Mallard and Parliamentary Services cleared of Bridges leaked

A lack of evidence connecting Trevor Mallard or Parliamentary Services to the leak of Simon Bridges’ expenses makes more of a mountain out of what looks increasingly like a mole in the National Party.

RNZ:  Bridges’ expenses inquiry narrows down possible leakers

Mr Mallard initially called a Parliamentary inquiry into the leak but that was overtaken by political events.

His inquiry ended in August after RNZ revealed the person claiming to be both the leaker and a National MP contacted Mr Bridges and Mr Mallard pleading for it to be stopped for the sake of their mental health.

Subsequently, a National Party inquiry was launched – the findings are expected in the next week.

Mr Mallard arranged a forensic investigation of emails and relevant databases connected to his office and those staff involved in the preparation of the expenses – about 20 staff in total.

KPMG, who carried it out, has concluded there is no evidence that Mr Mallard or any Parliamentary Service finance staff were responsible for the leak.

“On the basis of this independent review there is no evidence that staff in the office of the Speaker, Mr Speaker or Parliamentary Service finance and corporate staff released details of this quarterly expense disclosure report to any unauthorised parties,” the report said.

This doesn’t surprise me – why on earth would Mallard or anyone in Parliamentary Services leak expenses information that was due to be officially released a few days later? It defies logic.

With those possibilities ruled out that leaves National MPs and their staff or someone in the National Party.

Mr Bridges has repeatedly insisted none of his MPs were responsible but now that Mr Mallard has all but cleared his own name, his office staff and the Parliamentary Service staff involved in the preparation of the expenses, the finger of blame is pointing to the National Party.

The National Party’s own investigation is being led by PWC and Simpson Grierson.

It will consider both the original leak to Newshub and the subsequent text sent by someone citing mental health issues.

PWC will conduct the forensic work and lawyers at Simpson Grierson will be responsible for filtering what information is and is not passed onto Mr Bridges and his deputy, Paula Bennett.

So this bizarre issue will keep festering away for Bridges for a while yet.

If the leaker is discovered and revealed to be a National MP that will be tricky for Bridges to deal with.

If Bridges decides not to reveal the outcome of the inquiry it will be tricky for Bridges.

It’s hard to see a good outcome for Bridges. He may have created a mountain of a mess from a mole in his party.

Bridges leak saga continues

It is amazing to see how the leak a few days early of Simon Bridges’ expenses has become such a big and persistent story.

Newshub (Tova O’Brien) kicked the story off, framing it as a big scandal of overspending. But it has become more a scandal of leaks, and now of why the Speaker Trevor Mallard suddenly called of a planned inquiry, why he involved Jacinda Ardern, and why Bridges and National are being so persistent in pushing for a resolution.

Last Friday O’Brien became strangely indignant that RNZ gave the story new legs, ironically citing concern over the welfare of the leaker her provided her with the story she broke, but Newshub have now given the story another nudge (but via Jenna Lynch): Simon Bridges still unconvinced expenses leaker is a National MP

The National party will launch its own secret internal investigation into who leaked Simon Bridges travel expenses.

On Friday, Speaker Trevor Mallard ditched his inquiry, telling National it was an internal matter for them to sort out.

Even though most signs point to the leaker being a National MP, Mr Bridges still isn’t convinced.

Newshub must know who the leaker is. O’Brien must know at least. They quote Bridges:

“I will do my best and the National Party is united in doing its best to get to the bottom of who the leaker is”

The text – which was sent days earlier to Mr Bridges, Mr Mallard and Newshub – asked for the inquiry to be abandoned, citing ongoing mental health issues.

The leaker’s text provided three specific details of closed-door National Party caucus meetings, yet Mr Bridges remains stuck on the idea the leaker came from outside his party.

“It may not be a National MP or a National Party staffer,” he says.

That doesn’t sound “stuck on the idea the leaker came from outside his party”.

Ardern: “This is a matter for the National Party”.

Bridges: “Well why, on what evidence, on what basis does she say that?”

A fair question. Why does Ardern know with certainty it’s a matter for only the National Party?

Newshub: “Despite the leaker’s text providing specific details of closed door National Party caucus meetings, Bridges isn’t convinced.

Newshub displayed what looks like a mock up of the start of the text message:

That is curiously worded and vague.  Newshub do not give further details would that indicate the knowledge claimed proves they are a member of the National caucus. Jenna Lynch on National’s inquity:

“Because it will be internal, even if the Nats do find the person responsible they may choose to keep that a secret, so we may never  learn the identity of the leaker…unless of course, someone was to leak that.”

An odd closing statement. ‘We’ the public may never find out who the leaker was, but ‘we’ the Newshub (or at least O’Brien’) must know who it is.

And questions are being asked about what Mallard and Ardern know about the identity of the leaker too.

NZH: Jacinda Ardern admits speaking to Trevor Mallard about leak inquiry but says it was perfectly innocent

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has confirmed she spoke to Speaker Trevor Mallard last Friday before he announced the cancellation of the inquiry into leaked travel expenses but says their conversation was to advise her of his decision.

“It was not a dialogue,” her spokesman said. “She did not have any input into the decision.”

She did not know who the leaker was and she did not have any conversation with the Speaker about who it might be, the spokesman said.

So she must have based her statements like “This is a matter for the National Party” on what Mallard told her.

National leader Simon Bridges, who also received the text, has suggested Mallard was influenced by Ardern’s public comments when she said it was an internal matter for National and should be dealt with sensitively.

Shadow leader of the House Gerry Brownlee said today there had been no need for Mallard to advise the Prime Minister of his decision to cancel the inquiry.

“On what basis did he do that?”

Mallard had said he believed the leak came from National and the Prime Minister had said it should be dealt with sensitively, said Brownlee.

“On what basis do they make that statement? Do they know? And are they simply not telling us because of some commitments around parliamentary security and diplomatic protection security.”

Brownlee said if Mallard knew who the person was who leaked the document and sent the texts, he should tell National.

“He has made it very clear that his concerns are about the well-being of the individual concerned and we would share that concern and want to do something about it.”

“Most MPs are pretty incensed that the Speaker has gone out and effectively pointed the finger at our caucus and made a couple of pretty serious accusations – one of extreme disloyalty and another of a problematic mental illness.”

The police have been in contact with the leaker, but won’t give further details:

“We reiterate our comment from Friday that Police will not be disclosing any information about the identity of the individual for privacy reasons”.

“We also reiterate that Police assessed the information supplied [by Simon Bridges about the text] as a mental health issue requiring an immediate response.

“It is not subject to other investigative steps. We are not going to discuss any matters regarding specific steps taken regarding the welfare of the individual. “

I’m not sure it’s clear how the police found out the leaker’s identity, as it has been claimed the contact was made via an anonymous phone. Were they able to track the source to a specific office in Parliament? A specific residence in Wellington? or somewhere else?

Timeline (NZH):

August 13 – Newshub publish story based on Simon Bridges’ leaked expenses.
August 15 – Speaker Mallard agrees to hold inquiry.
August 16 – Bridges, Mallard and Newshub receive anonymous text message allegedly from National MP pleading for inquiry to be called off on mental health grounds.
August 17 – Bridges talks to mental health experts and tells police about text on advice.
August 19 – Police tell Bridges they have identified and contacted texter (won’t name them) and that the person is getting support.
August 23 – Mallard names Michael Heron QC to conduct inquiry.
August 24 – RNZ reveals texts were sent previous week to Bridges and Mallard; Ardern and others comment publicly.
August 24 – Mallard cancels inquiry.

The day the text was sent was a Thursday. Parliament wasn’t sitting so MPs may or may not have been at Parliament.

How did the police find out who the leaker was.

Were the three texts identical? Did Bridges or Mallard tell the police who it was? Or did they identify themselves only to O’Brien and she told them?

Last Friday:

But also:

O’Brien has said she was sent the same text message:

I was sent the same text message Simon Bridges and Trevor Mallard were sent last week by the leaker of Bridges’ expenses.

The leaker’s message was simple, in their words:

“There is no security breach in the parliament or problem to be fixed in the system.”

“Just say you know there is no security breach”.

They shared anecdotes from National Party caucus meetings that only National Party MPs would know in an attempt to prove that they’re an MP, and that the leak shouldn’t be dealt with at a Parliamentary level overseen by a Queen’s Counsel or High Court judge.

But Bridges and other National MPs say they are not convinced it proves it was a National MP.

Newshub chose not to report on the text message after we received it last Thursday. I held grave concerns for my source’s safety and wellbeing.

I would like to make it clear that when I was leaked Simon Bridges’ expenses I was completely unaware of my source’s history of mental health issues.

With some details of the text having been cherry picked, leaked and then discussed by Simon Bridges we have made the decision to release other elements to balance and include our source’s voice.

She refers to both “my source” and “our source”. She at least must know who it was – and as a journalist should protect the identity of her source.

But can she be sure the person who sent the text was her source? Did she verify it with them perhaps?

More importantly given the current state of this saga, does Mallard know who it is? It would appear so given his apparent confidence that it’s only an internal National Party problem now. So did he get a different text?

And why is Bridges and National so driven to keep this story alive and identify the leaker?

If there is a National MP with serious mental health issues, and/or who has said their life was at risk if the inquiry continued (effectively blackmailing Mallard), this is surely a concern of parliament and therefore of the Speaker.

The way things are now, if it is a National MP, then National have a major problem. It would mean they have an MP with serious mental health issues and/or threatened the Speaker.

And they have someone in their caucus who has leaked relatively trivial information to attack their leader. That makes things very awkward for Bridges and National, knowing that whatever caucus says could be leaked again. No wonder they want to identify the leaker.

UPDATE (Tuesday pm):

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.

Bridges leak and Curran semi-demotion: more to come?

The two big political stories of the week (in New Zealand) may not be over yet.

News of Clare Curran’s semi demotion was dumped late on Friday, and that raised suspicions by media, as it should have. They may get more out of the story yet – or Curran may have learned from her second similar stuff up and become an uncontroversial minister outside Cabinet.

There has to be more on the Bridges expenses leaker who played a mental health card, as well as suggesting their life was at risk if the leak inquiry continued. The speaker Trevor Mallard stopped the inquiry, which raises more questions.

Stacey Kirk:  The foreboding sense there’s more to come in two capital scandals

On Curran

The self-styled “most open and transparent Government ever” has just ushered in its first ministerial sacking: former Minister for Open Government Clare Curran for less than transparent practices.

Curran mislead the House and failed to disclose a meeting she held with entrepreneur Derek Handley, who expressed an interest in becoming the country’s first chief technology officer.

It’s her second offence of an almost identical nature and while it was at best a sloppy administrative oversight, it’s left both her and the Government open to accusations of dishonesty.

Ardern had no choice but to sack her from Cabinet, but has left the door open for her re-entry as Curran retains ministerial warrants for broadcasting and ACC. And as her first major disciplinary act, not cutting the cancer entirely could be a decision Ardern comes to regret.

This story could now fade away, unless Curran does something else to attract adverse attention.

Ardern has established a reputation as being prepared to act against erring Ministers, eventually but not particularly decisively.

On the Bridges leaker

The case of the Bridges leak is so far from closed.

Which is why the decision by Speaker Trevor Mallard to call off the investigation makes little sense. But there doesn’t seem to be much about the saga that makes sense anymore.

One thing we know is there a person who has mental health issues, who may not be coping in the role and cannot possibly be getting all the help they need because no one knows who to provide it to.

The leaker sent texts to both Bridges and Mallard last week and it goes without saying, all mental health claims have to be taken at face value. By all accounts National acted swiftly to ensure the right approach was taken under the circumstances; engaging professional mental health advice and police.

But mental health issues are not a free pass to avoid accountability either and Mallard’s decision makes it hard to shake the impression that Parliament’s institutions are now that much more susceptible to manipulation or worse, blackmail.

Mallard has absolved himself of any responsibility for a mental health meltdown. These sorts of threats are unlikely to happen often if at all again, but it leaves questions hanging.

In a statement, Mallard seemed to suggest that the case appeared to be closed and Parliamentary Service all but absolved. Not quite.

None of the questions that prompted the inquiry to be called, have been answered. While it does at least seem more likely than not that the culprit was within the National caucus, it is not proven.

This story can’t just be swept under the carpet in the hope that it will be forgotten.

Whether it was a National MP or not, suspicion hovers over all of them.

As the axe fell on Curran and the leak investigation, Ardern and Mallard probably thought they were taking decisive action to draw the curtains on separate sagas they clearly did not want to be involved in.

Instead, a foreboding fog of unfinished business is settling in the air.

Something for journalists to get to work on.

Jonathan Milne already has worked on it:  Public can have no confidence in broadcast minister – and neither can Prime Minister

Both meetings came as the Government prepared to take significant decisions affecting those broadcast organisations: whether to fund Radio NZ to set up a new public service TV channel; whether to support Government MP Clayton Mitchell’s private member’s bill guaranteeing New Zealanders free-to-air sports.

So it is not just Curran’s performance in the open government and digital services portfolios that should be called into question, but also her transparency as broadcasting minister.

It is entirely possible that the words “free-to-air” or “piracy” were never mentioned in that evening meeting in the Beehive office; that Curran and Handley were focused on his application for the role of Chief Technology Officer of NZ Inc.

But with no notes of the meeting disclosed, no advisers present, and a track record of unreliable answers from the Minister to Parliament itself, the public can have no confidence.

And neither can the Prime Minister.

 

Bizarre and more bizarre expenses leak – questions unanswered

It was a bizarre day yesterday as revelations and media conferences added information but raised further questions in the already odd case of the leaked expenses of Simon Bridges.

Just one bizarre part of yesterday’s unfolding was Tova O’Brien, the Newshub journalist who broke the story in the first place after being provided with leaked information, riding a high horse criticising RNZ for adding to her story yesterday, claiming insensitivities when someone was a significant mental health risk.

The inquiry into the leak has been called off, but National party internal inquiries should be continuing, as should journalist inquiries.

Sam Sachdeva (Newsroom): Fittingly strange end to leak scandal  – I don’t think it is anywhere near the end of the leak saga, but there is a good summary:

Speaker Trevor Mallard’s decision to call off an investigation into the leak of MPs’ expenses, following a text message from the leaker saying their health was at risk, has put an ellipsis rather than a full stop on “Limogate”.

As first reported by RNZ, the anonymous texter contacted National leader Simon Bridges and Speaker Trevor Mallard last week, urging an end to the investigation due to fears it would worsen their serious mental health issues.

The texter claimed to be a National MP, providing evidence which supposedly could only have been obtained if that was in fact the case.

The original decision to leak the expenses to the media only days before they were due for release was puzzling enough.

Then there was Bridges’ reaction, initially brushing off the media attention only to change his mind and call for a High Court judge to look into the matter (he got a Queen’s Counsel instead, with Michael Heron QC in the job for all of 24 hours).

In a week where news presenter Greg Boyed’s death has put the spotlight on New Zealand’s high rates of depression and suicide, responding with anything other than sensitivity and care would have been cruel.

We have been assured that the leaker was having mental health difficulties but whose life should not be at risk any more if it ever was (it’s unknown whether the plea to end the inquiry was genuinely fraught, or was an attempt at a form of emotional blackmail.

On balance, you could argue both Bridges and Mallard made good decisions: Bridges in contacting the police so they could identify the person and provide support, and Mallard in deciding that the leaker’s wellbeing outweighed any benefits of pushing ahead with an inquiry.

Bridges disagrees with the Speaker’s call, but if there is any question of someone’s health being at risk then that is what should be the top priority.

While Bridges suggests the integrity of Parliament is at sake, Mallard’s reading of the text has led him to conclude that it is almost certainly a member of National’s caucus or wider staff who is responsible.

I think that Bridges must make it publicly clear what the outcome is. If a National MP tries to quietly resign in a while it will be immediately seen as to have a connection, or at least suspected.

If it is a staff member or someone else who is not an MP, failing to reveal details leaves all 56 of the National MPs under suspicion. That is unfair on them.

For the ultimate good of the culprit, and for the good of the National caucus, we need to be told more.

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.

Parliament – ‘anti-Māori’ and racism implications

The referencing of referencing family of MPs, plus hints of and MP being ‘anti-Māori,r arose in an exchange in Parliament today, in relation to the appointment of Wally Haumaha as Deputy Police Commissioner. There’s co clear conclusion (to me) but some interesting discussion.

It came out of this primary question:

8. Hon PAULA BENNETT (Deputy Leader—National) to the Prime Minister: Does her Government expect high standards from all Government departments and Ministers?

It starts at 2:36…

Chris Bishop: Does she have confidence in her Government’s professional independence from Mr Haumaha when her police Minister gives him a shout-out in his workout videos, her Deputy Prime Minister attended a celebration on a marae for his appointment as assistant commissioner, her foreign affairs under-secretary has whānau links to him, and he was previously announced as a candidate for New Zealand First?

Mr SPEAKER: Order! Sorry, I am going to go back to that question and not require but ask the member to think very carefully about rewording it. We have had a tradition in this House, wherever possible, of not including the actions of family members—certainly within question time. I’d ask the member to reflect on his question and, if he agrees with me that that is unhealthy, to rephrase it.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Surely we have to have some accuracy in the questioning in this House. Mr Bishop began by talking about what, in effect, is an allegation of witness tampering. So the real issue, sir, for you to judge is: who is this witness who is being tampered that he talked about? The fact is the person is not a witness. The person may be a complainant, and there’s a huge difference. He’s putting the two together quite naively and mistakenly and getting away with it in the House when he should be stopped.

Mr SPEAKER: Order! Order! I think if we had the degree of exactitude that the Deputy Prime Minister is advocating, we’d have quite a few members on both sides of the House who wouldn’t be able to answer or ask a single question. Mr Bishop—going back to where we were at.

Chris Bishop: Did the panel convened by the State Services Commission to interview the short-listed candidates for the job of the Deputy Commissioner of Police recommend that Mr Haumaha be the preferred candidate for the job?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: I’m not going to get into elements of an issue that is now being independently assessed by an independent inquirer.

Hon Paula Bennett: When the Prime Minister just previously said, as she did yesterday, that, actually, he cannot be either stood down or on garden leave because it would be the decision of the commissioner and that she can’t do it, is she aware that under section 13 of the Policing Act, the deputy commissioner’s role is a statutory appointment that holds office at the pleasure of the Governor-General on the advice of her, the Prime Minister, and that she has the power to act?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: That includes them acting in that role of employment. What the member was asking about was whether I had the ability to stand someone down when there had been no formal process, and we’re undertaking an inquiry to ensure natural justice provisions apply, because the threshold test here is incredibly high. If the member is asking about gardening leave or temporary stand downs, that threshold, of course, is very different, and that is employment matter for the Commissioner of Police.

Hon Shane Jones: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I raise an issue that is troubling a number of us on this side of the House: the regularity with which those of us who enjoy Māori ancestry—and I direct your attention to Speakers’ rulings 39/4-5. I accept in the roundhouse of politics it is tough, but I am particularly irked by the allegation that Mr Bishop made, enjoying private briefings from dissolute elements in the police force, that he has labelled those of us, essentially, by talking about Fletcher Tabuteau and Winston Peters, as somehow not passing the test of parliamentary probity. And I’d invite you to reflect on it, because it will lead to a substantial bout of disorder from the House. Now, I’m not suggesting that Mr Bishop is anti-Māori, and, quite frankly, I don’t care if he is, but it is an important principle, with the number of Māori in the House—whether they’re urban Māori or broader traditional Māori—that you contemplate that situation, because we’re not going to put up with it for one more day.

Hon Paula Bennett: As one of those Māori, there is actually also a convention that we express our conflicts of interest for our whānau and particularly when we are looking at making statutory appointments, and this side of the House has a right to question that.

Hon Gerry Brownlee: Well, yes, I would have made the same point that the Hon Paula Bennett has made, because what Mr Jones is effectively doing is saying that if there is a statutory appointment that involves someone who identifies as being a Māori New Zealander, then that process can’t be questioned and nor can anything that would make the suitability of that person appropriate for that. But further than that, sir, you sat there while Mr Jones referred to another member of this House, effectively, as having some racial bias, and that’s a completely unacceptable thing for him to do.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: The allegation that someone is a cousin and therefore is biased in the choice of someone in a governmental job is so demonstrably false when the person doesn’t go to the lengths to describe how far removed that relationship might be. If he were Scottish or Māori, he might understand that this would include 7,500 people. But no such attempt is made. It’s the insinuation that because that relationship, distant though it might be, nevertheless corrupts the member’s mind in being impartial, and that’s unfair.

Mr SPEAKER: I am in a position to rule. Members may have forgotten that I intervened on Mr Bishop’s question and asked him to reword it, because I thought the tone of it was not consistent with the way that we have gone as a country over the last number of decades. He reflected on that and, despite the opportunity, decided not to repeat the question in that form and I want to thank him for that.

There are a lot of elements of judgment in this. I, of course, don’t want to indicate that people cannot be questioned where there are seen to be untoward influences and of course that is the case, but what I did indicate was that I thought it was particularly important where family matters are being brought into account that people are either very specific or very careful and not general in allegations.

Hon Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Precedent in rulings in this House are very important, because they do guide the House. I’d ask that you have a look back through, I think, the mid-part of 2015 when a then prominent member of the Opposition, now a very, very prominent member of this House, was asking questions of a Minister of the then Government that related directly to a family member. Those questions were allowed, they stood, and they went on for quite some days. When you’ve gone back over those transcripts and perhaps reflected on the wisdom of the course of action taken by the prominent Opposition member, now a very prominent member of Parliament, could you perhaps bring down a ruling that brings all of these things together. I think the general allegation made against the Parliament by Mr Jones today that it is somehow racially selective to bring up an issue that relates to the appointment of a person who is of New Zealand Māori descent is a very, very backward step for this Parliament.

Mr SPEAKER: I don’t feel any need to bring back a considered ruling on it. I think the matter is pretty clear. Speaker’s ruling 41/1 makes it clear that people should avoid referring to MPs families in their private capacities. It is all right to refer to family members who have official roles, and that is a ruling of long standing. It is also all right where there is a clear intersection of the public business of an MP and a Minister and the actions of a family member, and that is an area of longstanding ruling where there is a suggestion of inappropriate behaviour on the part of a Minister in favour of a family member—that is the subject of questioning in the House and will always continue to be.

 

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.

Parliament disarray continued

On Wednesday Paula Bennett walked out of Parliament in frustration at Speaker’s rulings. Yesterday Trevor Mallard ejected Bennett from the House in frustration at an ongoing and escalating stoush between the Opposition and the Speaker.

Question 4 was the big blow up but it was far from the only confrontation yesterday.

Question No. 4—Transport

4. JAMI-LEE ROSS (National—Botany) to the Minister of Transport: Does he remain committed to his proposals for new and increased fuel taxes in light of recent reports of petrol prices reaching record highs; if so, what consideration, if any, will he give to the increased cost of living his fuel tax proposals will have on New Zealand families?

Hon PHIL TWYFORD (Minister of Transport): I am committed to striking—[Interruption]

Mr SPEAKER: Order! Order! Can I ask—Ms Bennett, can you just wait at least until the Minister’s started answering before you start your interjections.

Hon PHIL TWYFORD: I am committed to striking a balance between affordability and taking urgent action on the transport infrastructure deficit that we inherited. The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment estimates that the changes to fuel taxes will see an average family in Auckland pay an extra $5 per week. By contrast, our Government’s Families Package will put $75 a week into the pockets of 384,000 low to middle income families. In terms of considering the impact of taxes on fuel prices, I intend to follow the same process as the Hon Simon Bridges did in 2015.

Jami-Lee Ross: If petrol prices continue to increase, will he revisit his proposals to increase fuel taxes, which will raise petrol prices even higher?

Hon PHIL TWYFORD: International oil price fluctuations have a far greater influence on petrol prices than the policy of the previous Government and this Government of regular, small excise increases. As successive Governments have shown, it makes no sense to make major infrastructure investment decisions based on highly volatile oil price fluctuations. [Interruption]

Mr SPEAKER: Order! Order! I’m just going to ask Mr Hudson and Mr Stuart Smith just to turn their volume down a little bit.

Marja Lubeck: What reports has he seen of past Governments varying the amount of fuel tax levied to match variations in the global oil prices?

Hon PHIL TWYFORD: None.

Jami-Lee Ross: Is he concerned that the rising cost of petrol will increase even further if he is successful in increasing fuel taxes by up to 25c a litre?

Hon PHIL TWYFORD: Well, as I’ve tried to make abundantly clear to the member, the increase in fuel excise is a very, very small increase compared to oil price fluctuations. And I would point out to the member that instead of paying $400 million to the wealthiest 10 percent, this Government’s putting—

Mr SPEAKER: Order! Order!

Jami-Lee Ross: Is he saying that his proposal to increase fuel taxes in Auckland by up to 25c a litre—as he’s announced—is small?

Hon PHIL TWYFORD: Well, what I would point out is that 25c is the maximum rate that was consulted on in the draft Government policy statement. It’s not necessarily the rate that we’re going to settle on. It applies only in Auckland, where the regional fuel tax is in place, not to the rest of the country. The reason that we are investing in our transport system is because we’ve inherited a legacy of an infrastructure deficit after nine years of totally unbalanced transport policies. We’re committed to doing the right thing for this country and the right thing for the economy.

Hon Paula Bennett: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The question earlier was ruled out because we were referring to 2017, yet the Minister seems to be able to make comment about the last nine years as he wishes to, and I’m just asking for some clarification.

Mr SPEAKER: I have a feeling the member’s trying to relitigate a ruling I made quite some time ago. I think I will ignore it.

Hon David Bennett: Oh, you can’t do that. You just ignore things.

Marja Lubeck: What lessons will the Minister take from past increases of fuel excise while international petrol prices were high?

Hon PHIL TWYFORD: In 2015, the fuel excise was increased after petrol prices increased by 40c per litre. Prices later stabilised and returned to $1.70 per litre by the end of that year, 2015. I’ve learnt from that experience that you cannot make infrastructure investment decisions based on international oil price fluctuations. They’re simply too volatile. I learnt also from the former transport Minister that those fluctuations dwarf the changes in the fuel excise.

Mr SPEAKER: Order! David Bennett will stand, withdraw, and apologise.

Hon David Bennett: Point of order, Mr Speaker.

Mr SPEAKER: No, the member knows absolutely that he interjected an unparliamentary remark in my direction during the asking of the supplementary question.

Hon David Bennett: And what for? Why do I withdraw and apologise?

Mr SPEAKER: Sorry?

Hon David Bennett: Why do I withdraw and apologise, Mr Speaker?

Mr SPEAKER: Why?

Hon David Bennett: Yes.

Mr SPEAKER: Because the member made an unparliamentary remark and it was exacerbated by the fact that it was done during the asking of a supplementary question.

Hon David Bennett: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. What was the unparliamentary remark?

Mr SPEAKER: I’m not going to repeat what the member said about me. Withdraw and apologise.

Hon David Bennett: Mr Speaker, I need an explanation—

Mr SPEAKER: Order! Order! The member will withdraw and apologise now or I will take more serious action than has happened in the House for quite some time. Is the member going to withdraw and apologise?

Hon Paula Bennett: Point of order.

Mr SPEAKER: No, I’m not having a point of order. I am waiting for Mr Bennett to decide whether he will comply with my instruction to withdraw and apologise for reflecting on the Chair while a supplementary question was being asked. Is the member going to withdraw and apologise?

Hon David Bennett: Point of order.

Mr SPEAKER: No, I’m not having a point of order, Mr Bennett. You’re either going to withdraw and apologise or I will name you. [Interruption] Order!

Hon David Bennett: I withdraw and apologise.

Mr SPEAKER: Thank you.

Hon Paula Bennett: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Sorry, sir, but it is in reflection to me yesterday having to withdraw and apologise. I genuinely do not know what it was for. I did not make a comment as I left, and this is leading to this kind of disorder, when we don’t know what the actual line is as to what you find offensive and what you don’t. I’ve looked at Hansard. I know what I said as I left. I made no disparaging remarks about you last night, and this leads to my colleagues in a position now where—

Mr SPEAKER: Order! The member will resume her seat. The member will resume her seat. If she wants an explanation for how she breached Standing Orders yesterday, I suggest she watches the TV, either on Parliament TV or on at least one of the news channels to see herself interjecting on her feet as she left.

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

Mr SPEAKER: Is it a new point of order, Mr Brownlee—

Hon Gerry Brownlee: Yes.

Mr SPEAKER: —or is it a relitigation?

Hon Gerry Brownlee: No, it’s a new point of order. People might like to look at the TVNZ clip that’s currently running, of a member challenging the Speaker on frequent occasions and ultimately being required to leave the House, and being quite messy all the way through. On none of those occasions was the member named. My question simply is: why do we go suddenly from a position where the Speaker does not want to, apparently, make people leave the House, does not explain what an offence might be, but then simply requires people to accept the arbitrary decision of the Chair or be named, which everyone knows is quite an extreme step for anyone in this House? It seems the step that—we’ve gone from a very, very simple straightforward position of how you deal with these things to one that is quite Draconian. And I think that is the problem we’ve got with the inconsistency of the way the Chair’s operating at the present time.

Mr SPEAKER: I note the member’s comments but, as the member knows well, naming is—I think Standing Order 90—the punishment for being grossly disorderly. And refusing to withdraw and apologise for quite an extended period of time is grossly disorderly.

Hon Paula Bennett: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker.

Mr SPEAKER: If it’s the same matter, Ms Bennett, you’re running a serious risk of losing a number of supplementary questions from your team from the first Tuesday back.

Hon Paula Bennett: So, to be clear, Mr Speaker, what I wish to be is actually not unruly in this House. So I need clarification that it was yesterday when I said “It’s a waste of time” that you took such offence to that I had to come back and—well, when I come back you insisted that I withdraw—

Mr SPEAKER: That’s exactly right. If the member had not said that she was leaving the House, I would have required her to withdraw and apologise then. But seeing as she was self-banishing herself, I thought that that was the best way of dealing with it and we could get on with business. I did reflect to the member later on that on a previous occasion, when I had done exactly the same thing—made a comment as I was self-banishing—the Speaker sent for me and made me come back and apologise, and then booted me out again. The member was treated pretty leniently.

Hon David Bennett: Yeah, didn’t get named though.

Mr SPEAKER: Order!

Hon Paula Bennett: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker.

Mr SPEAKER: Order! Order! No, the member will resume her seat. Mr Bennett will withdraw and apologise again.

Hon David Bennett: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker.

Mr SPEAKER: No. The member will withdraw and apologise.

Hon David Bennett: I just want to table a withdrawal, because I might as well be using it all the time, the way the House is going at the moment.

Mr SPEAKER: So the member’s declining to withdraw and apologise?

Hon David Bennett: No, I’m seeking your guidance—

Mr SPEAKER: No, you’re not seeking my guidance; you’re going to withdraw and apologise.

Hon David Bennett: Mr Speaker, what for? I just—I need to know what I did wrong.

Mr SPEAKER: Mr Bennett, you reflected on the Chair, on my ruling—again. I mean, the member understands what he does. He is not an unintelligent member. It’s not something that happens accidentally. But the member should be able to remember sort of 30 seconds after he made a comment that he did. The member will withdraw and apologise.

Hon David Bennett: [Member pauses] I withdraw and apologise, sir.

Hon Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Is the Chair immune from the provisions of Standing Order 120?

Mr SPEAKER: Sorry, can the member say that a little bit more loudly?

Hon Gerry Brownlee: Yes—is the Chair immune from the provisions of Standing Order 120?

Mr SPEAKER: No.

Hon Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Then isn’t simply requiring members to withdraw and apologise, without some explanation of the reason for that, impugning improper motives against a member?

Mr SPEAKER: For goodness’ sake! Mr Brownlee, this has got to the point of being ridiculous, the member is—[Interruption] Paula Bennett will leave the Chamber. [Interruption] The member will leave the Chamber.

Hon Paula Bennett withdrew from the Chamber.

Mr SPEAKER: Now, I’ve lost where we were at.

Hon David Bennett: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I think I’m next up, Mr Speaker.

Mr SPEAKER: Supplementary question—David Bennett.

Hon David Bennett: No, primary question.