Ministerial Resignation—Member for
Mr SPEAKER: I have received letters from the Leader of the Opposition and Mr Rodney Hide seeking to debate under Standing Order 373 the resignation of John Tamihere. This is a particular case of recent occurrence involving ministerial responsibility. I did permit an urgent debate on 19 October when Mr Tamihere stood down from his ministerial portfolios and an inquiry was set up. I have therefore had to consider very carefully whether a further debate on this matter is justified given that recent debate having been held, particularly as not every ministerial resignation leads to an urgent debate being accepted. I have decided to err on the side of allowing this debate, given the interest in the matter, but I point out that the fact that two urgent debates have now been allowed on it will weigh very heavily in the balance with any future application on this subject. The Leader of the Opposition’s application was the first one I received, and therefore I call on him to move the motion.
Dr DON BRASH (Leader of the Opposition)
: I move,
That the House take note of a matter of urgent public importance. Finally it has happened. John Tamihere has walked the plank. But the decision should not have been Mr Tamihere’s. 
Mr SPEAKER: There has been far too much interjection in the first minute or two of this debate. This is a serious matter that the House is debating and I want it to be heard in relative silence.
Dr DON BRASH: The decision should not have been Mr Tamihere’s. The Prime Minister acted on other occasions. On this occasion she abdicated her responsibilities and has shown she is prepared to adopt a double ministerial standard. It is nothing short of an outrage that the Prime Minister has left it open to Mr Tamihere to return to Cabinet. She is trying to have a dollar each way by trying not to upset urban Māori or the right-wing faction of her own caucus. This is deal-making on an extraordinary scale, but we all know why. She is playing for time. She desperately needed, and still needs, Mr Tamihere’s loyalty. [Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: I have now had enough. The rest of the speech will be heard in relative silence. I am not having any more interjections, particularly as a lot of them have been in the second person. The member is only lengthening the time that it takes, because of course the point of order does not come out of his speech.
Dr DON BRASH: The Prime Minister needs Mr Tamihere to convince the public they have nothing to fear from the secret deals being done with Māori to hand over ownership of beaches and lakes. She needs him to woo the hard-working urban New Zealanders whom her PC Government has been offending over the last 5 years. She needed him to keep an increasingly angry Māori caucus onside. But most important, she needed him not to call a by-election and upset her tenuous grip on power. So instead of sacking John Tamihere immediately, as she did Lianne Dalziel, she allowed him to stay on full pay because it suited her.
The Prime Minister made much of the fact in answering questions earlier today that there were some matters that needed to be sorted out and debated in an inquiry. She referred to the Douglas White inquiry. But on one thing there is no debate. There is no question, it is not in contention, that Mr Tamihere did accept a golden handshake, having said that he would not accept one. That is not in debate; it is clearly understood. She should have sacked Mr Tamihere immediately, as she did Lianne Dalziel, but she allowed him to stay on full pay until today, when he resigned. It was a cynical stalling for time while Labour’s pollsters judged the mood of the public. I could have told her 3 weeks ago that the public do not like it when Ministers tell them one thing and secretly do another. They do not like it when the Prime Minister is prepared to tolerate—
Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I know that when Mr Speaker was in the Chair he asked that this debate be heard in silence. He did say “the rest of the service” but I think he meant speech, not funeral service.
Simon Power: Are you going to allow that to happen?
The ASSISTANT SPEAKER (H V Ross Robertson): I am on my feet. The member will be seated.
Hon Trevor Mallard: I have not finished my point of order. The substance of my point is whether the silence applies to members of the member’s own party interjecting to give him assistance during this debate.
The ASSISTANT SPEAKER (H V Ross Robertson): No, I do not accept that. I just say to members that frivolous interjections and points of order designed to break up speeches are out of order.
Dr DON BRASH: The public do not like it when Ministers say one thing and do another. They do not like it when the Prime Minister is prepared to tolerate double standards. They do not like it when a Minister takes a golden handshake and calls it koha. And they do not like it when the Minister accepting koha is the very person the Government has trotted out to try to con the public into believing that this Government has changed its attitude towards Māori issues. This is the same Minister who is trying to con the public into believing there is no double standard applying to Māori in this country.
This whole episode has made a total mockery of the Government’s hollow promises to end the so-called “culture of extravagance”, and has made the pledge to put a stop to golden handshakes look totally farcical. This is a tired Government. The Prime Minister lies awake at night, counting—not sheep, but Labour’s votes in the House. It is not hard to see why the Prime Minister took no action. She needed John Tamihere’s vote in the House for this Government to survive. She has been forced to take the pressure because she needs Mr Tamihere’s vote. She had to make a deal because the Government’s majority is at stake; so is the Government’s vote on the seabed and foreshore.
There is more to it than this. John Tamihere has already opened his books to the Prime Minister. Why did she not find anything? Was she looking the other way? Was she following the same policy that she adopted during the earlier inquiry into the Waipareira Trust? That found nothing. Was that because of the narrow terms of reference, or was the Prime Minister again looking the other way?
But let us contrast this affair with the treatment Helen Clark meted out to Marian Hobbs and Phillida Bunkle. Both lost their warrants and their ministerial pay while investigations into their electoral enrolments and their out-of-town allowances were carried out. Once Marian Hobbs was cleared she was allowed back. But Mr Tamihere will not be cleared. He is guilty of taking a golden handshake that he said he would not take. There is debate about his tax affairs and debate about electoral expenses, and that has been explained today in the House, but there is no debate about the fact that he took a substantial golden handshake after he said he would not take it. There is no doubt about that issue at all. Although he called it koha, and although he said it would be insensitive to refuse it, what sort of PC nonsense is that from a man whom Labour puts up as a good Kiwi bloke?
How does Lianne Dalziel feel about all this? She is not saying much because she is doing a deal with the Prime Minister also. She has served her time on the outer and the rumours are that she will soon be back. Helen Clark counts on us all having very short memories. She is counting on us particularly forgetting the things that she said when she was in Opposition. Let us just remind ourselves of some of the things she said. First: “We are calling for higher standards of ministerial accountability and behaviour.” Another quote: “‘Responsible’ I interpret as being morally accountable for one’s
actions.” “It is better to be told the truth before the election than after it.”, said Helen Clark. She said: “I want Labour in Government to usher in a new era of political accountability and responsibility.” “I want honesty”—
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I could not quite hear—was that the bell or was it an alarm clock going off?
The ASSISTANT SPEAKER (H V Ross Robertson): The member has been here a long time and he knows that that is a frivolous interjection. He also knows that that sort of thing leads to disorder. What I want is what everyone in this House wants, and that is order.
Simon Power: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. So what are you going to do about it?
The ASSISTANT SPEAKER (H V Ross Robertson): I have cautioned the member. He has his first yellow card.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The very good speech from the Leader of the Opposition has been interrupted twice—[Interruption]
The ASSISTANT SPEAKER (H V Ross Robertson): We have a point of order, and that is to be heard in silence—Standing Order 84(3).
Hon Dr Nick Smith: He has been twice interrupted by what you yourself have ruled to be frivolous objections. Now if we are going to have that kind of conduct in the House, then National can play the game just as well. During the next speech by a Government speaker we will have a line-up of 27 of us who will all take a frivolous point of order, and you will do the same thing, and the House will be brought into disrepute. We simply ask that you take some action. It was absolutely blatantly obvious that the points of order from Mr Mallard and Mr Peters were totally out of order.
The ASSISTANT SPEAKER (H V Ross Robertson): Both members have been warned.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I apologise.
The ASSISTANT SPEAKER (H V Ross Robertson): I thank the member. [Interruption] Someone will be going out very shortly.
Dr DON BRASH: I was quoting some of the comments that Helen Clark made when she was in Opposition. She said: “I want Labour in Government to usher in a new era of political accountability and responsibility.” “I want honesty in politics. I want politicians to say what they mean and mean what they say.” She said: “There will be a new era of moderation, frugality, and integrity in the public sector. We don’t ask for a blank cheque from the public, we are making commitments on which we will deliver. We are accountable to you.” The public is demanding that the Prime Minister deliver on that accountability.
The Prime Minister has failed to act, and she was prepared to accept a new low standard of ministerial behaviour. For the sake of political expediency the Prime Minister was prepared to leave it up to John Tamihere to resign rather than doing the right thing earlier than today. But even now the Prime Minister is prepared to offer him a secret deal that will allow him to return to Cabinet. So much for accountability. So much for integrity.
What has changed in the past 3 weeks? She has known about this payment, which the Minister denied receiving, for 3 weeks. Why did she allow him to sit on a ministerial salary of $4,000 a week over the last 3 weeks, and why is the door still open to him to come back? Sure, Mr Tamihere played his part in the defence by offering up the koha argument. Ms Clark’s role has been no less damaging. Helen Clark has tolerated two standards of ministerial behaviour for cynical, electoral expediency. It is indeed a very sad day for this House and for New Zealand democracy.
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK (Prime Minister)
: Obviously, that speech was not a leadership bid! I was looking for the fast-forward button, actually. The reports of the count in the American election were somewhat more exciting; I thank the Labour junior whip for continually forwarding them to me.
Truly, that speech was an embarrassment, and one scanned the Opposition ranks to see who looked the most embarrassed. Was it Bill English? At least Bill English would have put some energy into it. Was it John Key who looked the most embarrassed? John Key is thinking that if Don Brash can get the leadership of the National Party in 1 year, maybe he can do it in 2. I think he has hope. Was it Murray McCully who looked the most embarrassed? No one could see Murray McCully, because he was crouching behind with the knife.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I note that this is a special debate on the resignation of John Tamihere as a Minister of the Crown. I have been listening to the somewhat boring speech from the Prime Minister for 2½ minutes, and the subject has not been mentioned.
Mr SPEAKER: That is not a point of order and the member knows it. Please be seated.
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: The verdict on this side is to sack the speechwriter, but we also recommend considering sacking the Leader of the Opposition. We are so happy that this urgent debate was accepted today.
Earlier today I received a letter of resignation from John Tamihere, and I have advised the Governor-General to accept the resignation. Almost 3 weeks ago a process was put in place by me and the Acting Prime Minister, Dr Cullen, and I believe that that approach has been widely supported by all fair-minded people. That approach saw the Minister asked to stand aside from portfolios, and saw an inquiry set up to look at a wide range of allegations that had been made, so that we could get to the bottom of them. Fair-minded people accepted that as due process. In the meantime I, like fair-minded people—and there are fair-minded people in many parts of this House, but not directly opposite—suspended judgment on a range of allegations, because I like to know the facts.
I would expect Douglas White QC to report reasonably expeditiously, but I do know that the Serious Fraud Office tends to report in slower time. I say that not as a criticism of the Serious Fraud Office; it is important that it does its work properly and deliberately.
Hon Trevor Mallard: It took 18 months for McCully.
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: Eighteen months for one member was mentioned; another member of this House from an Opposition party is currently before the courts, where rather a long time was taken—I will not dwell on that point.
It has become clear to John Tamihere, as it is clear to any observer, that, obviously, if the Serious Fraud Office is to investigate a matter, then Mr White QC’s report cannot settle the matter definitively. I might say that John Tamihere himself last Friday took the step of forwarding the Paragon Risk report to the Serious Fraud Office, and I commend him for that. Mr Tamihere’s position is that he does not want to sit in limbo-land while a long process of inquiry goes on, because there is work to do.
And is there ever work to do! This Government has a very strong story to tell in Māoridom—a very strong story. I expect that Mr Tamihere, now released from ministerial duties, will be out there pointing out that when this Government came into office Māori unemployment was 18.8 percent, and in the June quarter this year it was 8.8 percent. That is a success, and he can take credit for that, being part of the Government, and that will be one of many reasons why he is out on the stump, campaigning for the return of a Labour Government. He will have many other things to
say. Not only will he point to the fact that more than 40,000 more Māori are in work than when this Government came into office; he will point to the number of Māori succeeding in business. He will talk about 17 percent of our industry trainees being
Māori—getting back to the kaupapa of the Māori Battalion and the schemes put in place after the war. He will talk about language strategies, Māori Television, health initiatives, housing, success in education, the numbers of Māori in tertiary education, and the numbers coming into early childhood education. He has a great story to tell. Now that he is released from ministerial duties while those inquiries go on, he can go out and campaign fully for that.
I have said that the course Mr Tamihere took today is a very honourable course. I repeat to the House what I told the media conference—that I have always seen great potential in John Tamihere, and I continue to see great potential in John Tamihere. I know, because I worked with him as closely as with any colleague, how much hard work he put into those portfolios, how much energy he put in, and it is my hope that he will be able to contribute at ministerial level again. I am not making a new appointment to Cabinet at this time. There is an old saying: “To err is human, to forgive divine.” Mr Tamihere is human. I am certainly not divine, but I believe that, notwithstanding that he is human, he has a big contribution to make to New Zealand politics, and he will continue to make that contribution.
Tamihere’s statement today he said he had accepted an ex gratia payment although he had said he would not. He said he regretted not advising me of that, and, as I have told the House today, I regret that, too, because my advice would have been not to take that payment. Indeed, I can go further and say my requirement would have been not to take it, because I do believe in saying one thing before an election and saying the same thing afterwards. I accept the action he has taken today as an honourable one.
I would say that there is only one crowd that is disappointed by what has happened today—and it is the Opposition. When those members sat in Government they had Ministers sit here and deny they had done anything wrong, at all. I am trying to think when I saw an honourable resignation from a Minister in a National Government. I am trying to think of such an example.
Hon Trevor Mallard: Winston.
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: Well, it is true; I cannot remember whether he resigned or was sacked, but there was an issue of principle involved, and I acknowledge that Mr Peters, as Minister of Māori Affairs, with
Ka Awatea actually was endeavouring to do something for his people in that portfolio. I acknowledge that—absolutely.
But I sat in this House and watched a Minister of Conservation in the National Government never take responsibility. I saw all sorts of allegations fly around about Ministers and flak-jacket contracts, and I saw no proper inquiries made and no one taking responsibility. I saw over three-quarters of a million dollars paid out to get rid of people from the Tourism Board because Mr McCully had fallen out with them. I never saw a resignation. We could go on.
The same party now wants an execution before an investigation has been made. The same party’s deputy leader was found by a court in this country to have used excessive and unnecessary force against a man—a pensioner—who said he had feared for his life. That deputy leader of the National Party was fined $8,500. Another member, still sitting on that front bench courtesy of Don Brash, was fined for contempt of court. So let us not have it said that there is no honour on this side of the House. There is a great deal of honour on this side of the House.
Earlier today, in question time, Dr Brash asked me a question about Mr Tamihere, and he quoted from Mr Tamihere’s book—I am so pleased he stays awake at night reading it. He asked whether I had taken any notice of a part in the book where Mr
Tamihere said: “One thing I was good at was telling stories, some of them less than truthful.” What Dr Brash did not tell the House was that this was something Mr Tamihere said of the time when he was 5 years old.
Government Members: Ha, ha!
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: Five years old! Who of us wants to be convicted in our mid-40s, as Mr Tamihere is, of something we thought when we were 5 years old? That kind of pathetic bleating is what we are used to from that Opposition. I say that today Mr Tamihere acted with honour, and that I have sat, in the past, on Opposition benches and I have seen one Minister after another of a National Government act with dishonour. I rest my case.
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS (Leader—NZ First)
: Sometimes in politics one makes a serious mistake and gets overconfident, and the ramifications last for a long, long time. Back in 1999 Mr Tamihere constructed a cardboard cut-out of myself, put Sellotape over the top of my mouth, and went around telling people that I would not debate with him—even though he had never ever asked me to, at any point in time. I just want to quote from a newspaper article of 16 November 1999: “A ‘paper war’ has erupted between Labour candidate John Tamihere and New Zealand First leader Winston Peters over their respective track records.” John Tamihere is quoted as saying: “He [Peters] says he will meet me anywhere, anytime, but I can’t get him to come to the table.”
Well, we have all seen the ramifications of that in the last few weeks, because what happened was that Mr Tamihere was challenging a member of Parliament in respect of his record, so we laid it out before the public and the media in 1999. What I do not understand is why it has taken 5 long years for it to become public knowledge. I just want to say to Helen Clark that in 1999 she was given all the warning a leader would need that something was amiss here. She was given all the notice a leader would need that something was wrong—bearing in mind that we in New Zealand First all dramatically remember the attack she led against Tuku Morgan. She called it sleaze. She gave it every description possible. She said it was absolutely abominable that someone might walk out of his office at half-past 3 on a Friday afternoon, having been paid to do the job that he was doing, then spend his money on something that looked to be expensive—even though it was his money. Even though a schoolteacher might leave school at half-past 3 on a Friday afternoon and go out to a restaurant, she still regarded that as being public property. Four full inquiries later into the affairs of Tuku Morgan and Aotearoa Television found nothing wrong, whatsoever. But that did not stop the mob in the press gallery from going on about it for 10 long months, and following Helen Clark’s every word.
Today she gets up in this House and she uses the word “honour”. Honour! The reality is that John Tamihere said, back in 1999 when he was challenged, that he would not take a golden handshake and that there was no car involved. Today we have his admission that those statements were false. How the Prime Minister can say now that she did not know is beyond me. It is simply beyond me. Her colleagues go to the Māori Affairs Committee; there, a former lawyer for the Waipareira Trust outlined his concerns, where he is the star witness, of 32 cheques being forged, and, apparently, not one of her colleagues left that select committee and went and told her. Do members believe that?
Opposition Members: No.
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: I am having the greatest difficulty understanding how that information would not have been instantly relayed to the leader. But if we go back to the Tuku Morgan affair, who led the charge? Mr Mallard and Helen Clark—day in, day out. And the media put in every darn word.
Hon Trevor Mallard: Why is Tuku chicken to go to court?
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: About what?
Hon Trevor Mallard: He is suing me, but he won’t go to court.
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: Maybe he cannot afford it. But if I were in that case, I would be going to court with that member, because he falsely used a tape-recording, and he knows it.
Hon Trevor Mallard: No, no.
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: He took a tape-recording and misused it, and that would be tampering with evidence. That is what Mr Mallard did, and he knows that is true. But, more important, all those allegations were made by that member, but four full-scale inquiries—the commerce department, the Companies Office, the Serious Fraud Office, and one other—found nothing. But the mob was out. Some might call it just being plain anti-Māori.
Ron Mark: No—there is a woman scorned.
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: No, no—I remember that attack. And today we are asked to accept that all is above board, and this is a matter of honour. Well, there is no honour in it, whatsoever.
Pita Paraone: He’s a goner.
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: That is right, and we are getting
hōhā about that koha, because it was not koha; it was $280,000, and there was a car involved. And there were, for example, loans involved—loans written off. Here is what John Tamihere said about his house loan. When I accused him of getting a house loan and being charged 5 percent, when the current mortgage rate was 12.8 percent, he said he recalled getting a home loan from the trust in 1991 but could not remember the details. What lawyer cannot remember the details of his own house loan? What lawyer cannot remember those sorts of details?
Here is the second matter. Members will remember that Mr Tamihere said, when he got up in the House, that he was not convicted of any crime such as forging and uttering. The reason for that was that he had confessed! Do members see the delicate use of words that might mislead people as to what the truth is? I am sad to say there is just too much of it.
Up in the press gallery, of course, its members say that John Tamihere is a Māori leader. What they would know about Māoridom is beyond me, but they keep on writing that. They say he is a Māori leader. They know nothing about Māoridom. They know nothing about the standards that enduring Māori leadership requires. They know nothing about how Māori feel when they see that their money is going to someone who should not be getting it.
A golden handshake of $280,000 is huge, and one cannot say: “Take off the tax component.”—we all have to pay tax. But it was not just that; there was a four-wheel drive as well—and if that is not good enough, there are plenty of other things as well. And here come the Labour Party and Mr Tamihere today, saying: “Oh, it’s a back payment for this and that and this and that over 10 years.” Well, I am sorry but, as some people in this House know, I have always believed that this issue of the golden handshake would be his undoing—as well as other things. Labour members can put any spin on it they like, but I am afraid it will not wash. I recall during the 1999 campaign the numerous times Helen Clark rose with her colleagues to criticise the golden handshake mentality. Oh, they were imperious then! Were they not as pure as the driven snow back then! But all of a sudden we know that there are different standards when they get into office and have power.
So I am sad to say that Māoridom has been let down again, and grievously so. They were told by the media that a new rising star had just risen in the east. That is what they were told—or, in this case, the west.
Ron Mark: And the Three Wise Men were on their way.
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: And the Three Wise Men were on their way, but what was being borne as gifts did not necessarily amount to legal transfer of property, or things of value, or treasure. So, sadly, Māoridom has been let down again, and I think the inevitable outcome, if the inquiry is properly performed, is that the Prime Minister will be seen to have acted very, very rashly, and to have ignored facts and warnings that she must have had for years. It is sad, but she has acted rashly on this matter. She has been caught and hoist by her own words in respect of these issues, and there is no honour involved, at all.
ROD DONALD (Co-Leader—Green)
: During the last urgent debate on John Tamihere on 19 October I said that whatever the outcome of the formal investigation, Mr Tamihere has to live with having made a categorical public statement that he would not accept a golden handshake before the election, and then proceeding to accept one after the election. I went on to say that ultimately he would be judged on the morality rather than the legality of his behaviour, and that he should reflect on that as he made a political decision about his future. Mr Tamihere has reflected, and I believe he has taken the honourable course of action. But he has taken it at least 2 weeks too late to rescue his political career.
As I also said during that last urgent debate, John Tamihere has been a role model to many people, both Māori and Pākehā. He has let them down, he has let himself down, and, clearly, we now know that he has let down the Prime Minister. He should not have taken that payment. He should have consulted with the Prime Minister at the time—as we were clearly told today, she would have advised him not to take that payment—and in the last 2 weeks he should not have disguised through various ruses the fact that the part of the payment that does not connect in any way with particular expenses, salaries, or bonuses was, in fact, a golden handshake. I believe he will now be judged harshly for his belated honesty, and he has to live with that.
I do not want to prolong Mr
Tamihere’s agony any further, except to say that whatever the outcome of the formal investigation I still think it is unacceptable for a member of Parliament to channel his or her election expenses through an organisation that he or she has worked for, especially one that is significantly Government-funded and exists to help those who are very much the disadvantaged and poor in our community. I know that I would have found it immoral and unacceptable to do that myself when I was working at Trade Aid, which is in many respects a similar organisation to the Waipareira Trust, in that it relies on a degree of Government funding and also exists primarily to help those who are in the greatest need.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Like the Green superannuation fund.
ROD DONALD: Well, the Green superannuation fund is a totally separate matter, but I am happy to talk about it at any time.
In fact, now that Mr Peters has interrupted me, I will move to the second to last point I was going to make. Mr Richard Prebble, on 16 October last year, in his vociferous speech opposing the Members of Parliament (Pecuniary Interests) Bill, which will, in the interests of public accountably and transparency, require all non-Ministers to make similar declarations to those that Ministers make, said: “It is over to those who are promoting this bill to show why members of Parliament should make those declarations.” I think that today we have a very clear demonstration of why all members of Parliament should make those declarations. [Interruption] It was before he was a Minister, I say to Mr Hide.
Hon Richard Prebble: Why would it make a difference?
ROD DONALD: Because he should have made the declaration, before he became a Minister, that he had received that golden handshake.
In closing, I say that this is a very sad day for this Parliament, because our word is meant to be our honour and one of our members has admitted that he has not kept to his word. It is a very sad day for the Government, because it has waited 2 weeks for Mr Tamihere to do the honourable thing, which he should have done on at least 19 October, and I would suggest some time prior to that—perhaps as far back as when Mr Winston Peters first raised the issue. Ultimately, it is a very sad day for John Tamihere, because I think this marks the end of his political career.
RODNEY HIDE (Leader—ACT)
: What a difference a day makes to Helen Clark! Do members remember what occurred yesterday in the House? How many times did Helen Clark get up and say the Government was going to have due process and would not make a decision until all the facts were in? She was not going to decide anything, she said, until she had consulted with senior people, and until the Doug White report came in. And then what happened? Helen Clark had a day from hell, answering questions about John Tamihere. She put distance between herself and him, and the next day she accepted his resignation. She did not have to accept his resignation. What about due process? What about getting the facts in? What about the Doug White report? Helen Clark sacrificed John Tamihere; she accepted his resignation. She said very carefully that she had had nothing to do with his putting in his resignation, but we know that her people were talking to him. They told him that the deal was that if he resigned, sat quietly on the back bench like a good Māori Labour MP, and voted for the Foreshore and Seabed Bill he may be back as a Minister. We know one thing: John Tamihere will not be back. I do not believe that he can even stand as a candidate for the Labour Party.
Let us see what Helen Clark has been saying. She called it honour; she called it setting standards. What do we know about Mr John Tamihere, thus far? I am not worried about what he did when he was 5; I am interested in what he did when he was 35. When John Tamihere was 35 he forged two signatures and then, as a lawyer, witnessed them as being accurate. Why? He did it to obtain $160,000 of taxpayers’ money for a trust that he was running. There is no question about it. He turned up at the Auckland District Court, pleaded guilty to that, and then got a section 17 discharge and full name suppression. Bob Harvey and Dr Pita Sharples were there, saying what a great guy he was. Forgery and uttering did not matter. Helen Clark has told Parliament she knew about that in 1995, but it was OK to be a forger and an
utterer and to be a candidate for the Labour Party and a Cabinet Minister. We can see why that is: because the Prime Minister forged a painting. I did not see her stand down while that matter was investigated, either.
Now we know something else about the standards of the Labour Party. We know that it is OK for a member to say when campaigning that he is not going to take a golden handshake—that he has been offered it, but that he is not going to take it—to win support for that, and then, when elected, to rush around and knock on the back door of the Waipareira Trust to ask for the money. That is what happened. The Waipareira Trust, which receives taxpayers’ money for the poor and downtrodden—whom Labour members like David Cunliffe pretend they represent—had to sell $115,000 worth of assets in order to pay John Tamihere his golden handshake. He took $195,000 and then said he had no idea that there may be some tax to pay on it. What is the tax going to be? It will be socked to the Waipareira Trust, too, and it will probably sink the trust. We know that the amount was $195,000 net and $320,000 gross. The difference has to be paid, plus the penalties and the interest, so we are looking at over $200,000 in tax. Does Labour care about that? No.
Then we found out that John Tamihere was using the Waipareira Trust to pay for his campaign and did not put that on his electoral return. Why? If people had known that, they would have been appalled and outraged, so John Tamihere did not put on his electoral return the fact that the Waipareira Trust had spent $18,000 on getting him elected. He hid that.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: That is required by law.
RODNEY HIDE: It is required by law, as Mr Peters called out. Indeed, I asked the Serious Fraud Office whether it would be fraud if there was a false electoral return, and David Bradshaw said it would be. How did that happen? What did Helen Clark say? She said it was OK; there were new standards, and it was a matter of honour—“To err is human, to forgive divine.” So Mr Tamihere is human and Helen Clark is divine, floating above us all and deciding on justice. We have learnt that it is OK to be a fraudster, OK to forge documents, OK to utter documents in order to obtain taxpayers’ money, OK to tell the public one thing and do the other, OK not to pay one’s tax, and OK not to fill in one’s electoral return as required by the law. That is the standard this Government has set. I hope the public of New Zealand sees through Helen Clark and the falsities that she has put around.
We have heard from John Tamihere. The Waipareira Trust did not just pay his electoral expenses; it paid for him while he campaigned for Labour. When he was questioned about that, what did he say? He said that someone had to pay his mortgage and feed his kids. That is the standard of Helen Clark: taxpayers’ money went into the Waipareira Trust to help the poor and downtrodden, and that money was diverted into funding John
Tamihere’s campaign and paying him while he campaigned. John Tamihere knew that was wrong. How do we know that? We know that because he did not put it on his electoral return. It starts to add up. What did he come out with then? What did that great blokes’ bloke, that red-blooded male, that non-PC
Māori MP for the Labour Party—the man who would not stand up for cultural excuses—come up with as his excuse? He said it was koha. He said the Waipareira Trust had offered him the $195,000 as a cultural gift, and it would have been culturally offensive for him to turn it down. And Helen Clark finds nothing the matter with that! The truth is that John Tamihere was rattling every cage at the Waipareira Trust to get his $195,000. That is what we know. That man, who had pleaded guilty to forging and uttering, filled out his electoral return wrongly, took money that he said he would not take, and filled in his ministerial return as being nil. He was wandering around west Auckland with $195,000 in his pocket, and nothing to show for it. But Helen Clark says that that is OK.
People have asked about the contrast between John Tamihere and Lianne Dalziel, who got the bullet immediately. The Prime Minister talked about standards. Standards mean that one does what is right, no matter what the consequences are. There is a big difference between Lianne Dalziel and John Tamihere: Helen Clark cannot afford a by-election in a
Māori seat. As the leader of the Labour Party, she lost all the
Māori seats once before, and she is about to lose them all again. So she has gone to John Tamihere and told him that if he behaves himself, is a good Labour MP, forgets about his
Māori constituents, and thinks about the Labour Party, he will be all right. How can any party have as a candidate someone who does not pay taxes? How can any party have someone who said before the election that he or she would not do something, and who then did it? How can any party have a person who has pleaded guilty in a criminal court to a criminal charge of forgery and uttering? I am afraid those are the standards of Helen Clark.
Hon PETER DUNNE (Leader—United Future)
: There is an old proverb that says “O what a tangled web we weave, when first we practise to deceive”. Today John Tamihere has become the latest victim of that proverb. It is certainly true, as events
have unfolded over the last few weeks, that his position as a Minister of the Crown became increasingly untenable. I do not believe that the matters relating to the taxation treatment of the payment that he received were ultimately his downfall. I think that Mr Tamihere’s downfall was brought about by his somewhat less than straightforward statements about whether he had received the payment in the first place—a point that he acknowledged in his statement this afternoon. I think it is a sobering reminder to every single one of us in this House and to the wider community that when we are put into a position where strong questions are asked of us, we must give answers in a clear, an accurate, and a truthful way. People have seldom been hanged for what they do not do; they are frequently hanged for what they do. I think Mr Tamihere’s situation was a case in point.
Mr Tamihere is not the only person to have woven a tangled web over this saga. When the House debated this matter 2 weeks ago, all the calls then were for Mr
Tamihere’s instant removal from office. The Douglas White inquiry was argued to be irrelevant, a sham, a cover-up, and an excuse simply to give the Government space. Now that Mr Tamihere has resigned, those same people say that because the process of the Douglas White inquiry has been put in train it should be allowed to run its course and make its recommendations and rulings. “O what a tangled web we weave, when first we practise to deceive”.
I think that the issue that arises from all that was touched on by one of the earlier speakers, and it relates to standards. Standards come at a number of levels. There are the standards of behaviour required of Ministers of the Crown in terms of their demeanour, their general behaviour, and the statutory declarations that they make regarding financial matters. It is arguable that Mr Tamihere failed on probably all those counts in the end. Then there are the standards that apply to all members of Parliament. For the life of me, I cannot see why we maintain a distinction between the two. I think that the pecuniary interests legislation that is before the Standing Orders Committee at the moment is entirely appropriate, and that these events have made it even more so.
I will make the point that the history of New Zealand politics in the last 60 or 70 years is not littered with very many examples of ministerial resignations. When resignations have occurred it has either been because someone was at death’s door or because an arm was twisted so strongly up someone’s back that it became impossible to do otherwise. An ultimatum was delivered, as in the Derek Quigley case in 1982.
Hon Trevor Mallard: It was held in the safe, actually.
Hon PETER DUNNE: It may well have been held in the safe; it had the same impact as twisting an arm. The only three instances that I am aware of in which a Minister has genuinely resigned on what could be argued to be a matter of principle were Downie Stewart in 1933 over exchange rate policy, Apirana Ngata in 1934 over financial irregularities in the then Native Department—both of which were accepted—and Roger Douglas in 1987 or 1988 over the pre-leaking of some aspects of the Budget that year. His resignation was not accepted.
Hon Trevor Mallard: They were left in the corridor.
Hon PETER DUNNE: I do not care where they were left. The point I am making—
Rt Hon Winston Peters: That was a jack-up, as with Koro Wetere.
Hon PETER DUNNE: The member is missing the point. The point I am making is that there is not a very strong history in this country of Ministers accepting responsibility for their actions. In fact, Bob
Semple’s famous words over the Fordell dam collapse illustrated that: “I am responsible but not to blame”.
Simon Power: Absolutely right.
Hon PETER DUNNE: The member whose area that was based in will know what I am referring to. I think that John Tamihere, by standing in the House this afternoon and
making the statement that he has made—whatever construction members choose to place upon it—has shown a sense of honour. It was very courageous to come here in the midst of all the accusations that have been swirling around, face this Chamber, and make that statement in the way that he did. Members will have their own view about its content and context, but they cannot detract from the fact that in this instance John Tamihere did front up. That is a refreshing thing in this political environment.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: Two weeks late.
Hon PETER DUNNE: The member says that it was 2 weeks late. Two weeks ago Mr Tamihere’s opponents were saying that an inquiry would be a sham, that it should not be so limited, and that it should be a full commission of inquiry. Now, when John Tamihere has reacted by resigning, they say that it was 2 weeks late. They cannot have it both ways, and that is the point of this issue.
What has happened here is regrettable. It has certainly destroyed a man’s career, and has cast a slur on this Parliament. It has created a situation whereby a lot of New Zealanders—and I am sure the member who is seated opposite me will agree with what I am about to say—who have started off with a prejudice anyway, will say yet again that when Māori are let near money they let us down. I think that is a reprehensible sentiment, but it is one that is being said and heard in the wake of this incident. That is something we all have to confront. I regret very much that Mr Tamihere’s actions have placed us all, as a nation, in that situation.
Where do we go to from here? The Douglas White inquiry will presumably be completed, and will either confirm or contradict the statement that Mr Tamihere has made this afternoon. That will cause its own set of consequences. We do need to address the issue of standards, because already as this debate has unfolded, and in question time this afternoon and on other occasions, all sorts of allegations have swirled around about other members, about overseas commissions, and about trips to all sorts of faraway places—that people were paid for performing duties. While we do not have clear sets of ethical guidelines and standards those allegations will continue to be made, and will continue to swirl unproven, to the detriment of the reputation of every single one of us. That is the first point that needs to be addressed.
The second point is the one that I referred to a moment or two ago. We cannot continue in this country as a multi-ethnic culture that stresses its bicultural links if, in fact, we continue with the notion that putting Māori near money will cause unacceptable consequences. I put Mr Peters’ earlier colleague Mr Morgan into the same category of that debate. We think of the Tainui corporate box saga, and of so many other things. The point I am making is that, unfortunately, for many people this incident will be seen as further proof of that notion. The real challenge for this House, and for the members who are parading unctuously here in favour of accountability, will be the extent to which they are now prepared to commit themselves to working towards better standards and dealing with that fundamental perception. In that situation John Tamihere is largely irrelevant. His circumstances mean that I think he is politically tarnished. But the message that arises from this matter cannot be lost sight of, because if we do that we will simply be condemned to repeat the saga at some point in the future.
Hon BILL ENGLISH (National—Clutha-Southland)
: The Government has just lost its second Minister in 6 months, for misleading the public. It is now time to ask what it is about the culture of the Labour Government that has meant that two of its rising stars, two of its more capable Ministers, have ended up losing their jobs. I say that it starts at the top. Even the way Helen Clark has handled this particular set of circumstances shows just how finely polished are the tools of deception in this Labour Government.
The deception starts with small things, like Ministers completely ignoring the Official Information Act. A couple of weeks ago in this House, David Benson-Pope, a junior Minister, was shown to have completely breached the Official Information Act. He shamelessly got off, apparently because, according to Dr Cullen, of some synonym in the letter he wrote. That is just one example. I deal regularly with the two education Ministers. Do they answer parliamentary questions on time? Never—not when it matters. Do they keep back information they should release? Every single time. Do they keep to the deadlines? Almost never.
It starts with Helen Clark. This is a Prime Minister of New Zealand who, in the course of an investigation over a forgery allegation, refused to answer questions that the police asked her. She just refused to answer them. This is someone who attacked me when I suggested that our New Zealand troops should come back from Afghanistan, when she had already decided to bring them back. She had already decided back in October 2002. She had decided 3 months before, but said on the public record what a disgraceful idea it was. That is Helen Clark. That is how John Tamihere has found her over these last few weeks.
I read in the
Trans-Tasman, which used to be a venerable commentator—
Simon Power: It used to be good.
Hon BILL ENGLISH:—it used to be good—on Parliament, about this Government’s high ethical standards. There is only one ethical standard in this Government: do not get caught. That is why John Tamihere’s resignation is without honour. He has known for 5 years that he took a golden handshake that he had said he would not take. He has known for that long. Actually, I believe the Prime Minister has known for that long. Why did that man resign today? Was it because he owned up? No. Was it because Helen Clark found out and did something? No. In fact, when she found out, she did nothing—absolutely nothing. It was because he got caught. That is the only reason he resigned today. I challenge the next Government speaker to give any other reason.
If this matter had not appeared in the media, would John Tamihere have resigned? No. He would still be collecting his ministerial salary, as he did up until today. He would still know he had taken a golden handshake, in the knowledge that the Government had campaigned vigorously against such golden handshakes. The only standard in this Government is to not get caught. Every time, Helen Clark will go as far as she can to get away with it. As Rodney Hide said, what a difference a day makes. What happened was not that John Tamihere came to his senses and decided his position was untenable—that was evident to him, or should have been, the day it appeared in the media. What happened was that Helen Clark decided her position was untenable. She decided 3 weeks later that she could no longer get away with it. She had to cut and run. That is why he resigned today. If John Tamihere had any honour, he would have fronted up to the facts 3 weeks ago. If Helen Clark had any standards, she would have done exactly the same.
There are broader issues involved in this than just compliance. I remember as the Minister of Health going to the Waipareira Trust. I remember talking to the people in the waiting room at the medical clinic.
Hon Jim Sutton: That made them all vote National!
Hon BILL ENGLISH: The member should listen to this. Those people believed that the Waipareira Trust was there for them. They believed that the money the Government—and as a Minister I was representing that Government—was providing to the Waipareira Trust was to lift the health status of Māori. They believed that that money, used properly, would save lives that would otherwise be lost.
Hon David Benson-Pope: We know what the National Party does, don’t we.
Hon BILL ENGLISH: That is the problem with that Minister—he does not understand the morality of this. Those people believed that something good was being done.
I do not care whether John Tamihere accurately filled out his electorate expense return. What I do know is that he took public money to pay himself to campaign as a candidate. I see candidates at every election who have to resign their jobs and live off their savings, like I did, to get elected into Parliament. He took money that we gave to that trust to save children who have asthma, meningitis, and whooping cough. He took it. He took money off that trust, for a house and a car. It might be in a trust and might not have to be on his ministerial return, but he took it. He took not a few thousand dollars, but hundreds of thousands of dollars.
That damages the confidence not just of Māori who supported John Tamihere, but of people like me who thought it all looked credible, and who believed the rhetoric about independence, enterprise, and self-reliance. That is what is so deeply dishonourable about what has happened. It is not just that he upset the Labour Party’s political plan about golden handshakes; it is that if that party thinks that $89 on a set of underpants was a grievous thing, how much is it when one takes hundreds of thousands of dollars from the treatment of sick children and disadvantaged youth to line one’s own pocket? Let Helen Clark tell us what is so honourable about that. Whether or not John Tamihere is now in Cabinet does not matter. What matters is whether he will be able to hold his head up and stand in this Parliament, knowing that hundreds of thousands of dollars meant for the most disadvantaged people in New Zealand, with the best intentions of everyone involved, went to lining his pocket. Mr Mallard should get up, because he made the most fuss about the $89 underpants. What do I hear?
The Labour Party will never understand this, because it never thinks it can be wrong with public money. Really, it believes the money belongs to it. That is what Labour has dragged Māoridom to, as well—a whole culture of dependence and a moralism about public money. I do not think the Labour Party believes yet that a Labour Cabinet Minister could do wrong with public money. John Tamihere did. He has had to face the music. It was not honourable. Helen Clark has one standard: “Can you get away with it?”—and this time, John Tamihere did not.
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Deputy Prime Minister)
: At least there was a bit of life in that speech, unlike the one that started off the debate from the Leader of the Opposition. Mr English was a bit like Joe Cocker—at least, Joe Cocker alive—whereas the Leader of the Opposition was like Frank Sinatra dead, as far as I could make out, in terms of that performance. It was like he was crooning away from the grave, as far as one could see. The real essence of what we have just been told is the really fascinating view of life that Tories always have: if one is working on behalf of the poor, one should be poor; if one is working on behalf of the rich, one should be rich. That, of course, is the motto Mr Rodney Hide lives by as he takes his outside payments—as he is still taking—in order to be a member of Parliament.
This is a sad day. It is sad day for Mr Tamihere. He has been an able and energetic Minister who has represented a new wave of urban Māori in this House. He has represented their interests—and their interests are not those of wanting to be dependent upon the State, as the member has just tried to argue, but of wishing to advance themselves. Mr Tamihere has represented those people throughout his career, both before he came to Parliament and while he has been in Parliament. Today he has engaged in an honourable action by standing down and no longer being a Minister. When did a member of the National Party ever do that?
Darren Hughes: Never!
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: No. It was once, but then the member stopped being a member of the National Party sometime after that. That was when Mr Peters left the National Party over his treatment as Minister of Māori Affairs. But what else did we see? Did we ever see Mr Murray McCully, who was a kind of walking video of accusations and muck during his ministerial career, suggest that he should stand aside—a man who was found, in fact, to have acted unwisely in terms of his relationships with the Tourism Board? No, not at all. There was Denis Marshall, who never resigned over the fact that people died because of incompetence within the Department of Conservation—[Interruption] And what about the man who is now interjecting—as I knew he would not be able to stop himself from doing—who was found guilty of contempt of court, and proud of it, because the judge found he did not believe what Dr Smith told the courts.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: That’s not true.
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: That is true. That is exactly what the judge said in the judgment—that he did not find the statements made by the member credible. And what happened? He got advanced to the front bench, despite the fact that his 10 minutes as deputy leader of the party caused such extreme stress, depression, and exhaustion on his part that he had to take 3 weeks’ paid break on full parliamentary salary. Being No. 2 to Don Brash in a bad year was too much for him to cope with. Then he came back, and now he sits on the front bench. He is the only one in this House who has been found guilty of contempt of court, as far as I can remember. It is the most serious offence I can remember a front-bench member in this House ever being found guilty of—
Hon Dr Nick Smith: Proud of it.
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN—and he is proud of it. He is proud that he tried to bully somebody by misleading that person about the nature of what Parliament was, and he thought it was clever to do that. He thought he was very clever, and he still sits there, grinning inanely away at this House. Well, we would not open up the books for Dr Smith, because all the books that Dr Smith has are pop-up ones. Little cardboard things come up from their middles if anyone tries to open them. That is about his level of understanding of life.
What about Mr Rodney Hide, that great exposer of things that go wrong in life? He is the man who went off to Fiji to tell people how to evade their taxes, the man who has been receiving payments from an outside businessman—I suspect from an expatriate New Zealand businessman—and he has been receiving those payments since he was an MP.
Rodney Hide: How much?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Well, I say to Mr Hide that we would like to know how much. He might like to tell us. But it is funny that he will not tell anybody whom he has been getting the money from, and how much it is. Why will he not tell us? Why will every member of the ACT party oppose the Members of Parliament (Pecuniary Interests) Bill? Why is every member of the ACT party saying that if that bill is passed, they will not disclose their personal interests to the House? Why will they not do that? They sit there and try to look all smarmy.
The interesting thing about this debate is that it has shifted away from the grounds of 3 weeks ago. At that time all the accusations were around tax, various payments, and whatever, but I have noticed that the more sensible members have pretty much avoided all those charges now, because they know that they will not fly—that they will be found to be false. So what they are back to now is the fact that Mr Tamihere accepted an ex gratia payment—something, of course, totally unknown to any of those members! I am sure that Mr Key got no such ex gratia payment when he left his position as a senior financial person for a major international financial organisation. I am sure he never got
any sort of payment of that variety. But, of course, if he did, that is OK. Why? Because he is a rich man and he was working for an organisation on behalf of rich people. So it is perfectly all right to get a payment in those circumstances. Mr Tamihere’s sin is that he took an ex gratia payment for doing well by the poor, and, from a National Party perspective, that is doubly unforgivable. He did good things for poor people and got rewarded financially for them. We can understand why the National Party and the ACT party regard that as such a heinous crime. Well, I look forward to the investigations. I look forward to Mr Douglas White, who is a highly distinguished QC—even Mr Stephen Franks had to admit that to his highly non-distinguished non-QC, in legal terms—
Hon Dr Nick Smith: Why isn’t there a commission of inquiry?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Why does the member want to have millions of dollars spent, and to spend on an inquiry more money than the amount of money the accusation was about? That is what the member is basically proposing. That is a classic National Party approach to the Government’s finances, I have to say. Let us have thousands of lawyers at ten paces firing away in depositions, and all the rest of it—all about what we are talking about in this particular respect! No, we are not going to have that. The Douglas White inquiry is around those issues that have been raised, and I am confident that Mr Tamihere has adequate explanations for all those charges that have been made. I say bluntly that I am certain that people will find he is not guilty in terms of non-payment of tax. I am quite certain about that, and I look forward to the inquiry being undertaken in that respect. Then we will have the inquiry undertaken by the Serious Fraud Office, at Mr Tamihere’s request.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: Yeah right.
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Oh, yeah right. That is what happened last Friday. Mr Tamihere has no reason to hide anything about the Waipareira Trust, but a few other people might get a bit worried around that over the coming few months as the investigation is undertaken by the Serious Fraud Office, and we look forward to that.
I state bluntly what I said to the media today: I hope that my friend John Tamihere is cleared by the inquiries, and I hope that when he is cleared, the way will be clear for him to return to Cabinet at some point in the future. Mr Hide will sit there on the Opposition benches getting grumpier and older as the years go by, and getting paid by his overseas mates—expatriate New Zealand businessmen—year by year. Dr Smith will continue to bleat away as he vaguely remembers he was once a Minister of the Crown but could not hack it as deputy leader of the National Party in Opposition. They will carry on there for year after year, and Mr Tamihere will do some good for the people he came here to represent. I look forward to that—
Hon Dr Nick Smith: Oh, yeah. Take their money.
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Well, Dr Smith is taking a lot of money at the present time, from the taxpayer, and I do not see any value to the taxpayer coming out of the money he is being paid at the present time. At least the other parties manage to put up people who speak with some degree of conviction. Dr Smith could have spoken with a very high degree of conviction—we all know that. At least the other parties do that, but what did Dr Brash do? I am still trying to work out whether he was sleepwalking, or whether he had anything to say that was new. I say that Mr Tamihere is worth ten Dr Smiths, any day of the week. I look forward to those inquiries and I recognise that he—
Hon Dr Nick Smith: Why has he resigned?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: He has resigned because that is the honourable thing to do while these accusations carry on, and so that he can defend himself. The question, “Why has he resigned?”, is a Tory question, because no Tory ever resigned
from anything. The pants have to be completely down around the ankles, the shirt pulled up around the shoulders, and the camera working away before any Tory would resign for anything in politics.
- The debate having concluded, the motion lapsed.