Questions & Answers for Oral Answer 14 October
Thursday, 14 October 2004
for Oral Answer
Questions to Ministers
Staffing Review Group—Recommendations
2. Local Government—Voting System
3. Health Services—Standards
4. Algerian Refugee—Costs
5. United Nations—Reform
6. Te Arawa—Rotorua Lakebeds
7. Algerian Refugee—Review of Court of Appeal Decision
8. Housing New Zealand Corporation—Treaty of Waitangi
9. Local Government—Voting System
10. United States—Trade
11. Community Grants Scheme—Prosecutions
12. Fuel Taxes—Increases
Questions to Members
1. Fisheries and Other Sea-related Legislation—Member's Submissions
Questions for Oral Answer
Questions to Ministers
School Staffing Review Group—Recommendations
1. HELEN DUNCAN (Labour) to the Minister of Education: What progress has been made implementing the recommendations of the School Staffing Review Group?
Hon TREVOR MALLARD (Minister of Education): The Government will put an extra 462 teachers in secondary schools from the beginning of 2005. These extra teachers are over and above those required for roll growth, and are part of our commitment to raising education standards. Since 1999 secondary schools have already received 805 extra teachers over those needed for roll growth; when combined with extra primary teachers, that means we have put over 2,500 extra teachers into our classrooms over and above those needed for roll growth—nearly one per school.
Helen Duncan: What steps is the Minister taking to ensure that there is an adequate supply of teachers to fill these extra secondary teacher positions?
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: The Government has put in place a wide range of teacher supply initiatives, including relocation grants, returning to teaching allowances, and student loan support. An amount of $18.8 million will be invested in bonded scholarships, which could be worth up to $20,000 to some students, depending on the duration of their study. These scholarships will meet the cost of a 3-year degree and a year of teacher education, and, for those studying full-time, up to $10,000 in other study costs. In return, recipients will be expected to teach for the same number of years for which they received the scholarship. Our estimate is that up to 400 of these scholarships will be awarded each year, but they are not capped.
Gerry Brownlee: Can the Minister confirm that an Education Review Office report has found that at least one-third of beginning primary school teachers, and around half of beginning secondary school teachers, are not meeting competency standards, and what does he think this says about the state of the New Zealand education system?
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: It is fair to say that we need to continue to do some more work on the pre-service training of teachers, to keep on improving the standards. The standards, of course, are internationally high. No one expects anyone right at the beginning of his or her teaching career to do a good job, just like none of us expected Dr Brash to do one. [Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: I was actually addressing the Hon Tony Ryall, who was interjecting in the second person; I did not hear the last words of the Minister. The Minister made a reflection on a member of this House. He will withdraw it, if he made it.
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: I withdraw.
Hon Brian Donnelly: Is it not true that schools had to draw on their existing staffing formulae in order to meet the requirements of the previous secondary and area school agreements regarding guaranteed non-contact time, and will he guarantee that the same will not be required of schools for them to meet the commitments of the most recent contract rounds?
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: My expectation is that the changes that come through in the most recent round will be able to be handled from within existing resources, but schools always make choices around class size, options available, and the number of teachers.
Paul Adams: Can he confirm that it is schools themselves that are ensuring adequate staff-student ratios, as the number of teachers employed out of schools’ own operating grant has doubled from 1,672 in 1998 to 3,355 in 2004; if not, can he explain why his schools have increasingly hired teachers off their own bat?
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: Yes. This Government has increased operational spending by over 10 percent per student in real terms. As a result of that, schools have a considerable amount of extra cash, and many of them are choosing to improve ratios by hiring staff over and above what the generous Minister of Finance has supplied. I think that is wonderful.
Gordon Copeland: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I am not sure that the Minister actually addressed that question.
Mr SPEAKER: Yes, he did; he most certainly did.
Local Government—Voting System
2. Hon Dr NICK SMITH (National—Nelson) to the Minister of Local Government: Why did he tell the House yesterday that he had no responsibility for the “shambles” with the local body elections when earlier this year he told a Local Government conference that work towards planning for the introduction of STV was a “successful partnership” between central and local government, and when in October 2002 he said that a joint central and local government team had been “actively involved in the implementation of the STV option”?
Hon CHRIS CARTER (Minister of Local Government): Because it is true. How can I personally be responsible for a contract let by a local authority to a company over which I have absolutely no control, whatsoever?
Hon Dr Nick Smith: Does the Minister recall using the word “partnership” 36 times in recent speeches to describe the relationship between central government and local government—[Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: That is the one and only warning, and that is it for the day.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. You will recall very well yesterday that you booted me out for exactly that offence.
Mr SPEAKER: Yes, after another of the member’s colleagues had made a statement that I allowed that person to get away with. Would the member please ask his supplementary question.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: Does the Minister recall using the word “partnership” 36 times in recent speeches when describing the relationship between central government and local government, including at least six times in respect of the introduction of single transferable vote (STV); if so, what sort of partnership is it when the moment anything goes wrong, he says it has nothing to do with him?
Hon CHRIS CARTER: This Government values its relationship with local government, and I am continuing to work closely with councils to try to resolve this deplorable situation.
David Parker: What has been the trend in the proportion of informal votes cast in prior local body elections?
Hon CHRIS CARTER: In 1989 the proportion of informal votes was 4.6 percent, in 1992 it was 5.4 percent, in 1995 it was 5.8 percent, and in 1998 it was 5.9 percent, falling to 4.1 percent in 2001. Under National, it would seem that informal vote rates appear to have steadily increased. It is quite a different picture from the one presented yesterday by National’s Nick Smith.
Jim Peters: As the Minister who was responsible for the Local Government Act 2002 and the Local Electoral Amendment Act of 2002, what care does the Minister have for the 100,000 New Zealanders whose votes were cast on Saturday and now appear to be disallowed?
Hon CHRIS CARTER: As Minister of Local Government I am responsible for establishing the regulatory laws and regulations that cover this process. If I thought I was responsible for the counting problems, I would be doing it myself.
Keith Locke: Does the Minister stand by his statement made yesterday that the counting of STV votes went well in much of the country, including Auckland where the biggest number of votes were cast, and does he endorse the comments in this morning’s Dominion Post that where the counting of STV votes was done locally it was done very well, and the problem arose in farming out the counting to some bigger central agencies?
Hon CHRIS CARTER: Yes.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: How could the Minister say yesterday that there were no problems with STV in areas that did not use Datamail, such as the Auckland District Health Board area, when 12,349 votes have been discarded, 15 times more than at the prior election when there were 850 invalid votes under first past the post, and is he aware that the company that is counting the votes is estimating that 100,000 votes will be biffed in the bin as a consequence of his dopey law?
Hon CHRIS CARTER: I have already released figures showing that informal voting has been an increasing problem for some time. That member has been trumpeting figures about. Let me give some figures that have come through, which are final counts. In the STV elections for the Taranaki District Health Board, invalid votes came to just 5.8 percent. It seems to vary from one part of the country to another.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: Why did his department consider it appropriate to work closely with Datamail and Electionz.com on the development of the programme to calculate the result of the STV election, but not on the system for processing the votes, when this is akin to checking the motor but not checking the tyres on a car, and was this omission by his department not one of the reasons he must share the responsibility for this election debacle?
Hon CHRIS CARTER: Yesterday that member claimed that my officials were involved in assessing and testing the faulty data-processing system. That is simply not true. Does that member just make things up?
David Parker: Has informal voting been a problem in all the recent local authority elections using the STV system?
Hon CHRIS CARTER: No. Available figures for three of the mayoralties that used STV show that in Kaipara the result was 0.78 percent informal votes, Papakura 0.56 percent, and Thames-Coromandel 0.56 percent. I have confidence that New Zealand voters are intelligent and can cope with the STV voting system—a view apparently not shared by Dr Nick Smith.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: Although I am not seeking leave to table all the speeches in which Mr Chris Carter talked about “partnership”, I do seek the leave of the House to table his speech to the Society of Local Government Managers in which he talks about the great partnership with local government, nine times.
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that speech. Is there any objection? There is.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: I seek the leave of the House, given the questions the Minister has raised about my election figures, to table the Department of Internal Affairs Local Authority Election Statistics 2001.
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection? There is.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: I seek the leave of the House to table the provisional results for the election for the Auckland District Health Board that show that 12,349 votes were invalid.
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection? There is.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: I seek the leave of the House to table this last document, given the Minister’s question about the role of Datamail, which is the article in the National Business Review in which the general manager of Datamail claimed that the company had worked closely with local government on developing—
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that article. Is there any objection? There is.
Hon CHRIS CARTER: I seek leave to table statistics from the Department of Internal Affairs clearly demonstrating that in the period when National was in Government in the 1990s informal voting was becoming a serious problem.
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection? There is.
3. Hon PETER DUNNE (Leader—United Future) to the Minister of Health: Does she stand by her statement last month that, “I believe that through innovation and the commitment of those who work in the health system, it’s becoming better all the time.”; if so, why?
Hon ANNETTE KING (Minister of Health): Yes, because we are now seeing some exciting innovations, particularly at the primary-care level, aimed at keeping people well in their communities and out of hospital. That must be good for the individuals and, ultimately, the taxpayer.
Hon Peter Dunne: Do the exciting innovations the Minister has just referred to include more steps towards the integration of the public and the private heath sectors; if they do include that, can the Minister indicate to the House what precise steps she will take in the next 12 months to advance that policy?
Hon ANNETTE KING: Yes, a number of public-private partnerships have taken place over the last 4 years. In fact, I have a letter from Andrew Blair, President of the New Zealand Private Hospitals Association, who wrote to me to showcase the successful public-private partnership in his area. I expect over the next year, where public and private partnerships meet the protocols that were established in 2000, we will see such development. Where they do not meet those protocols, we will not.
Dianne Yates: What other examples can she give to demonstrate recent health innovations in both primary health care and the hospital sector?
Hon ANNETTE KING: One does not have to travel far to see the new approach being provided—for example, in the Hutt Valley nurse-led respiratory clinics are providing quicker diagnosis and better treatment for patients. They have gone from a 2-year backlog to a no-waiting list. The service provides immediate access to diagnostic tools such as blood tests, chest X-rays, and scans, allowing for more timely management of the condition. I have many other examples, but I suspect that you will stand up and not let me read them all out.
Mr SPEAKER: That is correct.
Judith Collins: Does she believe that more bureaucracy, and increased and wasted funding that has led to fewer operations, and a letter from the Hon Michael Cullen expressing concern about declining productivity in the public health system, is in fact better for New Zealanders; if so, why?
Hon ANNETTE KING: I would just like to update the member on bureaucracy. If the member would like to look at the 1998 figures—figures that came from the Hon Bill English—she will see that 79 percent was clinical and 19 percent was non-clinical. I can tell the member that the split now is 83 percent clinical and 17 percent non-clinical—in other words, bureaucracy has dropped.
Peter Brown: Is the Minister aware that the countries that have the most effective health systems—that is, have more doctors and nurses per capita, and have the most sophisticated drugs available and the latest technology—spend between 9 and 10 percent of GDP on their health systems; and noting that we are way behind that, are we on track to get there eventually; if so, when?
Hon ANNETTE KING: I would dispute the member’s figures. The highest expenditure of GDP on health is in the United States. Most of it is in the private sector. Their health outcomes are nowhere near as good as New Zealand’s, as shown in the most recent Commonwealth Fund report. I direct the member to those outcomes, and to compare our expenditure and our outcomes. He will see that New Zealand does very well indeed.
Heather Roy: How can the Minister say that the health system is becoming better all the time when 56 percent more people last year waited over 6 months for surgery, as shown by her own figures?
Hon ANNETTE KING: It is becoming better because we are prepared to measure and tell the public exactly how long they will wait, rather than having 89,000 people on a waiting list, some of whom had been there 7 or 8 years. The saddest case I heard was that of the person who had not taken a holiday for 4 years because of the fear that the operation might come up. We now make it transparent who will get operations and when.
Mr SPEAKER: There is too much interjection. I remind those interjecting that interjections do not come across the air, on radio or television.
Hon Peter Dunne: Does the Minister’s commitment to innovation and a system becoming better all the time include a commitment to reviewing the operations of Pharmac to ensure that the funding decisions it reaches in respect of individuals’ entitlements to medications can be more individually tailored; if she does agree with that assertion, what will she do about it over the next 12 months?
Hon ANNETTE KING: No, the Government has no intention of reviewing Pharmac’s operations at this point. I believe that we are very well served by Pharmac. For example, Vioxx is one drug that Pharmac decided it would not subsidise, and it is fortunate that it did not because the drug has had to be withdrawn from the market in countries that did subsidise, and that affected many thousands of patients.
Hon Peter Dunne: I ask the Minister again: does her commitment to an innovative system include recommending changes to her colleague the Minister of Finance regarding the eligibility of those over the age of 65 for tax deductibility for private health insurance premiums, in view of reports that at the current rate of usage the system may well collapse within 10 years?
Hon ANNETTE KING: I think that probably is a question for the Minister of Finance, but I know of no work he is doing to subsidise medical insurance for people over 65, mainly, I would think, because it does not work but, secondly, because many people of 65 do not have medical insurance and have not had it since the 1990s. I heard a very important comment from Treasury to the effect that the effectiveness of an insurance model in holding down costs is very questionable.
Judith Collins: I seek leave to table a letter from the Hon Michael Cullen to the Hon Annette King, in which he expressed concern over the lack of productivity in the public health system.
Hon Peter Dunne: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. It is in two parts. The first is that in response to an earlier question, the Minister quoted from a letter, and I wonder whether she should be prepared to table that. The second point is that in response to my last supplementary question, she appeared to be reading from a Treasury document, and I wonder whether she should table that.
Hon ANNETTE KING: I am very happy to table the letter from the New Zealand Private Hospital Association. The other thing I quoted from was my own handwritten notes.
4. DAIL JONES (NZ First) to the Minister of Immigration: Is there to be any limit imposed by the Government on the increasing amount spent on the trial and incarceration of suspected terrorist Ahmed Zaoui?
Hon PAUL SWAIN (Minister of Immigration): Ahmed Zaoui is the subject of a security risk certificate. There is a process to be followed. This process has incurred costs. The full extent of those costs will not be known until the matter is resolved.
Dail Jones: What other maximum-level costs is this Government prepared to breach in the Zaoui case, given that according to his letter dated 30 September 2004, the Legal Services Agency has already exceeded a total maximum grant outlined by the Minister of Justice of about $220,000 by more than $20,000 and that, at the same time, we have reports that court costs are becoming an inhibiting factor to ordinary people’s rights to justice?
Hon PAUL SWAIN: As I said, there is a process to be gone through. Costs are incurred as a result of the process. We will know the full extent of costs when the matter has been fully resolved.
Keith Locke: Does the Minister agree that his main options for limiting costs would have been either to release Mr Zaoui, as a legitimate refugee, or not to appeal those court decisions upholding Mr Zaoui’s rights—both of which options would have been acceptable to the Green Party but probably not to New Zealand First?
Mr SPEAKER: The Minister can reply in relation to everything except the very last comment.
Hon PAUL SWAIN: It is probably not appropriate to talk about that matter, because it is now before the court.
Dail Jones: How many people in the past 5 years have arrived in New Zealand, like Mr Zaoui, on false documentation, and have been successful in being allowed to remain here; and what is the Government’s policy towards those who arrive here on false documentation—is there a free-for-all, for example?
Hon PAUL SWAIN: Firstly, it is not a free-for-all. Secondly, Ahmed Zaoui is the only person who has been subject to a security risk certificate. As far as the first part of the member’s question goes, I will endeavour to get the figures the member has asked for, as soon as I can.
Keith Locke: Has the Minister read Dail Jones’ comments in a press statement this morning that: “Access to justice for all is the hallmark of a civilised society.”; and does he agree that it would have been uncivilised to deny Mr Zaoui access to the judicial process on the grounds of cost?
Hon PAUL SWAIN: Yes, and no.
Dail Jones: What inquiries have been undertaken, now that Mr Zaoui has been here for nearly 2 years, into how people manage to arrive here on false documentation, who is providing such documentation from within and outside New Zealand, and who in New Zealand is providing assistance to those people before they come to New Zealand; and what obligations, if any, do we have to accept such people?
Mr SPEAKER: There are a number of questions there, but the Minister may comment.
Hon PAUL SWAIN: Firstly, this Government is being very serious about issues to do with scams and the matters the member has raised. More resources have been put into those areas and more people are being caught, which is a very important signal to the rest of the world that such matters are not to be tolerated in New Zealand. I am hoping that the member will support any action around toughening up on those matters. Secondly, we have already announced that we are to have a review of matters to do with what the member has raised, and I am looking forward to that member’s support for that.
5. LUAMANUVAO WINNIE LABAN (Labour—Mana) to the Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade: What involvement has New Zealand had in the steps being taken to reform the United Nations?
Hon PHIL GOFF (Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade): New Zealand has long been an advocate for reform of the United Nations, to ensure its greater effectiveness. The publication in December of this year of reform proposals by the Secretary-General’s high-level panel creates a unique opportunity to achieve change. New Zealand has presented reform proposals to the high-level panel—I did so personally at the UN this year—and we are active in the Group of Friends on UN Reform, which was established by Mexico to help ensure that we can achieve reform on this occasion.
Luamanuvao Winnie Laban: What reform of the Security Council is being proposed, and why is it important?
Hon PHIL GOFF: Firstly, I will answer why: because the United Nations Security Council is the top decision-making body in the United Nations. Why do we need the reform? Because it is important that the Security Council has a strong mandate to take decisions and achieve compliance with decisions. To do that, it needs to be broadly representative of the international community. Currently it reflects the world as it was in 1945, so key countries and whole regions are omitted. That needs to change to reflect the realities of the 21st century.
Te Arawa—Rotorua Lakebeds
6. GERRY BROWNLEE (Deputy Leader—National) to the Minister in charge of Treaty of Waitangi Negotiations: Is it the Government’s intention to have residents and ratepayers of the Rotorua district meet the cost of managing the Rotorua lakes even though, under the proposed Te Arawa settlement, Te Arawa will be the owners of those lakes?
Hon MARGARET WILSON (Minister in charge of Treaty of Waitangi Negotiations): No. Certainly, there are costs associated with improving and maintaining the quality of the water of the lakes, but it is important to clarify that the Crown owns the water, the water column, and the airspace in relation to the lakes; and Te Arawa owns the lake bed.
Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The question really, if one was to analyse it, was who would meet the costs of those lakes. The Minister has said that it will not be the people of Rotorua. Is she saying that it will be the general taxpayer? We should get a better answer than that.
Mr SPEAKER: The question was: “Is it the … intention …” etc., and the member said “No”. That is a perfectly straight answer and addresses the question. Please ask the supplementary question.
Gerry Brownlee: I will ask a very straight question: who will pay the costs associated with the management of the lakes once they are in Te Arawa’s ownership?
Hon MARGARET WILSON: It is the lake beds that are proposed to go into the ownership of Te Arawa. However, the cost of the quality of the water is a matter for the Crown—central government—and the local authorities. Recently my colleagues the environment and health Ministers announced $7.2 million for improving Lake Rotorua’s water quality. This is to be done, of course, in consultation with local authorities.
Steve Chadwick: Who established the principle of a co-management approach in relation to lakes returned in settlements?
Hon MARGARET WILSON: National did in its 1992 settlement with Tûwharetoa regarding Lake Taupô. It is certainly that precedent that has been followed, if adapted, by this Government.
Metiria Turei: Is it the Minister’s view that the Te Arawa settlement ensures public access, makes some restoration of rangatiratanga, and provides greater environmental protection and restoration to the treasured lakes; and does she agree that National’s criticism is simply a desperate attempt to reinvigorate Mâori-bashing because it thinks there may be some votes in it?
Mr SPEAKER: The first part of the question may be answered but not the second part.
Hon MARGARET WILSON: Yes, a matter of concern to both the local authorities and to central government is the quality of the lake waters, which is why we are contributing to returning to the quality that should have been there in the first place.
Gerry Brownlee: Does the co-management approach not effectively mean that the taxpayer gets the bills and the iwi collects the rent?
Hon MARGARET WILSON: Each of the three parties to the management arrangement will bear its own costs relating to the administration of those lakes. In terms of maintaining the quality of the lakes, those arrangements remain the same as they are at the moment. There is no difference.
Gerry Brownlee: Does the Minister accept Treasury’s advice to her in relation to the Te Arawa settlement that: “central Government should not be placed in a position where it overrides the independence of local authorities”; if so, why does she think it is fair to give Te Arawa a management role in relation to the Rotorua lakes that cannot be undone democratically by the people of Rotorua?
Hon MARGARET WILSON: One is always respectful of Treasury advice, and on this occasion it was taken note of. That is why there was extensive engagement with the local authorities that will be affected. They, in fact, have supported the agreement that is proposed. I think it is also important that the member notes that the three highest polling candidates in the local body election supported the lakes settlement, and that the candidate who had been the chief protagonist against it had his votes decrease from the last election.
Algerian Refugee—Review of Court of Appeal Decision
7. KEITH LOCKE (Green) to the Attorney-General: Did the Government take into account the fact that Ahmed Zaoui has been in jail without charge for over 22 months when it decided to seek a review of the Court of Appeal decision that Mr Zaoui’s human rights must be considered in the pending review of his security status; if not, why not?
Hon MARGARET WILSON (Attorney-General): The matter of the detention was held to be lawful by the Court of Appeal, but it is now the subject of an appeal to the Supreme Court by Mr Zaoui. As those matters are all likely to be heard at the same time, the appeal does not unnecessarily prolong the detention.
Keith Locke: Is the real reason that the Government is going to the Supreme Court to cover up the incompetence of the Security Intelligence Service; and does the Attorney-General think a man should languish in jail, on evidence that he is not allowed to see, just to protect the pride of the Security Intelligence Service?
Hon MARGARET WILSON: No, in answer to the first point. In answer to the second, the purpose of the appeal is to clarify precisely the nature of the rights of the respective parties.
Dail Jones: When lodging the appeal to clarify the Court of Appeal’s decision, did the Government take into account the fact that Mr Zaoui could return even to Algeria, according to last night’s TV programme, if he so wished, to be reunited with his relatives, and that his wife could then join him there and they could live happily ever after, as set out in that TV programme; what does she have to say in regard to that?
Hon MARGARET WILSON: That was not a relevant consideration in the decision whether to appeal, but the member is undoubtedly correct that Mr Zaoui could leave New Zealand whenever he chooses. His detention is not an imprisonment. It is essentially a three-sided box, which is not an uncommon situation in these terms. He can leave at any stage he chooses.
Keith Locke: Will the Attorney-General now reconsider her decision to appeal after the Television New Zealand documentary last night, in which the former head of a French anti-terrorist unit admitted that there was no evidence Mr Zaoui was a terrorist, and that he had been the victim of anti-Islamic hysteria at the time?
Hon MARGARET WILSON: I was working last night and did not see the documentary, but no, there will be no reconsideration of the decision to appeal.
Dail Jones: Is the Attorney-General aware that there appears to be an effort in the Auckland area, and in New Zealand generally, to raise money to bring Mrs Zaoui to New Zealand in a similar fashion to the way Mr Zaoui has come here, and then to try to gain the sympathy of New Zealanders to get both of them to stay here and, of course, for their children to come here afterwards?
Hon MARGARET WILSON: No, I am not aware of that.
Keith Locke: Is the Government’s projection of itself internationally as an upholder of human rights being seriously damaged when Amnesty International is now taking full-page advertisements in the newspaper, criticising the Government for holding Mr Zaoui in prison for over 22 months without charge, in denial of human rights conventions?
Hon MARGARET WILSON: No, I think this country does have an honourable reputation, and also record, in that area. I would note, in fact, that the delay, as it is seen, or the length of time it has taken, is because there is, in fact, an opportunity for those rights to be fully heard.
Housing New Zealand Corporation—Treaty of Waitangi
8. Dr MURIEL NEWMAN (Deputy Leader—ACT) to the Minister of Housing: How many Housing New Zealand Corporation staff, following their 2-day training, completed their 30 days of affirmations and meditation aimed at “deepening your understanding and application of Maori core values as explored in the Tiriti/Treaty Two-World View Framework.”, and what is the total cost to date of these training courses, including staff time?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY (Minister of Housing): Sixty-seven staff voluntarily attended a pilot training course on the history of the Treaty of Waitangi. The overall cost was $111,821, which included travel and accommodation. That represents less than 0.02 percent of the corporation’s operating budget. Offering such voluntary training courses has been common across the public sector for some years, as it was under the National Government—which was supported by ACT—in the 1990s.
Dr Muriel Newman: Can the Minister tell the House exactly how 30 days of affirmation and meditation about a “two-world view” helps Housing New Zealand Corporation staff provide even one New Zealander with a warmer, safer, drier house?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: The member may not like the language used by the contractor in this case. The word “meditation”, I understand, means thinking, and the word “affirmation” means concluding. Many people do not like the language that the ACT party uses, and that is why they do not vote for that party any more. I have made it clear throughout this issue that the reason the Housing New Zealand Corporation asks, or encourages, its staff to take opportunities to learn about its client base is that it has a very diverse client base, and it serves the corporation well if its staff understand its clients’ cultures and values.
Katherine Rich: Does the Minister think it is acceptable that the training course included a survey question for participants that asked them to tick “True” or “False” to the statement: “Public statements from the current Leader of the Opposition have put all initiatives targeted at Mâori development under the spotlight.”?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: It is not my place to evaluate training material. I understand that training material used in courses such as this is not put in place because people approve or disapprove of points of view, but, rather, to stimulate points of view. For example, back in the 1990s, the then National Government provided money to IHI Communications and Consultancy Ltd, which was Donna Awatere Huata’s company, and the corporation went about providing information to public servants based on Donna Awatere Huata’s material.
Lianne Dalziel: Why is it important for Housing New Zealand Corporation staff to have an understanding of the perspectives, views, and values of its clients—for example, its refugee clients, as well as its other clients?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: That is an interesting question, and it goes to the heart of the matter. The Housing New Zealand Corporation is a public service. It is the largest landlord in the country. It services the needs of a very diverse population, and therefore it attempts to ensure that its staff are in touch with its clients’ diverse needs.
Hon Peter Dunne: Will the Minister be directing the Chief Executive of the Housing New Zealand Corporation to terminate this programme and also the requirement, apparently, in employment contracts that treaty awareness be taken into consideration; if not, why not?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: The member may have missed that I mentioned at the beginning that this course was a voluntary course that 67 people attended. It was a pilot course, and pilot courses have evaluations. I think it is appropriate that the corporation evaluate its own training materials. In relation to the way that people are employed by the department, I am advised that in no circumstances do people find themselves getting a job, or being turned down for a job, on the basis of their answers to questions about their treaty knowledge; they simply are asked about it.
Hon Peter Dunne: I heard nearly all the answer to that question, but there was some noise at the beginning of the second part. I wonder whether the Minister could repeat the last half of the answer.
Mr SPEAKER: Yes, and this time he will do it in silence.
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: My understanding, in relation to the appointment of staff by the Housing New Zealand Corporation, is that people are asked questions around issues such as the Treaty of Waitangi, but in no way are their answers the basis upon which the decision is made whether they will get, or not get, a job.
Heather Roy: In relation to his answer yesterday to a supplementary question by Gerard Eckhoff, does he accept, now that he has had the opportunity to see the training material concerned, 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 was taught in the Housing New Zealand Corporation’s training programme for staff?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: Apart from the fact, as my historian colleague points out, that that is a fact, can I point out that material used in courses like this is used to ensure that people are stimulated to have discussion and to think about issues; it is not saying what is right and what people should think. I looked at the material. It is pretty much the same as that used by Donna Awatere Huata’s company—a member of that member’s party—back in the 1990s, when that member was supporting the National Government, to stimulate thinking amongst public servants then.
Hon Richard Prebble: I wonder whether the Minister would further elaborate on that answer, given the fact that I have in my hand a test from the Waitangi education programme that his staff had to sit. Would he tell the House what the correct answer is to question No. 2: “Which statement best describes the Crown’s intent of the Treaty of Waitangi? (a) It was a colonial device to take over the country and facilitate large-scale settlement of British people. (b) It was designed to provide the chiefs with a solution to the behaviour of unruly settlers. (c) It was designed to provide a settled form of civil Government in order to protect Mâori and Europeans alike. (d) It was to bring the benefits of British civilisation to Mâori. (e) It was designed to prevent Mâori from killing each other as a result of the introduction of muskets.”; if the Minister cannot give us the correct answer, why does he expect his staff to be able to do so?
Mr SPEAKER: As far as I am concerned, that is a very tenuous area as far as ministerial responsibility is concerned. The question itself went on for far too long, but the Minister might like to give an answer.
Hon Richard Prebble: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I take great exception to your deciding to comment on this question. I say to you that I do not accept the idea that a Minister of Housing has no responsibility for what is actually being spent by his department, or the ideology that is being fed to its staff members, or the fact that, actually, to fail this course meant that those staff members’ careers were blighted. You, as Speaker, have said that the Minister has only a tenuous responsibility for that; I say that he is the Minister, and if he cannot answer a question that he expects his staff to answer, the honourable thing for him to do is to resign.
Mr SPEAKER: I think the member was taking my remark just a little bit further than I had intended it to go. The Minister can be asked about the suitability of the material. He does not actually have to say which of those options he thinks is the correct answer. He can certainly be asked about the suitability of the material.
Hon Richard Prebble: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. It is perfectly reasonable for me to ask the Minister whether he is able to answer the question. Only one answer is allowed under that test, and I am really interested to see whether the Minister can give us that answer, and a justification for it. You and I both know—we have both studied history—that that question is absolute bunkum.
Mr SPEAKER: I will let the Minister comment.
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: The 67 people who were on this voluntary pilot course—
Hon Richard Prebble: Answer the question!
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: The member—
Mr SPEAKER: The Minister will have the opportunity to answer what was a very long question.
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: I noted that the member, on the way through his question, said that people who did not answer that question correctly had had their future careers placed at risk. It is, therefore, important for me to say that this voluntary course done by 67 people within the Housing New Zealand Corporation had within it questions of the kind that he just raised, but I say to the member that my understanding is that that question was asked as a way of stimulating discussion. Personally, I would probably have picked the answer about balance—I think it was answer (c). But my understanding is that Donna Awatere Huata’s course, which the member approved of all the way through the 1990s, used material to stimulate discussion; the same was done here.
Stephen Franks: As the Minister is aware of the staff exam questions in that course, has he considered the question that reads: “Legislation that breaches the treaty. List five pieces of legislation and their impact directly on Mâori.”; as I am allowed only two questions, I will make it easy for the Minister: can he tell us just two pieces of legislation that are in breach of the treaty, and what diverse need of Housing New Zealand Corporation clients does this knowledge serve?
Hon Dr Michael Cullen: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I was going to raise this point about the previous question, but it is even clearer in this question. This Minister has no responsibility for what legislation, past or present, breaches the Treaty of Waitangi. That question might be referred to the Attorney-General, who has responsibilities in those areas, but certainly not to the Minister of Housing.
Mr SPEAKER: The first part of the question was not in order, but the second part was in order, and I was going to allow that second part—I have just consulted on it. Would the member ask the second part of his question once again so that the Minister can understand it?
Hon Richard Prebble: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. With the greatest respect, what you are actually ruling is that the Housing New Zealand Corporation should not be doing this sort of work, that it should be done by the Attorney-General, and that therefore we cannot ask questions about it. Well, the fact is the Housing New Zealand Corporation has given up housing people, and is now doing exams on the treaty, and that means we are entitled to ask what the right answers are to those questions. The Housing New Zealand Corporation is now stating to its staff that there are five pieces of legislation that are in breach of the treaty, with an impact on Mâori. It appears to me that we cannot ask what the five pieces of legislation are, because that would be out of order, but the member asked about just two of them. It should be a piece of cake for the Minister to answer.
Mr SPEAKER: The Minister of Housing is not responsible for other legislation; he can be asked whether it was appropriate for the material to be used in the first place.
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: The 67 people who went on this pilot course to explore the Treaty of Waitangi were doing something that for about 20 years now, I understand—including under the National Government—has been quite common for public servants to do. This was not an exam; this was a 2-day course where people simply had their knowledge of the treaty stimulated. That was all that happened.
Hon Ken Shirley: Does the Minister believe there is a correct answer to the question that required course participants to tick “True” or “False” in terms of the following statement: “The settler Government soon discovered that legislation was a much cheaper way to obtain Mâori land than war.”; and how exactly does answering that question help the Housing New Zealand Corporation staff in their work?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: The people who went on this pilot course to learn about the Treaty of Waitangi were answering questions like that, I understand, as a way of provoking discussion, so that they could think about the issues. That is all that happened. It is a very common way of doing it.
Dr Muriel Newman: Can the Minister give the House an unqualified assurance that no Housing New Zealand Corporation staff members have had their reasonable career expectations curtailed because, try as they might, they, like the majority of their fellow New Zealanders, have a “one-world view”, not a “two-world view”; and if he cannot give that assurance, then surely those staff members have a potential substantial claim in the Employment Court because they have been unfairly discriminated against?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: The 67 people who attended this pilot course have in no way had their career expectations shortened or changed. Can I say that the way in which this question is being posed from the ACT party, which, clearly, does not support anything to do with New Zealanders’ gaining understanding of the treaty, is, to me, a disgusting approach to the question.
Mr SPEAKER: That may well be the case, but the question that was asked was whether any person would be discriminated against—
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: I said no.
Mr SPEAKER: Could the Minister now get up and say “No”; then I will have heard the answer.
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: No.
Hon Richard Prebble: I seek the leave of the House to table that question.
Mr SPEAKER: Question—[Interruption] Do all members want to seek leave to table their particular question? Having a series of members getting up on points of order to do so is wasting the time of Parliament. If they all wish to have them tabled, I shall take it as one question, because there seems to be no objection. Do they all wish to table those questions?
Stephen Franks: Yes.
Hon Ken Shirley: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Not only is it an insult for you, as Chair, to suggest that we are wasting the time of Parliament in bringing the Government to account on such a serious matter, but we have a right to seek the leave of our fellow parliamentarians to table information. For you, as Chair, to imply that that is wasting time is, I believe, not very appropriate.
Mr SPEAKER: I agree with the member, and I apologise for the comment I made. The documents have been tabled.
Local Government—Voting System
9. KATHERINE RICH (National) to the Minister for State Owned Enterprises: Has the Minister of Local Government expressed any concerns to him regarding the involvement of State-owned enterprise New Zealand Post’s subsidiary Datamail in the local body election “shambles”; if so, what were those concerns?
Hon MARK BURTON (Minister for State Owned Enterprises): Yes, he has expressed strongly his concern that a timely and accurate reporting of the election results did not happen. I agree.
Katherine Rich: Does he agree with the statement of the Minister of Local Government on National Radio yesterday that “It is, I guess, embarrassing that it’s a State company that’s responsible for this, yes.”; if so, what steps is he taking to ensure that New Zealand Post is not responsible for this kind of embarrassment again?
Hon MARK BURTON: Of course I am disappointed that any company owned by New Zealand Post should be involved in what can only be described as a failure. I agree with the comments of the chief executive of New Zealand Post that every effort has to be made, first, to put right the immediate situation, which I think we would all agree is the first priority; and secondly, to ensure that the underlying problem is addressed. I can tell the member, because I know that she will be pleased to hear, that the board of New Zealand Post has already moved to have KPMG appointed to conduct a complete independent audit of the process to help achieve just that result.
H V Ross Robertson: Given the Minister’s answer to the House, has he passed on to Datamail his own concerns about the delays and inaccuracies?
Hon MARK BURTON: Yes, of course, I have, and the chief executive of New Zealand Post has informed me that the technical error that caused the problem has now been isolated and corrected.
Katherine Rich: How did Datamail work with other Government agencies to ensure the vote-capturing software was of a suitable standard?
Hon MARK BURTON: The member is now delving into operational areas that I obviously do not have direct responsibility for, but I can tell the member that I am advised that the software was indeed tested. There was a mock election in August, which involved the Wellington City Council.
John Key: Who won?
Hon MARK BURTON: That is a good question. I am further advised that all parties involved were fully satisfied with the testing results, and that the testing was audited by Audit New Zealand.
Katherine Rich: Why did the general operations manager of Datamail say that Datamail had worked for 2 years with the Ministry of Health and the Department of Internal Affairs on developing this system, and that they had gained “the confidence of these departments”, when the Minister of Local Government proclaimed last night that the departments had played no such role?
Hon MARK BURTON: I have no idea. I am not aware of the comment.
Peter Brown: Noting those answers, is the Minister telling this House that New Zealand Post is totally responsible for the shambles that occurred last Saturday with the local government elections, and there is no ministerial responsibility whatsoever?
Hon MARK BURTON: I am not telling the member or the House that New Zealand Post is entirely responsible for the shambles last weekend.
10. RUSSELL FAIRBROTHER (Labour—Napier) to the Minister of Customs: What has the Government done to facilitate New Zealand trade across the United States border?
Hon RICK BARKER (Minister of Customs): This month a comprehensive supply-chain security arrangement between New Zealand and the United States customs authorities was announced by the Prime Minister. The US customs authorities are satisfied with the New Zealand Customs Service supply-chain security strategy, which consists of goods risk assessment and non-invasive inspection technology. This means that New Zealand goods can leave through any New Zealand port, not just one, and expect rapid transit across US borders.
Russell Fairbrother: How will New Zealand traders benefit from this new arrangement?
Hon RICK BARKER: This arrangement means there will be quicker facilitation and greater certainty for New Zealand traders at the US borders at all times, including times of heightened security, because their goods will be seen as secure goods. Quicker facilitation means fewer inspections and costly delays by US customs, and more certainty around delivery times.
Community Grants Scheme—Prosecutions
11. KATHERINE RICH (National) to the Minister for the Community and Voluntary Sector: What progress have Crown solicitors, enlisted by the Department of Internal Affairs, made in the decision to proceed with prosecutions of 32 groups that allegedly invented fake projects and defrauded the taxpayer-funded community grants scheme of $150,000?
Hon RICK BARKER (Minister for the Community and Voluntary Sector): An investigation report has been completed, and the Crown solicitor has been formally instructed to review the investigation files, with a view to prosecution. Until that process is completed, I will not comment further. I take any complaint of misuse of public funds seriously. I will do everything reasonably possible to recover money used unlawfully, and will seek criminal prosecution against those responsible.
Katherine Rich: Can the Minister confirm to the House that grants made by the Counties-Manukau distribution committee in November 2002 “are the subject of an investigation.”?
Hon RICK BARKER: I will confirm that some of the grants issued by the Counties-Manukau group are subject to an investigation.
Tim Barnett: What purposes is the Government pursuing in continuing to fund the Community Organisations Grants Scheme?
Hon RICK BARKER: The Government is committed to supporting strong communities. The scheme has proved its success in supporting local communities in the past 17 years. For example, the Community Organisations Grants Scheme supports Otago communities with grants such as those to the South Otago Plunket, the Milton Elder Care Group, the Oamaru Stroke Support Group, Youthline Otago, The Salvation Army, and the Dunedin Citizens Advice Bureau. I am sure any MP would wholeheartedly support the Community Organisations Grants Scheme for the excellent similar work being done in his or her communities for constituents.
Katherine Rich: Why was the entire committee of the Waitakere Community Organisations Grants Scheme—12 elected representatives—asked to resign in 2002; was it because of allegations of conflict of interest and, in particular, the awarding of grants to organisations that those committee members had links to?
Hon RICK BARKER: I do not have any specific information on that matter with me at this moment, but I will have the matter investigated and respond to the member as soon as I am able.
Katherine Rich: Can he explain to the House and to the taxpayers of New Zealand why, in answers to my written questions asking what $580,000 worth of Community Organisations Grants Scheme funding had specifically achieved, he could not list any achievements whatsoever, and does he accept that with his present oversight of the Community Organisations Grants Scheme he is starting to make the Community Employment Group scheme look good?
Hon RICK BARKER: That member has asked over 110 questions of significant detail. The actual work involved to get all those answers on time would cause a huge disruption to my department. That member is driftnet fishing. Of course in all of those schemes the money that is granted goes back to the local community, and each organisation has to front up individually to its community to explain what it has done. The Community Organisations Grants Scheme is outstanding, and that member knows it.
12. PETER BROWN (Deputy Leader—NZ First) to the Minister of Finance: Has he received any reports regarding the public perception surrounding his planned fuel tax increase for April 2005; if so, what do the reports indicate?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Minister of Finance): I have seen in the Christchurch Press two critical comments. One is from the head of a major transport firm, and the other is from a failed candidate for the National Party’s Remuera candidate selection.
Peter Brown: Is he concerned at the impact this petrol tax increase will have on New Zealanders, particularly low and fixed income New Zealanders, especially when oil prices are at an all-time high; if so, what plans has he made to alleviate this problem?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Obviously to the extent that this ever gets reflected in the consumer price index, and that flows on to a range of areas, particularly New Zealand superannuation, but I am sure that these are matters that we will continue to keep under some consideration.
Hon Mark Gosche: Is the Government considering any modifications to its fuel tax proposal?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Yes. I am considering recommending to Cabinet that the bill be altered so the increase can be deferred and brought into force by regulation, should oil prices not have come down from their present high levels by 1 April 2005.
John Key: Can the Minister confirm what would be the rate of oil prices measured in New Zealand dollars that oil would have to fall to, before the Minister would shelve the proposal?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I certainly do not intend to shelve the proposal as that would shelve something like $200 million a year of increased investment in roading. It is a matter of timing, and we will keep that under advice.
Mr SPEAKER: Incidentally, Mr Brown, your party has asked all of its questions.
Keith Locke: Has the Minister received any suggestions from those who want a postponement of the fuel tax increase as to which transport project should be cancelled?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: No, but I assume that none in Tauranga would be first on the list.
Gordon Copeland: Have any economic forecast been completed based on a crude oil price of US$50 per barrel, plus the possible fuel increase on the one hand and a weakening of the New Zealand - US dollar exchange rate on the other; if so, what are the likely impacts on the New Zealand economy?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: The next forecast will be associated with the Budget Policy Statement in December; clearly, those have not been completed yet. I do not think anybody in the forecasting community is picking that oil prices will stay up above US$50 per barrel. Certainly, the futures market in these areas would not suggest that is the case.
Larry Baldock: Does the Minister know of a crystal ball anywhere that would enable him to predict accurately the cost of fuel for April next year when the proposed fuel tax increase would come into force, in light of the market volatility caused by events in Nigeria, Russia, Venezuela, the Gulf of Mexico, and the Middle East; if not, is it not prudent for the Government to continue to plan to address our roading infrastructure deficit?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I think that is an excellent comment. Indeed, if I possessed a crystal ball of that nature, I would be tempted to resign from Parliament and make a great deal of money out of its possession.
Questions to Members
Fisheries and Other Sea-related Legislation—Member's Submissions
1. Hon KEN SHIRLEY (ACT) to the Chairperson of the Fisheries and Other Sea-related Legislation Committee: Did the Prime Minister or any member of the executive ever suggest to him that Nanaia Mahuta be given an opportunity to present her submission to the committee, after her submission was “received outside the parameters set by the committee”?
RUSSELL FAIRBROTHER (Chairperson of the Fisheries and Other Sea-related Legislation Committee): No.
Hon Ken Shirley: How can he assure the House that initially he was not acting on Government and caucus instructions to deny Nanaia Mahuta an opportunity to present her submission to the select committee, and then when the heat became too great and that position was reversed, he again used his position as chair to accommodate the backward flip?
RUSSELL FAIRBROTHER: My assurance is contained in my last answer.
Hon Ken Shirley: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. How can a reference to his previous answer, which was “No.”, possibly address that question that I just put to him?
Mr SPEAKER: Well, I listened to what the member said and he said he gave that in relation his assurance. I thought he was actually addressing the question.
Dr Wayne Mapp: On what grounds did he recommend that Nanaia Mahuta present her submission to the select committee?
RUSSELL FAIRBROTHER: Two grounds, as I have discussed with Dr Mapp subsequently. First, I was approached by Nanaia Mahuta, who told me that I had previously said that I would try to have her included in the list to be called. I did not recall that but I took her at her word. Second, which I have not discussed with Dr Mapp, her submission dealt with exclusive modified possession concepts, which had not previously been dealt with at any length in submissions.