Labour MPs change minds about Chinese expert submissions

A quick change of stance after Labour MPs block China expert from speaking at select committee.

RNZ: Labour MPs backtrack on Anne-Marie Brady committee decision

Labour MPs have backtracked on their decision to block China expert Anne-Marie Brady from speaking at Parliament after push-back from the Opposition.

Professor Brady had asked to address MPs about foreign interference in elections as part of a justice committee inquiry, but the request was turned down yesterday when the four Labour MPs voted against it.

A government spokesperson said the committee chair, Labour MP Raymond Huo, had a rethink overnight and the committee would briefly reopen submissions to the public later this year.

Mr Huo declined to be interviewed by RNZ, but in a written statement he said he “welcomed” new submissions.

He said yesterday’s decision to block Prof Brady was “purely procedural” and denied he had shifted stance under pressure.

“That’s my own initiative,” Mr Huo said.

However, just hours earlier Mr Huo made no mention of that position in a separate statement sent to RNZ.

“As Committee Chair, I am satisfied that the correct procedure has been followed and that the [intelligence] agencies will keep the committee well informed about any issues of foreign interference that may arise,” he said.

Public attention seems to have had an effect.

Committee member and National MP Nick Smith yesterday called for the committee to reconsider, saying Parliament should hear from New Zealand’s most published academic around the risks of overseas interference in elections.

Dr Smith this afternoon told RNZ he was pleased Mr Huo had had a “change of heart”, but said it was only because he had spoken out.

“It’s blatantly obvious that the Beehive has recognised that silencing an academic on as issue as sensitive as protecting New Zealand from foreign interference was a really bad look and they’ve had to reconsider.”

Newsroom: Govt set to U-turn on Brady block

Committee chairman and Labour MP Raymond Huo, who has featured in Brady’s work for his supposed ties to Chinese government representatives, defended the decision on Thursday, saying it was “purely procedural” given the close of public submissions.

However, a spokesman for Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern told Newsroom that Huo had reconsidered the Labour MPs’ original decision upon reflection.

He would discuss the inquiry at the committee next week, with a view to reopening it to public submissions from Brady and others.

While the decision to prevent Brady from speaking had been procedurally correct, the spokesman said there was merit in hearing from her and any others who wished to submit on the issue of foreign interference.

Neither Ardern nor anyone in her office had spoken to Huo about the committee’s initial decision, the spokesman said.

Jacinda Ardern said on 1 News tonight that the Labour MPs had had a change of mind and she thought that was a wise change of position, but kept a distance from that change of stance.

Labour MPs block China expert from speaking at select committee

An odd vote by Labour MPs in the Justice select committee (NZH): Labour MPs vote against allowing China expert Anne-Marie Brady to speak at justice select committee

Labour MPs on the justice select committee have voted against allowing China politics expert Anne-Marie Brady to make a submission on foreign interference in elections.

National MPs supported Brady, a professor at Canterbury University, giving her view on the issue which is a focus of the committee’s inquiry into the 2017 general election and 2016 local elections.

The eight-strong committee is evenly split between National and Labour MPs and today’s vote against means Brady cannot appear.

That’s a strange and concerning exclusion of an expert opinion by the Labour MPs.

National MP Nick Smith, who is a member of the committee, said it was concerning that Labour blocked Brady from making a submission on the critical issue of protecting New Zealand from foreign interference in its democracy.

“This has become a huge issue in other liberal democracies, whether it’s the United States, Australia, UK, Canada or Western Europe.

“If the committee is going to do its job for Parliament, we need access to both government officials but also New Zealand’s most published author on the subject,” Smith told the Herald.

He said the Labour MPs’ reasons for blocking Brady’s appearance were “disingenuous”.

“They said ‘we should only hear from government officials’ when Parliament needs to be able to hear from a wide range of expert views to be able to complete its inquiry successfully”.

They only want to hear what they want to hear?

Justice committee chairman Labour MP Raymond Huo said the decision to decline Brady’s late request was purely procedural.

Exluding an expert opinion seems hardly ‘purely procedural’.

Brady said in a statement that the coalition Government had made it clear in two public strategy documents, as well as classified briefing papers made public, that it was very concerned about foreign interference activities in New Zealand and wanted address them.

“New Zealand needs to pull together as a country to face this problem, and we need a bipartisan approach to solving it.

“The Government must pass new legislation which will address foreign interference in our political system, and it needs to talk directly about the problem to the public, so they can make informed choices and understand what the concerns are”.

Labour’s openness and transparency and fairness seem to have been forgotten here.

Griffin won’t voluntarily hand over Curran recording

After a weekend and a bit of pondering RNZ chairman Richard Griffin has advised that he won’t hand over a recording of a phone conversation between he and Clare Curran, despite acknowledging this is in breach of a select committee directive.

It’s hard to know whether he is staunch in protecting the recording, or is wanting the select committee to demand more strongly that it be handed over.

NZH: RNZ chairman Richard Griffin won’t hand over Broadcasting Minister Clare Curran’s voicemail

RNZ chairman Richard Griffin says he has no intention of handing over a voice message left on his mobile phone by Broadcasting Minister Clare Curran.

“No, I have no intention of handing it over, so I’m in breach of the select committee directive,” he told the Herald.

He declined to comment further, saying a letter outlining the reasons why had been sent to the Economic Development, Science and Innovation Select Committee.

The committee had requested the voicemail and other communications between the Minister and Griffin following his and RNZ chief executive Paul Thompson’s appearance last week to correct the record over a meeting between RNZ’s former head of content Carol Hirschfeld and Curran.

Select committee chairman Jonathan Young said the committee would meet on Wednesday to review last week’s hearing.

He said a number of issues would be canvassed. Whether to ask Hirschfeld to appear would be discussed only if it was raised by a committee member.

National MP Melissa Lee, who has driven questions over the meeting, said she had not yet had a chance to review the committee documents so would not say whether she would raise the possibility of Hirschfeld appearing.

So this issue will get another airing after the select committee meeting tomorrow.

Urgency and select committee arguments

National MP Simon Bridges makes a fair (albeit possibly hypocritical) point about the use of urgency in Parliament.

In July Labour Party spoke in Parliament against the use of “urgency as a lazy approach to avoid proper scrutiny in select committees” and there are quite a number of times over the years when they’ve railed against the constitutional outrage of urgency in Parliament.

In their first week of Parliament their first Bill will be under urgency with no pesky select committee process.

Bridges is the national Opposition’s shadow leader of the House.

There is also a stoush over numbers of select committee members. Stuff: National calls Government’s plans for select committee ‘undemocratic’

National and Labour are exchanging blows over Labour’s plans to cut opposition MPs out of select committees, after Bill English threatened National will use its size to frustrate government progress.

Now National has accused Labour of eroding democratic rights, and attempting to limit the scrutiny of its government by changing the number of committee seats to 96, meaning 11 National MPs will miss out.

The committees are a crucial step in the legislative process.

The move to have 96 select committee seats comes after National leader Bill English last week warned the government to expect “tension” and “pressure” in Parliament, and through the select committee process where National would have a strong presence.

“And that is going to make a difference to how everything runs — it’s not our job to make this place run for an incoming Government that is a minority,” he said.

National shadow leader of the House Simon Bridges said the government was now trying to cut the number of opposition MPs from committees because it was short on numbers itself.

Traditionally, the number of positions on select committees had matched the number of MPs in Parliament, he said.

But Labour claim that National started it (a move to reduce numbers):

Labour has not yet responded to requests for comment but the party’s leader of the House Chris Hipkins told NZME the number of 96 was settled upon because that was the recommendation from the standing orders committee.

Earlier this year, the standing orders committee, which included National, recommended the number of select committee places be reduced to 96.

The committee met in March to consider different options for the make-up of the subject select committees. It recommended the 96-member option, saying 84 wasn’t enough and while the 108-seat model would “essentially maintain current arrangements” due to the number of subject committees being reduced from 13 to 12, committees were “generally larger than is necessary for them to be effective, and some members have too many committee commitments”.

“And ultimately Bill English was out there on Friday saying the National Opposition was going to use the select committee process to grind the Government’s legislation to a halt,” Hipkins said.

“It would be fair to say we are not of a mind to increase the numbers on select committee in order to make it easier for them to do that.”

It would be fair to say that parties do what they can to look after their own interests in Parliament.

If the Government does everything under urgency then the numbers on select committees won’t matter.

The Government has set ambitious targets for their first 100 days in office – after a long time in Opposition they are obviously keen to get things done but hasty lawmaking is risky.

TPPA timeframe change “an attack on democracy”

MPs considering submissions on the TPPA have had the available time slashed from a month to five days. This is bad process and appalling PR from the Government on a very contentious issue.

The select committee public submission process is an important part of our democratic system, despite efforts by parties and activist groups to manipulate it.

It’s a common tactic to try and flood submissions with a particular stance and then to claim that it’s a measure of public opposition. Numbers of submissions are not a measure of opinion.

But the Government has poked a stick into a wasp nest by slashing the time Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Select Committee members have to consider submissions on the TPPA.

Radio NZ reports: New TPP timeframe an ‘attack on democracy’

MPs have been given just five days to consider hundreds of submissions on the controversial TPP trade deal after the timeframe was drastically cut from four weeks.

The select committee was originally give a month to write its report and present it back to Parliament.

The Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Select Committee had been hearing submissions on the TPP from hundreds of people across the country and that will continue until the end of the month.

National MP Mark Mitchell, chair of the Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Select Committee, strongly rejects the view that the timeframe undermines the democratic process and says there will be plenty of time for robust debate.

But a last minute slashing of time to consider submissions is an awful look – what did key say about National’s need to avoid appearing arrogant this term?

Opposition MPs are understandably up in arms.

But opposition members on the committee say they were told yesterday the government wanted to cut down the time they had to analyse the submissions, so the legislation could get through by the end of the year.

They said they were stunned by the news and felt angry and frustrated.

Labour MP David Clark…

…said he wouldn’t be surprised if the people who made submissions felt the same way.

“Submitters will be horrified if they learnt that the committee is curtailing a process of consideration of the very serious issues they have raised,” he said.

“It seems very reasonable to expect them to be frustrated and to question whether there is integrity in the process at all.”

It’s fair to question motives and integrity.

Green MP Kennedy Graham…

…said he and other opposition MPs on the committee had thought the original timeframe of a month to write the report was too short.

“It’s just a slap of indifference and dismissal of some very sincere, very capable and hard-working New Zealand people,” he said.

“It shows it up for what it is – which is essentially a roadshow with a predetermined end.”

It gives opponents plenty of cause to ridicule the consultation process as a sham.

New Zealand First MP Fletcher Tabuteau…

…said what made it worse was that the tight deadline meant the draft report would be written before the committee had finished hearing all the submissions.

The TPP has been a farcical process from the beginning, he said.

“The whole negotiation had been undertaken in secret to start with. The submission time has been months in contrast to the six years it has to write [the TPP deal],” Mr Tabuteau said.

“This is clearly an attack on democracy – it’s unacceptable.”

It looks unacceptable to me.

This is likely to stir up the TPPA opponents yet again and give them a good reason to stir up protests again.

Is this just arrogant abuse of the democratic process, or is the Government deliberately stirring up anti-TPPA protest?

Whether the latter is their intent or not it is likely to be the outcome.

Green MP: “huge win” for victims of sexual violence

A significant achievement by Green MP Jan Logie who initiated a Social Services Select Committee inquiry into sexual violence services, with the Government accepting or broadly accepting all the committee’s recommendations.

Funding to implement the recommendations will be announced in the budget in May.

Green Party press release: Huge win for sexual violence survivors and services today

The Government’s decision to accept all recommendations from a Select Committee inquiry initiated by Green Party MP Jan Logie is a huge win for sexual violence survivors and those working to help them, the Green Party says.

The Government has today released its response to the recommendations of the Social Services Select Committee, following an inquiry into sexual violence services sparked by Green Party women’s spokesperson Jan Logie. The Government has accepted or broadly accepted all 32 of the committee’s recommendations.

“This is an enormous win for the victims of sexual violence and for those working to help them, who have endured a severe lack of funding for far too long,” Ms Logie said.

“It is a huge relief that the inquiry I initiated, with the help of the committee chairman Alfred Ngaro, will see real change in sexual violence services for victim survivors.

“I look forward to a substantial budget increase in this year’s Budget, and for the Government to collaborate with the sector to deliver a new model.

“While indications are good overall for the sector, the Government qualified their support for three important recommendations: accessible services, remuneration for staff, and strengthening existing kaupapa Māori services. I will be continuing to advocate for these crucial outcomes.

“Over the past two years the committee heard how the victims of sexual violence have gone without the help they need.

“Instead of being funded properly, vital services like Rape Crisis and Women’s Refuge have had to cut hours and reduce services as their funding was cut or not increased to meet demand.

“I have been out collecting for Rape Crisis today for their annual appeal, but the survival of services should not rely solely upon charity.

“We look forward to more collaboration, more money, and better services for victim survivors,” Ms Logie said.

I admit to not being impressed by Logie as an MP in the past but this is a significant achievement.

Logie has proven that opposition MPs can be effective and achieve results.

Order of flag referendum questions won’t change

The Select Committee considering the process for the referendum on the flag has rejected most requests for changes to the process, and have declined changing the order of the referendum questions.

Many submitters wanted the first referendum to ask us whether we wanted the flagged changed or not first.

Party politics also seems to have influenced some campaigning to change the question order. Labour is effectively campaigning against one of it’s stated policies (see next post).

NZ Herald reports: Select Committee rejects calls for one-off flag referendum

Many submitters had asked for the first of the two referendums, due to be held later this year, to ask whether voters wanted a new flag rather than wait until the second referendum when the new flag will go up against the most popular alternative.

However, the majority on the committee chose to stick with the current order, saying it agreed with the advice of officials that to change the order would bias it in favour of the current flag because voters would not know what the alternative was.

Some people will be genuinely disappointed in that decision – I think it’s the right decision – but from what I’ve seen many wanting the question order changed oppose any flag change so promote what is most likely to prevent change rather what is best practice for referendums on it.

“The only significant amendment is to include a ‘regulated period’ for advertising for the referendum to ensure that MPs do not use taxpayer funds or resources to campaign on the flag.

There are no limits on advertising spending.

The $26 million flag process has been criticised as a waste of money after low attendance at public meetings.

The Flag Consideration Panel has defended that, saying there has been intense debate on social media about the issue and almost 5000 possible designs submitted.

The deadline for flag designs from the public is 16 July and the panel will select a shortlist of four after that.

The first referendum will be in November and December, and voters can rank their preferred choices of the alternatives.

So despite attempts to change the process it will go ahead largely as planned.

Select committee to consider euthanasia

It was announced yesterday that the Health Select Committee will carry out an inquiry into voluntary euthanasia. Stuff reports:

Voluntary euthanasia to be examined by Parliamentary inquiry

Announcing an inquiry on Wednesday, chairman of the health select committee, Simon O’Connor, said members were “ready to engage” on what was an “important conversation that needs to be had”.

This follows a petition on euthanasia being presented to Parliament on Tuesday.

On Tuesday, former Labour MP Maryan Street and Matt Vickers, the husband of Lecretia Seales, who died of a brain tumour on the same day she lost a High Court bid, presented the End-of-Life Choice petition to MPs.

The petition was delivered to the health select committee on Wednesday and will now be part of a wider inquiry into voluntary euthanasia.

This is a partial posthumous victory for Seales.

It would take a couple of weeks to come up with a plan for the inquiry, O’Connor said.

The inquiry would consider how best to involve the public and what questions and terms of reference need to be included, he said.

The petition, which has 8975 signatures, garnered cross-party support with Seymour, Green MP Kevin Hague, National MP Chris Bishop and Labour MP Iain Lees-Galloway all turning up on Tuesday to receive it.

This is a difficult topic to deal with but it’s something that our Parliament should seriously look at so this is a promising announcement.

Submissions against marriage equality

Kevin Hague blogs on the most common submissions to the parliamentary select committee against the Marriage Equality Bill – Marriage equality – the submissions against:

The submissions were roughly evenly split, with a small majority in favour of the Bill. However, there was a striking difference – those against were largely presenting a perspective based on religious belief, while those in favour presented a much wider range of arguments and reflected a broader cross-section of society; churches, health organisations, youth groups, unions, law or human rights groups and so on.

Of those opposed, I am pleased to say that relatively few were of the hateful nature I have seen on previous bills, or promised me that I would burn for eternity in a lake of fire, but those people are still out there. Much more commonly, submitters would say that they had nothing against gay people, or had gay friends.

Most of the submissions opposed to the Bill used, paraphrased or even quoted verbatim the Family First submission guide. Unfortunately this meant many repeated errors of fact or argument that Family First had made. The most common arguments that appeared in opposing submissions were:

1. Tradition – marriage as always been between a man and a woman, and we have an obligation to maintain this tradition, either as a duty to our predecessors and descendants, or because of (typically undefined) bad consequences if tradition is betrayed.

2. Natural/divine – actually two separate ideas but usually expressed linked. Heterosexual marriage arises from the natural order of things in which both a man and a woman are necessary to reproduce, which is the point of marriage. Usually expressed with the extra criterion that God intended/designed that it be so.

3. Exclusivity – the special status of heterosexual marriage is worth protecting, and it would be undermined and devalued if others were allowed into the club. Usually expressed with the companion idea that same sex couples should be entitled to the same legal rights (separate but equal), but civil unions are the right vehicle for this.

4. Dictionary – marriage is inherently between one man and one woman (the dictionary says so). Parliament cannot change the meaning of a word, any more than it could make the word “red” now mean green.

5. Human rights – there is not a human right to marry, and if there is, then the right is satisfied because LGBT can marry a person of the opposite sex. The argument usually uses all of the categories of marriages that are not permitted (children etc) to demonstrate the point.

6. Religious freedom – a very large number of submitters say the Bill infringes their religious freedom, both by legalising same-sex marriages against their beliefs but more particularly by opening the door for their churches/ministers to be legally challenged if they refuse to solemnise same-sex marriages. Some also suggested that essentially commercial transactions like hiring a hall were also problematic, and a very small number expressed concern that they would no longer be permitted to express their religious beliefs about marriage.

7. Children – if the Bill is passed same-sex couples will be considered spouses for the purposes of the Adoption Act and will become eligible to adopt children. This is undesirable because children need both their biological mum and dad or, failing that, at least adult male and female role models. Submitters typically used a “research has shown” type of statement and often cited a number of references which they believed or had been told demonstrated their point. Interestingly a smaller but still significant number of those opposed to the Bill made the explicit point that they had no problem with same sex couples being considered for adoptive parents.

8. Slippery slope – if the Bill is passed it will open the door to parallel arguments for marriage rights to be extended to polyamorous, incestuous and bestial marriages, which Parliament will be forced to accept.

9. Downfall – related to the tradition theme. Marriage is the “fundamental building block” of society. If it is varied the structure will become inherently weaker and it will collapse, as Rome did. There are several variants, including one where allowing same-sex marriage results in fewer children being born, leading to population decline.

10. Perversion/sin – didn’t appear explicitly in most submissions against but was often implicit. Essentially these are people who see homosexuality as a sinful or unnatural behaviour that people can choose. Any law change that facilitates or validates that choice is seen as hastening moral crisis in our society with dire results. Often accompanied with allusions to ancient Greece and Rome. An explicit version :”if this Bill becomes law we will become overwhelmed by a tide of perversion and depravity that will make our country not fit to live in.”

11. Minority – LGBT New Zealanders make up a tiny minority, and we shouldn’t change the law for such a small number, especially when it will offend the beliefs of many.

I’ve heard all those arguments in blog discussions, especially at Kiwiblog, some seem almost verbatim.

Cross party support for select committee webcasts

In response to a Davaid Farrar post at Kiwiblog…

Select Committee webcasts

I’m pleased to see this initiative. Select Committees are an important part of Parliament and this should allow more people to see what happens at them.

Hopefully eventually we’ll see all select committees available for viewing over the Internet, and also archived for future reference.

…Clare Curran has tweeted:


Have been pushing for this with @garethmp and @nikkikaye #opengovernment “@KiwiblogDPF: Select Committee webcasts

Good to see cross party support for this.

Maybe webcast scrutiny will encourage MPs to respect the select committee process and submitters more.  And parties, organiosations and lobby groups who organise mass submissions will also be more exposed.

DPF linked to:

Parliament has announced:

Later in 2013 public hearings of evidence before select committees will be webcast live on this website. This will be part of a pilot to assess how this type of service could be delivered in the future. …

During the pilot, one select committee hearing will be webcast at a time. Webcasting will be able to occur only from certain select committee rooms, but committee rooms will continue to be allocated on the basis of committees’ needs; this will not involve any judgment about the newsworthiness of committee business. A committee intending to hear evidence in public and allocated a room with webcasting facilities will be able to choose whether those hearings are webcast.