Questions & Answers for Oral Answer 29 June 2004
Tuesday, 29 June
Questions for Oral Answer
Questions to Ministers
1. Parole Board—Confidence
2. District Health Boards—Funding Petition
4. Parole Board—Review
5. Drugs—Mental Illness
6. Prisoner's Release, Nelson—Eligibility
7. Lake Rotoiti—Water Quality
8. Christchurch Polytechnic Institute of Technology—Investigations
10. Tainui—West Coast Harbours and Waikato River
11. State Housing—Elderly
Questions for Oral Answer
Questions to Ministers
1. Hon TONY RYALL (National—Bay of Plenty) to the Minister of Justice: Does he have full confidence in the Parole Board; if so, why?
Hon PHIL GOFF (Minister of Justice): In most respects. Both the Minister of Corrections and I have, however, foreshadowed a review of some aspects of the Parole Board, and of home detention as introduced in 1999 by the very member who is asking this question. I do have confidence that the Parole Act of 2002 gives a very clear direction to the Parole Board that the safety of the community should be the paramount consideration in every decision, and that an inmate who poses an undue risk should not be released.
Hon Tony Ryall: What was the Minister’s reaction to the comments of the chairman of the New Zealand Parole Board, who yesterday indicated that he was unaware that for most offenders on parole, their parole amounts to nothing more than weekly, then, very quickly, monthly contact with their parole officer; and when the Minister appointed the Parole Board, why did he not ensure that the board was properly briefed?
Hon PHIL GOFF: My reaction to that comment is that the frequency with which the probation service will meet with the person who is on parole will depend on the risk that that released inmate is deemed to pose, and also to the amount of time that that person has been out in the community. The probation service sees every released person within 72 hours. That is what I am informed. It will then see the person weekly, then fortnightly, then monthly, but that will vary according to the circumstances, the perceived risk, and the situation that the parolee is in.
Tim Barnett: What actions have been taken around the ability of the Community Probation Service to carry out its role in terms of the implementation of Parole Board decisions?
Hon PHIL GOFF: In Budget 2003 the Government voted more than $19 million over 2 years to boost the number of community probation officers by over 100—that is, 22 percent—and to increase the training budget for Community Probation Service officers by over 80 percent. That resourcing was particularly important after many years of neglect of the service by the previous National Government.
Dail Jones: Does the Minister accept that it is the Government’s responsibility to appoint the Parole Board in terms of section 111 of the Act; and, bearing in mind that the chairman of the Parole Board now says that he acts on the basis of taking risks, when the Act itself makes it clear that risks should not be taken, what steps will the Minister take to dissolve this board and appoint a new one?
Hon PHIL GOFF: The Parole Board is appointed by the Attorney-General for a term of office. I saw the transcript of the interview that the member refers to. The only form of risk that the Parole Board under law is able to take, is to make an assessment as to whether the person to be released constitutes, or not, an “undue risk”. Anybody who constitutes an undue risk cannot, by statute, be released, and I would be very concerned if the Parole Board were releasing any such person. But I do not think that that is what the judge was trying to say in the interview.
Deborah Coddington: Why should the Parole Board not insist on knowing that the probation service will reliably enforce and administer parole conditions, before granting parole?
Hon PHIL GOFF: The role of the Parole Board, if I can repeat it, is to make an assessment as to whether the release of the person concerned would detrimentally affect the safety of the community, and as to whether that person constitutes an undue risk. That is where the Parole Board’s responsibilities begin and end, but there is nothing to stop the chair of the Parole Board asking the question of the Community Probation Service as to whether it is able to deal with the conditions set down. I would imagine that the Department of Corrections would advise the Parole Board if it were not able to do that.
Marc Alexander: Does the Minister believe that the New Zealand public have been given any reason at all for maintaining confidence in New Zealand’s parole process, given that we have an 86 percent recidivism rate in 5 years, that recently there was an admission that the legality of 220 parole hearings needs to be reviewed, and that we now hear from the board chairman—in a confirmation of our worst fears—that the board takes risks about whether the people released on parole are properly monitored; and does he think it is acceptable that the victims of the crimes involved are left without any reassurance that their concerns are being given the respect they deserve?
Hon PHIL GOFF: Firstly, the Parole Board must take into account whether the release of the inmate would affect, detrimentally, the safety of any individual. That usually means the victim. Indeed, the Parole Board will often set in place an order that requires the offender not to go anywhere near the victim. With regard to the oversight by the Community Probation Service of the person on parole, I say that that is the role of the service itself. Although that is not my responsibility as Minister of Justice, I am informed that the probation service believes that the extra resources that it has, and its additional training, will make a huge difference in how the service is able to look after people on parole.
But I go right back to the beginning: the parole board should not release anyone who is deemed to be an undue risk. The statute is absolutely clear, in contrast with the previous statute, which just said the Parole Board could release anybody it thought should be released. Now, the board is given a very clear direction by this Parliament.
Hon Tony Ryall: With reference to the Minister’s answer to my first supplementary question, in which parts of the Parole Board or its performance does he not have confidence?
Hon PHIL GOFF: The area that the Minister of Corrections and I have already drawn attention to is the ability of the Parole Board to communicate with the public. It very much needs to be improved, so that there is transparency and accountability. That is what the review is about.
Stephen Franks: Referring to the Minister’s answer previously—that the Parole Board need not satisfy itself about the performance of the probation service—how can the board be confident about the risk presented by any offender, given that it moderates that risk with conditions, and if it has not inquired about, and does not know, the reliability and performance of the probation service?
Hon PHIL GOFF: The Parole Board will, of course, be informed by the Department of Corrections if there is anything that is set down as a condition of parole that the Community Probation Service is not able to carry out effectively. Obviously, with the additional resources the service will be able to do that job much better than it has ever been able to do in the past.
Hon Tony Ryall: In light of the fact that the vast majority of offenders released on parole reoffend, how does monthly contact with a parole officer stop an offender on parole committing more crime?
Hon PHIL GOFF: If the member looks at the annual report of the Department of Corrections for the last year—the most recent that is available—he will see that those people who are released on discretionary parole have the lowest rate of reoffending of any category set out there. Corrective justice, the one area that people used to be sentenced to, and which the member insisted on keeping in place when he was in Government, had a reoffending rate of about 92 percent, I think it was, within a year. That is how good the National Government was!
Heather Roy: What proportion of paroled offenders fail to comply with all the conditions of their parole, as it is easy enough to find out what happens after parole, according to the Minister?
Hon PHIL GOFF: Looking at just one aspect of where the Parole Board directs people to—that is, home detention—
Stephen Franks: Not all of them. What proportion?
Hon PHIL GOFF: If the member wants to ask a question, I suggest he takes the call instead of interrupting the answer I am trying to give to his colleague. If she looks at the question of home detention, she will see that the reoffending rate on home detention is about 1.9 percent. Let me make this point clear to the member who asked the question: if somebody breaches the conditions of his or her parole, that person would be immediately recalled, as Justice Ellis said yesterday. The board would recall that person “at the drop of a hat”. That was the term used by Justice Ellis.
Heather Roy: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. My question was very clear, but was not addressed at all by the Minister. It was: “What proportion of paroled offenders fail to comply with all the conditions of their parole?”, and then I followed it with a comment that he himself had made.
Mr SPEAKER: The Minister responded with a comment that got to the first part of the question. I invite him to continue.
Hon PHIL GOFF: I point out that I am not the Minister of Corrections; so I am not responsible for parole matters. Therefore, I cannot give those specific answers. If the member wants those answers, she should direct the question to the appropriate Minister.
Hon Tony Ryall: Why is the Minister more concerned about the spin that the Parole Board puts around its decisions than he is about explaining the very poor and sporadic level of supervision of quite serious offenders on parole?
Hon PHIL GOFF: I am not in the least concerned about the spin the member alleges the Parole Board puts out. What I am concerned about is that when the Parole Board is asked why an individual has been deemed not to constitute an undue risk, a clear answer should be given. What I have to say about the supervision aspect that the member raised is that we increased staffing by 22 percent and training by 80 percent—so what does that say about the state of the department that that member left to the successor Government?
Hon Tony Ryall: How long has the Minister himself known that parole for most offenders amounts to sporadic contact with their parole officers?
Hon PHIL GOFF: As I said in my initial answer to the member, that depends on the level of need and risk that the Community Probation Service deems to exist in relation to the particular individual. Can I say further that one marked change that will make a real difference—and is in a bill before this Parliament—is electronic monitoring, which will certainly help with the surveillance of people released on parole.
Mr SPEAKER: The Minister was asked a specific question. The Minister wants to address that part of the answer. I would appreciate it if he did so.
Hon PHIL GOFF: I was under the impression that I had answered the member’s question, but if there is some aspect that he wants to ask again, then I am happy to hear it.
Mr SPEAKER: The member can restate the question.
Hon Tony Ryall: How long has the Minister himself known that for most offenders on parole, their parole amounts to sporadic supervision by the authorities?
Hon PHIL GOFF: I answered that question. I said that the degree of supervision depends on the nature of the person on parole, and if that person needs regular contact, he or she will get it. That is the answer I gave the member the first time. It did answer his question.
Ron Mark: Point of order—I am sorry was Mr Ryall about to—
Mr SPEAKER: The member called a point of order and he was the first to call.
Ron Mark: Mr Speaker, you know that it is customary that if one is seeking to table documents then one does so after the final supplementary question. I was not sure whether Mr Ryall was seeking a further supplementary question.
Mr SPEAKER: Does the member have another supplementary question?
Hon Tony Ryall: No, Mr Speaker, it is a point of order.
Mr SPEAKER: In that case, I was correct.
Ron Mark: In light of the Minister’s comments that if offenders who breach parole or home detention are recalled at the drop of a hat, I seek leave to table answers to written questions from Ministers that show quite clearly that people who breach home detention and parole are not necessarily charged, and that some who are charged and convicted are given community service.
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table those answers. Is there any objection? There is.
Hon PHIL GOFF: I seek leave to table the record of Justice Ellis, who said that one of the important things to remember is that a significant part of the parole system is the ability to recall, and that that is done at the drop of a hat and on very slight misdemeanours.
Document, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.
District Health Boards—Funding Petition
2. SUE KEDGLEY (Green) to the Minister of Health: Is she going to act on the call of 125,000 New Zealanders who have signed a petition calling on the Government to fund district health boards so they can pay nurses fairly and ensure safe staffing levels; if not, why not?
Hon ANNETTE KING (Minister of Health): I understand the petition is yet to be tabled in Parliament. I will await the select committee deliberations and the Cabinet consideration of any recommendations from the committee. However, I can say that this Government wants New Zealand to be a place where we can all work for fair pay.
Sue Kedgley: Is the Minister aware that the gender pay gap in the health sector is 36 percent, and, given this, will she commit to addressing the pay gap in this financial year, commencing with a pay equity settlement for nurses?
Hon ANNETTE KING: I think it is well known that there is a pay gap for many women in New Zealand. No, the Government will not have a pay equity settlement in this year, but it has made it clear that it is committed to pay equity. As the Prime Minister said yesterday, nurses are at the early stage of salary negotiations. They are also mindful that following the review of pay equity issues in the public sector, the Government is looking at a process of moving them forward from there, and that is what will happen.
Nanaia Mahuta: What increase has there been in the numbers of nurses employed in district health boards under this Government?
Hon ANNETTE KING: Under this Government, nursing fulltime-equivalents for all district health boards have increased by over 17 percent.
Barbara Stewart: If money is to be made available to district health boards to pay nurses fairly and ensure safe staffing levels, will she ensure that the money is dedicated to addressing only the nurses’ pay and cannot be used by district health boards to address perceived shortfalls in other areas?
Hon ANNETTE KING: I am pleased to say that the perceived shortfalls are far less than they were, with the district health boards coming in on target in terms of the predicted deficit. However, any pay equity claim that is made and settled in the future would be settled on nurses’ pay.
Sue Kedgley: Does she agree with the three in four New Zealanders who have said in polls that they believe nurses should earn at least as much as teachers, police, and junior doctors; if so, where is the money to back up such a commitment?
Hon ANNETTE KING: As I said in my primary answer, the Government has committed itself to pay equity in the public sector. In terms of preparing a pay equity claim, nurses are already the first out of the blocks. That claim will be addressed in terms of the pay equity criteria that will be established. The money for that would then be the responsibility of the Government as a whole.
Sue Kedgley: Is she aware of the large amount of research that shows that nurse staffing levels directly affect patient safety and health; if so, why is the hospital system still 2,000 nurses short?
Hon ANNETTE KING: There is certainly dispute about the shortage figure of 2,000. However, I can tell that member that we are encouraging boards to work with their clinical staff to ensure appropriate staffing levels. However, as the Royal College of Nursing noted last year, the capacity of the nursing workforce to provide good quality care does not depend solely on the number of staff. Other considerations such as organisational culture and clinical leadership are of fundamental importance as well.
3. CLAYTON COSGROVE (Labour—Waimakariri) to the Minister of Finance: What reports has he received on the New Zealand economy?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Minister of Finance): The May trade balance out yesterday showed a surplus of $656 million. That is some seven times the $91 million figure economists were expecting. The New Zealand Herald described it as whopping, and said it continued a string of dazzling economic news. The reference list to the March quarter current account and gross domestic product figures, released last week, shows both of those are also at the top end of, or above, market expectations.
Clayton Cosgrove: What further reports has he received on the economy?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I was delighted to see yesterday that the leader of the National Party was forced, on the back of that data, to stop the Jeremiah act and to concede the economy was “going well”. That was after moaning in his Budget speech, and around the country, that Government policies were destroying growth. I hope that he is feeling very uncomfortable about that.
John Key: Does the Minister believe that the recent growth rate is primarily as a result of the policies of this Government, or of those of the Governments of the 1980s and the 1990s, and if he does think it is primarily as a result of the actions of this Government, could he possibly give the House an indication of when it is likely that New Zealand will achieve the Government’s stated goal of getting back into the top half of the OECD?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I am pleased to say that we are already in the top half of the OECD on more than two-thirds of all the social indices. That is what actually counts, for many New Zealanders. It is, of course, the story from the National Party that this Government has merely been lucky. If we are always lucky, then I invite New Zealanders to continue to vote for luck, rather than the ill luck that has always dogged Dr Brash during his career.
John Key: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I did not really ask the Minister that question. I asked him whether he could give us an indication of when this Government would get us back into the top half of the OECD.
Mr SPEAKER: The Minister did address that part of the question.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Is the Minister aware, amongst all those reports of, for example, the Singaporean people exporting $65,000 per capita per annum, against New Zealand’s under-$8,000 per annum, or of the Irish economy last year coming in at $159 billion in exports, as opposed to New Zealand’s $29 billion; and amongst those figures what would disguise the fact that we are heading for the Third World?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: For the last 3 years we have had one of the highest growth rates in the First World, not the Third World. We are catching up. Our exports are higher per capita than those of, for example, Australia or the United States.
Hon Richard Prebble: Has the Minister of Finance sought any reports on the increased growth and prosperity of the New Zealand economy that would occur on the introduction of a low flat rate of tax; if not, why not?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: If ACT’s new leader cares to write to me giving his permission, I would be very happy to run through the Treasury taxation model ACT’s proposal to give a $6.5 billion tax cut with no corresponding reduction in expenditure, and to model that through.
Gordon Copeland: Does the Minister acknowledge that a two-speed economy remains in New Zealand; if so, given the favourable economic conditions that currently exist, will he now concentrate on addressing the ongoing problems hindering our export economy—for example, the remaining $4 million charge on exports that is to be imposed with the bill that is No. 2 on today’s Order Paper?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Our exports run into tens of billions of dollars a year. Even the gloomiest of New Zealand’s business commentators would not believe that a $4 million impost would ruin that exporting success. I remind the member that the May figures just out showed a very substantial trade surplus.
4. STEPHEN FRANKS (ACT) to the Minister of Justice: Will he ensure that the announced review of the Parole Board considers whether punishment should be part of the Parole Board’s consideration when deciding on parole, and did he expect that punishment would be taken into account when he promoted the Parole Act 2002?
Hon PHIL GOFF (Minister of Justice): No. The amount of punishment a crime warrants is determined by the sentencing judge. It is reflected in the overall sentence length and the minimum non-parole period a judge may impose under section 86 of the Sentencing Act, if he or she believes the statutory minimum will represent insufficient punishment. It is not the job of the Parole Board to re-sentence offenders.
Stephen Franks: Now that the chairman of the Parole Board has confirmed that punishment is no part of the Parole Board’s role, will the Minister support my Supplementary Order Paper to ensure that parole decisions do not turn the Sentencing Act criteria into an elaborate charade?
Hon PHIL GOFF: No, for the reasons I gave in replying to the member’s primary question.
Lianne Dalziel: What guidance is given to the sentencing judge in respect of how long the sentence should be and whether a longer period beyond the statutory minimum should be set before parole can be considered?
Hon PHIL GOFF: Section 7 of the Sentencing Act sets out guidance as to the things a judge must consider in determining the severity of a sentence and punishment. They include denouncing the conduct, deterring the offender, protecting the community, and providing for the interests of the victim. Section 86 allows the court to order that up to two-thirds of the sentence must be served as a minimum to achieve greater punishment, greater denunciation, and greater deterrence.
Lianne Dalziel: What legislative provision is there to ensure that early consideration for parole is not given in the case of the worst offences, such as murder, especially those where there are aggravating factors?
Hon PHIL GOFF: The Sentencing Act provides that those guilty of murder will not be considered for parole before a standard 10-year period, but where there are aggravating factors the minimum period must begin at 17 years. Just a few years ago the standard non-parole period for all murders was 7 years, which contrasts with the non-parole periods now being given of up to 28 and 30 years.
Stephen Franks: Does the Minister think the chairman of the Parole Board is right to say that the board does not, and should not, give any weight to victims’ views on whether a court-ordered sentence should be cut short; if not, will he urgently change the law to allow the board to have regard to the thing that most concerns victims—that is, that a fair punishment is served?
Hon PHIL GOFF: Of course, the member has not characterised accurately what the judge said yesterday. I can table in the House what the judge said yesterday, for members’ benefit and in order to avoid going through all the detail, but he did say, for example, that in some instances a considerable amount of weight is given to the victim’s statement to the Parole Board—for example, when indicating there is no contrition on the part of the offender, which would automatically make that offender an undue risk.
Hon Tony Ryall: Why did this Minister change the law so that a rapist sentenced to 9 years in jail can apply for parole at only one-third of the sentence?
Hon PHIL GOFF: I changed the law first of all because under the member’s previous law any rapist was automatically released at two-thirds of the sentence, regardless of risk. Yes, that was the case—regardless of risk. Under the current law, the judge can determine that the minimum period before parole can even be considered for anybody committing that offence be two-thirds of the sentence.
Dail Jones: Does the Minister recall that New Zealand First opposed this Minister’s change to the Parole Act and the Sentencing Act in 2002, on the grounds that this Minister’s law is soft on law and order and allows people to get out of jail a lot earlier than New Zealand First would require, which would be at a time much closer to the end of their sentence?
Hon PHIL GOFF: What I do recall is that inmates now can be kept in prison to the very last day of their sentence. That was never the case. I do recall that New Zealand First did not oppose automatic release at two-thirds of a sentence. That has been changed. If the law is so damn soft, why is it that prison figures are to rise by 20 percent by 2010, when the crime rate is down by 13.8 percent? Those are independent police figures. There is a 13.8 percent reduction in the crime rate since 1997.
Simon Power: Crime is going up.
Hon PHIL GOFF: Members may bay, but they cannot deny the facts put out by the police.
5. JUDY TURNER (United Future) to the Associate Minister of Health: Does he stand by his statement that “We need to face the fact that drug taking is widely accepted as a trigger for suicide by some people with mental illness.”; if not, why not?
Hon JIM ANDERTON (Associate Minister of Health): Yes, I do. There is a wide base of evidence that supports it, both nationally and internationally.
Judy Turner: Has the Minister seen the reports showing that all three suicide cases before the Coroner’s Court in Tauranga last month tested positive for cannabis, and that the coroner believes that virtually all of the 13 suicides dealt with so far this year in the Tauranga region had some connection with cannabis use; if so, is he concerned that the Government’s soft harm minimisation approach is simply not enough to prevent further deaths?
Hon JIM ANDERTON: Yes, I have seen those reports and they are concerning. I have always advocated a precautionary approach with regard to policy initiatives around all drug use, including alcohol and tobacco, and I would like to see all parties in Parliament embrace this approach. Evidence shows that alcohol and other drug use, including cannabis, appears to increase the risk of suicide among some people, in two ways: first, the short-term effects of intoxication increase the likelihood of impulsive behaviour, including suicide; secondly, through the indirect effects of longer-term use and dependency, resulting in increased stress, triggering or exacerbating existing mental disorders.
Dianne Yates: Given the Minister’s statement, what are the Government and the Minister doing to combat the present situation?
Hon JIM ANDERTON: As part of this coalition Government, as leader of the Progressive Party I recently secured just over $20 million for initiatives aimed at preventing drug abuse and suicide.
Gerry Brownlee: What did it cost for the pamphlets?
Hon JIM ANDERTON: Suicide and drug abuse cost the taxpayer a lot more than $20 million. One of these initiatives is aimed at depression, the mental illness most associated with suicide, with an eight times higher rate than for those in the general population not suffering from depression. Depression is the largest single risk factor for suicide. Another initiative is the establishment of a residential treatment centre in the central region, for youth with alcohol and drug abuse problems, similar to the one in Christchurch that I achieved funding for last year.
Nandor Tanczos: Has the Minister seen the research on suicide recently published in the medical journal The Lancet by Ronald Maris, which states: “Alcoholism seems an important risk factor for suicide”, but notes that evidence on other substances is inconclusive, and does he therefore think that those who want to maintain the criminalisation of personal use of cannabis, while supporting the aggressive promotion of alcohol on television, for example, are hypocrites?
Hon JIM ANDERTON: The abuse of all drugs, including alcohol, is a serious factor in mental health and suicide issues. I am happy to look at the article the member has indicated, but I am relying on three New Zealand studies, two by Dr Annette Beautrais and one by Professor David Fergusson, and three international studies—one United States, one Australian, and one UK— that all point to suicide being exacerbated by the use of drugs and alcohol.
Hon Matt Robson: What is the evidence on which the Minister has based his statement?
Hon JIM ANDERTON: I indicated to the House that there are six significant studies—three New Zealand, and three international—and there are many more, and I am happy to table those studies, subsequently, so that other members may access them if they wish to.
Marc Alexander: Is the Minister concerned that efforts to provide credible messages about drug-related harm, and the link between cannabis use and heightened suicide risk, are being undermined by irresponsible statements made by groups such as NORML New Zealand, the ideological cousins of the Green Party, that “People who attempt or commit suicide have a high rate of using cannabis, but that does not mean cannabis has caused their distressed state, rather cannabis may be a therapeutic tool that offers some escape.”; if not, why not?
Hon JIM ANDERTON: I have no ministerial responsibility for statements like that, and I agree that they are concerning. The Government has taken a precautionary approach to the link between drug and alcohol abuse, and suicide, and I recommend that precautionary approach to all members of the House.
Judy Turner: Does the Minister agree that people who have never tried drugs are nevertheless capable of explaining to young people the potential danger of drug use, or does he agree with the comment that current drug users have more credibility when promoting the dangers of taking drugs because “Saying that drug users can’t provide education to others about how to use drugs safely and responsibly is like saying only an atheist can give spiritual advice.”, or asking: “Can only a celibate teach sex education?”, as claimed by Green MP Nandor Tanczos?
Mr SPEAKER: That was too long a question. The Minister can comment briefly on the first part.
Hon JIM ANDERTON: I have never advocated that if one has not experienced some serious physical or mental disorder, one is not capable of commenting on the serious nature of those disorders, so I could not subscribe to the proposition that because one has not experienced something, one is not able to comment on it with any authority.
Nandor Tanczos: Is the Minister aware of the study by the Canterbury Suicide Project, which found that when factors such as socio-economic status, abuse, behavioural problems, and mental health problems were taken into account, there was barely any association between cannabis and suicide, and does he accept that there is a difference between correlation and causality?
Hon JIM ANDERTON: There are a number of associations with social and economic deprivation, as well as drug and alcohol abuse, in terms of suicide. But I tell the member again that a precautionary approach seems the most responsible approach to take. If we take a precautionary response to issues like genetic engineering, for example, I would have thought a precautionary approach to drug and alcohol abuse, and suicide, would have been equally valid.
Marc Alexander: Is the Minister concerned that credible messages about drug-related harm, such as the link between cannabis use and suicide risk, are being undermined by statements made by groups such as NORML New Zealand, such as: “The mental health of all cannabis users is threatened more by the current law than by the use of cannabis itself. The criminal law generates paranoia, suspicion, alienation, and anxiety.”, and would he endorse this kind of comment as a suitable premise for the drug education of our young people—a position equally espoused by the Greens?
Hon JIM ANDERTON: I have already commented on similar comments that the member has read out to the House. Again, I am not responsible for them. I think that most common-sense New Zealanders would size up those comments and compare them against their experience of this matter, and they would know on which side of the fence they fell on that one.
Nandor Tanczos: I seek leave to table some excerpts on a study on suicide by Ronald Maris, published in The Lancet in 2002.
Document, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.
Hon JIM ANDERTON: I seek leave to table the documentation around six primary sources of evidence for suicides in New Zealand.
Documents, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.
Prisoner's Release, Nelson—Eligibility
6. RON MARK (NZ First) to the Minister of Corrections: Was Arthur Alexander Gray’s original sentence of imprisonment taken into account before he was released under probation supervision in Nelson last year and subsequently attempted to kill two backpackers?
Hon MARGARET WILSON (Acting Minister of Corrections): I am advised that Arthur Alexander Gray was released from prison at his statutory release date. There was no discretion about his release. He was not released to the backpackers hostel in Nelson. Gray made contact with the Nelson probation office after moving from Auckland and finding his own accommodation. He had told the backpackers hostel owner about his background. The probation officer met with the owners, and also informed the police of Gray’s whereabouts. Alternative accommodation was being sought when the subsequent offending occurred.
Ron Mark: Is the Minister of Corrections aware that Arthur Gray, who was jailed for aggravated robbery and who killed an inmate whilst in Pâremoremo prison, had been paroled only 11 days prior to his vicious attack on Tobias Sieber; if he is, what confidence does he have in, firstly, the Parole Board to protect the public from vicious criminals and, secondly, the rehabilitation programmes that we are paying hundreds of millions of dollars for and that, clearly, do not work?
Hon MARGARET WILSON: I repeat that the Parole Board had no discretion as to whether to release Mr Gray. To keep him longer would have been to retain him beyond the period of his sentence.
Georgina Beyer: What is the Government doing to ensure that offenders who are released from prison are adequately resettled back into the community so as to reduce their chances of reoffending?
Hon MARGARET WILSON: My colleague the Minister of Corrections has recently announced in this year’s Budget additional funding for reintegration. An extra $1.25 million has now been made available for offender reintegration, and this will rise to $1.4 million in July 2005. This funding is to pilot new resettlement initiatives aimed at ensuring that inmates are given the best chance of rehabilitation upon release by being assisted with obtaining such things as stable accommodation and employment.
Hon Tony Ryall: Why does she believe that Arthur Alexander Gray, convicted of attempted murder and sentenced to 9 years in jail, should be entitled to apply for parole after only 3 years?
Hon MARGARET WILSON: May I repeat that in fact the Parole Board had no discretion. Mr Gray had completed his sentence and therefore the law required him to be released.
Hon Tony Ryall: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I think the Minister was confused. I was referring to his current sentence. He is now in jail for 9 years, but, under the Government’s law, is entitled to apply for parole after only 3 years, and that is what I was asking the Minister about.
Mr SPEAKER: The member has made his point. The Minister might like to answer that.
Hon MARGARET WILSON: Yes, Mr Speaker. I apologise for misunderstanding the member’s question. There is, of course, no obligation for parole to be given after he has served that period, and in these circumstances of course the Parole Board will take into account that Gray’s sentences does reflect that he is a risk to the community.
Ron Mark: Why will this Government not accept and implement the very popular and sensible New Zealand First policies that include—
Mr SPEAKER: Will the member please come to the question. That is a little bit of extra fact that he does not need to add to render the question intelligible. Would he now ask the question.
Ron Mark: —“three strikes and you’re out”, and a requirement for violent and dangerous offenders to demonstrate their rehabilitation before they are even considered for parole; or do we all simply have to live in hope that the Government gets things right?
Hon MARGARET WILSON: I think the Minister of Justice in the House today has very ably outlined the policies that the Government is pursuing. I would make just one other comment, and that is that anyone who has studied the “three strikes and you’re out” policy that is in effect in California should think again.
Marc Alexander: Will the Minister, with respect to the original question, give the House an assurance that the Department of Corrections will not allow any more paroled criminals to be placed in backpackers hostels amongst unsuspecting travellers, as was revealed by the Minister of Corrections and by the Department of Corrections Chief Executive, Mark Byers, at last week’s Law and Order Committee; if not, why not?
Hon MARGARET WILSON: As indicated, it is desirable that those released on parole find appropriate accommodation. I would point out, of course, that 0.25 percent of people have been placed or have placed themselves in backpackers hostels—that is, three out of a muster of 1,200 have had that accommodation.
Lake Rotoiti—Water Quality
7. STEVE CHADWICK (Labour—Rotorua) to the Minister for the Environment: What action has the Government taken to help fix the problem with Lake Rotoiti water quality?
Hon MARIAN HOBBS (Minister for the Environment): The Minister of Health and I announced central government funding of $7.2 million towards improving Lake Rotoiti water quality. We are spending $4 million on urgent remedial engineering works, and a further $3.2 million for reticulated sewerage to avoid leaching from septic tanks into the lake. The local and regional councils are sharing the total costs. These short-term measures should result in a marked and quick improvement in the lake’s water quality.
Steve Chadwick: What factors led the Government to approve this funding?
Hon MARIAN HOBBS: The recent decline in Lake Rotoiti poses a threat to people’s health and New Zealand’s image as a tourist destination. These economic and health effects justify this funding in advance of the Government’s water action programme, which will identify waters of national importance and manage the effects of land use on water quality. The final factor was the strong advocacy from my colleagues Mita Ririnui, on behalf of Te Ârawa, and Steve Chadwick, on behalf of the Rotorua electorate.
Jeanette Fitzsimons: Does the Minister acknowledge that prevention of water pollution is always easier than restitution of water quality; if so, what steps is she taking to limit intensification of dairying in sensitive catchments?
Hon MARIAN HOBBS: I could not agree more, and that is the agreement we have reached with Fonterra to manage water runoff from land into catchment areas such as Lake Taupo, Waikato River, and lakes Rotorua and Rotoiti.
Christchurch Polytechnic Institute of Technology—Investigations
8. Hon BILL ENGLISH (National—Clutha-Southland) to the Associate Minister of Education (Tertiary Education): Has he had any advice from Ministry of Education officials about their role in the alleged conflict of interest situation at Christchurch Polytechnic Institute of Technology, currently being investigated by the Office of the Auditor-General; if so, what was that advice?
Hon MARGARET WILSON (Acting Associate Minister of Education (Tertiary Education)): I have been advised by the Ministry of Education of three interactions between the Tertiary Advisory Monitoring Unit and Christchurch Polytechnic Institute of Technology on this matter. Firstly, the unit was first informed of the business arrangements between the polytech and Brylton Software during a routine visit to the polytech on 27 November 2003. Secondly, within days of the conflict of interest allegations being made public on 5 and 6 May, the unit contacted management staff at the polytech to advise that they would need to ensure that their processes and procedures had been appropriate and sufficient. Thirdly, the unit spoke to the acting chief executive of the polytech in the week of 24 May. She again confirmed that any potential conflicts of interest had been managed in the appropriate manner.
Hon Bill English: Why did ministry officials accept assurances from Christchurch Polytechnic regarding the conflict of interest when Vicki Buck, the director of development at the polytech, introduced her own private company to the polytech, sat on a joint venture overseeing the contract between the polytech and her private company—a $15 million contract—and personally promoted the contracted courses in public; why did officials accept assurances in the light of that information?
Hon MARGARET WILSON: Managing conflicts of interest is the primary obligation of the polytech, not the Tertiary Advisory Monitoring Unit. Also, the facts that the member mentioned in his question are, as I understand it, to be established, and are subject to an Auditor-General’s report.
Hon Brian Donnelly: What instructions has the Associate Minister given to the chief executive officer of the Ministry of Education about how such alleged conflicts of interest of staff members in State education institutions should be handled in the future, or is the Associate Minister happy with how this case has been handled?
Hon MARGARET WILSON: The Tertiary Advisory Monitoring Unit does not have any specific audit functions. However, as I understand it, the chief executive did tell the select committee—and I would endorse this—that if the Auditor-General’s report does suggest or require that changes be made to the current practices, then of course we will comply with those.
Lynne Pillay: What are the role and function of the Tertiary Advisory Monitoring Unit?
Hon MARGARET WILSON: The Tertiary Advisory Monitoring Unit is responsible for managing the Government’s ownership interest in public tertiary education institutions. It monitors the viability of those institutions by providing early warning of potential risks, and it intervenes in the event of poor financial management. It does not, however, have audit functions or audit powers. I am happy to table a description of the Tertiary Advisory Monitoring Unit’s roles and functions at the end of the question.
Hon Bill English: What kind of ethical vacuum do the Minister’s officials operate in, when they come across an arrangement whereby a senior public employee stands to gain personally millions of dollars from a contract she is overseeing with her own private company, but those civil servants walk away with bland assurances; and if they were not meant to investigate it, who was?
Hon MARGARET WILSON: Again, the member refers to facts that are yet to be established. They will be established in the Auditor-General’s report. In fact, the Auditor-General’s report is the appropriate place for this matter to be decided.
Hon Bill English: Why is the Minister now saying it is the Auditor-General’s job to sort this out, when the Government never sought the Auditor-General’s participation, and, in fact, he is involved because I complained and the Christchurch Polytechnic council agreed; in the light of that, which public agency is responsible for the ethics of private contracting in educational institutions?
Hon MARGARET WILSON: As I said, the primary obligation for managing conflicts of interest is on the council. My understanding is that it did, in fact, call in the Office of the Controller and Auditor-General before Mr English made his complaint, and the two inquiries then became one. I think it is advisable that we wait for its report, because then all the facts can be put on the table.
9. RON MARK (NZ First) to the Minister of Police: Is he confident that police staffing numbers are adequate; if so, why?
Hon TREVOR MALLARD (Minister of Education), on behalf of the Minister of Police: Generally, yes, because there are record numbers of police officers, crime rates continue to fall, and New Zealand has a crime-resolution rate that is amongst the best in the world. Part of the improvement in resolution rates is due to using non-sworn, specialist forensic evidence - gathering teams, such as those traditionally used in serious crimes, including murder, for a much wider range of crime.
Ron Mark: If the Minister is accepting that the police are so over-worked and under-staffed that they need to hire civilians to do police work—civilians who dress like police and drive police cars but who are not police—why does he not simply recruit more police?
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: I think the first and shorter answer is that there are more police being recruited. The second answer is that any sane person would not send two sworn officers to a crime scene, when they could be out arresting criminals and when there could be someone who is a trained forensic expert picking up the material that is more likely to result in convictions. It would take a nutter to promote something else.
Martin Gallagher: Further to the Minister’s answers to both the primary and supplementary questions, what recent scientific advances are police using to solve more crime?
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: On behalf of the Minister of Police, I say that police use of new technology is making life harder for criminals, although some people appear to want to be able to protect them. For example, over 9,000 samples have been added to the DNA database in the 12 months to March this year. Police now identify people from crime scenes where DNA is collected, in nearly 50 percent of cases. There have also been 280,000 palm prints added to the police computer - matching system, with the projection that that will result in the resolution of from 7,000 to 10,000 cases. There are some people who are Neanderthals and who do not believe in that approach, but this Government is tough on criminals—unlike members opposite. [Interruption]
Ron Mark: Even you, Mr Speaker, laughed at that answer.
Mr SPEAKER: I laughed at the fact that there was laughter on all sides.
Ron Mark: Why does the Minister not accept that given the escalation in violent crime, methamphetamine production, immigrant crime, and the number of dishonesty offences and emergency calls to communication centres, rather than increasing the use of civilian staff he should just accept that the police are grossly under-staffed, and commit to doubling the size of the police force—as New Zealand First would?
Hon Trevor Mallard: Between 1999 and 2003 on a population basis, overall, the number of dishonesty offences fell by 9.2 percent, of reported burglaries by 20.9 percent, of car conversions by 14.2 percent, of fraud cases by 13.2 percent, of receiving cases by 9.6 percent, and of sexual assaults by 14.5 percent. There are some people who would have police officers put their size 12 shoes all over crime scenes, but some of us want the evidence collected.
Mr SPEAKER: I ask Mr Brown whether this a supplementary question.
Peter Brown: No, it is not a supplementary question. I simply ask the Minister: what happened to violent crime—because he left that one out.
Mr SPEAKER: No. That was a supplementary question, and of course it has to be counted as one by the member’s side, because it is about an extra area. I will allow the member that supplementary question.
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: The figure I have on assaults shows a falling of 3.1 percent. People will also be interested that given the very good work that police are doing, out and about on the roads, in April and May we had the lowest road toll for decades—
Gerry Brownlee: Violent crime, he said.
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: Well, it might be that Opposition members do not like the police stopping members of the Mongrel Mob and Black Power in their cars. Opposition members do not like that approach. They say that they want to set up—
Mr SPEAKER: Order!
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: —the traffic-cop service again—
Mr SPEAKER: Order!
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: —but they are soft on crims—
Mr SPEAKER: When I tell the Minister to sit down, he sits down. He had his say and he went overboard.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. My colleague Peter Brown distinctly asked for the figures on violent crime. He got one snippet of that, but a whole range of other violent crimes were left out. The Minister has provisioned himself with every fact in respect of his own answer that makes the Government look good. How about the facts that make the Government look as it really is—quite bad?
Mr SPEAKER: Let me say that the member asked a question and the Minister addressed it.
Ron Mark: In light of the Minister’s comments, I seek leave to table pages 18 and 19 of the Police statement of intent 2004-05, with the two graphs showing that since Labour came to Government, crime in all categories has gone up.
Mr SPEAKER: Leave has been sought to table that. Is there any objection? There is.
Ron Mark: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. My point of order is this: whilst you were putting the leave, the Minister of Finance and Deputy Prime Minister stated to the House that that statement of intent was fiction. If that is fiction, then the Government has clearly misled the House.
Mr SPEAKER: I heard what was said. The word “conviction”, not “fiction”, was used.
Hon Dr Michael Cullen: Mr Mark was just questioning your statement in that respect. He was mouthing at you, I think, “incredible”—I think that that was the word he was using. He is in no position to question your statement in that regard, which I can confirm in every respect. It never occurs to people to work it out that convictions can go up when crimes are going down, if we are catching more crims and prosecuting them successfully.
Mr SPEAKER: I do not need any assistance. I heard the interjection, which strictly speaking, during a point of order was out of order. I heard the interjection; I put what the member asked. There was objection to it being tabled, but the interjection certainly was not what the member said it was.
Tainui—West Coast Harbours and Waikato River
10. GERRY BROWNLEE (Deputy Leader—National) to the Minister in charge of Treaty of Waitangi Negotiations: Can she rule out ownership of the Waikato River and west coast harbours being transferred to Tainui as part of a settlement of its historical claims; if not, how does she reconcile that with the Government’s assurances to other New Zealanders that the foreshore and seabed will be placed in Crown ownership?
Hon MARGARET WILSON (Minister in charge of Treaty of Waitangi Negotiations): The foreshore and seabed will be placed in Crown ownership through the bill that is currently before the Fisheries and Other Sea-related Legislation Committee. The settlement of historical claims is a matter of negotiation between Tainui and the Crown, and those negotiations will not be conducted in this House.
Gerry Brownlee: Is it true that Government Ministers and officials have had recent meetings with Tainui representatives and have assured them that the Foreshore and Seabed Bill will not be allowed to affect their historical treaty claims to the Waikato riverbed and west coast harbours, and does that mean that parts of the foreshore and seabed could potentially fall into private Mâori ownership, even though the Government claims the Foreshore and Seabed Bill vests the foreshore and seabed in the Crown?
Hon MARGARET WILSON: Yes, there is no contradiction between the bill and also the pursuance of the settlement of historical grievances. In addressing the other part of the member’s question, I think it may be useful to refer him to the document Healing the past, building a future, which sets out the Crown’s position and process on those matters, and with the Speaker’s indulgence I would just like to read a very short passage in order to get that accurately.
Mr SPEAKER: The member has asked for leave to be given to read a short passage. Is there any objection? There is objection.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I wonder if the Minister can confirm that the background to this problem lies with the settlement between the then National Government and Tainui in May 1995, for which that Government gave Doug Graham a knighthood for doing it and Bill Birch a knighthood for paying for it?
Mr SPEAKER: The first part of the question is in order.
Hon MARGARET WILSON: Yes, it is undoubtedly true that the previous Government settled the easy bits and left the difficult bits for this Government. That is what National normally does.
Mita Ririnui: What progress has been made in the negotiations with Tainui to settle its 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 groups. To date, no mandating document has been received by the Government.
Nandor Tanczos: Can the Minister tell the House when the policy decision was taken to transfer fee simple title over water bodies to tangata whenua, such as the return of Ôkahu Bay to Ngâti Whâtua and of Lake Ellesmere to Kâi Tahu as part of their negotiated treaty settlements; and has that policy now changed?
Hon MARGARET WILSON: It is true that the previous Government, in settling the Ngâi Tahu claim, had no difficulty at all in transferring ownership of those matters; nor did it in the matter of Lake Taupô. In terms of the policy changing, no, there is no change in policy. We negotiate with the claimants, and on the basis of those negotiations come to a fair settlement.
Gerry Brownlee: How can any New Zealander have confidence that should the Foreshore and Seabed Bill pass, substantial parts of the New Zealand coastline will remain in Crown ownership, when today she has told the House she is in negotiations to deliver some of the seabed and foreshore of this country into private Mâori ownership?
Hon MARGARET WILSON: I did not say that.
Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. We should be able to get from Ministers good information that leads to other questions. In that answer, the Minister said that negotiations between the Crown and Tainui are continuing over that matter. The question came from Mita Ririnui. The Minister had previously said she would not reveal the content of the negotiations or have matters negotiated in the House. I simply asked whether that was effectively what was happening, and the Minister gave a very bland answer like that.
Mr SPEAKER: I do not need any assistance. The Minister denied the member’s premise, and that is an answer.
11. Hon MARK GOSCHE (Labour—Maungakiekie) to the Minister of Housing: What reports has he received on security and affordability of housing for elderly New Zealanders living in State houses?
Hon RICK BARKER (Minister for Courts), on behalf of the Minister of Housing: I have received reports focusing on the fact that 300 Housing New Zealand tenants have been in a particular house for 50 years or more, and stating quite categorically that that is “unacceptable”. What the report did not say was that these people are generally in their 80s—honest, decent New Zealanders in their twilight years—who are proud to call a State house their home. If the policy were implemented, it would see these people dumped on the street, as they simply could not afford a new house. I am shocked that our senior citizens are being attacked in this way by the Hon David Carter on behalf of the National Party.
Hon Mark Gosche: What other reports has the Minister received on housing security for vulnerable New Zealanders?
Hon RICK BARKER: I have received further reports that State house tenants with substantial assets or income should be told to move. I was particularly interested in those reports for three reasons. Firstly, 90 percent of all State house tenants are on income-related rents, as their income is low. The remaining 10 percent pay market rents. Secondly, higher-income earners were the very people who were encouraged into State houses by the previous National Government’s policy. Thirdly, this proposal appears to be yet another policy flip-flop for Don Brash, whose party encourages those people into State houses now, and wants them out later.
Mr SPEAKER: The last part of the Minister’s answer, he has no responsibility for.
Hon David Carter: Does the Minister think it is desirable to trap people in welfare dependency by abolishing the previous Government’s home-buy scheme, thereby denying a State house tenant in Manurewa currently earning over $80,000 a year the opportunity of purchasing that State house and making it his own?
Hon RICK BARKER: This party does encourage people into buying houses, and this is why we have a relationship with Kiwibank. But what this Government will not do is have the mass sell-off of State houses undertaken by the National Party—13,000 State houses sold off, and that party opposite cries crocodile tears about the people who cannot get a State house. There are fewer of them than the 13,000 State houses sold off by the National Party.
Sue Bradford: Does the Minister accept that State housing overall, including State housing for the elderly, is in decline as a proportion of the overall rental market, and does he realise that the decline in social housing, combined with increases in the accommodation supplement, is simply pushing up rents around the country?
Hon RICK BARKER: I accept that there is a decline in the number of State houses as a proportion of the total amount of houses. I do accept that home ownership is a declining option for many people. What this Government is intent on doing is increasing the stock of houses as fast as it can, so that those people who cannot afford a rental house can be taken care of by the State system. I have to say that it will take a long time to claw back the 13,000 houses sold by the National Party.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: I seek leave to table the quite excellent press release from National’s housing spokesperson, setting out National’s disappointment that so many people are in State houses for so long, in contradiction to the claims made by the Minister.
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that press release. Is there any objection? There is objection.
Hon Mark Gosche: What are implications for elderly State house tenants of the policy suggestion that it is “unacceptable for them to remain in their homes unless they buy them”?
Hon RICK BARKER: Clearly, the implication of such a policy suggestion is that elderly State house tenants will be forced from their homes, as they are unlikely to have the cash to buy them. Even though this Government has reversed the pension cuts the previous National Government made, the relatively modest level of income for those on the basic pension means that they will be unable to purchase their houses. State house tenants are on clear notice that in the unlikely event that those making these unacceptable suggestions—the National Party—were to be elected into Government, their homes would be gone by lunchtime.
Mr SPEAKER: That was going too far.
12. PHIL HEATLEY (National—Whangarei) to the Minister of Fisheries: Can he confirm existing marine-farming consent applications, halted for over 2½ years by the aquaculture moratorium, may now be thwarted in favour of the allocation to iwi of 20 percent of marine-farming space; if so, does he regard the Government’s proposal as fair to everyone?
Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE (Minister of Fisheries): In answer to the first question, no, there was never any certainty that applications put on hold would either succeed or be incorporated into future aquaculture management areas. In answer to the second question, yes, the proposal is fair to everyone. In the words of the Dominion Post of 24 June, “The proposed solution is … a fair compromise. The 20 per cent figure is a proxy for the ‘spatial’ component of marine farming in line with the 20 per cent of quota given to Maori in National’s September 1992 fisheries settlement.”
Phil Heatley: Will those marine farmers who have put their business plans on hold for, now, 2½ years because of the moratorium, and who now lose out in favour of the iwi quota of 20 percent, receive any form of compensation from the Government; if not, why not?
Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: The Government will be taking no steps to interfere in people’s private commercial decisions.
Mahara Okeroa: Has the Minister received any reports of the industry’s response to the Government’s marine-farming proposals?
Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: Yes, the industry has responded very positively. For example, in Saturday’s Marlborough Express the general manager of the Port Mussel Company, Terry Schwass, was quoted as saying: “The Government has picked the best options of the alternatives available, and if it means we can move forward as an industry then it is a good start.”
Gerrard Eckhoff: How will the decision as to which iwi, whânau, or hapû receive the 20 percent allocation be made, and how long does he envisage that will take?
Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: As Mr Eckhoff will be aware if he has read the background material, that decision is yet to be made, but the allocation proposal, if Cabinet makes a final decision to proceed in this direction, will be made by Te Ohu Kai Moana, with the final approval of that process to be given by the Minister of Fisheries and the Minister of Mâori Affairs.
Phil Heatley: Does the Minister not consider a 2½ year moratorium to be interfering in commercial decisions, and does the Minister concede that robbing Peter to pay Paul is inherently unfair to all currently involved in the aquaculture industry, including iwi who themselves have had applications held up by the moratorium, and iwi who are currently involved in the industry on their own merit and independent of a Government handout?
Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: No, I consider the Government’s approach a sensible way, in the first place, to avoid poor use of our valuable environmental space—in this case, marine space—and, secondly, no one is being robbed. This is a sensible compromise to complete the business that that member’s Government left unfinished in 1992.