Interesting question yesterday from Pete – Key shot through before it had to be answered and left the Dipton double dipper to defend his old brat pack mate.
The Cabinet Manual is a set of rules designed to keep us open, transparent and free from corruption.
Key appears to want us to trust ministers to do the right thing. Bolger, Shipley and Clark ran much tighter ships.
Appearance of conflict of interest is a problem as well as actual conflict.
Hon PETE HODGSON (Labour-Dunedin North) to the Prime Minister: During Cabinet or Cabinet committee consideration of the policy and legislation concerning Environment Canterbury did his Minister for the Environment declare any conflict of interest regarding his family; if so, what did he declare?
Hon BILL ENGLISH (Deputy Prime Minister) on behalf of the Prime Minister: The Prime Minister is satisfied that Ministers are aware of the guidance in the Cabinet Manual about conflicts of interest and he would expect them to declare an interest in an issue where a conflict actually exists. No Ministers declared a conflict during Cabinet or Cabinet committee consideration of the legislation concerning Environment Canterbury.
Hon Pete Hodgson: Why did he allow Dr Smith to stay in the room when the Government’s approach to Environment Canterbury was being discussed, given that his brother was charged by Environment Canterbury on 21 counts arising from a police-accompanied inspection of his premises last June?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: As I understand it, the facts of the matter are that the Government was making decisions around the performance of Environment Canterbury relating to governance, performance, and water management, and nothing to do with the conduct of the council’s day-to-day regulatory and enforcement responsibilities, so there was no possibility that Dr Smith, or his brother, could derive any kind of personal interest from decisions or actions taken by the Government.
Hon Pete Hodgson: Can he confirm for the House that he, the Prime Minister, diligently upholds paragraph 2.60 of the Cabinet Manual for all Ministers-himself included-where it states: “A conflict of interest may be . non-pecuniary (concerning, for example, a member of the Minister’s family).”?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: Absolutely, yes.
Hon Pete Hodgson: Does the Prime Minister believe that he takes the same degree of care over conflict of interest issues as did earlier National Prime Ministers such as Prime Minister Bolger or Prime Minister Shipley?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: The Prime Minister ensures that Ministers are familiar with the Cabinet Manual. As the member will know from his own experience as a Minister, declarations of conflict are a matter for Ministers to raise. These matters are regularly raised with the Cabinet Office, often because Ministers think there could be a conflict. Sometimes they are advised there is not; sometimes they are advised there is.
Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. That was a relatively simple question, which related to the comparison of the practice of previous National Prime Ministers and whether “the same degree of care”, I think were the words used, was taken by this Prime Minister. That was the core of the question and was not addressed.
Mr SPEAKER: I think any reasonable person listening would allow that the Minister answered in a way that made sense to him as a Minister. Maybe the Minister had not made such direct comparisons, so the Minister responded in a way that said how this Prime Minister sees the Cabinet Manual and the requirements of it, which seemed to me to be a reasonable answer to the question.
Hon Pete Hodgson: Why, as reported in a 2001 edition of North and South, is Dr Smith on record as saying that he had to step aside if a project in his area of responsibility involved one of his brothers-citing back then the Otira viaduct as an example-but in this Government the same Minister’s rather obvious conflicts of interests go unaddressed?