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Questions Of The Day Transcript - 5 March 2003

(uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing)

Questions 1-12 – 5 March 2003

Questions to Ministers

Economy—OECD Rating

Hon BILL ENGLISH (Leader of the Opposition) to the Prime Minister: What specific directions, if any, has she given to Ministers regarding the Government’s vision of being “in the top half of the OECD” in 10 years, as set out in the Prime Minister’s statement to Parliament in February 2001; and when were these directions given?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK (Prime Minister): As that was not a time frame adopted in thegrowth and innovation framework, no such direction was required.

Hon Bill English: Why did the then Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Economic Development, the Hon Jim Anderton, give a speech as recently as June 2002 where he said: “This Government has set itself an ambitious target. It wants to see New Zealand once more in the top half of the OECD league table by 2011.”?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: The member can put that question to the directly to the Minister for Economic Development if that is what he wants to find out.

Rodney Hide: What made the Prime Minister first think that getting into the top half of the OECD economic table was possible, and then change her mind?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: It was an ambitious idea that was debated around. I decided it was unrealistic, just as the National Party decided it was unrealistic to go for the Mâori vote within a century.

Hon Bill English: What directions will the Prime Minister give to Industry New Zealand, which, in its November 2002 Venture magazine, referred again to the Government’s goal of moving back into the top half of the OECD by 2011, and does she intend to pursue the same steps as she did with closing the gaps—which was to instruct civil servants to airbrush all references to the unwanted goal from any public documents?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: My direction will be to read the framework that has been out for a year.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Is it not a fact that, in the space of less than a week, the Prime Minister has gone from denying she ever said it, to now admitting that she did say it but that she was wrong, and what does that make her?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: No. There is no fact in that. I said I had no recollection of one of a thousand hoards that I write every year.

Child Pornography—Penalties

2. RUSSELL FAIRBROTHER (NZ Labour—Napier) to the Minister of Justice: Does he intend to increase penalties for the possession and supply of child pornography?

Hon PHIL GOFF (Minister of Justice): Yes. Recent convictions of individuals trading in child pornography have resulted in sentences only of community service, which I believe are inadequate for people distributing material that shows children as young as 4 years old being sexually abused by adults. Penalties for both possession and distribution of such material should reflect the fact that, to create each image, a child is sexually abused. Collecting the images creates the market and encourages the crime.

Russell Fairbrother: Is the problem of child pornography getting worse; if so, why?

Hon PHIL GOFF: I believe the problem of trading in child pornography is getting much worse. The key factor in that is the use of computers and the Internet. To give the House an international example, in greater Manchester in 1995 there were 12 seizures of child pornography—photos and videos. Four years later, there were 41,000 seizures, and all but three of those were from the Internet and from computers.

Richard Worth: Why has the Government not moved to punish those who engage in so-called child grooming for sexual abuse, where paedophiles go online in Internet chat rooms to groom or build up a relationship with children, with a view to meeting them in person?

Hon PHIL GOFF: The Government has moved in that area. The member may not have seen the publication put out by the Government in association with ECPAT, which is the organisation that is designed to prevent that sort of thing. It is not simply a question of a law change; it is illegal to do that. It is necessary that we also create the means by which families and children can protect themselves against the activity that the member is talking about.

Dail Jones: Why has the Minister taken so long to act in this area, bearing in mind the comments of Auckland barrister Denise Ritchie, the chairman of ECPAT, which is a group fighting pornography, that, “New Zealand has been lagging behind the rest of the world when it comes to these penalties.”; and will he be amending both the Crimes Act and the Films, Videos, and Publications Classification Act when he is considering new legislation?

Hon PHIL GOFF: There are several questions there. Firstly, the legislation under the Films, Videos, and Publications Classification Act was only 7 years old at the time that I became Minister. It is not usual to amend legislation after such a short period of time. However, I have looked at it closely, and believe that, because of the changes I referred to in my answer to Mr Fairbrother, those changes are now needed. In relation to ECPAT, the member will be pleased to know that the organisation has put out a statement praising the Government for its actions in this regard. We will be amending the Crimes Act, because the penalties I am proposing involve increasing the penalty for possession, from a $2,000 fine to up to 2 years’ imprisonment. There will be a tenfold increase in the penalty for the offence of distributing and supply, from 1 year’s imprisonment to 10 years’ imprisonment. It is more appropriate that such penalties appear in the Crimes Act than in the Films, Videos, and Publications Classification Act.

Stephen Franks: If the Minister is a genuine convert to the idea that tougher punishment works on pornographers, why not extend that to all criminals, instead of dribbling out announcements on high profile crime, when he could end parole and force criminals to pay the fines they have been given, and make sure that a sentence of up to 2 years is not automatically cut in half, when the pornographer might be allowed on home detention 4 months before that and back to his computer?

Hon PHIL GOFF: There is no one in this country who is not aware of the fact that penalties for serious crimes have been increased dramatically, and that is shown by the recent non-parole period of 33 years for a serious murder, and the fact that the proposed legislation will increase ten-fold the penalties for distributing and trading in child pornography.

Marc Alexander: Why does the Minister think that the penalty increases will lead to increased apprehension of child pornography traders, and what effect will that have on the overall child pornography industry in New Zealand?

Hon PHIL GOFF: The change in penalties is important for its own sake, both to show abhorrence and to send a clear message to those indulging in such behaviour. However, it will have that effect on apprehension. At the moment it is not possible on reasonable grounds of suspicion that a person possesses child pornography for police to get a search warrant. That is because the penalty is not a penalty of imprisonment. Under the new offence of imprisonment the police will now have that power, which should lead to a clear increase in apprehension for people possessing such material.

Russell Fairbrother: Do the penalties the Minister has mentioned bring them into line with comparable jurisdictions in the Western World?

Hon PHIL GOFF: Yes, I looked at the comparable jurisdictions that New Zealand would normally compare itself with—in particular, the United Kingdom and Canada. In both those cases, there is a maximum penalty of 10 years for supply, production, and distribution of child pornography. I have aligned New Zealand penalties with those jurisdictions, both because they are comparable and because that is the maximum penalty they apply.

Marc Alexander: What factors did the Minister take into account when deciding to increase penalties, and what weight did he give to them?

Hon PHIL GOFF: There are a number of things. First, I was personally concerned at the low level of penalty for what I regarded as participation in what is a horrific crime. Secondly, I have talked to groups around the country, including End Child Prostitution, Child Pornography and Trafficking of Children for Sexual Purposes. I have talked to the member himself, who I know is very keen that penalties should be brought into line in that area. The other factor is the factor I mentioned earlier—that is, Internet trading was a crime that was quite hard for people to participate in a decade ago and is now relatively easy, and we need to respond to that situation.

Economy—Reforms of the 1990s

3. Dr DON BRASH (NZ National) to the Minister of Finance: Does he accept that Statistics New Zealand data shows the real disposable incomes of the poorest 20 percent of New Zealand households increased over the 1990s, despite the cuts to welfare benefits in 1991; if so, does he agree that the Statistics New Zealand data contradicts comments made by the Prime Minister that the reforms of the 1990s left “the poorest New Zealanders an estimated twenty to twenty five per cent worse off”?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Minister of Finance): No, and no.

Dr Don Brash: I am stunned, I must confess. Further to the Minister’s comments yesterday that welfare cuts in 1991 left the poorest New Zealanders 20 to 25 percent worse off, should we conclude that the Government believes that increasing the benefit payroll by nearly 10 percent over the next 4 years, as predicted by Treasury in December, is the ultimate way of improving the lot of the poorest New Zealanders?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: No. In fact, what the data shows clearly is that the most important factor is the number of people in employment and how that affects household income. But could I point out to the member, firstly, Statistics New Zealand shows very clearly that the bottom 20 percent were worse off in 1998 than they were in 1990; secondly, the bottom 10 percent were worse off in 1998 than 1991; and if we take the full gamut of the entire reform period between 1982 and 1998, the bottom 10 percent fell 5 percent and the top 10 percent increased their real incomes 43 percent.

Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I am very close to the member, but I could not hear that final figure. Could you ask him to repeat it please?

Mr SPEAKER: No. I could hear it.

David Cunliffe: What other aspects of change in the 1990s did the Prime Minister mention in her speech?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: She reminded us that after those cuts the unemployment rate rose to double figures, the public health system was rearranged on a commercial model, and the cost of gaining tertiary education access rose very steeply indeed. These seem to be the reforms of the 1990s that Dr Brash continues to praise.

Sue Bradford: Does the Minister have any estimate of how much of the social wage was lost in the 9 years of National rule from December 1990—that is, the loss of a wide range of things that were formerly provided by the State—and does he agree that income alone is only a part of what keeps people in poverty?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: That is a very perceptive question. I do not have the exact figures in front of me, but clearly there are other factors that come into play—for example, the abandonment of income-related rents is very important in terms of the impact upon low-income households, the increased costs of health care, and the increased costs of education. People may have slightly more money in some cases, but that money has to stretch further than it did in 1990.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Why is the Minister seeking to lay the blame wholly at the door of the National Party, when he knows full well that he, Helen Clark, and a number of his front-bench colleagues today were happily going along with the Rogernomics revolution that did so much damage to New Zealand between 1984 and 1990?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: The Prime Minister and I both disagree with the word “happily” in that question.

Dr Muriel Newman: Could the Minister tell the House on exactly what facts or reports the Prime Minister based her statement that the reforms of the 1990s left “the poorest New Zealanders an estimated 20 to 25 percent worse off”?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: The Prime Minister did not actually say that. I suggest people read what she said. She said there was part of a radical right menu of change, which slashed welfare spending of public housing subsidies, leaving the poorest New Zealanders an estimated 20 to 25 percent worse off. That is undeniably correct, looking at the benefit cuts of 1991. They were up to 25 percent.

Hon Maurice WilliamsonHon Maurice Williamson115: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I find that this House gets itself into a terribly unacceptable position. The Minister just answered, saying to this House “the Prime Minister did not say that.” He then went on to quote the Prime Minister’s words, and the words included those words: “leaving the poorest New Zealanders an estimated 20 to 25 percent worse off.” Both cannot be true. He cannot say the Prime Minister did not say it, and then read a quote from her that included those words.

Mr SPEAKER: Unfortunately, that is debateable material, not a point of order. [Interruption] Of course it is Parliament, and the member will behave himself. I made a ruling. I said that the comment that was made by Mr Williamson could well be in his own view correct. He is entitled to say it, but that is not necessarily in any way related to the question and answer period.

Dr Don Brash: Is it not true that even on the basis of the Minister’s own figures, which are certainly different from the ones I have, the assertion by the Prime Minister that the living standards of the poorest people in New Zealand dropped by 20 to 25 percent simply is not true?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: No, that is not correct. Some poor people had their benefits cut by up to 25 percent in 1991. Their incomes—

Hon Bill English: That’s not what she said.

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Oh yes, that is what she said. It is also clearly untrue that during the 1990s the bottom 20 percent got worse off. There is the graph. Read it. Down is down, up is up. See that—1990-98. It is not like looking at interest rates on a Reserve Bank table.

Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I wonder whether the Deputy Prime Minister would be good enough to assure the House that the Prime Minister has approved that graph.

Mr SPEAKER: No, that is not a point of order.

Literacy—Standards

4. JILL PETTIS (NZ Labour—Whanganui) to the Minister of Education: What recent reports has he received on New Zealand’s performance on international literacy standards?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD (Minister of Education): I received a report last year on the Programme for International Student Assessment, “PISA”, which shows that New Zealand’s 15-year-olds are, on average, among the top OECD achievers in literacy. However, while New Zealand is third in the world in literacy, we do have unacceptable disparities. I have also received a suggestion that the careful, coherent policy approach that has been put in place—and is making in-roads into disparities—should be replaced by bulk funding and “cherry picking”—the failed policies of the 1990s. That came from the new, fresh approach of Don Brash in his recent leadership bid.

Jill Pettis: What initiatives have been put in place to raise literacy levels for all students?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: We do have a comprehensive strategy in place for all students, and I want to thank Wyatt Creech for getting some of the policy work done. It includes the Early Childhood Primary Link Via Literacy Project, a Labour one; the Pasifika English language literacy initiatives; and new and expanded literacy assessment tools. The answer lies in this coherent approach, not in the Roger Kerr circa 1993 approach to bulk funding, apparently plagiarised by Don Brash. That policy failed.

Phil Heatley: Is the Minister at all concerned that in the international adult literacy survey—the only substantial international survey done to date on adult literacy—over 40 percent of New Zealanders were below the minimum level required for individuals to meet the complex demands of everyday life and work in the emerging knowledge society; if so, why is he just receiving all these reports and doing nothing about it?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: Yes, I am very concerned. That is why the Government has taken the following measures: first, literacy leadership for principals, so that schools can get proper programmes throughout the schools; whole school or syndicate professional development; assessment tools for teachers to use; an enormous amount of material to support teaching practice; a lot of materials for learners; materials for home-school partnerships; and even adult education courses, which I can recommend to some members.

Hon Brian Donnelly: Given the Government’s agreement in its response to the Education and Science Committee’s report on the teaching of reading, that policy work on the specific problem of transience, which is associated with that tail, would be put into the 2002 policy programme, what progress has been made on that policy work?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: In some areas, some progress has been made, but not enough yet.

Mâori Sports Casting International

5. RODNEY HIDE (ACT NZ) to the Minister of Maori Affairs: When he told the House yesterday that he was generally satisfied with Te Mangai Paho’s distribution and administration of funds, did this include the $534,964 in payments over three years to Maori Sports Casting International that saw approximately $7,000 in travel, meal and accommodation expenses returned to the Te Mangai Paho employee responsible for their radio and music portfolio for his co-commentary of games such as the Wallabies versus All Blacks in Sydney on 1 September 2001; if not, what has he done about it?

Hon PAREKURA HOROMIA (Minister of Mâori Affairs): On 20 February 2003, I met with the chairman of the board and the chief executive of Te Mângai Pâho and raised this matter with them. I was assured by Te Mângai Pâho that this matter has been managed appropriately, including that the employee concerned no longer participates as a guest commentator with Mâori Sportscasting International Ltd.

Rodney Hide: How come Te Mângai Pâho is still employing Tame Te Rangi, or are the kickbacks he arranged for himself through the contracts he was managing acceptable to this Government and to this Minister of Mâori Affairs?

Hon PAREKURA HOROMIA: I assure that member that this Government takes a dim view of the misuse of any operational funds that are given to any organisation. This is an operations matter that is the responsibility of Te Mângai Pâho. It is not for the Minister of Mâori Affairs to be carrying out employment-related discussions with staff. That is the job of Te Mângai Pâho.

Mahara Okeroa: Is the Minister satisfied with the action Te Mângai Pâho has taken to ensure that the employee concerned no longer participates as a general commentator?

Hon PAREKURA HOROMIA: I am more than happy with Te Mângai Pâho’s handling of this situation, and that the staff member is under strict guidance.

Hon Murray McCully: Given the Minister’s admission that Te Mângai Pâho approved funding of $3,964 for Mâori Sportscasting International for the purpose of broadcasting in te reo the New Zealand Mâori versus Australia rugby game at Stadium Australia on 9 June 2001, and that Mâori Sportscasting International then paid for Te Mângai Pâho executive, Mr Tame Te Rangi to travel to Sydney and for his meals and accommodation, has the Minister sought any advice from the Auditor-General or any similar authority as to the appropriateness of those arrangements; if not, why not?

Hon PAREKURA HOROMIA: I have not, but can I remind that member that Te Mângai Pâho had a very high rated audit summary done by New Zealand Audit.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Why does he and his Prime Minister now take a totally different view to the level and requirements of accountability as it relates, for example, to Tuku Morgan, who only spent $89 of his own money on a pair of underpants—and we call that hypocrisy, actually—and why has he taken a different standard, or is it the fact that he has received reports that Te Mângai Pâho’s distribution and administration of funds policy relates to the advice it got from the ACT party as to how one breaks the rules, when it comes to public funding?

Mr SPEAKER: The last part of that question is not to be commented on, but the rest can be.

Hon PAREKURA HOROMIA: I was not around at the time of the underpants incident, but I repeat that this Government takes a dim view of any misuse of taxpayer funding, in an operational sense.

Rodney Hide: Why does Te Mângai Pâho pay Mâori Sportscasting over $1,000 to broadcast a game, when Mâori Sportscasting pays its Mâori commentators as little as $50 or $100 per game to their TAB account, or is that feather-bedding routine and the reason that Te Mângai Pâho is always crying poor?

Hon PAREKURA HOROMIA: That is an operational matter. I remind the member that I have sent him piles of detailed responses to those sorts of questions from him and I have the pile here to give him again, if he has not read them.

Manufacturing—Exchange Rate

6. GORDON COPELAND (United Future) to the Minister of Finance: Following the release of the latest ANZ-Business NZ Performance of Manufacturing Index that shows expansion of manufacturing has slowed for two consecutive months, does he agree the rapidly appreciating New Zealand dollar is having a serious adverse effect on the manufacturing sector; if not, why not?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Minister of Finance): The index referred to does show that manufacturing continues to expand but at a more moderate rate. So at this stage I think it is still too early to say the exchange rate is having a serious adverse effect on manufacturing. The effects on agriculture seem to be more pronounced at this point.

Gordon Copeland: Can he assure the House that the effect of the exchange rate on New Zealand manufacturing, and, I guess, also on farmers, is taken into account when establishing monetary policy settings, and if manufacturing and farming are not taken into account, why not, and, if they are, is he satisfied that the current policy settings are effective in this respect?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: The general economic factors are taken into account in setting the monetary policy targets agreement. Within that agreement the actual settings in terms of interest rates are, of course, a matter for the Governor of the Reserve Bank.

Luamanuvao Winnie Laban: Has the Minister received any assessments of the overall effects that an appreciating currency might have on the economy?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: The latest assessment from Treasury is that a lot will depend on the extent and duration of the period that the exchange rate stays at or above its current level. But overall the effect is expected to be negative for real gross domestic product growth over 2003-04. Because the economy is carrying more momentum going into 2003 than previously forecast, any moderation in growth is from a higher starting point.

Dr Don Brash: Does the Minister recall explaining to the public that one of the key goals of the 1999 changes to the policy targets agreement was to reduce exchange-rate volatility, and does he now believe that these changes were successful, when the appreciation of the New Zealand dollar over the last year has been the sharpest since the New Zealand dollar was floated almost exactly 18 years ago?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: It is certainly true that the dollar fell to a very low level in early 2002, I think down to roughly US38c at one point, so appreciating on that base looks like a large appreciation. I note that already the cross-rate against Australia, which is the most important rate for manufacturing exporters, is starting to come back as the Australian dollar recovers from the effects of droughts and fire.

Rod Donald: Has the Minister sought or received any advice on the need for the Government to have a more active exchange rate policy, given the negative impact the high dollar has had on manufacturers, exporters, and on the trade deficit, and especially in the light of comments by former World Bank economist and Nobel Prize winner, Joseph Stiglitz, that short-term capital flows and exchange rate policy are crucial to the success of small, open economies?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Exchange rate policy is always a matter for open public debate. The alternative of freely floating currency, as New Zealand has, is a fixed currency or some form of crawling peg. The experience is that, sooner or later, a fixed currency or crawling peg arrangement leads to very large losses by the State as speculators pick off that currency.

Australia—Social Security Agreement

7. Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS (Leader—NZ First) to the Minister of Immigration: What is the number of non-New Zealand born permanent residents or citizens who left New Zealand to live permanently in Australia in the 12 months since the Social Security Agreement with Australia in February 2001, and how does this number compare with the number of non-New Zealand born permanent residents or citizens who left New Zealand to live permanently in Australia 12 months prior to the Social Security Agreement?

Hon LIANNE DALZIEL (Minister of Immigration): The departure cards, which are the source of permanent and long-term departure statistics, did not begin recording country of birth until September 2000, therefore comparative data relating to non - New Zealand - born permanent and long-term departures cannot be provided for the year ending January 2001. The total figures for the 2 years, rounded to the nearest 100, are 39,4000 and 33,200. The year that I can give non – New Zealand - resident departure statistics for, or non – New Zealand - born figures, is the year ended January 2002. That figure was 10,400, but I should note that there were 1,000 people who did not identify country of birth on their departure card.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Why is it, yet again, that the Minister has no idea of what is going on in respect of immigration to or emigration from this country, has not done the research, does not have the detail, and the figures she does give are wrong, as provided this day from—[Interruption]

Mr SPEAKER: There is a lot of comment, and I would like the member to get to the question.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Why is it that this day Statistics New Zealand has provided information that states that the figures are 42,196 for February 2001, and 29,729 for February 2002—a 29 percent decrease—and is it not a fact that this country was used as a bolt hole by immigrants who came to this country with no long-term commitment and shot to Australia, hence the signing of the agreement and the loss of a 100-year relationship that we once had with Australia?

Hon LIANNE DALZIEL: Given that the member is referring to statistics that relate to the year 2000, and that a migrant to this country—

Rt Hon Winston Peters: No.

Hon LIANNE DALZIEL: —or 2001, it does not matter which one—and because a person of residence has to have residence for 3 years before he or she is eligible for citizenship and a New Zealand passport, that member should be asking himself that question.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. It is not acceptable for that Minister to claim that the person asking the question should be answering it, particularly when she has been provided the information by her department under the Official Information Act and under Statistics New Zealand disclosures. It is simply unsatisfactory. We are paying her to have an LTD and a ministerial home. She should be fired because she is incompetent.

Mr SPEAKER: The member has gone on too far again. The last clause of the Minister’s answer was not in order, the rest of it was.

Georgina Beyer: Has the Minister received any advice on why fewer New Zealand citizens and residents are leaving for Australia on a permanent or long-term basis?

Hon LIANNE DALZIEL: Yes, the most recent advice, which I received last week from the Labour Market Policy Group, comments on the tighter eligibility criteria for New Zealanders receiving social welfare in Australia, coupled with favourable economic and labour market conditions in New Zealand. Members will be pleased to know that that advice will be released on the Department of Labour website tomorrow.

Katherine Rich: Is the Minister at all concerned that New Zealand’s lower standards of entry have created a situation where we are being used as a back door to Australia for migrants who cannot meet Australia’s far more stringent tests, and that, as a result, genuine New Zealand citizens and permanent residents have lost their social services privileges in Australia; if not, why not?

Hon LIANNE DALZIEL: I take it from the question that the member supports New Zealanders being on the dole in Australia. I do not.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Given the Minister’s answers in the House today, I ask her why she would make that statement when, on 7 March 2001, she said: “Uncertainty created by negotiations finalised last month was responsible for a sizeable increase in the number of skilled Kiwis leaving the country last year.” Why is she disowning her own words that she said back then?

Hon LIANNE DALZIEL: I am not disowning my word from then, at all. In fact, if we look at the report that came out from Statistics New Zealand on Monday, 3 March we see that there has been a significant drop in departures to Australia. If we look at the 3 years in total—

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The Minister again has had 4 hours’ notice. The dates I am referring to are the 12 months before and the 12 months after the agreement was signed. She is now seeking to go way away from all the questions that have been asked on the issue, which concerns whether there was a flood of people who went before the agreement was signed and whether the flood stopped afterwards.

Mr SPEAKER: The Minister is addressing the question. She may continue.

Hon LIANNE DALZIEL: That is precisely the point that I am making. At the end of January 2001, 39,400 people left for Australia. In the following year, there were 33,200, and last year, I am pleased to report, it was down to about 24,000.

Meat Hygiene

8. STEVE CHADWICK (NZ Labour—Rotorua) to the Minister for Food Safety: Why did New Zealand fund an international meeting on meat hygiene in Wellington from 17 to 21 February 2003?

Hon ANNETTE KING (Minister for Food Safety): New Zealand’s leadership of the Codex Committee on Meat and Poultry Hygiene gives us an opportunity to influence the international standards that apply to trade meat. That committee has made amazing progress in reducing the current five codes on meat standards to one, and work should be completed after one more meeting only. That is unknown. Some committees work on a single code for over 10 years. Some excellent work has been done under New Zealand’s leadership, and it is very much appreciated.

Steve Chadwick: What benefit does such a meeting have for New Zealand?

Hon ANNETTE KING: New Zealand’s purpose in the Codex committee is to ensure that all Codex activities add value to protecting and promoting the health of New Zealand consumers and their practices in food trade. The export of meat and meat products does play a significant part in New Zealand’s economy, and contributes to around 20 percent of export receipts per annum. While the value of those exports has grown over recent years, New Zealand exporters do face a raft of requirements. Therefore, we need to ensure that we are participating in making those rules and having our voice heard.

Dr Lynda Scott: Why have New Zealanders’ campylobacter rates increased so significantly—40 percent in Auckland and 53 percent in Wellington last year—which costs an estimated $40 million per year; what is being done to stop so many New Zealanders from getting food poisoning?

Hon ANNETTE KING: First of all, that does not relate to the work of the Codex committee, which is to do with international food standards. Campylobacter is to do with domestic food safety. It is mainly related to the handling of food, particularly in food outlets in New Zealand. This Government set up the Food Safety Authority to bring together domestic food issues, along with those international issues. The Food Safety Authority has made domestic food safety a priority—something that should have been done many years ago.

R Doug Woolerton: What was the cost of this international meeting held in New Zealand?

Hon ANNETTE KING: I am sorry, but I am unable to provide the cost. However, I can tell the member that it has been very beneficial for the industry. In fact, the industry believes that it is absolutely crucial to it. The result will be a reduction in compliance costs to the industry itself. I am happy to provide the member with the cost of hosting the meeting, as soon as possible.

Sue Kedgley: If the Government is so concerned about meeting international standards in meat and poultry and protecting the health of New Zealand consumers, why does it continue to allow cancer-causing drugs, such as furazolidone, to be fed to New Zealand pigs and poultry, when they are banned from use in food-producing animals in most countries because there is no safe level for their residues?

Hon ANNETTE KING: A considerable amount of work is carried out by authorities in New Zealand to ensure that we do have safe production of food. I have no doubt that the food that New Zealanders eat and export is safe for us to eat.

Oyster Farming—Waikare Inlet

9. PHIL HEATLEY (NZ National—Whangarei) to the Minister of Fisheries: Is it fair for his Ministry to threaten Waikare Inlet oyster farmers with lease forfeiture saying “if they are serious about farming … they need to fix things up and get on with it” when the possible pollution sources in the Inlet still exist and are outside the farmers’ control?

Hon PETE HODGSON (Minister of Fisheries): Yes, it is both fair and appropriate for the ministry to require Waikare Inlet oyster farmers to meet the terms and conditions of their leases over public space. As the member knows, the official whose words he quotes also said that the farmers’ breaches of their lease conditions were “relatively straightforward”. If those farmers rejoined the sanitation programme and paid some rather modest bills, they could do what eight other oyster farmers in the Waikare Inlet are already doing and go back into production.

Phil Heatley: Going by the Minister’s default notice, is he still intent on adding insult to injury by first taking away the livelihood of the oyster farmers through forfeiture, then, on top of that, making them pay $2.5 million to clean up the Waikare Inlet—a mess originally caused by someone else’s pollution?

Hon PETE HODGSON: I must say it is shame that the member has not chosen to work with other parties in this dispute, as has, for example the member for Northland or the member for Te Tai Tokerau, and has instead decided to join a rather illogical grandstand. Here are the facts. The outstanding debts across all 17 farms to the health authorities are $7,000—not $7,000 each; $7,000 in total. In addition, if a further $6,500 or $7,000 were paid, those farmers could rejoin the sanitation programme until the end of the year. They have chosen not to do so. They have chosen, instead of doing that and going back into production—either directly or by relaying—to go to court. The answer to the question is that the farmers ought to consider afresh rejoining a solution instead of perpetuating a problem.

Dr Ashraf Choudhary: What progress has been made in addressing the water quality issues in the Waikare Inlet?

Hon PETE HODGSON: I am advised that the Far North District Council and the Northland Regional Council have made valuable progress in addressing the potential pollution sources that were identified last year. That includes the installation of filters on septic tanks in the area, the commissioning of an upgrade to the Kawakawa sewage treatment plant, and steps to improve the control and monitoring of sewage discharges from boats. That is why some of the farmers in the Waikare Inlet are back in production now.

Jim Peters: Could the Minister please clarify for us how many oyster farmers were notified that their leases were not meeting the conditions of their lease; and how many others in the Waikare Inlet are farming and trading in oysters now?

Hon PETE HODGSON: From memory, the answer to the member’s first question is 17, and the answer to the member’s second question is eight.

Jeanette Fitzsimons: Has the Minister talked with his colleague the Minister of Local Government and of Conservation about why it is that regional coastal plans have for a long time not succeeded in protecting water quality adequately; and does he intend that the ocean strategy, when it is developed, will deal with the land-water interface better?

Hon PETE HODGSON: No, and the reason is it seems to be that the law itself is not at issue. What seems to be the case is that its implementation from case to case is at issue. I do not want to point too many fingers here, but I would say that the Waikare Inlet oyster event has brought home to a number of local authorities some home truths that they had not earlier considered.

Phil Heatley: Will that Minister force the 20 farmers to sacrifice their family homes to meet his lease obligations; if so, will he do anything to help them, besides taking away their livelihoods, threatening forfeiture, and making them pay $2.5 million to clean out someone else’s mess, or is the Minister completely heartless?

Mr SPEAKER: No. The Minister can answer the first two questions.

Hon PETE HODGSON: My officials held off for months and months, trying to negotiate a solution. They have given—some weeks ago—notice of their intention to require forfeiture. In order to stop that notice from reaching its logical conclusion, the 17 farmers need to rejoin a sanitation programme, and some of them—

Rt Hon Winston Peters: That’s blackmail.

Hon PETE HODGSON: Well, they cannot sell their oysters unless the oysters are known to be healthy. That is why it is not blackmail. That is why there must be a sanitation programme—and, while we are at it, some of them have to put their signs back up. The question is whether anything will happen, now that the sword of Damocles is hanging over that industry.

Phil Heatley: I seek leave to table some documents: written question 13362 from the Minister—

Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table written question—

Phil Heatley: I have not said what it is about.

Mr SPEAKER: Well, leave is sought to table a written question. Is there any objection?

Phil Heatley: I raise a point of order—

Mr SPEAKER: It is official identification of a written question. Leave is sought to table a written question. That is quite satisfactory.

Phil Heatley: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. In the long years that I have been in this House, I have noticed that when members seek to table documents, they, as of habit, give the date, the name of the document—in fact, they are required to do it—and the rough, general contents of the document. I never got any of that out, and I am most disturbed. I would like to resubmit it.

Mr SPEAKER: On this particular occasion—[Interruption]—my sense of good humour at this moment I do not want to have altered—I will let the member say just a little bit more, but he must be brief.

Phil Heatley: I will be brief. I seek leave to table a written question from the Minister conceding that the source of the pollution could be from anyone but the oyster farmers—

Hon Dr Michael Cullen: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The member should read it out accurately. It cannot be a written question from the Minister; I assume it is to the Minister, as it is the answer the member is trying to table.

Mr SPEAKER: I presume it is the answer that the member is trying to table.

Phil Heatley: If that will satisfy the smart alec, that is fine.

Mr SPEAKER: No.

Phil Heatley: I withdraw and apologise.

Mr SPEAKER: Good idea. Thank you. Leave is sought to table that. Is there any objection? Yes, there is objection. Carry on.

Phil Heatley: I seek leave to table a second document of 13 January, a default notice from the ministry served on 20 oyster farmers, saying “Shape up, ship out, and pay $2.5 million.”

Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any—

Hon Dr Michael Cullen: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. There is a most important question—that is, when one seeks leave to table something, it has to be an accurate description. So I suggest that the member is putting himself in some peril if that document does not say: “Shape up, ship out, and pay $2.5 million.”

Mr SPEAKER: No. I think it would be much safer for the member to seek to table the default summons, and leave it at that particular point.

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

Phil Heatley: I seek leave to table a document of 12 February, a report in the Independent, which accurately says: “If they are serious about farming . . . fix these things up, and get on with it.”

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

District Health Boards—Community Health Needs

10. PITA PARAONE (NZ First) to the Minister of Health: Is she satisfied that district health boards are using their funding to meet the maximum benefits of community health needs?

Hon ANNETTE KING (Minister of Health): No, there is still some way to go. Until the establishment of district health boards, the old hospital and health services were predominately responsible for hospital services. The change to district health boards requires them to take a broader responsibility for health needs. Over time I would expect a better alignment of district health board funding to meet local community needs, based on the health needs analysis they are now required to undertake.

Pita Paraone: Does her dissatisfaction include the Taranaki District Health Board paying twice for chief executive officer services, at a total cost of over $500,000; and for how long is she prepared to allow taxpayer funding to be wasted, particularly when the board is turning away patients in need of surgery in order to make its elective surgery waiting lists appear shorter?

Hon ANNETTE KING: While I have no responsibility for employment matters, I have been advised by the board that a serious complaint was laid against the chief executive officer. The board decided to investigate. The investigation has been delayed because the chief executive officer went on sick leave, and this has been slowing down the resolution process. A temporary chief executive officer has been employed because the position could not be filled internally. She accepted the position at short notice and at a lower rate than the State Services Commission recommends. The board is very keen to resolve the complaint. However, it is frustrated and hamstrung by the fact that the chief executive officer is entitled to unlimited sick leave, as part of the employment contract that he signed and has been in place for quite some time.

Nanaia Mahuta: When was the requirement instigated for district health boards to undertake a comprehensive assessment of community health needs, and why?

Hon ANNETTE KING: This Government made it a requirement of district health boards, through the New Zealand Public Health and Disability Act. While boards must implement the New Zealand health strategy and other agreed national strategies, they do need to take account of particular local health needs. These needs do change over time and regular reviews are required by boards.

Dr Lynda Scott: Have any district health board public hospitals decided to ration surgery, plus deny patients access to first-specialist assessment, as a way of coping with their financial deficits, and what does she believe will be the outcome to patients of these rationing decisions?

Hon ANNETTE KING: All boards are required to live within a budget. I am pleased to tell this House that in the 2003-04 financial year at least 15 of those boards will be out of deficit. They are working hard to ensure they provide the range of services they need to provide, and I think they are doing that in an extremely good way.

Heather Roy: What responsibility does she accept for the double-up in chief executive officer services at the Taranaki District Health Board, and if none, who really is in charge?

Hon ANNETTE KING: I do not accept responsibility for employment matters. I say to the member that the board is taking every step that it should take in an employment matter, including natural justice for the chief executive officer. I believe the board is handling it correctly. I am not able, under the New Zealand Public Health and Disability Act, to be part of the employment contracts of chief executive officers. That has been the case for at least 20 years. I would be interested if ACT intends to change it, should it ever become Government.

Sue Kedgley: To ensure that district health boards are able to be fully responsible to local community health needs, will she ensure that all democratically elected district health board members are able to speak freely to their communities and to the local media about local health needs, and are not muzzled or gagged; if not, why not?

Hon ANNETTE KING: Practically every district health board meeting in New Zealand is now open to the public and the media. I ask the member to compare that to the board meetings of the old hospital and health services and Crown health enterprises, which were closed. The media and the public were locked out for 10 years. Board members are entitled to speak on what they want to speak on, and I am pleased to say they are.

Judy Turner: Can the Minister confirm that the new chief executive of the Taranaki District Health Board was also the recipient of a $25,000 pay rise when making the transition from chief executive officer of Southland Health to the head of the Southland District Health Board when the health sector was restructured?

Hon ANNETTE KING: No, I cannot. What I can confirm is that the acting chief executive officer, Mary Bonner, is receiving less than she is entitled to under the State Services Commission guidelines.

Judy Turner: Is she satisfied that funding from district health boards is being optimally utilised, when combined deficits of $272 million mean that money that should be used to save people’s lives is instead devoted to debt servicing?

Hon ANNETTE KING: The deficit for the 2001-02 financial year was $217 million. It was paid off by deficit support in the financial year in which it was incurred. The predicted deficit for this financial year is $188 million. According to the latest statistics they are right on track, and funding is provided to pay for that deficit throughout the year.

Forest Stewardship Council—Plantation Forests

11. IAN EWEN-STREET (Green) to the Minister of Forestry: Does he support efforts within New Zealand to develop a Forest Stewardship Council-based national standard for the certification of plantation forests?

Hon PAREKURA HOROMIA (Associate Minister of Forestry), on behalf of the Minister of Forestry: The Government supports efforts within New Zealand to develop a New Zealand – specific Forest Stewardship Council - based standard for the certification of production forests in New Zealand. The Government considers that this work will improve our market access and the environmental performance of our forest sectors.

Ian Ewen-Street: Why, then, has the Minister allowed a sustainable farming fund grant of $92,139 to the indigenous forest certification steering group to be used, in part, to fund opposition to the development of the New Zealand standard for plantation forests, especially as the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry expressly told the steering group that no funding was to be used to influence the process?

Hon PAREKURA HOROMIA: The top end of that question is correct, but I remind the member that the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry has suspended further funding of the project until it has satisfied itself that no ministry funding is being used in relation to the process complaint that was made by two of the members within the indigenous group.

Mita Ririnui: What specific role is the Government playing in the development of the Forest Stewardship Council - based standards for the certification of all forests in New Zealand?

Hon PAREKURA HOROMIA: The initiative is a non-Government process. In mid-2001 a hui, a get-together, was called in Rotorua, where a construct of four chambers was developed—social, economic, environmental, and Mâori—and out of that there was a standard-setting exercise that was relevant to New Zealand, which will then be sent back to the international standards-setting board. It is important to say that this initiative is a non-Government process, but this Government is supportive of developing it.

Brian Connell203Brian Connell: Given that there is conflicting evidence as to whether certification does in fact protect the world’s most vulnerable forests, and given that there are 3,500 small foresters in New Zealand, many of whom say they cannot afford to lock up 8 percent of their plantings as a reserve or pay up to $3,000 for certification—which many feel is just another form of compliance—what course of action does he recommend to those small foresters?

Hon PAREKURA HOROMIA: One of the generic issues around standard-setting in relation to forestry production is that the bottom-end principle is to ensure that our markets overseas are relevant and that we can keep up the supply of timber. It is important that these two groups are put together. The fact that the complaints have come out of one side or the other side is another issue.

Mr SPEAKER: Before I call the Rt Hon Winston Peters, I want to indicate that he is entitled to have his eleventh supplementary question today, but that means 10 tomorrow.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I might not be here tomorrow.

Mr SPEAKER: The member can certainly have his eleventh one today, but that means 10 tomorrow.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Thank you very much.

Brian ConnellBrian Connell203: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I asked the Minister a specific question. I asked what course of action he recommends to these small forests.

Mr SPEAKER: I am not getting into that now. The Minister addressed the question that was asked.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: In an endeavour to dissect some sense from what the Minister said, I ask him whether he could please tell us what a construct is.

Hon PAREKURA HOROMIA: A construct most certainly is a framework of groups that get together to make decisions that, hopefully, are correct.

Hon Ken Shirley: Is the Minister aware that the Forest Stewardship Council praised the operations of Timberlands West Coast, regarding it as one of the best examples in the world of sustainable forestry management, and, in the light of that, why on earth did he and his Government, together with the Greens, campaign against, and close down, the operation of Timberlands West Coast?

Hon PAREKURA HOROMIA: That is a summary of ________from the sound of that question. There are certainly issues around the West Coast forestry industry, which have been well dealt with and tested in this country over a period of time.

Gordon Copeland: In terms of the intended certification of plantation forest, would a private indigenous forest, managed on a sustainable yield basis, come within the definition of a plantation?

Hon PAREKURA HOROMIA: In terms of where the two different organisations are at the moment, or the two different sets of construct, the indigenous forestry development group, which has those partners in it, and the plantation forestry group are working in different streams, but they are trying to get to the same end-point.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I seek leave for the Minister to answer that question again. I know we are only simple country boys over here, but none of us can understand what he is saying.

Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought for that purpose. Is leave granted? It is not.

Rodney Hide: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. My question is this—

Mr SPEAKER: This had better be a genuine point of order, and not related to my ruling.

Rodney Hide: You didn’t rule.

Mr SPEAKER: Leave was sought and denied. That is the end of the matter.

Rodney Hide: But how can one seek leave for someone else to do something, when you have always ruled that members cannot do that?

Mr SPEAKER: That is why leave was denied. I would have denied it also.

Hon Dr Michael Cullen: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Is that an example of two constructs working together?

Mr SPEAKER: I am tempted to think about the plural of that word.

Ian Ewen-Street: Did the Minister approve of the manager of the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry’s indigenous forestry unit adding his name to a letter of complaint to the International Forest Stewardship Council board, the purpose of which appears to be to undermine the process of establishing a national standard for plantation forests; if not, what will he do about it?

Hon PAREKURA HOROMIA: “Construct” can be singular or plural. The Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry member on the board—

Mr SPEAKER: I could not hear the first part of the Minister’s reply. I want to hear it.

Hon PAREKURA HOROMIA: I do not think I will carry on with the first part of the comment, I will just get to the member’s question, if that is OK.

Mr SPEAKER: Carry on with the answer.

Hon PAREKURA HOROMIA: As the member will recall from earlier discussion, the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry member was put on to the board by the Government as a technical adviser to help the process, in the sense of developing the standards. That member’s name was placed on the list of complainants without him having any knowledge of that and without any approach being made to him. That is the effect of the report back that we got through the Government agency.

Hon Ken Shirley: Is the Minister aware that when the Forest Stewardship Council—based in Oaxaca, Mexico—first brought out its principles for sustainable forestry management it proposed that plantation and exotic species would not qualify for certification; that being the case, is the Minister still convinced that that is an appropriate body to be in charge of certification of New Zealand’s commercial forestry?

Hon PAREKURA HOROMIA: I am not aware of Oaxaca in Mexico. I am aware of __________where there is forestry up the line here. I assure the member that any collective effort to set standards that create better quality for an important export of this country, and which consolidates our markets overseas, must be good news, and must require a good effort.

Ian Ewen-Street: I seek the leave of the House to table a document. It is a letter to the International Forest Stewardship Council seeking to undermine the national certification process.

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

Gas—Efficiency

12. GERRY BROWNLEE (NZ National—Ilam) to the Minister of Energy: Does he agree with Heather Staley, Chief Executive Officer of the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority, that direct use of gas reticulated to households is “three times more efficient than burning it to produce electricity”; if so, why?

Hon PETE HODGSON (Minister of Energy): Yes. The direct use of gas can be close to 100 percent efficient, while gas-fired electricity generation is more like 35 percent or 40 percent efficient. The net effect is that the direct use of gas for residential water heating, for example, is about 2.5 or 3 times more energy efficient than using electricity from gas-fired power stations to power a standard domestic hot water cylinder.

Gerry Brownlee: Given that gas burned in households is more efficient than gas used to produce electricity, does the Minister approve of the move by the State-owned enterprise Genesis to institute a fixed charge on gas use, which will mean increases for some household customers of up to 60 percent in their gas bill, and does he believe that encourages efficient use of energy?

Hon PETE HODGSON: In order to deal with that and many other aspects of an emerging competitive gas market, some months ago—I am sorry that I cannot remember the exact date—I set up a process involving the Government policy statement and an industry grouping in order to address various issues that might arise, in order that we might see a competitive gas market arise, of the kind that we have seen arise in the electricity sector. I am meeting the gas industry tomorrow to get an idea of forthcoming progress.

Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. We have been over and over the issue of Ministers not answering questions all day. You are telling us, as you should, that they should address questions. The Minister made no attempt to answer the question.

Mr SPEAKER: Please be seated. I listened to the Minister’s answer very carefully. I thought that he most certainly did address the question on this particular occasion. The member had better not question my ruling on this occasion, or he will be leaving.

Gerry Brownlee: Have you ruled?

Mr SPEAKER: Yes, I have.

Gerry Brownlee: You ruled that he answered the question?

Mr SPEAKER: No, I did not. I ruled that he addressed the question, and that is what I am required to do.

Gerry Brownlee: Now, I have another question for you. I return to the Standing Orders and see that there is a requirement on Ministers to address the question. Four criteria are laid down in the Standing Orders by which Ministers should answer. I asked him whether a 60 percent increase in gas for householders encouraged energy efficiency and he told the House that he was talking to gas people about a competitive market. That is not addressing the question at all.

Mr SPEAKER: No, I thought that the Minister said that he had asked for a report. The report on this particular issue was coming either next week or something like that. That addresses the question.

David Parker: Should domestic gas consumers be concerned about the rundown of the Maui gasfield?

Hon PETE HODGSON: No, they most certainly should not. Domestic consumption of gas is such a small proportion of total gas use—under 5 percent—that there is no threat to domestic supply. It is the most valuable use of the gas. Any increase in the wholesale price of gas arising from the decline of Maui is likely to have only a modest effect on domestic prices, as most of the domestic gas bill comprises transmission and distribution costs, rather than fuel costs.

Jeanette Fitzsimons: Will the Minister commit to taking some action to limit the size of fixed charges for gas connections, which are the single biggest disincentive to households using gas, as he took some action over fixed electricity charges?

Hon PETE HODGSON: As I said in answer to a supplementary question to the member who asked the primary question, that and many other issues have been whacked into a Government policy statement and a gas market formation process that we have just kicked off. My first progress meeting on it is tomorrow. However, if the member would care to consult my history on those matters, we are pretty keen to make sure fixed charges of any sort do not get out of hand.

Gordon Copeland: Should New Zealand be fortunate enough to discover another Maui-sized gasfield, would Government policy be to develop that, based on gas conversion into compressed natural gas (CNG) or methanol, in preference to using it generate electricity?

Hon PETE HODGSON: Whilst it is unlikely that another Maui-sized gasfield will be found—big gasfields are quite hard to miss—it is possible, and if we were ever in that position, we would need to be very careful indeed, that the extraordinary errors of “think big” were not repeated.

Gerry Brownlee: Why would a household facing a 60 percent increase in its gas bill continue to be connected to gas, when it would be cheaper for it to go to electricity, even though it would be more expensive to produce that electricity, and why would we have an Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority, funded by Government to encourage efficient energy use, when we have a State-owned enterprise that comes up with a pricing structure that basically says to use as much gas as one likes as one’s costs will go down accordingly, and was he consulted about that?

Mr SPEAKER: That is two questions so far.

Hon PETE HODGSON: Of course, I am not consulted by State-owned enterprises before they put up prices. It is a market. However, what the member may like to reflect on is whether Genesis gas prices in this, that, or the other area, compare well or badly with the supplies of gas in a similar area. If he would like to take a careful study of his portfolio, he would find that although Genesis has put up its gas price, it is still competitive. If it were not, people would disconnect.

Gerry Brownlee: I seek leave to table a Genesis Energy gas bill showing a 60 percent increase in the cost of household gas that will lead to the disconnect the Minister worries about.

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

End of

(uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing)


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