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Questions Of The Day Transcript - 9 April 2003

(uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing)

Questions 1-12 to Ministers and Questions 1-2 to Members - 9 April 2003

Questions for Oral Answer


Questions to Ministers

Questions for Oral Answer
Iraq—Apology to United States

1. Hon BILL ENGLISH (Leader of the Opposition) to the Prime Minister: When she stated to the House yesterday that her apology, conveyed to the United States Government, for her comments about the war in Iraq “was because offence had been taken”; did she mean that she did not believe her comments were wrong; if so, why?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK (Prime Minister): I meant what I said. My comments and their context were matters of opinion. They were interpreted as implying personal criticism when that was obviously never intended. My preparedness to apologise for the offence clearly taken shows the value I put on the New Zealand – US relationship.

Hon Bill English: Given the aggravation that the comments have caused, will the Prime Minister publicly retract her comment that “I don’t think that September 11 under a Gore presidency would have had this consequence for Iraq’’; if she will not retract that comment, why not?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: As I have stressed today, these were matters of opinion. They have been misinterpreted and offence was taken. I regret that offence, and I have conveyed an apology for that.

Hon Bill English: You are the Prime Minister.

Mr SPEAKER: I am not the Prime Minister. I sometimes wished I once was, but I certainly do not now, but I am not today.

David Benson-Pope: Did the Prime Minister’s apology relate in any way to New Zealand’s principal decision not to participate in the war?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: No, it did not. The New Zealand Government absolutely stands by that decision—a decision, moreover, backed by most New Zealanders, as even the Leader of the Opposition has observed among his many flip-flops on the Iraq issue.

Peter Brown: Does the Prime Minister not understand that her remarks about President Bush, Al Gore, and the war in Iraq were in themselves offensive, albeit opinion; and that she should apologise both for their content and for making them—not because somebody took offence?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: No.

Hon Richard Prebble: Why will the Prime Minister not be frank with this Parliament about how serious a matter her remarks were last week; and why does she not tell the House what we have been told by a senior official within the administration, that her remarks actually went all the way up to President Bush, who personally took offence, and—[Interruption]

Mr SPEAKER: I tell Mr Chris Carter that that is the only warning I am giving today. The next member who interjects while a question is asked will leave the Chamber. Please start the question again.

Hon Richard Prebble: Why will the Prime Minister not be frank with this Parliament and the country about how serious the offence is that she caused last week; and why does she not tell the House that her remarks were communicated to President Bush last week—as we have had confirmed by a senior member of the administration—and, today, Dr Condoleezza Rice, the US National Security Advisor, will be conveying the New Zealand Prime Minister’s apology to the President as soon as he returns from his summit with Tony Blair? How can she describe that matter as being minor?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: The fact that offence was taken was obviously a serious matter. I value the relationship and that is why I have acted to put the matter right.

Keith Locke: Does the Prime Minister agree that most New Zealanders support her speaking out strongly against the war; and that they take offence at the Bush administration’s attempts to muzzle her, which is in contradiction to the democratic principles the US administration claims it is trying to impose on Iraq and other countries?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I have no doubt that the Government’s position on matters related to this war enjoys very substantial support from New Zealanders. It has never been my intention to cast personal aspersions on the President, and I want to separate any aspersion that might have been inferred, from the overall comments the Government has made about the war.

Hon Peter Dunne: Now that the Prime Minister has tendered through the usual diplomatic channels an apology for the comments made, can she advise the House whether she has been similarly advised, through those same diplomatic channels, of the reaction to that apology; if so, what was that reaction?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I am advised by the Secretary of Foreign Affairs and Trade and the ambassador that they are in the process of working their way around people who expressed concern, and I think they would expect the message to be accepted in the spirit in which it was conveyed.

Hon Bill English: Does the Prime Minister believe she has apologised for the comments she made, or simply for the fact that someone took offence from those comments?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I am concerned at anything that looks as if it might damage a longstanding relationship of value to me and to New Zealand. Therefore, when I hear that offence has been taken, I apologise for that offence being taken. [Interruption]

Mr SPEAKER: We will have quite a few people making the number of members in this Parliament very much fewer in a minute or so.

Hon Richard Prebble: Why does the Prime Minister not answer Mr English’s question, which asks whether she is saying the only problem is that someone has taken offence, and she refuses to publicly state what we all know—that a statement about internal politics of another nation is highly offensive, and would be equivalent to President Bush saying that relations with New Zealand would be much easier if Bill English were Prime Minister—and why, if she says that good relationships with the United States are valuable, is she not prepared to get up and admit that she, and she alone, is responsible for this incident?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: As I said previously, the comments in their context are matters of opinion. They were interpreted as implying personal criticism, which they were never meant to imply. I have apologised for any such inference that might have been drawn, while reserving absolutely the right of New Zealand to take a principled position on a war.

Hon Bill English: If the Prime Minister can take personal responsibility and publicly apologise for the Chinese poll tax, discrimination against gays, and the influenza epidemic in Samoa, why can she not take personal responsibility for statements she has made just in the last week or so, and apologise for them?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I have taken exactly such responsibility, unlike a former National Prime Minister who called President Carter a “peanut farmer from Georgia”, and never apologised.

Hon Ken Shirley: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I am taking a point of order to seek clarification as it applies on matters of Speakers’ rulings—that is, misleading by omission. It relates to question No. 2 today, and also to question No 4, whereby there was considerable discussion by the House yesterday, and that is to the question from Bill English where he says a “full text of her apology to the Bush administration”. The Prime Minister refused to answer that question or even acknowledge there was a text, yet the Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade, in the media this morning, has confirmed there was a letter in writing. That is—

Mr SPEAKER: Order!

Hon Ken Shirley: —misleading by omission.

Mr SPEAKER: “Misleading by omission” is a matter of privilege, and there is another way of dealing with that.

Questions for Oral Answer
Points of Order
Question No 2 to Minister

PETER BROWN (Deputy Leader—NZ First): Initially this question was set down for the Prime Minister and worded accordingly, but it was referred to the Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade by the Clerk’s Office. I seek leave, or whatever I have to do, to have it addressed to the Prime Minister.

Mr SPEAKER: The member can seek leave. He is perfectly entitled to do that. He seeks leave to have it addressed by the Prime Minister. Is there any objection? There is.

Questions for Oral Answer
Iraq—Apology to United States

2. PETER BROWN (Deputy Leader—NZ First) to the Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade: Can he categorically tell the House whether a letter was written and delivered to an official of the United States National Security Council apologising for the comments the Prime Minister made about the war in Iraq?

Hon PHIL GOFF (Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade): Yes.

Peter Brown: Noting that answer, will the Minister table the letter in Parliament so we can digest the actual comments?

Hon PHIL GOFF: It has never been the tradition in this country for diplomatic letters to be tabled, and it will not be on this occasion.

Hon Richard Prebble: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I invite you to consider that answer, because we have just been told by the Prime Minister that the only other incident in New Zealand’s history was with regard to President Carter and there was no apology then, so how can there be a tradition of not tabling them, if this is the first time we have ever given an apology?

Mr SPEAKER: No, interesting though that point is, that is a matter for the general debate.

David Cunliffe: Was the US embassy in New Zealand likewise advised of the Prime Minister’s response?

Hon PHIL GOFF: Yes, the ambassador in Wellington also received a letter.

Dr Wayne Mapp: What possible national interest reason, or indeed any other reason, is there to prevent the release of the text of apology—what is the Government covering up?

Hon PHIL GOFF: The Government is covering up nothing. The next question, which is to be delivered by the leader of the member’s own party, asks for a full account of that letter, and I intend to give it to the House in answer to that question.

Keith Locke: Did the letter express concern about the growing number of Iraqi civilians being killed in the illegal and immoral war, and did it request an apology from the US administration?

Hon PHIL GOFF: The letter requested neither of those things, but I think everybody in this House would be concerned about the very high level of civilian casualties, in any war.

Peter Brown: Is the Minister aware that many New Zealanders took offence at the Prime Minister’s comments, and will the Minister table a letter of apology to New Zealanders?

Hon PHIL GOFF: I have received no letters from any New Zealander expressing offence.

Questions for Oral Answer
Points of Order
Question Time

JOHN CARTER (Senior Whip—NZ National): I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Just before we get on to the Leader of the Opposition’s question No. 3, I want to raise with you a matter that you might want to give the House a considered opinion on. It is this: yesterday in question time, the Prime Minister was asked several questions about whether a written apology had been given, and, if so, whether the text could be delivered to this House. We have since heard today that the Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade has told the House there is and, indeed, has now told us he intends to give the full text to this House. The question I ask you to rule on and to give a considered opinion on—because I do not think it is possible for you to do so today—is this: as a consequence of the Prime Minister yesterday not giving as clear an answer as she could have by merely saying “Yes”, as the Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade has done, we spent nearly an hour of parliamentary time trying to get the answer that has now been given in one quick word. I ask whether there is some way in which, if that situation arises again in the future, you can give guidance to the House as to how an answer that should have been given can be given, rather than waste parliamentary time.

Mr SPEAKER: The member has properly raised a point of order. I always listen to the member’s comments. He has asked for my thoughts, and I will give them.

Questions for Oral Answer
Points of Order
Question No. 3 to Minister

Hon BILL ENGLISH (Leader of the Opposition): I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. This question was set down to the Prime Minister and subsequently redirected. I seek the leave of the House to ask the question of the Prime Minister?

Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought. Is there any objection? There is. Please ask the question.

Questions for Oral Answer
Iraq—Apology to United States

3. Hon BILL ENGLISH (Leader of the Opposition) to the Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade: What is the full text of the letter expressing the Prime Minister’s distress for the offence caused by her comments on the United States presidency and the war in Iraq, written by Ambassador John Wood and delivered to a senior official in the United States National Security Council?

Hon PHIL GOFF (Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade): The letter expressed the sentiments that the Prime Minister has already outlined to the House yesterday—that she was distressed that her comments had caused the US Government to take offence and that no offence was intended. Given that offence was taken, she said she regretted that and wished to apologise for it. She emphasised the value, which she has done again today, that she places on New Zealand’s relationship with the United States and her sorrow that this episode had arisen. She asked those views to be conveyed to the President. Those comments represent in full the content of the letter sent by Ambassador Wood on behalf of the Prime Minister.

Rodney Hide: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. We have this same difficulty again, and it is this. Mr English was very clear in his question in asking for the full text. It was very clear in listening to the Minister’s answer that it was entirely paraphrased. The Minister indicated to this House that he was going to provide the full text in answer to his question. His answer was not the full text; it was a paraphrase of the letter. That is unacceptable.

Mr SPEAKER: I listened very carefully to the Minister when he answered a previous question. He did not say he was going to give the full text. He said he was going to give the contents of the letter. This he—

Rodney Hide: He hasn’t.

Mr SPEAKER: He certainly did.

Hon Richard Prebble: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I realise you may feel bound by successive Speakers who have, in effect, made Standing Order 362 almost a nullity, but it is quite clear that this is a case covered by it. The Minister is telling the House that we have now heard what is in the apology he is quoting from. I am sure the word “apology”, for example, is a direct quote from that letter, unless he can assure us that word “apology” is not in it. Therefore, he has quoted from it and I do require, under Standing Order 362, that the Minister table it.

Mr SPEAKER: It is perfectly proper for the member to do that. He can ask for the Minister to table it if the Minister wishes to do so, but it is at the Minister’s discretion.

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

Mr SPEAKER: I have had this point, Mr Brownlee. We have ruled on it and I cannot see any other reason for having another point of order.

Gerry Brownlee: With respect, you cannot rule against the Standing Orders, and the Standing Orders in this matter are very, very clear. If you have said to Mr Prebble that he is right, the Standing Order says that the Minister must lay it on the Table.

Mr SPEAKER: Please be seated. I have not finished with Mr Prebble. Mr Prebble asked a proper question. I am now asking the Minister whether he wishes to—[Interruption] I am sorry, I want to ask the Minister whether he was quoting from the letter.

Hon PHIL GOFF: No, I was quoting from the answer I have drafted after having read the letter.

Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. This goes right to the heart of Standing Order 362. The question now becomes whether the Standing Orders of this House are able to be freely abused by Ministers. Mr Prebble is right in saying that Mr Goff could not conceivably have answered in paraphrase without referring to the document and quoting aspects of it. He said it was the text in full, in fact. I am sure that when he used the word “apologise” and the words “the Prime Minister regrets”, those were quotes from a document. It is quite unacceptable for the Minister to now say that the Government is not prepared to lay it on the Table and that it will simply ride all over the top of this Standing Order, which makes it clear he must now table that document. What is so secret in it?

Hon PHIL GOFF: Speaking to the point of order, I point out that the member wrongly quoted from the question from his own leader about the text. Let me repeat to the member what I said. These comments represent in full the content of the letter.

Hon Richard Prebble: Mr Goff would have us believe that, providing he has not put quote marks round his own hand notes, it is not a quote. That is not what the Standing Order says. The Standing Order says that if a member has quoted from a document, he or she must table it. Unless the Minister is prepared to assure this House that nowhere in the letter does it actually apologise and that nowhere in the letter does the Prime Minister actually admit regret, he did quote and he must table.

Mr SPEAKER: No. I refer the member to Speaker’s Ruling 110/3 made by Speaker Kidd: “The notes that Ministers use to answer questions are not official documents that Ministers are obliged to table.” We have had that assurance from the Minister.

Hon Bill English: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. We need to keep in mind here the intentions of the Standing Order, rather than the semantic cleverness of participants in the House. The fact is that we cannot know for sure, because we cannot sight directly the notes the Minister is using. He has not actually said that he only has notes and no letter, and I am suggesting that when a Minister goes as far as saying, “That is the full content of the letter.”, we have a document that is a public document, and he should be required to table it.

Mr SPEAKER: The Minister has just said that he is prepared to table the notes.

Hon Richard Prebble: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. In no way did I ask the Minister to table the notes of his question. I know what Speaker Kidd said. In fact, he said that notes used by a Minister in answering a question are not an official document. What we have here is a new stretch of this rule. Mr Goff is saying that he can sit in his office and copy out a letter, then come down here and say he is not actually reading from a letter but from his copy of it.

That is a complete and utter nonsense. What is interesting is that it shows that the document was here yesterday, but that is beside the point. What it does show is a contempt for Parliament. The Minister has quoted from the document. He cannot get around that by saying: “Well it’s this piece of paper here and I wrote it down here.”

Mr SPEAKER: No, Speaker’s ruling 111/4 is very clear, and this goes back to Speaker Harrison and Speaker Kidd: “The Minister is required to table only the actual physical official document which is quoted in the House. If this is a copy and not the original, then the Minister is required to table a copy and not the original.”. However, this leads to the ruling that so far everything the Minister has done has been within the Standing Orders.

John Carter: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker.

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

Mr SPEAKER: Which one of the members?

Gerry Brownlee: I am on my feet.

Mr SPEAKER: Well, you are both on your feet, and I warn Mr Brownlee that this matter is going on too far.

Gerry Brownlee: I have said this many times before. Every day that we go to the Clerk’s Office, we are required to take some evidence to show that there is some substance to the question we would be asking. I am quite convinced—and you, Mr Speaker, might like to set me right, and I am sure that you will in a few minutes—that Standing Order 362 is designed to allow a Minister to authenticate an answer when giving it in relation to a particular document. We have just had a Minister tell us that he has just read the full content of it. I accept that may mean, according to Speaker Harrison and Speaker Kidd, that only the copies could be tabled. However, it means to me, Mr Speaker, that if you were to uphold the idea that this question time does mean something, that it is not becoming frivolous and not a place for the Government evade its responsibilities—

Mr SPEAKER: Would the member be brief.

Gerry Brownlee: —then, clearly, the upholding of Standing Order 362 and requiring the Minister to now table, as it states he must, is only reasonable.

Hon Dr Michael Cullen: Mr Speaker.

Mr SPEAKER: No, I do not need any assistance on this matter. The rules are not the same for questions and replies. Statements of fact in questions must be authenticated. There is no such rule for answers and I made that ruling twice yesterday.

John Carter: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I have a new question—[Interruption]

Mr SPEAKER: I am now asking the member to leave the Chamber.

Hon Chris Carter withdrew from the Chamber.

Mr SPEAKER: Please carry on.

John Carter: I have a new question to ask of you with regard to your ruling in the matter of consistency. You consistently tell the House that a Minister in reply to a question, provided they refer to a part of the question—

Mr SPEAKER: Address the question.

John Carter: —addresses the question. For instance, question No. 2 uses the word “United States”—

Mr SPEAKER: Come on, hurry it along.

John Carter: That would mean that they have addressed the question. My point is that if it means in response to a question, provided a word or two is used out of the question to say that they have responded to the question, then surely the same must apply if the Minister has used a word or two from a document. In this case, for instance, the Minister has told us that he has used the word “apology” from the Prime Minister’s letter. Therefore, he has used the document, and therefore he should be obliged to apply to table it.

Mr SPEAKER: That is a good try, but it is not a point of order.

Hon Bill English: Given the similarity between the Minister’s answer today, quoting the full content of the letter, and the statements made by the Prime Minister yesterday—

Hon Dr Michael CullenHon Dr Michael Cullen: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. You have just ruled on this. The Minister told you he was not quoting the letter—[Interruption]

Mr SPEAKER: I will expel somebody in a minute.

Hon Dr Michael Cullen: Thank you Mr Speaker. And the member asking the question now says the Minister quoted the full contents of the letter. The Minister has not “quoted” the full contents. Giving the full contents of the letter was to summarise, not to actually read it out word for word.

Mr SPEAKER: Right. That is absolutely correct. Would the member now correct his question?

Hon Bill English: OK. Given the similarity between his answer today, paraphrasing the content of the copied text of the original letter, and very similar words used by the Prime Minister yesterday, in answer to questions, should the House assume the Prime Minister had seen that written text yesterday, when she answered questions in this House as if she had seen no text?

Hon PHIL GOFF: The member would be absolutely wrong to assume that.

Hon Bill English: Why should we believe you?

Mr SPEAKER: The member not only brings me into the debate, he is also interjecting in a way that is out of order. He will stand, withdraw, and apologise.

Hon Bill English: I withdraw and apologise, Mr Speaker.

Hon PHIL GOFF: If I remind the House that yesterday the Prime Minister told us that she had instructed the ambassador in Washington to convey her concerns and apologies to the administration, the ambassador faithfully did that. He conveyed it in writing. Neither the Prime Minister nor I had, at the time the House met yesterday, seen that letter. I have now seen that letter, and I can confirm that the ambassador faithfully carried out the instructions given to him by the Prime Minister.

David Benson-Pope: Has the Prime Minister seen a copy of Ambassador Wood’s letter?

Hon PHIL GOFF: Yes, I showed it to her last night. That was the first occasion on which she saw that letter.

Peter Brown: What good reason has the Minister for quoting from the full content of the letter, yet not tabling the letter?

Hon PHIL GOFF: As I indicated in my answer to that member’s question, it has not ever been the tradition of the Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade to table diplomatic letters.

Rodney Hide: In light of the fact that the offensive comments made by the Prime Minister were made very public, how serious can the American administration and American people—and, indeed, the New Zealand people—believe this apology from the Prime Minister of New Zealand to be, when the apology itself is not public?

Hon PHIL GOFF: I have to say that the apology both in this country and probably in the United States is far more public than the original comment.

Keith Locke: Does the Minister agree with Bill English’s approach that we should grovel to George Bush on this matter and support—

Mr SPEAKER: No, no. I would like the member to rephrase the question and perhaps use more felicitous comments.

Hon Dr Michael Cullen: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. You have already expelled one member on this side for interjecting; you have ruled already that people should not interject in question time. The Leader of the Opposition and at least three other members of the Opposition interjected right at the beginning of that question. I suggest to you that if you want order maintained on this side of the House, some of these rulings will have to be equally applied.

Mr SPEAKER: I like to think I do that. I always say that I think the Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition are people I do not want to have to ask to leave the Chamber. I do not want to have to do that. But that then does imply a certain restriction on their behaviour. I would ask them to reserve that. As far as any other member is concerned, I have only to hear one more comment and that member goes.

Hon Dr Michael Cullen: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I take this to mean that the Opposition member can interject whenever he likes. Given both the rulings given yesterday and today, I understand that as long as Opposition members all barrack and yell together, they can do that during Points of Order

Mr SPEAKER: No. The member cannot take that to mean that at all.

Hon Richard Prebble: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Those remarks of the Leader of the House are deeply discourteous to the Chair. Dr Cullen should be asked to withdraw and apologise for them, because he is saying to the House that you are not even-handed.

Mr SPEAKER: I think I am even-handed, and there would be very few people in this House who would think otherwise.

Keith Locke: Does the Minister agree with Bill English’s approach, which is that we should totally concede to George Bush on this matter and support a war of conquest, regardless of the death and devastation it causes—

Dr Wayne Mapp: It is not an occupation.

Mr SPEAKER: Mr Mapp will now leave the Chamber.

Dr Wayne Mapp withdrew from the Chamber.

Hon Richard Prebble: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I cannot see how that question could be answered by the Minister, without the Minister taking ministerial responsibility for the Opposition, which is not something the Opposition has asked him to do. It is quite clear that that is not an accurate description of the National Party’s policy, so how can he answer it? If facts are contained in questions they are supposed to be accurate, but the member cannot authenticate the facts he raised.

Mr SPEAKER: Let me put it this way. I will listen to the full question. I agree with the member that if there is no ministerial responsibility, then there will be no reply. I have not heard the full question, and I ask the member to please start again.

Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The debating chamber will be empty if that member continues to make assertions about our party and our party’s position. The debating chamber will be empty because you will have to empty it. We will not sit quietly by and allow the member on his feet to have the silence of the House while he casts all sorts of insults over other members here.

Mr SPEAKER: Of course the member has that right, and he can raise a point of order if he wants to take objection—that is not denied him at all, but interjecting during a question is. There is a way to deal with it, and that is by taking a point of order. I caution the member on his feet that he must ask a question of the Government that relates to ministerial responsibility.

Dr the Hon Lockwood Smith: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. When a point of order was raised about whether that question was within the Standing Orders, you invited the questioner to repeat the question. That is hardly inviting order in the Chamber.

Mr SPEAKER: No. I had not heard the full import of the question, and I want to hear the question now.

Keith Locke: Does the Minister agree with Bill English’s approach to totally concede to George Bush on this matter—

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

Mr SPEAKER: No. That is too wide. The member will now ask a specific question that can be authenticated, and this is his last chance to do so.

Keith Locke: Does the Minister agree with Bill English’s approach—

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

Mr SPEAKER: No. So far the member has not said anything that is out of order. He will be out of order only if he misquotes the Leader of the Opposition.

Keith Locke: Does the Minister agree with Bill English’s approach that we should fully and completely apologise to George Bush on this matter, and does he support the approach of Bill English, which is that we should support this war of occupation, despite the devastation and destruction that it is causing?

Mr SPEAKER: That question is perfectly in order. I do not think it goes against what the Leader of the Opposition said in any way.

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

Mr SPEAKER: I warn Mr Brownlee that I am getting tired of this.

Gerry Brownlee: I am getting tired of listening to that man insult every member in this House and then get away with it.

Mr SPEAKER: The member did not insult every member of the House. I listened very carefully to that question, and I thought he quoted the Leader of the Opposition in a perfectly proper way, and I am sure the Leader of the Opposition would not disagree with that. If the Leader of the Opposition were to take a point of order on that, I would certainly intervene.

Hon Bill English: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I never described it as a war of occupation; the member is misquoting me.

Mr SPEAKER: Those words will be ruled out. The first part of the question can be briefly commented on.

Hon Peter Dunne: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Like most members, I have been observing this exchange for the last 2 days. I have noted that, although tempers are becoming frayed, you seem to have a particular aversion to Points of Order
from Mr Brownlee. I would suggest that, in the interests of fair play all-round, all members have a right to raise Points of Order
and to have them heard, as you keep saying—and that is regardless of the merits of the Points of Order
raised. In terms of lowering the temperature, I think it would be appropriate if that could be adhered to all-round.

Mr SPEAKER: I think the member has made a useful point. I am not perfect, and I will adjust my actions accordingly.

Dr the Hon Lockwood Smith: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Given that Ministers are meant to be questioned on matters for which they have responsibility, I think it would be reasonable for you to perhaps explain to the House whether the Minister has responsibility for whatever view the Leader of the Opposition might have.

Mr SPEAKER: No. The member asked for the Minister’s opinion on a statement made by the Leader of the Opposition. He is entitled to give that opinion.

Hon PHIL GOFF: I think that the Prime Minister’s decision to apologise because offence was taken was the appropriate one, and, not surprisingly to the House, I do agree with what Bill English has said about this, for example, his belief that the poll showed that National should not have taken a strong stand supporting the war in Iraq, and I will quote it—I am quoting it from the Press.

Mr SPEAKER: I ruled that part of the question out, and that comment should not have been made. The first part was all right.

Stephen Franks: Which course of action does the Minister consider would have better healed the injury to New Zealand’s interests with the United States: regret at being caught and causing offence with patently offensive comments about a matter of internal politics, or a simple withdrawal and apology; if it is the latter, why has it not been done?

Hon PHIL GOFF: I think it is quite clear that the Prime Minister has done just that.

Hon Bill English: In the light of the Minister’s comments that the letter he has seen and shown to the Prime Minister is the one written by John Wood in Washington, how does he explain the letter that arrived at the US Embassy in New Zealand; did that come from John Wood in Washington or was that written in the Beehive and sighted by the Prime Minister before it was sent?

Hon PHIL GOFF: I mentioned before, in answer to another supplementary question, that a similar letter was sent to the United States Ambassador in Wellington. That letter was, in fact, sent by Simon Murdoch, and it had not been sighted by the Prime Minister, to the best of my knowledge I seek leave to table an article from the Christchurch Press of 5 April headed “English reticent on war support”.

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

Questions for Oral Answer
Tertiary Education—Electronic Teaching

4. HELEN DUNCAN (NZ Labour to the Associate Minister of Education (Tertiary Education): How is he proposing to assist tertiary education organisations to realise the teaching potential of information and communication technologies?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY (Associate Minister of Education (Tertiary Education)): The Government has announced it will be making $37.8 million in targeted funds over the next 4 years to increase e-learning capability throughout the tertiary sector. A $28 million e-learning collaborative development fund will be used to fund capital projects to support a wide take-up of technology-based learning tools. The Tertiary Education Commission will be calling for applications from tertiary institutions within the next few months. A further $9.8 million will be used to enable the sector to develop e-learning capability to create a tertiary e-learning portal.

Helen Duncan: Can the Minister tell the House what difference these initiatives will make to tertiary education learning?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: E-learning will not only allow institutions and other providers to provide innovative learning tools, it will also promote learners’ familiarity with these new technologies. It is also vital to realise a genuine system of life-long learning can be promoted by learning in the workplace, in the home, in the community, and on the marae, which can only be done through e-learning. We have for instance had a broad range of new learning opportunities with experiments over the last little while with CD-ROM packages for the plumbers’ industry training organisation learning safe working practices. We have also been doing some very interesting work with the seafood industry using e-learning.

Hon Brian Donnelly: Will access to those funds, both capital and operational, be made available to all tertiary institutions; if not, what institutions will be excluded?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: The funds will be available to all institutions that are currently accessing public funding. I would point out—because people may not be aware of that kind of institution—that industry training organisations, for example—

Hon Brian Donnelly: And PTEs?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: —and private training establishments will also be able to access those funds.

Question No. 5 to Minister

Hon BILL ENGLISH (Leader of the Opposition): This question was put down to be asked of the Prime Minister, and I seek leave to ask it of the Prime Minister.

Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought. Is there any objection? There is. Please ask the question.

Questions for Oral Answer
Iraq—New Zealand Assistance

5. Hon BILL ENGLISH (Leader of the Opposition) to the Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade: Has New Zealand given a clear undertaking to the United States to assist in post-war reconstruction in Iraq as reported in the media; if so, what support has been pledged by the Government?

Hon PHIL GOFF (Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade): Yes. I made clear some time ago New Zealand’s humanitarian commitment to assist Iraq’s recovery and reconstruction following the war. I personally advised the Australian High Commissioner, the British High Commissioner, and the American Ambassador of our commitment to assist, and of the initial form of that assistance. At the same time, I outlined to the House New Zealand’s intention to provide both immediate and post-conflict assistance to Iraq.

Hon Bill English: Has the Minister seen reports by the Prime Minister that she may commit New Zealand’s mine-sweeping capacity, and has he also seen reports that that was part of the deal with the US to try to make up for the gaffe over the remarks about the Al Gore presidency?

Hon PHIL GOFF: I have seen the Prime Minister’s comments with regard to the potential assistance that New Zealand can give in clearing mines. As I recall, those comments were made quite some time ago, and had absolutely nothing to with the current controversy.

Martin Gallagher: What, if any, steps has the Government taken to offer assistance; again, can the Minister give us details about the mine-clearance operation, and the precise form that that particular assistance would take?

Hon PHIL GOFF: New Zealand has been in contact with the United Nations Mine Action Service, which has a high regard for New Zealand’s professional capacities in that area, and which has stressed to us the enormous need that exists for mine clearance, given the risks to human safety from the extensive minefields in Iraq. It is likely that New Zealand would be able to establish and manage a de-mining programme, providing technical advisers and trainers if requested by the United Nations Mine Action Service.

Peter Brown: When can we expect New Zealand to get actively involved; will it be soon or will we wait for the last bullet in the war to be fired?

Hon PHIL GOFF: It is better than soon. We are already actively involved. New Zealand has already spent $3.3 million providing assistance through a range of UN agencies and humanitarian organisations like the International Committee of the Red Cross.

Hon Ken Shirley: When the National Security Council called for an apology from the Prime Minister of New Zealand, did it also seek assurances of New Zealand’s assistance to the post-conflict reconstruction programme, and was that offer of assistance included in the formal letter of apology; yes or no?

Hon PHIL GOFF: Let me first correct the member. The National Security Council in the United States has never called for an apology from the Prime Minister. The answer to the second part of the question is that it did not. The letter was as I outlined to the House—neither more nor less than that.

Hon Peter Dunne: What indication has the Minister had from the United States, and any other Government, that New Zealand’s offers of assistance will, in fact, be accepted?

Hon PHIL GOFF: I know that the two high commissioners and the ambassador whom I have spoken to all very much welcomed the commitment that New Zealand has already made, and that the countries they represent are very keen that New Zealand make further commitments in the post-conflict era, as winning the peace may be somewhat harder than winning the war unless the countries of the world come together and provide that assistance to the people of Iraq, who have suffered over a long period of time.

Hon Bill English: Which of Helen Clark’s three policies on the US involvement in the Iraqi war does the Minister support: keeping quiet while opposing the war; putting the boot in as soon as there is some bad news about the war; or, now, crawling to meet every demand of the US in order to cover up the damage to our national interests?

Hon PHIL GOFF: The member is wrong on every front. The Prime Minister and this Government have taken a remarkably clear, consistent, and principled stand—that is, first, that we wanted any action that might be taken to have a multilateral UN mandate; secondly, that force is an ultimate sanction that should be used only after every other option is exhausted; and, thirdly, that as a humanitarian nation we have a commitment to do what we can to assist the people who have suffered both before the war and as a consequence of the war.

Questions for Oral Answer
Schools—Staffing

6. MARK PECK (NZ Labour—Invercargill) to the Minister of Education: What reports has he received on the status of school staffing at the beginning of this year?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD (Minister of Education): The Ministry of Education’s staffing survey shows that nearly 43 percent of secondary schools and 11 percent of primary schools began the year with vacancies. The increase is consistent with predicted roll growth, and, in the secondary sector, is partly due to the increased number of teaching positions in schools this year as a result of changes announced in the Budget last year. The situation is exacerbated by the need for around 750 teachers to teach more than 10,000 foreign fee-paying students currently in secondary schools. The survey shows, however, that the schools managed the vacancies mainly by employing trained relief staff.

Mark Peck: What steps has the Government taken to address secondary teacher supply?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: We have taken a comprehensive range of initiatives, some of which were already in place, and some of which are to be announced. We are targeting subjects where shortages of teachers have been identified for training allowances worth up to $10,000 each. They are for maths, physics, chemistry, te reo Mâori, and information technology. We have conversion courses to enable primary teachers with degree qualifications to get full pay while they train to teach in secondary schools, and so far 50 New Zealand – trained secondary teachers have received $5,000 to come back from overseas.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: How can the Minister claim that the Government is managing the issue when there are schools like Rangitahi College that now, at the end of term 1, have no head of department science, no head of department mathematics, no head of department Mâori, no head of department physical education, and no head of department technology, and, despite the Minister knowing about that at that school over a month ago, why has he done absolutely nothing to fix it?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: One of the problems that occurs when this House makes a decision to put 373 extra secondary teachers into schools is that they tend to get sucked into the more popular schools, and some of the outlying, low-decile, and rural schools have their shortages exacerbated.

Hon Brian Donnelly: Would the Minister tell the headmaster of a popular single-sex Auckland school who told the select committee this morning that for a recent position at his school, 60 people applied, 57 of whom had Third World nation qualifications, that everything is hunky-dory in the area of teacher supply?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: Certainly not.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: I seek the leave of the House to table a letter from Rangitahi College pointing out that there are six departments in which they have no—

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

Questions for Oral Answer
Genetically Engineered Sweetcorn—Accidental Release

7. Hon Dr NICK SMITH (NZ National—Nelson) to the Prime Minister: Does she stand by her statement, regarding the allegation her Government had covered up an accidental release of genetically engineered sweetcorn, “I’m very happy for a select committee to have every file and interrogate every official, because I believe a policy of total disclosure is warranted.”?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK (Prime Minister): Yes, subject of course to the normal Official Information Act exclusions covering, for example, commercially sensitive material.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: Was it consistent with her policy of total “disclosure” for her senior member of the select committee and the deputy chairperson of the committee, Mr David Cunliffe, who played a pivotal role in narrowing the terms of reference, moved motions limiting the role of the committee’s technical adviser, and stopped further testing of the corn, not to have disclosed to the committee that his wife Karen Price acted as senior counsel for Pacific Seeds, a related company to Zagenta, which he says on her own website: “In the GM maize contamination case.”?

Mr SPEAKER: The Prime Minister is not responsible for the wife of another member, but I want to ask the member one question. When this information was presented to the select committee was the committee in public hearing?

Hon Dr Nick Smith: No.

Mr SPEAKER: Until the committee reports back it is out of order.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. My question is: was it consistent with the Prime Minister’s policy of total disclosure for her senior member of the select committee not to have disclosed such an interest?

Mr SPEAKER: No, the member has then referred to a motion moved at the select committee, and he cannot do that.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: I will rephrase the question.

Mr SPEAKER: The member may rephrase the question.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: Was it consistent with the Prime Minister’s policy of total disclosure for Mr David Cunliffe not to have disclosed a very clear conflict of interest with his wife, Karen Price?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: My advice is that, indeed, there was not a clear conflict, but that Mr Cunliffe himself felt because his wife had acted for another firm in another case, which involved a genetic modification issue, that in order to avoid any perception of a potential conflict of interest he should remove himself from that committee not only for this inquiry but also permanently. In doing that he has acted well beyond what was required.

Hon Ken Shirley: Does the Prime Minister consider it appropriate for the then deputy chair of the select committee, David Cunliffe, to be the Government’s representative in negotiating the terms of reference for the select committee inquiry without disclosing to the company that his wife, Karen Price, boasts on her website that she is the solicitor representing the companies involved in the inquiry, including a company that holds and owns 80 percent of Nautilus, the company subject to the inquiry?

Mr SPEAKER: The difficulty we have here is that the Prime Minister is not responsible for Mr Cunliffe’s actions. He is a member of Parliament and not a Minister.

Hon Richard Prebble: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. You are absolutely right. Mr Cunliffe is not a Minister. However, my understanding is that this is a case where the ministry as a whole has asked a Labour member of Parliament to negotiate the terms of reference. The Prime Minister was quite prepared to answer a question about the terms of reference. Now that we know about the conflict of interest it is in the public interest that this question ought to be answered.

Mr SPEAKER: The member has made the point, and he is absolutely accurate. The way he suggested the question should have been asked was the way it should have been asked, and not the way it was asked. I would like to give Mr Shirley the opportunity to rephrase his question.

Hon Ken Shirley: In the light of the fact that Mr Cunliffe was this ministry’s negotiator for the terms of inquiry of that select committee, does the Prime Minister consider it appropriate that the non disclosure of potential conflict of interest was made to the committee prior to determining those terms of reference, and is that the reason Mr Cunliffe was hurriedly removed from that committee a few weeks ago?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: Of course a Government member of a select committee does not represent the ministry, as has been alleged. When Mr Cunliffe realised that some people might see a conflict of interest, he undertook to withdraw from the committee, and I believe he acted properly—even though it is not clear that there is an actual conflict of interest.

Larry Baldock: Has the Prime Minister received any advice about whether there is any scientific merit at all in carrying out further testing of the sweetcorn in question; and what are the implications of that for what she meant by a policy of total disclosure?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: No, I have not received any advice on that, and I have some concern that matters being raised in the course of this question are really matters of privilege before a committee inquiry at the moment.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: Noting the Prime Minister’s very specific commitment, pre-election, that the select committee would have a policy of total disclosure, I ask why the committee was told that Mr Cunliffe resigned because of workload reasons, whereas Dr Cullen told the Independent that the resignation was because of concerns about conflict of interest; and how does that show that the member acted with any integrity?

Mr SPEAKER: The first part of the question can be answered, but not the second part.

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I repeat my concern that things are being stated in this House that are being quoted purportedly out of the privileged proceedings of a select committee, and I can offer no comment on what went on within a select committee. That is a matter for a report to the House at the appropriate time.

Jeanette Fitzsimons: In the light of the Prime Minister’s commitment to total disclosure, and given the requirement in the select committee’s terms of reference that the committee inquire into compliance with the Hazardous Substances and New Organisms Act and relevant regulations, will the Prime Minister encourage her colleague the Minister for the Environment to provide the committee with the legal advice given to the ministry in connection with the Novartis corn incident?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: Again, I am being asked to rule on something that a select committee is discussing. I have said from the outset that the Government has nothing to hide. I expect full cooperation. I say further, on the record, that in the course of preparing for the question today, it came to my attention that the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet had withheld a couple of paragraphs. I have ordered that those paragraphs be released to the committee, in the interests of full disclosure.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: I seek leave of the House to table the website curriculum vitae of Karen Price, in which it says that she acted for a variety of corporate clients with biotechnology interests—

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

Hon Bill English: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I heard a number of threatening comments made by members of the Government as Nick Smith sat down. Government members know, as Opposition members know, that it is not appropriate for MPs to make threats to other MPs because of the content of questions or answers.

Hon Mark BurtonHon Mark Burton16: I am the only person I am aware of who made comments. I made an interjection but I can assure the member it was not a threat. I simply made a statement of fact. Certainly, the interjection was out of order, and I withdraw and apologise.

Hon Bill English: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The Minister of Finance and the Prime Minister also made threats across the House.

Hon Dr Michael Cullen: I made an observation.

Mr SPEAKER: The member said he made a statement. That must be accepted.

Hon Bill English: The Leader of the House has now compounded his error. He made a threat to MPs. He has now decided to compound that by saying it was an observation, not a threat, and I believe he should be prevented from making threats. That is the rule of the House.

Mr SPEAKER: Yes, of course it is. I want to say to all members that when we are talking about family relationships and that type of thing, I have always thought that, in all cases—and I can say this as a person who is not married—there is a line beyond which I hope no member goes. In that case, people end up with something happening that should not occur. I say, as a general comment to the House, that I do not like the bringing of those sorts of comments into this Chamber.

Hon Bill English: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I know you meant those comments in the best light, but they can only be construed as defending the position that the Prime Minister and Minister of Finance took in making their threats across the House. The fact is that a member has made public statements that he resigned because of a conflict of interest. Every MP has a right to raise such a matter in the House. It was a public statement made by the MP about the role his spouse may have played. I do not believe that it is within your power to make comments that back threats made by senior Government members.

Mr SPEAKER: I did not do that. I said that no one should be making any comments at all, and I meant that to apply to everybody.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I want to make it absolutely plain to this House that in terms of raising this issue I reflected very carefully on the point that you have made. But I say that Karen Price’s involvement is not in question. What is in question is the conduct of the member of this House in not declaring a conflict of interest.

Mr SPEAKER: Let me say that that is really a personal explanation, but the member has made his point.

Hon Bill English: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I am dissatisfied with the position you have left us, with your remarks about spouses. The remarks could not possibly have been other than directed at the member who asked the question that you ruled in order. They were comments made following threats made by the Prime Minister and the Minister of Finance across the House. I ask you to reconsider those statements. Anyone listening to what you have said could easily draw the conclusion that you regarded the matter of the question as inappropriate. As Speaker, you have the capacity to rule this question out of order if you do not believe it should be asked.

Mr SPEAKER: I did not rule the question out of order, because I did not think that the Hon Dr Nick Smith’s question was out of order. He is perfectly entitled to ask it. I never said otherwise at all.

Hon Richard Prebble: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I have not been involved with this matter. I did not hear any of the observations, but I make this comment to you. We are told by the Leader of the Opposition that he believes that at least one member of Parliament—and maybe others—has been threatened. We are told by Dr Cullen that no, his remark was just an observation. I think we need to find out whether there really was a threat. An observation could be: “What comes around, comes around.” I would say that that is actually a threat in this context. I do not know what Dr Cullen did say, but I am now in a situation where we have senior members of the House saying that there have been threats—which are clearly out of order—and another person saying that what he said was just an observation. I think we have got to the point where we have to ask Dr Cullen what he said, and then you have to rule on whether it was a threat. If it could be interpreted as a threat—and it has been by MPs—he should be required to withdraw and apologise for it.

Hon Dr Michael Cullen: No, I have declined to repeat the observation, though I invite the Leader of the Opposition to state what he thought I said.

Mr SPEAKER: No member should have made any comment at all, by way of interjection, whether or not a threat or an observation. That is where the matter rests. The member—

Opposition memberOpposition member: What did the member say?

Mr SPEAKER: I did not hear the comment myself, but I sort of guessed, and I know that once one starts along this path—and I have been in this House long enough to know—there are times when problems are created. I say again that it in no way reflects on the Hon Nick Smith.

Questions for Oral Answer
Tranz Rail—Rail Network

8. PETER BROWN (Deputy Leader—NZ First) to the Minister of Finance: Noting that Tranz Rail’s share price has dived, which could lead to it being bought and sold piecemeal, is he contemplating ensuring the rail network survives as one entity; if not, why not?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Minister of Finance): The Government’s interest is in rail contributing to its overall land transport strategy. Unified ownership of the present assets is not essential to that objective.

Peter Brown: Does that mean the Minister would be quite happy if part of the rail was sold off here, part sold off there, and that it ended up in multiple ownership?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Yes.

John Key: What instructions has the Minister issued to Treasury regarding the many secret meetings they have held in recent months with Tranz Rail’s management, and can he confirm the reasons that all proposals to spend the $30 million allocated to Transfund in the alternatives to roading scheme have indeed been stonewalled by him to ensure Cabinet had the resources to buy back the tracks, once Treasury reports back to him in a month?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: On the latter part, no. On the former part, in fact very few meetings were held with Tranz Rail in recent months.

Peter Brown: Is the Minister aware there are planned meetings between senior Ministers and union officials in the near future to discuss some of the concerns about Tranz Rail being sold piecemeal; if so, what reassurances are the Ministers going to give to those union officials?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: No, I am not aware, as a relatively senior Minister, that these meetings are going to be held. But I point out to him there is absolutely no reason, for example, why one company should not own the freight operation and another company own the urban passenger operation.

Jeanette Fitzsimons: Given the widespread support for a strong national rail network why has the Government not sought to purchase Tranz Rail from institutional shareholders, and, if necessary, obtaining an exemption from the Takeovers Code, as it legally can, in order to avoid driving up the share price?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: As I said in a speech at the weekend, it can be no part of the Government’s objective to prop up the asset values of any private company, particularly one that is the beneficiary of a self-privatisation deal.

Questions for Oral Answer
Iraq—Apology to the United States

9. Hon KEN SHIRLEY (Deputy Leader—ACT NZ) to the Prime Minister: Was her formal prime ministerial apology conveyed to the United States last week unprecedented for New Zealand; if not, what knowledge does she have of any previous prime ministerial apologies to the United States?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK (Prime Minister): As diplomatic exchanges are usually kept confidential, I do not know what other apologies or expressions of regret may have been conveyed, although given one of the personalities involved, I think it is unlikely one was.

Hon Ken Shirley: In the light of her response, how does she explain her statement to the House earlier today when she said that Prime Minister Muldoon refused to apologise for his “peanut farmer” comment?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I would be extraordinarily surprised if he did.

Hon Bill English: Does the Prime Minister stand by her comment that her statements were detached and perfectly reasonable comments in their context; if so, does she agree with the description of her, by the Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade, as a “foreign affairs commentator”?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: As I said earlier, my comments in their context were matters of opinion, which have been misinterpreted.

Hon Bill English: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I asked the Prime Minister whether she stood by her statement that her comments were detached and perfectly reasonable comments in their context. It is a direct question, which she has an obligation to answer.

Mr SPEAKER: No, she addressed the question.

Hon Ken Shirley: Has she denied that the New Zealand Ambassador in Washington was called in by the State Department; if so, does she accept that such an denial is misleading, because in fact our ambassador was called in by the US administration; he was called in by the National Security Council, which is based in the White House and chaired by the President?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: My statement that he was not called in by the State Department is absolutely correct.

Questions for Oral Answer
Residential Care—Security

10. DARREN HUGHES (NZ Labour—Otaki) to the Minister for Senior Citizens: What is the Government doing to improve the security of older people in residential care?

Hon RUTH DYSON (Minister for Senior Citizens): Last week I had pleasure in announcing that the Government will progressively remove asset testing of older people in long-term residential care. It will mean that single people, for example, will be able to keep up to $150,000 in assets before their assets are used to contribute to the cost of their care. That is 10 times the current threshold.

Darren Hughes: What funding is the Government committing to remove the asset testing from people in residential care?

Hon RUTH DYSON: The Government will be spending over $100 million in year 1. That is over $100 million more than National was prepared to spend, because in 1998 Bill English reneged on an election promise to remove asset testing, and then in the lead-up to the 2002 election he said he had no plans to change that __________

John Carter: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The Minister is bringing the Opposition into the answer, and there is no necessity for her to do so. She can answer the question, and she should stick to the facts.

Mr SPEAKER: Let me say that I have been here for 37 years, and if politics were not brought into answers, I do not know whether we would ever have a question time. In this case, I thought that the Minister’s comments were bringing the other party into it; but there is a chance for further supplementary questions.

Sandra Goudie: Why is the Minister continuing to claim that the Government is removing asset testing, when in fact nothing is to happen until the year 2005, and even then the asset threshold is to be raised merely by a fraction year by year?

Hon RUTH DYSON: The statements I have made in relation to the Government’s decision accurately reflect our action.

Barbara Stewart: What is the Government doing to improve the security of older people who are now unable to go into residential care because of the Government’s failure to remove asset testing, as promised in the last two elections.

Hon RUTH DYSON: Unlike that member, whose party refused to implement even its coalition agreement promise, we have said that by 1 July 2005 we will begin the removal of asset testing.

Questions for Oral Answer
Painted Apple Moth—Eradication

11. IAN EWEN-STREET (Green) to the Minister for Biosecurity: Can he confirm the statement by the director of the painted apple moth eradication project in Auckland that “MAF’s project team expects to wind up large-scale activities by the end of April”; if so, when does he expect that the moth will finally be eradicated?

Hon JIM SUTTON (Minister for Biosecurity): I can confirm that we are reviewing the programme at the moment, and this will be presented to Cabinet in May. I am hopeful that the moth finally will be eradicated, but I cannot predict a date.

Ian Ewen-Street: Now that spray programmes have been conducted and planned for the eradication of the white spotted tussock moth in east Auckland, the painted apple moth in west Auckland, the gum leaf skeletoniser moth in south Auckland, the Asian gypsy moth in Hamilton, and the Guava moth in Whangarei, can the Minister give some indication of how many cities the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry intends to blanket spray with poison before he institutes a 100 percent container decontamination regime?

Hon JIM SUTTON: I do not intend to poison any New Zealand cities, and have done nothing so far to poison even the first one. I have already given a commitment that sea container biosecurity will be tackled this year. The member will be well aware that proposals for additional measures in this respect have been circulated to stakeholders for comment, but I advise him that this will not be a silver-bullet solution. We cannot stop all trade, nor can we put a big dome over the country; some incursions will always occur.

Clayton Cosgrove: Is the Minister satisfied that the painted apple moth eradication project is working; if so, why?

Hon JIM SUTTON: Yes, I am satisfied. It is a complicated project, but I am confident that eradication is on track. The area being sprayed is reducing as the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry receive data that show where no moths are present. I hope that during the remaining scope of this programme the moth will be successfully eradicated.

Shane Ardern: With the fiscal cost of eradication in Auckland now exceeding $90 million and the amount being spent on surveillance still being only around $20 million, when will the Minister take seriously the number of incursions we are now getting and start putting some real horsepower into the inspection regime?

Hon JIM SUTTON: That question is a bit rich coming from a member of a party that when in Government passed legislation for instant fines for biosecurity breaches but did not have the nerve to introduce them and which knew about significant holes in our biosecurity system, including the one that the painted apple moth got through during its term of office, and did nothing about them.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Is it now acceptable in an answer to a question for a Minister to give a 2-minute tirade solely on what occurred prior to 1999?

Mr SPEAKER: No, it is not, and the Minister did not speak for 2 minutes; it was about 30 seconds.

Larry Baldock: Has the Minister been surprised at the results of the New Zealand Educational Institute survey conducted through west Auckland schools, and is he giving instructions that the results of that survey will be included in the wrap-up survey and the Ministry of Health’s inspection into the whole programme?

Hon JIM SUTTON: I am waiting for the independent survey by the Ministry of Health, and I leave it to the ministry as to whether the New Zealand Educational Institute submission is part of its consideration.

Ian Ewen-Street: Does the Minister believe that the health concerns of west Aucklanders are just a temporary inconvenience for the good of the country, as he has been reported as saying; if so, when will be agree to personally meet, and listen to the pleas of, the residents whose physical and psychological health has been strained to breaking point?

Hon JIM SUTTON: Of course I and my colleagues take the concerns of west Aucklanders entirely seriously. Nevertheless, I do believe it is a temporary inconvenience that people are enduring for the good of the country.

Ian Ewen-Street: Given that the present reduction in painted apple moth numbers still represents a huge increase in the total number of moths from 4 years ago, how is the Minister intending to make the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry accountable for its incompetent bungling of this eradication programme so that it does not happen again?

Hon JIM SUTTON: If the member could have the advantages of hindsight before things went wrong, I am sure he would be a Minister himself.

Larry Baldock: In the light of the cost of the painted apple moth spray programme and the cost of potential future campaigns, will the Minister consider spending the amount needed to inspect every container, or at least every high-risk container that reaches our shores?

Hon JIM SUTTON: The member will be aware that a draft import health standard for sea containers from all countries has been released for consultation, with comments due from stakeholders by 28 April. If I were to read out a summary of the proposal it would probably go a bit long, so I will take your guidance on that, Mr Speaker.

Mr SPEAKER: Perhaps the member could table the document.

Document laid on the Table of the House.

Questions for Oral Answer
Business—Competition

12. GORDON COPELAND (United Future) to the Minister of Commerce: Does she agree with Tim Hazeldine’s statement in the Independent on 2 April 2003 that the “deep seated presumption” driving our competition policy is that “competition is good and monopoly is bad,” and that “the burden of proof must lie with those who would find market failure in competition and seek to remedy this through monopoly or cartelisation”?

Hon LIANNE DALZIEL (Minister of Commerce): No. I refer the member to the purpose of the Commerce Act, which is to promote competition in markets, for the long-term benefit of consumers within New Zealand. This means that under the Act practices that would have the effect of substantially lessening competition cannot be undertaken unless authorised on the basis that the resulting benefit to the public outweighs the lessening of competition. In such a case, the applicant for the authorisation has the burden of proof.

Gordon Copeland: Can the Minister explain why the Commerce Commission allowed Air New Zealand and Qantas consultants Network Economics Consulting Group to delete key data from the public version of its submission to the Commerce Commission, making independent analysis by Tim Hazledine and others of the airlines’ proposal “unnecessarily difficult and imprecise”?

Hon LIANNE DALZIEL: No, I cannot explain why the Commerce Commission made a particular decision in a particular case, although I am advised that under the Commerce Act the commission is permitted to provide for the withholding of certain information on the grounds of commercial sensitivity. Withholding information, I am also advised, can be challenged by other parties through a process of judicial review.

H V Ross Robertson: What role does the Minister have under the Commerce Act in respect of authorisations and clearances for restrictive trade practices?

Hon LIANNE DALZIEL: None, other than the power to transmit a Government statement of economic policy to the commission, which I have not done in this case.

John Key: Can the Minister assure the House that she will not propose enabling legislation to allow the Air New Zealand – Qantas deal to go ahead when it finally gets canned by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission and the New Zealand Commerce Commission tomorrow?

Hon LIANNE DALZIEL: I think the member is attempting to speculate on a matter that we will know a good deal more about tomorrow.

Gordon Copeland: Is the Minister concerned that the Travel Agents Association of New Zealand opposed the proposed Qantas – Air New Zealand operation because it removes all effective competition and replaces it with a joint airline operation that will have market dominance and will mean consumers will have none of the benefits of choice, or the honesty and effectiveness that choice brings to any market?

Hon LIANNE DALZIEL: I have already made it clear in one of my supplementary answers that I have no role under the Commerce Act in respect of this matter, other than the power to transmit a Government statement, something I have not done in this case and will not be doing.

Questions to Members


Questions to Members
Genetically Engineered Sweetcorn—Accidental Release

1. Hon Dr NICK SMITH (NZ National—Nelson) to the Chairperson of the Local Government and Environment Committee: Has a meeting of the Local Government and Environment Committee been set to consider its inquiry into the alleged accidental release of genetically engineered sweetcorn plants in 2000 and the subsequent action taken?

JEANETTE FITZSIMONS (Chairperson of the Local Government and Environment Committee): The committee has a scheduled meeting tomorrow morning, at which this issue will be considered. We will be meeting with the adviser.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: Has any conflict of interest been declared by any member of the committee in respect of this inquiry?

JEANETTE FITZSIMONS: In respect of this inquiry, no.

Questions to Members
Immigration—English Language Tests

2. Hon RICHARD PREBBLE (Leader—ACT NZ) to the Chairperson of the Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Committee: Has a committee meeting been set to consider the petition of Kenneth Wang and others, requesting a review of the new English language immigration tests; if not, why not?

Hon PETER DUNNE (Chairperson of the Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Committee): The committee currently has some 46 petitions before it. It will be meeting in the very near future to consider its course of action in respect of all of them.

Hon Richard Prebble: Can the chairman assure the House that when looking at this petition it will take notice of the fact that, firstly, it is an urgent issue and, secondly, I understand that more than 25 percent of the total Chinese population of New Zealand has signed the petition, which would be the equivalent of a general petition turning up here of 750,000 names; will the committee take that into account, or does it not care about Chinese opinion?

Hon PETER DUNNE: In considering each and all of the 46 petitions before us, all relevant facts will be taken into account.

Dr Paul Hutchison168Dr Paul Hutchison: Why does the committee not consider the petition on an urgent basis, since there is another petition, by Jackie Orr and others, in front of the committee, relating to the new English language immigration test?

Hon PETER DUNNE: There are a number of petitions before the committee, all of whom would plead urgency with regard to their particular case. As I indicated in my original answer, in the very near future we will be meeting to consider each of those.

End of Questions for Oral Answer


(uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing)


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