Questions Of The Day - 28 August 2002
Uncorrected transcript - subject to correction and further editing)
Questions 1-12 28 August 2002
SPEAKER'S STATEMENT--QUESTION FOR ORAL ANSWERS, TRANSCRIPTS
Mr SPEAKER: Before we come to questions for oral answer, I would like to advise all members that as from today an uncorrected transcript of oral questions, question time in the House, will be available on the Office of the Clerk Internet site from 5.30 p.m. each sitting day, which is a very good step forward
QUESTIONS FOR ORAL ANSWER
QUESTIONS TO MINISTERS
Government Decision Making--Green Party
1. Hon. BILL ENGLISH (Leader of the Opposition) to the Prime Minister: What will be the role of Green Party spokespeople in Government decision-making on Category A issues, as set out in the agreement between the Government and the Green Party?
Rt Hon. HELEN CLARK (Prime Minister): As stated in the agreement, the Green Party spokespeople will be involved in the development of policy on category A issues, with the expectation of joint positions being arrived at.
Hon. Bill English: Why does the agreement between Labour and the Greens go into so much more detail about the role of Green spokespeople and access to information and decisions when that is compared with the arrangements with United Future, where spokespeople are simply part of an ongoing relationship?
Rt Hon. HELEN CLARK: Both agreements have been arrived at by negotiation. United Future is entirely in the loop on the nature of the one developed with the Greens, and it seems likely that some kind of such categorisation will apply also between United Future and the Government, because smaller parties cannot devote a lot of attention to every issue that comes before Parliament.
Helen Duncan: What issues does the Government envisage being included in category A with the Green Party?
Rt Hon. HELEN CLARK: The issues will be determined case by case in discussion with the Green Party, but I can say that one ongoing issue is the development and implementation of a transport strategy, on which there was a great deal of agreement and negotiation between the Government and the Greens in the previous Parliament.
Rod Donald: Has the Prime Minister received any requests from the leader of the National Party for his spokespersons to work in close cooperation with the Government to develop joint positions on the many areas of policy that National and Labour might happen to agree on?
Rt Hon. HELEN CLARK: No such request has been received, and none is expected.
Hon. Richard Prebble: In this cooperation agreement between the Labour-Progressive Government and the Green parliamentary caucus does the Prime Minister envisage that the issue of cannabis reform will be a category A, B, or C issue, and why?
Rt Hon. HELEN CLARK: In another agreement--that is, the confidence and supply agreement--the Government has undertaken not to introduce legislation on cannabis reform.
Peter Brown: Noting the Prime Minister's answer just a short while ago when she referred to the Green Party's transport policy, can she tell the House whether that means buying back the rail track, which we in New Zealand First would applaud, or does it mean tearing up the roads, which we believe is silly?
Rt Hon. HELEN CLARK: I was referring to the development of the Government's transport strategy, on which there was a great deal of discussion and agreement with the Greens.
Hon. Bill English: Can the Prime Minister confirm what she implied in her earlier answer that she is now going to renegotiate with United Future the protocol of how spokespeople are involved in decision making in the light of the agreement she has made with the Greens; will she renegotiate now?
Rt Hon. HELEN CLARK: Nothing I said implied renegotiation of anything. It is now a question of the Government and United Future working out which issues United Future would like to have which degree of consultation on.
2. GEORGINA BEYER (NZ Labour--Wairarapa) to the Minister of Social Services and Employment: What recent reports has he received on employment growth?
Hon. STEVE MAHAREY (Minister of Social Services and Employment): Earlier this month Statistics New Zealand released the household labour force survey results for the June 2002 quarter. Employment levels have now been growing for the past nine quarters, with a 6.5 percent increase in employment over that period. This represents a total of 115,000 additional jobs created over the past 21/4 years. In other words, a city of jobs has been created under that Government.
Georgina Beyer: What has happened to the unemployment rate over that period?
Hon. STEVE MAHAREY: The unemployment rate fell again, and is now standing at 5.1 percent. This is considerably better than the OECD average of 6.9 percent. New Zealand is now 10th equal with Sweden and the United Kingdom on unemployment rates. That is our lowest recorded unemployment rate since March 1988. In terms of people on the unemployment benefit, there are now about 42,000 fewer people on that benefit than in December 2000.
Hon. Roger Sowry: Has the Minister sought advice on how the Health and Safety in Employment Amendment Bill, which makes employers liable for workplace stress, will aid employment growth; and if he has such advice will he share it with employers?
Hon. STEVE MAHAREY: The advice I would give to employers is that the setting of parameters for a modern economy requires a good commitment to good safety in the workplace, and that will serve them and their employees well.
Rt Hon. Winston Peters: Why is there a huge disparity between the household labour force survey figures and the census measurement--in short, the census measurement is much higher--and does that not call into question the efficacy of the household labour force survey results?
Hon. STEVE MAHAREY: As the member will know, there are three measures of employment that we use in this country. One is the census, one is the official measure, which is the household labour force survey that is internationally comparable, and the other is the one often referred to by Mrs Newman--I am sure she will do it soon--which is the register that also counts the number of people who are ``unemployed''. The one we use, the official measure, to compare internationally is the household labour force survey.
Rt Hon. Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. It is the start of a new Parliament and I asked the Minister to explain the huge disparity. He has done nothing of the sort, and I am asking him to answer the question properly now.
Hon. STEVE MAHAREY: The reason they differ is that they use different criteria for measuring what unemployment is. That is why I laid out the three of them. One is a register, which is used by the Department of Work and Income; one is the household labour force survey, with specific criteria; and the other is the census, which is a census of the entire population using different criteria again.
Dr Muriel Newman: Does the Minister intend to heed the warning in today's Treasury briefing paper that the removal of work testing of benefits will lead to an increase in the number of people on benefits--estimated from the Budget forecast to be 14,000 over the next 3 years--if so, will he retain work testing of benefits, and if not, why not?
Hon. STEVE MAHAREY: I always heed the warnings from Treasury, if only because Dr Cullen will echo them. Yes, this Government will retain work testing in relation to unemployment.
3. Rt Hon. WINSTON PETERS (Leader--NZ First) to the Minister of Immigration: What is her response to the exceedingly long queues at the Queen Street branch of the New Zealand Immigration Service?
Hon. LIANNE DALZIEL (Minister of Immigration): The Immigration Service informs me that a number of mechanisms have been introduced to address the unprecedented levels of demand from temporary migrants seeking to extend their stays in New Zealand.
Rt Hon. Winston Peters: Why on earth are we having queues in Queen Street, and not in places like New Delhi and elsewhere--where these people come from in the first place--and why are people defecating where they stand rather than lose their position in the queue. This is all reported, I might add before Mr Goff gets too excited, in the New Zealand Herald, under the headline: ``Long wait at NZ gates''. How does he explain that?
Hon. LIANNE DALZIEL: There is nothing in the New Zealand immigration law that prevents temporary entrants to New Zealand from applying to extend their permits.
Janet Mackey: Can the Minister advise whether there has been any change in the number of work permit and student applications over the past 3 years, and whether this has any impact on the Immigration Service?
Hon. LIANNE DALZIEL: The number of work permit applications doubled from 2,873 during the 6-month period of February to July 1999, to 5,600 during the same period this year. There were nine times the number of student applications during the first 6 months of 2002, compared with the same period in 1999.
Hon. Murray McCully: Is the Minister aware that a significant number of the telephone calls to the Auckland office of the Immigration Service are greeted by a recorded message asking callers to wait, then experience a delay of approximately 5 minutes prior to a further recorded message advising that the service is too busy to handle the call, so the caller is abruptly cut off; and does the Minister have any plans to improve this level of so-called service?
Hon. LIANNE DALZIEL: The member is correct when he asserts that there is an unprecedented level of demand on our telephone call centre as well.
Hon. Richard Prebble: Does the Minister find it somewhat strange that the first question by the leader of the anti-immigration party is to complain about the length of time that immigrants are waiting to have their visas approved, and surely--
Mr SPEAKER: Most of the member's question was perfectly in order, but he cannot use those words: ``anti-immigration'' party. There is no such party in this House. I do not recognise any. Apart from those two words, which will be deleted from the question, the Minister may comment.
Hon. Richard Prebble: I am quite happy to rephrase it.
Mr SPEAKER: No, I have received the question. The Minister can answer it.
Hon. LIANNE DALZIEL: Yes.
Rt Hon. Winston Peters: How does the Minister explain this comment from the New Zealand Herald of the weekend of 17-18 August: ``The chairman of the Association of Migration and Investment, Bill Milnes, says the delays in places such as the New Delhi and at the Auckland offices are unprecedented.'' How does she explain the disaster happening under her time as a Minister in this department?
Hon. LIANNE DALZIEL: We are undertaking a number of measures: increasing the number of hours at the shop fronts in Auckland, publicising clients' ability to apply by mail, and developing arrangements with large tertiary providers. If the member is asking: ``Can we fix it-'', yes we can!
4. Hon. PETER DUNNE (Leader--United Future) to the Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade: What is the Government's present policy towards Zimbabwe?
Hon. PHIL GOFF (Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade): New Zealand has consistently condemned, and continues to condemn, the abuses of the Mugabe Government--a regime that we do not recognise as having a legitimate democratic mandate. New Zealand has spoken out against the abuse of human rights, the undermining of the rule of law, and the undermining of the independence of the media and the judiciary against State-sanctioned violence and the dispossession of farmers and farm workers in Zimbabwe. New Zealand has adopted, and is extending, the sanctions against key personnel in the Mugabe Government, and we are continuing to press for further and stronger action against Zimbabwe by the Commonwealth.
Hon. Peter Dunne: In the light of that answer and the appointment last week of a new Cabinet in Zimbabwe, with the professed mission of speeding up the land dispossession programme, why is the Government not doing more to allow dispossessed white farmers to resettle in this country, where they may well find the environment far more congenial?
Hon. PHIL GOFF: The reshuffling of the Cabinet was fairly irrelevant. It was largely the same Cabinet coming back, but perhaps in a different guise. With regard to the migration to New Zealand of people from Zimbabwe, the Minister of Immigration has adopted a sympathetic position in respect of Zimbabweans in New Zealand on temporary permits. Those permits are being rolled over, and work permits are being granted where jobs are gained. I think there are close to 2,000 Zimbabweans living in New Zealand at the present time. With regard to entry on the basis of occupation, or for that matter ethnicity, we do not allow people to come in simply because they are farmers or simply because they are white. With regard to persecution, then of course we meet the conditions set down by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.
Dr Wayne Mapp: Will the Minister order an investigation into reports from the farmers forced to flee to New Zealand that Zanu PF militants are travelling to New Zealand to intimidate and harass them, and this includes death threats?
Hon. PHIL GOFF: While the member may have that information, I certainly do not have it; nor have I seen it recorded anywhere in the country. If the member has that information, then he has a responsibility to put it before the responsible Ministers. We will examine it and, if necessary, act on it.
Graham Kelly: What will the extension of sanctions against the ruling elite in Zimbabwe involve, and when will that happen?
Hon. PHIL GOFF: Since April of this year, New Zealand has had a travel ban in place against 20 key members of the Zimbabwe Government, including Mr Mugabe, and this is in line with action that has been taken by the European Union, Canada, and the United States. I am currently in the process of expanding that travel ban to 72 members of the Government and administration--a step that the European Union has already taken. This will occur as soon as the relevant information is available to input into the Immigration Service computer.
Rt Hon. Winston Peters: Is it true that the Minister was one of those Labour members who railed against Rob Muldoon's view that Mugabe was a terrorist, would always be one, and could not be trusted in Government, and how many of his Cabinet colleagues shared that view back then?
Hon. PHIL GOFF: I recall the comment by Robert Muldoon at the time and the uproar that it caused in this country. I also recall that member, and the party that he belonged to, believing that Nelson Mandela was a terrorist and treating Nelson Mandela in that way.
Hon. Ken Shirley: Did Mr Dunne make any representations on the Government's policy towards Zimbabwe during the recently negotiated agreement between Labour and United Future?
Hon. PHIL GOFF: I was not privy to that discussion. I do not know the detail of the conversations.
Keith Locke: Does the Minister find it surprising that Mr Peters does not appear to support the historically successful liberation movement in Zimbabwe, and does he believe that--[Interruption]
Rt Hon. Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The member cannot get to his feet and ask Mr Goff of all people to explain the position of me or New Zealand First on these very important issues, particularly when they are the views that suggest that I support terrorism, which Mr Locke clearly does.
Mr SPEAKER: That was similar to the construction that the Hon. Richard Prebble was asking, but the words that the member used were outside the question procedure. He must link the words in to something that the Government is responsible for, not any other person in this House. He may have one final chance.
Keith Locke: Does the Minister agree that not all the attention should be directed to white farmers, because black Zimbabweans are just as persecuted, and many are now suffering poverty and starvation, and black Zimbabwean asylum seekers should be just as welcome in this country as white Zimbabweans.
Hon. PHIL GOFF: I do agree with the member asking the question that those people being persecuted in Zimbabwe are not limited to white farmers. There are about 2,900 white farming families in Zimbabwe. There are tens of thousands of black workers on those farms who have also been dispossessed, subjected to violence, and treated badly by the regime, and tens of thousands of people persecuted in Zimbabwe. We should not differentiate between those persecuted solely on the basis of their ethnicity.
Dr Wayne Mapp: I seek leave to table a document from the Zimbabwean Support Charitable Trust dated 21 August 2002, which is from a white ex-Zimbabwean farmer exiled to New Zealand setting out intimidation; this document was sent to the police commissioner and the 2ic of Immigration.
5. DON BRASH (NZ National) to the Minister of Finance: Why is he willing to entertain any proposal from Qantas for a share of Air New Zealand now, given that advice from Treasury last year warned that giving Qantas a share of Air New Zealand was likely to see it ``marginalised in favour of Qantas''?
Hon. Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Minister of Finance): I am not entertaining any proposals from Qantas about anything.
Don Brash: Is it not true that there are very widespread media reports that the Government is likely to be entertaining a Qantas proposal, and did he not, during the Sky television debate, in fact, acknowledge that this was quite likely?
Hon. Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I have seen people in the media reporting that a deal has been concluded. One reporter in the Dominion Post reported a deal had been concluded, which could not have been concluded as the arithmetic did not add up. A couple of days ago, a completely different deal was reported as being almost concluded. I refer the member to the statement of the chairman of the board of Air New Zealand, Mr John Palmer, made today, which completely covers all matters.
David Benson-Pope: How will proposals for Air New Zealand's strategic development be progressed?
Hon. Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I have made it abundantly clear on many occasions that proposals for any strategic partnerships or alliances need to be, and will be, directed through Air New Zealand. The board of Air New Zealand will decide if and when, and in what form, it will make recommendations to shareholders about its future capital structure.
Stephen Franks: Why did the risk of Australasian collusion against New Zealand travellers not prompt a reasoned and explicit policy in the Speech from the Throne from a Government so keen to plan and authorise interventions in so many other transport businesses, and which is, instead, pretending to leave Air New Zealand's future to fate and the Commerce Commission?
Hon. Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I thought the Speech from the Throne did make a very reasoned and explicit reference to Air New Zealand, but, of course, I would think that, given that I wrote it. Certainly, I would plead with everybody on this matter to wait for some evidence to arrive before coming to conclusions. This is not like raising interest rates in advance of any evidence that inflation is actually going up.
Rod Donald: Does the Minister agree that it is not in the best interests of New Zealand's exporters, tourist operators, or citizens for Air New Zealand's main competitor, Qantas, to gain a foothold shareholding in our national airline, and does he agree with United Future that it is not in New Zealand's strategic interest to sell a stake in Air New Zealand at present; if not, why not?
Hon. Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I think I can do no better in response to that than to quote from Mr Palmer today. ``Discussions have not reached the point where anything is sufficiently developed for the board of Air New Zealand to make any more detailed comment or recommendation to shareholders. There are still many complex issues that must be resolved before the viability and potential contribution of a closer relationship with Qantas can be properly evaluated against any other options for the company. We will announce any outcome as soon as we can.''
Gordon Copeland: Given the decision by Qantas to match Air New Zealand's reduced fare structure at a cost to Qantas of up to $100 million, if it were necessary to protect our airline, would the Government be prepared to look at introducing reciprocal rights between the two airlines for all those routes flown by Air New Zealand?
Hon. Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: It would scarcely be up to the New Zealand Government to make that kind of decision; I think there would be at least one other Government involved in that. If it wishes to do so, the appropriate response of Air Zealand is to take an action against predatory prices. Air New Zealand is considering that, and has said so publicly.
Don Brash: Can the Minister give the House an assurance that if Qantas and Air New Zealand propose a shareholding deal, he will not seek to exempt that deal from the Commerce Commission criteria?
Hon. Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Absolutely. Yes.
6. MARTIN GALLAGHER (NZ Labour--Hamilton West) to the Minister of Justice: What steps have been taken to ensure that Government agencies co-ordinate their responses when dealing with youth offenders?
Hon. PHIL GOFF (Minister of Justice): A range of different agencies and providers have responsibility for dealing with young offenders. It is critical that there is effective coordination and collaboration between those agencies to ensure the best outcomes. To ensure that happens, a comprehensive system of local youth offending teams, involving police, Child, Youth and Family Services, and health and education authorities, is currently being established across New Zealand. That implements a key recommendation of the task force on youth offending.
Martin Gallagher: What problems will the establishment of those youth offending teams help resolve?
Hon. PHIL GOFF: A key problem found by the task force was that there was often no formal relationship between health and education authorities and key youth justice agencies. That impeded the effect of an efficient delivery of appropriate youth justice strategies. The new teams will ensure that all relevant information is shared between the agencies, and that responses to young offenders are coordinated. Through joint training and problem-solving they will also ensure that best practices are adopted.
Simon Power: In 1999, Labour's credit card pledged to crack down on youth crime, so why has it taken 3 years and a number of high-profile murders before the Minister has done anything about such crime?
Hon. PHIL GOFF: The 2000 Budget allocated funding of $93 million for expanding youth offending programmes. A task force on youth offending was established under the chairmanship of David Carruthers. The recommendation made earlier this year is the recommendation promoted by that task force and is now coming into effect.
Ron Mark: As part of the Minister's coordinated response to youth offending, will he take a leaf out of New Zealand First's election manifesto and legislate to allow the police to fingerprint minors so that they can clamp down on entry level crimes such as youth burglary and car conversion; if not, why not?
Hon. PHIL GOFF: The Ministry of Justice works closely with the police to ensure that the police have all necessary powers to deal with youth offending. The police have not protested to me that they do not have the powers that they require.
Stephen Franks: Why will these mushy programmes and promises of more coordination and intervention work--
Mr SPEAKER: I have said once, and I will not say it again, that while a question is being asked, there will be no interjection. I want to hear the question. Please start again.
Stephen Franks: Why will these programmes and promises of coordination and further intervention work, when the Minister has been too pathetic for more than 21/2 years, to bring in a law that says to people of whatever age clearly that it is wrong to commit robbery and murder and that they will be convicted and imprisoned?
Hon. PHIL GOFF: Leaving aside the personal abuse involved in that question, I would point out that far from the programme being mushy, it is as a result of a task force headed by the former principal youth court judge. The initiatives are very specific and involve a youth drug court for the first time in this country; the setting up of youth offending teams; the setting up of a residential programme, and day reporting centres. Those initiatives are all very specific and will take us down the path towards stopping youth offending.
Nandor Tanczos: How will coordination address the problem of the increasing practice by schools of expelling pupils, often for very minor offences, leaving them--[Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: That is the last time. The next member goes out. Would the member please be seated. I have been asked by several members that there are to be no interjections while questions are being asked. That is the fairest possible way out of it and I will not have any more. Please start again.
NANDOR TANCZOS: How will coordination address the problem of the increasing practice by schools of expelling pupils often for very minor infringements, leaving them with no responsible oversights, and therefore more likely to get into crime, especially when alternative educational establishments either do not exist because of inadequate funding, or have been closed--for example, Metropolitan College in Auckland?
Hon. PHIL GOFF: If one looks at the case of Bailey Junior Kurariki, he was a young offender who had been expelled from, or refused admittance to three schools. That is a classic example of how the Ministry of Education, the Ministry of Health, the Department of Child, Youth and Family Services, and the Police were not working together. The education aspect of the member's question will be better answered by the Minister of Education. However, I know that Mr Mallard is promoting the establishment of alternative education institutions for those students who are at risk and not succeeding within the mainstream. That does not mean to say that every institution, such as the Metropolitan College, is effective. Where those institutions are not effective, they will not continue to be funded.
Marc Alexander: How does the recent publicised shortage of Child, Youth and Family Services units, such as occurred at the sentencing of Michael Choy's killers, accord with the stated goals of coordination amongst Government agencies, especially since the coordination implies that a given sentence can actually be enacted?
Hon. PHIL GOFF: A longstanding problem of shortage of youth residents' beds is being addressed at the moment by my colleague the Minister for Social Welfare, with plans that will increase by 50 percent the beds that are available through the building of a new centre in Christchurch, and a new centre in Auckland which--despite the interjections of the National Party, which did nothing--will be on stream by late next year.
Matt Robson: When will the teams be in place, and where will they operate from?
Hon. PHIL GOFF: There will be 30 such teams. They will operate right across New Zealand from Kaikohe in the north to Invercargill in the south. Those youth-offending teams should all be in place by the end of next month.
Airways Corporation--Legal Action
7. RODNEY HIDE (ACT NZ) to the Minister for State Owned Enterprises: Does the Airways Corporation of New Zealand Limited have any plans to sue the Crown; if so, why?
Hon. MARK BURTON (Minister for State Owned Enterprises): The member may be referring to the fact that the Airways Corporation is in negotiation with the RNZAF, in relation to a legal dispute over some details of a contract for service. No one has taken any decisions to sue anyone.
Rodney Hide: How does the Minister explain the bizarre situation of one Crown entity that he is responsible for looking to sue another one for which he is responsible, and does he accept responsibility for failing to provide for the air traffic control tower primary radar and New Zealand's back-up air traffic control centre at Ohakea air force base when the Government made the decision to expand the air combat wing?
Hon. MARK BURTON: The member is somewhat confused. As Minister of State-owned enterprises, I do have a shareholding responsibility for the Airways Corporation of New Zealand. I have absolutely no responsibility in that capacity for the New Zealand Defence Force or the Royal New Zealand Air Force.
Rodney Hide: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. My question had two parts to it. I think it is fair to say that the Minister dodged the first part, but he certainly did not answer the second part. I ask you to reflect on the point of question time. I know you are not responsible for the answers given, but, certainly, they should be answered.
Mr SPEAKER: I judged that the Minister addressed the question.
Clayton Cosgrove: What is the responsibility of the airways board members in respect of this matter?
Hon. MARK BURTON: The law requires that board members act in the best interests of the company and that they consider all options and contingencies relevant to this matter.
Gerry Brownlee: Will we see a repeat performance of the situation that developed when he allowed Meridian Energy, an organisation he was responsible for, to sue Transpower, another organisation he was responsible for, at the cost of millions and millions of dollars to the taxpayer, simply because he did not seem able to talk to himself?
Hon. MARK BURTON: While I can understand that that member may spend a lot of time talking to himself, I say to him that it is a fiduciary responsibility of the board members of both of those boards that he referred to, to act in the best and proper commercial interest of their companies. They are required at law so to do.
Rt Hon. Winston Peters: Is it not a fact that this relates to an $8 million contract for a high level of air traffic control services no longer required by the Air Force because of the scrapping of the Skyhawks, and, as a consequence, the renovating of the Skyhawks and this $8 million mean that the Minister is now up for losses of $24 million because of that decision by the Government?
Hon. MARK BURTON: It is impossible to say what the figures may or may not be because negotiations are still under way, but I can say that the follow-through implications of a lesser service requirement was certainly factored in.
Genetic Engineering--Commercial Release
8. JEANETTE FITZSIMONS (Co-Leader--Green) to the Minister for the Environment: Is she aware of any pressure on the New Zealand Government by the United States to allow commercial release of GE crops and other organisms, in light of recent reported comments by the United Kingdom Environment Minister that Britain was being pressed by the United States to allow commercial planting of GE crops?
Hon. PETE HODGSON (Acting Minister for the Environment): No. Indeed, when given the opportunity to comment on New Zealand's regulatory regime for new organisms, the US Government advised us that it ``would like to recognise publicly New Zealand's fine example in the transparency of its policy-making process as regards biotech products.''
Jeanette Fitzsimons: Under the US Trade Act--which specifies that the principal negotiating objective of the US with respect to agriculture is to remove protections against new technologies, including biotechnology--is allowing applications for release of US GE crops a prerequisite for a trade deal with the United States; if not, why would it not be?
Hon. PETE HODGSON: To my knowledge, no, and I do not expect it to be.
Dr Paul Hutchison: Does the Minister agree that the Greens are part of an international pressure movement well known for taking extreme and sometimes zany scientific positions on GE, and why does her Government continue to do deals with, to quote Prime Minister Helen Clark, ``those Luddite anarcho-feminists''?
Hon. PETE HODGSON: The most recent zany report I have had on the issue of GE came from a person who said that the Government had once again caved in to pressure from the Greens over GE, by agreeing to review the Environmental Risk Management Authority--National's biotechnology spokesperson Dr Paul Hutchison--which advice was countered by Jeanette Fitzsimons in this morning's New Zealand Herald, saying it was the Prime Minister's idea.
Nanaia Mahuta: Can the Minister explain what the Government is doing to establish or enhance existing research programmes in the areas identified by the Royal Commission on Genetic Modification?
Hon. PETE HODGSON: Yes, I can. Until recently, this country was spending about $2.5 million on the areas identified by the royal commission. That went up to $3.5 million about 3 months ago in the last Budget, and will go to $6 million in the forthcoming Budget.
Larry Baldock: Has the Minister received any reports from the United Kingdom environment minister that would confirm that Britain was being pressed by the United States to allow commercial planting of crops, and if this occurred to our Government, what would the Minister's response be?
Hon. PETE HODGSON: There are media reports that Michael Meacher says that he will not be bounced by the Americans, and I can understand why he would say that. Neither would we. However, the interesting thing is that the issue of GM in Europe is being progressively more and more settled, not by the individual members of Europe but by the European Community itself.
Jeanette Fitzsimons: If the purpose of allowing applications for release to resume from next October is not to please the Americans, what is its purpose, given that no New Zealand GE product is expected to be ready to release for at least 5 years?
Hon. PETE HODGSON: For the umpteenth time, the reason the moratorium was put in place was to give the Government time enough to respond in full to the recommendations of the royal commission. We know that the time will be sufficient by October 2003, which is why at that time the moratorium evaporates.
9. Dr LYNDA SCOTT (NZ National--Kaikoura) to the Minister of Health: How will district health boards seek to improve the efficiency of the system, as set out in the Speech from the Throne, without making any cuts to health services?
Hon. ANNETTE KING (Minister of Health): Efficiency of the system is about the most effective use of resources for the best health outcomes. An excellent example of an efficiency gain is the current collaboration of the three Auckland district health boards, who have formed a regional capital group. Their joint tendering for equipment has the potential to save the health system millions of dollars that can be invested back into services, and there are many more examples to come.
Dr Lynda Scott: Given the Minister's continual reassurance that there will not be cuts, how does she reconcile that statement with statements made by resigning district health board chief executive Mark Flowers that the Hawke's Bay board is going through a particularly difficult time and is having to make drastic cuts to services because the Government required it to save $10 million in 3 years?
Hon. ANNETTE KING: There have been no cuts at Hawke's Bay District Health Board, and negotiations with all boards over their draft annual plans continue. Any cuts that are made, if there would be cuts, would have to be approved by me. I have approved no such cuts.
Dianne Yates: Has the Minister seen any recent media reports suggesting cuts?
Hon. ANNETTE KING: Yes. Lynda Scott has been on a fishing expedition, and when she came up empty handed she attacked her own district health board. They told her there were no plans to reduce services at Wairau Public Hospital. They said they did not know what she was talking about, and obviously she did not either.
Heather Roy: Can the Minister tell the House what credibility there is to Government claims of progress on health when, since the election, two chief executives of district health boards have resigned, stating publicly that they are underfunded, making it impossible to do their jobs; and does she deny that two more chief executives are likely to resign in the near future for similar reasons?
Hon. ANNETTE KING: No, I certainly cannot confirm the latter part of that question. But I can tell the member that there has been a regular turnover of chief executive officers in the health system. There were two chief executive officers who survived the 1990s health reforms. Let us remember some of them: Dennis Pickup, Leo Mercer, Jim Harrison, Tony Cull, Ron Janes, and John Ayling to name a few. There has been a very stable situation in district health boards in comparison.
Peter Brown: Noting those answers, will the Minister give a cast-iron assurance to this House that there will be no increase in taxation to fund the shortfalls that the district health boards have recognised, or the introduction of a health tax?
Hon. ANNETTE KING: Yes.
Sue Kedgley: Given that district health board deficits have ballooned by $147 million over the previous year, does the Minister agree that an independent review of the reasons for these skyrocketing deficits, and the funding mechanisms and models used by the Ministry of Health is urgently needed; if so, will she appoint one; if not, why not?
Hon. ANNETTE KING: No. In fact, if the member wants to look at the official statistics she will also see reasons that the deficits ballooned in the last financial year. The main reason was an increase in personnel costs. Wages were up something like 8 to 9 percent--something the member has been saying she wanted to see--and the costs of supply were affected by the value of the New Zealand dollar.
Judy Turner: What inefficiencies have been identified by the ministry for targeted improvement?
Hon. ANNETTE KING: Inefficiencies have been identified by district health boards, which included that for many years they were required to compete with each other, rather than to cooperate. We now see district health boards cooperating to save money, and that is what the public wants to see.
Dr Lynda Scott: Does the Minister believe that health cuts Ted Matthews made to his own fingers are a direct result of health board deficits, and what does she plan to do about the fact that she is responsible for the highest health deficit ever on record?
Hon. Dr Michael Cullen: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. There is an increasing practice of asking two questions by way of a supplementary that are not directly related one to the other. I might refer you to Speaker's ruling 125/3, 4, and 5: where two supplementary questions are asked as part of one, one is supposed to relate to the other. To move from two fingers coming off and somebody misinterpreting the treatment for dry gangrene to the entire question of health board deficits, is not linking two matters that are related.
Mr SPEAKER: The point raised by the Hon. Dr Michael Cullen is valid, but in view of the fact that this is the first day of question time I decided to allow the question. The Minister may comment if she wishes, certainly she can do so.
Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. If you are being lenient on questions, as you claim, I take it that you are being lenient on answers. Today a question was put to the Hon. Michael Cullen that was not answered, and it was not answered in three supplementaries either.
Mr SPEAKER: Please be seated.
Gerry Brownlee: No, my point is--
Mr SPEAKER: Please be seated.
Gerry Brownlee: I am making a point.
Mr SPEAKER: Please be seated while I am on my feet. The member was not making a valid point of order. We have passed by that question. I have made comment and I now call the Hon. Annette King.
Gerry Brownlee: I raise a further point of order, Mr Speaker.
Mr SPEAKER: The member had better be very careful or he will be out.
Gerry Brownlee: Yes, I will be careful, but I will make the point. Standing Order 372 requires that answers given are to be consistent with the public good. I assumed that you were being lenient today and did not bring it up, but I am most upset that you are going to ping our members for supposedly not being on the mark, and saying that they are getting away with it today but perhaps not tomorrow, when, in fact, no such warning has been given to Ministers who do not give answers.
Mr SPEAKER: I do not need any assistance at all. The member should have raised that at the time the question was raised, not now.
Hon. ANNETTE KING: I need to tell the member that clinicians are appalled by her grandstanding on the Mr Matthews case because his case had nothing to do with the deficit or a lack of a deficit. In the last 19 months he was seen 18 times by a hospital. He was admitted five times to Christchurch Hospital, he had $65,000 worth of treatment. Clinicians are saying that there are some doctors who make you well, there are other doctors who make you sick, and Dr Scott is one of those.
Gerry Brownlee: I raise a further point of order, Mr Speaker. Are you going to allow the last part of that answer to stand?
Mr SPEAKER: No I am not. I have now reflected and I ask the member to withdraw and apologise for the last part of her answer.
Hon. ANNETTE KING: I withdraw and apologise.
John Carter: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. When you make a decision and ask a member, as you have, to withdraw and apologise, it is a serious matter, not one to be taken in a manner where there is disdain, disdain put by the Minister, and, indeed, by members of Cabinet, including the Prime Minister, who was giggling. This is a serious place, and if you are to be obeyed any decisions you make should be upheld. The response by the Minister was not appropriate.
Mr SPEAKER: The member has made an absolutely valid point. I say to members that when I require them to withdraw and apologise there will be no comment from anybody else, and that includes everybody in the House.
10. LUAMANUVAO WINNIE LABAN (NZ Labour--Mana) to the Minister of Education: What reports has he received on the literacy achievement of New Zealand secondary school students?
Hon. TREVOR MALLARD (Minister of Education): The latest report analysing the Programme for International Student Assessment shows that New Zealand 15-year-old students are, on average, among the top three OECD achievers in literacy. However, the survey results blow away some of our egalitarian image. We have much wider disparities than some other high-achieving nations, including Finland, Canada, and Korea. It reinforces the Government's decision to fund new and expanded assessment tools and literacy programmes in both primary and secondary schools and to continue funding the Feed the Mind Campaign from the National ? New Zealand First Government.
Luamanuvao Winnie Laban: What are the other key findings?
Hon. TREVOR MALLARD: The report analysis issued today also shows that 15-year-olds were fourth amongst the 32 mainly OECD countries in terms of comfort and perceived ability to use computers. It shows, as I indicated, wide disparities. It shows that Pakeha boys and girls perform significantly above OECD averages, and that Maori boys and Pacific girls and boys perform below those averages.
Phil Heatley: Has he seen the OECD report released in May this year, which said of New Zealand's literacy programmes: ``The quality and quantity may not be sufficient.'', and ``Such programmes were more prevalent in high-decile than low-decile schools.'' and ``The school-specific programmes cover only a minority of the poorer schools.''?
Hon. TREVOR MALLARD: Yes, I have. That is largely dated and becoming more and more inaccurate by the day.
Hon. Brian Donnelly: Over the last 18 months, on average, how many days have there been of lost learning opportunity for every secondary school student in New Zealand as a result of industrial action caused by the Minister's mismanagement, and how can the challenge to overcome the long tail of literacy failure be addressed when we have such a shambles occurring in our schools?
Hon. TREVOR MALLARD: None.
Deborah Coddington: Is the Minister happy that Auckland's over-stretched police have been forced to establish their own literacy programmes for children referred to Youth Aid because the schools in his ministry are not doing their job?
Hon. TREVOR MALLARD: I am not aware of such programmes.
Te Hauora o Te Tai
Tokerau Trust--Financial Investigation
11. PHIL HEATLEY (NZ National--Whangarei) to the Minister of Social Services and Employment: What are the key conclusions of the financial investigation into the Department of Child, Youth and Family Services contracts with Te Hau Ora o Te Tai Tokerau Trust, and will he publicly release that report in full?
Hon. STEVE MAHAREY (Minister of Social Services and Employment): Accountability is critical for any organisation receiving public funding. The draft financial review of Te Hauora o te Tai Tokerau Trust's--we will call it ``THOTT'' for today's discussion--operation in relation to its contracts with Child, Youth and Family Services is currently with the trust board for comment. Members will also be aware that the Hon. Tariana Turia and the Hon. Dover Samuels have met with members of the ``THOTT'' board and other interested local parties. I will be happy to release the key findings of the review once the board's comments have been received and the review finalised.
Phil Heatley: What will the Minister do to defend allegations of a contract cover-up, where taxpayer money was allegedly used for summer holidays in Bali, used to purchase barbells and bench presses to save a family member's dying business, used in a high-risk financial investment that lost, and used to pay for countless personal grievance claims rather than to improve the lives of Northland's at-risk families?
Hon. STEVE MAHAREY: I will avoid making a series of statements as the member has made, and ask for a financial review of the organisation, move through this process in a proper way, and ensure people account for financial money from the State.
Mahara Okeroa: What has been done to ensure services are provided to families who are meant to receive support under Te Hauora o Te Tai Tokerau Trust contracts with the Department of Child, Youth and Family Services?
Hon. STEVE MAHAREY: While it is the contractual relationship with ``THOTT'' that has made the headlines, the purpose of those contracts was the provision of high-quality services to a large number of families. I would like, therefore, to thank the staff and management of Kirikiriroa Family Services Trust in Hamilton for stepping into the breach and providing Family Start and family violence prevention services to families in Whangarei and Te Tai Tokerau while a permanent solution is put in place.
Hon. Brian Donnelly: Will the Minister confirm that New Zealand First called for a review of ``THOTT'' over 9 months ago, that an ongoing review of contract delivery has been carried out by his officials since then, and that had the member for Whangarei been bothered to find out what was happening in his own electorate he would have been doing his grandstanding long before this instead of finding out about it in the newspaper?
Hon. STEVE MAHAREY: I can confirm exactly that.
Dr Muriel Newman: Does the Minister have concerns over the management of any other organisations that contract to the Department of Child, Youth and Family Services; if so, what are those concerns?
Hon. STEVE MAHAREY: No, I have no specific concerns at this time about any organisation that we fund. However, I should tell members of the House that we take accountability extremely seriously. A couple of years ago Treasury produced for all organisations that receive funding the accountability procedures, and all departments are expected to adhere to those guidelines when they are contracted.
Phil Heatley: Can the Minister explain why he has pulled the Department of Child, Youth, and Family Services funding due to contract cover-ups when his colleague the Minister of Health denies that there is a problem and continues to pour hundreds and thousands of health dollars into this questionable organisation?
Hon. STEVE MAHAREY: The organisation receives two strands of funding, one for health information, which is provided through its health contract, and one for a series of services for family violence and a family strategy in that area. It is the money to do with the family services and the family violence programme that is in question. That is why having checked the health funding it is continuing, and that is why the other funding has been cut. We do not believe the organisation is meeting the outputs it contracted for.
12. Rt Hon. WINSTON PETERS (Leader--NZ First) to the Minister of Immigration: What was the total number of refugees and asylum seekers accepted into New Zealand for the 12 months ending 28 August 2002?
Hon. LIANNE DALZIEL (Minister of Immigration): I am advised that 599 refugees were granted residence under the annual refugee quota programme in the 12 months to 16 August 2002, which are the latest figures I can offer the member in the House. One thousand, three hundred and nineteen people claimed refugee status for the period August 2001 to July 2002. Of those, 262 were approved at first determination, four were approved at appeal, 493 have been declined, 76 were removed, and 357 have yet to be decided. The remainder have withdrawn their applications.
Rt Hon. Winston Peters: How does the Minister explain how people who came via the Tampa, then through Nauru Island were, in the case of the Afghans, treated by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees as having only three eligible for that description, yet the Government took over 142 without any qualifications in this country and called them refugees and asylum seekers; how does she explain that, and did she fix it; no, she did not?
Hon. LIANNE DALZIEL: The New Zealand Government took 131 refugees from the Tampa as a result of a request from the Australian Government for assistance, and also from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. We set about the process of determining their claims very quickly. Those claims were determined before the Taliban regime fell in Afghanistan. That obviously had an impact in terms of the determination of the claims. Secondly, we were very selective about who we took from the Tampa. We took people we were sure were most likely to get refugee status. They were family members and unaccompanied minors.
H V Ross Robertson: What are New Zealand's obligations as a secretary to the 1951 United Nations Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees?
Hon. LIANNE DALZIEL: The most important obligation is contained in article 33, which in practice means that New Zealand must allow refugee status claimants who arrive at the border to remain in the country so that the credibility and merits of their claim may be assessed.
Hon. Murray McCully: Of the 10 ex Tampa asylum-seekers who the Minister has confirmed will arrive in New Zealand this week, how many were declined refugee status when initially interviewed by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, and what level of confidence does she have in their subsequent reassessment by Australian authorities who have deemed them acceptable refugees to come to New Zealand when they are not acceptable to Australia?
Hon. LIANNE DALZIEL: I have signed off only the July and September intake of this year's quota. July's intake came through with 71 family-linked cases citing no interest. The only thing that sets apart the group that will come this week and next week is that in respect of the intake all of those from Manus, and some of those from Nauru, were determined by the Australia immigration authorities. They have all either been determined by the Australia immigration authorities or by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. I am perfectly satisfied that these are genuine refugees. They are part of our quota.
Keith Locke: Has the Government been obeying Justice Baragwanath's recent ruling that its practice of detaining virtually all asylum seekers arriving here was illegal; and if it has been obeying that ruling, what percentage of arriving asylum seekers--
Mr SPEAKER: I have warned Mr Brownlee once, and finally. He will now stand, withdraw, and apologise for interjecting while a question is being asked.
Gerry Brownlee: I withdraw and apologise. I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I wonder whether you will uphold the point that you made before, when Dr Cullen raised it, about the issue being wide of the mark on a question.
Mr SPEAKER: I certainly am, and I have been listening to the question while the member was interjecting. I was trying to hear it. It is perfectly in order so far.
Keith Locke: Has the Government been obeying Justice Baragwanath's recent ruling that its practice of detaining virtually all asylum seekers arriving at our border was illegal; if the Government is obeying that decision, what is the percentage of arriving asylum seekers being detained since the ruling?
Hon. LIANNE DALZIEL: The New Zealand Immigration Service has adjusted the operational instruction as a result of the Baragwanath ruling. The Government is appealing the Baragwanath ruling.
Rt Hon. Winston Peters: The Minister claims to have ``fixed it'' when it comes to immigration policy, so how does she sustain that claim when she has allowed in triple murderers, John Davy, a rapist--who was deported, changed his name, came back to this country and is still living here--necrophiliacs, and mental health patients in their hundreds. How is that fixing it for the New Zealand people?
Hon. LIANNE DALZIEL: Not one of those individuals identified by that member claimed refugee status. All of them came on temporary permits. Each one came on a temporary permit in a year when we had 1.9 million visitors.
Mr SPEAKER: I would like to thank members for the assistance they gave new members asking their first supplementaries, and I hope that will continue during the course of the next couple of weeks.
End of Questions for Oral