Questions & Answers for Oral Answer - 3 Nov. 2004
Wednesday, 3 November
Questions for Oral Answer
1. Tertiary Education—Quality
2. Member for Tamaki Makaurau—Assurances
3. Working for Families Package—Budget
4. Member for Tamaki Makaurau—Decision Making
5. Fuel Efficiency—Government Initiatives
6. Member for Tamaki Makaurau—Ministerial Duties
8. Family Court—Mediators
9. Disability Strategy—Implementation
10. Immigration Fraud—China
11. Education Service—Remuneration
12. Home Invasion—111 Call
Questions to Members
Finance and Expenditure Committee—Inquiry into Fraudulent Investment Schemes
Questions for Oral Answer
Questions to Ministers
1. HELEN DUNCAN (Labour) to the Associate Minister of Education (Tertiary Education): What initiatives is he putting in place to encourage tertiary education institutions to become more focused on the quality of teaching and learning?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY (Associate Minister of Education (Tertiary Education)): Last Friday the Government announced a new student component performance measure to help improve the quality of teaching in the sector by highlighting student retention, looking at completion rates and establishing a nationwide student survey. This will shift the focus of providers away from simply enrolling students towards helping them succeed and ensuring they are enrolled in courses that meet their needs. The performance measure emphasises teaching excellence, just as the Performance-based Research Fund emphasises excellence in research. Providers with the weakest performance will receive additional assistance and attention from the Tertiary Education Commission.
Helen Duncan: What other initiatives are in place to encourage excellence in teaching and learning?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: For the past 3 years we have been running the very successful Tertiary Teacher Excellence Awards to recognise the top examples of teaching practice from across the tertiary sector. Before the end of the year I intend to announce a new package of initiatives to support professional development for tertiary teachers, and that will be implemented in the following year. All in all, we are looking at a very good environment for emphasising the quality of tertiary teaching.
Hon Bill English: Why would anyone in tertiary education take the Minister seriously on this, when he has exercised no accountability whatsoever for tens of millions of dollars spent on low-quality, low-grade courses such as Christchurch Polytechnic’s Cool IT, which cost the taxpayer $15 million; 13,000 enrolled students did not do the course, and no-one has taken responsibility for it?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: People in tertiary education will take the Government seriously because they have already seen the success of the Performance-based Research Fund, which they were directly involved in, and they have also been directly involved in all of the teaching excellence measures that I announced Friday and today. That is why they will take it seriously.
Hon Brian Donnelly: Will the Associate Minister consider an initiative to create a new class of tertiary institution, namely, a university of technology, to enable Unitec to focus on learning and teaching rather than on chasing university status, as it has since 1996?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: The member’s question gives me the opportunity to say that I have been approached by the member representing the New Zealand First Party to raise the issue of universities of technology, and I have agreed that we will explore that issue.
Bernie Ogilvy: Will student evaluations of teaching and learning be made publicly available, in light of the fact that resources such as Kiwi Quals website give prospective students little information about the quality of different courses, when the dubious quality of some of those courses has been a major concern?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: Yes, the point of the nationwide student survey is to provide comparable public information, so that students have a better basis on which to make up their mind when choosing the institution they want to go to.
Helen Duncan: What other indicators, other than those mentioned in the answer to the primary question, were considered for the performance measure?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: We considered the ability to sustain public interest, the strong engagement with community and industry organisations, and the ability to establish a coherent programme—exactly the kind of indicators that, for example, the National Party has failed to comply with over the last little while, but which we expect our institutions to comply with.
Gerry Brownlee: Another lie from him.
Mr SPEAKER: I heard that comment—the member knows he made it. The member will stand, withdraw, and apologise, or he leaves the House.
Gerry Brownlee: I will leave the House, Mr Speaker.
Gerry Brownlee withdrew from the Chamber.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. It is a long-time habit of that particular Minister, at the end of every single question, to go outside the Standing Orders and make references to matters for which he has no responsibility. These are not only incorrect but are simply outside of his ministerial responsibility and are in breach of the Standing Orders. We on this side of the House simply seek for you to require Ministers to comply with the Standing Orders and not allow them to make statements that are incorrect and outside of what the answer requires.
Mr SPEAKER: On that particular point of order I can say that I was about to say exactly that to the Minister, because he did go outside the Standing Orders. However, a comment was made that cannot be accepted in this House.
Bernie Ogilvy: Can the Minister confirm that university lecturers are not required to undertake any sort of training in teaching practices, and does he view the introduction of a performance-based element to the student component as a catalyst for providers to ensure that their teaching staff do have this kind of training?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: I can confirm that tertiary teachers are not required to have a teaching credential, but it is certainly my opinion that we are moving now into an era when they will be required to do so. What we are going to be funding in the near future is the basis for professional development across the tertiary sector, which I personally hope will lead to them being credentialed.
Member for Tamaki Makaurau—Assurances
2. RODNEY HIDE (Leader—ACT) to the Prime Minister: Does she accept the Hon John Tamihere at his word, given that he took a golden handshake that he said he would not take; if so, why?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK (Prime Minister): In Mr Tamihere’s statement to the House today he has said that he accepted an ex gratia payment when he said he would not accept one. He further said he regretted not advising me of that, and I regret that too, as my advice would have been not to accept it. Mr Tamihere has resigned from Cabinet today, and I accept that as an honourable course of action.
Rodney Hide: In light of the Prime Minister’s response, what has changed since yesterday, when she promised this House due process for Mr Tamihere, and today, when she accepted his resignation? [Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: I am not going to warn people about interjecting or making noises while questions are being asked. Questions are entitled to be heard in silence.
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: As I told the House yesterday there is a process in train—and it still is in train—to have a report on a range of allegations, many of them mounted by the member, concerning Mr Tamihere. That process is going on. Mr Tamihere meantime has decided he will resign.
Dr Don Brash: Why would anybody accept Mr Tamihere at his word, given the revelation that he took a golden handshake when he said he would not take one, and his admission on page 28 of his book that one thing he was good at was “telling stories, some of them less than truthful.”?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: A member’s word in this House is accepted.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Does she intend to ask Mr Tamihere to apologise for saying that my allegation that a golden handshake and a vehicle were going to be settled upon him was a lie?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: Apart from what I have said today, I intend to wait for Mr White to determine the full facts around the payment. At that point it is a matter for Mr Tamihere to judge how he will react.
Heather Roy: In light of the Prime Minister’s answer to the primary question, at what time did she receive John Tamihere’s resignation, and at what time did she accept it?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I am not travelling with a stopwatch. I received the resignation sometime around 11.30 this morning and I accepted it to pass on to the Governor-General, who of course must be the person who acts on my advice.
Rodney Hide: Does she believe that Mr John Tamihere should apologise to the people of New Zealand for saying he would not take a golden handshake, and then taking one?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: That is for Mr Tamihere, but I myself would have thought that the honour with which he acted today would be seen as precisely an apology.
Rodney Hide: Has she sought from Mr John Tamihere a full explanation of all the allegations against him and full disclosure; if she has not done that, why not?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: Establishing that is the entire point of the White inquiry.
Working for Families Package—Budget
3. Hon PETER DUNNE (Leader—United Future) to the Minister of Finance: Is the Government proposing any changes to the Working for Families package in the next Budget?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Minister of Finance): At this stage, no.
Hon Peter Dunne: What reaction does the Minister have to last week’s OECD report, which pointed to particular problems with second income earners in families, and is the Government prepared to consider ways of boosting the income of second income earners through tax reforms such as income splitting?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Income splitting is an interesting idea, and I will give a few examples of how it would work. If a couple both earned $30,000 a year, there would be a net gain of zero from income splitting. But with one income of $60,000 a year, there would be a net gain of somewhere around $100 a week or more. It is hard to see why that would be seen as equitable when, in fact, it is more expensive for two people to go out to work than for one person to go out to work in most cases.
John Key: Is the Minister supportive of the accommodation supplements contained in his Working for Families package; if he is, how does he reconcile that support with the following statement: “The accommodation supplement or voucher for housing has harmed, not helped, housing provision for poor New Zealanders, including many Mâori and Pacific Islanders.”, which was from Helen Clark in June 1994?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: The introduction of the accommodation supplement system, which went along with the removal of income-related rents and the introduction of market-related rents in State housing, led to a significant increase in the cost of housing for low-income earners. It is only with a strong programme of income-related rents and State house acquisition that the accommodation supplement system makes any sense.
Gordon Copeland: Does the Minister concede that in a progressive income tax system, if the brackets are not adjusted following significant movement in the consumer price index, as they will be for the Working for Families package, the taxes are being increased in real terms; if not, why not?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Yes, but the largest reason for the gain in taxation over the last 2 or 3 years has, in fact, been the growth in employment rather than any fiscal drag effects through bracket creep.
Gordon Copeland: Can the Minister advise the House, in light of the reality that in a progressive income tax system taxes are being increased in real terms unless the brackets are adjusted for the movement in the consumer price index, how large such an increase would need to be before he would adjust the tax brackets to give some much-needed relief to New Zealand families?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CUL LEN: I do not have a particular set against any changes at any point in the future. But if I plucked a sum out of the air of, say, $500 million—which is probably the rough cost of income splitting, or something rather north of that—if that sum was delivered, say, through bracket indexation arrangements, the vast majority of workers would get very little, or around $4 to $5 a week.
Gordon Copeland: Does the Minister understand that in indexing the tax collected on tobacco, alcohol, and petrol, whilst refusing to index tax reductions by using the same methodology, the families of New Zealand may perceive that the Government is applying a double standard?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Well, they may, but in response to that let me say that the reason for the excise duties on tobacco is not simply to raise money but is to discourage tobacco consumption. If there is no indexation, then the impact of that negative signal actually reduces over time. Secondly, in terms of the excise duties on petrol, as the member is well aware, the real income from petrol excise duty reduces without indexation, so we cannot afford more roads.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: With what rigour did the United Future party approach him and his leader during the time of negotiations in respect of their guarantee of support for supply—or did its members just plain lie over, as they usually do?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: No, no, the United Future party did not turn the other cheek in any shape or form during the negotiations with the Government. But it was interested in making sure MMP works, with stable Government. This is the first Government that has produced stable Government under MMP, unlike the attempts when that member was a Minister.
Member for Tamaki Makaurau—Decision Making
4. Dr DON BRASH (Leader of the Opposition) to the Prime Minister: What new information does she need in order to decide whether Hon John Tamihere has misled the New Zealand public over his acceptance of a golden handshake, and to remove his ministerial warrant?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK (Prime Minister): John Tamihere no longer holds a ministerial warrant.
Dr Don Brash: Did the Hon John Tamihere mislead her and the New Zealand public when he took a golden handshake from the Waipareira Trust despite earlier assurances that he would not; if so, why has she left his ministerial portfolios open, when it is clear that he should have been sacked anyway?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: As I said earlier, Mr Tamihere advised the House today that he had accepted the ex gratia payment although he had said that he would not. He said that he regretted not advising me, and I have said that I regret that, as well. I consider his resignation today as an honourable course of action.
Dr Don Brash: Why was the Prime Minister unable to make a political decision that the Hon John Tamihere should no longer have a seat at her Cabinet table, given the—
Simon Power: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I apologise to—
Mr SPEAKER: I know the point the member is going to make. [Interruption] The member very nearly was asked to leave; I am on my feet and there will be no comments at all. I always give a warning, and I gave a warning to his own side earlier on. I am warning members that there will be no comments during questions, or members will be leaving. Members have a right to ask their questions in silence. This is a democracy.
Hon Roger Sowry: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Are the warnings now one per side? It used to be that there was a warning, and the next time the recipient was kicked out, or asked by you to leave the Chamber—I think that is the appropriate way to express it. When you have given a warning to the other side, the warning has been to the whole House. It now appears that once you have warned the Opposition, the Government gets another run at it, and then it gets a different warning. Is that the new rule?
Mr SPEAKER: No, it is not. I apologise because I did not do the right thing on this occasion.
Dr Don Brash: Why was the Prime Minister unable to make a political decision that the Hon John Tamihere should lose his seat at her Cabinet table, given the undisputed fact that he took a golden handshake after he had told her and the New Zealand public that he would not?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: Like all fair-minded New Zealanders, I suspended judgment pending a full examination of the facts.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Having regard to her frequent use of the word “honour”, and the clear understanding of most people that Mr Tamihere jumped before he was pushed, how does honour come into it?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: Honour comes into it in that in the statement set out today Mr Tamihere has expressed regret, and he has resigned from Cabinet. We now await full establishment of the facts by Douglas White QC, and I expect the Serious Fraud Office report to go on for some time after that.
Dr Don Brash: Is it not clear that, while there are a number of things still in debate and contention that the Douglas White QC report will investigate, there is no doubt at all that Mr Tamihere said he would not accept an ex gratia payment, but did so?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: That is what he has told the House today, and he has resigned his portfolios.
Rodney Hide: What does the Prime Minister think would be the appropriate course for Mr John Tamihere to follow, if his personal statement today was found to be substantially incorrect?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I am sure that members take great care when they draft ministerial statements.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: How many of her colleagues on the Mâori Affairs Committee informed her of the evidence of a former lawyer for the Waipareira Trust, who made allegations before the select committee about 32 forged cheques involving the Waipareira Trust?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I do not have any awareness of the matter the member is just raising.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Would she expect that members of her Government on the select committee would, if they heard such a serious allegation being made by a person of that level of knowledge—being a lawyer for the Waipareira Trust—come and tell her what they had heard at the select committee that day?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: It is very rarely that any members come to tell me what was said at a select committee. Who knows what they thought of what was said. I can only listen to what the member is saying, but it is the first time I have heard it.
Fuel Efficiency—Government Initiatives
5. RUSSELL FAIRBROTHER (Labour—Napier) to the Minister of Energy: What is the Government doing to promote vehicle fuel efficiency?
Hon PETE HODGSON (Minister of Energy): The Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority is, this week, promoting vehicle fuel efficiency through its EnergyWise Rally. Some of our top rally drivers are competing, to illustrate how driving techniques can save a lot of money.
Russell Fairbrother: How much is “a lot”?
Hon PETE HODGSON: Around 20 percent, at little or no cost, through things like tyre pressure or engine tuning, as well as driving style. But, on top of that, a bunch of new technologies are on trial—biofuelled cars, hybrids, and high-efficiency turbo diesels.
Peter Brown: Is the Minister aware that his Government at one time promoted greater use of compressed natural gas (CNG) as a fuel that favoured fuel efficiency and environmental friendliness; if so, can he tell us what he personally is doing to encourage its use, my noting that garages selling it are closing down, and that in Tauranga there are none where people can buy it?
Hon PETE HODGSON: CNG was promoted primarily during the Muldoon Government. It did not seem to work very well. Its use has been on the decline for 20 years. On the other hand, the use of liquefied petroleum gas is on the increase, as is the use of a range of other fuels.
Jeanette Fitzsimons: What other steps is the Government, in partnership with the Greens, taking to improve fuel efficiency and reduce vehicle emissions, and when does he expect the first programmes to be introduced? [Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: The member knows he cannot do that. Because I previously was generous, I will be generous on this occasion. The member will stand, withdraw, and apologise for making an interjection when he should not have.
Hon David Carter: I withdraw and apologise.
Hon PETE HODGSON: As the member knows, vehicle emissions testing began in September this year, managed by my colleague the Hon Judith Tizard. The member may also know of moves to phase in the introduction of substantially cleaner fuels between this year and 2006.
Member for Tamaki Makaurau—Ministerial Duties
6. Dr DON BRASH (Leader of the Opposition) to the Prime Minister: What ministerial duties and responsibilities are currently being undertaken by the Hon John Tamihere?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK (Prime Minister): None.
Dr Don Brash: Why did she fail to sack Mr Tamihere when it has been clear from the beginning that he has misled the New Zealand public by accepting a golden handshake that he said he would not take, and why was Mr Tamihere left to make the decision that she should have taken herself?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: As I have said in answer to previous questions, like all fair-minded New Zealanders—and I think that came out at something like 82 percent—I suspended judgment pending a full examination of the facts.
Dr Don Brash: Why was Mr Tamihere still receiving his full ministerial salary until he decided he should resign today, and why was his treatment very different from that meted out to Marian Hobbs and Phillida Bunkle, who were both required to resign their ministerial posts while their actions were being investigated?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: On the latter point—and I know the member was not here—both members tendered their resignations to me. As I have said endlessly, the Minister stood aside. He was still a Minister, but there were Acting Ministers appointed. That is why he was receiving the salary.
Dr Don Brash: How can anyone seriously believe that John Tamihere’s resignation is anything but a sham when his ministerial portfolios have been left open for his return, after he has clearly misled the public?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: The portfolios are not open; they have Acting Ministers. I have decided not to appoint a new member of Cabinet.
7. JEANETTE FITZSIMONS (Co-Leader—Green) to the Minister of Agriculture: Has he received any recent advice on the sustainability of New Zealand farming practices; if so, what action is he taking as a result?
Hon JIM SUTTON (Minister of Agriculture): Yes. The Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment has published a report called Growing for Good: Intensive farming, sustainability and New Zealand’s environment. The Government has already implemented many policies in the areas he discusses, under our focus on sustainable development.
Jeanette Fitzsimons: Is the Minister concerned at the finding of the report that, across all farming sectors, nitrogen fertiliser use has increased by 160 percent in just 6 years; and what impact does he expect this to have on water quality in lowland streams and central North Island lakes, given the advice from the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research that they are already seriously polluted from agricultural runoff?
Hon JIM SUTTON: I am aware that that is a startling increase, and is partly brought about by the increasing prevalence of the clover weevil, which means that natural clover cannot fix as much nitrogen as before. I look at it in the context of the situation that 99 percent of dairy suppliers who require resource consents obtain them, and 17 percent—and very rapidly increasing—of dairy farmers utilise input-output nutrient management systems. I appreciate that farmers can mitigate the effects of increased artificial nitrogen use, and increasingly and vigorously are doing so.
Janet Mackey: Can the Minister describe any particular programmes?
Hon JIM SUTTON: Yes, I could, at length, but I will just say that this Government facilitated an agreement between the dairy industry, local government, and central government—the Dairying and Clean Streams Accord—which addresses issues of intensive dairy farming. The Sustainable Farming Fund has funded 101 specific projects that address the issues that the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment has raised in his report, and the Government’s Water Programme of Action is studying better ways to allocate water resources.
Sue Bradford: Is the Minister concerned that New Zealand’s soil loss to the oceans through erosion occurs at a rate 10 times faster than the world average, and has been accelerated by land clearance and stocking rates on steep country; and how will he manage this issue to prevent a recurrence of the disastrous floods in deforested catchments that hit New Zealand again earlier this year?
Hon JIM SUTTON: Members should recall that New Zealand is a geologically young country and, at the same time as we are being thrust from the oceans by the movements of tectonic plates, the top is being washed off and is flowing back into the oceans. I would, however, say that there is erosion that has been accelerated by what is almost certainly unsustainable patterns of land use in many places, and I have officials devising policies to address those problems in the future.
Stephen Franks: Has the Minister ever asked his officials, the Minister of Police, or the Minister of Justice to calculate the cost of crime and the fear of crime to New Zealand farming families, or the loss of sustainability of valuable stock on land that thieves and thugs now treat as public access land; and what is the Minister doing to persuade Mr Goff that the criminal law is not working to protect rural New Zealand?
Hon JIM SUTTON: I can certainly say that one thing I will not be doing is supporting the member’s initiative to make it legal for farmers to shoot trespassers.
Jeanette Fitzsimons: What strategies does the Minister have to ensure that New Zealand farming survives further increases in energy prices as world oil production peaks, given the heavy reliance on fertilisers and pesticides made from fossil fuels, an increase of 30 percent in direct energy inputs to farming in just a decade, large electricity demands to pump irrigation, and high fuel use to transport bulk agricultural exports to market?
Hon JIM SUTTON: I will certainly encourage the adoption of irrigation technologies that rely on gravity to distribute water, rather than on unnecessary pumping. There are good answers to all the member’s other questions, but I cannot really go through them all in the short time allowed.
Keith Locke: Will the Minister accept the recommendations of the commissioner to lead in the development and implementation of indicators of sustainable farming?
Hon JIM SUTTON: The Government will certainly be taking a lead in the facilitation of sustainable farming practices. As to whether the Government itself will develop the indicators the member seeks, that is something we are still considering.
Jeanette Fitzsimons: If New Zealand faces trade barriers because of unsustainable farm practices, as the commissioner suggests, will the Minister manage that risk by making New Zealand farming more sustainable, or will he just try to use World Trade Organization rules to force customers to accept environmentally damaging products?
Hon JIM SUTTON: It is my firm belief that New Zealand is second to no nation when it comes to sustainable farm management practices. Everything this Government does encourages further progress to be made in that way.
8. JUDY TURNER (United Future) to the Minister for Courts: Is he satisfied that the new $1.5 million trial of mediators in the Family Court is sufficient reform to improve outcomes for children?
Hon RICK BARKER (Minister for Courts): The $1.5 million will fund the cost of pilots in four courts, offering families involved in custody, guardianship, and access disputes the opportunity for non - judge led mediation, as recommended by the Law Commission. Evaluation of the pilot will determine whether there have been improved outcomes for children, and this will have a lot of influence on future policy-making decisions.
Judy Turner: Is the Minister aware that research indicates that children are at risk of significant lifelong negative outcomes from ongoing conflict during parental separation, which can be greatly reduced when parents receive training on how to protect children and support them during Family Court cases; if so, does he agree that initiatives to develop mandatory parent education programmes should be given priority if we are to give real effect to promoting the best interests of the child?
Hon RICK BARKER: The Government is well aware of those issues and takes very seriously its responsibilities as a leader in these issues to help parents make good decisions. We will help parents with more counselling, more information, and more advice so that they can better undertake their responsibilities.
Richard Worth: Why is the Minister acclaiming this pilot programme when there have already been three pilots of non - judge led mediation in different parts of the country—this is nothing new?
Hon RICK BARKER: My advice is that it is new. Secondly, this will have a very clear and serious evaluation process and it is following the recommendation of the Law Commission in its report into the Family Court.
Martin Gallagher: Can the Minister outline the Government initiatives that aim to improve the Family Court processes for children?
Hon RICK BARKER: The interests of children are central to the Government’s improvements in relation to the Family Court. For example, the new Family Court website has a special section designed for children that makes the court processes easier for them to understand. The family mediation pilot will enable children to be involved in the discussions about their family’s future, which will make it less scary for the children. This pilot will hopefully lead to quicker processes to resolve a family’s issues, and families making decisions by themselves. If the families make their own decisions, they will be durable.
Dail Jones: Does the Minister intend to make this mediation proposal compulsory in all custody and access cases or only in those cases where a likelihood of successful mediation is possible?
Hon RICK BARKER: No. The mediation can never be compulsory, because mediation is about the parties negotiating and discussing outcomes for themselves. The compulsion part is when the matter is referred to the judge for a decision. That is the compulsion part. We are trying to get better processes in place before that so that families come to their own decisions about their futures themselves.
Judy Turner: Will the Minister extend his commitment to making Family Court processes more child and family-friendly to funding a national roll-out of the Children in the Middle parent education programme that is already piloted on the North Shore by the Family Court Association; if not, why not?
Hon RICK BARKER: I am not familiar with all the details around that pilot, but after the member’s question I will certainly go and investigate the matter.
9. STEVE CHADWICK (Labour—Rotorua) to the Minister for Disability Issues: What reports has she received on the implementation of the disability strategy by Government agencies?
Hon RUTH DYSON (Minister for Disability Issues): I recently tabled in Parliament the progress report on the implementation of the New Zealand Disability Strategy for 2003-04. That report shows that a record number of Government agencies are now making a commitment to address the issues facing disabled people.
Steve Chadwick: What initiatives have been introduced over the last year to promote the aims of the disability strategy?
Hon RUTH DYSON: There is a very long list, which includes: the introduction of a bill to recognise the language of deaf New Zealanders; a bill to ensure disabled people have the same employment rights as other New Zealanders; changes to the invalids benefit system that removed barriers to employment; and an additional $23 million that has gone into supporting high-needs children and disabled students.
Sue Bradford: How does freezing the funding for some home-support contracts, when the average hourly rate is about $10.50 an hour, fit with the disability strategy objective to “Develop a highly skilled workforce to support disabled people”?
Hon RUTH DYSON: The question emanated from a report that was in the Dominion Post this morning. Fortunately, that report is now out of date. I will briefly quote from a letter that the Ministry of Health recently sent to home-based support providers, which stated: “I am committed to working collaboratively with your association in the immediate term to find a way through the issues and concerns facing the sector.” It goes on to state: “I wish to reassure you that the letter you received does not necessarily mean that there will be no price increases for 2 years.”
Sue Bradford: Does the Minister have a similarly reassuring message for the many disability non-governmental organisations that have been holding meetings all around New Zealand about the cuts and cut-offs in disability support funding over a whole range of services?
Hon RUTH DYSON: There have not been cuts or a freeze in disability support services. The issues facing the current budget are challenging, but I am committed to continuing to work with the providers and with disabled people to find a satisfactory outcome.
10. Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS (Leader—NZ First) to the Minister of Immigration: With regard to reported comments: “Immigration fraud from China has fuelled a thriving black market on the streets of Christchurch, and authorities have struggled to come to terms with the fraud.”, how widespread does he believe this problem to be, and what plans, if any, does he have to deal with the problem?
Hon PAUL SWAIN (Minister of Immigration): The Government is concerned about immigration fraud. The size of the problem is, however, hard to estimate. The Government has allocated an additional $20 million over 4 years to deal with the issue. It has increased the number of immigration fraud investigators, established an intelligence unit, strengthened the relationship between the police and the Immigration Service, and is moving to regulate the immigration advice industry.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Is the Minister aware that in August 2004 a Christchurch newspaper by the name of i-Ball—“Bridging the Cultures” is on its title—has a front-page and third-page article outlining that international students, mainly from China, can buy camouflage passports from the Internet?
Hon PAUL SWAIN: Obviously there have been lots of allegations of matters around people getting access to fraudulent documents. That is unacceptable. As a result, the Government has increased money in order to be able to deal with that very, very major problem of fraudulent documents. That is why the number of convictions and prosecutions is rising.
Luamanuvao Winnie Laban: What success has the Immigration Service had in tracking down and dealing with immigration fraud?
Hon PAUL SWAIN: It is, as I said, a big issue. However, we are making some progress. For example, last year the number of charges laid and successful prosecutions was up significantly on the year before, and already this year the number of successful prosecutions has exceeded those for the whole of last year. The message going out to the crooks and the fraudsters is that this Government takes immigration fraud seriously, and that the behaviour will not be tolerated.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: What steps has the Minister taken to ensure that international students have not been able to come here on a false passport and further abuse our laws by using fake identification in New Zealand; and has he been advised of that occurrence, as outlined in the newspaper by his colleague Lianne Dalziel, who appears on page 2 talking about crime?
Hon PAUL SWAIN: I was not particularly aware that Lianne Dalziel was on page 2, but I am sure—[Interruption] Was she on page 3? If there is a photo, I am sure it is a very nice photo. Probably the member was saying good sense, as she always does. However, the idea of fraudulent documents is a problem. The new advance warning systems will help, but the fact is that fraud is not just an issue for New Zealand—it is about a $24 billion industry internationally. We are doing a lot about it. We are putting more money into it and having more success as a result.
11. Hon BILL ENGLISH (National—Clutha-Southland) to the Minister of State Services: Who is responsible for the remuneration packages of chief executives in the education service, and does this responsibility include approving entitlements to golden handshakes?
Hon TREVOR MALLARD (Minister of State Services): In the education service the governing body of each agency is the employer of the chief executive. Councils of tertiary education institutions are required under the State Sector Act to obtain the concurrence of the State Services Commissioner to the proposed terms and conditions of employment for the chief executive.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: Come on, speak up.
Mr SPEAKER: I can hear perfectly well.
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: That is the member who gets bounced all over the place.
Mr SPEAKER: Please continue with the answer.
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: For schools and kindergartens the commissioner is responsible for negotiating the terms and conditions of employment, but has delegated those to the Secretary for Education.
Ron Mark: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I fully accept that, as close as you are to the Minister, you can no doubt hear. I have my speaker set on high—I can hear mumbling, but I cannot discern or understand what it is he is saying, at all.
Mr SPEAKER: I think the member has made a fair point. I ask the Minister to speak into the microphone and to repeat his answer.
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: Once an individual agreement is signed by the employing council, it is responsible for managing the employment relationship. That includes, for example, exercising the termination provisions in case of sickness, redundancy, or misconduct. I am advised that non-contractual ex gratia payments are the prerogative of the institution concerned and do not, under the current legislation, require concurrence. That is why, in my opinion, an unfortunate payment was made to the former vice-chancellor of Lincoln University.
Hon Bill English: What kind of Government policy is it that says the Government is opposed to golden handshakes being paid, that it approves contracts to make sure golden handshakes are not being paid, but that it is OK if the governing body of Lincoln University then decides to pay one—as long as they do not ask?
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: I think they were kind enough to inform that they had, and received my displeasure at that time, and publicly since. I think the effect for Government representatives on councils that defy Government policy will be clear when they come up for renewal.
Hon Bill English: Has the Minister taken action to ensure that when contracts are drawn up for vice-chancellors of universities, there is no possibility that golden handshakes can be paid; and where it has occurred in contravention of Government policy, has he done any more than just look a little bit displeased about it?
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: I think that if one discusses the matter with people like the chancellor of the university, one will know that looking a little displeased is not my reaction.
Hon Bill English: Did the Minister know when he approved the contract that universities were legally able to make ex gratia payments; and did he allow for that possibility because he realised that his own policy was probably impractical?
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: I have never approved a vice-chancellor’s contract. That would be an absolute breach of the State Sector Act. I should say that for a former Minister to allege that, shows his ignorance.
Hon Bill English: Does the Minister intend to change the legislation in order that it expresses Government policy that no golden handshakes be paid, or is he just going to allow this practice to continue?
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: One of the problems of having institutions with some autonomy is that they are left with autonomy to do things outside contractual arrangements. This is exactly what happened at Lincoln, and this case has drawn to the attention of the Government the problem around the width of the contracts. I do want to consider whether it is appropriate to remove their autonomy in these matters, but I should say that it would be a finely balanced decision and there would be many people in the House who would not think that that was a good idea.
Home Invasion—111 Call
12. Hon TONY RYALL (National—Bay Of Plenty) to the Minister of Police: Will he stake his ministerial reputation on the accuracy of reported police statements that they handled the Bentley home invasion 111 call in “textbook” fashion, and that “This is one of the times we should be patting ourselves on the back and saying well done,”; if not, does he consider the Prime Minister should keep him in office?
Hon GEORGE HAWKINS (Minister of Police): No. As I told the House yesterday, I take responsibility for policy issues and the Commissioner of Police has responsibility for operational issues. This case is one that will be looked at in the review of the communications centres. As a hard-working and conscientious Minister, I expect to be in office for some time to come, and I believe the party that Mr Ryall belongs to will be in Opposition for a long time.
Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The only point to this point of order is to put on record Mr Power’s comment that the Commissioner of Police should resign.
Mr SPEAKER: That is not a point of order.
Hon Tony Ryall: What action, if any, will he take as Minister of Police, in light of the so-called textbook procedure in the Bentley 111 home invasion, when it is now reported that the emergency services were not advised that firearms were involved, that a lone police officer from Rotorua apparently had to backtrack in order to arm himself as the incident was upgraded, and that another police officer got lost; and in which textbook is that approach recommended?
Hon GEORGE HAWKINS: I would tell the member that this is one of the cases that will be looked at in the review of the communications centres. I think that relying on newspaper reports is not always very good. I do not believe every newspaper reporter gets right all that he or she tells.
Georgina Beyer: What effect has this Government’s policies had on police performance?
Hon GEORGE HAWKINS: Under this Government the police are doing better than they ever have. The crime rate is at its lowest for decades, crime resolution rates are at their highest, road deaths for the last month are at the lowest level since records have been taken, police budgets are at the highest level they have ever been at, and police numbers have never been higher.
Dr Muriel Newman: Is there any failure over which he thinks it would be appropriate to resign, or does he think he should be the Minister, no matter what?
Hon GEORGE HAWKINS: I think that the police are doing a good job. As Minister, I have nothing to say other than that they are doing very well, and there is no need for me to consider any other action.
Hon Tony Ryall: If the inquiry into the police 111 system shows a need for increased staffing, training, or other resources, will the Minister accept that he has failed in his basic responsibility as Minister, which is to ensure the resources are provided for a safe 111 system in this country?
Hon GEORGE HAWKINS: First, I must say the communications centre operation was brought in by the previous Government. We have continued to make improvements to it, and we will continue to make improvements if the review states that that is necessary.
Hon Tony Ryall: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. That was a very clear question, and it was not answered. Will the Minister accept responsibility and resign in the case of the 111 review requiring additional resources, staffing, or training? He did not answer the question.
Mr SPEAKER: There is one word that can answer that question.
Hon GEORGE HAWKINS: No.
Questions to Members
Finance and Expenditure Committee—Inquiry into Fraudulent Investment Schemes
1. RODNEY HIDE (Leader—ACT) to the Chairperson of the Finance and Expenditure Committee: What witnesses have appeared in the committee’s “Inquiry into the revenue effects of fraudulent investment schemes”, and on what dates?
CLAYTON COSGROVE (Chairperson of the Finance and Expenditure Committee): The previous Finance and Expenditure Committee heard evidence from the Securities Commission and the Serious Fraud Office on 15 May 2002, from the Securities Commission and the Commerce Commission on 22 May 2002, and from the Serious Fraud Office on 29 May 2002. The current Finance and Expenditure Committee heard evidence from Mr David Henderson on 11 December 2002.
Rodney Hide: Has the committee given any thought to inviting the Hon John Tamihere along as a witness, given his expression as being a tax expert in his book Black &White; if not, why not?
CLAYTON COSGROVE: No, I have not, and that would be a matter for the committee. I simply ask this of the member: why does he not open his books and tell us what he received in Fiji, in the scam?
Mr SPEAKER: No.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Does the committee propose to call Rodney Hide as an expert witness, in particular in respect of his international experience?
Mr SPEAKER: The member may answer only in so far as the question relates to the actual job of the chairperson.
CLAYTON COSGROVE: As I am sure the member will know, the committee is prevented under Standing Order 199 from inquiring into allegations concerning identifiable individuals. However, the committee has received compelling evidence in respect of Mr Hide’s participation in a Fiji scam conference, including an affidavit. As to the interpretation of that evidence, that is a matter for the committee to determine, taking account of the appropriate Standing Order.