All power to the Minister and the Speaker as Russel Norman’s question is short-circuited

It was great to see Russel Norman get his come-uppance from Mr Speaker in the House this afternoon.

Norman obviously hoped he was going to screw some politically embarrassing information out of our splendid Minister of Energy, Simon Bridges (although Alf likes to think he would be an even more splendid Minister).

At Question Time, Norman asked (here) if Bridges believed the electricity reforms of the late 1990s delivered lower electricity prices and – if so – what had happened to household electricity prices over the last 20 years?

Obviously 20 years is a long time, and it would have required lots of beavering away in the database to come up with the figures.

So Bridges short-circuited things and said yes, the reforms were on the right track.

Good answer.

“But as a newspaper column said this morning, the largest sustained household price increases for a generation or more happened between the end of 2001 and the end of 2008. That is the difficulty, as the column says, for David Shearer and Russel Norman.

“So if Mr Norman wants to apologise now, I am happy to accept that apology.”

Alf quietly concedes he wasn’t too sure what Norman should be apologising for, but he hooted for the apology anyway.

Norman took umbrage, not at Alf’s hooting but at the reply.

Dr Russel Norman: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. This was a question on notice. It had two parts. The Minister vaguely addressed the first one, I suppose, but he completely failed to address the second part of the question. It is very specific.

Mr SPEAKER: I thought he addressed it very specifically.

Ha. We could score this one for the Government.

But Norman can be a stubborn bugger.

Dr Russel Norman: Well, Mr Speaker, “20 years”—we are now in 2013, so we are talking from 1993 to 2013. He did not address that period. He talked about 2001, but—

Mr SPEAKER: He addressed a portion within that period of 20 years, without a doubt. The member has further supplementary questions.

Oh dear. Norman then started to become a tad riled.

Dr Russel Norman: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The question is very specific. It is on notice. It is about 20 years. You cannot cherry-pick a period within the 20 years and say you have answered the question. He did not answer the question.

Mr SPEAKER: I think the Minister has adequately addressed the question that you put down. The member has further supplementary questions if he wants to use them.

Dr Russel Norman: That is ridiculous. That is ridiculous.

Mr SPEAKER: Order!

Mr Speaker (another splendid fellow) demanded Norman withdraw that remark.

Norman withdrew.

Then he came up with a supplementary question, and answered it, which just goes to show what a time-waster he can be, because it looks like he had the information he sought all along.

Dr Russel Norman: Is it not a simple fact that the actual answer to the question that was put on notice, which the Minister should have given an answer to, is that electricity prices for households rose 70 percent above inflation over the 20 years since his party introduced its ridiculous grab for electricity reforms?

But Bridges told him the simple fact is that those reforms did not have a chance to bed in and that power prices shot up under the Labour-Greens.

He did think a simple fact was that since the Labour-Greens announced their electricity pricing policy, Contact Energy’s share price had fallen by almost 3 percent.

The persistent Norman pressed on, trying to get Bridges to say the reforms in the 1990s had failed to deliver a competitive electricity market and that is why prices had risen 70 percent above inflation over those 20 years, and in the period since the Key Government had been in place, over four years, power prices had risen by 19 percent in spite of the fact that demand is flat. And so the market had failed…

But Bridges had different numbers.

Hon SIMON BRIDGES: I thank the member for that speech. The simple facts of the matter are these. In the 1990s power prices did rise. They then shot up markedly under the Labour Government. We were so concerned when we came into Government that we set up a review. We set about implementing reforms, including the Electricity Authority, and the rate of increase has gone from 8 percent to some 4.5 percent. Well, that is success.

Then bloody Trevor Mallard got in on the act.

He simply wanted to know if power prices have increased by 70 percent more than the rate of inflation in the last 20 years.

Bridges was not certain of that fact, but he did know the sharpest rise was under the nine years under Labour.

Mallard raised a point of order, complaining that his question was the core of the primary question. “For a Minister to say that he does not know cannot be true.”

But Mr Speaker said it had been a substantially different question to the one asked in the primary question.

Of course it was.

Betcha the Greens and Lefties are doing a bit of sulking right now.

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