Red Alert

Posts Tagged ‘lockwood smith’

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.

Joyce caught red handed

Posted by on August 2nd, 2011

Steven Joyce has been caught red handed and is now attempting to worm his way out of reference to privileges committee.

I hope Speaker of the House, Lockwood Smith, who is a straight shooter, can see though Joyce’s ploy.

Yesterday I laid a complaint with Lockwood over whether Steven Joyce deliberately misled Parliament by not revealing the existence of a crucial letter from Telecom CEO Paul Reynolds on the ultrafast broadband project. The letter made reference to the possible structural separation of Telecom. He denied seeing any correspondence on the issue.

This morning, two years after that letter was sent and 21 months after he responded in the negative to a written question by me, he issued a corrected reply.

What a coincidence that his corrected response comes just a day after I laid the complaint with the Speaker.

I find it breath-taking that Steven Joyce can show such cynical disregard for accountability and transparency for Parliamentary procedure. He is treating the entire process with contempt. Whether it’s the Labour Opposition’s right to receive a truthful answer to a question, or the parliamentary process to take its course once a complaint has been laid.

For these reasons I am releasing both my letter to the Speaker and Steven Joyce’s corrected answer (see below).

I hope the Speaker holds Steven Joyce to account for his deliberate obfuscation.

Subject: 15840 (2009) Published – Communications and Information Technology – Corrected Reply

Question: What correspondence, if any, has he received or sent, listed by correspondent and date, about possible structural separation of Telecom?

Portfolio: Communications and Information Technology
Minister: Hon Steven Joyce
Date Lodged:23/10/2009

Answer Text: I have not sent any correspondence about the possible structural separation of Telecom. I have received one letter from Telecom dated 6 August 2009 where Telecom indicated they understood the Government had a preference for Telecom to structurally separate. Officials advised Telecom at the time that this was not the case.

Date Received:02/08/2011

Here’s his original response to the same question:

15840 (2009). Clare Curran to the Minister for Communications and Information Technology (23 Oct 2009): What correspondence, if any, has he recieved or sent, listed by correspondent and date, about possible structural separation of Telecom

Hon Steven Joyce (Minister for Communications and Information Technology) replied: I have not received or sent any correspondence about possible structural separation of Telecom

Signing Fees Pledges

Posted by on December 10th, 2010

A very tough day in the UK today, with the Conservative/Liberal Democrat coalition passing(just) its proposal to triple university tuition fees and cut allowances for some students. There is a huge wave of protest in the UK that has got pretty ugly, with Prince Charles car attacked, the NUS condemning the violence and stories flying about police tactics.

Leaving aside the substance of the issue, which represents fees of up to 9,000 pounds, for many casual observers in New Zealand it might be hard to understand why this debate and vote is so significant in the UK, and why the focus is so much on the Liberal Democrats. Martin Kettle in the Guardian has a good description of this, and believes that this is the beginning of the end for the coalition.

From a Liberal Democrat perspective many backbenchers voted against their leadership today because it was clear party policy not to raise fees, but also because many, including their leader Nick Clegg signed pledges not to raise fees. Those Lib Dem MPs in electorates with large university populations are worried.

Signing a pledge such as this is not new. There are many of us here who remember Lockwood Smith’s 1990 promise not to raise fees. To remind, here is the evidence. (h/t Moana Mackey)

Minor +ve from reshuffle

Posted by on June 15th, 2010

Lockwood Smith sometimes has trouble distinguishing my voice from Chris Carter’s. Until today we sat together in the House.

At least two of my pretty serious discussions with the Speaker have been the result of him thinking I had said something that Chris had in fact said.

While to a certain extent I’m willing to take one for the team and there have been times when I’ve commented in a way that I should not have and not been reprimanded it is good that that confusion will not continue.

Off to caucus.

Speaker lines Tolley up

Posted by on May 26th, 2010


As is clear from the clip above there is some history. Labour members are unhappy with the casual approach to facts of some senior government ministers especially at question time. John Key in particular has an Abbott like approach to the truth.

Anne Tolley challenged Sue Moroney’s word when she was in fact quoting Tolley’s own figures. Tolley was just plain wrong but worse she implied that  Sue had made up the figures or used them out of context.

The Speaker has been taking a careful but positive role in trying to get the situation sorted out.

His comments to Tolley led to her apology below. Pretty much ritual humiliation for a Minister. Hopefully she will not have a reckless disregard for for the truth again.

   Below is the Hansard for Sue’s question for those without broadband, – the Speakers intervention towards the end. Will add apology when it is available.

Speaker says PM can lie when he is answering a supplementary question

Posted by on August 26th, 2009

Some will remember this post on 4 August:

When John Key told Parliament that he had rigorous costings on the cycleway he was lying. He had none.

His own staff proved him a liar (PDF). Thanks Wayne.

The matter has been refered to Speaker (PDF).

Thanks to Idiot Savant for the legwork.

And here is the response from the Speaker (PDF).

What this means is that Ministers have carte blanche to lie as long as they are not answering a primary question or leading a debate in the house. No referals from a committee stage of a bill.

The ruling is astounding. It means that the only way someone who is not a Minister can get refered to the Privileges Committee is if they lie when making a personal explanation.

The Speaker’s reasoning is unbelievable. Brings the House into disrepute. Almost bad enough to get refered to the Privileges Committee until recently.

OK for pansy to fundraise but not for oppos to talk about banking

Posted by on July 29th, 2009

The Speaker has made a big mistake denying the use of parliamentary rooms for the Lab/Prog/Green Banking inquiry when he had approved Pansy Wong running a $100/head fundraiser on 10 February in the parliamentary dining room.