Questions & Answers for Oral Answer - 2 February
Wednesday, 2 February
Questions for Oral Answer
1. Benefits—Restructuring Reports
2. Economy—Prime Minister's Comments
3. Families—Labour Force Participation
4. School Fees—State Secondary Schools
5. Savings—Beneficiaries and Low-income Earners
6. Corrections, Department—Emergency Response Unit
8. Arms Act—Penalties
9. Holidays Act—Reports
10. Trade and Enterprise—Hubbard Foods
11. National Certificate of Educational Achievement—Politicisation of Examination
12. Sickness and Invalid Beneficiaries—Stress and Depression
Questions for Oral Answer
Questions to Ministers
1. GEORGINA BEYER (Labour—Wairarapa) to the Minister for Social Development and Employment: What reports has he received on benefit restructuring?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY (Minister for Social Development and Employment): The Government has asked for and received reports on reforming and simplifying the whole structure of the benefit system, with the aim of increasing opportunities and support for beneficiaries who are able to work. The first step will be a new delivery model for Work and Income that will increase assistance to people to prepare for, and return to, work as rapidly as possible. Those who are genuinely unable to take up work opportunities will be exempt from this process. This will be supported by a proposed single core benefit to replace the seven main benefits currently available to people of working age.
Georgina Beyer: What other approaches to welfare restructuring has the Minister seen?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: I have seen an approach involving the adopting out of babies for mothers on the domestic purposes benefit, compulsory immunisation on threat of benefit removal, and make-work schemes. These policies do not appear to enjoy the full support of the group that is putting them forward, however, as I have seen the abrupt sacking of the leading expert on the topic, who had the temerity to say that opportunities were more important than punishment. I can reveal that that group is the National Party, which is now thoroughly split on welfare policy.
Judith Collins: Is the Minister confident that the Kiwi bachelor struggling on the minimum wage believes for one moment that there are no able-bodied adults sitting around collecting benefits when the Hawke’s Bay stone fruit is rotting on the ground, and in the Waikato asparagus crops rot in the fields; if not—[Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: That is the one interjection I am allowing today and that member will apologise.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I apologise.
Judith Collins: —if not, is he prepared to get out of his ivory tower and help the market gardeners who are seeing their crops wasted?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: The Kiwi battler will be one of the people enjoying a 3.8 percent unemployment rate, the second-lowest in the developed world. He will be enjoying, I think, the fact that there is a 58 percent drop in the number of people who are unemployed—more people are employed than ever before in the history of this country—and a 20 percent drop overall in the number of people on working-age benefits. In particular he will be enjoying the fact that this Government has a seasonal workers strategy, and the National Party did not.
Bill Gudgeon: Does the Minister expect benefit restructuring to reduce dependency on the State; if so, how long will it be before this happens, and what will be the numbers?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: I would hope that benefit restructuring will contribute to more people returning to the workplace in part-time and full-time work. The Government’s record so far is to reduce the number of people on benefits by about 100,000 and we will want to continue to drop that number.
Dr Muriel Newman: Why are benefit numbers in last year’s Economic and Fiscal Update forecast to grow over the next 3 years by 1,000 next year, 11,000 the following year, and 21,000 the year after?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: The member is referring to the regular forecasts provided by Treasury. I think Treasury assumes that the ageing nature of our population may be a major contributor towards people being on a benefit, but I point out to the member that every year since this Government has been in power Treasury has forecast a rise in numbers. We have actually seen the numbers go down.
Sue Bradford: Can the Minister assure beneficiaries that under the new single benefit system no beneficiaries will end up receiving less income support than they do currently?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: I certainly respect the member’s interest in that particular issue and, as I have previously, I will give her another assurance that there will be no losers under this system.
Economy—Prime Minister's Comments
2. Dr DON BRASH (Leader of the Opposition) to the Prime Minister: Does she stand by her statement to the House yesterday that the performance of the New Zealand economy was “being felt in homes across the country”; if so, why?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK (Prime Minister): Yes, because since this Government came into office more than a quarter of a million new jobs have been created, and unemployment has fallen to the lowest level in 18 years. This Government’s investments in health, education, spending, and the increases in the New Zealand Superannuation Fund are all up considerably. The benefits of growth are being felt in households across the country.
Dr Don Brash: How then does she explain the fact that the real after-tax incomes of Kiwi families are no higher now than they were when she became Prime Minister, and is it not true that all of the increase in the pre-tax income of the average family has been siphoned off so that the Government can buy more votes by increasing Government spending?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: That sounds very much like a concession that these policies are very popular. The member knows that it is not particularly useful to use household income figures. It would be more useful to look at individual figures, and the fact is that the total amount of wages and salaries in the New Zealand economy was nearly 30 percent more in the year to June 2004 than it was in the year 4 years ago.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Can the Prime Minister sustain the argument that people are doing well in their households in this country, given that New Zealand has now fallen, under her leadership, to No.37 in the international per capita incomes comparison, and what does that say about this Labour Party in the last 5 years?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: What I am aware of is that New Zealand is coming around 20th in the OECD rankings. That is actually an improvement of one place, but not good enough and that is why I stressed, in the speech I gave yesterday, the critical importance of addressing those factors that have held the New Zealand economy back.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I did not ask the Prime Minister for some OECD comparison she dragged out of her head, I asked her whether it is true that we are now No. 37 in the per capita incomes comparison against other nations. Is that true, or not? She just has to say “Yes” and explain why that is so. She did nothing of the sort and I would like her to answer the question.
Mr SPEAKER: The Prime Minister answered the question.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I would not like 2005 to start on that note. The reality is that the Prime Minister has been asked a very clear question and those international figures are out, and every New Zealander knows it. I want her to confirm—[Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order!
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I want her to confirm that she understands that, and explain why that is so. She did not answer the question. What she did do was to drag in some figure where she said we were No. 20 on, I think, standards of living under the OECD. I did not ask her for that. I am asking her about per capita incomes, which is a very relevant question in any economy.
Mr SPEAKER: The question can be asked, and it is a relevant question. The answer that can be given depends on how the Prime Minister wishes to answer it, and she did give an answer.
Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I notice that by your own assessment Helen Clark is one of the finest Prime Ministers that New Zealand has seen. Surely you will be a little more exacting, then, in asking and expecting her to give answers to members of Parliament when they are properly asked.
Mr SPEAKER: I certainly will be.
Rodney Hide: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I also note by your own assessment that not only is Prime Minister Helen Clark one of the finest Prime Ministers this country has ever seen, but by your own assessment she also interjected while the Rt Hon Winston Peters was making his point of order. I know that if anyone from this side of the House does that on a point of order there is no warning. How come the Prime Minister gets one?
Mr SPEAKER: Let me just say that I thought the Prime Minister gave a slight laugh at the end of the question. I ascertained that she was getting up to answer it. I am sure that we want her still in the House. [Interruption] Well the member had better have a relevant point of order. That was not one.
Rodney Hide: Yes, it is. I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. You completely misunderstood my point of order. It was not the fact that she laughed at the end of the question, it was that she interjected while a point of order was being undertaken. You went across to quieten her, so you heard it. You identified who it was. What I am saying is that anyone on this side of the House—quite rightly—if that member interjects while someone is making point of order, then that person gets thrown out with no warning. The Prime Minister in your assessment might be the greatest Prime Minister we have ever had, but the rules should apply to everyone.
Mr SPEAKER: Let me just say that I did have a person who interjected earlier on in the questions and I gave that person a warning and the person apologised. I thought I was treating that person fairly.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. My point of order is that you would expect the Prime Minister, unlike other junior Ministers, or Ministers who are not at that level, to be able to answer a question with exactitude. When a question so simply has been put to the Prime Minister, the fact that she may not like it and may not like the answer or the international comparison is no reason to deflect the question by raising some other issue not germane to the question asked in the first place. This is election year and surely the debating chamber can expect a direct honest answer from the Prime Minister. She could say that she does not know whether it is true. That could be a way out. However, I simply asked her whether she was in any way apprised of the fact that we are now at No. 37 of per capita incomes, and what did that say about her Government.
As far as I am concerned, her answer—and I am sure everybody listened to this question—did not answer the question. At least in 2005 could we please have an answer in these sorts of parliamentary question times? The Prime Minister can shake her head, but if she is the best that the country has ever seen we would expect better than that. Even Jenny Shipley could answer a question now and again.
Hon Dr Michael Cullen: The Prime Minister referred to the only recognised internationally generally published comparison, which is the OECD list, on which we rank 20th. If the member knows of another list where there are 17 rich countries that are not members of the OECD, then that is probably known only to him.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: The figures I am quoting are the OECD figures. The fact that there are more outside the OECD is just one further embarrassment to the Minister of Finance. If he wants those figures I am happy to table them.
Mr SPEAKER: Members cannot stipulate how Ministers answer as long as the answer is relevant. I ruled it to be so.
Jeanette Fitzsimons: Were the homes that she referred to yesterday the homes of the chief executive officers whose incomes have risen 25 percent over the last year or the homes of average-wage earners who have gained 2.4 percent less than the rate of inflation?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I am referring to homes that have benefited from the increase in a quarter of a million jobs in the economy while this Government has been in office. The member should ask Kiwis on the street whether they think the country is going better. She would find that the answer would be a resounding “Yes”.
Gordon Copeland: How does the Prime Minister expect homes across the country to save and move into the ownership society when there have been six increases in taxes, levies, and duties under her Government, and income taxes have been allowed to rise in real terms, thus leaving most of those homes with less rather than more real income?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: It stands to reason that if there are a quarter of a million more jobs in the economy there will be more wealth in the community, and there is. As the member also knows as a supporter of the Working for Families package, 300,000 families will be substantially better off, starting on 1 April.
Dr Don Brash: Is the Prime Minister at all concerned that the gap between the average after-tax wage in Australia and the average after-tax wage in New Zealand has grown by nearly $4,000 in the time she has been Prime Minister, from just over $5,000 in 1999-2000 to almost $9,000 in the latest financial year; if not, why not?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I will accept the advice of the Minister of Finance that that figure is rubbish and say to the member that the chances of a person getting a job in New Zealand are significantly higher than in Australia where the unemployment rate is still somewhere around 5.5 percent.
Dail Jones: Why does the Prime Minister take so much satisfaction in saying that the benefit of her Government can be felt in homes across the country when the concept of homeownership during the 4½ years from December 1999 to June 2004 has almost been lost to New Zealand society, taking into account the average Christchurch sale figure of $176,000 in December 1999 and now $252,000 in June 2004, and the Auckland figure $316,000 in December 1999 and in June 2004 $491,000—a 60 percent increase in 4½ years during this Labour Government’s failed governorship of the housing market?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: One wonders whether the member would prefer that house prices were falling and people were losing equity in their homes. I would say that the most valuable thing this Government can do for homeowners right now is run a stable macroeconomic policy and keep a grip on interest rates—not something that another person in this House was known for when Governor of the Reserve Bank.
Peter Brown: What does the Prime Minister believe is the feeling in the homes of some of the elderly folk in this country, people who are on a fixed income receiving less than they are entitled to from superannuation, being faced with massive hikes in power prices—I think, 40 percent over the last 2 years—petrol prices going up almost weekly, and some stuck on hospital waiting lists?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I know that the feeling is that this Government has guaranteed New Zealand superannuation, and increased the rate, I know that those homes are looking forward to the beginning of asset testing phasing out on 1 July this year, I know that those households are enjoying the lower cost medical fees and pharmaceutical fees brought in under the Minister of Health, and I know that there is much more confidence in being able to grow old in this country on a decent standard of living and being respected than there ever was under a grasping National Government.
Rodney Hide: Does the Prime Minister accept that what matters in a Kiwi home is what people earn after tax, and what they can buy with it, and does she agree with the answer given by her Minister of Finance on 4 December to this House last year that all the gains that the average household has had have been eaten up by tax and price hikes so that the average household is no better off now than it was when she came into office?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: The Minister of Finance said nothing remotely like that, as the member knows. Average households across the country know that through the primary health organisations they are getting more affordable medical care, they know there is more output from the public hospital system, they know there is another 39 percent going into education spending, they know their retirement is more secure, and they know that a quarter of a million jobs have been spread across the community.
Rodney Hide: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I have two points to make in response to that answer. The first point is that I asked the Prime Minister whether she accepted that for the average household it is what they get after tax that matters and what they can buy with it. The Prime Minister never addressed that question once, and my point is that she can laugh that it does not matter. That was my question, and I want to know whether she appreciated that. The second point is this. The Minister of Finance gave a very clear answer. He did not like answering the question. He tried to word it in all sorts of ways, but he showed very clearly that all the gains of the average household over the 5 years of this administration have been eaten up by tax and higher prices. Prices have gone up 10.1 percent, and I am quite happy—I know that there is no need to—if the Minister can refer to his answer that he gave on 4 December; maybe he has forgotten it.
Mr SPEAKER: Well, the Prime Minister disagreed with the member’s premise. That was a direct response to the question. Whether the member or the Prime Minister is right is a matter for debate.
Hon Dr Michael Cullen: If the country is full of such total doom and gloom, how does the Prime Minister explain that the approval of the economic policy of the Government is ranking 3:1 against disapproval, that the Labour Party leads all other parties in every opinion poll, and that the ACT party is disappearing off the face of the earth?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: All I can say is that speeches from leaders of some right-wing parties in this House about representing the battler obviously have not registered with any battler.
Dr Don Brash: Should the country interpret the Prime Minister’s deafening silence yesterday in relation to tax cuts as further evidence that her Government’s priority remains spending ever-increasing amounts of taxpayer dollars, while the real incomes of Kiwi families remain constant?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: What the member can take from the speech yesterday is that the Government, like most New Zealanders, if given a choice between tax cuts for the rich or investing in health education and people, will always opt for investing in health education and people. There would be no question about that.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: I seek leave to table figures from the Parliamentary Library that were dismissed by the Prime Minister as rubbish in respect of the gap in net incomes of New Zealanders as compared with Australia.
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that. Is there any objection? There is.
Dail Jones: I seek leave of the House to table Quotable Value New Zealand average house sale price figures for the period from December 1999 to June 2004, which make it clear that young New Zealanders have no show of buying a house.
Families—Labour Force Participation
3. JUDY TURNER (Deputy Leader—United Future) to the Prime Minister: Is she confident that her Government’s policies to improve labour force participation announced yesterday are consistent with its commitment to “support families so that they can be cohesive, well-functioning social institutions within New Zealand society.”; if so, why?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK (Prime Minister): Yes. Through a wide range of policies this Government is supporting New Zealand families, including the Working for Families package, which will benefit 300,000 low and modest income families, and including the big investments in early childhood education and after-school care, the introduction and extension of paid parental leave, the fourth week’s holiday that provides for better work-life balance, increases in the minimum wage, and huge increases in health and education spending.
Judy Turner: Does the Prime Minister believe that parents who choose to care for children at home are involved in work that adds significant value to society and should be supported in this choice, rather than being pressured into paid employment in order to improve our OECD ranking?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: Working for Families certainly supports those families. But I would point out to the member that overall living standards in New Zealand are an issue when it comes to encouraging our own people to stay here or return to live here, and to encouraging skilled people to come to live in this country and contribute to our development. That is why I have highlighted the fact that if we could get our rate of women’s participation in the paid workforce up to the level of the top Scandinavian economies our standard of living would lift, to the overall benefit of families in the whole economy.
Sue Kedgley: Does she agree that it is paradoxical that the Government subsidises childcare when children are looked after outside the home but offers no similar subsidies or incentives when children are looked after by their own parents in their own home, and why will her Government not offer incentives to parents who want to look after their own children on a full-time basis in their own home?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I say again that the Working for Families package is very kind to single-income families, to the point where some may say that families with two earners are not as advantaged as they should be.
Sue Kedgley: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. My question was about what specific incentives the Government would be offering to parents who chose to look after their own children in their own home. I would be grateful if the question could be answered.
Mr SPEAKER: I think the answer could be developed.
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: The answer is that the Working for Families package is very good for single-income families. I have made that point. It could be seen as an incentive for second earners not to go to work. That is an issue that we need to do some more work on, because I want to encourage second earners. However, I know that Working for Families is very good for the single-income family.
Judy Turner: Is the Prime Minister aware that the policies of the Scandinavian countries that increase women’s workforce participation that she seeks to mimic are associated with extremely low birth rates, such as that in Sweden with 1.5 children per family; if so, why is she content to pursue a quick-fix policy of pushing women into work that may serve only to further restrict the vital population growth needed to sustain our economy in the coming years?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: Something I will never give a judgment or an opinion on is how many children a family should have. I regard that as being a very personal decision. With respect to the second part of the question, it is not this Government that is trying to push people out to work against their will; it is Dr Brash who wants to cut one’s benefit if one does not work.
Judy Turner: Is the Prime Minister aware that last year’s TOWER survey, What Worries New Zealanders, found that spending enough time with children had replaced concerns about money as the No. 1 fear of both men and women?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: Getting a work-life balance, so people can have their kids and enjoy them and be in the paid workforce if they want to be in it, has been a driving motivation for this Government. That is why we have introduced paid parental leave and legislated for the fourth week’s holiday. That is why we have done all sorts of things to help the ordinary family. But I refer the member to some of the case studies in the Dominion Post today of young mothers who say that they love the opportunity to get out and work, and want that choice. I stand for choice. [Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: The member is straining my generosity just a little bit.
Judy Turner: Is the Prime Minister aware of the concerns of UK educators that contracting out parenting to schools to run dawn-to-dusk childcare creates psychological issues for children who spend up to 10 hours a day at school and miss out on bonding with their parents?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: All I can say is that in this country today there would be many kids who would be out of their parents’ care from 8 in the morning until 6 at night, and we do not have extensive enough before and after school care to make sure that there is a decent job done while hard-working parents go to work.
School Fees—State Secondary Schools
4. Hon BILL ENGLISH (National—Clutha-Southland) to the Associate Minister of Education: What action, if any, does he intend to take as a result of a New Zealand Herald survey that found almost all State secondary schools in and around Auckland are charging parents fees to pay for their child’s “free” education?
Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE (Associate Minister of Education): If the member is referring to the survey published on 31 January in the New Zealand Herald, he would also have noted the headline on page 1 of the same edition that clearly states I intend to investigate the level of school donations being asked of parents.
Hon Bill English: Given the Minister’s public statement that “… free education was enshrined in law”, and Labour’s official policy that State education is free, does he believe that his colleagues might regard his promise to “investigate” as somewhat pathetic?
Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: No, and I believe that even the questioner knows that his suggestion is patently untrue in terms of the State compulsory education system. Our State compulsory education system is one of the best-funded in the world. It provides for free enrolment and free education as far as the teaching needs of the curriculum are concerned. Where schools choose to provide more than the curriculum, then, clearly, schools must pay for that out of discretionary spending.
H V Ross Robertson: Can the Minister inform the House whether he has received any reports at all about the adequacy of State school funding?
Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: Yes. I can refer the member to the OECD publication Education at a Glance: OECD Indicators 2004, which shows that New Zealand is ranked third in the OECD in terms of the proportion of GDP spent on primary, secondary, and post-secondary non-tertiary education.
Hon Bill English: Is the Minister aware that in his own ministry in the last 5 years spending on policy advice has doubled, spending on ownership advice has doubled, spending on administration of regulation has trebled, and spending on capacity development has gone from nought to $16 million, and that those items now add up to over $100 million a year; and why should parents have to sell raffle tickets to employ teachers while he wastes money on bureaucrats?
Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: I am aware of that member’s fixation with the bureaucracy, but I make no apologies for being part of a Government that has put in place the mechanisms to provide the initiatives that this Government is doing. Those initiatives include the increase in the schools vote by $1 billion in the period from 1999 to 2005—$1 billion of new education spending on schools.
Hon Bill English: Is the Minister aware of the comparison between the spending on the items I have outlined and the increase in the operations grant, whereby the spending on policy advice, ownership advice, administration of regulation, and capacity development—whatever that is—by the Ministry of Education now exceeds $100 million per year, and the increase in the operations grant for schools this year is only about $30 million?
Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: I am aware that the contribution level made by parents, by whichever assessment, has remained static at around 6 percent, in comparison with the Government contributions.
Hon Bill English: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker—
Mr SPEAKER: No, the Minister will come to the direct question asked.
Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: I am not aware of the detail the questioner raises, but in terms of the amount contributed by other than State sources, that impost has not changed percentage-wise over that period.
Savings—Beneficiaries and Low-income Earners
5. SUE BRADFORD (Green) to the Prime Minister: How does she expect New Zealanders living on a benefit or low wages to “establish … a savings habit” and join the “ownership society”?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK (Prime Minister): The key to moving in that direction is to help New Zealanders who are living on benefits to move into the workforce, and to support those who are in the workforce to get more skills, so that they can improve their incomes. Compared with 5 years ago, over 100,000 fewer working-age adults are dependent on benefits, and 126,000 people are now in industry training. Lower unemployment and more skills training are critical to raising incomes and to moving down the track that I spoke about in my speech yesterday.
Sue Bradford: How can people save for a house when over the last 5 years average household expenditure has risen by 16 percent and average income by only 12 percent, and when the minimum wage, even after the rise coming up in March, will be only $9.50 per hour?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: Clearly, rising house prices have had an impact—and quite a big impact—on affordability for low-income people, particularly in a big city like Auckland, where prices are higher than the norm. That is why I emphasised in the statement yesterday the work the Government is doing on savings, and is looking at how it can reverse the trend against homeownership that has occurred over a number of years.
Gordon Copeland: Does the Prime Minister agree that if those on low incomes are not assisted to develop a savings habit, then they risk entering retirement both asset poor as well as income poor?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: Yes, I most certainly do, because for New Zealanders their main asset has traditionally been their home. Also, in the past many more people had superannuation. Government superannuation was canned in the early 1990s, and although we have restarted a scheme—with 46 percent of eligible people coming in pretty well straight off—there is obviously still quite a way to go. So building up assets is a feature of new policies that the Government is developing in the areas the member has identified.
Nandor Tanczos: Does the Prime Minister think that a generation of New Zealanders burdened by $7 billion of student debt stands a fair chance of participating in the ownership society; if so, can she tell us why she thinks that?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: My understanding is that the average debt per student is actually decreasing, because this Government has done a number of things to improve affordability—like the frozen fees for the first 3 years, then putting the cap on rises through the fee maxima policy, and also because students are not accruing interest on their loans any more while they study. In addition, the repayment terms are fairer. Of course, students are still borrowing, but my advice has been that the average amount is decreasing.
Sue Bradford: What savings does the Prime Minister think home-care workers can make when they earn as little as $4 to $5 an hour or less after paying their own travel costs and time for travel; and when can we expect an announcement about improved funding for the aged-care and disability-care sector, as possibly predicted in the Prime Minister’s statement to the House yesterday?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I think the member is right to identify the poor salaries of home-care workers. In the moves just before Christmas some more money was put into the elder-care sector. In my speech yesterday I identified, as the member said, that finding long-term solutions to provision in this area is very important to us. But I acknowledge the low pay of those workers, and, over time, it is desirable not only to help them increase their skills but also to look at the wage levels.
Hon Brian Donnelly: I seek leave of the House, pursuant to the response by the Prime Minister, to table information from the Parliamentary Library demonstrating that in fact the average student debt has increased.
Corrections, Department—Emergency Response Unit
6. RON MARK (NZ First) to the Prime Minister: Does she have confidence in her Minister of Corrections, and does she have any concerns regarding the findings of the report for the State Services Commissioner into the Department of Corrections Canterbury Emergency Response Unit?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK (Prime Minister): That report did raise issues of concern. I must advise the member that I have not had time to read the full report myself, but I know that the Minister asked the State Services Commissioner to conduct an inquiry into the unit only 6 months after he became the Minister, and he is ensuring that the department responds to the findings of the inquiry.
Ron Mark: Does she stand by her statement reported on 20 February 2000 that: “If you went to any member of the Labour caucus and said: ‘Did Helen tell the caucus at the time Cabinet was elected everyone was there on performance and there were plenty of others waiting to take their jobs?’, they will tell you it’s true.”; if so, why have none of the last three Ministers of Corrections been held accountable for ignoring repeated calls for an inquiry into matters regarding the now infamous Canterbury Emergency Response Unit?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: Mr Swain called for the State Services Commission to conduct this inquiry within 6 months of his becoming the Minister. I think that is pretty good.
Ron Mark: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. My question to the Prime Minister specifically referred to the former three Ministers of Corrections, who the Prime Minister knows were repeatedly asked to do the same thing. It specifically asked why she has not brought them to account for their failures. I would like her to answer that question.
Mr SPEAKER: Perhaps the Prime Minister can add just a little.
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: What I am repeating is that Mr Swain took action. Perhaps Mr Mark did not make his case quite well enough publicly with regard to the previous Ministers.
Nandor Tanczos: Will the Prime Minister support the establishment of a genuinely independent prison inspectorate, given the comments in the Duffy report critical of the way that complaints were handled in relation to the “goon squad”, and given the comments made by the United Nations Committee Against Torture, which expressed concern about the quality, impartiality, and credibility of investigations in prisons?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I would not reject the member’s suggestion out of hand. I think it is important that, if there are abuses in the prison system, they are exposed and dealt with. It does seem unfortunate that one has to have full-scale inquiries when things go wrong. I think trying to get a good system of following through on complaints is a good idea, and if the member wants to explore it further with our justice and corrections spokespersons, I invite him to do that.
Ron Mark: Does the Prime Minister intend to demonstrate her oft-voiced commitment to high standards of accountability by bringing to account those managers, at both regional and head office level, for their roles in establishing a unit with minimum attention to its original purpose, with no paper trail, and with inadequate fiscal control, and in a manner that was outside the usual processes required by the State Sector Act, all of which enabled it to “develop an inappropriate militaristic culture”; if not, why not?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: It is worth making the point that this unit was set up in July 1999 and disbanded less than a year later. I think it was Nick Smith who was in charge at the time; I do not recall—it is so long since we had the misery of that experience. It is also fair to say that the Chief Executive of the Department of Corrections has himself said that serious mistakes were made regarding the management and oversight of that particular unit at the prison. The Minister has instructed Mr Byers and the department to analyse the State Services Commission report to see what further matters need to be addressed, and they must respond to him within 6 months.
Hon Tony Ryall: Has the Prime Minister asked the Minister of Corrections, Mr Swain, why he repeatedly denied calls for an inquiry into the “goon squad” in the South Island when he was the Minister, and does she suspect that it was simply because of the concerted Opposition team effort to force him to do it that he actually had to do a U-turn on that earlier decision?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I cannot recall too much effort from the member, but that would not be unusual. However, I do commend Mr Mark for his dogged and persistent efforts to bring this matter to ministerial attention, and I commend Paul Swain for acting on this matter within 6 months of becoming the Minister.
Ron Mark: What responsibility does her Government feel it has to uphold the rights of those members of the emergency response unit who were brave enough to blow the whistle on the activities of the unit, and who have subsequently been harassed, traumatised, and victimised in such a manner that it has affected their families, in some cases caused marriage breakdowns, and in other cases forced them out of the service, all because they sought to uphold the honour and the integrity of the prison service and the law—or has the Government simply forgotten these people?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I do not have any knowledge of the matters that the member has raised. If he does have evidence that that is the case, he should go to the Minister, who I am sure would want to hold the chief executive responsible for putting it right.
Nandor Tanczos: Does the Prime Minister accept that the importance of having a genuinely independent prison inspectorate is greatly increased by the prisoner compensation bill in the name of her Minister of Justice, which requires prisoners to exhaust internal channels before they can proceed to court, and does she think a re-examination of that bill is in order?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I do not think a re-examination of that bill is in order, but I do think there is logic in the earlier part of the member’s statement. The Government is prepared to look at whether there is a need for an independent inspectorate for prisons, and given the member’s interest I commend him to work with the Minister of Justice on that.
Hon Tony Ryall: I seek leave to table newspaper reports that show that successive corrections Ministers appointed by Helen Clark have tried to sweep this matter under the carpet, including Mr Paul Swain.
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table those newspaper reports. Is there any objection? There is.
7. STEVE CHADWICK (Labour—Rotorua) to the Minister of Health: What progress has been made in implementing the orthopaedic project, which is aimed at doubling the number of orthopaedic operations carried out in New Zealand, that was announced in July last year?
Hon ANNETTE KING (Minister of Health): In the financial year to the end of November 2004, a total of 2,893 major joint replacements were delivered. Of these, 737 were funded under the orthopaedic initiative. The remainder represented the district health boards’ base volumes. For the same period last year, 2,182 joint operations were delivered.
There has been, therefore, an increase, in the July-November period, of 33 percent. District health boards have advised the Ministry of Health that they believe that they will deliver all their 2004-05 allocations.
Steve Chadwick: What cooperation has been forthcoming from health professionals to make this project a success?
Hon ANNETTE KING: The project was developed in close consultation with the New Zealand Orthopaedic Association. Clinicians continue to contribute to the overall success of the project. For example, they have been refining the scoring tool that is used to determine priority; they are involved in the measures that are aimed at improving efficiency and productivity; and, of course, they are undertaking more operations.
8. STEPHEN FRANKS (ACT) to the Minister of Police: Why is he promoting changes to the Arms Act 1983, and how will the new tougher penalties be enforced?
Hon GEORGE HAWKINS (Minister of Police): The new arms amendment bill is intended to further promote the safe use and control of firearms and weapons, to enable New Zealand to comply with the United Nations firearms protocol. The bill will be introduced shortly. Enforcement of tougher penalties is a matter for the courts.
Stephen Franks: What does the Minister think about the failure of the police to arrest Tame Iti for brandishing a shotgun on national television—a crime punishable under the existing Arms Act by up to 4 years in prison—and then gloating on National Radio the next morning about giving the Waitangi Tribunal judges the message, saying: “They felt the heat of the fire. They felt the smoke.”; and what will the Minister do to ensure that his amended Act is enforced so that it does not mean, in practice, one law for selected Mâori and another law for the rest of us?
Hon GEORGE HAWKINS: I think the Opposition member is a little premature. The police are still investigating that matter. They will, if they have the evidence, take action under the present Act.
Martin Gallagher: Is the Government intending, in the changes to the Arms Act, to require the registration of individual firearms?
Hon GEORGE HAWKINS: No, it is not intended to introduce a comprehensive domestic firearms registration system, because those who have the intention to break the law on firearms will hardly go around registering them.
Hon Tony Ryall: Can the Minister explain why he is so informed about the police investigation of the matter involving Mr Tame Iti but knew nothing when it came to days and days of questioning on the issue of what went on at Rocky Nook Avenue?
Hon GEORGE HAWKINS: I think the member has a bad memory. I refused to look into a file. The police have informed me that they are still looking into the Tame Iti case.
Gerrard Eckhoff: How can the Minister stand by and allow the police of his department to tell farmers in rural New Zealand that if they brandish a firearm at an intruder who is threatening their property, even at night, they will face full prosecution by the law when, quite patently, Tame Iti and his gang are immune from prosecution for exactly the same offence?
Hon GEORGE HAWKINS: New Zealand’s laws covering self-defence are clear, are of long standing, and are shared by most other common law jurisdiction countries. The matter of Mr Iti is still under investigation. The New Zealand police are very thorough.
Ron Mark: Will the Minister’s proposed amendments to the Arms Act make modern high-velocity bows and crossbows, which have the ability to kill and to defeat modern body armour, subject to the Act so that no one can purchase them whilst not being in possession of a firearms licence and not having been vetted by the police?
Hon GEORGE HAWKINS: The matter of crossbows is one of the things that I have been looking at, and I imagine that the member’s concerns can be addressed during the select committee hearings.
Hon Ken Shirley: Is the Minister satisfied that the police are not simply dragging their feet, when the whole of the country saw Tame Iti on national television brandishing a shotgun in a threatening manner in front of the Waitangi Tribunal; and why was Tame Iti not arrested at the first opportunity?
Hon GEORGE HAWKINS: The police are still investigating the matter. They want to be sure that any prosecution will be successful.
Stephen Franks: Why is the Minister bothering to tinker with more rules for the Arms Act when the existing Act has powers of search and seizure without warrant, and when only 4 months ago the police managed to arrest immediately a peaceful demonstrator who had the misfortune to be attacked by a mob the police could not protect him against, and who stood on the bonnet of his car as bottles were thrown at him, and he was convicted for possessing a tiny knife in the car?
Hon GEORGE HAWKINS: Although that has nothing to do with the original question, I can say to the member that the police are very thorough and do have a good record in New Zealand. I wonder whether that member has laid a complaint with the police himself, or whether he just grandstands. I do not direct the police in the way they carry out their duties.
9. Hon MARK GOSCHE (Labour—Maungakiekie) to the Minister of Labour: Has he received any reports on the Holidays Act 2003?
Hon PAUL SWAIN (Minister of Labour): Yes. I have seen a report stating that the 4 weeks’ annual leave provided under the Act was “a gigantic electoral bribe”. That was followed by another report from the same person stating that 4 weeks’ annual leave should be retained. Both statements came from Don Brash, the leader of the National Party.
Hon Mark Gosche: Has the Minister seen any further reports on the Holidays Act?
Hon PAUL SWAIN: In addition to the report from the Leader of the Opposition stating that 4 weeks’ holiday will be retained, I have seen a report calling for the Holidays Act to be abolished. That report came from Wayne Mapp, the National Party spokesperson on industrial relations. Given the events of yesterday, my advice to Dr Mapp is to be very afraid.
Mr SPEAKER: The Minister is not responsible for that.
Dr Wayne Mapp: Is the Minister aware that the Restaurant Association showed that 30 percent of all cafes and bars throughout New Zealand were closed on statutory holidays as a direct result of the Holidays Act 2003, and how does that meet the Prime Minister’s goal of boosting productivity in the tourism sector?
Hon PAUL SWAIN: I have seen lots of claims about what happened over the Christmas period. I have seen lots of people make allegations about what happened. There is no formal information about that. We are doing a report to see what did happen, but in the meantime that member has to work out whether or not he is in favour of the Holidays Act. If he wants it to be abolished against the wishes of his leader, then it would be a bit rich for one spokesperson to be sacked for opposing the leader and another to be retained for doing the same thing.
Trade and Enterprise—Hubbard Foods
10. JOHN KEY (National—Helensville) to the Minister for Industry and Regional Development: Does he stand by the decision of New Zealand Trade and Enterprise to award a third grant of $183,600 to Hubbard Foods, bringing the total received by the firm from the Government to over $280,000; if so, why?
Hon JIM ANDERTON (Minister for Industry and Regional Development): Yes, I have confidence in New Zealand Trade and Enterprise, which of course determines such grants through its own processes. The grant was awarded under the Growth Services Fund, which exists to significantly step up the development of high growth companies with the potential to contribute to growing and strengthening our economy, leading to high value sustainable jobs and better living standards for all New Zealanders. This Government is not waiting around for economic growth to happen—we are out there making it happen, and it is working.
John Key: To what extent in the last 5 years has Hubbard Foods been the recipient of other Government grants and employment subsidies, over and above the three New Zealand Trade and Enterprise grants it has received since 2002, and what did Hubbard Foods chief executive David Irving mean when he said that all that kind of information was “in Dick’s head”, but as far as he was aware the company had been “reasonably active”?
Hon JIM ANDERTON: I do not have the answers to the first part of the member’s question as it relates to other ministry responsibilities, but I am certainly happy to undertake to get the answers for the member. While Hubbard Foods is a successful company in New Zealand terms, if it wants to be successful in the international economy, in which it is a very small sized company, it has to lift its productivity dramatically. The assistance that New Zealand Trade and Enterprise is giving to Hubbard Foods and other high growth potential companies is aimed at rapidly lifting the growth of those companies to contribute to New Zealand’s export income. The member may not be aware that only 1 percent of New Zealand companies export anything regularly, and only one company in 2,000 makes any significant contribution to export earnings in New Zealand. This Government is determined to change that base, and is doing so.
Darren Hughes: Can the Minister tell the House why the coalition Government has made the decision to invest in our companies via these grants?
Hon JIM ANDERTON: Grants like this are absolutely commonplace for every trading partner that we have anything to do with, all around the world. The fact that previous National-led Governments lost the plot on developing New Zealand’s economic position is no reason for this Government to follow them, and we do not intend to.
Kenneth Wang: How does the Minister explain this handout of taxpayers’ money to Hubbard Foods, especially in light of the fact that the company has stated that it did not need the money to develop its business?
Hon JIM ANDERTON: My understanding of what the chief executive of Hubbard Foods said was that ultimately the company would have done this itself. This Government is aiming to lift the productivity of companies in a rapid way, not just wait around for something to happen. In fact, the record of New Zealand’s economy in the last 5 years is 5 percent ahead of the Australian economic performance, when for 30 years under Governments like the ones I hear about from the Opposition, this country sank below the waves in terms of competition with Australia, and now we are beating them. It is about time the Opposition learnt to celebrate some success, for a change, instead of wallowing in misery.
John Key: Would the Minister prefer to see one company, like Hubbard Foods, get a $183,000 grant, or would he prefer to see a cut in the company tax rates so that all New Zealand companies could enjoy some extra cash?
Hon JIM ANDERTON: Last time I had the figures for the company tax rate there was a reduction, which I supported—it was $500 million, not $180,000. But this Government does not have blinkers on. It actually has a balanced approach to economic development, so we can do a lot of things at once. The National Party seems only to be concentrating on one thing at a time.
John Key: Why did New Zealand Trade and Enterprise make a grant of $183,600 to Hubbard Foods when the company’s executive director David Irving has admitted the company might well have funded the expenses involved from its own pocket anyway?
Hon JIM ANDERTON: The chief executive of Hubbard Foods also made it clear that Hubbard Foods was investing about $1.25 million in the same improvement project. I do not wonder why the National Party, or ACT, cannot get any traction with the business community, because this Government is pro-business and every time business gets any assistance National and ACT attack them. No wonder they are not liked, and will not be on the Government side in living memory.
National Certificate of Educational Achievement—Politicisation of Examination
11. Hon BRIAN DONNELLY (NZ First) to the Associate Minister of Education: Can he explain how a question which included the term “National MP not sympathetic to Maori concerns” in an NCEA examination is not a politicisation of the examination process?
Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE (Associate Minister of Education): Yes, because exams are set under considerable constraints in order to ensure that the papers produced are fair and valid. I do not consider it appropriate for politicians to judge the content of examination questions. Rather, it is my job as Minister to ensure that robust processes are in place and followed by those who are properly qualified to set examinations. I am confident that in this instance that is the case.
Hon Brian Donnelly: Is it not true that the question would have been just as valid if it had referred to either a Government MP or simply an MP; if so, what is the significance of labelling the caricature as a National MP if not to politicise the question?
Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: That may well be the case in terms of the first part of the question, but I have, as the member will have done, seen the extensive explanation and justification from the New Zealand Qualifications Authority. I find that both extensive and convincing.
Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. If the Minister is telling the House that he has seen an extensive justification for this question and, presumably, the model answer to that question—he has just said that; it will be on the Hansard record—will he now table it, so that everyone in the House can see it?
Mr SPEAKER: That is a supplementary question. It is not a point of order, but it is a perfectly valid supplementary question.
Gerry Brownlee: It was not a supplementary question; it was a point of order.
Mr SPEAKER: It was not a point of order.
Simon Power: What action will he take, when this incident involving a biased exam question is the latest in a series of politically biased actions taken by the New Zealand Qualifications Authority, including the posting of anti-National press releases on its website and the approval of a National Certificate of Educational Achievement (NCEA)# exam question that asserted that the free market leads to income inequality?
Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: As I have already said, I do not believe this question was biased. If I could refer to Mr Brownlee’s comments, that statement was published comprehensively in the print media. In terms of the other matter that Mr Power raised, I have seen his rather extravagant press statement today. I would be happy to look into the matters he has raised.
Deborah Coddington: How can he have confidence in the NCEA examiners, when this history question is just not an isolated incident but the latest in a long series of concerns raised by teachers, including a history question that was withdrawn at the last minute because there was no one to assess it; if he does have confidence in them, why?
Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: I have confidence in the examiners because they do a good job professionally.
Hon Brian Donnelly: Can the Associate Minister confirm or deny that given that there are only two current MPs who were National MPs in 1980 and the caricature is definitely not that of Winston Peters, the caricature is in fact that of Dail Jones?
Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: It would seem unlikely, but I have no other useful comment to make.
Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I would like some clarity to be given to the House on the comments made by Mr Benson-Pope. Is he telling us that a major newspaper has published the model answer to the question that we find so particularly offensive politically?
Mr SPEAKER: That is not a point of order.
Gerry Brownlee: The answer is “No.”, though.
Mr SPEAKER: The member has made his point.
Sickness and Invalid Beneficiaries—Stress and Depression
12. JUDITH COLLINS (National—Clevedon) to the Minister for Social Development and Employment: Is he satisfied that the number of people on the sickness and invalids benefits claiming stress and depression has increased so markedly under this Labour Government; if so, why?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY (Minister for Social Development and Employment): No, I am not happy with the historical growth in these benefits. They increased, for example, by 84 percent during the time of the last National Government. However, the issues of identifying and addressing stress and depression are important. In 1995 the National Government introduced the categories of stress and depression—categories that are now taken as part of the system. The member herself emphasised the need to deal with the issue of stress in an employment context in a case in 2002, when she was a lawyer. Given her interest—and her caucus’s interest, no doubt, over the last week—in these issues, I look forward to some positive input from her.
Judith Collins: Why is the Minister attempting to make light of such a serious situation, when the number of invalid beneficiaries claiming stress and depression since 2000 has increased by 91 percent in Auckland, by 112 percent in Northland, by 117 percent in Manawatû-Wanganui, and by 106 percent in Christchurch?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: I stress that I am not underselling this issue. I have watched a lot of stress over the last week, and I certainly take it seriously. I note that the number on the sickness benefit grew by 84 percent during National’s time. We inherited those figures, and we are the first Government to actually begin to address them.
Moana Mackey: What success has the Government had from its measures to get people on sickness and invalids benefits with stress and depression back into the workforce?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: We have put together a wide range of changes to service delivery to people receiving the sickness and invalids benefits, including more intensive case management, specialist work brokers, services to support people with mental health conditions, improved support to general practitioners through the sickness benefit, and the Providing Access to Health Solutions programme offering specialised, tailored health services, which is a new vocational assessment process. We are already receiving results of these pilots, and they show a 17 percent increase in the number of people moving into full-time employment, and a 14 percent increase in those going into part-time employment.
Judy Turner: Can the Minister confirm that by the end of September last year a total of only 18 sickness and invalids beneficiaries had participated in the pilot programme in Manukau operated by ProCare that was specifically targeted at those with stress and depression, when the original target was 120 clients; if so, why have there been so few participants, when 1,309 other beneficiaries in the Manukau area suffer from the same condition?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: I cannot remember the precise figure for ProCare, but it was around that number. But the pilot was so successful in Manukau that we have just now extended it to the 4,700 people in the Wellington region, and I announced recently the five other regions about to come into this programme.
Judith Collins: Why has it taken over 5 years for this Government to try to do anything, when the number of sickness beneficiaries claiming stress and depression has increased by 65 percent in Auckland, by 57 percent in Waikato, by 91 percent in Nelson-Marlborough, and by 95 percent in Southland, since 2000?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: The member will know from looking at the Government’s very active programme in the beneficiary area that we began major pilots last year, which have just been rolled out nationally—and $27 million was announced just recently. In my view, one of the most difficult debates we have got is what to do in the sickness and invalids benefits areas. That is because we are often faced with, for example, employers who would much rather employ an able-bodied person than a person on a sickness or an invalids benefit. In a climate of 3.8 percent unemployment, we are now able to approach those employers with a lot more confidence.