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Defence Force—Housing Allowances

Wednesday 2 July 2008 Hansard source (external site)

Mapp5. Dr WAYNE MAPP (National—North Shore) Link to this
to the Minister of Defence

Why did he say on Sunday that he did not know anything about the practice of Defence Force personnel seconded to the United Nations double-dipping on housing allowances, given that he approved answers to the Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Committee that stated “it has become apparent that there have been inconsistencies … relating to housing assistance provided by the NZDF to personnel seconded to the UN.”, and that “The NZDF has suspended the provision of housing allowances to UN-seconded personnel.”?

GoffHon PHIL GOFF (Minister of Defence) Link to this

Because my answer was accurate. The core issue relating to the New Zealand Defence Force payment of housing allowances to officers seconded to the United Nations is whether it constituted a deliberate breach of the United Nations rules. That is a serious issue. Neither the questions asked nor the replies drafted in response to the select committee, which the member referred to, saw fit to make it clear that the real issue was a breach of the UN rules, rather than simply a question of administrative practice. That was pure political gamesmanship by the member. When I became aware of what the actual issue was, I acted immediately earlier this week to have it resolved and to ensure accountability for any wrongful actions.

MappDr Wayne Mapp Link to this

Does the Minister agree with the Prime Minister that it is “completely intolerable” for senior military staff to be double-dipping for both UN and NZDF housing allowances; if so, why has he and the Prime Minister allowed this practice to occur since 2001?

GoffHon PHIL GOFF Link to this

I agree that if an action is deliberately taken contrary to UN rules by the New Zealand Defence Force or personnel therein, that is quite intolerable. It is absolutely unacceptable, and the court of inquiry that is being set up will determine what happened and who was responsible and the Chief of Defence Force will act promptly in response to the report of that court of inquiry.

PettisJill Pettis Link to this

Is the Minister confident that a court of inquiry is an appropriate means to deal with this issue?

GoffHon PHIL GOFF Link to this

Yes. Courts of inquiry are used by the New Zealand Defence Force to inquire into serious matters relating to conduct involving Defence Force personnel. They are established by Act of Parliament and they exercise significant powers not unlike those of a court of law. The court of inquiry has the power to summons witnesses to give evidence under oath, and a failure to cooperate with a court of inquiry is punishable as contempt. In my view, therefore, a court of inquiry is appropriate for this task. That said, if, after the court of inquiry reports, I am not satisfied that it adequately answers the issues, I have the option of referring the matter to the State Services Commission.

MappDr Wayne Mapp Link to this

Why did the Minister sign off an answer to a question stating that personnel are required to declare to the UN any salary or allowance from New Zealand, given that the Defence Force allowed seconded officers to the UN to falsify documents telling the UN they were not getting allowances from New Zealand when, in fact, they were?

GoffHon PHIL GOFF Link to this

I am informed by the Defence Force legal staff that the answer I signed off is accurate. What the answer did not express, and what the member, in setting the question—having been primed to do so by the aggrieved party who has just suffered a conviction and a court martial—never pointed out, was that the issue was allegedly that the New Zealand Defence Force had deliberately acted contrary to the rules set out by the United Nations. The court of inquiry will establish the truth there and, having established the truth, the Chief of Defence Force will act appropriately in response to that.

MappDr Wayne Mapp Link to this

Why did the Chief of Defence Force allow the prospect of court martial charges against Colonel Heaton relating specifically to the housing allowance issue to proceed for at least 9 months—it was finally dropped a few days ago—when it was clear that five other New Zealand Defence Force officers had claimed the same housing allowances, and their actions had carried the full endorsement of senior officers of the Defence Force?

GoffHon PHIL GOFF Link to this

Very clearly, the New Zealand Defence Force did not proceed with the charges relating to housing allowances because the New Zealand Defence Force acknowledged that it was its own policy, or the carrying out of that policy, that was at fault. The member this morning on radio was at pains to defend the person who was court-martialled. I have to say that he pleaded guilty to the charge of deliberately and illegally not paying tax on alcohol and cigarettes. You might think that that is acceptable, Dr Mapp. It is not acceptable to the Defence Force, nor is it acceptable to me—

EnglishHon Bill English Link to this

I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. The member is an experienced member and he should know that he cannot address you in that way.

WilsonMadam SPEAKER Link to this

Yes, I think members are getting carried away with themselves. I ask that they please address just the questions.

MappDr Wayne Mapp Link to this

Did the New Zealand Defence Force let New Zealand down by knowingly and deliberately breaking UN rules, given that a New Zealand Defence Force spokesman has stated publicly: “We were aware that there was a difference between how the UN wanted to apply the rules and how we wanted to apply the rules.”, yet despite this the New Zealand Defence Force continued to allow the double-dipping?

GoffHon PHIL GOFF Link to this

The court of inquiry will determine the answer to that question. That is why it has been set up. If the answer to that question is that various personnel did deliberately act in breach of the UN rules, I will expect disciplinary action to be taken against them. However, in this House or anywhere else, until that court of inquiry reports, these are allegations that will be inquired into. When there is a conclusion on that, that conclusion will be acted upon by the Chief of Defence Force.

SmithHon Dr Nick Smith Link to this

So the member knew about it?

GoffHon PHIL GOFF Link to this

The member who interjects is wrong. I did not know about that. He is therefore misleading the House and he is challenging my word in answering that question. I have been here long enough to know that Ministers mislead the House at their own peril. I have never done that and I am not doing it now.

MappDr Wayne Mapp Link to this

Is the Minister telling the House that Defence Force officials failed to brief him on the double-dipping issue, despite their providing answers to his office and to the select committee on precisely the UN housing issue, knowing that a high-profile court martial was on the way; and, if that was the case, was it because they were incompetent—or were they trying to set up the Minister?

GoffHon PHIL GOFF Link to this

The member is getting really carried away now. I was not briefed on that issue, nor could I tell from the carefully disguised questions put in by the member who raised this question what the actual issue was. He was raising that question because it was taken up with him by the person facing the court martial. I was not even aware that the housing allowances had anything to do with the court martial charges and, in the end, they did not. The person convicted by the court martial, who pleaded guilty, was guilty of defrauding the US Treasury of more than $1,000. The US Treasury raised that with the New Zealand Government and said that given that this person had immunity, it expected New Zealand to respond to that breach of its law with our law, and that is indeed what the court martial did. The member should not continue to defend the person who knowingly broke the United States law.

MappDr Wayne Mapp Link to this

I seek leave to table answers from the Minister’s office to the Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Committee, firstly in response to questions asking what arrangements, in relation to salary and allowances of—

WilsonMadam SPEAKER Link to this

Leave is sought to table those documents. Is there any objection? Yes, there is objection. [ Interruption] Members will be heard in silence on points of order.

MappDr Wayne Mapp Link to this

I seek leave to table a question asking what UN rules apply to the payment of housing allowances.

WilsonMadam SPEAKER Link to this

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

MappDr Wayne Mapp Link to this

I seek leave to table questions to the Minister’s office asking what New Zealand Defence Force rules apply to the payment of housing allowances to seconded officers.

WilsonMadam SPEAKER Link to this

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

MappDr Wayne Mapp Link to this

I seek leave to table a question and answer in relation to what informal guidance had been given to seconded Defence Force officers in relation to the receipt of UN housing allowances.

WilsonMadam SPEAKER Link to this

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

GoffHon PHIL GOFF Link to this

I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. Is it appropriate for a member to ask to table documents that are already on the Table of the House because they are written answers to questions?

WilsonMadam SPEAKER Link to this

Unfortunately members do it regularly.

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