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Questions & Answers for Oral Answer 9 December '04

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

Thursday, 9 December 2004
Questions for Oral Answer
Questions to Ministers

1. China—OECD Seminar on Raising Labour Standards
2. Trade and Enterprise—Grant Recovery
3. Holidays Act—Implementation
4. Taxation—Increases in Household Total Tax
5. Whakaaratamaiti Marae—Lottery Grants Board Funding
6. Christchurch Polytechnic Institute of Technology—Confidence
7. Prisons—Capacity
8. Immigration, Minister—Confidence
9. Water Quality—Government Initiatives
10. Job Skills Courses—Course Content
11. Waterways—Eradication of Introduced Fish Species
12. Smoking—Ban in Bars


Questions for Oral Answer

Questions to Ministers

China—OECD Seminar on Raising Labour Standards

1. ROD DONALD (Co-Leader—Green) to the Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade: What explanation, if any, has he received from the Chinese Government as to why it postponed an OECD seminar on raising labour standards in China and stopped CTU president Ross Wilson visiting China to talk with Chinese union leaders?

Hon PHIL GOFF (Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade): I have seen a number of explanations, which seem to focus on logistical problems, that China has advanced for postponing the planned OECD seminar, which is actually on socially responsible investment, not labour standards. I am told that the visas were issued for the purpose of attending the seminar, and were cancelled when the seminar was postponed, but that Mr Wilson would be welcome to apply for another visa should he wish to go to China for any other reason.

Rod Donald: Does he agree with Ross Wilson that the actions taken by the Chinese Government raise serious questions as to whether it was willing even to discuss labour standards, and does it not appear that the position of the Chinese Government is that there should be no constraints on or standards for any company operating in China, those being two points that Mr Wilson made in his press release about his visa being revoked?

Hon PHIL GOFF: Given that the seminar is not cancelled but postponed, one assumes that all the issues that were on the agenda for the meeting in December will now be on the agenda for whenever the meeting may take place early next year. In terms of labour standards, for example, I am aware that in the joint study New Zealand entered into on the free-trade agreement with China, both sides acknowledge the importance of the International Labour Organization Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work, and the basic rights and principles underlying it.

Luamanuvao Winnie Laban: Is it the Government’s policy to promote labour standards when negotiating trade agreements?

Hon PHIL GOFF: Yes, under the Labour-led Government this country has sought to promote and improve labour standards in all of our recent trade negotiations. Arrangements on labour, and for that matter on the environment, have been negotiated, for example, as part of the closer economic partnership with Thailand. That includes undertakings on both sides to ensure that labour and environmental practices are in accord with international obligations, such as those set out by the International Labour Organization.

Dr the Hon Lockwood Smith: Why, in addressing the inaugural China trade awards last night, did the Prime Minister mention every issue surrounding the free-trade agreement being negotiated in Beijing this week—that is, every issue except labour standards and human rights issues—and was her reason for ignoring them in her speech last night that Labour faces particular problems with its union supporters over those issues?

Hon PHIL GOFF: I was not at the awards, so I cannot say what the Prime Minister did or did not mention in her speech. But what I can say is that everybody in this country understands that this Labour-led Government puts a high priority on labour and environmental standards. That is why they are always part of the negotiations we have on closer economic partnerships and free-trade agreements.

Dail Jones: Why should any New Zealand worker or employer have any faith in this minority Labour Government’s ability to negotiate decent labour standards for New Zealand workers during the course of a free-trade agreement discussion and arrangement with China, when the president of the New Zealand of Council Trade Unions has been barred from entering China for very obvious reasons?

Hon PHIL GOFF: As I explained to the House before, the withdrawal of visas was general, not specific to Mr Wilson. The visas were withdrawn from all of those intending to go to the seminar, given the fact that the seminar was postponed. As to the first question—why workers would have confidence in this Government—the Minister of Labour could rattle off a whole series of bills, most of them opposed by the New Zealand First Party and the National Party, that have improved labour standards in New Zealand. That is why they would have confidence.

Hon Ken Shirley: How is it that Mr Ross Wilson, who was too far left to be granted access to Communist China, apparently had free access to the Government lobby under this Government’s administration—to the point where he was recently reprimanded for being invited into the Government lobby of this House?

Hon PHIL GOFF: I am sure that if the Chinese Government knew Ross Wilson as well as we on the Government side of the House know him, it would be more than happy to invite him anywhere on any occasion.

Mr SPEAKER: There was too much comment made while that last question was being asked. Members may comment while answers are given, but not while questions are being asked.

Rod Donald: Exactly what assurances has he received from the Chinese Government that trade unionists such as Ross Wilson will be able to have free and frank discussions with their Chinese counterparts if they ever get to visit China, given that China refuses to ratify the ILO Convention 87 on Freedom of Association?

Hon PHIL GOFF: New Zealand clearly does have different labour standards and principles, including the principles of free association, when compared with China. Part of the dialogue we have with the Chinese Government is, of course, on promoting those principles of free association and free discussion.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Why has the Minister no memory of New Zealand First, for a start, supporting the minimum pay rates, 4 weeks’ holiday, and the raising of redundancy as a priority, to name just three—

Hon Richard Prebble: This is irrelevant.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: No, the member is irrelevant, and always has been.

Mr SPEAKER: That member will leave the Chamber. I gave a warning. That person will now leave the Chamber.

Hon Richard Prebble withdrew from the Chamber.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Has the Minister any memory of New Zealand First supporting, for example, the minimum pay rates, 4 weeks’ holiday, and the raising of redundancy as a priority with respect to contracts, and having regard to that, how is it that he has no sense of conscience that a New Zealand worker can be supplanted by 18 Chinese workers for a lesser pay rate in total?

Hon PHIL GOFF: If I do not have any memory of the New Zealand First Party supporting those pieces of legislation, perhaps it was that I was overwhelmed by the memory of the New Zealand First Party supporting the National Party in Government when it enacted anti-worker legislation. With regard to—

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. That is, again, a nonsense. It is not correct. There never was a National Government from 1996 on; after that time it was a coalition. The Minister should be brought to order or told to leave the House.

Mr SPEAKER: I often wonder, if the honourable gentleman was Speaker, whether he would then be able to confront some of the difficulties of his own questions and requests. As far as the Minister is concerned, he was not answering the question. I now suggest that he come to the actual question concerned.

Hon PHIL GOFF: Having addressed the first part of the question, I shall now address the second part. This is not about Chinese workers supplanting New Zealand workers. The free-trade agreement study with the Chinese indicates that the agreement will increase the level of trade with China by between $260 million and $400 million a year for 20 years. That is necessary to create literally tens of thousands of jobs. New Zealanders will benefit from that. That is why we are entertaining such an agreement.

Keith Locke: Which is the real Government policy towards repressive regimes: the policy outlined by Michael Cullen last week, which was essentially that more intimate and closer relations will help progressive forces to achieve democracy, or the traditional position of Helen Clark that it was a combination of economic and political pressures that brought about the downfall of the apartheid regime in South Africa?

Hon PHIL GOFF: The member is working from the exception and trying to make that the norm. Yes, Labour certainly had sanctions on apartheid South Africa. That was supported by the United Nations General Assembly, had overwhelming support around the world and had the effect that was intended. We do not have a policy of general sanctions against countries with policies that we may disagree with in a number of fields. If we had that policy, of course, we would be trading with very few countries.

Peter Brown: Noting those earlier answers, will the Minister tell us how the negotiations are going, in terms of New Zealand getting a proportionate share of the shipping that will bring all that trade back and forth between China and New Zealand, or is the Government a total supporter of slave labour doing the job?

Hon PHIL GOFF: It is very hard to report progress on any particular aspects, since I think the negotiations started today. But no, this Government is in support of all the ILO standards. We have consistently promoted those in relation to what we do internally, and also in the agreements that we try to reach with other countries on trading matters.

Rod Donald: Why is the Labour Government negotiating a preferential trade deal with a country that refuses to ratify core ILO standards, such as the freedom to organise and the abolition of child labour, slave labour, and prison labour, a country that has invaded Tibet and persecutes its people, and a country that kills people who speak up for democracy—or does the Government have no bottom line?

Hon PHIL GOFF: This Government has consistently addressed the sorts of concerns that the member has mentioned, in respect of the whole range of countries with which it has relationships. It has never said that we have to agree with what countries do, in order to be able to trade with them. For example, if we were to stop trading with the country under discussion, China, which is our fourth-largest trading partner, that would have massive implications for employment, for revenue, and for social standards in this country, and that member would be the first one in the House to condemn us.

Trade and Enterprise—Grant Recovery

2. GERRY BROWNLEE (Deputy Leader—National) to the Minister for Industry and Regional Development: Does he intend to recover some of the $47 million handed out in grants by New Zealand Trade and Enterprise where those grants have been shown to be in breach of the Cabinet guidelines; if not, why not?

Hon JIM ANDERTON (Minister for Industry and Regional Development): In the style of the Tui advertisements, I am inclined to say: “Yeah, right!” but, in the Christmas spirit, I will address the question. As Minister for Industry and Regional Development I do not believe that money should be recovered that was received in good faith by hard-working companies that did not, themselves, break any rules or criteria for assistance. In terms of the process, however, the Office of the Controller and Auditor-General has recommended that in considering what action should be taken, with regard to a grant for which the documentation has not been adequately kept, or there is some disagreement about the interpretation of Cabinet guidelines, the following issues should be taken into account: the substantiveness of any breach; whether the application was made and the grant received in good faith; following approval by New Zealand Trade and Enterprise, whether the recipient may have incurred costs, based upon the assumption that the application met the required criteria.

Mr SPEAKER: If the Minister wanted to give a longer answer, he should have asked me previously and I could have advised the House. That answer was too long. All other answers are to be very brief.

Gerry Brownlee: Is the Minister telling the House that his Government is so awash with cash, taxed out of the pockets of hard-working and enterprising New Zealanders, that he considers the flawed spending of some $20 million as a trifling issue that requires no action whatsoever?

Hon JIM ANDERTON: No, the Government is telling the House what businesses and regional agencies all over the country are telling the Government, and I quote from a regional economic development agency this morning: “It is all positive, and this support for business is part of the reason the New Zealand economy is going so well.”

Hon Matt Robson: Did the Auditor-General find any instances where money for grants given out by New Zealand Trade and Enterprise could not be accounted for?

Hon JIM ANDERTON: No, absolutely not.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: If this economy is going so well, why are we facing the worst balance of payments deficit in this country’s history?

Hon JIM ANDERTON: I think the Minister of Finance would say—and we would support him—firstly, that the economy is going so well, which is why it is growing so rapidly, and, secondly, that a good part of what we now owe overseas is used for productive capital investment and not for paying for the groceries.

Jill Pettis: Did the Auditor-General find any suggestions of misappropriation or deliberate undermining of Government policies in New Zealand Trade and Enterprise staff in handling grants and grant applications?

Hon JIM ANDERTON: Again, no, absolutely not.

Rodney Hide: Has the Minister been asked by the Prime Minister to provide an explanation to Cabinet about how his department breached Cabinet guidelines in spending taxpayers’ money, and will he be providing an explanation to his Cabinet colleagues about how his department breached Cabinet guidelines and kept no paperwork to determine whether in fact, in many instances, the guidelines were adhered to; if not, why not?

Mr SPEAKER: There were three questions there. The Minister may answer two.

Hon JIM ANDERTON: My ministry is the Ministry of Economic Development. It is not in any way associated with the Auditor-General’s report in terms of these grants and the administration of them. But New Zealand Trade and Enterprise is a Government agency, and it is that agency that the Auditor-General has audited. I have, of course, kept my Cabinet colleagues informed, and they know that this agency is dedicated to growing the New Zealand economy and to the well-being of New Zealanders. It has been extraordinarily successful. I would challenge anyone in the Opposition who wants to go into the next election saying that he or she will abandon economic development policies, regional development policies, and the agencies we have created to do that job.

Rodney Hide: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I accept that my “if not, why not” may have been a third question, but the specific question was whether the Minister had been asked for a “please explain” from the Prime Minister. Nowhere in his answer did he answer that. Is that the assumption that he has been asked to explain?

Mr SPEAKER: The member asked three questions and the Minister addressed at least two of them. If the member wants only one questioned answered, then he should ask only one question.

Gerry Brownlee: Does he think it appropriate that New Zealand taxpayers should have been expected to stump up with $2,617 for two people to stay at the Tongariro Lodge and fish for 2 days; if so, what was the direct benefit to the New Zealand economy of that, apart from the expenditure itself?

Hon JIM ANDERTON: Mr Brownlee is about a year behind the times. That was actually Brunswick Corporation, and it was looked at very carefully about a year ago. Nevertheless, the reality is that that corporation is one of the largest in the world. It came in a joint venture with Navman New Zealand Ltd, invested $100 million in New Zealand, created hundreds of jobs, and connected Navman to world global markets that will assist the development of our economy in a way that National-led Governments only dreamt of—or not even that.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: What hypocritical double standards apply where $85 of expenditure on underpants is to be regarded as revolting and sleaze, yet tens of billions of dollars being robbed from the taxpayer under this Minister’s tutelage is OK?

Hon JIM ANDERTON: I know of no evidence, or even accusation, that tens of millions of dollars from the taxpayer have been in any way misappropriated. This is about a process, about documentation. It is not about the effectiveness of the programmes or their objectives, or the results they are achieving for the New Zealand economy.

Gerry Brownlee: If Brunswick Corporation had $100 million to invest in New Zealand as the Government indicated in a previous answer, what on earth was the taxpayer doing paying for accommodation and holiday expenses?

Hon JIM ANDERTON: If the member had had any semblance of connection with business development in his whole lifetime, he would know that businesses invest money in order to gain development opportunities, and that is what this Government has done. In fact, it is working very, very well. That is why the member is on that side of the House and is likely to stay there for the foreseeable future.

Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Are you going to accept that as addressing the question?

Mr SPEAKER: Yes.

Gerry Brownlee: Point of order—

Mr SPEAKER: I am, and the member is not going to dispute my ruling.

Gerry Brownlee: Mr Speaker, the Standing Orders do point out the specifics of how a question should be answered. For the Minister to stand and in some sort of lecturing manner suggest that we need to subscribe totally to his view of how business should be done in this country is, I think, unacceptable. It was a simple question. He told us this outfit had $100 million to invest here. We just want to know why it is that the taxpayer had to pay their accommodation.

Mr SPEAKER: It was a simple question. The Minister gave a relatively complicated answer. That is not out of order.

Rodney Hide: Has the Minister been asked by the Prime Minister to explain how it was that New Zealand Trade and Enterprise came to be spending taxpayers’ money in breach of Cabinet guidelines, with it being unable to be determined as to whether it was within or outside of Cabinet guidelines, and will he be doing so?

Hon JIM ANDERTON: The direct answer is no, but the indirect answer in brief is that this Government works on the basis of consultation and full disclosure at all times and no surprises. I have always briefed the Prime Minister, and I did so on this occasion, about the Auditor-General’s report.

Gerry Brownlee: Why does New Zealand Trade and Enterprise not monitor the success of grants beyond 12 months, and what confidence can taxpayers have that their money is being well spent when New Zealand Trade and Enterprise does not even know whether the companies that receive the grants succeeded or failed?

Hon JIM ANDERTON: New Zealand Trade and Enterprise in cooperation with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade and the Ministry of Economic Development has a full evaluation and monitoring programme in place for the effectiveness of these grants. The Auditor-General’s report deals with process; it does not deal with effectiveness. I would have thought that Opposition members in the House would have been interested in the effectiveness of these, not in whether every “i” was dotted and every “t” was crossed.

Holidays Act—Implementation

3. Hon MARK GOSCHE (Labour—Maungakiekie) to the Minister of Labour: Has he received any reports on the implementation of the Holidays Act 2003?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Leader of the House), on behalf of the Minister of Labour: Yes, he has seen reports that the Act is shambolic and that a fourth week of annual leave is “a massive cost to New Zealand employers and workers”. Those comments were made by Don Brash 3½ months ago. Dr Brash also committed National to repealing the Act “once we are in office”.

Hon Mark Gosche: Has the Minister seen any further reports on the Act?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Yes, because he has to keep up with these things almost day by day. The Minister has now seen reports stating that Dr Brash supports keeping the entitlement to a fourth week of leave. As we approach the summer recess, it is clear that National is in a state of free-falling flip-flop flap.

Dr Wayne Mapp: Why does the Government not allow workers to freely negotiate with employers to either work the fourth week—[Interruption]

Mr SPEAKER: I am not ever going to have anyone in the gallery, at any stage, participating in the proceedings of this House.

Gerry Brownlee: It was him—David Benson-Pope.

Mr SPEAKER: Was the member displaying a sign during the asking of a question? Was the member doing that? He will leave the Chamber.

Hon David Benson-Pope withdrew from the Chamber.

Dr Wayne Mapp: I will start again. Why does the Government not allow workers to freely negotiate to either work the fourth week or take it as leave, given that the entire cost of the additional fourth week will be reflected in lower wages than otherwise would be the case?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: For exactly the same reason. Throughout history there has always been a need for statutory minima, because the member’s notion of what is freely negotiated often does not apply to some workers.

Gerrard Eckhoff: Can the Minister confirm that the estimated cost to the health sector alone is $18 million to $20 million; and what is the total cost to the public sector of the Holidays Act?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: A variety of estimates has been used, and, in fact, there is no reliable estimate at this stage in terms of the health sector.

Deborah Coddington: In respect of a small business, who does the Minister think will end up paying for that extra week, and what is his estimate of the cost to small businesses in New Zealand?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: At the end of the day, the cost of any change such as this is spread across the entire economy, not in the particular area where it falls.

Taxation—Increases in Household Total Tax

4. RODNEY HIDE (Leader—ACT) to the Minister of Finance: What has been the dollar increase in total tax, including indirect taxes, paid by the average household in the 4 years since the 1999-2000 financial year, and what does this increase equate to when adjusted for inflation?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Minister of Finance): Subject to the quite large technical difficulties of working out what private households pay as opposed to anybody else, the average tax, including GST, has increased by $5,200. The increase after inflation is $2,910.

Rodney Hide: Following the Minister’s answer to oral question No. 7 on Tuesday, 7 December, can he confirm that that means the average household has in real terms, after direct tax, become no better off in the last 4 years, yet the same household is in real terms paying an extra $3,200 to the Government?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: The numbers the member has just given are different from the numbers that I just gave. But, no, I cannot confirm that, because the social wage has also increased and spending on health and education has risen faster than general income growth. [Interruption]

Mr SPEAKER: There will be no further warnings. I tell whips to control their members.

John Key: Does the Minister think he is treating the New Zealand public even-handedly when on the one hand he is prepared to come into the House and pass legislation to index petrol taxes, but on the other hand he is not prepared to index income-tax bands; and, is that just a case of what is good for the goose is somehow not good for the gander?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: It is probably the wrong week to be dealing with issues of gender identity in that particular respect. The difficulty with non-indexation of the petrol excise duty is that it declines in real terms, whereas demand for roading increases.

Gordon Copeland: Why does the Minister risk giving the impression that he likes being the beneficiary of inflation by refusing to adjust the tax brackets for movements in the cost of living, when that is what UK Chancellor Gordon Brown has done; and might we see some change of heart any time soon?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: My good friend Mr Gordon Brown certainly has done that, but he has also significantly increased the tax take as a proportion of GDP by a variety of other measures, which I have not.

Whakaaratamaiti Marae—Lottery Grants Board Funding

5. TARIANA TURIA (Leader—Mâori Party) to the Minister of Internal Affairs: What evidence does the Department of Internal Affairs have of reported allegations that Lottery Grants Board funding given to Whakaaratamaiti Marae has been misspent, given that it has begun an investigation?

Hon GEORGE HAWKINS (Minister of Internal Affairs): The Department of Internal Affairs has investigated the allegations and has laid a complaint with police.

Tariana Turia: Was the Lottery Grants Board notified of the concerns that the department had about its funding of the marae, and was it notified that an investigation was in progress; if not, why not?

Hon GEORGE HAWKINS: When the Department of Internal Affairs learnt of allegations, it started to investigate them. It has now passed that information on to the police so that the allegations can be fully investigated.

Tariana Turia: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The Minister did not answer my question.

Mr SPEAKER: Yes, he did. He addressed it. The member may have another supplementary.

Tariana Turia: Can the Minister inform the House why Mike Jarvis, a senior investigator with the Department of Internal Affairs, is conducting this investigation through the media and discussing these allegations with the police when the investigations have not been completed, and why is he being allowed to deviate from the usual procedures required for investigations?

Hon GEORGE HAWKINS: The media asked whether there was an investigation. The department investigated, and has handed the information over to the police. What the media do is not part of the responsibility of the Department of Internal Affairs.

Christchurch Polytechnic Institute of Technology—Confidence

6. Hon BILL ENGLISH (National—Clutha-Southland) to the Associate Minister of Education (Tertiary Education): What confidence does he have in the council and chief executive of Christchurch Polytechnic Institute of Technology?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY (Associate Minister of Education (Tertiary Education)): I have an expectation that councils of tertiary educational institutions operate prudently and in the public interest. My confidence in this council will depend very much upon its cooperation with the Tertiary Education Commission to demonstrate the amount of learner engagement in the online computing programme, and its ability to restore the public reputation of the institution. Confidence in the chief executive is a matter for the council. I would expect that in assessing the performance of the chief executive the council would take into account a range of aspects of his management of the academic and administrative affairs of the institution.

Hon Bill English: What action does the Minister propose to take in the light of public statements made by the chief executive on behalf of the Christchurch Polytechnic Institute of Technology that the institution believes that the Government’s proposal to withhold money is not lawful, and that it intends to legally contest the Minister’s actions?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: Of course, in the process of answering questions in this House it is not in my competence within the Standing Orders to give legal opinions, but I understand that letters have been exchanged between the Tertiary Education Commission and the institution, as the member would probably have expected. My understanding is that the commission stands by its decision and intends to have the courses evaluated.

Lynne Pillay: Does the Minister have the power to terminate the appointment of council members?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: No. The Minister appoints only four members of a full council of between 12 and 20 members. The Minister has no power to terminate the appointment of any council member, including the ministerial appointees. I would note that the power to terminate the appointment of ministerial appointees was only ever proposed in the tertiary white paper of November 1998. I can imagine the views of the tertiary sector if Mr English intends to revive that proposal.

Hon Bill English: How can the Minister have confidence in an organisation that continues to employ Ms Vicki Buck, whose private company received $5.5 million for the COOL IT programme, after she has made public statements that as a shareholder in that company she expects a dividend from it, which would represent private gain from the holding of public office?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: The member will be aware that his own efforts to have the Auditor-General inquire into that matter, and the efforts of the Christchurch Polytechnic Institute of Technology, resulted in a report, which he has already discussed. We have asked and answered questions back and forth across the House on that matter. In relation to confidence in the organisation, I answered that question fully in the first answer.

Hon Bill English: Can the Minister advise the House under which legislation he intends to withhold funding from the tertiary institution for legitimate courses that have been fully certified and supported by the Government; and does this precedent mean that he will start withholding funding from any tertiary institution when he does not like what it does?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: No, I do not intend to take the member’s advice—to sit at my desk and run the tertiary system as he says he will. Can I advise the member—

Hon Bill English: Answer the question.

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: I answered the second part of the question, and if the member will be quiet I will answer the first part now. It is normal business practice in both the public and private sectors, where a funder does not have cooperation from a recipient of funds, to offset a disputed amount against a subsequent payment. The commission’s monthly payments to institutions regularly include what is called a wash-up—both negative and positive—to reflect overs and unders that occur in the normal operational relationship between the two parties. What we are saying here is that the commission is operating in a perfectly reasonable and normal manner, and will continue to do so.

Prisons—Capacity

7. MAHARA OKEROA (Labour—Te Tai Tonga) to the Minister of Corrections: What steps have been taken to increase the capacity of the prison system to cater for increasing numbers?

Hon PHIL GOFF (Acting Minister of Corrections): I have announced this week the addition of a further 240 prison beds in Wanganui, Christchurch and Rimutaka. Those are on top of 213 new prison beds announced last month, bringing a total of 453 extra beds to be available by 2006. Four new prisons are also on track to open over the next 3 years, increasing capacity by a further 1,500 beds.

Mahara Okeroa: Why has there been increased demand for prison capacity, when police statistics show a reduction of 18 percent in the crime rate since it peaked under the National Government?

Hon PHIL GOFF: That is a good question, because crime is down 18 percent from its peak under the National Government.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: Oh!

Hon PHIL GOFF: The member might not believe that, but he has to believe the Commissioner of Police, who produces those statistics. There are two reasons why there has been increasing demand. The first is that, in line with the 92 percent support for the referendum measures on crime in 1999, this Government has delivered on its undertaking to have tougher laws on bail, parole, and sentencing. These figures are proof of that. Secondly, the police are better resourced than before. They have massively increased their crime resolution rate, and, as those people are apprehended and convicted, they find their way into the prison system if they are serious and recidivist offenders.

Richard Worth: Does the Minister of Corrections agree with the view of the Public Service Association’s national organiser that “Salaries continue to be a major impediment to prison officer recruitment.”; if he does agree with that statement, when is it planned to hike the pay of prison staff?

Hon PHIL GOFF: It is really curious hearing the National Party demand that there be an increase in wages; that Government spent its whole career trying to drive wages down. The reason for recruitment problems is that this Government has been incredibly successful in dropping unemployment to 3.8 percent. The Department of Corrections has had considerable success in recent times in recruiting, including recruiting internationally to get trained prison officers from other countries.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Why does the Minister of Corrections make claims about being on top of crime, when the incidence of violent crime is up significantly in his time as Minister; and why does this Minister insist upon doing an impersonation of Saddam Hussein’s information Minister every time he rises in the House?

Mr SPEAKER: The Minister will not comment on the second part of the question, which was out of order. He may briefly answer the first part.

Hon PHIL GOFF: I will briefly comment on the first part of the question. Crime peaked when that member was Treasurer, in 1997. Crime rates today, going by police statistics, are 18 percent down from the rates that that member was responsible for.

Keith Locke: Would it not help our prison capacity problem if we did not have a system of unnecessarily jailing minor offenders like Neville Yates, a paraplegic, brain-damaged man who has been in prison—[Interruption]—for 5 months simply for growing cannabis for his own medicinal use, for pain relief?

Hon PHIL GOFF: I would invite that member to look at the nature of the people generally who are being imprisoned; he will find that those people almost invariably come within the category of being serious or seriously recidivist offenders. Unfortunately, in the short term the best way to protect the community against those people is to take them out of circulation. In the longer term, early intervention policies and policies dealing with youth crime will ultimately bring down those imprisonment rates.

Rod Donald: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I am sick and tired of other members interrupting Keith Locke when he asks questions. It seems to be persistent behaviour in this House. I raised the issue with Simon Power only 2 days ago in your presence, Mr Speaker, if you recall, and I invite you to apply one law for all.

Mr SPEAKER: I will certainly do that. I decide when people leave the Chamber. On this occasion I was a little overgenerous. I stand by my decision, but I can assure the member that if Mr Locke asks any other question this session, and there is any interjection during it, there will be no warning.

Immigration, Minister—Confidence

8. Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS (Leader—NZ First) to the Prime Minister: Does she still have confidence in her Minister of Immigration; if so, why?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Deputy Prime Minister), on behalf of the Prime Minister: Yes, because he is a hard-working, conscientious, and productive Minister.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: If he is a hard-working, conscientious, and productive Minister, why do we have 79 people in New Zealand who came here with false, deliberately lost, or destroyed travel documentation, who the Government now cannot account for or identify; and, if the Prime Minister is not concerned about that, what on earth is she doing heading our national security?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I do not have any information on the question the member asked. I do have a great deal of information on other matters. If he cares to put down the question specifically, I will provide an answer.

Keith Locke: How does the Prime Minister have confidence in the Minister of Immigration when it appears that in all the court cases so far on the Ahmed Zaoui issue, the advice given to the Minister and taken by the Minister appears to have been wrong—all the cases have been lost—and will the Prime Minister be launching a review of the Crown Law Office as to its advice and whether that advice is being followed the Minister?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: That is a matter for the Attorney-General, not the Prime Minister. I think the member is prejudging a range of issues—including, certainly, the review of the security certificate, which is yet to be actually undertaken. The vast majority of New Zealanders wish it could be completed.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Why is the Prime Minister ignorant on this matter, given that question No. 9 of 2 December, answered by Damien O’Connor, gave information about the Government’s lack of knowledge as to those 79 people being in this country; and is the Prime Minister confident that next time a person with multiple convictions in Europe for links to extreme organisations arrives in New Zealand on false documentation from a country he or she is not immediately running from—a person who is not caught by the UN convention—her Minister will act swiftly to remove that person rather than spend over $2 million of taxpayers’ money satisfying bleeding-heart lawyers and their politically correct agendas?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I cannot comment on any details of the current case, particularly because the court is still considering its decision on one aspect of that case—the decision comes out at 4 o’clock—and, of course, I am confident that one cannot predict the outcome of that judgment. But I can say that once this case is completed there will be a full review of the Act. This is the only case dealt with under that Act, and clearly a whole range of difficulties have emerged with it.

Water Quality—Government Initiatives

9. DAVID PARKER (Labour—Otago) to the Minister for the Environment: What progress have Government initiatives made towards cleaner water in our streams and rivers, and what steps are being taken to ensure there is enough clean, fresh water for every New Zealander, now and in the future?

Hon MARIAN HOBBS (Minister for the Environment): The clean streams accord signed last year by the Government, Fonterra, and Local Government New Zealand is good news. Many of the 2007 targets have already been met. Ninety-five percent of dairy farmers—over 12,000 farms—are moving to fence off their waterways from stock and to reduce the amount of nutrients being put on their land that goes into the waterways. This afternoon the Minister of Agriculture and I are releasing a public discussion document on managing our freshwater resources more effectively.

David Parker: What options does the discussion document put forward for better management of fresh water?

Hon MARIAN HOBBS: The document provides 13 proposed actions to improve freshwater management. Those include national policy statements and national environment standards, as well as developing special mechanisms for regional councils and to enhance water transferability. We want New Zealanders to tell us whether we have identified the right options, and what others may exist.

Ian Ewen-Street: Does the Minister agree that the measure of success for the clean streams accord and the Water Programme of Action will be the extent to which water quality improves in our lowland rivers and streams; if so, what measures are in place to monitor and report on that water quality?

Hon MARIAN HOBBS: There are a number of indicators available in every regional council, taken from the indicators on the Ministry for the Environment website, that are to do with water quality. As well, the clean streams accord has afforded the time for Fonterra and farmers to be able to have a base standard to measure where they are now and how they will improve.

Job Skills Courses—Course Content

10. SIMON POWER (National—Rangitikei) to the Associate Minister for Social Development and Employment: Is he satisfied with all the course content of Work and Income job skills courses; if not, why not?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY (Minister for Social Development and Employment), on behalf of the Associate Minister for Social Development and Employment: The content of every course run by or for Work and Income is not a level of operational detail that Ministers would normally be engaged in. I am completely satisfied that, with Work and Income help, over 86,000 clients moved into employment last financial year, and hundreds of thousands over the last 5 years. I am satisfied we have the second-lowest rate of unemployment in the OECD, I am satisfied that more New Zealanders are in paid employment than ever in our history, I am satisfied that employment programmes like Worktrack and Unitrack have excellent results, helping thousands of people get a job, and I congratulate Work and Income staff on doing so well.

Simon Power: Can he explain why participants in the Work and Income jobs skills courses are forced to take a pig-drawing test, given that a registered psychologist has identified the test as “a joke, with no scientific validity” and labelled the test “baffling, it’s just nonsense.”?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: Yes, I can. I will be tabling at the end of this question the Unitrack programme week by week with the components of the course, and members will notice that as part of the introduction or icebreaker on the first Monday of the course, people do this small test. The Unitrack and Worktrack courses provide people who are on an unemployment benefit, and who have a risk of becoming long-term unemployed, with an opportunity to go through a free work programme that clearly works. Just because people have a university qualification, that does not mean that they can fill out a CV or have job search or interview techniques. That is what they learn in the course. I say to the member that the people who run those courses have a staggering record of success. They are deeply, deeply offended by the fact that that member has taken a 2-minute part of their course and trivialised their outstanding work.

Georgina Beyer: Can the Minister expand on what the basic contents of Work and Income employment courses, such as Worktrack and Unitrack, are?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: Yes, I can. The courses of this type cover job- search techniques, interview techniques and presentation, CV writing, covering letters, and job applications. The follow-up after the formal course ends with independent job-search activities. People coming on to the unemployment benefit are required to take part in job-search activities. They are required to do so if they are at risk of being long-term unemployed, and I am proud of the Work and Income staff who work hard to get people into work. I congratulate them on their efforts, and I communicate their resentment at that member for reducing their efforts in this way.

Judy Turner: Is the Minister satisfied with the outcomes of the PATHS, ProCare, and Workwise initiatives piloted in Manukau by Work and Income; if so, can he tell the House how many people have found work after participating in those schemes?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: Yes, I am satisfied. I am so satisfied that we have just opened the second pilot here in the capital-coast area, which will impact on about 4,700 people in this region. In the pilot in Auckland, around 400 people were involved in the range of programmes that the member is covering. I do not have the exact figures here with me, but I can tell the member that across the invalids and sickness benefit population, the increase in the number of people moving into work has been about 14 percent for sickness benefit and 17 percent for invalids benefit out of those pilots. We will clearly make a difference.

Simon Power: Has the Minister seen the statement from a graduate who took the course and said: “I was in hysterics. I thought it was a joke but they were serious—the facilitator said it was a test.”; if so, what does this say about the quality of the course offered by Work and Income, and if it is so good, why would the Minister not take the pig-drawing test himself?

Mr SPEAKER: Let me say there were three questions asked and only two can be answered—[Interruption] There is a member about to leave the Chamber for being stupid. The member will stand, withdraw, and apologise.

Phil Heatley: I withdraw and apologise.

Mr SPEAKER: The member is very lucky, very lucky that I am so generous on a Thursday.

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: Yes, I have—[Interruption]

Mr SPEAKER: There will be no further jokes of that type. The first time was mildly amusing, but the 10th time is distinctly unfunny.

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: I have read the material from the one complainant in this course, who is a young man who said he had a job next January to go to. I am afraid, unlike the member, no one sits on a benefit while we are in control. They will go to look for a job. He complained about that. I also have here the forms from the rest of the people who were on that course. Every single one of them said it helped them to get motivation, to get skills, and to get a job. Those are the people to listen to, not somebody who complained about the fact that he had to go look for a job. Tough luck! Under this Government those people go looking.

Simon Power: Is he concerned that the group of graduates forced to take the test found it demeaning, patronising, and ludicrous; or does he believe instead that these people were simply being precious about their pig-drawing abilities?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: The member is wrong. One person, who said he had a job in January, and did not want to take the job-search activities, complained. I am sorry. He will be looking for a job, whether that member likes it, or not. Everybody else in that course reports that they found the course valuable so that they could go to get a job. If they do a 2-minute exercise at the beginning of it so they have something to laugh about, something to get started with, while they go on to those job-search activities, tough luck. This is a successful course, and the member can just eat the pork and swallow it.

I seek leave to table the Unitrack programme showing what actually takes place there.

Leave granted.

Waterways—Eradication of Introduced Fish Species

11. LARRY BALDOCK (United Future) to the Minister of Conservation: Why is the Department of Conservation planning to run trials involving the release of poison into flowing public waterways for the purpose of wiping out introduced fish species such as trout?

Hon CHRIS CARTER (Minister of Conservation): I think the member is referring to a small-scale trial that my department proposes to conduct in partnership with the Fish and Game Council. A poison containing a relatively benign natural toxin will be used in a small stream in the Karori Wildlife Sanctuary to test its effectiveness in eradicating unwanted fish from flowing water. A resource consent process will ensure all environmental impacts are fully considered.

Larry Baldock: Does the Minister stand by the Department of Conservation claims, as quoted in the Sunday Star-Times, that it can remove desirable fish from streams before they are poisoned and put them back a few days later, or, in the case of desirable fish that do end up being poisoned, that it can rescue and resuscitate them afterwards; if so, how much training will the Department of Conservation need to give the fish rescue crews in the event that it does decide to poison our rivers, and when resuscitating fish will Department of Conservation personnel simply give them mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, or is expensive medical equipment such as defibrillators already required?

Mr SPEAKER: There were about four questions there. The Minister can answer two.

Hon CHRIS CARTER: The questioner seeks to trivialise a very important issue: the healthy maintenance of biodiversity in our freshwater systems, which, particularly in the waters of the upper North Island, are grossly infested with pest species such as koi carp, Gambusia, rudd, perch, and other species. That is damaging to native fish life and plant life, and contributes to the degradation of fresh waters. It is a serious issue, and the department is working closely on it.

Dave Hereora: What precautions are being taken in the trial to minimise any adverse environmental impacts?

Hon CHRIS CARTER: The site is contained within the fenced Karori Wildlife Sanctuary. No one fishes there. The chemical will be diluted to insignificant levels by the time it reaches the first of the two dams in the sanctuary. Staff handling the chemical will wear protective clothing. I note that the particular poison is widely used in the United States and elsewhere for the eradication of unwanted fish species.

Simon Power: Why does the Minister not stop the Department of Conservation from locking up tracts of South Island high country and poisoning fish in Karori, and just tell it to get on with the business of preserving New Zealand’s iconic species, like the kiwi?

Hon CHRIS CARTER: The Department of Conservation is a world leader in the preservation of endangered species. In addition, the mission that we have to protect public lands so that all New Zealanders—even Mr Power—can use them is one that I am very proud of.

Larry Baldock: Does the department consider that the battle against stoats, rats, feral cats, wild dogs, possums, weasels, ferrets, and wasps has now been won; if not, how can he reconcile allocating resources to poison trout with his statement in the House on 12 October 2004 that “Those exotic species”—salmon and trout—“do not have quite the impact that, say, possums have. In allocating resources to deal with pests, I would certainly concentrate on those that are doing the most damage—that is, possums and stoats.”?

Hon CHRIS CARTER: The Department of Conservation has no plans to eradicate trout in New Zealand. It is doing a very small experiment, with the active cooperation of Fish and Game New Zealand, on a waterway within an enclosed sanctuary to see whether we can bring back native species.

Larry Baldock: If the Department of Conservation does go ahead with the ridiculous idea of poisoning the trout in our rivers, how will he reassure anglers that the fish they bring home for their family’s dinner have not been stuffed full of poison?

Hon CHRIS CARTER: The member seems unable to grasp the fact that this is a one-off experiment in an enclosed sanctuary where no one fishes.

Larry Baldock: Is the Minister concerned that by adding trout poison to our rivers, the department will simply add to the already existing waterway pollution problems with regard to 1080 poison and agricultural runoff; and does that not beg the question that, with environmental guardians like the Department of Conservation, who needs exotic pests?

Hon CHRIS CARTER: No, and the Department of Conservation does an excellent job.

Smoking—Ban in Bars

12. DEBORAH CODDINGTON (ACT) to the Associate Minister of Health: How does the Government expect to enforce the ban on smoking in bars, and what measures will be implemented to deal with patrons and bar owners who flagrantly disregard the law?

Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR (Associate Minister of Health): It is the Government’s expectation that the vast majority of patrons and bar owners will abide by the law. Establishments that flagrantly disregard the law will face prosecution.

Deborah Coddington: With only 24 smoke police in New Zealand, how does he intend his smoking bans to be enforced in pubs, RSAs, working men’s clubs, cafes, restaurants, and bars on the West Coast, and how many of the 24 smoke police will be deployed to the West Coast?

Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: West Coasters are very, very sensible people. They understand the value of this legislation. I feel confident that they will appreciate the efforts that this Government has made through this legislation to protect the health of workers in establishments up and down the region.

Steve Chadwick: How has this Government been working with the hospitality industry in the lead up to the implementation of this Act?

Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: The Ministry of Health has worked closely with industry representatives, including the Hospitality Association, to develop guidelines and communicate strategies to the industry and public. Over 14,000 licensees have received three letters on those guidelines and strategies, and a media campaign is running to inform the public.

Rodney Hide: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I let the other question go because I did not want to interrupt it. We heard about West Coast people being very sensible, but the Minister was actually asked how many of the smoke police would be deployed to the West Coast. He did not address that. Are we to take it that none will be deployed to the West Coast?

Mr SPEAKER: I will not answer that question. That is not my job. I have to determine whether the Minister addressed the question. He did. It might not have satisfied the member, but then quite often members are not satisfied.

Peter Brown: Is the Minister aware that when this legislation comes into place an inspector will be able to walk into a RSA and, if the management or staff are not available, he will be able to take a photograph or a video of an innocent serviceman smoking; and, if he is aware of that, does he think that is an appropriate way to treat people who fought for the freedom of this country?

Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: While that may be one of the methods used, the process to establish whether there has been any breach of the law is quite comprehensive. The RSA, or any other establishment, just has to take all reasonable and practicable steps to inform people that the area is smoke free. If they do that, they will not be prosecuted. Any bar owners who flagrantly flout the law will be prosecuted.

Sue Kedgley: Is he one of many New Zealanders who are literally counting the hours until midnight so that they can have a drink in a bar without putting their health at risk and coming out smelling like an ashtray, and is he aware that many bars are recording record bookings for Friday night, because office Christmas parties can now be held in bars?

Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: I am aware that there is very widespread support for this legislation. In fact, the latest survey says that 78 percent of New Zealanders think this new law will be good. I have every confidence that the bars and hotels around this country will see increased patronage because of this law.

Hon Peter Dunne: Will the Minister concede that the answer to the penultimate question, where he talked about bar owners taking every reasonable step to enforce the law, and only those who flagrantly breached it would be prosecuted, means that this law is nothing more than symbolic and completely unenforceable; and, if he will not concede that, can he demonstrate to the House one tangible way in which it will be even-handedly enforced across the country?

Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: In 1990, legislation was brought into this country and people said the same things then, that it was unenforceable. We now expect to be able to go to a restaurant and not have to face patrons who are smoking. I have every confidence that in 2 or 3 years’ time people will wonder why we ever allowed smoking in bars throughout this country.

Hon Peter Dunne: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I submit to you that my question, which asked the Minister to agree or disagree with a proposition and then to give a specific example of how the law was to be enforced even-handedly, was not even remotely addressed in the answer. We got the Minister’s opinion that all would work well. That is hardly an answer to the specific question.

Mr SPEAKER: On this occasion I agree with the member. The question can be asked again.

Hon Peter Dunne: Does the Minister concede that his comments that bar owners must take every reasonable step to enforce the law and only those who flagrantly disregard the law would be prosecuted, mean, in effect, that the law is nothing more than symbolic and utterly unenforceable; and, if it did not mean that, would he please give the House one practical example of how it will be enforced on an even-handed and consistent basis right across the country?

Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: “Reasonable and practical steps” is a term used in many laws across the country. For example, if a bar owner refuses to put up signs saying that an area is smoke free, that is a clear breach of the law and that person will be prosecuted.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Does the Minister think it is fair to men who put their lives on the line day after day in the Second World War to defeat the Nazis and were provided with cigarettes on a daily basis to settle their nerves, that they should then come home and build their own clubs, only to find they have been beaten by the Nazis back here in respect of their rights and that we are about to send people who are 82 years of age out into the freezing cold to have a cigarette some time in the night?

Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: We appreciate the efforts of all those old soldiers and what they have done for this country. Many, many RSAs throughout this country have welcomed this law as well, because they now understand the value of having a smoke-free environment.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Name one.

Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: To name one, the Motueka RSA is subsidising its members to go on a smoke-free course so that they can give up the habit. So there is one. To offer some comfort to RSA members throughout the country, they will be pleased to know that the same law applies to Parliament. Everyone will have to leave the precincts of Parliament, to have a cigarette.

Gerrard Eckhoff: Will the Minister rule out the use of sting operations involving people deliberately lighting up in bars, in order that officials can fine unsuspecting bar managers; if not, why not?

Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: I am pretty sure I can give an absolute assurance that that will not be the approach taken on the implementation of this law.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: If the Minister is so concerned about people’s health, what is he doing about medical misadventure that sees 1,500 people die every year in this country, or the obesity-related diseases that see 7,000 people die every year in this country, which is a 434 percent, or 2003 percent, greater incidence of death than deaths associated with smoking, or is it just too hard for him to do something purposeful on this matter?

Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: This week, the Government launched a campaign to try to fight obesity in this country. We are concerned, through this law, for the 400 people in this country who die every year from secondhand-smoke inhalation. We are focusing on all those areas of health.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Mr Speaker—

Mr SPEAKER: The member’s party has had 11 supplementary questions.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I seek leave to ask a further supplementary question.

Mr SPEAKER: The member is seeking leave to have one extra question. Is there any objection? There is not.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Why does the Government think it is right to impose its own selective views in respect of this measure, even when people have built their own clubs and have their own committees of organisation and their own articles of association to govern the way they might behave within those clubs; why is this Government poking its nose into their business, and will the so-called attitudinal police have black uniforms and a very familiar salute with their right arm?

Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: No, I am sure they will be dressed very normally. We are concerned about the health and safety of workers right throughout this country. One of the positive things I can see for that member will be the extra exercise he will have to take in walking outside the precincts to have a cigarette. He might cut down on his smoking, as well.

Mr SPEAKER: The Minister will not bring personal reflections on members into the House. The Minister will withdraw and apologise for that.

Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: I withdraw and apologise.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: I seek the leave of the House to table news reports on the West Coast of the Hotel Association saying that this measure will close several hotels on the West Coast.

Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table those news reports. Is there any objection? There is.

Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: I seek leave to table a press release, stating that the Nelson Suburban Club is also subsidising its members to undertake a stop-smoking course.

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

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

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