Parliamentary question spat

Labour Ministers are effectively refusing to answer written questions submitted by the National Opposition.

National MPs are submitting many more questions in response, and Labour are crying foul.

Last Friday:

Other media picked up on this.

NZH: National denies questions are ‘Parliamentary spam mail’

Labour has called it the Parliamentary equivalent of spam mail but National is unrepentant about lodging more than 6000 written questions to ministers in the past month.

Opposition MPs can lodge written questions to ministers, with the answers then published online. Since Labour came to power National has lodged thousands, with many asking what meetings a minister held on a specific date.

National’s Leader of the House, Simon Bridges…

…acknowledged a “side effect” of that approach would be to test the new Government and its staff.

“Is part of this around testing the Government more broadly and is that a side effect of what we are doing? Okay, maybe. But the primary reason for doing this is to get substantive answers on what they are doing at this stage of their Government so we can understand their priorities.

“We are not getting answers inside or outside of Parliament. That necessitates us asking more detailed and specific questions. If we were getting answers to what we feel are reasonable questions, we wouldn’t have to ask so many.”

Labour Leader of the House, Chris Hipkins…

…said the tactic was the parliamentary equivalent of spam mail, and would not lead to much useful information.

“All New Zealanders, regardless of whether they voted for us or not, want the Government to be effective. I don’t think they want a Government that’s bogged down with trivialities and time-wasting. If the Opposition want to focus their energies on that, we’ll just get on with the job of delivering for New Zealanders,” Hipkins told Newshub.

“At the end of the day, questions like this don’t really serve the public interest. They simply soak up huge amounts of time, and that’s time and money and energy that could be put into serving the public.”

Bridges…

…said his party would continue to ask questions, but numbers would drop if “good, basic” answers were provided.

New Zealand Parliament (August 2016): Hundreds of written questions asked every week, even when Parliament isn’t meeting

Written questions, and especially their answers, provide a huge amount of information of interest to New Zealanders. Even during the recent month-long recess, the questions kept flowing in and being answered.

Written questions are a key tool to help Parliament hold the Government to account. During the July recess, 1159 written questions were asked.

MPs can direct a written question to any Minister about a subject that the Minister is responsible for. There is no limit to how many questions an MP may ask. The total number asked in 2015 was 16,180.

Ministers have six working days to provide a written answer to each question. Each answer is first sent to the MP who asked the question. Three days later, the answers are published on Parliament’s website.

What is the aim of Parliamentary questions?

Both written and oral questions are used by MPs to get information from Ministers.

Written questions usually seek information that may be used in an upcoming debate or question time in the House, or through the news media.

Oral questions are asked and answered on days that Parliament is sitting. An answer is required from the Minister during that day’s question time. That answer can be tested during question time with supplementary questions.

This process keeps Ministers and the organisations for which they are responsible on notice that their activities can always be under scrutiny.

So it’s an important part of our Parliamentary process. Asking written questions is an important job for an Opposition.

Graeme Edgeler gives some examples of non-answers at Public Address: Questions, but no answers

To NZ First Minister Ron Mark:

8560 (2017). Hon Mark Mitchell to the Defence (Minister – Ron Mark) (16 Nov 2017): What meetings, if any, has the Minister attended between 26 October 2017 and 15 November 2017, including subject, attendees, and agenda items?

Hon Ron Mark (Defence (Minister – Ron Mark)) replied: I meet regularly, formally and informally, with officials and various stakeholders. A range of issues are discussed. If the Member would like to be more specific I will endeavour to answer the question.

To Labour Associate Minister Kris Faafoi:

8449 (2017). Hon Simon Bridges to the Immigration (Associate Minister – Kris Faafoi) (16 Nov 2017): What meetings, if any, did the Minister attend between 26 October and 29 October inclusive, including subject, attendees and agenda items?

8448 (2017). Hon Simon Bridges to the Immigration (Associate Minister – Kris Faafoi) (16 Nov 2017): What meetings, if any, did the Minister attend between 30 October and 05 November inclusive, including subject, attendees and agenda items?

(to 8449) Hon Kris Faafoi (Immigration (Associate Minister – Kris Faafoi)) replied: I meet regularly, formally and informally, with officials and various stakeholders. A range of issues are discussed. If the Member would like to be more specific I will endeavour to answer the question.

(to 8448) Hon Kris Faafoi (Immigration (Associate Minister – Kris Faafoi)) replied: I meet regularly, formally and informally, with officials and various stakeholders. A range of issues are discussed. If the Member would like to be more specific I will endeavour to answer the question.

A narrower question to Labour Minister Stuart Nash:

8393 (2017). Chris Bishop to the Police (Minister – Stuart Nash) (16 Nov 2017): Did the Minister have any meetings in his capacity as Minister of Police on October 27, if so, what people and organisations did he meet with on that day, where were the meetings held and what were the main items of business?

Hon Stuart Nash (Police (Minister – Stuart Nash)) replied: I meet regularly, formally and informally, with officials and various stakeholders. A range of issues are discussed. If the Member would like to be more specific I will endeavour to answer the question.

Same fobbing off response. That both Labour and NZ First Ministers are using the same non-reply suggests a coordinated tactic from the Government.

Bishop has followed up:

11778 (2017). Chris Bishop to the Minister of Police (22 Nov 2017): Did the Minister have any meetings in his capacity as Minister of Police on October 27 between 8 and 9am, if so, what people and organisations did he meet with at that time; where were the meetings held and what were the main items of business?

11779 (2017). Chris Bishop to the Minister of Police (22 Nov 2017): Did the Minister have any meetings in his capacity as Minister of Police on October 27 between 9 and 10am, if so, what people and organisations did he meet with at that time; where were the meetings held and what were the main items of business?

That’s why the number of questions is so high.

Edgeler, a stickler for proper Parliamentary process, commented:

The replies are due by Thursday. Hopefully Bishop, and the other MPs (all of whom seem to have been specifically invited by Ministers to ask more granular question) will have the answers to which they are entitled.

So far, Bishop’s hour-by-hour requests only cover the first two days the Minister of Police was in office, although the essentially rejected day-by-day requests covered several weeks. The Minister should consider himself lucky. Far from being aghast that National MPs have asked “a whopping 6254 written questions”, I am instead surprised by their forbearance. They are being denied information they ought to have. By rights, they should have asked more.

Ministers seem indifferent (at best) to their responsibilities.

National has escalated things and has now got some publicity. This will put pressure on the Government and it’s Ministers to comply sensibly.

Select committee membership

Select committees

Much of the work of the House of Representatives takes place in committees made up of a small group of MPs.  These committees examine issues in detail, from government policy and proposed new laws, to wider topics like the economy.

There are 12 subject select committees and 5 specialist committees.  Select committee business items that were reinstated by the new Parliament have been published in the business list for the relevant committee.  Reinstated business resumes at the legislative stage it had reached at the close of the 51st Parliament.  Please note each committee may choose to reinstate inquiries and briefings from the 51st Parliament

Determinations of the Business Committee for 15 November 2017

Agreed, That the members of each select committee be as follows:

1. Economic Development, Science and Innovation Committee: business development, tourism, Crown minerals, commerce, consumer protection and trading standards, research, science, innovation, intellectual property, broadcasting, communications, information technology

  • Tamati Coffey, Labour Party
  • Hon Jacqui Dean, National Party
  • Paul Eagle, Labour Party
  • Hon Christopher Finlayson
  • Gareth Hughes, Green Party
  • Melissa Lee, National Party
  • Clayton Mitchell, New Zealand First
  • Parmjeet Parmar, National Party
  • Hon Aupito William Sio, Labour Party
  • Jonathan Young, National Party

2. Education and Workforce Committee: education, training, employment, immigration, industrial relations, health and safety, accident compensation

  • Sarah Dowie, National Party
  • Hon Paul Goldsmith, National Party
  • Hon Nikki Kaye, National Party
  • Marja Lubeck, Labour Party
  • Denise Lee, National Party
  • Jo Luxton, Labour Party
  • Hon Tim Macindoe, National Party
  • Mark Patterson, New Zealand First
  • Jamie Strange, Labour Party
  • Chlöe Swarbrick, Green Party
  • Jan Tinetti, Labour Party

3. Environment Committee: conservation, environment, climate change

  • Hon Maggie Barry, National Party
  • Marama Davidson, Green Party
  • Jenny Marcroft, New Zealand First
  • Deborah Russell, Labour Party
  • Hon Scott Simpson, National Party
  • Hon Dr Nick Smith, National Party
  • Erica Stanford, National Party
  • Angie Warren-Clark, Labour Party
  • Poto Williams, Labour Party

4. Finance and Expenditure Committee: economic and fiscal policy, taxation, revenue, banking and finance, superannuation, insurance, Government expenditure and financial performance, public audit

  • Kiritapu Allan, Labour Party
  • Andrew Bayly, National Party
  • Rt Hon David Carter, National Party
  • Tamati Coffey, Labour Party
  • Hon Steven Joyce, National Party
  • Barbara Kuriger, National Party
  • Willow-Jean Prime, Labour Party
  • Deborah Russell, Labour Party
  • David Seymour, ACT Party
  • Fletcher Tabuteau, New Zealand First
  • Duncan Webb, Labour Party
  • Michael Wood, Labour Party
  • Lawrence Yule, National Party

5. Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Committee: customs, defence, disarmament and arms control, foreign affairs, trade, veterans’ affairs

  • Hon Gerry Brownlee, National Party
  • Golriz Ghahraman, Green Party
  • Hon Willie Jackson, Labour Party
  • Hon Todd McClay, National Party
  • Hon Mark Mitchell, National Party
  • Simon O’Connor, National Party
  • Louisa Wall, Labour Party
  • Duncan Webb, Labour Party

6. Governance and Administration Committee: parliamentary and legislative services, Prime Minister and Cabinet, State services, statistics, internal affairs, civil defence and emergency management, local government

 

  • Virginia Andersen, Labour Party
  • Kanwaljit Singh Bakshi, National Party
  • Paul Eagle, Labour Party
  • Hon Peeni Henare, Labour Party
  • Brett Hudson, National Party
  • Raymond Huo, Labour Party
  • Stuart Smith, National Party
  • Jian Yang, National Party

7. Health Committee: health

  • Hon Dr Jonathan Coleman, National Party
  • Liz Craig, Labour Party
  • Matt Doocey, National Party
  • Anahila Kanongata’a Suisuiki, Labour Party
  • Shane Reti, National Party
  • Hon Nicky Wagner, National Party
  • Louisa Wall, Labour Party
  • Angie Warren-Clark, Labour Party

8. Justice Committee: constitutional and electoral matters, human rights, justice, courts, crime and criminal law, police, corrections, Crown legal services

  • Hon Amy Adams, National Party
  • Virginia Andersen, Labour Party
  • Chris Bishop, National Party
  • Andrew Falloon, National Party
  • Raymond Huo, Labour Party
  • Matt King, National Party
  • Greg O’Connor, Labour Party
  • Priyanca Radhakrishnan, Labour Party

9. Māori Affairs Committee: Māori affairs, Treaty of Waitangi negotiations

  • Marama Davidson
  • Jo Hayes, National Party
  • Harete Hipango, National Party
  • Nuk Korako, National Party
  • Jenny Marcroft, New Zealand First
  • Todd Muller, National Party
  • Adrian Rurawhe, Labour Party
  • Rino Tirikatene, Labour Party

10. Primary Production Committee: agriculture, biosecurity, racing, fisheries, productive forestry, lands, and land information

  • Hon David Bennett, National Party
  • Hon Nathan Guy, National Party
  • Jo Luxton, Labour Party
  • Kieran McAnulty, Labour Party
  • Mark Patterson, New Zealand First
  • Rino Tirikatene, Labour Party
  • Tim van de Molen, National Party
  • Hamish Walker, National Party

11. Social Services and Community Committee: social development, social housing, income support, women, children, young people, seniors, Pacific peoples, ethnic communities, arts, culture and heritage, sport and recreation, voluntary sector

  • Darroch Ball, New Zealand First
  • Simeon Brown, National Party
  • Hon Kris Faafoi, Labour Party
  • Jan Logie, Green Party
  • Hon Alfred Ngaro, National Party
  • Greg O’Connor, Labour Party
  • Priyanca Radhakrishnan, Labour Party
  • Hon Louise Upston, National Party
  • Hon Michael Woodhouse, National Party

12. Transport and Infrastructure Committee: transport, transport safety, infrastructure, energy, building and construction.

  • Darroch Ball, New Zealand First
  • Hon Judith Collins, National Party
  • Marja Lubeck, Labour Party
  • Ian McKelvie, National Party
  • Chris Penk, National Party
  • Alastair Scott, National Party
  • Chlöe Swarbrick, Green Party
  • Michael Wood, Labour Party
  • Hon Meka Whaitiri, Labour Party

Specialist committees:

1. Business: facilitates House business, decides the size and composition of select committees, grants extensions to the report dates for bills before committees, and grants permission for members’ votes to be counted while they are absent from the House.

2. Officers of Parliament: makes recommendations to the House on the appropriations and the appointments of the Auditor-General, the Ombudsmen, and the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment.

3. Privileges: considers questions of privilege (see Parliament Brief, ‘Parliamentary Privilege’).

4. Regulations Review: examines the legal instruments variously known as ‘regulations’, ‘delegated legislation’, and ‘subordinate legislation’, made under delegated powers in an Act of Parliament.

  • Kiritapu Allan, Labour Party
  • Simeon Brown, National Party
  • Liz Craig Labour Party
  • Hon Jacqui Dean, National Party
  • Andrew Falloon, National Party
  • Duncan Webb, Labour Party

5. Standing Orders: House procedures and practices.

Parliament’s seating plan

Here is the new seating plan in Parliament.

ParliamentSeating2017Nov

https://www.parliament.nz/en/mps-and-electorates/house-seating-plan/

Interesting to see NZ First to the left of Labour – this allows Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern to sit beside Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters, while remaining opposite Leader of the Opposition, Bill English.

The Greens are to Labour’s right amongst Labour back benchers.

Labour has nine on their front bench, compared to National’s thirteen.

Duncan Webb, new Labour MP for Christchurch Central, has been plonked on his own on the National side behind their bank benchers.

Trevor Mallard as Speaker

Long time Labour MP Trevor Mallard (first elected in 1984, 33 years ago) has achieved his ambition of the last few terms – to become Speaker of the New Zealand House of Representatives.

Mallard has had a fairly chequered political career. In the past he has been very tribal and combative, but he seems to have mellowed and has tended to keep a lower profile as he worked his way towards the big chair in Parliament.

He probably has as good a knowledge of the rules and customs of Parliament as any MP so is well qualified on that count. He has served as Assistant Speaker for the last term.

Mallard should start as Speaker with a virtual clean slate. He has the necessary knowledge and experience. It will be his temperament and his impartiality that will be tested. We will have to wait and see how well he conducts himself.

From Parliament:  Meet the Speaker of the 52nd Parliament

The Rt Hon. Trevor Mallard, Speaker, 52nd Parliament

The Rt Hon. Trevor Mallard, Speaker, 52nd Parliament
Source: Office of the Clerk, 2017

Candidates for Speaker are nominated and seconded by other MPs. Only one candidate was nominated so an election was not needed and Mr Mallard was declared as Speaker-Elect.

Once declared, Mr Mallard travelled to Government House to be confirmed as Speaker by the Governor-General.

He will be known as The Right Honourable Trevor Mallard.

The Speaker is essential to the running of the House and has to command the respect of all MPs. The New Zealand Speaker is allowed to maintain links with their party (unlike in some other Parliaments), but must not show any preference or disrespect for any political party, for the Government, or the Opposition while chairing proceedings in the House. All MPs must be given a fair opportunity to participate in the business of the House.

52nd Parliament opens this week

New Zealand’s 52nd Parliament opens this week, with the Commission Opening of Parliament on Tuesday (MPs sworn in and Speaker appointed), and the State Opening of Parliament on Wednesday.

Coloured outlines of people with text

The Opening of Parliament consists of three key events. The Commission Opening of Parliament begins at 11am on Tuesday 7 November. This is when Parliament is formally opened by three Commissioners representing the Governor-General. Each MP is sworn in by the Clerk, and the Speaker of the House is elected. Then the Confirmation of the Speaker takes place at Government House.

The State Opening of Parliament begins at 10.30am on Wednesday 8 November. This is when the Governor-General gives the Speech from the Throne, which outlines the Government’s legislative policy and plans for the next three years.

People with special roles take part in the ceremonies, which will be attended by dignitaries, MPs and their families.

Check out our Opening of Parliament section to find out more.

Don’t miss out on witnessing this historical event – put the Opening dates in your diary today.

Commission Opening of Parliament

Tuesday 7 November 2017, 11.00am

State Opening of Parliament

Wednesday 8 November 2017, 10.30am. (You can start watching from about 9.45am, when the dignitaries and special guests start arriving.)

View the State Opening Facebook event here.

 

The incoming Government, led by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, has committed to a buy first 100 days – see Taking action in our first 100 days – New Zealand Labour Party.

To achieve this, according to 1 News, Parliament to sit until close to Christmas so Government can push through ‘first 100 days’ agenda

In an unusual move, Parliament will sit until a couple of days before Christmas, so the new coalition Government can pass legislation to push through its ‘first 100 days’ agenda.

There are also a number of reviews and inquiries that need to get underway if the February 3 deadline is to be met.

That includes an inquiry into the abuse of children in state care, establishing a tax working group and an independent climate commission.

“We have until February third to deliver on things like our policies around education and making sure we get more young people into training. But I am confident we can achieve those goals,” said Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.

“Everything we’ve said in the first 100 days is an ambitious set of targets, an ambitious set of goals.”

The Government will need to hit the ground running, they will be need to be well organised and well coordinated between the three parties involved, Labour, NZ First and Greens.

Nation Front clash with anti-racism protesters

A permitted National Front protest at Parliament grounds today was met by a counter protest by anti-racists, including two Green MPs.

NationalFrontvAntiRacists

Stuff: National Front members chased away from Parliament

Hundreds of anti-racism protesters have chased National Front members from the grounds of Parliament.

The National Front had a permit to protest on the land wars memorial day but a counter-protest was organised.

Green MPs Golriz Ghahraman and Marama Davidson spoke at the rally.

Hundreds gathered for the Aukati Stop Racism rally, which chased various National Front members to Wellington’s railway station.

As more National Front members made their way to Parliament, the rally chanted “refugees welcome, racists not”.

A few scuffles started but police intervened, surrounding the National Front members to escort them away.

Celebrity Prime Minister

Jacinda Ardern officially became New Zealand’s 40th Prime Minister today at a swearing in ceremony at Government House.

JacindaArdernPM

Following that she was treated top celebrity treatment when she arrived at Parliament.

I think we can expect a lot of this sort of crowd interaction and reaction.

Speaking rights in Parliament

Interesting tweets from :

Under standing orders, party leaders of parties with six or more members are entitled to speak on Ministerial Statements.

In the last Parliament, this meant that (as of right) the government got one speech (plus a reply), and the opposition three speeches.

In the new parliament, with its smaller opposition, made of fewer parties, and with only one party of more than six MPs, this means that instead of the Government having one speech, and the opposition three speeches (which is what happened in the last Parliament) the Government will now have three speeches, and the opposition will only be entitled to one.

Please note I am speaking here of entitlement. Even in the last Parliament, leaders of smaller parties often spoke on things like this but this would apparently happen by agreement of the business committee, but does not happen as of right.

Advantage Government.

This is interesting but probably not of big importance. Speeches in Parliament are a part of the process but generally don’t get much attention, and most of the public will be oblivious to them.

Question Time

Media pay the most attention in Parliament to Question Time. This is usually split between Opposition MPs asking Ministers questions, trying to hold them to account, embarrass them and score political points, and Government MPs asking Minister ‘patsy’ questions, which are largely a waste of time and ignored.

What are the rules?

Questions are allocated proportionally to each party based on the number of MPs, though parties may exchange slots through mutual agreement. Any MP can ask a question. Questions may in restricted circumstances be asked of MPs other than Ministers.

There are twelve questions per session. This means that as the largest party National will get to answer the most questions, nearly half, so they will be in a position to dominate if they use their questions wisely.

Each party will have about this number of questions:

  • National: 6, or half the questions each session
  • Labour: 4-5 questions each session
  • NZ First: 1 question most sessions (they will miss 1 in 10)
  • Greens: 1 question in four of every five sessions
  • ACT: who?

This contrasts with last term when the largest Opposition party, Labour, got about 3 questions per session, and Greens and NZ First tended to do their own thing.

Advantage Opposition.

Mr Speaker

Trevor Mallard has been itching to be Speaker for a term or two, and it looks like his dream of sitting in the big chair in Parliament will come true if Greens and NZ First approve.

It will be interesting to see how Mallard manages the House. he has an in depth knowledge of the rules so is well qualified on that count. As usually the Speaker’s impartiality, or lack thereof, will be a talking point.

Advantage no one (if it’s done right).

Election of Speaker

Members of Parliament vote to elect the Speaker at the start of each new Parliament (after every general election). This is the first task of every new Parliament once members have been sworn in.
Candidates are nominated by another member and, after the election vote, the Speaker-Elect visits the Governor-General to be confirmed in office.

The position of Speaker is high-ranking — the Speaker commands the respect of other members. This is because the Speaker is the member that the House chooses to communicate with the Sovereign on its behalf.

It is important that the elected Speaker is not biased towards any political party. This ensures that every member of Parliament has an equal chance to contribute to debates and take part in other business in the House.

Despite this, the Speaker of New Zealand’s House of Representatives is allowed to maintain links with their political party, but must not show political bias when chairing business in the House. The Speaker must not show either preference or disrespect for any political party, for the Government, or the Opposition. All members of the House must be treated equally.

From Role & election of the Speaker

 

Man dies after protest at Parliament

The man who is reported to have set himself on fire in a protest in the grounds of parliament yesterday has died.

More on this when available.

Parliament’s winners and losers

Audrey Young on This term’s winners and losers as Parliament winds up for the election

Winners

Chris Finlayson…

…has been a highly productive minister, getting 16 treaty settlement bills passed in the Parliament this term, out of 287 passed altogether.

Judith Collins…

…can be classed a winner…she has been on her best behaviour, showing no outward signs of ambition (other than a faux challenge of English for the leadership) and has applied her bent for populism to tax issues.

Julie Anne Genter…

…has enhanced her reputation, needling away daily at Simon Bridges on transport, which earned a promotion from No 8 on the party list to No 3

Marama Fox…

…began the term as a new MP and with huge shoes to fill as co-leader, replacing Tariana Turia. She has well and truly been noticed, with a larger than life personality, and her willingness to work with Opposition parties.

Chris Bishop…

…has been one of the outstanding backbenchers.

Michael Wood…

…has been an impressive figure in Labour’s backbench after winning the Mt Roskill byelection in December.

Losers

The failures this term, especially in the past few weeks, have been pronounced with the resignation of two party leaders, Andrew Little as Labour leader and Metiria Turei as Green co-leader.

Andrew Little’s…

…failure to connect with voters had such as impact on support that he stood to lose his own list seat.

Todd Barclay…

…trashed his own career…

Chris Hipkins…

…has damaged his credibility by claiming to have asked questions about New Zealand citizenship to minister Peter Dunne (one of the 42, 239 written questions) without knowing anything about Australian Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce.

Winners and Losers

Health Minister Jonathan Coleman…

…did a great job in getting the Cabinet to support the historic $2 billion pay equity settlement for aged-care and support workers.

But health has started to become a problem area for the Government this year and Coleman’s combative style has been a hindrance, not a help.

Nick Smith…

…has a grasp for detail but no longer for politics. He has trashed his reputation on a series of housing and environmental issues this term.

Sue Moroney…

…made a big impact as a Labour backbencher, particularly in paid parental leave, but failed to build sufficient relationships in her own party to retain a winnable list position.

Bill English…

…originally claiming he didn’t know who had told him that Barclay had recorded his electorate agent.

Young didn’t mention it but English won the top prize, Prime Minister.