From Hansard today:
Hon Phil Goff: Can the Prime Minister—or the country—have any confidence in the transparency and honesty of the Minister of Finance, who, while ramming through legislation before Christmas without subjecting it to the scrutiny of a select committee, deliberately suppressed and withheld from the public and parliamentarians the advice he received from his own ministry that the fundamental parts of that legislation were deeply flawed?
Hon JOHN KEY: Yes. I have complete confidence in the Minister of Finance. If we want to have concerns about Ministers of Finance, maybe we should have concern for a former Minister of Finance, who may well find himself in breach of the Public Finance Act.
Ouch. Does JK know something or was it just a general reminder? Remember you can be prosecuted for breaching the Public Finance Act.
Hon Phil Goff: Can the Prime Minister categorically assure the House that National is not concealing Treasury advice or other departmental advice against any of the legislation now being introduced in the House today under urgency?
Hon JOHN KEY: Yes, I can confirm that the Government is not concealing any briefings or hiding anything from the House. If the member wants to talk about concealing things, maybe he should go and ask people in his own research unit about that, because the last time I saw them they were concealing the booze from the parliamentary Christmas party.
There were gasps to that one. Talking of which what has happened to the thieves?
David Garrett: Can the Minister confirm that the prefab prison—when it is built—will not have underfloor heating, plasma televisions in every cell, and expensive gymnasium facilities, and that criminals in those facilities will be required to work?
Hon SIMON POWER: I can advise that there will be no underfloor heating or plasma televisions in a new prison. Inmates will have appropriate exercise facilities, rather than the type of gymnasium I saw at one of the new prisons built by the previous Government. It seemed flash enough to charge a joining fee and for yearly membership.
Heh annual gym membership fee indeed.
Sandra Goudie: Has the Minister received any other feedback on the cost savings from building prefabricated modular units?
Hon SIMON POWER: Yes. The Leader of the Opposition has criticised the Government’s plan to save taxpayer dollars, stating that “If you are short-sighted enough to build something cheap and nasty you will be rebuilding before very long.”, and “When you are building a public institution, you build it to make it last.” That is a surprising claim, when the four prisons built under Labour, where costs blew out by half a billion dollars, have already racked up $9 million in repair bills.
Amazing what you learn once you are n Government.
Hon Annette King: Can she confirm that rather than sitting on its hands, as she claimed, Labour in Government reduced the unemployment rate from 7.5 percent to 3.8 percent through active labour market policies that saw 140,000 fewer people on the unemployment benefit, and if the previous Government’s policies did nothing, which programmes has she cancelled since she became Minister?
Here Annette tells a big porkie. Labour did not reduce the unemployment rate from 7.5%. It was 6.2% at the end of 1999 and at the end of 2008 it was 4.6% – a 1.6% reduction that averaged 0.18% a year reduction. Incidentially the unemployment rate under National declined by 2.5%, which was an average 0.28% a year reduction. And if you discount the nine months of 1991 before National’s policies such as the ECA kicked in, then the reduction was 4.7%, or an annual 0.57%.
Bottom line is Annette lied, and that the unemployment rate declined far more under National in the 1990s, than Labour during their nine years.
Hon Darren Hughes: Why did the Minister reopen the debate on Transmission Gully when it was the preferred route of the previous Government, and continues to be the preferred route of the Wellington region; and is it not a little hollow to claim, as he tried to yesterday, that the Crown contribution was unfunded, when it has been earmarked in the Crown accounts since 2005 when the Wellington regional transport package was first announced?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: I raised it because the previous Labour Government, which was in office for some 9 years, raised expectations regarding this route that were unfunded at the time that it left office. It suggested that $400 million would be allocated to complete the $1 billion project, but left the remaining $600 million to be funded by local bodies in the region. A regional fuel tax was talked of as a means by which that might happen; I am informed by the ministry that a Wellington regional fuel tax in the order of 13.5c per litre would be needed to fund the $600 million that the Government of the time left unfunded, so it could be described as more of a wish than a plan.
Nice line – more of a wish than a plan.
Hon Lianne Dalziel: Does the Minister agree in principle with the proposal for the Government to provide alternative funding for community law centres to ensure they do not need to drastically cut services at a time when demand for those services will inevitably increase; if not, why not?
Hon SIMON POWER: I can assure the member that I am taking this matter extremely seriously. This Government is committed to access to justice for all, not just for those privileged few who can afford to access such redress as that offered by, for example, the Supreme Court. Coincidentally, the drop in community law centres’ funding is roughly equivalent to the $4.3 million that was committed by the previous Government to the bronze plating of the new Supreme Court.
And that’s a home run!!
What I found most interesting is that Lockie is taking a strong line with Ministers about answering the question, if it is the primary question. He basically said that if the primary question is asking for some fact or figure, the Minister must provide that as they have hours to prepare for it. I think it is excellent that he is raising the bar in this way.
I repeat what I said earlier: where primary questions are laid down clearly, members of the public expect an answer. When Ministers are answering questions, they can expect that the answers they give may be further questioned by members of the Opposition.
I was worried about how Lockwood may go as Speaker as he was not a lawyer or a standing orders expert. But he seems to have turned a potential weakness into a strength, noting today:
Mr SPEAKER: I do not need any further assistance on this matter. I do not want to take up further time of the House. Had the Prime Minister not wished to answer the question, he could have made it very clear that he believed the question was out of order. The Prime Minister seemed to answer it with some enthusiasm. That entitled the Leader of the Opposition to ask a further supplementary question, and I believe that is the way the House should flow, in good order. We do not need to get too precious and pedantic about these things.
This is like a good rugby referee – making sure the “game” keeps flowing. Of course one has to follow the rules, but a but of latitude is a good thing.
Of course not having Winston there does make it a lot easier!