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Questions Of The Day Transcript - 9 October 2002

(Uncorrected transcript - subject to correction and further editing)
Questions 1-12 9 October 2002

(and Question 1 to Member)

QUESTIONS FOR ORAL ANSWER

QUESTIONS TO MINISTERS

Building Standards--Confidence in Minister

1. Hon. BILL ENGLISH (Leader of the Opposition) to the Prime Minister: Does she have confidence in her Minister of Internal Affairs and his handling of the leaky buildings crisis; if so, why?

Rt Hon. HELEN CLARK (Prime Minister): Yes, because he is a hard-working and conscientious Minister.

Hon. Bill English: How is the Prime Minister ensuring that her Minister addresses the looming issue of partly finished or abandoned homes and homes that will not get certification, so enabling their owners to live in them, and when can we expect a response from her Minister and her Government on this issue?

Rt Hon. HELEN CLARK: Obviously if there are not private certifiers to do work, local bodies must do that certification. If the member wants to ask detailed questions about this, he should address them to the portfolio Minister.

Tim Barnett: Does the Prime Minister believe that the Building Act, and the associated regulatory system contributed in any way to the problems in the building industry?

Rt Hon. HELEN CLARK: I certainly do, and those issues of the deregulated environment will be addressed in the review of the Building Act taking place currently.

Rt Hon. Winston Peters: If the Prime Minister believes that, perhaps she can tell us how the repeal of the Wages Protection and Contractors Liens Act that took place before 1990, in the administration of which she was a Minister, helps the various people today who are caught in the predicament of not being able to be paid as subcontractors?

Rt Hon. HELEN CLARK: I have no advice on that, but let me make this point, which I think the member will agree with. The excesses of deregulation, and an excessive focus on compliance costs over rather a long time, have led to corners being cut, and those are issues that will be looked at in the review of the Building Act.

Hon. Richard Prebble: If the Prime Minister has confidence in the Hon. George Hawkins as Minister, why is she opposed to a royal commission, which is widely believed would find that in fact this Government and the Minister are really responsible for many of the problems?

Rt Hon. HELEN CLARK: There is no such wide belief outside the optimism of ACT and the National Party.

Hon. Bill English: Can I take it from the Prime Minister's answer to my earlier question that she is not taking her usual detailed overview of issues when a Minister has bungled?

Rt Hon. HELEN CLARK: The member can take it from my earlier answer that I have far more confidence in Mr Hawkins than his colleagues have in him.

Crime--Recidivism
2. MARC ALEXANDER (United Future) to the Minister of Justice: Is the Government committed to intervention strategies to prevent criminals from becoming recidivist offenders?

Hon. PHIL GOFF (Minister of Justice): Yes, the most effective interventions of course are those that occur before a person becomes a criminal, and before behavioural patterns become entrenched and therefore difficult to change. Strategies for preventing offending encompass early intervention for at-risk families, school health and community based programmes for youth at risk, and the new youth offending strategy designed to prevent young offenders becoming recidivist adult criminals. Having said all of that, for those that constitute a risk to the community because of serious and entrenched criminal behaviour, incapacitation through imprisonment is necessary.

Marc Alexander: Can the Minister tell us in the light of the revelations about Jules Mikus' 60 prior convictions, including indecent assault in 1976 and 1977, carrying an offensive weapon in 1979, and assault with intent to rape in 1984, why we had to wait until he murdered, raped, sexually violated, and abducted a young child before some measure of justice might be done to stop his obvious progress in his criminal career?

Hon. PHIL GOFF: I think with the benefit of hindsight, a number of interventions would have been desirable along the course of Mr Mikus' career. As I understand it from reports, it began both with learning disabilities and sexual abuse as a child, which does not condone his own behaviour. He was convicted on a number of occasions. One would have expected the courts, that had penalties available to them at that time of up to seven years, to have used those penalties more stringently. He was sentenced to borstal training--clearly that had no impact at all on his subsequent behaviour.

Darren Hughes: Are there any effective programmes designed to deal with recidivist sex offenders?

Hon. PHIL GOFF: Yes there are programmes that have proven effective, both community based and prison based. In particular the prison based programmes Kia Marama and Te Piriti have a proven track record of significantly reducing reoffending, but not everybody is eligible for those programmes or indeed would benefit from them. A sentence of preventive detention is available for a serious sexual offender, which effectively means life imprisonment if that person continues to be regarded as a risk.

Simon Power: What specific strategies will this Minister implement immediately to ensure that recidivist offenders like Jules Mikus are targeted?

Hon. PHIL GOFF: If we go back to saying that the prevention of crime is better than dealing with it after the event, clearly there are today in place a range of measures that were not in place at the time he began his offending as a teenager that deal with young offenders. That includes dealing with the home environment that breeds people who act like that because they were sexually abused themselves. Secondly, as a young offender he would now be subject to a range of programmes that have been introduced by the Government this year, or are in the process of being introduced--

Simon Power: No new money.

Hon. PHIL GOFF: No, the member is quite wrong, there is money--$93 million has been set aside to deal with that. No system however will be foolproof, and I imagine that every judge and every child, youth and family worker who dealt with Mikus wishes, with the benefit of what they know now, they had behaved in a different way.

Ron Mark: What specific strategies has the United Future party put before him and insisted on being passed by the Labour Government to deal with incidents such as this, and is the next vote of supply and confidence for the Government from the United Party to be based on whether or not he acts on their initiatives as proposed?

Hon. PHIL GOFF: I am in regular contact with Marc Alexander and Murray Smith from the United Future party, both of whom have numerous ideas of what ought to happen here. I do find it a bit strange that that member is criticising that party, which has been voting in support of supply of this Government for 2 months, when that member's own party in government had 2 or 3 years and did nothing.

Deborah Coddington: In the light of reports in August 2000 after the rape and murder of Auckland journalist Kylie Jones by recidivist offender Taffy Hotene--when the Minister said he had asked officials to look at ways of keeping track of sex offenders and paedophiles after their release--would he support a sex offender bill; if not, why not?

Hon. PHIL GOFF: One of the important changes that have been made since Taffy Hotene committed that appalling murder is that preventive detention, which Taffy Hotene should have got, now applies to people from age 18. He, of course, would have been eligible for preventive detention, and, given that, would probably still be in prison without having offended.

Marc Alexander: How was it that a known sexual predator with a history of sexual offences, such as was the case with Jules Mikus, could be allowed to not only have access to children but also have the care of them, what preventive and protective measures are there, and why did they not function?

Hon. PHIL GOFF: As far as I understand, Mikus had something like 19 relationships, a number of his own children, and a great number of his partners' children. One has to imagine that those children were at risk, given his track record and his recent conviction, and I understand that my colleague Steve Maharey's department, the Department of Child, Youth and Family Services, is fully following up the track record that he had, to see what other things might have been done, or should have been done, that might not have happened.

Child, Youth and Family Services, Department--Convicted Murderer
3. Dr MURIEL NEWMAN (ACT NZ) to the Minister of Social Services and Employment: Is it correct, as reported in The Dominion Post today, that Child, Youth and Family Services social workers knew that convicted murderer Jules Mikus had convictions for sexual offences against children, yet still allowed him to continue to care for, or have access to children, and what are the specific dates and years Child, Youth and Family Services or its predecessor were involved with cases concerning Mr Mikus?

Hon. STEVE MAHAREY (Minister of Social Services and Employment): Mr Speaker, I think you have been given notice that this might be a slightly longer answer.

Mr SPEAKER: Yes, that is right. I was advised by the Minister earlier today that he was going to give a slightly longer answer. That will reflect itself in supplementary questions.

Hon. STEVE MAHAREY: I have nothing but contempt for Mikus and his brutal crimes, and nothing but sympathy for the Cormacks and the Pigott family and those whose lives have been damaged by this man. However, I also have sympathy for the biological and stepchildren of Mr Mikus, who must also be considered as potential victims. Mikus was convicted of indecent assault on a girl aged between 12 and 14 in 1976, and again in 1977. He was convicted of assault with intent to rape in 1984, involving a 14-year-old girl. In 2002 he was convicted in relation to the rape and murder of Teresa Cormack in 1987. As the Dominion Post reports, Mikus had numerous children to several different partners. The chief social worker of the Department of Child, Youth and Family Services, Shannon Pakura, is currently reinvestigating five cases involving Jules Mikus, originating in 1986, 1992, 1993, and two cases originating in 1995. The chief social worker notes that the 1986 allegation was the only case involving an allegation of sexual abuse in relation to Jules Mikus. The chief social worker is also conducting a broader investigation into the well-being of all biological and stepchildren living in the same household as Mr Mikus, as all must be considered as potential victims.

Dr Muriel Newman: Given the disgraceful history of sex offending by Mr Mikus, a father of nine and a man who had access to dozens more children, and the admission by the Department of Child, Youth and Family Services that children may have been abused by him, will the Minister now instigate an immediate, independent inquiry into the department's handling of these cases, and accept responsibility for any abuse that Mikus inflicted on children while his department failed to act; if not, why not?

Hon. STEVE MAHAREY: I take the question very seriously. I need to draw the House's attention to the comments that have been made today, publicly as well as in her job, by the chief social worker. She has made it very clear that she will be investigating all these cases, and that in addition she will use this opportunity to talk with social workers and managers all around the country about their practices. She has made it very clear that she does not believe the social work practices carried out around this particular case are up to her standard. I have complete faith in her to conduct an independent inquiry of the kind that will satisfy members of this House.

Georgina Beyer: Is the Minister satisfied that his department is doing all it can in this matter?

Hon. STEVE MAHAREY: I do want to emphasise that the chief social worker has made it clear that she will not leave a stone unturned in ensuring that she looks at the practice over many years involving this person. But on top of that, she intends to ensure that she investigates the practice--

Rt Hon. Winston Peters: It's a bit late now.

Hon. STEVE MAHAREY: I know, and that member was in Government during some of that practice. What I want to say is that I have complete faith in the chief social worker to go back over three decades of practice, and ensure that this is corrected if need be.

Katherine Rich: Can the Minister advise why the Department of Child, Youth and Family Services did not consider removing Jules Mikus' seventh child at birth under section 39 of the Act, given that the department knew that the mother, Ms Te Kooti, was living with a known sex offender, and all her other children had been removed from her care, with this being the major reason?

Hon. STEVE MAHAREY: No, I cannot, but I can tell the House that that is exactly one of the questions I want an answer to.

E-Government--Services
4. H V ROSS ROBERTSON (NZ Labour--Manukau East) to the Minister of State Services: What measures are being taken to ensure Government on-line services are delivered to the right people or organisations?

Hon. TREVOR MALLARD (Minister of State Services): The e-government programme includes the design of an electronic authentication process. The process will confirm the identity of individuals, to make sure that people are who they say they are, and that privacy is protected at all times. The Government agreed the policy principles on which the design of the process is based after consultation with community, public sector, and industry groups. The next step is to invite public views on the options over the coming months and to report back to the Government in June 2003.

H V Ross Robertson: Do all Government online transactions require authentication?

Hon. TREVOR MALLARD: No, because with a lot, privacy issues are not involved. Generally, authentication of identity will be required for interactions involving the sharing of personal information, for example, income tax queries, student loan applications, or fine payments for people who assault pensioners. The design project is looking at the authentication requirements of over 1,100 online Government services. People will be able to choose whether to interact with services through the secure online facility, or to continue to have existing off-line services without this sort of authentication.

Hon. Tony Ryall: What confidence does the Minister have that he will be able to deliver all of this, in the light of the fact that when people access the e-government website for news about the portal, the Internet comes back and advises that there is no file available?

Hon. TREVOR MALLARD: That is because the portal has not been launched yet.

Hon. Richard Prebble: Will the Minister confirm that the Government's proposed online purchasing system, GoProcure, is way behind schedule and is over budget, and that, as of 31 August, only two departments have signed letters of intent to use the online system, so he is threatening to mandate that every department will be forced to use this untested, expensive, unproven Government information technology system?

Hon. TREVOR MALLARD: I think it is no, no, no, and the question of mandating for the best for the whole of Government is being considered.

Question No 5 to Minister
Dr MURIEL NEWMAN (ACT NZ): I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker, under Standing Order 365, which deals with the content of questions. I would like to draw your attention to Question No. 5, which states that briefing papers from the Ministry of Social Development indicate that 29 percent of children experience low living standards. The briefing papers, on page 6 of Part 2, Chapter 1, state that, depending on the measure used, between 6 percent and 29 percent of children were in poverty. I think that the statement in the question today does give a slightly different picture from what the briefing papers actually say.

Mr SPEAKER: I thank the member for raising this issue with me beforehand, because I have had a chance to have a look at this very carefully. It may be that the briefing papers contain contradictory statements. I have seen the two statements concerned, and they are contradictory to that extent, although one figure refers to children experiencing low living standards, and the other to children living in poverty. Whether these are contradictory statements is a matter that can be explored in debate or questions, but the question is sufficiently authenticated for it to proceed.

Question No. 4 to Minister
Hon. RICHARD PREBBLE (Leader--ACT NZ): I seek leave to table the briefing documents to the Minister of State Services, which do state that the GoProcure system is behind schedule.

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

Child Poverty--Making it Happen Report
5. SUE BRADFORD (Green) to the Minister of Social Services and Employment: In light of the fact that Ministry of Social Development briefing papers to the incoming Minister indicate that 29 per cent of children experience low living standards, what specific steps will the Government take in the next 12 months to implement the recommendations relating to child poverty in the ``Making it Happen'' report released today?

Hon. STEVE MAHAREY (Minister of Social Services and Employment): The Government has made clear its commitment to ending child poverty. Specific proposals for additional investment will be considered in this coming Budget round. They will build on our existing initiatives such as the primary health-care strategy that will see an additional $24.6 million over 3 years directed to the subsidy rates for under 6-year-olds, and over the next 2 years $30 million directed to lowering the cost of primary health-care access for school-age children.

Sue Bradford: Does the Minister support the recommendation of the Making it Happen report that calls for a return to some form of universal child benefit; if not, why not?

Hon. STEVE MAHAREY: The document calls for a return to a child benefit. I know that the Green Party support is for a universal child benefit at the level of $15 per week. Overall, I guess, everybody in the House would regard that as laudable. The Government's preference, however, is to target investment where it is most needed. We would like to ensure that that investment goes to where it is needed rather than to embark on a universal entitlement at this time.

Taito Phillip Field: What investment has the Government made towards ending child poverty?

Hon. STEVE MAHAREY: I have already mentioned Annette King's primary health-care strategy, but let me cite two other examples. Firstly, income-related rents for State housing tenants, which was seen as the singular most important step towards relieving poverty, and, secondly, improving the affordability and supply of out-of-school childcare programmes, thereby assisting parents back into sustainable employment. Those three initiatives alone amount to $1.25 billion worth of new investment over 3 years.

Katherine Rich: Why does the Minister not accept that the only way to make a serious dent in the problem of child poverty is to reduce benefit dependency?

Hon. STEVE MAHAREY: In many ways the Government accepts that argument. That is why we are so pleased to see the unemployment levels at the lowest in 14 years.

Dail Jones: What does this report, which has been released today, provide for the likes of the family of Abdirizak Ali Ismail, a sickness beneficiary from Somalia, with a sick wife and nine children aged from 2 to 16 years, who has just been charged with the murder that took place in the Mt Albert electorate during a riot recently?

Hon. STEVE MAHAREY: It may help if I tell the member that the report that was released today called Making it Happen was released by a group of people who were involved with the Government in the development of the Agenda for Children report. I am happy to make both of those reports available to him if he would like. In other words, it does not deal--

Rt Hon. Winston Peters: What's the answer to his question?

Hon. STEVE MAHAREY: Would the member just be quiet for a second. Neither of those two reports deals directly with the case that he has raised.

Dr Muriel Newman: In the light of the Minister's so-called commitment to ending child poverty, could he explain to the House why he ignored official advice against removing work testing of the domestic purposes benefit, ensuring some 1,700 more children a year are reliant on welfare, when his own departmental research shows that poor children in families reliant on welfare have lower living standards than poor children in families who rely on work?

Hon. STEVE MAHAREY: Of course we did not ignore the advice. We have taken that advice on board to ensure that the legislation the member has referred to was backed by substantial new spending to ensure that those people will return to sustainable employment so they can support their children.

Judy Turner: What specific forms of support does the Minister anticipate caregivers needing to ensure children are safe from being abused again, and to recover from abuse, as recommended in the Making it Happen report?

Hon. Steve Maharey: The report refers largely to people who are caring for children having had them referred to their care from an agency like the Department of Child, Youth and Family Services. We have done a number of things over the last little while. We are now moving towards accrediting and registering all of those caregivers. We have moved to put in place caregiver liaison social workers who visit all of those caregivers. We have provided more funding to all of the umbrella organisations involved with caregivers so that they can do their job of monitoring their people better. We have given more money to their cause of recruiting more caregivers because we believe that the pool is far too small. Those are the kinds of things we are doing to help at the present time.

Sue Bradford: Does the Minister support other key recommendations of the Making it Happen report, such as the call to repeat section 59 of the Crimes Act, especially given his public commitment to reform in this area during the recent election campaign?

Hon. STEVE MAHAREY: Cabinet is about to consider a paper that will cover a range of options in relation to section 59. I am on record as saying from a personal point of view that I would prefer to see the repeal of section 59, but we will see how we go in terms of other opinions that will, no doubt, be aired at the time that Cabinet looks at that paper.

Bill Gudgeon: Does the Minister concur with me that positive parenting skills will help to alleviate much of the social problems we have today; if so, would he inform the House what he plans to do about it?

Hon. STEVE MAHAREY: Indeed, I do concur that positive parenting skills would go a long way to resolve many of the issues that we face. Therefore, one of the most important initiatives over the next 3 years will be the work that the Government does with the commission for the family initiative brought into this Parliament by United Future. We are currently working on that, and as part of that proposal the Government's proposal for a parenting counsel will also be enacted. We will ensure that we do more along the lines the member has raised.

Building Act--Review
6. Dr WAYNE MAPP (NZ National--North Shore) to the Minister of Internal Affairs: What plans, if any, does the Government have to amend the Building Act 1991 in light of the call by John Pfahlert, chair of the Construction Industry Council, for a legislative overhaul so that builders and developers can not avoid liability to homeowners?

Hon. GEORGE HAWKINS (Minister of Internal Affairs): The Government is aware that homeowners have a concern about some builders and developers avoiding liability. We share that concern. However, the Building Act is not the appropriate legal vehicle for dealing with issues concerning private building and development companies. The Government is looking at what needs to be done to ensure that these problems do not continue into the future. Questions about avoidance of liability will be addressed during that work. I also suspect that the Government Administration Committee will look at such questions.

Dr Wayne Mapp: What are the Minister's views of Mr Derek Firth's comments today that the Government's ``objective is to slash the total exposure of those responsible, and make victims shoulder most of the financial burden''; and is Mr Firth correct when he says: ``The Government is being brilliantly advised by making this its objective.''?

Hon. GEORGE HAWKINS: I do not think Mr Firth is an expert in this matter. I think he is completely wrong.

Russell Fairbrother: What is the Government doing in response to the leaky building syndrome?

Hon. GEORGE HAWKINS: The Government is taking a three-pronged approach. Firstly--[Interruption] I did not know I was so funny.

Mr SPEAKER: That is enough. I have allowed a little bit of comment, but now I want to hear the answer. That was far too much noise, and far too long a length of time for that noise to occur. I want to hear the answer.

Hon. GEORGE HAWKINS: The Government is taking a three-pronged approach. Firstly, it is making sure that homeowners have a practical way of seeking redress. It is setting up an assessment and mediation service to give people the opportunity to resolve disputes quickly and with minimum cost. Secondly, it is making sure that the fall out from these issues, including the availability of inspection services and so forth, does not result in an unstable or paralysed building sector. Thirdly, it is looking at what needs to be done to ensure that these problems do not continue.

Marc Alexander: Given the widespread public confusion on the issue, can the Minister tell us, before legislating over the issue, when the Government will make the effort to inquire into, and establish, clear lines of responsibility between the many layers of parties involved, as recommended by the Hunn report; if not, why not?

Hon. GEORGE HAWKINS: This is already happening, and there also will be, of course, another meeting of the industry on Friday to overcome the problems. I would remind members that the New Zealand Construction Industry Council has already come up with some ideas that will be looked at, as well.

Rt Hon. Winston Peters: Could the Minister please tell this House, and the country, why a potentially guilty party would turn up to a mediation conference; or is his three-pronged approach to be ``see nothing, hear nothing, and do nothing.''?

Hon. GEORGE HAWKINS: People will turn up to mediation, because it is the cheapest option for homeowners. In Manukau City some 20,000 homes have been built in the last 4 years; 14 have been found to have a watertightness problem; eight of those have already been mediated, and six are under current mediation. The Mayor of Manukau City said that to me in my office less than an hour ago.

Dr Wayne Mapp: Does the Minister really believe that in Manukau, with 20,000 homes being built over the last several years, there are really only 14 that have the problem, and is that the sole reason he is washing his hands of this whole issue?

Hon. GEORGE HAWKINS: I prefer to believe the Mayor of Manukau City, because it is the information that he currently has.

Electricity--Supply
7. MARTIN GALLAGHER (NZ Labour--Hamilton West) to the Minister of Energy: Is he aware of claims that Transpower has warned of blackouts for the upper South Island and what is his response?

Hon. PETE HODGSON (Minister of Energy): Yes, I am aware of claims to that effect by the National Party spokesperson on energy, and they are completely and utterly false, as Transpower itself has publicly confirmed. I am also aware that despite Transpower's response, these false claims have been repeated by the Leader of the Opposition and the National Party's spokesperson on the environment, possibly in the deluded hope that repetition can make fiction come true.

Martin Gallagher: Is it possible that the Minister has failed to read between the lines of Transpower's forecasts, as the Opposition spokesperson on energy has suggested?

Hon. PETE HODGSON: No, as a senior Transpower executive has explained: ``There is absolutely no intention whatsoever of people having to read between the lines.'' in Transpower's documents, which do not refer at any point to the prospect of blackouts. I am, however, reading between the lines of other documents referring to blackouts, and between those lines I detect naked leadership ambition. Those are the documents issued by the Opposition spokesperson on energy. [Interruption]

Mr SPEAKER: I cautioned some members, and I caution other members.

Gerry Brownlee: What does Transpower mean on page 130 of its systems security forecast when it refers to ``load management for the upper South Island from 2005 to 2011''; what did Transpower mean in its memo of 19 July 2002 to upper South Island connected parties where it said that the N1 voltage stability in the upper South Island region cannot be met when the peak load in the area reaches 960 megawatts; and, can he further explain what Transpower meant when it said that the risk associated with exceeding a 960 megawatts voltage stability limit is voltage collapse, and if voltage collapse does not mean that the lights are out, what does it mean?

Hon. PETE HODGSON: I can explain, but so far the explanations have not worked. Let us try again. Transmission in this country operates on an ordinary N minus 1 system, so that if a line goes down completely there is always another complete line to stand up in its place. When that system comes under threat, which it does at all times of the year, under all sorts of different voltage conditions and in all different parts of the country, Transpower signals hundreds of times a year that that is what might happen if people do not take care. The end result is that people do take care. [Interruption]

Mr SPEAKER: There will be some members who will be out, not standing. I am about to call the member's bench mate, if he will allow me to.

Peter Brown: Noting those answers, and noting that there is huge concern by members of the public about long-term security of supply and the price at which electricity will be available to them, what will the Minister tell the House today to reassure the average New Zealander who has those concerns?

Hon. PETE HODGSON: It is true that we are moving into the post-Maui era, and that means that this country will need to rely on a range of gas fields instead of one large field, and the new gas fields will not be as flexible in their delivery so there are some challenges ahead. However, in terms of new generation the National Opposition spokesperson on energy assures the country that there will be no new generation put in before 2005, and I can say that I know of several bits of generation that will be in place by 2005, and--since I am being challenged to name it--not the least of which is 360 megawatts at Huntly perhaps.

Hon. Ken Shirley: Does the Minister accept that the State-owned generators are rapidly consolidating their regional monopolies by exploiting the N minus 1 formula he referred to, evidenced by the recent situation in the Bay of Plenty when Mighty River Power gouged Norske Skog Paper of Kawerau by $5 million in one weekend?

Hon. PETE HODGSON: Yes, I am. It was last December. It was $4 million, and the Opposition spokesperson on energy put out a statement last week that we needed to fix the rules in order to have that constraint removed.

Gerry Brownlee: No, no.

Hon. PETE HODGSON: Yes, he did, and I will table the member's press statement if he would like me to. However, what the member should know, what are we going to do about it, is that this particular issue, the most serious constraint in the country at the moment--it used to be in Taupo, one day it will be somewhere else--is being fixed now and will be fixed within a month.

Larry Baldock: Regardless of the current debate, does the Minister agree that there is a pressing need to look at future power generation; therefore is there anything the Government can do to speed up the consent process of Meridian's project Aqua, and, if so, can he elaborate on that?

Hon. PETE HODGSON: There is a range of things that any Government can do to speed it up. My Associate Minister, Harry Duynhoven, let go a bunch of exploration permits just the week before last. On the issue of the Resource Management Act, yes, it is true that the Government has the Resource Management Act under review in respect of sustainable energy. It had its first brief consultation during the course of the election campaign, and further announcements can be expected within the next couple of weeks.

Jeanette Fitzsimons: Can the Minister confirm that Transpower New Zealand has reported on the risk of future transmission constraints in the upper South Island for at least 10 years now, and that those risks have been adequately managed to date by demand side contracts and energy efficiency, particularly as implemented by Orion networks, and does he see any reason that that approach would fail in the future?

Hon. PETE HODGSON: The member has come precisely to the point and I wish only that the National Party spokesperson on energy could get himself up to speed similarly.

Gerry Brownlee: I seek the leave of the House to ask the Minister of Energy again whether voltage collapse means that the lights go out.

Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought for that purpose, is there any objection? There is not.

Hon. PETE HODGSON: It does if there is not such a thing as voltage support, which is what the member for the Green Party referred to.

Gerry Brownlee: I seek leave to table a page from the Transpower security system forecast indicating those voltage outages from 2005 and 2003.

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

Gerry Brownlee: I also seek leave to table a document giving the description for load management as being forced reduction in load and stages either manually or automatically.

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

Hon. Tony Ryall: I seek leave to table a letter that shows that I warned the Government months and months ago about Mighty River Power's price gouging in the Bay of Plenty.

Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that letter, is there any objection? There is objection.

Waikato District Health Board--Services
8. PETER BROWN (Deputy Leader--NZ First) to the Minister of Health: Has she seen the consultation document prepared by the Waikato District Health Board titled, `Proposal for Shape and Direction of the Population Health Service - September 2002'; if so, does she have any concerns with regard to its content?

Hon. ANNETTE KING (Minister of Health): I am advised that a consultation document for staff has been issued by the Waikato District Health Board. It is about a proposed model that would divide the public health nurse workforce into those providing public health services and those providing community health services. I am told that Waikato is one of the last areas not to have a specialist health promotion workforce. I am also informed that that proposal has been suggested to reflect the intent to work alongside communities and decisions will be made once feedback has been considered.

Peter Brown: Can the Minister assure the House that before any proposals contained in that document are implemented the public will be consulted; Waikato is a large rural area and there are some concerns that it is being pushed ahead without any public consultation?

Hon. ANNETTE KING: It is my understanding that the consultation was with staff, in which both unions and staff have been engaged, because it is how the workforce is configured to provide the services to the public. That has been quite a lengthy consultation for the staff because it is those who are affected.

Steve Chadwick: What is the purpose of the Waikato District Health Board's proposed population health service?

Hon. ANNETTE KING: I am advised that the purpose of the population health service will be to improve the Waikato District Health Board's public health service delivery within the ring-fenced public health funding.

Dr Lynda Scott: Will reducing the number of public health nurses by 15 mean primary health-care to pre-schools, schools, and communities will be minimised; will that have a serious negative impact on child health and youth at risk within the Waikato region; if not, why not?

Hon. ANNETTE KING: I would suspect if public health nursers were to be reduced by 15 that would have a big impact, but I am advised by the district health board this very day that there are no staffing reductions, and the organisation wishes to retain its skilled staff, both in personal and public health. The process was not about reducing staff numbers but to clarify the roles of those responsible for public health activities, both personal and public health.

Heather Roy: Will she take any responsibility for the serious problems with nursing services in Waikato and the four other district health boards over a multi-employer agreement, a significant pay increase, and will she acknowledge that part of the problem facing boards is that she has provided them with only enough funding for around a 2 percent pay increase, as revealed in her papers released under the Official Information Act?

Hon. ANNETTE KING: I am precluded from being involved in industrial relations negotiations, but I can inform the member that the dispute that is under way in that area is not about pay increases as such, but about what would be contained in a multi-employer contract agreement--something I know the ACT party opposes.

Peter Brown: Noting the Minister's answers to earlier questions, can she assure the House that there will be no transfer of public health nurses into health promotion positions, or some such title, and it will not have a detrimental effect on their duties as public health nurses?

Hon. ANNETTE KING: I am afraid the member is not quite aware of what a public health nurse does. Part of his or her role is in health promotion, and some of it is in the provision of personal health services, so a public health nurse is qualified to do either. I say to that member that the most appropriate use of a public health nurse is what the Waikato District Health Board is attempting to achieve.

Recreation--Back Country
9. DAVID CUNLIFFE (NZ Labour--New Lynn) to the Minister of Conservation: What progress has been made in the provision of back-country recreational opportunities in the last two financial years?

Hon. CHRIS CARTER (Minister of Conservation): I am delighted to report that this Government has made a major investment in maintaining and enhancing the outdoor recreational opportunities for Kiwi families, trampers, hunters, trout fishermen, and overseas visitors. After years of neglect old huts are being replaced, toilets are being installed, and essential deferred hut maintenance is being carried out.

David Cunliffe: What work has been completed with the additional recreational facilities funding?

Hon. CHRIS CARTER: As always, actions speak louder than words. Ten old huts were replaced, 20 new toilet blocks have been built, a major upgrade of the Abel Tasman coast track sewerage system is under way, and deferred maintenance has been carried out on 200 backcountry huts. This Government is committed not only to protecting our natural heritage but also to ensuring that public lands are readily accessible for New Zealanders to enjoy.

Shane Ardern: In the light of David Cunliffe's very searching question, why is the Minister closing down a successful recreational industry in the South Island that earns millions of dollars and has proved to be environmentally sustainable?

Hon. CHRIS CARTER: I would be very happy to answer that question if I knew what the industry was.

Shane Ardern: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. How can that be an appropriate answer?

Mr SPEAKER: The Minister may address the question. He did not what the member was referring to. Quite frankly, I did not know, either. I am prepared to let the member have another go at the question, because I want to be reasonable. Perhaps now he could have that go so that I, too, will understand. The Minister certainly addressed the question that was asked.

Shane Ardern: Why is the Minister closing down the successful game industry in the South Island in the case of the tahr removal on the Bendigo Station?

Hon. CHRIS CARTER: As I explained to that member, both in a private conversation in the House and during a visit to my office yesterday, hunting tahr within the feral range is still permitted.

Edwin Perry: What effects has the continued use of 1080 poison by the Department of Conservation had on back country recreational activities?

Hon. CHRIS CARTER: 1080 has been responsible for preserving and enhancing the beauty of our forests in the back country of New Zealand. That is something that visitors to New Zealand and locals enjoy very much.

Jeanette Fitzsimons: Will the new level of funding for back country recreation ensure that all current river-crossing structures will be maintained safely, so that people will not be encouraged to take risks fording dangerous rivers?

Hon. CHRIS CARTER: The Department of Conservation is always keen to encourage safety. I am very glad that the member raised the question of extra funding. I am proud to report that $349 million of extra funding has gone into developing recreational facilities. That is the most money that any Government has ever spent on that issue.

John Carter: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. In the Minister's answer to my colleague Shane Ardern's initial question, he advised the House that he did not know what the member was talking about. However, in answer to the second question, he said that he was aware of it and, indeed, had had a meeting in his office. I wonder whether the Minister has misled the House.

Hon. CHRIS CARTER: Speaking to the point of order.

Mr SPEAKER: I do not need any assistance at all. The member did not identify any issue, or anything at all, other than a particular general statement, and the Minister addressed it. When the member did become specific the Minister answered the question. That is the purpose of questions.

Hon. Dr Nick Smith: I seek leave of the House to table the audit report on Vote Conservation that shows that the vast proportion of the increase the Minister has quoted is no more than an accounting change associated with the capping charge.

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

Student Loans--Annual Report
10. SIMON POWER (NZ National--Rangitikei) to the Associate Minister of Education (Tertiary Education): Does he agree with the statement regarding the student loan scheme annual report by the New Zealand University Students' Association that ``The Government spin on the report is that things are getting better. This is clearly not the case ...''; if not, why not?

Hon. STEVE MAHAREY (Associate Minister of Education (Tertiary Education)): No, because it is factually incorrect.

Simon Power: Does the Minister believe that an increase in the number of borrowers of nearly 30 percent since 1999, a $650 million increase in gross student debt, and an increase in the projection of gross debt by 2020 to $17 billion is a success; if so, why?

Hon. STEVE MAHAREY: I advise the House that the number of people who have taken a loan has risen modestly from 50 percent to 56 percent since this Government has been in power. That is an increase that we anticipated. If members go back to when the scheme was introduced, we understood that the previous Government's high charges on those loans would have meant that students who come from low-income families may not have taken them. We understood that students would take out loans. Some more have and that has meant they are going to tertiary education, and that is good.

Helen Duncan: What positive signs are contained in the student loan scheme annual report?

Hon. STEVE MAHAREY: The report states: ``The rate of increase in the average loan balance has significantly reduced over the past 2 years. Factors contributing to that trend are likely to be the increasing maturity of the scheme, the fees stabilisation policy, and the interest write-off provisions introduced in 2000. I would say they were by this Government and I would say that we anticipate that the student loan balance will begin to fall shortly.

Hon. Brian Donnelly: Is it correct that his spokesperson claimed that the $1,218 increase in average per annum student borrowings between 1999 and 2001 was caused by an increase of $500 a year in loan eligibility, plus sharp fee increases during the period of fee freeze, and how factually correct is that statement?

Hon. STEVE MAHAREY: On the first matter, members will remember that the National Party reduced the course cost entitlement from $1,000 to $500, and then reversed that decision at about that time. That caused students to draw down more from their loans at that time in order to be able to counter that particular policy. So, yes, there were changes at that time, that impacted on what students borrowed.

Nandor Tanczos: How does the report address the issues raised at the release of the recent report here in Parliament from the Aotearoa Tertiary Students Association, where the Minister heard for himself very strong evidence that the student loan scheme disproportionately impacts on female graduates, and at which strong support was expressed for a rethink of the entire student loan scheme, and how does the Minister intend to address those questions?

Hon. STEVE MAHAREY: Yes, I thought that important information was given during the Aotearoa Tertiary Students Association presentation here in Parliament about women and the loan scheme. That is one of the reasons that over the last little while the Government has done things like remove interest from loans. As a result, the member will know that the number of years that was required by a male or a female to repay his or her loan has come down substantially. The member will also know that the Government is now committed to a thorough review of the entire loan scheme and expanding eligibility for allowances, because it wants to continue to address those very issues.

Bernie Ogilvy: Given that the total student loan debt of $4.75 billion as at 30 June 2002 is the amount held by the Inland Revenue Department, and therefore does not include the loan draw-downs by students this year, in 2002, can he inform us of the actual size of the total debt?

Hon. STEVE MAHAREY: The member is referring to the loan balance. If I can walk him through the fact that, yes, different figures do apply to the loan balances. As at 30 June 2002, $4.75 billion in loans was held by the Inland Revenue Department and loans held by the Ministry of Social Development, less the provision for doubtful debts, which I should point out is $637 million. There is $4.56 billion in loans held by the Inland Revenue Department only; $4.4 billion in loans is held by the Inland Revenue Department only, less the provisions for doubtful debts. So they are all around that $4 billion mark, but we need to account for what is held by the Ministry of Social Development until the wash-up at the end of the year and what doubtful debts provision there might be, and at the current time it is $637 million.

Simon Power: What happened to Labour's policy of fixing tertiary fees at $1,000 a year for a full-time course, lifting student allowances in line with the unemployment benefit, and phasing out means testing for all students over 20 years, as outlined in the Minister's own press release of 13 August 1996?

Hon. STEVE MAHAREY: We actually lost that election. We wrote policy for our 1999 election, and I would invite the member to go through and tick if off as we have done it.

Simon Power: I seek leave to table Mr Maharey's statement of 13 August 1996.

Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that 1996 statement. Is there any objection? There is.

Building Standards--Toxic Mould
11. SUE KEDGLEY (Green) to the Associate Minister of Health: What is the Government doing to protect the health of New Zealanders living and working in leaky homes before and during the mediation process, from the health risks associated with the toxic mould stachybotrys which has been linked with severe health problems in the United States, and which finds perfect conditions to grow in the leaking and rotting timber in new homes?

Hon. DAMIEN O'CONNOR (Associate Minister of Health): The Ministry of Health is working with the Building Research Association of New Zealand to provide information to the building industry and the public on the risks associated with moulds--particularly the mould stachybotrys.

Sue Kedgley: Will the Ministry of Health assess the homes of people who are concerned about the health risks they may face from stachybotrys in their homes, issue guidelines urgently advising homeowners how to avoid exposure to the risk, and advise workers--who are working with this building material on leaky buildings even as we speak--about how to protect themselves from exposure to this mould?

Hon. DAMIEN O'CONNOR: That is indeed part of the process that the Government has laid down of assessment and mediation. The Ministry of Health has said more particularly with regard to that area that high exposure to spores and toxins is most likely to occur when linings and claddings are removed to repair the leaks, as the member referred to, and that those spores and toxins should be treated with caution and good quality respirators should be worn by workers.

Luamanuvao Winnie Laban: What advice has the Minister received regarding initiatives by the Ministry of Health to address potential health risk issues associated with fungal decay in leaky buildings?

Hon. DAMIEN O'CONNOR: I have been advised that the Building Industry Authority will be provided with a report within the next week by the Ministry of Health, outlining the potential health risks associated with the toxic mould stachybotrys and the precautions that need to be taken.

Judith Collins: What actual steps, if any, has the Minister or his ministry taken to advise general practitioners of the way in which to treat people presenting with symptoms caused by toxic mould exposure?

Hon. DAMIEN O'CONNOR: I am sure general practitioners are aware of the potential for risk in this area. However, in spite of there most likely being the presence of mould over many years in some of these houses, there has been only one confirmed eventuation of stachybotrys at a building at Otahuhu. There have been no confirmed cases of individuals' health being affected by stachybotrys in New Zealand so far.

Gerrard Eckhoff: Is it not a fact that but for the worldwide campaign by the Greens against treated timber, these health risks that New Zealand homeowners now face would not exist?

Hon. DAMIEN O'CONNOR: It is rather difficult to answer that comprehensively, other than to say that prior to the advent of tanalising and treating timber there has been mould in houses. As the member for West Coast - Tasman I can vouch for that over many years. However, I cannot say that the Greens' opposition to the treatment of timber is the cause of this problem.

Tai Ping--Grounding, Bluff

12. MARK PECK (NZ Labour--Invercargill) to the Associate Minister of Transport: What reports has he received on the grounding of the Tai Ping in Bluff Harbour?

Hon. HARRY DUYNHOVEN (Associate Minister of Transport): The Chinese bulk carrier, Tai Ping, ran aground at about 4.30 a.m. yesterday in Bluff Harbour. Since then I have received five emailed reports on the incident. I have also been briefed by the director of the Maritime Safety Authority.

Mark Peck: What steps are being taken to guard against any environmental damage arising from the incident?

Hon. HARRY DUYNHOVEN: At this stage the threat of any environmental damage is low, as long as the Tai Ping is in a stable position and the weather is calm. The Maritime Safety Authority is working closely with Environment Southland. It has also established an incident command team on the site, which is putting contingency plans in place and assembling a substantial amount of response equipment, should any oil leak from the vessel. Resources from other regions have already been put on stand-by, and some have been shifted to Bluff. Resources from Australia also are either on stand-by or on their way to New Zealand, as we speak. The Maritime Safety Authority is also working closely with the owners of the vessel to develop an appropriate salvage plan.

Hon. Dr Nick Smith: Noting that in February this year the Government blocked legislation in my name that required compulsory third party insurance for such ship strandings--Mark Gosche said at the time that the Government would pass legislation as soon as possible, but it has not--I ask how many more ships will be grounded before this Minister introduces compulsory third party insurance for all vessels entering New Zealand waters to ensure that neither ratepayers nor taxpayers are left with the bill for the clean-up.

Hon. HARRY DUYNHOVEN: First of all, the member is chasing an ambulance that is not running. This particular ship is insured. The Maritime Safety Authority is currently amending a rule to require ships other than oil tankers to have compulsory insurance and, parallel to the proposed rule, a regulation is to be developed to define what a regulated ship is. That will cover the expanded requirements of the proposed rule. The draft rule currently proposes a regulated ship to be 400 tonnes or over.

Jeanette Fitzsimons: Have all the lessons that could be learned from the grounding of the Jody F Millennium been taken into account by the Maritime Safety Authority and the Port of Bluff; if so, when will the report into the grounding of the Jody F Millennium be released so that the public can be sure that is the case?

Mr SPEAKER: That is a little wide of the original question, but the Minister may comment.

Hon. HARRY DUYNHOVEN: I can assure the member that what lessons were able to be learned from the case of the Jody F Millennium have certainly been learned. A good example of that is the fact that a salvor has been already appointed, certainly within 36 hours of the stranding taking place. I want to refer the member to the independent report that was done for the director of the Maritime Safety Authority into the Jody F Millennium incident, which I think shows the authority acted in an extremely competent and very worthwhile manner with regard to that stranding.

Larry Baldock: If there is a serious oil spill in Bluff Harbour, how effective does he think the Maritime Safety Authority's oil-spill response team would be at containing the spill and preventing major environmental damage?

Hon. HARRY DUYNHOVEN: I am very aware that the area adjoining the harbour is conservation estate land, and so are all the members of the team--about 30 I believe--currently working on the site. Already they are trialling different methods of deploying and arranging the booms used to contain oil, and a considerable amount of equipment is already being moved by the Army and Air Force, in Hercules aircraft, to be deployed should that occasion occur. I am aware that the Maritime Safety Authority is taking a very cautious approach, and is being absolutely careful to ensure that the ship does not move, in order that such a spill does not happen.

Hon. Dr Nick Smith: I seek leave for the Ocean and Coastal Protection Compulsory Third Party Insurance for Vessels Bill, in my name, tabled with the House, to be read a first time on the next members' day.

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

Hon. HARRY DUYNHOVEN: I seek leave to table the reports I mentioned earlier with regard to the potential oil spill.

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

QUESTION TO MEMBER
Building Standards--Building Industry Authority
1. DEBORAH CODDINGTON (ACT NZ) to the Chairperson of the Government Administration Committee: Will she be requesting the eight members of the Building Industry Authority to appear before the committee in its inquiry into leaky buildings?

DIANNE YATES (Chairperson of the Government Administration Committee): The committee has not yet made any decision about the eight members of the Building Industry Authority appearing before the committee in its inquiry into leaky buildings.

Dr Wayne Mapp: Can the chairperson ensure that any future appearances by the Building Industry Authority, its members or its staff, will be in public and will be amongst the very first witnesses to appear before the committee?

DIANNE YATES: The member asking the question is a member of the committee, and it will be a committee decision.

End of Questions for Oral Answer.

(Uncorrected transcript - subject to correction and further editing)

ENDS

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