On taking office back in 2017, Jacinda Ardern promised her government would be the most open and transparent New Zealand has seen.
In her first formal speech to Parliament she pledged:
“This government will foster a more open and democratic society. It will strengthen transparency around official information.”
Three years later she laid down a gauntlet for National, saying she wanted to avoid “negative fake news style” campaigns and signing up her party to Facebook’s voluntary political ad transparency tool.
But the transparency message perhaps did not did not get passed down to her back-benchers, as Point of Order’s recent experience suggests.
A question we emailed to a National MP was promptly answered.
A question we mailed to a Labour MP late in May remains unanswered.
The National MP is Simeon Brown, member for Pakuranga.
He was first elected on 23 September 2017 and sits on the Transport and Infrastructure Select Committee.
He is National’s spokesman on transport and the public service.
The Labour MP (who perhaps is overwhelmed with correspondence) is Gaurav Sharma, member for Hamilton West.
He was first elected on 17 October 2020 and sits on the Health Select Committee.
Sharma has no “spokesman” duties, which might also explain his disinclination to respond to questions.
The question we put to Simeon Brown was prompted by a Newshub report in which he was quoted:
“The Ministry for the Environment has launched an internal inquiry into the appointment of three of Mahuta’s family onto a five-member waste working group,” National MP Simeon Brown said.
Point of Order asked Brown:
Has this inquiry been completed yet?
He responded within two hours:
I don’t believe it has been completed. I am waiting for information to come back to me on this further.
I emailed Sharma on May 27 to inquire about a Parliamentary debate in which he said he had been upset – or seemed to be upset – by something National’s Simon O’Connor had said on the subject of academic freedom.
Dr GAURAV SHARMA (Labour—Hamilton West): Thank you, Mr Speaker. I had written a speech, but before I read what I was going to say initially the last speaker, Simon O’Connor’s words were quite unfortunate and sad, especially for somebody like me who, as a man of colour, has faced a lot of abuse—including to the point when I was running for election. The sort of comments the speaker was making are the sort of comments behind which a lot of people hide behind and make those comments—not just in private conversations, but also out in public. So I just want to say the last five minutes were very unfortunate, and the words that came out of that speaker’s mouth were really, really unfortunate.
My email to Sharma said:
This suggested Mr O’Connor had said something of a racist nature.
But perhaps it was something else he said that triggered your response.
I would welcome your helping me understand what he said that vexed you.
The prompt response to this was an acknowledgement that my email had been received.
I was advised:
If your email is an invitation to an event or a media query, your request will be processed and a staff member will be in contact in due course. Please note it is not always possible for MPs to attend at a short notice especially on sitting days of Parliament.
“In due course” stretched to more than a month.
I tried again on July 1:
On 27 May you advised me I could expect a response to my email and questions.
If you did respond, it seems your email has gone astray. I cannot find it in my inbox or among the junk email, where (sadly) some legitimate emails finish up.
I would appreciate your sending it again.
This time there was no response.
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