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.

Brownlee’s letter to the Speaker

Gerry Brownlee, Shadow Leader of the House, has written this letter to the Speaker (Trevor Mallard) expressing “serious concerns’ about Mallards chairing of Parliament.

He details his concerns and says” As a result our confidence in you as Speaker has been significantly shaken. This is not an acceptable position for you to be in.”

His main concerns are about a “silly little girl” story being circulated to media.

We expect a full explanation from you about your role in pushing this story in the media before the House resumes at 2 pm tomorrow.

I don’t know how an ultimatum will go down with Mallard.


Dysfunction in Parliament

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

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

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

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

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

Question No. 1—Prime Minister

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

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN (Prime Minister): Yes.

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

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

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

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

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

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Yes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hon Gerry Brownlee: Point of order.

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

Mr SPEAKER: Order! Order!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mr SPEAKER: No.

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

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

Hon Gerry Brownlee: I withdraw and apologise.

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

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

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

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

Hon Paula Bennett: Speaking to the point of order.

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

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

Mr SPEAKER: For how long?

Hon Paula Bennett: Oh, just for today.

Mr SPEAKER: Thank you.

 

Griffin had offered to resign, doesn’t want to stay at RNZ

As soon as Clare Curran was appointed Minister of Broadcasting chairman of RNZ Richard Griffin offered to resign, but she asked him to stay on ‘during the transition’.

Griffin has been chairman for nine years, three three year terms, but does not want to have a fourth. It is unlikely he would be offered another term anyway.

ODT (NZME): RNZ chairman offered resignation to Clare Curran

“I proffered my resignation to her the day she was appointed. I think it was the honourable thing to do,” Griffin told the Weekend Herald.

Curran, he said, was gracious and asked him to stay on during the transition to the new Labour Government.

“It’s no secret Clare and I aren’t exactly bosom buddies but I thought it was a reasonable thing to ask and I was happy to do so given that it was going to be a difficult time for all of us.

“But not quite as difficult as it has turned out to be.”

Griffin’s third term as chairman of the RNZ board finishes at the end of April, nine years in all. He doesn’t anticipate an invitation for a fourth, nor would he want one.

“No I would not,” he said emphatically. “I think I’ve run my course and I’m sure they do too.”

He said he was very embarrassed and at times was noticeably annoyed when questioned at the select committee meeting on Thursday, and his annoyance also comes through in an interview with the Sunday Herald.

His biggest regret of his nine years with RNZ? “The last few weeks.”

“I really regret that a great talent and an interesting woman is now having to suffer the slings and arrows. I’m sorry for her. I believe that Carol thought her loyalty to the Minister checkmated her loyalty to the company and I can understand how that could happen.

“I don’t know what possessed her and I don’t know what possessed the Minister. It’s such a pity.”

He has seemed reluctant to criticise but lets a bit out here, suggesting that Hirschfeld’s loyalty to Curran was why she kept lying. On Curran – “I don’t know what possessed the Minister”.

Griffin seems undecided on whether to hand over the recording of a phone call from Curran to him. This would clarify who is being straight on what Curran said to Griffin, and whether Curran tried to encourage Griffin not to appear before the committee.

The recording either clears Curran of trying to block Griffin’s appearance at the select committee to set the record straight on her meeting with Carol Hirschfeld or it could damn her if, as Griffin claims, she suggested it would be better for him not to appear and that a letter would suffice.

Griffin will spend this weekend at his home in Ruby Bay, west of Nelson, deciding whether to voluntarily hand over the voicemail on his mobile phone.

He had asked RNZ to retrieve the voicemail after it was requested by the Economic Development, Science and Innovation Select Committee following his and RNZ chief executive Paul Thompson’s appearance on Thursday.

But even as efforts were being made to extract the voicemail, Griffin was reconsidering. He worried that refusing to hand over the recording could further damage RNZ but said there was nothing to be achieved by releasing it.

“I will decide over the weekend,” he said.

He seems torn between protecting RNZ’s reputation and causing more of a ruckus, but there is guaranteed to be more attention given to this tomorrow as media will wanting to know if he is going to voluntarily comply with the request to hand over the recording.

On Friday:

If Griffin doesn’t decide to hand it over he could be compelled to by the Speaker. Trevor Mallard has been involved in controversial situations involving Curran in the past:

Stuff: Whistleblower wins defamation appeal

The woman who accused Labour MP Trevor Mallard and a top public servant of destroying her reputation has won an appeal to the Supreme Court.

In 2007, whistleblower Erin Leigh accused Mallard, then Environment Minister, of defamation.

This was after she raised questions about political interference and alleged former minister David Parker pushed for Clare Curran to be appointed to a communications role with the Ministry.

All three Labour members involved are currently sitting Members of Parliament.

At the time Mallard was asked an oral question on the matter in Parliament and spoke negatively about Leigh.

He told the House she had “repeated competence issues” and said Curran had been appointed to “fix up the mess”.

That’s a long time ago, but is somewhat ironic in the present situation.

In its decision released today, the Supreme Court found Gow’s interaction to be covered by qualified privilege but said he could not face a defamation claim unless Leigh could prove he acted with ill-will.

“The issue is whether the public servant, or whoever else communicates information to the Minister, needs more than qualified privilege in order to enable the Minister, and the House as a whole, properly and efficiently to deal with parliamentary questions.”

The Court found that was not necessary and said it was a “no bad thing” that public servants were prevented from acting with ill-will when advising a minister.

“It is very much in the interests of the proper functioning of the House that those communicating with a Minister in present circumstances, whoever they are, have a disincentive against giving vent to ill will or improper purpose.”

Also ironic.

Speaker appears to protect Peters from questions in Parliament

Trevor Mallard started in his role as speaker promising a better way of managing the parliamentary bear pit, but as time goes on he is raising eyebrows rather than standards.

In a bizarre exchange in Parliament yesterday he seemed to be protecting Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters from questioning over a serious claim that an NZ First minister was behind a threat made by new MP Jenny Marcroft (as alleged by National MP Mark Mitchell – see NZ First claims ‘misunderstanding’, Peters instructs apology to Mitchell).

Oral Questions — Questions to Ministers

Question No. 2—Deputy Prime Minister

2. Hon PAULA BENNETT (Deputy Leader—National) to the Deputy Prime Minister: Does he stand by all his statements and actions?

Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS (Deputy Prime Minister): Yes, I do, in their context.

Hon Paula Bennett: Does he believe his actions and those of other Ministers have met the bar set in 2.57 of the Cabinet Manual, which states: “Ministers are expected to act lawfully and to behave in a way that upholds, and is seen to uphold, the highest ethical standards.”?

Mr SPEAKER: Order! I’m going to ask the member to rephrase the question to make sure it is entirely within the responsibility of the Deputy Prime Minister. He has no responsibility for any other Ministers.

Hon Paula Bennett: Thank you, sir. Does he believe his actions have met the bar set in 2.57 of the Cabinet Manual, which states: “Ministers are expected to act lawfully and to behave in a way that upholds, and is seen to uphold, the highest ethical standards.”?

Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: Yes, and compared with that member and her colleagues, my actions are as pure as the driven snow.

Hon Paula Bennett: When he said yesterday in his statement as Deputy Prime Minister, “Mr Mitchell may have misunderstood her underlying point.”, what was the underlying point Mr Mitchell misunderstood?

Mr SPEAKER: Order! Because this is a very finely tuned matter, I’m going to do what I did with Dr Smith last week and seek an assurance that that statement was made by the Deputy Prime Minister and, in the body of the statement, uses that appellation for the Minister.

Hon Paula Bennett: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I expected your question on that. I have a copy of it that’s clearly under the Deputy Prime Minister, and clearly has it written as his statement. I’m happy to—

Mr SPEAKER: Yes, the member tables it and continues with the question.

Hon Paula Bennett: Thank you. Would you like to hear the statement again?

Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: No, I heard it. We’re not slow learners over here. Can I just say that when I was first made aware of—

Hon Gerry Brownlee: Just answer the question.

Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: Well, if you keep quiet for five seconds, old man, you’ll hear it. [Interruption] Can I just say that when I first heard of a report of this conversation, I knew that someone had got the wrong end of the stick, and so I thought, seeing as my colleague had allowed another parliamentary colleague to get a mistaken impression, that we should correct it as fast as possible. I thought that was the right thing to do. I mean, there’s nothing big about this, but we’re surely not going to have Mr Mitchell trying to make a mountain out of a molehill?

Mr SPEAKER: Order! Having listened to the reply and looked at the statement, I accept the member’s word, and it is very clear that it is headed “Deputy Prime Minister”. It is, however, clear to me that there is nothing in the statement that is the responsibility of the Deputy Prime Minister.

Hon Paula Bennett: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. In all fairness, the statement that has been put out is clearly “Deputy Prime Minister”. It doesn’t even say “Leader of New Zealand First” on it. I double-checked that. So he has made those comments as the Deputy Prime Minister and, as such, he has responsibility for them as the Deputy Prime Minister and should be answering accordingly.

Mr SPEAKER: I think you have to go quite a lot further than mislabelling a statement—[Interruption] minus three supplementaries—in order to bring something into ministerial responsibility. He might be responsible for mislabelling a statement, but there are areas which he is not responsible for, and the activities of Ministers, as was made very clear by the Prime Minister, as all senior members of the Opposition will know, is a matter for the Prime Minister and not the Deputy Prime Minister.

Hon Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I think the problem with your ruling is that it ignores the fact that the Rt Hon Winston Peters, putting out a release under the banner of the Deputy Prime Minister, has made an accusation against one of our members that he now, apparently, simply cannot be questioned upon. It is not an unreasonable thing to ask him “What did he mean? What was the other side of the story, which my colleague apparently has not understood?” To say that the House can’t question the Deputy Prime Minister about a statement he makes as the Deputy Prime Minister, I think, begins to—frankly, it just shields him from any of the normal scrutiny that would go on someone who makes, from a ministerial position, such an accusation.

Hon Chris Hipkins: The closest example I can think of where the House has dealt with this matter before was when the then Labour Opposition was trying to question the then Prime Minister, the Rt Hon John Key, about statements that he had made in his capacity as the leader of the National Party, but he had made them at his prime ministerial press conference. The Speaker of the House at the time—I can’t actually recall what the exact issue was, but I remember arguing about it—argued that he had made those statements in his capacity as leader of the National Party even if the venue in which he had made them was his prime ministerial press conference. The question is not where a statement is made or how it is cited or the title that is used in citing; it’s whether the Minister has ministerial responsibility for the matters in question. In this case, the Deputy Prime Minister does not have ministerial responsibility for the issues he’s being questioned about.

Hon Nikki Kaye: I did want to rise to speak because you have taken three Opposition questions as a result of my outburst. I am, frankly, appalled that, in this House, a Minister could put a statement out with the words “Deputy Prime Minister” and then, as Speaker, you could somehow know that he wasn’t acting in his responsibility and he had mislabelled the statement. That’s why you got the outburst. I would ask you to reflect on this. It’s a very serious matter. It’s not possible, in my view, for the Speaker to know what’s inside a Minister’s head. They’ve issued a statement in the capacity as Deputy Prime Minister.

Mr SPEAKER: Can I just make it absolutely clear to Nikki Kaye that I am quite offended by her comments then. I know what the responsibilities of the Deputy Prime Minister are, and that’s what’s important, and I ruled that way.

Hon Gerry Brownlee: There is no comparison between the example given by the Hon Chris Hipkins and the current situation. For a start, if a person is being interviewed by a group of journalists in a stand-up situation, they may well be asked a range of questions and they may answer them without actually specifying “I am now taking this hat off and putting this hat on.” That was, you will recall, established well by the Rt Hon Jonathan Hunt, when he sat in the chair that you now occupy, some years back. But, in this case, the Deputy Prime Minister, on the Deputy Prime Minister’s letterhead, put out a statement making an accusation against a colleague of mine, suggesting, effectively, that my colleague had got the wrong end of the stick. We’re just now saying, “Well, what was the right end of that stick?” He must know for him to have made that statement. Given that this is not a trivial matter, any suggestion that someone gets in the road of a member of Parliament doing their work—the elected work that they are sent to this place for—is a serious matter. Therefore, for Mr Peters to simply say, “Well, you know, the Hon Mark Mitchell must have got the wrong end of the stick or got the wrong meaning, etc.”, cannot just stand as a statement by the Deputy Prime Minister that says, “Close off; nothing to see here.” Surely, he can be questioned about what he actually meant?

Mr SPEAKER: If, in the body of the statement, which I’m sure the leader of New Zealand First approved, it had said “Deputy Prime Minister”, I would have had more sympathy. But the fact that it has been printed by a press secretary on an inappropriate letterhead does not—[Interruption] minus another three—bring it within the Deputy Prime Minister’s responsibilities.

Hon Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Does that mean that a Government press secretary should know the difference between a letterhead that says “Leader of New Zealand First” and that of Deputy Prime Minister? You can only assume that it was done through the offices that are located on the ninth floor, which are Government offices—ministerial offices—not party offices.

Mr SPEAKER: In actual fact, I think, as the member is aware, there are a number of people who are employed in those offices who are dually employed, including in his own leader’s office.

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

Mr SPEAKER: A further point of order?

Hon Gerry Brownlee: Yes it is, because that implies that there is some level of bad behaviour going on in the Leader of the Opposition’s office—in other words, using of taxpayer funds illegitimately, unreasonably—and that is not the case. But it would be worse if that was somehow to be the reason why there would be an excuse for the Deputy Prime Minister to make an accusation on Government letterhead, using Government resources to make that accusation, but then not come under any scrutiny in the House whatsoever.

Mr SPEAKER: I do want to, if I can, draw this to a close as soon as I can, and I want to be very careful about reflecting on mistakes made by staff members—especially a person who has had quite a history around these buildings, working for a number of parties. But it is clear to me that someone made an error in putting it on this letterhead.

Hon Louise Upston: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I’ve got two points of order. The first is around the process of tabling documents and the supplementary question from the Hon Paula Bennett. You, as Speaker, had then asked for the document, and yet there wasn’t a process of tabling it. So my question is: have you made a ruling, as a result of that action, that you have to sight any documents that are made by members of this House in a supplementary question before you allow them to be raised on the floor?

Mr SPEAKER: The answer to that is no, and I let the member ask her question. Carry on—second point.

Hon Louise Upston: Sorry, Mr Speaker, on that first point—

Mr SPEAKER: No, no, the first point’s been dealt with. If the member has a separate point of order, she may raise it, but that point of order has been dealt with. Second point of order?

Hon Louise Upston: The second point of order is the assertion that you’ve made, Mr Speaker, about a staff member making an error. As a member of this House, I’m curious as to what’s led you to that conclusion, given that it is a document that’s on letterhead from the Deputy Prime Minister.

Mr SPEAKER: The member will resume her seat now. If she is curious about my rulings and requires tutelage, I’m happy to explain it to her but not to take up the time of the House. I’ve made an indication to members that if they don’t understand my rulings, if I’ve not been clear enough, then I’m willing to talk to them about it, but points of clarification—or points of curiosity, as this one might be characterised—are not allowed under the Standing Orders. I’m going to warn the member: she’s disputed my ruling once already; if she disputes it again, I will view it very seriously.

Hon Louise Upston: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. In terms of the Speakers’ ruling that you have just used, could you please bring that to the attention of the House? I’ve been listening to the comments around me and I just want to know what that ruling is, please.

Mr SPEAKER: Well, I think the member’s now trifling with the Chair.

Hon Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Thank you, Mr Speaker. My point of order is simply that if we are now to move on from this—get it all nicely resolved; everyone is happy to an extent—is it reasonable that we, effectively, lose six supplementaries because of a mistake made by one of Mr Peters’ staff members?

Mr SPEAKER: No. The six supplementaries have been lost because members on my left breached the Standing Orders.

Fletcher Tabuteau: Is the Deputy Prime Minister aware of any molehills that have been transformed into mountains of late?

Mr SPEAKER: And three of the supplementaries have just been given back because the member knew that that was not a proper question.

Speaker’s Rulings — Retrospective Rulings

I missed a Speaker’s ruling from Parliament, thanks for pointing it out duperez. It adds to recent discussions here. In brief:

…in light of the matters raised, it is worth referring to the full text of the report at page 14:

“There is a well-established prohibition on raising points of order in the House about events that have passed. This helps ensure that points of order address matters that are relevant to the maintenance of order at that point in time and are not themselves used to disrupt the order of the House.”

This prohibition on retrospective points of order is appropriate and we encourage Speakers to continue not to entertain them.

Points of order are not intended to ask questions or to seek clarification. They are to deal with matters of order at the time they are occurring in the House or to draw the Speaker’s attention to the fact that a member intends to exercise a right given by Standing Orders, such as making a personal explanation.

The committee intended that the Speaker could, on his or her initiative, deal with retrospective matters of order. It did not empower members to raise such matters on the floor of the House and, in fact, required them to be raised privately with the Speaker.

Members have a right and a duty to raise points of order where they feel the House is outside its Standing Orders, but any attempt to bring into question the Chair’s decision is out of order and is in no way protected by the Standing Orders.

So points of order are for dealing with compliance with Standing Orders as debate unfolds in the House. Raising issues about past decisions and clarifications need to be done in private with the Speaker.

Questioning rulings is forbidden – for good reason, if it was allowed it would enable endless bickering with the Speaker.

This was raised by ex-Speaker David Carter on Wednesday 6 November 2017.

Speakers’ Rulings—Interpretation of Speaker’s Ruling 20/5

Rt Hon DAVID CARTER (National): I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I want to ask you to give serious consideration to a considered ruling to points that were raised at the start of question time around retrospectively raising points of order. I did not make that point at the time, because I considered that your patience was getting to a stage when it may have been dangerous to do so. But as you and I know, when we go back and look at Hansard, subsequent to question time, we often see pieces in that Hansard that we wish to question and raise with the Speaker.

You and I both sat on the Standing Orders Committee and were both partly responsible for the inclusion of Speaker’s ruling 20/5 around the ability to raise issues retrospectively. You will remember, without doubt, the history of why that particular point was put into the report of the Standing Orders Committee and consequently into Speakers’ rulings.

I think it is a very dangerous precedent that could be potentially made by your initial ruling today that, unless matters are raised instantly, they cannot be raised at all.

I ask whether you would consider the points that I think were raised considerately by members at the start of question time, particularly by Opposition members, and have a look at Hansard again and perhaps come back to the House with a considered ruling and the ability for us to raise, retrospectively, points of order that we think are worthwhile raising.

There was no discussion that I recall during the deliberations of the Standing Orders Committee about a stage by which such concerns were raised privately with the Speaker in his office. Members of Parliament—Opposition and Government—have rights to raise points of order and I ask you to reconsider very carefully your original initial ruling made at the start of question time today.

Mr SPEAKER: I want to thank my right honourable predecessor for his intervention. I will seek further advice on this. Clearly, we have different memories of the reasoning behind this and the methodology to be used, and if it’s shown that his memory is better than mine, which I wouldn’t at all be surprised by, then I will come back to the House.

The Speaker came back to the House on this on Thursday.

Retrospective RulingsInterpretation of Speaker’s Ruling 20/5

Mr SPEAKER: The second point: yesterday, the Rt Hon David Carter raised with me the issue of retrospective rulings on matters of order. I’ve reflected on that matter and on methods of disagreeing with a ruling of the Chair. Earlier this year the Standing Orders Committee considered the matter of retrospective rulings.

An extract from the committee’s report appears as Speaker’s ruling 20/5. However, in light of the matters raised, it is worth referring to the full text of the report at page 14: “There is a well-established prohibition on raising points of order in the House about events that have passed. This helps ensure that points of order address matters that are relevant to the maintenance of order at that point in time and are not themselves used to disrupt the order of the House.

This prohibition on retrospective points of order is appropriate and we encourage Speakers to continue not to entertain them.

We consider, however, that the Speaker is able to deal retrospectively in the House with matters of order if the Speaker considers it is important and in the House’s interest to do so. The Speaker’s primary task is to preside over the effective conduct of proceedings. Where an incident may have a continued impact on the House’s ability to deal with its business, the Speaker can address the matter.

Members should raise such issues privately with the Speaker, outside the House. This ensures that the prohibition on retrospective points of order remains undisturbed and members can discuss their concerns with the Speaker away from the charged atmosphere of the Chamber. There is still, of course, a strong presumption that points of order will be raised immediately. As always, rulings of the Speaker are final. A retrospective ruling on a matter of order does not reopen the matter for discussion.”

The committee intended that the Speaker could, on his or her initiative, deal with retrospective matters of order. It did not empower members to raise such matters on the floor of the House and, in fact, required them to be raised privately with the Speaker. While the event that led to the change involved a comment that the Speaker had not heard, the report did not restrict members’ rights to raise a variety of matters relating to the order of the House and the rights of members. The presumption remains that a point of order must be raised once and cannot be raised by a member at a later time—Speakers’ rulings 20/3 and 20/4.

Speakers from Guinness through to Carter have ruled that when a matter has been the subject of a decision by the Chair, that decision is final and comment on it is not allowed. Members have a right and a duty to raise points of order where they feel the House is outside its Standing Orders, but any attempt to bring into question the Chair’s decision is out of order and is in no way protected by the Standing Orders. To persist in doing so, despite warning, makes it a highly disorderly procedure—Speakers’ ruling 22/3. The only way to challenge the ruling of a Speaker is by a direct motion on notice—Speakers’ rulings 17/6 and 18/1.

Points of order are not intended to ask questions or to seek clarification. They are to deal with matters of order at the time they are occurring in the House or to draw the Speaker’s attention to the fact that a member intends to exercise a right given by Standing Orders, such as making a personal explanation. I thank the Rt Hon David Carter for raising this matter.

I will circulate this ruling immediately and I will be available in my office from 5 to 6 p.m. today and again next week, if members require further clarification.