1 Jul 2021

Hate speech, three waters reform, and Oranga Tamariki in question time

From The House , 6:55 pm on 1 July 2021

Hate speech, three waters reform, sexual assault in high schools and assault of children in state care are among the topics MPs asked Ministers about in question time this week. 



MPs back in the debating chamber for the first sitting day of 2021

MPs back in the debating chamber for the first sitting day of 2021 Photo: VNP / Daniela Maoate-Cox

An hour is set aside near the start of each sitting day at Parliament for up to 12 questions to be asked of Ministers. 

The point is to quiz the Government in a public setting on their plans, actions, and performance which results in a variety of topics. 

Hate speech

Kris Faafoi looking at Priyanca Radhakrishnan

Minister of Justice Kris Faafoi announces proposed changes to hate speech law with Minister for Diversity, Inclusion and Ethnic Communities, Priyanca Radhakrishnan. Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

Regularly appearing in the House this week were questions on the government’s proposed changes to hate speech law.

Last week the Government announced its plans to change hate speech crimes as part of its response to the Royal Commission of Inquiry into attacks on Christchurch masjidain in 2019. 

There are six proposals the Government is asking for public feedback on but media and MPs alike were quick to point out the confusion around the law and sought clarification. 

During question time on Tuesday, the Leader of the Opposition Judith Collins asked the Prime Minister Jacinda Arden for her definition of hate speech.

"It includes, for instance, intentionally inciting, stirring up, or maintaining hatred," answered Ardern.

"So it's not just enough to have an opinion that someone considers to be abusive or threatening; there must be the intention to incite."

The Minister of Justice Kris Faafoi also received a question about the proposals from National MP Simon Bridges who asked if an "off-colour joke about, say, Israel Folau, a Christian, or Laurel Hubbard, a member of the transgender community, under his proposals potentially see someone penalised civilly or criminally in court, with huge consequences for them?

Rugby player Folau was sacked in 2019 by Rugby Australia over anti-gay comments. Hubbard's selection by the New Zealand Olympic Committee put them at the centre of debates about fairness for transgender athletes. 

Faafoi said discussion of specific cases is not the intent of the prospoal. 

"Every case is different, but I will remind the member of the proposed changes around the four elements that are needed for incitement of hate speech provisions within the provisions to be a criminal offence,"

"First, the intent to intentionally incite, stir up, maintain, or normalise hatred towards; second, a specific group that is protected under the Human Rights Act; and, third, the method, through threatening, abusive, or insulting communications, including inciting violence—and it can be done any method of communication, including electronic. That is not the intent of the proposal—to talk about the kinds of cases that the member has outlined."

Questions from ACT leader David Seymour and further questions from Collins and Bridges were asked on Wednesday and Thursday as well, including an exchange about whether calling someone a 'Karen' would be considered hate speech.

Three waters reform

Labour MP and Minister for Foreign affairs Nanaia Mahuta

 Minister of local government Nanaia Mahuta Photo: ©VNP / Phil Smith

Details of the Government’s water reform plans were released this week including taking control of water services from the country’s 67 councils. 

Instead, four publicly owned entities would oversee services for the three waters - drinking water, storm water, and sewage.  

As a member of a government party, Labour MP Rachel Boyack asks questions that give the Minister of Local Government Nanaia Mahuta.

Boyack: What feedback has she received to date from councils about the reform proposals?

Mahuta: Councils have expressed a desire to see the data and evidence underpinning the reform proposals as it relates to their individual circumstances. Now that councils have received this data they can assess the impact of these proposed reforms for themselves and, importantly, the impact for their ratepayers. 

But from the opposition benches, National MP Chris Luxon asks specifically about negative feedback from councils.

Luxon: What is her response to Waimate mayor Craig Rowley, who called the three waters ad campaign "appalling, sensationalising, and showing a lack of respect and understanding from central government"?

Mahuta: I understand that councils may have their own views about the communications campaign. The audience is very clear: we need to demonstrate to ratepayers that the benefit of reform will extend to their household bill, and it does.

The counterfactual is that the status quo situation of 67 territorial authorities delivering water is inefficient, where we have pipes breaking down, we have intermittent water-boiling notices in various communities. That cannot continue. That's why we're pursuing these reforms.

Sexual harassment widespread at highschool 

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Associate Minister of Education Jan Tinetti Photo: RNZ / Dom Thomas

Sometimes questions are follow-ups to reports in the news. 

Earlier this week it was reported that a survey of Christchurch Girls High School students found 60 percent had been harassed including groping or verbal abuse. 

Twenty cases of rape by groups or individuals were also disclosed and calls have been made for the survey to be carried out at schools nationwide. 

In the House Green MP Jan Logie asks the Associate Minister for Education Jan Tinetti whether this would happen.

Tinetti said the Education Review Office (ERO) regularly raises issues about student wellbeing with schools.

"ERO requires school boards to confirm that policies, procedures, and guidelines are in place around wellbeing, including providing a safe physical and emotional environment, anti-bullying initiatives, and internet safety," she said. 

"In terms of a more wide-reaching survey, I also know that Minister Davidson has recently launched a national engagement process around the elimination of family and sexual violence, which will be used as the foundations of a national strategy and action plan."

Assault of children in state care

Minister for Children Kelvin Davis.

Minister for Children Kelvin Davis. Photo: RNZ / Dom Thomas

Also in the news this week,  videos published online revealed children in state care had been assaulted by Oranga Tamariki employees. 

Te Paati Maori MP Debbie Ngarewa-Packer asked the Minister for Children Kelvin Davis if he agreed with all Oranga Tamariki's statements and actions and normally this question would be answered with "yes" from a Minister but this answer was different. 

"No. I especially do not stand by the actions of staff members who were shown to have used unacceptable behaviour when restraining children in one of our care and protection residences," Davis answered.

"But I'm not the only one that does not stand by those actions. This morning (July 1), the chief executive of Oranga Tamariki, Sir Wira Gardiner, announced his intention to close the residence Te Oranga until the investigations are completed. I stand by his action because it was made in the best interests of the children in our care."

Ngarewa-Packer also asked Davis about the standards of training for those working in Care & Protection Residences.

Ngarewa-Packer: Does he agree with the statement of his chief executive that all Oranga Tamariki staff in care and protection residences were trained in the correct management of actual pain or potential aggression—or Management of Actual or Potential Aggression (MAPA)—hold technique?

Davis: Yes, they were trained in those techniques, but whether they applied them in the appropriate way is another question.

Ngarewa-Packer: What is the percentage of front-line staff at Oranga Tamariki who have completed the full MAPA training programme?

Davis: I would expect that anybody who works in the child care and protection residences would complete that training.

Why all the questions?

Question time is a competency test for Ministers who must be across the details of their policies and proposals, familiar with the operations of Ministries under their authority, and prepared to defend or justify their performance. 

It’s also a test of an MPs ability to question a Minister and tease out answers with the potential to embarrass so the public can decide who’s up to the job. 

Question time can be watched on demand on Parliament's website.