Questions For Oral Answer - Thursday, 12 February
(uncorrected transcript--subject to correction and further editing)
Questions to Ministers
Leader of the Opposition—Orewa Speech
Television New Zealand—International Travel Costs
Property Development—Customary Rights
Immigration Act—Security Risk Certificates
Search and Rescue—Boating Accident, Oamaru
Child, Youth and Family Services, Department—Call Centres
Questions for Oral Answer
Questions to Ministers
Leader of the Opposition—Orewa Speech
1. STEPHEN FRANKS (ACT) to the Prime Minister: Does she agree with the Deputy Prime Minister that fear of a damaging response “in the international courts” will hold Dr Don Brash back from doing what the Orewa speech indicates; if not, why did she not correct the Hon Dr Michael Cullen’s statement after he made it on the day of the speech?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK (Prime Minister): Dr Cullen actually said there would be a damaging response to ripping up the treaty, both within New Zealand and in the international courts. While strictly speaking, it might be more accurate to refer to international fora, such as the UN Human Rights Committee, I agree entirely with the tenor of Dr Cullen’s remarks.
Stephen Franks: As she has agreed with Dr Cullen’s remarks, does she believe that those international fora can interfere with, block, or overturn laws passed by this democratically elected Parliament, and if she does, what kinds of laws could they not interfere with?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: As the member knows, the Parliament of this country is sovereign.
Deborah Coddington: Does the Prime Minister think that unelected judges should be able to overturn laws passed by this elected House, and if she does not, why does she not tell New Zealand that she does not agree with Dr Cullen’s statement?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I repeat that Parliament is sovereign, but there appears to be a view on the other side of the House that the Crown should not uphold undertakings it has given courts. It gave courts an undertaking in respect of the transfer of television assets that it would introduce Mâori television. That is what those politicians opposite want to do away with, and that draws into question their commitment to the rule of law in this country.
Gerry Brownlee: Noting that the Prime Minister and other members of the Labour Party have been trying to tell New Zealanders that Dr Don Brash cannot introduce some of the reforms he has proposed in his speeches so far, will she tell the House, if Parliament is sovereign, on what basis would any court question the legality of Dr Brash’s reforms, once they are passed by Parliament?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: It is not a question of a court overruling an Act of Parliament. A New Zealand court cannot do that. But I believe there would be a serious constitutional crisis in this country if the Crown were to dishonour its own commitments to a court. What I say, without fear of contradiction, is that when the Crown sought to transfer television assets to the State-owned enterprise, a claim was brought to the court under provisions of the State-Owned Enterprises Act. The court then adjourned in respect of television assets, to give the Crown the opportunity to submit a scheme designed to protect Te Reo Mâori Television Trust if the assets were transferred.
In July 1991, Cabinet gave undertakings to the High Court to do, among other things, the development of special purpose Mâori television. The High Court accepted the Crown’s undertakings, and allowed the transfer of television assets. I say now that if a future Government were to dishonour that commitment, it would be in serious trouble with the spirit of the rule of law.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: With regard to the Orewa speech indicators, and the so-called reforms implied in that speech, why does the Government not just go along with Dr Brash, abolish the Ministry of Mâori Development, and establish, as indicated by the New Zealand Herald on 3 November 2003, a portfolio for Asian relationships, which is what Dr Brash refers to?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: The member is quite right to point out certain inconsistencies, because the National Party no longer has a women’s affairs spokesperson, and it does not want a Ministry of Mâori Development, but it does want a spokesperson on Asian relationships. We are left wondering why different people are treated differently.
Gerry Brownlee: Can the Prime Minister explain to the House how this country would be in constitutional crisis if Parliament introduced laws that effectively said the Crown had changed its mind?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I think it would be seen as the Crown, in retrospect, dishonouring a commitment it solemnly gave the court of the land. Members opposite say they believe in the rule of law. That would dishonour the rule of law.
Hon Ken Shirley: Does the Prime Minister accept that New Zealand has an obligation to remove all race distinctions from our law, under the international Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, which this country signed up to in 1968; if so, when will she begin?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: In respect of discrimination under the law, Governments from the early 1990s have been poring through all statutes to get rid of any discrimination, which is prohibited under the Human Rights Act. But, as the member well knows, it is a long-accepted principle that equal opportunity initiatives may be used to ensure that there actually is equality.
Hon Peter Dunne: Does the Prime Minister acknowledge that, given the reaction to Dr Brash’s speech, and also the events at Waitangi a week or so later, there is a deep sense of unease amongst many New Zealanders about these issues; and if she does acknowledge that, what steps does the Government consider necessary to deal with that unease?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I would hope that Government leaders, along with other leaders in the House, would recognise that New Zealanders do not want their country divided. They want to see people given a fair go, they want equality of opportunity, and they want fairness. We stand by those principles.
Gerry Brownlee: If the Prime Minister is firm in her view that Parliament is sovereign and has pre-eminence over the courts, will she then agree that Dr Brash can do as he promises, and as 80 percent of the citizens of this country want him to do?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: Parliament is sovereign, but I, and every New Zealander, have an interest in seeing that this country’s rule of law is not reduced to a standing joke. That is what it would be if Dr Brash ever had his way and undid the solemn commitments given to a High Court by Jim Bolger’s Government.
Stephen Franks: Given the Prime Minister’s acceptance that Parliament is sovereign, why could not any Government simply delete section 9 of Labour’s State-Owned Enterprises Act, which contained the references to the fake principles that forced the court to pursue the line it did and extract the undertaking; and why could a Government not instead simply say it would end racially separate broadcasting, because it is not in the public interest—the same reason the Prime Minister gave last year for ignoring the Waitangi Tribunal’s finding that oil and gas had been taken from Mâori, in breach of the treaty?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I will endeavour to answer a couple of aspects of that question—the underlying assumptions of which I utterly disagree with. I am appalled that in this House a member would refer to fake principles of a treaty that his party’s founding leader said was fundamental to New Zealand. I put it to that member that when Dr Brash conceded on Linda Clark’s programme yesterday that the kâkâpô is unique and should be protected, the same applies to the Mâori language.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Which party first introduced racially separate broadcasting in this country?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: The court matters I referred to arose in 1991 under the National Government, led by the Rt Hon Jim Bolger. His Government gave those commitments to the High Court. It was only on the basis of that commitment by the Crown—bound to uphold the rule of law—that the High Court transferred the assets to Television New Zealand. That commitment, I repeat, was to see that Mâori television would be established.
Gerry Brownlee: Noting the Prime Minister’s strong defence of the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi, can she now stand in the House and tell us what they are?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I am prepared to give the member a digression on that at some length in a future question time, but I want to say today that I believe—[Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: There is too much noise. That is quite enough. Please continue.
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: The most fundamental of those principles is one of partnership and mutual respect, and that is what this Government will uphold.
Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. This is a matter of very great public importance, as anybody who follows the polls will know, as anybody who listens to talkback radio will know, and anybody who reads the newspapers will know. So, somewhat unusually in a point of order, I want to indicate that should the Prime Minister seek leave for the extended dissertation on the principles of the treaty for the House, right now, we would not oppose it.
Mr SPEAKER: That is not a point of order.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: In the interests of getting the facts correct as to who is responsible, I ask: is the Prime Minister aware that the first decision from the Waitangi Tribunal on the question of broadcasting—referred in 1991 to the then Minister of Mâori Affairs—was consigned to the rubbish bin and never referred to Cabinet?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I am not in a position to say what the position was of the Minister of Mâori Affairs at the time, but I know that a National Government gave the court its word, and its successors now want to break that word—and that is reprehensible.
Television New Zealand—International Travel Costs
2. Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS (Leader—NZ First) to the Minister of Broadcasting: How many employees of Television New Zealand Limited, if any, attended the International Broadcasting Convention in Amsterdam in 2003, and what was the total cost including all fares, accommodation, entertainment, dining, transport costs etc?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY (Minister of Broadcasting): I am informed—well at least today we are not fishing, we are more precise—
Mr SPEAKER: Carry on, please.
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: I am informed that 14 employees of TVNZ attended this convention at a cost of $143,000. All were technical and engineering staff, including five from TVNZ’s satellite services. Their purpose in attending was to remain up to date with fast evolving technology in the broadcasting field, and to determine which technology is applicable and appropriate to TVNZ’s market and business needs.
Russell Fairbrother: What was the benefit to TVNZ of the International Broadcasting Convention in Amsterdam last year?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: TVNZ maximised the value of the trip by also meeting with broadcasters from the BBC in the UK and the RTÉ in Ireland. Both are public broadcasters, and both had valuable insights to offer to TVNZ. Networking opportunities also resulted in TVNZ not going ahead with the investment of $1 million, because it was proven to not be the right technology for the organisation.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Why on earth would networking and other decisions of that type be made by 14 people from the engineering staff, and would that not be more appropriately done by management—so what happened there?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: I do not want to make a “meal” of it, but I do want to suggest to the member that the obvious thing to do around a conference that deals with things like digital technology is to take people who are dealing with that. That is explicitly what they did.
Property Development—Customary Rights
3. Dr WAYNE MAPP (National—North Shore) to the Attorney-General: Does she stand by her statement to Parliament yesterday that Mâori customary rights-holders would have the “same rights and consequences” as attached to any other property right, and does that mean that customary rights-holders have an “effective power of veto over development proposals” as stated by the Solicitor-General to the Waitangi Tribunal?
Hon MARGARET WILSON (Attorney-General): Yes. This Government respects and upholds property rights, whoever holds them. A power of veto will be exercised only if the development prevents the exercise of the customary right.
Dr Wayne Mapp: If the customary right-holder does exercise that right of veto and says no, does that mean a yes answer could be purchased by the payment of a fee, as indicated by Dr Cullen in a radio interview on 9 February?
Hon MARGARET WILSON: I am unclear as to what the question is. Could I ask for clarification as to what he means?
Mr SPEAKER: Perhaps the member could ask the question again.
Dr Wayne Mapp: To make it perfectly plain to the Minister: had an answer that would have originally been no been changed to yes by the payment of money, as apparently indicated by Dr Cullen in a radio interview on 9 February?
Hon MARGARET WILSON: I suppose, as with all property rights, one can sell them and buy them, and whatever. But the point is that in this particular instance, as the member knows, there is a process that is gone through. So it is difficult to answer in the generality, because it is meaningless unless the specific circumstances are known.
Tim Barnett: What would be the process if the Mâori Land Court determined a claimant group had a customary right over a specific area of foreshore and a developer applied for a resource consent that affected that area?
Hon MARGARET WILSON: The territorial authority would determine whether the proposed development would have a significant impact on that customary right. If it determined that it was not a significant impact, then the resource consent would be issued subject to the normal Resource Management Act criteria. If, however, it was determined that there was a significant impact on that right so that it could not be exercised, then the developer would have to negotiate with the customary right-holder.
Metiria Turei: Can the Minister then confirm, based on her previous answer, that the Government’s foreshore and seabed proposal does not confer a power of veto to Mâori, because it is the territorial authority that decides whether a Resource Management Act application will be declined if it has a significant impact on a customary right?
Hon MARGARET WILSON: It would be the authority that would determine whether there was a significant impact, on the basis of evidence given. If there was not agreement with that assessment then, of course, there would be a right to review that decision.
Dr Wayne Mapp: Now that the Government acknowledges that customary rights are capable of commercialisation, including sand extraction and mining, why would that not result in at least some limitation on the right of access in the area of sand mining?
Hon MARGARET WILSON: I was not aware, in that generalisation, that commercialisation in terms of digging up a whole beach—if that is what the member is implying—is, in fact, the situation. I think there is a fundamental difference here—and I am sorry if I sound like a teacher—but a customary right is specific to an area.
Rodney Hide: Not a very good one.
Hon MARGARET WILSON: Well, it is the pupil, of course; the teacher is not always responsible. A customary right is to a specific area, and it has to be on the basis of continuous use. So to talk about commercialisation in relation to taking a few buckets of shingle or what have you, I suppose one could argue that it is commercial.
Metiria Turei: Given that it is still the territorial authority that makes the decision, does the Minister agree that under the Government’s proposal Mâori will have no more say than they do now?
Hon MARGARET WILSON: No, I cannot agree with that. There will, first of all, be the acknowledgment of a customary right, which is not there at the moment. There can be no continuing of the hearing of an application unless that customary right is acknowledged and has the capacity to be able to be exercised.
Dr Wayne Mapp: Is the Minister suggesting that the taking of a few buckets of shingle, as she puts it, would actually amount to a commercialisation of a sand-extraction right, when everyone knows that commercialisation is on a much larger scale than that and would inevitably lead, at least in the area of the extraction, to the exclusion of access?
Hon MARGARET WILSON: No, as I pointed out yesterday in answer to a question, there is a right of public access. That is there. If the use of a customary right does involve some danger to a person, then obviously that person would not go there. But if the member is trying to say that as a general rule, no, he is not right. There is a right of public access, there is a right to exercise a customary right, and there is a process to see how that would excise out in practice in that particular circumstance.
Hon Dr Michael Cullen: Can the Minister confirm that a customary right to extract a few buckets of sand cannot be turned into a commercial right to dig up a whole beach?
Hon MARGARET WILSON: No, not unless one is a member of the Opposition, obviously.
4. HELEN DUNCAN (Labour) to the Associate Minister of Education (Tertiary Education): How is the Government supporting tertiary education organisations to develop e-learning?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY (Associate Minister of Education (Tertiary Education)): In December the Tertiary Education Commission announced that it was investing up to $14 million for 15 projects from its E-Learning Collaborative Development Fund. Those contracts are now being finalised as part of the tertiary education strategy to strengthen our teaching capability, to provide education in a wider range of settings and to a wider range of learners.
Helen Duncan: Can the Minister tell the House the sorts of initiatives that this funding will support?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: I give three quick examples. One is the XML editor project that will provide software, enabling teachers across the sector to easily publish e-learning web pages and cross-reference their work. Another project supports polytechnics and industry training organisations working together to deliver applied e-learning in the workplace, and a flexible learning leaders project will aid the development of up to 15 academic staff a year, so that they can make use of e-learning teaching.
Hon Brian Donnelly: Of the 15 projects approved, does any one of those projects address the rising problem, at the tertiary level, of cheating, which Australian expert Professor Justin Zobel last month in Dunedin claimed is exacerbated by the culture of the Internet; if not, is it because he does not consider that this is a significant issue?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: No, none of these projects addresses that particular issue, but I know that institutions across the country now are moving to try to block this. For example, it is possible for Brian Donnelly to be doing an essay at Victoria University and have it written for him in the United States at the present time, and delivered in the format that the university wants. There is a major problem of plagiarism and that kind of work going on, and I know that the institutions are moving to block it.
Immigration Act—Security Risk Certificates
5. KEITH LOCKE (Green) to the Minister in charge of the NZ Security Intelligence Service: What steps is she taking to review the New Zealand Security Intelligence Service’s role in issuing security risk certificates following her reported statement that the security provisions of the Immigration Act will be reviewed after the Zaoui case?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK (Minister in charge of the NZ Security Intelligence Service): As I have said on a number of occasions, when the Zaoui case is completed, whatever the outcome, the Government will be looking at whether the law worked as intended. No review will take place until the case has run its course.
Keith Locke: Does the Security Intelligence Service take into account people’s rights—such as their right to criticise an oppressive Government, such as that in Algeria—when deciding to issue a security risk certificate; if so, why is the Government appealing a High Court decision that the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security must take into account human rights when reviewing a security risk certificate?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: When the Director of Security takes it on his own judgment to issue the certificate, he has in mind what might be a danger to the security of New Zealand. It is the Crown’s submission to the court that the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security does not take into account the human rights issues, because that is done by the Minister of Immigration when she considers the matter, if the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security upholds the security risk certificate.
Keith Locke: How can the Minister of Immigration possibly adequately take into account Mr Zaoui’s human rights in the statutory maximum of 3 days that she has after the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security makes his determination, when, unlike the inspector-general, she will not have heard all the evidence, heard the witnesses, been part of all the cross-examination, or studied the matter over several months. It is impossible, surely?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: No, I do not agree with that. The Minister of Immigration is working on what the human rights issues might be. I understand she will be asking Mr Zaoui’s counsel for any matters they might like to draw to her attention in that respect, so that if the certificate is upheld, and she has to act within the 3 days, she will be well prepared to make a decision one way or the other.
Keith Locke: Does the Minister agree that it is inhuman that Mr Zaoui has now been imprisoned for over 14 months, and why does not the Government use the legal provisions available to it either to free him or to move him to a more relaxed form of detention, such as the Mangere Refugee Resettlement Centre?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: No, I do not accept that. Mr Zaoui came here on a false passport, and he is a person of security concern to the Government’s security adviser, which is the Security Intelligence Service. It has used its judgment to issue a certificate. There is a process to be gone through. The Government has looked very carefully at the interplay between the Immigration Act and other Acts of Parliament, and it is the Government’s view that he is required to be detained in a penal institution.
6. DIANNE YATES (Labour—Hamilton East) to the Minister of Health: What action has been taken to prepare New Zealand in the event of avian influenza arriving?
Hon ANNETTE KING (Minister of Health): The Order in Council adding avian flu to the schedule of notifiable human diseases was signed on Monday and comes into effect today. The ministry has established a small response team, which could rapidly be expanded if necessary, and is maintaining regular contact with international and other Government agencies to closely monitor this flu.
Dianne Yates: Why has the Government taken this measure now, when we do not have any cases of avian flu present in New Zealand?
Hon ANNETTE KING: Although worldwide there are still no confirmed cases of human-to-human transmission of H5N1, it is prudent to be prepared for that possibility, as well as being prepared for the possibility of someone becoming infected through contact with poultry in one of the affected countries and then travelling to New Zealand.
Dr Lynda Scott: How does this Government plan to change its response to an overseas-sourced viral epidemic in light of its very slow reaction in 2003 to the severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars) epidemic?
Hon ANNETTE KING: Only one person in New Zealand thought there was a slow reaction in New Zealand to Sars, and it was that member. She was widely criticised by the medical profession for the comments she made. New Zealand was very well prepared indeed, having undertaken a pandemic exercise the year before. I congratulate all our doctors and nurses who immediately swung into action in preparation for an outbreak of Sars in New Zealand—as well as border control, Air New Zealand, and other airlines, who worked well together to ensure that we did not have any confirmed cases of Sars.
Sue Kedgley: Will she be recommending that the Government adopt precautionary measures that other countries such as the European Union have already taken to prevent the bird flu from arriving here in the first place, such as banning the import of poultry products from countries that are badly affected by the bird flu—in particular, high-risk, unsterilised chicken feathers, down, and skins; if not, why not?
Hon ANNETTE KING: In New Zealand we are ensuring that there is no importation of poultry or birds for consumption by humans. Importations are already subject to sterilisation, and this flu cannot survive high levels of sterilisation. The advice I have received is that there is minimal risk in terms of any product from birds we are bringing in from around the world.
7. Hon TONY RYALL (National—Bay of Plenty) to the Minister of Justice: What guidance does the Sentencing Act 2002 give to judges when setting a minimum period of imprisonment for an offender sentenced to life for murder, when the deceased was particularly vulnerable because of his or her age?
Hon PHIL GOFF (Minister of Justice): Section 104 of the Sentencing Act states that the court must impose a life sentence with a minimum non-parole period of at least 17 years if the victim was particularly vulnerable because of his or her age, unless it is satisfied that it would be manifestly unjust to do so.
Hon Tony Ryall: Noting that the law is clear, and that that Minister has bragged about how clear the law is—that a child murderer should face at least 17 years’ minimum non-parole unless that is “manifestly unjust”—is the Government prepared to accept the legal precedent set in the Steven Williams’ sentencing case that merely showing remorse is sufficient to allow judges to impose lower non-parole periods on child killers; if not, when will the Crown appeal the 2-year discount given to Coral Burrows’ murderer?
Hon PHIL GOFF: I have read the sentencing notes by Justice Wild very carefully. Of course, I am not at liberty to express an opinion on the judge’s decision, and the member has acknowledged that. Justice Wild made the decision on the basis that he believed that remorse and an early guilty plea meant that a minimum period of 17 years would be “manifestly unjust”. However, I note in a higher court decision in the Court of Appeal—the Queen v Parish in December last year—the viewpoint was expressed: “Even in cases with more powerful mitigating circumstances, the requirement to impose the mandatory term of imprisonment of 17 years might not be displaced if they have no direct bearing on the offence itself.” The sentence imposed on Williams may be subject to appeal, and for that reason, and for the reason I have already given, I will not comment further on it.
Martin Gallagher: How does the 17-year minimum starting point for aggravated murder under the Sentencing Act compare with the legislation it replaced?
Hon PHIL GOFF: Until the Sentencing Act was passed in 2002, including the period during which Mr Ryall was Minister of Justice, the minimum non-parole period was 10 years. For aggravated murder the new 17-year minimum is now just the starting point, and the maximum penalty can be much in excess of that. Courts have imposed sentences longer than at any time in the history of this country, including 25 years for the child-killer Bruce Howse, and 30 years for the Return Services Association killer, William Bell.
Ron Mark: Can the Minister explain how it is possible that the killer of Anahera Lewis, one Warwick Kershaw, was only given a 3-year jail sentence, when that wee girl died at the age of 3 after being brutally terrorised and tortured by this man?
Hon PHIL GOFF: Without notice, of course, I am not familiar with the particular case that the member refers to, but I can suggest to him that if he wants to know what sentence was imposed and why, he acquires a copy of the judge’s sentencing notes.
Ron Mark: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Just to help the Minister, he is aware of this case. He received a letter that was dated 12 November.
Mr SPEAKER: That is not a point of order.
Ron Mark: I do not want him misleading the House, and that is a point of order.
Mr SPEAKER: That is not a point of order.
Hon Tony Ryall: If the law states at least 17 years non-parole for murdering a child, and this House would expect remorse of any criminal and not have that remorse rewarded with a lower sentence, is this Minister prepared to defend the legislation that he has bragged about from one end of this country to the other, or is he prepared to sit back and let judges rewrite the will of Parliament?
Hon PHIL GOFF: The High Court has made a decision. That decision may be subject to the Court of Appeal. It is appropriate for this House to wait and determine whether an appeal is made and what the decision of the Court of Appeal is. At that point we can judge the adequacy of the legislation.
Marc Alexander: Does the Minister agree that section 18 of the Sentencing Act, which prevents judges from imposing a prison sentence on offenders under 17 years of age, must be revisited in light of claims by the Police Association that recidivist teenage criminals are offending “flat out” and thumbing their noses at the law, because there are no meaningful consequences to their actions—thanks to soft judges and Department of Child, Youth and Family Services social workers who are only too happy to present glowing reports for the offender, while completely ignoring the effect on the victim?
Hon PHIL GOFF: That particular section, of course, will have no application to the Steven Williams case, because he was 29, not under 17. In relation to the other comments made by the Police Association, the New Zealand law is essentially in line with other jurisdictions in that regard. I believe that the comments made in that respect do not reflect the views of all police officers, particularly those working in the Youth Aid section
Ron Mark: Having trumpeted the success of how the Sentencing Act would produce longer sentences for child-killers, and having received a letter from the grandmother of Anahera Ross Lewis, is the House to take it that the Minister is happy with the sentence this child killer has received?
Hon PHIL GOFF: Once again, I have to remind the member that as Minister of Justice I am not able to comment on a sentence imposed by a judge in a particular case. However, let me make this comment about the general point the member was trying to make. I said that this law would be tougher law. Very soon the member will see the prison forecasts being published in this country, which show that there will be a 20 percent increase in the number of people in prison because of the tougher sentencing laws enacted by this Government. The proof of the pudding is in the eating.
Marc Alexander: I seek leave to table the Police Association News article that documents the failure of the Sentencing Act to curb youth crime.
Document, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.
Ron Mark: I seek to leave to table two letters. The first is from Val Lewis to myself, dated 13 December, stating that she had not had a reply from the Minister, other than an acknowledgement. The second is a letter from the grandmother of Anahera Ross Lewis to the President of the Court of Appeal, with a copy to Minister Mr Goff and Minister Margaret Wilson, for their information.
Documents, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.
Search and Rescue—Boating Accident, Oamaru
8. DAVID PARKER (Labour—Otago) to the Minister of Transport: What changes, if any, is the Government making to search and rescue operations in New Zealand following the boating tragedy off the Oamaru coast last year?
Hon PAUL SWAIN (Minister of Transport): Following the Oamaru tragedy, the Government commissioned an independent inquiry into the incident. As a result of the inquiry, procedures have been tightened. Any beacon going off now is treated as an emergency. The National Rescue Coordination Centre is opened in all cases, regardless of the time of the emergency, and is staffed with the relevant expertise. Since December 2003 there have been 156 emergency beacon incidents under the new procedures. In addition, steps are well under way to staff the centre 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and co-locate it with the existing full-time maritime operations centre. Extra funding of around $1.25 million per year is being provided by the Government, and 16 additional staff are being recruited, including 12 dedicated search and rescue officers. It is expected that this centre will be staffed 24/7 by 1 July 2004 at the latest.
David Parker: What benefits are expected from these changes?
Hon PAUL SWAIN: The benefits are significant. Whilst no amount of improvements will ever eliminate all risks associated with search and rescue operations, a risk analysis identified that co-location and a change to a 24/7 facility could reduce the operational strategic risk to such operations by 70 percent. This is why the Government has taken action following the inquiry.
Larry Baldock: What support, if any, has the Government received for the changes it is proposing to the search and rescue operations?
Hon PAUL SWAIN: The Government has received considerable support for the changes, including from the families involved. As I noted, the change to the centre’s hours of operations and the recommended co-location are well under way. However, the Search and Rescue Council also recommended that the co-located National Rescue Coordination Centre and the Maritime Operations Centre should be managed by a single entity. To effect this change as soon as possible, the Government has proposed a simple amendment to the Civil Aviation Amendment Bill. I would like thank United Future, the Greens, New Zealand First, ACT, and Donna Awatere Huata for supporting the proposal, and can I take this opportunity to urge the National Party to reconsider its opposition to the proposal, in the interests of the safety of all New Zealanders.
9. JEANETTE FITZSIMONS (Co-Leader—Green) to the Minister of Energy: Does he agree with the Prime Minister’s statement on Tuesday that “the second electricity supply shortage in 3 years proved beyond doubt that there were fundamental flaws in the 1990s market model.”; if so, what are those flaws?
Hon PETE HODGSON (Minister of Energy): Yes. The key flaw highlighted by the 2003 power shortage was the market’s failure to encourage generators to retain stand-by generation that is needed only in very dry years. The Government addressed that failing with its electricity supply security policies announced last May.
Jeanette Fitzsimons: Does he expect Project Aqua to contribute to dry-year security, or does he accept that in a very dry winter there will be little or no available water to take out of the river and pass through the six power stations?
Hon PETE HODGSON: I understand the argument about more eggs in the same basket in respect of Project Aqua. The fact is that this country needs to have a variety of generation. Nearly all the generation that has gone in over the last 10 years has been in the North Island and has been non-hydro.
Lynne Pillay: Is he confident that the electricity system is now in better shape to cope with very dry years?
Hon PETE HODGSON: Yes. The first 150 megawatts of reserve generation at Whirinaki will be ready before this winter.
John Key: Will the Government approve future thermal generation plants along the lines suggested by Don Elder, chief executive of Solid Energy; and does he agree that harnessing an energy resource, to quote Mr Elder, equal to 50 Maui gasfields should rank ahead of cuddling up to the Greens; if not why not?
Hon PETE HODGSON: I draw to the member’s attention that the Government does not approve power stations. That is done through the resource management process.
Peter Brown: Does the Minister not accept that with the Caygill review and the Electricity Amendment Act of 2000, he could well have addressed this problem very, very easily, and that if it had not been for the Greens rolling over with support he probably would have done?
Hon PETE HODGSON: I am not sure which problem the member refers to, but the Caygill report certainly did not suggest reserve generation.
Jeanette Fitzsimons: Does the Minister agree with Professor Gerry Carrington of Otago University that Project Aqua will inhibit the building of wind generation by lowering summer prices, and encourage the building of more fossil fuel – fired plant by raising the need for dry-year stand-by plant; if so, how does that square with our Kyoto obligations?
Hon PETE HODGSON: I do not, actually. I think that the range of generation that is coming forward in New Zealand substantially—perhaps entirely, but certainly substantially—mitigates that argument, though I understand it and believe it has some validity.
Jeanette Fitzsimons: Does he agree with the chairman of the new Electricity Commission, Roy Hemmingway, quoted in the Otago Daily Times this morning, that: “In New Zealand there are many, many investments in energy efficiency that could be made that are much less expensive that new generation.”; if so, what work is being done to investigate how much energy efficiency could be purchased with the $1.2 billion going into Project Aqua?
Hon PETE HODGSON: I strongly agree with Dr Hemmingway’s comments, and indeed would say to the member that she will be well aware of the National Energy Efficiency and Conservation Strategy, which seeks to improve our nation’s efficiency by 20 percent by 2012. I am pleased to report that to date implementation of that strategy is bang on target. I think the question raised is whether the target itself needs to be reviewed.
10. Dr LYNDA SCOTT (National—Kaikoura) to the Minister of Health: Does she believe Mâori New Zealanders should have separate rooms in hospital from non-Maori New Zealanders; if so, why?
Hon ANNETTE KING (Minister of Health): No. Separate rooms in public hospitals are allocated on the basis of clinical need and availability. I am advised no public hospital in New Zealand operates a policy of exclusive rooms based on ethnicity. However, I am aware of the Kaupapa Ward at Tauranga Hospital, which was opened in 1994 under the previous National Government, and has had a steady stream of politicians visit it, including Bill English and Jenny Shipley. It has been providing choice to all the people of Tauranga for the past 10 years.
Dr Lynda Scott: Does she find it acceptable for it to have now gone so far that an ill, older, non-Mâori New Zealander has been asked to move from her hospital bed into another room because Mâori patients want to be only with Mâori; and can she explain, if that is not racial segregation, what is?
Hon ANNETTE KING: I do not know the case the member is talking about. However, I am informed that there are patients who may want to be alone with family at particular times, because maybe the person is dying or there is something particularly wrong with the person. This is not based on ethnicity, but on the fact that the person has a particular need. I think there is perhaps only one party that would draw that long bow in terms of racial discrimination.
Heather Roy: Does the Minister believe there should be two standards of care and accountability—one for Mâori New Zealanders and one for all other New Zealanders—and if not, what has she done to ensure that Mâori health providers are held to the same level of accountability as other health providers?
Hon ANNETTE KING: Mâori health providers are probably under greater audit than other providers. This is because audit tools have been put in place as we—and as the previous Government did—allowed NGOs Mâori providers to provide services by Mâori, for Mâori. I am pleased there are politicians now in Opposition who supported that in the past when in Government. But I find deplorable that in Opposition they want to deny those same things they once supported, just to get a few votes.
Dr Lynda Scott: What does she intend to do to stop this racial separatism, knowing that if it had been the other way round, and a Mâori patient had been asked to shift because a non-Mâori wanted her bed, it would have been seen as discrimination of the very worst sort?
Hon ANNETTE KING: I have no evidence that this is a practice in New Zealand hospitals. I repeat, if a patient has a particular need—whether or not that patient is Mâori, Pacific Islander, European, or Chinese—I am sure that need is brought to the attention of the clinicians involved with the patient’s care, and arrangements are made. Only somebody who wanted to cause trouble would say that was based on racial disharmony.
Heather Roy: What action has the Minister taken since learning that Ngâti Whâtua has had to employ a private investigator, Mr Michael Crawford, of Advanced Investigations, to track down money believed to have been misappropriated from Tihi Ora Mapo, and given Mr Crawford’s frustration at the lack of cooperation he has received, can she explain why the police have not been called?
Mr SPEAKER: It is way outside the original question, but I will allow the Minister to comment.
Hon ANNETTE KING: Yes it is, and I can thank Rodney Hide for providing information about this particular issue. However, I have to tell him that the Ministry of Health had already been advised that the trust itself is undertaking an inquiry. When the trust has finished its inquiry, should there be a need for the police to be involved, I am sure they would become involved. However, it is probably true to say there are some bad eggs in all the baskets, and I suppose ACT members have found that out to their own benefit.
Dr Lynda Scott: I seek leave to table a press release from the Bay of Plenty Times last night, where Elva Cooper identified what happened to her, and said there should not be race segregation in our hospitals.
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that press release. Is there any objection? There is. There will be silence when members ask their questions, and that is the only warning.
11. MARK PECK (Labour—Invercargill) to the Minister for Small Business: What positive suggestions has he received from the recent series of small-business visits?
Hon JOHN TAMIHERE (Minister for Small Business): Over recent weeks Government members and Ministers have been visiting small businesses across the country. The aim of these visits has been to hear what is really important to New Zealand’s small businesses, without the filter of professional lobby groups that purport to represent them. One issue raised by a number of businesses was the option of paying provisional tax at the same time as their regular GST payments. The Government is listening to this, taking it seriously, and moving to implement it. On this side of the House, we believe that the best people to tell us about businesses are those involved in running them.
Mark Peck: In what other ways is the Government communicating directly with New Zealand’s very good small-business sector?
Hon JOHN TAMIHERE: Starting here in Wellington tomorrow, we will be hosting a series of 24 small-business days around the country. These will provide a forum where small businesses can speak directly with the Government on issues of importance to them, so that we may develop policy informed by them, and for them. This will allow us to hear what real Kiwi businesses have to say, and we will work together on solutions, free of the negativity of self-appointed spokesmen of business both inside and outside this House.
Lindsay Tisch: On chat session No. 1, to a question stating that tax revenue is running at 35 percent of gross domestic product, and asking when the Government would get real about tax, does the Minister stand by his answer: “The Government has previously signalled that there will be a movement on tax in the upcoming Budget.”; and how much movement will there be to reduce tax, to assist small businesses?
Hon JOHN TAMIHERE: As always, on behalf of this Government, help is on the way, and the Minister of Finance will advise members when the Budget is announced.
Peter Brown: Taking note of the exchange rate, does the Minister share the view that has been suggested to me by several business people that the best way to have a small business in this country is to start off with a large one?
Hon JOHN TAMIHERE: I have not had that advice.
Paul Adams: During the Minister’s visits to small businesses, was his attention drawn to the frequently voiced concerns of small to medium sized enterprise owners and operators that the sheer volume of compliance issues being regularly laid down by this Government is stifling initiative, consuming too much of their valuable time and resources, and, most important, anti-growth?
Hon JOHN TAMIHERE: Quite to the contrary. Compliance issues are always high on the radar of all businesses, and are a cost of doing business. More particularly, business people are looking at solutions, not looking at only problems.
Child, Youth and Family Services, Department—Call Centres
12. JUDY TURNER (United Future) to the Associate Minister for Social Development and Employment (CYF): Does she agree with the comments of the former Department of Child, Youth and Family Services Acting Chief Executive, Brenda Pilott, that “considerable progress” had been made towards improving the quality and consistency of the department’s call centre systems following the September 2002 Department of Child, Youth and Family Services national call centre evaluation report; if so, why?
Hon RUTH DYSON (Associate Minister for Social Development and Employment (CYF)): Yes, I do agree with those comments. Since the evaluation report, the Department of Child, Youth and Family Services’ call centre services have been expanded, the quality and consistency of the service have been improved through a number of initiatives, and a communication plan, promoting the call centre’s services to organisations such as schools and the police, and to health professionals, has been implemented. As with any infrastructural issue, though, there is always room for further improvement.
Judy Turner: In light of the fact that the department has already been told, in December 2002, that its intake services were not good enough and that, in response, one of its goals was supposedly to “improve practice, quality, and consistency of work”, does the Minister agree that it is simply unacceptable that Ailsa Duffy QC should have had to report in December 2003 that a lack of quality assurance was responsible for the fact that Ron Burrows’ call about Coral-Ellen Burrows was not treated as a notification?
Hon RUTH DYSON: It certainly is disappointing that the quality assurance recommendations in the previous evaluation report were not implemented to the extent it was necessary for Ailsa Duffy QC still to make that comment.
Georgina Beyer: Has the Minister seen any recent reports commenting on the quality of the call centre service?
Hon RUTH DYSON: Yes, I have. Ailsa Duffy QC, in her report commissioned by the department late last year, observed that call centre staff are competent, committed, and conscientious workers. However, she identified professional support systems as needing further improvement, and recommended better resourcing. Those recommendations have been actioned.
Judith Collins: How does the Minister justify her Government’s race-based policies, when Pâkehâ referrals to the Department of Child, Youth and Family Services have dropped by 18 percent since 1999, but Mâori referrals have remained constant, despite the Government’s “reducing inequalities” programme, formerly known as closing the gaps?
Hon RUTH DYSON: Because I and my colleagues take a much more serious and considered analytical approach to using statistics—rather than using them to attack and divide people on the basis of their race.
Dr Muriel Newman: Does the Minister stand by her statement to a child poverty forum this week that she is “Steve Maharey’s stunt double” and that in her “non-controversial portfolio” of Child, Youth and Family Services “any publicity is good publicity”; if so, can she explain to the House how the scandal that the call centre failure could have contributed to the death of Coral-Ellen Burrows could possibly be described as “good publicity”?
Hon RUTH DYSON: I frequently introduce myself when I am replacing a colleague at a particular function as his or her “stunt double”. I am particularly proud to have been Steve Maharey’s on Monday night. With reference to the rest of the comments that the member made, I will give her the same advice I gave to her colleague: get more reliable sources.
Judy Turner: In light of the fact that the September 2002 call centre evaluation had already identified a lack of effective and timely supervision, and when the department’s policy was that each intake social worker should get at least 1.5 supervised hours a week, can the Minister explain why Ailsa Duffy reported last year that no call centre intake social worker she interviewed was subject to that level of supervision, and none had undergone an induction programme?
Hon RUTH DYSON: As I indicated in an answer to a previous question, it is very disappointing that previous recommendations supported by the Government were not fully implemented with regard to the recommendations made in the Ailsa Duffy report I alluded to in my prior answer. Those recommendations have now been actioned.
Judy Turner: In light of the fact that an organisation charged with the care and protection of our children totally failed to implement the recommendations of a 112-page call centre evaluation report—which might have saved a child’s life—is the Minister at all surprised that New Zealanders have no confidence in the Department of Child, Youth and Family Services, and no confidence that it can be fixed by anything less than ripping the whole outfit down and starting all over again?
Hon RUTH DYSON: No, I do not agree that that would be a sensible or practical solution. It is hard work ensuring that the public gain confidence in an organisation—confidence that is clearly required in order for us to work satisfactorily. I have confidence that through the recommendations outlined in the baseline review, and with the genuine goodwill and commitment of the staff of the Department of Child, Youth and Family Services, we will win that confidence back again.
(uncorrected transcript--subject to correction and further editing)