Select committee falls over as Budget announcement canned

A war of words has erupted on one of Parliament’s most powerful select committees, which was cancelled on Wednesday morning for failing to reach quorum. 

Parliament’s Finance and Expenditure Committee, which monitors things like government’s expenses, budget, and the Reserve Bank, was cancelled for failing to reach quorum. It was due to review on the Budget Policy Statement, the Pike River Recovery Agency, and the Half Year Economic and Fiscal Update, all of which would have relatively high profile and will now have to be rescheduled.  

Finance Minister Grant Robertson was scheduled to appear and announce the date of the 2019 Budget, which will be 30 May 2019. The announcement was made in a press release without an accompanying announcement. 

However when a Labour MP Tamati Coffey called in sick on Wednesday morning, the committee fell short of reaching its quorum of seven members. Chair Michael Wood told Newsroom he called in a replacement MP to sub-in for Coffey, but that MP arrived “30 seconds late”. 

Chair Michael Wood told Newsroom he called in MP Jo Luxton to sub-in for Coffey, but she arrived “30 seconds late", for the meeting, showing up just after 8.10am. 

But National members on the committee say Luxton was effectively ten minutes late, forcing the meeting to be cancelled. Standing orders mandate the meeting must have quorum within 10 minutes of the scheduled start time, which was 8am. If by 8.10am, the meeting still had not reached quorum, it had to be cancelled regardless of whether members wanted it to proceed or not. 

Newsroom has confirmed that standing orders mandate the meeting must be cancelled at ten past for failing to reach quorum regardless of whether the member was 30 seconds or five minutes away. 

Just after 8.10am Deputy Clerk Suze Jones was called to advise that the meeting had indeed failed to reach quorum, and had to be cancelled. 

The Government’s MPs on the committee say quorum could have been reached if Opposition MPs had decided to enter the select committee room and begin the meeting. 

This has been confirmed by the Clerk — standing orders mandate that quorum can be reached using MPs from any party, not just the Government. 

But National says the role of the select committee is to scrutinise the Government, which should have a full complement of MPs present and waiting for the meeting to begin. National MPs therefore waited outside the committee room. 

Wood said the Opposition was “scoring a political point at the expense of people being able to have their say to Parliament”. People scheduled to submit today would have to be rescheduled, including those who had travelled to Wellington. 

But National said Labour’s tardiness showed they were disrespectful of the committee. Ideally, they said, MPs should be notified the night before if they are to sub into a committee so they could prepare in advance. 

“This is not the first time we’ve seen this sort of thing happen," National MP Andrew Bayly said.

“From time to time they’ve been tardy and late and not well prepared,” he said.

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