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Questions Of The Day Transcript - 25 February 2003

(uncorrected transcript – subject to correction and further editing)

Questions 1-12 – 25 February 2003

Questions to Ministers

Minister of Youth Affairs—Speech on Welfare

1. Hon BILL ENGLISH (Leader of the Opposition) to the Prime Minister: Is it correct that she tried to stop Hon John Tamihere from circulating a speech which said that the “Welfare as presently practiced in this country literally kills [Maori] with kindness.” after the Knowledge Wave Conference; if so, why?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK (Prime Minister): No.

Hon Bill English: Why was John Tamihere’s speech removed from the Beehive website today?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: For all the reasons that I have outlined: that one cannot make speeches that do not reflect Government policy outside one’s portfolio, and one cannot bag colleagues.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Is it correct that John Tamihere did not write the speech and that its contents are, in fact, correct, or did he write the speech and is himself guilty of the bovine scatology of which he accused his colleague; in which case would the Prime Minister show some leadership and fire him?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I am sure Mr Tamihere may have had assistance with the speech from a staff member. I have not got the details of who crafted this or that sentence, but I have laid out very clear expectations of behaviour from Ministers.

Dr Muriel Newman: Did the Prime Minister say to any member of the media that she was “relaxed about the Hon John Tamihere’s speech”; if so, as a matter of integrity, can she clearly explain to the House why she changed her position from being relaxed to being seriously critical?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I have not changed my view of the speech. As I said at the press conference yesterday, it was capable of a benign or a malign interpretation. I told Mr Tamihere exactly which interpretation the media and parties like ACT would make.

Sue Bradford: Is the Prime Minister concerned about the high levels of poverty amongst Mâori beneficiaries, and that poverty kills more people than kindness does; and will she be asking the Minister responsible to increase core benefit levels accordingly?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I am concerned about the standard of living that a significant minority of our people have—I will not say enjoy, because it cannot be enjoyed. We have identified next year’s Budget as the time at which to make some specific progress on the income-related issues for low and modest-income families. In the meantime, it is fair to point out that in the course of the first 3 years of this Government, 123,000 extra people went into work, which included many tens of thousands of Mâori.

Hon Peter Dunne: What latitude is the Prime Minister prepared to allow her Ministers and members of Parliament in contributing to debate on legitimate issues of public interest?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: For Ministers, the convention is that one does not stray outside one’s portfolio, attack core policy, or bag one’s colleagues. I make one further point. Rising to the rank of Cabinet Minister is one of the major privileges of being in this House. That gives access to the policy-making process. That access should be used.

Hon Bill English: Is the Prime Minister aware that Clayton Cosgrove has been reported as saying: “Mr Tamihere’s comments on welfare have gone down well in the street”; if so, will Mr Cosgrove be asked to apologise, as well?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I am sure the comments went down very well on Victoria Avenue.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Have any of the Mâori members of her caucus expressed support for the views outlined by Mr Tamihere; or is it a case of those members being lambs in the caucus and lions back in their constituencies?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I have not heard any caucus member express support for those views.

Hon Bill English: I seek leave to table John Tamihere’s speech, which was removed from the website.

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

Taxation—Australia / New Zealand

2. DAVID CUNLIFFE (NZ Labour—New Lynn) to the Minister of Revenue: Has he received any recent reports on the comparison between New Zealand and Australian business taxation rates?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Minister of Revenue): Yes, I read a letter from the chief executive of Fletcher Building, Ralph Waters, stating that the corporate tax burden is in fact higher in Australia than here, and pleading—I hope successfully, but I am sure not—for some honesty in the tax debate in New Zealand. He deserves to be listened to. He has worked and paid taxes on both sides of the Tasman in the business context.

David Cunliffe: How does Mr Waters describe the alleged company tax advantage across the Tasman, and why?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Mr Waters says it is a myth. There are three reasons: first, when the Australians lowered their headline tax rate they also abolished accelerated depreciation rates; second, they have a payroll tax of around 6 percent for large employers; third, the administration of the Australian system is much more complex than New Zealand’s, if that can be believed, giving rise to large compliance costs.

Dr the Hon Lockwood Smith: While the Minister may get off on letters to the editor, how does New Zealand having the highest corporate tax rate in the Asia-Pacific region—after India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka, according to the 2002 KPMG corporate tax rate survey—assist in achieving the Government’s declared objective of restoring New Zealanders’ living standards to the top half of the OECD?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I can remember when the corporate tax rate was lowered from 48 percent, compared with the 45 percent National had left it at, to 33 percent. The 3 years after that were our worst for economic growth for many, many years.

Dail Jones: What action will the Minister be taking about the way in which the incomes of New Zealand families and businesses are taxed more heavily than, say, their Australian counterparts, as set out in the OECD’s annual tax and wages publication, which indicates, for example, that a New Zealand family with a sole breadwinner and two children has a net tax burden of 18.2 percent of the gross wage, compared with the equivalent Australian family, which has a net tax burden of 14.7 percent of the gross wage, which must be one of the reasons that New Zealand families are leaving New Zealand to live in Australia?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Australian tax rates at income tax levels are higher than New Zealand’s, but I will deal with that question more fully when we wait, through courtesy, for Ms Coddington’s question, which deals with that precise matter.

Deborah Coddington: Why is the Minister boasting, when the OECD report that is due to come out in April will show that since this Government took office the average married worker with two kids in New Zealand has had the second highest increase in tax out of 30 OECD countries?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Unfortunately we now cannot wait for Ms Coddington’s primary question. I will answer it in reply to the supplementary question. Firstly, those tables deal with only income tax. As the member ought to know, most European countries have a range of other taxes apart from income tax that need to be taken into account. When those are taken into account, New Zealand has one of the lowest rates of tax at that level in international comparisons. Secondly, the primary reason for the increase is the substantial increase in family incomes in New Zealand over that period—much higher than the OECD average.

Gordon Copeland: Does the Minister have any plans to further advantage New Zealand businesses by comparison with Australia, given that we are further from markets and our compliance costs may well be greater?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: The second point is interesting. The point that Mr Waters makes is that compliance costs are higher in Australia than they are in New Zealand. Every developed country has higher compliance costs. In every developed country business complains about those. On a comparative basis we do not have high compliance costs compared with other developed countries. We do have higher compliance costs than many underdeveloped countries, but by definition we are richer than they are.

America’s Cup—Threats

3. Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS (Leader—NZ First) to the Minister of Police: When will the Police complete their inquiries into the serious allegations of threats made against crew members in the Alinghi team at the America’s Cup challenge?

Hon GEORGE HAWKINS (Minister of Police): While this is an operational matter, the police advise that the file remains open into threats posed by the receipt of the letter against the Alinghi syndicate.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Is it not true that, according to police sources in Auckland, the police inquiry, at great expense to the New Zealand taxpayer, is finished; and that the threat came from the Alinghi camp itself, but no action has been taken for political reasons?

Hon GEORGE HAWKINS: I do not have that sort of information. Reporters might indulge in those claims, without any substantiation. I think that the member should produce any information he has for the police, so that they can deal with his claims.

Mahara Okeroa: Does the Minister have confidence in the ability of the police to protect the public watching, and the teams competing in, the America’s Cup?

Hon GEORGE HAWKINS: The police have demonstrated what a good job they are doing to protect both spectators of, and competitors in, the America’s Cup.

Hon Tony Ryall: Does the Minister think that ill-informed speculation on this matter contributes to New Zealand’s image overseas, or does it serve to perpetuate a negative perception in our country, which this whole sorry matter is generating?

Hon GEORGE HAWKINS: The journalist wrote all sorts of things. There is an article in the New Zealand Herald this morning reporting on material in the Observer, which shows what nonsense is being written.

Keith Locke: Does the Minister agree that the BlackHeart campaign and the personal attacks on Russell Coutts and members of the Alinghi crew not only could have incited the threats that have been referred to but also undermined New Zealand’s reputation as a good-hearted and sporting nation?

Hon GEORGE HAWKINS: Yes, but more important, as most Kiwis are enjoying the event, New Zealand, and Auckland in particular, is doing well no matter who wins.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Will the Minister make a request of the police in Auckland to the effect that if the inquiry is finished, as the information from Auckland suggests, a charge be now lodged for laying a false complaint against the party concerned, which it is suggested is within the Alinghi public relations camp?

Hon GEORGE HAWKINS: If the member who asks the question has any information along those lines he should make it available to the police, and the police will investigate accordingly.

Parole Act—Feedback

4. MARTIN GALLAGHER (NZ Labour—Hamilton West), on behalf of TIM BARNETT (NZ Labour—Christchurch Central), to the Minister of Justice: Has he received any reports on feedback from victims on the operation of the new Parole Act 2002?

Hon PHIL GOFF (Minister of Justice): I have seen very positive reports on how the new law is operating for victims. The family of Kylie Smith, murdered at Owaka by Paul Bailey, for example, said that their experience of the Parole Board under the new law was much better than their treatment under the old. Kylie’s mother said that the new Parole Board was attentive, sympathetic, and ready to listen to what people had to say. I believe that that is a strong endorsement of how the new board is operating.

Martin Gallagher: Has this view that the Minister has just stated from individual victims been backed up by groups representing victims?

Hon PHIL GOFF: Yes, it has, interestingly, by one of the groups more critical of the legislation—the Sensible Sentencing Trust, which has strongly backed up the comments of the victim I just referred to. Having observed the Parole Board, the trust’s spokesperson, Garth McVicar, said that the trust was very impressed, and that the situation was a totally different picture from what went on before it. He said: “Communication with victims’ families is much better, and they feel as if their rights are being considered by the board.”

Hon Tony Ryall: What does the Minister say to a family after the Parole Board paroled the killer of its brother to live next door to the sister of the victim; to the South Island victim who discovered her serious sex offender was walking in her streets without notification; to the victims’ families of William Duane Bell, whom the Department of Corrections left unsupervised for 5 weeks before the murders at the Returned Services Association rooms; and to the person who was bashed by a violent offender sentenced to 3 years in jail, but let out by that Minister’s Government after only 5 months?

Hon PHIL GOFF: Each of the cases that the member has referred to have been addressed. I will take one of them, because that is all that time will allow. We of course investigated very closely the case of the family living in the member’s electorate who discovered that the person found guilty of the manslaughter of their brother and son was supposedly living in the street next to them, and they had not been notified. The family say that they lodged a notification form. Regrettably, that was never received by the Department of Corrections. No explanation has been found for that, but the Acting Minister of Corrections personally flew to Kawerau to explain the situation to the family and to apologise for the mistake that has been made. The family very much appreciated that effort on the part of the Minister.

Stephen Franks: If he is so proud of the parole system, why does he refuse to find out or tell us how many offences are committed on parole, and hides the details of offending by individual criminals on parole, including the Tukuafu burglary clan, and so many other vicious criminals I have directly questioned the Minister about?

Hon PHIL GOFF: I refer to the specific example used by the member, the Tukuafu family. I am very pleased to report that the two principal offenders of that family each received 13 and 12 years’ imprisonment. Those are probably the longest sentences ever given for burglary in this country, which is in line with the tendency of the courts today to be much tougher on it. With regard to the statistics the member asked for, his colleague Dr Muriel Newman has put down several questions, to which I have replied fully. For example, I indicated that of those people convicted of murder who have been released on parole in the last 4 years, none have reoffended and none have been reimprisoned.

Marc Alexander: Can the Minister give us an assurance that if any provisions of the Parole Act are inconsistent with the aims, objectives, and practice of the Victims’ Rights Act, it will be the Parole Act that he will undertake to revisit and amend?

Hon PHIL GOFF: All legislation is under review to ensure that it does what it is intended to do. We will be watching very closely both the outcomes of the Sentencing Act and the Parole Act to see that they are consistent with the new Victims’ Rights Act. So far, all three Acts have delivered good results, but if shortcomings are found, either in the legislation or in practice under the legislation, they will be addressed.

Ron Mark: With reference to the insinuation that the Minister will be considering a review of the new Sentencing Act, will the Minister take on board the views of some families of victims who consider that under his stewardship people like William Bell got a sentence of 11 years non-parole for the murder of Mr Absolum, 11 years non-parole for the murder of Mr Wayne Johnson, 11 years non-parole for the murder of Mary Hobson, and brutally bashing and leaving Susan Couch for dead was thrown out as a freebie?

Hon PHIL GOFF: To the contrary, William Bell received a life sentence. That sentence will remain for the whole of his natural life. A non-parole period of 33 years is the longest-ever non-parole period given in the history of this country. I happen to agree with the comments of the Crown prosecutor, Simon Moore, who suggested that this man will probably never be released.

Treaty of Waitangi—Article 4

5. Hon BILL ENGLISH (Leader of the Opposition) to the Associate Minister of Justice: Does the Government accept that there is an Article Four to the Treaty of Waitangi; if so, how will it be recognised in the Government’s partnership with Maoridom?

Hon MARGARET WILSON (Associate Minister of Justice): No.

Hon Bill English: Did the Minister advise Cabinet on policy that permitted officials of the Ministry of Health to include in the document currently available for submissions called Achieving Health for all People, a detailed reference to article 4 of the treaty, as if it were another article, in addition to the three with which we are familiar?

Hon MARGARET WILSON: No, the working document was the result of a series of hui, to get to discussion and opinions. That working document, I understand, will come before the various Government committees in June or July of this year.

Russell Fairbrother: Is the right to freedom of religion recognised in New Zealand law?

Hon MARGARET WILSON: Yes. All New Zealanders are guaranteed the right, under section 21 of the Human Rights Act and section 13 of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Will the Minister accept that such a freedom and right was not present on 6 February 1840, and that there is a Government document suggesting that there is a clause 4—what on earth is it doing there; and, as Minister in charge of Treaty of Waitangi Negotiations, what does she have to say about it?

Hon MARGARET WILSON: My understanding from the historians is that there was a verbal undertaking that New Zealand at its birth, in fact, should respect freedom of religion. That was never reduced to writing; it has never been considered as a fourth article. The articles in the Treaty of Waitangi are those set down in the English and the Mâori version, and are contained in schedule 1 of the Treaty of Waitangi Act.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I am sure it is the intent of the original question, as well, but I am asking the Minister what she makes of the fact that in the Government publication there is reference to article 4. She completely failed to respond to that—say “Rhubarb”, but say something.

Mr SPEAKER: The Minister did address that question in her first answer.

Hon Ken Shirley: If the Minister and her Government are prepared to refute the existence of the phantom fourth article of the treaty, why will they not also refute the existence of the phantom principles that they have incorporated into law?

Hon MARGARET WILSON: The principles are not the articles of the treaty. The principles that guide Government policy when interpreting the treaty are set out in the document, I think I have tabled on several occasions, in 1989.

Jeanette Fitzsimons: What, in the Minister’s view, is the difference between article 13 of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act, which recognises everyone has the right to freedom of thought, religion and belief, and a verbal guarantee between Bishop Pomallier and Governor Hobson of that same religious freedom; do not both of them, in fact, guarantee religious freedom for all New Zealanders?

Hon MARGARET WILSON: Yes, and the difference is, of course, that it is a legally enforceable right under the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act.

Hon Bill English: Will the Minister instruct officials to remove from the Government-funded document, Achieving Health for all People, the reference to article 4 of the treaty as if it were a new article; if so, when will she instruct officials to do that?

Hon MARGARET WILSON: As the Prime Minister has pointed out, we are responsible for only our own portfolios. I have not had the misfortune to be the Minister of Health.

Learning—Students

6. HELEN DUNCAN (NZ Labour) to the Minister of Education: What steps have been put in place to enhance students’ learning?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD (Minister of Education): Numerous steps have been put in place. Because the Government is intent on improving the literacy and numeracy skills of school students, we started the roll-out of Assessment Tools for Teaching and Learning in Primary Schools last week. Those are world-leading tools, which, for the first time, enable teachers to assess and accurately diagnose where students need more work, so that they will have the basics rights before they go to secondary school.

Helen Duncan: What are the benefits for teachers, parents, caregivers, and, indeed, the students themselves?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: There has been extremely positive feedback from the teachers who trialled the Assessment Tools for Teaching and Learning in Primary Schools in 130 schools over the past 2 years. They have reported that the analysis of results can be obtained very quickly, and that the assessments are much more time-saving than manual methods of assessment. Parents and caregivers are also reporting that they get a much more accurate picture of how their child is doing early on, rather than having the problems appear later in the secondary school years.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: Why did the Minister, in his very first decision as Minister of Education, dump the assessment of all 9 and 11-year-olds in National’s literacy and numeracy initiative, only to now resurrect the initiative in a half-baked form 3 years later?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: The half-baked arrangement I dumped was something that would give one-off pencil and paper tests to kids, with no diagnostic basis at all. What was left by the National Party would be very good at giving a national ranking, but it would be no good at all at showing parents where their kids’ strengths and weaknesses were. I changed that.

Hon Brian Donnelly: How does a draconian escalation of secondary qualification entry fees, which have risen by 500 percent in some cases in the year 2002-03—with the fees for Sixth Form Certificate in four subjects, for example, increasing from $25 to $150—enhance learning?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: I think that is a separate issue, and, to be frank, my answer to the member would be not at all.

Bernie Ogilvy: Does the Minister agree that student learning could be enhanced by an increased emphasis on character education; if so, what measures are currently in place that go beyond the good work being done in the area of literacy and numeracy skills to teach children to become better citizens?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: There are two major programmes that have been rolled out in schools, which have been funded partially by the Ministry of Education on a contract basis. Although I would not say it is quite moral education, it is certainly values-based education.

Taxation—OECD Comparisons

7. DEBORAH CODDINGTON (ACT NZ) to the Minister of Finance: What has been the change in tax bill for the average production worker with a dependent spouse and two children, between 2000 and 2002, as a percentage of gross earnings, and how does this compare with other OECD countries?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Minister of Finance): The tax bill rose by 2.7 percent. That is one of the higher increases in the OECD. It reflects a relatively high increase in average family earnings, which is due to New Zealand’s strong growth over the period. The number in New Zealand is particularly affected by the consequences of the _________

of family support payments as family incomes increase.

Deborah Coddington: Is the hike in tax on working families what Labour meant when it campaigned to increase taxes on the wealthy; if not, where is the fairness in stealing money from New Zealand families to spend on talkfests and corporate welfare?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Interesting though the question is, it cannot cover the fact that ACT’s main whinge about the tax system has been the increase in the top tax rate on those earning over $60,000 a year, which every ACT MP repeats as their first promise to remove.

Clayton Cosgrove: Is this a reasonable comparison, in terms of the change in tax burden of the New Zealand taxpayer compared with those overseas?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: No, because it is based on incomplete information. The OECD figures do not include social security contributions by the employers. These are high in many OECD countries and non-existent in New Zealand—

Dr the Hon Lockwood Smith: Yes, they do. Read the report.

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Yes, I have read the report. If the member can get past the first page, where he collapsed with horror, and on to the next page or two, he would find that by the time we include those, New Zealand was 22nd equal out of 30—from the top going down—in terms of the average tax burden. In other words, only five OECD countries were significantly lower than us and 21 higher, including a number that were more than twice as high as New Zealand—for example, Belgium, France, and so on.

Dr the Hon Lockwood Smith: What does the Minister propose to do about the 2.7 percent increase in the tax bill paid by our average working families, or is he satisfied to have the tax bill our average families pay increase by more than any other OECD country under his term, except the Czech Republic?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I will be happy to see this country’s average incomes rise faster than almost any other country in the OECD, as they have done over the last couple of years. Should the structural surpluses now emerge—which National would have frittered away—in many different forms, then next year we will face the prospect of substantial cuts in tax for precisely those people through the family support mechanism. But the member need not die waiting; he will not be getting a tax cut next year, however much his family status may change.

Deborah Coddington: I seek leave to table a media release from the OECD, showing New Zealand had the second highest increase in tax bill for an average production worker.

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

Health Services—Elderly

8. STEVE CHADWICK (NZ Labour—Rotorua) to the Associate Minister of Health: What steps has she taken to improve co-ordination of health services for older people?

Hon RUTH DYSON (Associate Minister of Health): Last week I announced that $700 million of funding for disability support services for older people will be transferred from the Ministry of Health to district health boards from 1 October this year. This transfer will enable district health boards to provide better-integrated services that respond to the individual’s changing needs, which is in line with the key objective of the health of older people strategy.

Steve Chadwick: What will be the effect on older people of better integrating their health and disability support services?

Hon RUTH DYSON: The move will address the fragmentation of services that was so deeply imbedded in the policies of the 1990s. It will enable district health boards to integrate fully with primary care and disability support services in the community to reduce preventable admissions to hospital. It will provide significant opportunities for older people to receive coordinated support and health promotion services so that they can continue to live and participate in their communities as they grow older.

Dr Lynda Scott: Can she explain why, if things have improved so much, the Wellington City Mission and 8,000 others submitted a petition to this House on aged care, the Government has reduced the amount it spends on rest-home care by $8.6 million, and geriatric hospitals have still not received a single dollar increase under this Government?

Hon RUTH DYSON: Although the supplementary question is not related to the specific primary question, I am happy to explain to the member that, in fact, in contradiction to the assertion made in her supplementary question, in the year before last, for the first time for many years, additional funding was given to providers of residential care for older people, which went directly into price increases rather than volume growth—for the first time for many years.

Barbara Stewart: How will she ensure that district health boards take a consistent, national approach to improve health service coordination for older people, when this has not been possible in the past?

Hon RUTH DYSON: I understand the concerns of the member and can assure her, and the rest of the House, that this was at the forefront of the considerations of my colleagues as we moved to this process. There are two primary methods: firstly the district health boards will be required to demonstrate their ability to deliver a coordinated package of health services prior to the devolution of funding; and, secondly, the national consistent contracts, which are already in existence, will remain.

Sue Kedgley: If the Government is concerned with health services for older people, as we have just been told, why has the level of funding for geriatric hospital-care not increased since 1997 despite rising costs in the sector such as inflation, costs for staff, electricity, food, etc?

Hon RUTH DYSON: The increases in funding for residential care for older people over the last 18 months has been targeted at that part of the sector that has been the most underfunded. Hospitals are anticipating increases in their funding, which certainly have not been delivered so far. But I am delighted that by the middle of this year there will be increases in funding.

Dr Lynda Scott: I seek leave to table written answer to question No 013488, which shows that the cost to the Government for providing rest-home care has reduced $8.6 million between 1999 and 2001.

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

Minister of Youth Affairs—Speech on Welfare

9. KATHERINE RICH (NZ National) to the Minister of Social Services and Employment: Does he agree with the Minister of Youth Affairs that the welfare system “hands out enough to get you through until your next hand out. There are no mutual responsibilities. Recipients are denied a sense of worth and equality.”; if not, how will he convince the Minister of Youth Affairs that his welfare policies contain mutual responsibilities?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY (Minister of Social Services and Employment): This Government’s social security policies are based on the concept of mutual responsibility. Let me give two concrete examples. The unemployment benefit eligibility is based on the recipient actively seeking and being ready to take up paid employment. Changes to the domestic purposes benefit reinforce mutual responsibilities to assist people to improve their prospects of gaining sustainable employment. This is a significant advance on the old system, which ignored clients until their youngest child turned 6 years of age. I seek leave to table a document that sets out the Government’s approach to social development and includes a section on mutual responsibility. The document, Pathways to Opportunities was published in 2001.

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

Katherine Rich: Is he concerned that a member of his caucus summarises his welfare work using words like “statism”, “old left”, and “bull shitting”, and given Mr Tamihere’s highly regarded work in the welfare area, who does he think the general public are more likely to believe?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: In answer to the first question, no. In answer to the second question, I agree. I think John Tamihere has a huge amount to offer in the area of welfare policy, and, in tune with the kinds of things that John Tamihere talks about, we are of course exploring decentralisation and devolution.

Dianne Yates: How effective have mutual responsibilities in the Government’s welfare and employment policies been in helping New Zealander’s into work?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: Record results have been achieved in helping people into work. Last financial year a record of 51,000 long-term employment placements were achieved. Numbers on the main unemployment benefit have dropped by over 27 percent in the last 3 years. This Government believes in mutual responsibilities and in creating opportunities for people to gain real jobs. Unlike the National Government, we are not leaving people on work for dole schemes; we are getting them into real jobs.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Is it a fact that he has spoken to John Tamihere and that John Tamihere confirms that he will suffer bullshit policies in silence in the future, speak about it no more, parade himself up Lambton Quay at lunchtime with the Minister to show some sort of public relations reconciliation, and that the Minister further accepts that the Waipareira Trust record under John Tamihere’s administration is no example of devolution at work?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: Working backwards, I think he thinks Waipareira did quite well; no, he is not going to parade down Lambton Quay; bovine scatology is something I think he himself probably indulges in now and again, like the member does; and I cannot remember the other questions before that.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I seek leave to repeat the question the member said he could not remember.

Mr SPEAKER: The member can certainly seek leave. Is there any objection? There is.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Can I ask the Minister the Mâori word for “egg all over your face”?

Mr SPEAKER: I would ask the member the Mâori for “leaving the Chamber”, too.

Dr Muriel Newman: Is the Minister concerned that recent comments by the Associate Minister the Hon John Tamihere that he should stop “bullshitting about the welfare system”, coupled with his outstanding achievement yesterday in winning the Dominion Post “wally of the week” award, may have detracted just a little from his “life of blameless excellence”; if not, why not?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: I am exhausted after that. No.

Sue Bradford: Can the Minister confirm that benefit delivery services will not be privatised under this Government?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: Yes.

Katherine Rich: Who has credibility on Mâori welfare issues now: an ex - media studies academic or someone who has previously worked at the welfare front line as leader of the Waipareira Trust?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: Actually, my expertise was in social change as well as media studies, but I think John Tamihere has a great deal to offer, and we will carry on listening carefully to him.

Retirement—Savings

10. GORDON COPELAND (United Future) to the Minister of Finance: Is he concerned that the findings of the recent survey by Research Solutions show no more New Zealanders are saving for retirement now, than was the case five years ago?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Minister of Finance): Yes, I do have some concerns. That is why I intend to begin to address the matter of the over-taxation of retirement savings in this year’s Budget.

Gordon Copeland: Is the Minister also concerned that the establishment of the New Zealand Superannuation Fund has led to retirement savings complacency, since the survey also shows that the proportion of those who are leaving it to the Government to look after them in retirement has doubled over the last 5 years?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I thought the figure had actually trebled from 6 percent to 18 percent of those who believed that the Government pension was adequate. The purpose of New Zealand superannuation is to provide an adequate basic level of income in retirement. I regard that as the basic duty of a Government in a civilised society. Attempts to scare people into saving have simply not worked over the last 12 to 13 years.

Lynne Pillay: What other steps has the Government taken to boost retirement savings?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: The periodic review group has been tasked with reporting on ways to improve employment-based retirement savings, in particular. It is chaired by the chief executive of the Investment Savings and Insurance Association. Other members include the Retirement Commissioner and employer and union representatives.

Dr Don Brash: What is the Minister’s response to comments made by Vance Arkinstall of the Investment Savings and Insurance Association that: “We’ve been concerned for some time that all the publicity about the ‘Cullen fund’ has caused quite a large number of people to believe that they don’t have to worry about saving for themselves.”?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Considering that the weekly income for a married couple on New Zealand superannuation is slightly less than the increase per week in pay that that member used to seek as Governor of the Reserve Bank, clearly it should not be relied upon too much—[Interruption]

Mr SPEAKER: I would like the Minister to have another go at that answer.

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: The point I was making—

Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. There was a high level of personal reflection in that answer. The Minister should withdraw and apologise.

Mr SPEAKER: No, I have determined that the Minister should give another answer.

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: The other answer is that people who are on high incomes are not going to regard the present level in New Zealand superannuation as an adequate income in retirement. But, certainly, the present level is a darn sight better than that member would offer anybody in retirement who has not saved for himself or herself.

Dr Don Brash: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I do know how the Minister could have any idea at all what I would offer, if I were running the New Zealand superannuation scheme. It seems to me a totally unwarranted comment.

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I know the member favours both increasing the age at which New Zealand superannuation is obtained and the level of payment. It has been his stated position on many occasions.

Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. How is it acceptable for a Minister to answer a question by saying he knows what someone else’s policy is. He is being asked about his own policy.

Mr SPEAKER: The member is, strictly speaking, correct, but I will be watching this very closely.

Rod Donald: Would the Minister agree that New Zealanders should be furiously saving for their own retirement, given that he wants the New Zealand Superannuation Fund to adopt the same investment strategy that has caused the Government Superannuation Fund to lose $380 million in less than 14 months; if not, why not?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I think every balanced managed fund in the world has probably lost money over the last year, whichever country it happened to have been in. Not many people are able to use a parliamentary income to invest in a property-based superannuation scheme to benefit their political party.

Gordon Copeland: Is the Minister prepared to consider further the introduction of tax incentives for retirement savings, in view of the finding by the survey that 79 percent of people believe that such incentives would lead them to increase their retirement savings, and that a whopping 92 percent would support the introduction of such incentives?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I have never known anybody to turn down a tax incentive gift-horse, whichever mouth he or she is looking into at the time. But whether it will actually achieve anything in practice, is a totally different matter.

Treaty of Waitangi—Article 4

11. STEPHEN FRANKS (ACT NZ) to the Minister in charge of Treaty of Waitangi Negotiations: Will she categorically undertake that the putative “Article 4” of the Treaty of Waitangi will not be allowed to influence future Treaty settlements; if not, why not?

Hon MARGARET WILSON (Minister in charge of Treaty of Waitangi Negotiations): Yes.

Stephen Franks: Why should we expect this hasty ringbarking by the Minister and the Prime Minister of a blossoming fourth limb to the living treaty to work any better than the solid legal rebuttals of the imaginary partnership principle have worked with the courts, the Waitangi Tribunal, and probably the politically correct appointees to the new Supreme Court if they think it is handy?

Hon MARGARET WILSON: The putative fourth article has been around since 1840 and has not in fact been accepted as an article of the Treaty of Waitangi. So I cannot see that it will now be accepted as an article of the Treaty of Waitangi.

Mark Peck: Is the Minister saying clearly to the House that there is no such thing as article 4 of the treaty?

Hon MARGARET WILSON: Yes.

Hon Bill English: Given the Minister’s view, will she instruct the Waitangi Tribunal not to consider or discuss article 4 in the light of comments today by claimant Harvey Ruru, who says of the tribunal: they believe that it is a whole new claim area; it does raise lots of issues for the Waitangi Tribunal, and that was from Professor Keith Sorrenson at the Waitangi Tribunal itself? When will she direct them to stop considering article 4?

Hon MARGARET WILSON: It would be totally constitutionally improper for a Minister to direct any independent legal body to direct its decision making in that way.

Te Kaha—Deployment

12. KEITH LOCKE (Green) to the Minister of Defence: Has the frigate Te Kaha, which is tasked with “escorting US and coalition vessels through the Straits of Hormuz”, escorted any United States vessels carrying war materials for use in any attack on Iraq?

Hon PHIL GOFF (Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade) on behalf of the Minister of Defence: The Te Kaha’s role under Operation Enduring Freedom is focused on counter-terrorist activities. A small part of that role involves escort duties designed to protect shipping from terrorist attack in the Gulf of Oman and the Straits of Hormuz. The Maritime Interdiction Operation group does not differentiate between ships requiring that protection by the cargo they might carry.

Keith Locke: Can the Minister confirm what was portrayed in a photograph in the February issue of Navy Today, that is, Te Kaha escorting the huge American navy transport ship Watkins through the Straits of Hormuz, and does he think that this ship was not carrying war materials to be used against Iraq?

Hon PHIL GOFF: I repeat my answer that the Maritime Interdiction group, made up of a range of different countries, does not differentiate between legal vessels in terms of their need for protection against terrorist attack—or is the member actually suggesting that they should be differentiated?

Taito Phillip Field: What other countries does New Zealand operate alongside as part of the Maritime Interdiction Operation?

Hon PHIL GOFF: The countries New Zealand operates with in that group are Canada, the Netherlands, Greece, France, and the United States. The member may note that that group obviously contains a number of countries that have strongly resisted the use of force in Iraq at this time but are very active in their anti-terrorist activities.

Simon Power: Why, when the Government has made a contribution of the frigate Te Kaha to escort US and coalition vessels, has the Prime Minister announced today that New Zealand is not backing the American-British draft resolution declaring that Iraq is in material breach of a UN resolution to disarm?

Hon Dr Michael Cullen: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I am sorry to interrupt my colleague, but this question is to the Minister of Defence, not the Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade. Backing a resolution at the UN is not a matter for the Minister of Defence.

Simon Power: The primary question makes direct reference to “carrying war materials for use in any attack on Iraq” which is precisely relating to the proposed resolution as put today.

Mr SPEAKER: I suggest that the member slightly rephrase the question. The Minister is not responsible for the United Nations Security Council resolution; that is another Minister. The member can, I am sure, construct another question. I will allow him to do so.

Simon Power: Can New Zealanders trust any assurances or information provided by the Government on New Zealand Defence Force deployment such as that of Te Kaha when the Prime Minister has previously made statements about the Government’s intentions to recall the Special Air Services, and such statements were later proved to differ from reality?

Hon PHIL GOFF: To the best of my knowledge, all of the Prime Minister’s statements have been in direct line with reality and have not differed from it, at all. That is why she is on 50 percent support while Bill English is languishing at 9 percent.

Hon Ken Shirley: Can the Minister confirm that the overall command of the Maritime Interdiction Force operating in the Arabian Sea is based on a nuclear-powered US aircraft carrier; if so, why is New Zealand not prepared to formally join the coalition of the willing, or is it that he and his Government are prepared to sacrifice our national interest to appease the loony left of the Labour Party?

Hon PHIL GOFF: The premise that each of those questions were based on is wrong. The then Acting Prime Minister, Michael Cullen, made it quite clear that the command is not based on an aircraft carrier.

Hon Peter Dunne: Has there been any change in the terms of deployment for the New Zealand vessels operating in the Straits of Hormuz; if so, what change, and if not, how long is the deployment expected to continue for?

Hon PHIL GOFF: No, there have been no changes in terms of deployment. Te Kaha has been in the region since late last year, and its deployment finishes tomorrow. It will be replaced at that time by Te Mana, which will operate through to June.

Keith Locke: How can we be seen as being anything other than complicit in the US build-up to war against Iraq when we are escorting a boat like the Watkins—called a floating brigade—that can carry “an entire year’s army-armoured taskforce”, including 58 tanks, 48 other track vehicles, plus more than 900 trucks, and other wheeled vehicles, and which has been unloading materials in the Gulf for the US war effort; it is the second-biggest ship after the aircraft carriers?

Hon PHIL GOFF: The answer is that the role of the Maritime Interdiction Operation Group—multinational, including New Zealand, France, and other countries—is to protect against terrorist attacks. It is quite separate from the situation in Iraq.

Hon Ken Shirley: I seek leave to table a briefing paper from the New Zealand Armed Forces that shows the overall command of the Maritime Interdiction Force is based on a US nuclear-propelled aircraft carrier.

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

Keith Locke: I seek leave to table an article in the February issue of Navy Today with an illustration of the Te Kaha escorting a US vessel.

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

End of

(uncorrected transcript – subject to correction and further editing)


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