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Pansy Wong—International Travel

Thursday 17 February 2011 Hansard source (external site)

Hodgson12. Hon PETE HODGSON (Labour—Dunedin North) Link to this
to the Prime Minister

Is he prepared to ask the Auditor-General to inquire further into the overseas travel of former Minister Pansy Wong?

BrownleeHon GERRY BROWNLEE (Minister for Economic Development) Link to this

No, as the Prime Minister has stated previously, if anyone has evidence that they believe has not been looked at, then they should refer it to the Speaker or the Auditor-General for further investigation.

HodgsonHon Pete Hodgson Link to this

In light of the Campbell Live investigation that was aired last night, which found evidence that in June 2008 Sammy Wong took a taxpayer-subsidised trip to China that included business activity, is it Government policy to attempt to recover taxpayers’ money from people who have spent that money wrongly?

SmithMr SPEAKER Link to this

Before I invite the Minister to answer the question, I point out that the Prime Minister is not responsible for a matter to do with part of the Parliamentary Service. Any travel by Sammy Wong is a matter for the Speaker. The Speaker can certainly be questioned on the matter if the member wants to put a question in writing to the Speaker, but the Prime Minister is not responsible for travel funded by the Parliamentary Service, under the Speaker’s directions.

MallardHon Trevor Mallard Link to this

I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I think the question was very deliberately worded in such a way that it was to do with the overall responsibility of the Government to recover Crown funds that appear to have been stolen.

SmithMr SPEAKER Link to this

The member must not allege that sort of thing in the House. It is not fair to use parliamentary privilege in that way. It is not fair to treat New Zealand citizens in that way.

MallardHon Trevor Mallard Link to this

I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I think there is a real matter of fairness here. I do not know whether you saw the television programme last night, but it did show dated photos of Sammy Wong—

SmithMr SPEAKER Link to this

The member will resume his seat immediately. Labour has certainly just lost a supplementary question, and any repeat of that behaviour will result in the shadow Leader of the House leaving the Chamber. When I get to my feet, he will resume his seat. I make that absolutely clear. He will not use the point of order procedure to try to make allegations about another New Zealander. It is irrelevant whether the Speaker saw some television programme last night—totally irrelevant. The member will not abuse the House in that way. The member is better than that.

MallardHon Trevor Mallard Link to this

I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker.

SmithMr SPEAKER Link to this

The member will resume his seat. I am still on my feet. That is enough. I have been giving thought to the issue of the budgetary considerations of the Government. The Speaker is responsible for the budget of the Parliamentary Service. If the Minister wishes to answer the part of the question about the Government’s overall budgetary responsibility, I am happy for him to do so. But if the Minister feels that that is not the Prime Minister’s responsibility, then that is certainly a perfectly fair response. I do not want to prevent the Minister from answering the question.

BrownleeHon GERRY BROWNLEE Link to this

It is not under his jurisdiction.

SmithMr SPEAKER Link to this

The Minister is making it clear that he does not consider that is appropriate, and that is where the Speaker must leave it.

HodgsonHon Pete Hodgson Link to this

I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I ask whether you could tell me now, if I were to ask a question that read “Is it Government policy to attempt to recover taxpayers’ money from people who have spent that money wrongly?”, that question would be in order?

SmithMr SPEAKER Link to this

The Speaker should not be answering that kind of question, although I sympathise with the member in that he wants to be able to ask questions that are in order on this particular issue. Normally when members are questioning Ministers about their budgets, they are asking specifically about matters to do with the budgets they are responsible for, and that is correct and a Minister could be questioned in that way. The dilemma with this particular question is that the “Minister” responsible for that budget is the Speaker. There is a procedure for questioning the Speaker. The member is perfectly at liberty to put down a question for written answer to the Speaker, and I can assure the member that the Speaker will answer it. That is the difficulty I have with questions of that nature, because it is absolutely clear that the Prime Minister is not responsible for Sammy Wong’s travel and is not responsible for a budget that the Speaker is responsible for. That is the dilemma I have with this line of questioning.

MallardHon Trevor Mallard Link to this

I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I know that you are relatively unhappy with me at the moment, but I ask you to consider this question again. I think you are responsible for the appropriation. You are responsible for the expenditure; you are not, I think, responsible for the revenue of the Crown. That is the responsibility of the Government led by the Prime Minister.

SmithMr SPEAKER Link to this

I accept that the member’s point of order is being made in good faith, but the dilemma I have is that I have put it to the Minister as to whether the Minister answering on behalf of the Prime Minister believes there is ministerial responsibility for the question put to him, and the Minister has indicated to me that he does not believe there is ministerial responsibility for that question as it was put to him. I cannot argue that with a Minister; the Minister is a better judge of that matter than I am. All I can say is that matters relating to travel by members of this House who are not Ministers are the responsibility of the Speaker, and that is the difficulty we have on this question. The Minister has indicated that he does not believe that the Prime Minister is answerable for that matter in this House, and I cannot dispute that.

HodgsonHon Pete Hodgson Link to this

How much does he think Mr and Mrs Wong need to pay back?

BrownleeHon GERRY BROWNLEE Link to this

I have no knowledge that they need to pay back anything, and I would suggest to the member that if he has any evidence that has not been considered so far, he needs to make it available to either the Auditor-General or the Speaker in order for that evidence to be considered.

HodgsonHon Pete Hodgson Link to this

How can the Prime Minister tell the House that in his view the answer to the question about how much needs to be paid back is zero, when documentary proof of a further rort was aired on television just last night?

SmithMr SPEAKER Link to this

In so far as the Prime Minister is responsible, I call the Hon Gerry Brownlee.

BrownleeHon GERRY BROWNLEE Link to this

The Prime Minister did not see Campbell Live last night, and speaking for myself, I seldom watch it. But I would say that if there is further evidence that needs to be considered, then the member should make it available to either the Speaker or the Auditor-General.

HodgsonHon Pete Hodgson Link to this

Noting that Mr Wong reportedly told Mr McPhail that he went to Shanghai in June 2008 to visit friends when he actually went to Lianyungang to put a hovercraft deal together, does he now think that the McPhail report is flawed?

SmithMr SPEAKER Link to this

That question is totally out of order. The member knows that he should not have asked that question, because he knows that it is out of order. He was using the question as an opportunity to try to score a political point, and that is not an appropriate use of question time in this House, especially by an experienced member.

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