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Questions & Answers for Oral Answer 24 June 2004

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

Thursday, 24 June 2004
Questions for Oral Answer
Questions to Ministers

1. Scampi Fishery - Commission of Inquiry
2. History of Infant's Abuse - Assessment
Question No. 1 to Minister
Question No. 2 to Minister
3. China and Thailand - Trade Negotiations
Question No. 4 to Minister
4. Schools, Invercargill - Enrolment Schemes
5. Police - Procedure for Dismissals
6. Relationships (Statutory References) Bill - Civil Union Bill
7. Scampi Fishery - State Services Commission Report
8. Secondary School Students - Numeracy
9. Parole Act - Victims' Rights
10. Development Assistance Programme - Pacific Region
11. Police - Timeliness of Priorities
12. Unemployment Benefit - Youth

Questions for Oral Answer
Questions to Ministers

Scampi Fishery - Commission of Inquiry

1. JEANETTE FITZSIMONS (Co-Leader - Green) to the Prime Minister: Will she ask the Governor-General to appoint a commission of inquiry to investigate the allegations made in an affidavit read to the House yesterday by the Hon Ken Shirley so that they can be seen to be considered in a non-political setting; if not, why not?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK (Prime Minister): I understand that the matter has been referred to the Speaker to consider whether a matter of privilege is involved. It would be inappropriate to make any comment while this is happening.

Jeanette Fitzsimons: Is it not desirable that where the reputation of a member of this House is being seriously impugned the matter is seen to be considered away from the possible perception that political factors might influence any decisions?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: If the question being raised is a question of a breach of the Standing Orders, the Privileges Committee is entirely the appropriate place to deal with that. If there are others who think there are criminal matters involved, then the course open to them is to go to the police.

Gerry Brownlee: Can the Prime Minister tell the House whether she has ever, in her long political career, seen such serious allegations made about a member of Parliament, and can she further tell us whether she is aware that the Privileges Committee cannot act at this point because there is no prima facie case, and does she therefore -

Mr SPEAKER: I just interrupt the member to say that I have received a letter that I am giving consideration to. There has been no ruling on that letter yet. The member might like to rephrase the question.

Gerry Brownlee: That is new information to me. I apologise for that.

Mr SPEAKER: That is all right. Re-ask the question.

Gerry Brownlee: Has the Prime Minister ever seen, in her long political career, allegations as serious as this ever aid at the feet of a member of Parliament; does she accept that these allegations, if not dealt with by some form of inquiry, bring all parliamentarians and this Parliament into disrepute; and if there is an inability for the Privileges Committee to move, will she then consider asking a commission, similar to the one asked for by the Greens, to look at the matter in order that the member himself may clear his name?

Mr SPEAKER: There were three questions there. With regard to the first one, the Prime Minister is not responsible for privilege matters, but she can certainly answer the second and third questions.

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: Over the more than three and a half decades that I have taken an interest in politics I can think of at least two other examples of very serious allegations being made against members of Parliament. I repeat: if the issue is a breach of the Standing Orders, the Privileges Committee is the place for it, but the Speaker will have to determine whether it justifies that. If members feel that a criminal offence may have been committed, then they should go to the police.

Hon Ken Shirley: Can the Prime Minister assure the House that Winston Peters' extraordinary and inexplicable U-turn in support of the Government's foreshore and seabed legislation is in no way related to assurance she has given that this matter will not be pursued by the Government?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: Let us be very clear: this matter has never been discussed with Mr Peters. Nor, I might observe, was there a U-turn on that legislation. Mr Peters had never signalled what his view of it was, to the best of my knowledge.

History of Infant's Abuse - Assessment

2. KATHERINE RICH (National) to the Associate Minister for Social Development and Employment (CYF): Does she stand by her statement that the "mother did not have a history of either physical or sexual abuse of her own children."; if so, does she still believe that the case of the 6-week-old boy in Starship Children's Hospital was "correctly assessed" by the Department of Child, Youth and Family Services?

Hon RICK BARKER (Associate Minister for Social Development and Employment), on behalf of the Associate Minister for Social Development and Employment (CYF): Any situation where a child is abused or injured is totally unacceptable to myself, the service, and, I am sure, all members of this Parliament. I am advised that in this case this was an outcome that could not have been professionally predicted. However, the incident and the department's review of it will give us an opportunity to learn from this tragic situation and reduce the likelihood of such an event recurring.

Katherine Rich: That was all very interesting, but my question was: "Does she stand by her statement?".

Hon RICK BARKER: Yes.

Katherine Rich: Can the Minister confirm that the Department of Child, Youth and Family Services had previously investigated and confirmed that the mother of the 6-week-old baby in Starship Children's Hospital had beaten her 6-year-old stepson in her care, leaving him with a black eye; did the Minister know this at the time she answered her previous oral questions?

Hon RICK BARKER: I am advised that the Tauranga police have requested that the details in this particular case should not be put in the public arena, because a police investigation is under way. Charges have been laid. Any further comments could affect the trial. I also want to make the point that there is a concern over protecting the privacy of the children concerned.

Katherine Rich: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker - [Interruption]

Mr SPEAKER: I am not having any interjections during points of order, and that is the only warning the member gets today.

Katherine Rich: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. My question was specifically about the awareness of the Minister when she had previously answered oral questions.

Mr SPEAKER: The Minister said he was not prepared to go into that detail, because there was something before the courts. That addresses the question. It might not please the member, but that addressed that particular question.

Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I think it may also be worth pointing out to members who have not had experience in this area - which has been raised fairly extensively, but some time ago - that there is not an obligation on a Minister to answer a question at all if the member judges that it is not in the public interest to answer that question. I think that Mr Speaker, in giving some advice to my colleague, is probably saying that in a rather indirect way.

Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Mr Mallard raises a very interesting point that I think in many ways gives weight to the plea that Katherine Rich made to you. If the Minister knew, prior to giving the answer in the House, that there were matters that perhaps should not be discussed, then the option that Mr Mallard suggested should have been taken. Instead, the Minister chose to give the House a view of events that was quite unrelated to the way in which those events truly transpired. So we are simply saying that in giving that answer, the Minister is leaving the situation open to the allegation that the House has been misled.

Mr SPEAKER: No, the Minister did not refuse to answer. He chose to be circumspect in view of the legal proceedings, and that is his choice.

Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker -

Mr SPEAKER: No, that was his choice, and I am not having any further argument on that matter, because I have ruled.

Gerry Brownlee: All right. If the Minister was choosing to be circumspect in the question that was asked by Mrs Rich today, what is different today from the day on which the original question was answered?

Mr SPEAKER: That is a debatable point.

Sue Bradford: What percentage, roughly, of the Department of Child, Youth and Family Services' social workers now have professional qualifications, and does the Minister feel that the rate at which the Department of Child, Youth and Family Services' front-line caseworkers are being brought up to a satisfactory level is happening quickly enough?

Hon RICK BARKER: I am satisfied that the Department of Child, Youth and Family Services is making good progress. There are 90 more social workers now. Fifty-seven are about to start. The Government has invested $127 million extra into it. A great deal of effort is going into improving the quality of the Department of Child, Youth and Family Services, and good progress is being made.

Katherine Rich: Can the Minister confirm that the Department of Child, Youth and Family Services had decided previously that the 6-week-old baby in Starship Children's Hospital would join his two siblings in foster care, but that that decision was overruled by a senior staff member after the baby was born, and that some Department of Child, Youth and Family Services staff argued vigorously about the final decision to send that baby home with his mother; if not, what questions has the Minister asked officials about this case?

Hon RICK BARKER: That question goes into some of the details of this particular case, and I ask the member to respect the request of the Tauranga police that those details not be put in the public arena, because an investigation is under way. There is a right to a fair trial -

Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I would ask you to have another think about the exchange that is going on here. Questions are being asked about the performance of the Minister. For the Minister to reply: "Please don't ask that question, because the Tauranga police don't want details of this case made public.", is an utter nonsense. The questions are about the times, dates, and places at which the Minister became aware. The Minister can answer that, surely, without affecting the outcome of a court case.

Mr SPEAKER: The Minister can address the question in any way he chooses, as long as the question is addressed. The answer has not satisfied the questioner, but that is the answer that has been given.

Katherine Rich: Can the Minister confirm that the Department of Child, Youth and Family Services knew of a psychiatric report that described the mother of the 6-week-old baby in Starship Children's Hospital as "high risk"; if not, why not?

Hon RICK BARKER: I am not prepared to confirm those details, because they may give substance to the claims, but I am concerned to ensure that the police are able to conduct their investigation in a way that does not prejudice the trial. I can advise the member that many questions will be asked about this case, because we want to learn from the details of it so that we can avoid any similar repetition in the future.

Dr Muriel Newman: Is the Minister satisfied that she is being fully informed by her departmental officials; if so, how does she explain her statement yesterday in the House that she was not advised of the appalling harm inflicted on the two older children by the mother?

Hon RICK BARKER: I am not prepared to confirm the last statement. I am prepared to advise the House that the Minister has been fully briefed, and I can confirm that I have received some good briefings myself. People are well abreast of the situation. We want to ensure that there is a fair trail. We want to ensure that we learn the best we can from this situation, so that we do not see a repetition of it in the future.

Dr Muriel Newman: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Maybe you could help here. The Minister was asked about a statement that was made in the House yesterday. He states that he is not prepared to confirm that that statement was made in the House yesterday, yet it is on the public record.

Mr SPEAKER: That is not a point of order.

Katherine Rich: Why does the Minister remain so confident that the Department of Child, Youth and Family Services assessed the risk to the baby correctly, when the mother had been evaluated as being high risk and when the department had previously dealt with her over the beating, and blackened eye, of her 6-year-old stepson, the neglect of her 4-year-old child, and the near starvation of her 2-year-old child?

Hon RICK BARKER: The department has to make judgments on each individual case. As I said in my primary answer to the member, the outcome in this situation could not have been professionally predicted.

Katherine Rich: Given that the Department of Child, Youth and Family Services knew that the mother of the 6-week-old baby in Starship Children's Hospital was high-risk, that she had previously beaten, and blackened the eye of, her 6-year-old son, seriously neglected her 4-year-old, and left her 2-year-old on the verge of starvation, does the Minister accept that New Zealanders are struggling to see how she could think the risk to the baby had been correctly assessed?

Hon RICK BARKER: Because a member says things, it does not necessarily mean that they are true. What is important here is that there is an investigation under way, charges have been laid, they will go to court, and the truth of the matter will come out.

Question No. 1 to Minister

DAIL JONES (Junior Whip - NZ First): I seek the leave of the House to table the New Zealand First policy on the foreshore and seabed, as set out by the Rt Hon Winston Peters on 25 June 2003 in Hansard, Volume 609, at page 6565, which is absolutely consistent with what we are doing today, and if the Hon Ken Shirley were a gentleman, he would apologise.

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

Question No. 2 to Minister

GERRY BROWNLEE (Deputy Leader - National): I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I ask you to consider the final answer given to Ms Rich's questions by the Minister, in which I think it is quite clear that he implied that there were statements of mistruth in the question. That is quite inappropriate. While it might be easy for us to sit here and think that the Minister's own interpretation of events is somewhat fanciful, it is not appropriate for him, in his answer, to get away with accusing a member of misleading the House.

Mr SPEAKER: The Minister did not do that. What the Minister said was that the facts might not be as the member states. If he had said that the member was telling a lie or a deliberate mistruth, or something like that, it most certainly would have been out of order.

JOHN CARTER (Senior Whip - National): I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I want to raise with you an issue about which, the more I sit here and think about it, the more concerned I become. That is the issue that has just now developed with regard to the Minister's answers - or non-answers - and the rulings you have made with regard to the response to those. I ask you to give a considered opinion to the House a little later. The issue here is that this is an opportunity for the Opposition to question Ministers about policy and performance. That is what question time is about. The difficulty we have run into is that we wanted to ask the Minister - or the Minister on behalf of the Minister - about her performance. Unfortunately, the way events are unfolding is that there is now a police investigation, which the Minister seems to be able to use to not answer those questions. I wonder whether you could give an opinion as to where the line is drawn when a Minister cannot answer questions that are asked by the Opposition because there is already some form of investigation.

xxxfoWhere do we draw the line? If the question is asked of the Minister for Sport and Recreation, and the New Zealand Rugby Football Union is making an investigation, is it sufficient for him not to answer questions?

Mr SPEAKER: Let me refer the member to Speakers' rulings on page 144. There are five of them, and at least four of them are appropriate in this instance.

KATHERINE RICH (National): I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. With the Associate Minister answering that last question, while he spent some time talking about the validity of my assertions, my actual question was about whether he accepted that some New Zealanders are struggling to see how the assessment could be deemed correct - which ties into questions earlier in the week.

Mr SPEAKER: There is no responsibility for the Minister to answer that part of the question, but I thought he did give an answer.

JOHN CARTER (Senior Whip - National): I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker.

Mr SPEAKER: Look, I do not want this to carry on, because I am prepared to do what the member said, and I will think about the issue he has raised.

China and Thailand - Trade Negotiations

3. MARK PECK (Labour - Invercargill) to the Minister for Trade Negotiations: What progress is being made on trade negotiations with China and Thailand?

Hon JIM SUTTON (Minister for Trade Negotiations): Significant progress is being made. Last week, formal negotiations started with Thai officials, and we anticipate that those negotiations could be completed by the end of the year. Yesterday, the public consultation process on a trade deal with China began, and I hope the feasibility study on that proposed agreement can also be completed by the end of this year.

Mark Peck: Would the Minister tell the House whether those are the only trade liberalisation prospects we have?

Hon JIM SUTTON: Plan A for this Government has always been the World Trade Organization multilateral negotiations, which hold the most potential for us. But we do have plan B, a network of comprehensive regional and bilateral agreements, of which agreements with China and Thailand are just two. Negotiations on the Pacific three closer economic partnership with Chile and Singapore will resume in August, and a variety of others are also under active investigation.

Jeanette Fitzsimons: Has the Minister seen the testimony of Mr Harry Wu, a survivor of the Chinese Laogai prison labour camps, in which 6.8 million people are interred mostly for political or religious non-conformity, and is he aware that those camps make 200 Chinese export products, including most of China's export rubber chemicals, one-third of its tea, and much of its tools, steel products, and cotton; and how can New Zealand recognise China as a market economy in that situation?

Hon JIM SUTTON: No, I have not seen the programme the member alludes to, but the Government has clear views on international standards on labour and human rights. In negotiating trade agreements, we aim for outcomes that promote decent work and are compatible with International Labour Organization principles. Human rights are also a priority for the Government. Our policy is that trade and economic growth should help to facilitate progress in those areas.

Peter Brown: Noting that answer, is the Minister in a position to guarantee to this House that any trade deal with China and Thailand will not impact adversely on New Zealand employment prospects?

Hon JIM SUTTON: To the contrary, these negotiations are intended to strengthen the New Zealand economy and create more jobs, and better paid jobs, for New Zealanders.

Hon Peter Dunne: At which sectors of the economy and wider society is the public consultation process aimed, what matters does the Minister expect to be raised during that process, and what action will the Government take on those matters in any negotiations with China towards a free-trade agreement?

Hon JIM SUTTON: The public will raise what it wishes to raise, and the Government will address all those concerns. But let me say that I would be surprised if there were not people in contact with us - as there already have been, particularly in the apparel sector - who are concerned about their industries' ability to compete effectively against China.

xxxfo My answer to that is that the apparel industry is already substantially exposed to international competition in New Zealand, and in recent years has been increasing in both employment and the quality of the jobs on offer. I believe that even in the apparel industry, the New Zealand industry will be able to increase its sales to China and other Asian markets of those niche products in which we can create competitive advantage.

Jeanette Fitzsimons: What measures is he proposing should be written into the free-trade agreement with China to improve its human rights behaviour, and how does he specifically propose to ensure that none of the 200 products made by prison labour camps comes into New Zealand, so that in economic terms we are not supporting that practice?

Hon JIM SUTTON: New Zealand adheres to the relevant ILO principles and bindings, and we will continue to support those principles and objectives at every opportunity.

Question No. 4 to Minister

Mr SPEAKER: I have been advised that the Minister's reply will be a little longer than usual.

Schools, Invercargill - Enrolment Schemes

4. Hon BILL ENGLISH (National - Clutha-Southland) to the Minister of Education: Does he stand by his February statement that, with regard to schooling arrangements to be imposed in Invercargill, "it is not my intention to put enrolment schemes where they do not currently apply."; if not, why not?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD (Minister of Education): Had the proposals I put forward in February been accepted, there would not have been any need for any new enrolment schemes to be put in place. However, I subsequently agreed to the mayor and community trust's suggestion for a mediation process, which resulted in the retention of small rural schools close to Invercargill, at least one of which is on a limited site. I am not prepared to rule out an arrangement that gives students living in the area immediately around a rural school priority over those students coming out from town. Obviously, where we are building new buildings and there is room, priority will be given to meeting parents' preferences, thereby reducing to a minimum the need for enrolment schemes.

Hon Bill English: Is the Minister now saying he did not mean what he said to a meeting of almost a thousand parents in Invercargill - that when he closed up to a dozen of their schools, he would move to stop the parents from choosing what other school to send their children to?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: No, not at all. If the member had listened to my answer he would have understood. The changes that were proposed in February would have resulted in substantial building at most Invercargill schools, and it would have been possible to have the buildings where the parents wanted to send their kids. In this case, the result of my acceptance of the mediation has meant that some small schools, including at least one rural school on a very limited site where there is not room for an unlimited number of children, have remained. There may not be room on that very limited site for all the children who want to go there. My preference is that the rural kids who live next to the school should have the right to go there.

Hon Brian Donnelly: Why, in reorganising schools in Invercargill in order, presumably, that enrolment schemes would not be needed, has he decided to shut down middle-school and intermediate school education in a way that returns the structure of schooling in Invercargill to that which last existed nationally in the 1920s; and why is he so antagonistic to intermediate and middle-school education?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: There was an extensive process in Invercargill. There was a mediator who established the views of the community, and I agreed with the mediator.

Hon Bill English: Is the Minister aware that his officials have told Waihopai School to restrict its numbers, Tisbury School to implement an enrolment scheme, and Salford School to keep its enrolment scheme in place and shrink its numbers; if his answers to this House are correct, why are his bureaucrats enforcing enrolment schemes in three Invercargill schools?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: I do not have in my head the details of all 30-odd schools in Invercargill. I do know that Salford School has had an enrolment scheme for some time. If there is currently room for students at that school, if they fit on the school site and the school has the appropriate buildings, there are not grounds for reducing the numbers, and they will not be reduced. Tisbury School is a rural school with a limited site. There is not room for a large number of extra students. The reason I am supporting that school being zoned is so that the kids who are rural and live next door to it have a right to go there. [Interruption] The reason I have changed my tune, as silly Nick Smith says -

Mr SPEAKER: The Minister knows he cannot say that. He will stand, withdraw, apologise, and finish his answer concisely.

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: I withdraw and apologise. The reason I have changed my tune is that the mediator recommended that the school stay open. I agreed with her.

Hon Bill English: What would the Minister say in answer to Mr David Begg, who attended the meeting along with almost a thousand other Invercargill parents, who has said that there had been a perception there would be no enrolment schemes next year, and "Perhaps we misunderstood what the ministry said."?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: The ministry did not speak at the meeting. I did.

Mark Peck: Is the Minister prepared to tell the House whether Tisbury School would prefer to have an enrolment scheme, or whether it would prefer to close, which was the original proposition in the first model?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: I was very strongly advised by the people of Tisbury School that they would like the school to stay open. They convinced the mediator that that was appropriate, and I agreed with her. Mr English might want to go back to the original plan, but I do not think the people of Tisbury School want to.

Police - Procedure for Dismissals

5. RON MARK (NZ First) to the Minister of Police: What lessons have been learned by the police administration, if any, from the Alec Waugh incident?

Hon GEORGE HAWKINS (Minister of Police): I have been advised by the Office of the Commissioner of Police that it has moved to ensure that there is now clear separation of disciplinary issues from criminal issues.

Ron Mark: What steps is he taking to ensure taxpayers do not again see millions of dollars squandered on lawyers, courts, and administrative costs - not to mention, thousands of lost police man-hours - in defending incompetent police administrators, who through their own stupidity created this entire debacle?

Hon GEORGE HAWKINS: I think the police have learnt a lesson from what happened way back in the 1990s, when there was a different Government in power.

Martin Gallagher: When exactly did Alec Waugh resign, and what involvement did the Minister have in the events that led to his resignation?

Hon GEORGE HAWKINS: Alec Waugh resigned in 1998. I had no direct, or indirect, involvement in those events, as I was not the Minister of Police at the time. The Government at the time was a New Zealand First - National coalition. Perhaps the member who asked the original question should ask his own leader, who was the Deputy Prime Minister at the time.

Brian Connell: Now that the Minister is the Minister responsible for the police, will he accede to Mr Waugh's lawyer's request for Mr Waugh to be appointed to a senior metropolitan command, and if so, to which one; if not, does he not agree with Judge Goddard's findings that Mr Waugh would have achieved the position of Wellington or Christchurch police commander in 1999 had his career not been derailed?

Hon GEORGE HAWKINS: The member obviously does not know that Ministers cannot get themselves involved in the appointment of staff anywhere. I would have thought the Opposition spokesperson on the police would know that.

Ron Mark: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I seek leave of the House to table a number of press releases that may well show that the coalition Government had dissolved by that time and the Rt Hon Winston Peters was not the deputy leader of the coalition Government.

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

Ron Mark: What confidence can we have in assistant commissioner Jon White's ability to properly discharge his responsibilities for counter-terrorism, given that he has now been shown to have been totally incapable of handling a simple human resources issue in relation to Alec Waugh, and what performance review, if any, will assistant commissioner White now be facing?

Hon GEORGE HAWKINS: Matters of staffing and the positions that individual police officers hold are for the decision of the commissioner. I have not discussed this matter with him because I do not get involved in such matters. I must tell the member that the coalition dissolved on 26 August 1998, after Alec Waugh had been to court.

Relationships (Statutory References) Bill - Civil Union Bill

6. Hon PETER DUNNE (Leader - United Future) to the Associate Minister of Justice: Does he intend to proceed with the Relationships (Statutory References) Bill if the Civil Union Bill fails to progress through all of its legislative stages?

Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE (Associate Minister of Justice): I am confident that the Civil Union Bill will progress through all of its legislative stages and will be enacted into law. The Government sees these two bills as being very much interrelated and progressing in tandem. The member's question is rather premature.

Hon Peter Dunne: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I do not normally take points of order in relation to ministerial answers to questions, but I asked a very straightforward question - that is, given that the Minister said that these are tandem measures, will one proceed without the other? It is not a speculative question; it is a simple question of fact that the Minister should be able to give an answer to.

Mr SPEAKER: I thought the last words he said were that he thought that any suggestion of that was premature. That certainly addressed the question. I listened to the first part of the answer, but when he came to the second part, I thought he addressed the question.

Hon Peter Dunne: Can the Minister confirm the advice that I have received from the Deputy Prime Minister that if the Civil Union Bill does not proceed, then the second bill will have to be withdrawn and rewritten; if he can confirm that advice, why did he not say so in response to the first question?

Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: I am not aware of that advice, but I would say that if the Civil Union Bill did not pass through its discussions and stages, many couples would be deprived of the right to have their relationships solemnised and registered under the law.

Peter Brown: Does the Minister acknowledge that both these bills are contentious, and if he does, will he consider making a binding referendum mandatory so that all New Zealanders can decide whether they want this type of legislation; if not, why not?

Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: Yes, no, and that is the reason for the public select committee process.

Lianne Dalziel: Has the Minister seen reports suggesting that the Civil Union Bill will enhance marriage; if so, what do they say?

Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: Yes. Today's Otago Daily Times editorial describes well how this bill will operate in reality. It states: "The Civil Union Bill seeks not to destroy Christian marriage or lower the status of heterosexual unions. In fact, it could be argued that it will reinforce the status of heterosexual marriage because the Marriage Act will remain as an option only available to heterosexual couples." The author goes on to state: "It does not alter or diminish the special nature of legal marriage that distinguishes it from other sexual and lasting relationships, while at the same time it acknowledges longstanding societal realities that couples do live together, that children are sometimes born outside marriage - ".

Mr SPEAKER: That is enough. The Minister will please be seated.

Hon Peter Dunne: In the light of that answer will the Minister therefore confirm his comments to Paul Holmes this morning, in response to a question: "So therefore it's a parallel marriage, isn't it?", the Minister's answer was: "Well, it's a system parallel to marriage.", and if he will confirm those comments, how then can he say, as he said in response to other interviewers, that the two situations are quite different?

Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: There is no inconsistency or contradiction between the two statements.

Hon Peter Dunne: If the Civil Union Bill is defeated, is it not a fact that the provisions of the Relationships (Statutory References) Bill relating to the right to inherit, next-of-kin status, issues such as burial in common plots, etc., would, in the event that that bill is passed, be available to couples who are not married, and in that case would render the whole notion of a civil union redundant?

Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: No.

Scampi Fishery - State Services Commission Report

7. PHIL HEATLEY (National - Whangarei) to the Minister of Fisheries: Are the terms "inconsistent", "unevenhanded" and "grossly inadequate", as used in the State Services Commission report on the scampi inquiry to describe the then fisheries ministry, indicative of the Ministry of Fisheries today?

Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE (Minister of Fisheries): No.

Phil Heatley: Why then, in amateur fishing reform documents obtained under the Official Information Act, does the ministry say it will consult recreational fishers by "focusing the public discussion around the Internet" but that "an Internet-based consultation will not be a satisfactory basis for discussion with M¨¡ori as this would not adequately reflect their ¡®status' ", and is this not race-based inconsistency and unevenhandedness?

Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: While I have no advice on the particular matter, my response is no. Clearly, the ministry, as the questioner is aware, has a statutory responsibility to consult M¨¡ori.

Russell Fairbrother: Has the Government received any recommendations from the Primary Production Committee relating to the scampi inquiry?

Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: Yes, the select committee inquiry on scampi recommended to the Government that compensation be paid to individual identified scampi fishers. The Government accepted that advice and has instructed the Ministry of Fisheries to commence negotiations. Those negotiations are under way, and I am advised that they are being carried out with diligence and in good faith.

Gerrard Eckhoff: Does the Minister think that the allocation of scampi by the ministry was fair; if so, why, and if not, why not?

Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: The matters in relation to allocation have been canvassed by the select committee, of which he is a member, on two occasions. I am in receipt of further correspondence, which will be responded to in due course.

Gerrard Eckhoff: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I asked the Minister for his opinion, not the opinion of the commission of inquiry and, indeed, the Primary Production Committee.

Mr SPEAKER: The member can ask for it, but the Minister does not have to give it in that way. He addressed the question that was asked, and he is entitled to do that. I am not judging the adequacy of the answer; I am judging the fact that an answer was given.

Phil Heatley: Why will the ministry only consult the general public over the Internet and not front up to the public because "the public have other commitments and leisure opportunities", yet it will front up personally to M¨¡ori, or is he suggesting that M¨¡ori do not work, do not have other commitments, and do not have leisure opportunities?

Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: I believe the questioner is drawing a number of illogical conclusions. He will know from the comments made this morning at the select committee that the ministry is undertaking extensive consultation initiatives right across the whole community.

Phil Heatley: I seek leave to table the amateur fishing reform Next Steps document obtained under the Official Information Act.

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

Secondary School Students - Numeracy

8. LYNNE PILLAY (Labour - Waitakere) to the Minister of Education: What steps is he taking to ensure that secondary school students develop critical numeracy skills?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD (Minister of Education): About 430 secondary school maths teachers, who teach around 10,000 year 9 and year 10 maths students, will take part in the secondary numeracy project - a $1 million professional development project to improve the quality of maths teaching. This builds on the success of the numeracy development project in primary and intermediate schools since 2000, which has benefited over 300,000 students. Research shows that our 15-year-olds are third in the OECD in numeracy skills, but at the lower end there are large numbers of students not performing so well. Our Government is determined to lift education standards so that every single student benefits, and this project will be key in delivering those goals.

Lynne Pillay: How does numeracy fit with other Government priorities in education?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: This Government is committed to ensuring that all New Zealanders get a fair go. We want all students to leave school able to read and write, and with good mathematical skills. We are investing heavily in the basics of education - for example, this year $43 million in literacy initiatives alone, and over $12 million in numeracy initiatives. We have put 2,000 extra teachers in schools, over and above roll growth. Operational funding has increased by over 23 percent since 1999, which, adjusted for inflation and roll growth, amounts to an increase in real terms of over 10 percent. This Government is committed to education.

Hon Bill English: When will the Minister make publicly available nationally comparable data on numeracy for different schools, different regions, and different gender and ethnic groups?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: There is quite a lot of work going on at the moment developing a base for that work. I do accept that it is important for schools and for parents to see how their school works vis-¨¤-vis other schools of the same type. It is a little bit away from the straight numeracy question, but it applies in that area as well as in some others.

Hon Brian Donnelly: Will the Minister confirm that there is a significant shortfall in the content qualifications - not pedagogical qualifications but content qualifications - held by those teaching year 9 and year 10 mathematics, not just numeracy, and what is he doing to rectify this recognised problem?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: It is fair to say there are some issues right through our society in mathematics, and in numeracy in particular. We saw examples of it, of course, late last year in people who were in this House. We are working hard to attract mathematics teachers. We are paying them to train, rather than having them pay to train. That is making some difference. One of our real problems, though, is that not enough of our secondary school students who go on to be teachers are those who have good mathematical skills and are confident with those skills.

Parole Act - Victims' Rights

9. STEPHEN FRANKS (ACT) to the Minister of Justice: Why did he not include any definition in the Parole Act 2002 of "due weight" in relation to victims' rights, and how much weight does he think should be given to a victim's wish to see justice done?

Hon PHIL GOFF (Minister of Justice): The Parole Act 2002, for the first time ever, requires that victims' rights are upheld and that due weight is given to their submissions. Those requirements sent a clear message to the board that the victim is a key participant in the process, which was never previously the case. That does not require further legislative definition. In making an assessment about the suitability of an offender for release on parole, the board has to look at all the evidence put before it in order to ensure that the safety of the community and of the victim is not put at risk.

Stephen Franks: Has he considered whether the Parole Board should be allowed to take into account the despair and rage felt by every taxi-driver and by Mr Les Williamson last month on hearing that the criminal who stabbed him 17 times and left a carving fork embedded in his brain was to get out of prison only 6 months after getting a 4-year sentence; and why has he not brought in an amendment to oblige the board, and to permit the board, to consider such issues?

Hon PHIL GOFF: There are two Acts of Parliament that are relevant in responding to any particular offence, and, of course, I cannot comment - as the member knows - on specific cases. The first, however, the Sentencing Act, makes it very clear that justice needs to be done for the victim. It sets it out in three separate places: to hold the offender accountable for the harm done to the victim; to provide for the interests of the victim; and to provide reparation for the harm done. The original sentence sets out the minimum period of the sentence that should be served before parole, and the Parole Act requires that the victims be heard - which was never the case under previous Governments - and that their views be taken into account. I am proud of that legislation, as the member should be.

Darren Hughes: Can the Minister tell the House of any feedback or comments he might have received from victims' rights groups on the changes that have been made to legislation around victims' rights?

Hon PHIL GOFF: Yes, I have had feedback from Victim Support, and it is delighted with the greater recognition of victims' rights. It is also delighted with the fact that, for the first time, any member that is chosen for the Parole Board goes before a panel that includes a representative of the Victim Support organisation. Can I say finally that just last week, in a case that Stephen Franks was involved in, the person that heads the Sensible Sentencing Trust acknowledged that for the first time the trust was able to represent in an official capacity the rights of the victims, and it acknowledged that that was a result of the growing recognition of victims' rights by this Government.

Richard Worth: Will the Minister categorically rule out any changes to the statutory tests in the Parole Act for the remaining period that this Government lingers in office?

Hon PHIL GOFF: This Government plans to linger in office for at least another 9 years, and the hard work put in by that member will help ensure that that occurs. I am always willing to look at how we can further enhance victims' rights. I am looking at the moment at several things that the Parole Board could well be doing to achieve that end. I would be more than happy to consult the select committee on that, but I want to point out, finally, to that member that this Government is the only Government that has ever legislated for victims' rights. The National Party, in many years of Government, never did a damn thing.

Hon Ken Shirley: In view of the fact that the only explanation the Minister has offered for not ending parole is costs, why will he not give greater weight to the costs that are incurred with the suffering of victims?

Hon PHIL GOFF: Every change that we have made in legislation has been designed to improve the situation of victims. What that member has never explained to the House is why his party promotes flat tax as well as promising another $7 billion, which would be the cost, over 10 years, of removing parole. Parole also allows the offender a time to adjust, under close supervision, to life back in the community, and it has been proven to lower the level of reoffending.

Stephen Franks: Does the Minister think that the victims' rights he mentioned to the House last Thursday and again today - to be notified of hearings, to make submissions, and to know what courses the prisoner has done - are outweighed by the victims' interests in seeing justice done and a sentence served; and when he knows that the Parole Board cannot look at the latter interest, why has he not brought in an amendment to the Parole Act to allow and require the board to respect the victims' main interests.

Hon PHIL GOFF: At the risk of repeating myself, the Sentencing Act requires that, for the first time in the history of this Parliament, the victims' rights to see justice done are upheld, including holding the offender to account for the harm done. The Parole Act that the member is talking about requires, again for the first time in legislation passed by this Parliament, for the victims to be notified of hearings, for their submissions to be heard - in person, if they require - and for them to be given due weight, and for the safety of the victim to be taken into account in terms of whether the offender should be released on parole. They are all firsts, and they are all enormous steps forward for victims' rights.

Development Assistance Programme - Pacific Region

10. MARTIN GALLAGHER (Labour - Hamilton West), on behalf of Dr ASHRAF CHOUDHARY (Labour), to the Associate Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade (Official Development Assistance): How will recent funding announcements regarding New Zealand's overseas development assistance help advance security in the Pacific?

Hon MARIAN HOBBS (Associate Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade (Official Development Assistance)): The Government has provided an extra $14 million for development in the Pacific. Over 20 percent of that amount will support region-wide police training and conflict prevention. There is also significant funding for education in the Solomon Islands, which will help address the root causes of community instability.

Martin Gallagher: How does greater peace in the Pacific further New Zealand's interests?

Hon MARIAN HOBBS: Strengthening peace in the Pacific will help those countries develop their economies and stand on their own feet. Supporting our Pacific neighbours in their domestic law enforcement can prevent violent confrontation and subsequent requests for our intervention. Having neighbours at peace and in work is of benefit to all New Zealanders.

Dail Jones: What action, if any, is the Minister proposing to take with regard to the extraordinary reports of members of Parliament from Tonga, elected by the people, recommending that aid to Tonga should be withdrawn until a full democracy is instituted in that country?

Hon MARIAN HOBBS: Of the $5.6 million allocated to Tonga, $3 million is spent at community level or in the outer islands - much of that in supplying clean water to villages. Even when Fiji was in trouble with the Commonwealth, New Zealand still supported the independent Fiji Human Rights Commission and village-based projects.

Police - Timeliness of Priorities

11. NANDOR TANCZOS (Green) to the Minister of Police: Is he confident that police time is well prioritised?

Hon GEORGE HAWKINS (Minister of Police): Generally, yes.

Nandor Tanczos: Can the Minister confirm that around 300,000 police hours are spent each year on cannabis offences, which is the equivalent of 50 front-line officers who could otherwise be investigating violent crime and property crime?

Hon GEORGE HAWKINS: I do not know whether it has escaped the member's attention, but cannabis is an outlawed drug in New Zealand, and police enforce it very heavily.

Nandor Tanczos: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker -

Mr SPEAKER: No, the question was addressed. I am telling the member that.

H V Ross Robertson: What information has the Minister received regarding cannabis offences?

Hon GEORGE HAWKINS: I am advised that cannabis offences have dropped 19.4 percent, and police operational hours around cannabis offences have fallen 18 percent, since the Labour-led Government took office in 1999. That is a tremendous result. We are on top of it.

Brian Connell: In relation to the primary question, does the Minister believe that the growing expectation on police to hand out traffic tickets, as evidenced by the New Zealand Police Statement of Intent 2004/2005, which aims to increase by 27 percent the number of tickets expected to be handed out - which is on top of the 30 percent increase from the year before - is placing an unnecessary burden on our police force and therefore diverting them from their other duties?

Hon GEORGE HAWKINS: The police enforce all laws. Traffic laws are important, and if that member does not support that, then he should say so. The police support the road toll coming down, and it would be good if they got some support instead of whinging from the other side.

Peter Brown: In light of that answer, does the Minister believe that police time spent on traffic stops has a higher priority over fighting crime; if not, will he consider splitting the police and setting up a highway agency, as is being proposed in Britain, in order to make both traffic administration and general policing more efficient and effective?

Hon GEORGE HAWKINS: I have to say that over the last few years the road toll has been generally coming down. The rate of crime is dropping, and there will be more good results soon. It is dropping significantly, and I cannot see the point of trying to unscramble an egg that that side over there put together.

Dr Muriel Newman: Can the Minister deny that the police are currently carrying out a phone survey of the public, asking for their opinion of the police and their attitudes towards them; and what is his response to claims that preliminary results show huge dissatisfaction?

Hon GEORGE HAWKINS: I can tell the member that the police continually monitor their performance by talking to the public, and I would say that they are a lot more pleased with their results than that member's party could be with its 2 percent poll rating.

Keith Locke: Will the pressure on police resources result in a ministerial policy to stop traffic-assigned police doing roadside checks for overstaying, given that this will lead to racial targeting and undermine the cooperation between migrant communities and the police needed to track down the real criminals?

Hon GEORGE HAWKINS: There is no such policy. The person is dreaming.

Marc Alexander: Can the Minister confirm that the number of convictions where the use of cannabis was the sole offence was down to 1,741 in 2003, and that nearly 60 percent of cases where custodial sentences result from cannabis offences include offenders who are guilty of other offences, such as violence, disorderly behaviour, and property and traffic offences; and does he agree that those people are not the complete innocents that the Green Party tries to make them out to be?

Hon GEORGE HAWKINS: Regarding the first part of the question, I will get detailed information for the member. Regarding the second part, some of the people who use cannabis commit other crimes. It is a fact.

Mr SPEAKER: Mr Mark advised me that his supplementary question is slightly longer than usual. I have approved it.

Ron Mark: What does it say about police priorities when a dispatcher faced with a call for help from an elderly lady is unable to dispatch a unit to her, due to the fact that the one available constable is engaged in his fourth response, with one pending, despite there being seven highway patrol units in the same area, none of which the dispatcher is permitted to deploy because dispatchers have been instructed that those units are not to attend to any other incidents, including traffic accidents?

Hon GEORGE HAWKINS: The dispatcher needs to undergo retraining, because he or she should be sending the nearest car, be it a traffic vehicle or an ordinary police vehicle.

Nandor Tanczos: Can the Minister confirm that last year police resources were spent convicting 19 people over the age of 60 for cannabis offences, and can he tell the House how many of those were for medicinal use of cannabis?

Hon GEORGE HAWKINS: I do not have that precise number, but I am always pleased when people breaking the law are caught.

Ron Mark: Is it appropriate prioritisation to have highway patrol, general traffic, excess blood alcohol, city traffic patrol, and commercial vehicle investigating units dedicated to ticketing only and debarred from attending traffic accidents, whilst general duties officers and I-car officers who struggle to keep up with violence and dishonesty offences are instructed not only to attend traffic accidents, but also to issue one infringement notice per hour?

Mr SPEAKER: I allowed one long question. That makes two long questions. The member is lucky today. He had better shorten them in future.

Hon GEORGE HAWKINS: That member has been the police spokesman for that party for a long time. He should have better knowledge and a better background, because it just simply isn't true. I have instances where the highway patrol has had some very good catches - drug dealers, burglars, etc. - and it is about time that that member stopped bagging the police.

Nandor Tanczos: Given the Minister's answer to my previous question, does he really believe that arresting elderly people for baking cannabis cookies to relieve their arthritis and insomnia is an effective deterrent to drug abuse?

Hon GEORGE HAWKINS: I would have thought that member would not have supported that going on, because those biscuits are probably not labelled and packaged in a way that consumers can find out what they are putting into their bodies.

Keith Locke: I seek leave to table a New Zealand Press Association document dated 16 June, proving that there is a memorandum of understanding to be signed between the New Zealand Police and the Immigration Service to allow the roadside checks -

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

Unemployment Benefit - Youth

12. GEORGINA BEYER (Labour - Wairarapa) to the Associate Minister for Social Development and Employment: What trends have there been in the number of young people on the unemployment benefit?

Hon RICK BARKER (Associate Minister for Social Development and Employment): I am sure the House will be delighted to know that the trends are good. In May 1999, there were 15,322 18 to 19-year-olds who were unemployed. In May of this year, 5,991 people in the same age group were unemployed - a drop of over 61 percent. The same is true for young people between the ages of 20 and 24: in 1999 there were over 30,000 people in this age group who were on the unemployment benefit; in May this year, this number was down to just over 11,500, which is also a drop, of 62 percent.

Georgina Beyer: Is the Minister confident the downward trend will be continued?

Hon RICK BARKER: Yes, I am. Earlier this year I asked Work and Income to develop strategies to help young New Zealanders move off the benefit and into jobs quickly. This has been done. An outstanding tool-box has been implemented in each region to provide young people with the skills and opportunities to move into permanent work. This stands in stark contrast to the 1990s, when young people were left in misery on the unemployment scrap heap. This Government is giving young people hope and opportunity for a good future.

Judy Turner: Can the Minister confirm that figures released by his office reveal that since the year 2000 the number of under-20-year-olds on the sickness benefit has increased by 34 percent, and the number of those on the invalids benefit has increased by 28 percent; and what is his explanation for the increase?

Hon RICK BARKER: I do not quite agree with the percentages. I think they are slightly less than that. I do agree that the numbers have increased, but I can tell the member that the proportion of people on the sickness benefit and the invalids benefit is less today than it was then. We are making some progress, at least.

Judy Turner: Is the Minister disturbed that the increasing number of under-20-year-olds on sickness and invalids benefits follows a broader trend across all age groups, including a comparable 20 percent of youth claiming a benefit due to stress or depression; if so, why is the Government consigning people who should be at the height of fitness and health to a benefit before they really begin their working lives?

Hon RICK BARKER: The Government is not consigning people - as the member said - to a sickness benefit or an invalids benefit. To get one of those benefits, people have to fail a medical test. What the Government is doing is enhance its case management. We want to work with those young people, to ensure that they can overcome those issues and get productive and meaningful jobs.

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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