Worth the while?

Written By: - Date published: 12:26 pm, May 12th, 2009 - 17 comments
Categories: corruption, Parliament - Tags:

We got a guest post a fortnight ago that we keep meaning to put up with the title “Worth fails to cock-up for a week, apologises to PM”. Lucky we didn’t speak too soon.

The background is this. Chris Hipkins, like any good MP does, has been asking written questions to the minister for his portfolios, who happens to be Richard Worth. Written questions are an important means for parliament to check the activities of the government. 

Hipkins asked basic, run of the mill questions on matters of public interest: “What are the dates and titles of all reports, briefings and submissions he has received from the Department of Internal Affairs since 19 November 2008?”

Worth was asked these on December 10th, just three weeks into his role, so the list can’t have been too long yet Worth answered: “I receive a wide range of reports from agencies, including the Department of Internal Affairs, on a number of issues. To identify all the reports I have received since I was appointed Minister of Internal Affairs on 19 November 2007 would require a commitment of resources, which I am unwilling to make.”

Hipkins didn’t let go at that point. He asked follow ups and Worth admitted his office has systems for recording the reports he is sent but refused to even say how many he had received because it would take too long. When Hipkins asked how long he estimated it would take, Worth said that wasn’t he responsibility. There’s no good excuse, Worth simply isn’t living up to his constitutional responsibility as a minister to answer questions put to him by MPs.

Yesterday morning, John Key made a vague, easy-to-back-out-of commitment to ‘have a look‘ at why Worth is breaching his constitutional duty as a minister.

Fortunately for fans of political car crashes, that wasn’t the end of things. Worth has now put out a release, which basically has a cry saying that Hipkins is asking too many questions and they’re too general. The extraordinary thing is that no-one told him not to release it – either did he not consult his colleagues or they didn’t tell him that whining about having to be accountable isn’t a good look.

There will doubtless be questions today in parliament about Worth’s behaviour but the real question is why Key is letting this incompetent keep his job.

17 comments on “Worth the while?”

  1. Pat 1

    Hipkins has asked almost 1500 questions.

    No-one would deny the Opposition the right to ask Parliamentary Questions. But given that every PQ usually requires the resources of tax-payer funded parliamentary staff to compile the answers, I think Labour’s MPs have a responsibility to ensure that the questions are specific, relevant and cognisant of the resources that will be required to provide the answers.

    I’m not sticking up for Worth, but 1500 questions doesn’t say much about Hipkins.

    • Eddie 1.1

      These questions were asked right at the beginning of the new Parliament.

      Worth didn’t sue the ‘too many’ excuse when answering the questions, why is it valid now?

      You are sticking up for Worth if you’re running his line.

  2. BeShakey 2

    1500 is a lot, but there a variety of potentially good explanations. Firstly, the questions are often variations, since compound questions are frowned upon. So for instance, an MP might ask the Minister of Health the same question 21 times with the only difference being the DHB referred to. It adds up to a lot of questions, but the number isn’t proportional to the effort to answer them. Secondly, because Worth has been so evasive Hipkins has answered a large number of follow up questions. For instance, the answer that it would take too much effort to name the reports he has received earned a large number of follow up questions on how hard it would be and why.

    If you look at the number of questions (and OIAs) from MPs, I doubt you’d see a significant increase from when National was in Government. Worths problem seems to be that he is avoiding answering the questions, which hard got him a bunch of follow up questions.

  3. Pat 3

    National seem fairly savvy at making a bunch of controversial press releases on the same day, which reduces the effectiveness of opponents to make political capital out of them. So today we have Rankin’s appointment, job losses at the MSD, Waterview motorway announcement etc. Hipkins pursuit of Worth looks increasingly irrelevant if Labour persist in letting him use up valuable Parliamentary Questions on flogging a dead horse.

  4. Eddie 4

    Some perspective:

    Written questions asked per year (they’re number sequentally so I just looked up the last one for each year on the Parliament website):

    2003: 13976
    2004: 18914
    2005: 11916 – election year
    2006: 20185
    2007: 20847
    2008: 8979 – election year
    200: 6381 – so far

    So the number this year isn’t large at all.

    • Pat 4.1

      Just so I get this right:

      Hipkins has asked 1483 out of 6381 = 23%?

      • Eddie 4.1.1

        So what? He’s probably the Labour MP who has been tasked with asking the general written questions – ones that go to all or most ministers and cover lots of organisations (see BeShakey’s example above). That’s how the number gets so high.

        • Tim Ellis

          Is that how it operates, Eddie?

        • Pat

          But those 1483 questions were directed to Worth. It seems like a huge percentage to focus on one issue.

          Given no-one thinks Worth is much chop, I would think the Nats would be happy for Worth to keep running interference and distract Labour while they get on with rolling out the tough policy decisions on mass. By the time Hipkins finally gets his man, the Waterview motorway will probably be nearing completion.

          • Eddie

            No they weren’t all directed at Worth.

            Where did you read that, or did you just assume that’s what you read? because that’s the sleight of hand national was playing with you.

            Check out the parliament website for yourself rather than believing whatever you’re told to

          • Chris Hipkins

            Only 140 questions to worth. He is trying to make himself look better by implying all of my questions were to him.

            The Nats used to ask heaps of WQPs – in the last parliament Allan Peachey alone asked 5,962 – most of them to the Minister of Education!

      • Chris S 4.1.2

        Weren’t these particular questions asked last year?

  5. “Pat
    May 12, 2009 at 12:50 pm

    National seem fairly savvy at making a bunch of controversial press releases on the same day, which reduces the effectiveness of opponents to make political capital out of them. So today we have Rankin’s appointment, job losses at the MSD, Waterview motorway announcement etc. Hipkins pursuit of Worth looks increasingly irrelevant if Labour persist in letting him use up valuable Parliamentary Questions on flogging a dead horse.”

    Exactly, lets wait until Worth’s next balls up in around a week or two’s time to get stuck into him, bigger fish to fry for now.

  6. Anita 6

    a) If there are lots of related questions one can provide a single big answer to the whole lot.

    b) Asking lots of similar questions for things one can reasonably expect every Minister/Ministry to be able to provide easily is completely normal.

    I should say at this point that my record as a public servant was 400+ written PQs in two working days. We sat down and answered them. They were reasonable questions, we had the answers, transparency is good.

    Is Worth saying the questions aren’t reasonable, or that he doesn’t have the answers, or that he doesn’t believe in transparency?

  7. Trevor Mallard 7

    And for Chippies questions they probably didn’t need public servant to answer – more like a down load from office briefing/report log or diary. Very easy to answer.

  8. Anita 8

    Oh, and while I’m thinking about it

    Hipkins’ questions were exactly the same kind as Worth’s National opposition asked over and over for nine years. They were exactly the kind that the public servants in Worth’s office answered while they were in the previous Minister’s office.

    Worth chose, deliberately, to either construct a process which made it hard to answer standard questions, or said that something that has always previously been possible (and was done when it was him and his colleagues asking the questions) was impossible.

  9. the sprout 9

    Worth is on the terminal list, Key’s just waiting for the least damaging time to do him.
    The time to dismiss Worth and for Key to come out of it looking good has, of course, long passed.
    I wonder when Key will relieve Rankin of her duties? She has about the same liability loading as Worth.

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