25 Jun 2015

Saudi sheep questioning 'farcical' - Labour

9:07 pm on 25 June 2015

Labour MPs have slammed a select committee hearing as farcical, after they were prevented from grilling the Foreign Minister on his Saudi sheep deal.

180714. Photo RNZ. Foreign Minister Murray McCully talking with media about the Mayalsia Airlines MH17 flight.

Murray McCully did not respond when asked if he would resign. Photo: RNZ

Murray McCully struck a deal in which a wealthy Saudi businessman was given more than $11 million in cash, livestock and agricultural equipment.

The chair of the Foreign Affairs Defence and Trade Select Committee, Mark Mitchell, stopped Labour's David Parker from asking additional questions of Mr McCully this morning.

It prompted Labour MP David Shearer to accuse Mr Mitchell of deliberately preventing MPs from posing questions about the deal.

"This is farcical, Mr Chair," he protested. "We started off with a line of questioning around Saudi Arabia. We know that this is in the news. David Parker is surely able to have a supplementary [question] on the narrative that the minister provided and follow up on it. Instead we've jumped to a completely different subject."

Greens co-leader James Shaw asked Mr McCully if he would resign over the deal but the minister did not respond.

Mr McCully was later asked if he thought Mr Mitchell had been overzealous in curtailing questions.

He responded, "I'm not going to criticise the chairman. I'm not going to get into the select committee's approach to things or the issue of relevance in terms of the estimates."

Mr Mitchell said he was just trying to calm things down, as Mr Parker appeared to be quite wound up. He said he made the call to let National MP Shane Reti ask the next question.

"I decided, because David appeared to be a bit agitated, as to allow Shane to have his question. I very clearly stated to David we will come back to you and you will be given the opportunity to continue asking your sups [supplementary questions]," Mr Mitchell said.

Mr Mitchell said a suggestion by Mr Shearer that he had been instructed to interfere in the questioning of Mr McCully is absolutely untrue.

He said the majority of questions put to Mr McCully during the select committee hearing were on the Saudi deal.

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