What action does he intend to take in response to the Auditor-General’s report to the Local Government and Environment Committee that the Public Finance Act 1989 was breached last year for not including the then $309,843,000 Kyoto liability in the supplementary estimates?
None. I am advised that the Kyoto Protocol liability was not included in the 2004-05 supplementary estimates because the value of the liability had not been ascertained by the date of those estimates. The liability was included in the books as soon as it was reliably quantified in consultation with Treasury and Audit New Zealand, and validating legislation is now before the House.
Why would the Auditor-General’s office tell the select committee that the Government had broken the law, broken the Public Finance Act, in not disclosing the liability, if the figures were not available, and why should anybody in this country believe that Minister and that Government over the Auditor-General after the Prime Minister’s record over the pledge card fiasco?
Because the Auditor-General did not express himself in those words. It is a moot point as to what particular day the liability was quantified to the standard expected for inclusion in the Crown books, but it is absolutely clear that neither the Minister nor the ministry failed to disclose the projected deficit in volume terms—in terms of the number of tonnes of carbon dioxide—and accounting for it was duly made by Treasury.
How can the Minister say that the Auditor-General did not express in clear language that the Government had broken the Public Finance Act, when, in response to the question: “Did the Government breach the Finance Act?”, Mr Keate from the Auditor-General’s office said: “Yes, they did. There was a breach.”; and, furthermore, the office, in its written advice to the committee, said that validating legislation would be required to fix the difficulty, which had been notified to the Minister of Finance?
As I tried to explain in one of my earlier answers, at the time when the supplementary estimates were being prepared it was known that a deficit was projected for the first commitment period, but it was, at that time, projected by the relevant ministry in terms of millions of tonnes of carbon dioxide, not dollars. Crown accounts express things in dollars. The conversion of that figure in tonnes to the amount that Treasury thought should be included in the accounts—in dollar terms—did not happen until after the closing date for supplementary estimates.
How can the Minister come to the House and expect us to believe that explanation when the Auditor-General rejects it and says the Government broke the law?
No, I do not accept that the Auditor-General was blind to the fact that the disclosure had been made in terms of quantity rather than dollars. Indeed, the Auditor-General appeared, on my reading of the report, to be quite satisfied that the matter had been appropriately tidied up as soon as it could be.
To clarify issues, I seek leave to table the Auditor-General’s report that states that the Government did breach the Public Finance Act, and that it required validating legislation, and, furthermore, the transcript from the select committee—
Can I take the first one. Leave is sought to table that report. Is there any objection? There is objection.
I seek leave to table the select committee transcript in which Mr Keate from the Auditor-General’s office said it was a breach of the Public Finance Act, because there was no appropriation for that year.
Leave is sought to table that transcript. Is there any objection? There is objection.
Can the Minister explain to the House why the Government should not face some consequence of breaching the Public Finance Act, when anybody else who breaks the law faces consequences, even if the offence is a minor speeding offence under his transport portfolio—or is this $300 million bungle by the Government in the same class as the Prime Minister signing paintings she did not paint, the Prime Minister speeding in motorcades and not facing prosecution—
I am sorry but I am trying here to ensure that questions are specific, and answered accordingly.
I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. The issue here is compliance with the law, and this Government has a track record, whether it is paintings, motorcades, or Mr Benson-Pope, of ignoring the law. I am asking the Minister—
I quote from the report from the Auditor-General in my reply: “The unappropriated expenditure during 2004/05 relates to the recognition of New Zealand’s Kyoto Protocol liability. This was not included in the supplementary estimates as Treasury decided to include this liability under Vote Climate Change in late June. Therefore, it is outside the ministry’s”—that is, the ministry for climate change—“control.”
Has the Minister been advised of any actions taken by that member when he was a Minister, or by any other member of the National Cabinet, to reduce our inevitable liabilities for the high cost of carbon in the future, after the National Government had signed the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in Rio in 1992, which committed us to reducing emissions, and after its Minister Rob Storey had committed to a 20 percent reduction in greenhouse gases by 2000?
Would members please be seated. There is a lot of moving around the Chamber today, which is very distracting for everyone, and members having their backs to everyone is not a good idea, either. Would members please sit down.
I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. Not only were the allegations made by Jeanette Fitzsimons untrue but, more important, events that occurred a good 6 to 8 years before the Minister came to office are well outside his ministerial responsibility.
From memory, I think the question was phrased: “Has he seen any reports of” or: “Has he seen any evidence of”. The Minister’s having seen reports or evidence of matters, even if they occurred before the time he was responsible for them, is certainly something that comes within his responsibility—if he has seen them as Minister.
There is no rule about how far back one can refer, as long as the reports are official reports. The question was phrased correctly, so I ask the Minister to address it.
How can the people of New Zealand have any confidence in the Government’s approach to Kyoto, when it proposed the “fart tax”, then dropped it, proposed the carbon tax, then dropped it, and then told us yesterday that it was back in discussions with the forestry sector, although the forestry sector said last night that that could not be believed, either; is there anything about climate change that this Government has said that can be believed and has been stuck with?
Climate change policy is in a state of flux worldwide, and New Zealand is not excepted from that. We have 15 comprehensive work programmes due to be reported back to Parliament within the month.
I seek the leave of the House to table a news release from Mr Jim Anderton yesterday stating that he had had a very positive meeting with the sector, and that officials would be talking with it again, and also a release from the forestry sector saying that this was all untrue, and that there would be no further engagement with officials.
Leave is sought to table both those documents. Is there any objection? There is objection.
I seek leave to table the Kyoto agreement, with the National Government’s signature on it.