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Questions & Answers for Oral Answer 26 May 2004

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

Wednesday, 26 May 2004
Questions for Oral Answer
Questions to Ministers

1 Orthopaedic Services—Access
2 Foreshore and Seabed—Private Ownership
3 Pharmac—Trans-Tasman Therapeutic Products Agency
4 Growth and Innovation Framework—Budget 2004
Question No. 3 to Minister
5 Land Information, Minister—Confidence
6 Unemployment Benefit—Statistics
Question No. 2 to Minister
7 Christchurch Polytechnic Institute of Technology—Community Education
8 Immigration—Regulation
9 Electricity—Supply, South Island
10 Drugs—Suicide Prevention
11 Families—Cost of Living
12 Child, Youth and Family Services, Department—Statutory Obligations

Questions for Oral Answer
Questions to Ministers

Orthopaedic Services—Access

1. STEVE CHADWICK (Labour—Rotorua) to the Minister of Health: What is she doing to improve access to orthopaedic services?

Hon ANNETTE KING (Minister of Health): Today the Government announced a major initiative aimed at doubling the number of publicly funded hip and knee replacement operations performed in hospitals over the next 4 years. This increase in operations will bring huge relief to thousands of New Zealanders by ensuring access to the most effective treatment option for patients suffering high levels of immobility and crippling pain. The project aims to ensure that in the future over 9,300 New Zealanders will each year regain their physical independence.

Steve Chadwick: How many more operations will occur as a result of this initiative?

Hon ANNETTE KING: In the first year this initiative will result in an extra 1,890 major joint replacements. In the first year the cost will be $30 million. By the fourth year, if not sooner, we plan to have doubled the current number of major joint-replacement operations being performed. That is an extra 4,665 operations at a cost of up to $70 million a year. This is not a one-off project. It is one that will go on year in, year out.

Heather Roy: Can the Minister explain how this secretly decided announcement, which district health boards did not ask for, is anything but blatant electioneering to counter horror election year waiting-list stories—

Government Members: Oh!

Mr SPEAKER: I have made a ruling and that ruling will apply to everybody. There is to be no interjection while questions are being asked. I ask the member to please start again.

Heather Roy: Can the Minister explain how this secretly decided announcement, which district health boards did not ask for—

Hon Dr Michael Cullen: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. This happened yesterday, and I indicated that I would raise more points of order when questions themselves were being unnecessary in terms of epithets, statements, etc. What does the term “secretly” have to do with that? Any discussion in Cabinet is, by its very nature, taken internally.

Hon Richard Prebble: Once upon a time discussions in Cabinet were secret, but now they are leaked regularly. What we have here is one of those ones that was kept secret, as opposed to those ones that the Prime Minister’s ninth floor spin doctors decide to deliver, sometimes even before the discussion has been held.

Mr SPEAKER: I think it would be a bit rough to rule out the word “secret”. The member can carry on.

Heather Roy: Can the Minister explain how this secretly decided announcement, which district health boards did not ask for, is anything but blatant electioneering to counter horror election year waiting list stories, when for 4 years she has devolved funding and priorities to the boards, yet now they have been told: “Here comes the money, but it’s only for hip and knee replacements.”?

Hon ANNETTE KING: I realise that the ACT party has been preoccupied, but I am told that this is the worst-kept secret around—in fact, the announcement is before the Budget. The district health boards have worked with the ministry on the project. The Orthopaedic Association has worked with the ministry and the district health boards on the project. I think everybody expected a project would be coming along, except the ACT party. What I do know is that it is welcomed by thousands of New Zealanders and is a very good response to a need.

Foreshore and Seabed—Private Ownership

2. Hon Dr NICK SMITH (National—Nelson) to the Minister for Land Information: Why did he tell the House on 12 August 2003 that he stood by statements that “significant chunks of the foreshore … has private ownership title” and that we are talking about thousands and not hundreds of kilometres of private title to the foreshore, and on 13 August 2003 say that his initial assessment was “based on Land Information New Zealand’s advice, which was drawn from preliminary work in this area”, when papers just released under the Official Information Act 1982 show that advice requested by him and received on 18 July and confirmed on 25 July said “officials’ preliminary view is that the quantum is very small”?

Hon JOHN TAMIHERE (Minister for Land Information): As the member knows, on 1 August 2003 I received advice from Land Information New Zealand. Approximately 6,600 kilometres of coastline could be potentially bounded by privately owned land. If he took my comments as confirming his misapprehension as between foreshore bounded by privately owned land, and privately owned foreshore, I regret this.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: How can the Minister claim that there was any confusion in this Parliament about the ownership of the foreshore, when my question on notice—so he had it hours in advance—read: “Does the Minister stand by his statement to the New Zealand Herald that significant chunks of the foreshore, not the Queen’s Chain”—I explicitly used those words—“were in private title?”. Given that I was very explicit that it was excluding the Queen’s Chain, why did he continue to tell this Parliament that there were large amounts of private ownership?

Hon JOHN TAMIHERE: The question was not placed on notice. It was a supplementary question, asked of question No. 4 on that date. I might add that the member himself should take his own advice. When he was speaking to this House in September 1993 on the Queen’s Chain Protection Bill, he noted that we should not “mislead the public about exactly what those legal provisions are in terms of this complex issue of access. I invite Opposition members to be a little bit more responsible about the way in which they present this issue.”

Hon Dr Nick Smith: Mr Tamihere stated that it was not a question on notice. I seek the leave of the House to table the Hansard, which shows that question No. 6 on 12 August, specifically as quoted, was a question on notice.

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

Hon Roger Sowry: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. How can you have judged that Mr Tamihere addressed the question, when he was asked a question by Mr Smith, and he got up and did not answer it, but in fact read out a 1993 quote that had dubious linkages to the issue?

Mr SPEAKER: I judged it because I was the Speaker, and I ruled it in order.

Russell Fairbrother: What is Land Information New Zealand’s final advice on the portion of the foreshore bounded by privately owned land, and the number of parcels surveyed to below the mean high-water mark?

Hon JOHN TAMIHERE: In its final report to me, which I released publicly on 13 January this year, Land Information confirmed that of a total coastline of 19,833 kilometres, 6,032 kilometres is bounded by land in private ownership. It also indicated that approximately 48 parcels exist that are surveyed to below the mean high-water mark. That figure does not count foreshore included in private title due to erosion. Regarding coastline and foreshore, this represents the first inventory ever undertaken in the history of this country.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Why is the Minister trying to confuse the House with statements regarding riparian rights or foreshore that is bounded by certain land, when the issue was always about the foreshore and seabed—an issue he got demonstrably wrong—and why does he not just apologise and resign?

Hon JOHN TAMIHERE: The answer to the latter part of that question is no. In answer to the first part of the question, I reply that the questions raised in this House were questioning work in evolution. That has now been completed, and the answers are now known to everybody.

Hon Richard Prebble: Does the Minister accept that it is important that he does not mislead this House or the country? If so, given that he said, on 2 August, as reported in the New Zealand Herald: “The public has no right to stroll along more than a third of New Zealand’s beaches, and large chunks of the foreshore are already held in private ownership. This is revealed in two reports prepared for the Government.”, and given that we have now received the official information reports, which state the officials actually said: “It is estimated that only a very small amount of privately owned land would extend below the mean high-water mark.”, does he now accept that he misled this House and the country; if so, what does he intend doing about it?

Hon JOHN TAMIHERE: No, because it was not until 12 December 2003 that Land Information New Zealand had conducted a full interrogation of 6,600 kilometres of coastline held in private ownership. The extent of that ownership—as to whether it actually went into the foreshore—had yet to be interrogated. It was important to put the information out, as and when it arrived.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: Why on the Holmes show did the Minister tell hundreds of thousands of New Zealanders that a third of the foreshore was in private ownership, when he had two reports—the first on 18 July and the second on 25 July—that showed quite explicitly, in their terms, their advice, that the amount of land in private ownership in one report was very small and the other was insignificant?

Hon JOHN TAMIHERE: Contrary to what the member has just indicated, the official information was that there was no interrogation of title whatsoever in this country, and a full interrogation had to occur before one could advise what it was. I advised this House that 6,600 kilometres of coastline were in private ownership. That was a third at the time my officials advised me—end of story.

Dail Jones: Did the Minister make a statement about the foreshore without fully understanding the meaning of the word “foreshore”, and could he explain to the House today what he actually understands the meaning of that word to be?

Hon JOHN TAMIHERE: To put the matter beyond doubt, and as I have indicated, the final interrogation occurred on 12 December, and this was released on 13 January, after Christmas, with regard to final details on foreshore and ownership. Might I put the minds of members of the House to rest, by referring them specifically to clause 4 of the Foreshore and Seabed Bill. The definition of foreshore and seabed is: (a) . . . the marine area that is bounded,—(i) on the landward side by the high water line at mean high water spring tides;”. That puts it beyond doubt.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: In respect of a question on foreshore and seabed private ownership, on 13 August, why did this Minister say that his initial assessment of the level of private ownership was based on advice from Land Information New Zealand when the advice that has today come to light shows exactly the opposite of what he said in this House?

Hon JOHN TAMIHERE: The member is welcome to take from a number of reports that which he desires.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Did the Minister make the statement on 2 August that the public has no right to stroll along more than a third of New Zealand’s beaches, and that large chunks of the foreshore and seabed are already held in private ownership, when he knew on 25 July and earlier on 18 July that the statement was demonstrably untrue; and given that he misled this House, why does he not resign?

Hon JOHN TAMIHERE: In answer to the second part of that question no, that will not be happening. In answer to the first part of the question, it is a fact that one-third of the New Zealand coastline is in private hands. It is not a fact that one-third of the foreshore is. We now know that to be true because the interrogation has achieved it.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: Does the Minister recall telling the House last year: “I have made information available as it comes to hand in a bid to inform the public of New Zealand at the earliest possible time.”; if so, why did he withhold these two reports from his officials, when I requested them on 17 September last year, until Budget week this year?

Hon JOHN TAMIHERE: That is absolutely incorrect and misleading. The reality is that when a final report was made available on 12 December—

John Carter: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The Minister cannot say that. That actually is untrue anyway, but the fact is that he cannot use inferences. He should just answer the question and not give an interpretation of what he thinks may or may not have happened. It is quite inaccurate for him to do that.

Mr SPEAKER: I heard him say that he thought it was incorrect and it was misleading. He is perfectly entitled to say that. If he said “deliberately incorrect”, of course that would be wrong. But he said it was incorrect and misleading—I listened carefully.

Hon JOHN TAMIHERE: The member’s view is incorrect and misleading to the extent that the information was made available to me in conclusion by my officials on 12 December—just before Christmas. It would have been inappropriate to have dumped it prior to Christmas. It was released on 13 January and that concluded the matter in the minds of everybody.

Hon Bill English: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. In replying to the questions, the Minister appears to be reading from a report. I invite him to table the report, which was the basis of the statements he made to the House.

Mr SPEAKER: Is the Minister quoting from an official document?

Hon John Tamihere: I seek leave to table a whole range of documents I am presently referring to.

Mr SPEAKER: The member will do so at the end of the question.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I will settle this matter. [Interruption] He is going to table it.

Mr SPEAKER: I am getting sick and tired of this. I sought advice, I got it, and I said it is usual to table documents at the end of a question. The Minister said he is going to table the documents, and he will do that.

Hon Bill English: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I asked a specific question about a specific document and that has not been dealt with. He can table whatever he likes, but you have not responded to the point of order I raised.

Mr SPEAKER: I ask the member, did he quote from an official document?

Hon JOHN TAMIHERE: I responded from an official document that I have already released to the public, but which I am willing to table today.

Mr SPEAKER: Right, that answers the matter. If he wants to table it, I will let him table it now since we have interrupted him. Is there any objection to it being tabled?

Hon Richard Prebble: There is no leave required. He must table it.

Mr SPEAKER: He must table it and that is that.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. With the greatest of respect, I am interested in what Mr Tamihere has to say and do on this matter. He said that he would table everything he had in front of him, and if there was an official document, I assume it would include that. So the point of order was frivolous and wasted the House’s time. Now, my supplementary question is this—

Mr SPEAKER: Just a moment, I want to count up first.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: We are only on question No. 2. I cannot have used my quota yet.

Mr SPEAKER: It is about whether you can ask your question before another member.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: But nobody is on their feet.

Mr SPEAKER: That is why the member is getting the call..

Rt Hon Winston Peters: When Mr Tamihere made the statements on 2 August in respect of one-third of the foreshore being in private ownership, were we to take from them that (a) he did not know what he was talking about, even though he is the Minister for Land Information, or (b) that he deliberately misled this House; which of the two conclusions do we take, and are either of the conclusions a result that he should resign on?

Hon JOHN TAMIHERE: I would take (c), which was not mentioned, which is that I told the House the type of information that I had from my officials.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: The first document I wish to table is my specific request—under the Official Information Act—to the Minister for the reports of 18 and 25 July, dated 17 September 2003.

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

Hon Dr Nick Smith: I also seek leave to table the Minister’s response this week.

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

Hon Dr Nick Smith: I also seek leave to table those two reports that we received this week—the report of 18 July, which was advice specifically sought by the Minister on the amount of private ownership of the foreshore and seabed, and a report on 25 July that confirmed the preliminary advice.

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

Hon JOHN TAMIHERE: I seek leave to table three documents. One is a copy of Hansard of 6 August, demonstrating that Dr Nick Smith asked the question that I responded to, in light of his question today for oral answer.

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

Hon JOHN TAMIHERE: Secondly, I seek leave to provide a document that was released to Dr Nick Smith, in terms of his request under the Official Information Act, in its entirety.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. What date is that?

Mr SPEAKER: What date is that?

Hon JOHN TAMIHERE: It is dated 20 May on the top copy that I have.

Mr SPEAKER: It is dated 20 May this year.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: It was on 24 May that you released it.

Hon JOHN TAMIHERE: Well, there it is—the member got it on the 24th, God bless him.

Mr SPEAKER: The document is dated 20 May, and the member got it on 24th. [Interruption] It is dated the 20th, and he released it on the 24th. Is there any objection to that being tabled?

Hon Dr Nick Smith: There is, Mr Speaker, because I have a copy dated the 24th.

Mr SPEAKER: There is objection.

Hon JOHN TAMIHERE: The next document—[Interruption]

Mr SPEAKER: We are in the middle of a point of order and the member knows it. He will be leaving the Chamber if he does not behave himself.

Hon JOHN TAMIHERE: The final document that I seek leave to table is a guide to the foreshore and seabed, and I commend all members to uplift it and read it.

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

Hon Richard Prebble: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Standing Order 361 relates to quoting from a document, but if he did not so quote then I would invite him to seek leave. But the two documents that I would particularly like him to reveal are the ones that he claimed he had on 2 August 2003, which, according to him, revealed at that time that one-third of New Zealand beaches and large hunks of the foreshore and seabed are already in private ownership. I say to the Minister that if he has any such document, would he please table it, and if he does not, perhaps he might like to withdraw that remark.

Mr SPEAKER: The member cannot ask the Minister to table something. The Minister may do so if he wishes, but members cannot ask for leave in that way.

Hon Richard Prebble: With the greatest of respect, I first raised the matter under Standing Order 361. Under Standing Order 361 the Minister is required to table the document. I said that if any of his answers were backed up by the two official documents that he claimed he had on 2 August last year, then I require him to table them. If he did not quote from those two documents, then I asked him whether he would be kind enough to table them. Then I said that if those two documents do not actually exist—which is the view that most of us have formed—would it not be a good idea to apologise to us all for having claimed that a document exists that does not.

Hon JOHN TAMIHERE: In answer to the first part of the question, I did not refer to the documentation of 2 August. However, I seek leave, again, to table a document, which was released under an Official Information Act request to Nick Smith, that includes it. I seek leave of the House now to do that.

Mr SPEAKER: What is the date on it?

Hon JOHN TAMIHERE: The date on it is 20 May 2004.

Hon Richard Prebble: That might be the date when he released something to Mr Smith. What I would like to know is whether the document—[Interruption] But that is a cover note. Is it a document that is dated clearly before 2 August 2003? In fact, there were supposed to be two such documents, according to him.

Hon JOHN TAMIHERE: The answer is yes.

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

Hon Dr Nick Smith: I seek leave of the House to table the Official Information Act request dated 24 May and signed by the Minister for Land Information.

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

Hon Dr Nick Smith: Given that Lianne Dalziel lost her job as Minister of Immigration for deceiving the public in the same way this Minister has misled Parliament, the public, and all New Zealanders on the most contentious issue of this Parliament, how can the Minister possibly keep his job as Minister for Land Information when he has been found to be spreading deliberate misinformation?

Mr SPEAKER: The last part three or four words must be withdrawn. The rest of the question is in order. The word “deliberate” must be withdrawn.

Hon Dr NICK SMITH: I withdraw the word “deliberate” and say “spreading misinformation.”

Hon JOHN TAMIHERE: The answer to the question is no. I invite the member not to be mean-spirited and naughty.

Mr SPEAKER: The last sentence was inappropriate. As far as that is concerned, I would have preferred that the Minister just got up and gave the answer in one word, as he is perfectly competent and capable of doing. I would like the Minister to withdraw that statement.

Hon JOHN TAMIHERE: I withdraw.

Pharmac—Trans-Tasman Therapeutic Products Agency

3. SUE KEDGLEY (Green) to the Minister of Health: Can she confirm that Pharmac has expressed its “severe reservations” about some aspects of the proposed joint trans-Tasman agency to regulate therapeutic products; if so, what were its reservations?

Hon ANNETTE KING (Minister of Health): Yes. I expect officials to have free and frank discussions on important issues, to ensure that the best decisions are made. The letter the member mentions is 2 years old, and since then significant progress has been made.

Sue Kedgley: Can the Minister confirm that Pharmac has repeatedly warned the Ministry of Health in recent years—and, indeed, even in the Health Committee this morning—that under the joint agency there could be significant cost increases in some medicines, and a reduction in the number of generic medicines approved and available in New Zealand?

Hon ANNETTE KING: Pharmac has raised a number of issues with the ministry, and I am very pleased to say that it has worked through most of those issues. I am aware that at the select committee this morning, Pharmac said it was in total support of the establishment of a joint therapeutic regulatory agency.

Nanaia Mahuta: Can the Minister confirm that officials are working on developing those joint therapeutic agency rules, and that Pharmac will be involved as part of that process?

Hon ANNETTE KING: Yes, the Ministry of Health and Pharmac are working together to consider crucial operational issues. As the focus moves to finalising the rules, I expect that they will come to an agreement on them.

Barbara Stewart: Has she seen the national interest analysis and the regulatory impact statement about the joint agency, both of which predict significant increases in New Zealand in compliance costs for manufacturers of complementary medicines, higher prices for consumers, and some brands being taken off the market; if so, why is she pushing ahead with that proposal?

Hon ANNETTE KING: Because the impact report also points out that the cost of New Zealand continuing to have a single, sole, regulatory agency will be hugely expensive, as well. Going into a joint regulatory framework with Australia over time will be much better for New Zealand, both in terms of cost and access to pharmaceuticals.

Heather Roy: Why has she ignored Pharmac’s concerns, including those in a consultation document, and I quote: “The perceived benefits from a joint agency could, in Pharmac’s opinion, be achieved without combining the New Zealand and Australian regulatory authorities. By amending our current laws, the advantages of a joint agency can be achieved without the need to compromise fundamental advantages of the current New Zealand system.”?

Hon ANNETTE KING: I certainly support the work of Pharmac, unlike the National and ACT Opposition. As long as we are Government, we certainly will ensure that Pharmac remains in place. Pharmac has had a good input into the regulations around the joint agency, and its views are being considered as we make the rules that will apply.

Judy Turner: Can the Minister advise when the legislation that will implement the trans-Tasman therapeutic goods treaty will be tabled in the House?

Hon ANNETTE KING: No, I cannot at this stage. It has not yet gone through the Cabinet process. As soon as it does, I will be happy to share that information with the House.

Sue Kedgley: Has the Minister seen Pharmac’s submission to the Health Committee that states that the joint agency could result in a de facto extension of the patent term of drugs in New Zealand for up to 5 years, which will affect our ability to have generic drugs and will cost the New Zealand taxpayer up to $135 million over 3 years?

Hon ANNETTE KING: Yes, but I am also aware that the treaty will allow New Zealand the flexibility to develop its own rules on specific issues. The treaty will be flexible enough to accommodate the areas of difference on patents.

Sue Kedgley: Has she seen the Australian Government’s regulatory impact statement that states that it is likely that New Zealand pharmaceutical and dietary supplement companies will shift their operations to Australia if the joint agency goes ahead, and how does she believe that that will benefit New Zealand?

Hon ANNETTE KING: There are very few pharmaceutical companies in New Zealand now. In fact, most of them have shifted off shore. However, that has not stopped the supply of drugs. Is it not interesting that I have been told off in this House for not having the same number of drugs available in New Zealand that there is in Australia? Today we have been criticised for going into a joint agency treaty that will allow us to speed up the approval of drugs. I do not think that members know what they are talking about.

Sue Kedgley: Why is she proposing to delegate statutory regulation-making powers to an unelected and unaccountable managing director of the agency, who will be able to give orders and make rules that will have a direct effect in New Zealand, but without recourse to the New Zealand Parliament, and who will have powers of search and seizure; and why is she agreeing to give up our sovereignty in that way?

Hon ANNETTE KING: In no way have we given up our sovereignty, nor will we give up our sovereignty, under a joint regulator. The member knows that. She constantly repeats that claim, but she is wrong.

Growth and Innovation Framework—Budget 2004

4. Hon MATT ROBSON (Deputy Leader—Progressive) to the Minister for Economic Development: In what ways will this year’s Budget support the ongoing development and implementation of the growth and innovation framework?

Hon JIM ANDERTON (Minister for Economic Development): The growth and innovation framework is the Government’s comprehensive approach to economic development. I am pleased to confirm that there will be a $500 million, 4-year package of new initiatives in the Budget this year to support ongoing development through the growth and innovation framework that will focus on building up New Zealand’s ability to compete in the global marketplace—something that was never done in the 9 years under a National-led Government.

Hon Matt Robson: Has the Minister seen any reports of risks to that $500 million economic transformation package?

Hon JIM ANDERTON: Yes, surprisingly, I have. I saw a report from the National Party deputy spokesperson on finance that indicated that he and his party would demolish industry assistance altogether because it was, as he described it, “corporate welfare”.

John Key: Does the Minister acknowledge that New Zealand business would much prefer a cut in the corporate tax rate and the abolishment of his “picking winners corporate welfare”, as so wonderfully stated by Tom Lambie of Federated Farmers, who said in response to the Budget initiatives that it is “time the Government got back to its core business and stopped trying to play around in areas that are the responsibility of business”; if not, why not?

Hon JIM ANDERTON: It is a free country, and the representative of Federated Farmers is entitled to his opinion. But I looked at the business pages of the New Zealand Herald this morning and read the comments of business leaders on what they wanted in this Budget. They wanted work to be done to support export market access; assistance with regulatory issues in export markets; the roading network in Auckland to be sorted out; and investment in infrastructure. They also requested more assistance to help businesses to grow. I am pleased to say that all of those concerns will be addressed in this year’s Budget.

Mark Peck: Does the Minister have any further evidence that business supports the regional development initiatives of the Labour-Progressive Government?

Hon JIM ANDERTON: I was at a function last night in the Manawatû, which now has one of the fastest-growing economic development records in the country—only since this Government began operation in 1999, I might say—and everyone there representing his or her business, business interests, and sector of business praised the Government, New Zealand Trade and Enterprise, the Ministry of Economic Development, the Prime Minister, the Deputy Prime Minister, and everyone up and down on this side of the House for the work they are doing to develop business opportunities in New Zealand. I have never heard the like of that in all the years I have been in this Parliament.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: In an endeavour to help the National Party’s associate finance spokesperson, can the Minister advise how many mechanisms, for example, Australia has to help its exporters, which I believe to be 75, and how many does New Zealand have in contrast—one being a sound economy and one being a consumptive economy?

Hon JIM ANDERTON: Every country in the advanced world has significantly more business opportunities, in terms of Government involvement in economic development, than this country, and because advanced countries did that, it never happened when the National-led Government was in place.

Deborah Coddington: In what way does the Minister support his department’s spending $25,000 of taxpayers money to send bar staff from Wellington’s Matterhorn restaurant to the Cannes film festival for a Film Commission booze-up, and calling them “cocktail designers”; and is taking New Zealand bar staff to France what he calls competing in the global marketplace?

Hon JIM ANDERTON: Well, they seem to be competing in the marketplace anyway. I do not have any specific information on that, but I will answer the member if she gives me her concerns. Let me just say, however, that New Zealand is in a global marketplace in terms of competition. Practically every country in the world encourages its business and industrial community to compete in that global marketplace, and gives considerable assistance to it to do so. We are one of the small players in that regard. We are a long way from those markets, and our business people need all the help they can get, and this Government is prepared to give it to them—unlike previous administrations.

Hon Richard Prebble: Does the Minister accept that it would greatly help the ongoing development and implementation of growth and innovation if the Government, instead of giving out taxpayers’ money to some favoured businesses, in this week’s Budget was to put forward a prosperity-promoting flat tax of 20c, which would cost $5 billion and be $2 billion less than Treasury’s estimate of the surplus; if that is the case, why did he as Minister for Economic Development not go out there and put up the case for reducing taxes, rather than go on pretending he is some sort of Father Christmas?

Hon JIM ANDERTON: With that kind of arithmetic, I now know why the Labour Government that the member was a Minister in did not do too well in terms of economic performance. Let me just say to him that this Government does not throw money at businesses. It invests in activities that the business community, individually and collectively in terms of industry sectors and clusters of business—

Opposition Member: What about Sovereign Yachts!

Hon JIM ANDERTON: Sovereign Yachts is doing very well. The member should go to see the yachts it is building and compare them with the ones that were built before it came here. Just let me say, therefore, that the Government is investing in activities. It is not throwing money at businesses. Businesses have to put up very robust business cases for this money. Let me also say to the member that the $5 billion that he suggests be thrown at businesses through tax cuts would be at the expense of all hospital needs, school needs, student needs, and the needs of other services essential to New Zealanders—services that members on that side of the House are always complaining about, but they never want to show us how they would spend the money so that all New Zealanders can benefit from them.

Peter Brown: Noting the Minister’s earlier answers about other countries in the world giving support to their industries, is the Minister aware that external trade is exceedingly important to this country, and that every tonne in and out comes via a foreign ship, and can I take it that he will advocate very firmly that this Budget addresses the New Zealand shipping situation?

Hon JIM ANDERTON: I have a notice in my room that states: “Impossible things we do daily; miracles take a bit longer.” But let me just say that this Government is aware of the concerns of the whole of the waterfront shipping industry in terms of issues before it, and a group of Ministers is addressing those matters as I speak.

Question No. 3 to Minister

SUE KEDGLEY (Green): I seek leave to table two documents in relation to question No. 3, which I forgot to do at the time. The first is a document from Pharmac, in which it expresses its severe reservations about the joint agency proposal.

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

SUE KEDGLEY (Green): Secondly, I seek leave to table a series of letters, in which Pharmac outlines its concerns about the proposal for a joint agency.

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

Land Information, Minister—Confidence

5. Hon Dr NICK SMITH (National—Nelson) to the Prime Minister: Does she have confidence in the Minister for Land Information; if so, why?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK (Prime Minister): Yes, because he is a hard-working and conscientious Minister.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: Will the Prime Minister—given that in 1999 she said her Government would set new, high standards for ministerial conduct, and that the Minister for Land Information told the public and Parliament there were significant chunks of foreshore in private ownership, which contradicted his own advice and the Prime Minister’s own statements—seek that Minister’s resignation?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: It would indeed be a saintly creature who never made a mistake, as the member is well aware.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: Is the Prime Minister now confirming what the Minister for Land Information would not do in his replies to 11 supplementary questions—and that is to admit he was wrong—and given that those errors occurred in August last year, why has he not followed parliamentary convention and come down to this House to apologise for and explain the error?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: It is up to members whether they seek to correct an answer. For my part, I think an honest mistake was made when referring to parts of the coastline where the land ran down to the high-water mark. That does not mean that the foreshore is in private title. I think it was an honest mistake and, as I say, Dr Smith and many others in the House regularly make them.

Unemployment Benefit—Statistics

6. HELEN DUNCAN (Labour) to the Minister for Social Development and Employment: What reports has he received on the number of people receiving the unemployment benefit?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY (Minister for Social Development and Employment): As at last Friday the number of people receiving a statutory unemployment benefit dropped below 68,000. This is the lowest level since July 1987, and it is less than half the number of people who were on an unemployment benefit in May 1999. That phenomenal drop in the numbers on the unemployment benefit demonstrates the dividend of sound economic management and job-rich growth.

Helen Duncan: What reports has the Minister seen about alternative ways of getting people into employment?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: I have seen suggestions that unemployed people should queue outside post offices on a daily basis, I have seen suggestions that superannuation cannot be relied upon for people under 50, so they will have to work forever, and I have seen suggestions of time-limited benefits. In the meantime this Government believes in getting people into real jobs, as proved by the 193,000 more people who are in real jobs, whereas the National Party continues to hide behind policies that simply did not work in the 1990s and will not work now.

Katherine Rich: With regard to the numbers on the unemployment benefit, does the Minister know of any cases where hîkoi marchers accessed special-needs grants or benefits as a result of their taking part in the hîkoi, and does he think it OK that his associate refuses to ask the Ministry of Social Development to do the necessary collation of information so that reports that people on the hîkoi were accessing additional benefits can be confirmed or denied?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: I am aware that there were suggestions that two or three people, who found themselves in emergency situations because arrangements to return to the north fell through, may have accessed benefits, and I am making sure that we track down that information exactly.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Why does he not admit that the two significant factors relating to the current unemployment benefit figure are, first, a reduction in immigration, and second, the skyrocketing numbers of sickness beneficiaries in this country—a device to hide unemployment figures in New Zealand?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: I cannot admit to that, because both claims are wrong.

Judy Turner: Has the Minister read a report in the Christchurch Press that cites a general practitioner, Dr Andrew Causer, who claims that Work and Income clients visit his practice as casual patients on almost a daily basis expecting to be diagnosed with stress or depression so they can be put on a sickness benefit, when 95 percent of them are fit to work, and is he concerned that the number of unemployed transferring to the sickness benefit for these reasons has doubled since 1999?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: I am aware of that report, and I was so concerned by it I asked that Work and Income approach the doctor. I understand that the doctor has made it clear that his views were misrepresented in the media.

Helen Duncan: Can the Minister tell the House what reports he has seen on employment prospects?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: Job vacancies as measured by the ANZ Job Ads series are running at a near record level, nearly 10 percent higher than a year ago—evidence that the New Zealand labour market remains strong. Ten percent more people are now employed than when the Labour-led Government took office—that is, 193,000 more New Zealanders are in work—and with our sound policies of a regional development policy to stimulate job growth, expansion of education and training opportunities, and the quality employment focused through the Work and Income regional offices, I am looking forward to even more New Zealanders enjoying having a real job.

Katherine Rich: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. An interesting issue has come up that I feel requires your investigation. In answer to written parliamentary questions the Associate Minister, Rick Barker, said that he would not ask the Ministry of Social Development to collate the information required to find out whether some hîkoi marchers accessed special benefits or grants. Today the Minister has said that he is willing to do that and that he will look into it. I am interested in your view, Mr Speaker, on the difficulty of reconciling those two answers.

Mr SPEAKER: I cannot look into that. My job is not to judge the quality of the answer. There is nothing for me to rule on, because there is not really a point of order.

Katherine Rich: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. If we have an Associate Minister who says he will not answer, but the Minister says that it is fine and he will go ahead and sort that out, then we are getting mixed messages through the written questions process versus the oral questions process. Something is not reconciled on that side.

Mr SPEAKER: Yes, but that is a complaint about inconsistency and the member has highlighted it. There is nothing for me to rule on.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: In response to an answer by the Minister, I wish to table two sets of documents. One set proves that the latest immigration figures are significantly down. The second set proves that the number of sickness and disability beneficiaries is up dramatically.

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

Judy Turner: I seek leave to table the article from the Press entitled “Big rise in stress beneficiaries”.

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

Question No. 2 to Minister

DAIL JONES (Junior Whip—NZ First): I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. A short while ago the Hon John Tamihere released a fine report dated 12 December 2003. He said that he would release the whole report. I see that there are attachments B, C, and D that are part of that report. I ask that at some convenient time the Minister make them available to the House.

Mr SPEAKER: The Minister was asked to table what he was quoting from, and he has done that. If he wishes to table anything else he has until the end of the sitting day to do so.

DAIL JONES (Junior Whip—NZ First): I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. It is a simple matter. He said that he would table the final report. The final report includes attachments B, C, and D. It is a simple matter and I am not asking him to do it now. He can do it at his convenience. I appreciate that there may be a practical problem but perhaps he could just give us an undertaking.

Hon JOHN TAMIHERE (Minister for Land Information): Yes, Mr Speaker. I was not aware that they were not attached.

Mr SPEAKER: And is the Minister going to table them?

Hon JOHN TAMIHERE: Yes.

Mr SPEAKER: The Minister has given an assurance that he will table them.

Christchurch Polytechnic Institute of Technology—Community Education

7. Hon BILL ENGLISH (National—Clutha-Southland) to the Associate Minister of Education (Tertiary Education): Does he regard Christchurch Polytechnic Institute of Technology spending at least $80,000 on inducements as a breach of interim funding guide rules; if not, why not?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY (Associate Minister of Education (Tertiary Education)): I am advised that the Christchurch Polytechnic Institute of Technology is not in breach of the interim funding guide, but that this remains a point of discussion between the Tertiary Education Commission and the Christchurch Polytechnic Institute of Technology as part of the review of all of its 5.1 programmes currently undertaken by the commission. I also add that the funding guidelines that I first introduced in 2002—there were no guidelines under the National Government—are being reviewed so that the rules can be made even clearer that no inducements of any kind will be offered to students from any source of funding.

Hon Bill English: Can the Minister recall telling the House that no one should make a profit out of education, and, in light of that comment, what action will he take when he finds out that Brylton Software, which is part-owned by senior staff of Christchurch Polytechnic, received $5.44 million for the Cool IT programme?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: As I have said before, in response to the implication behind the member’s question that there is some irregularity here, if the member can table some evidence of that, I will always take it seriously. In the meantime I have an investigation into the Tertiary Education Commission and that organisation going on, as it should be.

Lynne Pillay: What evidence has been provided of inappropriate practices on the part of institutions offering community education courses?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: There have been a lot of allegations, and whenever there is evidence provided of possible inappropriate practices, we investigate thoroughly and completely. If I get more evidence, it will be treated in exactly the same way. In the meantime we have capped spending in community education, and I will announce details of that tomorrow. In 2005, all funding for community education will also be subject to profile negotiations, where the commission looks at the contribution of the institution to the tertiary education strategy.

Hon Bill English: Is the Minister now telling us that he regards a scheme whereby Christchurch Polytechnic was paid almost $800 for a single person enrolling, when that $800 covered the cost of one CD, and $15 million was paid over for about 20,000 of these CDs, and a company that produced the CDs was part-owned by senior staff of the college who were involved in negotiations, and that company received a payment of $5.4 million for producing the CDs, as something that normally happens in the polytech sector?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: It does not normally happen in this particular situation. I am advised by the Tertiary Advisory Monitoring Unit that the people whom the member has accused of being involved in negotiations were not involved in negotiations, because of the conflict of interest. I say to that member that I take this seriously, unlike the previous Government, of which he was a member, because we have an investigation going on. That is the proper way to do it, and I will not listen to his silly allegations. [Interruption]

Mr SPEAKER: There are interjections in the second person. They will cease immediately.

Hon Bill English: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I invite the Minister to reconsider the information he has given to the House, while he has the opportunity. In answer to a written question he advised me that the parties I have referred to—that is, senior staff in Christchurch Polytechnic, who are part-owners and directors of Brylton Software—withdrew from negotiations. Today he has said they took no part in them. This is a vital point in a discussion on conflict of interest. I suggest the Minister clarify his comments.

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: Speaking to the point of order, I say that I am advised the meaning of the word “withdrew” is that they withdrew because the conflict of interest was apparent, and therefore they did not take part in negotiations.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I seek leave to table a Companies Office search of the relevant company behind these accusations, which proves that its ethnic ownership is not Mâori—hence the reason it is not being investigated.

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

Hon Bill English: Can the Minister confirm that if this were a Mâori organisation, the Government by now would have mounted a full-scale, independent investigation because the events amount to a $15 million scam, but just because it is Christchurch Polytechnic, he is waving it past?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: Can I tell the member, who is so excited, as calmly as I possibly can that I take all of these issues seriously. Whether it is a Mâori organisation or a polytechnic, we ensure that they are investigated fully by the appropriate authorities—that is, the Tertiary Advisory Monitoring Unit, or the Tertiary Education Commission.

Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I will do this relatively briefly. I think it is very important when interjections are being made about protecting people, including their mates, that they be rejected by you. There has been a history in this Parliament of people being caught looking after their mates. There is a member, not currently sitting opposite but a member of this Parliament, who was involved in that—a National Party member.

Hon Bill English: What’s all this about?

Hon Trevor Mallard: Murray McCully was caught looking after his tourism mates. It is absolutely on the record.

Mr SPEAKER: Be seated! I say to Mr Mallard that that was not helpful, at all. I ask him to stand, withdraw, and apologise.

Hon Trevor Mallard: I withdraw and apologise.

Hon Dr Michael Cullen: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. My colleague might have been less than felicitous in his way of phrasing the point of order, but he was making the point that an accusation was being cast on the other side about looking after mates, to members on this side, against the Minister. That should be withdrawn.

Mr SPEAKER: That is absolutely correct, if any member was doing that. I heard a comment but I did not see who made it. That member will be leaving the Chamber. If any member made that comment, I ask him to stand and withdraw. I heard someone make it but I did not see who. I was looking over the other side. If nobody says who made it, then we will proceed.

Gerry Brownlee: I made that allegation—

Mr SPEAKER: Then the member will withdraw and apologise.

Gerry Brownlee: For the purposes of Parliament, I withdraw—

Mr SPEAKER: No, no. The member knows he cannot do that. He will withdraw and apologise, or he leaves the Chamber, too.

Gerry Brownlee: I withdraw.

Mr SPEAKER: And apologise.

Gerry Brownlee: Why would I be apologising—

Mr SPEAKER: The member will now leave the Chamber. He is just trifling with the Chair, and he knows it.

Gerry Brownlee withdrew from the Chamber.

Immigration—Regulation

8. Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS (Leader—NZ First) to the Minister of Immigration: What steps is he contemplating to regulate the immigration industry?

Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR (Associate Minister of Immigration), on behalf of the Minister of Immigration: Cabinet has agreed in principle to the statutory regulation of immigration agents. Officials are working on the detail, but it is intended that the proposal would require agents to be licensed, and would provide minimum standards for the industry. An independent governing body would be set up, responsible for administering a code of conduct. The New Zealand Immigration Service would be able to refuse applications from unlicensed agents, and agents could be penalised for operating illegally.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Is it not a fact that in the last 3 weeks the Minister has already admitted, firstly, that there is an urgent need to review the Immigration Act in the light of fraud and corruption allegations and proof, and, secondly, that the method used for calculating overstayers was a guesstimate at best and not at all to be relied upon, and that now, finally, after 5 years, we have an announcement that the Government plans to regulate the immigration industry; what state of affairs has changed recently to prompt this sudden acknowledgement of the mess within the immigration policy of this Government?

Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: I do agree that immigration was in a mess when Labour came in, in 1999. We have embarked upon a major policy review and we are going through a number of key areas in immigration, such as family policy, work policy, settlement, and skills policy. This latest announcement to regulate agents is necessary because although the majority of agents are good agents, there are some who are simply thieves and vagabonds, and they need to be stamped out.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Has the Minister received any reports that outline the number of asylum seekers, refugees, and immigrants receiving emergency benefits—given that his colleague Rick Barker is refusing to answer written questions on this matter—to the extent that we have an emergency benefit taken up for 19 years by someone brought into this country, who has never been off it, in fact, and that we have here people like Zaoui, an acknowledged terrorist, who now has cost the New Zealand taxpayer up to $1 million; when will we have those figures, and could he provide them as soon as possible, please?

Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: I do not have those figures, but if the member would make the effort to put down a written question to me, I am sure we will get back to him with accurate details on those issues.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. This matter was partly covered in a point of order from Mrs Rich. I asked the identical question of Rick Barker, and he refused to provide the information to me. So here we are, with one Minister saying one thing and another saying something else, and months later we are still no wiser. I can find the Hansard for you and prove what I am saying. If that is the case, why have this Government, Parliament, and the public been denied pretty significant information that would allow them to pass judgment as to whether the Government is behaving satisfactorily?

Mr SPEAKER: The member has made his point twice. This is relitigating an issue I have ruled on. If inconsistency is exposed, then of course that is something that is there in the House, and it is a point that can be raised by the Opposition. I cannot rule on that particular matter; it is not a point of order.

Hon Richard Prebble: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. There is a matter on which you can help the House, though. If a Minister makes to the House what can often be a perfectly reasonable reply: “I do not have those figures.”—and I think this time he also said “If the member takes the trouble to put down a written question”—surely there is then an expectation, the Minister having given that statement to the House, that the Government at that point will answer the question and not put in an answer saying “We can’t be blowed working it out.” or whatever it is that Mr Barker says when he replies.

Mr SPEAKER: That issue has not been arrived at yet. I just heard the Minister say that if the member put down a question, he would answer it. He has given that assurance to the House. I heard him say it, and now I will expect that to be done. The Minister must stand by what he said.

Electricity—Supply, South Island

9. Hon ROGER SOWRY (National) to the Minister of Energy: When was he first informed of the issue of capacity restraints on the national grid in the upper South Island?

Hon PETE HODGSON (Minister of Energy): Transpower’s 2001-02 system security forecast identified seven separate groups of constraints throughout the national grid, including the upper South Island. Since then, I have had many reports of upgrades, or of upgrades planned. About 2 weeks ago Transpower raised with me the issue of the upper South Island specifically, but its view at that stage was that the new rules might be the problem. Over the weekend, an official rang me to say that the rules were not the problem, and that the issue was somewhat more serious than that.

Hon Roger Sowry: Why did the Minister say on National Radio this morning that he first heard about this yesterday, when in fact he heard about it, clearly, as a result of the 2001-02 system security forecast; and why has he not taken any action since then?

Hon PETE HODGSON: I said that the 2001-02 system security forecast identified seven separate groups of constraints. It actually adds up to dozens and dozens, and Transpower regularly updates the Minister and its owners about what it is doing about those particular constraints. There is a good deal that goes on. In terms of the particular constraint that might have caused this problem, a fix was put in place several months ago that, as far as I am aware, has not worked.

David Parker: How has the Electricity Commission responded to the situation?

Hon PETE HODGSON: The commission is doing an excellent job of coordinating the industry response to minimise the risk of disruption. The chairman, Roy Hemmingway, has said: “We think there are management options that we can put together and get in place before this becomes a problem that will ensure we don’t have to resort to involuntary load shedding.” I have had much positive feedback from the industry on the commission’s handling of the issue. The only people who have not yet realised how valuable it is are the members of the National Party, who just last week called for the commission’s abolition.

Jeanette Fitzsimons: Does the Minister approve of State-owned enterprises using dramatic scare tactics to generate public support for their “think big” projects, or will he ensure that there is a proper study of the most cost-effective way to overcome the constraint, including the wider application of the highly successful load management practices of Orion Networks that have avoided millions of dollars of unnecessary investment on just that same line for some years?

Hon PETE HODGSON: No, I would not approve of any crisis creation, nor am I accusing Transpower of it. I would say to the member that the way forward for transmission investment is the integrated resource management that she refers to. That is precisely what is in the rule book now. It is Part C of the rule book, and it came into force on 1 March of this year.

Gordon Copeland: What impact does the Minister think these kinds of capacity restraint problems will have on decisions by business people as to where they should invest their money, or, indeed, where they might locate their businesses?

Hon PETE HODGSON: I think the reputational risk is a problem. My hope is we will get some clarity within a week or so as to whether we will be able to avoid any blackouts in the upper South Island. It is certainly my hope that that will be the case. For the future, Transpower is investing heavily in the network after a decade of neglect during the 1990s.

Hon Roger Sowry: Does the Minister remember responding, when the previous National Party energy spokesperson, Mr Gerry Brownlee, raised Transpower’s warning in October 2002 regarding problems in the upper South Island, that National was scaremongering, making blatantly untruthful claims, making grossly misleading claims, making demonstrably false claims, and showing “an appalling readiness to mislead”; and will he now stop his hysterics and theatrics and do something about fixing the problem?

Hon PETE HODGSON: I can do no better than to quote Transpower’s response to that member at that time. Transpower said: “We have absolutely no concerns regarding the transmission system in the upper South Island.” It went on to say it would need to continue further investment. It has been continuing further investment—the most recent of which did not work.

Hon Roger Sowry: Will the Minister now be offering his resignation as Minister of Energy for failing to take on board Transpower’s warnings in 2002 that this constraint was likely to be a problem unless it was dealt with by the Government—a warning backed up by Dr Ralph Craven in a presentation that he gave to a national conference in Auckland in March of this year, yet the Minister still claims, as on National Radio this morning, that he heard of the problem yesterday?

Hon PETE HODGSON: I heard of the problem over the weekend, as I told the House earlier in the question. Indeed, most of the industry heard of it on Friday afternoon. If the member wants to know what transmission constraints look like, they are described in detail in this book. The member clearly has not read the book—he should do so.

Drugs—Suicide Prevention

10. Hon MATT ROBSON (Deputy Leader—Progressive) to the Associate Minister of Health: What recent funding announcements has the Labour-Progressive Government made to combat the problem of drug abuse and suicide prevention?

Hon JIM ANDERTON (Associate Minister of Health): A total of $59.15 million has been announced over the last few days to combat the problem of drug abuse and suicide prevention over the next 4 financial years. Last week I announced, with my colleagues the Hon Phil Goff and the Hon George Hawkins, $39 million over 4 years that is aimed at tackling the illegal and dangerous methamphetamine trade. Yesterday I announced a further $14.65 million for initiatives that are either aimed at reducing the demand for drugs or aimed at helping the victims of drugs and their communities, as well as a further $5.5 million for suicide prevention measures.

Judy Turner: Has the Minister been consulted over the draft drug education booklet prepared by the Ministry of Youth Development for use in schools that takes a harm minimisation approach, which means that nowhere in the booklet does it state that taking drugs may be a bad idea; if not, why not?

Hon JIM ANDERTON: Yes, I have been consulted. The description of harm minimisation is a generic description that is used in drug information education, and it recognises the reality that, whatever we may wish, some young people and others in the community do use drugs. Therefore, the intention of the education is to minimise harm. Of course, there are implied messages—and even some that, I would suggest, are reasonably direct—in that information to suggest that not starting on drugs is a pretty good idea, as well.

Dianne Yates: Could the Minister give us more details on what types of initiatives are being taken?

Hon JIM ANDERTON: Very briefly, the $39 million announced over the last few days includes another police clandestine laboratory team, more analysts, and further funding for the Institute of Environmental Science and Research for forensic work. An additional $15 million will fund a further youth residential drug and alcohol treatment facility, this time in the central North Island, and a one-for-one needle exchange that will minimise the transmission of blood-borne viruses, such as HIV and hepatitis C. It will also provide for the evaluation of community action programmes, and support other initiatives aimed at reducing the demand for drugs.

Nandor Tanczos: Is the Minister aware of the very successful What’s Up phone counselling service for 5 to 18-year-olds, and of the temporary funding problem it faces; and will he consider providing it with some bridging finance while a new funding contract is negotiated?

Hon JIM ANDERTON: There are a large number of organisations at work in the area of drug and alcohol rehabilitation and services, but I am happy to look at any detailed submission on the work of that organisation, without any guarantee, of course, that the Government could or should support it. I am happy to entertain the submissions of the member.

Families—Cost of Living

11. HEATHER ROY (ACT) to the Minister of Finance: Following his reply to written questions Nos 6532 and 6535, does he believe it fair that a hard-working family earning $50,000 a year is less than $7,000 a year better off than a family earning $25,000 a year, and will his Budget widen or narrow this gap?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Minister of Finance): I do not accept the implication in the question that a family earning $50,000 a year is hard-working, but that a family earning $25,000 a year is not. From the Government’s perspective, both are hard-working families, both are supporting two children, and both will gain significantly from the Budget. Details will be released tomorrow.

Heather Roy: When thinking of those two families—one on $25,000; the other on $50,000—what is fair about the 72 percent effective tax rate that the higher-earning family pays on its extra $25,000; and when will the Minister act to address that unfairness?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: The first principle the Government follows is to try to ensure that people have an adequate level of income, and that there are also adequate incentives for being in employment. The high disincentives created by the bleeding out of assistance mechanisms is a consequence of the present scheme of family support, which was designed by ACT’s founder, Roger Douglas.

Sue Bradford: Does the Minister believe it is fair to discriminate against children whose parents are on the same or a similar income, just because one set of parents is on a benefit or on accident compensation, and will he remove that discrimination in the Budget package tomorrow?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: The member will have to wait until tomorrow to get the details of the Budget package. She will realise that the present child tax credit is $15 per child. There are some families with as many as 10 or 11 children. It would be very difficult to remove that measure entirely without making a lot of families very much worse off.

Hon Richard Prebble: Will the Minister clarify his remarks regarding “hard-working” families, because what incentive is there for families with two children to earn $50,000 a year—that is a take-home pay of $38,584 after tax—when if they halved their hours of work to bring their income down to $25,000 a year, those families would be topped up by the Government to a take-home pay of $31,668, which is just $6,916 different from that earned by working twice as many hours; and how will his Future Directions package address the unfairness of that situation?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Fairness is always in the eye of the beholder. I point out to the member that people who want to deliberately reduce their income, by lowering their net income to only about $600 a week, to support a family with two children probably have rather different standards of living from those that he has and I have.

Sue Bradford: Does the Minister agree that providing family support, family assistance, and the accommodation supplement is a major form of Government subsidy to New Zealand business that is conveniently forgotten when submissions are made on things like employment relations law; and what is his Government’s approach to the old idea that there should be at least some employer responsibility to pay wages at a level sufficient to support a family?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I think that, by and large, it is really impossible to expect employers to pay people more because of their family responsibilities. It does have to be the responsibility of the State to address the levels of income adequacy, in that respect. The family on $25,000 a year—which is under $500 a week—ends up with a net income in excess of $600 a week in the situation described by the member, because of the family assistance and accommodation supplement provisions. I make no apology for that fact, or for the fact that such families will make significant gains out of the Budget package tomorrow.

Child, Youth and Family Services, Department—Statutory Obligations

12. JUDY TURNER (United Future) to the Associate Minister for Social Development and Employment (CYF): Does she agree that: “Child, Youth and Family plays a pivotal role in our system, but there’s no denying there have been deficiencies in all its statutory obligations”, as stated recently by Principal Youth Court Judge, Andrew Becroft; if not, why not?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY (Minister for Social Development and Employment), on behalf of the Associate Minister for Social Development and Employment (CYF): I agree with Judge Becroft that the Department of Child, Youth and Family Services plays a pivotal role, and that there have been deficiencies in its carrying out of its statutory obligations on occasion. That is why the Government has been investing in rebuilding the department for the last 4 years, and is committed to implementing the comprehensive recommendations of the baseline review undertaken last year.

Judy Turner: Does the Minister agree that the Department of Child, Youth and Family Services failed to meet its obligation to protect the 2-month-old Whangarei infant abused by her dad whilst already in traction from previous injuries, and does he think it is acceptable to be considering only now the need for “much stronger protocols so that there is no buck passing” between the Department of Child, Youth and Family Services and the health system, when the department agreed to ensure those good communication systems 4 years ago, after the James Whakaruru report; if not, why not?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: My understanding is that in this particular case the child was in the care of the district health board, and that guidelines need to be in place. The Department of Child, Youth and Family Services has made it very clear that it will work closely with the hospital in the care of those children.

Dave Hereora: What significant developments have there been in the Department of Child, Youth and Family Services over the last 4 years?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: Between 1999 and 2003, the Government increased the baseline funding of the Department of Child, Youth and Family Services by more than 50 percent, strengthened the social work profession by introducing formal registration, and improved relationships with the community sector. As part of the implementation of the baseline review an additional $120 million is being invested in the department over the next 3 years. Ninety-three additional social workers have been employed and a further 56 are to be employed this year. The department’s systems and regional management are being strengthened, and a new, demand-management system is beginning to have a positive effect on the number of unallocated cases. Also, a new chief executive, Paula Tyler, has been appointed. She is a very good appointee, and we are looking forward to seeing her take up that position in August this year.

Katherine Rich: What is the Minister’s view on District Court judge Ray Kean’s comments that mothers who let their violent partners bash their children should face jail if they stand by and fail to report attacks?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: People who stand by while their children are attacked and bashed are of course committing a crime and deserve what they get.

Judy Turner: Can the Minister confirm that the new Canadian appointee as chief executive officer, Paula Tyler, has indicated that she intends to implement a two-stream system, as advocated by United Future, to ensure that community agencies are utilised to assist the department in meeting its statutory obligation in terms of preventative work; if not, why not?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: I have not spoken to Ms Tyler, but I am sure she has studied closely the various policies of parties within this House, and I am sure she has paid particular attention to the United Future proposals, which are always constructive in their nature. She will be looking forward to working closely with members, I am sure, when she gets here.

Judy Turner: Can the Minister confirm that the failure to consult the Office of the Commissioner for Children and other groups about the pilot family safety teams indicates that this is just a recent development; if so, can she explain why it takes reports from Mick Brown, the Whakaruru report, the baseline review, the report on the deaths of the Aplin girls, and United Future’s restructuring proposal before this Government begins to think about effectively addressing its statutory obligations to ensure inter-agency collaboration?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: Inter-agency collaboration, of course, is at the heart of what this Government is trying to do. We have been implementing that right across government over the last little while in what is called a “joined-up approach”, and we have certainly enjoyed the endorsement of that approach by United Future. Once again, that is a very constructive idea from that party.


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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