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Questions & Answers for Oral Answer - 18 March '04

(uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing)
Thursday, 18 March 2004

Questions for Oral Answer
Questions to Ministers

1. Foreshore and Seabed—Ownership
2. Taxation—OECD Comparisons
3. Police, Minister—Confidence
4. Hikurangi Learning Centre—Chief Executive
5. Industry Training—Objectives
6. Foreshore and Seabed—Crown Ownership
POO: Question No. 3 to Minister
7. Solomon Islands—Regional Assistance Mission
8. Mâori Youth Contestable Fund—Recidivist Offending
9. Floods—Government Assistance
10. Monte Cassino 60th Anniversary Commemorations—Veterans
11. Exporters—Government Assistance
12. Iraq—Troop Withdrawals

Questions for Oral Answer
Questions to Ministers

Foreshore and Seabed—Ownership

1. GERRY BROWNLEE (Deputy Leader—National) to the Prime Minister: Does she stand by the statement given on her behalf regarding the seabed and foreshore, “the language of ownership is clearly divisive in this context. If one wants to be divisive, as one’s main purpose, then continue to use the concept of “ownership” as the main consideration.”; if not, why not?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Deputy Prime Minister), on behalf of the Prime Minister: Yes.

Gerry Brownlee: Has the Government always known that the National Party would support Crown ownership for the seabed and foreshore, and that the number of votes it could achieve from other parties was irrelevant, and is not the real issue on the Government’s agenda—[Interruption]

Mr SPEAKER: This is the one and only warning today. Please start the question again.

Gerry Brownlee: Has the Government not always known that the National Party would support Crown ownership for the seabed and foreshore, and that the number of votes it could achieve from other parties was irrelevant, and is not the real issue on the Government’s agenda to take Treaty of Waitangi issues off the political landscape until after the next election by use of this proposed commission?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: To the first question, yes. To the second question, no. The Government does not regard the views of other parties as significant in comparison with those of the National Party. To the third question, this is not actually a treaty issue at its heart.

Hon Peter Dunne: In the light of that question and the answer to it, has the Prime Minister received any approaches since the Court of Appeal’s ruling last year from anyone in the National Party seeking to discuss this issue with her, and how it might be advanced in the bipartisan way that Mr Brownlee seems to be suggesting?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Indeed, the honourable member has suggested such an approach, and I seem to recollect the National Party rejected it. I should point out that legislating for Crown ownership by itself is a rather pointless exercise, because that is already the law. If one simply re-enacts the current law it will have no effect at all on the Court of Appeal decision.

Jeanette Fitzsimons: Is it his intention that the Crown should own all the foreshore and seabed, or will the 12,500 parcels of land in private ownership, identified in the Land Information New Zealand report to its Minister, be exempt; if so, does this mean that there is a lesser standard of citizenship for Mâori?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I think the member is getting confused between those titles that are actually over the foreshore and seabed and those in private hands that abut the foreshore and seabed. I think there is something like 59 titles on the foreshore and seabed. My understanding also is that—[Interruption] No, abutting the foreshore and seabed, not on the foreshore and seabed. My understanding is that approximately a third of those are in Mâori hands.

Hon Richard Prebble: Is the Prime Minister aware of the repeated statement by the Deputy Prime Minister that legally there is no difference between the concept of public domain and Crown ownership; if so, would not New Zealand First and National be wise to look at the details of what Labour proposes before giving it a rubber stamp?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: The Prime Minister is aware of almost everything that the Deputy Prime Minister says. She would recommend that Opposition parties always pay careful attention to the detail of anything the Deputy Prime Minister says.

Jeanette Fitzsimons: I seek leave to table a 12 December 2003 document to the Minster for Land Information.

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

Dail Jones: Will the Prime Minister confirm for the benefit of many New Zealanders who are confused on this issue, that when we talk about the foreshore we refer to the land from the high-water mark down to the low-water mark, and when we talk about the seabed we are talking about the bit from the low-water mark out to Chile on one side and out to Australia on the other—the East Coast and the West Coast?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: On the first, yes. On the second, no. In New Zealand legal terms we do not claim the seabed out as far as Chile.

Gerry Brownlee: Is it not true that the Government had been considering its U-turn away from public domain back toward Crown ownership well before the meeting the Prime Minister had with New Zealand First this week but about 9 months after the National Party stated that the foreshore and seabed should remain in Crown ownership; and was not the Government’s reconsideration begun after public reaction to Dr Brash’s Orewa speech?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: No, the Government is not considering a move away from public domain. To understand that remark the member will have to await further the details of the policy.

Hon Richard Prebble: Accepting the Prime Minister’s assurance that it is the details that are important, can the Prime Minister confirm that it is still the intention of the Government, regardless of whether the term “Crown ownership” or “public domain” is used, to create by legislation a new form of title in favour of Mâori that the Attorney-General tells us will cover virtually all of the coastline of New Zealand?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: As I indicated in the previous answer, the concepts of Crown ownership and public domain are not mutually exclusive. The issue is around what the title is expressed as. On the second matter, the member will have to await the finalisation of the policy, but there is no suggestion that there is going to be an alternative title system around the country that conveys any form of exclusive usage.

Taxation—OECD Comparisons

2. CLAYTON COSGROVE (Labour—Waimakariri) to the Minister of Finance: Has he received any reports on tax levels for average income earners compared with other OECD countries?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Minister of Finance): Yes, an OECD report out yesterday evening shows that the single average production worker in New Zealand pays the third lowest tax, or at least the tax wedge is the third lowest of 30 OECD countries, and that for the same kind of worker with two children, it is the ninth lowest of 30 OECD countries.

Clayton Cosgrove: Is the Government proposing further tax changes, and what effect will they have on our OECD tax burden rating?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: The Government is certainly considering some major changes that will assist low to modest-income families. The effect of those is that the tax burden on the average production worker with two children will move from being the ninth lowest to the fourth lowest in the OECD.

John Key: Why is the Minister gloating about the survey, when new taxes introduced by his Government have cost the average Kiwi household $2,600, the results of which show that New Zealand’s average tax rate has increased in the last 12 months at the fastest rate of all countries in the developed part of the OECD, according to the same survey he cites?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I am quite interested in the number of developed countries in the OECD that will be immensely offended by that comment, that actually had a higher rise than New Zealand. New Zealand has the third lowest tax wedge of the average production worker of any OECD country. Of course, the OECD, unlike members opposite, counts all the various forms of taxation and income, not merely one form.

Rod Donald: Is the Minister concerned that New Zealand is in the bottom half of the OECD when it comes to the use of eco-taxes, because advanced OECD countries currently collect 8 percent and rising of their tax revenue this way, compared to only 3 percent in New Zealand, and when will he start to update our tax system to make greater use of environmental and resource taxes?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I thank the member for his confirmation that in addition to the fact that we have a low tax wedge on income, we also have other forms of taxation that are lower in New Zealand than in other OECD countries.

Hon Richard Prebble: Looking at the OECD report, and the Government’s intention to lower taxes to some workers, why is the Government not in favour of giving a tax cut to all workers in New Zealand?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: That is even more interesting, because when we move to somewhat higher paid workers, New Zealand moves to an even higher ranking in the OECD; indeed, to second lowest.

John Key: Does the Minister intend to cut taxes in the forthcoming Budget, or will he use the largest surplus ever accumulated in the history of New Zealand Governments in the last 50 years just to give more money to beneficiaries through the Future Directions programme?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: The Government, of course, is at the present time running a cash-neutral position over the current year—not the massive surplus that members are promising to spend. [Interruption] If the member waits for the Budget, he will discover that his spending room for massive tax cuts for himself and his mates will be very limited. In fact, the bulk of the funding in the package is not going simply to beneficiaries; it is going particularly to low to modest-income families in work, who gain more than beneficiaries.

Mr SPEAKER: Before I move to question No. 3, I say to Mr Key that he brought me into the debate three times in three interjections, and he is interjecting from a seat he is not entitled to interject from. That is his warning.

Police, Minister—Confidence

3. PETER BROWN (Deputy Leader—NZ First) to the Prime Minister: Does she have confidence in her Minister of Police; if so, why?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Deputy Prime Minister), on behalf of the Prime Minister: Yes, because he is a hard-working and conscientious Minister.

Peter Brown: How can she have such confidence; and is she not concerned at the comments of the Australian defence Minister, indicating that he felt totally let down by the serious breach of security with regard to the Australian naval vessel that was in Wellington port recently?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: No. I have seen other indications that the Australians are not blaming the New Zealand Police for what happened in that respect.

Peter Brown: Is the Prime Minister not aware that 99.9 percent of New Zealand exports and imports come and go by ship, and that maritime security, be it concerning a naval vessel or a merchant naval vessel, is very, very important to this country, and if she is aware of that, what is she doing to address it?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: In terms of naval security, the Government is considering at the moment a major element of expansion in terms of our naval forces. In terms of biosecurity, we have put massive amounts of additional spending into that area. As far as I am aware the kind of attack that occurred on the Australian ship, which is to be deplored, has not occurred in relation to New Zealand cargo ships.

Marc Alexander: How can the Prime Minister maintain her confidence in the Minister of Police, when his police force continues to take such a laissez-faire approach to the enforcement of the new prostitution laws, having recorded one pathetic offence of using an under-age prostitute, despite multiple reports that at least 20 under-age prostitutes are working out of Christchurch’s Cathedral Square right now?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I am sure the police do not take a laissez-faire approach to the issue of under-age prostitution. No doubt as time develops they will become more experienced in dealing with that particular offence.

Peter Brown: Noting those answers to my earlier supplementary questions, will the Prime Minister give this House an assurance that such a graffiti attack, or something even worse, will not occur again on a naval ship or even a merchant ship that may be carrying cargo to the USA, which may be a likely target?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I do not think that I can give the member an assurance that there will never be a graffiti attack on a cargo ship. I doubt whether we would want all our police resources to be devoted to that particular exercise, when more serious crimes are being committed than graffiti attacks on cargo ships.

Hikurangi Learning Centre—Chief Executive

4. DEBORAH CODDINGTON (ACT) to the Associate Minister of Education (Tertiary Education): What action did he take, and on what dates did he take it, following the letter of complaint he received asserting the chief executive of the Hikurangi Learning Centre was carrying out fraudulent acts by changing attendance sheets of students?

Hon MARIAN HOBBS (Associate Minister of Education), on behalf of the Associate Minister of Education (Tertiary Education): The complainant was sent a letter of acknowledgment on 2 February 2004. On 12 March 2004, the Northland regional office of the Tertiary Education Commission initiated the following actions. It compared the two sets of records referred to in the letter; identified a couple of trainees where there seemed to be a discrepancy; identified differences in information; and followed that up with Work and Income for trainees who have gone back into their system, and compared dates. As we speak, it is now meeting with the Hikurangi Learning Centre this afternoon about the complaint.

Deborah Coddington: Why has he not referred this matter to the Auditor-General or the police, given that the Tertiary Education Commission has already audited the Hikurangi Learning Centre every year, and tells us that everything is OK?

Hon MARIAN HOBBS: Neither I nor the commission have involved the police or the Audit Office. The commission is investigating. If there is a need to involve the police, it will do so. But such complaints are quite frequent, and I would like to draw members’ attention to the fact that there were ghosts on school rolls for many, many years, when I was in senior administration, under previous Governments.

Dr Ashraf Choudhary: What sort of tertiary education provision is the Hikurangi Learning Centre involved in, and how large a provider is it?

Hon MARIAN HOBBS: For 2003 and 2004 the Tertiary Education Commission has purchased Training Opportunities and Youth Training programmes from the Hikurangi Learning Centre. There are 18 places available in the former programme, and nine places in the latter. The Hikurangi Learning Centre has received around, but less than, $400,000 a year in funding.

Simon Power: Did the Minister report her ghost enrolments at her school to the then Minister of Education?

Hon MARIAN HOBBS: The allusion I was making was to the practice that occurred often in the comparison between 1 March roll returns and actual roll attendances on that day. I did not make them; I always got a very clean record when the Audit Office came in.

Hon Brian Donnelly: Could the Associate Minister explain the apparent inconsistency between the statement made by the chief executive officer of the Eastern Institute of Technology, referred to by the Associate Minister of Education (Tertiary Education) yesterday, that his institution does not have recruiters signing up people at hamburger bars, and the fact that Mr Mark is recorded as being enrolled at the Eastern Institute of Technology—given that two other MPs can verifying the accuracy of Mr Mark’s statement to the House?

Mr SPEAKER: This question was originally about the Hikurangi Learning Centre. The Minister can, however, comment on the matter if she wishes to do so.

Hon MARIAN HOBBS: I understand that the Tertiary Education Commission is investigating the Eastern Institute of Technology in terms of such category 5.1 enrolments.

Dr Muriel Newman: Does he believe that it is appropriate for tutors to be instructed to fill out attendance rolls in pencil but to sign them in ink, so that they can falsely inflate attendance rolls; if he does not think it is appropriate, can he just tell the House why he did not act in December last year, when he was first informed of this case?

Hon MARIAN HOBBS: There are two questions there. With reference to his being informed in December, I understand that the letter was received in the Minister’s office on 24 December—that is, Christmas Eve—and the Minister was not in the office on that particular day. In terms of writing in pencil, I can only assume, and this is a positive way of looking at it, that it was the advised practice—all of those of us involved in teaching will remember it, and I presume the member herself remembers it—in schools, when filling out our form attendance registers, to fill them out in pencil first. This practice may have been continued.

Industry Training—Objectives

5. LYNNE PILLAY (Labour—Waitakere) to the Associate Minister of Education (Tertiary Education): What progress is being made against the Government’s target of having 150,000 New Zealanders in industry training in 2005?

Hon PAUL SWAIN (Minister of Corrections), on behalf of the Associate Minister of Education (Tertiary Education): The House will be delighted to learn that this week the Prime Minister announced that the total numbers in industry training during 2003 reached 126,870 trainees. That is a 19 percent increase on the number participating during 2002, and a whopping 56 percent increase since 2000. It is a tribute both to the Government’s 70 percent increase in the Industry Training Fund over the last 5 years, and to a growing industry contribution both in cash and kind.

Lynne Pillay: Is this growth in industry training numbers sustainable?

Hon PAUL SWAIN: Yes, we are confident it is sustainable. The best indication of that kind is the continued broadening in the employer base for industry training. I am sure the House will enthusiastically welcome the news that 29,206 firms were on board in 2003—a 19 percent increase on 2002, and a 31 percent increase since 2000. That is because business is increasingly aware that industry training is good for the workplace and good for New Zealand. The Skill New Zealand partnership we have with the Council of Trade Unions and Business New Zealand is out there selling that message.

Hon Brian Donnelly: Will the Minister guarantee that the present strategy will achieve the ultimate target of 250,000 industry trainees by 2007, or will he have to revert to singalong courses to achieve that goal?

Hon PAUL SWAIN: The target is certainly on track, and the answer to the second part of the question is no.

Foreshore and Seabed—Crown Ownership

6. Dr WAYNE MAPP (National—North Shore) to the Minister of Mâori Affairs: Does he stand by his statement last night that Crown ownership of the foreshore and seabed was now “More probable than not.”; if so, why?

Hon PAREKURA HOROMIA (Minister of Maori Affairs): Cabinet will advise its decision in due course. Crown ownership is definitely an option.

Dr Wayne Mapp: In that case, does he also stand by his statement of 3 weeks ago that Crown ownership of the foreshore and the seabed was “Back on the table.”; if so, how long ago was it that the Government finally recognised the wisdom of the National Party position of Crown ownership of the foreshore and seabed?

Hon PAREKURA HOROMIA: There have been long discussions, and we have had wide consultation. Cabinet will advise the detail in due course.

Mahara Okeroa: Is there a significant difference between Crown ownership and public domain?

Hon PAREKURA HOROMIA: We are all familiar with Crown ownership. The Government has the right to regulate and the sovereignty of Parliament is assured.

Hon Richard Prebble: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I think the patsy questions must have been shuffled, because that answer has no resemblance to the question asked.

Mr SPEAKER: Perhaps the member could ask the question again and the Minister could answer.

Mahara Okeroa: Is there a significant difference between Crown ownership and public domain?

Hon PAREKURA HOROMIA: Regardless of Crown ownership and public domain, the Government has the right to regulate and the sovereignty of Parliament is assured. That is what gives them their income.

Mr SPEAKER: The Minister was asked a question, and the question was: did he accept that the two were similar? I suggest that he might like to answer that question.

Hon PAREKURA HOROMIA: There is similarity. [Interruption]

Mr SPEAKER: The Minister has answered the question.

Hon Roger Sowry: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The question was asked twice, and then you chose to interpret what you thought the question was and guide the Minister into giving an answer. I think that is inappropriate. If the Minister did not hear the question the second time, it should be asked again. I for one disagreed with the way you translated the question to the Minister, and I do not believe for one moment that that is the job of the Speaker.

Mr SPEAKER: The member might not, but I consider it is. I have done it that way, and the Minister gave an answer.

Hon Brian Donnelly: Will the Minister confirm that the Court of Appeal ruling that has created the present dilemma was based on the Te Ture Whenua Maori Act of 1993, enacted by the then National Government?

Hon PAREKURA HOROMIA: Yes.

Metiria Turei: Does the Minister agree that Crown ownership of potential Mâori foreshore land, but not the 12,500 parcels of private land, is a Government-promoted race-based policy?

Hon PAREKURA HOROMIA: We will refine a process that ensures that all of that is taken into account.

Mr SPEAKER: I call Mr Franks. [Interruption] I want to hear Mr Franks. He is at the back of the Chamber and he has a perfect right to be heard. I wonder if the senior Government whip could make sure that her colleagues allow me to hear the question.

Stephen Franks: If there is no real difference between public domain and Crown ownership, what did the Government really say to the Rt Hon Winston Peters to persuade him to claim that the change was a justification for inflicting on us all “a treaty commission of pontificating worthies.”?

Hon Dr Michael Cullen: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Even supplementary questions have to have some authentication. Both Mr Peters and the Prime Minister stated that there is no connection between the statements on the foreshore and seabed and the statement on the Waitangi Tribunal from Mr Peters.

Mr SPEAKER: Perhaps Mr Franks might like to rephrase his question.

Gerry Brownlee: I seek leave to table a press release put out by the Prime Minister and Mr Peters—I presume it is by the two of them. Sorry, it is a New Zealand Herald story dated 1 p.m. today, but I think it will pretty much clarify that Mr Franks’ question is totally in order.

Mr SPEAKER: The member can seek leave to table that. Is there any objection? There is. I will now invite Mr Franks to restate his question.

Hon Richard Prebble: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. We have just been told, very helpfully, by Mr Brownlee that he is able to authenticate Mr Franks’ question. In that case, he should be allowed to ask it.

Mr SPEAKER: The member will be able to refer to that report in his question.

Stephen Franks: If there is no real difference between public domain and Crown ownership, what did the Government really say to persuade the Rt Hon Winston Peters to claim, as reported in the New Zealand Herald, that it was the change to allow Crown ownership that would justify inflicting on the people of this country “a treaty commission of pontificating worthies.”?

Hon Dr Michael Cullen: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. This is a different point of order. How is the Minister supposed to be responsible for remarks made by the Prime Minister to Mr Peters at a meeting that the Minister was not attending?

Hon Richard Prebble: It’s called “Cabinet solidarity”. They might have forgotten about it, but that’s what it is called.

Mr SPEAKER: It might be, but the member and I have both been in the same Cabinet. The second part of the question is out of order. The first part of the question can be asked. If the Hon Parekura Horomia would like the first part repeated, it will be, but the honourable Minister may reply.

Hon PAREKURA HOROMIA: This Government, like any responsible Government, has undertaken extensive consultation. The Rt Hon Winston Peters has been one part of that.

Hon Peter Dunne: Will the Minister confirm that the concept of Crown ownership is an essential part of ensuring that there is public domain over the foreshore and seabed?

Hon PAREKURA HOROMIA: It is one possible interpretation.

Dr Wayne Mapp: Can the Minister answer whether Mâori customary title will coexist with Crown title over all the foreshore and seabed, what rights does such a title contain, and how will that be different from the original December proposals?

Mr SPEAKER: There were three questions there. The Minister may comment on two of them.

Hon PAREKURA HOROMIA: Can I begin by saying this: customary rights are about ancestral connection. That is not too different from that great day celebrated yesterday—I think in a race-based situation—by the Irish in relation to St Patrick’s Day. Good on them! I just thought I wanted to celebrate that with them, and certainly a lot of them partook of Guinness, which I think is a traditional handout. So in summing it all up, this is about ancestral connection.

Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. It is a fact that Mr Horomia, Mr Hereora, and Mr Ririnui were all out celebrating their Irish ancestry last evening, but it could not possibly be an answer to the question asked by Dr Mapp. If we were to look at Hansard, we would find that although the Minister certainly stood up and said some things, he did not address the question, at all.

Mr SPEAKER: I listened to the Minister’s reply. I thought he was making a comparison. I thought he addressed the question, but whether it was satisfactory to the member is another issue.

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

Mr SPEAKER: I have ruled, Mr Brownlee.

Gerry Brownlee: Mr Speaker, you will see in Hansard that the Minister started his answer by saying: “First, let me say…”, which I would have thought was a reasonable indication to the House that he would give some clarification of some particular gem that might have come after that, and have given us a clue as to an answer that related to Dr Mapp’s question. But we got none of that.

Mr SPEAKER: If I ruled out people who said: “First, let me say….”, and who did not then have a second point, I would be ruling out quite frequently.

Dr Wayne Mapp: Has the Minister received any indication from other Mâori MPs within the Labour caucus as to whether they support this apparent U-turn, whereby the Government will now legislate for Crown title over the foreshore and seabed?

Hon PAREKURA HOROMIA: Unlike that member and his party, we talk a lot to each other. There has been no U-turn.

Stephen Franks: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. In view of the opacity—to say the least—of the responses, I ask you to consider whether this may be a suitable occasion for the Speaker to exercise the discretion to allow additional supplementary questions, until we can get answers.

Mr SPEAKER: As far as I am concerned, the answer to the last question was absolutely specific.

Dr Wayne Mapp: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I asked the Minister a specific question about whether there had been any indication from fellow MPs within the Labour caucus as to whether they would support Crown ownership. No answer was given, and the question was not even addressed.

Mr SPEAKER: The member did not accept that premise, and he is perfectly entitled not to accept it.

Dr Wayne Mapp: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I suggest to you that I did not put a premise. I asked a straight question, and the Minister did not answer that question, or even address it.

Mr SPEAKER: The member talked about an apparent U-turn. The Minister did not accept that there was an apparent U-turn.

Hon Dr Michael Cullen: I seek leave to table the Newztel log from Morning Report this morning, in which both Helen Clark and Winston Peters stated that the Treaty of Waitangi inquiry and the foreshore and seabed are separate issues.

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

Dr Wayne Mapp: Has the Minister received any indication from other Mâori MPs within the Labour caucus that they will vote against the proposition of Crown title over the foreshore and seabed?

Hon PAREKURA HOROMIA: At this stage, no, and that member will have to wait like everybody else for the finalisation of the policy.

Question No. 3 to Minister

PETER BROWN (Deputy Leader—NZ First): I should have raised this earlier, at the time of my question, but I did not know I had the document to hand. I seek leave to table a press release that indicates the concern of the Australian Defence Minister, Robert Hill, and Colonel Hall of Australia, about policing—.

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

Solomon Islands—Regional Assistance Mission

7. LUAMANUVAO WINNIE LABAN (Labour—Mana) to the Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade: What level of support has New Zealand provided the Regional Assistance Mission in the Solomon Islands?

Hon PHIL GOFF (Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade): New Zealand has strongly supported regional action to restore the rule of law in the Solomon Islands from the time that New Zealand and Australia jointly reported on the situation in the Solomons to the Pacific Islands Forum foreign ministers’ meeting in Sydney in June 2003. We subsequently provided 229 Defence Force personnel, four helicopters, 35 police officers, and ongoing development assistance of at least $14 million per year. This has been a significant component in the success of the mission.

Luamanuvao Winnie Laban: What has been the response to New Zealand’s contribution to the Solomon Islands?

Hon PHIL GOFF: We have had a hugely positive response from the Solomon Islands—whose Prime Minister visited us just 2 weekends ago—from Australia, and from New Zealanders as a whole. But there was one exception to this, apparently, and that was the comments made in the Australian this week by Don Brash, who badmouthed New Zealand’s efforts and supported the view that New Zealand was not pulling its weight. Challenged by the New Zealand media to repeat and elaborate on those comments, Dr Brash refused—apparently not being prepared to say to New Zealanders what he was caught out saying to Australians.

Mr SPEAKER: The last part of the Minister’s answer was out of order.

Simon Power: How does the Minister’s answer to that last question then fit with comments made by the Australian High Commissioner, Dr Allan Hawke, who said on 15 August 2003: “Our future relationship is anything but certain.”?

Hon PHIL GOFF: The address made by Dr Hawke some time ago had absolutely nothing to do with the Solomon Islands—

Simon Power: You brought up the relationship!

Hon PHIL GOFF: It had absolutely nothing to do with the Solomon Islands, and the member knows that. What I can say is that the Australian Minister for Foreign Affairs, Alexander Downer, has praised New Zealand’s contribution as being essential to the success of the mission in the Solomon Islands—which is quite different to what Dr Brash said. What an irony that the Australian Foreign Minister praises what we do, and the leader of the National Opposition condemns it.

Keith Locke: Could the Minister explain a little how our military and civilian contribution to the Solomons is helping the Solomon Islands people to restore their basic social services and to address the underlying problems in that country?

Hon PHIL GOFF: The critical thing that needed to be done in the Solomon Islands was to restore the rule of law. The New Zealand Police, backed by the New Zealand military and working with the Australians and many other Pacific Islands Forum countries, have been successful in arresting over 940 people, laying 1,630 charges, and confiscating and destroying 3,700-plus weapons. The restoration of stability has also led to the lifting of the travel advisory from New Zealand, so tourism can get back under way. The assistance being given on the economic front will hopefully put that country back on its feet and give the people of the Solomon Islands a chance to get on with their lives for the first time in many years.

Mâori Youth Contestable Fund—Recidivist Offending

8. Hon TONY RYALL (National—Bay of Plenty) to the Associate Minister for Social Development and Employment (CYF): Does the Provider Information for the Mâori Youth Contestable Fund, dated 14 September 2001, list the first primary outcome expected from Whânau Service Plans as “Reduced re-offending by young Mâori who attend the programme;”?

Hon RUTH DYSON (Associate Minister for Social Development and Employment (CYF)): Yes.

Hon Tony Ryall: Why did she answer emphatically “No.” to my question yesterday, giving the clear impression that no such computer was purchased for that young offender?

Hon RUTH DYSON: The computer was purchased to help the girl to learn and to contribute to improving her personal situation, not as a “‘carrot’ for not reoffending.” It was not provided at the cost, or in the circumstances, reported. My response was accurate.

Georgina Beyer: Why does the Department of Child, Youth and Family Services provide funding for young offenders to buy such things as computers?

Hon RUTH DYSON: As part of an individual plan, the Department of Child, Youth and Family Services may provide equipment for young people who have offended, in order to support their learning opportunities and thereby to improve their chances of moving into further education or employment. That may occur for young people in residential care, in family homes, or, in this case, in the Mâori Youth Contestable Fund programme.

Ron Mark: Does the Minister stand by her comments in the New Zealand Herald that “She didn’t get the computer as a carrot to stop reoffending. The purpose of the fund is to provide rehabilitation services … so they get all sorts of things.”; if she does, can she tell the House, firstly, whether she believes that the editor of Police News, Mr Steve Plowman, who wrote the article is less informed on police issues than she is, secondly, the numbers of other teenage offenders who have likewise been given computers, thirdly, how many of those computer recipients have likewise continued to offend, and fourthly, what sort of other goodies they receive as part of the “all sorts of other things” package?

Mr SPEAKER: There were five questions there. The Minister may comment on two of them.

Hon RUTH DYSON: I do not pretend to be more informed about police matters than the editor of Police News, nor have I claimed to be. But I can confirm to the member that the computer, which cost $1,200, was purchased to help the girl learn and to contribute to her personal situation, not as a carrot for not reoffending. Therefore, my response was accurate.

Hon Tony Ryall: Now that the Minister has admitted that that young offender received a computer, why did she give the House the clear impression on two occasions yesterday that the offender did not receive a computer?

Hon RUTH DYSON: I answered the question yesterday accurately, as I have just reassured the House again today.

Hon Tony Ryall: Since her excuse was that the computer was not—

Mr SPEAKER: Would the member start his question with an interrogative word?

Hon Tony Ryall: How does the Minister explain her excuse to the New Zealand Herald that the computer was not offered as an incentive to stop reoffending, after her confirmation to the House this afternoon that the primary objective of the fund is to reduce reoffending by young Mâori who attend the programme?

Hon RUTH DYSON: I answered for the New Zealand Herald a competent question from a competent journalist—unlike the question that that member asked yesterday.

Mr SPEAKER: No, no. I want the Minister to address the question that the member asked. She can comment on it in her own way, but she must address it.

Hon RUTH DYSON: As I have explained to the House, I answered the question accurately yesterday. The computer was not bought for the price or in the circumstances outlined in the report—which was directly referred to in that member’s question yesterday.

Hon Richard Prebble: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I raise it under Speakers’ rulings 145/1, 145/2, and, indeed, about three other rulings on the matter. The first ruling is one of your own, where you state: “The House and public opinion arbitrate on the quality of an answer to a question. It is not the Speaker’s role.” That is so, but you have another ruling, the next one, part of which states: “It is incumbent on Ministers to treat questions in a manner that is consistent with their constitutional responsibilities.” We are in a situation where the Minister did not have to say “Yes” or “No”. She actually said “No” in a way that any person would have interpreted as meaning that a computer had not been supplied. I suggest to you that I am concerned about Speaker’s ruling 145/1 as it is at the moment, and I believe that you ought to add to that ruling of yours. Yes, it is a matter for the public to arbitrate on whether the Minister was misleading us, but I think you should also say that Ministers ought not to deliberately give answers that mislead the House. I am not saying that it was a breach of privilege, but we have a situation where the Minister clearly gave an answer that misled the House. In fact, if the New Zealand Herald had itself not asked some questions, and if we had not read in the newspaper that when the Minister said “No” she actually meant “Yes”, the whole House would have thought that that young lady had not received a computer from the prison service.

Mr SPEAKER: I thank the member for his point of order. I will have a look at the issue, as he has asked me to do.

Floods—Government Assistance

9. JILL PETTIS (Labour—Whanganui) to the Minister for Rural Affairs: What reports has he received on the response from flood-affected people to the Government’s package?

Hon JIM SUTTON (Minister for Rural Affairs): The Government’s offer has been well received by farmers and crop growers who told National Radio that it was more than they expected, and that it reflected the Government’s recognition of the importance of agriculture to the New Zealand economy. Federated Farmers’ vice-president Charlie Pederson says: “It’s basically a 10 out of 10 for the Government. The package is timely, it’s comprehensive, and it’s going to target all people affected.”

Jill Pettis: Has the Government placed limits on how much each farmer can receive?

Hon JIM SUTTON: No. The Government is offering 75 percent of essential on-farm infrastructure reinstatement costs, and 90 percent of crop re-establishment costs, minus a $10,000 threshold, without any cap. This is about giving people a helping hand to get back in business. The effect of capping individual entitlements would have been that those who had suffered the highest levels of damage would have received a lower percentage of assistance.

Simon Power: Is the Government contribution of a dollar for every community dollar raised, which was announced 2 weeks ago, to go directly to those community organisations such as the Red Cross, or will that money go to regional relief funds?

Hon JIM SUTTON: My understanding, and this is not directly within my portfolio, is that this will go to the Manawatu-Rangitikei community fund, which is a sort of clearing house for many of these fundraising efforts.

R Doug Woolerton: Can the Minister tell us what specific procedures have been established to ensure that individuals receive compensation promptly?

Hon JIM SUTTON: The process for distributing this assistance will be as efficient as we can make it. There will, of course, be a form that people have to fill out, and there will be an examination of the application submitted. That examination will be conducted by local committees of farmers and foresters chaired by the regional recovery facilitators who are already in place. Operational details will still have to be worked out, but it will be the intention of the Government and, I am sure, the local committees to keep the process as simple and speedy as possible.

Ian Ewen-Street: Has the Government allocated money for the reforestation of the headwaters of river catchments in order to contribute to the long-term flood mitigation in the affected areas; if not, why not?

Hon JIM SUTTON: The answer to that is no. The objective of this package is to restore farms to production as quickly as possible for the benefit of the regional and national economy. There is, no doubt, a case to be made that some of the country that has been subject to severe slipping damage in the headwaters of these rivers might be afforested to advantage, but that is a matter that we have yet to address.

Hon Peter Dunne: With regard to the dollar for dollar subsidy, when will the Government be releasing the list of organisations to which that applies that was promised a few days ago?

Hon JIM SUTTON: I do not know the answer to that question.

Monte Cassino 60th Anniversary Commemorations—Veterans

10. SIMON POWER (National—Rangitikei) to the Minister of Veterans' Affairs: How many places have been allocated to veterans within the New Zealand delegation travelling to Italy for the Monte Cassino 60th Anniversary commemorations in May this year?

Hon GEORGE HAWKINS (Minister of Veterans' Affairs): I am advised that two groups will travel as part of the New Zealand delegation. One group will make its way independently, with considerable Government funding. This number already exceeds the number that went to Monte Cassino in 1994. Another group will travel on an RNZAF aircraft. Once all applications for this are received, numbers of veterans travelling to Monte Cassino in this way can begin to be finalised.

Simon Power: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The question asked specifically “within the New Zealand delegation”. The Minister should be able to give us an indication as to how many are flying on the Air Force plane heading for Italy.

Mr SPEAKER: The Minister, I thought, said he had not finalised the detail of that. That is a perfectly acceptable addressing of the question. The member can have a supplementary question.

Simon Power: How many non-veterans will be travelling to Monte Cassino in May with the official New Zealand delegation, and which organisations or Government departments do they represent?

Hon GEORGE HAWKINS: A number of groups will travel, including young people who won an essay competition, young cadets from the cadet forces, a Mâori cultural group, a guard of honour group, medical and support staff, media, and others. When all those numbers are finished we will be able to give members some direct answers.

Dianne Yates: What steps is the Government taking to ensure that as many veterans as possible are able to travel to the Monte Cassino commemorations?

Hon GEORGE HAWKINS: I am advised that special funding is being made available to all Monte Cassino veterans wishing to travel independently to the commemorations. Another group will travel on military aircraft. The Government is aware the trip will be emotionally and physically demanding on the veterans, who are mainly in their 80s and 90s. Consequently, a medical team will form part of the delegation, and veterans travelling on the RNZAF aircraft will be required to meet strict medical criteria.

Bill Gudgeon: Is the Minister aware that on 23 June 2003 and 12 August 2003 the Prime Minister received correspondence from the New Zealand First spokesperson on defence, Mr Ron Mark, that the whole issue of the commemoration concerning veterans involved in the Battle of Cassino be looked into, and that this Government take as many veterans as possible?

Hon GEORGE HAWKINS: Yes. I have a copy of that letter. It is the Government’s intention to make sure that as many veterans as possible can attend the commemorations.

Stephen Franks: What could demonstrate more dramatically how the Government sees battle commemorations generally and the value it places on old servicemen and servicewomen than today’s uncertainty contrasted with 10 years ago, when I went to Monte Cassino to join 100 veterans—including my father—and I saw an honoured delegation focused around them, putting those old soldiers first, instead of the Prime Minister’s photographers?

Hon GEORGE HAWKINS: This Government is making sure as many of the veterans who can travel do travel. Those who want to go will go—

Judith Collins: Shame on you!

Hon GEORGE HAWKINS:—instead of the member over on the other side making little snide remarks.

Simon Power: Will the ballot to be drawn on Monday allow all able-bodied and medically cleared veterans to go to Monte Cassino—especially following the Holmes poll last night showing 95 percent of callers believed every veteran who is able should go to the commemorations?

Hon GEORGE HAWKINS: The ballot does not take place next Monday. However, I will say we are going to take as many people as we can. This Government sees this as the last opportunity for many of those people, and we will try to take as many as we can who are medically fit and who will not suffer because of the arduous nature of the trip. We will try to get them there.

Exporters—Government Assistance

11. GORDON COPELAND (United Future) to the Minister of Finance: What specific measures, if any, is the Government proposing to assist the export sector?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Minister of Finance): In addition to providing a supportive business environment with measures such as one of the lowest tax wedges in the OECD, this year’s Budget will provide a pragmatic World Trade Organization - compliant approach to business assistance, with increased support for exporters. Obviously, the member will have to await the Budget on 27 May for the details.

Gordon Copeland: Can he inform the House whether the Government would be prepared to resolve the border security dispute with the Travel Industry Coalition in its favour, given the record January trade deficit—the highest since 1986—and the perilous state of our export industries?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: On the border security issue, only 40 percent of the proposed charge is paid by exporters. The remainder is paid by importers, who are the reverse side of the trade balance that the member refers to, and by re-exporters. The travel industry itself is probably the most subsidised single sector of the New Zealand economy.

Gordon Copeland: Can the Minister provide details of any Government initiative over the last 12 months that has truly helped the ailing export sector?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Far be it from me to dwell upon the present, but the potential re-entry into managing the exchange rate is certainly designed to be of some assistance to the exporting sector.

Gordon Copeland: Has the Minister considered the idea of accelerated depreciation allowances for tax purposes on all plant and machinery used principally to produce exports, as one way of alleviating the export crisis?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: At present, of course, we already have accelerated depreciation, unlike Australia, which does not have accelerated depreciation. The Government has undertaken a lot of work on depreciation itself, which is more complicated than just changing the acceleration rate.

Iraq—Troop Withdrawals

12. KEITH LOCKE (Green) to the Prime Minister: Will New Zealand follow the lead of the new Spanish Prime Minister, Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, and commit to withdraw our soldiers from Iraq if the United Nations does not take control by 30 June?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Leader of the House), on behalf of the Prime Minister: No.

Keith Locke: Does the Prime Minister agree with the Spanish Prime Minister that the occupation of Iraq has been “disastrous” and “Mr Blair and Mr Bush must do some reflection and self-criticism. … you can’t organise a war on lies.”?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I think self-criticism is a useful exercise for all politicians, and I recommend it to the member.

Keith Locke: Given the Prime Minister’s strong commitment about a UN role during the lead-up to the Iraq war, what will she be doing alongside the Spanish Prime Minister to end the US-led occupation of Iraq and put the UN in charge of facilitating a return to democracy in that country?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: The Government will support any move by the United Nations that will see a smooth transition to Iraqi control of its own administration. In the meantime, our engineers will continue their work repairing hospitals, health clinics, schools, police stations, law courts, municipal and Government buildings, restoring electricity, and rebuilding bridges and water pipelines, as part of creating a more independent and viable Iraq.

Keith Locke: Besides doing the reconstruction work just referred to, why are New Zealand Army engineers helping to repair the rigid radar and combat support boats of the British, as disclosed in our journal Navy Today, when these boats are commonly being used by the British occupation forces for patrol work, and only to a lesser extent to help in reconstruction?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: If they are being used in patrol work, it may well be that that is consistent with the Government’s own commitment to Operation Enduring Freedom.

End of Questions for Oral Answer
(uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing)

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