Order Paper and questions

Questions for oral answer

3. Ministers—Compliance with Cabinet Manual

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3. Hon PHIL GOFF (Leader of the Opposition) to the Prime Minister: Does he believe that all his Ministers have met the requirement of the Cabinet Manual to behave in a way that upholds, and is seen to uphold, the highest ethical standards in their ministerial capacity, their political capacity and their personal capacity; if so, why?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY (Prime Minister) : Yes, because as far as I am aware they have.

Hon Phil Goff: Does he believe that his Minister Rodney Hide upheld the highest ethical standards in his personal and in his political capacities when he did not disclose but covered up his law and order spokesperson’s criminal act in stealing the identity of a dead child?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Firstly, I am not responsible for either the selection of candidates or the background of candidates in partners that the Government has a confidence and supply agreement with. Nor would there be any reason for me to question the backgrounds of those members. In no time prior to the public statement made in this House by David Garrett had I ever had a discussion with Rodney Hide about that issue. Therefore he could not have misled me, because he did not.

Hon Phil Goff: What has he done to hold Mr Hide, his Minister, accountable for his failure to meet what most New Zealanders would regard as an ethical standard, given the Cabinet Manual requirement that Ministers are accountable to the Prime Minister for their actions in a personal and a political capacity?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I think it is important here to understand the difference between judgment and ethical behaviour. The Cabinet Manual clearly states that Ministers are responsible to me for their ethical behaviour, not for their judgment.

Hon Phil Goff: What does the Prime Minister have to say about accountability for good judgment and high standards to the mother of the dead baby, who says that she has suffered huge stress and anxiety as a result of this criminal action, yet she still sees Mr Hide drawing a ministerial salary and the Prime Minister getting right in behind him and supporting him?

Mr SPEAKER: Although I have stressed today that questions to Ministers can be quite wide in relation to the wider responsibility of Ministers for public affairs, that question, which referred to matters relating to someone totally unconnected with Parliament, would need rewording to bring it within the Standing Orders. I do not believe that the Prime Minister can be answerable for how another person might feel about something. I do not want the member to lose a supplementary question; I invite him to reword his question.

Hon Phil Goff: Has the Prime Minister seen reports about the distress suffered by the mother of the dead baby caused by the criminal act of her child’s identity being stolen and the involvement of a member of Parliament, supported by his leader who covered up that story, and how does he think that she feels about that?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Mr Speaker—

Mr SPEAKER: If the Prime Minister is happy to answer the question I am happy for him to do so, but I stress that the Prime Minister is not answerable at all for how a person outside this Parliament might feel about something.

Hon Darren Hughes: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I want to make just a brief contribution to say that the style of questioning that the Leader of the Opposition used was identical to the one used by Rodney Hide yesterday when he asked whether the Prime Minister had seen reports that related to Mr Goff. When you listen to the wording used by Mr Goff, I think you will find that it was in order for a question that was asked yesterday.

Mr SPEAKER: We do not need to take more time on a point of order like that. I invite the member to go back and have a look at the Hansard of the Hon Rodney Hide yesterday. It was a somewhat different situation as it referred to a report he had written to the Prime Minister himself, and the Prime Minister answered in relation to that report. The first part of the Leader of the Opposition’s question seemed fine. He asked whether the Prime Minister had seen a certain report. That is fine. But then the question asked how he thought someone outside Parliament, totally disconnected from this place, might feel. I do not want to prevent the Prime Minister from answering a question should he wish to do so, but I cannot ask him to answer the question given the way last part of it was worded. I am in some difficulty here. I am prepared to give the honourable Leader of the Opposition a third go at this because I do not want him to lose a supplementary question, but the Prime Minister is clearly not answerable for how someone—[Interruption]; I am on my feet—outside of this place might feel about something.

Hon Phil Goff: Has the Prime Minister seen reports about the distress suffered by the mother of the dead child whose identity was stolen, and is he prepared to relieve that distress by holding the person accountable who covered up the theft of that child’s identity?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Yes, I have seen reports. That is why I think Mr Garrett’s behaviour was unacceptable—

Hon Darren Hughes: What about the Minister?

Hon Clayton Cosgrove: What about the guy who covered it up?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Let me finish. That is why I believe it is wholly appropriate that Mr Garrett should resign from Parliament. As to the latter point, I am not responsible for whom political parties select as their candidates. I simply make this one point: the Cabinet Manual clearly says that in all these roles and at all times Ministers are expected to act lawfully. I make the point that this matter was covered by a suppression order.

Hon Phil Goff: I seek leave to table the relevant part of the Cabinet Manual because it not only requires the Prime Minister to be accountable for lawful behaviour but also—

Mr SPEAKER: The member cannot add that last bit. Leave has been sought to table part of the Cabinet Manual. I accept that it is not readily available to all members. Is there any objection to that? There is no objection.

  • Document, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.

Hon Phil Goff: When the Prime Minister said yesterday that Mr Hide had complied in every respect with the high standards that he had set, was he confusing high standards with double standards?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: No, and I can say about Mr Hide that as a Minister he has conducted his affairs in his portfolio to a high standard, and that in all of my dealings with him as a Minister he has been honest and trustworthy with me.

Hon Phil Goff: The Prime Minister says that Mr Hide has conducted his ministerial capacities to a high standard, so does he also agree that Mr Hide has conducted his personal and his political capacities to that same high standard, for which the Prime Minister is also accountable?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Mr Hide has carried out his affairs in a personal and private capacity to a high ethical standard. But I am not responsible for whom he might hire as an MP.

Hon Phil Goff: Does the Prime Minister accept that he is the only person in the country who believes what he has just said?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: No.

Hon Rodney Hide: Would the Prime Minister consider it acceptable in his interpretation, as Prime Minister, of the Cabinet Manual for a Minister to sign a painting that the Minister had not painted, and then to arrange to have the evidence of that painting destroyed before it could be investigated?

Hon Darren Hughes: Point of order—

Mr SPEAKER: I say to both sides of the House: this carry-on during a point of order will cease immediately. A fair question was asked; a point of order has been called. I want to hear what this point of order is about.

Hon Darren Hughes: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. My point of order is that the question that is being asked by Rodney Hide is not only hypothetical but about a third person who is not in Parliament. You have previously ruled that there cannot be questions put to the Prime Minister about—

Mr SPEAKER: The member has jumped to conclusions. I never heard any member or person named. It was hypothetical, indeed, and hypothetical questions are allowed.

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: No, I would not think that that would meet the standards of the Cabinet Manual, and I think that raises a very interesting point about when a member or a Minister is acting as a Minister, as opposed to when a Minister is acting as a member of—

Mr SPEAKER: I apologise to the Prime Minister. The Labour front bench may not like the answer the Prime Minister is giving. The deputy leader of the Labour Party will not interject while I am on my feet if she wishes to stay in the Chamber. The members may not like the answer the Prime Minister is giving, but he has a right to give an answer to what was a perfectly fair question within the terms of the Standing Orders. I could not hear the answer; I could not hear it at all, and I must, as Speaker, be able to hear the answer. The right honourable Prime Minister may carry on the part of the answer that I just could not hear, if he can determine what part that is.

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: The answer is no, and if the member wants to ask a question about other Ministers in the previous Labour Government who did not fit within that category of the Cabinet Manual, then this party will need to lend his party some supplementary questions, because he will not have enough to ask them individually.