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Questions Of The Day Transcript - 18 March 2003

(uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing)

Questions 1-12 – 18 March 2003

Questions to Ministers

Iraq—Legality of Invasion

1. Hon BILL ENGLISH (Leader of the Opposition) to the Prime Minister: In light of her statements regarding an invasion of Iraq, “I think it’s a very bad precedent to go in without explicit sanction from the UN”, and that she believed some of New Zealand’s “best friends” were wrong, is it her Government’s official position that an invasion of Iraq by New Zealand’s traditional allies and friends is illegal?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK (Prime Minister): The Government has not reached that conclusion.

Hon Bill English: Has the Government taken any advice from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade about whether this prospective invasion would in fact breach international law; if so, what was that advice, or can she tell us otherwise why she has not reached a conclusion on the legality of an invasion?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: The question of legality or illegality is one about which there is a great deal of debate. The fact that there is a great deal of debate is reflected in what the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade has had to say about it.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: If that is the case, why on Morning Report this morning was the Prime Minister stating the view of what she perceived or thought to be a majority legal view, without any evidence of that, whatsoever?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: On Morning Report this morning I said I had no doubt that the United States and Britain would go to considerable pains to construct a legal justification for their action. It is also noteworthy that they tried very hard to get a resolution to give explicit authorisation. I think we can infer some meaning from that.

Hon Richard Prebble: I wonder whether the Prime Minister can clarify for the House who are New Zealand’s best friends. In a post - Saddam Hussein world is it France that has always opposed New Zealand’s advancement of agricultural trade, and has committed State terrorism against this country, or is it the United States, which has always supported New Zealand in peace, in trade, and in war?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I am not prepared to attack any of our close and best friends, and certainly I deplore the attack that the member has just made on France. The truth is that among Western democratic nations there is a range of views on this issue. I think we should respect those differences, and I decline to enter into the sort of attack he has entered into.

Keith Locke: Could the Prime Minister confirm that it is contrary to international law for one country to unilaterally invade another country to enforce regime change, and that Resolution 1441 gave the Security Council, not any individual nation, the right to decide any enforcement of that resolution?

Mr SPEAKER: That seeks a legal opinion, and that is out of order according to the Standing Orders. But the Prime Minister may comment on it, if she wishes, but not give a legal opinion, necessarily. The second part of the question is in order.

Hon Richard Prebble: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Although I completely disagree with my honourable friend, the question is about whether something is illegal. I should have thought that would be very hard for the Prime Minister to answer without giving a bit of a legal opinion.

Mr SPEAKER: She can give a legal opinion; he cannot ask for it.

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: As I do not have legal training I decline to give a legal opinion, but I note that Resolution 1441 did not authorise all necessary means if Iraq declined to take the final opportunity.

Hon Peter Dunne: As the Prime Minister has consistently backed the UN route for resolving this crisis, now that that has apparently failed, does she consider that that failure is due to a failure of UN processes; if so, is the Government prepared to look at playing a part in reforming the UN in that regard?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I am one of those who do not believe it is a failure of the UN process. I have expressed my concern in my statement to the House today that some members of the United Nations—and they include our very best friends—have elected to step outside the framework.

Hon Bill English: If the Prime Minister believes, as she has stated, that Resolution 1441 does not give full authorisation for an American invasion, does she then mean that she believes it may be legal under international law for the US to proceed with this invasion?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I said in my initial answer that the Government had not reached a conclusion that the invasion was either legal or illegal. It acknowledges that there is great debate about it.

Hon Richard Prebble: Perhaps the Prime Minister could clarify further, given her statements regarding an invasion of Iraq, what sort of access she expects New Zealand to have to, say, the White House, in a post - Saddam Hussein world, compared with the access that Australia will be given, given that Australia has responded to the United States’ call and we have not?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I have no reason to think that the level of access will change.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Given the Prime Minister’s difficulty in expressing a legal opinion, though she is happy to express the legal opinion of others, when war does start, as seems inevitable, which side does she expect or hope to win—Iraq or the coalition of the willing parties?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: It is not a question of expectation. There is no question about who will win.

Hon Ken Shirley: In view of the Prime Minister’s own statement that it is debatable whether UN Resolution 1441 authorises the use of force, why have she and her Government supported an interpretation against enforcement of a UN resolution, rather than the interpretation taken by our traditional allies?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: The matter that the member raised at the beginning of his question is not debatable at all. Resolution 1441 does not explicitly sanction the use of force. It does not mention “all necessary means”.

Hon Richard Prebble: Is the Prime Minister seriously telling this House that she does not believe there will be any consequences for New Zealand for the fact that we have consistently opposed our traditional allies Australia, Britain, and the United States, and we have lined up with France? Is she really saying she thinks things will be no different in the future from how they have been in the past, and what possible evidence has she got for that extraordinary notion?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: As I said in my earlier statement, I believe it is well understood that New Zealand has adopted a position of principle that has integrity. I repeat what I said to the member earlier—I have no reason to believe that access will change.

Hon Ken Shirley: Does the Prime Minister disagree with Dr Ramos Horta, who in an article published in the New York Times stated that he backed the war against Saddam Hussein as the best way to liberate the long-suffering Iraqi people?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I assume it is the same article that was repeated in a New Zealand newspaper in the last few days. His argument was a little more sophisticated than that, but, no, I do not agree with that particular statement.

Iraq—Diplomatic Process

2. GRAHAM KELLY (NZ Labour) to the Prime Minister: What is New Zealand’s assessment of the state of the diplomatic process with respect to the situation in Iraq?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK (Prime Minister): The diplomatic process being conducted through the UN Security Council is effectively at an end. The only chance now to avert a war is for Saddam Hussein and his sons to leave Iraq within the next 2 days, and in the interests of their people I urge them to do so.

Graham Kelly: What role does the Government see now for the United Nations in the Iraqi crisis?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: The Government believes that the UN will have a role to play at the end of the likely conflict, when there will be huge humanitarian needs to meet and when huge reconstruction of Iraq will be required. We in the New Zealand Government are prepared to play our part in meeting those needs.

Hon Bill English: If the Prime Minister believes that this war does have sufficient sanction, if she believes that our best friends are wrong and that war is always a catastrophe, why has she not expressed that view more strongly and more publicly to Australia, the UK, and the US?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: Mr Howard was our guest here for 3 days over the past weekend, and he and I got the opportunity to discuss that fully. Our diplomatic posts have also ensured that the Governments of the US and the United Kingdom are well aware of the New Zealand Government view.

Keith Locke: Why has the Government refused to initiate moves under General Assembly Resolution 377 to call the General Assembly into urgent session to demonstrate to the American, British, and Australian leaders that the great majority of UN members are against a war on Iraq?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I am not convinced that any especially useful purpose would be served by that. There have been two opportunities for open debates at the Security Council. It is a matter of record that many countries have not elected to take up the opportunity that afforded to make a statement. New Zealand was one of those who did make a statement on both occasions.

Intelligence and Security Committee

3. Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS (Leader—NZ First) to the Prime Minister: On how many occasions has the Intelligence and Security Committee met since the last election and does the frequency of such meetings since 27 July 2002 reflect her Government’s idea of consultation with Parliament?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK (Prime Minister): The committee has met once. It is not easy to get times when everyone can meet. Given the member’s interest, I have asked staff to canvass whether members could meet at any time Thursday morning or afternoon. Everyone was able to come at 3.30 except the member. I am now endeavouring to see whether time can be made to fit with his programme on Wednesday afternoon.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Why has the Prime Minister made a pathetic attempt to mislead this House on that issue when my office has been approached nine times and agreed on nine former occasions to meet in respect of this committee; so why is she trying to tell the House something else at this point in time?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: No disrespect to the member, but there are other members involved.

Rod Donald: Can the Minister guarantee that the information collected at the Waihopai satellite communications interception station is not used by the United States National Security Agency for its war aims, including the agency’s announced spying on UN Security Council members; if not, why not?

Mr SPEAKER: That is very wide of the original question. The Prime Minister may comment.

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: It is not my practice to comment on the uses to which New Zealand intelligence is put.

Hon Bill English: Why did the Prime Minister decide today to call a meeting of the Intelligence and Security Committee?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: We have been trying to find time for a meeting for some time.

Hon Peter Dunne: What items of business before the committee actually necessitate a meeting at this time?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: No matters of formal business, but the committed did agree that it would like to meet again to discuss intelligence in the post-Bali era.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Does the Prime Minister seriously expect Parliament to take the work of that committee seriously when she clearly does not, having last year had only one meeting back in December, after the 27 July election, and this year, with her being the chair of that organisation, being able to effect no meetings at all at this point in time, right on the edge of war with Iraq?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: With the exception of the period when the committee was considering legislation around the amendments to the New Zealand Security Intelligence Service Act, it has been the practice of the committee to meet three or four times in a calendar year. Last year it met three times.

Question time interrupted.

Questions to Ministers

Te Mangai Paho—Te Runanga O Ngati-whatua

4. RODNEY HIDE (ACT NZ) to the Minister of Mâori Affairs: Does he believe Mr Trevor Moeke’s assurances that Te Mangai Paho were not aware until yesterday that Mr Tame Te Rangi had been convicted and sentenced to five months imprisonment for stealing nearly $40,000 from Te Runanga O Ngati-whatua, and in light of Mr Moeke’s claims, does he remain “more than happy with Te Mangai Paho’s handling of this situation”?

Hon PAREKURA HOROMIA (Minister of Mâori Affairs): I am advised by Mr Moeke that he was not aware until yesterday of Mr Tame Te Rangi’s conviction and sentencing, and on that basis I am satisfied with Te Mângai Pâho’s handling of the situation.

Rodney Hide: In the light of his satisfaction, will the Minister confirm that there are emails on Te Mângai Pâho computers that reveal that Mr Te Rangi emailed from tame@tmp.govt.nz to ____________@clear.net.nz requesting that Mâori Sportscasting International pay him a cash fee of several hundred dollars, to be hidden in his accommodation, travel, and meal expenses; and what action will this Minister take to ensure that those emails that I have requested under the Official Information Act are not destroyed?

Hon PAREKURA HOROMIA: I am not aware of the emails, and I am more than certain that I am not into the practice of having emails destroyed.

Mahara Okeroa: What assurances has the Minister of Mâori Affairs received on the performance of Te Mângai Pâho?

Hon PAREKURA HOROMIA: Te Mângai Pâho has received unqualified reports from Audit New Zealand, on behalf of the Auditor-General, for the past 3 years.

Hon Murray McCully: If it transpires that, as a result of his longstanding association with Mr Tame Te Rangi, Mr Moeke had or should have had information about Mr Te Rangi’s past, will the Minister review his statement of confidence in Mr Moeke as the chief executive of Te Mângai Pâho?

Hon PAREKURA HOROMIA: Most certainly. I am advised that Te Mângai Pâho undertook standard external reference checks on Mr Te Rangi. No issues were raised. It has recently been developed in the sense of better processes of appointment, and that is a management issue.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: How can the Minister possibly say he is happy that internal checks have been made in respect of Mr Tame Te Rangi, given what is known in the community about Mr Te Rangi’s past—not just with regard to Ngâti Whâtua, but to other matters as well—or would he act only if there were, for example, an allegation that somehow Mr Te Rangi took funds for one purpose, namely, the renting of an office but then applied them to one of his own organisations?

Hon PAREKURA HOROMIA: I understand the question right. I am more than capable of acting on innuendo or further extensions of nonsense that may have happened in that area.

I am advised that there are security checks now on key executive positions, and those have happened for the last 2 years.

Rodney Hide: In the light of the Minister’s confidence, has he any concerns over Mr Hamene Waaka’s Mâori sportscasting international operation, given that Mr Waaka not only provided kickbacks to Mr Te Rangi but also, out of a Te Puni Kôkiri $10,000 training wânanga contract, put on food, alcohol, and a band at Auckland’s Lakeside Convention Centre to assist two Cabinet Ministers during last year’s election campaign; or does he believe that kickbacks to civil servants and treating on behalf of Cabinet Ministers are an acceptable use of taxpayers’ money?

Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Do I need to go into any detail? It is clear that an unparliamentary remark has been made by way of a question.

Mr SPEAKER: One unparliamentary remark was made. I chose to ignore it because I am going to give the Hon Parekura Horomia an opportunity to give an answer.

Hon PAREKURA HOROMIA: There seemed to be four questions in there—

Mr SPEAKER: The member can answer any two.

Hon PAREKURA HOROMIA: Regarding two of them, I do not know the detail about the two Ministers. Regarding the second part, in relation to kickbacks, I say that it is not due practice for hard-working public servants to get involved in that nonsense, and I will not stand it from any officials who work for me—if that is true.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Given that the Minister has had 4 weeks at least to be appraised thoroughly of this issue, when will he justify his LTD, a ministerial salary, and all the perks that go with being a Minister, and start to do his job—or, do any old standards count for Mâoridom?

Hon PAREKURA HOROMIA: I am afraid I do not own an LTD. Secondly, I work pretty hard most days of the week.

Rodney Hide: I seek leave of the House to table my letter to Te Mângai Pâho of 11 February requesting those emails, which, I understand, Te Mângai Pâho have either never received or lost.

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

Middle East—Safety of New Zealanders

5. MARTIN GALLAGHER (NZ Labour—Hamilton West) to the Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade: What actions have been taken to safeguard New Zealanders in the Middle East against the possible consequences of conflict in the region?

Hon PHIL GOFF (Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade): Over the last few weeks New Zealand has intensified its consular activities in the region, encouraging registration of all New Zealanders and ensuring, where possible, a communication channel with them through a warden network. We are also working closely with our consular partners on contingency planning. Yesterday New Zealanders living in Iraq, Kuwait, Syria, Jordan, Israel, and the Palestinian Authority were advised to leave immediately, and New Zealanders elsewhere in the Middle East were advised to consider departing. New Zealanders have been advised to defer most travel to the Middle East.

Martin Gallagher: How many New Zealanders are in Iraq, and what action has been taken to ensure their evacuation?

Hon PHIL GOFF: We are aware of 15 New Zealanders who, as of yesterday, were in Iraq—12 with the United Nations Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission, UNMOVIC, one with another UN agency, one with a non-government organisation, and another apparently there as a human shield. Kofi Annan has now ordered the evacuation of all UN personnel, and that is proceeding today. The non-government organisation worker is also due to depart today. We have no contact with the person acting as a human shield, though we are aware that two other New Zealanders who went there for that purpose have now departed.

Dr Wayne Mapp: Will New Zealand be working with our friends and allies to ensure that New Zealanders who do remain in the region are taken under their protection during the course of any impending conflict; if not, why not?

Hon PHIL GOFF: New Zealand, in consular matters, deals most closely with its five consular partners. We are indeed working very closely with them and in the instance, for example, where we do not have a diplomatic post in Kuwait but the United Kingdom does, the United Kingdom helps us assume responsibilities for those people in that region.

Parole—Barry Ryder

6. RYALL, Hon TONY to the Minister of Justice: In light of his comments in 1995 that “Those Ministers, through their failure to act when warned about Mr Ryder . . . must bear responsibility for the appalling sequence of events that led to Mr Barry Ryder’s conviction . . .”; what action, if any, did he take to ensure the public’s protection when he became aware that Mr Ryder was soon to be paroled?

Hon PHIL GOFF (Minister of Justice): Barry Ryder was released in the early 1990s as a direct result of a political decision—the passing of the Mental Health Act—without transitional provisions for dangerous offenders let out by the changes. Two National Ministers were directly warned of the consequences of this by Neil Pugmire and did nothing. In 2002 Ryder was released because he had a finite sentence and the Parole Board decided that a period of controlled supervision in the community was needed. That was not a political decision. Indeed, as a former Minister of Justice, the member knows better than most that he, and now I, am prohibited from interfering in any way with the Parole Board decision. Indeed, I was not even notified of the decision.

Hon Tony Ryall: In the light of the fact that in August 2000 the Minister knew that Barry Allan Ryder was up for parole and would be shortly released, why did he, despite all the years of hand-wringing and vein-popping speeches, take no action whatsoever to satisfy himself that appropriate supervision arrangements were being put in place for Barry Allan Ryder—there was not one action?

Hon PHIL GOFF: The member apparently did not listen to my initial answer. In the 1990s, Barry Ryder was released directly as the result of a political decision. In 2002 the nature of his release by the Parole Board was such that I was statutorily prevented from intervening. Indeed, I was not even told about it. If the member wants an answer he should listen, instead of talking all the way through the answer.

Georgina Beyer: What changes have been made to legislation that would have made a difference had those changes been in place when Ryder was sentenced in 1995?

Hon PHIL GOFF: The key change is in relation to preventive detention. In 1995 the judge said that Ryder should have got preventive detention under the then existing law, which Tony Ryall did nothing about. He was not able to do so. The law has now been changed so that if the same circumstance arose again, Mr Ryder would find himself indefinitely imprisoned and under the Parole Act would never be released because of the risk he constitutes to the wider public. National failed to do that for 9 years; I have done it.

Marc Alexander: Does the Minister agree that in similar cases such as Lloyd McIntosh, who never stood trial after raping his 6-year-old sister, that he ought never to have been released after mysteriously regaining his mental capacity without going to court so that he could go on to rape a 23-month-old girl 3 months after his release?

Hon PHIL GOFF: Yes there are, unfortunately, parallels between Lloyd McIntosh and Barry Ryder. The difficulty we confront is that both—after having been released by the National Government because it changed the Mental Health Act—were then given finite sentences. There is no way that I, as Minister, or this House can extend a finite sentence. I should mention that under the new Sentencing Act, they would on a finite sentence, of course, serve up to the very last day of their sentence and then be given 6 months’ parole beyond that date.

Hon Tony Ryall: In the light of all his warnings to the Parliament and the people of New Zealand in 19Hon Tony Ryall, and his comment that because Ministers knew of his release and took no action they are responsible for the consequences, why, knowing of his public statements, did he take not one action to satisfy himself that the Department of Corrections was acting to protect Ryder and the New Zealand public, and why did he not even pick up the phone and call an official into his office when he knew that his parole was only months away?

Hon PHIL GOFF: Why those Ministers, and indeed that member and the whole of the discredited ex - National Government are responsible, was because those members—

Hon Bill English: Answer the question.

Hon PHIL GOFF: I am answering the question, and as a former Minister of Health Mr English is responsible. Those members did not ensure that there were transitional provisions available so that dangerous people were not released into the community because of a change in the Mental Health Act. Those guilty people are still sitting on those benches, but now in Opposition and safe in that capacity.

Mr SPEAKER: There is a point of order, and there will not be a sound.

Hon Tony Ryall: I seek the leave of the House to table documentary evidence that proves the Minister, Mr Goff, was advised in August 2000 that Barry Allan Ryder was up for parole.

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

Rodney Hide: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I am sorry to shock Mr Mark Peck, but you asked for order, and there was not to be a noise made during the point or order. Mr Mark Peck called out very loudly and very forcefully—I am sure you would have heard it—that what Mr Ryall was saying was not actually true. That cannot be allowed to go unchecked.

Mr SPEAKER: I did not hear those exact words at all.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I seek leave to table two documents: one is the warning to Mr Bill Birch, the Minister of Health, by Mr Pugmire in the first instance, and the other is to Mr Goff, in the second instance. They are both guilty.

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

Methamphetamine—Classification

7. Hon MATT ROBSON (Deputy Leader—Progressive) to the Associate Minister of Health: Has he received any reports on action being taken to reclassify methamphetamine as a class A drug?

Hon JIM ANDERTON (Associate Minister of Health): Yes, I have. Yesterday I received a report from Richard Prebble of the ACT party that evidently goes to many unsuspecting New Zealanders and businesses, which stated that the Government had not acted on the reclassification of methamphetamines. Given the publicity on the issue, including media releases in December, January, and February, and last week’s debate in the Health Committee broadcast on radio, television, and in newspapers throughout New Zealand, I can only assume that the honourable member failed to notice as he was fighting off leadership challenges inside his own party.

Hon Matt Robson: What is the Government doing about reclassifying methamphetamine?

Hon JIM ANDERTON: This week I will lodge a notice of motion in the House on the reclassification of methamphetamine as a class A drug. On behalf of the Government I announced before Christmas that decision to reclassify this dangerous drug. We are committed to greater powers for the police when they suspect that methamphetamine is being manufactured, sold, or used. An A classification will increase penalties for this offence from 14 years’ imprisonment to life imprisonment for the importation, manufacture, and supply of methamphetamine. I would have thought that would satisfy even the ACT party.

Hon Tony Ryall: Why has it taken the Government so long to act on this in the light of the fact that the previous Government was talking about it 4 years ago—

Government MembersGovernment Members: Oh!

Mr SPEAKER: I have a rule about questions. I want to hear them, and they will be heard in silence. I ask Mr Ryall to start again.

Hon Tony Ryall: Why has it taken the Government so long to act on the reclassification of methamphetamine in the light of the fact that the previous Government announced its action in late 1999, and what action is the Government looking at to deal with the reclassification of analogues of methamphetamine—for the Minister’s information an analogue is a drug with a slightly altered chemical composition but has the same effects as methamphetamine and is used to skirt the reclassification that he is gloating about?

Hon JIM ANDERTON: It is a bit rich for a person who was in a Government for 9 years to announce that that Government announced it would do something in 1999. This Government—

Mr SPEAKER: I want the Minister to answer the question briefly and succinctly.

Hon JIM ANDERTON: The Misuse of Drugs Act was amended by this Government. It has streamlined the steps to control dangerous drugs by making the process more simple, more effective, and more transparent. To ensure the Government makes the right decision and covers all the loopholes there are procedures we need to take. The National Party and ACT might be uncomfortable about the fact that we now provide public input through the select committee and democratic discussion by most members of this Parliament, and this side of the House is very satisfied that a 2-month period to reclassify a class A drug is a miracle in comparison to how long it used to take or not to take as the case may be.

Steve Chadwick: What role has Parliament in the reclassification of methamphetamine?

Hon JIM ANDERTON: As the honourable member is aware, the Health Committee plays an important role in the reclassification of this scourge. It is involved as part of a more streamlined process put in place by this Government to enable classification or reclassification of dangerous drugs with expert parliamentary and public input, but without the very lengthy process associated with legislative amendment. Once the select committee reports to the House the motion lodged this week can be debated, and if passed the reclassification of this drug has cleared through its final parliamentary hurdle. With the will of the Parliament, methamphetamine could be reclassified within 2 months.

Mr SPEAKER: The Minister’s answer was too long.

Sue Kedgley: What evidence does the Minister have to believe that increasing penalties for possession of methamphetamine from 3 to 6 months and fines from $500 to $1,000 will actually reduce the epidemic in New Zealand, and why are we reclassifying it as a class A drug when the United Nations conventions, which we use as a basis for most of our drug classifications, classify it as a class B drug and not a class A drug?

Hon JIM ANDERTON: These revised laws are not aimed at the victims of methamphetamine, they are aimed at those who import, manufacture, and supply it. The damage done to individuals, families, and communities from this drug is simply catastrophic. Liberal views on recreational drug use are absolutely inappropriate in relation to methamphetamine. While we have education and treatment programmes as part of the methamphetamine action plan, which officials are currently working on, the first step towards a solution is to acknowledge the problem, and a total crackdown is supported by every member of this Government on the importation, manufacture, and supply of methamphetamine. I cannot understand any degree of tolerance being given to this drug by any responsible member of this House.

Judy Turner: In the light of police reports that suggest that cannabis suppliers and users are branching out into methamphetamines, will the Minister categorically rule out the decriminalisation of cannabis since it is clearly a gateway drug?

Hon JIM ANDERTON: This House will have its opportunity in due course to vote on that, and members will have their own views, and I have mine. However, can I say that every piece of evidence I have received from the police and from experts in the drug-abuse area tells me and other members who have looked at it that this is one of the most dangerous drugs that has ever seen its presence in this society, or any others, and this Government has an absolute zero tolerance to it.

Race Relations Commissioner—Communication with Politicians

8. Hon MURRAY McCULLY (NZ National—East Coast Bays) to the Associate Minister of Justice: In light of her description of the former Race Relations Conciliator, Mr Gregory Fortuin, as unwise and inappropriate when he involved himself in the affairs of the Alliance Party, does she agree that the same description applies to the actions of the current Race Relations Commissioner, Mr Joris De Bres, who communicated with selected politicians and political parties in relation to his “Taleban” speech; if not, why not?

Hon MARGARET WILSON (Associate Minister of Justice): No, because under section 16 of the Human Rights Act, it is the function of the Race Relations Commissioner to lead discussions on race relations matters.

Hon Murray McCully: Does the Minister agree with the Deputy Prime Minister’s description of Mr De Bres’ Taliban speech as “unwise and unnecessarily provocative to many New Zealanders”; if so, how does she square those characteristics with the role of the commissioner as spelt out in the Human Rights Act?

Hon MARGARET WILSON: Yes, because it is the role of the Race Relations Commissioner to stimulate debate. Whether one likes the views put forward or not, that is the job.

Dianne Yates: Is it the duty of the Race Relations Commissioner to check all statements with the Minister?

Hon MARGARET WILSON: No. Section 19 of the Act requires members of the commission to act independently in the performance of their functions. This Government understands and respects the independence of statutorily appointed members, unlike Mr McCully, who was forced to resign following complaints on this matter from the New Zealand Tourism Board in 1999.

Dail Jones: Is the Minister capable of distinguishing between a person who leads a discussion, a person who purposely creates and foments problems in society, and a person who foments debate by way of introducing the Taliban and making comparisons between it and New Zealand society; surely, a person who wants to lead debate makes information available to everyone, not merely the United Future party, the Labour Party, the Greens, and Tim Barnett?

Mr SPEAKER: The question had three parts to it. The Minister may comment on two of them.

Hon MARGARET WILSON: No. I cannot make the distinction.

Rodney Hide: Does the Minister think it wise that a person in the position of Race Relations Commissioner should pre-circulate a controversial speech, such as the Taliban speech proved to be, only to selected members of Parliament and selected parties, and will she be suggesting to the Race Relations Commissioner that, in the interests of democracy, he should tell the public of New Zealand all the names of the people to whom he gave a pre-circulated copy of the Taliban speech?

Hon MARGARET WILSON: I understand that the Race Relations Commissioner had pre-circulated his speech to people, including myself, but, unfortunately, I never got it, or, if it was in my office, I never read it.

Ron Mark: That’s par for the course.

Hon MARGARET WILSON: Yes, it is par for the course, because of the independence of the position, which I have just explained to the member. However, I do understand that, in future, the commissioner will be circulating copies of his speeches to all members, so they will have no difficulties reading them in the future.

Hon Murray McCully: Can the Minister confirm that the Race Relations Commissioner circulated a draft of the speech almost 2 weeks prior to its delivery, and that some of the recipients of that draft were public servants who were potentially involved in Ministers’ offices, and can she explain why the Race Relations Commissioner felt it necessary to selectively delete names from the list of people who received that circulated copy?

Hon MARGARET WILSON: No, I cannot confirm that.

Public Health—Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome

9. STEVE CHADWICK (NZ Labour—Rotorua) to the Minister of Health: What advice has she received regarding the outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome?

Hon ANNETTE KING (Minister of Health): I was briefed by officials from the Ministry of Health yesterday morning, and I will continue to receive daily updates. I am advised that the ministry is treating the offshore outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome as a significant threat to the health of New Zealanders. Up-to-date information from the World Health Organization and other international agencies was circulated yesterday to health authorities throughout New Zealand. At this stage, the nature of, and the agent responsible for, the disease has not been identified. National infectious diseases experts have met several times, and will continue to meet. They have decided to implement the first stages of a national public health emergency plan. The actions required by that plan are being circulated to all district health boards, medical officers, and other key health personnel. The public health emergency plan is available on the Ministry of Health’s website.

Steve Chadwick: What is the state of preparedness for New Zealand to deal with this outbreak?

Hon ANNETTE KING: Last year, following a simulated exercise, the Ministry of Health developed a national pandemic plan. The exercise tested our ability to respond to such an emergency. I am advised that New Zealand is the only country to have tested a pandemic plan like that, which was based on World Health Organization recommendations. The ministry is working with other agencies, including public health services, to ensure we are appropriately prepared to handle any eventuality. Our priority at the moment is to work with the World Health Organization to monitor the evolving situation, and to ensure appropriate and timely action is taken in New Zealand.

Dr Lynda Scott: As Prime Minister Helen Clark believes that severe acute respiratory syndrome might rival the Spanish flu of 1918, which killed at least 20 million people worldwide, why are we not screening all incoming travellers from affected areas?

Hon ANNETTE KING: First of all, the Prime Minister mentioned that the World Health Organization deemed this to be a pandemic, and that the last major pandemic we had was the influenza of 1918. However, in response to the second part of the member’s question, I am flabbergasted, because I believe the member is a medical doctor. How does one screen for a disease that has yet to be identified?

Pita Paraone: In the light of the recent, deadly severe acute respiratory syndrome illness sweeping the world, is she concerned that the number of people entering our borders from around the world may put New Zealanders under extreme risk of contracting this fatal virus; if not, why not, or, if so, how is her concern being implemented?

Hon ANNETTE KING: This disease is spread by contact between people, and it does move between countries, because people travel. However, New Zealanders returning to this country could bring this disease to New Zealand just as easily as any tourist or visitor to this country could. At the present time, airlines are ensuring, wherever possible, that people, if they have the symptoms that have been identified, are not allowed to travel.

Sue Kedgley: Does the Minister agree that the international outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome is a portent of what will happen if antibiotic-resistant disease-causing organisms continue to spread and cause untreatable illnesses; and, as a precautionary measure to avert such a disaster, will the Government prohibit the routine feeding of antibiotics that are used in human medicines to millions of animals in New Zealand that are not even sick?

Hon ANNETTE KING: The member is drawing a very long bow. At this stage it is not known whether the disease is a virus or a bacteria. To then claim that it comes from the feeding of antibiotics to animals is, I think, taking a very long shot indeed.

Ministry of Social Development—Ministry of Youth Affairs

10. SIMON POWER (NZ National—Rangitikei) to the Minister of Youth Affairs: When was he first advised of the proposed merger between the Ministry of Social Development and the Ministry of Youth Affairs and what opportunity, if any, did he have to contribute to that decision-making process?

Hon JOHN TAMIHERE (Minister of Youth Affairs): There is currently no proposed merger between the Ministry of Social Development and the Ministry of Youth Affairs. As a sensible, savvy, and responsible Government, we are constantly looking at ways of ensuring that the public service works sufficiently and effectively, and my colleague the Minister of State Services announced last week that the Ministry of Youth Affairs will be examined as part of the review of the centre programme.

Simon Power: What faith does he have that youth issues will be adequately realised if the proposed merger goes ahead, when he has recently stated: “It’s clear that our potentials can never be realised or released by an all-knowing, all-caring centralised bureaucracy called the Ministry of Social Development.”?

Hon JOHN TAMIHERE: A great deal of faith.

H V Ross Robertson: What benefits, if any, are there for young New Zealanders that he can see in the process currently being undertaken?

Hon JOHN TAMIHERE: The Labour Party 2002 election manifesto stated that Labour will investigate whether the strategy—the Youth Development Strategy Aotearoa—can be more effectively monitored within a separate ministry or whether youth affairs should become a semi-autonomous division of the Ministry of Social Development. We live by our manifesto and our election promises.

Craig McNair: Is the Minister prepared to allow a process of merger to proceed, with all its inevitable costs in time and money, simply in order to have himself muzzled, or is it nothing more than a case of his being a lion in the media and a lamb in Cabinet?

Hon JOHN TAMIHERE: It has a lot to do with being a lion, I think.

Paul Adams: Taking into consideration Phil Goff’s comments in 1996 that the youth affairs portfolio used to take only a couple of hours a week of his time, is the Cabinet post of Minister of Youth Affairs likely to be abolished once the Ministry of Youth Affairs and the Ministry of Social Development have merged, in an effort to cut back the over-inflated executive?

Hon JOHN TAMIHERE: At this particular point of time, no.

Simon Power: Is he concerned that he will become part of the bureaucratic tribe if the Ministry of Youth Affairs is swallowed by the Ministry of Social Development, when he has previously stated: “It’s all about patch protection and empire building. When they get into their bureaucratic tribe, their tribalism comes out.”; if not why not?

Hon JOHN TAMIHERE: No.

Employment Relations Act—Review

11. PAUL ADAMS (United Future) to the Minister of Labour: What progress has been made on the review of the Employment Relations Act 2000?

Hon MARGARET WILSON (Minister of Labour): Officials are currently preparing advice for consideration by the Government in the very near future.

Paul Adams: Is she prepared to rule out any proposed amendments to the Employment Relations Act before the review is completed, such as allowing collective agreements at individual workplaces to compel all workers to join a union, as suggested by Andrew Little, Secretary of the Engineers Union—a powerful affiliate of the Labour Party?

Hon MARGARET WILSON: As I have said publicly, we do not support compulsory unionism.

Lynne Pillay: What matters are the subject of the review?

Hon MARGARET WILSON: The purpose of the review is to consider what legislative changes are required so the Act can better meet its statutory objectives of promoting productive employment relationships, good-faith collective bargaining, and the effective resolution of employment problems.

Hon Roger Sowry: In the review will she consider strengthening the ability for employees to insist on a collective contract, for instance, if a political party’s staff want a common collective contract with other political parties’ staff but the Prime Minister’s chief of staff tries to block it?

Hon MARGARET WILSON: As I have just said, the purpose of the review is to promote collective bargaining.

Sue Bradford: What steps will the Minister take to include measures like pay audits in the review of the Employment Relations Act to address continuing gender and ethnic pay gaps, as shown for example in the 2002 survey in which the average hourly rate was $18.51 for a Pâkehâ male, $15.27 for a Pâkehâ female, $14.09 for a Mâori male, and $13.07 for a Mâori female?

Hon MARGARET WILSON: The Government is concerned about the continuing pay gap. The review will address that only partially, in the sense of supporting collective bargaining, which is one means by which to raise the wage rates of low-paid workers. However, the substantive matters the member addresses in her question will be considered in the pay equity review, which we will be getting to in the near future, once the submissions have been received and the report has been given.

Paul Adams: Given that one of the stated objectives of the review of the Employment Relations Act is to consider how collective bargaining provisions can be strengthened, can she guarantee that those sections in the Act that uphold the individual freedom of employees will remain untouched; if not, why not?

Hon MARGARET WILSON: As I said, certainly the freedom of choice will be guaranteed in the legislation, as it is at the moment. I cannot make it any clearer than that. We are bound by international obligations.

Iraq—Te Mana's Deployment

12. KEITH LOCKE (Green) to the Minister of Defence: If the United States attacks Iraq, will the Government end that part of the frigate Te Mana’s mission which involves escorting United States vessels through the Strait of Hormuz; if not, why not?

Hon MARK BURTON (Minister of Defence): I expect the role of the Canadian-led group, which includes our frigate Te Mana, to remain essentially unchanged. This includes providing safe passage against terrorist attacks for the vessels of nations that are members of the Operation Enduring Freedomcoalition. In my view, the need to protect coalition vessels against terrorist attacks remains as strong as ever and therefore the purpose of New Zealand’s deployment remains just as relevant.

Keith Locke: Why will the Minister not concede that escorting US war ships into the Persian Gulf with war materials that will be used against Iraqis does, in practice, make us complicit in that war?

Hon MARK BURTON16Hon MARK BURTON: The Strait of Hormuz is an international strait of significant strategic importance to the entire world. The task force will continue to protect all designated Operation Enduring Freedom coalition vessels from any attack.

Dave Hereora: What reports has he received on the operation of our frigates, as part of the maritime interdiction operation?

Hon MARK BURTON16Hon MARK BURTON: I have been advised that from 2 December until yesterday, first Te Kaha and now Te Mana have conducted a total of 1,112 queries or vessel identifications, 97 boardings of suspicious vessels, and 31 escorts through the Strait of Hormuz. Our forces deployed on both Te Kaha and Te Mana have operated in an effective and efficient manner, and this House should be proud, as I am, of their demonstrated professionalism and commitment.

Simon Power: What additional commitment of logistical or armed support will be made available to our traditional friends and allies, in addition to the frigate Te Mana’s escort services?

Hon MARK BURTON16Hon MARK BURTON: As I announced to this House some time ago, it is anticipated that as part of Operation Enduring Freedom action against international terrorism a P3 Orion will be engaged as soon as basing arrangements are concluded.

Keith Locke: How many Iraqis need to die, killed by the weapons that are in the ships that our frigate will be escorting through the Strait of Hormuz, before the Government reconsiders its policy of escorting such ships?

Hon MARK BURTON16Hon MARK BURTON: As I have said to the member already, the maritime interdiction operation include protecting Operation Enduring Freedom coalition member nations’ ships from the possibility of terrorist attacks as they move through the Strait of Hormuz. Such ships are exercising a right of freedom of navigation in straits’ transit passage.

End of

(uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing)


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