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Source: New Zealand Parliament – Hansard

WEDNESDAY, 25 SEPTEMBER 2019

The Speaker took the Chair at 2 p.m.

Prayers.

ORAL QUESTIONS

QUESTIONS TO MINISTERS

Question No. 1—Internal Affairs

1. Hon SIMON BRIDGES (Leader of the Opposition) to the Minister of Internal Affairs: Does she have confidence in the Royal Commission of Inquiry into Abuse in Care?

Darroch Ball: Same question as yesterday.

SPEAKER: The Hon Tracey Martin is answering the question, Mr Ball.

Hon TRACEY MARTIN (Minister of Internal Affairs): I certainly don’t want this answer to be taken as being flippant, but I think it is the best way to describe my level of confidence. If we were talking about a score between zero, which is “absolutely no confidence”, and 10, which would be “absolute confidence”, I would have to say that right now I am sitting at a five, and I’m hoping that the meeting at 3.30 today with the commissioner will lift that level of confidence.

Hon Simon Bridges: Does she think the royal commission has abided by its terms of reference, which say the royal commission should “do no harm”?

Hon TRACEY MARTIN: I think that’s an exceptionally good question, and that is a question that I am going to have to put to the royal commission of inquiry at 3.30 today, because that is part of the responsibilities I do have. It’s one of the areas where I believe I have a requirement to ensure that if I feel that they have not and I can produce evidence for Cabinet, and therefore for the Executive Council, I have a responsibility to do so.

Hon Simon Bridges: When she meets with Commissioner Paul Gibson this afternoon, will she seek explanations about why there was no vetting of the paedophile associated with the survivors’ advocacy group and why Mr Gibson took no immediate actions when he knew the man had convictions?

Hon TRACEY MARTIN: Yes, that will be among the questions that I will be putting to the royal commission. I do not know if Mr Gibson himself will be there. The royal commission has asked to see me. I do not know how many members will come. I am definitely expecting the chair. But I do want to take on board that 14,000 survivors so far have actually signed up to give evidence. Each one of those survivors has the capacity to bring one or two support people with them. So I do take on board some of the comments in the media domain that there are some logistics to this, but it definitely is a question I will be asking.

Hon Simon Bridges: Doesn’t Mr Gibson, as the critical commissioner in charge of the survivors’ advocacy group, need to be there, and shouldn’t she request that?

Hon TRACEY MARTIN: As I mentioned yesterday, because it’s an independent royal commission of inquiry, I cannot enforce or demand or require.

Chris Bishop: Of course you can.

Hon TRACEY MARTIN: I cannot—I cannot. However, the royal commission of inquiry is very aware of the areas where I have concern. I have made it incredibly clear, in many media, where I am seeking answers. So the chair is responsible for the royal commission of inquiry and any reporting back to me. It is the chair that has asked to see me today. I hope that other commissioners will be with him, but it is the chair that I will be holding accountable for those answers.

Hon Simon Bridges: If the commission doesn’t have adequate explanations about those matters I’ve just asked the Minister about—the vetting and the delay around the man’s conviction—what will be the consequence, in her view, for Paul Gibson?

Hon TRACEY MARTIN: First of all, I’m trying very hard to go into this meeting with the royal commission to listen without judgment, so that I hear very clearly without going in with a bias. The members may laugh, but this is an incredibly serious royal commission of inquiry that survivors asked for. They asked for it to be treated seriously and with independence from any political interference. I want to listen to the commissioners with an open mind, as opposed to deciding I know everything because the media has reported it. However, I will actually have to take further advice—possibly legal advice—after I have seen the commission at 3.30 today, because of the responsibilities I do hold.

Hon Simon Bridges: Does she accept that she has the authority to advise the Governor-General to remove members of the royal commission for neglecting their duties to keep survivors safe?

Hon TRACEY MARTIN: Again, that’s a very good question, and one I’ve just asked for further advice on from the Department of Internal Affairs, and that is around whether neglect of duty—that interpretation around duty—covers duty of care. But I accept that I have that responsibility. If neglect of duty also includes minimising harm, or duty of care, which I would like some deep clarity on, remembering no commissioner has ever been removed in this country before; no—

Hon Gerry Brownlee: So what?

Hon TRACEY MARTIN: Thank you, Mr Brownlee. I see that you would do it at the drop of a hat. I tend to take this thing much more seriously. This took years and years and years to get survivors this far. So I don’t intend to just, at the snap of a finger, go ahead—[Interruption]

SPEAKER: Order! Order! The member will resume her seat. I don’t want to enter into this debate, but the point that the Minister is making is a very important one, and that this is a serious matter. It doesn’t help when her fellow Ministers react to inappropriate comments from the other side. The Minister is perfectly capable of responding herself. She should be left to do it, because, otherwise, it makes this Parliament seem like a rabble, and both sides are responsible for that, and I’m looking especially at the shadow Leader of the House and the Minister of Finance.

Hon Grant Robertson: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker.

Hon Gerry Brownlee: She shouldn’t bring us into it.

SPEAKER: Order! The member will stand, withdraw, and apologise.

Hon Gerry Brownlee: I withdraw and apologise. Point of order.

SPEAKER: No, I’ve got Grant Robertson first.

Hon Grant Robertson: I reluctantly joined in responding to the interjections, because, as you pointed out yourself in your ruling, they were inappropriate interjections, and on a matter of this seriousness, in the absence of those interjections being stopped, that was the course of action open to me.

SPEAKER: Well, I do not appreciate the member reflecting on my ruling. I made the ruling; I’ve actually more or less agreed with what he just said, other than his reluctance, but he knows he’s not allowed to comment on my rulings. He will withdraw and apologise.

Hon Grant Robertson: I withdraw and apologise.

SPEAKER: Mr Brownlee, do you want to go again? No. All right, the Hon Simon Bridges.

Hon Simon Bridges: Thank you, Mr Speaker. Does she have confidence in Commissioner Paul Gibson?

Hon TRACEY MARTIN: I would have to say, right now, as I said in answer to the primary question, I’m very much on the fence about the level of confidence I have in the commission overall.

Hon Simon Bridges: How is it possible that, despite red flags being raised months ago, the paedophile was only questioned last month about his offending, and he said, “this is the first time anyone from the commission has asked about them.”?

Hon TRACEY MARTIN: No red flags were raised with me, and, again, the member is asking me to comment on the internal workings of an independent royal commission of inquiry that he should direct to the royal commission of inquiry.

Hon Simon Bridges: What does she say to survivor advocacy group member Kath Coster, who said, in respect of the royal commission, “I was subjected to paedophiles by being a ward of the state … To find out later on that I had put myself into a situation where there was a paedophile, it made me feel real sick.”?

Hon TRACEY MARTIN: As one human being to another human being, I can just say how terrible I feel for that lady, but I ask her to direct those concerns to the royal commission of inquiry and to hold them to account.

Hon Grant Robertson: What responses did the Minister get, when the royal commission was established, from survivors who had been calling for years for such a commission of inquiry and those calls had been ignored?

Hon TRACEY MARTIN: If I recall correctly, it was with relief and some joy, but they also knew this was not going to be a pleasant process and it was going to be a complicated process. I have had emails in the last 24 hours from people begging me to make sure that the royal commission of inquiry continues, but they want confidence, like we all want confidence.

Hon Simon Bridges: Does she agree with the Prime Minister that the members of the royal commission have “the right mix of integrity, mana, and credibility to carry out the difficult job”?

Hon TRACEY MARTIN: We wouldn’t have appointed them in the first instance if we didn’t believe that they had the right mix of integrity and mana and skills to do the job.

Hon Simon Bridges: In light of her, I think, fair answer to my primary question, where she gave a number, how does she rate Paul Gibson’s chances of remaining as a commissioner at this point in time?

Hon TRACEY MARTIN: It would be inappropriate for me to comment on that matter.

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