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Questions & Answers For Oral Answer Wednesday


Questions & Answers For Oral Answer Wednesday, 19 November 2003

(uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing)

Questions to Ministers:

1. Education—Teacher Development 1

2. Rail Network—Government Contribution to Upgrade 1

3. Exports—Security 2

4. Legal Aid—Eligibility 2

5. District Health Boards—Nurses' Pay 3

6. Immigration, Minister—Confidence 4

7. Working Holidays—Changes 5

8. Ministers—Confidence 5

9. New Zealand Film Commission—Government Support 5

10. Project Aqua—Statement of Minister for the Environment 6

11. Overseas Investment Commission—Conditions on Transactions 6

12. Breast Cancer—Access to Mammography Services 7

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Education—Teacher Development

1. NANAIA MAHUTA (Labour—Tainui) to the Minister of Education: What steps is he taking to lift student achievement through improved teacher development?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD (Minister of Education): Best evidence research released earlier this year found that the quality of teaching was the major factor in improving student achievement. Today I announced funding of $1 million for 13 research projects in this area. The projects range from effective teaching in different cultural contexts through to information technology, numeracy, and comprehension.

Nanaia Mahuta: Why is improving student achievement in areas such as numeracy and comprehension so important?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: We want all New Zealanders to be able to do their numbers and to comprehend what is happening in the world around them. I have received recent reports that suggest that at least some New Zealanders appear to be able to do their numbers one week, but not the next. It is particularly concerning that the ability to consistently count from one to 14 appears to be beyond the grasp of some people, but then it is hard to count when someone is stealing your stuffed dummies. [Interruption]

Mr SPEAKER: I do not need the member shouting. I am well aware of that fact. That is all right. It is his first day in this position. I am prepared to be generous.

Simon Power: How is teacher development being improved when the Government’s flagship for ethics and professionalism, the New Zealand Teachers Council, saw the Minister sack its first chairperson, Kathy Irwin; its second chairperson, Stan Rodger, left in June after just a year; its director Margaret Kouvelis resigned on 10 October; the Minister installed a crisis team earlier this year; and one of its other core jobs, creating a code of ethics for teachers, has still not been completed?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: It is fair to say that progress as far as the Teachers Council has been disappointing to date.

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Rail Network—Government Contribution to Upgrade

2. GERRY BROWNLEE (National—Ilam) to the Minister of Finance: Does he stand by his statements that the Government’s initial contribution towards the upgrade of the rail track will be $200 million, and that it will be possible to recover the ongoing investment costs from that point on; if so, why?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Minister of Finance): Yes. The Government’s commitment under the heads of agreement with Toll Holdings stops at $200 million. Toll Holdings will pay for any additional investments from which it derives commercial benefits, including the cost of capital.

Gerry Brownlee: Is he aware that Solid Energy New Zealand’s assessment of the midland coal line requires $183 million to be spent over the next 15 years and, considering this is just one part of the network, but a considerable part of the $200 million available, how can he be confident that that $200 million plus the access charges will be enough to renew and maintain the entire network?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: The member’s question answers itself when he says that is the estimate of our spending over the next 15 years of $183 million on that particular respect alone. If there is expenditure above the $200 million required for commercial reasons, then that is recouped.

Hon Mark Gosche: What benefits does the Toll Holdings deal offer New Zealand?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: It undoes the worst effects of the very soft privatisation deal entered into by the National Government in 1993. It gives the country the chance to get a decent infrastructure for rail and a better balance between rail and road freight.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Does the Minister remember the view taken by the Labour Party on 20 July 1993, when the Labour Party announced its support of this deal, except that it said the timing was wrong?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Even the best of us occasionally err.

Jeanette Fitzsimons: Can the Minister confirm that the long-term value to New Zealand of having a functional rail system is considerably more than $200 million, and that this value includes reducing or avoiding heavy trucks on routes such as the Napier-Gisborne highway and the road to Port Chalmers through Dunedin City?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I absolutely agree with that. I think, indeed, the best example is what would happen if the road infrastructure collapsed and central North Island logs had to be carted by road over the Kaimai Range into Tauranga.

Rodney Hide: Can the Minister confirm for the House that the contribution is capped at $200 million, and can he tell the House that this initial contribution will be the final contribution the taxpayer has to make?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: No, I certainly cannot confirm the latter, because the Government may have other reasons for infrastructure improvements beyond the commercial need of the time.

Gerry Brownlee: What assessment has the Government done so far of what capital expenditure it may have to commit over and above the $200 million?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: There is still a lot of work to do on the long-term infrastructure needs in terms of the rail system. I think it is fair to say that we knew a good deal more about it than some other potential players when recent events occurred.

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Exports—Security

3. GORDON COPELAND (United Future) to the Minister of Customs: Does he stand by his comments on 5 November 2003 regarding the Government’s proposal to have exporters pay for new national security measures that “… those who benefit from New Zealand’s reputation as a safe and secure trading partner should contribute to the cost of meeting these new requirements”; if so, why?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Leader of the House), on behalf of the Minister of Customs: Yes, because both the Government and traders benefit from New Zealand being seen as clean, green, and safe, so both the Government and those who trade should contribute towards security costs.

Gordon Copeland: Noting that answer, does the Minister agree that all New Zealanders benefit from improved security at our ports, not just those who import and export goods; if so, why does the Government not pay for these reforms as part of its core obligation to protect its citizens, rather than singling out import and export businesses?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: A good part of these increased costs are a requirement for United States trade—in particular compliance costs imposed by the United States Government. There is no particular reason why the New Zealand Government should bear all those costs. The argument the member puts forward would, of course, apply to a very large range of Government services for which the Government charges, and should we choose to do so, substantial increases in tax rates would be required, which is contrary to the submissions the member has made to me.

Luamanuvao Winnie Laban: Why has the Government chosen this approach?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: The Government pays a good deal already to protect New Zealand’s borders and keep them safe for all New Zealanders—some $35 million a year for customs services. The United States and other nations need to be assured of the safety of all goods on ships and aircraft, and it is appropriate that there is a sharing of costs in these respects.

Shane Ardern: Why does the Minister think it is justifiable to place up to $20 million worth of costs on industry and exporters, when all other security is paid for by the State?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Certainly a good part of the reason for that is that these costs are being applied from elsewhere. This Government, unlike most other Governments in the world, is taking on the responsibility of trying to ensure that New Zealand exporters can, in effect, get into the fast lane in terms of access to the United States. To meet these requirements would cause considerable difficulties on shore in the United States, and those costs elsewhere are being met directly out of the private sector.

Peter Brown: Will the Minister confirm that these costs, in regard to exporters, are being imposed on carriers, and does he not recognise that a carrier of a large quantity of cargo will pass on a relatively small cost to an exporter, as against the carrier of a small volume of cargo, who will be forced to pass on a heavy cost to an exporter; and does he think that is fair and equitable?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: My understanding is that the charge is a per-container charge rather than a per-ship charge. A question about the flat rate issue has been raised by some interested in this matter, and obviously we need to make sure that that is the fairest way of approaching it. Most other approaches would have higher compliance costs.

Gordon Copeland: Does the Minister agree with the Minister of Finance’s statement in the House yesterday regarding the proposed border security measures, that they are “a response to demands from the United States. In other countries around the world it has been basically left to the private sector to meet those conditions.”; if so, why?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I understand the Minister of Finance made those statements on the basis of advice from the Minister of Customs.

Gordon Copeland: Does the fact that the Canadian Government has recently announced spending of Can$172.5 million for port security, therefore treating border security as a national defence issue, alter his stated view?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: No. In the case of Canada, of course, some 88 percent of its exports go to the United States. They are, effectively, a one - exporting nation country, compared with New Zealand.

Gordon Copeland: Does the fact that the United States Government has allocated $2.3 billion in its 2003 Budget for the customs service to carry out its border security role in any way alter his stated view?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: No, I have not, off the top of my head, been able to scale the United States versus New Zealand in that regard. I would emphasise that the New Zealand Government already spends a large amount of money on border security, and those costs are continuing to raise quite rapidly.

Gordon Copeland: Is the Government planning to rush its port security proposals through, as an amendment to the Border Security Bill before Christmas, without proper parliamentary or select committee scrutiny?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: The Minister of Customs was advised by the Leader of the House that there is no intention to rush this bill through before Christmas.

Gordon Copeland: I seek leave, first, to table a document showing that Ottawa is pumping $172.5 million—

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

Gordon Copeland: Secondly, I seek leave to table a document showing the United States of America is putting $2.5 billion towards—

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

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Legal Aid—Eligibility

4. Hon TONY RYALL (National—Bay of Plenty) to the Minister of Justice: What are the eligibility criteria for receiving legal aid, and what powers exist for the Legal Services Agency to recover any or all of the financial assistance delivered under this scheme?

Hon PHIL GOFF (Minister of Justice): Sections 8 and 9 of the Legal Services Act set out the eligibility criteria for legal aid for criminal and for civil matters. The criteria for criminal legal aid date back to 1912. Aid is available in criminal matters where any adult applicant, charged with a serious indictable offence in New Zealand, does not have sufficient means to obtain legal assistance, and the interests of justice require that he or she be granted it. The Legal Services Agency can require an individual to make a contribution towards the cost of a lawyer.

Hon Tony Ryall: What will the Minister do about Yiju Zhang, a Chinese on a student visa, convicted of 39 charges, including kidnapping, threatening to kill, and aggravated robbery, who was able to use his law to buy a shorter prison sentence by paying $64,000 reparation, yet was able to plead poverty and receive $41,000 legal aid?

Mr SPEAKER: Before the Minister answers that question, this is the only warning I am giving. The question will be heard in silence.

Hon PHIL GOFF: The first part of the question asks what I would do. The member will know well that under section 98, which sets out limitation on Ministers’ powers to direct. I cannot direct the Legal Services Agency to do anything, and I note that every member of this House voted for that clause. In relation to the agency’s ability to collect money, my understanding is, in this case, it is investigating whether any of the legal aid money can be recovered. It is worth noting that more than $12 million was recovered last year from those granted legal aid.

I make the final point that not to grant legal aid to anybody facing a charge that, in this case, resulted in 10½ years imprisonment, would not only breach our legal obligations, it would be totally contrary to what the National Party spokesperson on justice says about people not representing themselves in court. [Interruption]

Mr SPEAKER: I do not mind a little bit of interjection, but there was too much during that answer. I will not be giving a warning again.

Tim Barnett: How much is spent on legal aid, and has there been a blowout in legal aid expenditure?

Hon PHIL GOFF: Last year we spent about $82 million on legal aid. This year we are tracking towards much the same level. There has been no blowout in legal aid expenditure over the last 4 or 5 years, in contrast with the mid to late 1990s when annual increases in legal aid were running at 17 percent and 19 percent.

Stephen Franks: Will the Minister not even consider his usual practice of promising a review for a case where someone has got what the New Zealand Herald of 30 October said was a 2½ year discount on his sentence for a $64,000 reparation payment, yet it appears he was so poor he could not meet his own legal aid bills?

Hon PHIL GOFF: I very rarely respond to calls to review from that member, so I will not be doing so on this occasion. The money was paid by the family. It was under no legal or moral obligation to do so. I only wish that the New Zealand families of offenders were as forthcoming in trying to make amends. Legal aid is determined on the financial ability of the individual, not the individual’s family. That law applies to all New Zealanders. In relation to the payment of that money, I understand that the victims are very pleased in this case to have received substantial reparation.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Given that every political party in this Parliament but one is for wholesale immigration and soft treatment of these sorts of crooks, when will the Minister stop wasting—[Interruption] It is true, all right.

Mr SPEAKER: That is the final warning. The member interjecting is very, very lucky. I want the Rt Hon Winston Peters to restate the question.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Given the record of every political party in this Parliament but one being in favour of wholesale immigration and a soft touch when those people rip the New Zealand taxpayer off, when will the Minister do something for people like Mary Bloggs who pay their taxes, who look after their families, and who are good citizens, instead of kowtowing to every group in this country that has no long-term interest in New Zealand’s financial or social viability?

Hon PHIL GOFF: The premise of the member’s question is wrong. That person was not an immigrant, he was an international student. He was one of 82,000 international students who come to New Zealand each year, returning this country about $1.7 billion a year. Inevitably, amongst 82,000 people we will get some ratbags. He was one of them.

Judy Turner: In light of the personal and financial sacrifice made by kinship carers such as grandparents, does the Minister agree that they should not be means tested when applying for legal aid for the purpose of seeking guardianship of children in their protective care; if not, why not?

Hon PHIL GOFF: The rules apply separately from criminal to civil legal aid, as I am sure the member is aware. I am also aware of the plight of some of the people in the position she is talking about. I would like to see something done to help people in that situation. There is currently a review on eligibility for legal aid, which should consider that.

Hon Tony Ryall: How fair is it that the millionaire family of a foreigner can pay $64,000 to get a 2½ year lesser prison sentence, but expect the New Zealand taxpayer to foot a $41,000 legal aid bill?

Hon PHIL GOFF: I made the point before that any individual—and the same rule applies to every individual facing a serious criminal charge in this country—is looked at on the basis of his or her financial ability. The claim about a “millionaire” sits somewhat strangely alongside all the newspaper reports I have seen on this family, because they suggest the family was of modest means. Perhaps the member would like to give me the information on which that allegation was based.

Stephen Franks: In view of the Minister’s refusal to even consider a review of this case, why has the overall eligibility review—promised in 1999 and referred to again as “due next year, in 2000 on legal aid eligibility overall”—never surfaced, and could it be because the Minister promised to make it “more generous” and now realises that New Zealanders actually want to see it as less liberal?

Hon PHIL GOFF: The member is wrong on two counts. Firstly, I have no power—in fact, I am expressly forbidden from reviewing a case by the Legal Services Agency. Secondly, far from the eligibility review never having surfaced, if the member likes to look on the website he will find it there. It has been there for quite some time, and the report back is due next month.

Marc Alexander: How is it possible that taxpayers have been handed a $176,385 legal aid bill for four members of an extortion ring, when one of them, and his family, was able to pay reparation of $64,000 and pleaded guilty to 39 charges—particularly as the legal aid was given to offenders on student visas—and is this not just another example of New Zealand taxpayers subsiding non-resident offenders?

Hon PHIL GOFF: If I refer the member to article 14.3 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which this House has ratified, and every party in this House voted for, he will see there is an obligation that any person facing serious criminal charges in this country, who does not have personally sufficient means to have legal representation, must be provided with it. I also point out that the actual amount paid in amends—not reparations ordered—was in excess of those legal costs. The family was under no obligation to pay that. The family did that itself. The individual must be judged, as all other individuals are judged, in terms of his eligibility for legal aid. That was done independently of me and of this House.

Hon Tony Ryall: Given Mr Goff’s outraged reaction prior to the 1999 general election, when there were allegations made about a Chinese millionaire apparently receiving legal aid, of which Mr Goff said was a “major outrage and needed to be stopped”, what will he do to recoup the money from people who can obtain cash for shorter prison sentences but not to pay for their lawyers in New Zealand?

Hon PHIL GOFF: If any individual receiving legal aid in this country was a millionaire I would be outraged, because that is expressly prohibited under the legislation that we have passed. The legislation sets out the criteria very clearly. The Legal Services Agency applies those criteria, and, to the best of my understanding, it has done so accurately.

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District Health Boards—Nurses' Pay

5. SUE KEDGLEY (Green) to the Minister of Health: What, if any, provision have district health boards been asked to make for pay increases for nursing staff in the next financial year, and will they receive any extra funding from the Government to provide nursing staff with pay rises?

Hon ANNETTE KING (Minister of Health): Most boards have settled nurse pay negotiations through various multi-employer contracts. One contract has been settled to at least June 2005, and it has been done within the board’s 3-year funding package provided by the Government. It is the Government’s expectation that any wage increases the boards negotiate will be met from within the funding package they receive.

Sue Kedgley: Given the statement made by the Associate Minister of Health to petitioners outside Parliament today—that the Government is committed to progressing pay equity for nurses—can the 9,000 nurses from 21 district health boards around the country who signed that petition presented to Parliament today expect pay equity next year, and if not next year, when?

Hon ANNETTE KING: The Government has established a pay and employment equity task force, and the Nurses Organisation is represented on this task force. Decisions on pay equity, including any possible funding for the 2004 Budget, will be made in response to the task force report, which will set out a 5-year action plan.

Steve Chadwick: What nurse recruitment initiatives has the Government put in place?

Hon ANNETTE KING: We do take the issue of recruiting and retaining nurses very seriously, and two recent examples that have been put in place have been scholarships that will reduce the cost of training for nurses. We have also put in place the reintroduction of training of enrolled nurses, something that was scrapped in 1991 but brought back by this Government.

Dr Lynda Scott: How can New Zealand’s health service afford to increase pay for our valuable front-line nursing staff, when in the last financial year the increased bureaucracy and duplication caused by having 21 district health boards led to a deficit of $184 million?

Hon ANNETTE KING: I am pleased to tell that member that we managed not only to increase nurses’ salaries over the last 3 years, but also to decrease the deficit. In fact, the expected deficit for this financial is $80. That will be a lot better than the previous Government ever achieved.

Pita Paraone: Will she consider introducing compulsory nurse:patient ratios as a strategy to encourage nurses back into the profession and to improve patient outcomes in hospitals?

Hon ANNETTE KING: No, there is no work on actual patient:nurse ratios, but we have introduced through a programme called Magnet New Zealand a programme whereby we look at all the conditions that nurses face within a working environment. The programme is now being put in place in the Hutt Valley, and it is looking to be put in place right across the district health boards. It has had wide support from nurses, and it addresses not only ratios, but also the entire environment in which a nurse works.

Heather Roy: Is it Government policy to provide a pro-rata increase to district health boards to cover the extra costs that will result from 4 weeks’ leave for nurses; if not, why not?

Hon ANNETTE KING: No, because nurses in the district health boards have 20 days’ paid leave plus 2 days’ recreation leave already.

Sue Kedgley: Given that fair pay for nurses would cost less than 10 percent of this year’s fiscal surplus, how does she feel nurse petitioners will feel about her refusal to commit to pay equity for them, particularly the nurse who said outside Parliament: “Nurses and midwives are tired and angry. We are understaffed, overworked, and many suffer burnouts. Our patient loads are frequently too high and we are tired of being told that there is no money in the kitty every time there is a pay rise.”

Hon ANNETTE KING: I would say to nurses that they have finally got a Government that has committed itself to pay equity. That has not been done by any other Government—[Interruption] I tell those on the other side who are shouting that they reduced nurses’ salaries, they did not increase them.

Nandor Tanczos: Is the Minister aware of comments by the head of Christchurch Polytech School of Nursing, Kathy Andrew, who said that some years she has watched 90 percent of her graduates leave the country in search of better pay and conditions and to pay off their student loans, and what will this Government do to address that situation?

Hon ANNETTE KING: The member may not have heard, but I did say in answer to Steve Chadwick that one of the things that this Government has introduced is scholarships in the health sector—

Gerry Brownlee: How many?

Hon ANNETTE KING: There will be 500 scholarships next year. This is the beginning of decreasing the cost of training to nurses. There is more being done by my colleague Steve Maharey in terms of student loans. But I think nurses recognise—[Interruption]

Mr SPEAKER: I have had enough. There are too many interjections. The Minister will now conclude her remarks in silence.

Hon ANNETTE KING: I know that nurses recognise that this Government has done a considerable amount in the time that we have been on the Treasury benches.

Sue Bradford: What is the Minister’s response to staff nurse Carol McCord, who, on $38,000 a year, has been stuck at the top of her salary scale for over 20 years, and will the Government budget for a nurses’ pay rise next year; yes or no?

Hon ANNETTE KING: I already answered in my first answer to Sue Kedgley that pay increases for nurses will be negotiated by nurses. Every year that we have been in Government they have negotiated pay rises. Nurses are looking to the future in terms of pay equity, and that work is being done by the establishment of a task force, of which they are a part, and it is prepared to work through those issues to ensure we address them fairly, not only for nurses but also for all those who work within the health sector.

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Immigration, Minister—Confidence

6. Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS (Leader—NZ First) to the Prime Minister: In light of emerging evidence concerning the operation of the New Zealand Immigration Service, does she still have confidence in the Minister of Immigration?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK (Prime Minister): Yes.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: In view of recent bombing attacks against civilians overseas, and now published threats in Australia, how can the Prime Minister tolerate a Minister and a department that allow another Algerian, this time found with explosive material, into this country, deny his existence, and then grant him legal aid for court action while claiming to be a refugee? What on earth is he doing here?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: The member will be aware that last week the Immigration Service issued a press statement stating that it had not had referred to it any evidence that anyone was a terrorist. If people are found with such substances on them as the member suggests, then that is a matter for referral to the police.

Keith Locke: When will the Prime Minister respond to the public outcry and ask her Minister of Immigration to lift the security risk certificate on Ahmed Zaoui and release him from prison; or, if her Government continues to detain Mr Zaoui, when will she recommend that he be transferred to the most relaxed form of detention for asylum seekers—that is, the Mangere Refugee Resettlement Centre?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: As the member knows, Mr Zaoui is in the middle of a process. The Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security is reviewing the issuing of the security risk certificate. A hearing is set down on that for mid-December.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: How can the Prime Minister possibly have confidence in a Minister of Immigration who has allowed Salah Eddine Bouta into this country—someone found to have explosives evidence on him—and why is it that the New Zealand people will again put up with paying for legal aid and all other sorts of costs, like imprisonment, in respect of a suspected terrorist? What on earth is this man doing in New Zealand?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: It is not the practice of the Minister to discuss individual cases. There is a clear duty of confidentiality around a number of cases. If the member is putting names in the public arena, and if he is doing that in defiance of court orders, he should probably take legal advice.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. This is Parliament. If the Prime Minister cared for the security of this country she would have referred to a name that was given in this House last week. It therefore does not carry any proscription at all in respect of what any court might say now. However, more important, looking at the carnage abroad, to have a Prime Minister fobbing off evidence in this House when every New Zealander is being asked to be part and parcel of our security arrangements is downright irresponsible. She should have been stopped in her tracks for purporting to answer the question when in fact she is saying that I am proscribed from even asking a question on this man, the evidence on whom I gave last week.

Mr SPEAKER: I say quite clearly to the member that I did not stop him from asking the question. He had a perfect right to do so. The Prime Minister has a perfect right to reply, if she wishes. That is her right in this House also. Rulings on suppression of name orders are in Speaker’s rulings 44/4, 45/1, and 45/2. Speaker’s ruling 45/2 reads: “Whilst the House jealously guards its freedom of speech, it needs to be mindful of other jurisdictions, particular the courts, where, if a suppression order is in force, it ought not lightly to be circumvented in the House, except in the most extraordinary circumstances.” That ruling was made in 1999 by my predecessor Mr Kidd. It is for members to act responsibly with regard to this matter. However, I must point out that reports outside the proceedings in the House are not exempt from liability in respect of a contempt of court. I did not rule out the member’s question, and he was perfectly entitled to say what he said.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Why does the Prime Minister think that this matter is a joke, and a matter for giggling and sniggering in this House, when a week ago she received evidence of someone who arrived in this country being a suspected terrorist, who was found to have evidence of explosives on him, and who was named in this House, and therefore no proscription can apply in the way sought by the Prime Minister; when will she take this country’s security seriously?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I repeat that the Immigration Service last week issued a statement saying that it had not had advice that there was a suspected terrorist among us. I might say that if there were a case where traces of explosive material were picked up at the border, I would regard that as a great success of our border security system.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: If it is such a roaring success, what the hell is he doing here, being paid for by the New Zealand taxpayer and on legal aid?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I am prepared to answer only questions in the abstract, because I will not drag people’s names through this Parliament and the public arena. However, in the abstract, where people arrive and claim refugee status, they are subject to treatment under international conventions. This country upholds the law in respect of those conventions, just as the Government that he was part of did.

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Working Holidays—Changes

7. JILL PETTIS (Labour—Whanganui) to the Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade: What changes are being proposed to the reciprocal working holiday schemes between New Zealand and other countries?

Hon PHIL GOFF (Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade): Demand for places on New Zealand’s very successful working holiday schemes has been such that this week Cabinet has made the decision to expand the number of places available from 25,000 at present to 31,000 next year, with further increases after that possible. That will allow 1,000 additional young people from the United Kingdom, 700 from Ireland, 1,200 from Canada, 1,000 from Germany, 500 from France, and an additional 200 each from the Netherlands, Chile, and Sweden.

Jill Pettis: What are the advantages of expanding the working holiday schemes?

Hon PHIL GOFF: The first advantage is that it is reciprocal. It means that increased numbers of young New Zealanders can go to those countries to work and holiday for up to a year. Secondly, the research that is being done on working holiday schemes, specifically the Australian research, shows that working holiday schemes have a positive net effect on the labour market—that is, they create more jobs than they displace. Thirdly, they expose New Zealand to talented young people from other countries, a great number of whom apply to live here permanently and others come back as tourists when they are highly paid and spend a lot of money here.

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Ministers—Confidence

8. DEBORAH CODDINGTON (ACT) to the Prime Minister: Does she have confidence in all her Ministers; if so, why?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK (Prime Minister): Yes, because they are all conscientious and hard-working.

Deborah Coddington: Does she stand by her Minister of Education’s school network reviews that could see up to 300 schools closed; if so, what does she say to Blackball’s angry families who at a meeting with the Minister slammed Labour’s review of the West Coast as morally inept and socially naive?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: What I would say is that it would be irresponsible for the Minister not to be looking at school networks given the advice he has from his ministry that over the next 15 years there will be a net 63,000 fall in the number of primary school pupils. It would be irresponsible for the Minister let schools drift to unviability like little yellow ducks.

Simon Power: What messages is the Prime Minister sending to rural New Zealand, which provides this Government with its surpluses, when, according to reports, Auckland is to get 16 new schools while the fate of 163 mainly rural schools lies in the balance as part of these network reviews?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I understand from the Minister that 70 percent of the children are in urban areas, and Auckland, of course, is experiencing quite rapid population growth, which requires the building of new schools. What this Minister has done is get out and front up to communities to talk with them and listen to them, from one end of the country to the other, about the issues—which is not something his predecessors in the National Government did.

Deborah Coddington: Joking aside about schoolchildren, how can the Prime Minister look Blackball mothers in the eye when they are forced by her Minister of Education to send their children to a new school, and tell them that the closing of their school is in the best interests of their families?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: What I can say to the Blackball parents is that no decisions have been made about their school, and that under ACT they would lucky to get any free State education at all.

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New Zealand Film Commission—Government Support

9. DIANNE YATES (Labour—Hamilton East) to the Associate Minister for Arts, Culture and Heritage: How is the Government supporting the New Zealand Film Commission to help New Zealanders make more New Zealand films?

Hon JUDITH TIZARD (Associate Minister for Arts, Culture and Heritage): Film has an important role in New Zealand’s cultural and economic development. Last week we were pleased to announce, along with the Government’s response to the Screen Production Taskforce recommendations, that the New Zealand Film Commission is to receive an annual $10 million dollar baseline funding increase in the 2004 Budget. This nearly doubles the commission’s existing funding and will enable it to support more films like the multi-award winning film Whale Rider.

Dianne Yates: How does the New Zealand Film Commission support the development of New Zealand film makers?

Hon JUDITH TIZARD: As well as developing and funding films, the Film Commission runs programmes to help upskill New Zealand screenwriters, directors, and producers. One of the commission’s initiatives involves bringing international film makers and funders to New Zealand, such as the UK delegation last year from which New Zealand feature films, including My Father’s Den, obtained financing. A similar Australian delegation is being brought to this weekend’s Screen Production and Development Association conference, of which the Film Commission is the principal sponsor.

John Key: Does the Minister support the Film Commission administering the Government’s big-budget film grant scheme; if so, what are the superior skills that the commission has in the area of tax, business, and company structuring compared to those of the Inland Revenue Department or the Ministry of Economic Development?

Hon JUDITH TIZARD: The big-budget film fund will be administered through the Film Commission, but it is paid for by the Ministry of Economic Development. The Film Commission has the best part of 30 years of experience in film projects of all sorts and will be consulting with and advised by the Inland Revenue Department in terms of this. I do not believe in setting up more bureaucracies to run New Zealand businesses and to support business and investment in New Zealand. The Film Commission has done a very good job in getting New Zealand big-budget films up and going, and monitoring those recently made in New Zealand.

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Project Aqua—Statement of Minister for the Environment

10. Hon Dr NICK SMITH (National—Nelson) to the Minister for the Environment: Does she stand by her statement that: “When I say all bets are off [on the Lower Waitaki] I am not saying I am against Project Aqua or I am for irrigation, or I’m for the status quo on the river”, and what exactly does that statement mean?

Hon PETE HODGSON (Acting Minister for the Environment): Yes. What it means is that applicants wanting to use the Waitaki River water will have to await the development of a water allocation framework by an independent statutory body, under legislation to be considered by Parliament shortly.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: The Minister’s statement that “all bets are off” came after her statements earlier in the year that the Resource Management Act was quite adequate as it was for dealing with Project Aqua; she later said that she would be calling in Project Aqua under the Resource Management Act, and in September she stated that we would have special legislation that Parliament has not yet seen, so how many more different positions will the Government take in respect of Project Aqua?

Hon PETE HODGSON: A water allocation plan is proposed by legislation because a regional water plan for Canterbury does not exist. As far as the issue of different positions is concerned, I am happy to report that the person who is currently the deputy leader of the National Party said—when he was not the deputy leader—that he was in favour of Project Aqua. The person who was the leader of the National Party said—when he was the leader, although he is not now—that he was cautious about Project Aqua, whereas the person who was—[Interruption]

Mr SPEAKER: I will not have interjections made in the second person because they refer to me. Although I am a little older than some, I am still younger than many, and I suggest that the member tells that to senior citizens groups. The member will interject properly, but from now until the end of the answer to this question he will not interject at all. Before I call the Hon Pete Hodgson again, I say that while he was attempting to answer the question, I thought the interjections had reached an inane number.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The last four sentences of the Minister’s answer have been about the positions of various National MPs. Under the Standing Orders it is not for him to talk about other parties’ positions, but only those of the Government.

Mr SPEAKER: No, if that were in the Standing Orders, then there would be very few questions or answers. A member can refer briefly to other people, but he cannot go on at excessive length. I think he had just about finished his answer. [Interruption] If I find that person’s telephone, it will be confiscated.

Hon PETE HODGSON: In conclusion, I point out that this Government has one position, unlike other parties in the House.

David Parker: Why is the completion of a water allocation plan necessary for the Waitaki catchment?

Hon PETE HODGSON: In the absence of a water allocation plan, resource consent applications were being considered in a policy vacuum. Applications need to be considered in a way that will look at the relative merits of the different uses of water. Under the current system, there is no certainty that the national, regional, or local benefits of using Waitaki water will be considered.

Hon Ken Shirley: Has the Minister consulted with her colleague the Minister of Energy with regard to Project Aqua, and has the Minister of Energy conveyed his support for Project Aqua to the Minister for the Environment?

Hon PETE HODGSON: The Minister for the Environment consults with the Minister of Energy on a regular, almost daily, basis on many matters, and the Minister of Energy is very supportive of the Government’s approach in respect of the Waitaki allocation, wanting to be sure that the issues of Project Aqua are treated in a proper, Resource Management Act - principled basis.

Jeanette Fitzsimons: Noting that Meridian Energy chief executive officer, Dr Keith Turner, Otago University physics professor Gerry Carrington, and the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority all agree that between 20 and 30 percent of electricity is currently wasted in inefficient use, does the Minister agree that Project Aqua’s $1.2 billion investment in the destruction of the Waitaki River is driven more by the revenue aspirations of a State-owned enterprise than because it is the best route to electricity security?

Hon PETE HODGSON: No, I do not. Whichever energy efficiency and good use of electricity is cut, no one, no model, and no reasonable person has ever suggested to me that this country does not need more generation. It does.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: Why did the Government reject National’s substantial 1999 Resource Management Act reform bill and resist any substantial amendment to the Act for 4 years, but will now advance special legislation when its own company suddenly wants to advance a particular project, and why does the Government not adopt National’s policy instead, which is to fix the Resource Management Act for all projects and not just Government company projects?

Hon PETE HODGSON: Among the many things that the National Party’s 1999 propositions failed to achieve was a regional water plan for Canterbury. It is a pity that the National Party, on the passage of the 1991 Resource Management Act, then failed to resource the implementation of that Act right through the 1990s, which means that, whilst there are regional water plans in some parts of the country, there are not in others, even after 12 years—an outrage.

Peter Brown: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. As worthy as the cause might be, I notice Jeanette Fitzsimons and, I think, another Green member have logos on their fronts. Is it appropriate and is it acceptable to come to this House dressed like that? If it is, can I come down here with the Arsenal Football Club logo on my clothing?

Mr SPEAKER: Let me just say, as an Arsenal supporter myself over many years, I would prefer that issue not to be raised. As long as it is a fashion accessory, it is OK, but I will have a look at the matter.

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Overseas Investment Commission—Conditions on Transactions

11. Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS (Leader—NZ First) to the Minister of Finance: How many transactions since 1999 concerning the sale of property to overseas buyers had conditions imposed, and how many of these conditions, if any, has the Overseas Investment Commission failed to ensure were fulfilled?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Minister of Finance): All 892 transactions had conditions imposed. The answer to the second half of the member’s question is not available. However, I can report that between 1996, when monitoring began, and August this year, the commission investigated an estimated 398 cases and currently has 19 investigations under way. Of the 398 cases, 381 related to late reporting only, rather than any substantive issues.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Can the Minister explain whether the American applicants Marc and Ivy Powell misled the Overseas Investment Commission when they told the commission that they intended to reside in New Zealand; if not, why are they not currently resident, 4 years after the application was approved, and what will he do about it?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: There has been an independent investigation of the Powell case, which concludes that by and large they are not in breach of their conditions. The main problem is the consequence of their failure to pay a rather large number of contractors. That, unfortunately, is not a condition of the sale.

John Key: Is the Minister considering imposing a risk-free rate of return methodology for foreigners investing in projects approved by the Overseas Investment Commission; if not, why is he proposing that New Zealanders should pay this crazy wealth tax when they invest abroad?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: This is a long way from the original question; however, I am prepared to answer it. I am not—it was imposed by the McLeod tax committee. It is strongly supported by a lot of people in the New Zealand financial sector, whatever the overseas interest the member represented may have in this matter, and it is supported also, to some extent, by views from the Investment Savings and Investment Association and others. I have considerable reservations around the risk-free rate of return method, as the member probably knows.

Moana Mackey: How do land sales under this Government compare with those under the previous regime?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Under the current Government, approved land sales have averaged 3,646 hectares a month. From the period December 1996 to 14 August 1998, when Mr Peters was the Treasurer, that rate was 10,010 hectares a month.

Rod Donald: Why has the Minister not implemented the 2001 recommendations from the Government and Green members of the Finance and Expenditure Committee to “examine the feasibility of a code of corporate responsibility which investors would need to agree to and with which the Overseas Investment Commission would monitor compliance.”?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I do not think that would be as useful as ensuring specific conditions that are effectively monitored. One of the key elements of the review currently being undertaken is the monitoring regimes in place, and the capacity of the Overseas Investment Commission to carry out that monitoring regime.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Will the Minister confirm that in the 7 years before I became the Treasurer not one application was declined, until I became the Treasurer, whereupon all applications that had any sensitivity came to my office, unlike now, and, last of all, where are Marc and Ivy Powell—they are not here—and why has that deal not been revoked by him as Minister?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I do not know where they are, but given the member’s earlier questions today, I assume he is happy that foreigners are not in this country.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I seek leave to table a press statement by Dr Cullen saying how he approved of my way of handling Overseas Investment Commission matters, and legislation that I drafted.

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

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Breast Cancer—Access to Mammography Services

12. Dr LYNDA SCOTT (National—Kaikoura) to the Minister of Health: How do women in rural areas and remote districts access mammography services to screen for breast cancer?

Hon ANNETTE KING (Minister of Health): When the programme was established in 1998 it was decided to provide the service through a mobile unit. The number of units has since been increased to six to correspond with each lead provider and the geographic area they cover. The mobile units generally visit on a 2-year cycle.

Dr Lynda Scott: Why does the mobile mammography screening unit on the West Coast of the South Island, otherwise known as the “boob bus”, accept only patients aged 50 to 64 who can receive free screening; and why will it not accept younger women or older women who are quite willing to pay for a mammogram to protect themselves against dying from breast cancer?

Hon ANNETTE KING: For the same reason that applied when it was established. It was established for those women within the screening programme. When it was decided that it would be mobile and go into the districts, it was decided the bus was for those women the programme was targeted at. That has not changed.

Dave Hereora: What improvements have there been in the provision of rural health services?

Hon ANNETTE KING: I do not have all day, but this Government is committed to improvements in access in rural health. For example, we have had rural nurse training scholarships, a boost to rural nurse training, a new recruitment scheme for rural health-care, a roster for rural doctors, remote allowances for doctors—to name but a few. I have to tell the House they are working.

Peter Brown: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I realise we have had our allocation of supplementary questions. I am appealing to your discretion to allow me one more—this is an important issue—or I will seek leave of the House.

Mr SPEAKER: It is not me who gives the discretion; it is the House. Is there any objection to a further question from Mr Brown? There is.

Dr Lynda Scott: In light of the new evidence that shows we will save lives if screening is extended to women 40 to 50 and above the cut-off age of 65, will West Coast women still have to travel across the Southern Alps to Christchurch to get a mammogram instead of being able to use the mobile clinic at Grey Hospital, which is lying idle half the time?

Hon ANNETTE KING: The issue of extension of the breast-screening programme is already being looked at. An announcement will be made about that in due course. However, I need to tell the member that the West Coast is probably a little luckier than other areas. The mobile service goes there once a year.

Peter Brown: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. This is an issue that causes us in New Zealand First quite some concern. I wonder whether the Minister could clarify that answer a little bit. Is the screening likely to be enlarged at both ends?

Mr SPEAKER: That is a good try. That is really seeking another supplementary.

End of Questions for Oral Answer

(uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing)


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