Red Alert

Archive for the ‘parliament’ Category

Government must break stalemate with plumbers

Posted by on July 3rd, 2013

Labour will this evening introduce an amendment to the Plumbers, Gasfitters, and Drainlayers Amendment Bill to help break a stalemate between the National-Act Government and a large number of tradespeople in the industry.

The Plumbers, Gasfitters and Drainlayers Board, which was appointed by the Minster for Building and Construction Maurice Williamson, has been found to have illegally collected fees and levies from the industry.

The Bill, which is currently being pushed through Parliament under urgency, seeks to retrospectively validate the significant amount of money the Board collected unlawfully.

The Government’s failure to break the industry stalemate is a two-fingered salute to committed and qualified tradesmen just trying to get a fair deal.

The Ombudsman upheld Wellington plumber Wal Gordon’s complaints and recommended that the Board should negotiate an arrangement “whereby the excess levies paid could in whole or in part be refunded over a period or some credit could be given in respect of future fee or levy payments in compensation.”

But Maurice Williamson has openly snubbed the Ombudsman’s recommendations and instead adopted a closed and defensive approach and tried to fast-track the legislation. The National-Act Government is ignoring the industry’s valid concerns.

Labour’s Supplementary Order Paper implements the Ombudsman’s recommendations.

“A five-year licence configured around the Board’s regime costs $10,000 in New Zealand – according to the Plumbers Federation. The same five-year licence in Australia costs only $330. It’s no wonder we are losing quality tradespeople to Australia.

We agree to the sector that this Bill is about more than the payment of money, it’s about unlawful activities. It is about the trust New Zealanders place in the Accountability Agreement between the Minister and his Board, and more importantly, in their Government and Parliamentary systems”.

Labour’s SOP seeks to find a midway but it is only the first step. We are encouraging a culture that is open and engaged with the changing needs of the sector. We acknowledge the problem with the Board’s activities are deep seated and we must get to the root of the problem from all aspects.

The Board has been subject to complaints to the Office of the Auditor-General, Parliament’s Regulations Review Committee, the Office of Ombudsman, the Charities Commission and the Inland Revenue Department.

The Campbell Live show, the Politics of Plumbing, featuring particularly the “Minister Williamson artwork” is not a good look for his National-Act Government. Actually, it is a bad look for all politicians. I feel sorry for the Minister.


Arrogance and contempt

Posted by on March 18th, 2013

Last week in the House I asked the government a series of questions about former Secretary for Education Lesley Longstone’s $425,000 golden handshake. That’s a lot of taxpayer coin, and the public should be able to expect answers from those who approved it.

Having earlier attempted to question Hekia Parata over the matter and had that request transferred to the Minister for State Services, Jonathan Coleman, I decided to drill down a little deeper into Coleman’s initial answer.

All up it took 26 minutes and countless points of order to get him to answer the primary and half a dozen supplementary questions. His replies demonstrated a total contempt for the democratic process. It’s the first time I’ve ever seen a Minister reply when asked about a matter they had signed-off on with “How should I know?”

You can watch the full 26 minutes and make up your own minds.

Simon says

Posted by on February 27th, 2013

New Labour Minister Simon Bridges had his first outing in question time (other than a patsy from his own side last week).  Mini me answered on behalf of the PM when he answered my question today :

DARIEN FENTON (Labour) to the Prime Minister : Does he stand by his statement that the living wage is “simplistic”?

Hon SIMON BRIDGES (Minister of Labour) on behalf of the Prime Minister: Yes, and for two reasons. The first is that the Family Centre’s living wage of $18.40 an hour is calculated on the basis of a two-adult, two-child family, whereas a lot of low-income earners are in different circumstances—for example, students working part-time. The second reason is that it assumes that paying much higher wages is costless, when it is not—it costs jobs. If all employers in the country paid a minimum wage of $18.40, it would cost an estimated 26,000 jobs.

Darien Fenton: When he said that providing New Zealanders with a living wage is not high on his Government’s agenda, was he saying that Kiwi workers should not expect to make a living from their work while he is Prime Minister?

Hon SIMON BRIDGES: No. Ultimately, above the minimum wage, what is paid is up for employers and their employees to negotiate.

Darien Fenton: Does he believe that the minimum wage of $13.75 an hour is enough for families to live on; if so, why do two out of the five children in poverty come from families in work?

Hon SIMON BRIDGES: What is very clear is that actually there is a range of circumstances. For people on the minimum wage with children, for example, there are a range of packages available to them from the Government. The truth of the matter is that actually our minimum wage, as a proportion of the average wage, is the highest in the developed world.

Darien Fenton: How is it fair that his Government is giving minimum wage workers a measly 25c pay rise, while at the same time it is splashing out on $23 million worth of bonuses for Solid Energy’s management?

Hon SIMON BRIDGES: What is very clear is that having a job is much better than not having one, and we are very conscious, unlike the other party, which does not seem to understand economic fundamentals, that the higher we raise the minimum wage, the more people are put out of jobs—7,000 under your policy.

Darien Fenton: Why is the Prime Minister still insisting that a $15-an-hour minimum wage will cost thousands of jobs when Treasury and the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment both say there is little evidence to support this, and his own Minister of Labour said this morning that there is no science behind that argument?

Hon SIMON BRIDGES: It is uncontroversial amongst good economists that the higher the minimum wage goes, the more jobs people do not get. At $15 an hour, it is about 7,000—a town.

My verdict :

Not a bad effort for repeating government lines and economic mythologies about the minimum wage, but not a big step up from the previous Minister, Kate Wilkinson.

Shows a reliance on officials for advice and not much originality in the answers.

Provided some useful lines for the opposition in future debates around work and wages.

Your verdict :

Marks out of 10? 



National gets more whipping

Posted by on January 28th, 2013

Just before Christmas the Remuneration Authority released their determination regarding MPs pay. Naturally, all of the media focus was on the fact that MPs were getting a pay rise just before Christmas and it was to be back-dated. Personally I agree with the idea that MPs pay and entitlements should be set on a 3 yearly basis and changes should only come into force following each election, but that’s a discussion for another day.

Hidden away in the determination was another interesting little change. Political parties with more than 45 MPs are now entitled to a second junior whip position. So with Michael Woodhouse taking on a ministerial role, and Louise Upston almost certain to step in the Chief Whip’s shoes tomorrow, National will now have to elect two new junior whips. The smart money seems to be on Tim McIndoe and my Breakfast TV sparring partner Jamie Lee-Ross.

I agree with the decision to increase the number of whips big parties can have. It’s a big job and under MMP it’s getting even bigger. But it’s interesting the National government decided to implement the change now, rather than wait until after the next election, when it wouldn’t look quite so much like they were changing the rules to suit their own interests.

Lockwood raises the bar, again

Posted by on January 22nd, 2013

At some stage over the next few weeks, possibly as early as next Thursday, parliament will elect a new Speaker. As an opposition MP I never thought I’d find myself saying this, but we’ll be sad to see Lockwood Smith go. As Speaker, he has raised the bar in terms of ministerial accountability in the House. His most significant ruling, that when asked a straight question ministers should give straight answers, has changed the whole nature of Question Time. That ruling will remain in place long after his departure, although whether the new Speaker has the ability to implement it with the same precision and diligence is yet to be seen.

Just before Christmas, Lockwood raised the bar again, this time relating to ministerial accountability outside the Debating Chamber. Under parliament’s rules MPs are also allowed to ask written questions of ministers. There are a lot more of these and they don’t always receive the same level of attention questions in the House do. But they’re a vital information channel for the opposition, and they’re another way we can hold ministers to account for their performance and the performance of their departments.

Late last year Labour asked a series of written questions about the Novopay fiasco. The Minister in charge Craig Foss tried to brush them off by saying they were ‘operational matters for the Chief Executive’. This reply has been used by successive governments to sidestep bad news. However, the days when Ministers could duck for cover in this way seem to be over. In replying to Labour’s complaint on the matter, Lockwood Smith ruled:

“I note that there is no convention that Ministers are not answerable for operational matters, but that a Minster is not prevented from replying in those terms. These rulings related to a minister being questioned on operational matters for which a crown entity had responsibility. I expect a higher standard for answering questions relating to a department for which the Minister is responsible. A minister should be able to give informative replies about the actions of such a department.”

“As you have noted, the record shows that the Associate Minister has provided the House with information on this matter in response to questions for oral answer. Ministers are no less accountable to give informative replies to questions for written answer.”

Craig Foss subsequently provided more fulsome answers to our Novopay questions. But the effect of this ruling will extend well beyond this one instance. If the new Speaker maintains this new high standard, the improved level of accountability we’ve seen at Question Time will extend beyond the walls of the Debating Chamber. That’s a good thing.

The new Speaker will have big shoes to fill. All the more reason for the government to nominate a candidate who will have the respect of all sides of the House.

Today’s members’ bill ballot

Posted by on December 6th, 2012

New Zealand First had the luck of the draw, with two of their bills being drawn in today’s ballot for the two available spaces on the Order Paper. Their bills were:

  • Sentencing (Protection of Children from Criminal Offending) Amendment Bill – Le’aufa’amulia Asenati Lole-Taylor
  • Social Security (Clothing Allowances for Orphans and Unsupported Children) Amendment Bill – Tracey Martin

You can see the full list of bills after the break. (more…)

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Today’s members’ bill ballot

Posted by on November 8th, 2012

Today at 12noon there’ll be a ballot for members’ bills, with five places available on the Order Paper. Each Labour MP has a bill in the ballot so hopefully we’ll get some bills drawn.

I’ll post the results just after midday.

The full list of bills in today’s ballot is after the break.

Update: the following bills were drawn:

7. Climate Change (New Zealand Superannuation Fund) Bill – Eugenie Sage

29. Electronic Transactions (Contract Formation) Amendment Bill – Paul Goldsmith

18. Dairy Industry Restructuring Amendment Bill (No 2) – Hon Damien O’Connor

30. Employment Relations (Statutory Minimum Redundancy Entitlements) Amendment Bill – Sue Moroney

21. Education (Breakfast and Lunch Programmes in Schools) Amendment Bill –  Hone Harawira


Members’ bill ballot today

Posted by on October 18th, 2012

There were two spaces on the Order Paper today, and the following Bills were drawn:

  • 13. Criminal Proceeds (Recovery) Act 2009 (Application to Casinos) Amendment Bill – Metiria Turei
  • 28. Employment Relations (Protection of Young Workers) Amendment Bill – Rino Tirikatene

A full list of the Bills in the ballot is over the break.


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Today’s Members’ Bill Ballot

Posted by on September 20th, 2012

Today at midday there’ll be a ballot for members’ bills, with two places available on the Order Paper. A preliminary ballot will be held to determine which of the following bills will be entered in the main ballot:

20. Education (Breakfast and Lunch Programmes in Schools) Amendment Bill – Hone Harawira
22. Education (Food in Schools) Amendment Bill – David Shearer

In my view, the Clerk’s decision to conduct a preliminary ballot to determine which of these two bills, which have similar aims, goes into the ballot is the wrong one. While the goals of the two bills are similar, the means of achieving them a very different. The test needs to be whether the bills are substantially the same in their ‘content’, not whether they are the same in the outcome they seek to achieve.

For example, if two bills were put up around the transportation of goods from Wellington to Auckland, and one sought to do so via rail and one via road, if we used ‘outcome’ as the criteria for determining whether they were the same, only one bill would go in the ballot, yet clearly the bills are very different in their content. We’ll be relitigating this for sure, but for today at least, only one of these bills will make it into the ballot.

You can see the full list of bills in today’s ballot after the break. I’ll post the results just after midday.

Update: Hone Harawira’s Bill made it into the ballot and the following were drawn:

Conservation Natural Heritage Protection Bill – Jacqui Dean
Electricity (Renewable Preference) Amendment Bill – Charles Chauvel


What would Kate Sheppard think?

Posted by on September 18th, 2012

This year we are taking Women’s Suffrage Day to the Twittersphere to hear what you think about how Kiwi women are faring 119 years after we won the right to vote.

I feel sure that Kate Sheppard, the woman who led the charge and graces our $10 note, would have some opinions to express if she were alive today.

But sadly, she’s not! So we want to hear from you, by posting your comments below or on Twitter from 8am tomorrow morning, 19 September 2012, using the hashtag #wwkst – What would Kate Sheppard think?

Kate Sheppard fought for New Zealand women’s political and economic independence and thanks to her more than five generations of women have now been able to influence decision-making through their vote.

There are things that we have achieved that I think would make her smile, like Marriage property laws, Equal Pay laws, the election of the first woman, Elizabeth McCoombs to Parliament and many more including Mabel Howard as the first female cabinet minister, and our female Prime Ministers Jenny Shipley and Helen Clark.

But there are some things that I think would make her frown. What would she think about female accountants being paid 30% less on average than their male counterparts in 2012? Or about the National Council of Women, which she founded, supporting the removal of working women’s rights in the first 90 days of employment?  What would she think about the fact just 6% of private company boards having female directors; or that just 32.5% of our House of Representatives are female, when women make up 51% of the population?

I think she’d say there’s work to be done.

And there are some things she would be down-right angry about. Like our rates of domestic violence, or the fact that 270,000 Kiwi kids live in poverty, or that in 2011 voter turnout was the lowest since the 1880s at just 65%.

I think she would expect more from this government and more from its Minister of Women’s Affairs. What do you think?


Red Alert Today’s Members’ bill ballot

Posted by on August 30th, 2012

Today at midday there’ll be a ballot for members’ bills, with four places available on the Order Paper.

You can see the full list of bills in today’s ballot after the break. I’ll post the results just after midday.

Update: the following bills were drawn:

53. Oaths and Declarations (Upholding the Treaty of Waitangi) Amendment Bill – Te Ururoa Flavell

43. Local Government (Public Libraries) Amendment Bill – Darien Fenton

39. Land Transport (Admissibility of Evidential Breath Tests) Amendment Bill – Scott Simpson

2. Care of Children Law Reform Bill – Jacinda Ardern


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Today’s Members’ bill ballot

Posted by on August 16th, 2012

Today at midday there’ll be a ballot for members’ bills, with three places available on the Order Paper.

Labour has 34 bills in the ballot today. That’s one for every member. Not a bad effort!

You can see the full list of bills in today’s ballot after the break. I’ll post the results just after midday.

Update: The following Bills were drawn from the ballot today:


Ombudsmen (Cost Recovery) Bill

Posted by on July 26th, 2012

One of the Bill’s that was drawn from the ballot today is unlikely to gain as much attention as others, but it could have quite a significant impact on the way government operates. The Ombudsmen (Cost Recovery) Amendment Bill, in the name of Shane Jones, allows the Ombudsmen to set guidelines for recovering the costs of their investigations from the agencies being investigated.

Sound pretty uninteresting? Consider this: the Ombudsmen are the people who investigate alleged breaches of the Official Information Act (among other important roles). If the government is trying to hide something, they are the ones who can force it into the open. They play a vital ‘safeguard’ role within our governing system. But currently they can’t keep up with demand.

During the 2011 financial review of the Office of the Ombudsmen, the Chief Ombudsman stated that the office was ‘in crisis’ due to its high caseload and inability to meet demand. Only a minor increase has been recommended as part of this year’s Budget. This extra funding will cover increases in salary costs but will do nothing to address the more than 300 cases that are presently unallocated and awaiting further consideration.

This Bill allows the Ombudsmen to set guidelines for recovering the costs of their investigations from the agencies being investigated. This will ensure that resourcing constraints do not deny access to due process, and will promote greater compliance with legislative requirements by government departments and agencies.

Providing the Ombudsmen with the ability to charge those departments or agencies who are the subject of Official Information Act 1982 investigations is likely to improve compliance with that legislation (which currently contains very weak compliance provisions).

So, not the sort of stuff that’s going to set the political world alight with excitement, but a very important debate to have all the same.

Today’s Members’ bill ballot

Posted by on June 28th, 2012

Today at midday there will be a ballot for members’ bills. There are four places available on the Order Paper after the House managed to get through quite a few first readings yesterday. Labour has 33 bills out of 65 in the ballot, so our chances are looking good.

Members Day is one of the few opportunities opposition and backbench MPs get to set the agenda and debate the issues that we really care about. I’m really pleased my Labour colleagues have embraced this opportunity and all put something up for consideration (my colleague Lianne Dalziel had her Bill drawn in the last ballot and is presently working on a replacement).

You can see the full list of bills in today’s ballot after the break. I’ll post the results just after midday.

Update: The following Bills have been drawn from the ballot. Congratulations to these MPs: 

  • Overseas Investment (Restriction on Foreign Ownership of Land) Amendment Bill (Russel Norman)
  • Habeas Corpus Amendment Bill (Chris Auchinvole)
  • Local Government (Salary Moderation) Amendment Bill (Annette King)
  • Prohibition of Gang Insignia in Government Premises Bill (Todd McClay)


National’s priorities

Posted by on June 20th, 2012

This morning I’m at the Government Administration Select Committee. We’re currently holding a public hearing on the Estimates for Vote Prime Minister and Cabinet. Officials have just confirmed that this year’s Budget has allocated about $6.5 million of new money for a new IT system that will allow Ministers to get their Cabinet papers online.

I asked whether they had been asked by the PM to find this money by ‘reprioritising’ their existing spending. Apparently not. It seems DPMC are subject to a different standard of accountability than the rest of the public sector.

Not a great look for the PM to find $6.5 m of taxpayers money to fund a new filing system for cabinet papers in the same Budget they hiked up taxes for paperboys, a move that is only going to raise $14 million over the next 4 years. Shows where John Key’s priorities lie…

Asset sales bill on the move

Posted by on June 8th, 2012

Parliament’s Finance and Expenditure Select Committee Chair Todd McClay has announced he expects to report the Asset Sales Bill back to the House six weeks early, instead of the original date of 16 July.

How 1448 submissions, of which 9 were in favour and 1421 were opposed, (0.6% in favour and 98.1% against) can be adequately condensed beggars belief.

But as we know National will try almost anything and when you have Treasury write its departmental report before hearing all submissions, anything is possible.

In doing so the government has abused the normal processes of the select committee and bequeathed a series of problems for future governments to rectify.

Unless there’s urgency and whether you’ve won an election or not, governments put legislation through a select committee process for two good reasons.

Firstly, you want to get it right. This bill is full of holes – many of which you can drive a bus through. The copious faults identified by expert and community submitters are compounded by a process of inadequate consideration and pre-emptory deliberation.

Secondly, you should give submitters the right to have their say because they might actually have some good ideas to improve or amend the bill. So why did they bother even going through the select committee process?  This is the government telling the experts and the community that they don’t want to listen.

It’s clear that these tactics were used to limit adverse publicity and attempt to undermine the nation-wide petition for a referendum, rather than enable the committee to go about its business in a thorough and properly considered way.

No evidence was given showing this bill will improve the economic, social and fiscal position of New Zealand. This legislation will only increase power prices, increase asset inequality and make New Zealanders poorer and more indebted to the world in the long-term.

We will know early next week if they plan to sell our assets under urgency. In the meantime listen to my interview on Radio New Zealand this morning.

David Shearer takes fight to government

Posted by on May 23rd, 2012

A great, feisty, funny general debate speech from David Shearer today. Well worth a watch.

Good point

Posted by on May 1st, 2012

On Twitter this afternoon someone mused on the contrast between the UK parliament being granted a couple of days ago a snap debate on the Leveson Inquiry into  the British press following the News International phone hacking scandal whereas today here in New Zealand, our own Speaker would not grant an application for an urgent debate regarding the John Banks investigation and Key not standing Banks down as Minister.

The Guardian has written a good editorial about the role of parliament in holding the government and its Ministers to account. I would hope that our parliament sees its role in a similar vein.

Jeremy Hunt: the court of parliament

Monday 30 April 2012 20.53 BST

If it is parliament’s job to hold ministerial feet to the fire, then a good parliament will make the government sweat.

The Commons got halfway there yesterday, after Speaker John Bercow accepted an “urgent question” about the position of Jeremy Hunt. In opposition, David Cameron proposed Westminster clawing back power from Whitehall, but as prime minister he was dragged across the road from Downing Street in a palpable rage.

Why Compete for Crowded Space?

Posted by on February 8th, 2012

In a Parliament where the Governments majority looks shakey and decisions may get through on a slim margin of just one vote can we operate differently in Opposition?

On the opposition benches there will be a number of Parties who will vote against Asset Sales. Labour was unequivocal at the 2011 election SoEs were Not For Sale. But the country has voted and National will drive ahead with its agenda, despite widespread concern from Maori about inadequate protections as affirmed in s.9 of the SoE Act.

Rather than delve into the debate, I wanted to raise whether there was an opportunity for a culture shift in the way opposition parties attacked the Government on specific BIG ISSUES like Asset Sales, like Growing Inequality, Like Children Living in Poverty. Some may consider this a broad coalition of the opposition, and to be frank post-election it will be an organic exercise.

Could it be an opportunity for doing things differently in opposition in an MMP environment – your thoughts?

Maiden Speech Timetable

Posted by on February 8th, 2012

Here is the timetable for Maiden Speeches as I understand it at the moment (the allocation of exact time slots is a matter for each party and they may switch people around a bit):

Wednesday, 8 February 2012:

  • 4.30 pm Tracey Martin, NZ First
  • 4.45 pm Andrew Williams, NZ First
  • 5.00 pm Richard Prosser, NZ First
  • 5.15 pm Brendan Horan, NZ First
  • 5.30 pm Denis O’Rourke, NZ First
  • 5.45 pm Asenati Lole-Taylor, NZ First

Thursday, 9 February 2012:

  • 3.45 pm Mike Sabin, National

Tuesday, 14 February 2012:

  • 5.00 pm David Clark, Labour
  • 5.15 pm Andrew Little, Labour
  • 5.30 pm Megan Woods, Labour
  • 5.45 pm Rino Tirikatene, Labour

Wednesday, 15 February 2012:

  • 4.15 pm Mojo Mathers, Green
  • 4.30 pm Steffan Browning, Green
  • 4.45 pm Julie Anne Genter, Green
  • 5.00 pm Jan Logie, Green
  • 5.15 pm Denise Roche, Green
  • 5.30 pm Eugenie Sage, Green
  • 5.45 pm Holly Walker, Green

Thursday, 16 February 2012:

  • National Party members (order TBA)

As the new MPs complete their speeches, I’ll add a link to the video clip. If you’re a bit impatient, you can find them on