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Questions & Answers for Oral Answer - 9 September

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

Thursday, 9 September 2004
Questions for Oral Answer
Questions to Ministers

1. Prisons—Bed Use
2. Business—Climate
3. Prisoners on Remand—Police Supervision
4. State Housing—Vacancies
Question No. 5 to Minister
5. Roading—Benefits of Investing in New Zealand's Road Infrastructure
Question No. 6 to Minister
6. Ministerial Confidence—Prime Minister
7. Child, Youth and Family Services, Department—United Future's Policy
8. Education—Funding
9. Dioxin Contamination, Paritutu—Blood Serum Tests
10. Police—Offence Report, Auckland
Question No. 11 to Minister
11. Dioxin Contamination, Paritutu—Government Response
12. Forestry—New Plantations

Questions to Members

1. Question No. 1 to Member


Questions for Oral Answer

Questions to Ministers

Prisons—Bed Use

1. Hon TONY RYALL (National—Bay Of Plenty) to the Minister of Corrections: How many beds are currently “mothballed” or unused in the prison service, and why are these beds not being used to relieve the worsening muster crisis?

Hon PAUL SWAIN (Minister of Corrections): Currently, there are 23 unused cells at Pâremoremo prison due to district plan constraints. The Department of Corrections has approached the council to allow these cells to be used. The department is also considering refurbishing an old 87-bed unit at Tongariro/Rangipô Prison, which does not comply with the Building Act. More double-bunking beds are being actively pursued, but such beds would exceed agreed prison maximum numbers. Discussions between the department and the prison officers union are under way on this issue.

Hon Tony Ryall: How many of the 468 beds mothballed by his department as at March 2003 could be available to relieve the muster crisis?

Hon PAUL SWAIN: It may come as a bit of a surprise to the member that since March 2003 the 216 high-security Rimutaka Prison and Paparua prison beds are all back on stream, and the 252 low-security Waikeria Prison, Rolleston Prison, Ôhura Prison, and Tongariro prison beds are all back on stream. Every single one of those beds is now back on stream.

Martin Gallagher: Would the Minister restate clearly what the Government is doing to manage the unexpected rise in prison numbers?

Mr SPEAKER: I heard two interjections during that question. I will have no tolerance today.

Hon PAUL SWAIN: The Department of Corrections has introduced a number of measures including: using the department’s 4 percent operational buffer, reopening the 60-bed Larch Unit at Tongariro/Rangipô Prison and Tawa Unit at Rolleston Prison in Christchurch, increasing double-bunking at Auckland Central Remand Prison and Rimutaka Prison, and adding cells to the Nikau Unit for women at Waikeria Prison. In addition, increasing the capacity of existing facility is being considered. The situation, of course, will improve markedly when the four new facilities open in the next few years.

Hon Tony Ryall: Why, when that Minister has known about this crisis for months and months, is he not competent enough to have negotiated an employment agreement that would see these empty beds filled and the crisis ended?

Hon PAUL SWAIN: The member does not quite understand. [Interruption] He does not understand anything about the employment agreement, and that is obvious from his question. I shall take it slowly. The reality is that a lot of double-bunking has been going on, but there does not need to be a change to the employment agreement for that to happen. But if double-bunking goes above the capacity of the prison, then a change to the agreement does need to happen. That matter is being discussed at the moment. I suggest the member reads the employment agreement before he makes such silly statements.

Hon Tony Ryall: As the Minister has known about this crisis for months and months, does he not think it would make sense to spend money to open up those mothballed cells, instead of spending money settling all the prisoner compensation claims expected to flood his department because of his incompetent handling of that crisis?

Hon PAUL SWAIN: Notwithstanding the fact that funding has been an issue back to the time when the department was formed, which is in the output pricing review done when that member was a Minister in Government, there are two issues about the units that I described. The first has nothing to do with funding; it has to do with the district plan. The council will not allow those prison cells to come on-stream, and we are negotiating at the moment. Secondly, refurbishing of the unit at Tongariro/Rangipô Prison is currently under consideration, and funding will be made available for that.

Business—Climate

2. CLAYTON COSGROVE (Labour—Waimakariri) to the Minister of Finance: What reports has he received on the ease of doing business in New Zealand?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Minister of Finance): Today I have received a copy of a report Doing Business in 2005 co-sponsored by the World Bank and the International Finance Corporation. That report ranks New Zealand first in terms of ease of doing business, ahead of the United States, Singapore, Hong Kong, and Australia. The report ranks 145 countries, and finds New Zealand the easiest place in the world to do business.

Clayton Cosgrove: What criteria did the World Bank apply to reach its conclusion about the New Zealand business climate?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: The report looks at a number of factors such as the cost and time taken to start up a business, labour-market flexibility, investment and property protection, the ease of registering of property, the enforcement of contracts, and the ease of closing business. In all of those, New Zealand is well ahead of the OECD average. That is testament to this Government’s commitment to business. I tell the Opposition and its grizzling supporters that we have one of the best business environments here in New Zealand.

John Key: The Minister has named just six categories, and, of course, there was a seventh, which is the hiring and firing of workers—I am sure that slipped his mind—and therefore, does he think that the proposed changes to the Employment Relations Act will have a significant impact on the hiring and firing of workers and on future World Bank reports, and if they do—[Interruption]

Mr SPEAKER: That is the one specific warning to a member. I had one on this side and one on that side. Mr Maharey, that is it. Please start the question again.

John Key: Does the Minister accept that he mentioned only six of the seven categories that the World Bank mentioned in the report—he failed to mention the issue of hiring and firing workers, and does he accept that that category will be significantly affected by proposed changes under the Employment Relations Act; if and when it does have a significant impact on future world reports, will the Minister take personal responsibility?

Mr SPEAKER: There were three questions there. Two may be answered.

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: No, I did in fact mention labour market flexibility, which is what hiring and firing workers is, in part, about—although it is a good deal more than that. The member should remind himself that when he was overseas in 2000, his ideological soulmates projected that the Employment Relations Act would lead to not a single new job being created. Since then, 211,000 new jobs have been created.

Peter Brown: Did the International Finance Corporation comment on the effect of the Minister’s early announcement of interest rate rises, or on New Zealand’s continuing leadership of the world in high interest rates?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Though the World Bank and the International Finance Corporation keep up to date, I am sure that their report was prepared some time before question time yesterday afternoon.

Paul Adams: Does the Minister acknowledge that the fact that nearly three-quarters of small businesses do not survive beyond the 7-year mark shows that there is less of an ease of doing business and more of a “dis-ease” of doing business in New Zealand; and what does the Government intend to do in regard to curing that problem?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: No. In fact, if the member reads the report he will find that the ease of exiting from a business is one of the criteria for the ease of doing business. Being locked into businesses that are actually going to exit easily and cheaply is an important aspect of doing business. In the United States it is rather more clearly recognised than in New Zealand.

Peter Brown: Has the Minister received any reports on the lack of adequate roading and transport infrastructure, including any New Zealand - owned and operated coastal shipping services, that reflect on the ease of doing business in New Zealand for importers, exporters, manufacturers, or service industries; if so, what do those reports say?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: There have been a number of reports. Clearly, in particular in Auckland there are difficulties with congestion. Members should remember that this is a comparative study—Auckland might look bad, but try some other parts of the world!

Prisoners on Remand—Police Supervision

3. Hon TONY RYALL (National—Bay Of Plenty) to the Minister of Police: How many civilians are being sworn in as “temporary constables” to act as jailers during the muster crisis, and how many additional remand prisoners could be held in police cells if necessary?

Hon GEORGE HAWKINS (Minister of Police): Police have always had a pool of temporary jailers that they can call on from time to time. But I am advised that of today, 15 people are currently engaged as temporary constables. The number of additional remand prisoners who can be held will depend on the number of cells available at any given time.

Hon Tony Ryall: Will the Minister take any responsibility for any suicide by a remand inmate inappropriately held in a police or court cell as a result of this crisis?

Hon GEORGE HAWKINS: Police are always concerned that people will commit suicide in police cells, and they are trained. Many of the 15 temporary jailers are former police officers, and they are also fully trained.

Hon Tony Ryall: Do you consider that that addressed the question, Mr Speaker?

Mr SPEAKER: Yes, I do.

Hon Tony Ryall: What will the Government do when the police cells are full, the court cells are full, and the 100 mothballed beds are full; where will the prisoners go, or does he think that, in light of the Prime Minister’s comments earlier this week, that will be someone else’s problem?

Hon GEORGE HAWKINS: The Government is managing this, and, I have to say, it is managing it very well. It was the last Government that did not want the north Waikato prison built, and that put up lame excuses. My colleague the Minister of Corrections is doing a very good job. He told the House earlier this afternoon that there was a 4 percent operational buffer, and that the Government is reopening the 60-bed Larch unit at Tongariro Prison, the Tawa unit at Rolleston Prison in Christchurch, double-bunking at Auckland Central Remand Prison and Rimutaka Prison, and adding cells to the Nikau Unit for women in Waikeria Prison. The Government is managing this at the moment very, very well.

Mr SPEAKER: I wish some members would actually listen to the answer. There was a continual barrage from some people. The Minister should have a reasonable chance of giving an answer.

Hon Tony Ryall: Has the Minister discussed with the Minister of Corrections that Minister’s inability, having known about this crisis for months and months, to secure the appropriate agreements to open up the 100 mothballed beds, or does the Minister of Police think that he has become the fall guy for the ministerial incompetence behind the muster crisis?

Hon GEORGE HAWKINS: The Minister of Corrections—a very good Minister—and I have been discussing this for a long while. Of course, we want crooks behind bars, and members on the opposite side of the House seem to want crooks out on the street.

State Housing—Vacancies

4. GEORGINA BEYER (Labour—Wairarapa) to the Minister of Housing: What reports has he received on vacancy levels in State housing?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY (Minister of Housing): Yesterday I read a report from the Hon David Carter, claiming that having 1,200 vacant State houses demonstrated that the Government’s housing policy was not working. The facts are that Housing New Zealand Corporation has 63,855 State houses throughout New Zealand. Of those, 424 houses are undergoing modernisation, 336 houses are under repair, 36 houses are for sale because they are in areas of low demand, and 438 houses that are scattered around the country, often in areas of low demand, are vacant and ready to let as soon as we can let them. In total, those ready to let are equivalent to 0.6 of the waiting list. That demonstrates that Mr Carter knows nothing about housing.

Georgina Beyer: What other reports has the Minister received on State housing vacancies?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: I have received reports comparing the current State housing stock and vacancy rates with the situation in earlier periods. The State housing stock has risen to 63,855 and in the last financial year 9,450 New Zealand households—representing some 28,350 people—were newly housed by Housing New Zealand Corporation. In 1999 there were just over 57,000 State houses and 1,381 of them were vacant. Of the 1,381 vacant houses, the majority—738—were on the market for sale. They were there because the previous Government sold 13,000 properties, and was planning to sell even more if it had been returned to Government.

Hon David Carter: Can the Minister confirm that while 12,000 families languish on waiting lists, and while those 1,200 houses remain empty, one State house tenancy in Ôtara has an annual income of $117,000 net; is that an example of Labour’s housing policy working very well?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: Because of this Government, no one languishes on waiting lists. We improve our stock and, unlike the previous Government of which Mr Carter was a member, which sold 13,000 houses and was intending to sell the whole stock of State houses, we are now returning people to proper homes, which is as it should be.

Hon David Carter: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. My question was quite specific. It referred to a State house tenancy earning $117,000 net and asked whether that was an example of Labour’s housing policy working well. The Minister did not answer that.

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: Speaking to the point of order—

Mr SPEAKER: There is no need to speak to the point of order. If that had been the only thing the Minister had been asked, he would have had to answer that particular part. There was a piece before that particular question was asked.

Sue Bradford: Why is he embracing an expanded accommodation supplement while building only a thousand new State houses, when good research, like that of the Australian Industries Commission in 1993, shows that creating more social housing is far more cost-effective than continuing with more and more taxpayer-funded cash handouts to landlords?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: I am happy to give the member the figures for State housing expenditure, but I will just go back to the original statement I made. In 1999, 57,000 State houses existed. Today 63,855 State houses exist. That is not just an additional 1,000 houses; that is a lot more than that. And, as the member knows, we are already planning to build 3,000 more on top of that.

Paul Adams: Does the Government have a policy of selling State houses that are vacant for extended periods due to either their location or their suitability and size; if so, how long do houses need to be vacant before that decision is made?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: We do have a policy of selling houses if they are in areas where there is such low demand that we cannot possibly expect to be able to rent them. There are 36 houses currently on the market for that reason. There is no set period of time for us to say that we will sell a house because it has been vacant for a while. It is the level of demand that we are interested in.

Question No. 5 to Minister

PETER BROWN (Deputy Leader—NZ First): I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I notice the Minister of Transport is not available. Can I seek leave to defer this question to a time when he is available?

Mr SPEAKER: The member can always seek leave. Leave is sought. Is there any objection? There is. Please ask the question.

Roading—Benefits of Investing in New Zealand's Road Infrastructure

5. PETER BROWN (Deputy Leader—NZ First) to the Minister of Transport: Has he read the findings of the Allen Consulting Group’s report entitled Benefits of Investing in New Zealand’s Road Infrastructure; if so, will any changes be made to roading policy as a result of those findings?

Hon HARRY DUYNHOVEN (Minister for Transport Safety), on behalf of the Minister of Transport: Yes, he has read the report, and the report vindicates the approach to investing in our transport infrastructure that this Government is already taking in investing $18.9 billion over the next 10 years, correcting years of what the report describes as “significant underiinvestment in New Zealand’s road network, specifically between 1993 and 2001”. That was, of course, under the previous National Government.

Peter Brown: Does the Minister acknowledge that the Allen report recommends borrowing in order to complete four strategic roading projects in a reasonable time frame, and does he also recognise that if those projects are done by the year 2012, there will be huge economic gains for this country; if so, will he be recommending that we follow the Allen report to a T?

Hon HARRY DUYNHOVEN: The member correctly identifies comments made in the report, and it is also fair to note that several of the recommendations are already being acted on by the Government. The member will know that right now the Minister is in his own area—Tauranga—discussing just one of those recommendations with local officials.

Hon Maurice Williamson: In light of the fact that there are now a number of reports showing there is a massive backlog of projects whose benefit-cost ratios are sitting at four, and represent an internal rate of return of somewhere between 30 percent and 40 percent—something one could not get anywhere else in the business community—will the Minister specifically ask the Minister of Finance to approve something available under the legislation now, which is for Transfund to debt fund a number of those projects, so that we can get them now and not in 2017 and 2020, which is when they are currently scheduled?

Hon HARRY DUYNHOVEN: The member has considerable knowledge of the transport world, having been the transport Minister for much of the time that a National Government was involved in transport and roading. It is fair to say that there are issues of funding, and they are being addressed most specifically in the legislation before the House. What will be really interesting is how much support National has for those initiatives that are coming ahead.

Mr SPEAKER: The Minister was asked whether he would be asking the Minister of Finance. That part of the question should be addressed.

Hon HARRY DUYNHOVEN: I am well aware that the Minister of Finance is very much involved in these issues and knows about them. I should think it is unnecessary for me or the Minister to ask him about them directly. I am sure he is well informed already.

Jeanette Fitzsimons: Does the Minister have any concerns that the Wellington Regional Council appears to be endorsing this strategy, which the Allen report predicts will create a $4 million per year collapse in the Wellington rail network?

Hon HARRY DUYNHOVEN: What the Allen report recommends may be one thing, but the Government’s transport strategy is what is actually driving investment in both roading and alternative means of transport such as the public railway and bus network of New Zealand.

Larry Baldock: Is the Minister aware that the Allen report demonstrated that the investment in the Tauranga roading network is giving the best return for money of any of the projects looked at; if so, will that be foremost on the Minister’s mind when he visits Tauranga tomorrow to discuss these things with local representatives?

Hon HARRY DUYNHOVEN: The question is a very interesting one, because the Allen report does recommend the Tauranga roading project as one of the key projects for an investment return. More money is being spent in every region, including an extra $134 million in the Bay of Plenty, and not just on roads but on rail as well. Such an approach is advocated in New Zealand First’s transport policy. I believe that today—right now—the Minister is in Tauranga discussing probably just these issues.

Peter Brown: In relation to the harbour link in Tauranga, does the Minister believe that the situation where the lead-up to the infrastructure is determined as State highway but the actual second bridge is being declared a local road is practical, or does he share my view that it is childish and stupid?

Hon HARRY DUYNHOVEN: I am afraid I cannot comment directly on that question, simply because I have not had the thoroughness of briefing that the member obviously believes he has had. What I can say is that I am sure that will be one of the topics the Minister discusses today in Tauranga with local government officials.

Peter Brown: Does the Minister accept that in Tauranga we have New Zealand’s No. 1 export port, and that the second bridge is absolutely essential for the economic well-being of not only that port but the Tauranga community at large?

Hon HARRY DUYNHOVEN: The member is being a very assiduous local member. I would say that a transport strategy that takes into account just roading is not a very comprehensive transport strategy. We need to ensure we have very effective coastal shipping and rail links, as well as adequate road links.

Question No. 6 to Minister

RODNEY HIDE (Leader—ACT): I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I note that the Prime Minister has not been able to join us today for question time. Therefore, I seek leave to ask my question next Tuesday, when she, hopefully, will be back.

Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought. Is there any objection? There is. Please ask the question.

Ministerial Confidence—Prime Minister

6. RODNEY HIDE (Leader—ACT) to the Prime Minister: Does she have confidence in all her Ministers; if so, why?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Deputy Prime Minister), on behalf of the Prime Minister: Yes, because they are all hard-working and conscientious Ministers.

Rodney Hide: Has the Prime Minister advised her Minister of Finance, Michael Cullen, that it was totally unacceptable for him to announce a day early that the Governor of the Reserve Bank, Alan Bollard, would be hiking interest rates; and has she sought an assurance from him that he was not making that statement to this Parliament with inside knowledge?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: No. The Minister of Finance told the House yesterday that he was not making that statement with inside knowledge. I understand that the Minister of Finance was told by a person on Lambton Quay this morning that he was a man ahead of his time.

Simon Power: Will she confirm to the House that she retains confidence in the Minister of Police, when the words she used most recently in the media to describe him were simply “very loyal”; whatever happened to “hard-working and conscientious” as far as the Minister of Police is concerned?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: The Minister of Police is hard-working, conscientious, and loyal. The member opposite could learn any one of those three and it would be an improvement on his present position.

Stephen Franks: Who does she think is telling the truth: the Ministry of Justice officials who state unequivocally in the just-released report into the operation of the Sentencing Act 2002 that it was not intended to increase the use of imprisonment, and had not increased the rates of imprisonment; or her Minister of Justice and Minister of Corrections, who now claim that their current crisis is what they had intended and expected all along, even though they made no preparation for it?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: The member misquotes the Minister of Justice. What the Minister of Justice rightly pointed out was that the projected muster rolls have been exceeded substantially over the last few months. It is a fact, of course, that passing laws that require longer sentences and tougher parole provisions is likely to lead, all else being equal, to an increase in prison numbers.

Dr Muriel Newman: Will she rule out dumping George Hawkins as Minister of Police later this year; if not, why not?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: The Prime Minister has already indicated in a public statement that she is not commenting on any supposed reshuffle that may occur later this year. I merely point out, on her behalf, that the Minister of Police is a hard-working and conscientious Minister who, unlike his predecessors opposite, can claim to have reduced the crime rate to its lowest level in 20 years, and to have increased the clearance rate to its highest level in 20 years. He is in a position to say to any member opposite: “Eat my shorts!”.

Gerrard Eckhoff: Does she consider it acceptable that her Minister for Rural Affairs is even considering two systems of public access to waterways on private land, one for Mâori and one for others, and what advice has she provided him on having separate, race-based systems?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: The Government has been considering a range of advice from officials with a range of options in these matters. The member will have to await the decisions made by the Government.

Deborah Coddington: When did she first become aware that the Minister of Education, Trevor Mallard, had spent $14.6 million on the Te Mana campaign to raise Mâori educational expectations, with no measure of how many Mâori are staying in school or are enrolled in tertiary education as a result; and does she think it is good enough to spend millions of dollars on a campaign without having any way of measuring its effectiveness?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I do not have the information in front of me to give the exact answer, but I assume it was early on in the life of this Government, because the programme was approved by the National Party Government without there being the performance measures referred to by the member.

Heather Roy: Has her Minister of Health informed her that the number of patients on active review, waiting for operations, has increased by over 30,000 since she has been Minister of Health, and will she deny that thousands of those patients have been cut from the official waiting lists to make the numbers look good?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: There did not used to be a process of active review, so the statistics become somewhat meaningless. What I can confirm is that waiting times have been reduced.

Rodney Hide: In respect of the Prime Minister having confidence in herself, will she confirm whether she will be meeting with the police regarding their investigation into her speeding motorcade; and will she also confirm that her driver prepared a report on the speeding incident, as he was required to do?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I do not have information in front of me in that respect, but of course I can confirm that the Prime Minister is a hard-working and conscientious Prime Minister.

Rodney Hide: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. [Interruption]

Mr SPEAKER: There are interjections from both sides of the House.

Rodney Hide: Well, it is David Cunliffe who is the annoying one every time.

Mr SPEAKER: I am just asking Mr Hide to please come to the point.

Rodney Hide: Well, I would if I didn’t get interrupted.

Mr SPEAKER: The member will do it or he will not be having one.

Rodney Hide: I seek your guidance, Mr Speaker. The Prime Minister has not turned up for question time, and we have Michael Cullen filling in for her. We asked a supplementary question. Normally, when Ministers do not have the information available they undertake to supply it to the member asking the question in the House. I suggest that it would be quite helpful if you would recommend that the Minister standing in for the Prime Minister did so in respect of that last supplementary question.

Mr SPEAKER: No. The Minister addressed the question satisfactorily as far as my requirements are concerned.

Child, Youth and Family Services, Department—United Future's Policy

7. Hon PETER DUNNE (Leader—United Future) to the Associate Minister for Social Development and Employment (CYF): Has the Government given any consideration to the CYFS policy that was announced by United Future on 1 April 2004?

Hon RUTH DYSON (Associate Minister for Social Development and Employment (CYF)): I again congratulate United Future on its constructive policy regarding the Department of Child, Youth and Family Services. It is consistent with many of the recommendations in the baseline review of the department undertaken last year. As the member knows, those recommendations have been endorsed and are being implemented. The Government is currently considering a range of further initiatives, particularly to enable Government and non-governmental agencies to work more closely together.

Hon Peter Dunne: Can the Minister elaborate on the last part of that answer, namely the foreshadowed ability for Government and non-governmental agencies to work more closely together, and just how she may see that emerging in practice?

Hon RUTH DYSON: One of the issues that became obvious during the baseline review was that there could be a legislative barrier towards investigations of abuse of children being undertaken by non-governmental organisation – employed social workers. The Government is currently considering removing that legislative barrier. That was one of the proposals in the United Future policy.

Moana Mackey: What has been the outcome of the baseline review of the Department of Child, Youth and Family Services?

Hon RUTH DYSON: As well as the investment of an additional $120 million in the Department of Child, Youth and Family Services and the employment of around 150 extra social workers by the end of 2004-05, the baseline review has also led to the creation of family and community services within the Ministry of Social Development. That initiative is in line with United Future’s proposals to further involve families, non-governmental organisations, and communities in the care and protection of children and young people.

Hon Peter Dunne: Can the Minister indicate whether consideration is being given to the differential intake system that we proposed, particularly as I believe that the head of her department was recently involved in Alberta, where a similar scheme was implemented, and may have much more direct experience of how it works?

Hon RUTH DYSON: Consideration of a differential intake response has been part of the Government’s policy programme for some time, and I am delighted that it has been endorsed by Paula Tyler, the new chief executive, on the basis of her own experience in Canada.

Hon Peter Dunne: Is the Minister able to give any indication to the House of both the process and the timing by which those new initiatives will be implemented?

Hon RUTH DYSON: If the proposal for a differential response is supported by the Government, then it is possible that that could be a legislative proposal on a Supplementary Order Paper to the current bill that is before a select committee.

Education—Funding

8. Hon BILL ENGLISH (National—Clutha-Southland) to the Minister of Education: What is the Government’s policy on how much parents, caregivers and communities should pay towards the cost of their children’s education?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD (Minister of Education): The Government provides sufficient funding for the curriculum to be delivered and for facilities to be maintained. Fifty-eight percent of that funding is provided in teacher salaries, 21 percent in operations grant funding, 10 percent in property funding, and the rest comes from a variety of other pools. Schools can, and do, supplement Government funding with locally raised funds. Between 1997 and 2002—the latest full figures available—locally raised funds as a percentage of total revenue increased by 1.24 percent. Of course, within that there has been some substitution, from cake stalls to overseas students, with an increase in gross revenue but not in net locally raised funds.

Hon Bill English: Is the Minister aware that in 2002, the most recent year for which figures are available, schools and parents fundraised about $470 million in that one single year, and that it was equal to one-third of all school operations funding; and is that annual fundraising requirement of $470 million consistent with Labour Party policy?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: I am aware of some of those facts. The member should remember, of course, that operations grant funding, as opposed to the operational costs of running a school, is the figure he used. I am also aware that in Clutha-Southland there are at least 66 extra teachers funded as a result of improvements that this Government has introduced, over and above roll growth. There are 54 extra management units. Operations funding has increased by $1.6 million. Deficits are down, working capital is up, and equity is up in schools nationally.

Lynne Pillay: What reports has he seen on possible savings that could be made in order to increase school funding?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: I have seen reports from Bill English that schools are awash with cash. I have seen reports from Don Brash that benefits should be cut for truants. I think that is a bit like the pot calling the kettle black in this particular case.

Paul Adams: What guarantees does the Government have in place to ensure that any increases in the childcare assistance subsidy paid directly to providers are passed on to parents, and not soaked up by early childhood education providers; or can he confirm that there are actually none?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: I think there are two points. The first is that most of the additional payments are designed to pay staff, who will have to be qualified, and there is quite a differential between the salaries of unqualified and qualified staff. We are putting on requirements for staff to be qualified, and therefore they will have to be paid for that. That money will not be passed on to parents. On the general question of the rates that parents pay, monitoring work is going on—baseline work and some ongoing work—to ensure that parents are not ripped off as part of this change, and I agree with the philosophy behind the member’s comment.

Hon Bill English: Is the Minister proposing to spend $21 million this year on one-off payments to teachers who are members of unions, and why is he sending the message to parents that they have to keep selling raffle tickets in order to keep their schools viable, while he uses taxpayers’ money to do deals with Labour’s mates and subsidise union membership for teachers?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: I have a memory that goes back 2 years, when that member proposed paying them all $2,000 each—not $500, but $2,000 each.

Hon Bill English: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. What recourse does a member have when the Government continues to repeat a lie? I have never recommended a payment to union members only, and he knows that but keeps on lying to the House.

Mr SPEAKER: There are two things. First of all, the member cannot use that phrase, and will withdraw and apologise.

Hon Bill English: I withdraw and apologise.

Mr SPEAKER: The second point is that I now accept what the member said absolutely, and so will every other member of the House.

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I do this only to make it absolutely clear that the $500 applies to members covered by the collective agreement, and that is exactly what that member suggested.

Mr SPEAKER: That is not a point of order, and the Minister knows it.

Peter Brown: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I thought the Hon Bill English asked a very reasonable question. I think there are parents out there who want to know how the Minister has prioritised funds to pay $21 million to union members.

Mr SPEAKER: The point is that the Minister addressed the question. He may not have satisfied the member with his answer, but he addressed the question. The Minister gave a reply, and I have accepted Mr English’s comment absolutely, as every member must.

Hon Bill English: I seek leave to table the New Zealand Educational Institute contract negotiations update that makes it clear the $500 payment is a reward for union membership.

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

Rodney Hide: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I ask you in all seriousness to reconsider your ruling. Mr English asked a question, but all that the Minister of Education did was to attack him on something that turned out to be false, and that was it. You have said that if a member stands up to ask a question that the House is clearly interested in, and the Minister rises, makes a false accusation, and then sits down, that is considered by you to have addressed the question. I cannot see how that could possibly be the case.

Mr SPEAKER: I think the member has made a reasonable point. I now ask the Minister to address the question that was asked.

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: There are proposals in the negotiations that I am not commenting on in the House.

Hon Bill English: Can the Minister give the House a reassurance in relation to the primary teachers collective agreement newsletter No. 6, which states: “Under the progress made by your campaign 8.5 percent over 3 years”, and describes that as “parity maintained and union membership rewarded”; and can he confirm whether that is a correct representation of his $21 million payment to subsidise teachers who are members of the union only?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: No.

Dioxin Contamination, Paritutu—Blood Serum Tests

9. SUE KEDGLEY (Green) to the Associate Minister of Health: What are the results of the blood serum tests for dioxin exposure conducted on 24 New Plymouth residents, and what are the health implications of these results?

Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR (Associate Minister of Health): Blood serum tests were conducted on 24 residents, as the member said. They were all former residents of Paritutu. Blood has yet to be taken from about 20 further participants. Of the 24 tested, 12 were found to have higher levels of tetrachlorodibenzoparadioxin in their blood than the New Zealand average. Despite numerous studies over the years, it is still unclear what health effects may be linked to dioxin exposure, but I have been advised that a small increased health risk cannot be excluded.

Sue Kedgley: Can the Minister confirm that the report states that 30 years later levels of the most toxic form of dioxin, tetrachlorodibenzoparadioxin, are still three times higher on average than the national average; that one person had a level 10 times higher than the national average; and that there are likely to be people out there with higher levels still?

Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: I can confirm that. But what I will say is that adverse health outcomes from these levels of dioxin is not certain. In fact, the outcomes for each and every individual are quite different. We will be working with those people to make sure they feel comfortable with the process we have laid down.

Dr Paul Hutchison: Is he confident that blood tests from only 24 individuals, or, for that matter, only 50 individuals, are sufficient to give meaningful scientific data from which conclusions can be drawn; if so, why?

Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: The parameters for this study went through a thorough process of consultation with experts. The testing of, so far, 24 people is just an interim study. We will test 50 people, then sit down with the community and the experts and work out where to go next. We feel confident that the number tested so far does give an indication, and that there is an obligation for us to release these details, but the study is not complete, and there will be no certain conclusions drawn until that time.

Sue Kedgley: How will he help the residents in New Plymouth who have been informed this morning that they have significantly elevated levels of the most toxic form of dioxin, tetrachlorodibenzoparadioxin, in their blood—a chemical that the US department of health classifies as a known human carcinogen—and who will be worried for their future and the future of their offspring; and will the Government require Dow to pay for the medical costs and compensate the victims?

Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: I am not prepared to comment on discussions with Dow at this stage. What I will say is that we are putting in place an office in New Plymouth, and any people who have concerns can ring an 0800 number and get advice. We will be working with those people who have been tested and identified as having high levels of tetrachlorodibenzoparadioxin in their blood, to reassure them and to answer any concerns that they may have into the future.

Sue Kedgley: Given that the report confirms that the Dow plant was the source of the contamination, and given that the public health director, Don Matheson, told residents at a community group meeting that if there was proof that Dow had caused the problem, recompense would be sought, will the Government hold Dow to account and seek recompense?

Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: This is an interim result so far; we have to conclude the study before we draw any certain conclusions. At that point, and in consultation with the community, with Dow, and with the Ministry of Health, we will be making those decisions.

Sue Kedgley: Does the Government think that after 30 years of denials, false reassurances, and procrastination by successive Governments, the Government owes the residents of Paritutu an apology, just as it has apologised over other historic wrongs?

Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: At this stage I am not prepared to make judgment over past decisions by Governments. I am aware that there are many, many opinions about what has happened, and about what might be the outcome. I would just like to quote one person who was a participant in the study of 24—a Mr Doug West, who is 78 years old. He says he is a good candidate because he has lived in the area since 1958, and has been healthy apart from two hip replacements, and he says: “In my opinion, all this talk on dioxin is a load of bullshit.”

Mr SPEAKER: On reflection, I do not want that word used in parliamentary debate. The member could have mentioned that in a different way, and I just caution him.

Sue Kedgley: As the Associate Minister of Health, does he share the view that the contamination by dioxin is a nonsense, or whatever the word was that he used; and will the Government be setting up a specialist medical centre to assist persons, and how will it assist persons who were exposed in the 1970s but now live outside New Plymouth?

Mr SPEAKER: There were three questions there; two can be attempted.

Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: I quoted Mr West only because there is a range of views. This Government is concerned about the situation. That is why we initiated a comprehensive study of it, using the latest technology and the best international information we had. As I said before, there will be a local office that anyone with concerns can ring to ask questions of a medical officer. We will be doing everything to reassure that community and to work with it.

Police—Offence Report, Auckland

10. RON MARK (NZ First) to the Minister of Police: Was the detective senior sergeant in charge of the investigation into an aggravated burglary at 8 Rocky Nook Avenue, Auckland, on 12 September 2002, the only person involved in the decision whether to prosecute Phillip Layton Edwards; if not, who else was involved in the decision-making process?

Hon GEORGE HAWKINS (Minister of Police): Yes, I am advised that the detective senior sergeant in charge of the investigation made the decision not to prosecute. I am further advised that the office of the commissioner has had absolutely no input in the decision.

Ron Mark: Is the detective senior sergeant in charge of the investigation into an aggravated burglary at 8 Rocky Nook Avenue, Auckland, on 12 September 2002 the person responsible for stamping the police file of the incident “Confidential and not for unauthorised distribution or disclosure”; if not, who is?

Hon GEORGE HAWKINS: I do not have that information. I do not ask for police files. I do not see them, ever, and I do not intend to start to.

Ron Mark: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Can I draw to your attention some facts, and in doing so, ask—

Mr SPEAKER: What is the point of order?

Ron Mark: The point of order is this. The Minister received no less than eight questions for written answer on this issue on 16 August, to which he responded on 24 August. We then started to ask oral questions in this House on 25 August, and have done so every day. Are you to accept that the Minister has, despite all of that, not looked at the case or asked for a briefing? He has admitted in the House that he brought the matter to the attention of the Prime Minister. He must have had a reason for doing that. Am I to accept that he has not, at any stage since 16 August, up until now, looked at that file and at that issue, despite the fact that he has called for a complete report on the failure of police to respond to a select committee call? Is that a credible position for us to have to accept?

Hon Dr Michael Cullen: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The short answer to that question is yes. The Minister has stated it any number of times, and the Minister having stated that, the member has to accept his word unless he can prove otherwise. If he can, other mechanisms are available to him to deal with that matter.

Mr SPEAKER: And that is correct. If the member would simply look at Speaker’s ruling 144/6.

Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker.

Mr SPEAKER: Is this another point of order?

Gerry Brownlee: It is another point of order. The requirement though is that when questions are answered in the House, an answer should be given consistent with the public good. If you look at the face of this situation, you will find that the police decided not to prosecute, and the person they decided not to prosecute eventually murdered somebody else. There is a degree of murkiness around the relationship between the murderer and the murdered person. It stretches the credibility of the House, and indeed, of the Minister, if we are supposed to accept that he never asked the police what went on there.

Hon Dr Michael Cullen: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Firstly, may I suggest that members should be pulled up when they accuse people of doing things, contrary to what the jury has already actually decided. It is not for this House to start acting as some kind of Court of Appeal for the prosecution in those cases. What the Minister has said many times is that not only has he not seen the police file, but he does not wish to do so, it is not his practice, and he will not. That is a very good practice for a Minister of Police to follow. If the member thinks through, he might care to think why it is a good practice in a democracy for Ministers not to be reading police files.

Mr SPEAKER: I will rule on the point of order. I do not need any further assistance.

Gerry Brownlee: I’ll take another one, then.

Mr SPEAKER: The member will not take another one. If I give a ruling, the point of order will be a new one. It is up to the member what he accepts; it is no business of the Speaker.

John Carter: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I ask then, on that particular issue, how the Minister can answer the question as to who stamped the file, if he has had no advice?

Mr SPEAKER: That is a supplementary question. In the answer he gave he addressed that particular question.

Ron Mark: What possible reason could there be for the police not to prosecute a serious, repeat violent offender, and, further, offer him guarantees that the matter in question would never be disclosed despite the following: first, the police having a DNA stripe linking the offender to the scene; second, the police having a confession from the offender; and, third, the fact that the police did not require any further evidence to secure a prosecution?

Hon GEORGE HAWKINS: The police make decisions every day on the evidence before them and, of course, on whether they think they will get a conviction. The Commissioner of Police, who is the highest-ranked officer in the country, has himself reviewed the file, and he has advised me that usual procedures were followed in this case. There is absolutely nothing out of order. The case is completely above board.

Ron Mark: If Peter Shaw was not required to go to court and give evidence in order for the police to secure the conviction of Edwards, what trauma could the police have possibly been considering when they used that as part of their excuse not to prosecute Edwards for the Rocky Nook Avenue incident?

Hon GEORGE HAWKINS: I do not know what part of the story the member does not understand. Ministers of Police do not get involved in individual prosecutions. They never have and never will. I think it is a very dangerous thing that he is suggesting I do, and I hope he never gets the chance.

Ron Mark: Did police investigations into the reported aggravated burglary reveal that Phillip Edwards had visited 8 Rocky Nook Avenue a few days prior to the alleged violent attack on Peter Shaw on 12 September 2002?

Hon GEORGE HAWKINS: That is a matter for the police.

Ron Mark: Supplementary question.

Mr SPEAKER: No, New Zealand First has had its number today.

Ron Mark: I seek leave to ask one further supplementary question.

Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to ask a further supplementary question. The party has had its supplementaries, but a member may seek leave. Is there any objection? There is.

Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I just reflect on where things got to yesterday, with the possibility that where Ministers were not answering questions, some extra supplementary questions might go towards them. I think you are in danger of contradicting the ruling you gave yesterday, because by adhering to the formula that you have decided to apply to the House, you are judging that the Minister has answered the questions.

Mr SPEAKER: I am not judging his answers and I am not expressing any degree of satisfaction or dissatisfaction. He was asked a question. In each case, I listened very carefully and I thought that he addressed the question concerned satisfactorily in terms of the Standing Orders.

Peter Brown: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Perhaps you can give New Zealand First some guidance. Is looking at a police file getting involved in police operations?

Mr SPEAKER: That is not something that I can rule on, at all.

Peter Brown: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. We accept that you cannot rule on it—

Mr SPEAKER: Then why raise it as a point of order?

Peter Brown: Because I wanted confirmation. We have seen quite some questions asked by New Zealand First members—and, indeed, by other members—on this issue. It is an issue where the public have got the perception that something is not right in the State of Denmark—to put it bluntly. We believe that the Minister should, at least, examine the file and answer questions on what is in it. We do not believe that that is getting involved in the operations of the police. If he cannot, we question why we have a Minister of Police.

Mr SPEAKER: First of all, we are New Zealand, not Denmark. Secondly, I say to the member that he is just entering into debating material.

Question No. 11 to Minister

Hon HARRY DUYNHOVEN (Minister for Transport Safety): I seek leave to reword the description to “the Paritutu area of New Plymouth”, rather than as the question reads.

Mr SPEAKER: I will allow that.

Dioxin Contamination, Paritutu—Government Response

11. Hon HARRY DUYNHOVEN (Labour—New Plymouth) to the Associate Minister of Health: How has the Government responded to the claims of dioxin contamination in the Paritutu area of New Plymouth?

Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR (Associate Minister of Health): In 2001 an all-of-Government approach to organochlorine issues, of which dioxin is one, was implemented in New Zealand due to public concern. In the same year the Ministry of Health commissioned the Institute of Environmental Science and Research study, the first part of which was released today. Following community consultation, blood serum testing was deemed the best way to assess exposure, so the institute designed the study accordingly. The report released today shows the results from the first group of people tested as part of the study. There is a second group of people yet to be tested.

Hon Harry Duynhoven: How can affected people, or those with concerns that they may have been, access advice and help over possible or proven dioxin contamination?

Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: The Institute of Environmental Science and Research will complete the serum dioxin study. In the meantime, an 0800 line and web page on the Ministry of Health website have been established to ensure that everyone has access to the information and advice they need. Local medical officers of health are available to discuss people’s concerns. General practitioners around the country have been provided with information, and people tested as part one of the study will receive a personal follow-up.

Jeanette Fitzsimons: Why was the incinerator at the Dow AgroSciences chemical plant, which produced the dioxin that poisoned these people, given an exemption in just the last few months from the new environmental standards on dioxin that allows it to continue indefinitely to emit more dioxins than any other incinerating device?

Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: Indications from this interim report are that it was not the incinerator, at all, that was the cause of the leaks of emissions. In fact, at this stage, that seems to have been from fugitive emissions over a long period at a very low level of concentration.

Jeanette Fitzsimons: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Can you think about whether that was an adequate reply? My question did not ask whether the incinerator was responsible; it was about an exemption from new regulations to allow the incinerator to emit dioxin.

Mr SPEAKER: I do not judge on the adequacy of the reply. The Minister certainly addressed the question and gave an opinion.

Forestry—New Plantations

12. BRIAN CONNELL (National—Rakaia) to the Minister of Forestry: Is he concerned that the number of hectares planted per annum in new forestry plantations decreased by 63 percent between 1999 and 2003; if not, why not?

Hon JIM SUTTON (Minister of Forestry): I would prefer to see a faster rate of expansion, but I recognise that since the Government withdrew—[Interruption] Mr Speaker, could I be heard in silence, please?

Mr SPEAKER: Yes—[Interruption] Order! The Minister asked reasonably to have his answer heard. There is no need to shout out.

Hon JIM SUTTON: I would prefer to see a faster rate of expansion, but I recognise that since the Government withdrew from large-scale investment in forest planting, private sector investment has closely followed short-term trends in free on board log prices.

Brian Connell: Is the Minister concerned that the majority of forest owners attribute the record low plantings to the Government’s intention to introduce a land-use change tax of between $18,000 and $25,000 per hectare; can the Minister confirm that that is the Government’s intention?

Hon JIM SUTTON: The member has obviously got things completely wrong. The Government has assumed liability for the Kyoto Protocol deforestation carbon charges where it is has assumed the relevant credits—that is, for everything planted post-1989.

Janet Mackey: Is investment in the forestry industry really in the doldrums, as the Opposition seems to think?

Hon JIM SUTTON: Hardly. North American investors seem to find New Zealand forestry an attractive investment, as is witnessed by the arrival of several timber industry management organisations and Harvard University. I can assure other potential investors that there is still room for more investment in our industry, especially in wood processing.

Brian Connell: Is the Minister concerned that the forestry industry, our third-biggest export earner, is facing significant damage because Australia, which is New Zealand’s biggest wood-product customer, is heading towards becoming self-sufficient due to rapid rates of new planting, and is not considering a land-use change tax?

Hon JIM SUTTON: I am well aware that Australia is rapidly approaching self-sufficiency. Indeed, it has always been self-sufficient in hardwoods but it is not yet self-sufficient in softwoods, which are what New Zealand principally produces. In addition, we have wonderful prospects in the North Asian markets. The Government is leading the way in opening up those markets for our industry.

Hon Matt Robson: How is the Labour-Progressive Government working to facilitate increased profitability throughout the forestry industry?

Hon JIM SUTTON: We are pursuing a wood-processing strategy that is working towards removing impediments to investment. The Government is also working in partnership with the industry on initiatives to improve the industry’s profitability, such as the $23 million per year allocated to improve the transport infrastructure. Improved profitability will turn investor sentiment around, and the Government is working hard to effect that.

Questions to Members

Question No. 1 to Member

Mr SPEAKER: I advise members that the question cannot be asked because the chairperson is absent. That question is postponed until the next sitting day.

Question postponed.

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

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