Foreign Minister Winston Peters’ refusal to directly express displeasure to the Russian Ambassador and his Government over Russian allegations the New Zealand Defence Force failed to clear a firing range of exploded ordnance and are guilty of murdering seven Afghan children is as appalling as it is unsurprising, National’s spokesperson for Foreign Affairs Gerry Brownlee says.
“Mr Peters deflected questioning on his refusal to call in the Russian Ambassador by saying the Russians were attempting to engage the British Government on these matters.
“This clearly implied he is happy to accept the New Zealand Defence Force’s (NZDF) reputation being significantly tarnished as collateral damage in a scrap between two other Governments.
“Even the Prime Minister acknowledged to Parliament that the NZDF had cleared the firing range in question to the acceptable standard at the time. She noted the range had previously been used by other military, including the Russians.
“While the death of any innocent civilians is distressing, the strength of Russia’s allegations against New Zealand is unacceptable.
“When the Russian’s left Afghanistan after the long civil war some years ago, they left behind an estimated 30 million land mines. These are said to kill or maim 2000 Afghans every year.
“Mr Peters told Parliament there was no need for him to call in the Ambassador because he was watching the proceedings of the House and that would suffice. If Russian Ambassador Zuev was watching, he would’ve heard only conciliatory and soothing commentary from the Rt Hon Winston Peters.
“That is a disgrace. At the very least Ambassador Zuev should be called into the Foreign Minister’s office, and the Foreign Minister should directly express New Zealand’s displeasure at these Russian allegations and strongly suggest that Russia pays some of the costs for the further clearing of the 40 square kilometre firing range, currently being borne by the New Zealand taxpayer.”
Growing tensions in Hong Kong amongst police and pro-democracy protestors are cause for increased alarm, National’s Foreign Affairs spokesperson Gerry Brownlee says.
“Small movements throughout history have led to eventual significant change. The current Government of Mainland China rose from such a protest movement and its achievements have been considerable.
“The demand for change in Hong Kong will need meaningful dialogue and a path to progress change if more bloodshed is to be avoided.
“Former British dependent territory Hong Kong has access to history and experience which may be helpful in reaching resolution to the current disruption which threatens the territory’s prosperity and until now, peaceful lifestyle.
“Hong Kong should reach out for that help and Beijing should be confident about its achievements and continue the measured restraint it has shown so far.”
Complacency over terrorist threats cannot be the legacy of the death of ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, killed in Sunday's successful attack carried out by US Seals on the ISIS headquarters, National’s Foreign Affairs spokesperson Gerry Brownlee says.
“Those involved in the raid have made the world a little safer for a time.
“National in Government took the decision to join the US led coalition against ISIS because we could see no country was insulated from state-less ideologically driven terrorism.
“Al-Baghdadi and his followers were, and are, pure evil. ISIS is an idea, it has not died with Al-Baghdadi.
“Our security services, both civil and military, need to be as vigilant and connected as ever to like-minded countries. Strong terrorism laws are only a bother to terrorists. As ISIS followers disperse throughout the world, we need to have strong anti-terrorism laws.”
New Zealand must not sit on the sidelines while Australia and other countries move to protect vital shipping lanes in the Middle East, National’s Foreign Affairs spokesperson Gerry Brownlee says.
“Australia has today done the right thing by committing a ship, a surveillance aircraft and defence personnel to a multilateral effort to keep the Strait of Hormuz between the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman open and safe for ships to pass through.
“Embarrassingly the Defence Minister Ron Mark, has responded by saying he can’t send a ship or a plane because these assets are out of action or overburdened.
“This is simply not good enough.
“New Zealand’s Defence Force can offer its partners a range of skills and assets in a multilateral effort such as this.
“Just as oil and other goods destined for Australia moves through the Strait of Hormuz, so too does oil and goods destined for New Zealand.
“Australia has correctly identified this situation as a risk to its economy.
“It is a risk to New Zealand’s economy too.
“New Zealand has a proud history of operating in the Middle East to keep the peace.
“In particular we recently played a significant role on the sea and in the air as part of the blockade of Isil’s trade of illicit goods to fund terror.
“The clock is ticking on New Zealand’s response to this very serious threat to our economic wellbeing.
“The Minister and his part-time Government need to do better.”
After three weeks’ recess and 20 months convening over $300 million worth of working groups to help it draft legislation, it turns out the Government has so few Bills in the pipeline it has resorted to filibustering its own programme, Shadow Leader of the House Gerry Brownlee says.
“We’ve arrived back at Parliament from the winter recess to find the Government wants to debate four Bills that have broad support across Parliament at Committee of the Whole House stage.
“National is happy with these four Bills following Select Committee consideration and see no reason for them to be held up.
“But Labour today declined leave for them to be debated expeditiously, meaning they need to be debated part-by-part, and is now filibustering from the get-go.
“Embarrassingly Ministers – who should surely have something better to do – are right now standing up in the House asking questions of the Minister in the chair to prolong debate about legislation everyone agrees on.
“The legislative process could be likened to that of a sausage machine – the end product being new laws.
“This Government is so inept it can’t even get the raw ingredients into the mincer.
“In this Government’s so-called ‘year of delivery’, all it appears to be delivering is timewasting in the House.”
The Government called for an extended sitting of the House to consider six Bills, but showed exactly how shambolic it is when a Minister failed to be present in the House as required to begin a debate on the next Bill on the Order Paper, Shadow Leader of the House Gerry Brownlee says.
“Today’s performance in the House borders on farcical.
“The Speaker was left with no choice but to end the extended sitting an hour and 45 minutes early meaning next to no progress was made on the Government’s legislative programme.
“Meanwhile, because the Government imposed extended sitting hours without agreement from the Business Committee a whole morning of select committee hearings was lost.
“This means Bills which could have had their first reading and be sent off to select committee for scrutiny this morning will now languish on the Order Paper for an unknown period of time. The machinery of government is being ground to a halt by a Government which can’t get the basics right.
“Leader of the House Chris Hipkins will have ministerial colleagues asking for a please explain.
“The Government needs to get its act together. More people will begin to think ‘if it can’t even run Parliament how can it run the country’.”
The seventh triennial appropriation review committee report tabled in Parliament today goes well beyond the usual brief of considering the resources an MP should have to best undertake their representative activities, National’s Shadow Leader of the House Gerry Brownlee says.
“It can easily be labelled an attempt to further the cause for taxpayer funding of political parties.
“With a proposed $13 million annual increase in Parliamentary support funding for MPs, including 31 extra staff for Ministers, equal funding for List and Electorate MPs, big increases in funding for Māori seats and a locked-in increase of 3.7 per cent per year for staffing, and 3.3 per cent for other costs, this is a massive dip into taxpayer funds with the greatest advantage going to coalition partners Labour, the Greens and NZ First.
“The $13 million per year increase for additional staffing and resources is the biggest yet – a whopping 20 per cent.
“The increase in funding for List MPs to be the same as Electorate MPs has a major financial benefit to the three coalition parties that are predominantly made up of List Members of Parliament.
“It is significant additional taxpayer resources for those Members.
“But perhaps the most concerning aspect is the proposal that regardless of what is delivered at the ballot box, parties are going to have guaranteed levels of funding post the 2020 election.
"Since MMP began in 1996 Parliamentary funding for parties has depended on voter support.
"But this report proposes that post 2020 – regardless of voter support – if parties like NZ First and the Greens make the 5 per cent electoral threshold they will be guaranteed a minimum as if they had achieved an 8 per cent result.
"For Labour and National it's at 38 per cent minimum or the equivalent to their Party vote if greater.
"This proposal is nothing more than an attempt at a massive cash grab by current Government parties.
"The Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister have pitched themselves as being frugal with the public purse in canning the Parliamentary building and cancelling MP pay rises.
"They need to distance themselves from the recommendations in this report or come clean on their support for more taxpayer funding for political parties.
"National does not support the recommendations and calls on the Speaker to ditch this report and recommence the review with much tighter terms of reference.”
In an extraordinary and potentially unprecedented abuse of power, the Government is attempting to impose new taxes on New Zealanders without proper debate, late at night and under cover of Urgency, National’s Shadow Leader of the House Gerry Brownlee says.
“The Government has used Urgency and an amendment to a motion to stop further debate and ram through new laws without proper scrutiny on a matter as important as taking more money off New Zealanders.
“Worse, it’s doing this because of its own incompetence and its inability to carry out a core function of a responsible Government - managing Parliament’s legislative programme.
“And it’s doing so on a Bill which it had already shortened the process for and which it has blatantly failed to win public support for.
“This is not only undemocratic – and potentially unprecedented in the 165 years of New Zealand’s Parliamentary democracy - it is arrogant. The Government is saying to New Zealand that they will be passing new taxes through Parliament by any means possible.
“This is an unpopular and unnecessary new tax which has been sold as applying to Aucklanders only, but which will be rolled out nationwide in a couple of years, adding hundreds of dollars in costs to the average motorist every year.
“What’s deeply disappointing is the Green Party has chosen to support Labour’s move.
“Both parties have again displayed a breath-taking level of hypocrisy. After being opponents of Urgency and champions of democracy in Opposition, they are taking unconstitutional and unprecedented steps in Government, on matters as fundamental as new taxes.
“The Government has stumbled at every hurdle in its attempt to foist its new regional fuel tax on New Zealanders but it has forged ahead.
“It continues to prove it can’t be trusted. It can’t run Parliament, it can’t run itself and it can’t be trusted to act in the best interests of New Zealand.”
The Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security Cheryl Gwyn must explain the legal basis upon which she appointed her new Reference Group, National’s Spokesperson for GCSB and NZSIS Gerry Brownlee says.
“Following questions raised yesterday about the group, the Inspector-General issued a statement which fails to answer the very simple question regarding the legal basis for appointing the group.
“The Inspector-General says that the group was set up to help her ‘stand in the shoes of the public’ and inform her thinking.
“It’s hard to fathom how this group will be able to give objective advice on behalf of the public, given the very partisan views of several of its members.
“For someone in a role centred on ensuring our intelligence and security agencies act lawfully and with propriety, it is worrying that the Inspector-General has not yet explained what legal basis she had for appointing the Reference Group.”
Appointments to a new Intelligence and Security Reference Group raise a number of serious questions for Inspector-General Cheryl Gwyn, National’s Spokesperson for GCSB and NZSIS Gerry Brownlee says.
“The Inspector-General has said this group has been brought together to help her stand ‘in the shoes of the public’.
“But several members of her group are far from objective in their view of our intelligence relationships, or in some cases the existence of intelligence services at all.
“Nicky Hager made his views about the Security Intelligence Service clear in a public talk in 2011, when he said the agencies should have been closed in the 1990s because their ‘main long-term anti-communist rationale [was] gone’.
“He then questioned the legitimacy of their role in identifying and monitoring terrorist threats.
“The Inspector-General needs to explain how this group was appointed. That they have been appointed and met with the Inspector-General before their appointment was made public is worrying given the values she is supposed to promote.
“Did the Inspector-General discuss the appointments of the group with the Prime Minister before the first meeting? And what statutory power can she cite for the appointments?
“Will this group have top secret clearance? If so, how can we be sure the information they will have access to will be secure?
“Will the Inspector-General be sharing intelligence with them? Where will the line be drawn?
“And what role will this group’s opinions have in the oversight of our intelligence operations?
“It is naïve to believe that New Zealand does not need intelligence and security services. Our intelligence and security agencies deal with very sensitive information and must be able to operate with discretion.
“The Inspector-General needs to clear these matters up urgently and answer the questions that the appointments of this group raises, so that our intelligence community can be confident in the progress of their work.”