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Questions & Answers for Oral Answer 7 December '04

( Uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing. For corrected transcripts, please visit: http://www.clerk.parliament.govt.nz/hansard )

Tuesday, 7 December 2004
Questions for Oral Answer
Questions to Ministers

1. Security—New Zealand Law
2. Adoption—Same-sex Couples
3. Taxation—Reduction
4. Aged-care and Disability Services—Funding
5. Christchurch Polytechnic Institute of Technology—Enrolment Evaluation
6. Modern Apprenticeships—Implementation
7. Taxation—Household Income After Tax
8. Auckland Motorways—Congestion
9. Victim Support—Restructuring
10. Tauranga Harbour Link Project—Tolls
11. Teaching—Information and Communication Technology
12. Contaminated Sites—National Fund, and Register

Questions for Oral Answer
Questions to Ministers

Security—New Zealand Law

1. DAIL JONES (NZ First) to the Prime Minister: Is she confident that New Zealand law is sufficient to ensure our national security is protected; if not, what action is she willing to take to rectify this situation?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK (Prime Minister): The Government has undertaken many initiatives, including passing new laws, to enhance national security, particularly since September 11. In respect of the law governing certificates of security risk, that law was passed in 1998 with a view to enhancing national security. I await the outcome of court processes to see whether the design of that legislation is sufficiently robust.

Dail Jones: Will the Prime Minister, as Minister in charge of the NZ Security Intelligence Service, act with urgency to ensure that the person, Mr Zaoui, whom the Security Intelligence Service regards as a national security risk, is deported when that is found to be the case—as it was in several European nations—or is it the case that the Government has been wrong all along in its assessment of Ahmed Zaoui?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: The Government, as such, has not determined that Mr Zaoui should be the subject of a certificate. That is a statutory decision made by the Director of Security. As I have said on many occasions, I regard the protracted procedures around this matter as quite unsatisfactory, and when the Zaoui case is complete, there will certainly be a review of the law.

Keith Locke: Does the Prime Minister not agree that in our country, rather than the security risk certificate being a statutory decision of the Security Intelligence Service, the SIS has no powers, and it was the Minister who put the security risk certificate into effect, on the advice of the Security Intelligence Service because our service has only an advisory role, and that the Minister can lift that security risk certificate at any time, so why does the Minister not do so?

Mr SPEAKER: There were four questions there. Two may be answered.

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I do not think the member is particularly conversant with Part 4A of the Immigration Act. The director, on his own statutory authority, issued the certificate. The Minister of Immigration made a preliminary decision to rely on it, while processes relating to its review were put in place. The length of time around those processes is completely unsatisfactory, and I would not think was envisaged when the law was passed in 1998. That is why there must be a review when the matter is concluded.

Hon Tony Ryall: Does the Prime Minister believe that Ahmed Zaoui is a risk to national security; yes or no?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: On no occasion have I offered an opinion on the substance of this case, and I will not be doing so in the House today.

Stephen Franks: If Mr Zaoui is being held to protect our national security, why does the Prime Minister not call on our long tradition of cross-party unity on matters of national security to pass law now to fill the gap that the Supreme Court claims to have held; and, if she does not, is she simply putting the Supreme Court’s ambitions ahead of our national security?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: As I have always said, at the end of this case, whenever it is concluded, there will be a review and I look forward to the ACT party’s collaboration on that, at that time. What is clear in the Zaoui case is that the Government has always acted on legal advice. The Supreme Court has invoked what it calls an inherent jurisdiction. The Government does not have an inherent jurisdiction—it can only administer the law as it is advised that it stands.

Dail Jones: Why then, if the Prime Minister is not satisfied that the law is sufficient, are we in a situation where an issue of national security is being left up to a fledgling, and largely untested, final court of our judicial system to sort out, when it is clear that as the Minister in charge of the NZ Security Intelligence Service she should hold the ultimate responsibility for issues of national security and act before that final decision is made?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I do not think that would be a sensible procedure. I have long signalled that I do not believe that the processes around Part 4A work satisfactorily. They are taking far too long. It is also clear to me that we need, as a Parliament, to be much more specific and precise with legislation from this time forth.

Peter Brown: Is it not a fact that the Government, in order to divert media and public attention from the Zaoui case and its own disastrous handling of it, is introducing the Civil Union Bill and pushing it through under urgency so that the media, with some mishap, will not notice that Zaoui is about to be released?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: The only suggestion that would be funnier than that would be if Mr Zaoui were about to apply for a civil union.

Peter Brown: In noting Rod Donald’s motion earlier on, I seek leave to make a recommendation to the Minister of Finance that he buys Mr Zaoui a one-way ticket to anywhere he wants to go, that it is non-returnable, and for anybody who wants to take him—

Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought for that direction. Is there any objection? There is.

Adoption—Same-sex Couples

2. MURRAY SMITH (United Future) to the Associate Minister of Justice: Is the Government intending to introduce legislation to allow same-sex couples to adopt children; if so, why?

Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE (Associate Minister of Justice): No, no change has been considered at this time.

Murray Smith: Is it the Minister’s view that those who adopt children should be in a stable relationship, and if so, does he believe that a civil union would be akin to marriage in that respect?

Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: I do believe that those applying to adopt children should be in stable and responsible relationships, but there are a number of inconsistencies in our current adoption law that do need to be addressed at some time.

Moana Mackey: Will the Civil Union Bill or the Relationships (Statutory References) Bill have an impact on who can adopt a child?

Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: No, the Civil Union Bill and the Relationships (Statutory References) Bill contain no references to, and therefore do not change, who is legally eligible to adopt a child.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: Is the Minister aware of the statement by Labour MP Georgina Beyer that she wants new laws to specifically recognise transgender people, and not just men and women, in New Zealand; and is that the next stage of social engineering that we can expect from this Labour Government?

Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: I am aware of my colleague’s statement. This Government, however, is not involved in social engineering. I would say, though, in regard to adoption that substantive reviews of New Zealand adoption laws were initiated, but discontinued, in 1979, 1987, 1988, and 1990. One day we may be able to address that issue responsibly.

Dail Jones: Is the Minister seriously trying to tell the House that in the event of the Civil Union Bill being passed, those parties—men and men, and women and women—will not rely on the new legislation to try to convince a court that their status has been approved by Parliament, and that that gives them a better opportunity to adopt children?

Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: Yes.

Murray Smith: Why has the Government not considered the issue of adoption, given the Government’s commitment to amend all remaining laws that cause unfair discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation or gender identity?

Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: Our predecessor in Government, National, did ask the Law Commission to do some work on this matter, and subsequently the Government Administration Committee has also addressed the issue. That work, however, is not on the Ministry of Justice’s 1904-05 work programme, and nor has it been considered by Cabinet.

Taxation—Reduction

3. Dr DON BRASH (Leader of the Opposition) to the Prime Minister: Can she confirm that she has refused to rule out tax cuts before the next election, as reported in the Press; if so, why?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK (Prime Minister): Yes; to eliminate any possibility of the flip-flops for which the member is becoming known.

Murray Smith: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. My question specifically asked the Minister why the Government was not going to amend the legislation. His answer simply was to restate that the Government was not planning to amend it.

Mr SPEAKER: Quite obviously the member has not been listening. We have now moved on to the next question, and the substantive answer has already been given. The member should be much more prompt than that.

Dr Don Brash: Can the Prime Minister tell the House why, when the Government accounts showed a surplus of almost $7.5 billion last year and are headed for a similar surplus this year, her Minister of Finance is using speeches to argue against the prospect of relief for New Zealand taxpayers?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: The member well knows that that is not a cash surplus. The member also well knows that this Government runs strong Budgets, not the sort of voodoo economics, borrow and hope, and tax slashing that the National Party stands for.

Peter Brown: How does the Prime Minister justify such a huge surplus and still wanting to increase tax on petrol by 5c come next April?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: The increases in petrol tax, of course, are designed to go to land transport provision, which is very important at this time.

Rodney Hide: Has she received any reports on what tax rate cuts should be given priority if there were to be any tax cuts; if not, why not?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: No, and nor do I intend to start writing the Budget during question time today.

Gordon Copeland: Does the Prime Minister recall signing off in 1999 a commitment that there would be no rise in income tax for the 95 percent of taxpayers earning under $60,000 a year; if so, will she ensure that that commitment is fulfilled by adjusting the income tax bands for inflation from $9,500 to $10,750, from $38,000 to $43,000, and from $60,000 to $68,000?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: Yes and no.

Dr Don Brash: If a $7.5 billion surplus is not enough to justify substantial tax relief, can the Prime Minister tell the House just how big a surplus her Government would need to run before New Zealand taxpayers could look forward to some tax relief?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: It is a matter of record that this year’s Budget provides very substantial targeted relief for 300,000 working families—the priority of this Government.

Gordon Copeland: Would the Prime Minister’s answer of “no” to the second part of my earlier question be changed if she was aware that in this House just a few weeks ago her Minister of Finance confirmed that if the tax brackets are not adjusted for inflation, tax is, in fact, being increased in real terms—which would be a breach of her 1999 commitment?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: The short answer to the second part of that question is that, no, it would not. But I point out to the member that tax cuts equal spending. When a Budget is drawn up, one works out what is the best area to spend in. This year’s Budget, which has implications for the next 2 years as well, clearly made the priority New Zealand’s 300,000 hard-working families with children. They are our priority.

Dr Don Brash: Can the Prime Minister recall suggesting that her Government would run a Budget surplus of 1 percent of GDP, and how, then, does she justify the surplus now approaching 5 percent of GDP?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: By the magnificent economic stewardship of this Government.

Gordon Copeland: I seek the leave of the House to table the Prime Minister’s 1999 commitment stating that there would be no tax increases for those earning under $60,000.

Leave granted.

Hon Richard Prebble: Is the Prime Minister willing to comment on the widely held belief that she is encouraging her coalition allies, the Progressives and United Future, to call for tax cuts, as this Government realises that it is simply not credible to ask for re-election with a surplus of $7.5 billion; and that there will be tax cuts next year—something that we all know is coming?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: Of course I am willing to comment in response to the member’s question. The suggestion that other support parties have been lined up to make certain suggestions has no substance.

Aged-care and Disability Services—Funding

4. SUE BRADFORD (Green) to the Associate Minister of Health: Does she accept that there is “evidence of chronic underfunding of the aged-care and disability sectors”, as reported by the Health Committee; if so, what is she doing about it?

Hon RUTH DYSON (Associate Minister of Health): Funding of the aged-care and disability sectors has been a longstanding issue. While this Government has injected extra funds into those areas, I accept that the issues are not yet resolved. However, I am committed to continuing to work with the sectors to see that they are resolved.

Sue Bradford: What more is the Minister doing than that in the light of The Salvation Army’s announcement last week it is pulling out of the sector, and given that there is an emergency community meeting taking place in Pahiatua tonight, where its charity-run 56-bed Waireka rest home faces imminent closure?

Hon RUTH DYSON: The Salvation Army announced on Monday, 29 November that it was selling 12 of its residential centres as going concerns, that the residents would not be moved, and that the provisions it is putting in place would mean that all those residents, and indeed future residents, can be confident of the quality of their care.

Steve Chadwick: What has been the rate of increase in Government funding in the aged-care and disability sectors over recent years, and how does that compare with previous years?

Hon RUTH DYSON: In the 4 years from June 2000 to June 2004, disability support services funding, which includes aged-care funding, increased by an average of $73.4 million a year. That is an average of $13.5 million more extra funding per year than was provided in the previous 4 years during the late 1990s.

Sandra Goudie: Why should people such as the Stephens, who are unable to get their son David the secure care that he needs, because of funding issues, or those people in the Hutt Valley who have had their respite-care hours slashed in half, have faith in this Minister to do anything for them when she has sat here on her hands for months while more problem occur?

Hon RUTH DYSON: Unless the member has some extraordinarily new information, David Stephens is satisfactorily housed to both his level of satisfaction and that of his parents.

Barbara Stewart: Does the Government intend to act upon the Health Committee’s recommendation that the aged-care workforce be compensated for travel expenses and travel time; if so, when will this take effect, and if not, why not?

Hon RUTH DYSON: We are still considering the recommendations of the select committee.

Judy Turner: What progress, if any, has the Government made to fulfil the Health Committee’s recommendation to ensure fully funded foundation skills training for sector caregivers, and what is the deadline for funding of this training?

Hon RUTH DYSON: The Government is still considering the recommendations of the select committee.

Sue Kedgley: Is the Minister aware that if travel time from job to job, and vehicle costs, are included, home-care workers get paid on average only $5.11 an hour, and why is a Labour Government allowing a situation to continue where about 20,000 mostly female workers are being paid significantly less than the adult minimum wage, and are effectively subsidising the cost of home-based care from their own meagre Third World wages?

Hon RUTH DYSON: Yes, I am aware of that information but only because surveys of the workforce were instigated under the Quality and Safety Project. Prior to that we had no such information.

Sue Bradford: What is the Minister’s response to the Fair Share for Aged Care joint union campaign that is being launched in Wellington today, and what steps will she be taking to ensure that issues like staff turnover of up to 80 percent and a great disparity between hospital and residential-care wages are met before the industry simply collapses altogether?

Hon RUTH DYSON: I welcome the input of unions, as I always have.

Sue Bradford: Is the Minister concerned that the increasing reluctance of the community sector to provide residential care will leave the industry solely in the hands of private sector companies, which in some cases are more interested in capital gains from property than in the welfare of residents and staff, and what is her Government doing to stop the wholesale privatisation of this sector?

Hon RUTH DYSON: No I am not, because I am confident that the standards that are required in the contract will ensure that regardless of the provider of the service, the appropriate level of care will be received by the residents.

Sandra Goudie: I seek leave to table a press release dated 1 December 2004, “Hutt Valley families feel the strain of care cuts.”

Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that press release. Is there any objection? There is.

Sandra Goudie: I seek leave to table “No place to turn for Kimberley resident”, a press release regarding David Stephens.

Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that. Is there any objection? There is.

Sandra Goudie: I seek leave to table a letter from Mr and Mrs Stephens to the Hon Ruth Dyson, expressing incredible concern about the placement of their son.

Leave granted.

Christchurch Polytechnic Institute of Technology—Enrolment Evaluation

5. Hon BILL ENGLISH (National—Clutha-Southland) to the Associate Minister of Education (Tertiary Education): Does he stand by his August statement regarding enrolments at Christchurch Polytechnic Institute of Technology that “the commission will now be evaluating those enrolments, and I hope we arrive at a situation where the polytechnic does pay more money back.”; if so, what progress has been made with that evaluation over the last four months?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY (Associate Minister of Education (Tertiary Education)): Yes, I do stand by my statement. The Christchurch Polytechnic Institute of Technology gave a clear, public commitment in August that it would work with the Tertiary Education Commission to undertake a robust evaluation of the learner experience with the COOL IT programme. But I am not happy with the lack of progress, and nor is the Tertiary Education Commission, which is making that clear to the institute. I expect action in the immediate future.

Hon Bill English: Why has the Minister repeatedly given Parliament the impression that the Government is evaluating up to 13,000 potentially bogus enrolments, whereas the Tertiary Education Commission wrote to the Christchurch polytech in August, stating: “The TEC understands there is no legal basis for a request to undertake such an evaluation.”, and “The TEC does not see this evaluation as a device for challenging past CPIT funding claims.”; and therefore why are officials saying there is no basis for having an evaluation and that they will not be asking for the money back, when the Minister is saying in Parliament that he is?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: As I have repeatedly said, there is an ethical question here. Public money must be accounted for properly. That means there needs to be an assurance that the enrolments at the Christchurch Polytechnic Institute of Technology that were publicly funded were funded properly and accounted for properly. To the extent that they were not, there is an obligation for that money to come back, and I am going to ensure that that is the course of action that takes place—immediately.

Helen Duncan: What measures have been taken to ensure the problems about accountability for public money that arose in relation to the Christchurch Polytechnic Institute of Technology’s online computing programme do not occur again?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: Funding for classification 5.1 has been capped. The rates have been cut. The Tertiary Education Commission has revised the funding guide —it was released on the website last week—to strengthen a number of requirements and make it clear that no inducements may be offered for publicly funded courses, regardless of the source of funding for those inducements. Providers now need to retain evidence of learner engagement, and the rules regarding early withdrawal from courses have been clarified. The Tertiary Education Commission has amended the equivalent full-time student calculation rate for the classification 5.1 courses comprised of self-directed learning, to ensure that clarity and maintaining consistency with other courses are transparent for all to see.

Hon Bill English: Why is it that when that $15 million scam has been publicly documented, when there has been 18 months of bad publicity, and when he has a $50 million bureaucracy in place to police the tertiary sector, he has been able to do precisely nothing; and when will he stop giving the impression of a chihuahua savaging a wet lettuce leaf?

Mr SPEAKER: Apart from the last comment, the rest of the question is in order.

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: I am happy the member thinks he is a wet lettuce leaf. That is what I think of him as too, so he is fairly accurate there. It is important that the member understands these are autonomous organisations that have to be given the opportunity to show they are responsible for public money. This organisation has failed. The waiting is over. When the member gets back to his office, he will find a press release that tells him exactly what is to happen.

Hon Bill English: Can the Minister assure the House, then, that he will be recovering most of the $15 million that the Government paid to Christchurch Polytechnic for a course that enrolled 18,000 people and that only 600 are known to have completed? Can he assure the House he will be getting money back?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: As I have told the member, this is an ethical matter. Public money is involved, and I will ensure that it is evaluated and accounted for.

Modern Apprenticeships—Implementation

6. NANAIA MAHUTA (Labour—Tainui) to the Associate Minister of Education (Tertiary Education): What recent reports has he received on the implementation of the Government’s Modern Apprenticeships programme?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY (Associate Minister of Education (Tertiary Education)): Today I am able to announce that the updated figures on the Modern Apprenticeships programme mean that we have reached a milestone of 7,000 Modern Apprentices. In September 2004 there were 7,088 Modern Apprentices, 500 more than our original target. That is an increase of 20 percent in the last year. Two industries—building and construction, and engineering—have reached the milestone of 1,000 apprentices in place each, and I compliment those industries.

Nanaia Mahuta: Can the Minister confirm whether women and Mâori and Pasifika peoples are well represented in the Modern Apprenticeships programme; if not, what steps is the Government taking to improve their under-representation?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: Yes, I can. Of the new apprentices, 14.3 percent are Mâori, and there are now just over a thousand young Mâori in the programme. Pacific Islanders’ enrolment in the Modern Apprenticeships programme has increased dramatically in the last quarter of last year, and there has been a 30 percent increase in the enrolment of women in the last year. In addition, there are three projects to be announced by the Tertiary Education Commission in the immediate future to address areas of under-representation in the Modern Apprenticeships programme in order to make sure everyone gets a fair share in that fantastic programme.

Taxation—Household Income After Tax

7. RODNEY HIDE (Leader—ACT) to the Minister of Finance: By how much has the average household income after tax increased in the 4 years since the 1999-2000 financial year, and what does this after-tax increase equate to when adjusted for inflation?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Minister of Finance): It is 10.1 percent, the same as the increase in the consumer price index, but Treasury noted that periods of high immigration and changes to household structure will tend to underestimate income growth. A more accurate measure is the average weekly wage, which increased by 14.2 percent over the period while, of course, employment also increased by 11 percent.

Rodney Hide: Can he confirm that Treasury’s figures show that the after-tax income for the average household increased by $4,975 since 1999 but that when allowing for inflation of 10.1 percent, that figure goes right down to zero so that the average household is no better off after tax in real terms than 4 years ago?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Treasury notes that in periods of high immigration and changes to household structure, this measure will tend to underestimate income growth. For example, in an elderly family, when one person dies, the household income falls. In a family with young people who are moving into tertiary education, if they stay home, household income goes up if they get a student allowance; if they leave home, the two new households have an average much lower income than previously.

John Key: Why is it fair that in the last 5 years the average Kiwi worker has seen his or her real after-tax income rise on a cumulative basis by around 4 percent when the real increase in the Crown income over the same period has been seven times greater than that, at around 24 percent?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: That is very fair because employment has increased by 11 percent, unemployment has dropped down to 3.8 percent, and health and education expenditure have increased by around 24 percent to 25 percent, which represents the social wage.

Gordon Copeland: Would the after-tax income of the average household be further increased if couples with dependent children were permitted to split their income for tax purposes, in line with United Future’s policy?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Yes, but the impact of that would be very differentiated, according to the nature of the household income. People on higher incomes would tend to gain a great deal more—particularly people in a household with one high income—than people in households with two low incomes, for example. What is more, the Budget Policy Statement will show the operating surplus falling back to roughly the level required to fund contributions to the New Zealand Superannuation Fund, without the gross debt to GDP ratio rising over the long term.

Rodney Hide: Can the Minister confirm that his own reworked figures from Treasury show that the average household is no better off in real terms after tax than it was 4 years ago, but that the same average household is having to contribute an extra $3,200 in real terms to the Government; or is it the case that he does not really care how households are getting along?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I think that the opinion polls confirm that this Government not only cares about these matters but that the public appreciates the nature of that caring. I can confirm that Treasury figures, based on a variety of different sources, suggest relatively low growth in real after-tax household income, but Treasury itself advises that immigration and changes in household structure mean that real growth has probably been higher than that.

Auckland Motorways—Congestion

8. Hon MARK GOSCHE (Labour—Maungakiekie) to the Minister of Transport: What is being done to ease congestion on Auckland’s motorways?

Hon PETE HODGSON (Minister of Transport): A lot—for example, tomorrow I will open stage one of a project to improve the city’s central motorway junction worth $56 million. Stage two, a $140 million – project, is already well under way and should be finished within 2 years.

Hon Mark Gosche: How does expenditure on Auckland’s State highways compare with that in previous years?

Hon PETE HODGSON: By next year, annual funding of State highways in Auckland will have nearly doubled since the change of Government, and annual expenditure on public transport will have trebled, with Transfund spending in Auckland being comfortably over $1 million a day. The dismal years of neglect under the flip-flop, gridlock National Party are now long gone.

Hon Maurice Williamson: Given that public-private partnerships were one of the most vaunted aspects of the Land Transport Management Act enacted over a year ago, can this Minister detail to the House just one example of a roading project that has been funded and/or owned, and/or operated by the private sector?

Hon PETE HODGSON: No, I cannot, but we are open for business.

Deborah Coddington: Why does the Government not ease Auckland’s motorway congestion by allowing Whenuapai airport to be a second commercial airport in Auckland; or is the Government delaying on that because it is putting the interests of its own airline, a major objector to the airport, ahead of the interests of the thousands of Aucklanders who are stuck on the motorways every day?

Hon PETE HODGSON: Current land transport analysis would suggest that the use of Whenuapai airport would neither help nor hinder land transport across the isthmus.

Jeanette Fitzsimons: Can the Minister confirm that school walking buses and school travel plans are more cost effective than large motorways as a means of reducing car trips—and, therefore, congestion—in Auckland; if so, what steps is he taking to promote them in the rest of the country?

Hon PETE HODGSON: I cannot reflect on cost effectiveness, given that motorways do not reduce car trips; they induce them. But I can say that school walking buses are an extremely effective way of reducing congestion, and they give school children a bit of physical education in a personally secure environment.

Victim Support—Restructuring

9. Hon TONY RYALL (National—Bay Of Plenty) to the Minister of Justice: What feedback has he received on the restructuring of Victim Support?

Hon PHIL GOFF (Minister of Justice): As an incorporated society and a non-governmental organisation, the New Zealand Council of Victim Support Groups determines its own constitutional and organisational structure. I am advised, however, that the internal changes being made by that organisation are supported by the vast majority, but not all, of its member organisations.

Hon Tony Ryall: Is the Minister prepared to stand by while large numbers of long-time volunteers in places like North Shore, west Auckland, and Christchurch depart, and what impact will that have on the services to victims in those areas?

Hon PHIL GOFF: I find it curious that a member of this House would want me to involve myself in the internal affairs of an incorporated society. The member has made an allegation that indicates that not all the groups affiliated to Victim Support approve of the restructuring. However, I am informed that it was carried out constitutionally and by an overwhelming vote of the members of that organisation.

Tim Barnett: What services does Victim Support provide in return for partial Government funding of the organisation?

Hon PHIL GOFF: Victim Support provides an incredibly important support service for victims on a 24-hour-a-day, 7-day-a-week basis. It works closely with the victims of crime. It visits victims and provides advocacy, information, support, and counselling. For that we pay a little over half of its funding, with the remainder of its funding derived from corporate support and the organisation’s own fund-raising efforts.

Hon Tony Ryall: Is the Minister convinced that his decision to allow money that is voted for Victim Support to be spent on new managers will provide better services for victims, and how will he know whether that occurs?

Hon PHIL GOFF: I will answer the last question first. We will know whether that occurs because there is ongoing evaluation of the value for money that the Government gets from Victim Support, as there is with any organisation it funds. The first part of the question relates to the professionalisation of the organisation. I am aware that Victim Support previously operated through 70 different local groups. That was a somewhat unwieldy structure and it has now been reduced to 14, which represents the number of police districts in the country. We will be closely evaluating the success of that in terms of the funding that we provide to the organisation.

Tauranga Harbour Link Project—Tolls

10. PETER BROWN (Deputy Leader—NZ First) to the Minister of Transport: What issues, if any, will be presented to the people of Tauranga for consultation with regard to any potential tolling of the Tauranga Harbour link project, and what is the expected time frame for any such consultation?

Hon PETE HODGSON (Minister of Transport): The Tauranga City Council would lead such a consultation process in partnership with Transit, so I suggest the member directs the question to the council. However, I understand that consultation may well start before Christmas and run through into March of next year.

Peter Brown: Will the Minister ensure that the consultation process informs the people of Tauranga exactly what any toll of the harbour link project will cover—that is, whether it will cover the total infrastructure, which is estimated at $190 million, or just the local road component, which is the bridge, and which is estimated at $30 million? Will he ensure that the consultation process clarifies those issues?

Hon PETE HODGSON: No. It is not my job to ensure that the consultation process starts off properly. It is my job to ensure that when the consultation process results are presented to me, I am satisfied that it was up to scratch.

Hon Tony Ryall: If the entry on to the harbour bridge is a State highway, and the exit from the bridge is a State highway, why is the bridge not a State highway?

Hon PETE HODGSON: Again, the question is best directed to those responsible for designations—in this case, Transit. However—

Hon Tony Ryall: You’re the Minister.

Mr SPEAKER: Let the Minister at least finish his answer.

Hon PETE HODGSON: I will just say that I am not legally entitled to make such a designation, but I will go on and say to the member that it is also the case that the designation does not influence the likelihood that the bridge would be built sooner with tolling and later without.

Hon Ken Shirley: Has the Minister received any submission whatsoever from the member for Tauranga on the Tauranga Harbour link project; if so, was that submission in support of the toll proposal, opposed to the toll proposal, or not clear?

Hon PETE HODGSON: Yes, I have. On the other hand, I have not received a submission from the member who asked the question.

Hon Ken Shirley: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. My question was very clear and very specific. I asked whether the Minister has received a submission from the member for Tauranga and whether it was in support of, or opposed to, the toll proposal. The Minister made no attempt whatsoever to answer that question.

Mr SPEAKER: He started off by saying “Yes”, which I think is certainly an answer.

Larry Baldock: Can the Minister assure the House and the good people of Tauranga that if the consultation process were as shallow and as flawed as the original questioner has suggested, when it came to the Minister giving his approval he would see that that issue was addressed properly?

Hon PETE HODGSON: The member is absolutely correct. I am responsible under the Land Transport Management Act for ensuring, prior to recommending approval of any tolling project, that the project meets the objectives of the Act and that it has a high level of public support.

Teaching—Information and Communication Technology

11. LYNNE PILLAY (Labour—Waitakere) to the Minister of Education: What steps is he taking to improve the use of information communication technology in teaching?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD (Minister of Education): Through Project Probe, we are investing $48 million to ensure that every school has access to broadband Internet, which is something that is appreciated, I think, even more in some of the rural constituencies—a few held by the National Party—than in the cities. Over 23,000 teachers have now picked up the offer to have laptops. We have 83 clusters of schools in the latest round of clustering for professional development. All this money comes in the group that Bill English says will be abolished.

Lynne Pillay: Why is improved use of information and communications technology important?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: Research is showing that information and communications technology has tremendous potential to improve teaching and learning outcomes. Getting it into rural areas, into rural communities, also makes those communities more secure, and makes it more likely that people will want to stay in them.

Hon Bill English: Is the Minister not aware that schools, which are selling raffle tickets to pay for teachers, are becoming more and more concerned that the ministry does not administer properly the hundreds of millions of dollars in education expenditure for which it is responsible?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: I accept that some schools choose to use the flexibility given to them by this Government to use locally raised funds and operational funding to improve the ratios—over and above the 2,500 extra teachers; over and above roll growth—that this Government has put in. Of course, the National Party opposed that.

Jim Peters: When will the Ministry of Education’s Project Probe, despite what the Minister has said, really demonstrate region by region online learning, skill development, and school collaboration, as the Minister has just stated, which were all objectives stated in each of the last 3 funding years?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: The member might have noticed that Project Probe is already making considerable inroads into schools around the country. I might say that some of the things he has described also relate to the need to have high-quality principals, which is something there has been some progress on in Northland in the last 3 years.

Hon Brian Donnelly: Is the Minister aware that a rural school with a roll of approximately 380 that is currently paying $500 per annum for a dial-up modem connection will have to pay $8,000 to $9,000 per annum for the full SchoolZone package, which schools should have for the maximum benefit, and what is he doing to make up the consequential shortfalls in their budgets?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: I think that the assumptions in the member’s question are slightly out of date. They might have been true. Relying on some principals who want to have a system designed for Rangitoto College in a very small school is not necessarily appropriate.

Contaminated Sites—National Fund, and Register

12. SUE KEDGLEY (Green) to the Minister for the Environment: Will she be heeding the call of the Sustainability Council for a greatly expanded national fund to pay for the clean-up of historic contaminated sites, as well as a national register of sites and definitions of standards; if not, why not?

Hon MARIAN HOBBS (Minister for the Environment): We are already working towards putting standards in place, local government holds registers of contaminated sites, and we will continue to review the adequacy of the Contaminated Sites Remediation Fund.

Sue Kedgley: Does she accept the Ministry for the Environment’s estimate that the clean-up of historic contaminated sites around New Zealand will cost around $1 billion, and does she accept that the present annual allocation of only $2 million a year is not only woefully inadequate, but will take, at this rate, about 500 years to clean up?

Hon MARIAN HOBBS: No, I do not accept the ministry’s estimate made in 1992 and 1995.

David Parker: How has the Government demonstrated its commitment to dealing with contaminated sites?

Hon MARIAN HOBBS: We have funded 13 projects to identify and remediate contaminated sites, including $10 million to clean up Mâpua and the Tui mine sites, but the potential risks are not so threatening that the clean-up on all sites has to start tomorrow. I agree with what Jeanette Fitzsimons said when we allocated money towards contaminated sites in 2002: “Both the Green Party and the Government are passionate about starting the hard work on contaminated sites. This Budget project will not clean up all our problem sites, but it will get us underway.”

Peter Brown: Will the Minister be precise: how much will it cost, when will it be started, and when will it finish?

Hon MARIAN HOBBS: The cost is not known, because the amount is not known. The work has started. That is the work being done by local government with support from the Ministry for the Environment.

Hon Ken Shirley: Is the Minister aware and concerned that the alleged copper contamination of residential properties in Auckland and elsewhere is based on concentrations that are regarded as safe and natural background levels elsewhere in the world, particularly with volcanic soils; and what, if anything, is she doing to defuse the emotive nonsense without committing the taxpayer and the ratepayer to massive unnecessary costs?

Hon MARIAN HOBBS: I am very well aware that copper used at certain levels can be nasty and it can persist in the environment, particularly when it is used, for instance, as an organic fungicide. But as such, I am not aware necessarily of the international controls on it. Our Hazardous Substances and New Organisms Act works in detail with the international organisations on this and other issues.

Sue Kedgley: Does the Government accept that companies like Dow Chemical should be held accountable for any toxic legacy that they create, and when will the Government hold Dow Chemical to account for poisoning some of the people of Paritutu and the environment?

Hon MARIAN HOBBS: I cannot comment on whether the Government would hold Dow Chemical to account, and I do not believe that such financial barriers as Simon Terry proposes are the way to go to prevent chemical mistakes or disasters in the future. It is far better to do that by regulation, advice, and education than by putting up a financial barrier to any development.

Sue Kedgley: Does the Government agree, given its repeated support for the “polluter pays” principle in international organisations, that if companies like Dow Chemical are not held to account, and required to pay for the pollution they create, they will simply carry on polluting our land and our people, and expecting taxpayers to foot the bill?

Hon MARIAN HOBBS: There is always a problem when people like Simon Terry and the Green Party ask for a “polluter pays” system based on a hazardous substance. Petrol is a potentially hazardous substance, and I believe that what the member is therefore asking for is a rise in the cost of petrol. My mother put chemicals on the roses. I do not think that putting a price or a liability on my mother for what she did to the roses would have prevented what she continues doing.

Sue Kedgley: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. It was interesting to hear about the roses of the Minister’s mother, but my question was whether she agreed that if companies like Dow Chemical—I was very specific—are not held to account they will continue to pollute our environment.

Mr SPEAKER: No, the Minister did address that question.

( Uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing. For corrected transcripts, please visit: http://www.clerk.parliament.govt.nz/hansard )

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