From Wednesday’s Question Time: 12. PHIL TWYFORD (Labour) to the Minister of Local Government: Has he costed the Government’s super-city proposal outlined in Making Auckland Greater: The Government’s decisions on Auckland Governance; if not, why not?
Hon RODNEY HIDE (Minister of Local Government) : Yes.
From Thursday’s Question Time: 11. PHIL TWYFORD (Labour) to the Minister of Local Government: How much will the Government’s super-city proposal cost to implement and to run annually?
Hon RODNEY HIDE (Minister of Local Government) : The Government is proposing one mayor and 20 councillors. At present there are seven mayors, one chair, and 108 councillors. That alone will be a considerable saving. Implementation costs will be minuscule compared with the present costs of running the various Auckland councils, whose combined operating budgets are $2,000 million for the financial year. The future operating costs of the council will be up to Auckland. As Minister, I am committed to making the operating costs of councils transparent and giving Aucklandersâ€”and, indeed, all New Zealandersâ€”a real say about the cost of local government.
Phil Twyford: How can the Minister reconcile his statement in the House yesterday that the Government has costed its super-city proposals with the statement in the New Zealand Herald today that a spokesperson for Mr Hide said that the cost of creating the Auckland council and 20 to 30 local boards under it was unknown?
Hon RODNEY HIDE: Because I answered the member’s question yesterday accurately. The members asked me yesterday whether I had ‘costed the Government’s super-city proposal outlined in Making Auckland Greater: The Government’s decisions on Auckland Governance; if not, why not?’ My answer was that we had costed it. The member did not ask me what the cost was.
Phil Twyford: Is the reason the Minister will not release the costing that he is worried that if Aucklanders really knew how much it will cost, his plan would lose the little support that it has?
Hon RODNEY HIDE: No, not at all. In fact, I am interested that the member is so concerned about the costs, because I would have much preferred it if the previous Government had set out in the terms of reference the member’s concerns about the cost of the transition and concerns about the cost of running Auckland after the change. That was never set out in the terms of reference that the previous Government set up and spent $4 million on researching.
Phil Twyford: What is the cost of the Government’s super-city proposal to implement and run annually?
Hon RODNEY HIDE: I am sorry; I did not actually hear the question.
Mr SPEAKER: I invite the member to repeat his question, because there was a lot of noise. I ask members to please show a little more respect to the member who is asking the question.
Phil Twyford: How much will the Government’s super-city proposal cost to implement and run annually?
Hon RODNEY HIDE: The first thing is that this is a different question from one that the member asked yesterday. I think he wants to be very clear about saying that I did not answer a question in a particular way when he keeps shifting the question.
Hon David Cunliffe: You’re running scared! Come on!
Hon RODNEY HIDE: Is that not greatâ€”running scared from that member’s party, when Mr Phil Twyford was not even allowed to put his name forward in Mt Albert.
Hon Darren Hughes: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. We have just witnessed a little show there, where a member very simply put a question: ‘What is the cost ‘â€”that is all that the question was. The Minister started to waste a lot of time by explaining how he was going to answer it and how it would be different from yesterday’s answer, then, once he was asked to answer the question, he started to bring extraneous material in. All that we want is an answer to the question.
Mr SPEAKER: The senior Labour whip was sitting very close by. The Hon David Cunliffe, by interjection across the House, accused the Minister of running scared. Naturally, the Minister responded to such an interjection. I could have risen to my feet and told the Hon David Cunliffe to withdraw, but I let the House run on for a moment to let off a bit of steam. But that is what provoked the answer from the Minister. If members do not want that kind of reaction from Ministers, then they should not make that kind of interjection.
Hon David Cunliffe: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Your recollection of my comments was indeed correct. Let me rephrase, if I may, the point of order made by my colleague the chief Labour whip. The Minister did not respond to yesterday’s question, other than to say that he had a costing. That was later contradicted by a staff member. The member could not have put it more simply in his final supplementary question: ‘What was that costing?’. The Minister made no attempt to address that question.
Mr SPEAKER: I believe that the Minister was on his way to answering the question. I invite him to do so.
Hon RODNEY HIDE: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Let me make quite clear why we have this difficulty. The member asked me a question yesterday, and let me read it out, because I think it is important: ‘Has he costed the Government’s super-city proposal outlined in Making Auckland Greater: The Government’s decisions on Auckland Governance; if not, why not?’. I answered that we had. I had a great deal of trouble understanding what the question was; I said that at the time. I am happy to answer that question, because it seems to be about the cost of the proposal. What the member has asked today isâ€”
Mr SPEAKER: I accept the point the member has made in good faith. To sort this matter out, I invite the member Phil Twyford to repeat his question. I believe that it was a reasonably straightforward question. Let us have it answered.
Phil Twyford: How much will the Government’s super-city proposal cost to implement, to establish, and to run annually?
Mr SPEAKER: Let us have just one question, please.
Phil Twyford: How much will the Government’s super-city proposal cost to implement?
Hon RODNEY HIDE: The implementation costs will be miniscule compared with the Auckland Council’s combined operating costs of about $2 billion a year. This is about getting good governance, and I wish that Mr Phil Twyford could deliver proper questions in the Houseâ€”
Mr SPEAKER: That is unnecessary. The question on notice today was ‘How much will the Government’s super-city proposal cost to implement and to run annually?’. The Minister pointed out why the cost of running it annually is not a matter the Minister can answer. But the fundamental question has been repeated. It is how much the proposal will cost to implement. If there is no estimate of that, that is a fair answer, but I believe that the House deserves an answer to the question.
Hon RODNEY HIDE: And I have given an answer, Mr Speaker; I will repeat it if you like.
Mr SPEAKER: I have made it clear that to say the cost is miniscule is not a satisfactory answer to a question that was on notice. The Minister has had 2 hours for the officials to advise what the estimated cost of implementation is. It may be that it is not possible to have an accurate estimate, and that would be a perfectly reasonable answer. But the question was on notice. It was not just a supplementary questionâ€”it was on notice. Officials have had time to provide the Minister with information. The matter is of public interest, and I believe that the House deserves an answer.
Hon Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I ask you to look at the question that was set down. There is an increasing problem. Given that you are being very strict about the sort of answer you want, I think it is only reasonable that the questions should be quite precise. This question asks how much the Government’s super-city proposal will cost. Firstly, where does the term ‘super-city’ come from? Secondlyâ€”[Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order!
Hon Gerry Brownlee: â€”it relates to a ‘proposal cost to implement’; to implement something is a one-off cost. Then the member wants to know the cost with regard to it being ‘run annually’â€”
Mr SPEAKER: I do not need this help. I invite theâ€”
Hon Members: Point of orderâ€”
Mr SPEAKER: No, I do not need more help. I explained in my ruling a moment ago that the second part of the question on notice, as the Minister explained in his original answer, was not something the Minister can estimate. That was absolutely fair and reasonable. I accept that ‘super-city’ may not be the preferred terminology of the Government, but authentication of the Minister’s having used that language himself was provided as part of the authentication process. So that matter was dealt with as part of the authentication process. All I am asking the Minister to do, because the question was on notice and because the matter is a matter of public interest, is to answer the question. If there is no estimate, then that is a perfectly fair answer, but to simply say the cost is minuscule compared with something else means that the Minister must have some information on the estimated cost, and I believe that the House deserves to hear it.
Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I think there are two other factorsâ€”and they are partially in support of your request, but I think they also work somewhat against it. The Minister indicated both yesterday and again today that the proposal had been costed, so I think that for you to say that he could answer by saying that it had not been costed or that the costings were not available is not an option, because he would be breaching what he told the House less than 5 minutes ago and yesterday.
Mr SPEAKER: I have invited the honourable Minister to answer the question.
Hon RODNEY HIDE: The Government actually does not have the cost of implementation, but it is minuscule compared with the cost of $2 billionâ€”
Hon Members: How do you know if you haven’t got it?
Hon RODNEY HIDE: Of course, it is going to beâ€”[Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: The Minister is answering a question. I have insisted on an answer and it isâ€”
Hon Trevor Mallard: He’s on his way to the Privileges Committee.
Hon RODNEY HIDE: Ha, ha!
Mr SPEAKER: We will hear the answer.
Hon RODNEY HIDE: It is minuscule compared with the $2 billion operating costs, compared with the more than $1 billion that is spent on capital in a year, and also, in particular, compared with the royal commission’s concern about the cost of not reforming Auckland governance. I invite members opposite, before they get overly excited, to refer to the question on notice that Mr Phil Twyford asked yesterday.
Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. We have had, I think, three times today the deliberate mispronunciation of a member’s name by that Minister. He knows how to pronounce the member’s name, and he should do it properly.
Mr SPEAKER: We all make mistakes from time to time with each others’ names, including me as Speaker, and I apologise for that when I have done it. The member is indicating it was a mistake. If it was a mistake, then I just ask the member to try to get Phil Twyford’s name correct in the future.
Hon Darren Hughes: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I want to return to the point the Minister of Local Government made to the House before, when he said he had costed the proposal. He then criticisedâ€”
Mr SPEAKER: The member will resume his seat. The member will sit down. The member has been a Minister; he is an experienced member of this House. Matters to do with the quality of an answer are not matters that the Speaker can deal with as a point of order. I required the Minister to provide an answer, which the Minister did. It is rather unusual for a Speaker to do that; I think the honourable member will acknowledge that. But I cannot get involved in debate about the quality of an answer. Whether or not the Minister’s answer was accurate is not a matter of order in this House. It is not a matter that can be dealt with through points of order, and the shadow Leader of the House should know that.
Phil Twyford: Why did the Minister tell the House yesterday that the Government had costed its super-city proposal, when it has not?
Hon RODNEY HIDE: The answer yesterday was accurate. What the member failed to do yesterday was toâ€”
Hon Trevor Mallard: What about today? Costings are changing overnight.
Hon RODNEY HIDE: With the greatest respect to the Hon Trevor Mallard, the question today is a different question. The question yesterday was about what the proposal cost. The answer, if the member had gone on to ask what the cost was, would have been that the proposal cost $4 million for the royal commission, and that the proposal the Government provided in response cost nothing, because the proposal was provided for within existing departmental baselines.
Hon David Cunliffe: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I am loath to raise another point of order, but I believe that the Minister is crossing a very dangerous boundary here in trifling with your earlier rulings.
Mr SPEAKER: The member will resume his seat. As Speaker, I am perfectly capable of making that assessment myself. The Minister gave a perfectly proper answer to that final question. He pointed out that the wording of the question yesterday was different from today’s question, and he answered it accordingly. If members want to get the answers they expect, they need to be more careful about the wording of questions.
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