Questions Of The Day Transcript - 16 October 2002
(Uncorrected transcript - subject to correction and further
Questions 1-12 16 October 2002
QUESTIONS FOR ORAL ANSWER
QUESTIONS TO MINISTERS
Air Force--Fleet Replacement
1. Hon. BILL ENGLISH (Leader of the Opposition) to the Prime Minister: Further to her comments on the Holmes show last night, when does the Government intend to "upgrade or replace the ... Hercules and the 727s"?
Rt Hon. HELEN CLARK (Prime Minister): The Government has made the decision in principle to upgrade or replace the Hercules fleet and to replace the Boeing 727s. The detailed decisions on the options are likely to be made later this year.
Hon. Bill English: What does she think it does for New Zealand's credibility in Australia to have three of our Air Force planes grounded in the same few days, and have the embarrassment of this matter discussed in the Australian Parliament, as it was yesterday?
Rt Hon. HELEN CLARK: What I think is very damaging to the reputations of those concerned is to have quarrelling over a broken windshield, when New Zealanders are either dead, badly injured, or traumatised from a tragedy.
Graham Kelly: Has the Government made Budget provision for modernising the transport fleet?
Rt Hon. HELEN CLARK: The Government has a substantial re-investment programme in the defence forces following the many years in the previous decade when spending declined. Specifically, the plan upgrading the Hercules--as that is the option--will cost between $100 million and $170 million. Replacing them outright could be over $800 million. To replace the 727s is expected to cost $100 million to $200 million. In response to the member who said that we cannot spin this one, we are spending money you would not spend.
Rodney Hide: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I do not think it was your good self who refused to spend the money.
Mr SPEAKER: No, it was not.
Rt Hon. Winston Peters: How long does the Prime Minister intend to exploit the pathos and tragedy of Bali as some lousy excuse for having failed as a Government to provide proper internal and external security for this country?
Rt Hon. HELEN CLARK: The member must be one of the few people in the world, if not the only one, who holds New Zealand's defence and foreign policy responsible for the tragedy.
Rodney Hide: Why did the Government not use the Hercules that it flew to Bali to deploy the mobile field hospital units that the New Zealand taxpayer paid millions of dollars precisely for emergency zones such as we are tragically seeing in Bali, and why are the same field hospital units sitting, never used, in storage at Linton Camp when they could be used to help the injured and maimed in Bali?
Rt Hon. HELEN CLARK: I would be very keen to see our field hospital used wherever it can be usefully used. On this occasion we have worked very closely with the Australian authorities to get a response that will be useful and timely.
Bill Gudgeon: With the logistical support that our Air Force is called upon to give, what guarantee can the Prime Minister give that our pilots and crew will have confidence in the safe performance of our planes, given the last spate of incidents recently; if not, why not?
Rt Hon. HELEN CLARK: The bottom line is that they do not fly them if they do not believe they are safe. That is why they did not proceed on with the broken windshield.
Hon. Bill English: Does the Prime Minster's Government have plans to speed up the upgrade of the Hercules and the renewal of the 727s, or will it be New Zealand's official policy that we will rely on the generosity of Australian airlines to secure our citizens' safety?
Rt Hon. HELEN CLARK: We are moving very quickly on this. If replacement of the transport arm had been prioritised--not bringing spending on the jet strike arm forward 7 years--we would have them in place now.
Rodney Hide: I seek the leave of the House to table a printout from the web page of Babcock New Zealand showing these field hospitals.
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that web page. Is there any objection. There is objection.
2. DAVID BENSON-POPE (NZ Labour--Dunedin South) to the Minister of Education: What steps has the Government taken to increase the information and communication technology capability of schools?
Hon. TREVOR MALLARD (Minister of Education): The Government has increased the number of information and communications technology professional development clusters by 21. That means another 147 schools are involved in programmes around the country, bringing the national total to 798. The programme involves professional development for teachers on the use of information and communications technology for teaching, learning, and administration. At this point I should acknowledge the good work of the Rt Hon. Wyatt Creech, who set up the first pilot programme, which has been shown to work so well. It was a pity that his successor did not fund those programmes properly.
David Benson-Pope: Can the Minister explain to the House how the information and communications technology clusters will operate?
Hon. TREVOR MALLARD: There are between four and 10 schools in each cluster. Each cluster has a lead school responsible for leading and managing the programmes. Those schools are already successfully using information and communications technology in innovative ways to enhance teaching and learning. Each cluster will have a 3-year contract and receive $120,000 each per year to support its information and communications technology professional development activities.
Hon. Dr Nick Smith: Noting that in 1999, when National put together a $78 million information technology package for schools, the Labour Opposition described it as grossly inadequate, why would we today, in the House, accept that an amount one-tenth of that sum is adequate?
Hon. TREVOR MALLARD: Because this is a very small part of a package that is all supplementary to the pathetic investment made by the National Party.
Metiria Turei: Can the Minister describe how the increase in information and communications technology will contribute to the implementation of the national environmental education strategy?
Hon. TREVOR MALLARD: It will contribute in a number of ways. There are several websites and several web-based programmes as part of that strategy, and having teachers and children more confident in the use of information and communications technology can mean that they can be involved much more easily.
Bernie Ogilvy: Will the Minister, in the light of that, support an increase in funding in schools to cover the additional burden of part-funding for laptops for teachers' schemes, as well as the cost relating to integration issues and professional development for them?
Hon. TREVOR MALLARD: The significant investment made as part of the last Budget on funding for laptops for secondary teachers is, I think, the first step in funding. My priority would be to put it further down the education system before moving to full funding. Much of the $120,000 per cluster will, in fact, be spent on professional development.
Hon. Dr Nick Smith: I seek leave of the House to table a statement in May 1999 of $78 million of new funding--
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that statement. Is there is any objection? There is.
Terrorism--Jemaah Islamiah Organisation
3. Hon. BILL ENGLISH (Leader of the Opposition) to the Prime Minister: Will her Government support the Australian Government's approach to the United Nations to have the Jemaah Islamiyah listed as a terrorist organisation; if not, why not?
Rt Hon. HELEN CLARK (Prime Minister): I am advised that Australia has not yet made such a decision. Obviously, if New Zealand has sound information that supports a case for the UN listing Jemaah Islamiah as a terrorist organisation, we will support that action.
Hon. Bill English: Is the Prime Minister aware today, since she was not aware yesterday, that even if that organisation is listed as a designated terrorist organisation under our own terrorism legislation, it will still be legal to be a member of the organisation and promote its aims?
Rt Hon. HELEN CLARK: It will be illegal under our law, passed last week, to do anything whatsoever for such an organisation--paying a fee, attending a meeting, etc.
Tim Barnett: What happens in--
Hon. Bill English: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I wonder whether the Prime Minister might want to take the opportunity to revise the answer to that question. The particular wording of the legislation was discussed yesterday. It is quite specific. The answer the Prime Minister gave cannot be correct if the legislation is as the House passed it, and I invite her to reconsider the answer she has put on the record in the House.
Hon. Dr Michael Cullen: The legislation makes it quite clear that it is the participation in a terrorist organisation that is banned and is illegal. It may come as a shock to the member that terrorist organisations do not operate membership books, like the National Party.
Mr SPEAKER: As far as I am concerned, of course, my job is not to adjudicate on what the answer contains. There is room for further supplementary questions. My job is to ensure that the question was addressed. It was.
Rt Hon. Winston Peters: Will the Prime Minister tell this House that belonging to such an organisation is not, under the recently passed law, illegal, and if her distinction is that committing an act from such an organisation is, then how will that protect New Zealanders if suicide is part of the act, as it was on September 11 last year? Now say something sensible for a change?
Mr SPEAKER: First of all, the member will withdraw and apologise for that last comment.
Rt Hon. Winston Peters: I withdraw and apologise. I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker.
Mr SPEAKER: Just a moment. The member had better not argue with me on this, or he will be out the door. He can take his chances.
Rt Hon. Winston Peters: Mr Speaker, I am not going to be intimidated by you. I want to raise a point of order.
Mr SPEAKER: I have not said that I will not hear a point of order--
Rt Hon. Winston Peters: Well, do I need the precursor before I make my comment?
Mr SPEAKER: Because the member made a silly comment before. Point of order, the Rt Hon. Winston Peters.
Rt Hon. Winston Peters: Well, OK, Mr Speaker, that is my point of order--
Hon. Bill English: Point or order--
Rt Hon. Winston Peters: No, I want to speak here. My point of order is that the Prime Minister today, in answering the first question, twice threw in that sort of comment in her answers and you, Mr Speaker, never found it fit to stop her. We will have the same rules in this House for her and me.
Mr SPEAKER: There will always be the same rules for every member of Parliament, and I want to assure the member that I have insisted on that. The member has asked a question. The Prime Minister can answer it.
Hon. Bill English: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. As you have picked up Mr Peters, I invite you to consider the way in which you completely ignored Dr Cullen's abuse of the Standing Orders, as well as his silly and offensive comment, comparing the National Party with a terrorist organisation. You let him get away with that, with no comment, as you often do, and when the Prime Minister insists on not answering questions, or on being tricky with the truth, then we will get disorder in this House.
Mr SPEAKER: I want to say that I made a mistake, and I should have picked Dr Cullen up on that comment. I think it might be best if he withdrew that comment.
Hon. Dr Michael Cullen: I withdraw. I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The original point of order was actually out of order because it was a debating matter, in any case. I now want to deal with a point raised by the member. He keeps trying to argue that because the law does not outlaw membership of terrorist organisations--
Hon. Bill English: That is not a point of order.
Hon. Dr Michael Cullen: --neither was the member's--therefore the legislation is ineffective.
Opposition Members: Sit down!
Mr SPEAKER: The House is getting out of control. [Interruption] I ask the member to please not talk while I am talking, because I do not want to have to ask any senior person, such as him, to leave. The point the member was making was not strictly a point of order; it was a point of debate. I now want the original--
Hon. Dr Michael Cullen: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I therefore invite you to rule that Mr English's original point of order was merely a point of debate and nothing more, and that to raise that further is out of order.
Mr SPEAKER: Well, I did actually say so at the time. Mr Peters asked a question, and I want the Prime Minister to answer it.
Rt Hon. HELEN CLARK: My response to the member's question--
Phil Heatley: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I think you will find that the Hansard will show you asked Dr Cullen to withdraw and apologise, and that he did not in fact apologise.
Mr SPEAKER: The member withdrew. I now ask the Prime Minister to give the answer to the question.
Rt Hon. HELEN CLARK: The only defence against suicidal hijacking is effective intelligence that can help one prevent it.
Hon. Richard Prebble: When assessing whether intelligence is effective with regard to terrorism, is the Prime Minister still convinced that New Zealand is in, to quote her, "the best intelligence club, given the report in today's Washington Post newspaper: "US intelligence officials said they intercepted communications in late September, signalling a strike on a Western tourist site. Bali was mentioned in the US intelligence report, the officials said.", and is the Prime Minister saying to the House that she knew that Bali was a potential target; if so, why were New Zealanders not warned; and, if she did not know, would she reconsider the fact that perhaps we are not in the best intelligence club?
Rt Hon. HELEN CLARK: We are in the best club, but the advice we receive cannot be full if the intelligence has not detected what is happening. I give the House exactly the same advice that John Howard gave Australians yesterday, which is that Australia was given no warning of the Bali bombing, we were given no warning of the Bali bombing. The Prime Minister of Australia said that it had no warning of a specific attack, nor did we.
Keith Locke: Is it possible that by assigning guilt to only one of the possible suspects in the Bali bombing case, namely the Islamic extremist group Jemaah Islamiah, that politicians in Australia, America, Indonesia, and New Zealand, are undermining a full, objective police inquiry into all possible suspects in this important case?
Rt Hon. HELEN CLARK: It is my understanding that all roads of investigation currently lead to the Jemaah Islamiah organisation. Obviously the Indonesian authorities are very determined to hunt those people down, whoever they are, but the threads of investigation lead there at the moment.
Tim Barnett: What happens in New Zealand when the United Nations designates an entity as a terrorist organisation?
Rt Hon. HELEN CLARK: Under the Terrorism Suppression Act designation by the United Nations Security Council is deemed to be evidence that the entity has participated in terrorist acts and can be designated as a terrorist entity under our legislation.
Hon. Bill English: Can the Prime Minister tell the House whether the bombing in Bali will lead to any changes in the degree of cooperation between Australia and New Zealand over terrorist matters and intelligence flows?
Rt Hon. HELEN CLARK: We have the closest possible relationship with Australia, and that continues to be a very high priority for this Government.
Hon. Richard Prebble: I seek leave of the House to table the Washington Post report stating that the United States intelligence knew about an attack on Bali.
Document, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.
Moth--Aerial Spraying, South Auckland
4. LARRY BALDOCK (United Future) to the Minister for Biosecurity: What feedback has he received from the Waitakere City Council regarding the aerial spray campaign to eradicate the painted apple moth, and what is his response?
Hon. DAMIEN O'CONNOR (Minister of State), on behalf of the Minister for Biosecurity: I have received no feedback from Waitakere City Council since the decision was made to expand the aerial spraying component of the painted apple moth eradication programme. However, on 26 June the Waitakere City Council expressed its view that the eradication of the painted apple moth was absolutely critical and that "to abandon the eradication now would snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, and is unthinkable."
Larry Baldock: Why are the commercial concerns that are preventing the disclosure of the spray's ingredients being given priority over the rights of west Auckland residents to know what is being sprayed over them?
Hon. DAMIEN O'CONNOR: As has been previously stated in the House, I am unable to disclose the exact formulation of Foray 48B as that is a trade secret closely held by the manufacturer. However, the active ingredient of Foray 48B is a common soil bacterium commonly known as BTK. In addition to that, Foray 48B contains a number of inert ingredients, all of which are registered for use in New Zealand, and are commonplace in either food or cosmetic products. BTK has been used for over 30 years, and following its use in the spotted tussock moth eradication, a report prepared by public health officials in Auckland found no significant adverse health effects associated with its aerial application.
Shane Ardern: In the light of recent reports from Government departments that a lack of coordination between Government departments has caused delays in decision making, will the Minister now get on with the eradication of the painted apple moth and eliminate further spreading?
Hon. DAMIEN O'CONNOR: Yes, I can assure that member that we are getting on with it, and had it not been for adverse weather conditions in Auckland over the past 2 days we would be spraying right now.
Lynne Pillay: How will lessons from the painted apple moth eradication programme impact on community engagement in future eradication responses?
Hon. DAMIEN O'CONNOR: The Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry will analyse the operation of this whole programme. It will get back to us and report on effective ways of maintaining communication with the Auckland community.
Brent Catchpole: In the light of the Government's repeated claims that the spray Foray 48B is completely safe, why was it necessary for the Deputy Prime Minister to indemnify AgriQuality New Zealand against third-party claims for any chemical and long-term effects on health from the use of Bacillus thuringiensis kurstaki, or is it that the Government no longer has confidence in the assurances that the spray is safe?
Hon. DAMIEN O'CONNOR: I can reassure the member that we have every confidence in the spray we are using. We have analysed it very carefully; it is part of normal operational procedure to cover the ministry. This spray is non-toxic to bees, spiders, beetles, snails; in fact, it is specific to the caterpillars that we are trying to kill in this programme.
Ian Ewen-Street: Given the Minister's previous answer can he explain to the House why the Government is spending $10 million on health effects in Waitakere City if the spray is so safe?
Hon. DAMIEN O'CONNOR: I know of no expenditure of $10 million following on from the health effects of Bacillus thuringiensis kurstaki.
Larry Baldock: Given the reasonable and understandable public perception that the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry is expert with plants, bugs, and fish, rather than people, will the Minister request assistance from the Minister of Health to address the residents' health concerns; if not, why not?
Hon. DAMIEN O'CONNOR: I have had the very highest level of cooperation from the Minister of Health in addressing all these issues, and I am aware of the concerns. They are being addressed through open communication between the community and both the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry and the Ministry of Health.
Air Force--Fleet Reliability
5. Hon. KEN SHIRLEY (Deputy Leader--ACT NZ) to the Minister of Defence: Is he satisfied with the state of our air force fleet?
Hon. MARK BURTON (Minister of Defence): No, I think it is fair to say that despite the outstanding work of defence force personnel the ageing state of much of the defence force equipment inherited by us 3 years ago reflects a decade of political neglect during the 1990s. That is why this Government, having set out a coherent defence policy framework, and a published a long-term development plan, is now actively implementing that plan.
Hon. Ken Shirley: In view of the fact that the urgent need for the Hercules C130 and Boeing 727 replacement was identified in the defence report to the incoming Labour Government back in 1999, why has this not been actioned; is it the Minister dragging his feet, is it the Cabinet failing to back the Minister, or is it possibly both?
Mr SPEAKER: The Minister may address two of those questions.
Hon. MARK BURTON: We saw not only a neglect in the 1990s, but a period of ad hockery. This Government was determined to make coherent decisions based on a systematic plan. That plan is being implemented. I do know that this Opposition carps and complains when we do make decisions, as it did with the LAVIIIs, the equipment purchased, and the communications. The Opposition cannot have it both ways.
Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I am rather interested to know why you restricted the Minister to answering only two of the different tranches of the question that was asked of him.
Mr SPEAKER: If the member read the question book, he would find the Minister has to answer only one, but we have had a custom in this Parliament for about the last 12 years--and I have been here for all of that time--to allow the Minister to address two of the parts of the question. I think that is a reasonable thing to expect to be done.
Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. You may recall that a couple of weeks ago, Labour put on the Order Paper, as a primary question, a question that had three very clear parts to it. I raised the issue, then, of whether it was acceptable for a primary question to have three parts to it. You rather abruptly sat me down and said that it was. So the question mow is: if it all right for Labour to ask three questions in one primary question, why cannot the Opposition have three parts to a supplementary question answered on the same basis?
Mr SPEAKER: I have been advised that in fact we thought there were only two parts on that occasion. But I will have a look at the matter for the member, and I will report to him about it.
Russell Fairbrother: What is the process under way to address the long-term operational needs of the Royal New Zealand Air Force?
Hon. MARK BURTON: Recommendations concerning the final approval for the upgrade of the Ohakea runway are currently going through the Cabinet process. That will enable military and, potentially, civilian aircraft to use the runway. The fixed-wing review, including the life-of-type study of the Hercules C130s and the development of options for the replacement of the Boeing 727s, is well advanced and will be reported to me during the next 2 months. Work on options for upgrading systems on the P3 Orions will be reported by November. I expect to take a number of recommendations to Cabinet on the Royal New Zealand Air Force fixed-wing fleet in December.
Hon. Ken Shirley: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Unfortunately there was a mass exodus from the gallery halfway through that Minister's reply, and I could not hear it. I am very interested. Could I ask him to repeat that reply please.
Mr SPEAKER: I think that is a fair comment. We try to ensure that when schools leave, they leave quietly. If people would be quiet now, I would ask the Minister to repeat the last part of the answer.
Hon. MARK BURTON: The work on the options for upgrading systems on the P3 Orions will be reported by November. Perhaps most importantly, I expect to take a number of recommendations to Cabinet on the Royal New Zealand Air Force fixed-wing fleet, in December.
Hon. Bill English: Given the embarrassment New Zealand has suffered from having three planes from its air force grounded in Australia, when will the Government be moving to actually upgrade the Hercules--[Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: I have had enough! The member will leave the Chamber.
Hon. Trevor Mallard withdrew from the Chamber.
Hon. BILL ENGLISH: Given the embarrassment for New Zealand of having three of its air force planes grounded in Australia at the same time, and having that matter discussed in the Australian Parliament--
Hon. Dr Michael Cullen: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The Speakers' Rulings show quite clearly that we cannot preface questions with long statements starting "given". There are a number of Speakers' rulings in that respect.
Mr SPEAKER: That is perfectly correct. I would like the member to start the question with a question word. I am sure he can work in the points he wants to make.
Hon. Bill English: How long will it be before the Government actually makes a decision to upgrade or renew the Hercules or 727 aircrafts?
Hon. MARK BURTON: Firstly, the premise on which the question is based I think is incorrect. As most members of the House know, the first of those planes--the Hercules that was sent at very short notice with a quickly assembled medical team--had a broken window. That could happen to a brand new airplane.
Hon. Dr Michael Cullen: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The Minister scarcely got three words out into his answer when the Leader of the Opposition was interjecting. I suggest to you that what is sauce for the Labour Party goose should be sauce for the National Party gander.
Mr SPEAKER: Yes, I will make that decision. I want the Minister to answer the question. He is entitled to be heard in reasonable silence.
Hon. MARK BURTON: In respect of the second part of the question--
Hon. Bill English: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. In fact, you ruled my first question out of order. So I redid the question, and there was no first part or premise in the actual question that I put to the Minister, at all.
Mr SPEAKER: Why do we not start again and I will ask the member to re-ask the question.
Hon. MARK BURTON: Firstly, I point out to the member that I answered it in a previous supplementary answer. I expect to be taking clear recommendations on the implementation of those parts of the defence plan to Cabinet in December.
Rt Hon. Winston Peters: Will the Minister not concede now that he should have taken the advice of former Chief of Defence Force, Carey Adamson, who recommended that not 105 LAVs be purchased, but, rather, 60, thereby enabling the freeing-up of money to replace the Hercules; why did he not take that sound advice?
Hon. MARK BURTON: I received a great deal of advice about the LAV project. I point out to the member that if he cares to read the document I have here--and I am happy to supply him with a copy--he will see that it points out very clearly that a commitment is made to the upgrade of the C130 fleet. [Interruption] It has not been an either/or situation. This Government is committed to supporting all three of New Zealand's defence force services, not just in a piecemeal fashion as the previous National administration did.
Hon. Peter Dunne: In the light of the age of the New Zealand Air Force fleet, and the high cost of the replacement of these aircraft, why is the Minister not prepared to look at more innovative financing solutions, such as lend-lease options, and will he give an undertaking to the House to consider these?
Hon. MARK BURTON: Indeed, I can say to the member that in terms of the delivery of the long-term development plan, and I cite for instance the 727s, which are part of the issue that is being questioned today, long-term lease and charter are options against purchasing that are currently being evaluated and which I will take as options to Cabinet before Christmas.
6. DIANNE YATES (NZ Labour--Hamilton East) to the Minister of Women's Affairs: What significant milestones for women were recorded in the Ministry of Women's Affairs annual report?
Hon. RUTH DYSON (Minister of Women's Affairs): The annual report tabled on Monday highlights significant milestones, such as the passing of the Property (Relationships) Amendment Act and the Parental Leave and Employment Protection (Paid Parental Leave) Amendment Act. The report notes that these Acts will reduce barriers for women with caring and paid work responsibilities, which will enable women to have greater economic autonomy over their lives.
Dianne Yates: Does the report record any significant developments for Maori women?
Hon. RUTH DYSON: Yes it does. The reports states: "Maori women have provided the core advice on the guardianship review, cervical screening, kaitiaki regulations, and the care and protection of children review to ensure that Maori women's priorities are addressed in Government policy."
Sandra Goudie: When will the Government review the paid parental leave legislation and when will this review look at the discriminatory nature of the legislation, which means that many new parents are ineligible?
Hon. RUTH DYSON: As announced at the time of the passing of the legislation, 1 year after its operation has been in place.
Barbara Stewart: Is the Minister completely satisfied that the Ministry of Women's Affairs is delivering quality outcomes for New Zealand women, and can she please give examples of where improvements have been made?
Hon. RUTH DYSON: Yes, I am satisfied that the ministry is reaching the objectives as set out in the agreement with the Minister. These are all detailed in the annual report that was tabled on Monday. I recommend its reading to the member.
Sue Kedgley: Given the advice to the Minister in her incoming briefing notes, that the medium annual income of all women reported in the 2001 census was only 58 percent of men's medium income, what does her Government propose to do to try to redress this huge structural inequity and deal with the issue of pay parity?
Hon. RUTH DYSON: I am delighted to inform the House, for those who are not aware, that there is currently a pay equity discussion document available and submissions close at the end of November. I invite that member, who clearly has an interest in addressing the pay equity issue, and any other members who have a shared concern for fairness in our pay structures in New Zealand, to contribute as well.
Building Standards--Building Industry Authority
7. Dr WAYNE MAPP (NZ National--North Shore) to the Minister of Internal Affairs: When was he or his office first informed that the Building Industry Authority was investigating problems with leakage and accumulation of moisture behind modern cladding?
Hon. GEORGE HAWKINS (Minister of Internal Affairs): The fact there seems to be issues in that area has been public knowledge for some time. I was aware of that and of the involvement of the Building Industry Authority in the Building Research Association of New Zealand Inc. Weathertightness Buildings Steering Group. However, the Building Industry Authority did not formally advise me until 30 April 2002 that it was treating that as an issue, when it wrote to me to advise me it had set up an overview group on weathertightness.
Dr Wayne Mapp: If the Minister is saying that he was first informed by the Building Industry Authority only in April 2002, why did he reply to a letter from the Prendos building inspectors on 28 August 2001, stating: "The industry has set up a group on this issue. I understand that the Building Industry Authority is represented on this group. I will await the advice of the authority on amending the building code."? Who gave them all that information?
Mr SPEAKER: I said during a question I want to hear a question, not comments by the member's own party.
Hon. GEORGE HAWKINS: As is usual with ministerial correspondence, that letter was referred to the Department of Internal Affairs, which, as it was involved in a range of technical issues, referred the letter to the Building Industry Authority to consider the matters raised in the draft response. In my response of 28 August 2001, I noted that the industry had set up a group to look at the issue. I also stated I understood that the Building Industry Authority was represented on that group. I then stated I would await the advice of the authority on amending the building code, should it consider that necessary to address the issue. [Interruption].
Mr SPEAKER: One all, because that is the sort of thing that happens when a member interjects when he or she should not.
Jill Pettis: How many people with houses with leaky building syndrome have written to the Minister?
Hon. GEORGE HAWKINS: Fifteen homeowners who say that their home has leaky building syndrome have written to me. [Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: That is quite enough. It is getting beyond a joke. I want fewer interjections, or other people will be joining other people out in the lobby.
Brent Catchpole: Can the Minister state categorically that the Building Industry Authority did not inform him of the leaky home problem when he became Minister, and was it never mentioned in any of the annual briefing papers and reports to the Minister; if not, what action is he proposing to take against those responsible for the omission?
Hon. GEORGE HAWKINS: I was first advised formally on 30 April this year. However, when it comes to taking action against people, that must wait until the problem of leaky houses is solved.
Deborah Coddington: Why is the Minister's Government singling out builders for liability by planning compulsory registration for builders when his own Crown entity, the Building Industry Authority, knew about this problem at least 12 months, if not 2 years, ago?
Hon. GEORGE HAWKINS: It is not just builders who are being looked at. It is right from the design stage through the whole operation until homes are finished that is being looked at.
Sue Kedgley: Is he concerned about the information his office is receiving about the problem of toxic mould in leaky buildings, given that the Associate Minister of Health told Parliament last week there had been only one confirmed case of stachybotrys in New Zealand, when by contrast, our leading expert in the area, Dr Nick Waipara, says that he has found, and is continuing to find, the mould in so many New Zealand homes that he considers it a major health problem?
Hon. GEORGE HAWKINS: The member is mistaken. It was one that had been identified and reported.
Murray Smith: When will the Minister move to clarify the relationships between the New Zealand standards, the Building Industry Authority approved documents, and the building code, given the widespread confusion that exists within the industry in that regard, which contributed to the leaking buildings problem?
Hon. GEORGE HAWKINS: The Government is moving quickly to resolve all those issues. An announcement will be made when decisions are made.
Rt Hon. Winston Peters: In regard to the information the Minister has given the House today, is it not a fact that he was first informed--formally or informally--last year at the latest?
Hon. GEORGE HAWKINS: I received one letter that made some claims. It was sent off to get answers, and that was really the whole extent of it. Formal knowledge did not come until 30 April 2002.
Dr Wayne Mapp: How does the Minister reconcile his answers today with the answer given in this House on 10 October--which was many days after this issue had been raised--when he said: "I was first advised by the Building Industry Authority of the problems just a few months ago.", when he has just said that he referred the letter to the Department of Internal Affairs for the answer he knew a year ago?
Hon. GEORGE HAWKINS: I think the member opposite is confused. There is a difference between answering a letter and being formally informed.
Gerry Brownlee: I seek leave to ask the Minister whether he read the letter before he signed it.
Mr SPEAKER: The member has sought leave. Is there any objection? There is.
Dr Wayne Mapp: I seek leave to table two letters. The first is from the firm of Prendos, from Phillip O'Sullivan and Greg O'Sullivan, which comprehensively sets out the problem. The second is a letter from Mr George Hawkins, dated 28 August 2001, in which he says: "I understand the building industry is represented on this group."
Documents, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.
8. MARTIN GALLAGHER (NZ Labour--Hamilton West) to the Minister of Customs: What reports has he received on how New Zealand's trading community regards the New Zealand Customs Service?
Hon. RICK BARKER (Minister of Customs): I received a copy of a recent customer satisfaction survey conducted for the New Zealand Customs Service by an independent research company, which found that 93 percent of traders--being importers, exporters, and their agents--were satisfied with the service they received from Customs. Of the 150 traders surveyed, 78 percent praised the Customs electronic systems for their efficiency, and 78 percent said Customs was flexible, and that it would try hard to resolve a problem. Better still, 67 percent expect service to become a better organisation over the next 2 years. Further results show that 94 percent of travellers were satisfied with the service they received from Customs, with 91 percent saying that New Zealand's Customs officers were courteous and polite.
Martin Gallagher: Has the Customs Service taken any steps to counter the threat of terrorism; if so, have they caused international travellers to complain about the services provided by Customs?
Hon. RICK BARKER: The Customs Service has introduced a range of measures since September 11, 2001. Those include the setting up of a new counter-terrorism intelligence team; an increase in information sharing with other law enforcement agencies in New Zealand and overseas; employing 30 new staff; creating a new risk response group to be better able to respond quickly to incidents; and investing in new technology, such as a mobile X-ray machines. The Customs Service understands the need for constant vigilance. In the wake of the Bali bombing, it is again looking at whether there are further steps that need to be taken.
Brian Connell: Have those reports also mentioned the New Zealand trading community's increasing frustration with this Government's continuing increases in compliance costs--for example, the new charge of $16 plus GST on every commercial import?
Hon. RICK BARKER: One or two people have raised that issue with me, but, on the whole, the people who are importing and exporting out of New Zealand have nothing but praise for the huge investment this Government has made in technology to speed containers and other freight across the border in New Zealand. We have one of the finest customs services in the world and we should be proud of it.
Government Superannuation Fund--Performance
9. ROD DONALD (Co-Leader--Green) to the Minister of Finance: Is he satisfied with the performance of the Government Superannuation Fund Authority which took over assets worth $3.518 billion on 2 October 2001, and reduced their value by $265 million dollars to $3.253 billion by 30 June 2002; if so, why?
Hon. Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Minister of Finance): The numbers are slightly different from those in the annual accounts, but the reports I received from the authority satisfy me that they are managing the fund in line with the best professional advice and commercial practice.
Rod Donald: Is he confident that the authority will achieve its forecast rate of return of 9.6 percent on global equities for the current financial year, when it fell short of its forecast for the year to June this year by $241 million, and the authority's investment manager, AMP Henderson Global Investors, has today reported that the value of its own managed funds has fallen by 16 percent for the September quarter; if so, why?
Hon. Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: It is very unlikely that the fund will achieve its long-term forecast rate of return in the current year--in the first year. It has been a somewhat difficult international investment environment, and there are not enough Green Party - owned houses to go around for superannuation funds to invest in.
Clayton Cosgrove: Has there been any independent expert commentary on the sort of investment strategy that the authority is following?
Hon. Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Yes. The chief executive of the Financial Planners and Insurance Advisers Association has this to say: "International sharemarket investment is a prudent long-term investment decision and can be supported by well-founded, long-term research. What we are hearing at the moment is a knee-jerk reaction to short-term market movements, one of the great mistakes of amateur investors."
Hon. David Carter: How will the investment criteria for the New Zealand Superannuation Fund differ from the investment criteria for the Government Superannuation Fund, and is he still confident that the New Zealand Superannuation Fund will be able to achieve an average 9 percent per annum return?
Hon. Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: The criteria are very similar. It should be noted the after-tax loss in the Government Superannuation Fund represented 2.3 percent of assets, compared with a 4.1 percent after-tax deficit; the median superannuation scheme in international ___________ were 109 schemes over the same period.
Rodney Hide: Would the Minister have any problem with the Finance and Expenditure Committee undertaking a financial review of the Government Superannuation Fund, given that it has done such a good job--especially since Government members voted to block such a review being undertaken?
Hon. Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I think you know what the point of order is going to be.
Mr SPEAKER: The first part of the question can be asked, but there should not have been a comment about that, because that was during the proceedings of a select committee; the first part only will be referred to.
Hon. Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I think it would be far more helpful to do an inquiry into Albanian pyramid schemes, which brought out rioters on to the streets.
An Opposition Member: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker.
Mr SPEAKER: That was a facetious answer. I want a proper one given.
Hon. Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: It is not for me to tell select committees what to do, but the reports of the Government Superannuation Fund are published. The Government Superannuation Fund comes before the select committee in the normal course of the select committee's business.
Gordon Copeland: Will the Minister consider requesting the Government Superannuation Fund Authority to review the appropriateness of the current unusual 52.5 percent portfolio allocation to international shares as an aid, given the relatively buoyant state of our economy and the scarcity of capital in this country?
Hon. Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I have no intention of trying to direct or advise the Government Superannuation Fund or any other Government agency in a similar position at all. They are experts in these matters. Members need to realise that, thanks to the Enron and WorldCom collapses, and the accounting scandals in the United States, the second and third quarters of this year saw a substantial decline in international equities markets. I am sure some members' own private superannuation schemes reflect that fact.
Rod Donald: Does he support the widespread view that the authority should revise downwards its target of investing 52 percent of the public service pension fund in overseas equities, given the continuing fragility and volatility of the international sharemarket and the prudent decisions of, for example, the New Zealand Post pension fund, which last year reduced its overseas investment target from 38 percent down to 5 percent, following its loss of $7 million in blue-chip stocks?
Hon. Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I am not going to direct or comment on the allocation model followed by the Government Superannuation Fund. It is not a political toy. I would note that if people are going to use the numbers, they should at least get them right. A substantial part of the decline of the assets referred to by the member in the principal question is simply due to the fact that this is a closed fund in which payments out exceed contributions in. That alone is worth nearly $100 million of the decline that he refers to.
10. DARREN HUGHES (NZ Labour--Otaki) to the Associate Minister of Health: What reports has he received on the Government's rural health policy?
Hon. DAMIEN O'CONNOR (Associate Minister of Health): Recently I announced additional funding of over $2.5 million for rural health practitioners. The funding is to be allocated over the next 2 years to rural doctors and nurses to alleviate the onerous rosters currently worked by many rural health professionals. It continues this Government's support for rural health services, and it is in addition to funding for primary health-care that is being delivered through primary health care organisations in rural areas.
Darren Hughes: What reports has he received on how this rural health package has been received?
Hon. DAMIEN O'CONNOR: I happen to have with me three positive reports about our rural health funding package. In particular, I refer the House to an Otago Daily Times editorial on 17 September, entitled "Country GPs", which states: "By pledging $32 million extra on rural health over 3 years, the Government astutely saw the significance of rural health concerns and local doctors."
Dr Lynda Scott: Why is the Government intending to have most, if not all, rural areas receive their funding through primary health organisations by 2004, and is this not a blatant attempt to force rural general practitioners to sign up to primary health care organisations against their will?
Hon. DAMIEN O'CONNOR: Not at all. The Government is firmly committed to a strategy of primary health-care so that we can prevent many of the problems that create such a burden on the health system. The primary health care organisations will be run in a coordinated way, bringing together all primary health practitioners, including general practitioners, who are buying into the primary health care organisations concept because they see its value and the way of the future.
Gerrard Eckhoff: Why was the retention funding of rural general practitioners that was given to 21 district health boards for distribution subjected to 21 differing interpretations of who should get what, resulting in cases where the greatest need received the least?
Hon. DAMIEN O'CONNOR: That is not the case, and if the member is not aware, most regions in this country have different needs. That is why we have not specified from Wellington exactly how those areas should spend that money. It is up to them to best address the needs of the rural general practitioners and other practitioners in their regions.
Heather Roy: Can the Minister deny that this rural funding comes out of the same new $400 million that funds our hospitals, and, given that rural and other hospitals are short by around $200 million this financial year, how can he present this as extra or new spending?
Hon. DAMIEN O'CONNOR: This is part of the $400 million extra funding that this Government is committing to primary health-care, the primary health-care structures, and funding for rural services as a core component of our way forward.
Sue Kedgley: When will the Government address the issue in its rural health policy of the enormous loans that doctors and nurses incur at university, which is causing more and more health professionals to head off overseas as soon as they end their training, instead of taking up practices in rural areas?
Hon. DAMIEN O'CONNOR: The most recent announcement of the $2.5 million makes rural practice a more desirable place to be. We believe that by making the rosters more reasonable we will attract more young people into the rural areas, thereby addressing the shortages that the member referred to.
Judy Turner: Does the Minister have any plans to address the shortage of rural doctors by requiring overseas doctors to take residency in rural practice to help to alleviate the shortage and to further their practical experience within New Zealand; if the answer is yes, at what stage are these plans at; and, if not, why not?
Hon. DAMIEN O'CONNOR: The Government has already committed $11 million to a bridging programme that enables foreign general practitioners to bring themselves up to the standards that we expect in this country. In addition to that, we are moving through the Health Practitioners Competence Assurance Bill, will enable the Medical Council to be more flexible in its registration requirements for overseas-trained doctors.
Building Standards--Internal Affairs,
11. Hon. BILL ENGLISH (Leader of the Opposition) to the Prime Minister: Does she have full confidence in her Minister of Internal Affairs' handling of the leaky buildings crisis and the accuracy of his public statements; if so, why?
Rt Hon. HELEN CLARK (Prime Minister): Yes. As I advised the member last week, he is a hard-working and conscientious Minister.
Hon. Bill English: Does the Prime Minister have confidence in the Minister, who confirmed today that he knew about the rotting homes problem in August last year, that he made a statement to the House that gave the strong impression he found out only in April this year, and what does she have to say to hard-working New Zealanders whose homes rotted while George Hawkins waited?
Rt Hon. HELEN CLARK: The Minister advised that he received a letter. He sent the letter for a reply. The Building Industry Authority told him that it was on an industry review group and would advise him when it knew more. In April, the authority advised him that it would start an investigation.
Rt Hon. Winston Peters: Why has the Prime Minister put up the two so-called qualities of being hard-working and conscientious when this Minister is clearly incompetent and is unable to recognise when he was first informed, even though he wrote a letter--
A Government Member: Another point of order!
Rt Hon. Winston Peters: This is a question. I will start my question again. Why has the Prime Minister put up the two so-called qualities of being hard-working and conscientious as the reason for her continued confidence when this is a Minister who is clearly incompetent, as evidenced by the fact that today he acknowledged having received and written letters last year that contained information that surely attest to his then knowledge of the leaky building syndrome?
Rt Hon. HELEN CLARK: The Minister was formally advised by the authority of the need for a formal investigation in April.
Hon. Richard Prebble: With the advantage of hindsight, does the Prime Minister consider that her Minister would have been better to tell the House when he was first asked when he became aware of the leaky building crisis, and that he had received information about last year?
Rt Hon. HELEN CLARK: I would not expect any Minister, past or present, to have perfect recollection of any letter that came in on a wide range of subjects.
Mr SPEAKER: I call the Hon. Bill English.
Rt Hon. Winston Peters: Who signed the letter?
Mr SPEAKER: That is the last time. I have called a supplementary question.
Rt Hon. Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. This Minister signed a letter, yet the Prime Minister put up a vague memory as some sort of excuse. That member down at the far end tabled it as evidence that last year he knew and had received information in that letter. If any old reply from the Prime Minister is adequate, then that is the kind of disorder you will get.
Mr SPEAKER: The Minister addressed the question, as I indicated at the time.
Hon. Bill English: Is the Prime Minister still unaware of the enormous implications for thousands of New Zealanders, as pointed out in the letter written to George Hawkins in August 2001 that pointed to a $3 billion problem, and does she not yet understand the implications for thousands of New Zealanders of supporting a Minister who did nothing when he knew it was a large-scale problem?
Rt Hon. HELEN CLARK: The Government is taking practical steps to help people, rather than politicking like the Opposition.
Mr SPEAKER: I call question No. 12, Dail Jones.
Gerry Brownlee: I seek leave of the House to ask the Prime Minister how many hours Mr Hawkins had to refresh his memory.
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to ask another question. Is there any objection? There is.
Housing--Hobsonville Air Base
12. DAIL JONES (NZ First) to the Minister of Housing: What plans does he have for the development of 51 hectares at Hobsonville Air Force Base for State housing purposes?
Hon. Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Leader of the House), on behalf of the Minister of Housing: The Housing New Zealand Corporation is in the process of considering opportunities for State house purposes on the Hobsonville site. No decision has yet been made.
Dail Jones: How many of these houses will be required to accommodate immigrants, including asylum seekers, refugees, and/or general immigrants?
Hon. Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: The Henderson district office of Housing New Zealand has the longest waiting list of any office in New Zealand. All the people who will be assigned to those State houses will be New Zealanders. As the member knows, there are many different sorts of New Zealanders.
John Key: Is the Minister refusing to meet with me on this issue, because he knows that the Auckland Regional Council, the Waitakere City Council, and all the local residents are opposed to building State houses on this valuable piece of west Auckland?
Hon. Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I am sure the Minister has many other reasons not to wish to meet the member, but I am advised that the Auckland Regional Council and the Waitakere City Council are in fact discussing plans to shift the urban metropolitan limit to take in the land at Hobsonville. That would open up the area for more intensive residential development.
Dave Hereora: Are there currently any restrictions on the use of the Hobsonville site for State housing purposes?
Hon. Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Yes, the Auckland Regional Council has placed restrictions on development in the upper Waitemata Harbour until the environmental effects of runoff and sedimentation can be controlled. The building of housing, as I have already indicated, is constrained also by the current metropolitan urban limit boundaries.
John Key: I seek leave to table a letter to the Minister requesting a meeting, and subsequent emails to the Minister requesting a meeting.
Documents, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.
End of Questions for Oral Answer.
(Uncorrected transcript - subject to correction and further editing)