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Questions Of The Day Transcript - 4 March 2003

(uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing)

Questions 1-12 – 4 March 2003

Questions to Ministers

Regional Development—Reports

1. DAVID PARKER (NZ Labour—Otago) to the Minister of Finance: What recent reports has he received on growth in the regions?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Minister of Finance): The latest National Bank regional trend survey showed that nine of the 14 regions posted growth of 4 percent or more last year, and that 12 of the 14 continued to grow through the December quarter, with Otago and Southland performing most strongly.

David Parker: Has the Minister received any further reports on the economic outlook for the regions; if so, what do they say?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I have seen a report that economic growth in Hawke’s Bay was buzzing, and that National having taken the provincial areas for granted throughout the 1990s would have to work hard to earn voter support. That report came from the Leader of the Opposition.

Dr Don Brash: How confident is the Minister that recent economic growth will continue this year, given that the survey he cites shows that business confidence is negative in all but one region in New Zealand?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I am quite sure that business growth will slow down this year as a result of a combination of international uncertainty, the likelihood of war in Iraq, the rising dollar, drought conditions, and frosts in Hawke’s Bay late last year. Despite that, the confidence levels in many respects in the provinces are still at very high levels, given the surrounding international circumstances.

Rodney Hide: Does he believe that the growth in the regions has been sufficiently rosy, given his answer, and that he is sticking to his goal reported in Metro magazine last December that “he happily confirms that the Government’s economic growth goal remains to return New Zealand to the top half of the OECD in 10 years.”; if not, why not?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: If the member cares to look at that so-called quote he will find there are no quotation marks around it.

Opposition MembersOpposition Members: Ah!

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Ah, indeed. That means it is not a quote from what I actually said. I am sure that if the—

Rodney Hide: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I made it quite plain that it was a quote from the Metro article. That member last week stopped me from tabling it. It certainly is a quote.

Mr SPEAKER: That is a comment on the substance.

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: The article in Metro does not have that comment in quotation marks from me. I say to the member that if the ACT party uses its parliamentary funding for offices in the regions that might help regional growth, to the extent that they can.

Rodney Hide: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I ask you to reflect on that answer and ask yourself whether at any stage in giving that answer the Minister addressed the question. What he did do was suggest that my question was somehow out of order, without raising a point of order, and that somehow passed for an answer. That certainly will not do.

Mr SPEAKER: No, he addressed the question.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Did the Minister write to Metro to deny the import of the quote in that article; if so, on what date?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I was not aware of that particular part of the article until it was drawn to the House’s attention last week. I think it is a bit late now to worry about what appears in Metro magazine, but no doubt the member’s friend Felicity Ferret will bring it to his attention should future quotes occur.

Jeanette Fitzsimons: Has the Minister received any reports as to whether the growth in those GDP figures he quotes for the regions have led to any growth in human well-being in those regions; if so, has that well-being been evenly distributed across the people who live there?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Yes, it has certainly led to growth in jobs and that is one of the major elements of well-being in a society such as ours. It certainly probably assists in the re-election of this Government, which is the best way to spread well-being amongst the entire population.

Larry Baldock: Hast the Minister seen any reports on the impact of roading congestion on regional economic growth rates such as in the Western Bay of Plenty where the nation’s largest export port is located; if so, what were their conclusions, and if not, does he plan to conduct any research of that nature in the future?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Yes, the member makes a fair point that there are road congestion problems in the western bay and most clearly in Auckland. The Government is addressing that through its land transport strategy, but there is a long way to go in that respect.

Rodney Hide: I seek leave to table the Metro magazine from last December that contains the quote in my supplementary question.

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

Economy—OECD Ranking

2. Hon RICHARD PREBBLE (Leader—ACT NZ) to the Prime Minister: When did she decide that New Zealand reaching the top half of the OECD by 2010 was “totally unrealistic”, and what changed her mind given that she previously stated “Could we be in the top half of the OECD in 10 years if we set our mind to it? I think we could.”?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Deputy Prime Minister), on behalf of the Prime Minister: During 2001, in the course of developing the Government’s former growth and innovation goals, which were announced in February 2002, advice was sought on the feasibility of various options and it was concluded that it was unrealistic to set a time frame.

Hon Richard Prebble: Given that the Prime Minister now thinks it is unrealistic to reach the goal of the top half of the OECD, what in the Government does she put this failure down to; was it a change in the mindset of the Minister of Finance, who decided last year to have the tax of the average New Zealander increased more than that of any other OECD country, or does she blame the failure on the Minister of Labour, who is increasing the compliance costs of every small business in New Zealand, or does she take personal responsibility for that failure? Who is responsible?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: It is not a matter of failure. It is a matter of setting realistic goals. If the member would care to refer to last week’s The Economist magazine, he will find that New Zealand is ranking rather lowly in productivity measures in the OECD. Nearly every country above us has a higher tax rate.

David Cunliffe: Has the question of the time frame for reaching the goal of being in the top half of the OECD per capita income rankings been raised before?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: In the House last February Mr Hide asked the Minister of Finance essentially the same question, but clearly, Mr Hide failed to inform his leader of the answer.

Hon Bill English: Is the Prime Minister aware of Treasury’s advice in April 2001 that concludes: “It appears more likely that New Zealand’s ranking among the OECD countries will continue to fall.”, and why did she not take that advice before she set the time frame?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: The Prime Minister did not set the time frame.

Hon Bill English: Yes, she did so.

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: The member’s memory is failing him. The notion of a time frame—[Interruption] Raucous laughter does not change the facts. The notion of a time frame was raised by many people over a 10-year goal. The Prime Minister repeated that time frame. Subsequent analysis showed that the time frame was unrealistic. Nobody could possibly have economic policies to raise productivity 4.5 percent per annum on average.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Is the quote: “These results are greatly encouraging for our goal of economic transformation and a return to the top half of the OECD ratings by 2011.”, from a foreword the Prime Minister wrote for the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor of 2001, which was a year before the 2002 election, and is she now seeking to disown that statement because she said one thing when seeking an election victory, and something else when facing a declining economy and the consequences of failing to get a decent majority?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: The Prime Minister was Prime Minister throughout the period. The statement that it was unrealistic to achieve such a target, and the elimination of such a timetable, was made well before the 2002 election.

Rodney Hide: How can New Zealanders ever take the goal that the Prime Minister sets seriously, when she said at Massey University in 2001: “Could we be in the top half of the OECD in 10 years if we set our mind to it?, I think we could.”, and then said 2 years later that under further analysis, that goal is totally unrealistic?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: The goal of getting in the top half of the OECD is not unrealistic. Analysis from Treasury and others has demonstrated that the time frame of 10 years cannot be achieved on any realistic assumption about policies.

Electric Power Generation—Alternative Methods

3. CLAYTON COSGROVE (NZ Labour—Waimakariri) to the Minister of Energy: What is the Government doing to encourage the development of alternative forms of power generation in New Zealand?

Hon PETE HODGSON (Minister of Energy): The Government has set a national target for increasing the supply of renewable energy, and is taking a number of initiatives to achieve it. For example, earlier today I announced a decision to make Kyoto Protocol carbon credits available for two proposed wind farms, which would roughly treble the amount of wind generation in New Zealand. Allocating the credits will help ensure it is economic to build those wind farms sooner rather than later. That is a clear example of how climate change policy can help deliver more sustainable energy.

Clayton Cosgrove: What else is the Government doing to remove barriers to new renewable energy projects?

Hon PETE HODGSON: Another key issue for developers of renewable energy is the cost of connecting to local electricity line networks. The Government’s electricity policy requires the industry to develop standardised pricing for delivering power to the grid across local lines. I am actively engaged in making sure that happens as soon as possible to encourage new investment in distributor generation.

Gerry Brownlee: How can the Minister make the claims he does today when none of the recommendations on pages 9 and 10 of the Cabinet paper entitled “Energy Efficiency, Renewable Energy, and the Resource Management Act” involve any action other than a restatement of what has already been said; in other words, why is there is nothing new and no direction in which the Resource Management Act might be changed, and how does his climate change proposals and his concern over the Kyoto Protocol stack up with the Otahuhu B and Huntly B stations being fired up for more coal, and the New Plymouth combined cycle being geared up for the burning of fuel oil?

Hon PETE HODGSON: The answer to the member’s first question is that he read the wrong paper. The answer to the second question is that, with the earlier run-down of the Maui gasfield, there will be a period of 1 to 3 years in which we will be burning more coal. I think that will start this winter.

Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I asked the Minister a written question, and I got an answer from the Minister that directed me to that Cabinet paper. If the Minister would like to give an answer now, maybe that would be reasonable.

Mr SPEAKER: That is a debating matter.

Jeanette Fitzsimons: Will the Minister give a clear indication now that the Government will not support investment in new coal-fired power station capacity that could undercut the new renewables, which may be the single biggest disincentive for investment in clean technologies?

Hon PETE HODGSON: It would be illogical indeed for us to use carbon credits, which is the purpose of this question, to assist the development of thermal generation. The express purpose of using carbon credits is to reduce thermal electricity on business as usual.

Gordon Copeland: What is the estimated dollar value of the climate change carbon credits that, as have been announced, will be allocated to the proposed wind farms?

Hon PETE HODGSON: The carbon credits are about a million tonnes of carbon dioxide. They are in the form of a promissory note because the Kyoto Protocol has yet to come into force. That is because Russia has yet to ratify. The world price of carbon is therefore unknown, but people are paying about five bucks US, as far as I can tell.

Jeanette Fitzsimons: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The Minister said in his reply to me that the question was about carbon credits. That may have been the question in his mind, and it was his answer, but in fact the question as asked was about encouraging the development of alternative forms of power generation. My question was not about how the carbon credits would relate to coal stations but was in terms of the obstacle that they would pose to new renewable generation.

Mr SPEAKER: I think that the Minister might be prepared to comment.

Hon PETE HODGSON: I am happy to add that the Government has no plans to incentivise the building of coal-fired power stations.

Gerry Brownlee: I seek leave to table a Cabinet paper entitled Energy Efficiency, Renewable Energy, and the Resource Management Act, which shows that the Government is doing nothing to enhance renewable energy in this country.

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

Australian Prime Minister—Anti-war Message

4. KEITH LOCKE (Green) to the Prime Minister: Does she intend to convey a strong anti-war message to Australian Prime Minister John Howard during his planned visit; if so, why did she say “I don’t think we are going to see either endeavouring to persuade the other of the merits of the other’s approach,”?

Hon PHIL GOFF (Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade), on behalf of the Prime Minister. Discussions with John Howard will cover a range of bilateral and multilateral issues of importance to both our countries, including the issue of Iraq. Mr Howard will already be well informed about New Zealand’s position on achieving Iraqi disarmament.

Keith Locke: Will the Prime Minister be encouraging Government members to attend peace rallies during John Howard’s visit, as she did prior to the 15 February protests, when on 12 February she told Parliament that: “Members of Government will be present at those rallies.”?

Hon PHIL GOFF: It is entirely up to members of Parliament on this side of the House as to whether they attend appropriate peace rallies. I think that many members on this side of the House, of course, will be taking the opportunity to engage with John Howard to discuss those areas we have in common and those areas where we have a different point of view.

Tim Barnett7Tim Barnett: Is it normal in conducing relations with friendly countries, such as Australia, to shun or abuse leaders over points of disagreement?

Hon PHIL GOFF: No, it most certainly is not. As two sovereign countries we will often have different views on specific issues, notwithstanding our overall close relationship. But to say that John Howard is as welcome here as Saddam Hussein, as did the leader of the Greens, is, frankly, offensive and immature. To withdraw an invitation to Mr Howard to visit New Zealand would impede not improve discussion of issues and would undermine our ongoing and very important relationship.

Jeanette Fitzsimons: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I did not make the statement that has just been attributed to me.

Hon PHIL GOFF: I seek leave of the House to table a reading from the Dominion Post, which states that co-leader Jeanette Fitzsimons said yesterday that he was no more welcome in New Zealand than Iraqi leader, Saddam Hussein. This is dated today, 4 March.

Mr SPEAKER: If the member said she did not make the statement, her word is to be accepted, as every other member’s is.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. That may well be so, but I think, really, that the member who is denying the knowledge of the statement owes it to this House to table her denial to the Dominion Post, her refutation of what is being said in her name, or otherwise I do not accept her word.

Mr SPEAKER: Given her word to the House—and there can be no more important thing—in fact, if her word is not found to be accurate, it does lead to very serious consequences. She has given her word to this House.

Hon Richard Prebble: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. While I am not questioning your ruling or the statement by the Green leader, I am asking whether MPs can still ask questions about that matter—because the Green leader has not told us what she did say. For all I know, it was only a minor difference between the quote and what she did say, so I take it we are still able to ask questions relating to the story in the Dominion Post, even though the Green Party leader, understandably, wants to distance herself from them.

Mr SPEAKER: Yes, of course the members can ask questions, but they cannot doubt the member’s veracity.

Dr Wayne Mapp: Why will not the Government support a second resolution before the United Nations proposed by Britain, the United States, and Spain, and supported by Australia, given that it has taken 4 months for Iraq—only faced with the threat of imminent force—to ante up about the anthrax that it possesses, which is the world’s worst terror weapon?

Hon PHIL GOFF: After 8 years of inspections, over 3 years without inspections—the United Nations Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission team has been in Iraq now for only just over 3 months—it is the view of this Government that alternatives to war should always be pursued before the ultimate resource to resort to that sanction is ever applied, because of the huge consequences of undertaking such a war.

Dail Jones: What does the Prime Minister have to say about the Greens’ weird message in threatening to disrupt Prime Minister Helen Clark’s State luncheon for Australia’s Prime Minister—Australia being one of the world’s oldest democracies, and one of our longest and oldest friends—when compared with the Greens’ conciliatory and supportive approach to Saddam Hussein of Iraq, who must be one of the modern world’s greatest serving tyrants?

Hon PHIL GOFF: Every New Zealander, of course, has the right to protest, but most New Zealanders would not support gross discourtesy, if that is what is implied with the Greens’ threat.

Keith Locke: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The question said the Greens had threatened to disrupt Prime Minister Howard’s visit. There has been no such statement from any Green MP.

Mr SPEAKER: No, no. The member should have raised that when the original comment was made.

Hon Richard Prebble: How stable is this Labour Government and its foreign policy, when the Government will be dependent for certain votes on the Green Party—a party that can see no moral difference between Saddam Hussein, a dictator, and John Howard, an elected leader in Australia, our longest and most stable ally? How stable is this Government?

Hon PHIL GOFF: Somewhat more stable than some parties in Opposition that have been careless enough to lose members.

Hon Richard Prebble: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The answer might be funny, but I just draw this to your attention.

Mr SPEAKER: I will interrupt the member. I do now want the Minister to address the question.

Hon PHIL GOFF: The question was a rhetorical question about stability. This is a very stable Government, supported in confidence motions and supply, generally, by at least two other parties outside of the coalition, and particularly stable given its rating of more than 50 percent in the public opinion polls.

Hon Peter Dunne: Are reports correct that security considerations are forcing some limitations on Mr Howard’s programme while he is in New Zealand, and is one of those limitations the report quoted by One News that the Green Party has promised to try to disrupt the State visit of Australian Prime Minister, John Howard?

Keith Locke: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I have just told the House that there has been no such threat made by any Green Party members.

Mr SPEAKER: The member cannot do this by way of a point of order, because the question itself is in order. Any comment that the member is alleged to have made, which he said he did not make, is different. But this question is about the Green Party in general.

Hon PHIL GOFF: Appropriate security arrangements will be put in place—in particular, because of the threats made internationally by international terrorist groups against Australia and its leadership.

Keith Locke: Do John Howard’s comments last week about stationing American Star Wars missiles in Australia, represent a threat to our region and make it more difficult for nuclear-free New Zealand to have a close defence relationship with Australia?

Hon PHIL GOFF: Australia’s decision with regard to missile defence systems is a decision for Australia. I have made it clear that New Zealand has a different point of view on the effectiveness or desirability of missile defence.

Hon Peter Dunne: Will the Prime Minister be giving any advice to the Green Party about whether it should or should not attend the State luncheon in honour of Mr Howard, or will she simply be suggesting to the Greens that they walk out, keep on going, and return to that distant part of the solar system whence they came?

Hon PHIL GOFF: I think the Prime Minister’s advice to Green Party members would be that if they do not wish to attend the luncheon as a sign of protest, then that is the way they should go about it.

Mâori Language—Government Promotion

5. MAHARA OKEROA (NZ Labour—Te Tai Tonga) to the Minister of Maori Affairs: What approaches is the Government taking to promote and support Maori language?

Hon PAREKURA HOROMIA (Minister of Maori Affairs): The Government is committed to promoting and supporting the use of Mâori language, and has funded a wide range of initiatives in the broadcasting, education, and community sectors, including, to name a few, the development of Mâori language teaching and learning materials, continuing the establishment of kura kaupapa, further scholarships in bilingual-teacher study awards, and the M________fund. There are many more.

Bill Gudgeon: Why is there a delay in promoting te reo and tikanga through Mâori Television, and what action is he taking to overcome this delay?

Hon PAREKURA HOROMIA: Let me repeat what I said a couple of weeks ago. We are well on the way to getting to the launching date, in the sense of appointment of the chief executive officer, and I am pleased to inform the member that a whole lot of the activities in the production are under way.

Hon Georgina te Heuheu: Did he see the recent speech made by the Associate Minister of Mâori Affairs, the Hon John Tamihere, condemning current Government policies in relation to Mâori underachievement, and the subsequent description of that speech by a former Minister of Mâori Affairs, the Hon Dover Samuels, as “visionary”, and can the Minister tell the House how the initiatives he has just described will alleviate the concerns expressed by both those Ministers, particularly in relation to welfare dependency?

Hon PAREKURA HOROMIA: I not only read my colleague’s statements; I heard them for several days. I assure the member that I am a person of action in taking strategic decisions to ensure that we get on with it, and, as she will see, we have the Mâori language strategy that has taken 16 years to come together. You spent 9 years doing nothing. We have done something about it.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The suggestion that you have spent 9 years doing nothing is simply outrageous. That member has been around long enough to know a few things about how answers in Parliament must be couched. It is an insult to you, and I want to see it cease right now.

Mr SPEAKER: He has, I was. I am a reasonable person, and I would hope he does not make that mistake again.

Mahara Okeroa: What impact are these initiatives having on the health of the Mâori language?

Hon PAREKURA HOROMIA: Research by Te Puni Kôkiri has highlighted that the health of the Mâori language has stabilised, that Mâori are optimistic about future growth and development, and that participation by whânau and family pervades this country. The language is surviving.

Rodney Hide: In promoting and supporting te reo, is he satisfied with the manner in which Te Mângai Pâho has distributed—[Interruption]

Mr SPEAKER: I have just cautioned members that I want to hear questions in silence. Please start again.

Rodney Hide: They are continuing. There has been—

Mr SPEAKER: Please ask the question. I have asked the member to start again.

Rodney Hide: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. No sooner had you ruled, than the Hon. Dover Samuels and Taito Philip Field proceeded to yell and interrupt my question, exactly after you had ruled.

Mr SPEAKER: I told the member to start the question again. I have not heard him start. When he does start again, if there is any comment made, that person will leave.

Rodney Hide: In promoting and supporting te reo, is he satisfied with the manner in which Te Mângai Pâho has distributed and administered its distribution of funds for this purpose; if so, why?

Hon PAREKURA HOROMIA: Firstly, it is the responsibility of that organisation and generally I am satisfied with it.

Pita Paraone: How does the provision of an ultra high frequency channel to establish a Mâori television service specifically to “promote te reo me ona tikanga” do this, when many of those who may wish to access this service, and therefore increase their te reo me ona tikanga skills, may not be able to afford to do so?

Hon PAREKURA HOROMIA: Let me repeat: UHF transmission through BCL has proved to be reliable and a commercially attractive option for Prime Television, TAB, and Sky. There is no difference in the quality between UHF and VHF.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. This Minister is being asked a relatively simple question, understood, in particular, by many people of Ngâpuhi, the biggest tribe or iwi in this country. My colleague is not asking about the quality of the service; he is asking about the availability of distribution, accessibility, and cost in respect of the Mâori people, particularly those who are out of that area of communications. It is a simple question.

Mr SPEAKER: I heard the question, and I will ask the Minister to comment further.

Hon PAREKURA HOROMIA: An estimated 800,000 homes already have UHF areas. Initial transmission will provide coverage for 75 percent of the general population, a fair bit of that in Ngâpuhi, and 70 percent of Mâori. The second stage will expand coverage to 86 percent of the Mâori population.

Economy—OECD Ranking

6. Hon BILL ENGLISH (Leader of the Opposition) to the Prime Minister: Further to her response last week that she did not stand by her foreword in the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor: New Zealand 2001 in which she said that “these results are greatly encouraging of our goal of economic transformation and our return to the top half of the OECD ratings by 2011”; when did she decide that the 2011 target is “totally unrealistic”?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Deputy Prime Minister), on behalf of the Prime Minister: As I stated earlier, during 2001, in the course of developing the Government’s formal growth and innovation goals, which were announced in February 2002, we sought advice on the feasibility of various options, and concluded that it was unrealistic to set a time frame.

Hon Bill English: Is she aware that in the document she quoted last week as a document that contained the Government’s formal policy on this issue, Growing an Innovative New Zealand 2002, there is a diagram in the first chapter on vision and objective that makes it absolutely clear that her goal is the top half of the OECD by 2011, some 12 months after the Minister just said the Government changed its mind?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Yes, she is, because her colleague the Minister of Finance said in the House on 27 February 2002: “The Government does not have a target date for reaching the top half of the OECD. The text of the Growing an Innovative New Zealand document, which was cleared by Ministers, does not have reference to a target date. A date appears in a graphic illustration”—which, I would have thought the member as an English honours graduate from the University of Otago would know, is different from the text of a document, or perhaps the English and history departments had lower standards in those sorts of respects—“taken from a Boston Consulting Group document.” Members should listen to this bit, very clearly. On 27 February last year, over a year ago: “The illustrations were not cleared by Ministers.”

Lynne Pillay: Has he seen any other economic proposals that set targets without time frames?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I have seen a document that purports to provide an alternative economic growth framework for New Zealand. It actually contains neither targets nor time frames nor details. It was put out by the National Party last week.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: In addition to the Prime Minister seemingly having changed her mind over the period of 18 months, is it not a fact that the Minister’s statement that the Government did not have a target of reaching the top half of the OECD on any set date, as he has outlined and reiterated relating to 27 February 2002, is patently and absurdly untrue—they did up to that time have a target; what he has been asked in the House now is when it was changed?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: It is patently and obviously true, because the Prime Minister can remember discussing with the Minister of Finance when that document came out how on earth a graphic illustration appeared with a time frame in it.

Hon Richard Prebble: In elaboration of the Minister’s answer, which was that the graph should be ignored in this Government publication, can the Minister advise the House whether we are to ignore all graphs and tables in Government reports; if not, which graphs and tables in which reports should we ignore?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I think it is fair to say: rule one, if it is cleared by the Prime Minister one can be absolutely sure it is reliable.

Hon Bill English: Can the Prime Minister advise us which of her absolutely reliable explanations is actually the correct one: that she set the goal and took advice afterwards, to find out it was totally unrealistic; that she actually just repeated the objective that others had set—she did not actually set it; or that she never reads anything she signs out; all of which explanations we have been given today?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: No, the member has not been given that. I suggest he consult Hansard.

Building Industry Authority—Meetings

7. MURRAY SMITH (United Future) to the Minister of Commerce: Since assuming responsibility for the Building Industry Authority on 1 January 2003, how many meetings, if any, has she had with its Chief Executive and what was the substance of those meetings?

Hon LIANNE DALZIEL (Minister of Commerce): I am meeting with the chief executive for the first time today. I have had two other meetings with the chairman of the Building Industry Authority, on 22 January and 26 February, as part of a schedule of monthly meetings that I have arranged with the chairman. I also receive weekly briefings from my commerce officials with regard to the Building Act review.

Murray Smith: What has the Minister said to the Building Industry Authority concerning the importance of the Building Industry Authority urgently investigating the nature and extent of the weather-tightness problem in New Zealand as per recommendation 13 of the Hunn report, and does the Minister consider that the decision of the Building Industry Authority in response to recommendation 13 that it will carry out research that examines what other research has been done as a satisfactory response to recommendation 13; if not, what will she do about it?

Hon LIANNE DALZIEL: I am still awaiting with interest the report of the select committee into the weathertightness issues. I believe that the select committee will comment on matters that relate to the recommendations of the Hunn report. We are giving priority to those matters, at the same time as reviewing all aspects of the Building Act legislation and the framework for the regulation and people who work in the industry.

H V Ross Robertson: What changes has the Building Industry Authority made to ensure that it has the capacity to meet its new challenges?

Hon LIANNE DALZIEL: The Building Industry Authority has recognised that the significant increase in its workload has put pressure on what effectively is a very small organisation. To address its capacity pressures the Building Industry Authority has appointed Richard Martin to lead the new work programme—that is, the new work directly arising out of the recommendations of the Hunn report that are included in the new statement of intent.

Dr Wayne Mapp: If the Minister is giving such urgency to these matters, why are New Zealand homeowners and the construction industry still waiting for a new building code on treated timber, which was announced in this House by the Minister of Finance last year?

Hon LIANNE DALZIEL: I am aware that complaints have been made about the continued use of untreated timber and the fact that the Building Industry Authority should be recommending that only treated timber should be used in the meantime. I am also aware that there have been public statements that there ought to be only the use of untreated timber while treated timber is being reviewed by the Environmental Risk Management Authority. The bottom line is that these are matters that relate to the future of how the industry will be managed. I hope that we will be in a position to satisfy that member in about a week’s time.

Brent Catchpole: What progress has the Building Industry Authority made in achieving its plan made in the statement of intent to carry out a full investigation of the leaky-homes problem to ascertain the full extent and the cost of the problem, or was this statement in the Building Industry Authority statement of intent merely lip service to disguise the inaction of its chief executive?

Hon LIANNE DALZIEL: I am very confident that the board, with the support of the monitoring group chaired by Paul Carpinter, will manage what essentially is a transition period during the Building Act review. I announced last week that the discussion document would be out in about a week’s time. I am still confident of meeting that deadline that I have imposed on myself. That document will look at a broader scope for the Building Act to include consumer protection, clarification and strengthening of the roles of the regulators, including monitoring enforcement, and looking at the registration of appropriately qualified building professionals. These things should have been done back in 1991. We are getting on to it now.

Murray Smith: What independent performance monitoring has the Minister put in place to ensure that the Hunn report’s criticisms of the Building Industry Authority that it was: “difficult to access, slow to respond, defensive in its responses, and that its advice, its rulings, and its determinations are too vague”, are being addressed given the absence of any proposal by the Building Industry Authority to survey its stakeholders on that issue?

Hon LIANNE DALZIEL: The monitoring group that I referred to before, chaired by Paul Carpinter, was established with the support of the Ministry of Economic Development, which is why, as Minister of Commerce, I now have responsibility for this area. That group is working very closely with the Ministry of Economic Development to ensure that the discussion document that goes out reflects the views of industry and stakeholders so that we can make the changes to the legislation that is required.

Japanese Academy—Ministry Approval

8. Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS (Leader—NZ First) to the Minister of Immigration: With respect to the Japanese academy where a student was found dead last week, how did he and his colleagues get into New Zealand and remain here without the approval of that academy by the Ministry of Education and “set up outside any New Zealand legal-type arrangements” according to Hon Trevor Mallard, when authority for their entry had to have been given by the New Zealand Immigration Service?

Hon LIANNE DALZIEL (Minister of Immigration): The deceased student originally entered New Zealand visa-free as a visitor. He was subsequently granted a student permit to study at two approved institutions, neither of which was the Columbus Academy, which is not an educational institution. That is what the Minister of Education’s remarks referred to. The individuals charged over his death all entered New Zealand visa-free, except for one who came on a working holiday visa. Seven of the eight applied for and were granted student permits for approved institutions, none of which was the Columbus Academy. Several of them had travelled in and out of New Zealand more than once.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: If the Minister of Education has no idea that that “rogue institution” existed, and those students were, in the end, categorised as overseas students, where are the controls that ensure people arriving in New Zealand on a student visa, or who are given a student visa, are actually attending an institution approved by the Ministry of Education, and not simply taking advantage of a lack of determination to halt the invasive way of would-be immigrants to New Zealand; is it not a fact that the people I have described now number thousands in this country?

Hon LIANNE DALZIEL: Perhaps I can be helpful to the member. I did not mention that the deceased student originally entered New Zealand visa-free as a visitor in July 1997. He arrived in this country when the member was the Deputy Prime Minister.

Mr SPEAKER: I would like the Minister to come to the member’s question and add to the comments that she has made.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. That person may have arrived as a visitor, as, no doubt, hundreds of thousands did to see the magnificent administration of the first coalition Government at work, but it is simply duplicitous of her to suggest that that is how he came, in the long term, to be here in 2003. She knows full well that this House wants to knows how he got a student study visa for an approved institution and why he did not go there. Instead of her being devious, duplicitous, and incompetent, perhaps she could answer the question.

Mr SPEAKER: The member will withdraw and apologise for those two terms. The member knows which two terms.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I apologise for the two that do not fit.

Mr SPEAKER: The member will withdraw and apologise.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I withdraw and apologise.

Hon LIANNE DALZIEL: Each of the instances in which people visited visa-free and then applied for a student permit were for approved institutions. The information that I have to hand thus far—and we are checking on each individual who is involved in the matter—is that, of the cases that we have checked so far, the individuals were attending the approved institution.

Helen Duncan: Can the Minister tell the House how long the Columbus Academy has been operating in New Zealand, and whether there has been any previous publicity about it?

Hon LIANNE DALZIEL: It appears that the Columbus Academy was established around the time the company was registered on 21 February 1994. There was publicity about its success in working with troubled Japanese teenagers, in the New Zealand Herald in August 1998 and in the New Zealand Education Review in December of the same year, which is why I am so surprised that the member who asked the original question knows nothing about it.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: With regard to those last comments about knowing nothing about it, I ask the Minister, firstly, whether she is aware that the company was, in fact, established in 1989 when Labour was in Government—

Hon LIANNE DALZIEL: I have the registration.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: —if the Minister goes to Columbus Academy’s website, she will see—and, secondly, the person who lost his life came here in 1997 as a visitor or tourist. How did he, like thousands of others, remain here for 6 long years—almost four of which were during the time she was the Minister of Immigration—without her or her department knowing about it?

Hon LIANNE DALZIEL: The member is making an assumption about the status of the individual throughout that period. I am advised that the individual concerned applied on at least two separate occasions for student permits—

Dr Wayne Mapp: Did he get it?

Hon LIANNE DALZIEL: Yes. They were granted to him.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Who gave it to him?

Hon LIANNE DALZIEL: I do not have the full details of the name of the officer who granted the permit to the individual concerned. The point I am making is that, at the time he died, he did not have a permit.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: Is the Minister concerned that young Japanese or other students who are troubled are coming to New Zealand; if so, does the Minister intend to make changes in the policy; and, further to that, is the Minister aware of any other institutions that are accepting troubled youngsters from other countries into New Zealand?

Hon LIANNE DALZIEL: The individuals concerned did not apply for permits to be in New Zealand on the basis of being troubled teenagers. Nor did they apply for permits to attend Columbus Academy. They applied for permits to attend ordinary high schools. The information that I have thus far is that they were attending those particular institutions. I remind the member that the full details of this were in the Education Review in December 1998. I think the member was an Associate Minister of Education at the time. I seek leave to table the two 1998 clippings in relation to that particular establishment.

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

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I seek leave for the Minister, as she was obviously quoting from an official document, to table the computer records for the person in question, which would prove that he came here, in terms of his study permit, during the time that she was the Minister of Immigration.

Mr SPEAKER: The member is seeking leave for somebody to do something other than himself. He can seek leave to do something himself. He cannot seek leave on behalf of another person.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I am asking that since she quoted from an official document, she now table it.

Hon LIANNE DALZIEL: I did not quote from an official document.

Mr SPEAKER: The Minister says that she did not quote from an official document.

Mâori Youth—Welfare Dependency

9. SIMON POWER (NZ National—Rangitikei) to the Minister of Youth Affairs: Is the Ministry of Youth Affairs carrying out any work in the area of Maori youth welfare dependency; if not, why not?

Hon JOHN TAMIHERE (Minister of Youth Affairs): The Ministry of Youth Affairs is engaged in, or contributes to, a range of Government initiatives, including those led by the Ministry of Social Development. They seek to reduce welfare dependency by young people and their families, including Mâori.

Simon Power: Has the Minister instructed his officials to look into serious policy reforms for Mâori youth along the lines of those outlined in his speech distributed to the Knowledge Wave conference, particularly in the light of the recent support of his Labour Party colleague the Hon Dover Samuels, who said that his speech marked him out as “a visionary”; if not, why not?

Hon JOHN TAMIHERE: As part as a fulsome work programme with the Ministry of Youth Affairs, a wide range of work is under conduct.

Mita Ririnui: What is the rate of participation by young Mâori in youth development programmes administered by his ministry?

Hon JOHN TAMIHERE: For the year ended 2001-02, 51 percent of all Conservation Corps members, and 56 percent of Youth Service Corps members, were of Mâori descent. Those programmes aim to reduce the risk of welfare dependency of young people by increasing self-esteem, motivation, skill levels, and opportunities for further education training and employment.

Dr Muriel Newman: Is the Minister concerned that in spite of favourable economic and unemployment conditions, as well as millions of dollars of taxpayers’ money spent on closing the gaps, capacity building, and dubious employment schemes, under a Labour Government youth unemployment has increased by 29 percent of the average rate, and Mâori unemployment by 19 percent; if so, can he tell the House precisely when he intends to submit a paper to Cabinet to turn round those disastrous statistics?

Hon JOHN TAMIHERE: No.

Sue Bradford: Given the very high unemployment rates among young Mâori, what specific practical steps is the Minister taking to help the Mayors Task Force for Jobs achieve its goal of having all young people under 25 years of age in work training or education by the year 2005?

Hon JOHN TAMIHERE: I regret to advise that that matter falls outside my delegation.

Judy Turner: What mechanism exists to identify young people who have been raised in families where long-term unemployment has been a feature, to ensure that additional vocational support is given to those young people?

Hon JOHN TAMIHERE: A whole raft of policy work is under way with regard to exploring a range of policy and programme developments, to that end.

Simon Power: Will the Minister be standing by the comments in his speech to the Knowledge Wave conference, and in the Sunday Star-Times, regarding Mâori youth and welfare, in the light of the strong support he has received from newspaper editorials, letters to the editor, and talkback radio, and in the light of the clear support he has received from his colleagues the Hon Dover Samuels and Clayton Cosgrove; if not, why not?

Hon JOHN TAMIHERE: I agree with the Prime Minister’s comments. [Interruption]

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Mr Cullen can say “Not again!” but, with respect, the Minister was asked a very, very complex question about what he stood by, and reference _______ about what he said. Now, a Minister cannot get up and say as a reply: “I stand by the Prime Minister’s comments.” They are comments on what? Frankly, this is a waste of Parliament’s time. The Minister, having got himself into a hole, is allowed to get himself out with the greatest of ease.

Mr SPEAKER: The member will be seated. The Minister did address the question quite specifically.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I ask for a point of clarification. What in the words: “I stand by the Prime Minister’s comments” could in any way clarify the question asked by Simon Power? I want to know.

Mr SPEAKER: It is not for me to judge whether—

Rt Hon Winston Peters: You just did.

Mr SPEAKER: That is the last time—the very last time. I am on my feet. The Minister was asked a question. He addressed the question. He might not have satisfied anyone in this House, but, he addressed the question, and that is what he is required to do.

Land Sales—General Agreement on Trade in Services

10. ROD DONALD (Co-Leader—Green) to the Minister of Finance: Would amending the Overseas Investment Act 1973 in order to meet the Royal Forest and Bird Protection Society’s request for the Government to ban sales of substantial areas of coastal land to foreigners contravene General Agreement on Trade in Services’ commitments made by a previous Government; if not, why not?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Minister of Finance): That would depend on whether the proposed use of the land was related to trade in services. Off the top of my head, I assume that most would not relate to trade in services.

Rod Donald: Which is more important to the Government: preserving coastal land from foreign ownership or enforcing the foolhardy General Agreement on Trade in Services’ commitments made by a previous National Government in 1994?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: The most important is ensuring ruled good public policy, including access to coastal land. Often, the greatest problems have occurred with New Zealand resident and citizenship owners of land in New Zealand, rather than with foreign owners. Indeed, on occasions I have been able to negotiate conditions of access in a variety of ways with foreign purchasers, which would not have been able to be achieved with a New Zealand purchaser.

Mark Peck: What action has the Government taken to strengthen the protection for iconic sites?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: The Government has brought into force legislation passed in 1998 to strengthen the national-interest test for farmland, and to lower the trigger point at which the national-interest criteria apply to foreshore sales from 0.4 hectares to 0.2 hectares.

Dr the Hon Lockwood Smith: Could the Minister explain to the House, and to the Greens, how it affects most New Zealanders differently if a piece of coastal land—say, in the Gisborne area—is owned by an absentee landowner living in Invercargill or in Sydney?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I think that, in that particular case, the absentee landowner lives in Virginia for most of the year. It is worth reminding ourselves that in the last 6 years the Overseas Investment Commission has approved the sale of about 27 kilometres of New Zealand’s coastline. That is less than one-fifth of 1 percent of its total. That greatly exaggerates the net transfer, because it includes coastline sold by foreigners to foreigners, and does not include any coastline sold by foreigners back to New Zealanders.

R Doug Woolerton: Can the Minister please tell us exactly how many hectares of land he has approved for sale to foreigners in the last 12 months?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I do not have that number in front of me today. I will attempt to get an answer for the member.

Rod Donald: Following comments by the Minister of Conservation that “our capacity to purchase land of conservation value has been severely compromised” by the high prices resulting from overseas bidders, will the Minister ensure that there will be no more commitments liberalising overseas investment rules, which would make it even more difficult for the Minister of Conservation to compete with overseas buyers?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I think it is fair to say that the amount of land bought by overseas purchasers is not sufficient to greatly affect the total land market within New Zealand. The problem is that with regard to some specific areas of land, of very high value in terms of coastal land, New Zealanders have to make a choice about whether they want to purchase that land themselves. Equally, the member has to recognise that if the Government refuses to allow New Zealanders to sell their own land, effectively it is denying them the right to realise the value of their property.

Economy—Reforms of the 1990s

11. Dr DON BRASH (NZ National) to the Minister of Finance: Does he agree with the Prime Minister’s statement that the reforms implemented by the Government over the 1990s left “the poorest New Zealanders an estimated twenty to twenty five per cent worse off”, as stated in her speech to the Eighth Women’s Conference of the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions; if so, what evidence does he have to support such a claim?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Minister of Finance): Yes, the Prime Minister’s speech clearly identified benefit cuts and the move to market rents as having impact on the poorest New Zealanders to that extent. It is simply a matter of record that in 1991 the National Government reduced many benefits by 20 percent and, in some categories, by 25 percent. Market rents would have compounded those cuts.

Dr Don Brash: Would the Minister be surprised to learn that Statistics New Zealand data on income distribution shows that real average disposable incomes for the poorest 20 percent of New Zealand households rose between 1991 and 1998, after having fallen by nearly 5 percent during the previous 5 years while the Labour Government ruled, and will he now seek to correct the Prime Minister’s mistake on this matter?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: No, that is a function of the changes in the labour market, rather than changes in the income of people on benefits.

Dianne Yates: Has he seen the claim that: “In 1990, Australia’s GDP per capita was 5 percent above New Zealand’s and by 1999 it was nearly 40 percent above.”; if so, will the Government do better than we did in the 1990s by working in partnership with industry to create jobs?

Dr Don Brash: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. This supplementary question has nothing to do with the primary question.

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: It is about the movement of relative incomes, which is what the primary question was about.

Mr SPEAKER: It is close enough.

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Yes indeed. The claim was made by the former Governor of the Reserve Bank—

Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I appreciate that you have given a ruling, but I ask you to reflect on that ruling and come back to the House tomorrow. When you see the Hansard and look at the question asked by Dr Brash, the response from Dr Cullen, the supplementary question from Dr Brash, the further response from Dr Cullen, and then consider the question asked by Dianne Yates, you could conclude nothing more than the fact that that question was wide of the mark.

Mr SPEAKER: No, I can conclude something more than that. The original question was all to do with the 1990s, as was the supplementary question. [Interruption] Please be seated while I am on my feet. I am not going to have my ruling disputed. This question addressed the primary question and the supplementary question. I invite the Minister to reply.

Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker.

Mr SPEAKER: It had better not dispute my ruling.

Gerry Brownlee: I am simply going to ask you to extend that ruling and tell us whether we can now ask Dr Cullen about fashion in the 1990s, or perhaps fuel prices, or car prices, or something else from the 1990s.

Mr SPEAKER: If it was in relation to the original question, yes, members could.

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: The claim that we lagged so far behind Australia during the 1990s, and fell so far behind in those 9 years, was made by Dr Don Brash in his speech to the Knowledge Wave conference as an indictment on the effectiveness of the 1990s reforms. The Government has already halted, and is now starting to reverse, that relative decline.

Dr Muriel Newman: How does the Minister reconcile his answer with the fact that official Statistics New Zealand figures show the average worker enjoyed an increase in gross pay of 9.8 percent in real terms over the 1990s, and should he not be more concerned with the fact that New Zealanders’ real average net wages have fallen by 2.4 percent over the 3 years he has been Minister of Finance?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Indeed, the member is now compounding the previous error because she again is confusing household incomes with wage rates and benefits rates. Benefit rates were cut in 1991 by up to 25 percent. Household incomes have risen very strongly over the last 2 or 3 years.

Hon Matt Robson: What has this Government done to improve the lot of vulnerable groups in New Zealand, in consideration of what happened in the 1990s?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: The policy of market rents has been reversed, and we have reintroduced income-related rents for low-income State house tenants. We have boosted, and reversed, the previous cut to the married rate for New Zealand superannuation, so it has been increased by more than $20 a week. We have raised the minimum wage, introduced paid parental leave, eased the costs of student loans, and created 138,000 new jobs—80 percent of which are full time.

Sue Bradford: Is the Minister concerned that those worst off in this country as a result of the 1990 reforms, such as the benefit cuts and the introduction of the Employment Contracts Act, tend on the whole to be families on benefits, and will he remove the current discrimination that sees the family tax credit available only to those in paid work?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: As both myself and Mr Maharey have indicated, we are looking at major restructuring in the context of next year’s Budget, assuming the existing surpluses prove to be structural rather than cyclical. That will include a restructuring of the whole family support system, whilst ensuring that there are sufficient incentives to move from benefit into paid employment.

Dr Don Brash: Is the Minister saying that Statistics New Zealand data is incorrect, and that the Prime Minister is right when she says that the income of the poorest new Zealanders went down during the 1990s—not confirmed by Statistics New Zealand?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: The member must not confuse wage rates and household incomes with benefit rates. Benefit rates were cut in 1991. Unemployment peaked in 1991, at 11 percent, and then fell thereafter.

Dr Don Brash: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The question related to the Prime Minister’s speech, which talked about the poorest New Zealanders being an estimated 20 to 25 percent worse off. There is no __________ benefits, or household rents, or whatever else. She meant the poorest New Zealanders being 20 to 25 percent worse off because of the policies of the 1990s. There is no evidence of that from Statistics New Zealand.

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Speaking to the point of order, I say to the member that this is debating material. He must learn that this is a debating chamber. A person who was on a benefit in 1990 and then on a benefit in 1991 had suffered a cut, in real terms, of over 20 percent in his or her income in many instances.

Mr SPEAKER: The member asked an appropriate question. The Minister addressed the question.

Aid—Non-governmental Organisations

12. NANAIA MAHUTA (NZ Labour—Tainui) to the Associate Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade (Official Development Assistance): What recent decisions has she made about funding New Zealand non-governmental organisations which work in emergency situations?

Hon MARIAN HOBBS (Associate Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade (Official Development Assistance): Last month I approved an increase in funding of over $1 million for New Zealand non-governmental organisations working in emergency situations abroad. This follows on from a decision made by this Government in 2000, giving New Zealand non-governmental organisations access to additional funding available through the emergency disaster relief fund.

Nanaia Mahuta: What kind of work do New Zealand non-governmental organisations undertake overseas, and why is it so important?

Hon MARIAN HOBBS: New Zealand non-governmental organisations contribute to a wide range of emergency and disaster relief efforts overseas, including cyclone relief in the Pacific and landmine education in Afghanistan. Non-governmental organisations play a unique role in emergency assistance, as they work directly, and often quickly, with local communities.

Dr Wayne Mapp: When will the Government use the full range of non-governmental agencies to deal with the most critical issue in the South Pacific, and that is the failing state of the Solomons?

Hon MARIAN HOBBS: At the moment I have in front of me a paper, which I have been trying to read during question time, that is working with multilateral organisations to deal with exactly that situation in the Solomons.

Nanaia Mahuta: What support does the Government provide to non-governmental organisations undertaking development once the immediate emergency or disaster has passed?

Hon MARIAN HOBBS: The Government provides over $15 million a year to non-governmental organisations that work in poor and developing communities all around the world. That is particularly pertinent at this time, given the current situation in Iraq. Should war eventuate in Iraq, we have already stated that New Zealand will contribute to any post-conflict relief effort in Iraq.

End of

(uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing)


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