Leaders finding their feet at question time

Prime Minister John Key, in the debating chamber for the question time of the new government in...
Prime Minister John Key, in the debating chamber for the question time of the new government in Wellington today. Photo by Ross Setford/NZPA.
Prime Minister John Key showed he was going to be a formidable target when he fielded his first set of questions in Parliament today.

Question time sometimes throws up issues which can turn into major news stories when Opposition MPs unleash previously hidden information.

However, yesterday it was more about Mr Key and new Labour leader Phil Goff settling down into their new roles.

Mr Goff led off with asking whether Mr Key had confidence in all his ministers, and if so why? Mr Key, not surprisingly, did have confidence in his ministers because they were talented people working hard for New Zealand.

Mr Key then steadily defended his own leadership and the qualities of his Labour Minister Kate Wilkinson for introducing the 90-day employment trial period for new employees.

That piece of legislation would allow hundreds of thousands of small businesses to hire hundreds of thousands of New Zealanders and give them the opportunity to get a job.

He then defended Police Minister Judith Collins regarding revelations at the weekend about police informants spying on protest groups and Finance Minister Bill English.

It was when the credentials of Mr English were called into question that the feisty side of Mr Key came through.

Pointing across the House at former finance minister Michael Cullen, Mr Key said he had confidence in Mr English because the first action he had taken as a minister was to reduce tax rates while the first action of Dr Cullen in 1999 was to lift taxes.

But it was when he had to defend Housing Minister Phil Heatley that Mr Key really hit his straps, accusing the last Labour government of turning the government into a slum landlord which had left thousands of people living in garages.

"Those thousands of people didn't all appear on November 9. They have been there for years."

Where the previous government had failed those people, his Government would not, Mr Key said.

Mr English used some patsy questions to lay out the case for the new Government to cut back on spending promises made by the last government which were not funded and were unaffordable.

Included in those unfunded promises were the $1 billion energy efficiency fund, the $40 million paid for St James station, which had drained the nature heritage fund for the next four years, and the $600 million extra spending for Foreign Affairs and Trade.

Former education minister Chris Carter had some trouble remembering on which side of the House he now sat but no more trouble than Leader of the House Gerry Brownlee who mashed up several of his answers by referring to Dr Cullen as minister and asking himself a supplementary question.

New National MPs who got confused in asking their questions were given a quick lesson by Dr Cullen.

Yesterday was the first and last question time this year for the new Government. Messrs Key and English used the time to soften the blow for some cuts in spending on things promised by the former administration while maintaining National's election promises were fully funded and would be delivered.

As question times go, it was one of the more interesting.

Dene.mackenzie@odt.co.nz

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