Questions Of The Day Transcript - 5 December, 2002
(Uncorrected transcript - subject to correction and further
Questions 1-12 5 December, 2002
QUESTIONS FOR ORAL ANSWER
QUESTIONS TO MINISTERS
Tranz Rail--Meeting on Safety with Transport, Minister
1. PETER BROWN (Deputy Leader--NZ First) to the Minister of Transport: Noting that he met with Tranz Rail executives over safety issues, can he confirm that the issue of "bendy tracks" was discussed, and what was the outcome?
Hon. PAUL SWAIN (Minister of Transport): Yes. The so-called "bendy tracks" issue was discussed. I was most concerned about reports from the Land Transport Safety Authority about safety issues on tracks, and the Land Transport Safety Authority has claimed that insufficient information was being provided to it to do its job. As a result of my meeting, I understand that the Land Transport Safety Authority considers it will now be able to carry out better its responsibilities for the management of rail safety in New Zealand. I will continue to monitor the situation to ensure that this is the case.
Peter Brown: Was the Minister informed that of the six gangs of men charged with looking after the "bendy tracks" problem in this country, four have recently been sacked, leaving only two in the Wellington area, and effectively nobody in the rest of the country to look after the problem?
Hon. PAUL SWAIN: Yes. I was informed about that, and I expressed my severe concern about that issue. This is one of the things that we will be monitoring. If the remediation programme and timetable is to be met, they will need people to do the job.
Lynne Pillay: Did the Minister discuss the long delays faced by Wairarapa commuters due to the state of the track; if so, what was the outcome of those discussions?
Hon. PAUL SWAIN: I am delighted to inform the member that as a result of the meeting, Tranz Rail has agreed to bring forward its de-stressing plans for the Masterton line. De-stressing on the line will now be completed in January 2003. Previously this work was scheduled for completion in 2004.
Hon. Roger Sowry: Can he confirm to the House that the Auckland rail network, which the Government purchased for $81 million, still has 66 kilometres of "bendy tracks" and that as the tracks were bought on an "as is, where is" basis, the Government is now responsible for fixing them?
Hon. PAUL SWAIN: I can confirm that the distance, or the number of kilometres, is around about that. The Crown is strongly of the view that it is the responsibility of Tranz Rail to remedy that track.
Deborah Coddington: When the Minister was discussing the bendy tracks, did the Government ask for advice on the $10 million worth of track for which it paid $81 million without checking to see whether that track was bendy; and did he ask Tranz Rail for advice on how to fix what is now taxpayers' bendy rail?
Hon. PAUL SWAIN: Yes. The issue of the Auckland track was raised, and the point was made strongly that it was the responsibility of Tranz Rail to remediate that.
Keith Locke: Does the Minister agree that bendy tracks are just one symptom of a larger and more fundamental problem with a privatised rail network; and what intervention does the Government plan in order to make sure that we have a well-maintained rail track infrastructure?
Hon. PAUL SWAIN: Yes. That is one of a number of issues that Tranz Rail face. However, it is fair to say that a robust rail network is an important part of the strategy that the Government, in conjunction with the Green Party, released earlier in the week. The Government is considering a range of options.
Larry Baldock: At yesterday's meeting, did Tranz Rail give any indication why it welded the tracks together in the first place, given that New Zealand has a temperate climate, and the resulting problems would have been easily foreseeable to anyone with a School Certificate or a metalwork qualification?
Hon. PAUL SWAIN: It does not take too long before discussions on that matter go well beyond my physics, but I can tell the member that continuously welded rail is a common feature overseas. The issue is de-stressing it, and making sure that the maintenance work is done to ensure that the tracks are safe.
Peter Brown: Noting the Minister's answers to those questions, can he advise the House whether he has made any recommendations that Tranz Rail re-engage those gangs to de-stress the rail, or is he happy and satisfied that two gangs can do that on a nationwide basis?
Hon. PAUL SWAIN: Yesterday, I was primarily concerned with making sure that the Land Transport Safety Authority of New Zealand had the information to be able to act as the regulator, and to do its job properly. The issue of the safety gangs has been brought to the attention of the Land Transport Safety Authority. As the regulator, and the organisation that is overseeing the commitment from Tranz Rail to remediate the track, it will be responsible for monitoring that progress.
Tranz Rail--Meeting on Safety with Transport,
2. LARRY BALDOCK (United Future) to the Minister of Transport: Why did he meet with Tranz Rail yesterday, and what was the outcome of that meeting?
Hon. PAUL SWAIN (Minister of Transport): I met with Tranz Rail yesterday following advice from the Land Transport Safety Authority of New Zealand, which expressed its concern over safety issues. Tranz Rail advised me at the meeting that the Land Transport Safety Authority will be supplied with the information relating to the amount of track that has problems arising from continuously welded rail, and with a timetable to fix the problem. Current speed restrictions will remain in force, pending resolution of the issue. Tranz Rail and the Land Transport Safety Authority are developing a programme to manage safety issues, including track occupancy.
Larry Baldock: Has the Land Transport Safety Authority given him any indication that the information supplied by Tranz Rail has done anything to alleviate its concerns about safety issues so far?
Hon. PAUL SWAIN: I have contacted the Land Transport Safety Authority, and it is expressing a much higher degree of comfort about the information it has now, rather than the information it had 2 days ago.
Nanaia Mahuta: How does the Minister plan to monitor the situation?
Hon. PAUL SWAIN: As the safety regulator, the Land Transport Safety Authority has the statutory independence to manage rail safety issues. I will be working both with the Land Transport Safety Authority and with Tranz Rail to ensure that the Land Transport Safety Authority receives the information required, and that the agreed timetable is met.
Hon. Roger Sowry: At his meeting with Tranz Rail yesterday, did he discuss the Government's repurchase of the rail network; if not, why; if so, when will he inform New Zealanders of the Government's intentions?
Hon. PAUL SWAIN: No, because that was not the purpose of the meeting.
Peter Brown: Is the Minister aware that this very day the engine drivers in the South Island are having a meeting to discuss the safety issue with this bendy-tracks problem, and that they are so concerned about the matter they are contemplating not driving faster than 40 kilometres an hour anywhere in the South Island; and, if he is not, will he make himself aware of it with a view to talking to the actual operators?
Hon. PAUL SWAIN: No, I was not aware of that until that member raised it. The issue of regulation for safety issues is the responsibility of the Land Transport Safety Authority. I recommend that if the member has information such as that, then he should contact the Land Transport Safety Authority to make the authority aware of it.
Hon. Richard Prebble: Could the Minister clarify the answer that he gave in relation to the meeting yesterday, in reply to Deborah Coddington's question, when I understand he confirmed that in the Auckland suburban rail system, which the Government paid $81 million to purchase, the Government has now realised that it does have bendy rail; how can that be Tranz Rail's responsibility when the Government bought it, and surely the Government now has a responsibility to fix it?
Hon. PAUL SWAIN: It is called terms and conditions of the sale. It is very interesting that that member is concerned about that issue. He was the one who was supposed to save rail. If that is an example of something he saved, then I would hate to see something he lost.
Mr SPEAKER: The member deserves a bit better answer than that.
Hon. Dr Michael Cullen: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. In the first part of the answer the Minister gave a complete answer to the question, which was about the terms and conditions of sale that occurred.
Mr SPEAKER: That is correct, but the Minister then went on to make comment. Perhaps he might care to make a comment about the second part.
Hon. PAUL SWAIN: As I said, it is about the terms and conditions of the sale. That is the reason that the Crown is firmly of the opinion that the responsibility for the remediation work remains and rests with Tranz Rail.
Jeanette Fitzsimons: Does the Minister agree that similar delays and dysfunctions would not be tolerated on the roading network, and what is he doing to ensure that Transfund can provide appropriate support to get necessary rail maintenance done if a semi-bankrupt private company cannot do the work fast enough?
Hon. PAUL SWAIN: As the member will be aware, the new bill allows Transfund to fund public organisations. The responsibility of the maintenance and remediation of Tranz Rail's track lies with Tranz Rail. The purpose of the meeting yesterday was to try to identify the scope of the problem and to get a timetable and agreement on when the timetable would be met.
Race Relations Commissioner--Prime Minister's
3. Hon. BILL ENGLISH (Leader of the Opposition) to the Prime Minister: What is her response to the comments by Race Relations Commissioner Joris de Bres that "I am not going to stick around if I am no longer wanted.", and will she confirm her Government is backing Mr de Bres despite widespread public concern about his divisive comments?
Hon. Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Leader of the House), on behalf of the Prime Minister: As I said yesterday, the comments were unwise and unnecessarily provocative. The Race Relations Commissioner has an independent position and he is relatively new in his job. I am confident that he will learn from this experience.
Hon. Bill English: How can the Prime Minister have confidence in Mr de Bres when he went out to gain maximum public attention for his speech by distributing both the speech and a press release the night before he made the speech, inviting the torrent of public outrage that is evidenced, for instance, in the letters to the editor in the New Zealand Herald today?
Hon. Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I understand that it is quite common to distribute speeches before they are given. Perhaps the member might care to follow that practice in the future.
Hon. Brian Donnelly: Is this Government prepared, by its non-removal of the Race Relations Commissioner, to say to New Zealanders whose roots in this country extend to the 19th century, that they should daily wear sackcloths and ashes because their ancestors deplored cannibalism, infanticide, and slavery?
Hon. Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: No, not all, any more indeed than as a person with long English ancestry, I spend my life in a paroxysm of guilt about the massacre at Drogheda.
Hon. Richard Prebble: Can the Prime Minister advise who an Afghan New Zealander should complain to if he or she feels that Mr de Bres's speech was designed to incite racial hatred against Afghans; and is, in fact, the correct interpretation of the Race Relation Commissioner's speech that he was unwisely trying to make us white Pakehas feel better about ourselves by pointing out that Afghans are even worse?
Hon. Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I think it is a case of one _______ getting the other one slightly mixed up. I think it is fair to say that to refer to the Taliban is not to refer to all Afghans, as I would hope anyone referring to the principles of ACT does not think they apply to all New Zealanders.
Metiria Turei: Does the Prime Minister not consider it contradictory to tick off the Race Relations Commissioner for his comments, comparing the destruction of Maori cultural heritage to the actions of the Taliban, given that she has said that it was "just democracy" when she, herself, called the anti-genetic engineering movement in New Zealand the "Eco Taliban"?
Hon. Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: No, compared with the comments the Deputy Prime Minister might have made, they were very moderate.
Hon. Peter Dunne: Does the Race Relations Commissioner's contract include any specific grounds under which his appointment might be terminated in advance of the expiry of the contract; if so, what are those grounds and have any of them been breached in this particular instance?
Hon. Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I do not have that information in front of me to give an adequate answer.
Hon. Bill English: How can the Prime Minister have confidence in the Hon. Margaret Wilson, who has now seen the appointment of her second friend as Race Relations Conciliator or Commissioner turn to ashes within a matter of months because Joris de Bres has now lost public credibility, and can the Prime Minister tell us how New Zealanders can expect a fair go from this man who has had a semi-judicial role on race complaints?
Hon. Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: He has no such semi-judicial role. I am quite sure he will act fairly to all New Zealanders, and I am equally sure--[Interruption] I think the member can wait and find out. I am quite sure the Hon. Margaret Wilson has already been discussing, or will be discussing, with Mr de Bres the appropriate way to speak in public in future.
Peter Brown: In the light of that answer, can we take it that there is a possibility that the Race Relations Conciliator's speech will be monitored and checked by the Prime Minister, or some such person, as she did to a Minister, prior to him releasing it?
Hon. Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I hope we do not get to the point where we completely deny people the right of free speech in this country just because we do not like what they say.
Gaming Machines--Installation in Bar,
4. SUE BRADFORD to the Minister of Internal Affairs: Is he concerned that his department recently allowed 14 new pokie machines in a bar in Hamilton, soon after the Liquor Licensing Authority had stopped this same bar from setting up a new gaming room containing 18 machines; if not, why not?
Hon. GEORGE HAWKINS (Minister of Internal Affairs): The Liquor Licensing Authority declined to give a liquor licence to a room that was designed just for gaming machines, so the society applied to place the machines in the bar area that did have a liquor licence. My department made the only decision it could in terms of the Gaming and Lotteries Act and its policies. Those policies are intended to stop children from accessing the machines--something the current Act gives the department very few tools to do.
Sue Bradford: What would the Minister say to nearby shop owner, Don Edwards, who has been reported as saying that this decision by the Department of Internal Affairs shows total disregard for the fact that around 1,000 local people have strenuously opposed the additional new pokies and do not want them there?
Hon. GEORGE HAWKINS: I would tell them that hopefully the Green Party will join with the Government in passing the Responsible Gambling Bill at an early date.
Judith Collins: Does he have confidence that the department can fully regulate the gaming industry, when it has so dismally failed to monitor either the Building Industry Authority or the 23,000 non-casino pokie-machines that are banging on around the country?
Hon. GEORGE HAWKINS: The reason we have a new bill is to make sure that there are improvements, and not the spread of machines that has been happening for some time. Hopefully the National Party will also see the benefits of the new bill and support it.
Bill Gudgeon: What will he do to support the views of two-thirds of the population of the city of Hamilton who voted against the casino being built, given that we now see another 14 pokie-machines being allowed?
Hon. GEORGE HAWKINS: In the new Responsible Gambling Bill there is the right of veto for a community and its council to stop the spread of further machines.
Gordon Copeland: Is the Minister concerned that according to the annual report, his department has only 24 enforcement officers to monitor the activities of over 150 trusts that are responsible for promoting thousands of gaming venues around the country such as the already mentioned Hamilton bar; if not, why not?
Hon. GEORGE HAWKINS: The department monitors the machines and the trusts that run them, and of course we are continually looking to make sure that there is adequate supervision.
Dianne Yates: When do we expect that the Responsible Gambling Bill will come into force?
Hon. GEORGE HAWKINS: Hopefully in the first half of next year.
Sue Bradford: Will the Minister now consider supporting amendments to the Responsible Gambling Bill to give local communities the chance to deny individual pokie-bar applications, or does he plan to rename the Department of Internal Affairs, the "Department of Pokies".
Hon. GEORGE HAWKINS: The bill provides that as from 17 October 2001, all those people who have licences can be restricted to nine machines, or they may not even have any if the community veto is brought in.
5. HELEN DUNCAN (NZ Labour) to the Minister of Education: What support is available to establish or improve community-based early childhood services?
Hon. TREVOR MALLARD (Minister of Education): The Government made nearly $9 million available today to community-based early childhood centres to extend, upgrade, or develop their buildings. The funding comes from the discretionary grants scheme. It goes to 89 centres, and will create an extra 13,043 places for young children over the next year. The funding is focused on increasing participation in low socio-economic status Maori and Pacific areas. Of the grants, 19 were made from the $2.4 million Maori pool, creating around 348 new places for Maori children in kohanga, immersion, and bilingual services, and $2.75 million has gone to 20 Pasifika groups wanting to establish licensed and chartered centres, creating an extra 240 places for these children. This will make a real difference to education in New Zealand.
Helen Duncan: What other support is available to early childhood education services?
Hon. TREVOR MALLARD: We have introduced a wide range of initiatives. I will not go through them all, but will indicate that equity funding is targeted to community-based services in low socio-economic and rural areas, such as the "design and build" scheme, which reduces design and building costs for new centres. We are also working actively with local communities on the planning of services, and providing management advice and support. This Government believes that young children, no matter what their background, have a right to quality early childhood education.
Phil Heatley: Does the Minister then think it is right to promote funding for not-for-profit centres, and ignore the very serious issues such as staff shortages currently facing other quality early childhood centres--all because of their ownership model?
Hon. TREVOR MALLARD: This Government made a significant increase to the rate of payment to private centres. It was the same increase as the rate of payment to community centres in July, and the Government will make another such increase in January.
Hon. Brian Donnelly: Will the Minister explain why he believes that it is fair that non-profit, community-based early childhood centres are required to deliver the same curriculum, and to operate under the regulations of the same Statement of Desirable Objectives and Practices as kindergartens, yet are funded at a significantly lower rate; and if he is unable to explain the fairness of the current funding regime, will he tell the House what he is doing about it?
Hon. TREVOR MALLARD: I think it is fair to say that within the funding and regulatory systems for early childhood education there is a lot of room for improvement. That is why we are reviewing the area. But, in a short answer, one has to look at the daily rate as well as the hourly rate to see what the funding is.
Payments to Public Servants
6. Dr DON BRASH (NZ National) to the Minister of Labour: Is it Government policy to allow employers to pay lump sum payments to employees on condition that they do not join a union?
Hon. MARGARET WILSON (Minister of Labour): No.
Dr Don Brash: Then why is it Government policy for the Government to pay an allowance to staff provided they do join a union; and is that an appropriate use of taxpayers' money?
Hon. MARGARET WILSON: The Government does not pay anything directly to employees. That is done through departments and State agencies. I would note however that those payments are made, as I understand, because of the benefits that attach to collective agreements, not to membership of a union.
Georgina Beyer: What are the provisions of the Employment Relations Act in relation to payments for employees covered by the collective agreements--
Dr the Hon. Lockwood Smith: You can't discriminate on the basis of union membership.
Hon. MARGARET WILSON: I have the better answer. It is in accordance with the legislation. Section 9(1) of the Act prohibits preference in terms of conditions being given simply on the basis of union membership, or non-membership. However, section 9(2) of the Act makes it clear that preference does not exist simply because an employee's terms and conditions differ from those of another employee.
Rodney Hide: Is the Minister aware that civil servants have been offered a "window of opportunity" in which to join the New Zealand Public Service Association, and in doing so receive a lump-sum payment; and would such a lump-sum payment accord with Government policy?
Hon. MARGARET WILSON: My understanding is that members have been invited to join the Public Service Association so they can get better wages and conditions through collective bargaining.
Rodney Hide: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. That answer certainly cannot have addressed the question. My question was specifically: was she aware about these lump-sum payments, and does that accord with Government policy?
Mr SPEAKER: The member did address the question, particularly in relation to the second part.
Sue Bradford: Does the Minister agree that those employees who have not financially contributed, through union fees, to negotiations on a collective agreement should benefit; if not, will she consider amending the Employment Relations Act to eliminate freeloading in all workplaces?
Hon. MARGARET WILSON: At the moment the law enables payments that are gained through collective bargaining to be passed on to those who do not contribute to the negotiating process. However, of course, an amendment to the Employment Relations Act is foreshadowed, and I am sure that there will be many submissions on that point.
Gordon Copeland: Could the Minister inform the House whether lump-sum payments made to public employees who join a union are paid directly to the union, or to the employee on the condition that he or she use it solely to pay union fees?
Hon. MARGARET WILSON: My understanding is that lump-sum payments are not paid to union members. They are paid to those covered by a particular collective agreement, and in many instances union members who are not covered by that agreement will not get the payment.
Dr Don Brash: In the light of clear evidence that bonus payments have been paid to staff who joined the New Zealand Public Service Association, from five Government departments; that a taxpayer subsidy was available to teachers' superannuation savings provided they joined the New Zealand Educational Institute; and that staff in the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry quarantine service are paid higher hourly allowances provided they belonged to the union, what is the Government going to do about this evident breach of section 9 of the Act?
Hon. MARGARET WILSON: I am not aware that the Auditor-General had even agreed to look at these matters, let alone report on them, so I am a little concerned that the honourable member has decided to set himself up as prosecutor, judge, and jury before the evidence has been heard.
Rodney Hide: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I know I am having some trouble with these points of order, but when a question gets asked, the Minister actually has to answer it, rather than just accuse a member of being prosecutor, judge, and jury.
Mr SPEAKER: The member has to address the question asked. I judge that the member addressed the question. It did not satisfy the member but--
Dr Don Brash: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. My question made no reference at all to the Auditor-General or to any letter to the Auditor-General.
Mr SPEAKER: I think I will ask the Minister whether she is prepared to comment further.
Hon. MARGARET WILSON: The question assumed that there was a wrongdoing.
Youth Offenders--Transition to Employment
7. DARREN HUGHES (NZ Labour--Otaki) to the Minister of Youth Affairs: Are there any significant new initiatives by the Government to assist young offenders make the transition to work or training?
Hon. JOHN TAMIHERE (Minister of Youth Affairs): In February 2003 the Ministry of Youth Affairs will be implementing a programme, called the Specialist Youth Service Core, for young people aged 15 to 17. The new programme has been designed to prevent or reduce the likelihood of young people, who are at moderate risk of reoffending, from entering the adult justice system. The programme is an example of this Government taking positive steps to prevent young people from getting into serious trouble, rather than taking the old, tired, failed approach of managing at-risk kids into the adult criminal justice system.
Darren Hughes: What will be the expected outcomes for young people who are involved in the specialist youth services core programmes?
Hon. JOHN TAMIHERE: The new programmes will commence in February 2003. The Ministry of Youth Affairs has completed the tender assessment process, and providers have been appointed. These programmes will fit within the Government's youth offending strategy. To that end, in late January 2003 the programme managers will meet with the Ministry of Youth Affairs, the Department of Child, Youth and Family Services, and the New Zealand Police.
Simon Power: Will the Ministry of Youth Affairs retain control of these new initiatives, or will the Minister lose them to the Minister of Justice, as was the case when the Ministry of Justice gained control of the Government's youth offending strategy in September this year?
Hon. JOHN TAMIHERE: No.
Craig McNair: Why is the Government putting so many resources into helping offenders, when the amount being put into helping non-offenders is a pittance, like the amount put into the Gateway programme, which was about only $1.5 million in the 2002-02 financial year?
Hon. JOHN TAMIHERE: The Government has designed and developed this programme because it works.
Stephen Franks: In view of the reports of labour shortages, which include reports of fruit rotting for want of pickers, what is this transition to work stuff, and what was wrong with the common-sense principle of "no work, no money"?
Hon. JOHN TAMIHERE: This is a common-sense approach.
Unions--Lump-sum Payments to Public Servants
8. RODNEY HIDE (ACT NZ) to the Minister of State Services: Has he sought any advice on employment lawyer Phillipa Muir's reported comments that the Government's lump sum payments to civil servants for joining or remaining in the PSA have invalidated the related collective contracts; if not, why not?
Hon. TREVOR MALLARD (Minister of State Services): No. It is not normally my practice to seek advice on something I did not hear, from someone whom I had not heard of until 11.50 today, and whom I now understand has never approached my office, the State Services Commission, the departments concerned, or the Public Service Association to ascertain the facts in relation to this matter.
Rodney Hide: Notwithstanding the Minister's ignorance of both Phillipa Muir and her comment, would it not have been wise to seek legal advice before offering Ministry of Social Development staff a "window of opportunity" to join the Public Service Association for a lump sum of $300, and a cash payment of $900 to non-Public Service Association members, who sold their unlimited sick leave entitlement, as compared with the $1,800 that Public Service Association members received for the same deal, which comes to a total lump sum payment of $1,200, simply for signing up to the Public Service Association, or did he think that his Government would never be found out on these lump sum payments?
Hon. TREVOR MALLARD: There are probably three points that should be made in response. The first is that the member has to understand the difference between union membership and being covered by a collective contract. Secondly, he should catch up with his mail and read the letter sent to him on 15 March, which sets the matter out very clearly. Thirdly, he should invite the rest of Parliament when he receives the Public Service Association recruiter of the year award.
Dr Don Brash: Does the Minister agree with the statement of the Minister of Labour made during the first reading of the Employment Relations Act, that: "An essential element of this legislation is the protection of the choice of individuals to determine for themselves whether their interests are best served through joining a union . . . For this choice to be real, it must be informed by adequate information, and be made without intimidation from either employer or union."; if not, why not?
Hon. TREVOR MALLARD: I certainly agree with my colleague the Minister of Labour. I go further and say that I still cannot quite get my head round why people are complaining about union members having successful agreements.
Taito Phillip Field: Is the Minister confident that collective agreements negotiated in the public service are lawful?
Hon. TREVOR MALLARD: I have assurances that collective agreements are within the terms of the Employment Relations Act, and that encourages collective bargaining. That assurance was set out to a member of this House who asked a substantive question back in March. I suggest that he catches up with his mail.
Rodney Hide: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I thought that Phillip Field's question was a good one. However, when I submitted that question to the Clerk's Office it was ruled out on the grounds that it was seeking a legal opinion. I accepted that ruling. I fail to see how that question is within the Standing Orders just because a Government member asks it.
Mr SPEAKER: I can assure the member that I was not aware of that. Certainly, a legal opinion cannot be sought in that way. I will look at the transcript. I thank the member for raising the matter.
Taito Phillip Field: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Just as a matter of order, I request that the member addresses me by my correct name.
Mr SPEAKER: That is a matter I hope that all members will take note of.
9. DAVID BENSON-POPE (NZ Labour--Dunedin South) to the Minister of Conservation: What have been the initial outcomes from the establishment of five kiwi sanctuaries?
Hon. CHRIS CARTER (Minister of Conservation): Kiwi populations are definitely increasing in four of the five kiwi sanctuaries established through the $10 million funding from the 2000 Budget. In the three North Island sanctuaries, kiwi chick survival has increased on an average of 45 percent to a high of 66 percent.
David Benson-Pope: Can the Minister detail to the House the results of the so-called Operation Nest Egg?
Hon. CHRIS CARTER: Operation Nest Egg has enabled the successful development of techniques for captive rearing of kiwi. Those kiwi have been released and shown to survive and breed in the wild. Operation Nest Egg is not a long-term solution for kiwi recovery, but can give an immediate boost to critically endangered populations.
Shane Ardern: In answering that patsy question, does the Minister find it embarrassing to be lauding the success in the forty-seventh Parliament of an initiative that was put in place by National in the forty-fifth Parliament?
Hon. CHRIS CARTER: If anyone abandoned kiwi, it was the National Party, which refused to make a major funding commitment to save the kiwi. When we took office one of our first commitments was to set aside $10 million to secure the future of our national bird.
Gerrard Eckhoff: What has been the outcome of the Department of Conservation paying private landowners $300 per chick to raise them to 6 months of age, and can he confirm that the use of those privately owned sanctuaries is a wonderful example of how successful farming of indigenous wildlife for commercial gain actually does work?
Hon. CHRIS CARTER: In fact, the Department of Conservation seeks to work closely with all sorts of organisations, whether they be private or community, for the recovery of kiwi. It is a little bit hard to take that member's question seriously, when he has suggested in this House that kiwi should be farmed commercially, and we could consider having kiwi as a rotisserie bird on the kiwi menu.
Gerrard Eckhoff: I seek the leave of the House to allow the Minister of Conservation to ask me some questions about private conservation, because quite clearly he does not understand the benefits of it.
Mr SPEAKER: Quite clearly, the member does not understand the Standing Orders. No, he cannot do that.
Rodney Hide: It was apparent from this side of the House that the Minister was reading every one of those answers to spontaneous questions, and if they were from official documentation, I seek leave that the Minister table those documents.
Mr SPEAKER: The Minister has that within his own power.
Hon. CHRIS CARTER: Like all members of this House, I have prompting notes here, anticipating what the questions would be, and I am afraid it was very easy to anticipate what the ACT party's question would be.
Mr SPEAKER: The member cannot be required to table these notes unless he wishes to.
Te Hauora o Te Tai
Tokerau Trust--Financial Investigation
10. PHIL HEATLEY (NZ National--Whangarei) to the Minister of Police: Why has there been a delay in police reporting on their investigation into alleged criminal activities undertaken by the Te Hau Ora O Te Tai Tokerau Trust?
Hon. GEORGE HAWKINS (Minister of Police): The police advise me that they received a letter of complaint on 17 September 2002, and since then have been investigating the complaints. The term "delay" is not appropriate in this instance. Gathering physical and documentary evidence and assessing the possibility of criminal liability are actions that take time.
Phil Heatley: Will the Minister acknowledge that it has taken far too long since Plunket first raised concerns 2 years ago, with the Department of Child, Youth and Family Services dragging the chain all this year, for the police to now be hesitant to give us the truth--it has taken 3 months, as the Minister says--or is this another sign that the Government wants to protect the people responsible for the trust's performance?
Hon. GEORGE HAWKINS: As I said earlier, the complaint was received on 17 September. I have confidence that the police are doing a good investigation, and perhaps that member might like to support them.
Mahara Okeroa: Does he have confidence that the police will fully investigate this matter?
Hon. GEORGE HAWKINS: Yes. I am assured that the investigation is being conducted in a thorough manner.
Phil Heatley: Can the Minister then assure the House that no Government agency, including the Department of Child, Youth and Family Services, is interfering in the police investigation, and will he ensure that the truth comes out by this Christmas?
Hon. GEORGE HAWKINS: I can give no assurance about when the police will finish their inquiries.
Immigrants--Police Investigation Results
11. DAIL JONES (NZ First), on behalf of RON MARK (NZ First), to the Minister of Police: Are police experiencing any problems when investigating crimes committed by immigrants, asylum seekers or refugees?
Hon. GEORGE HAWKINS (Minister of Police): Every criminal investigation has its own peculiar features and challenges. When necessary, the police have access to interpreters who are able to assist with language and cultural barriers.
Dail Jones: What does he propose to do to address the problems raised by front-line police officer Bob Kerr from Christchurch, who stated in the Press of 31 October 2002: "Both predators and their victims bring to New Zealand a bewildering parallel Asian justice system which police are struggling to penetrate."
Hon. GEORGE HAWKINS: The local police are working with the Asian community to overcome the problems.
Russell Fairbrother: What are the police doing to improve the ethnic diversity of their staff?
Hon. GEORGE HAWKINS: The police have undertaken a number of steps to become increasingly representative of the communities in which they work. This is indicated in the monthly reports I receive on staffing matters. The police have established a new office, the Maori, Pacific Island, and Ethnic Service, to further enhance police capabilities in dealing with a diverse range of ethnic groups.
Phil Heatley: In the light of the repeated reports in the New Zealand Herald about the police staffing crisis in Auckland--I am sure the Minister has read them--will he be able to fix the problem or should we wait until Dr Cullen is given the task of fixing his mistakes?
Hon. GEORGE HAWKINS: I remind the member that this Government is providing funding for 60 non-sworn support staff, establishing a police training scheme in Auckland, seeking experienced staff from other districts to work on short-term placements in Auckland, targeting recruitment from the Auckland Maori, Pacific Island, and Asian communities, making inquiries to evaluate the potential employment of experienced officers from overseas, providing a second radio channel in Auckland, and supporting the north communications centre with extra staff. Of course, the problems are being dealt with far better than they ever were when the National Party wanted to pay for a computer called INCIS.
Dr Muriel Newman: Can the Minister confirm that the number of convictions against Asians in New Zealand is very low, when compared to Maori, Pacific Islanders, and Europeans--in fact, less than one conviction in 40--and is it not true that the arrival of Asians, which so concerns some people, has actually lowered the per-head crime rate in New Zealand?
Hon. GEORGE HAWKINS: I can confirm that the Asian community is under-represented in crime statistics, and that is something I think most New Zealanders welcome.
Murray Smith: Does the Minister accept that Pacific Island immigrants, particularly women, are hugely overrepresented in victimisation statistics, and what specific steps are the police taking to see those statistics dramatically improve?
Hon. GEORGE HAWKINS: Yes, those people are overrepresented, and, of course, the police are taking action to make sure they get support through Victim Support, etc.
Dail Jones: In the light of the Minister's lack of knowledge about the situation, will he take the opportunity to read the Christchurch Press of 31 October 2002 and familiarise himself with the issues raised by front-line officer Bob Kerr from the Christchurch Police, who stated: "Add language barriers, confused identities, an imported mistrust of the police, patchy interpreter services, and brazen attempts to silence witnesses, and you have a recipe for trouble."; and, what will the Minister do about it?
Hon. GEORGE HAWKINS: I have been well informed by the local Labour MPs in Christchurch, but I have not heard a word from the New Zealand First Party on this issue. I can assure the member that the police are working to improve the situation.
Dail Jones: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Will the Minister please address my question, which related to the Christchurch police officer, not New Zealand First. What does he think about the Christchurch police officer's view?
Mr SPEAKER: The Minister did address the question.
Pansy Wong: When will the Minister respond to the request from the Asian community, which has had 3 years of committee meetings with the police in Christchurch, to appoint an Asian liaison officer so that the community can assist the police in combatting those crimes that the Asian communities do not even welcome?
Hon. GEORGE HAWKINS: The police have made considerable progress in dealing with having more police officers and closer liaison with, not only the Asian groups in New Zealand, but those of the ethnic community at large.
Mental Health Services--Review, Auckland
12. SUE BRADFORD (Green) to the Minister of Health: When will the review of mental health services in Auckland, announced on 16 April 2002 and expected to lead to an action plan by 30 August 2002, be released?
Hon. DAMIEN O'CONNOR (Associate Minister of Health), on behalf of the Minister of Health: I received a draft report and met with the three district health board chairs on 26 November. I asked them to provide comment and a suggested implementation plan within 2 weeks. Before the final report is released I intend to discuss it with representatives of the workforce involved. I expect to make an announcement before Christmas.
Sue Bradford: If the review, when it is finally released, concludes that Auckland region mental health services require a certain amount of additional funding, will the Minister commit, right here and now, to find that funding as a matter of urgency?
Hon. DAMIEN O'CONNOR: The report that will be announced will include a number of issues. There will be an action plan along with that announcement. With regard to funding, this Government has already put a huge amount of extra funding into mental health; we are ensuring that it is spent in the right areas. I am sure that the outcome of this review will mean better mental health services in the Auckland region.
Jill Pettis: Can the Minister advise the House why the final review is late in coming to the Minister?
Hon. DAMIEN O'CONNOR: The Mental Health Commission asked for an extension to allow for an action plan to be included in the report. The development of this, and an agreement on an implementation process, requires considerable consultation with the district health boards, consumers, and non-Government organisations, but we will then be in a position to make sure that action takes place.
Judith Collins: Given that the siphoning off of mental health money is one of the reasons for Auckland's mental health services being under such pressure--
Hon. Harry Duynhoven: No, the member cannot have "given", at the moment.
Mr SPEAKER: No, I say to Mr Duynhoven. Let the member carry on with the question.
Judith Collins: Who will take responsibility for the boards not understanding the ministry's instructions on how that mental health money should be spent?
Hon. DAMIEN O'CONNOR: I am aware of claims that have been made about the shifting of resource out of mental health. The ring-fencing inquiry that is taking place will be concluded before Christmas. Some clear guidelines will come out of that, that go to district health boards on where and how they should spend the money that has been allocated for mental health.
Sue Bradford: What is the Minister's response to the desperate plea of Alan Gundersen, a south Auckland psychiatric nurse, who said on nationwide television recently that if there is not more funding allocated to the region "there will be nothing left of acute mental health services in south Auckland. The staff are just melting away."?
Hon. DAMIEN O'CONNOR: This acknowledges the pressure on the workforce. It has been brought about by years of ideology that has believed that the market would deliver training to mental health workers. That has not taken place. This Government has committed extra funding in the mental health area from 1997, when $524 million was spent; next year there is projected expenditure of $850 million. That kind of money will be spent in the right area and will relieve some of the pressure that has been quite intense on mental health workers throughout this country.
Question No. 2 to Minister
Hon. Richard Prebble: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker, under Standing Order 362 on the quoting of documents. I asked a question in question No 2 about the Government's acquisition of suburban rail in Auckland. The Minister, in answering, referred to the contract. The reason I raise that is that I read in the New Zealand Herald that Tranz Rail states the Government has bought the network "as is, where is" for $81 million, but the Minister says that the Government did not: he has a contract that states that Tranz Rail must fix the network. I ask the Minister whether he would be prepared to table at least that part of the contract, so that we can see whether it is Tranz Rail's interpretation or the answer he has given in the House that is correct.
Mr SPEAKER: That is not really a point of order, but if the Minister wants to comment, he may.
(Uncorrected transcript - subject to correction and further editing)
End of Questions for Oral Answer.
(Uncorrected transcript - subject to correction and further editing)