Is Twyford making a case for “three strikes and you’re out”?

When Labour’s Phil Twyford put a written question to Amy Adams, the Minister Responsible for Housing New Zealand Corporation, just before the general election last year, he was given a straight answer.

He asked for the net number of disposals of Housing New Zealand properties or houses since 18 October 2016, if any?

In reply, Adams said Housing New Zealand informed her it only records and reports information by month.

“For the period 1 October 2016 to 30 June 2017, there were 1,094 disposals and 1,275 additions, resulting in a net increase of 181 houses. This data is subject to final audit.”

If Adams felt any impulse to embellish her response with some tart advice to Twyford, she resisted the temptation to put it on the public record.

Our busy research department hasn’t had time to assure readers that she or other Ministers in the previous government never resorted to cheek, mockery or impertinence with their written answers.

We do know that hard on the heels of being chided by the Speaker for the way he answered an oral question, the hapless Twyford – now Minister of Housing – was being admonished over answers to written questions.

Here’s an example:

12234 (2018). Hon Judith Collins to the Housing and Urban Development (Minister – Phil Twyford) (14 Jun 2018): How many electricians will the Ministry of Housing and Urban Development employ?

Hon Phil Twyford (Housing and Urban Development (Minister – Phil Twyford) ) replied: Employment of staff will be an operational decision for the CEO of the Ministry of Housing and Urban Development to determine. If the Member is on the look out for work, she should keep an eye on the classifieds.

And here’s another:

11710 (2018). Hon Judith Collins to the Housing and Urban Development (Minister – Phil Twyford) (08 Jun 2018): Further to his answer to Oral Question No 4 on 23 May 2018, has there been any decisions made since then regarding whether KiwiBuild homeowners be allowed to rent out rooms for profit in their KiwiBuild home?

Hon Phil Twyford (Housing and Urban Development (Minister – Phil Twyford) ) replied: The Member will have to wait until announcements are made, but if the Member is volunteering to peek in the windows of her constituents, I will take that under advisement

You could say Twyford was just having a laugh.

But Speaker Trevor Mallard said his answers treat the office he holds with “contempt”.

Mallard gave National 20 extra supplementary oral questions in the House as a result and demanded that Twyford amend his answers next week.

At Kiwiblog, David Farrar wrote of “an extraordinary reprimand of  by Speaker Mallard in Parliament”.

Replies to some written questions to the Minister of Housing and Urban Development have been drawn to my attention. In particular, I have considered the answers to  Nos 12234, 12225, 11652, 11710, and 11715.

The answers are an abuse of the written question process.

In my view, they show a contempt for the accountability which a Minister has to this House. The Minister knows that they would be completely unacceptable as answers to oral questions, and the same rules apply.

Ministers are required to endeavour to give informative replies to questions—Speaker’s ruling 177/5. While the Speaker is not responsible for the quality of answers, I do expect Ministers to make a serious attempt to provide an informative answer. These questions do not come close to meeting that standard.

As a result of these answers that I have seen, I rule that:

1) the Minister will provide substantive amended answers to the questions concerned by midday on Tuesday, 3 July;

(2) since the Opposition has been denied an opportunity to use written questions to scrutinise the Government in a timely manner, they will receive an additional 20 supplementary oral questions, to be used by the end of next week.

I have also written to the Minister indicating a form of reply he is using to avoid giving substantive answers is unacceptable, and that he has until next Thursday to provide corrected answers.

Farrar gives kudos to the Speaker for calling out Twyford on this.

He also refers his readers to No Right Turn, who reminds us this is a Government that promised to be the most transparent ever.

It’s not so long ago that Twyford offered his resignation to the prime minister for making a phone call on a domestic flight after the aircraft doors had shut in preparation for take off.

Collins was instrumental in bringing the matter to public attention.

The PM declined Twyford’s resignation but did transfer his responsibilities for the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) to associate Transport Minister Julie Anne Genter.

Perhaps the Minister is angling to have his workload further lightened.

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