Questions & Answers for Oral Answer - 10 Nov. 2004
Wednesday, 10 November
Questions for Oral Answer
1. Treaty of Waitangi—Conversation
with the People
2. Misuse of Drugs Amendment Bill (No 3)—Drug Classification
3. Health Policy—Specialist Assessments
4. Unemployment Benefit—Numbers
5. Home Help—Frail and Elderly
6. Civil Defence and Emergency Management, Ministry—Capacity
7. Sentencing Act—Serious and Recidivist Offenders
8. Immigration Service—Investigations
9. Scholarship Examinations—Introduction
10. Member for Tamaki Makaurau—Resignation from Portfolios
11. Ambulance Services—Crewing
12. Local Authorities—Resource Management
Questions to Members
Disabled Persons Employment Promotion (Repeal and Related Matters) Bill—Submissions
Questions for Oral Answer
Questions to Ministers
Questions for Oral
Treaty of Waitangi—Conversation with the People
1. Dr DON BRASH (Leader of the Opposition) to the Prime Minister: Does she stand by the reported statement attributed to Government sources by a Dominion Post article of 8 November 2004 that a government department-led inquiry would set up a “conversation with the people” about the status and role of the treaty; if so, what is the purpose of that process?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK (Prime Minister): No.
Dr Don Brash: Can she perhaps confirm the assertion made in the same Dominion Post article that the planned inquiry is seen as a way to “take the heat out of the public’s response to National leader Don Brash’s Orewa speech on race issues.”; if not, why not?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: There is no need to; that fire has died out.
Dr Don Brash: Why will her Government not accept the challenge of the National Party to present a clear set of policies on the Treaty of Waitangi and constitutional issues, prior to the forthcoming election and allow the New Zealand public to make a decision on them?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I can assure the member that anything the Government proposes in this area will be consultative and inclusive.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Why would she take the guidance of the National Party on an issue where its blood, DNA, and fingerprints are all over the tragedy and mess of the Waitangi industry, and, secondly, why would she think this issue is so unimportant as to announce its details at the Labour Party upcoming conference?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I have two points in reply. Firstly, I have noticed, as the member has, a distinct difference between National Party utterances on these subjects when in Government and in Opposition; and, secondly, the Labour Party conference, as the conference of the major party in Government, is always an important occasion.
Dr Don Brash: If the Prime Minister genuinely wants a broad public consensus on these issues, why does she choose such a partisan venue to announce the proposal?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I do happen to be the leader of the Labour Party, and from time to time important announcements are made at the conference. At least we have a leader. That is the point.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I cannot let that last comment of the Prime Minister go. I understand it, and I sympathise with what she said, but she is not allowed to say it.
Mr SPEAKER: This happens to be a democracy—still.
Jeanette Fitzsimons: Does she agree that if a community dialogue about the treaty is to contribute to better understanding and relationships, then it must be properly resourced, with accurate information about our history, and facilitated by skilled community educators, especially given the lack of civics education in our schools, and a widespread lack of knowledge about what the treaty actually says, including amongst some MPs?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: The sentiment behind the member’s question is agreed with by the Government, and that is why we resourced the State Services Commission to begin to get factual information on the website so that people can learn more about the history of our country.
Misuse of Drugs Amendment Bill (No 3)—Drug Classification
2. JUDY TURNER (United Future) to the Associate Minister of Health: Can he confirm that he intends to introduce an amendment to the Misuse of Drugs Amendment Bill (No 3) to provide a new schedule—[Interruption]—to regulate the sale of legal substances that are subject to abuse, but that do not warrant regulation under the current class A, B or C drug classifications?
Simon Power: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. If nobody else will raise this issue, I will. The question had been started by the member when the chief Government whip interjected over the top of the question while it was being asked. You have made very clear rulings about that practice in the past. I seek your judgment on what will become of the—
Mr SPEAKER: Yes, I did. The member will stand, withdraw, and apologise. She is a whip. That is the only warning I will give today. Please stand, withdraw, and apologise.
Jill Pettis: I withdraw and apologise.
Hon JIM ANDERTON (Associate Minister of Health): Yes, I can confirm that I intended to do that. I sent a letter to all parliamentary parties in the House, ahead of the Business Committee meeting yesterday, asking for leave for a Supplementary Order Paper addressing that issue to go direct to the Health Committee, which is currently considering the Misuse of Drugs Amendment Bill (No 3). Unfortunately, I believe that one party blocked the move, for reasons only it would be able to explain.
Judy Turner: Will he give an unequivocal assurance that cannabis will remain a class C drug as per United Future’s supply and confidence agreement, and that any new schedule would not be utilised as a back-door route to an erosion of the cannabis prohibition by, for example, introducing a legal purchase age of 18; if not, why not?
Hon JIM ANDERTON: There is no current intention of this Government to change the cannabis legislation in any way.
Judy Turner: Does the Minister agree that substances other than legal highs that are abused, such as solvents, air fresheners, and liquefied petroleum gas, have legitimate public uses, which means that their classification as drugs under the Misuse of Drugs Act would create a legal nonsense; if so, does he agree that such restrictions would be best strengthened under other legislation, such as the provisions for fireworks, and if not, why not?
Hon JIM ANDERTON: Members may be aware of the ongoing coroner’s inquest in Wellington relating to the deaths of six people in the region due to the inhalation of volatile substances. The coroner has called for information on Government strategies and programmes to deal with that serious problem, and the proposal in the Supplementary Order Paper was one of the strategies the Government is pursuing. We wanted that proposal to be considered not only by the select committee but by the public as well through consultation and submissions, and that is why I took the step of asking for the permission of the House and all parties in it to allow the Supplementary Order Paper to go to the select committee—so it could be considered by the public, and then in the House subsequently.
Hon Matt Robson: Does he understand or know why the ACT party wishes to oppose such an amendment?
Hon JIM ANDERTON: I would have thought that the use of—
Mr SPEAKER: No, the Minister does not have any responsibility relating to that question. [Interruption] It could have been asked a different way, but it was not.
Nandor Tanczos: Does the Minister support the labelling requirements in the Supplementary Order Paper applying to alcohol containers—in particular, warnings about the risk of foetal alcohol syndrome after drinking even very small amounts of alcohol during pregnancy—in spite of the opposition of the Government’s support party United Future to that or any other restriction on dangerous drinking?
Hon JIM ANDERTON: I have found the United Future party very supportive of Government actions in the drug and alcohol area. I personally support a clear notification on all substances, including alcohol, of their danger, and if advised by officials and the Expert Advisory Committee on Drugs that that would be effective, which is the issue I think we have in front of us, then I would support it.
Hon Matt Robson: Can the Minister advise the House as to what the effect may be if ACT’s opposition to the amendment is successful?
Hon JIM ANDERTON: It will simply delay the opportunity of the select committee and the House to deal with the matter. It would have been effective and quicker to deal with it through the Misuse of Drugs Amendment Bill (No 3), which is before the Health Committee now, but if the ACT members want to delay Government action on drugs and their effect on young people in New Zealand, then it is their prerogative to do so.
Nanaia Mahuta: Despite the delay, does the Minister intend to submit a Supplementary Order Paper to Parliament, so that the Health Committee can deliberate on this proposal?
Hon JIM ANDERTON: Yes, I do, but, of course, I am aware of the heavy workload before the House before Christmas. The likelihood is that the Supplementary Order Paper would not be able to be considered before the new year, which will delay its implementation in law, and if anyone wants to know from me—from the coroner up, down, or sideways—why that is, I will blame the ACT party.
Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I would like to notify the House that the National Party would not block leave if it was sought for this issue to be debated this afternoon.
Mr SPEAKER: That is not a matter for a point of order.
Hon Dr Michael Cullen: I seek leave for a debate to be held this afternoon to refer the Supplementary Order Paper to the select committee.
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought for that. Is there any objection? There is not. That debate can be held. I presume that means at the end of the general debate. That debate will be so held on the leave of the House.
Health Policy—Specialist Assessments
3. HEATHER ROY (ACT) to the Minister of Health: How many people in total were waiting for a first specialist assessment at the end of August 2004, and does she consider her health policy a success?
Hon ANNETTE KING (Minister of Health): Patients referred for first assessment as of the end of August 2004 numbered 110,879. Of this number, 20 percent had been waiting longer than 6 months. In other words, the total includes people who were referred on 1 August and people referred earlier. The policy is working because in 1999 when the policy started, 34 percent of people referred for first specialist assessment were waiting longer than 6 months. This is a huge improvement.
Heather Roy: How can she credibly claim success when her own new official figures show 110,879 people are waiting, when in Opposition in August 1998 she labelled the then waiting list of 96,000 as “criminal” and said that people could be dying while waiting; and what is her explanation to this House as to why 96,000 people waiting is criminal and 110,000 is not?
Hon ANNETTE KING: Easily, because in 1998, 96,000 was a rough assessment of people waiting. It is criminal because nobody knew how many were waiting, no records were kept on how many were waiting, and as I said, only 20 percent of those currently waiting have waited longer than 6 months.
Steve Chadwick: What is the total number of first assessments done in a year?
Hon ANNETTE KING: Over 450,000 first assessments are done in a year, plus nearly 1.1 million subsequent assessments are done. These figures show a substantial improvement since 2002, and they cannot be compared with the 1990s, because no such figures were kept.
Judith Collins: What comfort can she give New Zealanders when the first specialist assessment waiting list exceeds 110,000, despite another $2 billion each year being wasted by this Minister under her watch, when in 1999 she said that New Zealanders could take little comfort from a waiting list that was then fewer than 110,000?
Hon ANNETTE KING: People can take a lot of comfort from the $2 billion extra we have put in—in fact, it is more than $2 billion; the member’s figures are wrong. We have an almost 50 percent increase in funding. The people of New Zealand do not think it is wasted—especially those who are now getting knee and hip replacement operations because of the additional money we have put in.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: In respect of whether she considers her health policy a success, why did she claim yesterday that in the 2003-04 year 15 new medicines were listed on the pharmaceutical schedule of New Zealand, not one, when in fact only one of those 15 was placed on the schedule with full funding, the rest were all restricted access and therefore not available to New Zealanders who would require that drug?
Hon ANNETTE KING: Because the figure is the figure provided by Pharmac. Fifteen drugs are placed on the schedule. Of course some of them have co-payments; they always have. Not all of them are fully subsidised.
Judy Turner: Will she give serious consideration to the idea of establishing a contestable fund in order that both public and private health providers could tender to provide elective surgery services within the guidelines set by the Ministry of Health, and does she agree that if this concept can be applied to roading policy, it can also apply to elective surgery; if not, why not?
Hon ANNETTE KING: No.
Judith Collins: Why has Mr John Power, a World War II veteran who has paid his own way all his life, had to wait 4 long years for a knee replacement operation, which still has not happened, despite the Minister’s bluster and an extra $2 billion of taxpayer funds wasted each year by this Minister?
Hon ANNETTE KING: I cannot answer why the particular patient has not had an operation, but I can tell the people of New Zealand that there are many—
Opposition members: Four long years!
Mr SPEAKER: The Minister needs to have a reasonable opportunity to answer, with no waving of hands or things like that. The member asked a question and she can expect an answer.
Hon ANNETTE KING: I can tell the people of New Zealand—
Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I think you are being rather hard on members on this side of the House. The Minister started by saying that she could not answer that question.
Mr SPEAKER: That is not a point of order,
and the member knows it. He has now had two non – Points of
; there are not very many to go.
Hon ANNETTE KING: What I said was that I could not answer about—
Dr the Hon Lockwood Smith: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. It is a well-established principle in this House that Ministers cannot go on to say that they cannot answer a question asked, but that they can provide some other answer, and that is what the Minister started to say—“but I can tell the questioner this”. That is out of order and it has never been allowed.
Mr SPEAKER: It is not, and it has been allowed ever since I have been in this House. Sometimes a Minister cannot give all the facts, but can give some of them, and the Minister is entitled to do so.
Dr the Hon Lockwood Smith: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. In this Parliament I have answered questions for many more years than you have. In fact, not many members in this House have answered them for as many years as I have. I can assure you, Mr Speaker, that it is not in order. If you check the Standing Orders you will see that Ministers have to answer a question. They cannot provide any answer they choose to give. They must answer the question asked. If the answer is that they do not know, they cannot then say that they offer some other answer. That is out of order.
Mr SPEAKER: It is not. As long as the facts that the Minister gives are relevant, it is in order. The member should read the Standing Orders and Speakers’ Rulings.
Hon ANNETTE KING: It is impossible for any Minister of Health to know the situation of an individual patient. I cannot answer about Mr John Smith, or whatever his name was. If the member were serious about this person, she would make representations on behalf of him.
Heather Roy: Given her concern—
Mr SPEAKER: Please start with a question word.
Heather Roy: Following her statement in 1999—
Mr SPEAKER: No, please start with a question word.
Heather Roy: Why, given her concern in 1998 that some of the 96,000 patients could be dying—[Interruption] Shall I start again, Mr Speaker?
Mr SPEAKER: Yes.
Heather Roy: Why, given her concern in 1998—[Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: I do not mind whether it is Wednesday and it is members’ day, but it is still question time and we still have rules to accept. I want to hear the member’s question in silence.
Heather Roy: Why, given the Minister’s concern in 1998 that some of the 96,000 patients could be dying while waiting, does she accept that after her 5 years in charge of health, some of the 110,000 patients are also dying while waiting now, and does she consider this to be criminal?
Hon ANNETTE KING: No, because 20 percent of people on that list have waited longer than 6 months. The rest have not waited longer than 6 months. In 1998, many of those 96,000 people had been on the list for years, some of them died on the list, some went to Australia, and some were waiting for operations that were no longer carried out.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: How many of the 15 new medicines that the Minister claimed yesterday to be listed in 2003-04 were actually new, if any; second, why is she setting up a two-tier health system in this country—one for those who can afford pharmaceuticals and one for those who cannot—given that Pharmac underspent its budget by $25 million in the last year, through delays in negotiations, reneging on agreements, and restricting access to products that could benefit New Zealanders; and how could she call that a successful administration?
Hon ANNETTE KING: I will have to table the list. I did not bring it down with me as the question did not relate to it, but I am happy to do that. We do not run a two-tier system in terms of pharmaceuticals. There is provision for a pharmaceutical in all the categories that are subsidised available to New Zealanders. What the member has overlooked is that it is this Government that has reduced the cost of getting the pharmaceuticals, particularly for our older people, to $3 a prescription. Thousands of New Zealanders can now afford to pick up their prescriptions—
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Cheap products.
Hon ANNETTE KING: No, they are not cheap products. Some of them are generic, as we had when that member was Treasurer. Some of them are list pharmaceuticals that are brand names.
Rodney Hide: Could the Minister explain to the House why the number of people waiting on the list when National was in power—96,000—was “criminal”, with people dying while on the list, and why, now that she is the Minister, 110,000 is somehow not criminal; and could she please do so without her usual bluff and bluster, because there are New Zealanders who are very concerned about having to wait for a hospital bed?
Hon ANNETTE KING: Because the figure of 96,000 in 1998 was a rough estimate of just a list. The people who are now having first assessment are moving through the system. Of those 110,000 people, only 20 percent have waited longer than 6 months. There is a huge difference between those who had waited on a list, year in and year out, with nothing happening to them, and those who are being seen and moved through the system, as happens now—far more than happened when the system was first set up.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Why is the Minister making these outrageous claims, given that before the creation of Pharmac, New Zealand’s per capita spend on pharmaceuticals was 3 percent to 4 percent higher than Australia’s, and is now 53 percent, second by OECD standards? New Zealand is spending a fraction of what OECD countries spend—the OECD spends 15 percent and New Zealand spends 5 percent, which equates to the following amounts: last year, by OECD standards, this Minister should have spent $1.6 million, and she spent $504 million, a fraction of what should be paid to people in terms of First World drugs.
Hon ANNETTE KING: I think the member would be very interested to know that the OECD members are very interested in how New Zealand is able to ensure we can afford drugs. Governments in the European Union and in America itself—the home of the drug companies—have found that they have been unable to control the growing cost of drugs, to the extent that the Americans are now parallel importing drugs from Canada so that they can afford them. We in New Zealand have been spectacularly successful in ensuring that we have high-quality drugs and good access to them, while being able to ensure that money goes into health where it is needed.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: On the issue of the Minister considering her health policy a success, I ask her whether it is true that Kim Carter, previously a director of nursing services at the Auckland District Health Board, and, until 2 weeks ago, a director of nursing at the South Canterbury District Health Board, was escorted from the premises and allegedly received a golden handshake of tens and tens of thousands of dollars?
Hon ANNETTE KING: Obviously, I cannot answer that. First of all, I do not have responsibility under the Act for employment issues. However, if the member were to put a question to the district health board’s chief executive officer, who has responsibility, I am sure that he would, if he could, provide the answer. It is absolutely stupid to think that a Minister can come to the House and know about one employee out of the 8,000 employees of the Auckland District Health Board, and be able to tell the member what happened to that particular employee.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Would the Minister expect to be told, as Minister—given the tremendously sincere way she campaigned in 1999 about golden handshakes, and the way her Prime Minister behaved at that point in time on such an odious thing as golden handshakes—whether that allegation, which relates to the sum of about $100,000, was proved to be true?
Hon ANNETTE KING: I would not expect to be told about which employees were leaving and what they were paid. However, we have been trying to stop the very dopey employment contracts, put in place under the previous Government, that we had for chief executive officers, which enabled them to go on leave for year after year, if need be, and still be paid.
Rodney Hide: How can the Minister claim any success with her health policy, when—[Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: There was an interjection made by somebody. That person will leave the House.
Rodney Hide: I know exactly who it was, if you need any help.
Mr SPEAKER: I do not need any help, because the member will also be leaving. I want the member who made that interjection to leave the House please. I heard an interjection made.
Hon Dover Samuels withdrew from the Chamber.Withdrawal from ChamberSAMUELS, Hon DOVER
Rodney Hide: How can this Minister claim any success for her health policy, when despite spending an extra $2 billion, there are now 110,000 patients waiting for first specialist assessment, and another 62,700 in the waiting list booking system—a total now of 172,000 people waiting for treatment—or is she going to contest her own numbers?
Hon ANNETTE KING: With confidence—because those figures are considerably better than what they were when we became Government.
Deborah Coddington: How, given the Minister’s description of 96,000 people waiting as “criminal”, would she describe 110,000 people waiting, which is about 15 percent more—is it: firstly, seriously criminal; secondly, very seriously criminal; thirdly, definitely unspinnable; or fourthly, time to bluff and bluster?
Hon ANNETTE KING: None of the above.
Judith Collins: I have several documents I seek leave to table. The first is a media statement dated 8 July 1999 from the Hon Annette King, which is headed up “110,000 still wait for specialist assessment”.
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection? There is.
Judith Collins: I seek leave to table a New Zealand Herald report of July 4 2003, referring to the case of Mr John Power, the man referred to by the Minister as Mr John Smith.
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that newspaper article. Is there any objection? There is.
Judith Collins: I seek leave to table a copy of a letter from the Minister of Health’s private secretary to Mary Clist, John Power’s daughter, dated 31 October 2002.
Judith Collins: I seek leave to table a copy of a letter from me to the Hon Annette King relating to Mr John Power, dated 1 April 2003.
Judith Collins: I seek leave to table a letter from the Minister of Health’s private secretary to me regarding Mr Power, dated 6 September 2004.
Judith Collins: I seek leave to table a copy of a letter to me from the senior adviser to the Minister of Health relating to Mr John Power, dated 1 October 2004.
Hon Richard Prebble: I seek the leave of the House for the Minister’s answers to be printed and sent to those 110,000 people, who will be pleased to know that it is successful that they are waiting on a waiting list.
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought. Is there any objection? There is.
Heather Roy: I seek the leave of the House to table two documents. The first is of New Zealand health information statistics from a division of the Ministry of Health, with figures showing that 110,000 patients were waiting for first specialist assessment.
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought. Is there any objection? There is.
Heather Roy: The second document I seek leave to table is a press report from August 1998, in which the present Minister of Health claimed that having 96,000 people on the waiting list was criminal.
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought. Is there any objection? There is.
4. GEORGINA BEYER (Labour—Wairarapa) to the Minister for Social Development and Employment: What recent reports has he received on the number of New Zealanders requiring an unemployment benefit?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY (Minister for Social Development and Employment): I have very good news. At the end of October this year the number of people receiving an unemployment benefit was 65,085—over 26,000 lower than it was 1 year ago. That is like the population of Blenheim or Timaru moving off the unemployment benefit in the last 12 months. Since 1999 the number of people needing an unemployment benefit has dropped by over 81,000, or over 55 percent. This demonstrates the Government’s commitment to ensuring that we have job growth and that New Zealanders get a decent job.
Georgina Beyer: How many employment placements has Work and Income made to help people move from a benefit to work?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: In the last financial year Work and Income made over 87,000 placements into employment. This record level of employment placements reflects the active approach Work and Income takes to helping people into paid employment, through, for example, a new initiative such as the industry partnerships with growth industries such as the hospitality, road transport, retail, master plumbers, roading, and—as soon to be announced—meat industries. This strategy and this Government are about real jobs and real wages.
Dr Paul Hutchison : Does the Minister accept the serious fact that sickness and invalids beneficiary numbers continue to rise, and that the money spent on the invalids, sickness, and disability allowances increased by $141 million in the year ended June 2004?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: Accepting that the sickness benefit is there for people who are sick, and that the invalids benefit is there for people who have a disability, and that there is a worldwide trend in industrialised countries towards higher numbers on these benefits, I say that, yes, there has been a rise. That is why this Government, unlike the previous Government, has been piloting policies that are now showing real benefits in moving people who can work back into work. We are about to extend that pilot here, in the Wellington region, then roll it out right across the country as world-leading, cutting-edge policy in that area.
Peter Brown: Will the Minister clarify the whole situation and tell us the exact numbers—by that I mean the actual numbers—of people who have gone on the sickness benefit or the invalids benefit over the same time frame to which he has just referred in relation to the unemployment benefit reduction?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: I do not have the figures with me, but there has been a rise of around 36 percent during the time we have been in Government in the numbers of people on these benefits. But I say to the member opposite that while the National Government was in power for 9 years, those numbers rose steadily. It has taken this Government to put in place the kinds of policies that are beginning to show a turn-round in those trends.
Peter Brown: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I accept that the Minister has not got the numbers there. I specifically asked for numbers—I repeated that phrase—and he came back with percentages. Can I ask that the Minister supply us with the increased numbers of people on the sickness and invalids benefits?
Mr SPEAKER: I am sure the Minister will do that in due course. He has just nodded to indicate that he will.
Judy Turner: Has the Minister received any reports which show that, as a proportion of the total number of sickness beneficiaries, those aged over 50 have increased from 32 percent to only 33.7 percent since 2000, and that, as a proportion of the total number of invalids beneficiaries, those over 50 have actually decreased, from 41 percent to 40 percent; how can he continue to claim that the increasing numbers of sickness and invalids beneficiaries are due to an ageing population, when those figures indicate that there is actually an across-the-board increase?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: The Government has never claimed that there was one particular reason driving the increase in the numbers of sickness and invalids benefits. One of the reasons is in fact the ageing population. One of the others—which goes along with that—is, of course, the lift in the age of superannuation eligibility to 65. Members will find that 46 percent of the people who are on those kinds of benefits are in the 60-65 year age group. So age does have something to do with the numbers of people who are on those benefits. But so do such things as diagnoses of psychiatric conditions that many years ago were never accepted as conditions that made people eligible for a sickness or a disability allowance but that these days, under both Governments—National during the 1990s, and this Government as well, I say to John Carter—are accepted as such.
Judy Turner: Has the Minister received any reports that show that against the overall decline in the number of unemployed, the number of those on the dole for more than 3 years has increased by 24 percent since 1999, with the number of those unemployed for over 5 years doubling over the same period; and does this entrenched unemployment not mean that he simply cannot rely on a burgeoning economy to find those people work?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: We are seeing dramatic drops in the number of people who have been on the unemployment benefit long term—that is, over 6 months. As for people who are on that benefit for longer—for over 4 years, for example—I return the member to what I said before: that one of the major drivers for that is age and the lifting of superannuation eligibility to 65. That is an issue that we are dealing with as a country. That is an issue that will be partly dealt with, of course, by those people getting older and getting entitlement to superannuation.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Is the Minister aware that the Department of Labour told the Finance and Expenditure Committee just over a week ago that 1 hour a week constituted a measurement of employment and went down in the statistics as such; that being the case, why is he trying to flannel the country with a cock and bull story?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: For a good two decades now, New Zealand has used the household labour force survey measure of employment, just as countries throughout the OECD do, and we use that measure so that we can make it internationally comparable. Because the member does not seem to understand the use of the figure, I refer him to another statistic that is very important. It is the statistic on who feels that they are underemployed—that is, that they do not have the hours that match their needs, in relation to the work they are looking for. That figure has dropped dramatically under this Government—unlike what happened under the one he was part of in the 1990s.
Judy Turner: Has the Minister received any reports that show that over 26,000 additional children have been born to women while they are on a benefit, including 7,000 women who have had two or more children and one who has had eight additional children; and does he agree that the right to receive a benefit is balanced by a responsibility to both the child and the taxpayer to minimise reliance on that benefit?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: I am aware that beneficiaries have children, just as other people throughout the community do, but the member needs to know that the kind of extreme case that she has been raising of a woman on the domestic purposes benefit who has had eight children is very far from the normal situation. The majority of domestic purposes benefit recipients are between 25 and 45, they have one or two children, and they are on the benefit for fewer than 5 years. Because we have introduced a very intense process of case management, which is supported—I am pleased to say—by that member, she knows that we are getting even better results.
Home Help—Frail and Elderly
5. SUE BRADFORD (Green) to the Minister for Disability Issues: Does she accept that “Home help for the frail and elderly is under threat as caregivers quit because of low pay and long hours.”, as reported in the Press on 6 November 2004; if so, how and when will the Government address the urgent issues of recruitment and retention in the home-help industry?
Hon RUTH DYSON (Minister for Disability Issues): Yes, I am aware of a number of longstanding and interlinking caregiver workforce issues, including recruitment and retention, which is why last year the Ministry of Health received an additional $1 million to undertake policy work, in collaboration with the sector, to enable the issues to be addressed in a sustainable way. That work has just been completed, and I am considering the recommendations now.
Sue Bradford: Does her reply, when asked by the Press “if she would wipe bums for $10.50 an hour”, that: “That’s not a relevant question to ask me. I’m not applying for a job as a caregiver.” mean that the Minister considers such a pay rate is acceptable?
Hon RUTH DYSON: I do not have ministerial responsibility for wage negotiations or for fee-setting for the caregiver workforce.
Darren Hughes: What approach will the Government take to improve the status of the caregiver workforce, given the Minister’s statement that she is aware of the issues in that area?
Hon RUTH DYSON: As part of the work done to date, a national training qualification has been developed for that workforce. I am considering recommendations that I have just received from the Ministry of Health on the best way to make that training accessible to the workforce, and the best way to link qualifications with pay rates.
Sandra Goudie: How many reports does the Minister need before she takes action, given that there have been at least six reports in the last 5 years, including a 1999 report by the Ministry of Women’s Affairs called Homecare Workers?
Hon RUTH DYSON: Just one—the one that I referred to in answer to the primary and the supplementary question. The Quality and Safety Project is the first comprehensive look into the issues surrounding caregivers, and I will be considering its recommendations soon.
Sue Bradford: What is the Government doing to end the ridiculously wide variation in wage levels between different providers and different parts of the country, and to ensure that we move to a situation in which home-care workers are employed on a well-paid and permanent basis, rather than in an endlessly casual and low-paid way?
Hon RUTH DYSON: That is one of the many issues that is being addressed through the work of the Quality and Safety Project to which I referred in my reply to the previous supplementary question. The other issues are having a career path into nursing and social services, security of hours, fair remuneration, including consideration of travel time and costs, the nature of the contracts being on a fee-for-service rather than a bulk-funded basis, the quality of services received, recruitment and retention issues, and the consistency of standards between the three funding agencies.
Marc Alexander: Does the Minister agree that an aim of the Health of Older People Strategy is to: “Enable older people, and people with disabilities, to live with independence and dignity in the community” as stated in the project update for home-based services; and if so, how does this Government’s current underfunding, and consequent demoralisation, of caregivers promote that?
Hon RUTH DYSON: Yes, I certainly do support that aim. I agree that the sector is underfunded, but as I said in the report in the Press referred to by Sue Bradford in her primary question, more funding on its own is not the answer to the situation, at all. What we need to do is to have a comprehensive approach that addresses all the issues on a sustainable basis.
Rod Donald: Does the Minister agree with Rural Women New Zealand that the home-care sector is in crisis, illustrated by the fact that that organisation is turning away 12 clients a day, on average; and exactly when will the Government take action to ensure that home-care workers do not have to pay their own travel costs out of their very minimal wages—and I am talking about the often considerable travel costs between clients, which is particularly a problem in rural areas?
Hon RUTH DYSON: The member may be interested to know that some providers, despite the fact that they are given exactly the same funding rate as other providers, are able both to pay petrol expenses and some to even offer remuneration for the time between clients. Those issues are part of the Quality and Safety Project work. It is a priority for my ministerial work programme.
Sue Kedgley: What is the Government doing to address the warning that there could be a meltdown in home care in 6 weeks time, over the Christmas period, putting at risk the health and safety of elderly and disabled people who depend on that service, because home-care staff are leaving the sector in droves because of low wages, with a turnover of 90 percent in some areas, and with services already refusing referrals because of the lack of staff?
Hon RUTH DYSON: A shortage of caregivers is certainly one of the few unfortunate consequences of our having the lowest unemployment rate in New Zealand for nearly two decades. As I indicated to another member in my answer to a previous supplementary question, there is a comprehensive work programme to address that very issue.
Civil Defence and Emergency Management, Ministry—Capacity
6. Hon TONY RYALL (National—Bay Of Plenty) to the Minister of Civil Defence: What responsibility does he take for the capability shortfalls detailed in the review of the Ministry of Civil Defence and Emergency Management?
Hon GEORGE HAWKINS (Minister of Civil Defence): I take responsibility, together with the Minister of State Services, for asking, in October 2003, for a review of the Ministry of Civil Defence and Emergency Management’s progress towards meeting the requirements of the Civil Defence Emergency Management Act 2002. The review shows that good progress has been made in some areas. Some shortfalls have been identified. It is the responsibility of the chief executive of the Department of Internal Affairs to report back by March 2005 on the steps to address those requirements.
Hon Tony Ryall: Why, in mid-September, did the Minister say he had confidence in his ministry’s ability to manage a national disaster, yet 6 weeks later an independent report damns his ministry as completely unable to manage a national disaster; is this “leaky homes” all over again, where he is completely oblivious to the collapse of a department for which he is responsible?
Mr SPEAKER: The first part of the question relates to the original question.
Hon GEORGE HAWKINS: The answer to the second part of the question is no, anyway. But I want to tell that member that the civil defence organisation, nationally, has the responsibility to see that the regional civil defence organisations are ready, and the Manawatū floods showed just how well that had been done.
Janet Mackey: Can the Minister tell the House about the good progress being made in implementing the Civil Defence Emergency Management Act?
Mr SPEAKER: An interjection was heard before that question finished.
Hon GEORGE HAWKINS: The report found that the ministry has made good progress in implementing the Civil Defence Emergency Management Act. For example, local response capabilities in the four regions visited for future emergencies will be good; that was Hawke’s Bay, Auckland, Kapiti, and Ruapehu. There was a high awareness of the legislation and its requirements, good progress has been made on local response plans, good progress is being made in the establishment of civil defence emergency management environments, and that person on the other side seems to be very sad about how communities are resilient.
Simon Power: What does the Minister have to say to Rangitikei farmer, Chrissy Collins, who today says that she and her neighbours in the Whangaehu Valley were surprised and frustrated with what they saw as a poor response from civil defence during the February floods?
Hon GEORGE HAWKINS: One will always find people who are aggrieved because they have faced a natural disaster. I remind that member that this Government responded immediately. We went up several times. The Prime Minister went, and the Minister of Agriculture went. But Don Brash did not go for over a week.
Hon Tony Ryall: Does the Minister have confidence in the director of civil defence in light of this report, which shows significant gaping holes in the implementation of the civil defence legislation, and the comment that these reviewers have extreme concern about him and his ministry’s ability to coordinate a national disaster recovery effort?
Hon GEORGE HAWKINS: I have confidence that the director will do what is required by law, and that says that group plans need to be completed by July 2005. The National Civil Defence Plan has to be completed by December 2005, and the director is working towards it. But I think with the help of the chief executive of the Department of Internal Affairs, he will do better, but that member obviously does not want to listen, because he is prattling on himself.
Janet Mackey: Does the Minister consider that some of the concerns raised in the report are a direct consequence of the previous National Government closing the training facility for civil defence—[Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: I said there were to be no interjections during question time. Mr Power does not know how lucky he is; he is a senior whip. He will stand, withdraw, and apologise.
Simon Power: I withdraw and apologise.
Mr SPEAKER: I will hear the supplementary question all over again, please.
Janet Mackey: Does the Minister consider that some of the concerns raised in the report are a direct result of the previous National Government’s decision to close the civil defence training facility?
Simon Power: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I fail to see how the Minister has any responsibility for the former National Government, and would ask you to rule accordingly.
Mr SPEAKER: That was not what was asked. The Minister was asked about current policy, and whether it related to the closing of a particular facility.
Hon GEORGE HAWKINS: Yes, and they also set up the latest arrangement where the Director of Civil Defence was given greater independence, and of course, we are changing that.
Hon Tony Ryall: I seek leave to table two documents; one shows that the staff of the Ministry of Civil Defence and Emergency Management has turned over 80 percent during the term of the Labour Government.
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection? There is.
Hon Tony Ryall: I seek leave to table an answer to a written question where 6 weeks before this damning report the Minister expressed full confidence in his department.
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection? There is.
Sentencing Act—Serious and Recidivist Offenders
7. MOANA MACKEY (Labour) to the Minister of Justice: What evidence has he received that the Sentencing Act 2002 is resulting in tougher sentences for serious and recidivist offenders?
Hon PHIL GOFF (Minister of Justice): The annual sentencing and conviction statistics produced by the Ministry of Justice for the first full calendar year since the Sentencing Act came into effect show that the sentencing regime is now comprehensively tougher for the worst offenders. Together with an inmate population that is around 1,000 higher than was estimated a year ago, those statistics show that this Government very clearly heard the message delivered by the public in the 1999 referendum, and that the judiciary in turn has taken note of the intent of the new sentencing legislation.
Moana Mackey225Moana Mackey: In what areas do the sentencing and conviction statistics show that the legislation is now much tougher?
Hon PHIL GOFF: Perhaps the clearest example is that the average non-parole period imposed with a life sentence in 2003 was 3 years longer than in the previous year, before the Sentencing Act came into effect. The overall length of sentences was up, the number imprisoned was the highest ever, as was the percentage of violent offenders and burglars imprisoned, and the number of those sentenced to preventive detention was the highest in this country’s history. The number of remand prisoners was double the level of 9 years ago, because of the passage of the Bail Act, which is tougher on recidivist offenders who continue to offend while on bail. That shows a comprehensively tougher regime.
Hon Tony Ryall: Why does the Minister continue to support a policy whereby a rapist sentenced to 9 years in jail can apply for parole after only 3 years?
Hon PHIL GOFF: The member has continually misled people with that statistic. When that member was the Minister of Justice in the previous National Government, a rapist would have been automatically released after serving two-thirds of a sentence, which would be 6 years. Now, a rapist who is a risk to the community can serve up to the last day of the sentence. What is more, it is possible for a judge, in cases where he or she believes it is necessary, to sentence not only rapists and other violent offenders but all offenders to serve a minimum of two-thirds of their sentence before parole can be considered.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The Minister was asked whether it was possible for a person who had been sentenced to 9 years to be out in 3. He has given a long diatribe about everything but that. However, that was the question he was asked, and he has shown no signs of answering it.
Mr SPEAKER: I thought that the Minister did start to address that. Could the Minister perhaps give a direct answer.
Hon PHIL GOFF: What that member Mr Peters—
Mr SPEAKER: I said that the Minister could give—
Hon PHIL GOFF: I am coming to his question. It was always the case in this country that for offences other than violent offences, people could be released after serving one-third of their sentence. Previously, violent offenders—
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Answer the question.
Hon PHIL GOFF: If the member would shut his mouth for a moment he could listen to the answer.
Mr SPEAKER: The Minister will stand, withdraw, and apologise for that comment.
Hon PHIL GOFF: I withdraw and apologise. I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. When a member asks a Minister to answer a question, is it appropriate for that member, or for a group of members, to interject continually during the answer to that question, which would indicate that they do not really want to know the answer, at all?
Mr SPEAKER: There can be interjections, but they have to be rare. I just ask members to be calm. The member who asked the question was interjecting too frequently. The Minister should have a fair and reasonable chance to answer the question the member asked.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. With respect, the Minister has had two chances to answer the question.
Mr SPEAKER: I am making him do that now.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: He was into his second sentence, and he still had not answered the very simple question of whether that was possible—yes or no.
Hon PHIL GOFF: The judge can set a minimum non-parole period of either one-third of a sentence or of above that level, depending on the risk posed by the offender. Judges frequently impose a minimum period of more than one-third.
Stephen Franks: Why does he gloat over longer headline sentences for headline crime, when it is early parole that sets the actual sentence, and what is his explanation for the 33 percent increase in violent youth crime disclosed in the same report, representing at least a thousand more bashings, bullyings, and stabbings last year, while his policy saw in that same year the lowest-ever proportion of young convicted criminals sent to prison?
Hon PHIL GOFF: There are a number of factors in that question. Firstly, in terms of parole, the figures out from the Parole Board—which are not part of the report that I referred to—show that in a much higher percentage of cases, parole is now being denied. Secondly, the figures in relation to youth offending are not for the level of crime, but for the level of apprehensions. That member knows, as the rest of the House will know, that the police have become far more effective at apprehending and convicting offenders, because they are better resourced and there are more of them than ever before.
Ron Mark: Is that the same report that states that prosecutions for violent offences are the least likely to result in conviction, that the number of discharges without conviction has increased by 70 percent, and that the number of convictions for kidnapping or abduction for 2003, at 178, was the highest-ever number on this nation’s record; and can the Minister confirm that this month a number of people will go before the Parole Board who have been convicted of beating their wives and who are only a third of their way through their sentence—and indeed, at the time they apply for home detention, will be 6 months short of that one-third mark—and how can that possibly mean longer sentences?
Mr SPEAKER: That is enough, in terms of the question.
Hon PHIL GOFF: No, but I can confirm that a greater percentage of violent offenders is being convicted than ever before, a greater percentage is being imprisoned than ever before, and a greater percentage is serving longer sentences than ever before. That should be good enough for the member. I note that the member, who frequently supports the Sensible Sentencing Trust, may have noticed that trust saying how well the Government has been doing, and congratulating it on a job well done.
8. Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS (Leader—NZ First) to the Minister of Immigration: How does the New Zealand Immigration Service respond when it receives a letter of complaint alleging that individuals require the service’s investigation?
Hon PAUL SWAIN (Minister of Immigration): I am advised that, depending on the nature of the complaint, allegations are referred to the department’s fraud unit or the border investigations branch for investigation. Complaints are acknowledged and further information sought, where appropriate. Complaints are prioritised according to the seriousness of the allegations. Where a complaint is substantiated the matter may be dealt with by way of removal, revocation, deportation, and/or prosecution.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Can the Minister explain why we have a fistful of letters of complaint that have never been acted on by his department, and will his investigation of Asha Ali Abdilledeal with her treatment of staff at the Red Cross in Wellington and Christchurch, which involved threatening to pour petrol on one person and spitting in another receptionist’s face, and the bizarre circumstances at the Hastings police station in which she threw a bucket of faeces over a constable, and also the support letter from a member of Parliament regarding the immigrant fraudster, Bahman Fakharzadeh, who has allegedly cheated four Government departments and is driving a taxi around Wellington?
Hon PAUL SWAIN: I think there are three questions. If the member has a fistful of letters that have not been acted on, I would be very appreciative of receiving them so that I can look into the matters further. As far as Ms Abdille is concerned, that case is being investigated, as the member knows, and the allegations are being looked into. As far as the taxi driver is concerned, I am not certain about that matter. I have seen a number of allegations about taxis—who pays or does not pay their fares—and it would be interesting to see whether the issue raised is related to that particular case.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Could I just assure the Minister that the issue is not related to any particular case, other than to the fact that he never ever replies to tell a member of Parliament that something has been done about it. Accordingly, we have hundreds and hundreds of people running around this darn country, who should be off shore because they are here illegally.
Mr SPEAKER: That is not a point of order.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I know.
Mr SPEAKER: It is matter of politics. I know the member is good at that, but it is not a point of order.
9. LYNNE PILLAY (Labour—Waitakere) to the Minister of Education: Why is the Government introducing the New Zealand Scholarship examinations, which started today?
Hon TREVOR MALLARD (Minister of Education): Our Government is committed to raising education standards. That is why the New Zealand Scholarship, a new examination, has been introduced as a stand-alone qualification designed to extend very high achieving students. The examinations will be very challenging, and to succeed students will need to apply high-level thinking skills. Scholarship is set at level 4 on the qualifications framework—the equivalent of a year 1 university subject— meaning that it will extend and challenge our top students.
Lynne Pillay: What incentives and rewards are available to students who excel in New Zealand Scholarship?
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: Our overall top scholar and second top scholar will receive $45,000 and $30,00 respectively over 3 years. All students who achieve outstanding performance in three New Zealand Scholarship subjects will get $15,000 over 3 years. There are also generous rewards for the top scholar in each subject and in each school. These awards are further proof that this Government is committed to excellence in education.
Hon Bill English: Can the Minister explain how the Scholarship exam will rank candidates in order to select the top one or two, when the exams are set according to the standards-based assessment philosophy of the National Certificate of Educational Achievement, which is explicitly designed not to rank candidates?
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: In the same way as doctoral students are ranked when they sit a standards-based examination. Dr Cullen and Dr Brash will explain to the member how it works.
Hon Bill English: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I asked the Minister, who happens to be the Minister of Education, to explain it. He did not address the question.
Mr SPEAKER: The first part of the Minister’s answer did address the question. He added a comment after that, but the first part of the answer most directly did address that question.
Hon Bill English: If the Minister is so clear about how an exam designed not to rank students will achieve the ranking of students, why are principals, teachers, and students across New Zealand deeply confused, and why do they regard the Scholarship process this year as a shambles?
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: I am quite surprised that the member says that, because well-informed principals have been discussing it with me. They understand a system whereby the best papers—
Simon Power: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I am sorry to interrupt the Minister but the Hon Harry Duynhoven is talking on his cellphone in the Chamber.
Mr SPEAKER: Mr Duynhoven is not to use his cellphone in the Chamber. [Interruption] A member may not use a cellphone in the Chamber. That is a rule that I have set many times. The Minister will carry on with the answer.
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: I am surprised that the member is confused or claims to be confused, because the top principals in the country certainly are not. They understand that it is relatively easy to determine the outstanding performance Scholarships, using a group of the assessors. There will not be many of them, and they will sit down and work it out. As happens with doctoral students or others who sit standards-based exams, candidates are able to be ranked. We have had top doctoral students before, and I am very surprised that a member who has been involved in education for as long as that member has cannot understand that.
Member for Tamaki Makaurau—Resignation from Portfolios
10. GERRY BROWNLEE (Deputy Leader—National) to the Prime Minister: Why did she state that John Tamihere took an honourable course in resigning his ministerial portfolios last week?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK (Prime Minister): Because I think he did.
Gerry Brownlee: Does she really believe that after taking a golden handshake he said he would not take, then keeping it secret for 4 years, then waiting 3 weeks before resigning his ministerial warrants—and only because he was caught—John Tamihere has acted honourably; if so, why?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I repeat that I do believe he acted honourably. I have in front of me the member’s personal statement to the House last week, which states: “I have resigned from Cabinet today because I did change my mind and accept a golden handshake, and I did not tell my Prime Minister. Some see that as hypocrisy, and I will do my time.”
Gerry Brownlee: Did the Prime Minister hear the radio interview that Mr Tamihere gave after his resignation, where he was asked why it took him so long to resign, and he said: “There are two streams of advice you get. One is direct, legal, and accounting, which is there, a process in place to clear your name, and you allow those procedures and processes to run. Then there’s the political side. It’s the cumulative weight of that that starts to bear. Bearing that cumulative weight became too much.”; did she give him the latter advice, or was she quite happy for him to wait out the process?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: As I have consistently said, a process was put in train and it is still in train, and that process will continue because Mr Tamihere deserves the opportunity to put his case and endeavour to clear his name.
Rodney Hide: Does she agree with John Tamihere that the honourable thing to do would be to resign from Parliament if his personal explanation was in any way found to be incorrect, or does she think this is another one of those examples where people say one thing one day, and do the other the next?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I would be surprised if the carefully prepared personal statement proved to be incorrect. If members, after having examined the reports that come in, think it is, then they are free to go to the Privileges Committee with it.
Rodney Hide: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I realise that the Prime Minister has to only address my question, but my question was specifically whether she agreed with the honourable John Tamihere that he should resign if his personal explanation was found in any way to be incorrect. For the Prime Minister to say whether she would be surprised to find that it was incorrect is not addressing the question.
Mr SPEAKER: Well, it was, and it did.
Gerry Brownlee: Does the Prime Minister have an expectation that Mr Tamihere would resign from Parliament if matters raised and defended by him in his personal statement were subsequently proved to be untrue?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I think the member is getting a little ahead of himself. I will wait and see the outcome of the inquiries. Then the evidence will be out for all to see and judge.
Rodney Hide: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I ask you to consider this. We have been given a personal explanation, which we have to accept as it is the member’s word. It is quite clear that the Prime Minister does not accept it, because she is saying that she will wait and see whether it stacks up. I am not even certain whether, if the personal explanation does not stack up, the member has to resign. He himself has said he will resign if it does not stack up. We are in an impossible situation with this personal explanation. We have to accept it; the Prime Minister does not.
Mr SPEAKER: No. The member has not grasped the fact that whether Mr Tamihere should resign from Parliament is not a matter of ministerial responsibility.
11. SUE KEDGLEY (Green) to the Associate Minister of Health: Is she satisfied that all ambulances responding to emergencies operate with a minimum of two trained crew as required by the New Zealand Standard for ambulance services?
Hon RUTH DYSON (Associate Minister of Health): I am satisfied that the emergency ambulance services are being managed and provided in a professional manner and with due regard to the public’s best interests. The ambulance service sector standards have not yet been considered for approval under the Health and Disability Services (Safety) Act. A lot more work is needed before that happens.
Sue Kedgley: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. My question was very explicit. Is she satisfied that all ambulances responding to emergencies operate with a minimum of two trained crew, as required by the New Zealand standard? Could the Minister address the question please.
Mr SPEAKER: I thought the Minister did.
Sue Kedgley: Does she agree that most New Zealanders would be disturbed to learn that even in some metropolitan areas, such as Wellington, ambulances do not have the required two crew members in an emergency situation, and will she commit to providing the extra $2 million to $17 million of funding needed to ensure that all ambulances attending emergencies have two trained crew members; if not, why not?
Hon RUTH DYSON: It is clear that the member did not hear the answer to the primary question. The ambulance service sector standards have not yet been considered for approval under the Health and Disability Services (Safety) Act. A lot more work needs to be done before that happens. Therefore, there is not a requirement for double-crewing.
Sue Kedgley: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. My question did not relate to whether the standard had been implemented. My question was whether most New Zealanders would be disturbed to learn that there was not double-crewing in emergency situations and whether she would provide funding so that that could happen. It had nothing to do with whether the standard was implemented. I wonder whether the Minister could address my question.
Mr SPEAKER: The Minister can address the question in so far as it relates to whether she is disturbed about the double-crewing comment.
Hon RUTH DYSON: In my view I did answer the question appropriately. The point made in both the primary question and the supplementary question by the member was that there is a requirement to implement the New Zealand standard for ambulance services. The point I was making is that there is no such requirement.
Nanaia Mahuta: What advice has the Minister received regarding the operational funding of road ambulance services?
Hon RUTH DYSON: A funding review of ambulance services carried out by the Ministry of Health, in collaboration with ambulance operators, shows that non-governmental ambulance providers as a whole had a surplus of $6.7 million on their overall operations in 2002-03. Surpluses have also been posted in the previous 4 years.
Sue Kedgley: Is she aware of recent incidents, such as one in Wellington that I witnessed as an observer in an ambulance, in which a seriously injured victim of a car accident had to wait while a second ambulance was sent to the scene of the incident because the first ambulance carried only one ambulance officer, and does she agree that delays such as this can put people’s lives at risk and are totally unacceptable in an emergency front-line health service; if so, what is she going to do about it?
Hon RUTH DYSON: I am not aware of the specifics of that case and until I have a fuller briefing I would not even be aware of why the second ambulance was called, so I do not think it would be appropriate for me to comment on that issue.
Nanaia Mahuta: Can the Minister clarify what percentage of public funding goes towards ambulance services?
Hon RUTH DYSON: According to the report to which I alluded in response to earlier questions, public funding from both the Ministry of Health and the Accident Compensation Corporation makes up 85 percent of the funding received by our ambulance operators. Of the total road ambulance income, 0.34 percent comes from donations.
Sue Kedgley: Where is the sense of urgency around provision of this essential front-line service, given that the funding review, which the Green Party obtained under the Official Information Act, was due for release in October of last year, yet the Minister still cannot give a firm date for when the funding issue will be resolved, or even an assurance that double-crewing will definitely be implemented in emergency situations?
Hon RUTH DYSON: I certainly share the member’s concern that the review that I instigated was delivered to me a year later than anticipated—in fact, a little longer than that. Part of the reason for the delay, and a substantial contributor to it, was the Ministry of Health’s inability to get quality data from the ambulance providers. Once that had been established, I was very pleased to get the review. The whole point of commissioning the review was to build future policy, including issues of double-crewing and whether that is appropriate in all circumstances.
Local Authorities—Resource Management
12. DAVID PARKER (Labour—Otago) to the Minister for the Environment: What recent reports has she received about the Government’s programme to assist local authorities to improve their resource management processes?
Hon MARIAN HOBBS (Minister for the Environment): The Ministry for the Environment recently conducted seminars nationwide with local government officers from 56 councils about improving resource consent - processing. Many participants said they would change their council’s processes in line with the advice that they received. That will mean less cost and delay for consent applicants such as homeowners and small businesses.
David Parker: Has the Minister seen any reports of support for the central government assistance to local authorities?
Hon MARIAN HOBBS: Yes, Michael Barnett, the chief executive of the Auckland Regional Chamber of Commerce, recognised the need for training when he said recently: “The issue with the RMA is not so much the contents of the Act preventing developments proceeding, but how it is administered by local authorities.” That shows that those calling for an overhaul of the whole Resource Management Act, such as Dr Don Brash, are out of step with even their traditional support base.
Questions to Members
Disabled Persons Employment Promotion (Repeal and Related Matters) Bill—Submissions
1. Dr MURIEL NEWMAN (Deputy Leader—ACT) to the Chairperson of the Social Services Committee: When is the Disabled Persons Employment Promotion (Repeal and Related Matters) Bill due to be reported back to the House, and did she request that families likely to be affected by this bill give evidence?
GEORGINA BEYER (Chairperson of the Social Services Committee): I am pleased to reply to the deputy chair of the Social Services Committee that the Disabled Persons Employment Promotion (Repeal and Related Matters) Bill is due to be reported back to the House by 25 November 2004, and also that the Social Services Committee advertised for submissions on the bill. Sixteen submissions were received, and all of those who requested to give oral evidence on their submissions were heard by the committee.
Dr Muriel Newman: What steps have been taken to ensure that the thousands of families likely to be affected by the passing of this bill—which submitters have warned will lead to the closure of sheltered workshops around the country—have been fully and appropriately consulted?
Mr SPEAKER: The question relating to what steps the committee has taken is in order.
GEORGINA BEYER: As I said in answer to the primary question, the committee advertised for submissions and set a closing date of 28 June 2004. I have mentioned that the committee received 16 submissions and heard evidence from 15 submitters. There were two meetings—on 21 October and 4 November. The 21 October meeting happened to be chaired by the deputy chair, I understand, and there were hearings of evidence from 15 submitters.
Questions for Oral Answer
2. Dr MURIEL NEWMAN (Deputy Leader—ACT) to the Chairperson of the Social Services Committee: When is the Charities Bill due to be reported back to the House, and will she extend to all original submitters the opportunity to give further evidence?
GEORGINA BEYER (Chairperson of the Social Services Committee): The Charities Bill is due to be reported back to the House by 10 December 2004. The opportunity for all original submitters to give further evidence is a matter for the committee to decide.
Dr Muriel Newman: How many of the more than 700 original submitters are being invited to take part in further consultation on the rewritten Charities Bill, and what criteria will the Government be using to select those organisations?
Mr SPEAKER: In so far as this relates to what the member as the chairperson of the committee can do, the member may answer—not the Government, the committee.
GEORGINA BEYER: As the deputy chairperson will understand, these are indeed matters for the committee yet to make decisions upon.