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Questions Of The Day Transcript - 20 March 2003

(uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing)

Questions 1-12 – 20 March 2003

Questions to Ministers

Secretary to the Treasury—Appointment

1. Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS (Leader—NZ First) to the Minister of State Services: When did the present Governor of the Reserve Bank leave the office of Secretary to the Treasury and why has the position of Secretary to the Treasury not been filled?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD (Minister of State Services): I am advised by the State Services Commissioner that Dr Bollard left the position of Secretary to the Treasury on 20 September 2002. The position was advertised the following month. I am advised by the commissioner that he will shortly be making a recommendation to fill that position.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Is it a fact that interviews in respect of that position were done some weeks ago, and that one of the leading contenders is a former deputy director of the Labour Party research unit, and is that one of the reasons—[Interruption] Yes, he is. I have it all here in the CV. One of the contenders is a former deputy director of the Labour Party research unit. And is that one of the reasons the appointment has been so outrageously delayed?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: I am advised by the Minister of Finance that the person named may have at some stage been seconded to the Leader of the Opposition. However, I am not aware yet of the timing of the appointment. I am told that it will be shortly. I am certainly not aware of the name of any leading contender.

Dianne Yates: What steps were taken to attract applicants for the job?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: The position was advertised in major New Zealand newspapers, the Australian Financial Review, and in The Economist. A search consultant was used to identify possible applicants, both here and overseas. I am advised by the State Services Commission that the time taken is not exceptional, particularly where filling a vacancy involves an international search.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Is the Minister telling me that he and his colleagues are not aware that the present Acting Secretary to the Treasury was a former director of the Labour Party research unit, and is that the reason there has been such an extraordinary delay from September last year?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: I am somewhat at a disadvantage. I am not aware, and I will not become aware, until the State Services Commissioner advises me who he intends to recommend.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I seek leave to table the CV of Mr Whitehead, which sets out that he was a former deputy director of the Labour Party research unit.

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

Early-childhood Education—Funding

2. METIRIA TUREI (Green) to the Minister of Education: Why does the Government provide $8 million in equity funding to some community-based early childhood education providers, but not to privately-owned early childhood education providers?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD (Minister of Education): The purpose of equity is to compensate centres in areas of the highest need for the additional education requirements and the lower capacity for fundraising in their communities. Funding is available only to community-based centres, as the Government can then be sure that all the extra funding is spent on children, and not used towards the profit of private individuals. In addition, where funding is used to improve the assets of an early childhood service, those assets belong to the community if the service closes.

Metiria Turei: While I strongly agree with the Minister’s answer, I must ask the Minister how he can justify the preferential funding of community-owned early childhood education, when this is clearly in breach of New Zealand’s current General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS) commitments made by the previous National Government.

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: It is my understanding that it is not.

Jill Pettis: What additional funding is available to support parents from low-income families whose children attend early childhood services, including private centres?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: The childcare subsidy provided through the Ministry of Social Development targets $55 million a year to parents in work with study, to help them offset costs of education and care.

Phil Heatley: Why does he not take the advice of his colleague John Tamihere, who says that status policies are wrong and foolish and, instead, fund early childhood education on the basis of quality, not on who owns the centre?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: Because this Government cares about quality of service, not of lining the pockets of individuals who want to take advantage of “Kentucky Fried Childcare”.

Hon Brian Donnelly: Can the Minister confirm that rate 2 non-profit community-based early childhood providers are being funded at a rate of $3.07 per child per hour, while kindergartens are funded at a rate of $3.76, even though they teach the same curriculum, operate under the same Desirable Objectives and Practices, and may have equivalently qualified personnel; and does he believe this difference is fair?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: There is a differential. Probably the most important factor is around the qualifications of the staff and the payment that has been made for that.

Deborah Coddington: Why does the Minister not just concede that he has an ideological prejudice against private providers, and this Government cannot allow mums and dads to choose which early childhood centre they send their children to, just like they choose their general practitioners?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: I think the first part of the member’s question is accurate: I do have a preference for community-based childcare.

Metiria Turei: Further to the Minister’s answer to my first supplementary question, does the Minister not understand that our GATS commitments in private primary education services include early childhood, and means that we are required to treat foreign-owned corporate early childhood education providers exactly the same as locally owned, community-owned providers?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: Yes, I do, and no, it does not.

Rodney Hide: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I am sorry to interrupt, but we have a difficult situation down this end of the House. Several times through the questions that have been asked Mr Mark Peck has shouted out abuse. I am sure you have not heard it, but in both cases it has interrupted the flow of the question.

Mr SPEAKER: When it gets to my attention the member will be leaving.

Rodney Hide: Well, I am bringing it to your attention.

Mr SPEAKER: Well, you have now, and I will be listening very carefully.

Metiria Turei: Will the Minister ensure that at Monday’s Cabinet GATS decision meeting, that decision will give effect to his statement made at the Hui Taumata Matauranga, just 2 weeks ago, that the Government intends to pull back New Zealand’s commitments in education so that community-owned early childhood education providers can be protected from foreign pillage?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: I stand by the statement I made at the Hui Taumata Matauranga, and that is that this Government is involved in clarification of GATS commitments made by the previous Government to make it clear that both State and community education is protected.

Electricity—Supply

3. Hon BILL ENGLISH (Leader of the Opposition) to the Minister of Finance: In light of reports that there is an electricity supply crisis in New Zealand, does he agree that a failure to act by the Government could result in significant damage to the economy; if not, why not?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Minister of Finance): Yes, but it is important not to jump at shadows. It is premature and unhelpful to talk of a crisis at this point.

Hon Bill English: What does the Minister say to the Engineers Union when Andrew Little, the national secretary of the Engineering, Printing and Manufacturing Union, put out a statement today saying: “We’ve got 350 workers at Pacific Steel mills sitting around twiddling their thumbs, and millions of dollars of plant sitting idle, because the spot prices are so erratic.”; and why is that not a crisis?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I always thank the Engineers Union for its strong and loyal support for the Labour Party whenever I am talking to its members. Secondly, I would be asking them whether this raises any questions about the nature of the electricity market, which, of course, is an interesting question to ask the members opposite.

David Parker: What steps is the Government taking in relation to the security of electricity supply?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Obviously it is monitoring the situation closely, and certainly trying to work out the likely shape of the supply situation, particularly for the coming winter, which relates largely to projected inflows to the southern lakes. The Minister of Energy is working closely with industry to be prepared to put in place options in the event of a shortage continuing through the winter.

Rod Donald: Does the Minister intend to act on the advice of the National Party energy spokesperson, Gerry Brownlee, who called last Monday for projects to develop renewable energy to be abandoned; if so, can he explain the logic of this approach, given the current shortage of gas?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: No. I do, indeed, as shareholding Minister in three of the State-owned enterprises for a beginning,

The Government is extremely keen on renewable energy projects. Indeed, projects ranging from Project Aqua through to wind energy give some of the highest prospects for meeting our energy needs over the next 3 to 5-year period.

Hon Ken Shirley: What steps is the Minister and his Government taking to address the barriers posed by the Resource Management Act and the Department of Conservation for projects such as the expansion of the Arnold River project on the West Coast?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Apart from that project it would be hard to find any significant projects that have been held up, in the last 5 years or so, by anything relating to the Resource Management Act. Of course, that was not the matter of the Resource Management Act; that related more to the decision taken by a consenting authority that had to be involved—the Department of Conservation. I think what has to be said in that respect is that the nature of the modern energy market tends to lead to a situation where there is, perhaps, insufficient reserve capacity maintained, because commercially orientated producers do not wish to employ large amounts of excess capital most of the time. There is therefore a trade-off we have to consider, between somewhat higher average prices and higher security of supply.

Larry Baldock: Is the Minister concerned at the effect electricity blackouts or price hikes could have on New Zealand families this winter, such as, for example, elderly people who may have to limit their heating requirements; if so, what plans does the Government have to address it?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Yes, obviously that is a concern, but it is true to say that if one looks at the last two drys that happened in 2001, and what is happening at the present time with Otahuhu B down for a few days and Huntly on half power, the primary impact is on business, because of the nature of the way the electricity market works. It actually works primarily to affect those large users of energy, rather than domestic consumers. Domestic consumers will be faced with requests for savings of the sort that occurred in 2001, should the dry year eventuate—which looks possible at this point.

Hon Bill English: Can the Minister confirm his earlier answer that the Government believes that electricity prices need to rise, to solve this problem?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: It is better not to paraphrase what I said, in what is a complex and difficult area of public policy. If we wish to maintain more reserve capacity—say, one twenty dry-year capacity—that inevitably means maintaining a higher level of capital invested with the industry than would otherwise occur, and that means, on average, somewhat higher prices than would otherwise be the case. But the lower prices are bought at the expense of very high volatility of prices, as we have seen in the last 48 hours.

Iraq—Emergency Assistance

4. MARTIN GALLAGHER (NZ Labour—Hamilton West) to the Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade: What, if any, emergency assistance will New Zealand make available to alleviate the human consequences of war in Iraq?

Hon PHIL GOFF (Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade): New Zealand has today committed $3.3 million in emergency humanitarian relief, through United Nations agencies and other relief organisations, to address the human cost of a war with Iraq. The United Nations has warned that without immediate assistance from the international community, thousands of lives will be lost, not simply through war but through its consequences in preventing civilian access to food, clean water, sanitation, shelter, and medical assistance. Our initial commitment is aimed at addressing those concerns.

Martin Gallagher: How specifically has that money been allocated?

Hon PHIL GOFF: As indicated, the key needs of Iraqi people will be emergency shelter, food, and medical care, in an environment where, according to the United Nations, hundreds of thousands of people may be displaced and infrastructure and services are likely to be destroyed. To help meet those needs New Zealand will be providing $1 million to the World Food Programme immediately, and half a million dollars each to the Red Cross, the United Nations Commission for Refugees, and the United Nations Children’s Fund. The balance of the initial funding will go to the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, the UN agency for demining, and to selected non-government agencies operating within Iraq.

Dr Wayne Mapp: Why has the New Zealand Government not considered providing the army’s field hospital, which is trained for deployment and which did superb work in East Timor, to the “coalition of the willing” so they can now provide that essential humanitarian assistance?

Hon PHIL GOFF: The Government has considered that, and it is a possibility at a later date. The first assistance that we will be giving will be emergency relief assistance. That is best provided by agencies already operating in and around Iraq that have a proven track record at delivering that assistance. Other forms of assistance will be considered subsequently by the Government.

Hon Richard Prebble: Can the Minister explain to the House why it is acceptable for the New Zealand Government to offer assistance to the people of Iraq after the war, but it is not acceptable to offer assistance to those same citizens to be liberated from a dictator who has killed 3 million people; and why is it not acceptable to join the 45 countries that are providing either military, logistic, or public support to the US-led effort to enforce UN Resolution 1441?

Hon PHIL GOFF: We will be providing the assistance that I have outlined because the immediate consequence of the war will be that innocent people, who cannot be held responsible for the excesses of the Saddam regime, will suffer the consequences of such a war. Given the nature of the Saddam regime, this Government has been active in providing refuge in New Zealand to people from Iraq who have tried to escape that regime. Of course, the member is aware that there are many countries around the world with unacceptable human rights records. I am not aware that the world is going to war with all of those countries.

Keith Locke: Does the Minister expect that some of the human consequences referred to could be the result of the explicit targeting of the civilian infrastructure he just referred to, such as power stations or broadcasting facilities; if so, what is the Government doing to caution the United States against such targeting?

Hon PHIL GOFF: It is my understanding of the intentions of the countries that may be in conflict with Iraq that they will try to do minimum damage to key infrastructure, but, clearly, no matter how smart weapons are, they are not smart enough to stop human casualties and the subsequent cost of casualties. The United Nations estimate is that 600,000 to 1.4 million people may be made refugees, and another 2 million on a medium level scenario of the war would be internally displaced. Clearly, that will involve huge human costs. We, and we hope the Americans and others involved, will be trying to minimise those costs.

Points of Order

Question No. 3 to Minister

JOHN CARTER (Senior Whip—NZ National): I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. As soon as I am able I want the House to go back to the question previously to do with the issue of electricity. I seek leave to table a statement by Mr Gerry Brownlee, of 16 March, that was referred to in comments made by Rod Donald when Rod Donald quite inaccurately referred to the statement put out by Gerry Brownlee.

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

Points of Order

Question No. 4 to Minister

Hon RICHARD PREBBLE (Leader—ACT NZ): I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I saw Mr Martin Gallagher go for a call. If it is acceptable for the National Party and other parties to take many calls, why are you limiting a Labour member?

Mr SPEAKER: Labour members are allocated one supplementary question per question, and that is the understanding they have. They do not have any other. If they seek leave to have one now, then they will miss one out in the future.

Hon RICHARD PREBBLE: But some member of the Labour Party may have said that to you, but if a MP rises and goes for the call, then I think you are obliged to take that member. For all we know, Mr Gallagher may have a new view on Iraq and he should not be suppressed.

Mr SPEAKER: I decide who gets supplementary questions. It is done in a manner that has been established with each of the parties by way of discussion that I have had with them. Some members provide me with lists on how many supplementaries they want on a particular question, and they can do it that way, but the general rule stands, and that is the way it is.

Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS (Leader—NZ First): I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. With the greatest of respect, I want to contest what you have just said. You are now saying that you are in charge of discipline where the Labour Party is concerned. That is not the case. If that member wishes to rise and jeopardise the rest of question time by being undisciplined, that, nevertheless, is his entitlement.

Mr SPEAKER: I ask the member to be seated. I will not have this way of dealing with questions. There is a standard way of dealing with questions, which I have adopted and discussed with each whip of each party. The member knows that I have discussed it with his whip and with the Labour whips. A pattern was established, and that is the way the pattern remains.

Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: The fact remains that if an arrangement has been arrived at, in my view it is unofficial, it is not the way Parliament conducts democracy in Western society, anyway, and if that member seeks to raise a call, then he is entitled to it. He jeopardises his whole party arrangement. It is not one that should be controlled by you but, rather, by the party itself. That is what happened here.

Mr SPEAKER: Mr Gallagher is perfectly competent to raise a point of order about his non-call if he wishes. It is not for other members to intervene in this way.

Maori Sports Casting International—Function

5. RODNEY HIDE (ACT NZ) to the Minister of Mâori Affairs: Did any of his Ministerial staff attend the awards dinner on 6 July 2002 in their role as commentators for Maori Sports Casting International; if so, what action has he taken, given that he told this House yesterday that he did not believe Te Puni Kokiri’s expenditure on the dinner acceptable?

Hon PAREKURA HOROMIA (Minister of Mâori Affairs): Yes, one of my staff attended the awards dinner in a private capacity. As signalled yesterday in the House, I have communicated in writing my concerns to the chief executive of Te Puni Kôkiri.

Rodney Hide: Has the Minister any concerns over how Mr Hemana Waaka has been paying back civil servants, politicians, and their staff—especially as he pays his “volunteer sportscasters” under the counter through TAB accounts to dodge tax—or will Ms Gael Parata be pushed out of the Minister’s office, just like Mr Tirangi was, to save the skins of those higher up the food chain?

Hon PAREKURA HOROMIA: No.

Mita Ririnui: What was the purpose of the training development wânanga by Mâori Sportscasting International Ltd?

Hon PAREKURA HOROMIA: I am advised that the purpose of the wânanga was to train staff in the use of the different broadcasting equipment, and in commentating and reporting techniques. A lot of those members who attended did so in a voluntary capacity, like several other Mâori around the country.

Katherine Rich: Why does the Minister think it is appropriate that Te Puni Kôkiri should undertake the review of Te Mângai Pâho’s funding of Mâori Sportscasting International, when it has also funded the same organisation to the material benefit of three Ministers and their staff, and why does he not call in the Auditor-General and have a proper clean-up?

Hon PAREKURA HOROMIA: There will be a proper clean-up. There is an independent person who makes up numbers for the three-party group that will review this whole exercise.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Has the Prime Minister spoken to the Minister about his performance on this and other issues, or is it the case that in her administration there is one standard for certain Ministers and any old standard where Mâori Ministers are concerned?

Hon PAREKURA HOROMIA: The Prime Minister talked to me on several occasions. I am not afraid of being Mâori, unlike some other Mâori in this Parliament.

Mr SPEAKER: Point of order, Mr Peters.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Could the Minister of Mâori Affairs describe or name those Mâori members to whom he refers?

Mr SPEAKER: Did the member want a supplementary question?

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Yes.

Mr SPEAKER: I thought he was raising a point of order. I should have called another member ahead of him, but as he is on his feet, I will allow him to ask a supplementary question.

Hon Richard Prebble: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I thought the member had raised a point of order, because it is absolutely out of order to reflect on the character of any member. I am not aware of who the Minister of Mâori Affairs was referring to, but to say that someone is afraid to be Mâori is clearly a grossly insulting statement. I object on behalf of whoever the member is whom the Minister referred to.

Mr SPEAKER: Objection has been taken. I ask the Minister to withdraw his comment.

Hon PAREKURA HOROMIA: I withdraw and apologise.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Has the Prime Minister had any cause to talk to the Minister about that particular issue; if so, what was the comment she left with him as to his performance?

Hon PAREKURA HOROMIA: I remind the member that this is an operational matter at this stage. I have responsibilities here that I manage like every other responsibility in this portfolio.

Rodney Hide: When did the Minister find out that his executive assistant was working for Mâori Sportscasters International as a commentator, and that she was flown to Auckland for the old-fashioned booze-up at Te Puni Kôkiri’s expense, and what did he do when he found out about it?

Hon PAREKURA HOROMIA: I found that out recently, but details regarding all the people whose airfares were paid for were tabled in a public report on 6-8 July 2002. The staff member in question continually does that, along with a whole lot of other volunteers.

Rodney Hide: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. [Interruption] They don’t like it, do they?

Mr SPEAKER: That is one all, and that is where it stops. Did the member have a point of order?

Hon Dover Samuels: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Can I raise an issue to do with the supplementary question that was raised by Rodney Hide, implying that some politicians have been paid in terms of the original question. I believe that impacts on all politicians in this House, and I challenge Rodney Hide to get up and name the politicians he is implying were paid.

Mr SPEAKER: I am ready to help the member. The meaning of the word “politician” is much wider than “members of Parliament”, but if the member was making any comment about any current member of Parliament, he will stand and withdraw that comment.

Rodney Hide: What am I withdrawing and apologising for?

Mr SPEAKER: I said that if the member made any comment denigrating any member of Parliament in the supplementary question he asked—and I am not talking about the use of the word “politician”, because that is a wider term than meaning just a member of Parliament—

Rodney Hide: I didn’t.

Mr SPEAKER: He did not? Right.

Hon Dover Samuels: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I actually wrote down what the member said, and he referred to politicians, and, in terms of the supplementary question, he was referring to the politicians in this House. I am asking Rodney Hide whether he is telling the truth, and, if he has got the guts, to name the politicians.

Mr SPEAKER: First of all, the member made an offensive reference to another member of this House. He will now stand and withdraw and apologise for that comment.

Hon Dover Samuels: I withdraw and apologise.

Mr SPEAKER: Secondly, I have been told by Mr Hide, quite specifically, that he was not referring to a member of this—

Rodney Hide: No, I didn’t say that.

Mr SPEAKER: This is just trifling with me now. I asked the member a particular question. The word “politician” goes much wider than members of this House. I asked the member whether he was referring to any particular member of this House. Did he say yes or—

Rodney Hide: Point of order, Mr Speaker—

Mr SPEAKER: No, I want the member to answer my question.

Rodney Hide: I am not answering a yes or no question, because you have changed the question. The question you asked me, Mr Speaker, as Hansard will reflect, was whether I was denigrating any MP. No. My question was this—and let me read it to the House for Mr Samuels’ benefit: “. . .how Mr HemanaWaaka has been paying back civil servants, politicians, and their staff”. “Paying back” does not mean just money; it means having a dinner and a booze-up.

Mr SPEAKER: Well, the member has made that comment. He assures me that he has meant that in that way, and, of course, the member’s word will be accepted. Did the member want to ask a supplementary question?

Hon Richard Prebble: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. When Mr Dover Samuels sat down, he suggested that one of the people who had gone to the booze-up was Richard Prebble. Well, I most certainly did not. I understand that Dover Samuels went, but I certainly did not.

Hon Dover Samuels: Mr Speaker, I know that you have wide interpretations about the description implied by Rodney Hide in his identification of politicians, but I ask you to think again. In the context of his supplementary question he was talking about politicians being paid. I think it is incumbent upon that member, if he is actually telling the truth to this House, to identify who the politicians are in terms of his question.

Mr SPEAKER: No, I have—

Rodney Hide: I am happy to.

Hon Dover Samuels: The member should get up or shut up.

Rodney Hide: I am very happy to name the politicians. The ones that have been paid back are Mr Dover Samuels, who was invited along for a knock-up dinner and a booze-up, and his entourage. Mr John Tamihere was invited for dinner and a booze up, along with his entourage, and then we find out today that staff members of the Minister, Parekura Horomia—whose department oversaw the $10,000 grant—also got a knock-up dinner and a booze-up. I am sorry, but in the parlance that is referred to as the payback.

Hon Dover Samuels: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I would ask for your ruling in terms of the very wide, loose, gruesome explanation or interpretation that Rodney Hide has placed on that. When one is responding and saying that somebody is being paid, I would take that as meaning remuneration in the form of money and not the fact that we were invited to a dinner, so I ask for—[Interruption] Absolutely I was there, and I will front up.

Mr SPEAKER: I have called for order. Please be seated. The member has asked me to look at the transcript—I presume he has asked me to have a look at the words. I will certainly examine the transcript.

Rodney Hide: Mr Speaker—

Mr SPEAKER: A supplementary question?

Rodney Hide: I am just trying to work it out. I have lost count. Have I had two supplementary questions yet, Mr Speaker?

Mr SPEAKER: I have now had enough, and I am going to impose a lot stricter discipline than I have done. I do not like doing this, but I am going to impose it from now on today. The member may, of course, have up to three or four more supplementary questions, then for the rest of question time, his party would get none. He has had two supplementary questions. If he wants a third then he is, of course, entitled to take it

Supreme Court—Judicial System

6. MURRAY SMITH (United Future) to the Attorney-General: Does she consider the proposed Supreme Court will improve the quality of New Zealand’s judicial system?

Hon MARGARET WILSON (Attorney-General): Yes.

Murray Smith: Given that the proposed Supreme Court is going to be comprised of five senior New Zealand judges, who presumably are or could have become Court of Appeal judges, with the Court of Appeal reduced from five to three judges, is her proposal not simply a renaming of the Court of Appeal and the creation of a new intermediate appeal court; if so, how will that improve the quality of our judicial system?

Hon MARGARET WILSON: There is no proposal to reduce the number of members on the Court of Appeal at this stage. My understanding is that it will remain exactly the same as it is.

Russell Fairbrother: Has the Minister received any reports on the quality of the proposed Supreme Court?

Hon MARGARET WILSON: Yes. Senior Law Lord Lord Steyn, in his talk at Victoria University, said that: “The Privy Council is going to be replaced by a Supreme Court of the highest calibre, a court capable of delivering justice in accordance with the law at the highest level.”

Question time interrupted.

Points of Order

Question No. 6 to Minister

Richard Worth: How can the Attorney-General possibly claim that her new local court will improve our new judicial system when the legal profession does not agree with her—which is why the Auckland District Law Society recently passed a unanimous motion calling for appeals to the Privy Council to be retained—and when the Privy Council has proved the Court of Appeal wrong in seven out of the last 11 cases?

Hon MARGARET WILSON: The Auckland District Law Society recently had its annual general meeting, at which 55 members out of 3,600, or 1.5 percent, attended and passed the resolution. So, in effect, 1.5 percent of those members passed that resolution.

Opposition MemberOpposition Member: It was unanimous.

Hon MARGARET WILSON: It was unanimous for 1.5 percent.

Mr SPEAKER: I have said that there will now be a lot fewer interjections. The Minister is giving an answer, and unless she gets strictly political, when, of course, comments can be made, I want the answer to be heard in relative silence.

Dail Jones: In the light of the fact that the Attorney-General is the principal law officer of this Parliament, can she tell the House how many years of legal practice in court she has had and what type of cases she undertook in court?

Mr SPEAKER: No. That question is wide of the mark and does not need to be answered.

Dail Jones: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Surely we are talking about the abolition of appeals to the Privy Council, which are court-based. This is the principal law officer of Parliament, and the House and the country are entitled to know what experience this person has to make this type of decision. It is a very simple question based on the important factor of appeals to the Privy Council and practice in court.

Mr SPEAKER: That is a different question and should be put down as such.

Gerrard Eckhoff: Why does the Minister not let the people of New Zealand decide whether the change will improve or damage our judicial system by referendum on this vital constitutional matter?

Hon MARGARET WILSON: This matter has been decided in similar jurisdictions. There has never been a referendum. The matter has been one of debate and discussion in New Zealand for over 30 years. Part of the process at the moment was that in December 2000 a discussion paper was put out, and since then debate and discussion have been going on, as is happening at the moment, with the matter being referred to the select committee, which I think is the most qualified body to be able to make a recommendation on that.

Murray Smith: How does transferring our judges from the first tier of our appellate structure into the second, leaving the Court of Appeal under-resourced for its heavier workload, somehow improve the quality of our judicial system?

Hon MARGARET WILSON: The Court of Appeal will not be left under-resourced.

Dail Jones: In view of her answer that the Justice and Electoral Committee is the group that is qualified to make this decision, is she saying that she herself has no qualifications to make it?

Hon MARGARET WILSON: No, I am merely following the correct parliamentary process. As you know, as a member of that committee, the bill has been referred to that committee for submissions to be heard. I know you will hear them with an open mind and will then debate the matter and report it back here.

Mr SPEAKER: No, the member will hear them with an open mind, not me.

Murray Smith: If New Zealand and the Caribbean countries both withdraw from the Privy Council, removing 60 percent of its workload, what consideration has the Minister given to the fate of all the other small Commonwealth countries who continue to be dependent on the Privy Council for the final right of appeal; or does she not care about them?

Hon MARGARET WILSON: Of course we care. We are a very caring Government. But they are independent sovereign countries. I think there will be four left, who very rarely use access to the Privy Council, but I am sure they are quite capable of speaking for themselves and addressing that issue with the Lord Chancellor.

Slightly Offbeat Productions—Debt

7. KATHERINE RICH (NZ National) to the Minister of Mâori Affairs: What information has he received regarding allegations that Slightly Offbeat Productions, a company which has received $400,000 from Te Mangai Paho to dub Canadian cartoons into Maori, has unpaid bills of between $70,000 and $80,000, and what assurances can he give this House that Te Mangai Paho is effectively monitoring the expenditure of taxpayers’ money?

Hon PAREKURA HOROMIA (Minister of Mâori Affairs): I have been advised by Te Mângai Pâho that it is currently reviewing this matter. I have also been advised by my officials that Te Mângai Pâho’s funding agreements specifically for the production of radio and television programmes contain terms and conditions for monitoring and evaluating the expenditure on agreed contractual outputs.

Katherine Rich: Is the Minister aware that a number of people involved in the production of TV programme Te Wero, produced by Dreamtime Entertainment for the Mâori Television Service, are still waiting for payment for services 4 months after they finished the work on production, and given that this is another example of a company receiving Te Mângai Pâho funding that has not paid all its bills, will the Minister be investigating just what is going on with accountability?

Hon PAREKURA HOROMIA: Yes, most certainly.

Dr Muriel Newman: What weight can we give to the Minister’s assurances that Te Mângai Pâho is effectively monitoring the expenditure of taxpayers’ money, in the light of a string of disasters like the John Davey affair, the “stop the Mâori party” Derek Fox appointment, the convicted fraudster sportscaster scandal, and now the spending of hundreds of thousands of taxpayers’ dollars on converting Canadian cartoons into Mâori?

Hon PAREKURA HOROMIA: I think this very exciting, innovative progress is something that member should learn about. Certainly I can assure the member that accountabilities are being pushed.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Given the thousands of Mâori who suffer form ill health and bad housing, does he think it is a sensible use of taxpayers’ money to have $400,000 and sums like that spent on converting cartoons when there is so much real need out in the Mâori world; and why does he not do something about that?

Mr SPEAKER: The first two questions can be answered.

Hon PAREKURA HOROMIA: I assure the member that I want to do something about it. I also remind him that 40 percent of our people are under the age of 15, and 70 percent are under the age of 25 years. He never cared about those people when he was in for 9 years. I can assure the House that this Government is doing a good job caring about Mâori people.

Katherine Rich: After a week when we have heard about the employment and resignation of a convicted fraudster, staff kickbacks, programming money that has been spent on flash dinners where the only capacity-building seems to be to Minister’s waistlines—

Mr SPEAKER: No, that question will not be allowed. The member has gone too far. I am ruling out that question. It is a personal reflection on members.

Hon Dover Samuels: I seek leave to retable a statement made by the Director of Mâori New Zealand Sportscasting International where he states that no donations whatsoever were received from MPs—myself or the Hon John Tamihere—in relation to that function.

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

Katherine Rich: I seek leave to put my question again.

Mr SPEAKER: The member is perfectly entitled to seek leave. Is there any objection? There is.

Rodney Hide: I seek leave to table a series of pictures of the drinks and other things enjoyed by Mr Dover Samuels and Mr John Tamihere on 6 July 2002.

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

Katherine Rich: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I seek your guidance. It is not usual that questions I have delivered in this House have been ruled out of order. May I seek another call and I will certainly rephrase the question in a way that is parliamentary.

Mr SPEAKER: The member will have an opportunity on another day. I agree that the member is very rarely out of order in that regard, but on this occasion I had given a warning, the member did, and I ruled accordingly.

Dr Wayne Mapp: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I draw to your attention that the National Party did not seek a call on question No. 1. Therefore, we have not used the allocation. Therefore, according to your own approach to allocating questions, Katherine Rich could take a call.

Mr SPEAKER: The member has raised an interesting point. I have consulted my chart and he is correct. Therefore, it can proceed as another supplementary question, but it is the third one on this question and that, of course, means that there will be only one supplementary question on the other questions.

Katherine Rich: After a week when we have heard about the employment and resignation of a convicted fraudster, staff kickbacks, programming money being spent on flash dinners, and Te Mângai Pâho – funded companies not paying their bills, does the Minister still have confidence in the chief executive of Te Mângai Pâho; if so, why?

Hon PAREKURA HOROMIA: At this stage yes, and everything is under review.

Imports—Irradiated Fruit

8. SUE KEDGLEY (Green) to the Minister for Food Safety: Why did New Zealand accept a variation to the Australian New Zealand Food Standard code that will allow irradiated mango, papaya, mangosteen, litchi, breadfruit, carambola, custard apple and rambutan to be imported into New Zealand? [Interruption]

Mr SPEAKER: I warn members that my patience has ended and there will be no interjections during question time when a member is asking a question. In our society members are perfectly entitled to ask a question and to be heard.

Hon ANNETTE KING (Minister for Food Safety): The decision was made for phytosanitary purposes. Food safety was the prime factor in the assessment process. The process was very thorough and included a Food Standards Australia New Zealand project team, a reference group of stakeholders, and access to experts in the area of food irradiation. It was a lengthy process over a number of years.

Sue Kedgley: Did the lengthy and considered process take into account the recent French-German research that found that chemicals formed during irradiation of certain foods, including tropical fruit like mango, may cause colon cancer and DNA damage; if not, why not?

Hon ANNETTE KING: It looked at a variety of research, particularly by the World Health Organization, which said that irradiation was an acceptable means to improve food safety.

Dave Hereora: How are decisions such as the decision to support the irradiation standard reached?

Hon ANNETTE KING: When the Government accepts a standard it takes account of robust science-based advice when making those decisions.

Shane Ardern: Does the Minister think that banning all exports and imports into New Zealand, banning any contact with the World Trade Organization, and stopping all other major transactions either domestically or internationally, as is promoted by the Green Party, would improve food safety in New Zealand?

Sue Kedgley: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The member has made an incorrect statement suggesting that I am calling for the banning of all exports and imports into New Zealand and suchlike, which I have never done.

Mr SPEAKER: The member’s word will be accepted. The rest of the question can be answered.

Hon ANNETTE KING: I do not think there is a question if that is taken away.

Sue Kedgley: Why is the Government trying to change the international standard on food irradiation at a Codex meeting in Tanzania today, to try to remove any limits on the dose of irradiation that may be applied to food so that food producers will be able to irradiate food, such as tropical fruit, as much as they like, with no questions asked?

Hon ANNETTE KING: The New Zealand position on the Codex Committee on Food Additives and Contaminants is to support a proposal to replace a maximum dose, currently at 10 kilograys, with permission to use a minimum dose, to be able to achieve microbial decontamination. For example, for tropical fruit it will be 1 kilogray—not endless but 1 kilogray—but for herbs and spices the use is 30 kilogray and that dose would be sufficient for the treatment, but it would be less than anything that could affect wholesomeness and quality. Along with Codex we are asking to enable the right level to be used. Of course, if we do not use irradiation, I presume the member continues to support the use of ethylene oxide and methyl bromide, both of which have very bad effects, not only on the environment but also on the health of the people who eat the food that have been treated by such chemicals.

Shane Ardern: Does the Minister think that if we were to consume nothing but New Zealand grown organic food we would improve food safety in New Zealand?

Hon ANNETTE KING: I would suspect that if we had to rely on New Zealand organic-grown food we would probably starve. There would not be enough of it.

State Sector—Employees

9. PITA PARAONE (NZ First) to the Minister of State Services: Is he satisfied that all State sector employees are treated in an equal manner with respect to employment issues?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD (Minister of State Services): State servants’ employment conditions are a matter for their individual employer. I would expect employers to treat their employees according to the conditions set out in individual or collective agreements.

Pita Paraone: Is the Minister concerned that we could feasibly have 180 repeats of the situation currently facing the Taranaki District Health Board, where the chief executive officer, John O’Neill, is taking unlimited sick leave at a cost of over $5,000 per week to the district health board, which is receiving no extra funding as a result; or does he deny any responsibility over the matter, as his colleague the Minister of Health has done on several occasions?

Mr SPEAKER: The Hon Trevor Mallard can deal with the matters for which he, as Minister, is responsible.

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: The provision in question has been standard in chief executive contracts in the wider State sector and has operated in, I understand, over 300 employment contract agreements without difficulty. Of course, the commission continually evaluates developments in employment law and practice, and will review the chief executive model employment agreements when necessary.

Tim Barnett: Does the State Services Commissioner employ any State sector employees?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: Yes, but very few.

Shane Ardern: In the light of the Minister’s answer, how is it that a request made to the Taranaki District Health Board by its chief executive—who is on sick leave after being suspended while overseas on honeymoon—for information around the accusation in regard to his employment issue has still not been furnished or he has had no information on that matter? How is that?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: I think the member knows it would be absolutely inappropriate for me to comment on an individual case. I submit to the House that it is also unwise of him.

Sue Bradford: What commitment does the Minister have to reducing the pay gap in the public sector, whereby in 2001 male managers earned on average $65,000 a year, and female managers $54,000, according to an HR capability survey of public service departments?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: That is not a problem that I have noticed in our Cabinet.

Judy Turner: Can the Minister explain, in light of the State Services Commissioner’s statement to the Government Administration Committee that he did not endorse unlimited sick leave and it was being phased out, why is it still included in the standard contract offered to new district health board chief executives, which can be found on the commission’s website?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: As I indicated earlier, practices and law are looked at carefully by the State Services Commissioner, and draft contracts—which are the responsibility, of course, of the boards, when they are signed, not of the commissioner—are updated regularly.

Government Information and Services—Access

10. HELEN DUNCAN (NZ Labour) to the Minister of State Services: What steps are being taken to ensure that accessing Government information and services online will be secure for members of the public?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD (Minister of State Services): I have released a discussion document seeking public feedback on four models of authentication. We need to ensure a person registering to use an online service is genuinely who they say they, and that they are secure in knowing that they are genuinely dealing with a Government agency online.

Helen Duncan: Will authentication be required by members of the public in order to access every Government service?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: No, the e-government portal launch late last year provides a one-stop shop for more than 3,500 Government services. The State Service Commission estimates that around one-third of services that become available will need some form of authentication—for example, registering a birth, making an accident compensation claim, getting a replacement driver’s licence. The idea of authentication is not new. People have had to do it for years in order to join libraries, apply for passports, or join up to a bank online.

Points of Order

Question No. 11 to Minister

Hon DAVID CARTER (NZ National)17CARTER, Hon DAVID15:14:43Hon DAVID CARTER (NZ National): I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. When I submitted this question this morning I specifically wanted to know the opinion of the Minister of Health, Annette King. I note now that it has been changed to the Associate Minister.

Mr SPEAKER: That is the right of the Government, and that must be the responsibility he has been delegated to by the Minister. Please ask the question.

Hon DAVID CARTER (NZ National)17CARTER, Hon DAVID14:29:07Hon DAVID CARTER (NZ National): I seek leave to ask question No. 11 of the Minister of Health.

Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to ask question No. 11. Is there any objection? There is objection. Please ask the question as stated.

Smoking—Ban

11. Hon DAVID CARTER (NZ National) to the Associate Minister of Health: Does he support the banning of smoking in all pubs, clubs and RSAs as recommended in the Health Committee’s report on the Smokefree Environments (Enhanced Protection) Amendment Bill; if so, why?

Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR (Associate Minister of Health): Yes, because 4,700 New Zealanders die each year from smoking-related illnesses and a further 388 from second-hand smoke. My goal as Minister responsible for tobacco control is to reduce those tragic figures significantly.

Hon David Carter: Is the Minister aware that his colleagues, including Ministers, are already telling the hospitality industry that the bill will be considerably softened, and does he support that approach?

Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: No, I am not aware. While I have seen such claims made in the media, this is a member’s bill, not a Government bill. Any MP can move amendments to the bill and they will be assessed by the House on their merits. I expect that members will take up that opportunity when the bill is in the Committee stage.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Why can the Minister and his colleagues not keep their big noses out of the ordinary lives of New Zealanders, particularly the downtrodden, working-class people who used to vote Labour, and why are those attitude cops so beset with stopping ordinary New Zealanders getting on with their lives?

Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: This Government cares about the people of New Zealand. If we were to ignore the road toll in this country and not take any action, we would be deemed negligent. If we are to ignore the outrageous and tragic figures from smoking in this country, we would be deemed negligent also.

Heather Roy: Why does the Minister not concede—

Mr SPEAKER: I am sorry. There is something wrong with the member’s microphone. Perhaps she could start again. Members should just be a little more sensible.

Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I did hear her and she was out of order in her initial comments. Perhaps you could give her some guidance.

Mr SPEAKER: I will certainly be listening. If there is anything that is out of order, the member will not be proceeding with the question. Please ask the question inside the Standing Orders.

Heather Roy: Why does the Minister not concede that that ban is just pandering to Labour voters, and that it will have a devastating effect on sporting clubs, workingmen’s clubs, and Returned Services Associations—

Mr SPEAKER: I will now ask the member to start again.

Heather Roy: Why does the Minister not concede that this ban is just pandering to the chardonnay socialists and will have a devastating effect on sporting clubs—

Mr SPEAKER: No. That was not the question asked by the member that I heard. The member talked about Labour voters, or something like that. She is now getting into the area of adding in material so as not to render the question effective. I will give her one more go. Please ask the question, and I will not have any interjection.

Heather Roy: Why does the Minister not concede that this ban is just pandering to Labour voters and will have a devastating effect on sporting clubs, workingmen’s clubs, and Returned Services Associations, and is a blatant attack on the freedom and choice of law-abiding New Zealanders?

Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: I do not agree with that member. I remind her that the bill was heard by the select committee and there were 397 submissions. The changes made to the bill were made unanimously. Members on the select committee included two from National, one from New Zealand First, one from ACT, one from the Greens, alongside those from the Labour Government.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Why does the Labour Party seem obsessed with attacking the hard-working men and woman of this country, many of whom have very few pleasures, including smoking, and if that is the case, why stop smoking; why do we not have one on eating, for example, or lack of exercise?

Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: We are a Government that is prepared to facilitate hard calls to protect our people when necessary. This is a member’s bill and that member’s party voted for this bill to go to a select committee, and all the changes were made unanimously.

Heather Roy: I seek leave to table the report of the bill that shows that ACT New Zealand submitted a minority report on the bill. The Minister said it was unanimously supported; it was not.

Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: I have a point of clarification. I did not refer to the report. I referred to the bill itself and the changes made that were supported unanimously.

Mr SPEAKER: But leave was sought. Is there any objection? There is objection.

Hon David Carter: What reports has the Minister commissioned to establish the adverse economic impacts that this legislation will have on our tourism and hospitality industries, as evidenced by the fall in Sky City shares yesterday?

Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: The international evidence that we have for such moves made in a number of countries, including Ireland, Norway, and more particularly in the state of California, indicate that over time there is no adverse effect on businesses.

Child Pornography—Imports

12. DARREN HUGHES (NZ Labour—Otaki) to the Minister of Customs: What is the Government doing about the importation of objectionable materials such as child pornography into New Zealand?

Hon RICK BARKER (Minister of Customs): The Government is committed to wiping out any trade in material depicting the abuse and degradation of children, including its importation. I am heartened to report that the first sentence of imprisonment under Section 209 of the Customs and Excise Act was recently handed down in the Tokoroa District Court to John William Noble. This man got 8 years for importing, via his laptop computer, 3,698 images and 43 movie files of children involved in sexual acts. This included the abuse of toddlers and children under 5. Additionally, the New Zealand Customs Service has a number of other prosecutions awaiting trial, with imprisonment again being a potential outcome.

Darren Hughes: What power does the New Zealand Customs Service have to stop the trade of such material in and out of New Zealand, especially with the wide and relatively unrestrained use of the Internet?

Hon RICK BARKER: In the case of John Noble, his successful prosecution under New Zealand legislation was a result of a contract with US Customs where he was identified as part of the US Customs sting to capture traders in such objectionable material via the Internet. This Government moved swiftly last year to amend the Customs and Excise Act to give such material imported by electronic transmission, such as over the Internet, the same status as objectionable material in hard copy form.

Shane Ardern: In the light of the Minister’s answer, and the Minister of Justice stating on 5 March that most of the trade in this material is via the Internet, when will the Customs Service implement the measures that the Minister just spoke of?

Hon RICK BARKER: I am glad to assure the member that the Customs Service has a high level of expertise in this area. We are developing and expanding our ability for encryption, forensic investigation, and our contacts with the US and other customs agencies, and I am very confident that we will see a huge improvement in our success rate in this area.

Marc Alexander: Does the Minister consider legislation clarifying the rules in interpreting objectionable material, such as the Films, Videos, and Publications Classification (Meaning of Objectionable) Amendment Bill, would be useful in the prohibition of such material?

Hon RICK BARKER: The Government will be supporting that bill to the select committee, but I need to advise the House and the member that the Government is planning a wider range of changes, particularly in the area of penalties.

Questions to Members

Questions to MembersLocal Government Law Reform Bill (No 2)

1. DAIL JONES (NZ First) to the Chairperson of the Local Government and Environment Committee: What meetings have been held by the Local Government and Environment Committee to consider the Local Government Law Reform Bill (No 2) concerning dog control, since it was referred back to the committee?

JEANETTE FITZSIMONS (Chairperson of the Local Government and Environment Committee): The bill was referred to the Local Government and Environment Committee on 18 February 2003. At that time the committee was up against tight statutory deadlines to report the financial reviews. On 6 March the committee met to consider the bill and received a briefing from officials. We have today released a statement outlining our intentions regarding progressing the bill.

Dail Jones: Does she have any indication, as chairperson of the committee, as to when the committee is likely to consider submissions on the Local Government Law Reform Bill (No 2)?

JEANETTE FITZSIMONS: The committee has been advised that Government officials are seeking further information, particularly the views of all district councils on the bill and on possible methods of dog control. The officials are preparing recommendations on measures that go beyond what is currently in the bill. This may take the form of a Supplementary Order Paper. The committee has resolved to seek public submissions as soon as that information is available to us so that the public may comment on those further proposals.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: Noting that the Minister of Local Government said that he would be introducing changes within weeks, and that it is now 3 weeks since the tragic incident involving the girl in Auckland, has the committee had any indication as to when it will receive amendments from the Government to the dog control laws?

JEANETTE FITZSIMONS: The committee has been advised that the Minister is likely to be considering the recommendations of officials by the end of March, which is very soon. We anticipate a briefing very promptly after that, and we will then be able to proceed with the bill.

Hon Ken Shirley: Can the chairperson of the committee please assure the House that the Local Government and Environment Committee will not delay the passage of this Local Government Law Reform Bill (No 2) in order to rush through the Resource Management Amendment Bill, which has just been introduced today?

Mr SPEAKER: That is not a matter for the member. That is a matter for the Government.

End of

(uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing)

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