Heightened tensions at Parliament
By Richard Harman (author)
Parliament resumes today with the potential for the next four-week session to be one of the most testing of the year.
Over the recess Opposition tempers have flared over the role of the Speaker in the leak of Simon Bridges’ limousine usage.
And there have been two Ministers stood down during the recess.
The Opposition is unlikely to pursue Meka Whaitiri who is staying in her Ikaroa Rawhiti electorate while Parliamentary Services investigates allegations that she pushed, shoved or possibly even assaulted a press secretary in her office.
For the moment, as the Prime Minister pointed out at her press conference yesterday, this is an employment matter.
But the question of Clare Curran and her unrecorded meeting with Derek Handley over his application to be the Government’s Chief Technology Officer may provide the Opposition with more fodder.
They may want to stack the Prime Minister’s claim that Curran’s staff did not know of the meeting alongside Beehive security records.
It is usual for a visitor to a Minister to be escorted by one of that Minister's staff meeting once they have passed through security.
If that did happen (and it is entirely possible it did not), then there should be a record.
It is probable that the Opposition will seek an urgent debate on Curran’s resignation from Cabinet.
The Speaker can grant that if the debate is to be about a particular case of recent occurrence, and involves the administrative or ministerial responsibility of the Government, and requires the immediate attention of the House and the Government.
The request for a debate on Curran could fall over on the last requirement in that the Government is likely to argue that the matter has already had its attention and has been dealt with by the removal of Curran from the Cabinet and her resignation from two of her portfolios.
The Whaitiri affair is more complex with so far no confirmation of any evidence other than the respective claims of the Minister and the Press Secretary.
To add to the morass is the Opposition’s own inquiry effectively into itself to try and find who might have leaked Bridges’ travel records.
It appears that the Opposition would now be happier if this quietly went away. POLITIK understands they have no plans to confront Speaker Trevor Mallard about his role in cancelling the independent inquiry into the leak.
Whether the Opposition will question Prime Minister over her decision to have an RNZAF 757 fly her to Nauru on Wednesday for the South Pacific Forum when the main New Zealand party left yesterday is unclear.
She will return with the main party on Wednesday night.
It is a delicate matter caused by her baby needing vaccinations if she were to go but she is too young to have them.
There are, however, bigger issues for the Prime Minister hovering in the background.
On his arrival in Nauru yesterday, Foreign Minister, Winston Peters appeared to signal his opposition to any increase in refugee numbers in New Zealand.
"We have a refugee quota, and we have taken on more economic refugees than most countries on earth," he said.
It is not clear how he arrived at this statement.
Since the Second World War New Zealand has accepted 33,000 refugees; many countries accept that many a year.
New Zealand’s annual quota is currently 750, but there is a special additional quota for Syrian refugees so that the total number for 2017 -18 was 1020.
Even the United States has so far accepted 5225 this year, and Australia accepted 24,162 refugees in the 2016 – 17 year.
Australian politicians and officials have made it clear that they think New Zealand’s quota is too low and have sued that fact to argue Against Jacinda Ardern’s call for them to release refugees from Manus Island and Nauru to New Zealand.
"We've got 50,000 people who arehomless, and I can show you parts of the Hokianga and elsewhere, parts of Northland, where people are living in degradation
“We have to help fix their lives up as well before we start taking on new obligations.”
But at her weekly press conference, Ardern said Cabinet would consider a proposal to raise the refugee quota.
Labour's manifesto called for a doubling of the refugee quota (from 750 to 1500) over the three-year term of the Government.
"It is a commitment, but it hasn't yet come to Cabinet," she said yesterday.
“But that commitment still remains.”
And she hinted at other problems with NZ First with another defence of the appointment of Christopher Luxon to head the new Business Advisory Council.
NZ First Minister, Shane Jones, has described Luxon as a celebrity businessman.
However, she hinted that some of the other criticism of Luxon’s appointment; that it ignored small business might have struck a chord.
“I intend to appoint individuals who will be able to bring a small business voice to the table as well, so I do call that criticism (of Luxon) premature,” she said.
So has she told Shane Jones that?
This may be the Parliamentary session when we start to see evidence of heightened tensions both within the coalition and across the floor of the House.