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Questions & Answers for Oral Answer - 8 Feb 2005

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

Tuesday, 8 February 2005
Questions for Oral Answer
Questions to Ministers

1. 111 Emergencies—Highway Patrol Units
2. 111 Emergencies—Rural Communities
3. Working for Families Package—Results
4. National Certificate of Educational Achievement—Inconsistency
5. Sentencing—Serious and Recidivist Offenders
Question No. 4 to Minister
6. Land—Public Access to Private Land
7. Coal—Solid Energy and Aichi Expo
8. Cyber Communities Programme—Performance
9. Primary Health Organisations—General Practitioner Charges
10. Student Loans—Repayments
11. Stony Creek Station—Ngâti Aukiwa Occupation
12. Labour Force Participation—Women

Questions for Oral Answer

Questions to Ministers

111 Emergencies—Highway Patrol Units

1. RON MARK (NZ First) to the Minister of Police: Is he satisfied that the policy of police having dedicated highway patrol units is not reducing the ability of police to respond to emergency situations?

Hon GEORGE HAWKINS (Minister of Police): Yes.

Ron Mark: Has he read the letter sent to him, dated 29 September 2002, and tabled by New Zealand First in the House on Tuesday, 2 November 2004, from a non-sworn member of the police Southern Communications Centre stating his concerns over not being permitted to dispatch highway patrol units to any other events, including traffic accidents, and, if he has, why are people still being put at risk more than 2 years later, due to a policy he said he is clearly comfortable with?

Hon GEORGE HAWKINS: Yes, I have seen that letter. The Commissioner of Police answered it, and in that letter he says that the highway patrol standard operating procedure states: “Highway patrol staff will attend events off the state highways when there is an immediate risk to life or property, or when other staff need back-up.”

Tim Barnett: Does the Minister have any specific information on the 111 emergency-call incidents raised with him by Mr Mark and concerning events in July 2004?

Hon GEORGE HAWKINS: I am advised by the police that despite the member blacking out identifying information, which would enable the police to quickly identify the sources being referred to, inquiries this morning have established that there were two 111 emergency calls in question. These related to a domestic issue and an assault case; both were in the Papanui area of Christchurch. I am advised that a car was dispatched to the domestic incident within 4 minutes of the call coming in, and a car was dispatched to the assault incident within 2 minutes of the call coming in.

Hon Tony Ryall: What specific evidence does this Minister have to back his claim this morning that the public is more worried about traffic than dealing with serious crime?

Hon GEORGE HAWKINS: The police regularly survey the community that they serve, and that is what they got in their survey.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: It’s a joke!

Hon GEORGE HAWKINS: If that side does not believe the police, there is a real problem.

Hon Ken Shirley: How can the Minister have any confidence in police surveys and record-keeping in light of an article in the February issue of the New Zealand Police Association News by “Doubting Thomas”, a serving police officer, who said that all of their statistics are an utter and absolute sham; for instance, burglaries are often put down as resolved and detected when no investigation whatsoever has been done? [Interruption]

Mr SPEAKER: The member Mr Swain will stand, withdraw, and apologise.

Hon Paul Swain: I withdraw and apologise.

Mr SPEAKER: That is the only warning today. There are to be no interjections during question time. That has wasted the time of the Government. The member will completely re-ask the question.

Hon Ken Shirley: How can the Minister have confidence in police surveys and record-keeping when an article featured in the latest edition of the New Zealand Police Association News by a serving constable, under the heading “Doubting Thomas”, states that police record-keeping is an absolute sham and issues are coded and filed under different categories, implying that they have been detected and resolved, in some instances when no investigation has even be carried out; how does the Minister explain that and how does he have the confidence that he just gave to the House?

Hon GEORGE HAWKINS: I doubt “Doubting Thomas”. I think people who want to write in their union newsletter should actually put their name by it, then people would think it is more credible than that. If the member wants to believe “Doubting Thomas”, it is about as useful as doubting Mr Mark.

Ron Mark: Is the Minister comfortable with a situation that occurred in July 2004 where highway patrol units were sitting on the side of the road, logged out of service, and not listening to their radios at the same time as an abduction was taking place for which three units attending priority two events elsewhere were redirected from a much further distance?

Hon GEORGE HAWKINS: I think the member should produce the evidence, because the evidence he has produced so far is short on the facts and completely wrong.

Ron Mark: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Could you give the Minister an opportunity to answer the question? There is no evidence to say that vehicles were not diverted from priority two events to this incident at all, and he needs to answer the specific question that I asked him.

Mr SPEAKER: The Minister disagreed with the member that there was such a case, and he is entitled to do so. It might not satisfy the member, but it was certainly an answer.

Hon Tony Ryall: Could the Minister answer my earlier question and advise what specific research he is relying on to make his claim that the public are more worried about traffic than serious crime, and is this Minister seriously trying to tell this House and the people of New Zealand that the women of New Zealand are more worried about a speeding car than they are about being attacked in their homes?

Hon GEORGE HAWKINS: The answer to the second part of the question is yes, and later on I will table information in the House. I think people are more worried about having a car accident than their houses being broken into.

Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The Minister has twice quoted figures from a survey. He was asked what the survey was. Do you think it reasonable that he might tell the House which survey he quoted from?

Mr SPEAKER: The Minister said he was quoting from a survey. If he is asked to produce the survey by way of a supplementary question, that can certainly be allowed. But I have not heard that supplementary question yet.

Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. With respect, that was exactly the question that the Hon Tony Ryall just asked the Minister.

Mr SPEAKER: The member got a reply that I adjudged addressed the question.

Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. You have been fair during question time over your term here, Mr Speaker, to allow two tranches to each question. The Minister was asked what the survey was, and could he comment on whether New Zealand women were more concerned about car accidents and speeding incidents than they were about being assaulted in their homes. The Minister said yes to the second part of that question, but is refusing to tell the House what the name of the survey is that he was quoting previously.

Hon Dr Michael Cullen: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. In the answer to the first question along those lines the Minister indicated that it was a regular survey taken by the police. That actually answered the question.

Mr SPEAKER: The second part of the question was also most certainly answered.

Ron Mark: How many of the 12 to 15 traffic patrols on duty in Auckland 3 months later than the incident referred to earlier in my question, on the night of Sunday, 10 October 2004—the night Iraena Asher called 111 fearing for her life—were diverted to come to her aid; if none, how can the Minister claim that his policy is working?

Hon GEORGE HAWKINS: The member needs to put down a specific question on that and I will give him a specific answer. That point was not contained in the original question.

Ron Mark: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I have brought to you in this House, on numerous occasions, difficulties we have had with even getting this Minister to answer written questions on time. Now he has the audacity, after 4 hours of being able to prepare himself for this question time, of answering an oral question, and wasting our supplementary question, by asking me to put it to him in writing. I ask you to ask him to answer the question.

Mr SPEAKER: No, I will not. The Minister gave a perfectly proper reply.

Dail Jones: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. May I just clarify something? Is the Minister saying that he has never heard of the Iraena Asher case, that he does not know anything about the facts of that case, and wants the question set down in writing? This was a well-known case where the girl died in west Auckland. Is the Minister saying that he knows nothing about that?

Mr SPEAKER: No, the Minister is not saying that. The member is making a point by way of a point of order, and he knows it.

Hon Dr Michael Cullen: What is the primary purpose of highway patrol units, and what is the evidence of success of those units?

Hon GEORGE HAWKINS: Could the Minister ask the question so I can hear it, please?

Hon Dr Michael Cullen: What is the primary purpose of the highway patrol units, and what is the evidence of the success of the units in achieving that purpose?

Hon GEORGE HAWKINS: Road deaths are down 40 percent since 1990, despite an increase of 15 percent in vehicles on the roads and a 5 percent increase in population. I remember that before the highway patrol came, people used to say that they never saw police on our highways. Now they do.

Hon Tony Ryall: The Minister has been providing members of the press gallery with a copy of the 2001 victimisation survey as evidence of his claims. I seek leave to table, table 9.6 from that report, which shows in the most worrying category that women have identified being sexually assaulted or raped as much more important than any other issue

Leave granted.

Ron Mark: Does he stand by his statement in the House on 2 November 2004 that all staff who are on patrol are available to attend general duties call-outs; if so, how does he reconcile that statement with an Auckland City police district strategic traffic group policy statement: “The primary task of the strategic traffic group is accident prevention patrol duty. They are not to be diverted to other tasks.”; and was the Minister unaware of the police policy at the time, or was he deliberately misleading this House?

Hon GEORGE HAWKINS: Neither. Actually, the Commissioner of Police told that member on television last night that traffic units, including the highway patrol, will attend events where there is immediate risk to life or property. Of course, that is his instruction and that is what he expects, and what I expect, should happen.

Rodney Hide: Was the Minister for real when he wrote to a constituent, who had written to him concerned about the diversion of police resources to police being traffic cops, that: “Criminals are often bad drivers. By stopping them when they drive, police detect and curtail offending such as burglary.”; and, in that case, if thugs and criminals leave the scene of a crime sedately, obeying all the laws, does that mean they can get away with it?

Hon GEORGE HAWKINS: I stand by what I said. Criminals use the roads the same as anyone else.

Hon Dr Michael Cullen: Further to my previous supplementary question, can the Minister confirm that the reduction in the number of road deaths referred to equates to more than twice the average number of murders in New Zealand each year?

Hon GEORGE HAWKINS: Yes. Last year there were 47 murders and over 400 road deaths.

111 Emergencies—Rural Communities

2. Hon TONY RYALL (National—Bay Of Plenty) to the Minister of Police: Does he accept that the 111 system’s ability to handle a rural emergency has created a “culture of mistrust” among rural communities, as stated by Federated Farmers of New Zealand; if not, why not?

Hon GEORGE HAWKINS (Minister of Police): No. Nevertheless, the police acknowledge that with regard to rural community policing, perceptions are as important as facts and figures.

Hon Tony Ryall: What responsibility does this Minister take for the average response time to priority 111 emergency calls in rural areas increasing by 40 percent in the last year?

Hon GEORGE HAWKINS: The police advise me that the police standard for non-urban priority one emergency events is a target of 30 minutes. The average response time in 2003-04 was 24 minutes. There was an overall success rate of 84 percent.

Russell Fairbrother: What other initiatives are the police taking to communicate with the rural community?

Hon GEORGE HAWKINS: I am advised that the Northland district commander, Superintendent Viv Rickard, has been appointed to liaise with Federated Farmers and other rural groups. Federated Farmers vice-president, Charlie Pederson, said that he welcomed police efforts to improve the emergency response in rural areas. Of course, the Minister for Rural Affairs has been talking to me about that.

Stephen Franks: Why on earth would any frightened family, half an hour from the speediest police help, trust a police force that cold-bloodedly lies to them about when help may arrive and is instructed to stop them from getting their neighbours to help, when the Minister of Police endorses that conduct and calls it a text-book response?

Hon GEORGE HAWKINS: I do not accept that the police are liars. I think that member should start honouring the police and supporting them for the very good job they are doing overall in New Zealand, rather than dumping—and he can point his finger all he likes.

Marc Alexander: Does the Minister accept that the police are so under-resourced and so mismanaged from the very top that the 111 system can offer no comfort to those who use its services whilst under threat, whether or not they take up the Commissioner of Police’s suggestion of screaming to get attention; if not, why not?

Hon GEORGE HAWKINS: No.

Hon Tony Ryall: What would this Minister say about this Government’s priorities to the Bentley family of Te Puke or the Asher family of Auckland, whose 111 emergency calls were handled so badly, given that this Minister believes they are more worried about speeding than that?

Hon GEORGE HAWKINS: I want to say that the Commissioner of Police has a review being done over the 111 system. It is being done by an independent international panel. Of course we are interested in providing better service, not only to people in rural communities but to those across New Zealand in urban communities, as well. I think the police are doing well. Crime is down, the road toll is going down too, and resolution rates are going up.

Hon Tony Ryall: As this Parliament has no confidence in this Minister and front-line police have no confidence in him—

Mr SPEAKER: Could the member start his question with a question word.

Hon Dr Michael Cullen: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I refer to the Standing Orders in relation to the kinds of assertions that can be made as part of a question. To start off with two statements, both of which are at the very least highly debatable, is out of order.

Mr SPEAKER: Yes, it is. I would ask the member to start by asking a question.

Hon Tony Ryall: Why, as most members of Parliament have no confidence in this Minister—

Hon Dr Michael Cullen: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. No such motion has ever been moved, and we are certainly not going to have one. The member has no capacity to make an assertion of that sort as part of a question. I refer him to the Standing Orders on questions.

Mr SPEAKER: I would like the member to rephrase the question so that it can come within the Standing Orders.

Hon Tony Ryall: Why are there substantial questions in Parliament about this Minister’s competence that indicate front-line police are losing confidence in this Minister, and why, with more bad news stories of his misadministration of the police every day, should the public of New Zealand have any confidence that they can be assured of security in their homes and towns?

Hon GEORGE HAWKINS: The public can be assured that this Government is funding the police very, very well—not cutting funding back as National did when it was in office—and it is increasing police numbers, not cutting them by 540, which National did when it was last in Government.

Gerry Brownlee: I seek leave to move a no-confidence motion in the Minister of Police.

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

Hon Dr Michael Cullen: I seek leave to move a no-confidence motion in the Leader of the Opposition.

Mr SPEAKER: We have had one all now.

John Carter: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. You just—correctly—ruled that questions should be quite concise and specific, and I agree with you. But I also draw your attention to Standing Order 370, “Replies”, which states they should also be concise and confined. Listening carefully to that Minister’s answer I heard a lot of rhetoric there, which was absolutely unnecessary and not needed. If we in the Opposition are expected to put concise questions, then we should also expect the replies to be the same.

Mr SPEAKER: Of course, that is right. If I wanted that to happen and if I just wanted simple questions with simple answers, it would make my job about a thousand times easier than it is. However, this is Parliament and this is a democracy. I do not mind a little bit of rhetoric in the question, but if it comes in the question—which it often does—I expect the answer will develop it just a little, too. As far as I am concerned, I think that the way we are handling questions in this House at the present time is, by and large, satisfactory. I get very, very few letters from members of Parliament about it.

Ron Mark: I seek the leave of the House to table an email that shows quite clearly that in order to respond to a priority one call where a child was being abducted, three general duties units had to be diverted from priority two jobs they were on because the traffic highway patrol would not respond.

Leave granted.

Hon Dr Michael Cullen: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I just seek an assurance from the member that he has not blanked out any information on that matter, as he did on the last matters he tabled things on.

Mr SPEAKER: Oh, no. The member asked for leave. Leave was granted.

Working for Families Package—Results

3. GEORGINA BEYER (Labour—Wairarapa) to the Minister for Social Development and Employment: How will New Zealand families be better off as a result of the Working for Families changes taking effect from 1 April this year?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY (Minister for Social Development and Employment): From 1 April this year 260,000 families, or 55 percent of households with children, will be eligible for extra money to help with the costs of raising a family. Family support will go up by $25 for the first child, and by $15 for each additional child. The accommodation supplement will also rise for a number of families, particularly those in the central and North Auckland areas. The child component of benefits will become part of family support payments from 1 April, making it easier for parents to take that financial support with them as they move from benefit into work. That is all part of our $1.1 billion per year Working for Families package. Eighty thousand households have already benefited from changes to childcare and the accommodation supplement, as of 1 October last year.

Georgina Beyer: What steps is the Government taking to ensure that New Zealand families receive what they are entitled to, as a result of the Working for Families package?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: Radio advertising started this week, and will be followed by advertisements in newspapers and on television over the next month, to raise awareness of the 1 April increases to family assistance and the accommodation supplement, and to the 3 October increases to childcare. We need to get the message out to as many families as possible to call the freephone lines and check their entitlements. The 1 April changes will benefit almost all families earning less than $45,000 a year, and a substantial number of families earning between $45,000 and $70,000. We do not want anyone to miss out.

John Key: Is it not a fact that those low-income families who take their Working for Families entitlements on a fortnightly basis, but who underestimate their anticipated incomes, will be forced to repay those debts to the Inland Revenue Department—remembering that in a similar programme in Australia only 4 percent of families calculated their incomes correctly—and is it not a fact that those Kiwi families who decide to take their payments on a lump-sum basis are likely to run up credit card debts in anticipation of bonuses they will never get, so how can that possibly be helping low-income families by burdening them with debt?

Mr SPEAKER: There were three questions there. Two can be answered.

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: Those hypothetical questions raised by Mr Key have, of course, been thought through by the Inland Revenue Department in relation to how it will deal with its clients. We expect there will not be those problems.

Sue Bradford: What specific steps will the Minister be taking to help bring all New Zealand children out of poverty, given that the Government has acknowledged that the Working for Families package will not address the needs of two-thirds of the children currently estimated as living in poverty?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: This is a specific step aimed at lifting children out of poverty, and, as has been said by independent commentators, once this package is fully implemented New Zealand will be in a situation very similar to that found in countries such as the Netherlands or Denmark. In other words, we would be pulling ourselves into line with some of the richest countries in the world, with policies of redistribution such as this Government has. That is a huge step forward. This is a specific step.

John Key: I seek leave to table an article in the Sydney Morning Herald entitled: “Family debt trap even worse—Labor”, which shows that in the first 2 years of the same programme in Australia 1.3 million Australian families ended up owing a billion dollars in debt.

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

National Certificate of Educational Achievement—Inconsistency

4. Hon BILL ENGLISH (National—Clutha-Southland) to the Associate Minister of Education: Who will be accountable for any unfairness or inconsistency in NCEA results?

Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE (Associate Minister of Education): The New Zealand Qualifications Authority and the Ministry of Education have operational and policy-setting responsibilities respectively, with regard to the National Certificate of Educational Achievement (NCEA). If any unfairness or inconsistencies are identified as having arisen out of the performance of those agencies, I will take responsibility for ensuring they are addressed by the respective agencies.

Hon Bill English: How does he think students feel when they have seen, in the last week, stories in the media about a student who won a geography scholarship, yet had never attended a geography class; claims that while 1 percent of biology entrants won a scholarship, 60 percent of accounting students won a scholarship; and that students who did poorly in level 3 ended up winning scholarships at level 4; and why has he sat dumb while the credibility of the NCEA has been eroded?

Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: Some such experiences clearly are not uncommon in examination systems, and, equally clearly, need investigation. However, it should be no surprise that such matters occur, when examiners mark approximately 1.8 million exam scripts, as they have in the 2004 exams. As I have already stated, I will ensure that such perceived inconsistencies are fully investigated.

Jim Peters: Would there not be greater integrity with regard to the NCEA if all unit standards were separately noted on the student’s record of learning, thereby making clear and distinct the record of achievement standard credits?

Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: I am certainly prepared to entertain incremental improvements to the NCEA, and I thank the member for his suggestion. I must say that in a system that is overwhelmingly supported by the community—students and parents—it is much more productive to work to improve the system rather than try to pull it down.

Bernie Ogilvy: Does the Minister agree that the NCEA’s inability to act decisively gives the public no reason to have any confidence in the New Zealand Qualifications Authority; if not, why not?

Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: I must acknowledge some difficulty understanding the question. I do not understand why the NCEA should be required to act decisively.

Hon Bill English: Is the Minister aware that schools have been asked to comment on the scholarship exam from 2004 by 18 February, but as of today, 8 February, schools have still not received the national profile results, which would enable them to compare their performance with the national norms—results that were, in fact, promised in a circular put out by the New Zealand Qualifications Authority to be delivered in late January, and why have those results been delayed?

Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: The member will recall that I said in the House last week that it was my understanding that those results would be sent to schools “within the next few days”. I have inquired further, and I am informed that those results will be going to schools this afternoon. For the member’s information and for the interest of the House, the results for which Mr English is clamouring were last year released to schools in April.

Hon Bill English: Can the Minister answer the question I asked him earlier on, which was this: why has he subjected students to a week of bad publicity based on rumours about a qualification for which they have all worked extremely hard, while he has sat around plotting neat little spin operations with the New Zealand Qualifications Authority and students watch the credibility of their qualification go down the drain?

Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: I rather think it is the questioner who has subjected the students and candidates in our exam system and scholarship system to appallingly bad publicity, and I think he should look in the mirror rather than accuse me of making statements like that.

Sentencing—Serious and Recidivist Offenders

5. MARTIN GALLAGHER (Labour—Hamilton West) to the Minister of Justice: What evidence does he have that new sentencing laws are providing greater protection to the community from serious and recidivist offenders?

Hon PHIL GOFF (Minister of Justice): There is a wide range of evidence that new laws are both tougher and more effective in dealing with high-risk offenders. The latest evidence is that preventive detention, a lifelong, indeterminate sentence for this category of offender that means that somebody can be locked up till the day he or she dies, is being used far more frequently. Last year 34 offenders received the sentence, nearly twice the highest number of serious offenders given this sentence in any previous year. The number of offenders who received this sentence in the last 2 years was about as many as those who had received it in the previous 5 years combined.

Martin Gallagher: How does the new sentencing legislation promote the greater use of preventive detention?

Hon PHIL GOFF: The Sentencing Act broadens the eligibility for preventive detention, to cover those aged 18 and over and those without a previous qualifying offence. It also extends the number of sexual and violent offences that qualify an offender for the sentence, from 17 to 38. As a result, it is being used far more frequently now for violent offending, including, for the first time, aggravated robbery, kidnapping, and the use of a firearm against a law enforcement officer.

Question No. 4 to Minister

Hon BILL ENGLISH (National—Clutha-Southland): I seek leave to table a New Zealand Qualifications Authority circular, dated 26 January, that promised schools their provisional results and interim statistics in late January.

Leave granted.

Land—Public Access to Private Land

6. GERRARD ECKHOFF (ACT) to the Prime Minister: How does she reconcile her plans to “build a more broadly based ownership society in which New Zealanders can enjoy the security of their own home”, with her Government’s plans to allow the public access to private land beside waterways?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK (Prime Minister): Easily. Just as owning a home is an important element of the Kiwi dream, so is walking along our significant waterways. The security of landowners is a key element of the walking access proposals, with access excluded within 50 metres of a home.

Gerrard Eckhoff: Does the Prime Minister believe that allowing members of the public to wander at will alongside a water body on private property has no material impact on the owner’s use, security, or enjoyment of his or her property?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: The member is well aware that there is no wander-at-will provision in the proposal. Also, there is provision in the policy for a range of exclusions to apply, including those for situations like lambing or tree felling, where members of the public might be in danger or obstructing a farming operation.

Hon David Carter: Will the legislation that liberalises public access over private land be before the House before the general election—yes or no?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: There is still work to do in developing the legislation. I am not able to give the member a yes or no answer. The legislation will be introduced when it is ready.

Hon David Carter: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. My question was very specific. I asked whether the legislation would be before the House before the election—yes or no. Even such an outstanding New Zealander as you will not be aware of the answer to that question from the answer given by the Prime Minister.

Mr SPEAKER: The member cannot demand such an answer; the member can ask for an indication. The Prime Minister certainly addressed the question.

Gerrard Eckhoff: Does the Prime Minister believe that allowing the public to walk over her private property—in which there will be considerable public interest—would in any way diminish her property rights and security, and therefore her ownership of her property?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: First, there is no 50-metre exclusion around my house, and, second, it does not have a significant waterway through it.

Hon David Carter: What compensation will be paid to the private landowner for this land-grab?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: Compensation does not arise, because ownership does not change. I happen to be one who agrees with the sentiment that New Zealand has a “unique culture of not having private beaches, rivers and lakes”. Those words are taken from the Hon Nick Smith, with whom I agree.

Rodney Hide: Can the Prime Minister not understand the anger of private landowners who are to have the right to keep trespassers out overturned through legislation, with her self-satisfied answer: “Oh, this legislation doesn’t apply to my property in Auckland.”; can she not see their concern?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: People most certainly have a right to keep trespassers out; what this is about is ensuring that where access is wanted over private land, it will be gained either by permission of the landowner or by formal negotiation with the landowner.

Rodney Hide: Does the Prime Minister not realise that the Cabinet paper sets out clearly that the legislation will change the Trespass Act so that members of the public can walk along a 5-metre strip beside significant waterways for up to 20 minutes; does she not understand that?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I would not have thought that that was changing the Trespass Act; it is saying that this Government stands for walking access along significant waterways. Significant waterways will be systematically defined.

Gerrard Eckhoff: Does the Prime Minister agree with the Hon Jim Sutton’s statement that the public will be able to come to the access commission and say that they think there is a big demand to get access to this piece of bush or that piece of conservation land, and that the logic of gaining access to waterways also applies to gaining access to bush, wetland, or other areas of significant interest to the public?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: If getting to those places required the crossing of private property where there is no significant waterway to which access has been allowed for, permission would have to be gained from the property owner unless there had been a formal negotiated agreement.

Rodney Hide: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The question was quite specific. I asked whether the Prime Minister agreed with the then Minister for Rural Affairs, who said that, yes, we were to have an access commission and that the public would be able to go along to that and demand access to a particular area of bush. The question was whether the Prime Minister agreed with that statement. She is the one who is supposedly so good; I am sure she can answer that question.

Mr SPEAKER: No—that member is trivialising point of order procedure.

Coal—Solid Energy and Aichi Expo

7. JEANETTE FITZSIMONS (Co-Leader—Green) to the Minister for Economic Development: When he said in his press release on 4 February that Solid Energy was chosen to host the New Zealand pavilion at the Aichi Expo 2005 in Japan because it is “making coal clean” and that it is “meeting objectives to be environmentally sustainable”, what exactly did he mean?

Mr SPEAKER: I have been advised by the Minister that his first answer will be a little longer than usual.

Hon JIM ANDERTON (Minister for Economic Development): The quote in the question, from my press release on 4 February, is incorrect and I will seek leave of the House to table the release. I said “New Zealand’s exporter of the year, Solid Energy, has faced up to one of the biggest challenges there is—making clean coal. That’s why they have been chosen to host the New Zealand pavilion at the Aichi Expo 2005 in Japan.” Solid Energy—

Rodney Hide: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I have no particular interest in this question, to be truthful, but we go through a process to have our questions accepted through the Clerk—they have to be authenticated. Jeanette Fitzsimons has asked the question in good faith and has gone through the process. The Minister got up and said that he had said no such thing. He then said what he did say, which was exactly what the question stated. In doing so, he has impugned the questioner and certainly has impugned the Clerk of the House.

Mr SPEAKER: I did not think he did either. I thought he was expressing his point of view, which he is entitled to do.

Hon JIM ANDERTON: Solid Energy is doing the following work to make coal clean and to develop clean fuel alternatives. With Genesis Energy and the Institute of Geological and Nuclear Sciences it has committed $2 million to develop viable methods to capture and store carbon dioxide produced from burning fossil fuels.

It is investing in other coal-based energy sources, including methane, and in ground gasification and the production of hydrogen fuel cells using coal; expanding its biomass business—which includes clean-burning wood pellets made of untreated pine wood, and sawdust—and gradually withdrawing the supply of coal for the home heating market as Solid Energy believes that it creates too much pollution.

Jeanette Fitzsimons: Has the Minister seen the recent report from the UK, the US, and Australia that states that if global average temperatures rise only one more degree—expected to occur in around 10 years—it will be too late to stop worldwide agriculture failure, famine, drought, and disease; if he has seen that report, how can he possibly advocate making coal, which is the worst source of greenhouse gases, the centre of our marketing strategy to the rest of the world?

Hon JIM ANDERTON: Yes, I have seen that and several other, similar reports. That is why Solid Energy is taking seriously the work it is doing with other institutions and agencies, both in New Zealand and overseas, to move towards more environmentally sustainable production of an important energy fuel of which New Zealand has 1,000 years of supply.

Hon Matt Robson: Is the Government committed to the Kyoto Protocol to reduce carbon emissions, and is there any economic development work—[Interruption]—occurring in this area?

Mr SPEAKER: There is a member who was just about asked to leave. He should know that on this occasion, because his interjection had the tiniest fraction of wit, I am allowing him to stay. But he should not take it for granted in future.

Hon JIM ANDERTON: Work is being done to substantially reduce the carbon dioxide produced per megawatt hour, by increasing combustion efficiency. Ultimately, technology will be able to capture and store carbon dioxide, thereby directly reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Solid Energy, Genesis Energy, and the Institute of Geological and Nuclear Sciences are currently working on a project to achieve this, with our trading partners.

Peter Brown: Is the Minister aware that only between 5 and 6 percent of New Zealand’s electricity is generated from coal, and that in many larger countries—including the three countries that Jeanette Fitzsimons just mentioned—over 50 percent of electricity is generated from coal; if so, will he tell the House categorically whether he supports greater use of coal in generating electricity—yes or no?

Hon JIM ANDERTON: I am aware of the very small portion of the world’s coal energy reserves that New Zealand both uses and produces. However, it is an important source of potential energy supply, and, as technology improves, I am confident that the organisation that Solid Energy represents, which is now practising state-of-the-art methodology in this area and moving towards new productive techniques, is capable of making a greater contribution to New Zealand’s energy production and to a cleaner world environment than it has hitherto.

Hon Mark Gosche: Why does the Government believe that having a New Zealand pavilion at the Aichi Expo 2005 is important?

Hon JIM ANDERTON: In Solid Energy’s case, of course, Japan is its most important market. Of the $200 million in value that Solid Energy exports, $180 million goes to Japan. Secondly, only 160 New Zealand companies, out of a total of 300,000, earn more than 80 percent of our entire export earnings. Being at the Japan expo is part of presenting New Zealand to the world and improving that export base.

Jeanette Fitzsimons: Is the Minister aware that Solid Energy’s own chief executive has said that even though research has been going on for many years, there is no clean-coal technology that will be available within 10 years that can in any way reduce, let alone eliminate, the climate-changing emissions from burning coal; if not, why is he not aware of this, given that the Kyoto Protocol, which his Government has signed, comes into force next week and binds us to targets?

Hon JIM ANDERTON: Yes, I am aware of that, and I am aware of many other things that the chief executive of Solid Energy has said. I have a whole series of statements recording the chief executive of Solid Energy as committing Solid Energy to reducing greenhouse gases, and to being part of the solutions to the future, not part of the problems.

Sue Bradford: Has he personally seen the devastation at the Stockton mine, owned by Solid Energy, and the water-monitoring reports that show it discharges high levels of toxic heavy metals, acid, and sediments into the Ngâkawau River; if so, when does he expect the company to put the best mining practice methods he describes into practice?

Hon JIM ANDERTON: No one denies—neither the Minister responsible for Solid Energy, nor anyone else who knows about the mining systems in the past—that there have been many mistakes made. But one has to say, with all due respect, that Solid Energy is addressing many of those problems, and the rehabilitation of old mining areas, and new technology to reduce some of the problems that we have seen in the past, are all at the front of the mind and on the agenda of Solid Energy.

Jeanette Fitzsimons: Is the Minister aware that New Zealand’s biggest coal-fired power station, at Huntly, still has no measures in place to remove sulphur dioxide, oxides of nitrogen, and toxic trace elements such as mercury, that the proposed Marsden B coal-fired power plant also proposes only minimal controls with old technology, and that in the United States there have been many spectacular failures of so-called clean coal; if so, why is he promoting coal, rather than New Zealand successes with wind power and other sustainable technologies?

Mr SPEAKER: That question was too long. I will allow it, but there can be only a brief reply.

Hon JIM ANDERTON: Because New Zealand needs all the potential and sustainable energy sources that it can possibly have, if it is to have a forward-looking economic future. We need balance in all of these things. My view and the view of the Government is that Solid Energy has a balanced view of its future development.

Jeanette Fitzsimons: Did the Minister discuss the choice of Solid Energy as the host for the pavilion at the Aichi expo with the ministerial group on climate change; if so, what response did it have to the proposal?

Hon JIM ANDERTON: All Ministers in Cabinet were involved in the decision about the Aichi expo and who was going to be a foundation supporter, which Solid Energy is. On this side of the House, there is extreme pride in the way Solid Energy has developed its business. It is contributing over $200 million to the export earnings of New Zealand, and is conscious of its environmental responsibilities. We are proud of it, and I suggest that other members start to be proud of it, as well.

Gordon Copeland: Is the Minister aware that potentially there is a huge payback for New Zealand from making coal clean, and I refer to the huge deposits of lignite in Southland and the possibility that they could become the long-term salvation of New Zealand’s energy crisis?

Hon JIM ANDERTON: Yes.

Jeanette Fitzsimons: Will the Minister replace Solid Energy as the face of New Zealand industry at Aichi with a more appropriate host for the New Zealand pavilion, at least until coal is actually clean, so that we are showcased to the world as a country with a green future rather than a brown one?

Hon JIM ANDERTON: These decisions are collective Cabinet decisions. I do not resile from it. The answer is no.

Cyber Communities Programme—Performance

8. JUDITH COLLINS (National—Clevedon) to the Minister for Social Development and Employment: Is he satisfied with the performance of the Cyber Communities programme; if not, why not?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY (Minister for Social Development and Employment): I am reasonably satisfied with the progress so far of Cyber Communities, which is one of 13 initiatives being run under the Jobs Jolt programme. It seeks to provide people—especially those long term on various benefits who are difficult to get into employment—with information and communications technology skills and make them familiar with their application in the workplace. It is being run as a pilot in three sites—Ôtara, Tokoroa, and Southland. It began operation in April 2004. To December 2004 there have been 157 participants of the 420 expected over 3 years. One hundred and sixteen of the 157 continue to participate, 41 have left, including 10 to full-time employment, four to part-time employment, one to a voluntary organisation, and six to further study. That is just over half of the 41.

Judith Collins: Does the Minister stand by his press release of 2 April 2004 titled: “Cyber Communities Jobs Jolt Programme a Win-win”; if so, how can a programme that cost $445,000 of taxpayers’ hard-earned money to put four people into work be seen as a winner for anybody?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: It may help the member if I just repeat my earlier answer, because she clearly was not listening, and that was the answer. This pilot is being run in three sites—Ôtara, Tokoroa, and Southland. The report that the member is relying on was a report 3 months after the programme started. By December 2004, 157 participants had been in the programme, of the 420 anticipated over 3 years. One hundred and sixteen are still in the programme; of 41 who have left, 10 are in full-time employment, four are in part-time employment, one is in a voluntary organisation, and six are in further study. So far the investment seems to be OK.

H V Ross Robertson: How satisfied is the Minister with the overall performance of the Jobs Jolt package?

Mr SPEAKER: The Minister may answer briefly because the original question was more specific.

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: Overall I am satisfied. Over 7,000 Jobs Jolt participants have moved off benefit in its first year, which means it is well on track for its target of 22,000 over 3 years. If I take two examples of the programme, the mobile employment service has seen a 44 percent increase in the people who should be going into employment going into employment. Employment coaching has seen a 43 percent success rate. Those two initiatives alone have seen 893 participants move off benefit at the end of September, which was the measurement period. The programme is going extremely well.

Bill Gudgeon: What was the objective behind the Cyber Communities scheme, and could the Minister give the House an itemised breakdown on the funding that was spent?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: In answer to the second question, evaluations will be made available, as they always are on programmes like this, and the member will be able to access those evaluations. In answer to the first question, I answered that when I first answered the substantive question. However, I will repeat it for the member. It seeks to provide people, especially long-term people on various benefits who are difficult to get into employment, with information and communications technology skills and make them familiar with their application in the workplace.

H V Ross Robertson: What change has there been in the employment situation since the Jobs Jolt programme was launched?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: I am delighted to do so. Job Jolt was announced in August 2003 as a series of initiatives to run over 3 to 5 years to move more people into work. At that time the unemployment rate was around 5 percent and forecast not to decline below that. The most recent unemployment level we know about, of course, is 3.8 percent. The number of people on the unemployment benefit has also reduced dramatically, with the number being 36 percent lower today than when we started this programme. This means that in Southland, for example, we no longer have any long-term unemployed people. As a result, all of our programmes will be evaluated against the dramatic change in the unemployment situation as we go on trying to get all New Zealanders into paid employment.

Judith Collins: Is he satisfied that nearly $109,000 was spent on one national project management position, and is this happy beneficiary of the Minister’s win-win Cyber Communities scheme one of the four people who was helped into permanent employment by the end of June 2004?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: This is sort of like shooting ducks in a barrel. But anyway, the question, unfortunately is absolutely—[Interruption]

Mr SPEAKER: Government members can have as long as they like during question time. It is their business. But a brief answer to the question would help.

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: The question, of course, is not accurate. There is no national project manager for Cyber Communities. The position became vacant in September 2004 and was not filled, because Community Employment Group was disestablished. The previous national project manager was an employee of the Department of Labour, not of Cyber Communities. The salary level of the national project manager was far less than $108,000.

Judith Collins: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I seek leave to table a report of the Dominion Post dated 3 February 2005 entitled: $445,000 to get four off the dole.

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

Judith Collins: I seek leave to table an evaluation of the Cyber Communities released under the Official Information Act.

Leave granted.

Hon Steve Maharey: That was not released, it was leaked.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: This is a point of order.

Mr SPEAKER: I said: “Leave is sought to table that. Is there any objection?”. I heard no one say anything.

Judith Collins: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The Minister made a comment during that point of order, when he said that the document was not released under the Official Information Act, it was leaked. I ask you to ask the Minister to withdraw and apologise.

Mr SPEAKER: Well, the Minister should withdraw and apologise because he should not be interjecting during points of order.

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: I withdraw and apologise.

Mr SPEAKER: Leave was sought to table that. There was objection taken.

Judith Collins: I am sorry, there was objection, or was not objection?

Mr SPEAKER: There was objection taken.

Judith Collins: OK. I seek leave to table a press release from the Hon Steve Maharey headed: Cyber Communities Jobs Jolt Programme a Win-win.

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

Judith Collins: I seek leave to table a press release from the New Zealand Government headed: Jobs Jolt Will Get More New Zealanders into Work. That press release states that 22,000 new jobs are going to be created.

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

Primary Health Organisations—General Practitioner Charges

9. BARBARA STEWART (NZ First) to the Minister of Health: Is she confident that extra targeted funding made available to primary health organisations for the purpose of reducing the cost of visiting general practitioners has in fact reduced these costs in all locations; if not, why not?

Hon ANNETTE KING (Minister of Health): On average, there has been a signification reduction in fees for those populations in the age groups for which additional funding is provided through primary health organisations, compared with the fees charged for people who do not get Government funding. For those aged 65 and over, the average reduction in July 2004 was $23.40. That reduction represents a reasonable flow-through of the increased funding that the Government made available of around $26 per visit.

Barbara Stewart: Is she aware that general practitioners in some areas are increasing their fees and effectively absorbing increased Government subsidies as profits for themselves, thereby ensuring that access to affordable health-care for our senior citizens remains dependent on where they live; if so, how does she plan to remedy the situation?

Hon ANNETTE KING: Some general practitioners did take the opportunity to adjust their fees when they received additional funding, after no change in their fees for many years and no additional Government funding. However, the Government does expect a sizable amount of the taxpayer subsidy to be passed on to patients. Where there has been a change in fees that has not been negotiated, a process has been put in place to address that.

Steve Chadwick: What is the process for deciding the fees that general practitioners will charge, and what mechanism is in place to review charges that are considered to be too high?

Hon ANNETTE KING: The fees charged are agreed through contractual negotiations between a primary health organisation and the district health board, with Ministry of Health oversight. Should a primary health organisation decide to increase fees outside the period of the contract, a fees review committee can be established to see whether the increased charges are justified. I note that the Capital and Coast District Health Board and the Wairarapa District Health Board have established such committees.

Dr Paul Hutchison: Can she provide any rational evidence why the Government plans to roll out hundreds of millions more of the scarce health dollars on patient subsidies for 18 to 64-year-olds, when there is clear evidence that universal subsidies are associated with waste; and is she prepared to change her strategy as Treasury and many others have suggested?

Hon ANNETTE KING: No, we have no intention of changing our strategy. I suggest that the member spends more time speaking to the public than trying to invent a health policy. The public will tell him that they would like to see the cost of going to their general practitioner reduced, because they believe that has been a barrier to access. In fact, research shows that to be the case.

Judy Turner: Does the Minister believe that there is any link between general practitioner shortages in some communities and fee increases in the same communities; if she does, what does she plan to do about that, and if she does not think there is a link, what advice can she give to patients who do not have the choice of changing to an affordable general practitioner practice?

Hon ANNETTE KING: A shortage of general practitioners in New Zealand has been a problem that we have faced for quite some time. The good news is that we have more doctors wanting to be part of the general practitioner training scheme than we have had before. However, I do think it is true that one of the problems has been that the income of general practitioners is considered to be low in relation to that of other doctors, and they have sought to adjust some of that income over the last few years.

Barbara Stewart: Is that practice by some general practitioners not a predictable consequence of the creation of another layer of bureaucracy in the health system, with resultant costs to general practitioners that they are now recouping by bumping up fees while taking the subsidy?

Hon ANNETTE KING: No. Most general practitioners in New Zealand were already part of an organisation. Many of them were part of what were called independent practice associations, and many of them became primary health organisations. So in terms of another level of bureaucracy, I disagree.

Dr Paul Hutchison: I seek leave to table a memorandum to Cabinet from the office of the Minister of Health where Treasury notes that tying additional funds to specified age bands within the working population may not have the greatest—

Leave granted.

Student Loans—Repayments

10. MOANA MACKEY (Labour) to the Minister of Education: What recent reports, if any, has he received on average student loan repayment times?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD (Minister of Education): I have received a report that indicates that $250 million has been written off student loan balances, thanks to Labour’s “no interest while studying” policy. That fact and the buoyant economy mean that the average student loan repayment time has decreased from 14.8 years in 1999 to 9.3 years now. I thank Steve Maharey.

Moana Mackey: What feedback has he received on student satisfaction with Government student support policies?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: I am pleased to report that students are much happier than they were 3 years ago. I thank the New Zealand University Students Association for its survey, where it asked students about them. It asked whether they thought Government policies treated them fairly, and 62 percent agreed that Government policies did. That is a huge improvement from when National was in Government and only 15 percent thought they were treated fairly.

Hon Brian Donnelly: Will the Minister explain whether his figures include loans from parents, loans from banks, bank overdrafts, and loans from other facilities, all of which have increased since 2001 according to the same New Zealand University Students Association report that he has been quoting, and have been adding to the steadily increasing average student debt?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: That could well be the case according to the survey. Unfortunately, the New Zealand University Students Association included overseas students in its survey this time, which totally distorted the numbers.

Nandor Tanczos: Has the Minister accepted the offer from Camilla Belich, Co-president of the New Zealand University Students Association, to brief him on the accurate figures for student loans, following his recent embarrassing blunder on National Radio; if not, why should we rely on his figures today?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: I am to have a meeting with Ms Belich at some stage, and I will be able to provide her with the facts on which I base my answers. I think it might reveal to the New Zealand University Students Association and to the public that things are not quite as black as she pretends.

Bernie Ogilvy: Is the Minister aware of the New Zealand University Students Association research released in January that indicates that two-thirds of school leavers are concerned about being able to repay student debt; if so, what does he believe are valid reasons for students getting a student loan in the first place?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: Yes, and I think it is fair to say that the student loan policy has helped drive a massive increase in participation rates in tertiary education institutes and private training establishments—something I think that member approves of.

Stony Creek Station—Ngâti Aukiwa Occupation

11. GERRY BROWNLEE (Deputy Leader—National) to the Minister in charge of Treaty of Waitangi Negotiations: What reports has she received, if any, on the Ngâti Aukiwa occupation of lands at Stony Creek station in the Far North?

Hon MARK BURTON (Associate Minister in Charge of Treaty of Waitangi Negotiations), on behalf of the Minister in charge of Treaty of Waitangi Negotiations: I have been kept informed of developments through regular briefings by officials.

Gerry Brownlee: Can the Minister confirm that the police have taken no action against the Mâori occupiers of Stony Creek station because of Government instructions not to do so before Waitangi Day; if not, what is the explanation for the 6-week delay in evicting these illegal occupiers?

Hon MARK BURTON: On behalf of the Minister in charge of Treaty of Waitangi Negotiations, no, I cannot confirm that because it is untrue. The officials from the Office of Treaty Settlements laid a formal complaint with the police on 1 February 2005. It is now an operational decision for the police to determine how best to resolve the situation.

Gerry Brownlee: Is the Minister now telling the House that the Office of Treaty Settlements, a Government agency, is having to wait for a considerable period of time for the police to take action on this serious matter, just like thousands of other rural households throughout the country that have no confidence in the police, either?

Hon MARK BURTON: On behalf of the Minister, no, I am telling the member that an occupation that has arisen out of a longstanding dispute between members of the hapû and Ngâtikahu ki Whângaroa is being attended to, and that the police, after this period of time, have had a complaint laid. They will make the operational decision, as is their responsibility, in due course.

Gerry Brownlee: Why did the Office of Treaty Settlements take so long to lay its complaint with the police, and is it true that the farm has been unattended since the occupation began in late December; if so, what has the cost to the taxpayer been?

Mr SPEAKER: Two of those questions can be answered.

Hon MARK BURTON: Firstly, the Office of Treaty Settlements, as is its wont, has worked with the police, and particularly with local police liaison, in an endeavour to find a constructive resolution. At this point, that has not worked, so a complaint has been laid. I can say to the member that I am informed that the property has continued to be looked after by the farmers, and the stock have been farmed. There has been some difficulty with access to some buildings, but there has been no detriment to the farm, as such.

Labour Force Participation—Women

12. JUDY TURNER (Deputy Leader—United Future) to the Prime Minister: Has she received any reports indicating the level of support among women for her Government’s policies to improve labour force participation announced last week?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK (Prime Minister): I have seen reports of the views of many women, quite a lot of whom are very supportive of policy that provides opportunity and choice for women.

Judy Turner: Does the Government have any plans to survey working-age women to find out their work-life aspirations, to ensure that Government policy reflects what women want; if not, why not?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: No, we do not have such plans. Government policy is very supportive of women making choices that are the best for them and their families.

Judy Turner: Does the Prime Minister agree it is ironic that only last year her Government claimed to acknowledge in the Achieving Balanced Lives and Employment report the frustrations of women who felt contributions made by unpaid carers and voluntary workers were not valued in this country, yet suddenly this year their concerns are not significant; if not, why not?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: Their concerns most certainly are significant, and are fully taken account of.

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

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