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Questions Of The Day Transcript - 12 December

(Uncorrected transcript - subject to correction and further editing)
Questions 1-12 12 December, 2002

(and Question 1 to Member)

QUESTIONS FOR ORAL ANSWER

QUESTIONS TO MINISTERS

Research--Private Sector Investment

1. JILL PETTIS (NZ Labour--Whanganui) to the Minister of Research, Science and Technology: What progress has the Government made recently in encouraging private sector investment in research?

Hon. PETE HODGSON (Minister of Research, Science and Technology): It has made excellent progress. The Foundation for Research, Science and Technology has just announced four new research consortium projects that have attracted private sector funding of up to $44 million over the next 5 to 7 years. These consortia involve 23 firms or organisations from New Zealand as well as international partners, and there are currently two more proposals under development.

Jill Pettis: How will these consortia advance research that is in the public interest?

Hon. PETE HODGSON: The four successful consortia will be doing research in areas of high strategic value for New Zealand, namely in pastoral genomics, milk bioactives, wood quality, and pastoral greenhouse gases. By getting companies, research organisations, and Government agencies working together, we have identified high-value research projects with excellent potential to produce tangible benefits for New Zealand.

Dr Don Brash: Does the Minister agree with the chief executive of the Ministry of Research, Science and Technology, who confirmed on 4 December that "it is still official policy to achieve a target for public service R and D spending of 0.8 percent GDP by 2010", and does he deny that under his Government such spending has decreased as a share of gross domestic product since 1999?

Hon. PETE HODGSON: This Government has increased spending since the last election by 18 percent.

Opposition Members: It's gone down.

Hon. PETE HODGSON: If that has gone down as a percentage of gross domestic product, then that is because my colleague the Minister of Finance is himself being far too successful, although I doubt that it is a reduction as a percentage of gross domestic product. More to the point, the thing that characterises New Zealand research and development funding is that two-thirds of it is carried out by the public sector, whereas in most nations two-thirds of it is carried out by the private sector. There are a lot of reasons for that, but the research consortia announced today start to draw that problem into better alignment.

Hon. Ken Shirley: Is the real encouragement he is providing for private sector research investment the fact that public sector funding through the Ministry of Research, Science and Technology for the Forest Research Institute, HortResearch, and other Crown research institutes has been slashed under his Government, and that unless one is engaged in the change-climate industry, one gets no funding for research?

Hon. PETE HODGSON: Prejudicial nonsense! The funding for Crown research institutes, and for universities, and for the private sector, and for research associations all comes out of a range of buckets into which all parties may bid. The really important thing about our innovation system is not who wins what but who is working with whom. The interactivity between institutions, public and private, is what matters in an innovation system, not whether Ken Shirley's most favoured Crown research institute or university is getting more or less in any one year.

Jeanette Fitzsimons: Can the Minister advise as to who will own any intellectual property that results from these joint ventures between public and private funding?

Hon. PETE HODGSON: It is a matter of negotiation. What has happened is that each of the consortia has negotiated an intellectual property arrangement before the consortia were announced. The details, I am sure, are public. I do not have them myself. I would imagine that, as a general rule, a good idea would be to follow the money.

Equal Employment Opportunities--Government Example
2. Dr MURIEL NEWMAN to the Minister of Labour: Does she believe that the Government should lead by example in the treatment of women in the workplace; if so, what actions have been taken in this regard?

Hon. MARGARET WILSON (Minister of Labour): Yes. That is why the Government has enacted legislation providing for paid parental leave and the appointment of an Equal Employment Opportunities Commissioner, and why it has recently published a discussion paper on pay equity.

Dr Muriel Newman: Is it Government policy to allow a private sector boss to fire a staff member without warning, simply because she had a date with someone else?

Hon. MARGARET WILSON: I am loath to give a legal opinion on a situation that is so brief on facts, but if such a person had, in fact, experienced that, I would advise her to contact her employer first of all, and then either seek assistance from mediation, or the advice of her lawyer.

Katherine Rich: Is the Minister concerned that, despite her feminist rhetoric regarding the treatment of women in the workplace, this Government is developing a reputation for firing leggy blondes for shortcomings, such as dangly earrings, short skirts, cleavage, and their choice of boyfriend?

Hon. MARGARET WILSON: This Government certainly stands on its record in terms of gender equality and equity. When compared with the previous Government, the changes we have made to human rights legislation, and to the employment relations legislation, ensures that long, leggy male blonds and leggy female blondes are treated equally.

Sue Kedgley: Will the Minister ask the newly-appointed Equal Employment Opportunities Commissioner to investigate pay inequities within the Parliamentary Service, particularly the pay of executive secretaries, who are mostly female; if not, why not?

Hon. MARGARET WILSON: It is not appropriate to direct the Equal Employment Opportunities Commissioner on such a specific task. However, within the terms of reference for that position, there is certainly reference to issues relating to pay equity, which I think directly relate to the issue raised by the member.

Helen Duncan: Can the Minister tell the House what procedure has to be followed if an issue arises between a member of Parliament and a staff member, which either, or both, feel they cannot resolve?

Hon. MARGARET WILSON: One or both of the parties may refer it to--

Hon. Roger Sowry: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. She has no responsibility for that.

Mr SPEAKER: The Minister has no responsibility for that question.

Peter Brown: Has the Minister heard the rumour that, due to his impressive industrial relations track record, Clayton Cosgrove is being touted as the next Minister of Labour?

Hon. MARGARET WILSON: As I have just been reminded, I have no responsibility for that matter.

Hon. Roger Sowry: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I regret that the question asked by Helen Duncan could not be answered by the Minister, as she has no responsibility for that matter. We would be prepared to give leave to have Helen Duncan ask her question of the Prime Minister, who does have responsibility for matters between staff and members of Parliament.

Mr SPEAKER: No. The member knows the Standing Orders. Members have the ability to seek leave only for themselves.

Basel Convention, Ban Amendment (Decision III/1)--Ratification
3. JEANETTE FITZSIMONS (Co-Leader--Green) to the Minister for the Environment: In light of the statement in the New Zealand Waste Strategy that "New Zealand is a signatory to the Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal, [and] the Waigani Convention, ... . We must ensure existing legislation complies with these agreements,", when will New Zealand ratify the Ban Amendment (Decision III/1) to the Basel Convention?

Hon. PETE HODGSON (Minister of Energy), on behalf of the Minister for the Environment: The New Zealand waste strategy makes clear that the Government is committed to meeting its international obligations regarding hazardous waste. The ban amendment to the Basel convention is not yet in force, and the Government will consider ratification when it is satisfied that the amendment will achieve its objectives.

Jeanette Fitzsimons: Given that New Zealand has ratified the Waigani convention, which effectively mimics the Basel ban, but bans export of hazardous materials only to South Pacific forum countries, why will she not give a commitment now to extend that protection to other non-OECD countries?

Hon. PETE HODGSON: There is no inconsistency in our current position. The Waigani convention does prevent New Zealand from exporting wastes to Pacific Island countries that have no adequate disposal facilities, and we support that restriction. The Ban amendment, if ratified, would prevent New Zealand from sending any hazardous waste to any non-OECD country, even though some non-OECD countries have perfectly sound disposal facilities. We are not yet satisfied that that is sensible.

David Cunliffe: What steps has the Government taken to ensure that hazardous substances are disposed of in an environmentally sound manner?

Hon. PETE HODGSON: New Zealand has ratified the Basel convention, the Waigani convention, and it is in the process of ratifying the Rotterdam convention and the Stockholm convention. We have introduced two bills into this House to give effect to our obligations under those international conventions. We intend to pass those bills next year. That contrasts with the previous National Government under which there were very few, or any, restrictions on the import or export of hazardous wastes, and that had no regard for the environmental impact thereof.

Hon. Dr Nick Smith: Why does the New Zealand waste strategy not include the landfill levy when this was specifically promised in Labour's manifesto, or is this just another example of the Government breaking its promises?

Hon. PETE HODGSON: The issue of the landfill levy and its relationship to transboundary movements of hazardous wastes is a little bit of a stretch. However, I would suggest that the New Zealand waste strategy will be a very effective document in improving New Zealand's waste management and the methane emissions arising from it.

Jeanette Fitzsimons: What monitoring does New Zealand do of the kinds and quantities of hazardous wastes that we export from New Zealand to non-OECD countries, of the ways they are treated in those countries, and of any health and environmental effects resulting in the way they are handled there?

Hon. PETE HODGSON: I apologise to the member. I do not think I can give her an informed answer to that question.

Homicide, Mount Wellington-Panmure--Defendant's Felonies
4. Hon. BILL ENGLISH (Leader of the Opposition) to the Minister of Police: How does he reconcile his statement on 6 June 2000 that "The Government has already taken steps to ensure that burglary is treated as a serious crime. The contract with police now requires all burglaries to be responded to within 24 hours", with the fact that police failed to respond to repeated complaints of burglary involving William Duane Bell, who only days after these complaints went on to commit three brutal murders at the Mt Wellington-Panmure RSA?

Hon. PAUL SWAIN (Minister of Transport), on behalf of the Minister of Police: The Government regards burglary as a very serious crime and has advised the Commissioner of Police that it regards this as a desirable standard for attendance and resolution of these offences. While prioritisation of attendance for all crimes is an operational issue, the Commissioner of Police has been advised of the Government's concern in relation to this matter, and has actively been taking steps for some time to ensure compliance as close to the desired targets as possible.

Hon. Bill English: Why did the police not investigate the burglaries by William Bell, for one of which they were supplied with the name and address of William Bell, within 24 hours as they are required to do, or was it because the Auckland police are chronically short-staffed and never had a chance of meeting the 24-hour deadline?

Hon. PAUL SWAIN: No, to the second, and as far as the first is concerned, the member draws an extraordinarily long bow. I can only quote Detective Senior Sergeant David Pearson, who says, "It would be absurd to suggest that we knew he was going to go on and anything would have stopped Bell. I doubt that. Look at Bell. Looking at his demeanour sitting through this court case, nothing was going to stop him."

Martin Gallagher: Has the Minister received reports on burglary response times in the three Auckland police districts, and if so, what do the reports say?

Hon. PAUL SWAIN: Yes, I have received reports on those areas. If I could quote one: "The average response time in Auckland has improved from 25 hours 5 minutes in December 2001 to 12 hours 26 minutes in October 2002."

Ron Mark: Why do the Minister and his Government continue to hold the Commissioner of Police accountable for failure to meet their targets, when the Government is under-resourcing the police in terms of finance and is under-staffing the police, and I receive information that tells me that in a particular incident room, where they normally employ four officers, on this particular day it was empty, with two away on leave, one in the lunch room taking a long overdue coffee break, and the fourth out of the station?

Hon. PAUL SWAIN: With regard to the resourcing question, perhaps a few facts might help. For example, as at yesterday, there were 7,273 sworn and 2,052 non-sworn staff. That is the highest combined staff resource on record.

Hon. Richard Prebble: Will the Minister reconcile the failure of the police to respond to the burglary by William Duane Bell with his statement in Parliament on 7 May 1997, when he said, "Yes, my dear old mum caught a burglar last year. She had him by the arm and rang the police. Unfortunately, the 17-year-old burglar got away from my dear old Mum while waiting for the police. I have to tell the Minister that that is not good enough . . . I have to say that it stinks . . .", and could the Minister now tell us how it smells?

Hon. PAUL SWAIN: Because of that relationship with his mother and the direct involvement in crime, that is probably why he is now the Minister of Police.

Judy Turner: In the light of the offender William Duane Bell's prolific career in crime since the age of 8, what specific steps are the police taking to better coordinate with social services with regard to young offenders who clearly progress through the criminal world from burglary to homicide and other violent crimes?

Hon. PAUL SWAIN: There are a range of initiatives that the Government is taking, through the Minister of Justice, the Minister of Social Services and Employment, and including the Minister of Police. Those are many and varied, and I would be happy to answer that member with specific answers to the questions if she would put them down on the Order Paper.

Hon. Bill English: Will the Minister call for an immediate investigation into the failure of the police to investigate the two burglaries in the week prior to the Returned Services Association murders, and also into allegations made this morning that while Bell was on parole in respect of previous crimes he was unsupervised, and, in the words of one person affected by the crime, someone in the probation office ". . . cocked up big time. They let him walk out of the office, and 5 months later, look what happened."?

Hon. PAUL SWAIN: I do not know why that member continues to want to bag the police. Let us remember--[Interruption] Do not point your finger at me, sonny!

Mr SPEAKER: I want the Minister to withdraw that comment.

Hon. PAUL SWAIN: I withdraw. I am not sure why that member wants to bag the police. Members should remember that from a standing cold start, the police caught the baddies. They should be congratulated on that.

Ron Mark: How are members of the New Zealand Police force meant to meet their targets in terms of burglary attendance, when a particular station in Auckland that should have 32 police officers has only 18?

Mr SPEAKER: It is wide of the original question, but the Minister may comment.

Hon. PAUL SWAIN: Yes, it is quite wide, and I am sure that the Minister answering on behalf of the Minister of Police will do his best. The reality is that there are clear concerns about issues in Auckland. However, it is important to record that the total staff numbers are the highest on record and that the total budget is now $960 million, compared with around $860 million during the period when the National Government was in power.

Hon. Bill English: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Although the Minister might regard this as a light-hearted matter, I asked him a serious question about whether he would call for an immediate investigation. He simply did not answer that question at all, in spite of having the opportunity to do so.

Mr SPEAKER: The member has made a point. I will ask the Minister to comment.

Hon. PAUL SWAIN: No.

Air New Zealand-Qantas Merger--Commerce Commission
5. GORDON COPELAND (United Future) to the Minister of Transport: Will the Government consider delaying its national interest decision on the proposed Air New Zealand-Qantas "alliance" until after the Commerce Commission has reached a decision, as suggested by groups like "Debate Air New Zealand"?

Hon. PAUL SWAIN (Minister of Transport): The Government has stated that it will give a response to the national interest question by 18 December, which will determine whether there is any point in proceeding to the Commerce Commission examination. If it proceeds to that stage, there will be ample opportunity for public input and debate. The Government has reserved its right to withhold final approval if during any Commerce Commission process material changes are made to the commercial proposal, or significant new information is revealed.

Gordon Copeland: Notwithstanding that, is the Government not concerned that a ministerial decision on whether the Air New Zealand - Qantas alliance is in the national interest could unduly influence the Commerce Commission decision, and is this not the kind of thing that could re-assert New Zealand's commercial Wild West reputation, which this Government has been so determined to alleviate?

Hon. PAUL SWAIN: No.

Mark Peck: Why did the Government decide to make a decision with regard to the national interest criteria before the Commerce Commission consideration of the proposal?

Hon. PAUL SWAIN: Any Commerce Commission appraisal could take 6 to 9 months. If at the end of this the Government never had any intention of giving approval, then there would be no point in going through the Commerce Commission process. That is why the Government has agreed to make a conditional decision with regard to the national interest criteria first.

Hon. Bill English: Why did the Government allow David Parker MP to write and have published an article in the New Zealand Herald strongly backing the Qantas - Air New Zealand deal, and how are we to conclude anything other than that he is expressing the Government view before it has made any decision?

Hon. PAUL SWAIN: I was not aware of that matter until the member raised it. I can say that the Government process that has been outlined is the Government process that will be followed.

Rt Hon. Winston Peters: I ask the Minister whether, in the interests of not having politics that are akin to running with the hares and hunting with the hounds, the United Future party has given any intimation that should a bill be brought before Parliament, either private or public, opposing the sale, that the United Future party will support it?

Hon. PAUL SWAIN: I have not had any discussions with the United Future party on this matter.

Hon. Peter Dunne: In view of the inherent conflict of interest in the Government's role as Air New Zealand's majority shareholder, as the protector of the national interest, and as the overseer of competition law, does the Minister not consider that a ministerial decision pre-Christmas on whether the alliance arrangement is in the national interest, would be an undue influence on any subsequent decisions made by the Commerce Commission?

Hon. PAUL SWAIN: No. We have given that quite considerable thought, and the Ministers involved, the ones he has mentioned, have been very careful to stick to their respective roles. We have been very careful about that issue.

Gordon Copeland: What consideration will the Government give to small airlines, like 100 percent - owned Origin Pacific Airways, when deciding whether the Qantas buy-in to Air New Zealand is in the national interest?

Hon. PAUL SWAIN: The continuation of a robust domestic air service is one of the matters that we are considering. If, however, the decision was to proceed to the Commerce Commission, that is an issue also that would be addressed by the Commerce Commission.

Hon. Peter Dunne: Is one of the real reasons that the Government is moving ahead with the national interest decision, pre-Christmas, the fact that the recent Colmar Brunton poll showed that 59 percent of New Zealanders were opposed to the alliance, the recent Dominion Post poll showed that 67 percent were opposed; and the Government simply wants to resolve the issue prior to public opinion building up a head of steam against it?

Hon. PAUL SWAIN: No, that has nothing to do with it.

Air New Zealand-Qantas Merger--Commerce Commission
6. Hon. BILL ENGLISH (Leader of the Opposition) to the Minister of Transport: Will he agree to the call from the "Debate Air New Zealand" group to defer any Government decision on the national interest until after the Commerce Commission has investigated the Qantas-Air New Zealand proposal; if not, why not?

Hon. PAUL SWAIN (Minister of Transport): As I have already said, the Government has stated it will give a response to the national interest question by next Wednesday, which will determine whether there is any point in proceeding to the Commerce Committee examination. If it does proceed to that stage, there will be ample opportunity for public input and debate. The Government has reserved its right to withhold final approval if, during any Commerce Commission process, material changes are made to the commercial proposal or significant new information is revealed.

Hon. Bill English: Why should Parliament or the public take the Government's national interest test seriously, when it has endorsed an article by Labour MP David Parker in the New Zealand Herald setting out a robust defence of the Qantas - Air New Zealand deal, or is he going down the path of George Hawkins and claiming that he never reads the New Zealand Herald?

Hon. PAUL SWAIN: The Government has not endorsed the matter that the member raised. The public should consider the Government is taking it seriously, because the Government takes it seriously itself.

Lynne Pillay: What are the national interest criteria to be evaluated?

Hon. PAUL SWAIN: The Government has agreed that a number of considerations will be used to assist the valuation. Those include: maintenance of effective control of Air New Zealand by New Zealand nationals; preservation of the unique New Zealand identity of Air New Zealand; provision of effective channels for international tourism and travel; and the preservation of New Zealand - based employment.

Rt Hon. Winston Peters: Has the Minister, together with his colleagues, any consideration of the need for a majority in Parliament in respect of that deal; if that is important, why on earth has he not spoken to the United Future party, which seems to be running with the hares and hunting with the hounds on that and so many other issues?

Mr SPEAKER: The first part of the question is certainly in order.

Hon. PAUL SWAIN: There has not been any consideration of the issue the member raised in the first part of his question.

Stephen Franks: Why does the Government think it will need 2 weeks only for its think about the national interest, when the Commerce Commission will take 6 to 9 months to assess the public interest; does it need 2 weeks only because Dr Cullen thinks there is not much else to think about when Qantas says "We want. We get."?

Hon. PAUL SWAIN: I will not comment on the second part of the question. However, I will say that the national interest tests have been set. Those are high-level considerations, and if the decision is that the deal will go to the Commerce Commission, then some of those matters will be investigated by the commission, as well.

Hon. Bill English: In considering the national interest, will the Government take into account statements made yesterday by Virgin airlines about aspects of the deal it says must be changed in order to guarantee reasonable competition in the New Zealand and trans-Tasman markets?

Hon. PAUL SWAIN: I have met with representatives of Virgin airlines and I said to them that if--and the word is if--the national interest criteria are met and the deal goes to the Commerce Commission, they should take their concerns to the Commerce Commission. I seek leave to table the Cabinet policy committee minute relating to the Air New Zealand matter.

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

Air New Zealand--Aircraft Safety after Incidents
7. Rt Hon. WINSTON PETERS (Leader--NZ First) to the Associate Minister of Transport: Does he have any concerns that the latest incident with a jet engine on an Air New Zealand aircraft involves passenger safety issues?

Hon. HARRY DUYNHOVEN (Associate Minister of Transport): In the recent emergency landing in Brisbane following engine failure, I am assured that there was no danger to the passengers as a result of the failure or the subsequent textbook-correct single-engine landing. There are always potential passenger safety issues in an incident of that kind, and aircraft crews are well trained in emergency drills. In the recent incident the aircraft remained completely controllable and the crew did very well, carrying out their emergency drills correctly, and ensuring that passengers sustained no injuries and that no further damage was incurred to the aircraft.

Rt Hon. Winston Peters: Given what the Minister has said, is he satisfied that Air New Zealand is taking passenger safety as seriously as it should, given that it has appointed Craig Sinclair to the position of senior vice-president, technical and operations, when he has no previous aircraft or airline experience to offer, whatsoever?

Hon. HARRY DUYNHOVEN: Yes, I have very great confidence in Air New Zealand. Their technical people are regarded, worldwide, very well indeed.

Rt Hon. Winston Peters: What about Craig Sinclair?

Hon. HARRY DUYNHOVEN: Mr Sinclair is well known as a careful and able manager. The ability of Air New Zealand, and its reputation internationally, can be very well taken by the fact that its engineering expertise is so widely regarded that the Federal Aviation Administration is currently in negotiation with the Civil Aviation Authority of New Zealand to allow concurrent paperwork exchange, which would mean that Air New Zealand technical respectability, worldwide, is equal to the best in the world.

H V Ross Robertson: Can the Minister inform the House whether aircrews undertake regular training to cope with emergencies, such as occurred at Brisbane?

Hon. HARRY DUYNHOVEN: Flight crews regularly conduct aircraft simulator sessions, involving handling just such emergencies. They do so in a cool, calm, and collected manner, so that such emergencies, because they are regularly practised, become a matter of course.

John Key: Has the Minister demanded that the Civil Aviation Authority undertake a full inquiry into Air New Zealand, and, if not, how does he reconcile this with the far more aggressive stance the Government has undertaken with Tranz Rail and track safety, or does this Minister think trains are inherently more dangerous than planes; if so, has he ever flown into Wellington?

Hon. HARRY DUYNHOVEN: In answer to the last part of that question, I have flown into Wellington probably several hundred times, and have sometimes been privileged enough to be on the flight deck--not at the controls, I might add. I am well aware of how tricky Wellington can be. I am certainly confident in the ability of the Civil Aviation Authority to handle this issue. It has a very thorough inspection process under way. This particular incident of an engine failure is an event that has never before occurred on this variety of engine, despite the over 16 million flight hours that this type of engine has done in e-tops operations with Boeing 767 and Airbus 310 aircraft. The Airbus 310 and Boeing 767 have this type of engine because it is so reliable. The fact that this is highly unusual and has never before been known to have occurred is why General Electric, the manufacturers, are working alongside Air New Zealand to try to decide exactly what happened in this case.

Rt Hon. Winston Peters: Can the Minister confirm that the airline's senior vice-president, operations and technical, is the same Craig Sinclair who was previously chief executive officer of Airways Corporation New Zealand, who attained significant notoriety for having resided in the UK at the taxpayers' expense chasing international contracts and costing millions of dollars, and that his technical and operational experience in the aircraft industry is as about as credible as the skills he displayed as an administrator of Airways Corporation New Zealand?

Hon. HARRY DUYNHOVEN: I can confirm that it is the same Craig Sinclair who took Airways Corporation to world-leading status in terms of technology to the point where the Federal Aviation Authority of the US has adopted its programme developed under Mr Sinclair's leadership. I can also say to the member that Mr Sinclair is highly regarded in the aviation industry for his management skills.

Race Relations Conciliator--Mediation for Alliance
8. Hon. MURRAY McCULLY (NZ National--East Coast Bays) to the Associate Minister of Justice: When she said, in relation to the involvement of the then Race Relations Conciliator, Mr Gregory Fortuin, in mediating between different factions of the Alliance that the "involvement of the Race Relations Conciliator was inappropriate, regardless of who initiated it.", was she referring to the Prime Minister or the Prime Minister's Chief of Staff; if not, who was she referring to?

Hon. MARGARET WILSON (Associate Minister of Justice): No, my comment was reported in the context of Mr Anderton's personal statement to Parliament and whether the Alliance or Mr Fortuin made the first approach to mediate. Regardless of who made the approach, I believed it was inappropriate.

Hon. Murray McCully: Did the Minister share the view the Prime Minister expressed when asked to comment on Mr Fortuin's involvement when she said: "What people do in their private lives with the skills they have is their own business"; if not, what advice did she give the Prime Minister?

Hon. MARGARET WILSON: Yes, it is people's own business what they do in their private life, but the consequences of those actions, of course, must also be taken.

Georgina Beyer: Why did the Associate Minister believe that the mediation was inappropriate?

Hon. MARGARET WILSON: While I appreciated that the Race Relations Conciliator was acting in good faith and in his own time in the role of a mediator, my concern was that the independence and integrity of the office had been compromised. Indeed, Mr Brownlee was quoted at the time as calling for his immediate resignation saying that he had nailed his colours to the mast while he was supposed to be a non-political officer in a quasi-judicial role.

Hon. Murray McCully: What does the Minister understand to be the Prime Minister's and the Prime Minister's chief of staff's knowledge of, or involvement in, Mr Fortuin's mediation efforts prior to the Minister herself being informed of those efforts?

Hon. MARGARET WILSON: My understanding is that they certainly had no knowledge of the initiation of that, but we were informed at some stage during that process.

Rt Hon. Winston Peters: If independence and neutrality is so important, and was so important, in Mr Fortuin's case, how come that was not the case when she appointed Joris de Bres to the job, who is clearly a card-carrying Labour Party lackey?

Hon. MARGARET WILSON: There is no right to discriminate against people in this country on the basis of their political beliefs, but I would also make the point that Mr de Bres made his comments in the context of his employment. I would also make the point that people may not agree with his comments but he has every right to express them.

Rodney Hide: Would she believe that it was inappropriate if the person involved had been another Government appointee on some other board, such as Industry New Zealand, or does she think her comments would just apply to a Race Relations Conciliator?

Hon. MARGARET WILSON: That is a hypothetical question, and I made the comments in the context of a concrete situation.

Border Controls--Biosecurity Protection from Pests
9. BRENT CATCHPOLE (NZ First) to the Minister for Biosecurity: What specific steps have been taken to improve border controls to safeguard the fragile agricultural and forestry exports from further outbreaks of unwanted pests from overseas, such as the painted apple moth, spiders and snakes?

Hon. DAMIEN O'CONNOR (Associate Minister of Agriculture), on behalf of the Minister for Biosecurity: During the past 3 years we have strengthened New Zealand's border controls in a number of ways, first: 100 percent of air passenger baggage arriving in New Zealand is now X-rayed or hand searched, which has reduced the risk of outbreaks of fruit flies and other pests and diseases that may enter on this pathway; secondly, instant fines were implemented in July 2001 for those passengers with undeclared risk items in their possession--9,000 fines were issued this year, which has resulted in a measurable increase in declaration of risk goods to the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry; and thirdly, a draft by Biosecurity Strategy for New Zealand is due for release this month, which outlines a vision for New Zealand's biosecurity for the next 10 years.

Brent Catchpole: Can the Minister confirm that it has been Labour's policy that all imported cars should be fumigated off shore prior to their arrival in New Zealand; if so, what progress is being made on that policy?

Hon. DAMIEN O'CONNOR: I can confirm that that has been our policy. We are not yet at the point of 100 percent of cars being fumigated, but we are moving in that direction, along with a number of other initiatives to improve the biosecurity protection regime for this country?

David Benson-Pope: What is the Government doing to implement the recommendations contained in recent reviews of biosecurity such as this week's Auditor-General's report?

Hon. DAMIEN O'CONNOR: The biosecurity strategy, which is due to be released as a draft later this month, will provide the big picture vision that has been lacking, and will set the scene for enhancing New Zealand's biosecurity capability. The recommendations that have come out of the recent review, such as the Auditor-General's report, have been taken into account in the development by the Biosecurity Council of this draft strategy. Our focus needs to move now from continuous review to implementation of the recommendations.

Shane Ardern: Given the huge amount of money spent on dealing belatedly with the painted apple moth, and certainly up until yesterday, the department's absolute lack of success in border control with the recent importation of spiders in a school bus, detected by the public and not by border control, will the Minister assure the House that there are no other incursions out there at the moment that the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry has been refused funding to fight?

Hon. DAMIEN O'CONNOR: There has been no situation where the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry has been refused funding to fight those incursions. The discovery of the redback spiders is, in fact, an indication that our biosecurity system is working and we are detecting those unwanted organisms that come into this country. No one can give an absolute guarantee to this House that our borders will be 100 percent free and protected from incursions. We need a system that deals with all aspects of both protection and dealing with those incursions when they happen.

Gerrard Eckhoff: What steps has the Government undertaken to mitigate the very real threat of bioterrorism such as the deliberate release of foot-and-mouth virus in this country, or does he share the Prime Minister's view that we live in a benign environment in terms of terrorist attack?

Hon. DAMIEN O'CONNOR: I do not believe the Prime Minister said that. We are always conscious of the risks to this country through any form of biosecurity risk, be that terrorism or be that in some unfortunate accident by some visitor, almost 2 million of whom come to this country on a regular basis.

Ian Ewen-Street: Given that 100 percent of passenger arrivals and almost 100 percent of incoming mail are subject to border control inspections, how much would it cost to increase inspections of incoming sea containers from the present 24 percent to 100 percent?

Hon. DAMIEN O'CONNOR: A comprehensive analysis of the sea container pathway has been undertaken to determine the level of risk mitigation required. The results of this risk analysis will ultimately result in a new import health standard for sea containers. An estimate of the cost of increased inspections of sea containers from the current 24 percent to 100 percent as the member suggests, would be approximately $60 million per year.

Rt Hon. Winston Peters: In respect of Damien O'Connor's comments about the school bus discovery, I want to table New Zealand's latest population statistics showing how many biosecurity agents we now have.

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

Shane Ardern: I seek leave to table a document showing that the latest incursion with the spiders was actually discovered by school children in the school bus.

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

Building Standards--Information for Public
10. RUSSELL FAIRBROTHER (NZ Labour--Napier) to the Minister of Internal Affairs: What further announcements has the Government made in relation to the building industry?

Hon. Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Leader of the House), on behalf of the Minister of Internal Affairs: The Government announced today its intention to legislate next year to tighten regulation of the building industry and to extend the current review of the Building Act to see whether the findings of the parliamentary select committee into weathertightness can be taken into account. It is clear there is some need to rebalance towards tighter control to restore confidence in building standards following the excessive deregulation of the 1990s.

Russell Fairbrother: What other steps has the Government taken in response to the weathertightness issue?

Hon. Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: As well as moving to address the issues that led to leaky building syndrome, the Government has put in place services to assist affected homeowners obtain redress. To date, about 500 people have indicated that they may want to use the new weathertight homes resolution service. Assessors have been employed, and the first property assessments are due to begin before Christmas.

Dr Wayne Mapp: Will the Minister in future expect the Building Industry Authority to exercise good "judgment and political awareness, including anticipating the unexpected", as the Minister set out in his letter to the authority on 25 March 2002, when the Minister himself utterly failed to exercise such judgment when he was informed of the problem last year by leading building people?

Hon. Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: No matter how often that latter assertion is made, it is not correct. The Minister was not properly informed by the Building Industry Authority, and simple comments like "It is so!" do not make it so.

Sue Kedgley: Will the review of the Building Act do anything to protect homeowners from heavy-metal poisoning from exposed copper chromium arsenate-treated timber, given that that particular type of treated timber has now been banned for health reasons from residential uses of an exposed nature in places like Sweden, Japan, and--soon--the United States, and now that even the Auckland Regional Council's officials are acknowledging that exposed copper chromium arsenate-treated timber can pose a health risk?

Hon. Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: The use of copper chromium arsenate treatment of timber is under investigation at the present time. However, I would point out to members of the House that people are equally calling for the use of treated timber in exterior framing parts of houses, and there are other forms available as well.

Murray Smith: Does the Minister accept the urgent necessity that every New Zealand home that has been built with untreated timber should be thoroughly checked for rot; if so, what steps is the Government currently taking to advise New Zealand homeowners of that need?

Hon. Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: There has been an enormous amount of publicity on this issue, so I am sure that people are--

Hon. Bill English: You guys don't read the papers.

Hon. Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Goodness me! That is enough.

Dr Wayne Mapp: I seek the leave of the House to table a letter written by the Minister of Internal Affairs to Mr Barry Brown, the presiding member of the Building Industry Authority, on 25 March 2002, in which he says he expected "the exercise of judgment and political awareness, including anticipating the unexpected."

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

Murray Smith: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I understood that the Minister was halfway through answering the question that I had put to him when there were interjections, and I would like him to finish answering, if I am correct.

Mr SPEAKER: No, he had concluded his answer.

Question No. 9 to Minister
Hon. Damien O'Connor: I seek leave to table a report on the discovery of the spiders in the bus, which indicates that it

was by a mechanic, not school children, and that it was found prior to any use of the school bus in this country.

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

Ron Mark: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Can the Minister clarify whether that report states that that mechanic was also a member of the biosecurity screening staff?

Mr SPEAKER: That is not a point of order.

Unions--Lump-sum Payments to Public Servants
11. Dr DON BRASH (NZ National) to the Minister of Labour: Does she stand by her statement in the House on 5 December regarding bonuses paid to public servants who are members of unions that "those payments are made, as I understand, because of the benefits that attach to collective agreements, not to membership of a union."?

Hon. MARGARET WILSON (Minister of Labour): Yes, that is my understanding.

Dr Don Brash: Does she therefore also believe that it would be acceptable for an employer to pay a bonus to an employee for signing an individual contract, if the employer sincerely believed that that would be a benefit to his or her business; if not, why not?

Hon. MARGARET WILSON: I understand that that was quite a common practice during the period of the Employment Contracts Act.

Dr Don Brash: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I do not believe that I asked a question about history; I asked a question about the current law. I do not think it was answered.

Hon. MARGARET WILSON: The law is the same in both instances.

Dave Hereora: What are the provisions of the Employment Relations Act in relation to payments to employees covered by collective agreements?

Hon. MARGARET WILSON: Section 8 of the Act provides for voluntary membership of unions. That is correct. But section 9(1) of the Act prohibits preference in terms of conditions being given simply on the basis of union membership or non-union membership, which I think is what the previous member was referring to. 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. I would also add in this context that there is a difference between the Employment Contracts Act and the Employment Relations Act, which is that one of the over-riding purposes--not in terms of the specific provisions--of the Employment Relations Act is to encourage collective bargaining.

Peter Brown: Is the Minister aware that in Australia people can have a collective contract without being members of a union, and if that were to come to pass here, it would make this whole system a lot simpler and more easily understood; or does the Minister believe that New Zealanders are inferior to Australians?

Hon. MARGARET WILSON: Obviously, I answer "No" to the latter query. But in terms of the former and more substantive point of the question, I say that that was one of the issues debated during the debate on the Employment Relations Act. Certainly it was a reason that the number for membership of unions was put at 15, and not at a larger number--to enable a group of people to come together to be able to form a collective and be able to negotiate. That provision was really also on the grounds of compliance costs, so that people know who they are negotiating with.

Rodney Hide: Is this not just another example of this Government having one rule for itself, and one rule for everybody else, such as when Labour MP Clayton Cosgrove fired his secretary without any warning simply for having a date, or is that the standard of behaviour the Minister expects of bosses in this country?

Mr SPEAKER: The Minister has no responsibility for that.

Rodney Hide: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker--

Mr SPEAKER: I have ruled there is no responsibility, and that is it.

Rodney Hide: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. If you had listened very carefully to my question--

Mr SPEAKER: I did.

Rodney Hide: I understand that the Minister has said that she wants to set a high standard in this country, and I was asking what the standard was that she was expecting of bosses in this country. She said, earlier, that she wanted to set a higher standard, and that is what my question is referring to.

Mr SPEAKER: If that had been the question, it would have been in order--if there had not been anything else added to it. But if the Minister wants to comment on that, she may.

Hon. MARGARET WILSON: Of course we want to set a high standard, for both public and private sector employees. I think that has been traditional, and traditional for employers as well. It has been traditional in this country that the Government shows leadership. At least, it does under a Labour-led Government.

Sue Bradford: Will the Minister consider extending employment relations education leave to members of Parliament as well as parliamentary employees, given the poor understanding of the Employment Relations Act by National and ACT members?

Hon. MARGARET WILSON: Members of Parliament are not employers, so therefore would not be eligible. However, I am sure such a matter could be included in the induction programme that takes place.

Gordon Copeland: Can she give an assurance that the extra payments are made to everyone covered by a collective agreement, including those who are not members of the negotiating union; if not, why not?

Hon. MARGARET WILSON: Yes, I can, but for this reason: it is that union members are covered by collective agreements. So I can give that assurance.

Dr Don Brash: Does the Minister think it is slightly misleading to say that payments are received in recognition of the benefits of a collective agreement, not because of union membership, given that under the Employment Relations Act only unions may negotiate collective agreements with employers; if not, why not?

Hon. MARGARET WILSON: Yes, the member is quite right, as I just said in my answer to the previous question. Under our legislation, collective agreements are negotiated by unions and employers. However, what is negotiated and how it is negotiated is a matter between that union and that employer, and as long as it is done in the context of the law, the Government has no business in it.

Safe Driving--Responsibilities for Youth over Christmas Holidays
12. NANAIA MAHUTA to the Minister of Youth Affairs: What action, if any, is he taking to encourage young people to drive responsibly, especially over the Christmas period?

Hon. JOHN TAMIHERE (Minister of Youth Affairs): This afternoon we have the honour of relaunching Students Against Drunk Driving at a function in the Beehive foyer. This programme encourages people to plan and care for one another and seek alternatives to driving motor vehicles after having consumed alcohol or other harmful substances. The programme currently operates in 70 percent of New Zealand secondary schools, and though its ad has runs on the board, it was the students who identified the need for a new look for the rather tired 1987 version of its logo. [Interruption]

Mr SPEAKER: Comments about members' own situations are not really in the best interests of this House. Once it starts, it continues.

Nanaia Mahuta: What reports has the Minister received on the success of Students Against Drunk Driving in obtaining funding from community funding bodies?

Hon. JOHN TAMIHERE: I am happy to inform the House that this important organisation has received grants from the New Zealand Community Trust of $100,000, and from the Lion Foundation, of $23,000. This will allow this important programme to provide greater awareness and representation in secondary schools in the new school year.

Simon Power: Will such Christmas action include recommending to the Minister of Police more police on the roads, especially in the Auckland area, where they are 142 police short?

Hon. JOHN TAMIHERE: I can assure the member that the Minister of Police will, as always, use his best endeavours to meet the high expectations of that member.

Craig McNair: What success can the Minister report in any efforts to gain a share of the current petrol and diesel tax in his annual bidding process to the Minister of Finance in order to further enhance driver training and eduction for our young people?

Hon. JOHN TAMIHERE: That is a matter I have not taken up with the very benevolent Minister of Finance.

Stephen Franks: What lessons on Christmas drink-driving does the Minister think that young people will take from Invercargill prison's "don't bother" message to Jason Mann, a 20-year-old repeat serious offender showing up last week expecting to serve his 1-month prison sentence on his second drink-driving offence; and what will he do about the "get out of jail free" cards littering Mr Goff's brand new Parole Act?

Hon. JOHN TAMIHERE: I am sure that the Department for Courts and the Department of Corrections will better relate information to the extent that this does not occur again.

Sue Bradford: In relation to the funding just received, evidently, by Students Against Drunk Driving, is the Minister taking any steps to ensure that the Government might look into sustainable ongoing funding for that very worthy organisation?

Hon. JOHN TAMIHERE: We are grateful to the organisation, having sought a range of funds from organisations that in effect are mandated by Government processes.

Mark Peck: Does the Minister share the outrage felt by the citizens of Invercargill at the early release, and is he aware that the member for Invercargill has raised this matter with the Minister of Justice and the Minister of Corrections today?

Hon. JOHN TAMIHERE: Yes.

Question to Member
1. RODNEY HIDE (ACT NZ) to the Chairperson of the Finance and Expenditure Committee: When does the Finance and Expenditure Committee next meet, and what business will it be considering?

CLAYTON COSGROVE (Chairperson of the Finance and Expenditure Committee): The Finance and Expenditure Committee will next meet during the first sitting week of next year. It will consider the Reserve Bank of New Zealand Amendment Bill, and, if time permits, may continue other business, such as petitions, and the ongoing inquiry into the revenue effects of fraudulent investment schemes.

Rodney Hide: In conducting that business, will he, as chairman, be adopting any process or procedure to deal with any potential conflicts he may have with committee members that are of a personal nature; if not, why not?

CLAYTON COSGROVE: That will be a matter for the committee to decide.

Katherine Rich: Is he concerned that the work of the committee could fall behind as a result of conflicts between himself as chair and certain committee members, as a result of issues they are unable to discuss; if not, why not?

CLAYTON COSGROVE: As the chairperson of the Finance and Expenditure Committee, I am responsible only for the process and procedures of the committee.

End of Questions for Oral Answer.

(Uncorrected transcript - subject to correction and further editing)

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