Questions for Oral Answer - Thursday, 17 June 2004
Thursday, 17 June
Questions for Oral Answer
Questions to Ministers
1. Schools—Ethnicity and Decile Funding
2. Nuclear-free New Zealand—Status
Question No. 3 to Minister
3. Glenelg Children's Health Camp—Children's Medical Examinations
4. Meningococcal Disease—Control
6. Civil Union Bill—Marriage
7. Oil Prices—Budget Economic and Fiscal Update
8. Treaty Claims—Tainui Meetings with Minister
9. Information Technology—Availability to Teachers
10. Student Allowances—Married Students
11. Children—Sexual Exploitation
12. Parole Act—Victims' Rights
Questions for Oral Answer
Questions to Ministers
Schools—Ethnicity and Decile Funding
1. Hon BILL ENGLISH (National—Clutha-Southland) to the Minister of Education: Does he stand by his answer to written question number 1735 (2004), that if the ethnicity factor of school decile-funding was replaced, “differences would be minor”; if not, why not?
Hon TREVOR MALLARD (Minister of Education): Yes.
Hon Bill English: Does the Minister stand by his statement to the Education and Science Committee yesterday that he has not responded to Official Information Act requests regarding calculations on school funding, because: “I’ve got concerns about schools being panicked unnecessarily until decisions are made.”?
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: Yes.
Hon Brian Donnelly: Can the Minister confirm that research by Dr Terry Crooks, as reported in the select committee inquiry report, demonstrates that removing ethnic data affects only 20 schools by more than 1 decile point, and that most of those schools have their decile levels adjusted anyway; if so, what is his response to those findings?
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: Yes, I can confirm that is consistent with the briefings that have occurred, and the Government’s response to the findings will be announced in due course.
Hon Bill English: What calculations has the Minister done regarding ethnic weighting in decile funding that lead him to the conclusion that if schools are told about those calculations they will “panic”?
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: I have no problem with schools being told the truth.
Hon Bill English: If the Minister has no trouble with schools being told the truth, then why has he defied all Official Information Act requests, to the point where the Ombudsman has had to approach the Minister’s office directly to instruct him to release information—as the Minister has said himself: “The Ombudsman has a view that we should have been releasing more than we have been releasing.”—and, if there is no problem, why does the Minister not just give us the information?
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: Because I have no problem with schools being told the truth.
Hon Brian Donnelly: If, as seems to be the case, the inclusion of ethnic data into the calculations on decile funding has minimal or nil effect, why then should it be included, at the risk of possibly creating some level of antagonism and misunderstanding by schools?
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: At some time I hope to have a discussion with the Minister who was responsible for doing that, and with the former Ministers who were responsible for increasing that funding—which includes the member.
Nuclear-free New Zealand—Status
2. DARREN HUGHES (Labour—Otaki) to the Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade: Has he received any reports suggesting that decisions on New Zealand’s nuclear-free status should be determined by other nations rather than by ourselves?
Hon PHIL GOFF (Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade): Yes. I have a report in front of me that shows that on TV3 last night this statement was made: “If we put a proposal to the Americans which they find acceptable—and that, of course, would be after we became Government—we would then seek a referendum for any change in the law.” That statement was made by Don Brash, who clearly believes that New Zealand should abandon its sovereignty and independence to make its own decisions, and give that over to another country.
Darren Hughes: Is that an isolated report or has the Minister received other reports of this nature?
Hon PHIL GOFF: Yes, I have received two other reports of a similar nature. One of them states: “Without reservation we will support our close allies Australia, the United States and Britain when and wheresoever our commitment is called upon.” That abandonment of our making our own decisions according to our values and judgment was made by Simon Power, the National Party spokesperson on defence. I have another report—
Mr SPEAKER: No, the Minister has given enough.
Hon Trevor Mallard: Does the Minister have any further reports on this matter?
Hon PHIL GOFF: That is a very intuitive question! I have a report stating: “We will opt out of the Kyoto agreement at the first chance, if countries like the US and Australia don’t sign up.” That abandonment of judgment and sovereignty was made by Nick Smith, abandoning the longstanding role—even under a National Party Government—that this country has had in leading the Pacific nations against global warming.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: The Minister grossly misquotes my statement. I seek leave of the House to table the statement that was made, so that the House may have the true, correct—
Mr SPEAKER: Is it a statement made by the member concerned?
Hon Dr Nick Smith: It is a newspaper report on statements made about the Kyoto Protocol.
Mr SPEAKER: Is it a statement made by the member himself?
Hon Dr Nick Smith: It ias a newspaper report—
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that statement. Is there any objection? There is.
Hon PHIL GOFF: I seek leave of the House to table a statement made in the Nelson Mail on 13 May 2004, in an article headed “Smith vows changes to RMA, Kyoto exit”.
Document, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I sought leave to table a document, but that was objected to by the Government. Suddenly, the exact same motion is put to the House by Mr Goff, and the Government now wants to table the very same document. I am very happy to have it tabled, but there is a Standing Order that says the same motion cannot be put to the House twice.
Mr SPEAKER: The member is wrong about that. He does not know the Standing Orders. The first point I would make is that I have quite frequently been confronted by situations in this House that are not strictly logical.
Jeanette Fitzsimons: Has the Minister had any reports that the complacent approach to the dangers of nuclear power expressed by some parties may be influenced by what might be called the “Homer Simpson” approach to nuclear safety?
Hon PHIL GOFF: Comparing Homer Simpson to the National Party is grossly unfair on Homer Simpson.
Question No. 3 to Minister
Mr SPEAKER: Before the member asks the question, I want to advise the House that the Minister has said that her answer will be longer than usual, and I have accepted that from the information she gave me.
Glenelg Children's Health Camp—Children's Medical Examinations
3. KATHERINE RICH (National) to the Associate Minister for Social Development and Employment (CYF): Does she stand by her earlier statements that she had “checked the file” and conducted “extensive searching of the available records” in relation to complaints about medical examinations at the Glenelg Health Camp prior to answering oral and written questions about the role of the ministry and the Minister; if so, does she stand by her answers to those questions?
Hon RUTH DYSON (Associate Minister for Social Development and Employment (CYF)): Yes, I do. But as I advised that member in answer to question for written answer 6779, the department is currently searching archives for any material that would assist me to provide a full answer to that written question. The following further documents have so far been located. In February 1988, there was a ruling by District Court Judge McAloon against allegations of sexual abuse by Dr Espie. In November 1988, there was a circular letter from Parents Against Injustice Society (NZ) (PAIN) received by the then social welfare Minister, Dr Michael Cullen, after being sent to the Prime Minister, calling for a ministerial inquiry. In April 1989, there was a letter from the then social welfare Minister, Michael Cullen, to PAIN, advising that he had asked for an independent review of a case where allegations of sexual abuse were disputed. Subsequently on that day there is a press release issued by Michael Cullen, confirming that concern caused by the inadequacy of evidence in a number of cases had led him to ask Judge Ken Mason to conduct an independent inquiry into them, and to make recommendations as he saw fit. In November 1989, there was the first report from Judge Mason setting out his review, where his findings had been based solely on the papers, and stating that the present series of complaints did not constitute grounds for a ministerial inquiry. In January 1990, there was a letter from the then Prime Minister, Geoffrey Palmer, stating he did not believe a ministerial inquiry was appropriate. In October 1990, there was a further letter from Judge Ken Mason to Michael Cullen, updating his previous report and stating that he had received and reviewed further information, and had met with complainants. He stated: “… my tentative view is that in these cases also there is no cogent evidence to justify ministerial intervention.” In 28 October 1990, there is a letter to the then new Prime Minister, Jim Bolger, asking him to initiate an inquiry, which was transferred to the then social welfare Minister, Jenny Shipley. On 7 December 1990, there is the official second report by Judge Ken Mason to Jenny Shipley, stating: “I have given anxious consideration as to whether a formal ministerial inquiry should be initiated. In my view … no grounds exist which would justify that course.” There is a letter at the end of January 1992 from former Prime Minister Jim Bolger to PAIN, stating there was no evidence of inappropriate action on which a ministerial inquiry should be based. He reported to the Government that nearly all the cases had been subject to thorough scrutiny by the courts, and it was difficult in the light of that to justify an inquiry on the scale that was suggested. At the end of January 1993 there is a further letter from the then Prime Minister, Jim Bolger, stating: “I cannot justify holding an inquiry of the kind you would like.”
I will be seeking leave at the end of this question to table those documents, with the exception of the first one: the District Court judgment, which I understand is still subject to the leave of that court.
Katherine Rich: Why has the Minister miraculously found all this information, which has been asked for over a period of some months, and will she confirm to the House that when she told us that she had “checked the file” and that there had been extensive searching of the available records, she had not actually checked the entire Glenelg Health Camp file; and, if not, why did she not check the entire file at the time?
Hon RUTH DYSON: I can confirm that I have not personally opened any of the boxes in which this material has been found, but I can repeat my agreement with both that member and Deborah Coddington, who has also been asking questions on this issue, that as any further information comes to light it will be made public. This is the first question I have been asked in the House, and I have provided all the information. Further information may well come to light following today.
Katherine Rich: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. My question to the Minister asked her to clarify whether she had checked the file, as she told us in the House. She did not answer that question. I am interested in her comment that she had “checked the file” and whether she had done so, because it would appear that she had not and that she has misled the House.
Mr SPEAKER: No, I thought that the Minister did address the question.
John Carter: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. It seemed apparent to me—and, I am sure, to many other members—that the Minister was prepared to respond to the point of order raised by Katherine Rich, and I wonder whether she should be allowed to do so.
Mr SPEAKER: No, it was a point of order. That is very different from a question. If the Minister were prepared to respond to a question, I would allow her to do so. That was a point of order, and I did not need any further assistance on it. I took advice, and accepted it.
Georgina Beyer: What were Judge Mason’s recommendations, following his review?
Hon RUTH DYSON: Judge Mason conducted two reviews of the alleged sexual abuse cases. After the first review, completed in November 1989, he concluded that the present series of complaints did not constitute good grounds for a ministerial inquiry. However, he said that the complainants should have the opportunity to elaborate or expand on their complaints. After considering that additional information and meeting with the complainants he issued a second report in December 1990, again concluding that no grounds existed that would justify a formal ministerial inquiry.
Deborah Coddington: Does the Minister stand by her statement to the House on 13 May, when she said: “I have looked very carefully at the very issue raised by the member in her question, because I am aware that the alleged abuse occurred in 1987. The first incident that is reported within the Ministry of Health system is 1993.”; and if she now concedes that that answer is not correct will she withdraw her answer, correct it, and apologise to the House?
Hon RUTH DYSON: That was a question in relation of the Ministry of Health’s files and is the responsibility of the Minister of Health. Today I am answering questions as the Minister responsible for the Department of Child, Youth and Family Services, and I am not able to answer on behalf of the Minister of Health in this instance.
Hon Richard Prebble: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. That was a very interesting reply. The Minister seems to be saying that if she gave an answer on behalf of another Minister that is demonstrably false, she has no responsibility for correcting that answer or apologising. That seems to be to be an interesting situation, because I suspect that the Minister of Health does not feel that she is under any obligation to correct an answer that is wrong. The whole House now realises that the answer has to be wrong, because we listened to the long answer that went back to long before 1993. I would like to know whether the responsibility that Speakers have said is on Ministers to correct answers falls only upon the principal Minister, or whether it falls upon the Minister who stood in the House and gave the answer, because one or the other of them ought to be correcting the record.
Hon Dr Michael Cullen: The first answer given by the Minister related to a search of the health files. It was accurate in terms of the search at that point. The Minister has ordered further work to be done since then, investigating the social welfare files. Confusion may arise because, of course, the Glenelg Health Camp operated under health, or did at that point, whereas the issues of sexual abuse operated under the then Department of Social Welfare at that time. I thank the Minister also for allowing me to see the documentation, to remind me about something I had completely forgotten about in the intervening 15 years. A little bit has gone on in that time.
Mr SPEAKER: I want to say to the member that it is a hypothetical point that he is raising. I do not think that was what the Minister was actually saying.
Katherine Rich: When the Minister made the statement to the House: “I have checked the file.”—not officials—and that there had been “extensive searching of the available records”, what does she say when she has read correspondence that shows that Michael Cullen, then Minister of Social Welfare, wrote a formal ministerial directive to the then Director-General of Social Welfare on 25 October 1989, asking him to commission Judge Ken Mason to review some Glenelg Health Camp cases that the Minister said had “disturbing features”, which the Minister “wanted checked out”?
Hon RUTH DYSON: Yes, I can confirm that on that date, after extensive searching of the files of the former Department of Social Welfare and of the Department of Child, Youth and Family Services, all the information that was made available to me was outlined in this House. The earliest one was 1993, and I did then, and subsequently, assure the House that if any further information was made available, it would be made public.
Georgina Beyer: Has the Minister received any information, or indeed reports, on how the then National Government of the day responded to Judge Ken Mason’s reviews?
Hon RUTH DYSON: The then National Government took no further action in response to Judge Ken Mason’s second report, stating that he did not think a ministerial inquiry was justified. In January 1992, former Prime Minister Jim Bolger wrote to one of the complainants, stating there was no evidence of inappropriate actions by an agent or official on which a ministerial inquiry should be based, and nothing to justify such an inquiry. A year later he repeated that view in a letter to another member of Parents Against Injustice.
Deborah Coddington: Why does the Minister keep repeating that as Associate Minister for Social Development and Employment (CYF) she has only just started searching the file, when she has refused to respond to my Official Information Act request of 16 March requesting all the information going back to 1983 regarding complaints about Glenelg Health Camp, and to my repeated requests on 14 May for the same information; or is it just that she is involved in a cover-up of two senior Ministers?
Hon RUTH DYSON: I did not ever say what the member alleged at the start of her supplementary question. As I said, the archives are still being searched. Further information may well become available. What I have provided to the House is all the further information that is available to me up until this date.
Hon Dr Michael Cullen: Can the Minister confirm that at the time a press statement was issued by myself as Minister of Social Welfare and that media interviews were given; if so, is it not a bit late to engage in a cover-up?
Hon RUTH DYSON: I am sure that members of the public at that time found both the content and the way in which the Minister of Social Welfare at the time presented the information as riveting as we currently do with his media interviews.
Katherine Rich: If media interviews were given at the time, press releases were issued, and there is now apparently a lot of information that has turned up from the archives, why did the Minister continue to maintain that the first allegation was in 1993 under National’s time in Government; and why did she continue to ignore the Labour Government’s involvement, if it was not to cover up for senior colleagues who she knew received the first allegations?
Hon RUTH DYSON: The member has missed the point entirely. I provided the House with the information that I had available to me at the time. If I had known of any other correspondence or any other Minister’s involvement, regardless of whatever party political affiliation that Minister had, I would have provided that information to the House at the time. I seek leave to table the documents I outlined in my question.
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table all the documents referred to.
Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. There is an important point to clarify. Obviously we would not want to block leave for those documents to be released, but we do know that recently in a similar situation with a written question on the Minister’s other portfolio responsibility, a number of names of persons that should not be released were attached, and we had to sent it back so that those names were not released. Could we have an assurance from the Minister that in the correspondence she has on her desk ready for release, there are no names of persons who are adversely affected by this case?
Hon Dr Michael Cullen: I would certainly think that is sensible. I would just raise the point that that would not include the name of former MP Jim Gerard, who quite properly brought this matter to my attention confidentially.
Documents, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.
Katherine Rich: I seek leave to table a ministerial directive from Michael Cullen to the then Director-General of Social Welfare, pointing to disturbing features about the Glenelg Health Camp case.
Documents, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.
4. STEVE CHADWICK (Labour—Rotorua) to the Minister of Health: What is the Government doing to address the continuing meningococcal epidemic?
Hon ANNETTE KING (Minister of Health): The meningococcal vaccine is the significant Government investment in child health. The roll-out of the vaccine is designed to focus attention, effort, and resources on reaching those most at risk, and the goal is to vaccinate 90 percent of the population aged 0 to 19 years within the first 2 years. Clinical trials of the vaccine have been very encouraging, demonstrating that the vaccine is safe and will provide protection against the epidemic strain of group B meningococcal disease.
Steve Chadwick: Since the epidemic was first identified in 1991, how many people have been affected by the disease?
Hon ANNETTE KING: Between 1991 and 2004, there have been 5,421 cases, including 220 deaths. Eighty percent of the cases were in the 0 to 19 age group, with a third of those being 4 years old and under. In 2003 there were 540 cases, including 13 deaths. Those are appalling statistics for our children, and the Government is committed to reducing the number of cases. The vaccine programme will be New Zealand’s largest ever immunisation programme.
Barbara Stewart: Is the Minister doing anything to address the continuing tuberculosis epidemic facing the Auckland District Health Board, which is experiencing the highest number of TB cases in more than a decade, with more than two-thirds of those cases found in people born outside New Zealand; if nothing, why not?
Mr SPEAKER: That is wide of the original question, but I will allow the Minister to comment.
Hon ANNETTE KING: Certainly, a lot of work is being undertaken in tuberculosis, including the most up-to-date treatment of tuberculosis.
5. RON MARK (NZ First) to the Minister of Police: Has he received any recent reports indicating police are insufficiently resourced; if so, what does he intend to do about this?
Hon TREVOR MALLARD (Minister of Education), on behalf of the Minister of Police: Yes, the Minister saw a media release from the questioner, but as the Commissioner of Police told the member yesterday, safety of his staff is of paramount importance. Police are being provided with more extensive training, and improved technology and safety equipment, including link line radio, to ensure police are protected in what is sometimes a very dangerous job.
Ron Mark: Has the Minister of Police seen recent research that shows that the perception of the overall performance of police in New Zealand is down, public opinion of the police is less favourable, and opinions about whether the police are fulfilling their role well within New Zealand society are down; if so, would he not agree that one of the main reasons for that loss of public confidence is that under his tenure the authorised staffing levels of our police have fallen dangerously out of kilter with the workloads, and our policemen and policewomen are simply not able to meet the public’s expectations?
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: Yes, no, and if the member stopped running them down we would be in a much better position.
Jill Pettis: What new resources is the Government giving police to fight and continue to reduce crime?
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: I think I have to give an edited version of this particular reply, because the resources have been so extensive due to the Minister’s successful battle with my colleague the Minister of Finance. As a result of that work, the Government is spending more to combat P and other amphetamines, it is spending more on combating organised crime, it is spending more on security and counter-terrorism, it is spending more on buildings, police cars, and equipment, and it is spending more on family safety. We are even cleaning up some of the scraps down Courtenay Place!
Rod Donald: Can the Minister confirm that each year the New Zealand Police spends the equivalent of 150 full-time sworn officers on cannabis offences relating to personal use; if not, what is the correct figure?
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: I regret to inform the member that, as the acting Minister of Police, I do not have that information, but I am sure that if the member puts down an oral question to the Minister, he will get the appropriate reply.
Hon Tony Ryall: What action will the Government take to compensate police for the cost of the Holidays Act, considering the warnings of a senior police officer contained in an email, which states that it has the potential to create huge backlogs for staff, to have a direct impact on those looking after prisoners over the holiday periods, and to have a huge impact on front-line counter staff?
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: While this is a matter more for the Minister of Labour than the Minister of Police, I think it is fair to say that in this area, as with a couple of others, the Holidays Act is being examined for its effect on salaried staff who already have penal rates built into their full rate.
Dr Muriel Newman: Is the Minister aware that the Police vote—excluding road safety—as a percentage of total Government operating spending, has reduced from 1.6 percent in 1999-2000, the year Labour came to office, to 1.5 percent in this year’s Budget; given that crime has gone up over that time, could it be that the two are linked?
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: I can inform the member that police appropriations have gone from $840 million in the year ended 30 June 2000 to $1.061 billion in the financial year we are about to enter—an increase well in front of inflation. The point that I think it is important to make is that Labour went to the electorate promising to emphasise health and education, and to boost extensively spending in those areas, and this Government has done that. As acting Minister of Police, I think that is a good thing.
Ron Mark: Can the Minister tell the House who is right: Councillor Lynley Claridge and youth workers Catherine Graham and Jim de Thierry, who are reported in the Southland Times today as saying that they fear a police officer could be killed because police in the district are forced to work lone shifts; or the Minister of Police and his Government, who seem to think the police have all the numbers they need, despite the growing workloads and escalating crime?
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: I think it is fair to say that the Minister of Police has never said that the police have all the police numbers they need. The Minister is always fighting for more, and he has been particularly successful. The key point to be made with regard to rural policing is that assaults on police last year were at a rate of 0.29 per sworn officer in rural areas, and a rate of 0.56 in urban areas. The assault rate on urban police, who police together, is about double the rate of that on rural police.
Jill Pettis: Why didn’t you do something about it when you were in Government?
Mr SPEAKER: Supplementary question, Mr Ron Mark.
Ron Mark: Given the interjection from the senior, undignified whip on the Government benches, I seek leave of the House to give an explanation of exactly what New Zealand First did whilst it was in Government with the National Party.
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought. Is there any objection? There is objection. Please ask the supplementary question.
Ron Mark: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Given that that member, who asked me by means of an interjection to say precisely what we did while we were in Government, has just denied me leave to give her an answer, could you please assist me by keeping those sorts of interjections, which are clearly meaningless and designed to interrupt my question, to an absolute minimum—if not to zero?
Mr SPEAKER: The member is absolutely correct, and had the senior whip made an interjection after the member had started the question, she would have been in a very interesting position in this House.
Ron Mark: Thank you, Mr Speaker. Is it not the truth, despite all these claims of what the Minister of Police and the Government are doing to resolve staffing issues in the police force, that on 29 September 2002 a member of the Southern Communications Centre wrote personally to the Minister of Police, expressing grave concerns about the escalating workload, the pressures of inadequate staffing levels, the dangerously high stress levels—
Mr SPEAKER: Please come to the question.
Ron Mark: —and the fear that the personal safety of officers on patrol was in jeopardy; and if it is the truth that the Minister received that letter, what has he done to resolve the issue with the Southern Communications Centre since 29 September 2002—other than nothing?
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: I do not have all the details in front of me, but I assume what the member said is correct—that the Minister of Police received the letter. I can confirm for the member that the Southern Communications Centre deals with 19,246 calls per call-taker, while the Central Communications Centre deals with 19,240.
Ron Mark: Can the Minister of Police tell the House whether he has read in the June edition of the Police News the statement made by one Rob Neil of Canterbury, a highway patrol officer: “It is not a matter of if a tragedy will happen with respect to police safety through understaffing and over-workload; it is a matter of when.”; and if the Minister has read that and understands it, can he give the House a categorical assurance that should a police officer be injured or killed as a result of the communications centre’s failure to respond, he will not only resign his portfolio but resign from this House?
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: This Minister is sick to death of people who encourage people who assault police.
Dr Muriel Newman: I seek leave to table the documentation that shows that the Government has been cutting police spending as a percentage of overall spending.
Mr SPEAKER: Leave has been sought to table that documentation. Is there any objection? There is.
Civil Union Bill—Marriage
6. LARRY BALDOCK (United Future) to the Associate Minister of Justice: What is the distinction between a civil union, as proposed, and a marriage conducted in a non-religious context?
Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE (Associate Minister of Justice): There are a number of clear distinctions between a civil union as proposed, and a marriage. For example, marriage has always been, and will continue to be, available solely to a man and a woman, unlike civil unions that are available to different and same-sex couples. As well, civil union partners will not be referred to in legislation as “husband and wife”; those terms will continue to be used exclusively for married couples. Thirdly, marriage celebrants are not required to perform civil union ceremonies.
Larry Baldock: Can he confirm media reports that the proposed Civil Union Bill will enable couples to transfer from a civil union to a marriage, and vice versa; and if so, does this not just confirm that there will be very little difference between marriage and civil unions, except that one does not apply to same-sex couples?
Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: I can confirm that the bill contains a clause with that effect in both directions at the present time, but as members of the House will be only too aware, whether the final form of the legislation is in that shape will be entirely determined by its progress in the select committee.
Russell Fairbrother: What other changes to the Marriage Act are proposed by the Civil Union Bill?
Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: The answer is “None”. The proposed Civil Union Bill does not change the Marriage Act. The institution of marriage remains solely available to a man and a woman, and the terms “husband and wife” and “marriage” are not removed from any legislation.
Metiria Turei: Does the Minister not agree that the heart of the issue is that this bill gives rights to same-sex couples, and that the parties in this House opposed to the bill simply do not believe that same-sex couples should have any rights at all, and believe that they are not entitled to equal treatment under New Zealand law?
Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: I do agree with the proposition put forward by the questioner, but I would add that Government members have made a decision that the Civil Union Bill and its companion bill will be a conscience matter. I read in media reports that the major Opposition party, the National Party, has made the same decision and I would encourage other parties, particularly United Future, to give such freedom of choice to their members.
Larry Baldock: Can he confirm that under the Marriage Act, couples are free to get married wherever they like, and with as much or as little religious ceremony as they like; if so, does this not make a nonsense of one of the justifications for the Civil Union Bill—namely, that it allows couples to pledge their commitment, without the trappings of marriage?
Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: Yes, and no. I refer the member to the editorial comment in the Nelson Mail, which says: “This is a bill appropriate for the times, recognising the reality of relationships, instead of attempting to deny their existence.”
Gerry Brownlee: Apart from the terms “husband and wife” and the term “marriage” itself not being available to those in a civil union, what other aspects unique to marriage at the moment will be excluded from those in a civil union?
Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: The proposals in the Civil Union Bill and its companion bill are predominantly about the protection of rights of individuals in our community. There are no victims in this legislation, and I do not believe that most New Zealanders mind people having rights and protections for the relationships they choose for themselves.
Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. You will probably give the old story, that the Minister has addressed the question, but this is a fairly important issue. It is not party partisan. It is, as the Minister has informed the House, something that people should exercise their consciences on. I asked the Minister a very specific question, and I got an answer that was more to do with the mechanics of how the bill will pass, than with the question itself. I asked him simply what other aspects that are currently unique to marriage might be denied to people in a civil union. I would have thought the Minister in charge of the bill might have a list in front of him.
Mr SPEAKER: The member is perfectly correct. He did ask that question but I thought the Minister, at the end of his reply, addressed the question.
Peter Brown: Is the Minister aware of any protests by United Future members that indicate they feel so strongly about this bill that they will withdraw support from the Government, or is it a case of much noise in public, and silence where it counts?
Mr SPEAKER: The Minister is not responsible for the United Future party.
Peter Brown: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker.
Mr SPEAKER: The member must word the question so it is in order. I will give him another chance as it is Thursday afternoon.
Peter Brown: With respect, I asked the Minister whether he is aware of any approaches by—[Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: The member will now stand, withdraw, and apologise.
Jill Pettis: I withdraw and apologise.
Mr SPEAKER: That will be the last comment that she will make this question time. When I listened again to Mr Brown’s words “Is he aware” in relation to the actual bill, I think the Minister does have responsibility.
Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: I am able to confirm that the normal objective and friendly relationship continues to exist between the United Party and the Government.
Larry Baldock: Can the Minister confirm that the marriage legislation amendment bill recently introduced into the Australian Parliament would expressly deny legal recognition of the civil union of New Zealand couples, and does he think that that will serve as a barrier to those considering a civil union, when couples could simply marry and not face the same problem?
Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: I am not aware of the legislation the member refers to. However, I can confirm that the civil union proposal will not apply outside New Zealand jurisdiction.
Oil Prices—Budget Economic and Fiscal Update
7. JEANETTE FITZSIMONS (Co-Leader—Green) to the Minister of Finance: Why did the Budget Economic and Fiscal Update assume the price of oil would ease back to US$19 a barrel, and is that assumption now being revised?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Minister of Finance): That is a very good question. The Treasury forecast in the Budget assumed a long-term equilibrium price of US$19 a barrel, based on historic trends, and consistent with average oil prices in the 1990s. The short-term price assumption was based on a consensus forecast in futures market pricing, and that was for a short-term price path just above $30 a barrel; the assumption about the long-term equilibrium price is being revised for the next forecast round, given recent price trends and geopolitical events.
Jeanette Fitzsimons: Does the Minister agree that it would be prudent to ensure Government investment shifts New Zealand away from oil dependence, rather than reinforcing it, given his statement that oil prices will never be back at 1990 levels?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I did not say that. Indeed, levels around 1991 were actually quite high at one point. What I was indicating was my own personal view that over the long term we would have to expect a higher track for oil prices than we saw in the 1990s. The Government is already taking action. In this year’s Budget there is an increase of over 25 percent in the funding going to passenger transport community services.
John Key: Does the Minister agree with BP’s chief economist that there is “no global resource or reserve shortage”, and that the price of oil, which in real terms is a fraction of what it reached in the 1980s, is in a large part rising because of demand issues that, over time, can be addressed with increased supply?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: No, I do not agree with that entirely. Certainly, I agree with the member that one of the factors here is increased demand, particularly from China—and no doubt increasing also from India—as China’s own supplies start to run down. However, I do not think that at this stage there is a clear indication that world supply, in terms of reserves, is increasing as rapidly as demand is likely to over the next 10 to 20 years.
Marc Alexander: Does the Minister agree that one reason oil prices have not eased to the degree predicted in the Budget Economic and Fiscal Update is an unpredictable rise in consumption by 4-litre, gas-guzzling vehicles such as the one left running outside the press gallery last month by the Green MP Keith Locke?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I certainly think that it is advisable that people look at their own vehicle usage, and the nature of some of the vehicles one sees around this place does not contribute. I do recollect the Green Party having a somewhat strange machine travelling around the country once, spewing out pollutants. But then, that was no different from the ACT bus that was spewing out both verbal and other forms of pollutants.
Jeanette Fitzsimons: Does the Minister agree that a massive road-building programme without associated investment in public transport, such as being advocated by National, would leave New Zealand exposed to massive economic risk in the face of high oil prices?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Yes. I think the most extraordinary thing about National’s statement on Auckland transport was to reject the notion that public transport had any key role to play. On the other hand, those who would argue that we should not build roads at all are merely encouraging cars to sit there idling away, producing pollutants, and going nowhere.
Jeanette Fitzsimons: What steps is the Minister taking, in the light of increasing oil prices, to ensure that transport investment by the Government supports energy-efficient rail freight and passenger transport?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: We have already improved the level of funding for passenger transport. As I said, it is going up more than 25 percent in the coming year. We have today announced major changes that should assist in getting a coherent national land transport strategy, we have been very supportive of the Auckland rail strategy, and I notice from statements in the media in the last 24 hours that there is now strong expectation of a satisfactory deal around the acquisition of the rail network by the Government.
Rod Donald: Has Treasury undertaken any modelling to determine whether a more proactive approach to import substitution could help blunt the adverse effects of rising oil prices; if not, when will it?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: No. I am not clear how engaging in import substitution of imported goods and services would necessarily reduce oil consumption in the world at large. It is also fair to say that in terms of international oil prices New Zealand’s demand is not a large factor.
John Key: I seek leave to table a copy of this morning’s Dominion Post press article that shows that BP’s chief economist believes there are three times the levels of reserves that there were in the 1980s and plenty of untapped supply.
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection? There is.
John Key: I seek leave to table Don Brash’s outstanding speech on Auckland’s roading crisis and the solution that National would have. He does not claim for one moment that there is no demand for public transport; he argues a priority.
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection? There is.
Treaty Claims—Tainui Meetings with Minister
8. GERRY BROWNLEE (Deputy Leader—National) to the Minister in charge of Treaty of Waitangi Negotiations: Why was there a series of meetings between representatives of Tainui iwi and Government ministers and officials regarding the tribe’s historical Treaty of Waitangi claims following the introduction of the Foreshore and Seabed Bill, when there had been no previous meetings since October 2003, and what was the outcome of those meetings?
Hon MARGARET WILSON (Minister in charge of Treaty of Waitangi Negotiations): Negotiations between Tainui and the Crown were not progressed after the death of Sir Robert Mahuta because of the uncertainty as to who then held the mandate to negotiate. The recent meetings were held at Tainui’s request to discuss the impact of the foreshore and seabed legislation on the settlement of their outstanding historical claims, including those relating to the Waikato River and the west coast harbours. Tainui also expressed at the meeting a desire to resume negotiations.
Gerry Brownlee: Was the Minister’s and the Prime Minister’s assurance to Tainui that the Foreshore and Seabed Bill would not be an impediment to settlement of their claims to the Waikato River and west coast harbours necessary in order for the Government to retain the support of Nanaia Mahuta, who declared her continued support for the Labour Party only after such a letter had been extracted from the Government?
Hon MARGARET WILSON: No. To the best of my knowledge it was not a condition.
Mahara Okeroa: What progress has been made in the negotiations with Tainui to settle historical claims?
Hon MARGARET WILSON: There are ongoing discussions between Crown officials and representatives of the Tainui iwi, focusing on issues around mandating and the Crown’s preference to deal with comprehensive claims from large natural groupings. To date, however, no mandating document has been received by the Government.
Pita Paraone: Does the Minister consider that the meetings referred to in the primary question followed a similar process of explanation and negotiation to that of meetings held between recent National Governments and iwi when discussing treaty settlements and the subsequently abandoned fiscal envelope proposal?
Hon MARGARET WILSON: To the best of my knowledge we have followed a similar process. The previous Government entered into negotiations in much the same way as this Government has done.
Stephen Franks: Was the possibility of entitlement to aquaculture areas part of the discussion; if so, was it based on a principle of need, or just part of a general crude race privilege across all iwi?
Hon MARGARET WILSON: I have no recollection of aquaculture being mentioned in any of the meetings I attended.
Gerry Brownlee: What factors or compromises enabled her to provide the letter of assurance to Tainui that the Foreshore and Seabed Bill would not be an impediment to the settlement of their claims to the Waikato River and west coast harbours, when both she and the Prime Minister have been telling other New Zealanders that the bill will preserve the foreshore and seabed of New Zealand in Crown ownership?
Hon MARGARET WILSON: I see no contradiction between those two statements. The bill does do as the member said, and also there is no impediment to continue with the negotiation of historical settlements.
Gerry Brownlee: Is the Minister telling the House that the negotiations that will take place with Tainui over the Waikato River and the west coast harbours will not discuss ownership of the seabed and foreshore of those west coast harbours, and that title to those places will not be transferred to Tainui?
Hon MAURICE WILLIAMSON: This House is not the place to negotiate historical grievance claims. We will, of course, negotiate according to precedent. The precedent, I understand, from the previous Government was that ownership of the lake beds of Taupô and Lake Ellesmere was transferred to iwi.
Hon Richard Prebble: Is the House to understand that the Government has resumed negotiations with Tainui purely because it recognises that former MP Mr Tuku Morgan does have a mandate to negotiate for the tribe; if so, is it not a fact that Mr Morgan has achieved more for Tainui in 12 months than Labour MPs have achieved in 4 years, and in fact is that not a sign of the power of the new Mâori Party?
Hon MARGARET WILSON: The member obviously did not hear the answer to the supplementary question in which I said that to date no mandating document has been received by the Government from Tainui.
Gerry Brownlee: Can the House take it from her previous answer that, notwithstanding the claims made about the Foreshore and Seabed Bill, and notwithstanding the passing of that bill supposedly protecting the seabed and foreshore of this country being in public ownership, her Government may negotiate ownership of parts of the seabed and foreshore of the west coast harbours, to see them pass into the ownership of Tainui?
Hon MARGARET WILSON: As I said, the House is not the place to negotiate the settlement of historical grievances. We will review, in terms of those negotiations, past practice, including the practices I have made previous reference to. I cannot answer the question, because I am not in negotiations with Tainui at this stage.
Information Technology—Availability to Teachers
9. HELEN DUNCAN (Labour) to the Minister of Education: What steps is he taking to make information communications technology more available to teachers?
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: Enormous steps. This year’s Budget allocated an additional $12 million, so that around 7,000 primary teachers can benefit from an extension to the Laptops for Teachers scheme. Already more than 17,000 principals and intermediate and secondary teachers have received laptops through the scheme. I will make it clear through my newsletters; as schools receive their laptops, that the National Party voted against this scheme.
Helen Duncan: What feedback has the Minister received on the success of the Laptops for Teachers scheme?
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: Feedback from teachers who already have laptops through the scheme has been really positive. They report significant improvements in teaching use of technology, and they are also helping them in terms of easing teaching loads. Laptops give teachers access to state-of-the-art resources, and they can considerably improve their teaching practice.
Student Allowances—Married Students
10. BERNIE OGILVY (United Future) to the Associate Minister of Education (Tertiary Education): Does the Government’s decision to subject married students under 25 years of age to parental income testing for the purposes of assessing eligibility for student allowances reflect the view that they are still financially dependent on their parents?
Hon MARGARET WILSON (Attorney-General), on behalf of the Associate Minister of Education (Tertiary Education): This decision reflects the Government’s intention to apply the parental income test in a consistent manner to all students who do not have dependent children, whether they are married, single, or in a de facto relationship.
Hon Bill English: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Could the Minister clarify in what capacity she is answering the question. We have read in the newspaper that the Associate Minister of Education (Tertiary Education) is on bereavement leave, and has been replaced, for the time being, by the Hon Margaret Wilson. I would be interested to know whether she actually is the Minister, or whether she is replying on behalf of the Minister, because over coming weeks I myself might be asking her questions, and I would like to know whether she will be answering as the Minister, or as the Attorney-General on his behalf.
Mr SPEAKER: My understanding is that she is the Minister. She will be Acting Minister, because the Minister is on leave. I now have a document in front of me. She is the Acting Minister.
Hon Bill English: So should she then begin her answers by replying as the Minister, and not saying that she is replying on behalf of the Minister?
Mr SPEAKER: Technically, I suppose, yes, and she was wrong.
Hon Bill English: It is not just technical. I know how important it is to these Ministers as to whether they are on behalf of the Minister, or the Minister.
Mr SPEAKER: On this occasion, she is the Minister.
Bernie Ogilvy: Does she agree that the decision to get married implies a degree of financial co-dependence that supplants any notion of continued parental support; if not, does she know of any married couple that still relies on its parents for pocket money?
Hon MARGARET WILSON: I apologise to the member for not getting my designation correct. I am happy to answer any questions from him in the future. Yes, I do know of many instances—in fact, not only parents, but aunts and uncles.
H V Ross Robertson: What other allowance changes affecting students under 25 years of age were made as part of Budget 2004?
Hon MARGARET WILSON: Two changes were made to the parental income thresholds. Firstly, over 36,000 students will now benefit from changes to the current thresholds. The lower parental income threshold is increased from $28,000 to $33,696, and the upper threshold is increased from $50,572 to $62,148. Furthermore, from now on, parental income thresholds will be annually adjusted for inflation, so eligibility will no longer be eroded by inflation as it was in the 1990s.
Hon Bill English: Can the Minister confirm that the increase in thresholds cost the Government an additional $55 million, which will go to students, but that the measure referred to here saves the Government $50 million, so students are only about $5 million better off?
Hon MARGARET WILSON: I cannot confirm the accuracy of those figures, but I am happy to check them for the member.
Hon Brian Donnelly: Did the Associate Minister, or even the Minister, discuss with United Future, prior to the delivery of the Budget, that the change mentioned in the primary question had to be made because current policy, according to the Ministry of Education, discriminates in favour of married people—a situation that her Government could not possibly countenance?
Hon MARGARET WILSON: The member is correct. Not only this Government, but the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act, requires that the legislation be consistent. I also note that United Future did welcome the changes that were made at the time.
Metiria Turei: How can this Government justify removing student allowances for married students, claiming it contravenes human rights legislation by discriminating against de facto and single students, when this Government continues to discriminate on the basis of age, and when there is no good reason to justify treating a 24-year-old differently to a 25-year-old?
Hon MARGARET WILSON: The Government took advice on this precise point because there might well seem to be an illogicality about it. However, the age was set in the past, I understand, by Dr the Hon Lockwood Smith at the time the policy came in. In the assessment that was done under the New Zealand Bill of Rights legislation, the advice I received was that it was not discriminatory in this particular set of circumstances.
Bernie Ogilvy: Can the Minister confirm that students who have worked for 96 weeks before commencing study will now also have to be tested for student allowances based on their parents’ income, because not to do so would be to discriminate on the basis of employment; and, if so, what is so wrong about assessing students on their own income when they have clearly already demonstrated financial independence from their parents?
Hon MARGARET WILSON: The point is to assess the financial position of the students at the time of the application, not on whether they have a work history.
Bernie Ogilvy: Why does the Government argue that it is discrimination on the basis of employment to exempt those who have worked before study from parental income testing, yet it is somehow not discrimination on the basis of employment to allow those who are under 25 on the dole to have their eligibility assessed on their own income?
Hon MARGARET WILSON: The purpose behind the policy is to assess the financial position of the students at the time they are seeking the allowance.
11. MOANA MACKEY (Labour) to the Minister of Justice: Does New Zealand face a large problem of children internally trafficked for the purposes of sexual exploitation?
Hon PHIL GOFF (Minister of Justice): No, a claim made yesterday in a US State Department report that New Zealand faces a large problem of children being internally trafficked for the purposes of sexual exploitation appears entirely unsubstantiated. The report apparently draws on research done by the New Zealand child protection organisation ECPAT, but that organisation has described the claims as “utterly misleading” and “a pretty wild statement”. ECPAT has said that it is not aware of such trafficking happening in New Zealand.
Moana Mackey: What steps has the Government taken to deal with the problems of trafficking of persons and child prostitution?
Hon PHIL GOFF: New Zealand has taken extraordinary measures to deal with people-trafficking and child prostitution, including a national plan of action against the commercial sexual exploitation of children, and taking a leading role in the Bali process against people-smuggling and trafficking. The Government passed legislation in 2002 that subjects people-traffickers to jail sentences of up to 20 years and fines of up to half a million dollars. In 2001 we made being a client of a child prostitute—defined as one under 18 years of age—a criminal offence, and the House currently has before it the Crimes Amendment Bill (No 2), which creates an offence punishable by 14 years’ imprisonment for inducing a young person under 18 years into any act for commercial sexual exploitation.
Parole Act—Victims' Rights
12. STEPHEN FRANKS (ACT) to the Minister of Justice: What rights did he have in mind when he promoted the provisions of the Parole Act 2002 that require the Parole Board to uphold victims’ rights?
Hon PHIL GOFF (Minister of Justice): As the member states, the Parole Board is required by the Parole Act of 2002 and also by the Victims’ Rights Act of 2002 to uphold victims’ rights. Among the extensive new rights given to victims by the Act are the rights to be notified of parole hearings, to make submissions to the Parole Board—written or oral—to receive information relating to the offender in order to make those submissions, and to be notified of the board’s decisions.
Stephen Franks: Do victims have a right to expect that a sentence will comply with the Sentencing Act and denounce crime and deter it, and ensure accountability so that crime does not pay; if so, why is the Parole Board still not permitted to take account of any of those purposes of sentencing, and the courts now have to fix a non-parole period to achieve them?
Hon PHIL GOFF: All of the principles the member has mentioned are, of course, part of the Sentencing Act and set out quite clearly what the judge must take into account in sentencing the offender. The Parole Board can look at a number of factors, but the paramount consideration of the Parole Board, as I think everyone in this House would expect, must be the safety of the community and whether release of the offender would mean undue risk. Obviously, the Parole Board has a job to keep the community safe. That is why that is its paramount consideration.
Lianne Dalziel: To what extent are victims or their representatives taking advantage of the right to make submissions to the Parole Board?
Hon PHIL GOFF: More and more. In 2002, 280 submissions were made by victims or their supporters to the Parole Board. In 2003, there were 441submissions. In the first 5 months of this year alone the number is already up to 826. I note the comment in today’s New Zealand Herald by Garth McVicarof the Sensible Sentencing Trust that for the first time the trust has been able to represent a victim in an official capacity before the Parole Board and that this is “the result of growing recognition of victims’ rights”.
Peter Brown: Is it true or false that people are being released on parole who have shown no signs of rehabilitation and have made no genuine attempt to do so; and, if that is true, what is being done to address that issue?
Hon PHIL GOFF: Let me repeat that the key consideration—the paramount consideration—for the Parole Board must be that release of the inmate creates no undue risk to the community and that safety is the paramount consideration. If the Parole Board were following the guidance given by this House in legislation, it would not be releasing such people.
Stephen Franks: I ask my question again: why is the Parole Board still prevented from taking account of the purposes of sentencing, including to denounce crime and deter it and to ensure accountability so that crime does not pay—and before the Minister answers, I should tell him that I was at the Parole Board hearing mentioned by Mr Garth McVicar, and the Parole Board was obliged—
Mr SPEAKER: The member has asked his question. That is extra material. It is not essential to the question that has been asked.
Stephen Franks: I have not asked the second part of the question.
Mr SPEAKER: The member has actually asked a full question. Sometimes I allow people to ask a little bit more, but the member was making a statement. He cannot do that.
Stephen Franks: I ask that I be allowed to complete the question. I will not continue the statement.
Mr SPEAKER: The member can ask a specific second part to the question, but there is to be no comment or statement about anything else.
Stephen Franks: —and that the Parole Board admitted that it could not take account of the purposes of sentencing?
Hon PHIL GOFF: I repeat my answer: the Parole Board can take account of a variety of factors, but its paramount consideration must be the safety of the community.
Hon Tony Ryall: If the Parole Board is doing such a good job of protecting the public, why do half the people it releases end up in prison within 2 years?
Hon PHIL GOFF: I must say that the situation is somewhat better than when that member was the Minister of Justice. But the fact is that when people are released on parole, statistically—on the recidivism work done by the Ministry of Justice—it shows that they are half as likely to reoffend as when they are not released on parole. Those figures speak for themselves.