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Questions Of The Day & Answers - February 17 2004

(uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing)

Questions for Oral Answer
Questions to Ministers

1. Civil Defence—Emergencies
2. Reducing Inequalities Policies—Mâori
POO: Question No. 3 to Minister
3. Seabed and Foreshore—Customary Rights
4. National Drug Policy—Announcements
5. Immigration—Costs to Taxpayers
6. Employment Relations Law Reform Bill—Collective Contracts
POO: Question No. 3 to Minister
7. Taxation—Tax Cuts
8. Refugees—Deportation, Sri Lanka
9. Local Government Act—Treaty of Waitangi
10. Child, Youth and Family Services, Department—Confidence
POO: Question No. 11 to Minister
11. Home Detention—Reoffending
12. Race Relations Commissioner—Human Rights Act

Questions for Oral Answer

Questions to Ministers

Civil Defence—Emergencies

1. DARREN HUGHES (Labour—Otaki) to the Minister of Civil Defence: How has civil defence reacted in the current emergencies?

Hon GEORGE HAWKINS (Minister of Civil Defence): Coordination of response has been very good. Emergency services, including civil defence staff, police, firefighters, ambulance, and volunteers, have worked well together with good support from other agencies, particularly defence. The impacts of the event have been felt over a wide area, the areas most affected being Manawatu and Rangitikei districts. Wanganui is currently assessing whether to declare a state of civil emergency, and is concerned about the hinterlands; but other areas, including Hutt Valley, have also been impacted. People have come together from far and wide to help their neighbours and people they have not met before. Professionals and volunteers have worked extremely well together.

Darren Hughes: What financial assistance can the Government make available to these regions under stress?

Hon GEORGE HAWKINS: The Government provides supports in a number of areas. The cost of food, water, and shelter for evacuees is fully recoverable by local authorities from the Government. Through Transfund New Zealand, the Government will make available to local authorities resources for bridge and road repairs, at 100 percent for State highways and up to 85 percent for local networks. The Government will provide financial assistance to councils to repair damage to essential service infrastructure. Defence Force has contributed personnel, equipment, and other resources, and the Government has contributed $20,000 to each of Manawatu and Rangitikei district councils’ mayoral relief funds. Other agencies also help.

Simon Power: How can the Government expect the people of Rangitikei and Manawatu to take seriously an offer of $20,000 to each council as an emergency fund, when the Government gave $5.8 million to Niue for reconstruction after its natural disaster?

Hon GEORGE HAWKINS: I think the member does not understand what I said in the answer to the last question. If he had listened, he would know that we are making funds available to repair infrastructure and to help with evacuees, across a number of agencies—Earthquake and War Damage, Work and Income, Housing New Zealand Corporation. We are helping in as many ways as possible but, at the moment, people are still trying to get people into safe conditions and will make sure that those matters are looked at very closely.

Larry Baldock: Were civil defence efforts hampered by the poor quality of roads in the Wellington region; and would the apparent vulnerability of these roads have civil defence implications in the event of an even more serious emergency, such as a major earthquake along the Wellington fault line?

Hon GEORGE HAWKINS: Those questions really relate to a scene where a civil emergency was not declared. There was not a need to declare it, and, of course, those are questions that have answers that can be looked into in the future. But at the moment we are dealing with two district councils that have declared, and possibly a third one that will declare.

Jill Pettis: Can the Minister please further advise the House what will happen for those families who have lost their homes, their businesses, and their livestock?

Hon GEORGE HAWKINS: Civil defence’s main aim is to preserve life. So far there has been no loss of life in the areas where civil defence emergencies have been declared. Once the initial danger has passed, then local authorities and others will work together to resolve the situation they find themselves in. The other agencies of Government will play their part in the recovery.

Simon Power: What discussions has the Minister had with the Minister of Agriculture over support that may be offered from that particular avenue, given reports of whole dairy herds being swept to sea, hay sheds being destroyed, and hundreds of sheep being swept out to sea?

Hon GEORGE HAWKINS: I have spoken to a number of colleagues. This is a whole-of-Government response, and I am sure that the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry will do its part to make sure that the damage is minimised as far as the farmers are concerned. We are concerned about the farmers; we are concerned about the livestock and the crops.

Reducing Inequalities Policies—Mâori

2. Dr DON BRASH (Leader of the Opposition) to the Prime Minister: Can she confirm that media reports on the weekend asserting that the Government would not be changing its policies in relation to Mâori accurately represent her position; if so, why did she reportedly announce yesterday that the Government is evaluating the “reducing inequalities” policies to ensure that those policies are “thoroughly based on need”?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK (Prime Minister): What I said yesterday is that we can have a look through our policies and assure ourselves that what we are doing is based on need. The Government will continue to target need, not privilege like the tax cuts for the rich that the member advocated in Rotorua yesterday.

Dr Don Brash: Why has she now called for the review of such programmes, when just last week she said that the policies National has been advocating—including a return to funding based on need, rather than race—would put race relations in New Zealand back years and were divisive? [Interruption]

Mr SPEAKER: I’m sorry. The Prime Minister has not said a word, and I do not need any interjections until she is really into the answer.

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: This Government will continue to target need, not privilege. That member’s policy yesterday would give him an extra $168 a week in a tax cut. I say low and modest income families need it more.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Having regard to Mr Brash’s statement that kôhanga reo, kura kaupapa, and Mâori health providers will remain because somehow they represent choice, in her reading of reports on the one nation policy of Dr Brash has she anywhere seen—

Mr SPEAKER: There is no need to have those two particular words to render the sense of the question. Could the member please restate the question?

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Yes. Right. Having regard—

Hon Dr Michael Cullen: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Are we to take it that the National Party now takes objection to the term “one nation” for New Zealand?

Mr SPEAKER: No, but the Prime Minister is not responsible for National Party policy. We will now have the question heard in silence.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Having regard to Dr Brash’s statement that kura kaupapa Mâori, kôhanga reo, and Mâori health providers will remain because somehow they represent choice, and to the reports of Dr Brash’s views, has she anywhere seen the suggestion that next year’s Lions and New Zealand Mâori game must be cancelled because one of the teams is selected on race, not on need?

Mr SPEAKER: There is no responsibility for the Prime Minister yet to select rugby teams.

Hon Richard Prebble: I wonder if the Prime Minister could clarify the position: is it that there has been no change in Government policy; if so, how is it that a policy that was a flagship policy for the Government, called “closing the gaps”, has had its name changed to “reducing inequalities”, that the committee has had its terms of reference changed, and that we now read in the media that Government policy is to be based on need? What is it: is it still closing the gaps, or has the Government gone into reverse?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: The member is a little out of date. The programme has been referred to as “reducing inequalities” since the end of the year 2000.

Hon Richard Prebble: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I actually acknowledged in the question that she changed the name of the policy. I did not ask her when that was done. I asked which one of her two statements is correct: is the Government not changing its policies, or has it gone into a complete reverse?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: The policy was always based on need, is based on need, and I am more than happy to keep looking to ensure it is based on need. My challenge to the Leader of the Opposition is to be specific. As the leader of New Zealand First has pointed out, every time the issue is specific he says: “Oh, no, not that one!”

Hon Metiria Turei: Can the Prime Minister confirm that the one-size-fits-all rhetoric is a ridiculously simplistic approach, which itself perpetuates inequality, and that culturally appropriate programmes such as Pacific Island language nests, kura, and the other education and health programmes are essential to targeting on the basis of need?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: Yes, I do agree with that statement. Of course, because of ideology Dr Brash has described them as acceptable on the basis of choice.

Dr Don Brash: Given that the Prime Minister last week labelled my advocacy of policies based on need, not race, as racially divisive, but is now asserting that she will “vigorously address” policies to ensure that they are “thoroughly based on need”, can we now conclude that the Prime Minister is having second thoughts about her position of last week; if so, why?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I have no second thoughts about a policy approach designed to pit white against brown, and rich against poor, in New Zealand. I will fight that to my last breath.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Has the Prime Minister received any reports as to the likely effect on our democratic framework if, after the abolition of the Mâori seats as proposed by some parties of this country, the political parties then have no representation from the Mâori people; and what sort of democracy will that become?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: It would, indeed, be a concern if Mâori were not represented in this House across the political system. Of course, the list system makes it possible for that to happen, and to some degree it has. But my concern would be, given that the law passed back in 1993 gave Mâori a choice as to which roll they enrolled on, for that choice—that right—to be taken away from them by a Parliament in which they were a distinct minority. I think that would cause gross disharmony in our country.

Hon Ken Shirley: Will she be re-evaluating her Government’s policy of race-based electoral rolls for local bodies and race-based representation around the council tables, and can she tell us how that is not divisive for this country?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I understand that the member has shifted to the Bay of Plenty, and it was from the Bay of Plenty Regional Council that that first came up. My understanding is that local bodies themselves have the ability to decide those matters.

Dr Don Brash: What has happened in the less than 2 weeks since the Minister for Social Development and Employment released the “reducing inequalities” monitoring reports, without any mention of such an evaluation, that would compel the Prime Minister to announce that she is going to “vigorously address” the Government’s programmes to ensure that what it is trying to achieve is based on need, not on race?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: The Government has been asserting for years that the policies are based on need, not on privilege of the kind that the Leader of the Opposition stands for when he advocates a tax cut for himself of $168 a week.

Dr Muriel Newman: In light of the Prime Minister’s announcement that assistance should be based on need, not race, can she confirm that her Government has given millions of dollars of taxpayers’ money in non-repayable grants of up to $50,000 to repair private houses that have been allowed to run down; if so, is she saying that it is just coincidence that in 2002 100 percent of those grants were given to Mâori households?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: My understanding is that those grants are not targeted on race; they are targeted on need. A lot of grants have also gone to businesses, very few of which have been Mâori ones.

Dr Muriel Newman: In light of the Prime Minister’s answer I would like to table a parliamentary question that shows that 100 percent of the grants were based on race.

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

Heather Roy: Given the Prime Minister’s statement that her Government’s policies are to be “thoroughly based on need”, will she remove the weightings that apply to ethnicity from the access and interim formulae her Government is using to determine funding for primary health organisations—or is her claim just spin, without substance?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: Any assessment of need would show that a people that is disproportionately unhealthy and enjoys a low life expectancy is in greater need than anybody else. That is why it is a needs-based formula.

Hon Richard Prebble: When Dr Brash gives a speech in Orewa and calls for Government policies to be based on need, not race, how can the Prime Minister describe that as playing the race card when she can now get up in the House and say that her Government’s policies are thoroughly based on need—or is she thoroughly playing the race card? Can she please clarify that?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: Quite simply because Dr Brash’s message was trying to say that they were race-based policies. They are needs-based policies, not based on the privilege he stands for.

Question No. 3 to Minister

GERRY BROWNLEE (Deputy Leader—National): I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I want you to consider a suggestion from us that this question is quite out of order. If you look at all the other questions on the sheet—and I will focus particularly on questions Nos 2, 4, 7, and 9—you will see that each of them was accepted by the Clerk’s Office because we took down to that office substantial verification for the justification for the question being asked. I ask you to rule on this, because we are going into new territory if we in the Opposition will be able to go to the Clerk’s Office and have questions lodged on the basis of a suggestion. How do you verify a suggestion, and, if in fact the suggestion is made, how do you link that to any ministerial responsibility whatsoever? I think it is clear enough what the question is trying to go to. But it is fair to say that the question, in the circumstances relating to the way in which it has been worded, clearly sits outside the Standing Orders, and we suspect that some of what we have known to be going on around the question process is at play in this situation. This question should be ruled out of order and forfeited by the Government.

Madam DEPUTY SPEAKER: I will have a look at that issue. We will leave this question for now and come back to it later.

Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS (Leader—NZ First): I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. It is not so much whether there is any verification for suggestion; it is the inference that somehow tax cuts are paid for. That, I would have thought, would rule it out in the first place.

Mr SPEAKER: That is why I will have a look at it, and I will come back to it.

Seabed and Foreshore—Customary Rights

4. Dr WAYNE MAPP (National—North Shore) to the Attorney-General: How does she distinguish between Mâori customary title and Mâori customary rights in the Government’s foreshore and seabed proposals, given that last week she told the House that “a customary right is a property right”?

Hon MARGARET WILSON (Attorney-General): A Mâori customary title recognises the mana whenua—that is, the ancestral connection between a specific iwi, hapû, or whânau and the coastline. No property right attaches to it. A customary right relates to the customary use. That is a property right.

Dr Wayne Mapp: Does the Government’s proposal therefore mean that Mâori customary title is likely to be granted over virtually the entire coastline provided iwi, hapû, or whânau can prove mana and ancestral connection to the foreshore and seabed adjacent to their ancestral lands?

Hon MARGARET WILSON: Yes, the mana whenua status will certainly be acknowledged through the title, which, as I said, is not a property right.

Tim Barnett: Could the Minister please clarify whether a customary right will be able to be sold?

Hon MARGARET WILSON: While, in general, property rights can be sold, in the case of a customary right, by its very nature it cannot be sold.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Why has the Minister not taken any action in respect of the port authority’s appeal to the Privy Council, and in particular with regard to Justice Hingston’s view, supported I might add, by the New Zealand Court of Appeal, that somehow land and sea are the same thing, so that we now have the seabed being regarded as land?

Hon MARGARET WILSON: My understanding is that the appeal is still waiting to be heard in the Privy Council so it would be inappropriate for us to interfere, although I understand we will be observing what is happening with that appeal. I am not sure whether that completely answers the member’s question, but that was the bit I understood from it.

Metiria Turei: Is not the issue getting lost in a debate between Pâkehâ about what their terms mean, when in fact the real need is for a proper negotiation between the Crown and Mâori as to how to resolve the foreshore and seabed issue, whilst upholding the treaty?

Hon MARGARET WILSON: There has been considerable debate and discussion between the Crown and Mâori on this issue, and I am sure it will continue through the select committee process.

Dr Wayne Mapp: Given that the Government has now acknowledged that virtually the entire coastline will be subject to a Mâori customary title, does the Minister not agree that those customary title holders will have enhanced participation rights over the management of the foreshore and seabed that no other New Zealander will have?

Hon MARGARET WILSON: The mana whenua title is just a formalisation of what is already apparent. There is no particular property right significance in that. In terms of the ability of Mâori to be able to participate in decisions that affect them, the new Local Government Act of course does require extended consultation, and we are hoping the proposals will assist local government and local Mâori to effect decisions that they both agree with.

National Drug Policy—Announcements

5. JILL PETTIS (Labour—Whanganui) to the Associate Minister of Health: What recent announcements has he made to advance the Coalition Government’s National Drug Policy?

Hon JIM ANDERTON (Associate Minister of Health): Today I have announced the locations of the 15 community action programmes for which I secured funding in last year’s Budget. These programmes are aimed at reducing the demand for drugs. The sites are Whangarei, west Auckland, Waitakere City, Clendon, Manurewa, central Auckland, Otahuhu, Otara, Papatoetoe, Huntly, Morrinsville, Tauranga, Western Bay of Plenty, Whakatane, Tai Rawhiti, Horowhenua, Wanganui, Dunedin, and a regional service that is based in Hastings and runs from Tai Rawhiti, across to Whanganui, and down to Wellington.

Jill Pettis: Can the Minister please advise the House further on how today’s announcement fits in with the Government’s overall strategy on drugs?

Hon JIM ANDERTON: The coalition Government’s war against drugs is multifaceted. At one level we are aiming to reduce supply by toughening up the penalties on the peddlers of dangerous drugs and their precursors. At another level we are increasing treatment services to reduce the harm drugs cause. The third level is the demand-reduction policy programme, which is what these community action programmes are aimed at achieving.

Nandor Tanczos: Can the Minister confirm that the programmes he mentions are a very good example of the value of targeted funding to provide culturally and socially appropriate services, driven by the needs of the communities in which they operate, and as a result they are rare in the field of drug education in that they are demonstrably effective?

Hon JIM ANDERTON: The needs of particular communities have been carefully assessed by a research-based organisation attached to the Massey University campus in Auckland, called Shore. Associated with that research unit is a Mâori research unit and an evaluation unit that have both targeted these 15 communities on a range of criteria. The initial five programmes, which were started in 1997 by the former National Party Government, were equally targeted. Had they been evaluated as successful, they would have been followed up by these programmes. I suggest to the House that they are proving effective, they are needs-based, and they include both Mâori and Pâkehâ who are affected by drug and alcohol abuse.

Ron Mark: Is he concerned about the comments made by people in the Drug Policy and Education Council who have stated that his “smug” position over the Government’s drug policy is unwarranted, and that the policy has acted to increase the availability of methamphetamine, to the extent that schoolchildren are reportedly using it, and, if so, will he ensure the passage of new asset-seizure laws to aid the police in bringing suppliers and manufacturers to justice; if not, why not?

Hon JIM ANDERTON: No one who is cognisant of the harm that drugs and alcohol abuse cause in our community—in particular, to our young people—has any reason for smugness, and certainly I do not count myself in those ranks. As I have said, this issue is multifaceted and complex, but some people want to dine out on making sensationalist statements, or making a crisis situation out of what is a worldwide problem that all Governments dealing with it find difficult to handle. I think the agencies that are close to this Government on these matters know full well that we are more proactive and are doing more in this area than any previous Government has ever attempted.

Judy Turner: Will measurement and evaluation of these national drug policy initiatives include an accurate mechanism to measure drug use in the centres funded, or are evaluations purely around networking and capacity building?

Hon JIM ANDERTON: Researchers have used a wide range of indicators to identify these communities. Drug use is one of them, and there are many others. The evaluation is done at a professional and qualified research level. All these programmes have been carefully evaluated, and that evaluation is going into the knowledge that this community is building up about its own problems, so that this country can have a New Zealand – based approach to solutions to New Zealand problems.

Immigration—Costs to Taxpayers

6. Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS (Leader—NZ First) to the Minister of Immigration: Can she explain her Associate Minister of Immigration’s comments on the Holmes show last Wednesday night “with over 3,000 cases each year … I will treat these ones very fairly as well”, and at what cost are these cases to the taxpayer?

Hon LIANNE DALZIEL (Minister of Immigration): Since September 2002 I have delegated my discretionary decision-making powers on individual cases to the Associate Minister, who receives many requests to reconsider all nature of decisions made by the New Zealand Immigration Service. The only cost that would arise from a decision of the Associate Minister to intervene would be if the individual was already in New Zealand and became eligible to access services that he or she would not otherwise be eligible for. This would occur in very few cases.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: What is her department’s criteria for allowing those who come here originally on visitor, work, student, or limited purpose visas to eventually be given residency after applying on shore, and will the same criteria apply to those revealed by Nelson’s planned “sanctuary day” for illegal immigrants to come forward, and the three car loads found by routine traffic stops over 2 days in the Western Bay of Plenty last week?

Hon LIANNE DALZIEL: As the member is well aware, the rules of the Immigration Act require that a person is on a valid permit when he or she makes an application for another permit. If a person is not on a valid permit, then under section 35A he or she can be put on a temporary permit in order to lodge an application for a permit. That is the purpose of the “sanctuary day”.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Given the Minister’s answer on 2 May 2003, is she saying, in relation to the 8,359 onshore applications made as at 30 April 2003, that those people will be allowed to stay provided that they are married, working, have no criminal convictions, and are fitting well into the community, as one would assume from Immigration Service media adviser Brett Solvander’s comments; if that is the case, is it little wonder that New Zealand’s immigration laws are a joke overseas, and that anyone wanting to come here illegally knows how to wangle the system?

Hon LIANNE DALZIEL: The rules enable people to transfer from one form of permit to another, so that somebody who comes here as a visitor, as a student, or as a temporary worker is able to lodge an application for residence. The residence application will be determined according to normal policy. I do make the point that this was the case when that member was the Deputy Prime Minister.

Employment Relations Law Reform Bill—Collective Contracts

7. Hon ROGER SOWRY (National) to the Minister of Labour: Will an employer’s genuine preference to employ their employees on individual contracts be considered a genuine reason not to enter a collective contract under the Employment Relations Law Reform Bill; if not, why not?

Hon MARGARET WILSON (Minister of Labour): The answer depends on whether the employees also agree to enter an individual agreement. If they do, then there is a genuine reason not to enter a collective agreement. If they do not agree to enter an individual agreement, but want a collective agreement, then the employer needs to justify why these employees should not be able to negotiate a collective agreement.

Hon Roger Sowry: In a situation in which only a low proportion of an employer’s employees have joined the union, which has initiated bargaining, will the employer have a genuine reason not to enter into a collective agreement; if not, why not?

Hon MARGARET WILSON: They may well, depending on the circumstances of the case.

Hon Mark Gosche: Can the Minister give examples of a genuine reason?

Hon MARGARET WILSON: While it is for the authority or the court to determine what is a genuine reason in the particular circumstances, the intention behind the provision is to ensure that reasons are given, and that the employees’ request is not rejected out of hand without any reasons.

Peter Brown: Will a group of non-union employees who have a genuine preference for a collective agreement be allowed to have a collective agreement, or will they simply be told to go away and join a union; if so, what justification is there for that?

Hon MARGARET WILSON: If employees genuinely want a collective agreement they can have one. The current legislation states that they form a union to be able to get the collective agreement.

Paul Adams: In light of the fact that the Employment Relations Law Reform Bill imposes a $10,000 fine on employers who do not have a genuine reason not to settle a collective agreement, combined with the provisions in the bill that allow for a bargaining bonus for those negotiating a collective agreement, does the Minister agree that, either way, this bill will cost business; if not, why not?

Hon MARGARET WILSON: As I recall—and I am sorry but I cannot find the specific provisions—it is not merely saying there is no genuine reason. In fact, there has to be a pattern of behaviour that, over a long period of time, sustains a refusal to be able to negotiate, before the penalty would in fact be applied.

Hon Roger Sowry: Does the Minister still stand by her statement that “The Employment Relations Law Reform Bill is about freedom of choice.”, in light of the bill’s clear prejudice against individual contracts; if so, why?

Hon MARGARET WILSON: Yes. The Government stands by the fact that it is promoting choice, and the fact that 80 percent of employees choose individual agreements would indicate that was successful.

Paul Adams: Does the Employment Relations Law Reform Bill have any regard for an employer’s genuine preferences, if he or she is forced to hire the existing workforce when taking on a new business or contract?

Hon MARGARET WILSON: In terms of the vulnerable workers, the requirement is, of course, that arrangements be made for their continued employment in the new business. For other people in the workforce there is no obligation as such, except to have a provision that there will be negotiation the outcome of which will be determined by the bargaining between the employer and the employee.

Question No. 3 to Minister

Mr SPEAKER: I now wish to return to question No. 3. Statements of facts and questions must be authenticated, as per Standing Order 364(1)(a). Questions Nos 2 and 4 contained statements of fact that therefore had to be authenticated, and they were. Question No. 3 puts a suggestion to the Minister, and asks for a reaction. Provided the suggestion relates to a matter for which the Minister has responsibility—in this case, tax cuts—there is nothing wrong with that. If the Minister has not received any such suggestions, he can say so. With regard to the second part of the question about how any hypothetical tax cuts are to be paid for, I think there could be a legitimate objection that it is put colloquially. In so far as there is an assumption that tax cuts must be paid for—whatever that means—there is an assumption of fact involved, and I think that I should rule the second part of the question out of order. The first part of the question can be asked, and will be asked now.

Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. So that we are quite clear about the distinctions here, are you saying that it would be appropriate now for us to go down to the Clerk’s Office with a question that asks, for example, the Minister of Defence whether he has seen or heard any suggestions that the Skyhawks are about to be sold to al-Qaeda, and if so, how they are to be paid for, and that that would be a reasonable question?

Mr SPEAKER: Not the second part, but I cannot see what is wrong with the first part. The Minister can simply get up and say no or yes.

Gerry Brownlee: So now we will be able to ask questions in the House on the basis of rumour. There is no need to be able to substantiate a question any longer if members use the English language to put it in such a way that they simply ask the Minister about something that may or may not be suggested.

Mr SPEAKER: The House changed its own rules a few years ago to allow hypothetical questions. I have to adhere to the Standing Orders. The first part of the question can be asked, and that is where it will end.

Taxation—Tax Cuts

3. CLAYTON COSGROVE (Labour—Waimakariri) to the Minister of Finance: Has he received any suggestions regarding tax cuts?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Minister of Finance): I receive suggestions regarding tax cuts very frequently indeed, from many different people, usually of quite different types. The most recent of those was a suggestion yesterday to set the company rate at 30 percent, and to lower both the 33 percent and 39 percent personal rates to 30 percent. That came from Dr Brash, who said that it could be done because we ran a $6 billion surplus last year.

Clayton Cosgrove: Is the $6 billion Budget surplus that was achieved last year available for spending?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: No. As with everybody else’s income last year, I suspect we have spent it all in one form or another. The $1.2 billion cash surplus was used to retire debt. For the current year, as a brief check of the December Economic and Fiscal Update would show, the Treasury is forecasting a cash deficit of $1.1 billion. Finally, as the Leader of the Opposition ought to know, any excessive fiscal stimulus will only lead to higher interest rates being imposed by the Reserve Bank, and to more pressure on the dollar.

John Key: Has the Minister noticed reports in the Australian Financial Review of Thursday 12 February outlining that the Australian Labor Party leader, Mark Latham, is considering reducing the top personal tax rate in Australia from 47c to 35c in the dollar; if so, what does he consider will be the economic impact on New Zealand when Australia has a lower top personal tax rate, a lower company tax rate, and a US free-trade arrangement to boot?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Only somebody whose nose was rather close to Australia could possibly think that it got a United States free-trade agreement—it was a trade agreement, not a free-trade agreement. When Australia also abolishes its capital gains tax and payroll tax, and when it restores accelerated depreciation for companies, then perhaps we may talk about comparability. The fact is that at the moment Australia has a higher top tax rate, a payroll tax, a capital gains tax, and, generally speaking, Australians are more highly taxed than most New Zealanders.

Peter Brown: Will the Minister give further consideration to adopting New Zealand First’s policy of gradually transferring more of the petrol tax, which goes into the Crown account, into the National Land Transport Fund, so that it can be invested in roading for safety purposes and for our economic well-being?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I am pleased to inform the member that we have already done that once, and we are planning to do it again. That was part of the Auckland—and, indeed, the New Zealand—road transport package announced just before Christmas.

John Key: I seek leave to table the Australian Financial Review of 12 February, outlining Latham’s new tax-cut push.

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

Refugees—Deportation, Sri Lanka

8. KEITH LOCKE (Green) to the Minister of Immigration : Does she agree that deporting a 16-year-old Sri Lankan girl who suffered years of rape and sexual abuse in her homeland is, in the words of the Commissioner for Children, “difficult to comprehend” and appears, as stated by Save the Children New Zealand, to be contrary to New Zealand’s obligations under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child; if not, why not?

Hon LIANNE DALZIEL (Minister of Immigration): No, because the primary responsibility for the care of the child in such circumstances is with the parents. The father is in Sri Lanka and the mother is in Hong Kong, and it was she who in this case arranged for the grandmother to take her daughter to New Zealand, where she had no family connections or support. The Refugee Status Appeals Authority has considered this matter twice. The Associate Minister has declined to intervene on removal procedures on both occasions. New Zealand’s international obligations were taken into account by the Associate Minister, and his decision has been upheld by the High Court of New Zealand.

Keith Locke: Why is the Minister attacking the lawyers for alerting the New Zealand people to the serious injustice that has been done to that girl, and is the Minister saying that if it had all been kept hidden, then the Government would have been saved from the huge public outcry against the cold-hearted expulsion of that sexually-abused girl, and would have also been saved the wrath of Save the Children, the Children’s Commissioner, the United Nations Children’s Fund, End Child Prostitution in Asian Tourism, and other reputable organisations.

Mr SPEAKER: That question was too long, and the first part of it was out of order. But the Minister can comment on the second part, where the second question began.

Hon LIANNE DALZIEL: My objection has been the half-truths that have been told in the public arena. I want to read from the Refugee Status Appeals Authority decision. That member rails against me in the House on the topic of the Refugee Status Appeals Authority, whose decision will stand, so I want him to listen to this: “The appellant’s fears of serious harm at the hands of S or J are not well founded. J’s predicted pursuit of the appellant and the grandmother would be motivated by revenge, which is not a legitimate convention reason. Were J to pursue the appellant or her grandmother, they would have the resources of their family at their disposal, and State protection would be available and would be sought. Any lack of medical treatment would not amount to persecution, nor would it be unavailable for a convention ground. For these reasons, the authority finds that both appellants have no well-founded fear of being persecuted on return. In view of these findings, the issue of jurisdiction does not need to be considered.”

I say to Mr Locke that he should be consistent.

Moana Mackey: Does the Minister stand by her statement on 3 National News last night that she thinks New Zealanders have been the subject of a deliberate campaign of manipulation in order to invoke public sympathy in this case; if so, what is her concern in that regard?

Hon LIANNE DALZIEL: I have become used to people seeking to win in the court of public opinion what they cannot win in a court of law. However, in this case, it is much more serious, because the integrity of the care plan that the Associate Minister took great pains to have put in place for her return could have been jeopardised by her being publicly identified in the way that she has. That is what I believe has been unethical behaviour.

Judith Collins: Does she agree with Damien O’Connor’s statement in respect of this case: “There are only claims that one or two members of her family have not been kind to that girl.”, when the New Zealand Immigration Service and the Refugee Status Appeals Authority have accepted that she was a victim of rape, and does this Minister think New Zealand women will find it acceptable for her Government to describe rape as “not being kind”?

Hon LIANNE DALZIEL: In all the material I have read, including that of the Refugee Status Appeals Authority, there has been an acceptance that there was sexual abuse. I have not seen any report that has accepted the allegation of rape. However, the important issue in this particular case is that this has been the subject of two hearings in the Refugee Status Appeals Authority, the first of which was a complete fabrication. If that member agrees that it is OK to come to this country to use our health services, to use our care and protection services, and to use our education services by fabricating a story—

Mr SPEAKER: I have called the member to order. The member is going on far too long. [Interruption] I am on my feet, not the member. Please be seated until I am sitting. I said to the Minister that, as far as I am concerned, she should specifically answer the question. I do not require all the other extra points. A comment or two is, of course, justifiable, but I think the Minister has gone on a little too long on this occasion.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. My colleague’s question was very specific: did the Minister agree with the Associate Minister referring to sexual abuse or rape as being “men being a little unkind”, or phrases to that effect? The Minister made no attempt to answer that question—thus my interjection, and thus I think you should ask her to answer whether she thought the Associate Minister’s terminology was acceptable.

Mr SPEAKER: I listened carefully to the Minister. She gave a long answer, and she did address that particular question.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. You will have no doubt been taken, as I was, with the conclusion of the Minister’s answer. It really requires a request from me as to whether she will table it, because she is actually reading my speeches back to me without ascription, and she should table them back to the House now.

Mr SPEAKER: That is not a point of order; it was a comment made.

Sue Bradford: Is it not one of our obligations under the United Nations Convention of the Rights of the Child to protect children, and how can that be consistent with handcuffing and forcibly sedating a young girl for what seems to have been the whole trip from Auckland via Seoul and Bangkok to Colombo?

Hon LIANNE DALZIEL: There is no legal obligation on New Zealand to offer protection to this individual child or her grandmother. The decision was made by the mother in Hong Kong to send her daughter to New Zealand in order to claim refugee status on completely fictitious grounds. I know that the member opposite is nodding, because he is absolutely correct in his statement that there has to be a robust provision in place to ensure that people do not use our refugee determination process in order to gain access to services they are not entitled to gain access to.

I seek leave to table the Refugee Status Appeals Authority decision.

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

Sue Kedgley: When the Associate Minister Damien O’Connor said: “The girl’s removal to Sri Lanka had been done with her welfare in mind, including proper medical supervision before and during the flight.”, did he mean that he considered bundling the girl out of an ambulance with her hands tied and drugging her throughout the flight to the point where she appeared to be unconscious, unable to stand, and confined to a wheelchair when she got off the flight constituted proper medical supervision; if so, why?

Hon LIANNE DALZIEL: In response to the first part of the question, in fact I believe that the Associate Minister was referring to the fact that neither her mother nor her father—none of her family members—is in New Zealand, and New Zealand is not in a position to offer her the family support she needs.

Local Government Act—Treaty of Waitangi

9. Hon Dr NICK SMITH (National—Nelson) to the Minister of Local Government: Is he satisfied that the new Treaty of Waitangi provisions of the Local Government Act 2002 and special provisions for councils to consult with Maori are working as intended?

Hon RICK BARKER (Minister for Courts), on behalf of the Minister of Local Government: Yes.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: Does the Minister consider it fair to all New Zealanders that the Canterbury Regional Council, in considering an application for a major dairy farm adjacent to Lake Ellesmere, has determined that iwi are to be consulted, but neighbouring farmers, Fish and Game New Zealand, and the Royal Forest and Bird Protection Society are not, and if he, like National, believes this unfair, will he review the provisions of the Act that have led to this situation?

Hon RICK BARKER: If that member wanted to ask specifically about that matter, I would have hoped that he would have put down the question particularly for me, because I could have responded in much detail. But the obvious answer, it seems to me, is that it is a matter for the council to determine who it will respond to.

David Parker: Does the Local Government Act 2002 transfer or impose Treaty of Waitangi obligations on to local authorities?

Hon RICK BARKER: No. Section 4 of the Local Government Act 2002 clearly states that the provisions to maintain and improve opportunities for Mâori to contribute to local government decision-making processes are recognition of the Crown’s responsibility in relation to Treaty of Waitangi obligations, and not that of councils.

Jeanette Fitzsimons: Does the Minister of Local Government now accept that the limited notification provisions of the Resource Management Amendment Bill, introduced by National and passed by Labour against strong opposition from the Greens, have led not only to the Royal Forest and Bird Protection Society, Fish and Game New Zealand, and the public, but his own Department of Conservation, being shut out of the submission process on this proposal, and that only the treaty right of the tangata whenua is ensuring that it gets any proper environmental scrutiny at all?

Mr SPEAKER: The question is a little wide, but I will allow it.

Hon RICK BARKER: It seems to me that question is mainly about the Resource Management Act, and I am not the appropriate Minister to put that question to.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: Noting the Prime Minister’s answer earlier today in saying that the Government’s response was based on need and not on race, can the Minister please explain to the House why there is a greater need to consult iwi with respect to Lake Ellesmere than Fish and Game; that there is a greater need to consult iwi than neighbouring farmers; that there is a greater need to consult iwi than legitimate organisations like Forest and Bird, or are the Prime Minister’s statements a load of wash?

Mr SPEAKER: The last comment, I think, was a little bit too much, but the Minister can answer the first part of the question

Hon RICK BARKER: The matter of who is consulted is the regional council’s decision; it is not the Government’s. If the regional council decides it wishes to consult all those groups, it will do exactly that.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: Point of order, Mr Speaker. For the benefit of the Minister, I seek the leave of the House to table the specific provisions—notably clause 14(d) of the Local Government Act, and also clause 81 of that same act—that impose specific responsibilities on councils to consult Mâori.

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

Child, Youth and Family Services, Department—Confidence

10. JUDY TURNER (United Future) to the Associate Minister for Social Development and Employment (CYF): Does she have confidence in the Department of Child, Youth and Family Services’ ability to manage the approximately 4,700 children in its care at any one time?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY (Minister for Social Development and Employment), on behalf of the Associate Minister for Social Development and Employment (CYF): In general, yes. However, there have been some cases where high-quality social work practice has not been happening consistently. They have been acknowledged by the department, and a range of initiatives either have been implemented or are in the process of being implemented, to ensure a consistent, quality service nationwide.

Judy Turner: In light of the fact that the Department of Child, Youth and Family Services failed to follow the established procedure of ensuring bimonthly visits to the caregivers of 3-year-old Tamati Pokaia—who later died from massive internal injuries inflicted by the man whom the department had chosen to care for him, Michael Waterhouse—does the Associate Minister agree that the department simply does not have the capacity to provide adequate monitoring of children’s safety while in care, which is a core component of its operation?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: Trying to anticipate the cases that might be raised, I did familiarise myself with others, but not with the particular case that has been raised. So let me answer in general that what I said in my initial answer, on behalf of the Associate Minister, was that there have been cases where plans have not been put in place in the way that we would want. The particular case that has been raised is clearly one of those, and that is why, for example, we have just put an extra $119 million into this organisation, to lift its capacity to carry out that core function.

Georgina Beyer: What, specifically, is the Government doing to ensure that public confidence in the department is further restored, further to what he has already answered?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: Since this Government was elected in 1999 we have been committed to improving social work practice. We have recruited more staff, increased baseline funding by more than 50 percent, instituted professional social work registration, and strengthened regional management. The department is implementing initiatives to improve care management practices, with the implementation of the baseline review. We have continued those improvements with the new investment I have just mentioned of $119 million.

Katherine Rich: Will the Associate Minister confirm, in relation to the Department of Child, Youth and Family Services’ confirmation that there were 3,132 unallocated cases of abuse last November—a 76 percent rise in 4 months—that uncounted at the time were hundreds of backlogged notifications waiting to be entered into the department’s computer, and, in effect, creating a waiting list for children to get onto the department’s waiting list; if not, why not?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: One of the issues has been the rising number of unallocated cases, and we know that that has, at times, meant that staff have been under pressure to put their notes into the computer, so that we can come up with the number of unallocated cases. My understanding is that, as of now, all the cases are accounted for, as they should be.

Sue Bradford: Has the Department of Child, Youth and Family Services actually employed the 112 extra social workers and 28 other frontline staff provided for by the Government 4 months ago, as a result of the baseline review; and do the three babysitting Government departments also appointed have confidence that this “unbalanced and unstable department”—as it was then described by the review team—is now functioning at, at least, an adequate level?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: My understanding is that the department is still in the process of employing social workers, but one of the pleasing elements of this is that more people than were anticipated have applied for jobs with the department. Many are returning to the service, which is a very good sign indeed. The three departments that conducted the baseline review, rather than the “babysitting review”—it was not called that; it was called the baseline review—are still involved in ensuring that the department does live up to its obligations during this transition period, while a new chief executive is found.

Judy Turner: Does the Minister agree that the failure of the Department of Child, Youth and Family Services social workers in the Pokaia case to provide “a coherent, explicit, and documented case management strategy”, which resulted in little Tamati being passed through eight placements from 2000 to his death in April 2002, is symptomatic of the findings of the baseline review that “on average children in CYF care spend 2.5 years in care, experience 10 different placements, and are allocated to four different social workers”, and points to a department that is unable to provide the quality care services that our children deserve?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: The statistics reported by that member do point to the problems with this department that we have been trying to get on top of. But I want her to acknowledge that, in many cases, children move for very good reasons during the time that they are with the department. They may well be moving between family members, for example, during that period of time. We should not take the fact that they move as an indication that things are not working for them.

Judy Turner: In light of the chief social worker’s findings in the Kelly Gush review of December that the caseworkers involved “minimised, or failed to recognise and acknowledge the level of violence”, not to mention reports that staff ignored the grave concerns of both the counsel for the child and specialist mental health services for the children’s safety under the care of their stepfather, Darren Mackness, how can the Associate Minister have any confidence that her overworked front-line staff will make the necessary decisions to prevent other children from being kicked to death for throwing up while they eat their dinner?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: I would stress—and can I say I am answering on behalf of the Associate Minister—that I did try to familiarise myself with cases, but I could not anticipate every case that might be raised, and I did not look at this particular one. The important point here, of course, is that the social workers themselves did no harm to this child at all; the harm was done by people to whom the member pointed in her question. But we would also say that this service is an emergency service. Just as the police and hospital staff are placed in very difficult situations, so, too, are social workers, and they have to make difficult judgments. This Government is committed to giving them resources. We have acknowledged, as has the department, that mistakes have been made. We will keep going until we get it right.

Question No. 11 to Minister

RON MARK (NZ First): I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I have asked the question relating to two girls. Newspaper reports highlight offences against three girls. I seek leave to substitute the word “two” with the word “three”.

Mr SPEAKER: I will allow it from the chair.

Home Detention—Reoffending

11. RON MARK (NZ First) to the Minister of Corrections: Was Kevin Moana Jarden, described as a predatory paedophile, on home detention at the time that he raped, sodomised, and sexually molested three girls, one of whom lived in the home in which he was placed?

Hon PAUL SWAIN (Minister of Corrections): Yes. After serving time in prison for charges relating to burglary and stealing a bike, he was released on home detention for 2 months by the district prisons board in 1999. This offender did not have a background of offending against young children prior to his most recent convictions.

Ron Mark: Does it concern the Minister that this man, who has been described as a predatory paedophile and a serial offender, was deemed by the Parole Board to be suitable for placement on home detention in a home with children; if he does, will the Minister be seeking to have that Parole Board held accountable for the subsequent attacks on these other three little girls?

Hon PAUL SWAIN: The events are appalling—there is absolutely no question about that. However, this offender has been described as a predator and a paedophile; he is certainly a serial offender—there is no question about that—but the reality is that, apart from an association with a girl who was 15 at the time, he had no other convictions relating to anyone under the age of 16 years. I understand now that this particular case is back before the court.

Martin Gallagher: What has the Government done to ensure that people who agree to take home detention offenders into their residences are fully aware of the offenders’ offending background?

Hon PAUL SWAIN: Although in this case the probation officer did tell the resident about the offending history, the Government determined that the legislation could be made clearer on this point. A specific clause was added into the Parole Act 2002, requiring probation officers to ensure that every relevant occupant of the residence where it is proposed the offender be detained is aware of the nature of the offender’s past and current offending.

Hon Tony Ryall: Noting those changes in the Sentencing Act, what is the Government doing to prevent a recurrence of the situation where a man who went to jail for beating his wife so badly that he had to give her CPR to keep her alive was able to serve out part of his sentence on home detention with the very woman he had originally bashed, only to bash her within weeks of his release on home detention?

Hon PAUL SWAIN: Of course, that also is appalling. At the end of sentences, obviously, criminals are released back into the community. In some cases, instead of serving their full time, they are released to home detention. What that member will realise, given that his Government introduced home detention, is that the reoffending rates of those who were on home detention are much better than those of people who served their full sentence in prison.

Ron Mark: Is the Minister not aware that the details show that this person’s first offence was committed against a girl who was younger than 15, and that, indeed, the sponsor was not given the full details of his offending; and does the Minister not agree that when the Department of Corrections fails the public so badly that it lets a man with 80 criminal convictions, carried out over a 40-year period against a multitude of victims, go on home detention, it and the State should be held accountable to the victims and their families?

Hon PAUL SWAIN: There are about four questions there; I will try to answer a couple of them. Firstly, I was not aware that the girl was under 15; I had been advised that she was 15. [Interruption] I see that the member thinks that is a minor detail. Secondly, I was told that the people living at the place to which the offender was to go had been advised of his conviction history. The third point is that it is not the department’s role to recommend home detention; it was a decision made by the prisons board, and that board should be accountable for the decision.

Race Relations Commissioner—Human Rights Act

12. STEPHEN FRANKS (ACT) to the Associate Minister of Justice: Has she asked the Human Rights Commission whether Joris de Bres was acting jointly with the chief commissioner pursuant to sections 15(1)(d) and 16(c) of the Human Rights Act in making the comments reported as “De Bres slams Nat Maori policies”, and does she have any concerns about Mr de Bres as a tax-funded appointee making the claims reported?

Hon MARGARET WILSON (Associate Minister of Justice): No, and no.

Stephen Franks: How can we be reassured that Mr de Bres’ call for what he called “ground rules for treaty debate” does not simply reflect her Government’s anxiety to close this debate down, especially considering Mr de Bres’ position that National’s advertising is “dangerous”, and that references to “race-based policies” and “racial privilege” are broad slogans that do not fit the facts and are therefore out of order?

Hon MARGARET WILSON: Mr de Bres has a statutory obligation to act independently. He is acting independently, which is why I have had no contact with him.

Russell Fairbrother: Has she seen any subsequent reports on Joris de Bres’ comments?

Hon MARGARET WILSON: Yes, this morning’s Dominion Post acknowledged that it misrepresented what Mr Joris de Bres said. He was not attacking a political party, he was saying something applicable to all politicians, some of whom reacted differently from others.

Gerry Brownlee: Is she concerned about suggestions that appointees to public positions, nominated by her as Minister, have to display a willingness to do the Government’s business or have Labour Party activist credentials?

Hon MARGARET WILSON: No, and no, and I would just draw the member’s attention to the fact that the Deputy Prime Minister, Michael Cullen, was also attacked, but did not behave in quite the same hysterical way as the Leader of the Opposition.

Stephen Franks: Can I ask whether that is acceptable?

Mr SPEAKER: I just want to contemplate the word “hysterical”. I think that word should be withdrawn.

Hon Margaret Wilson: I withdraw.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: If Joris de Bres cannot find any offence or infringement against legislation that he is meant to be acting upon, why on earth is he continuing to make statements, and why does the Minister not fire him?

Hon MARGARET WILSON: The position requires the member to act independently. He acts independently. Members in this House comment upon that, and I thought that was what free speech was all about.

Stephen Franks: Given that the Race Relations Commissioner’s duty is to act jointly with the chair, and he has a statutory duty to promote understanding in the treaty, what restrictions or ground rules should there be against a publicly paid appointee taking a biased position in a political debate, and has she taken any steps to ensure the human rights commissioner is observing them?

Hon MARGARET WILSON: To follow the course of action that the member has suggested would, in fact, be interfering with the independence of the office.

Stephen Franks: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I asked what restrictions or ground rules there should be. I did not suggest any, and the Minister has not addressed the question. She has assumed a position on my part, and completely ducked the question.

Mr SPEAKER: I will ask the Minister to comment further.

Hon MARGARET WILSON: To lay down any ground rules would seem to me to be in direct contradiction to the statutory obligation to, in fact, act independently. That would be acting according to the Government’s directions, which is exactly what the member has been accusing us of doing. We are not doing that. If the member does not agree with what the Race Relations Commissioner says, he should express that as others do also.

Hon Steve Maharey: I seek leave to table documents in relation to question No. 2—a supplementary question from Dr Newman.

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

End of Questions for Oral Answer.

(uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing)

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