Red Alert

Posts Tagged ‘question time’

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.

So much for Hekia Parata’s word…

Posted by on February 20th, 2013

Today in Parliament I questioned the Minister of Education Hekia Parata on her decision to close Branston Intermediate School in Christchurch. I singled out Branston because Parata had given them a specific commitment that they wouldn’t close before the end of 2014 and she has now reneged on that commitment. Here is an excerpt from the Hansard (video):

Chris Hipkins: Did she, or her officials, give Branston Intermediate School an assurance that any students enrolled for 2013 would be able to finish their 2 years at Branston Intermediate School before any closure?

Hon HEKIA PARATA: I did not.

Chris Hipkins: Did she write to Branston Intermediate School on 28 September stating that she had made “a proposal about the closure of Branston Intermediate School to be implemented for the end of 2014.”, and did she tell a public meeting at Branston Intermediate School that the school would definitely be open in 2014, as parents have written in to say she said; if so, why is she now changing that proposal so that students who have only just started school this year will have to change school next year?

Hon HEKIA PARATA: I did provide Branston Intermediate School with a proposal, and in the meeting with the Branston community I repeatedly said it was a proposal and that they were free to make submissions on it, as indeed they can on the proposal they now have.

Chris Hipkins: At the public meeting with Branston Intermediate School did she give them an assurance that Branston Intermediate School would still be open in 2014?

Hon HEKIA PARATA: I made it clear, repeatedly, that it was a proposal, that they had the opportunity to give a submission on that proposal, and I got their submission, and they now have a further opportunity.

At that point we then had a lengthy series of points of order about whether or not Parata’s answer actually addressed the question. Ultimately, the public will be the judge of that, but I can’t imagine she would’ve gotten away with that under Lockwood Smith.

Hekia Parata can try to hide behind the words “interim decisions” and “proposal” all she likes – but the fact is she has gone back on her word. Her word is worthless.

Is it any wonder that 71% of those polled in Canterbury want Hekia Parata sacked as Minister of Education? They don’t trust her, and don’t want her anywhere near the education of their children.

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.

What a week

Posted by on June 24th, 2011

It’s been a full-on week.  So much happening and so many issues : Ministers in Select Committees, long debates in the House on the Telco Bill, announcements in Christchurch, the Te Tai Tokerau by-election and of course dear Alasdair. Here’s a few extra snippets from question time this week that you may not have picked up.

John Key ruled out implementing the Queensland regulatory standards for mine safety as an interim measure despite mouthing off to an Australian newspaper about Pike River and  family members of Pike River miners calling for increased mine inspection.

Paula Bennett repeated that she thinks any job is a good job, citing the example of ayoung woman, who at 52 years of age was proud to be a checkout chick”, while at the same time revealing she’s up to her neck in the government’s revisiting of youth rates.

Annette King asked the PM why he was prepared to wine, dine, chauffeur, change the law and suck up to Warner Bros to save jobs in the movie industry and now the gambling industry, but but has turned his back on hard-working railway workers who can build wagons and carriages in New Zealand and keep their jobs?  Guess what, no answer.

Kate Wilkinson told Jacinda Ardern that the government has a cogent plan, which when probed, said it was basically about building a stronger economy.  Doh.

Nick Smith told us that training workplace health and safety representatives was a “touchy feely notion”, despite his government expressing concerns about NZ’s high workplace deaths and injuries and saying employee participation in health and safety is critical.

Kate Wilkinson said she was aware that for “those people on the minimum wage we are aware budgeting is tight”, but ruled out increasing the minimum wage calling $15 an hour  “a high minimum wage”.

David Cunliffe asked if the PM thought the public would be pleased to learn that without any mandate, his government has budgeted $6 million to spend before the election on preparing to sell assets.

Oh and I was at a dinner on Monday night where a certain Alasdair Thompson had been invited.  But that’s another story.

A different Question Time format?

Posted by on April 16th, 2011

I recently had the opportunity to visit the European Parliament (not at the Kiwi taxpayers expense) and witnessed President’s Question Time. It’s very different to what we are used to back home. Each questioner is given 30 seconds to ask their ‘question’, which typically amounts to a statement with a short question at the end. The President then has 30 seconds to respond. The questioner then usually got 1 further supplementary.

The first half hour of question time roamed freely, whereas the second half was devoted to a particular topic, in this case the nuclear situation in Japan. It was a very civilized affair, with no interjections or interruptions (that in part can be attributed to the multitude of languages being used and the need for simultaneous translation). The Speaker played no role other than calling questioners.

My general sense was that the quality of the debate was higher than in a typical NZ parliamentary question time. I wonder how some of our PMs and Ministers would cope with an hour of intense scrutiny like that? It would certainly highlight pretty quickly who is on top of the details of their portfolios and who isn’t. Something worth thinking about?

In support of Gerry (kind of)

Posted by on July 20th, 2010

There has been a bit of comment yesterday and today (including from Guyon Espiner on TV1) that Gerry Brownlee “over-reached” himself when it came to the mining of Schedule 4 land.  I certainly think that Gerry failed miserably to sell the policy, but its a bit harsh to blame him for over-reaching when we have this from the John Key’s opening statement to Parliament in February this year.

Notwithstanding the public consultation process, it is my expectation that the Government will act on at least some of these recommendations and make significant changes to Schedule 4. This is because new mining on Crown land has the potential to increase economic growth and create jobs.

That is an unequivocal commitment to major changes to Schedule 4 and to new mining. Gerry was only acting with that in mind. I still think that by the time they got to announcing anything they planned to use Great Barrier as a bit of a stalking horse, but the initial blush of enthusiasm was very much John Key’s. Which is why it was so interesting he tried to get as far away as possible from this policy disaster today.

As an aside in Parliament today the pressure of this and the industrial relations package was telling on Mr Key. He got very side-tracked by interjections, launched into Darren about his hair (he may have a point on that score ;-)) and at one stage totally tossed his toys and sat down in the middle of an answer. Tough day at the office.

Of course it’s not privatisation…

Posted by on May 7th, 2010

Tom Scott Rodney

Yesterday in Question Time, Rodney Hide wasn’t there, so Associate Local Government Minister John Carter answered questions from Brendon Burns and me about the Government’s water privatisation bill.

And for the first time we got a straight answer from the Government. When I asked: Does the Local Government Act 2002 Amendment Bill allow private ownership of water infrastructure for up to 35 years?, John Carter said yes.

Could these two things be related?

Plaudits for Question Time

Posted by on December 18th, 2009

Hard on the heels of the Brownlee/Parker exchange, parliamentary question time last night received the Wellingtonista award for Best Live Performance in Wellington. I think this was only partly tounge-in-cheek as with Parliament TV, In-The-House and the real thing available to Wellingtonians (for free) it really is theatre for the masses! I happily received the award on behalf of my fellow Parliamentarians, and told the audience that I hope Lockwood will find a place for the certificate on the wall somewhere.

The folks at Wellingtonista do a great job celebrating everything Wellington on-line, and I have really enjoyed their awards night the last couple of years. You can find the full list of winners on their website.

Thought you were a bit different

Posted by on October 15th, 2009

Steven Joyce did his best to impersonate Bill English today in Question Time as Acting Finance Minister. Same string of tired old lines that Bill trots out every day. And Steven had to read it all out from a prepared script. I thought he was a bit different. A bit sad and un-original. Oh, and also untrue.

What did Melissa Lee tell John Key?

Posted by on May 13th, 2009

Campbell Live did a great exposé on Melissa Lee last night (embedded video below). Her company got a $1.2million NZ on Air grant which was used, inter alia, for an election special. The decision to grant was made after she became a National Party list candidate. She made a video using the company resources to appeal to Asian voters. It was not declared either as a donation to the National Party or one of their expenses. She was given an opportunity to clear her name last night but turned it down.

Campbell Live and NBR have reported that Ms Lee said National leader John Key knew about her involvement with the company and did not have a problem with it.

John Key claims to have high ethical standards – this is going to be a real test for him and Bill English will have the task of defending Key and Lee in the house during question time today.

UPDATE: I have just checked the timing for Mt Albert nominations. They don’t close until next week. The test for Key is whether he has the balls to tell Lee that she can’t stand.