I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. At the conclusion of this debate we will take a vote, and it is a very serious issue, to my mind. As you are well aware, I wrote to you and asked that it be a personal vote, in the interests of justice. You declined that, and I just wondered whether you could spare a few moments of the House’s time to explain why it was declined.
Is the member seeking leave to have a personal vote at the end of this debate?
If that is the option I have, then I seek leave for the vote to be taken on this debate to be a personal vote.
I thank the member. Yes, the member is quite right; he did write to me. I did consult with parties and the request was declined. But leave has been sought. Is there any objection? Yes, there is objection.
I move, That this House take note of the report of the Privileges Committee on a question of privilege relating to compliance with a member’s obligations under the Standing Orders dealing with pecuniary interests; censure Rt Hon Winston Peters for knowingly providing false or misleading information on a return of pecuniary interests; order Rt Hon Winston Peters to file, within 7 days of this order, amended returns for the years ended 31 January 2006, 2007, and 2008 covering any gifts, debts, or payments in kind that he has not previously registered; resolve that the Standing Orders Committee review the Standing Orders relating to pecuniary interests; and resolve that the Clerk of the House of Representatives enhance the support available to the Registrar of Pecuniary Interests in order to provide an authoritative source of advice for members making returns of pecuniary interests. I stand today as the chairperson of Parliament’s Privileges Committee, with this report having been tabled late yesterday afternoon or early evening. Madam Speaker, I believe that it is appropriate you have remained in the Chair for the early part of this debate, at least, as this is a very serious matter.
Before turning to the detail of the report I will make a few introductory remarks. First of all, I thank the staff of the Privileges Committee for handling what at times have been complex and difficult issues. I also take this opportunity to thank all the members of the Privileges Committee, who approached this particular referral in a way that I consider to be appropriate and thorough. It is worth noting that in the recommendations in the report, the majority view in respect of the first and second recommendations includes representatives on that committee from National, the Greens, the Māori Party, United Future, and the ACT party. The minority report in respect of the first and second recommendations represents members of the Labour Party and New Zealand First. The third and fourth recommendations, relating to referrals of this matter and the Standing Orders Committee, are unanimous recommendations from all members of the Privileges Committee.
Madam Speaker, as I, as chairperson, have said on many occasions, both during the course of hearings of evidence and in private discussions with committee members, the terms of reference to the Privileges Committee from you were very narrow and specific. Despite the view some had that this inquiry may have been more wide ranging, it was not. Evidence that did not relate to the questions before the committee are not reported on.
Madam Speaker, on 5 August 2005 you ruled that a question of privilege arose from complaints that the Rt Hon Winston Peters failed to disclose a gift, and failed to disclose a debt and the name of the person who discharged it. That question stood referred to the Privileges Committee. I want to take a moment to outline the terms of reference the committee decided upon in respect of that referral. The terms of reference were as follows: the meaning of “debt” and “debtor” in the context of the register of pecuniary interests and the meaning of “gift”, similarly within that context; whether a debt existed and should have been disclosed; whether, if a debt did not exist, a gift was received from a person whose name was known or would be reasonably discernible, or a donation was made that covered expenses in an election campaign, and, further, if a debt or gift existed, whether Mr Peters knowingly provided a return that was inaccurate in a material way; whether the rules for disclosure of pecuniary interests required clarification or amendment; and any other matters.
In broad terms, the committee agreed to a process that saw it hearing evidence from Mr Peters and his counsel Mr Henry. We invited Mr Owen Glenn to appear before us to give evidence. Mr Peters and Mr Henry had a further opportunity to appear before us, following Mr Glenn’s appearance. Significantly, during the course of the committee’s deliberations we received a communication from the director of the Serious Fraud Office. On hearing further evidence from Mr Peters and receiving written evidence from Mr Henry, the committee determined that these matters did not go to the heart of the matter referred by you, Madam Speaker, to the committee. However, we note that if payments were made by a third party, these would have constituted a gift. We made Mr Peters aware of the draft findings and provided him with an opportunity to comment. Mr Peters’ response is appended to this report as Appendix N.
At the centre of the matter before the committee was a payment of approximately $100,000 from Owen Glenn to the account of Brian Henry. The fact of this payment was not disputed. It is worth noting that the committee, having heard evidence early on and having received specific advice on the issue, determined that there was no legal debt. The issue then quickly moved to the issue of whether a gift had transpired between the parties I have already mentioned.
Mr Glenn told the committee that after speaking with Mr Peters on or shortly after 5 December 2005, he sought Mr Williams’ view on whether helping Mr Peters would be helpful to the New Zealand Labour Party. Mr Glenn believed that this was discussed at a brunch meeting with Mr Williams on 14 December in Sydney. Mr Glenn told the committee he telephoned Mr Peters later that morning—11.16 a.m. Sydney time; 1.26 p.m. New Zealand time—to tell him he would contribute to the cost of the petition. Mr Glenn said that in the course of that conversation he offered to provide $100,000. Mr Glenn told us that Mr Peters then said his lawyer would send account details and requested that the donation be kept confidential. That evidence was disputed. Mr Glenn supplied us with a copy of the email he then received on 14 December from Mr Henry, which gave Mr Henry’s bank account details and referred to a conversation between Mr Glenn and Mr Henry’s client, sent at 1.40 p.m. New Zealand time. It was at that point that the Privileges Committee was required to balance the evidence that was before it. On page 12 of the report from the committee, it has set out how it went about the assessment of that evidence and, in particular, the standard it used in analysing and drawing inferences from the known facts.
Essentially, as I said earlier, the matter then drew very quickly to the issue of whether a gift should have been declared on the register of pecuniary interests. The committee considered that the payment was of benefit to Mr Peters. It is clear that the intent of the donor in this case was not to benefit the barrister, and the committee was of the view that it was the member’s legal expenses that were being contributed to, not the barrister’s well-being. Together, these elements show clearly that the payment did constitute a gift to Mr Peters.
At that point the matter became somewhat more complicated. The committee then had to move to determine the knowledge of the payment, and, in the words of the deputy chair of the committee, “at this time the committee was faced with two different narratives.” There were some points of agreement between the two narratives. Mr Peters and Mr Glenn agree that they met in Sydney on 13 August 2005. The parties all agree that on 14 December 2005 there was a telephone call from Mr Glenn to Mr Peters, which was followed immediately by a telephone call from Mr Peters to Mr Henry, after which Mr Henry emailed Mr Glenn with bank account details. Mr Peters and Mr Glenn agree they were both at the Karaka yearling sales on or about 31 January 2006.
The majority of the committee believe that it is extremely unlikely that Mr Peters and Mr Glenn could have had a conversation on that date without the issue of a donation being raised. A minority of the committee could not dismiss the argument put forward by Mr Peters that the money was not mentioned. In the end, the committee has delivered a majority report and a minority report. The majority of us consider that the sequence of telephone calls, followed immediately by an email containing bank account details, indicates that the topic must have arisen during one or both of those conversations.
The committee then moved to its finding of contempt, which is contained on page 19 of the report. We found that the payment, as I said, did constitute a gift, and we found no evidence that Mr Peters made an honest attempt to ascertain whether any donations had been received before making his return in February 2006, despite his knowledge of the arrangement with Mr Henry and the likelihood of donations being received towards his costs. For those reasons the majority of the Privileges Committee determined that a contempt had occurred.
Issues remaining for the Standing Orders Committee to consider are contained in the report. I emphasise that when you referred this matter to the committee, Madam Speaker, that was something you asked the committee to look at in some detail. I will finish where I started by thanking the staff of the committee and the advisers to the committee, as well as all members of the committee, for the way that the hearings, the evidence, and the deliberations were conducted.
I begin by recognising that in chairing the select committee, Mr Power ensured that due process was followed, and that all those who gave evidence to the committee were allowed to do so in a reasonable fashion and with a degree of protection against any undue activity on the part of any members of the committee.
It seems to me that there were three questions the committee needed to ask itself. The first question was whether Mr Peters knew about the Owen Glenn donation. The second question was if he did not, should he in any case have found out about it—for reasons that I will explore a little later on. The third question was whether he should have declared that donation on the pecuniary interests register. In order for the finding in the majority to stand, it seems to me that one has to answer “yes” to either questions one and three—in other words, Mr Peters knew and should have declared it—or to questions two and three, that he should have found out about it and declared it. If there is a “no” to either one and three or two and three, then in fact the contempt finding cannot be made. There is a high standard to apply, because the finding of contempt and a motion of censure is an extremely serious matter. I can find in Dave McGee’s book only three references to motions of censure in the last 35 years or so of this Parliament.
In relation to the first question, about whether Mr Peters knew about the Owen Glenn donation, we were faced at the time, as I said, with two conflicting narratives. Narrative A, Mr Glenn’s, was that Mr Peters contacted him on 5 December, leaving a message to phone Mr Peters. That conversation occurred on 14 December. During that conversation Mr Peters sought a donation. That donation was $100,000. Mr Peters then contacted Mr Henry. Mr Henry transferred his bank details to Mr Glenn. That narrative has a high degree of credibility about it, on the face of it.
The alternative narrative is a different one; let us deal with the first narrative, first. Much of it depends on the reliability of Mr Glenn as a witness. Mr Glenn was fine, as long as he stuck to the carefully coached matters that he went through, rehearsed by his lawyer Dr Harley. Interestingly enough, Dr Harley was appearing pro bono publico—for no fees—despite being one of the most expensive lawyers in the country, and despite being at the middle of the wine-box affair in which Mr Peters had a starring role on the other side of the script. Mr Glenn, however, unburdened himself the next day of a whole series of statements, and indeed managed to contradict himself on many different occasions. He said the donation was to New Zealand First, then he said it was to Mr Peters. He said he made the donation to Labour because of the Exclusive Brethren—an impossibility, as the donation was made before the relationship between National and the Exclusive Brethren was known. Then this morning on Morning Report he contradicted himself yet again by saying the donation to Labour had nothing to do with the Exclusive Brethren. He claimed that Mr Williams had arrived at his home in the south of France uninvited, but Mr Williams produced the email from Mr Glenn that invited him. He claimed that Mr Williams asked for a job, when in fact it was Mr Glenn who had offered Mr Williams a job. He claimed to have been invited to the Karaka sales by Mr Peters, when in fact Mr Peters is not the person who invites people to tables at the Karaka sales; the person is one of the people who are involved directly in the racing industry. Mr Glenn claimed to have sat at the same table as Mr Peters, when a series of affidavits have shown in fact that they did not lunch together at that particular function. In other words, Mr Glenn was a not entirely reliable witness.
Furthermore, he showed extreme resentment at being questioned. He seemed to regard the New Zealand select committee as something that was rather like being in front of third-level flunkies in his organisation. If they were told what the facts were, those were the facts that were to be accepted. Indeed, he threatened to walk out, even though he was not questioned very hard, at all. I have seen much harder questioning, by members on all sides of this House in the select committee process, than what Mr Glenn was subjected to. In other words, he was a person used to getting his own way, and he did not like it when he appeared not to be getting his own way. That could colour his attitude on matters such as donations.
The alternative narrative, therefore, is that in fact—as Mr Henry submitted and Mr Peters submitted—Mr Henry made the approach to Mr Glenn for the donation, which is much more likely to have occurred, in any case, given the nature of those who approach people for substantial donations; that Mr Glenn indeed called Mr Peters, because that is absolutely clear, and during that conversation he mentioned that he wanted Mr Henry’s details; and that Mr Peters conveyed that fact to Mr Henry, and Mr Henry contacted Mr Glenn.
Those are two different narratives, and one can choose between them. Only those who have totally prejudiced minds, such as Dr Smith, will conclude that only one of those narratives has credibility to it. Both those narratives have credibility to them, and the majority found that the first narrative was correct. The minority has serious doubts about that narrative. But in fact it is the least important of the questions, because of course even if it is true, we have to proceed to question three.
Let us deal with question two. Let us assume that narrative two is correct and that in fact Mr Glenn was approached by Mr Henry for the donation, and the matters unfolded as I outlined previously. Then we have the argument that is based on the submission from the former Clerk of the House, Dave McGee—who was invited at my suggestion to make a submission to the committee—that one should have to make an honest attempt. And that meant a much more serious delving back into the past about where donations might have come from, based in this case upon the undisputed fact that Mr Henry indicated that he told Mr Peters that people had contributed to Mr Henry’s legal expenses—expenses that, of themselves, as Mr Power has just outlined, did not create a debt, and could not, because Mr Henry practised as a barrister sole. What is more, the committee was further told that if the money did not come forth and Mr Peters was unable to pay the money, there was no obligation upon Mr Peters, at all—other than a moral one, perhaps—to pay that money. In other words, any payment of Mr Henry’s legal expenses did not thereby reduce any kind of payment that Mr Peters might make to Mr Henry.
The problem with the “honest attempt” test, however, is that it is basically a construction arrived at by the select committee, on the advice of Mr McGee, and is imported backwards to the affair in early 2006. I invite members to think very carefully. This exposes many people in this House to risk, in terms of any wide range of donations and services, or of undercharging for services, such as legal services. I think there might be many members who may care to think carefully about whether the returns they made at the start of 2006 might be entirely accurate in all respects, in the light of that changing interpretation of members’ obligations.
But then there is still the highest hurdle to cross. Even if all those facts follow, and Mr Peters should have found out about the donation or already knew about the donation, the real issue that comes at that point is whether he should have made a return. The registrar told us that if members approached her for advice about whether a matter required a return, she would advise them to ask their lawyer and seek legal advice, which is why the committee has recommended that the registrar should make more rulings on these matters. But what if Mr Peters had done that and had approached his lawyer for advice on this matter? Mr Henry submitted that in fact a return was not required, on two grounds: on the first ground, that it was not a gift to Mr Peters, because there was no obligation to pay, on Mr Peters’ part; and, on the second ground, that it was an electoral expense related to the electoral petition, and electoral expenses are specifically exempted from the requirement to make a return under the pecuniary interests register. The committee concluded that both those points were wrong, but that is not the point. The point is that that is the advice that Mr Peters would have had, had he followed what Dame Margaret Bazley said should be done. In other words, how can one conclude on the basis of this—and engage in a motion of censure on a member—that he knowingly made a false return, when in fact if he had followed what was recommended through this process, he would have been advised that he did not need to make a return on these matters?
That is why the Labour Party will not be voting for this motion. There is a conflict of evidence here. A high test should be applied, in the end. A very serious motion has been moved, and I think the House needs to think very clearly whether, for political purposes, on the eve of an election, it should be engaging in this public hanging. No doubt Mr Brownlee, as an ex-carpenter, is the man keen to erect the scaffold.
I would like to take a very short call to propose an amendment to the motion. I move, That the words “censure Rt Hon Winston Peters for knowingly providing false or misleading information on a return of pecuniary interests” be deleted and the following words inserted: “note that several members of Parliament had legal fighting funds and did not disclose donations to these as it was unclear that this was required”. I have a further amendment to insert after “order Rt Hon Winston Peters”, “Hon Dr Nick Smith and any other member with relevant interests”. Thank you.
Madam Speaker, the House would probably like some clarification about the process—whether we speak—
The normal process is that we would go around, with each party, but as the Green Party member did not rise I went to you. But the Green member has now risen—
It gives me no joy to be standing here and speaking to this report. It gives me no joy, as it is not something that I particularly wanted to get involved in, and it is not something that anyone who has looked at the issue will be comfortable with. But as a member of Parliament who was on the Privileges Committee, I had no choice but to consider the evidence that was in front of us, and we had a duty to work our way through it.
I would like to thank Simon Power. I think that the process the chair of the select committee ran was fair, and he gave everyone a fair go. They had a fair go to put their point of view, and I think that it was a fair process. I think that is essential to it. I think, also, that from my point of view, the key to it was to approach the whole question with an open mind. I did not have a view as to the guilt or innocence of any of the people involved when I entered the process, but my approach was that I had to look at the evidence and try to come to a conclusion. That is what we were required to do on that committee. So when we looked at the evidence we discovered there was a case to answer, and as we went through the evidence we discovered even more and more of a case to answer.
In terms of the tests we were to apply, there were a couple of different tests. One was a test on the balance of probability. We had to decide, on the balance of probabilities, whether Mr Peters had knowledge. That was one of the key questions that all of us had to address. At the beginning I did not have a view as to whether Mr Peters had knowledge. I actually did not know. But as time went past, there was more and more evidence around it. So there was the balance of probabilities test. I do not think that this was a 51:49 test, because clearly this was an extremely serious issue, and one could not simply say that the probability was 51 percent, so he therefore had some knowledge. It had to be higher than that. It is hard to put a number on it but it had to be higher than 51:49.
The second test, of course, is the “honest attempt” test. The “honest attempt” test has been brought up here and it has been claimed as a retrospective test. I guess, in some senses, perhaps, that that is true. But I ask members to cast their minds as to what was actually said, and I quote from the report: “It is appropriate to expect members to make an honest attempt to return all of the pecuniary interests that they hold. In order to make such an honest attempt, members are obliged to turn their minds to the interests that they have. The onus is on members to recognise and declare relevant interests.” It seems to me that this is the test that applied from the beginning. Who would argue that members should not have followed this kind of test when filling out pecuniary interests? It seems to me that an “honest attempt” is exactly what is required. Surely that is what anyone requires of parliamentarians—that they make an honest attempt. So to say that somehow, 3 years ago or however long ago it was, parliamentarians were not required to make an honest attempt, which seems to be the argument around retrospectivity, is to my mind puzzling. Are people really saying that a few years ago no one had to make an honest attempt? I just cannot buy that. I think the “honest attempt” test is a fine test to have.
There were two principles around this, to my mind. One was the public’s right to know. The whole idea of pecuniary interest and what goes around it—and it is kind of paralleled with electoral law—is the public’s right to know who is giving money to politicians, and who is giving money to political parties. On the other side we had the basic right of Mr Peters to have a fair go. He had to have a fair go to present his side of the story to the committee. So basically we had to try to meet both of those principles—that the public had a right to know that the pecuniary interest register was being applied properly, and that we also had to give Mr Peters a fair go—and I believe we actually went through that.
In terms of the evidence, I can tell members that in my mind it was difficult to try to put the witnesses’ words one against the other. We heard numerous stories. It was very difficult to know which was the right story when one was sitting there listening to them all. So I think one of the key issues for me was the events around 14 December. That was one of the key bits of evidence, because regardless of who rang whom before 14 December, something very important happened on that day. There were two phone calls and an email. The first phone call was from the billionaire to the politician—if we want to take people’s names out of it—and they talked about something. We do not know what they talked about; there are different stories. The politician rang the politician’s lawyer immediately after, and they talked about something. Then the lawyer sent an email back to the billionaire and said: “Further to your conversation with the politician, here are my bank account details.” This series of phone calls and the email were compelling evidence—they were strong evidence. The thing about them is that nobody denied this evidence. Nobody said “Actually, this didn’t happen.” Those three pieces of evidence and the way they are connected together are a central part of why, I think, the majority of the committee came to the conclusion it did. There is a lot else around this, but we know that those three pieces of evidence were extremely strong, and nobody denied those three pieces of evidence.
The question we got to at the end was around what to do about it. Once we came to the point of view that there was some knowledge of the donation—and I believe that there was some knowledge, and that it was a gift—the question was what we do about it. There were those who were calling for Mr Peters to be suspended from Parliament, for all manner of things. I thought that that went too far. I thought that the report itself is sufficient penalty. It says, basically, that Mr Peters gave a false return. It says he is in contempt, he is censured, and he is required to give an accurate return. I think these are quite severe penalties, and I think that it is a step too far, and too much, to suggest there should be some kind of suspension of privilege, or anything beyond that. So the report, to my mind, was an appropriate response, and an appropriate penalty for what we found out.
Finally, I think this shows once again why transparency around money and political parties is so important. The people out there want to know that the $50 billion - odd of taxpayers’ money that we are responsible for spending is not being spent in a way that is influenced by our campaign donations. That is what they want to know; that is what the whole transparency rules are about. We are responsible for $50 billion - plus of other people’s money. How do they know that the way we spend it is not being influenced by donations coming either to us personally or to our political parties? There needs to be transparency around this kind of stuff to reassure people, so that there is both the appearance and the reality that that responsibility is not influenced by those kinds of donations. We actually went through a tremendously important process in investigating what happened in this situation, but it is part of a much broader issue, and I think we need to make more progress, more broadly, on cleaning up the rules around it. Thank you.
Tēnā koe, Madam Assistant Speaker. Kia ora tātou e te Whare. As my colleague Dr Russel Norman stated, this matter has been a rather difficult one for us. The matter before the Privileges Committee, to examine the question of compliance with the Standing Orders relating to pecuniary interest, has been one that the Māori Party has taken seriously. I acknowledge the officials who provided support to the committee and gave clarity to me on some of the key issues. I also acknowledge Simon Power, the chair, who led the process in a thoroughly impartial way and also assisted me, when asked. Ka nui te mihi ki a koe—thank you, also.
It was disappointing to learn of the Prime Minister’s comments about the process of the Privileges Committee, alleging that it was totally unsatisfactory in terms of any natural justice, and that the whole process had become politicised, favouring one side. That is not an observation I share, nor is it behaviour that we, in the Māori Party, have indulged in during the sitting of the Privileges Committee. I have appreciated the thorough way in which evidence was requested, the expert assistance of the officials, as I stated earlier, and the willing cooperation of those who forwarded information to us for our perusal. I will leave that matter there.
The allegation as to whether contempt of the House has occurred is one that challenges both the institution of Parliament and the constitution of our party as a whole. The issue is not about personalities; it is not about political agendas. For me and the Māori Party, at the heart of the allegation is whether the member had knowingly provided false or misleading information, or had knowingly failed to make a return of pecuniary interest by the due date—kāore i kō atu, kāore i kō mai; that is it. Now those are substantial issues, and I am clear that the committee gave them serious attention. I must say that a number of other matters were raised during the discussions, but I am pleased to say we were all kept on track and focused on the specific matters by the chair.
In considering the matters before the Privileges Committee, the Māori Party has the benefit of kaupapa that instruct us on serious matters of State. Those kaupapa tuku iho are the foundation principles of the Māori world and guide us as to the way in which we operate. There are tikanga that we apply to every situation, be they matters before the Privileges Committee or bills that come before the House. We are driven by the kaupapa enshrined in our constitution. Those kaupapa are, indeed, what distinguishes us as the strong and independent Māori voice of Parliament. It is not in anyone’s interest to burn bridges, to diminish the mana of individuals, and to conduct politics on the basis of personal attack, yet we have seen members indulge in that behaviour in this House from time to time.
Through our kaupapa we endeavour to express manaakitanga towards others, be they political allies or opponents. We believe that it is important to treat each other with respect and to act with integrity, at all times. We want to ensure that our relationships with all parties are elevating and enhancing. We are not into character assassination. It was good advice that our co-leader Tariana Turia gave to three of us new members when we arrived in this House. She said: “Throw a rock and expect to get a grenade back.” When we talk about rangatiratanga we want to ensure that the conduct and activities of the parliamentary team, the leaders in the organisation as a whole, are reflective of the attributes of rangatira. It is about walking the talk, following through on commitments made, and upholding due respect for honesty. We are dedicated in our pursuit of kaitiakitanga, which requires an active exercise of responsibility in a manner that is beneficial to resources and the welfare of the people. Those are just three of the foundation principles that I have tried to follow in the deliberations of the matter before the committee.
In looking at the whole matter, some key questions needed to be asked. One thing, amongst others, is clear: money went from a donor and it reached its intended person, a politician. The first question is: did the donation meet the standard of being a gift? As clause 7(1)(b) of Appendix B of the Standing Orders requires, a member needs to return a description of each gift, including hospitality and donations in cash or kind, received by that member with a value of more than $500, together with the name of the donor of the gift. In considering whether the payment was a gift, we must ask whether it would ultimately benefit the recipient. I was clear that it would. The intent of the donor was straightforward: to assist the member in being able to meet obligations. The second question is: did the recipient have knowledge of the payment before the deadline for making a return at the time? Although the evidence was conflicting, what happened on 14 December, as my colleague Dr Russel Norman talked about, led me to believe that the recipient knew that some money was to change hands in order to benefit him.
The third and fourth questions ask whether the gift met the threshold that would require it to be declared in the return of pecuniary interests, and whether the member made an honest attempt to account for the payment in his or her return. Well, as the Privileges Committee report states, “if a member knew of an interest and decided not to declare it, the member would have ‘knowingly’ failed to declare an interest if it were subsequently established definitively to be a pecuniary interest.” It seems to me that if someone received a koha, that person would at least be required to investigate whether it met the threshold. If that member was receiving advice from others, like lawyers, about money, then those people should have advised the member. That did not happen. According to the Standing Orders, neither of the people involved did what was required in order to meet the conditions set. The exchange of money was known about. There was an expectation from Parliament that koha be declared. It was not. Therefore, this case fits the definition of “contempt”.
Although a lot of evidence was provided for the committee to consider, for me those three or four questions were all that mattered—not the party, not the politician, and not the political agendas. There were gaps and inconsistencies of knowledge in all of the information, but at the heart of the matter was the subsequent obligation to report the payment in the formal disclosure of pecuniary interests. The Standing Orders are very clear about the requirement upon all of us as parliamentarians to make an annual return of pecuniary interests each year as of 31 January. In the case of a donation received from Owen Glenn, that process was not followed. Consequently, the majority of the committee has found the member to be in contempt. Although there are recommendations to come out of the report, with the election at hand we leave this matter in the court of public opinion.
I say from the outset that no one in the Māori Party takes any pleasure from the whole series of events, but honour is important to us, and it was important to our tūpuna that it must continue to guide us. As I believe Mark Twain once said, honesty is the best policy when there is money in it, and indeed the procedures around the register of pecuniary interest for members of Parliament have an important function in keeping us all honest and ensuring our transactions are transparent. This is a very grave matter for this Parliament, and we have formed the view that the censuring of the member is of sufficient concern to cause us all to reflect.
In referring this matter to the Privileges Committee on 5 August, Madam Speaker specifically referred to the implications of this matter for the reputation of members and the institution of Parliament. She said: “The issues raised are not peculiar to Mr Peters; they have the potential to affect members generally.” The Māori Party listened carefully to her kōrero, and we believe that it is timely, yet again, for all members to reflect on the value of having a code of conduct to assist us all in enhancing our public reputation. Perhaps it is timely for the parties that failed to sign up to the code of conduct—Labour, National, New Zealand First, and the Progressive party—to reconsider and to take the opportunity to sign up to the code, which will help MPs to carry out their duties, and, just as important, help the public to have confidence in their parliamentary representatives. That could be a positive outcome of this sad situation. Tēnā koutou.
I begin my contribution by acknowledging the role of the Privileges Committee chairperson, Simon Power, in steering a rather difficult course with a degree of aplomb, as the committee members have deliberated over the last few weeks. I also acknowledge the role of the Clerk, the committee secretariat, Mr Kós—our Queen’s Counsel in attendance—and others who advised us along the way, for carrying out their duties with a high degree of professionalism.
I am not going to dwell on the lots of extraneous noise that there has been about this case. There has been a lot of drama, and there has been a lot of claim and counterclaim, most of which has been utterly irrelevant to the proceedings at hand. I simply want to concentrate in my time on the events of 14 December 2005. Those events go to the heart of the issues we were forced to deliberate upon.
I want to pick up on the comments that Dr Cullen made about the double-track narrative. If we take those events and start to work through them, we find that the areas of difference are very slight. It is acknowledged by all sides that a telephone conversation took place, at the instigation of Mr Glenn, between Mr Glenn and Mr Peters. It is acknowledged by all sides that within a minute of that call terminating, Mr Peters contacted Mr Henry. It is acknowledged by all sides that within a very short period of that call terminating, Mr Henry emailed account details to Mr Glenn. What is further acknowledged is that, as recollections go, a substantial part of the conversation between Mr Glenn and Mr Peters dealt with trade, diplomacy, and matters of that nature. I will come back in a moment to the question of whether a request was made for account details. It is acknowledged by all sides that the content of the call between Mr Peters and Mr Henry clearly referred to the fact that there had just been a conversation with Mr Glenn, and certain details had been raised during that conversation. And it is acknowledged by all sides—because the record is there—what was contained in Mr Henry’s email.
When we come back and say there are two versions of the narrative, we find that the second version essentially hinges on what took place in the conversation between Mr Peters and Mr Glenn. The majority view, to which I adhere, is that during that conversation, from the evidence we have, there was a wide-ranging talk about trade possibilities and Mr Glenn’s views in that respect, and, at the end of that, a request was made for Mr Henry’s contact details. That is what prompted the second phone call and the subsequent email. When the committee members tested that point in evidence with Mr Glenn, he was adamant that that had been the case. When we tested it with Mr Peters, his indication was that he could not recollect whether that had been the case. He did not deny that it had happened; he said he could not recollect that that had been the case. He further acknowledged, in subsequent testimony, that when the three events were put alongside each other, it was reasonable to assume that there must have been a reference in the first conversation; otherwise, why would he have contacted Mr Henry?
The point I am making is that the actual area of difference between the majority view and the minority view is close to minute. It hinges on whether one believed the logic that during the course of this conversation about other things, Mr Glenn must have said words to the effect of “Oh, by the way, I need Brian Henry’s contact details.” If he did not do that, one has to ask oneself why Mr Peters, on getting off the phone, within a very short space of time thought: “I’ve got to ring Brian Henry to say I’ve just talked to Owen Glenn.”, and why, within a very short space of time of that conservation concluding, Brian Henry would say: “I’ve got to send my account details to Owen Glenn.” Mr Henry’s version is that he saw the call from Mr Peters to him as being a memory prompt, but it is a very convenient memory prompt within about a 15-minute window.
The majority formed the view, because of the evidence that was put before the committee and the lack of denial of this proposition, that at the end of or during that first conversation with Mr Glenn, there was a discussion about Mr Henry’s contact details. Mr Peters then rang Mr Henry to confirm that he had been talking to Mr Glenn, who had asked him for the details, which Mr Henry subsequently provided. On that basis, the majority concluded that the test of knowledge had been achieved. One does not have a discussion that requires one to submit account details without others drawing the conclusion that it must have been about money.
One of the things that I think is a slight red herring in this matter is the issue of the $100,000. What we were required to establish was whether there was knowledge of the gift, not knowledge of the particular amount. I think that knowledge of the gift was established. The question that then arose was whether it was a debt or a gift. The issue of a debt had been disposed of much earlier. The advice that we received from Mr McGee, who was the author, in many senses, of the pecuniary interests register, was quite categorical. He said that moneys advanced for the purposes of an electoral petition did not come within the definition in the Standing Orders of moneys advanced for electoral purposes, and therefore could be concluded to have been a gift. Therefore, the issue about disclosure of those in the return took effect. On that basis, it was relatively easy to draw a conclusion about what had happened and what the consequences should have been.
I say too that this process was difficult and complicated. It was not helped by some of the obfuscation we received in the evidence, particularly that provided by Mr Henry. I do not think he did his client a great deal of good with some of the evidence and some of the obfuscatory answers that he provided, when it was fairly clear what had actually been occurring. I think that is a matter he will have to deal with in due course.
This issue is an important one. It goes to the heart of why we have a pecuniary interests register, and it will have ignited some of the old debates about whether it was even necessary. We have one in place. It was noted—from memory, by Mr McGee—that we have one in the Standing Orders, not in legislation, and because it is in the Standing Orders, the standard of proof that is applicable is not of the same level as it would be if it were in legislation. That is important in the context of this case, because this is Parliament making a determination on the basis of the application of its Standings Orders, and the test that needs to be applied is the one that is appropriate in those circumstances.
This is not an issue that I think anyone can take a great deal of pleasure from. It is a sad occasion when a select committee has to speak to one of its own in the way that the Privileges Committee has. I do not think that the other matters—the intervention of the Serious Fraud Office, and other associated events—were, in the event, particularly helpful. I think, if anything, those events continued to cloud the occasion in a way that was not particularly positive or beneficial to those involved in them, or to the conduct of this inquiry.
It could be tempting, in such circumstances, to engage in a measure of triumphalism, and some will do so. I am not going to do that, because I do not think it is appropriate. This is a matter that the committee members sought to apply our best judgment to in the circumstances. I, for one, came to it completely open-mindedly. I did not think that the initial reference amounted to a great deal, until such time as the evidence started to unfold. In that respect, I note that when the issue of Mr Glenn’s appearance was resolved, the story started to become much clearer. I do think Mr Glenn’s behaviour after he left the select committee did not do much for his reputation, either, but the select committee had to focus on what he said to the select committee, not on what he said in every press conference he gave around New Zealand.
On that basis, United Future supports the recommendations. We do not support the amendments that are being proposed. We do so not with any great deal of alacrity, but with a heavy heart and a wish that the lessons of this case will be learnt and not repeated in the future.
I would like to move an amendment to the motion. I move, That the following words be added: “that the member, Mr Peters, be requested to apologise to the New Zealand Herald ’s editor, Tim Murphy, and political editor, Audrey Young, for calling them liars and demanding their resignations, and that the member be suspended for the remainder of the day.”
I do so because I believe that a gentleman would do so, and because I think we in this Parliament, and we in New Zealand, want a press that is free and is not about to be bullied by Ministers and members of Parliament for simply telling the truth—as, indeed, the Privileges Committee has found. I also say that censuring a member of Parliament in this way is serious. I think it needs to be a bit more than just censure, and that is why I suggest that suspending Mr Peters for the remainder of the day—which means right through the urgency procedures—is appropriate.
I would also like to acknowledge and thank someone who, as yet, has not been acknowledged and thanked, and that is Mr Owen Glenn. Mr Owen Glenn has been a very generous man to New Zealand. He has also been a very generous man to the Labour Party and, indeed, to Winston Peters. He took the trouble of coming to New Zealand to give evidence. I am sure that that was at considerable expense and considerable inconvenience to him. I was ashamed to be a Kiwi and to be a member of Parliament, because whatever one might think of his evidence, the idea that he should come under such abuse and attack for taking the trouble to appear before the Privileges Committee was, I thought, bullying, and it showed a level of ingratitude by our country’s representatives that I found unacceptable.
The majority of the committee found that Mr Peters should have declared the $100,000, and, indeed, that Mr Peters in front of the committee, or his lawyer, did not tell the truth. I think we can be proud of the Privileges Committee for the way it went about its business. It is never easy taking one of one’s own through a process such as that. I am proud to be a member of a Parliament whose committee showed itself capable of going through the process in a fair and justifiable way.
I have to say, though, that I am very, very disappointed in the committee’s handling of the information provided by the Serious Fraud Office. I have some considerable knowledge of the operation of the Spencer Trust, and I have put that information before the Serious Fraud Office. I think the Privileges Committee made a mistake on behalf of the people of New Zealand by ignoring it. I believe that, at the very least, the committee should have said that the matter would need to be considered again once the Serious Fraud Office investigation had concluded. I am not happy that we have a situation whereby the Serious Fraud Office has come under attack. It is an independent law enforcement agency doing a difficult job, and I was disappointed to hear members of the committee say in this House that they wished that the Serious Fraud Office had not come forward. I am sure that the Serious Fraud Office would rather that I had not laid a complaint with it. I am sure that it would rather not have the information it had. It was in a very, very difficult position, and that an independent law enforcement agency is bullied in the way that it has been is, I think, a sad day for New Zealand.
What the Serious Fraud Office showed is that Mr Peters and Mr Henry did not tell the truth to the committee. Mr Henry initially, in answer to Mr Russel’s question, said that he had paid the $40,000 in costs out of his own pocket. After that—
I am sorry: Russel Norman. I apologise to Mr Norman. Brian Henry told the committee initially that the $40,000 had been paid by him, and he was firm on that point. The committee was subsequently told by Mr Peters that he had gone back and checked his records and had discovered that, no, he had reimbursed Mr Henry. He was firm on that point.
The Serious Fraud Office, in its investigations, came across information totally at variance with that testimony. It discovered that, indeed, the Spencer Trust had paid that money; that the Spencer Trust indeed had $15,400 on account, that the money had been given by donor A, that the trust took a loan to make it up to $40,000, that $40,000 was paid across, and that donor A then gave an additional four donations of $9,999, through separate legal entities, to the Spencer Trust, making a total donation to the Spencer Trust from donor A of $55,396. We know that something like over $200,000 went through the Spencer Trust, all of it undeclared, all of it not declared under our electoral laws, and all of it not declared on the pecuniary interests register.
I can tell the House that New Zealand First and its MPs knew nothing of the Spencer Trust, except for Doug Woolerton. He, in fact, knew about the Spencer Trust. He fully knew about the Spencer Trust. Mr Peters would sit in his office and tell his staff “Don’t worry; get Wayne Peters to pay for that.”
I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. This matter was ruled out by the committee. It said so. Now a report is before this House, and Mr Hide seeks to relitigate material that was debunked by the committee—not accepted by the committee. The committee said the matter was settled, because there was no debt. So could you bring him back to the subject matter, if you can.
Speaking to the point of order, I say that the Serious Fraud Office information is contained within the Privileges Committee’s report. Surely I can refer to that.
I am sorry, the Rt Hon Winston Peters. If the material is in the report it is open for discussion.
I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. What is in the report is not $200,000, or anything of the sort. It is the matter of $40,000 that is in the report. It is in the wiring diagram. Mr Hide is now introducing new material that has nothing whatsoever to do with the report. That is my point. Look in the report. I have read it; it does not refer to that matter.
Thank you. I ask Rodney Hide to contain himself to referring to what is in the report and published before this House. Any other matters are extraneous and outside the debate.
Thank you. I certainly will do so. I will certainly talk about the process before the committee—as, indeed, is my right.
Mr Winston Peters in his office would instruct his staff “Wayne Peters will pay for that.” We had the Spencer Trust—
I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. There is nothing whatsoever in this report to suggest that. Mr Hide is just making it up, as he always does. I ask Mr Hide where in the report the matter he refers to is; I ask him to point to it.
Thank you, Mr Peters. Any comment, Mr Hide? If you are not referring to something that is in this report—and I have not read it right through—if you cannot show me that that discussion about Mr Wayne Peters is somewhere in this report, then it is not to be included in this debate.
I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I am certainly entitled to discuss the operation of the Spencer Trust. I am certainly entitled as a member of Parliament to get up and express my dismay at the Privileges Committee not ruling on the information from the—
Thank you, Mr Hide. Take your seat, please. There is a quite clear distinction. I took advice before I took the Chair. Earlier today when the Speakers met, the advice was that this debate was to be constrained to the material presented in this report. To talk—and it is in the Speakers’ rulings—about something that one thinks ought to have been in the report is not pertinent to the debate. Please contain yourself to comments on what is in the report.
Thank you. I refer to page 100 of the report. We see the wiring diagram provided by the Serious Fraud Office. The money goes into the Spencer Trust, and is paid across, actually, to Bob Clarkson. What is not clear from this report is who donor A is. We know that it is one person who has paid across $55,396—
Again, hear what I said. I said that you cannot presume what is not in here; you can talk about only what is in here.
Excuse me; sit down, please. If I heard you correctly then, you referred to donor A, and then you said “What is not there …” and you took off again. You must stick with what is here. Thank you.
The explanatory note says that the donations total $55,396. The point I was making is that all we know is that it was from donor A; we do not know who the person is, which I think I am still allowed to say in this Parliament. It is interesting that the Rt Hon Winston Peters is being asked by Parliament to fill out 3 years of pecuniary interests register. We know he will be required to detail the payments to the Spencer Trust and who provided them, because they are a gift to the Rt Hon Winston Peters—
I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. There is an old English saying that the malady of the ignorant is to be ignorant without knowing it. The law on trusts changed last year.
My point is that no such disclosure is required, because the law on trusts did not change until the Electoral Finance Act 2007.
Sorry, that is a point of debate; it is not a point of order. Thank you. Please continue for your remaining minute, Mr Hide.
Mr Peters will be required to provide those details, because that $40,000 is clearly a gift to him, just like the $100,000 from Owen Glenn has been ruled to be a gift to him. I say to Mr Peters that this House will be very interested to learn who donor A is, and to discover the link between that money and the policies that the Clark-Peters Government has introduced in its Budget. Thank you.
I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I raise a procedural issue to do with the amendment in the name of Doug Woolerton, and ask you to rule whether the amendment is out of order. I refer to the second amendment, which states: “insert after ‘order Rt Hon Winston Peters’, ‘the Hon Dr Nick Smith and any other member with relevant interests’.” That is an amendment he is making to the censure motion, so if the amendment were to be accepted it would read: “censure the Hon Dr Nick Smith, and any other member with relevant interests, for knowingly providing false or misleading information on a return of pecuniary interests;”. I put it to you, Madam Assistant Speaker, that Parliament has actually devised a process for dealing with matters like this—matters of privilege where a member may have to be censured for knowingly providing false information—and it is called the Privileges Committee. Parliament has instituted it precisely to stop this kind of motion before Parliament being a motion that could censure anybody for anything on a simple majority.
Today we have seen the Speaker exercise her prerogative to take a complaint, look at its merits, and decide that it lacks the merit to go to the Privileges Committee. That is exactly what happened in respect of Dr Nick Smith. The letter from the Speaker to Dail Jones MP says: “I have considered your letter concerning a statement by the Hon Dr Nick Smith and have determined that no question of privilege is involved.” I do not believe it was ever the intent of the House that a motion such as this could be used to circumvent the Speaker’s decision—just given today—that there was no merit in the issue that was raised in respect of Dr Nick Smith. So, Madam Assistant Speaker, I am asking you to consider whether the amendment that censures not just Dr Nick Smith but any other member with relevant interests—whatever that means—amounts to an open-ended censure motion being put to the House. It is entirely inappropriate and should be ruled out of order.
Madam Assistant Speaker, you have just heard from Mr Hide on a matter raised now as a matter of relevancy in respect of that motion—or the amendment of it—by Bill English. What Mr Hide just said was that the same thing that has happened to Winston Peters happened to Bob Clarkson, because the cheque on the diagram he cited ends up going to the National Party and not to Bob Clarkson. We cannot have one law for Winston Peters and one law for everybody else. Nick Smith’s letter today, which was dealt with by the Speaker, was on a complaint from Mr Dail Jones that he had misled the House some time ago, not that he had failed to declare, which is what Mr English is trying to construe it as being. Mr English has acknowledged—and I was at the ASEAN conference at the time but I have the Hansard—that he had a trust fund and that he had made declaration of that. Now if I am to be retrospectively required to do something, so must—surely, to be fair—Nick Smith. Or are we going to have a situation where there is one law for Winston Peters and one for everybody else? That is why the amendment should stand in the way it is.
Thank you, Mr Peters. I actually took some consideration and some advice on this as soon we received the motion. The original motion relates to a question of privilege relating to the Rt Hon Winston Peters and his returns of pecuniary interests. Any amendment that is put here must be relevant to the motion it seeks to amend. The problem is, as I think the Hon Bill English said, that the Privileges Committee deals with one issue, one person. If we were to suddenly extend this by adding as a second part of the motion “insert the words the Hon Dr Nick Smith”, then we are extending out the motion without it going to the Privileges Committee and having the entire work done that was done with the member, in the committee. The motion does not relate to any other member, and therefore the second part of Mr Woolerton’s amendment is, I declare, out of order.
Point of order, Winston Peters. I have made my ruling, though.
Why would you do that if the House is the master of its own destiny?
I am seeking leave because surely those who love the law, as I am hearing from members on my right, would want the law to be applied fairly. Nick Smith knows he had a trust account to meet his legal costs that was no different from mine.
Thank you. Leave has been sought to include the second part of Mr Woolerton’s amendment, which refers to the Hon Dr Nick Smith. Is leave granted? No, leave is not granted.
When I submitted my letter to the Speaker of the House on 21 July raising the possibility of a breach of privilege around the gift of $100,000 by Mr Owen Glenn to Mr Peters’ lawyer, Brian Henry—and I would say to Mr Brian Henry as the agent for the Rt Hon Winston Peters—I really had no idea that it would lead to such an extensive inquiry by the Privileges Committee, with all of the twists and turns that the inquiry has taken from then until now.
I would like to begin by congratulating the Privileges Committee. I took the opportunity to sit in whilst most of the evidence was presented to the committee, and I was also there for some of the discussions that occurred between committee members. I congratulate the chair of that committee, Simon Power. He obviously went to great lengths to ensure that the evidence was heard in an objective fashion, and I would say he bent over backwards to ensure that the principle of natural justice was extended to the Rt Hon Winston Peters. We really need to acknowledge that, and I am very, very saddened, as others are, that the Prime Minister has seen fit to actually criticise the entire select committee process in those circumstances, because the criticism does not stand up to analysis—I was present in the room as an observer, and she was not.
Peter Dunne mentioned that the heart of this matter goes to various conversations on 14 December 2005, and I agree with that. A phone call was made from Owen Glenn to Winston Peters at 1.26 p.m. on that day, and it lasted for about 6 minutes. We do not quite know what was discussed, but we know that when the phone call finished at 1.32 p.m., within less than 40 seconds the Rt Hon Winston Peters picked up the phone and rang Brian Henry. Again we do not know quite what occurred in that conversation, because neither Mr Peters nor Mr Henry, as I will mention in a moment, recalls the conversation. But we know that the conversation went for 6 minutes and 10 seconds in that particular case, and that within 40 seconds of that telephone call finishing, Mr Henry sent an email to Mr Glenn saying that further to Mr Glenn’s discussions with his client at 1.30 p.m., here were the details of his bank account.
I agree with Rodney Hide that this House and our country owe a debt of gratitude to Mr Glenn. He came here well prepared. He brought with him concrete evidence about those phone calls; he brought with him a copy of the email. If Mr Glenn had not been here, then I believe we would have had a very different outcome to this whole inquiry. So we are indebted to Mr Glenn for doing the decent thing and deciding to come here and lay his evidence before the committee. I believe that it was truthful evidence.
After Mr Glenn submitted details of his call to Mr Peters of 14 December 2005, Mr Peters said he had no recollection of, immediately after that call, making a call to Mr Henry. However, he did concede that he might have done so, since there was no other way of accounting for the fact that Mr Henry had sent that email to Mr Glenn. Mr Henry, in his subsequent evidence, also said he had no recollection of having sent that email to Mr Glenn, but then conceded that he must have done so because it had come from his personal computer. The credibility of both Mr Peters and Mr Henry is at stake here. The Privileges Committee had to make a judgment on the facts placed before it, and in my view and in my judgment the majority got it right.
I ask members to ask themselves this question: how likely is it that an experienced Minister of the Crown, in the case of Mr Peters, and an experienced barrister, in the case of Mr Henry, would forget about a communication, firstly, between themselves, a 6-minute-long conversation that obviously prompted Mr Henry to send an email to Mr Glenn giving his bank account numbers—what for; to receive a donation—and, secondly, between Mr Henry and Mr Glenn, when the subject matter was a gift of $100,000? How many people in this House, and how many people in New Zealand with reasonable education and with a reasonable memory, would forget about the circumstances in which a gift of $100,000 was given? I say it is most unlikely that any reasonable person would simply forget about all the details and have no recollection of the conversation. This issue all came to light only because Mr Glenn put that evidence before the committee. I think it is unlikely in the extreme that someone would forget such details, and therefore I entirely concur with the majority opinion that the Rt Hon Winston Peters be censured for knowingly providing false or misleading information in a return of pecuniary interests.
I now go on to the minority report expounded on today by Dr Cullen, who argued that the Rt Hon Winston Peters should not have been censured in these circumstances. I suggest to members that the integrity of the whole pecuniary interests scheme itself would be seriously undermined if we were to refrain from censuring a member of Parliament in these particular circumstances and based on this particular evidence. Members need to ask themselves where Dr Cullen got to at the end of his very lucid analysis of the two different scenarios. He basically concluded that it was not necessary to censure the member. Let us suppose that we were not right now, in the light of all of this evidence, censuring the Rt Hon Winston Peters. I believe that that would be a most unsatisfactory precedent in terms of upholding the Standing Orders of this Parliament in relation to pecuniary interests. Really, in those circumstances we would have set a new low benchmark.
I want to elaborate on that, Madam Speaker. In my original letter to you, on 21 July, I said surely the standard was that a member must know or reasonably ascertain whether a gift has been received. Would it be right to set that aside by simply having a member say to a third party—in this case, his lawyer—“Oh, by the way, if you get any gifts for me, just don’t tell me about them.”? That is what Brian Henry said at the original press conference. He said Winston Peters had told him not to tell him about those gifts, so he did not tell him, and therefore Winston Peters did not know about them. Now surely that, in the absence of a censure, would just open up a whole new can of worms. We would degrade the status of the pecuniary interests Standing Orders of this Parliament, and that would be a very, very unsatisfactory outcome. I have no doubt at all that the select committee has got this decision right. It has made the right decision; it has made the right judgment based on the evidence, and therefore I will support the censure motion.
I just add, in conclusion, that when I wrote my letter to you, Madam Speaker, raising this whole matter, I was not out to get Winston Peters. I was out to get to the truth, so that the integrity of the pecuniary interests provisions of the Standing Orders would be upheld. Under our Standing Orders I am obliged to bring a potential breach of privilege to your attention at the first possible opportunity. As soon as I heard that Winston Peters had received a gift of $100,000 from Owen Glenn, I had to ask myself whether it had been declared in the register of pecuniary interests. I, therefore, checked those returns for 2006, 2007, and 2008, and discovered that no such gift had been declared.
I want to say something also in relation to a point raised by Rodney Hide. He said it would also be necessary for Winston Peters to include in the register of pecuniary interests—and he now has to do a revised declaration for those 3 years, in terms of the motion before this Parliament—the gift of $40,000 received from the Spencer Trust. That may be the case, but I also point out that in any event, every member of Parliament is obliged also to list in the register of pecuniary interests any beneficial interest in a trust. Winston Peters certainly has a beneficial interest in the Spencer Trust in these circumstances. He also had a beneficial interest in Brian Henry’s trust account when it was receiving gifts that were intended to benefit him. So either way, it seems to me that we now need to ask the Rt Hon Winston Peters to come clean about all of those things concerning pecuniary interests, including his involvement in any trust of that kind. That is what the Standing Orders provide for, and that is what we should insist on. That is what I expect will happen.
I was not on the Privileges Committee, but I must compliment the committee on the way it went about its business. The fact that the committee came to a majority decision involving a range of parties shows that due consideration was given to all the evidence. I think it is timely, though, that we stand back and ask ourselves why there was a privileges complaint in the first place. In many respects this issue is a fairly straightforward one. A Parliament by its own will has passed the Standing Orders around pecuniary interests, and I believe that when it did that it had an expectation about what the purpose of that register was. The purpose as articulated in the debate about that register was to make sure that there was full transparency about any interest in donations of politicians. Prior to that register being initiated, there were no particular rules in Parliament, although I think every MP was aware that New Zealand has among the highest standards in the world in respect of the relationship between politicians and money. In my view, and it remains the case, we did not need a pecuniary interests register to maintain that standard. It was always regarded as one that MPs would respect, and the punishment for not respecting those standards was members’ exposure in the media.
The Register of Pecuniary Interests of Members of Parliament has taken another formal step. We have every expectation that MPs would be open and transparent, as required by the register, about the payment of significant amounts of money. There is no denying that a basic fact at the core of this report is the payment, or payments—however confusing—of significant amounts of money.
I come to a couple of points that Dr Cullen made. He seemed to be positing some disagreement with the test that an MP should make an honest attempt to understand what has happened. I back up Russel Norman’s contentions on this. What else would Parliament expect? The register of pecuniary interests would have no meaning if politicians were not expected to make an honest attempt to find out their own circumstances. We are not being asked to inquire into anyone else’s circumstances—simply our own. It is no different from the way the law works in pretty much any other respect I can think of—tax law, for instance. There has to be an assumption of an honest attempt, otherwise the register is completely meaningless, and it could be rendered meaningless by MPs saying: “Well, because someone didn’t put in front of me, in large bold, black letters, details of the transactions that involved me, then I wasn’t obliged to declare it.” That situation would be ridiculous. I think the application of a common-sense standard is actually all that is required here.
Significant payments were made. Parliament is a pretty understanding beast, actually. If people genuinely did not know, or had a misunderstanding of the law at the time, I have no doubt that the conclusions of this report would be different. Parliament is eminently forgiving of human weakness, actually, in my experience, if people are open about it. In this case, it has not turned out that way.
I will come back to some of those issues, but in the light of the thrust of the Privileges Committee, which was simply to establish whether the declaration should have been made, I am very concerned about the way the Prime Minister has gone about denigrating the process. Through this whole process, at various times when the procedures of this committee have appeared to not suit the political objectives of the Prime Minister, she has had a crack at our public institutions. In one day she alleged that the Serious Fraud Office and the Crown Law Office were responsible for leaking details of fact to the Leader of the Opposition. I have to say I have not heard that type of allegation for a long time, in politics—to have a Prime Minister attack a couple of our legal institutions. Of course, they should not be immune from criticism, whatsoever, but to attack them out of political convenience is unacceptable.
The Prime Minister adopted the same strategy with the Privileges Committee, and I shall take members through a number of statements she made about the committee. On 27 August, when the procedures of the committee had already started she said she was awaiting the outcome of the Privileges Committee: “There is clearly a conflict of evidence, and I await the outcome of the committee.” And then on 28 August she said the report would be finalised and would be reported back to the House in time for that report to be debated. [Interruption] I am just coming to the point. On 15 September she said: “Unless there’s some devastating development which suggests otherwise, I would follow a process of procedural fairness.” On 17 September she said: “Well … the advice I’ve had from senior colleagues on the committee, and their advice is let the process continue.” On 22 September she said: “I’m saying that the whole process has been tainted from the outset …”.
How ridiculous is that from our Prime Minister? She spent a month endorsing the process. In fact, her principal weapon against political criticism about her own close involvement in this Owen Glenn saga was to say: “No, we have to rely on procedural fairness.”; yet, day by day, she had advice from Labour members. As she said publicly, she was being briefed by Dr Cullen on the proceedings of the committee. Then right at the end, when it became clear that even Labour’s support parties were going to have to deal with the evidence on its merits, she turns round—after full knowledge of all the proceedings for the whole month—and says the whole process has been tainted. I just remind this House what an outrageous statement that is by a Prime Minister about a committee of this House. That simply underlines the strategy of denigration followed by Labour—dirty Labour. Whenever a public institution, whether it is the Ombudsman or the Privileges Committee—
—comes to a conclusion that the Government does not like, the Government accuses that institution of lacking integrity—
Could you take your seat, please. Can we concentrate on the report, because the debate is really moving towards a general debate rather than a debate on the report.
Madam Assistant Speaker, I am drawing attention to a simple fact: the Prime Minister of New Zealand has alleged to this House that the process of getting to this report was tainted, and I say that that allegation is outrageous. She has no basis for making that statement. Her lack of integrity is condemned by a month of statements that supported the process of the Privileges Committee. Helen Clark, it now appears, has no respect for this institution; no respect for MPs in here being judged by their peers; and because this institution, through this report, has not served her direct, personal, political interests, then it must be tainted, in the same way that as soon as it became clear her friend Owen Glenn was going to give evidence that was inconvenient, he turned into a drunken womaniser who had lost his marbles, rather than a friend of the Labour Party. Well, as it turns out, the public will get to make their judgment about Helen Clark and what she thinks about the Privileges Committee.
I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. That last statement made in this House by Mr English, which would be highly defamatory if it were made outside, has to be rebutted. It was Mr Glenn himself, on television, who said precisely that.
Firstly, I refute the comments made by Dr Cullen at the end of his speech. I found them to be objectionable, I found them to be an affront, and I found them to be quite unreasonable in the circumstances. It is not inappropriate, when we have a process like this, that there is—[ Interruption]
I will get to that, Mr Peters. Now, it is appropriate that when Parliament is considering the protection of its own Standing Orders—
I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. A couple of things are happening here. The first is the barrage of interjections, and the second is that although we have been told we have to constrain ourselves to the purview of the report, now we are having a long heckle apparently about Gerry Brownlee throwing Winston Peters down some stairs. I am not aware of that incident being mentioned in the report, and I think we should stick to the business at hand.
It is very hard to constrain people in their heckling, let alone to get them, in their speeches, to stay on the point. But I say the heckling is, at the moment, leading to disorder.
I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I think Mr Hide’s point of order was quite fair, and I would ask that in future if two people are interjecting and heckling, from any party, they be immediately brought to order, because today we were subjected to barrages—
It is appropriate that, when the Privileges Committee is considering matters, it should do so in a robust fashion. I remember, when I was first elected to this House in 1996, some time after the formation of the coalition, being in a social circumstance with a number of my new colleagues. We were in a discussion with a very senior member of this House, who offered the advice that one’s knowledge of the Standing Orders made for a better member, and that a member’s knowledge of them would give him or her greater latitude in participating in the business of the House. That member was Winston Peters. He is someone who has pitched himself, shown himself, to be a parliamentarian. So for him to be upset that the process he has just been through is too robust is, in my view, quite unacceptable and, frankly, somewhat sad.
How many times did the committee hear that this matter could be all tidied up in 5 minutes, that it could be all cleaned up in 5 minutes, if we were only prepared to listen? We heard that not once, not twice, not three times, but over and over again. Well, I ask members to let me reaffirm the comments made by the Hon Bill English. We would not be in this situation if it were not for the Parliament itself deciding to change the Standing Orders in order to require these disclosures. So the three questions that Dr Cullen raised become most important: did Mr Peters know about the donation, should he have known about it, and should he have declared it?
Other members today have talked about the way the committee went through the exercise of trying to hear from everybody in a reasonable fashion, and I join others in saying Simon Power did a wonderful job in organising the way that the committee worked. He was a very, very good model of how a chairperson should operate in such circumstances. It was not very easy, going into a committee with the expectation that the issue might all be cleared up in 5 minutes, to, first, be confronted by Mr Brian Henry, a man whom I would describe as confused, histrionic, belligerent, and evasive. I do not think that Brian Henry did Mr Peters’ cause one bit of good. Anyone who picks up this document and reads the transcripts from the start to the finish will be absolutely shocked at the way Mr Henry’s evidence shifted, moved, and ultimately changed to suit the facts that were coming out in all sorts of other directions.
In that regard I would also have to mention that if it were not for the clear and authoritative guidance given to the committee by Stephen Kós QC, the appearance of Mr Williams QC would have left the collective reputation of senior counsel in this country somewhat in tatters. It was an embarrassment to see someone with the public stature of Mr Williams struggling to understand which Standing Order he was required to work under. His comments, directed very much at some members of the committee, were, to say the least, vehement and bordered on the plain nasty.
The essence of this case, I think, becomes decided when anyone reads from page 205 through to page 209 in the report. Those pages, in essence, are where the transcript deals with the fundamental questions about what happened on 14 December 2005. We were told in evidence that there was an email, or a message I should say, from someone who Mr Glenn thought was Winston Peters—but Mr Peters denied that it was him—around about 5 December 2005, and that following that Mr Glenn consulted Mr Williams about whether he should make a donation, having previously turned down a request for a donation from New Zealand First. Mr Glenn’s evidence was that at a brunch in Sydney on 14 December 2005 he discussed the matter with Mike Williams, and, after that, he made the phone call to Mr Peters. At that point, although Dr Cullen talks about two narratives, other speakers have already said there was so much similarity and agreement over what took place, not only in the first phone call but also in the subsequent emails between Mr Henry and Mr Glenn, that there had to be a good basis for making assumptions about what that discussion was about.
It is interesting to look at the transcript, as I said before. When Mr Peters, in his second appearance before the committee, was confronted with the evidence presented by Owen Glenn, he stated: “I’ve got to say, looking at it all—and I’ve tried over and over again to look at that and make sense of it—I’m happy to say to you, look, it’s quite possible that happened, …”. Well, what was it that jogged the memory over the couple of weeks if it was not the evidence of Owen Glenn himself, the provision of the email traffic, and the strong and unrelenting assertion by him that a donation was asked for and a donation was given? The answer to the question simply, in the first case, as to whether Winston Peters knew about it could reasonably be assumed, I think.
In relation to the second part, which would require us to assume that Winston Peters did not know about the donation, then the question would be whether he should have known. We then go to the question of Mr Henry’s evidence. Mr Henry constructed for us the arrangement between Mr Peters and himself, whom he described as being like blood brothers. He stated further that he would go so far as to say he would go to considerable lengths to protect Mr Peters from the ravages of big business. That arrangement, which had existed for a long time, confirms in itself that Mr Peters must have known that costs were accruing somewhere that he might have to meet at some point, and in his own evidence he said that periodically he made payments to the lawyer to cover those particular costs. He indicated that at one stage he made a payment of $148,000 for some matter not related to this inquiry, which apparently he lost. It indicated certainly that the pattern meant that he would have known.
When it comes to the register itself, what would have been the problem with simply writing down that the money was received from the Spencer Trust, from Owen Glenn, and from anyone else?
Well, that is the problem, I say to Mr Peters. There is the problem. We conclude from the 14 December 2005 traffic that it would be most unlikely for Mr Peters not to have known.
Stepping forward from that, I simply say the committee reached its conclusions after considerable debate. It is not easy to see a motion like this being moved. I know there will be people in the public gallery and other commentators who will want to continue to refer to the Privileges Committee as the “Wet Bus Ticket Committee”, etc. But for a member of Parliament, for someone who values the right to speak freely in this House, and for someone who sets himself up as being a parliamentarian above all else, it is a huge penalty to have a censure motion moved against him by the House. No one does that with any degree of comfort or malice. It is simply a fact that if we are to have a Standing Order that requires pecuniary interests to be declared, then we need to defend that pecuniary interests register with some clarity.
I take up Mr Brownlee’s last point. He is dead correct on that point. We do need to defend the pecuniary interests register with some clarity, but what the inquiry has revealed is a lack of clarity in the pecuniary interests register.
We find that in Appendix B of the Standing Orders, at page 126, clause 7(1)(b) speaks about what must be declared. I will read it, because it is the substance of the inquiry made by the Privileges Committee. What must be declared is a description of a gift “received by the member that has an estimated market value in New Zealand of more than $500 and the name of the donor of each of those gifts (if known or reasonably ascertainable by the member),”. It is a simple statement, but obtuse and unclear in practice, as we can see by the terms of reference given by the Speaker.
It is perhaps wise at this stage to reflect upon what the Speaker charged the committee to do. At page 5 of the report of the Privileges Committee, the charge from the Speaker was reduced to a single line that read: “… Winston Peters failed to disclose a gift, and failed to disclose a debt and the name of the person who discharged it.” However, the referral made by the Speaker, at page 23 of the report, is more detailed. It stated: “It is not disputed that legal fees were incurred and defrayed. Firstly, what is in question is whether a debtor-creditor relationship actually existed. If it did, then it is not unreasonable to assume that the member knew or ought to have known and should have disclosed a debt and the name of any other person who may have discharged it.” The evidence that was accepted quite early in the piece by all members of the committee was that because of the relationship between Mr Peters and Mr Henry—that is, Mr Henry is a barrister sole—there could not be a debtor-creditor relationship. That evidence was received from Mr Kós QC, and it was not challenged. It was the basis on which the committee proceeded.
So the committee had to move to the second part of the Speaker’s reference, which states: “Secondly, if a debtor-creditor relationship did not exist, was a gift received and was the name of the donor known or reasonably discernible, or was a donation made that covered expenses in an election campaign?”. This is where the committee had, I suggest, the most difficulty—when it came to determining that part of the charge, the issue of a gift. I will deal with that issue in a few minutes. But the Speaker added: “These matters are technical, but of vital importance to a proper understanding of the rules for the disclosure of pecuniary interests. They require investigation. It is not the Speaker’s role to investigate. That is the role of the Privileges Committee.” The Privileges Committee was charged with investigating whether the rules were clear, particularly as demonstrated by the allegations made that the Rt Hon Winston Peters had failed to disclose a debt.
The Speaker went on, at page 24, to state: “The issues raised are not peculiar to Mr Peters. They have the potential to affect members generally. The rules need to be clarified to assist members in making judgments about what is required to be disclosed as a pecuniary interest and what is not.
The House has an exclusive right to control its own proceedings. The Standing Orders are a matter for the House alone to determine. Members themselves must take responsibility for the rules for the disclosure of pecuniary interests.”
What we heard at the committee, as referred to by Dr Michael Cullen, was the current registrar saying that she would not give advice to members inquiring as to what was covered by the need to disclose, but would refer them back to a solicitor for advice. Of course, the member would then be bound by that solicitor’s advice, and no one would know what that advice was. This is where we got into the murky world of what Mr Peters may or may not have knowingly had in mind when he completed his declaration for the year 2005.
But the warning was given by Madam Speaker that the issues raised are not peculiar to Mr Peters. They have the potential to affect members generally, and we saw that in the evidence. We saw that from the intervention of the Serious Fraud Office and the chart that it forwarded to the committee. The notes attached thereto indicate that Bob Clarkson, who had acted diligently by declaring a Koru Club membership in his first year, and was told later on that he need not do that, did not disclose that his legal expenses were, in fact, a debt to the National Party, or a gift made by the National Party, because, on the Serious Fraud Office papers, the payment of that debt and the refund of the money from the Rt Hon Winston Peters went to the solicitors who held a trust account in the name of the National Party. I make no criticism of Bob Clarkson, but that demonstrates in a simple way that this area of pecuniary interest does need definition, and it has been the role of the select committee to bring that to the attention of the House. The simple finding of this committee is that we must be more careful in what needs to be disclosed.
I go back to the warning given by Madam Speaker at the outset that these issues are not peculiar to Mr Peters. They have the tendency to affect all members of the House. I refer to the advice from Dave McGee QC, which we find at page 278 of the report. Bill English said in the House today that under tax law everyone has to make an honest endeavour to disclose his or her liability, which, of course, is not correct. Under tax law, it is very legalistic, and if the question of honesty were to come into it, then we would have many, many more people before the court on charges. The point made by Dave McGee was that the pecuniary interest matter was not left to legislation but was put one notch down, in the Standing Orders, because it related to the moral climate of this House, and members had to act according to the moral climate of this House, rather than legalistically, according to the law. So it was at that stage that Dave McGee—for the first time, it appears—opined the test of honest endeavour. That was where we found some difficulty in assessing where we should go in finding any culpability by the Rt Hon Winston Peters.
I want to make one or two comments on the select committee procedure. In moving to this area, I first want to acknowledge the chairmanship of Simon Power. The work of the committee was considerable. We got through that work very quickly. The committee was chaired very, very fairly by Simon Power, who managed to rein in his natural impatience remarkably well. He chaired the committee with a degree of humour that often diffused situations that could have flared up. Every member before the committee was given a chance to express his or her view, and every witness who came before the committee was given a fair hearing.
But that does not mean we should not make some observations on the process. The process of select committee hearings in this House is quite adequate when we are talking about general subjects, but when it comes to speaking about the integrity of individuals, then a higher standard is required. That was the advice given to us by Mr Stephen Kós QC, it is the advice that we sought to apply in the report, and it is the advice that the minority, in their report, tried to apply with some rigour. So when one is making a finding of credibility, one must apply a higher standard.
Owen Glenn was offered the chance to give his evidence on oath. He declined to do so. When challenged, he made reference to walking out of the committee, to taking up residence in Australia, and to other vagaries. For simple questions of fact, he referred to his lawyer, who was with him. As opposed to that, we had Brian Henry, who is a member of the Law Society and, as such, is answerable to the ethics of the Law Society, and we had the Rt Hon Winston Peters, who is a senior member of this House and, as such, is entitled to the respect that that brings. So we had three men give evidence of varying recollections.
The evidence revolved around the email of 14 December. The evidence that was unchallenged by Brian Henry was that that email arose from a conversation he had had that did not relate to money but was a request that he contact Owen Glenn, and that it was in the general rubric of endeavouring to keep intact the Labour Government coalition and working arrangements. He said it became a memory jog that took him back to an earlier conversation he had had with Owen Glenn, and so he attached the reference. Interestingly, the first email back from Owen Glenn is addressed “Dear Brian”, and has a degree of familiarity, which tended to add some veracity to the words of Brian Henry.
In this House today it has been easy to run down the evidence and the credibility of both Owen Glenn and, of course, Brian Henry, who is not here. The committee made no finding adverse to Brian Henry in its report, and it does not behove any member of the House to do so today. The credibility of the Rt Hon Winston Peters has been challenged, and the suggestion of his lying has been made. The process of the committee does not allow for exact and detailed examination of credibility in these issues. The committee lacked a prosecutor, it lacked a clarification of charges, and it was determined as we went along what evidence should be heard. So witnesses were recalled to rebut evidence that arose. Clearly, in my submission, the Standing Orders Committee should consider a process for establishing the inquisitorial role of the Privileges Committee in looking at issues as serious as these.
But, in conclusion, I want to say simply that when one has an inference, one can draw a conclusion to it. One cannot draw a conclusion if there is no evidence, because one has no evidence. If the inferences lead to a conclusion, that is the conclusion one follows; if they lead to two conclusions, one can draw nothing from them. So the minority report stated that there was suspicion but not grounds to make a finding against the credibility of the Rt Hon Winston Peters.
Mr Peters, a member of 27 years standing—in fact, the longest-serving member in this House—is judged as not telling the truth. That is not just National—and I make that point to New Zealand First—it is the members of the Green Party, the Māori Party, United Future, and ACT. This whole issue has turned wholly on the evidence, primarily of Mr Glenn but also of Mr Peters and Mr Henry. Up until then, there might have been suspicions that there may have been knowledge, but there was no evidence. It took the hearing of the Privileges Committee to establish the evidence.
The issue here is actually quite straightforward. Did Mr Peters know, or ought he to have known, when he completed his pecuniary interests form, that he was receiving donations? In truth, the first evidence of this actually came from Mr Henry in his first appearance. He was specifically asked whether he would have told Mr Peters that donations were being received for his electoral petition. Mr Henry said he would have told Mr Peters, and that would have been in early 2006. At that point Mr Peters would have known enough to disclose in the pecuniary interests.
I suggest to Mr Peters that he read the transcript. That part of the report is entirely agreed by all members of the committee, and in fact is highlighted in our principal report. At that point there was actually enough evidence to find contempt. But, of course, at that point the knowledge would have been only general and not related to any particular donor.
That is why the evidence of Mr Glenn was so important. There was a lot of extraneous evidence. I do accept that recall is not perfect and that details do get confused, and that is precisely why the conversations of 14 December were so important. The first call lasted 6 minutes. Interestingly, both Mr Glenn and Mr Peters seemed to have some reasonable recall of that. In fact, Mr Peters actually supplied a note dated 10 September setting out five issues that were discussed. Mr Peters did concede he must have been asked to supply the information to his lawyer.
I can understand that the issue of the amount was not discussed, but put it this way: Mr Glenn did not know the general proposition that one should not talk about money with politicians; that is why he was under no constraint. So he would have likely mentioned it. The issue here is not whether Mr Peters asked but whether Mr Peters knew, and the majority did find that there was a probability that he would have known, because immediately following that telephone call there was another call from Mr Peters to Mr Henry, a call that lasted also 6 minutes. Interestingly enough, of course, there was no recollection of that call by either Mr Peters or Mr Henry, yet there was an email.
I would suggest to New Zealand First members that it was reasonable for the select committee majority to actually draw the inference that money was discussed, and that is the only finding we make—just that money was discussed and that knowledge was possessed by Mr Peters, adding to the statement by Mr Henry that donations had been disclosed to Mr Peters in any event. I suggest to Mr Fairbrother that juries up and down this country faced with the same sort of evidence would have drawn the conclusion that money would have been discussed in those circumstances. And in this circumstance, so did the Privileges Committee, and by majority of virtually every small party in the Parliament.
So the finding is based on a reasonable interpretation of the evidence on the balance of probabilities, which is the very test that was suggested. The way witnesses deal with issues generally helps one to decide this issue. For instance, last week Mr Peters was specifically asked by Mr Brownlee whether he had reimbursed Mr Henry for $40,000 court costs. After all, he had told Grey Power in a written speech precisely that fact. What did he do? One would think the answer would be a simple yes or no. But he gave a long and elliptical answer, and frankly I could not work out whether he had said yes or no. We were entitled to conclude at that point that in fact Mr Peters had not paid, yet that was in direct contradiction to his own speech, written out for Grey Power. It was not something said off the cuff—in fact, it was also said in evidence before the select committee. When we are faced with that situation, we have to ask ourselves whether Mr Peters checked his records. Did he ask his lawyer? Well, apparently not, or, at least, the discussion was nebulous. That would also, had it been a gift, have to be declared and it is specifically stated in the Privileges Committee report that should that be the case, that there is a donation from the Spencer Trust, then that would have to be declared in the subsequent declarations of interest.
We were faced with this situation. Mr Glenn specifically said that money was discussed. Mr Peters did admit that information about the lawyer was required. But there was no recollection of any telephone call between Mr Peters and Mr Henry, even though it took place literally seconds after. I suggest to this House and to the people listening that it was reasonable for the Privileges Committee to draw the inference that Mr Peters had been informed that money was at stake.
Do members know the irony of this whole case? All Mr Peters had to do was simply to declare that he was receiving donations. That was all he had to do. In fact, other members of the House have done precisely that. [Interruption] The member was advised by Mr Henry, because he said so, that he was receiving donations. That is on the record. The member should read the report, for heaven’s sake! Mr Peters’ unwillingness to admit that he may not be right is actually the source of his problem. He seems to be unable to accept that maybe he is mistaken on this, that maybe he did not take enough notice of what his lawyer said, that maybe he did not make the honest inquiry—and that, I say to Dr Cullen, is not a new test. Could we imagine any other sort of inquiry? Surely members have to make an honest inquiry. That is not a new test, notwithstanding what the minority says. New Zealanders expect honesty from their members. They can expect an honest disclosure.
I have to conclude that Mr Peters has let himself down by not living up to his own standards. He has let this Parliament down, and his peers will be judging him accordingly. I suggest that the public will also make their own judgment.
Over 29 finance houses have collapsed, owing $3 billion to mainly older New Zealanders. Hundreds of thousands of people face home affordability problems—
I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. We were pulled up vigorously by the Speaker even when discussing aspects of the Spencer Trust. If that is the rule, then it is impossible for the Rt Hon Winston Peters to get up and talk about elderly people and finance houses. The rule that was applied to me by the person who was in the Chair was that I could not even discuss what I knew about the Spencer Trust.
Thank you, Mr Hide. I say that Mr Peters had only just stood up, and he had been speaking for about 8 or 9 seconds. The Speaker ruled that the debate must stick to discussing the report. The member must discuss the report.
I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I am just trying to start my speech and provide the environment for it, and this is a deliberate attempt to interrupt a member’s speech. I have spoken for only 9 seconds.
Thank you. Over 29 finance houses have collapsed, owing $3 billion to mainly older New Zealanders, and hundreds of thousands of people face home affordability problems, and the ship “New Zealand” is sailing in troubled international waters. Against this backdrop there has been an attack on an MP and his party, premeditated, orchestrated, and relentless, in the hope of bringing him, his party, and the Government down. New Zealanders have become heartily sick of it. Every minute and every page that is wasted on that obsessive character assassination is another minute of another hour, or day, or another page of a newspaper, that is diverted from the real issues that face all of us.
This is a road seriously walked along before. Whether it be the Māori loans affair, the BNZ bail-out, the BNZ sale, or the wine-box inquiry, the constant hymn of hate has been consistent in the allegations made of my being a liar, deceiver, manipulator, or populist demagogue, or of cultism. The allegations have failed, of course, but what is common in those events is that there never was an admission of who was right and who deserved an apology. That is not important, nor is personal vindication in the pursuit of worthy causes, when one seeks to march to a different drum.
The issue here is that if an MP did not know about a donation, how could he declare it, if a declaration was, back then, in law, in fact required? My gratitude goes to those members of Parliament on the Privileges Committee who approached the inquiry with an open mind and resolved on “a high standard of proof”. That standard cannot descend to a judgment based on what most probably occurred. Those MPs left their politics at the door. They did not try the case through the media, like my political foes.
There are no clear guidelines in any of the Standing Orders and no precedent or reference to any past case. It has been fundamental to our law for centuries that one cannot be convicted of an offence that is not in the law. Further, there cannot be a case, retrospective legislation, or retrospective rules, and then justice. In our system, an offence is applicable only when the law or rules have been put in place. What is contemplated here is a new standard being applied that did not exist in 2005 or 2006. Members are being asked to accept that under this new moral requirement, a declaration should have been made to the Registrar of Pecuniary Interests of Members of Parliament. If there are new moral obligations, it is clear that every MP should be very careful about that, because for some MPs their lives will become dynamite and, I promise members, that will occur very soon.
The committee had set out to prove pecuniary benefit to an MP, on the basis of a second draft report. On page 13 it said “an election petition which, if it had been successful, would have been of benefit to Mr Peters in terms of both political capital and a higher level of funding available to an electorate MP.” The committee, or some members of it, persisted in that view of the law. I wrote, at 4.30 yesterday afternoon, to say that that advice was wrong. Again, it was brought to the committee’s attention that overexpenditure means a disqualified MP, which means a vacant seat, which means a by-election. The committee was advised that the argument that Peters would have got political capital and extra resources at the return of him as the Tauranga MP was utterly fallacious. In the final report, the committee, on page 14, acknowledges that. It dropped out all those words, and says it would have been of “political benefit to Mr Peters.” We can see how the committee predicated pecuniary interest. It was on the basis of a false belief in the law, even though there are seven lawyers in the National Party. That, in a nutshell, is it—the receptacle one needs to contain specious argument.
We have today a rule made retrospectively, applied retrospectively, and placed before a Parliament that has hitherto prided itself on its opposition to retrospective legislation. To single out an MP, whilst ignoring that many other MPs face legal costs that others have contributed to in whole or in part, is demonstrably and palpably unfair. One rule must apply to all MPs, and not to just one MP. To do otherwise simply violates natural justice. It censures an MP when others in the same circumstances, where others help with their legal costs, receive no such censure. Why is there one rule for Winston Peters and another rule for Nick Smith MP? The registrar of pecuniary interests said there was no clarity on the matter and she would have advised an MP back then to seek legal advice. Had I done that back then, no declaration would have been required. Mr Hide’s allegation of a debt failed. Mr Copeland’s allegation of a gift should have failed, likewise. The inquiry was about politics.
I give personal thanks to the thousands of people who contacted my office with their support for me and their concern about the conduct of the committee’s business by some committee members. Those people know the judgment is wrong, and the democratic foundations upon which this country is built have been weakened in the name of political bias and interest.
Here is a record of comments made by some members of the committee before and during the hearing. We heard Russel Norman from the Green Party, time after time. Then Wayne Mapp, on 21 August, went on there, before he had even heard the first day of the hearing—he is a law lecturer and thinks that that is respectable. We had Gerry Brownlee with page after page of his comments; and then the website of one Heather Roy from the ACT party had page after page of prejudgment and predetermination. Those members should have disqualified themselves. They failed in their duty. They tainted the hearings and rendered a serious matter into a banal, useless charade, a farce with some members being obsessed with acting as a kangaroo court. To use the words of Bernard Shaw: “We’ll hang him in the morning, but first we’ll give him a trial.”
I tabled 27 contradictory statements by the committee’s chief witness against me. There is a 28th one; it is that he gave $250,000 to the Māori Party. The Māori Party members deny that. So now, with 28 misrepresentations and falsehoods, why does the Māori Party believe him and not Winston Peters? Why do its members believe him after 28 falsehoods, and not Winston Peters? And why would they tell Māoridom, on the marae and over the airwaves, they supported me, when at the committee they did the reverse of that? They tried to ride the waves of sentiment, then lined up with John Key and Rodney Hide to sell me out, and soon, before their people, they will find out the consequences of doing that. The Greens fronted to the committee with their least experienced MP, one with absolutely no understanding of the law or the judicial process. Mr Norman commented in the media over and over again throughout the sittings of the committee. And as for those journalists who naively suggest that the Greens have no axe to grind with Winston Peters and New Zealand First, I ask them, who consigned the Greens to a position outside of Government for the past 3 years. How naive can they be?
Mr Key condemned me before he had heard any evidence. I tell Mr Key that being ruled against in a majority decision by a body split down party lines on an issue where one has gained nothing personally—not a cent—is one thing, but that being found to have misled the public and to have used one’s position to gain personally to the tune of tens of thousands of dollars is what we call in this business a knock-out. His explanation was that he did not release details of those shareholdings at that time, but in hindsight he realises he should have done so, and he is doing that now. So there is one rule for Mr Key and another one for Winston Peters.
Sitting on that committee was a man called Murray McCully. He got $3.5 million in a taxpayer bail-out, did not declare it, hid all the details—and members will hear more about that later—and was then made a Cabinet Minister! That man, who sat in judgment on me, spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in the public interest, and I have never enriched myself by one damn cent. Those members had the effrontery to line me up, in their bias, and they thought they would get away with it. I say this: the court that I will stand before is on Saturday, 8 November, and I will place my faith in the people of New Zealand to decide the outcome of this case. I rest my case in the judgment of the people of New Zealand, and the only people who are owed an apology are the people of New Zealand, who have sat through months of political posturing, grandstanding, bias, and prejudice.
I put on record also my gratitude to those members of the committee who tried to uphold the standards of a neutral, independent body as a tribunal and as a court of law. Those who did not do so shamed themselves. They shamed their practice, they shamed their profession, and they shamed Parliament. I asked for fairness. I got a farce. There is no morality or ethics in this motion today.
A party vote was called for on the question,
That the words “censure Rt Hon Winston Peters for knowingly providing false or misleading information on a return of pecuniary interests” be deleted and the following words inserted: “note that several members of Parliament had legal fighting funds and did not disclose donations to these as it was unclear that this was required”.
- New Zealand National 47
- Green Party 6
- Māori Party 3
- ACT New Zealand 2
- United Future 2
- Independent 2 (Copeland, Field)
Amendment not agreed to.
A party vote was called for on the question,
That the following words be added: “That the member, Mr Peters, be requested to apologise to the New Zealand Herald’s editor, Tim Murphy, and political editor, Audrey Young, for calling them liars and demanding their resignations, and that the member be suspended for the remainder of the day.”
- New Zealand Labour 49
- New Zealand National 47
- New Zealand First 7
- Green Party 6
- Māori Party 3
- United Future 2
- Progressive 1
- Independent 2 (Copeland, Field)
Amendment not agreed to.