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Questions & Answers for Oral Answer - March 2 2004

(uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing)

TUESDAY, 2 MARCH 2004

Questions for Oral Answer 1
Questions to Ministers 1

1. Treaty Claims—Settlements 1
2. Schools—Network Reviews 2
3. Industry—Lord of the Rings 4
4. Brunswick Corporation—Fishing Trip Costs 4
5. Local Government—Asset Management 5
6. Employment Relations Law Reform Bill—Reviews 5
POO: Question No. 4 to Minister 6
7. Small Business—Taxation Legislation 6
8. Land Information, Minister—Confidence 6
9. United Nations Chief Weapons Inspector—Phone Calls 7
10. Master of the High Court—Appointment 7
11. Immigration—Health Risks 8
12. Mortgage Insurance Guarantee Scheme—First-home Ownership 8

Questions to Members 9

POO: Question No. 1 to Member 9
1. United States—Briefings 9

Questions for Oral Answer

Questions to Ministers

Treaty Claims—Settlements

1. Hon PETER DUNNE (Leader—United Future) to the Prime Minister: Does Cabinet agree with the view expressed by Hon Steve Maharey that “It is perhaps time to set a date when all [Treaty] grievances must be settled so we can all move on”; if not, why not?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK (Prime Minister): Cabinet has not discussed the Hon Steve Maharey’s views. However, as the director of the Office of Treaty Settlements indicated to the Mâori Affairs Committee recently, at the current rate of progress the process of settling historical claims could be through in 10 to 15 years. I think that would be widely welcomed by Mâori and Pâkehâ.

Hon Peter Dunne: Does the Prime Minister’s answer mean that the Government is working to a timetable of a 10-15 year settlement, especially in view of the comments from Mr Horomia, earlier this morning, that a settlement timetable of about 10-15 years was appropriate?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: In effect, yes. The rate at which we have budgeted for the processing of claims, the negotiations, the Waitangi Tribunal procedures have us on a track where we believe the historical claims could be completed in 10 to 15 years.

Gerry Brownlee: Can the Prime Minister confirm for the House that Mr Maharey did in fact submit an opinion piece that was floated past her, at her ninth-floor media office, and that her apparent change from that position again in the House today reflects the fact that she simply could not get this next U-turn through caucus this morning?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: Yes, the article was floated past me. I do not discourage Mr Maharey from thinking. I thought when I read it—and I read it again before coming to the House—that it was a very positive article about the treaty. It said we are a bi-cultural nation, it said past wrongs must be set right—which I think everybody agrees with—and it tentatively said that perhaps it is time to set a date. What I say is the Government is budgeting for a process that should see historical claims completed within 10 to 15 years.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Can I ask the Prime Minister as to what on earth went wrong with the Jim Bolger 1990 commitment to ensure that all major claims were settled by the end of the century—that is the year 2000—and further, what went wrong with his further promise that National would make illegal any prescribed advantage and eliminate any law based on race? What happened to that policy, when National last gave a commitment?

Mr SPEAKER: Please be seated. The member cannot ask the Prime Minister about National Party policy. The member can rephrase it slightly. I am sure he will be able to get it in order.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Has the Prime Minister had any reports as to what on earth went wrong with the then commitment made in 1990 by Jim Bolger to settle all major claims by the end of the century—that is, 2000—and further, to make illegal any prescribed advantage and eliminate any law based on race? What reports has she had on that brilliant policy, and what happened to it?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: It is indeed a matter of record that throughout the 1990s there continued to be references to the treaty and principles put in legislation. In respect of what happened to the date of “year 2000”, it does take resources to progress treaty negotiations, and it is quite resource-intensive. What we have now done is set a pace for negotiations that we believe should see historical claims settled within the 10 to 15-year timetable. But I do stress it does depend on mandating and reaching agreement. However, we think there is a reasonable chance on the track we are on of achieving that.

Jeanette Fitzsimons: Can the Prime Minister assure the House that she does not regard the treaty as over with once historical grievances have been settled, but will treat it as the basis for a long-term, good-faith relationship between Mâori and other New Zealanders?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: What the member is alluding to may well be a significant difference of opinion between parties on one side of the House and the other. From the point of view of the Government, we do not think it is possible to just lock away the treaty at the end of the historical grievance settlement process. We think it will continue to have life and meaning.

Hon Ken Shirley: Could the Prime Minister reconcile for the House a discrepancy between comments made by Minister Margaret Wilson a little over a week and a half ago that: “It would be impossible to set a final date of settling claims without the possibility of creating a new set of grievances.”, and the comments that she herself has just made about settling within 10 to 15 years, which clearly is a time frame? Why was it impossible a week and half ago but now possible?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I am sure the member will appreciate that there is a great difference between setting a time frame and setting a final date beyond which nothing will be considered.

Hon Peter Dunne: Do the Prime Minister’s answers mean that the Government has in mind a figure of 10 to 15 years but that it has not actually set a formal timetable to that effect?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: What we have is a rate of progress that we are advised would see us settling the historical claims within a 10 to 15-year time frame. That is not saying that there is a final date beyond which there will be no negotiation, but that it is feasible, with the current resourcing and rate of progress, to achieve it within that time frame.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Why does the Prime Minister believe she can set a finite date for conclusion of the claims process if the Government has not first of all set a finite date for the lodging of claims; for without knowing which claims it is dealing with, how can the Government set such a date for conclusion?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: Based on the assumption that historical grievances are now of considerable antiquity, it would be a reasonable expectation, I think, to believe that historical claims are largely in. That is not to say that there will not in the future be contemporary claims, but that is certainly not included in the estimate I have given of 10 to 15 years for finalising historical claims on the present rate of progress.

Metiria Turei: Does the Prime Minister agree that the quickest way to resolve treaty grievances is to accept the decision of the umpire, the Waitangi Tribunal; hence, will the Government accept the umpire’s decision on the foreshore and seabed issue?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: No, I could not agree with that, because the Waitangi Tribunal, only in the most narrowly confined area, has a final decision-making power. Apart from that it has a recommendatory power, and I for one would not advocate changing that, because the Waitangi Tribunal is not set up like a full court where evidence is fully weighed and contested as we would expect in a full court and judicial proceeding. So one will not see any recommendation from the Government to change what are, almost entirely, the recommendatory powers of the tribunal.

Gerry Brownlee: Can the Prime Minister confirm that her answers to the House this afternoon indicate she has asked Mr Maharey and other Ministers to stop talking about a finite time for the settlement of historic grievances; or are they going to continue to put that piece of spin into the media in order to curry greater favour for an unpopular Government?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: The member can take from my answers this afternoon that the Government believes that, at the present rate of progress and level of resourcing, it is feasible to conclude historical claim negotiations within 10 to 15 years.

Hon Peter Dunne: Is the Government now prepared to consider adopting both a formal timetable for dealing with outstanding treaty claims and a royal commission or equivalent form of inquiry into New Zealand’s future constitutional arrangements, including the future place and role of the treaty—such as United Future has suggested?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: It is not the Government’s or my intention to be any more formal than I have indicated today—which is that we can see a time frame ahead of us and we want to keep to that rate of progress. As to whether there should be a fuller inquiry into constitutional arrangements, I do not have a closed mind, but my view has always been that I have a lot of higher-order issues to deal with.

Schools—Network Reviews

2. Hon BILL ENGLISH (National—Clutha-Southland) to the Minister of Education: Was his spokeswoman correct when she said that he “kept cabinet colleagues apprised of the situation”, with regard to school closures, or was the Prime Minister correct when she stated: “When colleagues start to see reports coming in from across the country they say what’s happening? And then it appears there was a programme of network reviews and that was something that hadn’t been anticipated”?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD (Minister of Education): While I kept Ministers and MPs in the affected areas informed, I did not formally report to Cabinet on the programme of network reviews. I have, however, shared with colleagues the member’s promise to put 650 schools under review, which he announced a month ago.

Hon Bill English: Is the Minister aware of the Prime Minister’s claim that this issue has never been dealt with by Cabinet; and does he believe that claim when this piece of paper addressed to him shows that the matter was considered by the Cabinet expenditure committee as long ago as November 2001?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: Yes, I am aware of the Prime Minister’s statement, and I want to make it clear that that paper dealt with the process for dealing with reviews, not with their number or shape.

Helen Duncan: What options are available to communities, in areas currently under review, that are unhappy with the current proposals?

Metiria Turei: Vote National! [Interruption]

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: Did Rodney Hide say that? I think Rodney Hide said to vote National. That is a party that has given up, is it not?

Mr SPEAKER: And that is what happens when people interject before I call for an answer. Mr Hide has had his one warning of the day.

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: I have said I will agree to independent, mutually agreed mediators, if communities in the 11 school review areas want to appoint them.

Hon Brian Donnelly: Are the decisions that the Minister has made regarding future schooling in the Kawakawa-Moerewa area set in concrete, or is there still the opportunity for submissions to enable some fine-tuning—not going back to the status quo—of the Minister’s proposals?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: Yes. I think, as I indicated in answer to the last supplementary question, that there is some room for fine-tuning. I want to make it clear to the member that I have made only proposals, not decisions, and to have someone else look at them could be a good idea. I think that if the member and Mr Carter did that together, we would probably get a very good result.

Rod Donald: Will the Minister, given that he refuses to extend the moratorium to the current 11 review areas, remove, as a sign of good faith, the threat of his proposed school closures, and suspend ministry negotiations on those closures in the areas that agree to an independent mediator; and will he make available the resources necessary to ensure that all areas, not just the wealthy ones, can engage in that mediation process if they wish?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: I have said to people that I would like to get on with the mediation, if they would like to do it. I have heard that in a number of areas there has been a lot of pressure locally for people not to stick their heads up regarding voluntary mergers, and I will take that into account in making the final decision.

Bernie Ogilvy: Does the Minister consider that his Cabinet colleagues were kept sufficiently informed of the programme of network reviews, noting that section 3.13 of the Cabinet Manual states: “As a general rule, Ministers should put before their colleagues the sorts of issues on which they themselves would wish to be consulted.”; if so, why?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: No.

Gerrard Eckhoff: Has the Minister been called to the principal Minister’s office to explain his failure to inform his colleagues of the extent of the school review programme; if not, why does he think that the principal Minister has now overruled his school closure programme?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: I think it might be appropriate to refer the member and the House to the political cartoon of a couple of days ago.

Rodney Hide: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. He can tell us what the cartoon was.

Mr SPEAKER: No. On reflection, I did not see the cartoon. I want the member to say a little more.

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: It is quite clear that the Prime Minister has made clear her displeasure to me. I think it is fair to say that she has indicated, over a period of time, that she has not been happy with the approach.

Hon Ken Shirley: I seek leave to table that particular cartoon.

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

Hon Bill English: How does the Minister feel about the Prime Minister’s new-found reluctance about the school network reviews, when they have been going on for 2 years with extensive publicity, and were almost certainly discussed extensively by the Labour caucus, because the network reviews will put several of those members out of their seats?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: I want to make it clear, as the Prime Minister has, that her views on school reviews are not new-found.

Hon Bill English: Will the Minister now release, as he was asked to do on 22 July 2003, all Cabinet and Cabinet committee papers and minutes relating to the network reviews, or will he continue to obstruct the Official Information Act, like the civil servants in the Immigration Service did?

Mr SPEAKER: The first part of the question is in order. The second part is out of order. I will just have the first part answered, please.

Hon Bill English: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I have just watched that exchange, which, I have to say, looked like a direction being given to the Speaker.

Mr SPEAKER: Order!

Hon Bill English: Hang on, Mr Speaker. I am giving you an opinion about it. I am not asking you for a ruling.

Mr SPEAKER: Then that is not a point of order. You cannot ask for an opinion; you can ask for a ruling on a point of order. As far as I am concerned, I heard a comment from Mr Mallard and took absolutely no notice of it. I can give the member that assurance, and I can say that I was reflecting on the question. The last four or five words were not in order, but the rest of the question was in order and I said to Mr Mallard that he must answer it.

Hon Bill English: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The Minister was asked to release that information on 22 July 2003. A letter of 15 August 2003 simply overlooked the request for Cabinet and Cabinet committee papers. The discussion about the use of the Official Information Act has been topical recently, and I do not see anything out of order about drawing a parallel between a recent well-publicised event and the Minister’s behaviour in trying to hide this information.

Mr SPEAKER: The member cannot impute improper conduct to another member by saying that he did not observe the Official Information Act, but I will allow the member to rephrase his question. Perhaps he could restate it.

Rodney Hide: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker.

Mr SPEAKER: I have ruled, in allowing him to ask the question again.

Rodney Hide: Mr Speaker, I rise in your defence. There is a proper way to address the Speaker in this House, and it is to take a point of order and raise it. It is not for the Minister of Education to slouch in his chair, calling out to you in an attempt to give instructions. If he wants to make a point he should rise to his feet, take a point of order, and address you in the correct manner. I think he owes this House, and you, an apology for his behaviour.

Mr SPEAKER: I always appreciate the member raising points of order and offering me advice, but on this occasion I took absolutely no notice of the comments the Minister made.

Hon Bill English: Is the Minister aware of the Prime Minister’s claim that this matter was never dealt with by Cabinet, and, so that we can verify that claim, will he now release—as he was asked to do on 22 July 2003—all Cabinet and Cabinet Committee papers and minutes related to school closures and network reviews; and if he is not going to release them, why not?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: I am quite happy to table—and, in fact, will do so straight afterwards—the paper that goes to the essence of the member’s question. The paper is one, I think, of 9 November 2001 and it makes clear the new funding structure for network reviews, but there is no indication of the number or scale of them.

Hon Bill English: Is the Minister now conceding that the Prime Minister has been right all along—namely, that he did not keep his colleagues informed, that he bit off more than he could chew, and that the process was wrong—and how can either his colleagues or those communities facing 71 school closures have any confidence in his capacity to now carry out his task even-handedly and with any competence?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: The Prime Minister is always right.

Mr SPEAKER: The Minister was going to table something? The Minister is seeking leave to table a document.

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: I do not think I need to do that for an official document, do I?

Mr SPEAKER: At this point you do. Please read the Standing Orders.

John Carter: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I raise this point for clarification. During that exchange Mr English used an analogy, or a comparison of some information that he was seeking from the Minister, and he alluded to another case on which the Ombudsman has written a report. You ruled that he was not able to use that case as a comparison—

Mr SPEAKER: Not part of that question.

John Carter: —in regard to his question. Does that mean that we are not allowed to use comparisons where there are like cases? That would limit the ability to ask questions, or, indeed, to give answers. I wonder how far that ruling now goes.

Mr SPEAKER: No. It was the way he put the actual question that was out of order, and not the fact that you cannot refer to that particular issue.

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: On reflection, I seek leave to table the document in which the information I indicated to the House is contained.

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

Hon Bill English: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Parliament is now in a difficult situation. That document was requested under the Official Information Act 7 months ago. It should have been produced when the Minister wrote back to the National Party on 15 August 2003, and now Parliament is put in the position of being asked to allow leave for him to table a document that he has wrongly withheld under the Official Information Act.

Mr SPEAKER: I do not have anything to do with the Official Information Act. The fact the member has raised by way of point of order is, in fact, a statement; it is not a matter for a point of order.

John Carter: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I ask for further clarification. You have ruled that Mr English in some way offended, or that his question—or part of it—was not appropriate. I wonder whether you could give a further explanation of that, because I now do not understand what part of Mr English’s question was out of order. I wonder whether you could help me, and perhaps the House.

Mr SPEAKER: It was out of order when he made an accusation of improper conduct.

Hon Bill English: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I hope you will go back and make a considered ruling about that. I referred to a document that has actually been tabled in this Parliament, and my reference was much milder than that used by the Ombudsman when he was describing the behaviour. If you are to say that some things are able to be stated in a document tabled in Parliament that are improper for an MP to refer to, then I think that is something that needs a considered ruling—not something done off the top of your head.

Mr SPEAKER: The member is a senior member, and I respect the point of view he has raised. As a consequence, I will do what he requests.

Industry—Lord of the Rings

3. MOANA MACKEY (Labour) to the Associate Minister for Industry and Regional Development: What benefits are there for New Zealand industry in the success of The Lord of the Rings trilogy of films?

Hon PETE HODGSON (Associate Minister for Industry and Regional Development): Plenty. The global success of these movies has already boosted tourism. It has put New Zealand on Hollywood’s map of great places to make movies, it has strengthened our domestic film industry by creating infrastructure and jobs, and it has helped the world understand that New Zealand has a modern, creative economy with world-class talent.

Moana Mackey: What is the Government doing to take advantage of opportunities for economic development offered by the success of The Lord of the Rings?

Hon PETE HODGSON: Again, plenty. The growth and innovation framework identified the screen production industry as a key growth sector, and the Government has responded to the recommendations of the screen production task force with initiatives such as a $10 million budget boost for the Film Commission, funding for the establishment of the Screen Council, and the creation of the Large Budget Screen Production Grant scheme, which increases New Zealand’s attractiveness as a location for major productions.

Brunswick Corporation—Fishing Trip Costs

4. RODNEY HIDE (ACT) to the Minister for Economic Development: Has the New Zealand taxpayer contributed through Investment New Zealand to Brunswick Corporation’s chief executive officer Dr George Buckley’s fly fishing trip to Tongariro on October 12 and 13, 2002; if so, what is the breakdown of the cost?

Hon JIM ANDERTON (Minister for Economic Development): Yes. I am advised by Investment New Zealand that the cost of the 2 days’ fly fishing at Tongariro was $4,393.34, GST exclusive, and that the total cost of the 2002 visit, which resulted in a $56.1 million investment in Navman and other multimillion-dollar New Zealand - based investments, was $20,041.35.

Rodney Hide: Could the Minister explain why New Zealand taxpayers should have to pay $2,617.50 for Dr Buckley’s weekend stay at the Tongariro Lodge, $975 for his helicopter ride to go fly fishing, $1,200 for his fishing guide, and $1,537.50 for his dinner at Kermadec restaurant, when Dr Buckley himself is paid over US$5 million a year as Brunswick’s chief executive officer; or is it his policy now to tax the poor to feed the rich?

Hon JIM ANDERTON: I would not have thought there would be any need to explain to any party in this Parliament, let alone a so-called business support party like ACT, the vital importance of attracting direct investment into New Zealand - based companies with high export potential. In terms of the investment cost on this occasion, it took Navman 18 years to grow its sales to $100 million. Thanks to the Brunswick Corporation connection Navman is now on track to increase its sales to $1,000 million over the next 5 years, together with hundreds of additional high technology - based jobs.

Hon Matt Robson: Why does Investment New Zealand fund visits for potential investors in New Zealand, and is it worth it? [Interruption]

Hon JIM ANDERTON: What a good question! Of course the answer is yes. Mr George Buckley was visiting New Zealand to see Navman, meet its staff, and examine its premises, as well as be introduced to other New Zealand companies that might benefit from a Brunswick Corporation connection. For example, Brunswick announced a 49 percent investment in the boatbuilding company Rayglass, based in Auckland, and ongoing discussions regarding trade and technology collaboration with other New Zealand marine companies. Since the Navman investment, Navman has created another 200 jobs in this country.

John Key: Does he agree with the comments of Investment New Zealand staffer in New York, Melissa Cameron, in an email about Mr Buckley's second trip to New Zealand last year: "It seems ridiculous that, apart from the investment in time we have already put into this visit, we should now be expected to fund an event, yet once again be invisible partners.”; if not, why not?

Hon JIM ANDERTON: New Zealand Trade and Enterprise, and Investment New Zealand, are not invisible partners in developing partnerships with international companies investing in new technology and in access to global market networks for New Zealand companies. The future of New Zealand lies in smart technology—such as Navman has developed and is now connected to in the world markets that Brunswick commands. The future for New Zealand, along those lines, is far better than the kind of pyramid-selling conferences that some members of this Parliament have attended, in Fiji.

Rodney Hide: Could the Minister share with the public of New Zealand the spin-off to taxpayers from the dinner that was organised by Investment New Zealand at Otto's restaurant, following the Brunswick-Navman deal, which cost taxpayers $2,332.50, and included five bottles of Cloudy Bay Te Koko 2000, three bottles of Nevis Bluff Pinot Noir 2000, and three bottles of Red Metal Basket 2000, especially given that Investment New Zealand director Ross Campbell reported: "I would agree that George's trip, and the arrangement of it, have been a bit of a bugger's muddle."—

Mr SPEAKER: Order! The member will withdraw that last comment, because that language is not permitted in this House.

Rodney Hide: I withdraw.

Mr SPEAKER: I have heard the question—

Rodney Hide: Mr Speaker, you haven't heard the question.

Mr SPEAKER: I have heard the question. It is too long.

Rodney Hide: I am sorry, but you haven't heard the question.

Madam DEPUTY SPEAKER: I have heard the question, and that is all the member is going to be allowed to ask.

Rodney Hide: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. So it is going to be your approach in this House that when a question is too long you are just going to cut if off halfway, rather than asking a member to wrap it up?

Madam DEPUTY SPEAKER: No, I did not say that. I judged that the question was far too long, and then the member made an out-of-order comment. I judged that that is the end of it.

Hon JIM ANDERTON: Any time that any agency of the State can, for an investment of a couple of thousand dollars, get $900 million worth of access to sales, international networks, and hundreds more jobs for highly competent New Zealanders, I will back that investment any day, over a scam conference in Fiji, which the member himself spoke to.

John Carter: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Earlier this afternoon Mr English was asked to retract part of his question, because he made a comparison. Why is it that the Minister is allowed to make a comparison with regard to an issue in Fiji that has nothing to do with the question?

Mr SPEAKER: I will rule on that tomorrow, but the member did not make an accusation of improper conduct.

Rodney Hide: I seek leave to table the receipts of Mr Buckley’s trip to New Zealand.

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

Rodney Hide: I seek leave to table the series of emails between Investment New Zealand staff stating that it was not a very satisfactory arrangement.

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

John Key: I seek leave to table the email from Investment New Zealand’s New York office staff worker, Melissa Cameron, to Industry New Zealand.

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

Local Government—Asset Management

5. Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS (Leader—NZ First) to the Minister of Local Government: Is he happy with the Government’s policy for local body management of assets on behalf of ratepayers?

Hon CHRIS CARTER (Minister of Local Government): Yes. We have 86 local authorities in New Zealand. Most are doing a very good job. Some could do better.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Does the Minister believe that the Christchurch City Council acted prudently with Christchurch City ratepayers’ money in the purchase of the Coachman hotel from our fellow MP and philanthropist David Carter for in excess of $1.025 million, to further sell it for its true value of $475,000?

Hon CHRIS CARTER: Councils are making financial decision on a daily basis. I could not really comment on a particular decision of the Christchurch City Council. The council will, of course, be accountable to its ratepayers at the next election.

David Parker: How has the Government made local authorities more accountable to their ratepayers?

Hon CHRIS CARTER: The Government has put in place better accountability processes through the Local Government Act 2002. Councils now have a greater obligation to consult and listen seriously to their communities. The Act explicitly requires local authorities to manage their assets prudently.

Larry Baldock: Does the Minister agree that resistance from property owners to ever-increasing rates burdens negatively affects local government’s ability to resource and manage assets on behalf of ratepayers, and what is his response to the recent endorsement by the Mayor of Tauranga, Jan Beange, of United Future’s policy to remove GST from rates, as reported in the Monday edition of the Bay of Plenty Times?

Mr SPEAKER: The first part of the question is in order.

Hon CHRIS CARTER: I remind that member that rates cannot be increased arbitrarily. Any increase must be well justified, and the ultimate test for councils is the reaction of their ratepayers.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Is the Minister prepared to investigate the fact that the well-known philanthropist and MP David Carter sold a property to the council for $1.025 million, and that the council then obtained its full and true value, achieving a price almost $600,000 less; and what would be the circumstances behind that in respect of the historic places legislation?

Hon CHRIS CARTER: I would be happy to discuss the matter further with the member, although I would remind him—and I am sure he does not need to be reminded—that the Auditor-General does examine fiscal mismanagement by local authorities, if there are any allegations of that.

Larry Baldock: I seek leave to table a copy of the Bay of Plenty Times article, which describes the call as sensible. Ms Beange stated that the removal of GST—

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

Employment Relations Law Reform Bill—Reviews

6. Hon ROGER SOWRY (National) to the Minister of Labour: Will he be reviewing the Employment Relations Law Reform Bill; if not, why not?

Hon PAUL SWAIN (Minister of Labour): The bill is currently before the Transport and Industrial Relations Committee, and I await its deliberations with interest.

Hon Roger Sowry: Is the Minister personally satisfied with the bill as it is currently presented; if not, what areas will he be asking his officials to do further work on?

Hon PAUL SWAIN: As the member will know, bills that go to select committees often come out with changes as a result of recommendations from the select committee. I am currently in the process of discussing the concerns with both employer and union groups, and that should be happening over the next couple of weeks. I will be trying to get to the bottom of what the major concerns are and report accordingly.

Peter Brown: Is the Minister aware that both employers and employees have concerns with this bill—for example, employers are concerned that it will lead to multi-employer contracts, and some employees are concerned that they cannot get a collective without joining or forming a union, and with such concerns does he not think it appropriate that he does review the bill?

Hon PAUL SWAIN: Yes, I am aware that there are concerns on both sides about the nature of the bill. I presume those matters will be raised in the select committee as part of its deliberations.

Sue Bradford: Can the Minister assure the House that he and his Government will maintain their commitment to keep clauses in the bill dealing with the protection of vulnerable workers, and not succumb to pressure from employers to back down—as the Government did in 2000?

Hon PAUL SWAIN: It is highly appropriate to say that this is the matter before the select committee. It is the select committee’s decision to look at recommendations from the proposals and from the submitters, and we will get recommendations back in due course.

Dr Muriel Newman: Does the Minister agree that a successful contractor should be required by law to take over the workers of an unsuccessful contractor on their existing terms and conditions; if so, why?

Hon PAUL SWAIN: That is certainly the policy that has gone into the legislation. I understand that some employers are concerned about that. This is a matter that the select committee will look at.

Paul Adams: Will the Minister review the Employment Relations Law Reform Bill following an article in the Dominion Post in October last year that reported that he, along with Minister Anderton and Minister Tamihere, told Cabinet that he was unhappy with the transfer of undertakings clause; if not, why not?

Hon PAUL SWAIN: I often do not believe everything that is quoted in newspapers. This matter is before the select committee, and I expect it to come back with recommendations in due course.

Hon Roger Sowry: Will the Minister do anything while the bill is in the select committee to address the concerns of employers who have publicly stated their strong opposition to the bill; if so, what specifically will he do?

Hon PAUL SWAIN: I will be meeting with large groups of employers.

Hon Ken Shirley: Will the Minister answer the question that Muriel Newman put to him and say what he believes should happen with regard to the clause relating to contractors who take over a failed contract having to meet the conditions that prevailed with the failed contractor—given that he was a member of the Cabinet that put that clause in the bill that is before the select committee?

Hon PAUL SWAIN: As I said to Muriel Newman, that is the Government policy that went from the Cabinet, but I understand that this is a matter of some concern. I also understand that employers will raise it when they come to meet me, just as unions will raise other matters in the bill that they are not happy about.

Hon Roger Sowry: Why should employers believe that this time the Minister will behave differently in respect of this bill and act on their concerns, when he failed to act on their concerns over the Land Transport Management Bill, even though he told them that he personally supported their stand?

Hon PAUL SWAIN: I reject the first part of the member’s question. A lot of discussions went on, particularly around issues like efficiency, in the Land Transport Management Bill that actually appeared. My job now is to talk to the various groups concerned without cutting across the views that will be expressed in the select committee. Recommendations will come back from that committee in due course.

Question No. 4 to Minister

RODNEY HIDE (ACT): I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I have been reflecting back on my question and the answer given by Minister Jim Anderton. I raise this with you as a grave concern. In answer to questions, we have heard from Government members some rather scurrilous things. I have already given a personal explanation that was accepted by this House. I notice that you did not leap to my protection. If Mr Anderton cared to repeat outside this House what he said in this House, I would be very interested.

XXXfo Twice in a matter of weeks, Government members have said some very scurrilous things about me in particular, but not one of them has been prepared to repeat any of those things outside this House. I call on you to provide some protection for Opposition members.

Mr SPEAKER: I have two points. First, the member should have raised the point when the question was being discussed. Secondly, I recall that he did make a personal statement to the House. That word must be accepted, and I will make sure that that is so in future. [Interruption] That member is just trifling with me. I have ruled in that way. He must not then interject.

Small Business—Taxation Legislation

7. CLAYTON COSGROVE (Labour—Waimakariri) to the Minister of Finance: What measures will he introduce in an upcoming taxation bill to assist small business?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Minister of Finance): In the March tax bill—which we are hoping to introduce, obviously, fairly soon—there will be provision that start-up businesses that pay provisional tax in their first year will receive a 6.7 percent discount designed to avoid the problem of double taxation in the second year, which afflicts many start-ups. Provision will also be made for the deductibility of costs associated with patented Resource Management Act consent applications that do not proceed—as recommended by the private sector group on research and development.

Clayton Cosgrove: What other proposals does the Government have to simplify tax for small businesses?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: The Government is considering measures for later in the year, and discussing those with tax practitioners and business. Other proposals include further discussion on aligning provisional tax and GST payments, allowing small businesses to base provisional tax on GST turnover, and subsidising the costs of engaging a payroll firm.

John Key: Does he agree with Treasury advice that under present Government policies a 10c in the dollar increase will eventually be required in all taxes, including those on small businesses; and does he concur with his Minister for Small Business, the Hon John Tamihere, that the correct way to avoid this is to increase the age of eligibility for universal superannuation?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: No. The only party I am aware of that has been committed publicly by its leader to supporting an increase in the age of eligibility is the National Party.

Land Information, Minister—Confidence

8. GERRY BROWNLEE (Deputy Leader—National) to the Minister for Land Information: Does he consider that he enjoys the full confidence of the Prime Minister and his Cabinet colleagues; if not, why not?

Hon JOHN TAMIHERE (Minister for Land Information): Yes.

Gerry Brownlee: Have either the Prime Minister or his Cabinet colleagues had any discussions or meetings with him since his statement over the weekend that it is a matter of when, rather than if, he joins a new Mâori political party; if so, what was the specific nature of those discussions?

Hon JOHN TAMIHERE: That is not the responsibility of the Minister of lands.

Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker.

Mr SPEAKER: He is answering only in his capacity as Minister of lands. That is not his responsibility.

Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Does he not answer a question in Parliament as a member of Cabinet? Does he not have some collective responsibility to the Cabinet’s aims, and is he not a Labour member in that Cabinet who is talking about jumping out of the Cabinet, or the waka, into some other party?

Mr SPEAKER: The member should know from the Standing Orders that the answer is no. The only person who can answer on behalf of the Cabinet is the Prime Minister, or a person deputed to answer. The Minister is entitled to answer only in relation to his portfolios.

Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker.

Mr SPEAKER: I have ruled on the point of order. I hope the member is not challenging that with his point of order.

Gerry Brownlee: No, I am pleading with you now to accept that I did get it wrong. Can I rephrase the question?

Mr SPEAKER: No. The member should have known that particular one. He can have another question. Please be seated.

Heather Roy: As Minister of Land Information, what did he mean when he said: “When for me ain’t right now.” in response to questions about a new Mâori party, and will he rule out, once and for all, joining another political party?

Mr SPEAKER: He is answering as Minister of Land Information. He did not make his comments as Minister of Land Information.

Rodney Hide: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker.

Mr SPEAKER: I have ruled.

Rodney Hide: I appreciate that. I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Maybe you could give some guidance as to the situation when a Minister is out speaking in New Zealand. My understanding of the rule was that they spoke as a Minister 24/7. My colleague Heather Roy specifically said “As Minister of Land Information, … when he said” such and such. How can that possibly be ruled out of order? If it is, a Minister could say anything, and then walk back into this House and say: “Oh, when I said that I wasn’t speaking as a Minister”?

Mr SPEAKER: That is a matter for the general debate or other debates, but during question time, questions are addressed to Ministers who have a particular portfolio, or to the Prime Minister who has overall responsibility.

Gerry Brownlee: As Minister of Land Information, does he believe his position would be compromised if a perception arose that he was about to exit the Labour Party to join a new Mâori party?

Mr SPEAKER: This is in relation to his position of Minister of Land Information.

Hon JOHN TAMIHERE: Yes.

Gerry Brownlee: Can he confirm that since he believes that his position would be compromised should such a perception take hold in this country, he would resign well ahead of any announcement that he was about to join a new Mâori party?

Mr SPEAKER: He may only answer that in his capacity as Minister of Land Information.

Hon JOHN TAMIHERE: I am not prepared to answer on a hypothetical question.

Gerry Brownlee: What is hypothetical about that? [Interruption] No, I want to tease this out with him.

Mr SPEAKER: I will not have any further comment on this matter. I have ruled that the Minister can answer as Minister of Land Information. That question was very, very barely in order. The Minister commented, however, and that is the end of that particular matter.

Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I do not accept that that question was barely in order. The question asked him whether, if in future he decided to leave the Labour Party, he would resign his ministerial warrant first, in advance of that. He has already told us that he believes he would be compromised if that perception took hold. I could have asked him whether he regrets making that statement, because his position clearly is now compromised. A reasonable answer from him, surely, would be to address the question rather than to say he refuses to answer.

Hon Dr Michael Cullen: The member has now changed his point of order. His original point of order on this question was not hypothetical. His question that included the word “if” was about as hypothetical as one could be, on the face of it, before another word was said after that. On that basis, the Minister is quite justified in saying he will not answer a hypothetical question.

Mr SPEAKER: Members can ask hypothetical questions, but a Minister may not respond to the hypotheses. That is the risk they run by asking for an opinion.

John Key: I seek leave to table the Timaru Herald article, stating John Tamihere clearly states that superannuation is not sustainable.

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

United Nations Chief Weapons Inspector—Phone Calls

9. KEITH LOCKE (Green) to the Prime Minister: Can the Prime Minister assure the people of New Zealand and the United Nations Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, that New Zealand was not involved in, nor had any knowledge of, spying on United Nations officials following the Australian Broadcasting Commission report last Friday that New Zealand received transcripts of United Nations Chief Weapons Inspector Hans Blix’s intercepted phone calls?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK (Prime Minister): It is not my normal practice to comment on operational intelligence matters.

Keith Locke: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. This is quite an important point, because the Prime Minister is not answering the question. It is true that there are confidential matters in relation to intelligence, about operations, about sources, etc., but my question addressed an illegal operation, not something legitimate. If she can give a blanket “no comment”, when members ask about illegitimate, illegal operations being conducted by intelligence services, then how can this House and the country have an accountable security service?

Mr SPEAKER: No, I cannot uphold the member’s point of order. The Prime Minister is entitled to answer that question the way she wishes, and it stands or falls as that answer.

Keith Locke: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker.

Mr SPEAKER: No. I have taken the point of order, and I suggest that the member moves on to a supplementary question.

Keith Locke: I think there is a broader question here, because the same principle applies to the police, to immigration, and to a lot of portfolios where there is confidential material. Surely, we cannot in this House allow the Ministers in those portfolios to give a blanket “no comment, it is confidential” to any challenge, particularly where it concerns illegal activity.

Mr SPEAKER: All I can say is that the Prime Minister gave an answer. I ruled that it addressed the question, and the member may now ask a supplementary question.

Keith Locke: Does she stand by conventions prohibiting the interception of UN communications and agree that it would badly affect our international reputation if the reports that we may be, in some way, associated with such illegal behaviour are correct?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I can only repeat that it is not my normal practice to comment on operational intelligence matters, and I do not intend to be drawn by the member into a debate that is raging in the United Kingdom.

Keith Locke: Can she confirm that UN conversations passing through the communications satellites targeted by the Waihopai station can be monitored and their contents passed on to either the US National Security Agency or the British Government communications headquarters under existing partnership arrangements?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: No, I do not intend to comment on that operational intelligence matter. What I will say about Waihopai is what I have said before, which is that I believe it acts in the interests of New Zealand.

Keith Locke: Can the Prime Minister then explain the purpose of the Government Communications Security Bureau’s Waihopai station; and does it provide information to the United States and Britain?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: We are starting to get well wide of the original question. I repeat: I do not comment on operational intelligence matters. I repeat, as I have said before, that Waihopai operates in the interests of New Zealand in signals intelligence.

Keith Locke: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I think the Prime Minister is showing disrespect to the House in not providing some information on the nature of the Waihopai station, because one can read the Marlborough phone book, or the sign outside the gate at Waihopai, to see that it is a defence satellite communications unit, and there are other Government publications that explain its character. Can she not at least provide the information in a public arena, because it is trifling—

Mr SPEAKER: If it is in the phone book, it is in the public arena, I would have thought. I want to say generally to the member that it is the member’s opinion that there is an illegality. I do not know whether there is, and that is not part of my reason to rule on that particular matter. The Prime Minister was perfectly in order in giving the answer she gave.

Master of the High Court—Appointment

10. JUDITH COLLINS (National—Clevedon) to the Attorney-General: What steps did she take to satisfy herself as to the appropriateness of appointing Anthony Christiansen a Master of the High Court, in light of his earlier resignation from the position of District Court Judge?

Hon MARGARET WILSON (Attorney-General): The normal process for such appointments was followed in this instance. The position was advertised, applicants were subject to a vetting process as to their qualifications for the position, and recommendations were made.

Judith Collins: Can the Attorney-General confirm that she and she alone makes the decision to appoint High Court officers, after advice from the Chief Justice and the Solicitor-General; if so, does she take full responsibility for the appointment of Mr Christiansen as a Master of the High Court?

Hon MARGARET WILSON: Yes.

Tim Barnett: What reforms has the Minister promoted with regard to judicial appointments?

Hon MARGARET WILSON: In 2002 I commissioned a report called Judicial Administration Issues from Sir Geoffrey Palmer. This report confirmed that the present appointments process was robust, but suggested that a judicial appointments and liaison office be established to better support the Attorney-General in making appointments. This process is well under way, and the office will be established within the Crown Law Office this year.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: When was Anthony Christiansen made a District Court judge, and who appointed him?

Hon MARGARET WILSON: The Attorney-General—myself—recommended the appointment to the Governor-General.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: No, as a District Court judge.

Hon MARGARET WILSON: Sorry. I think it was in 1996 or 1995 that he was appointed a judge.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: By whom?

Hon MARGARET WILSON: By the Attorney-General in the previous Government.

Judith Collins: What changed between Mr Christiansen’s resignation as a District Court judge in Napier and her appointing him Master of the High Court, given that at the time of Mr Christiansen’s appointment as a master the Hon Phil Goff continued to stand by his statements that Mr Christiansen could have brought the judiciary into disrepute?

Hon MARGARET WILSON: Master Christiansen could have brought the judiciary into disrepute when he had the position of District Court judge, but in my view he did not, by resigning after the incident involved. He showed an ability to take personal responsibility for his actions, and stepped down in case he did bring the judiciary into disrepute. He then got on with his life, and, when an advertisement came up for a Master of the High Court, he applied—as he was perfectly entitled to do, as any other person was.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Could the Attorney-General advise the House which party was in Government when this man was appointed a District Court judge, and which MP now was then not just a member of the Law Society but a member of its official organisation when it approved that appointment?

Mr SPEAKER: The Minister has no responsibility for the second part of the question but may answer the first part.

Hon MARGARET WILSON: The National Party was in Government at the time, and I am aware, of course, that one of the members on the Opposition benches was a member of the Law Society committee at that time.

Judith Collins: Is there any significant difference between this Attorney-General’s role and that of a tick-box sheet; if so, can the Minister explain to the House quite what judgment, if any, she brings to her role on judicial appointments?

Hon MARGARET WILSON: Yes, judgment is brought to the role, and in this instance I made the judgment that Master Christiansen was worth a second chance, in much the same way as the honourable member did when she was a member of the Law Society and considered similar cases.

Judith Collins: I want to make a personal explanation. At the relevant time I was certainly a member of the council of the Auckland District Law Society; I was not at that stage its president, and I was certainly never consulted about the appointment of Mr Anthony Christiansen.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I seek leave to table evidence that such appointments go before the councils of the Law Society, and not just before its head.

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

Immigration—Health Risks

11. Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS (Leader—NZ First) to the Minister of Immigration: Does he consider it as part of his immigration portfolio responsibilities that he must make every endeavour to ensure the health of the New Zealand population is not endangered through refugees and asylum seekers wishing to enter New Zealand carrying seriously infectious diseases?

Hon PAUL SWAIN (Minister of Immigration): Yes, I do. For this reason, the Government is significantly strengthening health-screening policies for people wishing to enter New Zealand, including refugees.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Is the Minister concerned about the latest statistics, which illustrate a shocking rise in HIV cases in New Zealand, given that more than two-thirds of those diagnosed in New Zealand with heterosexually acquired AIDS were of an ethnicity other than European, Mâori, or Pacific Islander; and how is that fair on New Zealand taxpayers when the Government proposes to do nothing about compulsory screening until the end of 2004?

Hon PAUL SWAIN: I am aware of some of the figures the member has mentioned, and it is important that we do something about that—which is why we are strengthening the policy. I am also aware, though, that the most at-risk group described in the comments the member was making is that of European men. The critical thing is that we get on and toughen up the screening. By the end of this year we will have the toughest screening regime that any Government has had in New Zealand.

Dianne Yates: What specific changes to immigration health policy have been, or are being, implemented by this Government?

Hon PAUL SWAIN: Currently, asylum seekers and other entrants to New Zealand on a temporary basis for 24 months or longer are required to complete a full medical test. By the end of the year, the full test will be required at the 12-month mark. People recognised as refugees and other residency applicants are already tested for a significant number of conditions, including TB. By December 2004 testing will be extended to cover HIV-AIDs and AIDS-related conditions. These changes constitute the most significant revamp of immigration health policy for many years.

Mortgage Insurance Guarantee Scheme—First-home Ownership

12. GEORGINA BEYER (Labour—Wairarapa) to the Minister of Housing: What changes have been made to bring first home ownership within reach of more New Zealanders through the Government’s Mortgage Insurance Guarantee scheme?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY (Minister of Housing): The Government’s first-home purchase assistance through the mortgage insurance scheme has proved to be very popular. Changes just approved to the eligibility criteria mean that no-deposit mortgages can now be approved for homes valued at $150,000—up from $100,000—and the income threshold for one or two people in the same household has been increased from $50,000 to $55,000. That will bring homeownership into the reach of even more New Zealanders on a modest income.

Georgina Beyer: How many families have benefited from the mortgage insurance scheme so far?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: The scheme delivered by Kiwibank has already seen 320 loans approved under the original criteria. The new criteria provide no-deposit finance on loans up to $150,000 for households earning up to $55,000 per annum; that will ensure that more families can benefit. The 2-year pilot is expected to help 1,800 families to achieve homeownership, and a decision will be made towards the end of the trial to extend or adapt the scheme.

John Key: The National Bank’s doing it.

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: I am pleased to hear from the member opposite that the National Bank is helping in that way, as well.

Sue Bradford: Has the Minister given any consideration to further measures to bring homeownership within the reach of more New Zealanders, such as supporting my member’s bill to reintroduce a form of the old family benefit, which would open up the possibility of low-income families capitalising on the child benefit to help them into their first homes—as used to happen?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: Besides the mortgage insurance scheme, the Government also runs the rural development loan application process, which also puts people into their own homes. Yes, the Government is considering other policies that will meet what has been an enormous demand for options to be able to buy a house through the mortgage insurance scheme policy, but we have not considered the introduction of that member’s policy.

Paul Adams: Does the Minister agree that one change the Government could make to bring first home ownership within reach of more New Zealanders would be to remove GST from rates, as it is, after all, a tax on a tax; if not, why not?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: No, the Government has not considered that.

Questions to Members

Question No. 1 to Member

Question, by leave, postponed.

United States—Briefings

2. Dr the Hon LOCKWOOD SMITH (National—Rodney) to the Chairperson of the Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Committee: How long has the Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Committee been receiving briefings on New Zealand’s relationship with the United States of America?

Hon PETER DUNNE (Chairperson of the Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Committee): The committee has received two briefings on the New Zealand relationship with the United States since February 2003.

Dr the Hon Lockwood Smith: That would appear to be over a year. Has the committee learnt anything in those private briefings that is not already public knowledge; and, with it now being 3 weeks since Australia announced its trade deal with the US, and with the Minister for Trade Negotiations, Jim Sutton, having just returned from his talks with the US Trade Representative, Robert Zoellick, empty-handed, when will the committee seriously address the issue of an inquiry into New Zealand’s relationship with the United States?

Mr SPEAKER: Part of the question is a bit wide for the chairman to answer, but the second part is in order.

Hon PETER DUNNE: The member will be aware that the committee is currently seeking a meeting with the United States ambassador on the subject of New Zealand’s relations with the United States, and I imagine that once that has been carried out, committee members may be in a position to decide what they do about the member’s request for an inquiry.

Hon Ken Shirley: Has the committee reached any conclusions about whether the relationship is improving or deteriorating, and will the committee be reporting these trends to the House?

Hon PETER DUNNE: The short answers are no, and no.

(uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing)


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