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Questions & Answers for Oral Answer - 16 Mar. 2004

(uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing)

Tuesday, 16 March 2004

Questions for Oral Answer 1
Questions to Ministers 1

1 Treaty of Waitangi—Commission of Inquiry 1
2 Medical Misadventure—Accident Compensation 2
3 Mâori Allowance—Specialist Education Services 2
4 Tourism Strategy 2010—Reports 3
5 Foreshore and Seabed—Mâori Land Court Ruling 3
6 Child, Youth and Family Services, Department—Cases 3
7 Catch History Review Committee—Appeals Judge 4
8 Students—International Study 5
9 Tertiary Education Strategy—Objectives 5
10 Tuberculosis—Patients, North Shore Hospital 6
Question No. 9 to Minister 6
11 Violence against Women—Resolution 6
12 Mount Ruapehu—Lahar Flow 7

Questions for Oral Answer

Questions to Ministers

Treaty of Waitangi—Commission of Inquiry

1. GERRY BROWNLEE (Deputy Leader—National) to the Prime Minister: Why is she now reported as saying there will be no announcements this week regarding a commission of inquiry into Treaty of Waitangi matters, when on Thursday she was reported to be set to go on an inquiry?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK (Prime Minister): Because I cannot be responsible for newspaper headlines.

Gerry Brownlee: Can the Prime Minister confirm that there will be an inquiry into Treaty of Waitangi matters, and will the findings of the inquiry into Treaty of Waitangi matters be recommendatory, or will they be binding on the Government?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I have not heard of an inquiry where the findings would be binding on a Government. I am exploring ideas with a range of people inside and outside this place, and I will have something to say in due course. What I do agree with is Mr Brownlee’s statement last Tuesday that “a commission of inquiry is an interesting idea”.

Gerry Brownlee: I seek leave to give the House the balance of that quotation.

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

Jill Pettis: Has she seen any reports on how New Zealand should deal with issues related to race relations and the treaty?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I have seen rather a lot, including well-informed editorials. I was taken with one suggestion that we should approach the subject by having what was described as a “rational, intelligent, mature debate, which I am committed to having”—that was Dr Brash on 11 February!

Jeanette Fitzsimons: Does the Prime Minister agree that in order to avoid a debate led by sound bites* and slogans we need a well-resourced, well-informed public dialogue about the role of the treaty relationship in a modern society before we move to any decision-making* process?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I think the issues being raised do cut to the heart of New Zealand’s nationhood*. They need to be carefully considered, and it would be good to see them debated much more widely in the community than they traditionally have been.

Hon Peter Dunne: Does the Prime Minister also agree that an inquiry into, or a review of, the role of the treaty is in itself somewhat limited, and that to achieve the wider objectives she has just referred to the inquiry has to have the capacity to cover other issues related to our constitutional structure and framework?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I am aware that the Justice and Electoral Committee was discussing a broader inquiry and, indeed, unanimously recommended that there should be a broader inquiry of some kind into constitutional issues. What those undertaking such an inquiry would find is that they will, at a very early stage, run up against the issue of the place of the treaty—whether it has a place in constitutional arrangements. Indeed, a constitutional conference in this very building ran slap bang into that around 4 years ago. So these issues around the place of the treaty need to be taken seriously and debated seriously at some point.

Gerry Brownlee: Why will the Prime Minister not accept responsibility personally, as an elected leader in this country, to lead the debate on the role of the Treaty of Waitangi and Treaty of Waitangi matters in this country, and rather want to abdicate her responsibility to a group of unelected officials who have an interest in the matter.

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I intend to be at the forefront* of any debate about emerging nationhood in New Zealand. I intend to have the issues taken seriously. I am really surprised that the National Party is so interested in a debate it does not want to take part in.

Hon Richard Prebble: Can the Prime Minister explain to us how she can lead the debate when 2 weeks ago she was reported in the news media as ruling out a royal commission, then last week saying it was a real possibility and was all ears, and yesterday, at her select committee, closing down the debate; what sort of leadership is that, or is the Prime Minister just having another panic attack?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I do not recall being at a select committee yesterday. What I want to see is the issues that cut to the heart of New Zealand’s nationhood given a proper airing, and the most appropriate form for that is still being considered.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Is she having difficulty in coming to grips with Dr Brash’s policy, because up until now the National Party policy and the Labour Party policy on this issue have been identical?

Mr SPEAKER: The Minister can comment with regard to the Labour Party’s policy.

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: What I have observed in recent weeks is that in good faith for the last 20 years, Governments of all kinds have got on with building a Crown-Mâori dialogue. It now seems that one of those that was party to that debate has decided it does not want to be part of the dialogue any more.

Hon Peter Dunne: What responses has she received from groups or persons from outside the House to the idea of some form of inquiry taking place?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: The feedback I am getting is that people feel there is a debate to be had; that probably while in good faith Governments over the past 20 years have got on with developing a Crown-Mâori relationship, that perhaps that has been seen as peripheral by the general community. I think the general community is now interested in how those issues impact on New Zealand’s developing sense of nationhood, and I think we as political leaders owe it to the public to try to bring some rational and reasoned discourse to that.

Gerry Brownlee: I seek leave to table a list of all the occasions on which the Prime Minister has refused to debate Dr Don Brash on this issue, particularly those dates since her “bring it on” speech.

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

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I seek leave to table a list—a long one—of all the times the National Party has backed separatist, race-based, legislation.

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

Medical Misadventure—Accident Compensation

2. Hon MARK GOSCHE (Labour—Maungakiekie) to the Minister for ACC: What is she doing to make the ACC medical misadventure provisions fairer and more consistent?

Hon RUTH DYSON (Minister for ACC): Earlier today I was delighted to announce a sweeping revamp of the Accident Compensation Corporation medical misadventure provisions that will simplify and shorten the claims process, while creating a strong partnership between the corporation and the health sector that will promote better and safer delivery of medical services in New Zealand.

Hon Mark Gosche: How will the changes promote better and safer delivery of medical services?

Hon Ruth Dyson: The changes remove the requirement to find fault of a practitioner, thereby removing the disincentive for practitioners to cooperate with the Accident Compensation Corporation in resolving a claim. The new system clears the way for claims on treatment injuries to be dealt with promptly, and for practitioners to learn from their mistakes and prevent them happening again.

Dr Paul Hutchison: Why should the taxpayer have any faith in the estimated cost of the new provisions—an extra $8.69 million per year—and can she guarantee there will be no cost blowouts?

Hon RUTH DYSON: We can all have faith in those figures not only being a well-calculated estimate, but also a very conservative estimate. But, no, like any responsible politician, I could not give a guarantee for something over which I have no control.

Peter Brown: Why cannot legislation covering medical misadventure be fast-tracked and brought on earlier than February next year? The Minister must recall discussing this issue with myself on behalf of New Zealand First years ago, and the heartache and concerns that surround it, so why cannot she fast-track this type of legislation?

Hon RUTH DYSON: The proposed changes are due to be introduced later this year when the legislation has been prepared, and will be referred to a select committee, with the proposed implementation date at the beginning of February next year. The select committee may recommend that that be earlier, and that would be then a determination of the House.

Sue Bradford: Why does the Minister support a reduction in accident compensation reporting requirements and an increased dependence on the capacity of patients to make formal complaints to the Health and Disability Commissioner in relation to incidents of medical misadventure when situations such as that around Dr Perry in Northland show how difficult it is for injured and desperate individuals to make any impact on entrenched systems?

Hon RUTH DYSON: The reporting procedure is not a lower threshold. It is, in fact, heightened and further strengthened by the greater number of people who will be covered by the provisions. The first point is through the Health and Disability Commissioner, and the second point is that if the Accident Compensation Corporation determines, because of the nature of the injury, that there is any risk of harm to the public, that will be reported to the appropriate authority.

Hon Mark Gosche: How has the health sector responded to the announced change?

Hon RUTH DYSON: Very positively. A number of organisations have welcomed the move, including the Medical Council, the Medical Association, and the Association of Salaried Medical Specialists. The Health and Disability Commissioner says it will be good for patients, good for health professionals, and that more patients will get compensation without compromising accountability and safety.

Mâori Allowance—Specialist Education Services

3. KATHERINE RICH (National) to the Minister of Education: Why does the collective agreement for Specialist Education Services field staff provide for an extra allowance to be paid to Mâori staff members for their skill and knowledge of te reo Mâori and tikanga Mâori, and why does the collective agreement limit the payment of the allowance to Mâori staff?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD (Minister of Education): I am glad that the member asked this question. The collective agreement does not limit the payment of the allowance to Mâori staff. While the wording of the collective agreement does not make this clear, the new criteria for assessing eligibility introduced last October do make it clear that the additional allowance is available on the basis of skills, not ethnicity. Under this Government—under this Government, I reiterate—it is a policy based on skill, not race.

Katherine Rich: If this Government’s policy is based on need, not race, then how can he explain the clear wording of the contract, which states: “where Mâori staff members’ skill and knowledge of te reo Mâori and tikanga Mâori have been assessed by the ministry and the level of attainment set out in the ministry policy has been reached, the dollar amounts set out below will be added to the individual’s salary, plus $3,100”?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: I suggest that the member ask the member to her left, who was in Cabinet at the time it was put in.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Can I ask the Minister, in the interests of sorting out who was responsible for this policy, whether he can deny to this House that the Minister who put it in place was a previous National Minister and that his name was Wyatt Creech?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: I am advised that the collective employment contract containing this clause operated from 1 June 1998, when Nick Smith and Bill English were both in Cabinet.

Katherine Rich: After three negotiation rounds and entering a fifth year in Government, will the Minister change this clause during the next negotiation round to make it clear that it applies to all staff; if so, why the sudden U-turn*?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: The answer is, I think, that there has been only one Specialist Education Services round in the time. I do not think there has been a Group Special Education* round—I stand to be corrected—but this Government will certainly take out the rubbish that the previous Government put in.

Deborah Coddington: Does he agree with the philosophy espoused by the primary teachers’ union that Mâori children are best taught by Mâori teachers, and should that sentiment be extended to other ethnicities, like Dutch, South African, and Chinese—or does he think that the New Zealand Educational Institute has gone right over the top this time?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: I will answer the first two questions, which will save me from giving a third answer. No, and no.

Katherine Rich: When the *New Zealand Educational Institute initially stated: “Yes, you do have to be Mâori to qualify for it.”, can the Minister explain why the organisation suddenly changed its tune after speaking with his ministry?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: The institute probably referred back to the October document, in which the ministry indicated to it that that was the way the ministry was interpreting the document, because under this Government, as opposed to the previous Government, we do it on skill, not on race.

Tourism Strategy 2010—Reports

4. DAVID PARKER (Labour—Otago) to the Minister of Tourism: What reports has he received on the implementation of the New Zealand Tourism Strategy 2010?

Hon MARK BURTON (Minister of Tourism): New Zealand has, amazingly, two places in the top ten places ranked in the first ever global assessment of sustainable tourism practice, which was commissioned by the National Geographic in conjunction with Leeds Metropolitan University. The South Island has been ranked second in the world, with the Bay of Islands placed seventh. A key factor in these rankings was tourism management, an issue that the Government and the industry prioritised in our *Tourism Strategy 2010. Government tourism and conservation officials are working with the industry as a whole to develop an integrated approach to managing our tourism assets. As can be seen, this cooperative approach is working.

David Parker: What do these reports show about the sustainability of our tourism industry?

Hon MARK BURTON: What this shows is the importance of our having developed a long-term tourism strategy in partnership with the industry. For the last 4 years the tourism sector has worked together with this Government to ensure that a strategy is in place to actively promote and manage sustainable tourism. This is in marked contrast to the divisive interference of the last batch of National Ministers of Tourism—a style of working, I might add, that is now obviously the hallmark of that National Party.

Foreshore and Seabed—Mâori Land Court Ruling

5. STEPHEN FRANKS (ACT) to the Attorney-General: Has she advised Cabinet or the Prime Minister about commenting on a Mâori Land Court ruling authorising certain foreshore and seabed claims to proceed; if so, what was her advice?

Hon MARGARET WILSON (Attorney-General): No.

Stephen Franks: How come it was wrong and unconstitutional for me to ask, in this House last year, whether the Chief Justice’s personal commitment to treaty cases should have disqualified her from the seabed and foreshore case, but it was OK for the Prime Minister to directly question the motives of Judge Caren Wickliffe?

Hon MARGARET WILSON: It is a convention that Ministers and members of Parliament do not adversely comment on matters relating to the courts; and, like most conventions, it is mostly observed, but in unusual cases members have been known to comment. In this case the judge made a decision and then recused herself. This could be classified as unusual.

Russell Fairbrother: Is the Minister aware of any other examples of the convention on not criticising the judiciary not being observed?

Hon MARGARET WILSON: Unfortunately there have been previous instances of that—including that of Mr Franks’ reported comments that the Chief Justice is obviously biased and activist, and he would sack all activist judges.

Richard Worth: Why does the Attorney-General not advise her colleagues and the Prime Minister that the principled process to follow is for the Crown to actively participate in the pending Privy Council appeal on the foreshore and seabed, for which a fixture is to be allocated this year, and in which the Crown is a party, rather than pursuing the present strategies of reversals of position and posturing, which do little more than inflame public opinion and unsettle the community?

Hon MARGARET WILSON: In the interests of certainty, and also to prevent further litigation, the Government decided that it would address the issue through clarifying the law in this House.

Metiria Turei: Does the Attorney-General uphold the constitutional principle of the independence of the judiciary, and does she agree that the Prime Minister’s unjust and unwarranted criticisms of Judge Caren Wickliffe* and the Mâori Land Court* are in breach of that fundamental principle?

Hon MARGARET WILSON: Of course, this House as a whole upholds the principle of the independence of the judiciary. As I said, from time to time members of this House have been moved in unusual cases to express themselves freely and have judged in those cases that in the interests of free speech, that overrode the convention.

Hon Richard Prebble: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. It is very nice of the Attorney-General to decide to answer on behalf of the House, but she has no responsibility for this House. She is actually answering in her own capacity as Attorney-General, as a first law officer of the nation, and possibly as she is a member of Cabinet. I suggest that the answer she gave the House was completely irrelevant. She was actually asked what she, as Attorney-General, personally thought about the matter and not what the House thinks.

Mr SPEAKER: It was a relevant answer. However, the member is correct. It should have been given in her capacity as Attorney-General.

Hon MARGARET WILSON: I am happy to give the assurance that, personally, I do uphold the independence of the judiciary.

Hon Ken Shirley: Has she remonstrated with the Prime Minister for her egregious breach of paragraph 2:117 on page 31 of the Cabinet Manual, which states that “Ministers should not express any views that are likely to be published where they could be regarded as reflecting adversely on the impartiality, personal views or ability of any judge.”*; and if she has not checked the Prime Minister, does she not think that, as Attorney-General, it is her duty to do so?

Hon MARGARET WILSON: No. I know that the Prime Minister is quite capable of reading the Cabinet Manual, and has done so.

Gerrard Eckhoff: What is her view of the opinion of former Australian Commonwealth Attorney-General, Sir Anthony Mason, that the first duty of an Attorney-General is to uphold the integrity of the judicial system, judicial institutions, and that such responsibility should not be subordinated to party political considerations?

Hon MARGARET WILSON: Of course, I uphold the independence of the judiciary. I uphold the convention, and I wish that every member in this House did so as well all the time.

Stephen Franks: In light of the answer to the last question, why did the Attorney-General not do what any other Westminster parliamentary system Attorney-General would have done—that is, put aside party loyalties, uphold what she told me last year was an essential component of the rule of law, and defend the judge for simply refusing to delay justice and instead allowing the court to apply existing law, in spite of her Government’s threats, for more than 6 months, of retrospective changes?

Hon MARGARET WILSON: As I said, of course we respect the independence of the judiciary, and I released a statement at that time. I also pointed out at the time that the judge had recused herself, which was, of course, the cause of the comment.

Child, Youth and Family Services, Department—Cases

6. JUDY TURNER (United Future) to the Associate Minister for Social Development and Employment (CYF): Does she stand by her comment that the current crisis of unallocated cases at the Department of Child, Youth and Family Services is just a “departmental issue”?

Hon RUTH DYSON (Associate Minister for Social Development and Employment (CYF)): I did not say that it was just a “departmental issue”, but the department does have the responsibility to address operational issues, including managing notifications. I have confidence that the strategies and actions the department has put, and is putting, into place will result in cases being dealt with in an appropriate time.

Judy Turner: Why, then, does the Minister continue to ignore the requests of agencies such as the Hamilton-based support service Parentline*, which has offered assistance for the last 2 years to the Department of Child, Youth and Family Services to reduce its unallocated caseload*, when 99 percent of the 4,595 cases unallocated as at 31 January this year were in the lower two criticality levels and could be given timely attention by such community child and family services?

Hon RUTH DYSON: In direct contradiction to the member’s assertion in her question, I do not ignore the calls of community groups. I am delighted that the Department of Child, Youth and Family Services is continuing to work with organisations such as Parentline to improve the support that those organisations can give us in the delivery of services.

Dianne Yates: Can the Minister outline the strategies and initiatives the department is putting in place to ensure the safety and security of children and young people?

Hon RUTH DYSON: As part of the $120-million additional investment in the Department of Child, Youth and Family Services we have employed 90 additional social workers, and a further 56 are to be employed in the coming financial year. The department is also employing administrative assistance in order to enable social workers to concentrate on professional tasks, and is developing a demand management strategy and collaborating with the community sector to ensure the safety of our children.

Katherine Rich: Why has the Government not implemented Judge Mick Brown’s December 2000 recommendation “that funding and resources be concentrated on reducing the number of cases unallocated by the time set for response to zero within the next 6 months, and that provision be made to ensure that response remains at zero”; and why, in March 2004, is the list worse now than it was then?

Hon RUTH DYSON: There are two points I would like to make in response to that question. The first is that in the December to February period the number of notifications to the department increased by 40 percent—an unprecedented increase, and one that was not physically able to be dealt with within the capacity of the Department of Child, Youth and Family Services. Secondly, as the member will know from the baseline review recommendations, it is critical that despite the best efforts of Opposition politicians we must not be distracted from ensuring that the services we deliver are quality services, rather than just quantity.

Sue Bradford: Are the 90 extra social workers recently recruited making any impact yet on Department of Child, Youth and Family Services caseloads; if not, what is holding them up?

Hon RUTH DYSON: No, the additional social workers would not have had an immediate effect on the total number of cases that we have referred to in earlier questions, because the notification increase has been so significant. But had those 90 social workers not been there, of course, the picture would be a lot bleaker than it is.

Dr Muriel Newman: From the point of view of the nearly 6,000 children who are waiting to see a social worker, can the Minister explain to the House exactly what the difference is between “a departmental issue” and abject Government failure?

Hon RUTH DYSON: I would prefer it if the member would at least give the House the courtesy of accurate figures. There are not 6,000 unallocated cases, at all. There are about 4,300 cases that have not been dealt with in the appropriate time. They have been not left in a corner and ignored. They have been referred for regular supervision within their own organisations. The 1,000 cases that have been added on—conveniently to make the number up to 6,000, as that seemed to be a good round number—have been referred to the regional offices for action.

Judy Turner: Does the Minister agree that the Department of Child, Youth and Family Services cannot cope with the pressure placed on it by the current level of notifications and should involve community agencies in working with lower-level cases, particularly when half the cases that come to the department are re-notified later and 80 percent of those cases are at the lower criticality levels that could appropriately be dealt with by community agencies; if not, why not?

Hon RUTH DYSON: Yes, and I can say again to the House that the department is working with community organisations so that the workload can be shared in cases where the statutory role of the Department of Child, Youth and Family Services is not required.

Judy Turner: Does the Minister agree that the New Zealand public expect nothing less than a radical overhaul of the child protection system, when the findings of recent investigations into the deaths of children in the care of the Department of Child, Youth and Family Services showed that when the department is pressured—as it is with the crisis-level status now—its overworked social workers fail to follow established policies and procedures, and children slip through the cracks; if not, why not?

Hon RUTH DYSON: The baseline review was such a comprehensive review of the workings of the Department of Child, Youth and Family Services, and the implementation of the recommendations is what this Minister will be focusing on.

Judy Turner: Does the Minister agree that treating this crisis as a departmental issue only is short-sighted and makes no attempt to deliver the national attitudinal change that *Mick Brown in his 2001 review pleaded for, which would see all New Zealand families and communities taking responsibility for the safety and *well-being of their children, rather than leaving it to the Department of Child, Youth and Family Services; if not, why not?

Hon RUTH DYSON: Yes.

Catch History Review Committee—Appeals Judge

7. Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS (Leader—NZ First) to the Minister of Fisheries: Which appeals to the Catch History Review Committee did Jacqui Lowe sit on prior to March 2004?

Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE (Minister of Fisheries): I am advised that Jacqui Lowe has sat on 23 appeals since January 2001. Information on her involvement in all proceedings since her appointment in 1998 is not immediately available, but I will provide it in writing to the honourable member as soon as possible.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Was the Minister aware when Jacqui Lowe was appointed again in September last year that she was a major shareholder in United Fisheries Ltd; if not, why were the appropriate checks not made to ensure that she had no potential conflict of interest created by her business dealings?

Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: No. During February this year it was drawn to the attention of the ministry that Jacqui Lowe was a shareholder in United Fisheries Ltd. Accordingly, on 1 March the ministry wrote to Mrs Lowe advising her of this information and requesting that she clarify the position. She has done so.

Janet Mackey: What action has the ministry taken in response to the concerns?

Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: The chief executive of the ministry has consulted with the Solicitor-General and engaged Crown Law to undertake a review of the ministry’s systems and processes for appointing *Catch History Review Committee members, including matters relating to conflicts of interest. This review will also provide advice on whether any further action is necessary to ensure the integrity of the committee’s operations.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: How can the Minister expect commercial fishers to have any faith in a process and a Minister where such people are reappointed to a supposedly impartial committee, and then make final decisions as to allocation granted to them; and what recourse, if any, has he planned for those negatively affected by her decisions, and how many decisions of such type are there where she had a conflict of interest?

Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: I make no presumption of any conflict of interest, and it is for that reason that the chief executive of the ministry has engaged Crown Law to undertake the review that I just intimated.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I seek leave to table a company’s register record showing Mrs Lowe to be a 98 percent shareholder in United Fisheries, and also showing United Fisheries to be a—

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

Students—International Study

8. LYNNE PILLAY (Labour—Waitakere) to the Associate Minister of Education (Tertiary Education): What is the Government doing to provide opportunities for New Zealand students to study internationally?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY (Associate Minister of Education (Tertiary Education)): The Minister of Education and I are today announcing a European Union - New Zealand exchange pilot programme. A consortium of New Zealand and European universities will work together to develop a joint *postgraduate study programme for students from New Zealand and European Union countries. This will provide a unique opportunity for New Zealand tertiary education institutions and masters level students to participate in an international exchange programme.

Lynne Pillay: Of what value or cost is this programme to New Zealand?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: The programme will build on existing courses offered in both New Zealand and *European Union universities and will enable New Zealand students to extend their knowledge by taking postgraduate studies in a university within the union. Both New Zealand and European students will return home after their studies, thereby giving us students who have experience in Europe, and European students who have a good knowledge of New Zealand. The programme is jointly funded by the *Tertiary Education Commission and the *European Commission. Proposals are now being sought, and I intend to announce those results on 16 July.

Tertiary Education Strategy—Objectives

9. Hon BILL ENGLISH (National—Clutha-Southland) to the Associate Minister of Education (Tertiary Education): Does he believe taxpayer-funded courses such as the *Eastern Institute of Technology’s He Waiata ma te Whanau, which offers participants the opportunity to “relax” at home and sing along with songs on the radio, and *Tairawhiti Polytechnic’s Twilight Golf meet the objectives of the tertiary education strategy?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY (Associate Minister of Education (Tertiary Education)): Community education courses like these, which do not lead to a formal qualification but have been approved by the academic board of the institutions, have been funded through classification 5.1 since 1997. However, I have acted to limit spending available for this classification, as volumes increased dramatically over the last year, and we want to focus our resources on higher-priority areas. It is lucky this Government was here when the issue arose, because, as that member knows, his Government had no way of doing anything about it; we do.

Hon Bill English: Does he stand by his statement: “It is very important to ensure our research efforts and student enrolments are concentrated in areas of high performance and high strategic relevance.”, and did he contribute to the Tairawhiti Polytechnic advertisement for Twilight Golf that states: “realise your TIGERISH dreams, learn to use your WOODS, no golfing experience necessary”?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: The answers are “Yes” and “No”. But I do like the sound of that course. Perhaps Mr English and I could take it under 5.1 *sometime.

Helen Duncan: What reports has he seen on the proposals to take a more strategic approach to funding tertiary education?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: I have seen statements to “trust institutions to run themselves.”, and that students “do not need some Minister in charge of tertiary education telling them what they should and should not study.” They came from Nick Smith. But now Bill English tells us exactly the opposite. Clearly, confusion reigns on the other side.

Hon Brian Donnelly: Given that he has no record of pass rates, can the Minister assure the House that all students funded for the course He Waiata ma te Whanau have actively participated in the programme, and have not simply filled out a form expressing interest in doing a supposedly free course?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: If the member has evidence—as I guess he does if he is asking that question—of people who have enrolled but have not complied with the course requirements, then he should make that known to the institution, or if he wants to give it to me I will make it known to the institution.

Bernie Ogilvy: Will the Minister act immediately to investigate the projected $115 million *blowout in funding for community education this year, and does he concede that one of the reasons for this overrun is that per student funding often exceeds the actual cost of running a course, thereby resulting in taxpayers’ money paying for the profits of providers?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: That is a good suggestion. It has already been done.

Hon Bill English: What action has the Minister taken to find out whether Tairawhiti Polytechnic has achieved value for money in spending $11 million on the *singalong course, on which somewhere between 8,000 and 10,000 people were enrolled—roughly a quarter of the population of Gisborne?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: As soon as these kinds of issues are drawn to my attention, I act on them. In other words, I ask the *Tertiary Education Commission and the *New Zealand Qualifications Authority to look at all these kinds of courses, when I hear these kinds of reports. Once I get information I will know exactly what is going on.

Hon Brian Donnelly: For evidentiary purposes, what would the Minister say if he were informed that two members of this House were accosted late one evening in a hamburger bar by a recruiting officer for the *Eastern Institute of Technology, who offered them a free course, and that they filled out forms, but were never ever contacted by the Eastern Institute of Technology, and never ever did any part of the course? The members happened to be Ron Mark and Edwin Perry. Was the funding of $5,500 ever provided for them; if so, will the Minister require it to be paid back?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: I would be outraged, particularly if they did not get their hamburgers.

Mr SPEAKER: The Minister was asked a question. I would like him to give a fuller answer, please.

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: I was asked, I think, whether I would be outraged by this evidence that the member might give me, if he were able to. I would be outraged if the member gave me that evidence; so he should give it to me so that I can be outraged.

Hon Bill English: Can the Minister confirm that the Tertiary Education Commission is auditing the course referred to, and others, at Tairawhiti Polytechnic; if so, can he describe how the Tertiary Education Commission will find out whether 8,000 people in Gisborne did listen to their radios, in the comfort of their own homes, and thereby completed the course, given that that was the only requirement of the course?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: Yes, I have asked the Tertiary Education Commission to look at that particular course. The member will know that, as a result of those inquiries, the institutions concerned have already gone on the public record in defence of the value of those courses. As I say, we are continuing to dig deeper. We have capped this funding, and I repeat that, unlike the previous Government, we have dealt with this issue—it never could. It ran a bums-on-seats policy.

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

Mr SPEAKER: Just a moment. When a point of order is raised, only one person is allowed to speak.

Hon Bill English: I asked quite a specific question about how the Tertiary Education Commission would audit whether people who enrolled in the course actually did listen to the radio, in the comfort of their own homes. The Minister did not address that question, at all.

Mr SPEAKER: If the Minister could briefly come to that particular part of the question, as it was asked.

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: As I said in my answer, I have asked the Tertiary Education Commission, in the form of *Max Kerr, to look at this. I expect that he will find out the exact answer to the member’s question. But I do not know, standing here, exactly how the commission will do that. All I know is that it will do it.

Tuberculosis—Patients, North Shore Hospital

10. BARBARA STEWART (NZ First) to the Minister of Health: How many people infected with tuberculosis are currently patients at North Shore Hospital, and, if there are any, how many of those patients were born in New Zealand?

Hon ANNETTE KING (Minister of Health): There are currently no inpatients at North Shore Hospital with tuberculosis.

Barbara Stewart: Has the Minister any plans to calculate the total cost to the health-care system of tuberculosis cases in migrants; if so, when does she expect this figure to be made available, and if not, why not?

Hon ANNETTE KING: I believe that it probably would be possible to get the member the costings of tuberculosis cases—I do not have them with me, but I could undertake to get them to the member. I am certain that the district health boards would hold those.

Dave Hereora: What action has the Government taken to ensure that immigrants do not place an unreasonable burden on the health system?

Hon ANNETTE KING: The New Zealand Immigration Service and the Ministry of Health are phasing in new health and disability screening requirements this month. Under the changes, tuberculosis screening requirements will apply to students wanting to stay in New Zealand for more than 6 months, visitors and workers intending to stay longer than 1 year, and all people from high-risk countries.

Dr Lynda Scott: Why has the Government, up to now, not taken any action to prevent the $13.6 million in bad debts, or recoup the losses, from the 6,000 foreign patients who get treated in New Zealand hospitals, but instead has simply passed the buck to the district health boards?

Hon ANNETTE KING: District health boards are required to do their utmost to recoup bad debts. However, the Government has put in $9.6 million towards those bad debts. There will always be some people who use our health system and do not pay their bills, but any hospital’s first obligation is to give health service when a person is in need of urgent health care. I believe that that has been the case under Governments for many years.

Sue Kedgley: How many persons at North Shore Hospital have become infected with hospital-acquired bloodstream infections and with the super bug methicillin-resistant staphylococcus; and why is there not a requirement for all district health boards to report publicly, and in a nationally consistent fashion, on those sorts of infections, and on a range of other adverse events?

Hon ANNETTE KING: The question was about tuberculosis. I do not have at my fingertips the number of cases of another problem at a hospital. I could not possibly answer that question, but I am sure the answer has probably been given in a written form—the member has asked questions on this subject before—and if it has not, I am certain we could get it for her.

Barbara Stewart: Is the Minister aware of a strain of tuberculosis now found in New Zealand that cannot be cured by medication currently used—and at best can only be managed—if so, what is she planning to do in order to tackle this Third World disease, once thought to be eradicated in this country?

Hon ANNETTE KING: A lot has been done to tackle tuberculosis in New Zealand. It is unfortunate that we do have sporadic outbreaks of tuberculosis. Obviously, treatment regimes are in place, and it is controlled very well in New Zealand. It would be good if we did not have any tuberculosis, but that is very difficult when there is a population that moves around the world and can easily bring in such disease—not only visitors, but New Zealanders themselves.

Question No. 9 to Minister

RON MARK (NZ First): I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I seek leave to make a personal statement—

Mr SPEAKER: In relation to?

RON MARK: —in relation to the comments made by the Hon Brian Donnelly with respect to the previous question.

Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to make a personal statement. Is there any objection? There is not.

RON MARK: I want to put it on the record that the incident Mr Donnelly spoke of is a true incident—it did happen. Along with a number of other New Zealand First MPs, I was approached at a Rotorua takeaway bar, where we were headed to get a meal at approximately 10. 30 or 11 p.m. in the evening. As a result of my desire to learn te reo Mâori, I filled out some forms offering a course of language tuition. At the time I thought my action was more an expression of interest, and that the course was free—which I found rather curious, especially when I went home and read about who was offering the course. I have subsequently found that the course is costing around $2.5 million, and that some 7,115 students are involved at a cost of $5,500 each. My concern is—

Mr SPEAKER: The member must keep his concerns to things personal to him only.

RON MARK: My concern is that I am now party to the improper funding of an inappropriate course that does not seem to have the right amount of accountability. I would like to think that that was not the case.

Violence against Women—Resolution

11. SUE BRADFORD (Green) to the Minister of Women's Affairs: What is the Government doing to implement its commitment to “reduce the incidence and impact of violence on women”?

Hon RUTH DYSON (Minister of Women's Affairs): A number of initiatives are being actioned under the Te Rito* family violence prevention strategy, particularly in relation to the abuse of women by their spouses or partners. The strategy contains the Government’s key goals and objectives for preventing family violence and a 5-year work programme.

Sue Bradford: What steps, if any, is the Minister taking to ensure that the Help Foundation’s* sexual abuse crisis centre in Auckland will be able to survive in a situation where 20 of its staff have just been made redundant and it faces closure in 3 weeks, especially in light of the Government’s new commitment to reduce the impact of sexual violence on women?

Hon RUTH DYSON: The Auckland Sexual Abuse Help Foundation** is a well-regarded provider, and I am committed to continuing to work with it to resolve the issue of its viability. I am keen to ensure that the three sectors involved in its funding work together with Help to look at both its management and future funding.

Luamanuvao Winnie Laban: What specific initiatives are being implemented under the Te Rito strategy to reduce violence on women?

Hon RUTH DYSON: Work is under way to develop a research and information service to coordinate, promote, and distribute information on best-practice* prevention of family violence. The Department of Child Youth and Family Services* has received additional funding to improve access to family violence programmes and services for victims, which has been allocated to 68 service providers across the country.

Katherine Rich: When the Ministry of Women’s Affairs has a budget of about $2 for each New Zealand woman and is one of the most invisible ministries, can the Minister understand why some women are embarrassed that their concerns are ghettoised in an often-ignored bureaucracy; if not, why not?

Hon RUTH DYSON: I can understand the frustration and anger that women felt during the 1990s—a decade in which a National-led Government ignored the advice of the Ministry of Women’s Affairs. When that Government came into power in 1990, its very first action was to repeal the pay and employment legislation—a very clear message to New Zealand women.

Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I ask you to read the Hansard of the Hon Ruth Dyson’s answer later in the day. That was a straight-out political speech—of very little merit, I might add. Nevertheless, it should not have been allowed to stand as an answer. We know that the Government clearly has a tactic of returning to the 1990s to try to push its point, but it seems to me to be quite inappropriate that a Minister should be able to answer without any reference at all to anything that she has done as Minister.

Mr SPEAKER: It is about six of one and half a dozen of the other. There are political statements that are made in this House by way of question and by way of answer. I think that has always been so in Parliament, and I have not observed much change in 38 years.

Ron Mark: Does the Minister believe that she has an obligation to reduce the incidence and impact of violence on women police officers; if so, what has she done to get the Minister of Police to cease sending front-line*, general duties police officers on patrol at night in suburban New Zealand alone—anything, or nothing?

Hon RUTH DYSON: I would be happy to work with that member if he has particular concerns about the safety of any police officers in New Zealand and to make appropriate representations to the Minister.

Sue Bradford: Why has it been so difficult to apply a whole-of-Government* approach to the funding of an essential agency like the Help Foundation when Ministers, including the Minister of Women’s Affairs and the Hon Steve Maharey, were evidently aware of the need to find a sustainable funding solution as far back as 2002, and when the Government has a commitment to finding more holistic resourcing methods for groups like this?

Hon RUTH DYSON: When my colleagues and I met with that organisation in 2002, we adopted what I thought was a very sensible and easy whole-of-Government approach. It was my understanding then that there had been long-term resolution to the funding situation, and it was only the week before last that I discovered this was not the case. I recommit myself to continuing to work with that organisation to ensure its long-term viability.

Sue Bradford: Has the Minister considered, as part of the Government’s commitment to the reduction of the impact of violence on women and as part of the commitment that the Minister has just made, that perhaps New Zealand should take a leaf out of the Australian Government’s book and provide ongoing, substantial, and sufficient funding to groups working with the victims of sexual violence?

Hon RUTH DYSON: I do not have in front of me the comparative figures between Australia’s level of funding and New Zealand’s, but I would be interested in looking at those.

Ron Mark: I seek leave to table a report dated 8 March 2004 about a policewoman* being dispatched to a violent incident alone.

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

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

Ron Mark: I seek leave to table a report dated 8 March 2004 showing that attacks on police officers involving firearms, knives, and other weapons have risen by 47.3 percent over the past 5 years.

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

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

Ron Mark: I seek leave to request that the Minister of Police table by 2 p.m. on Thursday 18 March a report detailing how many times in the last 2 years the Police have sent police officers on patrol alone at night in suburban New Zealand, and that the report detail whether those officers were male or female.

Mr SPEAKER: This is an unusual one. Leave is sought for a Minister to table something by a certain time. Is there any objection? There is.

Mount Ruapehu—Lahar Flow

12. Hon Dr NICK SMITH (National—Nelson) to the Minister of Civil Defence: Will the Government indemnify councils from any damage to life or property from the expected 1.4 million cubic metre Mt Ruapehu lahar; if not, why not?

Hon GEORGE HAWKINS (Minister of Civil Defence): This Government has, as recently as last week, reconfirmed to the Ruapehu District Council* that it will receive financial help over and above what is normally allowed under Part 2 of the National Civil Defence Plan**. The Government is working with the Ruapehu District Council and others to minimise their risks. This Government recognises that the Ruapehu District Council faces a unique situation and has a small rating base. This Government has worked well with councils in every civil emergency.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: Why did he, the Prime Minister, and 12 of his colleagues dismiss the advice of the Ministry of Civil Defence and Emergency Management that said that this risk to life “is above that which society would consider acceptable, especially given that practical means of reducing the risk by intervening at the crater rim are available.”; and having rejected that advice of his own ministry, who will be responsible for any loss of life when this lahar blows?

Hon GEORGE HAWKINS: The Government has embarked on measures to make sure that there is little danger to life. We have chosen the best option.

Jill Pettis: What measures has the Government taken to reduce the risk to life from the lahar?

Hon GEORGE HAWKINS: Actions taken so far include, first, a robust, ongoing, lahar detection and alarm system.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: Which failed.

Hon GEORGE HAWKINS: It has not failed yet. We have not had the lahar. Be sensible. Second, there is a comprehensive response plan addressing the first 90 minutes of warnings downstream; third, bunds protecting *State Highway 1 and the Tongariro River; fourth, raising the State Highway 49 bridge and approach work at Tangiwai; fifth, on State Highway 1 and State Highway 49, signs, lights, and gates have been put in place; sixth, *Tranz Rail alarm and response plan; seventh, electricity supply protection, including banks, where appropriate; eighth, public and media information and management planning; ninth, crater lake monitoring, including links to the *Institute of Geological and Nuclear Sciences Ltd.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: I seek leave to table the report that the lahar warning system failed on 20 February.

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

Hon Dr Nick Smith: Is the Minister aware of the technical advice that this lahar is expected to be double the size of the one that killed 151 people in 1953; is he aware that the lahar risk can be removed by just 3 days of work by a bulldozer on the mountain that would cost just $68,000; if he is aware of those facts, why does he let political correctness over Mâori cultural issues and environmental lobbyists—[Interruption] That is what the Minister said. [Interruption]

Mr SPEAKER: The Minister will stand, withdraw, and apologise for that comment.

Hon Chris Carter: I withdraw and apologise.

Mr SPEAKER: I ask the member now to start his question again, and this time there will be no other comments. Please start again.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: Is the Minister aware of the technical advice that this lahar is expected to be double the size of the 1953 lahar that killed 151 people, and is he aware that the lahar risk could be removed by just 3 days’ work of a bulldozer, costing $68,000; if he is aware of those facts, why does he allow political correctness, over Mâori cultural sensitivity and over the environmental movement, to stop common sense saving lives and people’s property?

Hon GEORGE HAWKINS: I tell that member that various iwis have various opinions on this matter that are quite different. I also say that that member, when he was Minister of Conservation, did nothing at all about it.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: In response the Minister’s claim that I did nothing as Minister, I seek leave to table this very comprehensive report, dated April 1999, which I asked for as Minister of Conservation. I also seek leave to table a minute of the Cabinet Policy Committee on 18 February, when the Government rejected the advice of the Ministry of Civil Defence.

Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table those two documents. Is there any objection? There is not.

Hon Dr Michael Cullen: Can the Minister confirm that the final decision was not based on consideration for political correctness, but that the balance of technical advice was that any measures to reduce the lahar would increase the risk in the long term?

Hon GEORGE HAWKINS: I can confirm that. It is a pity that the former Minister of Conservation does not know, did nothing, and all he does now is grizzle and moan.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: How could the work of removing the 7 metres of ash that was deposited in the 1995 eruption that would stop the lake levels building up, and this dangerous lahar, possibly increase the risk of a future lahar, as claimed by the Deputy Prime Minister, who should keep with history?

Hon GEORGE HAWKINS: The engineering advice that this Government has accepted says exactly that by interfering now we will make the future possibility of a lahar greater.

Hon Ken Shirley: I seek leave to table the Government-commissioned engineering report that says no such thing. In fact, it says the opposite.

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

End of Questions for Oral Answer

(uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing)

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