Questions & Answers for Oral Answer - 2 Nov. 2004
TUESDAY, 2 NOVEMBER
Questions for Oral Answer
1. Member for Tamaki Makaurau—Confidence
2. United States—Companies Conveying Personal Information
3. Call Centre, Police—111 System
4. Working for Families Package—Implementation
5. Member for Tamaki Makaurau—Prime Minister
6. Schools—Best Practice
7. Member for Tamaki Makaurau—Waipareira Trust
8. Telecommunications Art—Competition
10. Meningococcal B Vaccine—Medicines Assessment Advisory Committee
11. Call Centre, Police—111 System
Question No. 10 to Minister
Question No. 3 to Minister
Tabling of Documents
Electoral Matters Bill Supplementary Order Paper
Questions for Oral Answer
Questions to Ministers
Member for Tamaki Makaurau—Confidence
1. Dr DON BRASH (Leader of the Opposition) to the Prime Minister: Does she have confidence in Hon John Tamihere; if not, why not?
Opposition Members: She’s back!
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK (Prime Minister): It is nice to be welcomed back. [Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Not one word has yet been uttered in answer. These interjections are out of order. I do not mind the odd interjection during an answer, but if one word has not yet been said, it is out of order and not very good for Parliament.
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: An inquiry has been set up to look at allegations made about Mr Tamihere. I am suspending judgment on those matters, and on confidence, until that inquiry is completed.
Dr Don Brash: Does the Prime Minister accept that Mr Tamihere, in stating that he would not accept a golden handshake and then accepting one, misled the New Zealand public; if so, why is he still a Minister in Cabinet?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: Prima facie, I have a concern about that, as the member does, which is why I am making further inquiries.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Why would the Prime Minister take the word of Mr Tamihere when she knew as early as 28 July 1999 that this was a central allegation being made about Mr Tamihere, and why do we have to wait 5 years for some action?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: The Government is going through a very due process of consideration of this, which is why we have an inquiry looking at the facts.
Dr Don Brash: Has the Prime Minister seen John Tamihere’s statement that he received koha, not a golden handshake, and can we assume from the fact that he is still a Minister in Cabinet that she has accepted that explanation?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: No, the member cannot assume that. As I told him in the answer to the primary question, I have suspended judgment on the issue of confidence.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: If it was alleged in July 1999 that there was an issue of a golden handshake, and if Mr Tamihere has clearly misled the Prime Minister on that issue up until as recently as a few months ago, why do we need an inquiry when he should have been sacked for that alone?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: As I said in response to an earlier supplementary question, prima facie I share that member’s concern. I am endeavouring to gather all relevant information before coming to a final judgment.
Hon Richard Prebble: If the Prime Minister has suspended judgment on Mr Tamihere, why has he been advised not to speak to the media or to attend Parliament, and is the reason for putting him into Coventry the Sunday Star-Times story of 17 October—which reporter Helen Bain is standing by as accurate—which states: “Tamihere told the Sunday Star-Times the day before the Waipareira allegations broke that he no longer supported the bill”—that is the Foreshore and Seabed Bill—“‘It doesn’t have my support …’ he said”; and does the Prime Minister not agree that it is constitutionally outrageous that a Mâori member of Parliament has been prevented from coming to this House and speaking on an issue that is vital to his constituents?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: If I could disentangle at least a couple of the questions there. Firstly, the member is not here because he has stood aside, and there are acting Ministers in the portfolios. Secondly, the member has issued a statement saying that there was no substance in that particular report. I can advise Mr Prebble that Mr Tamihere is participating fully in phone conferences with other members on that bill.
Dr Don Brash: Has the Prime Minister asked John Tamihere for an explanation as to why he accepted a golden handshake from the Waipareira Trust, having said he would not do so; if so, what was that explanation?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I am having a number of conversations with Mr Tamihere, and when a decision is made about his future, I will be happy to enlighten the member.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Does the Prime Minister remember her very superior behaviour on the question of an $89 pair of underpants for Tuku Morgan compared with her behaviour now, when the fingerprints, DNA, and blood are all over the floor, and why is she looking around for some sort of guilty party?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: The Government is taking the allegations very seriously. That is why a Queen’s Counsel is doing an inquiry.
United States—Companies Conveying Personal Information
2. KEITH LOCKE (Green) to the Minister of Justice: Does he have any concerns about New Zealand - based subsidiaries of United States companies conveying New Zealanders’ personal information to United States Government agencies, without the consent of the New Zealanders involved?
Hon PHIL GOFF (Minister of Justice): Companies operating in New Zealand must comply with the requirements of the Privacy Act 1993 and with any contractual obligations they have entered into with their clients with regard to confidentiality. If they fail to do so, they would be liable under New Zealand law.
Keith Locke: Was it, then, acceptable under the Privacy Act and other New Zealand legislation for Western Union, when processing New Zealander Mohammad Abbas’s money transfer from New Zealand to India for a sick relative, to vet him through the US Office of Foreign Assets Control—that is, to apply US law to him, in contradiction of New Zealand law?
Hon PHIL GOFF: I am very familiar with the case of Mohammad Abbas, because he is my constituent and I have taken up his case with Western Union. Under the Financial Transactions Reporting Act in New Zealand, which dates back to 1996, there is an obligation on financial institutions to report suspicious transactions. Unfortunately, Mr Abbas shares his name with at least two other individuals who are designated as terrorists under the UN list. What I object to is not the fact that the company checked him out—that was valid—but the fact that it took so long over an urgent transaction, when its own internal procedures state it should have taken only 3 days.
Tim Barnett: Are there valid grounds upon which private information about an individual held by a company can be disclosed legitimately?
Hon PHIL GOFF: Yes. Under the Privacy Act there are valid grounds for non-compliance with the Act. That is set out, in particular, under principle 11. It includes information that may help with the prevention, detection, investigation, prosecution, and punishment of offences, or the use of any information that may be necessary to prevent a serious threat to public health, safety, or human life.
Keith Locke: Is the Minister saying, in his response to my supplementary question, that it is OK for someone like Mr Abbas to be checked against the US watch-list of 20,000 or so names—that is, to apply US law—rather than, as he referred to under the financial transactions system, to check that person against the New Zealand list, which is basically the UN list; that is, is it acceptable to apply US law to Mr Abbas, and not New Zealand law?
Hon PHIL GOFF: If people want to find out whether a transaction is suspicious, I guess they go to whatever information they can find. There are designated lists of people who have been involved with terrorist financing. The UN has such a list. The US also has a list. Western Union, like many financial institutions, operates across a number of countries, and it operates in compliance with the Financial Action Task Force’s recommendations with regard to terrorist financing. I think it was in line with those transactions. I do not object to what it did, but rather to the time it spent to check Mr Abbas out. That should have been done much more quickly.
Keith Locke: Will the Minister take heed of the British Columbia Information and Privacy Commissioner’s report of last Friday, which proposes legislation that would impose heavy fines and terms of imprisonment on companies like EDS (New Zealand), to use a New Zealand parallel, were they to disclose private information to US Government agencies under the Patriot Act; and why would he oppose such a measure?
Hon PHIL GOFF: The member has used EDS as an example, so I will focus on that case. The member may be aware that EDS has a specific agreement with the Privacy Commissioner, signed back in 2003, in which it has undertaken not to transfer any identified information out of New Zealand without appropriate approvals or safeguards. That is important. It is also bound by the confidentiality agreements it has, for example, with the Ministry of Justice and the Ministry of Social Development, so I think the ground is well covered already.
Keith Locke: How can the Minister square that answer with the fact that under the US Patriot Act, US companies operating in New Zealand, like EDS, are, first, obliged to provide personal information to the FBI when requested by the US Government, and, second, are prohibited by that Act from telling the New Zealand Government they have provided the information?
Hon PHIL GOFF: EDS, when it operates in other countries—for example, in Australia and Canada—has given specific assurances that it is not transferring information out of those countries under the Patriot Act or any other Act. Regardless of what the United States may pass in its legislation, if a New Zealand - based company breaches our laws, it is liable under our laws here in New Zealand, and it would be prosecuted accordingly.
Keith Locke: Does the Minister accept that there is, here, a conflict between the two jurisdictions, and does he not think that it is important to follow the British Columbia privacy commissioner’s recommendation and pass specific legislation to make sure that any US company operating in New Zealand has to abide by New Zealand laws or, otherwise, suffer the consequences?
Hon PHIL GOFF: We do not need a New Zealand law to state that people have to abide by New Zealand law. New Zealand law is binding on everybody that operates out of this country. If people breach that law or if they breach their confidentiality agreements, they will suffer accordingly.
Call Centre, Police—111 System
3. RON MARK (NZ First) to the Minister of Police: Has he received any reports in relation to published comments, in the May 2004 issue of Police News, that state, “the overall level of service provided to front-line staff by the centre (as a whole, and NOT the individuals) is—solely because of inadequate staffing levels—poor.”; if so, what action does he intend to take?
Hon GEORGE HAWKINS (Minister of Police): I have read the article, not in the May 2004 issue, but in the June edition of the Police News where Rob Neill, a highway patrol officer, wrote a letter to the editor. This Government has provided an additional 18 staff to police communication centres since that time.
Ron Mark: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Just through you to the Minister, because he seems to have missed it, could I possibly have tabled now, so that he can have copies, the May 2004 report and the June one? He needs to read a bit more widely.
Mr SPEAKER: Yes the member can seek leave. Is there any objection? There is.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Don’t be a smart alec!
Mr SPEAKER: I do not need any comments like that.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. You said you did not need any comments like that. My colleague is seeking to table the evidence, which you would have seen when the question was originally submitted to you. But nevertheless the Minister gets up and behaves like a smart alec by trying to say he is quoting from the wrong publication. Now that is a form of behaviour of which he is too frequently guilty, and he needs to be brought to book in this House.
Mr SPEAKER: The Minister did say he was quoting from the June issue and he is entitled to do that.
Ron Mark: Is it not a fact that this report identified very clearly that emergency calls have increased by 50 percent, while staffing levels have decreased by 2.11 percent, that in order to cover these staff reductions operators are being forced to “link channels”, which has been identified as an operational risk, and that ultimately it is the public who are being forced to pay the price for this Government’s failure to provide the level of resourcing our police force needs?
Hon GEORGE HAWKINS: The member must realise that since that report was published, 18 new positions have been made available in each of the police communication centres, and of course the service to the public has continued to improve. May I tell the Minister that 111 call answering has gone up from 76 percent up to 80 percent—up 4 percent in the first quarter of this year.
Martin Gallagher: Could the Minister, in terms of any surveys carried out, outline what front-line police think about the service provided to them by the police communication centres to enable them to adequately assist the public?
Hon GEORGE HAWKINS: In July 2004 a survey of 450 front-line staff regarding the service provided by the communication centres was conducted, and 91 percent of them rated the daily interactions with police communication centres, as excellent, very good, or good.
Hon Tony Ryall: Does the Minister in light of his comments on the Iraena Asher 111 call a fortnight ago, have any concerns about the way that the call of Mrs Bentley was dealt with when she called the 111 service during a home invasion at her property near Te Puke; and if so, what action will he take?
Hon GEORGE HAWKINS: I must point out to the member that the Police Association president said—and I quote from today’s New Zealand Herald—that “the only people who had done anything wrong in this case were the two intruders”, and I agree with him.
Hon Tony Ryall: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. That in no way even addressed the question, which was specifically about whether he had any concerns about the way Mrs Bentley’s call was dealt with and what action he would take. Quoting Mr O’Connor, who has been less than flattering of the Minister on other occasions, will not get him off the hook.
Mr SPEAKER: The Minister can answer by quoting any other comments, and in his last phrase he did address the question.
Hon Richard Prebble: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Of course I have to take your word and Mr Ryall’s word that the Minister answered the question, but where I am sitting I could not hear any of the answer given, partly because the Minister did not speak into his microphone, but also because of the level of catcalling. I think all members are entitled to hear answers, and I would like the Minister to give his answer again.
Mr SPEAKER: I would like to thank the member for raising that point of order. It is a very appropriate time to raise it. I am now going to tighten up on the amount of interjection I permit during answers, because I think all members of Parliament, including the member who is at the back of the Chamber, have a perfect right to hear answers. If he could not hear the answer, that then means there was too much interjection. I would like to thank the member for his point of order, and I will now administer this more strictly. Mr Hawkins can repeat his answer, because Mr Prebble has asked him to.
Hon GEORGE HAWKINS: In this morning’s New Zealand Herald dated 2 November the president of the Police Association, Greg O’Connor, said “the only people who had done anything wrong in this case were the two intruders”, and I agree with that statement.
Dr Muriel Newman: Is he concerned that his administration is doing enormous damage to public confidence in police 111 emergency services; if not, why not?
Hon GEORGE HAWKINS: The police are generally doing a very good job with 111 calls. However, the commissioner has called for a review because we want to improve it. The elements that show up, first of all, are those human elements of people making mistakes, and that is not good enough.
Marc Alexander: Is the Minister aware that police officers view the transferral of front-line staff to traffic duties as such a misuse of resources that they commonly refer to these colleagues as “snakes”; if not, would he then consider himself, as some might uncharitably suggest, to be out of touch?
Hon GEORGE HAWKINS: I have to tell that member that the road toll last October, just a few days ago, is the lowest it has ever been since records were kept. That shows the highway patrol speed cameras are doing the job, and I support the police in that.
Marc Alexander: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I can see no way in which the Minister addressed the question, which was whether he knew that some of the police were referring to other police as “snakes”. He did not address that, at all.
Mr SPEAKER: That was part of the member’s question. If that had been all he said, the Minister would have had to address that part. He addressed other parts of his question. If a question is going to have two or three legs to it, the member cannot expect them all to be answered.
Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I have been listening very quietly to the answers of Mr Hawkins. I know that you ruled before that he addressed the last part of a question with two words at the end, which were that he said he agreed with Greg O’Connor. But how can he answer a question about whether he knew the police were calling each other names, which tends to show a pretty low morale within the police force, by giving the House the latest road toll statistics? He did not do any more than that.
Mr SPEAKER: If that is all he was asked, that would have been a perfectly valid point, as I said before. It was not.
Hon Tony Ryall: Is the Minister still satisfied with the way that the Bentleys’ 111 phone call was dealt with, in light of information that has been provided to the police that suggests that the 111 service did not, amongst its number of errors, inform the ambulance service that guns were involved in the home invasion?
Hon GEORGE HAWKINS: I am not satisfied that the police always get it right. That is why there is a review. It is plain and simple, and in that case that will be looked at.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: Just answer the question.
Hon GEORGE HAWKINS: If Mr Smith stops yelling he will hear that the police will look at that aspect during the review.
Ron Mark: What does he think the Police Association meant when it said: “We are faced with the same staffing crisis year in and year out, and it all comes back to short staffing.”, and does he not think the association is making a valid point and that he ought to, for once, listen and do something about it?
Hon GEORGE HAWKINS: I am doing something about it. Police numbers have grown steadily, and as far as communication centres go they have been increased by 18 this financial year.
Stephen Franks: What does the Minister think of blocking a victim from calling willing neighbours for help and falsely claiming that the police were at the site when they were nearly an hour away, and does he support a policy for 111 operators of giving reassurance whether or not it is justified?
Hon GEORGE HAWKINS: The answer to the first part of the question is, of course, that it is not always wise to let people ring their neighbours when firearms are being used. As far as the rest of the question goes, that will be a part of the review.
Ron Mark: Does the Minister not remember receiving this letter of 29 September 2002 from a southern communications centre officer, addressed to him, where the officer pointed out a further problem, that being: “I have logged on seven highway patrols working from the Rangiora base, and our instruction is that they are not to attend any events, including traffic accidents.”, and if he does remember receiving that letter and reading it, can he tell us what he has done to ensure that strategic traffic units, highway patrols, excess blood/alcohol units, are all available for general duties call-outs such as the two that we have heard of, most disastrously, in the papers of late?
Hon GEORGE HAWKINS: All staff who are on patrol are available to attend—
Ron Mark: They are not.
Hon GEORGE HAWKINS: They are, and of course one letter from one disillusioned constable does not say what police policy is all about, but Mr Mark might believe anyone. He probably believes in Santa Claus!
Ron Mark: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker.
Mr SPEAKER: No, no, the member is going to stand, withdraw, and apologise.
Hon GEORGE HAWKINS: I withdraw and apologise.
Hon Peter Dunne: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I raise this point of order in respect of the ruling that you made regarding my colleague Marc Alexander’s supplementary question. You have long ruled that Ministers are required to address questions, and that you are not responsible for the quality or content of the answer. I think you may have made, as it is, a rod for your own back in that regard. But leaving that aside, in this instance your ruling was that my colleague’s specific question was one of a number of questions contained within the question that had been put to the Minister, and that essentially the Minister was not obliged to address any of them in responding. Now I think that actually takes the ruling to an extent that makes it a somewhat pointless exercise if addressing a question means that, in fact, someone merely has to get up and utter some words.
Mr SPEAKER: I think the member, who usually always raises a point of order when it is valid, has made a very interesting point. I want to give that some consideration, and I will come back with an answer.
Ron Mark: Does the Minister, particularly with reference to one of his early answers that he gave this House, stand by the policing priorities that his Government has set, which devotes more attention to quota ticketing and revenue gathering on the road, which has seen a small reduction in the road toll alongside massive increases in violent crime in our homes and on our streets?
Hon GEORGE HAWKINS: I can tell that member that crime is dropping. The crime rate is at a 20-odd year low. It continues to drop, and the number of speed-camera tickets also continues to drop.
Hon GEORGE HAWKINS: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The United Future member asked about police referring to each other as “snakes”. I am quite happy to say that I have not heard police doing that. They are very supportive of one another.
Mr SPEAKER: That is not a point of order and the Minister knows that.
Ron Mark: I seek the leave of the House to table a letter addressed to the “Rt Hon Mr G Hawkins”, Minister of Police, dated 29 September, which outlines the problems I have been trying to tell him about.
Working for Families Package—Implementation
4. MOANA MACKEY (Labour) to the Minister for Social Development and Employment: What reports has he received about the implementation of the October Working for Families changes?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY (Minister for Social Development and Employment): In October there were increases to accommodation supplement thresholds and abatement rates, and childcare assistance rates and thresholds. These have been very positively received. In terms of take-up, on comparing the first 3 weeks of October this year with the same period in 2003, one finds that two-and-a-half times as many accommodation supplements were granted, and over four times as many childcare assistance subsidies were granted. Childcare assistance is particularly important to families moving from a benefit into work. I am delighted to see such strong take-up of that element of the Working for Families package.
Moana Mackey: How does the Working for Families package assist people moving from benefits to work?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: Through the Working for Families package, the Government is making significant investments in childcare subsidies, to address what is a major barrier to employment; it is providing an in-work payment, which means that when people move into work, work pays; and it is making significant increases to family income assistance, which will assist, in the end, around 300,000 families. Those changes sit alongside improvements in the minimum wage, paid parental leave, and workplace legislation, and more active case management of people on benefits, which will ensure that thousands of additional families have a family member in paid employment. Sadly, Dr Brash and his colleagues have failed to vote for any of those changes, despite their not having one single policy to help low and modest income families.
Katherine Rich: Will the Minister confirm that while his glowing Working for Families promotional material shows a maximum gain of $170 per week for the fictitious couple Rod and Barbara, the truth of the matter is that, as per the answer to parliamentary written question No. 8943, only six families in the whole of New Zealand would have been eligible for that gain; and can he tell the House why he does not think that is misleading?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: That is why we put out case examples—so that people can work it through. But we have always been very clear—
Mr SPEAKER: There is far too much noise. And while I am on my feet there will be no comment at all from anyone. There is far too much noise. I am happy to have the odd interjection, but comment like that backs up the point Mr Prebble made earlier.
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: To begin the answer again, we have published material that shows the full range of assistance that people will get through the Working for Families package, with the average family, on between $25,000 and $40,000, having an extra $100 coming into its house. I invite the National Party to tell New Zealanders that it does not support that.
Hon Peter Dunne: Has the Minister seen any reports or proposals that persons eligible for the Working for Families assistance ought to be able to capitalise that assistance, to assist them into homeownership or to reduce their mortgage liability; if he has seen such reports or proposals, what is his reaction to those, and what will he do about them?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: I have seen speculation in the media about the concept of capitalising benefits. I imagine that many people in an older age bracket—not looking at that member in particular—would remember the capitalisation of the family benefit, which is a nostalgic piece of policy for many people in that age bracket. It is a piece of speculation in the news media, and it is something, of course, that is worth thinking about, but we have no plans to move in that direction.
Member for Tamaki Makaurau—Prime Minister
5. Dr DON BRASH (Leader of the Opposition) to the Prime Minister: Can she confirm that the question of Hon John Tamihere’s conduct in stating that he would not accept a golden handshake from the Waipareira Trust and then accepting such a payment is a matter for “political decision”, as asserted by the Acting Prime Minister; if so, when will she make that decision?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK (Prime Minister): I will determine Mr Tamihere’s future, after consultation with senior colleagues and after Mr White QC has reported to me. Due process is being observed.
Dr Don Brash: Will the Prime Minister make the simple political decision that John Tamihere has deliberately misled both her and the New Zealand public and should go; if not, why not?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: As I have indicated in answer to a number of previous questions, due process is under way. An inquiry is establishing the facts, and then I will make a determination.
Hon Ken Shirley: What is her comment on John Tamihere’s confession of having received a golden koha, and does she concede that a golden koha is in fact worse than a golden handshake, because a golden handshake is paid when a person is restructured out of a job whereas John Tamihere’s $319,000-gross golden koha was payment for leaving a taxpayer-funded trust voluntarily to become a Labour MP in her Government?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I am not going to get into the business of defining what a koha is and what it is not. I have set up an inquiry that will look at the facts, report to me, and I will make a decision.
Dr Don Brash: Can the Prime Minister confirm that the question of John Tamihere misleading the New Zealand public is not a matter for the White inquiry, and indeed is a matter that the Deputy Prime Minister has described as a simple political decision; if so, can she tell the House why she is waiting to deal with this issue until the White inquiry is concluded?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: In fact the member does not represent the Deputy Prime Minister correctly. What the Deputy Prime Minister said was that after, in effect, the inquiry, “considerations which flow from that may be more appropriately dealt with at a political level.” That is why I am saying that first we will have an inquiry, establish facts, and then we will make a decision.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Does the Prime Minister remember Mr Tamihere and Mr Clayton Cosgrove saying that if the Minister of Police were sacked that they would resign; so why does she not do the country a favour by sacking Mr Hawkins and getting two free?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I have not been able to find any evidence that those statements were made, either.
Dr Don Brash: Does she condone Mr Tamihere’s actions in accepting a golden handshake from the trust, when he publicly stated prior to the 1999 election that he would not do so; or is that the sort of thing one says when in Opposition but then ignores when in Government?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: No, it is not, and that is why I answered the member’s previous question by saying that prima facie I share his concern and I am establishing the full facts about the matter.
6. LYNNE PILLAY (Labour—Waitakere) to the Minister of Education: What action is the Government taking to identify and share best practice in schools?
Hon TREVOR MALLARD (Minister of Education): From 2006 the Extending High Standards in Schools initiative will invest an extra $5.3 million annually to promote excellence in schools.
Lynne Pillay: How many schools are likely to benefit from this initiative?
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: Between 250 and 270.
Hon Bill English: Has the Minister seen a review of teacher training done by the Teachers Council that shows very serious problems in a number of teacher training courses, and why did he instruct the Teachers Council to keep that report secret?
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: I do not recall seeing it.
Bernie Ogilvy: By what means can he identify best practice and excellence in schools when there is no uniform test before year 11 to discern students’ abilities?
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: I am quite willing to get the member briefed on the multitude of tests that are available to discern student ability. They start with the school entry assessment test. A lot of progress is being made in good testing, but, of course, good teaching practice is something quite different, and the member can have a briefing on that too if he wants.
Judy Turner: Can the Minister confirm that references to harm minimisation as the goal of drug education have been removed from the Government’s best practice handbook for schools released recently, including the statement that harm minimisation might “stigmatise experimentation with drugs as deviant behaviour”; if so, why?
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: No, I cannot confirm that.
Member for Tamaki Makaurau—Waipareira Trust
7. RODNEY HIDE (Leader—ACT) to the Prime Minister: Why did she question Hon John Tamihere about rumours of tax issues involving the Waipareira Trust and what questions did she ask him?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK (Prime Minister): I advised Mr Tamihere that there were rumours emanating from the Waipareira Trust that he owed tax. He advised me he did not believe he had outstanding tax liabilities.
Rodney Hide: Did she press the Hon John Tamihere about any tax that might be outstanding, and did she press him about what payment that tax was owed on, or did she prefer to turn a blind eye?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: The issue was whether he owed tax. He advised me that he did not consider he had any tax liabilities.
Dr Don Brash: Can the Prime Minister confirm the statement made by Mr John Tamihere in his book that he gave her written authorisation to access his financial records, and can she tell the House why she did not use that authorisation to make further inquiries when she heard rumours several months ago of a tax problem “oozing out of the Waipareira Trust”?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: Back in the year 2000 there were a range of allegations around, about contractual arrangements between different Government agencies and the Waipareira Trust arrangements, which had been in place for some time, including under the previous Government. An inquiry was set up to look at those arrangements. It may well be that Mr Tamihere gave me such an undertaking at that time—I cannot recall. I would be happy to go back and search the record to see whether that was so.
Rodney Hide: In the light of the inquiry—[Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! Please start again. That is the one warning today—not to Mr Hide but to that member, who well knows who he is.
Rodney Hide: I am on my best behaviour today.
Mr SPEAKER: You have done well.
Rodney Hide: Thank you. In the light of the inquiry now under way into John Tamihere’s payments and tax issues around that, is it the Prime Minister’s expectation that John Tamihere will stay away from Parliament until that inquiry is completed, and therefore will not be able to participate in such matters as the Mâori legislation that will come before the House today, and, indeed, the Foreshore and Seabed Bill; if so, why?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: That is a matter for further discussion with Mr Tamihere, but, as I have indicated earlier, he is participating fully in discussions within the Government on the Foreshore and Seabed Bill.
Rodney Hide: Does she stand by her statement to this House on 26 July 2000: “John Tamihere discloses absolutely and I commend him for that.”, and would she not have expected John Tamihere to disclose, at least to her, his golden handshake and the lack of any tax being paid on it?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: As I have said in reply to earlier questions, prima facie this matter raises concerns. I am going through due process and establishing what the facts are.
8. MARK PECK (Labour—Invercargill) to the Minister of Communications: What recent evidence has he received showing that the Telecommunications Act 2001 is working to deliver competition to New Zealand consumers?
Hon PAUL SWAIN (Minister of Communications): TelstraClear has recently launched a new, nationwide, home phone service. This means that all New Zealanders will now be able—
John Key: And John’s on it.
Hon PAUL SWAIN: And you did nothing about it—well, not you, Mr Speaker—that National Party did nothing about it for 9 years—
Mr SPEAKER: That is the problem we get when Ministers interject in that way and in the second person. Will the Minister just answer the question.
Hon PAUL SWAIN: This means that all New Zealanders will now be able to choose their residential phone provider. That would not have been possible without their Government’s regulatory framework provided by the Telecommunications Act. In addition, I note that Telecom has recently lowered the cost of some services to its residential customers, which is further evidence that competition promoted by the new framework is working.
Mark Peck: What changes, if any, is the Government considering to the Telecommunications Act?
Hon PAUL SWAIN: The Telecommunications Act is, by and large, working very well. However, there is potential to make improvements in areas such as timeliness, monitoring, and enforcement. I plan to release a discussion paper on these issues and other matters, shortly.
9. Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS (Leader—NZ First) to the Minister of Finance: With respect to his comments in relation to the approved sale of a majority stake in Powerco to Australian company Prime Infrastructure Networks, “It is, however, with great reluctance that I am letting the deal proceed as there were aspects of the process that concerned me.”, what were the aspects that concerned him?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Minister of Finance): Apart from the fact that the national interest tests were in my view barely met, I had two principal concerns—firstly, that the New Plymouth District Council did not consult ratepayers on the sale and, secondly, that the shambles that ensues from the granting of a waiver by the Takeovers Panel to allow Prime to restructure itself are different for New Zealand versus overseas shareholders.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Is it not a fact that the Minister has more concern for the possibility of foreign overseas investors threatening us with a judicial review than for adhering to New Zealand’s Overseas Investment Act, which lists eight reasons why his approval of the sale of Powerco is not in the national interest?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: The member makes one reasonable point—that is, my own views were leaning towards declining the sale. I was strongly advised—not just by the Overseas Investment Commission—that a negative decision from me was unlikely to succeed under judicial review.
Meningococcal B Vaccine—Medicines Assessment Advisory Committee
10. SUE KEDGLEY (Green) to the Minister of Health: Is she confident that the Medicines Assessment Advisory Committee had sufficient time and information to properly assess the safety and efficacy of the meningococcal B vaccine?
Hon ANNETTE KING (Minister of Health): Yes, but the Medicines Assessment Advisory Committee was not the only checkpoint. The vaccine was passed by both the following: the vaccine subcommittee, which evaluates data interdependently of Medsafe, and the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency, which is the UK equivalent of Medsafe. Advice was also received on the meningococcal vaccine from the World Health Organization. Since the roll-out began, the safety of the vaccine has had the thumbs up from the Independent Safety Monitoring Board.
Sue Kedgley: Why was approval for the vaccine given at a teleconference that was so hastily convened that four out of the 11 members of the expert committee could not attend due to the short notice and, of the seven members who were actually present, the minutes show that an unknown number of them had not even seen the clinical data, due to the short notice of the teleconference?
Hon ANNETTE KING: The vaccine was assessed by clinicians from the Medicines Assessment Advisory Committee and its expert vaccine subcommittee, independently of Medsafe. In each case the recommendations were made by a quorum of the committee.
Steve Chadwick: Has the Minister seen any reports about the actions of the anti-immunisation group; if so, what did they state?
Hon ANNETTE KING: Yes. I note that the anti-immunisation lobby group was forced to unreservedly apologise to Pfizer for comments that it made that paracetamol medications cause meningococcal disease. I have also been advised that at a recent anti-immunisation meeting there was discussion regarding the lobby’s lack of success in getting traction in the mainstream media. The anti-immunisation lobby has decided to use Sue Kedgley to ask a lot more questions as a way to ensure that it gets more of a profile and more coverage in the media.
Hon Member: It’s all right!
Mr SPEAKER: No, it is not all right. There was far too much interjection on that question from the Government.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Is it not fact that provisional consent is normally only asked for when a vaccine is targeted at a small audience and 90 percent of 1.1 million people could hardly be considered small, secondly, how is it that a priority application, as it was in this case, nevertheless took 13 months, and thirdly, why on earth is the Minister making public comments that this vaccine is safe when no pharmaceutical company in this country is ever allowed to claim that its products are safe?
Hon ANNETTE KING: I base the comments I make not on my assessment but on the assessment of experts. It is not for the Minister to decide whether something is safe, but to rely on the advice of those who are competent to comment on the issue. The reason it took 13 months or more is that we wanted to make sure, as far as possible, that it is a safe vaccination. In fact, if members were to ask drug companies about how long it takes to get approval for medicines, they would find that it takes a lot of time, indeed.
Sue Kedgley: Why was the decision of the Medicines Assessment Advisory Committee made in such a hasty fashion, especially when the committee noted that there were outstanding queries about the manufacturing data from Chiron Corporation that still needed to be answered?
Hon ANNETTE KING: The decision was not made in a hasty manner. I wonder whether that is one of the questions that the member has been asked to ask by the anti-immunisation lobby.
Sue Kedgley: Following on from the earlier question asked by Winston Peters, can the Minister confirm that the vaccine has only been given provisional approval, which means “on a restricted basis for the treatment of a limited number of patients”; if so, why has a provisionally approved vaccine already been administered to several hundred New Zealanders, and why is it intended to be administered three times to more than 1.15 million children and young people?
Hon ANNETTE KING: That is done under a section of the Medicines Act. It is a section that allows for an application to be given provisional consent when it is to be used in a limited way. It will be used for people under 20 and it is being used only for the meningococcal B immunisation programme. However, I believe that I would probably also use that section of the Act to approve the medicinal use of cannabis because there have been no clinical trials in New Zealand on that, either, although the Green Party has been asking me to approve the medicinal use of cannabis.
Call Centre, Police—111 System
11. Hon TONY RYALL (National—Bay Of Plenty) to the Minister of Police: Does he take any responsibility for the operation of the New Zealand Police 111 system; if so, how much?
Hon GEORGE HAWKINS (Minister of Police): I take responsibility for policy issues, and the Commissioner of Police has responsibility for operational issues.
Hon Tony Ryall: So does this Minister take any responsibility whatsoever for the situation this country now finds itself in, whereby the rural communities, in particular, are rapidly losing faith in the ability of the 111 system to respond to their particular concerns; and if it is not his responsibility, why is he drawing the salary that he is?
Hon GEORGE HAWKINS: I think the public should not be mesmerised by those who seek to jump on the bandwagon of several high-profile cases. For those living away from centres of population, service does take more time.
Hon Tony Ryall: Considering that people dial 111 when they are in life-threatening situations, does the Minister consider it appropriate that the police consider it satisfactory that they are responding to those life-threatening situations 91 percent of the time?
Hon GEORGE HAWKINS: Both the commissioner and I want to improve the response time, and part of that is to have the review so that any areas that can be improved, will be improved.
Question No. 10 to Minister
SUE KEDGLEY (Green): I seek leave to table minutes of the Medicines Assessment Advisory Committee, which show that a lot of members have not read the clinical data, due to the short notice.
SUE KEDGLEY: I seek leave to table an article pointing out that the Chiron Corporation’s manufacturing licence has been suspended in the UK, for violations of good manufacturing practice, and in America.
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that article. Is there any objection? There is.
12. GORDON COPELAND (United Future) to the Minister of Revenue: Is he satisfied with the current levels of taxation in New Zealand?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Minister of Revenue): In general terms, yes. New Zealand is lightly taxed by developed world standards, being ranked 12th lowest of 30 OECD countries in terms of tax revenue to GDP.
Gordon Copeland: Has the Minister seen the latest OECD Revenue Statistics report, which shows New Zealand at 20.6 percent—not only second-highest but also way above the OECD average of just 12.9 percent—for tax on individuals and companies as a percentage of GDP; and does he acknowledge, therefore, that New Zealanders are highly taxed in that regard?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: No, not at all, because the vast majority of OECD countries—in particular, European countries—have other large taxes on personal income by means of social security contributions, which in New Zealand do not exist as separate taxes. We would have to add European-style social security contributions from both employers and employees to the figures to arrive at comparable numbers.
John Key: If the Minister does not think it is necessary to adjust tax thresholds for the impact of inflation, why did he recently slip through legislation that allows him, as Minister of Revenue, to index annual increases for petrol taxes, and how does he see that as being fair?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I do not think I have slipped that through yet, and, clearly, I have not got away without it being noticed.
Gordon Copeland: Is the Minister aware that in the same OECD report the latest figures show that, at 14.8 percent, New Zealand has the third-highest tax on personal income as a percentage of GDP, and, again, is way above the average of just 9.8 percent for the OECD as a whole; and is that not further evidence that taxes are too high in New Zealand?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: No. I repeat that one has to look at the social security taxes that are levied separately in nearly all other OECD countries. I think that in Germany the figure for superannuation alone is a 19 percent tax rate on personal income.
John Key: If the Minister does not think that there is room for tax cuts when the operating balance excluding revaluations and accounting changes is running at around 4 percent of GDP—in fact, above 4 percent of GDP—how large would the surplus have to be before the Minister thought tax cuts were appropriate?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I suspect it would have to be extremely large before that member would benefit from any tax cuts that I would introduce. But other people are looking forward to significant gains under this Government, and in next year’s Budget package there will certainly be moves in the business area.
Gordon Copeland: Does the Minister concede, given that New Zealand gets an unusually high proportion of its tax revenue from personal and corporate incomes, that consideration should be given to a re-evaluation of the levels at which these taxes are set?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: No. Let me give an example. If in New Zealand we had a 9 percent payroll tax, which is about the average paid in Australia at the combination of state and Commonwealth levels, the corporate tax rate could be lowered to about 15 percent on a revenue neutral basis. But in terms of tax design a payroll tax is not superior to having a higher corporate tax rate.
Gordon Copeland: I seek the leave of the House to table three documents from the OECD—“Total Tax Revenues as a Percentage of GDP”, “Taxes on Income and Profits as a Percentage of GDP”, and “Tax on Personal Income as a Percentage of GDP”.
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table those three documents. Is there any objection? There is.
Peter Brown: Has the Minister taken careful note of United Future’s passionate plea for a reduction in taxation, and can he tell the House whether it has made any representation to halt the proposed petrol tax in the Customs and Excise (Motor Spirits) Amendment Bill—or are they just making hollow noises?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: United Future has made a lot of suggestions around the taxation area and received a lot of information from the Government in that respect. United Future support an increased funding flow to go into roading and public transport in the future and therefore are prepared to pay for their dreams in that regard, whereas some parties just have the dreams without paying for them.
Mr SPEAKER: Order!
CLAYTON COSGROVE: —that he attended in Fiji—
Mr SPEAKER: Order!
CLAYTON COSGROVE: —with many New Zealanders losing millions of dollars.
Mr SPEAKER: The member knows that when I stand up, he sits down. He will stand, withdraw, and apologise to me.
CLAYTON COSGROVE: I withdraw and apologise.
Question No. 3 to Minister
Hon GEORGE HAWKINS (Minister of Police): I refer to oral question No. 3 today, where authentication was supplied by reference to the May 2004 issue of Police News. My staff and I have spent considerable time looking through the May 2004 issue, and the matter was not mentioned in it. It was mentioned in the June issue. I think authentication needs to be accurate in order for people to answer questions properly.
Mr SPEAKER: Well, so what! That is not a point of order.
Tabling of Documents
Electoral Matters Bill Supplementary Order Paper
GERRY BROWNLEE (Deputy Leader—National): I seek leave to table a document known as PCO5571a/4—[Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Could you please repeat that. I did not hear it because there was noise made. I am about to send some people out for the afternoon.
GERRY BROWNLEE: I seek leave to table a document known as PCO5571a/4.
Mr SPEAKER: Leave has been sought. Does the member want to give any further details about it? Leave has been declined.
GERRY BROWNLEE: I will try again. I seek leave to table a Supplementary Order Paper on the Electoral Matters Bill, known as PCO5571a/4.
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that. Is there any objection? There is.