The following exchange took place in Parliament this afternoon in relation to the Government’s “Shares-Plus” consultation hui:
Question 3 : Wednesday 19 September 2012
3. TE URUROA FLAVELL (Māori Party—Waiariki)—to the Minister for Treaty of Waitangi Negotiations: Does he agree that “Consulting involves the statement of a proposal not yet finally decided upon, listening to what others have to say, considering their responses and then deciding what will be done”; if so, how do the Government’s consultation hui about the “shares plus” proposal align with this definition?
Hon CHRISTOPHER FINLAYSON (Minister for Treaty of Waitangi Negotiations): Yes; and totally. Is that succinct enough?
Mr SPEAKER: Order! Before I come back to the honourable member, it might be, but it is not a good enough answer to a primary question. The Minister will now give a considered answer, because the Standing Orders actually require a Minister to give a constructive answer to a primary question—[Interruption]—I am on my feet; Ministers should just take a deep breath for a moment—where there are no words in that question that are in any way provocative. There are no such words in the question whatsoever. I do not believe that is an acceptable answer to the House. I accept that it is an answer, but it is not acceptable, given the Standing Orders, in that Ministers are expected to provide information in answering questions, and that answer did not provide any information.
Hon CHRISTOPHER FINLAYSON: “Succinct” is obviously elastic.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! [Interruption] Order! I am on my feet. The Minister will desist from that line of action. He will just treat the House with the respect it deserves.
Hon CHRISTOPHER FINLAYSON The quote draws on the finding of the Court of Appeal in 1992 in a case involving Wellington International Airport, reported I think in  1 NZLR 671. What that decision confirms is that the party consulting can have a working plan in mind, and that is the position here. The Government has a preliminary view on “shares plus” and a working plan based on that preliminary view, but it has an open mind and is willing to change its mind if submissions are persuasive—succinct and to the point.
Mr SPEAKER: I thank the Minister.
Te Ururoa Flavell: Does the Minister support the view of the Deputy Prime Minister that “The Government has already said that such a shareholding would be unattractive, unnecessary, and unworkable …”; if so, what assurance can he give Māori that the Government is not entering into consultation with a predetermined outcome in mind?
Hon CHRISTOPHER FINLAYSON: Yes, I can give that member and the House an assurance that the Government has an open mind. As I said, the Government has formed a preliminary view about “shares plus”, and that view is noted in its letters on the Treasury website, and it is in that context that the Deputy Prime Minister’s comments are to be understood. Again, the view is preliminary, and the Government is consulting in good faith in order to hear whether there are other views about “shares plus”.
Te Ururoa Flavell: Does the Minister agree with Māori lawyer Joshua Hitchcock that “In many respects the Government is treating this as a pro-forma exercise of consultation. It is merely ticking the boxes to satisfy the Court in the event of a challenge to the sale process that it has followed due process.”; if not, why not?
Hon CHRISTOPHER FINLAYSON: No, I certainly do not. It is not a matter of simply ticking boxes, and Governments have learnt a lot since the decision of the Court of Appeal in 1993. The Government has a preliminary view. It wants to test that view, and that is why the Deputy Prime Minister—and next week the Deputy Prime Minister and I—will be having these hui, one of which was very well attended in Taupō today. The Government acknowledges it may not have thought of everything. It wants to hear other views, and then it will make a decision, and that is why we will have a consultation.
Hon Peter Dunne: Given the terse and succinct nature of the Minister’s answer, could he elaborate on what the Government’s preliminary view is?
Hon CHRISTOPHER FINLAYSON: Yes. The Government’s preliminary view, as set out on the website and in Treasury papers, and in the view of the Deputy Prime Minister, is that there are more minuses than pluses with “shares plus”. Take, for example, the suggestion that minority shareholders could have some say in the appointment of directors to the company, who would then act on the wishes of the minority shareholders. Well, in terms of company law, that is quite problematic because directors, once appointed, owe a duty to the company, not to the people who put them there.
Not the deliberate change in language. The Deputy Prime Minister’s press release was rather unequivocal on the Government’s opinion of the “Shares-Plus” concept, to hear the Attorney General now speak of it as merely a preliminary view appears to be an attempt to fix an unintentional mistake.