Questions & Answers for Oral Answer 11 August 2004
Wednesday, 11 August
Questions for Oral Answer
Questions to Ministers
1. Te Puni Kôkiri—Mâori Party
2. Immigrants—“Sweatshop” Operations
3. Community Employment Group—Future
5. Community Employment Group—Fraudulent Use of Grants
Question No. 6 to Minister
6. Employment—Job Creation
7. Christchurch Polytechnic Institute of Technology—Funding
8. Mathematics—Teaching Skills
9. Local Government—Funding Review
10. Community Employment Group—Mâori Party
11. Food Safety Authority—Chicken Contamination
12. Drugs—Border Control
Question No. 11 to Minister
Question No. 10 to Minister—Amended Answer
Questions for Oral Answer
Questions to Ministers
Te Puni Kôkiri—Mâori Party
1. RODNEY HIDE (Leader—ACT) to the Minister of Mâori Affairs: What message, if any, has he sent to officials in Te Puni Kôkiri about their potential involvement in the Mâori Party; if none, what involvement are they allowed?
Hon JOHN TAMIHERE (Acting Minister of Mâori Affairs): Advice to staff on the issue of political neutrality, including involvement in political parties, is a matter for the chief executive officer of Te Puni Kôkiri. Staff are made aware of the guidelines in the Public Service Code of Conduct, and associated guidance issued by the States Services Commissioner.
Rodney Hide: Given his answers, does he believe it acceptable then that Ministers treat his officials like they did in the example of Ms Panoho, especially when he himself attended Labour Party meetings while general manager of the Community Employment Group in order to secure the Labour Party nomination?
Hon JOHN TAMIHERE: No.
Darren Hughes: Is the Minister aware of any guidance given to Te Puni Kôkiri officials on political neutrality?
Hon JOHN TAMIHERE: All staff of Te Puni Kôkiri are issued with the Public Service Code of Conduct when they join the ministry. The code of conduct is further explained in greater detail when new staff attend the ministry’s induction. The ministry regularly uses internal communications to remind staff of their responsibilities, and, further, the chief executive officer recently sent a message to all staff reminding them of their responsibilities. In the message he highlighted that: “When you join Te Puni Kôkiri you agree to serve the Government of the day and to maintain political neutrality.”
Gerry Brownlee: Did the Minister’s colleague the Associate Minister of Mâori Affairs, John Tamihere, notify him of his concerns about Amokura Panoho’s involvement with the Mâori Party after Mr Tamihere’s office staff had been at a meeting at which Mrs Panoho was also present, and what was his response to Mr Tamihere?
Hon JOHN TAMIHERE: The Minister of Mâori Affairs had a full, frank, and long conversation with the Associate Minister of Mâori Affairs, Mr Tamihere. In that conversation concerns were raised. Mr Horomia retorted that he was concerned.
Tariana Turia: Given that the distribution of a lengthy memo to Te Puni Kôkiri staff about their involvement in political activities was sent out immediately after the registration of the Mâori Party, has any other message been sent throughout the two terms of this Government with reference to Te Puni Kôkiri staff being involved in any other political party?
Hon JOHN TAMIHERE: I am advised that that has been the case.
Rodney Hide: What action is the Minister undertaking to protect Mâori officials from Ministers ganging up on them for attending Mâori Party meetings, and how does he reconcile how Mâori officials are being treated with his own treatment, when as Community Employment Group general manager he was feeding information on Christine Rankin back to the Labour Opposition in a vain attempt to stop the Community Employment Group being folded into Work and Income?
Hon JOHN TAMIHERE: As usual, a number of the allegations made by that member are unsubstantiated. The Minister of Mâori Affairs has at all times handled this issue with the greatest dignity and integrity.
Rodney Hide: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. My question specifically asked what action was being taken. I do not think it is correct for Mr Tamihere to argue that the allegations are unsubstantiated. All he needs to do in this House is deny them.
Mr SPEAKER: I thought the Minister addressed that question, when essentially he did that. If the Minister wants to add to that comment, he can.
Hon JOHN TAMIHERE: The allegation of ganging up is a term rightly known to and utilised by ACT members. I know that nothing of the kind occurred in this instance.
Rodney Hide: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Do I take it from your statement that you interpreted that the Minister denied that he had provided information to the Labour Opposition? I do not think the Minister is prepared to do that in this House. However, I took it from your comment that he did.
Mr SPEAKER: Well, the member took it incorrectly. As Speaker, I have to judge whether the Minister addressed the question. He did.
Hon Richard Prebble: How does the Minister square the answers he has given in the House today with his actions when he was general manager of the Community Employment Group and a Labour Party candidate for Parliament, when he used “Public Service databases, office space, telephones, equipment and cars to call, host and manage the Labour Party’s campaign.”?
Hon JOHN TAMIHERE: He did not.
2. Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS (Leader—NZ First) to the Minister of Immigration: What has been done since the briefing to the incoming Minister in 2002 to deal with stated concerns about the need to resolve the multitude of issues created by “sweatshop” operations?
Hon PAUL SWAIN (Minister of Immigration): Quite a lot. In early 2003 a task force comprising the Immigration Service, Department of Labour inspectors, and the Occupational Safety and Health Service was formed within the Department of Labour. The job of the task force is to target the worst cases of exploitation, including sweatshops. I am advised that four investigations into suspected sweatshop operations have been completed, and a further five investigations are under way. This has been a good effort from department officials, who are concerned about this issue, particularly in the Auckland area.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: If that is true, why did he say yesterday: “It is unclear how widespread the problem is, but from my discussions with the horticulture industry my view is that there is a problem.”, and, by that, is he saying that in the last 2 years since that briefing paper he has talked to only one industry about this very serious matter?
Hon PAUL SWAIN: No, and no.
Lianne Dalziel: What other measures have been undertaken by the Department of Labour to ensure compliance with the Immigration Act, particularly in light of the stricter laws covering employers that were introduced last year?
Hon PAUL SWAIN: As I indicated yesterday, the penalties for employers engaged in the activity of exploiting people, particularly people who are not lawfully entitled to be in New Zealand, have been increased with the support of the whole House. In addition, the department is involved in employer education. In the year ended 30 June 2004, 262 immigration-related employer education visits took place. In many cases those resulted in improved compliance by the employer, as evidenced by follow-up visits.
Rod Donald: Is there not a contradiction between the Government’s justified opposition to Thai sweatshops operating in New Zealand, and its endorsement of sweatshop exploitation through its proposed Thailand and China free-trade agreements?
Hon PAUL SWAIN: No. We are concerned about issues in New Zealand, but the free-trade agreements that we have with other countries around the world are important not just for the benefit and advantage they bring the New Zealand workforce, but also for the trading opportunities that can arise from them for the developing countries as well—something that member supported when he was involved in one of those organisations before he came to Parliament.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Does the Minister have any knowledge of legal action being taken against the Fernridge Institute of Training or the people who employed the Ukrainian farm workers, which were both instances where the employment and payment were totally illegal; if he has none, is it not a fact that his department has done virtually nothing on this issue?
Hon PAUL SWAIN: No, I do not accept that. If the Ukrainian farm workers whom he mentioned are those that his colleague Mr Mark has raised—if that is the issue he is talking about—the fact is the farmers down there still consider themselves to be highly aggrieved by unfounded allegations made by that member, and they are still waiting for an apology from him.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I asked the Minister whether he had any knowledge of prosecutions being taken against the Fernridge Institute of Training or those farmers, evidence for which was tabled in this House in terms of their contracts. If the answer is no, why does he not say so?
Hon PAUL SWAIN: I think I answered the second question, but as far as the first question is concerned, I am not certain about that, and am happy to get back to the member with information when I get it.
Community Employment Group—Future
3. SUE BRADFORD (Green) to the Minister for Social Development and Employment: What are his plans for the future of the Community Employment Group?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY (Minister for Social Development and Employment): The Community Employment Group is currently under review, and I will be happy to advise the member when the review is complete.
Sue Bradford: Is it correct that a paper is being presented to Cabinet very shortly, possibly next Monday, that canvasses options for the Community Employment Group; if so, can the Minister assure the House that these options have been discussed with the community and voluntary sector?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: All I can confirm to the member is that the group is being reviewed, as the member knows. A paper is not due in Cabinet on the deadline that she suggested. I am sure that she will be pleased to have a chat about it once the review is available.
Georgina Beyer: What contribution does the Community Employment Group make to encourage people to enter the labour market?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: I am sure every member in the House has a good example of what the Community Employment Group has done to assist disadvantaged groups in their electorates, but I will pick out just two, starting with one from the north. The Community Business and Environment Centre—CBEC—in the far north focuses on long-term unemployment. It works through the Trees Company Nursery, the Kaitaia swimming pool, the Slash Trash campaign, Jobs New Zealand, and CBEC recycling. In Otago, Presbyterian Support Services operating YouthGrow, which operates a plant nursery that provides employment, on-the-job training opportunities, and mentoring for low-skilled youth who are disadvantaged in the labour market. Many of these examples exist around the country.
Katherine Rich: When will the official reviews into the hip hop tour, Mâori television station in Northland, and the capacity-building initiative grant under external review by KPMG be completed, and when will these reports be made public, given that his colleague Ruth Dyson offered a cast-iron guarantee of greater accountability when it came to Community Employment Group grants?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: As soon as possible, and they will be made available to the member.
Sue Bradford: Why are those parts of the community economic sector that he has just mentioned not being consulted for the review or the field staff who have been involved in this for many years?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: If the member would like stakeholders to be consulted they will be, but it is important, of course, to have something to consult them about, first of all.
Sue Bradford: Given the wonderful examples of community economic development supported by the Community Employment Group that the Minister has already given, how will he ensure that that assistance for this type of social enterprise will not be downgraded, or lost altogether, in the restructuring or destruction of the Community Employment Group that appears to be on the books?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: It is certainly in the Government’s interest to maintain those kinds of programmes, and, as I said, stakeholders will be involved. The member is one of those stakeholders, and I am sure she will make that case.
Sue Bradford: Is it correct that some of the functions of the Community Employment Group are to be taken over by something called the Work Opportunities Group, or WOG for short; if so, does he believe that this title is an appropriate name for a Government agency that works, in part, with refugee and migrant communities?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: The member raises a very, very interesting point, and I would refer her to that hot-blooded male Mr Paul Swain, who is the Department of Labour Minister.
4. CLAYTON COSGROVE (Labour—Waimakariri) to the Minister of Finance: What reports has he received on the state of the economy?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Minister of Finance): I have received a number of reports that confirm New Zealand’s growth performance continues to outperform the OECD average, with growth for the March year of 3.6 percent. On top of that, terms-of-trade improvements have meant real gross national disposable income growth per capita was 4 percent. And, of course, unemployment is now the second-lowest in the OECD—not in the top half but in the top tenth of the OECD.
Clayton Cosgrove: What other data, analysis, and further reports has he received in respect of the economy?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: The chairman of the Business Roundtable, Rob McLeod—following his wise decision not to be a National Party candidate—says that the last 12 months have been a litany of success. The biggest indicator of the success of the economy is that the Opposition has demoted the finance portfolio on to the second bench, so its members can watch the economy keep on growing.
Mr SPEAKER: That is enough of that. It invites retaliation, and I do not want that. I will have to allow a certain amount of it now, of course.
John Key: If the state of the economy is so strong, will the Minister categorically rule out further increases in company, personal, or GST tax rates in the medium future, or are reports that we see in the paper that the company rates are likely to rise to be believed?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I can give the member a categorical assurance that those taxation rates are not going to rise. He would be better off to join the Government in supporting the growth in productivity and higher savings that he has referred to, quite rightly, as the real issues for economic growth in New Zealand.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: If the economy is so great why are we, as New Zealanders, paying the highest interest rates in the developed world, why are we getting 30 percent less on average than Australians in terms of our salaries and wages, and why do we have one-fifth of the exports per capita of a country such as Ireland?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I will take the last question first. I said to the member before that we have one-fifth of the imports per capita that Ireland has, as well. It is the nature of the Irish economy—
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Oh, no, no.
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Oh, yes, yes. I suspect the member should go and have another look at those numbers. On the point of the gap that has built up over some 25 years, the biggest growth in the gap between Australia and New Zealand in per capita incomes was between 1984 and 1993—the period of economic restructuring. On the first question, the member should understand, as a former Treasurer, that interest rates are high when the economy is growing very strongly. That is the nature of monetary policy.
Hon Richard Prebble: Has he received reports from the Treasury of the likely impact on the New Zealand economy of oil prices remaining above US$40 a barrel; if so, is he prepared to let us know what those reports indicate, and perhaps to table them in the House?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I think it is fair to say that I have had only quite general reports around the possibility of that continuing. To a substantial extent, for the New Zealand economy that is offset by other commodity prices also being very high, and that is obviously feeding back into strong export incomes for New Zealand. But certainly I think it is fair to say that the high level of oil prices is the largest single threat to the growth of the world economy at the present time, not simply to the economy of New Zealand.
Community Employment Group—Fraudulent Use of Grants
5. KATHERINE RICH (National) to the Minister for Social Development and Employment: Have Community Employment Group officials raised any concerns about the fraudulent use of funds by any groups receiving grants; if so, what was the nature of the fraud?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY (Minister for Social Development and Employment): There are currently four investigations under way concerning sums of money that may have been misappropriated within community organisations administering grants made by the Community Employment Group. Two of those cases have been referred to the police by the Community Employment Group and a third by the community organisation itself. The fourth case is currently being investigated by the Community Employment Group, and will be referred to the police if appropriate.
Katherine Rich: Is the Minister aware that his officials had serious concerns about the fraudulent use of signed blank cheques by the Mâori Women’s Welfare League, which received the largest Community Employment Group grant of $1 million over 3 years, yet his officials chose not to audit the contract, even though they were aware that it was “an obvious target for further questions”?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: I am aware that there have been discussions with the Mâori Women’s Welfare League. If that member has accusations to make, she may like to give them to me rather than to speculate here in the House.
Moana Mackey: In light of the Government’s commitment to work in partnership with community and voluntary sector groups, what has been done to improve grant and contractual funding arrangements?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: A great deal. The community and voluntary sector groups provide a huge range of vital community services that I think are agreed to by the entire House. This Government has undertaken a number of initiatives to support high-quality delivery and accountability. There are Treasury guidelines for best practice, there is a partnership agreement between the Government and community sectors, there is the establishment of the best-practice website that can be used, the Office of the Community and Voluntary Sector assists groups, there are outcomes-based funding pilots that simplify and align funding for those groups, and, of course, there is the Charities Commission, which will help with this issue, as well.
Dr Muriel Newman: In light of the ongoing controversies over dubious grants by the Community Employment Group, its staff being involved in political matters, and its long-term general manager now being the operational Minister, can the Minister give a guarantee that no grants or funds have been used in any way at all to assist Labour Party members, supporters, or activities?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: I cannot be accountable for what happened under other Governments, but I can say that is the case now.
Katherine Rich: Can the Minister explain to the House how Community Employment Group funding to the Mâori Women’s Welfare League to support local initiatives, like “making earrings out of used bread tags”, a hairdresser wanting to go to a hairdressing competition, a gospel singer wanting to do a demo tape, and a marae “self-sustaining water feature”, contributes to community development and employment?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: I just say in answer to the member that we do have to be careful about these grants. For example, she raised recently the issue of a grant for a website, when that turned out not to have been the case. In other words, I would urge the member, if she does have concrete examples of funding being used in an inappropriate way, to tell me. But she should not come here and speculate about an organisation that has a huge history of contribution to this country, and besmirch its name.
Hon Richard Prebble: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. When the Minister is asked a question, how can it possibly be addressing the question to basically get up and say he does not know what is going on in his own department, and to ask the Opposition to tell him?
Mr SPEAKER: If the Minister had got up and said that, he would be out of order. But he did not do that.
Hon Richard Prebble: In effect, one finds that is what he did say, if one listened to what he said.
Mr SPEAKER: I do not agree with the member.
Katherine Rich: Does the Minister support the use of Community Employment Group funding by the Mâori Women’s Welfare League to seek advice for Work and Income clients about how they could set up a family trust with the aim of “safeguarding the income from their work without jeopardising their benefits”; if not, what is he going to do about it?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: Once again, I would urge the member to bring any accusations of that kind to me, because—[Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: The Minister gets a chance to answer, and there will be further supplementary questions. I ask the Minister to carry on answering the question.
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: It is very important to know that many people who go into part-time work and who are seeking to return to the workforce also do have eligibility for parts of the benefit system, and advice of that kind can be helpful.
Katherine Rich: I seek leave to table official documents released by the Minister to me, which include emails from his officials where they cite concerns about fraud within the Mâori Women’s Welfare League.
Documents, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.
Question No. 6 to Minister
Hon MATT ROBSON (Deputy Leader—Progressive): I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The question is worded incorrectly, and that will embarrass Minister Maharey. There is a coalition agreement between the Labour Party and the Progressive Party, not between the Labour Party and the “led” party. I think that should be corrected.
Mr SPEAKER: I again call question No. 6.
6. Hon MARK GOSCHE (Labour—Maungakiekie) to the Minister for Social Development and Employment: How many jobs have been created since the election of the Labour-led Government?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY (Minister for Social Development and Employment): The Labour-Progressive Government has been doing well on this matter. The June 2004 household labour force survey, released by the Government Statistician yesterday, indicates that there are now 211,000 more people in employment than there were at the beginning of the year 2000. That is an increase of nearly 12 percent in 4¼ years, taking the number of people in employment to above 2 million for the first time. That has reduced unemployment to the rate of 4 percent, the equal-lowest rate in the nearly 20 years that New Zealand has had a labour force survey, and the second-lowest level of unemployment in the developed world.
Hon Mark Gosche: I apologise to my constituent Mr Robson for the previous question being worded in that manner, but my supplementary question to the Minister is this: what has been the effect of this employment growth on groups and regions traditionally disadvantaged in terms of employment?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: Mr Robson will be proud to know that he is part of these kinds of examples: Mâori employment has increased by 32,800 or by 22 percent, reducing Mâori unemployment to 8.8 percent, Pacific employment has increased by 16,500 or 23 percent, reducing that unemployment rate to 7.4 percent, employment for 15 to 24-year-olds has increased by 13.5 percent, and employment for over 55-year-olds has increased by 41 percent. In a place like Northland employment has increased by 3,100, and in the Bay of Plenty, by 6,500. All around this House I am sure there are extremely happy electorate MPs.
Peter Brown: Noting the Minister has given us those answers in percentages, will the Minister tell the House what percentage of the newly created jobs are full-time permanent, part-time permanent, and casual jobs?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: I have not actually got that specific breakdown, but I can say to the member that overwhelmingly the jobs being created are full-time jobs. That is one of the strong things that is happening here. People are getting real jobs and real wages at the rate they want to earn.
Judy Turner: Is he claiming that this Government is in some way responsible for the sharp fall in unemployment; if so, how does he reconcile that with the speech made by the Minister of Finance last month when he said: “I’m not claiming that Government policies have been the major driver of this development”.
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: Natural modesty.
Christchurch Polytechnic Institute of Technology—Funding
7. Hon BILL ENGLISH (National—Clutha-Southland) to the Associate Minister of Education (Tertiary Education): Can he confirm his statement with regard to community education funding at the Christchurch Polytechnic Institute of Technology that “I am looking forward to seeing more money paid back.”; if so, does this mean the polytechnic will be required to pay back money for up to 13,298 enrolments where they have been unable to demonstrate student engagement or further learning?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY (Associate Minister of Education (Tertiary Education)): Yes, I can confirm my statement. I am very concerned that the size of the Christchurch Polytechnic Institute of Technology funding claim for the Cool IT programme might not have been appropriate and I would expect the polytechnic’s council to give serious consideration as to whether some repayment would be reasonable in the circumstances.
Hon Bill English: Has the Minister seen advice from his officials that he cannot, in fact, require the Christchurch Polytechnic Institute of Technology to repay any equivalent full-time student money; if so, does he believe that his threat of “more discussions” will persuade the polytechnic to repay $10 million for the 13,000 enrolments?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: Under the current funding guide, the legal advice is that a requirement would be extremely difficult. But that does not change the fact that we expect people to be accountable for public money, and I do want to see the polytechnic consider that it is reasonable to pay money back if necessary.
H V Ross Robertson: Given his previous answer, can the Minister tell the House whether he is satisfied with the current funding guide for publicly funded tertiary education organisations?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: Not entirely, though it serves most of its general administrative functions well. The funding guide expresses the tertiary tuition funding policy, which pre-dates the Tertiary Education Commission and the current tertiary reforms. Although there have been amendments, unlike the previous National Government, we have placed restrictions on inducements. Much of the guide is largely unchanged from the hands-off days of the 1990s, but it is currently undergoing yet another review to try to close even more of these loopholes. [Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: That is the last interjection this question time from the senior Government whip—the last!
Hon Brian Donnelly: Will the Associate Minister confirm that the Christchurch Polytechnic Institute of Technology did not breach the tertiary funding guide by paying a commission to agents for each enrolment, because such activity is not prohibited by the funding regulations; and does the Minister believe that such practices should be prohibited, or not?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: Yes, I can confirm the first part of the question, and for the second part of the question I can confirm that it should be prohibited.
Deborah Coddington: Does the Minister think it is appropriate that Open Polytechnic of New Zealand hands out free prepay cellphones at taxpayers’ expense as inducements to enrolment in a life works course, and will he be consistent and require that money to be paid back?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: The Tertiary Education Commission is currently talking with the Open Polytechnic about the use of cellphones. I do not regard any inducement for a student to join any course as acceptable.
Donna Awatere Huata: Can the Minister explain how the New Zealand Qualifications Authority and the Tertiary Education Commission allowed the Christchurch Polytechnic Institute of Technology to enrol so many students in a programme where there were no checks on whether the students even owned a computer, put the disc in a computer, and began the course—let alone completed the course satisfactorily?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: When the first standard data return comes in from an institution like the Christchurch Polytechnic Institute of Technology we are able to tell what the enrolment figures are. Immediately we do that we approach the institution about the level of enrolments. One of the reasons we are introducing profiles—which all institutions, public and private—are involved in right now, is so that in the future people literally sign up for what they will deliver before they do so.
Hon Bill English: Given the Minister’s concern about ongoing student engagement at Christchurch Polytechnic Institute of Technology, can he tell the House how he knows whether the 46,000 people who enrolled in Tairâwhiti Polytechnic’s radio singalong course actually turned on the radio?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: I sincerely hope they did, because they would have been listening to a good local iwi station. Under the Act, the Tertiary Education Commission looks at those courses. It has looked at that course, and that is how it reports to me.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: When did the Minister first learn of the practice of commissions or inducements for enrolments, and why did he not do something about it back then, years ago? [Interruption] No, there was the Open Polytechnic and the Rotorua one.
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: The funding guide has been modified and changed under this Government over the last couple of years, as we have begun to learn about people doing such things as inducing. That is exactly what we have been doing, unlike the National Party, which for 9 years allowed inducements and did nothing.
Rodney Hide: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. If question time is going to work, Ministers have to address the question. Mr Peters was quite plain. He asked when the Minister first learnt of those inducements and what action he took. The Minister never came close to addressing those questions.
Mr SPEAKER: I thought he started out by saying: “in the last 2 years”. I thought those were his first words. I listened to the answer very carefully.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I asked for the exact time—and I had hoped it would be to the month—that the Minister first heard about it. Saying “in the last 2 years” is not good enough. When in the last 2 years did he first learn about it?
Mr SPEAKER: I am not judging the quality of the answer. The Minister answered the question.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: When precisely did the Minister learn about the practice of commissions and inducements, such as occurred in Rotorua and with the Open Polytechnic of New Zealand?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: Although I have a phenomenal memory, I would have to ask the member to write that question down so that I can give him a precise date and time.
Hon Bill English: Given the Minister’s concern about the type of course offered at Christchurch Polytechnic, for which he paid $15 million, will he give the House an undertaking that he will investigate other courses, in respect of which exactly the same issues have been raised, and for which he paid another $65 million at other polytechnics; if he will not investigate the others, why not?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: Yes.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Given the Minister’s comment that the practice, which he was aware of, had gone on for 9 years under the National Government—which means that for 5 years he has known about it—why did he not do something about it when he got the responsibility?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: Inducements of the kind that we are talking about here began to appear under this Government only relatively recently. That is why we have begun to change the funding guide.
Mr SPEAKER: I have one member on her feet who alone will be heard.
Deborah Coddington: I seek leave to table an answer from the Minister to my parliamentary question, which states that he wrote to Te Wânanga o Aotearoa on 11 April 2002 regarding the issuing of 16,000 free prepaid cellphones to students.
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that. Is there any objection? There is.
Hon Bill English: I seek leave to table a document from Asure, a State-owned enterprise, which shows that it was one of the agents enrolling students at Christchurch Polytechnic, and that it was paid commission for that.
Document, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. You will recall that in one of the Minister’s answers, he said that this practice went on for 9 years under the National Government. Then in his last answer to me he said that the practice occurred, and he became aware of it, only when Labour became the Government. Those two answers cannot stand together. That is what he said. His last answer was totally contradictory to his prior answer. I think we are entitled to know which one is true.
Mr SPEAKER: It is not my job to reconcile answers. That is a subject for debate. We have a general debate following this debate.
8. HELEN DUNCAN (Labour) to the Minister of Education: What steps, if any, is the Government taking to improve the teaching of maths skills?
Hon TREVOR MALLARD (Minister of Education): As part of our Government’s commitment to raise student achievement across the board, and other achievement across the board, we have invested in a range of numeracy programmes. For example, over the last 4 years, over 8,000 teachers, most of them in primary schools, have been helped to be better maths teachers through professional development programmes. We know that, internationally, our 15-year-olds perform well; they are fourth in the OECD for numeracy skills. But there are groups of students, and adults, who need more help.
Helen Duncan: What reports has the Minister seen on the effectiveness of this investment?
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: This week I have released four research reports showing that students’ maths skills are improving—that is, people who are still at school. There have been particular improvements in addition, subtraction, and multiplication skills at various levels, and evidence that students in the project have been learning better than those not involved. So far, about 1,400 schools have been involved. The Government has approved funding over the next 3 years to ensure that the majority of other schools and their students can participate. I invite members to go to their local schools and see what they can learn.
Hon Bill English: Given the Minister’s enthusiasm for releasing this research, when will he release—as he has been requested to—the database that is part of the asTTle project, which will show the actual achievement levels of up to 50,000 New Zealand children in all schools?
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: I understand that that is available on a confidential basis; a briefing on that is available to the member. But, as Bill English knows, the class-by-class and child-by-child information on that database was collected on the basis that he would not publish it, and I am not going to breach the promises that were made to schools.
Hon Bill English: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. In the answer to that question, the Minister said that I knew particular information, which happened to be wrong. I would ask him to repeat the answer, but without including me in it as the person who knows the information he alleges.
Mr SPEAKER: No. He does not need to do that. If the member gives us his word, everyone in the House accepts his word unreservedly. I accept it, certainly.
Hon Bill English: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The Minister is referring to what I know; how could he possibly know?
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: Speaking to the point of order, can I say I just worked from the basis that the member had read his correspondence. I apologise.
Local Government—Funding Review
9. LARRY BALDOCK (United Future) to the Minister of Local Government: Has he undertaken to review local government funding; if so, what progress has been made on the review to date?
Hon CHRIS CARTER (Minister of Local Government): Yes, I have. The central and local government forum in December 2003 agreed that officials from both sectors gather accurate data on rating levels, and research the extent to which there may be an affordability problem. The research will consider the degree to which any identified pressures are likely to be resolved by recent changes to council funding powers, and examine appropriate solutions where gaps are identified. Officials from both central and local government are continuing to gather information to ensure that robust analysis can be undertaken. It is intended that officials report progress in October.
Larry Baldock: Will this Government investigation include the possibility of increasing rates rebate levels to assist those on fixed incomes, who may be asset-rich but cash-poor, and who therefore have difficulty keeping up with rate increases?
Hon CHRIS CARTER: The rates rebates scheme is something that the Government is reviewing.
David Parker: How is the Government assisting local authorities with the funding of key infrastructure?
Hon CHRIS CARTER: The Government appreciates that infrastructure is a major cost on most councils and their ratepayers, and is providing some targeted assistance in this area. An example of that assistance is the Sanitary Works Subsidy Scheme, which will provide funding of $150 million over the next 10 years to help small communities establish satisfactory sanitary works.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: What greater sign of failure does he need of the Government’s new Local Government (Rating) Act and Local Government Act 2002 than the 10.4 percent increase in rates, as identified by Statistics New Zealand, during the first full year of this Government’s new legislation, which is four times the rate of inflation and the highest increase in over 10 years; and why, when the ink is hardly dry on those two Acts, is the Government embarking on a review?
Hon CHRIS CARTER: I remind the member that local authorities are responsible for setting their rates—and, indeed, are accountable to their communities for them—and that this, of course, is local body election year.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. As my colleague rightly says, the Minister may as well have answered my question with “You can fly to the moon.” There was no attempt at all to address the question, which was specifically about the issue of why the Government is having a review of two new Acts of Parliament that it has only recently passed.
Mr SPEAKER: In so far as the question related to the issue about why the Minister is undertaking a review, he will answer that part of the question.
Hon CHRIS CARTER: I would be delighted to answer that aspect of the question. It is a very good example of the continuing dialogue between central and local government—something that never occurred before this Government came to power.
Jim Peters: Has the Minister indicated a desire to interfere in the funding of local councils with regard to their democratic right to organise community boards and committees; if so, why?
Hon CHRIS CARTER: I certainly have no intention of interfering in the democratic rights of local councils.
Larry Baldock: Is the Minister concerned about the increasing number of accusations—such as that just made by a member before—about the extra compliance costs that the Local Government Act 2002 has imposed on local authorities; and will he therefore request the Local Government Commission, assisted by the Audit Office, to analyse the claims and report back before July next year, which they have the opportunity to do because of United Future’s amendment to the Local Government Act 2002?
Hon CHRIS CARTER: I thank the member for reminding us that there will be a review of the Local Government Act. It will be on two particular things: one, on cost blowouts, if there are any; and, two, on whether genuine participatory democracy is occurring. I am looking forward to that review.
Larry Baldock: Can the Minister confirm reports that financial assistance from central government was offered to local authorities as a substitute for the removal of GST from rates, which is a tax on a tax; if so, will the Government be prepared to keep the promise made when GST was first introduced by a previous Government that all tax raised from GST on rates would be diverted back to councils?
Hon CHRIS CARTER: I cannot confirm that. What I can confirm is that local government, in the history of New Zealand, has never received as much assistance as it has from this Government.
Larry Baldock: Can the Minister confirm whether the Government has recently had discussions with Local Government New Zealand regarding another of United Future’s proposals, which is to investigate the distribution of a small percentage of general GST revenue to local authorities on a regional basis, in the same way as the additional 5c on fuel excise tax is to be distributed?
Hon CHRIS CARTER: No, I cannot confirm that.
Community Employment Group—Mâori Party
10. GERRY BROWNLEE (Deputy Leader—National) to the Minister for Social Development and Employment: What information or instructions did the Acting Minister receive from the Prime Minister regarding the extent and appropriateness of Community Employment Group staff involvement in the Mâori Party, and did that information specifically name any official?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY (Minister for Social Development and Employment): The Prime Minister left the Acting Minister a phone message passing on concerns referred to her by the Hon John Tamihere that staff from the Community Employment Group’s northern regional office, and specifically, the manager, Ms Amokura Panoho, were actively involved in the Mâori Party. That involvement included attending a recent hui. At a meeting on 20 July 2004, the Acting Minister passed on the information to the Secretary of Labour.
Gerry Brownlee: Is the Minister telling the House that we now live in a country in which Ministers dispatch their taxpayer-funded staff to spy on their political opponents, then ring the Prime Minister personally on her cellphone to report on those officials by name, so that the Prime Minister can personally instruct the Acting Minister of Social Development and Employment, who in turn instructs the Secretary of Labour, with the result that the political opponent resigns her job; does the Minister understand that that sort of conduct might be what we expect in a country like Zimbabwe, but not in New Zealand?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: No, I am absolutely not telling the House that. That kind of behaviour would be the kind of behaviour found in Zimbabwe and if that is the kind of politics that that member wants, perhaps he should go there to practise them.
Rodney Hide: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I have sat here and listened to those answers and it seems to me that Mr Brownlee summarised exactly what the Government has been telling us in the House. The Minister says no, that is not what happened, and I think he owes the House the courtesy of explaining, for our benefit, where Mr Brownlee had it wrong.
Mr SPEAKER: No, that is not a point of order.
Hon Ken Shirley: Is it usual for the Prime Minister to leave messages on Ministers’ phones naming civil servants and giving instructions—[Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: That is the warning for the day—[Interruption]—and that is the second one. There will be a couple of people leaving. I ask Mr Shirley to please start his question again. He is perfectly entitled to ask it.
Hon Ken Shirley: Is it normal for the Prime Minister to leave messages on Ministers’ phones naming civil servants, and giving instructions for action; if it is not normal practice, what are the particular circumstances that led to this extraordinary action covering this event?
Mr SPEAKER: The first part cannot be answered, as it should be to the Prime Minister. The second part can be because it deals specifically—
Hon Ken Shirley: Point of order—
Mr SPEAKER: I am still ruling. Please be seated. I said the first part should really be directed to the Prime Minister. The second part is in order and can be asked.
Hon Ken Shirley: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Is it usual for the Prime Minister to leave messages on Ministers’ phones? Surely a Minister is able to answer that. That is asking the Minister whether it is normal.
Mr SPEAKER: Certainly that particular Minister is required to answer about calls to him, but not about calls to other Ministers.
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: The Prime Minister frequently leaves me messages; they are never of the kind that the member has raised. As I said in the House yesterday in terms of this question, what happened here is that when the Prime Minister does receive information about anything at all that is appropriate for a Minister to handle, she passes it on to that Minister.
Gerry Brownlee: Did the Acting Minister inform the Secretary of Labour that the complaint came from the Prime Minister; if so, does he think that informing an official that such information came from the Prime Minister may have been a strong hint to him about what action he should take?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: My understanding, and I am advised by my colleague Ruth Dyson, is that she passed on concerns that had been raised by the Hon John Tamihere about the northern regional manager. Two officials were at that meeting, and James Buwalda was present at that meeting. The implication that the member raises is simply wrong.
Rodney Hide: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. At the risk of upsetting you, Mr Speaker, I ask you to consider most carefully what is happening to our question time. Mr Brownlee asked whether the message was that the Prime Minister had raised that concern. It was very specific. Mr Maharey never addressed whether it was passed on that it was the Prime Minister. That was the point of the question. I do not see how one could conclude that it was addressed.
Mr SPEAKER: I thought it was in the last few words that the Minister said. If he would like to say it again, he can.
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: I said specifically that the Acting Minister advised me that she passed on to James Buwalda that information from the Hon John Tamihere had become available to her. She did not mention the Prime Minister. That is what I specifically said—John Tamihere.
Gerry Brownlee: I wonder whether the Minister can help us. Which bit of what we have been talking about is not right? Is it the bit that Mr Tamihere rang the Prime Minister, or is it the bit that Ms Dyson, after having had a conversation, or a message left with her, from the Prime Minister, rang the Secretary of Labour, and does he expect us to believe that in reporting this situation to the Minister, she managed to leave out that the Prime Minister had required that particular course of action?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: There are three questions. Yes, Mr Tamihere rang, Ms Dyson met, and I have just said that Ms Dyson made it clear that the information was raised by the Hon John Tamihere.
Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Perhaps the Minister has misunderstood my question, which, effectively, was whether he could assure the House that in the Associate Minister’s discussions with the Secretary of Labour she did not mention that the information came to her from the Prime Minister—because it did not come to her from Mr Tamihere.
Mr SPEAKER: Mr Maharey might like to say it again. I heard him answer it quite clearly.
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: I made it clear before that the Acting Minister said that her information came from John Tamihere, and did not mention the Prime Minister. The fundamental question here is one of pressure. The employee concerned has said repeatedly that she chose to resign without any pressure at all.
Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I ask you to have a good look at the Hansard record of this question. The question has never been asked about the conversation between the Minister and the Associate Minister, yet we constantly got that answer. The question was “Did the Associate Minister say to Mr Buwalda: ‘The Prime Minister has passed this information to me. I’m passing it to you.’ ?”. It is a simple question. I want an answer.
Mr SPEAKER: That is not a point of order. [Interruption] The member will now leave the Chamber.
Hon Trevor Mallard withdrew from the Chamber.
Hon Dr Michael Cullen: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. There has been a barrage of points of order, the last two of which have clearly not been either points of order, or relevant, or anything. The Minister has answered the question as clearly as one possibly could. Then Mr Brownlee gets up as though he has earplugs stuck in himself asking whether the question had been answered. Naturally, on this side of the House, that leads to some degree of anger.
Mr SPEAKER: The transcript will be available this afternoon, and any member can examine and dispute it. It is not my duty to do so.
Food Safety Authority—Chicken Contamination
11. SUE KEDGLEY (Green) to the Minister for Food Safety: What steps, if any, has the Food Safety Authority taken following the 2003 study by Otago University microbiologists which found that up to 52 percent of chicken flocks were contaminated by antibiotic-resistant bacteria?
Hon ANNETTE KING (Minister for Food Safety): The New Zealand Food Safety Authority is taking this issue seriously. All antibiotics have now been reviewed, and some have been withdrawn from use, including avoparcin, which was the drug identified in the Otago report, and was withdrawn by the company. Many products have had their use restricted, and products of interest to, or use in, human health are further restricted. The antibiotic resistance steering group has been re-established, regular audits are done, and the New Zealand Food Safety Authority is working closely with the Ministry of Health, recommending changes and restrictions where they are supported by evidence.
Sue Kedgley: Does she agree that finding up to 52 percent of chicken flocks are contaminated by antibiotic-resistant bacteria is an extremely serious health and food safety concern, or does she share the view of the Food Safety Authority official who said on national television on Monday night that she did not think it was a concern?
Hon ANNETTE KING: It is important to note that the source of the antibiotic resistance in chickens was not identified in the report—that is, it may not have been from antibiotic use; it could have been from the environment or from natural mutation. It is drawing a bit of a long bow for the member to say it has come just from the use of antibiotics.
Sue Kedgley: If the Minister does think it is a serious concern, as she indicated in her first answer, why is it that after 5 years as Minister for Food Safety she has still not set up a surveillance programme to work out how prevalent antibiotic-resistant bacteria are in food-producing animals—as was recommended back in 1999 by the antibiotic resistance steering group—or, for that matter, random checks on chicken meat?
Hon ANNETTE KING: The antibiotic resistance steering group has been re-established, as I said in my primary answer. I am also pleased to tell the House that regular audits are being carried out. They are transparent and are made available. I think we do take this issue seriously, but we want to base our decisions on science, not on hearsay.
Sue Kedgley: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I specifically asked why the Minister has not set up a surveillance programme. I did not ask about any of the other matters. Could she answer my question as to why she has not set one up, as was recommended 5 years ago?
Hon ANNETTE KING: I did. The surveillance is the ongoing audits that are now taking place.
Sue Kedgley: Has the Minister seen advice from Medsafe expressing concern that routinely feeding the antibiotic tylosin to chickens is conferring cross-resistance to important human antibiotics such as streptogramins—which are, of course, the last line of defence as a treatment for superbugs—and saying that it is seeking tighter controls as a result; if she has, why is she allowing producers to continually feed tylosin to millions of chickens in their water and feed?
Hon ANNETTE KING: I have the latest information from the Ministry of Health, from Medsafe. The Ministry of Health is not aware of any major patterns of clinically significant antibiotic resistance developing in this country as a result of agricultural or horticultural use of antibiotics.
Sue Kedgley: Is the Minister concerned by the recent Food Safety Authority audit that found that the amount of antibiotics being prescribed to food-producing animals is being determined by producers rather than by veterinarians, that veterinarians are prescribing antibiotics to animals without even visiting farms or seeing the animals concerned, and that not a single one of 26 prescriptions that the Food Safety Authority analysed had been filled out correctly, or even contained the amount of antibiotics to be administered to each animal; does this not show that there are no effective controls on the prescribing of antibiotics to food-producing animals?
Mr SPEAKER: That question was far too long. The Hon Annette King may reply briefly.
Hon ANNETTE KING: The important issue is what impact the antibiotics would have, and whether they are antibiotics that are used for humans and have an impact on humans. As I have said, most of the antibiotics that are being used on animals have no impact on human beings, at all.
Sue Kedgley: I seek leave to table the memorandum from Medsafe that expresses concern at the antibiotic—
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that memorandum. Is there any objection? There is.
12. MARTIN GALLAGHER (Labour—Hamilton West) to the Minister of Customs: Is he concerned at the increase of drug seizures at the borders?
Hon RICK BARKER (Minister of Customs): Yes, I am, but the increase was to be expected. The Government signalled early on that it would take a hard line against the supply of drugs. Additional resources have been allocated to the police, and $17 million has been allocated to the Institute of Environmental Science and Research to close the laboratories that manufacture P inside New Zealand.
It was expected that the importation of illegal drugs would put more pressure at the border, so additional funding of nearly $2 million was allocated in the 2003-04 Budget for Customs Service staff to be assigned to drug enforcement. These staff are now fully engaged at the border. As the recent seizure of crystal methamphetamine with a street value of about $9 million shows, they are having an effect.
Martin Gallagher: What other initiatives are being taken by the Government to deal with the illegal drugs trade?
Hon RICK BARKER: The Government allocated an additional $39 million in this year’s Budget to tackle the methamphetamine trade in organised crime, over the next 4 years. As part of the Government’s action plan on alcohol and illicit drugs, my colleague the Hon Jim Anderton announced $14.65 million for initiatives aimed at reducing the demand for drugs. Stripping gangs and other organised crime groups of their assets will take the profit out of crime.
Shane Ardern: Will the Minister talk to the Prime Minister and his Cabinet colleagues about reports that state that New Zealand, because of this Labour Government’s benign approach to refugees, is seen as a soft touch for drug smugglers and the importation of methamphetamine; if not, why not?
Hon RICK BARKER: No one believes that New Zealand is a soft touch for the importation of illegal drugs. The amount of drugs we have been catching at the border has gone up substantially. We have been intercepting, and helping other countries to intercept, drugs that have been going through New Zealand. The record of the New Zealand Customs Service is exemplary on every front. No one believes what that member asserts—not at all.
Ron Mark: When will this Government announce an all-out assault on gangs and organised crime, which are at the heart of these drug-smuggling operations and methamphetamine production, and does the Minister seriously believe that an introduction of $39 million over 4 years will make a serious dent in the methamphetamine trade, which is currently estimated at $400 million per annum?
Hon RICK BARKER: The member knows that we have increased the tariff for committing these crimes. It is now a High Court case. People can be subject to much longer sentences, and they will be. We are making other changes. We are catching people at a record rate. Other members complain about the number of people appearing before the courts. One of the reasons they are before the courts is that they have been caught on drug-related crimes. The Government is being very successful.
Marc Alexander: Does the Minister agree that if a local methamphetamine laboratory can turn a $20 packet of Sudafed or Telfast into $1,000 worth of that drug, then targeting local manufacturing is really the key in combating P; if not, can he explain why the P epidemic continues to be, in his words: “The single biggest illicit drug problem facing New Zealand”, despite increases in seizures at our borders?
Hon RICK BARKER: There are two problems in the drug trade—one is supply and the other is demand. The Government is operating on the supply end at both the New Zealand internal level by police action against clan-labs, etc, and in making sure the border is not porous and stopping drugs getting across the border. On the other side, we have to education the public that if they say no to drugs, then there will be no demand for them. It is up to individuals, communities, and all of us to say that this will be a drug-free country. When we do that there will be no illegal drug supply.
Question No. 11 to Minister
Hon ANNETTE KING (Minister for Food Safety): I seek leave to table information from the New Zealand Food Safety Authority stating that three farms found to have antibiotic-resistant bacteria in the Otago study came from antibiotic-free farms.
Document, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.
Question No. 10 to Minister—Amended Answer
Hon STEVE MAHAREY (Minister for Social Development and Employment): In my answer I said the Acting Minister informed the Secretary of Labour, Dr James Buwalda, that the source of the information regarding Ms Amokura Panoho was John Tamihere. Having checked with my colleague the Hon Ruth Dyson I can advise the House that the Acting Minister did not name the source of her information when passing it on to the Secretary of Labour. No name was mentioned.