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Questions For Oral Answer - 4 September 2002

(Uncorrected transcript - subject to correction and further editing)
Questions 1-12 4 September 2002

QUESTIONS FOR ORAL ANSWER

QUESTIONS TO MINISTERS

Alcohol--Under-age Drinking, Taranaki

1. PAUL ADAMS (United Future) to the Minister of Justice: Is it the Government's policy to support the multi-agency approach adopted in Taranaki to combat the supply of alcohol to those aged under 18 by retailers, parents and other adults?

Hon. PHIL GOFF (Minister of Justice): Yes, alcohol abuse by under-age drinkers is a serious problem, particularly the phenomenon of teenage binge drinking. We welcome the multi-agency approach by the police, by the New Plymouth Safer Community Council, the Taranaki District Health Board, the Alcohol Advisory Council, and the three district councils that are working together on a campaign to stop the supply of alcohol to under-age drinkers, whether by retailers, parents, other members of family, or other individuals.

Paul Adams: In the light of his answer, can the Minister tell the House how soon such a nationwide campaign will be implemented, what agencies will be involved, and how he intends to measure the impact of the programme, given that alcohol is often a factor in juvenile offending?

Hon. PHIL GOFF: I guess the first step after this campaign is to evaluate its success, and action is under way to do that by the Alcohol Advisory Council. Clearly, if we can produce positive and sustainable benefits from this, we should look at carrying out similar campaigns around the country, though that will often depend on the initiative of local government groups and safer community councils. We also clearly need to do more to ensure that the phenomenon of the under-age purchase of alcohol from liquor outlets is curbed, because that is happening in far too many cases.

Shane Ardern: What steps has the Minister taken to introduce legislative amendments to deal with the recognised difficulties with enforcement of offences relating to the supply of alcohol to minors, as noted in the letter from the Minister of Police to myself in June?

Hon. PHIL GOFF: Of course the police have the power right now to enforce the age at which liquor can be purchased as being at least 18. My concern is that insufficient is being done in that regard. I am also concerned that inaction taken by the Liquor Licensing Authority to prosecute has been overturned in the High Court, but I am awaiting a decision by the Court of Appeal in that case to see whether legislation needs to be amended, or whether the right of the Liquor Licensing Council to prosecute and remove licences will be upheld at that level.

Martin Gallagher: Following on from that, is the Minister concerned at the very strong evidence that under-age drinkers are being supplied with alcohol, not only by parents, family and friends, but are able to easily purchase liquor without ID checks; and what strong action is he proposing to respond to this very serious problem?

Hon. PHIL GOFF: Yes, I am concerned. At the time the sale of liquor legislation went through this House--I opposed the lowering of the drinking age to 18--this House was assured by the liquor retailers that if the law was enforceable, they would enforce it; yet survey after survey has shown that a majority of groceries, liquor outlets, and supermarkets are not enforcing it. I have raised that matter publicly, and with the police. The Minister of Police and myself will shortly be meeting with representatives of the liquor industry to demand that they comply with that requirement.

Craig McNair: Is the solution to the problems associated with drinking by those under the age of 18 best dealt with by increasing the age of legal consumption of alcohol back to 20 from 18?

Hon. PHIL GOFF: As the member may or may not be aware, that decision is not made along party lines or by Ministers, it is made by individual members of this House by a conscience vote. We are looking at a range of options. I think simply increasing the drinking age to 20 would not solve the problem in so far as the focal point of this campaign is not the liquor outlets, but, in fact, parents and members of family legally purchasing and legally supplying to their children. Obviously, to be effective, we need to go beyond simple legislative change.

Stephen Franks: Why did the Sentencing Act passed in April this year, for which the Minister was responsible, not provide for judges to order young offenders to abstain from drugs and alcohol and submit to testing as conditions of supervision--when the Minister believes that substance abuse is so tied to violent offending?

Hon. PHIL GOFF: What the member is recommending is outside the scope of the Sentencing Act and outside of its purpose. The member also knows from a discussion we recently had in select committee that we have set up a youth drug court--the most abused drug is alcohol--and the youth drug court has been very effective, with intensive judicial supervision and coordination between different agencies in making a difference in drug treatment of young offenders.

Nandor Tanczos: Since the Minister clearly is concerned about abuse of alcohol by under-age drinkers, do the Government and its confidence and supply partners support the proposal by the Green Party to reinstate the ban on advertising of alcohol on broadcast media?

Hon. PHIL GOFF: The Government itself has no legislative intentions to further control advertising of liquor. Again, that is a matter that has been voted on in this House on a conscience basis. I personally believe that lifestyle advertising of alcohol is harmful and needs to be controlled.

Shane Ardern: I seek leave to table a letter from the Hon. George Hawkins, Minister of Police, dated 6 June to myself, stating that there is a need for some legislative requirement.

Document, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.

Air New Zealand--Engineering Services
2. GERRY BROWNLEE (NZ National--Ilam) to the Minister of Transport: Does he stand by his statement in the House yesterday, ``The engineering services of Air New Zealand are second to none. They are a very valuable part of that company and they have an envious record internationally.''; if so, why?

Hon. PAUL SWAIN (Minister of Transport): Yes, because I meant what I said.

Gerry Brownlee: How can the Minister be confident that that valuable part of the company will continue to have an envious record, when Air New Zealand is not only losing bits off its planes, but is also cutting out 22.5 percent of its maintenance budget, and replacing the senior vice-president of operations and technical services with Mr Craig Sinclair, the former chief executive officer of the Airways Corporation, who has no technical aviation engineering experience or qualifications, thereby leaving the entire senior management and board of the company without any expertise in aviation engineering?

Hon. PAUL SWAIN: With regard to the budget, the decline in that is due to the downturn in the aviation industry, particularly following September 11.

Gerry Brownlee: Stop maintaining the place.

Hon. PAUL SWAIN: That is a fact. As far as the second thing is concerned, as I said yesterday, Air New Zealand and the Civil Aviation Authority are taking the matter seriously, and treating it as a high priority. They want to determine with as much certainty as they can whether the incident was due to human error, process flaws, or a combination of both.

Helen Duncan: Can the Minister tell the House what airlines and agencies have recognised the quality of Air New Zealand's engineering services?

Hon. PAUL SWAIN: Air New Zealand has contracts to provide engineering and maintenance service with almost all the airlines operating aircraft into New Zealand, including United Airlines, KLM Royal Dutch Airlines, Singapore Airlines, American Airlines, Thai Airways, and Qantas. In addition, Air New Zealand holds approval to undertake maintenance from the United States Federal Aviation Administration, the European Joint Airworthiness Authority, and the Australian Civil Aviation Safety Authority. Finally, Air New Zealand also holds approval to provide maintenance for the Royal New Zealand Air Force, the Royal Australian Air Force, and the United States Air Force and Air National Guard, servicing Hercules and other military aircraft.

Peter Brown: Noting that it is in everybody's interest that Air New Zealand maintains its reputation and carries more and more passengers, what assistance does the Minister believe Air New Zealand requires to improve its engineering services, and what is the Minister doing to ensure that that is achieved?

Hon. PAUL SWAIN: I am pleased to note that the member has acknowledged the importance of everyone supporting Air New Zealand engineering at the moment. In terms of what the Government is doing, as I said yesterday, there are investigations already under way. It is important that we see the results of those investigations. As far as individual assistance is concerned, that is considered on the basis of recommendation from the authorities undertaking the investigations.

Deborah Coddington: If this was any other airline and not an airline owned by the Government, would that airline be grounded for having 120 out of 124 bolts missing?

Hon. PAUL SWAIN: All airlines are treated equally when it comes to safety issues.

Larry Baldock: Can the Minister confirm whether the relevant safety authorities were aware of the other incidents admitted to by Air New Zealand in this morning's Dominion Post article; if so, had the Minister been given that information also?

Hon. PAUL SWAIN: I cannot confirm that.

Gerry Brownlee: Does the Minister have any concern that, at a time when Air New Zealand seems to be regularly losing bits off its planes, it is about to have a management structure and a board membership that has no expertise on aviation engineering or safety at all?

Hon. PAUL SWAIN: The first part of the question is about safety, and of course there are concerns about safety. That is why independent investigations are under way. The second part of the question is that member's opinion.

Australian Trade Minister--Meetings
3. MARK PECK (NZ Labour--Invercargill) to the Minister for Trade Negotiations: What progress can he report from his meeting with the Australian trade minister?

Hon. JIM SUTTON (Minister for Trade Negotiations): Mark Vaile and I had an excellent meeting in Christchurch. We discussed a number of trans-Tasman issues, and initiated a successful dialogue between two of our most important industries--dairy and ICT. We also focused on our close cooperation in multilateral and regional areas. No two countries work more closely together than we do in the WTO and the Cairns Group. We also discussed our plans to mark the twentieth anniversary of closer economic relations next year.

Mark Peck: Can the Minister tell us whether that is consistent with the Speech from the Throne?

Hon. JIM SUTTON: Yes. In the Speech from the Throne, the Government confirmed that it would continue to progress trans-Tasman cooperation under closer economic relations, that it would push for bilateral and multilateral trade liberalisation, and that it would implement strategies under the growth and innovation framework. My discussions with Mark Vaile progressed each of those objections, and the two industries have indicated they wish to work more closely to target third markets.

Dr the Hon. Lockwood Smith: Did he receive confirmation from the Australian Trade Minister that Australia supported the New Zealand Government's plan to ride Australia's coat-tails into a free trade agreement with the United States, particularly in the light of Australia's previous decision to shun a joint approach with New Zealand and make a direct appeal to America alone?

Hon. JIM SUTTON: There is nothing in closer economic relations that requires the two parties to negotiate jointly with third countries. The Australians chose to make their own approach to the United States last year. We are also working hard on our proposal in Washington. Although Australia is not there yet, we welcome any success it achieves, because in Australia and the US the Federation of Tax Administrators would increase the chances of one between the US and New Zealand.

Rodney Hide: On reflection on the meeting with the Minister, did the Minister give any thought to harmonising our business laws with Australia more, and in particular taking our top rate of tax down to match that of Australia's to 30c; if so, what was the result of his reflections?

Hon. JIM SUTTON: Yes, harmonisation of business law has been an agenda item between Mark Vaile and I throughout our respective tenures as trade Ministers. No, we did not discuss specifically the possibility of changing New Zealand's tax rates to be the same as Australia's, or vice versa, nor would we be so silly as to do so.

Rod Donald: Did the Minister's Australian counterpart brief him on Australian State level by local policies such as the recently announced Western Australian target of purchasing 80 percent of goods and services from local suppliers, and when will New Zealand learn some lessons from Australian Government commitments to local businesses and support them instead of foreign ones?

Hon. JIM SUTTON: No, we did not discuss that. We rely on each other to observe our World Trade Organization and closer economic relations commitments.

Hon. Peter Dunne: Since 69 percent of New Zealand businesses have nominated tax boundary and customs issues as being the major issues in our relationship with Australia, what specific steps were taken in respect of each of those as a result of the talks held yesterday?

Hon. JIM SUTTON: The talks I held yesterday were concerned with MŽori agriculture and forestry. However, my talks last week with the Australian Trade Minister discussed many items in those general areas, but none of which have reached the stage of agreement that could be announced.

Question No. 2 to Minister
Hon. PAUL SWAIN (Minister of Transport): I seek leave to table a document that lists the contracts Air New Zealand has to provide engineering and maintenance services.

Document, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.

Fonterra--Commerce Act
4. DEBORAH CODDINGTON (ACT NZ) to the Minister of Commerce: In view of plummeting dairy payouts, is she satisfied with the Government's decision to exempt the dairy industry mega-merger that gave rise to the virtual monopoly, Fonterra, from Commerce Act requirements?

Hon. LIANNE DALZIEL (Minister of Commerce): Yes.

Deborah Coddington: In the light of the Minister's answer, what is the difference between a dairy industry monopoly and an airline industry monopoly, given that the Speech from the Throne states that ordinary competition law will apply to any sale of Air New Zealand?

Hon. LIANNE DALZIEL: The Government's decision to deregulate has given Fonterra a stable domestic regulatory environment in order to compete internationally. How Fonterra actually performs in that international market is a matter for Fonterra's management and its shareholders.

David Parker: What is the Minister's response to the Consumer Institute's allegations of excessive prices for milk to New Zealand consumers?

Hon. LIANNE DALZIEL: The advice I have received is that there is often a time lag between lower international commodity milk prices and lower raw milk payout to suppliers, which drives the domestic price. I am expecting an officials' report next month and will continue to monitor the situation.

Hon. David Carter: Does the Minister still support the concept of Fonterra, and if so does she agree or disagree with the comments of her colleague, the Hon. Jim Sutton, who, on 22 January this year, said of Fonterra: ``New Zealand is very bad at big companies. Mostly they stuff up.''?

Hon. LIANNE DALZIEL: It should be noted that Fonterra resulted from New Zealand's biggest business merger, which was carried out within a very tight time frame. Some teething problems are not surprising and these problems are being addressed.

Early Childhood Education--Strategy
5. JILL PETTIS (NZ Labour--Whanganui) to the Minister of Education: What progress has been made on the Government's early childhood strategy?

Hon. TREVOR MALLARD (Minister of Education): The strategic plan will be launched next week. Development of the plan started in 2000 and has included intensive consultation with the sector, including specific meetings with MŽori and Pacific groups. Over 1,300 submissions were received. They informed last year's Budget and this year's Budget. The emphasis of the strategic plan will be on the availability of quality early childhood education services for all communities.

Jill Pettis: What has research indicated about the importance of quality early childhood education?

Hon. TREVOR MALLARD: Quality early childhood education lays the foundation for children's later learning. Children who experience quality services are more likely to be competent and successful learners. The New Zealand Council for Educational Research project Competent Children at 10 shows that a child's early experiences are still impacting positively on that child's performance at school at age 10, even when one discounts parental income and maternal education--the things that mainly drive children's performance.

Phil Heatley: Has the Minister seen the statements of Susan Thorne, head of the Early Childhood Council, who said that the move to pay parity for only State kindergarten teachers is discriminatory and will only worsen the already desperate situation and staffing crisis in the private sector?

Hon. TREVOR MALLARD: Yes, and she is not.

Hon. Brian Donnelly: Does the early childhood strategic plan suggest, as the draft does, that our education system has a responsibility for the preservation of Pacific nation languages, and if so, what is the set of guiding principles that determine which languages will be funded and resourced by the New Zealand taxpayer, and which will not?

Hon. TREVOR MALLARD: I come at it from a different angle, which is that there is quite a lot of good evidence around that children who are really competent in one language are better at all languages over a period of time. I would, therefore, like to avoid the problem that we have at the moment, with some children being incompetent in two languages. The Government is considering Pacific language policy at the moment, but we are a little way away from making decisions on that.

Deborah Coddington: Is the Minister's telling the South Auckland Play and Learn early childhood centre that it was not eligible for equity funding because ``private centres are only interested in making money'' part of his strategy, and if not, what did he tell the south Auckland centre, which is now forced to cut staff and increase fees?

Hon. TREVOR MALLARD: I think it is a bit unfair to say that someone is forced to cut staff and increase fees because I did not give them more money. It is an interesting approach. This House took the decision to give equity funding to community-based early childhood education and to exclude the private sector group. That was a decision that was made as part of the Budget process last year. I accept that ACT was not supportive of it, but my priority in early childhood education is towards the kids who need it the most and not those people who are attempting to milk it for excess profit.

Dr Bernie Ogilvy: What steps, if any, has the Minister taken to ensure that all pre-school children, 3 years of age and over, can access up to 15 hours per week of pre-school education?

Hon. TREVOR MALLARD: There are considerable steps in that direction, especially with regard to the provision of buildings and the training of staff. But it is a major task, because, for example, we still have about one-third of Pacific Island kids and about one-quarter of MŽori kids who get no pre-school education, so the numbers involved will take a number of years to get to what I think both of us know is a good objective.

Deborah Coddington: I seek leave to table a media release from the Early Childhood Council stating that when we asked the Minister for leave to apply for equity funding, we were told that we could not apply for it because we were interested only in making money.

Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought for that purpose. Is there any objection? There appears to be objection.

Immigration Service--Immigration Fraud
6. Rt Hon. WINSTON PETERS (Leader--NZ First) to the Minister of Immigration: What action has she taken to ensure the New Zealand Immigration Service has the tools to effectively respond to immigration fraud in the light of the comments contained in the 2002 Briefing to the Minister that ``Managing fraud is a major issue.'' for the Immigration Service?

Hon. LIANNE DALZIEL (Minister of Immigration): I have undertaken a number of actions. For example, requiring job offers to be relevant to qualifications and experience to attract premium points, and also placing limitations on the spouse category to reduce the potential for fraudulent applications in that category.

Rt Hon. Winston Peters: If all that is true, will the Minister promise that an informant--who by way of a letter dated 2 March 2002 to the investigation unit of the Immigration Service alleging serious immigration frauds in detail, as well as the name of the alleged fraudsters and immigration consultants involved--will now, on this day at least, receive the courtesy of a response, and a belated proper independent inquiry, given that her officials failed to inquire after 2 March in the first place, and why would a response not be given to such an informant?

Hon. LIANNE DALZIEL: As the member knows, the Privacy Act prevents any service that receives information from anyone from feeding back that information about individuals without their individual consent.

Steve Chadwick: What has the Minister done in respect to benefit fraud and the rate of emergency unemployment benefit uptake amongst recent migrants who do not qualify for benefits?

Hon. LIANNE DALZIEL: Since 1 October last year, sponsors now have to sign a statutory declaration committing to meet any such costs of family members sponsored into this country. This is already showing a reduced uptake in the emergency unemployment benefit. I am surprised that the Government elected in 1996 did nothing to address this matter.

John Carter: Will the Minister guarantee to provide the resources necessary to combat immigration fraud, as outlined in the briefing papers; if so, in which year?

Hon. LIANNE DALZIEL: We have already announced measures in this year's Budget--an additional $8 million--in order to reduce New Zealand's exposure to fraud in the immigration area.

Hon. Richard Prebble: Is it not correct that managing fraud is a major issue for successive Governments, not just in immigration but also in other areas like social welfare and accident compensation, and in voluntary agencies such as the one represented by Wayne Peters, which was defended so strongly this morning; if so, how does her Government's record compare with the tools used by New Zealand First when it had an opportunity to fix this problem?

Hon. LIANNE DALZIEL: I am actually glad that the member asked that question, because one of the issues that New Zealand was exposed to is what is known as the Bangladeshi series of fraud cases. The decline rate in Bangladesh is actually running at 71 percent, which indicates a high level of fraud, but indicates that this Government has got on top of what was a significant problem. Thank you for the question.

Metiria Turei: To what extent is the fraud one of migrants misrepresenting their skills, and to what extent is it migrants misrepresenting the assets they are transferring to New Zealand?

Hon. LIANNE DALZIEL: There are a number of opportunities within, particularly, the general skills category and the family sponsored category for people to misrepresent the nature of either their skills and experience, their qualifications, as was the case with the Bangladeshi audit, and the situation with the family relationship. We are exposed from time to time to people who enter into contracts--when they are not genuine marriages, for example.

Judy Turner: What action has the Minister taken to ensure that the New Zealand Immigration Service has the tools to effectively respond to the migrant community's distinct unease brought about by the recent attack by New Zealand First members on the value of the migrant community?

Mr SPEAKER: The first part of the question is in order; the second part is not.

Hon. LIANNE DALZIEL: I think that the questioner does identify that settlement is a two-way street. It requires a migrant who is willing to engage and integrate; it requires a welcoming community. Comments about migrant communities that are inaccurate can lead to poor settlement outcomes.

Rt Hon. Winston Peters: Is the Minister seriously asking this House to believe that it is the Privacy Act that is stopping the investigation unit of the Immigration Service from investigating thousands of alleged fraud cases--like the one in this envelope, which she received on 2 March--and if that is the case, would she please outline the provision in the Privacy Act that imposes that impediment?

Hon. LIANNE DALZIEL: I said that the information could not be reported back to those who lodged complaints without the permission of the person against whom the allegations were made. If the member concerned would identify the individual case that he has in his envelope, rather than a wine box, then I may be in a position to answer the question. If it is the Singh case, I can inform him that the so-called wife left New Zealand yesterday, and that Mr Singh is in custody--remanded until 1 October on fraud charges.

Telecommunications Act 2001--Industry Issues
7. RUSSELL FAIRBROTHER (NZ Labour--Napier) to the Minister of Communications: What reports has he received on industry issues required to be addressed under the new Telecommunications Act 2001?

Hon. PAUL SWAIN (Minister of Communications): I have recently received a copy of a draft determination from the Telecommunications Commissioner, which addresses the dispute between TelstraClear and Telecom over interconnection pricing. The draft determination is in response to an application by TelstraClear under the new Act in May of this year, with a final determination expected in early October. That determination will be a landmark decision under the new Act and shows how quickly and efficiently disputes between telecommunications companies are now able to be resolved.

Russell Fairbrother: What are the major advantages of the telecommunications regime under the new Act?

Hon. PAUL SWAIN: The Telecommunications Act 2001 provides the telecommunications industry with much greater certainty on the resolution of disputes between telecommunications companies. The Act is designed to promote greater competition, encourage new investment, and provide a better deal for consumers.

Lindsay Tisch: What is the Minister's response to statements by industry analysts in this morning's New Zealand Herald that a cut in interconnection price would have little effect on the market, and that in Australia, which had comparatively low interconnection prices, the lower rates had not helped smaller players at all?

Hon. PAUL SWAIN: The objective of the Act is to try to make sure that those kind of issues are dealt with, and that ultimately the consumers are better off. However one of the great tragedies, given the situation we have here, is that the person who really knows about this, Maurice Williamson, is sitting in the last place on the National bench. That will ensure that National is minor party for a very, very long time.

Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. It would be very interesting if you were to tell us how the last part of that Minister's answer fits in to the requirements of the Standing Orders.

Mr SPEAKER: It does not and the Minister should not have made those comments. I ask him to withdraw those comments.

Hon. PAUL SWAIN: I withdraw.

Sue Kedgley: When will the Telecommunications Commissioner review and report on the issue of local loop unbundling, and why it is that New Zealand is one of the only countries in the OECD not to have deregulated its copper wire network?

Hon. PAUL SWAIN: As I think the member is aware, the Telecommunications Commissioner begins that review in December of this year and is to report to me no later than December 2003.

Court Fines--Collection
8. Hon. TONY RYALL (NZ National--Bay of Plenty) to the Minister for Courts: Does the previous Minister, Matt Robson's statement that ``It's important that all fines imposed are collected so that the fine remains a credible and useful means of promoting law-abiding behaviour in the community.'' still represent Government policy; if so, is she confident that fines are being effectively collected?

Hon. MARGARET WILSON (Minister for Courts): Yes, and yes.

Hon. Tony Ryall: How can fines remain a credible and useful means of promoting law-abiding behaviour when a notorious Northland criminal can have $10,000 of fines and 400 hours of community work wiped by sitting in the police cells for an afternoon, apparently having a very pleasant discussion with his brother, and is that what the new sentencing and parole legislation is all about?

Hon. MARGARET WILSON: As the honourable member is aware, matters of judgment and sentencing are for the judiciary. It is the judge who is best placed to exercise discretion in matters on the facts that are placed before him. As I understand this case, this young man was attempting, on the facts, to turn his life around, had demonstrated he was doing so, and none of those fines were related to violent crime, but to traffic infringements.

Darren Hughes: What has the Government done to ensure that fines are effectively collected?

Hon. MARGARET WILSON: The Government has just invested $36 million additional funding over 4 years to improve fine collection. The injection of funding will enable the department to collect an additional $90 million over 4 years, $22 million of which will be reparation payments for victims of crime. Ultimately, the new system will allow fines collection to keep pace with the trend towards steadily growing impositions--improving the credibility of the fine as a sanction.

Dail Jones: When will the Minister take action to ensure that the law will be changed and judges given the power so that when criminals do not pay the fine they do do the time, instead of this Government's current soft approach to criminals, who are getting away scot-free with many thousands of dollars owing on fines?

Hon. MARGARET WILSON: As the honourable member will be aware from his legal practice, it is only in rare events that the court will impose a sentence as opposed to paying of the fine if that has not been done. It has been apparent from the changes that have been made by the Government to the laws that relate to sentencing that we are serious about ensuring serious criminals are given sentences consistent with their crime, while at the same time recognising that under our judicial system individuals are entitled to have their facts addressed by the court.

Dr Muriel Newman: Does the Minister believe it is appropriate that a man who has more than 40 criminal convictions for aggravated robbery, assault, threatening behaviour, injury with intent, fraud, resisting arrest, possession of cannabis, fighting, and burglary should have his unpaid fines wiped in return for an afternoon in the cells, a rate of $2,500 an hour; if not, will she support a ministerial review on this case? [Interruption]

Mr SPEAKER: The Minister has not had a chance to say even one word. There will be a lot more quiet between questions and answers. There has been a lot of silliness today.

Hon. Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Before the Minister got a word out, after your comments to the Opposition, Mr Brownlee interjected, as he has every single time a woman Minister has attempted to answer a question today.

Mr SPEAKER: That point of order is not terribly helpful because of one word in the answer. However, I have observed Mr Brownlee's interjections, and he does overdo it. Before the answer is started I ask him to allow the Minister to answer the question.

Hon. MARGARET WILSON: For the benefit of the member I will repeat the answer I gave before. In fact, this sentence did not relate to the crimes that she read out. It related to traffic infringements. Sentencing was on those other crimes, and was served. The member has confused two different situations.

Hon. Tony Ryall: Has the Minister given any thought to renaming the ``pay up or we will track you down'' scheme to something more accurate like the ``pay up or we will track you down and make you spend a few hours relaxing in the prison cells, wiping off your fines at a tune of $2,500 an hour'' scheme; and what sort of message does that send to victims potentially at risk from this man's behaviour?

Hon. MARGARET WILSON: As the member will be aware, this is not a matter that happens rarely; unfortunately it happens too often. I would like to draw the honourable member's attention to the fact that when he was Minister of Justice there were outstanding fines of over $73,000 also remitted. In the same instances they were relating mostly, but not entirely, to traffic infringement notices. Of course we would prefer this situation not to occur, as I am sure he would, so why did the honourable member not change the law when he had the opportunity to do so? No, he was prepared to let this situation continue.

Gordon Copeland: Does the Minister have plans to ensure that when fines are written off, alternative punishment such as community service is ordered by the courts; if not, why not?

Hon. MARGARET WILSON: Yes, in appropriate instances. Where there is an inability to be able to pay a fine, community service is in fact awarded by the courts where that is appropriate.

Hon. Tony Ryall: I seek leave to table an official report that shows the amount of fines collected by the Department for Courts under this Government has declined in the last year.

Document, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.

Varroa Bee Mite--Control
9. IAN EWEN-STREET (Green) to the Minister of Agriculture: What steps has he already taken, and what steps will he immediately take, to prevent the spread of the Varroa bee mite into the South Island, given that the mite has moved south of the control line from Taranaki to the East Cape, and is now permanently infesting hives in the Wellington region?

Hon. JIM SUTTON (Minister of Agriculture): This Government has taken considerable steps since the infestation by the varroa bee mite was first discovered. Those steps include a public education campaign to discourage people from doing things that might spread the mite.

Ian Ewen-Street: Did the ministry underestimate the negative impacts on the export of apiary products when it decided not to attempt to eradicate the varroa bee mite when it was first discovered, and does the Minister now regret that decision; if not, why not?

Hon. JIM SUTTON: The varroa bee mite is a very small insect that is not readily detected until it is well established. By the time the industry and the Government knew that the varroa bee mite was in New Zealand, it was technically impossible to eradicate.

Janet Mackey: Does the Minister think that the South Island will remain varroa-free?

Hon. JIM SUTTON: I believe it is inevitable that the varroa mite will, at some time in the future, get to the South Island. The Government has provided over $1 million for research to help bee-keepers to protect their hives and industry. I believe that the long-term solution is to breed a varroa-resistant bee, but I cannot say what role there may be for biotechnology in that.

Hon. David Carter: If the Minister now claims that the eradication of the varroa bee mite was never a possibility, why did his colleague the Hon. Marian Hobbs take 14 weeks before taking any action at all?

Hon. JIM SUTTON: It took that time to determine how far the mite had spread, and to assess the possibilities of eradication. The Government of the time was most reluctant to accept it was impossible to eradicate, and investigated every possible avenue for achieving eradication.

R Doug Woolerton: Can the Minister finally confirm that the actions of his department were too little, too late?

Hon. JIM SUTTON: No. The varroa bee mite got into New Zealand under a National - New Zealand First Government. Since that time this Government has provided a great deal more money to tighten up the biosecurity controls on our border.

Heather Roy: What is the current predicted economic impact of the spread of the varroa bee mite into the South Island, and how does this relate to the estimated cost of the proposed eradication programme?

Hon. JIM SUTTON: I do not have an estimate to hand of the cost of the spread of the varroa bee mite; however it is considerable. There is no way of telling how it compares with the cost of eradication, because eradication is not feasible.

Ian Ewen-Street: What is the Minister doing to change the mindset of people in MAF Biosecurity who frequently claim that we have ``the best biosecurity system in the world'', when they are clearly failing to do a satisfactory job with invasive pests like the painted apple moth and the varroa bee mite?

Hon. JIM SUTTON: I believe that the claim that can be made, and justifiably, is that we have the best biosecurity controls on our border of any country in the world. I only wish that our dedicated quarantine and biosecurity personnel in the ministry always had the loyal support of every member of this House.

Sentencing Act--Review
10. STEPHEN FRANKS (ACT NZ) to the Minister of Justice: Why has he not assured the courts and innocent New Zealanders that the Sentencing Act 2002 will be amended immediately given Justice Priestley's description of his own reasoning as ``torturous'' in arriving at a five-year non-parole period for the 10-year sentence in the Afamasaga case?

Hon. PHIL GOFF (Minister of Justice): The High Court is already currently imposing minimum non-parole periods, where appropriate, on a regular basis and apparently is finding no great difficulty in doing so. Therefore at this point I have no reason to believe that an amendment to the Act will be necessary.

Stephen Franks: In view of the judges who have said that they cannot make head nor tail of the law, will the Minister apologise when it becomes clear, or instead will he follow his recent practice and abuse the judges of the Court of Appeal, now that they are publicly puzzling over his bungled law?

Hon. PHIL GOFF: Firstly, I have not abused the judges of the Court of Appeal or any other court; secondly, the law is not bungled; and, thirdly, the member knows--because I referred him to them this morning--of a range of cases where a higher than the minimum non-parole period has been imposed and the judges have found no difficulty in doing that.

Tim Barnett: Did Justice Priestley indicate in his sentencing comments in the Afamasaga case that there were major problems with the Act?

Hon. PHIL GOFF: No, to the contrary, and I quote Justice Priestley: ``The Sentencing Act 2002 is in most areas a huge improvement on the mishmash of law which applied to sentencing prior to the 1st of July. It greatly assists the court.'' The other statement he made was that under the new law the sentence would not have been 9 years. If the offence had occurred before the new law, the sentence would have been 14 years--considerably more severe.

Hon. Tony Ryall: Why is it Government policy to allow, say, a rapist sentenced to 9 years in jail to qualify for parole after only 3 years?

Hon. PHIL GOFF: That is precisely why the new sentencing law enables the court to set a minimum non-parole period of up to two-thirds, and why this Government abolished the nonsense of automatic release at two-thirds for such a rapist, which occurred for 9 years while Mr Ryall was a member of the National Government.

Marc Alexander: Can the Minister tell us why a distinction is required for minimum parole sentencing purposes for a crime with circumstances that ``takes the offence out of the ordinary range of offending'', when, from the victim's point of view, there is nothing ordinary about any offence?

Hon. PHIL GOFF: Of course, any offence is obnoxious and deserves to be punished, but there are different degrees of culpability and seriousness in offending. The sentencing should reflect the degree of seriousness of the offence and of the offender.

Rt Hon. Winston Peters: So that we all understand, could the Minister explain--seeing that under the old regime an offender was eligible for parole after two-thirds of the sentence, and under the new one is eligible after one-third--how is it that the new regime is more harsh than the old one? Can we just sort of follow that?

Hon. PHIL GOFF: Both Justice Priestley and Justice Salmon made the point that the new law is more severe on those who commit the worst offences. Both justices made that point explicitly. That member will know that, as a result of the Budget round, $90 million has been put aside to imprison those people who will serve longer because they are serious recidivist offenders, and of highest risk to the community.

Hon. Tony Ryall: I seek leave to table a document that shows that the Labour Party, including the Prime Minister, voted against the bill that lifted the maximum sentence for rape from 14 to 20 years--

Mr SPEAKER: Is there any objection? There is objection.

Question No. 11 to Minister
Question postponed.

Prisons--South Auckland Regional Men's Prison
12. Dr PAUL HUTCHISON (NZ National--Port Waikato) to the Minister of Corrections: What is the total expenditure--

Rt Hon. Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. You, I think, have failed to observe that Mr Cunliffe is here.

Mr SPEAKER: The member did not call. I have called No. 12, and I will have that. I will come back to No. 11 afterwards.

Rt Hon. Winston Peters: I distinctly heard you say ``No, not here.'' We assume, on this side of the House, that that meant that Mr Cunliffe--

Mr SPEAKER: I looked at the place where he was sitting in, the last time in Parliament. I did not realise that he had changed his seat. It was my mistake.

Dr PAUL HUTCHISON: What is the total expenditure so far on iwi consultation relating to the proposed South Auckland regional men's prison, and is he confident that all the money has been spent wisely?

Hon. MARK GOSCHE (Minister of Corrections): I am informed that $545,048 has been spent so far. I believe it is wise to spend money on adequate consultation to avoid long delays and expensive legal costs.

Dr PAUL HUTCHISON: Does the Minister regard it as wise standard practice to spend monthly, and in advance, all or part of the $500,000 intended, and now spent, for facilitation, iwi consultation, and cultural input; if so, why?

Hon. MARK GOSCHE: My understanding is that there is an agreement that requires certain work to be carried out, and then, on the conclusion of that, for that payment to be made. That is my understanding of the contract with the trust concerned.

Mahara Okeroa: Why is the Springhill corrections facility required?

Hon. MARK GOSCHE: Currently, there are 600 inmates from this region who are serving their sentences as far away as Invercargill in order to reduce reoffending. It is important to bring inmates back to their local communities, as family support is part of successful rehabilitation. The Springhill corrections facility will help to achieve that.

Dr Paul Hutchison: Does the Minister regard it as wise standard practice to pay one of the prison consultants an alleged $90,000 or more for his services, which includes $120 an hour, plus mileage, for driving to Waitangi and back, and $120 an hour for reading and research, given that that was the same man who, in the same year he was collecting that money, was convicted of 53 counts of fraud; if so, why?

Hon. MARK GOSCHE: I am not able to comment on alleged practices. I am aware that there was a person doing work for the Department of Corrections, who was paid a considerable amount of money. He was also convicted of fraud, although that had nothing to do with the work he was doing. The Department of Corrections had no fault with the work he performed for it.

Nandor Tanczos: With reference to his earlier answer, and to the article on the NewsRoom website today about the opponents of the proposed Ngawha prison accusing the Department of Corrections of trying to ruin them, is the Minister telling the House that the department's policy is to spend money to get support, but, if it cannot get it, to bankrupt opponents?

Hon. MARK GOSCHE: My understanding is that there is a considerable amount of money required for the consultation process for all the prisons that are currently being planned to be built. If the money is not spent, it will hold up the projects, because local councils require adequate consultation under law.

Rt Hon. Winston Peters: How does the Minister explain to the country the apparent contradiction that it is wise to return prisoners back to the whŽnau and local circumstances from whence they originally came, when that local circumstance was the origin of their offence in the first place?

Hon. MARK GOSCHE: We are not proposing that they go back to the scene of the crime; we are talking about having adequate contact with the whŽnau and the family as part of the rehabilitation process. I do not think it is possible for people in Auckland to easily get to Invercargill to be involved in that process.

Question No. 11 to Minister
John Carter: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I draw to your attention an incident that occurred at the beginning of last term, when Mr Heatley--who was a relatively new member of Parliament at that stage--sought a question, and was slow to his feet, and you therefore ruled that he had missed his question. We were not able to go back to that question. I distinctly remember that. You ruled that he had not asked it quickly enough. In this particular instance, we have a situation where the member did not even seek the call. I was looking, and it was obvious. Given that we have a situation where a question was not permitted, it should not be allowed in this instance either.

Mr SPEAKER: I do not need any assistance on this. I refer members to Speaker's ruling 123/1: ``If when a question is called the member in whose name it stands elects not to ask it, the member cannot be compelled to do so, and unless leave is sought and given to postpone it the question would disappear from the Order Paper.'' That is exactly right. The member knows the Speaker's rulings of Mr Speaker Jack and certainly of Mr Speaker Kerry Burke, as he was in the House when Kerry Burke was Speaker. All that I can do is seek the leave of the House for the question to be asked; if anyone objects, it will not be asked. Leave is sought. Does anyone object? There is no objection.

Ecosystems--Islands
11. DAVID CUNLIFFE (NZ Labour--New Lynn) to the Minister of Conservation: Have there been any significant recent developments in the protection of island ecosystems?

Hon. CHRIS CARTER (Minister of Conservation): I am delighted to report that the Department of Conservation has recently completed an aerial poison drop on Raoul Island island, aimed at eradicating rats and feral cats, which have decimated the island's native wildlife. The operation went smoothly, and the indications are that it will be successful. This Government's major funding increases for conservation made that internationally significant advance in threatened species conservation possible.

David Cunliffe: What contribution have volunteers made to conservation initiatives on Raoul Island?

Hon. CHRIS CARTER: Volunteers operating under the highly successful conservation volunteers programme have been working closely with departmental weed control experts on a 10-year programme to eliminate aggressive, invasive weeds from Raoul Island. Earlier this year, a team of 12 volunteers spent 12 weeks on the island working on weed programmes. The department is very grateful for their help.

Shane Ardern: What guarantees can the Minister give that the island's ecosystems will be protected, given the Government's appalling record on biosecurity control, and its failure to manage incursions such as the varroa bee mite and the painted apple moth?

Hon. CHRIS CARTER: The Department of Conservation has an enviable and proud record of eliminating pests on offshore islands.

Ian Ewen-Street: What action has, and will be, taken in response to the recent finding of suspected rat faeces on Kapiti Island?

Hon. CHRIS CARTER: As soon as there was a report of rat droppings, the Department of Conservation implemented an emergency response with poison bait stations being placed around the area. It is suspected that if the droppings found on the island by a member of the public were indeed rat droppings, they came from the pre-eradication period. A permanent bait station has been located close to the site. I am pleased to report that the bait has not been disturbed.

Hon. Richard Prebble: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Since leave has been given, I feel that we should be able to hear the answer. I could not hear a word of what the Minister said. I am interested to know the answer to the question asked. I wonder whether the Minister could give that answer again. I could not hear what he was saying. I am not sitting very far from him.

Mr SPEAKER: The member makes a very valid point. There was a little bit of interjection, some of it of levity. I wonder whether the Minister could summarise the answer in one sentence.

Hon. CHRIS CARTER: I would be pleased to. A full emergency response is in place, but as yet, no evidence of live rats has been found.

(Uncorrected transcript - subject to correction and further editing)

End of Questions for Oral Answer.

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