Questions Of The Day Transcript - 11 December
(Uncorrected transcript - subject to correction and further
Questions 1-12 11 December, 2002
QUESTIONS FOR ORAL ANSWER
QUESTIONS TO MINISTERS
Local Government Bill--Local Government Forum
1. Hon. BILL ENGLISH (Leader of the Opposition) to the Prime Minister: Has she met with the Local Government Forum to discuss their concerns that the Local Government Bill is "clearly negative for growth", as they requested on 22 October 2002; if not, why not?
Hon. Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Acting Prime Minister): I have no plans to meet the forum. There are not enough hours in the day to meet with every lobby group on every issue. I suggest the forum meets with the Minister of Local Government.
Hon. Bill English: Why did she refuse to meet with the forum when its letter expressed deep concern that there was "no meaningful consultation or engagement with those who pay the bills at the critical policy development phase", given the importance her Government has placed on its relationship with the business community?
Hon. Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: This bill has been subject to a huge amount of consultation, that the same moans are repeated many times does not make them accurate.
Gerrard Eckhoff: Does the Prime Minister accept that local government is already strangling small and medium-sized businesses; and does she really believe it helps those businesses to have local government use the rates collected from them to compete against them as they will be encouraged to do under this new Act?
Hon. Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: As my colleague, indeed, wisely advised, read the bill. It contains strict provisions around the use of ratepayers' money as Local Government New Zealand said in a release made within the last half an hour.
Jeanette Fitzsimons: Has the Prime Minister been able to discover any evidence or any factual basis for the claims by the businesses making up the Local Government Forum, or is she as much in the dark as the select committee, which also endeavoured to find out the basis of this claim?
Hon. Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: The Government is satisfied that the select committee has done a thorough job in considering all the evidence placed before it. The claims that have frequently been made have not been substantiated in any form at all.
Larry Baldock: Does the Prime Minister agree that the Local Government Bill's new evaluation clause inserted by United Future that requires an interim 2005 report, and a final 2007 report, to assess the impact of any costs that may arise from the new consultations procedures and new powers of general competence help to address--[Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Firstly, there were interjections while the question was being asked. I want to hear the question, and I do not want to hear interjections at all. Secondly, the questioner got to the stage where I think the question had gone on for far too long. There is sufficient in the question for the Minister to answer.
Hon. Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I think the new evaluation procedure proposed by United Future is very helpful. It will mean that local authorities, in operating under the new legislation, will have to be aware that their actions will be subject to review, and therefore obviously will change further down the track.
Hon. Bill English: Why is the Government insisting on pushing this legislation through before Christmas, when it appears to have the support of only the Alliance, which has left Parliament, and Local Government New Zealand, which is embarrassed that it has endorsed legislation that its councillors and mayors now increasingly do not support?
Hon. Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: If the bill has the support of only the Alliance, which is no longer in Parliament, it will be defeated next week on the second reading, and we will have an early Christmas.
Hon. Dr Nick Smith: In the course of that interchange the Minister said there was no evidence of increased costs. I seek the leave of the House to table the supplementary submission from Local Government New Zealand to the select committee about the increased costs to ratepayers in the bill.
Document, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.
2. DAVID CUNLIFFE (NZ Labour--New Lynn) to the Minister of Finance: What recent reports has he received on the state of the New Zealand economy?
Hon. Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Minister of Finance): I have received a number of reports, which, to follow the language of yesterday's question time, could be described only as exciting. The most recent releases show strong construction activity and resilience in retail trade. A recent economic update states that the data comes as a reminder that the New Zealand economy is in the sweetspot. The Bank of New Zealand has revised its estimates for third quarter growth, up from 0.3 to 0.9 percent. The New Zealand Institute of Economic Research forecasts gross domestic product (GDP) growth of over 4 percent in the year to March 2003.
David Cunliffe: What is the outlook for the economy in future years?
Hon. Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Most forecasts show the economy continuing to grow at a steady pace despite sluggish activity and great uncertainty amongst many of our trading partners. The New Zealand Institute of Economic Research sees the economy growing at between 21/2 and 3 percent over the next 4 years; Business and Economic Research Ltd forecasts a growth profile much stronger than that. A pleasing feature of both forecasts is that employment growth remains positive, and the unemployment rate is forecast by some to slip to below 5 percent.
Dr Don Brash: Has the Minister seen the report from Statistics New Zealand that the trade deficit in October was at almost $700 million for the month, the largest October deficit for at least 15 years, and possibly ever, and recognising that this will add to the already enormous level of New Zealand's net external indebtedness, the highest by a substantial margin of any developed country relative to GDP, does the Minister have any concern about this; if so, what does he plan to do about it?
Hon. Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Yes, indeed, the deficit was wider. There were some very substantial one-off factors in October, notably of Qantas bringing aircraft into the country and the rather peculiar way we calculate our figures. When Qantas brings in aircraft to operate in New Zealand, they count as imports against the current account deficit.
Rt Hon. Winston Peters: Can the Minister of Finance confirm that the Australian economy since 1984 has grown at over 33 percent more than the New Zealand economy; and what does that tell us about all the hype emanating out of Treasury?
Hon. Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: There is no hype emanating out of Treasury these days; it is a hype-free zone within the Government. But the member makes a very, very good point. Australia, having taken a much more careful approach to reform, and a much more supportive approach in the transition processes supporting its local industries, has achieved a high rate of growth, despite not following the prescriptions to the nth degree of the neo-classical school that Dr Brash belongs to.
No. 1 to Minister
Hon. ROGER SOWRY (Deputy Leader--NZ National): I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker, in the light of an answer to question No. 1 given by the Deputy Prime Minister on the Prime Minister's behalf, when he responded about why she could not meet the Local Government Forum. The Prime Minister gave the answer that they could meet with the Minister of Local Government. I wish to inform the House that that forum has just contacted our office to say that it has tried to meet with the Minister of Local Government, and he said: "Not till next year after the bill is passed."
Mr SPEAKER: Interesting though that point may be, it is not a point of order.
Dr DON BRASH (NZ National): I seek leave to table a graph from the--[Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: The Minister will now get up, and withdraw and apologise for that comment.
Hon. CHRIS CARTER: I withdraw and apologise.
Hon. ROGER SOWRY (Deputy Leader--NZ National): I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I think if a Minister withdraws and apologises and then sits down and repeats the comments, then that is out of order. It is grossly out of order for the Minister to repeat those comments once he sat down.
Hon. Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Leader of the House): I specifically heard the Minister state that the Local Government Forum had not sought the meeting. It is not the member who is being accused of not telling the truth, but the Local Government Forum.
Mr SPEAKER: I ask the Minister whether he made an out of order comment after he sat down?
Hon. CHRIS CARTER: Yes.
Mr SPEAKER: The Minister will withdraw from the Chamber until after question time.
Hon. ROGER SOWRY (Deputy Leader--NZ National): I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Given that the Minister is withdrawing, I presume he will apologise on his return.
Mr SPEAKER: I have dealt with the matter. The Minister will leave the Chamber.
Hon. Chris Carter withdrew from the Chamber.
Question No. 2 to Minister
Dr DON BRASH (NZ National): I seek leave to table a graph from The Economist of 7 December 2002 showing New Zealand's net international investment position relative to gross domestic product as the highest of all of the countries covered in the graph.
Document, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.
Immigrants--Marriages of Convenience
3. Rt Hon. WINSTON PETERS (Leader--NZ First) to the Minister of Immigration: Have marriages of convenience, of a nature similar to those allegedly used by students to gain financial advantage, been used by individuals wishing to obtain residence in New Zealand; if so, how many?
Hon. LIANNE DALZIEL (Minister of Immigration): Yes. However, it is not possible to identify the precise number of marriages of convenience, because proof of fraud can be difficult to obtain when only one party to the marriage is a party to the fraud. Unfortunately, New Zealand citizens in permanent residence can be exposed to being conned into marriage when the non-resident spouse has no intention of remaining beyond the granting of residence status. If proof can be obtained, then residence can be revoked.
Rt Hon. Winston Peters: What would be the good of getting proof when cases for example like Miss Ekatarina Ross--who arrived here on a tourist visa from Russia in 1999, got married to a New Zealand resident and the marriage lasted 6 weeks, applied for refugee status, and now lives and works in Queenstown as a waitress--are being brought to her attention, and months and years later she has done nothing?
Hon. LIANNE DALZIEL: I do not have any details of that case, in the House.
Graham Kelly: Has she received any complaints from New Zealand residents, or citizens, about applications they have sponsored under the family category--complaints such as marriages of convenience?
Hon. LIANNE DALZIEL: Yes, I have received complaints on both sides of the issue--that is, I have received complaints about delays in determining residents' applications in this category, especially when the Immigration Service exercises its power to defer the decision for 6 months, and I have received complaints that a spouse has left as soon as he or she got residence. I advise people to be cautious about being used by those who will say anything, or do anything, to cheat the system.
Pansy Wong: Can the Minister give an assurance that when she, or her officials, consider cases involving marriages of convenience, their judgment will not be influenced by issues such as ethnicity?
Hon. LIANNE DALZIEL: I can assure the member that issues relating to ethnicity are not taken into account in determining marriage genuineness and stability, although there is an issue around arranged marriages, which do occur in particular cultures; and the department does seek to facilitate the cultural practices in that regard.
Rt Hon. Winston Peters: Why has her department completely ignored the letters sent to her office regarding this case, and allowed a fraudster to remain living in this country, claim legal aid, and possibly now be a resident, given that the Minister's office was advised on 5 April 2000, and that as late as 8 December 2001 Liz McMillan of her office was saying the matter would be further looked into; if so, what is going on?
Hon. LIANNE DALZIEL: As I said in answer to an earlier supplementary question, I receive hundreds of letters from New Zealand residents and citizens, on both sides of the matter. The difficulty usually is that when people find out they have been used by somebody they believed in, trusted, loved, married, and even had a child to, they often feel they have been treated very badly. I agree they have been treated badly, and I do what I can to make sure that any fraud issues are followed up.
Strategy--Sustainable Transport System
4. LARRY BALDOCK (United Future) to the Minister of Transport: Is the Government fully committed to the New Zealand Transport Strategy vision that "by 2010 New Zealand will have an affordable, integrated, safe, responsive and sustainable transport system"?
Hon. PAUL SWAIN (Minister of Transport): Yes, an affordable, integrated, safe, responsive, and sustainable transport system is the basis of the New Zealand land transport strategy and the Land Transport Management Bill.
Larry Baldock: As the strategy talks about economic development, social cohesion, and environmental improvements being progressed in parallel, is he concerned about the effect of the Resource Management Act on resource consents for roads, and can he confirm that, because of this, no roads have been built by Transit since that Act came into force, and that Transit is sitting on pots of money, as claimed by Richard Prebble in the House last night?
Hon. Richard Prebble: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The member cannot authenticate that. He is not quoting me accurately. I am pleased to hear that he is now realising that he should follow the ACT party, but he should follow it properly.
Mr SPEAKER: As often, the member has made a valid point. The last part of the question is to be ignored by the Minister.
Hon. PAUL SWAIN: There have been reports of concerns about the Resource Management Act process as far as roading is concerned. The Government has taken a number of steps to improve the Resource Management Act process, including doubling the Environment Court budget, improving mediation systems, and working with local councils on best-practice models. Route PJK in the member's area is a very good example of the streamlining that can be achieved under the Resource Management Act when local councils work together. As far as road construction is concerned, since the Resource Management Act, there are a number of examples of that: the Fairfield motorway in Dunedin; A______________ deviation, Albany to Silverdale; four-laning of State highway 1, Pokeno to Mercer; Mangatawhiri Hill deviation north of Taupo; and four-laning south highway Pukerua Bay to Plimmerton, and there is a lot more.
Hon. Roger Sowry: Why has the Government removed economic efficiency as a key priority in transport policy and increased the ability of the Minister to direct the spending of Transit and Transfund, therefore politicising the process; and does he not believe that this is in fact a step backwards even despite its advocacy by the United Future party?
Hon. PAUL SWAIN: No. If the member reads the bill, he will see that in the purpose clause cost effectiveness is one of the key issues. As far as directing Transfund is concerned, the Government was pleased to be able to do that to provide 100 percent funding for regional development for those poor areas around Gisborne and the far north in order to be able to provide roading for the wall on wood that is coming on stream and is going to improve New Zealand's economic performance.
Helen Duncan: Can the Minister tell the House, with reference to the primary question, how the New Zealand transport strategy will affect transport policy?
Hon. PAUL SWAIN: The strategy represents a fundamental change in the way we deal with transport in New Zealand. For the first time, all modes of transport--road, rail, sea, and air--will be looked at in an integrated and long-term way. Implementing the land transport management part of the strategy is through the Land Transport Management Bill, which was referred to the Transport and Industrial Relations Committee last night.
Peter Brown: Does the Minister concur with New Zealand First that in addition to developing our roading network we must, with some degree of urgency, move more freight to our ports by rail as against by road, and if he does concur with that, will he briefly outline to the House how he intends to achieve it in the short term?
Hon. PAUL SWAIN: Yes, I do concur with that. That is an important part of the strategy that was released last week. The Government is currently considering a range of options on how to move that particular policy forward.
Jeanette Fitzsimons: Does the Minister agree that if affected communities through which roads are being driven were consulted earlier, as the bill requires, and if effects on the environment from road construction were minimised, as the bill requires, there would be less opposition to roads at the consent stage and applications would proceed more smoothly?
Hon. PAUL SWAIN: Yes, I do agree with that. As the member rightly points out, these are provisions within the bill. The general feeling is that if people are involved in the process sooner, the delays through appeals and things may well be reduced and we may well get progress faster.
Larry Baldock: Given that the strategy mentions economic development, is the Minister concerned about the transport deficit in Tauranga, as 34 percent of the country's exports must pass through the city to the Port of Tauranga, largely by road; and what specific steps is the Government prepared to take to address the urgent needs there?
Hon. PAUL SWAIN: The Government is concerned about the transport deficit in New Zealand. Two specific steps we have taken are, firstly, the moving forward package earlier in the year. An extra $227 million is going into transport. Secondly, the Land Transport Management Bill opens up opportunities for private/public partnerships and for tolling regimes.
Race Relations Conciliator--Mediation for
5. Hon. MURRAY McCULLY (NZ National--East Coast Bays) to the Prime Minister: Will she give an absolute assurance that neither she nor her chief of staff, Heather Simpson, were briefed by the former Race Relations Conciliator, Mr Gregory Fortuin, in relation to his attempts to mediate between the different factions of the Alliance; if not, why not?
Hon. Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Acting Prime Minister): A number of sources, including Mr Fortuin, informed the Prime Minister's office that mediation was happening after it commenced. I have no recollection of being briefed by Mr Fortuin on the issue.
Hon. Murray McCully: Given that the Prime Minister's chief of staff, Heather Simpson, was briefed on, and approved of, Mr Fortuin's intention to mediate in the Alliance dispute, and that in the Prime Minister's statement to Parliament yesterday, she said that she was informed "after it had begun", is the Prime Minister therefore asking the House to accept that Ms Simpson did not tell her prior to the mediation commencing?
Hon. Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: No. The Prime Minister is asking Parliament not to believe the statements made by Mr Matt McCarten. I advise the member to do the same thing.
Rodney Hide: Is the Prime Minister aware that, following former Race Relations Conciliator Gregory Fortuin's mediation, he recommended that a fellow board member of Industry New Zealand take over as a negotiator between the Alliance factions, and does the Prime Minister believe that such a role is appropriate for a Government-appointed board member?
Hon. Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I have no information in front of me to enable me to answer that question. I doubt very much that the assertion is correct.
Rt Hon. Winston Peters: Could the Prime Minister tell us why an attempt to try to bring two warring factions together was such a heinous crime, yet a person like Joris de Bres can go out and make a prize fool of himself and keep his job?
Hon. Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: The issue of why Mr Fortuin did not proceed with his application to remain the Race Relations Conciliator at the time--he was not dismissed, he simply was not reappointed--[Interruption] If the member of the Opposition is reappointed to his present job, I will be dumbstruck over the next year. Mr Fortuin withdrew his application to have a second term as the Race Relations Conciliator, and that was all dealt with at the time. The issue of Mr de Bres was well dealt with last week, and I think it is now clear what the Government thought of Mr de Bres' comments.
Hon. Murray McCully: In the light of the Prime Minister's answers given to the House yesterday and today, would the Prime Minister now like to put the matter beyond doubt by giving the House an absolute assurance that the Prime Minister's chief of staff, Heather Simpson, was not briefed on, or did not approve of, Mr Fortuin's mediation in the Alliance prior to that mediation occurring?
Hon. Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I can confirm that Ms Simpson was never briefed by Mr Fortuin on the details of the mediation.
6. DIANNE YATES (NZ Labour--Hamilton East) to the Minister of Broadcasting: What reports has he received on the new appointment to the Broadcasting Standards Authority?
Hon. STEVE MAHAREY (Minister of Broadcasting): I have appointed Tapu Misa to the Broadcasting Standards Authority. She has worked as a journalist across a variety of media since 1982, and described herself in her New Zealand Herald column as a Samoan, a Pacific Islander, and a Kiwi. This year Tapu Misa won the Pacific Print Journalist of the Year award. I think she has the qualities to make an excellent appointment.
Dianne Yates: What other reports has the Minister heard?
Hon. STEVE MAHAREY: A commentator on the Pacific Island radio network Niu FM welcomed the appointment, saying it is great to have a younger Pacific Island journalist on the Broadcasting Standards Authority, and that Tapu Misa was experienced and professional. The person who made those comments was Bill English. In contrast, his broadcasting spokesperson, Katherine Rich, claims that, because of the appointment, the Broadcasting Standards Authority now has no credibility with the industry at all. The question who is undermining whom?
Katherine Rich: Has the Minister been living under rock, given that he does not know that there is a widely held industry perception that the Broadcasting Standards Authority is stacked with political appointments, that there is no industry person, that there are grave doubts that the Broadcasting Standards Authority can deal objectively with the Prime Minister's corngate complaint against TV3, and that the only way not to bring the whole Broadcasting Standards Authority into question is to get the present members to stand aside when they hear that complaint?
Hon. STEVE MAHAREY: For the member's information, I live in a house in Palmerston North. The appointment process focuses on the ability and the experience of people to do the job. In the 12-year history of the Broadcasting Standards Authority, around 40 of more than 2,000 decisions made by appointees of both the National and Labour-led Governments have been appealed to the High Court, and only two have been successful. I think that speaks volumes for the independence of that group.
Sue Kedgley: Does the Minister agree that a review of the Broadcasting Standards Authority is urgently needed to give it more teeth and move it from its narrow toothless role of passively responding to complaints, and give it a more proactive leadership role in setting and monitoring broadcasting standards; if not, why not?
Hon. STEVE MAHAREY: We have to be careful that the authority is not put in the position of, in essence, generating complaints by itself to sit on, which it could do if it was wandering around the country talking with a lot of people. However, I have sympathy with the point of view that merely offering New Zealanders a complaints mechanism does not really get to the heart of many of the things that concern them about broadcasting today. Yes, I would be willing to discuss that wider role.
Stephen Franks: What can Tapu Misa add to the impartiality and the judgment of the Broadcasting Standards Authority, when on 10 April this year she wrote in the New Zealand Herald: "Alliance meetings have bristled with the kind of fear and loathing that would have been more understandable at, say, an ACT party conference.", and given that it appears she has never been to an ACT party conference, nor to ask those who have, is this another case of a Minister choosing a crony who can be relied on to despise any requirement for evidence in her work?
Hon. STEVE MAHAREY: As the Leader of the Opposition has pointed out, one of the characteristics of Miss Misa is that she has proven to be an independent and fearless spokesperson across a wide range of issues. I have met Miss Misa only once, which was last night at the Broadcasting Standards Authority end of year function, which in a celebratory mode, consisted of three speeches. That is hardly a celebration. She seems to have impressed me, too, as someone of an independent cast of mind.
Police--Recruitment Delays, Auckland
7. Hon. TONY RYALL (NZ National--Bay of Plenty) to the Minister of Police: In light of his denial last week that the indefinite deferment of three police recruit wings in 2001 had contributed to the staffing crisis in Auckland, what difference would the recruitment of 240 police officers in 2001 have made to the police staffing crisis in Auckland?
Hon. GEORGE HAWKINS (Minister of Police): If the member cares to examine what I said last week, he will note that I identified the Martin review, established by National, as the key factor contributing to problems in police resourcing over recent years. That review included a plan to reduce police staff numbers by around 540 and achieve millions of dollars in cost savings. The police commissioner's decision to defer three wings is not significant in comparison to the Martin review, because it meant a delay of less than a month in the time it took recruits to enter the police college after the last wing was deferred.
Hon. Tony Ryall: Would the Minister explain to the House how he could possibly say that cancelling the training of 240 police officers last year has not had an impact on the shortage of 142 sworn police officers in Auckland today?
Hon. GEORGE HAWKINS: The three deferred wings were deferred only. They were not cancelled. The first of these wings was due to start training in November-December 2001, and commenced in March 2002. The final planned deferred wing was due to start training in March-April 2002, and commenced in June 2002. Of course we also received $15.8 million from the Minister of Finance to help fix policing, which the National Government had taken money from.
Martin Gallagher: In terms of the Minister's answer to the primary question, what other outcomes did the Martin review identify and hope to achieve?
Hon. GEORGE HAWKINS: As well as doing hundreds of police staff out of a job, some of the key outcomes of the review included cutting the number of police districts from 16 to 12--
Hon. Dr Nick Smith: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. What does the Martin review have to do with the indefinite deferment of three police recruit wings, as it did not happen?
Mr SPEAKER: The question was raised in the Minister's primary answer. A comment has been made in a supplementary question.
Hon. GEORGE HAWKINS: As well as doing hundreds of police staff out a job, some of the key outcomes of the review included cutting the number of police districts from 16 to 12 and disestablishing the four police regions. The Martin review also noted that the National Government had agreed that the remaining savings from the range of police-cutting measures were to be used for the INCIS project, which was a dog.
Dr Muriel Newman: Why will the Minister not admit that his cancellation of the recruitment of those 240 police officers contributed substantially to Auckland's police staffing crisis--140 officers short--and why will he not accept responsibility and take the blame?
Hon. GEORGE HAWKINS: There were no wings cancelled. They were deferred, and only for a few months. This was not like the Martin report, which took away jobs permanently until a Labour Government came along and fixed it.
Ron Mark: When the Minister speaks of staffing shortages in Auckland, why does he continue to base his staffing shortfall figures on the difference between the budgeted staffing level and the actual level, as opposed to the authorised staffing level against the actual level, which in one particular case in Auckland has a station staffed with only 18 police officers when its authorised establishment provides for it to have 32?
Hon. GEORGE HAWKINS: There are figures that the police had budgeted for staff numbers, and those are the figures I use. I am not looking at the figures that are meant to be there in June because those numbers will be there by June.
Marc Alexander: Can the Minister advise us as to what strategies he is pursuing, in response to the staff shortages in Auckland, that will ensure that the same situation does not happen again, and is he confident that the 2,003 new officers he revealed in an answer to last Wednesday's question who will join Auckland police districts, will be sufficient to overcome the shortfall in experienced officers?
Hon. GEORGE HAWKINS: As I told the House last week, the Government is making a number of provisions for the staff numbers in Auckland to be strengthened. We have already provided extra funding for 60 non-sworn staff so that sworn staff can get out on the beat. We have over 78 people already signing up this week to come from the UK, some of them with over 20 years' police experience, and they will be here for several years. We also have people going through training at the moment. In fact, more police will graduate tomorrow from the Porirua Police College, and will be in Auckland streets around Christmas time.
Rt Hon. Winston Peters: Why have Tauranga police staff been moved to Auckland, thereby creating staff shortages back in Tauranga, and what is clever about that strategy?
Hon. GEORGE HAWKINS: Under Operation Cavalry the Commissioner of Police has taken police from various districts to help in Auckland. This is a common occurrence. When police need help in other areas, police are transferred from district to district to help out.
Hon. Tony Ryall: Is not his quibbling about what the police commissioner describes as "indefinitely deferred" and "cancelled" about as credible as saying he was not formally advised of the leaky homes statement, and is it not a fact that if we did have these 240 police officers, who have never been recruited in replacement, we would not be 142 staff short in Auckland and we would not need his Operation Cavalry?
Hon. GEORGE HAWKINS: We have not cancelled any police intakes at all, compared with the National Government whose plans were to cut 540 police jobs and save millions of dollars so it could pay for the INCIS computer. That is a fact, and there is no hiding from it.
Programmes--Monitoring of Violence
8. SUE KEDGLEY (Green) to the Minister of Broadcasting: What is he doing to monitor violence on television?
Hon. STEVE MAHAREY (Minister of Broadcasting): The depiction and frequency of violence on television is clearly an issue of public concern. On Monday I met the working-group the Government has appointed to oversee a research project into television violence and whether it is being effectively regulated in this country. The project was initiated during the last Parliament by the member asking the question, and was allocated $300,000 in the 2002 Budget. The Government decided to continue with the project, as part of its cooperation agreement with Miss Kedgley's party, for this parliamentary term.
Sue Kedgley: Is he concerned about research, which shows there are strong links between exposure to violence on television and violent behaviour, especially amongst young people, and, if the review team finds high levels of violence on New Zealand television, will he take positive steps to place controls on the amount of violence screened on television, particularly during times when young people are watching; if not, why not?
Hon. STEVE MAHAREY: That question is at the heart of what the television violence project working group will be doing. I guess at this stage we would not want to prejudge its advice. It will, however, be evaluating the current tools that are available through the Broadcasting Standards Authority, the Broadcasting Act, the codes of practice, and the TVNZ charter. I wonder, when we get that advice, whether we can look at those issues then.
David Parker: What are the other aims of the television violence project working group?
Hon. STEVE MAHAREY: The research project will look at three things: the portrayal of violence on our television sets, the examination of international research for information that might be relevant in this country, and the evaluation of those public policy tools are referred to, to see whether they are adequate for this particular issue. The working group, who will appoint and oversee the research group, are a highly credible range of consumers of broadcasting, production, and industry representatives, and they are chaired by Dr Rajen Prasad.
Katherine Rich: Why is the Minister spending $300,000 setting up yet another broadcasting committee to study a subject that has been researched to death by academics and other researchers, both here and overseas, and why does he not admit that it will be little more than an earnest talkfest--just a sop to get Green support?
Hon. STEVE MAHAREY: The subject has not been researched to death in this country, although there are a number of people who have commented on the issue. We do not have this kind of research available to us here. Internationally, one of the problems is that it has largely been what is referred to as "effects research" that has dominated the research agenda, and it has been relatively inconclusive.
Gerry Brownlee: Talk to United. Violence in other ways--
Hon. STEVE MAHAREY: But given, I imagine, that people will be reviewing incidents such as the "Gerry down-the-stairs Brownlee" heavyweight campaign to take over the leadership mantle, maybe the National Party does not want this issue looked at!
Mr SPEAKER: The last part of that answer was irrelevant.
Peter Brown: Is the Minister concerned that violence on television might well decrease as a result of some of these moves, but an individual will be able to go and buy or hire a video and see the same sort of violence, or even worse; if he is concerned would he at least discuss it with his colleague, the Minister of Internal Affairs, so that we might get a consistent standard overall in this country towards violent television video programmes?
Hon. STEVE MAHAREY: Yes, I am. For example, anybody who has Sky in the house can get up to 42 channels of television, and obviously we would need to take into account where people are watching their television in the future. I think it takes us back to the point that Ms Kedgley raised earlier, however, and that is, perhaps, the Broadcasting Standards Authority has to have a more proactive role around these issues, rather than just offering a complaints mechanism.
Sue Kedgley: Does the Minister agree that our publicly owned television service, TVNZ, ought to take a leading role in ensuring that children are not exposed to potentially harmful television content in the form of gratuitous and excessive violence, and will he therefore support amendments to the TVNZ bill, which would strengthen TVNZ's role in complying with the codes and addressing the issue of violence on television?
Hon. STEVE MAHAREY: Oddly enough, following discussions with the Green Party, we have agreed to change the TVNZ bill to ensure that the TVNZ charter will take account of Television New Zealand taking a leading role in all codes of broadcasting practice.
Customs Service--Supply Chain
9. RUSSELL FAIRBROTHER (NZ Labour--Napier) to the Minister of Customs: What steps is the New Zealand Customs Service taking to meet increased international concern about supply chain security?
Hon. RICK BARKER (Minister of Customs): In response to the call by the United Nations, APEC, and other international organisations, to improve supply chain security, and the introduction by the United States this month of new rules for traders, the New Zealand Customs Service, together with the Export Institute, is holding meetings around the country to inform business about international moves to improve supply chain security. The New Zealand Customs Service is working with other Government agencies and with business to develop a quality assurance model that will protect this country's reputation as a safe and secure trading partner.
Russell Fairbrother: Is the New Zealand Customs Service using its initiative in a practical way to respond to this threat to our export trade?
Hon. RICK BARKER: Yes. The Customs Service has already begun to tighten checks on our export cargo as a practical step in providing more assurance about our international cargo security. Uniformed officers are being stationed at selected wharves and airline cargo depots to check that shipments being delivered for export are what they say they are and that they have documentary evidence of customs authority to export.
Shane Ardern: How can the Minister give such an assurance to the House or the United States when the Auditor-General's report on biosecurity criticised the lack of communication and common achievement goals between departments, and that those roles and responsibilities were, at best, unclear; if we cannot stop the bugs, then how will we be able to stop the bombs?
Hon. RICK BARKER: I am delighted to be able to advise that member that the communication between the departments and ministries has improved significantly. I am very confident that where there is better cooperation and a whole of Government approach being taken that we will have a much more secure border.
Ian Ewen-Street: Does the Minister believe that biosecurity is just as important as supply chain security, and what is he doing to assist the Minister for Biosecurity to deal with the 60,000-plus contaminated sea containers that cross our borders each year without being decontaminated?
Hon. RICK BARKER: The current initiative that has been raised by APEC, the United States, and other countries is a direct threat to our $33 billion trade. If New Zealand cannot guarantee security of supply along its chain of supply, then our export trade of $33 billion is threatened. I accept the member's contention that biosecurity is equally important to New Zealand's security. The Customs Service will be working more closely with the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry and other agencies to ensure that we do a much more thorough check of more containers.
Shane Ardern: I seek leave to table a document dated 11 December 2002 that states that the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry has been unable to contain a nest of redback spiders in a school bus imported from Australia.
Document, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.
Crime--Statistics of Ethnic Groups
10. RON MARK (NZ First) to the Minister of Police: Does he have confidence that crime statistics held by police adequately reflect true incidences of crime by ethnicity; if so, why?
Hon. GEORGE HAWKINS (Minister of Police): Yes, I am confident that police statistics in this area are accurate as far as they can be, given the difficulty that persons apprehended for offending do not always cooperate with the police.
Ron Mark: How can the Minister ever hope to have a true picture of ethnic crime trends when police list apprehensions by ethnicity as Asiatic, Caucasian, Indian, Maori, Negro, Pacific Islander, null ethnicity, other, and unknown?
Hon. GEORGE HAWKINS: The terms are historically being used by the police. I understand that when the police next spend money on upgrading a computer system they will change it and refine it.
Georgina Beyer: What was the ethnic breakdown of offender apprehensions for last year?
Hon. GEORGE HAWKINS: Apprehensions for each ethnic group in the year 2001-2002 were Caucasian 95,029, Asiatic 4,422, Indian 1,728, Maori 81,930, Pacific Islanders 15,310, and others 2,155.
Hon. Tony Ryall: Does the Minister have confidence that crime statistics adequately reflect true incidences of violent crimes, which were up 12.8 percent in Auckland for a second record year in a row; if so, what initiatives has he undertaken to decrease violent crime in Auckland except to cancel 240 police recruits, thereby ensuring a shortage of 142 staff in Auckland as we speak?
Mr SPEAKER: The question was in order to start with, but then drifted a little. The Minister may comment briefly.
Hon. GEORGE HAWKINS: Police records do not reflect all crime, it is reported crime they reflect. It is very clear that when there is a plan to take away 540 police jobs as the Martin review did, it means starting behind the eightball.
Keith Locke: How far are we from having a police force that truly reflects the ethnic diversity of New Zealand, and that can adequately relate to every ethnic community in combatting crime? [Interruption]
Hon. GEORGE HAWKINS: I remind the person interjecting about Hong Kong, that crime went up when he was the Minister of Police, and I do not think he brought any from Hong Kong. The reality is that we are working to have a police force that better represents the make-up of New Zealand's present population, but it is taking some time to achieve that.
Marc Alexander: In the light of the Minister's statement of 12 November that "The police do keep statistics for ethnic groups but sometimes the groups are so small and insignificant that it is of no value.", what level do the group statistics have to reach before he and the police consider them to be significant and of value?
Hon. GEORGE HAWKINS: The police identified the main groups, the others are put in the category of "Other", and other terms have been used, some of which I do not think are all that appropriate, including that of "Negro". As I said, when they have the ability to make a change they will.
Ron Mark: Why does the Minister collate, record, and publicise crime statistics on Maori and Indian crime, while, in terms of recording other ethnic groups he conveniently lumps them as "Asiatic", "Caucasian" or "Pacific Island", and is that just another example of how the Government seeks to belittle Maori and Indian people by singling them out as opposed to identifying other people, such as Somalis, who are featured in the newspaper in Christchurch today?
Hon. GEORGE HAWKINS: I do not collate the crime figures, the police do, and have been doing that for a long, long time, probably when he first had anything to do with the police himself.
National Certificate of Educational
11. Hon. RICHARD PREBBLE (Leader--ACT NZ) to the Minister of Education: Did students sitting NCEA exams in maths and other subjects all receive three hours for the exam even though some students were sitting for five achievement standards while others were sitting for as few as one; if so, how is this a fair exam?
Hon. STEVE MAHAREY (Acting Minister of Education): What is tested in the National Certificate of Educational Achievement, or the NCEA, exams, is what the student knows, understands, and can do, not how fast they can do it. All assessments were written by expert teachers and tested to ensure that a student working at a slower rate could complete all questions for all standards within the session time. Students completing only one standard would be free to leave after the first half hour. All National Certificate of Educational Achievement examination sessions, except Information Management, were 3 hours long. To assist students, each standard had a guide to the time it might make to complete. Schools have been aware of that since May.
Hon. Richard Prebble: What does the Minister say to the student with a good academic record who told the Opposition inquiry into the National Certificate of Educational Achievement that she sat the maths exam in five achievement standards, ran out of time to finish, so cannot get an excellence, but a fellow student who sat in just one credit is almost certain to get an excellence, and how can that be described as a fair exam?
Hon. STEVE MAHAREY: There is no certainty that the student who sat one of those achievement standards to gain that credit will get an excellence. The examination is an achieve, a merit, or an excellence. The student who sat the five achievement standards seeking five credits would know by looking at the paper since May 2002 that he or she would need to organise his or her time so as to move through that work in the time available. Any member in this House knows it was a common practice throughout the years they sat exams that they were advised of the time it would take to achieve the question so they could plan their examination and move through the paper in the time available. That is what is happening here.
David Benson-Pope: Could the Minister comment on whether the conduct of the National Certificate of Educational Achievement external exams actually presented any problems or difficulties?
Hon. STEVE MAHAREY: Contrary to the doomsayers, the National Certificate of Educational Achievement examinations went very smoothly. Over 13 days, more than 1 million papers were provided to 22,000 separate examination sessions throughout the country. There have been no systemic problems. Teachers and students described the papers as fair, largely what was expected, and demanding high standards. The important thing about any examination is that students get the opportunity to demonstrate their knowledge, and they did so in those exams.
Hon. Dr Nick Smith: How can the Minister maintain his answer to the primary question that the time taken is of no relevance, and does the Government apply the same thing to achievement, for instance, on a rugby field, on a sprint, or in terms of practical work environment, or is this just another dose of sickly political correctness on our educational system?
Hon. STEVE MAHAREY: No one has said that time is of no relevance. What I said at the beginning--and I will give members the answer on behalf of the Minister of Education again--was that what is tested is how much the student knows, understands, and can do, not how fast they can do it. However, students were advised to plan for those exams on the basis that the time recorded in the examination paper was the time they should allow.
Hon. Brian Donnelly: Is the statement on the New Zealand Qualification Authority's website correct that schools "have authority to decide their own policies on granting compassionate considerations, i.e. aegrotats and further opportunity for assessments"; if so, how can it be fair in a national system if one school sets generous policies and a neighbouring school has very strict ones?
Hon. STEVE MAHAREY: As I am answering on behalf of the Minister of Education, I have not looked at that website in preparation for this question. I would need to look specifically at the website to confirm that that is exactly what is there.
Bernie Ogilvy: Can the Minister confirm that models of external assessments and nationally moderated exemplars for level 2 subjects such as dance and geography are not yet available; if so, how does he expect teachers to plan year 12 lessons in those subjects for next year?
Hon. STEVE MAHAREY: I understand that to be the case, but that is exactly why the Minister of Education has been pointing out that there is work under way and training days available to those teachers.
12. Dr LYNDA SCOTT (NZ National--Kaikoura) to the Minister of Health: Have any district health boards internally increased the number of points required to get an operation, meaning patients have to be sicker to get service; if so, which ones?
Hon. ANNETTE KING (Minister of Health): Some points have gone up and some have gone down, but most have stayed the same. The level of service across the country remains at similar levels to last year.
Dr Lynda Scott: Is she aware that the points required to get a hip replacement in Counties Manukau have increased from 65 to 79, and ear, nose and throat elective surgery from 40 to 54, meaning one has to be more disabled or have more pain to get surgery, and can she confirm that 5,000 Counties Manukau patients have been sent back to their general practitioners without even a look-in at surgery?
Hon. ANNETTE KING: According to the Counties Manukau District Health Board there has been a slight shift in points, however the cataracts have remained the same. They have had one remain the same and two go up. I wonder why the member wants to mention only that one. Perhaps she would like to have mentioned the fact that Auckland has gone down, down, and remained the same.
Steve Chadwick: Has the Minister seen any reports that the Otago District Health Board has raised the points required for an operation?
Hon. ANNETTE KING: Yes, Lynda Scott put out a media statement on 19 November stating that the Otago District Health Board had raised its points, this despite the fact that she was advised by phone and by a letter from the board on 14 October, a month before, that the board had not increased its points. Where is the honesty in that?
Heather Roy: Given that clinical guidelines for point allocation for surgery are nationally consistent, why do the points needed for hip replacements and cardiac surgery differ so much between hospitals?
Hon. ANNETTE KING: The member is incorrect. There are only two procedures where there are currently nationally consistent guidelines; gynaecology is one and ophthalmology is the other. The rest of New Zealand has yet to implement the same standard.
Sue Kedgley: Does the Minister agree that it is grossly unfair that two patients with the same health condition can end up with quite different treatment merely because of the size of the deficits of their respective district health boards, and what does she plan to do about this inequity?
Hon. ANNETTE KING: I agree with the member. I want national consistency. Working on the criteria for 29 of the procedures has been the work undertaken over the last 2 years, and we are very close to having national consistency used across New Zealand. However, I say to the member that if it were based on the size of the deficit, one would have to ask why Auckland has reduced the points in its area on three of the issues raised by the member for National, and the points remain the same for the other.
Judy Turner: Could the Minister explain whether she has received any reports about other strategies employed by district health boards to reduce debt?
Hon. ANNETTE KING: One of the ways that boards are looking to reduce debt is by having their debt refinanced through the Government--rather than through private borrowings--and at a lower interest rate.
Dr Lynda Scott: With board chairs like Kevin Atkinson stating: "I can't face cutting elective surgery any further.", and points for surgery going up all over the country so that many patients have to be sicker to get service, when will the Minister start offering solutions to health boards with large deficits, instead of turning a blind eye and pretending there is not a problem?
Hon. ANNETTE KING: The member is incorrect. The points for surgery are not going up all around New Zealand. She has the same figures as I have, and it is time she used them correctly rather than trying to pretend a story. I can tell the member that this Government has put considerable additional money into health. It is interesting that Bill English said during the previous election campaign that he would put in the same amount over the next 3 years that we put in during 2001 and 2002. That amount is less than what this Government has put in.
Dr Lynda Scott: I seek leave to table a letter of 3 December 2002 from Counties Manukau District Health Board showing the increase in points for hip replacements and grommets.
Document, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.
Hon. ANNETTE KING: I seek leave to table a letter from Otago District Health Board to Lynda Scott, telling her there had been no change in its points from 2002.
Document, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.
Dr Lynda Scott: I seek leave to table a letter from the orthopaedics department showing that the points had gone up, and then Bill Adam said that they had changed their minds and put them down again.
Document, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.
Hon. Roger Sowry: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. During question No. 12 the Minister, who had a large document in front of her, on answering the substantive question turned to the middle of the document, held it up, and read from it. She quoted that Counties Manukau had a slight movement in the number of points, as she was looking at the document. My understanding is that if people have a document I do not expect them to have to table the whole document, but certainly the page that was quoted from should be tabled. I hereby request that.
Hon. ANNETTE KING: I am happy to table it. However Lynda Scott has it; it is written to her.
Document, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.
Question No. 10 to Minister
RON MARK (NZ First): I seek leave to table a series of documents that clearly identify the different way in which ministries record ethnicity. The first is an answer to a question from the Minister of Police, which lists ethnic groups recorded as Asiatic, Caucasian, Indian, Maori, Negro--
Document, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.
Ron Mark: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Have you taken all the documents as one tabling?
Mr SPEAKER: Yes, and as nobody has objected, the member can table the lot.
End of Questions for Oral Answer.
(Uncorrected transcript - subject to correction and further editing)