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Questions & Answers for Oral Answer - 24 February

(uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing)

Tuesday, 24 February 2004

Questions for Oral Answer
Questions to Ministers

1. Television New Zealand—Information
2. Floods—Government Assistance
3. Private Training Establishments—Financial Strife
4. Children—Prostitution
5. Documents—Mt Albert Electoral Office
6. Universities—Assessments, Mâori Students
7. Schools—Network Reviews
8. Schools—Network Reviews
9. Resource Management Act—Enforcement
10. Breast-Screening Programme—Access
11. Immigration, Minister—Meetings
12. Local Government—Easter Trading

Questions for Oral Answer
Questions to Ministers

Television New Zealand—Information

1. Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS (Leader—NZ First) to the Minister of Broadcasting: Is Television New Zealand Limited undertaking any inquiries into the manner in which its reporters obtain information for news stories?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY (Minister of Broadcasting): I am advised that Television New Zealand is not undertaking such an inquiry. I am further advised that TVNZ adheres to standards under the Broadcasting Act consistent with the gathering and presentation of news and current affairs that is balanced, fair, and accurate. In addition, TVNZ, similar to any other reputable news organisation, has a 104-page manual to direct news and current affairs staff in the proper conduct of newsgathering, including the rigorous checking of news sources.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: If that is so, I ask the Minister as to why one Brent Fraser, a Christchurch reporter, behind the TVNZ news and Holmes show of 23 January is not the subject of an inquiry, given that he impersonated a police officer in assembling the information behind that story?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: If the member has evidence of that kind, then he knows that there is a procedure to use. I cannot do it. Under section 28 of the Act, I am prohibited from bringing about such an inquiry, but he himself can do that, either by complaining to the institution or by making use of the broadcasting complaints process.

Mark Peck: Would the Minister outline the procedures available for making a formal complaint about the gathering and presentation of television news and current affairs stories?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: Under the Broadcasting Act, complaints must be made in the first instance to the broadcaster concerned. If the complainant is dissatisfied with the broadcaster’s response, the complaint can be referred to the Broadcasting Standards Authority for investigation and review. The authority’s decision can then be appealed to the High Court, and the member is well used to such routes.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Is the Minister aware of the Police Act, in particular section 51, in respect of impersonation of a police officer; and is it not a fact that Melanie Jones, head of Television One news, has been writing not one but various memos to Bill Ralston, distancing herself from the Kermadec inquiry because of the manner in which it was conducted being both spurious and insufficient?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: These are interesting points, and if the member believes that he has evidence of this kind—that somebody was impersonating a police officer, for example—then I am sure that, with his legal experience, he knows exactly what to do.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Can the Minister tell me, as the Minister responsible, whether he accepts that TVNZ has properly informed him of the information behind this question today, given that it has one Brent Fraser, who claimed to be working on a criminal investigation at the time he went with regard to certain witnesses on that story; that is criminal behaviour, guilty if he is guilty, and punishable by 3 months’ imprisonment; and does he not think that TVNZ owed him more today than to properly inform him of the inquiry, which it knows is going on?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: As I said in my first answer, TVNZ is not undertaking any inquiry at the present time in relation to this, but if the member does have evidence of a person who has been impersonating a police officer—clearly something that is wrong—he should let me know that, and I can perhaps help in ensuring that the investigation is taken up.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: What disciplinary action would the Minister regard as being at the very minimal requirement of TVNZ’s news management if a reporter claims to have been involved in a criminal investigation—in short, impersonates a police officer?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: As Minister, of course, one of the things I am proscribed and prescribed from doing, is answering that question in the sense that I get involved with it, but the member knows that this is something that is against the law, and he has probably himself already looked up what the likely result would be if that was prosecuted.

Floods—Government Assistance

2. JILL PETTIS (Labour—Whanganui) to the Minister for Rural Affairs: What assistance and support is being provided by the Government to rural communities affected by the current flooding?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Acting Minister of Rural Affairs): In addition to all the civil emergency work going on, there is now coordinated the cleaning-up work, with Task Force Green workers helping to clean away silt from orchards and farms and assisting in repairing fences and slips. Farm family income assistance measures are in place, and agricultural recovery coordinators have been appointed and begun their work. The Government has paid local authorities in the affected areas some $650,000, so they are not out of pocket while they grapple with the initial stages of dealing with the enormity of this disaster. This money will undoubtedly be a small fraction of the total cost of assistance and repairs met by the Government.

Jill Pettis: Can the people in rural New Zealand have confidence that their needs will be met as they recover and rebuild after this disaster, as will the needs of people living in the towns?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Yes, clearly the Government is considering further measures of assistance above and beyond those that are normally provided in these situations. There has been strong support for the measures already taken—for example, from the Mayors of southern Taranaki, Manawatu, Marlborough, and from the president of Federated Farmers.

Simon Power: Will the Government give a cash injection to local relief funds, due to the small ratepayer base of local councils compared with the massive scale of devastation; if not, why not?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Already significant assistance for mayoral relief funds has gone above the normal quantum of $20,000 in these cases. The Government has received a suggestion from the United Future party in relation to matching grants for relief funds and is giving active consideration to that. That would apply to funds that have already been raised, as well as to funds being raised by organisations like Caritas - Aotearoa, Red Cross, and so on.

Hon Peter Dunne: Is the Minister aware of reports from the Wellington and Hutt Valley region, of significant damage as a result of the storms of last weekend, in particular, and can he assure the House that the same general range of measures that he has foreshadowed will be available to assist those who are the victims of tragedies further north, will also be available to the victims of tragedies in this part of the world?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: The standard provisions, of course, will automatically apply—that is, an 85 percent subsidy on local roads and a 60:40 split on a range of civic amenities and infrastructure. That has been standard Government policy since, I think, the cyclone Bola disaster. We obviously will be prepared to look at additional assistance, if that is required, in the context of this region.

Private Training Establishments—Financial Strife

3. DONNA AWATERE HUATA (Independent) to the Associate Minister of Education (Tertiary Education): What support is available for private training establishments that get into financial strife?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY (Associate Minister of Education (Tertiary Education)): With a touch of irony, I answer that private training establishments are private commercial organisations from which the Government purchases training. While education agencies monitor the performance of private training organisations, the Government’s concern in relation to troubled private training organisations is the welfare of their students. Education agencies seek support for affected students from other tertiary education providers, allowing the students to continue their studies with as little interruption as possible.

Donna Awatere Huata: Is the Minister aware that it was, in fact, his ministry’s pressure on Te Wânanga o Aotearoa to cancel a $10 million contract with Carich computers, and its withholding of a $800,000 repayment, that caused Carich’s financial crisis; if so, why could he not have written a letter agreeing to continue funding it, knowing that that would have secured that organisation’s refinancing and future, and knowing that Carich had a 2003 clean-sweep audit on all nine sites?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: No, I was not aware of that because it is not true. I could not write a letter because the organisation could not provide a standard data return that guaranteed that I knew how many students it had.

Donna Awatere Huata: Supplementary—

Mr SPEAKER: No, there is no further supplementary question to the member. I call Dr Ashraf Choudhary.

Donna Awatere Huata: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I seek leave to ask a further supplementary question.

Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought. Is there any objection? There is not. I will hear the member’s supplementary question after I have heard Dr Ashraf Choudhary, because questions do alternate.

Dr Ashraf Choudhary: Why does the Government not provide financial support for private training establishments in financial strife?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: Private training establishments are not Crown entities; they are private commercial organisations funded to complement the provision of public-funded tertiary education institutions. However, the Government must manage Crown risk, by monitoring the actions undertaken by those agencies. The Government has policy and actions in place to place support around students from private training establishments when they collapse—for example, the student fee indemnification policy, and the student placement plan.

Donna Awatere Huata: How does the Minister justify a $5 million loan to Northland Polytechnic, one of the poorest-performing tertiary providers, when a 1c letter to Carich could have avoided the collapse of a provider that the New Zealand Qualifications Authority has said was in the top 10 percent; how can he justify that, when a 1c letter could have avoided 400 jobs being lost and several thousand students being caused unnecessary upheaval in their lives?

Mr SPEAKER: That question was long. The Minister may comment briefly.

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: If the member has a source of 1c letters, I would really like to get access to that. In the case of Carich, I can easily say that it was not able to provide something as basic—after three shots at it—as a standard data return telling us how many students it had.

Children—Prostitution

4. JUDY TURNER (United Future) to the Associate Minister for Social Development and Employment (CYF): Does she agree with the comments of the Department of Child, Youth and Family Services’ Southern Regional Manager, Paula Attrill, that curbing child prostitution is “first and foremost” a police issue; if so, why?

Hon RUTH DYSON (Associate Minister for Social Development and Employment (CYF)): When Miss Attrill was asked: “Do your staff go out on the streets at night, looking for child prostitutes?”, she said: “First and foremost, police are responsible for policing the streets.”; I agree. Miss Attrill also said: “In the event that the police pick up any children or young persons for whom there are concerns over lack of supervision of any kind, not just relating to prostitution, then they phone the duty social worker and the department responds accordingly.”

Judy Turner: In light of the findings of the ECPAT New Zealand recent study, which showed that child prostitutes come from backgrounds where sexual abuse, drug taking, family dysfunction, and neglect are prevalent, does she agree that the Department of Child, Youth and Family Services is the very agency that needs to step up and take a much more proactive role, given its core statutory responsibilities to promote the well-being of children by protecting them from abuse and suffering?

Hon RUTH DYSON: Not only am I satisfied with the contribution that the Department of Child, Youth and Family Services is making in respect of this need, I am also very satisfied with the amount of interagency collaboration that is applied in the areas of early intervention and family support.

Georgina Beyer: What is the Government doing to curb child prostitution?

Hon RUTH DYSON: We have done more than any other previous Government to stop the sexual exploitation of children. We have passed legislation making it an offence to be a client of a prostitute under the age of 18, and we have introduced legislation toughening child porn penalties. The new Crimes Amendment Bill (No 2) before Parliament increases penalties and introduces gender neutrality for sexual offences against children. It has introduced much tougher laws against paedophiles, who will now face 10 years’ supervision once they have completed their sentences.

Katherine Rich: What steps did the Department of Child, Youth and Family Services take, after being alerted to allegations of child prostitution, to substantiate the claims or identify any children?

Hon RUTH DYSON: As I indicated in the answer to the primary question, the police alert, as is their usual routine, the appropriate Department of Child, Youth and Family Services social worker, who then responds accordingly.

Bill Gudgeon: What powers of arrest do the police have under the legislation that will allow them to arrest, detain, prosecute, and convict a 12-year-old prostitute?

Hon RUTH DYSON: As I outlined in answer to an earlier supplementary question, the current legislation has toughened the law in this regard. It is now illegal to hire an underage worker—that is, someone who is under 18—and the illegality of receiving commercial sexual services from a person under 18 has been reaffirmed under sections 20, 21, and 22 of the Prostitution Reform Act. Offences under these sections of the Act will be liable for imprisonment of up to 7 years.

Judy Turner: Can the Minister explain the department’s response to the fact that last year a dozen girls aged between 13 and 16 were caught selling sex in Christchurch streets—girls who were at the time in the care of the Department of Child, Youth and Family Services, but were sneaking out of the department’s homes at night?

Hon RUTH DYSON: Yes, those issues have been discussed in the House before and I am confident that the Department of Child, Youth and Family Services has done all it is able to do to ensure a better life for those young girls.

Judy Turner: Does she agree that the department should be playing the lead role in keeping children out of prostitution, in light of the comment made by her colleague Tim Barnett: “Research shows that there wasn’t success by policing. There is success by working one on one with children. That is the answer.”?

Hon RUTH DYSON: The Department of Child, Youth and Family Services does have a lead role in a number of early-intervention and family support initiatives. For example, Family Start; social workers in schools; the provision of activity centres for secondary school children who are experiencing problems with schooling; the community project, which aims at young people between 15 and 25 years of age; the Strengthening Families project; supporting education on the truancy services and alternative education programmes; Parents as First Teachers; youth at risk programmes; activity-based programmes; the youth offending teams; and life skills programmes. Those are successful early-intervention programmes, some of which are led by the Department of Child, Youth and Family Services and some are led by other agencies in collaboration with the department.

Judy Turner: In light of the fact that the Safer Christchurch Community Council has renewed a contract with the 198 Youth Health agency to get child prostitutes off the streets after it was abandoned by central government in 2002 due to lack of funding, why was that programme stopped when the Department of Internal Affairs found that the money invested was well worth it and there was significant cost savings well in excess of the investment?

Hon RUTH DYSON: I do not have specific information with regard to the reasons that that programme was discontinued. However, I am happy to provide them to the member in due course.

Judy Turner: In light of the findings of the ECPAT New Zealand study that 86 percent of those who tried to help child prostitutes said that the best way to help them was to address the trauma and self-esteem issues of the children, can she explain why very few respondents were satisfied with the support available from State care institutions, and also why the Department of Child, Youth and Family Services gave no information for that survey when it was asked to participate?

Hon RUTH DYSON: No to both questions.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Has the Minister read the agreement between the United Future party and the Government, and which part has the provision demanding that the Government not introduce laws to legalise prostitution for all and sundry?

Mr SPEAKER: That is a statement.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: No, it is not.

Mr SPEAKER: If it is a question, the Minister can comment.

Hon RUTH DYSON: Yes, I have, and no, I cannot.

Documents—Mt Albert Electoral Office

5. GERRY BROWNLEE (Deputy Leader—National) to the Prime Minister: Does she stand by the response given on her behalf on 19 February that in “early July the Mt Albert electorate office contacted Marshall Bird and Curtis asking for certain documents. Those documents were faxed.”, and does she stand by the assertion made on her behalf that a document tabled by the Deputy Prime Minister was a “cover sheet” which evidenced that the alleged communication came from the lawyer’s office?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK (Prime Minister): There are conflicting accounts as to how the document referred to arrived in the Mt Albert electorate office. That is why the matter has been referred to an independent inquiry.

Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Surely, we cannot be in a situation where the Prime Minister will decide whether the words said on her behalf were correct, depending on an inquiry by some independent body. Those words were uttered in Parliament on her behalf. She has been asked a very direct question: "Does she stand by them?"

Mr SPEAKER: The Prime Minister gave an answer that addressed the question, but there are further supplementary questions that can come.

Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. How can you say that the Prime Minister has addressed the question in any other terms than saying: “Go take a running hike. I'm not answering that question.”, when she has been presented with statements made in this House on her behalf, and is not prepared to verify them.

Mr SPEAKER: It is up to the Prime Minister as to whether she is satisfied with an earlier answer. The member may continue.

Rodney Hide: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. This is a difficult situation. It is not clear to me listening whether the Prime Minister is saying: “No, I do not stand by that statement, because I have evidence to the contrary.”, or: “I do not know whether that statement made in this House was true.” In that case, I suggest that the Prime Minister should answer the question and say: “I am not certain about that statement any longer. That is why I am having an inquiry.”—in which case, I think that the answer has to be that she does not stand by that statement until she gets some confirmation.

Mr SPEAKER: The Prime Minister gave an answer. The member suggested an answer that she should give. He cannot do that. She has given her answer, and she stands or falls by it.

Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I shall ask you again to review the Hansard with the Prime Minister's answer. While you think that the answer may have addressed the question, I suggest that it dodged the question.

Mr SPEAKER: I shall look at the question. However, I have had advice and I am happy enough with my ruling.

Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Can you consider now whether the second half of the question is reasonable.

Mr SPEAKER: I shall look at it. The member has asked me to do that. I shall do that.

Gerry Brownlee: Does the Prime Minister know where the document came from; if not, are we to believe that a Cabinet Minister leaked it to the media, and then the Deputy Prime Minister came into the House and tabled a “cover sheet” claiming it clearly came from the lawyer, all without them knowing where the document came from or whether it was genuine?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: There are conflicting accounts, and Mr Hide’s second piece of analysis was pretty close to the truth. The conflicting accounts do raise doubts as to whether a document was faxed. I am happy to provide to the House later an affidavit that has been signed by a staff member. She does not say in that affidavit that it was faxed, although that was originally what was said on the bit of paper Dr Cullen was given. What she also asserts in the affidavit is that she did speak to Ms Curtis. Ms Curtis has said something different. That is why these matters have been referred to an independent inquiry.

Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The Prime Minister has not addressed the issue of whether—

Government Members: Oh!

Gerry Brownlee: Well, Government members will not like it. Of course, they will not like it.

Mr SPEAKER: Please carry on. There are to be no interjections during points of order, at all.

Gerry Brownlee: The Prime Minister has not addressed the question of whether the document was known to be genuine. It seems to me that if the document were known to be genuine, then there would have been some inquiry as to where it came from. That would be the only way to know if it were genuine. Other than that, there now seems to be some expensive public inquiry into the matter of whether Ministers may have put spin into the media and tabled documents in this House that they did not know to be genuine.

Mr SPEAKER: I thought the Prime Minister on that occasion gave a pretty full reply, and certainly addressed the question asked.

Hon Richard Prebble: Will the Prime Minister tell Parliament how and why her electorate office in Mt Albert got involved in the deportation of a young woman from Sri Lanka?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: As the affidavit the staff member has signed will show, this was a case that the electorate office was asked to take up. The electorate secretary is adamant that she spoke with Ms Curtis. Electorate offices look at many immigration cases. The electorate office staff at no point referred the case to me. They made a judgment themselves that they would not take it up.

Gerry Brownlee: If there is now some doubt about the circumstances in which the document came into the Prime Minister’s electorate office, why has that surfaced only today, and why did the Prime Minister’s chief press secretary circulate a series of notes supposedly—and referred to—as an affidavit from the Prime Minister’s office late last week, when, clearly, at that point it was known that the origin of the document could not be proved?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: When the matter arose in Parliament last week, the electorate office was asked to explain what happened. That information was made available to Dr Cullen, and that media request was made available for them. Then on Friday the electorate staff member concerned began to have doubts over whether it had been faxed to her. Then earlier this week, I think yesterday, she signed an affidavit that does not refer to a fax. However, the affidavit does assert—and a legal affidavit is a serious document—that she had a conversation with Ms Curtis and later with someone else in Ms Curtis’ office. After these conversations, documents arrived.

Hon Dr Michael Cullen: Has a single shred of evidence, as opposed to an assertion, been presented, when the documents were transferred to her office only a couple of weeks ago or a week or so back, following the Sri Lankan girl’s departure from New Zealand?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: The interactions I am describing today on the basis of the signed affidavit were interactions that occurred last July, when the request came to the office to look into the case.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Given that there has clearly been a waiver of confidentiality by the lawyers involved, why did Lianne Dalziel not go on to the steps of Parliament and tell everybody she was letting document go, and thereby save New Zealanders all the trouble of looking after 3,000 people of that type, at enormous cost to New Zealand taxpayers, while a whole lot of things are not paid for in this country?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: Lianne Dalziel may well be regretting that she had not followed the course of action the member suggests.

Gerry Brownlee: If circumstances prove to be as the Prime Minister has outlined—if that document came into her office last July—does she think that it is acceptable that a document brought to a member of Parliament asking for help is ultimately handed on, without her permission, to a Cabinet Minister to be used against her, and will she have the staff responsible resign if that proves to be the case?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I agree with the member, and I have a very grave concern about the fact that information made available for one purpose was then used for another. I have made it very clear that I disapprove of that, and I must put the matter in the hands of the Parliamentary Service—which acts as our agent, as members of Parliament, with respect to employees—as to how it then deals with that matter. I want—as I am sure every member wants—people to be able to deal with elected officers in trust and confidence.

Rodney Hide: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. As I understand it, last week the Prime Minister gave a correct answer, as had been advised. The Government is now not sure that the document was faxed, or whether the fax was, in fact, a cover sheet—which it may well have been. I am wondering whether the Prime Minister could provide that assurance and, in the light of the electorate agent’s reconsideration of what happened, that piece, at least, could possibly be put to bed in the proper manner.

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: Yes. I would like to thank Mr Hide, because he is helping me to clarify what happened. I can say that on the basis of the affidavit, the Government cannot be sure that the document concerned was faxed from the lawyer’s office. As to whether it was a cover sheet, it does appear to have been a letter that accompanied another document—the Refugee Status Appeals Authority judgment—so in that sense, I think it is probably properly described.

Mr SPEAKER: The member has actually turned a point of order into another supplementary question and answer, and he is to be congratulated for his ingenuity.

Universities—Assessments, Mâori Students

6. MOANA MACKEY (Labour) to the Associate Minister of Education (Tertiary Education): What reports has he received on whether New Zealand universities apply different standards of assessment to Mâori students than for non-Mâori students?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY (Associate Minister of Education (Tertiary Education)): I have seen allegations that universities’ double standards on admitting and assessing Mâori result in Mâori getting jobs they do not actually have the skills to do. I have written to universities about this, and the Vice-Chancellors Committee has confirmed that, contrary to these accusations: “At New Zealand universities, the standards of assessment in each discipline are the same for all students.” I have had similar confirmations from the Medical Council of New Zealand, the Dental Council of New Zealand, the Nursing Council of New Zealand, and the Institution of Professional Engineers New Zealand.

Moana Mackey: What reaction has the Minister received about the possibility that the possibility that New Zealand universities apply different standards of assessment to Mâori students?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: I will give three quick examples. Phil Meade of Otago University has said: “To have doubts cast on the qualifications of our Mâori alumni is an insult to their efforts and achievements, and also to the integrity of this university.” The Mâori Medical Practitioners Association has pointed out that during examinations, students are identified as faceless, raceless numbers on bits of paper. They are not identified by ethnicity. Stuart McCutcheon of Victoria University has said: “Special support is not unique to Mâori and Pacific students. It is provided for international students, students with disabilities, and mature students.” In other words, students whom they believe will benefit and profit by coming to the university. Dr Brash needs to apologise and withdraw his remarks.

Gerry Brownlee: Does the Minister support special admission programmes to law and medicine courses, such as those at Otago University, Auckland University, Victoria University, and Canterbury University, which reserve places for Mâori who do not meet the academic standards that non-Mâori are required to meet; if so, does he acknowledge that such schemes mean that there is one entry standard for Mâori and another entry standard for non-Mâori?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: Yes, I do. Let me give an example. One example is the Mâori and Pacific Admission Scheme at Auckland University’s Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences, which was established to increase the number of Mâori and Pacific health professionals to levels relative to New Zealand’s Mâori and Pacific population. It is a similar programme to one for mature students. I support that approach, because it results in excellent doctors—perhaps, for example, Mary English, the wife of Bill English.

Hon Bill English: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker.

Mr SPEAKER: I want to say something first. I do not appreciate members’ partners or spouses being brought into this argument. I think that the Minister, on reflection, should withdraw and apologise for that comment.

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: Speaking to the point of order—

Mr SPEAKER: No, I want the member to withdraw and apologise.

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: I withdraw and apologise.

Hon Bill English: I wish to make a personal explanation. The House will be aware that my wife is of Samoan descent, but she gained entry to Otago University’s medical school purely on the results of her bursary exams in the seventh form. It is disgraceful that the Government has chosen to bring her into this debate in this manner.

Mr SPEAKER: I have made my comments about that matter, and there that matter rests.

Nandor Tanczos: Does the Minister—

Ron Mark: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I apologise to the member for interrupting him. It is an interesting question, and I ask you to give us some guidance. We are now faced with the problem whereby any student who has gained access to any university course of study by merit, and who just happens to be of a particular ethnicity—be it Pacific Island, Mâori, or Asian—is now being cast as a person who got there by special selection. The Hon Bill English is quite able to redress the slur that has been placed across his wife by a personal statement. What assistance will you, as Speaker of this House, give to any other students who are so slurred but do not happen to have a spouse in Parliament to defend them?

Mr SPEAKER: We have freedom of speech in this Chamber. Members have to reflect on how they use that freedom of speech. Occasionally things are said that I regret and that, I think, members might regret. In this instance, I judged that that was not an appropriate comment to make—I made that judgment. I will look at each case on it merits, but I assure members that I want to uphold the rights of members of this House and their personal families.

Rodney Hide: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I think that you should go further than that, because the danger is that it becomes a tit-for-tat development. I think we have had this before, and I think you should make a much stronger statement, that you will not tolerate those sort of comments tacked on to the end of an answer, because if you do tolerate them, then every time a Government gets desperate, it will pull a stunt like that.

Hon Dr Michael Cullen: On the face of it, the member makes a fair point, and I am certainly not defending what just recently happened, but there are circumstances in which, although the general rule in the House is that we do not bring spouses or partners into it, it may actually be relevant to an issue of public interest—

Opposition Members: Oh!

Hon Dr Michael Cullen: The reason I am saying this is that members opposite have done just that on occasions previously—including comments about the Prime Minister’s husband. I suggest to members that before they get too self-righteous on these matters, they recognise that, sometimes, wives, husbands, and partners of members of Parliament also hold public positions that may legitimately raise matters of interest within Parliament. That is why it is a convention, not a Standing Order.

Mr SPEAKER: I refer members to Speaker’s ruling 38/1 and Speaker’s ruling 38/2, and ask them to read both of those rulings, which go back to 1938 in the one instance, and to 1989 in the other. Those are Speakers’ rulings of this Parliament.

Nandor Tanczos: Does the Minister agree that the ability of a doctor to relate to his or her patients is at least as important to being a good doctor as that doctor’s high school grades, and is he concerned that only 3 percent of general practitioners are Mâori—when Mâori make up 15 percent of the population—and what admission programmes is he aware of that address that inequity?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: Yes, to the first part of the question, and, yes, there are remarkably small numbers of Mâori and Pacific Island people who are in those kinds of professions. That is why the member will find, spread throughout a number of tertiary institutions, admissions programmes for students of those backgrounds. They, of course, have to meet the same standards as everybody else to pass courses, and that is a comment that, I think, is echoed by Mr Gerry Brownlee when he said that it was not National’s call to cut those kinds of admissions programmes—it never would be, he said, under a National Government. Of course, those comments are completely contradictory to comments made by Dr Brash, who said he would cut the money for the programmes.

Schools—Network Reviews

7. Hon BILL ENGLISH (National—Clutha-Southland) to the Minister of Education: Why are the educational benefits of network reviews large enough to proceed with decisions on 71 school closures this term, but not large enough to justify any more school network reviews?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD (Minister of Education): I want to start by thanking the member opposite for his description of my previous policy as being sensible. In the current review areas, there are around 11,000 spare student places, and further roll decline is predicted. Making the changes as proposed would, if they proceeded according to that approach, unlock about $90 million for those schools, to provide quality education. I will, however, work carefully through each of those individual decisions.

Hon Bill English: Can the Minister understand the anger of parents who are not interested in the $90 million, but who find themselves in the position where it turns out that whether their schools are closed depends not on educational standards but on Labour’s poll ratings?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: The last part of the question is absolutely incorrect. [Interruption] The answer to the first part of the question is “Yes.”

Hon Bill English: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Because of the raucous laughter, I did not actually hear what answer the Minister gave to the first part of the question.

Mr SPEAKER: The laughter came from the member’s own side of the House, and I did not interrupt it. But the member is perfectly correct. I heard the Minister say that the answer to the first part of the question was “Yes.” I myself heard it quite clearly.

Lynne Pillay: Is the Minister aware of any alternative approaches to school network reviews?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: Yes. I have seen newspaper articles that suggest that all the 126 one-teacher schools, all the 129 schools that will receive supplementary reviews from the Education Review Office, and all the over 400 schools with more than 30 percent spare capacity should be subject to a review. I will not adopt the suggestions that Bill English has made.

Hon Brian Donnelly: Can the Minister confirm that between 1996 and 1999, when National Ministers were in charge of education—and notwithstanding a softening of policy by New Zealand First—95 schools were closed or merged, whilst between 2000 and 2003 82 schools were closed?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: I do not have all those figures here, but I know that the member is an expert, and that he can tell hypocrisy when he sees it.

Mr SPEAKER: I do not like that word being used. The member will withdraw the word “hypocrisy”.

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: I withdraw.

Metiria Turei: What does the Minister have to say to the parents and pupils who have marched to Parliament today in opposition to his plans to close their schools?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: The key point is that each of these decisions will be made on its merits. That is the point I have made to them.

Deborah Coddington: Will the Minister tell the parents of children at the 71 schools that are still under threat—such as Kaiata School on the West Coast, and Kapuni School in coastal Taranaki, which are represented in the gallery today and in hundreds of signatures on these petitions—that the reviews of their schools will not proceed; if not, why not?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: No, I will not, because they have proceeded a long way down a track, they have caused a lot of hurt in those communities, and what I want to do is make sure that the quality of education in those areas is improved. In most areas, there is a lot of room for that to happen.

Murray Smith: How can the Minister possibly justify abandoning, because of strong public opposition, school reviews that are yet to be announced, while proceeding with the closure of the very schools from which that strong public opposition has come?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: I have previously, and easily.

Hon Bill English: Does the Minister understand yet that it is his bullying and smart alec attitude that has excited so much opposition; and why should his colleagues believe he will be any more successful as the Minister of race relations than he has been as the Minister of Education?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: They would probably look at Gerry Brownlee and decide it fairly easily.

Mr SPEAKER: That is not a satisfactory answer. I would like the Minister to give an answer.

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: There are two quite different areas that we are talking about. On the question of race relations, I will listen to members in the way that I listened to that member when he promoted the closure of his local schools.

Murray Smith: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I did not hear the Minister’s answer to my question, but it has just been relayed to me. By simply making a disparaging comment about me, the Minister has certainly not addressed the question that I asked.

Mr SPEAKER: The member said he did not hear the answer. I did not hear a disparaging comment about the member, at all. Had I done so I would have intervened.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The member who heard a disparaging comment did not hear it from the Minister; it was Mr Prebble describing him as a doormat—that is what he heard.

Mr SPEAKER: That is where we get into trouble. I do not mind the odd interjection during answers—I never have—but I want to say that that is as far as this particular issue will go.

Gordon Copeland: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I thoroughly agree with your ruling. But that comment coming from such an experienced member of Parliament, who knows that it now goes in Hansard, it is a bit like our deciding to record that he is a “zoneophobe”, or something.

Mr SPEAKER: For those people who read Hansard avidly, I am sure it might well be a point. I have approximately 200 volumes at my place that anyone who is willing to do so can come and take away for free.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I am not certain what a “zoneophobe” is, but if it means “good” I am it.

Mr SPEAKER: That is not a point of order.

Hon Richard Prebble: Perhaps the translator could help us?

Mr SPEAKER: No, no, no. I am ruling that we are moving on.

Hon Bill English: Will the Minister give a commitment today to the 71 schools he has proposed for closure that he will listen to the anger of those communities and scale back the range of those closures?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: Yes, I will listen, and I will treat each case on its rational merits, based not on noise but on quality of argument.

I seek leave to table the article in which Mr English outlines which schools he would close.

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

Schools—Network Reviews

8. METIRIA TUREI (Green) to the Minister of Education: Does his statement that “The days of people worrying that when the Minister’s coming to your school he’s coming not to praise you but to bury you are over.” apply to schools under review around New Zealand such as Pinehaven, Watlington Intermediate, Kaiata, Kapuni, and Invercargill South; if not, why not?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD (Minister of Education): I think I have essentially answered that question in the previous answers.

Mr SPEAKER: No. The member has asked a question. Could the Minister please give a brief answer that does address the question.

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: The reviews will continue and will be treated on their merits.

Metiria Turei: Will the school closure moratorium apply to Ruru Special School, which provides quality education to children with special needs, or will that school, which is in the Invercargill review area, continue to face an uncertain future?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: Ruru is really subject to a different process as part of the review of the role of special schools, more generally. That is why it is outside the time line of this part of the review.

Hon Bill English: Can the Minister confirm that in the process regarding Ruru Special School, ministry officials and his own public statements have made it plain that he intends to close Ruru Special School and every other special school in New Zealand?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: No I cannot, because it is not true.

Hon Brian Donnelly: Can the Minister inform the House of what has happened to the request by Taipuha School, to be closed after 75 years, and in the best interests of the children; a request that it had to ask me to progress last year because ministry officials were so busy closing schools that did not want to be closed that they did not have time to process the closure of one that did want to be closed?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: I do not have the details of all 2,700 schools in my head, but, from memory, I gazetted the closure of that school just before Christmas. It officially is open with no pupils, but fairly soon it will be totally closed.

Rod Donald: Does the Minister agree with Southland Primary Schools Principals Association president Allan Mitchell that: “The logistics of relocating so many children, staff, and accommodation for them is an impossibility by January 2005.”, as reported in yesterday’s Southland Times, and will he, therefore, stop the current reviews that are under way?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: I agree that in some cases it will be impossible, especially with the latest climatic conditions, to get the builders that are necessary to do all the work. Therefore, I have agreed as a matter of policy that if the new schools want to take longer to get on to their sites—a term or two—in order to get building work done, then we will be flexible around that. That will certainly be the case if the___________ Mr Power suggested in Taihape go through.

Hon Bill English: The matters that the Minister is referring to have a great deal of public interest in Invercargill, and I seek leave for Mr Peck to be allowed to ask a question.

Mr SPEAKER: No. The member cannot seek leave for that.

Mark Peck: No, I am seeking a supplementary question.

Mr SPEAKER: The member will be entitled to a supplementary question. A member cannot seek leave on behalf of anybody else, but Mr Peck can certainly have the next call.

Mark Peck: Would the Minister confirm that the member of Parliament for Invercargill has made strong representations to him about schooling in Invercargill and, indeed, as a result of those representations the Minister will be visiting Ruru Special School very shortly to find out the conditions that exist, and the wonderful education that is provided, in that school?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: I make it absolutely clear that the size of the member’s representations have been enormous, and I am relatively pleased with the force with which they were delivered—by that small chap.

Sue Kedgley: What could possibly be the rationale for closing Fraser Crescent School in Upper Hutt, which is a highly successful and financially viable school with more than 160 pupils, and is strongly supported by the local community, and has also spent almost $1 million on refurbishments over the last 5 years, and is he aware that many parents from that school and, indeed, many other schools, do not want to send their children to large 500-roll primary schools, because they know that their children will not flourish in such a large and relatively impersonal environment and that that is why they choose relatively small schools?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: Yes, I am aware of the views of those parents. They have met with me. They had a sign at the Rugby Sevens a couple of weeks ago, and that, I think, is legitimate. But the one thing I do regret with regard to Fraser Crescent School is the behaviour of some parents in driving past the other school with signs stating they do not want to take their kids to that school. I think that is very unfortunate.

Sue Bradford: Why is the Minister so determined to go ahead with the closure of three Ngâti Hine schools—Te Kura o Matawaia, Motatau, and Orauta in the mid-north— when his Government has had, at least until very recently, a stated intention of nurturing and fostering education appropriate to the needs of tangata whenua?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: The main reason for closures in that area is that parents have made the decision not to send their kids to those schools. One of the school rolls has gone down to, I think, seven, over a number of years. Another one has dropped very, very substantially. I want to work with Ngâti Hine to get one strong school in which their language is spoken. It is not workable with four schools in such an area. It is also worth noting that there are some relationship problems between families in the area, and that situation has badly affected their children’s education.

Rod Donald: On behalf of the vocational programme students at Ruru Special School, I seek leave to present the Minister of Education with a copy of the CD “Let us shine”, which is an appeal from those students to keep their school.

Mr SPEAKER: The member cannot do something on behalf of other people. He can seek to table the CD, if he wishes.

Rod Donald: I seek leave to table the CD.

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

Resource Management Act—Enforcement

9. Hon KEN SHIRLEY (Deputy Leader—ACT) to the Minister for the Environment: Does she support the application of the Resource Management Act to all New Zealanders regardless of race, and do councils who are confronted with flagrant law breaking have her Government’s full support to uphold the law?

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

Hon Ken Shirley: In view of the Minister’s response, what actions, if any, will she and her Government take following East Cape’s Potaka Marae’s rejection of Crown sovereignty and flagrant breach of the law by building an aquacultural research centre without any Resource Management Act consent, and claiming that the construction of the buildings and taking of shellfish can be carried out under traditional authority without consents or permit?

Hon MARIAN HOBBS: I would like to make two points on that question. First of all, the Gisborne District Council is at present establishing what is happening on the site. There may or may not be a need for a land-use consent. There may or may not be a need to take or discharge water. There are definitely issues around the Building Act, and there may also need to be issues around a fresh-water fish-farming licence. However, the Gisborne District Council has written today to assure me that it administers its plans under the Resource Management Act uniformly and irrespective of the race or origin of resource uses. The Gisborne District Council will take appropriate enforcement action in all cases where its plans are not adhered to.

Hon Ken Shirley: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. My question to the Minister specifically asked what action would she or her Government take. We could infer from the response that there would be no action, but she should at least have addressed that part of the question.

Hon MARIAN HOBBS: The action I have taken is that I have already been in contact with the Gisborne District Council to give my clear support for the work it is currently doing.

David Parker: Has the Minister seen any reports about the operation of the Resource Management Act?

Hon MARIAN HOBBS: Yes, last Saturday’s New Zealand Herald reported that councils charged with enforcing the Resource Management Act say that stonewalling over resource consents is rare and tends to occur only when consultation goes awry. Graham Ridley, who is the consents and compliance manager for the Auckland Regional Council, says that issues can usually be resolved by negotiation.

Dr Wayne Mapp: Will the Minister undertake a review of the Act to remove the references to the unclear and uncertain principles of the Treaty of Waitangi, and the extensive special consultation provisions for Mâori, so as to ensure that the Act meets the test that all New Zealanders are treated equally under the law?

Hon MARIAN HOBBS: I do not accept the proposition in the member’s question that people are treated unequally under the Resource Management Act. I do accept that under the Act all applicants consult appropriately with whoever is affected by their proposal.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Could the Minister confirm the facts—and she may wish to outline them—that the Resource Management Act was passed by the National Party in respect of that provision, which followed a provision in the 1997 Town and Country Planning Act review that was brought in at the time by the Muldoon Government, a provision that National also supported?

Hon MARIAN HOBBS: Yes.

Metiria Turei: Has the Minister done anything to challenge regional and district councils that have failed to take action when, contrary to the Resource Management Act, totara trees have been felled in Northland, when the Morecow company has felled native vegetation in the Buller, and when farmers have done the same near Wairoa; if not, why not?

Hon MARIAN HOBBS: In one of those particular cases, I have taken a series of actions, and they are to do with the Morecow application. With regard to that particular application, the Ministry for the Environment, at my behest, has carried out an examination with the particular councils concerned. I have also had the Mayor of the Tasman District Council in my room before Christmas.

Rodney Hide: Will the Minister give the public of New Zealand an absolute assurance that there are not two standards of enforcement—[Interruption]

Mr SPEAKER: There is only one warning a day. That is it. The next member will leave the Chamber. Will the member please start again.

Rodney Hide: Will the Minister give her assurance to New Zealanders that there are not two standards of enforcement of the Resource Management Act between Mâori and non-Mâori, and what action would she take if such instances were brought to her attention?

Hon MARIAN HOBBS: I am having slight trouble with the terminology being used. I absolutely and categorically agree that there is only one standard of enforcement, regardless of ethnicity, or whatever. I presume the member is referring to enforcements of consents that have been given by councils. Therefore, that applies to those councils, and I absolutely support it.

Gerrard Eckhoff: What is the Minister’s view of the special provisions for Mâori in both the Resource Management Act and the Local Government Act, and will she explain why the actions of the Potaka Marae are not the inevitable consequence of legislation that allows for privileged treatment based on race?

Hon MARIAN HOBBS: If Potaka Marae has ignored the Resource Management Act processes and broken rules to do with the district plan or a building, then I am assured by the Gisborne District Council that it will prosecute and proceed with that.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Is the Minister aware of any issues of racial privilege that saw a boatshed application end up being a full home; if so, what are the details, and which part of the Treaty of Waitangi did that affect?

Hon MARIAN HOBBS: I am not aware of the particular case, although people are hinting to me that there may be one that affects a member in this House.

Stephen Franks: What assurances can the Minister give the Gisborne District Council that it will not be left like the Wanganui District Council, or the Gisborne District Council previously—in relation to the occupation of Moutoa Gardens and Young Nick’s Head respectively—festering with the active encouragement of her colleagues Tariana Turia and Parekura Horomia respectively?

Hon MARIAN HOBBS: That is drawing a long bow from the Resource Management Act, but that Act is the law of this country, I am responsible for it, and I give councils every encouragement to ensure that it is enacted correctly.

Breast-Screening Programme—Access

10. LYNNE PILLAY (Labour—Waitakere) to the Minister of Health: What are the estimated impacts of increasing access to the free breast-screening programme for women aged between 45 and 70 years announced yesterday?

Hon ANNETTE KING (Minister of Health): I am advised that an additional 238,000 women in the two age-group categories that have been added to the programme will be eligible for free breast-screening. It is estimated that five women’s lives would be saved in the 45 to 49 age group, and 27 women’s lives in the 65 to 69 age group.

Lynne Pillay: In light of representations to lower the age to 40 years, why did she opt for lowering the age to 45 years at this time?

Hon ANNETTE KING: The current evidence supporting the expansion is strongest for the over-65 age group, with an anticipated 46 percent reduction in the risk of death for a woman who is regularly screened in that age group through the expanded programme, while including the 45 to 49-year-olds into the programme will result in a 21 percent reduction in the risk of death. We are waiting for the results from a large British study regarding the efficacy of screening women aged 40 to 45, and will re-examine that issue when those results are available next year.

Dr Lynda Scott: Why did she intimate on 18 November 2003, in answer to an oral question from me, that she would not be reducing the age of eligibility for free breast-screening, yet now, 1 day before the 124,000-signature breast-screening petition is heard at the select committee, 4 days after Tim and Debbie Short’s day of shame protest outside a Labour Party MP’s offices, and 1 week after Labour’s dramatic slide in the polls, she has suddenly decided to reduce the age?

Hon ANNETTE KING: For 1 year we have been examining in which direction we would increase access to the breast-screening programme. Initially I made it clear that the evidence was to take the age up to a woman’s 70th birthday. I also said to the petitioners, and to this House, that I was prepared to look at the evidence.

Sue Kedgley: Is she aware that some women have concerns about the cumulative effect that exposure to radiation from successive mammograms may have on their health, and will she therefore make freely available the alternative diagnostic tools such as ultrasound, so that concerned women can choose an alternative to radiation-based screening; if not, why not?

Hon ANNETTE KING: My understanding is that the level of radiation used in breast screening is very low, and for women between 50 and 70 it is every second year. In fact, no screening programme in the world uses ultrasound on its own.

Lynne Pillay: Will rural women with high risk factors be able to access breast-screening services?

Hon ANNETTE KING: Women who are at high risk of breast cancer and who would otherwise need to travel large distances to a fixed site will be able to access mobile screening services. Beyond the target group for the extended programme, we are also looking at the use of mobile vans for other rural women to be able to access mammography.

Immigration, Minister—Meetings

11. GERRY BROWNLEE (Deputy Leader—National) to the Prime Minister: What did she discuss with Lianne Dalziel in her meeting with her on Wednesday last week, and when did she first become aware of the involvement of her electorate office in the transmission of the letter leaked last Monday by Lianne Dalziel?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK (Prime Minister): There was not a meeting on Wednesday with the former Minister, but in the course of a telephone conversation she informed me that the document in question had come from the Mt Albert electorate office. That was news to me.

Gerry Brownlee: Is she aware that the former Minister of Immigration, after that telephone conversation with the Prime Minister, proceeded to do an interview with the Sunday programme in which she made statements, now proved to be untrue, and can she deny that she was not complicit in an attempt to get the former immigration Minister out of trouble, though she must have known that the former Minister would need to be untruthful in order to do so?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: No, I was not aware she was doing a Sunday interview that day. It did come to my notice, of course, on Friday that she had given an interview to the New Zealand Press Association on Monday night, where there was clearly an untruth told. My advice to all members is to tell the truth.

Gerry Brownlee: In the course of the telephone conversation on Wednesday did the Prime Minister ask the former immigration Minister who leaked the document to TV3; if it was Leanne Dalziel who told her it done by was her staff under her instruction, why did she not sack her right then, and if Lianne Dalziel did not tell her that she had leaked it, why did the Prime Minister not find out who had?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: Ms Dalziel did tell me that she had seen that it had gone to TV3, as it had through the press secretary. All that is well established. I told her that I was concerned about the Morning Report interview, and no doubt it was after reflecting on that in the course of the day that she then gave an interview on the Holmes show, where she made an abject apology, and went on Morning Report again the next day.

Hon Richard Prebble: In between her public statement supporting the former Minister of Immigration and the public statement that the media logs or organisations were checked, what other relevant facts did the Prime Minister find in that 24 hours that caused her to change her mind and ask the Minister to resign?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: The relevant fact was the drawing to my attention on Friday morning of both the New Zealand Press Association report and the supplementary question on question No 12 last Thursday to Dr Cullen that was based on that report.

Gerry Brownlee: Was the Prime Minister made aware on Wednesday morning that Lianne Dalziel had denied putting the document into the TV3 office, and if she was, did that information come from her staff who, as late as Friday, were trying to justify the Minister’s actions by taking pieces of paper around the gallery and creating confusion around this case that clearly does not exist; if so, why was she not upset and concerned at that point that her staff were involved in protecting the Minister?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: As far I knew from talking to Ms Dalziel following the Morning Report interview, that was the only interview she had done where that question had arisen. It was not until Friday morning that I became aware of the New Zealand Press Association interview on the Monday night that the member himself had drawn to Dr Cullen’s attention on Thursday afternoon.

Local Government—Easter Trading

12. Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS (Leader—NZ First) to the Minister of Labour: What has she done about giving local government the right to decide with local communities whether or not there is Easter trading in local government areas?

Hon MARGARET WILSON (Minister of Labour): I established a Shop Trading Hours Working Group in February 2003 to sort out the inconsistencies in the country’s shop trading hours legislation. The group’s report was referred to the Commerce Committee in July 2003. I understand that the select committee is due to report back this Friday, 27 February 2004.

End of Questions for Oral Answer

(uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing)

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