Greens want tighter disclosure rules that would force Collins to reveal Chinese dining companion

Metiria Turei on The Nation

The Greens are proposing new ministerial disclosure regime based on British rules, requiring quarterly declarations of ministers' meetings, travel and hospitality.

The proposed regime would require Prime Minister John Key to name those attending his Maori Party fundraiser, and Justice Minister Judith Collins to name the Chinese border official at her Oravida dinner.

If a minister is at a meeting or event in their ministerial capacity, they should have to report it publically; "too many ministers are getting away with things," Green Party co-leader Metiria Turei said on TV3's The Nation.

Ms Turei challenged National and Labour to back the proposal, saying it wouldn't need a law change but could simply be written into cabinet manual.

She denied it would be the end of all private dinners for ministers, but would expect the Cabinet office to enforce it rigorously.

Co-Deputy PM
Ms Turei expects she and co-leader Russel Norman could be co-deputy Prime Ministers if there's a Labour-Greens government after the election.

"There's no convention, no rules, to stop there being more than one," she said.

She denied the Greens could be excluded from Labour-led coalition if New Zealand First holds balance of power: "If they [Labour] needs us for confidence and supply, they need us to be government"... but also accepts "if they lock us out completely, they lock us out," she said.

Ms Turei insisted the Greens "want to change the government", and suggested they would offer Labour confidence and supply even without a coalition deal.


RAW DATA: The Nation transcript: Lisa Owen interviews Green Party co-leader Metiria Turei

Lisa Owen:  Fundraising behind closed doors, refusing to name dinner guests, is that good enough?

Metiria Turei: It’s not good enough for the public. The public are entitled to transparency and accountability by their ministers, and that’s why today we are announcing a policy to require ministers to report quarterly on a number of issues. The hospitality they receive, the gifts they get and give that are over $500 and the external meetings that they hold – they’re not required to disclose those at all. You have to get those (details) through the Official Information Act.

Let’s take a look at the situation of Judith Collins, then, and see if that would make any difference here. She would have to disclose who was at dinner under your rules?

That’s right, she would have to have disclosed the meeting, that the meeting took place, if she received any hospitality – so who paid for that dinner, and the fact that people at that dinner were representatives from the business as well as this official from the foreign government.

Your proposed rules say the hospitality would need to be at least $500 before she had to start naming names – is that too high?

No, I don’t think it’s too high at this stage. That it what the current rules require, but ministers only have to report gifts over $500 every year, so we’re tightening up those rules. We might need to change that in time, but $500 seems like a reasonable time to start.

But then if she had $495 dollars of kai and drinks, then she’s off the hook, isn’t she?

That’s right, to some extent those hospitality rules wouldn’t apply, but the meeting with an external organisation would. So that rule would require her to report.

That’s if she’s doing that in a ministerial capacity, though. She argues this is a private dinner so she’s off the hook there, too.

Well, that’s what she would argue. We would expect the Cabinet office to hold her to account, to set the rules very clearly, so ministers knew exactly what they needed to report on - and this is the kind of meeting that is otherwise kept outside of the public eye that should be reported on. This is the intent of the policy. The cabinet office will have to work through the details of those rules.

So does that mean there are no private dinners?

Well there may well be some, but we know that John Key, for example, has dinners with SkyCity and there was a huge convention centre deal that resulted from a whole lot of relationships and dinners, so let’s be really clear, the most important thing is for the public to have accountability and transparency. The rules are not good enough yet, we can make them better, and we should.

Would John Key have to name all the people he sat next to or were at that dinner?

We would hope that would be the case and we would expect the cabinet office to assist with the development of these rules. These rules would be set out in the cabinet manual so they don’t require legislation - they don’t require other parties to agree with these rules. It’s a policy about changing the Cabinet manual requirements.

So it’s a challenge to National then, isn’t it?

It’s a challenge to National and to Labour. Both would be affected by these rules. The Greens would be affected by these rules if we have ministerial positions, but the public are entitled to this transparency, that’s what we want to deliver to them.

But hang on, the Prime Minister can play golf with whoever he likes, he can raise money for whoever he likes, and Judith Collins can have dinner with her mates. In the absence of any evidence of corruption, why are you wanting to treat it like it’s a crime?

We’re wanting to treat it like this is their job as ministers, where they’re being advertised as having access to ministers, which is part of this golf game business, or the fundraising, for example, for the Maori party, or other areas where ministers are being advertised as being accessible by the payment of some kind of fee or ticket. They are there in their ministerial capacity, therefore they should have to report on those meetings or those activities.

I think most people would accept that transparency is one thing, but what about privacy?

It is important that there’s privacy for ministers and MPs, but if a minister is doing an activity in their ministerial role then it should be reported on, and that is why we want to see tightening of the rules because too many ministers are getting away with things – it’s happened with Judith Collins and the Oravida dinner - more and more information’s coming out that actually there is a ministerial role that’s been played here that she’s not reporting on.

But then again, John Key was there as leader of the National Party and not as the Prime Minister – not in a ministerial capacity.

No, actually, he was advertised as being there as the Prime Minister and that is a minister role for which there should be reporting. If he’s at a golf game and people are paying to play golf with the Prime Minister then he’s there in his ministerial capacity and that should be reported. 

What about constituents? What if they want to go talk to a minister, say, about a private problem – an issue around sex abuse, let’s say, how do you protect them? Won’t it have a chilling effect, and the name of the person coming to see them written down? Won’t it scare them away?

Not necessarily if it’s in their role as an MP. You can never write the perfect rules to catch every situation, but MPs constituency meetings are considered to be private - they can’t be accessed by the OIA, and we would expect that to remain, but in a ministerial capacity where access to ministers is being advertised as part of the payment, then that should be transparent.

So why just ministers, then? Aren’t you exempting yourself from greater transparency by just targeting ministers?

Hopefully not if we get to have ministerial positions, but ministers have much more influence over government direction and policy, they have a huge amount of responsibility, they should be the first ones that have to report. We would like to see some of that reporting extended which is what we proposed for the lobbying bill – that didn’t get parliamentary support, but we can do it with ministers.

So, the Greens want ministerial positions, you’ve made it clear. Let’s talk, then, about your relationship with Labour. Your proposal for a pre-election partnership - it was jettisoned by Labour - so did the Greens leak that proposal to the media?

No, we did not.

If it wasn’t you, it must have been Labour?

That’s the question. I understand that Labour talked with their colleagues about it, we talked with our colleagues about it – it’s unknown.

So you’re categorical it wasn’t the Greens?

Yes.

Therefore it must have been Labour?

I don’t know. The issue for us is we’ve been working with Labour now over a two-year period with various leaders and various CEOs – or chiefs of staff, sorry – about how to talk about each other in public, how to work with each other more corroboratively where we think it’s a good idea - so this messaging work we’ve been doing with Labour has come after a lot of discussion, a lot of time. We are disappointed with the outcome, but we can see why Labour has chosen the position it has and we’ll still continue to work together as best we can.

It was simple maths, wasn’t it? Labour could never accept that offer because even with you it’s not a government-in-waiting, it doesn’t have the numbers, it is looking to Winston Peters. They need New Zealand First, so it was a rejection of you in favour of a relationship with New Zealand First.

Well I think they want to keep their options open, they don’t want to present as a Labour/Green government to electors, but what we know is that 70 percent of Labour voters want the Greens in the government with them. So it’s important to their people to have the Green Party there and I think it’s important to the public as well.

Well let’s look at a scenario then. Labour goes into a formal coalition arrangement with New Zealand First after the election and that excludes you. Will you support them on confidence and supply?

If they need us for confidence and supply they need us to be government, and that puts us in a very powerful position – whether or not they want to try to exclude us is another question.

What if New Zealand First says no, because they have before?

Well they have before, but they haven’t over the past few years and, actually, we’ve been working really closely with New Zealand First, we’ve worked with them on the manufacturing inquiry, on the CIR – our relationship with New Zealand First is much better.

So is that the bottom line for you – we’re in a formal coalition or there’s no confidence and supply?

There’s no bottom lines, what I’m trying to describe is that if they were to need us for confidence and supply, that means they need us for the Budget, it means they need us to govern. If they need us then we need a completely different discussion about whether or not it should be a closer relationship - like in coalition in some form, or confidence and supply, but we would have to discuss that after.

What if they say confidence and supply but we’re not giving you any ministers?

Again, if they need us then we, the Greens, are in a very strong bargaining position. It’s very difficult to say know how that’s actually going to play out.

But if New Zealand First says no to that - it vetoes Green ministers, it vetoes a formal coalition involving the Greens - will you walk away from that?

When then Labour’s going to have to decide what it wants to do, what kind of government it wants to have.

Do you want a Labour government or do you want a National government? That’s what it comes down to, isn’t it?

To some extent. I want to change the government and I know that Labour does, too, and I know that New Zealand First have talked about that, although they have kept themselves open for the moment.

So that means in order to get a Labour government you either have to sit on the sidelines with no ministers  - if that is what they say is their coalition deal is with Winston Peters, you will have to suck it up, won’t you?

If they lock us out completely, well then they lock us out.  If they need us for confidence and supply then they need us to be government. It’s up to the voters to decide how much power we have after the negotiations. We need party vote from the New Zealand public to strengthen our arm to make sure we are part of a strong Labour/Green government. That’s where we want to be - that’s what we’re offering to New Zealanders. I think New Zealanders will take up that offer with their party vote.

Your co-leader Russel Norman was on this show indicating that he would like to be deputy Prime Minister. You’re his co-leader, would you also expect to hold the role of deputy Prime Minister?

There’s no convention, there’s no rules that stop there from being more than one Deputy Prime Minister. Russel and I have had a co-leadership role in the Greens, it’s worked very well for the Green Party – I think something similar would work very well for the country as well. Cabinet is already ranked so the actual practicalities would have to play out. There’s nothing that stops there (from) being two Deputy Prime Ministers.

So how would you divide the position up then?

The same way we do now, which is that we each have our own expertise, we have our own roles that we play and we do that work, and there’s no reason that couldn’t happen in a Deputy Prime Minister role as well. 

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