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Questions & Answers for Oral Answer - 4 December


(uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing)

Thursday, 4 December 2003

Questions for Oral Answer

Questions to Ministers:

1. Schools—Anti-virus Software
2. Child Support—Liable Parent Debt Write-offs
3. Smoke-free Environments Amendment Bill—Compliance Costs
4. Schools—Closures
5. Defence Forces—Deployment Off Shore
6. Patient Safety—Tauranga Surgeon
7. Tourism—Conservation Land Protection
8. Government Revenue—Roads
9. Meridian Energy Ltd—Project Aqua
10. Statistics New Zealand—Mâori Communities
11. Trans-Tasman Therapeutic Products Agency—Bilateral Treaty
12. Speed Cameras—Infringement Demerit Points

Schools—Anti-virus Software

1. DAVID BENSON-POPE (Labour—Dunedin South) to the Minister of Education: What steps have been taken to ensure that schools have ready access to reliable anti-virus software?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD (Minister of Education): Free anti-virus software for State and State-integrated schools will be available from the beginning of next year. A large number of schools currently do not have quality anti-virus software, leaving them exposed to virus attacks. Through the provision of a common, high-quality anti-virus software package, at no cost to the schools, the Government is protecting the investment schools are making.

David Benson-Pope: How does this initiative fit within the Government’s wider strategy for promoting the use of information and communication technology in schools?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: As Maurice Williamson often tells me, ensuring our children develop good information and communication technology skills is as essential part of equipping them for life and work in the 21st century. I am looking forward to Maurice Williamson getting back on that front bench.

Nandor Tanczos: Is the Minister aware that most viruses are designed to attack the hegemonic proprietary software platform Microsoft, while non-proprietary operating platforms, such as SuSE Linux, now meet international security certification, and how will he protect the ability of schools to choose open-source alternatives?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: Quite a few schools use open-source software; that is their right, and if they want to do that, that is fine. I am not aware of the technical details, but my understanding is that a lot of the software will support Linux as well as Microsoft.

Child Support—Liable Parent Debt Write-offs

2. KATHERINE RICH (National) to the Associate Minister of Revenue: What message does the Government’s announcement that it will wipe part of the child support debt owed by errant parents on a “dollar for dollar” basis send to struggling solo mothers and their kids who rely on child support payments?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE (Associate Minister of Revenue): The Government has made no such announcement.

Katherine Rich: In that case, with regard to comments that that Minister made to the Christchurch Press, how does he explain his comment that the bill proposed for next year will “increase flexibility and parents will be able to write off back debt on a dollar for dollar basis”, because certainly every individual would think that their life would be more flexible if they were able to forget about their debts?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: The Government has been canvassing a range of options to encourage parents to pay off child support debts. I will be progressing legislation next year that helps to reduce penalties on an ongoing basis.

Clayton Cosgrove: When was the current penalties regime put in place, and is it working?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: It was put in place by the National Government in 1992. The growth in debt has demonstrated that it is not working as well as it could be. That is why we are looking at making some changes.

Dr Muriel Newman: How does the Minster reconcile his statement that “New Zealand actually has one of the best-performing child support systems in the world” with the dreadful anomalies in our present system, which can have a father of 10 children paying $12 a week for all those children, in total, while a father of two pays almost $20,000 a year in spite of having his children for 40 percent of the time; and will he now consider a comprehensive review of the whole system along the lines of that proposed by Judge Trapski almost a decade ago?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: I believe that the child support system in general is working well. The penalties regime, which is a part of it, is arguably not, and that is why we are looking at reforming it.

Marc Alexander: What message does the Government send to New Zealanders when, on the one hand, it announces that it will wipe child support debt owed by non-custodial parents and when, on the other hand, Steve Maharey says “Every father has a responsibility to be emotionally, practically, and financially engaged with his parenting responsibilities.”? Which one is it to be?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: Non-custodial parents, who are in general, but not always, fathers, do have a very important responsibility both to their children and their broader families. The Government upholds that. We are trying to make the system of collecting that debt more effective.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I wonder whether the Minister could help the ordinary people of this country out by telling us why, if someone is not penalised for not paying his or her debts, that person would bother to pay them?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: Firstly, because people should love their children and they need them. Secondly, because this Government is not, and has never said it will be, wiping off all penalties—[Interruption]

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. A voice came from over there, best resembling a dog with a cleft palate, but I think it was Mr Mallard making some allegation.

Mr SPEAKER: I just want to say that comments such as were made were out of order. I prefer not to have them recorded in Hansard, but now they will be, unfortunately; but since it has been raised, the member will stand, withdraw, and apologise for that allegation.

Hon Trevor Mallard: I withdraw and apologise. I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Can I ask you now to elucidate somewhat on what was out of order in my comments—a matter of fact was recorded.

Mr SPEAKER: Yes, but it was in the second person, for a start, and that is out of order above anything else.

Katherine Rich: Why did the Minister talk about this proposal to wipe big chunks of debt yesterday—3 weeks before Christmas—when the first thing an irresponsible parent is going to do is to stop paying child support because he knows the Government next year will wipe out a large proportion of his debt.

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: In the first place, not all irresponsible parents are he’s. In the second place, there are many reasons to continue paying one’s child support, including the continued existence of penalties.

Marc Alexander: How will the Government’s announcement that it is wiping child support debt generate any sense of responsibility for the men of this country, or is this a twisted campaign to allow them to fertilise, flee, and forget?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: Members of other parties simply cannot have it both ways. One cannot argue on the one hand that we need to do more to recover debt, and then criticise when we do so—[Interruption]

Mr SPEAKER: Order! That is the only warning that Mr Hide gets today.

Katherine Rich: With regard to his statement, how does the Minister explain to mothers, like Christine Hall of Dunedin, who have been battling for years to get their ex-husbands to pay child support debts, that his big idea to reduce debt is to forget about it?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: Dealing with taxpayer-specific matters, can I say this: the Government is determined to make it both better and easier for people to pay their child support payments. The presence of large penalties can act as a blockage to non-custodial parents re-entering the payment system. It is that blockage that we are seeking to remove.

Marc Alexander: In light of the Government’s announcement that it will wipe child support debt for non-custodial parents who will not pay for their children’s upbringing, will he also help to wipe the personal debt incurred by parents who are trying to pay for their children’s upbringing?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: The presumption of the question is wrong. May I repeat that the Government is not proposing to wipe all debt for people who owe child support.

Smoke-free Environments Amendment Bill—Compliance Costs

3. Hon PETER DUNNE (Leader—United Future) to the Associate Minister of Health: Has he been advised of any compliance cost implications from the passage of the Smoke-free Environments Amendment Bill?

Hon ANNETTE KING (Minister of Health), on behalf of the Associate Minister of Health: Yes, he has. However the compulsory costs have been kept to a minimum.

Hon Peter Dunne: In view of the provisions of the Act that require, in just 27 days, the outdoor entrance of every school classroom and building in New Zealand to be labelled as a no-smoking area, firstly, has the Minister advised schools of their need to comply within that length of time, and, secondly, will her ministry be making an appropriation to cover the costs, or is it something schools are expected to cover out of their operating grants at the moment, to the detriment of the children they are supposed to be educating?

Hon ANNETTE KING: There will be a nominal cost to schools to provide external signs at all entrances. The Ministry of Health is working with the Ministry of Education to keep this cost to a minimum.

Russell Fairbrother: What is the annual estimated cost of treating diseases associated with smoking in New Zealand?

Hon ANNETTE KING: There is a considerable cost to New Zealanders from the impact of smoking. For example, the health costs alone, including hospital costs, are estimated in 1992 dollars at $202 million a year.

Hon David Carter: How many Ministry of Health officials will be employed to police the smoke-free environments legislation, and will the Minister assure the House that this number of staff will be able to cover adequately the whole of New Zealand?

Hon ANNETTE KING: There are no plans to increase the number of smoke-free officers or health protection officers who currently exist. There are now 17 dedicated smoke-free officers in New Zealand, and their job is to oversee the current legislation. There are 117 health protection officers in relation to food issues, toxic substances, and so on. There is no intention or plans to increase the number of them at this stage. We want to give this law a chance—to see how it goes.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: What is the total revenue take for the Government from taxes on cigarettes and tobacco, and is it not 3½ times higher than the figure the Minister has just given us for the costs?

Hon ANNETTE KING: I do not have with me the exact number of dollars from cigarette revenue, but I gave the member the cost to the health sector only. The only research we have in New Zealand to show the cost was done by Brian Easton in 1997, and it showed a cost of $22 billion.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I think we are entitled to raise by way of point of order the question as to what the Minister meant when she said $22 billion. Did she mean the whole world?

Mr SPEAKER: That is the Minister’s answer, and she is entitled to give it. It was a specific answer.

Heather Roy: Did the Associate Minister give any regard to the Ministry of Health’s proposal last year, in the 5-year plan for tobacco control in New Zealand, for its “cost-saving strategy for the health sector” to transfer the enforcement of smoking laws to the police; and how does he square that proposal to require the police to enforce these laws with the Government’s claim that anti-smoking laws are about social change and not policing?

Hon ANNETTE KING: Obviously, the Government did not consider giving this matter to the police. No provision was made for that, and it is not likely to be.

Hon Peter Dunne: What assurance can the Minister give the House that every school in New Zealand will meet the requirement of the Act to have every outdoor entrance labelled as a non-smoking area by 1 January 2004, in view of the fact that the Act was passed only last night, and may not yet have received the royal assent, and that most schools are closing for the holidays in the next couple of weeks—or is this provision just some new employment programme for the summer, to get people out there painting the signs?

Hon ANNETTE KING: I think the member is assuming that there will be some gold-plated sign applied to the building. I think we will find that schools have enough time between now and when they return at the end of January to put in place a sign stating that they are non-smoking areas.

Schools—Closures

4. DEBORAH CODDINGTON (ACT) to the Minister of Education: Is he on track for closing about 300 schools as reported in the Sunday Star-Times on 2 November 2003, and how many have been closed this year?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD (Minister of Education): The figure of 300 is an estimate of the total number over the next decade to 15 years, based on a drop of 76,000 students over the same period. There is no predetermined number of school closures. Fourteen have been closed this year—none as a result of reviews—and eight will be opened next year or the year after.

Deborah Coddington: Why is his ministry sending out letters to principals telling them not to involve pupils in their opposition to school closures, when some pupils are old enough to vote, are required to be on boards of trustees, and are affected by the closures too, or does he think that pupils should not have an opinion about the closing of their schools?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: I respect the psychologist involved in sending out the letter. I think that, from a psychologist’s point of view, it was quite good advice, and it should be looked at. But I think it would have been better if the ministry had not sent it, because it has inflamed the situation.

Jill Pettis: Why is the Government engaged in the process of school network reviews?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: As I indicated before, the population drop over the next decade to 15 years of people of school age will be about 76,000. It is slightly unfortunate that that is happening quite unevenly around the country. We are building new schools in north-west Auckland and south-east Auckland, where there is likely to be 40,000 extra people over the next 8 or 9 years. It is important that we have a real matching of where the students are and where the schools are.

Hon Brian Donnelly: Is the Holy Trinity model of shared governance and professional leadership, which is currently being proposed for a group of Catholic integrated schools—in line with New Zealand First policy, I might say—being promoted as a possible alternative for State school reorganisation through the network reviews?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: Yes, it is, including by National Party MPs.

Metiria Turei: Is the Minister aware of an email to a South Canterbury mother from Michael Deaker, one of the ministry facilitators, that states: “The requirement that schools resulting from this review be sustainable over 10 to 15 years and include viable professional communities of teachers ... we have set a roll figure of around 160 as the minimum for country primary schools.”; if so, has he told Michael Deaker what he has told this House—that there is no minimum roll figure for rural schools, and that Mr Deaker should be careful to give factual and accurate information to communities whose schools are under threat of closure?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: Yes, and, indirectly, yes.

Gerry Brownlee: Does he have a response to the 35-page report commissioned by the Timaru District Council that challenges not only the flawed network-review consultation process but also its lack of economic and social impact assessment and the faulty use of population projections?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: In discussing it with the council, I have suggested that the fundamental problem is that we have more schools than the number of pupils justify, and nobody wants his or her school to close. Education is about children not buildings. Half-empty schools are in nobody’s best interests. I was quoting Nick Smith.

Deborah Coddington: As Minister of Education, what does he think is so wrong with the schools that he is closing, when the parents are in favour of them, the community supports them financially and physically, and the Education Review Office has given many of them glowing reports; can he tell the House why he thinks he knows better? [Interruption]

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: I am not sure of the relevance of the GST comment, but the important point that has to be made is that we have to make some choices. I accept it is the ACT point of view that schools should be allowed to drift to closure. As I have indicated, 14 have done that so far this year, but not as part of a review. It is my view that we have to look to having a sustainable network. We have to have schools in the right places. We have some very strong boards of trustees and principals in charge of schools of 13 or 14 pupils, when 5 minutes down the road there is another school that is struggling. If we could put the strengths together, I think we would guarantee quality education in a way that that member knows is not being delivered in some schools now.

Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. There are a couple of things I want to call to your attention. Firstly, at the end of the last question there was a comment made to the Minister by the junior Government whip to which he responded at the start of his answer, and, clearly, there was meant to be some barb inside that comment directed towards the questioner. That was inappropriate. It should have been picked up on. Secondly, in the previous question he was asked whether he would give a response to the Timaru District Council. He chose instead to read a very good quote, in the circumstances, from the Hon Nick Smith, but failed to give his own ideas on that matter. That cannot be considered as addressing the question—if one just says that someone else said this. There is another matter that I would ask you to consider in the case of this Minister. Throughout his responses there are these little chips and comments, which, quite frankly, will lead to considerable disorder, if they are not heard by you and if he is not required to apologise for his appalling performance.

Mr SPEAKER: Thee points were raised, but the second one has no relevance at all. If a Minister quotes another member and agrees with the member, I cannot see what on earth is wrong with that. The first and third points are relevant and were accurately made. I am just warning the junior Government whip to keep quiet.

Hon Richard Prebble: Would the Minister try again to reply to the last question put by Deborah Coddington asking why is he opposed to small schools that the parents are in favour of, the pupils like, and the academic results of which are excellent; and is he now saying that the only reason he is closing them is that adjacent big schools are failing, and that somehow closing the successful small schools will help?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: No.

Defence Forces—Deployment Off Shore

5. DARREN HUGHES (Labour—Otaki) to the Minister of Defence: Has he received any recent updates on current New Zealand Defence Force deployments off shore?

Hon MARK BURTON (Minister of Defence): Yes. I can tell members that we currently have 480 defence personnel deployed in 17 missions in 12 countries. Major deployments include 17 personnel in Timor-Leste contributing to UN missions, 126 with the intervention force in the Solomon Islands, and 296 personnel in the Middle East, including Afghanistan and Iraq.

Darren Hughes: Given the multilateral nature of these deployments, has he received any reports on their effectiveness from the other countries we are working with?

Hon MARK BURTON: Yes. During my recent visit to the United Kingdom the Ministers and defence chiefs whom I met with made it clear to me that we should be proud of the high regard in which our defence personnel are held by their international peers. The high standards of training and the approach to operations are valued and respected by the defence personnel they work alongside.

Patient Safety—Tauranga Surgeon

6. Dr LYNDA SCOTT (National—Kaikoura) to the Minister of Health: How does she explain Mr Ian Breeze performing surgery on Mr Barry Baker at Norfolk Hospital on 6 December 2000, and operating on Mr Baker again at Tauranga Hospital on 10 and 14 December 2000, given that in her answer to question No. 3 yesterday she stated that restrictions were placed on Mr Breeze on 29 August 2000?

Hon ANNETTE KING (Minister of Health): The answer I gave yesterday was correct. Restrictions had been placed on Mr Breeze’s ability to carry out colorectal surgery in Tauranga public hospital on 29 August 2000. I am advised by the Bay of Plenty District Health Board that surgery carried out on Mr Baker on 10 and 14 December 2000 was not colorectal.

Dr Lynda Scott: Given that, according to the Bay of Plenty District Health Board Chief Executive Officer, Ron Dunham, fellow surgeons whistle-blew on Dr Breeze, accusing him of incompetence, why was the Bay of Plenty District Health Board unable to take action until the Health and Disability Commissioner stepped in, why did it not get the college to competency-review him earlier, and why did it not get the Medical Council involved?

Hon ANNETTE KING: My understanding is that Mr Breeze had had an audit earlier. The member got it wrong this morning when she said it was done by Mr John Simpson—it was done by another person in 1995. It was the district health board that put on the restrictions. I say to the member that she ought to ask the Medical Council. After all, she was one who strongly supported self-regulation by doctors over their own profession.

Dr Lynda Scott: Why was the Bay of Plenty District Health Board unable to stop Dr Breeze practising surgery, when Southern Cross’s investigation committee was able to conduct an inquiry into his practice in 2000, and immediately banned him from practising in its hospitals?

Hon ANNETTE KING: The district health board stopped him from operating on colorectal cancer in August 2000. It continued to put restriction on his practice. However, the competency of health professionals is decided by their own organisation, the Medical Council. That organisation self-regulates the health professions—something that that member strongly supported.

Dr Lynda Scott: Why did it have to be Shirley Crowley who took a complaint, and I quote: “I was advised to take a complaint. I was told it was not correct. I was told this in intensive care, and I was told by other medical people, namely at Southern Cross Hospital, because they did their own investigation, and the investigator there said: ‘You have to take this further.’ I said: ‘I don’t really feel that I’m the right person to do that.’, and he said ‘Yes, you are’. He said: ‘Somebody has to do it and it’s got to be you.’” Why did it have to be Shirley Crowley; why did the system not ensure patient safety?

Hon ANNETTE KING: The member makes a very good point about the system. The member will recall that prior to the passage of the Health Practitioners Competence Assurance Act, any complaints could be reported to a number of agencies—the Medical Council, the Accident Compensation Corporation, etc. I explained this to the member yesterday. Fortunately, we changed that. There is only one place to complain to now, and that is the Health and Disability Commissioner. That came out of the inquiry we had about Dr Graham Parry. It probably could have been fixed years ago. Fortunately, this Government has done it.

Question time interrupted.

Tabling of Documents

Pamphlet—Whose Country Is It Anyway?

Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS (Leader—NZ First): I seek leave to table the details of the Labour Party’s latest propaganda campaign on talkback and radio shows, and in the newspapers, put out by Ann Hartley, with respect to the very worthy pamphlet Whose Country Is It Anyway?.

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

Question time resumed.

Questions for Oral Answer

Questions to Ministers

Tourism—Conservation Land Protection

7. DAVID PARKER (Labour—Otago) to the Minister of Conservation: What progress has been made in providing environmentally sensitive tourism opportunities on conservation lands?

Hon CHRIS CARTER (Minister of Conservation): Just last week I was privileged to open a coastal walkway at Milford Sound. It provides a new opportunity for the 450,000 tourists who visit Milford Sound annually. This is an excellent example of how the tourism industry can work with my department to provide benefits for both conservation and the economy.

David Parker: What role did the tourism industry play in the development of this walkway?

Hon CHRIS CARTER: The tourism industry, through the Milford Sound Development Authority, helped identify the need for land-based attractions at Milford Sound. It also helped plan the walkway, and provided approximately half the funding required to build it. It worked in partnership with the Department of Conservation, the Ministry of Tourism, and Ngâi Tahu.

Shane Ardern: In the light of the Minister’s answer to the primary question, can he inform the House whether Department of Conservation staff chopping up rimu on Stewart Island, or clear-felling timber in other parts of New Zealand, is that new, environmentally sensitive approach?

Hon CHRIS CARTER: As far Stewart Island is concerned, my department has already apologised to the landowner concerned. People make mistakes. I can say that the Department of Conservation engages very positively with organisations and individuals throughout New Zealand.

Mike Ward: How is the privatisation of 35 kilometres of land adjacent to Lake Wanaka consistent with both the provision of environmentally sensitive tourism opportunities on conservation land and the Government’s review of public access?

Hon CHRIS CARTER: I am not responsible for final decisions on tenure review. The tenure review proposals for this property are currently undergoing public consultation.

Hon Ken Shirley: In recognition of the importance of tourism in Milford, does the Minister support the proposal, which will have a low environmental impact and is culturally sensitive and energy efficient, of Ngâi Tahu and Skyline Enterprises to build a gondola system through the Greenstone Valley, linking Glenorchy with Milford and thereby saving the 12-hour day-trip from Queenstown to Milford?

Hon CHRIS CARTER: Applications for tourism developments on the conservation estate go through a rigorous statutory process that includes an assessment of the environment effects and public consultation. All cases rest on their merits.

Government Revenue—Roads

8. Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS (Leader—NZ First) to the Minister of Finance: What is the total amount collected annually by central government from all taxes, duties, licence fees, and levies for the purposes of road construction, maintenance, and road safety?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Minister of Finance): I am advised that the total in the categories referred to is $1,481 million GST exclusive, for the year ended 30 June. There were $58 million of GST inclusive refunds.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: How is it that the Minister gave me an answer in the House 4 weeks ago in which he agreed that the real figure was $2,223 million, not the figure he has just given?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: The question the member asked on this occasion was for the purpose of road construction, maintenance, and road safety. The number I have been given at this point for our total revenue is $1,481 million GST exclusive.

John Key: Noting the Government’s intentions to release its Auckland roading solutions on 12 December, is the Government intending to sanction a further fuel tax increase either regionally or nationally; if it is, what is the logic behind that decision, given the surpluses the Government currently enjoys?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Funding for Auckland’s transport strategy will require commitment to funding over at least a 10-year period, and probably longer. Perhaps, at some time during that period, there might be a National-led Government and, therefore, a great improbability of surpluses.

John Key: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I know the Minister was thinking up his one-liner about a National Government, but I wonder whether he could answer the question, which was not about the 10-year funding period. It was about whether the Government intends, on 12 December, to raise fuel taxes above their current level in order to fix Auckland’s roads. That was the question.

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: The question was why that would be considered in the light of current surpluses, and the answer is that we are committed to a long-term funding programme.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I ask the Minister again whether he will admit to the fact that this Government collected $2,223 million—

Hon Dr Michael Cullen: From motorists.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Yes, from motorists—for the ostensible purpose, originally given in all those cases, of building roads and for road maintenance and road safety; if that is the case, what on earth is he doing seeking to justify a petrol-tax rise of 5c per litre to fund a $400 million expenditure to fix Auckland’s traffic congestion problems, as reported in the Dominion Post on Thursday, December 4, when he is currently sitting on an operating surplus of $1.96 billion and an operating balance excluding revaluations and accounting charges surplus of $5.58 billion?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Firstly, we are not sitting on a surplus of $5.58 billion. That was the surplus last year, and, surprisingly enough, we do not leave it sitting in my private piggy bank, doing nothing with it in the meantime. The actual cash surplus was used to pay off debt last year. That money has gone. Secondly, as I have explained to the member on many occasions, the cost of capital associated with roading is not currently covered out of excise duties, whereas on rail, for example, the cost of capital is covered by the current operators. Thirdly, there are many other costs associated with roading that are not included in matters such as road construction, road maintenance, and road safety.

Larry Baldock: Can the Minister confirm that if the Government decides to reduce the fuel tax diversion—as indicated by his answer to my question yesterday—by even as much as 2.2c, it would be a greater reduction than that accomplished by Winston Peters when he was Treasurer and Deputy Prime Minister in 1998?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Yes, I can confirm that, and by sheer chance, sir, having looked up your maiden speech, I have found that the largest grab ever in New Zealand’s history for the consolidated account occurred in Sir Robert Muldoon’s first mini-budget, when he diverted the entire revenue from motor vehicles into the consolidated account.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I seek to table the 1998 Budget, which sets out very clearly that for the first time in decades, a Minister of Finance or Treasurer in this country sought to redress that anomaly. Had we remained in Government for 10 years, there would have been a dramatic change and difference in the infrastructural investment in this country on roads. Mr Baldock should get his facts right.

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

Peter Brown: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I would not want to accuse the Minister of Finance of misleading the House, but in terms of 1998 dollars, 2.2c per litre is far less than 2.1c—

Mr SPEAKER: No, no. The member might choose to use that as a debating point; it is not a point of order.

Peter Brown: But he is giving the wrong information—

Mr SPEAKER: Please be seated.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Can the Minister explain why $2,223 million in revenue was collected from all sources for the purposes I have outlined, in respect of road construction, maintenance, and safety in the last financial year, when only $1.4 billion made it into the National Roads Fund; and can he tell us why there is an $823 million shortfall, which is not being used for the purpose of road construction in Auckland—and he is just passing the buck again to motorists?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: As I said, there are issues relating to the cost of capital for the roading system, and there are environmental and other costs associated with roading. The present excise duty does not cover the full cost of the roading system.

Peter Brown: When will the Minister produce the economic report that will justify diverting 18.5c into the Crown account, which he has promised for a long time—before the 12 December package is announced, or afterwards so that the motorist is conned again?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I am advised, as it is not my responsibility, that such a report in relation to costs will be produced next year. Auckland is demanding much faster answers than that.

Peter Brown: Noting that answer, is it not true that the best part of $1 million has been spent already on this report; and does the Minister think it is satisfactory we are waiting months for such an overdue report—which will come out after the Government has introduced the legislation?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I cannot confirm that figure. I do not have any information in front of me in relation to the costs of what has been done. I know that a great deal of work was done on road costs in the 1990s. Much of that has always been around the issue of generating more income to improve our roading system over the long term.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Why is the Minister of Finance allowing himself to become a victim of a lie—which is that motorists are not already paying sufficiently for all the projects we might have in mind for the next 10 years—but instead, is putting up an argument that is a clear case of creative accounting when he talks about the cost of capital? Is it not true that $823 million is currently not spent for the purpose it is collected, and why is he taxing the motorist one more time?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: No. Cost of capital is not an aspect of creative accounting; it is fundamental.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: It is so. It’s just debt servicing.

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Oh well, no wonder New Zealand First has a rather strange position on economic policy with the cost of capital as an aspect of creative accounting! I will try to explain it to the member again. There are cost of capital elements and there are other costs associated with roading. My authority for this is no less than the Automobile Association and the road transport federation, which, just before the last election—undoubtedly not in collusion with any party in this House—estimated that if we were to cover the full cost of roading, we would have to double the excise duty.

Peter Brown: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Noting that that answer was somewhat frivolous, I will be equally frivolous: can we have George Fairburn here, and we will really get the facts of the Government’s policy?

Mr SPEAKER: No, that is not a point of order and the member knows it.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Why is it that Transfund New Zealand is currently sitting on $225 million in its bank account, yet people will shortly be forced to pay another 5c a litre to fix Auckland’s congestion problems; and is this not plain daylight robbery so that the Government can finance some of its other whacko projects?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I am sure some of this increased tax will be paid at night-time as well, but passing beyond that, it is equally clear that if there is any change in excise duty, only the proportion that is due to Auckland in terms of its population will go to Auckland. The rest will go to the rest of the country, and the Auckland share will be matched by the Government.

Meridian Energy Ltd—Project Aqua

9. Hon Dr NICK SMITH (National—Nelson) to the Minister for the Environment: Does she stand by her reported statement that the Resource Management Act 1991 is a “beautifully written, beautifully balanced piece of legislation”; if so, why is special legislation required for Government-owned Meridian Energy Limited’s Project Aqua to proceed?

Hon MARIAN HOBBS (Minister for the Environment): Yes, I do stand by that comment, but the member omitted the rest of that wonderful quote, which was that the Resource Management Act had to be made to work. The special Waitaki legislation is necessary, because, without a regional water plan, the Resource Management Act alone cannot balance the competing applications. We want to ensure that a fair and open process produces the best decisions for Waitaki water without favouring any applicant—as wrongly presumed in the member’s question.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: Is the Minister for the Environment seriously suggesting to the House and the people of New Zealand that we would not have this Resource Management Bill in her name if it were not for Project Aqua?

Hon MARIAN HOBBS: Without a water allocation plan, Project Aqua and the large irrigation requests—if they were all granted—mean that no water would be left in the Waitaki.

Nanaia Mahuta: What will be the effect of the water allocation framework to be drawn up by the Waitaki Catchment Board under the Resource Management (Waitaki Catchment) Amendment Bill?

Hon MARIAN HOBBS: The water allocation framework will become operative as if it were a regional water plan under the Resource Management Act, and will guide the decisions about specific applications for water. Of course, we would not need to legislate for this if the National Government had not abandoned local government during the 1990s, leaving many of them without the capacity to draw up regional water plans themselves.

Jeanette Fitzsimons: Would the Minister agree that after 12 years of the Resource Management Act, if there is any regional council that does not have a catchment management plan and a water allocation plan for a major river system, then it is negligent and failing in its duty, and would the Minister consider amending the Resource Management Act to require catchment plans and water allocation plans for the water resources controlled by regional councils?

Hon MARIAN HOBBS: I am loath to condemn regional councils and local councils for the absence of plans because plans are also required for air quality, soil quality, as well as water quality, and, because they were left without the resources, some of them did not get around to that. An amount of persuasion has gone on with the councils. I do not want to pass that into legislation because I would much rather give a hand to enable different plans for different catchments.

Hon Ken Shirley: Can the Minister for the Environment explain to the House why the re-establishment of a separate Waitaki catchment commission to allocate water is not just turning the clock back 15 years and an admission that the Resource Management Act has failed miserably, even if, in her eyes, it is a “beautifully written, beautifully balanced piece of legislation”?

Hon MARIAN HOBBS: The bill uses the Resource Management Act’s very good principles and very good procedures for the most part. The fact that there was an absence of a water allocation plan meant that it was “first come, first decision”. When there are 66 applications, a “first in, first served” policy does not mean that the best use is achieved.

Larry Baldock: In light of the ongoing concern and constant criticism expressed by interest groups and Opposition parties about delays the Resource Management Act causes for major projects, is the Minister surprised by criticism of her most recent effort to address such problems by those very same groups, including, most notably, the National and ACT parties?

Hon MARIAN HOBBS: The Resource Management Act comes in for a lot of criticism from a whole range of people, whether it be non-governmental organisations or business concerns. As such, it is always under constant review.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: Why has this Minister steadfastly refused to make substantial amendments to the Resource Management Act when asked to do so by the forestry industry, when asked by the agricultural sector, when asked by the energy sector, and when asked by the transport sector, but, hello, hello, when it is the Government’s own company she will put a special bill through just to help it out; and how is this any different from the special Clyde Dam legislation that was passed in 1983?

Hon MARIAN HOBBS: There is an absolute difference in relation to the Clyde Dam legislation. The Clyde Dam legislation was about fast-tracking—this is not. That legislation was about reversing local decisions. [Interruption] Let me say again that that legislation was about reversing local decisions. [Interruption] This is about establishing a fair and considered process to make some difficult decisions.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: I seek the leave of the House to table a speech made by Dr Michael Cullen in 1983 in which he talks about constitutional outrage and abuse of process, and in which he states that the people of Otago should decide how their water resources are used rather than a committee appointed—

Mr SPEAKER: The member knows he went on too long.

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

Hon Richard Prebble: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I appreciate that you might say that the barracking came from this side of the House, but not all of us were barracking. Some of us were actually trying to listen. I would really like the Minister to give the answer again so that we can hear it.

Mr SPEAKER: No, I heard the answer. I heard an amount of interjection but I managed to hear the answer from this part of the House.

Rodney Hide: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Earlier you ruled that I was not to interject on a questioner ever again.

Mr SPEAKER: No, on the asking of a question, not an answer.

Rodney Hide: That is right. So I have sat here, as you know, a model MP—and it has been very difficult. But I could not help but observe that while Dr Nick Smith was raising a point of order, given that you have always demanded absolute silence—quite correctly—the Government whip David Benson-Pope interjected on him. The Minister, Marian Hobbs—and she is nodding her head, indicating that she did—interjected on him, but somehow when they do it on a point of order it isMr SPEAKER: Well, let me say that it was a member of the National Party who interjected while the member was discussing that point of order. I usually tend to stand by that rule, but I am not going to be absolutely rigid every single moment of the day.

Hon Peter Dunne: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I want to take you back to your earlier ruling. I am sitting considerably closer to the Minister than Mr Prebble, who raised the point of order, and a lot closer than you are, and I could not hear the answer that was given. I suggest that it was perhaps a little unfair of you to rule that from your distance you could hear it, whereas those of us in this sector of the House could not. Maybe the Minister should be required to repeat it.

Hon Dr Michael Cullen: I hope the Minister could give a brief summary of her answer. I suggest to you, Mr Speaker, that it should be that and there should be no interjection, otherwise we invite barracking, and members delay question time by then asking for the answers to be repeated.

Mr SPEAKER: Yes, I think the point is well made. There was too much interjection. I, however, thought the Minister was coping with it. I will now ask the Minister to give—and I want silence—a very brief summary of her answer.

Hon MARIAN HOBBS: As I recall the question, it was that this was being compared with the Clyde Dam. This bill, which we have before us this week, will not be about fast-tracking any proposals. Nor is it about reversing local decisions, as it was in the Clyde Dam example. It is about establishing a fair and considered process to make some very difficult decisions.

Statistics New Zealand—Mâori Communities

10. MOANA MACKEY (Labour) to the Minister of Statistics: What is Statistics New Zealand doing to raise awareness and extend the use of official statistics in Maori communities?

Hon JOHN TAMIHERE (Minister of Statistics): Statistics New Zealand has secured funding to obtain six kaitakawaenga, who will be appointed to work with Mâori communities during the 2006 census. Their role is to raise awareness and extend the use of official statistics in Mâori communities. Statistics New Zealand plays a vital role in informing social, political, economic, and business decision-making in this country, and we are proud to be a Government that is taking Statistics New Zealand seriously after years of neglect by those members opposite.

Moana Mackey: What is Statistics New Zealand doing to improve the availability of official statistics about Mâori businesses?

Hon JOHN TAMIHERE: Currently, no systematic official statistics about Mâori business activity are available. As a means of improving the situation, Statistics New Zealand, in cooperation with Te Puni Kôkiri, is currently testing strategies for identifying Mâori businesses, so that a systematic range of statistics can be compiled from existing data sources. The Government believes that these statistics are needed to understand and enhance the contribution of commercial activities. [Interruption] That is right, and I might add that this Government is supporting Statistics New Zealand in such projects by providing it with an additional—

Mr SPEAKER: That is sufficient.

Trans-Tasman Therapeutic Products Agency—Bilateral Treaty

11. SUE KEDGLEY (Green) to the Minister of Health: Has the Government made a decision to include the regulation of complementary medicines and dietary supplements in the proposed trans-Tasman therapeutic products agency, and when does it expect to sign a bilateral treaty between the Australian and New Zealand Governments establishing the agency?

Hon ANNETTE KING (Minister of Health): Yes. The Government has decided to include the regulation of complementary medicines and therapeutic dietary supplements in the proposed trans-Tasman therapeutic products agency. The treaty will be signed on 10 December.

Sue Kedgley: Why has the Minister made this decision before the Health Committee, which is inquiring into this very issue, has even reported back, and what does she say to members of the Health Committee who have been toiling away on this issue for 8 months, only to find at the end of it that that we have completely wasted our time because the Minister had already made up her mind?

Hon ANNETTE KING: It is not reasonable to expect the Governments of New Zealand or Australia to wait any longer for a report from a select committee—a report that the Government did not call for—on something that was first decided in September 2002, 15 months ago. Governments cannot hold up agreements on that basis. What countries would deal with us if we did?

Mark Peck: What process will be followed once the treaty has been signed?

Hon ANNETTE KING: It is proposed that the national interest analysis and a text of the agreement be tabled in Parliament in accordance with the parliamentary treaty examination process.

Dr Lynda Scott: What are the cost implications for New Zealand’s large complementary health-care market of having a trans-Tasman therapeutics product agency rather than mutual recognition and a strengthened New Zealand regulatory system?

Hon ANNETTE KING: Work undertaken by the New Zealand Institute of Economic Research suggests the costs of regulating complementary medicines within a joint agency would be significantly less than that of a New Zealand regulatory scheme.

Sue Kedgley: What was she saying to the hundreds of submitters who made submissions in good faith believing that we were conducting a genuine inquiry into this issue, and does she understand how they may consider her decision to be arrogant and extraordinary, and that they too may feel—like the members of the Health Committee—that they have completely wasted their time because she had already made a predetermined decision on the matter that the committee is inquiring into?

Hon ANNETTE KING: The Cabinet made a decision in principle in November 2002 that complementary medicines would be included in the joint regulator. We have waited patiently for the select committee to report back. It still has not reported back. We are working closely with the Australian Government. We have considered what we have heard along the way. I think the member may well even be pleased when she sees the extent of what has been considered in the joint regulator.

Sue Kedgley: In light of comments by the Minister for Small Business yesterday that Australian businesses face much higher compliance costs than New Zealand businesses do, why is she supporting a proposal to regulate dietary supplements by an expensive, Australian-based therapeutic goods agency, when overwhelming evidence was presented to the select committee that that will increase the compliance costs of small New Zealand dietary supplement industries, and that no further assurance will be given to consumers as a result of these increased compliance costs, as the Pan Pharmaceuticals debacle amply illustrated?

Mr SPEAKER: That question was far too long. The Minister may comment briefly on one or two aspects of it.

Hon ANNETTE KING: This Government has decided to move, in conjunction with Australia, to regulate complementary and therapeutic dietary supplements because of the Pan Pharmaceuticals situation. Many New Zealanders demanded that we put in place regulation, and the work that I have seen shows the impact on small business of what we intend to put in place will be minimal.

Sue Kedgley: Is she aware that the overwhelming majority of submitters, consumers, and dietary supplement industries are completely opposed to the course she is pursuing, and does she agree with Margaret Wilson’s comment, in respect of the Supreme Court debate, that a remote and inaccessible final Court of Appeal is not a hallmark of modern democracy; if so, why is her Government supporting the establishment of a remote and inaccessible body, based in Australia and staffed principally by Australians, to regulate dietary supplements in New Zealand?

Hon ANNETTE KING: The member is wrong on just about every point she has made. She has assumed that the body is remote, she has assumed that it is in Australia, and she has assumed that it is under Australia’s control. She is wrong on all those points.

Speed Cameras—Infringement Demerit Points

12. Hon TONY RYALL (National—Bay of Plenty) to the Minister of Transport: Has he considered introducing demerit points on speed camera tickets; if so, what recommendations, if any, is he proposing to his Cabinet colleagues on this matter?

Hon PAUL SWAIN (Minister of Transport): Yes, but I am not telling.

Hon Tony Ryall: In making a recommendation to his Cabinet colleagues, did he tell his colleagues that in Victoria, which does have demerit points for speed camera tickets, it is not uncommon for family members to transfer demerit points between themselves to avoid getting a disqualification period, and in some companies it is not unheard of for the receptionist to accept demerit points so that top salespeople can keep their cars on the roads; and does this not show what a mockery such a policy would be?

Hon PAUL SWAIN: There is a range of issues around demerit points for speed camera tickets. If the member would like further information on the issues in relation to Victoria, I am happy to show it to him. But those issues need to be considered carefully, and Cabinet is doing just that.

Lynne Pillay: What indication has he received about public attitudes to speed?

Hon PAUL SWAIN: There is growing support for a tougher line to be taken against speeding on our roads. For example, a NBR poll in September this year showed that 57 percent of people supported demerit points for speed camera tickets. Given that one-third of all fatal accidents were primarily speed related, I am keen to hear a lot more from those whose families suffered the consequences of speeding, and a little less from those who want to drive as fast as they like.

Hon Tony Ryall: Is the Government considering introducing demerit points for other transport matters, such as driving a tractor up the steps of Parliament, or does the Minister think he will end up with egg on his face, like the Government and the police have done today with the dropping of charges against Shane Ardern MP?

Mr SPEAKER: In so far as that relates to the Minister’s responsibility he may comment briefly.

Hon PAUL SWAIN: No, and no.

Hon Tony Ryall: In advising his Cabinet colleagues to consider demerit points as in Victoria, did the Minister tell them that Victoria’s road toll has remained virtually unchanged in the past 10 years, yet New Zealand’s has dropped by 37 percent in the same period, and did he tell his Cabinet colleagues that the New South Wales road toll has fallen by only 3 percent over the same period, despite motorists sometimes being hit with double demerit points?

Hon PAUL SWAIN: Of course, the mess that has been made with those statistics really does not deserve comment, but I will just say that New Zealand comes off a higher base. But the truth is that Victoria has plateaued out, and is looking at a range of new measures. Victoria is looking here at some of the things we are doing.

Hon Tony Ryall: I seek leave to table research that shows that Victoria’s road toll has remained static in the last 10 years while New Zealand’s has dropped by 37 percent without having demerit points for speed cameras tickets, as Victoria has.

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

Question No. 3 to Minister

Hon ANNETTE KING (Minister of Health): I seek leave to table a report from Brian Easton dated April 1997 that states the net social cost of tobacco abuse amounts to almost $22.5 billion.

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

End of Questions for Oral Answer

(uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing)

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