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Questions & Answers For Tuesday 2 December 2003

(uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing)

Tuesday, 2 December 2003
Questions for Oral Answer

Questions to Ministers:
1. Refugees and Immigrants—Employment
2. Holiday Leave—Cost
3. Taxation—System Review
4. Health and Disability Commissioner—Patient Files, Tauranga
5. Tertiary Education—Capability
6. Exchange Rate—Government Options
7. Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security—Confidence
8. District Courts—Criminal Cases
9. Immigration, Minister—Confidence
10. Immigrants—Third World Immigrants
11. Road Safety Campaign—Scratch Cards
12. Families Commission Bill—Amendments

Refugees and Immigrants—Employment

1. Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS (Leader—NZ First) to the Minister for Social Development and Employment: What percentage of refugees and immigrants have obtained paid employment within 6 months of arriving in New Zealand since the election of the Labour Government in 1999?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY (Minister for Social Development and Employment): Information is not collected on the basis that the member’s question supposes. However, information from the household labour force survey indicates that in the year to June 2003 half of the working-age people who were not born in New Zealand but who had been in New Zealand for less than 2 years were in the labour force, and over 88 percent of those people were in employment. I should also note that migrants are not eligible for the unemployment benefit until they have been in New Zealand for 2 years.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Why on earth is that information not collected, given the constant defence of his colleagues, the Minister of Immigration, and himself, of the mess that is going on in respect of immigration in this country, which led him to say: “Around 50 percent of job seekers overall leave the unemployment benefit within 6 months of registering. However, amongst migrant and refugee clients that figure is around 15 percent.” In other words, 85 percent of our migrant and refugee job seekers are in danger of becoming long-term unemployed, so what are they doing here and why are we paying for them?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: Unfortunately, the report that the member is referring to was from Morning Report on Radio New Zealand, and they forgot to put the word “if” in, which they did later on. This is what my speech actually said: “If a migrant or refugee client comes on to the unemployment benefit”—that is, if they do—“they face an 85 percent chance of still being on that benefit after 6 months, compared with a 50 percent chance if they are New Zealand - born.” That picture has to be balanced against the fact that as at 31 October—

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I am not referring to anything that was said on Morning Report; I am referring to the Minister’s comments made at the meeting for the launch of the Auckland Metropolitan Migrant and Refugee Strategy at the Work and Income Auckland regional office at Ellerslie. They were his comments and those are direct quotes. Now, would he get back to telling me why 85 percent of our migrant and refugee job seekers are in danger of becoming long-term unemployed—his words—and what are they are doing here and why are we, the taxpayers of New Zealand, paying for them?

Mr SPEAKER: The Minister is confirming that what he said was not exactly what was reported. He is perfectly entitled to do that.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Point of order—

Mr SPEAKER: That is a ruling I have made, Mr Peters—

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Well, you are wrong, Mr Speaker, with respect—

Mr SPEAKER: The member may raise a point of order.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I am quoting from the Minister’s speech, and he is not entitled to go to some other interview that he might have had, debunk his own words from the speech I quoted, and claim that I am wrong. I am referring to a speech he made. I have given him the exact quote, I want an answer, and I want you to tell him to give me an answer.

Mr SPEAKER: Mr Maharey, speaking to the point of order.

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: I am happy to answer the question again. I was clarifying that in my speech the word “if” appears. That is, if a migrant or refugee client comes on to the unemployment benefit, he or she faces an 85 percent chance of being there—50 percent if one is New Zealand - born. The word “if” has to be used.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I have a copy of the Minister’s speech, but the quote he has just given the House is not anywhere to be found in the speech. I will quote from it, and I want an answer from him as to why he said what I am quoting he said in his very speech.

Mr SPEAKER: Well, the member can ask that as a supplementary question.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I already have.

Mr SPEAKER: The Minister can continue his reply. The member interrupted his reply.

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: I can do no more than clarify for the member that the facts of the matter are that the word “if” needs to be in there. I said: “If a migrant or refugee client comes on to the unemployment benefit they face an 85 percent chance …” That is exactly what I said at the meeting in Auckland yesterday.

Dianne Yates: How do numbers of recent refugees and migrants on a working-age benefit now compare with the same figures in 1999.

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: There has been a 28 percent reduction in the number of recent refugees and migrants receiving any form of working-age benefit between October 1999 and October 2003. I repeat: it is a 28 percent reduction since we came into power. The unemployment benefit has been reduced by 34 percent during the same period.

Katherine Rich: Has the Government considered any ideas to restrict welfare eligibility for recent migrants; if not, why not:

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: Yes, we have. Unlike the previous Government, persons arriving here wait 2 years, as migrants, before they have access to the benefit system. Refugees, of course, have access to emergency benefits. The previous Government did not change that—we did.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I ask the Minister whether he said these words in his speech, which I have a copy of: “Why should we have a particular focus on refugee and migrant job seekers? Around 50 percent of job seekers overall leave the unemployment benefit within 6 months of registering. However, among migrant and refugee clients that figure is around 15 percent. In other words, 85 percent of our migrant and refugee job seekers are in danger of becoming long-term unemployed.” Why is this Minister trying to duck what he said, and belie the very facts that everybody else knows about, and what are these people doing here, and why are long-suffering New Zealand taxpayers paying for it? [Interruption]

Mr SPEAKER: Before the Minister replies, there were two interjections, one from a member who is not normally sitting on the front bench. That is the last time she interjects from there this question time, or she is out.

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: What they are doing is contributing—in the last year June to June—$700 million net to this economy. Only 1.3 percent of migrants are on the unemployment benefit today, as we speak. What Mr Peters has been reading out is exactly what I have said: people who are on the unemployment benefit relate to the figures of 85 percent or 50 percent. They have to get on there first.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Where was the word “if” in the quote I have just given the House? He began with a process of obfuscation and a waste of time. [Interruption]

Mr SPEAKER: That is the very last time that I allow an interjection on a point of order. Please continue.

Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: You will recall what happened at the beginning of this question time. I quoted from this Minister, he then said that I had left out the word “if” that does not appear in this quote at all—which he now, at last, recognises. That sort of behaviour from a senior Minister on the front bench is simply not good enough, and it must stop and you must make sure it stops.

Mr SPEAKER: It is perfectly acceptable for the Minister to explain his version in that way. It is up to the Minister how he replies. I cannot adjudicate on disputes of that nature.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I have given all the evidence for a clear case not of mistaken interpretation by the Minister but of straight out lying! [Interruption] Well, I have.

Mr SPEAKER: The member will now stand and withdraw and apologise for accusing another member of telling a lie.

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

Mr SPEAKER: You were continuing your point of order, I hope.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: This is my point of order: I have laid out before you the exact quote from the transcript I have here. The word “if” is not present, as the other words that he just quoted are not. It is a clear attempt to misrepresent the situation in this House. What are you going to do about it?

Mr SPEAKER: As I said, I take an entirely different point of view from the member. It is perfectly acceptable for the Minister to explain his version in that way.

Dianne Yates: What is the economic contribution of skilled migrants to New Zealand?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: The contribution is translated by Business and Economic Research Ltd into $700 million over the year June 2002 through to June 2003. That is $700 million net coming into this country. I repeat that these are people who—if we take the 206,813 residence applications in the last 5 financial years—as we speak, represent about 1.3 percent of those on an unemployment benefit.


Holiday Leave—Cost

2. Dr DON BRASH (Leader of the Opposition) to the Prime Minister: Does she stand by the reported statement of her office in relation to the cost of implementing an extra week’s holiday leave that Treasury and the Labour Department had agreed that $350 million was “the most accurate figure”; if so, why?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Acting Prime Minister): Yes, because officials did advise that that was the most accurate figure in terms of the cost to employers.

Dr Don Brash: Why did she fail to mention, when she announced this policy on 8 November, that the total cost of implementing an extra week’s annual leave was, in fact, $700 million, and that at least half of that amount—$350 million—would come off workers’ future wage increases?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Because all the whingeing about a fourth week’s holiday has come from the employers, not the employees.

Peter Brown: Does the Prime Minister acknowledge that the majority of people who are confined to 3 weeks holiday per year are casual employees, low-paid employees, or young people, and does the Prime Minister concur that it is neither fair to build an economy on the backs of these folk nor economically sound in the long term?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: The member makes a very, very good point, and, of course, that would also apply to people who are immigrants to New Zealand, as well as to New Zealand – born workers.

Sue Bradford: In calculating the cost of an extra week’s leave, did officials take into account the additional cost of childcare and health care as a result of workers trying to balance family and work responsibilities, and did the final cost include net gains arising from a more productive workforce?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: On the first part, no, there is always a good deal of uncertainty around these estimates because there is some productivity element taken into account, but one assumption was that there be a 75 percent flow-on of relativities. That itself, I think, is a highly questionable assumption.

Deborah Coddington: In light of Business New Zealand’s estimates—Business New Zealand being one of the Government’s strategic partners—that the total cost to employers and employees is more likely to be $900 million, will the Prime Minister admit that her statement of 10 November is misleading and incorrect; if not, why not?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: No, no, and no, because it is not.

Dr Don Brash: Does the Prime Minister agree with Treasury that the impact of the cost of an extra week’s leave will be felt most acutely, in terms of lower wage increases, by the most vulnerable workers; if not, why not?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: That is a debatable assumption. The certainty is, I think, as Mr Brown has argued, that the benefit of a fourth week’s holiday will be most felt by vulnerable workers, as they are the least likely to have 4 weeks leave now.

Dr Don Brash: Does the Prime Minister agree with the Minister of Labour’s view that the extra week’s leave will “lead to a decrease in labour supply, which is likely to have an adverse impact on growth”; if so, how does she see this improving New Zealand’s prospects of getting to the top half of the OECD?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: That argument reminds me of Nassau Senior, who argued that all the profit in the early 19th century was made in the last half-hour of work, when he opposed attempts to lower the working-day from 12 hours.

Dr Don Brash: I seek leave to table two Cabinet documents released under the Official Information Act, which make it clear that much of the cost of this extra week’s leave will be borne by low-income workers and by exporters.

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

Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. It is with regard to that last answer from Dr Cullen. You have said that Ministers must address the question. It cannot, surely, be an acceptable addressing of the question, simply to say that the question reminds one of something from historical learning from the past, or whatever. Surely he has to give an answer that is vaguely to do with the question that was asked.

Mr SPEAKER: I think I will ask Dr Cullen to expand on his answer.

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Absolutely, Mr Speaker. Could I point out to the member, in response to his original question, that from time immemorial, right-wing economists have always argued that every benefit gained in terms of worker conditions will somehow be paid for by workers only. I invite the member therefore to promise to repeal the 4 weeks’ holiday legislation.


Taxation—System Review

3. CLAYTON COSGROVE (Labour—Waimakariri) to the Minister of Finance: Has he received any proposals for changes in the tax system?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Minister of Finance): Yes. I have received an interesting question about how the current progressive income tax system could be replaced with a fiscally neutral proportional income tax—that is, a flat tax—a move that would leave 90 percent of families worse off.

Clayton Cosgrove: Could he tell the House where the proposal originated?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: It originated in two written questions from National’s associate spokesperson on finance, John Key. Only the top decile would benefit from the proposal—families earning over $88,000 a year. They would get an average income tax cut of $8,000 while the rest of the population would pay, on average, $1,600 a year more.

Dr Don Brash: Can the Minister tell the House why this Government commissioned an expert review of the tax system, a review that recommended a flatter tax structure in order to encourage growth, then proceeded to ignore it?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Because we are influenced by a range of overseas experience, not least that of the Clinton Government, whose first move on tax was to lift the top tax rate. He had 8 years of unparalleled economic success, which has not been repeated, I might say, under the current administration in the US, with its tax cuts.

Rod Donald: Has the Minister also received a proposal from the Green Party to give hard-working low and middle income earners a 6 percent tax concession on their superannuation tax, to match the concession that Labour has already given well-off wage and salary earners; if so, why will he not treat all workers the same, to encourage them to save for their retirement?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: No, I have not, because the proposal was in relation to the tax paid by the employer on specified contributions to superannuation schemes—not by the employee.

Rodney Hide: Does he believe that lowering the top rate of personal income tax and lowering the company rate of tax would, all things being equal, be a plus for the economy; if not, why not?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: No. I am confident that whatever the top income tax rate is, the member will work just as hard or as little as he chooses.

Mr SPEAKER: I call Gordon Copeland.

Mr SPEAKER: Supplementary question, Gordon Copeland. [Interruption] The member is about to be out. It is not an outrage. I have called a member on a supplementary question, and it will be heard in silence.

Hon Richard Prebble: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. We do expect Ministers to take questions seriously. When the Minister makes a personal comment that Mr Hide will work just as hard no matter what the tax rate is, that is an absurd statement. The Minister is suggesting that if he lifts the tax rate to 100 percent, so that Mr Hide gets no money—an experiment that the Chinese actually did try, and I think 20 million people died—[Interruption] It was called the Great Leap Forward, and no doubt that is what the Minister will be doing to us next. But the idea that a 100 percent tax rate would have no impact on the New Zealand public! Now he might say that he did not mean 100 percent; well, maybe it was 90 percent that he had in mind!

Mr SPEAKER: Well, I always appreciate the member’s comments on points of order, but whether the comment is absurd is a matter for the judgment of people listening, and not something that I interfere in.

Rodney Hide: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I know that we have a situation where almost any answer will do, but my question was “if not; why not?”, and although I may be a very productive member of Parliament I do not think I am responsible entirely for the economic growth of New Zealand as Michael Cullen would suggest. I suggest that you require that he answer seriously that question on an economic matter.

Mr SPEAKER: I ask Dr Cullen if he would add to his answer.

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I am happy to. Let me first of all point out that since the Government raised the top tax rate we have enjoyed some of the greatest success in economic growth that we have had for a very long period of time. But picking up a point that has just been referred to, when China had no income tax at all during the Cultural Revolution, its growth was zero; now that it is moving to a market economy, it actually has income tax and its growth rate has gone up. [Interruption]

Mr SPEAKER: That is Mr Hide’s final warning. He is out next time. He has interjected once too often for my comfort.

Gordon Copeland: Can the Minister confirm whether he has received a request from the United Future party to change the tax system to incentivise participation in the workforce by increasing the income of working families relative to those on benefits?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Yes, I have, and the Government is giving that very serious consideration indeed. The House and the country can expect announcements in that respect in next year’s Budget, which I look forward to all parties voting for.


Health and Disability Commissioner—Patient Files, Tauranga

4. Dr LYNDA SCOTT (National—Kaikoura) to the Minister of Health: Does she know whether the Health and Disability Commissioner is considering reopening patient files involving a Tauranga general surgeon; if so, why?

Hon ANNETTE KING (Minister of Health): I am advised by the Health and Disability Commissioner that he is currently assessing requests by two families to have their cases reopened following publicity of a previous case involving Dr Breeze of Tauranga.

Dr Lynda Scott: When did she become aware of the high level of anxiety about the competence of surgeon Dr Ian Breeze, and why has Dr Breeze got no restrictions on his practising certificate despite a series of patient complications, deaths, and competency reviews?

Hon ANNETTE KING: I became aware of a problem with Dr Breeze when the first case was made public in the news media, I think in September—a case that went back to December 1999. I cannot speak for whether there are restrictions on his practice.

Dr Lynda Scott: Why did the director of proceedings urge the Medical Practitioners Disciplinary Tribunal to find Dr Breeze guilty of the higher charge of disgraceful conduct, yet the tribunal decided to only fine Dr Breeze, and find him guilty of professional misconduct, because “the decision is primarily based on the grounds that as far as the tribunal is aware, the events focused upon in this case are a one-off series of events”, when in fact the death of Lionel Crowley is just the tip of the iceberg?

Hon ANNETTE KING: I cannot answer those questions. I do not know why the Medical Disciplinary Tribunal made that decision because it is independent of the Government. It is independent of any Government under any political hue. That tribunal makes those decisions, and they are not made by political influence.

Dr Lynda Scott: As the Minister is always stating: “The buck stops with me.”, why did she not see Mrs Crowley when Mrs Crowley asked to see her on 28 September 2001 to discuss the death of her husband, Lionel, and the serious concerns she had about a system that allowed this tragic series of events to occur?

Hon ANNETTE KING: In the case of any tragic event in New Zealand a process has been put in place, and that process is the independent Health and Disability Commissioner. I always advise that people who have problems with the health system and want them investigated should go to the independent commissioner. The Minister cannot influence decisions made by the Health and Disability Commissioner. The House decided, when it set up the Health and Disability Commissioner, that those decisions ought to be made independent of political influence.


Tertiary Education—Capability

5. RUSSELL FAIRBROTHER (Labour—Napier) to the Associate Minister of Education (Tertiary Education): What initiatives has he undertaken to build capability in the tertiary sector?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY (Associate Minister of Education (Tertiary Education)): Last week I announced that the Government would invest $25 million in the University of Otago “Leading Thinkers” programme. Twenty-five new knowledge leader projects will be built on disciplines like health sciences and biotechnology in which the University of Otago already has acknowledged strengths. The funding comes from the new partnerships for excellence facility for public-private sector tertiary education investment. This enables tertiary institutions to seek matching funding from Government for large-scale investment projects.

Russell Fairbrother: What other proposals has the Minister seen on building capacity in the tertiary education sector?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: I have seen a proposal to allow tertiary institutions to raise fees to 60 to 75 percent of tuition costs and gives students the choice of a “Rolls Royce” education or a “mini” education, depending on their circumstances. The Government will not adopt this proposal, but in the absence of any policy emerging from Bill English I assume this young Nats discussion paper is an indication of the National Party position.

Mr SPEAKER: The last part of that answer is not relevant.

Hon Brian Donnelly: Given that fundamental to Tertiary Education Advisory Commission recommendations was that all post - compulsory education funding would be administered by the Tertiary Education Advisory Commission, does the Tertiary Education Advisory Commission administer Training Opportunities Programme funding; if not, why not?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: Funding in that area, of course, is under the aegis of the Ministry of Social Development, but it does so in consultation with the Tertiary Education Advisory Commission. -


Exchange Rate—Government Options

6. Hon RICHARD PREBBLE (Leader—ACT) to the Minister of Finance: What has been the response from the Reserve Bank and the Treasury to his request for a report on ways to curb the rising dollar, and can he state which specific options he sees as open to the Government to lower the New Zealand dollar?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Minister of Finance): Work is being done, and no.

Hon Richard Prebble: Is the Minister concerned about the effect on his own credibility of his musing publicly that he has options for lowering the dollar, when a recent survey of business leaders by the New Zealand Herald states that 87 percent of them do not believe there is any method open to him, unless he is going to be another Muldoon?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: No.

Dr Don Brash: How does his reconcile his comment to The Economist magazine 2 months ago: “There are no effective policy instruments” to address the high level of the New Zealand dollar, with his recent comment that he is “not without options in this regard”?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Because it is always possible to come up with other policy instruments.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Would the Minister admit that a dramatic cut in immigration is one of those policy instruments, in respect of a reduction in inflation and therefore enabling the Reserve Bank Governor to lower, rather than increase, interest rates; and why is he not prepared to take some action, given the dramatic damage done to so many New Zealand exporters in the last 2 years?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: It is hard to see that a cut in New Zealand’s immigration will make the United States dollar rise.

Rod Donald: Does the Minister agree that the value of the New Zealand dollar would drop if the Reserve Bank lowered interest rates, but that it is unlikely to do so, because of the risk of further fuelling the property boom, and would he consider introducing a capital gains tax on all but the family home in order to get the balance right between speculative and productive investment, as well as getting the dollar down to sustainable levels?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: On the last point no, and the time taken to do it, by then probably the dollar would be coming back down in any case. It would be a classic case probably of pro-cyclical policies and would be counter-productive in terms of New Zealand’s general economic position. On the other matters, with regard to the position we are in, I think the fundamental driver in the situation is the fall in the United States dollar. Clearly, no policy instruments in New Zealand will have any effect on the United States dollar at all.

Dr Don Brash: Following Reserve Bank Governor Alan Bollard’s comments last week: “There is no free lunch.”, and that that there are “quite big problems around most forms of currency intervention”, can we conclude that the Minister will not take any of the unspecified options to curb the rise in the exchange rate, unless there is severe disruption in the market; if not, why not?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I agree with Dr Bollard, as I very often do. There is no free lunch, and the lack of a free lunch and the totally hands-off approach is the stress now being suffered by the tradable sector.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Why is the Minister arguing now that the interest rate set by the Governor of the Reserve Bank has no effect at all on the New Zealand currency?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I am not arguing that. But what I would argue—and I think our own experience over the last nearly 20 years demonstrates—is that interest rate increases may, or may not, lead to a rise in the New Zealand dollar, in the same way that interest rate falls may, or may not, lead to a fall in the New Zealand dollar. It depends what the market perception is of the result of those movements in interest rates. If the perception is that an increase in the level of interest rates makes us more attractive, then the New Zealand dollar will rise. If the perception is that the economy is going to slow rapidly, then the economy could well fall as a consequence.

Hon Richard Prebble: Why will the Minister of Finance not just admit to the House that any of the options that could lower the dollar can only do so by doing great damage to the New Zealand economy—and that would be a helpful statement—or, alternatively, that he does believe that he, and he alone, knows some options that will do it, and given the damage that the rise of the dollar is doing to the export sector, does he not think that he has an obligation to this House to tell us what those options are, or admit that he has made a fool of himself?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I notice that many other countries similar to ourselves do intervene—notably Australia. That has a modest moderating effect on their volatility, at best.

Dr Don Brash: A few moments ago the Minister seemed to imply that a hands-off approach on the currency had significant disadvantages, and can he give us advice on what precisely he has in mind as the alternative to that hands-off approach?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: No. What I said to the member is that there is no free lunch in any policy approach in those areas. That is the hard truth about exchange rate movements.


Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security—Confidence

7. KEITH LOCKE (Green) to the Minister in charge of the NZ Security Intelligence Service: Does she have confidence in the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security; if so, why?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Acting Prime Minister): The Prime Minister stated that she has confidence in Mr Greig because he served for a long time on the High Court bench and has been a conscientious inspector-general. She is also on the record as saying it would have been better had he not given an interview in the middle of a case.

Keith Locke: How can she have confidence in the inspector-general when he commented in the Listener: “We don’t want lots of people coming in on false passports thrown down the loo on the plane and saying”—[Interruption]

Mr SPEAKER: The member will please be seated. Every member in this House has a perfect right to ask a question in silence. I do not care what the question is; that is part of this democracy. Mr Locke will be heard in silence.

Keith Locke: How can she have confidence in the inspector-general when he commented in the Listener: “We don’t want lots of people coming in on false passports thrown down the loo on the plane and saying: ‘I’m a refugee, keep me here.’”, when this comment shows a lack of understanding of the right of asylum seekers, under the United Nations Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, to enter this country without legal passports because the regimes they are fleeing from commonly do not provide them with such passports?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Despite the point made by the member, as I said, the Prime Minister said it would have been better had the interview not been given, but in general terms I think the view of the Government—and, I expect, of most political parties—is that it would be better if people coming to this country do not throw their passports down the loo.

Keith Locke: Is she aware that the Refugee Status Appeals Authority concluded that if Mr Zaoui were deported he would likely be tortured or murdered, and does she concede that the inspector-general’s inhumanity and prejudice towards asylum seekers are of deep concern to New Zealanders who uphold human rights and human dignity?

Hon Richard Prebble: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I just want to clarify a point. I know that the judge is no longer, I think, on the High Court, but I understand he still does High Court judgments. If that is so, then I draw to your attention that it is highly unconstitutional to speak disrespectfully of judges. The statement made by Mr Locke is an outrage. He has actually accused the judge of making statements that no reasonable person would make. All that the judge said was that we do not want large numbers of people arriving in New Zealand on false passports. From that, one cannot therefore say that he is inhumane and the other reference that the member made. I suggest to you, Mr Speaker, that Speakers’ ruling 27/1 might apply to Judge Greig. If he is still doing court cases, then he is still a High Court Judge.

Mr SPEAKER: I thank the member for his point of order, which is an interesting one. It is not a court of record. The member is entitled to ask the question, but he should take care, of course. The Minister may now answer.

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: If there is any issue of bias, that is a matter for the judicial process to determine. It would be inappropriate for me to comment on that matter. But the member, I think, is not necessarily factually correct just to assume that any deportation of Mr Zaoui would return him to Algeria, and that, even in that case, certain consequences necessarily would follow.

Hon Peter Dunne: Appreciating the confidentiality of any advice Mr Greig may give the Minister, is the Minister nevertheless in a position to give the House any assurance that, with regard to the Zaoui case, any matters upon which the inspector-general has reported relate specifically to that case and do not canvass the wider areas covered in the Listener article, for example?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I do not have any information in front of me that enables me to answer that question. I understand that the report from the inspector-general, when finally the legal process is over, to the point where that report can be concluded, will go to the Minister of Immigration, and she and she alone will be privy to the matters discussed in it.

Hon Ken Shirley: Can she assure the House that the Government will not give consideration to Mr Locke’s plea to have Justice Greig dismissed, on the basis of impartiality, for those statements that “We certainly don’t want lots of people coming here on false passports ...”?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: The test for dismissal of the inspector-general is pretty much the same as that for dismissal of a High Court judge. It is an extremely high test indeed, and there is no question, certainly in my mind, that Mr Greig is anywhere near reaching the level of that test.

Keith Locke: In recognition of Mr Zaoui’s year of suffering in New Zealand prisons, which has been extended by the withholding of information by the inspector-general, will she support Mr Zaoui being granted special Christmas leave?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: It is not a matter for the Minister in charge of the NZ Security Intelligence Service to promote anything in those respects, at all.


District Courts—Criminal Cases

8. Hon TONY RYALL (National—Bay of Plenty) to the Minister for Courts: How many outstanding criminal cases are there currently in the District Courts, and how does this compare with the same time in 1999?

Hon MARGARET WILSON (Associate Minister for Courts), on behalf of the Minister for Courts: The number of criminal cases before the District Court at September 2003 was 32,359. The number of cases in the District Court on 30 September 1999 was 24,578.

Hon Tony Ryall: Why is this Government so mismanaging the court system that almost 40 alleged criminals, who were suspects charged with rape, indecent assault, sexual violation, manufacture and supply of methamphetamine, and serious fraud, have walked free without trial in the last 4 years because of court delays under this Labour Government?

Hon MARGARET WILSON: I do not know the specific facts in each of those cases, but my understanding is that often cases are not heard in a timely fashion for a variety of reasons, including that often counsel, whether the defence or the prosecution, is not prepared to proceed, or that the evidence is not there. There are a variety of complex matters, and I do believe that we should do better.

Martin Gallagher: Has the Minister received any reports that would indicate why more criminal cases are before the District Court?

Hon MARGARET WILSON: Yes. This Government has increased the number of New Zealand Police by nearly 10 percent over the last 3 years. Also, the number of recorded apprehensions that have been resolved by way of prosecution has increased by over 10 percent during the same period. I believe that the fact that the number of cases before the court has increased demonstrates that this Government is serious about combating crime, and is making New Zealand a safer place.

Dail Jones: Does the Minister have any indication of the delays being caused by the number of legally aided criminal cases in which not guilty pleas are entered, and the defendants subsequently are found guilty by the courts—a procedure which clearly shows that there is an abuse of the legal aid system and the judicial system, and is causing these lengthy delays?

Hon MARGARET WILSON: I have no specific information relating to that point, but if the member wishes to put it down as a written question, I will endeavour to find it.

Hon Tony Ryall: In light of the record waiting list and delays in our nation’s court systems, what assurance can this Minister give the people of New Zealand that gang associates charged with the manufacture and the distribution of P will not walk free because of delays in the court system, and the well-known delays in drug testing by the Institute of Environmental Science and Research?

Hon MARGARET WILSON: My understanding is that the timeliness of the disposal of cases has remained relatively constant over the period concerned, and that cases that are delayed are very much the exception and not the rule.

Stephen Franks: How long ago did the Minister first learn that the courts were leaving criminals awaiting trial for more than a year; if responsibility for those Third World justice standards does not rest with the Minister for Courts, who will take responsibility to end the scandal of criminals escaping justice through delay?

Hon MARGARET WILSON: I do not have accurate information as to when these cases relating to delay first arrived, but I am quite happy to find out that specific information. I think this Government is taking responsibility for the delays. That is why we are having a review of the courts, and that is why we are looking at the resources that are there. It is also why, of course, I have sought the support of the Opposition—which has denied it to me—to increase the number of judges.

Hon Tony Ryall: I seek leave to table a schedule that shows the seriousness of the charges against those offenders who are being allowed to walk free because of delays in the system.

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


Immigration, Minister—Confidence

9. Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS (Leader—NZ First) to the Prime Minister: Does she still have confidence in her Minister of Immigration; if so, why?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Acting Prime Minister): Yes, because she is still a hard-working and conscientious Minister.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: If she is such a hard-working person, then how is it, again, that we have the circumstance of her failing yet again to pick up on fraudulent documents of immigrants—the latest known case being that of Tar Lock Singh, who managed, at a time when Ms Dalziel was the Minister, to sneak back into New Zealand after being expelled for covering up the mutilation of his baby granddaughter; if that is going on again under this Minister, when will we see her fired?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I have no information in front of me about that particular case. If the member cares to send that through to me, then I will see what the facts surrounding it are.


Immigrants—Third World Immigrants

10. LYNNE PILLAY (Labour—Waitakere) to the Minister of Immigration: Do official figures confirm reports that “Hundreds of thousands of Third World immigrants have arrived here since Labour was elected in 1999”?

Hon LIANNE DALZIEL (Minister of Immigration): No. The average rate of residence approvals has been just over 40,000 per year for the past 4 years. Even if countries like the United Kingdom were counted as a Third World country, we still would not come close to “hundreds of thousands” of total migrants since 1999, let alone those from the Third World.

Lynne Pillay: What action has the Government taken to ensure that recent migrants are those who can make a contribution to New Zealand?

Hon LIANNE DALZIEL: If only I had all afternoon. I will just mention a couple. We have introduced English language requirements for business migrants, which were not introduced by the previous Government. We increased English language requirements for skilled migrants in order to make sure they could get into skilled work. We introduced the talent visa, which is the new skilled migrant category that takes effect this month, and we introduced strict sponsorship requirements around family migrants, resulting in plummeting claims for the emergency unemployment benefit, which has dropped over 44 percent since 1999.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I ask the Minister why she has risen in this House and given out those figures when her department totals the number at 221,630, and when the Minister for Ethnic Affairs says that 300,000 people this year in New Zealand speak little or no English, especially as the First World countries are not mentioned at all in the new language programme for people from the Third World; is not the fact that not one First World country is in those language programmes the evidence behind the pamphlet that is now being properly read in Christchurch and Auckland?

Hon LIANNE DALZIEL: Just for a rough estimate, I went over the countries described as having least developed nation status in order to find an equivalence for the words “Third World Country”, and I discovered that since 1997-98—that is, for the last 6 years—a total of 20,106 people came from those countries.

Metiria Turei: Does the Minister agree that the New Zealand First immigration pamphlet that contains the statement about Third World immigrants is simply racist?

Hon LIANNE DALZIEL: Yes.

Darren Hughes: What effect does she think the circulation of grossly misrepresented statistics has on the thousands of hard-working migrants who are making an invaluable contribution to life in New Zealand?

Hon LIANNE DALZIEL: Everything this Government has done in immigration policy has been to improve settlement outcomes for new migrants to this country. We have had a history in this country of counting the numbers who come in, and of previous Governments who do not care what happens to them after they arrive. It is hard for new migrants to settle in a country when they are victims of propaganda designed for purposes of cynical political manipulation—and members who behave in that way should be ashamed of themselves.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Are you going to give her the Valium, or me?

Mr SPEAKER: I am going to give the member the opportunity to ask a supplementary question—which he may now do.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Why on earth would the Minister for Ethnic Affairs say in April this year that 300,000 people are now here who speak little or no English, and then why would the language services being set up by the Government have no First World country’s language at all—if any of the evidence that the Minister of Immigration has sought to recite today has a shred of truth to it?

Hon LIANNE DALZIEL: Because I understand that the ethnic affairs information, which was provided to back up the piloting of an interpreter service, covers all of those in New Zealand who are not confident in using English. That includes some people born to New Zealanders who are New Zealand citizens in their own right but who do not come from an English-speaking background. It comes from people from Pacific nations. It also comes from a number of others who are not confident in English. I think that that member should look at himself before he distorts statistics and tries to make people in our country—who are welcome here—feel they are unwelcome.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: For the edification of the Minister and her colleagues I seek leave to table 107 copies of this brilliantly factual pamphlet on immigration entitled: Whose Country is it?.

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


Road Safety Campaign—Scratch Cards

11. GERRY BROWNLEE (Deputy Leader—National) to the Minister of Transport: What advice has he received about the effect of the $11 million dollar scratch card road safety campaign on the number of deaths on our roads?

Hon PAUL SWAIN (Minister of Transport): I am not entirely sure how the member came to the figure of $11 million. The actual cost of the programme will be $2.6 million for development and implementation in 2003-04, and $4.2 million in 2004-05 and beyond. However, I am advised that attacking the road toll requires an approach involving the three “Es”: engineering, education, and enforcement. Making the roads physically safer, and giving the police the tools they need in order to target dangerous driving, must be backed up by the power of education to improve behaviour and, in turn, to improve attitudes. If one life is saved by those measures then they have been worth doing.

Gerry Brownlee: When people such as respected Australasian road safety consultant Dr Ron Christie say of education safety campaigns that: “You find most of the time have no effect, sometimes make it worse”, when record numbers of traffic tickets are being handed out, and the average speeds are coming down, why does he not accept that the money would have been better spent improving the dismal state of our roads?

Hon PAUL SWAIN: I am not as negative and pessimistic as that particular commentator. We have spent quite a lot of money on road engineering—for example, having announced an extra $47 million over 2 years to fix the black spots. It is important to recognise that education on road safety is important and can influence behaviour and attitudes. Multichoice questions are useful. For example, is it true or false that National has had six deputy leaders in 6 years? [Interruption]

Mr SPEAKER: Until that point the Minister was in order. Then he most certainly was not.

Dave Hereora: What other reports has he seen in response to the education programme?

Hon PAUL SWAIN: I have seen a number of reports in response to the up-to-scratch education campaign. George Fairbairn from the Automobile Association said it was a good way to remind people of the road rules, the National Road Safety Committee welcomed the proposal, and Gerry Brownlee said the scheme had some merit. I thank that member for his support.

Larry Baldock: Does the Minister have any reports that indicate there is a connection between knowledge of road rules and road safety outcomes; if so, could he comment on those?

Hon PAUL SWAIN: Yes. There is no absolute claim that this particular intervention will bring down that number of road deaths, but it is fair to say that people’s knowledge and understanding of the road rules and road code does help. If, as a result of this campaign, people slow down when they go past stationary school buses then that may save the life of a child, because children tend to run out. This is a worth-while campaign, which I am sure will be enthusiastically welcomed by New Zealanders when it goes live next year.

Gerry Brownlee: Would the Minister care to indicate whether he saw all of my comments, in which I said: “It may have some merit if it were to get to more drivers.”?, and will he admit that in this case only those who register or warrant a car are likely to see these scratch cards, and that the people who cause accidents are most unlikely to have those opportunities?

Hon PAUL SWAIN: Yes, I did see other comments. I thought the member advised that the campaign should be “bigger”. I think that was the word he used. He said it should go to retail outlets and that sort of thing.

Gerry Brownlee: That’s right. It’s not working.

Hon PAUL SWAIN: The reality is that it is targeted at people with cars and those who register for a warrant of fitness. It is important that we do not oversell and overdo it. It is a targeted campaign, and it will have an effect. There is no question about that.


Families Commission Bill—Amendments

12. JUDY TURNER (United Future) to the Minister for Social Development and Employment: Does he have any plans to propose amendments to the Families Commission Bill?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY (Minister for Social Development and Employment): Yes. A Supplementary Order Paper has been tabled today that includes the following changes—ensuring the Families Commission has regard to family strengths and resilience, empowering the commission to refer matters to other official bodies, improving the guidance on diversity of families to make it absolutely clear that the family does not include organisations such as gangs, flatmates, and the like, and it has some minor technical amendments that I had hoped the Social Services Committee would have done. [Interruption]

Mr SPEAKER: The member is out of order. He should read the Standing Orders.

Judy Turner: Can the Minister confirm that the amendments remove any doubt that gangs are not to be considered families for the purposes of the commission’s work, and that this was solely the result of negotiations with United Future?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: Yes, and yes, with the assistance of some very constructive submissions to the select committee.

Judith Collins: Is the Minister planning to amend the bill to acknowledge that two good parents are better than one good parent?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: The bill reflects the diversity of families in this country.

Peter Brown: Why has the Minister taken so long to come up with a definition of a family; and noting that the definition in the Supplementary Order Paper is fairly simple and largely precise, will he clarify the circumstances and what the statement means: “two or four persons living together as a family”?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: The last two qualify as a de facto family. It has not taken long at all. It has been going through the processes of the select committee and is back in the House now.

Dr Muriel Newman: Can the Minister confirm to the House whether his Government is continuing on with the policy of being opposed to traditional mum and dad families; if not, why are these families not recognised in the Families Commission Bill?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: This Government is not opposed to what the member describes as a traditional family. But I would like to point out that tradition for most ethnicities in this House would be the extended family and not the nuclear family, which is a relatively recent invention.

Judy Turner: Can the Minister confirm that marriage is now specifically referred to in the bill?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: I can confirm that contrary to comments made in the second-reading debate, marriage has always been referred to in the bill, as it should be, alongside existing references, for example, in clause 8, the amendment to clause 10 proposed in the Supplementary Order Paper also refers to marriage to assist in clarifying what is meant by family and family group.

Judy Turner: Has the Minister received any reports from other parties in Parliament as to whether they will support these amendments, given their refusal to consider any changes at the select committee stage?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: I expect to see support from Labour, the Progressive Party and United Future. I hope the other parties will recognise that the Supplementary Order Paper makes improvements on the bill and will support it on that basis.

Hon Peter Dunne: Following on from that last answer, since the bill came back to the House, has the Minister become aware of any proposals from any parties other than those he has just referred in this House, to him, to amend the bill; if so, what are those proposals?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: I have not become aware of any other party wanting to amend the bill. I hope, therefore, they intend to support it

End of Questions for Oral Answer

(uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing)

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