Questions & Answers for Oral Answer 12 August 2004
Thursday, 12 August
Questions for Oral Answer
Question No. 2 to Minister
2. Community Employment Group—Beneficiaries
Question No. 1 to Minister
3. Community and Primary Health Care—Advice to Ministers
4. Tertiary Education—Community Education Funding
5. Floods—Government Assistance
6. Paedophile—Fund-raising for Child Cancer Foundation
7. Resource Management Act—Resource Planning
8. Christchurch Polytechnic Institute of Technology—COOL Programme
11. Police—Traffic Infringement Notices
12. Accident Compensation—Farming Premiums
Questions for Oral Answer
Questions to Ministers
1. Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS (Leader—NZ First) to the Minister of Finance: Has the Government got any concerns about the manner and details relating to the sale of Powerco; if so, what are they?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Minister of Finance): As an application will be required for sale approval under the Overseas Investment Act, I do not wish to comment on this matter at this stage.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Does the Minister feel threatened by the comment of one Mr Upson, who said that any Government move to block this sale would be seen as being anti-foreign investment; how does the Minister explain that this decision was made without any consultation, as required of those institutions by the Local Government Act; and is this sort of abuse of process one that this Government endorses?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: The chairman of the board made certain comments that I have since been assured were made in response to a false understanding of what I actually said in the House. So I do not propose to respond in kind to the comments that were made by the chairperson. On the other matters I say that the matter will be coming to me for consideration under the Overseas Investment Act, so I have no intention of commenting any further on it.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The Minister may be in charge of the Overseas Investment Commission, and he may have future responsibilities, but I am asking, as a member of this House, for answers, and I do not think that the Minister can hide behind some future decision process and thereby negate the processes of this House. I want to know whether consultation is required under the Local Government Act with the local community, and whether any of those matters have been brought to his attention.
Mr SPEAKER: That is not a point of order because, in actual fact, the Minister can answer as he pleases.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Is the Minister aware of the provisions of the Local Government Act: section 77, “Requirements in relation to decisions”, and section 78, “Community views in relation to decisions”, which has a prescription clause as to what community outcomes means in respect of consultation; and does he think in any way that what has happened in respect of Powerco complies with the requirements of the Local Government Act?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I am sure I shall receive advice on the way the process has been undertaken when the papers arrive, and when they do, I will consider them carefully, as I am bound to do. However, as I say, because I am going to be doing that I am not going to comment further on the matter at this point.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The Minister has just outlined his case for not answering the House. He has not said he will give any old answer at all; he is just saying: “I am not going to comment.” Well, frankly, this House has a question time, and Ministers cannot duck behind that. I know what the sub judice rule is, and I know what the requirements are in respect of his duties as a Minister. But nevertheless, he is duty bound, if this House has any status in this country, to reply and say what his answer is in respect of a much wider question—the question regarding the provisions of the Local Government Act, and those in particular that relate to community advice and consultation.
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I am not responsible for the Local Government Act or for those particular matters. I am responsible for consideration of an application under the Overseas Investment Act. I will take into account those matters that are deemed appropriate at the time, but I am not going to comment on that process until I receive the material.
Mr SPEAKER: I refer the member to Speaker’s ruling 144/6.
Question No. 2 to Minister
Mr SPEAKER: I have been advised by the Minister that because there are two quite lengthy parts to this question, he will be giving a slightly longer answer than usual, and I have said that is fine by me.
Community Employment Group—Beneficiaries
2. KATHERINE RICH (National) to the Minister for Social Development and Employment: Does he stand by his response yesterday that Community Employment Group - funded advice to beneficiaries on “safeguarding their income without jeopardising their benefits” can be “helpful”, and is he satisfied that programmes funded by the Community Employment Group are an acceptable use of taxpayer funding?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY (Minister for Social Development and Employment): Mr Speaker, as you have said, there are two distinct parts to the member’s question, so the answer will be a little longer than usual.
On the second part, many projects funded by the Community Employment Group have worked quite well for disadvantaged groups throughout the country. However, the Government has concerns about the way that a number of grants have been used, which is why there have been investigations into a number of them. I have initiated a review of the Social Entrepreneur Fund, which has resulted in its termination, and I have initiated a review of the Community Employment Group itself.
The first part of this question has taken what I said yesterday out of context. What I said was: “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.” The member has, as usual, distorted the facts.
Katherine Rich: Further to the Minister’s response, is it not the aim of the Community Employment Group to help people to be independent, not to help them hide their income so that they can remain on a benefit?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: Yes, it certainly is the aim of the Community Employment Group to ensure that people can go to work. But can I just come back to the case the member raised specifically yesterday, as an illustration. I have had the case the member referred to yesterday checked out. As usual, the member was wrong. Income received from the craft operation has been reported to Work and Income for the last 3 years, and taken into account in calculating benefit entitlement. The member has made other allegations yesterday and previously, and I have investigated those as well. I have to say that, in almost every single case, she has chosen to distort those facts in a way that suits her. I invite her to make the allegations about the Mâori Women’s Welfare League outside Parliament.
Georgina Beyer: What outcomes have been achieved from the Mahi a Whânau project that the Community Employment Group has funded the Mâori Women’s Welfare League to carry out?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: There have been a number of positive outcomes. Eight regional Mahi a Whânau networks have been established, focusing on Mâori who run small businesses around, basically, Mâori arts and crafts. A basic business course has been established in each of the eight Mâori Women’s Welfare League regions. Exhibitions were held in galleries in Auckland, giving 44 artists exhibition exposure, and new works have been commissioned. The league has also been giving hands-on business advice and brokering to many organisations assisting with small business. I think that criticising the Mâori Women’s Welfare League in the way that Katherine Rich has done has been harmful. She should do it outside the House so that the league can answer her directly.
Katherine Rich: What is there to misinterpret or distort, when his own officials write the following: “The group has recently, I don’t know quite when, experienced a systems failure, signing blank cheques which resulted in fraud.”; is he telling the House that his own investigations have found that his own officials got it wrong; if so, what is he going to do about it?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: As the member has discovered a number of times in this House, Community Employment Group officials have got it wrong. That is why they are being reviewed.
Dr Muriel Newman: Are the Minister’s officials right or wrong to be concerned about pre-signed cheques for Community Employment Group funding and the potential for fraud?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: They sure are, and I would endorse their being very concerned about those kinds of behaviours. But can I refer the member to the transcript where the Mâori Women’s Welfare League explains exactly what happens to its cheques. I will not read it out; it is a long interview. The league concludes, as everybody else who reads this interview will, that Ms Rich should try making her accusations outside the House, so that it can sue her.
Rodney Hide: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The Minister’s answer was “They sure are,”. I do not know whether they sure are wrong or sure are right. I wonder whether he could explain which the answer was.
Mr SPEAKER: No, he does not have to. I thought he gave an adequate addressing of the question.
Rodney Hide: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker.
Mr SPEAKER: The member had better have a point of order. Three times yesterday and, now, once today his points have not been points of order. What is the point of order?
Rodney Hide: The point of order is this. When the Minister, having been asked whether they were right or wrong, gets up and says “They sure are,” you might be able to discern whether they were right or wrong in the Minister’s view, but I cannot and neither can anyone else in this House.
Mr SPEAKER: Well, that was not what he was asked.
Rodney Hide: He was asked that.
Mr SPEAKER: I will have a look at the transcript, and if I am wrong I will certainly apologise to the member, but that is not what I thought. I thought his answer “They sure are,” was to his being asked whether he was concerned about people with blank cheques, and he said “They sure are”.
Rodney Hide: Let us not run off to the Hansard, because we have asked a question and we would like it answered. The question is whether the Minister thinks they were right or wrong to be concerned.
Mr SPEAKER: That is another question. The member can ask it.
Hon Member: It is the same question.
Mr SPEAKER: The same question. If the Minister likes to expand on the answer, he can.
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: What I said was that the group would be very right to be concerned about people pre-signing cheques in a way that was wrong. But the accusations raised by Katherine Rich are ones I would love her to make outside the House, so that the league can have a go at her.
Katherine Rich: Does the Minister support Community Employment Group grants to organisations like Cook Islands and Samoan golf, or the $28,000 grant to the Common Knowledge Trust to promote the Pink Kit Method for Birthing Better, which, according to the organisation’s website, answers questions like “Am I big enough to get my baby out?”, and can help a woman discover her own “unique shape” and —intriguingly—“create more space” for her baby?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: This Government does not support any grant that is done in an inappropriate way or is used inappropriately. But I want to say to the member opposite that she distorts continually grants that have been made. I want to use one other example. She came into the House the other day and said that $2,000 had been used to develop a website. It had not; it had been used for email. It had been properly used, she was wrong, and I wish she would make these accusations outside the House.
Question No. 1 to Minister
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS (Leader—NZ First): I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I have read the Speaker’s ruling you referred me to, from the Hon Peter Tapsell—
Mr SPEAKER: It was actually my ruling. Speaker’s ruling 130/6 was one of my rulings. The member has the wrong edition of Speakers’ Rulings.
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: I have it here.
Mr SPEAKER: Speaker’s ruling 144/6, I think I said.
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: I thought you were relying on the rule: “The Speaker cannot force a Minister to give an answer to a question and has no responsibility for the quality of the answer that is given nor its content.”
Mr SPEAKER: Speaker’s ruling 144/6 is my ruling of 2002—“Form of reply”. That is the answer I gave, and that is the ruling I have here.
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: I am not too concerned about that, other than to say to you—
Hon Members: Ha, ha!
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: I will tell the House why. The very same criteria apply here as applied at the time of the sale to an Arab of a Coromandel sheep farm, and as applied on 6 June 1989 when the first one-third of the BNZ was sold, and no Minister then defended himself on the basis that he could not answer because it was subject to some later scrutiny. Those provisions have always been there, and if this House has got to the stage now where a Minister can duck behind some future tribunal, then this House is being denied its proper access to information. There are countless examples of high-country farms, high-profile sales, all of which have come to this House in question time, and Ministers, in the past, have answered. But today we have got something different, and we had the same yesterday: “It’s going to the Overseas Investment Commission, and therefore I can’t comment.” Frankly, either the Overseas Investment Commission is superior to Parliament, or Parliament has the right to be asking questions on this matter, today.
Mr SPEAKER: That is for the Minister to consider, not the Speaker.
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS (Leader—NZ First): I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Are you telling me that it is up to the Minister to decide the processes of this House and the level of accountability of Ministers? Because that is what you said—that it is up to the Minister to decide. Frankly, it is not. It is up, in the end, for us to decide. Where you are concerned, it is up to us to decide, and it is up for you to require of the Minister that he gives something like an adequate answer. There would be no other Western democracy where he would get away with that.
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Minister of Finance): Putting aside that last point, which is completely nonsensical because Ministers do not answer questions in Parliament in the United States, for a beginning, the point is not that the sale is going to the Overseas Investment Commission particularly; it is that it is coming to me. I have to make the decision, and in that case I am not going to comment on the factors I am going to be taking into account in the making of that decision. Furthermore, the member should read the Speakers’ ruling again: “An answer to a question ought to be given if it can be given consistently with the public interest;”. In the end it is for the Minister to determine whether it is in the public interest to give the answer; it is not up to the Speaker to determine that fact.
Mr SPEAKER: MPs can ask questions; Ministers decide how they answer. [Interruption] Order! That is the last warning today. If the member interrupts me again while I am on my feet, the member leaves. MPs can ask questions; Ministers decide how they answer. MPs can then criticise the answer.
GERRY BROWNLEE (Deputy Leader—National): I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. You will be aware the various parties in Opposition have expressed to you, over a long period now, dissatisfaction at the way in which questions are being answered in the House. The fact is we have to go to some effort to prove the veracity of the question, in the first place, then when we come down here we have it regularly batted away by Ministers, who routinely decide they are not going to give an answer. I notice Speakers’ ruling 144/5 includes rulings from previous Speakers Harrison and Gray that indicate that Ministers are not obliged to answer questions. I wonder, Mr Speaker, given that this trend now appears to be taking hold, whether you might consider asking the Standing Orders Committee to consider whether that might become a formal arrangement—that a Minister who does not want to answer a question indicates so at 10 o’clock in the morning, when oral questions are lodged, so that the Opposition is given time to ask a question to which the Minister may be able to oblige with an answer.
Hon RICHARD PREBBLE (ACT): Mr Brownlee talked of “Opposition parties”, so I thought I should rise on this matter. The Standing Orders are quite clear. Speaker’s ruling 144(2) states: “An answer to a question ought to be given if it can be given consistently with the public interest; an answer can be absolutely refused if, in the opinion of the Minister interrogated, the public interest would be imperilled by giving the information sought.” The Minister actually told the House—not today, but yesterday—that he will have to consider this matter, and, given that, it is not proper for him to give an opinion now, before the parties have had an opportunity to make a case to him. I would have said—taking Mr Brownlee’s point—that Mr Peters knew yesterday that the Minister would give that answer. It is completely ridiculous to suggest that you, Mr Speaker, should order the Minister to give an answer, when it is clearly in the public interest that he consider the matter properly. I say to Mr Peters that, for all he knows, the Minister of Finance might give an answer, eventually, that he likes.
Mr SPEAKER: I do not need any further assistance on this. I thank the Hon Richard Prebble, because I could not have put it better myself. The Minister did not refuse to answer; his answer was that he did not intend to comment. That is his judgment. As far as I am concerned, Ministers have been batting away questions ever since I came here in 1967—and that is 38½ years. I am just past the midpoint in my career here! But I say to the member that he can ask the Standing Orders Committee to have a look at it, and if it has a look at it and comes to an agreement, the Standing Orders can be changed.
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS (Leader—NZ First): I seek leave to table the relevant sections of the Local Government Act 2002 in respect of planning, decision making, and accountability, and relating to the requirements in respect of consultation with the community.
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection? There is.
Community and Primary Health Care—Advice to Ministers
3. STEVE CHADWICK (Labour—Rotorua) to the Minister of Health: What recent innovations in community and primary health care has the Minister been advised of, and what impact will these have on the health of New Zealanders?
Hon ANNETTE KING (Minister of Health): Some excellent recent developments in community health have arisen out of the new primary health environment, which has an emphasis on keeping people well and out of hospital. I will give a few examples. The Auckland District Health Board and ProCare have commenced a project that has reduced the waiting time for heartburn treatment, improved patient access, and made an estimated saving of $1.5 million. In Gore, a community wellness and education programme has been established that has had great success—in particular, the review of medications now being undertaken by local pharmacists—and the Hutt Valley Cardiac Continuum of Care programme has provided a greatly improved service, with immediate access to diagnostic tools. I have many other examples that I am happy to table.
Steve Chadwick: Are those innovations being recognised publicly, and how has the health sector responded to them?
Hon ANNETTE KING: Yes, they have. The first Health Innovation Awards were held in 2003. This year’s awards were held in partnership with Telecom and attracted over 100 entries of exceptional standard, reflecting the world-class depth of talent and ability in the New Zealand health sector.
Judith Collins: Does the Minister have any concerns about the reports of unethical behaviour by doctors working in the primary health care area who have succumbed to pressure from patients to help them wrongly transfer from the unemployment benefit to the sickness benefit; and has she done anything at all to investigate those accusations?
Hon ANNETTE KING: I have concerns about any unethical behaviour amongst any health professionals. However, the responsibility to investigate unethical behaviour is not in the hands of the Minister of Health. This House made it clear that it wanted self-regulation of the medical profession when it passed the Health Practitioners Competence Assurance Act. I am aware, through my colleague, that the Medical Council has looked at this issue. That is the right organisation to look at it.
Barbara Stewart: Do these recent innovations ensure that children under 6 have access to free health-care, regardless of their locality?
Hon ANNETTE KING: In a recent survey we noted that most parts of New Zealand provided free health-care to under-sixes—not all parts of New Zealand, and they never have from the time the programme was introduced in 1997. But I am pleased to tell the member that the costs for under-sixes is still low.
Sue Kedgley: Is the Minister concerned that the latest New Zealand Medical Association figures show that between 1998 and 2002 there has been a 13.4 percent drop in the number of general practitioners who identify general practice as their main work; and does she agree that if this trend continues, the situation will deteriorate into a major crisis, putting patient safety at risk?
Hon ANNETTE KING: Yes, I would be concerned if that were the trend, but maybe the member has not read the latest New Zealand Doctor that came out today, which shows a sharp increase in general practitioner trainees. In fact, the number of students applying for a place in general practice training has increased sharply. That is very good news. The reason they are interested in training in general practice is the investment this Government has put into primary health care, and the emphasis we have put on this part of the health system.
Tertiary Education—Community Education Funding
4. Hon BILL ENGLISH (National—Clutha-Southland) to the Associate Minister of Education (Tertiary Education): When will he begin investigations at Tairâwhiti Polytechnic, the Manukau Institute of Technology, the Eastern Institute of Technology, and other big recipients of community education funding in order to ensure that enrolments resulted in student engagement and learning, as he indicated he would yesterday?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY (Associate Minister of Education (Tertiary Education)): The Tertiary Education Commission has already been investigating all community education funding recipients where concerns have been raised in relation to enrolments and learner engagement. In addition, in June the commission decided to undertake a further review of community education focusing on selected polytechnics, including the ones the member mentioned. Joanna Beresford of Martin, Jenkins, and Associates has been commissioned to undertake the review, and the commission has written to all tertiary education institutions, explaining the scope and the timing of the review. The outcome of this work will be used to assess the community education component and the profiles that the institutions submit to the commission. The review will also clarify best practice for setting priorities in this area, and will highlight issues for further development in the management of community education.
Hon Bill English: Will the Minister apply the same rules to those other polytechnics that he has said he will apply to Christchurch Polytechnic—namely, that if they cannot show that the thousands of students they enrolled did at least some of the course, he will require them to refund the money the taxpayer paid for those courses?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: As the member knows, the Tertiary Education Commission has set powers under the Act. At the present time it is exercising those by talking with institutions about whether enrolments are valid and whether learner engagement has taken place. I have been on record as saying that in my view, where people have misused or inappropriately used the Government funding, that money should be paid back.
Dr Ashraf Choudhary: What action has the Minister taken to tighten the tertiary funding rules?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: When I became the Minister responsible for the tertiary education area, tuition subsidies had just been uncapped by the previous Government. It has become increasingly apparent that the funding rules I inherited were not adequate. As a result, over the past 4 years I have regulated tuition fees, imposed a moratorium and then a cap on private providers, put restrictions on the inclusion of rewards and equipment such as computers as a part of courses, put a restriction on overseas travel, capped aviation, limited the maximum annual enrolment growth rate to 15 percent, and capped community education. It does take quite a long time to clean up National Government messes.
Hon Bill English: If the Minister has taken all those measures, then why has there been an $800 million increase in equivalent full-time student funding, and why has by far the majority of that gone on community funding and foundation-level courses that have been described by his own officials as “EFTS harvesting for financial gain”—and is that not an $800 million mess?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: I think the reason that people have grown so rapidly in the 5.1 area is that they have seen the Government closing doors, one by one, around funding. The institutions know they are being profiled this year, and they know that once those profiles are in place a funding agreement will be signed, which will limit what they can do. That is why I regret that some of the institutions appear to have taken that last gasp of opportunity to use National’s funding model.
5. JILL PETTIS (Labour—Whanganui) to the Minister of Agriculture: What further support has the Government provided to farmers affected by recent floods?
Hon JIM SUTTON (Minister of Agriculture): The Government moved swiftly to assist those who have been affected by the recent floods, earthquakes, and landslides in the Bay of Plenty. Ministers announced last week an agricultural recovery package and other measures to repair schools, fix roads, and give direct help to low-income earners and people who had to be evacuated. The Government is matching, dollar for dollar, any funds raised to support affected people, and almost $200,000 has been given to local councils to pay for immediate needs.
Jill Pettis: Can people have confidence that their needs will be met as they recover and rebuild after this disaster?
Hon JIM SUTTON: Absolutely! The Government and all its agencies are focusing on providing services to address people’s needs. We are committed to a prompt and practical response to enable people to resume their lives. Although we are careful to use taxpayers’ dollars prudently, in the circumstances we do put people before dollars.
Hon Tony Ryall: In light of the quite substantial concerns of Federated Farmers and those involved in the flood recovery, is the Government prepared to lower the threshold for rural recovery assistance to smaller farmers from $10,000 to $5,000?
Hon JIM SUTTON: The Government has, in fact, undertaken to do that—
Simon Power: To lower the threshold?
Hon JIM SUTTON: Yes. We have reduced the threshold in the Bay of Plenty to $5,000 or 10 percent of qualifying expenditure—whichever is higher.
Ian Ewen-Street: What practical steps has the Minister taken to implement the recommendation of Landcare Research, following the Manawatû-Wanganui storm event in February and the lessons learnt from Cyclone Bola, that marginal hill-country grazing land should be re-afforested; and if he is not taking any practical steps, when will he do so?
Hon JIM SUTTON: In fact, the Government has taken a decision in respect of forested areas that were damaged in that storm, and it is engaged in a longer-term process to determine appropriate policies to encourage prudent afforestation on vulnerable hill country. But in the context of the immediate response to these recent disasters, that has been put aside for more careful consideration in the longer term.
Judy Turner: Can the Minister explain why river sand deposited on pasture cannot be returned to the river; and what solutions have been suggested to stop farmers having to wait until next autumn to till that sand back into their pastures and reclaim their currently unusable acreage?
Hon JIM SUTTON: I hesitate to proffer advice on the technical questions of pasture restoration. As for returning sand to the riverbed, that is certainly a matter for the regional council.
Tariana Turia: Given that there are other members of rural communities also affected by the floods, why have they not been assisted to the same level that farmers have, and why are the conditions of their houses, roads, and facilities are still in such disrepair as to prevent those people from being able to return to their homes even now?
Hon JIM SUTTON: My portfolio responsibility is directed to the agriculture recovery programme, and I can assure the member, in case she is worried that we are being too generous, that we are not attempting to compensate people for their loss of income. We are attempting to give them a helping hand to get their businesses back and operating again in the interests of the whole community.
Simon Power: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I wonder whether the Minister would clarify his answer to an earlier question, when I thought I heard him say that the level of spending relates—
Mr SPEAKER: That is not a point of order, it is a supplementary question, and the member is entitled to have one. [Interruption] I am not having those sorts of interjections. He who is without sin can cast the first stone.
Simon Power: Can the Minister confirm that his statement that Bay of Plenty farmers will need to cross only a $5,000 threshold to access the Government package, will also apply to those properties affected by the February floods in Manawatû, Rangitîkei, and Whanganui?
Hon JIM SUTTON: I am prepared to take the member through this issue later if he likes, but to put it shortly, the threshold in the Bay of Plenty provides more for people with a small amount of damage and slightly less for people with a large amount of damage, compared with the lower North Island. In respect of the lower North Island flooding, the member did make representation to me seeking to lower the threshold, but while that would replicate in the lower North Island the process we put in place in the Bay of Plenty and would mean giving more to people with a small amount of damage, it would also involve giving less to people with a large amount of damage than they have been given reason to expect. So it is not really possible to go back and change that. But we have learnt from that, and I think we have an improved system in place for the Bay of Plenty.
Paedophile—Fund-raising for Child Cancer Foundation
6. DEBORAH CODDINGTON (ACT) to the Minister of Corrections: Why did Corrections allow one of New Zealand’s worst child sex abusers, Roy David Bailey, to lead a fund-raiser for the Child Cancer Foundation without informing the foundation of his crimes, and what other charities have been assisted by inmates without the charities’ knowledge?
Hon PAUL SWAIN (Minister of Corrections): The department has supported inmates’ involvement in fund-raising events and charity work as part of their rehabilitation and restitution. However, there are no rules around how these events are approved and organised, and the information that is made available. While I support inmates being involved in charity work, I do not think it is appropriate that a convicted paedophile is organising a fund-raising event for the Child Cancer Foundation. I have asked the department to develop a policy on inmate involvement in charity work.
Deborah Coddington: Does the Minister think it appropriate that the Department of Corrections continues to state that there was no need for the Child Cancer Foundation to be advised that Roy David Bailey is one of New Zealand’s worst child sex abusers; if so, why?
Hon PAUL SWAIN: As I said, there has not, apparently, been need for a policy up until now, but obviously this has highlighted a gap in the policy area. I certainly agree that if a charity wanted information it should be advised about the nature of the offences of the group of offenders involved.
Rodney Hide: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The question was quite specific. It asked the Minister whether he thought it was appropriate that the Department of Corrections still holds the view that it did not need to advise the Child Cancer Foundation. The Minister’s response was to say that there is a policy hole and that if the foundation asked, then it should be told, but the specific question was whether the Minister thinks it appropriate that the department should keep the charity in the dark.
Mr SPEAKER: The Minister answered that in the last sentence. I heard him quite clearly.
Deborah Coddington: Can the Minister tell us what specific policy that those dangerous criminals have acted under and have been encouraged by the Department of Corrections to solicit money from the public for charity; and can he tell us whether inmates get that work considered when they apply for parole?
Hon PAUL SWAIN: In answer to the second part, it may be taken into account. In answer to the first part, I point out that inmates have been involved in a whole range of charity issues, for example, helping in flood relief in Wanganui and other areas, which I think many people support. They come forward, often, with ideas. But I think it is important that we get the policy around the arrangement—between the fund-raising event, the people involved, and the organisation itself—clearer and tighter, and that is what I have asked the department to come back with a policy on within the next month.
Ron Mark: How many more times will the Minister allow himself to be embarrassed in the House by the shoddy management practices of the Department of Corrections, or is this clearly the new era of accountability that the Prime Minister alluded to when she came to power?
Hon PAUL SWAIN: Hopefully not many more.
Deborah Coddington: Will the Minister now apologise on behalf of the Government to the Child Cancer Foundation, to members of Parliament, and to the public, who have been manipulated by Roy David Bailey with the approval of the Department of Corrections; if not, why not?
Hon PAUL SWAIN: I do not think an apology is appropriate. I consider the matter not to be appropriate, and I will do something about making sure these kinds of things do not happen again.
Rodney Hide: Was the Minister aware before it was put to him by the media that prison inmates were fund-raising in that way? If he was not aware, would he expect to be informed of such activity going on in prisons?
Hon PAUL SWAIN: I, like, I suppose, all members of Parliament, received a letter on this matter. From memory I think that letter came prior to it being in the media this morning. No, I would not expect every individual thing that goes on in a prison to be brought to my attention.
Deborah Coddington: I seek leave to table a letter from Roy Bailey seeking sponsorship.
Document, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.
Resource Management Act—Resource Planning
7. JEANETTE FITZSIMONS (Co-Leader—Green) to the Minister for the Environment: Does she agree that “the RMA is a very sound basis for resource planning. Relative to the comparable law in other OECD countries it is low cost and easy to negotiate.”, and that “The Act has been used as a scapegoat, taking the blame for the failure of consent applications which would have been marginal under any system that weighed the various interests fairly and respected natural justice.”?
Hon MARIAN HOBBS (Minister for the Environment): Yes.
Jeanette Fitzsimons: Why, then, does the officials’ paper that was released today under the Official Information Act refer to proposals to change Part II, “Purpose and Principles”, for a more balanced expression of the national interest, to change section 6(c) of the purpose and principles, which protects biodiversity, and to add a schedule giving guidance on matters of national importance?
Hon MARIAN HOBBS: I remind the questioner that that policy has not been confirmed. I do draw the member’s attention to the guiding principles governing the Resource Management Act review, and they include achieving good environmental outcomes, certainty of process and not outcome, certainty of cost, local decision-making, public participation, and central government leadership.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: How can she claim with any credibility that this latest Resource Management Act reform package will deal with the serious problems of delays, costs, and uncertainty, when just last year, in 2003, the Minister passed an amendment to the Resource Management Act that she said would address those very issues, and now we are back again, 12 months later, trying to tackle the same questions?
Hon MARIAN HOBBS: We are always trying to improve the Resource Management Act, and I think we always will be.
David Parker: Is the Minister aware of other statements by the Minister of Finance to the Wellington Rotary club about the Resource Management Act?
Hon MARIAN HOBBS: Yes, Dr Cullen said the ideas and principles that underpin the Resource Management Act are not in question. Rather, our aim is to get greater certainty and efficiency in the way the Act operates, and to make it better able to address larger resource issues that are of national, or at least trans-regional, importance.
Hon Ken Shirley: Can the Minister name one new resource-based industry established in New Zealand since the enactment of the Resource Management Act some 13 years ago; if so, what is that industry?
Hon MARIAN HOBBS: Extensions to a variety of aquaculture.
Hon Ken Shirley: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. My question was: “Can the Minister name one new resource-based industry …”. I did not ask about the extension of existing industries. I asked whether there had been one new industry.
Mr SPEAKER: The Minister addressed the question. I am not judging the answer; that is for the House to judge.
Larry Baldock: Does the Minister agree that more can be accomplished in improving the implementation of the Resource Management Act by focusing on changes to the process parts of the Act than by making any major changes to the Part II foundations of the Act?
Hon MARIAN HOBBS: With the proviso that policy is still being developed, I can say that we are identifying a range of solutions to make the Act work better for all New Zealanders. We are assured that we can do that without compromising the environment.
Hon Dr Michael Cullen: Can the Minister confirm that 4 minutes ago the Government announced a new 385 megawatt combined-cycle gas turbine plant is to be built at Huntly under the existing Resource Management Act, and that it has been successfully consented to?
Hon MARIAN HOBBS: Gratefully, yes.
Jeanette Fitzsimons: Who is right: the officials’ paper that was just released, which states the purpose and principles will be changed in several ways, or her Associate Minister, who said on Radio New Zealand this morning that changes to the purpose and principles are neither necessary nor likely?
Hon MARIAN HOBBS: I would like to remind my honourable colleague over there that the policy is still being developed and debated.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: How is it that this Resource Management Act review detail of final package paper was released to the Royal Forest and Bird Protection Society, including handwritten notes from the Minister’s private secretary of what was and was not to be supported by the Government, when normally all such papers are withheld until there is a final Government decision; was that a mistake, and if so, by whom, or is that now standard Government practice?
Hon MARIAN HOBBS: It was a response to an Official Information Act request.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The Minister’s response that it was just an Official Information Act request does not answer the question of whether Cabinet normally does not release papers until final decisions are made. This paper was an exception, so why was it released to the Royal Forest and Bird Protection Society when no other party had received it? I did not get any sort of answer to that. To just refer blandly to an Act does not answer the fundamental question.
Mr SPEAKER: If the Minister wants to add a little to that, she can do so.
Hon MARIAN HOBBS: Ministerial offices can have different practices.
Jeanette Fitzsimons: Can the Minister confirm that the number of infrastructure projects declined under the Resource Management Act could be counted on one hand, while dozens of big projects like power stations, mines, motorways, prisons, and poorly designed dumps have got consent; and does that not suggest that the Act needs strengthening, and not weakening?
Hon MARIAN HOBBS: The Act will be strengthened, and will continue to protect the environment. I do not keep a score sheet, but I do know that the environment has been protected in New Zealand. The other day we saw two examples of a bridge being put across an area to save some river quality in Auckland.
Larry Baldock: Has the Minister had any reports of how much time it currently takes to process resource consents through the Environment Court, and if those reports confirm that long delays at the court are a thing of the past, does she agree that direct referral will not be as useful a recommendation as was once thought?
Hon MARIAN HOBBS: I really appreciate that question, because it is worth noting that when I became the Minister for the Environment there was a backlog of more than 3,000 cases in the Environment Court. It is now down to 1,200. At that time there was also a languishing request for more judges from the Resource Management Law Association, and a proposal from National—at the same time that it had a backlog of 3,000 cases, not enough judges, and a poorly resourced court—to load up that poorly resourced court even further.
Jeanette Fitzsimons: Now that the backlog in the Environment Court has been massively reduced, will the Minister keep her earlier promise to consider again allowing notification decisions to be reviewed by the Environment Court as a check on councils that have been found by the High Court to be illegally shutting people out of the decision, so that those people do not face the massive cost of a High Court review, which cannot provide redress, anyway?
Hon MARIAN HOBBS: Although the policy is still being developed at the moment, I prefer not to keep on loading the Environment Court; 1,200 cases are still too much of a backlog.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: I seek leave of the House to table the Ministry for the Environment Resource Management Act review detail of final package that was released exclusively to the Royal Forest and Bird Protection Society.
Document, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.
Jeanette Fitzsimons: Does the Minister see a fundamental difference between the desecration of Jewish grave sites at Makara and the continuing destruction around the country of wâhi tapu and urupâ, and what is her view of the proposal in the paper to further weaken the rights of iwi to participate in the consent process, where they are likely to be the only voice in favour of protecting their sacred sites?
Hon MARIAN HOBBS: I agree that we all honour our dead, whether at memorials in Greece—as we just heard the other day at the beginning of the Olympic Games—whether they be in wâhi tapu, or whether they be in our own community cemeteries. I ask for us to be consistent and informed on this issue, and I say there is no proposal in this paper to lessen the involvement of iwi or hapû.
Christchurch Polytechnic Institute of Technology—COOL Programme
8. Hon BILL ENGLISH (National—Clutha-Southland) to the Associate Minister of Education (Tertiary Education): Does he regard the potential conflict of interest outlined in the Tertiary Education Commission Review of the Christchurch Polytechnic Institute of Technology COOL programme as acceptable in a publicly funded institution; if so, why?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY (Associate Minister of Education (Tertiary Education)): I would suggest that the member wait for the report of the office of the Auditor-General on this matter. Once I have read the report I will be happy to comment, and I imagine he will be too.
Hon Bill English: Does the Minister agree with Christchurch Polytechnic’s point of view that because Ms Buck was a contractor, and not a member of the council nor a member of the staff, she was not subject to conflict-of-interest rules, and does that mean that contractors in polytechs around New Zealand can do what they like when it comes to their personal interests?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: No, people cannot do what they like, but I would urge the member to wait for the report of the Auditor-General on this matter. I certainly do not intend to second-guess him while he is doing that work.
H V Ross Robertson: Is the Minister satisfied with the performance of the Christchurch Polytechnic Institute of Technology’s council on this particular issue?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: As I said, I will reserve my judgment until I see the Office of the Controller and Auditor-General’s report. But I do note, with approval, that the Christchurch Polytechnic Institute of Technology responded quickly to public concerns in May by engaging its external auditors, Audit New Zealand, to undertake a review of any conflict of interest. That action led to a statement on 3 June that: “I am pleased to see that the council of the polytechnic have also recognised the need for an independent audit.” That quote came from Bill English.
Hon Bill English: Is the Minister telling the House that as a steward of almost $9 billion of public money, he has none of the ethical equipment that will tell him there is a conflict of interest when Ms Buck is a director and owner of the software company, and when his own officials have told him that she played an active role in the promotion and marketing of the course and the administrative function supporting that marketing, that she personally went to libraries and shopping malls to recruit students, all the time knowing that for every student she recruited her personal company pocketed $400, and that she recruited 18,000 students?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: No, what I am telling the House is that the Auditor-General has a report coming. Bill English asked for that report. I suggest that we do not second-guess it, and that we wait to read it.
Hon Bill English: Can the Minister tell the House whether he has any ethical understanding about public service values and the protection of public money that gives him any concern about the thoroughly well-documented conflict of interest of Ms Vicki Buck, as a director of development at Christchurch polytech at the same time that she had a personal, private interest in a company that pocketed over $6 million of public money?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: I have such a strong ethical framework that I have spent the last 5 years closing all the loopholes left by that party when it was previously in Government, and I have such a strong ethical framework that I am deeply concerned about anybody who has a conflict of interest. I have such a strong commitment to ethics that I will wait for the Auditor-General to report, and I will talk then.
Ron Mark: I seek leave for Mr English to give me an indication as to how many pairs of underpants that money might have bought.
Mr SPEAKER: No, that is silly.
9. RON MARK (NZ First) to the Minister of Police: Is he satisfied that police are sufficiently resourced in order to respond to all facets of crime?
Hon GEORGE HAWKINS (Minister of Police): Generally yes. The budget exceeds $1 billion, crime is tracking down, resolution rates are improving steadily, and the road toll is falling. This contrasts with when National was in Government. Under the Martin review, National tried to slash 540 police jobs and save $35 million a year.
Ron Mark: What confidence should a Wellington woman have that this is the case when, having reported the theft of her wallet on 1 July, she provided, between 13 and 20 July, specific evidence that might have led to an arrest, repeatedly called the police to ascertain progress, and on 21 July, out of frustration at the lack of any response, wrote to the police reiterating the details she had previously supplied and urging that they be investigated, and still has not yet had a reply to that letter?
Hon GEORGE HAWKINS: If the member had been wise he would have put that down in his primary question and he would have received an answer. This way, he does not.
Mr SPEAKER: I think the Minister’s last sentence could have been phrased a little differently. The first part of the answer, about putting the details down as a primary question, was perfectly in order, but I invite the Minister to complete the answer after that part.
Hon GEORGE HAWKINS: It would be sensible if people actually tried to tell the Minister what they wanted information on. They would then get their questions answered.
Ron Mark: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The essential part of the question was: what confidence should the woman have that the resources are there? I am not asking him to explain the case.
Mr SPEAKER: The Minister addressed the question, and he did it in his way.
Moana Mackey: Has he seen any claims around police funding?
Hon GEORGE HAWKINS: Yes, the president of the Police Association, Greg O’Connor, claimed on the Holmes show this week that 25 percent of the funding is traffic. But he said that if we ask most district commanders, it is about 70 percent of the effort and the rest of the policing is virtually having to be done out of petty cash. Mr O’Connor damages his own credibility, and that of his membership, with such blatant rubbish. We spend $1.06 billion on policing annually, and of that, $826 million goes on crime reduction. That is hardly petty cash.
Hon Tony Ryall: Surely the concentration of resources and additional staff on traffic enforcement has been to the demise of general front-line policing, and is that not the explanation for why, in his own police district, the police are responding only to life-threatening situations and in about half the required safe period?
Hon GEORGE HAWKINS: All police have responsibilities to investigate crime and to stop it where they see it, and that is happening. I can tell members that in my own district crime is dropping dramatically, as it is over New Zealand.
Rod Donald: Does the Minister accept that significant amounts of police time are being wasted for no good reason, especially in the light of the study published this year by Reinarman, Cohen, and Kaal in the American Journal of Public Health, which shows that the decriminalisation of cannabis does not increase its use, and that making cannabis illegal does not reduce its use; if not, why not?
Hon GEORGE HAWKINS: I must say that I am amazed that people sort out the type of crime they think should be all right. In the case of the Greens it is cannabis, and in the case of other parties it is road traffic, fraud, and all those sorts of things. I have to say that police concentrate on everything, and the resource is well used.
Marc Alexander: Is the real reason the Minister is under-resourcing the real needs of police that attaining higher apprehension and resolution rates is pointless when there is a 35,000 case backlog in the courts, when some offenders will never face justice, and when prisons and the probation service are overflowing; if not, why not?
Hon GEORGE HAWKINS: This Government is really attacking crime very, very hard. The money is going there. I have to thank the Minister of Finance for being so generous. The police have never had it so good. I must thank my colleague the Minister of Corrections for building more prisons, and of course, unlike the Nats, I am welcoming one in my own electorate.
Gordon Copeland: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I doubt whether the Minister really addressed the question. The question basically asked whether the resourcing of police is frustrated by the significant backlog in the courts. I do not think that question was addressed in the answer.
Hon GEORGE HAWKINS: I am not the Minister for Courts.
Ron Mark: Can the Minister tell the House that if a citizen had an unlisted number of a woman friend in her wallet, and her wallet was stolen, and then an unknown man called her friend on that number, leaving behind on her caller identification his phone number from which he called, would it not be relatively easy for the police to follow that lead, or is it truly the case that the police are overworked, do not have enough manpower, have case workloads that are too high, and do not have the funding to be able to purchase the information they need?
Hon GEORGE HAWKINS: I have told that member many times that the police are better funded now than they have ever been. They do have the resources. If the member wants whodunnits and “what ifs” he should read Sherlock Holmes.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Seeing the Minister has put into contention the issue of slashing police numbers, why was it that he wrote in a recent Sunday News article, under his name, that police numbers were slashed when Winston Peters was Treasurer; and will he resign if it is not true?
Hon GEORGE HAWKINS: What was true was that when the work was started on the Martin review, he was Treasurer. When it was implemented, he had already broken up with the Nats. He had had enough of them, and I think: “Good on him!”
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I am trying to ask this Minister a very simple question. He cannot duck out by citing some review that did not take place in respect of its finality when I was there, or any other decision. He knows full well that the greatest police numbers we ever had in training were in 1997-98. I am asking him now, seeing he wrote that in his column, whether he will resign if it is not true—yes or no?
Mr SPEAKER: He does not have to answer yes or no. He has to address the question.
Hon GEORGE HAWKINS: The Martin review was started when that member was Treasurer and Mr Mark was the whip. Of course, it went on and it took this Government to pull it out and start reinstating jobs.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I seek leave to table the evidence and press releases of that time, demonstrating that the highest police intake of all times was when I was Treasurer.
Document, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.
Rod Donald: I seek leave to table the report from the American Journal of Public Health that states that making cannabis illegal does not reduce its use.
Document, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.
10. HELEN DUNCAN (Labour) to the Minister of Education: What reports, if any, has he received on possible changes to school zoning policies?
Hon TREVOR MALLARD (Minister of Education): I have seen one suggestion that school zoning should be abolished completely, while I have seen another report suggesting there should be some limitations on parental choice in areas of high population growth, and that the removal of zoning would not solve any problems at all. These suggestions came from the leader of the National Party, Don Brash, and his education spokesperson, Bill English. Why can they not get their act together?
Helen Duncan: Has the removal of school zoning been considered previously?
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: Yes, school zoning was abolished in the early 1990s. Then the previous Government was forced to bring it back in 1998—
Hon Dr Nick Smith: Not true.
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: I think something has affected that member’s memory.
Opposition Members: Oh, come on!
Mr SPEAKER: That was a perfectly legitimate interjection, and the member made the interjection. He said it was not true, and the Minister said his memory is not accurate. There is nothing wrong with that.
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: Yes, school zoning was abolished under the previous Government, and then it was forced to bring it back in 1998 to combat overcrowding.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: Not accurate.
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: It was abolished in the early 1990s, and we are listening for Richard Worth’s opinion on this issue. Is he backing Bill English, so that people who live next-door to Auckland Grammar can get in, or is he backing Don Brash, in which case they would not be allowed to go there?
Police—Traffic Infringement Notices
11. Hon TONY RYALL (National—Bay Of Plenty) to the Minister of Police: Which police districts operate quotas or performance measures where officers are expected to issue a certain number of tickets every hour or day they are on traffic duty, and does he agree with this system?
Hon GEORGE HAWKINS (Minister of Police): All police officers are expected to meet performance standards, relevant to the duties they undertake. It is a system that works well, as the Hon Tony Ryall acknowledged on 16 June at the Law and Order Committee when he told the Commissioner of Police: “I want to compliment you on your statement of intent, which I think is a real move in trying to give the Parliament a feel for exactly the approaches you are taking.”
Hon Tony Ryall: Is it not the case that this Government’s speed camera policy now sees pressure on the police to collect revenue to pay for the Government’s Budget promises, rather than having road safety as the sole priority?
Hon GEORGE HAWKINS: Our aim is to get the road toll down. Many years ago people did not go along with the introduction of drink-driving campaigns. They did not like seat-belt campaigns. Now they are not liking speeding campaigns, but I have to say that my information is that the number of tickets given out this financial year is starting to show that people are getting the message—the number is starting to drop.
Dave Hereora: What information has he received regarding the performance requirements of police officers on duty?
Hon GEORGE HAWKINS: On the Holmes show earlier this week the Police Association president, Greg O’Connor, claimed that police were ignoring a lot of their duties. Regrettably, Mr O’Connor damages his own credibility with untrue statements such as: “We are ignoring the P.”; “Police are now being forced to ignore a lot of general duties—burglary, domestic-type policy.” The facts are the police do all manner of work. They support communities and victims, they deal with youth offenders, provide youth education, manage youth projects, process arms licences, administer the Arms Act, deal with reports of lost and found property, make apprehensions on patrol, do bail and parole checks—
Mr SPEAKER: That is sufficient.
Hon GEORGE HAWKINS: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. This answer goes over a couple more pages. I seek leave to table it.
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table it. Is there any objection? There is.
Peter Brown: Does the Minister accept that a ticket quota system lowers the standing of the police in the public’s eyes, and does he accept that such a practice gives strength to the argument that police and traffic duties should be segregated, and administered by totally separate organisations?
Hon GEORGE HAWKINS: No.
Hon Tony Ryall: In light of the Minister’s repeated denials over the years about revenue gathering, how does he explain Budget documents that indicate that the Minister of Finance effectively suggested in December that if the police issue more tickets, then the money can be spent on Budget promises; and a paper from the Secretary for Justice, which states that the increase in revenue from speed cameras could be earmarked for Budget promises?
Hon GEORGE HAWKINS: I think those people will be disappointed, because speed is coming down on our roads, but will be absolutely delighted that we now have safer roads and a dropping road toll.
Hon Tony Ryall: I seek leave to table three documents. The first is a newspaper report confirming quota ticketing.
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection? There is.
Hon Tony Ryall: The second is a document marked “Budget sensitive, 16 January” reporting on correspondence from the Minister of Finance about money being available for Budget promises.
Document, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.
Hon Tony Ryall: The third is a document from the Ministry of Justice’s chief executive confirming that additional funding could be earmarked from the increase in police fines.
Document, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The Minister was asked how he reconciled his denial with what are, apparently, two Cabinet or official documents that show that the denial is not correct. That was what he was asked as a Minister. He made no attempt whatsoever to answer. He talked about speed coming down, fines coming down, and offending coming down, but he made no attempt to answer the question. How does he reconcile a denial over a long period of time that there is a quota system going on, with documents that suggest there is? He should be required to answer that now.
Hon Dr Michael Cullen: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Even assuming that the summary of that document is correct—and I have yet to read it—there has, in fact, been only the claim that was made by Mr Ryall in his question. The point is not that there is a quota, but that the money was to be used for other purposes.
Mr SPEAKER: That is perfectly correct.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. When somebody raises a valid point of order, it should be taken seriously. The fact that Dr Cullen came rushing to the rescue and got it wrong is neither here nor there. The Minister was asked a question in respect of his long denial that a quota system is in operation: how come there are documents in existence that suggest there is? When can we have an answer to that question?
Mr SPEAKER: I will examine the transcript and if I find that the Minister has not responded properly, I will get to him.
Peter Brown: Is the Minister aware that there are a significant number of motorists—in particular, law-abiding motorists who never get a ticket, and who never go wrong—who see this ticket quota system as something like Big Brother; and is it not about time that the Minister sat down with some law-abiding motorists and determined a fairer way to manage traffic on New Zealand roads?
Hon GEORGE HAWKINS: Surveys show that those people generally support the work the police are doing. I have to say that innocent people have nothing to fear. I do not want to be selective about the types of crime for which penalties may be enforced, as the member wishes to be.
Accident Compensation—Farming Premiums
12. PAUL ADAMS (United Future) to the Minister for ACC: Does the Minister believe that the proposed increases to ACC premiums for farmers are fair?
Hon RUTH DYSON (Minister for ACC): The Accident Compensation Corporation’s (ACC) proposed increase in self-employed farmers levies is based on the increasing cost of injuries to that group, combined with a decline in the pool of liable earnings for livestock farming since 2002 from $2 billion to less than $1.5 billion now. At the same time, ACC is proposing a 3 percent drop in the employer levy for farmers, which will affect close to half the industry, calculated on liable earnings. Public submissions on the levy proposals close on 16 September, after which date the ACC board will give me its final recommendations. The Department of Labour will provide me with separate actuarial advice. I will consider all that information before making a final recommendation to Cabinet on the levies.
Paul Adams: How can a 74 percent hike in farmers’ accident compensation levies over 3 years be considered fair when ACC is expected to make a surplus of over $850 million from increased levy revenue and from playing the sharemarket, and when it continues to hold a monopoly on workplace safety insurance?
Hon RUTH DYSON: I have seen the 74 percent quote from Federated Farmers, and it is incorrect. The total accident compensation levy for self-employed farmers has increased by 28 percent. It has been caused by the legal requirement for ACC to collect levies each year on a fully funded basis—that is, to ensure that the total cost of all claims incurred and reported in that year are fully funded. That is unlike the previous National administration, which lowered the levies and put the cost on to future generations. Labour fully funds the scheme. The increase is also contributed to, as I said in answer to the primary question, by a combination of a decline in the pool of liable earnings and the increasing cost of injuries.
Hon Mark Gosche: How do New Zealand’s accident compensation levies compare with similar costs overseas?
Hon RUTH DYSON: They compare extraordinarily well. In Australia, where a private market operates, accident compensation levy rates for farmers—and, actually, for most occupations—are at least twice those of New Zealand, according to the Australian Government’s annual report comparing the two markets.
Hon David Carter: Mr Speaker—
Mr SPEAKER: I think the National Party has exhausted its question list.
Lindsay Tisch: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. It is my understanding that National still has another call. We have on our paper that David Carter would ask a question.
Mr SPEAKER: I am prepared to be reasonable. I have counted and the National Party is correct.
Hon David Carter: Does the Minister accept ACC’s justification for this proposed increase with its suggestion that farmers are failing to take safety seriously, when more than 10,000 farmers have attended FarmSafe courses in the past 18 months?
Hon RUTH DYSON: Not only do I believe that farmers make a significant and valued contribution to our economy, but I also agree with the suggestion made by that member that farmers have been working well with ACC to get their rate of injuries down. Despite that work, their injury rate is still nearly double the average for all industries combined.
Gerrard Eckhoff: Why should a farmer with a perfect safety record pay this increase of 9 percent; and what more can those farmers who have a perfect safety record do?
Hon RUTH DYSON: As the member knows, we have been developing since 2000 a series of programmes that ensure that as the injury rate goes down, it is reflected directly in the levies that are incurred by that industry.
Paul Adams: Is the Minister aware of a mass survey of farmers’ compliance costs that found that accident compensation levies are the biggest single compliance cost that farmers face, and that farmers believe they could obtain private insurance cover for about half the cost of their accident compensation premium if the monopoly was removed?
Hon RUTH DYSON: Although I am not aware of that particular survey quoted by the member, I am reasonably familiar with the private versus public insurance argument. Australia provides a very good example of how the private market works. As well as resulting in considerably higher levies than New Zealand’s, the Australian market collapsed catastrophically—HIH being a prime example—and had to be bailed out by Government intervention to the tune of millions of dollars. It is now heavily regulated by state Governments.
Mr SPEAKER: That is sufficient. The Minister’s answer was too long.
Paul Adams: Why does ACC not have a levy discount programme for small businesses like farms, when medium and large employers can access levy discount incentives through the Workplace Safety Management Practices programme, in light of the fact that small businesses make up over 90 percent of all businesses in New Zealand?
Hon RUTH DYSON: I agree that this is a programme that needs to be extended and I am delighted to inform the House that work is under way.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: I seek leave of the House to table a report in the Nelson Mail that Richmond’s Riding for the Disabled Association is to be forced closed by a twelve-fold increase in its accident compensation levies.
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that article. Is there any objection? There is.