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Thursday’s Questions & Answers for Oral Answer

Thursday’s Questions & Answers for Oral Answer

(uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing)

Questions to Ministers

Genetic Modification—Moratorium Expiry

1. JEANETTE FITZSIMONS (Co-Leader—Green) to the Minister for the Environment: In view of her statement reported on Sunday that “A two-year moratorium enabled us to work through the recommendations. That work will be completed when the moratorium expires on October 29.”, will the work in fact be completed by that date?

Hon MARIAN HOBBS (Minister for the Environment): Yes, but please remember the royal commission advised us that we were ready to proceed at the time of their report in October 2001. They expected that the work would be done simultaneously or under a call-in procedure.

Jeanette Fitzsimons: What has the Government done to implement royal commission recommendation 10.6 that all parties work to resolve the Wai 262 and Wai 740 claims currently before the Waitangi Tribunal as soon as possible?

Hon MARIAN HOBBS: That work is continuing. There has been work done with the Waitangi Tribunal on those particular issues.

Dr Ashraf Choudhary: Did the Royal Commission on Genetic Modification recommend a moratorium on the release of genetically modified organisms?

Hon MARIAN HOBBS: No. The Government sought a 2-year moratorium on the release of genetically modified organisms to allow us time to do some of the necessary work.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: Can the Minister explain why Labour made a huge deal while in Opposition with its moratorium that was designed to stop a very small trial of a few hundred GM corn plants, where every plant had to be covered in a waterproof and pollen-proof bag, but just a year later, it turned a blind eye to an estimated 28,000 GM corn plants being unknowingly planted in Marlborough, the Hawke’s Bay, and Gisborne, and does she now concede that the lack of testing for seeds was something of a joke and a political manoeuvre?

Hon MARIAN HOBBS: The member confuses the deliberate application and conditions set around an application for testing or growing genetically modified organisms with the inadvertent contamination through importation of seed that may be genetically modified.

Hon Brian Donnelly: Has the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry developed an industry code of practice to ensure effective separation distances between GE and non-GE crops, as recommended by the royal commission’s recommendation 7.7; if not, how can the statement she made on Sunday be accurate?

Hon MARIAN HOBBS: When one takes an issue such as the code of practice around that, one has to have somebody practising the planting of crops. What the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry has already done is to talk about the distances involved when producing seeds and hybrid seeds, and about when one wants to maintain the purity of that seed, which is the same sort of question that relates to genetically modified crops.

Larry Baldock: Is the Minister satisfied that the passage of the New Organisms and Other Matters Bill will ensure that New Zealand’s regulatory regime is sufficiently robust to safely address applications for the commercial release of genetically modified organisms, in line with the royal commission’s recommendations; if so, why?

Hon MARIAN HOBBS: Yes, because it gives the Environmental Risk Management Authority all the necessary tools to consider each application on its merits—or demerits—to assess risks and benefits, and to come to a careful decision based on all the relevant information.

Jeanette Fitzsimons: How does the Government intend to address the fact that the lifting of the moratorium is likely to prevent fair resolution of some aspects of the Wai 262 claims?

Hon MARIAN HOBBS: If there were an applicant who wanted to do some work on the tuatara—which would obviously impact on the Wai 262 claim, because the information is not there—that would be just the kind of evidence on which I would expect to do a call-in or to ask the authority to have people placed on it who would be able to move it a step forward.

Dr Paul Hutchison: Given that the moratorium has allowed the Minister’s Government time to receive recommendations from a biotechnology strategy and a biotechnology task force report, why has the Minister taken no notice of those reports when it comes to reducing red tape for medium and high risk research, and why has she insisted on adding ethical, cultural, and spiritual matters to her call-in powers, which she knows will only entangle research applications in legal wrangling and costs, as it would with the Resource Management Act?

Hon MARIAN HOBBS: Because that was one of the recommendations of the royal commission.

Hon Brian Donnelly: Further to my earlier question, has an industry code of practice around buffer zones been developed—yes or no?

Hon MARIAN HOBBS: There is an industry code of practice for seed purity and buffer zones that is in existence, but it is not there for genetically modified crops, because there are no genetically modified crops. So we are taking the application from seed—

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. This is a case of a Minister wasting the valuable time of parliamentarians, who have a limited time and a limited number of questions to ask. The Minister is being specifically asked, first by my colleague, as to whether there was a code of practice, and her answer was to the effect: “Well, there being no plantings, there’s no code of practice.” That is a nonsensical statement, for a start, and we use up valuable time now asking whether there is a code of practice—yes or no. But she goes into a long waffling answer, and we are still none the wiser, after she is three-quarters of the way into it. Can we have an answer, please, to a very important matter.

Mr SPEAKER: I wonder whether the Minister wanted to make any further comment, because she has already addressed the question.

Hon MARIAN HOBBS: No, I do not.

Larry Baldock: If, at any stage, it becomes apparent that more work needs to be done, before a particular application for the commercial release of genetically modified organisms can safely proceed, will she use her call-in powers to delay the application until such time as the necessary work is completed?

Hon MARIAN HOBBS: The Environmental Risk Management Authority is required to decline applications if it does not have all the necessary information. What I have said is that I will use my call-in powers when applications have significant effects, as is laid out in the law.

Dr Ashraf Choudhary: What work has been in response to the royal commission’s recommendations?

Hon MARIAN HOBBS: The work completed in response to the royal commission’s recommendations includes the setting up of the Bioethics Council, established in December 2002; the low-risk genetic modification regulations will come into force on the passage of the bill; Cabinet has considered papers on coexistence, raised by the member opposite; economic research was completed in 2003, and has been published, and is continuing; further funding was provided to the Environment Risk Management Authority to enable it to develop its framework for considering the economic implications of applications; the Biotechnology Strategy was released in May 2003; and additional funding—

Mr SPEAKER: The answer was too long. Supplementary question—[Interruption] Order! Once I have called another supplementary question, anyone interjecting will be asked to leave. That is the only warning.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. With respect, what we have had from you is a ruling that we cannot interject, but what you have just heard is unadulterated rubbish from a Minister on a critically important matter. We have members who are responsible and have experience in this House, asking serious questions. The Minister has no recall powers, but she would not answer that question. There is no code of practice; she would not answer that question. We are—

Mr SPEAKER: Please be seated. That is not relevant. I have not ruled out interjection while the Minister is speaking, and the member knows it. I have ruled out interjection while questions are being asked.

Jeanette Fitzsimons: What has the Government done to implement recommendation 7.3 that “MAF develop a strategy to allow continued production of GM-free honey and other bee products, and to avoid cross-pollination by bees of GE and GE-free crops.”?

Hon MARIAN HOBBS: The Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry is investigating the use of a geographic information system – based register of GM crops, should they ever exist, to mitigate the impact of flowering GM crops on bee products.

Jeanette Fitzsimons: How are beekeepers supposed to implement the ministry’s published preferred approach, which is that they keep moving their hives 6 kilometres away from any GE crops, when the Government seems very reluctant to divulge the location of crops, and will she guarantee that this information will be available to beekeepers who have no other option?

Hon MARIAN HOBBS: I think we have cross-purposes. The ministry is actually telling me—it may be telling the member something different—that it is going to have a geographic information system – based register, which, I presume, will be available to the beekeepers concerned—but not necessarily to protesters.

Ministerial Confidence—Immigration and Health Portfolios

2. Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS (Leader—NZ First) to the Prime Minister: Does she still have confidence in her Minister of Immigration and Minister of Health?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY (Minister for Social Development and Employment), on behalf of the Prime Minister: Yes, and yes.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: How can she have confidence in these two Ministers when neither of them know what is going on within their portfolios, such as the Minister of Health who produces separate figures for non – New Zealand and New Zealand – born people with tuberculosis that do not anywhere near add up to the number she gave for the total TB cases in New Zealand, and a Minister of Immigration who likes to blame everything on loopholes or her undying duty to United Nations conventions and individual rights even if it means allowing rapists, murderers, and abductors to stay in this country?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: I can only reiterate that the Prime Minister has confidence in both the Minister of Health and the Minister of Immigration. On the matter of tuberculosis, for example, the Minister has been very clear about the number of people in this country who have tuberculosis who end up in a hospital, and they are very, very small in number. The Minister of Immigration has moved to close all the loopholes in every case that were left by that member.

Heather Roy: Will the reductions in the cost of prescription medicines to a maximum of $3 for everyone enrolled and access primary health organisations and for under 18-year-olds and interim primary health-care organisations widely announced by Annette King in the Budget happen from 1 October as promised, yes or no; if no, how can she have any confidence in this Minister?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: The Minister of Health, of course, is rolling out public health organisations right across the country, but I would need the member to put down that precise question so I can give a precise answer on the date.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Does the Prime Minister not understand that the gap between the non – New Zealand and New Zealand and total numbers is hundreds of people, or do we have aliens living in this country all of a sudden, and that between them these two Ministers have no idea what the true statistics are, nor any sense of responsibility as to how that is affecting the health of the New Zealand population in general?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: I am not aware of any aliens living in this country, as raised by the member, although there may be some in the House—we do not know. I say once again that the Prime Minister has full confidence in both the Minister of Health and the Minister of Immigration, because both of them been assiduous in cleaning up the mess left by that member’s Government during the last 4 years.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I think even the most mealy-mouthed supporter of the Labour Party realises that after 4 years he or she has to take responsibility. [Interruption]

Mr SPEAKER: I said there were to be no comments during points of order—none at all. Mr Peters is entitled to make his point of order in silence.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: The fact of the matter is that I am referring to a huge discrepancy between the figures released by Statistics New Zealand and these Ministers. They cannot be reconciled. To then try to implicate me in respect of the outbreak of tuberculosis in this country is a disgrace and palpably untrue.

Mr SPEAKER: That is a very interesting debating point. It is not a point of order.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I would like to table for the giggling member who calls herself the Minister of Immigration and the rest of the House—

Mr SPEAKER: What does the member wish to table?

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I wish to table factual information that shows that apparently hundreds of people who have gone missing have got tuberculosis.

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

Foreshore and Seabed—Mâori Land Court

3. Hon BILL ENGLISH (Leader of the Opposition) to the Associate Minister of Justice: In light of the Prime Minister’s statement that “It is clear in the Government proposal that the Mâori Land Court could not, as the end point of its work on a claim, go to fee simple title.”, does this mean that the Mâori Land Court will be prohibited from confirming customary title; if not, why not?

Hon MARGARET WILSON (Associate Minister of Justice): The member is correct that the remedy of awarding a fee simple title is not available under the Government’s proposals. What is precisely meant, however, by a customary interest, a customary right, or a customary title is currently the subject of discussions surrounding the Government’s proposals. However, I note that a leading Canadian authority on aboriginal title stated that one dimension of it is its inalienability. Of course, as the honourable member will know, alienability is a defining characteristic of a fee simple title.

Hon Bill English: If customary title is on the Government’s agenda as a compromise, as Trevor Mallard has suggested, could that customary title amount to any form of rights of exclusion by the holders of that customary title?

Hon MARGARET WILSON: As I said, precisely what is meant by a customary right or a customary title is currently the subject of discussions surrounding the Government’s proposals, and no conclusion has been reached because the discussions are ongoing.

Tim Barnett: Why has the Government proposed that a fee simple title is not available?

Hon MARGARET WILSON: A fee simple title gives the right to alienate land and therefore could prevent access to the foreshore and seabeds.

Dail Jones: Is the Minister wrong when she says a customary right cannot be alienated, bearing in mind that New Zealanders, and specifically Mâori, are concerned that their customary rights have been alienated by way of sale and in a non-restorative way, as in the Marlborough Sounds, and what is the Government going to do to compensate those New Zealanders whose customary rights have been alienated and cannot be restored?

Hon MARGARET WILSON: The points raised by the member are precisely those that are under discussion at the moment.

Hon Richard Prebble: Can the House take it from her answers today and yesterday that the Mâori Land Court will be able to create any sort of title to the foreshore and seabed in favour of Mâori, short of fee simple; if that is the case why is there reluctance to front up at a hui?

Hon MARGARET WILSON: The matters raised by the honourable member are precisely those that are under discussion at the moment.

Ian Ewen-Street: Can the Minister clarify precisely what the difference is between collective customary title and fee simple title?

Hon MARGARET WILSON: There is considerable academic and judicial opinion on precisely what that means in various jurisdictions. That is why it is important that we do have a discussion, through the hui and with others members of the community, as to precisely what they mean in this context.

Hon Bill English: Now that the Minister has ruled out fee simple title, which makes land saleable, and the Government has said that that is definitely off the agenda, will she rule out any kind of customary title that gives rights to exclude New Zealanders from the beach?

Hon MARGARET WILSON: The matter raised by the honourable member is precisely one of the many matters that are under discussion at the time.

Hon Bill English: Can the Minister confirm the answer she has just given, that the Government does not rule out customary title that would include rights to exclude New Zealanders from the beaches?

Hon MARGARET WILSON: The fact that the Government has ruled out a fee simple title would obviously exclude it.

Hon Bill English: Has the Minister now changed her mind between two different questions: in answer to the first question she said that the Government would not rule out exclusionary rights going with customary rights, and then when I asked her again she did not seem to know what she was talking about?

Hon MARGARET WILSON: I think the confusion here is what is precisely meant by “customary title”. In my answer to the first question I said that was why we would have to look at that, because in other jurisdictions “customary title” would mean that the land cannot be alienated, and that is inconsistent with the fee simple title notion.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I seek leave to table a 24 June New Zealand Herald article that states: “The Prime Minister, Helen Clark, said ownership of the seabed and foreshore had long been considered to lie with the Crown, and legislation would clarify that.”

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

Immigration Act—Deportation

4. DARREN HUGHES (NZ Labour—Otaki) to the Minister of Immigration: Why did she seek changes to the law to enable the voices of victims to be heard in deportation cases?

Hon LIANNE DALZIEL (Minister of Immigration): As a result of the Deportation Review Tribunal decision in the Zoraja case—a case involving sexual violation—I was concerned that victims of offences were not able to be heard in the deportation process. Given that the tribunal decision involved the balancing of competing interests, I felt that was a serious omission in the law. As a result, I wrote to the Minister of Justice, who submitted it to the select committee, which agreed to add it to the Victims’ Rights Act, which now requires both the Minister and the tribunal to have regard to any submissions made by a victim of an offence. Unfortunately, that law came into effect 6 days after the hearing of the Shaqlane case.

Darren Hughes: Are there any other changes in the law that could be considered as arising from that case?

Hon LIANNE DALZIEL: It is important that there is a right of appeal to the tribunal. As Minister I make a decision on the papers. The tribunal has the advantage of hearing the evidence directly on appeal. I note that the previous Government did not itself amend the law, even though the tribunal overturned deportation orders in circumstances that the Minister of the day publicly disagreed with. It would be wrong to decline to reappoint members of the tribunal because the Minister of Immigration did not like its decisions, as was alleged against the then Minister of Justice, the Hon Tony Ryall, in 1999.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: If the Minister is so concerned about the rights of victims in deportation cases why did she ignore requests from the victims of Mohammed Saidi who preyed on vulnerable New Zealand women, bearing in mind that he was a bogus refugee, a suspected drug-smuggler, a suspected people-smuggler, and had links to a fundamentalist terrorist group, but about which she wrote to his former wife the following: “Sometimes these avenues are considerably linked in the time that a person can remain in New Zealand, but it is essential that these cases receive a fair hearing and the principles of fairness and natural justice applied.”; when did she show any compassion then?

Hon LIANNE DALZIEL: If that member would like to table all of the correspondence I have had with that individual it would be very clear that I have made very strong representations to that individual in terms of how sympathetic I felt towards it. I make the point—and that member should make the point to others—that that law existed when he was the Minister. At least I made changes to the law that meant victims could be heard in our deportation process.

Georgina Beyer: Do probationary periods of residence apply to recent resident permit holders; if so, how do they apply?

Hon LIANNE DALZIEL: Yes, the Immigration Act allows the Minister to order the deportation of a person who is convicted of an offence committed within 2, 5, or 10 years of being granted a permit, depending on the length of the sentence that could be imposed. There is no question of double jeopardy, as asserted by some community groups. Residence is a privilege, not a right.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Given the Minister’s answer to the question prior to the last one, does she not realise that the person about whom I talk was to be deported, but she herself decided that he should not be.

Hon LIANNE DALZIEL: I did not.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Oh yes, you did. In short, the Minister said “to hell with the victims”.

Mr SPEAKER: I did not actually say anything, but I know that the member was referring to the Minister, who may comment.

Hon LIANNE DALZIEL: My recollection is that the decision in the Saidi case was determined by the Removal Review Authority, which made a determination that he could remain in the country and apply for residence on the basis of his new relationship. I did not have any say in the matter whatsoever. I continue to make the point that if the member wanted to do anything about the immigration rules in this country then he would have changed them when he was the Deputy Prime Minister.

Mr SPEAKER: That was too long an answer; the last part should not have been said.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I seek to table the various letters from this very conscientious and hard-working Minister, who allowed this person to get permanent residence under her time—

Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table those letters which the Minister—

Rt Hon Winston Peters: You want the full picture don’t you?

Mr SPEAKER: The Minister has already said she is going to allow that to occur.

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

Question No. 5 to Minister

Hon DAVID CARTER (NZ National): Noting that Mr Hodgson is not available to answer this question, I seek leave to hold the question over to the next sitting day.

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

Agriculture—Agricultural Emissions Research Funding

5. Hon DAVID CARTER (NZ National) to the Convenor, Ministerial Group on Climate Change: Has the Government withdrawn or declined part-funding any research aimed at decreasing agricultural greenhouse gas emissions and increasing productivity?

Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR (Minister for Racing), on behalf of the Convenor, Ministerial Group on Climate Change: The Government’s investment in research into agricultural greenhouse gas emissions is now more than five times what it was in 1999. Researchers compete for this funding, and while some have succeeded, others have not.

Hon David Carter: Is the Minister therefore aware of a project at Lincoln University that was being funded two to one by the private sector, which could potentially reduce nitrous oxide emissions by 80 percent, that is now under threat because it was rejected in the latest Government funding round?

Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: I have been informed of that situation. The reality is that applications for money from the Foundation for Research, Science and Technology in this area are 300 percent over-subscribed. It is not the Minister’s role to make judgments on which projects should be supported, but the reality that so many people are making applications does indicate a growing awareness of the importance of this issue, and shows enthusiasm by mainstream organisations that are taking this on board.

Janet Mackey: Will the Government continue its current level of investment in research into agricultural greenhouse gas emissions?

Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: Yes, the Government intends to continue investing almost $5 million a year of taxpayer funds in agricultural greenhouse gas emissions research. This is, as I have said earlier, more than five times the level invested in 1999 under the previous Government.

Gerrard Eckhoff: How many carbon credits of the 4 million recently released by the Government and appropriated from the wider agricultural industry have been given to Meridian Energy for supposed climate-friendly developments in New Zealand, and how many carbon credits from the same source have been given to the agricultural industry to fund research into supposed climate-friendly developments such as methane emissions from livestock?

Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: I cannot answer that question as I am not aware of any carbon credits being allocated either to Meridian Energy or to farmers, although I am aware that any farmers who do put some of their land or forest into permanent protection will receive the credits for that.

Bernie Ogilvy: Does the Minister have concerns, from his answers, regarding the criteria that the Foundation for Research, Science and Technology must use when deciding on applications, given that research projects that are of obvious value to New Zealand’s economy are being rejected; if so, what will he do about it?

Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: I believe that the Foundation for Research, Science and Technology is well focused and assesses all these applications in a very fair and comprehensive way. They are all very important. As I said before, the fact that there are so many applications for research focused on agricultural greenhouse gases indicates a growing awareness of the situation and the importance for New Zealand’s economy into the future.

Hon David Carter: Is the Government now not planning to invoke the flatulence tax until 2012, as stated in a newspaper article written by the member of Parliament for Invercargill, Mark Peck, who also stated in the same article that farmers would now be the recipients of the transfer of their own carbon credits?

Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: That member is not correct. There will be no emission taxes until 2012 from the agricultural sector. What has been proposed, and may not yet be necessary, is that the agricultural sector is being asked to contribute towards a levy for research to the tune of $8.4 million, and the Government is actively engaged with industry leaders in an attempt—and I am sure a very optimistic attempt—to reach a suitable outcome in that area.

Hon David Carter: I seek leave to table an article written by Mr Peck, entitled “Never let the facts spoil a good story”.

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

Contaminated Sites—Remediation Programmes

6. JILL PETTIS (NZ Labour—Whanganui) to the Minister for the Environment: What progress is the Government making towards implementing remediation, and instituting clear management programmes, for all high-risk contaminated sites?

Hon MARIAN HOBBS (Minister for the Environment): This week Cabinet agreed to give all regional councils access to an expanded contaminated sites remediation fund to investigate and clean up contaminated land in their areas. This is a significant step towards removing the unwanted legacy of contaminated sites by 2015, which is one of our environmental election pledges.

Jill Pettis: Which sites in particular will get priority for the $9 million worth of funding in the extended contaminated sites remediation fund?

Hon MARIAN HOBBS: Contaminated sites pose a severe risk to human health and to the environment. Therefore, we will give priority to those sites that present the highest risk to people’s health in their environment and where landowners do not have the financial resources to undertake the work themselves. We will work in partnership with regional councils, district councils, and landowners who have the local knowledge and technical expertise to investigate and remediate the contaminated sites of concern.

Sue Kedgley: Does she agree that all New Zealanders have a right to know whether they are living near or on a contaminated site, and what progress has been achieved in developing a public register of all contaminated sites in New Zealand?

Hon MARIAN HOBBS: The regional councils have made some progress—not 100 percent progress—towards establishing a list of contaminated sites in their own areas, and this particular fund that we have set up is an incentive for them to complete and have on access and on record such a list.

Genetically Modified Sweetcorn—Contamination Reports

7. Hon Dr NICK SMITH (NZ National—Nelson) to the Minister of Research, Science and Technology: How does he reconcile his statement to the House on 9 September regarding testing of suspected genetically modified sweetcorn that “One needs to get a positive result for both parts to get a positive test.” and the Prime Minister’s statement of 11 July 2002 that “… in order to conclude that there might be GE presence you have to have positive tests across two gene sequences.”, with the Protocol on GM contamination in sweetcorn seed imports?

Hon MARIAN HOBBS (Minister for the Environment), on behalf of the Minister of Research, Science and Technology: Easily. Both the Prime Minister and the Minister of Research, Science and Technology were referring to tests for the only available GM sweetcorn variety Bt11, which requires positive tests at both ends to give a positive result. This contrasts with the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry protocol established some months later, which also accounts for potential cross-contamination by GM maize varieties, some of which contain only one of the gene sequences.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: Why did the Minister say “some months later”, when in fact the protocol on GM contamination in sweetcorn plants was agreed to by the Environmental Risk Management Authority, the Ministry for Foreign Affairs and Trade, and the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry on 18 June 2001—a whole year before the Prime Minister’s misleading statements and 2 years before Pete Hodgson’s incorrect statements?

Hon MARIAN HOBBS: From memory, there was an interim protocol established and published on 19 December 2000. This was followed up by a protocol that included both sweetcorn and maize, and therefore follows on the answer I have already given, and that has since been revised again.

Mark Peck: What varieties of GM sweetcorn exist, and how many of the test’s gene sequences do they have?

Hon MARIAN HOBBS: There is and has been only one variety of commercial GM sweetcorn. It contains both gene sequences.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: If that explanation was correct, why does the protocol on GM contamination in sweetcorn—not corn—a year before the “corngate” issue arose, say that there are 10 varieties, of which the Prime Minister’s statement is correct for only four, and, most important, that we are to conclude there is GM material, even if there is just a positive test for the 35s gene sequence?

Hon MARIAN HOBBS: The protocol developed at that particular time included the possibility of cross-contamination between some maize and some sweetcorn. It also points out that in an event of such cross-contamination, the cross-contamination is visible to the eye and does not need absolute testing. That is the specification of a thing called a dent. One can see the difference in the plant and in the seed without having to test it.

Jeanette Fitzsimons: Why do the Minister and the Prime Minister think that the only possible source of contamination is from commercially available varieties of corn, when there have already been cases of public record where corn has been contaminated with varieties that have not been commercially released?

Hon MARIAN HOBBS: At the time that the closed quotes are referring to, the testing that was done at the time of the GM scare in November/December 2000. The best advice of the scientists there was that the corn being brought into the country was from BT11, if any, because that was where it was grown in the particular valleys.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: Noting that the Prime Minister herself has said on National Radio that she does not have a strong interest or background in science, why would we believe her view over the protocol signed off by the Environmental Risk Management Authority, the Ministry for Foreign Affairs and Trade and the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry on the GM contamination of sweetcorn seeds? Which is correct, the Prime Minister’s statement, or the protocol that was signed off on 18 June 2001?

Hon MARIAN HOBBS: I go back to the answer for the original question, which says that the questions being answered by both the Prime Minister and Pete Hodgson were as regards the testing for the sweetcorn at that time. The protocol is about sweetcorn, maize, and possible cross-contamination.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: I seek leave to table not a protocol on any other type of maize, but the protocol on GM contamination in sweetcorn.

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

Conservation, Department—Tourism Sector

8. DAVID BENSON-POPE (NZ Labour—Dunedin South) to the Minister of Conservation: What initiatives has he taken to improve co-operation between the tourism sector and the Department of Conservation?

Hon CHRIS CARTER (Minister of Conservation): On Tuesday I announced, at the New Zealand Tourism Industry Association’s annual conference, a number of initiatives I have taken to build a strong tourism-conservation partnership with mutual benefits. These initiatives include improvements to the processing and monitoring of concessions, setting nationally consistent policies on visitor use and access to conservation areas, and reducing pressures on the tourism hotspots by spreading visitor numbers over wider areas.

David Benson-Pope: Can the Minister elaborate on the gains for conservation and tourism that he sees in such a more collaborative approach by both sectors?

Hon CHRIS CARTER: I see a win for both conservation and tourism. For example, a disused quarry at Oamaru has been transformed into an expanding colony of little blue penguins, or kororâ. Numbers have increased from 14 breeding pairs to over 100. This initiative has led to better protection of the penguins, and attracts a growing number of tourists each year.

Rates—Legislation

9. Hon TONY RYALL (NZ National—Bay of Plenty) to the Minister of Local Government: Does he agree that the Local Government Act 2002 and other recent Government legislation have contributed to the large increases in rates many ratepayers have faced this year as stated by Local Government New Zealand President, Basil Morrison?

Hon CHRIS CARTER (Minister of Local Government): No. The Local Government Act 2002 makes it clear that it is the responsibility of a council’s elected members to make decisions on the services a council provides. Those members are, of course, accountable to their communities for that.

Hon Tony Ryall: What option did those local authority representatives have with dealing with the added compliance costs that the Minister’s Government has added to local councils—for example, extra dog control, building control, prostitution, and gambling regulatory functions; how is it their decision on those costs?

Hon CHRIS CARTER: While it is appropriate for local authorities to fund services that principally benefit their communities, local authorities have a wide range of funding mechanisms to recover those costs.

Moana Mackey: Has the Minister seen any reports about the financial impact of the Local Government Act 2002 on local authorities?

Hon CHRIS CARTER: Yes. I have seen a report in which the Southland District Council’s chief executive, Michael Ross, stated that the Local Government Act was based on sound principles that would benefit ratepayers. His mayor, Frana Cardno, said that the Act is actually saving funds, because we have the ability to work together.

Jim Peters: How does the Minister reconcile the recent rates rises, which are the first in a long-term process of meeting the costly obligations under the new Act, with the Minister’s statement in June that the Local Government Act 2002 would “make it harder for councils to increase rates without good reason.”?

Hon CHRIS CARTER: From 1 July this year, the Local Government Act 2002 became operative. In the setting of rates in the next financial year, councils will be obliged to engage with their communities in determining those rates.

Rodney Hide: Will the Minister be supporting my Local Government (Rating Cap) Amendment Bill to a select committee, or is he worried that local bodies will be coming to Parliament to submit to that bill and putting the blame fairly and squarely on this Government?

Hon CHRIS CARTER: No.

Hon Tony Ryall: Why is the Minister disagreeing with the president of Local Government New Zealand, Basil Morrison, who has conducted a survey of all the local authorities with the largest rate increases planned in the country, and who says that those rate increases are because of the added requirements of the legislation of that Minister’s Government; why is he disagreeing with both Mr Morrison and the councils and believing that he himself is correct?

Hon CHRIS CARTER: I am pleased to report to this House that I engage very regularly in discussions with Basil Morrison, and will continue to do so.

Mr SPEAKER: The member must address the question.

Hon CHRIS CARTER: There are many things that Mr Morrison and I agree on. There are some things we disagree on. What I can tell this House—as I have just done—is that Mr Morrison and I will continue to dialogue with each other.

Hon Tony Ryall: In order to assist the House, can I table the report of Local Government New Zealand, which confirms what Mr Morrison, the president, said and rejects the Minister’s claim?

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

Tranz Rail—Toll Holdings

10. PETER BROWN (Deputy Leader—NZ First) to the Minister of Finance: In the event Toll Holdings does purchase Tranz Rail, has the Government got an arrangement with Toll Holdings to purchase the rail track, and are there any assurances of major track or operational development?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD (Associate Minister of Finance), on behalf of the Minister of Finance: Yes and yes.

Peter Brown: Is there any truth in the assertion, which is circulating in both this country and Australia, that should Toll Holdings be successful in taking ownership of Tranz Rail, we will end up with only two main railway line freight services—namely, Auckland to Wellington and the coal line into Lyttelton—and that Toll Holdings will switch much of the current rail freight on to road; is there any truth in that?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: No, because the development finance that is vital for the Toll Holdings takeover is subject to an agreement with the Government on a line-by-line, project-by-project basis, and that money is necessary.

Hon Mark Gosche: What commitments has the Government made in regard to the track?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: Three commitments: to secure the rail as a vital piece of the transport infrastructure, to buy back the rail network given away by the National Party for $1, and to invest $200 million over the next 4 years on maintenance and improvements.

John Key: Can the Minister guarantee to the House that maintenance spending undertaken by Track Co. will be the $200 million he just outlined, and will not cost taxpayers hundreds of millions more?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: There is provision for more than $200 million to be spent, if it becomes an infrastructural priority for this Government, and I say to that member, his privatisation of this asset gave away one of our prize infrastructures.

Mr SPEAKER: I would just ask the Minister not to indulge himself.

Mike Ward: What are the priorities for the investment of the $200 million that the Government has committed once Track Co. is established?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: Those priorities will be worked through by a joint working group between the Government, Toll Holdings, and the subsidiary, with the proviso that at the end of the process the Government has a veto power.

Peter Brown: Noting those answers, will the Minister give this House a categorical assurance that as a result of Toll Holdings purchasing Tranz Rail, more freight will go from road on to rail—and not vice versa, as is being claimed in Australia?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: I think that that is just inevitable.

Peter Brown: I seek leave to table an article in the Australian newspaper that says the exact reverse of what the Minister has said.

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

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I seek leave to table, for Mr Mallard’s benefit, a press statement from the Labour Party, of 20 July 1993, stating that it agreed with the sale of railways, but it did not agree with the timing.

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

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I seek leave to point out the fact that Richard Prebble was the State Services Minister—

Mr SPEAKER: No.

Foreshore and Seabed—Court of Appeal

11. STEPHEN FRANKS (ACT NZ) to the Attorney-General: Has the Government considered appealing or seeking a rehearing of the seabed and foreshore case in the Court of Appeal on the grounds that gave Pinochet a rehearing in the House of Lords; if so, why has no application been made?

Hon MARGARET WILSON (Attorney-General): “No” is the answer to the question. The reason is that this Government has every confidence in the Court of Appeal and in the judiciary generally.

Stephen Franks: Why has the Government got that confidence, and has not considered challenging that decision when the Attorney-General said, 5 days after the decision, that she would pass a law to overturn it, when the decision reversed 40 years of settled law; when it made other laws unworkable without regard for parliamentary sovereignty; and when in comparison with the conflicts of Lord Hoffman in the Pinochet case the appeal would be a no-brainer, when the leading Court of Appeal judge had in favour of Mâori ownership of the seabed and foreshore an unchallengeable appearance of bias—whatever her actual state of mind?

Mr SPEAKER: The first part of the question is in order.

Hon MARGARET WILSON: The Court of Appeal decision was on one point, and that is that there was a right to take the matter to the Mâori Land Court. There seemed no reason for the Government to appeal that decision.

Richard Worth: What stance will the Crown take on the appeal by the Marlborough District Council to the Privy Council, given that the Crown is a party to the appeal and cannot withdraw from the appeal because it has to be bound by the appeal; will it support the appellant—as it has in the past—or will it backtrack and oppose the appeal?

Hon MARGARET WILSON: The Government decided not to appeal in its own right. It knows there is an appeal and it will stand by whatever decision comes from that.

Richard Worth: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. That is not an answer to the question that I asked. It is quite clear that the Crown is not appealing in its own right, but it is a party to the appeal, and I asked whether the Crown would support the appeal or oppose the appeal, given that it is a party.

Hon MARGARET WILSON: I apologise; I thought it was obvious that we will take a neutral position.

Stephen Franks: Why should we not conclude that the real reason for not appealing is that the Attorney-General wants a top court to be free to make politically correct laws that a House elected by the people would not pass; otherwise why would the Supreme Court Bill provide that the Chief Justice must in future sit on every case that goes to final appeal, and end our right of appeal to an independent tribunal?

Hon MARGARET WILSON: This Government upholds the rule of law. An essential component of this is the independence of the judiciary, and it is demonstrably clear from the member’s question that he does not.

Russell Fairbrother: Why did the Government not appeal the Court of Appeal decision?

Hon MARGARET WILSON: The Government considers that the questions raised by the Court of Appeal as a result of its decision can best be addressed through working through the issues, which is what we are doing in the present consultation process.

Stephen Franks: Does the Minister think that the House of Lords was wrong to hold that even a Pinochet had a right to be heard by impartial judges, and why is she ramming through the Supreme Court Bill to leave New Zealanders at the mercy of a court that thinks it is OK for a judge to sit on issues for which he or she has shown in advance a passionate commitment to one side?

Hon MARGARET WILSON: There is absolutely no evidence of any bias—which is the allegation the Minister has made—on the part of any judge in the Court of Appeal. I note that there is a convention and a Standing Order in this House that we do not criticise judges personally—we may criticise judgments, but not judges personally.

Local Government—Ministerial Responsibility

12. LARRY BALDOCK (United Future) to the Minister of Local Government: Does he continue to stand by his statement that “As Minister of Local Government, it is my responsibility, and indeed my privilege, to act as an advocate for local government.”?

Hon CHRIS CARTER (Minister of Local Government): I do. I am only too pleased to say that as Minister of Local Government I advocate local decision-making by, and on behalf of, communities. Those are the purposes of local government, and, on that basis, I can say that I am privileged to perform my responsibilities as Minister.

Larry Baldock: As advocate for local government, is the Minister concerned that developing by-laws to control brothels in response to the prostitution legislation will push rates up even further, when, for Auckland City Council alone, it will cost $35,000 for the initial phase, or is that just another case of local government having to pick up the tab for bad law?

Hon CHRIS CARTER: The Local Government Act 2002 requires councils to engage with their communities in decision making. Local by-laws relating to the sex industry should have public input. Whatever initial costings may occur in that consultation process will be balanced by agreed long-term local solutions to the issues of location and operation.

Martin Gallagher: What steps has the Minister recently taken to engage with local government?

Hon CHRIS CARTER: I regularly meet mayors and councillors. Over the last month I have attended a number of Local Government New Zealand meetings. I spoke to the Society of Local Government Managers conference in Palmerston North last Sunday, and I am currently arranging a forum between Ministers, Auckland mayors, and chief executives to discuss a range of issues relating to the Auckland region.

Hon Tony Ryall: What is the point of all the engagement, hui, and meetings with local government, when the Government takes absolutely no notice of that engagement; and looking at the extra cost of the dog control legislation, the proposed building control legislation, the prostitution legislation, and now the gambling regulatory functions, what is the point?

Hon CHRIS CARTER: No Government has had more engagement with local government than this one. One very obvious example is the 6-monthly local government forum, where the Prime Minister meets mayors and councillors. It is a very positive and productive relationship.

Gordon Copeland: As advocate for local government, what is the Minister’s response to the inquiry held by the Auckland City Council asking why the prostitution legislation keeps secret the names of those holding brothel-keeping certificates, when individuals and businesses seeking liquor licences have to advertise their names, and is that not a perverse and most unsatisfactory state of affairs for local governments and the communities they govern?

Hon CHRIS CARTER: The Local Government Act 2002 contains clear bylaw-making powers that provide local government with full power over signage and location. Of course, fees can cover the costs of those applications.

Gordon Copeland: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. My question was not about signage; it was about those people who hold brothel-keeping certificates having to keep that information secret. That information is not available to the public. I also asked the Minister whether he thought that was a perverse and unsatisfactory state of affairs. I do not believe that he addressed my question in his answer.

Mr SPEAKER: Perhaps that part of the question could be addressed.

Hon CHRIS CARTER: I will acknowledge that I did become confused with that question, and that was perhaps because the volume of noise in the House made it a bit difficult to hear. That requirement was passed by a majority of members in this House. It had the support of this Parliament.

Larry Baldock: As advocate for local government, does he concur with the view of JulietYates, chairwoman of the Auckland City Council’s city development committee, that the legalisation of prostitution has handed the council a job it did not want, a view supported by councillor Noeline Raffles, who intends formally to express to the Government the council’s concern that it has to administer the new Act; if not, why not?

Hon CHRIS CARTER: I would like to remind those councillors that the sex industry had existed in Auckland—and probably from the foundation of the city—but at least now it has a greater control over the industry, and health and safety issues can be addressed.

Rodney Hide: Why will the Minister not become an advocate for ratepayers, by supporting my bill to the select committee, thus giving ratepayers a chance to tell Parliament what they think about rate increases and what they think about this Minister?

Hon CHRIS CARTER: Local Government New Zealand has given me a clear message that it does not support Mr Hide’s bill. I was thinking about that as he asked the question, and I remind him how we dialogue so well with other organisations. [Interruption]

Mr SPEAKER: I do not appreciate people shouting out like that. It is unbecoming and unnecessary.

Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The suggestion that Local Government New Zealand is on the take, is an obscene suggestion. I ask that it be withdrawn and an apology made..

Hon Richard Prebble: The first point is that local government is not part of this House, so one could say what one likes. The second point is that local government itself is putting up the rates, and the Minister has indicated to the House that he does not give a hoot about the public. He is only interested in his fellow politicians.

Mr SPEAKER: The first part of the member’s point of order was valid. Anything said about people outside the Chamber is a matter of taste, as far as this Parliament is concerned.

Larry Baldock: As advocate for local government, will the Minister give his full support to councils—such as Kapiti, Rodney, and others—that wish to ban completely prostitution from their areas by means of their bylaw-making powers, and also the Auckland City Council, which wishes to seize the initiative to propose restrictive by-laws; if not, why not?

Hon CHRIS CARTER: I will continue to dialogue with local government and encourage it to seek local solutions to local problems.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. This Minister was asked whether he would support those councils seeking to ban prostitution within their boundaries. To get up and say he is going to “keep on dialoguing with them”—which must be a horrifying experience for all of them—is simply not good enough.

Mr SPEAKER: Horrifying it might be, but the answer did address the question.

(uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing)


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