Housing Minister Twyford is told to be succinct – but quality is beyond the Speaker’s control

Speaker Trevor Mallard chided Housing and Urban Minister Phil Twyford yesterday for “developing … the habit of putting additions on answers after he has answered the question”.

Parliamentary questions should be succinct, Mallard reminded the Minister. The answers should be succinct too.

And once a question has been answered a Minister doesn’t need to add to it, “especially in a way that’s likely to lead to disorder or discomfort in the House”.

That’s a nice way of saying Ministers shouldn’t embellish their responses with politically charged taunts.

Play the ball, not the player, in effect.

Good advice, but Twyford’s inclination to kick Collins’ shins perhaps tells us he is being outplayed by his Opposition marker in the Parliamentary game of Question time.

Twyford’s first transgression yesterday was in response to that hoary old question: “Does he stand by all his statements and actions in the House?”

His reply was “yes, except on the rare occasion where I misspoke”.

Then came the foul.

“I particularly stand by my statement following the Leader of the Opposition’s Budget Reply speech, that ‘I’m going to call it: the biggest winner of … 2018 was Judith Collins’ leadership ambitions’.”

Mallard blew his whistle, Twyford was warned against provocatively spicing his answers and play resumed.

Collins: “So what changed since his statement regarding KiwiBuild yesterday that the Government is ‘not planning on bringing workers in from overseas.”, to the Government today announcing that they will be doing exactly that’?”

Twyford: “Nothing changed. I was simply reacting to the absurd suggestion that the whole workforce for KiwiBuild would be imported from overseas. Our policy, this Government’s policy, has always been that to respond to the legacy of nine years of under-investment in the construction industry workforce, we would not only invest in growing the local workforce but we would bring in skilled tradespeople from overseas, just as the former Government did after the earthquakes in Christchurch.”

But the flow was soon broken again when Twyford ducked the next question…

Collins: “Before he told Parliament yesterday that the Government is ‘not planning on bringing workers in from overseas’, what discussions had he had with the Hon Jenny Salesa, the Minister for Building and Construction, about bringing in 1,500 KiwiBuild visa workers from overseas to build KiwiBuild houses?”

Twyford: “The member’s continual fake surprise at this Government announcing and rolling out long-established policy won’t cut any ice with thousands of Kiwi homebuyers who were denied the opportunity to have homeownership for nine long years under that Government. It’s never been our policy to import wholesale the workforce from overseas. It’s always been to grow the New Zealand workforce here in a way that the former Government never bothered to do.”

The ref blew his whistle and called on Twyford to address the matter of his discussions with Salesa.

The Minister had another go and again didn’t answer – at least, not to our satisfaction here at Point of Order. He took succinctness to an extreme, saying:

“I’ve had many discussions with the Hon Jenny Salesa.”

Collins tabled a briefing from the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment from December 2017 titled “KiwiBuild visa settings“.

Perhaps this provoked the next ankle tap.

Collins: “When he told Parliament yesterday that he ‘met with a director and president of another organisation who are acting as intermediaries for the China Development Bank’, what was that organisation?”

Twyford: “I was asked to do this meeting by the member’s former colleague Marama Fox — to meet with these officials who are intermediaries of the China Development Bank. I meet with many banks, but I can also confirm that I have never dined with a Chinese border official.”

This was a reference to some shenanigans back in Collins’ day as a Minister, the subject of screeds of questions in the House at the time.

On this occasion it was out of order and Twyford was directed to answer the question.

He played the memory ploy.

“I don’t recall the name of the organisation of the officials I met with, but if the member wants to put a written question down or a primary, I will gladly get that information for her.”

Gerry Brownlee invited Mallard to reflect on this response. Recalling a mistaken answer which Twyford previously had admitted, he submitted:

‘ …  he must have done some research to find out what the mistake was. You hardly find out that you’ve made a mistake if you don’t know what the mistake was or who the mistake was about—therefore he has not given an answer to the House.”

Mallard declared he had a lot of sympathy for Brownlee and his point of order but “unfortunately, I don’t have responsibility for the quality of the answers”.

Them’s the rules.

Never mind. The Nats are bound to have another go on another day. We will watch with interest.

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