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Questions & Answers for Oral Answer For Thursday

Questions & Answers for Oral Answer

THURSDAY, 28 AUGUST 2003


(uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing)

Questions to Ministers:

1. Sentencing and Parole Acts—Victims and Public Safety

2. Genetically Modified Sweetcorn—Document Disclosure

3. Light Armoured Vehicles—Defence Capability

4. Genetically Modified Organisms—Election Policy

5. Economy—Current Position

6. Māori Television Service—Progress

7. Te Māngai Pāho—Māori Sportscasting International

8. Reading and Writing—Primary Schools

9. Driving Licences—Fees for Older Drivers

10. Seabirds—Fishing Vessels

11. Food Safety, Minister—Confidence

12. Marlborough Mayor—Iwi Consultation

Sentencing and Parole Acts—Victims and Public Safety

1. MARC ALEXANDER (United Future) to the Minister of Justice: Is he satisfied that the Sentencing Act 2002 and the Parole Act 2002 are working in the best interests of the victims of crime and the safety of the community as a whole?

Hon PHIL GOFF (Minister of Justice): I am satisfied that the Sentencing Act, the Parole Act, and the Victims’ Rights Act together provide a regime that far better serves the interests of victims of crime and protects the safety of the community. Worst offenders now receive the maximum sentences, and they have been up to 30 years before parole can even be considered. The Parole Board may not release offenders sentenced under new legislation where they constitute an undue risk, and automatic release at two-thirds has been abolished. However, amendments can, and will, be made to the law over time, taking into account how the courts are applying it.

Marc Alexander: How can the Minister be satisfied with the Government’s parole policy when, after the families of the victims of murder were informed by the Department of Corrections about the impending release of one of the offenders, Jeremy Tahi, they were invited to a meeting with the Parole Board only to be told by the department before that meeting took place that Tahi would be released anyway?

Hon PHIL GOFF: I am not aware of the particular case and probably could not comment on it if I were aware of it, but I can assure the member that if any corrections official said there was going to be a decision one way or the other from the Parole Board before the Parole Board had even heard the case, they would be grossly out of order. I doubt they would have said that. If they did, they were very foolish.

Richard Worth: Does there not come a point where, in the face of ongoing criticism about loopholes relating to home detention, the changes that have been made to the Sentencing Act in respect of fines defaulters and non-payment, the criticism about mitigating factors in sentencing, and ongoing criticism of the Parole Board that even a wise Minister would say that it is time to amend this stuff?

Hon PHIL GOFF: I am aware that a whole range of people within the justice system—judges and lawyers—has in fact praised the legislation. Let me quote one of the member’s former colleagues, who is a High Court judge, saying that: “The Sentencing Act, in most areas is a huge improvement on the mishmash of law that applied prior to 1 July on sentencing. It greatly assists the court.” That was said by one of the former high officials in the member’s party, who is now a High Court judge.

Tim Barnett: What major changes has this Government made to recognise the rights and interests of victims?

Hon PHIL GOFF: The Victims’ Rights Act represents a quantum leap forward in the recognition of victims’ rights. It makes victims’ rights no longer simply vague principles but mandatory rights. Victims on the notification list can now attend and make submissions to parole hearings. Victims can present their victim impact statements orally in court. These and other changes, such as the placement of victims’ advisers in every court, are major improvements to the way victims are being treated.

Ron Mark: How appropriate and meaningful does he think his Victims’ Rights Act, his Sentencing Act, and his Parole Act are to the family of David McNee, the murdered television interior designer, given that the man who has been charged with his murder, Phillip Leighton Edwards, was released from prison having served only half of his sentence, and was known to be a violent offender?

Hon PHIL GOFF: Edwards, who is before the court—and I do not want to comment on his personal position—had been mainly convicted of minor offences. He was not regarded as a serious, violent offender. That is the information I have received on that particular case. He was released not on parole but after he had served half of his sentence because of the length of his sentence.

Marc Alexander: How can the Minister be satisfied with the operation of the Parole Act when in the case I outlined in my first supplementary question—that of Jeremy Tahi—it is utterly apparent that the lack of coordination between the Parole Board and the Department of Corrections means that victims are being denied effective involvement in parole decisions?

Hon PHIL GOFF: As the member knows, under the Victims’ Rights Act, victims have the statutory right, if they are on the notification list, to be involved in the parole hearings. That was never the case before under the National Government. It is now the case. They can attend, they can make oral submissions, and any victim can make written submissions to the Parole Board. That is written into law.

Ron Mark: Does the Minister not understand that all over New Zealand ordinary people simply look at the case of, for example, Michael Carroll, and the ridiculous decision made by the Parole Board in that case, and the subsequent result, where the man was lost in Christchurch City, at large for more than 24 hours, and consider that his attitude towards parole has been simply unworkable and not sensible?

Hon PHIL GOFF: As the member knows well, the Minister of Justice cannot, and never has been able to, comment on individual decisions by the Parole Board.

Marc Alexander: Why does the Parole Board place the likelihood of reoffending before the need for certainty on the part of the victim that the offender will be put away for a defined period, or does this reflect an ethos that parole is more about finding reasons that someone should get out early rather than the reasons for keeping them there?

Hon PHIL GOFF: Absolutely not. The new Parole Act makes it absolutely clear that the Parole Board must not release any offender who would constitute an undue risk to the safety of the community. What is more, the member will be aware that now the Parole Board can defer parole hearings for up to 3 years, and have done so in the case of Paul Bailey and Raymond Ratima. That never happened before under that Government—it did not give a damn about victims’ rights.

Ron Mark: Noting that answer then, can the Minister tell the House in an occasion where the Parole Board has made a decision to release a person who did subsequently prove to be a danger and a risk to the community by carrying out an act of violence, what is he going to do to that Parole Board?

Hon PHIL GOFF: Any Parole Board is made up of human beings, and human beings from time to time make errors. What the member will note, if he looks at the statistics, is that what is remarkable about the Parole Board is that most of the time it does get it right.

Genetically Modified Sweetcorn—Document Disclosure

2. Hon BILL ENGLISH (Leader of the Opposition) to the Prime Minister: Why didn’t the Prime Minister and her officials ensure that all documents, including memoranda from her department, relating to GM-contaminated corn were disclosed to the public of New Zealand during the 2002 election campaign?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Deputy Prime Minister), on behalf of the Prime Minister: The Prime Minister made it clear publicly that all relevant advice should be released. She was not aware until well after the election campaign that some items had not been released.

Hon Bill English: In the light of her statement on 11 July 2002 on National Radio that “I believe in full disclosure”, will she volunteer to show up to the select committee inquiry into “corngate”?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: The Prime Minister did, indeed, make that statement and did, indeed, order full disclosure of all papers. In the case of this paper it was first released in November of 2002, discussed in a magazine article in February 2003, given to the select committee in April 2003, and discovered by the National Party on 26 August 2003.

Rodney Hide: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. We are seeing this increasingly in this House, and I would like you to comment on it, whereby when the Government is on a difficult question the Minister makes a half-baked attempt at a joke, and the Labour caucus has clearly been instructed to clap and laugh to try to deflect the question. It is terribly orchestrated—

Mr SPEAKER: I heard a member making an interjection during a point of order. She is very lucky not to be asked to leave, and that is the only warning today.

Rodney Hide: It is clearly orchestrated; and I do not want to relitigate this particular one, but I would ask you to keep your eye on it. It is not helpful to question time that we get this forced laughter up here in the back benches.

Mr SPEAKER: Let me put it this way. I would be the first to enjoy the Standing Orders Committee coming down with a recommendation that there be absolutely no interjections whatsoever during questions time, and I would fully support that. However, this is a Parliament where I believe we are able to have a bit of toing and froing. I did not see anything that occurred then as different from other parties doing similar things at similar times.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Given that Minister’s answer, it is important the House knows that I was specifically advised by the Clerk’s Office that I could not release those papers without a breach of privilege, until such time as the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet had appeared before the select committee.

Mr SPEAKER: That is not a point of order, and the member knows it.

Hon Ken Shirley: In view of recent revelations based on the documents and memoranda that were withheld by the Prime Minister’s department during the 2002 election campaign, does the Prime Minister now regret calling John Campbell of TV3 “a little creep” last July—yes, or no.

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: No.

Hon Bill English: Given that the Prime Minister won a Broadcasting Standards Authority complaint against TV3 on the basis that she was “ambushed” on “corngate”, why will she not accept the considered invitation of a select committee to show up and explain her role in “corngate”at the legitimate inquiry of this Parliament?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Apart from anything else because, as I just said, the document now being referred to was first released in November 2002, reported in a magazine article of February 2003, given to the select committee in April—

Hon Dr Nick Smith: Answer the question.

Mr SPEAKER: I heard the member start his comments with “because”, and that is an answer to the question. Let him finish.

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: And because the document referred to also is simply a cover note for a Cabinet document, which was released before the election.

Jeanette Fitzsimons: Why did the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet not release any of its large bundle of papers during the election campaign, when the Ministry for the Environment released its two boxes, and why did it take an Official Information Act request by Metro writer Stephen Price, many months later, before any of this material was released?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I am advised by the chief executive that, in his judgment, following the principles of the Official Information Act that confidential memos within the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet were not to be subject to release. That clearly was directly contrary to the Prime Minister’s instructions to release all materials.

Hon Peter Dunne: In the light of that last answer and the Prime Minister’s earlier comment in July last year, I recall, about disclosure, has the Prime Minister—[Interruption]

Mr SPEAKER: The member will now leave the Chamber. I have told the member there will be no interjecting during questions. The member interjected. I warned the member. Please leave the Chamber.

Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. With all due respect, this is one of those situations that get a little tricky. We had a circumstance last week where Mr Tamihere was ejected from Parliament and then was brought back to answer a question. I notice that question No. 4 on the Order Paper is in the name of Dr Nick Smith. It is not unusual for there to be some interjection during the course of question time. It has been very noticeable in the last week that there has been a lower threshold of tolerance on your part—that is the standard you wish to set. But in this case it seems, on an issue that is so sensitive, where there are quite serious issues of accountability being examined by the Opposition, it simply does not look good if one of the questioners, in this case Dr Nick Smith, is expelled from the House and unable to ask his question.

Mr SPEAKER: The member has his facts slightly wrongly. I ejected Mr Tamihere, and I was asked to recall him because he had a subsequent question. I thought, on balance, as that was a request made by the Opposition, I would do so, and I was generous in that regard. But I have made it perfectly clear—there has been no change to my standard over the last 3 years—that during the asking of questions there are to be no interjections. That was a very, very noisy and unproved interjection, and the member must leave the Chamber. Please leave.

Dr Nick Smith withdrew from the Chamber.

Hon Peter Dunne: What about my supplementary?

Mr SPEAKER: The member may have his supplementary.

Lindsay Tisch: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Bearing in mind the decision you have just made—and we are not disputing that—Dr Nick Smith does have a question, No. 4, and I ask that he be allowed to return to the Chamber to ask question No. 4, and then leave.

Mr SPEAKER: I want to be reasonable about this. I think I will allow him to do that, but that is the only time he is in the Chamber during question time.

Hon Peter Dunne: In view of the previous answer, and the Prime Minister’s own comments in July last year about full disclosure, what action was taken, either at that time or subsequently, in respect of a standard of behaviour by Dr Prebble that was clearly less than that expected by the Prime Minister with regard to that disclosure?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I think that Dr Prebble has made it clear that he now thinks that he made an error of judgment. It was a matter of his judgment on the balance of looking at things in the light of the Official Information Act. I do not believe, and I do not think the Prime Minister believes, that the lack of judgment in that particular case was sufficiently serious for disciplinary action to be taken against an excellent public servant.

Hon Ken Shirley: Can the Prime Minister assure the House that neither she nor any other Cabinet Minister instructed Government members of the Local Government and Environment Committee to block the request of that select committee to call on the Prime Minister to explain the situation to help that committee with its inquiries? Why did Government members and United Future members block that request to prevent the committee doing that inquiry?

Mr SPEAKER: Before I allow the question, was that part of the meeting held—[Interruption] There is a press statement. All right.

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: The Prime Minister is not responsible for the actions of Government members on select committees.

Hon Bill English: I repeat my question to the Prime Minister. Did she or any other member of her Cabinet, or her whips, instruct Labour members and United Future members of the select committee inquiring into “corngate” to vote against the select committee invitation to her to show up to explain her role?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: If the member cares to read the Standing Orders, he would understand that it is not appropriate to instruct members of select committees to do anything.

Hon Bill English: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Twice now I have asked Dr Cullen direct questions that he simply refuses to answer. I asked him quite explicitly—not about the Standing Orders—whether the Prime Minister or any whip or Minister had given instructions that they were to vote against Helen Clark coming to the select committee. That is a pretty straightforward question. I do not need a lesson in the Standing Orders; I know them. What I know is that this Government is unlikely to have followed them. I asked him a direct question and he should answer that question.

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: First, I take exception to the notion that the Government would not follow the Standing Orders. In fact, the member is trying to accuse the Prime Minister of breach of privilege. If he wishes to do that, he should do so by way of a letter.

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

Mr SPEAKER: I need nothing further.

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

Mr SPEAKER: I do not need any further assistance. If the Leader of the House chooses to answer that question in the way that he did, then that is the way he chooses to do so. He did address it.

Jeanette Fitzsimons: Will the Prime Minister answer my previous question, which was different from Mr English’s question and did not relate to the two particular memos, but asked: why did the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet not release any of its large bundle of papers during the election campaign, when the Ministry for the Environment did; why did it take an Official Information Act request months later for it all to come out; and could all of it been covered by the matters that Mr Prebble relies on in explaining his decision?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I could not quite follow the last part of the question. However, in terms of the first part, I am advised by Dr Prebble that it was his judgment that, guided by the principles of the Official Information Act, there was no overriding public interest. What I can say is that having looked at the document itself, there is nothing in that material that is essentially different from the Cabinet document that was released before the election.

Light Armoured Vehicles—Defence Capability

3. RON MARK (NZ First) to the Minister of Defence: Is he confident that the Army’s new light armoured vehicles have the capability to carry out defence operations in the South Pacific?

Hon PHIL GOFF (Acting Minister of Defence): Yes, and, more important, the Army is.

Ron Mark: Why, then, are there no plans to deploy the LAVIIIs into the Solomons along with the 125 infantry soldiers that have just been deployed there?

Hon PHIL GOFF: There are probably a variety of answers to that, including, firstly, it is not regarded that they are needed there at the present time, because not a shot has been fired, to date. Usually light armoured vehicles are put in when that is anticipated. Secondly, my understanding is that the vehicles have just started arriving. The first of them came just a couple of weeks ago. The two plans have not fitted together, in any case.

Luamanuvao Winnie Laban: How will the capability of the LAVIII differ from the capability of the M113 in relation to deployment to Pacific Island countries?

Hon PHIL GOFF: I think the difference between the two vehicles is that we are comparing a vehicle from the 1960s with a vehicle that has been built for the 21st century. There is a range of things that the LAVIIIs have. They have greater protection for their occupants, and I think that is most important. They have better firepower. They have night-fighting capability. They can actually fire while they are moving, which the M113s did not. I think in just about every sense they are superior vehicles.

Gerry Brownlee: Notwithstanding the Minister’s answer, has he read of the United States Army’s concerns over the vulnerability of the LAVIIIs to rocket-propelled grenade fire, and its resulting decision to fit extra slack armour to vehicles destined for Iraq in October? Will the New Zealand Army be purchasing and fitting extra armour to its light armoured vehicles; if not, why not; and, if so, at what cost?

Mr SPEAKER: Two of those three questions can be answered.

Hon PHIL GOFF: The United States is clearly not concerned about the vehicle. It has purchased 2,200 of them. I will record for the member what the congressional committee said about this quite recently. The report stated that the Striker, which is the same as the LAVIII, was “more survivable, faster, roomier, more comfortable, and less logistically demanding than the alternative M113A3”. The vehicle armour is very good. It can take at point-blank range a 7.62 millimetre bullet without the appliqué armour. It can survive a mine of 7.5 kilograms, which is larger than a normal mine. It will blow a wheel off, but the vehicle will keep going. In just about every respect it provides greater protection and that is why the Army made the decision to purchase this vehicle.

Gerry Brownlee: I seek leave to table an article from the Washington Times entitled “A study finds new Army vehicles too vulnerable”. The article outlines the problems—

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

Hon Peter Dunne: In the event that there was to be a deployment of any light armoured vehicles to any South Pacific theatre, is the Minister confident that we actually have the means of physically transporting them swiftly and safely to such a deployment at present?

Hon PHIL GOFF: The answer is yes. On every occasion when the New Zealand Army has deployed armoured vehicles they have been shipped by sea. They can be shipped by aircraft, but it is a rather expensive way of doing it. The C130 will take a LAVIII, but as in East Timor, if we were going to send armoured vehicles to a particular theatre of action, we would send them by sea. Generally, of course, we would contract a vessel to do that, as we did in regard to East Timor.

Ron Mark: Is the Minister aware that on the 13th of this month, as a result of concerns expressed to the US Army’s Training and Doctrine Centre at Fort Monroe at the impending deployment to Iraq of a brigade of strikers—concerns as to their vulnerability—the US Army Training and Doctrine Command has announced that a battalion of gunships will now be assigned to protect the brigade of strikers; if so, when will New Zealand purchase its supply of helicopter gunships to protect our strikers, and what will the cost be?

Mr SPEAKER: Two of those questions can be answered.

Hon PHIL GOFF: It has always been the case that when we have deployed—in particular, to a theatre where there is active warfare—there is air support, and that is provided by allied countries. We never used to use our air combat wing because it was too old to use in theatre. Can I say this about the deployment to Iraq: any armoured vehicle can be disabled and destroyed by armaments. Seven US tanks have been-so destroyed in the Iraqi war theatre. Generally, one does not use light armoured vehicles where there is that sort of risk. If there is going to be heavy armaments, one deploys other vehicles. And our troops would not do that, either with the older M113 or the new LAVIII.

Genetically Modified Organisms—Election Policy

4. Hon Dr NICK SMITH (NZ National—Nelson) to the Minister for the Environment: In what ways has the Government honoured Labour’s 1999 election policy that they would “ensure that agencies with responsibility for genetically modified organisms (GMOs) including GM foods, are accountable and involve the public in decision-making processes”?

Hon MARIAN HOBBS (Minister for the Environment): We achieved that through, among other things, increasing funding to the Environmental Risk Management Authority by 35 percent and implementing the recommendations of the ERMA review to ensure it can carry out its task.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: Where is the accountability, when she promised extra tests, which did not exist; when she wrote an article damning a book, which she did not read; where she said there was zero tolerance, when all the papers state there was 0.5 percent tolerance; when she said there was no contamination, when the head of the Environmental Risk Management Authority said “You couldn’t say there was no contamination.”; and given all those errors, why do we not see some accountability, by her resigning?

Hon MARIAN HOBBS: This may be a long reply. I will not attempt all the four objections, but let us make up the first one. The first matter I was accused of then, was of not following the policy of zero tolerance. At no time did the Government, in the area of November-December 2000, decide to break the rule, the Hazardous Substances and New Organisms Act—by deliberately allowing, and knowingly allowing, any new organisms to enter the country. The policy of zero tolerance was followed through, to the letter. On the question of no contamination—I think that is what I heard—and whether I could say there were no seeds that were contaminated, at no stage did we ever say that, although in shorthand time, in some arguments, one will find that people say “no contamination”. When the Environmental Risk Management Authority was asked this question, it said it can never say that one is absolutely positively sure that no seeds have entered the country, unless one tests every seed. In the testing of every seed, one destroys every seed. The question that the officials were arguing about, and trying to explain to people out there, and to Ministers and to Cabinet, was setting the statistical limit of tolerance to be able to detect down to 0.5 percent.

Dr Ashraf Choudhary: Does the Minister have confidence that agencies with responsibility for genetically modified organisms can carry out their responsibilities, after the expiry of the moratorium on applications for general release?

Hon MARIAN HOBBS: Yes. Parliament imposed the moratorium to enable the Government to implement recommendations of the royal commission, and to ensure the Environmental Risk Management Authority has the tools to do its job. The work included revising the law to include conditional release, and that is the New Organisms and Other Matters Bill before the House; the strengthening of liability, which is also in the New Organisms and Other Matters Bill before the House; a review of the Environmental Risk Management Authority; and a biotechnology strategy for New Zealand—to name a few.

Hon Brian Donnelly: Given the answer to the previous question, will the Minister confirm that the Government has demanded that the Environmental Risk Management Authority develop more robust tools for analysis of economic cost benefits and risks, but that officials do not have to report back until 31 October 2004, creating a 2-year vacuum from the time of the expiry of the moratorium?

Hon MARIAN HOBBS: With due respect, the questioner is actually confusing two different pieces of work. The Environmental Risk Management Authority has been working to strengthen its current decision-making methodology to take economic considerations into account, and will have finished that strengthening of that work by the time the moratorium expires in October. Tertiary and other people are involved in ongoing work, which it is only wise to do on any possible monitoring of the markets out there, in terms of economic impact.

Hon Ken Shirley: Could the Minister please explain to the House what she meant when she told the Local Government and Environment Committee this morning that she resisted the temptation to read important technical reports because it might contaminate her thought processes and memories?

Hon MARIAN HOBBS: I will give a serious answer. When, in 2002, a book was published that included reference to many papers and many arguments, I decided, at that time, to concentrate absolutely on what had been given to me, what had been told to me, and what had been reported to me, so that it was, therefore, a process of my decision making and my advice to my colleagues in Cabinet, rather than reading all the reports and arguments that occurred between officials. There is a difference between argument between officials and advice officials give to Ministers.

Jeanette Fitzsimons: Why did her officials involve the corn seed industry and its scientific and public relations advisers in the decisions about how to interpret test results and what to do about the Novartis corn that had been planted, but not involve the organics industry or the neighbours of the farms where it had been planted?

Hon MARIAN HOBBS: I am not actually responsible for whom my officials engage with, but I would make the point that officials did talk because it was the industry that raised the issue with the officials, and they communicated backwards and forwards on that. It was not a decision about whether we pulled out the genetically modified corn. Because there was no genetically modified corn, there was no need and there was no threat to the organic farmers next door.

Larry Baldock: With regard to Labour’s 1999 election policy, is the Minister prepared to be publicly accountable by using her call-in powers under the Hazardous Substances and Other Organisms Act if, after the moratorium expires in October, the Environmental Risk Management Authority receives an application that may have significant effects on the New Zealand economy?

Hon MARIAN HOBBS: Once the Environmental Risk Management Authority can receive applications on the release—in other words, once the moratorium has been lifted—I will be advised of applications as they are received. In fact, I am currently advised of applications as they are received. I am prepared to call in an application that may have significant economic impacts.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: Noting that the Minister, by my count, on 23 occasions has said that there was no cover-up, what is deliberately withholding from public release an important gap in the paper trail if it is not a cover-up?

Hon MARIAN HOBBS: I had released from my ministry all the documents that were known at the time.

Jeanette Fitzsimons: With reference back to the primary question about involving the public in decision making, in what ways will she involve the 68 percent of the public who do not want the moratorium lifted in decisions about that moratorium?

Hon MARIAN HOBBS: I think that this Government has done the absolute ultimate. It has set up a royal commission, which is the highest body we have for giving advice to the Government. That royal commission gave us the advice, 2 years ago, to proceed with caution.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: Noting that the Minister deflected my earlier question about her repeated statements that there has been no cover-up and that a key document was not released, can she simply answer how deliberately withholding an important gap in the paper trail, as the Government did, is not a cover-up?

Hon MARIAN HOBBS: I am making a presumption here, because the document has not been stated in the House in that question. I presume the member is referring to the document in the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet orbit. I undertake that that document was advice on top of a Cabinet paper, so it does not add any significance. However, it was said very clearly this morning by the chief executive officer of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, when giving the reasons he withheld that document.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: How can the Minister say to Parliament that the document was of no significance, when the official who attended more meetings than any other, Ruth Wilkie, said in a note to the head of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet that: “It left an important gap in the paper trail.”?

Hon MARIAN HOBBS: There were two documents, and I understand the document that is sometimes quoted by Dr Smith is a document that is the cover page, which adds no more information than that it is a Cabinet paper that was released to the public.

Economy—Current Position

5. CLAYTON COSGROVE (NZ Labour—Waimakariri) to the Minister of Finance: What recent economic data has he received and what do they show about the state of the economy?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Minister of Finance): Business confidence continues to rebound. House prices are rising, increasing household net wealth, and the latest National Bank regional trend survey showed 11 of 14 regions recorded growth in the last quarter, which was expected to be a weak one.

Clayton Cosgrove: How is the New Zealand economy performing relative to other economies, and how is this affecting international perceptions?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Very well. Fitch Ratings, the third of the big three international credit-ratings agencies, recently upgraded our foreign currency rating from AA to AA+. It quoted the economy’s strong performance, its increasing resilience to external shocks, sustained improvements in the public finances, and a clear sense of private-sector external debt risk management.

Hon David Carter: With the Minister congratulating himself on the usual springtime blip in business sentiment, is he prepared to reinstate the Prime Minister’s early promise to New Zealand—namely to get New Zealand back into the top half of the OECD by 2012?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I can say with absolute confidence that no Government Minister ever thought about getting back into the top half of the OECD by 2012. If the member wants to ask the right question, the date was 2011, and that target has not been used for a long time.

Dail Jones: Has the Minister read the economic data from Quotable Value New Zealand, showing house price inflation at 14.2 percent nationally, and the Statistics New Zealand economic data, showing an estimated trade deficit for July of $471 million, with exports down by 9.7 percent, which is the largest July deficit from the last 17 years; if so, does he have any concern for the difficulties of potential first-home buyers and exporters due to the poor state of the New Zealand economy after 4 years of a Labour Government?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: It is actually 3⅔ years, but never mind—I am sure to the Opposition it seems like 4 years. The high level of the New Zealand dollar, which is a consequence of the fall of the US dollar, is certainly a problem for the exporting sector, and is obviously leading to substantial expansion of the current account deficit. The domestic economy continues to perform very strongly indeed. There are signs of the US dollar beginning to pick up, which hopefully will reflect in the value of the New Zealand dollar before too long.

Rod Donald: Is the Minister concerned about the July trade deficit just mentioned—the worst in 17 years—and the fact that the July year trade deficit of over $3 billion was the worst in New Zealand’s history; and will he commit to extending the tariff freeze in order to help keep the trade deficit in check?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: The average New Zealand trade-weighted tariff is less than 1 percent. The amount spent on imported shoes and cheap clothing is not a massive factor in New Zealand’s total external current account deficit. If we are to go to the Doha round and expect people to expect to sign up to free trade in agriculture, increasing protection in New Zealand is not a very powerful counterargument.

Māori Television Service—Progress

6. Hon MURRAY McCULLY (NZ National—East Coast Bays) to the Minister of Māori Affairs: What Government decisions and other major steps remain to be taken for the Māori Television Service to commence transmission and what is the projected on-air date?

Hon PAREKURA HOROMIA (Minister of Māori Affairs): The to-air date is still dependent on a number of operational activities, as identified in the Māori Television Service’s 2003-04 statement of intent. Good progress on these operational activities has been made.

Hon Murray McCully: Can the Minister recall a press statement from the Prime Minister on 24 July 2001 announcing that “a Māori Television Service will be on air from June 2002”; and can the Minister explain to the House why, 14 months later, the Māori Television Service is not on air, has no on-air date, has no contracted transmission services, and has so far appointed and lost two chief executives?

Hon PAREKURA HOROMIA: I can recall, in July 2001, the announcement of the establishment of the Māori Television Service, including the intended on-air date of June 2002. That time line has changed because legislation was not passed until May 2003—this year. A revised operational budget was approved earlier this year, but an initial chief executive officer appointment and the present one have created delays.

Mahara Okeroa: Can the Minister outline for the House why it is important to have a Māori television channel?

Mr SPEAKER: The Minister can briefly comment on that.

Hon PAREKURA HOROMIA: Both the Crown and Māori recognise obligations to protect and promote te reo Māori as a taonga. The previous National Government gave undertakings in the broadcasting assets case in 1991 to provide for Māori television as one means of meeting that obligation. We will get it done.

Deborah Coddington: Will the Minister confirm that he knows exactly what happened at the Māori Television Service between Derek Fox and Joanna Paul; and that he and the Government are sitting on this knowledge in case Mr Fox, who came within 695 votes of beating this Minister at the 1999 general election, should decide to resurrect his political party, stand against this Minister, and beat him?

Hon PAREKURA HOROMIA: As I have said repeatedly, anybody can stand against me and amass the figures and the distance between this member in the last election and the Opposition. That matter is a board matter. To dwell on the filthiness that keeps on in some people’s minds is not the issue; it is an issue for the board.

Marc Alexander: Does the Minister agree that although the Māori Television Service’s statement of intent mentions goals in its 5-year plan—like building a sustainable audience and normalising te reo—should not the primary goal listed on the 5-year strategic plan be for the service to be on air first; if so, why has the Government so far ignored the option of the eminently more modern, cost-effective, and ready-to-go Sky television platform?

Hon PAREKURA HOROMIA: There are still decisions to be made, and Cabinet needs to make a decision along with the board.

Hon Murray McCully: Is the Minister aware that the Prime Minister has described the departing chief executive, Mr Derek Fox, as: “the pre-eminent Māori broadcaster of his generation”, yet the Māori Television Service is already 14 months past its stated on-air date and has no new on-air date, has now appointed and lost two chief executives, and still has no contracted transmission arrangements; if that is the case, what else would have gone wrong if the Government had not appointed the Prime Minister’s “pre-eminent Māori broadcaster of his generation” to lead the project?

Hon PAREKURA HOROMIA: Mr Fox’s prowess and experience in this field is well known both in Māoridom and in this country. There are slippages like there were when that member was the Minister.

Deborah Coddington: How can this Government claim to be opposed to sexual harassment and violence against women in the workplace and not demand that the Māori Television Service board undertake a full and complete investigation into exactly what happened with this Government’s appointee at Māori Television Service?

Mr SPEAKER: The question is about transmission. It is not about that particular issue. That particular issue can be put down as another question at another time.

Rodney Hide: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I notice that when Dr Nick Smith called out whilst a question was being asked he was immediately ejected from the Chamber. We have just had an example—and you know exactly who it was—of a Labour back-bencher who interjected on you when you were on your feet. I notice that he has not been ejected. I think there should be some balance.

Mr SPEAKER: Now that the member has brought the matter to my attention, I ask the member concerned to leave the Chamber.

Mark Peck withdrew from the Chamber.

Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I would like to get a degree of consistency about the way in which questions are ruled as being appropriate or inappropriate. You might recall that yesterday a question was asked by, I think, David Parker from the back of the House that in my view was a mile wide of the stumps when it came to being in line with the question. I think the ruling that came from you related to the fact that there was at least a vague reference to matters that were of concern in the thread of the question. When Deborah Coddington asked her question today, it would be a wild stretch of the imagination to suggest that the current difficulties at the Māori Television Service, which have seen the chief executive exit and the various rumours and other allegations that circulate around that exit, are not part of the problem that has prevented the service getting to transmission, is going beyond the pale. Quite clearly, this is an organisation that has been dysfunctional for one reason or another for a very long period of time, and that is surely part of it.

Hon Ken Shirley: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker—

Mr SPEAKER: I do not need any further assistance on this matter.

Hon Ken Shirley: I have a—

Mr SPEAKER: The member will please be seated. I have heard the point of order, and I do not need any further assistance. Will the member please read the Standing Orders. I looked at the original question, and I took advice. The question asked by Deborah Coddington was outside the scope of the original question.

Hon Ken Shirley: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I ask you to reflect on that. I am not relitigating your decision at all, but I think the point that has been made here is that my colleague’s question is probably the reason that the transmission is not occurring. That is the point that she wished to make—that is, that there has been a number of problems within Māori television. We can only presume that those problems directly relate to the issue of the lack of transmission. I ask you to reflect on that, because I think my colleague’s question was a very reasonable one.

Mr SPEAKER: I have reflected on that question, and if that were the question that was put down it would have been answered.

Te Māngai Pāho—Māori Sportscasting International

7. RODNEY HIDE (ACT NZ) to the Minister of Māori Affairs: On what date did Te Māngai Pāho’s former Chief Executive, Mr Trevor Moeke, discover that Mr Tame Te Rangi had received cash from Māori Sportscasting International, and who were the officials responsible for advising him on his reply to question for written answer No. 257 provided on 24 February where he stated, “I am advised by my officials that there have been no payments of cash by Māori Sportscasting International to any employees of Te Māngai Pāho.”?

Hon PAREKURA HOROMIA (Minister of Maori Affairs): I am advised by my officials that the former chief executive could not confirm any cash payments were made until the external review into the activities concerning Mr Te Rangi commenced in March 2003. On previous occasions when questioned by the former chief executive, Mr Te Rangi denied receiving any payments. Officials responsible for the original answers were from Te Māngai Pāho.

Rodney Hide: How does he square the answer that he has just given with the emails that he has released to me, under the Official Information Act, from Mr Trevor Moeke to Tame Te Rangi, and the replies, which state that Mr Tame Te Rangi on 21 February advised Trevor Moeke that he had been receiving cash from Māori Sportscasting? I repeat that this Minister released those emails to me under the Official Information Act.

Hon PAREKURA HOROMIA: Quite simply, at that time nobody informed the Minister.

Rodney Hide: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I ask you to reflect on that answer to my question. The Minister had clearly given an incorrect answer to my primary question, where he stated that Mr Trevor Moeke did not know. I then pointed out that Trevor Moeke did know on 21 February. I asked him what was going on, and he just flicked it away and said that no one told the Minister. If that were the standard, this Minister would not answer any questions in this House.

Mr SPEAKER: The Minister addressed the question.

Darren Hughes: What feedback did he receive on the external review concerning Tame Te Rangi, which was undertaken by Te Puni Kōkiri and Treasury?

Hon PAREKURA HOROMIA: I understand and I know that Mr Rodney Hide wrote to both the Secretary to the Treasury and the chief executive of Te Puni Kōkiri to thank them and the joint-team for the very good work they did in preparing the report, dated 4 June 2003.

Rodney Hide: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Again, I draw your attention to the fact that Trevor Mallard yelled out very loudly while the Minister was on his feet answering his question—so loudly that we could hear him at the back of the House. When the Hon Dr Nick Smith did that he was ejected from the House.

Mr SPEAKER: Please be seated. I have not ruled out interjections while answers are being given. I have not done that, at all. There will be no interjections during the question. The member knows that and he should keep quiet.

Hon Murray McCully: Can the Minister recall, before he released the emails, reading that the response that Mr Hide has just reported in his question was in response to a request from his officials that said these words: “The Minister would like to know who the staff member was from TMP and what events were attended. The answer will not be included in the response but the Minister would like to know in case he is asked.”, and can he explain to the House how he could possibly have given two incorrect answers subsequently to a question for which the officials had clearly requested information to give to him?

Hon PAREKURA HOROMIA: There were corrections on 11 June, and the Minister is only as good as the officials’ advice.

Rodney Hide: Can the Minister explain why he told the House on 24 February, in answer to a written question, that his officials had advised him that no cash had been paid to any employee of Te Māngai Pāho when in fact he has released to me an email from Mr Trevor Moeke to Mr Tame Te Rangi that says: “Re PQ257, thanks. What were the amounts in detail and in total, and how were the payments made?”; Tame Te Rangi replied: “The payments were cash. I have no recollection of the amounts.”? That email was on 21 February. The Minister answered falsely on 24 February; and is this another example of this Government and this Minister, with officials, lying in unison?

Mr SPEAKER: The member will now stand, withdraw, and apologise for any suggestion that any member of this House is telling a lie. He will stand, withdraw, and apologise right now.

Rodney Hide: I withdraw and apologise.

Mr SPEAKER: The Minister can address any part of the question but not that part.

Hon PAREKURA HOROMIA: As that member knows, when he first waved around the supposed emails that he had containing that information, that was advice given to me. It was followed through at that time. I released all the information to him, which took hours of officials’ time. All of that is in the report, and he knows that full well.

Rodney Hide: I seek leave of the House to table the emails that took no time to assemble because the Treasury had done that as part of its brief, and it was released by his ministry and he pretends not to know about them.

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

Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I just want to get a clearer picture on your ruling that suggests Mr Hide could not use the term “lying in unison” to suggest that members of this House were lying. In fact, if I recall his question, he certainly did say “if Ministers and officials”—in other words, Ministers and officials lying in unison. The point I want to make is that increasingly we are being told by Ministers that it is the fault of officials, that officials acted without ministerial authority, or that officials have gone off and done something unbeknown to the Minister. We know from a fact of the record that the term “lying in unison” was suggested by a group of officials.

Mr SPEAKER: Please come to the point very tersely.

Rodney Hide: I am coming to my point very tersely.

Mr SPEAKER: Well, no the member is not—

Rodney Hide: Well, if we are not allowed to associate a bureaucrat suggesting to other bureaucratics that the way through this to protect the Minister is to lie in unison—we are not allowed to suggest that—then where is the line between accountability for departmental matters and a Minister’s responsibility?

Mr SPEAKER: There is no suggestion. The member is perfectly entitled to suggest that. What the member was ruled out of order for was associating the Minister with lying, and that is out of order.

Gerry Brownlee: That is exactly the point I am asking.

Mr SPEAKER: Well, that is out of order and, in fact, if there is any suggestion the Minister is lying, there is a particular way of writing to me about that matter where the Minister is accountable.

Reading and Writing—Primary Schools

8. HELEN DUNCAN (NZ Labour) to the Minister of Education: What initiatives are being introduced to improve teacher responsiveness to students’ reading and writing difficulties at primary school level?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD (Minister of Education): This morning I released a new book “Effective Literacy in Years 1 to 4. I expect that this publication will have a significant impact on developing successful reading and writing skills for children.

Helen Duncan: How does this initiative fit within the Government’s wider programme to improve literacy and numeracy outcomes for our school students?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: One of this Government’s top education priorities is to make sure that all children, regardless of their background and life experiences, have the chance to reach their full potential. This is an important part of that.

Hon Brian Donnelly: Does the need for this initiative demonstrate that many teachers are not adequately prepared through their pre-service training to provide appropriate analysis and remediation in these core curriculum areas; if so, what is he doing about pre-service training programmes to ensure that all teachers are adequately equipped?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: Yes; and an important part of the work that this Government is doing through the Tertiary Education Advisory Commission and through the Teachers Council is to work towards improving the standards of pre-service teacher education. One of the advantages we now have is high-quality research that tells us what should be done, something that has not been available up until the last couple of years.

Driving Licences—Fees for Older Drivers

9. PETER BROWN (Deputy Leader—NZ First) to the Minister of Transport: What law changes, if any, are being considered to ease the cost of renewing driving licences for drivers 80 years and over?

Hon PAUL SWAIN (Minister of Transport): The Government has addressed the cost issue by reducing the application fee for older drivers’ licences from around $36 to $18.30, and retaining the older driver test fee at $41 rather than increasing it to the actual cost of $49. Older drivers also have been offered one free re-test if they are not successful in their first attempt. In addition, I am considering a range of other proposals to do with older driver testing, and decisions and announcements will be made in due course.

Peter Brown: When can we expect these further changes to take effect, and by how much will they reduce the current cost?

Hon PAUL SWAIN: In due course, and these issues are all under consideration.

Peter Brown: Will the Minister tell me then, when the Hon Ruth Dyson was speaking in a public meeting in Nelson the other day, she said that several law changes were being considered around the costs and the driving licence regime for older drivers, was she speaking the truth or was it a figment of her imagination?

Hon PAUL SWAIN: That member always speaks the truth.

Peter Brown: I seek leave to table this newspaper cutting that states: “Dyson pledges to ease the way for older drivers”.

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

Seabirds—Fishing Vessels

10. DAVID BENSON-POPE (NZ Labour—Dunedin South) to the Minister of Fisheries: What is the Government doing to protect seabirds from incidental catch by fishing vessels?

Hon PETE HODGSON (Minister of Fisheries): Recently the Minister for Conservation and I released for public consultation a draft plan of action to reduce seabird deaths caused by fishing. This plan supports voluntary measures being taken by the fishing industry to reduce seabird deaths, but provides for the Government to introduce mandatory measures if the voluntary approach fails.

David Benson-Pope: Could the Minister detail the specific measures that will be introduced under this plan, and when they will take effect?

Hon PETE HODGSON: The plan proposes that codes of practice for managing seabird by-catch in key fisheries are developed by mid-2004. These codes will specify fishing practices, limits on seabird deaths, public awareness, compliance measures, and penalties for non-compliance.

Food Safety, Minister—Confidence

11. SUE KEDGLEY (Green) to the Prime Minister: Does she have confidence in the Minister for Food Safety in light of the Minister’s inability in this House yesterday to name the food products that tested positive for contamination by genetically engineered ingredients in the recent New Zealand Food Safety Authority report on food produced using gene technology; if so, why?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Deputy Prime Minister), on behalf of the Prime Minister: Yes, because she is a hard-working and conscientious Minister.

Sue Kedgley: Does she agree that parents feeding their babies soy infant formula have a right to know which infant formulas contain unlabelled GE soy; if so, why then does she have confidence in a Minister who is suppressing this information?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: The Minister is not suppressing the information. Like many other surveillance and audit samples the tests are aimed at ensuring compliance with the law. Compliance was confirmed in this case, no further action was taken, and the names of products are, therefore, not reported.

Dr Paul Hutchison: Is it little wonder that more and more people distrust GM when they simply cannot trust the “PM”?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I note in the latest opinion polls that the Prime Minister was the first choice of some 40-odd percent of the public. I think the level for the Leader of the Opposition was below the tolerance level for GM content.

Sue Kedgley: Why does she have confidence in her Minister for Food Safety when scientific bodies such as the UK Royal Society have expressed severe reservations about the safety of GE infant food, when it has never been tested on humans or babies or for its long-term health effects; yet her Minister is allowing such contaminated food to be fed to New Zealand babies?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: The evidence so far is that there may be some benefits and some detriments involved in the feeding of soy products to infants, but the clear position of the New Zealand Government is that the priority is first, breast milk; second, cows milk; and third—a long way behind—soy formula.

Ian Ewen-Street: Is the Prime Minister concerned that the lack of public confidence in her Minister for Food Safety is resulting in groups like Mothers Against Genetic Engineering calling on parents in New Zealand to boycott all soy formula in the marketplace until such time as the Minister discloses which brands have been found to be contaminated with GE; if not, why not?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: There is no evidence that soy formula that contains GE products is any more or less harmful than ordinary soy products.

Marlborough Mayor—Iwi Consultation

12. Dr LYNDA SCOTT (NZ National—Kaikoura) to the Deputy Prime Minister: Does he stand by his statement regarding the mayor of Marlborough that: “If the Marlborough Regional (sic) Council had talked properly in the first place to the iwi with interests, if they had not had a racist as a mayor … if there had been proper talking to at the local authority level in Marlborough, it is very doubtful this issue would ever have arisen in the way that it has.”; if so, why does he believe that Mr Harrison is a racist?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Deputy Prime Minister): Yes, in very large part, with one exception. Clearly the current mayor was not mayor at the time the original applications were made.

Dr Lynda Scott: In light of the fact that Mr Harrison was not a member of the council at the time eight South Island iwi laid claim to the Marlborough Sounds seabed and foreshore, why is he blaming and naming a person who was not even involved at the time; is it not the case that if someone disagrees with this Government on Māori issues they are simply labelled a racist?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: No, though Mr Harrison was a member of the resource consents committee deciding marine farm applications. I certainly think that the mayor in stating that those iwi who won the Court of Appeal case were Māori bully boys was going well beyond the grounds of reasonable public discourse.

Dr Lynda Scott: In light of his false, misleading, and defamatory remarks regarding the Mayor of Marlborough, Mr Tom Harrison, will he now apologise to Mr Harrison; if not, why not?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I said the mayor was not mayor at the time the original applications were made, but he has made a range of extraordinary comments. For example, he says Parliament is dominated by feminists, homosexuals, politically correct zombies, and separatists.

Gerry Brownlee: That’s on your side!

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Even if that is meant to be a summary of the Labour Party, we are under half the House.

Dr Lynda Scott: I seek leave to table a letter from the Mayor, Tom Harrison, to the Speaker of the House of Representatives, talking about the grossly misleading statements made in the House of Representatives by the Deputy Prime Minister.

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

Ron Mark: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Just so that I do not get myself in trouble in future, can I take it that since the Deputy Prime Minister thinks that a man who describes people as Māori bully boys is a racist—given the rhetoric that he levelled at Tau Henare, Rana Waitai, and Tuku Morgan—does that now mean that I can call all the Labour members racists, legally and legitimately?

Mr SPEAKER: The member knows that is not a point of order.

Dr Lynda Scott: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I just seek clarification. Did we have an objection to table this document?

Mr SPEAKER: No, there was no objection. I said there was none.

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

Peter Brown: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I probably should know the answer to this, but I seek your advice. Does Mr Harrison have any recourse to have his viewpoint heard by this House, if so, what can be done?

Mr SPEAKER: The member should read the Standing Orders and he will see that there is a course of action he can follow.

Dr Muriel Newman: Is the Deputy Prime Minister prepared to repeat outside of Parliament his allegations that the Mayor of Marlborough is a racist; if not, will he do the decent thing, retract his statement, and apologise to Mr Harrison right now?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: As I said, anybody who can refer to the leaders of the iwi who won the case in the Court of Appeal as “Māori bully boys”, I think, has a rather strange view of life.

Dr Muriel Newman: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The Minister did not address the question at all. I ask you to ask him to do that.

Mr SPEAKER: I thought that the Minister did address the question. I thought that the implication was that he was not going to withdraw.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. With respect, he was asked whether he believed what he said and was he prepared to say those same words outside of Parliament. That is the question we all heard him being asked. He did not answer it. He sought to evade the question by reference to a comment he had already made that had no bearing on the question raised by the questioner. He should now be asked to answer the question. It was a simple and plain question: “Have you got the courage to say outside of Parliament what you say inside of it?”

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I intend to follow the example frequently demonstrated by that particular member in this kind of case.

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

Mr SPEAKER: No.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: No, he is not getting away with that.

Mr SPEAKER: Please be seated. I am not satisfied with that answer. I want the Minister to address the question.

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Which meant no.

End of Questions for Oral Answer

(uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing)


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