Even stupid questions should be answered

John Armstrong reports:

Opposition MPs were aghast and Government members agog in yesterday after Energy Minister broke with convention and refused to respond to a question from Greens co-leader .

Brownlee had simply had enough. He had already answered five questions from Turei on National’s intended “stocktake” of mineral resources on Conservation land. He had repeatedly told her the Government had no intention of plundering or pillaging national parks or other valued parts of the Department of Conservation estate.

But Turei’s questions – which might more accurately be described as political statements masquerading as questions – just kept on coming.

So what was the actual question Gerry refused to answer:

Metiria Turei: When the Minister said in his speech that “… New Zealanders need to know that this country is also well endowed with natural resources.”, is it not the case that Kiwis already know how blessed we are, already know that our magnificent conservation places are like gold to the New Zealand economy, and are aghast at his attempts to plunder those areas for fool’s gold and dirty coal?

As Armstrong said, it is a political statement more than a question. But so are many questions. Brownlee explained later:

Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: In answering questions this afternoon I have made it clear that the Government has no intention of mining high-value conservation land. From the member’s question, she does not seem to want to accept the answers given. It is no wonder that she gets no answers to her questions.

However I think it is a bad look not to answer, even the most stupid loaded questions. If the Greens want to waste all their supplementaries getting more and more hysterical over a stocktake of minerals, then let them and swat their questions back at them, rather than refuse to answer them.

There is a precedent it seems though:

However, Parker was trumped by United Future’s Peter Dunne, who had found another ruling which stated a minister was not even obliged to seek the call when asked a question.

In Dunne’s view, such a practice was unusual, and even undesirable. But there was a clear precedent for Brownlee’s refusal.

And words of wisdom from the Speaker:

Saying he was not about to turn these past rulings on their heads, the Speaker still had something to say about Turei and Brownlee.

The former would be “well advised” to reflect on the wording of her questions. She promptly ignored him and asked another highly loaded question which went down the same track as its predecessors

As for Brownlee, the public would make its judgment. “Ministers would be very unwise to refuse to answer them, because in the court of public opinion a minister would be condemned for refusing to do so,” Smith said.

In other words, Brownlee should not make a habit of it.

Indeed.

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