Mallard “best and worst of Speakers”

Some of what Trevor Mallard has done as Speaker is innovative and relatively effective, but he remains dogged by his political bias and his personal baggage with some MPs, which seem unlikely to change.

Audrey Young: Is it time for fresh challenges for Speaker Trevor Mallard?

Mallard’s performance as Speaker this week has not done the Government any favours.

He is seen as simply part of the Government and the Government is seen to be throwing out National MPs – leader Simon Bridges and Nick Smith – from Parliament.

It has been so bad, that if Ardern is casting around for a capable minister to add to her ranks for the June reshuffle, maybe she should consider bringing Mllard back into the ministry.

Mallard was one of the most highly valued and competent ministers in the Helen Clark.

Mallard is a problem for the Government as Speaker, and he would add something that labour lacks in the current Cabinet – experience. I wonder how he would do as Minister of Housing, or Health. The current ministers are struggling to perform adequately.

While Mallard also has ample experience for his role as Speaker he also has a history of animosities that he seems unable to separate from the job.

I have covered Parliament under seven Speakers and Mallard is both the best and the worst, rolled into one.

When he’s good, he’s brilliant, but on a bad day he’s a House-wrecker.

The good:

On a good day (and there have been two in the past six sitting days) question time can be brilliant.

Because of the rules Mallard instituted, the flow of questions and answers is seamless and his intervention is evident only when he insists on a fuller answer.

He listens to questions and answers very carefully. he does not give diatribes when explaining why he has made a decision.

With oversight over written parliamentary questions, he has also demanded a better standard from ministers and twice this year has awarded National an extra 12 questions because of sloppy written answers from Shane Jones and David Clark.

The bad:

Mallard at his worst is when he abuses the inherent power of the chair by punishing Opposition MPs and then punishes them for reacting under extreme provocation.

That is how Simon Bridges came to being kicked out.

Bridges was kicked out for calling Mallard “unprofessional”. Under Parliament’s rules it was not an unfair punishment. But Bridges was right: Mallard had been unprofessional.

What is happening is that Mallard is giving himself licence to insult MPs but as soon as they bite back they are punished.

Mallard insulted Bridges several times on Tuesday, demanding he knew show “leadership” at a time he knew Bridges was facing leadership pressure. The apparent intention was to humiliate Bridges.

The absolute worst:

However Mallard was at his absolute worst when he refused to put leave on behalf of Nick Smith to give priority to a Bill next members’ day that provided roadside drug testing of drivers.

Smith wanted to know why and Mallard said that he himself had objected. That is unprecedented for the so-called umpire.

When objected, not unfairly, Mallard ordered him to leave the house.

As Speaker, Mallard has power, and he doesn’t want that challenged even when he misuses it.

When Smith abused Mallard on the way out Mallard ordered him back in and named him, suspending him from all proceedings for a day.

The abuse hurled at Mallard by Smith warranted serious punishment, but Mallard’s refusal to put leave was extreme provocation and an abuse of his position.

In contrast, Mallard is quite lenient with government MPs, like Winston Peters.

At times he also appears to protect the Prime Minister and other Ministers.

Mallard has the experience to be a good speaker, and has made worthwhile improvements to how things are done, but he has always had a problem with his temperament, and that is not easily resolved.

Would Ardern consider moving him from the Speaker’s chair to a ministerial responsibility? Would Mallard want to?

Nick Smith named and suspended from Parliament for “grossly disorderly conduct”

National MP Nick Smith was ‘named’ and suspended from Parliament today.

Another MP, Michael Woodhouse, had already been told to leave the Chamber.

Question No. 12—Police

12. Hon Dr NICK SMITH (National—Nelson) to the Minister of Police: Does he stand by all his statements, policies, and actions?

Hon STUART NASH (Minister of Police): Yes.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: Does he stand by his statement to TVNZ on roadside drug-testing last December, in response to the Matthew Dow tragedy in Nelson, in which he said—and I quote—”There’s a discussion document that has been approved by Cabinet that’s going to go out to the public early next year”.

Hon STUART NASH: First of all, let me say that if a person is impaired by drugs or alcohol they should not be driving. It is against the law. We are looking at a new strategy to improve road safety during 2019. An immediate $100 million increase of funding was made to improve road safety when we took office. However, more announcements will be made shortly.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. My question was whether he stood by an important statement.

SPEAKER: The member very clearly got a “no” out of that. Carry on.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: I certainly didn’t hear a “no”. I heard a comment on the issue. I heard nothing about—look, he said Cabinet had approved something.

SPEAKER: Order! Order!

Hon Dr Nick Smith: Did Cabinet, last year, approve a discussion paper on enabling police to do roadside drug testing? If not, why did he tell TVNZ and the people of New Zealand that it had approved such a discussion paper?

Hon STUART NASH: That member’s been around long enough to know that we don’t discuss what goes on in Cabinet in the House.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: Point of order, Mr Speaker.

SPEAKER: No, no. I don’t need it. The member had a straight question, and it was a very clear question. It related to a direct quote from him. We had already commented that a paper had been approved by Cabinet. I’m sort of taking Dr Nick Smith’s word that the quote is accurate, and it’d be pretty serious if it’s not, but, taking that at face value, he cannot say on television that Cabinet approved something and then say that it’s not his role to say so in this House.

Hon STUART NASH: What I can say is I do not recall saying that, but what I will say is work is undergoing in this area.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: Will the Minister apologise to the mother of Matthew Dow, who would’ve turned 25 today if not killed by a reckless drug-driver, given that he misled her in saying that Cabinet had approved a discussion document and that it was to be released earlier this year?

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. With the greatest respect, this is certainly no way to treat human tragedy in the way it’s being played out politically in this House, and we, on this side of this House, seriously object. We don’t diminish, in any way—

Hon Michael Woodhouse: Is the question out of order or not?

Rt Hon Winston Peters: —the harm or the hurt that the family might have felt, but this is not the way for this Parliament to behave, surely.

SPEAKER: First of all, I want to deal with the person who interjected during that point of order. Who was that?

Hon Michael Woodhouse: That would probably have been me, Mr Speaker.

SPEAKER: The member will leave the Chamber.

Hon Michael Woodhouse withdrew from the Chamber.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: Point of order, Mr Speaker.

SPEAKER: No. I’m contemplating dealing with this point of order. This is a very serious matter. It involves the death of a loved one. I think many of us are concerned at the approach that is being taken in the House now, but in my opinion it is a matter of, at the moment, judgment of good taste and good taste rather than a matter, at the moment, of order. So if Dr Smith wants to restate his question with that proviso—the clear indication from me that there’s a question of taste and appropriateness involved here—but he is a very senior member, and, obviously, the public will make their judgment on it.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. You have rightly noted this is a serious matter. A key part of that is the accuracy of the quote, and I accept that—

SPEAKER: Order! The member has been invited to ask his supplementary question again, as he did previously before he was interrupted by the Deputy Prime Minister. No one has doubted his word as far as the accuracy of that quote is concerned. All we’ve had is the Minister saying that he can’t recall saying it.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: Will the Minister apologise to the Dow family and to the people of New Zealand for his false statement, and I quote, “There’s a discussion document that’s been approved by Cabinet that’s going to go out to the public early next year” when that was untrue?

Hon STUART NASH: I have absolute sympathy for the Dow family, and your loss—I cannot imagine it. I will not apologise for something I have absolutely no responsibility for. For every family that has lost someone on our roads because there is a drink- or drug-driver, I have absolute sympathy. What I can say is work is going on in this area, though. Another thing I would say is Mr Scott brought a member’s bill to the House last year. I sat down with him and I tried to work with him on this, because we felt that the scope of his bill was too narrow. We asked to work with him. He refused to do that, so this Government undertook to address this in a way that actually addressed the issue.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: Supplementary.

SPEAKER: No. The member’s run out of supplementaries.

POINTS OF ORDER

Land Transport (Roadside Drug Testing) Amendment Bill—Leave to Set Down as First Members’ Order of the Day

Hon Dr NICK SMITH (National—Nelson): I seek leave of the House for the Land Transport (Roadside Drug Testing) Amendment Bill to be set down as the first members’ order of the day on the next members’ day on 22 May.

SPEAKER: Leave is not going to be granted for that.

Hon Dr NICK SMITH (National—Nelson): I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. You need to put the leave.

SPEAKER: Well, I’ve made it absolutely clear that I won’t grant leave for it.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: Oh, you’re opposed to helping getting drug-drivers off the road as well?

SPEAKER: I have made it absolutely clear that I am very unhappy with the member and his approach—

Hon Dr Nick Smith: For standing up for my constituents?

SPEAKER: The member will leave the House.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: Soft on drugs like the Government.

SPEAKER: Order! Right, no—come back, please. The member will resume his seat.

NAMING SUSPENSION OF MEMBER

SPEAKER: I’m invoking Standing Order 86. I name Nick Smith for grossly disorderly conduct.

Hon Nikki Kaye: Point of order, Mr Speaker.

SPEAKER: No. There is no point of order at this point.

The question now is, That Nick Smith be suspended from the service of the House.

A party vote was called for on the question, That Nick Smith be suspended from the service of the House.

Ayes 63

New Zealand Labour 46; New Zealand First 9; Green Party of Aotearoa New Zealand 8.

Noes 56

New Zealand National 55; Ross.

Question agreed to.

Hon Dr Nick Smith withdrew from the Chamber.

The Points of Order, Naming and vote start at 7:00 minutes into the video:

Following that:

Hon GERRY BROWNLEE (National—Ilam): I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I wonder in what close proximity to today’s most recent events we might see the release of the Debbie Francis report into parliamentary bullying.

SPEAKER: If the member would care to come either to the Business Committee or the Parliamentary Service Commission, as he is entitled to, he will find out.

Hon GERRY BROWNLEE (National—Ilam): I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Would the Speaker be prepared to take a late submission to that report?

SPEAKER: No.


@GraemeEdgeler

During a term of Parliament, the first time an MP is suspended from the service of the House, it lasts 24 hours. While suspended an MP may not enter the Chamber, vote (incl as part of a whip-cast party vote), serve on a committee, or lodge questions or notices of motion.

A second suspension is for 7 full days. A third and any subsequent suspension is for 28 full days.

Each day a member is suspended means a deduction of 0.2% of their salary. I am not sure if this means 0.2% or 0.4% for Nick Smith.

This will be the first time (in some time at least) that an MP has had salary deducted for being suspended. MPs used to be under the impression that being suspended meant they lost their salary, but this never actually happened, because the Civil List Act didn’t allow for it.

It took me two submissions – first on the Standing Orders Review in 2011 and then on the new Members of Parliament (Remuneration and Services) Bill to get to oversight remedied, but the law now provides for salary deductions for suspended MPs.

 

 

 

David Clark’s responses to written questions – Speaker: “the breach was so blatant”

Audrey Young at the Herald, in scores of Ministers, rated Minister of Health David Clark one of the three poorest performs at 4/10.

Evidence today that supports claims that Minister Clark is may be out of his depth and performing poorly.

In Parliament the Speaker awarded the Opposition an additional 12 supplementary questions due to blatant breaches in responses to written questions by the Minister Clark.

SPEAKER’S RULINGS

Written Questions—Responses

SPEAKER: Before we come to questions, I have received a letter from the Hon Michael Woodhouse raising with me the responses to written questions he has received from the Minister of Health. I note the Minister and his office have been under considerable pressure as a result of having up to 1,500 questions lodged on a single day. However—[Interruption] The member is running a risk of a multiplier effect here. However, Dr Clark’s response to some of the questions is not acceptable.

The replies refer the member to another reply, and that reply refers him on to another reply. In one instance, the member would have had to make his way through 22 separate replies which do not answer the question before finally reaching the answer. That approach falls far short of the standard of accountability required to the House of Ministers.

The matter was compounded by the answer that was ultimately provided, which stated that the matter was an operational one and that the member could use the Official Information Act 1982 to request the information sought. There is no convention that Ministers are not answerable for operational matters in the agencies falling within their portfolio areas—Speakers’ ruling 160/3. In fact, that’s a key part of the role of a Minister. The House’s own rules for seeking information and its entitlement to receive information exceeds that under the Official Information Act—Speaker’s ruling 177/6. Where a written question seeks an unreasonable level of detail, it is open to a Minister to reply that the cost entailed in answering the question is not consistent with the public interest—and, in fact, Ministers have on occasion done that, from both sides of the House.

Our question system is based on the assumption that Ministers will try and give informative replies—Speaker’s ruling 178/5—and to account to the House for the public offices they hold. In this instance, I expect the Minister to lodge fresh answers to the questions—14351 to 15621 and 15974 to 16132—and, if it is necessary to use a single answer to reply to multiple questions, then the replies should refer directly to the substantive answer.

The Opposition has been denied the opportunity to hold the Government to account through this series of written questions. Therefore, I’m awarding the Opposition an additional 12 supplementary questions to be used today or tomorrow.

Hon CHRIS HIPKINS (Leader of the House): I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I don’t want to raise any issue with the substance of the ruling that you have just made merely one of the process, as somebody who has lodged complaints along the nature of the one that Mr Woodhouse has made in the past. In the past, Speakers have adopted the practice that, before a Speaker would rule on a matter of written questions, the member would first have had to make a formal complaint to the Minister who lodged the answers in the first place. Then, second of all, the Speaker themselves would raise the matter with the Minister before issuing a ruling such as you have. My understanding is that you no longer follow that process. It would seem to me that if there is a sanction going to be applied, there does need to be some process of raising the matter with the Minister’s office before that sanction is applied so they have the opportunity to correct it where an error has been made.

SPEAKER: I’m happy to respond to that. In the vast majority of cases that’s a process I’ve followed. If the member has a conversation with the Minister on his right, he will understand that it’s followed quite regularly. But, in this particular case, the breach was so blatant that—and I hesitate to use the word which I’ve gotten in trouble for using in this House before, but such a blatant breach, in two ways, of Speakers’ Rulings and the Standing Orders—I felt that having that conversation was unnecessary.

Paternalistic Speaker protecting Ardern in Parliament

There have been claims already that Speaker Trevor Mallard has protected Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern in Parliament when under attack by the Opposition.

This came up again after an exchange in Question Time yesterday, where Simon Bridges moved from questions about CGT effects on KiwiSaver to Ardern’s business experience:

Hon Simon Bridges: In light of her comments on fairness, is it fair that under the proposed capital gains tax, the small-business owner will have to pay tax on a third of their business when they sell up for retirement?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Again, alongside the recommendations around a comprehensive capital gains tax, we’ve acknowledged that, for simplicity, that was what the Tax Working Group suggested. They also put alongside that, increasing the threshold for provisional tax from $1,500 to $5,000, increasing the closing stock adjustment, an increase in the automatic deduction for legal fees, a reduction in the number of depreciation rates.

So there was a suite of options in there, and, again, Mr Speaker, as I know you know, but as I wish the Leader of the Opposition would hear: we have not settled on any of the final recommendations of the report. We are still considering them as a Government.

Ardern brought the Speaker into the discussion.

Hon Simon Bridges: Is the problem with answering my questions that she doesn’t understand small business very well?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: No.

Hon Simon Bridges: When she told Mike Hosking last week and this morning that she’d run a small NGO that helped her understand small business, what was that NGO?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: I did not tell him that this morning.

Hon Simon Bridges: When she said last week on Mike Hosking that her running a small NGO had helped her understand small business, what was that NGO?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Actually, I spent more time talking about the fact that my first jobs were all in small businesses. The point that I was making at that time—and actually, I continue to make—is that, as a Government, we are considering all of the issues that have been raised. That includes whether it be residential rentals, whether it be small business, whether it be KiwiSaver.

Hon Simon Bridges: Is the NGO she spoke of the International Union of Socialist Youth?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: The member knows how to use Wikipedia—well done.

Hon Simon Bridges: Has talking to international comrades helped her with her small-business policy development in New Zealand?

SPEAKER: Order! Order! No, the Prime Minister will sit down. We’re not going to have that sort of seal-like approach in this House. It’s a final warning, and I think Mr McClay will be the first out.

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: I stand by the fact that I have worked in small businesses, that I have been in charge of hiring and firing, and I’d be interested in how many times he’s had to do that as a Crown prosecutor.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Given all the—

Hon Gerry Brownlee: Ah, the businessman!

SPEAKER: Order! The member will resume his seat. Mr Brownlee will now stand, withdraw and apologise.

Hon Gerry Brownlee: I withdraw and apologise. What was the problem there? I called him a businessman; I apologise for that.

SPEAKER: The member knows well that he interjected while a member was asking a question. He will now leave the Chamber.

Hon Gerry Brownlee withdrew from the Chamber.

Ex MP Tau Henare:

Ardern was noticeably irritated from early in this exchange.

Richard Harman at Politik: Temper flash from the PM

What appeared to be a flash of temper from the Prime Minister in Parliament yesterday is an indication of how much the capital gains tax debate seems to be getting to her. She and Ministers are getting bogged down in detail as they answer endless questions about how the tax might work…

Audrey Young: Simon Bridges gets the better of Jacinda Ardern over small business experience

Ardern’s loss of form was Bridges’ capital gain as the National leader and the Prime Minister went head to head over a comprehensive capital gains tax (CGT) proposal.

It was a variation on fish and chip shop theme, from the previous day in which slaving over a fat vat in an after- school job gave her insights into how small business owners would be feeling about having to pay 33 per cent tax when they sold up their business for retirement.

Ardern had disputed the NewstalkZB host’s claim that none of the cabinet had experience running a small business.

It was Bridges’ moment but Mallard was having none of it. There are no rules for when applause is tolerated and when it is not. That is decided by the mood of the Speaker who clearly did not like National ganging up on her.

Mallard: “We’re not going to have that sort of seal-like approach in this House.”

Ardern looks under pressure over the Capital Gains Tax. She and her Government seemed badly prepared for dealing the widely expected recommendations of the Tax Working Group. With a decision still a month or two away, expect National to keep hammering Ardern on this.

Both Mallard and Winston Peters appear to be trying to protect Ardern in Parliament. Grant Robertson also stepped in to help. This looks paternalistic, and doesn’t help Ardern’s case.

Ardern won’t be able to come up with answers on CGT for a while yet, but she at least needs to find a way of handling the questions better – on her own.

 

UK House of Commons drama, impartiality of Speaker questioned

A report from Missy in the UK:


More drama in the House of Commons today after PM Questions.

Background: In December Parliament passed a motion on the Meaningful Vote for the Withdrawal Agreement. In this motion it was stated that if the Agreement did not pass the Government had to go back to Parliament within 21 days with a further proposal for leaving the EU. This motion is what is referred to as a forthwith motion. Forthwith is a technical term used, and means that a motion must be put forward for a decision by the Commons without debate or amendment. For this particular motion, whilst it is a forthwith motion it was agreed by the Commons that no amendment could be made to it by any member except a Minister of the Crown. Essentially this motion can only be amended by a Minister and not a backbench or opposition MP.

Today Conservative MP, (and former Attorney General), Dominic Grieve put forward an amendment to this motion changing the 21 days to 3 days. This was signed by MPs from across the House. The clerks advised the Speaker that this amendment was not selectable, and should not be selected for vote. The speaker had previously told another MP that amendments could not be tabled to a forthwith motion. However, despite it being precedent that the speaker takes the advice of the clerks and despite this being an amendment to a forthwith motion, the speaker selected it and tabled the motion.

For over an hour Government MPs raised Point of Order after Point of Order regarding Parliamentary precedent, and the Speaker not taking the advice of the clerks. The Speaker was asked several times what the advice of the clerks was, he refused to say (a journalist was told by a source in the clerks office which is where the information came from that they had advised against it).

The speaker admitted that he had not taken into account Parliamentary precedent, or given any thought to the implications of his decision, he was only interested in the here and now. The implications, however, could be serious in the future. He has set a precedent where the Speaker can change the rules of the debate whenever he likes, and he has also sent the message that precedent doesn’t matter in Parliament, despite it being one of the fundamental Parliamentary Conventions which is part of the uncodified British Constitution.

A bit on the Speaker himself. Last year allegations arose of the Speaker bullying staff in the Commons, and that he had been doing it for any number of years. Some in the Commons called on him to resign. Labour MPs, and some Conservative MPs who support Remain, resisted attempts to force the Speaker out, noting he has openly stated he voted Remain and does not support Brexit.

This has been raised again today as some wonder if the Speaker allowing Dominic Grieve’s amendment to be tabled is his way of paying back those MPs that have kept him in his position, I am not sure that is quite right, but over the last year or so his impartiality on matters pertaining to Brexit has been called into question.

 

Government appointed Speakers are always contentious, but Mallard…

…is the one currently in the gun for being tough on National MPs, and particularly struggling to tolerate Leader of the Opposition Simon Bridges. And National are getting more vocal (reckless) in criticising Mallard’s protection on Government MPs, particularly Jacinda Ardern.

Bridges and Gerry Brownlee were turfed out of Parliament by Mallard yesterday – see Bridges, Brownlee ordered out of Parliament – which shows that the intolerance and antagonism is unlikely to diminish.

Why would Ardern need paternalistic protection of the Speaker? From what I’ve seen she is capable of standing up for herself quite adequately in Parliament.

Audrey Young (NZH): Bridges punishment was fair but Mallard’s intolerance is an ongoing problem

Parliament’s Speaker, Trevor Mallard, has an inbuilt bias against National Party leader Simon Bridges and a soft spot for Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.

That much has been clear since Mallard took the chair just over a year ago. Bridges gets under his skin.

But what is also clear is that Bridges crossed a line in the House today and cannot credibly object to having been thrown out by Mallard.

No one is complaining that Bridges and Brownlee got turfed out yesterday – least of all Bridges. He has used the additional publicity to voice his accusation that Mallard protects Ardern.

It was during questions to the Government about the Karel Sroubek case that Bridges accused Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern of “ducking and diving”.

Such a description is not unusual in the cut and thrust of politics, and barely raised anybody’s eyebrow – except Mallard’s.

Mallard stood up to object – we don’t know whether he was about to make Bridges withdraw and apologise and put him on a final warning.

But before he could mete out punishment, Bridges said: “Here comes the protection.”

That was the offending phrase and that got him ejected from the House – and for that there can be no objection.

It crossed a line. It can be easily argued that Mallard was too quick to leap to the defence of Ardern after she was accused of ducking and diving – not that she requires any help from Mallard in the chamber.

Mallard crossed a line the day before.

Mallard’s intolerance was on display yesterday when he referred to Bridges’ questions as “smart-arse” which is also an appalling lapse by a Speaker to the Leader of the Opposition.

Mallard did apologise for that remark.

And during an exchange with Brownlee, he basically agreed that tighter standards apply to Opposition questions than to answers by Government Ministers.

He can’t stand a bit of cross-house banter and he seemed personally offended when MPs interject in the second person.

The sadness of Mallard’s speakership is that he had hopes of inserting himself less into Question Time than other Speakers, but he is doing the exact opposite.

On Newshub this week, Winston Peters tried to suggest that Mallard was not behaving like a Labour MP, but that is not true. It is impossible to take the politics out of the politician.

It would be difficult for Mallard – a Labour Party member since 1972, a Labour MP since 1984 (with a one term break when he lost his seat in 1990), a member of the Labour-led Cabinet from 1999 to 2008, and a parliamentary colleague t of Ardern’s in Pa – to  become totally impartial.

On a good day, when he is in a good mood and does not expect perfection, when he is in a mood to help the Opposition hold the Government to account, Mallard is the best of Speakers.

His stewardship of the House as the Opposition sought answers from the Government over its decision to exempt Te Arai Development from the Overseas Investment Amendment Bill was exemplary.

The stakes were high. He bent over backwards to be fair to all. It was the House at its best because Mallard was at his best.

Unfortunately, the good days don’t come often enough.

The last couple of days were not good for Mallard.

Today may be different – neither Ardern nor Bridges will be in Parliament today. But Brownlee may be.

 

Bridges keeps pushing on leak, challenges Speaker and PM

Simon Bridges seems determined to keep the leak of his expenses issue alive.

NZH: Simon Bridges says if leaking issue is not resolved, Trevor Mallard is to blame

National Party leader Simon Bridges has lashed out at Parliament Speaker Trevor Mallard for cancelling an inquiry into the travel-expenses leak 24 hours after confirming it was going ahead, and suggested he had been influenced by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.

He said if Mallard or Ardern had any new information, they had a duty to share it with National.

If the issue remained unresolved, National blamed Mallard, Bridges said.

This is upping the ante somewhat. That’s a serious accusation aimed both at Mallard and Ardern. It pretty much guarantees that the Speaker will not be able to walk away from the inquiry and wash his hands of the issue.

On Thursday last week Mallard named Michael Heron QC to conduct the inquiry into the leak.

On Friday afternoon Mallard cancelled the inquiry – more than a week after the alleged leaker sent a text pleading not to hold the inquiry.

That did seem to be an odd sudden reversal of Mallard’s position.

“Nothing had changed fundamentally on the Friday other than that the Prime Minister said it was an internal matter for the National Party,” Bridges said.

“Surprise, surprise, Trevor Mallard then changed his position.

“I know of nothing that gives any good reason for his change unless the Prime Minister or he knows something we don’t and if they do, they should be sharing it with the National Party,” he said.

“I believe he is obliged as Parliament’s Speaker, not a partisan one, to tell us what he knows unless there is an exceptional reason not to.”

This should force Mallard too do something in response.

Mallard appointed Heron to conduct the inquiry, despite having received the text the previous week.

The existence of that text was not revealed until last Friday – and later that day Mallard issued a statement cancelling the inquiry.

The statement said: “The text is from someone who is clearly very disturbed and today’s publicity will almost certainly make that worse.”

Mallard said the person who sent the text was the leaker. “He or she has details of events that it is unlikely anyone outside the National Party would be privy to.”

So a day after appointing a QC to conduct the inquiry Mallard has reversed his decision based on his judgement that it would be “unlikely anyone outside the National Party” would be involved. That seems quite unusual.

Speaking on Friday, Ardern said the inquiry should be stopped if it was proven the individual had mental health issues, and it was an internal matter for National.

“I would want to deal with that internally but that is a matter for the leader of the National Party.”

“If indeed this is an issue that’s come out of the caucus, and if there are indeed mental health issues, it would strike me it needs to be dealt with really sensitively. It is perhaps best dealt with internally than externally.”

This was also an unusual involvement of Ardern, saying much the same thing that Mallard had said in justifying scrapping the inquiry.

It does seem odd that Ardern and Mallard are saying much the same thing. The Speaker is supposed to act independent of any party.

It seems to be high risk for Bridges to escalate this issue into a likely confrontation with the Speaker, given that whatever the outcome this is an awkward issue for him and National.

Does he have information that he hasn’t disclosed that justifies his challenge of both Mallard and Ardern? He has as good as accused them of collusion in scrapping the inquiry.

This is all becoming increasingly messy, and seems to be far from over.


Bridges is just now being interviewed on RNZ.

Inquiry into leak of Bridges’ expenses

I’m not sure whether most of the public will care much about the leaking of Simon Bridges’ expenses, but it seems to have been a big deal for Bridges, for the Speaker, and for political journalists who have given it a lot of coverage.

RNZ:  Inquiry launched into leak on Simon Bridges’ expenses

Parliament’s speaker, Trevor Mallard, said a Queen’s Counsel would lead the inquiry with the help of an employment lawyer and also someone with forensic IT skills.

Mr Mallard said he spoke to Mr Bridges and they agreed there was an issue about the security of information, which could potentially be quite serious.

“The inquiry will look at who forwarded [the information] to whom, and also who else had access to the data which was very specific data at a very specific point in time and who did access it and for what purpose,” Mr Mallard said.

“The general manager of the Parliamentary Service has used his authority to give full access to all of the core Parliamentary Service computers for that purpose, so there is not a question of having to ask people’s permission.

“As far as [MPs] are concerned there are matters of privilege and consent or a waiver will be necessary.”

Mr Mallard said he would ask Mr Bridges to make sure all his MPs signed the waiver allowing access to their computers.

“I’m not putting a start date or a finish date on this inquiry – it might well be the fact that the level of expertise that is coming into it causes someome to put their hand up, because unless they have incredible expertise – they will be identified.”

Asked whether all of the National MPs would sign the access waiver, shadow leader of the House Gerry Brownlee said “yes they will – we’re pretty hot under the collar about it”.

If it turns out an MP has leaked the information – their identity will be made public, but if it is a Parliamentary Service staff member Mr Mallard said that would be an employment matter.

RNZ – Simon Bridges spending leak: Consensus over need for inquiry

Not even Mr Mallard was free of the waiver – although he said it was already on the record that neither he nor his office received the travel expenses electronically, which was how they were leaked to media.

Mr Mallard said there was no escaping cyber experts.

“The inquiry will look at who forwarded [the information] to whom, and also who else had access to the data which was very specific data at a very specific point in time,” Mr Mallard said.

“The general manager of the Parliamentary Service has used his authority to give full access to all of the core Parliamentary Service computers for that purpose, so there is not a question of having to ask people’s permission.”

Mr Brownlee welcomed the investigation and said National had no issues with any of the inquiry’s waiver requirements because they were all “hot under the collar” about the leak.

“Anything that goes into a server stays there no matter what you do with it.”

A Queen’s Counsel will lead the inquiry with the help of an employment lawyer and a forensic information technology expert.

I don’t remember seeing this level of cooperation and determination to identify a leaker.

It’s interesting that Bridges is making such a big deal of it, as his big spending was the focus of the leak.

It would be embarrassing if the culprit turns out to be a National MP, and will ignite inevitable claims of disunity – but if that’s the case Bridges may benefit in the longer term if an enemy within his caucus is outed.

Funnily Newshub – who published the leaked Bridges expenses, yesterday published expense details of all National MPs, but that seems to have been largely ignored. Most attention was given to the leak inquiry.


Newsroom: Will ‘Limogate’ investigation reach top gear?

(I think -gate labels like this are dated and stupid, especially when used for relatively trivial issues).

After all, this was not classified or confidential information: it was already due to be released as part of a wider disclosure regime, with the leaker simply jumping the gun by a few days.

There’s no suggestion that Bridges has been misusing taxpayer money by taking his Crown car on personal joyrides.

After all, this was not classified or confidential information: it was already due to be released as part of a wider disclosure regime, with the leaker simply jumping the gun by a few days.

As for National leader Simon Bridges’ spending, as highlighted by Newshub – the organisation which received the leak – that’s also less than thrilling.

There’s no suggestion that Bridges has been misusing taxpayer money by taking his Crown car on personal joyrides.

It’s not the “what”, but the “who” and “why” which is most intriguing.

Why leak something which is going to be released all and sundry anyway? It seems a high risk, low reward move, given the likely punishment if they’re caught.

The Speaker seems intent on making it a big deal, presumably to warn off other would be leakers.

If someone is caught they may become a major scapegoat for what has been a common part of politics.

Speaker demands that media censor baby coverage in Parliament

Ahead of Jacinda Ardern’s return to Parliament next week (she ‘returned to work’ yesterday but seems to have worked from home in Auckland) the Speaker Trevor Mallard has warned media off acting like paparazzi in Parliament – fair enough.

The ban only applies to baby Neve and not to Ardern.

But Mallard has also threatened severe repercussions for ‘accididental’ or incidental shots of Ardern’s baby, and this is quite controversial, especially to the degree Mallard has explained it.

Stuff: Warning to journalists who take unauthorised photos of returning Jacinda Ardern’s daughter Neve

Parliament’s Speaker Trevor Mallard has issued a warning to journalists planning to take unauthorised photos of returning Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s baby Neve.

The Parliamentary Press Gallery was informed that any journalists who took unauthorised photos would have their accreditation removed and their employer would also be penalised.

That’s harsh.

The only time photos or video featuring Neve could be taken are in a single specified area (level 1 foyer of Parliament House) or by invitation only.

That seems draconian.

A spokeswoman for the speaker said most parents who are members of Parliament might not want their childrens’ photos taken and as part of a family-friendly parliament, parents’ choices would be respected.

The rules were not new and all photos taken in the parliament precinct needed permission and that would continue to remain in place, she said.

Parliament’s filming and photography protocols apply to anyone seeking to film or interview politicians on the parliamentary precinct. Non-accredited people had to seek permission on a case-by-case basis.

So it seems to be a reinforcement of existing rules.

But media are allowed to film and photograph in parts of Parliament.

However, accredited journalists – the Press Gallery – had greater freedom of movement under the rules to interview, film or photograph MPs in some additional public areas.

The rules allowed Press Gallery journalists to film or photograph members on the parliamentary forecourt and steps, the level 1 foyer of Parliament House, corridors outside select committee rooms, the reception areas of Parliament and Bowen House, as well as outside the Beehive Banquet Hall.

This is where things get tricky. If the baby ends up in the background of an interview Mallard says that must be edited out – that is, part of the interview must not be shown.

I don’t think Ardern will pop up in shot with Neve when Kelvin Davis or Clare Curran are being interviewed to effectively censor the shots to save face.

But Ardern (and Gayford) must have some responsibility to remain discrete with Neve and avoid those parts of Parliament where filming may take place,

An interesting discussion and clarification on Twitter:

Newshub:  Speaker threatens to kick journalists out of Parliament over PM baby privacy

Graeme Edgeler: Is it required to delete like the text says, or prohibited from airing (so maybe blur, reaction shot, b-roll over audio etc?) like says in the audio? There’s a massive difference.

Reed Fleming: Good. Neve isn’t actually an elected member of Parliament and should be able to visit Parliament without being filmed – just like hundreds of members of the public do every day. Calm down.

Henry Cooke:yeah but if clarke walks past the background of a shot with Neve in his arms while a minister says something newsy it seems ridiculous that we would have to delete the video

Reed Fleming: A shot with Clarke walking past in the background, out of focus surely isn’t what the Speaker is targeting. Chasing them across the bridge probably is. I don’t think it’s an unreasonable or onerous rule to follow.

Henry Cooke: Yeah but Reed that exact example was actually brought up and he did say we would have to delete it.

Reed Fleming: that seems an absurd application of a reasonable rule. hope you’d broadcast that example regardless.

Graeme Edgeler: Henry confirms that the rule the Speaker has sought to impose is the stupid alternative of the two alternatives previously described. Don’t air it? Sure. Run a reaction shot? Sure. Blur the background? Sure. Delete the footage of eg a minister making a newsworthy statement. GTFO.

This may all be moot – if Ardern and Gayford don’t wander past when the cameras are rolling it may never come up.

Talking of censorship:

I know that Mallard had blocked me from his pre-speaker Twitter, but I don’t recall ever interacting with his @SpeakerTrevor account. I have no idea why he doesn’t want me to see what he tweets as Speaker. Is Parliament a secret society?

And – it’s a bit ironic that Mallard has banned baby shots but promotes himself with a baby photo. I think that’s the baby of an MP, taken in the House.

Speaker reprimands Phil Twyford

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mr SPEAKER: No, you will sit down.

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

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

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

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

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