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Government Appointments—Election Period

Wednesday 10 September 2008 (advance copy) Hansard source (external site)

English10. Hon BILL ENGLISH (Deputy Leader—National) Link to this
to the Minister of State Services

Does he stand by his statement of 29 July 2008, in relation to the convention that significant Government appointments are deferred in the 3 months prior to a general election, that “the Government has adhered, and always will adhere, to that convention”; if not, why not?

EnglishHon Bill English Link to this

How can the Minister possibly believe that nonsense, when yesterday the Government announced the appointment of five new members to the Waitangi Tribunal, which is clearly a significant and important body, and when the latest that the election can be held is just over 2 months away, not 3 months away?

ParkerHon DAVID PARKER Link to this

We certainly have been consulting on significant appointments—

EnglishHon Bill English Link to this

No, you haven’t.

ParkerHon DAVID PARKER Link to this

Yes, we have. The Tourism New Zealand appointments were consulted upon, and National is currently being consulted upon appointments to the Independent Police Complaints Authority. Those are but two examples.

EnglishHon Bill English Link to this

If he is saying that the Government is adhering to the convention, and always will, why should anyone believe that, when the Government last week, within 2 months of an election, appointed an expert panel to inquire into electoral law, which is one of the cornerstones of our constitution and clearly of great significance; and does not the appointment of that panel inside the 3-month period show that Labour has learnt nothing, and continues its high-handed, arrogant, and totally partisan dealings with our constitutional arrangements?

ParkerHon DAVID PARKER Link to this

With respect to the member, the question actually discloses his ignorance as to the principles that underlie the period of restraint. That restraint applies to significant appointments to bodies with decision-making roles and significant assets, and not to advisory bodies. Thus the appointments to the expert panel on electoral matters, which has an advisory role and not a decision-making role, are not covered by the principles.

EnglishHon Bill English Link to this

Can the Minister confirm that the Government continues to support the tenure of Mr Mike Williams—labelled today by one of his friends as a liar—on a range of Government entities, including five State-owned enterprises and other Crown entities; why does the Government continue the appointments of that person?

MallardHon Trevor Mallard Link to this

He’s not on five SOEs. He’s making it up.

ParkerHon DAVID PARKER Link to this

The member is making it up. The double standards of the National Party have to be brought to the attention of the House again. It was those members, when in Government, who appointed Mr Robert Browne of the Waitemata Trust as the chair of Transit. That is the same Robert Browne who, as a trustee of the Waitemata Trust, pumped $1.4 million into National Party coffers before the last election.

EnglishHon Bill English Link to this

When the Minister appointed the new members of the Waitangi Tribunal, appointed the expert panel on electoral law, and made over 50 appointments to conservation boards and others, did he advise those people that because he had not consulted—

CullenHon Dr Michael Cullen Link to this

I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. The Minister of State Services does not appoint the members of the Waitangi Tribunal; the Minister of Māori Affairs is the responsible Minister for that purpose.

WilsonMadam SPEAKER Link to this

That is actually true. Would the member cast the question in terms of ministerial responsibility, please.

EnglishHon Bill English Link to this

Can the Minister tell us whether, when he participated in the appointment of five new members of the Waitangi Tribunal, the expert panel on electoral law—

CullenHon Dr Michael Cullen Link to this

I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. That is a very clever way of rephrasing it, but it would make any Minister responsible for any appointment under the Government, because, of course, in the end all these appointments are passed through Cabinet. But the actual Minister responsible is the Minister who proposes these matters to Cabinet. I do not think that any of the appointments on the list that Mr English read out are actually the responsibility of the Minister of State Services.

EnglishHon Bill English Link to this

Speaking to the point of order, I note that the Minister answered earlier questions about all those appointments, so this question must be in order.

CullenHon Dr Michael Cullen Link to this

That was because I was trying to save the House time by not raising points of order, to try to keep—

WilsonMadam SPEAKER Link to this

I agree, and I should have intervened at that point. I thought there was the one question, but it became a line of questioning, and, obviously, objection was taken. I apologise to the House for not ruling that question out of order at the appropriate time.

EnglishHon Bill English Link to this

Will the Minister, under the convention for which he is responsible—that significant Government appointments are deferred in the 3 months prior to an election—ensure that all—

CullenHon Dr Michael Cullen Link to this

I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. Of course, these are conventions that, in the end, lie in the hands of the Prime Minister—

WilsonMadam SPEAKER Link to this

That is true, too.

CullenHon Dr Michael Cullen Link to this

—as the Minister responsible for the Cabinet Manual; the responsibility does not lie with the Minister of State Services.

EnglishHon Bill English Link to this

When the Minister said he stood by his statement that the Government has adhered, and will always adhere, to the convention of not making appointments 3 months prior to a general election, will he follow through on it by making sure that all appointees are told that the Opposition would not be bound by those appointments, should it become the Government, and that they run the risk of an incoming Government not confirming those appointments?

ParkerHon DAVID PARKER Link to this

The member again misrepresented the principle. It relates to significant appointments, not to all appointments. Given that there have been 50 appointments to conservation boards, one might actually conclude that those are not the sorts of high-level appointments to which the principle applies.

EnglishHon Bill English Link to this

Why does the Minister not just confirm what the Labour Party is doing—that is, trying to stack public bodies with its cronies, before it is defeated in a tide of funding scandals?

WilsonMadam SPEAKER Link to this

The Minister has no responsibility for the Labour Party, but has a responsibility in terms of his ministerial authority.

ParkerHon DAVID PARKER Link to this

I can confirm that significant appointments to bodies with decision-making and funding powers, such as Tourism New Zealand, have been consulted upon, and that National is currently being consulted upon other appointments, including to the Independent Police Complaints Authority.

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