional supplementary oral questions, which seems quite a significant penalty for the Government.

Mr SPEAKER: Replies to some written questions to the Minister of Housing and Urban Development have been drawn to my attention. In particular, I have considered the answers to written questions Nos 12234, 12225, 11652, 11710, and 11715. The answers are an abuse of the written question process. In my view, they show a contempt for the accountability which a Minister has to this House. The Minister knows that they would be completely unacceptable as answers to oral questions, and the same rules apply.

Ministers are required to endeavour to give informative replies to questions—Speaker’s ruling 177/5. While the Speaker is not responsible for the quality of answers, I do expect Ministers to make a serious attempt to provide an informative answer. These questions do not come close to meeting that standard.

As a result of these answers that I have seen, I rule that: (1) the Minister will provide substantive amended answers to the questions concerned by midday on Tuesday, 3 July; (2) since the Opposition has been denied an opportunity to use written questions to scrutinise the Government in a timely manner, they will receive an additional 20 supplementary oral questions, to be used by the end of next week.

I have also written to the Minister indicating a form of reply he is using to avoid giving substantive answers is unacceptable, and that he has until next Thursday to provide corrected answers.

There was more later when Leader of the House Chris Hipkins raised a point of order.

Hon CHRIS HIPKINS (Leader of the House): I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. At the beginning of question time today, you made a ruling regarding written question answers that my colleague, the Hon Phil Twyford, had put forward. I’ve had a chance to now look at those questions. I know that you have written to me about this matter as well.

Certainly I can understand the concern that you have raised about some of the answers that my colleague has given, and I agree with you that some of the flippant comments that he has made in those do not reflect well on the House. However, the question that I would like to raise with you is around some of the ironic expressions that are made in some of the questions themselves and whether, in fact, one or two of those answers were in fact appropriate given the context of the question. For example, in question No. 11652, the operable part of the question was how many more sleeps are required before a decision is made regarding KiwiBuild eligibility rules and income testing, to which the Minister replied, “it depends how frequently the member sleeps”. The point that I would make there is that the question itself did set itself up for that kind of answer. So—

Mr SPEAKER: No, you will sit down.

Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: I fully understand a more rigorous approach to the answers and I wouldn’t contest that at all. The question that I would ask of you, Mr Speaker, is that a rigorous approach is also taken to the accepting of the written questions themselves, because some of these questions do invite answers that would not reflect well on the House because the questions themselves don’t reflect well on the House.

Mr SPEAKER: I can deal with that point of order very easily. If the Minister of Housing and Urban Development had not used the expression “not many more sleeps” in this House to the member when she asked the oral question, then I would not have allowed it in the written question. The original offence, the original irony, was quoted from the Hon Phil Twyford, and, from my perspective, that is an acceptable use within a written question. If the Minister had not used the expression, he wouldn’t have been subject to what looks like an ironic question but, actually, is just a straight response to what was almost certainly an inappropriate comment that he made in the Chamber.

Hon CHRIS HIPKINS (Leader of the House): A further point of order, Mr Speaker. Are you, therefore, ruling that the phrase “so many sleeps” is out of order, because that is an answer that has been given for many, many, many questions in the House.

Mr SPEAKER: No, no, I’m not doing that. But what I am indicating is that when that is quoted or used in a written question which relates to the answer given in the House, I’m not going to rule it out; whereas if it didn’t have a context, then at that stage it could well be considered ironic.

Twyford has frequently shown signs that he hasn’t been able to step up to the responsibilities of being in Government and being a Minister.