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Urgent Debates Declined

Credit Rating—Downgrade

Tuesday 4 October 2011 (advance copy) Hansard source (external site)

SmithMr SPEAKER Link to this

I have received letters from Dr Russel Norman and the Hon Phil Goff seeking to debate under Standing Order 380 the downgrade of New Zealand’s credit rating by two rating agencies: Fitch Ratings and Standard and Poor’s. For there to be an urgent debate there must be a particular case of recent occurrence that involves the administrative or ministerial responsibility of the Government, and that requires the immediate attention of the House. It is for members to make out a case for an urgent debate, not for the Speaker to discover one. An urgent debate is a way of holding the Government accountable for an action for which it is responsible. There must be distinct governmental responsibility for the particular case that is sought to be debated.

There is no ministerial responsibility for the decisions of credit rating agencies. The fact that questions have been addressed to Ministers about such ratings does not necessarily mean that they involve ministerial responsibility on which a debate can be founded. The concept of ministerial responsibility for a matter qualifying for an urgent debate is narrower than it is in respect of questions, which encompass any matter relating to public affairs with which the Minister has an official connection. I refer in that regard to Standing Order 369(a). The credit downgrade is an important issue, but the grounds for an urgent debate under Standing Order 380 are not made out. The applications are, therefore, declined.

CunliffeHon DAVID CUNLIFFE (Labour—New Lynn) Link to this

I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Without wishing to revisit your ruling, I ask your consideration of the following. The credit rating downgrade was specifically related to two matters of public policy: first, the growing current account deficit and, second, the growing net international investment deficit, driven largely by private debt. There has been some debate about the responsibility by the Government for private debt, but no debate whatsoever from the Government about the responsibility for the current account deficit.

SmithMr SPEAKER Link to this

I think the member is really getting into debating issues here, although I accept he is linking them to my decision. But I point out to him that the Standing Order requires it to be a recent matter that the Government has been involved in. The member mentioned a couple of issues. One, for example, is growing debt. I am sure members of the House would argue the issues have been going on for some time; they are not a matter of recent occurrence. That is why those issues cannot meet the requirements of Standing Order 380, because they do not involve any recent ministerial action. The member’s own words make that very clear.

CunliffeHon DAVID CUNLIFFE (Labour—New Lynn) Link to this

I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I seek your clarification for future reference and your guidance on whether the current year’s Budget would be a recent occurrence within the terms of this Standing Order. You will recall that in the—

SmithMr SPEAKER Link to this

No, no. The member will recollect that the Budget was presented to this House some time back. Urgent matters are matters that have occurred very recently. Please understand that I am not saying that the matter the members—either Dr Russel Norman or the honourable Leader of the Opposition—have raised is not important, at all. It is just that it does not meet the requirement of Standing Order 380 for an urgent debate. Members have asked questions about it, because questions can be lodged about that issue. But it does not meet the requirements for an urgent debate for the business of the House to be set aside under Standing Order 380.