Bridges continues inquisition of Government over Sroubek

Simon Bridges and National have continued to niggle away at the Government, in particular Jacinda Ardern, trying to uncover a connection between the Prime Minister and the decision to not deport Karel Sroubek (now reversed).

Bridges wasn’t in Parliament yesterday (as is the custom on Thursdays for National and Labour leaders), but tweaked by tweet:

This followed Question Time (transcript edited)

Question No. 1—Prime Minister

1. Hon PAULA BENNETT (Deputy Leader—National) to the Prime Minister: Does she stand by all her answers to oral questions in the last two weeks in relation to Karel Sroubek?

Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS (Deputy Prime Minister) on behalf of the Prime Minister: On behalf of the Prime Minister, yes.

Hon Paula Bennett: Does she still say, “There’s no way that I can answer that question.” regarding who made representations on Karel Sroubek’s behalf; and, if so, has she asked who made those representations?

Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: On behalf of the Prime Minister, the answer is we don’t know, other than of the ones that did go public, such as Mr Sweeney—and there may be others, but we’re not aware of them.

Hon Paula Bennett: Is she concerned that there might be Cabinet Ministers who have links to people who have made representations on behalf of Karel Sroubek?

Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: We’re not in the business of engaging in the permission of this House to allow someone to enter a fishing competition in the hope that somehow they might catch something. Here is the reality: I made a very clear statement, on behalf of the Prime Minister, that there are hundreds of people who would have been associated for a number of reasons with Mr Sroubek. To incriminate them all on the basis of their innocent association is just so wrong.

Hon Paula Bennett: Has she asked whether her Ministers have links to any of the people who made representations on behalf of Karel Sroubek?

Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: The answer to that question is, on behalf of the Prime Minister, there will be a number of members of Parliament, who, if they go through their recent decade-old associations, would quite possibility, because of their sporting engagement and interest, have been associated. But that in no way means that they are responsible for the criminality for which Mr Sroubek’s in prison at the moment.

Hon Paula Bennett: Does she still believe the Deputy Prime Minister and Iain Lees-Galloway are the victims in all of this, as she said last week?

Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: On behalf of the Prime Minister, when one is seeking to arbitrate or decide on a process and critical information is denied to that referee, arbitrator, or in this case judge, or in this case Minister, then, yes, they do become a victim, because the system that we would have expected and had a right to expect was in place when we became the Government was a system that would work, not one that was shot full of holes and inadequacy.

The key quote from that is “The answer to that question is, on behalf of the Prime Minister, there will be a number of members of Parliament, who, if they go through their recent decade-old associations, would quite possibility (sic), because of their sporting engagement and interest, have been associated.”

That’s a fairly vague ‘confirmation’, as Bridges put it:

Winston Peters just confirmed in Parliament that Govt members “quite possibly” will know Sroubek. More to come I would say.

But this suggests that this inquisition is not over yet. This continues to have legs because of the evasiveness of Ardern in response to questions aiming at an admission she may have been more closely associated to the deportation decision (made by Minister of Immigration Iain Lees-Galloway) than she has been willing to admit so far.

The media seem to be largely leaving the inquisition to Bridges and his National colleagues.

Question Time today

There were some testy exchanges in Question Time yesterday – see:

And Chris Hipkins was told by the speaker to front up today with Clare Curran emails.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: I will repeat, as a supplementary, my primary question from last Thursday and see if I can get an answer. How many undisclosed emails through former Minister Clare Curran’s private Gmail account are there that relate to the appointment of the Government’s Chief Technology Officer, and what is the content of those emails?

Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: I have not seen the individual emails in question. They have been handed to the Chief Archivist. Clare Curran has explained to me that the contents of those emails are predominantly post her conversation with Derek Handley where he was offered the job, and related to the scope of the positon. That’s the information that I have to date.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The House is still none the wiser of the number of Gmails—

SPEAKER: Yes, and the member will resume his seat. What I have indicated to the member is that if he asks his question properly tomorrow or at some stage in the future, with sufficient detail, I will expect a proper answer. In fact, I think it would be a good thing for transparency if in answering a specific and detailed and well-worded question, the Minister brought the emails to the House and made them available in that way.

Expect a question from National that invites Hipkins to deliver.

Bridges versus Ardern in Question Time

Some interesting exchanges between Simon Bridges and Jacinda Ardern in parliament today.

3. Hon SIMON BRIDGES (Leader—National) to the Prime Minister: Does she stand by all her Government’s policies, statements, and actions?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN (Prime Minister): Yes.

Hon Simon Bridges: Is it the policy of this Labour-led Government to increase the refugee quota to 1,500 a year in this term of Government, as previously announced by her Minister, and if not, what is the Government’s policy?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: As I have said many times before, when we’ve made a decision as a Cabinet, that policy will be released. I know that the member is hotly anticipating the decision.

Hon Simon Bridges: Is it the policy of this Labour-led Government to repeal the three-strikes law, as previously announced by her Minister; if not, what is her Government’s policy on this law?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: This Government’s policy is to have an effective justice system, which, unfortunately, we lost under that last Government. We have an increasing prison population and a static crime rate, and that’s why Minister Andrew Little is doing excellent work alongside Minister Kelvin Davis to improve rehabilitation, get the prison population down—which they are already doing—and make our communities safer.

Hon Simon Bridges: Is it the policy of this Labour-led Government to pass the Employment Relations Amendment Bill, as approved by all of Cabinet and reported back to select committee; if not, what changes are being made to the bill?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: As the Deputy Prime Minister himself has said in this House, the bill will pass. When it does, we look forward to bringing balance back to the workplace, and making sure that we have a fair go for workers and acknowledge the good work employers are doing to try and lift wages at the same time.

Hon Simon Bridges: Does she agree with her Deputy Prime Minister’s insistence yesterday that this Government was not Labour-led?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: While that member’s caught up on semantics, this Government is proud that a recent survey said that the people of New Zealand had greater confidence in us than in that last Government, and I don’t think they particularly care about descriptors and what was on a website. We have the support of New Zealand. That’s why we’re here and you’re over there.

SPEAKER: Order! Order! I’m going to point out to the right honourable Prime Minister—when she’s finished the other conversation—that I’m here, and she doesn’t refer to me.

Hon Simon Bridges: Speaking of semantics, why are there over 50 references by her Ministers in this Parliament to it being a Labour-led Government?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Because we’re in Government and you’re not.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Could I ask the Prime Minister, as evidence to the cooperative nature of this coalition, if she is aware of it being a fact that since the election—in less than 11 months—1,055 decisions have been made of unity and, since Monday’s Cabinet, more since?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Yes, I understand that to be the case, which is an incredible list of achievements that far outstrips anything that last Government achieved, I would say, in an entire nine years.

Hon Simon Bridges: Why did she say yesterday, in respect of the phrase “Labour-led Government”, “I’ve never used that phrase,”, when Hansard records her using it more than a dozen times as Prime Minister, right in that seat?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: I am the leader of the Labour Party. I don’t think anyone on this side of the House has lost sight of that. I am also the Prime Minister of a Government that has a coalition partner and a confidence and supply partner, and I am proud of all of them.

Hon Simon Bridges: When the Prime Minister commented on GDP on Hosking’s show this morning, was the reason she made the mistake that she did because she was distracted by managing coalition differences in her Labour-led Government?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: No. It’s not the first time that Mike Hosking and I have not listened to each other.

Hon Simon Bridges: Does she know the difference between GDP and Crown financial statements?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Yes.

Hon Simon Bridges: Did she know at 8 a.m. this morning?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Yes. Next question.

Hon Simon Bridges: How will her Budget responsibility rules (BRRs) impact on GDP?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: In our minds, of course, it will support them. We need to make sure that we’re delivering responsible governance, and our BRRs were delivered on in the last Budget and continue to show that we’re able to deliver surpluses whilst maintaining Crown spending at around 30 percent and debt to a level of 20 percent.

Also:

2. Hon SIMON BRIDGES (Leader—National) to the Prime Minister: Have she and her Ministers lived up to the commitment to “be the most open, most transparent Government that New Zealand has ever had” in respect of the process for appointing the Government’s Chief Technology Officer?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN (Prime Minister): No. As has been stated at the time, Clare Curran’s failure to accurately answer parliamentary questions about her meeting with Mr Handley did not meet my or the former Minister’s expectation. That is why I accepted her resignation from her open Government responsibilities.

Hon Simon Bridges: What were the communications between herself and Clare Curran on the matter of the Government’s Chief Technology Officer (CTO) appointment, which were confirmed to have taken place by the State Services minister, Chris Hipkins, in Parliament last Thursday?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: I would need to go back and check directly, but my recollection is—because, of course, the CTO role was designed to report directly to the Minister but also to have some reporting lines to myself as Prime Minister—that the Minister kept me up to date generally with the process, but only as is would have been appropriate.

Hon Simon Bridges: Were the communications between herself and Clare Curran about the Chief Technology Officer role in the form of emails, texts, conversations, or were they across multiple platforms, and if so, which?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: In order to answer that with accuracy I would need to go back and check across all those platforms.

Hon Simon Bridges: What was the content of the communication between herself and Clare Curran on the appointment of Chief Technology Officer?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: As I referred to in my second answer, the Minister kept me abreast generally with the process she was undertaking, because of the anticipated reporting lines, but it was only as appropriate and as Ministers do, from time to time, on significant appointments.

Hon Simon Bridges: Was there an email between the Prime Minister and Clare Curran by way of private Gmail account?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: I would need to go back and check any of these questions. I believe that there are Official Information Act requests that have gone into the Minister. Minister Curran has made sure that all of her Gmails have been handed over to the Chief Archivist, which means that they will be subject to the Public Records Act and the Official Information Act. And of course, the Official Information Act covers all my correspondence as well.

Hon Simon Bridges: Given I’m asking the Prime Minister about direct communications by private Gmail between her and her former Minister, does she really expect us to take it that she can’t tell us today?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: What I’m saying to the House is I am happy to answer those questions in detail if the member gives me notice so that I can make sure that I answer them with accuracy. That, I think, is probably fair enough, given that as Prime Minister I will receive hundreds of emails, a number of text messages, and the member’s asking me to recall with some specificity about both.

Hon Simon Bridges: Has the Prime Minister used private Gmail with Clare Curran?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Again, primarily I conduct my business across my parliamentary accounts, but I want to ensure that I answer the member with accuracy, so if he wishes to put them down in detail, then I will do so.

Hon Grant Robertson: Does the Prime Minister recall the following quote: “I have quite a number of emails but because I have my electorate office and others I tend to use a private email address.”—made by John Key, the former National Party Prime Minister?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Yes, I have seen that statement, and that is why I have consistently told the House the most important piece of information here is that all of those forms of communication—be they LinkedIn, Facebook, WhatsApp, text message—are covered by the Official Information Act, because it is mode-neutral, to ensure that we can document to this House where all of that work takes place. That’s exactly what the former leader of the National Party said himself.

Hon Simon Bridges: Has she had any conversations, emails, or texts with Derek Handley since she’s been Prime Minister?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Again, to answer with some accuracy, I would want to go back. [Interruption]

SPEAKER: Order!

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: My best recollection is that I received, some months ago, a text from Mr Handley mentioning the Chief Technology Officer role, which I do not recall directly engaging with, as that would not have been appropriate.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Has the Prime Minister contemplated putting the leader of the National Party out of his misery by leaking the email?

SPEAKER: Further supplementary?

Hon Simon Bridges: Were the conversations, emails, or texts with Mr Handley about the role of the Government’s Chief Technology Officer, and if so, what was discussed?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: I can rule out any direct verbal communication. I haven’t spoken with Mr Handley in at least a year, maybe two. As I say, my best recollection is I received a text message that I didn’t directly engage in. For all other platforms, I would want to go back and check, but I don’t recall directly communicating in regards to that role.

Hon Simon Bridges: Did she agree to Derek Handley being offered the job of the Government’s Chief Technology Officer last month, noting that the Cabinet minute of last December states that the appointment would be made by the Prime Minister and the Minister for Government Digital Services?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: The appointment went to the Cabinet appointments and honours committee (APH), where all members of APH make a collective decision. I, of course, am a member of APH where that decision was made. I declared at that meeting my knowledge of Mr Handley.


In a later question Chris Hipkins advised of additional communications Between Curran and Handley. The Speaker advised Hipkins to bring all of Clare Curran’s emails to parliament tomorrow:

11. Hon Dr NICK SMITH (National—Nelson) to the Minister of State Services: What was the date of all communications between Ministers and Derek Handley regarding the appointment of the Government’s Chief Technology Officer in addition to those publically released by the previous Minister for Government Digital Services and up to the time Mr Handley accepted the role?

Hon CHRIS HIPKINS (Minister of State Services): I communicated with Derek Handley on Monday, 10 September. Megan Woods has had no communication with Derek Handley. Clare Curran has advised me that she had communications with Derek Handley in addition to those publicly released between the final meeting of the interview panel on 30 July and 24 August. It’s worth noting that because discussion about Mr Handley’s interests was ongoing, the process was never completed.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: I will repeat, as a supplementary, my primary question from last Thursday and see if I can get an answer. How many undisclosed emails through former Minister Clare Curran’s private Gmail account are there that relate to the appointment of the Government’s Chief Technology Officer, and what is the content of those emails?

Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: I have not seen the individual emails in question. They have been handed to the Chief Archivist. Clare Curran has explained to me that the contents of those emails are predominantly post her conversation with Derek Handley where he was offered the job, and related to the scope of the positon. That’s the information that I have to date.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The House is still none the wiser of the number of Gmails—

SPEAKER: Yes, and the member will resume his seat. What I have indicated to the member is that if he asks his question properly tomorrow or at some stage in the future, with sufficient detail, I will expect a proper answer. In fact, I think it would be a good thing for transparency if in answering a specific and detailed and well-worded question, the Minister brought the emails to the House and made them available in that way.

Curran struggling with confidence and memory

Not a great effort from recently demoted (but still a Minister) Clare Curran in Question Time today.

Her lack of confidence shows. “To the best of my recollection um ah ah  I’ve haven’t um I haven’t used my um I have I’ve answered um OIA ah ah OIA responses and personal um and Parliamentary questions correctly and to the best of my recollection um ah you know that that has that’s what I’ve done.”

This dooesn’t show in Hansard: “To the best of my recollection, I haven’t used my—I’ve answered Official Information Act (OIA) responses and personal and parliamentary questions correctly, and, to the best of my recollection, you know, that’s what I’ve done.”

“To the best of my recollection” is not very reassuring from Curran, since her recollection (at best) has let her down twice leading to her demotion from Cabinet

From Hansard in February:

Melissa Lee: Does she stand by her answer to written question No. 19129 (2017) in regard to meeting with board members or staff of TVNZ or RNZ since 1 December?

Hon CLARE CURRAN: Yes.

Melissa Lee: How can she stand by that answer when she failed to mention her breakfast meeting with RNZ head of content Carol Hirschfeld on 2 December?

Hon CLARE CURRAN: I have a range of discussions, informal or otherwise, with many people in a range of portfolio areas.

And last week::

Clare Curran removed from Cabinet

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has removed Clare Curran from Cabinet and accepted her offer to resign her Government Digital Services portfolio and Open Government responsibilities, following a second failure to properly declare a meeting.

In February this year Minister Curran met with Mr Derek Handley at her Beehive office in her capacity as Minister of Government Digital Services to discuss Mr Handley’s interest in the vacant Chief Technology Officer (CTO) role.

The meeting was not recorded in the Minister’s diary and neither the Minister’s staff nor officials were made aware of it.

The meeting was subsequently mistakenly left out of an answer to a recent Parliamentary Question for Written Answer. The meeting should have been included in the answer and the error has been corrected.

“The failure to record the meeting in her diary; inform her staff and officials; and accurately answer Parliamentary questions has left the Minister open to the accusation that she deliberately sought to hide the meeting.” said Jacinda Ardern.

It’s difficult to see how the Prime Minister can have confidence in Curran as a Minister.

The transcript from  today’s Question Time doesn’t look as bad as the video:

Question No. 12—Broadcasting, Communications and Digital Media

12. MELISSA LEE (National) to the Minister of Broadcasting, Communications and Digital Media: Does she stand by all her statements and actions?

Hon CLARE CURRAN (Minister of Broadcasting, Communications and Digital Media): Yes, in their context.

Melissa Lee: Does she use a personal email account or accounts to conduct any official business?

Hon CLARE CURRAN: From time to time, I have used my Gmail account. When using it, I adhere to my obligations as a Minister.

Melissa Lee: What Government business has she conducted via her Gmail account?

Hon CLARE CURRAN: I just answered that: from time to time, I’ve used my Gmail account. And I’ve—[Interruption]

SPEAKER: Sorry, sorry. Can members on my left be quiet, and I want the Minister to start her answer—

Hon CLARE CURRAN: Can the member repeat her question?

Melissa Lee: What Government business has she conducted via her Gmail account?

Hon CLARE CURRAN: To the best of my recollection, I haven’t used my—I’ve answered Official Information Act (OIA) responses and personal and parliamentary questions correctly, and, to the best of my recollection, you know, that’s what I’ve done.

Melissa Lee: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The question specifically asked what Government business the Minister has actually conducted using her Gmail.

SPEAKER: And I’m going to rule that the member, between the primary and the supplementary answer, certainly answered that to my satisfaction. I mean, I think all of us know that there’s no restriction on members or Ministers using Gmail accounts. I think all of us know that a large amount of the foreign affairs business of the previous Government was carried out by Gmail.

Melissa Lee: What steps has she or her office undertaken to ensure any correspondence she receives in her Gmail in-box relating to her portfolio is recorded in accordance with official record-keeping practices?

Hon CLARE CURRAN: I worked with my office to ensure that I am responding appropriately to OIA requests and parliamentary questions.

SPEAKER: That’s—I think the member will have another crack at that, because that didn’t cover the entire question. The member might want to repeat the question, so the Minister understands it.

Melissa Lee: I will repeat the question, sir. What steps has she or her office undertaken to ensure any correspondence she receives in her Gmail in-box relating to her portfolio is recorded in accordance with official record-keeping practices?

Hon CLARE CURRAN: I have reviewed my processes with my office. I reassure that member that I’ve released information in accordance with the OIA.

Melissa Lee: Why did she state, “My staff have access to my email accounts and assess whether the correspondence falls under my ministerial portfolios.” in the Minister’s reply to written question No. 19442?

Hon CLARE CURRAN: Well, because they do.

Melissa Lee: How many email accounts has she used for ministerial business other than those listed on the Parliament, ministerial, Beehive, or Labour Party websites?

Hon CLARE CURRAN: As I said in answer to the first supplementary, from time to time I’ve used my Gmail account. When using it, I adhere to my obligations as a Minister

Melissa Lee: What discussions has she had with the coalition Government’s former Minister for Government Digital Services about record-keeping practices?

Hon CLARE CURRAN: As I’ve said, I have reviewed processes in my office, including with the former Government digital services.

 

Ardern showed her mettle, Bridges ineffective

Simon Bridges tried to attack Jacinda Ardern over the teacher strikes in Question Time in Parliament yesterday, but waas largely ineffective as Ardern showed her mettle and not only frustrated Bridges attacks, but returned fire adeptly.

There was a side show during the questioning, with Bridges being required to withdraw and apologise after a remark “I was anticipating an answer from the ventriloquist” that referred to Grant Robertson’s habit of helping fellow ministers with answers.

Leader of the House Chris Hipkins was also ordered to withdraw and apologise a second time after first saying “I apologise for calling the Leader of the Opposition a chauvinistic pig”.

NZ Herald: Simon Bridges called ‘chauvinistic pig’ during Question Time by Education Minister Chris Hipkins

National leader Simon Bridges was accused of being a “chauvinistic pig” in today’s Question Time for a quip he made during questions to Prime Minister Ardern.

The accusation was not from Ardern herself but from another bloke, Education Minister Chris Hipkins, who took umbrage when Bridges suggested that muttering by Grant Robertson was supplying Ardern with the answers.

Bridges referred to Robertson as “the ventriloquist,” a reference to the frequency with which Robertson actually does answer other people’s questions under his breath.

It was an odd  comment from Hipkins, I don’t see anything chauvinistic in what Bridges said. Gerry Brownlee put his own spin on it” I think what the Leader of the Opposition was doing was suggesting to Grant Robertson that this is not instruction time.”

But Ardern had the last word:

The Minister of Finance, for those who are interested in what he muttered, said, “We didn’t.” I’m going to expand substantially on that answer…

Which she did. going on to detail the Government’s priorities in education.

2. Hon SIMON BRIDGES (Leader—National) to the Prime Minister: Does she stand by all of her Government’s statements and actions?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN (Prime Minister): Yes.

Hon Simon Bridges: Is she aware that, under her Government, 60,000 people have been on strike in just 10 months, compared to 30,000 in the previous nine years?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: I absolutely acknowledge that because that Government couldn’t resolve the nurses pay dispute, we did have a situation we needed to resolve. And it took this Government doubling that offer that that party last made in office, acknowledging the legitimate safety concerns that nurses had, the understaffing and under-resourcing, and that is how we got to a successful resolution after nine long years of neglect.

Hon Simon Bridges: With teachers contemplating two-day strikes, does she intend to spend the next two years avoiding any responsibility and not actually fixing the problem? [Interruption]

Mr SPEAKER: Order! Order! Settle down please.

Hon Paula Bennett: A good question—a bloody good question.

Mr SPEAKER: Paula Bennett—that’s a warning. I call the right honourable Prime Minister.

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: I have to say I find that line of questioning a bit rich given that the first offer made by this Government is double what that last Government allowed teachers to work under. Double—because we acknowledge that we’ve been left and teachers have been left carrying a neglect of nine years’ under-resourcing of teacher-aides and support. We’ve rectified some of that in the last Budget. We scrapped national standards. We doubled some of the funding that they receive on an operational level. We acknowledge the issues that teachers striked and marched on today. We are working with them to fix the problems we inherited.

Hon Simon Bridges: Then why did her Government prioritise $2.8 billion for a fees-free tertiary policy that isn’t delivering any extra students over additional funding for teachers’ pay and the other issues she mentioned?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: First of all, that is not correct. Second of all, one of the issues that we have is barriers to learning. One of the first people I met after that announcement was made was someone who was entering into tertiary education to be a primary school teacher off the back of our announcement. We have a shortage of teachers. We have barriers to learning because of cost. We’re addressing both of those issues.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Just to get this patently clear, what term or years of recent politics were the teachers today on the forecourt of Parliament specifically saying they are protesting against?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: The last nine years.

Hon Simon Bridges: I ask again: why did her Government prioritise $2.8 billion for a fees-free tertiary policy that isn’t delivering any extra students over additional funding for teachers’ pay? [Interruption]

Mr SPEAKER: Order! Order! The Prime Minister will sit down. I saw what I’m taking to be a response—am I right?

Hon Simon Bridges: From me?

Mr SPEAKER: Was the member responding to a similar—Well, I’m hearing some people saying yes and some people saying no.

Hon Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker.

Mr SPEAKER: The Hon Gerry Brownlee will, I’m sure, help me.

Hon Gerry Brownlee: Thank you. I think what the Leader of the Opposition was doing was suggesting to Grant Robertson that this is not instruction time.

Mr SPEAKER: Can I ask—first of all I’m going to ask the Hon Grant Robertson: did he do a finger-pointing exercise?

Hon Members: No.

Hon Simon Bridges: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker.

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker.

Mr SPEAKER: I’ll hear Simon Bridges.

Hon Simon Bridges: I was anticipating an answer from the ventriloquist.

Mr SPEAKER: Right, that member will now stand, withdraw, and apologise.

Hon Simon Bridges: I withdraw and apologise.

Hon Chris Hipkins: c

Mr SPEAKER: Order! Mr Hipkins. Mr Hipkins will now stand, withdraw, and apologise.

Hon Chris Hipkins: I apologise for calling the Leader of the Opposition a chauvinistic pig.

Mr SPEAKER: As a result of that non-withdrawal, the Opposition will have an extra five questions. That withdrawal will now be made in accordance with the Standing Orders.

Hon Chris Hipkins: I withdraw and apologise.

Mr SPEAKER: Right, we go back, and I am going to ask Simon Bridges to ask his question again, because I can’t remember what it was.

Hon Simon Bridges: Then why did her Government prioritise $2.8 billion for a fees-free tertiary policy that hasn’t delivered a single extra student over additional funding for teachers’ pay?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: The Minister of Finance, for those who are interested in what he muttered, said, “We didn’t.” I’m going to expand substantially on that answer, because in the last Budget we prioritised funding for 1,500 more teachers. We gave a 45 percent increase for operational funding. We provided the first core early childhood education funding increase in nearly a decade. We tripled learning support funding to $272 million. That is called prioritising education. It’s called prioritising children. If that side of the House thinks that everything that was brought to Parliament’s forecourt today was all about us, then where were they on the steps of Parliament?

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Does the fees-free tertiary policy uptake show some positive recent trends, and if so, could she leak that information to the House?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Yes, indeed it does. We have seen an increase in uptake, and one of the issues we have is we inherited a declining enrolment across our tertiary education providers, which we are turning around.

Hon Simon Bridges: Why on Monday did her Government prioritise hundreds of millions of dollars more funding for new trees than it has for the entire primary school teacher wage settlement?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: As I say, that pay settlement happened to be double what that Government invested in the sector. But I’d also say that that announcement wasn’t just about the 1,000, possibly 2,000, jobs that it would create; it was also about the environment and it was about erosion. According to some of the ads the National Party has put out—I’m told the Leader of the Opposition cares about the environment; I’m yet to see any proof of it.

Hon Simon Bridges: That’s allowed is it?

Mr SPEAKER: Yes, it is allowed in response to the type of questions that the Leader of the Opposition’s been asking.

Hon Simon Bridges: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. What was anything other than straight about the question I asked?

Mr SPEAKER: I suggest that if the member wants an answer to that, he looks at the tapes.

Hon Simon Bridges: Why on Monday did her Government prioritise hundreds of millions of dollars more for trees than for the primary school teachers’ settlement, when they’re protesting outside today?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: As I pointed out, that initial offer—because we are in the middle of a negotiation—was still double what that last Government put into teachers’ salaries. It’s not the only issue that we of course are discussing with them; we’re discussing their workload, non-contact time, professional development—all issues that weren’t prioritised by the last Government.

Hon Simon Bridges: Does she agree with Labour leader Jacinda Ardern, who said, “We will not” have national strikes under a Government she leads.

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: That was in a direct question around fair pay agreements and I stand by it.

Bridges versus Ardern in Parliament

The return of Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern to Question Time in Parliament yesterday seemed to pass largely unnoticed as most attention was on the Brash speech ban at Massey.

Simon Bridges holding Ardern to account wasn’t very newsworthy anyway, but here it goes.

2. Hon SIMON BRIDGES (Leader of the Opposition) to the Prime Minister: Does she stand by all her Government’s policies and actions?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN (Prime Minister): I’m nothing if not consistent: yes.

Hon Simon Bridges: Some things don’t change.

Mr SPEAKER: Order! I think that’s sort of now 2-1 in the out-of-order comments. We’ll just get back to the questions.

Hon Simon Bridges: When she dismissed business confidence yesterday as “perceptions” and said, “I’m interested in the reality of what our economy is doing and how it is performing.”, had she then seen yesterday’s report from Treasury that stated, “… weaker confidence, in conjunction with other data, highlight the risk that growth over the coming fiscal year may be weaker-than-forecast in the Budget …”?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: I would not characterise that as dismissal at all. I hear what business is saying in the same way I hear what nurses have said, what teachers have said, what anyone who works in the well-being space has said around the need to rebuild confidence in New Zealand’s social well-being outcomes as much as our economic outcomes. What I will say is that I also have to acknowledge the international environment, which is having an effect here in New Zealand, which is why we need to diversify our economy and make sure that we are not vulnerable, which is exactly the place that last Government left us in.

Mr SPEAKER: Before I call the member, I am going to ask David Bennett to go the rest of this question and the series of supplementaries and answers without interjecting.

Hon Simon Bridges: On the international environment, why is it, then, that New Zealand’s the only country to have gone from near the top of the OECD in business confidence to right near the bottom?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: We’re actually a fraction away from the long-term average, and I have to say, when you look at the OECD comparisons around our growth forecast, actually we stand up pretty well.

Hon Simon Bridges: Does she accept the weaker growth talked of now by Treasury is the reality, as is a decline in GDP per capita in just the last quarter?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: If we’re going to quote what Treasury have said, let’s share the entire picture. They’ve said that the housing market was cooling faster than expected. And actually, the housing market was overheated under that last Government, and we need to stand up and fully confront that and the harm that it was doing New Zealand’s people. Secondly, we need to acknowledge the international environment, which Treasury has, as well. And, at the same time, they’ve said that labour income—wages—are growing strongly, that employment growth is solid, and that we have issued things like more building consents. If you’re going to talk about the economy, let’s talk about all of the indicators, not just some of them.

Hon Simon Bridges: On her discussion, once again, of the international environment and Treasury’s view on it, does she not accept that they’ve said, “The international environment remains broadly stable.”—nothing’s changed?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: If the member is reading the voice of business—like, for instance, I would imagine he would look at the KPMG survey, which has highlighted that that is, in fact, having an impact. So if the member thinks the KPMG survey is babble, does he think that what John Key has said was babble as well? Because he’s raised it, too.

David Seymour: Does the Prime Minister stand by education Minister Chris Hipkins’ statement that the Tertiary Education Commission will have new powers under the Act to monitor the tertiary sector and hold providers to account for their use of public funding?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: If he’s asserting that the Minister of Education is saying that we should strive for high-quality tertiary education, then that is no bad thing.

David Seymour: Would it be a bad thing if a university failed to use its public funding in alignment with section 161 of the Education Act 1989 to uphold academic freedom, such as by refusing to allow speakers to speak on university campuses because of their political views?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Ultimately, institutions have their own freedom on a day-to-day basis, but if he’s asking me for a personal opinion, the example I think that he is pointing to I would characterise as an overreaction on the part of the institution.

Hon Chris Hipkins: Does the Prime Minister think it is tenable for the Government to threaten to cut funding for universities when they make decisions that the Government disagrees with?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Absolutely not. We continue to hold a personal view, and, as I say, there are a number of examples where politicians and ex-politicians have caused a stir on university campuses. I think the reaction we’ve seen has been an overreaction. Will we retaliate? Of course not.

Hon Dr David Clark: Ha, ha!

Hon Simon Bridges: Does she accept—

Mr SPEAKER: Order! Who made that noise?

Hon Dr David Clark: Mr Speaker, if you’re referring to the laugh—that was me.

Mr SPEAKER: Right, OK. Thank you.

Hon Simon Bridges: Does she accept the weaker growth foreshadowed by Treasury and the decline in GDP per capita in just the last quarter to be a reality?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Of course Treasury has put out its forecasts, and I acknowledge that, yes, the housing market has cooled. International tensions have had an effect. But on the flip side, if I’m going to accept that, I’m also going to accept the wage growth, which is benefiting New Zealanders; high employment, which is also benefiting New Zealanders; and the fact that we have seen, for instance, a decrease in the number of young people in unemployment. I accept that we have challenges in front of us. That’s why we’re investing in boosting productivity, it’s why we’re investing in diversifying our trade, and it’s why we’re investing in R & D. I’m not shying away from those challenges.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Regarding the international influence upon New Zealand’s economy, is the Prime Minister encouraged by all of a sudden the number of highly-placed European Union officials and representations with respect to a free-trade deal with the European Union?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Absolutely. We have a visit today which only helps us further our relationships and New Zealand’s interests. I also applaud the work that the Minister for Trade and Export Growth is doing on our Trade for All, alongside negotiating the Pacific Agreement on Closer Economic Relations, the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, and the EU free-trade agreement. We are moving at pace, because growing exports grows jobs.

Hon Simon Bridges: Does she accept a 60 percent decline in job growth since her Government came into office is a reality for the thousands of New Zealanders who didn’t get a job as a result?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: We have 94,000 more people employed at the end of June 2018 than there were in June 2017. Our unemployment rate has decreased. So the member is picking a figure and interpreting it in the way that he chooses, but I am proud of the fact that we are putting people into jobs.

Hon Simon Bridges: Does she accept a 4,000-person increase in unemployment in just three months to be a reality for those families?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: It’s down from 4.8 percent, I would first point out. The second point that I would make is that we have seen a rise in participation—more people moving into the job market. I would interpret that to be that they see hope that there are jobs and work available for them. The ANZ Job Ads indicates that that is indeed the case.

Hon Simon Bridges: Does she accept more industrial strikes in the last nine months than in the last nine years to be a reality for those businesses and workers?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: I just want to highlight today we’ve also concluded the nurses’ pay agreement, which is something that I would like to celebrate—and you’re welcome. We concluded that after inheriting it halfway through. We concluded it because we doubled the offer, we addressed the safety concerns, and, just as we have with teachers, we’ve already scrapped national standards. We’ve brought in more funding for teacher aides and for those with learning needs, and we have increased their operational funding. There is more to do, but we’ve done more in nine months than that Government did in nine years.

Hon Simon Bridges: Does she accept the collapse of multiple construction companies to be a reality for those businesses, their workers, and their customers?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Look, absolutely we’ve acknowledged that’s happened. That’s why we sat down with the vertical construction industry yesterday. I acknowledge that it’s a very different case for residential and those working in infrastructure, because they are seeing a huge boost in investment out of this Government in those sectors. When it comes to vertical construction, 18 percent of the work for that industry comes from Government. Even though we represent only 18 percent, we are fronting up and saying that if we can play a leadership role to ensure that we do not have a further collapse in this sector, we will play it. That’s what this Government has done. We hadn’t gone far enough with the reforms of the last Government, and we are, again, happy to pick up the pieces.

Hon Simon Bridges: Does she think there will be real impacts for New Zealanders from us having the lowest business confidence since the global financial crisis, while in Australia it’s at a 30-year high?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Australia’s at a 30-year high, and yet we’re outperforming them on things like the employment rate.

Hon Simon Bridges: No, we’re not—not on anything.

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: On things like the employment rate, we absolutely are. We have the third-highest rate of employment in the OECD. We have steady economic growth and, according to the OECD, at 3 percent, the same as Australia going into 2019. Where we don’t sit on the same page as Australia is our low wages, and we’re doing something about that, too.

Hon Simon Bridges: Is the Prime Minister seriously denying that in Australia right now they are growing faster than us for the first time in several years, that their business confidence is at a 30-year high while ours is at a 10-year low, and that there are more New Zealanders leaving for Australia than there have been for some quite considerable time?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: What I am arguing is that if we’re going to look at the health of our economy, then we should look at a range of indicators. Employee confidence is up. Job ads are up. Consents are up. Unemployment—we have incredibly low unemployment in this country. We have 94,000 more people in work and—and—we have, on average, over $70 going into the back pockets of working New Zealanders and those in need, which, of course, is stimulating our economy. I’m proud of the changes we’re making. We need to modernise our economy and we are working hard on doing just that, as well.

Hon Simon Bridges: Does she accept any responsibility in terms of her Government’s policies such as industrial relations reform, shutting down the oil and gas sectors in terms of new exploration, higher taxes, and banning foreign investment, and the hurt they’re causing business confidence, and therefore the direct impact they’re having for families all around New Zealand?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Look, as I’ve said, I absolutely acknowledge that businesses have shared with us via the confidence surveys that there are issues they wish us to work on. I’ve heard that. When you ask business what it is, they say to us it is the skills gap, so we’ve invested in training and educating our workforce, and business can access that just as much as anyone else. They’ve told us that it’s our productivity challenge. They’ve told us that it’s that we’re not investing in R & D. They’ve told us that we’ve underinvested in the regions, which is why we have the Provincial Growth Fund. They’ve told us it’s because we need to modernise our economy and because of the challenges of climate change, which is why we have the Green Investment Fund. I acknowledge that as with any Labour-led Government in the past, this coalition Government needs to challenge the perception that exists. I’m not shying away from that challenge, and that’s why I’m fronting it head-on.

Hon Simon Bridges: Isn’t the Prime Minister in complete denial about our economy’s reality and any number that any of us could pick in her Government policies’ impact, and doesn’t she need to start listening to businesses, small and large, around New Zealand and make some serious changes?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: As I’ve said, I’ve acknowledged every single economic indicator that tells us we have a lot to be proud of, and I also acknowledge 94,000 more New Zealanders in work—something to be proud of. If that member wants to go around dissing our economy and the potential that exists in this country, that, I have to say, is a damn shame.

Nine years of neglect

When National were in Government they kept harking  back to the previous Government, blaming Helen Clark and her ministers for nine years of doing some things different to how National might have done them.

Now Labour and Winston Peters are laying the ‘last nine years’ on rather thick, with Simon Bridges reinforcing the past time frame.

From Question time in Parliament today – Question No. 2—Prime Minister:

Hon Simon Bridges: Does he accept that more than 32,000 people have either gone on strike or have signalled they will go on strike this year and that this figure exceeds the number of people that went on strike in the last nine years?

Hon Simon Bridges: Does he disagree, as he said this morning, with the statement that more than 32,000 people have either gone on strike or have signalled they’ll go on strike this year and that this figure exceeds the number of people that went on strike in the last nine years?

Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: Can I say that there are a number of negotiations going on, because this Government does not have a tin ear. We understand the conditions under which they have suffered after nine years of neglect where the whole intent of the Government was to govern for the few against the interests of the mass and the many.

Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: The reality is that if, for example—to use an analogy—there is a so-called bus stop where no bus bothers to turn up, then it’s quite likely no one actually goes to the bus stop. But we run transport services and we listen. And so a whole lot of people out there say, “Maybe we should approach the new Government and get a fairer deal.”, and we are saying to them, “You will get a fair deal, but we can’t turn around nine years of neglect in the space of one Budget.”

Question No. 5—Finance:

Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: Actually, if we look at per-person growth since New Zealand exited the recession, it’s shrunk nearly a quarter of the time since the recession. So under the previous Government’s policies, it was actually going backwards. In this case, it’s not growing quite as fast as we would like, because it will take a little longer than one quarter of activity to correct the last nine years.

Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: Of course I agree with the Minister of Energy and Resources, who’s doing a fantastic job. From time to time in the economy, we have to deal with certain supply constraints. What I do know is that sticking our heads in the sand and ignoring issues like climate change isn’t going to deliver New Zealand a sustainable economy. We’re doing something about it after nine years of the previous Government doing nothing.

Question No. 6—Housing and Urban Development:

Hon PHIL TWYFORD (Minister of Housing and Urban Development): Yes. After nine years of neglect, we can’t go from zero homes to 10,000 overnight, but we are making solid progress in increasing the capacity of the construction industry.

Question No. 8—Health:

That is the result of nine years of underfunding.

I hope we don’t get nine years of talking about the last nine years. It’s already stale and lame.

At least the Green ministers just get on with trying to do their jobs in however man years they get to do it. And David Seymour gets to go dancing.

Jones praises himself, speaking as a Minister

NZ First MP Shane Jones continues to impress himself with his eloquence. I’m not sure how widely he is admired beyond a mirror.

Getting anything serious or of substance out of Jones is nearly as hard as getting a straight answer from Winston Peters.

And both of them may feel further unleashed now that Peters has taken over as acting Prime Minister (he is not prime Minister as Jones claimed, Jacinda Ardern retains that role).

In Parliament yesterday:

Question 9 – Hon Paul Goldsmith to the Minister for Regional Economic Development

Does he stand by his statement to the House last week, “Fonterra cannot wander around making advertisements, such as they did this year, drawing on the countryside and the personalities of country people and not expect the ‘champion of the country’ to hold them accountable”?

 

9. Hon PAUL GOLDSMITH (National) to the Minister for Regional Economic Development: Does he stand by his statement to the House last week, “Fonterra cannot wander around making advertisements, such as they did this year, drawing on the countryside and the personalities of country people and not expect the ‘champion of the country’ to hold them accountable”?

Hon SHANE JONES (Minister for Regional Economic Development): In response to the question, the word “champion” is a verb and a noun, and I am delivering it by deed and by word.

Hon Paul Goldsmith: Was he speaking in a personal capacity at the time he made that statement to the House?

Hon SHANE JONES: I repeat: I will remain an avid defender of the standards of accountability. Unlike that member, I will not be sucked in by this corporate-based pecuniary prattle, smooth tongue, and what I said, I owned.

Hon Paul Goldsmith: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker.

Mr SPEAKER: Well, I probably should have ruled the question out. I mean, it is absolutely obvious that if a member makes a statement in the House in response to a question, as a Minister, then he is speaking as a Minister.

Hon Paul Goldsmith: How does he reconcile his response in the House with the statements of the Prime Minister, who repeatedly said that his comments regarding Fonterra were made in a personal capacity—”end of story”?

Hon SHANE JONES: Just to remind the House, those candid remarks were made to an audience organised by KPMG, where we were told it was Chatham House Rules. And then, when I returned to the House, obviously someone associated with the National Party leaked those remarks to the press gallery. And as befits a plain-speaking, forthright advocate, champion, citizen of the provinces, I own what I said.

Hon Paul Goldsmith: When he told the House last Thursday, the day after the Prime Minister had asserted that his comments about Fonterra’s leadership were made in his personal capacity, “I stand by my remarks in terms of accountability [they] should be shown by failing corporate governance culture at the highest levels of our largest company, and if the cab doesn’t suit then shanks’s pony is just as good”, was he intentionally setting out to make the Prime Minister look weak?

Hon SHANE JONES: My style is strong and forthright; however, nothing that I have said, done, or am contemplating to do is designed to undermine the Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, or indeed the Deputy Prime Minister, soon to be the Prime Minister. And I think what the member needs to understand, it was a rapidly changing narrative. It started where I was invited as the “champion of the country”, I gave the remarks to an adoring audience, and I said them to the face of the chairman of Fonterra, not behind his back, like other people on that side of the House.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Has the Minister seen the supportive comments of the New Zealand Herald writer Fran O’Sullivan, and why would it be that she is allowed to see the common sense of the argument about Fonterra’s lack of accountability but the National Party can’t?

Mr SPEAKER: Order! Order! [Interruption] Well, you know I am allowed to make my own rulings. The member can answer the first part of the question but not the last.

Hon SHANE JONES: The journalist referred to is a highly respected, well-versed, leading writer about matters of governance and accountability, and I’ve got every confidence when she congratulates my call for accountability she speaks truth to power.

Hon Paul Goldsmith: So have I got the sequence right? The Prime Minister told him off for attacking corporate leaders; then he did it again; then she said he was only speaking in a personal capacity, not as a Minister; then the Minister rode over that fig leaf in a steamroller and repeated those statements in the House—

Mr SPEAKER: Order! Order! I’m now going to ask the member to very quickly come to a question that doesn’t have the level of embellishment—even if the fig leaf embellishment he used is a small one.

Hon Paul Goldsmith: Well, I started with the question, Mr Speaker. The question was—

Mr SPEAKER: Well, if the member started with the question, has he finished?

Hon Paul Goldsmith: Well, no, because I was continuing the question and I haven’t got to the end of it.

Mr SPEAKER: OK, right, get to the end quickly.

Hon Paul Goldsmith: Well, I’ll start again if I—

Mr SPEAKER: No. No. Does the member have a further supplementary?

Hon Paul Goldsmith: No. I haven’t finished this particular question.

Mr SPEAKER: No. No. You have.

Hon Paul Goldsmith: Well, I’ll let him answer it then.

Hon SHANE JONES: The member obviously doesn’t understand the reproductive cycle. This was a story where seeds were planted in an audience full of farmers and their grandees. It changed. At what point he missed the impregnation, I’m not sure.

Hon Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Mr Speaker, I could see that throughout that question you were asking yourself whether or not it should progress or otherwise and what was right and what was wrong. You at one point said that you thought the simple question about whether he was acting in a personal or ministerial capacity was irrelevant, because, clearly if he’d spoke about it in the House, he was acting ministerially. I wonder if you might consider asking the “provincial champion” to provide some sort of timetable for when he is acting personally and when he is acting as a Minister? Because our understanding is that Ministers are at all times Ministers, and when they are invited to speak somewhere as a Minister, they are accountable as a Minister for what they say.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Mr Speaker, there is no other authority than the member’s former leader John Key, who made the very distinction which everyone else got but Gerry didn’t.

Mr SPEAKER: Well, now the Deputy Prime Minister will stand up and address the honourable member for Ilam in the appropriate manner.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Well, which the honourable member for Ilam didn’t get.

Mr SPEAKER: Right, now, what—[Interruption]—no. I’m—

Hon Gerry Brownlee: Well, hang on. We’re dealing with a point of order and someone makes a contribution on it. Everyone’s got to understand it. What circumstance is the Deputy Prime Minister referring to? Because there was a long discussion in this House where someone can be considered a party leader, and the Speaker will remember those long discussions some time back. That has been a long-held tenet in this country that if someone is doing something as a party leader, that’s separate from their other roles, but a Minister is always a Minister as long as they hold the warrant.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: The former Prime Minister, Mr Key, said that he was not always acting as a Prime Minister and he gave examples such as when he was put the putting the cat out. So the very principle that that member outlaid to the House just doesn’t stand.

Mr SPEAKER: Right. I want to thank both members for their contributions. I think they have highlighted something which is an important issue and one which I think in New Zealand we haven’t quite got our heads around. I was reminded earlier today of some comments, I think, attributed to the honourable Mr Finlayson when he referred to the Roman habit of indicating whether or not senators were on duty—whether they were acting as senators—via the colour of their toga. It mightn’t have been Mr Finlayson, but in those days it was very clear whether or not people were acting as Ministers or not. [Interruption] Amy Adams—

Hon Amy Adams: Sorry.

Mr SPEAKER: Well, we have had in this House some quite long discussions, I think, without any real conclusion as to when people are Ministers and when they are members and when they are acting in private capacities. It is clear that Ministers do at times act in all three different capacities. Clearly, there are things which they do, especially those who are constituency members, which they’re not doing as Ministers; they’re doing on behalf of constituents, and that is clear. There have been a number of examples given by Mr Key—I think putting out the cat was one of them. I think there were some others which weren’t quite as repeatable in the House—and we wouldn’t want to get into them in the House—which were done in a personal capacity rather than in a ministerial capacity. So it has been accepted by the House previously that there are occasions where, effectively, the ministerial hat is taken off and people act in a personal capacity. But what I’m not certain of—and maybe we need to have a discussion at Standing Orders at some stage is to get things a bit more codified so members can better understand these things.

Hon Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. That process will be a good one, but it’s a long process, as you’re aware. In this case, Mr Jones was at a function, invited to speak, because he is a Minister. At no point, as far as we know, did he say, “Look, I’m happy to speak, but I’m speaking to you in a private capacity.”, and if he was speaking in a private capacity, then clearly the criticisms he could make could stand, but certainly would not have got the publicity they did as result of his making those statements. So I think some sort of interim ruling from you about what is in and what is out as far as Ministers acting would be useful for the scrutiny of the House.

Mr SPEAKER: I will see if I can get my head around the issue.

Dysfunction in Parliament

Question Time (oral questions) has often been contentious in Parliament, in large part because it is the best chance for MPs, especially Opposition MPs, to get media attention.

Either tensions, frustration or deliberate attention seeking has simmering for some time, and flared up yesterday. Paula Bennett walked out in a huff over decisions made by the Speaker Trevor Mallard, and shadow leader of the house Gerry Brownlee followed up with a letter to the Speaker saying National’s confidence in the Speaker had been ‘badly shaken’.

Who’s to blame for this? Largely the party leaders Jacinda Ardern and Simon Bridges (and Winston Peters to an extent) have to take responsibility for the behaviour of themselves and their MPs in Parliament.

The Speaker should also reflect on whether his approach is as effective and fair as it could be.

The exchange yesterday that boiled over (or stirred the pot):

Question No. 1—Prime Minister

1. Hon PAULA BENNETT (Deputy Leader—National) to the Prime Minister: Does she stand by all of her Government’s policies and actions?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN (Prime Minister): Yes.

Hon Paula Bennett: Can she confirm that as a result of her delay to the implementation of the winter energy payment, superannuitants will be around $300 worse off this year than they would have been following National’s proposed tax cuts?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Of course, the member will be aware we very deliberately cancelled those tax cuts so that we could invest in the low and middle income New Zealanders who needed that investment more than the top 10 percent of income earners, who would get $400 million worth. We have, however, identified that superannuitants experience things like winter poverty. We would have very much liked our payment to have come in earlier. It starts on 1 July and then it runs through till September. When it’s fully implemented, those superannuitants can expect to receive $700 as a couple—$450—but, again, this year it is less than that, unfortunately.

Hon Paula Bennett: How can she justify waiting till 1 July for the winter energy payment because, as she said previously, it was difficult to implement earlier, and yet she could bring in a fees-free policy on 1 January worth $2.8 billion?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: As the member would well know, having been the Minister for Social Development, making the largest changes to the welfare system in over a decade can be a complex exercise. We deliberately created a mini-Budget in December in order to expedite bringing in the winter energy payment, the Best Start payment, and Working for Families changes, and managed to do it in a time that I think even that side of the House would have found challenging, given their tax cut changes didn’t come in till the following year.

Hon Paula Bennett: Is the Prime Minister really leading us to believe that it would have been harder to universally give a one-off payment to all superannuitants on 1 May than it is to actually do the difficulties of different courses, 294,000 students, on 1 January for mixed payments?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Yes.

Hon Paula Bennett: Does she agree with education Minister Chris Hipkins that the fees-free policy will drive a 15 percent increase in student numbers?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Taking into account that we have to reverse a trend under that last Government of declining enrolment in post-secondary education, which we are trying to reverse. Of course, the members on the other side of the House have taken an unfortunate and narrow view of the need for us to have a greater proportion of our population in post-secondary education that includes those who have never studied before, who might be factory floor works or, indeed, McDonald’s workers, to go to wānanga or polytech to retrain, boost our productivity, and transform our economy.

Hon Paula Bennett: Let me rephrase: does she agree with the education Minister that the fees-free policy will drive a 15 percent increase in student numbers, particularly as she just said and accused us of not—

Mr SPEAKER: Order! [Interruption] Order! [Interruption] Order! The member finished her question some time ago.

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: The point that I was making is that we had declining enrolment numbers. In fact, we did point out that, actually, for the last year our expectations were lower than that. We know that we have to make up ground, because, as I’ve said, there was a tendency for post-secondary education to start declining, and we’re trying to reverse that trend. I would have thought the other side of the House would be a bit more ambitious about the options for New Zealanders to retrain and educate themselves.

Hon Paula Bennett: Is she concerned about the effectiveness of her flagship $2.8 billion fees-free tertiary policy given Treasury is now forecasting that there will not be a 15 percent increase, not a 5 percent—

Mr SPEAKER: Order! [Interruption] Order! The member’s finished. She’s had two legs already.

Hon Paula Bennett: No I haven’t. Not even no increase but, instead, 900 fewer students. Actually, that is the relevant point, Mr Speaker.

Mr SPEAKER: Order! The member will resume her seat.

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Again, the two points I’d like to make—

Hon Gerry Brownlee:I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker.

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: —is that this side of—

Hon Gerry Brownlee: Point of order.

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Gerry, I’ve got this. [Interruption]

Mr SPEAKER: Order! Order!

Hon Gerry Brownlee: Well, that was clearly an interruption of a point of order, so, clearly, you’ll want to rule on that.

Mr SPEAKER: No, I hadn’t yet called the member.

Hon Gerry Brownlee: Well, you had, actually. The Hansard will show you had.

Mr SPEAKER: Well, if that is correct, I apologise to the member. The member now has the call. Would he like to make his point of order?

Hon Gerry Brownlee: Yes. Your suggestion that the question is now over seems to me to fly in the face of there needing to be some verification for questions. If you want us to start writing novels before the actual question ends, we can do that, but some flexibility in being able to make a point with the question is not unreasonable given that everyone knows question time is a time when the Government defends itself and has a much greater opportunity to do that. That should be couched in terms of the information given or provided by the question, and that’s the point of verification.

Mr SPEAKER: Well, I thank the member for his advice. I will listen carefully in the future. It would probably be easier to judge and less complicated if there weren’t addendums before the question started as well as unnecessary information for the purpose of the question during it.

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: The point I was making was actually that the member is reinforcing the issue that we had. We had a declining number of people engaging in post-secondary education, regardless of whether they were school leavers or those already on the factory floor. The OECD said we needed to do something about it; the IMF said we needed to do something about it—this Government is. It may take time, but it will be worth it.

Hon Paula Bennett: In November, when her education Minister made his statement that it would increase by 15 percent, did he know it was declining, or is she just using that as an excuse now to break her promise?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: We all knew it was declining, we all knew we had to do something about it, and we all know that we’ve got a productivity challenge in New Zealand. This side of the House is willing to take that challenge on; that side would rather see barriers to education continue.

Hon Paula Bennett: So why was a $2.8 billion bribe for tertiary students more important than her promises around health, education, and police that she’s promised?

Mr SPEAKER: No, no, no. I’m going to require the deputy leader of the National Party to rephrase that question in a way that she knows is within Standing Orders, and she’s not getting an extra question for doing it; this will be a new supplementary.

Hon Paula Bennett: Why was a $2.8 billion payment for tertiary students more important than her promises around health, education, and police?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Again, a narrow view of the policy given this will have a greater potential impact for those workers who have never ever engaged in post-secondary education. But my second question: if it’s a bribe, will you reverse it?

Hon Paula Bennett: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. You ruled out a word that I wasn’t to use, and yet then the Prime Minister is free to use it in her answer.

Mr SPEAKER: I think the Prime Minister could well have been reflecting the inappropriate comment of the member. [Interruption] Order! Order! If members can’t see a description of someone’s own policy as being different from a description of another person’s policy—picking up the words inappropriately used I think is not out of order. What I thought the member was going to object to was the Prime Minister’s reference to the second person, and I want to remind her that she should keep me out of the debate and out of the questions.

Hon Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Well, all things considered, then, do we get that question back?

Mr SPEAKER: No.

Hon Paula Bennett: Why was $900 million—[Interruption]

Mr SPEAKER: Order! Order! The Opposition just lost five questions. Gerry Brownlee will stand, withdraw, and apologise.

Hon Gerry Brownlee: I withdraw and apologise.

I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Mr Speaker, your job is to keep order in this House, not to prevent the Opposition from challenging the Government on their programmes. Your repeated recall of questions from us does that, and I think that is most inappropriate and bad for our democracy.

Mr SPEAKER: I want to thank the member for his advice, but I will not have senior members referring to me in the way that he did by way of interjection. I do regard what he has just done as grossly disorderly, and I will contemplate what will happen. I think members know that, in the past, anyone who made that comment would’ve been tossed out of the House, and I don’t want it to be my practice to do that—especially to a senior member of the House—but the member should know better, and I will contemplate what I will do as question time goes on.

Hon Paula Bennett: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I think the point I do want to pick up is that I think the use of taking away and gaining supplementary questions does question our ability as the Opposition to actually put the Government on notice, to actually ask the questions that we have a right to do as part of our democracy. My colleague may not have made that point as clearly as he wanted to, but that’s certainly how this side of the House feels.

Mr SPEAKER: Well, I now regard that member as being grossly disorderly. She has again relitigated the point that I’ve been ruling on. The member knows well that supplementary questions are at my discretion. Any supplementary questions are at my discretion. I’ve chosen to use this approach. As a result of it, to date, the National Party have had 22 more supplementaries than they would’ve had according to the numbers given by the Clerk. They have done very well out of the process, mainly as a result of disorderly behaviour by Mr Jones and a couple of his colleagues. But the National Party is ahead on it, and I absolutely reject any suggestion that the National Party have not been able to ask the number of questions over this Parliament that they would’ve been able to otherwise. That’s just not true.

Hon Paula Bennett: Speaking to the point of order.

Mr SPEAKER: No, there’s no point of order. If the member wants a further supplementary, she can take it. If not, we’ll move on.

Hon Paula Bennett: No, I’m leaving. What a waste of time.

Mr SPEAKER: For how long?

Hon Paula Bennett: Oh, just for today.

Mr SPEAKER: Thank you.

 

Green Party announces significant change to Question Time

James Shaw has announced an interesting change to how they are going to deal with the Green Party questions in Question:


Green Party announces significant change to Question Time

The Green Party has today announced that, from this week, most of its allocation of questions for Question Time will be handed over to the Leader of the Opposition to use, in order to limit the prevalence of “patsy questions” in Parliament and to strengthen the ability of Parliament to hold the Government of the day to account.

The only exception is if the Green Party wishes to use a question to hold the Government to account on a particular issue, consistent with the party’s Confidence and Supply agreement with Labour, which acknowledges the ability for the parties to agree to disagree on certain issues.

“The Green Party has long advocated the importance of Parliament having the powers to hold the Government of the day to account. Question Time is a key avenue for the opposition to interrogate the Government, so this move is a small step we can take to live up to the values we stated in opposition now that we are part of the Government,” said Green Party Co-leader James Shaw.

“Using Question Time to ask ourselves scripted, set-piece patsy questions does nothing to advance the principles of democracy and accountability that are very important to us as a party. We expect the opposition to use our questions to hold us to account as much as any other party in Government.

“We think patsy questions are a waste of time, and New Zealanders have not put us in Parliament to do that; we’re there to make positive change for our people and our environment.

“We don’t expect any other party to follow suit – this is about us leading the kind of change we want to see in Parliament.

“The Greens are committed to doing Government differently and doing Government better and this change, along with our voluntary release of Green Ministers diaries to increase transparency, will hopefully spark more of a debate about how we can bring Parliament’s processes and systems into the modern age.

“We will also make a submission to the Standing Orders Review, which kicks off next year, to advocate for further changes to Question Time. This review is where all parties in Parliament make decisions about how future parliaments will operate and is the best place for all politicians to discuss any long term permanent changes to Question Time.

“The Canadian Government has recently trialled changes to Question Time after Justin Trudeau campaigned to do so. This shows parliament systems are not set in stone and should be open to regular review and change to ensure our democracy is healthy and well-functioning.

“We have reserved the right to use our questions when we have a point of difference with our colleagues in government. Our Confidence and Supply Agreement with Labour allows us to agree to disagree on issues, and the occasional respectful questioning of the Government from within is also an important part of democracy.

“That we can occasionally disagree with each other highlights the strength and flexibility of this Government,” said Mr Shaw.


It will be interesting to see whether National changes their approach to Question Time in response.


UPDATE – James Shaw has responded to media claims that Greens had done a deal with National on this.

No deal, just a principled stand

Do you know what frustrates me about Parliament? Sometimes, it’s nothing but a hollow ritual.

As Greens, we’ve always stood for modernising our democracy, making MPs more accountable and giving the public better access to the levers of power.

So from this week, the Green Party will hand over its allocation of questions for Question Time to the Leader of the Opposition. That means, we will no longer waste Parliament’s time or yours asking scripted, set-piece “patsy” questions directed to ourselves.

It doesn’t mean we’ve given up pursuing issues we care about. When those issues arise, our arrangement allows Green MPs still to ask questions where we wish to hold the Government to account.

So why the change? The questions we’re giving up do nothing to advance democratic participation. Question Time should be about holding the Government to account, the Opposition can better use some of our questions to do that.

This is another example of us leading the type of change we want to see in Parliament. We’re walking our walk.

Learn more about Question Time here.