Questions & Answers for Oral Answer 30 March 2004
Tuesday, 30 March 2004
Questions for Oral Answer
1 Environment, Minister—Confidence
2 Auckland Transport Package—Reports
3 Spring Hill Prison, Waikato—Iwi Consultations
4 Employment Relations Law Reform Bill—Amendments
5 Security—Residency and Citizenship Legislation
6 Social Development and Employment and Women's Affairs, Ministers—Confidence
8 Accident Compensation Corporation—Ethical and Legal Practices
9 Energy—Project Aqua Cancellation
10 Unemployment Benefit—Trends
11 Family Court—Openness
12 Male Students—Underachievement
Questions for Oral Answer
Questions to Ministers
1. Dr DON BRASH (Leader of the Opposition) to the Prime Minister: Does she have confidence in the Minister for the Environment; if so, why?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK (Prime Minister): Yes, because she is a hardworking and conscientious Minister.
Dr Don Brash: How can she maintain confidence in the Minister, when in 2000 she rejected any substantial reform of the Resource Management Act and ditched National’s bill to reform the Act, saying that it was: “beautifully written and beautifully crafted”, and when we have now seen that very same Act force Meridian Energy to pull the plug on its planned 570-megawatt Project Aqua, a move that could ultimately plunge the country into another power crisis?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I note that Meridian Energy gave a whole raft of reasons for why it decided not to proceed with the application, and did not single out the Resource Management Act as an overriding contributor to that decision. What has confused me is not being able to discern, from a variety of conflicting statements from the National Party, whether it wanted the process rushed or not.
Jim Peters: Is the Prime Minister aware that the Canterbury Regional Council, the operative regional body, had no existent water plan, and that the reviewed bill before the House that deals with the Waitaki catchment provides for, and is, an equitable outcome framework plan?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: Yes. I agree entirely with what the member has said. There was no water allocation plan existent in the Canterbury region, and the Government certainly felt, with the support of a number of other parties in the House, that it was important that there was such a plan before there was further progress with decision making.
Jeanette Fitzsimons: If the Resource Management Act was the problem for Meridian, can the Prime Minister explain why Meridian would have developed Project Aqua, given that the Resource Management Act had been in place for many years before Aqua emerged; and was it not, rather, that the amendment bill closed an existing loophole by requiring a proper minimum flow regime to be set for the river before Aqua consents were considered, and that that was the reason Meridian withdrew?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: Certainly Meridian would be very familiar with the Resource Management Act. What the Government took into account, though, was that there did need to be a proper water allocation plan before a whole raft of applications could be considered, and it has to be remembered that not only was Meridian desirous of using water but so, also, were many farmers, for irrigation purposes.
Hon Richard Prebble: Is the reality not that, after 4 years of a Labour Government and, as she puts it, “a whole raft” of reasons, the country now faces power shortages, and why should we not hold her Minister and herself accountable?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: Far from it. Project Aqua was not due to come on stream, had it succeeded, until 2009-12. Its early notice now gives plenty of time for other generators to come up with the extra capacity needed.
Gordon Copeland: Has the Prime Minister had any recent discussions with the Minister for the Environment regarding proposals to streamline the Resource Management Act to assist with future projects of national significance; if so, what was the outcome of those discussions?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: Virtually before the ink is dry on any resource management amendment bill going through this House, the Government, the Minister for the Environment, and other Ministers start looking at what other changes might be desirable, and that process has been going on for some time.
Dr Don Brash: Will the Prime Minister now be recommending to the Minister for the Environment the need for substantial reform of the Resource Management Act, including concepts like direct referral to the Environment Court, limiting objectors to only those actually affected by projects, and abolishing legal aid for objectors—a feature introduced by Labour in 2000—if not, will she take responsibility for the increased power prices, increased blackouts, and increased traffic congestion that this failure to act decisively will cause?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: The early notice given by Meridian of its change of plans enables both it and other generators to get on with ensuring that the necessary capacity is put in place. It is worth mentioning, also, that the Government has set up the Electricity Commission to ensure that there is security of supply for the future. I also entirely agree with Dr Brash when he said in Timaru recently: “It is important to ensure that the law respects those affected by Meridian’s actions.” I assume he meant by that that he agreed with Dr Nick Smith that there should be a robust process and that “a rushed decision would be a poor decision.”
Hon Ken Shirley: Why does the Prime Minister continue to express support for the Minister for the Environment, when she failed to implement the 10 recommended streamlining changes to the Resource Management Act developed by Simon Upton, given that the business community of New Zealand last week identified the Resource Management Act as the biggest obstacle to development in this country, and given that it is a prime reason for Meridian’s pulling out of Project Aqua?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: As the member knows, it is not the prime reason. I certainly never expressed confidence in Mr Upton, and the incoming Labour Government in 1999 expressly said there were changes that would have to be made to his draft bill.
Jeanette Fitzsimons: Will the Prime Minister give an assurance to the House that her Government will not introduce any legislation to further weaken environmental protection and public participation under the Resource Management Act?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: In issues of resource allocation and planning law the question is to get the balance right, and Parliament from time to time will want to address whether the balance is right in the law as it is being interpreted at the present time.
Dr Don Brash: Is the Prime Minister confident that under the current Minister for the Environment, Transpower will be able to get the resource consents necessary to upgrade the electricity grid around the entire country and gain the consents at reasonable cost, given that the Resource Management Act scuppered Project Aqua and that the consent process was reportedly costing Meridian Energy $4 million per month?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: It would be downright silly for me to prejudge the outcome of any planning application. What I do agree with is Dr Brash’s comment that the real issue is to ensure the decision-making process for Project Aqua was robust in ensuring the law was appropriate.
Auckland Transport Package—Reports
2. CLAYTON COSGROVE (Labour—Waimakariri) to the Minister of Finance: Has the Government made any announcements in respect of the financial implications of the Auckland transport package; if so, what were they?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Minister of Finance): Today’s announcement confirms the main elements of the package announced in December: additional Crown funding amounting to $1.62 billion over 10 years from 1 April next year, changes to governance, including a new single transport entity, and changes to key planning documents. Details announced today also set up a clear pathway to improved transport outcomes in Auckland. A bill giving effect to those changes has been tabled, and is supported by both the Greens and United Future.
Clayton Cosgrove: Will the Auckland package have financial implications for the rest of the country?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Yes. For Auckland, the transport package means an additional $1.62 billion over 10 years for investment in transport initiatives, made up of $720 million from increases in road-user charges and excise duty, and a further contribution of $900 million from the Crown. For the rest of New Zealand there will be an additional $1.35 billion over 10 years, from increases in road-user charges and petrol excise duty, for devotion to road transport issues.
John Key: Why did the Minister not reveal in the December transport package the decision to increase petrol excise duty each and every year by the rate of inflation; and can he confirm that this latest “stealth” tax will cost the average Kiwi motorist half a cent per litre?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: The answer is that the release in December was structured very much around Auckland and on the initial moves around Auckland. In fact, there was an oversight in that regard. The matter had been discussed with other parties, who supported the measure. Indexation is necessary, because otherwise the excise duty will lose real value, year by year, in terms of roading. All the additional amounts will go into road transport, because only the portion—
John Key: There won’t be any additional amounts.
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: If the member would be quiet, he may learn something. Only the portion of the excise duty that goes on road transport will be indexed, not the portion that goes into the Crown account. If the member wants to have more roads, he has to learn to pay for them—that is the way life works in New Zealand.
Keith Locke: Can the Minister confirm that the joint officials group on Auckland transport showed that investment in public transport and demand management were critical to fixing Auckland’s congestion problems?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: It is clear that public transport and demand management will play a very significant role in the management of Auckland’s transport problems, but, given the nature of the shape of the city and the nature of traffic flows within it—which are not simply flows from the perimeter into the centre—it is also important there are major improvements in roading in Auckland.
Hon Peter Dunne: Will the Minister confirm that a critical part of this package is the introduction of a diversion of the petrol excise duty into direct roading costs over the next 10 years—which will be the most significant diversion to occur in the history of the country?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Yes. All the 5c-a-litre increase announced for next year will go into road transport, and the indexation only applies to the amount that goes into road transport. So progressively over time the proportion of the total excise duty going into road transport will rise, as it has already done under this Government.
Spring Hill Prison, Waikato—Iwi Consultations
3. RODNEY HIDE (ACT) to the Minister of Corrections: Who is conducting the inquiry to produce the report he has commissioned into how the Department of Corrections spent $1.3 million on iwi consultation for the proposed Spring Hill prison, and what are the inquirer’s terms of reference?
Hon PAUL SWAIN (Minister of Corrections): Inquiry is not the right term, and I have never used that word in this House in relation to this matter. I have asked the chief executive to report to me on, among other things, the consultation costs of Spring Hill, Otago, Northland, and South Auckland women’s prison. I have also asked about proposed consultation commitments in the future.
Rodney Hide: Will the Minister of Corrections ask the Auditor-General to investigate, given that the lands trust chief executive officer, Mr David Gray, wrote to the board on 7 June 2002 stating that the only interest in the Department of Corrections contract being protected were the interests of former staff member and Department of Corrections employee Haydn Solomon and a couple of his mates; if not, why not?
Hon PAUL SWAIN: No. The letter that the member refers to talks about a whole wide range of issues with that person’s employment, not just about the Department of Corrections. The correct place to have this sorted out, and to see whether the consultation process was fit and proper, is at the Environment Court, which meets in May.
Rodney Hide: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. To clarify for the Minister, I never mentioned anything about the letter. This is a memo that David Gray wrote on 7 June.
Mr SPEAKER: That is not a point of order. The Minister certainly gave a direct answer to the member’s question.
Martin Gallagher: Can the Minister spell out to this House why he believes that comprehensive community consultation is critically important in the development of any new prisons?
Hon PAUL SWAIN: For a start, consultation is mandatory under the Resource Management Act. Beyond that, I think it is important with a project of this size, which has significant impacts on landscape, water, sewerage, traffic, and so on, that the wider community—be it Mâori or non-Mâori—has the opportunity to have a say. The Environment Court hearing in May will be the big test of whether the consultation process has been robust.
Hon Tony Ryall: How does the Minister explain that Mr Haydn Solomon, a former Department of Corrections staff member, is also listed on the schedule of those individuals who received substantial public moneys acting as consultants on this project?
Hon PAUL SWAIN: I am advised that at the first part of the consultation process, before any contracts had been entered into, a number of people, including that man, were employed as Department of Corrections staff in order to get the consultation going. Once the contracts for consultation were entered into he stopped being a Department of Corrections employee and, as I understood, took up a position as part of the contract.
Jim Peters: Why has there not been extensive inquiries made by your ministry, the Department of Corrections, into the extensive cost of consultation at Ngawha, and particularly in regard to the fact that there was an alternative prison site available for much less at Maromaku?
Mr SPEAKER: The Minister can reply to everything except anything that refers to me.
Hon PAUL SWAIN: There was considerable investigation into which was the appropriate site in the north, and that member could well know that. The reality is that there has been a lot of consultation going on here. I do want to say this about the involvement of Mâori: Mâori have been prepared as a community to work in partnership with the Department of Corrections to make sure that Mâori—and Mâori make up 50 percent of our prison population—are able to be reintegrated back into the community. They are showing superb leadership in this and I am hoping that other parts of the community will follow their lead.
Ron Mark: If the Minister places so much importance on the consultation process with iwi, why has no one to date from either the Government or the Department of Corrections consulted iwi about the ending of the private contract for the management of the Auckland Central Remand Prison, or is it simply because he does not want to hear what they have to say because it is totally at odds with what he and his Government want to do?
Mr SPEAKER: This question was originally about Spring Hill prison. It is quite wide but if the Minister wants to make a brief comment he can.
Hon PAUL SWAIN: Because it is Labour Party policy.
Rodney Hide: Does he now accept that his own department took advantage of this trust board, which was in disarray, to pay Haydn Solomon and a few chosen Mâori to provide a report to the Department of Corrections that said, on behalf of 35,000 Tainui: “Sure, put the prison in our backyard.”; if not, why not?
Hon PAUL SWAIN: No, because it is not true. The point is that at the Environment Court I understand there are only four objectives. One marae, out of over 130, has put in an objection. The Environment Court is the one that should work out whether those objections in the consultation process have been correct.
Employment Relations Law Reform Bill—Amendments
4. Hon ROGER SOWRY (National) to the Minister of Labour: Is the Government currently considering any changes to the Employment Relations Law Reform Bill; if so, what are the details of those changes?
Hon PAUL SWAIN (Minister of Labour): The Employment Relations Law Reform Bill is currently before the Transport and Industrial Relations Committee. I will consider any changes the committee recommends in due course. In the meantime I am meeting with employer and employee representatives to discuss the issues arising from the bill.
Hon Roger Sowry: What changes to the Employment Relations Law Reform Bill was his colleague the Minister for Small Business, the Hon John Tamihere, referring to when he told the National Business Review last week: “… we’ll see what Swainey and the boys can get up to now the girl’s out of the way for a little while … when ERA Bill gets reported back.”; and has he had any discussions with the Prime Minister, the Minister for Small Business, Mr Tamihere, and the previous Minister of Labour, Margaret Wilson, regarding those comments?
Mr SPEAKER: The second part of the question is in order. The first part relates to what another Minister might have done, but the member may comment.
Hon Roger Sowry: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The question was very carefully worded, and I am happy to repeat the wording for you.
Mr SPEAKER: Did the member say “reports”?
Hon Roger Sowry: I asked what changes he thought the Minister for Small Business, Mr Tamihere, was referring to when he said in the National Business Review: “… we’ll see what Swainey”—which I presume is the Minister—“and the boys can get up to now the girl’s out of the way for a little while”—
Mr SPEAKER: I will allow the Minister to answer the question.
Hon PAUL SWAIN: Yes, I have seen the comments from the Minister for Small Business. I can advise that some of the first changes that “Swainey and the boys and the girls” may well be looking at are the provisions relating to vulnerable workers, given that the Minister for Small Business’s name may well be added to the schedule, following his comments last week.
Peter Brown: Is the Minister aware that Lianne Dalziel implied to submitters in Christchurch last week that clauses that the Council of Trade Unions objected to are likely to be withdrawn; couple that with the Hon John Tamihere’s remarks, why does the Minister not pull the bill now and put the whole thing to rest?
Hon PAUL SWAIN: I am not aware of those comments, because I, clearly, was not at the meeting. I am waiting to hear the report from the select committee, which I understand is due to report back in June.
Sue Bradford: Will the Minister consider changes to the bill that take into account the recommendations of the employment equity taskforce, once it reports back, and when is that report-back due?
Hon PAUL SWAIN: I assume that is another matter that will be considered by the select committee, and I will look at its recommendations in due course.
Deborah Coddington: Does the Minister think it is appropriate to refer to the previous Minister of Labour as a girl, or is it now Labour Party policy to refer to all women in derogatory terms?
Mr SPEAKER: The Minister is not responsible for that.
Hon Roger Sowry: Is the Minister prepared to guarantee now that there will at least be major, substantive changes to the Employment Relations Law Reform Bill, or its total withdrawal, in light of statements made by his colleague the Hon John Tamihere about the Government being “all ears” on the bill, and about “the overwhelming weight of displeasure being displayed with the bill” by submitters to the select committee?
Hon PAUL SWAIN: No. Firstly, the bill will not be withdrawn, but I sat on select committees for 9 years, and I do not recall one single bill coming back to this House without some form of change.
Hon Roger Sowry: Will the Minister be asking the Ministry of Economic Development to release the reports it produced on the Employment Relations Law Reform Bill, given the statement made by his colleague the Hon John Tamihere that “When the OIAs come through, you’ll see a whole range of issues that were on the table.”; if not, why not?
Hon PAUL SWAIN: I presume that when Official Information Act requests come through they will be released according to the Act.
Hon Roger Sowry: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The question actually asked whether the Minister would seek the release of those reports, because those Official Information Act requests have come through—well outside the time frame, now—and we are told that the Minister is the person who is holding them up.
Hon PAUL SWAIN: Speaking to the point of order, I am happy to look into the matter on behalf of the member, but I do not recall that. If Official Information Act requests are done according to the provisions of the Act, then the release has to meet the provisions of the Act.
Mr SPEAKER: That seems to clear up the matter for the member.
Security—Residency and Citizenship Legislation
5. Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS (Leader—NZ First) to the Prime Minister: Can she give any assurances, given that citizenship and passport laws are currently being reviewed, that permanent and temporary residency laws will also be reviewed consistent with concerns over national security; if so, why?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK (Prime Minister): The Immigration Act and policy have safeguards that provide for the decline of residence or temporary entry permits where there are character or security issues. The Act also provides for the revocation of permits if character and security issues emerge after the person is already in New Zealand, which the New Zealand Immigration Service was not previously aware of. The Government does not presently have these aspects of the law and policy under review.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Why would anyone have confidence in what the Government is doing, or proposes to do, when we have here a man called Zaoui, who, in the criminal chamber of the High Court of France—far superior to any authority that has been heard in this country—was, firstly, convicted of being accomplice to the falsification of administrative documents; secondly, possession of stolen goods; and, thirdly, participation in an association of criminals with intent to prepare a terrorist act; and if that is the case, and having regard to the article 1F(b) of the 1951 UN convention, what on earth is this man doing in our country?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: The member could also have added to that list the fact that the Swiss Government felt sufficiently strongly about Mr Zaoui’s presence to deport him to Burkino Faso, having, I understand, chartered a plane to do so. The facts around Mr Zaoui are quite well known. He was detained when he arrived in New Zealand, and he is still detained. A security risk certificate was issued against him, and it would be rather nice if the inspector-general was able to be in a position to get on with the review so that decisions can be made.
Dr Wayne Mapp: Will the Prime Minister be ensuring that the Minister of Internal Affairs briefs the National Opposition, as he has been requested, given the importance of this legislation in the war against terrorism and the need for a bipartisan approach on such matters?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I am sure that the Minister would be happy to brief the member and other interested members in due course. The matter is still being discussed within the Government, but it would seem certain to me that some changes will need to be made to legislation. Changes are being considered not only for issues around national security but also, I think, around last year’s publicity about people deliberately targeting New Zealand as a place to come on temporary visas to have babies and get them citizenship, which also raises questions of whether that sort of behaviour should be targeted in our law.
Keith Locke: Why in the legislation just referred to, will it be possible for a passport to be taken away from a New Zealand citizen on national security grounds even when that New Zealand citizen does not have a criminal record and no charges are being offered against that person?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: There are grounds in the law now for revoking passports, and the issue the Government is considering is whether those grounds need to be widened. I might point out that in Australia there is a provision for the refusal and cancellation of passports where the Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade is satisfied that the person might prejudice the security of Australia. Similarly in the United Kingdom, the Secretary of State can exercise his discretion on grounds of national security as to whether someone is entitled to have a passport. I also point out that the European Convention on Human Rights recognises national security as a ground for restricting the rights to freedom of movement.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Why would we have any confidence in what is about to be done by Government, when the fourteenth chamber of the Court of Appeal in Brussels—again, a far superior court to any that has heard any case in New Zealand—found that this man was guilty of being the head of a criminal association, possessed two blank passports and a Danish passport, all falsely, and convicted him; and when the article in respect of the 1951 convention, for Mr Robson’s sake, clearly states that where a refugee claimant has committed a serious crime outside the country of refuge before being granted refugee status, then he should not be entitled to refugee status? Why is this man still in our country and costing us hundreds of thousands of dollars?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: The member is correct in asserting that the decision by the Refugee Status Appeals Authority to regard Mr Zaoui as a refugee is not in itself grounds for him remaining in New Zealand. That decision must be judged alongside a decision yet to be made by the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security—because he cannot get to make that decision with all the litigation—as to whether the security risk certificate should be upheld.
Keith Locke: I seek leave to table the 213-page report of the Refugee Status Appeals Authority, which answers all the points that Mr Peters has just raised.
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought for that purpose. Is there any objection? There is.
Social Development and Employment and Women's Affairs, Ministers—Confidence
6. SIMON POWER (National—Rangitikei) to the Prime Minister: Does she have confidence in the Minister of Women’s Affairs and Acting Minister for Social Development and Employment; if so, why?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK (Prime Minister): Yes, because she is a hard-working and conscientious Minister.
Simon Power: Is it acceptable for the Minister of Women’s Affairs to call another woman “an irresponsible tart”, and what confidence should the New Zealand public have in a Minister who makes what the Prime Minister herself has termed “gratuitous and silly comments”?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: The word “irresponsible” was acceptable. The word “tart” was not, just as it was wrong when National Party bosses were reported as using that word about me at a party conference 2 years ago.
Dr Muriel Newman: If it is not acceptable for a Minister to call a member of Parliament a tart, is it acceptable that a situation has now arisen whereby, because the Minister’s comments have been broadcast so widely, she has brought not only all Ministers of the Crown into disrepute, but all parliamentarians as well; and does the Prime Minister not believe that the only honourable course of action for the Minister to take is for her now to apologise to this Parliament for the embarrassment and offence her comments have caused?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I understand that the Minister has sent a letter to the select committee, and she has repeated in that her apology personally to the member. Needless to say, I did not get such a letter from the National Party 2 years ago.
Simon Power: How can she have confidence in a Minister of Women’s Affairs who falsely accused another member of using the word “scrubber” to describe women, but was quite happy to use the word “tart” to describe women?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: The use of silly and inappropriate words by members of Parliament would not be restricted to just those two. Unfortunately, it is quite a regular occurrence, and I imagine will be as long as we have a democracy in a Parliament in this country.
7. BERNIE OGILVY (United Future) to the Minister of Education: Is he satisfied that schools receive sufficient funding; if so, why?
Hon TREVOR MALLARD (Minister of Education): Never.
Bernie Ogilvy: Is he satisfied that the total operating deficit of schools that are in the red has increased by over 50 percent, from $21 million in 1998 to $33 million in 2002, covering a massive 40 percent of all our schools, and that the average debt per school has increased from $24,000 to $32,000 over that same period; if he is not, why not?
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: I think that the member will find that those numbers are relatively small differences in large amounts. Many schools now have an operating turnover of over a million dollars, and, frankly, being $5,000 over or under does not make much difference.
Lynne Pillay: What additional support have schools received since 1999?
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: Quite a lot. There has been about $193 million, or 28 percent, more operational funding in schools in 2004, compared with 1999. Taking into account roll growth and inflation, the increase in that figure in real terms per pupil is 10.1 percent. There has been other funding such as an extra $57 million for laptops for teachers, $128 million a year for teachers over and above roll growth, $43 million in targeted literacy programmes this year alone, $87 million extra in teacher professional development, and in the coming financial year tens of millions of dollars for high-speed Internet access through Project Probe. This Government has been putting an enormous amount of extra funding into education, to the extent where the “member for Dipton” says that some schools are awash with cash.
Hon Bill English: Why did the Minister do a deal with the Post Primary Teachers Association to increase non-contact time for teachers but refuse to pay salaries for the teachers needed to fill the gaps, with the effect that many secondary schools are starting late 1 day a week, finishing early 1 day a week, illegally taking an extra day in mid-term break, and increasing class sizes significantly in order to cover the gap that he has left?
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: The Government has put approximately a thousand extra teachers into secondary schools in order for them to focus on contact time, amongst a number of other issues. Some schools have chosen to run down their class sizes; some schools have chosen to have higher class sizes—
Hon Bill English: Increase it, not cut it.
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: No, some have chosen to run down their class sizes—to decrease their class sizes—and to offer fewer options. That is a call for the schools to make; it always has been.
Hon Brian Donnelly: Will the Minister confirm that in the Government’s response to the Education and Science Committee report on decile funding, it is stated: “Links between any resources and educational outcomes are difficult to identify and measure.”, and that it is therefore really not possible to claim, one way or the other, whether schools are receiving sufficient funding?
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: I would not rely entirely on that response, but I notice the Minister of Finance is nodding.
Bernie Ogilvy: What does the Minister expect the total deficit for schools in 2003 to be, noting there has been a downturn in foreign student numbers and, as he has pointed out, an increase, for instance, in the cost of information technology upgrades and in support staff salaries, which, together, will put further pressure on the financial position of schools?
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: I want to indicate that I am never satisfied with the amount of funding, and that I will keep on working to get more and more funding, because I do believe it is appropriate that we, wherever possible, better resource our schools. But I think the member has to be a little careful with his facts. In 2003 the number of foreign fee-paying students in State secondary schools went up significantly, compared with 2002.
Accident Compensation Corporation—Ethical and Legal Practices
8. Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS (Leader—NZ First) to the Minister for ACC: Is she satisfied that all of Accident Compensation Corporation practices are ethical and within the law?
Hon RUTH DYSON (Minister for ACC): The Accident Compensation Corporation is reviewing all programmes where provider discretion is permitted in the implementation of its programmes, because it is imperative that any such discretion is appropriately exercised. If the member has specific instances where he believes this may not be the case, I would be happy to look into it. Subject to that, yes, I am satisfied that the corporation’s practices are ethical and within the law.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Is the Minister aware that the LTD and the car she has are because she is a Minister, and it is not my job to do her job for her, and that being the case, why is Mr James Sowman, a pseudonym, writing to an accident victim, and her department denying that victim the Official Information Act request for the true identity of the so-called Mr James Sowman, and claiming that there is no public interest involved, when plainly they are involved in deceit?
Hon RUTH DYSON: I understand that that particular employee of Catalyst Injury Management Ltd used that pseudonym because he was afraid for his own safety.
Lianne Dalziel: What improvements has the Minister made to ensure the corporation’s practices are responsive and appropriate to claimants?
Hon RUTH DYSON: The development of the Code of ACC Claimants’ Rights, which took effect on 1 February last year, is one such measure. The code enshrines in law the requirement for the corporation to have high standards of service and fairness when dealing with claimants.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: If the Minister thinks her statement in response to my supplementary question is correct, why was that not said in the Seymour letter to the victim concerned, and are we to look forward to dealing with “Mrs Get Well” from the Ministry of Health and “Constable Stay Safe” from the police force, because there are no public interest
factors supporting their revealed identity, as the Accident Compensation Corporation explained?
Hon RUTH DYSON: We do have a responsibility to ensure the ongoing safety of all public servants, and I support what would otherwise seem to be quite unusual measures to back that protection up.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I seek leave to table a document made to a James Sowman dated 5 March 2004, where no such claim is made with respect to—
Document, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.
Energy—Project Aqua Cancellation
9. JEANETTE FITZSIMONS (Co-Leader—Green) to the Minister of Energy: What additional steps will he be taking to promote energy efficiency, energy conservation, and renewable energy following the cancellation of Project Aqua?
Hon PETE HODGSON (Minister of Energy): Several steps. The National Energy Efficiency and Conservation Strategy is being ramped up, and further details will be announced in the Budget. Second, the climate change projects mechanism has been highly successful in bringing on cleaner and renewable energy projects, and I will announce results equal to a little over a third of those of the Project Aqua later this week. Thirdly, details of a second, larger tender for projects to reduce emissions will be in the next Budget.
Jeanette Fitzsimons: Why does electricity consumption need to rise at all over the next decade or two, when numerous assessments show that at least 20 percent of current electricity use could be avoided with the use of cost-effective energy-efficiency technology?
Hon PETE HODGSON: I am sure it is true that we could improve our energy efficiency across the economy by about 20 percent; that is precisely the target that the Government sets. However, under the auspices of this Government, and particularly the Prime Minister and the Minister of Finance, the economy has been consistently growing at greater than 2 percent, and is likely to continue to do so.
Mark Peck: Is the cancellation of Project Aqua a set-back in the development of renewable energy in New Zealand?
Hon PETE HODGSON: At this stage it does not seem that the cancellation of Project Aqua will make it more difficult to achieve the Government’s renewables target, as most of the alternatives to it between now and about 2012 are renewables—namely, geothermal, wind, and small hydro.
Hon Roger Sowry: Does the Minister think it will be easier for wind turbines to obtain the necessary resource consents, given that the company Windflow Technology, with Mrs Fitzsimons as a shareholder, is facing objections from environmentalists to its Christchurch wind turbines on the basis that they are too noisy?
Hon PETE HODGSON: I draw the member’s attention to the largest wind project undertaken in New Zealand, a 90-megawatt programme behind Palmerston North. The application was lodged on a Monday, the hearings were on the Tuesday, the cross-examinations were on the Wednesday—all of this last year—and the consent was awarded on the Thursday.
Peter Brown: Is the Minister aware that there are billions of tonnes of coal in New Zealand, and that clean-coal technologies being developed here, in the USA, and in other places make coal much more environmentally friendly; if so, why does he not encourage greater use of coal to generate electricity and put New Zealanders’ minds at rest?
Hon PETE HODGSON: The answers are yes, yes, and because, on average, it is more expensive than alternatives.
Gordon Copeland: Is the Minister prepared to explore the possibility of a win-win situation for both conservation and energy at the Dobson hydro project, in an area of high rainfall and forecast high electricity demand?
Hon PETE HODGSON: I invite the member to give up his preoccupation with favoured sites and favoured technologies, and to look at the fact that if that project were to proceed, it would give us an increase in our electricity sufficient for about 5 months. What would he do after that?
Jeanette Fitzsimons: Will the Minister tell the country clearly that claims of clean coal are still a myth because no proven technology exists to reduce, let alone eliminate, the accelerated climate-change effects of burning coal?
Hon PETE HODGSON: Clean coal tends to mean two things, depending on which sort of audience one has. The clean coal that some people speak of is to do with sulphur, nitrous oxide, and particulates, and we do have clean coal - burning technologies available to us. However, the member is right that no one has even begun to invent how to get carbon dioxide out of coal combustion.
Gordon Copeland: Is the Minister prepared to cut some slack to line companies to enable them to invest in local generation plants and schemes without limit, and to sell that electricity directly to customers in their own areas, thus providing some much-needed competition for the large electricity generators?
Hon PETE HODGSON: I draw the member’s attention to a bill before a select committee at the moment in which existing thresholds for lines companies have been increased fivefold. If the select committee thinks that is a bit limited, then it may want to make it tenfold.
Jeanette Fitzsimons: What is the total expected time frame for Meridian Energy’s Te Apiti wind farm to be built and commissioned, now that it has received its resource consent—in just 4 days—and how many such wind farms could be built and operating by the time Project Aqua would have generated its first unit?
Hon PETE HODGSON: I think that a little less than 15 months is the correct answer to the member’s first question, and that a good deal is the correct answer to the second.
10. MOANA MACKEY (Labour) to the Associate Minister for Social Development and Employment: What trends have been identified in the number of people receiving the unemployment benefit?
Hon RUTH DYSON (Acting Minister for Social Development and Employment): There has been a nearly 50 percent drop in the number of working-age New Zealanders needing the support of an unemployment benefit since 1999. There are now under 79,000 working-age people on the unemployment benefit and the unemployment benefit hardship—the lowest level since 1987. This reflects New Zealand’s historically low unemployment rate of 4.6 percent—the sixth equal lowest rate of unemployment in the OECD.
Moana Mackey: What factors have contributed to the reduction in numbers receiving the unemployment benefit?
Hon RUTH DYSON: A strong labour market, Government support for job-rich growth through regional economic development, and a dedicated focus on quality case management and real job placements by Work and Income have all contributed to the near 50 percent drop in unemployment benefit numbers. That is in stark contrast to jurisdictions that have implemented work-for-the-dole and time-limited benefits, like Wisconsin, where benefit numbers have gone up by almost 30 percent in the last 3 years.
Katherine Rich: What trends have been identified in the number of people receiving the sickness and invalids benefits, and can the Minister explain why the number of people receiving them has dramatically increased under this Government?
Hon RUTH DYSON: The total number of working-age people on a benefit has dropped by over 55,000 since 1999. That means that total working-age benefit numbers have dropped by a number equivalent to the entire population of Napier. That is a real, total drop across all working-age benefits—unemployment, sickness, invalids, and domestic purposes.
Mr SPEAKER: I think the Minister should address the specific question that was asked. She can comment on that quite comfortably. The question can be repeated.
Katherine Rich: What trends have been identified in the number of people receiving the sickness and invalids benefits, and can the Minister explain why the number of people receiving them has increased dramatically under this Government?
Hon RUTH DYSON: As I indicated in answer to the previous question, the total number of working-age people across all benefits has decreased. However, there has been an increase in both sickness benefit and invalids benefit numbers, primarily due to improved diagnosis of mental health conditions—a strong contributor—and to our aging population. That is exactly comparable to all other Western countries.
Judy Turner: Has the Minister considered making eligibility for an unemployment benefit for those under the age of 25 more consistent with student allowances by assessing them on the basis of their parents’ income; if not, why are students being treated differently by this Government compared to those on the dole?
Hon RUTH DYSON: No, that particular consideration has not been made.
Peter Brown: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I want to draw your attention to the fact that Katherine Rich asked her question twice, and the second answer was quite different from the first. Had the Minister not been pushed to answer it correctly the second time, we on this side would have been working on a totally wrong assumption. We would have made the assumption that sickness benefits had gone down. In fact, the reverse is the case.
Mr SPEAKER: That is not a point of order.
Peter Brown: That is quite frustrating on this side of the House.
Mr SPEAKER: That is not a point of order.
11. JUDITH COLLINS (National—Clevedon) to the Minister for Courts: Does he agree “that the persistent labelling of Family Court proceedings as ‘secret’ was misleading and irresponsible.”, and “There is nothing secret about the Family Court at all,” as stated by Principal Family Court Judge, Peter Boshier, on 26 March 2004; if so, why?
Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE (Minister of Fisheries), on behalf of the Minister for Courts: The Minister understands that Judge Boshier was responding to criticism that consistently portrays Family Court judges as insisting on “secrecy”, rather than merely following longstanding legislation that requires family proceedings that are of a personal nature to be kept private to the parties that are actually involved. To the extent that the criticism creates that misleading impression, the Minister agrees with him.
Judith Collins: Does the Minister also agree with the statement: “Its proceedings are open to scrutiny right now in a number of respects.”; if so, can he explain to the House what scrutiny Family Court proceedings are under right now?
Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: Yes, I do, and I do not think I can do better for the questioner than echo the statement of Judge Boshier that judges have operated the court, as they have been required to do, to afford privacy to separating parents, particularly with young, vulnerable children. That is what Parliament has required of the Family Court, and that is precisely what the Family Court has endeavoured, to the best of its ability, to do.
Judith Collins: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The Minister made no attempt to answer my question, which was about what scrutiny the Family Court is under in relation to the matters. The Minister gave absolutely no answer at all in respect of that.
Mr SPEAKER: I disagree. I think the Minister did address that particular question.
Georgina Beyer: What consideration is the Government giving to whether the Family Court could be made more open?
Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: The Care of Children Bill, currently before the Justice and Electoral Committee, gives some consideration to what changes might be made to the legislation governing some proceedings before the Family Court. In addition, the recent Law Commission report Delivering Justice for All also makes recommendations on this issue. The Government is giving careful consideration to the Law Commission’s recommendations and will respond in due course.
Stephen Franks: I ask the question again: does the Minister agree with Judge Boshier that: “There is nothing secret about the Family Court”; if so, why, given that no one outside the case that the Hon Nick Smith got involved in has been able to see the Family Court decision, despite claims that it vindicates that court’s order; and what is that if it is not a secret judgment from a secretive court?
Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: The current balance in existing legislation between protecting the privacy of sensitive and emotional family disputes and recognising the public interest in those disputes was determined by Parliament when the Family Courts were established in 1980. This is longstanding legislation, and the Family Court itself should not be criticised for adhering to legislation enacted by this Parliament.
Stephen Franks: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. May I ask the question again, as no attempt was made to answer it?
Mr SPEAKER: The member can ask the question again, and I will then examine the answer. I remember what the answer was.
Stephen Franks: My question was a repeat of the original question: that is, does the Minister agree with the Principal Family Court Judge Peter Boshier that “There is nothing secret about the Family Court at all,” when, in fact, the Family Court’s judgment in the case in which the Hon Nick Smith became involved has never been seen by anyone outside that case, despite claims that it vindicates the order of the court; and what else can it be but a secret judgment from a secretive court?
Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: Yes, I do agree. There is a considerable difference between the word “secret” and the appropriate privacy that should be accorded to the proceedings of that court.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: How does the Minister think it helps public information and debate when, in the case of the judgment in respect of the Nick Smith, _______ Nelson case, the court decision does not disclose a very fundamental fact, and that is that the boy was subject to extreme violence, which is the reason he did not want to be returned to his parents? That is a fact.
Mr SPEAKER: I do not know that that question is the responsibility—
Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: I am certainly not prepared to comment on the particularities of the case, but I would like to make one other comment to the questioner, and that is, simply, that the openness or otherwise of the Family Court will be considered subsequent to the release of the select committee’s report on the Care of Children Bill and as part of the Government’s consideration of the report of the Law Commission.
Judith Collins: Does the Minister agree that the Family Court should be required to make available meaningful statistics on the number of cases delayed; if so, why has he not required that to be done, despite his 4½ years in the position?
Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: Not at this time. [Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Did I hear the member say: “Not at this time.”? That is an answer to the question. Whether members agree with it is another matter.
12. Dr ASHRAF CHOUDHARY (Labour) to the Minister of Education: What steps is he taking to address boys’ underachievement in schools?
Hon TREVOR MALLARD (Minister of Education): This Government is committed to ensuring that all our children achieve to their full potential in education. We know that at secondary level boys are not doing as well as girls are. That is why I have put in place a programme to identify solutions for lifting boys’ achievement at secondary school. It includes research to identify programmes that result in improved achievement by boys, and the establishment of an external reference group of experts in boys’ education.
Dr Ashraf Choudhary: What information is available to schools and teachers in order to help them to identify and address areas of student underperformance?
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: There is actually an enormous amount of material available now: data from the literacy and numeracy test asTTle, from the National Certificate of Educational Achievement, and from the National Education Monitoring Project. The New Zealand Qualifications Authority and the Ministry of Education both have international data available. There is quite a lot of existing research analysis. The research shows some really interesting patterns. There is not much difference in achievement up to the end of primary school, but subject-based differences occur as boys and girls go through secondary school. It appears that the results start to come back together again at university.