Hansard and Journals
Governor-General Bill — First Reading
Hon JOHN KEY (Prime Minister) : I move, That the Governor-General Bill be now read a first time. At the appropriate time I will move that the Governor-General Bill be considered by the Government Administration Committee, that the committee report finally to the House on or before 14 September 2010, and that the committee have the authority to meet at any time while the House is sitting, except during oral questions, and during any evening on a day on which there has been a sitting of the House, and on a Friday in a week in which there has been a sitting of the House, despite Standing Orders 187 and 190(1)(b) and (c).
The Governor-General Bill is important, timely legislation. The Governor-General plays an important role in our constitution. As the Sovereign’s representative in New Zealand, the Governor-General helps maintain the legitimacy and continuity of Government. The office of Governor-General is a symbolic link between the community and the State, and the Governor-General also represents the New Zealand public in a non-partisan way on important public occasions. New Zealand Governors-General always support many community organisations. It is vital that the office of Governor-General is properly supported in carrying out these roles.
For much of our history, Governors and then Governors-General came from overseas. The office of Governor-General is now fully a New Zealand institution, but the Act that provides for the support of that office, the Civil List Act 1979, is outdated and no longer fit for purpose. As a result, in 2007 the previous Government asked the Law Commission, under Sir Geoffrey Palmer’s leadership, to review the Act. The Law Commission found that the Governor-General provisions in the Civil List Act were old-fashioned, unnecessarily complicated, and no longer suited to supporting the office of a modern Governor-General. The Law Commission recommended a range of reforms to that part of the Act. The Government this year has agreed with the Law Commission’s recommendations, and will implement them in time for the next Governor-General to assume office in August 2011. The new legislation will not, save for one or two exceptions, apply to the incumbent Governor-General but will apply when the next Governor-General is appointed.
The main purpose of the bill is to streamline the financial arrangements for the support of the office of Governor-General, promote transparency, and ensure that they are simpler to administer than the present regime. The bill will also modernise the old-fashioned language found in the Governor-General parts of the Civil List Act. As a modern, stand-alone statute, it will separate the arrangements relating to the Governor-General from those providing for Ministers and MPs, and will therefore better reflect existing constitutional boundaries, as well as the mana and independence of the office.
A key feature of the bill is that it creates a new funding structure for the office of Governor-General. The Governor-General’s personal allowance presently pays for a range of official functions that are much more properly supported by a separate programme appropriation. The bill provides for that separate appropriation. Similarly, funds for international travel, which the Governor-General undertakes at the Government’s request, are provided for in a new international travel appropriation. Domestic travel will form part of the programme appropriation.
The present exemption of the Governor-General’s salary from income tax will be removed. There is no longer any justification for this exemption, and successive Governors-General have requested that it be discontinued. The Queen has voluntarily paid income tax on her private income since 1993. The Australian Governor-General and state governors have paid income tax on their salaries since 2001. Another anachronism that will be removed is the Minister of Finance’s power to exempt the Governor-General from paying any public or local taxes, and any other rates and duties. This power came from an age when our Governors-General typically came from Britain, and is no longer relevant to supporting modern, New Zealand Governors-General.
The bill will also remove certain outdated restrictions on the availability of the annuity paid to former Governors-General and their surviving spouses or partners. The annuity recognises the significant role played by a Governor-General’s spouse or partner in supporting the office holder. Compared with the present regime, the annuity will continue to be available if a surviving spouse or partner remarries or enters a new relationship, or if a former Governor-General or his or her surviving spouse or partner chooses to live overseas. The bill will carry over from the Civil List Act provisions allowing the Government to provide specified benefits and privileges to former Governors-General. In practice, such benefits are limited to domestic travel and the use of chauffeur-driven cars. The provision of these benefits recognises that the public demands on a former Governor-General’s time may continue after he or she leaves office. Similar provisions exist for former Prime Ministers. The bill will further enhance transparency by requiring the Government to present to the House on an annual basis the details of the expenses incurred to provide such benefits.
Overall, the bill represents a big step forward in how the Government supports the office of the Governor-General. I would like to extend my thanks to the Law Commission, to the previous Government, and to the leaders of those parties in this House that have indicated to me that they will support this bill.
Hon DARREN HUGHES (Labour) : As the Prime Minister has indicated, the Governor-General Bill enjoys a lot of support around the House. The Labour Opposition will be voting for its first reading this afternoon. The Prime Minister has indicated that this legislation is intended to act as a stand-alone legislative framework for the office of Governor-General, which recognises the very important role that the position holds in New Zealand’s unwritten constitution. The modernisation of the salary arrangement and increased transparency of funding is an entirely appropriate way for that high office to be treated, and the legislation that is now before the House should be considered in light of the gradual modernisation that New Zealand is taking with regard to its constitutional evolution.
As Mr Key mentioned, this legislation is the result of a recommendation of the Law Commission. The work of the Law Commission was set up by the previous Labour Government, and its recommendation came at the end of last year. The Minister of Justice, Mr Power, has ensured that the recommendation of the Law Commission was turned into a nice tidy bill for the Prime Minister to use, because the Prime Minister is always so busy doing many other things and bouncing from cloud to cloud that there would not be time for him to come up with legislation like this if it was not for the workhorse of the Government, the Minister of Justice. In that respect I note that when Prime Ministers occasionally change position and abandon previously strongly held positions, often it is the workhorse of the Cabinet who steps into their shoes. We saw that in the Australian example just recently, so if I were Mr Key, I would be looking, Rudd-like, at Mr Power when it comes to any matter about the changing of any constitutional position whatsoever.
In a way, this legislation has been preceded by similar legislation in other Commonwealth countries. Her Majesty the Queen has paid income tax since 1993—for quite a significant period. In fact, the change was probably made in the period when Mr Key was in the United Kingdom for the many, many years that he lived offshore. In that time, no doubt, he acted as a financial adviser to the Queen, because he is able to write himself into almost every single story that has ever happened. He probably told the Queen to kick a few tyres on her financial affairs and to mine the depths of the Chancellor of the Exchequer in order that those investments could be realised.
Hon John Key: You don’t know how close to the mark you are.
Hon DARREN HUGHES: He claims that I am close to the mark, but we know that the claims of the Prime Minister could mean anything. Today he is telling us that he advised the Queen on her financial affairs; by tomorrow he will be saying “Elizabeth who?”. I am very close to transgressing the Standing Orders by invoking the Sovereign, and I will pull back from that. I am sorry; I correct myself on that. It is the inconsistency of Mr Key’s position that acts as such a distraction from the Standing Orders and the Speakers’ rulings. Who, indeed, would know?
In Australia since 2001 it has been a practice of the Governor-General to pay income tax. So the measure in this bill is not a bold deviation from what occurs in other countries. This is not quite the step change that we associate the Key-led Government with, in terms of any change that it makes. But this could be the economic transformation that this country needs. Now, with every other idea knocked over, this country will be transformed by the addition of one taxpayer: the Governor-General of New Zealand. Mr Key has charged into the House of Representatives today with a new bold plan: the Governor-General will pay tax, and our country will never be the same again as a result of this additional taxpayer making a contribution to the Inland Revenue Department. I think that is probably as close to a step change as we are to get in order to turbocharge the economy. In fact, if I recall it correctly, during the Speech from the Throne His Excellency was forced to use the words “turbocharge the New Zealand economy”.
I ask members to remember the summer of late 2008 and early 2009, when the office of Prime Minister was such an easy job to do, and people hung on every word and laughed at every joke. It was an easy job in those days, but it was much different from that at question time today, when any little interjection on the Prime Minister caused him to stop dead in his tracks and look over in a sort of pouting way at the Opposition, as if to say this was not fair and this used to be his stage, where he got to say whatever he wanted. The problem for the Prime Minister is that things keep adding up. The cycleway was to transform the economy, and we were to become the financial hub for China and for all the financial agencies in the world. We were to have a party central that would change all of Auckland and our tourism strategy all around the world. Of course, that measure went through every possible iteration before we found out that the Auckland Regional Council’s position, which was said to be dreadful at the beginning of last week, was a good idea by the end of the week.
All of the things that come along for consideration as a step change to the economy never seem to end up going anywhere. National members talk big at the beginning of the process, but by the end the idea whimpers out. Today zero hectares of schedule 4 land will be available for mining, but in February, just half a year ago, making that land available was said to be the sort of thing that New Zealand needed to do. Notwithstanding public comment, the Prime Minister was going to be bold in his advice to the Governor-General on matters of legislation. He was going to be so bold that public comment would not matter. The problem is that the statement that the Prime Minister makes to Parliament is meant to last for an entire year. That one did not even last for 6 months—two quarters of a year—before the policy had gone.
I return to the first reading of this bill. We do support this legislation. We think it is a very good idea to review the Civil List Act 1979, which is not necessarily widely known about in the country. Although many items referring to the Civil List have been brought to our attention more recently, this recommendation came through in 2009. It ought to be supported. The office of Governor-General is an important one constitutionally. It has been held by some extremely distinguished New Zealanders, who have served our country well. I note that the present Governor-General—although we do not bring him into the debate, obviously—is in support of these measures as well, and I think it is important to put that on the record of the House. The Prime Minister has gone through the other technical aspects of the bill, which are not worth canvassing again, but I say there will be support from the Labour Opposition to send this bill to a select committee. We are keen for this debate to be short, because we do not want the Government’s position to change by the conclusion of the debate. Therefore, I think the best thing that we can do is to hurry up and pass the bill’s first reading.
AMY ADAMS (National—Selwyn) : It is a great pleasure to rise to speak to the Governor-General Bill, and unlike the previous member who has just resumed his seat, Darren Hughes, I do not intend to waste the bulk of my contribution rubbishing the importance of the Governor-General’s position or the necessity for this bill. In fact, it is odd that Mr Hughes spent so much time ridiculing the need for this bill when, as he knows, it was the previous Labour Government that called for the Law Commission to investigate the relevancy and the appropriateness of that piece of the Civil List Act. As we have heard from the Prime Minister, the Law Commission has now reported, and amongst its recommendations is that the position of Governor-General should be governed by a stand-alone piece of legislation, which I think is appropriate and takes the opportunity to modernise and update those provisions.
As Mr Hughes said, the Prime Minister has run through a number of technical provisions. One of the things that I think is worth touching on in the current context that we all find ourselves in is the issue of tidying up the transparency around the administration of a Governor-General’s position. It is not something, I admit, that I was aware of until I looked into this bill, but up until now the office of the Governor-General was paying for many of its official duties through what was loosely termed the Governor-General’s personal allowance. In the environment we find ourselves in, with intense scrutiny of spending of taxpayer funds—and appropriately so, in my view—I think it is important that we carve out from those allowances matters such as the holding of official functions, and international travel that is undertaken at the behest of the Government. It is important that we ensure that that sort of funding is separately appropriated.
In addition to clarifying that spending through the Governor-General’s office, we will also see, as part of the drive towards transparency, under this bill an annual report to this House of the Governor-General’s expenses. As I say, in the environment that we have—in particular the media and public interest in, and the scrutiny of, spending—I think that that is a good thing. It is certainly the direction that this House has been moving in, in general. I know that Governors-General will welcome that, as they have called for and are welcoming the removal of the income tax exemption.
I wanted to comment that it is not just income tax that Governors-General up until now have been potentially exempt from. The legislation provided a power to exempt Governors-General from any local tax, rates, fees, levies, and the like. That harks back to the day when Governors-General were appointed from Britain and were generally British residents, so it was not then appropriate for them to pay taxes. But we have moved on considerably in the 160 years since our first Governor. We have moved on from the days of William Hobson. The Statute of Westminster in 1931 meant that Governors-General were simply the Queen’s, the monarch’s, representative here; they no longer represented the British Government. Since 1967 we have had New Zealand - born Governors-General, which was a step in the right direction. It is certainly one that I think everyone would endorse.
Now it is appropriate that the highest office-holder in the land is subject to income tax and all other taxes and charges that every New Zealander pays and contributes to the running of this country. I support that. I also support—as a matter of wrapping up my contribution—tidying up the rules around the payment of the annuity to a surviving spouse of a deceased Governor-General. It was not appropriate in this modern environment that that should be subject to restrictions such as not being able to remarry or to move overseas. The spouses of Governors-General play an important role. I think they are widely recognised for the work they do. The current spouse is certainly in that position, as others have been. There will be widespread support for ensuring that their annuity is not subject to some sort of anachronistic restriction of not being able to remarry, and the like. I think the bill is timely, and it is worthwhile. I am pleased to be able to commend it to the House.
PHIL TWYFORD (Labour) : As my colleague Darren Hughes has said, Labour is supporting the Governor-General Bill at its first reading. This legislation, as has been pointed out, sets up a stand-alone legislative framework for the office of Governor-General. It is an acknowledgement of the important role the office plays in our constitution, and it acknowledges that it is time to modernise the arrangements to do with salary and the funding of the Governor-General’s programme of activities.
It is Labour’s position that it is no longer appropriate for the Governor-General to be exempt from paying tax. It is an anachronism that that situation has continued to this day. We believe that it is time to modernise all the arrangements to do with the Governor-General’s office, and these clearer funding arrangements are certainly an important first step.
We will support this bill’s referral to a select committee, and we look forward to a debate there about New Zealand’s constitutional arrangements. It must be said that the Governor-General is the most important figure in our constitution—he or she is at the apex of our constitution—and this is a great opportunity to discuss the arrangements surrounding that office.
The bill does not make any sweeping changes; it is simply about a gradual modernisation of the arrangements supporting the Governor-General’s office. But I think there is some important symbolism to do with the Governor-General paying tax. The values of responsibility and equality of opportunity are core Labour values and core New Zealand values. We strongly support the removal of the tax exemption as an important symbol of that fundamental equality.
The Law Commission has made a number of recommendations on this bill, which we support. One of them concerns the definition of “family”, which has never been set out clearly in legislation until now. The salary rate will be set by the Remuneration Authority. It cannot be reduced during the Governor-General’s term of office. There is provision in clause 7 for a sum to be payable at the conclusion of a Governor-General’s term.
When we put all these provisions together we find that the employment package for the Governor-General is very satisfactory, and that is as it should be. In fact, the payment of a lump-sum equivalent to the gross salary for the last 6 months of office is really a kind of redundancy payment. It is not really redundancy; the position is not being abolished. But it is good to see members on the other side of the House supporting something that is in substance very much like a redundancy payment. I call on them to extend the same kind of generosity and logic to other New Zealanders. Until this time, we have not seen that kind of generosity of spirit from members on the other side of the House.
There is much in the current arrangements that is anachronistic and overdue for an overhaul. In the current legislation, the Governor-General is entitled to a trip by sailboat from Britain to New Zealand at the beginning of his or her term—[Interruption]. Unbelievable, yes. It is good that we are getting rid of that provision. It is timely, and in fact it leads one to wonder whether this is the step change that we have all been waiting for. Looking for the step change is a bit like playing a game of Where’s Wally? with this Government. Where is the step change?
We wondered for about 2 minutes whether the Prime Minister’s cycleway would be the step change, but that is clearly not the case. We hoped that Gerry Brownlee would unleash a wave of economic development by mining our national parks, but that is clearly not the case. We are left wondering whether this measure is, in fact, the step change—whether this could be the Holy Grail of this Government’s economic development plan.
Other provisions in the bill include providing for an annuity for a former Governor-General after he or she has left office, an annuity for a former Governor-General’s spouse, setting up a permanent legislative authority for the funding of the Governor-General’s programme—that is, taking it out of Vote Prime Minister and Cabinet—and amendments to the Civil List Act and the Income Tax Act.
Labour does not have a firm view about republicanism, and I mention that now because any discussion about the arrangements for the Governor-General’s office deserve some discussion about the future structure and status of our head of State. We are, however, of the view that now is the time for New Zealand and this House to have a debate about our future constitutional arrangements. It is not time to progress immediately to establishing a republic. There are conversations that we need as a country to have.
It is clear from earlier discussions about Keith Locke’s bill that there needs to be discussion about the future status of the Treaty, the reserve powers of the head of State, and whether the head of State should be elected or appointed. Labour does not have a firm view about those things, but we think it is inevitable that one day New Zealand will become a republic. It is time now for us to have this debate. I think it is a shame that this bill is not a bit more ambitious in opening up a conversation on some of those matters. It is my personal view that it is time for us not only to have a debate about the way we appoint or elect our head of State but to really explore the possibilities for electing our Governor-General.
As I said, it is an incredibly important role. The Governor-General has the ability to appoint and fire Governments, Prime Ministers, and their Cabinets. The Governor-General can call an early general election, and can potentially refuse the Royal assent—that is, the signing of a bill, passed by this Parliament, into law. That position is so important that I believe the position should be fully accountable, and I think it would be worthwhile for this House and our country to have a debate about whether that office should be elected. It would not be the same as becoming a republic. In fact many other countries, including Ireland, elect a Governor-General who has a package of powers that is similar to those our Governor-General has currently. Other members of the Commonwealth elect their Governors-General.
The Hon Peter Dunne, the leader of United Future, was preparing a member’s bill and was very disappointed that this National Government chose not to support it. I quote him: “There is an inconsistency bordering on full-blown Nanny Statism” in the Government’s refusal to allow that debate to happen. He states: “National seems quite happy to let people have their say on the electoral system—although even then it is reserving the right to itself to change the MMP system in the future, even if people vote to retain it—and to do deals with the Māori Party to retain the Māori seats, under the guise of constitutional reform, but will not give New Zealanders a say on the most constitutional issue of all—how our Head of State is chosen.” I want to associate myself with those words.
If we were to consider the idea of electing the Governor-General, it would simply require an amendment to the Constitution Act of 1986, and it would be advisable that more than a simple majority—probably a majority of three-quarters or two-thirds—be required in order to pass it. As I said, Ireland does this. It elects its President at large, and that office has a very, very similar package of powers to those exercised by our Governor-General currently.
The idea is not so radical. In fact, it was proposed by Governor George Grey twice—once when he was the Governor and once when he was the Premier, in the drafting of the New Zealand constitution in 1856. The British Colonial Office vetoed it. It did not want that to happen. It did not like the idea, because it meant it would not be able to control who became the Governor. In fact George Grey tried again in a member’s bill to this Parliament, which was defeated in 1857. One hundred and nine years later, commentator and journalist Colin James made a very similar suggestion that we consider electing the Governor-General. I reiterate Labour’s view—
The ASSISTANT SPEAKER (Hon Rick Barker): I regret to advise the member that his time has expired.
Hon RODNEY HIDE (Leader—ACT) : I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I was so wrapped up in that speech that I am sure if the member sought leave to have a further speech, the House would grant it, because it was so riveting.
The ASSISTANT SPEAKER (Hon Rick Barker): That is not a point of order. A member cannot seek leave on behalf of another member.
KEITH LOCKE (Green) : The Greens will support the Governor-General Bill. As other speakers have said, it represents a step forward, a modernisation beyond the practices of the colonial era. The fact that the Governor-General did not previously have to pay tax relates to the nature of rule by a monarchy. We have moved in the United Kingdom and New Zealand towards a constitutional monarchy over the years, but despite that the aspects of the monarchy in the United Kingdom that were carried over meant that the Governor-General retained certain privileges above other citizens, one of those being not having to pay any tax. Of course, in the United Kingdom the monarch has substantial wealth and properties, in addition.
The carry-over to New Zealand was partly driven by the fact that the Governor-General, for many decades, was not a citizen of New Zealand but a British person appointed by the Queen or King of the day. Since 1972 Governors-General have been New Zealand residents, which I think gives impetus to this progressive change to a more transparent and just system. The Remuneration Authority will determine the Governor-General’s remuneration, and the remuneration itself will be taxed. It is hard to avoid this change: the Queen herself decided to pay tax from 1993 on, and tax has been paid by the Governor-General in Australia for some time, too.
The Green Party believes that there is still a carry-over of unnecessary privileges in the Governor-General’s role, and I think this is shown in the annuity payment, which will probably be quite substantial if the parallel in Australia is anything to go by. In Australia former Governors-General are paid 60 percent of the Chief Justice’s salary, which is a huge amount. As has been pointed out, there is already in this bill, and rightly so, a “redundancy pay” provision for 6 months. That provision really should suffice. If there are ongoing responsibilities for former Governors-General, they should be given costs. If they have to come to a State dinner or something like that as a former Governor-General, they could be paid the costs of that dinner—the travel, time, expenses, and all the rest of it. They do not need an annuity for the rest of their lives. We in this House are moving away from giving perks to former members of Parliament; the pension perk and the travel perk have been taken away from us, and rightly so. I think that should apply to people at all levels, including the Governor-General.
A very strange clause in the bill provides that former Governors-General will get domestic travel expenses paid and “the use of chauffeured cars”. I think that provision is a bit over the top, and reflects the old rule of the monarchy—a carry-over to the present day. It should not be there. That matter can be addressed at the select committee.
Another matter, which Phil Twyford referred to, is how we appoint and dismiss Governors-General. It is the Green Party’s belief that there should be a democratic process; we agree with Phil Twyford. At the moment the Governor-General is appointed by the monarch on the recommendation of the Government of the day, and can be dismissed on the recommendation of the Government of the day, which gives the Government of the day too much power over that role. We have seen in the past politically partisan appointments, like a National Government appointing Sir Keith Holyoake, a former Prime Minister, as Governor-General. That is the most obvious example. We want to avoid that. I think if Parliament itself appointed the Governor-General, or at least recommended to the Queen the appointment of the Governor-General, that would be a step forward. At least we can make this minimal change, although I see that Phil Twyford is actually proposing that we elect the Governor-General as such, perhaps without reference to the Queen, which, of course, as a republican I support. It has been proposed by the Republican Movement of Aotearoa; in fact, it has proposed an amendment to the current bill, which will, no doubt, be contained in a submission from the movement to the select committee after the vote on the first reading, which I am sure will pass today. Effectively, that amendment is to insert another clause on the appointment and dismissal of the Governor-General—that is, that the recommendation to the Queen should be endorsed by 75 percent of the members of Parliament. That is not a big change from the present situation, but it is important in that the Governor-General in that situation will have much more of the authority of the House and of the people of New Zealand, and be more representative in a non-partisan way of the people of New Zealand. That would be an important step change.
The amendment also talks about a term of 5 years and the dismissal procedure—that the Governor-General cannot be dismissed without a vote of 75 percent of the House. That would be a step forward from the present situation, where at any time the Government of the day can say to the Queen that she is acting on its advice, and it wants her to dismiss the Governor-General. I think members can see the importance of that when they look at some of the stand-offs there have been in countries like Canada, most recently, and Australia. In the Australian situation the Gough Whitlam Government was effectively sacked by the Governor-General. It was a rapid-draw situation. Governor Kerr, as he was at the time, drew the gun first and recommended to the Queen the sacking of Gough Whitlam; if Gough Whitlam had acted first and recommended to the Queen the dismissal of the Governor-General, it might have turned out somewhat differently. To avoid that situation we want a Governor-General who has the support of the Parliament as a whole and the whole nation, and is not acting in a politically partisan way.
Certainly, it is important that all these constitutional questions are raised in the select committee discussion on this bill. I support what my colleague Phil Twyford has said in that regard. There is a strong movement towards constitutional change; it is a great pity that my member’s bill did not get to a select committee, even though there seemed to be a majority of members in the House supporting it. The vote tended in many cases to be more along party lines, which prevented the bill going to a select committee. This bill will provide a venue for discussion of some of those questions. Phil Twyford mentioned amending the Constitution Act. Various changes that flow out of what is proposed in this bill could be made. But certainly we want to get away from that whole history of the monarchy and the Governor-General as a matter just for pomp and ceremony, and not really a part of our democratic tradition.
I think the cost of maintaining the Governor-General is about $6 million or $7 million a year. With tax being required of the Governor-General, perhaps we will get a bit more back. I do not know whether it will be enough to pay for what has been announced over these last few days: the extra doctors’ visits as a result of the Government saying to employers that they can get people to rush along to the doctor and get a medical certificate for only 1 day’s absence. I am sure that if this proposal goes through and is not stopped by Parliament, as a result doctors will go to the Government and say that they want extra money for all the people coming through their doors unnecessarily. It is only making them sicker. People are off for 1 day with a migraine, they come along unnecessarily—
Darien Fenton: For an hour.
KEITH LOCKE: Yes. They have to wait in the waiting room, get sicker, cost the taxpayer more money, and cost the employer more money. I think that is where the problem lies. I do not think the extra money we will get out of the Governor-General by way of tax will fully cover that cost. The Greens support this bill. It goes towards us being more of a modern, 21st century nation.
RAHUI KATENE (Māori Party—Te Tai Tonga) : I find it ironic that I am standing here today to support the Governor-General Bill, a bill that requires somebody to pay tax, when tomorrow I will be standing and getting support, I am hoping, for my bill, which will remove GST from healthy food. But to look at the situation now, on Waitangi Day this year our present Governor-General stood on Ōnuku Marae, which was the first place in Te Wai Pounamu at which the Treaty of Waitangi was signed 170 years ago. While he was there this year he referred to the example set by Ngāi Tahu as being one that provides us with “a vision in which the Treaty is not a burden, but a beacon for all New Zealanders”. He explained what he meant by a beacon in these words: “Although it is right that we should continue to debate and learn from the past, we should not let that discussion stop us from focusing on the Treaty’s underlying promise of a partnership. Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
Sir Anand is not, of course, the only Governor-General who has issued such a challenge to this nation. The relationship between Governors-General and the Treaty has been intimately linked since the very birth of Te Tiriti o Waitangi. If we look at the Treaty of Waitangi, or at what is left of it or at facsimiles of it, we see that alongside about 40 signatures at Waitangi from the 540 chiefs who signed the Treaty is the signature of Governor William Hobson. When we look at any legislation such as this, which tinkers or tampers with the overriding brief for the Governor-General, we must as a matter of course look at it in the wider context. That context is firmly based in the constitution of this land.
We come to the House today to simplify the funding of the office of the Governor-General, and to bring the taxation treatment of the Governor-General’s salary into line with that in other Commonwealth countries. At a very rudimentary level, the bill determines that the Governor-General must be paid a salary at a rate determined from time to time by the Remuneration Authority and must not be reduced during his or her term of office. It would seem to us that this is an entirely reasonable expectation. In essence, this bill is a pragmatic response to the Law Commission’s report. It basically establishes that the Governor-General must be paid an allowance, at a rate fixed from time to time by Order in Council, for official expenses.
Although this is, no doubt, of great significance to those who administer the salary, and to those who receive the salary, it does appear to me that we are missing an opportunity for there to be an even more important debate about the very nature of the role of the Governor-General. Fortunately, the Māori Party believes that there is another opportunity for that debate to occur: through the process of the constitutional review that is set out in the coalition agreement signed in November 2008 between the National Party and ourselves. National agreed to the proposal for a group to be established to consider constitutional issues. This proposal relates to the Māori Party policy to establish a constitutional commission aimed at, among other things, drafting arrangements that give effect to the Treaty of Waitangi. Within that same framework we seek to appoint, as an Officer of Parliament, a parliamentary commissioner for the Treaty to proactively promote the Treaty’s commitment to partnership.
I come back to the bill. Perhaps the most contentious aspect of it is that in the Law Commission’s view it is no longer appropriate for the Governor-General’s salary to be exempt from income tax. Similarly, the commission advised that there is no longer sufficient justification for retaining a statutory power to exempt the Governor-General from paying any public or local tax, duty, rate, levy, or fee—and I bet he has been paying GST on healthy food, anyway.
Again, inevitably, I return to the connection between Te Tiriti o Waitangi and the Governor-General. I return to the period a quarter of a century ago when on the advice of the then Prime Minister, David Lange, Queen Elizabeth II appointed Sir Paul Reeves as the 16th Governor-General of New Zealand on 22 November 1985. As a member of the Puketapu hapū of Te Ātiawa of Taranaki, Sir Paul Reeves was the first Governor-General of Māori whakapapa. At the time many Māori groups welcomed the appointment, with Sir James Hēnare arguing: “It must be a fruit of the Treaty of Waitangi to see a person from our people.”
For Māori, the promise of the Treaty and the direct relationship with the Crown has always been given an immediate association by virtue of the person of the Governor-General, and his or her reporting role to the Queen. But although the Governor-General is obviously the representative of the Crown in this land, there is no question that the person should be one who knows New Zealand as his or her home, rather than some other country. So, we think it only appropriate that as a person of New Zealand, the Governor-General should also comply with New Zealand laws. Very simply, New Zealand’s laws require people and organisations to pay taxes. The Government uses these taxes to pay for Government expenditure, including public services in New Zealand such as education, hospitals and health care, roads, and welfare. Almost all New Zealanders make a contribution to these services through the taxes they are required to pay by law—but soon, hopefully, not from paying GST on healthy food. So we support the intention of this bill to ensure that a Governor-General would pay tax alongside any other New Zealander.
I return to the constitutional origins of this land, and to the period before the Treaty was signed. In 1839 the Colonial Secretary, Lord Normanby, in his instructions to Governor Hobson, recognised that Māori tribes held title to all land in New Zealand: “Maori title to the soil and to the Sovereignty of New Zealand is indisputable, and has been solemnly recognised by the British government”. The first two Governors acknowledged that the Treaty recognised Māori title to the whole of Aotearoa, and it was not until the late 1840s, with increasing pressure from settlers, that unoccupied land was classified as wasteland. These early beginnings of our Treaty partnership, and the guidance and directions of the Crown’s representative at that time, provide a very significant role in the formation and development of this nation. They are indeed at the roots of what it is to be a New Zealander. The payment of taxes, as is the case for all other New Zealanders, is but one part of consolidating the role of the Governor-General as being inherently and intrinsically part of the history of this land. The Māori Party is happy to support this bill.
- Bill read a first time.
Hon KATE WILKINSON (Minister of Labour) on behalf of the Prime Minister : I move, That the Governor-General Bill be considered by the Government Administration Committee, that the committee report finally to the House on or before 14 September 2010, and that the committee have authority to meet at any time while the House is sitting (except during oral questions), and during any evening on a day on which there has been a sitting of the House, and on a Friday in a week in which there has been a sitting of the House, despite Standing Orders 187 and 190(1)(b) and (c).
- Motion agreed to.