State-owned Assets, Sales—Waitangi Tribunal Interim Report
Mr SPEAKER: I have received a letter from the Hon Clayton Cosgrove seeking to debate under Standing Order 386 the Waitangi Tribunal’s recommendation that the Crown ought not to commence the sale of shares in any of the mixed-ownership model companies until the Waitangi Tribunal has had the opportunity to complete its report for the first stage of its inquiry, and the Crown has had its opportunity to give this report, and any recommendations it contains, in-depth and considered examination. The Waitangi Tribunal has issued an interim report recommending that the sale of shares ought not to commence until it has had the opportunity to complete its report on stage one of its inquiry. The Government has taken no action. The absence of action on the part of the Government is not a particular case of recent occurrence. The time for such a debate is when the Government has examined the tribunal’s recommendations and announced its response. The application is therefore declined.
Hon TREVOR MALLARD (Labour—Hutt South)
: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I would like to invite you to look carefully at the application, and in particular at the case that was drawn to your attention as part of that, and that is
Hansard, Volume 638, at page 8541, “Urgent Debates: Commission of Inquiry into Police Conduct—Report”. That particular case was one that is absolutely parallel to this. It was the receipt of a report to the Government from a commission, and of course the Waitangi Tribunal has the same status, for these purposes, as a commission. It was something that required a response, but had not yet had a response from the Government. The Speaker on that occasion allowed an urgent debate, and, in fact, on a number of occasions in the past Speakers have allowed urgent debates in those circumstances.
I do not want to push it really hard now, but I would like to invite you to review not your precedents, but previous precedents in this area, as to whether or not a matter that has occurred outside—either in a court, or in a commission of inquiry, or in a tribunal—that requires Government attention, has to have a Government decision before we have an urgent debate here. In the past it has been my understanding that having the House express its views before the Government made a decision on an urgent and important matter was seen to be valuable.
Mr SPEAKER: I accept the points the member has made. His point of order is well considered. I have, in fact, because of the particular nature of the letter submitted to me that raised this issue, actually already had a look at the matters the member has just raised. I think the crux of it boils down to the fact that the Waitangi Tribunal is an independent statutory body. It may have the powers of a commission of inquiry, but it is not a commission of inquiry of the type to which the member referred in his application, which was a commission set up by Ministers to examine matters of Government administration—and in this particular case the member referred to police conduct. Clearly, the Government is answerable for the findings of such commissions of inquiry that have been set up by the Government.
But with regard to the Waitangi Tribunal, the Government is responsible only for its own response to the tribunal’s recommendations. There is a statutory difference between a commission of inquiry set up by the Government and the Waitangi Tribunal. But in ruling that way I am not belittling the very reasonable point the member raised, because it was a point certainly worth examining, and I can assure the member that I had a good look at that because of that very issue.
Hon DAVID PARKER (Labour)
: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Would that mean, then, that when the Government takes a decision as to how it responds to the Waitangi Tribunal’s decision, we could make an application, which you would then determine on its merits as to whether that decision in response to the Waitangi Tribunal deserved the urgent consideration of the House?
Mr SPEAKER: Obviously, when the Government makes such a decision, that is a decision of the Government, and if an application were to be made, I would have to consider it on its merits, in terms of what was announced, the urgency of the matter, and all that kind of thing. But I think the member, again, raises a perfectly fair point, because that would be an action of the Government.
Hon TREVOR MALLARD (Labour—Hutt South)
: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Again, we are not relitigating with the hope of getting the urgent debate, but relitigating or trying to make points for the future. The Standing Orders do not say that these debates result from decisions of the Government—the urgent matter does not have to be a decision of the Government. I think sometimes you have been coming back to that in your rulings, when that is not a requirement. As in the point I made earlier, some of us hope that Parliament might be able to, in the future, influence decisions of the Government that are required to be made.
Mr SPEAKER: I hear the member, and the member is quite right again. They are matters that involve the administrative responsibility of the Government. I accept that point and it is well made. However, with this particular issue, and the Waitangi Tribunal, the points I have covered remain, in that it is statutorily different from a
commission of inquiry set up by the Government. The Waitangi Tribunal is an independent body, and that is what makes it rather different. However, I am aware of what the member is pointing out—that often the benefit of a debate in the House would be rather greater, on some occasions, prior to a response occurring. I can hear where the member is going, and that is why I do not want to pre-empt any possibilities, because any application must be considered on its own merits—and I do not want to pre-empt any possibilities. But I have noted the point the member made, and I can understand why it was made.