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Questions Of The Day Transcript - 10 September '02

(Uncorrected transcript - subject to correction and further editing)
Questions 1-13 10 September 2002

QUESTIONS FOR ORAL ANSWER

QUESTIONS TO MINISTERS

Painted Apple Moth--Eradication, West Auckland

1. IAN EWEN-STREET (Green) to the Minister for Biosecurity: On what specific grounds did the Government choose an approach different from the plan (so-called Option 5) developed by the Painted Apple Moth Community Advisory Group, and supported by the Waitakere City Council, for the eradication of the painted apple moth in West Auckland?

Hon. JIM SUTTON (Minister for Biosecurity): While the proposal involving an intensive land-based operation covering 35,000 hectares was considered by the Government, the advice of the painted apple moth technical advisory group was that any proposal that did not involve aerial spraying over urban areas would not succeed.

Ian Ewen-Street: Will the Government now accept the public's right to know, and make public, the chemical formulation of Foray 48B--besides Bacillus thuringiensis kurstaki--now that the decision has been made to expand the spraying programme and thus expose many thousands more Aucklanders to the poison?

Hon. JIM SUTTON: The exact formulation of the material is, I understand, subject to patent rights. As far as the Government is concerned, there are no secrets in this respect that we keep from the public. In fact, this same material was used in the white spotted tussock moth campaign, and the district health board has provided the Government with a report that indicates there were no significant health impacts.

Janet Mackey: Is the Minister confident that the expanded aerial spray programme will achieve eradication?

Hon. JIM SUTTON: There is no guarantee that any eradication programme will succeed. On balance, however, I consider that the potential damage of the moth justifies the expanded eradication programme, despite the fact that success cannot be guaranteed.

Shane Ardern: Does the Minister agree with the New Zealand Forest Research Institute, which stated in its 28 June letter to him: ``The target area for spraying has been insufficient to cover all known range of pests, and therefore the population has continued to increase outside the spray zone.''; if so, how long has he known that the target zone was insufficient, and why did he do nothing about it earlier?

Hon. JIM SUTTON: The Government, at all times, has accepted the advice of the technical advisory group, which comprises the best technical advice available, that all known life stages of the pest have been sprayed.

Gerrard Eckhoff: What is the Minister's view of the internal report on this issue, commissioned some 12 months ago, which was very critical of the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry's management that has led to a huge increase in costs and spread of this pest, and why should the public have confidence in the Minister's ability to deal with the next biosecurity breach?

Hon. JIM SUTTON: Any eradication programme is technically difficult. The Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry commissioned an independent review of the programme in 2001 to identify areas that could be improved. I am satisfied that the ministry has duly adopted recommendations contained in the review and has continued to refine its management of the programme, as it has advanced.

Brent Catchpole: In view of the fact that the spraying programme in west Auckland's eradication of the Australian painted apple moth has already failed, and that the Government is throwing a further $90 million into the programme, would that money not be better spent by putting it into tightening the border controls beforehand?

Hon. JIM SUTTON: Of course the pest entered New Zealand under the border controls and the supervision of the previous National Government. This Government has tightened up border controls very much. They are now the most rigorous in the world.

Larry Baldock: Will the Minister allocate extra resources to properly address the health concerns of west Auckland residents with regard to the new aerial spraying programme, and, if so, what will those resources consist of; if not, why not?

Hon. JIM SUTTON: The Government will commit sufficient resources to this purpose, and they will be more of what has been provided up to now: a pretty comprehensive range of support and expert advice available to members of the public who are in any danger.

Rt Hon. Winston Peters: I seek leave to table evidence that this Government, under the Labour Party, has not kept its promise in respect of the decontamination of vehicles abroad, which is what it promised in 1999, and 3 years later has done nothing about.

Mr SPEAKER: The member knows full well that is not a point of order at all. That is making a comment.

Rt Hon. Winston Peters: Yes, it is.

Mr SPEAKER: A point of order can be raised if there is a point of order. This is a matter of debate, and I cannot understand how this is a point of order. I will let the member try again.

Rt Hon. Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I will say it slowly for your benefit. I am seeking leave to table evidence. That is within the Standing Orders. It has been done millions of times in this House.

Mr SPEAKER: I apologise to the member. I did not hear him asking for leave to table evidence. The member has sought leave to table evidence. Is there any objection?

Rodney Hide: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. In supporting the application we do not know what this member has tabled. Normally we say the date and what the document is.

Mr SPEAKER: Then the only appropriate course for the member is to object. The member has sought leave to table this evidence. Is there any objection?

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

Ian Ewen-Street: What was the reason for the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry's dramatic last-minute revision in the costs of eradication from $48 million over 20 years to up to $356 million over 20 years, as reported in today's New Zealand Herald?

Hon. JIM SUTTON: I have not read today's New Zealand Herald, but there has been absolutely no revision by the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry to--what did the member say?--$350-something million as the cost of eradication, none whatever.

Immigrants--Qualifying Countries
2. Rt Hon. WINSTON PETERS (Leader--NZ First) to the Minister of Immigration: Has she any plans to extend the countries from which New Zealand currently draws annual immigration quotas; if so, why did she not reveal those plans during the last election campaign?

Hon. LIANNE DALZIEL (Minister of Immigration): Yes, I am very hopeful that the Pacific access category will be extended to include Fiji. The only reason that did not come up in the election campaign is that my views were well known before the election campaign.

Rt Hon. Winston Peters: In saying that, could the Minister perhaps recite the occasions on which she made that statement before the election, and tell us how many Fijian immigrants she plans to accept for settlement in New Zealand under the recently announced New Zealand initiative scheme welcomed by the Fijian Prime Minister, Mr Qarase, at which time he said he ``would welcome the scheme, as in the long run Fiji would also benefit from it.'', and how does she intend to ensure New Zealand benefits equally from that scheme?

Hon. LIANNE DALZIEL: The Pacific access category was introduced on 1 July this year. It covers Tonga, Tuvalu, and Kiribati. It was announced in December last year, after consultation with the three Governments in question. Two of them replaced work schemes that were ineffective. Even as far back as December 2000, media reported the delay in progressing the category as a result of the coup in Fiji. Everyone else knew what we were talking about.

H V Ross Robertson: Can the Minister advise the House whether the plan to introduce a Pacific access category was communicated prior to its implementation; and if so, when?

Hon. LIANNE DALZIEL: The policy in the Labour Party's 1999 manifesto specifically provided for the introduction of a Pacific access category--yet another promise delivered on by this Government.

Hon. Murray McCully: Is the Minister concerned that policies that invite small Pacific nations to export their able-bodied workforce to New Zealand are hardly compatible with their need for long-term economic development; and if so, what weight will she give to that consideration in concluding an arrangement with Fiji?

Hon. LIANNE DALZIEL: As I said in one of my earlier answers, the ability to have a country included in the Pacific access category requires consultation with the individual Governments. In the case of Kiribati and Tuvalu, they specifically replaced work policies that were not working.

Hon. Richard Prebble: Can the Minister advise the House whether those Pacific Island access quotas are in addition to family reunification, and business, and the like, other ways of coming to New Zealand, or are those other categories deducted from the quota?

Hon. LIANNE DALZIEL: The New Zealand immigration programme is divided into three streams. The Pacific access category is within the international humanitarian stream. It is a capped number.

Metiria Turei: What new plans has the Minister to improve quota access to New Zealand for people from our South Pacific island neighbours, specifically Tonga and Samoa?

Hon. LIANNE DALZIEL: The Samoan quota has been in existence for many, many years across many Governments. Eleven hundred Samoans come to New Zealand in accordance with the Samoan quota. The Pacific access category only just commenced on 1 July this year, covering Tonga, Kiribati, and Tuvalu.

Paul Adams: Has the Minster any plans to extend immigration quotas for contributing countries to make up for New Zealand's current shortage of skilled workers?

Hon. LIANNE DALZIEL: This country is experiencing its first period of net migration gain for many, many years. That is caused by three factors. One is immigration. The other is more Kiwis are coming home, and the third is fewer Kiwis leaving this country.

Rt Hon. Winston Peters: If the Minster's answers to the first two questions are correct about the disclosure of this information, then how is it that the Fijian people do not know about it, including their Prime Minister, who said on 6 September that Helen Clark had agreed to talks on a potential immigration quota for Fijians who wish to settle in New Zealand, and further, however ``she wanted to consult Fiji's Prime Minister first''; and, if her statements are true, then the Fijian Prime Minister's office press statement cannot be, surely?

Hon. LIANNE DALZIEL: The way a country is added to the Pacific access category is that the foreign affairs officials talk to the foreign affairs officials in those countries. Formal consultations take place. The matter is then referred back to the New Zealand Government for a decision. It will take some time for that to occur in respect of Fiji.

Rt Hon. Winston Peters: Like before the election. Caught out.

Hon. LIANNE DALZIEL: If the member would like to look at the Dominion of 9 December 2000, then he might find out who was caught out on this question.

Iraq--Security Threat
3. Hon. BILL ENGLISH (Leader of the Opposition) to the Prime Minister: Does she agree with President George Bush and Prime Minister Tony Blair when they say that Saddam Hussein's Iraqi regime poses a real and a unique threat to the security of the region and the rest of the world; if not, why not?

Rt Hon. HELEN CLARK (Prime Minister): New Zealand, like most countries, is concerned at Iraq's continued unwillingness to admit United Nations weapons inspectors. That is why we strongly support the United Nations in its endeavours to have the inspectors readmitted.

Hon. Bill English: If she believes that the UK and the US have insufficient evidence to warrant military action, why has she committed New Zealand to taking part in UN mandated military action in Iraq?

Rt Hon. HELEN CLARK: There is currently no such mandated action, because evidence has not been presented that would warrant it.

Tim Barnett: What advice has she received about the positions taken by other nations?

Rt Hon. HELEN CLARK: Most nations appear to prefer that the diplomatic process run its course, and that the question of Iraq be managed by the United Nations.

Keith Locke: Does the Prime Minister believe that the threat posed by the possible purchase of pipes that could possibly be used in the production of nuclear weapons, as claimed by US officials yesterday, represents a greater threat to the world than the actual possession of nuclear weapons by Israel, Pakistan, India, China, Russia, France, Britain, and, of course, the United States?

Rt Hon. HELEN CLARK: We are not satisfied at this time that there is new evidence that would cause the UN to vary from the track it is presently taking with Iraq.

Hon. Richard Prebble: Is it not the situation that Iraq is in breach of its obligations under UN-mandated requirements for arms inspection and has been for years, and that the United Nations has been completely unable to act; is it the Prime Minister's view that the fact that the United Nations cannot act is not a reason for the United States and Britain to act; if so, why does she hold that view?

Rt Hon. HELEN CLARK: I agree with the member that Iraq is in breach of its international obligations, but I believe that the diplomatic process has yet to run its course, and that is the view being expressed by leaders around the world. The question is how to prosecute that breach, and by whom. What New Zealand and most other Governments are saying is that the prosecution of the breach should be determined at the United Nations level.

Hon. Peter Dunne: Has the Government had any direct briefings from representatives of either the United States Government or the United Kingdom Government about their view of the situation in Iraq at the moment, and if it has not had such briefings, from what sources is the Government gaining its information at the present time to base its policy decisions upon?

Rt Hon. HELEN CLARK: There is obviously very steady cable traffic coming back from our posts in the relevant nations. I understand also that the Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade spoke with the United States Ambassador in recent days.

Hon. Bill English: Can the Prime Minister confirm the statements she made yesterday that led to a report in the New Zealand Herald, which said that yesterday was the first time she had mooted possible New Zealand involvement in a UN-sanctioned attempt to topple President Saddam Hussein, and does that mean she has committed to New Zealand military involvement in a UN-sanctioned exercise to topple Hussein?

Rt Hon. HELEN CLARK: What was said was that if the UN mandated action, New Zealand would endeavour to contribute in some way.

Iraq--Military Intervention
4. GRAHAM KELLY (NZ Labour) to the Prime Minister: What is the Government's position with respect to armed intervention in Iraq?

Rt Hon. HELEN CLARK (Prime Minister): The Government does not support unilateral armed intervention in Iraq. The Government wants to see international decision making about Iraq taken at the level of the United Nations.

Graham Kelly: What does the Government see as the possible implications of a unilateral armed intervention in Iraq?

Rt Hon. HELEN CLARK: The Government's concerns, which I believe are widely shared internationally, are that unilateral intervention could cause further instability in the Middle East, damage the coalition that has been built against terrorism, and make it harder to get an Israeli-Palestinian settlement. It would also be likely to have adverse effects on the international economy.

Hon. Bill English: Why is it that the Prime Minister has committed New Zealand to taking part in UN-mandated military intervention, but says that there is not enough evidence for it if the US is to lead it?

Rt Hon. HELEN CLARK: Can I make it clear to the member that there is insufficient evidence right now for anyone to lead anything.

Hon. Ken Shirley: Is the Prime Minister signalling that in her opinion the US action is illegal; if not, why is she not supporting it?

Rt Hon. HELEN CLARK: On the basis of the evidence at present, I think it would be difficult for the United States to argue that there is a clear and present danger that entitles it to invoke a defence of self-defence.

Keith Locke: Has the Prime Minister seen any reports that the threats of a United States - led invasion of Iraq may be motivated by a concern to have an American-friendly Government in charge of the huge oil reserves of that country rather than any concern for democracy in Iraq; if so, to what extent does she agree with that analysis?

Rt Hon. HELEN CLARK: No, I do not agree with that analysis. Although I do not believe there is any link between the events of September 11 and Iraq, I do think that following September 11 the United States is naturally very concerned about where threats to it may come from, and I think that is more likely the explanation behind what is happening at the present time.

Economy--Reserve Bank Targets
5. Dr DON BRASH (NZ National) to the Minister of Finance: Following reports from financial market commentators such as UBS-Warburg and ASB Bank that instructing the new Governor of the Reserve Bank to aim at a somewhat higher inflation rate would be likely to lead to increased interest rates, does he think that higher inflation, and the resulting higher interest rates, would help either New Zealand households or the New Zealand economy; if so, why?

Hon. Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Minister of Finance): I have no intention of instructing the Governor of the Reserve Bank to do anything. Except under the never-used provisions in section 12 of the Reserve Bank Act of New Zealand, no such power exists.

Dr Don Brash: Does the Minister nevertheless see any advantages in writing a policy targets agreement with the Governor of the Reserve Bank directing him to target a higher average rate of inflation, given that according to the Government's own expert advice from Lars Svensson higher inflation would not lead to any increase in the economy's sustainable growth rate?

Hon. Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I am aware of a huge amount of research on monetary policy that has occurred since the late 1980s that I am happy to make available to the member. But it is certainly true to say that there are wide differences of opinion amongst New Zealand financial economists on these matters, including such clear leading economists as Ulf Schoefisch and John Macdonald.

David Parker: What has the reaction been to the Government's intentions with regard to the policy targets agreement?

Hon. Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I am confident that when a new policy targets agreement is made public it will be well received by many firms in the real economy and also by the financial sector. There is a good deal of concern with the way monetary policy has operated in recent years, and support for changes from such people as Ulf Schoefisch, who used to work for the Reserve Bank, and not least the former chief economist and chief manager of the Reserve Bank under Dr Brash, Mr David Mayes.

Rt Hon. Winston Peters: How many times did the Reserve Bank effectively raise interest rates in the months this year before the general election, and has there ever been a credible explanation as to these interventions?

Hon. Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: The number of times is four. It would not be appropriate for me to comment on the second part of the question.

Rodney Hide: Does he believe that increasing the target for inflation in the policy targets agreement will increase New Zealand's long-run sustainable growth rate; if so, by what precise mechanism would that be brought about?

Hon. Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I am not seeking to increase the target inflation rate; I am seeking greater flexibility in monetary policies operated by the Reserve Bank of Australia. One looks at its greater success. We certainly have no intention of returning to such stupid initiatives as the monetary conditions index operated in the mid-1990s.

Gordon Copeland: Could the Minister advise whether, in addition to the altered inflation target, he is proposing any related policies aimed at higher economic growth?

Hon. Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: In the space of what is allowed for a short answer, yes, I refer the member to the growth innovation framework, and the larger part of the Speech from the Throne.

Dr Don Brash: Does the Minister recall reading the report of his own specially appointed adviser on monetary policy, which concluded among other things that the Reserve Bank's current conduct of monetary policy is entirely consistent with the best international practice of flexible inflation targeting, with a medium-term inflation target that avoids unnecessary variability in output interest rates and the exchange rate; if so, how on earth can he, based on his own knowledge of monetary policy, claim that the Reserve Bank was too inflexible?

Hon. Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: That report, which also included a large number of other recommendations, such as substituting the governor with a committee for making monetary policy decisions, was based upon an assumption that there was flexible inflation targeting. That assumption perhaps can be questioned in the light of experience this year.

APEC--Finance Ministers Meeting, Los Cabos
6. CLAYTON COSGROVE (NZ Labour--Waimakariri) to the Minister of Finance: What were the main topics for discussion at the APEC Finance Ministers Meeting in Los Cabos, Mexico?

Hon. Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Minister of Finance): The main agenda topics were how to strengthen global and regional growth, how to combat the financing of terrorism and money laundering, how to advance fiscal and financial reform, and the allocation of savings for economic development.

Clayton Cosgrove: What were identified as the biggest risks to the world economy?

Hon. Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Political instability was seen as one of the bigger risks to the world economy, so it was with considerable concern that I returned to New Zealand to find a conference at which Don Brash was speaking, promoting him as the future leader of the National Party, but on reflection that seems likely to have no influence on either domestic or world economies.

Dr Don Brash: With which other Finance Ministers did the Minister meet in one-on-one or bilateral meetings at the APEC meeting?

Hon. Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Both the Deputy Under-Secretary and the Secretary to the Treasury of the United States, the Japanese Minister, the Chinese Minister, the Chinese Taipei Minister, the Chilean Minister, the Australian Minister, the Canadian Minister, and I think I have run out of the list I can remember off the top of my head.

Rod Donald: Did the Minister seek advice from his Canadian counterpart on the likely impact that a free-trade agreement between the United States and New Zealand would have on our country, given the negative consequences of NAFTA on the Canadian farm sector, where incomes are down $600 million, and on jobs that have had a net loss of 276,000; if not, why not?

Hon. Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: John Malley and I did discuss a range of economic matters, the Canadian economy is actually performing very strongly at the present time, and the Canadians see NAFTA as part of the strength of the Canadian economy.

Air New Zealand--Ownership
7. Dr DON BRASH (NZ National) to the Minister of Finance: Is it the Government's position that it will not express any view on future ownership of Air New Zealand until it receives a proposition from the board and management of Air New Zealand; if so, why?:

Hon. Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Minister of Finance): No, in one crucial respect, that is, I have made it clear to Air New Zealand, and publicly, that under any proposal it may make to the Government, the Government should retain a clear majority ownership and control of the airline.

Dr Don Brash: Why would any private sector shareholder with an 82 percent controlling shareholding allow the board and management of the company itself to negotiate the sale of a potentially controlling interest in the company to a competitor without exploring potentially more attractive options, and why is the Government taking such an approach with Air New Zealand?

Hon. Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: The company is negotiating a proposal that it will put to both the Government, as at the moment in terms of ordinary shares, a 74 percent shareholder but, of course, holding a substantial number of preference shares, which will also simultaneously be put both to the Stock Exchange and to all other shareholders. The Government, as a majority shareholder, has to be very careful of the interest of all other shareholders, as well.

Darren Hughes: When it comes to the ownership of Air New Zealand are there any legal or moral issues that bind the Government in terms of its discretion about what it might or might not say?

Hon. Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Indeed, there are. The Securities Act, the Companies Act, and the New Zealand and Australian stock exchange listing rules all limit what major shareholders can and should say about the affairs of the companies they own. The Government also has a moral duty to other shareholders and to the investing public not to engage in pointless speculation about the future ownership of Air New Zealand.

Peter Brown: Does the Minister recall that sometime ago the leader of the National Party, in particular, announced that a secret deal had been done between Qantas and Air New Zealand, and to the Minister's knowledge is that so; if it is not, what are the likely options the Government expects to have to consider on behalf of the nation's airline?

Hon. Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: This is a country that is blessed with an enormous number of experts on aviation policy. Unfortunately, most of them seem to get every announcement they make completely wrong. The Leader of the Opposition did, as have almost all journalists reporting on supposed deals, none of which have been concluded.

Deborah Coddington: What principles will the Minister--

Hon. Roger Sowry: Too clever!

Mr SPEAKER: I will not have interjections while questions are being asked. I want to hear the question. The questioner who is at the back of the Chamber has a perfect right to ask it.

Deborah Coddington: What principles will the Minister apply when considering any recommendation from the board to sell shares in Air New Zealand; if not, why not?

Hon. Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: The member assumes there will be a proposal for the Government to sell shares in Air New Zealand. No proposal has been made to the Government at all, and it may not include that particular proposition when a proposal does come. This Government will consider a proposal when it receives it. That is called evidence-based decision making.

Hon. Bill English: You are breaching the law.

Hon. Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The member has just accused me of being in breach of the law. The member has accused me of knowing what is in the nature of any proposal that may have been made to the Government. I cannot do that unless I and the board of Air New Zealand are in breach of the law.

Mr SPEAKER: The member actually made a comment that was addressed to me, and that is out of order, anyway. I prefer that that matter be left because I certainly do not have any interest technically or otherwise in this issue.

Dr Don Brash: Can the Minister name any other sale or partial sale of a significant Government-owned asset that has been run by the management of the asset itself?

Hon. Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: In retrospect one can say that Tranz Rail comes pretty close to that kind of question.

Hon. Richard Prebble: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. You may want to consider this matter and give a careful ruling to the House. It is a matter you should turn your attention to. Questions were being asked of the Minister and he indicated in reply to a question asked by a Government member that he was restrained in telling the House as to what the Government will do about a substantial taxpayer asset because of the actions of outsiders, for example, the Commerce Commission. I would have thought that the Commerce Commission, relying on statements made in the House, is a contempt and that it is a breach of privilege for any outside body to use statements made by MPs, including Ministers, in order to establish, for example, a case in the Commerce Commission. I would like you to rule so, because it seems to me it is a fundamental mistake that a Minister feels restrained in answering questions being asked by MPs because of some possible ruling by the Commerce Commission. One reason we have free speech and rules of privilege is so that Ministers cannot--if they want to--hide behind them. No, they have free speech here. I say that the statements made by Mr Cullen in our Parliament cannot be used by the Commerce Commission to say that he, in some way, has behaved wrongly as a shareholder. He has to be careful what he says outside Parliament, but inside Parliament there is no reason that the Minister cannot tell us exactly what principles the Government will have with regard to the sale of the taxpayer asset in Air New Zealand.

Hon. Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: That point of order might have had some virtue if it had related at all to what I actually said. Apart from anything else, I did not mention hiding behind the Commerce Commission. I merely pointed out that the member's question made an assumption that was not necessarily true. I do not know whether it is true since I have not received any proposal.

Mr SPEAKER: I have no difficulty in this matter. Of course I cannot rule on what the Commerce Commission can or cannot do. It is a matter of choice for the Minister in how he replies.

Hon. Bill English: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I want to have clarification that the reason Dr Cullen will not answer these questions in the House, according to your ruling is not, for instance, because of the rules of the Stock Exchange; it is because he has chosen to answer the question in a way that he has consistently done in the House: that is, to refuse to answer it. I need your clarification whether he can say that the rules of the Stock Exchange forbid him to answer questions, or whether, as according to your ruling, he has made the choice not to advise this House of any aspect of the sale of Air New Zealand.

Hon. Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Members are trying to put words into my mouth. The question they are now referring to asks me whether there were legal or moral issues about what we may say in relation to the ownership of Air New Zealand. I indicated there are general rules surrounding that, which constrain Government comment. My response to Ms Coddington's question had nothing to do with that, and everything to do with the fact that she asked a question based on no substance in terms of fact.

Mr SPEAKER: I say that the member addressed the question. The second option the member had is correct. It is a natter of choice for the Minister about how he replies.

Hon. Richard Prebble: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I think that the point being raised with you now by the Leader of the Opposition is one on which we are entitled to have a clear answer. There is some ambiguity in the answer you have given. I think I have taken it the same way as the right honourable member, in that you are saying Ministers in this House are not restrained by the rules of the Stock Exchange, or by the Commerce Commission, and that they have completely free speech in their duties to this House. If that is what you are saying, I think you should make it clear that that is what you are saying.

Mr SPEAKER: No. Members have freedom of speech. I went along to the Governor-General to ask for that, and it was granted. They cannot be held liable for what they say in Parliament, but that does not mean that what is said will never be used outside the House. It is up to Ministers as to how they reply.

Stephen Franks: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I am confused. I have listened very carefully, and I gained the very clear impression that the Minister was saying that he could not answer because he was precluded by rules. That is the point we need cleared up, because there is only one rule in the markets in this area: it is disclose, or abstain. If the Minister wants to suppress the information, then he is correct saying that he cannot say anything, but if the Minister chooses--

Mr SPEAKER: That is a matter for debate.

Hon. Bill English: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I do not want to try your patience on this issue, but it has arisen--

Mr SPEAKER: I will hear the point of order in silence, and everyone has a right to make one. I am not having any comments; I am sick of them.

Hon. Bill English: It has arisen because this is clearly a matter of high public interest. If there is any matter that Parliament should be holding the Government to account on, it is the disposal of a multi-million dollar public asset. It is a matter not that the Government has just said it will not answer the questions, but that it will not answer them because of its legal advice. It has said that outside the House. The Minister has implied in the House that there are some legal constraints on what he can and cannot say here. I am putting to you, Mr Speaker, that it needs to be absolutely clear to the House that there are no constraints on the Minister's capacity to answer. The Securities Commission, for instance, cannot take action against the Minister in the way it did against the Prime Minister, who made her comments outside the House. The reason this Parliament is being denied information is a political judgment by the Minister, not legal advice from Crown Law, threats from the Securities Commission, or the rules of the Commerce Commission.

Hon. Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Speaking to the point of order, I want to reaffirm that no information is being withheld. No proposal has been made; to assert otherwise is to accuse me, the board of Air New Zealand, and its chief executive, of breaking the law. The member had to apologise for doing that the day before election day.

Mr SPEAKER: The Minister, and the member who raised the point, were both indulging in debate. They made points, but it is not for the Speaker to tell a Minister how he or she should reply; it is up to the Minister. If not satisfied, any member of the House can criticise the Minister in debate.

Small Businesses--Tax Obligations
8. MARK PECK (NZ Labour--Invercargill) to the Minister for Small Business: What progress is being made to help small businesses meet their tax obligations?

Hon. PAUL SWAIN (Minister for Small Business): Yesterday the Inland Revenue Department announced plans to expand the range of electronic services available to taxpayers. These initiatives will make it easier and more convenient for taxpayers to calculate and pay tax, and file returns, and will give them better targeted and more timely information and better access to the records. The online initiatives will increase certainty and convenience for small business taxpayers, saving them time and worry, and therefore reducing compliance costs.

Mark Peck: How do these initiatives for small business fit in with the Government's wider e-government projects?

Hon. PAUL SWAIN: The goal of the e-government project is to ensure that by the year 2004 the Internet will be the dominant means of enabling ready access to the Government's services, information, and processes. The Inland Revenue Department's plan to introduce electronic tax services supports this approach, and is part of a wider Government objective to reduce the cost of doing business with Government.

Lindsay Tisch: Given that the Government has reregulated the labour market, renationalised accident compensation, raised taxes, increased compliance costs, is hell-bent on ratifying the Kyoto Protocol, and is about to outlaw stress in the workplace, what other roadblocks will it be putting in place for hard-working New Zealanders trying to make a go of their businesses for the success of themselves and New Zealand?

Hon. PAUL SWAIN: The Government is making a great deal of progress on the compliance cost reduction programme, by mainly implementing the recommendations of the compliance cost panel. This Government is showing considerable leadership in this area, which must be disconcerting to the National Party, which is having difficulty finding a leader, full stop.

Dail Jones: Is it correct that small businesses are experiencing problems in meeting their taxes because of increasing compliance costs, including legislation that the Government currently has before the House, creating, for example, import levies, which small businesses can well do without?

Hon. PAUL SWAIN: One of the issues that small businesses do face is the cost of compliance with tax law. The reason the announcement was made yesterday was to help bring down some of those compliance costs.

Deborah Coddington: Does the Minister agree that levies on business, such as occupational and health levies, are really a tax; if so, what recommendations has he made regarding the proposal to double them?

Hon. PAUL SWAIN: No; and the issue of accident compensation and levies is under discussion.

Mike Ward: What progress has been made to help small businesses obtain easier access to development capital and financial mentoring, both of which will assist with tax compliance and development of a strong small-business sector?

Hon. PAUL SWAIN: Quite considerable progress has been made, particularly by one other Associate Minister and the Minister for Economic Development. For example, the venture capital fund, which is providing a great deal of input from small businesses to be able to get access to venture capital--typical of overseas countries--and also in the area of mentoring and incubation, which also has had tremendously successful results for many small businesses in New Zealand.

Gordon Copeland: Given that small businesses collect the bulk of PAYE, GST, accident compensation levies, and fringe benefit tax--not to mention petroleum, alcohol, and tobacco excise--on behalf of the Government, would the Minister be prepared to consider reducing the company tax rate to 30c?

Hon. PAUL SWAIN: It is true that small businesses are involved and engaged in the activities that the member said; and the answer to the second part of the question is no.

Elder Abuse--Monitoring of Services
9. Dr LYNDA SCOTT (NZ National--Kaikoura) to the Minister for Senior Citizens: What monitoring and improvement of elder abuse services, if any, has occurred in the last three years, as indicated in 1999's Speech from the Throne?

Hon. LIANNE DALZIEL (Minister for Senior Citizens): The statement in the 1999 Speech from the Throne that ``programmes to combat elder abuse will be supported'' has been delivered through the 22 Elder Abuse and Neglect services contracted by Child, Youth and Family Services, and monitored by them through quarterly reporting and an annual approval assessment process.

Dr Lynda Scott: Why has this Government not increased elder abuse services in New Zealand, when a report by Age Concern shows that more than 1,500 elderly New Zealanders have suffered abuse and neglect in the last 3 years--and they claim that this is just the tip of the iceberg?

Hon. LIANNE DALZIEL: I have received that particular report and I have referred it to my officials for analysis and comment. I agree with the statement that it is the tip of the iceberg, because there are issues about older people feeling that they can come forward and complain about abuse.

Georgina Beyer: What response, if any, has the Minister sought in relation to the Age Concern report into elder abuse and the need for a national database?

Hon. LIANNE DALZIEL: The Age Concern report does identify the potential for the development of a database, and this is one of the issues that I have asked the officials to report back to me on.

Ron Mark: Does she not accept that the reason we are continuing to read reports such as the brutal murder in August of a 78-year-old, one-legged, man in Auckland; the bashing last month of a defenceless elderly woman in New Plymouth; the repeated assaults last month on an elderly woman in Upper Hutt; and the sexual assault last month on a 78-year-old woman in Hamilton; is that she and her Government have failed to give any legislative effect to the Norm Withers' referendum, which 92 percent of New Zealanders voted for?

Hon. LIANNE DALZIEL: The question in this particular instance referred to elder abuse and neglect prevention. The member has strayed on to the wider issue of criminal matters that are already provided for in another area. Here we are talking about an insidious form of often unreported and under-resolved questions where family members either take advantage of elderly members of their family, or the elders end up in a situation where they are neglected. This Government is committed to providing ongoing support for the 22 services that we have in this country.

Judy Turner: Who do medical authorities report to when they suspect they are dealing with a case of elder abuse?

Hon. LIANNE DALZIEL: The Department of Child, Youth and Family Services has 22 contracts, and 14 of them are with Age Concern. In those particular instances, it operates in a referral and coordination role. If there are instances of suspected elder abuse, it is very important that contact is made with one of the referral and coordinate services. I point out to the member that the Age Concern report actually identified family members as one of the largest groups of people who refer, not health professionals.

Dr Lynda Scott: What monitoring of elder abuse services is occurring, and how successful is that, when a Marlborough Age Concern field officer--who has a contract for investigating elder abuse--has financially abused a rest home resident, stealing $32,850 from him?

Hon. LIANNE DALZIEL: I am surprised that the local member has not raised that matter with me. However, I am prepared to look into it. I make the point that those services have been established as points of initial assessment, and provide for the coordination of the referral. They do not provide for the delivery of elder abuse and neglect prevention services. That service was established under a National Government, and we have continued to fund it.

Dr Lynda Scott: I seek leave to table three documents. The first is a reply to written questions, which shows that the number of elder abuse services for 1999 was 22.

Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection? There is.

Dr Lynda Scott: The second is an answer to written questions that shows there has been no funding increase in elder abuse prevention services.

Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection? There is.

Dr Lynda Scott: They do not like the truth.

Mr SPEAKER: The member knows she cannot say that. She will withdraw and apologise.

Dr Lynda Scott: I withdraw and apologise.

Dr Lynda Scott: The third is the Age Concern elder abuse and neglect services report, which shows a rising increase.

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

Cancer--Screening Programmes
10. BARBARA STEWART (NZ First), on behalf of Rt Hon. WINSTON PETERS (Leader--NZ First) to the Minister of Health: To what extent is the Government funding cancer awareness programmes and screening for women, and at what cost?

Hon. ANNETTE KING (Minister of Health): Government funding for cancer awareness programmes and screening for women in 2001-02 was $46.2 million. In 2002-03, that rises to $52.4 million.

Barbara Stewart: Why is the Government doing that, when women who are diagnosed with cancer--who are in need of urgent treatment--are required to wait for months to receive the necessary treatment, only to then be asked to travel to Australia, because of our run-down health services for the critical follow-up assistance, and precisely what practical steps is the Minister taking to remedy that intolerable situation for New Zealand?

Hon. ANNETTE KING: I very much regret that women are unable to receive cancer treatment in a timely fashion. As has been explained to this House on a number of occasions, to be able to provide radiation treatment services, we need to have radiation therapists. If we are training only 16 a year--as happened under the previous National Government, year after year--we will be short of radiation therapists. I am pleased to tell the member that, since becoming the Government, we have doubled the number who are being trained. It takes 3 years to train radiation therapists.

Steve Chadwick: What has the Government done to respond to growing concern about the rate and treatment of cancer in New Zealand?

Hon. ANNETTE KING: In the late 1990s, an oncology review was carried out by the previous Government, which recommended the development of a cancer control strategy. Since we have been in Government, we have established the cancer control group. It is tasked to undertake the development of the strategy, and is made up of some of New Zealand's most eminent cancer specialists. We look forward to receiving that at the end of the year. It deals with such issues as prevention and screening, early detection, treatment, and support. We have also increased the number of radiation therapists, who are needed to treat cancer patients.

Judith Collins: How many New Zealand lives have been shortened due to the inappropriately long waiting times for oncology patients in New Zealand?

Hon. ANNETTE KING: I have no figures on that matter, but I can say that I am absolutely ashamed that the previous National Government ignored advice given in 1996, 1997, 1998, and 1999. I have tabled that information on a number of occasions, and am happy to table it again. Members opposite should hang their heads in shame.

Barbara Stewart: Does the Minister realise that none of her answers will achieve anything for those New Zealand women who are suffering from cancer, and that this situation is now a national scandal?

Hon. ANNETTE KING: The member is absolutely right. It is a national scandal--a National Party scandal.

Dr Muriel Newman: What advice has the Minister received as to why 28 percent more women in New Zealand die of breast cancer than in Australia, and does she believe there is merit in the Tauranga breast cancer action group's call to extend the present screening programme in New Zealand for women aged 50 to 64, to women aged 40 to 70, as it is in Australia?

Hon. ANNETTE KING: A number of factors contribute to the high rates of breast cancer in New Zealand, and I am happy to provide the member with that information. The other part of her question related to age. We are, at this stage, looking at extending the age from 64 to 70. There is no clinical indication to reduce the age down to 40 in international evidence, because it is much harder to detect lumps in younger women's breasts, and there can often be false negatives and false positives from undertaking screening at the lower age. The indications do show up for the older age group.

Sue Kedgley: What is the point of exhorting women to take part in the national breast-screening programme, when even experts like Professor Skegg are pointing out that it is not operating effectively because it is fragmented into six different registers with different providers, and several of them are not compatible?

Hon. ANNETTE KING: In the next few weeks there will be the release of the first audit of the breast-screening programme done by Dr Jocelyn Chamberlain, and I say to the member that the information she has just provided to the House will be proved to be incorrect.

Dr Muriel Newman: I seek leave to table information on independent studies that have shown that the death rate from cancer reduces if screening starts at age 40.

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

Iraq--Military Intervention
11. Hon. KEN SHIRLEY (Deputy Leader--ACT NZ) to the Prime Minister: Would she support military intervention by our traditional allies against Saddam Hussein's regime, with or without a specific United Nations resolution, if conclusive evidence is presented showing that regime's support for al Qaeda and international terrorism?

Rt Hon. HELEN CLARK (Prime Minister): The Government does not support unilateral intervention in Iraq. The Government wants to see international decision-making about Iraq taken at the level of the United Nations.

Hon. Ken Shirley: If the US or others do produce conclusive evidence that Saddam Hussein is developing weapons of mass destruction would she then change her stance and support military intervention, with or without the United Nations resolution?

Rt Hon. HELEN CLARK: I repeat that New Zealand does not support unilateral intervention.

David Benson-Pope: What are the implications of the position that New Zealand is taking?

Rt Hon. HELEN CLARK: New Zealand is moving very much within the mainstream of international opinion on this issue. It would concern me if New Zealand was damaged by misrepresentation of its position by those trying to score domestic political points.

Hon. Bill English: Does her Government support the use of armed force to compel Iraq to comply with United Nations resolutions and sanctions?

Rt Hon. HELEN CLARK: Not at this point. We believe that the diplomatic process should run its course, and that is the opinion of most countries.

Basketball--Sport and Recreation New Zealand
12. Dr BERNIE OGILVY (United Future) to the Minister for Sport and Recreation: What annual financial assistance do the New Zealand Basketball Federation and the Tall Blacks receive from Sport and Recreation New Zealand?

Hon. TREVOR MALLARD (Minister for Sport and Recreation): There has been considerable support, both direct and indirect. Basketball New Zealand received $275,000 for the 12 months to June this year, and a further $158,500 for the period June to December 2002. In addition, the Tall Blacks received $200,000 for their world championship campaign, and they access New Zealand Academy of Sport facilities and services. Also, I understand that Pero Cameron, the Tall Blacks captain, used Auckland's facilities to help him recover from injuries sustained in China, so as to make sure he could attend the world championships.

Dr Bernie Ogilvy: Can the Minister guarantee that the Tall Blacks will receive sufficient funding to ensure their participation at the 2004 Olympics, given their automatic qualification now for this competition?

Hon. TREVOR MALLARD: I understand, from comments I saw yesterday made by the chief executive of Basketball New Zealand, that they have already had some satisfactory discussions with Sport and Recreation New Zealand, and those discussions will continue, I am sure, over the next few weeks as things settle down.

John Key: Does the Minister consider that Sport and Recreation New Zealand made a mistake in not considering basketball as a priority sport, considering public participation levels and recent success at the World Cup; if not, why not?

Hon. TREVOR MALLARD: No, if one looks at the list of sports, participation levels, and those who narrowly missed out, I think it would be fair to say that basketball, on all rational criteria around participation and success, when those decisions were made, did not even get close.

Lynne Pillay: Have any basketballers received Government scholarships; if so, what does this entail?

Hon. TREVOR MALLARD: Lynne Pillay on basketball is an interesting caller. I think she would be an outside shooter. Yes, the Prime Minister's Sports Scholarships programme was introduced in 2001. There have been 18 scholarships awarded to students whose sport is basketball. The scholarships are worth up to $16,000 each. They enable talented athletes to achieve both in their education and in their sporting goals. The scholarships cover course fees up to $10,000 and some living expenses.

Hon. Brian Donnelly: Given the Minister's remarkable aptitude--

Hon. John Carter: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I am sorry to interrupt the member, but as the Minister went to answer that question, he made an in-house joke about the member who had raised the question. We are not allowed to preface questions with any in-house jokes or comments, and the Minister should not be allowed to do so with the replies.

Mr SPEAKER: The member is perfectly correct, and I will watch for that in future.

Hon. Brian Donnelly: Given the Minister's remarkable aptitude for organising his overseas travel to coincide with All Black test matches, why was he unable to organise his affairs to attend the Tall Blacks' semi-final, and has he got his arrangements for the National Rugby League grand final sorted out yet?

Hon. TREVOR MALLARD: It is fair to say that I have not managed to coincide overseas travel and All Black tests for about 2 years, and that is a fault in my programme planning, I am sure. I did, after discussions with the patron of Basketball New Zealand, consider going over to the semi-final. Jenny Shipley urged me to go, but I decided that, seeing I was Acting Minister of Finance, I should probably stay in the country. I will look at going to the National Rugby League final, but it will be as Trevor Mallard, sports fan, not as Minister for Sport and Recreation.

Briefing Papers--Radio New Zealand
and Television New Zealand
13. STEPHEN FRANKS (ACT NZ) to the Minister of Broadcasting: Why was the full section on the business outlook for Radio New Zealand Limited and most of the business outlook for Television New Zealand Limited withheld when releasing the Minister for State Owned Enterprises' incoming briefing papers?

Hon. STEVE MAHAREY (Minister of Broadcasting): In preparing the Crown Company Monitoring Advisory Unit's briefing to the incoming Minister for State Owned Enterprises for release, consistent criteria were applied across all company profiles in the briefing, to determine what information was to be withheld. These criteria were: provision of free and frank advice; protecting the future supply of confidential information; and commercial sensitivity. As the commercially sensitive information on Radio New Zealand and Television New Zealand, and the company profiles in the briefing, were somewhat fuller than for other companies, accordingly the information withheld for those two companies was fuller.

Stephen Franks: Why is there such sensitivity in the outlook for these two enterprises, out of 23, and how much of it is really political embarrassment over the community value destroyed by the Hon. Marian Hobbs' confused objectives?

Hon. STEVE MAHAREY: Working my way backwards through those questions: there has been no destruction of value by the previous Minister, who looked after her portfolio extremely well. I need to remind the member that this company is trading well, and the only reason for ensuring that we withheld more information was that there was more information to withhold.

Russell Fairbrother: What are the intentions of the Government regarding Television New Zealand Ltd?

Hon. STEVE MAHAREY: The Government is keen to have the Television New Zealand Bill passed into law as soon as possible so the charter can be implemented. Once passed, the present Television New Zealand Ltd company will be split into two businesses: one to do with television, and the other to do with the business of transmission. Once the bill is passed, the Government will provide TVNZ with $12 million towards the implementation of its charter.

Hon. Murray McCully: Given that Radio New Zealand is a non-commercial operation, what possible commercially sensitive information can there be to protect?

Hon. STEVE MAHAREY: The member should know, as a former commercial broadcaster himself, that the environment for broadcasting in this country is commercial, whether one is public or private. Therefore it is important to know that what is happening with Radio New Zealand is sometimes commercially sensitive.

Sue Kedgley: Can the Minister confirm that any increased profits generated by BCL through its Telecom expansion plan will go to TVNZ and not back into the consolidated account; if not, why not?

Hon. STEVE MAHAREY: I will walk the House through what happens with the new company. The BCL part of the business will, of course, earn its way. The money will go back to the board. The board will make decisions about what it does with its money, part of which will be to reinvest and part of which will be to pay a dividend back to the Government.

Rt Hon. Winston Peters: Will the Minister outline to the House what those constraints are that mean he cannot disclose the financial position of Radio New Zealand Ltd?

Hon. STEVE MAHAREY: Obviously I cannot tell the House the information because that would disclose what it is, but let me just repeat: this is a very commercial environment for broadcasting in this country. Radio New Zealand is no different from any other company.

Rt Hon. Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I am not asking for a cute reply of the type we have just heard. I am asking him to outline those principles and constraints that mean he cannot give us the true financial picture of Radio New Zealand, which is not operating in the commercial market.

Mr SPEAKER: I have to address whether the Minister is addressing the question. He is; he will continue if he has anything further to say.

Hon. STEVE MAHAREY: Let me just repeat to the member the reasons for withholding material that I outlined in the beginning: the provision of free and frank advice; protecting the future supply of confidential information; and commercial sensitivity. Those are the rules that are applied to every company in the State Owned Enterprises portfolio.

Stephen Franks: As I understood his earlier two answers, these two enterprises gave more information than others, but instead of allowing what the others might have released to be released, everything was withheld as commercially sensitive. Can the Minister explain why we did not at least see what the others might have released?

Hon. STEVE MAHAREY: Dealing with my areas of responsibility, let me just say to Mr Franks again that the fact that more information was withheld simply indicates that more commercially sensitive information was provided in relation to these two companies--nothing more than that; no conspiracy. He should not worry himself quite so much.

(Uncorrected transcript - subject to correction and further editing)

End of Questions for Oral Answer.

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