- Debate resumed from 20 June.
Hon MAURICE WILLIAMSON (Minister for Building and Construction)
on behalf of the
Minister for State Owned Enterprises: I move,
That the Committee divide the bill into the State-Owned Enterprises Amendment Bill and the Public Finance (Mixed Ownership Model) Amendment Bill, pursuant to Supplementary Order Paper 41.
Hon LIANNE DALZIEL (Labour—Christchurch East)
: I want to speak on this particular motion, which has just been moved by the Minister in the chair, the Minister for Building and Construction. I hope he takes the opportunity to respond to the issues that I want to raise at this time in the debate, because this has been a very long debate that we have had on this particular bill, and I know that every member on this side of the Chamber has been expressing the concerns felt by most New Zealanders that this bill should not be traversing through the House in this manner. The notion—
Louise Upston: Point of order.
The CHAIRPERSON (H V Ross Robertson): I know what the member is going to raise. Can I just inform members that this is a very narrow debate. I want to refer members to Speaker’s ruling 120/5. In fact, this is one of the narrowest debates we could have. To quote from the Speaker’s ruling, it says this: “A debate on a motion to divide a bill is a very narrow debate. It is not an opportunity to recanvass all the principal issues contained within the bill. It is strictly related to the proposal that the bill should be divided.” What the debate here really is this afternoon is whether this bill should be split into the State-Owned Enterprises Amendment Bill and the Public Finance (Mixed Ownership Model) Amendment Bill. So the member can say whether she believes it should be split into those bills and give reasons why, for or against. It is a very narrow debate.
Hon LIANNE DALZIEL: Thank you for your assistance, Mr Chairman. I want to ask the Minister a series of questions about the motion that he has just moved in the Committee, which is specifically in relation to dividing the Mixed Ownership Model Bill, which we have been debating over the last few days, into two separate bills, one of which would be enacting the State-Owned Enterprises Amendment Act 2012, and the second of which would be enacting the Public Finance (Mixed Ownership Model) Amendment Act 2012. I understand that the reason why the Government wants to divide the Mixed Ownership Model Bill into these two separate bills is that it wants to have the first part of the bill—clauses 1 and 2 and Part 1—as the State-Owned Enterprises Amendment Act 2012 because it takes four separate State-owned enterprises out of the coverage of the State-Owned Enterprises Act.
As I understand it, and I would like the Minister to confirm this, this would mean that the four State-owned enterprises—and just to recap, they are Mighty River Power, Meridian Energy, Genesis Energy, and Solid Energy—the four energy companies that I have just mentioned, would no longer be State-owned enterprises. So that is the question I have for the Minister. Is the reason why clauses 1 and 2 and Part 1 are being separated off into a separate bill that those four energy companies will no longer, in fact, be State-owned enterprises?
Grant Robertson: Who would stop them from being SOEs?
Hon LIANNE DALZIEL: Well, I do not know. I would just like the Minister to stand up and confirm whether or not I have correctly understood the purpose of separating off clauses 1 and 2 and Part 1 into a separate bill. So that is the first question.
I understand that the second question would relate to the separating off of the remaining parts of the bill, which is actually just Part 2, and that that would then take them into the Public Finance (Mixed Ownership Model) Amendment Act. I just wanted to question the Minister as to the reason why this legislation would be called the Public Finance (Mixed Ownership Model) Amendment Act. Is that because the decision was made by the Government to call the privatisation of public property a mixed-ownership model, rather than a former State-owned enterprise or a privatised State-owned asset, or, you know, one of those different ones? I know we did debate those, and it would be inappropriate of me to raise the actual topic of the debate in the context of this motion, but is that the reason why the public finance amendment Act requires the words “Mixed Ownership Model” to be in brackets as part of the title to that Act? And is that why it needs to be separated out from other elements of the Public Finance Act?
That is something that would not actually be required if the companies were, in fact, still State-owned enterprises, because—again, as I understand it—if they were State-owned enterprises, then we would not need the first part of this particular piece of legislation. They would not have to be split into two separate pieces, and—[Interruption] It is a serious question, and I think that we have really taken the opportunity on this side of the Chamber to ask all of the questions that the public has wanted to put to the Government. [Bell rung] Mr Chairman, thank you for the opportunity to continue down this path. I am disappointed that the Minister has not taken the opportunity to respond to these questions, and perhaps he simply has not taken advice in preparation for participating in this debate. He may, in fact, be surprised that we are debating what is not normally debated in this House, but because this is such an important piece of legislation, I think it is important for us on this side of the Chamber, certainly, to raise all of these questions.
I do not know about other members on this side of the Chamber, but I have been inundated with a large number of inquiries from the public, perhaps not necessarily about this particular motion because they may not have been aware that this motion was going to be moved by the Minister today, but I do know that all the other elements of the legislation have been the subject of a significant number of approaches to members on this side of the Chamber, certainly. Actually, I suspect members of the Government have received a lot of feedback from constituents and from their own supporters, very concerned about the decision—
Hon Nathan Guy: There was an election, Lianne.
Hon LIANNE DALZIEL: Well, it is interesting that the Minister interjects from the other side of the Chamber and says that there was a general election. There was one last year, and that is true, but there is also the point that was made by my colleague Grant Robertson—a very good point—which was that when you add up the numbers of people who voted against—
Hon Nathan Guy: Against Labour.
Hon LIANNE DALZIEL: —against National, or voted for parties—well, I am responding to the interjection from the Minister; I think it is only fair—
Hon Nathan Guy: OK, I’ll listen.
Hon LIANNE DALZIEL: If you add up all of the people who voted for parties that were opposed to the sale of State assets, then that was the majority decision, which is reflected in the polls today. I am getting a signal from the Chair that I am to keep this to the narrow parameters of the debate. But I think he has accepted that it is appropriate that when I am interjected on by someone as important as a Minister, it is important to
place that interjection on the record and to respond to it, and I thank the Minister for the opportunity to do so.
The Minister in the chair, though, still has not taken the opportunity to explain why we are dividing this into the two separate bills. I really think it is important to this Committee that we receive the confirmation that we are looking for, and that is around the decision to have Part 1 and clauses 1 and 2 now known as the State-Owned Enterprises Amendment Act 2012, and for Part 2 and schedules 1 and 2 to be separate legislation, the Public Finance (Mixed Ownership Model) Amendment Act.
The fact is that the Government has decided to split this legislation into these two bills, and it needs to explain the reason why it has chosen the name “Public Finance (Mixed Ownership Model) Amendment Act”. That is the question that I do think the Government does need to respond to in this debate this afternoon, but also—and this is more important—it needs to explain the decision to use the “State-Owned Enterprises Amendment Act” description as the coverage of clauses 1 and 2 and Part 1. I think that the main reason that really needs to be dealt with is the confirmation that there are four State-owned enterprises today that are not going to be State-owned enterprises when the State-Owned Enterprises Amendment Act 2012 becomes law. I think that is probably the most important question that the public would expect the Government to answer in the Committee this afternoon, as we come down to the very final parts of the Committee stage of what is going to be formerly known as the Mixed Ownership Model Bill, if this motion is agreed to by the Committee.
I should say that I understand that Labour will not be supporting this motion, and the reason that we are not supporting this motion is that we have not really found any reason to support any element of this legislation. It is not supported by the general public, and, actually, there is no reason to separate out this motion from any of the other motions that have had to be challenged on this side of the Chamber, other than the very good set of amendments that we have put forward in respect of this matter. We did not put forward an amendment on this particular motion, and that is because, technically, the motion had not been moved when we were still debating within the broader Committee stage.
Dr RUSSEL NORMAN (Co-Leader—Green)
: I rise to speak on behalf of the Green Party on this motion to divide this bill, the Mixed Ownership Model Bill, into two parts. We have Supplementary Order Paper 41 before us to divide this bill into two parts, the first of which would be called, according to the Supplementary Order Paper, the State-Owned Enterprises Amendment Bill 2012, and I do not have a particular problem with that. However, the second part is to be titled, according to this Supplementary Order Paper, the Public Finance (Mixed Ownership Model) Amendment Bill, and I do have an issue with calling it the Public Finance (Mixed Ownership Model) Amendment Bill, as this Supplementary Order Paper proposes.
The reason why I disagree with this is that I think this is a piece of propaganda. The reason I say that is that if you were serious about naming this piece of legislation in a non-propaganda way, in a straightforward way, as the title on this Supplementary Order Paper proposes here, the Government would simply call it the “Public Finance (Mixed Ownership) Amendment Bill”. The question I have is that on this Supplementary Order Paper before us, and in fact, of course, in the whole debate around this matter, we have been forced to call this bill—now this bill that it is being divided—the Mixed Ownership Model Bill. The reason why this is being called the Mixed Ownership Model Bill in this Supplementary Order Paper, “MOM”, is that the acronym is “MOM”. That is the truth. The reason why we have been forced to call it the Mixed Ownership Model Bill is that the acronym forms “MOM”. What this Government has done repeatedly through this whole debate is refer to mums and dads, and try to have a quaint
little propaganda exercise around how it is doing this thing for mums and dads, which is why in this amendment in front of us it is calling it the Mixed Ownership Model Bill.
Louise Upston: I raise a point of order, Mr Chairperson. You have already referred to the fact that your Speaker’s ruling 120/5 is that it is to be a very narrow debate.
Chris Hipkins: Somebody in the position of a whip should know that it is completely out of order to interrupt a member to question the relevance of their speech. The sole judge of relevance—and there are Speakers’ rulings to this effect—is the member in the Chair.
Louise Upston: I was not questioning relevance; I was coming back to the fact that this debate is a very narrow one, specifically related to the dividing of a bill, and I referred directly to the Speaker’s ruling that you mentioned earlier.
The CHAIRPERSON (H V Ross Robertson): Can I just say that, obviously, as the Chairperson I am the sole judge, but I can rule about relevancy or whatever the case might be. I actually had signalled Dr Norman, and he was starting to come back when the member rose to take the point of order. I would just refer the member to Speaker’s ruling 120/5, and I think that he was pretty much on key, so let us just make it nice and tight and narrow. Thank you.
Dr RUSSEL NORMAN: The point is that in this debate we are referring to a Supplementary Order Paper in front of the Committee, which is an amendment, and there is a proposal within this Supplementary Order Paper that the second amendment bill be called the Public Finance (Mixed Ownership Model) Amendment Bill. I could not be speaking more closely to the issue at hand by addressing what it is that the Government proposes to call the second amendment bill. The reason it is calling it by this specific name, the Public Finance (Mixed Ownership Model) Amendment Bill, is that it wants to promote a propaganda purpose. It is not related to the reality of what we are doing, which is that we are creating mixed-ownership companies. The reason why it is called the mixed-ownership model—and goodness knows what that is meant to mean—is for propaganda purposes, because the acronym is “MOM”. That is, it is like mums and dads. That is what the Government is using in this Supplementary Order Paper right in front of us, which we are addressing in this debate, whereby the Supplementary Order Paper establishes an Act called the Public Finance (Mixed Ownership Model) Amendment Act. It is calling it this particular name because it wants to promote a set of ideologies about mum and dad New Zealanders, even though most mums and dads will never be able to afford to buy shares in these companies. That is why all the way through this debate it has used the language that is in the title of the second Act that it is creating in this Supplementary Order Paper.
When you look at what the Government has spent on SenateSHJ communications, which is a spin-doctoring company, a public relations agency, with all the focus groups and all the propaganda it has put forward, which will be funded by the taxpayer—$120 million on propaganda, SenateSHJ communications, advertising, and investment bankers—it is all about these words in this Supplementary Order Paper. It is all about getting the propaganda right. Regardless of the fundamental fiscal or economic arguments, what this Government has consistently done—and it is demonstrated in the words it has chosen to call the amendment bill in this Supplementary Order Paper—is make a propaganda point. My question to the Minister is why do you not just call it the “Public Finance (Mixed Ownership) Amendment Act”, which is really what it is? Why is it that you have introduced the word “model” into the title of the second Act? The reason, I would argue, is that you wanted the acronym to be “MOM”. My apologies, Mr Chair. The reason the Government wanted this second title to include the words “Mixed Ownership Model” was that it was part of its propaganda exercise. It is the propaganda
exercise that has characterised this debate from beginning to end. Thank you. The Green Party will be opposing this amendment.
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS (Leader—NZ First)
: On behalf of New Zealand First I rise to oppose Supplementary Order Paper 41, which divides the Mixed Ownership Model Bill. We have to ask the question as to why on earth, after all this time, with all the protestations of how far out from today the public of this country was advised, the Government has finally got around to finding a title. Right now, the Minister for Building and Construction is in the chair. He is mum on why the Government is calling it “MOM”. He is not saying a word, not rising to his feet. He has been challenged pretty seriously, in a very narrow debate, as you know, Mr Chair. You would expect at least to get an answer at this stage in the debate, but no, nothing at all.
The fact of the matter is that the legislative change we have got here, this change of title, begs the question of how fragile and brittle and ham-fisted the thinking and preparation behind this bill has been. It is really indicative of the fact that as the debate has gone through, month after month, and their reasons have been proven to be so flimsy and immaterial, they have kept shifting their ground. Today, here, late in the piece, they are shifting their ground on the title.
Dr Norman is entirely right. You usually expect the far left to have this sort of psychobabble, Freudian type of psychology, where people read between the lines or get subliminal messages, and to expect that to happen by way of this title is, I think, a bridge far too far. Frankly, why do you not just call it the “Mixed Ownership (Hell, I Sold My Country Down the Drain) Bill”, or the “Mixed Ownership (How I Decided to be a Quisling) Bill”? [Interruption] No, no. This is it. I am talking about this title. Why have you not called it the “Mixed Ownership (How I Became a Benedict Arnold Against New Zealand Interests) Bill”? That would fit everything that those members over there are doing. So why have you chosen “MOM”, the mixed-ownership model?
Jami-Lee Ross: What about the “When Winston Sold the Airport Bill”?
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: There you go. I am going to respond to that. He said: “How about the ‘When Winston Sold the Airport Bill’?”. Everybody knows the National Party had that policy. Everybody knows that the only thing that saved it from going to international interests was the demand that it go to New Zealand interests.
Everybody knows that I said, at the end of the experiment, that it was a big mistake, and that I regret it. But when they came along on Wellington Airport, I walked out of the second most powerful job in this country. That is my bona fides. That is my good faith. I would not sell Wellington Airport. I would not do it twice, because I knew I had made a mistake. I also went on to stop the multinational agreement on investment.
Those are my bona fides, and I do not want a johnny-come-lately who has been here 5 minutes, from south-west Auckland, to get up and try to say what Winston Peters has done or what his record is. My record compared with yours makes me a paragon of virtue on these issues—unlike those people there, who will do anything to sell their country down the drain, as long as the whips say that is part of the caucus agenda. So I hope we do not see any more of that behaviour or hear any more of that conversation or criticism, because I have got a lot more to talk about on the National Party’s record, if you want me to. But it is too wide for this debate—it is too wide for this debate.
I go back to my point. The sum of $120 million has been used to prepare this legislation, and possibly millions on deciding what the title will be, and very late in the piece, showing how flimsy the preparation has been, they come up with this. Then, of course, they have the audacity to say: “You know, the Greens are spending $70,000 trying to get a petition up.” They spend $120 million on things like trying to find the title, and they have the audacity to criticise someone else. How fraudulent and deceitful
is that? It is $120 million for them, and no one can use a little bit of money to try to stop this sort of behaviour.
I want to say that there is a better name for this legislation, and I have given you a number of options. It should not be called the Public Finance (Mixed Ownership Model) Amendment Bill. It is not a matter about public finance at all, frankly, in that concept. They came along with one title, and late in the piece they want to change it. They should have called it, under New Zealand First’s view and interpretation, very reasonably arrived at, the “Benedict Arnold (How the National Party Sold Down the Country) Bill”.
CHRIS HIPKINS (Labour—Rimutaka)
: I am very happy to take a call in the final stages of this debate on the Mixed Ownership Model Bill, on Supplementary Order Paper 41, which will divide the bill into two bills. The new bills will become the State-Owned Enterprises Amendment Bill 2012 and the Public Finance (Mixed Ownership Model) Amendment Bill 2012.
I want to ask the Minister in the chair, the Minister for Building and Construction, one or two questions on how this Supplementary Order Paper has been structured, and the reasons for doing so. Part 1 of the Mixed Ownership Model Bill, which is going to become the State-Owned Enterprises Amendment Act, actually amends more than just the State-Owned Enterprises Act. It also contains amendments to the Ombudsmen Act, amendments to the Official Information Act, amendments to the Public Finance Act, and amendments to the Income Tax Act. I am wondering why it is that in this Supplementary Order Paper to divide the bill, it is actually being divided into only two bills. It has not been divided into bills for all of the respective legislation that it amends.
Actually, the amendments in Part 1 are more than just to the State-Owned Enterprises Act. For example, amendments to the Ombudsmen Act repeal a number of provisions related to these State-owned enterprises from that Act, and surely that is a reason that that should have been separated out into a separate bill, or a separate Act—we are getting to the point where it is about to become an Act. It should be separated out into a separate Ombudsmen Amendment Bill. It should have been separated into a separate amendment bill for the Official Information Act, a separate amendment bill for the Public Finance Act, and a separate amendment bill for the Income Tax Act.
So I would quite like to know—I guess as much from an interest in parliamentary proceedings as anything else—why it is that it has not actually been separated into all of the respective Acts. It is a relatively simple question. It seems a bit odd that we would go so far as to separate it into two but not go so far as to separate it into about seven, because I think there are, in total, about seven Acts that are amended by this bill. That is the first question that I have for the Minister.
The second question that I have—which is really for the Committee—is whether the titles that are being used for the two Acts that this bill will become accurately describe the contents of the bill that we are debating. I think that is very important from a legislative perspective. We have a convention in New Zealand that the titles of our legislation are not overly political, that they are factual, and that they describe what the subject matter is. If you look at other jurisdictions overseas, they have laws that are very politically labelled and that do not necessarily describe—
Grant Robertson: No Child Left Behind.
CHRIS HIPKINS: The No Child Left Behind Act, for example.
Hon Member: Clear Skies Act.
CHRIS HIPKINS: The Clear Skies Act. They do not really describe the contents of the legislation in question. We do not have that practice here in New Zealand. Our convention is that our titles tend to be pretty boring, and they tend to be just relatively factual descriptions of the laws concerned. The question the Committee now turns its
attention to is whether the titles for the two new Acts being proposed here accurately describe, in accordance with those conventions for how we label legislation, the content of them.
The State-Owned Enterprises Amendment Bill 2012 is, I think, probably a reasonably accurate description for that part, although having said that, again, it comes back to my question about whether it accurately describes the contents of the bill, given that it amends a whole lot of other Acts in addition to the State-Owned Enterprises Act. But when we come to the second part, which is amendments to the Public Finance Act—an Act that is going to be subject to further amendment by this House, I would say, in the fairly near future—the question is whether the use of the term Public Finance (Mixed Ownership Model) Amendment Bill is an accurate description for what this bill actually does. I think that is where we want to spend a little bit of time pulling that apart.
The mixed-ownership model is, frankly, a legal fiction. There is no such thing as a mixed-ownership model. Effectively, what the substance of the bill does is it removes these entities from the State-Owned Enterprises Act, where there is a legal nature and a very detailed legal purpose and so on for them, and it puts them into the ether, where they are kind of not quite private companies, but they are not quite State-owned enterprises or public companies any more either. This is a whole new thing. Actually, it is a fiction to say that it is a mixed-ownership model, because it is portraying it as something that it is not. The Government will no longer be the owner of these companies; it will merely be a shareholder in them. The substance of the issue is whether the title, the Public Finance (Mixed Ownership Model) Amendment Bill, is an accurate description of what is being done here. As I have said, there really is no such thing as a mixed-ownership model. This is a legal fiction that is being created by the Government.
What it probably would be more accurate to say is that it is the “Public Finance (Share Sales in Previously Public Assets) Amendment Bill”, because that is effectively what it is doing. These will now become publicly listed companies. The fact that the Government owns the majority of shares in the publicly listed company does not get away from the fact that they are going to be publicly listed companies. They are no longer going to be State-owned enterprises. They are no longer going to be publicly owned assets. Although the Government may own 51 percent of them, that does not make them a publicly owned asset any more. So the question that I have is whether the description that is being used here, the Public Finance (Mixed Ownership Model) Amendment Bill, is an accurate description. I do not think it is, because, as I have pointed out, there is not really any such thing as a mixed-ownership model.
So then the question becomes whether this new bill that is being created adequately establishes a robust, legitimate framework for there to be such a thing as a mixed-ownership model. It is a very light piece of legislation, and I do not think it does. The title of this bill suggests that it is creating a whole new framework—something that is entirely new—in the nature that the State-Owned Enterprises Act would have been back when it was first created in, I think, 1986. Was it 1986?
Grant Robertson: For the SOE Act, yes.
CHRIS HIPKINS: For the State-Owned Enterprises Act it was 1986. So when that was first established it was—
Hon Ruth Dyson: Before you were born?
CHRIS HIPKINS: I was at primary school, actually, Ms Dyson. It was a substantial Act—
Hon Member: Maurice was here.
CHRIS HIPKINS: Maurice was here. It created a significant new body of law, and a significant new structure for companies. So the question we have is whether this is an appropriate name for what will become a part of the Public Finance Act; the question we have to ask ourselves is whether “mixed-ownership model” is a sufficient description for that, because it is nowhere near as substantial as the State-Owned Enterprises Act actually was, and, of course, it has not been through quite the same process that the State-Owned Enterprises Act went through when it was first established. I would argue quite strongly that, in fact, this is not an accurate description of the law that is being created by this Parliament, and that it is a term of spin that is being used in the title of an Act, which is not something that this Parliament has traditionally engaged in doing. Therefore, I think we should find a more accurate description for the title.
On the wider issue, I still have the question as to why this bill is not being divided into many, many more contributing bills or amendment bills, for all of the relevant pieces of legislation that it amends. As I have said, it covers the Ombudsmen Act, the Official Information Act, and the Public Finance Act—all of which I regard as constitutional instruments in New Zealand’s law—and the Income Tax Act, which is amended all the time. Although the Income Tax Act has a significant bearing on Parliament’s income, I would not necessarily describe it quite so much in the constitutional sense, although I am probably going to get emails about that. But certainly the Ombudsmen Act, the Official Information Act, and the Public Finance Act are all parts of our constitutional framework. We do not have a written constitution in New Zealand, so when we are amending those Acts I think we should be explicit about the fact that we are amending them. I do not think that this piece of legislation does that.
At this point, I think that probably concludes my remarks on this, but I do look forward to the contribution of the Minister. I see that he has been taking some notes, and I am sure that he is going to clarify my concerns.
LOUISE UPSTON (Junior Whip—National)
: I move,
That the question be now put.
GRANT ROBERTSON (Deputy Leader—Labour)
: I want to pick up on the excellent contribution from my colleague Chris Hipkins on Supplementary Order Paper 41—
Hon Ruth Dyson: And Lianne Dalziel.
GRANT ROBERTSON: —and also the contribution by Lianne Dalziel—that was a little stumble there—and the contributions by other members around the House as well. It is only water; do not worry.
What I really want to do is to pick up, for the most part, on Mr Hipkins’ concerns about the division of the Mixed Ownership Model Bill into only two bills. I think this is quite a serious matter, because when we look at what is in Part 1, which makes up the majority of what will now be called the State-Owned Enterprises Amendment Bill, we see a number of matters covered. We see amendments to the State-Owned Enterprises Act 1986, and it would be quite logical in the system that we use in this Parliament to call any bill that amends those the State-Owned Enterprises Amendment Bill, so on that count we can be satisfied. But then we look at what were clauses 6 to 11 of Part 1 of the Mixed Ownership Model Bill, which now make up the part of the divided bill here, and we see there amendments to the Ombudsmen Act 1975. The Minister in the chair, the Minister for Building and Construction, was not in the House in 1975, but I am sure he can provide us with some guidance around the question of whether or not it is possible to create something called the State-Owned Enterprises Amendment Bill, and in doing so amend the Ombudsmen Act and not directly split the bill up to amend the actual Ombudsmen Act.
To remind the Committee of what is being divided here, the amendments to the Ombudsmen Act 1975 that will now form part of the State-Owned Enterprises Amendment Bill and that were in clause 6 of the Mixed Ownership Model Bill are, in fact, to remove Genesis Power Ltd, Meridian Energy Ltd, Mighty River Power Ltd, and Solid Energy New Zealand Ltd from the Ombudsmen Act, to take them right out, remove the accountability on those matters, and completely take out the ability of New Zealanders to find out what is going on in these companies that allegedly, according to the Government, we still own nearly half of. So they have gone. They have gone from the Ombudsmen Act. Surely that would be an occasion to have a completely new Act called the “Ombudsmen Amendment Act”, rather than to have it under the State-Owned Enterprises Act.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: The “Ombudsmen Sidelining Act”.
GRANT ROBERTSON: That is right. In fact, it could have a number of names. That is right, Mr Peters, it could be called the “Ombudsmen Sidelining Act”. It could be called the “Ombudsmen (Hiding Information from New Zealanders) Act”. There are many different names it could be called, but whatever it is called, it should be an Act by itself. I simply cannot understand how it can be part of the State-Owned Enterprises Act. It does not describe what will be done. It does not explain to New Zealanders that their rights to take issues to the Ombudsman about companies that they previously have owned all of, and under this Government will own less than that—half of that, less than half of that over time, I am sure—will be repealed. They should have the right to have a piece of legislation in front of this Committee called the “Ombudsmen Repeal Act”, the “Ombudsmen (Hiding from the Public) Act”, or whatever name we would choose to give it. I simply cannot understand why the Government has split the bill, in this motion, into only two bills.
If we then move to the next of the pieces covered under the State-Owned Enterprises Amendment Bill, which is what was previously in clause 7 of the Mixed Ownership Model Bill, these are amendments to the Official Information Act. This amends the Official Information Act to “repeal the item relating to Solid Energy New Zealand Ltd.” That means this is a significant change, and it would be deserving of its own piece of legislation, I would have thought. We need to explain what that change is. The change is that New Zealanders previously would have thought that the Official Information Act applied to an entity that they own, to an entity that even under this proposal they have at least some ownership of, we are told by the Government. Surely that would have been something of such significance—that New Zealanders could no longer use the Official Information Act to find out what is actually going on in Solid Energy; so much for control of it—that that would justify an “Official Information (Hiding What is Happening in Solid Energy) Amendment Bill”, or an “Official Information (Taking Away the Rights of New Zealanders to Information About Assets That They Own) Amendment Bill”. All of those things would be more accurate descriptions than the State-Owned Enterprises Amendment Act. That does not describe what is happening here. That does not describe to New Zealanders what is going on here.
Now we have a situation where, under Supplementary Order Paper 41, which we are discussing, the bill will be split into two; we have the State-Owned Enterprises Amendment Bill and we have the Public Finance (Mixed Ownership Model) Amendment Bill, but we do not have any reference to the Ombudsmen Act, the Official Information Act, or, indeed, to the Income Tax Act, which are clearly distinct parts of what is Part 1 of the Mixed Ownership Model Bill.
So I think the Minister in the chair does need to stand up and answer to the Committee as to why this is happening. I could posit some reasons for him. It would be more constructive, I suspect, if the Minister were to get up and do that, but I could posit
some reasons. I would say that one of those reasons is that the Government does not want New Zealanders to know that their rights under the Official Information Act and the Ombudsmen Act would be taken away in this legislation. That would be one reason why the Government split this bill into only two parts, rather than the many parts that would accurately describe what is happening here.
It seems quite clear to me that we have a serious issue within Supplementary Order Paper 41. We are not allowed to debate the substance and the merits of what will happen within this, but it is quite clear to me, having listened to, and participated in, the debate, that members raised many Supplementary Order Papers, many amendments, and many issues relating to changes to the Ombudsmen Act and changes to the Official Information Act. These are Acts that lie at the core of our democracy. These are the things that enable New Zealanders to know what is going on in public companies and entities in which they have an interest and in which all New Zealanders have an interest. Yet today the Government is blithely putting all of that under something called the State-Owned Enterprises Amendment Bill, which is half of this motion. I simply do not think that describes what is happening here. I do not think it is accurate in terms of the history and, as Mr Hipkins said, of how we describe laws in New Zealand.
Chris Hipkins: It’s a change from our practice.
GRANT ROBERTSON: That is right; it is a change from previous practice. We have not had a single explanation from the Government side about why it has decided to completely ignore the fact that it is amending the Ombudsmen Act and the Official Information Act, let alone, I might add, the Income Tax Act. The Income Tax Act does get amended more often in this House. I absolutely accept that. But, again, these are very important items in terms of the overall accounts of New Zealand. If we look at what the amendments are, we see that what was formerly Part 1—clauses 9, 10, and 11 of Part 1—are serious amendments that are being undertaken here. They remove from the Income Tax Act items relating to Genesis Power Ltd, Meridian Energy Ltd, Mighty River Power Ltd, and Solid Energy. So the amendments remove them from the Income Tax Act. They are removing them from a fundamental piece of legislation, so why is there not something on the Table right now, in Supplementary Order Paper 41, called the “Income Tax (Taking Away the Profits that New Zealanders Get From these State-owned Assets) Amendment Bill”? It may not be that title. Mr Williamson possibly would want something with fewer words in it, but it could be that title. So, not actually having the Income Tax Act amendment—
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Fewer. Fewer words.
GRANT ROBERTSON: Fewer, yes. I said fewer. Fewer words.
Charles Chauvel: Could we have an animated version?
GRANT ROBERTSON: We could have an animated version. We could have an app, if it was the Minister in the chair, the Minister for Building and Construction. It may be more appropriate that some kind of app was created that could actually do that for us.
Phil Twyford: Smart app.
GRANT ROBERTSON: SmartGate. That is right. Those amendments to the Income Tax Act are now lost within the State-Owned Enterprises Amendment Bill.
There is another curiosity in this matter, and that is that, in fact, what is now going to be the State-Owned Enterprises Amendment Act also includes amendments to the Public Finance Act. I think that creates an internal contradiction here, because the second bill from this divided bill is the Public Finance (Mixed Ownership Model) Amendment Bill, and I endorse the comments made by Russel Norman and Winston Peters on the Freudian nature of that title. Actually, we are now also amending the Public Finance Act within the State-Owned Enterprises Amendment Act. Perhaps the
Minister would like to explain to us exactly how that works. Would it not make more sense, in this Supplementary Order Paper to divide the bill, to include what was clause 8 of Part 1 of the Mixed Ownership Model Bill in the Public Finance (Mixed Ownership Model) Bill? If that is a bit confusing for those listening on their crystal sets—Maurice Williamson is aware of crystal sets—the Public Finance (Mixed Ownership Model) Amendment Act is the second—
Rt Hon Winston Peters: He’s got earrings made of them.
GRANT ROBERTSON: That is almost worth getting on the record, is it not? Mr Peters says that he has got earrings made of them, which I think is very clever. The Public Finance (Mixed Ownership Model) Amendment Bill—
MAGGIE BARRY (National—North Shore)
: I move,
That the question be now put.
DENIS O’ROURKE (NZ First)
: The whole question of dividing this bill into two raises the whole concept of what is a State-owned enterprise and what is not. I say that making Part 2 a separate bill is inappropriate because, firstly, it includes in the title the words “Mixed Ownership Model”, and, secondly, Part 2, in its substance, does not set out a model that is a genuine mixed-ownership model. In fact, I think that the name for Part 2 should simply be the Public Finance Amendment Bill. It should not include the words “Mixed Ownership Model” at all. That is just not correct.
The reasons for that are these. First of all, the model set out is, as I have said, not a genuine mixed-ownership model at all. I say that in order for the model to be correct, it would have to be a fifty-fifty ownership model, because that is the only way there could be genuine mixed ownership. I say that mixed ownership can mean only that. Anything other than fifty-fifty is not mixed; it is dominated by one party or the other, so it is not mixed. As it is, of course, as we know, the Crown keeps 51 percent, which is control, and I do not see what is mixed about that. Control is control. You cannot be a little bit pregnant; you cannot be a little bit in control. Fifty-one percent is control; 51 percent is not mixed.
I will tell members something from my own experience. I chaired a company, Transwaste Canterbury Ltd, that was a genuine mixed-ownership model. That was able to be called a partnership or could have been called a mixed-ownership model. Whether it was or was not a mixed-ownership model, it could still operate as a fully successful commercial business. That is the model that it actually is. In that respect it is absolutely no different from a State-owned enterprise, because under the State-Owned Enterprises Act they are required to operate as successful businesses. So I do not see how there is any difference between a State-owned enterprise defined in that way and what these entities will be with 51 percent shareholding residing in the Crown. What is the real difference?
You could also see that the regime in which these entities will be operating is fully competitive, the same as when they were State-owned enterprises, having to operate in competition with each other. I further say that the only way they could be different is if the shareholding Ministers enter into shareholders agreements.
The CHAIRPERSON (H V Ross Robertson): Can I just advise the member that what we are looking at here is the reason why the bill should be divided—why it should be split into the State-Owned Enterprises Amendment Bill or the Public Finance (Mixed Ownership Model) Amendment Bill. The member is able to give reasons why that should happen and—
DENIS O’ROURKE: Or reasons why it should not.
The CHAIRPERSON (H V Ross Robertson): Or reasons why it should not. The debate is strictly related to the proposal that the bill should be divided.
DENIS O’ROURKE: And the reason I am giving, Mr Chair, for it not to be divided is because it is a mis-description in Part 2 to call these entities mixed-ownership-model entities when they are, in reality, not that, and I have been giving reasons why that is the case.
Finally, I want to say this. The only way that it could become genuinely a mixed-ownership model is if the shareholding Ministers were to enter into shareholders agreements with the minority to allow the majority of directors to be appointed by the minority. Then you could say it would be a genuinely mixed-ownership model, then you could say it would genuinely not be like a State-owned enterprise, and then it would be reasonable for this bill to be divided into two parts, for those sorts of reasons. But, of course, the Government would never allow that, or should not allow that, simply because if it did it would lose actual control, and that would be a breach of its undertaking to the public of New Zealand that genuine control would remain with the Crown.
So, for those reasons I say that the mixed-ownership model is a myth. It does not, and cannot, really exist under this legislation, and should not be reflected in a division of these bills on the basis that there is a difference between these entities and State-owned enterprises.
- A party vote was called for on the question
that the Committee divide the bill into the State-Owned Enterprises Amendment Bill and the Public Finance (Mixed Ownership Model) Amendment Bill, pursuant to Supplementary Order Paper 41.
The CHAIRPERSON (H V Ross Robertson): Order! Members know there are to be no comments at all during the taking of a vote. It can be seen as intimidatory and could lead to a breach of privilege.
A party vote was called for on the question,
That the Committee divide the bill into the State-Owned Enterprises Amendment Bill and the Public Finance (Mixed Ownership Model) Amendment Bill, pursuant to Supplementary Order Paper 41.
||New Zealand National 59; ACT New Zealand 1; United Future 1.
||New Zealand Labour 34; Green Party 14; New Zealand First 8; Māori Party 2; Mana 1.
|Motion agreed to.
- House resumed.
- Bill reported with amendment.
The CHAIRPERSON (H V Ross Robertson): I move,
That the report be adopted.
A party vote was called for on the question,
That the report be adopted.
||New Zealand National 59; Māori Party 2; ACT New Zealand 1; United Future 1.
||New Zealand Labour 34; Green Party 14; New Zealand First 8; Mana 1.