David Shearer: Thank you Mr Speaker, my question now to the Minister of State Owned Enterprises: Has the Government met the five criteria the Prime Minister laid out for proceeding with asset sales?
Tony Ryall: Blue cheese.
Shearer: Point of order, Mr Speaker. What kind of answer was that?
Mr Speaker: The minister answered the question. He may not have given the answer you wanted, but he nevertheless gave an answer. Do you have any supplementary questions?
Shearer: When the Prime Minister said that the third criterion would be that companies would need to present good investment opportunities for investors, with which international investors had the Prime Minister had discussions that have yet to be made public?
Ryall: The capital of Hungary is Budapest. The capital of Romania is Bucharest.
Shearer: Point of order! Mr Speaker, shouldn’t the minister at least make some effort to answer the question? My question was not directed to European capitals.
Mr Speaker: The member well knows that matters of geography are directly relevant to the question. The member has asked questions about international investors, and some of those investors may well be from Hungary or Romania.
Shearer: But Mr Speaker—
Mr Speaker: I have ruled on the matter. Does the member have any supplementary questions?
Shearer: When the Prime Minister said that the second criterion would be that New Zealand investors would need to be at the front of the queue for shareholding, from which of his former colleagues from financial markets had he received briefings on this issue?
Ryall: My word, this minister is looking handsome today!
Shearer: Mr Speaker, point of order! Surely the minister should be under an obligation to at least attempt to answer the question.
Mr Speaker: I am satisfied that the answer given by the honourable member was adequate.
Trevor Mallard: Point of order, Mr Speaker. I invite you to reconsider whether the question was properly answered.
Mr Speaker: Order! Order! I have ruled on the matter, and I will not entertain further debate on the matter.
Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I wonder if the real problem here is that the Opposition have not asked questions appropriately directed to cheeses, European capitals, or the minister’s penchant for snappy attire. Had the Opposition questions been properly phrased the House would not now be subjected to these endless points of order.
Mr Speaker: I thank the member. If members wish their questions to be answered they might like to consider framing them to fit the answer. I invite the member to rephrase the question so as to address the answer, namely the minister’s claim that he looks handsome today.
Winston Peters: Point of order, Mr Speaker. Under your predecessor there was an expectation that ministers would be held to account and would answer questions put to them. Now we find that they can say any old thing they like, and with total impunity.
Mr Speaker: I have already ruled on this matter.
Brownlee: Mr Speaker, a point of order…
Mr Speaker: Order! Order! I cannot hear my instructions!
Brownlee: Mr Speaker, it seems that there is a very simple solution available to the members of this House, if they don’t like the answers being given. They could, to put it colloquially, “suck it up.”
Mr Speaker: Thank you. I’m aware that my predecessor ran things somewhat differently, but let me remind members that he has now left the building, and he won’t be troubling the government again. Does the member have any further supplementary questions?
Shearer: Yes, I do. What warning did the Minister of Finance give to the Prime Minister about issues arising from the Contact Energy float?
Ryall: I am not going to answer that question.
Mr Speaker: Order! Order!
Shearer: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The minister cannot simply refuse to answer a question.
Mr Speaker: I invite the member to look at the transcript. The minister’s answer was adequate. The minister addressed the question directly in his answer.
Shearer: But he said he wouldn’t answer the question!
Mr Speaker: And that was his answer. The minister answered that he was not going to give an answer. The member cannot blame the minister if the questions he puts are capable of being answered in a manner that doesn’t suit the member.
Mallard: Point of order, Mr Speaker. That was no kind of proper answer. Ministers cannot simply reply by saying they refuse to answer the question.
Mr Speaker: And yet I say they can.
Mallard: Then what is the point of this exercise? The integrity of this House is diminished if ministers can simply refuse to answer questions, or give frivolous responses.
Mr Speaker: I would remind the member that I never wanted this job. But I’ve been promised a knighthood and a cushy high commission role somewhere nice if I do this, and why would I risk that by being fair and impartial?
Brownlee: Point of order, Mr Speaker. You are to be congratulated for your perspicacity.
Russel Norman: Point of order! That’s not even a genuine point of order.
Brownlee: Another point of order, if I may. Will the Speaker direct the member over there to shut his trap?
Mr Speaker: So ruled. Next question!