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Questions & Answers For Oral Answer - 11 December

(uncorrected transcript - subject to correction and further editing)

THURSDAY, 11 DECEMBER 2003

Questions for Oral Answer 1

Questions to Ministers 1

Burrows Family - Offender's Criminal Record 1
Foreshore and Seabed - Commercial Development 2
Road Haulage Industry - Government Initiatives 3
Foreshore and Seabed - Mâori Members' Support 3
Education - Mâori Achievement 4
Farming - Minister's Achievements 4
Air Quality - National Environmental Standard 4
Housing - Quality Assurance 5
Criminal Offenders - Bail 5
Health Services - Rural Areas 5
Tauranga Surgeon - Patient Safety 6
Employment Relations Law Reform Bill - Policy 6

Questions for Oral Answer

Questions to Ministers

Burrows Family - Offender's Criminal Record

1. MARC ALEXANDER (United Future) to the Minister of Justice: Does he concede that the justice system totally failed to protect Coral Burrows from Steven Williams, in light of the fact that he was repeatedly granted bail after a criminal career of 88 convictions, and the claim by former police detective Don Finlayson that “He should have been locked up over the last 18 months. If he had been in jail where he belonged, she would still be alive. It was an avoidable death.”?

Hon LIANNE DALZIEL (Acting Minister of Justice): The blame for that appalling and tragic crime must be placed firmly where it belongs, which is at the feet of Steven Williams, who has now been convicted of murder. Bail is a longstanding practice in all Western justice systems. The circumstances in which there is a presumption not to grant bail were extended in 2000. However, decisions on bail in specific cases are matters for the court.

Marc Alexander: In light of the fact that after a long history of offending Steven Williams was granted bail after committing serious drug offences, did three burglaries while on bail, was somehow granted bail again for those crimes, then threatened to kill a 16-year-old while on bail for the burglaries, and then got bail for a charge of threatening to kill, how can the Minister stand by his claim in 2000 that the Government's new Bail Act provisions would target hard-core recidivists, when the same laws failed to put Williams away four times over?

Hon LIANNE DALZIEL: My advice was that on 26 July 2003, section 12 of the new Bail Act was invoked, and there was a reverse onus where he did have to establish his right to bail. It was not granted automatically, so bail was granted by the court.

Hon Tony Ryall: Is not this case further evidence of this Government's soft-on-crime policies that do not work, when Steven Williams, a man with 88 serious criminal convictions, including violence, drug dealing, intimidation, and threatening to kill, gets bail, breaches that bail, and then gets bail again?

Hon LIANNE DALZIEL: I reject the fact that we should be using a case as tragic as this for political purposes.

Ron Mark: Is it not a fact that despite all the vein-popping speeches the Minister gave during 9 years of Opposition, when she criticised successive Governments for the inappropriate use of bail, that Steven Williams was freed on bail on four occasions on your watch, and that as heinous as the murder of wee Coral Burrows is, in 2 weeks' time, when politicians have had their say, and the media have moved on to another story, Coral will simply be consigned to the history books alongside 3-year-old Anahera Ross Lewis who was tortured and punched to death -

Mr SPEAKER: The question is far too long. The member may have about three more words.

Ron Mark: Is it not a fact that we can expect no changes from this Government, and all we are simply waiting for in 10 months' time is another such murder?

Hon LIANNE DALZIEL: The bail laws were changed in the year 2000, which did lead to a reverse in the onus of proof being applied in this particular case. The matter of bail is a matter for the court.

Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I am a bit concerned about your ruling that Mr Mark was taking too long over his question. Often Ministers in this House say that in order to give a full explanation in answer to a question they need to take some extra time. This is an extremely serious matter. It is on the front page of all newspapers today. It was leading news on television last night. I suspect that it will consume the nation over the next couple of weeks. I think it is only fair that the people asking questions have a reasonable amount of time to put more in the question than might be normal.

Mr SPEAKER: No. If the member had rung me before question time and told me he had a longer question to ask, then, as always, I would have advised the House of that and allowed it. I do the same if a Minister says an answer would be longer. I advise that too. However, there is a courtesy in letting me know about those things.

Ron Mark: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I am left with a niggling feeling and I would like some assurance from you. Subsequent to the Minister trying to avoid the question by pointing out that we should not be asking questions about such a horrendous and heinous crime, leaving us with the view that she would rather not answer questions that are embarrassing, and using Coral as an excuse for that, subsequently you did shorten my question. If I were to do a word count, and no doubt your staff could, about the length of my question, compared with some other members' questions in this House, I am just a little worried that I might not have been treated as fairly as others.

Mr SPEAKER: No, the member has been treated very, very fairly in this House.

Deborah Coddington: Does the Minister agree that we are relying too much on Governments for the safety of children and not taking enough personal responsibility as parents, families, and communities, as expressed by the Hon John Tamihere; if not, why not?

Hon LIANNE DALZIEL: I personally believe that there is a collective responsibility. We are all responsible for the children of this country.

Marc Alexander: In light of the fact that the police viewed Steven Williams as a volatile time bomb, with countless convictions for violence, drug-dealing, abuse, intimidation, drink-driving, and threatening to kill a 16-year-old, why did neither justice nor child protection agencies think to question whether he should be living in a family with young children?

Hon LIANNE DALZIEL: I am not sure whether that matter was actually referred by those agencies to the child protection agencies. What I am sure of, though, is that the police, taking all those matters into account, did oppose bail. The tragedy of this particular case would suggest that even if he had not been granted bail, Coral's death may still have occurred but at a later date.

Hon Tony Ryall: Why is it Government policy that a man with a violent criminal record should be permitted home detention at an address with two young children when it was today revealed that Steven Williams was not allowed near his own children and was not allowed near his sister's children because he is reported to have attacked one of them; and why did this Government's system allow that man home detention at Coral Burrow's home?

Hon LIANNE DALZIEL: I am not sure which particular provisions of the law provided for the home detention in this particular case, but it was not for a serious violent offence, in fact.

Marc Alexander: Noting that William's spell of home detention for cannabis offences did nothing to deter him from drugs or stop him from progressing to the supply of and the use of pure methamphetamine, does the Minister agree that home detention is a ridiculous sentence for a drug addict; and, had it been addressed earlier, would it not have conceivably saved Coral Burrow's life?

Hon LIANNE DALZIEL: I am not aware of the evidence in respect of the possession and cultivation of cannabis and the moving on to the highly dangerous drug, P. In this particular case I suspect that the tragedy is that it was going to happen anyway; it was just a matter of time. I think that what we should all do as a Parliament is try to learn the lessons of it, rather than try to apportion blame, to prevent such a tragedy from ever happening again.

Ron Mark: Can the House now take it from what the Minister has just said that she is saying that even if Steven Williams had been in jail, she believes that wee Coral would have been killed anyway; and what information does she now have that she could share with the House to enlighten us all as to what brought her to that conclusion, contrary to what Don Finlayson was saying?

Hon LIANNE DALZIEL: What I said was that the tragedy may well still have occurred later on once he was released from jail. This man seemed to be on a trajectory, starting with offences that go back into the 1990s. Everyone can look at himself or herself on this particular case. There is no point trying to apportion blame now. We must try to stop it from ever happening again.

Foreshore and Seabed - Commercial Development

2. Dr DON BRASH (Leader of the Opposition) to the Prime Minister: Does the Government plan to include commercial development as a customary right in the proposed legislation to deal with the foreshore and seabed; if so, what are the implications for the aquaculture, mining, and tourism industries?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK (Prime Minister): Decisions on legislation will be announced in due course. However, I can advise the member that the advice to the Government is that a development right is not a customary right.

Dr Don Brash: Is the Prime Minister aware that her Ministers and chief of staff told Te Ope Mana a Tai last week that the Government would accept a concept of customary title to the foreshore and seabed with commercial use attached, and does she endorse the example they used that if there was a customary right to collect two buckets of sand from the beach, they should be entitled to take two buckets and sell them?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: As my colleague said, does it come down to two buckets of sand? I repeat: the advice to the Government has been that development right is not a customary right. I can also say that the Deputy Prime Minister and other Ministers have been earnestly working to get a solution on this matter - unlike the Opposition, which is more interested in dividing New Zealanders.

Jeanette Fitzsimons: Is the Government committed to a fair and negotiated share of commercial development rights on the coast within the limits of ecological sustainability for local hapû and iwi?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: Cabinet has not yet taken final decisions on the proposal, which it expects to unveil next week. We will be keeping in touch with the Greens and United Future as proposals develop, but I am not in a position today to outline details.

Hon Ken Shirley: Will she confirm that aquaculture is part of commercial fishing, and that the 1992 Mâori fishery settlement was a full and final settlement of all current and future claims based on rights and interests of Mâori in commercial fishing; if not, why would the Prime Minister not give that confirmation if she is not prepared to give it?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: My understanding is that aquaculture was not covered in that settlement.

Hon Peter Dunne: Can the Prime Minister give the House the assurance that any right of customary title granted as a result of this proposed settlement will not be superior to the rights of access and ownership that will be enjoyed by all New Zealanders?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: From the outset what the Government has sought to do is balance the general public's rights of access, long enjoyed, with the customary rights of Mâori. I remain convinced that that can be done without unduly impeding on anybody's rights.

Dr Don Brash: Have her Ministers and officials told Mâori interest groups that the Government has moved from its policy position in August to one where there will be a mana whenua title from which real partnership will flow; if so, can she detail exactly what this real partnership will entail, and what impact it will have on other New Zealanders?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: The concept of partnership is one that I believe is inherent in the Treaty of Waitangi. As I said before, I am interested in solutions that bring New Zealanders together to work together, not to dividing people.

Hon Ken Shirley: Are we to understand that it is her Government's intention to revisit the full and final provisions of the 1992 commercial Mâori fisheries settlement; therefore in respect of aquaculture, that full and final settlement lasted about 11 years, just as the “in perpetuity” of the West Coast Accord signed by her Labour Government lasted about 12 years?

Hon Dr Michael Cullen: That member's Labour Government, too!

Hon Ken Shirley: Absolutely. But I was not the one who reneged on it.

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: The member is misinformed. The full and final provisions did not apply to aquaculture.

Dr Don Brash: Can the Prime Minister confirm media reports that a Mâori caucus revolt is imperilling Government plans for the foreshore and seabed, and that “semi-bust ups and major bust ups are going on everywhere”; if so, what assurances can she give the House, with the summer holidays on the horizon - [Interruption]

Mr SPEAKER: I will only once give a warning about interjection during a question. That is totally unnecessary and out of order. I will ask Dr Brash to start again.

Dr Don Brash: Can the Prime Minister confirm media reports that a Mâori caucus revolt is imperilling Government plans for the foreshore and seabed, and that “semi bust-ups and major bust-ups are going on everywhere”; if so, what assurances can she give the House, with the summer holidays on the horizon, that the foreshore and seabed issue will be resolved any time soon?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I am happy to say that I can confirm no such thing, nor have I even seen the palest shadow of the behaviour of someone like Maurice Williamson.

Hon Ken Shirley: I seek leave of the House to table the Treaty of Waitangi fisheries claim settlement of 1992, known as the Sealord's deal, clearly showing that aquaculture was included as part of commercial fishing in that deal.

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

Road Haulage Industry - Government Initiatives

3. JILL PETTIS (Labour - Whanganui) to the Minister for Social Development and Employment: What initiatives is the Government taking to promote employment in the road haulage industry?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY (Minister for Social Development and Employment): As part of the Jobs Jolt programme, an agreement with Work and Income and National Road Carriers has been signed to take people who have been on a benefit and train and employ them in the road haulage industry. Industry research suggests that the sector has a current shortage of some 1,000 drivers nationwide, with strong demand expected to continue. Tony Friedlander of the Road Transport Forum described this jobs partnership as a “very practical initiative which can return benefits to everyone involved” and as a “positive move towards solving the growing shortage of truck drivers”.

Jill Pettis: Can the Minister advise what other industry employment partnerships are proposed and how many more people are expected to gain jobs as a result?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: The Jobs Jolt partnership has already signed an agreement with the hospitality industry, and the road haulage agreement now joins that. Further agreements will be developed with a number of high-growth industries, including tourism, retailing, and trades. At the moment, we are targeting 2,500 new jobs through industry partnerships. They will be part of 22,000 jobs overall.

Katherine Rich: Given that Work and Income has worked closely with industry to address skill shortages for many, many years, what is genuinely new here, and how will this programme overcome the financial barriers, such as the high cost of learning to drive a truck and obtaining a heavy transport licence, which is the main reason for the shortages?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: I think the industry regards it as genuinely new and that is why it regards the programme as a very positive move towards solving the growing shortage of truck drivers, as Tony Friedlander is reported as saying. The member is wrong. The main reason for the lack of truck drivers at the present time, as the industry itself will say, is the lack of forward planning on behalf of the industry.

Peter Brown: Does this industry partnership that has been announced mean that people interested in a driving career will have access to finance via a student loan scheme, or via a superior scheme?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: The most likely source of funding for people in those positions would come through the standard training measure, which is part of the industry training organisation funding but not part of the equivalent full-time student model, which is part of the loan scheme that the member was talking about.

Peter Brown: Noting the Minister's desire to promote employment in the road haulage industry, will he be examining the attitude of some members of the commercial vehicle inspection units, who on occasion stop truckies and penalise them very severely for some exceedingly simple errors in their logbooks, leading to frustration and to drivers leaving the industry?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: I personally will not be doing that. I am the Minister for Social Development and Employment. But if the member does have a concern and brings it to me, I will pass it on to the appropriate Minister.

Foreshore and Seabed - Mâori Members' Support

4. DAIL JONES (NZ First) to the Prime Minister: Is she concerned that Hon Tariana Turia is reported in the Dominion Post today as telling colleagues that Mâori members could exercise more influence from the sideline over the Government's policy on the foreshore and seabed; if so, what does she intend to do about it?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK (Prime Minister): No.

Dail Jones: Is she concerned that there is clear evidence that the Hon Tariana Turia and her supporters have rejected the Government's policy on the foreshore and seabed announced on 23 June 2003, which was to introduce legislation to give clear expression to the Crown's ownership of the foreshore and seabed; and is the policy now in the control of a minor Minister, with the tail wagging the dog insofar as the leadership of the Labour Party is concerned?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I have seen no such evidence.

Dr Don Brash: Does the Prime Minister accept that the doctrine of collective Cabinet responsibility must operate in this matter, and will she assure the House that if Mrs Turia does not publicly support the Government's position on the foreshore and seabed issue, she will expect her resignation as a Minister?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: As Prime Minister, I will determine what the bounds of manoeuvre for Ministers are.

Hon Ken Shirley: Will the Prime Minister grant Minister Tariana Turia an exemption from the collective responsibility provisions of the Cabinet Office Manual; if so, why, and if not, why not?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I have had no such request.

Metiria Turei: Does the Prime Minister not agree that it is entirely appropriate, and, indeed, their responsibility, for Mâori MPs to exercise influence on behalf of Mâori and their constituents; and is this not a fundamental part of the democratic process?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I certainly expect members, including Ministers, to work within the Government on behalf of their constituents, and I say of Mrs Turia that she contributes a great deal to Government policy, and is a full and constructive contributor.

Dail Jones: Why has the Prime Minister been unable to introduce legislation since 23 June 2003 ensuring that the Crown has legal title to the foreshore, seabed, and other parts of the environment where ownership could be disputed, at the same time protecting Mâori and all other New Zealanders' traditional rights of use; and is it because she is no longer able to lead all the members of the Labour Party caucus to a mutually peaceful resolution of a problem that she foisted upon New Zealand and New Zealanders on 23 June 2003?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: There were so many non-sequiturs in that question that I do not know where to begin. The Government has been working earnestly with a great range of interests to get a solution to the problem, which the Court of Appeal dumped on our doorstep.

Dail Jones: Should the Prime Minister not also be concerned that the Hon Tariana Turia's reported comment, signifying the failure of the Prime Minister to resolve a problem created by herself and the Hon Margaret Wilson over the seabed and foreshore issue, now has considerable similarities with problems experienced by Prime Minister Blair over the education tax, and Prime Minister Thatcher over the poll tax; and is it now clear that this is the beginning of the end of her Labour Government?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I see no parallel.

Dr Don Brash: I seek leave to table a copy of the Cabinet Office Manual, so that the Prime Minister and all Ministers understand the constraints imposed by that manual.

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

Education - Mâori Achievement

5. NANAIA MAHUTA (Labour - Tainui) to the Minister of Education: What reports has he received on improving Mâori achievement in education?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD (Minister of Education): Today I released results of a research project, Te Kotahitanga, which has shown significant evidence of improvements in Mâori students' achievement through a new approach to teaching. It considers ways to keep students enthused and excited about learning and shows that it is the quality of the in-class, face-to-face relationships and interactions between students and their teachers that makes an enormous difference to student achievement.

Nanaia Mahuta: Can the Minister outline what steps the Government is taking to lift Mâori student achievement?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: The Government is committed to ensuring that all our children have the opportunity to reach their full potential in education. We are putting a real focus on using research like this to help lift Mâori student achievement, as it puts a spotlight on what works in practice in the mainstream classroom. We look forward to this valuable work being extended further next year.

Hon Brian Donnelly: Is the Minister telling the House that the former view of his Ministry of Education officials that all we had to do was to teach Mâori students te reo me ngâ tikanga Mâori and educational underachievement would miraculously disappear; is he saying that that, in fact, is not the complete answer to the issue?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: To the final part of the question, yes. I am not sure that all of his earlier assumptions were correct.

Farming - Minister's Achievements

6. GERRARD ECKHOFF (ACT) to the Minister for Rural Affairs: What have been his main achievements for New Zealand's farming community over the last 12 months?

Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR (Associate Minister for Rural Affairs), on behalf of the Minister for Rural Affairs: It would take some considerable time to list all this Government's achievements for rural communities, but my personal favourite is for the work we have done in maintaining and enhancing health services for rural people.

Gerrard Eckhoff: Why does he believe that this self-styled achievement outweighs the following: enticing hundreds of farmers to march on Parliament, protesting the flatulence tax; his failure to advocate against the closure of rural schools; a 77 percent rise in crime in Otago alone; his failure to protect property rights over land access issues; funding of rural hospitals, which are losing money because they are based on race-based funding, and which of the above would he rank as his finest achievement?

Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: There are a number of questions there. We have not made any decisions over land access, and there is a process under way where the Minister will hear submissions from the rural sector on that issue. We have put more funding into rural health services, and the Government is always willing to listen to anyone who wishes to march to Parliament on any particular issue.

Mark Peck: Does the Minister accept the contention inherent in the member's question that this Government has no truck with rural communities; if not, what advice would he give Mr Eckhoff?

Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: We support rural New Zealand. We have a focus on ensuring rural people can access services. Since the heartland service centres have been rolled out, along with high speed Internet access, we are working to provide quality health and education in rural areas. We are fostering sustainability and innovation of rural communities through things such as the sustainable farming fund. We understand the value of rural New Zealand.

R Doug Woolerton: Why is it then that the honourable Minister is not seen to be publicly supportive of our major export earners, or is it simply that he just does not care?

Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: We have done a lot of work for the key industries, such as producer board reform and supporting them through good rural infrastructure, and ensuring that good training systems are in place for rural communities. That is how this Government has assisted the rural sector in this country.

Ian Ewen-Street: Would the Minister agree that the implementation of the national organic standards and the strategy for the organic sector, both of which were Green Party initiatives, have been amongst his main achievements for the rural sector; if not, why not?

Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: I am sorry that I omitted to mention those achievements. As I said before, they are part of a package of many, many things this Government has done for rural New Zealand.

Gerrard Eckhoff: What does the Minister have to say to residents of his own electorate, like councillor Terry Kennedy, who said that the Government should be ashamed of what it is doing to rural health and in education, and the chairman of Hakataramea Valley School, Peter Aitken, who said that the Government consultation was “a load of” - the expletive has been deleted. “At the end of the day they did what they felt like, and they knew the outcome before they came here.”?

Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: Those people are entitled to their opinions. However, I support the robust system of consultation that we have had, particularly over the issue of rural school reviews. I am happy to say that my colleague Mr Mallard has fronted rural communities and explained that they are entitled to quality education, in the same way that urban people are, as well.

Air Quality - National Environmental Standard

7. JEANETTE FITZSIMONS (Co-Leader - Green) to the Minister for the Environment: Is the proposed national environmental standard on air quality intended to protect and promote public health?

Hon MARIAN HOBBS (Minister for the Environment): Yes.

Jeanette Fitzsimons: Why does the standard allow peak concentrations of fine particulates 2½ times higher than the current guidelines, given that the World Health Organization says there is no safe level and that they are believed to contribute to 400 deaths and 750,000 restricted activity days a year in Auckland alone?

Hon MARIAN HOBBS: I agree that research, including World Health Organization research, has not identified a threshold below which health effects do not occur and that there is some risk with inhaling, at proposed standards. However, given that many of our towns at the moment significantly breach the proposed concentration on many days a year, achieving that standard should bring about considerable health benefits.

Dr Ashraf Choudhary: What are the likely health benefits from the proposed air quality standards?

Hon MARIAN HOBBS: Poor air quality causes severe health problems, as was noted by the previous questioner. Modelling by the Ministry for the Environment indicates that achieving the proposed standards will prevent annually around 40 premature deaths, 40 hospitalisations, and 75,000 person days of restricted activity.

Jeanette Fitzsimons: Given that motor vehicles are the main source of fine particulates, particularly in Auckland, is not this standard designed just to get in the way of Mayor Banks' extreme road-building plans for Auckland, and has she seen the recent UK study in which children's coughing was directly related to the distance that they lived from a road?

Hon MARIAN HOBBS: I am very much aware that in certain areas around Auckland, and I have seen the studies, vehicle congestion does add, very much so, to the poor air quality. There is a distance between congestion and slow traffic, and moving traffic.

Jeanette Fitzsimons: Why does the Minister think it is appropriate to set a national minimum standard at a level that is known to kill people, especially when regional councils, which have the power to set higher standards than this, will face huge business lobbies if they try to go beyond the national standard in order to protect their communities?

Hon MARIAN HOBBS: I would beg to suggest that any standard is better than the current no standard, and that the case of the difference between proposed standards in Christchurch or Canterbury regional standards and this one are to be debated between them. It is accepted by me, and in working with the mayor and the people in Christchurch at this very moment, that the cause there is more to do with housing than vehicles. The room for movement at the moment seems only to be on industry, and that is where the tension lies.

Jeanette Fitzsimons: Would not Environment Canterbury's current air plan also produce higher air quality than the Government's proposed minimum standard, and is not Environment Canterbury's main concern simply the rate of implementation in order to give industry time to adapt?

Hon MARIAN HOBBS: From my understanding, the problem in Canterbury has more to do with the poverty of households impacting on their ability to lower domestic emissions, which are by far the greatest problem in air pollution in Canterbury. That is why, at the moment, there is some tension between the flexibility that comes with industry lowering industry emissions, versus some support for domestic lowering of emissions.

Housing - Quality Assurance

8. LYNNE PILLAY (Labour - Waitakere) to the Minister of Commerce: What is the Government doing to protect homeowners in their purchase of built household units from property developers and speculative builders?

Hon LIANNE DALZIEL (Minister of Commerce): The Government has agreed to introduce further changes to the Building Bill currently before the Government Administration Committee that will extend the warranty provisions to property developers and speculative builders. In addition, such developers and builders will be required to obtain code compliance certificates prior to the completion of contracts for the sale of household units.

Lynne Pillay: Why are these changes to the Building Bill necessary?

Hon LIANNE DALZIEL: When someone buys a unit or house off a developer or speculative builder, there is no original contract to fall back on if something needs to be fixed. Therefore, the warranty provisions will provide redress, should it be required. These will be implied by law and if they are not included in the purchase agreement there can be no contracting out. Homeowners who, in the past, have not realised that their brand new home was not code-compliant when they bought it from such a developer or builder will be welcoming this proposal.

Hon David Carter: Will the Minister assure the House that any such legislative change will be more effective than the fiasco around the Weathertight Homes Resolution Services Act that promised access to speedy resolution and has so far, out of 2105 claims, resolved only 33?

Hon LIANNE DALZIEL: The member has quite rightly identified a problem with the Weathertight Homes Resolution Service procedures, which were designed to give people effective and ready access to solutions. But what we have actually seen is that people spend a considerable amount of money on lawyers, instead of on getting their houses fixed, and I would like to do something about that.

Criminal Offenders - Bail

9. Hon TONY RYALL (National - Bay of Plenty) to the Minister of Justice: Is it Government policy that offenders with 80 or more previous convictions are able to receive bail; if so, why?

Hon LIANNE DALZIEL (Associate Minister of Justice), on behalf of the Minister of Justice: Government policy on bail was laid out in the Bail Act of 2000. That Act implemented significant reforms to bail law, including introducing a presumption against bail for serious repeat offenders. However, decisions on bail in specific cases are a matter for the court.

Hon Tony Ryall: Given the Minister's assurances at the time of the passing of the Bail Act that it would ensure public security as the ultimate goal, what changes will the Government consider given the situation whereby a man with 88 convictions for quite serious offences can get bail, breach those bail conditions, and then be granted bail yet again?

Hon LIANNE DALZIEL: The point I made in an earlier answer is that in that particular case section 12 of the Bail Act was invoked and the onus of proof was reversed. The court made the decision on the bail application. Bail was opposed by the police.

Ron Mark: Does the Minister recall saying on 1 March 1998: “Professional criminals with multiple convictions and a track record of offending on bail need to know that immediate imprisonment will be the automatic response if they commit further crimes. Taking hard-core criminals out of circulation is the only effective way of reducing the soaring crime rate.”; and, if he does not, does he remember saying that it is time the Minister got serious about the review of bail laws to produce a system with better safeguards for the community; if so, what will the Minister do now to tighten up the bail laws?

Hon LIANNE DALZIEL: Yes, and that is why the Bail Act was amended in the year 2000.

Dr Muriel Newman: In light of that answer, what does the Minister of Justice say in response to present and former police who agree with detective Don Finlayson that the judicial system is kicking them in the teeth, and who stated: “I left and others are leaving because we are wasting our time.”?

Hon LIANNE DALZIEL: I understand why the police would feel that way about this particular case, because on that particular occasion the police opposed bail, as they did on other occasions. However, at the end of the day, even with the reverse onus of proof, it is up to the court to make decisions on bail applications.

Hon Tony Ryall: Given that the Bail Act previously was amended because Parliament decided that judges were not being tough enough on bail, given that in this case judges believed they had the power to grant bail even though people had originally breached their bail conditions and that is the reason why they are before the judge, is it not time that Parliament again amended the law to tighten it up to give a much clearer message to judges that a person with 88 previous convictions does not get bail?

Hon LIANNE DALZIEL: Each individual case is decided on its own facts. Not all of the convictions were serious criminal convictions, not all of those convictions happened after the 1999 election, and not all those bail decisions happened after the 1999 general election, either. There is no point playing politics with this appalling tragedy. [Interruption]

Mr SPEAKER: There was too much interjection during that answer.

Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. You are probably likely to rule that the Minister in that case addressed the question.

Mr SPEAKER: Most certainly.

Gerry Brownlee: Well, I ask you to consider this. It was a simple question that asked whether Parliament should have another look at these laws. No answer was given to that. A lecture was given to the House about how the current law works. We all know it is insufficient, and that was why the question was asked in the first place.

Mr SPEAKER: That last point was not part of a point of order. The Minister did address the question.

Ron Mark: I seek the leave of the House to table a report in which Mr Goff states that Parliament needs to change the law to instruct the courts to lock these crooks up.

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

Health Services - Rural Areas

10. DAVID PARKER (Labour - Otago) to the Associate Minister for Rural Affairs: How is the Government improving the delivery of rural health services in New Zealand?

Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR (Associate Minister for Rural Affairs): This Government's mobile surgical services initiative has completed its second year exceeding its targets for operations. In the past year the service has travelled the length of the country delivering well over 1,000 surgical procedures to people in rural communities. Just yesterday the mobile bus was winner of a United Nations sponsored world information communications award in Geneva for its achievements in delivering first-class surgical services to people in rural areas.

David Parker: In practice, what does the success of the mobile surgical bus mean for rural New Zealanders?

Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: It means that more than 300 different procedures are available to those using the facility, and it means a high number of operations carried out in each centre. For example, in the year to October 2003 there were 143 procedures in Warkworth, 89 in Taihape, 67 in Balclutha, 63 in Gore, and 56 in Dunstan Hospital at Clyde.

Katherine Rich: With regard to the Minister's reference to Dunstan Hospital, what is the Minister doing about rural services, in particular the services provided by Dunstan Hospital?

Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: I understand there have been negotiations with the Minister of Health, and I think we are likely to see a very, very positive outcome for the people of that region assisted by the great advocacy of the local member.

Tauranga Surgeon - Patient Safety

11. Dr LYNDA SCOTT (National - Kaikoura) to the Minister of Health: Will she now take action and order an inquiry to discover why Southern Cross Norfolk Hospital and Tauranga Hospital have suddenly banned Mr Ian Breeze from surgery, but seemed unable to do so previously; if not, why not?

Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR (Associate Minister of Health), on behalf of the Minister of Health: No. The Minister has been advised by the Medical Council and the Health Disability Commissioner that these matters are being dealt with appropriately.

Dr Lynda Scott: Did Tauranga Hospital know of any problems Dr Breeze was having at Norfolk Private Hospital and previously at Southern Cross Hospital, and vice versa; if not, why are we are not having an inquiry to investigate how to solve the systemic failure of communication that prevented the whole picture being seen?

Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: My understanding is that as soon as Tauranga Hospital was notified of the concerns it took action. The Government has moved to improve the system. The passage of the Health Practitioners Competence Assurance Act has meant that anyone or any organisation with complaints can take them to one place - that is, the Health and Disability Commissioner.

Dr Lynda Scott: Was the failure of Tauranga Hospital to suspend Mr Breeze from practice influenced in any way not by what they knew of his error rate, but because of the case of Dunedin surgeon Robert Phipps, whom HealthCare Otago sacked after a review of competency, costing Otago hundreds of thousands of dollars; if the Minister does not know the answer to this question, why are we not having an inquiry to find out?

Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: I am not aware of the details around that, but if the member would like to write a question down I am sure we will get details back to her.

Employment Relations Law Reform Bill - Policy

12. PAUL ADAMS (United Future) to the Minister of Labour: Does she stand by her statement yesterday regarding aspects of the Employment Relations Law Reform Bill that: “The Government considers that skilled employees are in fact an asset of the business, and, just like plant, capital and goodwill are seen as assets, so should employees. So we do not see in this instance that it will be a detriment.”; if so, why?

Hon MARGARET WILSON (Minister of Labour): Yes, because the bill requires, apart from the vulnerable employee sector, that buyers and sellers of a business turn their minds to what should happen to employees when a business is sold. I understand that this already happens in many transactions.

Paul Adams: If such employees are always a valuable asset, whose retention will not be detrimental to the business concerned, why does the Minister see the need for legislation to protect them when this is surely a business decision for employers to make, since they are the people most capable of recognising these skills?

Hon MARGARET WILSON: That is why the legislation provides for a process, and not an outcome. It enables the employer and the employee to determine the best situation that applies to them in those circumstances.

Dave Hereora: Why is the continuity of employment provisions important in developing productive employment relationships?

Hon MARGARET WILSON: During the period of economic adjustment in the 1980s and 1990s New Zealand, unfortunately, lost too many skilled employees, and at a time when there is a global skill shortage - and that is recognised by everyone - it is important that we do all we can to attract and to retain skilled employees.

Hon Roger Sowry: Does the Minister believe that saddling the purchaser of an ailing company with its employees, and limiting the ability of the buyer to make changes to staffing and management practices, is in fact a positive move; if so, why?

Hon MARGARET WILSON: It does not saddle an employer with new employees. The provisions of the reform bill provide for a process to be discussed between the employees and the employer as to what would be appropriate in those circumstances. I note that the provisions do not apply to those businesses that are bankrupt or insolvent in some way.

Paul Adams: Does the Minister concede that despite her view of skilled employees as assets, a new owner cannot sell staff, unlike plant and machinery, and does she agree that if new employers have to pay for their redundancy, then existing staff may be a liability?

Hon MARGARET WILSON: That is a view towards employees that some employers might have. In my experience most in fact do see their employees as being a valuable contribution to their business.

Hon Roger Sowry: Given the Minister's answer before when she noted that the provisions do not saddle employers with the staff, and she noted that they do not apply to businesses that are insolvent or bankrupt, does she agree that many businesses such as restaurants will go into insolvency or bankruptcy, because new purchasers will not want to hire the staff?

Hon MARGARET WILSON: No, the evidence is that when buying a business in those instances, it is frequently important to have the retention of good staff who know the customers and can continue on the profitability of the business.

Mr SPEAKER: Supplementary question. No, New Zealand First has had its allocated quota.

Peter Brown: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. We had 10 questions yesterday, 10 on Tuesday, and we are entitled to 11 once a week.

Mr SPEAKER: No, there were 11 yesterday, I am sorry. The member's party has had its week's questions.

Sue Bradford: Is the Minister concerned for future employment relations and the welfare of employees, should a United Future or National MP ever have Cabinet responsibility for employment relations, given their determined -

Mr SPEAKER: I want the question asked without reference to that point about United Future or National. I want the member to ask the question she wants to ask, but without reference to the parties, because they are no responsibility of the Minister. The member can come back if she wants to.

Paul Adams: Does she agree that the provision in the Employment Relations Law Reform Bill compelling new owners or contract holders to take on existing staff may have the unintended consequence of forcing employers to make their own staff redundant?

Hon MARGARET WILSON: The provisions of the bill that require the transfer of employees relate to vulnerable employees only. It is important to understand that point. Also, the other question of whether employers would deliberately make people redundant is covered in terms of the new employer, if in fact that happens as a result of the transfer.

End of Questions for Oral Answer

(uncorrected transcript - subject to correction and further editing)


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