Red Alert

Posts Tagged ‘accountability’

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.

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.

John Key ain’t no statesman

Posted by on August 16th, 2011

Trevor Mallard got tossed out of the House this afternoon for calling John Key a chicken. It was probably a fair call on Lockwood’s part, it wasn’t a particularly dignified remark, but nor was the behaviour from the PM that prompted it.

Labour set down several questions to the PM on young people today. Key transferred the one from Phil Goff to Paula Bennett. He couldn’t do that for a subsequent question lodged by Annette King though, so Phil and Annette basically swapped. Annette asked the question to Bennett, while Goff sought to ask the question of the PM.

However, our PM has clearly decided that answering questions from the Leader of the Opposition is beneath him, so he simply walked out of the debating chamber, leaving Bennett to answer on his behalf. Whatever took him away clearly can’t have lasted long, because he returned later to answer questions from other members.

Pretty poor form for the PM to duck answering questions about his own comments.

Is this true?

Posted by on August 15th, 2011

The process of awarding the ultrafast broadband contract to Telecom has been shrouded in secrecy and dubious process from day one.

I think there’s pretty general agreement about that. The problem has been working out what actually went on.

A letter recently came to light between Telecom CEO Paul Reynolds and Communications Minister Steven Joyce which indicated pretty strongly that the structural separation of Telecom was being discussed way back two years ago before the contract tenders had been announced.

If so, then it would appear that a plan was put in place and an outcome determined before the tenders were put to the public.

If so, that makes a complete mockery of the tender process and the other tendering parties who would be right to feel very aggrieved.

I’ve been told (by a very strong source) that around that time (2009), the Ministry of Economic Development head in charge of broadband Bruce Parkes, used emissaries to go and talk to the Telecom boss and verbally explain that if Telecom agreed to voluntarily separate, there would be “regulatory relief” (and by implication the ultrafast broadband contract would follow).

One of those emissaries has said that when speaking to Reynolds, he/she was told “you’re not the only one they’ve sent to tell us that”.

I’ve also been told, from within Telecom, that the letter written by Reynolds back to Joyce was deliberate, to put it on the record so to speak.

This smells.

I have a request before the Speaker of the House Lockwood Smith referring Steven Joyce to the privileges committee for denying any letters existed on this issue. The letter I’ve referred to above clearly did exist. He has fought to keep it from the public eye since Octover 2009.

I’m waiting for the Speaker’s response.

Transparency around lobbying important

Posted by on June 20th, 2011

I don’t think New Zealand politicians have anything to fear from more open and transparent rules around the activities of lobbyists. The lobbyists I’ve come into contact with in my short time as an MP have been decent people and shouldn’t have anything to fear from a more transparent system either. In fact, the natural suspicion that the secrecy around their current activity arouses would be reduced, potentially leaving them better off in the long run.

I’m pleased the Labour Party has decided to support the Private Members Bill introduced by Sue Kedgley at First Reading, should it be drawn from the ballot. The Bill does two main things. First, it establishes a Register of Lobbyists, to be administered by the Auditor General. Second, it requires the Auditor General to establish a Lobbyist’s Code of Conduct and ensure that it is enforced.

I’ve had a chance to have a quick read through Sue’s Bill and I think it’s a good start, although I’m concerned that it may go wider than necessary. For example, as I read it under the current wording of the Bill, a plumber who makes an appointment to see their local MP to complain that the registration fees imposed by their professional body are too high would technically be deemed to be a lobbyist and therefore be required to register as one or be in breach of the law. I think that’s going a bit far.

New Zealanders are fortunate that we have a form of government that is incredibly open and accessible. Anyone can make an appointment to see their local MP and I’d hate to see any moves to regulate professional lobbyists compromise that. But that’s a question of detail and I’m sure it can be worked through at select committee, should the Bill make it that far. This is certainly a debate worth having.

Crony Watch #2

Posted by on May 27th, 2011

A while back I asked why the NBR doesn’t run it’s ‘Crony Watch’ column anymore. When Labour was in government they were very quick to critiscise when anyone who had any connection to the Labour Party was appointed to any sort of board or committee. Strangely they haven’t been as vocal and vigilant since National came to power, but there are certainly plenty of examples they could be highlighting. For example:

  • John Key’s electorate chairman, Stephen McElrea, has been given a role on a working group selecting proposals for taxpayer-funded political documentaries about health, education, welfare and law and order. He is also the deputy chair of NZ on Air, who get to choose which Kiwi TV shows get taxpayer subsidies.
  • Richard Griffin, former press secretary to the last National government (and often confused for the former PM) has been appointed Chair of the Board of Radio New Zealand.
  • Former National MP and Cabinet Minister Roger Sowry appointed to the Board of the Electricity Authority and to Chair the Councils of two polytechnics.
  • Former National MP and Leader Don Brash appointed to Chair the government’s 2025 taskforce.
  • Unsuccessful National Party candidate, and next on their list, Conway Powell, appointed to the Health Research Council of New Zealand.
  • Alastair Scott, who unsuccessfully tried to roll John Hayes as National candidate in the Wairarapa, was rewarded with a seat on the Crown Health Funding Agency.
  • National’s candidate in Mt Albert, Ravi Musuku, was rewarded with a slot on the Human Rights Review Tribunal after being rolled in favour of Melissa Lee for the by-election.
  • Former National MP Ian McLean appointed to the Lakes District Health Board.
  • Another former National MP Margaret Moir appointed to the Podiatrists’ Board.
  • Yet another former National MP, Clem Simich, appointed to the Residence Review Board.
  • One of the authors of Don Brash’s Orewa speech, Michael Bassett, appointed to the Board of Te Papa.

I don’t think someone should be disqualified from appointment to a role just because they have been, or are, involved with a political party. But those appointments will always be, and should be, subject to greater scrutiny. That scrutiny should be no less just because it is a National government rather than a Labour one.

National backs their mates, again…

Posted by on May 26th, 2011

Last year the National government was roundly criticized for setting aside $4.8 million in the Budget to be allocated to the Pacific Development Agency (PEDA) without a competitive tender process.  Keep in mind that when first quizzed about it Bill English’s first reaction, as it so often is, was to deny the whole thing. It took months of investigative work by the NZ Herald to establish that in fact not only did English know all about it, it was inserted into the Budget at his behest and officials didn’t know what to make of it.

The NZ Herald also suggested at the time the funding was part of an English-inspired effort to secure greater support for National amongst pacific voters. In the end they were forced to back down and a competitive tender process resulted in PEDA missing out completely.

Did they learn their lesson? It seems not. This year’s Budget allocated $2.4 million to Parents Inc, once again without a competitive tender process. The chief executive of Parents Inc, Bruce Pilbrow, was the Deputy Commissioner of the Families Commission (appointed by Paula Bennett) until he resigned just two days before the Budget. Why wasn’t the contract put out for tender? When did Pilbrow find out Parents Inc was getting the funding?

At the very least it’s a bad look for the government to set funds aside for specific organisations without going through robust processes to ensure the taxpayer is getting value for money. It leaves them open to charges of cronyism and looking after their mates, but then again, there are plenty of other examples of where the National Party are doing just that!

Key fudged answers on Premier House

Posted by on May 21st, 2011

There is a pattern in the way John Key and his office deal with revelations about how they are spending taxpayers money on themselves while telling everyone else they need to stomach cutbacks. When it was first revealed that John Key had splashed out on new carpet and painting for his prime ministerial residence, the initial reaction of his office was to deny all knowledge.

Then they reveal that they did know about it, defend it saying it’s no big deal, and accuse those answering questions of muck-raking or focusing on the small stuff. But if you keep asking questions, it usually turns out that they knew exactly what was going on and in fact they were up to their eyeballs in it.

Answers that have just come back to written parliamentary questions reveal that not only did Key know about the painting of Premier House, he made them change the proposed colour scheme.

A pattern is also emerging that shows how sloppy this government are when it comes to the way they spend money on themselves. Key stated in his most recent answers that the decision to re-carpet Premier House was made in late-2009. If that’s the case, Key should have included it in Estimates information provided to the Select Committee following the Budget. He didn’t.

At best that’s sloppy management on Key’s part (he signs off the answers to the Select Committee), at worst it suggests they’re deliberately trying to fudge the amount they spend on themselves. Either way it’s pretty clear that Key’s “aggressive” line-by-line review of government spending doesn’t apply to his own spending. There’s a word for that.

It was a similar situation with the BMWs. First Key claimed he hadn’t been told, then it turned out his Chief of Staff was fully briefed and two of his Ministers had signed the deal off. A bit odd that Key would take an active interest in something as small as a new paint job for Premier House but not know about a multi-million dollar car purchase. And let’s not forget that Bill English only paid back the housing allowance because he got found out.

What happened to crony watch?

Posted by on April 8th, 2011

When Labour was in government the NBR used to have a regular column called ‘Crony Watch’ where they would chronicle any government appointments that had any sort of political connection. Strangely, since National came go power it seems to have disappeared.

I’m wondering whether this is because they don’t feel that the National Party appointing their own activists and funders to taxpayer funded Roles is cronyism, or is it just that there are now so many of them they don’t have room?

I’m not opposed to political appointments based on merit, you shouldn’t be disqualified from public service just because you happen to have history with one party or another. I supported Labour’s decision to appoint Jim Bolger to head NZ Post and I support National’s decision to replace him with Michael Cullen.

But National’s appointments should get the same level of scrutiny as Labour’s appointments. Are we getting value for money from Don Brash’s task force given the govt reject his recommendations before they even read them? (mind you, Key doesn’t seem to be a particularly big reader of important documents).

Will ACT Party candidate Graham Scott add value to the Productivity Commission. Is Jenny Shipley the best person go head one of our largest energy companies? Should Steven Joyce have given massive taxpayer loans to a company he used to own that operates in direct competition with a government owned enterprise?

Is it a good thing that Murray McCully has decided to abandon past practice and hand-pick appointees for overseas diplomatic roles? Will that lead to cronyism? Given McCully has just appointed a sitting National MP to what should be an independent role, it’s fair to ask.

These are all legitimate questions that the media would have been asking Labour in the same circumstances. It’s a shame different standards seem to apply when the Tories are in charge.

Don’t blame the help John

Posted by on February 21st, 2011

So it turns out that John Key was informed about the purchase of a new fleet of BMWs, he just didn’t read the briefing papers. And now he is trying to blame his staff for not telling him. That’s pretty weak John.

Before I became an MP I worked for several different Ministers, and I can recall a few cases where staff slipped up and didn’t pass on information. In every case that I was involved with, the Minister concerned took the rap. Blaming the staff is a pretty weak way to operate. I certainly can’t imagine any of those Ministers, including Helen Clark using the excuse that they were too busy heading off on holiday for not attending to their job.

No doubt tomorrow Key will have a new set of excuses, but for now the chronology goes something like this:

  • Firstly, Key claims he didn’t know anything about it;
  • Then his limo driver told him about ‘a week ago’;
  • Then his limo driver told him about it ‘some weeks back’;
  • Now it turns out he was briefed in December, but chose not to read it.

John Key has been equally devious about the nature of the contract:

  • First he said they couldn’t get out of it without paying a high penalty;
  • Then he said the contract could have been cancelled without penalty;
  • Then he said the contract is a good deal for taxpayers;
  • Now he is saying the Solicitor General has advised that the govt can’t pull out of the deal.

He is hardly consistent either when it comes to how the deal was authorised:

  • First off all, he said the decision was made by the Internal affairs Department, which did not think it had to check with Ministers;
  • Then he agreed Ministers had known about the contract last year;
  • Then he said his Internal Affairs Minister Nathan Guy assumed last year that he would know all about and didn’t bother telling him;
  • Now he says he was informed but didn’t read the briefing paper.

This whole saga has been a shambles and suggests that Key just isn’t on top of his job. If he isn’t willing to do anything more than smile and wave for the cameras, perhaps he should hand over the detail work as Minister Responsible for Ministerial Services to somebody who doesn’t find the thought of sitting down with a thick briefing paper quite so daunting.

We must ask the hard questions

Posted by on November 28th, 2010

John Armstrong’s piece in yesterday’s Herald got it wrong.

He inferred that most politicians raising questions and exploring the reasons for the explosions at Pike River will be tainted with “exploiting the catastrophe for selfish political motives”.

John by writing that you do two things:

1. You perpetuate the view that politics is somehow “dirty” and “bad”. Is that what you really think?

2. You are undermining the questioner and the questions. That means it will be much harder to get to the truth. Is that really your intention?

Instead, asking the hard questions and seeking answers to them is what we would expect and what we require from our politicians. And from our media. Surely!

29 men died. Their families want answers. Their community wants answers. Politicians were elected to ask questions.

Armstrong appears to be framing the Pike River aftermath so that from the Opposition Benches only Jim Anderton has credibility in asking the hard questions about what went wrong.

I’m happy that Jim will be doing it.

But according to Armstrong, Labour can’t because we’ll be cynically exploiting the catastrophe for the wrong reasons, or showing desperation. What rubbish!

The union movement can’t because they (according to Armstrong) want payback “for the humiliation the Combined Trade Unions incurred over The Hobbit”. More rubbish!

Not sure what he thinks about the Greens asking questions.

On day one of the Pike River explosion I raised on Twitter the importance of hard questions being asked of the company responsible for Pike River Mine. I raised the issue of the Beaconsfield Mine collapse in Tasmania and the important role played by the (AWU) union in bringing health and safety issues to the fore.

And I encouraged the media to ask the tough questions. They are the ones who are placed to ask them. And not be put off by cries of insensitivity. Or inappropriateness. Let’s hope they do.

Fran O’Sullivan, also writing yesterday in the Herald,  believes that the hard questions need to be asked and the vested interests of everyone taken into account. I agree.

My vested interest is to determine why this disaster happened, make sure it doesn’t happen again and bring some accountability. It’s the truth that matters here. All questions are important, even if they are scoffed at by some.

Politicians, no matter what side of politics they are on must ask the hard questions. Otherwise, they’re not doing their jobs.

John Key is wrong

Posted by on November 16th, 2010

John Key has been totally wrong in his handling of the Pansy Wong issue. When questions were first raised in Parliament, he decided to personally attack Pete Hodgson rather than front up and deal with the issues. Now we learn that he has advised Pansy Wong not to front up and answer questions. That’s just not good enough.

Pansy Wong is answerable for her personal use of taxpayer funded international travel. She needs to explain herself. Refusing to answer questions makes it look like she is working with Key to prepare a cover-up.

Yesterday Pete Hodgson asked a fresh series of questions about the use of taxpayer funded out-of-parliament offices for private business interests. These are legitimate questions and she needs to answer them. If her taxpayer funded office has been used as the registered office for private businesses that is another clear breach of the rules.

John Key needs to show more leadership on this issue. It’s simply not good enough for him to advise her to duck for cover and avoid fronting. It’s also not good enough for him to claim it’s not his problem. He’s the Leader of his party. I know he prefers to smile and wave and have fun, but now it’s time for him to do some of the tough stuff.

Declaration of pecuniary interests 101

Posted by on June 27th, 2010

Alll this stuff about Chris Finlayson not declaring his company directorship is interesting and puzzling.

Before being elected to parliament, I was the sole Director of Inzight Communications (my little company based in Dunedin) and I resigned as Director on the morning of 9 November 2008 ( day after election).

But when I filled out the pecuniary interest declaration in January 2009 I sought advice (from the Registrar’s office) and was told I needed to declare my directorship because I was still a Director on  8 November 2008, the day of the election. Which I duly did.

I have stuff-all assets (house, section and a bit of super) but I’ve sought advice from the office of the Registrar of Pecuniary Interests several times. Because I want to get it right. So why does Chris Finlayson allegedly seek advice from his lawyer and not from the Registrar’s Office?

I’m a first term MP. How long has he been in parliament?

Who holds the media accountable #2

Posted by on June 19th, 2010

Further to my post earlier today about media and accountability I came across a piece which takes the issues and the arguments a bit further.

Titled Why can’t journalists handle public criticism it was written by Scott Rosenberg and orignally posted on a site called Mediashift Idea Lab.

It’s worth a read, but I thought this extract was interesting:

Reasonable criticism of news coverage can now be published as easily online as the original reports, and the public expects media outlets to respond. Many editors and reporters understand that a new approach to accountability simply makes sense.

So the institutions have begun, haltingly but significantly, to open up. But many individual journalists find themselves at sea when called upon to explain mistakes, defend choices and engage in discussions with their readers and critics. Nothing in their professional lives has prepared them for this.

In fact, a lot of their professional training explicitly taught them that all of this was dangerous, unprofessional, bad. They grew up thinking — and some still think — that the professional thing to do, when questioned in public, is (a) don’t respond at all; (b) respond with “no comment — we stand by our story”; or if things get really bad © your editor will do the talking.

Because it’s about American media it’s easier  think about and discuss the underlying issues without being accused of sour grapes. Anyone who knows me or has read previous posts will know I care deeply about these issues and having a strong robust, independent media. Public and commerically driven.

I don’t think we’ve got that right now.

Found this on twitter. Sorry can’t hat tip because I’ve forgotten who I got it from.

Who holds the media accountable?

Posted by on June 19th, 2010

I’ve been musing a bit lately about accountability. How important it is. Labour’s new OpenLabourNZ policy process is about being accountable and open with New Zealanders.

When you become an MP you know you are accountable to your Party, your caucus colleagues and to your constituents. And of course, to yourself and your family.

Media are an important part of our democracy. We need them, we need them to be vigorous and to scrutinise, investigate, probe beneath the surface and critically analyse. We need them to be intelligent and wise, responsible and have high standards of quality, to be ethical. And we need them to hold elected representatives accountable.

Here’s the NZ journalist code of ethics, produced by their union the EPMU. It makes interesting reading.

Two questions I’ve been grappling with.

First, is the spotlight on MPs expenses all about accountability? Or is it something else? It certainly has taken people’s attention away from how public money is being spent  and how significant cuts and changes are happening in health, education, social development.

This week, Contact Energy put its electricity prices up by nearly 10% in Dunedin. Gerry Brownlee sat on his hands. Despite his govt having pledged to do something about high electricity prices. Is anyone watching this?

On the Foreshore and Seabed, John Key and Ministers promised most NZers that they wont notice any changes, and yet tell Maoridom they are delivering them what they want. I’m not seeing much scrutiny here.

In social development Paula Bennett talked recently about the  possibility of the welfare reform debate turning ugly. Thankfully John Armstrong in the NZ Herald picked this up and wrote about it. But it got lost in the maelstrom around MP spending.

Tony Ryall manages to continue to get away with calling cuts to frontline health services “changes”.

And then we have Judith Collins who has the Police Association onside after settling a wage claim arguing that cuts to policing in a number of regions is ok because those regions are overpoliced! Not sure Otago is going to feel safer after losing 22 police jobs.

There are many more issues. Rhetoric vs reality.

Delving into the issues is time consuming. It’s worthy but not always sexy. It requires resources, determination and investigative skills. And motivation. Not many news organisations have extensive resources, or skilled practitioners for this and there has been a growing trend for journalism to syndicate material and concentrate on day to day stories.

And second, who holds the media accountable? For their motivations and their methods? Is it the Broadcasting Standards Authority? The NZ Press Council?

Here’s a list of useful websites for anyone interested in seeing what’s available. Complaints can be laid, but they take a long time to be processed. The results of investigations are printed in newspapers (not usually the front page) and sometimes read on air.

Is it enough? Media coverage can be hugely unforgiving. Once it’s out there it creates an impression which is hard to shift, even if the reporting has been found wanting.

And what about the role of citizen journalism? Blogs have become sources of news and we are seeing more and more claims made by bloggers portrayed as “fact”. I think the rise of citizen journalism is fascinating but it carries dangers and distortions.

In the spirit of OpenLabourNZ what role does the media play in our democracy? Could it be different? Better, Stronger? Are they too powerful? Are they equipped? Or have we got it about right?

I don’t care about compensation. I want a network that works!

Posted by on February 28th, 2010

This is  what I’m hearing from young mothers. From people who rely utterly on their mobile phone and who don’t have a landline. Who don’t have a lot of discretionary income, so texting is the primary form of communication. Who need a working phone to be able to get through their day, juggling children, a job and other family responsibilities.

Telecom’s XT network is a critical piece of new infrastructure. It’s new, it’s supposed to be the future and it should work.

There is now a growing clamour for answers about the XT network and about the 111 service, which is part of what’s called the plain old telephone service (or POTs). In other words, POTs should never break down. It’s part of that institution called the NZ Post Office which Telecom emerged from when it was privatised.

Telecom is now hastily trying to increase the capacity and resilience of the new network which strongly suggests that the new network went live without enough capacity and the degree of resilience required.

The number of outages bears this out and serious questions must be asked of Telecom as to what testing procedures were undertaken before it went to market; whether it was properly funded and whether it has sufficient resilience to give the public confidence in this important piece of new infrastructure.

On TVNZ’s Q&A this morning, Telecom CEO Paul Reynolds kept repeating how angry he was at the outages in the network. I don’t think being angry cuts the mustard any more. He needs to take responsibility and inform the public.

At what point is he going to reveal just what lies behind the network’s fragility? And what does the government have to say on behalf of the New Zealand public? Steven Joyce continues to duck and weave. At some point the public pressure will overtake his reluctance to get involved. I wonder what MED are thinking and what their advice to him is right now?

You are not allowed to put a new car into the marketplace without a rigorous set of tests and without it meeting a set of required safety standards. Nor should you be able to flick the switch on a new mobile network without appropriate testing.

Telecom’s got some serious explaining to do. I think the Government should be demanding answers. I worry that consumers like the mum who told me she just wants a network that works doesn’t seem to have a voice.

Who is representing consumers here? Seems like a big gaping hole to me.

Question watch #2

Posted by on December 22nd, 2009

My post yesterday on John Key’s non-answer to some of my written parliamentary questions certainly got the Key apologists worked up. When Key does finally front up with the answers I’ll post the info here and people can then judge whether they were fair questions to ask.

The Key apologists seem to have forgotten that National MPs used to routinely ask tricky questions of the then Labour government. One of their favourites was to ask about staff Christmas parties and presents. Most government departments do some sort of end of year function for their staff, so National’s questions were basically intended to find examples of where they’d gone a bit over the top so that they could shout from the rooftops about “waste”.

Interestingly, they aren’t so keen to answer now that the shoe is on the other foot. I asked a written question of each Minister that’s almost identical to one Brownlee, McCully etc used to ask and they have all come back with the same answer: “The question the member asks relates to an operational matter which is the responsibility of the Chief Executive.”

Interesting to note that when Labour was the government and National was the opposition the questions were OK, but now that National is in government they seem to think a lower standard of accountability should apply. In 2005 Annette King even went so far as to compile all of the answers into a handy little table for the Nats, so why are they suddenly ducking for cover?

Question watch #1

Posted by on December 21st, 2009

On the 8th of December I lodged a number of Written Parliamentary Questions to John Key in his capacity as Minister Reponsible for Ministerial Services. They all involved spending on services provided to ministers (eg. self-drive cars, VIP cars, ministerial housing etc). I had assumed that given the “Double Dipton” debacle they’d be keen to be seen as open and transparent.

So far John Key has replied to all of them with the same answer: “I am unable to provide the member with the information requested in the timeframe available. I will provide the member with the answer as soon as possible.”

All of the questions were lodged on the 8th of December, so he’s already had several weeks. In almost all cases there are examples of similar questions having been asked of Helen Clark in the past. I’m sure John Key isn’t going to argue that he should be subject to a lower standard of accountability than his predecessor, so I’ll look forward to getting his answers before he takes off for his holiday in Hawaii.

Accountability? You be the judge?

Posted by on November 16th, 2009

One of the main reasons I stood for Parliament was because I believed we need to do some things differently. Here’s one of them.

I stand on the record as clearly in favour of much more open-ness and transparency in answering written questions, oral questions and Official Information Act requests. If Ministers just gave us (the people) the information we requested it wouldn’t all seem so tricky and agenda-laden.

Yes. We’re in opposition. But we can stand for change. I do. There’s an extraordinary sea-change occurring around the world in making government information more accessible and transparent. Once you do that, you begin to break down the barriers between people and politicians. That’s my mission.

So read the answers provided to me by Communications & IT Minister Steven Joyce to these questions and make your own decisions about the accountability of this government.

I posted these questions several weeks ago. It matters because structural separation of Telecom is critical to not only the future of our telecommunications industry, but also to the core infrastructure of our future highway; ultrafast broadband. There’s enormous public interest here. Steven Joyce must not only be seen to be accountable, he must be accountable to the New Zealand public. Labour understands this. It’s not all about politics.

I’ll keep pursuing this issue because it matters.  It’s just one of many issues.  And it’s disturbing. The bit I find most disturbing is where he talks about a “requirement” for structural separation of Telecom. I didn’t mention that word in any of my questions. It’s as though it is a way for Joyce to evade the question. Is this what we expect of our government?

All questions lodged on 23/10
All answers received on 3/11
All questions addressed to Steven Joyce, Minister, Communications & IT

To read the questions and answers click here. (more…)