Shaw, Mitchell question Mark on extended Middle East deployment

In Parliament today Green co-leader James Shaw took Minister of Defence Ron Mark to task after the deployment of New Zealand troops in Iraq and Afghanistan was extended.

4. Hon JAMES SHAW (Co-Leader—Green) to the Minister of Defence: Is it his intention to continue the deployments to Afghanistan and Iraq beyond 2019?

Hon RON MARK (Minister of Defence): Ultimately, those decisions are for Cabinet to make. This Government will undertake a strategic reassessment in early 2019. All options will be on the table at that point in time. Those decisions will be made around the strategic situation, our values, our independent foreign policy, and how we think that this Government might make a difference to the lives of the Iraqi people.

Hon James Shaw: Does he agree that continued military involvement of outside forces has actually further destabilised the region and made it easier for terror groups to recruit and has led to an increase in violence rather than a decrease?

Hon RON MARK: No, we don’t. We’re confident that the independent, principles-based decision that Cabinet made yesterday was the right thing to do. I think I would add that for Iraq to become a prosperous nation once again, for its people to enjoy a quality of life that we enjoy, and for them to enjoy the well-being and the support of a good Government such as we enjoy, they need security. Security is paramount to the well-being of the people of Iraq, and I think that is the greatest contribution we’re able to make at this time. But, again, come next year, this Government will reassess the situation.

Hon James Shaw: Does he agree that if New Zealand were to play a role beyond 2019, then the New Zealand public would rather it be focused on building schools and roads and hospitals rather than a seemingly never-ending military engagement?

Hon RON MARK: Mr Speaker, we understand that that is the view of some people, and we would share those views that ultimately that is where we would like Iraq to be. Right now the most important thing is to guarantee security. Right now where we can make a strong contribution, along with our Australian partners, is to improve the quality of the security forces there and thereby lend greater security. For NGOs to be able to deliver to those people, they need security. We’ve seen examples in Sudan where the wonderful efforts of NGOs have been interdicted by the lack of security. I would also point out that in Afghanistan alone this Government over the years since 2001 has put in over $100 million in aid. There’s another $2 million to the UN Development Programme and there is about $3.5 million going into the UN Development Programme around technical assistance for de-mining support.

Hon James Shaw: Well, would he agree that the money that we spend on these military deployments would be better spent on humanitarian aid and reconstruction?

Hon RON MARK: I guess a quick add-up of the cost of all of the deployments that the Government has just announced comes to a grand total of about $31.4 million, bearing in mind that a couple of those deployments are for two years, not one year. Ultimately, the Government will in time—and I think next year—look at how we can make a contribution. It may well be that there may not be a military contribution; the focus may be on humanitarian assistance. Of course we’d like to build hospitals. Of course we’d like to help build schools. Of course we’d like to help re-establish the infrastructure. Iraq, in particular, is looking at a $100 billion bill for reconstruction, but $31.4 million is not going to build a new school, it’s not going to build a new hospital, and it’s not going to rebuild the infrastructure. It can make a substantive difference to the NGOs who are delivering that sort of support and thereby enhancing security.


National’s defence spokesperson Mark Mitchell also questioned Ron Mark.

Hon MARK MITCHELL (National—Rodney): Has he seen the quote “Does he not realise that he sent our brave New Zealand soldiers to Iraq on a fool’s errand, and that training the Iraqi Army to stand and fight is literally Mission: Impossible?”, and does he agree with it?

SPEAKER: Order! Order! Can the member read the question, please? Read it again.

8. Hon MARK MITCHELL (National—Rodney) to the Minister of Defence: Has he seen the quote “Does he not realise that he sent our brave New Zealand soldiers to Iraq on a fool’s errand, and the training the Iraqi Army to stand and fight is literally Mission: Impossible?”; if so, does he agree with it?

Hon RON MARK (Minister of Defence): Yes, I recognise that quote.

SPEAKER: No. The member will finish answering the question.

Hon RON MARK: Yes, I recognise that quote, and on the information I had at the time, I still stand by that statement.

Hon Mark Mitchell: How does the Minister reconcile his statement on Morning Report today that there was never any attempt by the previous Government to work across parties, when New Zealand First declined a briefing, an invitation, to visit troops in Iraq with Gerry Brownlee, Andrew Little, and myself in 2016?

Hon RON MARK: I have never received an invitation from Mr Brownlee or from that member on any visit, and, in fact, that member can enlighten people about the conversation that he and I had on the telephone where that member apologised for not inviting me.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Can I ask the Minister as to whether it’s a fact that, contrary to being asked, with respect to consultation, the troops were already there before the invitation was sent to the New Zealand First Party in the first place?

SPEAKER: Order! That is not something the current Minister has responsibility for.

Hon Mark Mitchell: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. There appears to be some confusion. The Minister stood up and said that he’d never personally received an invitation—and I was very clear about the fact that the invitation went to New Zealand First—and the Deputy Prime Minister then stood up and contradicted him and said that we did receive an invitation. Which is correct?

SPEAKER: You’re not serious? Stand up and ask a supplementary, if the member wants to.

Hon Mark Mitchell: Why didn’t the Minister consult with or brief either the New Zealand National Party or the ACT Party before a decision was made to deploy our New Zealand Defence Force men and women into theatres of war?

Hon RON MARK: On numerous occasions, I have taken National Party representatives with me. In fact, I took Mr Simon O’Connor into Iraq and into Afghanistan. In those conversations that we had on that trip, it became very apparent and very clear to me what the National Party’s view was on the deployment. In fact, one would have to be deaf, dumb, and blind not to know that the National Party supported a continuation of that deployment, unless, of course, it’s just now changed its mind.

Hon Mark Mitchell: Has the Minister consulted with the ACT Party?

Hon RON MARK: No, I have not had consultation, but I would say this to that member also, and I would say it to Mr Seymour: the way that we have operated my office is that we make the door wide open. In fact, the member has been into my office for a briefing.

Hon RON MARK: We will always keep the door open, and I am fully ready, at any time, Mr Seymour, to give a full background briefing. Members of the National Party sat in on the bilateral conversations with the Prime Minister of Iraq. They sat in on the bilaterals with the Minister of Defence of Iraq and visited Afghanistan and sat in on the bilaterals with the NATO ambassador to Afghanistan. A member of the National Party has participated at all levels of those conversations and has made it very clear to me that the National Party support it. To Mr Seymour: the door’s open. I apologise for not getting round to you. I would have done that after the announcement.

Hon Mark Mitchell: Mr Speaker, can I just seek some guidance from you, because—

SPEAKER: No, you can’t. The member can ask a supplementary question or, if he has a real point of order, he can do it, but if he trifles with me again, he’ll be losing his supplementary.

Hon Mark Mitchell: It is a point of order, because—

SPEAKER: Well, the way the member does it is stand up and say, “Point of Order!”

Hon Mark Mitchell: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The point of order is simply this: the Minister is talking about taking other members away on trips. That’s not the question. The question was around consultation with Opposition parties before decisions are made on deploying New Zealand Defence Force men and women.

SPEAKER: Between the last two supplementaries, that has been very clearly answered.

Hon Mark Mitchell: Why hasn’t he applied his own high standards to himself in terms of a cross-party consultation and consensus in an MMP environment?

Hon RON MARK: Right at the outset of being sworn in as Minister, I think I made it very, very clear that I sought, for the benefit of the men and women in uniform, to gain as wide a cross-party consensus on defence matters as we possibly can. It is for that reason that we have gone out of our way to invite National Party representatives to attend briefings. It’s for that reason that I have never refused a request from the Hon Paula Bennett. I think there are about two or three National Party members who’ve sought permission to go on to military bases and talk with Defence Force personnel, unlike what happened to me when I was specifically blocked by the National Government at the time.

Bridges, Mitchell negative as justice summit progresses

The justice system summit currently under way in Porirua is trying to find ways of doing justice better – something that could certainly do with improvement.

It’s disappointing to see how negative the national opposition is: Simon Bridges dismisses Government justice summit as a ‘talk fest’ – says it will lead to a ‘softening’ of laws

National Party leader Simon Bridges says the Criminal Justice Summit due to begin today is simply a ‘talk fest’ that will likely lead to a “softening” of bail laws.

Justice Minister Andrew Little yesterday told TVNZ 1’s Q+A programme that New Zealand’s prison system is not successfully reintegrating people into society.

“Sixty per cent of those in prison will re-offend within two years of being released,” Mr Little said.

“We’ve had thirty years of the auction of more penalties, more crime, more people in prison but it’s not working, it’s not making us safe.

Mr Bridges, speaking this morning on TVNZ 1’s Breakfast programme, said it sounded like “Andrew Little knows what he wants to achieve out of it” and dismissed it as a “talk fest”.

“He doesn’t want to build more prison beds so he has to cut the prison population by a third,” Mr Bridges said.

“If I thought they were grappling with really hard issues to reduce actual offending, rather than just those prison numbers, and it was rehabilitation, reintegration, I’d go along with it.

“But it seems to me it’s pretty clear what’s going to come out – and that’s softening up the bail laws, the sentencing laws and the parole laws.

National’s justice spokesperson Mark Mitchell has also been critical of the summit.  It would be good to have seen cross party support for doing something about a prison system described by Bill English last year as a “moral and fiscal failure”.

But the summit can work without National.

Newsroom:  Much talk, some action at justice summit’s first day

Ministers laid out the cracks in the criminal justice system on the first day of the Government’s criminal justice summit. Claims that the event would be just another “talkfest” seemed to be initially borne out, but a better balance developed as the day wore on, as Sam Sachdeva reports.

About 700 people attended the first day of the Government’s criminal justice summit, the starting point for what could be years of reforms if ministers have their way.

Justice Minister Andrew Little…

…contrasted the image of New Zealand as a “small, peaceful country with no obvious enemies on our border” against the country’s darker side: record homelessness; grinding poverty; strained mental health and addiction services; and a skyrocketing prison population.

Little said there were fundamental questions about the justice system that needed answering: how to tackle high levels of domestic violence and reduce over-representation of Māori in prison; and how to ensure prisoners get the support they need to reduce their risk of reoffending.

“Many years of public debate and public discussion about criminal justice [have] focused on one thing: how are we going to lock them up and get them out of our way…

“We haven’t much talked in the last 30 years about what we do to change people, at least those who can be changed because they have understandable, identifiable problems and challenges in their lives which with a bit of effort we can turn around.”

Little made a point of singling out the National MPs in attendance despite their publicly expressed concerns about possible reforms, in a sign of the political battle the Government knows it has on its hands.

“If one of the things that we get from the conversation that we get to trigger in these two days is understanding, an agreed understanding about the gaps in national policy, about the way forward, some things we can do better, some things we can do differently, then that will help the debate,” he said.

Corrections Minister Kelvin Davis…

…asked for a show of hands from those who thought the justice system was perfect – predictably, none were raised – before asking the crowd to “ask hard questions” of the Government and provide ideas for change.

“None of us are precious about what’s going on, and we know things have to change, so we have to have the courage to challenge the status quo.”

Maori imprisonment rates are a significant part of the problem, so Davis needs to step up on this. It will require a lot of consultation with Maori communities.

Police Minister Stuart Nash…

…who on Monday announced the details of where the 1800 extra police funded by the Government would go, said that boost would not mean an equivalent rise in prison numbers as police took new approaches to crime.

“I do believe when I talk to people who are not politically aligned or socially aware, they are uncomfortable with the level of incarceration, they are uncomfortable with the fact that Corrections’ operating budget has increased by a billion dollars a year over the last 12 years, and they’re open and receptive to an alternative vision.”

Parliamentary undersecretary Jan Logie…

…a Green MP who is working under Little on domestic and sexual violence issues – work he described as “profoundly important” – then spoke about the flow-on impact of sexual and family violence on people who then went on to offend themselves, and the need to provide better support services.

Some frustration bubbled over as Logie finished her speech, with an interjector standing up and urging the organisers to “let Māori speak for us”.

“We don’t need to hear some organised speech, a pre-written speech to talk about us,” Anzac Wallace said.

National’s justice spokesman Mark Mitchell…

…seized on the “boilover” as a sign of the Government’s failure to properly plan the summit.

“They feel that there’s been too much talk, too many working groups, no action, and that’s basically what we’ve been saying…this has basically been like a big counselling session, and although these voices are important, this isn’t the right format.”

National had said it would support reforms which made a difference, Mitchell said, but did not support where the Government appeared to be heading.

“At the moment, and this was part of our discussion, fundamentally we’re going down two different tracks: we believe that at the heart of any good criminal justice system, public safety and victims should be at the heart of that.”

Talk and public engagement are important parts of political processes, so long as they lead to significant changes and to improvements.

The proof will be quite a bit further down the track – there are no quick or easy fixes.

Garrett condemns ‘manifestly unjust’, others condemn 3 strikes

In a guest post at Kiwiblog the person largely behind the three strikes legislation, David Garrett, condemns the way the legislation has been used in practice – Guest Post: David Garrett on manifestly unjust

The “unless it is manifestly unjust” out clause was insisted on by National as its price for agreeing to support the 3S law in the first place – without that, we would not have a 3S law at all. That notwithstanding, I now feel something of a dupe for recommending to the ACT caucus that we agree to it.

It was intended to be something that was very rarely used; we never envisaged it being applied in every case  of murder – all eight of them – which have now  come before the court as a second or third strike.

I spoke at every stage of  3S  passing through parliament, and numerous times during the Committee of the Whole stage.  The issue of the “disproportionality” of 3S sentences was raised numerous times by the Labour Party; it was raised and responded to  so often I wondered if they were simpletons.

I made it clear that disproportionality was the whole point of the 3S regime; it was intended  that consequences get exponentially worse for repeat offenders.  At no stage did any of the National Party speakers on the  Bill  suggest that “…or grossly disproportionate” ought to be explicitly added to, or implicitly understood to be included in, the “manifestly unjust” proviso.

The Judges of the Court of Appeal have  not only thwarted the clear will of parliament, but have inserted words into a definition that are not there, and were never intended to be there. In my view, this is nothing less than a constitutional outrage, and if it were occurring regarding a law passed by a government of  the left, there would be loud protests in the street.

Our constitution is very clear: the laws are made on one side of Molesworth Street, in parliament, and ultimately applied on the other side of the street in the Court of Appeal. Because the Judges of the Court of Appeal don’t like the 3S regime, they have rewritten it. That is nothing short of a disgrace.

Is it that the Judges of the Court of Appeal ‘don’t like the 3S regime, or that they don’t like it when use of three strikes is manifestly unjust?

I have seen in sentence appeal judgments that judges go to great lengths to ensure sentences are similar in like crimes with like criminals.

Perhaps the 3 strikes law is too prescriptive and doesn’t take into account the many factors that determine sentences.

Greg Newbold at Newstalk ZB: Three strike rule unfair – expert

Canterbury University professor Greg Newbold says when the law was introduced it was thought this provision would be used sparingly, not in every case.

“The judges are interpreting the law very liberally. The judges effectively are saying the law itself is manifestly unjust and they are refusing to apply it.”

He says judges’ refusal to apply the three strikes law proves it should never have been introduced in the first place.

“It was a ridiculous rule to start off with it. It made no sense, it’s full of flaws, it’s completely inconsistent with the principles of justice.”

Meanwhile National promises to bring back three strikes and reverse any bail or sentencing changes

National says it will reinstate the three-strikes rule if it gets into power and reverse any changes the Government makes to bail or sentencing laws.

National’s justice spokesman Mark Mitchell said today that if his party was in Government in 2020 it would reverse the repeal of the three-strikes regime.

It would also reverse any changes to sentencing and bail laws “which will see more serious, violent offenders on the street”.

And in social media National MPs and supporters are trying to blame Little and the Government in advance for any crime committed by someone on bail or released from prison on parole.

It looks like crime and punishment will continue to be a populist political football.

ODT: Law changes a risk and challenge

The rapid rise in prison numbers follows 30 years of public policy-making and the public calling for tougher sentences, which Mr Little believes has criminalised behaviour.

One of the major challenges is to change public attitudes, saying what has been happening for 30 years in criminal justice reform is not working. Violent offending is increasing.

Fortunately, Mr Little is proving to be one of the more successful ministers in the Labour-led Government and he will not be bowed by the criticism already coming his way from many angles.

However, the minister needs to allay public concerns when it comes to easing bail laws and sentencing options. Law and order always features highly on any poll of public concerns, despite being part of a society based on fairness and equality.

No-one wants sexual offenders and murderers running around their suburbs and that is the issue Mr Little will have to address. It will only take one serious crime by someone on home detention or on bail for his opponents to start howling at the moon.

Denials the Government is going soft on crime will sound empty at that time.

Little is going to manage any changes carefully. There will always be horrific crimes committed that could have been prevented if criminals and alleged criminals remained locked up. And there will always be people prepared to use crime and punishment as a political weapon.

Science versus ‘populist voice’ on criminal justice

It is often said that populist public pressure has pushed politicians into tougher penalties, and this has pushed the prison population to the extent that New Zealand has one of the highest incarceration rates in the developed world.

David Fisher has a ‘big read’ at the Herald on Justice path and bulging prisons – will NZ listen to scientist or sceptic?

Here is a little read of some of the main points.

  • It’s science sceptic versus scientist in the debate over our criminal justice path
  • Garth McVicar says academics and scientists shouldn’t be involved
  • The Prime Minister’s chief scientist says the choice belongs to the public
  • The verdict from Justice Minister Andrew Little

Science in crime and justice is bunkum and politicians should discard “academics and those type of people” in favour of the public voice, says the Sensible Sentencing Trust’s Garth McVicar.

That’s his take on the heavily researched, deeply referenced report published by the Prime Minister’s chief science adviser, Sir Peter Gluckman, into our criminal justice system.

In an extraordinary interview, McVicar ridiculed scientifically backed evidence and told Minister of Justice Andrew Little he had his “ammunition ready” to bring the Government down after a single term if bail and sentencing changes were rolled back.

McVicar and the questionably named ‘Sensible Sentencing Trust’ probably have a more extreme take on punitive punishment.

It comes as the Government prepares to unveil plans for a “justice summit” after Little declared “tough on crime” approaches followed by New Zealand for years did not work.

Little’s comments were supported by Gluckman, whose recent evidence-based review of our approach to criminal justice found our rising prison population has not made New Zealand safer.

In fact, he said “tough on crime” had nothing to do with our falling crime rate and “dogma not data” had actually made everything worse.

The article pits the different views of ‘the lobbyist’ McVicar…

As McVicar tells it – and this is in contradiction to the graphs, statistics and peer-reviewed research in Gluckman’s report – academics and scientists had led New Zealand into a crime-ridden society until the “evolution” of the Sensible Sentencing Trust.

McVicar says – and Gluckman’s report says this is not true – longer sentences, tougher bail laws and making parole more difficult to obtain have led to the fall in our crime rate.

…against the scientist Gluckman…

“Science isn’t about a single person or a single bit of data – the process of science is trying to understand over a good period of time what is going on in the world.”

As for public opinion, he says: “I think public opinion changes when it is informed by intelligent reflective conversation.”

Gluckman said the prisons report – as an example – gives the public information to make a decision. If we choose to continue to run our justice system the same way, more people will be locked up who will eventually be released, “brutalised” by prison and “over time we will escalate the crime rate”.

…the politician Little…

“In the end the whole criminal justice system is about taking people who have done things wrong and trying to stop them doing things wrong again.

“That will work for many of them. It won’t work for all of them.”

“In the end, the fewer offenders we have – particularly violent offenders – and the less recidivism we have, the better it is for community safety.”

Contrast this, he says, with increasing levels of incarceration, longer sentences and people who are inevitably, eventually released only to reoffend.

The policies of the past 30 years have not made New Zealand better, Little says.

“You’ve got to look at particularly our violent offending rate, which is going up.”

Little says: “There must be other options available that deal with the issue and keep us all safe.”

…and another politician, Opposition spokesperson Mark Mitchell:

The idea that “dogma” driven by lobby groups and magnified by media influenced politicians to create laws that didn’t work is a notion that doesn’t sit well with former police officer Mark Mitchell, now National’s justice spokesman.

“I completely agree that data and science should be a big driver of good policy decisions but I completely reject the notion that dogma has not only been an approach our Government has taken but previous Governments as well.

Mitchell says: “This is my own personal view, it’s too much of a simplistic and easy view to take that it’s just populism. It’s not actually populism – it’s people need to be safe.

The idea of “feeling” safe might be “emotive”, he says. “There’s nothing wrong with having emotive feelings. It’s always going to be the responsibility of the Government that they are doing the best that they can to keep good, law-abiding citizens and communities safe.”

Asked if jail works, Mitchell says it is “necessary in terms of making sure first and foremost communities remain safe and people remain safe and aren’t exposed to violence, in particular”.

But he does say more work needs to be done on rehabilitation and reintegration, so prisoners can “engage in a positive way with communities and rebuild their own lives”.

Back to Gluckman:

He cited evidence showing “successive administrations on both sides of the political spectrum” were “encouraged by vocal, professional lobbyists”.

It’s a phenomena dubbed “penal populism”, also seen in Britain and United States, where “politicians offer vote-winning, simplistic solutions for selected law-and-order problems”.

Choices made – not on evidence – led to rocketing prison costs and prisoner numbers but no sign of a safer public or crime rates falling.

Andrew Little and the Government have a big challenge dealing with escalating prison numbers, but also making the general population feel safer.

It isn’t sensible to just keep reacting to crime with longer and tougher sentences.

Perhaps there is a need for a Sensible Prevention Trust, and a Sensible Rehab Trust.

Jenny Marcroft tainted but protected (so far)

Serious allegations were made against rookie NZ First MP Jenny Marcroft. Claiming she was under the instruction of a Government Minister she threatened National MP Mark Mitchell.

After Mitchell went public her party leader Winston Peters remarkably instructed her to apologise, something he is unfamiliar with doing, and put it down to ‘a misunderstanding’.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said she sought assurance from all NZ First ministers – Peters, Ron Mark, Shane Jones and Tracey Martin – that they were not involved and has accepted their denials.

RNZ: Nats out for blood over Marcroft-Mitchell dust-up

Mr Mitchell said NZ First MP Jenny Marcroft told him over the weekend to stop supporting a project in his Rodney electorate if he wanted it to get public funding.

He said he was also asked for an assurance National would not ask questions about the Mahurangi River Restoration Project in Parliament if it went ahead.

“Ms Marcroft told me this was because the government was unhappy with me revealing the illegitimate use of Defence Force aircraft by Defence Minister Ron Mark.”

Speaking to RNZ, Mr Mitchell said Ms Marcroft – who entered Parliament last year – had revealed she was acting on behalf of an unnamed minister.

Ms Marcroft declined to comment when contacted by RNZ, but New Zealand First leader Winston Peters said in a statement Mr Mitchell had “misunderstood her underlying point”.

“After the conversation had got out of hand [Ms Marcroft] consulted with me late on Saturday afternoon and was advised by me to issue an apology,” said Mr Peters.

“Ms Marcroft was not under instructions by any NZ First Ministers regarding funding … New Zealand First does not seek to constrain opposition MPs from criticism of the government.”

That is not a full denial that a Minister was involved – “not under instructions by any NZ First Ministers regarding funding”.

It is a very big stretch to think that Marcroft, the most junior NZ First MP, would do anything like this one her own. It is also a stretch to believe that Peters was not in the know to some extent, given his influence and control in NZ First.

Mr Mitchell rejected the response and said he had yet to receive an apology.

“There was certainly no misunderstanding at all … I was very, very clear on the message I’d been given and I was also very clear with Jenny with what I thought about that.”

He said the only response he’d had from NZ First was a text message from Ms Marcroft an hour after the meeting at Orewa Surf Club.

“Hi Mark, on reflection I have considered the substance of our conversation to be incorrect and would therefore ask that you kindly disregard it. Thank you for your generosity in this matter.”

That’s remarkable – not an apology, but also not a denial. It appears that, at best, Marcroft ‘misunderstood’ instructions from someone in NZ First and then retracted.

Stuff: Junior NZ First MP trying to use Govt fund to heavy Opposition ‘acting alone’ – PM

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said she had sought assurances from every NZ First Minister that they had not sent NZ First MP Jenny Marcroft to do their bidding, when she threatened Mitchell that funding for a local river restoration project would be in doubt if he did not cease his involvement.

Ardern said the matter had been resolved and she would not be looking into it further.

She has said that as she is satisfied that a Minister wasn’t involved it is not her problem, it’s a NZ First matter. It is still a serious matter.

Ardern was questioned about it in Parliament yesterday by Simon Bridges.

Hon Simon Bridges: Was the discussion where the Prime Minister “sought assurances” from Tracey Martin regarding Jenny Marcroft and the provincial growth fund carried out by her in person; if not, how was it carried out?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: The member will know from the sequence of events that I outlined that I intended to seek assurances from each member on the Tuesday morning.

Hon Simon Bridges: Intended?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Yes, at that point, I hadn’t done that. Immediately after, I phoned each of those Ministers and spoke with them directly. Of course, the phone was a quicker way for me to be able to do that.

Hon Simon Bridges: So how long was that phone call with Tracey Martin?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Seeking an assurance from a Minister that they were not involved in a situation doesn’t take that long.

Hon Simon Bridges: Has the Prime Minister or her office done any further checks to corroborate Tracey Martin’s version of events?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: I take Ministers who work within Cabinet at their word, as, I’m sure, the leader takes his members at their word. That is how Cabinet operates.

Paula Bennett also asked Winston Peters about the matter.

Hon Paula Bennett: Why did the Deputy Prime Minister put out a statement on Monday under the heading of “Deputy Prime Minister” when now we are informed that he has no responsibility for the content?

Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: I think, with precision, I was seeking to help out my friend Mr Mitchell and make sure he was on the straight and narrow.

Hon Paula Bennett: So what does he mean, then, by saying that Mr Mitchell needs to be on the straight and narrow?

Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: Ah yes, well, given how wide the parameters of behaviour are in that party, I know that’s a great stricture, but what I’m really trying to ensure is that he gets the correct story before he wantonly goes public with it.

Hon Paula Bennett: So the question is, then: what is the correct story when he was approached by a member of the Deputy Prime Minister’s party who informed him that he had been sent by a Minister; so is the correct story that he was sent by one of your Ministers?

Mr SPEAKER: No, I can deal with that very, very easily. The responsibility for the member of the party is not that of the Deputy Prime Minister, and responsibility for the Minister is not either. That is the responsibility of the Prime Minister, but there is no ministerial responsibility for the actions of backbench members of Parliament.

Hon Paula Bennett: What was the underlying point that he refers to frequently, and what is the message that Mr Mark needed to get on Saturday afternoon?

Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: The underlying point would have been that this was about a conversation to do with the provincial growth fund; that because of the previous Government having thrown Warkworth and Wellsford against their wishes into the super-city, they could not qualify; but that because we are an open-minded party it would not pre-empt us trying to see our way through it in the future to help the people from Warkworth. [Interruption] But it’s what I’m saying and it’s a fact.

Hon Paula Bennett: Does he still believe that “transparency and openness” is the middle name of this Government, as he’s said previously, when both Minister Tracey Martin and MP Jenny Marcroft avoid media questions?

Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: Mr Speaker—

Mr SPEAKER: No, no, the member cannot answer it, because he—I don’t care if he wants to. The member cannot answer it because that is not an area that he has any ministerial responsibility for.

It is obvious where National are looking for responsibility for Marcroft’s approach to Mitchell.

If a National back bencher had done anything like what Marcroft had done while in government it is easy to imagine how Peters would have acted.  Typically he would have implied he had evidence, he would have demanded resignations, and he would have pursued the matter for some time.

National may be taking there time with this. Marcroft has not been held to account properly yet, and if someone did instruct her then there is more holding to account would be appropriate.

This is potentially a far more serious matter than the Curran meeting, but which took most of the media’s attention yesterday.

This may or may not be a Government problem, but regardless, it adds to an appearance of the coalition government being out of control. With the other problems Ardern is having to deal with, and some of them not very well, this could end up being a big deal early in their term of government.

I wouldn’t be surprised if National took this further in Question Time today. I also wouldn’t be surprised if Tracey Martin found she had more important ministerial business elsewhere.

NZ First claims ‘misunderstanding’, Peters instructs apology to Mitchell

An unusually contrite NZ First has apologised for what they describe as a misunderstanding over a conversation between one of their first term MPs, Jenny Marcroft, and Northcote electorate MP, Mark Mitchell.

Yesterday Mitchell put out a claim in a press release:

Labour’s coalition partner NZ First has threatened to withhold regional development funding for an important economic development project in Rodney unless local National MP Mark Mitchell ends his advocacy for it and stops criticising NZ First ministers.

In an extraordinary request over the weekend, NZ First MP Jenny Marcroft – who said she was under instruction from a Minister – also requested that National pledge to not ask Regional Economic Development Minister Shane Jones questions about the project, should it go ahead.

“Ms Marcroft said she had been sent to tell me that the Mahurangi River Restoration Project would be considered for funding from the Government’s Provincial Growth Fund, but for that to happen I would have to end my involvement with it as a local MP.

“Ms Marcroft told me this was because the Government was unhappy with me revealing the illegitimate use of Defence Force aircraft by Defence Minister Ron Mark.

“She also said if I ended my involvement and the money was granted, that they did not want National’s Regional Economic Development spokesperson Paul Goldsmith asking Shane Jones questions about it in Parliament.

“Finally, she implied my work as an Opposition MP would be a factor in funding any projects in my electorate I was involved in.

“I immediately told Ms Marcroft this behaviour was unacceptable, and that she had been put in a very compromised position by her colleague. She refused to name them so I said she had two hours to have the Minister call me before I took the matter further.

“She sent a text message an hour later asking me to forget the conversation.

NZH – National MP Mark Mitchell: ‘Rotten politics’ from NZ First MP over regions fund

Mitchell included screengrabs of texts in which he and Marcroft agreed to meet at the Orewa Surf Club on Saturday.

A text from Marcroft at 6.10pm that night read “Hi Mark, on reflection I have considered the substance of our conversation to be incorrect and would therefore ask that you kindly disregard it. Thank you for your generosity in this matter.”

That sounds like an attempted backtrack from Marcroft.

NZ First have since responded.

Jones said he had not known about Marcroft’s alleged actions and was not the minister referred to.

“This is the first I’ve heard of it. If you’re asking me am I monstering anyone over the Growth Fund, absolutely not.”

A straight denial of knowledge or involvement.

Winston Peters put out a statement:

“After the conversation had got out of hand she consulted with me late on Saturday afternoon and was advised by me to issue an apology. Ms Marcroft was not under instructions by any NZ First ministers regarding funding, and while Mr Mitchell may have misunderstood her underlying point, she was apologetic over the matter, and conveyed that to him.”

Misunderstandings can easily happen in conversations. Misunderstandings are also possible when junior MPs are instructed by senior MPs.

There is no dispute that the conversation took place, just a claim of a misunderstanding, a backtrack and an apology.

That Peters advised Marcroft to apologise seems an unusual NZ First action. It looks like an attempt to dampen down the claims. Peters far more commonly uses attack as a form of defence.

Jones:

He said such political arguments did not compromise their ability to put up proposals.

“If there are National MPs promoting proposals just get ready and stand in line like everyone else and go through the bureaucratic system.”

Mitchell has asked the Prime Minister to take action. Jacinda Ardern has also responded. RNZ – NZ First MP instructed to apologise to National Party

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern appeared to be blindsided by the news when questioned by reporters at her weekly press conference this afternoon.

She said she wanted to get more details before responding, but stressed the Provincial Growth Fund was not a political process.

“The process … is not contingent on support for this government at all and there is plenty of proof of that.

It will be interesting to see how the Mahurangi River Restoration Project fares now in the Regional Economic Development fund handouts.

 

National MP claims threat from NZ First

Mark Mitchell claims that NZ First has threatened him to keep away from an electorate project, and NZ First have sent a new MP to request this and that they (NZ First) not be questioned in Parliament.

This is just one side of a story, but if it is close to accurate it is seriously concerning – akin to the Australian cricket cheating scandal, where team leaders got a team newcomer to go dirty.

Mark Mitchell (MP for Rodney):  Minister using taxpayer cash for political gain

Labour’s coalition partner NZ First has threatened to withhold regional development funding for an important economic development project in Rodney unless local National MP Mark Mitchell ends his advocacy for it and stops criticising NZ First ministers.

In an extraordinary request over the weekend, NZ First MP Jenny Marcroft – who said she was under instruction from a Minister – also requested that National pledge to not ask Regional Economic Development Minister Shane Jones questions about the project, should it go ahead.

“Ms Marcroft said she had been sent to tell me that the Mahurangi River Restoration Project would be considered for funding from the Government’s Provincial Growth Fund, but for that to happen I would have to end my involvement with it as a local MP.

“Ms Marcroft told me this was because the Government was unhappy with me revealing the illegitimate use of Defence Force aircraft by Defence Minister Ron Mark.

“She also said if I ended my involvement and the money was granted, that they did not want National’s Regional Economic Development spokesperson Paul Goldsmith asking Shane Jones questions about it in Parliament.

“Finally, she implied my work as an Opposition MP would be a factor in funding any projects in my electorate I was involved in.

“I immediately told Ms Marcroft this behaviour was unacceptable, and that she had been put in a very compromised position by her colleague. She refused to name them so I said she had two hours to have the Minister call me before I took the matter further.

“She sent a text message an hour later asking me to forget the conversation.

“But this is rotten politics. It goes to the core of our democratic processes and the National Party will not let such behaviour stand.

“This billion dollar Provincial Growth Fund is taxpayer money and should be used to benefit New Zealanders, not buy an easy ride for the Government nor to try and convince local MPs to stop supporting local projects, because they have annoyed the Government.

“The Prime Minister needs to find out which of her Ministers is attempting to use public money for political gain and she needs to quickly explain what she intends to do about it.”

The buck may stop at the Prime Minister’s desk, but initially at least it is mainly up to NZ First to front up and explain.

If Mitchell’s claims are accurate this is more than dirty politics, it is an abuse of power and of the Regional Development Fund.

Marcroft is a first term NZ First list MP, ranked 9th. If she was instructed to do this by NZ First leadership it has put her in an awful position, a bit like the newbie Australian cricketer asked to cheat by his team’s leadership.

 

Mark Mitchell confirms leadership bid

As signalled, Mark Mitchell has confirmed he is putting himself forward fort the leadership of the National Party.  This will put him up against Amy Adams, Simon Bridges and Judith Collins.

Mitchell is 49, and has been the MP for the Rodney electorate since 2011 after taking over from Lockwood Smith.

He has some interesting things to say in an RNZ interview with John Campbell – he came across reasonably well but needs to gains some confidence talking to media.

He promoted his leadership skills gained working in the police force and in private security business in New Zealand and overseas.

He was asked about his connection with Dirty Politics. He was adamant he had not engaged Simon Lusk and Cameron Slater to attack opponents when standing for the national nomination to stand in a safe electorate. He said that Nicky Hager’s claims were wrong, and could have been cleared up if he had taken the time to talk to Mitchell (Hager didn’t approach anyone fore verification or rebuttal).

Mitchell was asked how conservative he was given he had voted against the Marriage Equality bill. I was impressed by his response.

He said that as it was a conscience vote (meaning MPs can vote however they like, with no party whipping), he polled his electorate, had electorate meetings, and then voted for the majority view of his electorate. If that’s actually how things worked I applaud him for that – MPs should represent their constituents, not their own personal beliefs.

Both Mitchell and National have had huge majorities in the last three elections so it would be no surprise that the electorate view is relatively conservative. Rodney results in the last few elections:

  • 2005 (Lockwood Smith) – 20,651 votes (55.27%
  • 2008 (Lockwood Smith) – 22.698 votes (60.41%)
  • 2011 (Mark Mitchell) – 20,253 votes (53.54%) – Colin Craig got 21.23%
  • 2014 (Mark Mitchell) – 24,519 votes (63.00%)
  • 2017 (Mark Mitchell) – 28,140 votes (63.14%)

Mitchell is probably the outsider at this stage but gives the National caucus another option to ponder.

RNZ:  Mark Mitchell joins the National leadership race

 

National leadership speculation in full swing

There hasn’t been much change to the list of National leadership contenders – Jonathan Coleman has confirmed he won’t stand, Steven Joyce and mark Mitchell are reported to be interested but haven’t yet confirmed either way, so Amy Adams, Simon Bridges and Judith Collins remain the current confirmed contenders.

There’s a lot of pundit positing for various candidates, which is unlikely to influence the MPs in National’s caucus who will make the decision, so is more like attempts to be seen as able to guess who the winner will be before it is announced.

Bryce Edwards tweeted:

A notable omission from the endorsement list is himself, given his clearly stated preference:

I’m not going to endorse or pick any of them, I’m still quite ambivalent about who I’d like to see lead National, I don’t care very much who gets the job. But here’s some musings.

Amy Adams – seems to have been a very capable Minister who managed a large workload in the last Government. I’m not sure she has the media appeal that, unfortunately, seems to be demanded by media.

Simon Bridges – he is rated by some, and his relative youth may help against Ardern, but I haven’t seen he has what it needs yet. Perhaps he could rise to the position, but that is a risk.

Judith Collins – I really think she looks the best prepared and most capable of the bunch, and could be a very good contrast to Ardern, but she will need to get the support of the caucus, something she has failed to do in the past, and one of her biggest impediments is the rash of dirt mongering against her opponents and promotion of her at Whale Oil – the risk of her being connected to that, justified or not, may be causing some MPs some concern.

Should they stand:

Steven Joyce – in some ways he has been a very capable lieutenant to Key and English, has made misjudgements in the last two campaigns (Northland and general election). If National want to rejuvenate and set a new course into the political future Joyce is not the one, that will count against him unless National MPs think more of same old is what they want.

Mark Mitchell – seen as a dark horse candidate that few of the public will know. He has seemed ok to me in the little I have seen of him, but too little to judge. He would certainly be a breath of fresh leadership, and would contrast with Ardern, but will be hammered for his military contracting past, just like Key was hammered (to little effect) on his money market past.

Whoever takes over will have two years to build their profile and support before heading into the 2020 campaign – presuming the current lasts that long (the odds must be it will).

It’s worth keeping an eye on Kiwiblog. So far David Farrar has done individual posts on Collins and Mitchell. They could make a good looking leadership team, and Labour have shown that two geographically imbalanced (Auckland or north) leaders doesn’t seem to matter any more.

National emergency housing problems

There is an escalating emergency housing problem, and escalating risks for the Government as embarrassing details emerge.

Newshub: Government blows the budget on emergency housing

The Government has had a massive blowout in emergency housing grants, spending almost four times its annual budget in just three months.

As part of an overall $345m investment in emergency housing, the Government only budgeted $2m per year for an estimated 1400 emergency housing grants – which pay for urgent motel stays for families in need.

But in the December quarter alone, the Ministry of Social Development spent $7.7m on emergency housing grants.

There were 8860 grants in the final three months of 2016 – which is more than six times the Government’s expectations.

Social Housing Minister Amy Adams says funding will be topped up from Crown funds in the same way benefits are.

“We’re not going to run out of money, nor will people miss out,” she said. “While demand has been higher, which we’ve been very upfront about, the grant will be available to anyone who is eligible.”

The December quarter was the first to be properly recorded by the Ministry of Social Development.

“The $2 million was what officials predicted might be needed – remembering that this was the first time we’d established the grant, so it was always going to be a forecast,” Ms Adams said.

In a briefing to the Incoming Minister of Social Development, MSD warns the additional demand is “creating pressures”.

“The high level of demand for emergency housing has seen higher than expected numbers of households being supported to stay in motels and other forms of commercial accommodation,” it said.

This is embarrassing for the Government. They didn’t do enough soon enough.

The pressures on housing are also creating funding pressures plus pressures on National in an election year.

Newshub: Government counts homeless in tourism stats

The Government has been counting homeless people living in motels in its tourism statistics.

Statistics Minister Mark Mitchell has confirmed official tourism numbers include people who are being put into hostels or motels through emergency housing special needs grants.

The Statistics New Zealand Accommodation Survey is used as a measure of tourism levels, with the definition used to define the domestic tourists “one New Zealander spending one night at an establishment”.

However when Newshub asked tourism minister Paula Bennett if homeless were included, she said no.

“No, because they’re not tourists. Sorry, I’m not sure what you’re asking.

“No they’re not included in the tourism stats for accommodation.”

The Government are looking increasingly out of touch and too slow to respond to housing issues, especially emergency housing.

RNZ: PM responds to criticism over housing crisis

English can’t easily talk down the severity of the problems or the embarrassment.