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Questions Of The Day Transcript - 6 May 2003

(uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing)


Questions for Oral Answer

Questions to Ministers
1. Prime Minister—Reported Comments
2. Economy—Fiscal and Monetary Policy Management
3. Energy, Minister—Confidence
4. Broadcasting—Music Local Content
5. Electricity—Domestic Pricing
6. OECD Ranking—Regulations
7. Health Services—Rural
8. Electricity—Lake Levels
9. Films, Videos, and Publications Classification Act—Objectionable Material
10. Home Detention—Reoffending
11. Dobson Hydro Dam—Ecology
12. Laboratory Services—District Health Boards

Questions to Members
1. Scampi Fishery—Inquiry
2. Immigration—English Language Tests

Questions for Oral Answer

Prime Minister—Reported Comments

1. Hon BILL ENGLISH (Leader of the Opposition) to the Prime Minister: What did she mean when she said “What everyone’s looking at is whether there is going to be a Franco/German/Russia linkup with good links through to the Chinese against what we have which looks like a small Anglo/American group—it shifts the whole dynamic”?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK (Prime Minister): Speaking on 2 April, before going to Europe, I was referring to the debate within Europe and the way in which international opinion among key players appeared to be divided at that time.

Hon Bill English: In the light of her apparent view of the smallness of the Anglo-American group, her view that the whole dynamic is shifting, and a steady stream of comments that have been critical of Australia, Britain, and America, is she setting a new direction for New Zealand foreign policy; or, if not, what are these comments evidence of?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: It is perfectly clear that when push came to shove at the Security Council, the US-UK view commanded four votes and the other view presumably commanded 11. In that sense, the comment was entirely accurate. I do not think I could ever be accused of attacking allies in the way the Leader of the Opposition did when he said that Australians had a good history of marginal criminal behaviour.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Could I ask the Prime Minister whether she thinks her recent comments on the progress of the Iraq war, the likely actions of a Gore presidency should he have won, and the law of the jungle, or the equivalent that could be anticipated from those words, as reported in the Guardian, are helpful to New Zealand; if not, will she keep quiet on those matters rather than trying to pose as some sort of Antipodes’ Metternich?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: What I found in the United Kingdom is that they thoroughly understand democracy, sovereignty, and the right to dissent, unlike an Opposition that knows only how to tug its forelock.

John Carter: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. That is a breach of Standing Order 372. The last part is unnecessary and breaches the Standing Order. The Prime Minister, who does so regularly, should desist or be asked to desist.

Mr SPEAKER: The Prime Minister’s reply was brief and to the point. The comment made might well be outside the Standing Order, but, then, so are quite a lot of comments made in this House. If I were to pull up every single comment, I would have been calling up some parts of the question.

Hon Richard Prebble: When the Prime Minister says that what everyone is looking at is whether there is going to be a Franco, German, Russian link-up with good links through to the Chinese with what looks to be a small Anglo-American group, would she name—[Interruption] She said everyone. Well, let us start naming them—just one leader who is saying that, apart from her.

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: The comment was made on 2 April when it was quite clear what the division of international opinion between those players was.

Hon Richard Prebble: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. This is why question time is taking so long. We have a question, for which notice has been given, and I have quoted correctly to make sure that the Prime Minister has got it. She says “everyone” and I said: “Well, name one.” Now she says “2 April.” What does that have to do with it? I asked her to name just one leader who is saying that, apart from her.

Mr SPEAKER: The Prime Minister addressed the question. It might not have been satisfactory to the member, but that is the answer that was given.

Hon Richard Prebble: Would the Prime Minister, now that she has had more time, like to give it another go. When she says “Everyone”, I ask her to start naming them. Who are these people who she says are looking at whether there is going to be a Franco, German, Russian link-up with good links to the Chinese, against what we have, which looks like a small Anglo-American group? Please name these people.

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: It is perfectly clear to any student of the English language that everyone is used in a generic sense, as one may have used the term “people”.

Mr SPEAKER: Supplementary question, Keith Locke.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Could I ask the Prime Minister—

Mr SPEAKER: I have called Keith Locke.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Why did you call Mr Prebble last time?

Mr SPEAKER: Because I made a mistake.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: For the third time in 4 days, you have done this again. With respect, I have told you that my party did not intend to put up with it, and I want an explanation now.

Mr SPEAKER: I said I made a mistake.

Keith Locke: Does the Prime Minister think that because American forces have not found any weapons of mass destruction that the Anglo-American war was constructed on a lie and that New Zealand, France, Germany, and Russia were right in wanting to give the UN inspectors more time?

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

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: The answer to the primary question in that is no. I am one who has always accepted that the Iraqis had some kind of weapons of mass destruction programme. I do think, of course, that they had plenty of time to destroy evidence, and I would say do not jump to conclusions that there was no evidence.

Mr SPEAKER: Supplementary question, the Hon Bill English.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I see, Mr Speaker. Now it is back to seniority, is it? Well, I was here before him, and I will be here long after he is gone.

Mr SPEAKER: The call goes to the member who asked the original question, and the member knows it.

Hon Bill English: When she said: “Yes, the jungle, who wants to go back to the jungle?”, did she have in mind any action or decision of the Blair Government over the last 6 months that might have prompted her to make those comments?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I have said in this very House that the action of going to war without Security Council sanction created new and dangerous precedents. That is the reason the New Zealand Government stuck out very strongly for a UN Security Council decision-making process.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Given the Government’s position, as stated, that it thought it would be able to piggyback a free-trade agreement with the US on the back of Australia, does she think her recent comments have helped in any way that prospect, or does she realise now what immense damage she is doing to the long-term economic interests of this country?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: As that member also voted against an ACT motion in this House to commit New Zealand’s support to a war without Security Council resolution, I assume that he, too, would not want to link any actions New Zealand would take in respect of that war to a trade agreement. Can I say that whether the United States eventually signs a free-trade agreement with New Zealand will have a great deal to do with whether it sees it as being in its economic interests.

Hon Bill English: Now she has had further time to consider who “everyone” might be, when she said: “What everyone’s looking at is whether there is going to be a Franco-German-Russia link-up with good links through to the Chinese.”, does “everyone” include her, on New Zealand’s behalf?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: “Everyone” obviously does not include the Leader of the Opposition, who gives very little thought to what future line-ups might be. He would do his country a better service if he stopped behaving like a junior congressman from Dipton.

Mr SPEAKER: I would like the Prime Minister now to address the particular supplementary question that was asked by the Hon. Bill English.

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I think I was asked who “everyone” included. I said that it obviously did not include someone behaving like a junior congressman from Dipton.

Mr SPEAKER: I would like the Prime Minister to expand just a little on that particular question. [Interruption] We all know what the question was.

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: Obviously “everyone” does not include the Leader of the Opposition and his colleagues.

Hon Bill English: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. From the way the Prime Minister repeated the answer, it is clear she did not understand the question or had forgotten it. I am happy to repeat the question, to help her give the answer in the way that you have requested.

Hon Richard Prebble: I think that is a very reasonable point, because we have to accept the Prime Minister’s word. When the Prime Minister was responding to you on a point of order she made it clear to the whole House she had not understood or remembered the question, because the question was actually quite clear. The Prime Minister was being asked: “Are these your views?”. That is the question she was being asked.

Mr SPEAKER: I will ask the member to repeat it.

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: Can I thank the leader of ACT for his intervention, because he has now reminded me of what the question was. I will now respond to it. It is quite clear that the original comment is in itself a question, and it is a question based on whether—and I draw the member’s attention to that word—there is going to be this or that, and that represents the opinions of the key players at that time.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker.

Mr SPEAKER: I am about to ask somebody to leave the House, because when I call a point of order only that person called has the right to speak.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: The Prime Minister has asked a question in which the critical word was “include”. It was not a matter of whom the question excluded. Maybe, when she has finished telling us who it included, she could say that. Then she said, by way of explanation to her last question, that she was asking herself a question. Well, no one can read that into this, nor, I would say, can the junior lecturer from the political science department of Auckland university.

Mr SPEAKER: No. The Prime Minister is entitled to explain her statement in words that she chooses; members cannot dictate how she, or any other Minister, answers.

John Carter: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I raised with you, towards the end of last session, an issue about Ministers answering questions, and, in this particular case, it was the Prime Minister. You gave us a ruling last week on the matter of Ministers trifling with the Chair. We have just had an instance when the Prime Minister has twice given answers that were not answers to the question asked, and in your ruling you said that there could be further supplementary questions if you felt the Minister was trifling with the Chair. I suggest to you that in this case she was, and that you have every reason to give further supplementary questions on this issue.

Questions for Oral Answer

Economy—Fiscal and Monetary Policy Management

2. CLAYTON COSGROVE (NZ Labour—Waimakariri) to the Minister of Finance: Has he received any recent reports on New Zealand’s fiscal and monetary policy management?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Minister of Finance): Yes. The latest International Monetary Fund report on New Zealand described the Government’s macro-economic policies as sound, and our decision to defer any new big spending initiatives until next year’s Budget as prudent.

Clayton Cosgrove: Has the Minister received any reports on the changes this Government has made to monetary policy?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Yes. The changes were commended by the International Monetary Fund, and by the Australian-based investment bank, TD Securities, whose chief economist said that the introduction to a more pragmatic regime, and the appointment of a new Governor, had created monumental confidence among financial markets that the Reserve Bank was a highly credible, well-managed bank.

Dr Don Brash: Is it not true that the economy’s recent buoyancy owes a great deal to monetary policy in late 2001 and early 2002, or are the lags in the effectiveness of monetary policy suddenly very much shorter than previously?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: No, and I do not think we should get into questions about old lags in this context. [Interruption]

Mr SPEAKER: No. The Minister said “No”, which was a complete answer to a question.

Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. How on earth can one answer a question like that with a “No”? How can that be considered to be addressing the question? Is it then acceptable for the second Minister in a day to abuse Standing Order 365 with some sort of added epithet at the end that adds nothing to the question or to the dignity of Parliament?

Mr SPEAKER: The comment at the end will be withdrawn please.

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I withdraw.

Mr SPEAKER: As to the first part of the question, I say that Ministers can answer questions “Yes” or “No” in any way that they like. I am not to judge that.

Gordon Copeland: Is it the Minister’s intention, given his reported comment that the fiscal surplus this year could reach $4 billion, to reduce the overall level of the tax burden on individuals and companies in the upcoming Budget; if not, why not?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: As I indicated on Saturday, it is likely the operating balance excluding revaluations and accounting changes (OBERAC) figure will be somewhere about the $4 billion mark. That is not a cash surplus; it does not represent $4 billion in the back of my pocket. I also indicated that, due largely to changing discount rates, the final operating balance will be only about a third of that figure.

Questions for Oral Answer

Energy, Minister—Confidence

3. Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS (Leader—NZ First) to the Prime Minister: Does she have confidence in the Minister of Energy; if so, why?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK (Prime Minister): Yes, because he is a hard-working and conscientious Minister.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: How can the Prime Minister continue to express confidence in a Minister who has presided over a view of the electricity industry that clung to the free-market model, which led to a governance board made up solely of industry players who have ignored national requirements, failed to reward financially savers of electricity or to provide an appropriate degree of regulation, and failed to embark on any plan for longer-term development of supply capacity; or is it the case that as long as one works hard and is diligent, one could be a prize fool in a job and still have the Prime Minister’s confidence?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: The present market model is certainly flawed. It will undergo extra change to ensure that stand-by generation can be in place.

Hon Bill English: Given that the Prime Minister has said the electricity market is flawed, which of her two policies are we to believe: the one she announced a month ago that was seriously flawed and had to have significant change, or the one she announced yesterday when she said that it would largely stay in place?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: There will be significant change to the model to ensure that stand-by generation can be kept aside, so that if we strike exceptionally dry years like this one, people will not be asked to make the sacrifices they have been asked to make, again.

Hon Richard Prebble: Why does the Prime Minister have confidence in the Minister of Energy and blames the market model, when is it not a fact that the Government owns 100 percent of the transmission capacity, 70 percent of generating capacity, and it is the Government that is stopping schemes like the Dobson hydro scheme going ahead, and that this Minister of Energy could have, by a simple instruction to the State-owned generators, required them under the statement of corporate intent to build this stand-by generation; and how can she say that that is a market failure when the Government owns it and how can she say she has confidence in the Minister of Energy when he has failed to give those instructions?

Mr SPEAKER: The Prime Minister can answer two of those three questions.

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: The present market model does not encourage companies generating to generate for a margin of security of supply, and that is what the changes will address.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Is the Prime Minister’s continued confidence in the Minister of Energy a further example of her clear lack of judgment when it comes to weak Ministers, or will her Government continue to blame its energy failings on the weather or previous Governments, and when on earth will the buck stop with her office?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: The fact is that the weather and previous Governments have a great deal to do with it. We cannot do much about the weather, but we can do something about Max Bradford’s mess.

Gerry Brownlee: I seek leave of the House to table the answer to a parliamentary question in which the Minister of Energy has said there is some 2,000 extra megawatts of capacity planned to come into the system in the next short while.

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

Questions for Oral Answer

Broadcasting—Music Local Content

4. DARREN HUGHES (NZ Labour—Otaki) to the Minister of Broadcasting: What reports has he received on local music content on commercial radio stations?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY (Minister of Broadcasting): New figures released today from the New Zealand Music Performance Committee show that Kiwi music has made up 15.36 percent of the playlists in the first quarter of this year. That is 2 percent ahead of the same period in 2002, and ahead of last year’s overall average. It is very good news coming in New Zealand Music Month. All this month, New Zealand will be promoted through a variety of means, and I certainly applaud that.

Darren Hughes: How will the Government make sure that those targets are maintained?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: New Zealand music is an $11 million industry in New Zealand at this time, or about 9 percent of a $200 million, or so, market. The Government wants to see that grow through such initiatives provided by New Zealand On Air and the Music Commission. We believe that domestic success will lead to a share of the multibillion dollar international music market. I tell members of the House that today 30 New Zealand bands are successfully touring on the international market.

Questions for Oral Answer

Electricity—Domestic Pricing

5. JEANETTE FITZSIMONS (Co-Leader—Green) to the Minister of Energy: If domestic electricity consumers reduce electricity use by 10 percent, will that also reduce the cost of their electricity bills by 10 percent; if not, why not?

Hon PETE HODGSON (Minister of Energy): Electricity bills include the costs of transmission and business overheads as well as units of electricity. Consumers reducing consumption by 10 percent will reduce the unit cost in their bill by 10 percent, but not the total cost.

Jeanette Fitzsimons: Will the Minister review his refusal to prohibit fixed charges, for which households have to pay the same, regardless of how much they use, and require fixed costs to be recovered through unit charges, like every other business, which also have fixed costs, so that consumers who save 10 percent will save 10 percent?

Hon PETE HODGSON: The member forgets that it was his Government that introduced low fixed-charges. In August 2000, which was about when that charge came in, or a little later than that, the average charge for a low user in New Zealand was $275 a year. The average charge today for a low user is not $275, but $112 a year.

Mark Peck: How does the Government’s low fixed-charge policy work and why was it introduced?

Hon PETE HODGSON: The policy requires electricity retailers to offer small-domestic consumers a fixed charge of 30c a day plus GST, with a correspondingly higher unit charge. It was introduced to ensure that people who use only small amounts of electricity pay only small bills.

Gerry Brownlee: As electricity savings have only just hit 4 percent, despite the Minister’s call for a 10 percent saving, will he now ask State-owned retailers to offer some financial incentive to households who reduce their electricity consumption by the level of the target?

Hon PETE HODGSON: In 2001 I did ask and consumers responded. In 2003 I do not need to ask; the first of them will be out within the week.

Brent Catchpole199Brent Catchpole: How serious is this Government in encouraging power savings, when the motorways through Auckland, from Orewa to the Bombay Hills, are lit up like Christmas trees, and does this message encourage or discourage power savings?

Hon PETE HODGSON: The issue of motorway lighting, or for that matter street lighting, is one in which we balance electricity use against road safety and human safety.

Hon Peter Dunne: Given that domestic consumers, who are being asked to save 10 percent, are not actually responsible for the fact that it has not rained, or for all the other problems that have been alluded to as causing this power crisis, will the Minister assure the House that domestic consumers will not be hit with a double whammy and at some point in the future face increased power charges as a way of limiting their consumption, as some people are advocating?

Hon PETE HODGSON: Some are advocating that domestic consumers be exposed to the spot price. The Government has no plans in that regard.

Jeanette Fitzsimons: Is the Minister satisfied that all retailers are, in fact, enabling those who wish to change to the new tariff, to do so, given the various strategies that retailers adopt, such as people at call centres having “never heard of any such strategy”, denying that it exists, and some retailers even attempting to charge consumers a fee to change to the low fixed-charge tariff?

Hon PETE HODGSON: In the case of the one company that charged the fee, we put a stop to that straight away. As far as the other allegations are concerned, there may or may not be some truth in them. I would be very happy to hear from the member, if she has any evidence of such practices.

Questions for Oral Answer

OECD Ranking—Regulations

6. Dr DON BRASH (NZ National) to the Minister of Finance: How do this Government’s regulations in labour, health and safety, and resource management contribute to its goal of taking New Zealand to the top half of the OECD in terms of per capita income?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Minister of Finance): All the countries above us in the OECD rankings regulate those areas, and the great majority of them regulate them more tightly than we do. We do not improve our sustainable growth rate by failing to protect our workers and the environment.

Dr Don Brash: Is the Minister concerned that the chairman of Telecom, which is New Zealand’s largest public company, blames increasingly pervasive Government regulation for cutting the company’s annual capital investment in New Zealand by half a billion dollars, or that Carter Holt Harvey, which is New Zealand’s second-largest public company, also blames Government regulation for threatening its future investment in New Zealand?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: In the case of the former company, I note that other telecommunications companies have made extremely large investments, and I know that some are considering some very large investments within the current environment. Telecom appears to be following a different strategy.

David Cunliffe: How does robust health and safety legislation assist the economy and those who work in it?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Workplace accidents are a cost on the economy, and we have one of the worst records in the developed world in that respect. This Government believes that workers are entitled to be safe at work.

Sue Bradford: Is the Minister concerned that, despite positive regulatory changes, figures released today show that price rises in New Zealand exceed gains in wages, and that New Zealand workers now earn 25 percent less than their Australian counterparts, and how is that helping New Zealand to move into the top half of the OECD?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: New Zealand household incomes have been rising strongly over the last 2 or 3 years. Wage growth has been modest and non-inflationary, and that will probably contribute to New Zealand’s economic growth, rather than the reverse.

Gordon Copeland: Will the Government continue to streamline resource access and approval processes in the interests of growing New Zealand’s per capita income whenever and wherever constraints are identified?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: The Resource Management Act and its operations are kept under continuous review. The Minister for the Environment is continuing to work on further proposed changes to streamline processes, but she will do so in the light of achieving sustainable development outcomes.

Dr Don Brash: When the negative impact on economic growth of rising Government intervention is increasingly visible, why does the Minister continue to ignore expert OECD and International Monetary Fund advice to remove damaging regulatory barriers to growth, and continue to refuse to “continue on the path of market-based reforms to accelerate growth”?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: We do not take everything the International Monetary Fund and the OECD tell us. For example, they support reducing benefits, increasing the age for the pension, and introducing capital gains taxes on housing. The member is on record as supporting all those measures; the Government opposes them.

Rod Donald: Can the Minister confirm that a 2001 OECD report on red tape identified New Zealand as having the lowest aggregate annual compliance costs for small and medium-sized enterprises out of the 11 OECD countries surveyed, and that the same report showed those costs being significantly lower than those faced in Australia?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: That is correct. It is also correct that our total taxation burden on the corporate sector is low by the standard of developed countries, and our tax revenue as a portion of GDP at 30 percent is well below the OECD average.

Questions for Oral Answer

Health Services—Rural

7. DAVID PARKER (NZ Labour—Otago) to the Associate Minister of Health: What recent initiatives has the Government announced to support rural health?

Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR (Associate Minister of Health): Today I have announced just under $500,000 to be allocated over the next 2 years to a further 11 primary health providers in rural areas. That money will help relieve doctors and nurses working onerous rosters in parts of New Zealand. It is part of a total of nearly $3.5 million to be allocated over the next 2 years to rural health services.

David Parker: What other programmes and initiatives has the Government undertaken to improve health services for people living in rural areas?

Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: Today’s initiative continues this Government’s support for rural health services. The Government has also made funding available for rural locum support schemes, a mobile surgical bus, recruitment and retention to support the rural workforce, and a health-line service, which I will have much pleasure in visiting this evening.

Dr Lynda Scott: How many rural pharmacies will close when this Government changes monthly drug dispensing to 3-monthly, and how will the closure of rural pharmacies possibly help rural health services?

Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: I am aware of the proposals that Pharmac has out for consultation. People in rural areas have had the benefit of dispensing for some time. The proposals are to be spread across the whole of New Zealand, and the views of both rural and urban pharmacies will be taken on board by Pharmac through that consultation process.

Hon Brian Donnelly: If emergency helicopter services are to be considered an integral component of rural health services, why is it that in places like Northland public fundraising has to be undertaken to pay for those machines, which should be fully funded by the Government?

Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: I am not aware of the details of policy around that. I commit to the member that I will look into that and get back to him with a response.

Sue Kedgley: To supplement the useful but modest initiative announced today, why will the Government not encourage medical practitioners into rural New Zealand by writing off a year of their student debt for every year they spend working in rural New Zealand, especially after a recent survey revealed that nearly 65 percent of student doctors are considering going off overseas to pay their debt and may never return?

Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: That is one of a number of proposals that have been put up to assist rural general practitioners and encourage them into rural New Zealand. We have funded recruitment and retention policies to do that, and we are prepared to look at the issue the member raises.

Questions for Oral Answer

Electricity—Lake Levels

8. GERRY BROWNLEE (NZ National—Ilam) to the Minister of Energy: Since his call for 10 percent power savings were answered last weekend with an average power saving of only 3 percent, have he and his ministerial colleagues considered lowering the minimum water levels in hydro lakes; if so, what specific measures have been considered?

Hon PETE HODGSON (Minister of Energy): Cabinet has made no decision to legislate for lower minimum levels in hydro lakes, nor has it considered any formal proposal to do so.

Gerry Brownlee: Is the Minister aware that information published on the

EMCO Comet Free and Winter Power Task Force websites indicates that given current savings, current inflows, and current storage levels, New Zealand has only 40 days’ hydro power left; if not, why now—and why does he find that funny?

Hon PETE HODGSON: I can assure the House that no matter what the member has found on someone’s website, there is no chance of our hydro lakes running dry in the next 40 days. If the member is that intent on wetting his pants, I suggest he goes to the hills before he does so.

Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I will not make any comment about the comment that you have just allowed to stand in the question—

Mr SPEAKER: Well, I will. The Minister will stand, withdraw, and apologise for that comment.

Hon PETE HODGSON: I withdraw and apologise.

Gerry Brownlee: I seek leave at this point in question time, so we are clear about where we are going, to table a document that shows that if New Zealand were entirely dependent upon hydro electricity, we would have—

Rt Hon Helen Clark: It’s not.

Gerry Brownlee: Well, it is 30-percent reliant on thermal; so we have got either 40 or 52 days left. The Prime Minister should make up her mind. I want to table a document that shows we have 40 days’ hydro capacity left.

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

Russell Fairbrother: Have minimum levels for hydro lakes been lowered in the past in response to the prospect of power shortages?

Hon PETE HODGSON: No, they have not, but legislation enabling this was passed in the crisis year of 1992 by the then National Government.

Jeanette Fitzsimons: Does the Minister agree with those who believe that the environment should always pay the price of our bad planning and waste; does he think it could ever be acceptable to wipe out an entire species like the black stilt, just to keep the lights burning on the motorway?

Hon PETE HODGSON: I acknowledge the environmental issues around such an option and, indeed, the wider environmental issues for the townships, such as dust storms the following summer. It is an issue that is well down the Government’s list; it is, however, on the list.

Hon Ken Shirley: Has the Minister changed his view from the view he held in 1992 on the issue of lowering the level of our hydro lakes, when he railed against such action; and will he now dismiss out of hand the consideration of that option?

Hon PETE HODGSON: There are several reasons why one would not want to lower the lakes. I mentioned a couple of them in my answer to the previous question. I will mention a third, which is that they have to be filled again in time for winter 2004. I will say this: the people of this country are entitled to expect their Government to examine all practicable options, and that option will remain on the list, albeit well down the list.

Gerry Brownlee: If reducing minimum lake levels is well down on the list, what measures are higher on the list, which of those measures is the Government considering, and what confidence does the Minister have that those measures will avert the need for blackouts and cold showers?

Hon PETE HODGSON: The list has been well examined by Parliament over the past several weeks. It includes, of course, all the demand-side things that the member himself talked about recently. It also includes switching New Plymouth to oil to ensure better supplies for Huntly, and on it goes. There is a range of things that are being done or that can be done.

Questions for Oral Answer

Films, Videos, and Publications Classification Act—Objectionable Material

9. MARC ALEXANDER (United Future) to the Minister of Justice: Does he consider the present offence provisions under the Films, Videos, and Publications Classification Act 1993 for the illegal distribution of objectionable publications adequate?

Hon PHIL GOFF (Minister of Justice): My main concern about the adequacy of the Act relates to the levels of penalties for trading in and possession of objectionable materials—in particular, child pornography. However, concerns have also been expressed about whether the definition of “objectionable” is wide enough. The Ministry of Justice is considering the Government Administration Committee’s report in that regard.

Marc Alexander: When Lower Hutt painter Anthony Johansen, who was convicted of distributing child pornography, received only a $6,950 fine, why is it that, at most, he could have received only a slightly bigger fine of $20,000 when in other jurisdictions, such as the UK and the US, he could have received a maximum of 10 or 15 years in jail; are we out of step with other nations that do recognise the severity of crimes dealing with child pornography?

Hon PHIL GOFF: We are out of step and those penalties are inadequate, which is why I have foreshadowed officially in my statement that the maximum penalty for trading in child pornography and objectionable materials will rise from 2 years to 10 years, and why the offence provisions for possession will rise from a $20,000 fine to 2 years’ imprisonment, plus an appropriate fine. That will be introduced in legislation later this year.

Tim Barnett: Does the Minister regard the proposed changes to the levels of penalties as being an effective deterrent to offences such as trading in child pornography?

Hon PHIL GOFF: The first reason for greatly increasing the penalties is to express our abhorrence at the act of child abuse that occurs every time such a video is made, but I believe it is also quite possible that it will have a deterrent effect. I had the chance, with others, to visit the Department of Internal Affairs compliance unit. Immediately after the announcement of the increased penalties, and before they came into effect, it registered a marked decrease in Internet porn trading and child pornography by people within New Zealand. Clearly, it will have an effect.

Marc Alexander: Does the Minister not consider it laughable that the fines imposed in such cases barely offset the profits made from the trading of child pornography; and what steps will he take to remedy that situation?

Hon PHIL GOFF: I do not consider it laughable. I consider it quite unacceptable that I have cases in front of me, such as that of Martin Silby, who was convicted in 2002 on 12 charges of distributing objectionable material, including of 4-year-old girls being sexually abused by men. His penalty was 200 hours of community work, which was not the fault of the judiciary but the inadequacy of the penalties imposed by this House. That is why we are making the change.

Marc Alexander: Can the Minister tell us how the Government intends to implement the recommendations of the Government Administration Committee’s inquiry into the operation of the Films, Videos, and Publications Classification Act and related issues?

Hon PHIL GOFF: The select committee report is currently before the Ministry of Justice, and a formal response from the Government to the Government Administration Committee will be tabled in this House within a couple of weeks. I do not want to pre-empt that report, but a range of recommendations has been made by the select committee. We will give serious consideration to all of them, but I doubt that we will implement all of them by way of changing censorship. Some things could be better done, for example, under the Human Rights Act.

Questions for Oral Answer

Home Detention—Reoffending

10. RON MARK (NZ First) to the Minister of Justice: How many persons serving all or part of their sentence on home detention have reoffended, and what number of these have been recalled to prison?

Hon PHIL GOFF (Minister of Justice): The Department of Corrections keeps records of recall and breach actions taken against home detainees. Figures provided to me by the department show that of 1017 new starts between 1 July 2002, when the Sentencing Act came into effect, and 28 February of this year, the latest period for which we have figures, recall or breach action was taken against 10 home detainees as a direct result of reoffending while on home detention—10 out of 1,017 represents recall for reoffending for less than 1 percent over this period.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. This Minister has had 4 hours to answer two simple questions: how many persons have reoffended, and what number has been recalled. He gets up, gives us a treatise on what the officials have been doing by way of collecting information between dates, and then gives us half the answer. Can we now know, through the point of order, how many persons reoffended?

Hon PHIL GOFF: If the member had listened, I said that 10 out of 1,017 persons had been recalled for breach or for reoffending. That is less than 1 percent. How much more specific would the member like me to make that answer?

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I tell the Minister that there are two questions here. The first question was: how many people reoffended? The second question was: how many were recalled? The member is saying that the people who were recalled are the total number of reoffenders, and that cannot be.

Hon PHIL GOFF: Can I repeat for the member what I said in my first answer, which was specific. Recall or breach action was taken against 10 home detainees as a direct result of reoffending while on home detention.

Ron Mark: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker.

Mr SPEAKER: The Minister addressed the question, and I ruled he did. He gave a specific answer.

Ron Mark: My point of order could impact on my supplementary. Clearly, I am now confused. Has the Minister told the House that only 10 people on home detention have reoffended?

Mr SPEAKER: That is not a point of order. That is a supplementary question that the member can now have in his question.

Ron Mark: What sort of home detention is the Minister running that allows a man to be placed on home detention with a female whom he met in a mental institution, and after beating her, running up massive debts in her name, and threatening her family with violence, then allows him to abandon that woman to her debts and to move on to another house to continue his home detention with another woman?

Hon PHIL GOFF: I cannot verify the accuracy of what the member has said. He might like to give that case to me and I can check it out. I can tell the member that before an individual can be considered for front-end home detention that individual firstly has to be given leave by the judge hearing the case. The judge has statutory criteria in terms of suitability that he applies. Secondly, the person is then referred to the Parole Board, which has statutory criteria, including undue risk to the community or any single person. Two major safeguards are set out under law to prevent misuse of home detention.

Hon Tony Ryall: How successful is the “Goff sentencing law” where a burglar with a history of aggravated robbery can be sentenced to jail for 9 months one minute, but is allowed to walk free straight out of the courthouse the next minute, because of an amendment that Mr Goff pushed through the House, and allowed to disappear into the streets and have the police of south Auckland scouring that city for 3 weeks trying to find the man whom the Minister’s system has given a 2-month free-from-prison pass?

Hon PHIL GOFF: During the entire period that that member was Minister of Justice—

Opposition members: Answer the question!

Hon PHIL GOFF: I am doing exactly that. During the entire period that that member was Minister of Justice, and, indeed, the entire period of the previous legislation, people were able to have their sentence deferred pending a decision by the Parole Board or some other agency.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. First of all, the Minister was asked how the Goff system operated. He has no responsibility for the previous administration. He has made no attempt whatsoever to address the question he was asked, and he should be asked either to answer it or to apologise.

Hon PHIL GOFF: Speaking to the point of order, I say that the member who asked the question specifically said that this was a new system that I was directly responsible for. I pointed out correctly that the court has always been able to defer and release a person into the community before a sentence of imprisonment is imposed.

Mr SPEAKER: The Minister did address the question.

Lynne Pillay: Would offenders sentenced to home detention otherwise be serving prison sentences?

Hon PHIL GOFF: Some of those who have been sentenced to home detention would have been serving short periods of imprisonment for less serious offences. Equally, the statistics I have show that a number of people previously sentenced to suspended sentences—that is, people commit the crime, are put out in the community with the sentence suspended, and there is no degree of control over them—are now under the much more severe control of home detention. That is why we abolished suspended sentences, against the opposition of the ACT party.

Stephen Franks: Why did the Minister and his officials oppose the amendment that ACT put forward that would have enabled judges to impose conditions so that this situation would not have arisen—in other words, judges could have set conditions that did not mean people were released scot-free while waiting for home detention?

Hon PHIL GOFF: The member needs to recall that the judge does not have to release somebody into the community at all, pending a decision on home detention. The norm, as set out in the law, is that unless there are special conditions—members should read section 100—the person will be in prison while that decision is made.

Hon Tony Ryall: That’s not happening.

Hon PHIL GOFF: Yes, the member is quite right. Judges are interpreting that in a more liberal way than I think Parliament intended, and I am looking at it, for partly that reason.

Marc Alexander: In the light of the fact that one of the key perceived benefits of home detention is the saving in cost to the taxpayer, does the Minister agree that the establishment of more private prisons, which are demonstrably more cost-effective than State-run institutions, would provide a better solution for the sentencing of recidivist offenders?

Hon PHIL GOFF: The short answer to the second part of the question is no. The comment I need to make on the first part of the question is that cost saving is not the predominant reason for home detention, but I think every member of this House would applaud the fact that people who are judged not to constitute a risk to the community will keep working, will keep paying their taxes, and will keep supporting their family, rather than their family—and them in prison—being a burden on the long-suffering taxpayer.

Ron Mark: What representations has the Hon Margaret Wilson made to him in response to the letter she received from the parents of the woman involved, and what has he done on this issue to tidy up a nonsense, whereby a man can name a woman as his guardian and her place as residence as the place where he will be held on home detention, and then go about beating her and abusing her, and apparently, by the statistics the Minister has just quoted, it is not even recorded as an offence?

Hon PHIL GOFF: I am not familiar with the letter the member has in his hand. He might like to give me a copy of it at the end of question time. But I want to tell that member that before home detention is ordered by the Parole Board, one of the factors that is taken into account is the situation in the home environment and whether it is safe for people in the home environment to have a detainee detained there.

Ron Mark: Can the Minister explain to the House how, despite serious objections by her family that this person should not be placed in home detention with their daughter, and the obvious concerns expressed to the family by the police—who shared the same concerns—as to the true nature of this man, this person ended up on home detention with her, and in one case, went out and bought—

Mr SPEAKER: That question was far too long.

Hon PHIL GOFF: If the facts are as the member describes them, that would most clearly be in breach of section 35 of the Parole Act, which states that the Parole Board has to take into account, under subsection (4), which I will quote for the member, “the safety and welfare of the occupants of the residence where the offender is to be detained.” The member appears to have taken that up with the Acting Minister of Corrections. He has not told me about that. I presume the Acting Minister of Corrections will be following that up with her department.

Questions for Oral Answer

Dobson Hydro Dam—Ecology

11. GERRY BROWNLEE (NZ National—Ilam) to the Minister of Conservation: Does he stand by his statement about the proposed site of the Dobson hydro dam that he was “not prepared to rip the heart out of an important ecological area”; if so, what is the ecological importance of that area?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Leader of the House), on behalf of the Minister of Conservation: Mr Speaker—

Hon Roger Sowry: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I am surprised to see the Minister rise when we have the Parliamentary Under-Secretary to the Minister of Conservation, Mr Mita Ririnui, in the House. One would have thought that whoever was collecting the salary would answer the question.

Mr SPEAKER: The member knows full well that the Government can decide who answers the question.

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: And the Government did so. I answer on behalf of the Minister of Conservation. Yes, the purpose of the reserve was officially stated in 1983, when it was gazetted, to be “to preserve an example of forest in the wide valley floor containing an unusually high proportion of kahikatea and matai.”

Gerry Brownlee: Does the Minister concerned consider the species ulex europaeus, which predominates in the environment of the proposed hydro dam, to have high ecological value; if so, could he explain what that value is?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: It gives very good cover for regenerating forest and native bush.

Nanaia Mahuta: Has the Minister seen any recent reports on the Card Creek ecological area?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I did see there was a visit to an area by three MPs. The media reported that, ironically, heavy rain meant the tour party saw the dam site, but not actually the flood zone behind it.

Edwin Perry: What representation has the Minister of Conservation had from the member for West Coast – Tasman on this issue, and how long will it be before he accepts that member’s representation to build a dam on the West Coast?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: It would not be up to the Minister of Conservation to build a dam on the West Coast, but I am sure the member is aware that the legal decision is that the Minister cannot take into account social and economic factors in reclassifying an ecological area.

Hon Ken Shirley: The Minister of Conservation stated in the Christchurch Press on 9 September last year that he would visit the site “soon” to assess the Dobson dam proposal; will he now admit that he declined that proposal without visiting the site, otherwise he would have known, as Opposition members know, that it is full of gorse, broom, and substantial stands of macrocarpa, like the specimen I am holding.

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I am not sure whether we are having a re-enactment of Macbeth here, going by that performance, but a good deal of the conservation estate includes regenerating forest. The point about this is the rather rare form of valley floor regeneration. The area that is supposed to be swapped is actually much more common within the conservation estate at the present time.

Jeanette Fitzsimons: Will the Minister consider using some of the conservation awareness fund to run some courses for Opposition members who seem unable at the moment to recognise substantial stands of kahikatea and matai, although they should be commended for having been able to recognise gorse and macrocarpa?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: The Minister of Conservation would be sympathetic, but I believe he is advised by the Minister of Finance that this would be a waste of public money, as the Opposition cannot tell the wood from the trees.

Gerry Brownlee: What is more important to the Minister, a gorse-strewn swampy wasteland or a much larger area of unlogged kahikatea forest, as is on offer in the proposed land swap for the Dobson project?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: The description of wetlands as “swampy wastelands” is why we now have only about 10 percent of them left in New Zealand.

Gerry Brownlee: I seek leave to table a piece of the pristine bush on the site of the Dobson dam, notwithstanding the statements made by the Minister or Rod Donald, who would not come to the site with us.

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

Hon Dr Nick Smith: I note that two members have had pieces of vegetation removed from this exclusive ecological area, and I wonder whether I might seek leave to ask the Minister whether they will be prosecuted for destroying such—

Mr SPEAKER: The member is being facetious.

Hon Ken Shirley: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. It was suggested that ACT and other Opposition members could not identify the species. I would like to table the example, which is the exact same species on the valley floor of Card Creek: macrocarpa.

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

Hon Richard Prebble: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. It has been suggested by a member that the ACT party has taken its example from a conservation area. That is no so. We have actually taken it as an example, but—

Mr SPEAKER: I have ruled on that matter.

Hon Richard Prebble: I would not like the House to think that we are breaking the law.

Mr SPEAKER: Please be seated. I have ruled on that matter—that that was a facetious comment.

Gerrard Eckhoff: When will the Minister revisit the ecological status of an obscure island in the middle of the Clutha River, Birch Island, visited only by pigs and deer, in order to allow for the further development of sustainable, renewable energy?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: There have been long, long arguments over that particular piece of territory for a long period of time. There are many other options available for hydro development.

Questions for Oral Answer

Laboratory Services—District Health Boards

12. HEATHER ROY (ACT NZ) to the Minister of Health: What assurance can she give that district health boards will not implement the option contained in the report Options for Reform of Diagnostic Laboratory Services Markets to transfer the control of collection and distribution arrangements to themselves, and will she guarantee that under any scenario district health boards will continue to honour existing contracts with community laboratories?

Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR (Associate Minister of Health), on behalf of the Minister of Health: The Minister cannot guarantee that district health boards will not implement the preferred option in the document, as district health boards are the agencies responsible for funding laboratory services. However, the Minister would expect to be briefed on any major change in service provision. She would expect district health boards to honour existing contracts.

Heather Roy: Is she disregarding, then, the advice that district health boards have received in the confidential discussion document, and what evidence can she possibly produce that shows that laboratories run by the State would meet patients’ needs better than privately owned and operated laboratories currently do?

Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: Responsibility for the consultation on this document is that of District Health Boards New Zealand. It is up to it to consult the laboratories and to work through all those issues. I would expect that any contract signed into would uphold the very highest standards of laboratory services for all New Zealanders.

Hon Richard Prebble: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I want to draw your attention to the way that the Associate Minister of Health is answering questions. It is same as the Minister of Health. If you go back and have a look at her answers, you will see that she does not take responsibility for anything. I actually wonder why we have a Minister of Health. If she is not responsible for that, what on earth is she responsible for?

Mr SPEAKER: That is not a point of order.

Dr Lynda Scott: Is the Government planning to restrict the number of laboratory tests a doctor can order by having a national restricted list of publicly funded tests; if not, what proposals are the district health boards considering to change the diagnostic laboratory services market?

Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: No, to the first part; and, secondly, the options are contained in the discussion document.

Dr Lynda Scott: Does the Government intend to combine primary and secondary laboratory services, and replace fee-for-service primary care with an approved restricted national list of tests that can be ordered by certain types of practitioners under defined circumstances; if not, what proposals is the Government considering to restrict the ordering of laboratory tests?

Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: Responsibility for these decisions is in the hands of District Health Boards New Zealand. Regarding any major changes, the Minister would expect to hear from them before they are carried out. There are no such proposals before the Minister.

Questions to Members

Questions for Oral Answer

Scampi Fishery—Inquiry

1. RODNEY HIDE (ACT NZ) to the Chairperson of the Primary Production Committee: How many meetings has the committee had to hear evidence in its inquiry into the administration and management of New Zealand’s scampi fishery?

Hon DAVID CARTER (Chairperson of the Primary Production Committee): To date the committee has held 14 meetings as it considers the work involved in the Scampi inquiry.

Rodney Hide: Has the chairperson included in his count the meetings that Mr Ian Ewen-Street says the lawyer for Barine Developments has had with him, with Mr Phil Heatley, with Mr David Carter—

Mr SPEAKER: Order!

Rodney Hide: —with Mr Damian O’Connor “just in a lobbying sense” or—

Mr SPEAKER: Order!

Rodney Hide: —are these meetings where evidence is given and allegations made—

Mr SPEAKER: I said that the member will sit down. Those are not select committee meetings. The chairman has no responsibility for those meetings.

Rodney Hide: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. With due respect, this is precisely the point that I am trying to make. I am asking the chairperson whether he is counting these as meetings. With the greatest respect, I think that is for the chairperson and the Primary Production Committee to answer, rather than the Speaker of this House.

Mr SPEAKER: I will hear Mr Carter.

Hon DAVID CARTER: Speaking to the point of order, I point out that Mr Hide alleges that I have met the solicitor. I have on no occasion met Sue Grey, outside of the select committee.

Mr SPEAKER: All I can say is that the chairperson can only be asked about actual select committee meetings.

Hon Richard Prebble: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I have to raise it now, otherwise it will get ruled out and I will have to raise it later. I raised this matter with you, as a point of order, on Thursday. You told us that you would come back with a ruling. What I asked then was whether there is any obligation on a member of Parliament to give an explanation to the House. I think this is important. I think now there is an obligation, because Mr Ewen-Street is reported in all the newspapers as saying, and I have read it, that Mr Carter, the chairman of the committee, has been holding meetings with the solicitor for one of the parties to the scampi inquiry. We now hear from the chairman that that statement is not true. I think we are owed an explanation from Mr Ewen-Street.

Mr SPEAKER: I told the member, and I recall my exact words, that I would have a look at the matter. I have had a look at the matter and I have nothing further to report because of course the “anything” in that regard is for the member himself; it is not for this House. If the member wants to make a statement he can. It is his option, and his option alone.

Hon Richard Prebble: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. We now have the very serious situation of a member giving explanations in the media, which are being contradicted by the chairman of the committee. I think that places that member in a very strong position. He should come to the House and give us a proper explanation, rather than using the Sunday media to say that everyone else is doing it too.

Mr SPEAKER: I have nothing further to add to my previous ruling. The member is not required to do that.

Rodney Hide: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker.

Mr SPEAKER: This is a new point of order?

Rodney Hide: Yes. I did not get my question finished. The chairperson, with your guidance, was happy to rule on that. I am left in a bit of a quandary as to where my hanging question is at. I did not get to finish it.

Mr SPEAKER: The member had better finish the question. I will give him another question, after Mr Peters.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Does the chairman understand that Mr Hide’s question is not an allegation in respect of his comments as chairman, but, rather, that Mr Ewen-Street made the comment, that everybody on the committee seems to have been briefed by the solicitor, excepting the New Zealand First member, namely myself—a position for which I am very, very grateful?

Mr SPEAKER: Entertaining though that might be, that is not a question for the chairman of the committee to answer.

Rodney Hide: In the light of his answer, has he sought an assurance that Mr Heatley and Mr Damien O’Connor also have not been having briefings outside the committee process from Barine Developments’ lawyer?

Mr SPEAKER: No. That has nothing to do with the committee chairman.

John Carter: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. There is an inference in that question that I think could lead to disorder. I wonder whether the member might consider withdrawing and apologising. I took exception to that question.

Mr SPEAKER: Mr Carter took exception to that question. I wonder whether the member could assure the House that he meant no improper inference in his question.

Rodney Hide: Absolutely! I am sorry.

Mr SPEAKER: The member has said “absolutely”. I accept his word.

Hon Richard Prebble: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I understand the point Mr Carter is making completely, but it seems to me that he is in the same position as other MPs. We have a position where a member of Parliament has been reported widely in the media, saying that other MPs have been briefed by the solicitor—and I am not suggesting any sexual impropriety, as it might suggest that. What I am saying is that that member is saying, in respect of a very important inquiry, which is into a heck of a lot of money—$100 million—that there are other MPs who have been receiving these briefings from counsel for one of the parties. We can tell from Mr Carter’s reaction that he thinks that is wrong, but really it should be for those MPs to get up and tell us, like Mr Peters has, that they have not had such a briefing.

Mr SPEAKER: No, that is not correct and I think the member knows that.

Rodney Hide: To try to help clear up any suggestion, I seek leave to table the New Zealand Herald of 2 May.

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

Questions for Oral Answer

sImmigration—English Language Tests

2. Hon RICHARD PREBBLE (Leader—ACT NZ) to the Chairperson of the Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Committee: When will the committee set a time to consider the petition of Kenneth Wang and others requesting a review of the new English language immigration tests?

Hon PETER DUNNE (Chairperson of the Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Committee): Over recent meetings the committee has been working its way through each of the 46 outstanding petitions it has before it, relating back to the previous Parliament. Some of those have been reported back today. We will be considering the matter further at future meetings, and will be setting a meeting date in due course to hear the outstanding petitions.

Hon Richard Prebble: Given the urgency of this issue to the thousands of people who are caught up by the change in the English language tests, and the fact that the committee has not been able to set a date, have the chairman and the committee considered going to the Business Committee to have this transferred possibly to the Labour Committee, which may be a better committee to consider it in the first place; if not, why not?

Hon PETER DUNNE: We have not made that consideration. It is a matter I will take up with the committee. I am confident that we can deal with all the petitions before us in a timely manner. We are working on the basis of dealing with them in the order in which they have been received.

End of Questions for Oral Answer

(uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing)

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