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Kyoto Protocol—Auditor-General’s Report

Wednesday 22 February 2006 Hansard source (external site)

Smith6. Hon Dr NICK SMITH (National—Nelson) Link to this
to the Minister responsible for Climate Change Issues

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?

ParkerHon DAVID PARKER (Minister responsible for Climate Change Issues) Link to this

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.

SmithHon Dr Nick Smith Link to this

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?

ParkerHon DAVID PARKER Link to this

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.

SmithHon Dr Nick Smith Link to this

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?

ParkerHon DAVID PARKER Link to this

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.

SmithHon Dr Nick Smith Link to this

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?

ParkerHon DAVID PARKER Link to this

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.

SmithHon Dr Nick Smith Link to this

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—

WilsonMadam SPEAKER Link to this

Can I take the first one. Leave is sought to table that report. Is there any objection? There is objection.

SmithHon Dr Nick Smith Link to this

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.

WilsonMadam SPEAKER Link to this

Leave is sought to table that transcript. Is there any objection? There is objection.

SmithHon Dr Nick Smith Link to this

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—

WilsonMadam SPEAKER Link to this

That is not relevant to the question.

SmithHon Dr Nick Smith Link to this

—and the sort of standard we have seen from Mr Benson-Pope?

WilsonMadam SPEAKER Link to this

I am sorry but I am trying here to ensure that questions are specific, and answered accordingly.

SmithHon Dr Nick Smith Link to this

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—

WilsonMadam SPEAKER Link to this

I ask the Minister, then, to address the question.

ParkerHon DAVID PARKER Link to this

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.”

FitzsimonsJeanette Fitzsimons Link to this

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?

SmithHon Dr Nick Smith Link to this

I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. The question—

WilsonMadam SPEAKER Link to this

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.

SmithHon Dr Nick Smith Link to this

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.

MallardHon Trevor Mallard Link to this

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.

WilsonMadam SPEAKER Link to this

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.

ParkerHon DAVID PARKER Link to this

I have seen no such report, because there was nothing to report on.

SmithHon Dr Nick Smith Link to this

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?

ParkerHon DAVID PARKER Link to this

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.

SmithHon Dr Nick Smith Link to this

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.

WilsonMadam SPEAKER Link to this

Leave is sought to table both those documents. Is there any objection? There is objection.

PetersRt Hon Winston Peters Link to this

I seek leave to table the Kyoto agreement, with the National Government’s signature on it.

WilsonMadam SPEAKER Link to this

Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection? There is objection.

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