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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:

1. Roading—Review

2. Te Puni Kôkiri—State Services Commission Report

3. Teachers—Loans

4. Immigration Service—Annual Report

5. Supreme Court—Appointment of Judges

6. World Food Day—Schools

7. Te Puni Kôkiri—State Services Commission Report

8. Road Safety—Policy

9. Meridian Energy Ltd—Project Aqua

10. Parks and Reserves—Visitors Facilities

11. Tertiary Qualifications—Employment

12. Land Transport Management Bill—Auckland Transport Network

Questions to MEMBERS:

1. Transport and Industrial Relations Committee—Rodney District (PENLINK Toll Road) Empowering Bill

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Roading—Review

1. LARRY BALDOCK (United Future) to the Minister of Transport: Will the review of major roading projects currently under way by Transit New Zealand and Transfund New Zealand be completed by December 2003 as stated, and will the review process result in delays to the construction start dates for the North Shore busway or the Wellington inner-city bypass?

Hon PAUL SWAIN (Minister of Transport): The review of major projects will be completed by 20 December this year, as stated. The construction dates will depend on the outcome of the review.

Larry Baldock: Is the completion of the review process dependent upon the passage of the Land Transport Management Bill; if so, by what date does the bill need to be passed in order to avoid any delays to these projects?

Hon PAUL SWAIN: The passage of the bill is an integral part of the review process. The process is under way, because it is also to do with the New Zealand Transport Strategy. The sooner the bill can be progressed the better, and I am very heartened by the indication given by my colleague the Leader of the House that progress will be made next week.

Lynne Pillay: Who is assisting Transit with the review?

Hon PAUL SWAIN: Although Transit New Zealand is responsible for the review, it has engaged Sir Brian Elwood to chair an independent advisory panel.

John Key: Is the project likely to cost any more money as a result of the delays?

Hon PAUL SWAIN: I am not sure what is meant by the “project”, but—

John Key: The North Shore busway. Is it likely to cost more?

Hon PAUL SWAIN: I do not have that information with me, but my understanding is that once the review process is under way—formally the passage of the bill—even though there is preliminary work done, the expectation to have it done by 20 December should resolve the problems raised by the member.

Peter Brown: Noting those answers, and noting also the fact that the Minister agreed wholeheartedly with New Zealand First yesterday when we stated that the single most important issue facing land transport is funding, when will he actually do something to address that problem, rather than simply make patronising noises?

Hon PAUL SWAIN: With the passage of the bill.

Jeanette Fitzsimons: Can the Minister confirm that projects under review may be approved, modified, or withdrawn, depending on whether they are the type of projects that would be likely to emerge under the new framework?

Hon PAUL SWAIN: Yes, I can confirm that. This was part of the conditions going way back now, and there is an expectation that the conditions the member outlines will be applied to all those projects.

Heather Roy: Why is Wellington missing out on all major roading projects, including the Wellington City bypass languishing because of yet another appeal by Green Party activists, when the Wellington region has six Labour electorate MPs and Government support from Peter Dunne, and what does this say about the quality of their representation?

Hon PAUL SWAIN: Clearly, that member has not read Transit’s 10-year plan.

Hon Richard Prebble: Oh yes, she has.

Hon PAUL SWAIN: Well, if she had read it she would know that the region is getting, for example, a big bridge crossover at McKay’s Crossing, a major upgrade of State Highway 2 into the Hutt City, which the member for Hutt South is particularly enthusiastic about. There are also a number of other projects that are almost completed or nearing completion, which is Kaitoke and Plimmerton. All I can say is there has been fabulous representation from the local members of Parliament in the Wellington region.

John Key: Has all the land necessary for the North Shore busway been purchased; if not, does the Minister envisage any further hold-ups if legislative processes have to be followed to acquire the necessary land?

Hon PAUL SWAIN: I understand that all the processes are under way. I am advised that the land has been purchased. There is a review, according to provisions of the bill that is soon to become an Act, and the progress on that will be made before 20 December.

Gordon Copeland: Is the Minister aware that, in reference to the Greens’ requested review of the Wellington inner-city bypass, construction of the new $300 million Wellington Hospital is now under way and that the completion of the bypass was a key consideration in the decision to site the hospital in Newtown?

Hon PAUL SWAIN: I am aware that the hospital construction is well under way. The reality is, though, that the Wellington City bypass is part of the agreed review, and I expect some decisions to be made before 20 December.

Larry Baldock: Are there any contractual obligations already entered into for projects like the North Shore busway that stipulate that any delays will result in penalties or other additional costs that will have to be borne by Transit or other road-controlling authorities; if so, what is the dollar amount of those potential penalties?

Hon PAUL SWAIN: I am advised that there are not any contractual obligations, as the member mentions it, but I am happy to check on his behalf and get back to him with the advice.

Larry Baldock: Does the Minister believe that the public is sufficiently aware that the reason taxpayer funds are being used on this review process, and potentially projects are being delayed, is that the ridiculous process is being insisted upon by the Green Party?

Hon PAUL SWAIN: Actually, it was part of an agreement that was reached way back last year. Part of that agreement involved support for a petrol tax increase, which allowed more roading and which all Opposition parties in this Parliament voted against, even though they want more roads in New Zealand.

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Te Puni Kôkiri—State Services Commission Report

2. Hon MURRAY McCULLY (National—East Coast Bays) to the Minister of Mâori Affairs: Does he have full confidence in Te Puni Kôkiri and its chief executive in light of the findings of the report to the State Services Commissioner, which was released yesterday; if not, why not?

Hon PAREKURA HOROMIA (Minister of Mâori Affairs): I am confident that, given the support of the State Services Commission, Treasury, and the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, Te Puni Kôkiri will develop a strategic plan that addresses the issues raised in the report—matters relating to the chief executive—for the State Services Commissioner.

Hon Murray McCully: In light of the report’s finding that Te Puni Kôkiri lacked the capability to support the constitutional mechanisms by which Parliament holds Ministers and the Government to account, and of his own statement yesterday that “Te Puni Kôkiri has already taken action to address the concerns outlined”, what are the specific steps that have been taken, and can he assure the House that they will be adequate to ensure he does not give misleading and incorrect answers to Parliament in future?

Hon PAREKURA HOROMIA: The report showed clear inadequacies in the way Te Puni Kôkiri operated and provided advice to me. Several issues are being confronted right now—too many to go into detail. The review stands in its own right and is explicit in its recommendations. I have accepted that, as has the chief executive. We now need to move forward to make it all happen.

Mahara Okeroa: Is the Minister satisfied with the State Services Commission review report?

Hon PAREKURA HOROMIA: The review report provides a comprehensive analysis of events and actions that regrettably led to the provision of incorrect information by officials to me. I expect a high standard from public servants. This report identifies a number of issues in Te Puni Kôkiri that led to a less than adequate level of support.

Bill Gudgeon: Is the check that is supposedly held 6-monthly sufficient to ensure that Te Puni Kôkiri staff are accountable and are performing to their full capacity?

Hon PAREKURA HOROMIA: That certainly will be one part of the developments as we progress with the analysis out of the report.

Hon Richard Prebble: Has the Minister read the report, in particular where it says: “Those circumstances are serious, a systemic impediment to the business of Government through the deterioration of the relationship between a Minister and his chief executive and senior officials.”; if so, given that he has just told the House that the report is accurate, what part, if any, does he take for his role?

Hon PAREKURA HOROMIA: I own every part of the role and the responsibility that I have in this whole exercise. Along with the chief executive and the staff who work in Te Puni Kôkiri, we intend to do a lot better.

Hon Murray McCully: What was the total appropriation voted by Parliament to Te Puni Kôkiri in the 2002-03 Budget, and in light of the information contained in the report released yesterday, can the Minister give an absolute assurance that he will be able to account to this House and its members for the expenditure of that appropriation?

Hon PAREKURA HOROMIA: Yes.

Mr SPEAKER: The first part of the question was whether the Minister had the details of the amount of the appropriation.

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

Hon Murray McCully: I asked whether the Minister could tell the House the total appropriation voted by Parliament to Te Puni Kôkiri in the 2002-03 Budget.

Hon PAREKURA HOROMIA: I do not have the exact amount, but I am more than happy to provide that detail to the member following this session.

Hon Richard Prebble: Does the recommendation, in particular the extraordinary recommendation, that the role of the State Services Commission move from its review focus to a “collaborative engagement with Te Puni Kôkiri involving an overall view of the function”; can we take it that that actually means that this Government department has been put into statutory management?

Hon PAREKURA HOROMIA: No, most certainly not. It is part of the role of the State Services Commission to aid and abet any developments like this.

Hon Murray McCully: Is the Minister aware that the 2002-03 Budget voted $136 million to Te Puni Kôkiri either to spend directly or to superintend through other agencies that it funds, and can he assure the House, in the light of the material contained in the report tabled yesterday and the actions taken by him, that he will be able to account fully to this House and its members for the expenditure of that $136 million of public money?

Hon PAREKURA HOROMIA: That most certainly is an integral part of the pathway forward, and I want to come back and say to the member “Of course.”

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Teachers—Loans

3. MOANA MACKEY (Labour) to the Minister of Education: What steps is he taking to encourage new teachers with student loans to stay in the teaching profession?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD (Minister of Education): Today I announced an extra $4.7 million of student loan repayment assistance to help new teachers get rid of their loans more quickly and to encourage them to remain in teaching. All secondary teachers of maths, te reo Mâori, and physics will be eligible for a payment towards their student loan of $2,500 in their second, third, and fourth years of teaching. Teachers in hard-to-staff areas who teach English, chemistry, physical education, computing, and biology will also be eligible for the payments.

Moana Mackey: How does this initiative fit within the wider Government strategy to recruit and retain more secondary teachers?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: The Government is investing $20 million on a comprehensive and coordinated response to meeting the anticipated increase in demand for secondary teachers. This includes funding for secondary teacher placements in isolated schools and schools in the Auckland region, and to encourage people with degrees in areas of maths, te reo Mâori, physics, biology, chemistry, English, and computing to enter teacher training with $10,000 payments.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: Noting the huge difficulty that secondary schools are having in attracting technology teachers and the number of those who are so disillusioned with this Government who are leaving the profession, why has he excluded those teachers of those technology subjects from any support in this package?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: Because they are not identified as a shortage group.

Jim Peters: How can the Minister conclude that helping trainee teachers to pay off a fraction of their loans will adequately address the known teaching shortage, rather than addressing the daily and intense issue of workloads in a crowded curriculum, largely because of ministry directives?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: This is a small part of a wonderful package coming from this Government that has already included 900 extra teachers going to secondary schools, something the former principal of Northland College thanked me for not that many years ago.

Nandor Tanczos: Is the Minister aware that despite the crucial role played by early-childhood teachers, many of them may never pay off their student loans because of their very low rates of pay—much lower than primary teachers—and what steps is he taking to support early-childhood teachers?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: There is nothing in this package for them, but I think if the member was a bit more up with the facts as to pay rate trends for early-childhood teachers he would not make statements like that.

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Immigration Service—Annual Report

4. Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS (Leader—NZ First) to the Minister of Immigration: Does she stand by the Department of Labour’s annual report for 2002-03 in relation to the New Zealand Immigration Service?

Hon LIANNE DALZIEL (Minister of Immigration): Yes, in particular, where I rated the policy advice given by the Immigration Service to be excellent in all areas and to outperform expectations. However, the operational side of the Immigration Service, which employs over 700 staff, has more challenges because of the nature of the work, which involved considering over 350,000 temporary permits and over 45,000 applications for residence that year. This was reflected in the global customer satisfaction survey that year, which was down on the year before.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Why does the Minister think, here and elsewhere like on the Holmes show, that going on like a parrot for hours somehow advances her cause rather than answering the plain fact, yes or no, whether she is satisfied, and if that is the case, how come the report recites 48,530 people being granted residence, and Statistics New Zealand recites a figure of 72,500 for the same period; how does she square that?

Hon LIANNE DALZIEL: I answered the question with the word “yes”, before I explained why my answer was yes. Secondly, in answer to the second question, it is simply the fact that that member continues to misunderstand Statistics New Zealand’s method of collecting statistics. They are quite different from residence approvals.

Dianne Yates: How does the 2002-03 report differ from previous years?

Hon LIANNE DALZIEL: This is the first year that the department’s report has focused on outcomes as opposed to restricting its report to outputs. This will enable the Government to measure the results of immigration policy against the benefits for New Zealand and for migrants, instead of simply counting the numbers of migrants entering the country, which was the approach of the previous Government.

Paul Adams: Does she agree with the sentiment of the Department of Labour’s annual report, which states that the benefits of immigration can be realised only if the host community is welcoming and well informed; if so, will she make people more aware that with a declining natural birth rate, this country is absolutely dependent on immigration to provide enough workers to pay for superannuitants like those who vote for New Zealand First?

Hon LIANNE DALZIEL: Yes, and yes. I should also point out to the member that comments made about migrants to this country can be very damaging to New Zealand’s reputation and the way those migrants are received here.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: In the interests of running a sound economy and paying for our long-term retirement, perhaps the Minister could tell me this: if 18,000 migrants entered with no skills and a further 8,000, which makes 24,000, in the skilled category failed to gain appropriate employment, which is more than half the Minister’s number, how on earth is this helping the economy?

Hon LIANNE DALZIEL: Again, the member fails to acknowledge the fact that this Government changed the rules under the family-sponsored category. Under the family-sponsored category, those who are not direct relatives, such as the parents and dependent children of principal applicants, have to have a job offer to come to New Zealand.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. There is her report. There is the article in Dominion Post today and it is a very small one, I might add.

Hon LIANNE DALZIEL: It is incorrect.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Then where is the Minister’s disclaimer?

Mr SPEAKER: We are on a point of order. Please come to the point of order.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: My point of order is this. It is not whether she has changed the rules, or her policy, which she does every day, but how do 24,000 people—nowhere near the 74 percent her department recites—not in appropriate work or match skills help our economy? Could she tell us that?

Mr SPEAKER: I heard the Minister talk about 18,000 and 8,000. That is actually 26,000. As far as I am concerned the Minister addressed the question.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Can the Minister confirm that the Department of Labour statistics show that more than half of those granted residence in 2002-03 were not offered jobs correlating to their occupation held in their “home country” as recited there, and is this not just another example of this Government’s bungling and doing little more than importing a majority of potential beneficiaries who receive free health-care, housing, and education services, and bleeding the New Zealand taxpayer?

Hon LIANNE DALZIEL: The member has misread the report of the Department of Labour, as did the New Zealand Press Association journalist who supplied the information in the Dominion Post this morning. I quote from the report: “Seventy-four percent of job offers for general skills applicants approved in the 2002-03 year match their home country occupation. Sixty percent of general skills applicants had job offers; 74 percent of them matched their home country occupation.” It is silent on the subject of all those siblings and adult children who now have to have job offers due to the change that our Government brought in in 2001.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I thank the Minister for finally telling us the truth about what they are silent on. [Interruption] I know that they find the truth a joke. We do not.

Mr SPEAKER: Would the member now come to the question, please.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. You did say yesterday that questions were to be asked in silence.

Mr SPEAKER: I did, and I agree with the member, but the member very nearly left the Chamber. I usually give one final warning. That is it. Please ask the question.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: In thanking the Minister for finally telling us the numbers of people she has left out, can she tell us why the Department of Labour does not reconcile its figures with Statistics New Zealand and put in everybody aged 1 to 91 if they happen to be in the category, and then give us the true figures, for a change, rather than disguising the beneficiary numbers?

Hon LIANNE DALZIEL: It was this Government that changed the rules so that there are fewer beneficiaries in those initial 2 years of people moving to New Zealand. I have in my hand the 30 June 1998—

Mr SPEAKER: I would like the Minister now to address the particular question that was asked.

Hon LIANNE DALZIEL: —which, by way of comparison, does not contain a single reference—

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I asked a very specific question. Despite you coming to your feet and asking the Minister to address the question, she went on to explain that it was by way of comparison, which she is not required to do. I want to know why she has not given us the total number of figures and work the percentages on them. We do not know who are here for humanitarian reasons, who have children, or who have dependants. That is what I want her to tell us.

Mr SPEAKER: The Minister might be prepared to come to the particular question.

Hon LIANNE DALZIEL: The 2002-03 Department of Labour annual report has a number of references to employment outcomes for migrants. For example, it states on page 103 that migrants who have lived in New Zealand for more than 10 years have an employment rate of 72 percent, compared with 73 percent for New Zealand - born individuals. The point is that over time the results do improve for migrants.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I am trying to ask this Minister—in her fourth year as Minister—why she will not give this Parliament, and me, and the public the full set of figures on which percentages can work, such as those who are dependants and those who are not in work. She refuses to, because a denial of those facts is a key to her presentation, and I want the answer.

Mr SPEAKER: Let me put it this way. The Minister addressed the question. Obviously the answer does not satisfy the member, but that is not my place as Speaker. She did address the question.

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Supreme Court—Appointment of Judges

5. RICHARD WORTH (National—Epsom) to the Attorney-General: In light of her statement yesterday regarding judicial appointments to the Supreme Court that she would not reject the advice of the independent panel if it differed from her own views does that mean that she will take no substantive part in the process of appointments other than passing the recommendations of the panel to the Governor- General; if not, why not?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Leader of the House), on behalf of the Attorney-General: Yes, the Minister will be passing on to the Governor-General the recommendations made by the panel.

Richard Worth: What is her response to the open letter in the New Zealand Herald this morning, exchanged between herself and Gavin Ellis, in which Gavin Ellis, the Editor-in-Chief of the New Zealand Herald, says in part, under the heading “Judicial proposal falls down on selection process”: “No selection panel can be seen to be apolitical when it has been chosen by the party in power. No superior court will be free of criticism while its members owe their appointment to the Executive and not Parliament.”?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: That claim, I assume, would apply to every one of the present members of the Court of Appeal and the judges of the High Court, the great majority of whom were appointed before this Government came into office.

Hon Ken Shirley: How can we have confidence in her assurances of non-interference in judicial appointments, when I am advised that she has destroyed the institutional memory of the Environment Court by removing 100 percent of the environment commissioners over the last 2 years, and replacing them with her acolytes?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: The last part of the question is utterly offensive in terms of describing these people as acolytes. As have I pointed out to a number of colleagues on many occasions, no Government actually welcomes the prospect of activist judges, for very obvious reasons.

Richard Worth: What instructions, if any, has she given to this advisory panel that when making its choices on judicial appointments, a primary consideration should be a knowledge of cultural and gender issues, and how is it planned to test that knowledge of cultural and gender issues?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I am not aware that was an instruction from the Attorney-General. That was in the Solicitor-General’s advertisement, as I understand it, for people to make application. But I think it would be desirable in the modern world that people have some understanding of these matters. That does not reflect the fact that I suspect most of them will still turn out to be middle-aged gentlemen.

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World Food Day—Schools

6. SUE KEDGLEY (Green) to the Minister of Education: What steps is he taking this World Food Day to promote healthy eating in schools?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD (Minister of Education): Promoting healthy eating in schools is an ongoing issue, not just on one day of the year. The health and physical education curriculum provides students with opportunities to learn about healthy eating, safe food handling, and the influences of culture, society, and technology on food choices. The curriculum is complemented by a series of other initiatives, such as the interagency Healthy Eating—Healthy Action strategy, the Healthy Heart awards, and the Health Promoting Schools initiative.

Sue Kedgley: Does he agree that allowing food corporations to advertise high fat, low nutrition foods in school diaries, such as the one I have, branding sports equipment, running reading programmes that reward children with fast-food vouchers, and so forth undermines the efforts he has just underlined to promote healthy eating in schools, and sends a message to children that high fat, low nutrition foods are normal healthy foods; if not, why not?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: I have made my views on these matters clear for schools. I believe that schools have an important role in promoting health and food choices to their pupils, and although such activity promoting high-fat, high-sugar foods is, in my view, irresponsible, in the end it is a matter for the boards of trustees.

Dave Hereora: Why is promoting healthy food choices in schools important?

Hon Dr Nick Smith: That’s a tough one.

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: Well, it is a tougher question than that member will ever—

Mr SPEAKER: Carry on, please.

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: Nutrition plays a huge part in the health of all New Zealanders. We want our children to get off to the right start, and developing a healthy diet when young is an important part of that.

Sue Kedgley: Does he agree that schools should be advertising- and marketing-free zones, and what steps is he taking specifically, other than making general issues of support, to achieve this?

Rod Donald: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I did not actually hear half of the question asked by my colleague because of the guffaws of members over here.

Mr SPEAKER: I think the point was well made by the member. Members are entitled to ask their questions in silence. This is a fundamental part of our democratic process, and I ask Sue Kedgley to ask the question again.

Sue Kedgley: Does he agree that all schools should be marketing- and advertising-free zones, and what specific steps is he taking to achieve this, other than offering general support for the principle?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: No, because I do believe that there are benefits for schools in partnerships with commercial enterprises in some areas. But again, I repeat my expectation that boards will behave responsibly and in the best interests of children’s welfare in determining those matters.

Sue Kedgley: Has he asked his colleague the Minister of Health to assess the impact on the health of young New Zealanders in the health budget generally of allowing the advertising of low-nutrition foods and fizzy drinks in schools; if he has not, will he do so?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: I do not think we need to do any major assessment in this area. We know that high-fat food is not good and that there are a lot of drinks in schools that are not good. The work that I am doing with Sport and Recreation New Zealand and the Ministry of Education towards linking the physical activity coordinators and the work they do with quality work in schools around nutrition is important. There is no point in a child playing sports after having eaten three pies and a couple of bottles of coke.

Sue Kedgley: I seek leave to table this school diary from a large school in Wellington with a McDonald’s advertisement in the middle of it.

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

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Te Puni Kôkiri—State Services Commission Report

7. Hon RICHARD PREBBLE (Leader—ACT) to the Prime Minister: Has the Prime Minister seen the State Services Commission report of the review of Te Puni Kôkiri indicating “a systemic impediment to the business of government through the deterioration of the relationship between a Minister and his chief executive and senior officials,” and a “lack of capability in the Ministry to support the constitutional mechanisms by which Parliament holds Ministers and thereby Government, to account,”; if so, does the Prime Minister have confidence that any parliamentary question put down to the Minister regarding Te Puni Kôkiri will be answered honestly and accurately?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Acting Prime Minister): I have not yet had time to read the full report, but I am aware of the conclusion. Yes I am sure, like all Ministers, the Minister will answer honestly and accurately any questions to him based on the information available at the time.

Hon Richard Prebble: Given that the report outlines that the Minister gave answers to the House to many of the questions put down by my colleague Rodney Hide that turned out to be wrong, and that the report identifies this was a result of not just management but honesty problems in the department, why is the Prime Minister now so confident that everything has been fixed?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: From the brief glance I have had at the report, the honesty issue raised was not relevant to within the department, but related to Mr Te Rangi.

Hon Richard Prebble: Does the correct interpretation of the recommendation that the State Services Commission role move from its review focus to a collaborative engagement with Te Puni Kôkiri really mean that a Government department has, in effect, been put into statutory management; if that is so, can she cite any case where a department has been put under the management of the State Services Commission?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: The department has not been put under the management of the States Service Commission. The State Services Commission will be working alongside the department to improve its performance.

Gerry Brownlee: Given that the report does talk about the systematic impediment to the business of Government through the deterioration of the relationship between the Minister and his chief executive and senior officials, why are the chief executive and the senior officials still in their jobs?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Governments do not go around sacking the chief executives of Government departments in the way the member seems to imply. I am sure that if they did, we would hear cries about the dismissal of Government chief executives and their replacement by the politically correct cronies of various Ministers.

Hon Richard Prebble: Can the House take from the reply just given that the reason why the officials have not been sacked is that the Government does not have the power to do that; why, as the Prime Minister does have the power to sack the Minister—who was criticised indirectly; the deterioration is between the Minister and the officials—is the Minister still in his job?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: It is clear the Minister gave honest answers based on the information that was made available to him. Some of the information that caused difficulties came from a person who was clearly not honest. The Minister is not responsible for that.

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Road Safety—Policy

8. Hon MARK GOSCHE (Labour—Maungakiekie) to the Minister of Transport: What steps is the Government taking to improve road safety in New Zealand?

Hon PAUL SWAIN (Minister of Transport): This morning I announced an extra $47 million of new funding, to be made available over the next 2 years, to improve road safety through engineering measures. This will double the funding Transfund New Zealand had earmarked for minor safety works throughout New Zealand. This engineering announcement is the first step in the Government’s “three Es” road safety programme, which aims to reduce the New Zealand road toll to 300 a year by 2010.

Hon Mark Gosche: What sorts of projects will that money be spent on?

Hon PAUL SWAIN: The news is good. The types of projects that may qualify for the new funding are improvement to accident black spots, such as wire rope barriers; lighting at rural intersections; and the removal or protection of roadside obstacles, such as lamp posts, trees, and culverts. The extra money will help to improve road safety and save lives.

John Key: What steps is the Government taking to introduce drug testing in order to improve road safety in New Zealand?

Hon PAUL SWAIN: The third “E” of the “three Es” campaign for road safety is enforcement. I will be taking some proposals to Cabinet in December, and drug testing will be one of them.

Ron Mark: Noting the Minister’s commitment to improving road safety and reducing accidents, why, when Mr Barry Smart of Christchurch asked the Minister of Police why a woman who had hit his car, who had broken the law by driving on a restricted driver’s licence with three passengers, and who admitted being in the wrong was not prosecuted by the police, did the Minister of Police say: “The priorities are focused on preventing crashes through proactive enforcement. Time spent investigating crashes is time spent away from their primary role of crash prevention.”; how does that gobbledygook improve road safety, or is it just an excuse for revenue-collecting?

Mr SPEAKER: There were three questions there. The Minister may comment on two of them.

Hon PAUL SWAIN: That has very little to do with the primary good-news announcement from the Government about spending more money to really do something about black spots in the country. My view is that his question would be more appropriately addressed to the Minister of Police.

Ron Mark: I seek the leave of the House to table some documents. The first is a letter from Mr Smart to the Commissioner of Police expressing his frustration at getting the case prosecuted.

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

Ron Mark: The second document is a letter to myself expressing frustration at getting police action on the issue.

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

Ron Mark: The third document is a response from the Minister of Police, dated 6 May, where he states that investigating accidents is not what the ministry is there to do.

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

Ron Mark: The fourth letter is another from Mr Smart stating that he does not accept the Minister’s answers.

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

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Meridian Energy Ltd—Project Aqua

9. GERRY BROWNLEE (National—Ilam) to the Minister for State Owned Enterprises: Is he satisfied that Meridian Energy Limited has behaved within the spirit of the Resource Management Act throughout the resource consent process for Project Aqua; if so, why?

Hon MARK BURTON (Minister for State Owned Enterprises): Yes, because I am advised that Meridian Energy has been acting within the provisions and principles of the Resource Management Act throughout the consent process for Project Aqua.

Gerry Brownlee: Is the Minister aware that Meridian Energy is currently engaged in a process of “cash for consent” deals with affected parties on the Waitaki scheme; and does he approve of a State-owned enterprise using taxpayers’ money to bribe its way through the consent process of an Act that the Government consistently refuses to change?

Hon MARK BURTON: I certainly am not aware of that. If the member has any actual evidence, he should provide it, and I assure him that I will investigate it. I am aware that Meridian Energy is using a process prescribed by the Act to avoid, remedy, or mitigate any adverse effects of its activity. It is legitimately engaged in that process. All the information I have received indicates that it is entirely appropriate, but if, as I say, the member has any evidence of wrongdoing, he should provide it immediately.

Gerrard Eckhoff: How is the spirit and intention of the Resource Management Act—which is to mitigate against environmental effects—helped by chequebook environmentalism, exampled by the payment by Contact Energy of $1.5 million to Ngâi Tahu to withdraw objections to the issuing of water rights on the Clutha River; and can the Minister assure the House that such practices, which border on extortion, will not occur by any State-owned enterprise, such as Meridian Energy, especially in relation to Project Aqua?

Hon MARK BURTON: Firstly, as Contact Energy is a private company I have absolutely no responsibility for it. I can assure the member that the expectation of the Government is that any State-owned enterprise, including Meridian Energy, will act in a totally lawful and appropriate manner. I have no evidence to suggest that they are doing anything but that.

Jeanette Fitzsimons: Has the Minister seen reports that Meridian Energy is threatening to pull out of Project Aqua if it does not like the new processes for water allocation on the Waitaki, or the new processes for approval of Government-supported major projects; and will he assure the House that special fast-tracking will not be given to Meridian Energy in response to this threat?

Hon MARK BURTON: Yes, I have seen those reports, and I am not a consenting authority.

Gerry Brownlee: In light of the Minister’s previous answers, would he consider it appropriate for Meridian Energy to be making payments to people that it deems affected, on the basis that the receipt of those payments will mean those people no longer object to the project; is that appropriate and is it within the spirit of the Resource Management Act?

Hon MARK BURTON: It is entirely within the spirit of the Resource Management Act for a party undertaking a major project to provide for mitigation. It is a requirement indeed, and mitigation sometimes involves the putting right of an impact or an effect of the project. If that is what is engaged, that is appropriate.

Gerry Brownlee: Can the Minster tell us whether he considers a solatium payment—if he knows the meaning of that term—[Interruption] I am prepared to help him.

Mr SPEAKER: The member did not need to put that comment in his question. He just asks the question without that sort of embellishment. Please ask the question.

Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I do not appreciate being flicked for making a comment back in a question when a Minister on the front bench of the Government, feeling a certain amount of sensitivity, decides to object in the face of a ruling you have made twice today.

Hon Dr Michael Cullen: When a person asking a question chooses to make an unnecessary and offensive remark, he is inviting an interjection at that point.

Mr SPEAKER: Yes, he is inviting an interjection, and members are not supposed to make the interjection, but the member is not supposed to make the offensive comment. Will the member now ask the question.

GERRY BROWNLEE: Would the Minister consider the making of a solatium payment to someone deemed to be affected, with the further proviso that should they like to seek legal advice, that will be paid for; then further advice that if they should decide to sign away their objection rights, a further cash payment will be made to them; and how can it be said that Meridian Energy is working within the spirit of the Resource Management Act when it is simply engaging in an exercise of chequebook environmentalism—cash for consents?

Hon MARK BURTON: Again the member makes an accusation that is not sustained by the facts. I will concede that the wording in this particular article is potentially misleading. As I am advised, the solatium payments are made when and where there is a direct effect, such as noise or dust or dirt, and when it affects the property right of some individual. That is a resolution of that. In terms of the reimbursement of a legal fee, that is an entirely reasonable proposition if it is for a cost incurred by a party looking at whether they do indeed have an impact. It is simply a reimbursement of a cost they would not otherwise receive. Thirdly, the payment of the nominal fee is not “as well as”, as it is listed in here, and I agree that that is where the ambiguity rests in the newspaper. But the payment of a nominal fee is to someone who perhaps considers the proposition and turns it down. That would be the only fee they receive. It is simply for the time they put into the consideration. That is all.

Gerry Brownlee: I seek leave to notify the House that Meridian Enterprises has a budget of $50 million for this work. Further, I seek leave to table the Meridian Enterprises document.

Mr SPEAKER: The member can seek leave to table the document.

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

Gerry Brownlee: Can I not seek leave to advise the House about the $50 million slush fund?

Mr SPEAKER: No. That is not within the seeking of leave. But it was a good try, and it is Thursday afternoon.

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Parks and Reserves—Visitors Facilities

10. DAVID PARKER (Labour—Otago) to the Minister of Conservation: What opportunities does the public and the tourism industry have to influence the location and standard of visitor facilities in New Zealand’s parks and reserves?

Hon CHRIS CARTER (Minister of Conservation): Every opportunity. Comprehensive consultation is under way on how the Government’s major funding boost for outdoor recreational facilities on conservation land will be allocated. Enjoyment of the outdoors is an essential part of our New Zealand way of life, and we intend to keep it that way.

David Parker: Will any huts or tracks be closed?

Hon CHRIS CARTER: Yes. Some huts and tracks that are little used or are poorly sited will be closed. However, opportunities are given to community groups to help with their maintenance. There will also be many more new huts and about 250 kilometres of new track built.

Jeanette Fitzsimons: In considering the need for facilities and impacts of visitor activity on the conservation estate, what work is the Department of Conservation conducting to assess the visitor-carrying capacity of different areas so that we do not allow the destruction of New Zealand’s most popular places?

Hon CHRIS CARTER: The department is undergoing a major review of visitor numbers in locations. It is doing that by consultation and monitoring.

Hon Peter Dunne: Noting that under the recreation opportunities review a number of category 4 huts are to be closed—the ones for which no payment is required to use them—can the Minister assure the House that the decisions to close or downgrade these huts owe more to the state of repair and lack of use of the huts than to any consideration to maximise the earning capacity, from overseas visitors or elsewhere, from using some of the more popular huts and tracks?

Hon CHRIS CARTER: Duplication in use will be our criterion in deciding whether a hut remains open. I repeat, there are opportunities for recreational groups to work in partnership with the department to keep open particularly popular huts that may be used by just a small group of people.

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Tertiary Qualifications—Employment

11. DAIL JONES (NZ First) to the Associate Minister of Education (Tertiary Education): Is his intention for tertiary education to ensure that New Zealanders who gain tertiary qualifications are able to gain employment?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD (Minister of Education):, on behalf of the Associate Minister of Education (Tertiary Education): I refer the member to strategy 4 of the tertiary education strategy, and, effectively, it means “wherever appropriate”.

Dail Jones: What is the Minister’s priority to ensure that New Zealand medical students who graduate from New Zealand medical schools are not prevented from obtaining jobs as first-year medical officers by foreign fee-paying medical students, as is the case at present?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: It is an issue in some areas, but it is my understanding that throughout the country there are plenty of jobs for people in that category.

Jill Pettis: What advice has he received on the success of the tertiary education system in ensuring that New Zealanders who gain tertiary qualifications are able to gain employment?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: The answer to that question would be too long, because there is so much involved. It is great news in the employment area, under this Government.

Dail Jones: Is the Minister aware that his answer to the first supplementary question is inconsistent with the view expressed by the Resident Doctors Association general secretary, Deborah Powell, who said it was clear that foreign students graduating from New Zealand medical schools are now competing with New Zealanders, and that presently 31.4 percent of all medical students in New Zealand schools are now from foreign areas and are getting priority over New Zealanders—in many cases at our medical institutions—requiring New Zealand medically trained people to go overseas?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: Firstly, I would never rely on Deborah Powell for accurate information, and, secondly, there is no policy that gives foreign students priority.

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Land Transport Management Bill—Auckland Transport Network

12. JOHN KEY (National—Helensville) to the Minister of Transport: Will he change the Land Transport Management Bill to ensure that it will, in the Mayor of Auckland’s words, contain “enough tools to urgently fix Auckland’s incomplete transport network”; if not, why not?

Hon PAUL SWAIN (Minister of Transport): The Land Transport Management Bill does contain a number of new tools, which will go some way to addressing Auckland’s transport issues, including tolling and public-private partnerships. The Government is working with Auckland to identify what other funding mechanisms could be used to meet the region’s transport needs. Mayor Banks has described this process as “upbeat and constructive”, following a recent joint forum in Wellington.

John Key: At what point in the drafting of the bill and in negotiations with the Greens did the Minister get so disillusioned that he lobbied hard for strong submissions against his own bill, and then was forced to set up the joint officials group?

Hon PAUL SWAIN: At no point.

Hon Mark Gosche: What further comment, if any, has he seen from Auckland mayors on work between them and the Government to address Auckland’s transport problems?

Hon PAUL SWAIN: There has been a range of them. Mayor Banks said some very good progress is being made; Mayor George Wood said an important project was under way in the region looking at funding and planning for Auckland’s transport needs; Auckland regional councillor Catherine Harland said the bill was a step forward in improving transport in the region and takes on board some of the key points made in the Auckland regional land transport committee’s submission earlier this year.

Keith Locke: Can the Minister confirm that, as well as roads, we need better public transport, walking and cycling facilities, and demand management systems to complete the Auckland transport network, and can he explain how the Land Transport Management Bill will assist in this, as he did when he and I addressed the national cycling conference in Auckland last Friday?

Hon PAUL SWAIN: Yes, I can confirm all the points in the first part of the question. With regard to the second part, we have to take a multimodal approach. Simply relying on motorways is not going to solve the problem. Passenger transport is really important, as well as other things like cycling and walking. All these things are going to help resolve New Zealand’s transport problems. It is about time the National Party woke up to this fact.

Paul Adams: Does the Minister look forward to working closely with United Future to ensure “enough tools to urgently fix Auckland’s transport network” are made available as soon as possible after the passage of the Land Transport Management Bill, given that the passage of that bill will be the end of the Government’s transport-related obligations to the Greens?

Hon PAUL SWAIN: Yes, I look forward to working constructively with United Future, as we have worked constructively with the Greens. I look forward to working constructively with any parties looking to improve Auckland’s transport problems, but, unfortunately, it is never going to be with the National Party, because it is totally destructive when it comes to these kinds of issues.

John Key: Can the Minister confirm why he supports the words “economic efficiency” being substituted with “environmental sustainability” in the purpose of the bill, or was he just in a green haze when he signed off on it?

Hon PAUL SWAIN: No, there was no haze when it came to it. As that member rightly knows, very good, constructive discussions took place between a range of parties. We now have the word “efficiency” in the bill, and I am sure the member will enthusiastically welcome such a measure.

John Key: Why is Auckland having to wait for new legislation to fix its transport issues, when the Minister has every opportunity to include them in the Land Transport Management Bill; and does this confirm that this Minister is prepared to put coalition negotiations ahead of fixing Aucklanders’ needs?

Hon PAUL SWAIN: Absolutely not. The transport bill will address some of Auckland’s needs, but it is not the only answer. As Mayor Banks says, it is half the toolbox that is required, and we are working on the other half. I note that the National Party in its 10 years in Government did not one solitary thing about Auckland. It is a bit rich for members opposite, after having done nothing for 10 years, to come into this House, vote against the petrol tax increase, and now try to lecture us about transport. It is outrageous.

Questions to Members

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Transport and Industrial Relations Committee—Rodney District (PENLINK Toll Road) Empowering Bill

1. Hon PETER DUNNE (Leader—United Future) to the Dr the Hon Lockwood Smith (Member in charge of Local Bill): Has he relayed the recommendations of the report of the Transport and Industrial Relations Committee on the Rodney District (PENLINK Toll Road) Empowering Bill to the people of Rodney?

Dr the Hon LOCKWOOD SMITH (National—Rodney): I have discussed the matter with the mayor and a limited number of Rodney people, who are very angry that legislation introduced more than 2 years ago has been blocked by Labour Party and Green Party members. The Government Land Transport Management Bill is so bureaucratically prescriptive that Rodney people feel they are even further away from the Penlink toll road being built than they were 2 years ago.

Hon Peter Dunne: Have the council and others, in response to the information he has relayed to them, indicated to him whether there are provisions in existing or proposed legislation that might meet their needs, or whether further local legislation of the type he originally proposed will be required?

Dr the Hon LOCKWOOD SMITH: I think it would be fair to say to the member that the Rodney District Council is somewhat uncertain at the moment as to what the provisions in the Land Transport Management Bill will actually do in terms of trying to achieve the Penlink toll road, because the prescriptive nature of some of the requirements leave it very up in the air as to what time delays there will now be in progressing this project when all the land has been purchased for it, all the consents are in place, and it is all ready to proceed. The one thing that is—

Mr SPEAKER: That is probably about long enough for an ordinary answer.

John Key: Who approached him to propose the Penlink bill?

Dr the Hon LOCKWOOD SMITH: The Rodney District Council did, after spending millions of dollars in preparation for that legislation—including something like $12 million in purchasing the land to try to solve the traffic crisis in one of the fastest-growing parts of New Zealand, the Whangaparaoa Peninsula. I might say that the people of Rodney are the very same people who are also very angry because there is no progress on ALPURT B2, the extension of the motorway beyond Orewa. It has been just a hopeless performance from this Labour Government.

End of Questions for Oral Answer

(uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing)


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