Questions And Answers For Oral Answer - Wednesday
(UNCORRECTED TRANSCRIPT—SUBJECT TO CORRECTION AND FURTHER EDITING)
Questions to Ministers
Commonwealth Secretary-General—Second Term
1. ROD DONALD (Co-Leader—Green) to the Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade: Does the Government support Commonwealth Secretary-General Rt Hon Don McKinnon's bid for a second term as Secretary-General; if so, why?
Hon PHIL GOFF (Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade): The answer is yes. Don McKinnon is doing a good job. He is a New Zealander and there is strong support for him to undertake a second term.
Rod Donald: In light of the high regard in which Mr McKinnon is held by this Government is the Minister concerned about Mr McKinnon’s statement in the Guardian last Friday, headlined: “Commonwealth fury at Whitehall meddling”, and stating: “Britain and New Zealand have been interfering in the Commonwealth Secretariat’s internal staffing policies.”?
Hon PHIL GOFF: No, I understand that that may be Mr McKinnon’s alleged comments but that Mr McKinnon does not have a problem with the role of New Zealand in that regard.
Tim Barnett: Which countries are supporting Don McKinnon’s bid for a second term as Secretary-General?
Hon PHIL GOFF: A range of Commonwealth leaders have expressed to Mr McKinnon their support for his securing a second term. For example, at the recent Pacific Islands Forum in Auckland unanimous support was expressed for Mr McKinnon. At this point there are no other declared candidates for the position, although I understand that Zimbabwe—suspended from the Commonwealth—has been trying to find a second candidate.
Dr the Hon Lockwood Smith: Given there is now a news release headline alleging: “New Zealand in plot to muzzle staff at Commonwealth Secretariat”, what steps precisely has the Minister taken to check the validity of that news release allegation and what steps will he take to satisfy this Parliament that no New Zealand staff have been involved in any meddling in the employment of officials at the Commonwealth Secretariat?
Hon PHIL GOFF: The role of employment of officials within the Commonwealth is, of course, the responsibility of the Secretary-General and no outside country. That does not prevent—
Dr the Hon Lockwood Smith: Outside New Zealand staff.
Hon PHIL GOFF: If the member wants to listen to the answer, I will give it to him. That does not prevent any country that has a particular concern about the behaviour, appropriate or otherwise, of officials from raising that concern with the Secretary-General.
Rod Donald: Can the Minister confirm that a meeting took place earlier this year between Robert Hole, a New Zealand diplomat at our High Commission in London and Eileen Drage, a senior official in the British Government, at which they agreed to monitor the activities of Roman Grynberg, a Commonwealth Secretariat official, who happens to have views on trade at odds to those of the New Zealand Government?
Hon PHIL GOFF: I can confirm that a meeting took place between Rob Hole of the New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade and an Elaine Drage, who I understand is employed by the Department of Trade and Industry in the United Kingdom. Concern has been expressed about the behaviour of a particular official and there are appropriate ways to take that up with the Secretary-General. I would expect those ways to be employed.
Rod Donald: Has the Minister seen the letter from Elaine Drage to Robert Hole that confirms that Mr Hole agreed to find out when Roman Grynberg’s contract expires and to ascertain the procedures for filling posts at the Commonwealth Secretariat, and would he give this House a watertight guarantee that neither of these actions was ever taken by a New Zealand official?
Hon PHIL GOFF: I have seen the letter and nothing that Rob Hole is accused of in that letter is in any way offensive, a criminal act, or in any way inappropriate.
Rod Donald: Does the Minister extend that view to the fact that Elaine Drage asked Robert Hole to leak her a copy of a draft development in democracy paper being prepared for the December Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting because she regarded the trade section as dangerous and protectionist and wanted it changed before a meeting of Commonwealth officials next week?
Hon PHIL GOFF: I am not sure what the document is that supposedly was to be leaked, but if a New Zealand official, as a member of the Commonwealth, had that document I presume that a UK official, also a member of the Commonwealth, would also have that information and be entitled to it.
Rod Donald: Notwithstanding that the document was being prepared by an Australian academic, does the Minister agree that Don McKinnon’s job as Secretary-General is to work for all Commonwealth countries, not just the rich Western countries; if so, why is the New Zealand Government undermining this work by attempting to remove officials from positions where they can advocate for the interests of poor countries, many of which do not accept this Government’s commitment to unrestricted free trade?
Hon PHIL GOFF: I agree with the first comment. I think the second allegation is wrong. If the member is trying to find some comfort in Don McKinnon’s statement for his position on international trade he will find none, because Don McKinnon’s viewpoint on this issue, as this Government’s is, is quite different from that member’s. We are in favour of removing subsidies, and we are in favour of removing barriers to trade not only to developing countries, but also, of course, to efficient agricultural producers like New Zealand.
Rod Donald: I seek leave to table the letter from Elaine Drage, who is a director of trade and development to Robert Hole, a counsellor at the New Zealand High Commission.
Document, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.
Rod Donald: I seek leave to table the Guardian article headed: “Commonwealth Fury at Whitehall Meddling”.
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that newspaper article. Ia counsellor at the New Zealand High Commissions there any objection? There is.
Land Transport Management Bill—Government Policy
2. GERRY BROWNLEE (National—Ilam) to the Prime Minister: Does she stand by her statement that she believes the Land Transport Management Bill “is very good legislation. It is not the policy of this Government to put things right.”; if so, has she communicated this view to the business and local government groups who have serious concerns with this bill?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK (Prime Minister): Yes, I stand by the statement. The Government is committed to fixing Auckland’s transport problems and not to imposing right-wing ideological prescriptions on them. I am sure the member would agree, given that he believes that moving to the right is wrong and crazy and says that he cannot support it.
Gerry Brownlee: Given the strong commitment from the Prime Minister to fix the problems that are clearly wrong in Auckland, is she concerned by the comments of the Employers and Manufacturers Association, which said today: “This bill is a con-job being rort on road users”, and that her Government is “misleading road users into thinking the new law will help ease traffic congestion, but all it will do is divert more taxes into non-road purposes.”?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: No, I would not agree a word of that. Effectively solving transport issues does require a multimodal approach. That means roads, it means the public transport that rolls along them, it means rail, and it means alternatives to roading and demand management.
Peter Brown: Does the Prime Minister share the view that it is only proper that the Government releases the economic report it is preparing on petrol tax diversion before it imposes any additional costs on motorists as proposed under the Land Transport Management Bill; if she does share that view will she tell the Minister of Finance and the Minister of Transport, in particular, to stop sitting on their hands and get the report out so we can all digest it?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I understand the issues referred to are being covered in a more general piece of work that is being done, and the Minister will be happy to release it when it is completed.
Deborah Coddington: Since she stands by her statement that the Land Transport Management Bill is good legislation, can she tell us the latest date on which the eastern highway will be completed, or does she not take responsibility for getting Auckland moving?
Hon Dr Michael Cullen: She’s not a navvy!
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: As the Minister of Finance said, no, I am not a navvy; I cannot give that date. The matter has not been approved by Transit.
Jeanette Fitzsimons: Has the Prime Minister had any advice that yesterday in the House Mr Brownlee was claiming he knew nothing about the Land Transport Management Bill and had not read it; if so, will she make her officials available to brief him on it, so he will not have to rely on the roading lobby for his information?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I have heard that such comments were made. Of course the Government would be delighted to make officials available to brief Mr Brownlee. My only other suggestion for him is that as he aspires to higher office perhaps he could hand over the transport job to someone better qualified like Maurice Williamson, while Mr Brownlee prepares to move up the pecking order.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Seeing as the Prime Minister is going to make officials available to Mr Brownlee,would she confirm that these officials will not be the same ones who were at the Transport and Industrial Relations Committee on the Land Transport Management Bill, who claimed to have no idea of any report in respect of excise tax for petrol diversions, or is this just a clear case where the Greens and the United Future party are determined to impose a road tolling regime on New Zealanders, regardless?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I am certainly not aware that those two parties are prepared to impose a road tolling regime on New Zealanders, regardless. However I am well aware of a minority report by the National Party on the bill that suggested that tolls should be able to be applied anywhere any time.
Gerry Brownlee: Noting that the Prime Minister has generously offered to make officials available to give me a briefing on this useless piece of legislation, can she assure the House that those officials will be made available without the dead hand or agent of Heather Simpson present while the briefing is being given?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I am sure Ms Simpson will be delighted not to attend. Personally, I would be very happy to do anything I can to help Mr Brownlee.
Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I am overcome.
Mr SPEAKER: I was about to rule on the point of order, but I too was overcome.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Despite her penchant of late to start speaking in the third person and giving herself all sorts of plaudits, when did she become a miracle worker in the case of Mr Brownlee’s offer?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: It may take a miracle, but they are known to happen.
3. DAVID PARKER (Labour—Otago) to the Minister of Agriculture: What progress has the Government made in promoting organic agriculture and enabling consumer choice?
Hon JIM SUTTON (Minister of Agriculture): Last night the New Zealand Organic Standard 8410 was launched. This is significant for the industry, because it gives greater assurances to consumers that the products they buy really have been grown organically. Currently, anyone can label their produce as organic, in order to command higher prices. However, that product may have been grown without any adherence to organic principles whatsoever.
David Parker: What other initiatives has the Government carried through for the organic sector?
Hon JIM SUTTON: Also launched last night was the organic sector strategy, which sets goals for the industry over the next 10 years. That strategy, the standard, and the small-scale organic certification scheme, which has now grown into Organic Farm New Zealand, are three Government-funded initiatives aimed at creating the necessary framework to enable the sector to grow and prosper, and are now in place. The extent to which they do grow and prosper, of course, will depend upon the demands of consumers around the world and the ability of the sector to meet those demands.
Hon David Carter: What progress has his Government made in promoting any agricultural export market, particularly in view of the free-trade agreement between Australia and the United States, which could be finalised before Christmas?
Hon JIM SUTTON: The Government, of course, has made tremendous progress in promoting our agricultural exports. The sector is very pleased with those results.
Gerrard Eckhoff: In terms of promotion of organic agriculture, what does he believe the appropriate balance should be between organic and traditional agriculture in New Zealand, and what is the rationale in promoting one form of agriculture over another?
Hon JIM SUTTON: Many countries have thriving agricultural sectors—organic, conventional, and genetically modified—coexisting. There are niche markets that are profitable for organic produce. This Government favours our exports being targeted at profitable niche markets in whatever form.
Ian Ewen-Street: How does the Minister reconcile his support for organics with the Government’s simultaneous lifting of the GE moratorium, given that the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry has failed to establish an effective coexistence regime, and that research commissioned by the UK Government shows that coexistence is a physical impossibility?
Hon JIM SUTTON: Many countries have coexisting, thriving organic, conventional, and GE agricultural sectors. Those include the European Union and our closest neighbour, Australia. In fact, I am told that there has been something like 1,775 GE releases, mainly for field trials, in Europe since 1991. That is the same sort of thing that the Environmental Risk Management Authority is considering for onions in New Zealand right now.
Child, Youth and Family Services, Department—Record-keeping
4. KATHERINE RICH (National) to the Associate Minister for Social Development and Employment (CYF): What is the reason that the Department of Child, Youth and Family Services does not know how many children are in its care, and after 4 years in Government who does she think is responsible for this lack of information?
Mr SPEAKER: Before the Minister replies, she advised me that the answer was going to be slightly longer, and I advise the House accordingly.
Hon RUTH DYSON (Associate Minister for Social Development and Employment (CYF)): The reason the department cannot at this stage produce a total figure of the number of children in its care, despite knowing the numbers at the case-management level, is that the first information systems priority was the development of a sophisticated case-management information system to support front-line work. This is now working well. The next phase to be implemented as a priority, in this and the next financial year, is the development of management information systems capability. That will include integrated national planning and reporting capabilities. That work programme is part of the accountability arrangements that the chief executive signed with me as Minister.
Katherine Rich: When the responsibility for accurate information about the children in the care of the Department of Child, Youth and Family Services ultimately falls on management and the Minister, does she agree with the comments of Judge Mick Brown that while there are some good people in Child, Youth and Family Services, there are some “drongos who need to be sifted out”; if not, why not?
Hon RUTH DYSON: In direct comparison to my ability and responsibility for sorting out said people in other political parties, I am not responsible for individual staff members within the department.
Katherine Rich: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. My question was quite simple: does she agree with Judge Mick Brown, or not? She did not address that question. [Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: I do not require assistance from any member of the House, and two parties did so. The Minister did address the question. It might not have been the answer the member wanted, but she certainly addressed the question.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. With respect, she was asked whether she agreed with the comment from a former retired judge who is very experienced in this matter. She did not answer the question, at all. What she did do was point to what she implied to be drongos in other political parties, for whom she said she is not responsible or for sorting out these people within her department. She did not answer the question as to whether she agreed with him.
Mr SPEAKER: I did not take any notice of that part of the answer because it was political. I took a great deal of notice of the last sentence of the answer, which did address the question.
Moana Mackey: Has she received any advice from the department on the effect of the previous Government’s funding of the department’s information systems?
Mr SPEAKER: Comments about this must be within the Minister’s responsibility.
Hon RUTH DYSON: In its briefing to the incoming Minister in 1999, the department advised that at the time it was established in 1999 the constraints on capital spending meant that it could not develop the information systems that it needed, without prioritising and sequencing the development.
Barbara Stewart: Now that the department is ensuring that accurate records are kept, are steps also being taken to ensure that foster parents have been appropriately screened and are regularly monitored in order to provide safe environments for these children in care?
Hon RUTH DYSON: The answer is yes, although it is not directly related to the primary question.
Dr Muriel Newman: On what exact date did the Minister first learn that her department did not know how many children were asleep, in its care, every night, as identified in the Government’s baseline review, and what action did she take?
Hon RUTH DYSON: The department is able to say how many children are in care, but only by individual contact with every person responsible for the case manager of those children. The system does not allow the department to push a button and get a national figure in one go. The date I learnt of that was when I first received the baseline review.
Marc Alexander: Does the Minister agree that since the department is unable to provide any figures of the number of children and young people in the custody of the department who are not enrolled in school, it is a damning indictment on its failure to achieve its statutory objective of preventing children and young persons from suffering deprivation; if not, why not?
Hon RUTH DYSON: No, I do not, and the reason is that the information system has now been upgraded to include data on school enrolments. This will apply to all new cases, and current ones as records are updated.
Katherine Rich: Can the Minister confirm that the Child, Youth and Family Services computer system Cyras has been upgraded in full, so that fields to include whether a child is in care or in school have been completed and implemented so that the department knows exactly whether all its kids in care are enrolled in school?
Hon RUTH DYSON: That is exactly the same as the question I have just answered, so I am happy to give the answer again, in case the member missed it. The information system has now been upgraded to include data on school enrolments. This will apply to new cases, and current ones as records are updated.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: When the Minister was asked whether she agreed with the respected former judge Mick Brown’s comments about there being drongos in her department, why did she not tell the House whether she agreed, and will she do so now?
Hon RUTH DYSON: I do not have responsibility for the comments made by Mick Brown, and I do not personally think that that is an appropriate term to use in reference to any other person.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I am not asking that junior Minister whether she has responsibility; I am asking her whether she agrees. Surely she has some opinions on the matter, given the tragedies we are seeing around our country.
Mr SPEAKER: The member has asked for an opinion, and he is entitled to do that, but the Minister is entitled to answer in the way that she did.
Katherine Rich: What has the Minister’s Government done over the last 4 years to retain the good people at the Department of Child, Youth and Family Services and sift out the people whom Judge Mick Brown describes as the “drongos”?
Hon RUTH DYSON: Our Government has put a considerable amount of effort, energy, and resources into allowing and supporting the department to achieve the functions that we as a Parliament expect of it. As we noted in the debate yesterday, there had been a considerable amount of neglect and underfunding by the previous Government, but in the end, as that member should know if she wants to keep her seat on the front bench, I, as a Minister, do not have any responsibility for the individual employment of staff.
5. DIANNE YATES (Labour—Hamilton East) to the Minister of Broadcasting: What is the contribution of publicly-owned broadcasting to New Zealand's cultural and economic development?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY (Minister of Broadcasting): Television New Zealand is an important asset, both culturally and economically. A recent survey indicates that the new charter environment has seen an average of 70 percent of New Zealanders regarding TVNZ favourably, and that its audience share is at 71 percent. Of the top 100 programmes last year, 88 screened on TVNZ. The network is a leader in broadcasting; Television One broadcasts 46 percent local content and TV2 broadcasts 20 percent. It is also a very sound company. The television business made a profit of $29 million in the last financial year and the transmission business made a profit of $11.2 million. Advertising revenue of $305 million exceeded the company’s expectations.
Dianne Yates: What proposals has the Minister seen to change the situation?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: Last Wednesday, proposals were floated to sell a number of State assets involved in the “competitive market”, as it was put, with TVNZ at the top of the list. By Sunday, the originator of those proposals had hastily backtracked and had advanced the possibility of a fully funded, non-commercial Television New Zealand along the lines of the BBC. That would require advertising of $308 million to be replaced by taxpayer funding. Already the dithering by Dr Brash looks like a lot like that by the person he deposed last week.
Hon Georgina te Heuheu: What answer can the Minister give to explain New Zealand’s economic and cultural development through charter-prescribed programmes like Willy Nilly and Edwards at Large, when the New Zealand public does not watch either of those programmes?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: Of course, the Edwards programme was funded by New Zealand On Air, as was Willy Nilly, a comedy that a large number of people seem to find enjoyable. From my point of view, I say to, I think, the National broadcasting spokesperson—whose name is not yet on the website—that the company itself, rather the Minister, has to decide what it will put on air. We are here to ensure that we get charter television; the company decides on the programmes.
Sue Kedgley: Does the Minister agree that our publicly owned broadcasting system would be able to make an even more significant contribution to New Zealand’s cultural and economic development if it did not have to pay the Government a $7.8 million dividend this year; why on earth does he not allow TVNZ to invest that dividend into making New Zealand programmes?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: Television New Zealand already invests a large amount of money in its own programming, but, I point out to Ms Kedgley and the rest of the House, we do expect this company to operate in a commercial fashion, which means it should make a return. It will give a dividend, and over the next 3 years it will give a very good one.
Marc Alexander: In the light of the fact that 80 percent of charter funding is being spent on Television One programming, does the Minister concede that publicly owned broadcasting’s contribution to New Zealand cultural development is being delivered through only Television One, while TVNZ continues to utilise TV2 as nothing but a cash cow; if not, why not?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: No, and I give one example. One of the requirements in the charter is for children’s television to be developed. Television New Zealand has been doing that. Most of those programmes will play on TV2.
6. Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS (Leader—NZ First) to the Prime Minister: Why did she say yesterday “This country has very careful mechanisms for assessing what drugs it is appropriate to fund, and I am not aware that those mechanisms and procedures have changed substantially in recent years, at all.”, and further “I suggest the member put down a question on notice with specific reference to the question of Alzheimer's drugs. It is this Government's determination to provide proper treatment for people across the range of conditions.”?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK (Prime Minister): I said that because both statements reflect what I believe to be the case.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Can the Prime Minister tell me why Pharmac is going to commence an Alzheimer’s drugs trial when at least 10 internationally respected agencies, including the Federal Drug Agency in the United States, have already done that, and their countries have made those drugs available; is it because she is involved in penny-pinching at the cost of people’s suffering?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: It is clear to me that the debate about this drug in Pharmac is not about money; it is about efficacy. It is understood by Pharmac and those on the Pharmacology and Therapeutics Advisory Committee who advise it, that the drug can have a limited effect for a limited time, and they have not judged it appropriate at this time to fund it in New Zealand.
Dr Lynda Scott: Having been a previous Minister of Health, why would the Prime Minister not answer the question I posed to her yesterday, asking why this Government will not fund drugs for Alzheimer’s patients, and as these are the only drugs that offer any hope at all for patients with Alzheimer’s, why will this Government not fund them as they are funded in Australia, Britain, and America?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: Firstly, it is not reasonable to expect me to answer a question on Alzheimer’s drugs with no notice at all—and there was no notice given of that question. Secondly, it is 13 years since I was Minister of Health. Thirdly, Alzheimer’s is a difficult and debilitating disease, and I have no doubt that the member, because of her specialist knowledge, has treated patients with it. She will know there is no cure, and there is no decent treatment either.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Why did the Prime Minister make a statement in respect of those drugs that would be disowned by any other First World country, including Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia, the USA, a number of Latin American countries, and Western Europe in total, were it not for the fact that she is basically heartless when it comes to people’s suffering?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I recognise Alzheimer’s as an appalling and debilitating disease. I have recently had a relative die after many years of suffering with dementia. I know how appalling it is. I am sure the Minister of Health will be very happy to make available to the member the advice that came from the Pharmacology and Therapeutics Advisory Committee, which was that the drug should not be funded because it had only a limited effect for a small number of patients for a small period of time.
Health Care—Resources and Monitoring
7. Hon PETER DUNNE (Leader—United Future) to the Minister of Health: Does the Ministry of Health monitor the amount of spare capacity in both the public and the private health-care sectors; if not, why not?
Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR (Associate Minister of Health), on behalf of the Minister of Health: Yes, the Ministry of Health monitors public capacity, but has no jurisdiction to monitor private provider capacity.
Hon Peter Dunne: How then can the Minister stand by her statement to the New Zealand Private Hospitals Association that “the Government is committed to public-private partnerships”, when her ministry has no idea what capacity exists in the private sector; or does this reflect her inability to do anything more than encourage district health boards to engage the private sector, leading to tragic situations like the one at Wellington Hospital recently, where several patients died after their operations were postponed, because the hospital refused to make use of available surgical services at the private Wakefield Hospital nearby?
Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: Although I cannot refer to the particular case that the member referred to, I know that since 2000, district health boards have had in place a partnership protocol with the private sector that enables them to utilise any spare capacity in the private sector, in the interests of public patients.
Steve Chadwick: Does the Government have a “State provider only” ideology?
Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: No. In fact, I quote a letter from the Private Hospitals Association chief executive officer, Chris Clarke:
“You may be interested to know that Chris Clarke, the CEOof the Hawke’s Bay District Health Board, and I showcased the successful public-private partnership that is evolving in the Hawke’s Bay for the good of the community. We both acknowledge your support for such initiative. Thank you again for your ongoing support of the New Zealand Private Hospitals Association”. That quote is from a letter to the Minister of Health, and clearly states the Minister’s support for that protocol between the private and public sector.
Dr Lynda Scott: Is the Minister aware that as of this morning there is only one neonatal cot available for premature babies in all New Zealand; and will we now have to use spare capacity in Australia to cover this New Zealand public capacity crisis?
Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: I was not aware of the situation that has developed this morning. It is often left to the public sector to carry out complicated procedures to protect the people of New Zealand. In areas of health we have had to refer people to Australia on occasion. I am sure that the Government will do everything it can to ensure the best quality health care for New Zealanders, both young and old.
Hon Peter Dunne: Noting the Minister’s answer that there is an effective private-public partnership in operation, and bearing in mind the comments made earlier that there have been patient deaths at Wellington Hospital this year because there has been an unwillingness to utilise resources at the nearby Wakefield Hospital, will he now inquire formally into why Wellington Hospital did not refer those patients on to Wakefield Hospital, where surgery could have been carried out successfully, and their lives saved?
Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: I make a commitment to the member that we will investigate that situation. We are aware that there are sometimes problems in both the public and private sectors. The public sector is often left to pick up the pieces, and there have been situations at Wakefield Hospital whereby complications have arisen and Wellington Hospital has been asked to tidy up those situations.
Hon Peter Dunne: Does that last answer not take us right back to where we started, in that these sorts of issues would be best dealt with if the Ministry of Health monitored spare capacity in both the public and private sectors, and treated the health system as one integrated system, rather than as one with two separate arms and legs?
Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: I am sure that the successful public-private partnership protocol should identify spare capacity in the private sector.
Dr Lynda Scott: I seek leave to table a document about hospital cot status, showing that hospitals in Middlemore, Waikato, Wellington, Christchurch, and Dunedin have no beds for premature births.
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that statement. Is there any objection? There is.
Iraq—Defence Force Engineering Unit
8. SIMON POWER (National—Rangitikei) to the Minister of Defence: Will the Government be increasing the defensive capabilities of the New Zealand Defence Force engineering unit in Iraq, in light of the injury of a soldier deployed there; if not, why not?
Hon PHIL GOFF (Acting Minister of Defence): No. Defence Force advice is that increased defensive capability, such as armoured vehicles or heavy weaponry, is not appropriate and would be inconsistent with the humanitarian and reconstruction role Defence Force personnel are in Iraq to perform. It would be counterproductive to their ability to relate to those they are working with. Defence Force personnel, however, are appropriately trained, equipped, and armed for self-defence.
Simon Power: Is the Government continuing with the policy of New Zealand troops in Iraq travelling in civilian vehicles instead of adequately armoured vehicles, such as the armoured Land Rovers the British have brought in from Northern Ireland; if so, why?
Hon PHIL GOFF: I think it is important that the member knows that this was not a patrol. It was a routine drive in a convoy, standard to the movement of personnel around this part of Iraq. The vehicle that the New Zealand officer was in was in fact a British vehicle, and he was in the company of civilians and other military personnel.
David Benson-Pope: Would the Minister please inform the House of the nature of the tasks in which the New Zealand Defence Force engineering unit is engaged?
Hon PHIL GOFF: They are broadly reconstruction and humanitarian tasks. Specifically, our forces are working on restoring infrastructure. One of the most important jobs they are doing is providing drinkable water in schools and poor neighbourhoods, and I would hope that every member of this House would appreciate the need for that humanitarian work and would support our forces there.
Hon Ken Shirley: How can the New Zealand public objectively assess the justification for any change to our defence capabilities in Iraq when the only media permitted to accompany the Prime Minister on her recent visit to the troops was a State television crew, who were specifically instructed to break with convention and not serve as a pool camera for APTM feed to other networks; and was the Minister aware of that instruction?
Hon PHIL GOFF: I am informed that that simply is not true. Secondly, any media can apply to go to Iraq at any time to cover visits, but even the member would appreciate that when the leader of a country goes to a place that is inherently dangerous, one does not signal that beforehand.
Simon Power: Were defensive capabilities altered with the Prime Minister’s visit to Iraq last week, and why was it necessary to keep her visit so secret given the very public visits of Donald Rumsfeld, Tony Blair, and Colin Powell to Iraq in recent times?
Hon PHIL GOFF: I notice that the one person the member did not mention was Paul Wolfowitz. He signalled his presence in advance, and a missile went through his hotel as a consequence.
Rodney Hide: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I think the Minister might have addressed one part of the question, but there was earlier part that was of some interest—certainly to me and I am sure to other members of the House. The question was about whether there was—I forget the phrase that Mr Power used—a rearrangement of defence forces in light of the Prime Minister’s visit. I was very interested to have that part of the question addressed.
Mr SPEAKER: I think the Minister could well answer that part.
Hon PHIL GOFF: I am happy to do that. Yes, of course the leader of any country that goes to a war zone like that will have appropriate defensive support, as I had when I went to Afghanistan.
Ron Mark: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Through you I seek some assistance for the Minister. The Minister is in danger, with the last answer he gave, of terribly misleading the House, for on CNN television it was made very clear that that missile was deliberately planned well in advance and that it was coincidental that Wolfowitz happened to be present in the hotel at the time.
Mr SPEAKER: That is not a point of order. There is another way that the member can use those facts.
Teachers—Information and Communications Technology
9. Dr ASHRAF CHOUDHARY (Labour) to the Minister of Education: What steps is he taking to support teachers to develop their expertise in using information and communications technology to help students learn?
Hon TREVOR MALLARD (Minister of Education): Ten teachers have been selected from over 50 applications to receive the first-ever e-learning fellowships. These fellowships give teachers the time and support networks to research how best to meet their students’ needs, in new and exciting ways. Over $4 million has been earmarked for 40 of these year-long fellowships over the next 4 years.
Dr Ashraf Choudhary: Why is the development of teacher information and communications technology skills important?
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: I think it is vital that young New Zealanders have the skills that equip them for work in the 21st century. The one thing I do regret is that it appears that one of our main resources, Mr Maurice Williamson, is about to be given some real work to do in here, and we will not be able to use him as a leader in those programmes.
Jim Peters: When did the Minister realise that much greater expertise was needed, as will be developed by the 10 educators next year; and what funding allowances are available now for projects such as FarNet for seconded, qualified, and innovative teachers to have collective learning programmes developed for the project and other projects next year?
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: I do not have the specific amount of money that has been put into FarNet over a number of years, but it is enormous. Also, we are now up to an intake of 37 new clusters coming in at the beginning of next year—roughly 400 schools getting additional professional development and other support. This Government is putting its money where its mouth is in this area, and I must say that the Northland principals have been very, very supportive of the extra resourcing they have received.
Petrol Excise Tax—Diversion into Crown Account
10. Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS (Leader—NZ First) to the Minister of Finance: Further to his answer to oral question No. 3 on 17 September, when does he intend making available the result of the economic analysis of diversions from the petrol excise tax into the Crown account?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Minister of Finance): I was referring to the surface transport costs and charges study commissioned by the Ministry of Transport. That work is nearing completion, with the final report due in the first half of next year.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Given that the real analysis of the situation is that the motorist pays, for example, for 50 litres $27.25 in taxes and that only one quarter of that, or $6.95, is spent on the roads, does the Government intend to continue to treat road users as cash cows whilst it introduces road tolling?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I certainly can assert that that figure is wrong. The member may cast his mind back to the period just before the election, when the Automobile Association, with the enthusiastic support of a number of political parties, stated that if the full cost of roading were to be covered by the motorist, a substantial increase in excise duty would have to be imposed.
John Key: What does the Minister consider to be this Government’s biggest con when it comes to Auckland’s roads: the fact that over half of the 4.7c petrol tax is siphoned off to the Crown account; the fact that the Land Transport Management Bill is so absolutely hopeless that this Government has started work on new legislation before the bill is even passed; or the fact that this Minister claims that there are not enough construction companies on the entire planet to fix Auckland’s problems?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: On the last point, that was a result agreed by the joint officials committee about limits on construction, so the member is entirely wrong on the 4.7c. All of that money went into land transport.
Larry Baldock: Can the Minister confirm that Government revenue for 2002-03 from petroleum fuels amounted to $995 million, and that income to the national roading fund from petrol excise for the same period was $601 million, which leaves a balance of $394 million, the majority of which would have remained in the Crown account; if not, can he clarify those figures?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Yes, that is, as I understand it, the correct figure for the 2002-03 year. It must be remembered, of course, that the cost of capital for roading is not covered out of the excise duty. That is the reason for the answer I gave earlier.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Why is it that the Minister of Finance alone seems not to know that the current year’s collections are in excess of $2.223 billion—the purpose of which is to build and maintain roads and for road safety—yet $1.29 billion is being spent; why is the taxpayer and the road user being robbed blind by this Government?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: The road user and taxpayer are not being robbed blind. Indeed, even if the member’s assertions were correct the taxpayer would be the gainer.
Larry Baldock: Can the Minister explain the large increase between the $394 million referred to earlier, diverted from the national roads account last year, and the $573 million, forecast to remain in the Crown account from fuel excise and customs duty income of $1.128 billion, as outlined in figure 2 of Transfund’s 10-year forecast for 2003-04?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I am advised that the first figure refers to petrol excise duty only, whereas the second—the forecast—refers to petrol excise and customs duty. Therefore that figure is inevitably higher than the first.
Wallaceville Research Facility—Closure
11. Dr PAUL HUTCHISON (National—Port Waikato) to the Minister for Crown Research Institutes: Given that AgResearch's Wallaceville research facility has been described as in a “climate of fear”, how does its likely closure fit in with the Government's aim of attracting, training, and retaining scientists?
Hon PETE HODGSON (Minister for Crown Research Institutes): AgResearch’s plans to progressively relocate staff from Wallaceville are part of a strategy to concentrate the institute’s resources where they can be most effective. Because some research teams are less inclined to relocate than others, it seems likely that some scientists will relocate later and some others not at all.
Dr Paul Hutchison: Does he accept that the climate of fear reported to be present amongst staff at Wallaceville is associated with widespread dismay and loss of morale, and will he work with and encourage AgResearch to act on viable alternative options that are available, whereby this internationally acclaimed, world-class research facility is consolidated and strengthened rather than closed?
Hon PETE HODGSON: I freely acknowledge the world-class science that goes on in Wallaceville, especially with some of the teams. But the member has overlooked the advantages of a progressive relocation. For example, he may wish to reflect that there is a strong science case to locate animal health research with veterinary teaching.
H V Ross Robertson: Does the Minister have confidence in the board of AgResearch?
Hon PETE HODGSON: Yes, I certainly do. Restructuring plans are always difficult and sometimes traumatic for staff. I am satisfied that the board of AgResearch and particularly the chairman have made strenuous efforts to engage honestly and constructively with the staff at Wallaceville, and continue to do so.
Stephen Franks: How can the citizens of Wellington be persuaded that this decision is not just an attempt to put resources in a more marginal electorate, instead of in a region where every seat has returned Labour members; given the Government’s willingness to spend $25 million on Auckland University and its unwillingness to reopen this case when AgResearch says Wallaceville is still making money, and there is no prospect that it would not continue to do so?
Hon PETE HODGSON: To the extent that relocation occurs, it will occur mainly to Massey University—one of the strongest-held Labour seats in the country.
Dr Paul Hutchison: Does he agree that the Wallaceville Research Centre facility has forged strong links with businesses in the Hutt Valley, such as AgVax Developments Ltd, Schering-Plough, and Industrial Research Ltd, and that there are strong opportunities for further growth with Environmental Science and Research and Victoria University, but that these opportunities will be seriously affected by closure; why does not he encourage AgResearch to rethink, consolidate, and enhance Wallaceville?
Hon PETE HODGSON: Yes, which is why, for example, Professor Ken McNatty and his team are more likely to stay here than leave.
Te Whare Whakapikiora O Te Rangimarie Trust—Tax Bill
12. HEATHER ROY (ACT) to the Minister of Health: Did the Ministry of Health have any legal liability for the $74,146.96 exclusive of GST tax bill owed on the koha payments made by Te Whare Whakapikiora O Te Rangimarie Trust to voluntary staff; if not, why did the ministry pay the tax bill for a health trust whose contract it had not renewed?
Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR (Associate Minister of Health), on behalf of the Minister of Health: No. The Minister was advised that the responsible manager with appropriate financial delegation decided to pay the outstanding tax liability of the trust directly to the Crown because had the trust been aware of the tax liability at the time the contract commenced in 1995, the contract could have reflected the full costs of providing the service. It was not until 2000 that the Inland Revenue Department ruled that tax was liable on the koha payments to voluntary workers and required the backdated amount to be paid.
Heather Roy: Did the Deputy Director-General of Mâori Health, Ria Earp, have the appropriate financial delegation to make a payment of this amount when there was no contractual obligation to do so; if so, who provided Ms Earp with the authority to make such a discretionary or ex gratia payment?
Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: My understanding is that she had that appropriate delegation and that the Inland Revenue Department had made the demand on the Ministry of Health for the outstanding debts.
Hon Ken Shirley: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The Minister did not answer the other part of the question of who gave the delegated authority. I think that is the key part of that question. Perhaps he would like an opportunity to answer that part.
Mr SPEAKER: I heard the member specifically ask whether she had the delegated authority and the Minister gave an absolutely straight answer to that.
Rodney Hide: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker.
Mr SPEAKER: I will not relitigate this particular point.
Rodney Hide: I perfectly understand that. I know you would not allow that and I would not test your patience. On this side we are a bit confused because the two answers appear to be contradictory. On the one hand. the Minister said that there was no contractual obligation to pay it, but, on the other hand, he said that the Inland Revenue Department had presented the bill to the Ministry of Health, and it does make it problematic for us in our next supplementary.
Mr SPEAKER: That may well be, but I am not here to judge the quality of the question or the answer. It was addressed.
Dr Lynda Scott: What is the difference between a koha payment to a voluntary worker and a salary, and can the Minister assure this House that the practice of making koha payments to voluntary workers has been stopped; if not, why not?
Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: My understanding is that the Inland Revenue Department had made a judgment on the situation with regard to koha payments to voluntary workers. My understanding also is that no further direct payments are being made from the Ministry of Health to the Inland Revenue Department for such situations.
Heather Roy: Is it policy for the Ministry of Health to pay any outstanding tax bills for non-government health providers, or, if this was a special case, what was special about it?
Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: In December 2000 when the Ministry of Health took over responsibility for this, it gave an indication to the trust that its contract may be terminated and may not be continued. Therefore, the Inland Revenue Department was uncertain from where it should receive payment for the outstanding debts. That is why it went to the Ministry of Health.
Heather Roy: What health outcomes did the $688,000 paid to Te Whare Whakapikiora O Te Rangimarie Trust for cultural and spiritual healing achieve, and is the Minister prepared to tell this House that the health outcomes for Mâori were better than if the same amount had been given to Hastings Hospital?
Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: That is a fairly wide question, but I am happy to say that this Government is committed to providing funding for Mâori health providers. I quote Mr English, the former member of the National Party: “Mâori health providers contribute the social and cultural capital that make services appropriate.” He went on to say: “As you know, real partnership is about more than just sitting down and talking to people. For Government it means doing something hard, handing over power, and thereby empowering.” This Government commits to that positive statement.
Rodney Hide: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker.
Mr SPEAKER: Will the member pleased be seated when I am on my feet. The Minister went too far with that particular quote, and Mr English is still a member of this Parliament. Is that what Mr Hide’s point of order was about?
Rodney Hide: Yes, it was, and also a second point that the question was about health outcomes, not what Bill English said. We have still not had any statement about the health outcomes achieved by that trust.
Mr SPEAKER: The question was addressed.
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