Questions & Answers for Oral Answer 2 December '04
Thursday, 2 December
Questions for Oral Answer
Questions to Ministers
1. Beneficiaries—Sickness and Invalid Beneficiaries
2. Waterways—Public Access
3. Occupational Shortages—Operation of List
4. Prisoners—Trauma Counselling
5. School Staffing Review Group—Implementation
6. Free-trade Agreement—ASEAN countries
7. Resource Management Act—Law Society Comments
8. Telephone Services—Deaf, Hearing-impaired, and Speech-impaired
9. Refugees—Failed Status Claimants in New Zealand
10. Justice, Associate Minister—Confidence
11. Taxation—Full-time Workers on 39c Rate
12. Accident Compensation—Helicopter Services
Questions for Oral Answer
Questions to Ministers
Beneficiaries—Sickness and Invalid Beneficiaries
1. GEORGINA BEYER (Labour—Wairarapa) to the Minister for Social Development and Employment: What is the Government doing to ensure people on sickness and invalids benefits have access to the rehabilitative services they need to enable them to return to work where possible?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY (Minister for Social Development and Employment): Yesterday, Annette King and I launched a partnership between Work and Income and the Capital and Coast District Health Board to support people on sickness and invalids benefits to get back to work. The programme has already been operating successfully in the Counties Manukau District Health Board region since April this year. We are already seeing results from our $20 million investment in helping people on sickness and invalids benefits return to work, with a 17 percent increase in the number moving into full-time work, and a 14 percent increase in the number entering part-time work. I congratulate the Ministry of Social Development and the two district health boards on bringing together this cutting-edge programme and look forward, I hope, to it being successfully rolled out across the country in the near future and to seeing many more people return to work.
Georgina Beyer: What specific supports will be available to help people with psychiatric or psychological conditions return to employment?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: The vast majority of people who experience mental ill health want to work, and can do so with the right support. The Providing Access to Health Solutions (PATHS) programme will offer specially tailored clinical and social support for clients experiencing anxiety, depression, stress, or similar mental health conditions, to ensure a speedy return to employment. One barrier to employment we can all have a hand in removing is the barrier created by a fear of, and prejudice against, people with mental health conditions. Anybody who has seen the “one in five” advertisements on television will be aware that these disabilities often cannot be seen but can be a real barrier. Our understanding of these disabilities will ensure that those people do get back into the workplace.
Dr Paul Hutchison: Does the Minister agree that his Government’s rehabilitative services will have to improve vastly, given its record that has seen the number of sickness beneficiaries rise from 33,000 in 1999, to over 44,000 in 2004, and the number of invalids beneficiaries increase from 51,000 in 1999, to over 72,000 in 2004?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: Yes, these figures are of concern. I note, for example, that during the time of the last National Government these benefit figures went up by 69 percent and 84 percent. Unlike that Government, however, we are doing something about this. As I said, we have seen a 17 percent increase in the number of people going back into full-time employment, and a 14 percent increase in the number of people going back into part-time employment. I know that the National Party is about to embrace this policy, just as it did our superannuation policy.
Dr Muriel Newman: In light of the fact that the trial the Minister is claiming success for involves, as I understand it, fewer than 200 people, why is he claiming this as a success when the number of adults supported by a sickness or invalids benefit has increased by 35 percent, to almost 140,000 people since he has been the Minister?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: As I mentioned before, this is an issue that affects all OECD nations. In the 1990s we saw an increase of up to 84 percent in this area, so I imagine that the member will applaud the fact that the 4,700 people in the Wellington region who are eligible for this programme now will be part of a programme that has seen 17 percent more people going back into full-time employment, and 14 percent more people going back into part-time employment. This is the first time the House has seen a turn-round in these figures—thanks to this good Government—and I imagine that everyone will want to adopt these policies very soon.
Judy Turner: Does the Minister intend to move to a system whereby sickness and invalids beneficiaries will be required to seek treatment, if it is appropriate to their incapacity, particularly in response to the significant increase in the number of stress and depression cases, which I raised for the first time early last year; if not, why not?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: People who are on a sickness or invalids benefit are required to undergo visits to their doctor for assessment. They go straight away, to get on to the benefit. They go after 13 weeks if they are on a sickness benefit, and they are required to go back every 4 weeks after that. So they are required, by that constant updating of their health status, to get on with fixing their health needs. One of the good things about the PATHS programme is simply that in this region, for example, 4,700 people will be working both with us and with their primary health organisation provider to improve their chances of going back to work.
Mr SPEAKER: The Minister’s answer is already too long.
Georgina Beyer: When was stress recognised as a distinct category of mental health condition for sickness and invalids benefit eligibility purposes?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: Interestingly enough, stress was recognised in 1995 as a distinct category of mental health condition. Having created the situation, I can only think now that the National Party is about to flip-flop on that decision, as well. [Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: This is the only warning today.
Judy Turner: Why has an Official Information Act request made by United Future in August for progress reports on the Manukau case management pilot for sickness and invalid beneficiaries yet to receive a response from the Minister’s office, and, now that the matter is with the Ombudsman, will he give a commitment to provide the information forthwith?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: I have an agreement with the Ombudsman to get all those requests forthwith.
2. GERRARD ECKHOFF (ACT) to the Minister for Rural Affairs: Will the Government be making a decision on public access to waterways on private land before Christmas; if not, when exactly will this decision be made?
Hon JIM SUTTON (Minister for Rural Affairs): The Government is giving ongoing consideration to this issue, and it is not possible to say whether decisions will be made before Christmas.
Gerrard Eckhoff: Will the Minister rule out legislating for any right of the public to access private property before the next election; if not, why not?
Hon JIM SUTTON: It is not for me to rule in or rule out anything that is the prerogative of the Cabinet.
Mark Peck: Has the Minister heard any pronouncements on the introduction of legislation on public access to waterways?
Hon JIM SUTTON: Yes. Mr Eckhoff MP has been attempting to foment public tumult and inciting rural people by falsely claiming legislation is to be introduced today. Mr Eckhoff and ACT must surely be embarrassed, as it is clear that no legislation is being introduced by the Government today. Mr Eckhoff should apologise to rural people for those spurious allegations.
Shane Ardern: Will the Minister today, in the light of his answer, rule out the possibility of landowners’ property rights being compromised in any way at any time in the future by this Government?
Hon JIM SUTTON: The answer is as before.
Jeanette Fitzsimons: Will the Government take any steps to ensure that public access over paper roads that are public property is protected, and that adjoining landowners are prevented from fencing out the public and treating those roads as private property; if so, what steps will it take?
Hon JIM SUTTON: Public access to road reserves, whether they are so-called paper roads or formed roads, is absolutely protected by law already.
Gerrard Eckhoff: What is the Minister’s view of the widespread belief that all Mâori land will be exempt from any proposed legislation?
Hon JIM SUTTON: I suppose the member would consider it a triumph that that completely false assertion—often made by him—is now accepted by many people as being authoritative. They are quite wrong.
Occupational Shortages—Operation of List
3. PETER BROWN (Deputy Leader—NZ First) to the Minister of Immigration: Can he explain the purpose of the Occupational Shortages List, and how is it operated?
Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR (Associate Minister of Immigration), on behalf of the Minister of Immigration: The purpose of the Occupational Shortages List is to enhance and streamline the processing of work permits and visas, and approvals in principle for work permits or visas, where there is a known regional labour market skills shortage.
Peter Brown: Noting that answer, is there any compulsion on any employer at all to convince the Department of Labour that it cannot employ anybody domestically before it can apply to fill the vacancy via that list?
Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: The Occupational Shortages List is reviewed every 6 months. Industries and employers can make submissions to that process. They have to convince the New Zealand Immigration Service that there is indeed a shortage of skilled workers in that particular area before they will get approval.
Peter Brown: Will the Minister give a categorical assurance to this House that work conditions and employment opportunities for New Zealanders will not be abused as a result of this list; will he give us that assurance now, and will he give us the assurance that if they are abused, he will resign?
Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: I will answer two of those questions. I can give an assurance that it is the highest priority of this Government to ensure that the best conditions and wages are apportioned to New Zealanders before we allow persons into the country, through immigration, to carry out jobs that would otherwise be carried out by New Zealanders. It is our priority, and we will continue to have it that way.
Hon Tony Ryall: Why is this Government so incompetent that it takes 8 weeks to get a work visa in Hamilton, but fewer than 6 days in Sydney and fewer than 5 days in London?
Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: Firstly, this Government is not incompetent; the polls show that, and New Zealanders understand that. There will be variations in processing time, but the New Zealand Immigration Service moves very quickly. We have implemented a variations of conditions policy whereby 48 hours is all that is required to turn a visitor permit into a work permit in areas where there are identified skills and labour shortages.
4. Hon TONY RYALL (National—Bay Of Plenty) to the Minister for ACC: How many prison inmates are receiving counselling for trauma, and for how long has each been receiving such counselling?
Hon RUTH DYSON (Minister for ACC): I regret that I am advised that the Accident Compensation Corporation (ACC) does not collect this information in a form that would allow me to provide a reliable and accurate answer.
Hon Tony Ryall: Does the Government support double-murderers getting ACC counselling for trauma when they also receive extensive support from the Department of Correction’s psychological services?
Hon RUTH DYSON: As has always been the case under ACC legislation, a person in prison is entitled to receive medical treatment, physical rehabilitation, and counselling.
Helen Duncan: Is a person entitled to receive all ACC entitlements while he or she is an inmate in a penal institution?
Hon RUTH DYSON: No. Under the Injury Prevention, Rehabilitation, and Compensation Act, a person is not entitled to receive entitlements such as weekly compensation, grants, assessments, or payments of lump sums, while he or she is an inmate in any penal institution.
Peter Brown: Is the Minister aware that there are some legitimate, law-abiding New Zealanders who struggle to get through the ACC system, yet this Government is allowing payments to be made to people in prison who have committed heinous crimes; how does she sleep at night knowing that?
Mr SPEAKER: The first question can be answered. The second is not really ministerial.
Hon RUTH DYSON: I certainly hope that all claimants are treated in the same way and receive their entitlement as outlined in the legislation.
Stephen Franks: What evidence is there that counselling for prisoners makes the slightest bit of difference to their mental health; is it not simply a way of making them feel better than they would otherwise feel during the time they are in prison?
Hon RUTH DYSON: I think that is a genuine debate that is occurring not just in the case of counselling for prisoners but in the case of counselling for all people. Accepted best practice currently in New Zealand is that counselling is beneficial.
Hon Tony Ryall: Why do double-murderers get ACC-funded counselling for trauma, but their victims, who suffer every day, do not?
Hon RUTH DYSON: In the same way as has always been the case under ACC legislation, entitlement is available only for claimants. I can confirm also that the ACC-funded counselling is not related to the crime.
Hon Tony Ryall: How vile a crime does a man need to commit before this Government will stop that person from receiving ACC-funded counselling for trauma?
Hon RUTH DYSON: As has been the case for 30 years, under all previous Governments during that time, a person in prison is entitled to receive medical treatment and rehabilitation.
School Staffing Review Group—Implementation
5. LYNNE PILLAY (Labour—Waitakere) to the Minister of Education: What progress is he making implementing the recommendations of the School Staffing Review Group?
Hon TREVOR MALLARD (Minister of Education): With the addition of an extra 56 fulltime-equivalent teachers in area schools next year, the number of extra teachers employed by this Government has now reached over 2,600. Those teachers are over and above those required for roll growth, and are a clear sign of our commitment to raise educational standards.
Lynne Pillay: Why has increasing the number of teachers been prioritised above other possible spending in education?
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: Quality teachers can, and do, make the biggest difference to student achievement. When I became Minister in 1999, the sector identified three priority areas. The first was extra teachers, the second was teacher professional development, and the third was an initial increase in operational funding, followed by an annual inflation adjustment. I am pleased to say that we have delivered.
Simon Power: How can the Minister expect the New Zealand public to have confidence in the staffing of our schools, when an Education Review Office report has confirmed that up to half of beginning secondary teachers and a third of beginning primary teachers are falling well below minimum teaching standards, and when his officials yesterday confirmed that those incompetent teachers will nonetheless be endorsed with full registration by the New Zealand Teachers Council?
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: I think the member is exaggerating somewhat. But could I draw a parallel and say that at least we do not put new incompetents into leadership positions in the way the National Party did.
Mr SPEAKER: No, no, I want the question to be addressed, please.
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: I think it is fair to say that all of us agree that there is work to be done on initial teacher education, and that there is more work to be done around registration. This Government has put time and resources into new teachers, in a way the previous Government, with Nick Smith as the Minister, refused to do.
Hon Brian Donnelly: Is it not true that staffing improvements in the compulsory education sector have largely been used up on providing the guaranteed non-contact time extracted through collective agreement scraps, and has had no impact on the real contact time teacher-pupil ratio?
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: No, that is not the case. In actual fact, to date almost none of the time, except in a very small group of schools, has been used that way. Next year some of the time could well be, but of course there have been very generous increases in secondary staffing for next year.
Deborah Coddington: How can he claim success in school staffing, when, because of his totally inflexible regulations, up to 60 percent of new primary school teachers are unemployed as they cannot teach in early childhood centres, and the early childhood sector needs more than 2,500 teachers?
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: We have introduced, as I think the member is aware, conversion courses, and are encouraging people currently in primary teacher training to convert their courses—and we are paying them to do so. The idea that any primary teacher can become the person in charge of an early childhood centre, as promoted publicly by that member, is just nonsense.
Bernie Ogilvy: What progress has the Minister made in implementing the recommendation of the School Staffing Review Group to introduce a sabbatical scheme for teachers in return for continuous service—a measure that would provide an incentive for young teachers to make a long-term commitment to the profession?
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: I refer the member to the latest settlements of the agreements.
Free-trade Agreement—ASEAN countries
6. ROD DONALD (Co-Leader—Green) to the Prime Minister: Will she reconsider the commitment she made in Laos to negotiate a free-trade agreement with ASEAN countries, including Myanmar, in light of comments from New Zealand Council of Trade Unions president, Ross Wilson, that there is a risk such deals will “permanently damage New Zealand’s manufacturing base”; if not, why not?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Acting Prime Minister): No, because I believe that the deal will contribute to the long-run prosperity of New Zealand.
Rod Donald: Does she then agree with the chief executive of Fisher and Paykel Appliances, John Bongard, that free-trade benefits had to spread further than to just agricultural exports, and what assurances will she give to the New Zealand manufacturing sector that any free-trade agreements with ASEAN or China would prevent the dumping of products, or competition, from subsidised manufactured goods?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: The fact is that pretty much across the board, tariffs on our exported manufactured goods into South-east Asia and China are higher than New Zealand’s tariffs on imported manufactured goods from South-east Asia and China.
Dail Jones: What assurances can the Prime Minister give the low-paid workers of New Zealand that they will not lose their jobs as a result of free-trade agreements with a very low-wage economy like Laos, and other low-wage countries, remembering the way in which low-paid workers lost their jobs during the term of the 1984-90 Labour Government, of which the Prime Minister was a part?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: With unemployment down to 3.8 percent, our biggest problem in the labour market at the moment is labour shortage, not labour surplus. In any case, there is no prospect in New Zealand trying to compete at the bottom end of the wage and labour market with countries such as Laos and others. If we try to do that, it will simply lead to lower wages in New Zealand.
Hon Peter Dunne: Can the Prime Minister indicate to the House what the time frame is from here for the commencement and potential conclusions of negotiations with the ASEAN States, and what particular concerns and interests New Zealand will be taking into those negotiations?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I understand that the negotiations are looking in terms of a timetable over about 2 years or so, but then, of course, some years after that in terms of the phasing in of any agreement—as we have seen, say, within the United States - Australia free-trade agreement. There is a long phase-in period for certain elements.
Rod Donald: Is it respectful to the thousands of Kiwi workers who will lose their jobs as a result of these trade deals to call them “adjustment challenges”, as the Government did in its China trade-deal report, and will she be directing her officials to use plain English in future and refer to human beings as human beings, and lay-offs as lay-offs?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: There is no evidence to suggest that the job losses involved for some sectors will involve thousands of jobs. The Government’s strategy is about assisting sectors such as textiles, clothing, and footwear, to move to the higher end of the market, where New Zealand can compete. We cannot compete at the low to middle end of the market over the long term unless we wish to be a low to middle end wage country.
Rod Donald: Will there be any adjustment challenges amongst her Ministers if it turns out that this new lot of trade deals is as bad as the Singapore one and results in New Zealand’s record $4 billion trade deficit getting even worse, or will it be only Kiwi workers who will pay the price for the so-called free-trade agenda of this Government?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I have no doubt that the current trade deficit would be much worse had it not been for the successful conclusion of the Uruguay round in terms of the World Trade Organization, and other agreements that New Zealand has entered into. Our present trade deficit in part, of course, is a long-term structural one, added to by the low level of the United States dollar. It is also partly due at the moment to high levels of importation of equipment for business investment purposes.
Keith Locke: Does she stand by her comments to the 1998 Labour Party conference that the then Prime Minister, Jenny Shipley, “prefers to build links to oppression while democratic voices are silenced in jail”; if so, why is she herself building economic links with the oppressive military dictatorship in Burma, while democracy campaigner, Aung San Suu Kyi, is further silenced by having her house-arrest extended for another year?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Contrary to what is being said in this context, the Prime Minister has already, since the conference, condemned the further extension of Aung San Suu Kyi’s detention, and there is no question that the Prime Minister has also raised the issue of human rights in the Vientiane conference. Were we to live in splendid isolation in a country of 4 million low-paid peasants, our voice would be worthless in the world.
Rod Donald: How can it be just, or right, for New Zealand to negotiate a preferential trade deal with the Burmese military regime, given that it is a brutal dictatorship responsible for forced labour, child labour, trafficking in prostitution, and the imprisonment of political prisoners, and that Burma is the world’s largest producer of illegal opium, or are there no ethical bottom lines in this Government’s trade policy?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Negotiations are with ASEAN as a whole, of which Burma is an extraordinarily tiny part in terms of gross domestic product. ASEAN itself is starting to raise human rights issues within its context, and close relationships with functioning and longstanding democracies such as Australia and New Zealand will no doubt assist the more progressive forces within ASEAN.
Resource Management Act—Law Society Comments
7. Hon Dr NICK SMITH (National—Nelson) to the Associate Minister for the Environment: Why should the public have any confidence in the latest reforms to the Resource Management Act 1991 when the New Zealand Law Society has stated: “Overall, far from a set of proposals which will reduce costs and delays being incurred under the RMA, the net result, from our collective experience, we have no doubt, will be worse for everyone—councils, industry, community groups, and ordinary members of the public.”?
Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE (Associate Minister for the Environment): The public has confidence because the reforms are timely, sensible, and well-thought-out. Dr Smith quotes from a letter from the Law Society’s Derek Nolan, Convener of the Environmental Law Committee, to me, dated 16 September 2004. But the member seems not to be in possession of all the facts. Specifically, a month later, in a later letter dated 21 October this year, which I intend to table for the member’s illumination, Mr Nolan states: “We confirm that as a result of ongoing dialogue with officials on the RMA reform proposals, many of the earlier concerns held by the Environmental Law Committee appear to have been addressed or reduced in importance.”
Hon Dr Nick Smith: Is the Minister aware of the public statement made this week, on Tuesday, by close Government ally Mr Dick Hubbard, when he said that the Government’s reforms did not go nearly far enough to address the infrastructure problems in Auckland; if so, why is the Government choosing to ignore the newly elected Auckland mayor?
Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: I am aware of the statement, inasmuch as I have heard it referred to, although I have yet to see it myself. But I am aware of the comment made by the Buller District Council Planning and Regulatory Services Manager, Terry Archer, who said in the Westport News on 17 September: “Where the hell were these things in 1991 when they introduced the RMA? It would have made it so much easier.”
Lianne Dalziel: Did the Law Society have anything further to say about the reform proposals?
Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: Yes. The Law Society went on to say: “The committee acknowledges the policy decision made by Cabinet that Government intends to remove the mandatory obligation on the Environment Court to conduct appeals as a hearing de novo. It is agreed that this change could well lead to savings in cost.”
Hon Ken Shirley: How on earth will this proposed set of amendments to the Resource Management ActA reduce costs and delays, when the Minister’s own press release today outlines at length the additional processes involved, and indeed describes the bill as “a package of measures reflecting a stronger leadership role for central government”; why should we not agree with the analysis of the Law Society?
Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: The proposal will clearly reduce the length of time and the cost of the process. It can best be explained in the words of Mr Basil Morrison, President of Local Government New Zealand: “We agree with the Government that more education is needed on resource management and the Resource Management Act. While many people may complain about the current Act, it in fact compares well internationally. Compliance costs are 10 to 15 percent less than in Australia, and we are required to lodge fewer than half the number of applications for consent than in Australia.
Jeanette Fitzsimons: What is meant exactly by “national interest”, because his bill fails to define it, and can he confirm that under the bill any application that he thinks is in the so-called national interest can be approved by his appointees instead of the council, and with no right of appeal to the Environment Court?
Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: In answer to the second question, no. In answer to the first question, the capacity to identify the national interest is the new element introduced in the package.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: How will the problem of costs and delays with the Resource Management Act be fixed by allowing the 95 percent of consents, or 47,000 per year, that are non-notified to be open to appeal to the Environment Court?
Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: It is false to suggest the Act is delaying the process or that development is hamstrung. In 2003 the New Zealand economy grew 3.5 percent, against an OECD average of 2.2 percent. In fact, growth has been significantly higher in New Zealand, compared with most other OECD countries, for some years now.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. My question was very specific. The bill introduced today includes a very specific provision that allows for consents that are non-notified to be appealed to the Environment Court. The Minister made no attempt to address my question.
Mr SPEAKER: That is fair comment. The Minister will address the question.
Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: Dr Smith is confused. The capacity to shift the appeal on non-notification is an Order in Council process available to the Minister, under the bill.
Jeanette Fitzsimons: Why is he proposing changes to consent hearings that will make it much more difficult and expensive for groups like the Cape Kidnappers Protection Society, which yesterday won a decision to protect that iconic headland from a luxury resort development—which did not comply with the plan—thus overturning a decision by a council, which the court described as having an uncompromisingly partisan stance in support of the proposal?
Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: Nothing in the package of proposals would make that appeal process any more difficult.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: Will the Minister stand by the assurance given to the Local Government and Environment Committee by the Minister for the Environment, Marian Hobbs, that there will be no truncation of the normal select committee process as a consequence of this bill, after its first reading, given the bill has been introduced 4 months late by this Minister?
Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: I would be keen to ensure the maximum time available was permitted. That may or may not be the case, depending on the operations of the House.
Telephone Services—Deaf, Hearing-impaired, and Speech-impaired
8. DAVE HEREORA (Labour) to the Associate Minister of Communications: What has the Government done to make telephone services available to deaf, hearing-impaired, and speech-impaired people?
Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE (Associate Minister of Communications): Recently, Ruth Dyson and I launched New Zealand Relay, which is a telephone service for deaf, hearing-impaired, and speech-impaired people. For the first time this community will be able to pick up a telephone and stay in touch with friends, family, and employers. It lets them participate in society as equals. The service is the result of a lot of work between the Deaf community, the Government, and the telecommunications industry.
Dave Hereora: How many people will benefit from the use of this service?
Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: Ruth Dyson and I expect that most of the estimated 7,000 New Zealanders who are deaf or have a significant hearing impairment will want to use this service. For each person, a whole network of friends and family and service providers will be able to stay in touch in a way that most of us take for granted. This Government is committed to having an inclusive society, and that means creating the opportunity for deaf and hearing-impaired people to participate fully in the use of telecommunications.
Refugees—Failed Status Claimants in New Zealand
9. DAIL JONES (NZ First) to the Minister of Immigration: How many of the failed refugee status claimants who entered New Zealand between 1 January 2001 and 30 September 2004 with false, lost or destroyed travel documentation are still in New Zealand, and why?
Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR (Acting Minister of Immigration): Of the 966 claimants who entered with false, lost, or destroyed passports, 329 failed claimants are still in New Zealand.
Dail Jones: What is he doing about making sure that those 330-odd claimants are sent back; and when people arrive in New Zealand with false, lost, or stolen travel documentation, can the Immigration Service be sure that they are who they eventually claim to be, and if it cannot be sure, is he not concerned that he may be allowing our national security to be threatened by this lack of certainty and removal action by his Immigration Service?
Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: It is important to say that of the 329, 259 have appeals or applications under consideration and/or hold valid permits, and 79 are recorded as being unlawfully in New Zealand. In the last Budget this Government committed $19.8 million to boost our intelligence capacity to work with other countries to make sure that we do know who is coming to this country. This Government implemented the Advance Passenger Processing system, which checks people coming to New Zealand before they board an aircraft. That is something we have done that the previous National Government neglected to do.
Dail Jones: What is the Minister doing about his obviously failed new service, which is allowing so many of these people into the country; and how many of the 438 people who came here between January 2001 and September 2004 with false, lost, or destroyed travel documents, and who have been found to be refugees, have subsequently applied to have family member join them in New Zealand, how many family members have they brought in, and if he does not have the answers, why not?
Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: I cannot give the member the answers now, but I am perfectly willing to provide those details to that member if he asks for them in written form. We are doing everything we can to ensure we uphold the security of this country. That is why we put extra money in. The number of people coming into this country and claiming refugee status has declined drastically since we have been in Government, and we intend to keep it that way.
Justice, Associate Minister—Confidence
10. Hon PETER DUNNE (Leader—United Future) to the Prime Minister: Does she have confidence in her Associate Minister of Justice, the Hon David Benson-Pope; if so, why?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Acting Prime Minister): Yes, because he is a hardworking and conscientious Minister.
Hon Peter Dunne: How can the Prime Minister continue to have confidence in that Minister when last week he erroneously claimed with regard to the Civil Union Bill that “the only party in Parliament who have not made this issue a conscience vote was United Future.”, was corrected on that assertion yesterday by the Acting Prime Minister in the House, then repeated the same claim on Morning Report this morning and, when challenged by the interviewer, said: “I’m not aware of any inaccuracies in what I’ve said.”?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: My understanding is that in the interview this morning Mr Benson-Pope acknowledged that in fact the United Future party did have a conscience vote on the issue and, as the member rightly says, he corrected that statement in the House—on Tuesday, I think it was.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: Why would the Prime Minister have confidence in Mr David Benson-Pope when he publicly made erroneous statements about the Civil Union Bill and United Future’s position, and when he also told the Royal Forest and Bird Protection Society of New Zealand that he had no list of projects suitable for a non-local decision-making process, when he did; and if that is how the Government treats its friends, how will it treat its enemies?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I would have thought that that member would know by now how we treat our enemies.
Dail Jones: Why does the Prime Minister have any confidence in the Hon David Benson-Pope when that Minister expresses utter confidence in public support for the Civil Union Bill, yet refuses to have a citizens initiated referendum on the issue as requested by New Zealand First, so that all New Zealanders can have their say on it—not just members in this House?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I think the member made a slip. I do not think he meant a citizens initiated referendum; I think he meant the proposals to have a referendum on the bill—a binding referendum as a result of the bill, should it pass. It has not been the practice in New Zealand at all to have binding referenda on any matters other than those—
Brian Connell: Just change it.
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Oh, is that the National Party’s flip-flop now? I am sure that that member would like to suggest to his leader that binding referenda should be held on State asset sales in the future—if there is ever a National Government again.
Hon Peter Dunne: Does the Prime Minister consider that Mr Benson-Pope’s continued misrepresentation of United Future’s position on the Civil Union Bill is in accord with the principles of the agreement between United Future and the Labour Party to operate on a good-faith basis?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I understand that the Deputy Prime Minister has already indicated to Mr Benson-Pope that there is a need to be careful in these relationships, and in fact that the Government’s position is that the United Future party is operating a conscience vote. Of course, I remember in this House previously a party that claimed to be operating a conscience vote. Its members all operated in the same way, once they were sure the numbers were safely there to make sure the bill passed. That concerned the Homosexual Law Reform Bill in 1986.
Taxation—Full-time Workers on 39c Rate
11. RODNEY HIDE (Leader—ACT) to the Minister of Finance: What percentage of full time workers are expected to pay some tax at the 39 cent tax rate in the 2004/2005 financial year?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Minister of Finance): I am advised that the figure is 22 percent.
Rodney Hide: Will the Minister of Finance give any consideration to a tax cut for hard-working Kiwis as a Christmas bonus, especially as the current Prime Minister promised in her 1999 campaign’s opening address that only “5 percent of earners” would pay extra tax?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: The Government does not make the strange assumption that only people earning over $60,000 a year are hard-working New Zealanders. I know quite a few people—in this House, even—who earn over $60,000 and whom I would not regard as hard-working, and I know large numbers of people earning under $60,000 who are very hard-working.
Rodney Hide: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. My question was quite specifically about the consideration of tax cuts; it was not about who is hard-working and who is not.
Mr SPEAKER: I think the Minister addressed the question.
Clayton Cosgrove: What proportion of full-time workers were paying the top rate in the 1999-2000 tax year?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: In 1999 the proportion was 41 percent. Of course, if the ACT party’s flat tax rate were adopted, 100 percent of workers would be paying the top tax rate.
Hon Richard Prebble: There would also be 100 percent paying the bottom rate.
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: That is right.
Dr the Hon Lockwood Smith: Does the Minister stand by his comments that “Ninety-five percent of people will not be asked to pay more tax. Instead, only the top 5 percent of income earners will pay more.”; if not, why not?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: When the policy was released, that was, in fact, the estimated proportion of the population that was earning under $60,000 a year. That 95 percent is now 89 percent—11 percent of income earners are in the top tax bracket. I would finally point out that the OECD report, out only 2 days ago, warns strongly against any fiscal stimulus in New Zealand in the current macroeconomic environment. A tax cut is a fiscal stimulus.
Peter Brown: Does the Minister have a clear conscience, knowing that he is taxing New Zealanders to the hilt, that he is gaining huge windfall tax gains, and, further, that he is about to tax the New Zealand motorist a further 5c a litre on petrol; how does he justify such an approach—or is it the Tottenham Hotspurs connection coming out in him?
Mr SPEAKER: The first two questions can be answered. The third part I might have sympathy with.
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Yes, we did lose last weekend, Mr Speaker. As I pay the top tax rate on 70 percent of my income, I have a very clear conscience on this matter.
Gordon Copeland: Has the Minister carried out or seen any analysis that indicates the drop in the number of taxpayers on the 39c rate that would result from United Future’s proposal to adjust the present $60,000 threshold for inflation, to a new level of $68,000; if so, how many fewer people would that be?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I do not have that exact number in front of me. I think the member has it in the answer to a written question that he submitted to me. The issue becomes in part, at that point, that if tax cuts are regarded as appropriate or macroeconomically sensible, why would one simply concentrate on the upper end of the income scale, unless one suffered from this strange ACT party belief that only people on high incomes are hard-working?
Kenneth Wang: What percentage of workers does he think should pay the top rate of tax?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I am quite happy if 11 percent of income earners pay the top rate of tax, just as that member is quite happy to have a policy where everybody pays exactly the same rate of tax, no matter what his or her income is.
Rodney Hide: I seek leave to table in the House the Rt Hon Helen Clark’s “leadership, integrity, vision” speech where she promised that only the top 5 percent of earners would be paying any more.
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table the Prime Minister’s speech. Is there any objection?
Accident Compensation—Helicopter Services
12. Dr PAUL HUTCHISON (National—Port Waikato) to the Minister for ACC: Does she agree with ACC policy that has resulted in ACC declining to pay the helicopter expenses of rescuing a badly injured shepherd in Central Otago; if so, why?
Hon RUTH DYSON (Minister for ACC): In this case it is difficult to determine which is the more appropriate action: to financially reimburse the helicopter pilot for going to the aid of an injured person, or to strictly adhere to the 111 call policy. It is important, though, that the safety issues take priority in any situation.
Dr Paul Hutchison: Does she believe that the employees at the Alexandra Accident Compensation Corporation (ACC)# office who supported Mr Burdon’s claim were, like the majority of New Zealanders, unaware that in a remote rescue they needed to call 111; if not, why does she believe that they disagreed with ACC’s head office and believed that compensation should be awarded to Mr Burdon?
Hon RUTH DYSON: I am confident that the local ACC staff were aware of the 111 call policy, which is in place so that properly equipped and trained personnel respond to an injury. But I understand, as I said in the answer to the primary question, that it is a difficult balance as to whether to financially compensate the person who went to the aid of the injured person or to strictly adhere to the 111 call policy.
Helen Duncan: Can the Minister tell the House why ACC insists that emergency requests for air ambulances come through the 111 system?
Hon RUTH DYSON: I certainly can. It does so because it is safer. ACC contracts with services that are medically equipped for emergencies, have trained personnel aboard, and can communicate with local hospitals and other services as required. To send a poorly equipped, ill-trained rescue vehicle could, in fact, threaten the life of an injured person, rather than assist that person.
Peter Brown: How does the cost of the helicopter that is referred to compare with the costs paid for the treatment of the prisoner in jail who is receiving ACC treatment?
Hon RUTH DYSON: I regret I have not come to the House prepared with that calculation.
Dr Paul Hutchison: Why is ACC planning to cut the number of air ambulance services to only seven major centres in New Zealand, and what will the Minister do if someone has a serious accident at the top of the East Coast and dies because the aircraft could not reach him or her in time?
Hon RUTH DYSON: I believe that that sort of scaremongering is totally inappropriate when a discussion document was released for consultation only yesterday. I would prefer to hear the results of submissions to that document, and then to consider the issue properly.
Dr Paul Hutchison: Is the Minister, then, prepared to take note of the view of an experienced helicopter pilot, who says: “No way could a helicopter from Hamilton get a badly injured person from Whakatâne or Gisborne to a hospital in within 1 hour, especially if they have to wait for a local emergency 111 service to decide if a helicopter may be called. People will die.”?
Hon RUTH DYSON: Yes, I certainly will listen to the views of that experienced helicopter pilot.