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Questions Of The Day Transcript - 17 September '02

(Uncorrected transcript - subject to correction and further editing)
Questions 1-12 17 September 2002

(and Questions 1-2 to Members)

QUESTIONS FOR ORAL ANSWER

QUESTIONS TO MINISTERS

Question No. 1 to Minister

Hon. BILL ENGLISH (Leader of the Opposition): I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. This question was submitted to the Prime Minister, because it related specifically to comments, by either herself or her spokesperson, that she was not going to comment on this issue. When the question showed up, we found it had been allocated to the Minister of Defence. I suspect the same happened with the question that is being asked by Mr Keith Locke.

Mr SPEAKER: No, the second part of the member's point of order is not correct. Concerning the first part, of course, the Government is free to assign the question to any Minister with responsibility.

Special Air Services--Deployment
1. Hon. BILL ENGLISH (Leader of the Opposition) to the Minister of Defence: Does he intend to continue to refuse comment on the activities of the New Zealand Special Air Service in Afghanistan following editorial comments in The Dominion Post today that ``On such a vital subject as the role of the country's defence force, New Zealanders deserve better than the patronising message that the Government knows best. Democratic principles of freedom of information and open Government, not to mention the public, are being very poorly served.''; if so, why?

Hon. MARK BURTON (Minister of Defence): I will confirm that it is the policy of this Government not to comment on operational matters relating to the SAS deployments, in order to minimise risks to those serving overseas and their families at home. I note that the editorial also stated: ``Soldiers who risk their lives in dangerous and covert operations deserve to know they will not be further endangered by politicians' use or misuse of information.'' I agree with that sentiment.

Hon. Bill English: Can he confirm that the real reason the Government does not talk about this is that it would make the Prime Minister feel very uncomfortable with her own party if she were seen to be out there advocating and standing for New Zealand soldiers in combat on the other side of the world?

Hon. MARK BURTON: I can confirm that it is the Government's policy, as has been the case with many previous Governments, to first and foremost protect the best interests of our service personnel and their families.

Graham Kelly: Was the House aware that information about the deployment of our SAS troops would not be made public?

Hon. MARK BURTON: Yes. The Hon. Phil Goff, during the SAS commitment debate, stated: ``The nature of operations they may be involved in if required means that the Government will not be able to say when, where, or even if those people are deployed without jeopardising those particular operations or future operations.'' In the same debate, I said obviously there is high degree of risk, and I think members understand and appreciate that by definition it is inappropriate for the House to ask about, or be told of, specific intentions. The House did not challenge the need to protect our SAS personnel then.

Hon. Ken Shirley: If his Government does believe in the democratic principles of freedom of information and open government, why is the Government so reluctant to make a ministerial statement, or indeed even to have a debate on what activities we are engaged in, in the war against terrorism?

Mr SPEAKER: So as far as that relates to the original questions, I call the Hon. Mark Burton.

Hon. MARK BURTON: To the extent it relates to the original question, I think I have made very clear that the Government is not prepared to divulge operational detail of the SAS in Afghanistan.

Ron Mark: Is the policy the current Government is following with reference to the operational deployment of the New Zealand Special Air Services any different from that followed by previous Governments, at times when they were deployed to Thailand, Malaysia, and other spots around the world; and is it not true that Labour is simply continuing the same policy of previous National Governments?

Hon. MARK BURTON: Yes, I think the member is quite correct, and, what is more, it has typically been the case that when matters such as that have been brought to the House the House has generally overwhelmingly supported that stance.

Keith Locke: Why has the Minister been less transparent than the last National Government, which in 1998 told the public how many Special Air Services troops were to join the multinational coalition in the Gulf, later told the public changes in that number, told the public when they were going, when they were returning, and what kind of operation they were to be engaged in?

Hon. MARK BURTON: It is fair to say that the record shows that the then Minister in 1998, responded to a break from the convention in Australia, and followed suit. The evidence also shows that the Special Air Services equivalent in Australia's former service personnel expressed outrage at that breach of the convention in Australia. This Government has been determined to return to the long-established convention in New Zealand of first looking after the well-being of our personnel and their families.

Hon. Peter Dunne: When the Special Air Services is overseas on deployment, particularly in the case of Afghanistan, how much direct control and influence over its activities do the New Zealand authorities have, or is it subject to an international command in those circumstances; if so, what input do we have into that?

Hon. MARK BURTON: The New Zealand Senior National Officer--the SNO--is also the Commander of the New Zealand Special Forces in Afghanistan. He has full powers to approve, or not approve, New Zealand's involvement in any special force operation in Afghanistan. In turn, he is in regular contact--by secure means--with the highest levels of New Zealand command in New Zealand, and the Chief of Defence Force, in turn, keeps the Government appraised. I have every confidence in each of those officers, and certainly in the Chief of Defence Force to carry out his job properly.

Hon. Bill English: Given that no one is asking for operational detail, and that the Special Air Services has become a principal arm of New Zealand's foreign policy, why cannot the Government tell us whether the Special Air Services is in Afghanistan, who is in command, and on what grounds would the Government consider keeping them there or bringing them home, all of which are general policy issues that the public has a right to know about?

Hon. MARK BURTON: I can certainly help the member in one regard. Every other member of the House--perhaps the member was absent at the time--was informed by the Prime Minister of the presence of the New Zealand Special Air Services earlier this year. Beyond that my original answer to the member's question stands.

Maori Affairs Committee--Inquiries
2. MURRAY SMITH (United Future) to the Prime Minister: Is it her Government's intention to support two inquiries by the Maori Affairs Committee into Treaty of Waitangi organisations; if not, why not?

Rt Hon. HELEN CLARK (Prime Minister): Yes.

Murray Smith: What assurances can she give that any issues raised by those inquiries will be treated seriously by her Government, given the apparent lack of support for those inquiries from members of the select committee?

Rt Hon. HELEN CLARK: Any significant issues raised would be considered seriously.

David Benson-Pope: Has she discussed this matter with the chair of the select committee; if so, what did he report?

Rt Hon. HELEN CLARK: Yes, and I understand that all members present that day supported the proposal that the inquiries not be completed.

Hon. Georgina te Heuheu: Is the Prime Minister aware that senior members of her caucus, including the Hon. John Tamihere, are strongly supportive of the need for the two inquiries, and does she support their point of view?

Rt Hon. HELEN CLARK: I am aware of that, just as I am aware that Mr McCully is of the view that they should continue, but apparently did not bother to go to the committee.

Mr SPEAKER: The Prime Minister cannot refer to what was going in the committee, but if the member concerned was not at the committee then, of course, that issue does not arise.

Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Given that ruling, is it now permissible that we can freely speak in this House about the absence of members from select committees?

Mr SPEAKER: No, we cannot.

Gerry Brownlee: The Prime Minister should withdraw and apologise.

Mr SPEAKER: I apologise to the member. I had not grasped the significance of that particular point. The absence of a member cannot be referred to. I now ask the Prime Minister to withdraw and apologise for that comment.

Rt Hon. HELEN CLARK: I happily withdraw and apologise.

Hon. Richard Prebble: Is the Prime Minister aware that as of 31 March 2001 the Crown Forestry Rental Trust held forestry rental proceeds and earnings of over $294 million, but last year handed out only $6 million to claimants, and that in the 10-year history of the trust the directors have paid themselves $1.3 million, but have managed only two settlements that involve Crown Forestry licensed land; if that is so, does the Prime Minister not agree that the select committee should finish its inquiry?

Mr SPEAKER: The last part of the question is in order. The first part of the question had a massive injection of fact that was going outside of the original question.

Rt Hon. HELEN CLARK: I agree that the committee should finish the inquiry, particularly because it is virtually at the end of its oral hearings of evidence on the Crown Forestry Rental Trust and should be able to reasonably speedily proceed to a report.

Asset Testing--Elderly
3. Dr LYNDA SCOTT (NZ National--Kaikoura) to the Associate Minister of Health: When will she deliver on Labour's 1999 promise to remove asset testing for elderly in long-term geriatric care?

Hon. RUTH DYSON (Associate Minister of Health): I hope to introduce the necessary legislation to the House by the end of this year.

Dr Lynda Scott: Why did the Minister introduce a Supplementary Order Paper last Thursday to stop the removal of income and asset testing for every person as introduced in the Health and Disability Services (Safety) Act from 1 October this year, stating: ``It was never a policy issue, so it is not a big issue. It's not an embarrassment, just a mistake.''?

Hon. RUTH DYSON: For precisely the reasons outlined by that member.

Steve Chadwick: What feedback has the Minister received from the public about the current asset-testing policy?

Hon. RUTH DYSON: I have consistently received feedback that the asset-testing regime introduced by the National Party is discriminatory, unfair, and causes distress and possible abuse of elderly people and their families. That is why we are committed to throwing it out.

Hon. Richard Prebble: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I asked a supplementary question about question No. 2, setting out some relevant facts about the Crown Forestry Rental Trust. You said the question was irrelevant and could not be asked of the Prime Minister. Now we have question No. 3, which is all about the Labour Party's 1999 promise, and the question that has been asked is about the previous National Government. There is nothing in question 3 about that. How can that suddenly now be in order, when in the previous question it was not?

Mr SPEAKER: The member is perfectly correct.

Dr Muriel Newman: Given Labour's hugely popular promise to remove asset testing for the elderly, its mistaken fulfilment of the promise in its legislation last year, and, now, its sneaky reversal of that promise, can the Minister name a single more humiliating example of promise-breaking than this example?

Hon. RUTH DYSON: It is to my regret that the member does not understand the difference between income testing and asset testing, but I am really happy to provide her with financial assistance in that area.

Sue Kedgley: Is the Minister concerned about links between asset testing and the abuse or self-neglect of older people; if so, what steps is she taking to address this issue?

Hon. RUTH DYSON: That is an issue that has been raised by both Grey Power and Age Concern. It is a matter of concern to this Government, which is why we intend to proceed with the removal of asset testing.

Barbara Stewart: Given that New Zealand First, during the 1998 coalition Government, had committed in principle to remove asset testing for long-stay geriatric care, is the Minister committed to this outcome; if not, why not?

Hon. RUTH DYSON: Yes.

Dr Lynda Scott: Could the Minister explain to older New Zealanders how promising to remove asset testing but not delivering on the promise, how promising to introduce legislation to remove asset testing but not delivering on the promise, then realising that you had mistakenly delivered on the promise and moving an amendment to stop it, can possibly be keeping faith with those older New Zealanders?

Mr SPEAKER: Despite the reference to me in the question I will assume the member meant the Minister, and will ask her to reply.

Hon. RUTH DYSON: I would be very happy to provide Mrs Scott with the copy of the difference between income testing and asset testing that I am to provide to Mrs Newman.

Tertiary Education--Participation
4. Dr ASHRAF CHOUDHARY (NZ Labour) to the Associate Minister of Education (Tertiary Education): What reports, if any, has he received on participation rates in tertiary education?

Hon. STEVE MAHAREY (Associate Minister of Education (Tertiary Education)): I have received a report stating that formal enrolments across the year at public institutions increased by 13.3 percent between 1999 and 2001. This is an increase of 37,000 students, or the equivalent of three Universities of Canterbury. The latest equivalent full-time student figures show that strong growth will go on this year at a rate of about 9.3 percent. Much of this reflects improved affordability of tertiary education, with fees falling in real terms, and with no interest for full-time and other low-income students.

Dr Ashraf Choudhary: How have tertiary education institutions benefited financially from this growth?

Hon. STEVE MAHAREY: It is predicted that institutions' income from tuition subsidies will increase by $158 million in 2002, reflecting enrolment growth and funding rate increases. Once other initiatives are taken into account, that figure goes up to about $200 million, including such things as the centres of research excellence. At least $75 million of this increase is likely to go to universities.

Simon Power: Has there been a significant increase in participation rates of people awarded honorary law degrees from foreign theology schools--people who call themselves a doctor--if so, is this a good thing?

Hon. STEVE MAHAREY: I do not wish to enter that debate, except to say that any PhD received by a person in this House from a university in this country, such as the one received by Dr Cullen, is worth trading anywhere in the world.

Hon. Brian Donnelly: Does the Minister agree that private training establishments have played an important role in tertiary participation rate increases, particularly for Maori and Pacific students; if so, why is he removing the capital funding component for non-profit and community trust private training establishments?

Hon. STEVE MAHAREY: I would say that all institutions have been significant in terms of participation rates by Maori students--universities, and polytechnics in particular. We have seen growth in areas like wananga as well, where a lot of the growth has taken place. The reason that we have changed the situation for private training establishments is that we are not owners of these institutions; they are owned by the people themselves. Therefore, we regard them as being responsible for their capital, not the taxpayer.

Deborah Coddington: Did the Minister, when calculating these figures, include students like the ones in Taranaki, who enrolled in travel courses that involved, in his words, ``nearly $10 million of tuition subsidies and $25 million of student loans'', then took the computers and ran; if not, why not?

Hon. STEVE MAHAREY: I take the member back to my first answer, where I was referring to the increase in public institutions. The figures referred to them, not the private sector.

Accident Compensation Corporation--Levies
5. PETER BROWN (Deputy Leader--NZ First) to the Minister for ACC: Does she support ACC's proposed 22 percent increase in ACC levies for motorists; if so, why?

Hon. RUTH DYSON (Minister for ACC): The Accident Compensation Corporation is currently running a public consultation process on levies for the coming year. The consultation commenced last Thursday and ends on 10 October. The Accident Compensation Corporation board will then provide me with its recommendations, and Cabinet will make a decision. I encourage the member who asked the question, to make a submission.

Peter Brown: Noting that answer, does she not believe that this could be another case of slugging the motorist, and does she intend to support it being applied to the car registration component, or will she see it go across the fuels, in which case will it go to gas and diesel--which currently do not pay anything towards accident compensation--as well as petrol?

Hon. RUTH DYSON: That question is very worthy of a submission to the Accident Compensation Corporation on the consultation process, and I encourage the member to make one.

Helen Duncan: What other proposals have been put forward by the corporation?

Hon. RUTH DYSON: In the consultation document, released last Thursday, the corporation is proposing that the employer levy be reduced from $1.20 to $1.12 per $100 of payroll. It has also proposed an option to reduce the number of classification groups for levy purposes, from $130 to $55. It has further proposed that the self-employed work account be reduced by 2 percent, and that the residual claims account levy be reduced by 14 percent. The earners levy is proposed to remain the same.

Dr Paul Hutchison: Given that last year under her Government, New Zealand motorists were subject to a levy four times above inflation, can she guarantee that this year New Zealand motorists will not be subject to an accident compensation level six times above inflation; if not, why not?

Hon. RUTH DYSON: I will await the board's recommendation to the Minister, which will then be put as a proposal to Cabinet. After that I will be able to give the member a cast-iron guarantee on next year's levy rate.

Heather Roy: Can the Minister assure the House that this proposal will be fiscally neutral; if not, is this just another way of gauging money out of motorists and taxpayers?

Hon. RUTH DYSON: The consultation document with regard to the motor vehicle levy, proposes an average composite levy increase of 22 percent. It is hard to say that that would be fiscally neutral.

Sue Bradford: Should the petrol levy rise go ahead as proposed, what will the Accident Compensation Corporation do to ensure that as many rural people as possible have an alternative to the use of private cars; both because of the massive price rise on a daily basis and because so many people are killed and are injured on country roads?

Hon. RUTH DYSON: That is a matter that should be raised during the submission process. It is not a proposal, it is one of the options for consideration.

Paul Adams: Given the Accident Compensation Corporation's focus on prevention, would the Minister support retaining a greater amount of the revenue already collected for roading to be used to improve roading, and therefore reduce accidents, rather than burden motorists with yet another tax?

Hon. RUTH DYSON: That is a very positive consideration.

Peter Brown: Noting those answers, will the Minister tell the House, specifically, how she can justify, with such a large increase, that even a document goes out for consultation?

Hon. RUTH DYSON: The legislation--on which I recall that member playing a very active part as a member of the select committee--requires the corporation to have full funding of all named accounts, including the motor vehicle account, by 2014.

East Timor--Historical Briefings
6. Hon. KEN SHIRLEY (Deputy Leader--ACT NZ) to the Prime Minister: What is her response to the former New Zealand Ambassador to the United States and Foreign Affairs secretary, Frank Corner, who has accused her of trying to re-write history?

Rt Hon. HELEN CLARK (Prime Minister): The recently released Ministry of Foreign Affairs reports relating to East Timor in 1975 are of concern in a number of respects. The papers reveal that the ministry bent over backwards to give Indonesia the benefit of the doubt throughout this sorry affair, and the nature of their advice to the Government reflected that position consistently. That is of concern to me.

Hon. Ken Shirley: Could the Prime Minister then tell the House why we should not heed the words of the distinguished former senior public servant, Frank Corner, who states: ``Normally it is only the lowest class of politician that tries to put the blame on officials'', and ``Ms Clark's shameful comments would make it impossible to maintain an apolitical, professional public service.''?

Rt Hon. HELEN CLARK: I do not intend to respond to those unpleasant remarks in kind. I do want to draw attention to that advice to Mr Rowling on 3 November to issue a press statement saying there was no confirmation that Indonesian troops had entered Timor, when on 30 October--in a secret cable received by the ministry--it was stated categorically that they had entered Timor. I do not think that is fair to the Prime Minister of the day.

Mahara Okeroa: My question to the Prime Minister is--

Gerry Brownlee: --will there be an inquiry?

Mr SPEAKER: On this rare occasion that was modestly humorous, so I will allow that one interjection. That is it for the day, though.

Mahara Okeroa: I take your leave, Mr Speaker. What overall inference does the Prime Minister draw from the advice given to the Government?

Rt Hon. HELEN CLARK: The overall inference any fair-minded person reading these papers would draw is that officials were very anxious not to disrupt New Zealand's relationship with Indonesia, in any way, over its planned invasion of East Timor. I regret that.

Dr Wayne Mapp: Why did the Prime Minister choose to raise her concerns about this issue at a public function? Was it, in effect, a brazen attempt to curry favour with East Timor by blaming civil servants of the highest ethical standards in order to deny her own past, and that of the Government?

Rt Hon. HELEN CLARK: My definition of a public function would not extend to holding a press stand-up with the East Timorese foreign minister in my office.

Dr Wayne Mapp: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. How on earth does the answer given by the Prime Minister conform with the Standing Orders? She was asked a specific question, and all she did was refer to whether it was a public function or not.

Mr SPEAKER: I judged that she addressed the question.

Ron Mark: Noting that this is not the first time she has felt it necessary to criticise former servants of the Crown for the way in which they advised or conducted their office, is the Prime Minister now considering introducing any legislation that will henceforth hold public servants of the Crown accountable for inappropriate, inaccurate, or faulty advice that they give to Minsters of today?

Rt Hon. HELEN CLARK: Mr Mark himself is one who knows that public servants, like Ministers, should be held to account, and he has used the select committee process to the full in that. We, as public servants in this House, are accountable for our actions, and when information like that released in recent weeks about the advice given in 1975 is in the public domain, the public will also hold those who gave the advice accountable.

Truancy--Bailey Junior Kurariki
7. Hon. Dr NICK SMITH (NZ National--Nelson) to the Minister of Education: What school attendance was he referring to when he stated last week, in response to a question about Bailey Junior Kurariki's lack of school attendance over the last two years, ``I want to give the absolute assurance to the House that what that member said then was incorrect.''?

Hon. STEVE MAHAREY (Associate Minister of Education (Tertiary Education)), on behalf of the Minister of Education: The member asserted that the Ministry of Education had ``done absolutely nothing'' about Bailey Junior Kurariki's absences from school. The facts are that Bailey Junior Kurariki was, after many education interventions, enrolled in the Correspondence School in May 2000, and supervised by relevant support services in his area.

Hon. Dr Nick Smith: Why did the Minister mislead the House last Thursday by stating that this boy was going to school, when, clearly, he was not, and why does he and his ministry hide thousands of long-term truants and school drop-outs in the roll of the Correspondence School, when everyone knows that, for that type of student, education by post is meaningless?

Hon. STEVE MAHAREY: I take the member back to the Minister of Education's comments on this matter, where he clearly did not mislead the House. He was responding to the member's statement that he had done absolutely nothing about Bailey Junior Kurariki's absences from school. I remind the member that he was with Correspondence School and was supervised by local services during that time. In the second part of the question, the member asked whether people are being hidden in the Correspondence School, and that is completely untrue. Students are supervised throughout those practices as they should be.

Jill Pettis: Could the Minister please advise how absenteeism is usually dealt with?

Hon. STEVE MAHAREY: In the first instance, absenteeism is dealt with by the school. Repeated absenteeism is dealt with by the school, the police, and the district truancy service.

Hon. Brian Donnelly: Given the serious criticism by the Education Review Office in its 1998 report of the use of Correspondence School for at-risk students like Bailey Junior Kurariki, is it not irresponsible for the ministry to claim it is fulfilling its duties in that way, and what instructions has the Minister given to the ministry regarding continued use of the Correspondence School for such students?

Hon. STEVE MAHAREY: I think the most obvious example I could give of changes in this area would be the funding of another 820 places in alternative education for secondary students in the 2000 Budget, which therefore gives a choice as to whether a child should be in Correspondence School or not. For primary-aged children, the initiatives surrounding resource, teachers of learning behaviour, social workers in schools, special education, and so on, are designed for them.

Donna Awatere Huata: Does the Minister accept that the Correspondence School was never designed for children with massive behavioural problems, and that the enrolment of, and failure to educate, thousands of problem children at the Correspondence School has been a deliberate strategy to hide long-term truants and school dropouts; if so, when will he set up a central database so that no more Bailey Kurariki's will fall through the cracks?

Hon. STEVE MAHAREY: No, and currently the ministry is working on a system that will ensure all students in our schools are assigned a number so that they can be traced.

Nandor Tanczos: Since the Minister has assured this House previously that the Government is taking steps to ensure that young people who have been failed by the school system do have their educational needs met, can he tell the House why such options were clearly lacking in this particular case, and how on earth does he make such a claim?

Hon. STEVE MAHAREY: In the case of children like Bailey Junior Kurariki, it is very important for the House to understand the level of difficulty these young people present to services that deal with them. In the case of that young man, we are talking about a record of him moving in and out of schools as they tried to handle him, and of him moving in and out of services as they tried to handle him, all the way through that period of time. It is one of the reasons, for example, I have asked my own department, and it is why the Minister of Education will be interested in receiving from the Minister responsible for social services a report on how this particular case was handled by services. They are difficult cases, but the history of this young man is that he has been in and out of services that have tried to do their best for him.

Hon. Dr Nick Smith: Does this Government believe that placing a boy like Bailey Junior Kurariki in Correspondence School is totally appropriate, and if it does accept that it is inappropriate, will it invest in proper residential schools for boys of that sort so that there is no repeat of the tragedy involving Michael Choy?

Hon. STEVE MAHAREY: The member is using the benefit of hindsight to judge whether young people like Bailey Junior Kurariki should be in Correspondence School. It is an appropriate place to put a young person who is not maintained in a school. However, with the hindsight that member is now exercising, a decision such as that may well raise questions. The member must admit that he is using hindsight and that that placement was appropriate at the time.

Donna Awatere Huata: I seek leave to table a document, an Official Information Act request dated 10 October last year to the Secretary for Education regarding Bailey Kurariki's education and the Minister's refusal to release any documents.

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

Burns--Treatment
8. DIANNE YATES (NZ Labour--Hamilton East) to the Minister of Health: What progress has been made for the treatment of patients with serious burns?

Hon. ANNETTE KING (Minister of Health): A national unit for burns is to be established at Middlemore Hospital. This follows many years of debate. I am delighted that agreement has been reached for this long-overdue national facility in New Zealand. The unit, after 50 years of treating serious burns throughout New Zealand, will be upgraded to a dedicated facility made up of four isolation rooms, plus high-dependency beds, and it will also be a rehabilitation facility.

Dianne Yates: Why is it important to have a dedicated unit for treating burns patients?

Hon. ANNETTE KING: Burn patients, like the young Southlander who visited me in my office recently, need specialised treatment and a unique rehabilitation facility. The establishment of this unit will provide patients and specialists with the best environment for the dedicated support that leads to improved recovery outcomes.

Dr Lynda Scott: Would not the money being spent on staffing Labour's fifth-floor burns Beehive unit to spin Labour's party propaganda to provincial newspapers--

Mr SPEAKER: I want a question relating to this particular question.

Dr Lynda Scott: I was asking whether the money spent would not be better spent on burns prevention, rather than burns promotion.

Mr SPEAKER: The member should go to the first part of the question.

Dr Lynda Scott: OK. I will try again.

Mr SPEAKER: The member can ask a question relating to expenditure on the treatment of patients with serious burns. That is what the original question is about.

Dr Lynda Scott: Would not the money be better spent on burns prevention rather than on the Beehive burns unit to spin Labour party propaganda?

Mr SPEAKER: No, the question is out of order.

Homicide--Youth Offenders' Sentences
9. RON MARK (NZ First) to the Minister of Justice: Are the sentences handed down to the killers of Michael Choy consistent with the Government's policy on serious violent offending; if so, why?

Hon. LIANNE DALZIEL (Acting Minister of Justice): It is inappropriate for Ministers to comment on individual sentencing decisions. I note that the offences were committed before the Sentencing Act came into force, which means that the judge could not have imposed a more severe sentence than that imposed under the Criminal Justice Act.

Ron Mark: What has the Minister got to say to the members of the Choy family in response to reports in today's media that some of these violent killers will be released in just 2 years' time, and how will this situation be viewed by the 92 percent of the voting population who signalled a strong desire for harsher sentencing for killers and serious offenders in the 1999 referendum, and their wish that the Government reflect this concern in sentencing policies?

Hon. LIANNE DALZIEL: I, of course, have absolute sympathy for the family of Michael Choy. The issue that the member raises reflects that the time spent in custody on remand be treated as time served--that has always been the case. It also reflects a change in the parole legislation.

Taito Phillip Field: How is this new Sentencing Act likely to impact on the number of people in prison?

Hon. LIANNE DALZIEL: The Act, as signalled by the Minister last year, will significantly increase prison numbers. We are aware that at any one point in time, an additional 300 inmates will be in prison, because those convicted of violent offences who are considered to be a risk to the community will spend considerably longer in prison.

Hon. Tony Ryall: Does the Government continue to support a policy that means that someone sentenced to 9 years in prison can be out on the street after 3 years?

Hon. LIANNE DALZIEL: This Government does not support a provision that provides for the automatic release of such an individual after 6 years. We totally support the change of legislation, which provides that the Parole Board has the consideration of the risk to the community as its paramount consideration.

Stephen Franks: Can the Minister assure us that these killers will be recalled to finish their sentences handed down by the court if they commit fresh crimes on parole; if not, why did the Minister promote a law with the meaning of the word ``parole'' being so dishonest?

Mr SPEAKER: The last word is a little bit in doubt, but the Minister may comment on the actual question.

Hon. LIANNE DALZIEL: The giving of a life sentence does mean life to the extent that, yes, an offender can be recalled at any point in his or her life for breaches of parole conditions.

Marc Alexander: Why do the sentences handed out to the murderers of Michael Choy emphasise the perceived needs of the offenders, such as nil provision of a non-parole period, concurrent rather than consecutive sentences, and their supposedly diminished responsibility due to their ages, rather than the crime itself, the victim, and the needs of the victim's family?

Hon. LIANNE DALZIEL: As I said at the outset, it is not appropriate for Ministers to comment on individual sentencing decisions.

Ron Mark: What possible satisfaction can there be for the Choy family, having seen these young killers tried and sentenced, to now know that the family will be required to be vigilant and to ensure that they appear before the Parole Board hearings to make sure that these killers are not released in 2 years?

Hon. LIANNE DALZIEL: The parole legislation now requires that the Parole Board takes into account the risk these people pose to the community. That was never the case, and I should point out to that member that it is extremely rare that somebody is released on a first application to the Parole Board.

Special Air Services--Deployment
10. KEITH LOCKE (Green) to the Minister of Defence: In the light of his statement yesterday that ``There is always a balance between providing as much information as possible . . . and preserving a fair measure of safety and security for our personnel.'', will he confirm the information provided by the commanding officer of Joint Special Operations Task Force - South, Captain Bob Harward, that around 40 New Zealand SAS personnel have been operating as part of that Task Force?

Hon. MARK BURTON (Minister of Defence): I will confirm that it is the policy of this Government not to comment on operational matters relating to the SAS deployments. I also note, though, that the source of the information quoted by the member is the operator of a military surplus e-shop, an informal contact organisation for ex-US Navy seals, which, among other things, sells ski bibs, fantasy swords, and bandannas.

Keith Locke: Why has the Government put a blanket ban on information on the SAS, when the American commander, Bob Harward, in overall charge of our SAS troops in Afghanistan, has given a detailed public briefing on the task force's activities, including the number and nature of operations, the number of air strikes, and the number of casualties?

Hon. MARK BURTON: Firstly, I explained at some length, in answer to an earlier supplementary question to question 1, that the assertion in the first part of the member's question is incorrect. Control and command is maintained by New Zealand and New Zealand's personnel, wherever and whoever they are. Secondly, according to that website itself, these are the notes of the author--not the direct source of the person being reported, but the person who runs the website--of an informal gathering of some ex-Navy seals and an address to them by an ex-commander, who previously served somewhere.

Richard Worth: Apart from pigheadedness, what is the objection to providing brief official summaries of SAS activities, provided the safety of SAS soldiers in the field is not compromised?

Hon. MARK BURTON: I think the member answered the first part of his question with the second part of his question.

Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker.

Mr SPEAKER: I think, on reflection, that the member has asked the Minister to give a civil answer.

Hon. MARK BURTON: Let me be clearer, then. The objection is that to change the long-standing convention, potentially puts our personnel at risk unnecessarily. I will not do that.

H V Ross Robertson: Why is it this Government's policy not to comment on operational matters relating to the SAS? [Interruption]

Hon. MARK BURTON: As I have said--but clearly, it does bear repeating--maintaining a minimum profile for our personnel is in their best interests in terms of security, and in the best interests and for the protection of their families.

Ron Mark: How much credence should one give to the information Keith Locke touts as credible, having pulled it from a military surplus store's website, and is it now his intent to refer Mr Locke to New Zealand's Doyles army surplus stores for further intelligence updates?

Mr SPEAKER: Before the question is answered, Mr Locke's name is to be correctly pronounced, as are all members' names.

Ron Mark: Mr Speaker--

Mr SPEAKER: I accept the member's assurance.

Hon. MARK BURTON: I think that perhaps the key thing to note is that--and I think that the member's supplementary question highlights it--there are many, many websites available to people. There is no control over these. As I indicated yesterday in a relatively public forum, in searching for this site, my office found one called www.angelfire.com/zine/UFORCE, which purports to have evidence that the Kursk, the Russian ship sunk in August 2000, was sunk by a UFO. We have to be careful about the credence that we give to those sorts of unauthorised individual websites.

Keith Locke: Could the Minister tell us exactly when the New Zealand public will be assured that our SAS troops in Afghanistan have not been involved in operations where innocent civilians have been killed?

Hon. MARK BURTON: In outlining the line of control and command in an earlier supplementary question, I can assure the member that the purpose of that line of control and command is to ensure that New Zealand's expectation and New Zealand's norms are complied with.

Agriculture--Economy
11. CLAYTON COSGROVE (NZ Labour--Waimakariri) to the Minister of Agriculture: What reports, if any, has he received on the importance of agriculture to the economy?

Hon. JIM SUTTON (Minister of Agriculture): The briefing papers to the incoming Government, from the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, are quite clear. Pastoral farming alone accounts for 50 percent of all export earnings. Add forestry products to that, and it is quite clear that primary production is at the heart of the New Zealand economy.

Clayton Cosgrove: How does that reliance on primary production in the rural sector match up with the Government's growth and innovation strategy?

Hon. JIM SUTTON: The agribusiness and forestry sectors in New Zealand have the scale-global marketing capabilities, technical skills, and natural resource advantages that provide New Zealand with a platform for future growth. The full potential of our economy will be realised only if we build on our sources of natural advantage, and deepen the competencies associated with them. Biotechnology--one of the three identified areas of strategic priority in the growth and innovation strategy--working with the primary production sector, is an area of both natural and acquired comparative advantage for New Zealand.

Hon. David Carter: Is the Minister aware of a recent National Bank report that states that agribusiness confidence was at its lowest level in 12 years, and does he think that issues like Kyoto, accident compensation costs, increased fuel costs, road-user charges, and the Minister's lack of leadership are associated with this declining rural confidence?

Hon. JIM SUTTON: I was not aware of that national report, and I do not agree with it. In the areas mentioned by the member, the Government's policies will all be to the advantage of rural New Zealand.

Ian Ewen-Street: Does the Minister stand by his reported comments in response to that briefing from the ministry that he referred to, where he said: ``Noting consumer resistance to genetically modified food in some countries, for a country such as New Zealand that relies on exports there is no point in producing what people did not want.''; if so, does he agree that allowing the commercial release of genetically modified organisms into our farming ecosystems is likely to have huge negative implications for our economy; if not, why not?

Mr SPEAKER: The Minister may comment. This is wide of the original question.

Hon. JIM SUTTON: I agree with the advice of the royal commission, and I prefer it to that of the member.

Larry Baldock: Given the importance of agriculture to the economy, is the Minister concerned that ratification of the Kyoto Protocol will have adverse effects on the international competitiveness of the agricultural sector, and therefore on the economy as a whole?

Hon. JIM SUTTON: I have complete confidence that the best course of action for New Zealand is to ratify the Kyoto Protocol, and that it is in the long-term interests of our primary sector.

Qantas--Commerce Commission
12. JOHN KEY (NZ National--Helensville) to the Minister of Commerce: When she said in the House last week ``It is not my function to call for the Commerce Commission to undertake that inquiry'' into Qantas' pricing structure, did she mean that she does not see it as her function to use all the powers available to ensure fair competition is maintained for New Zealand consumers; if not, what did she mean?

Hon. LIANNE DALZIEL (Minister of Commerce): No, I meant what I said.

John Key: Can the Minister confirm for the House that the reason she has not referred Qantas to the Commerce Commission is that she is aware that Qantas has already made an appointment with the commission directly not to discuss predatory pricing but to seek approval to purchase a stake in Air New Zealand?

Hon. LIANNE DALZIEL: No.

David Parker: How are claims of predatory pricing normally brought to the attention of the Commerce Commission?

Hon. LIANNE DALZIEL: Normally the party that alleges it is the victim of predatory pricing will lay a complaint with the Commerce Commission. The Minister does not have a statutory function in terms of referral. The commission is independent and is not subject to direction from Ministers or the executive.

John Key: When the commission views the Qantas proposal in about a month's time, will she demand that the best interests of the New Zealand consumer are put before the best interests of the shareholder--in this case, the Government?

Hon. LIANNE DALZIEL: As the member will be aware, section 26 of the Commerce Act provides a formal and transparent mechanism for the Minister of Commerce to communicate to the commission the economic policies required in terms of that section. Consistent with the independence of the commission, it is only required to consider such statements and is able to form its own views as to the actions or decisions that are appropriate in each case.

QUESTIONS TO MEMBERS
Health Committee--Therapeutic Products
1. HEATHER ROY (ACT NZ) to the Chairperson of the Health Committee: Does she intend asking for submissions as part of the Health Committee's inquiry into the proposal to establish a Trans-Tasman Agency to regulate therapeutic products?

STEVE CHADWICK (Chairperson of the Health Committee): This will be a matter for the committee to determine.

Heather Roy: Will the opportunity of making a submission be given to the 30,457 people who signed the petition requesting that regulations governing dietary supplements not be brought under a single Trans-Tasman authority but be regulated on the basis of New Zealand legislation, separate from medicines and medical devices, and that emphasis be placed on quality control and maximum consumer choice; if not, why not?

STEVE CHADWICK: As the chairperson of the committee, I may on behalf of the committee, request any person to attend and give evidence before the committee, or request that papers and records that are relevant to its proceedings are produced. I would make such requests only if they accorded with decisions of the committee.

Dr Lynda Scott: If submissions are called and are overwhelmingly opposed to the new agency, will the chair urge the committee that the legislation not proceed?

STEVE CHADWICK: This is a matter for the committee yet to discuss and agree.

Maori Affairs Committee--Inquiries
2. Hon. KEN SHIRLEY (Deputy Leader--ACT NZ) to Hon. Murray McCully, member of the Maori Affairs Committee: Has he lodged a motion with the Maori Affairs Committee proposing an inquiry into the Crown Forestry Rental Trust and the Waitangi Fisheries Commission; if so, why?

Hon. MURRAY McCULLY (NZ National--East Coast Bays): Yes, I have in fact given notice of two motions for consideration by the Maori Affairs Committee at this week's meeting seeking to establish inquiries on these two matters, with the same terms of reference as those established in the time of the last Parliament. The inquiries conducted prior to the election established in the minds of members across a number of parties in the House that there were matters of significant public importance to be addressed. When I was informed at an informal discussion that in a meeting for which I had tendered my apology Government members indicated they would not seek to continue those inquiries in the normal fashion, I lodged the notices of motion referred to. I am, however, pleased to report to the member that the Prime Minister and the Government appear to have belatedly come around to my point of view on this matter.

(Uncorrected transcript - subject to correction and further editing)

End of Questions for Oral Answer.

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