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Questions of The Day Transcript - June 12th 2003

(uncorrected transcript--subject to correction and further editing)

Questions for Oral Answer

Questions to Ministers

Questions for Oral Answer


Te Mângai Pâho—Mâori Sportscasting International

1.RODNEY HIDE (ACT NZ) to the Minister of Mâori Affairs: On what date and how did he learn that his reply to question for written answer No. 257 lodged on 13 February 2003 that “I am advised by my officials that there have been no payments of cash by Maori Sports Casting International (MSCI) to any employees of Te Mangai Paho.” was incorrect?

Hon PAREKURA HOROMIA (Minister of Mâori Affairs): On 9 June 2003 I received a report from Te Puni Kôkiri that the answer was incorrect.

Rodney Hide: Did the Minister read the Treasury-led review team’s report that he received on 28 May, and did he realise that the review team found that Mr Tame Te Rangi had been paid cash by Mâori Sportscasting International?

Hon PAREKURA HOROMIA: When I received the external report on 28 May, I asked my department to review all the questions and my responses relating to Te Mângai Pâho, to check their accuracy. My officials provided me with a report on 9 June.

Rodney Hide: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. This is the difficulty that we have. My question was clear: did he read the report? He told us he received it. He never said whether he read it. As far as we know, he received the report, sent it off to his officials to read, and he himself did not open it. How do we proceed when he can answer a question like that?

Mr SPEAKER: The Minister was asked a question. The Minister addressed the question by way of an answer. There can continue to be supplementary questions.

Hon Murray McCully: Did the Minister give any serious consideration to reading the report himself, rather than asking his officials to read it and report to him; and, with the benefit of hindsight, does the Minister now agree that it might have been better if he had read the Treasury report himself to test the veracity of his answers?

Hon PAREKURA HOROMIA: Certainly, I want to repeat that when I received the external report on 28 May I asked my department to review all the questions, so that I could give correct information, and my responses related to Te Mângai Pâho, to check their accuracy. My officials provided me with a report on 9 June.

Mahara Okeroa: Has the answer to parliamentary written question No. 257 been corrected?

Hon PAREKURA HOROMIA: Yes. A corrected reply was lodged yesterday. When I received the external report I asked my department to review all 200 questions and responses regarding Te Mângai Pâho, to check their accuracy. Consequently, I have corrected answers to 13 questions, and lodged them yesterday.

Hon Ken Shirley: Did he read the newspapers—[Interruption]

Mr SPEAKER: Order! That is the one and only warning, and the member is very lucky—very lucky indeed. I want to tell Mr Shirley, seeing I disciplined him yesterday, that the member can consider himself very lucky. Please start the question again.

Hon Ken Shirley: On that basis, was I very unlucky yesterday?

Mr SPEAKER: Yes.

Hon Ken Shirley: I thought so.

Mr SPEAKER: What comes around goes around.

Hon Ken Shirley: Did the Minister read the newspapers, listen to the radio, or watch television news about the Treasury-led review team’s report that Mr Tame Te Rangi had received cash; if so, was he totally unconscious of the fact he had told Parliament that Mr Te Rangi had not received cash?

Hon PAREKURA HOROMIA: Sometimes I watch the television and listen to the radio, and sometimes when one is under siege, one does not.

Rodney Hide: Would the Minister now care to answer the primary question and tell the House on what date he learned that Mr Tame Te Rangi had been paid cash by Mâori Sportscasting International Ltd; and, having regard to that answer, when did he realise that his replies to Parliament were false?

Hon PAREKURA HOROMIA: When I received the external report on 28 May I asked my department to review all the questions and my responses related to Te Mângai Pâho to check their accuracy, so that I could give accurate information to people like Mr Hide. Certainly, the email was directly given to him rather than through the normal process.

Hon Murray McCully: When the Minister received the Treasury report did he actually read its contents; if so, did it occur to him that some of the information in the document at least was at variance with answers to parliamentary questions he furnished, and that he therefore had an obligation to tell this Parliament that some of that information was wrong?

Hon PAREKURA HOROMIA: It is important to understand that accuracy is accurate, and that I asked my department to labour over the 200 questions and those parts in that report. I have repeated the answer to that question three times. I am more than happy to repeat it a fourth time.

Hon Roger Sowry: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. On several occasions today the Minister has been asked two questions: one about a date, and it appears impossible to get the answer to that from the Minister; and secondly, whether he read the report. The question that my colleague asked started with: “Did the Minister read the report?” We are simply not getting an answer. The Minister cannot be ruled to be addressing the question when he talks about the report. The question is very narrow.

Mr SPEAKER: I listened to the question and I listened to the answer. I took from the Minister’s reply that when he had received the report and had observed what was in it, he sent it off to a department. That was what I took out of the answer, and I thought that addressed the question.

Hon Roger Sowry: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. To the question: “Did the Minister read the report?”, one assumes that part of the answer will be either “yes” or “no”. The fact that you took from it that the Minister received the report and sent it to the department—we all know that. We did not ask him whether he sent it to the department. It arrived in his office and he sent it to the department. We just want to know whether he opened it.

Mr SPEAKER: That is irrelevant to me. I have to adjudge whether he addressed the question. He did.

Hon Brian Donnelly: From the Minister’s response to the previous answer, is he saying that he has no confidence in the accuracy of Treasury reports; if so, what does that say about the Minister responsible for Treasury?

Hon PAREKURA HOROMIA: If that member would labour over the part that I directed the ministry to read the report, I have the utmost confidence in the ability of Treasury.

Questions for Oral Answer

Social Development and Employment, Minister—Confidence in Advice

2. JUDY TURNER (United Future) to the Minister for Social Development and Employment: Is he satisfied with the quality of advice that he receives from his officials?

Hon RUTH DYSON (Associate Minister for Social Development and Employment (CYF)), on behalf of the Minister for Social Development and Employment: The Minister for Social Development and Employment receives a wide range of advice on a wide range of issues and, overall, he is very satisfied with that advice.

Judy Turner: Does the Minister stand by his answer to my oral question on 1 April 2003, regarding sickness benefits, that: “There has been no migration at all from the unemployment benefit to those forms of benefits”, when figures supplied by his own department show there were 13,000 transfers from the dole to the sickness benefit last year, which is a 13 percent increase in this type of transfer since 2000?

Hon RUTH DYSON: In relation to the member’s question from 1 April that lifestyle beneficiaries are seeking the sickness benefit as an easier option to the unemployment benefit, I repeat the answer to the question on that day and stand by that: People who are on a sickness or an invalids benefit are there because they are sick or have an impairment. They do not migrate on to the sickness or invalids benefit as an easier option.

Georgina Beyer: Can the Minister identify particular advice with which he was satisfied?

Hon RUTH DYSON: Yes, he can. He was particularly pleased with the thoroughness and quality of the advice, its timeliness, and the cooperative approach his officials adopted in the work on the Families Commission proposal, a proposal in which the views of United Future as well as of the Government needed to be taken into account.

Katherine Rich: Does the Minister now accept that there has been a significant migration from the unemployment benefit to the sickness benefit?

Hon RUTH DYSON: People who are entitled to receive either the sickness or the invalids benefit because of their illness or impairment may well have developed to that condition and, therefore, entitlement while on the unemployment benefit.

Sue Bradford: Is the Minister aware that there is a difference in the level of payment between the unemployment benefit and the sickness benefit and that of the invalids benefit, and that there has traditionally been a migration of a small number of people moving to that benefit because of the higher rate of pay; and has that been incorporated into work the department is doing around getting a much more even entitlement to benefits across the board?

Hon RUTH DYSON: I am aware of the difference in both the level of income and also the work-testing requirement between the three benefits. I want to repeat that a person is entitled to receive the sickness and the invalids benefit only if he or she meets the criterion of being ill or having an impairment.

Dr Muriel Newman: With regard to officials’ advice on drafting the Care of Children bill, does he agree with the Prime Minister’s comments yesterday that declaring a lesbian mother’s partner a child’s father is a trivial issue; and how does he think that all the biological fathers of New Zealand feel, knowing that according to this Government a father is now just a drafting technique?

Hon RUTH DYSON: Not only do I agree with the Prime Minister’s answer in response to the question yesterday, but I also want to reflect on the trivialisation that member makes of a number of very fine parenting contributions by New Zealand citizens, regardless of the agenda.

Dr Muriel Newman: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I think that member used that question to put a slur on a member of Parliament and you should ask her to withdraw and apologise. [Interruption]

Mr SPEAKER: There will be no comments during Points of Order
.

Hon Dr Michael Cullen: It was a very political question, which invited a political answer. What goes round does comes round, in this place.

Mr SPEAKER: If the member took personal offence—I assume she did? [Interruption]—I was not talking to Mr Hide, I was talking to Dr Newman. Did the member take personal offence?

Dr Muriel Newman: Yes, I did.

Mr SPEAKER: I would like the member to withdraw and apologise.

Hon RUTH DYSON: I withdraw and apologise, Mr Speaker.

Dr Muriel Newman: Speaking to the point of order—

Mr SPEAKER: No, we have had that point of order and the member has made the withdrawal.

Judy Turner: Has the Minister been made aware of the fact that the growth of the number of people on the sickness benefit in the last 3 years is primarily driven by an increase in just a few categories of incapacity, such as depression, which has increased by 17 percent; other psychological problems, by 58 percent, and the number of people claiming the benefit due to stress has soared by 56 percent?

Hon RUTH DYSON: Yes.

Judy Turner: In the light of the increasing number of people on sickness benefit with some sort of psychological condition, such as stress, has the Minister asked officials to change the rules to require applicants to seek verification from a specialist in this area, rather than a general practitioner who can write out a prescription for antidepressants without a clinical reference?

Hon RUTH DYSON: I regret that I am not aware of that particular provision being considered by the officials, but I would be happy to provide further information to that member as it becomes available.

Judy Turner: If the Minister stands by what is said, and his officials are so certain that the increase of those on the sickness benefit is not caused by transfers from the dole, why has he announced that $400,000 of the $8 million to be spent on social research will be allocated to investigate why the numbers on the sickness benefit are increasing?

Hon RUTH DYSON: Can I suggest that the member initially reflects on the specificity of my answer to her primary question, which I now repeat, because she has misinterpreted it: I do not support the view that she asserted in the House on 1 April that lifestyle beneficiaries are seeing the sickness benefit as an easier option to the unemployment benefit.

Questions for Oral Answer

Police—Staffing

3. RON MARK (NZ First) to the Minister of Police: Is he confident that police numbers at present are sufficient to ensure police are fully aware of street activity in their areas?

Hon PAUL SWAIN (Minister of Transport): , on behalf of the Minister of Police: Yes, however the police also rely on the community to report any suspicious or unlawful behaviour.

Ron Mark: If that is the case, and the Minister is confident he has control over the situation, why were police able to locate some 2,000 under–17-year-olds over just 4 nights last week in a special operation, which resulted in some 300 youths being identified as “at risk”, requiring the police to return them to their homes?

Hon PAUL SWAIN: It shows the police are doing a thoroughly good job.

Martin Gallagher: Can the Minister outline the current staff resources in the New Zealand Police?

Hon PAUL SWAIN: Police numbers have risen steadily during the term of the Labour-led Government to around 9,559 personnel, including 7,400 sworn and 2,159 non-sworn staff—the highest numbers ever. That contrasts with the National Party’s Martin report, which was going to cut staff by 540.

Richard Worth: Does the Minister stand by his reported comments in the Dominion Post that police are not understaffed and have been given all the resources they asked for; if so, is he trying to tell the House that the police did not actually ask for 169 police officers in Auckland over a 3-year period.

Hon PAUL SWAIN: No, I can confirm that the commissioner asked for that, but that is what commissioners must do and that is what all chief executives do. The important point is that police numbers are the highest ever and the police budget is the largest it has ever been.

Dr Muriel Newman: Is it correct that in Opposition the Minister was a lion roaring for more police funding but is now a Cabinet lamb, and has seen his share of total Government spending on police fall every single year he has been Minister?

Hon PAUL SWAIN: No.

Ron Mark: Does the Minister not understand that having police out walking the streets in our communities, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, dealing with young people in the streets, and truants, is bread-and-butter policing, which reduces entry-level crime, and that that can never be substituted by special operations that come along once in a blue moon, only when the situation has got totally out of hand?

Hon PAUL SWAIN: Yes, I do understand that, and that is why we increased police numbers.

Ron Mark: How can community policing ever be catered for, when we have these headlines:

“Truancy swoops catch 900 in a week”; “Tax alcohol fails to hit streetwise kids”; “1,753 youths picked up in second phase of special operation”; “2,000 children—

Mr SPEAKER: Come to the point, please

Ron Mark: —and how can those police numbers ever cope with that sort of lawlessness on the streets; and does the Minister seriously believe that the country is going to pick up the tab by sitting out there itself policing the streets in the manner that he suggested in his first answer?

Mr SPEAKER: The question was too long. The Minister may comment on two of the questions.

Hon PAUL SWAIN: Every question that member asked demonstrates what a fabulous job the New Zealand Police are doing.

Questions for Oral Answer

Mâori Affairs, Minister—Answers to Written Questions

4. Hon MURRAY McCULLY (NZ National—East Coast Bays) to the Minister of Mâori Affairs: On what date or dates did Mr Leith Comer apologise to him for embarrassing him with incorrect answers to parliamentary questions, as reported in the Dominion Post on 31 May, and what were the specific questions that Mr Comer apologised for on each occasion?

Hon PAREKURA HOROMIA (Minister of Maori Affairs): I received an apology in writing from Mr Leith Comer on 10 April 2003 for an incorrect answer to question No. 2261, which was about training wânanga. I am advised by Mr Comer that this was the apology he referred to when being interviewed by the Dominion Post.

Hon Murray McCully: Given that these matters have now been the subject of a report by Treasury dated 30 May, has the Minister read that report?

Hon PAREKURA HOROMIA: Could the member repeat the question please.

Mr SPEAKER: Yes, please repeat the question. [Interruption] The Minister, or anyone, is perfectly at liberty to ask for a question to be repeated. I ask the member to repeat the question.

Hon Murray McCully: Given that these matters were the subject of a report by Treasury dated 30 May, has the Minister read that report?

Hon PAREKURA HOROMIA: The report was a totally different issue.

Hon Murray McCully: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I want to ask you to advise me whether you regard that as a satisfactory answer in terms of addressing the question. I asked a very specific question to which I believe it would be quite difficult to provide an answer that did not include either the word “yes” or the word “no”. I put it to you that the Minister did not refer to the question I asked in terms of giving an adequate answer under the Standing Order.

Hon Dr Michael Cullen: Not only did the Minister seek to address the question, he actually answered it absolutely precisely. If the member had cared to listen to the Minister’s first answer instead of reading out his pre-prepared supplementary question, he would not have asked that supplementary question.

Hon Ken Shirley: I refer to Speaker’s ruling 129/6, which states quite clearly: “A Minister must attempt to give a reasonable answer …”. The Speaker’s ruling does go on to state that one may not be satisfied with the answer, but the test here is whether that was a reasonable answer. I do not believe anyone in the Opposition, and most people who would answer that question on the Government benches, could possibly say that that was a reasonable answer to that question.

Mr SPEAKER: I do not need any further comment on that. The Minister was asked a question, and he most certainly did address it in his answer.

Lynne Pillay: When was the corrected reply to question for written answer No. 2261 lodged?

Hon PAREKURA HOROMIA: The corrected answer was lodged on 1 May 2003.

Hon Murray McCully: Did the Minister read the report prepared by Treasury into Te Mângai Pâho dated 30 May of this year?

Hon Dr Michael Cullen: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. This supplementary question does not relate to the original question and answer.

Hon Murray McCully: It does.

Hon Dr Michael Cullen: Oh no, it does not, because the members have not listened to the original answer. The original answer related to question for written answer No. 2261, the report of 30 May. It does not relate to those, but to other matters.

Mr SPEAKER: Yes that is perfectly correct. This question relates to another issue. However I will allow the member to restate his question.

Hon Murray McCully: Given that the matters that caused Mr Comer to feel a need to apologise to the Minister were the subject of a report prepared by Treasury on 30 May, did the Minister read that report?

Mr SPEAKER: The Minister said quite specifically that they were not.

Hon Murray McCully: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. [Interruption]

Mr SPEAKER: The member now will stand, withdraw, and apologise for that comment.

Hon Roger Sowry: I withdraw and apologise.

Mr SPEAKER: Now the member will leave the Chamber. I am not having anyone comment on the issue of this Chair.

Hon Roger Sowry withdrew from the Chamber.Withdrawal from Chamber

Mr SPEAKER: Now I am happy to hear a point of order from the Hon Murray McCully.

Hon Murray McCully: It is well accepted now, and the Minister has confirmed, that the chief executive of his department felt a need to apologise to him over some matters. The Minister today wants to assert that that apology was in relation to one question. That question was amongst those covered by a report of Treasury. I want to know, and I think the House is entitled to an answer on this, whether the Minister took the step of reading the report to ascertain whether the matter that Mr Comer apologised for was referred to in that report. That is a perfectly legitimate question for a member to ask in relation to the primary question.

Mr SPEAKER: I want to ask the Minister one question: was that issue referred to in that Treasury report? [Interruption] I will not have any comments like that. I will get advice, then I will ask the Minister a question, or other people will leave, too. Was the question the chief executive apologised over on 10 April in that Treasury report?

Hon PAREKURA HOROMIA: In the broad context, yes. But can I note the apology tabled by the chief executive is here, which I am prepared to table in detail.

Mr SPEAKER: The member is entitled to ask his question. It is perfectly correct.

Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. We thank you for your assistance, but the situation has become slightly murky. There is considerable confusion on the part of some members in the House, because this apology relates to question No. 2261, not one of the specific group referred to and not one of the group that was investigated by Treasury.

Hon Murray McCully: I can only rely, and I suggest that you can only rely, on the Minister’s word in this respect. He has just said to the House that in a broad sense, to summarise his words, the matter is referred in the Treasury report.

Mr SPEAKER: Yes, the member is correct. The Minister did say that. I would now like him to address the question that was asked by the Hon Murray McCully. I ask the member to repeat his question.

Hon Murray McCully: Given that these matters were the subject of a report into Te Mângai Pâho by Treasury on 30 May, did the Minister read that report?

Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. It is quite clear from answers given to the House that these matters were not the subject of that report. The corrected answer had been given to this House before that report was received.

Hon PAREKURA HOROMIA: I reiterate and support what my colleague has said then.

Rodney Hide: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I think I can assist this House in a way that will help the Government with its point.

Hon Dover SamuelsHon Dover Samuels95: No thanks!

Mr SPEAKER: That member will leave the Chamber. I said there was to be no comments during Points of Order
.

Hon Dover Samuels withdrew from the Chamber. Withdrawal from Chamber

Rodney Hide: If I may just get the dates right, this point is actually in support of Dr Cullen and the Hon Trevor Mallard. The report came out on 28 May. Mr McCully and I presented a report showing that incorrect answers were given on 29 May. On 30 May the chief executive of Te Puni Kôkiri held a press conference where he explained, in response to the Hon Murray McCully and my report, that he had apologised for providing incorrect information to the Minister of Mâori Affairs. The natural conclusion of the journalists who were receiving Mr Comer’s report was that the apology was for the questions that formed the basis of the Treasury report. It is also a confusion that up until today I have been labouring under, and probably members of this House have also been labouring under. The difficulty that the Minister of Mâori Affairs has is that he does not realise that the report does not actually cover question No. 2261, because he has not read it. Therefore, the Hon Trevor Mallard’s point is right. Mr McCully cannot ask his question because the report has nothing whatsoever to do with what the chief executive of Te Puni Kôkiri was apologising for.

Mr SPEAKER: Well, I think on this occasion I am going to agree completely with what Mr Hide said.

John Carter: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. We now have a further difficulty, because the Minister, actually in answer to the question put to him by you, made the statement that in broad terms it did refer to written question 2261. One of the members is now incorrect.

Mr SPEAKER: Perhaps we can solve this matter. The member will ask his question without the word “given” at the start.

Hon Murray McCully: Did the Minister read the Treasury report?

Hon PAREKURA HOROMIA: Several times.

Rodney Hide: Would the Minister expect his chief executive of Te Puni Kôkiri, Mr Comer, to advise him immediately that he, Mr Comer, discovered he had incorrectly advised the Minister, who, as a consequence of that advice, had misled Parliament; if that is so, how come he did not receive that advice until 9 June?

Hon PAREKURA HOROMIA: In the first instance, yes. Can I say that in relation to parliamentary question 2261, on 10 April I received a letter from Mr Leith Comer apologising specifically for that matter. The corrected reply was lodged on 1 May, and that member may recall that the adjournment was between 14 and 25 April. I returned to the office on 28 April, and I want—hopefully for the last time—to repeat this: when I received the external report on 28 May, I asked my department to review all the questions and my responses relating to Te Mângai Pâho to check their accuracy. My officials provided me with a report on 9 June, and I lodged the 13 corrected questions yesterday.

Questions for Oral Answer

Schools—Innovative Programmes

5. HELEN DUNCAN (NZ Labour) to the Minister of Education: What announcements has he made today to support innovative programmes in schools?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD (Minister of Education): Two groups have received funding from the Government’s collaborative innovation fund. Our early childhood services, primary, and secondary schools in the Napier area have received just over $100,000, and I am told that is supported by the Minister of Finance. This group is working together to ensure smooth transitions for students as they move through each stage of their education. The amount of $315,000 has gone to three high schools in Invercargill. These schools are collaborating to provide an education and intervention programme for students at risk of suspension.

Helen Duncan: What is the overall purpose of the fund?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: The overall purpose of the fund is to support collaborative projects that aim to do new and innovative things, especially regarding teaching and learning between schools. For too long schools and early childhood services have been encouraged to go it alone.

Hon Brian Donnelly: Has the Minister told the Prime Minister that while he has been busily creating these new innovations he has not bothered to do anything about some anachronistic regulations, such as the attendance regulations, which still refer to the principal as the headmaster and uses terminology such as “his school”, indicating that only males are worthy of the role; or is it the case that if women can be fathers, then female principals can be headmasters?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: I thank the member for pointing this out to me at the select committee yesterday. Yesterday the select committee provided quite a lot of interesting information, and the issue of suspension was canvassed pretty substantially—unfortunately, for poor old Dr Nick Smith.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: Why did the Minister take so much issue at the select committee of me using a particular word that he had used in this very Parliament on three occasions; is he that precious?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: I do not think that I am particularly precious. However, I do not like being called a liar by someone who has no attachment to facts.

Questions for Oral Answer

Economy—Reserve Bank Forecasts

6. Dr DON BRASH (NZ National) to the Minister of Finance: Does he agree with the Reserve Bank’s judgment that the New Zealand economy may contract this quarter?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Minister of Finance): Yes, these days I find myself increasingly in agreement with the Reserve Bank’s judgments, even when I do not like them.

Dr Don Brash: Does the Minister acknowledge that a comparison between Australian Treasury forecasts, on the one hand, and forecasts by the New Zealand Reserve Bank and New Zealand Treasury, on the other, suggests that the gap between New Zealand and Australian living standards will widen over the next 3 years; if so, when does he expect the New Zealand public to see evidence that the current gap of some $200 per week between average New Zealand weekly income and that in Australia is beginning to narrow?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Firstly, of course, at market exchange rates that gap has narrowed substantially over the last year and widened out slightly again over the last few months. The member will also be noting that the Australians keep winding back their forward forecast very substantially, even over recent days.

Clayton Cosgrove: What is driving the bank’s assessment that the economy may contract, and how long does it think such a contraction would be?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: The bank expects that if there is a contraction it will be temporary due to timing issues, specifically the negative effects of the drought, power price rises, and severe acute respiratory syndrome—all being concentrated in the June quarter. Both the bank and Treasury are forecasting a solid rebound in the later part of this year and also into 2004-05.

Dr Don Brash: Is the Minister aware that Treasury’s latest Budget forecasts show that average gross domestic product (GDP) growth per capita, both over the 5-year forecast period and the 10-year projection period, will be lower than average GDP per capita growth during the last decade; if so, does that not suggest his Government has totally failed to lift New Zealand’s average GDP per capita growth rate?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Despite the fact that over the last couple of years we have been going through the longest bear market since the 1930s, New Zealand has maintained higher growth than most other OECD countries. The 1990s were the longest bull market in modern history.

Dr Don Brash: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I do not believe that the Minister answered the question at all.

Mr SPEAKER: I do. I think that the Minister did address the question.

Questions for Oral Answer

Biosecurity—Post-border Control

7. IAN EWEN-STREET (Green) to the Minister for Biosecurity: How many biosecurity incursions requiring post-border eradication and control have there been in the last 5 years, and what is the estimated cost to New Zealand of these events?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Leader of the House), on behalf of the Minister for Biosecurity: Approximately 30 significant biosecurity incursions over the past 5 years have cost New Zealand in the order of $100 million. Those are rough estimates, and I suggest that the member puts down a question for written answer to get the precise number. This is the best that can be done in the time available.

Ian Ewen-Street: Why has the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry’s budget been cut for essential research such as the development of mechanical sniffers for sea containers and for education programmes for travellers and importers?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: One million dollars has been spent on an operation in relation to investigating further work on sea containers, and the Government is expecting to make an announcement soon in relation to more effective inspection of sea containers.

David Parker: What evidence can the Minister point to to show that the Government does take biodiversity seriously?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: The Auditor-General’s report on biosecurity shows that the Government is spending more than $50 million a year above the baseline biosecurity funding that we inherited. We continue to look for ways to tighten our biosecurity measures.

Shane Ardern: In the light of the Associate Minister for Biosecurity’s answer to the House a couple of weeks ago, when she said, “I think that finding only six incursions in the last fortnight shows that we are very good at surveillance.”, is the Government now prepared to accept that more money needs to be spent on surveillance?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: The Minister for Biosecurity will continue to urge upon the Minister of Finance the need for increased spending in these areas.

Brent Catchpole: Will the Minister accept that the biosecurity database of pests that are potentially damaging to New Zealand’s agriculture and economy is inadequate, and will he now take steps to upgrade the database to include all pests of our trading partners, so that they will be swiftly identified on arrival, and promptly eradicated thereafter?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: The Government continues to expand its operations in these areas. We do accept the need for increased activity and surveillance, but it is unlikely that we will ever be 100 percent proof against biosecurity incursions.

Ian Ewen-Street: Why does the Government think that New Zealand’s economy and ecosystems are worth less than the $190 per container it would cost to inspect 100 percent of all containers arriving at our ports?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: There has to be some consideration of the total economic benefits here—the cost of inspection versus the cost of eradication versus the cost of control versus the cost of damage, in some instances. For example, in the case of the painted apple moth, the total cost to date of the eradication programme is now approaching the bottom end of the estimated cost of simply allowing the moth to spread.

Ian Ewen-Street: Given that the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry set traps in a 1-kilometre radius round the infestation of the gum leaf skeletoniser moth, even though the female moth is known to fly more than 2 kilometres, can the Minister explain why the ministry lacks even a basic understanding of the ecology of this moth?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I have to confess that I am not in a position to advise the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry on the basic ecology of gum leaf skeletonitis.

Shane Ardern: Can neither the Minister for Biosecurity nor the Minister of Finance concede that, as we have budgeted up to $90 million for the eradication of the painted apple moth, spending a little bit more on surveillance—given that we spend about $25 million on that at the moment—would be a sound investment?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: As I said, we are spending an extra $50 million a year on baseline spending over and above that which we inherited, but I repeat that however much we spend on biosecurity it is unlikely that we will prevent all incursions—some things swim here and some things come through the air from Australia.

Brent Catchpole: How many biosecurity incursions have there been over the last 5 years that his ministry has abandoned all attempts to eradicate, and what is the cost of that abandonment to the New Zealand economy?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I do not have the information to answer that question. I would have to have another question put down to be able to answer that.

Sue Kedgley: How many more times does the Minister envisage that entire urban communities will have to be blanket-sprayed with the pesticide Foray 48B because the Government refuses to put in place proper biosecurity measures at the border?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I repeat that even with the best biosecurity measures—and we have some of the very best in the world—one cannot give a 100 percent guarantee that there will never be another incursion by a species such as the painted apple moth.

Ian Ewen-Street: Is it still true that couriered mail is not included in the claimed “100 percent inspection of incoming international mail”; if so, does the Minister believe that those people who seek to deliberately bring biosecurity-risk goods into New Zealand do not know about that defect in our system?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I cannot answer that question. I would have to have another question put down to answer it.

Questions for Oral Answer

Methamphetamines—Production

8. DAVE HEREORA (NZ Labour) to the Minister of Customs: Has he received any reports on trends in the importation of substances intended for the production of methamphetamine?

Hon RICK BARKER (Minister of Customs): The Customs Service has reported that in the first half of this year it has already seized 315,000 ephedrine and pseudoephedrine-based tablets, compared to 254,000 in 2002 and just 32,600 in 2001. This methamphetamine would have a street value of approximately $1 million.

Dave Hereora: Can the Minister advise the House to what factors the Customs Service has attributed this sharp rise in its seizure figures of these substances?

Hon RICK BARKER: The service believes that this sharp rise in the supply of illicit precursor substances from overseas is because the domestic supply of these products is being tightened up by the police working with pharmacists. Local methamphetamine producers have turned elsewhere to secure the necessary precursor supplies to continue this extremely profitable, but highly illegal, criminal enterprise.

Questions for Oral Answer

Cardiac Surgery—Waiting Times

9. Dr LYNDA SCOTT (NZ National—Kaikoura) to the Minister of Health: Why will heart patients needing a bypass operation be able to access that surgery more easily in Auckland and Waikato needing only 35 points to qualify, than in Wellington, Christchurch, or Dunedin where they need at least 50 points?

Hon ANNETTE KING (Minister of Health): I am advised that the treatment of patients requiring cardiac bypass surgery is being performed at the same level of acuity throughout New Zealand.

Dr Lynda Scott: How can she justify returning to a health structure that allows district health boards to set up different criteria—regardless of her comments about acuity—for access to surgery, which mean that if one lives in the lower North Island or in the South Island one is more at risk of dying from heart disease, due to inability to access bypass surgery, than if one is living in the upper North Island?

Hon ANNETTE KING: I can justify putting in place a system that implements a clinical criteria assessment. It was promised by Jenny Shipley in 1996.

Dr Lynda Scott: Thirty-five points.

Hon ANNETTE KING: No, it was never, ever implemented under a National Government.

Dr Lynda Scott: Yes, it was.

Hon ANNETTE KING: No, it was not ever implemented. The first time a clinical priority criteria assessment was implemented in New Zealand was in the year 2000.

David Benson-Pope: Has the Minister been advised of any possible anomalies in the use of clinical assessment tools for cardiac procedures between regions?

Hon ANNETTE KING: Yes, the Ministry of Health has advised me that it believes the clinical conditions of patients requiring cardiac surgery within 6 months are the same, but the points system as utilised by clinicians may not be being used uniformly, and I am having this investigated.

Pita Paraone: Does she agree with the statement made by Christchurch surgeon Phil Bagshaw, on 29 May 2003, that the points system adopted by Christchurch Hospital is bureaucratic and that people in genuine need of operations are missing out; if not, why not?

Hon ANNETTE KING: No, I do not agree with Phil Bagshaw. The booking system started to be implemented in 1996, and the aim of it was to give patients certainty that they would receive an operation. This Government has ensured that they receive certainty that they get an operation within 6 months. Christchurch was the last district health board in New Zealand to implement such a programme.

Heather Roy: How does the Minister explain the fact that heart patients are being discharged from hospital without the treatment they need, when the reason for this is that the Auckland District Health Board receives funding of $2,261 per person, compared to the Southland District Health Board receiving $993 per person, because the health funding is based on race?

Hon ANNETTE KING: I totally reject the assumption that that member has made.

Sue Kedgley: Why does the Minister not simply step in and require all district health boards to operate the same points system for eligibility for heart surgery, given that she is explicitly required under section 9 of the New Zealand Public Health and Disability Act to ensure there are nationally consistent standards and nationally consistent performance monitoring in place for all health services, including heart surgery?

Hon ANNETTE KING: First of all, there are not nationally consistent criteria throughout New Zealand. Since 2000 we have been trying to implement them. The member takes a very simplistic approach if she thinks that I can order clinicians to do exactly the same thing in every hospital. All we can do is provide the assessment tools, and ask boards and clinicians to work with them.

Dr Lynda Scott: How can the Minister expect this House and New Zealanders to believe that heart patients’ clinical conditions are the same but their points are different; and can she explain exactly how she intends to ensure national consistency of health care across New Zealand when, 5 years ago, Labour was describing the cardiac points difference as “scandalous” and when in 1998 she severely criticised it by saying it was “unacceptable that accidents of geography can determine who lives and who dies”—which is exactly the system she set up that the country has gone back to?

Hon ANNETTE KING: The Minister of Health who put in place the booking system under a National Government led New Zealanders to believe that a clinical criteria assessment system had been put in place. That was not true; in fact, there were no clinical assessment criteria. There were no points being used—although that Government said there were. They were not even begun to be used until the year 2000, so the people of New Zealand were duped by the previous Government. Let me read this to the House: “Bill English said the booking system was working very well in 1998”. That was the year that 28 people died on the cardiac waiting list.

Heather Roy: What does the Minister say to families of heart patients who are denied treatment because the health dollars for their heart operations have been diverted to race-based funding, irrespective of need, simply to buy this Government votes?

Hon ANNETTE KING: I would say to the people who said that that they were plain wrong.

Questions for Oral Answer

Question No. 7 to Minister

IAN EWEN-STREET (Green): I note that the Hon Damien O’Connor has resumed his seat, and I seek the leave of the House to ask the questions again that Dr Cullen was unable to answer.

Mr SPEAKER: The member can seek leave for anything. Leave is sought. Is there any objection? There is.

Questions for Oral Answer

Sentencing Act—Reparations

10. DAIL JONES (NZ First) to the Minister of Justice: Does he intend to review the Sentencing Act 2002 in light of the halving of the sentence of Ding Yan Zhao; if not, why not?

Hon PHIL GOFF (Minister of Justice): No. The Sentencing Act maintains longstanding requirements for the courts, in determining a sentence, to ensure consistency with sentences in comparable cases, which was a factor in Justice Randerson’s decision. It also requires the judge to weigh both aggravating and mitigating factors relevant to the offender’s actions, and to take account of the views of victims. The expression of remorse has always been regarded as a relevant mitigating factor. When that remorse leads to the making of amends to a victim, the victim’s response must be taken into account. That is set out clearly in section 10 and requires no further clarification.

Dail Jones: Is the Minister certain that the victims in the Zhao case, as defined by section 4(1)(a)(iii) of the Sentencing Act: “every member of the immediate family … ”—this being a case of a deceased person—were party to any offer or agreement to make amends, as referred to in section 10 of the Act; and, as it appears that the father and mother of the deceased child were not consulted in this way, surely that is a ground on which to encourage the Solicitor-General to lodge an appeal in this case; an encouragement which, I hope, would have the overwhelming support of this House?

Hon PHIL GOFF: First, in regard to the latter point, it is not appropriate for me to involve myself as Minister of Justice in matters before the court. I do, however, have a concern as to whether the court was aware that the payment of money to a kindergarten did meet the requirements of section 10 and that that was regarded by the victim as a mitigating factor. It is not clear at all to me whether the court was aware of that, but only the judge can answer that question.

Tim Barnett: Does the Sentencing Act require the court to take into account an offer by the offender to make amends to the victim?

Hon PHIL GOFF: Yes, it does so under section 10 of the Sentencing Act, which is very much the same provision as section 12 of the previous Act, the Criminal Justice Act. Making amends—and remorse—is one aspect of the factors that the judge must take into account. Equally, that section requires the court to consider the genuineness of the offer and, also, whether the victim accepts that offer as making amends—that is, mitigating the wrong. That the judge must take making amends into account means that he or she must bear it in mind in determining the appropriate sentence. It does not necessarily mean that the judge has to use it as a factor in reducing the sentence.

Richard Worth: In the light of widespread public perception that those with money may, by reparation payments, secure a lesser sentence, why will he not review the Sentencing Act so that rich and poor are punished equally and the rich do not secure an advantage?

Hon PHIL GOFF: It is, of course, absolutely fundamental that the financial means of the offender do not influence the sentence given, but I would not want, as I have seen, the impression to be left in the House that the court was other than in agreement with that sentiment. As the judge in the High Court, talking about the District Court judge, correctly pointed out in paragraph 19 of the sentencing notes: “Offenders and their families should not have any grounds to believe that they may be able effectively to buy themselves out of prison by making an offer of reparation or amends under section 10. ... However, I entirely agree with the sentencing judge that the courts will not tolerate some form of chequebook justice.” Both the District Court judge and the High Court judge emphatically stood behind the principle that the ability to pay money ought not to influence the outcome of the case.

Marc Alexander: What action, if any, can the Minister take to ensure that the victim’s view on reparation, and whether that makes amends to the victim, is conveyed to the courts?

Hon PHIL GOFF: I have discussed this matter with the Ministry of Justice. The Ministry of Justice has been in direct contact with the police prosecutions division. As a result of that discussion, the police will remind all police prosecutors that in cases where the defence is making a submission that amends have been made or offered, the prosecutor must, firstly, find out whether the amends have actually been made and, secondly, find out the victim’s response to that offer and whether he or she sees that as mitigating the wrong done to him or her. It is most important that the court, through the Crown or the police, is made aware of the victim’s views in that regard and accurately.

Dail Jones: Was the Minister correctly reported in the New Zealand Herald today on page A3, in referring to what he said on Holmes last night: “Phil Goff said it was unacceptable and contrary to the Victims Rights Act for victims not be informed.”; what steps will he take to make sure that this type of dreadful situation will not recur?

Hon PHIL GOFF: I was absolutely correctly interpreted in that article. It is unacceptable, it is intolerable that the victim was not advised of the hearing date for the appeal case. That is a statutory obligation on the agencies. I have made inquiries of my colleague the Minister for Courts. The courts state that a junior staff member failed to do that, notwithstanding the fact that they were reminded by a supervisor. Disciplinary action will be decided upon by the department. Most important, the department will put in place, from this point on, a check to ensure that that advice is given to the victim before the matter goes to court.

Questions for Oral Answer

Child, Youth and Family Services—Child Caregiver

11. KATHERINE RICH (NZ National) to the Associate Minister for Social Development and Employment (CYF): When was Child, Youth and Family Services notified that an 11-year-old boy was not attending school because successive State-funded carers refused to look after his tetraplegic grandfather, and what action was taken at the time to ensure he could attend school?

Hon RUTH DYSON (Associate Minister for Social Development and Employment (CYF)): I am advised that Child, Youth and Family Services was notified of the case on 1 May. It then contacted the Accident Compensation Corporation, which had already been in contact with the family’s general practitioner. Child, Youth and Family Services then contacted the school, which contacted the boy’s father, who advised he was not available to discuss the issue for a further fortnight. In the meantime, the school initiated a truancy prosecution. Child, Youth and Family Services also contacted the Care and Protection Resource Panel, visited the boy at home, and, today, attended a further meeting with other Government agencies to determine continuing action to resolve the issues.

Katherine Rich: Is it not a damning comment on the service when a case of an 11-year-old boy who is not attending school because he is caring for a severely disabled grandparent is not seen as critical, but as the third-lowest level of urgency, to be dealt with in 7 days, and that after 6 weeks the child is still not in an environment where school attendance is ensured?

Hon RUTH DYSON: What I would say is a damning indictment, not on the department but on our society, is the fact that we have many more children who are more critically in need of support than that boy.

Russell Fairbrother: What are Government agencies doing now to ensure the boy’s well-being?

Hon RUTH DYSON: A number of Government agencies are actively involved in this case. They are continuing to work together to provide a coordinated response to ensure that the boy does attend school, and that the boy’s and the grandfather’s needs are met.

Questions for Oral Answer

Youth—Development Programmes

12. DARREN HUGHES (NZ Labour—Otaki) to the Minister of Youth Affairs: What evidence is there of positive education, training, and employment outcomes for participants in the youth development programmes funded by the Ministry of Youth Affairs?

Hon JOHN TAMIHERE (Minister of Youth Affairs): Excellent outcomes were achieved for a range of young people participating in youth affairs youth development programmes. Sixty percent of participants in such programmes go on to further education, training, or employment.

Darren Hughes: What proportion of young people on these programmes actually find their way into real jobs, rather than further education and training?

Hon JOHN TAMIHERE: Well over one-third of participants end up in employment, based on 6-month outcome indicators for the period to June 2002. For Conservation Corps participants, 39 percent end up in employment, 11 percent in training, and 7 percent in education. For Youth Service Corps, 35 percent end up in employment, 14 percent in training, and 11 percent in education.

Paul Adams: In the light of the fact that even the last National Government spent more on youth development programmes—20 percent more, in fact—than this present one, how does the Minister justify spending an extra $1 million this year on policy advice, whilst valuable youth development programmes are left starving for cash?

Hon JOHN TAMIHERE: The figures read out by that member do not square with the knowledge that I have. I would more than welcome the opportunity to engage with him at a later date, with regard to the true dollar values being spent in the youth sector.

(uncorrected transcript--subject to correction and further editing)


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