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Questions Of The Day Transcript - 22 July 2003

(uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing)


Questions for Oral Answer

Questions to Ministers:

1. Justice, Associate Minister—Confidence
2. Social Welfare—Reports
4. Public Service—Leaders
5. Greenhouse Gas Emissions—Flatulence Tax
6. Job Seekers—Benefits
7. Crime—Clearance Rate
8. Social Development and Employment, Minister—Chief Social Worker
9. Criminal Offences—Parole
10. Genetically Modified Organisms—Environmental Risk Management Authority
11. Supreme Court Bill—Consultation with Mâori
12. Conservation—Private Land

Questions for Oral Answer
Justice, Associate Minister—Confidence

1. Hon BILL ENGLISH (Leader of the Opposition) to the Prime Minister: Does she have confidence in her Associate Minister of Justice (Hon Margaret Wilson); if so, why?

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

Hon Bill English: Does she agree with the statement made by Margaret Wilson 1 month ago, when she said that the Government was going to clarify that the foreshore and seabed is owned by all New Zealanders in the form of the Crown, and does that remain Government policy?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: The Government is working on a statutory framework that will ensure that private exclusive title is not created over what has always been regarded as the public domain.

Metiria Turei: If public access to the foreshore and seabed is a priority concern for the Government, will the Minister prepare legislation to require public access to Pâkehâ-owned private exclusive properties that have full riparian access rights, which currently exclude public access; if not, why not?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: The member will be aware that Jim Sutton, the Minister of Agriculture and the Minister for Rural Affairs , has an advisory group working on the issues of access to private land at the present time.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Can the Prime Minister recall making those comments, which she now refers to, on 21 June, and how does that accord with the comments in written form made by nine of her Mâori members, including some Cabinet members; is that not a vote of no confidence in herself?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: Perhaps one reason that this party is more successful than some is that it allows a bit of leeway.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I asked whether the Prime Minister’s comments were in accord with the written comments of nine of her Mâori MPs. If she cannot answer the question she should say so.


Rt Hon Winston Peters: Sit down, I have not finished yet.

Mr SPEAKER: Now the member will be seated. The member will not be rude to me, at all. That is his only warning before he leaves the Chamber. He can continue his point of order, but he will not be rude to me.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I expect the same myself in this House. I am asking that the Prime Minister be brought back to the parliamentary standards of question time that used to prevail here. She was asked how her views accord with those of nine of her Mâori MPs. I ask you which part of her answer addressed my question.

Mr SPEAKER: I heard the Prime Minister’s answer; I judged that it addressed the question that was asked.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. With the greatest respect, I am asking you now to clarify how you could possibly have arrived at that judgment. My question was very simple. It asked her how she reconciled two different sets of statements—some coming from Cabinet Ministers. If you could tell me how she addressed my question of how it accorded with the statement by Mâori MPs, then I would like to know. You have the right to come to a judgment and I respect that, but my point is simply that if that is the standard of answers then question time is a waste of time.

Mr SPEAKER: The last comment is irrelevant to the issue. The Prime Minister talked about the leeway she allowed, which addressed that issue.

Murray Smith: Does the Prime Minister’s confidence in the Associate Minister of Justice extend to endorsing the view expressed by the Associate Minister that last weekend was the final opportunity for Mâori input into the development of the Supreme Court Bill, despite the reported comments of her Associate Minister of Mâori Affairs the Hon Tariana Turia, that the Government should put the Supreme Court Bill on hold until Mâori have been properly consulted and have given it their support?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: Part of that question anticipates a question that is on the Order Paper to be asked shortly, which will be answered for the Associate Minister. My understanding is that the hui held last weekend was a one-off, and that there is not another such hui planned to discuss the issue. But, of course, the matter is still before the select committee, and one assumes that that allows for more input yet.

Hon Richard Prebble: Why does the Prime Minister have confidence in an Associate Minister of Justice who appears to have no confidence in our nation’s courts, in property rights, or in the rule of law, and who, before any court has found that any customary rights exist to the foreshore, is setting up the taxpayer to pay out hundreds of millions of dollars to Mâori for rights that may well not exist?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: The Associate Minister has so much confidence in our courts that she is promoting a bill that will mean the top level of appeal in our country can be conducted here. Secondly, she is not advancing any proposals to pay hundreds of millions of dollars to anyone, on this issue.

Hon Bill English: Can the Prime Minister answer directly whether her Government will legislate to affirm exclusive Crown title to the beaches and the seabed; if not, why not?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: The Government will be legislating to ensure that private exclusive title is not created over those areas.

Stephen Franks: Will the Prime Minister repeat the assurance that was given to this House by the Attorney-General, that guaranteed neither race nor ethnic inheritance—

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I have asked one question, and so has Mr Prebble. Perhaps you could explain why you are giving Mr Franks precedence over me.

Mr SPEAKER: I made a mistake and I had already called Mr Franks. I will call the member next.

Stephen Franks: Will the Prime Minister confirm the guarantee given by the Attorney-General that neither race nor ethnic inheritance will confer privilege in access or use of seabed and foreshore until 19 June considered to be the property of all New Zealanders equally?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: There are various precedents for upholding Mâori customary rights, including in fisheries legislation passed before this party came to power. As Prime Minister, I am interested in building a nation—not driving a wedge in it, like members opposite.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Perhaps you could tell me what that last comment had to do with the Prime Minister’s responsibilities for the proper running of this House.

Mr SPEAKER: I think that the Prime Minister was addressing the question. She did so.

Hon Roger Sowry: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. If you will not pull it up, I want to bring to your attention comments that the senior Government whip has been screaming across the House that I find offensive.

Mr SPEAKER: I am sorry, but I have not heard those comments. If the member made an offensive comment, he must withdraw and apologise.

Hon Richard Prebble: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I have been listening and thinking about the Prime Minister’s answer to Mr Franks’ question, and I guess she addressed it in the sense that she made the bombastic statement that she is building a nation, but she could say that in response to any question. How does that relate to the actual question she was asked, which sought an assurance that we would not have legislation based on race? I cannot see how she has answered that question in any shape whatsoever.

Mr SPEAKER: As the member knows, my job is not to judge the answer; my job is to work out whether the question has been addressed, and it has been.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: What did the Prime Minister’s comments in relation to my original question mean, when she said that she offered her caucus leeway, unlike some other parties; does leeway mean that a Cabinet Minister, or Ministers, can make statements that totally contradict statements she has made as the Prime Minister?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: As Prime Minister, I will judge when Ministers have overstepped the mark. I have not yet made a judgment that they have.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I asked the Prime Minister what leeway meant; after all, she was judged by you to have answered the question properly in the first instance. Now I am asking for a definition of a very simple word, and she cannot even give that.

Mr SPEAKER: On this occasion the Prime Minister gave a quite specific answer, and I judged it to be so.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: You’re useless!

Mr SPEAKER: The member will stand, withdraw, and apologise.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I withdraw and apologise. I was not referring to you.

Mr SPEAKER: The member should interject in the third person.

Hon Bill English: Can the Prime Minister confirm to the House that it is no longer her intention that the Government should legislate to affirm the Crown’s exclusive title to the beaches and the seabed, and that her reference to what the Government will do amounts to a change in policy?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I cannot confirm what does not exist under existing law.

Mr SPEAKER: I call question No. 2. [Interruption] If there are any interjections while the question is being asked, the one and only warning has now been given.

Questions for Oral Answer
Social Welfare—Reports

2. JILL PETTIS (NZ Labour—Whanganui) to the Minister for Social Development and Employment: What recent reports has he received about improvements in social outcomes in New Zealand?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY (Minister for Social Development and Employment): On Sunday the Social Report 2003 was released by the Ministry of Social Development. The report demonstrates that New Zealanders are living longer, healthier lives, that they are better educated, safer, and earning more than in the past, that more children are receiving early childhood education, and more people are involved in tertiary education, that unemployment is at a 15-year low, and that economic growth is up, which confirms the Government’s ongoing commitment to sustainable social, economic, and environmental development.

Jill Pettis: What work is the Government doing to ensure that those positive social outcome trends continue?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: The Labour-led Government has instituted a range of policies to improve social outcomes. For example, it has instituted income-related rents, restored superannuation, and established the superannuation fund. It has established public health organisations, and provided affordable medical care. It has also made investments in education, from early childhood to tertiary education, which is in stark contrast to the cuts to superannuation, education, and public health spending proposed by Don Brash at the National Party conference.

Katherine Rich: If the picture is so rosy, why have child abuse reports, Department of Child, Youth and Family Services notifications, the numbers on the sickness and invalids’ benefit, and the number of New Zealanders supported by the State increased significantly while he has been Minister?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: Working backwards through those questions, there has been a 33 percent drop in the number of people registered as unemployed since this Government came into power. The reasons for people going on to the sickness and invalids’ benefit have been canvassed in this House before so I will not go over those again. I also say to the member that changing in reporting techniques and the number of social workers going much higher than when her Government was in power have meant more reportage of abuse.

Sue Bradford: Does the Minister agree with the report’s conclusion, which states: “One of the best ways to prepare for an ageing population may be to invest in the young”, and will he ask his colleague the Minister of Finance to take the advice of the Green Party and of the report writers and reallocate funds from the New Zealand Superannuation Fund into children today with measures such as an immediate increase to family support and family assistance?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: Of course we always listen to the Green Party, and I always pass its advice on to the Minister of Finance. On this occasion I think he will reject my request to spend from the superannuation fund on these issues, but I am sure he will listen closely to find other money and we may be able to do it from other funds.

Questions for Oral Answer
Question No. 3 to Minister

Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS (Leader—NZ First): I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The first comment from the Government on this issue was made by the Prime Minister. My question was asked of the Prime Minister; accordingly I want to know what it is doing in the name of the Minister of Justice.

Mr SPEAKER: It was transferred by the Government, as it is entitled to do. Would the member please ask the question?

Hon BILL ENGLISH (Leader of the Opposition): I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I support Mr Peters on his point of order. We have found that the only way to get a question to the Prime Minister in the New Zealand Parliament is to ask about a confidence issue in respect of a Minister. Even questions that include direct quotes from the Prime Minister are shuffled to other Ministers, particularly if they are about anything that is controversial. That is the situation we are in. The advice I would give Mr Peters is that the only way he can get a question to the Prime Minister is in the form in which we now habitually have to put down questions. I must say that that is absolutely without precedent in this Parliament. There has never been a Prime Minister who has put more effort into dodging the questions that are put down to him or her.

Hon RICHARD PREBBLE (Leader—ACT NZ): I fully accept the dilemma that you have that it is the right of the Government to transfer questions. However, you as Speaker have quite a lot of moral authority, and it would be very useful for you to observe that the Minister who has responsibility for the matter ought to answer the question. What the Leader of the Opposition has said is absolutely correct. We have had the same situation when we ask a question where only the Prime Minister can answer it, and it is a matter that is within her knowledge. In this case it is going down to an Associate Minister of Justice. In many Parliaments we have the right to ask prime ministerial questions because it is recognised that she is the most important Minister. However, if we have situation where we have a Prime Minister who does not relish answering questions and just hands them out if it is at all possible, then that is unsatisfactory. A statement from you saying that that is unsatisfactory would be very helpful to Parliament.

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Leader of the House): First of all, the comments referred to were quite clearly made by the Associate Minister of Justice. Had a determination been made that they were to be addressed to the Prime Minister, you would have found you would be contesting the authenticity of the claims that were being made.

Mr SPEAKER: I want to rule on this now.

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

Mr SPEAKER: I want to rule on this now. The member can raise another point. Both the Prime Minister and the Associate Minister were quoted as making the statement. It is up to the Government who answers the question. The rulings go back to 1962, which illustrates that there have always been disputes about transfers.

Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS (Leader—NZ First): I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The first comment was made by the Prime Minister and later taken up by Margaret Wilson. However, I am referring to the Prime Minister’s comment that is exclusively in her name. The next point I want to raise with you is simply that I am asking her to reconcile her reported comments, not someone else’s and not those of the Associate Minister of Justice. That, surely, is pretty significant; besides which, where is that person today, as well? Frankly—and I want to say this very clearly—if the Prime Minister does not want to answer questions, that is fine, but she should come out and publicly say so, rather than run around this country as someone who is prepared to take on anyone and everyone until she gets to the House. If she is scared, she should say so.

Mr SPEAKER: That last remark is out of order. In fact most of the point of order is out of order. It is up to the Government to decide who answers the question. Please ask question No. 3.

Hon BILL ENGLISH (Leader of the Opposition): I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. This is a more serious matter than a technical interpretation. All the Standing Orders are made on the assumption that people will behave in a predictable and reasonable way. We operate by convention rather than by nit-picking rules. What has happened here is that the Prime Minister is pushing the Standing Order right to the limit. This is not just a matter of transferring questions because another Minister may know more about it or because the Prime Minister is not here; it is a matter of transferring every question asked of the Prime Minister, except questions that address the issue of confidence in her Ministers. When we do that, it means that the Opposition loses at least one question a day, and, if the other Opposition parties follow the same process, maybe three questions a day, simply to get the Prime Minister on her feet because there is no other mechanism. I am saying to you, Mr Speaker, that that is pushing the Standing Order to the limit. If it is now to be the practice of the Prime Minister to refuse to answer any question in this Parliament, then I suggest that the Standing Orders Committee will have to look at another way of compelling the Prime Minister of New Zealand to be accountable to the New Zealand Parliament. That is not a radical notion; it is actually a very well established one that every Prime Minister in living memory, except this one, has honoured.

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Leader of the House): Every Prime Minister in my living memory has transferred questions where he or she has seen it appropriate to do so. I have never seen a Prime Minister who has not done it. I repeat that the comment referred to in the question was clearly made by the Associate Minister of Justice. It may have been in a newspaper report, but I am sure that even both the members who have so far spoken on Points of Order would accept that not all their comments have been correctly quoted at times in the media.

Hon RICHARD PREBBLE (Leader—ACT NZ): Your ruling is definitely correct, Mr Speaker, but you have taken a narrow ruling. I would like you to publicly reaffirm also Speakers’ ruling 116/1, which states: “Ultimately, the Speaker could refuse to permit a question to be transferred to another Minister for answer if the responsibility for a subject is so primarily held by a particular Minister as to mean that the transfer of the question would be an abuse.” I think it would be useful if you were to uphold that. I see that other Speakers, Speakers Gray and Tapsell, twice saw it necessary to do so, but I think you could go one stage further and point out why it would be an abuse. Our Parliament is here to hold Ministers accountable, and we cannot do that if the Prime Minister is putting forward a pattern of behaviour—and you can now see that three political parties in the House think she is—of not being accountable for matters that she clearly is accountable for. I am inviting you to not change your ruling. which is correct, but, having made that ruling against the Opposition, to now make a ruling to the Government and say that it is unparliamentary for a Minister to transfer questions if he or she has primary responsibility for it. That is what the House expects Ministers to do—to answer for their own portfolios—and, in the case of the Prime Minister, to answer for Cabinet.

Mr SPEAKER: The member, as usual, makes a very interesting point, and quite a lot of the points he makes are valid. I certainly reaffirm Speakers’ ruling 116/1. In fact, I did so in Hansard, Volume 2000, at page 322, which is Speaker’s ruling 20/3 (Supplement), which will be in the reprinted Speakers’ Rulings next year. I do want to say that this does not apply here. I have ruled in accordance with the Speakers’ rulings. The Associate Minister did make the statement, and it lies wholly within the Government’s discretion as to who should answer the question.

Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS (Leader—NZ First): I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker.

Mr SPEAKER: I have really gone quite a long time on this and I have made my ruling.

Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: I seek leave to withdraw this question and ask it tomorrow, rephrased. I will be asking the Prime Minister whether she made those statements, does she have confidence in her judgment in making them, or was she unconscious at the time.

Mr SPEAKER: No, the member knows full well that there is no need to seek leave. He just does not ask the question. If he does not ask the question we will then move to question No. 4.

Questions for Oral Answer
Public Service—Leaders

4. HELEN DUNCAN (NZ Labour) to the Minister of State Services: What steps is he taking to develop high-calibre public service leaders?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD (Minister of State Services): Recently I launched an executive leadership programme in a new leadership development centre designed to foster the talents and potential of potential leaders. Individual professional development plans will be designed for each one of them, including specific skills in management development courses, or even academic study.

Helen Duncan: Can the Minister describe some of the desirable characteristics of future leaders that the programme seeks to foster?

Mr SPEAKER: Very briefly.

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: The characteristics of our leaders include the ability to develop interesting and innovative policy that will move New Zealand forward and unites and manages a strong team, including management of disaffected members of that team. It is involved in developing hope, not despair, and the rejection of knee-jerk reactions. It is too late for him, but John Key could do it now.

Gerry Brownlee: Given that the Minister is so keen to develop high-calibre public service leaders, what signal does he think that finding a sweetheart deal for the poorly performing Te Mângai Paho chief executive officer, Trevor Moeke, sends to all those public servants who copped the blame daily from this Government for their failings?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: Not nearly the same message as the National Party gives, having an incompetent as its leader.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Does that leadership development programme include any lessons on the question of leadership, where one is spineless and gutless and will not answer questions that are directly put to one?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: If it did, it would apply to the transcripts that I have seen from Bill English today, because that does apply to that.

Questions for Oral Answer
Greenhouse Gas Emissions—Flatulence Tax

5. Hon DAVID CARTER (NZ National) to the Minister of Agriculture: What is the proposed method of collection of the $8.4 million “flatulence tax”?

Hon JIM SUTTON (Minister of Agriculture): There is no proposal to collect tax on flatulence, animal or human. Also, there is no proposal to collect tax on the 95 percent of agricultural methane—a very powerful greenhouse gas—released by ruminant livestock, or the nitrous oxide emissions from agricultural soils.

Hon David Carter: Is the Minister now telling the House that there is now no levy totalling $8.4 million being levied against farmers; in effect, is he saying that the flatulence tax has been determined, but that the method of collection has not been?

Hon JIM SUTTON: I repeat, there is no proposal for a tax on flatulence. There never has been. If the member would like some background reading and will take this subject seriously, I will give him a serious answer.

Dr Wayne Mapp: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The question was specifically about a levy. The Minister did not address that, and simply talked about taxes. That is not an answer to the question

Mr SPEAKER: The Minister did address the question.

.Janet Mackey: What is the Government’s policy for pastoral agriculture in terms of the Kyoto Protocol?

Hon JIM SUTTON: The Government has exempted pastoral farmers from emissions charges that could have cost them an average of $30,000 to $40,000 a year each. Instead, they are being asked to contribute an average of $300 to $400 a year for research to help reduce emissions.

R Doug Woolerton117R Doug Woolerton: If farmers refuse to pay that levy for research into methane emissions, what will the Minister do?

Hon JIM SUTTON: Should it prove necessary to legislate to collect this levy, or tax, we would do, no doubt, exactly the same as we do with people who refuse to pay their income tax or other taxes.

Gerrard Eckhoff: What is the Government’s intention over the parent meat company’s insistence that an administration fee of 2.5 percent will be charged to collect this new levy, or tax, on research, and will this fee be in addition to the already announced $8.4 million tax?

Hon JIM SUTTON: That is not an issue that the Government has yet been required to consider, but it has not been public policy practice under successive Governments to require the payment of fees to employers, for instance, when they retain PAYE income tax?

Jeanette Fitzsimons: What would be the total sum collected from farmers if they were to be subjected to the same level of carbon tax as the emitters of fossil fuels are to be charged, and what is the difference between that total sum and the mere $8.4 million that the research levy is costing?

Hon JIM SUTTON: The best estimate I have seen of the cost of an emissions tax equivalent to that proposed for other industries would be approaching a billion dollars from pastoral farming. That figure compares with the $8.5 million proposed for research.

Larry Baldock: Why is the Government taking the risk of alienating the primary production sector over the relatively paltry sum of $8 million, compared with what that sector generates for the New Zealand economy, or does the Government have plans to increase this amount significantly some time in the future?

Hon JIM SUTTON: Governments do not like to undertake unpopular measures, but this measure is our response to, probably, the world’s most serious environmental crisis—[Interruption]—the biggest New Zealand—

Mr SPEAKER: I do not mind a little bit of interjection, but I am not having shouting out like that. The Minister is entitled to give an answer and be heard.

Hon JIM SUTTON: New Zealand’s biggest contributor to this global crisis is its pastoral farming sector, which emits more than half of the country’s greenhouse gases. It would be totally inappropriate for that sector, which enjoys an average taxable income of over $106,000 per taxpayer, to escape scot-free any responsibility for tackling this problem.

Hon David Carter: What is the estimated value of the surplus forestry credits that the Government has nationalised and will sell on the international market?

Hon JIM SUTTON: The Government has not nationalised anything. The forestry industry negotiated with the Government and agreed that, in return for the Government accepting the Kyoto liabilities of any deforestation, the Government would retain any carbon sink credits from afforestation.

Questions for Oral Answer
Job Seekers—Benefits

6. JUDY TURNER (United Future) to the Associate Minister for Social Development and Employment: Does he stand by his statement that registered job seekers are “not being left to vegetate on benefits”; if not, why not?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY (Minister for Social Development and Employment), on behalf of the Associate Minister for Social Development and Employment: On behalf of the Associate Minister, the Hon Rick Barker, yes.

Judy Turner: If job seekers are not being left to vegetate on benefits, why is an increasing number moving on to the sickness benefit—13,000 in the last year—and is he concerned that, of these people, 55 percent more are claiming stress and 44 percent more are claiming depression as the reasons for transferring, compared with 2 years ago?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: It is worth noting that although 13,000 people moved on to the sickness benefit, 8,700 of them moved back on to the unemployment benefit during the same period. The drivers for the sickness benefit, of course, are to do with the ageing workforce, the increased recognition and diagnosis of mental illness, accident compensation, and a range of issues like that. Of course, the numbers have been increasing since the early 1990s. We are the first Government to do something seriously about it.

Georgina Beyer: What progress has been achieved in assisting people to move from benefits into employment?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: We have had record progress. Record numbers of job placements have been made, and the unemployment benefit numbers have dropped by over 30 percent since 1999, with unemployment now at its lowest level since 1988. This progress is thanks to a healthy labour market and excellent work by frontline staff in Work and Income.

Katherine Rich: When work is now an optional part of Work and Income’s job seeker agreement, work tests have been removed, sanctions have been diluted, and community schemes have been abolished, how does he reconcile these comments and actions with the fact that some welfare recipients, as described by him, are not being left to vegetate on benefits?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: Almost everything that member said is wrong. The work test has not been removed. People who are on the domestic purposes benefit now face more constraints than before. Work-for-the-dole was taken out because the member’s own Government’s research proved it was a waste of time, just as Australian research has proven that. But I go back and thank the member for the opportunity to say once again that unemployment has dropped 33 percent since this Government came into power.

Dr Muriel Newman: In the light of the research done by Ministry of Social Development that shows that leaving sole parents to vegetate on the domestic purposes benefit damages children, what is his response to new figures showing 1,286 more people are now claiming the domestic purposes benefit than last year—supporting over 2,000 children—especially given his Government’s relaxation of the need for those parents to find a job?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: I am extremely, extremely pleased that this Government passed legislation that means that people on the domestic purposes benefit now have more assistance to return to work and are not left on the domestic purposes benefit only to be attended to when their youngest child is 6 to 14, but, rather, now receive attention every day of the week.

Judy Turner: Is the Minister concerned that the latest figures on the Wellington region also show an increase in the number of sickness beneficiaries, as the number of those on the dole decline, and that this is disserving those at the coalface such as the director of the Downtown Community Ministry, Kevin Hackwell, who noted that what is quite concerning is the growing number of people claiming the sickness benefit?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: I say to the member that one of the things she needs to remember is that we do live in a country with an ageing population, and therefore like all countries the number of people eligible for benefits such as the sickness benefit tends to grow. But this Government is the first Government to take this issue seriously. We are concerned, and we will be seeing more and more action around this benefit.

Judy Turner: Would the Government consider providing further guidelines to doctors dealing with sickness beneficiaries, to allow them to give more detail about the way in which their patient’s incapacity affects their ability to work?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: As the House will know, the Government has allocated more money to research of the sickness and invalids benefit because we do want to understand some of the issues that lie around, such as doctors putting people on to these benefits. Yes, we would consider that kind of issue.

Judy Turner: Will the Government consider making the system more flexible so that those on the sickness benefit are not automatically excluded from all work if their incapacity may allow them to undertake some tasks, rather than the dichotomy that exists at present between the dole and the sickness benefit, with regard to obligation to work?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: People on the sickness benefit can work now, and we are exploring ways of ensuring the system is more flexible so that they can undertake more work.

Questions for Oral Answer
Crime—Clearance Rate

7. RON MARK (NZ First) to the Minister of Police: What is the current clearance rate of all reported crime?

Hon GEORGE HAWKINS (Minister of Police): For the fiscal year 2001-02, it was 41.8 percent. The latest clearance rate of all reported crime will be included in the release of official police fiscal year statistics for the year 2002-03. I am confident that the police will achieve another very good result.

Ron Mark: Does the Minister believe that the overall figure of 41 percent clearance is acceptable; if so, why?

Hon GEORGE HAWKINS: Yes, I think it is improving all the time. It was not that long ago that it was 29.8 percent, in the year 1991-92.

Dr Muriel Newman: What is the Minister’s response to the fact that there have been 2,000 more violent crimes than last year, and that there has been a 108 percent increase in violent crime over the last 10 years, and what does he and his Government intend to do about it?

Hon GEORGE HAWKINS: During the 2002-03 year, the police have been concentrating on getting violent crime down. I think there is still too much violence going on in people’s homes, and that is where the problem is.

Martin Gallagher: Further to the Minister’s answers, and following his information about the increase in resolution rates, can he indicate what the increase in resolution rates signifies?

Hon GEORGE HAWKINS: The police have been making very steady progress over a number of years. As I said earlier, the rate was 29.8 percent in the 1991-92 financial year and up to 41.8 percent in the 2001-02 year. I think one must reflect that in the period of the National Government, it never got anywhere near 40 percent.

Hon Tony Ryall: What responsibility does the Minister take for the fact that fewer than one in 10 burglaries in Auckland is solved, the lowest rate on record, and is that part of the reason that in parts of Auckland it may take up to 27 hours to get police to respond to a burglary call-out?

Hon GEORGE HAWKINS: This Government has got the burglary rate down to very low figures, compared with before. Under National the rate got up to 96,000 burglaries a year. We are down to about 60,000 burglaries a year, which is excellent. Of course, the police do have a standard to try to attend those, whereas under National it used to be 5 or 8 days before the police got around to investigating some of them.

Ron Mark: Can the House take it from the Minister that—accepting that six out of 10 crimes will go unresolved—he and his Government have given up the battle against crimes of dishonesty, property, and theft against private citizens; and does that explain why his primary focus is now on revenue collection through the enlargement of the traffic branch of the police force, and that instructions have been given to general duties officers that tell them, regardless of what crimes they are investigating on the day, they are required to give out one traffic infringement notice per hour, regardless of anything else they are doing?

Mr SPEAKER: That question was too long and there were too many parts to it. The Minister will comment on a couple of those, if he wishes.

Hon GEORGE HAWKINS: I want to remind the member that it was a 29.8 percent clearance rate for 1991-92 when his leader was in Government; under the Labour Government it is 41.8 percent. The police do not have quotas for traffic offences. We want our roads a helluva lot safer than they were under National.

Ron Mark: Can I take it from the Minister that his own department’s figures—which show that the clearance rates in Auckland for the last 3 years have been 33.9 percent, 32.8 percent, and 32.6 percent, all declining—are acceptable to him? They are certainly not to the rest of the country.

Hon GEORGE HAWKINS: I find that the clearance rate has improved over many years throughout New Zealand, and I would like Auckland to reflect that. Police are working to that, and they have been funded and have more resource than ever before to do it. They are now a billion dollar business.

Ron Mark: I seek leave to table the New Zealand crime statistics, and specifically the Auckland figures.

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

Hon Tony Ryall: I seek leave to table a report that shows that the Government is budgeting for a 30 percent increase in the number of traffic tickets issued by police officers this year.

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

Questions for Oral Answer
Question No. 8 to Minister

GERRY BROWNLEE (NZ National—Ilam): I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. This is another one of those questions that has been subject to a transfer today. I ask you to consider a couple of points related to Speaker’s ruling 115/6, which refers specifically to the Minister considering a transfer actually having a duty to do so. This question was set down originally for Tariana Turia, and we understand it has been transferred to another Minister. The question relates specifically to the placement of a staff officer in her office. The question would be this—[Interruption]

Mr SPEAKER: I will not have any interjection on a point of order and I will not warn the member again. I make that ruling, and everyone adheres to it. I am sorry, Mr Brownlee. Please continue.

GERRY BROWNLEE: The question arises that if the staff member has been placed there, as we are told, to advise the Minister on Mâori social service delivery, and we find when we are asking a question specifically about that, the question is transferred, because presumably the Minister receiving the transfer is better capable of answering it, the question would arise then, when can we effectively ever ask the Hon Tariana Turia questions that relate to the delivery of Mâori social services. It is a simple question. Shannon Pakura is in her office to give her that advice, but when it comes to asking her questions about issues she is being advised on, we have had that question transferred.

Mr SPEAKER: Under Speaker’s ruling 115/5 I cannot second-guess the Government’s allocation of the ministerial responsibility. That is up to the Government. Please ask the question.

Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. My point of order simply was that the Speaker’s ruling clearly states that Ministers must act responsibly. It cannot be considered a responsible act for a Minister to say: “I have the adviser in my office, this is my delegation, but I’m transferring it to another Minister because I don’t know how to answer it.” The question arises—as my question asks—what the adviser is there for. The second point I made is that under Speaker’s ruling 116/1, as Richard Prebble has already said, it is your role to decide whether an abuse of the parliamentary question process is being inflicted on Parliament by the transfer.

Mr SPEAKER: No, because the public servant involved is an officer of the Department of Child, Youth and Family Services. There is responsibility there, and that is where the question is going to.

Katherine Rich: I seek leave to hold this question over to the next sitting day when the Associate Minister for Social Development and Employment is in the House.

Mr SPEAKER: The member seeks leave. Is there any objection? Please ask the question.

Questions for Oral Answer
Social Development and Employment, Minister—Chief Social Worker

8. KATHERINE RICH (NZ National) to the Associate Minister for Social Development and Employment: When did the chief social worker, Shannon Pakura, commence working in her office as a private secretary and what specific tasks has Ms Pakura undertaken in that position?

Hon RUTH DYSON (Associate Minister for Social Development and Employment (CYF)), on behalf of the Associate Minister for Social Development and Employment: Ms Pakura is not a seconded private secretary. She has been working an average of 8 hours a week in the Hon Tariana Turia’s office since 30 June 2003. Her task is to confirm, for both the department and the Associate Minister, the skills, knowledge, and competencies required for the private secretary’s role. This work is expected to be completed at the end of the month, when a seconded private secretary will be appointed.

Katherine Rich: Who first proposed that Ms Pakura work in the Minister’s office: the department or the Minister; and why?

Hon RUTH DYSON: I understand that the chief executive of the Department of Child, Youth and Family Services approved the temporary appointment of Ms Pakura to that position, as it was determined within the chief social worker’s job description that that was appropriate for both the department—

Opposition members: Answer the question!

Mr SPEAKER: Wait until the Minister has finished.

Hon RUTH DYSON: It was determined appropriate for both the Minister’s and the department’s requirements.

Mr SPEAKER: The question asked who initiated this particular issue. The Minister may care to comment on that part.

Hon RUTH DYSON: There was a vacancy in the office. The chief executive is therefore responsible for filling that vacancy. It was determined by both the Minister and the chief executive that the temporary appointment of the chief social worker to determine the competencies required was appropriate.

Hon Mark Gosche40Hon Mark Gosche: In the light of the fact that Ms Pakura is the chief social worker, what is the number of cases unallocated for longer than 6 months?

Hon RUTH DYSON: Can I firstly advise the House that it is not the direct responsibility of the chief social worker to have direct accountability for such operational issues as unallocated cases, as has been alleged by the member asking the primary question. However, given the supplementary question, I can confirm that, as at 30 June 2003, I am advised that, for the first time in the history of the Department of Child, Youth and Family Services, there are no cases unallocated for longer than 6 months.

Deborah Coddington: Does she agree with the fears voiced by the Commissioner for Children, Roger McClay, that his monitoring of the Department of Child, Youth and Family Services could be compromised by this situation, and, in particular, his concern that the report on the Masterton girls murdered by Bruce Howse will be subject to political interference in the same way that the report on James Whakaruru’s death was edited by Ministers; if not, why not?

Hon RUTH DYSON: No, I absolutely reject that consideration by the commissioner.

Katherine Rich: Noting that even with the intervention of the Speaker the Minister did not answer the question, I ask again: who first proposed that Miss Pakura work in the Minister’s office—the Minister or the department?

Hon RUTH DYSON: I can confirm that it was an agreed decision. I am unable to confirm whether it was initially proposed by the Hon Tariana Turia or the chief executive—and, frankly, I am not sure why it is relevant.

Hon Roger Sowry: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. That is exactly the reason that the Government, I am sure, wished to have the question transferred, and it is the reason that we ask you to consider these transfers very carefully. It is clear that the Minister, who is answering the question after having it transferred to her, would never be able to answer questions with that amount of detail. The Minister in whose office this employee is working should be prepared to answer those questions, because she is the only person with that detail.

Mr SPEAKER: The Minister did answer the question, but I will have a look at the transcript of this whole area.

Katherine Rich: When the Minister has over 1,900 children’s cases that have yet to see a social worker, a nationwide recruitment and retention problem of social workers, incidents of kids prostituting themselves on the streets and overdosing on datura, and, only a few days ago—

Mr SPEAKER: Please come to the question.

Katherine Rich: —a case of a 14-year-old abused child placed in care with other abusers, how can she defend distracting the chief social worker from her primary tasks to be a private secretary—as listed in the ministerial phone list—developing a job description for what is a well-established role?

Hon RUTH DYSON: As I explained earlier to the House, the chief social worker is not responsible for the frontline delivery of Child, Youth and Family Services. That is the responsibility of two general managers of social work and community services, who share the responsibility for regional delivery of contracting all service delivery functions, as well as for national services such as funding or contracting, adoptions, residential and care services, programme implementation, and service coordination. I say that undermining the organisation in the way the member has implied—by repeating incorrect assertions to the House—is not helpful.

Mr SPEAKER: That is going too far.

Questions for Oral Answer
Criminal Offences—Parole

9. Hon RICHARD PREBBLE (Leader—ACT NZ) to the Minister of Justice: In each year since December 1999 how many convictions for murder, rape, robbery and aggravated assault have there been for offences committed while on parole?

Hon PHIL GOFF (Minister of Justice): The Ministry of Justice does not hold statistics relating to offending committed while on parole—

Opposition members: Why not?

Hon PHIL GOFF: The reason is that past Governments have never put the measures in place. But if the member takes a moment to listen to the answer, I will tell him what we are doing now. However, the justice data warehouse—[Interruption]

Mr SPEAKER: The Minister responded to interjections, which he does not have to do, but then there was far too much noise. I want to hear the answer now, without very much interjection at all.

Hon PHIL GOFF: The justice data warehouse project in the Ministry of Justice will, for the first time, allow the statistics of offending on parole to be analysed. Relevant data will become available when the new courts management system is implemented nationwide towards the end of the year. The Department of Corrections has limited data for the year to June 2001. This shows that 1.4 percent of those released before the end of their sentences—including those automatically released under the old law after serving two-thirds of their sentences, regardless of the risk they posed—were convicted of a robbery, sexual violation, or murder offence.

Hon Richard Prebble: Is it not the case that there have been literally hundreds of violent offences committed by people on parole, including those in such high-profile cases as William Bell, a triple murderer in 2002, Taffy Hotene, who murdered Kylie Jones, Nicholas Reekie, a multiple rapist, and, this year, Nigel Robert Gately, who raped in February 2002; given those cases, why is the Minister sitting around waiting for a data project when everyone can see that parole in New Zealand does not work?

Hon PHIL GOFF: Rather than sitting around, this Government has introduced legislation that, to use one of the member’s examples, William Bell, has put that person away for a minimum period of 33 years before he can even be considered for parole. If past Governments had thought about doing that, some of those offenders that the member mentioned would not have been out and would not have reoffended.

Tim Barnett: What changes were made to parole with the passage of the Parole Act 2002?

Hon PHIL GOFF: Major changes have been made to parole under that Act, including the direction to the Parole Board that public safety must always be the board’s paramount consideration in its decisions. That is where the balance must lie. We have also, of course, abolished the nonsense of automatic release after serving two-thirds of a sentence, regardless of the risk that that offender had to reoffend in the community. That is something that previous Governments also should have considered and should have acted upon. This Government has acted.

Richard Worth: Why is it that the Government moved decisively and quickly to tighten the dog legislation in respect of dangerous breeds, but is not prepared to tighten the parole legislation, with the consequence that offenders on parole continue to commit horrific crime?

Hon PHIL GOFF: If the member had listened to my last two answers, he would have heard some of the examples of how we have toughened the legislation considerably to deal with those people. Let me say that the maximum period before parole could be considered in 1987 for aggravated murder was 7 years; now the sentencing must start at 17 years and has gone as long as 33 years. That is an example of how this Government has put effective measures in place to stop that sort of reoffending.

Ron MarkRon Mark: Can the Minister tell the families from the Sensible Sentencing Trust who came here to Parliament here today whether he will agree to the one thing they have requested of this Government, which is the abolition of parole for all violent offenders?

Hon PHIL GOFF: In regard to parole, considerable research has been done in New Zealand and internationally. In New Zealand the recidivist index showed that where people were released without parole, their rate of offending was twice the level of those who were released on parole. In the interests of the safety of the community, parole obviously has a major impact on reducing reoffending.

Hon Richard Prebble: After that extraordinary statement, I ask whether the Minister is aware of his own ministry’s study, which shows that, of 6,520 prisoners released after serving sentences for violence, 49 percent were reconvicted within a year, and that there are 1,400 violent offenders who are up for parole in the next 3 years, and that under that rate, 1,102 will reoffend, and can he explain to the House why every single one of those prisoners is not doing their full court-imposed sentence?

Hon PHIL GOFF: The figures I have from the latest Department of Corrections annual report—which are reliable figures—demonstrate that for those released on discretionary parole, overall offending, including minor offending, was 10 percent. When they were released without parole the offending rate was 20 percent after 24 months. It is clear from those statistics, and from international research—which shows why countries have parole in just about every case—that when a person is released on parole, the risk to the community of reoffending is reduced, and public safety is therefore improved.

Questions for Oral Answer
Genetically Modified Organisms—Environmental Risk Management Authority

10. JEANETTE FITZSIMONS (Co-Leader—Green) to the Minister for the Environment: Is it still her intention that “a strict regulatory framework will be maintained” for the commercial release of GM organisms and does she still believe that “the effectiveness of the Environmental Risk Management Authority is a key element in this regulatory framework”, as stated in the Speech from the Throne last year?

Hon MARIAN HOBBS (Minister for the Environment): Yes.

Jeanette Fitzsimons: What changes to the Environmental Risk Management Authority’s methodology or processes have taken place to ensure more accurate risk assessment, given the finding of the review that “the benefit of not approving a risky development or containment has not been given the same attention as the supposed benefit of taking the risk”?

Hon MARIAN HOBBS: From memory, it was Mr Nahkies who made the comment about the methodology employed by the Environmental Risk Management Authority, saying that he thought it needed to be far more flexible, rather than continuing the restrictive manner it had been used to working in. Work is being done on that matter.

David Parker: Is the Minister satisfied that the Environmental Risk Management Authority has the capability to do its job?

Hon MARIAN HOBBS: Yes. That was confirmed by the rigorous and thorough review conducted by the Graham Nahkies - led panel, which considered that the Environmental Risk Management Authority had the necessary skills and experience to carry out its role. Once the Environmental Risk Management Authority has implemented the review’s 49 recommendations, the authority’s expertise will be further strengthened.

Hon Brian Donnelly: Where the review report recommends that “if it should continue on the broadening of risk management understanding to meet the requirements of the Act”, does it mean—as it seems to—that the risk management requirements of the Act are not currently able to be fully met by the Environmental Risk Management Authority?

Hon MARIAN HOBBS: My understanding from reading the review and the report of the review is almost the reverse: the Act asks the authority to be more flexible in the way it considers risk. The report states that some of the methodologies and protocol set out in the Act have been far too restrictive and time-bound.

Larry Baldock: How will the strict regulatory framework apply when the moratorium ends on 29 October?

Hon MARIAN HOBBS: The Environmental Risk Management Authority will then be able to consider applications for the release of genetically modified organisms case by case. The British announced today in their particular review that they also want a methodology that considers organisms on a case-by-case basis. For an application to be successful in the future it would have to meet stringent minimum standards designed to protect the environment and the health and safety of the community.

Jeanette Fitzsimons: How does the Minister square her statement that the Environmental Risk Management Authority has the necessary skills with the finding of the review that authority members lack crucial skills in gene technology, ecology, and social science, and that, among the staff, “there is a notable lack of professional representation in environmental or public policy development, and in strategic planning at senior management level.”, and what is being done to replace authority members and staff with those who have the skills required?

Hon MARIAN HOBBS: The review panel was clear that the authority contained a good cross-section—and I can give the member the exact quote—of the necessary skills and experience, but it said that appointments should be used to beef up the authority’s capability in the areas that the member mentioned. I will be appointing new members to the authority to do just that.

Jeanette Fitzsimons: What has been done to ensure that there will not be a recurrence of the monitoring mishaps, the tardy compliance reports, the non-detection of errors, and the tensions between the Environmental Risk Management Authority and the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry over controls and monitoring that the review states makes the system of risk management most vulnerable?

Hon MARIAN HOBBS: Changes introduced by the New Organisms and Other Matters Bill clearly give the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry the responsibility for monitoring and enforcement. The chair of the Environmental Risk Management Authority and the chief executive officer of the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry are working through the issues to make sure the changes are implemented effectively. However, I would like to comment that one of the systemic shortfalls discussed in the review and referred to by the Green Party in 5.5.5 concerned an incomplete new plant register, not a genetically modified organism.

Jeanette Fitzsimons: In the light of the fact that the same authority members and the same chief executive are in place 4 months after the review was received by the Government and that little has been done to change the culture of the organisation, why should the public believe that the authority will be competent to handle the much more complex and risky task of assessing applications for the release of genetically engineered organisms in just over 3 months time?

Hon MARIAN HOBBS: In respect of the authority membership, there is a regular appointment schedule, and we are currently in the process of replacing people whose time has come up. With regard to the culture of the authority and the people in place, as I referred to, the 49 recommendations made by the report have immediately been taken up and undergone by the authority, and its report on what it has done will be released within weeks.

Questions for Oral Answer
Supreme Court Bill—Consultation with Mâori

11. RICHARD WORTH (NZ National—Epsom) to the Associate Minister of Justice: Does she agree with the Associate Minister of Maori Affairs, Hon Tariana Turia’s reported comment that the Government should put the Supreme Court Bill on hold until Mâori have been properly consulted and have given it their support; if not, why not?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Leader of the House), on behalf of the Associate Minister of Justice: No, because she was advised that this is not an accurate statement of what the Hon Tariana Turia said.

Richard Worth: Is the Associate Minister saying that Ruth Berry is lying in the report that was published in the New Zealand Herald on 21 July 2003?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: It is perfectly possible for a member of the press gallery to make a mistake without lying. It has been known to happen for parliamentarians.

Dail Jones: In view of the support at the Taupo hui, which was referred to in that press statement, for the retention of the Privy Council, why does the Minister fail to accept New Zealand First election policy that there should be a referendum on this issue before appeals to the Privy Council are abolished?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: It would be hard to keep appeals to the Privy Council since the British intend to abolish it.

Richard Worth: Noting that Ruth Berry stands by her story, what does the Associate Minister of Justice say that Tariana Turia said on the issue of consultation with Mâori?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: My understanding is that Mrs Turia indicated the hui called for ongoing consultation, which Mrs Turia supports.

Questions for Oral Answer
Conservation—Private Land

12. DAVID BENSON-POPE (NZ Labour—Dunedin South) to the Minister of Conservation: What reports has he received on the Government’s initiatives to support conservation on private land?

Hon CHRIS CARTER (Minister of Conservation): I have received a communication from the Yellow-eyed Penguin Trust in Dunedin conveying its delight at the success of its recent application to the Government’s biodiversity and condition fund. The trust has been granted $220,000 to actively promote colonies of this threatened species and to work with volunteers and landowners committed to penguin protection.

David Benson-Pope: Can the Minister also detail the interest that has been shown in the biodiversity advice and condition fund?

Hon CHRIS CARTER: There has been an outstanding interest with 148 applications in the latest funding round. Fifty-eight groups were successful, and $3 million has now been allocated. Notable projects were the fencing of Lake Omapere in Northland, goat control in Banks Peninsula, and a major river restoration initiative led by the Tûhoe iwi.

Shane Ardern: In the light of excellent reports that the Minister has received about farmers and their work in conservation, when will he instruct the Department of Conservation to rise to the standard that farmers have set, and when will he fund them to do so?

Hon CHRIS CARTER: I am pleased to report that under this Government a $187 million biodiversity fund was set up. Department of Conservation funding has increased by over 30 percent. Naturally, of course, we would like more resources, but we are very grateful for those that we have received.

Jeanette Fitzsimons: Does any funding to support conservation on private land address the issue of providing funding support for the mandatory establishment of riparian strips on private lands around water bodies, the conservation values of which are being severely affected by the activities on those lands, such as in the cases of Lake Rotoiti and Lake Rotoehu; if not, does the Minister believe funding should be able to be allocated for such purposes?

Hon CHRIS CARTER: I can report that landowners adjacent to Lake Rotoiti, or, indeed, any other waterway in the country, can apply for funding to help fence them.

End of Questions for Oral Answer

(uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing)

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