The Prime Minister says he retains confidence in his Education Minister and won’t stand her down while she faces a powerful Parliament committee over her delaying in correcting a false statement.
Jan Tinetti has become the first minister since Winston Peters in 2008 to be referred to the Privileges Committee after it took her more than two months to correct an inaccurate remark. Ministers are meant to correct any incorrect statements as soon as possible.
Prime Minister Chris Hipkins on Wednesday wouldn’t provide much comment given the issue is now before the committee, but did say he retained confidence in Tinetti.
“She has dedicated her whole life to the cause of New Zealand’s public education system,” he said. “She is a very experienced teacher and school principal who I have absolute confidence in making good decisions around our education system.
“I think she is going to be a great Minister of Education.”
Asked if he was disappointed in her, Hipkins said he didn’t think it would be appropriate to comment while the committee is doing its deliberation.
But Hipkins did say “some people spend a lot more time obsessing about parliamentary standing orders than others”.
“As somebody who has done a lot of that in the past, I wouldn’t necessarily hold everybody to the same standards in that regard, to the level of knowledge of Parliament’s rules that I have. But I do expect ministers to follow the rules.”
He said he wouldn’t stand her down while the committee investigates.
“I don’t see the need to.”
Tinetti said Hipkins could have confidence in her as Education Minister. But she too wouldn’t offer up much more comment.
“I have already said I am not commenting on that. I wonder if anyone has got anything else that they want to talk to me about,” she said.
Tinetti refused to say if she would stay on if the Privileges Committee found against her or whether she would be lawyering up.
The minister’s been referred to the committee over the delay it took for her to correct an answer given during Question Time on February 22.
She was asked to categorically state she played no part in the delay of the release of school attendance information and replied by saying she already had and it was a decision for the Ministry of Education for when to release the data.
But Newshub revealed this month that Tinetti’s office instructed officials to delay the release of the information so it could be timed with a truancy announcement by the Government. The minister told Newshub she wasn’t aware at the time that her office was holding up the data.
Speaker Adrian Rurawhe on Tuesday said Tinetti received a letter from him on May 1 telling her the answer needed to be correct, and she did so the next day.
However, that correction came long after Tinetti learnt her office was involved. She found that out after Question Time on February 22.
She claims she didn’t know her answer needed to be correct until the Speaker’s letter, but Rurawhe said it should have been done as soon as possible.
“It is an important principle that the House can trust the accuracy of ministerial replies to parliamentary questions,” the Speaker said.
“While mistakes are sometimes made, which can result in the House receiving an answer containing a misleading statement, it is vitally important that as soon as this is discovered, the minister returns to the House to correct the answer at the earliest opportunity.”
He said it was for the Privileges Committee to determine whether the “delay in correcting an inaccurate statement in this instance amounts to contempt”.
“I rule that a question of privilege does arrive from the time taken to correct a misleading statement to the House. The question therefore stands referred to the Privileges Committee.”