Questions & Answers for Oral Answer 10 August 2004
Tuesday, 10 August
Questions for Oral Answer
1. Mayors Task Force for Jobs—Government
2. Mâori Party—Public Service Resources
3. Economic Growth—Labour Constraints
Question No. 4 to Minister
4. Resignation—Community Employment Group Northern Regional Manager
5. Packaging Accord—Effectiveness
7. Mathematics—Skill Levels
8. Treaty of Waitangi Claims—Deadline
9. Unemployment Beneficiaries—Job Placements
10. Resignation—Community Employment Group Northern Regional Manager
11. Overstayers—Thai Worker
12. Resignation—Community Employment Group Northern Regional Manager
Questions for Oral Answer
Questions to Ministers
Mayors Task Force for Jobs—Government Initiatives
1. LUAMANUVAO WINNIE LABAN (Labour—Mana) to the Minister for Social Development and Employment: What recent initiatives has the Government taken to help achieve the shared goal it has with the Mayors Task Force for Jobs that by 2007 all 15 to 19-year-olds will be engaged in education, training, work or other options?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY (Minister for Social Development and Employment): Today I—and local MPs, including the member who asked the question—announced that the areas for the first five of 14 Youth Transitions Services to be established over the next 3 years, at a cost of $26.9 million in New Plymouth, Porirua, Rotorua, Waitakere, and Whanganui, will go ahead. The Youth Transitions Service will assist those school leavers who are at greatest risk of not making a transition from school to work by linking them to work, training, or further education.
Luamanuvao Winnie Laban: How will the Youth Transitions Service relate to other employment initiatives the Government has taken?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: The Government has been hugely successful in the area of employment, with the unemployment rate now down to 4 percent—the second lowest in the OECD. We need to ensure that young people can move into existing job vacancies. We will do this by linking young people through programmes such as Modern Apprenticeships, industry training, careers information, the new Gateway programme, and regional initiatives with the Mayors Task Force for Jobs. I invite members to contrast that with the 1990s when transition pathways were cancelled by the National Party, such as cancelling apprenticeships.
Sue Bradford: What steps is the Government taking, if any, to encourage both local authorities and Government departments to introduce youth recruitment policies and cadet programmes, given current skill shortages that we are facing and the fact that some 18,000 young people are still out of work?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: In the time-honoured fashion, heaps! If I can just point to the Associate Minister for Social Development and Employment, Mr Rick Barker, As the member will know, the Associate Minister has launched a programme, particularly around Government departments and their recruitment of young people. On top of that can I say that one of the issues we canvassed in, for example, Northland the other day was exactly how to recruit those young people into the many jobs in the Government and in the private sector that are appearing in the Northland area.
Mâori Party—Public Service Resources
2. GERRY BROWNLEE (Deputy Leader—National) to the Associate Minister of Mâori Affairs: What information had he received, and from whom, that formed the basis of his statement last week: “I had concern about the use of public service databases, office space, telephones, equipment and cars to call, host and manage a hui for the Mâori Party.”?
Hon JOHN TAMIHERE (Associate Minister of Mâori Affairs): Mâori attending the Mâori Party meeting raised concerns with me, as the MP for Tamaki Makaurau, relating to possible use of Government resources by a senior public servant, and the extent of her involvement in that meeting.
Gerry Brownlee: What did he mean when he said in a press release on 5 August 2004 in relation to the northern regional manager of Community Employment Groups that: “There is an underlying duress under which they may have felt obligated to attend for fear their applications would not be treated favourably.”, and who was the person he was referring to?
Hon JOHN TAMIHERE: The person I raised concerns about was Amokura Panoho. That person is the northern regional manager of the Community Employment Group, and that person attended the Mâori Party meeting as the regional organiser for the Mâori Party.
Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. With all due respect, although that is an address to the question, it is not an answer by any manner of means. I ask this question—
Mr SPEAKER: Please be seated.
Gerry Brownlee: Well, I will just come back at you.
Mr SPEAKER: Please be seated. I just want to say that getting up all the time and questioning answers, when the second part of the question asked who the person was, and the first answer the Minister gave actually named the person; and then—[Interruption] The member was not listening, as I was. I was listening very carefully. That answer clearly addressed the question. Points of order about that are really quite frivolous.
Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The question asked what he meant, and then referred to a quote from him, or by him, and therefore we were wanting to know what he meant when he said that those people attending that hui would have felt underlying duress and feared that their applications may not be favoured appropriately—
Mr SPEAKER: And then?
Gerry Brownlee: Then we asked who the person referred to was—
Mr SPEAKER: That is three questions.
Gerry Brownlee: No, with respect there are only two questions, and he has answered one of them.
Mr SPEAKER: No, he addressed the question that was asked.
Nanaia Mahuta: Can the Minister clarify—[Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: The member will stand, withdraw, and apologise, because that is a reference to me.
Gerry Brownlee: I withdraw and apologise.
Mr SPEAKER: I want him to assure me it was not a reference to me.
Gerry Brownlee: It most certainly was not; it was directed at the Associate Minister.
Mr SPEAKER: I just want to say that is sufficient. The member must learn how to make his interjections in order.
Nanaia Mahuta: Can the Minister clarify whether he put these concerns, or Ms Amokura Panoho’s name, into the public domain?
Hon JOHN TAMIHERE: No, the Mâori Party told Ruth Berry from the New Zealand Herald about Amokura Panoho.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Could the Minister tell the House and the country whether his concern about this person’s attendance was that the person in question was attending business in respect of the Tariana Turia party, at the time she should have been, and was employed to be, doing work on behalf of the New Zealand taxpayer?
Hon JOHN TAMIHERE: Yes.
Metiria Turei: Does the Minister agree with Michael Joseph Savage, who, in 1936, on the introduction of a bill to give public servants the same political rights as other citizens, said: “I have sufficient confidence in civil servants to believe they will use their political rights just as intelligently as anyone else; probably that is the reason they have been denied them in the past.”, or does the Minister’s understanding of Labour Party history go back only as far as 1984?
Hon JOHN TAMIHERE: He is the great forefather of the Labour Party and was a great Cabinet Minister and Minister; and I agree with him.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Why is it not known, and is it not a matter of astonishment, that after all this controversy the real issue here is of someone being paid for by the taxpayer to be in one place, but is at a political meeting for another party at another place, and is that the answer in respect of all four questions laid out by the National Party today in question No. 2—
Mr SPEAKER: No, the member can ask only about this question, but the Minister can reply.
Hon JOHN TAMIHERE: Yes, one does wonder, when Mr Gerry Brownlee wants the head of the Mâori Language Commission one day, and wants to keep the head of another the next day. I just do not know how mixed up they are.
Hon Richard Prebble: Is the reason the Minister assumed that Mâori Party supporters were misusing public service databases, office space, telephones, equipment, and cars, to call, host, and manage a hui for the Mâori Party because for years that is exactly what the Labour Party has been doing?
Hon JOHN TAMIHERE: No.
Gerry Brownlee: Why did he send his staff to the hui, and were his unproven accusations against Ms Panoho motivated by the fact that she, as a Mâori Party organiser in her private capacity, is determined to unseat him?
Hon JOHN TAMIHERE: The latter might be true. As to the former, I would have to say that my people go voluntarily to a number of hui in my electorate.
Gerry Brownlee: Has he had any discussions with other Ministers or officials that canvassed the potential cost of legal fees and possible settlement that his unproven allegations may cost the taxpayer?
Hon JOHN TAMIHERE: No.
Economic Growth—Labour Constraints
3. PAUL ADAMS (United Future) to the Minister of Finance: Does he agree that the shortage of labour, skilled and unskilled, is the single biggest constraint on growth in New Zealand; if not, what is the biggest constraint on growth?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Minister of Finance): Yes I do. The workforce participation rate is now very high. Our unemployment rate is down to 4.0 percent, which is the second-lowest in the developed world, and the household labour force survey out today shows the total workforce, for the first time, now numbers more than 2 million people. The downside, of course, with this is a shortage of skilled labour. The solution lies in a mix of training, immigration, remuneration, working conditions, and a more productive workforce.
Paul Adams: How can he claim that the country is “firmly on a path to growth” when labour shortages are threatening infrastructural development, leading Fletcher Construction to turn down a $250 million construction project and stopping Auckland’s roading upgrade from being compressed from 15 years to 8 years?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: There are always some people who will find a cloud rather than a silver lining. The fact is that we are facing, for the first time for getting towards 20 years, serious labour shortages because the economy is going so well.
Clayton Cosgrove: What is the Government doing to resolve this problem in respect of skills shortages?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: There is a range of initiatives across education and industry that are designed to address skills shortages. We have numbers of people in the Modern Apprenticeships scheme. We have very large numbers of people—numbers that are growing rapidly—in industry training. We are attempting to re-orientate the tertiary education system in a more productive fashion that is more relevant to the needs of business. We are getting key industries working together with the Government on those matters. Industry training alone grew by 20 percent between 2002 and 2003.
John Key: Did the Minister notice recent comments by the co-leader of the Greens, Jeanette Fitzsimons, on Television One’s Agenda programme where she concluded that a future Labour-Greens Government would implement capital gains tax, even more restrictive transport and energy legislation, and new environmental taxes; if so, what impact does the Minister think these initiatives will have on New Zealand’s future growth rate?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: No, I did not, but I did see suggestions that the Government should own a very large number of local industries that should be controlled directly by the Government through an investment fund that should be dominated by a very small group of senior Ministers working together, when the member opposite said we should emulate Singapore in terms of the way we organise our economy.
Dail Jones: Does the Minister accept that the present problems being experienced, for example, in Auckland, as indicated by the United Future member, are brought about by the untrammelled, uncontrolled, and unplanned immigration to New Zealand, as a result of the policies of the National Party and the Labour Party over the last 10 years, resulting in housing shortages for the poor in Auckland and west Auckland; health problems not being able to be resolved; and, of course, educational problems, with schools’ rolls rising to 2,000 and 3,000, something for which this Government must accept responsibility?
Mr SPEAKER: In so far as that relates to the Minister’s responsibilities, he may answer.
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: It is certainly true that high levels of net immigration—and I emphasise “net” because most of that is not New Zealanders leaving, or it is New Zealanders returning—has contributed to the pressure on New Zealand. But I certainly stand proudly in this House and say that many immigrants have contributed a great deal to this country; not least Mr Jones and myself.
Paul Adams: Does the Minister agree that part of the solution to the labour shortage lies in fully utilising spare capacity in the domestic labour market; if so, why has this Government presided over a 45 percent increase in the number of people who have been unemployed for 3 years or more?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Unemployment levels have dropped very dramatically under this Government—down 12 percent in the last year alone. The problem is that there is not a great deal of unemployed labour resources in New Zealand at the present time, particularly amongst those capable of being reskilled to participate in construction industries.
Paul Adams: Is the high participation rate in tertiary education necessarily an effective response to the skills shortage when 50 percent fail to complete their qualifications after 5 years; and has he discussed the possibility of raising the entry standards for university courses with the Minister responsible for tertiary education in an effort to ensure students are undertaking the most appropriate study?
Mr SPEAKER: I just want to say that I want to hear questions in silence.
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I think it is fair to say that sometimes problems with completion rates go with the territory, as one might say. But I have raised this, and my colleague the Associate Minister of Education shares with me the desire to ensure that we are getting better value for money out of the tertiary education system.
Paul Adams: My problem was that I did not go to one of those courses.
Mr SPEAKER: Regrettable though that may be, that is irrelevant. Please come to the question.
Paul Adams: Does the Minister agree that internal migration may provide a partial solution to regional labour shortages, such as those in the South Island; if so, why are there still no significant schemes to facilitate mobility between regions when this very point was made in the 2001 Treasury discussion paper, Towards an Inclusive Economy?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: While it may be possible to have some measures that act in a negative sense by discouraging people from moving to areas of high unemployment—in other words making it more difficult to obtain benefits—it is very hard to move people around the country if they do not wish it, to places where there is employment. Personally, I regard it as strange that some people might stay in some parts of the country somewhat north of this place, when they could move to the South Island to find employment and a better lifestyle.
Question No. 4 to Minister
GERRY BROWNLEE (Deputy Leader—National): I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. When we asked you questions about transferring questions before, you referred us to Speaker’s ruling 130/3. That is one of your own rulings from the year 2000. I think it is interesting, in that it appears to set out the criteria under which a Speaker may consider that a transfer is inappropriate. They include: “exceptional circumstances—such as if the Minister concerned could be expected to have personal knowledge of the issue that it would not be likely that any other Minister would have.” In this case, the person the Government wishes to answer the question was on leave at the time, so it is a bit of a stretch to think he would have personal knowledge of it. We know that the information concerned was passed to Ruth Dyson, who was the Acting Minister. She is surely therefore a Minister who has personal knowledge of the information concerned, and in that event should be required to answer the question. The Government’s option of transferring the question should be denied.
Mr SPEAKER: No, this was action taken in an official capacity, and any Minister can answer.
Resignation—Community Employment Group Northern Regional Manager
4. KATHERINE RICH (National) to the Minister for Social Development and Employment: What specific information or concerns did the Acting Minister pass on to the Secretary of Labour, Dr James Buwalda, regarding the Community Employment Group’s northern regional manager, Ms Amokura Panoho, and from whom did the Acting Minister receive that information?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY (Minister for Social Development and Employment): On 20 July 2004, during a meeting with officials, the Acting Minister noted that concerns had been raised about the extent and appropriateness of Ms Panoho’s involvement in the Mâori Party. She passed those concerns on to Dr Buwalda to act on as he thought fit. The Acting Minister was acting upon information provided by the Hon John Tamihere to the Prime Minister, who, as is consistent with normal practice, passed it on to the relevant Minister to decide what to do with. The Acting Minister did not take any further part in the investigation of the issue, but was advised on 30 July 2004 that Ms Panoho had tendered her resignation.
Katherine Rich: What, specifically, were the concerns of the Acting Minister regarding Ms Panoho’s involvement with the Mâori Party that led Department of Labour officials to take such significant steps as to meet with Ms Panoho and to bully her into resigning?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: To start at the end of the question, I really need just to quote from an interview with Ms Panoho, in which she repeated, on a number of occasions, one line. Ms Panoho, in her interview with Linda Clark on Radio New Zealand, said: “No, I wasn’t put under pressure to resign.” The specific issues that were raised were the extent and appropriateness of Ms Panoho’s involvement in the Mâori Party. I repeat, because the member opposite is trying to attack Ms Panoho, that Ms Panoho has said repeatedly that she was not put under pressure.
Katherine Rich: Does the Minister think it is inconsistent that this Government thinks the attendance of a Community Employment Group regional manager at a Mâori Party meeting was wrong, but the activism, prior to the 1999 election, of a previous Community Employment Group national manager, who is now the Minister of Mâori Affairs, was OK?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: My understanding is that the current Minister of Mâori Affairs, who was the chief executive for the Community Employment Group, resigned well in advance of the election, as public servants do—I did so myself, when I was running for office. In relation to concerns about Ms Panoho, members should remember that concerns about the extent and appropriateness of her involvement were raised, but that they was dealt with, appropriately, by the chief executive purely as an employment issue, as they should have been.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Is it a fact that a substantial number of the people who attended that hui were there whilst being paid by the taxpayer to be somewhere else—namely, at their job—and if it was wrong for Ms Panoho to be in that situation, which I think most people would accept, then what is being done about the remainder of those who left their job that day to attend that hui at the taxpayers’ expense?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: I advise the member that the meeting was in the evening. I was not at the meeting, so I cannot answer as to the specifics of what he asked. The general principle that I think all of us work on—and have done so from the time of Peter Fraser on—is that public servants need to be very careful that they remain being seen to be independent, so that they can act on behalf of any Government.
Katherine Rich: Why was it not OK for Ms Panoho to attend a Mâori Party hui, when it was OK for John Tamihere’s staff to attend the same Mâori Party hui, and are they not public servants, as well?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: I have to say that it is not for me to judge. It is, appropriately, a responsibility within the judgment of the chief executive who has an employment relationship with an employee to work on that matter.
Dr Muriel Newman: In light of the Minister’s previous answer, is he assuring the House that the Hon Parekura Horomia attended no Labour Party meetings while he was the general manager of the Community Employment Group?
Hon Dr Michael Cullen: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. You have frequently ruled in the past that Ministers in this Government are not responsible for their actions under previous Governments. Clearly, the Minister was not chief executive of the Community Employment Group under this Government.
Mr SPEAKER: I thought that the question, on balance, could be answered.
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: As my colleague has just pointed out, of course I have no real knowledge of what Mr Horomia may or may not have done when he was working for the National Government at that time. But I would repeat the golden rule is that public servants need to be available to work for any Government of any hue at any time, and therefore, their independence and autonomy need to be something they guard very preciously.
Katherine Rich: Has he or any official sought or received any legal advice about what likely legal fees or compensation to Ms Panoho could cost the taxpayer?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: No.
5. MIKE WARD (Green) to the Minister for the Environment: Will the voluntary Packaging Accord she signed today reduce the amount of packaging in people’s shopping baskets and the volume of packaging waste going to landfill; and if these voluntary measures don’t work, what will she do?
Hon MARIAN HOBBS (Minister for the Environment): Yes. Over 80 percent of the supermarket business— Foodstuffs and Progressive Enterprises—and more than 200 organisations have signed up to the Packaging Accord, and intend to reduce the amount of waste going to landfill. Today we also agreed that if this collaborative effort does not achieve reduction, then we would look at regulation.
Mike Ward: Why are the target recovery rates so modest, such as 23 percent for plastic compared with the current 19 percent, and would those levels of recovery not be achieved through the ongoing expansion of local authority recycling schemes, even without the Packaging Accord?
Hon MARIAN HOBBS: The targets are not weak. For paper, the recovery target is 70 percent by weight of all packaging materials consumed. The other targets include 65 percent for aluminium and 55 percent for glass. The recovery levels are comparable with the targets of the European Union packaging directive. Officials involved advise that the targets can be achieved or exceeded.
Dr Ashraf Choudhary: What does the Government hope to achieve from signatories including businesses such as Cadbury’s, McDonald’s, and Heinz-Wattie?
Hon MARIAN HOBBS: The brand owners of the key packaging sectors of paper, plastic, glass, steel, and aluminium—which include the likes of Cadbury’s and McDonald’s—and the retailers have outlined the steps they will take over the next 5 years to reduce waste and increase the amount of packaging that can be recycled. The Government’s hope is that brand owners will focus on the design of their packaging, with the aim to reduce waste.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: Is the Minister aware that a number of key players in the waste management field have boycotted the launch, saying it is simply a joke, a recycling of a previous accord, and, effectively, a policy about rubbish that is rubbish?
Hon MARIAN HOBBS: I would have found that the fact that 150 people attended today, as against the 10 who attended the anti-accord meeting last week, would speak for itself.
Mr SPEAKER: I want to say to members, particularly those on my right, that they do not have to be chipping when I have called another member. Mr Peters is entitled to the call; he alone gets it.
Jim Peters: Do not international research and practice indicate that today’s media statement that “A voluntary accord is more likely to be more cost-effective for business than legislation.” is really nothing more than wishful thinking?
Hon MARIAN HOBBS: Yes.
Larry Baldock: Will the Minister and her department be waiting 5 years, until the expiry of the accord, before evaluating its success in contributing to the goals of the New Zealand waste strategy, or can we rely on constant monitoring and the introduction of alternative plans earlier than at the end of 5 years, if the voluntary accord does not meet expectations?
Hon MARIAN HOBBS: On the Packaging Accord part of the Ministry for the Environment website there will be annual progress reports about how we are actually meeting those targets. Therefore, we do not have to wait for the 5 years to be up before we make some decisions.
Mike Ward: Why is the 2008 target for the recovery of aluminium set at 65 percent, when that is 5 percent below the 70 percent of aluminium that was recovered in 2001 and in 2002?
Hon MARIAN HOBBS: I am constantly disappointed by the people from the Green movement, including the packaging movement, who, rather than concentrate on and work with businesses, manufacturers, and packaging manufacturers to reduce waste, want to play games with one percentage versus another percentage, versus a volume percentage, versus a weight percentage, which entirely confuses the public, whom we are trying to persuade to indulge in waste reduction.
Mike Ward: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I asked why the target was below the level, not why I raised the issue in the first place.
Mr SPEAKER: Yes. I feared that the Minister was not addressing the question, but she did at the end of it.
Mike Ward: Does the Minister agree that the lack of a target for the use of recycled material and packaging is a glaring omission, and that that omission is simply a reflection of the limitations of voluntary accords?
Hon MARIAN HOBBS: No.
Mike Ward: Does the Minister agree that this accord is not an example of extended producer responsibility; and when will the Government legislate to make producers take full responsibility for their waste, rather than continue to transfer the cost on to local authorities and ratepayers?
Hon MARIAN HOBBS: It is an example of extended producer responsibility. The only difference is that that member wants to force people to follow one prescription rather than actually to work with people and use the brains of the whole industry.
6. Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS (Leader—NZ First) to the Minister of Finance: Does he have any interest in the recently announced sale of Powerco to Australian interests?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Minister of Finance): I assume the member is not referring to a pecuniary interest! Yes, I certainly find it encouraging that Australian investors are showing an interest in the New Zealand economy, but any comments on the particular merits of that proposal would be inappropriate because I would have to consider it, under the Overseas Investment Act.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Has the Minister read the Powerco board chairman’s speech to the company’s annual general meeting, in which he states: “The time is looming when electricity supply availability and system reliability will become a severe constraint on economic growth for the country.”; and does he not think it is a matter of great concern that such an important infrastructural asset is now in the hands of majority foreign ownership?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: It is not yet, because the sale is subject to Overseas Investment Commission approval, and, because it involves sensitive land, it will actually come to Ministers. But I cannot comment further on that. On his primary point around concerns about power supply, yes, I do agree with him, but I tell him he will not have to wait too long for some good news.
Jeanette Fitzsimons: Is the Minister aware that the first privately owned lines company in New Zealand, United Networks, milked profit from the lines but failed to maintain them, so Coromandel businesses and residents suffered frequent, prolonged blackouts over the Christmas period; and how can he be sure that that Tranz Rail - like situation will not happen again to our power lines?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: It would be nice to pretend that if New Zealanders owned the lines, they would necessarily be better owners, from a public perspective; I am afraid that is not demonstrated historically. But I refer the member to the Electricity Commission and to the legislation passing through the House, which is a major move to ensure there is not a repetition of that kind of failure.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: As a matter of principle, how does it advantage this country’s balance of payments crisis to have a very high returning asset, like Powerco, now in the hands of, not a savings fund that we are saving for in respect of retirement, but, again, a foreign-owned operation—given that Telecom, which is a good example, is about to repatriate in excess of half a billion dollars off shore to its shareholders?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: In the case of the latter, the level of New Zealand ownership of Telecom now is considerably higher than it has been previously, and, indeed, the level of New Zealand ownership of the New Zealand market in general has risen quite substantially over recent years. Foreign ownership has declined from 60 percent to 40 percent.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: 50.
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: No, it is about 40 percent. It is also worth noting that not a single major business investment proposal has been turned down by the Overseas Investment Commission since 1984, which includes the period when the member was the Minister in charge.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I missed what the Minister said at the end there, because of some chat on my right. Could he just outline the comparison with the period post-1984.
Mr SPEAKER: Could the Minister just repeat the last part of his answer.
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Not a single major investment proposal on the business side, as opposed to the land purchase side, has been turned down since 1985, which includes the period when the member, as Treasurer, was the Minister in charge.
7. GEORGINA BEYER (Labour—Wairarapa) to the Minister of Education: Does he have concerns about mathematical skills in New Zealand; if so, what are they?
Hon TREVOR MALLARD (Minister of Education): Yes. Research shows that our 15-year-olds are fourth in the OECD for numeracy skills, but I am concerned about the wide gaps between New Zealand’s best and our poorest performers. Mathematical skills are still a problem in some groups even beyond school. It seems that some people cannot tell the difference between three and 14, they sack someone for incompetence—give them a $21,000 a year pay rise—and now we see what was wrong with the Reserve Bank.
Mr SPEAKER: The Minister might like to indulge himself, but I am not very happy with that outcome at all. That last part of the answer was not in order.
Georgina Beyer: What groups, in particular, appear to be behind in maths skills, and what is the Government doing to assist those groups?
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: It is important that leaders of organisations have the skills to make additions and subtractions. In some cases the sums have been done so badly that there is nothing the Government can do to help them, and when one ends up with health and finance on the second bench, that is obvious.
Mr SPEAKER: The Minister is now trying my patience and I do not think he is contributing to the good running of this House. That is the end of all comments about that particular matter.
Treaty of Waitangi Claims—Deadline
8. RODNEY HIDE (Leader—ACT) to the Prime Minister: Is the Government considering a deadline for lodging Treaty of Waitangi claims, and is her position still “I neither support nor don’t support” the idea?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Acting Prime Minister): As was indicated by the Hon Margaret Wilson in a press release on 21 July 2004, proposals are being considered to streamline historical Treaty of Waitangi settlements, including a time line on lodging claims. Decisions are not yet taken.
Rodney Hide: How is it possible for there to be any finality to treaty claims as long as we have a Government that agrees with the Deputy Prime Minister that the treaty is a “living document where new applications or implications may arise as circumstances change”?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: The Deputy Prime Minister was extraordinarily well informed and perceptive on that matter. What the previous question referred to primarily, and what my answer referred to, was historical settlements and a time line on those. Contemporary claims may arise as circumstances change.
Jill Pettis: What progress has the Government made in settling historical treaty claims?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: The Government has settled the following claims: Te Uri o Hau, Ngâti Ruanui, Ngâti Tama, Ngâti Awa, Ngâti Tûwharetoa Bay of Plenty, and Ngâ Rauru. We have recognised the mandates of three other iwi claimants, and have signed terms of negotiation with four other iwi claimants.
Gerry Brownlee: How can anybody think the Government is serious about proposing a deadline for the lodging of treaty claims, when its record is that in the last 5 years it has managed to pass only four Treaty of Waitangi settlement Acts?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: The member will know that there is a lengthy process around such claims, running through mandating, tribunal reports, negotiations, and legislation. However, if the member cares to wait, tomorrow he will see another treaty claims bill being presented to the House for introduction.
Metiria Turei: Does the Prime Minister support the statement by the Hon Margaret Wilson in response to Mr Rodney Hide’s bill on a time limit for treaty settlements that “The bill is a typical ACT quick fix. Let’s ignore that it’s about partnership, that it’s about negotiation, and that the other partner may have some rights in that process.”; and can she explain how that member’s bill is, or was, different from the reports that her Cabinet will impose time limits on treaty settlements, without negotiation with those partners?
Mr SPEAKER: Certainly, the second part of the question was in order. The first part was a bit doubtful, but I will allow the Minister to comment.
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: There is a very large difference between thinking of a time limit on the lodging of claims and a time limit on the settlement of those claims. It is now nearly 20 years since the ability to lodge historical claims became open. It is not possible to set a time limit on settlement, because that would be unfair to the process.
Hon Peter Dunne: If the Government is now considering the introduction of a time limit for the lodging of claims—and I am just picking up on the last answer given by the Minister—what is its view regarding a timetable for the settlement of claims that are lodged, and is it moving to try to speed up that process in any particular way?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Taking the latter point, I say that we have already approved the funding for an additional treaty claims settlement team, and that has helped to accelerate the process already. We are making significant progress on the central North Island issue, but there are mandating problems there, which are really what is holding up the process. The Prime Minister and the Minister have said before that the 10 to 15 year time frame for settling historical treaty claims is realistic, but it would not be possible to sensibly set such a rigid time frame, in the same way that it is not possible to set such a rigid budget for the settlement of treaty claims.
Hon Ken Shirley: What has led the Prime Minister to change her mind on the issue of the proposal to establish a deadline for lodging Treaty of Waitangi claims, when it was condemned by her when first advocated by the ACT party several years ago?
Hon Dr Michael Cullen: My understanding is that the rejection has been on the issue of a deadline for settlement, rather than for lodging claims. However, there are still important issues to think through, in terms of whether such a fixed and rigid deadline should be set and whether that would be a positive or a negative in terms of actually achieving a successful process around the settlement of treaty claims.
Hon Ken Shirley: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. In answering that question, the Minister actually changed the question and then answered the question he had changed it to. My question was quite specific, about the ACT party first proposing that there be a time limit on the lodging of treaty claims. The Minister then referred to settlement, and answered that part. I would like him to address the question that was asked, please.
Mr SPEAKER: That was his understanding. He is entitled to take that interpretation if he wishes. I cannot judge that, as long as he addresses the question.
Rodney Hide: Just so that we can be clear on the issue, is the Government now considering a deadline for historical claims, and notwithstanding that, will it allow new and innovative claims to be made, and would the only way to end the treaty grievance industry be to vote Labour out of office?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: No. What it is true to say is that contemporary claims arise out of changing circumstances. If the member wishes to end any possibility of future contemporary treaty claims he will have to find a way, legally, to rescind the treaty. I wish him well in trying to attempt that.
Unemployment Beneficiaries—Job Placements
9. DAVE HEREORA (Labour) to the Associate Minister for Social Development and Employment: Has Work and Income set targets for placing unemployment beneficiaries into jobs; if so, what progress have they made?
Hon RICK BARKER (Associate Minister for Social Development and Employment): Performance targets for Work and Income New Zealand are set in the statement of corporate intent of the Ministry of Social Development. Recent results show that in the 2003-04 year 52,000 people were placed into jobs. That number is equivalent to a job for every man, woman, and child in Rotorua, and is 8,000 above target. That performance is especially satisfying, given that the pool of unemployed beneficiaries has significantly reduced by 30.4 percent from the same time last year. When there are fewer people in the pool of unemployed it can become harder to find jobs, but that has not been so. Although fewer people have needed to find jobs, we have been more successful in getting people into work.
Dave Hereora: Is the Minister confident that the downward trend in unemployment figures will continue?
Hon RICK BARKER: Yes, I am. That trend has been maintained over a sustained period of time and the Government has established a number of initiatives targeted at assisting job seekers into work. The $105 million Jobs Jolt package kicked off in the 2003 Budget helps to skill people in information technology, employment coaching, and other work skills. Currently, we also have five industry partnerships and expect a further 567 positions from those partnerships, with more industry partnerships to come. That is training real people for real jobs.
Katherine Rich: How many unemployed have transferred to the sickness benefit or the invalids benefit from the unemployment benefit in the last 12 months?
Hon RICK BARKER: I cannot find the figures immediately, but I will get them to the member. However, if the member wants to highlight that there has been a growth in the number of sickness benefits, the fact is that the number of people dependent on the State for a benefit since this Government has been in power has plummeted. That is quite contrary to the effect the National Government had.
Judy Turner: How can he state credibly in his press release today that he is “pleased to see that people who have been out of work for a long time have found jobs” when the actual number of those on the dole for more than 3 years has increased from 10,789 to 15,672, which is an increase of 45 percent?
Hon RICK BARKER: Quite a number of people have been on the unemployment benefit for a long time. It is true to say that a significant slice of those people have been in the 50-year-plus group, and it is proving very difficult to get them into jobs, but in reducing the number of people on the unemployment benefit and getting people into employment we have exceeded our target. The facts speak for themselves. Unemployment now stands at 4 percent. Last year we put over 52,000 people into jobs, which I think is an outstanding result.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I seek leave to table the answer given by Mr Barker on 13 November last year on the question of transfer from unemployment benefit to sickness benefit, which he put at above 40,000 New Zealanders.
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that. Is there any objection? There is.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: There is?
Mr SPEAKER: I heard someone say yes. For goodness’ sake!
Rt Hon Winston Peters: We didn’t know.
Mr SPEAKER: It is early in the week, I know.
Resignation—Community Employment Group Northern Regional Manager
10. Dr WAYNE MAPP (National—North Shore) to the Minister of Labour: Is he satisfied all correct procedures were followed by the Department of Labour leading up to the resignation of Ms Amokura Panoho, and that she was treated appropriately by Ministers and officials?
Hon PAUL SWAIN (Minister of Labour): Yes.
Dr Wayne Mapp: Does the Minister accept that the inappropriate activities of his ministerial colleagues Mr Tamihere and Ms Dyson, for which Mr Tamihere has apologised on air, contributed to Miss Panoho resigning, and given that he is the Minister in charge, what is he doing to remedy that wrongful dismissal?
Hon PAUL SWAIN: No. My concern was that the process and procedures were in place—and they were. I note from Miss Panoho’s comment in the New Zealand Herald today that she did not plan any action against the Department of Labour, which she said had “treated her with respect”, and further said on Nine to Noon that she was “not pressured to resign”, and nor was she given an ultimatum. The process and procedures were good.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: If Community Employment Group cars were at the hui, was it either a case that the cars were converted or that their drivers were there—and could have been there only if they were definitely on taxpayers’ paid business—because they were using those cars for that occasion?
Hon PAUL SWAIN: That was not my concern. My concern was with the process and procedure, and they were followed properly.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The Minister should make it his concern to answer my question.
Mr SPEAKER: That may well be the case, but—
Rt Hon Winston Peters: With respect, he did not; he just said that it was not his concern. The purpose of question time is to bring our concerns to him and make them his concern. He did not answer the question.
Mr SPEAKER: Perhaps the Minister may comment.
Hon PAUL SWAIN: The Minister responsible for the Community Employment Group is my colleague Steve Maharey. My concern in the primary question was whether I considered the process and procedures followed were fair, and I have answered that they were.
Mr SPEAKER: That is perfectly correct.
Heather Roy: Is it not true that the Minister’s department is investigating Miss Panoho’s role as northern regional manager of the Community Employment Group for inappropriately favouring capacity building for Mâori groups, but that the Government’s main concern is that Miss Panoho was approving inappropriate capacity building to favour the Mâori Party, when previously she had favoured the Labour Government?
Hon PAUL SWAIN: I am not aware of that.
Peter Brown: Was it appropriate for two Ministers to go out publicly with their thoughts on this issue and subsequently apologise on air, and does the Minister believe that that was acting in good faith?
Hon Dr Michael Cullen: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. What responsibility does this Minister have for other Ministers’ actions? The Prime Minister bears such responsibility.
Peter Brown: I asked the Minister his views on acting principally in good faith; that was the thrust of my question.
Mr SPEAKER: In so far as that relates to the Minister’s portfolio, he is to answer.
Hon PAUL SWAIN: I note the last part of the comment—that the Ministers have apologised for those comments.
Dr Wayne Mapp: Will the Minister ensure that the ministry has discussions with Miss Panoho in relation to reinstatement to her former position, to the offer of a new position, or to compensation for her wrongful constructive dismissal, and will he report those discussions to this House?
Hon Dr Michael Cullen: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Is it permissible to ask a Minister to perform an act that he is not allowed to perform? That is precisely what the question has asked the Minister to do, because he is not allowed to intervene in that fashion.
Mr SPEAKER: If the Minister is not allowed to intervene, then of course that becomes his answer.
Hon PAUL SWAIN: I am not allowed to intervene.
Dr Wayne Mapp: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I asked two questions. The first one asked what he would do to ensure the ministry had discussions with Miss Panaho, and, secondly, I asked whether he would report back to the House the results of any such discussions.
Hon PAUL SWAIN: I think the answer to the second depends on the first. I am not allowed to intervene.
Dr Muriel Newman: I seek leave to table documents that show that the Hon Parekura Horomia was a candidate for the Labour Party while still general manager of the Community Employment Group.
Document, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.
11. Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS (Leader—NZ First) to the Minister of Immigration: Does he agree with the reported comments by Immigration Service spokeswoman, Janine Parsons, that the exploited Thai overstayer bakery worker case in New Lynn sent a strong warning to employers hiring overstayers or exploiting staff, and how widespread does he believe this problem to be?
Hon PAUL SWAIN (Minister of Immigration): Yes. The penalty for knowingly hiring an unlawful worker, including an overstayer, has been increased by this Government. It is unclear how widespread the problem is, but, from my discussions with the horticultural industry, my view is that there is a problem. This issue is being considered as part of work relating to labour and skill shortages in New Zealand, and as part of the review of the Immigration Act.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: If there is a problem, firstly, why did the Inland Revenue Department deny it just a year ago, and, secondly, how can the $2,000 fine that was imposed on a crook from the Western Bakery in New Lynn who exploited a Thai overstayer for 7 years on $4.70 an hour, 12 hours a day, 7 days a week—making $250,000 in profit—be consistent without sending some message to the employers of this country?
Hon PAUL SWAIN: I am not sure, and the member will have to ask the judge.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I will not ask the judge; I am asking the Minister. If the member is going to be a Minister, then it is high time he started to answer the questions. I am asking the Minister of Immigration whether he thinks it sends a consistent message. If he wants me to ask the judge, then I will take leave and I will do that, via this Parliament.
Mr SPEAKER: No, the Minister was asked for an opinion, which he can give if he wishes. The Minister can address the question in that way, but if he wants to add to that, he can.
Hon PAUL SWAIN: It is up to Parliament to set the penalties; it is up to judges to impose the penalties. That is why I suggested that the member should take it up with the judge.
Moana Mackey: What has the Government done to toughen up on employers who hire people unlawfully?
Hon PAUL SWAIN: Quite a lot. In 2002 the Government increased penalties by increasing the maximum fine from $2,000 to $50,000 for employers who knowingly employ a migrant not lawfully entitled to undertake that work; created a new strict liability offence, with a maximum fine of $10,000 for an employer who employs a migrant to do work he or she is not entitled to undertake; and created a new offence with a maximum fine of $100,000 and 7 years’ imprisonment for any employer who knowingly employs a migrant not lawfully entitled to do that work and exploits that migrant. I understand that all parties in the House supported those changes.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: What responsibility does he and his Government intend to take for the Inland Revenue Department refusing to decline Inland Revenue Department numbers to such overstayers and dishing them out willy-nilly, which is what has been going on; and how is it fair that the hard-working overstayer who got absolutely totally exploited to the tune of $250,000 got sent home while the crook stayed here?
Hon PAUL SWAIN: In answer to the first part of the question, there is an issue between the ways in which the Inland Revenue Department, in my view, gives out numbers to people who are not lawfully able to work in New Zealand. That is an issue that has been taken up as part of the review of the Act. There is a concern there, even though I am sure that the Minister of Revenue will have a view on that from another perspective. As far as the second point is concerned, as I have said, the Government’s responsibility is to set the penalties, which it has done. It has increased them substantially, as I pointed out, and it is up to the courts to make decisions about the appropriate level of sentence for that particular offence.
Resignation—Community Employment Group Northern Regional Manager
12. SIMON POWER (National—Rangitikei) to the Minister of State Services: What information or advice did he rely on for his statement on Morning Report that “apparent pressure on particular staff members who the individual was managing” was the issue in the resignation of Ms Amokura Panoho, and who was the source of that information?
Hon TREVOR MALLARD (Minister of State Services): The information was erroneous, and I have indicated my regret.
Simon Power: Is he satisfied with the example he, as Minister of State Services, has set in publicly attacking an individual public servant, who has now lost her job, without getting his facts straight; and what advice has he received from the Acting Prime Minister in relation to his actions?
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: No; she had lost her job before I made the comments; and I received clear and frank advice.
Deborah Coddington: Is the Minister saying to the House that he made up this erroneous statement, or is he saying that he did have a source, the source was Mr Tamihere, and Mr Tamihere made it up?
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: I am not sure of the source, but it is clear that at least one of the tributaries was a hot-blooded indigenous mate of mine.
Simon Power: Does he agree with Dr Cullen’s reported remarks that he “would have been better off staying away from the matter and, by wading in, gave the impression they were clamping down on free speech”; and will he now actually apologise, as, at least, his colleague John Tamihere has done?
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: I of course agree with the Acting Prime Minister, and I apologised on the day.
Simon Power: Has he done an estimate of the likely amount that his remarks could cost the taxpayer if legal action results from his remarks?
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: No.