When a memo between two internal affairs officials of 3 February 2009 stated that “we sought advice from the 9th floor whether leasing from a family trust was appropriate” and were subsequently advised that it was subject to three conditions, who determined those three conditions and when?
The Minister has advised the member previously on 22, 23, and 24 September that the memo implied something that was not correct. Advice was not sought from the ninth floor, three conditions were determined by the general manager, executive Government support in late November 2008, and the Auditor-General has examined all the circumstances in relation to this matter and has determined that there is no need for a further inquiry.
I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. In order to make it somewhat easier—
I am just explaining why I am doing this in the middle of a question. I have a document here from Janice Calvert, who is the general manager, executive Government support, making it very clear that advice was not sought from the ninth floor on this matter. I seek leave to table that document.
Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection? There is no objection.
What reasoning, if any, did officials offer him for changing the criteria for one Minister, given that less generous criteria had applied until that time?
The criteria used by the persons who were responsible for making the determination were the same criteria that were set down by Helen Clark in a previous Government.
I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I just need a bit of advice. The Minister has answered that last question in the same way that he has answered it on a number of other occasions. I am in possession of written proof, by way of answers to written questions, that there were no such criteria in the document that the Minister refers to. He continues to assert that there are; I have it as a matter of parliamentary record that there are not. I wonder what I ought to do about that.
The dilemma we have here is that the member—and I realise he is doing it respectfully—is litigating the answer. I suggest to him that where a matter like this can be pursued through questioning, he put down a primary question. If that is not answered correctly and honestly and that can be proved, that is a serious issue. The dilemma is that in supplementary questions it is a bit more difficult for the procedures and processes, if you like, to be quite as precise. But in circumstances where it is a very formal occasion in the House, such as a primary question on notice, with time to get an accurate answer to it, if it can be proved that such a question is answered wrongly—obviously incorrectly, or dishonestly in particular—serious consequences could flow from such a formal situation. I can only suggest to the honourable member that he think about how he uses questions, if he is concerned about the quality of the information he is receiving by way of answers.
I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Thank you for your advice. You will have noticed that I put down a particular question with some detail in question No. 12 today, simply because at an earlier time that, too, had been the subject of, in my view, less than fulsome responses from the Minister. However, I wonder whether you can help me. Is my only recourse to raise it as a matter of privilege if a Minister has wittingly misled the House? Is that my only recourse, and in this case is that what you are advising me to do?
I realise that the member is trying to ask a very straight and genuine question. It is not laden with abuse of any member of the House or anything else, and that is why I am allowing some time to be spent on it. If in answering a supplementary question a Minister gets something wrong, that would not normally be considered to be a breach of privilege, because anyone can make mistakes in answering questions that are not on notice. Where a breach of privilege can occur is in a formal situation—for example, where a member seeks the leave of the House to make a personal explanation, and then wilfully misleads the House. A breach of privilege can occur there. Where a question is on notice, and it can be proven that a Minister misled the House and that he or she refused to correct an answer, then I would have thought that was also a fairly formal situation. It is a formal situation that may impede the operation of the House that can become a breach of privilege, not simply making mistakes in giving answers. With this particular question on notice, I accept that it is a straight question. The dilemma I have as Speaker is that it seems that the Minister, in answering the question, is refuting some of the information in it, and that is what makes it difficult for me as Speaker to help the member any further. But he does have a further supplementary question.
Precisely where did the criterion of a weekly rental not exceeding $700 per week come from?
When the National-led Government was formed, the administration known as executive Government support made it clear to us that there was a rental cap in place, and we chose not to extend it. It was the cap that was in place through the years of the previous Labour-led Government.
Can the Minister confirm that the cap that he refers to is the cap that applies not to a property in which a Minister may have an interest but, indeed, to property that has been put forward to the Government from the real estate industry as a whole?
I can confirm that these matters have been extensively looked at by the Auditor-General, who has found that there is no need to look further. I also say to the member that the conditions were determined by the general manager, executive Government support in late November, and the Auditor-General has confirmed that that was an appropriate course of action.
I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. It is simply that the question was not addressed. The question referred to a criterion as to which type of real estate the cap applied to.
I hear the honourable member. The question, as I recollect, asked whether the cap of $700 a week, referred to in an earlier answer, applies to properties where there is a relationship with the owner of the property, or whether it applies to properties where there is no third-party relationship. I accept that the Minister did not appear to make any attempt to answer that specific question. It does not relate to the particular matter before the Auditor-General. Now, the Minister may not have that information; that is a perfectly fair answer if he does not have the information. But I think he should acknowledge that, rather than just avoid answering the question.
I do not want to avoid the question, so understanding what the member was asking goes to the heart of the whole matter, which is the issue of the pecuniary interest. That has been investigated by the Auditor-General, and the Auditor-General concluded that the three criteria used by the general manager, executive Government support were, first, that an independent market valuation had to occur; second, that the rental had to be inside the rental cap; and, third, that Ministers had to certify that they had no pecuniary interest in the trust. The interesting thing about the Auditor-General’s report, of course, is that it has highlighted the two standards of scrutiny: the one applied by the Parliamentary Service, and the other by Ministerial Services. The important thing is that the Auditor-General has found that Mr English did not act inappropriately.
I accept absolutely what the Minister has just said; the only thing is that that was not what the questioner asked.
In relation to a cap the Minister referred to in an earlier answer—I believe, of $700 a week—the member asked, rightly or wrongly, whether that cap applied in a situation where a member may have had an interest of some kind in the property in question, or whether that cap applied to properties where there was no relationship. Have I picked up on the Hon Pete Hodgson’s question correctly? That is my memory of it. He was not asking particularly in relation to Mr English’s situation, but was asking a general question: did that cap apply in one situation or the other? The Minister may not have that information at hand. I fully accept that, because it would be quite possible that he does not have it. But I believe that a general question is being asked about the situations in which that cap applied. Because of the public interest, I think it is reasonable for the Minister to either indicate that he does not have that information or answer the question, because it does not relate specifically to Mr English. It asked in what circumstances that cap applied.
I did answer the question appropriately by saying three criteria were used to determine whether the cap applied to a particular property, and I made that very, very clear to the House in my answer. I will repeat the criteria again, if you wish. The first point, in relation to the property, was that an independent market valuation had to occur. The second point was that the cap was not to be exceeded in the ultimate payment. The third, and important, point is that the Minister had to be able to certify that there is no pecuniary interest. In the case that the Opposition wishes to pursue, despite the finding of the Auditor-General that there was no need to discuss the case further, all of those criteria were met.
I believe I have pursued the issue on behalf of the member as far as I can support his question today. Members can judge for themselves the quality of the answer given in relation to the specific question that was asked, but I think we have spent sufficient time on that matter today.
I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I wish to make two quick points. The first is that I thank you for your efforts; they have been considerable. The second is that I note that the Standing Orders have not been complied with in respect of question No. 12, because there was no effort to seek to address a supplementary question. Now, I do not want to take the matter any further than that. I will come back after the adjournment and we will do it again. [ Interruption]
I think this is not helpful to the good order of the House. I think the member asked a reasonable question. I sought to have an answer given to it. The Minister answered as he saw fit, and I think we have pushed that matter as far as is reasonable. Members are perfectly at liberty to ask further questions in the future, should they wish to do so.