Gordon Campbell | Parliament TV | Parliament Today | Video | Questions Of the Day | Search

 


Questions Of The Day Transcript - 19 June 2003

(uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing)

THURSDAY, 19 JUNE 2003

Questions for Oral Answer


Questions to Ministers:

1. Tranz Rail—Toll Holdings
2. Hospitals—Auckland Amalgamation
3. Mâori Affairs, Associate Minister—Personal Statement
4. Te Mângai Pâho—Te Puni Kôkiri Media Briefing
5. Schools—Allanton Merger
6. Education—Skill Building
7. Taxation—Inflation
8. Burglaries—Car Conversion and Theft
9. Police—Staffing
10. Te Mângai Pâho—Mâori Sportscasting International
11. Landlords—Problem Tenants
12. Agriculture—Emission Charges

Questions for Oral Answer
Tranz Rail—Toll Holdings

1. MARK PECK (NZ Labour—Invercargill) to the Minister of Finance: Has he received any reports that Toll Holdings will be looking for Government support to maintain and upgrade the rail network if its 95 cents a share takeover bid for Tranz Rail is successful; if so, will Government support be forthcoming?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Minister of Finance): That was the statement yesterday by the chief executive of Toll Holdings. I have to point out that if Toll Holdings’ takeover bid succeeds the change of ownership condition of the present heads of agreement with Tranz Rail will be triggered, and the subsidy implicit in that heads of agreement would not be forthcoming and neither would the guaranteed investment in the track.

Mark Peck: What are the components of the heads of agreement between the Government and Tranz Rail as they relate to the track?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Under the deal we would buy back the track and infrastructure for $1, set up an entity called Track Co. to manage it, charge Tranz Rail for access, impose a series of service level agreements with step-in rights in the event of non-compliance, and invest $100 million over the next 5 years to upgrade the network.

Hon Roger Sowry: Given that he has said “the Government has not necessarily committed to remaining a long-term shareholder in the operating company”, will he negotiate with Toll Holdings to buy the track instead of publicly insulting Toll Holdings?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I have done no such thing. Given the fact that the chief executive on Monday seemed to think that there was a built-in $20 million and appeared not to have read the heads of agreements at that point, I think it would have been hard to insult the chief executive.

Hon Roger Sowry: Another insult!

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: No, that is a statement of fact. That is not an insult about Toll Holdings. Toll Holdings will be able to come back to the Government, if it so wishes, should it gain approval at its present price, to achieve an agreement exactly the same as the one we have with Tranz Rail at the present time. Its share bid is based upon the Government not being there. Toll Holdings cannot expect therefore to get a deal at least as good as it is looking for if it takes over.

Gerry Brownlee: It is threatening!

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: No, it is a statement of commercial reality.

Peter Brown: Noting that some major institutional investors in Tranz Rail are openly supporting the Toll Holdings bid in order to get rid of the Tranz Rail senior management, does that send a signal to this Government, and will it have any influence on the Minister’s intention of giving Tranz Rail monopoly operating rights on the track?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I can assure the member that Toll Holdings certainly wants monopoly operating rights on the track.

Stephen Franks: How will the Government assure New Zealanders that this is not just a bail-out for the existing shareholders, and, more, that the efficient shipping competitors of Tranz Rail are not driven to bankruptcy by continued subsidised predatory underpricing through the Government’s rescue of that company and its shareholders, instead of simply ensuring that the track is sound for any user?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: To achieve an upgrade of the track will require significant investment, as the member’s own leader has pointed out in the recent past. That is unlikely to be achieved without some degree of assistance from the Government. I am simply signalling very clearly to Toll Holdings that it cannot expect to come in and pick up a subsidy that is not available to it as of right under the present heads of agreement.

Jeanette Fitzsimons: Is the existing rail operator receiving any Government subsidy to maintain the rail network at present?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: The only subsidy I can think of was implicit in the fact that the Government has given and Auckland had agreed to an excessive price to buy the Auckland track. The Government had to step in and pay certainly more than that track was worth.

John Key: Does the Minister believe that his Government is in a stronger or weaker position negotiating with Toll Holdings before it owns 51 percent of Tranz Rail, or after?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: The Government sought cooperation with Tranz Rail for an understanding before any further bids proceeded, but that was turned down by Toll Holdings. I simply signalled to Toll Holdings that there are consequences that flow for not achieving prior agreement. Toll Holdings cannot expect to come in afterwards and get the same kind of deal that it seems to be anticipating.

Jeanette Fitzsimons: Would it be prudent for existing Tranz Rail shareholders to assume that there would be a Government subsidy for the rail network even if the network was in private hands, given all the difficulties there would be in determining whether the money would be going into the rail line or into its bottom line?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: The heads of agreement provide the separation of the operating company from the rest of Tranz Rail to ensure that any subsidy implicit in the access charge remains within the Tranz Rail rail operating structure as opposed to, say, for example, flowing across into the other operations of Tranz Rail.

Questions for Oral Answer
Hospitals—Auckland Amalgamation

2. Dr LYNDA SCOTT (NZ National—Kaikoura) to the Minister of Health: What safeguards are in place to ensure continuity of service during the amalgamation of Green Lane, National Women’s, Starship Children’s and Auckland Hospital on to one site in Grafton Road and what guarantees can she give that no one will be adversely affected by the move?

Hon ANNETTE KING (Minister of Health): I requested the previous Government’s Cabinet papers that approved the merger of the four hospitals on to the Grafton site in Auckland to see what safeguards the then Government had guaranteed. Unfortunately, there were none. However, I am advised by the Auckland District Health Board that a full transition programme was subsequently developed that put clinical safety as its highest priority.

Dr Lynda Scott: Why was Katherine Winiata, mother of 4-year-old McLean Winiata, a little boy who needs open-heart surgery and who was booked for surgery on 19 May this year, told that he had been reprioritised until after the Green Lane Hospital moved to the Auckland site and would not even be considered for surgery until after February 2004, and how many other children are having their lives put at risk by this reprioritisation?

Mr SPEAKER: I will not warn the Hon Dr Nick Smith again. He interjected twice during that question. He should not interject, at all.

Hon ANNETTE KING: If the member wishes to raise an individual case I suggest that she does it in the appropriate manner. To help patients is always better than using them. However, I have been advised by the Auckland District Health Board that cardiac surgery will slow because of the shift. That was envisaged. Obviously, with a shift of this sort a major change is taking place. However, the board intends to try to do more surgery prior to the shift to make up for the delays. The board is working very hard on that.

Steve Chadwick: What benefits will there be for children who are requiring cardiac surgery when Green Lane Hospital is merged with Starship Children’s Hospital?

Hon ANNETTE KING: There will be considerable benefits to children requiring cardiac surgery, because the shift from Green Lane Hospital to Starship Children’s Hospital means there will be six theatres instead of four, and the sessions for cardiac surgery will increase from eight to nine. I presume that is one of the benefits that was thought about when it was decided to merge the four hospitals on to one site.

Dr Lynda Scott: As there is no other paediatric cardiac surgery availability in New Zealand, will she agree to send children to Australia for treatment, if it shown that their lives and their growth and development are at risk because of this need to reprioritise and delay surgery due to the Green Lane Hospital move to the Auckland site?

Hon ANNETTE KING: A decision for a child—or an adult, for that matter—to have surgery is a decision for the clinicians. If they decided they needed to do a child urgently, they would do him or her.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: Noticing the objection that the Minister has taken to our member raising an individual case, I seek the leave of the House to table 19 cases that that member raised when she was Opposition spokesperson on health.

Documents laid on the Table of the House.

Hon ANNETTE KING: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I did not take objection; I said to raise it in the appropriate manner, with me.

Dr Lynda Scott: I seek leave to table the letter from Katherine Winiata to Wayne Brown, outlining her significant concerns about the health of her son, caused by these delays.

Document laid on the Table of the House.

Questions for Oral Answer
Question No. 3 to Minister

Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS (Leader—NZ First)86PETERS, Rt Hon WINSTON14:22:33Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS (Leader—NZ First): I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Because this question is directed to the Prime Minister, I seek leave for the question to be held over until she can be here to answer it.

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

Questions for Oral Answer
Mâori Affairs, Associate Minister—Personal Statement

3. Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS (Leader—NZ First) to the Prime Minister: When she said “I understand that the matters referred to have been covered by a personal statement made in this House before.”, did she check this out before she gave that answer; if not, why not?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Deputy Prime Minister), on behalf of the Prime Minister: No, because it was a supplementary question without notice. She therefore relied on her own recollections, ably assisted by her bench mate.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Disregarding who might be ably assisting her, where in the statement of 6 July 2000 from John Tamihere, which was a personal explanation, are the following offences: declaring as income in a business transaction an unrealised profit of over $800,000 on a sale not at that time entered into; or forging signatures on 34 cheques as evidence before the Mâori Affairs Committee by the Waipareira Trust’s former lawyer; where, in this personal explanation that the Prime Minister said covered these issues, are those two issues?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: If the member had done more research he would have found that there are other personal explanations. I have three here.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: In which of the other three explanations that the Deputy Prime Minister is holding, other than the one of 6 July 2000, are there explanations for the two series of offences I am outlining now?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: In relation to the matters that the member raises, one of those he did not raise yesterday, in any case. The issue of what he calls forgery was raised on 6 July, as were a number of the other matters he raised yesterday. The matter he referred to in terms of a mortgage was raised on 15 March—I am not sure in which year.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Can the Prime Minister tell us again, in respect of the declaration of income as unrealised profit—an illegal device that sends people to jail in other transactions—which explanations by Mr Tamihere cover that allegation and those of the 34 forged cheques?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: On 6 July Mr Tamihere referred to a letter alleging forgery and fraud. If the member wants to raise those matters further, I suggest that he wanders somewhere down Courtenay Place and utters them out loud.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Are you going to take that as an answer?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Yes.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: No, he is not. Mr Speaker, are you going to take that as an answer?

Mr SPEAKER: Is that the member’s point of order?

Rt Hon Winston Peters: It is.

Mr SPEAKER: Please be seated. The Minister addressed that question by suggesting that the member say outside what he said inside. An explanation was given at a particular time.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Yesterday, the Prime Minister in, one her answers, gave the identical answer, which was that I should go outside the House and repeat that. I said to you and to her yesterday that the matter of $800,000 wrongly declared profit as income is a matter of the company’s audit and a public document, so why would I be required to do that? That is my point. That sort of device used by the Prime Minister yesterday is simply not a parliamentary answer. I am asking the Minister where in his explanations Mr Tamihere has made, of which he holds copies, is that matter covered. It is fairly obvious.

Mr SPEAKER: There is no ministerial responsibility here, because those are activities before the member came into this House. Any responsibility, of course, to the Prime Minister is the answer she gave, and the Hon Dr Michael Cullen has addressed that today.

Hon John Tamihere: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I have two submissions. The first goes to Standing Order 117. I invite you to take some advice from the Clerk and consider a new ruling. Standing Order 117 gives a right in regard to the Standing Orders of a very narrow negative defence. I am requesting of you to consider the right of members in this House to have a halfway house defence in regard to not having to be put to the sword and using Standing Order 343. This matter seems to be coming up more and more. I invite you to think about that on the basis of a positive and affirmative defence.

Mr SPEAKER: The member is asking me to consider that ruling?

Hon John Tamihere: That is right.

Mr SPEAKER: Please be seated. I will deal with that first. The member has asked me to consider that ruling. I will.

Hon John Tamihere: My second submission goes to the two issues raised by the member. The first one was well covered by the Serious Fraud Office. It reported back on it. The second issue—

Hon David Carter: This is not a point of order.

Hon John Tamihere: This has impugned my character, and I will have a say. The second one is to read the audit reports, and understand how to read audit reports.

Mr SPEAKER: The member can, of course, ask for leave to make a personal explanation.

Hon Dr Michael Cullen: I think he’s already done it.

Mr SPEAKER: He has made the point he has wanted to make now. That is the end of the matter.

Rodney Hide: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. It seems to me that we are getting into difficult waters with question time. Dr Michael Cullen suggested to Mr Winston Peters to go outside and repeat that, but that seems to me to be inviting the Rt Hon Winston Peters to commit a contempt of court, given that these cases are subject to court suppression orders.

Mr SPEAKER: That is something I cannot rule on, because I do not know the facts of that situation.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I shall ask the Prime Minister again. Where in John Tamihere’s numerous explanations to Parliament, including today’s one by way of a point of order, are the following serious matters covered: declaration as income of an unrealised profit of $800,000 to bring the books from red to black on a sale not even then entered into, or the forging of signatures on 34 cheques as evidenced by the Waipareira Trust former lawyer, before the Mâori Affairs Committee; where in those explanations, and including today’s, does Mr Tamihere cover those matters?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: My understanding is that part was covered in the 6 July explanation. I have a correction. There are just two personal explanations, not three. I may have misled the House earlier by looking at my notes here incorrectly.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Where in the 6 July explanation that he has now alluded to is any coverage of the two matters I have raised in this House today and yesterday?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: That explanation relates to alleging forgery and fraud. I notice, as Mr Tamihere has pointed out, that that was not what was found by members outside. I suggest that the continued use of that terminology of allegations in this House, which were not found to be the case outside, is inappropriate and improper.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I ask the Prime Minister whether the reason she promoted John Tamihere, despite his serious offences including forgery, is that she herself—

Mr SPEAKER: No. That interpolation is not part of the question. I ask the member to please ask the question without that interpolation in it.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I am sorry, but could you explain that again?

Mr SPEAKER: Please ask the question without the comments about forgery.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I will not. This is an offence that Mr Tamihere admitted, and you are not going to stop me from reciting the facts. I am going to say it again: is the reason she permitted John Tamihere, despite his serious offences including forgery, that—

Mr SPEAKER: The member raised a point of order. The member mentioned was not convicted of forgery, therefore that cannot be alluded to in that way.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The fact is that Mr Tamihere, as he will tell you, admitted the offences of forgery and uttering. That is a fact. I do not know what advice you are getting from the Clerk, but perhaps you should ask Mr Tamihere whether I am right or wrong on this matter, because I intend to ask this question in the way I have asked it.

Hon Dr Michael Cullen: It is not normal to re-quote from a personal explanation, but I do quote from a personal explanation: “...the allegation of forgery went before the Auckland District Law Society, which heard the case. While it determined that some of my actions had been inappropriate, it did not determine to strike me off. In 1995 the police took a prosecution with regard to those allegations. The outcome of this case was that I was discharged without conviction.”

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. You are being misadvised. The fact is that Mr Tamihere admitted the offence. The issue of conviction is immaterial. He admitted it as part of the record. Now he can laugh, and you can, but that is a fact.

Mr SPEAKER: I will help the member. If the member makes that as a statement of fact, then he has to stand by it if he goes ahead and asks the supplementary question.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I stand by it, so here is my supplementary question: did she, as Prime Minister, promote John Tamihere, despite his serious offences including forgery, because she herself is a self-confessed art forger?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: She promoted Mr Tamihere because he is a very able young Mâori leader, who, unlike many people I have known, has not attempted to cover up aspects of his past.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. You heard that answer. It is the second answer today that is totally unsatisfactory according to Speakers’ rulings and the Standing Orders. Otherwise, I will start talking about the babysitter. [Interruption] Have you got that? Now, Mr Speaker, I suggest that you intervene and bring him to order.

Mr SPEAKER: I am sorry. I was distracted by discussing the matter with the Clerk. As far as I am concerned, the Minister certainly addressed the question asked by the member.

Questions for Oral Answer
Te Mângai Pâho—Te Puni Kôkiri Media Briefing

4. Hon MURRAY McCULLY (NZ National—East Coast Bays) to the Minister of Mâori Affairs: What was the purpose of the briefing provided to some media by the chief executive of Te Puni Kôkiri, Mr Leith Comer, on 30 May 2003, in relation to inconsistencies between the Treasury-led report on Te Mângai Pâho and answers to parliamentary questions provided by the Minister, and when was he told of plans to hold the briefing?

Hon PAREKURA HOROMIA (Minister of Maori Affairs): I am informed it was to explain the processes by Te Puni Kôkiri to generate replies to oral and written questions. I was not informed in advance of the briefing.

Rodney Hide: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I do not know whether it was the sound system or the two gentlemen here—

Mr SPEAKER: Yes, I think the member has made a valid point. Would the Minister please repeat the answer. I had difficulty in hearing it, too. Now there will be quiet, because I have asked for quiet.

Hon PAREKURA HOROMIA: I am informed it was to explain the process used by Te Puni Kôkiri to generate replies to oral and written questions. I was not informed in advance of a briefing.

Hon Murray McCully: In the light of his advice to the House on 12 June that Mr Comer’s apology related only to question 3261, and that it was tendered over 6 weeks earlier, on 10 April, is there any explanation for Mr Comer’s briefing of selected journalists, giving them the completely false impression that he had apologised for inconsistencies in ministerial answers exposed by the Treasury report, other than that it was a calculated attempt to deceive those journalists; if so, what is that explanation?

Hon PAREKURA HOROMIA: I am certain there was no intentional deceit. I have had a discussion with Mr Comer; end of story.

Mahara Okeroa: Does the Minister of Mâori Affairs have confidence in the chief executive officer, Mr Leith Comer?

Hon PAREKURA HOROMIA: In general, yes, but there have been some areas of Te Puni Kôkiri’s performance that will be the subject of a State Services Commissioner’s review.

Hon Ken Shirley: What does the Minister say to those who are claiming that he is prepared to put at risk the integrity of Te Puni Kôkiri’s chief executive, Leith Comer, to protect his own political skin, and why does he not just admit he knew his replies were wrong prior to 9 June?

Hon PAREKURA HOROMIA: There is no truth in that.

Hon Murray McCully: Is the Minister aware that following Mr Comer’s briefing, several media organisations wrote stories asserting that Mr Comer had taken responsibility for the inaccurate answers exposed by the Treasury report, and stated that he had apologised to the Minister for those inaccuracies, and, that being the case, does he now accept that those journalists were totally misled?

Hon PAREKURA HOROMIA: No.

Hon Murray McCully: Does the Minister know that on the day following Mr Comer’s briefing, both the Dominion Post and the New Zealand Herald wrote stories as a consequence of the briefing, stating that Mr Comer had taken responsibility for inaccuracies in the answers and had asserted that he had apologised to the Minister; does the Minister accept that that version, carried by those two media outlets, is at variance with his answer to a question in this House on 12 June?

Hon PAREKURA HOROMIA: Being a qualified printer by trade, and having worked in the newspaper industry for a few years, I do not have any responsibility for what is written in those newspapers.

Questions for Oral Answer
Schools—Allanton Merger

5. ROD DONALD (Co-Leader—Green) to the Minister of Education: Why is he recommending that Henley, Momona, and Allanton schools be closed and merged with Outram and East Taieri schools rather than accepting the proposals from his own ministry’s network review to merge the three schools on the Allanton site?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD (Minister of Education): The chosen option is close to one of the two options proposed through the facilitator of the community-based review, which had a reference group that included representatives of all those schools. The chosen option is, as far as those schools are concerned, exactly the same as option two, which came through that very long—and I might say, somewhat tortuous—process.

Rod Donald: Do I take it from that answer that the Minister does not accept that merging on the Allanton site is the strong preference of the local community as well as the preferred option from the ministry’s own review facilitator; if so, is he trying to impose his will on a rural community that is working together and does not want to be split up?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: No. First of all, I want to congratulate the member on keeping the promise he made down in Allanton to come and do some stirring in Parliament, but, no, the facts are very clear in that this is option two for those schools, which came out of the process they were involved in leading.

David Benson-Pope: Can the Minister detail to the House the intended benefits of the review of schools in Mosgiel and the wider Taieri area?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: The purpose of the review is to make sure that the children in the area, now and in the future, are receiving the best possible education. This review is not about saving money; it is about using education money for the best use of the students. The proposals I have made to date would see the release of $11 million, which would be transferred for spending on education in that area. Of that money, $6.4 million will be used for the development of the new schools. That money will put those schools—which, on average, are about one-third full—in the top 20 percent of property in the country. The remainder of the money will be devoted to teaching and learning in those schools. We need to make a choice: do we want property or do we want education?

Hon Dr Nick Smith: Noting the way that the Minister yesterday lauded the Goodman Fielder School of the Year, why is his ministry threatening the 2000 Goodman Fielder School of the Year at Wylies Crossing with closure, and the 2002 Best Little School of the Year, the North Taieri school, with closure, while ignoring that there have been over 100 schools with repeat bad reviews around the country—is the message from the Minister to punish winners and reward losers?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: Not at all. One of the clear factors that stimulate the area reviews is Education Review Office reports.

Rod Donald: Why did the Ministry of Education recently provide a new classroom at Wylies Crossing School, install cabling for a computer network at Allanton School, spend around $100,000 on new administration facilities at Melville School, and $100,000 on a new library and office at North Taieri School, only to announce that all four schools will close at the end of the year?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: I think it is fair to say that, in this role, I have a real dilemma. Where there is substantial roll decline and substantial over-capacity, as there is in this area, we have a choice of freezing all buildings for maybe a decade beforehand—as would be promoted by that member—or we can say that the school can go on. We would then possibly lose a bit of money, but we would not have uncertainty for that very long period. I prefer the current approach, whereby we do end up spending in the end. On the question of Wylies Crossing, I really think that for the member to be promoting it as a rural school, when it is 3 kilometres from the boundaries of Mosgiel, is pretty silly.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: Noting the importance the Minister puts on efficient use of public money for children, why did he make a big deal—and a wonderful photo opportunity—of the opening of the new homework centre at the Taieri North School, which he is now proposing to close; is this a Minister who spends public money on property to get good photo opportunities, which have nothing to do with getting a good education for children?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: The member might be flattering me, as I think there is no such thing as a good photo, as far as I am concerned. The substantive point is that the homework centre is not at the school.

Rod Donald: Is the Minister aware that there is a new 60-section subdivision under construction near the Reid Park School, that the first six homes have boosted the roll by 14 pupils, that another subdivision is before the council for consent, and that there are no bus services from this low-income area to the nearest school; and will he reconsider his proposal to close Reid Park in the light of that information?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: I do not have all of the details of the distances involved. I know that I have had some very proper representations about transport issues and crossing Factory Road from my colleague the member for Dunedin South. That is an issue that has to be part of my future decision-making. We still have some more work to do on that particular area. As far as the population and housing growth in the area is concerned, unfortunately, for people involved in education in the area, the vast majority of the extra housing that is happening in that area in Mosgiel is for retired people.

Rod Donald: Supplementary question, Mr Speaker. Is this my fourth supplementary question?

Mr SPEAKER: No, it is the fifth one.

Questions for Oral Answer
Education—Skill Building

6. LUAMANUVAO WINNIE LABAN (NZ Labour—Mana) to the Minister of Education: How is the Government delivering on its goal of building an education system that equips New Zealand with 21st century skills, enabling participation by all in the growing economy?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD (Minister of Education): The $77.6 million injection into information and communications technology in this year’s Budget will include vast improvements to online access, more laptops for teachers, additional information and communications technology professional development clusters, more opportunities to expand e-learning practices in schools, and improvements in coordination of school information and communication technology initiatives. That is a massive boost.

Luamanuvao Winnie Laban: How is the Government addressing the current unevenness of high-speed Internet access that is impeding the ability of some schools, particularly in remote areas, to gain full benefit from information and communications technology learning opportunities?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: We are investing heavily in regional broadband access through Project Probe, which is making good progress. That project is rolling out to schools in rural communities, with a coverage of 99 percent of schools due by the end of next year. A major benefit is coming from that, and a lot of support is coming from the farming community, which stated that at least it is great to have a Government that will intervene in that vital infrastructure area for them.

Questions for Oral Answer
Question No. 5 to Minister

Mr SPEAKER: Before I go onto the next question, I have consulted my list, and I had called Mr Donald three times only. He wanted to have a fourth supplementary question and sought leave that he may be able to do that. I am sorry, Mr Donald.

ROD DONALD (Co-Leader—Green): In the light of the submission from 10 of the schools in the Taieri area reported in today’s Otago Daily Times, will he reconsider his recommendation to close eight of the 15 schools, given that they say that industrial growth in the area could bring up to 523 additional children to the district by 2006, resulting in overcrowding, if all the mergers proceed? I would like to add that I am not opposed to all of them, but there are some I do not think necessary.

Hon TREVOR MALLARD (Minister of Education): The process requires reconsideration. Over the last couple of days I have been giving considerable thought to the matter and there has been quite a lot of consultation. Following that set of decisions, there has been another opportunity for boards of trustees, but we have looked very carefully at the estimates of Statistics New Zealand and the Dunedin City Council for the population under 5. In a lot of those schools we have had a 20 percent drop over the last couple of years. The numbers are really going down quickly.

Questions for Oral Answer
Taxation—Inflation

7. Dr DON BRASH (NZ National) to the Minister of Finance: Has the impact of inflation over the last 4 years led to New Zealanders paying a higher proportion of their personal income in tax; if so, will he considering lowering overall personal income tax rates to compensate taxpayers?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Minister of Finance): There has been a modest amount of bracket creep. The Government’s priorities with regard to the taxes are outlined in the Budget speech, and it should be noted that officials advised against indexation.

Dr Don Brash: Given that the proportion of taxpayers who pay the top personal income tax rate of 39 percent is now double what he promised when lifting the top rate from 33 percent to 39 percent, and the proportion of full-time workers paying the top personal tax rate is nearly 20 percent, why will he not lower the top tax rate or increase the top personal tax threshold?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I accept the tribute of the success of this Government in raising the levels of incomes within New Zealand, but the priorities will be assisting low to middle income families, not those on the highest tax rates.

Clayton Cosgrove: Why did officials advise against inflation-proofing the tax scale?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: On the grounds that it would be imprudent to commit to expensive mechanistic and ongoing adjustments to the tax scale when the signs of future fiscal surpluses was not clear.

Gordon Copeland: Has the Minister received any correspondence from United Future on the very same ground covered in the original question; if so, when?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Yes, indeed, as early as mid-February of this year I received approaches from the member on behalf of United Future in that respect. We had fruitful discussions. No doubt those will continue in the build-up to the next Budget.

Dr Don Brash: Given that the Minister’s Government has now introduced over 15 increases to levies, excises, and fees since 1999, and that he himself has said these are the same as tax increases, why does he not acknowledge that his 1999 pledge to increase personal income tax for only 5 percent of taxpayers was totally misleading to the public?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: At the time that statement was made it was actually true, but, thankfully, thanks to this Government, the number of people on higher incomes has increased significantly—contrary to the forecast made by that member’s party in 1999.

Questions for Oral Answer
Burglaries—Car Conversion and Theft

8. MARTIN GALLAGHER (NZ Labour—Hamilton West) to the Minister of Police: What reports has he received suggesting that burglary was being displaced by increased car conversion and theft from car offences?

Hon GEORGE HAWKINS (Minister of Police): Recent information advises me that car conversion offences between 1995 and 2002 dropped 23 percent while the crime of theft from cars remains static over the same period. Burglaries over the period also dropped by almost 23 percent.

Martin Gallagher: How was the Minister’s attention drawn to these significant gains?

Hon GEORGE HAWKINS: Written questions from the Hon Tony Ryall alerted me to these outstanding results. I, and the rest of the country, thank him for highlighting such success by the police.

Hon Tony Ryall: Noting that burglaries from cars have risen every year under this Minister’s stewardship, does he find it acceptable that under his stewardship, with 3 years of increases of burglaries from cars, we now have a burglary from a car every 10 minutes of every day of this year, and we have a car stolen every 13 minutes, every hour, day and night?

Hon GEORGE HAWKINS: I tell the member that it is a lot less, comparatively, than under the National Government when car thefts increased 19.5 percent in the same time period.

Ron Mark: How can the Minister be suddenly so surprised at these statistics when in January 2001 the Insurance Council said that we were losing something like $20 million a month in such related burglaries and thefts, and, again, in January 2002, the Insurance Council once again warned that we were suffering massive increases in car thefts, car burglaries, and car conversions. How can the Minister suddenly be so surprised? Why is this a revelation to him when the whole of the rest of the country knows that only too well?

Hon GEORGE HAWKINS: I was surprised that the member, the Hon Tony Ryall, asked such a question, because in 1995 there were 50,672 car conversions and in 2002 there were 38,824. That is a very good result.

Hon Tony Ryall: Was the Minister ecstatic with joy when, in providing answers to my written questions, he discovered that burglaries from cars in his own Manurewa district are now at the highest level ever recorded by the New Zealand Police?

Hon GEORGE HAWKINS: Although there has been an increase in the south Auckland – Counties-Manukau area generally, it is only one of nine police districts—of the 60-odd—where there has been an increase. Overall, the rate is going down. The member knows that, and does not like it.

Questions for Oral Answer
Police—Staffing

9. RON MARK (NZ First) to the Minister of Police: Is he satisfied with the current numbers of police?

Hon GEORGE HAWKINS (Minister of Police): Generally, yes.

Ron Mark: Is the public expected to accept that, under this Labour Government, local citizens will be increasingly required to patrol our streets at night to keep towns, like Kaitaia, safe; and on that basis can they expect more people, like Darrin Greer—Kaitaia’s Black Power chapter leader—being appointed to community patrols, and consequently more young men being beaten to death, as reported in the Weekend Herald of 14-15 June 2003?

Hon GEORGE HAWKINS: I am pleased with police numbers, and one need only look back to when that member’s leader was part of the previous National Government. It proposed a—

Mr SPEAKER: A question was asked and that question should be answered.

Hon GEORGE HAWKINS: I am getting around to it. Those numbers show that the National Government planned a drop in police numbers. To have communities working together with the police is always a good idea, and it is over to the police to work out whom they use to help them in their job.

Lynne Pillay: What are the total numbers of sworn and non-sworn staff in the New Zealand Police?

Hon GEORGE HAWKINS: We currently have more police than ever. At the end of May 203, we had 7,400 sworn police officers and 2,159 non-sworn officers—a total of 9,559. That is an all-time record.

Dr Muriel Newman: Given that the Minister is satisfied with present levels of police, why is he reducing authorised sworn police strength in every police district around the country?

Hon GEORGE HAWKINS: I think the member is mistaken, and she should have looked at the figures. We have, and it is worth repeating, a record 7,400 sworn police and 2,159 non-sworn police—a total of 9,559. That is an all-time record.

Ron Mark: I seek leave to table a report of the unfortunate death of a young man in Kaitaia, who was beaten to death by Darrin Greer.

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

Ron Mark: I seek leave to table a letter to the Minister of Police from Scotty Watson, Ready to Retail coordinator, where he states he is fearful that people might start taking the law into their own hands.

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

Ron Mark: I seek leave to table extracts from the National – New Zealand First Government coalition agreement that increased police numbers by 500.

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

Dr Muriel Newman: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. My point of order is very specific. I asked the Minister to tell the House why he is reducing authorised sworn police strength in each district around the country. I did not talk about total numbers, and the Minister failed to answer that question.

Mr SPEAKER: The Minister said he did not agree with the member. I heard the Minister specifically say that.

Stephen Franks: How much of next year’s announced 22 percent increase in police spending on firearm’s licensing is for extra police numbers tied up in that work, and is that $900,000 enough to fund his still secret but shortly to be announced scheme to register firearms as licence renewals come up, all under the pretence of having to comply with the United Nations protocol?

Hon GEORGE HAWKINS: Seeing that question has nothing to do with the original, I advise the member to put down a separate question.

Rodney Hide: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. It is for the Minister to take a point of order and say that the question is out of order; it is not for him to decide it is a bit tough and therefore he will rule it out of order?

Mr SPEAKER: The first comment the Minister made was not perhaps appropriate, but he is certainly entitled to say he has not got the information available on that because it was not in the original question, which it was not. I assumed that that second part was in order, but the first part is not.

Rodney Hide: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. With the greatest respect, I know that you help new members like myself, but now you are actually coaching a Minister.

Mr SPEAKER: The member should not be silly, please.

Hon Tony Ryall: I seek leave to table a schedule that shows a 51 percent increase in car burglaries in the Minister of Police’s electorate and a 35 percent increase in car burglaries in the Prime Minister’s electorate.

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

Hon GEORGE HAWKINS: I seek leave to table questions for written question Nos. 5552 and 5554 by Tony Ryall.

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

Questions for Oral Answer
Te Mângai Pâho—Mâori Sportscasting International

10. RODNEY HIDE (ACT NZ) to the Minister of Mâori AffairsMâori Affairs: How much did Te Mângai Pâho pay Maori Sportscasting International to commentate for broadcast the New Zealand versus Australia ANZAC game at Albany Stadium on 24 April 1998 and on what date was the funding approved?

Hon PAREKURA HOROMIA (Minister of Maori Affairs): I am advised by Te Mângai Pâho that the contract was for six commentaries, including this game, at a total value of $10,000, GST inclusive. Funding was approved by the Te Mângai Pâho board on 28 March 1998, and I was not the Minister.

Rodney Hide: Did his officials also advise him that Mâori Sportscasting International also presented an invoice to New Zealand Rugby League for the same game, which was rejected, and can he assure the House that there was no attempt to double dip on this commentary?

Hon PAREKURA HOROMIA: If there is validity in that accusation at this stage, it is not my responsibility—

Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I want to test with you what responsibility a Minister can possibly have for a non-government organisation presenting an invoice to another non-government organisation. It is not his responsibility during the time when Mr McCully and a number of others had an interest in the area. It is just not the Minister’s responsibility at all. [Interruption]

Mr SPEAKER: Somehow I wonder why the member is so lucky! The first part of the question is not the responsibility of the Minister. One point that the Minister can reply to is, of course, whether there is any suggestion of double-dipping from a fund like this. That part of the question is in order, and the Minister might like to comment on that.

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

Mr SPEAKER: No, I have allowed that part and that is it.

Rodney Hide: But I asked whether the Minister had heard from his officials. Surely he is responsible for his officials.

Mr SPEAKER: No, because then one could put that about any single thing, There is no responsibility, unless there is evidence of double-dipping, which is, of course, an offence.

Hon Ken Shirley: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. We are getting into some difficulty here if Opposition members cannot ask a question as to whether a Minister has been advised, or heard from his officials on a particular point. We are talking about the spending of public money and the purchasing of a service that may have been paid for by another organisation.

Mr SPEAKER: If the member had asked a question about whether he had heard from his officials about the spending of public money then, of course, the question is in order. That was not what the question said. The question talked about a sum of money being paid for the league. As far as the question of double-dipping is concerned, that is within the purview of the Minister to answer, and the Minister can comment on that part.

Hon PAREKURA HOROMIA: No.

Mita Ririnui: When will Audit New Zealand conduct its next review of Te Mângai Pâho?

Hon PAREKURA HOROMIA: Next week Audit New Zealand will commence its annual view of Te Mângai Pâho, which will include an in-depth review of its systems, policies, and procedures.

Hon Murray McCully: Can the Minister tell the House whether it was within the terms of the grant made by Te Mângai Pâho to Mâori Sportcasting International for the match that was referred to in the primary question, for that company to also seek additional funding from New Zealand Rugby League, or having been turned down by the league for it to then seek funding from the Aotearoa Mâori Rugby League?

Hon PAREKURA HOROMIA: Maurice Williamson was the responsible Minister for Te Mângai Pâho in 1998, and I do not have that information available.

Rodney Hide: In the light of the question raised by the Hon Murray McCully, will the Minister of Mâori Affairs ask his Associate Minister John Tamihere whether the Aotearoa Mâori Rugby League was presented with an invoice for this game, and paid it; if not, why not?

Mr SPEAKER: The Minister has no ministerial responsibility there.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. There is certainly an issue of ministerial responsibility if at any time the Aotearoa Mâori Rugby League got taxpayers’ money. That is the real issue here, as Mr Tamihere knows. I suggest that then brings it right within the ambit of the Minister’s responsibility, and, of course, Mr Tamihere’s responsibility, as well.

Mr SPEAKER: Yes, but the Minister said he had no knowledge of that particular matter at that time. That was the answer he gave.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: At that time, in that year, did Aotearoa Mâori Rugby League, associated as it is, and was, with John Tamihere, get taxpayers’ funds; if so, did any of that money find its way—

Hon Dr Michael Cullen: Mr Speaker—

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I ask Mr Cullen to relax. We are on very safe ground here.

Mr SPEAKER: Would the member please ask the question again?

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Will the Minister tell the House whether he will find out and report immediately as to whether any taxpayers’ money in 1998 was given to Aotearoa Mâori Rugby League; if so, was any payment made by Aotearoa Mâori Rugby League to this outfit that was to broadcast six of these broadcasts, including the Albany Stadium broadcast?

Hon PAREKURA HOROMIA: I have no advice on that matter. My name is Parekura Tureia Horomia, not Maurice Williamson.

Questions for Oral Answer
Landlords—Problem Tenants

11. MARC ALEXANDER (United Future) to the Minister of Housing: Does he intend to help landlords protect their properties from problem tenants; if so, how?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY (Minister of Housing): Yes. For example, in this year’s Budget an additional $1 million was provided for education, advice, and information on rights and responsibilities and good business practice to enable landlords to identify problem renters before they move in. My officials are also looking at how we can improve the enforcement of tenancy tribunal orders so that it is easier for landlords to recover the costs of fixing damaged property and collecting rent arrears from their former tenants.

Marc Alexander: What measures does the Minister propose to stop tenants like the infamous Ford family from Christchurch when, in spite of fake references, their most recent landlord became aware of their history only when it became publicised, and what can he say to that landlord, who now has to wait weeks for the tenancy tribunal to issue an eviction notice, and is left wondering what damage that family will do in retribution in the meantime?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: I imagine the infamous family mentioned will find it pretty hard to find a house in the future. However, from the point of view of assisting landlords we acknowledge that many landlords are essentially what might be called mum and dad operators. They are running a very small business. Therefore, we need to continue to provide good information through the Ministry of Housing for people who are renting houses to go through proper procedures to ensure they have a tenant who will be a good tenant. If people are in circumstances such as the ones described by the member, then they should use the 0800 number to get good advice from the Ministry of Housing as to how to move rapidly.

Katherine Rich: If the Minister is genuine about wanting to help landlords, why is his department taking the Ombudsman to court to overturn a decision that it be required to provide information of defaulting tenants to the Department for Courts so that fines can be collected?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: For the reasons that I explained at length to the member at the select committee today—that is, the Ombudsman’s ruling could have been interpreted to mean that every Government department will be required to provide information to anybody who had accredited debt. That seemed to Crown Law to be something that needed to be explained in law if that was to be the case. That is why that is being tested.

Sue Bradford: What is the Government doing to assist tenants with problem landlords?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: Once again, as we discussed at the select committee this morning, the view across the country would now be that the law and the situation of tenants is one where landlords are very heavily controlled by the law. There are rights that tenants have in relation to bad landlords. The issue that is being raised now is about bad tenants. We will be very active in ensuring that tenants understand their duties as tenants and that landlords have the ability to recover money when it is appropriate to do so.

Marc Alexander: Is the Minister aware that the Work and Income will not reimburse landlords for rent arrears but, nevertheless, will fund the offending tenants to move to another rental property, creating yet another opportunity to reoffend, and does the Minister agree that this facilitates a situation whereby landlords waiting for rent never get it?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: If the member has a particular case that he is worried about he should bring it to me and we will have a look at it.

Georgina Beyer: Is the Government taking any further initiatives to alleviate problems in this area?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: One of the most important things that we are doing at the present time is working with landlords who have been seeking to track down tenants who owe them sums of money, which is the underlying substance of Katherine Rich’s question a little earlier. The Government is committed to ensuring landlords can have tenancy tribunal orders affordably enforced, and has directed officials to work through the details of these mechanisms with landlords. We are working with them now, and we will get a solution.

Marc Alexander: Does the Minister agree that a more effective solution than simply “issuing good advice to landlords” would be to develop a register of all tenants and landlords that would be publicly available, and which would list all tenancies and tribunal decisions and could also be used by good tenants to demonstrate their positive record to prospective landlords?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: Superficially, it sounds like a good idea. However, the one example we have of a bad-tenant register is in Queensland, where the experience has been that, for example, people post names because they have malicious intent against a tenant. That has caused enormous problems. If we were to move down that track, we would have to be very sure we could isolate those problems before doing so.

Dr Muriel Newman: Why did the Minister spend more than $100,000 fighting the Ombudsman, instead of changing the law; and does he now intend to amend the Courts and Criminal Matters Bill, which is to come up in the House this afternoon, so that the Government will now help mum and dad landlords to collect debts from tenants who are beneficiaries?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: As I explained at some length in the select committee that the member was at this morning, it was an important piece of law for the Crown to understand what the ruling by the Ombudsman actually meant. For example, it could have meant that any department was required to pass over information about anybody who was in debt to somebody who claimed that. That is why it had to be cleared up.

Marc Alexander: Why is wilful abandonment of a property not an offence under the Residential Tenancies Act?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: It is not currently an offence under the Residential Tenancies Act. If the member wants it to be so, then he can make that suggestion as the Residential Tenancies Amendment Bill passes through the House.

Marc Alexander: Does the Minister agree that a major obstacle to the enforcement of tenancy tribunal orders are privacy laws that stop Government agencies from sharing information, allowing offenders to hide behind the system with the Government’s blessing; if not, why not?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: Yes, the Privacy Commissioner has indicated that this is an issue for his office—that if Government departments are to pass on information they, of course, have a great deal of information about everybody in this House. We do want that information protected. He does have an interest, but he is helping with the processes, ensuring that debtors pay back their money back to the landlord.

Marc Alexander: Does the Minister agree that the further consideration by the House of the Residential Tenancies Amendment Bill offers a perfect opportunity to demonstrate his commitment towards cleaning up this problem; if so, can we expect to see some amendments to that effect emanating from his office when the bill is debated?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: Yes, it does offer a vehicle, but as I have said to the member before, we are currently working with landlords and property investors to ensure we resolve this problem, and we will do it as rapidly as we can.

Questions for Oral Answer
Agriculture—Emission Charges

12. Hon DAVID CARTER (NZ National) to the Convenor, Ministerial Group on Climate Change: How does he reconcile his statement that agriculture will be exempt from emissions charges with his proposal to tax farmers more than $8 million?

Hon PETE HODGSON (Convenor, Ministerial Group on Climate Change): Very easily. Under the Government’s climate change policy there will be no charges on agricultural greenhouse gas emissions for at least the first commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol. In exchange for that exemption, the sector will be levied to fund research into the reduction of its emissions.

Hon David Carter: Does the Minister therefore disagree with his own Minister of Finance, who described levies as “back-door taxes”; and why will he not just be upfront with farmers and say that they are the ones who will pay for his Government ratifying the Kyoto Protocol?

Hon PETE HODGSON: The farming community is being invited—in fact, required—to fund research into reducing emissions of methane. One of the reasons for that is that the whole of the greenhouse emissions arising from the agricultural sector is being entirely covered by the Government. Another reason is that the research, we hope, may well improve food-conversion efficiency in our animals, which is to the benefit of farmers. If the member has not got that yet, he has wasted a mighty fine opportunity.

David Parker: Will any research into agricultural greenhouse gas emissions be funded by the Government?

Hon PETE HODGSON: Yes, the Government will continue its current level of funding for this research, which totals almost $5 million a year.

Gerrard Eckhoff: Could the Minister explain why this Government will tax New Zealand farmers just to look good on the world stage, when no other Southern Hemisphere neighbour, or competitor, is prepared to impose such a dopey tax on its farmers?

Hon PETE HODGSON: The cost of this is in the order of 8c per sheep, per year. Tell me, what is so outrageous about that?

Keith Locke: How much of the $8 million research money referred to will be spent on improving productive efficiency for the farmers, and how much of it will be spent on improving biological processes and farming systems to reduce emissions?

Hon PETE HODGSON: I am not sure that I am able to differentiate between the two, but if I just say that if we can reduce methane emissions, then we improve, or run the risk of improving, the food-conversion efficiency of the animal. So it is, as they say, a win-win.

Hon David Carter: Could the Minister please answer my previous question, which was whether the Minister agrees, or disagrees, with his own Minister of Finance, who described levies as “back-door taxes”?

Hon PETE HODGSON: If the member feels more comfortable about this being called a tax, as opposed to a levy, as opposed to a charge, then that is fine by me.

End of Questions for Oral Answer


(uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing)


© Scoop Media

 
 
 
 
 
Parliament Headlines | Politics Headlines | Regional Headlines

 

Wellington: Predator Free Capital Plan

Wellington City Council (WCC), the Greater Wellington Regional Council (GWRC) and NEXT Foundation, today announced a joint collaboration to make Wellington the first Predator Free capital city in the world. More>>

ALSO:

Gordon Campbell: On Judith Collins’ Efforts At Self Correction

Thousands of prisoners currently in prison may be entitled to an earlier release than expected – and compensation – because Corrections has incorrectly calculated their term of imprisonment. Unless of course, the government buries its mistakes by changing the law and retro-actively getting itself off the hook… More>>

ALSO:

More Justice & Corrections

Sector Opposes Bill: Local Government Bill Timeframe Extended

The Minister of Local Government Peseta Sam Lotu-Iiga has asked the Select Committee to extend the report back date for the Local Government Act 2002 Amendment Bill (No 2). More>>

ALSO:

Breed Laws Don’t Work: Vets On New National Dog Control Plan

It is pleasing therefore to see Louise Upston Associate Minister for Local Government calling for a comprehensive solution... However, relying on breed specific laws to manage dog aggression will not work. More>>

ALSO:

Not Waiting On Select Committee: Green Party Releases Medically-Assisted Dying Policy

“Adults with a terminal illness should have the right to choose a medically assisted death,” Green Party health spokesperson Kevin Hague said. “The Green Party does not support extending assisted dying to people who aren't terminally ill because we can’t be confident that this won't further marginalise the lives of people with disabilities." More>>

ALSO:

General Election Review: Changes To Electoral Act Introduced

More effective systems in polling places and earlier counting of advanced votes are on their way through proposed changes to our electoral laws, Justice Minister Amy Adams says. More>>

Get More From Scoop

 

LATEST HEADLINES

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Parliament
Search Scoop  
 
 
Powered by Vodafone
NZ independent news