Hon PHIL GOFF (Leader of the Opposition) to the
Minister of Finance: What concerns, if any, has Treasury expressed about the Budget proposal to give the Pacific Economic Development Agency $4.8 million as announced by the Hon Georgina te Heuheu on 20 May 2010?
Hon BILL ENGLISH (Minister of Finance)
: None that I am aware of. No money has been handed over. Treasury is engaged in a process that is focused on seeking value for money. It is assisting the Ministry of Pacific Island Affairs to negotiate a suitable purchase agreement for providing job assistance and training opportunities for young Pacific people. They will ensure that there are clear deliverables, sound performance measures, sound accountability arrangements, and no duplication of existing funding or programmes—a process followed with regard to hundreds of millions of dollars worth of grants within the Government. One way or another, the Government is determined to use this small amount of new funding to assist the group that has probably been hardest hit by the recession, which is young Pacific Island youth with no skills and no jobs. We believe it is important that the Government takes action in order to make a difference.
Hon Phil Goff: In making the decision to allocate that money to the Pacific Economic Development Agency in the Budget, did he take account of the report in March from the Ministry of Pacific Island Affairs that warned explicitly that this posed significant risks to the Government, that the agency was “untested and unproven”, that it had “not delivered on projects of any note”, and that it “does not have a good record of working … with other agencies”; if so, why did he go ahead with the proposal?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: That kind of advice is not unusual—
Hon Members: Ha, ha!
Hon BILL ENGLISH: Well, it is not unusual when officials are appraising new Budget proposals. As I have said, there is a negotiation going on now regarding the contracting arrangements. I might say that the proposals have a very clear track record; that is, they came from a conference that I believe the previous Labour Government convened for the economic and social transformation of Pacific Islanders, which produced a detailed document in September 2008. The propositions come from that document.
Hon Phil Goff: Who decided that the Pacific Economic Development Agency was not required to report under the standard reporting requirements set out under section 32A of the Public Finance Act?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: That is a ridiculous question, because no money has been handed out. The agency concerned is in discussions with Treasury and the Ministry of Pacific Island Affairs. I would have thought that the Labour Party would be pleased that the Government is paying attention to the plight of young Pacific people and that it is determined to take action to improve their prospects.
Hon Phil Goff: Why did he tell the
New Zealand Herald that Mrs te Heuheu “went too far” in stating that the money was for the Pacific Economic Development Agency and that the money referred to was a general allocation for Pacific development, when the Budget document states specifically and explicitly that this money is allocated to the Pacific Economic Development Agency?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: First of all, I did not speak to the
New Zealand Herald. I advise the members of two things: one is that the money is described in a number of different ways in the Budget documentation; the second is that no money goes out until a satisfactory contract is negotiated. I would have thought that the Labour Party would be pleased that the Government is taking action to help those who are probably New Zealand’s most disadvantaged group: young, unskilled Pacific Islanders with no jobs.
Hon Phil Goff: I seek leave to table a summary of service providers for non-departmental outputs that states explicitly that the Pacific Economic Development Agency is handed its money. That is from the Budget documents, on page 186 of the Information Supporting the Estimates.
Mr SPEAKER: I do not think we should be seeking leave to table documents from the Budget, because the Budget is freely available to every member.
Hon Phil Goff: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I understand that in normal circumstances a member would not seek leave to table something that is in the Budget, but since the Minister is clearly unaware of that fact, I think it is pertinent to the debate.
Mr SPEAKER: It is just not reasonable to waste the time of the House on putting the seeking of leave to table documents that have been made available to the House in just the last few weeks. It does not impede the member’s ability to use the bit from the Budget; I am sure he will make sure that the media has plenty of access to the page he is interested in. It does not need to be tabled in this House; it is already available to the House.
Hon Phil Goff: Why does the Minister not simply come clean and acknowledge that he, rather than Mrs te Heuheu, negotiated this deal, and that it was done without the normal standards of transparency, accountability, and due diligence that should have been followed before he included the commitment to a specific untested agency in the Budget?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: Because that is simply not correct. The Government will not allow party politics and conspiracy theories to get in the way of using that money to help people whom the Labour Party has clearly given up caring about: Pacific Island youth who have no jobs and no skills. Labour spent all of last year saying the Government was not doing enough; now it says we are doing too much.
Mr SPEAKER: I allowed that exchange to carry on for a while, because members on both sides of the House had made comments that were not particularly helpful, but the noise level is just too high altogether.
Hon Phil Goff: In addition to the witch-hunt that has been launched to find out who leaked the report of the Ministry of Pacific Island Affairs that has not been released, did his office at any time contact the Pacific radio station 531pi with regard to journalist Efeso Collins, who was suspended from that station for challenging the deal that he entered into with the Pacific Economic Development Agency?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: No, because we have been so busy working out how to help young Pacific Islanders with no jobs and no skills. We have not lost 10 minutes on that kind of politicking.
Hon Phil Goff: Was J R Pereira, or anyone associated with the Pacific Economic Development Agency with whom the Minister discussed this deal, active in any way in the National Party election campaigns of 2005 and 2008?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: I have no idea, because I never met the man before some time in 2009. When this Government is dealing with the Pasifika community, we know that we are dealing with a community that overwhelmingly supports the Labour Party. So probably many of the people I have been speaking to were active in the Labour Party campaign in 2008.
Hon Phil Goff: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. [Interruption] Have you finished, Gerry?
Mr SPEAKER: The member will resume his seat. Members can see the disorder that occurs when members do not obey the rules. I apologise to the honourable member.
Hon Phil Goff: That was a very specific question. It could have been given a yes or no answer. It asked whether J R Pereira or any individual associated with the deal was
also associated with the National Party campaigns of those years. That question was not addressed or answered.
Mr SPEAKER: I heard the Minister clearly say that he did not know, and that he had not met the person until—I think he said in his answer—September 2009. He said he did not know, and that is a perfectly fair answer. If the member wishes to challenge that in the future, that is fine, but that is the answer that the Minister gave to the House today.
Hon Phil Goff: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. He said that in relation to Mr J R Pereira. My question related to Mr Pereira or any other individual; the Minister did not answer that.
Mr SPEAKER: He has to answer only one part.
Hon Phil Goff: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. With respect, the question is one part. It asked whether that gentleman or any other was associated with the National Party campaign, so that is one question.
Mr SPEAKER: I accept the fundamental point that the member is making: it is basically one question that he is asking. I ask the Minister whether he has any further information on that part of it.
Hon Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I think you need to be a little careful here, because you will be requiring a Minister to answer a question about an area for which he has no ministerial responsibility. He has given a perfectly plausible answer. It is obvious what the situation is here. The Minister has no ministerial responsibility for the National Party campaign, any more than Phil Goff has for the Labour Party campaign, which last time was an abject disaster.
Mr SPEAKER: The point the member has raised is very interesting. I will hear the Hon Trevor Mallard before I rule on it.
Hon Trevor Mallard: If you go back to the original question, it was very carefully phrased, and that was whether the Minister had met with, as part of those discussions, Mr Pereira or others—that is, the discussions around funding. He then asked whether they were people the Minister had met with previously. It is a question of when he first met with the individuals: was it part of the Pacific Economic Development Agency funding, or was it when they were campaigning for the National Party?
Mr SPEAKER: The interesting point, though, that has been raised by the Hon Gerry Brownlee is whether the Minister has any responsibility for whether they were involved in anything to do with the National Party. I have to confess that is a very good point. The member is perfectly at liberty to question the Minister about discussions with them, about what decisions were made, and all that kind of thing. But the Minister is not remotely responsible for whether they were involved with the National Party. That is the dilemma I have. I will hear the honourable Leader of the Opposition, briefly.
Hon Phil Goff: I just wonder whether you could give consideration to that ruling, because clearly when an Opposition is holding a Government to account, it needs to know what the motives might have been for acting in an unusual and different way. One of the motives might have been that there was some association: it might have been personal or it might have been political. I submit to you that that is a proper issue on which a Government should be able to be held to account, if we are to have transparency around these sorts of decisions.
Mr SPEAKER: I hear the honourable member, and I do not want to be difficult in this. But if he thinks back to the previous Parliament, he will remember a number of questions revolved around the role of the Prime Minister as leader of the Labour Party versus her role as Prime Minister, and the House spent some time teasing those issues out. I am loath to go back and muddy the waters. I feel that the Minister, in his first answer to the question, did not refuse to answer it; he said he just did not know. I think
that is a reflection of the fact that a Minister is not responsible for who is involved with the National Party. I understand the dilemma the member is getting at, but I do not want to go back to muddying the waters by allowing members to be able to question Ministers about their party affairs, because the House has teased out those issues before. I will give it more thought. At this moment I intend to rule in favour of the point of order of the Hon Gerry Brownlee that I should not be asking the Minister to answer any further on a matter to do with the National Party that is not this Minister’s responsibility as a Minister. However, I will take advice on the matter, and if I have erred in this ruling I will come back to the House on the matter.
Hon Phil Goff: Can I rephrase the question?
Mr SPEAKER: I do not think I can quite allow that, on this occasion.