Questions & Answers for Oral Answer 4 May 2004
Tuesday, 4 May 2004
Questions for Oral Answer
Questions to Ministers
2 Immigration Act—Deportation Review Tribunal
3 Tariana Turia—Portfolios
4 Broadcasting—Public Ownership
5 Child, Youth and Family Services, Department—Information
6 Nuclear-free New Zealand—Government Policy
7 Hon Ruth Dyson—Confidence
8 Female Prison Officers—Sexual Relationships with Male Prisoners
9 Families—Cost of Living
10 Education—Voucher Funding
11 Students—Universal Allowance
12 Families—One-income Families
Questions for Oral Answer
Questions to Ministers
1. Dr DON BRASH (Leader of the Opposition) to the Prime Minister: Can she confirm her Government still enjoys the support of a majority of members on matters of confidence and supply; if so, why?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK (Prime Minister): Not only can I confirm that but I can certainly confirm that the National Party does not.
Dr Don Brash: Can the Prime Minister give an assurance to this House that she will have majority support in the House in 2 weeks’ time?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I certainly expect that to be the case.
Mr SPEAKER: I call question No. 2. [Interruption] The member is overdoing it. The Minister is warned. He has had his only warning.
Dr Don Brash: Mr Speaker—
Mr SPEAKER: I had called question No. 2. [Interruption] No one was seeking the call. I looked around very carefully; everywhere in the House. I do not want to be unreasonable. Was the member going to seek the call for another question?
Dr Don Brash: Yes, I was, Mr Speaker.
Mr SPEAKER: In that case, I will grant it.
Dr Don Brash: What discussions has the Prime Minister had with New Zealand First or the Greens in the last month regarding support from those political parties on matters of confidence and supply, and what indications has she received from them?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: It has not been necessary for me to talk with other members about confidence and supply. In the course of building a majority for the foreshore and seabed legislation, of course I did have discussions with the two parties concerned directed at that particular issue of support for the bill.
Dail Jones: Has the Prime Minister asked the National Party to continue its support of this minority Labour Government in matters of confidence and supply, as evidenced by the National Party, which voted twice on 17 February 2004 to support and maintain confidence in this minority Labour Government, including voting against New Zealand First’s motion of no confidence in this minority Labour Government—which motion was lost by 98 votes to 22?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: To be gracious, I do not think the National Party would have seen that as a vote of confidence.
Dr Don Brash: Noting that just a few moments ago both New Zealand First and the Greens voted against the Government, and noting recent reports in the nation’s two largest newspapers that the Labour Party has lost one, and probably two, members of its own caucus, can the Prime Minister still assure this House that she has the confidence of a majority of the members?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I suggest that 119 other members heard the outcome of the vote.
Hon Richard Prebble: As one of the members who did hear the count, if the Government loses a second Mâori member will the Prime Minister be looking to the Green Party for support; if so, has does she square that with her statement during the election campaign that the Greens are so extreme that no stable Government could be formed with them?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: The question is based on an entirely hypothetical premise. However, I believe the Government will continue to enjoy the confidence of the House.
Hon Peter Dunne: With regard to confidence and supply matters, is the Prime Minister confident that the current arrangements she has in place with her caucus and other parties will endure and that there will be occasions, from time to time, on other matters where she needs to build majorities on a more infrequent basis?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: That is the basis on which I am operating. I am entirely comfortable with the present arrangements, and I thank United Future for the role it has played in bringing stability to the Government.
Immigration Act—Deportation Review Tribunal
2. DAIL JONES (NZ First) to the Minister of Immigration: When is the formal review of the Immigration Act 1987 and the Deportation Review Tribunal to begin and will he be seeking cross-party input into the terms of the review?
Hon PAUL SWAIN (Minister of Immigration): I have asked officials to begin identifying issues that will be part of a review of the Immigration Act. One of the issues involves the appeal process and the associated appeal agencies. I will be advising the process for the review, including opportunities for input, in due course.
Dail Jones: While taking this review into consideration, what action is the Minister taking for a judicial review of the decisions of the Deportation Review Tribunal in the cases of Lin Gao and Le Manh Toan, involving a Chinese forgery offender and a Vietnamese charged with violent offending, who have been allowed by the tribunal to stay in New Zealand, despite the Minister’s deportation order?
Hon PAUL SWAIN: In the first instance, the conditions of an appeal are very, very limited on fact or in law. Secondly, I have indicated that it does seem silly for one arm of Government to be taking another arm of Government to court. The only losers in that process are the taxpayers.
Dr Wayne Mapp: Will the Minister support a zero tolerance approach for immigrants who commit serious crimes, so that they are automatically deported if they commit a serious crime during their first 5 years in New Zealand?
Hon PAUL SWAIN: Certainly, the objective of the review is to toughen up the rules. Of course, the definition will be around what the word “serious” means. I am sure the member will be having an interest in that. But certainly the objective is to make sure people get the message that if they come to New Zealand and are resident here, they obey New Zealand laws.
Metiria Turei: Is there not a risk that if the decision of the Deportation Review Tribunal is recommendatory only, the fate of new migrants becomes determined by the political fashions of the day and not the humanitarian merits of each individual case?
Hon PAUL SWAIN: That clearly is an issue, and that is why we need to conduct this review very carefully and look at what options we have as we go forward.
Dail Jones: Why has the Minister taken such a soft approach to these two criminals, when, for example and by comparison, in the Zaoui case there was no hesitation in appeals being lodged and paid for at great expense to the taxpayer, and why does not the taxpayer, as evidenced by the Minister, take the appeal to try to get the message clear to people that if they commit crimes, out they go?
Hon PAUL SWAIN: As I said, the conditions of an appeal are very, very narrow and very, very limited indeed. My understanding is that an appeal has not been taken, and obviously one has not been successful. The issue of the review, however, is to look at all the issues that the member raises.
3. GERRY BROWNLEE (Deputy Leader—National) to the Prime Minister: Did she strip Tariana Turia of her ministerial portfolios as reported by some news sources, or did Tariana Turia resign her ministerial portfolios herself, as reported by other news sources?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK (Prime Minister): Yes, I did. I advised the Administrator of the Government to dismiss Tariana Turia on Friday, 30 April.
Gerry Brownlee: Noting the Prime Minister’s precipitate actions in this case, why does the Government not show the strength of its conviction over its seabed and foreshore proposals that have caused the resignation of Tariana Turia from the Labour Party, and stand a candidate in the Te Tai Hauâuru by-election?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: The Government does not believe that a by-election is necessary, as a number of pathways forward for Mrs Turia were discussed. I might say that it is a matter of regret for me personally that she has chosen to go, because I have worked closely with her for many years. However, I accept that she has decided to take a different path.
Gerry Brownlee: Does the Prime Minister stand by her 1999 comments, championing the Electoral Integrity Act, that any member of Parliament who resigned from a party during a parliamentary term should do the honourable thing and seek a fresh mandate from his or her electorate; if so, why will she not stand a candidate in the Te Tai Hauâuru by-election to seek a fresh mandate for her Government’s position on the seabed and foreshore issue?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: The two issues are obviously quite different. Mrs Turia is following through on the spirit of the Act, and has announced that she intends to resign from Parliament. That is not a statement that the Government needs to respond to in any particular way at all.
Hon Richard Prebble: Has the Prime Minister seen the article in the Sunday Star-Times of 2 May where Mrs Turia says that the timing of her resignation was triggered by her humiliation because she had followed some advice from the Prime Minister: “why don’t you duck down on the back seat” of the prime ministerial car; if so, does the Prime Minister now regret having humiliated her Minister with that advice?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: At no point have I or anyone in the Government set out to humiliate Mrs Turia. Mrs Turia—like me—is a mature woman who must take responsibility for her own actions.
Gerry Brownlee: If the Prime Minister is now saying that Mrs Turia is doing the honourable thing, why did she describe her actions as a sideshow and a stunt, and a waste of time and money on a pointless exercise, and why is she frightened of testing her party’s policies in this by-election?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: Because a number of pathways were put forward that would have enabled Mrs Turia to continue as a member of the Labour Party; none of those were chosen.
4. MARTIN GALLAGHER (Labour—Hamilton West) to the Minister of Broadcasting: What is the Government’s position on the public ownership of broadcasting assets?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY (Minister of Broadcasting): This Government is committed to keeping broadcasting assets in public ownership to serve the interests of all New Zealanders. We regard audiences, the New Zealanders who own Television New Zealand and Radio New Zealand, as having a stake in those assets. So our focus is on strengthening public service broadcasting, unlike the National Party, which has indicated there is support in its caucus for selling those assets.
Martin Gallagher: What specific reports has the Minister seen on the possible sale of broadcasting assets?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: I have seen one statement that: “National would review the Crown balance sheet with a view to selling Government-owned commercial enterprises which no longer need to be owned by the State.”, and another by a National MP that the National Party would favour selling the Government’s interests in radio and television. It seems that on this issue Dr Brash and Georgina te Heuheu are agreed: they want to sell State assets.
Sue Kedgley: Does the Government support TVNZ’s plans to set up a third publicly-owned television channel; if so, why on earth would the Government support the establishment of a third publicly-owned television channel simply to show “a mix of reruns of current affairs, local shows, minority programmes, and live broadcasts from Parliament”?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: We have not seen the business case from TVNZ on this matter yet, so there is nothing to support or not to support.
Child, Youth and Family Services, Department—Information
5. KATHERINE RICH (National) to the Associate Minister for Social Development and Employment (CYF): Why did she breach the privacy of more than 1,300 children in the care of the Department of Child, Youth and Family Services by releasing their names, their caregivers’ names, their locations, and their ages, to the public?
Mr SPEAKER: Before I call the honourable Minister, she did advise me that her answer was a little longer than normal, and I have accepted that.
Hon RUTH DYSON (Associate Minister for Social Development and Employment (CYF)): The information to which the member refers was inadvertently included as an Excel attachment in the electronic response to a written question from the member. It was not part of the hard-copy version that I signed off for submitting to that member. The inclusion of the information was discovered only after the Clerk’s Office emailed the response to the member’s office, and the member alerted both the Clerk’s Office and my office to the attachment. The question was immediately retrieved from the Clerk’s Office. I have accepted the member’s public assurance that she has deleted this information from her system, and I appreciate her alerting me to its inclusion in order to protect the privacy of the children concerned. I offer my unreserved apology for this incident.
Katherine Rich: If Celia Lashlie lost her job for allegedly releasing personal details about one child, does the Minister think that she should keep her job after releasing the personal details of over 1,300 abused children in the department’s care; if so, why?
Hon RUTH DYSON: Had I known of that breach and had it been deliberate, yes, I do believe that that action would have been appropriate. But I neither knew about it, nor considered it appropriate, when I learnt of the information’s release.
Moana Mackey: What is the Minister doing to ensure that this kind of incident will not happen again?
Hon RUTH DYSON: I have received an absolute assurance from the acting chief executive of the Department of Child, Youth and Family Services that Excel spreadsheets, which can have attachments that are not immediately obvious, will not be used to provide any information—supplementary or otherwise—for answers to written questions.
Deborah Coddington: How can the Minister remain a Minister when a Work and Income New Zealand staff member who released names, accidentally or deliberately, would lose his or her job, and possibly face criminal charges and end up in jail?
Hon RUTH DYSON: As I indicated in my answer to the previous supplementary question, I was not aware of the inclusion of the information, nor was anyone else who provided it to that member. It was not done with any consideration, it was not deliberate, and I sincerely regret the incident.
Judy Turner: Does the Minister agree that although children’s privacy is an important issue, the bottom line has to be children’s safety; and in light of this, why has it taken the discovery by undercover detectives in the Hawke’s Bay of children smoking P, and of babies as young as 2 weeks old living with users, for police and the Department of Child, Youth and Family Services to decide that the Department of Child, Youth and Family Services should be notified in these cases, as proposed by United Future?
Mr SPEAKER: That does go very wide of the original question. I think that in that circumstance, although I am prepared to allow the Minister to comment very briefly, she cannot be expected to have that information, because it is wide of the original question.
Hon RUTH DYSON: The Department of Child, Youth and Family Services is, tragically, not aware of the individual circumstances of every household in New Zealand. However, in the instance that Mrs Turner referred to in her supplementary question, I was very pleased at the way that the protocol between the police and the Department of Child, Youth and Family Services was put into action to ensure the safety of those children.
Katherine Rich: Why did the Minister not read the electronic version of the question, and is she telling the House that it was not she, but somebody else, who affixed the electronic signature to the question before it was sent back to the Clerk’s Office?
Hon RUTH DYSON: Yes, I can confirm that I did not read the electronic version of the question and answer—I never do. I always require a hard copy to be printed off, and I sign the hard copy, which is then transmitted through the electronic system.
Judy Turner: Does the Minister also agree that although the release of these children’s information is a regrettable mistake, this kind of disingenuous whining on side issues misses the real issue, which is the need to develop constructive solutions to the massive issue of child abuse, such as that proposed by United Future last month; and can she confirm that she has received no similar positive proposals from that member?
Mr SPEAKER: That, once again, is very wide of the original question. The first part is out of order; the second part can be commented on.
Hon RUTH DYSON: I can confirm that I have received a number of very constructive proposals from the member who asked the supplementary question, in comparison with not one single one from the member who asked the primary question.
Katherine Rich: Is the Minister not aware that it is she, and she alone, who has the responsibility for affixing the final electronic signature to parliamentary questions, and is she telling the House that it is a staff member who carries out that task of affixing her signature to all her electronic questions?
Hon RUTH DYSON: I do not think that there was any doubt at all in my answer to the previous supplementary question. I sign the hard copy.
Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The answer to the last question by the Hon Ruth Dyson raises an interesting question about who can sign out electronic ministerial questions. It appears, from what the Minister has told us, that a staff member does it on her behalf, and that the Minister signs out a hard copy. Can I suggest that even if she were to sign out a hard copy, it would indicate that there was an attachment? It would seem to me that a Minister on top of his or her job might ask what that attachment was. I do not think it is appropriate for a Minister to answer a question in the House in a way that attempts to dodge full responsibility for this appalling breach.
Mr SPEAKER: The member has raised an interesting question. Of course we now have a slightly different age from when, for example, I was a Minister and answered questions. There was none of this electronic nonsense at all. [Interruption] It was not all handwritten—I could type occasionally. I will come back to the member and the House with a proper ruling on that tomorrow.
Hon RUTH DYSON: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Mr Brownlee, in his point of order just now, implied that in the written hard copy of the question that I signed I would have been aware of an attachment. I made it very clear in my answer to both the primary question and the supplementary, that that information was not attached, nor was I aware of it until the member who raised the primary question alerted my office to that fact.
Mr SPEAKER: That is partly a debating point, but I will certainly take account of what the Minister said when I am making my ruling tomorrow.
Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I realise that you will make a ruling, but I would just point out that when I receive parliamentary questions signed by a Minister, there is a place showing on the hard copy that says “attachments”, and it lists them. So perhaps everything could be cleared up if the Minister were prepared to table the hard copy that she signed. It clearly is still in her office, because it certainly was not sent to us.
Hon RUTH DYSON: I seek leave to table the hard copy, which I signed.
Document, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.
Nuclear-free New Zealand—Government Policy
6. LUAMANUVAO WINNIE LABAN (Labour—Mana) to the Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade: Has he received any reports regarding changes to New Zealand’s nuclear-free status?
Hon PHIL GOFF (Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade): Yes. I have seen an unequivocal statement from the Prime Minister that a Labour-led Government will maintain New Zealand’s nuclear-free status, a statement by National leader Don Brash claiming that he had made no personal decision on the issue, and another contradictory report that an American congressional delegation in January was told that if National became the Government the ban on nuclear ships would be gone by lunchtime. That statement was made by Dr Brash, who now claims he has made no decision on the issue.
Luamanuvao Winnie Laban: What is the reason for New Zealand’s nuclear-free policy?
Hon PHIL GOFF: The Government’s position reflects a longstanding commitment shared by a majority of New Zealanders that this country should remain nuclear-free and that decisions on this issue should be made by New Zealanders according to what we think is right, rather than by conceding to pressure from some other country. Dr Brash’s statement suggests he has a policy, but will not come clean on it because of political expediency.
Hon Ken Shirley: Could the Minister tell the House why this Government persists with the ban on nuclear propulsion when the Somers report of 1992 stated that there was no environmental risk or public safety factor justifying that continued ban, and in light of the fact that Auckland Hospital emits to the environment daily twice the radiation that the entire United States naval fleet and its support services do in a year?
Hon PHIL GOFF: The Somers report was, of course, commissioned by National, which had promised in 1987 that it would abandon the nuclear policy, and had then changed its mind just before the election. It commissioned the Somers report to have an excuse to change its mind back again, looked at the public opinion polls, and chickened out. Why would I pay any attention to that report?
Hon Ruth Dyson—Confidence
7. SIMON POWER (National—Rangitikei) to the Prime Minister: Does she have confidence in the Minister for ACC and the Associate Minister for Social Development and Employment (CYF); if so, why?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK (Prime Minister): Yes, because she is a hard-working and conscientious Minister.
Simon Power: Does the Prime Minister believe that it is acceptable for a Minister to portray to Parliament that a taxpayer grant was not used to buy a computer for a teenage offender and then admit it had been, and to respond to written questions that there had been no cases of work-related stress in the Accident Compensation Corporation since mid-2003 when such cases had been raised with her by the National Union of Public Employees; if so, why?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: My recollection of the first matter is that the Minister was asked whether the computer had been given as a carrot and she correctly said “No”. I also understand that the Speaker has ruled there is no privilege case to answer on the matter. On the second question, the Minister answered the question on advice from the Accident Compensation Corporation. The question was: have any claims of work-related stress been reported within the Accident Compensation Corporation; if so, how many in each of the last 5 years? She answered on the basis of the information that was given. I understand that the corporation has acknowledged to the Minister that it should have provided her with better background, to explain the complexity.
Peter Brown: Is the Prime Minister aware that significant concerns are held by accident victims over accident compensation outcomes and treatments, that there are also concerns with regard to the culture of the Accident Compensation Corporation and allegations of its bullying of staff, and, in addition, that physiotherapists have problems with the Accident Compensation Corporation; if she is aware of all that, does she still have confidence in her Minister for ACC?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I am now aware that the National Union of Public Employees has raised issues of what it says is bullying by Accident Compensation Corporation managers. Those allegations certainly need to be investigated, because it is not acceptable to this Government that managers bully staff. As for claimants not feeling happy with Accident Compensation Corporation decisions, I imagine that will happen as long as there is an Accident Compensation Corporation and there are claimants. But the corporation has clear rules, which it must apply.
Simon Power: Does the Prime Minister believe that it is acceptable, then, for a Minister to release the private information of 1,354 children in foster care; and when will she just admit that that Minister is hopeless, and sack her?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I have heard the Minister deal with that issue in full in the House today. That list was not attached to the document that she saw and signed out.
Female Prison Officers—Sexual Relationships with Male Prisoners
8. RON MARK (NZ First) to the Minister of Corrections: How many female prison officers, if any, in the term of this Government have been counselled or disciplined for having sexual relationships with male inmates?
Hon PAUL SWAIN (Minister of Corrections): In the term of this Government—that is, since mid-2002—I am advised that three female corrections officers have been investigated for having a sexual relationship with a male inmate. Of these three cases, I am advised that one officer resigned before the investigation was complete, one investigation is still under way, and in the third case the allegation was unproven while the officer was an employee.
Ron Mark: Aside from Raewyn Houia, who admitted having a love child to convicted rapist David James Shepherd whilst she was a duty officer at Paparua prison, and past reports of other female prison officers being fired for smuggling items into their lovers’ jails, can the Minister confirm whether another female prison officer has recently left Christchurch Prison as a result of an inappropriate relationship with an inmate, or was it simply for smuggling goods into the prison?
Hon PAUL SWAIN: I cannot quite recollect the first issue the member raised. As far as the second one is concerned, I understand that criminal charges are being laid. The third I am not fully aware of. If it is an allegation such as the one raised, I presume it is being investigated. If that is not the case and the member has information, he should give it to me and I will follow it up.
Mahara Okeroa: What does the Department of Corrections code of conduct say about relationships between corrections officers and inmates?
Hon PAUL SWAIN: Relationships between Department of Corrections officers and inmates are prohibited. The department’s code of conduct specifies that staff are to ensure that they do not form financial, business, or sexual relationships with inmates. The department views sexual relationships as serious misconduct. All allegations into such relationships are investigated, and, if proven, staff are dismissed.
Ron Mark: Is the policy of placing female prison officers in male prisons, so exposing them to the manipulations of seasoned sexual predators, a politically correct, gender-based policy, or a needs-based policy; if it is the latter, specifically whose needs is the Minister attempting to cater to?
Hon PAUL SWAIN: It is kind of hard to know how to answer that. The reality is that both male and female Department of Corrections officers do an extremely good job. These policies have been supported by many parties in this Government, and I cannot see why that member would oppose them.
Ron Mark: Does the Minister not accept that in these very difficult situations the Department of Corrections has clear occupational safety and health responsibilities in respect of protecting female prison officers; if he does, can he explain why the public is continuing to see female prison officers involved in such incidents.
Hon PAUL SWAIN: Yes, I do accept that the department has important responsibilities as far as its staff are concerned, but I do not absolutely reject the fact that there is a continuing stream of them. There are 12,000 inmates flowing through our prisons every year, and the 2,000 staff do a thoroughly good job.
Families—Cost of Living
9. Dr MURIEL NEWMAN (Whip—ACT) to the Prime Minister: Will she accept mother of four Marilynn McLachlan’s request for a meeting after Mrs McLachlan wrote to her appealing for help in finding a way to survive on an annual family income of $55,000; and does she believe there are many other New Zealand families facing the same difficulties?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK (Prime Minister): No. However, Marilynn McLachlan has been provided with the name of an Inland Revenue Department staff member with whom her family circumstances can be discussed to ensure they are receiving the assistance to which they are entitled.
Dr Muriel Newman: Does the Prime Minister think it is fair that welfare beneficiaries can be receiving an income similar to the income of that struggling Waihi couple, and can she explain to the House what incentives there are for such welfare families to move from welfare into work?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: The advice I saw from the Inland Revenue Department suggested that this family would be $270.85 a week better off than a family on welfare. I can also say that, unlike Muriel Newman, I will not be advising members of the public to take up nude modelling or sell erotic underwear to earn more money.
Katherine Rich: Why was the Prime Minister happy to meet with a sheep and not with the McLachlan family?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I respect what the owner of Bendigo Station is doing in raising money for children with cancer. That is an important charity. I receive many, many letters from members of the public, and it is not my policy—nor, indeed, are there enough hours in the day—to accede to every request.
Sue Bradford: Will the Government reconsider its opposition to a universal child benefit, in light of the very apparent fact raised by Mrs McLachlan that it is not only parents on the lowest wages or benefits who are facing real financial difficulties right now?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: No, that is not the Government’s policy, but I can say to hardworking families like the McLachlan family—and in this case the parents have chosen that the mum should be at home—that I believe the Budget will be a good Budget for working families such as theirs.
Hon Tony Ryall: If Mrs McLachlan were prepared to come to Wellington with two television channel cameras, six news media photographers, and the parliamentary press gallery, would the Prime Minister then be prepared to meet with her?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I can tell the member that I had no idea Shrek would excite so much attention.
Judy Turner: Does she consider a combined family income of $55,000 to be wealthy, even if it comes from one income source; if not, why does her Government not value the contribution of those who choose to stay at home to raise children, by splitting this income between both parents for tax purposes?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: No, I do not consider that combined family income to be wealthy. It is, as the facts would show, above the average household income, but it is not a wealthy income. I repeat, again, that the needs of families like this one will be addressed in the Budget.
Dr Muriel Newman: Is the Prime Minister concerned that the tax burden on working families like the Waihi couple is too high; if so, in light of recent Treasury work, which calculates that moving New Zealand to an 18c in the dollar flat tax rate would cost less than the surplus that this Government has run up, will she consider giving back the taxation surplus and introducing an 18c flat rate of tax in the Budget?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I would have thought that the kind of flat, across-the-board, low tax rate that the member advocates would advantage most the wealthiest in the community.
Hon Dr Michael Cullen: Can the Prime Minister confirm that if an 18c in the dollar flat tax rate were adopted, apart from increasing tax on those on the lowest income, it would offer Mrs McLachlan a good deal less than is going to occur in this year’s Budget?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I am confident that the needs of families like these are to the forefront in the Government’s consideration in this Budget.
Hon Richard Prebble: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The Prime Minister appears to be quoting from a document. Can I ask her to table it?
Mr SPEAKER: No. That is a good point of order but, as usual, the point has been made.
Rodney Hide: Does the Prime Minister believe that the hardworking McLachlans, along with every hardworking New Zealander, would be better off if we did go for a flat tax of 20c in the dollar; if not, why not?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I am now confused as to whether ACT’s policy is for an 18c flat tax rate or a 20c flat tax rate.
Government Member: It depends who is leading at the time.
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: It depends who is leading at the time, and we have heard from two of the aspirants so maybe these are the issues that are being debated in the primaries, which, I have to say, are not preoccupying New Zealand at this time.
The Government is approaching this year’s Budget with the needs of families like this family very much in mind, not the needs of the richest families, which ACT represents.
Rodney Hide: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. It was very interesting to hear about ACT’s primary from the Prime Minister, but the question was whether she believes that this hardworking family would be better off with a flat tax of 20c in the dollar. She did not once address that question.
Mr SPEAKER: The Prime Minister did address it in the last part of her answer. If she wants to add to it, she can.
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: My eminent colleague advises me that were we to go to a flat tax of 20c in the dollar, then families on $39,000 and under would be worse off than they are at present.
10. LYNNE PILLAY (Labour—Waitakere) to the Minister of Education: What would be the key elements of a voucher funding system for education?
Hon TREVOR MALLARD (Minister of Education): Vouchers are an extreme right-wing form of user-pays where each parent is given what is effectively a deposit for his or her child’s education, and that parent can spend it at any public or private school he or she chooses. Under a voucher system schools run like small businesses, and parents who can afford to top up their voucher with their own money get access to the most desirable schools. Of course, most voucher systems do not include a capital element. Schools currently cost about $15,000 to $20,000 per student to build. That would, of course, be an extra charge to parents—something poor parents would have a lot of trouble paying.
Lynne Pillay: Has he seen any reports advocating the introduction of voucher funding for education?
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: I have seen reports both ways. I have seen a report from the Hon Nick Smith in which he said: “The flaw in the scheme is that parental choice would depend on wallet size. Schools would rapidly become stratified based on fee size, and free public education would be dead.” But, then again, Bill English and Don Brash are supporting vouchers.
Hon Bill English: Can the Minister tell us why he has decided to attack voucher systems, when our education system in New Zealand largely runs on vouchers?
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: I want to make it absolutely clear to the House that because one happens to give teachers—based on roll size—operational grants based on numbers in a school does not mean that one has a voucher system. A voucher system’s key element is the ability of parents to top up, to get their child into the school they want. That is what those Tories are advocating.
Jim Peters: Does the Minister agree that our present system, both primary and secondary, does not need a cash value passport, or an individual voucher, to ensure educational access opportunities for all New Zealand children?
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: Yes, I do.
Hon Bill English: If the Minister is concerned about top-ups from parents to school funding, is he not aware that New Zealand schools currently employ 3,700 teachers in addition to those for whom he pays their salary, and that the average secondary school pulls in $200,000 per year in parental fees and community fund-raising—and that is leaving out the international students, who are contributing up to $1 million of revenue to many State schools?
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: There is no doubt that there is considerable fund-raising by schools, but, in fact, the extra amount paid by schools for teachers is less than the amount that the Government pays to them in operational grants.
11. ROD DONALD (Co-Leader—Green) to the Prime Minister: Does her Government intend to introduce a universal student allowance, given her statement to the 1995 Labour Party conference that “My aim is to return to a universal student allowance.”?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK (Prime Minister): No. However, in my statement to Parliament in February I said that this year’s Budget will provide for more students to qualify for allowances from the 2005 academic year, and the member will learn more about that on 27 May.
Rod Donald: What message does that answer give to the 30,000 students and other New Zealanders who signed the petition presented in Parliament today calling for an end to discrimination against students under 25, calling for an end to discrimination against students whose parents earn above a miserly $28,000—a level that has not been inflation adjusted for 10 years—and calling for the introduction of a living allowance equivalent to the unemployment benefit?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: The message, firstly, as I have said, is that the issue of how many qualify for the allowance will be addressed in the Budget. The message, secondly, is that this Government has to prioritise, and if all students were to be paid at the level of the unemployment benefit, it is estimated that the cost would be $5.5 billion over 4 years.
Peter Brown: What representation has the Prime Minister or the Government had from the Greens and United Future in particular, strongly advocating for the introduction of a student living allowance—any, or none at all?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I have seen various public statements from the Greens consistent with what has been said today in respect of any input United Future might have had into the Budget. That is a matter that would have to be addressed to the Minister of Finance.
Hon Peter Dunne: Is the Prime Minister of the view that the existing parental income threshold set in 1992 is too low, and that the 25-year age categorisation for eligibility for student support is too high; and are those matters that will be addressed, as they are matters that have been raised with her colleague by United Future over the last few months, in discussions?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: The answer to the first part of the question is, yes, the threshold for eligibility needs to be addressed. In respect of the second part, yes, we could all mount coherent arguments as to why 25 is too high; the problem is that reducing it also costs money, and the Government has, over 4½ years, put quite a lot more money into tertiary education. It has also enabled students to have fees frozen, and then to have increases from this year capped at quite low levels of increase, plus it has done quite a lot on the student loans side. But the amount of money taken out of tertiary education in the 1990s was so great that it cannot be rectified overnight.
Peter Brown: Is it not possible that a student living allowance could be phased in over a period of years? Is that part of the Government’s plans; if so, how long will it take to phase it in to equal the unemployment benefit?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: No, it is not part of our plan. What we are doing, as I have said, is making some adjustments to bring more students into the allowance net in this year’s Budget.
Rod Donald: Does the Prime Minister agree that her statement in her 1995 speech that “I don’t want young people’s lives blighted by huge debts they can never pay off.” sounds hollow, given that student debt has risen from $2.8 billion, when she became Prime Minister, to over $7 billion now?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: As the member will be aware, the level of debt per student has flattened out since the Government came in and certain changes were made. Of course, not only has there been the change that interest is not charged during the period while students are studying, but also the repayment terms are fairer than they were in the past.
Rod Donald: How does the Prime Minister justify the retention of tertiary policies such as the targeted allowance, tuition fees at their current level, and the loan scheme, when they have been clearly shown to discriminate against women?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: When the Government put out the consultation document on student support, research was brought together on the way in which New Zealand students overall were treated as against students in other Western countries, and the conclusion that was drawn was that students in New Zealand, on average, are treated pretty much the same as students elsewhere. It would be nice to do all sorts of things, but the Government does have to prioritise.
12. JUDY TURNER (United Future) to the Minister for Social Development and Employment: Does the Minister stand by his statement on National Radio yesterday that to have one parent work while the other parent stays at home to raise children “should be an ambition”; if so, does he think that this is no longer possible on a single income of $55,000 a year?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY (Minister for Social Development and Employment): Yes, I do stand by my statement. This Government has been ambitious for New Zealand families since its election. For example, we have pursued job-rich growth and put 170,000 New Zealanders into work. We have lifted the minimum wage every year. We have brought in paid parental leave, we have increased the childcare assistance package—and I could go on. All of this is in stark contrast to the previous Government, which tried to turn New Zealand into a low-wage, low-skill ghetto.
Judy Turner: Does he agree that, in seeking to return more parents into the workforce by increasing childcare subsidies, the Government is effectively penalising those parents who are ambitious to stay at home, over and above the income they lose by bringing in only one wage; if not why not?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: No, I do not. This Government, like Governments all around the world, is aware that New Zealanders do want to earn an income. We stand by our childcare policies that, once again, we will continue to improve, so that people are able to go to work, are able to afford childcare, and are able to get a living wage.
Georgina Beyer: What has the Government been doing to support families raising children?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: This Government is family friendly, and along with United Future, for example, we have been involved in establishing the Families Commission, which will oversee changes that will be all in the interests of families. On top of that, we have been ensuring that families earn a decent income. We have been putting in place industrial relations regimes that allow for proper, decent, civilised bargaining, invested in health and education to ensure that children have a good start in life, instituted the paid parental leave provisions, childcare, out-of-school assistance, income-related rents, the minimum wage, benefits being given to people when they are entitled to them, and, as Dr Cullen, has signalled, this Budget will be one that is good for middle New Zealand.
Sue Kedgley: Is he aware that there is international research demonstrating that children benefit from having a parent at home in their early years; if so, what policies does the Government have in place specifically to assist those parents who choose to stay at home while their children are young, other than the domestic purposes benefit?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: Yes, I am aware of research that suggests that it is good for parents to be able to look after their children, particularly in the early years. Yes, the Government would like to see either men or women stay at home to look after those children. The best way to do that is to ensure that they can earn a decent living so that they can look after their family.
Judy Turner: Does the Minister think it is acceptable that while some ambitious families struggle on a single income, because they decide to have one parent at home to raise the children, the Government has paid for 24,728 people on the domestic purposes benefit to have additional children while on the benefit over the last 5 years; if so, why?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: I cannot remember the Government—in fact, any Government—paying for people to have children.
Judy Turner: I seek leave to table a response to a written question that states that 24,728 people on the domestic purposes benefit have had additional children.
Document, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.
( Uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing. For corrected transcripts, please visit: http://www.clerk.parliament.govt.nz/hansard )