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Questions & Answers for Oral Answer 19 May 2004

( Uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing. For corrected transcripts, please visit:
http://www.clerk.parliament.govt.nz/hansard )

Wednesday, 19 May 2004
Questions for Oral Answer
Questions to Ministers

1 Budget 2004—Future Directions Package
2 Cannabis—Legal Status
3 Christchurch Polytechnic Institute of Technology—Community Education
4 Jury System—Review
Question No. 5 to Minister
5 Australia New Zealand Leadership Forum—Common Border
6 Immigrants—Overstayers
7 Health Services—Finance, Minister
8 Kyoto Protocol—Implementation
9 Drinking—Legal Age
10 Statistics—Business Compliance Costs
11 United States Base, Guantanamo Bay—Detainees
12 Court Fines—“Confiscated Car Club”

Questions for Oral Answer
Questions to Ministers

Budget 2004—Future Directions Package

1. Hon RICHARD PREBBLE (Leader—ACT) to the Minister of Finance: Is it correct that the “Future Directions package” in the May 27 Budget is expected to be worth about $2.5 billion and around 300,000 households will benefit, as reported in the New Zealand Herald; if not, what are the facts?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Minister of Finance): As I have stated already, around 300,000 households with dependent children will benefit. The House will be informed of all the other details next Thursday afternoon.

Hon Richard Prebble: Will the Minister confirm that there are 540,000 families with dependent children and 150,000 beneficiary families, so how can he say that a majority of working families will benefit, when simple maths show that the majority of working families will get nothing from the Budget?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: The member will have to wait until next Thursday afternoon. He will be surprised at how many families get and how much they get.

Hon David Carter: What proportion of the Future Directions package will be directed to beneficiaries, and what proportion will be directed to lower-income working New Zealanders?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: The package will be directed to something like 60 percent of all families with dependent children. Those who are not on benefits will gain substantially more than those who are.

Deborah Coddington: Can he deny that of the $2.5 billion for the Future Directions package more than half of those multimillions will go to welfare families, not working families; yes or no?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: My colleague is incorrect. The answer is yes, I can deny it.

Hon Richard Prebble: Can the Minister also deny or confirm that there are in fact 1.5 million households in New Zealand, so if he is intending to assist 300,000 households, of which half will be beneficiary families, then it follows that the only role for the other 1.2 million households will be to pay the taxes that he is so liberally spreading out to welfare families?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Of those other households the member mentioned, 300,000 are superannuitant families who have gained substantially from this Government in terms of the restoration of the superannuation floor that that member’s party and the National Party voted to reduce.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Would the Minister comment on the propriety of making all sorts of budgetary comments before the Budget is leaked, and if he has no problem with that and he wants to be engaged in a series of mini-leaks, could he tell us whether he will do anything about the Labour Party commitment in respect of income and asset testing for the elderly?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Legislation has been introduced that deals with that issue in terms of the phasing out of asset testing. The Labour Party never promised to remove income testing on long-stay care.

Cannabis—Legal Status

2. JUDY TURNER (United Future) to the Minister of Justice: Is he satisfied with the current legal status of cannabis; if so, why?

Hon PHIL GOFF (Minister of Justice): The Government has no plans to change the current legal status of cannabis. That, of course, is part of an electoral agreement entered into by the Government and United Future. The Government also has concerns that the legalisation of cannabis would risk negative social consequences in a number of areas.

Judy Turner: Is the Minister convinced that the current legal status of cannabis should be retained in light of the sudden influx of patients to Hawke’s Bay Regional Hospital’s psychiatric unit, which staff attribute almost entirely to a particularly strong brew of cannabis use, since it brings out psychotic and paranoiac tendencies in young people?

Hon PHIL GOFF: I think that it is well established in medical research, and certainly by the Health Committee, which looked at this issue, that the use of cannabis has very negative effects on those who have pre-existing mental health disorders. That is one of the key reasons why I think no party in this House should advocate greater use of cannabis.

Tim Barnett: What problems does the Minister see resulting from the legalisation of cannabis?

Hon PHIL GOFF: I think the effect of the legalisation of cannabis would be to make it easier to get and to drop its price, and that in turn would have an impact in terms of increasing the consumption of cannabis. As I said in my previous answer, an increased consumption of cannabis would have a dramatically negative effect on those people who have mental health disorders. I think it would also have bad effects on younger people, who are big consumers of cannabis, and bad effects on those who are currently heavy users of the drug. That is also shown to have negative effects on how a person functions.

Nandor Tanczos: Does the Minister have any evidence at all that the cannabis prohibition is effective in reducing the use or abuse of cannabis; if so, could he please tell the House what it is, because prohibition does not seem to be working anywhere in the world?

Hon PHIL GOFF: Certainly, the prohibition of cannabis, in itself, will not solve the problem. The sanctions that are available are a deterrent to using cannabis. I believe they also mean that the drug is harder to get and more expensive—although, obviously, it is not impossible to get. Young people, in particular, are very price sensitive, with regard to either alcohol or cannabis—the cheaper the price, the more they consume.

Gordon Copeland: Does the Minister agree that the current legal status of cannabis should be retained in light of the United Nations International Narcotics Control Board annual report that notes the increasing abuse of cannabis in New Zealand by those aged 15 to 17, and does he agree that even if cannabis use was decriminalised for those over 18, those younger users would perpetuate the current black market and profiteering by gangs?

Hon PHIL GOFF: I think I have already indicated in previous answers that one of the areas that I am most worried about is younger people, and the effect that the chemicals in cannabis have on their mental development and their attitudes. That is one of the reasons why I personally believe that we should be extraordinarily cautious before making any change in the status of this drug.

Peter Brown: Will the Minister be specific; is he saying that as a result of younger people smoking cannabis for a prolonged period of time they can develop schizophrenia, and is he aware that that illness can sometimes lead to youth suicide?

Hon PHIL GOFF: I am not sure that I am qualified to give a medical analysis of whether the use of the drug contributes to schizophrenia. What I do know from the reports that I have read is that where a person has a pre-existing condition, that will certainly dramatically worsen it.

Gordon Copeland: Has the Minister, in his capacity as the Minister responsible for the legal status of cannabis, been consulted over the draft drug education booklet prepared by the Ministry of Youth Development for use in our schools, since the booklet takes a “harm minimisation” approach, which means that nowhere does it state that taking drugs may be a bad idea, not least for the reason that it is currently against the law?

Hon PHIL GOFF: As I understand it, the booklet is being put together by the Ministry of Youth Development. I have not personally looked at it. However, it is designed to promote best practice, in terms of discouraging the use of, or minimising the harm caused by, marijuana. Obviously, people are not going to put their heads in the sand and pretend that the use of marijuana is not happening now. The best solution is to stop using it. The second-best solution, I guess, is education: to warn people about the abuse of marijuana—that is, the constant, regular, or heavy use of it—and to discourage that, as well. But certainly, there is nothing in the book, as I understand it—and I am not sure whether it has been published yet—that in any way promotes the use of marijuana or states that its use is OK.

Judy Turner: What is the Minister’s response to recent media reports regarding the legal status of cannabis, such as the call for decriminalisation by the leader of the new Mâori party, when the cannabis-related hospitalisation rate for Mâori is three times the rate for non-Mâori, and to this morning’s ironic statement regarding the drinking age by Nandor Tanczos, who said: “Yet again we see young people being blamed for emulating the behaviour of adults.”?

Hon PHIL GOFF: There are two separate questions there. I will take the last one first. I tend to agree with what Nandor Tanczos says, in that while it is easy for older people to say that alcohol is a problem for young people, the young people get their role models from older people. If any members in the House believe that simply changing the law on alcohol will stop the underage abuse of it, then they are wrong. With regard to the stand taken by the party led by Tariana Turia, whatever it is called, I would have thought—and I know that my colleague Dover Samuels feels very strongly about this—that one of the areas of the population that is most harmed by the abuse of marijuana is the Mâori community. In that light, I am a little surprised that the leader of the National Party, Don Brash, said that he is agnostic about marijuana reform—“The National Party is unresolved.”, “We haven’t yet got to the point of forming a view.”, “I’m quite torn on it.”, I feel uncomfortable.”, etc. I seek leave to table the document I was referring to with regard to Dr Brash.

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

Christchurch Polytechnic Institute of Technology—Community Education

3. GERRY BROWNLEE (Deputy Leader—National) to the Associate Minister of Education (Tertiary Education): Is Christchurch Polytechnic Institute of Technology’s use of $15 million of community education funding a good use of tertiary education funding; if so, why?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY (Associate Minister of Education (Tertiary Education)): The Tertiary Education Commission advises that the Christchurch Polytechnic Institute of Technology’s community education course has met current funding requirements. The question of whether particular programmes are a good use of funding will be assessed for the first time ever in New Zealand through the new Tertiary Education Commission profile negotiations with each individual institute, which will be used for the first time next year. In the short term, funding for community education in classification 5.1 has effectively been capped and the rules are being rewritten. All of this is a result of this Government’s tertiary education reforms in its Tertiary Education Reform Bill, which the National Party voted against.

Gerry Brownlee: Is the Minister aware that this $15.3 million of funding, which was meant for education purposes, was used to do nothing more than distribute a Cool IT CD-ROM; that because of loopholes in the funding guide, students had no contact with tutors whatsoever, and that the millions of dollars were instead spent on paying schools and libraries to enrol students and bribe them with petrol vouchers, movie vouchers, book vouchers, and phone cards to get them to sign up?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: I am aware that Christchurch Polytechnic Institute of Technology has a “Cool IT” course for computer training that covers four levels. Students can enrol in any one or all of those levels. For that they get a self-placed learning programme on a CD, which takes about 8 weeks to complete. I am aware of all of that, but I repeat to the member that he should be very grateful that the Labour Government is here, because, unlike his party when it was in Government, we can do something about it.

Lynne Pillay: Is the approach of deciding whether particular courses are a good use of tertiary education funding widely supported?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: On the whole, I think it is. People do want a more strategic approach to the investment of tertiary education funding. However, I have noticed that there are at least two other opinions. I notice that Nick Smith, as a former Minister of Education, has said that institutions should be trusted to run themselves and not be interfered with, whereas Bill English says that they should be controlled. These contradictory opinions are typical.

Mr SPEAKER: Those comments were unnecessary to the answer.

Bernie Ogilvy: Why is the Government so opposed to private education providers making a profit, yet it permits the abuse and profiteering by State-owned education providers, such as the Christchurch Polytechnic Institute of Technology, all because equivalent full-time student funding does not take into account the actual cost of running the course?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: The Government is against anybody making a profit out of taxpayer-funded education. Of course, we want people to be able to run their institution in a way that produces a surplus that they can reinvest in their institution, but we are opposed to anybody making a profit out of the taxpayers’ education dollar.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: If there are no courses, no follow- up, and no assessments, then what sort of “Ned Kelly education system” is he running?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: Thank you for the honour! Adult and community education has been part of the education system since it began. Those courses are always very short, and they have never, under any Government, had an assessment attached to them. I want to tell the member, though, that that now changes, because we have a more strategic approach to investment; we want to make sure we get value for our dollar. Under this Government, after a century or so of that tradition, it is finally going to change.

Deborah Coddington: Is it a good use of tertiary education funding for Te Wânanga o Aotearoa to spend $2 million on a state-of-the-art waka, which is 24 metres long with an 8-metre beam, has two huge caterpillar diesel motors, built to survey, and is sitting at Auckland’s Maritime Museum waiting to take students on a spiritual journey to Rarotonga; and when will he answer my letter written 2 months ago asking him to deny that taxpayers’ money was used to build this commercial vehicle?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: I will, of course, reply to the honourable member as soon as I possibly can. But I will say, in relation to the wânanga, that members need to remember that the wânanga has a large amount of money that does not come from the taxpayer. In terms of its funding base, it had its own money prior to ever becoming a wânanga. Of course, it does things that need to be sorted out in terms of where that money comes from, so in this particular case we may have to find out whether the money came from its own resources or from education sources.

Gerry Brownlee: Is the Minister concerned that some of the directors and shareholders of the company that came up with, and profited from, the Cool IT rort, which saw the Tertiary Education Commission pay $795 for each CD-ROM distributed, were senior staff members at the Christchurch Polytechnic Institute of Technology, and does he think it appropriate for these people to exploit loopholes in Government funding schemes in order to line their own pockets, and will he allow them to remain in employment in this State institution?

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

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: The essential question is really about the two staff at the Christchurch Polytechnic Institute of Technology. I have been assured by the Tertiary Advisory Monitoring Unit, which monitors ownership processes in organisations like this, that the two staff members had a conflict of interest that was known about. They had nothing to do with the contracting process. That was handled in an appropriate fashion.

Gerry Brownlee: Does he have any concerns about the business relationships between the development officer at the Christchurch Polytechnic Institute of Technology, the chief executive officer at the Christchurch Polytechnic Institute of Technology, and the directors of Brylton Software?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: Like all members of this House, I would be concerned when hearing the details as they were first revealed to us. That is why we have asked whether there is a conflict of interest that has been handled properly. As I said to the member, I have been assured that it was handled in an appropriate and proper fashion.

Jury System—Review

4. TIM BARNETT (Labour—Christchurch Central) to the Minister of Justice: What changes will he be making to strengthen the jury system?

Hon PHIL GOFF (Minister of Justice): To encourage and allow greater participation in the jury system, next week’s Budget will make provision for $9 million to allow for the increase in juror fees, and also to provide assistance to meet the costs of childcare and parking for jurors. That is designed to help offset the financial costs of doing one’s civic duty and serving on a jury. I think it is really important that we give that greater financial help to ensure that a whole cross section of people can serve on juries, and that people are both able and willing to do so.

Tim Barnett: Will any other changes be made to improve participation in the jury system?

Hon PHIL GOFF: The increase in juror fees is just one of a number of changes that will be made to improve participation in the jury system. Under legislation to be introduced probably next month, a number of other changes will be forthcoming. One of the important changes will be to allow people to defer jury service if they have good reasons—for example, because the jury coincides with some personal or employment obligation. This will allow more people to serve without having to seek exemption. There will also be protection against employees suffering disadvantage from employers because of the requirement on them to serve on a jury. Of course, the penalty for evading jury service will also go up, from $300 to $1,000. All those things taken together will see much better participation on juries by a wider cross section of New Zealanders.

Richard Worth: Instead of focusing on increased juror participation, why does the Minister not tackle current imperfections in the jury system and adopt a raft of strategies, such as increasing the threshold for an accused’s right to elect a jury trial, and permitting applications for judge-alone trials for extended cases; this juror participation plan is just playing at the edge of the issue, is it not?

Hon PHIL GOFF: I am glad the member raised those examples, because he seems to have entirely overlooked that I made a statement saying that for long cases—for example, ones that last more than 4 weeks; complex fraud issues—a jury trial can be replaced by a judge-alone trial. I seem to recall that when I made that announcement, Mr Worth’s colleagues—maybe Dr Mapp—were totally against doing that.

Question No. 5 to Minister

Dr WAYNE MAPP (National—North Shore): I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. This question was directed, of course, to the Minister of Customs. Had I wanted to ask a question of the Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade I would undoubtedly have asked a somewhat different question. We never get consulted on this issue.

Mr SPEAKER: The member must know the Standing Orders. The Government can decide who gets the question.

Australia New Zealand Leadership Forum—Common Border

5. Dr WAYNE MAPP (National—North Shore) to the Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade: What discussions does he intend to have with the Australian Minister for Justice and Customs regarding the recommendation by the Australia New Zealand Leadership Forum that the scope for a common border for Australia and New Zealand should be explored?

Hon PHIL GOFF (Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade): Last weekend’s leadership dialogue between Australia and New Zealand canvassed a number of areas relating to harmonisation and integration of our two countries’ policies. One of the areas that participants agreed should be explored was the scope for a common border. A report to both Governments by officials on the issues that that would raise will precede any bilateral ministerial discussions.

Dr Wayne Mapp: Does the Minister agree with the Prime Minister’s reported statements wherein she said: “I wouldn’t support a common border because Australia has one of the most restrictive regimes in the world.”, if not, why not?

Hon PHIL GOFF: The Prime Minister and, indeed, if I recall rightly, the Australian Foreign Minister, Alexander Downer, have both pointed to particular difficulties that would have to be overcome before a common border could be put into place. One of those difficulties is that New Zealand has a visa-waiver system with approximately 48 countries that enables people to come to New Zealand without visas. If a common border were to mean adopting the Australian policy, under which everyone outside New Zealand requires a visa to get into Australia, that would have a considerable downside for New Zealand’s tourism industry. Those sorts of problems need to be resolved if a common border is to be established.

Luamanuvao Winnie Laban: Were a common border and a common currency key issues under discussion at that leadership dialogue meeting?

Hon PHIL GOFF: Both those issues were discussed, but the key focus of the meeting was on the immediate steps that might be taken to progress towards a single economic market, with the emphasis, I think, by all speakers on where policies could be aligned relatively easily, rather than on more radical changes that require more work and more thought. More work and more thought will, obviously, be put into those areas.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Why on earth would Australia enter any arrangement with New Zealand, given the looseness and total lack of integrity of our immigration and passport systems in this country, and having regard to the experience of our having already lost our special Anzac social welfare relationship with Australia due to the looseness of our immigration and passport systems?

Hon PHIL GOFF: I absolutely disagree with both the premises on which that question was asked.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I did not ask him whether he disagrees with the question. I asked him to answer the question, which was why on earth Australia would enter into a common passport arrangement with us, given the appalling figures we have in this country in respect of overstayers, and given our loose passport arrangements—a matter that has already affected us with the loss of our social welfare arrangement with Australia.

Hon PHIL GOFF: Speaking to the point of order, I say that if the premises are wrong, there is no question to answer in that regard.

Mr SPEAKER: That is absolutely what I was just about to rule on.

Dr Wayne Mapp: Why did the Minister apparently fail to brief the Prime Minister properly so that she could have avoided her gaffe on the morning radio programme where she effectively overruled his own policies?

Hon PHIL GOFF: The premise of that statement is that the article by Fran O’Sullivan in the New Zealand Herald was correct. It was not. It was in fact absolutely incorrect. If the member wants to know the answer, I can tell him that the Prime Minister was asked early on Monday morning about common borders. She raised the problem that I referred to before, which is a very real problem—that if we were to adopt Australia’s border policies with regard to visas, that would do dramatic harm to our tourism industry. Neither she nor I would want to do that. That problem would need to be overcome before we could advance the case for a common border.

Luamanuvao Winnie Laban: Has the question of a common border been discussed before between the two countries; if so, with what results?

Hon PHIL GOFF: Yes. It is interesting that back in 1991 the Ministry of Transport in New Zealand led talks with Australia on a common border, which culminated in an agreement that it was feasible. Indeed, there was Cabinet agreement in principle at that time to proceed further to see how the problems that would arise from a common border could be resolved. Unfortunately, there was no response from the Australian side, and that meant that by 1994 work on this area had been stopped.

Dr Wayne Mapp: At what time on Monday did he brief the Prime Minister, causing a flip-flop from her statement on Monday morning on radio to her change of heart later in the day?

Hon PHIL GOFF: The Prime Minister rises very early on a Monday morning. She has probably done half a dozen radio interviews before the member is even out of his pyjamas. I had the chance to talk to the Prime Minister later in the morning.

John Carter: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Constantly this question time—and, indeed, it has been a common theme for some time—we have inferences and other statements made that are outside the Standing Orders. The Minister had no reason to make that comment about a member on this side, and there have been previous occasions when that has happened. I ask you to draw to the attention of the Ministers—all of them, collectively—the Standing Orders and the protocols around them.

Hon Dr Michael Cullen: There is a longstanding tradition in this House that when one side goes slightly beyond the rules in terms of its language, the other side can respond. I could equally raise a point of order about terminology like “flip-flop” being included in the question.

Mr SPEAKER: As I have said, if I were to rule out every phrase every time, I would be constantly on my feet—and some people say I interrupt too much now. I prefer to let question time flow, and I think most members agree with me.

Immigrants—Overstayers

6. Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS (Leader—NZ First) to the Minister of Immigration: Exactly how did he or his officials come up with the estimated 20,000 overstayer figure yesterday and what is the margin of error for this estimate?

Hon PAUL SWAIN (Minister of Immigration): The New Zealand Immigration Service determines how many people there are on its computer system with expired permits who are recorded as still in New Zealand. From this data, the New Zealand Immigration Service samples 100 records from each of at least 12 specified countries, those with either high numbers or high ratios of overstaying. It also does a random sample of 400 records from all of the other countries combined. The margin of error for the overstayer estimate is plus or minus 3.5 percent.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Can I ask the Minister whether he will be apologising for misleading the House and for giving a seriously flawed overstayer figure of 20,000, when he finally admitted to the House yesterday that the process for identifying overstayers is unsatisfactory, and why have members in this Parliament had to listen to a litany of departmental lies from his officials as to the true figure over the last 5 years, and when will he give members an accurate figure?

Hon PAUL SWAIN: I certainly will not be apologising. I said it was an estimate. It was an approximation of 20,000, plus or minus 3.5 percent. I could have given the member a whole seminar in maths and statistics.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: You’ve got no idea.

Hon PAUL SWAIN: I have. It is around 20,000. It was around 20,000 when that member was the Treasurer, and he did absolutely nothing about it. What we have done is put more money into border control, and we are trying to do something about information sharing in a Corrections Bill that that member’s party is voting against.

Dianne Yates: What is the Government doing to improve the quality of work being done on estimating the number of overstayers?

Hon PAUL SWAIN: The problem with establishing the exact number of overstayers has been around longer than this Government, and was around when the leader of New Zealand First was the Treasurer. My predecessor, Lianne Dalziel, initiated a systematic analysis of overstayers data in 2000. As a result of that initiative, the New Zealand Immigration Service has dedicated resources to work on this, and there has been a 50 percent increase in border control and management since 1999-2000. The New Zealand Immigration Service is constantly working to improve the integrity of data, both in-house and with other agencies.

Dr Wayne Mapp: In light of the Minister’s answer just given—that all the information is on computers—why can he not give members a dead-accurate figure by simply comparing departure cards, arrival cards, and visa information?

Hon PAUL SWAIN: This has been a problem since Governments have let people into the country. The fact is that some people, for example, arrive on flight crews and then go, some people die, and some people end up not being overstayers, because of the fact they have come in with parents. We do what we can. It is a difficult issue. We are going to get on top of it, but it does require a determined effort, and support from other parties that consider it an important issue, as well.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Is it a fact that the recurring answer I have been given—that current overstayer figures show a significant improvement on the 1997-98 figures—is a complete nonsense, given that computerised recording ceased in 1997, because back then when I was in Government it was determined that the system was not accurate enough; and what has he done since then?

Hon PAUL SWAIN: Well, quite a lot, actually. The computer system was introduced in 1996-97, and during that time whilst it was settling in, the information available was not particularly accurate. The information is now getting better. In fact, the information we have on overstayers now is better than it was when that member was the Treasurer.

Health Services—Finance, Minister

7. Dr LYNDA SCOTT (National—Kaikoura) to the Minister of Health: Has she received any correspondence from the Minister of Finance regarding concerns over the decline in productivity in the health sector; if so, what are those concerns?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Leader of the House), on behalf of the Minister of Health: Yes, I have received a letter from the Minister of Finance, noting that district health board output data as at October 2003 suggested such a conclusion. This reinforces concerns I have about the measurement of productivity in the sector, because that data refers to inpatient activity only. This is only about half of district health board activity; it does not reflect what we expect the true picture to be.

Dr Lynda Scott: Does the Minister believe that the decrease in the number of patients receiving cataract and joint replacement operations, revealed last December, and today’s revelations that hospitals are doing fewer operations overall, are indicative of a health system that is failing the nation’s people; if not, what possible other answer can the New Zealand public take, in light of the facts placed before them?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: What they can probably take is that less surgery is being done for people as inpatients—

Dr Lynda Scott: Less surgery.

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: No, more surgery is being done as part of outpatient provision. What is not clear is what those totals are, and work is proceeding on that. I note, of course, the member is once again promising to spend vastly increased money on her colleague’s promised tax cuts.

Dr Ashraf Choudhary: What work is being done to improve the information available on actual hospital outputs?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Officials are working with district health boards to improve the availability of information on the fuller picture of activities, including procedures previously undertaken in inpatient settings but now undertaken in outpatient settings, proceedings undertaken in emergency departments, oncology, radiology, and laboratories that were not previously reported and where significant growth has occurred, and procedures previously undertaken in secondary-care settings that are now undertaken in primary-care settings. [Interruption]

Mr SPEAKER: The member interjected the whole time during the question, and now wants to ask a question. I do not want too much interjection. The odd comment is allowed—but the odd comment, not a frequent flow.

Barbara Stewart: What registration costs will be picked up by district health boards as a result of the Health Practitioners Competence Assurance Act, and what impact will payment of those fees have on district health boards’ already burgeoning bureaucracy costs?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: That is a long way from the original question. Unfortunately, I do not have the information in front of me to be able to answer. I suggest the member puts down a separate question to the Minister of Health.

Heather Roy: What evidence is there to show that a letter from the Minister of Finance has any effect, when he wrote to the Minister of Health in January 2003—I have the letter here—raising the question of declining productivity and stating that he looked forward to hearing from her; and are the Minister of Finance and the country not still waiting to hear what she intends to do about it?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I can promise the member that the Minister of Health speaks frequently to the Minister of Finance, and vice versa. The Minister of Finance is particularly pleased to learn that, so I understand, the officials are working with district health boards to provide better information. The member may well find that, at the end of day, there are increased numbers of procedures being carried out, but more are being carried out outside of inpatient services.

Judy Turner: Does the Minister agree that the Minister of Finance’s concerns about the embarrassing decline in productivity in elective services, despite a 6 percent increase in funding over the last year, would be addressed by a review of how the relationship between public and private hospitals could be better strengthened to ensure that private hospital capacity is being utilised as effectively as possible; if not, why not?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: No, I do not. I think the much more fruitful opportunity is to do what is being done already—that is, to concentrate on primary health-care services and also to concentrate on expanding the usage of outpatient services. There is not always a need for inpatient services to be provided, unless one has a vested interest, for some reason, in the most expensive form of medical care.

Dr Lynda Scott: Does the Minister agree with Pat Tuohy, who believes that the drop in the number of operations is because “hospitals are not counting all the operations performed”; if so, is she worried that hospitals are not counting other figures, such as patients dying while on waiting lists, patients on waiting lists, patients waiting longer than 6 months for their first specialist assessment, medical errors, and hospital deficits?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I will take just the last point: in fact, the hospital system is ahead of budget in terms of the deficit for the current year, contrary to all the predictions made by that member after last year’s Budget.

Barbara Stewart: What plans does the Minister have to halt the decline in productivity by district health boards, caused in part by initially non-urgent operations becoming more complex because of time spent on waiting lists?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: The average time spent on waiting lists has dropped over the last 2 or 3 years. The member continues to make the incorrect assertion that there has been a reduction in the number of procedures carried out. No people in their right mind running a health system would prefer to carry out more procedures in the most expensive part of the system, as opposed to more efficient procedures carried out in outpatients or in the primary health-care system.

Dr Lynda Scott: Can the Minister give the public of New Zealand, many of whom are now in agony waiting for surgery, some explanation as to why less cataract and major joint replacement surgery was performed in 2002-03 than in 1999, when National left office; and does the Treasury report not just confirm that this Government has made good its election pledge to reduce waiting lists by simply culling patients, not curing them?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: No, not at all. As the member is no doubt aware, there will be significant announcements around the time of the Budget, in terms of increased operations in some of the areas that she mentioned. The fact remains that the member is referring to about half of the total provision of services, and it is a declining proportion of the total. An outbreak of logorrhoea on her part will not help matters, at all.

Dr Lynda Scott: If the Minister is receiving worried correspondence about the state of the health sector from one of her fellow Ministers—[Interruption]

Mr SPEAKER: I am sorry, Dr Scott. Somebody will very nearly be leaving the Chamber. That is the only warning. Please start the question again.

Dr Lynda Scott: If the Minister is receiving worried correspondence about the state of the health sector from one of her fellow Ministers, does she not think it is a measure of how deep a problem health is; and in light of Annette King’s statement: “The buck stops with me.”, should New Zealanders not expect the Minister to stand by her remarks and finally resign?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: What the Minister draws is the conclusion that this Minister of Finance is a sharing and caring Minister, who shows a concern for health services unmatched by any previous Minister of Finance in New Zealand’s history.

Dr Lynda Scott: I seek leave to table a letter from the Minister of Finance to the Minister of Health stating that despite significant revenue increase, volumes in this sector are static, if not declining.

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

Dr Lynda Scott: I seek leave to table the Health and Independence Report 2003, which shows clearly that major joint replacements and cataracts are at lower levels than under the National-led Government.

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

Heather Roy: I seek leave to table another letter from the Minister of Finance to the Minister of Health, outlining his concerns about declining productivity, written in January 2003.

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

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I seek leave to table a statement from the Minister of Health’s acting Deputy Director-General, Clinical Services, explaining the false nature of the statistics.

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

Kyoto Protocol—Implementation

8. NANAIA MAHUTA (Labour—Tainui) to the Convenor, Ministerial Group on Climate Change: What reports has he received on progress on implementing the Kyoto Protocol?

Hon PETE HODGSON (Convenor, Ministerial Group on Climate Change): I am advised that 122 countries have now ratified the Kyoto Protocol. When Russia confirms its stated intention to ratify the protocol, it will come into force. However, I have also seen a report of Nick Smith’s announcements that a National Government would renege on New Zealand’s commitment, leaving it up to Canberra and Washington to decide what New Zealand should do about climate change. Rather than being “clean, green, and 100 percent pure”, National seems to believe that New Zealand should be unclean, ungreen, and 100 percent pure poo.

Mr SPEAKER: A part of that answer was a matter of ministerial responsibility, but the other part was not.

Nanaia Mahuta: Can the Minister explain why New Zealand stands by its ratification of the protocol?

Hon PETE HODGSON: As a newspaper column so eloquently put it, “the problem of climate change is enormous. New Zealand can’t ignore the problem. New Zealanders must do their bit.” The writer of that column was Nick Smith.

Hon David Carter: Is the Minister aware of the infrastructure stocktake, released today by the Hon Jim Anderton, which found “incentives to invest in generation are affected by uncertainty about the carbon tax and whether the Kyoto Protocol will come into force”, and is the Minister concerned about the mixed messages coming from the Government?

Hon PETE HODGSON: Yes, I am aware of the report; I had a hand in its writing. It seems to me that the member should quote all parts of the report. He may, for example, like to reflect on the project mechanism by which we use carbon credits that are a direct product of Kyoto to get generation under way, such as the 40 megawatts of wind power that I opened in Tararua yesterday.

Dail Jones: Why is this minority Labour Government continuing to spend taxpayers’ money to support the Kyoto Protocol, when the refusal of the Russian Federation and the United States of America to ratify it prevents it from attaining any international recognition and also prevents any exchange of carbon credits?

Hon PETE HODGSON: Russia does not refuse to ratify it; it is yet to get around to ratifying it. In respect of the trade in carbon credits, the member may be interested to learn that carbon credits are being traded out of New Zealand even now.

Jeanette Fitzsimons: In light of the widespread agreement that climate change is serious and that New Zealand needs to play its part, why are decisions about a carbon charge, with associated income tax reductions, to encourage sustainable energy dependent on decisions by the Kremlin about ratifying Kyoto?

Hon PETE HODGSON: It seems to me that the member’s question seeks further progress still on climate change issues, and so do we. That is why, for example, yesterday I announced that we will repeat and enlarge the highly successful project mechanism that has so far seen plans for nearly 400 megawatts of new electricity, at no cost to the Government. None of that could have happened if we were not a ratifying party. I think Nick Smith should reflect on that.

Gerrard Eckhoff: What is the Minister’s view of the statement by the internationally renowned scientist and director of the Russian Academy of Sciences, Kiril Kondratyev,

who said the only people who would be hurt by abandoning the Kyoto Protocol would be several thousand people making a living from attending conferences on global warming, and how many trips has the Minister attended internationally?

Hon PETE HODGSON: If the member is expressing his proclivities by quoting a Russian scientist, then I invite him to look at the National Academy of Sciences—that is to say, the American scientists—which thinks that the international panel on climate change has the issue about right.

Drinking—Legal Age

9. NANDOR TANCZOS (Green) to the Associate Minister of Health: What evidence does he have that raising the drinking age is an effective means of reducing binge drinking by teenagers?

Hon JIM ANDERTON (Associate Minister of Health): The New Zealand Drug Foundation, the Ministry of Health, the Alcohol Advisory Council, and other public health organisations were opposed to lowering New Zealand’s drinking age, based on researched evidence of increases in alcohol-related harm, when the drinking age was lowered in Australia, Canada, and the United States of America. When Canada and the United States again raised their drinking age, alcohol-related harm decreased. There was a decrease in the use of alcohol among teenagers in the United States that persisted into their early twenties. A comprehensive analysis carried out in the year 2000 of published United States research found that raising the drinking age appeared to be more effective than a wide range of other strategies aimed at reducing youth drinking.

Nandor Tanczos: Does the Minister agree that the current age limit is not being enforced adequately, and what is the Government doing to ensure a crackdown on outlets that sell alcohol to underage people, given that it seems sensible to enforce the present age limit before seeking to amend the legislation?

Hon JIM ANDERTON: I think that many members in the House today who were here when the drinking age was lowered will remember the commitments made about enforcing the lower age. The truth is that offences committed by an even younger age group than 18 are increasing, and the police have reported that with serious concerns. Therefore, one has to say that whether enforcement has been carried out or not, and it looks as though it has been much more difficult than the police indicated to the select committee, the whole procedure has been a dismal failure and we need to readdress it.

Darren Hughes: Does the Minister have any evidence that lowering the drinking age has increased abuse?

Hon JIM ANDERTON: The Ministry of Justice report into the consequences of lowering the drinking age showed that of those in the 14-to-17 age category especially who did drink, significant numbers were drinking more, and more often. Police evidence cited in the report showed that frontline police have had to deal with rising numbers of drunk and disorderly teenagers since the drinking age was lowered in 1999, with the number of minors dealt with by police on alcohol-related matters increasing from 834 incidents in 1994 to 2,597 in 2002. My instinct is that if we had the latest figures they would be even worse than that.

Dail Jones: In view of the Minister’s admission today, what support will he now give to the repeal of the port and sherry tax, which was introduced to reduce binge drinking by teenagers, but has only reduced the enjoyment of life by older New Zealanders and put some winemakers into financial difficulty?

Hon JIM ANDERTON: The increase in excise duty on the content of alcohol in liquor sold has been extraordinarily successful. [Interruption] I do not want to get the facts in the way of anyone’s prejudice, but the consumption of light spirits, at which the duty was targeted, has been reduced by 83 percent. I would have thought that that was a victory in anyone’s language.

Paul Adams: Does the Minister agree that a common-sense solution to combat youth binge-drinking would be to raise the age at which young people can purchase alcohol from bottle stores, supermarkets, dairies, etc., to 20 years, but retain the current provisions allowing 18-year-olds to drink at bars and restaurants as these are controlled venues; if not, why not?

Hon JIM ANDERTON: Campaigns have been carried out at a local level to reduce the purchase of liquor at bottle stores and liquor outlets, and to some extent these have shown some success. However, the truth is that the advice of the Ministry of Health to me is that evidence from everywhere around the world shows that raising the drinking age is the single most effective way of reducing teenage drinking, and I recommend that to the House.

Nandor Tanczos: Can the Minister confirm that the Ministry of Justice report Young People and Alcohol: Some Statistics to 2002 on Possible Effects of Lowering the Drinking Age, which was released recently, shows that in New Zealand the numbers of young people drinking has not significantly increased as a result of lowering the age limit, and that this evidence suggests a need for us to address the culture of binge drinking through a number of mechanisms—for example, looking at price incentives, promoting messages of moderation, promoting alternatives to alcohol, and tackling ready-to-drink drinks?

Hon JIM ANDERTON: I accept that New Zealand has a culture of heavy drinking, and I regret that. The truth is that a lot of young people do not invent it for themselves; they emulate other people, who should also look very hard in the mirror. While this is a complex area, every piece of evidence that I have in front of me as Associate Minister of Health tells me that the one single thing that can simply be done to keep a simple approach to this, because it is a complex matter, is to raise the drinking age, and, again, I will proselytise for that in every place I can.

Gerrard Eckhoff: Has the Minister heard of United Future’s Judy Turner’s proposal of lifting the age to 19 years, and does he think that this is a good common-sense solution?

Hon JIM ANDERTON: Any step to send a message that drinking at a lower and lower age is not a good idea for young New Zealanders would be acceptable to me. I suggest that the House dealt with the age of 20 and lowered it to 18 on the basis that this would work. In my view, the evidence suggests it has not worked, and therefore I think we should readdress it on that basis.

Nandor Tanczos: Will the Minister support another simple measure to address the culture of binge drinking, and will he vote for my member’s bill to reinstate the ban lifted by a previous National Government on broadcast advertising of alcohol, if it should be drawn from the ballot?

Hon JIM ANDERTON: If that were a conscience issue in the House I would vote for it. We cannot have double standards. If we do not believe that drinking at a younger and younger age is a good idea, then we should not agree that people can promote it as though it were.

Ron Mark: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I seek the leave of the House to ask a further supplementary question.

Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to ask a further supplementary question on New Zealand First’s allocation. Is there any objection? There is no objection, so the member is permitted to ask his question.

Ron Mark: Does the Minister believe that a ban on broadcast alcohol advertising would address the increasing number of minors dealt with by police for drinking in public places, which has reached a staggering 2,597 in 2002, or does he believe a law changing the legal drinking age back to 20, as provided in my colleague Bill Gudgeon’s member’s bill to be a more appropriate means of addressing this problem?

Hon JIM ANDERTON: Again, I reiterate to the House that although measures such as reduction in advertising have personal support from me, the evidence I have in front of me from the Ministry of Health is that the single most effective thing that the House could do if we are really seriously concerned about this is to raise the drinking age back to 20.

Ron Mark: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I seek leave to move a motion without notice or debate relating to the addition on to the Order Paper at the first available time of the Sale of Liquor (Increase the Drinking Age) Amendment Bill currently in the member’s ballot sponsored by Bill Gudgeon.

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

Nandor Tanczos: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. During my supplementary question to the Minister I referred to alternatives to alcohol. I seek leave to table one example I found in Amsterdam, which is alcohol-free beer. I should also add that it is very good.

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

Statistics—Business Compliance Costs

10. MARK PECK (Labour—Invercargill) to the Minister of Statistics: What is Statistics New Zealand doing to reduce the costs to business in complying with requirements to provide statistical data?

Hon JOHN TAMIHERE (Minister of Statistics): Although New Zealand has a relatively light compliance burden by international standards, Statistics New Zealand shares this Government’s commitment to improving things further. Recent initiatives taken by Statistics New Zealand to reduce compliance costs include changes to the retail trade survey, to the extent that compliance has been cut by 25 percent. The post-out of monthly business frame update surveys has been reduced by 30,000 questionnaires—50 percent a year. The annual frame updating survey has been reduced by 23 percent, from a post-out of 121,000 in 2002 to 110,000 in 2003 and 93,000 in 2004. Both the monthly and annual update questionnaires have been streamlined. This has meant that they have been reduced from 22 to just two.

Mark Peck: To what extent is Statistics New Zealand making better use of tax data to reduce compliance costs, as well?

Hon JOHN TAMIHERE: Statistics New Zealand is further expanding the use of tax data to replace direct surveys. In 2003 GST returns were introduced in the wholesale trade survey, reducing the number of survey respondents by more than 600 each quarter. That is a 36 percent reduction. The use of GST returns with regard to the quarterly survey of manufacturing meant that the number of businesses surveyed has been reduced by 450, or 28 percent. Statistics New Zealand is working to make sure that business people are as aware of the services that Statistics New Zealand can provide to them as they are of the demands placed on them.

United States Base, Guantanamo Bay—Detainees

11. KEITH LOCKE (Green) to the Minister of Defence: Does he stand by his answer to written question 5653 on 6 June 2003 in relation to the treatment of United States detainees; if so, why?

Hon MARK BURTON (Minister of Defence): Yes. It was to the best of my knowledge accurate.

Keith Locke: Have units of the New Zealand SAS operating in Afghanistan handed over prisoners of war or other detainees to US jurisdiction; if so, how can the Minister guarantee that they have been treated humanely?

Hon MARK BURTON: Although the House is pretty clear that the Government does not comment on the detail of SAS operations, I can say to the member that New Zealand is a signatory to the Geneva Convention, and New Zealand forces are required to observe its provisions. I think the most important obligations of international law are those that ensure that all people who are under any form of detention are entitled to humane treatment. Therefore, the New Zealand Defence Force’s primary responsibility is to ensure the humane treatment of any detained person.

Keith Locke: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. In the Minister’s reply that we have just heard, he referred to the Government not releasing operational details. I think it should be made clear that I did not ask for any operational details. I wanted to know specifically whether any prisoners of war or detainees had been handed over to American jurisdiction. That would not reveal any operational detail. I require an answer to that question.

Mr SPEAKER: The member might require an answer, but he was given one. He might not be satisfied with it, but that is not my job. The member got an answer.

Keith Locke: Will the Minister be supporting calls for an independent international inquiry into the treatment of prisoners at US detention facilities in Guantanamo Bay, Iraq, and Afghanistan, given that if the mistreatment continues it will further discredit the coalition force, which includes troops from New Zealand?

Hon MARK BURTON: I think the member would understand that I have no direct responsibility or authority for US forces, but I have to say that I absolutely agree with the sentiments recently expressed by the US Secretary of State, Colin Powell, when he said that Americans deplored what happened and there can be no excuses. I think every member of this House shares the same abhorrence at the actions of all of those responsible.

Helen Duncan: Can the Minister assure the House that New Zealand has made clear its position on the treatment of detainees?

Hon MARK BURTON: We have made clear our expectation that the treatment of all detainees will be in accordance with the applicable international humanitarian and human rights laws. I can say to members that, in the unlikely event of our transferring a detainee, we have also made it clear that we would wish to stay engaged regarding the ongoing welfare of that detainee.

Keith Locke: How bad does the treatment of detainees by the US-led coalition force have to get before the Government will consider withdrawing New Zealand’s SAS troops from the coalition force, and has that point not already been reached?

Hon MARK BURTON: As I indicated in an earlier answer, I have no responsibility for the conduct of US forces. But I did explain at some length in my answer to a previous supplementary question that New Zealand sets a high standard of expectation and requires its forces to adhere to that. As I have just said, in the unlikely event of a detainee being handed over, New Zealand would require to stay engaged regarding the well-being of that detainee.

Court Fines—“Confiscated Car Club”

12. MARTIN GALLAGHER (Labour—Hamilton West) to the Minister for Courts: Is he satisfied that the “Confiscated Car Club” advertising and enforcement campaign has been effective in dealing with fines defaulters?

Hon RICK BARKER (Minister for Courts): Yes. Good progress was made. In the 4-week campaign, 324 cars belonging to fines defaulters were either clamped or seized; 125 of those owners paid their fines in full. I am advised that as of 30 April a total of $10.18 million had been either paid in full or put under time-to-pay arrangements, as a result of the campaign. During the campaign period more than 35,500 calls were made to the special 0800 number. It is clear that people heard and understood the message that this Government considers unpaid fines simply unacceptable.

Martin Gallagher: If the campaign has been so successful, why is it not being continued indefinitely?

Hon RICK BARKER: It is not feasible to run an intensive campaign throughout the year. Campaigns are better used as short, sharp shocks. Campaigns like the “name and shame” campaign will be run again, and fines defaulters have a clear message that they cannot sleep easy. The Collections Contact Centre has learnt a good deal from this last campaign, and I expect that next time it is run we will do even better.

Richard Worth: What has been the cost of the campaign, given that the total of outstanding traffic fines is in the order of $170 million?

Hon RICK BARKER: I have no particular cost breakdown of the campaign, but I can say that it has been hugely successful in this way: in 1999, for example, the amount collected by the Collections Contact Centre was about $112 million; this year we have already collected $159 million in fines and fines arrears, and are on track to collect a record $190 million.

End of Questions for Oral Answer

( Uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing. For corrected transcripts, please visit:
http://www.clerk.parliament.govt.nz/hansard )

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