Hansard and Journals
Governor-General Bill — Second Reading
Hon CHRISTOPHER FINLAYSON (Attorney-General) on behalf of the Prime Minister: I move, That the Governor-General Bill be now read a second time. As the Prime Minister indicated when the bill received its first reading, it is very important and timely legislation. It was referred to the Government Administration Committee on 20 July; the committee has now completed its examination of the bill and has recommended that it be passed.
The bill implements the Law Commission’s recommendations in the first part of its review of the Civil List Act 1979. This bill will repeal and replace Part 1 of the Civil List Act with updated financial arrangements for the support of the office of Governor-General. The new regime will be more transparent and simpler to administer, and it will also modernise the antiquated drafting of the Governor-General part of the Civil List Act.
The bill contains a comprehensive transitional regime. With one exception, the new legislation will not apply to the incumbent. Clauses 25 and 27 contain savings and validation clauses to ensure the relevant provisions of the Civil List Act and any determinations of the Remuneration Authority or Orders in Council made under that Act relating to salary, payments on leaving office, and other benefits or privileges continue to apply to the incumbent and to previous Governors-General and their spouses. Only the annuities provisions, which remove certain outdated restrictions on the availability of the annuity, will apply to the incumbent and to his spouse.
The core of the bill is directed to reforming the financial support structure of the office of Governor-General. The present regime is, as the Law Commission recognised, cumbersome and unclear. Funding for the Governor-General is split between two sets of appropriations, one funding the official residences and part of the Governor-General’s programme of activities, and the other paying for the Governor-General’s salary and allowance, but also including aspects of the Governor-General’s programme. The bill addresses this issue by consolidating all funding for the Governor-General’s programme within a single permanent appropriation, leaving annual appropriations to account only for the Government House operational budget. To provide further transparency, the bill will also separate out funding for the Governor-General’s international travel from the appropriation providing for the Governor-General’s domestic programme.
Unlike the domestic travel programme, which the Governor-General determines himself or herself, international travel is undertaken at the request of the Government. Because this travel is often difficult to predict in advance—for example, requests to attend significant funerals—the Government has agreed with the Law Commission’s recommendation that a new permanent appropriation be established for this purpose.
A key feature of the bill is that it will remove the exemption from income tax on the Governor-General’s salary. Both the salary and the allowance are presently exempt from income tax under the Income Tax Act 2007, and the salary is calculated on that basis. As noted by the Prime Minister, there is no longer any justification for this salary to be exempt from income tax. Her Majesty the Queen has voluntarily paid income tax on her private income since 1993 and the Australian Governor-General and state governors have paid income tax on their salaries since 2001.
A further tax-related change is the removal of the Minister of Finance’s power to exempt the Governor-General from paying any public or local tax, duty, rate, levy, or fee. There are no current exemptions. The Law Commission recommended that the power be removed, and it has not been carried over into this bill.
The Government Administration Committee identified one small issue with the bill that will need to be addressed in the Committee of the whole House. The Goods and Services Tax Act 1985 presently excludes from the definition of “taxable activity” any engagement, occupation, or employment pursuant to the Civil List Act 1979. For the avoidance of doubt, section 6(3)(c)(i) will need to be amended to read “pursuant to the Civil List Act 1979 or the Governor-General Act 2010”.
Section 3(4) of the Civil List Act provides that on leaving office the Governor-General shall be paid a sum equal to 3 months’ tax-exempt salary and 3 months’ tax-exempt allowance. The purpose of this payment is to cover the outgoing administration and immediate commitments of the outgoing Governor-General. The Law Commission recommended that this payment should be retained, albeit in a new form. Following the first reading of the bill, there was a degree of misunderstanding concerning this payment, including the suggestion that it would double in size under the new bill and that it would apply to the incumbent. That is not correct. Because the legislation will subject the Governor-General’s salary to income tax and significantly reduce the quantum of the allowance, the quantum of the payment made on leaving office would be reduced if the formula from the Civil List Act were carried over to the new bill. So the Law Commission has recommended that the formula be reframed to allow for a payment of 6 months’ taxable salary only. Once the Remuneration Authority has taken into account the effect of income tax on the salary, it is expected to be a rough equivalent to the current payment. The payment will be subject to income tax administered through the PAYE system, but the change will not apply to the incumbent.
Section 4 of the Civil List Act provides for the payment of annuities to former Governors-General and their spouses or partners. The annuities are treated as taxable income. It recognises the contribution the Governor-General and his or her spouse have made to the country, and the ongoing commitments that can arise from a Governor-General’s duties even after leaving office. These commitments often include obligations such as patronage of causes that they come to be associated with during their term, considerable correspondence, delivering speeches, and attending various events. The public nature of the role often places limits on their subsequent activities and their employment choices.
The Law Commission recommended that the Governor-General Bill should provide for the payment of an annuity to former Governors-General in similar terms to the present section 4 of the Civil List Act as applied by the Remuneration Authority. This annuity will be payable from the date that is 6 months after the date on which the person ceased to hold office, rather than 3 months as provided for under the Civil List Act.
Consistent with the Civil List Act, when a former Governor-General dies, the surviving spouse or partner of that person will be entitled to annuity at half the yearly rate at which the annuity would have been payable to the former Governor-General had he or she not died. These entitlements will also apply to the surviving spouse or partner of a Governor-General who dies in office. In the case of a surviving spouse or partner, the annuity is based on recognition of the significant role played by the spouse in supporting the office holder. That being the case, the Law Commission recommended that the annuity should not end if the spouse remarries or enters into a new relationship. The other exemptions are also anachronistic and they will be removed by the bill.
This is an important bill that clarifies the position of the office of Governor-General. The office is a very important component of our constitutional framework. It is certainly one deserving of respect by everyone at all times. I commend the bill to the House.
Hon TREVOR MALLARD (Labour—Hutt South) : I am pleased to follow the Attorney-General, who is acting on behalf of the Prime Minister on this bill. I understand why the Prime Minister is not prepared to come to the House and debate this bill today. I think it would be a very brave Minister, in the Yes, Minister sense, who would lead the debate on this bill, given the events of the last couple of weeks. I am happy to follow the Attorney-General here; I would not be happy to follow him in a backroom tour of Te Papa, when his officials have indicated that pregnant or menstruating women would not be welcome to go on that tour. I say to the Attorney-General—
Hon Christopher Finlayson: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I know that the member is rather disturbed, but that comment is completely irrelevant to the debate. He should focus on the debate.
The ASSISTANT SPEAKER (Eric Roy): Let me make this point first: the Minister should not refer to any attitudes he has about a member when he raises a point of order. That was out of order. However, in regard to the nature of the content of a second reading debate, the Standing Orders and Speakers’ rulings are precise. I ask the member to look at page 106 of the Speakers’ Rulings. His comments must pertain to the matters contained in the bill. In that regard, the member is outside what is permitted in a second reading debate.
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: Yes, Mr Assistant Speaker. Without referring to your ruling at all, I say that it is good to see the Government being so sensitive to the requirements of the Standing Orders.
I was saying that it is a pleasure to follow the Attorney-General on this legislation; I would not follow him very far in other areas.
Hon Ruth Dyson: Like Te Papa.
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: Including Te Papa on a backroom tour.
Hon Ruth Dyson: Because he’s weird.
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: There are a number of reasons why I would not follow him in that particular circumstance. But I am pleased to follow the Attorney-General, because there is a sense of nostalgia for me in dealing with the Civil List Act, and now with the Governor-General Bill, in that while I was a member of the Statutes Revision Committee—which at the time was chaired by Trevor de Cleene, and on which the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Justice, Geoffrey Palmer, sat—the very first piece of legislation that I dealt with was in this area.
I think the focus of this debate today is likely to be slightly different from what it would have been had it been debated a couple of weeks ago, because the type of person who is likely to be the beneficiary of these changes has become an issue for the public. The Prime Minister’s views on that, as expressed on Television New Zealand when the issue was raised of future Governors-General who are to be the beneficiaries of this legislation, have been widely condemned. In fact, one of the themes I am going to develop is whether the affordability of this legislation has been affected by the Prime Minister’s comments on television and on Radio Waatea—where he indicated that Television New Zealand as well as Mr Henry were to blame for the comments—given that the size of the payout to Mr Henry would have increased as a result of the Prime Minister’s comments.
It is interesting to see the approach that has been taken to this legislation by the Government. In one sense the Government is being very liberal. When we look at clause 16, we can see the preparation the Government is making for possibly having Mormon or Muslim Governors-General. Those are people who, as a result of relationships they have entered into outside the New Zealand jurisdiction, have the ability to have more than one spouse at a time, and that ability to split the spousal arrangements is part of the legislation that we are dealing with today.
On the one hand we have to congratulate the Government for what it is doing in terms of preparing for a wider range of Kiwis to become Governors-General, but at the same time we have to condemn it for the attitude of the Prime Minister, when he appeared to go in the opposite direction while being interviewed by Paul Henry. I think most New Zealanders have now seen a replay, if not the original showing, of the Prime Minister giggling and smiling at the suggestion that someone who was of a different colour could not be a New Zealander, and could not look like a New Zealander. We know that as we go forward, we will have a range of New Zealanders of a variety of colours as our Governors-General, and they are the people for whom we are currently preparing, and for whom we are considering legislation. Certainly in clauses 6, 8, 9, and 11, there are references to benefits for Governors-General, former Governors-General, and spouses of Governors-General.
This legislation would have gone through the House very, very easily, and possibly without debate, if the Government had chosen a more auspicious time to debate it, rather than a time that followed so soon after the Prime Minister’s decision to smile and giggle at Paul Henry’s suggestion about people who were “of colour”, as the old expression used to be. “Black” is probably the expression that many people would now use, although, knowing the Prime Minister, it could be “brown” as well. The suggestion was that people who were not white-skinned—
The ASSISTANT SPEAKER (Eric Roy): I will caution the member. He is getting away from the bill. I quite expressly referred the member to—and I am guided by—Speakers’ rulings. The member is now stepping outside what the bill actually prescribes.
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: This bill prescribes for future Governors-General, and I am saying that as we pass this bill we should be passing it for Governors-General of all colours, and that no Prime Minister should giggle or smirk at the suggestion that someone who is not white is not suitable to be a Governor-General of New Zealand. I say that that is the key to this bill. The bill is a preparation for all Governors-General, not just for white Governors-General as was the theme of the Paul Henry comments, to which the Prime Minister responded with a giggle.
The ASSISTANT SPEAKER (Eric Roy): I think the member is now challenging my ruling. I have ruled. The member can refer to the bill and make examples, but I believe that the member is debating in a way that is outside my ruling. I have ruled.
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: Mr Assistant Speaker, I acknowledge that you have ruled in that way, and I would like to refer you, to start with, to clause 16 of the bill, and suggest that you read it very carefully. That clause allows for people with multiple spouses. It allows for annuities to the former spouses of Governors-General. That provision allows for people who are Mormon and Muslim, where there is a conflict about the arrangements for the allowances those people can get. Clearly those people cannot marry in a New Zealand system, but there is nothing stopping a New Zealander from entering into a multiple-spouse marriage offshore and returning to be Governor-General.
If we had a truly liberal Prime Minister, that is something that we would be contemplating now, but we do not have a Prime Minister who is prepared to lead the debate on this bill, and that is where I want to finish. I ask why he left it to the Attorney-General to lead the debate. Why did the Prime Minister not lead it? The bill is in the name of the Prime Minister; it is his responsibility. The Prime Minister is the person who has been making the recent giggling and smiling comments about non-white Governors-General, and I just say that a Prime Minister who had backbone and who believed in a multicultural society would be here to lead the debate. Instead, he has left it to his fellow giggler, Chris Finlayson.
JACQUI DEAN (National—Waitaki) : What a shame it is that I have to follow such a poor contribution from a clearly disturbed member of Parliament. The Governor-General Bill is important legislation and, indeed, it is timely. The Governor-General plays a very important role in our constitution and in the life of New Zealanders, and it is of regret to me that Trevor Mallard, who has just resumed his seat, sinks once again into the gutter to take a poor, shameful opportunity to score some mean little political points.
As the Sovereign’s representative in New Zealand, the Governor-General helps to maintain the legitimacy and continuity of Government. The Governor-General Bill, which has been examined by the Government Administration Committee, provides updated and simpler financial arrangements for the support of the Governor-General and his or her programme. The purpose is to encourage transparency and to ensure that it is simpler to administer than under the present regime.
I wanted to make just a short contribution, and I finish by saying that it is also regretful that the chair of the Government Administration Committee, David Parker, yielded to Mr Mallard. I would have thought that as the chair of the Government Administration Committee Mr Parker might take the opportunity to make a decent contribution to this debate; he may well do so, but I do not hold out any hope.
Hon DAVID PARKER (Labour) : I am quite happy to respond to the comments of Jacqui Dean, who has just resumed her seat. I was out of the Chamber when Mr Mallard started his speech on the Governor-General Bill. I was doing a radio interview about foreshore and seabed issues, I say for the record. I can explain why I was out of the Chamber in respect of the first call on this bill, but where is the Prime Minister?
The ASSISTANT SPEAKER (Eric Roy): Order!
Hon DAVID PARKER: Oh, Mr Assistant Speaker!
The ASSISTANT SPEAKER (Eric Roy): I am not sure what the attitude of the member was when he so vibrantly said: “Mr Assistant Speaker!”, but we will stick to the rules. Members cannot refer to the absence of a member, and the member knows that.
Hon DAVID PARKER: I did not refer to the absence of the Prime Minister, and I will not do so. I said that the first address on this bill was not given by the Prime Minister; I am entitled to do that in accordance with the Standing Orders. I repeat that, because it is true, and because it is relevant.
At the first reading of this bill, which is in the name of the Prime Minister, he deigned it important enough to come here and tell this House that the bill was important, because the office of Governor-General is important. He told this House that. He was at question time today, but he did not take the first call in respect of this second reading of the bill; rather, he left it to the Attorney-General. It is quite within my power as a speaker in this House of Representatives to ask why he did not take that call, particularly when that same accusation has just been made of me by a Government member. To hear Government members now heckling me for having the temerity to question why the Prime Minister was not here to defend the Governor-General—and, indeed, to defend his recent record in respect of the Governor-General—is just too galling for me to accept.
Why did the Prime Minister not take that first call? I know why: because he was exposed recently for his inconsistency in respect of the office of Governor-General. We all, across both sides of the House, know where that exposure was. It was on TV. What have the newspapers said in respect of that inconsistency? I think the newspapers will again be adopting it after today’s performance, given the fact that he did not give the first address on the second reading of this bill. Why did the Prime Minister not react to what Paul Henry said? According to the Sunday Star-Times at the time, Key’s buddy Paul left him looking flat-footed and silly. The newspaper said that it was not because he was a closet racist, or that he was playing dog-whistle politics. I agree with that; I actually do not think that John Key is a racist, and I do not think that our party has accused him of being so. But I agree with the next reason, which is that Key is just not very quick. That is what the editorial in the Sunday Star-Times said on 10 October, and that is the same reason John Key did not take the first call in the second reading of this bill today—because he is not very quick.
Jacqui Dean: Get out of the gutter.
Hon DAVID PARKER: Jacqui Dean is very quick to shout out and make accusations about my not taking the first call. As I have said, it was because when Trevor Mallard took the call, I was doing a radio interview in the lobby. But why is the Prime Minister not here taking the first call? We have not heard him. Is it because, as the Sunday Star-Times has said, Key is just not very quick? He could not properly defend himself against the allegations that had been made against him.
The Governor-General is, as Jacqui Dean has said, the Queen of New Zealand’s legal representative in New Zealand. It is a very important office in our constitutional affairs, so when anyone makes an attack upon the Governor-General—particularly an attack that is as distasteful as the one that Paul Henry made—the Prime Minister should slap it down. But, of course, we have a Prime Minister whom the Sunday Star-Times says is just not very quick. We had a Prime Minister who was quick to defend Rodney Hide’s handling of David Garrett recently. He said that he thought Hide’s handling had been very good. The Prime Minister was quick enough to do that, but not quick enough to defend our Governor-General when he was attacked by Paul Henry.
I agree with the Sunday Star-Times that John Key was left looking flat-footed and silly, because he is just not very quick. I am sad to say that he is not as quick as our Governor-General. If the Governor-General had been in an interview and the same attack had been made against the Prime Minister, I am sure that the Governor-General would have leapt to the defence of the Prime Minister. Although I did not vote for him, he is my Prime Minister; the office of Prime Minister is an office that I want to look up to and respect—indeed, I do respect the office. It saddens me that my Prime Minister let me down in not upholding the standards that I want upheld for my country when someone makes an inappropriate comment like that. Rather than giggling and being left flat-footed, I want my Prime Minister to stand up for what is correct—not just in respect of the Governor-General but also in respect of other antics that bring this House into disrepute, such as those we saw from the ACT Party, David Garrett, and—
The ASSISTANT SPEAKER (Eric Roy): I have been more than tolerant. I will read the member Speaker’s ruling 106/2: “On the second reading of a bill discussion must be confined to the bill before the House as printed.” I have shown a degree of tolerance, and references can be included, but the member has spoken for nearly two-thirds of his time and he has not got to the bill. If he is not prepared to get to the bill, then I will terminate his speech.
Hon DAVID PARKER: This bill is the primary legislation that governs payment for the services the Governor-General provides as the Queen’s representative in New Zealand. Given the importance of that office, and given the importance that the Prime Minister attached to it at the bill’s first reading—indeed, it is quite unusual for the Prime Minister to turn up and speak to a bill in this House, so it was with pleasure that we heard him speak at the first reading of this bill—I am contrasting that with the fact that he did not take the first call in today’s debate. I hope that he will take a subsequent call in this second reading debate. It is all the more important, in the context of what has happened over the last 2 weeks with Paul Henry, that the Prime Minister takes a call in this debate today—as he did in the first reading—to make it clear what he thinks of the importance of the office of Governor-General, and to show the office of Governor-General the respect that it deserves.
In terms of the mechanics of the bill, only one small amendment was recommended by the Government Administration Committee, and that is referred to in the report back. We recommend a small amendment in respect of the Goods and Services Tax Act 1985, which we suggest should be achieved by way of a Supplementary Order Paper during the Committee of the whole House stage. It is not so substantial an amendment as to require a redrafting of the bill in the meantime, but perhaps we could hear from the Prime Minister about whether that amendment will, in fact, be brought forward in the Committee stage.
The office of Governor-General is an important office. I know there are people who think we should move towards republicanism and have a Governor-General who is not appointed by the Queen but rather by some other method. That idea, of course, fell outside the scope of this bill, and as a consequence it could not be considered by the select committee. I do not propose to comment upon it much here. Suffice it to say, although I personally do not have a very strong view either for or against republicanism, if there was a move towards it in New Zealand I would be attracted to the idea that we make the move through replicating our current status of having a head of State in the form of a Governor-General. He or she would have the same powers, prerogatives, and traditions that the existing Governor-General has, in a way that would keep the Governor-General appointed. One of the strengths of our model at the moment is that our Governor-General is apolitical; I would not want to move to a presidential-style system in the place of a Governor-General if we ever moved towards becoming a republic.
I will not take any further time on this speech, because I want to leave time for the Prime Minister to take a call in the second reading, as he did in the first.
KEITH LOCKE (Green) : The Green Party will be supporting this bill, as a way of modernising the functioning of the Governor-General’s office. We agree with the Government Administration Committee that the legislation will make the financial arrangements for the support of the Governor-General more transparent and simpler to administer than they now are. It will also remove the Governor-General’s tax-exempt status, which is an appropriate move in a modern democratic society.
It is unfortunate that the select committee did not respond positively to two submissions for amendments to the bill to change the way we choose the Governor-General, or at least to change the way we decide which person’s name is forwarded to the Queen—or it might be the King—for approval. As the select committee stated in its report back, these two submitters who advocated a change wanted a new process that would require “[Governors-General] to be elected by Parliament to ensure that consultation occurs and a neutral candidate is chosen who is acceptable to the greatest number of Members of Parliament and the public.”
The select committee wrongly decided that this issue lay outside the scope of the bill. The Green Party does not agree. There is nothing in the title of the bill—the Governor-General Bill, as it is called—or any purpose clause that prevents a section on the appointment and the dismissal of a Governor-General from being added. This was the proposal in the submission of the Republican Movement of Aotearoa New Zealand, and the submission of Derek Round went in the same direction. At the moment, the selection of a nominee for Governor-General is not democratic. I, as a member of Parliament in a non-Government party, have no input whatsoever; it is done entirely by the Government of the day. We have a history of some clearly political appointments. Sir Keith Holyoake, a former National Prime Minister, who was appointed by a National Government, is a case in point.
The Government is unlikely to appoint someone who might have a record of being critical of the policies of the particular party currently in Government. It is hard in this modern age not to agree that we need a more democratic process. The proposal of the Republican Movement of Aotearoa New Zealand was for a clause specifying that “The Governor-General is appointed by the Sovereign on the recommendation of the House of Representatives.” It proposed that the recommendation for a nomination have the agreement of at least half of the parliamentary leaders of all political parties represented in Parliament and that the parties they lead contain at least 75 percent of the MPs in the House.
The Greens agree with this general direction, and in the Committee stage I will move an amendment similar to the one proposed by the Republican Movement of Aotearoa New Zealand, only a bit simpler. My amendment will simply say that the nomination has to have the support of 75 percent of the members of this House. This is not an entirely new idea. The submission of the Republican Movement of Aotearoa New Zealand pointed out that the parliaments of Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands already elect their Governor-General nominee to be forwarded to the Queen. The submission of the Republican Movement of Aotearoa New Zealand also allows for a dismissal process, with a similar proportion of the House of Representatives having to agree. My amendment in the Committee stage will specify that dismissal will require the agreement of 75 percent of members.
Democratising this dismissal process is important, because at the moment if the Government of the day is called to order by the Governor-General, the Government can fire off a note to the Queen, advising her to dismiss the said Governor-General immediately, and the Queen is required to act on the advice of the Government of New Zealand. This power of the Government of the day over the Governor-General inhibits the true independence of the person who holds that office and is acting as head of State in New Zealand on behalf of the Queen.
The Republican Movement of Aotearoa New Zealand also picked up another good point in that in statute there is no defined length of term for the Governor-General, other than what is put in the terms of appointment when he or she takes up the job. It is a non-statutory provision. The movement suggests putting a clear provision in the bill for the Governor-General’s term to not exceed 5 years, and that seems fair enough to me.
Although all of these democratic proposals were advanced by the Republican Movement of Aotearoa New Zealand, they are not republican in and of themselves; they are simply democratic proposals. However, another submitter, Derek Round, not only proposed similar democratic steps for the selection of the Governor-General but also associated this move with a move away from the monarchy. In addition to the Governor-General being appointed by Parliament, Derek Round proposed that “On the death, abdication or appointment of a regency of Queen Elizabeth II her heir and successor will cease to be the Head of State and King or Queen of New Zealand. The Governor-General will continue to exercise all the powers and prerogatives of that office and assume and exercise all the powers and prerogatives previously exercised by Queen Elizabeth II.”
There is a body of opinion in New Zealand that holds that Queen Elizabeth II should be our last monarch, the last King or Queen of New Zealand, and that we should now move to work out a transition, from the end of her reign, to New Zealand becoming a republic. Not long after Derek Round made that submission to the select committee, and completely separate from the select committee process, our previous Deputy Prime Minister, Michael Cullen, came up with a similar proposal at the Reconstituting the Constitution conference held in Wellington. He said that there should be legislation “to provide that the choice of Governor-General (strictly speaking constitutionally the nomination) should henceforth be made by a supermajority of Parliament, say 75 per cent. The same legislation could then provide that, on the death of the Queen, the Governor-General would become head of state.” There we are; great minds think alike. I should say at this point that the Green Party does not have an official position on whether New Zealand should become a republic, or when and how, although I personally am very much a republican. I had a member’s bill before Parliament on the issue but it did not quite succeed, although all of my Green colleagues supported it at its first reading.
This bill also deals with the costs of the Governor-General, and they are quite substantial. The latest Budget lists $7.6 million in ongoing operational expenses and $11.6 million to upgrade Government House. The elected President of Ireland will cost less this financial year—namely, $6 million. Republics are not expensive, contrary to what some people argue. One of the reasons for the difference in costs between New Zealand and Ireland might be the certain excesses in the way we throw money at the Governor-General, which are indicated in this bill. For example, why does legislation have to provide, as this bill does, for “the use of chauffeured cars when he or she”—that is, the Governor-General—“no longer holds the office of Governor-General.”? Also, the 6-month redundancy pay is not a bad lark. It amounts to $96,000, not to mention an annuity for the rest of the former Governor-General’s life, which is currently $62,000 a year.
Mind you, our present Governor-General, Anand Satyanand, has not done too badly. He is a friendly, competent person with an inclusive style. As previous speakers have said, he has had to suffer some racist comments lately from TV host Paul Henry, who questioned whether he was a real New Zealander. According to Mr Henry, Mr Satyanand does not look or sound like a real New Zealander, presumably because of his Indian ethnicity. It is ironic that Paul Henry’s first defence when challenged was to say that he was a monarchist, so he could not really be against the Governor-General. I say it is ironic because the British royal line is so monocultural! They all look and sound the same because they are all of the same line of European ethnicity and all speak with the same traditional upper-class English accent.
CHRIS HIPKINS (Labour—Rimutaka) : I am very happy to take a call on the Governor-General Bill. I want to pick up a few points from Keith Locke. I come to this debate both as a republican myself, as I believe that in due course New Zealand will become a republic, and as a democrat, in the sense that I believe it is up to the people of New Zealand to determine when we become a republic. Those in the United States may be a bit confused by somebody claiming to be both a republican and a democrat at the same time, but that is indeed what I am doing here this afternoon.
We had a very interesting discussion at the Government Administration Committee about the issue of New Zealand becoming a republic, because there was a submission from republicans, arguing that this bill needs to go a lot further than it does and look at the way in which the Governor-General is appointed. It was interesting that as we debated that with them, there was a general view that there is no pressing desire for a constitutional change of that significance in New Zealand at the moment, but that at some point in the future there may well be an event that brings the issue much more to the fore, and people may start to think about the Governor-General a bit more than they have previously.
Of course, that was exactly what happened last week, when Paul Henry made the comments that he did. The Governor-General, who has, I think, served New Zealand with great dignity but in a fairly unassuming, low-key, low profile manner, was suddenly brought into the headlines much more than he had been for the rest of his tenure in his role as Governor-General. So there has been much greater focus on the role of the Governor-General in the last few weeks, and maybe in time that will lead to further debate about whether New Zealand should become a republic.
I will pick up on that a little. I begin by complimenting the current Governor-General, Sir Anand Satyanand, for the fantastic job that he does as our head of State, our effective head of State who represents the Queen. I believe that he serves New Zealand with great dignity. I believe that he embodies New Zealand in the way that he does his job, and I am very proud to have him as our effective head of State here in New Zealand. I think it is really important for all of us in the House, regardless of which side we sit on, and regardless of our own views on what the appropriate constitutional arrangements are for New Zealand, to show some respect to the effective head of State, the Governor-General of New Zealand who is here on behalf of the Queen.
I think it is important also that we as parliamentarians uphold the dignity of that office, which means that if we encounter people who say something blatantly racist about the Governor-General, we should respond very promptly and say we do not think that is good enough. I do not think it upholds the dignity of Parliament, of the Governor-General, or of the office of Prime Minister that when the Prime Minister is faced with racist comments about the Governor-General, he should laugh. I simply do not think that is acceptable. I think the Governor-General, Parliament, and the people of New Zealand are entitled to expect more leadership than that from the Prime Minister. I think all New Zealanders should be disappointed with that kind of response, because the Governor-General has served New Zealand very well, and he does embody, I believe, the values of New Zealanders. He has served this country with great distinction.
To turn to the specific provisions of this bill, I say the Labour Party is supporting this bill because we do not believe that it is appropriate any longer for the Governor-General to be exempt from income tax. We think it is pretty basic and quite consistent with the republicans’ argument that the Governor-General should not be exempt from income tax. I am a fairly non-hierarchical type of person, an egalitarian, so part of my desire for New Zealand to move towards a republic is a desire to move away from the sort of inherited privilege that the current monarchy represents and to move to something that is more democratic. So the idea that the effective head of State—and I think the Governor-General is the effective head of State—should be tax-exempt is not right.
The previous Labour Government asked the Law Commission to conduct the review that led to this bill coming before Parliament, and we are pleased that the findings of the Law Commission are being implemented in full by this legislation. We think that the debate on New Zealand’s constitutional arrangements is important. Although the Governor-General as our effective head of State may have a relatively low-key, low-profile role, we should not underestimate the importance of that role. That came into stark relief not just in the last few days regarding the comments Paul Henry made but also with some other comments that the Prime Minister made on the role of the Governor-General to do with the Canterbury earthquake Orders in Council. The Prime Minister said that if the Governor-General was not happy with the Orders in Council, then he could refuse to sign them.
I think that shows an incredible lack of understanding of New Zealand’s constitutional framework by our current Prime Minister, because it would be unprecedented in New Zealand’s short history for the Governor-General to refuse to sign something that the Prime Minister had advised him to sign. The constitutional convention is that Governors-General sign whatever is presented to them by the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister is their chief adviser.
Nikki Kaye: But he still could refuse to sign.
CHRIS HIPKINS: He could, but it would be a rewriting of the constitution without any reference to Parliament or to the people of New Zealand. It has never happened before. It was incredibly naive for the Prime Minister to bat away criticism of the Canterbury earthquake legislation simply by saying the Governor-General could just veto it. So are we now giving the Governor-General the power to simply go ahead and veto the stuff that he decides he does not like, without any reference to Parliament? That is absolutely ridiculous. It was a crazy argument for the Prime Minister to put forward, and I think it suggests a lack of understanding on his part of a pretty fundamental provision in our unwritten constitutional framework that Governors-General follow the will of Parliament and the will of the executive, acting under delegated authority from Parliament, and sign the legislation or the orders put before them. The Prime Minister’s argument that they can just veto them is a whole new ground. I think he probably needs to take a bit of a break and think that through a little more carefully before he makes those claims again in the future.
Labour has always been very keen, and I am certainly very keen, to hear people’s views on what our future arrangements should be and on what kind of head of State we should have in the future. I was disappointed to see that Keith Locke’s Head of State Referenda Bill did not quite make it through the House. I would have liked to see that debate happen, and I would have liked to see New Zealanders have the opportunity to have a say on it. I think the country is probably quite evenly divided, quite evenly balanced, on whether we want to be a republic now or whether we want to wait until later. But I think if we ask the second question, which is whether we want New Zealand to become a republic eventually, then most New Zealanders would like to be a republic eventually. A lot of people say that when the current Queen’s reign ends, that would be the time for us to become a republic. Well, we cannot wait. If that is what we want to do, then we cannot wait until that event happens. We need to take steps in the intervening period to put in place whatever alternative arrangements we would want to have.
I say, as somebody who spent some time living in the United Kingdom, that my desire for New Zealand—
John Hayes: What’s this got to do with the bill?
CHRIS HIPKINS: It is about the Governor-General. My desire for New Zealand to become a republic and to have a more democratic local head of State, as opposed to somebody on the other side of the world—
John Hayes: Your visits to India have nothing to do with the bill.
CHRIS HIPKINS: This is directly relevant to the bill. My desire for that is not driven by any criticism of the royal family; I think they do a fantastic job. When I was living the UK I would almost go as far as to say I was a monarchist, because I thought they were very appropriate in their conduct in so far as it related to the United Kingdom. But I think here in New Zealand, on the other side of the world, it would be very appropriate for us to have our own head of State in New Zealand, someone in whom we can see ourselves reflected. The Governor-General effectively fills that role at the moment.
John Hayes: Which clause of the bill have you got in mind when you’re discussing this?
CHRIS HIPKINS: Mr Hayes can go through the bill and pick any clause that he wants to pick. The Governor-General is our effective head of State at the moment, and I would like to see something a little more democratic than that.
I also refer to the suggestions put forward to the Government Administration Committee, which Mr Hayes was on, by the republicans who argued that there should be additional clauses in this bill to deal with the appointment process for the Governor-General. Although this bill makes significant changes to the way that the Governor-General’s office operates at the moment, it does not deal with the way that Governors-General are appointed, which is something that this House should deal with in due course.
My concluding remarks are simply to once again extend some compliments to the current holder of the office, and also to the previous holders of the office. I think we have been very fortunate in New Zealand to have had some very good-quality, distinguished Governors-General. I hope that trend will continue until such time as New Zealanders feel it is an appropriate time—
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER: I am sorry to interrupt the honourable member; his time has expired.
[Greetings to you, Mr Deputy Speaker. This a short call from me in support of this bill.]
The Governor-General Bill, in repealing and replacing Part 1 of the Civil List Act, could be interpreted as simply being about remuneration, income tax, duties, rates, levies, and fees. Indeed, the intention of the bill is to facilitate improved financial arrangements for the support of the Governor-General and his or her programme. To ensure that a future Governor-General receives a payment on leaving office that compares broadly with that available under current law, the bill proposes a payment of 6 months’ non - tax-exempt salary. This is an amendment that has arisen out of the recommendation of the Law Commission, which the Government Administration Committee supports. The amended bill, therefore, updates the financial arrangements concerning the salary allowances and the travelling expenses of the Governor-General. The amendments will enable the arrangements to become more transparent and simpler to administer, and a key change is that the bill removes the tax exemption status of the Governor-General’s salary. From this point on, the Governor-General will pay income tax equally with every other New Zealander, ending the Governor-General’s tax-free status.
The critical feature of all these changes is that they will not affect the constitutional position of the Governor-General, and I will speak to that point, which is so relevant in the light of recent events in the public media. The relationship between the position of the Governor-General and the constitutional framework of Aotearoa dates back as far as 1840, to the signing of Te Tiriti o Waitangi, which provides the fundamental context of our nationhood. On 6 February 1840 the Treaty of Waitangi was signed by Queen Victoria’s representative, Governor William Hobson, and ultimately by some 500 rangatira Māori. Ever since that time the Governor-General has been an important representative of our founding document. He or she represents to every New Zealander the formative invitation of the Treaty for tangata Tiriti—those who are here by virtue of the Treaty—to enter into a relationship with Māori. We are pleased to support the Governor-General Bill as it is also an important means of being able to consolidate the relationship between tangata whenua and the Crown, and, in doing so, to promote the concept of an enduring nationhood.
The Governor-General has had a significant presence at some of the most distinctive moments in the history of this nation. It was Governor-General Sir Cyril Newall who took part in the ceremony at Ruatōria on 6 October 1943 to honour the Māori Battalion’s Victoria Cross winner, Second Lieutenant Te Moananui-a-Kiwa Ngārimu, an event attended by more than 7,000 Māori from all over New Zealand. It is the Governor-General who appoints members to the Waitangi Tribunal to investigate claims of breaches of the Treaty from 1975 onwards. It is the Governor-General who represents the monarch at the historical Waitangi Day events.
I share with the House the words of Dame Silvia Cartwright in 2005: “I encourage all New Zealanders to support and engage in our uniquely indigenous culture and language. It is an important part of our identity. It is what helps make us who we are and marks us out internationally.”
The role of the Governor-General can indeed be greatly influential in shaping our views as a country about our very concept of nationhood. In this light, I was interested to hear the call of Maanu Paul that it is time for Aotearoa to have a Māori Governor-General again, given that it is some 20 years since Sir Paul Reeves left that role. Maanu’s recommendation is that Sir Eddie Taihākūrei Durie, a retired High Court judge, has sufficient mana, has more than sufficient ability, and has the personality to be a Governor-General for Aotearoa. I would like to add that retired Judge Michael J A Brown would also fit that role.
We come then to the Governor-General Bill, accepting the changes to ensure the Governor-General pays tax, as is the case with any other New Zealander, but also conscious of the special interest that the concept of the Governor-General will have as we embark upon the constitutional review that was a key hallmark of the negotiations that the Māori Party entered into with National to form this Government. We support this bill at its second reading. It repeals outdated and irrelevant provisions of the Civil List Act. It removes the tax-free status that is currently attached to the role, and it continues to provide an opportunity for discussion about our constitutional arrangements—the relationship between the Crown and tangata whenua. Thank you.
JOHN HAYES (National—Wairarapa) : Thank you for the opportunity to speak on the Governor-General Bill. I have to say that I am a bit disappointed in my colleagues from across the floor of the House for the way they have demeaned the discussion in this debate this afternoon. I draw their attention to the comments of the High Commissioner of India in New Zealand, retired Admiral Sureesh Mehta, as reported by the New Zealand Herald. He said the Government had handled the issue “quite well”. He went on to say he believed a visit to India by Prime Minister John Key would be a good thing, but that the affair was too small a matter to be brought up between Mr Key and Dr Manmohan Singh, the Prime Minister of India. That is the point. The Opposition has gone out of its way this afternoon to demean both the process in this House and the position of a very excellent Governor-General in this country and a similarly excellent Prime Minister.
When members consider this bill, I would like them to reflect on the fact that Mr Goff, 2 hours after the Henry event, said that Paul Henry was being Paul Henry. So I do not think Mr Goff and the Opposition can take too much credit for the way that they have behaved.
I refer now to clause 16, about which Mr Mallard seemed to provoke fear and loathing in the community by saying that it will be possible for a Seventh-Day Adventist or a Muslim to become Governor-General and to bring all his wives with him. I mean, what arrant nonsense! The first thing to note is that polygamy is banned in this country, and even if it were not, there is Commonwealth precedent. When I was New Zealand’s High Commissioner to Papua New Guinea, a Governor-General was appointed—Sir Wiwa Korowi—who had six or, as I remember, maybe seven wives. It did not stop the Papua New Guinean system accommodating that arrangement, which is perfectly normal in Papua New Guinea, although all hell broke out when he took only one of those wives to London, to be gonged. Simply put, clause 16 states that if more than one person is entitled to an annuity as a result of the Governor-General serving the term, the annuity can be split, but no more of it can be paid out than the value of an annuity for one person.
This bill is important and timely legislation. I stress that it came through our Government Administration Committee with not one voice of dissent. Our report back to Parliament was unanimous. We all accept that the Governor-General plays a really important role in our constitution as the Sovereign’s representative in New Zealand, and the Governor-General helps maintain the legitimacy and the continuity of government. I was reflecting on that at an event earlier this week, where the Governor-General, who is in India, was replaced by the Administrator. I suddenly noticed that the Governor-General was not there, as he always begins, in his inclusive way, by speaking in the languages of the realm of New Zealand: Tokelauan, Niuean, Cook Island Māori, New Zealand Māori, English, and New Zealand Sign Language. I really noticed his absence the other night, and I was reflecting on the very inclusive way that our Governor-General works.
The office of Governor-General is a very symbolic link between the community and the State, and he also represents the New Zealand public in a non-partisan way on important public occasions. Much of this bill revolves around streamlining the financial arrangements for the support of the office of the Governor-General. It promotes transparency and assures that the arrangements are rather more simple to administer than the present regime. I think the bill also goes some way to modernise the old-fashioned language found in the Governor-General parts of the Civil List Act.
A key feature of the bill is that it creates a new funding structure for the office of the Governor-General. The Governor-General’s personal allowance at present pays for a range of official functions that are much more appropriately funded by a separate programme of appropriation, and this bill provides for that separate appropriation. Similarly, funds for the international travel that the Governor-General undertakes at the Government’s request are provided for in a new international travel appropriation for the Governor-General. Domestic travel will form part of the programme appropriation. The present exemption for tax, as other members have pointed out, has been removed, because there is no longer any justification for this exemption, and successive Governors-General have already requested that it be discontinued. With those few words, I thoroughly support this bill and commend it to the House.
KANWALJIT SINGH BAKSHI (National) : I start my contribution by agreeing with what John Hayes said. The present Governor-General is one of the most popular and friendly Governors-General that we have had. I also say that the present Prime Minister is the most secular Prime Minister that New Zealand has ever had. Why do I say this? It is because of his vision that we have the first ethnic Cabinet Minister in the Hon Pansy Wong. It is because of his vision that I am here, along with my colleague Melissa Lee.
I support the second reading of the Governor-General Bill. In 2007 the previous Government asked the Law Commission to review the Act. To this end, the Law Commission found that the functions of the Governor-General in the Civil List Act were outdated and complicated. The Governor-General Bill is important and timely legislation. The Governor-General plays an important role in our constitution, as the Queen’s representative in New Zealand. The Governor-General maintains the legitimacy and stability of the Government.
This bill creates a new funding structure for the office of Governor-General. The main purpose is to streamline the financial arrangements for the support of the office of Governor-General and to ensure that this office is easier to administrate. The new funding structure for the office of Governor-General includes funds for international and domestic travel. The present exemption from the payment of income tax on the Governor-General’s salary will be removed. There is no longer a reason for the exemption, and successive Governors-General have requested that it be discontinued. The Queen has chosen to pay income tax on her private income since 1993, and the Australian Governor-General and state governors have paid income tax on their salaries since 2001. It is now appropriate that the highest office holder in this land is subject to income tax and all the other taxes and charges that every New Zealander pays, and contributes to the running of this country.
This bill also removes certain outdated restrictions on the availability of an annuity paid to former Governors-General and their surviving spouses and partners. The bill will further improve transparency by requiring the Government to present to the House on an annual basis the detail of the expenses incurred to provide such benefits. Apart from one or two exemptions, the new legislation will not apply to the current Governor-General; it will apply when the next Governor-General is appointed. Overall, this bill represents a big step forward in the way the Government supports the office of Governor-General. I support this bill.
Dr RAJEN PRASAD (Labour) : Thank you for the opportunity to avail myself of the honour to speak on the Governor-General Bill, and also to talk a little about the present Governor-General. I agree with all the previous speakers who have already underscored the importance of this role and its symbolism in our nation State, its constitutional position, and indeed the wonderful work that our present Governor-General does. The bill gives form to the work of the Law Commission on the role of the Governor-General and the new mechanisms. The bill makes the arrangements for the Governor-General far more transparent and perhaps simpler to administer as well, and modernises the language that is currently contained in the part of the Civil List Act that pertains to the Governor-General. The bill is timely and it does all of those things for us.
Perhaps the one part of the bill that gives me great joy is the acknowledgment of the spouse of the Governor-General. It is the work that, in this case, Lady Susan Satyanand does, day in and day out, alongside the Rt Hon Sir Anand Satyanand. I want to register strong support for the part of the legislation that acknowledges the family of the Governor-General and the spouse. It is also appropriate, and we support this strongly, for the Governor-General—and this Governor-General, like, I am sure, the others, would want it to be no different—not to have any special privileges, so the paying of taxation and matters like that, which this bill brings into being, are also very strong and important aspects of this particular bill.
It is very hard to talk about a bill of this nature that brings all of the positive things about the office of the Governor-General, the funding, into one place without talking about the person who currently occupies the position. Who is this Rt Hon Sir Anand Satyanand? I go back 4½ years to when the announcement of Governor-General was made. At that time Anand Satyanand was nominated for the position of Governor-General, and without exception there was great rejoicing in the country, particularly in my community but certainly in other communities as well that knew him and his background very well. I do not remember one voice criticising at all why that person at that time should be appointed to that position. It was a great day for minority ethnic groups. I received a phone call today from a radio station talkback host. A talkback had occurred a couple of days ago, and Vapi Kupenga, who is well known to a number of us in the House, said that participants had talked about the work of this Governor-General amongst the Māori community as well, over the years.
There has been an endearing relationship between New Zealand and this particular Governor-General. He has been a model of race relations throughout the country. He has been a model of a person who is totally inclusive of every aspect of New Zealand society and a tireless worker who works way beyond the call of duty, if you like, to be in touch with people, to communicate with them, to pass information across, to connect people together, and then to be there, he and his family, day in and day out. He does the same type of work for us when overseas. He has received tremendous accolades for the work he does overseas on behalf of New Zealand and of us as New Zealanders. Most recently we have seen him presenting medals at the Commonwealth Games, in a country that he loves and that is the country of his ancestors, as well. When we reflect on the quality of the present Governor-General, and relate who he is and his beliefs to the provisions of this bill, there is nothing in this bill that he would even mildly object to. He would support and welcome the way in which the bill regularises his office, even though he will not be the beneficiary of it but his successors will.
It is therefore difficult to understand, in the context of this person and this role, what the last 2 weeks’ debate has been about. Paul Henry decided to have one of those moments and say something that can be defined only as racism. When we collect together a number of characteristics and criticise a group of people on the basis of those characteristics, and try to withhold positions from them, that is racism—as technically defined—and that is what he was doing. The bit that is difficult to understand is why the opportunity was not taken then and there to do the most powerful thing possible to stop that rot. When people in leadership, particularly on public television, are confronted with issues like this, they have only one shot at trying to kill the argument and propose the way in which people should behave. I am saddened that the Prime Minister did not take the opportunity at that point to really defend this Governor-General and the provisions this bill is trying to make for that position, and to say to Paul Henry “Stop! This is not what you ought to be doing. You are talking about somebody quite different.” I have been in positions like that many times. It would have been a great opportunity to talk about this Governor-General in the sense that I and others have of him. It is not surprising that the reaction against what was said and for our present Governor-General over the last 2 weeks has been overwhelming.
It is a matter of satisfaction that New Zealanders welcome the role of the Governor-General, the role of this particular Governor-General, and the provisions being made here, and also that they are prepared to stand up and say that what was being propounded in the media was unfair. Being a New Zealander is something that one achieves either by birth or by immigration, as I did—in this case, this Governor-General is a New Zealander by birth. I support strongly and I appreciate those people in positions of leadership who have stood up to say that one ought not to speak with disrespect about this position. This position represents all of us.
This Parliament is now making firm provisions for the future and to bring all of that together. We must relate to the position in a way that is different. So I am a little surprised that members opposite cannot see that there is a continuity here and that we ought to honour and respect the position of the Governor-General and understand who that person is, because there will be others. It could be a woman next time, it could be a Māori next time, it could be a person from a different profession next time, or it could be a Chinese person next time. They all will be New Zealanders, they all will avail themselves of the provisions of this bill, and they will be our Governor-General; they will be our constitutional head. I hope we will always stand up and support that position in this way. Thank you.
- Bill read a second time.