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Questions & Answers for Oral Answer 24 August 2004

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

Tuesday, 24 August 2004
Questions for Oral Answer
Questions to Ministers

Question No. 7 to Minister
1. Treaty of Waitangi—Historic Settlements
2. Oil—Prices
3. Post Primary Teachers Association—Employment Agreement
4. Economy—Australia and New Zealand
5. Taxation—Tax Base Protection
6. Health Services—Primary Health Organisations
8. Minister of Health—Accountability
9. Unemployment Benefit—Statistics
10. Transport Congestion, Auckland—Resource Management Act
11. Employment Law—Australia and New Zealand
12. Human Rights Commission—Compensation to Prisoner

Questions to Members
1. Fisheries and Other Sea-related Legislation Committee—Foreshore and Seabed Bill

Questions for Oral Answer

Questions to Ministers

Question No. 7 to Minister

Hon PETER DUNNE (Leader—United Future): Following discussions with the Minister of Health and the Leader of the House, which I am grateful for, I seek leave for question No. 7 today to be deferred until tomorrow and treated as an extra question then, so that it can be answered by the Minister of Health, to whom it was originally directed.

Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought for that. Is there any objection? There appears to be none. It will be so done and it will be put at No. 13. [Interruption] That interjection involves me. I actually supported Bay of Plenty winning it—and I am an Aucklander!

Treaty of Waitangi—Historic Settlements

1. Dr DON BRASH (Leader of the Opposition) to the Minister in charge of Treaty of Waitangi Negotiations: What methods are being considered in order to “streamline Treaty of Waitangi historic settlements”, as stated in her press release of 21 July 2004, and why has the Government now decided that streamlining the process is necessary? [Interruption]

Mr SPEAKER: That is enough. Anything more like that and people will be having an early shower. That is the only warning today.

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Leader of the House), on behalf of the Minister in charge of Treaty of Waitangi Negotiations: Firstly, the Government is considering ways to simplify settlement legislation so that once settlements are agreed they can be implemented faster and more easily; secondly, it is exploring the possibility of enabling legislation to make it easier for Mâori groups to establish robust post-settlement governance entities; and thirdly, it is looking at ongoing work surrounding their lodging of claims with the tribunal. This is all part of ongoing work trying to make the settlement process more efficient.

Dr Don Brash: Does the Minister stand by her statement that placing a time limit on filing historic treaty claims is “out of touch and ignores the complexity of the treaty settlement process”; if so, why has the Government completely changed its position to consider just such a time limit?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: It has not, which is probably why the Government is ahead in the polls. In November 2002, the Minister, responding in the House, made that statement. She was referring to the attempt to place an artificial deadline on the settlement of claims. She still holds the view that that is a stupid idea, which is not surprising, given where it comes from.

Jill Pettis: In line with the Government’s policy of constant review, what other examples have there been—[Interruption]

Mr SPEAKER: I have already warned members once, and said it was a final warning. Now, on this occasion I am going to be very generous and far too soft on issues like this. This is the one and only time I am not going to send the member out. No comments are to be made during the asking of questions. That is a democratic right. Please start again.

Jill Pettis: In line with the Government’s policy of constant review, what other examples have there been of changes to the treaty settlement process in order to make it more efficient?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: We have committed more resources to the treaty settlement process—in particular, a complete additional negotiating team. That is right now in active negotiations with 12 claimant groups and in active discussions with another 15 groups, which is far higher than levels during the 1990s.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Is it not a fact that given the current speed of settlements of Waitangi settlements, it will take another 584 years, which is astonishing, given that in 1990 Jim Bolger promised to finish everything up by the end of the decade?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: No, but even if it were true I doubt that the National Government would be any part of that during 584 years.

Metiria Turei: Can the Minister describe to the House the round-table partnership negotiations she has had with all future claimants about the streamlining process and the 10 to 15-year time frame, or is it simply that this policy results from Labour’s increasing reliance on National for policy direction on issues concerning Mâori and the treaty?

Mr SPEAKER: The Minister may answer, in so far as this relates to his portfolio.

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I think the member has managed simultaneously to insult both the Labour Party and the National Party with that comment.

Hon Richard Prebble: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I think they both deserve to be insulted, but let us have an answer.

Mr SPEAKER: The first part of the point of order is out of order, but the point made is correct. Please answer.

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: The Minister and the Prime Minister both indicated a possible indicative timetable for the settlement process. The issue that is actually under discussion actively at the present time is whether there should be a timetabling limit in terms of the lodging of claims.

Tariana Turia: The tino rangatiratanga side of the partnership under the treaty would welcome early resolution of the ill-effects of the dishonouring of the Treaty of Waitangi—

Mr SPEAKER: Please ask the question.

Tariana Turia: What steps are proposed in the expedition of the resolution of these effects, to ensure that the quality of the partnership between kâwanatanga and the rangatiratanga is enhanced and maintained?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Each treaty settlement is, in and of itself, a separate case and has to be treated on that basis, and it may point to ongoing discussions of partnership between that particular iwi or hapû and the Government.

Hon Richard Prebble: How much credibility should the House give to statements from the Minister such as the one in the question, that the treaty process is being streamlined, or the press statement issued by the Minister on Tuesday, 27 July where she claimed: “Recent progress in treaty settlements confirms my prediction that the vast majority of claims will be settled within 10 to 15 years.”, against the statement made by the Waitangi Tribunal on 27 September that this Government has actually been in breach of its undertakings with regard to the Te Arawa settlement?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: On the latter matter, there are ongoing discussions and announcements to be made, but in general terms I would say I prefer the comments made by the Minister in charge of Treaty of Waitangi Negotiations to those of the Waitangi Tribunal on a number of instances.

Dr Don Brash: Does the Minister agree with the Deputy Prime Minister’s view that “strictly speaking, the Treaty proper exists only in its Mâori version”; if so, how does that affect the treaty claims process—given the Deputy Prime Minister’s further view that, according to the Mâori version of the treaty, Mâori did not cede sovereignty?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I think if the member cares to re-analyse the Deputy Prime Minister’s statements in the latter respect, he will find they are a little bit more subtle than he indicated in that brief summary. I am assured that the Deputy Prime Minister was expressing his view as a historian—as I believe that member occasionally still claims to be an economist, although not in Australia—that, in fact, the notion of sovereignty as expressed in British understanding in 1840 can scarcely have been understood by those people signing the treaty in 1840. The fact of the matter is that Mâori signed a version of the treaty that was in Mâori in 1840. International law is quite clear that where there is a conflict between the native language version and the version that was signed, priority is given to the interpretation based on the native language version. The member may not like that, but it is a reasonable fact.

Dr Don Brash: Does the Minister agree with the Prime Minister’s statement that the deadline on treaty claims is a bumper sticker solution, which will only pitch New Zealand into a new cycle of grievances and claims; if not, what comments has the Minister received from the Prime Minister regarding her own proposed treaty time limits?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: The difference is the difference between a time limit on the lodging of treaty claims—which does not seem entirely unreasonable, given the fact that by the time it would be over, more than 20 years would have passed since the amending legislation—and the settlement of all claims, which is not entirely in the hands of the Crown.

Dail Jones: Referring to the Deputy Prime Minister’s answer about the interpretation of treaties, is he familiar with the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties, which does not support his contention of the way in which treaties should be interpreted, and, more recently, Brownlee’s most authoritative book on the subject, which makes it clear that the so-called contra proferentem rule on which he relies is no longer a factor to be taken into account in the interpretation of treaties?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I am familiar with that but, not to entrench upon other matters on which I have commented recently, I have a strong suspicion New Zealand courts might hold the view that the Mâori version would have a very high level of priority.

Oil—Prices

2. JEANETTE FITZSIMONS (Co-Leader—Green) to the Minister of Finance: Has Treasury revised its assumption that crude oil prices will ease back to an “equilibrium” price of US$19 per barrel; if so, what are the Government’s current assumptions for oil price trends between now and 2020?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Minister of Finance): Treasury is yet to begin its revised forecasting round for the December Economic and Fiscal Update. When that happens it will specifically identify the need to revisit the assumption for oil price trends.

Jeanette Fitzsimons: What planning, if any, is the Government doing to reduce the dependence of the New Zealand economy on oil, in light of the fact that the price of light crude today is nearly US$48 a barrel?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: My colleague the Minister of Energy is working hard on sustainable energy options. It would be helpful if some of those options, such as hydropower and wind power, were more enthusiastically supported by the Green Party.

Rodney Hide: Given the concern over high petrol prices, has the Minister sought the advice and guidance of Mr Jim Anderton, the self-styled “Minister for Lower Prices”—as he told this House on 30 March, 2000—or is Mr Anderton missing in action on this one, as well?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Mr Anderton has certainly expressed concerns to me about the impacts of rising oil prices. Perhaps we could all hope that the various elements in this House will use their best endeavours to ensure, for example, that the Middle Eastern situation settles down.

Jeanette Fitzsimons: What does the Minister understand by the term “peak oil”, and when does he expect it to occur?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I have to confess that, for once, the member has floored me; I do not understand what is meant by the term “peak oil”.

Jeanette Fitzsimons: Does the Minister agree, then, that the price of any commodity is likely to rise over time, when demand is increasing exponentially while supplies are being restricted by physical limits; and does he agree that oil is a commodity that has just such characteristics?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: In theoretical terms, yes; in practical terms, no. We have yet to reach the point where it is at all clear that new discoveries in oil—and I now think I understand what the member was getting at before—fall below the level of the projected demand for oil. At the present time, the production of oil is actually outrunning demand, and stockpiling is occurring. Prices are high because of, primarily, the uncertainty in the Middle East, plus the growing demand from China, plus the somewhat confused situation—to put it kindly—surrounding oil and gas companies in Russia.

Jeanette Fitzsimons: Has the Minister been advised that the current oil demand is 81 million barrels a day and the total capacity of the world’s oilfields to produce oil is 82.5 million barrels a day; and does he think that that provides sufficient headroom for demand to continue to increase—for example, with China’s 40 percent increase in demand in the last year?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Clearly, therefore, the member has confirmed what I have just said: supply is actually exceeding demand at the present time. And, as prices rise, that will encourage both new exploration and also new exploitation of known reserves that were previously uneconomic to exploit—for example, the extremely large Canadian oil shale reserves.

Jeanette Fitzsimons: Has the Minister been advised that for some time now oil discoveries have been running at the rate of one barrel for every four that are burned, and how long does he think that that can continue; further, has he been advised that Canadian shale and tar sands oil will be extremely expensive compared with current supplies, as well as a lot dirtier?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Certainly on the last point, given the nature of the area there are severe environmental issues, and exploitation would certainly be more expensive. But it does seem to me rather odd that a Green Party member would bemoan a rise in price for a limited product.

Post Primary Teachers Association—Employment Agreement

3. Hon BILL ENGLISH (National—Clutha-Southland) to the Minister of Education: Why will the Ministry of Education pay all members of the Post Primary Teachers Association $500 to sign a new employment contract while non-union teachers will receive no such payment?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY (Acting Minister of Education)): The Minister is delighted to see that the ministry and the Post Primary Teachers Association have made such positive progress in the current negotiation round. A settled industrial environment can only be good news for students. Bargaining is, of course, ongoing, and he does not want to prejudice those negotiations. However, he can say that the proposal for a $500 one-off payment recognises that many of the union’s claims are not being dealt with through bargaining. Instead, they will be addressed through a longer-term process of engagement in working-parties, which will require considerable time and effort on the part of union members, and a settled industrial environment.

Hon Bill English: Why does the Minister regard the union membership of a teacher as a more important quality to be rewarded than the competence of a teacher?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: He does not.

Lynne Pillay: Is the Minister aware of any previous proposals to make one-off payments to teachers in order to settle collective agreement negotiations?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: Yes. members will recall that in 2002 the industrial negotiations did not follow such a smooth course. At that time a proposal was put forward to make a one-off payment of $2,000 to teachers. That proposal was put forward by the then National Party leader, Bill English, who also argued that many of the matters in the Post Primary Teachers Association (PPTA) claim should be dealt with outside the bargaining process—which is exactly what is happening now.

Jim Peters: Will the Ministry of Education also pay all members of the New Zealand Educational Institute and all members of other teacher-related unions $500 to sign new employment contracts, thus clearing the way before the next election?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: It is not the Minister’s role to get involved in the bargaining process. That would be between the two parties.

Deborah Coddington: Could the Minister explain how paying PPTA members a bonus and sending teacher unions on courses that “develop knowledge, skills, and attitudes to become more active in and for the union” assists with students’ education in any way?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: My understanding is that this is not a bonus. It is a proposal for a $500 one-off payment recognising that the union’s claims are not being dealt with through bargaining, which is just what the past leader of the National Party Bill English has suggested. That is what is happening this time.

Paul Adams: How does the Minister reconcile the additional payments to PPTA members with section 9(1) of the Employment Relations Act, which states that an agreement: “… must not confer on a person, because the person is or is not a member of a union or a particular union,— … (b) any preference in relation to terms or conditions of employment …”, and if he can reconcile it, why is the Government so keen to remove this provision through the Employment Relations Law Reform Bill?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: I think the member needs to be reminded that what we are dealing with here is a process of bargaining between the ministry and the PPTA, which includes a $500 one-off payment, because a range of issues are not being dealt with through that bargaining process. This will allow that longer-term process to go on so that other issues can be settled. That is what the payment is for.

Hon Bill English: Can the Minister explain to the House why 3,500 teachers, who will be covered by this collective contract, will not receive the $500 payment that he currently says he will pay only to union members?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: The Minister does not pay them anything. This is the ministry and the PPTA negotiating exactly as that member suggested they should.

Hon Bill English: Answer the question.

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: He can answer the question himself; it is in his press release. He has made the suggestion on previous occasions.

Hon Bill English: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I have now asked the Minister twice why one group of teachers gets the payment and another group does not. On two occasions he has given the same answer, which did not answer the question. I am now put in the position where I will have to ask the question again, which will mean that, as an Opposition member, I have had to use up three supplementary questions to get the answer to the primary question laid down as No. 3, which explicitly asks why the payment will be paid to some teachers, but not to non-union teachers. So I think the Minister should be required to answer the question that has now been asked three times, and I will have to ask it a fourth time, if that is necessary.

Mr SPEAKER: I do not think the member should have to ask a third supplementary question. I will ask the Minister to comment on the second supplementary question, and develop his answer.

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: On behalf of the Minister of Education—[Interruption]

Mr SPEAKER: I will not have anybody interjecting like that at me. The member will stand, withdraw, and apologise.

Dr the Hon Lockwood Smith: I withdraw and apologise. I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Under the Standing Orders in this Parliament, Ministers are not invited to comment on questions. They are required to answer them in the public interest. This is Parliament, where Ministers are required to do that.

Mr SPEAKER: I adjudged that the Minister had addressed the question. I was, however, helping the member who asked the question, because I did not want him to have to use up another supplementary question. I now invite the Minister—

Rodney Hide: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I just point out that you have, I think, twice or three times criticised members of the Opposition for interfering on questions or raising points of order. Three times, in three questions that have been asked, members of the Government have called out before the member of the Opposition has asked the question, and you have not said a thing. I note that you have looked hard at them—

Mr SPEAKER: I looked hard to see who it was, because if I had seen who it was he or she would have been out of the door.

Rodney Hide: Thank you for that, but during Mr English’s point of order, comments were heard coming from the Government benches. That makes four times that members of the Government have clearly broken your rule, Mr Speaker, that you would be brooking none of that behaviour, yet it is the Opposition members who have been getting pulled up.

Mr SPEAKER: I made the mistake of being far too generous the first time when I should have ejected a member on my left. I apologise for that because I did the wrong thing. I tell members that if they interject in that way in the future, they will go straight away. I have had enough.

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: I can do no better than to repeat that the bargaining process is ongoing, and that the Minister does not want to prejudice those negotiations. However, the outcome of those negotiations will potentially include a $500 one-off payment that recognises the union’s claims that it will be dealing with other issues outside that process. That is why some people will get the payment and others will not.

Hon Bill English: Will the Minister inform school boards as to why some of their teachers will be paid $500 and some will not, and has he been informed by the boards of schools that they already have teachers approaching them and telling them that the boards will have to come up with the $500 for the non-union members, and that that is not what parents make donations for?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: The bargaining is not yet finished. We do not know what the outcome will be. I have no doubt that it will be a point of discussion between boards and the ministry from then on in relation to how those wages will be paid. I ask the member to note that the bargaining has not yet finished, and that the process must be allowed to continue.

Hon Bill English: Can the Minister explain for the House’s benefit what the payment of $500 to union members has to do with teaching children effectively, and why he thinks that paying $500 to Post Primary Teachers Association (PPTA) members and not to any other teachers, regardless of their qualifications or effectiveness, will enhance the learning of New Zealand students?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: I think the settlement between the ministry and the PPTA will lead to a settled school environment that will be good for students. That is the second part of the question answered: it will be good for students to have it settled. Regarding the earlier part of the question, if such a payment is settled as part of the negotiations, it is for ongoing engagement between the PPTA’s working-parties and the ministry to settle a range of ongoing issues. The member may not like the answer, but those are the facts.

Economy—Australia and New Zealand

4. CLAYTON COSGROVE (Labour—Waimakariri) to the Minister of Finance: What recent reports has he received on the comparative performance of the Australian and New Zealand economies?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Minister of Finance): I have received reports showing that the growth in New Zealand’s gross domestic product has outstripped Australia’s for each of the last 4 years. Also, in each of those years we have had lower annual inflation and significantly lower unemployment. We now have the second-lowest unemployment rate in the OECD.

Clayton Cosgrove: What other comparative reports and analyses has the Minister received on this issue?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I have seen the claim that New Zealand’s performance is so poor that we risk becoming unviable and “just another Pacific Island State”. According to the World Bank, which does know something about poverty, the gross national income per capita of the Solomons was around $1,200 in 2002, and of Samoa was approximately $3,000; in New Zealand it was just short of $30,000 per year.

Dr Don Brash: Is it not true, on the basis of the assumptions made by the Treasuries of Australia and New Zealand about productivity growth in our two countries, that New Zealand’s per capita income will never ever catch the level of per capita income of Australia, and that, as a consequence, the gap between our living standards and those of Australia—already equivalent to some $200 per person per week—will continue to widen?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: The member should not place too much emphasis upon long-term assumptions. As somebody once quite rightly said: “In reality, there are a great many … fundamental differences between the two countries, so a different growth rate should be no surprise at all. … This is neither ‘good’ nor ‘bad’. It just means that New Zealand is different in some respects.” That was Dr Brash to the Trans-Tasman Business Circle in February 2000.

Dr Don Brash: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The Minister did not in any sense answer my question. I asked him whether it was true, on the basis of the productivity assumptions of the Australian and New Zealand Treasuries, that Australian living standards would always exceed New Zealand living standards, and that the gap would in fact get larger.

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: The member should remember what I said at the start, which was that he should not place too much emphasis upon long-term productivity assumptions. The fact is the same assumptions were made in 2000. The fact is we have outperformed Australia every year since then, under this Government—which we did not do in he 1990s.

Dr Don Brash: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The Minister still has not answered the question. I asked him whether it was true, on the basis of the assumptions made by the respective Treasuries, that the New Zealand standard of living would never ever catch that of Australia.

Mr SPEAKER: No. The Minister was asked to address the question. He certainly did on both occasions. He talked about assumptions not being justified, and that type of thing. He did definitely address the question.

Taxation—Tax Base Protection

5. Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS (Leader—NZ First) to the Minister of Finance: Does he have any concerns regarding the protection of the New Zealand tax base; if so, why?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Minister of Finance): Yes, I am always concerned that the tax base is protected, because there are always attempts being made to undermine it.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Can the Minister confirm that one of the schemes outlined in today’s New Zealand Herald was in fact the result of the neglect of the last National Government, which had in place a tax committee attending to those issues, and that the neglect was in the sense that it closed that committee down without the work being done properly?

Mr SPEAKER: The Minister can answer the question in so far as it affects his portfolio.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: The McKay committee.

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Yes, I think the member is correct, but I would hesitate to say much more than that because the matters are still in front of the court.

Gordon Copeland: Is the Minister able to update the House in relation to the underpayment of tax by the Australian-owned banks operating in New Zealand?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: As I indicated in the Budget speech last year, the Government was looking at the issue of the underpayment of tax by the New Zealand retail banks—particularly of course, therefore, the Australian banks. Discussions have proceeded on a surprisingly cordial basis between the banks and the Inland Revenue Department, which is to say that there has been a recognition that it is a fair cop, and changes will be introduced in legislation soon that will see a significant increase in the tax paid by Australian-owned banks in New Zealand.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Is the Government doing any work on the principle that all such foreign transactions be regarded as income until the applicants prove otherwise?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: No, I do not think we are proceeding on that basis at the present time. In relation to banks, I think I can say that the approach will be based essentially around a variation of the thin capitalisation rules.

Health Services—Primary Health Organisations

6. JUDITH COLLINS (National—Clevedon) to the Minister of Health: Is she confident that all primary health organisations are delivering cheaper health-care to all New Zealanders; if not, why not?

Hon ANNETTE KING (Minister of Health): I am confident that the increased funding that is going to the primary health organisations has resulted in a very large number of New Zealanders, especially the most vulnerable, being able to receive more affordable health-care. For the first time in New Zealand, the doctors in those primary health organisations have declared the fees that they will charge with the increased funding, and the primary health organisations have undertaken to ensure that those fees are low or reduced, when compared with the fees charged for people who are not eligible for the increased subsidies.

Judith Collins: Is the Minister concerned that a recent survey illustrated that in many cases interim primary health organisations charge higher fees than non – primary health organisations, and what does she say to the people who have to bear the brunt of increasing compliance costs, such as those arising from the Holidays Act and the increased bureaucracy of the primary health organisations?

Hon ANNETTE KING: It is true that the people in primary health organisations who are not being subsidised may well have had an increase in their fee. After all, the Government has not put any additional money in for them, and it is not unreasonable for doctors to increase their charges if they have increased costs. However, between now and 2007, when we will finally subsidise all New Zealanders, we will see some variation in the subsidies that people have.

Nanaia Mahuta: Are people who are enrolled in primary health organisations entitled to know what their general practitioner is charging them following the increased Government subsidies?

Hon ANNETTE KING: Yes, and a very good example of that is in Nelson, where the local newspaper published all the fees for the local doctors. I have it here, and it is a very good publication. For example, the medical centre has free care for under-sixes, and the charge is $22 for 6 to 17-year-olds, and $22 for the over-65s. In fact, all the over-65s pay $22 in every practice in Nelson.

Barbara Stewart: Do all New Zealanders aged 65 and over benefit from the $3 maximum prescription charge as a result of belonging to a primary health organisation?

Hon ANNETTE KING: All New Zealanders aged 65 and over in primary health organisations benefit from the $3 prescription charge.

Heather Roy: Why has this Government launched a multimillion-dollar Television New Zealand advertising campaign that tells Kiwis that joining a primary health organisation means they will get cheaper doctors’ visits, when Ministry of Health reports show that non – primary health organisation doctors charge less than interim primary health organisations, and is that not because the administrative requirements of the primary health organisations are a nightmare?

Hon ANNETTE KING: With regard to the last comment the member made, no. The advertising is designed to inform the public of the services offered by primary health organisations. It became apparent that we needed to inform the public, especially when the New Zealand doctors said in May last year that general practitioners were crying out for the public to be told about the primary health organisations. In fact, they said: “Primary health organisations publicity drive urgently needed.” I could also add that I think it is important that we inform the public—particularly the Leader of the Opposition, because when he was asked about a primary health organisation he said that he did not know what one was.

Judith Collins: Does the Minister see any relationship between doctors putting up their prices and the increasing compliance costs such as those arising from the Holidays Act; if not, what other reasons has the Government given doctors to put up their fees?

Hon ANNETTE KING: Doctors are private business people. They have the right to pass on costs, like any other business. But I will tell the member that we had a compliance test panel carried out in 2001—[Interruption]

Mr SPEAKER: The member has asked a question; she should at least listen to the answer.

Hon ANNETTE KING: I will start again.

Mr SPEAKER: No, the Minister can carry on.

Hon ANNETTE KING: Let me continue—

Hon Tony Ryall: Answer the question!

Hon ANNETTE KING: Yes, I am answering the question. If Mr Ryall stopped screaming, he might be able to hear the answer. He should take his pill. We had a test panel carried out on compliance costs for general practitioners. It was published in 2001, and it showed that during the 1990s the compliance costs were very high. They came from the community services card—the high-user card, in particular. I am pleased to say that under the primary health organisations we are getting rid of the community services card and the high-user card—some of the high compliance costs that our doctors have had to face.

Judith Collins: I seek leave to table a report from Feilding, received this morning, of an increase of 20 percent in the primary health organisation’s charges, showing that for a 73-year-old who previously paid $25 a visit it now costs $30.

Document, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.

Minister of Health—Accountability

8. BARBARA STEWART (NZ First) to the Minister of Health: Does she have any major concerns relating to her portfolio; if so, what is she doing to address these concerns?

Hon ANNETTE KING (Minister of Health): There are always concerns in the health portfolio, ranging from workforce issues to operations and everything in-between. This Government has made health a priority, increasing funding to almost $10 billion a year—up from $6.3 billion in 1999. We have also been proactive in trying to get ahead of problems before they get worse. People from the health sector frequently tell me that they appreciate the consistent and foresighted approach that this Government has taken towards funding and providing health care.

Barbara Stewart: What concerns does she have regarding increasing demands on the health budget arising from the Government’s immigration policies?

Hon ANNETTE KING: New migrants do bring costs with them in terms of health care, but they also bring benefits. So one cannot look only at the cost of their health care; one must look at the benefits they bring with them in terms of economic development and resources.

Mike Ward: Will the Minister support measures to reduce obesity in children, such as removing soft-drink vending machines from schools, and bringing in a “fat tax”, in light of the evidence that New Zealand children are amongst the fattest in the world?

Hon ANNETTE KING: No, I will not support a “fat tax”. I have seen no evidence that imposing a tax on sugar and fat will make children thinner. I would support, and do support, health-promoting schools that teach children and parents about the sorts of things children ought to eat. But I do not think legislation and taxation, as the first measures in terms of attacking obesity, are the right way to go.

Judy Turner: Does the Minister agree that the No. 1 concern relating to her portfolio is a lack of qualified staff, when in the last 5 days a critical shortage of nurses has been reported in hospitals ranging from Wellington to Timaru, and when a shortage of general practitioners is hitting towns as small as Tûrangi and cities as big as Christchurch; if it is not the No. 1 concern, where does it rank?

Hon ANNETTE KING: I do agree with the member that workforce issues are very important issues, particularly in the areas of primary health care, rural health delivery, and so on. I am pleased to tell the member, however, that I have just received the most recent survey of nurses returning to the workforce, and up to the end of 2003—last year—2,807 registered nurses and midwives had returned to the workforce during that period. Why had they returned? Because of the availability now of childcare, because of return-to-nursing programmes, and because of changes in their circumstances. I think that is very encouraging. But we will always struggle, as they do internationally, with our health workforce.

Judith Collins: Does she agree with Canterbury District Health Board member and Christchurch general surgeon, Mr Phil Bagshaw, that the Minister’s flagship district health boards are dysfunctional and undemocratic; if not, does she no longer have regard for Mr Bagshaw’s sentiments, now that she is the Minister?

Hon ANNETTE KING: Mr Bagshaw is a very good surgeon, and I have a lot of respect for him. I do not happen to agree with his comments about district health boards, but, then, I suspect that the member would not have agreed with his comments in 2000 that the 1993 health reforms were a complete failure.

Barbara Stewart: Is she satisfied that the concentration on setting up public health organisations nationwide with, and I quote, “a greater emphasis on population health, health promotion, and preventive care” has not diverted resources away from, for example, cancer patients, who require more specialised care; if so, why?

Hon ANNETTE KING: Yes, I am confident that we have not diverted funding away from areas such as cancer, because all the money going into primary health care and the implementation of the primary health care strategy is new money. It is not existing money; it is new money that was voted by this Parliament.

Judith Collins: I seek leave to table the front page of today’s Press with the heading “Plea to scrap health boards”.

Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that front-page article in the Press. Is there any objection? There is.

Hon ANNETTE KING: I seek leave to table a Press article of 25 August, where Mr Bagshaw stated that the 1990 health reforms were a complete failure.

Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that article in the Press. Is there any objection? There is.

Unemployment Benefit—Statistics

9. GEORGINA BEYER (Labour—Wairarapa) to the Minister for Social Development and Employment: What recent reports has he received on the number of New Zealanders needing the support of an unemployment benefit?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY (Minister for Social Development and Employment): This month the number of people receiving an unemployment benefit is over 31,000 fewer than last year. That is a 31 percent drop, which is equivalent to the population of Gisborne moving off the unemployment benefit in the last 12 months. With 211,000 jobs created since 1999 and an unemployment rate of 4 percent, which is the second lowest rate of unemployment in the OECD, we are enjoying the best unemployment rate in 20 years. That is backed by an overall reduction of almost 100,000, since 1999, in the number of working-age New Zealanders who need any type of benefit.

Georgina Beyer: What reports has the Minister seen that compare New Zealand’s unemployment and working-age welfare numbers to those of Australia?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: I have received reports that state that the latest unemployment results record New Zealand’s unemployment rate at 4 percent, which is the second lowest in the OECD, compared to Australia’s 5.8 percent, or 11th in the OECD. The Dominion Post reported that 8.8 percent of all Australians receive a benefit, compared to only 5.8 percent of New Zealanders on an equivalent benefit. Once again, New Zealand’s situation has been misrepresented by Dr Brash, who has scant regard for facts, so desperate is he to go to Australia to bag his own country.

Judy Turner: Is the Minister concerned by the fact that although the number of people on the unemployment benefit has halved since 1999, the number of those on the dole for more than 3 years has actually gone from 10,789 to 15,672, an increase of 45 percent?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: Yes, the member will notice from the last household labour force survey that there is now a continued trend downwards in longer-term unemployed. We are certainly turning our attention to that environment, to making sure those people get a job.

Transport Congestion, Auckland—Resource Management Act

10. DEBORAH CODDINGTON (ACT) to the Minister of Transport: Does he view the Resource Management Act 1991 as an obstacle to overcoming Auckland’s transport problems; if not, why not?

Hon PETE HODGSON (Minister of Transport): Hardly. Transport expenditure in Auckland is now running at an all-time record—almost twice the level that existed when this Government first came to office. However, this Government leaves no stone unturned, which is why the Resource Management Act is currently under further review.

Deborah Coddington: Which statement is true—the Minister’s answer that he has just given, or Transit New Zealand’s report to the select committee last year that stated that it takes longer to get a resource consent to build a new road than it does to actually build the new road?

Hon PETE HODGSON: I think that if one is going to quote Transit, the best example of a Transit statement recently is one that was put into every edition of the New Zealand Herald, which stated: “Transit investing half a billion in Auckland highways. More to come.”

Mr SPEAKER: I think the Minister can now address the particular question he was asked.

Hon PETE HODGSON: If that is what Transit said last year, then this year it has managed to find itself an answer under this very good Government.

H V Ross Robertson: Can the Minister give any breakdown of where the expenditure increases in Auckland have occurred?

Hon PETE HODGSON: They have occurred everywhere. Since the change of Government, State highway construction is up by about 90 percent per annum, passenger transport expenditure is up by about 400 percent per annum, and alternatives to roading are up by over 15,000 percent per annum.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: How does he think that the Government’s policy of introducing legal aid for objectors to new roads has helped Auckland’s traffic congestion problem, noting that even Environment Court judges have been critical of objectors who have been paid for by the taxpayer under his Government’s policies?

Hon PETE HODGSON: And accordingly the Environment Court is entitled to, and from time to time seeks, expenses from those bodies, but the point of the matter is that nobody can deny that this Government is getting Auckland moving again.

Peter Brown: Noting those answers, is the Minister aware that the Automobile Association has recently produced a brochure called Jump Starting Auckland, which clearly outlines the obstacles, the issues, and a procedure for addressing Auckland’s transport woes, and if he is aware of that brochure and that philosophy does he not think a good starting point would be to discuss the situation in meaningful detail with the Automobile Association, which represents one million motorists?

Hon PETE HODGSON: The Automobile Association has a comprehensive report coming out tomorrow. I have seen it, but it is embargoed and I do not think it is proper for me to break that embargo. I enjoy a good relationship with the Automobile Association and intend to continue it.

Jeanette Fitzsimons: How can the Resource Management Act be an obstacle to overcoming Auckland’s transport problems when the Britomart transport centre, the Albany to Puhoi realignment, the Mount Roskill extension, the upper harbour project, and the North Shore busway have all recently received consents despite a couple of them having quite severe environmental effects and public opposition, and should not the rights of communities and the environment in fact be strengthened under the Resource Management Act?

Hon PETE HODGSON: The member is absolutely correct except that her list was not comprehensive. There is more besides. The point of the matter is that the National Party and the ACT party think that planning law is bad. Planning law is how we get proper integrated sustainable transport infrastructure in this country, and we need it.

Deborah Coddington: Given that Transit has waited 8 years for permission to build a new road, how much longer will Aucklanders have to wait for new roads, now that under the Land Transport Management Act Transit has to consult Auckland iwi about things like Auckland taniwha?

Hon PETE HODGSON: There is nothing new in that. The point is that Auckland roading expenditure is now running at almost twice what it was when we took office. This Government has got the Queen City moving further and faster than the Tories did in the dear old days of the 1990s when nothing happened.

Employment Law—Australia and New Zealand

11. HELEN DUNCAN (Labour) to the Minister of Labour: What reports has he received which compare employment conditions under the respective employment laws of Australia and New Zealand?

Hon PAUL SWAIN (Minister of Labour): I have seen a report quoting the World Bank that states that New Zealand’s labour laws are more flexible than Australia’s, with a rating of 32 out of 100 compared with Australia’s rating of 36 out of 100, where a lower score denotes more flexibility. I have also seen a report that Australia has had a statutory minimum of 4 weeks’ annual leave for the last 30 years. For some strange reason the National Party leader, Don Brash, forgot to mention those facts in a media release in Australia recently.

Helen Duncan: What other reports has he seen on comparisons between Australia and New Zealand?

Mr SPEAKER: In so far as they relate to the Minister’s portfolio.

Hon PAUL SWAIN: I have seen a report of the National Party leader bad-mouthing New Zealand in Australian media, and indicating that New Zealand could become an unviable Pacific State. Most New Zealanders will be outraged—

Mr SPEAKER: No. The way that the Minister started off was out of order.

Dr Wayne Mapp: What action will the Minister take in respect of the OECD 2002-03 report, which states that “New Zealand is unusual in not having a minimum probation period for new employees.”, and that this inevitably restricts the employability of the “young, less-skilled, and, especially, single parents, who have one of the lowest employment rates in the OECD.”?

Hon PAUL SWAIN: Well, probation options are available under the Employment Relations Act, as that member will know, and that issue is under consideration. But I do think it is rather odd, given that Australia has had 4 weeks’ annual leave for 30 years, and given that that is the reason why some people are going to Australia, that the National Party would decide to repeal that provision and go back to 3 weeks’ annual leave. It is very, very odd. I think that when National Party people are overseas they should be a little bit more positive about this country.

Peter Brown: Is the Minister referring to the report that was published in Australia recently that bemoans the fact that New Zealanders are paid far less than Australians, yet goes on to complain about New Zealanders now being paid for working on statutory holidays, and now getting 4 weeks’ holiday a year; if he is, can he give us an idea how those two positions can be reconciled?

Hon PAUL SWAIN: It is quite difficult, because the reports I have seen from the leader of the National Party are quite contradictory, and often make no sense at all. I think the important point about this is that that leader now decides that no one in New Zealand should have 4 weeks’ annual leave—

Mr SPEAKER: Order!

Hon PAUL SWAIN —although he had 4 weeks’ leave when he was the Governor of the Reserve Bank. There is—

Mr SPEAKER: Order! I have warned the Minister. He knew I was on my feet. He will now stand and withdraw and apologise for being rude to me.

Hon PAUL SWAIN: I withdraw and apologise.

Dr Wayne Mapp: I seek leave to table page 15 of the OECD 2002-03 report, which states that single parents in New Zealand have one of the lowest employment rates in the OECD.

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

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I notice that you checked the Minister for speaking when you were on your feet, but the other sin he committed was that he launched a personal attack upon the leader of the National Party in quite an irrelevant way, pointing out that he himself had enjoyed 4 weeks’ annual holiday as Governor of the Reserve Bank. That was not part of the question.

Mr SPEAKER: That, of course, is not a point of order. I sometimes think that were I not to allow people to raise points of order, we might have a very much better question time. I do not think most people know what a point of order is. There are about four or five members who have that ability. I know that the leader of New Zealand First knew precisely what he was doing.

Human Rights Commission—Compensation to Prisoner

12. Hon TONY RYALL (National—Bay Of Plenty) to the Minister of Justice: What action does the Government intend to take as a result of the awarding of $1,200 to an inmate whose feelings were hurt?

Hon PHIL GOFF (Minister of Justice): The Department of Corrections is seeking advice from Crown Law on appealing the decision of the Human Rights Review Tribunal on this case to the High Court. Like most New Zealanders, it seems to me that the injury to the feelings of the inmate pales into insignificance when compared with the trauma and suffering of the family of the victim whom he murdered in 1988.

Hon Tony Ryall: Since the general manager of the prison service said on radio yesterday that the legal opinion from the Crown Law Office suggested it was not worth spending any more taxpayers’ money to appeal this decision, will the Government appeal the decision in order to avoid setting a precedent for paying inmates such amounts of money for compensation?

Hon PHIL GOFF: There is more than simply the sum of money involved—it is $1,200—there is the principle involved. The Department of Corrections will be getting advice from Crown Law on the prospect of its success and then a decision will be made, on the basis of the facts available to the department, about an appeal.

Tim Barnett: Should there be any right on the part of inmates to take a case against the State if actions taken against them as inmates are inconsistent with the law?

Hon PHIL GOFF: Yes, there will be circumstances where the ability to take such a case may be justified. However, I think that most New Zealanders would feel that the victims of the offender should have first claim over any compensation granted to inmates. I have asked the Ministry of Justice to examine whether offenders who are awarded compensation should, in fact, be required to pay damages out of that award to any victims they have harmed and never compensated.

Marc Alexander: Why have the privacy concerns of a convicted murderer superseded those of a concerned member of the public, when the reason the Department of Corrections withheld some of the information in the letter was to try to protect the person who wrote it from an extremely violent criminal, who now roams free in our community?

Hon PHIL GOFF: I have had a look at the case, and I have also had a look at the letter that was written by the Privacy Commissioner. In fact, the Privacy Commissioner decided not to take this case to the Human Rights Review Tribunal, because she did not believe that was warranted.

Stephen Franks: Has the Minister made sure that the members of the Human Rights Review Tribunal have the required knowledge and experience of—and I quote from the Act’s criteria—“cultural issues and the needs and aspirations (including life experiences) of different communities of interest and population groups in New Zealand society.”; if the Minister did satisfy himself of that question, exactly which population group does he think should compensate a vile rapist and murderer for his hurt feelings?

Hon PHIL GOFF: The member, as is often the case, has quoted selectively from the provision of the Act, which requires certain qualifications on the part of a person appointed to the Human Rights Review Tribunal. There is a range of different issues—one of them, of course, being knowledge of the law. I notice that the member was critical of those particular individuals. It is somewhat ironic that one of the individuals on the tribunal was appointed by the very member who raised this question in the House: Mr Ryall, when he was formerly the Minister of Justice.

Hon Tony Ryall: Since the Government now agrees with the Opposition about the inappropriateness of this payment, what confidence can the public have that the Government will progress this issue, in light of the reports in the decision of the tribunal that the Government’s officials neither contested the issue nor argued the reason that they had withheld the information?

Hon PHIL GOFF: I have the report of the tribunal in my hand, which contradicts what the member has said—as usual. This issue was contested by the Crown. It was defended by the Crown, and the Crown lost. It may be that the Crown could have presented its case better than it did, and that will be one of the aspects that will be looked at in relation to any appeal. I would, of course, welcome it if the National Party in Opposition supported this Government in doing something about the law—something that the previous National Government failed to do in the 9 years that it had in office.

Marc Alexander: Can the Minister confirm that the family members of the victim of murderer and rapist Andrew Ronald McMillan received not 1 cent in reparation when the victim was brutally raped and sadistically murdered, yet he is awarded $1,200 to heal his wounded feelings?

Hon PHIL GOFF: That is precisely why I answered the primary question in the way that I did. I think it is quite unjust that a person who has caused so much suffering and trauma to others, and who has never been required to pay a penny in compensation, should now get compensation for some other matter that is very clearly much more minor than his offence. I note the fact that no reparation payment was ordered when the man was originally convicted. That is often the case when a person is given a life sentence, because he or she has no ability to make any such payment.

Questions to Members

Fisheries and Other Sea-related Legislation Committee—Foreshore and Seabed Bill

1. Hon KEN SHIRLEY (ACT) to the Chairperson of the Fisheries and Other Sea-related Legislation Committee: How many written submissions has the committee received on the Foreshore and Seabed Bill, and how many of these has he requested be heard?

RUSSELL FAIRBROTHER (Chairperson of the Fisheries and Other Sea-related Legislation Committee): Three thousand, nine hundred and thirty-seven; and none.

Hon Ken Shirley: Is the restriction on the number of submissions being heard a result of the time constraint imposed by the report-back date, and is he prepared to apply for an extension of time from the Business Committee?

RUSSELL FAIRBROTHER: A subcommittee was formed to suggest who should be heard. The full committee subsequently endorsed this and the timetable was set for hearings.

Dr Wayne Mapp: Will the member guarantee that all submissions representing substantial interests will receive equal time, rather than iwi groups having more time than other groups representing substantial interests?

RUSSELL FAIRBROTHER: I have no greater role than any other member of the committee.

End of Questions for Oral Answer

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

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