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Questions & Answers for Oral Answer 13 October

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

Wednesday, 13 October 2004
Questions for Oral Answer
Questions to Ministers

1. Housing New Zealand—Treaty of Waitangi
2. Career Planning—Economic and Social Policy
3. Accident Compensation Corporation—Bold Perspectives, Shared Objectives Injury Prevention and Rehabilitation Conference
4. Local Government—Voting System
5. Early Childhood Education—Teachers
6. Trade Negotiations, Minister—Confidence
7. Small Business—Economic Growth
8. Te Arawa—Rotorua Lake Beds
9. Beneficiaries—Reciprocal Responsibility
10. Local Government—Election Results
11. Television New Zealand—Dividend
12. Airports—Congestion, Auckland and Christchurch

Questions to Members


13. Fisheries and Other Sea-related Legislation Committee—Specialist Adviser

Questions for Oral Answer

Questions to Ministers

Housing New Zealand—Treaty of Waitangi

1. Dr MURIEL NEWMAN (ACT) to the Minister of Housing: Did he receive a letter dated 22 August 2003 from Housing New Zealand Acting Chief Executive Jordan Alexander providing a “Mâori Responsiveness Update” that advised him that Housing New Zealand had developed “a new set of organisational behaviours that relate to HNZC’s values seen from a Tiriti/Treaty two-world perspective” and does he support Housing New Zealand having a two-world perspective?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY (Minister of Housing): The corporation did provide a Mâori responsiveness update that noted the main element of its strategic role was to support the Crown in its Treaty of Waitangi relationship with Mâori. The actions that Housing New Zealand Corporation intended to take to provide this support were to ensure that the values and behaviours of staff were informed by appropriate knowledge and training, accepting that the different people the corporation works with have different ways of looking at the world, based on their distinct culture, traditions, and beliefs.

Dr Muriel Newman: Can he confirm that the recruitment and promotion of Housing New Zealand staff is “Informed by a Tiriti/Treaty two-world view.”, and what happens to those staff, and potential staff, who do not agree with Housing New Zealand’s two-world view?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: The member touches, of course, on employment matters in relation to how the corporation hires its staff. But what I can say is that the corporation itself does not have—and I said this last week in answer to a question—a two-world view of the treaty. What is happening is that the organisation understands that its clients have different ways of looking at the world, and it wants to ensure its staff understands that. That is part of the training that they apply to their staff.

Georgina Beyer: What range of housing support has this Government provided to meet the diverse range of New Zealanders’ housing needs?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: There are many examples, but I shall cite four: providing homes to meet the needs of elderly people through working with partnerships in the third sector, like Abbeyfield; providing larger homes designed to meet the needs of Pacific people, thereby helping to reduce the instance of disease; the Rural Housing Programme to improve substantive housing and prevent children from dying in house fires, like they have, unfortunately, in the past; and over 1,400 community group homes to meet the needs of people with mental, physical, intellectual, and other special needs. In other words, the Government attempts to be responsive to different communities.

Katherine Rich: On what date did he first learn that Housing New Zealand was developing a two-world view, and does he accept responsibility for this two-world view?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: I cannot give the exact date, although I am willing to find out for the member when I might have received the first piece of paper or briefing on this matter. However, I repeat to the member, as I have said repeatedly in the House; the corporation does not have a two-world view of the treaty. The corporation understands that there are different views out there in the community, and it ensures that its staff are aware of that as they go about doing their job.

Brent Catchpole: Why is the Government not insisting that Housing New Zealand prioritise the housing needs of all New Zealanders, regardless of ethnicity, race, or beliefs?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: Not only do I insist that, but the corporation insists that itself. It has a social allocation system that the member can get hold of himself, and he will find that it is blind to ethnicity.

Metiria Turei: So the Minister would then agree that it is perfectly reasonable—indeed, critical—for Housing New Zealand to consider different cultural perspectives and world views within and in the provision of its services, if Housing New Zealand is to take a needs-based approach to the housing needs of New Zealanders?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: I agree that it is essential that any public service provider is aware of the fact that its clients will come from different points of view, but those points of view should be understood in terms of providing a service to them.

Deborah Coddington: Is the Minister aware of the induction programme for Housing New Zealand staff that begins by having new staff learn to explain what the two-world view is, what its purpose is, and how it can be applied to the workplace internally and externally; and can he explain what the purpose of the two-world view is?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: I can explain what the purpose of the two-world view is, because I have just explained it, I think, in answer to every single question I have been asked in the last 2 or 3 minutes. The answer is that the corporation understands that its clients have different ways of looking at the world and that they have different values and beliefs. The corporation wants to ensure that its staff understand those different views so they can provide a better service to people.

Gerrard Eckhoff: Does the Minister accept that under the Treaty of Waitangi Mâori might reasonably have expected that “the bulk of the country would still belong to the tribes, which would rule themselves as they wished, with some Pâkehâ settlers there by agreement and observing Mâori law”, as taught in Housing New Zealand’s training programme for staff?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: My understanding of the treaty is a little different from that. I would like the member to show me that piece of the training and I will follow it up.

Rodney Hide: Does the Minister find it acceptable that taxpayers’ money has been used on Housing New Zealand’s training manual, Kete 2, that requires staff to complete “30 days of affirmations and meditation” to deepen their understanding and application of Housing New Zealand’s two-world view framework?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: I go back to the central point I have made a number of times. The department is attempting to ensure that its staff understand there are different ways of looking at the world. Mr Hide, for example, has a way of looking at the world. Very few other people look at the world that way—a shrinking number of them, of course—but we respect that point of view, as well.

Gordon Copeland: If a person’s world view is determined by his or her cultural background, and if in New Zealand we have people from, say, a hundred different cultural backgrounds, why does Housing New Zealand have a two-world view rather than a 100-world view?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: As I have said a number of times in answer to questions today, the corporation does not have a two-world view of the Treaty of Waitangi. What it understands is that it has obligations—as I said in answer to the first question—as part of the apparatus of the Crown, under the Treaty of Waitangi, to recognise different world views. That is what it recognises. That is what it is acting on.

Dr Muriel Newman: Does the Minister accept that the Mâori world view is equal to the Crown world view?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: The Treaty of Waitangi accords status to both the Crown view and Mâori in relation to the treaty. In relation to the provision of public services, we are talking about people who come from different cultural backgrounds and who have different beliefs and values, and they will be respected.

Gerrard Eckhoff: I seek leave of the House to table the pre-course manual, Kete 1, from Housing New Zealand.

Leave granted.

Deborah Coddington: I seek leave to table a Housing New Zealand Corporation induction programme, so that participants will be able to explain what the two-world view is and explain the purpose of the two-world view.

Leave granted.

Dr Muriel Newman: I seek leave to table the recruitment policy and two-world view of Housing New Zealand.

Leave granted.

Rodney Hide: I seek leave to table the training manual, Kete 2, of Housing New Zealand, which sets out the programme of 30 days of affirmations and mediation on the two-world view perspective.

Leave granted.

Hon Ken Shirley: I seek leave for all of these tabled documents to be bound in one single document.

Mr SPEAKER: The member has sought leave for that. Is there any objection? There is.

Career Planning—Economic and Social Policy

2. MOANA MACKEY (Labour) to the Associate Minister of Education (Tertiary Education): What is the Government doing to make it more attractive for young New Zealanders to train for careers that are crucial for our economic and social well-being?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY (Associate Minister of Education (Tertiary Education)): This year, for the first time, the Government offered Step Up Scholarships to pay part of the fee for school leavers from modest-income households enrolling in critical areas of study. Step Up Scholarships in human and animal health are now being expanded to include students up to the age of 24 and to reduce the fee the student has to pay to just $1,000. StudyLink will also begin this year to promote among schools the new Step Up Scholarships for school leavers studying science and technology, because the Step Up Scholarships will be available to them as well.

Moana Mackey: Are there any policy changes in related areas that will have an impact on Step Up Scholarships?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: Yes. Step Up Scholarships are targeted at low and modest income households on the basis of the student allowance eligibility. Allowance changes next year will increase the proportion of 18 to 24 year-olds who will get allowances from 38 percent to 57 percent, so this will also have a major impact on students being able to get a Step Up Scholarship. Another policy change that will impact on Step Up Scholarships would be to allow institutions to charge whatever fees they like, since step ups commit the Government to pay all fees in excess of $1,000 to $2,000. That would expose the Government to fiscal risk. I therefore expect that some fees would go up under a potential National Government and they would also scrap Step Up Scholarships.

Hon Bill English: Can the Minister confirm that after 5 years of writing strategies and employing hundreds of people, he has lost confidence in the Tertiary Education Commission, and that he would be better to take the $45 million a year that he wastes on them, and spend some of it on more Step Up Scholarships?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: I applaud the member’s support for the Step Up Scholarships, because we will be trying to extend them in the future and I look forward to his support. I remind him that the money he quoted in relation to the Tertiary Education Commission, goes on, for example, major programmes like Gateway, a staggeringly successful programme that I know he supports, as well.

Paul Adams: Can the Minister confirm that the Government is investigating the possibility of restricting university enrolments in over-subscribed courses of study through funding mechanisms, and is also considering raising entry standards for university enrolments?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: Universities set the standards of entry into their courses, so they will continue to do that. As part of the strategic approach to investment—yes, we are looking at ways that we can provide incentives for students to go into areas where the country needs their skills.

Accident Compensation Corporation—Bold Perspectives, Shared Objectives Injury Prevention and Rehabilitation Conference

3. SUE BRADFORD (Green) to the Minister for ACC: What is the purpose of the Bold Perspectives, Shared Objectives Injury Prevention and Rehabilitation Conference that ACC is hosting in March 2005?

Hon RUTH DYSON (Minister for ACC): The conference will bring together a number of top national and international experts on injury prevention and rehabilitation. It will provide a valuable opportunity to learn from international experience and research, and for New Zealand to share the outstanding results of our unique and successful accident compensation scheme.

Sue Bradford: Why has the Accident Compensation Corporation (ACC) selected as a keynote speaker Steve Longford, an FBI-trained criminal profiler who works on counter-terrorism and serial violent crime, and how does that fit in with the purposes of the conference?

Hon RUTH DYSON: Mr Longford was a guest speaker at the Australian Rehabilitation Providers Association conference in March this year, and appealed to ACC because of his outstanding work in the area of family violence injury prevention. It is not an area on which we have particular expertise, and I am looking forward to hearing his views.

Hon Mark Gosche: What proportion of accident compensation claimants are successfully rehabilitated within a year of their injury?

Hon RUTH DYSON: I am advised that over 90 percent of claimants are successfully rehabilitated, measured by a combination of the rate of return to work and positive assessments of claimants gaining maximum independence. By world standards, this is a first-class achievement.

Peter Brown: Can the Minister give the House some idea of the estimate of the costs of this conference, and will she guarantee that there will be benefits in the long term for accident compensation victims; if so, how?

Hon RUTH DYSON: I am unable to give the final total costings for the conference, but I am quite happy to forward that information to the member when it becomes available. I am confident, when I look at the 30 or so speakers, both from within New Zealand and international, that it will be very worthwhile.

Sue Bradford: Does the Minister consider that Steve Longford’s presence at the conference creates an appropriate perception among claimants of the corporation’s role in rehabilitation, given that his current focus is on providing behavioural intelligence and deception detection expertise to counter-terrorist, corporate, and Government bodies around the world?

Hon RUTH DYSON: I think it is an added bonus that he is also an expert in counter-terrorism activities, but that is not the primary reason we have invited him to an injury prevention conference in New Zealand. The reason for the invitation is his expertise in family violence prevention.

Peter Brown: Can the Minister give us even the slightest indication of what this will cost, or is it what we would term a “blank cheque” conference?

Hon RUTH DYSON: No, I cannot give the member any vague indication, because I do not think that would be helpful to the member. It is certainly not a blank cheque. The fact is, as I outlined in my answer to the previous supplementary question, that I do not have the finalised costs available. When I do have them available, I will be very happy to forward them to the member.

Sue Bradford: Is the Minister concerned at all that despite her efforts to change the attitude of ACC towards claimants over the last 5 years, ACC often retains its old culture of blaming rather than supporting accident victims—particularly long-term claimants—and risks intensifying that culture by viewing them via Mr Longford as potential terrorists and serial criminals?

Hon RUTH DYSON: No, I do not agree with that suspicion at all. In my view, it would be more helpful for the member to acknowledge the reason Mr Longford is coming here, and not add to any suspicion that would fuel the very concern she has about ACC.

Local Government—Voting System

4. Hon Dr NICK SMITH (National—Nelson) to the Minister of Local Government: Does he stand by his speech to the local government conference 2004 that “This will be a historic election” and “The work that has gone into planning for the introduction of STV is a great example of the successful partnership that exists at present between central and local government.”?

Hon CHRIS CARTER (Minister of Local Government): Yes, I do. Single transferable voting (STV) itself is not the problem. The problem is the processing of the vote count by two contractors.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: Could the Minister advise the House of the specific “historic”, great, or “successful” aspect of the local elections; was it the record low turnout, was it the lateness of the reporting of the results, was it the record high number of invalid votes, was it the mess for thousands of voters—

Mr SPEAKER: That is four questions already.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: —or was it the massive counting debacle that has resulted in tens of thousands of votes not being counted in official results?

Mr SPEAKER: That is five questions. The Minister may comment on two.

Hon CHRIS CARTER: I think the comment that would best answer all five is that the implementation, the funding, and the organisation and contracting of local elections is the business of local councils.

David Parker: Were there successful vote counting outcomes by other companies in the 2004 elections?

Hon CHRIS CARTER: Yes there were. The preliminary results from the largest STV election in the country, that for the Auckland District Health Board, were available by 10 p.m. on election day. We need to ensure that those sorts of high standards apply across the whole country.

Jim Peters: When the Minister stated in December 2002 that: “The Government has provided options for communities to increase electoral participation and equitable representation.”, was he referring to 2004 or to a future Government in 2007; if so, which particular options was he thinking about?

Hon CHRIS CARTER: Could the member please repeat the question?

Jim Peters: When the Minister stated in December 2002, with regard to the Local Government Bill of 2002 at that stage, that: “The Government has provided options for communities to increase electoral participation and equitable representation.”, was he referring to 2004 or to a future Government in 2007, or what options did he have in mind?

Hon CHRIS CARTER: My comments were in reference to the Local Government Bill of 2002, which provided communities with the ability to choose their voting system. I remind the House again that the 10 councils that chose to use the STV system all chose it for themselves.

Rod Donald: Can the Minister confirm that all nine STV elections conducted by Taranaki councils and by Independent Election Services went smoothly and, in particular, that the results of the Auckland District Health Board election that he referred to, where over 127,000 votes were processed, were announced on Saturday night—

Hon Dr Nick Smith: 13,000!

Mr SPEAKER: The member will now leave the Chamber. I have warned—and I gave it a second ago when another member did it—that the member cannot do that. He knows that is out of order. He is to leave the Chamber.

Hon Dr Nick Smith withdrew from the Chamber.

Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. You have just asked a member to leave the Chamber in the middle of a question that is set down in his name. I suggest that that is extremely unfair. Ministers regularly abuse the Standing Orders and, indeed, your repeated rulings to them about the conciseness required in answers to questions, yet on many occasions Ministers such as Mr Mallard have been allowed to remain in the House because they had to answer a question at some time in the future. I think that it is most unfair that Dr Smith has been asked to leave prior to the end of his question. We appreciate that you have made your ruling, and we accept your ruling, but we ask you to consider whether it may be appropriate for him to return to the Chamber to ask the final supplementary question that he would ordinarily be entitled to.

Mr SPEAKER: I will give that point to the member. It was his original question. I will allow him to ask his supplementary questions, and then he is to leave.

Rod Donald: Can the Minister confirm that all nine STV elections conducted by the Taranaki councils and by Independent Election Services went smoothly, and in particular, as the Minister mentioned, that the Auckland District Health Board election, which had the largest vote—of over 127,000 votes—was processed and announced by 10 p.m., and that Kaipara was announced by 7.30 p.m. and Thames by 8.30 p.m.; and does he agree that the unacceptable delays with other results are due to problems with Electionz.com and Datamail, rather than with the STV electoral system itself?

Hon CHRIS CARTER: I can confirm the details the member has given and I do agree that it is a processing problem, not a problem with STV.

Heather Roy: Is the Minister not embarrassed that his local body elections using STV have produced such a shambolic result and been outperformed by Afghanistan, which has just had its first election in 5,000 years?

Hon CHRIS CARTER: I can confirm that I am extraordinarily annoyed that this has taken place. I am very disappointed for the candidates, for the communities that are still waiting to see who their mayors and councillors will be, and for the district health boards that are still waiting to find out who their members will be. This is an intolerable situation that must not happen again.

Larry Baldock: Has the Minister considered requesting the services of the United Nations electoral supervisory body once it has completed its task in Afghanistan in order to sort out the electoral botch-up that is affecting numerous local government elections here in New Zealand; if not, what assurances can he give that local government democracy will not be run like the elections in the state of Florida in the future?

Mr SPEAKER: The Minister may answer the first part of the question.

Hon CHRIS CARTER: No.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: Can the Minister confirm that his local government officials have been working with Datamail for the last 2 years to develop the software and system for counting votes, and that his department approved the outsourcing to Datamail as stated in the National Business Review on 24 September this year; and given this detailed involvement of his department, why does he not accept responsibility?

Hon CHRIS CARTER: My department does not engage itself in making contracts for the counting of votes. That is done by councils. Those negotiations took place between territorial authorities and the companies that they contracted out to. That is none of my business.

Peter Brown: Noting those answers, does the Minister accept personally any responsibility at all for the bungle in this year’s local body elections; if so, could he briefly outline where he believes he has failed?

Hon CHRIS CARTER: My responsibility as Minister of Local Government is to provide the statutory framework under which these elections take place. My business is not to engage in contracts; that is the business of local government. What I am doing is trying to provide a solution to this problem. I have asked my officials today to work with Local Government New Zealand to see, if this company is not able to fulfil its contracts, what alternatives we have to ensure that the vote is counted as soon as possible.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: What did the Minister mean when he said on National Radio this morning “the integrity of the vote is always going to be in doubt now”?

Hon CHRIS CARTER: The member failed to give the rest of what I said in that interview, which was: “unless we make absolutely sure that this vote is counted properly and promptly”.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: I seek leave to table the statement of 24 September from the Datamail general manager that the Department of Internal Affairs’ local government section had worked to develop the—

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

Leave granted.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: I further seek leave of the House to table the transcript in which the Minister said that the vote would always now be in doubt.

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

Hon Chris Carter: I seek leave to table a statement I have just put out from my office, asking my officials to look at new options for how the vote count could be done.

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

Leave granted.

Hon Tony Ryall: I seek leave to table a document from the Auckland District Health Board, which used STV voting, showing that over 12,000 votes were thrown out because of the complexity of the STV voting system.

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

Leave granted.

Early Childhood Education—Teachers

5. LIANNE DALZIEL (Labour—Christchurch East) to the Minister of Education: What steps is he taking to ensure that there is an adequate supply of appropriately qualified early childhood teachers?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD (Minister of Education): Over the next 4 years, $41.4 million will be invested in a scholarships scheme to give assistance to people from low-income backgrounds to train to be early childhood teachers. Our Government is committed to getting more and more young children into affordable, accessible, and top-quality early childhood education. Getting properly qualified teachers is an incredibly important part of that.

Lianne Dalziel: Why is the Government moving to increase the number of qualified and registered early childhood teachers?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: Quality early childhood education is a vital foundation for future learning and success in later life. It is obvious, looking around, that too few people have had it.

Hon Bill English: Why is the Minister insisting that the Ministry of Education close down the Kâwhia Early Childhood Learning Centre, when it has a qualified teacher who happens to have a primary school degree, rather than an early childhood education qualification; and why is he going to the High Court to try to get it shut?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: I think there are three points. I am advised that Kâwhia has received considerable assistance from the Ministry of Education, including solutions to the licensing issue, and has turned them down. My second point is that Kâwhia has gone to the High Court, not the ministry. If the member cannot tell the direction on that, it is no wonder he is failing badly.

Trade Negotiations, Minister—Confidence

6. DAIL JONES (NZ First) to the Prime Minister: Does she have confidence in her Minister for Trade Negotiations; if so, why?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Acting Prime Minister): Yes, because he is a hard-working and conscientious Minister.

Dail Jones: Is the Prime Minister so confident, bearing in mind that her Minister continues to be bullied by Australia in trade matters—for example, the Minister cannot even get access to Australia for a few apples—and he is bullied when it comes to Australian wine industry—[Interruption]

Mr SPEAKER: The member will leave the Chamber. I said there would be no interjections during question time. The member knows who I am looking at. Janet Mackey will leave the Chamber. I like to be even-handed in these matters. I heard a particular member interject. That was the member I was referring to.

Janet Mackey withdrew from the Chamber.

Dail Jones: Why does Mr Hawkins not go? It will be the first time he has accepted responsibility for anything this year. If I may restart my question, is the Prime Minister confident that her Minister for Trade Negotiations will not be bullied by the Australians in trade matters—for example, he cannot even get a few apples exported into Australia, he keels over backwards when the Australians put subsidies on wine, and, as far as the United States is concerned, he is weak on the free-trade agreement; what will the Minister do about that weak attitude of the Minister for Trade Negotiations?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I will just pick out one of those. The ban on New Zealand apples has been in place since 1921—a year before the lakes were not sold to the Crown. We have made significant progress towards achieving the removal of that ban. New Zealand has consistently argued for it to be based on scientific grounds, and the Australians are moving somewhat glacially in that direction.

Dr the Hon Lockwood Smith: When does she expect the Minister for Trade Negotiations will do more than be just hopeful—as he is quoted saying today—that the Australian ban on the importation of New Zealand apples will be lifted, given that the United States has recently won a case at the World Trade Organization against Japan on the same issue, using New Zealand research, and Australia has been playing with New Zealand for the past 5 years on this current application lodged in 1999?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Firstly, the Americans have not got any apples into Japan yet despite winning the World Trade Organization case. Secondly, this Minister, unlike the member who asked the question, actually did get progress with the Australians. As the member will be aware, during the election campaign there was a bit of moving around in the Australian Government position. We are confident that Australia will actually moot a position where science will be allowed to determine the issue, and the issue is clear—fire blight is not carried on mature apples.

Rod Donald: Will the Prime Minister tell her Minister for Trade Negotiations that she will not sign any trade deal with any country that refuses to ratify, respect, and abide by core international labour standards or involves the import of cheap contracted labour from ASEAN countries to New Zealand, as suggested by the ASEAN secretary general just last month?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: This country takes a firm position in trying to support labour and environmental standards as part of trade agreements, but it is not always possible to get those included. We are certainly not going to cut off our own noses to spite our faces in that respect.

Dail Jones: How can the Prime Minister have confidence in her Minister for Trade Negotiations when we currently have a trade deficit that has blown out to $2.07 billion in the June quarter, when we have had the worst August year since 1982—and we know what happened that year—and this Minister has done absolutely nothing to face up to the gravest problem our economy is facing today?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I was not aware of what the last matter was referring to; if it was the price of oil, I think it is a bit much to expect the New Zealand Minister for Trade Negotiations to get international oil prices down.

Dail Jones: I take it then from the Minister’s answer that the Prime Minister expects the Minister for Trade Negotiations to do absolutely nothing?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I certainly do not expect the Minister for Trade Negotiations to achieve a reduction in the international oil price.

Small Business—Economic Growth

7. MARK PECK (Labour—Invercargill) to the Minister for Small Business: What recent reports has he received on economic growth in the small-business sector?

Hon JOHN TAMIHERE (Minister for Small Business): More evidence that the economy is powering along under the great stewardship of this Government and its excellent Minister of Finance: according to the National Bank’s Small Business Monitor released last Friday, year-on-year growth in the small-business sector was 4.6 percent at the end of the December quarter.

Mark Peck: What did the report highlight as the most significant concern for a small business?

Hon JOHN TAMIHERE: The major hurdle identified by small businesses is a skills shortage. Fortunately, after years of neglect from National-led Governments, this Government is working hard to solve that problem in a whole host of ways. Unlike those on the other side who continue to fight yesterday’s battles, we, like the business community, are moving on with confidence.

Te Arawa—Rotorua Lake Beds

8. SIMON POWER (National—Rangitikei) to the Minister of Conservation: Was he advised by his department that the proposed Te Arawa lakes settlement would require an exception to the Crown’s settlement principles; if so, why is the Government proceeding to make this exception?

Hon CHRIS CARTER (Minister of Conservation): Yes. My department had initial concerns about the impact of the settlement on the autonomy of local authorities. As I said in my reply yesterday, the concern has been addressed in the current deed of settlement, in agreement with the relevant local government authorities.

Simon Power: Why did he state in a letter to the Minister in charge of Treaty of Waitangi Negotiations that he was not “persuaded that settlement negotiations are the appropriate forum to address regulatory reform”, and is this not evidence that the Te Arawa proposal is about contemporary resource management issues, and not a grievance of the type that a treaty settlement process is supposed to deal with?

Hon CHRIS CARTER: As I said in my initial answer, we did raise concerns at the beginning of this process. Negotiations over a settlement are an ongoing process. We have moved on and addressed those issues.

Steve Chadwick: Does the Minister have any concerns about the Te Arawa settlement and its impact on conservation?

Hon CHRIS CARTER: None whatsoever. I believe that a partnership between Te Arawa, the Rotorua District Council, and Environment Bay of Plenty, with support from Government agencies, including my own department, will ensure the best possible future management of the Rotorua lakes. The public interest in the lakes is protected, and we are likely to see a significant improvement in the health of the lakes’ ecosystem.

Hon Ken Shirley: Can, and will, the Minister explain his Government’s transfer of the iconic Rotorua lakes out of public ownership to meet iwi claims, while simultaneously insisting that the coastal foreshore and seabed be held exclusively in public ownership in spite of iwi claims?

Hon CHRIS CARTER: My responsibility as Minister of Conservation is to be an advocate for the biodiversity and conservation values of the lakes. I am confident they will be better addressed after the settlement.

Hon Ken Shirley: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. My question was quite specific. I asked the Minister to explain the apparent contradiction between the foreshore and seabed issue and the Rotorua lakes issue. He made no attempt at all to answer that question.

Mr SPEAKER: I thought he did attempt to answer that question. It might not have been answered in the way the member wanted, but he certainly did address the question.

Simon Power: Does he agree with his officials’ advice in relation to the Te Arawa lakes settlement offer that they “do not support contemporary resource management issues being addressed in the context of a historical treaty settlement”; and does not this advice simply show that the whole Te Arawa proposal is unsuitable as a historical treaty settlement?

Hon CHRIS CARTER: As I have said twice already, we have moved on in the negotiations. But I would like to quote the words of the Mayor of Rotorua, Grahame Hall: “The people of Rotorua don’t deserve to be the butt of political posturing that was more about rating well in the polls than ensuring a positive and harmonious future for our residents.” Mr Hall was talking about Don Brash.

Mr SPEAKER: I just advise the member whom I am about to call that it is not appropriate to call out “Yes or no?”. Ministers will answer in the way they address the question.

Simon Power: Why did the Government not accept the Minister’s advice and that of his officials that the Te Arawa proposal is about contemporary resource management issues, and is not a historical treaty grievance settlement; and is that not evidence of how politically motivated this Government’s treaty settlement process has become?

Hon CHRIS CARTER: As we have already explained, we have moved on in the negotiations. [Interruption] If the member is so concerned about the recognition of Mâori ownership of lake beds, how does he explain National’s agreement to recognise iwi ownership of Lake Taupô and Lake Ellesmere?

Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I would be interested to know how you could consider that the Minister had addressed this question adequately. The question went right to the heart of the policy decision that the Government has overturned, in the case of the Department of Conservation’s advice to the Minister in charge of Treaty of Waitangi Negotiations. I would have thought that it would be quite an easy matter for the Minister just to say that his advice had not been accepted and that the Government had decided to go ahead with a certain course of action, or perhaps to explain how his advice has been taken by the Government, in the context of the settlement.

Mr SPEAKER: As far as I am concerned, the member has offered how he would have answered the question. The Minister gave his answer, and it addressed the question.

Simon Power: I seek leave to table a letter from Chris Carter to the Hon Margaret Wilson regarding the Te Arawa lakes settlement, in which he stated that he was not currently “persuaded that settlement negotiations are the appropriate forum to address regulatory reform”.

Leave granted.

Beneficiaries—Reciprocal Responsibility

9. PAUL ADAMS (United Future) to the Minister for Social Development and Employment: Does he agree that people who receive a benefit have a reciprocal responsibility to minimise their reliance on the State; if not, why not?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY (Minister for Social Development and Employment): Yes. For example, people have a clear responsibility to take up job opportunities that are offered to them. Work and Income has experienced significant success in this regard, with record numbers of employment placements and a 50 percent drop in the number of people needing an unemployment benefit since this Government was elected. New initiatives and strong employment opportunities have seen the total number of working-age beneficiaries reduce by over 57,000 since 1999, and I look forward to continued success in this regard.

Paul Adams: Can the Minister confirm that over the past 5 years 44,793 recipients of the domestic purposes, unemployment, sickness, and invalids benefits had additional children while on the benefit, and, notwithstanding the odd accident, is he satisfied that these people have taken their reciprocal responsibilities seriously?

Hon Annette King: Abstinence!

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: That may be a way forward, and maybe that is something people ought to consider. When we look at the list of figures of people who are on the domestic purposes benefit we see that most have a very small number, and they move off that benefit very quickly—about 3.5 years is the average time after which they come off the benefit. The kind of person who is on that benefit is usually a person in his or her early 30s who has come out of a relationship and moves on from that benefit. We will continue to ensure that people who are on all of these benefits live up to their obligations, move off the benefit when they are able to, and move into a job and support themselves, as we are very successfully doing.

Tim Barnett: What initiatives are in place to ensure that people receiving a benefit have opportunities to move into employment?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: A wide range of initiatives are in place to help people into work. For example, the domestic purposes benefit and widows benefit reforms are already seeing an increased number of people exit to work. Jobs Jolt initiatives such as industry partnerships are opening up new opportunities. The sickness and invalids benefit strategy is showing encouraging results in assisting people to recover and return to employment. Active approaches like our seasonal work strategy are helping people to take up opportunities that are available. We have an obligation to offer people employment opportunities, and they have a responsibility to take them.

Katherine Rich: How many clients, if any, since the implementation of the Jobs Jolt initiative have had their benefits reduced as a result of moving to remote areas with little prospect of paid work, or of failing an employment drug test?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: I would have to get the figures for the member. However, in relation to the low employment alert list that she is referring to with regard to people moving to a remote area, that is a list that was asked for by front-line staff, because, for example, if people work in Nelson and want to shift to somewhere where they are unfamiliar, staff simply use the list to say to them: “This is an area where you are unlikely to get a job.”, and usually they therefore do not go.

Paul Adams: Does the Minister accept that by not taking their reciprocal responsibility seriously, beneficiaries who purposely have additional children would receive at least $20 per week more, meaning an extra cost to the taxpayer of almost $1 million a week over the last 5 years, particularly when other forms of family assistance are included; if not, why not?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: If there are people whom the member knows about who do not take their reciprocal responsibilities seriously and are having babies so they can earn another $20 a week I would love him to bring those to my attention and we will follow them up.

Paul Adams: Why are sickness and invalid beneficiaries not required to undergo treatment as part of their reciprocal responsibility to the State?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: If people are on a sickness benefit, as was recently said by the national commissioner, they are sick and we therefore focus on getting them well so they can return to work. For example, they have to return to a doctor within a 13-week period after their first assessment, and they have to keep on going back to ensure that they are, indeed, moving towards being well. If the member is perhaps referring to people on an invalids benefit such as tetraplegics, for example, having to be constantly proving their health status, I imagine that the member would accept that they are tetraplegics.

Local Government—Election Results

10. GERRY BROWNLEE (Deputy Leader—National) to the Minister of Local Government: What responsibility does he accept for the “bungle” over this year’s local body elections?

Hon CHRIS CARTER (Minister of Local Government): None. Responsibility for this shambles lies with the two companies responsible for processing the count in the affected areas. I have directed my department to look at the specific problems that occurred, to see what assistance we can give to local authorities, so that they can avoid these problems in the future.

Gerry Brownlee: Can he confirm that the Department of Internal Affairs was directed by him to work with Datamail on its experimental software systems, that it approved those systems, which now have failed, and it is the failure of that Crown entity and that Government department that are ultimately his responsibility?

Hon CHRIS CARTER: I can confirm that my officials worked on the single transferable vote (STV) calculator, which is not in question. That is not the problem. The problem is in the electronic system that feeds data into the calculator. My officials are not responsible for contracting out the accounting of the election. That is the responsibility of territorial authorities, as it has been since the 1860s.

Nanaia Mahuta: Can the Minister clarify who is responsible for conducting local authority elections?

Hon CHRIS CARTER: I can, indeed. Local electoral officers are responsible for conducting local authority elections, including the processing and counting of votes, as they have been for well over 150 years. I know that some councils have contracted out that responsibility. Some encountered no problems, but no doubt some must be very disappointed with their contractors’ performance.

Peter Brown: Will the Minister tell the House that if this type of bungle were to occur at the next local body elections, whether he would accept responsibility at all, and if it did, what is the difference, or is he a Minister who needs a dummy run?

Hon CHRIS CARTER: I assure this House that I have been giving every encouragement to Government members who sit on the Justice and Electoral Committee to conduct a full inquiry into this local body election. I am hoping that the results of that inquiry will be a guide for local government, so that we can avoid this problem ever happening again.

Gerry Brownlee: Why will he not accept responsibility as Minister of Local Government for the self-declared shambles, when he has been a vocal supporter of STV, when his department was responsible for the inadequate publicity on how STV works, when his department approved the failed software systems, and when his department had been working with the State company at the heart of this mess for 2 long years?

Hon CHRIS CARTER: I repeat to the House that STV itself is not the problem. Two of the contractors who obtained contracts from local authorities have been unable to count votes adequately. The problem is a processing problem.

Gerry Brownlee: Can the Minister confirm that he has known for some time that the problem is in the character recognition software, that Datamail was the only company in the country to have such software, and that there was always a chance that this would be the result, should that experimental software fail; if so, why does he not accept responsibility for his decision to go ahead with the STV elections?

Hon CHRIS CARTER: No, I cannot confirm that.

Gerry Brownlee: Can he confirm reports from Datamail that this debacle is some weeks away from resolution; if not, can he tell us when those affected votes can be counted?

Hon CHRIS CARTER: No, I cannot confirm that, either. What I can confirm to the House is that I have instructed my officials today to draw up a contingency plan just in case Datamail is unable to carry out its contracted functions, and we will provide that guidance to local government, which ultimately must make the decision about where it will have its votes counted.

Darren Hughes: In terms of taking responsibility for elections, does the Minister recall any outgoing Ministers taking responsibility for the long delays in the 1999 general election, including the entire polling booth of votes that went missing in Mr Power’s electorate?

Mr SPEAKER: The Minister has no responsibility for that. The National Party has used up its supplementary questions for today.

Gerry Brownlee: Have we? I have two questions to go.

Mr SPEAKER: I can check. The list I have here indicates that there are 15 supplementary questions today and they have been allocated.

Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. After two primary questions, and after an extraordinary number of supplementary questions, finally, the Minister of Local Government told us that he instructed his officials to put together a contingency plan, should it not be possible to count the missing votes in the STV election debacle.

Mr SPEAKER: What is the point of order?

Gerry Brownlee: I seek leave to ask one further question of the Minister, in order that the House might be clear about the contingency plan.

Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to ask one further question. Is there any objection? There is.

Television New Zealand—Dividend

11. SUE KEDGLEY (Green) to the Minister of Broadcasting: Does he agree with the reported comments of Television New Zealand Ltd Chief Executive Ian Fraser that the TVNZ dividend of $37.6 million for 2003-4 would be better off reinvested into programming to meet the charter; if not, why not?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY (Minister of Broadcasting): It is for the Government to decide how to allocate funding. For this reason it expects the State-owned enterprises and Crown-owned companies to return their surplus funds. The payment of a dividend to the Crown by TVNZ is required, and the Crown returns funds to TVNZ to assist it to implement its charter. By doing so, it helps to ensure there is transparency, and accountability for the, now, $17 million provided for charter funding.

Sue Kedgley: Does the Minister agree with TVNZ’s chief executive, Ian Fraser, that the State broadcaster is caught on a money-go-round by having to pay far more in dividends to the Government than it receives back in funding for charter programmes; and why will the Government not waive the dividend, provided that TVNZ meets a strict and accountable set of commercial and public service performance measures?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: As I said before, TVNZ is a commercial company. It is required to act in that way while it delivers its charter obligations. Therefore, we will ask it to pay a dividend, and we will choose what it gets back for charter funding.

Russell Fairbrother: Is the Minister happy with the performance of TVNZ?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: Yes, I am. TVNZ’s results have been outstanding in the last financial year. Not only has it improved its financial performance but it has taken significant steps towards implementing the charter. Unlike some of the Opposition members, who seem to want to sell off TVNZ, we are committed to it being a strong company delivering charter television.

Marc Alexander: Does the Minister think that TVNZ’s request to retain its dividend to reinvest in charter programming is a clear sign that it is not currently meeting its charter obligations, as indicated by the plethora of crapulous, mind-anaesthetising programmes, such as Living the Dream, the Mike King Show, and the truly inane City Celebrity, Country Nobody; if not, why not?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: No. The member might have liked to watch the programme on Marti Friedlander that was on in the previous weekend. He would have found it very, very useful.

Sue Kedgley: Does the Minister agree that if TVNZ is serious about reshaping itself as a true public service broadcaster, as the chief executive said yesterday, then the days of astronomical salaries for star staff, long lunches on company credit cards, and the company paying for $60 bottles of wines and $60,000 a year for corporate boxes must end?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: This Government has been very clear with TVNZ that it needs to monitor its expenditure closely. Eleven percent of all TVNZ staff earn over $100,000 a year, which compares very favourably with other publicly owned companies and large private sector companies. We will ask it to continue to monitor that. In relation to other expenditure, I will pick out the member’s last point. TVNZ has for some time been looking to assign its lease for its corporate box, because it no longer should have one, or wants to have one.

Sue Kedgley: Has TVNZ taken any specific steps, since the publication of the report on violence, to reduce the amount of violence in children’s cartoons screened on TV2—the programmes show more than 8.3 episodes of violence in an hour—and why is it saying in its annual report that it will replace foreign cartoon programmes when funding becomes available, when charter funding is already available precisely for that purpose?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: The member would probably know that the production costs of cartoons, particularly those for child audiences, are inordinately expensive. That is why the company needs time to do that kind of programming. In relation to what it has done about violence, I think the major thing that it has done in respect of young people is to remove the promos that it ran throughout the evening for, often, quite violent films that were to play later on in the evening.

Airports—Congestion, Auckland and Christchurch

12. DAVE HEREORA (Labour) to the Minister of Customs: What is the Government doing to address congestion in the arrival halls at Auckland and Christchurch International Airports?

Hon RICK BARKER (Minister of Customs): The Government will spend $5.75 million this financial year on extra border staff and equipment to relieve congestion at Auckland and Christchurch airports. Tourism is a success story in this country. My colleague Mark Burton reports a 12 percent increase in the number of people arriving and departing over the previous year. That growth requires infrastructure that can process international visitors in a more timely fashion, while still undertaking the checks and clearances essential to protecting New Zealand’s borders.

Dave Hereora: Where and on what will this extra $5.75 million be spent?

Hon RICK BARKER: The Government will spend $5.75 million this financial year, increasing to $7.7 million in out-years. There will be 96 more customs officers at Auckland airport, to ensure that the 50 arrival and departure booths are fully staffed at peak times. Two new MAF Quarantine Service X-ray machines and 70 new staff will be engaged at Auckland International Airport. At Christchurch there will be nine extra Customs Service staff, as well as five new MAF Quarantine Service officers and new X-rays machines. Those developments are a good example of Government and business working together. Both the Auckland and Christchurch airport companies are expanding their space and increasing the number of staff to fill it.

Brent Catchpole: Will the Minister give the House a cast-iron guarantee that by processing people faster there will not be any slippages, and that at the same time security will be tightened to ensure that undesirables will not fool the system and gain entry to our borders, thereby creating safety threats to all New Zealanders?

Hon RICK BARKER: I can assure the member that the increase in numbers will not be at the expense of checking passengers who are a threat to our borders. The main reason the number of staff is being increased is to ensure that the processing times come down but that we continue to have the same level of security and safety checks at our border.

Peter Brown: Noting that answer to my colleague, will the Minister advise the House how widespread the problem is: how many undesirables come in during any given time period?

Hon RICK BARKER: I cannot tell the member what I do not know, and I do not know precisely how many undesirables come in. But I can tell the member that we have a record number of arrests at the border for the importation of, for example, drugs, and a record number of seizures of consignments of goods that are contrary to the copyright laws. In the last financial year, the Customs Service outperformed nearly all its criteria.

Questions to Members

Fisheries and Other Sea-related Legislation Committee—Specialist Adviser

1. RODNEY HIDE (Leader—ACT) to the Chairperson of the Fisheries and Other Sea-related Legislation Committee: Following his reply to my oral question on 7 October 2004, what did he consult the committee’s independent specialist adviser about?

RUSSELL FAIRBROTHER (Chairperson of the Fisheries and Other Sea-related Legislation Committee): I consulted the adviser about the names of submitters not on the previously agreed list, but whom individual members wanted the committee to hear.

Rodney Hide: Will the chairman deny suggesting that Nanaia Mahuta be heard, and not telling the committee about that?

RUSSELL FAIRBROTHER: I did not deny that I suggested Nanaia Mahuta be heard.

Dr Wayne Mapp: During the chairman’s consultation with the specialist adviser, did he recommend that Nanaia Mahuta be heard, without consultation with anyone else?

RUSSELL FAIRBROTHER: I was given names by several committee members, and in the same manner that they were forwarded, I forwarded Nanaia Mahuta’s name to the specialist adviser.

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

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