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Questions & Answers for Oral Answer - 10 Feb. 2005

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

Thursday, 10 February 2005
Questions for Oral Answer
Questions to Ministers

1. Music—Commercial Radio
2. Police, Minister—Accountability
Question No. 3 to Minister
3. Methamphetamine—Crystal Rock
4. Home Invasion—111 Response
5. Tertiary Students—Financial Support
6. National Certificate of Educational Achievement—Scholarship Distinction Awards
7. Labour Market—Work and Income Programmes for Seasonal Workers
8. Prime Minister—English Language
9. Primary Health Organisations—Closures
10. Drugs—Border Seizures
11. Asbestos—Compensation Payments
12. Land—Public Access to Private Land
Question No. 9 to Minister

Questions for Oral Answer

Questions to Ministers

Music—Commercial Radio

1. DIANNE YATES (Labour—Hamilton East) to the Minister of Broadcasting: What progress has been made on the Government objective of promoting increased levels of New Zealand music on commercial radio?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY (Minister of Broadcasting): The latest figures released by the Radio Broadcasters Association show that New Zealand music accounted for 18.6 percent of music played on commercial radio in 2004. This exceeds the agreed target and is well above—in fact, it is 10 times above—the 2 percent achieved in 1995 amidst the reign of the non-patriotic, culturally bankrupt National Party, which would not know Shihad from Pacifier.

Mr SPEAKER: The member will withdraw the last comment he made and apologise.

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: I withdraw and apologise.

Dianne Yates: What effect has the voluntary code of practice had on the music industry?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: New Zealand music is stronger than ever, recently achieving six Kiwi singles in the Top 10—a new high for New Zealand music. Today the New Zealand music industry is a $146 million industry, and is growing rapidly on the back of exports all around the world. The creative sector, of which the music industry is part, now accounts for 3 percent of New Zealand’s total GDP, and we have artists such as the Datsuns, Hayley Westenra, and Steriogram that are reaching audiences all over the world. Our music is heard by Americans almost as often as we hear it in this country. We will continue to support New Zealand music in this way, and this will be one of the dividing lines between ourselves in favour of New Zealand culture, and the National Party that does not favour it.

Dianne Yates: How does this support the Labour Party objective to promote New Zealand culture?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: The Labour-led Government has put culture at the centre of its programme. In the area of music we have supported, through New Zealand On Air, a range of initiatives such as New Zealand Music Month and Play it Strange, the music industry export development group, the funding of the New Zealand Music Industry Commission, and, of course, the highly successfully Pathways to Arts and Cultural Employment programme that has placed 2,500 people in employment. Music is going places, unlike that band “Don Brash and the Divided Nationals”—[Interruption]

Mr SPEAKER: I am not having the member shout out at me like that. The member was talking to me in the second person. He will stand, withdraw, and apologise.

Gerry Brownlee: I withdraw and apologise. I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker.

Mr SPEAKER: No, I am now going to deal with the issue. The last sentence was completely out of order. The member will withdraw and apologise.

Hon Steve Maharey: I withdraw and apologise.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: As the Minister has put into the arena the issue of cultural sensitivity and awareness, how do the Minister and his colleagues feel about Marian Hobbs calling one of our leading female singers “Rick Bunga” at an official function?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: Bic Runga is known to Marian Hobbs, and is a friend of hers. Bic Runga is a much better singer than the member.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I did not ask the Minister any of the questions to which he sought to give an answer. I asked him how, if he is going to talk about cultural awareness and sensitivity, he and his colleagues feel about a Minister of the Crown calling a leading New Zealand singer “Rick Bunga” at an official function, not Bic Runga.

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: I think the member is struggling; we will leave him for now.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker.

Mr SPEAKER: The member will be seated. The member raised a point of order in the first instance and I want the Minister to answer the question please.

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: I am sure the Minister had a slip of the tongue and that she knows the answer extremely well. I personally know that she likes her music.

Police, Minister—Accountability

2. GERRY BROWNLEE (Deputy Leader—National), on behalf of Hon TONY RYALL (National—Bay Of Plenty) to the Minister of Police: What did he mean when he said on television last night that “I take the rap when things start to break down”?

Hon GEORGE HAWKINS (Minister of Police): I am the Minister of Police and I am responsible for questions about the performance of police to this Parliament—as we have seen in the past week.

Gerry Brownlee: Does the Minister consider that if something looks broken, feels broken, and acts as if it is broken, like the police 111 system, then it is a breakdown; and is it not time that he, as he said he would, takes the rap? [Interruption]

Hon Dr Nick Smith: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. You have been very tough on Opposition members if they interject during a question. Why is there a different standard for the Deputy Prime Minister, who interjected on the closing part of Gerry Brownlee’s question?

Mr SPEAKER: Because that is precisely the point. The member did not listen. The Minister did not interject during the asking of the question.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: He did!

Mr SPEAKER: Oh no, he did not; I listened very carefully.

Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Does that then not raise the prospect that if a question is asked that is clearly uncomfortable for a Minister struggling with his portfolio, all that the struggling Minister has to do is take his time getting out of his chair, so that the Deputy Prime Minister may offer the House one of his caustic barbs in order to make that struggling Minister feel a little bit better when he gets to his feet?

Mr SPEAKER: I take the member’s point. I think he has made a valid point of order. I will now be listening very, very closely indeed to any such similar comments. I ask the Deputy Prime Minister to withdraw that comment.

Hon Dr Michael Cullen: I withdraw.

Hon GEORGE HAWKINS: The reason we are having an inquiry is so that we can make sure that the system is improved and works well for all New Zealanders.

Martin Gallagher: Further to the Minister’s answer, what information does the Minister have about 111 calls to the police? [Interruption]

Mr SPEAKER: I say to Mr English that is precisely what the point of order taken by Mr Brownlee was about. An interjection should not be made. I am now enforcing that. The member is warned once only, and that is the end of the matter. As far as I am concerned, we have had the question asked, and the answer must start. The member knows he cannot have an interjection, because of what happened when Dr Cullen did that—Mr Brownlee rightly pulled up him, and I ruled it out.

Hon GEORGE HAWKINS: I am advised by the police that communication centres receive 495,000 111 calls every year. This equates to 1,350 a day, or 56 every hour. The 111 system relies on human operators to deal with, often, distressed victims. The vast majority of 111 calls are dealt with effectively and appropriately. Any problems with the system are being considered by an independent review panel.

Ron Mark: Does the Minister fully understand the meaning of the term: “I take the rap when things start to break down.”, and does he understand that if things do not get a whole lot better real soon for the Minister of Police and the Commissioner of Police, one or both will be in real danger of losing the last shreds of confidence that the public has in their ability to administer their responsibilities—along with their jobs, their salaries, and their flash cars?

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

Hon GEORGE HAWKINS: Yes and no.

Deborah Coddington: Will the Minister take the rap when one of the 75 suspected paedophiles on the list given to the New Zealand Police last September is caught abusing a child, because the Minister’s police officers were ordered by national headquarters not to proceed with a national bust despite a team being in place, and so no arrests have been made; if not, why not?

Hon GEORGE HAWKINS: I have full confidence that the Department of Internal Affairs and the police are working to successfully solve that matter. I must say that the New Zealand Police received the information from the American customs department several months after the Australians did.

Gerry Brownlee: Does the Minister believe that, in the recent case of the young woman in Hamilton, she should have taken the advice of the Commissioner of Police and screamed down the phone in order to receive the appropriate attention; if not, what is he doing to ensure that screaming down the phone is not the only option available to New Zealand women who need police assistance when they are under attack?

Hon GEORGE HAWKINS: No, and the inquiry is dealing with those matters.

Gerry Brownlee: If the Minister cannot show leadership and sort out the problems within the 111 service so as to avoid further occurrences of women having to walk to get their own help, or being sent a taxi instead of a police car, will he take the rap and resign so that someone else can fix it?

Hon GEORGE HAWKINS: No. That is why we are having the review—so that those matters can be sorted out.

Hon Richard Prebble: I wonder whether the Minister would be kind enough to clarify his last answer, when he said “No.” When he said: “I take the rap when things … break down.”, was that just a hypothetical statement made by him, or does he accept that public confidence in the 111 service is breaking down, and that, if that is the case, the constitutional position in terms of taking the rap is to resign—which one is it?

Hon GEORGE HAWKINS: I said that, no, I will not resign. I have to say to the member that we are working very hard to make sure that the 111 system is working properly so that the public can have full confidence.

Ron Mark: How many more debacles with the 111 system will we have to reveal before this Minister finally does the honourable thing and steps aside, allowing someone more competent, more capable, and with stronger leadership to take over the job of providing safety and security to the men and women of this country?

Hon GEORGE HAWKINS: I repeat for the member, because I think it is very important, that the centres receive 495,000 111 calls per year—that is, almost half a million. I have to say that we are having a review so that we can improve the service to the public.

Gerry Brownlee: When the Minister said on television last night: “I take the rap when things start to break down.”, did he know that he had no intention of taking the rap regardless, it would seem, of what the review might say, or are there some circumstances in which he might resign honourably?

Hon GEORGE HAWKINS: I have to tell that member that the 111 system generally works very well, although there are occasions—and it seems that most of them have a human factor—when things are not right. We are having the review to see how we can improve the service. I would retire or resign only if we had results like the National Government had during the 1990s, with record numbers of crime.

Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Notwithstanding the answer that the Minister has just given and the likelihood of your saying that he has addressed the question, I assert that he was, in fact, asked whether he knew, when he said he would take the rap, that there were no circumstances in which he would. He has not answered that question. While we are not allowed to say it in the House, that does indicate that he was, at least, misrepresenting a position to the public.

Mr SPEAKER: No. The last sentence of the Minister’s answer addressed the question.

Question No. 3 to Minister

MARC ALEXANDER (United Future): I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The original question that I had written was intended for the Minister of Police, and I find no reason why it should have been transferred to the Minister of Justice instead.

Mr SPEAKER: There is no reason why the Government cannot do that if the responsibility lies within the Minister of Justice’s portfolio.

Hon PETER DUNNE (Leader—United Future): I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I think the matter is a little more complicated, because when the questions for oral answer list was first distributed this morning, it indicated that the question had been lodged to the Minister of Police. I would draw your attention to the fact that the question talks about measures for the police to deal with an issue, which I would have thought would be entirely the portfolio responsibility of the Minister of Police.

Hon PHIL GOFF (Minister of Justice): A major part of the answer to this question is a piece of legislation that is immediately my responsibility before the House—that is, on the proceeds of crime. Also, the question traverses areas that cover probably four portfolios, but I am the senior Minister in the area.

Mr SPEAKER: No, there is no further assistance required. It is entirely up to the Government as to who answers, and it has indicated it will be answered in that way. That has been the case for over 50 years.

Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS (Leader—NZ First): If you look at the last year’s Budget, you will see it is clearly delineated there that it signed up money towards 80 drug units run by the police. There has been some controversy in this House as to whether the Government was taking sufficient steps, because the police asked for more drug units than that, and they received fewer than they had asked for. Therefore, the responsibility clearly lies within the Minister of Police’s ambit, and although you may say that, it is drawing a long bow for the Minister of Justice to claim that it belongs there, when the budgetary provisions for 2004 clearly have it with the Minister of Police.

Mr SPEAKER: No, the Government is entitled to list the Minister concerned.

SIMON POWER (Senior Whip—National): I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I am just looking for some consistency on a matter unrelated to the substantive issue raised. When Mr Alexander was on his feet raising his original point of order, he was interjected on by a member of the Labour back bench. I did not see whom it was. All we on the Opposition side of the House are asking for is a consistency in ruling on those interjections made at about the time the questions are asked, in the gap, and then when they are answered.

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Leader of the House): I did notice that it was actually Mr Prebble, but I am sure that he has not been a member of the Labour Party for some time.

Mr SPEAKER: In fact, I know that it was Mr Prebble, but I decided, because of the fact that he is a long-serving member, that I would ignore it. As Speaker, I am entitled to do so occasionally. I wish there were not these pointless points of order, which are pretty irrelevant.

Hon RICHARD PREBBLE (ACT): I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. As I have been called into this matter, I do apologise. I might say that it is easily solvable by the member. He supports the Government. All he has to do is to say: “If you don’t refer my question to the Minister, we won’t support you any more.”

Mr SPEAKER: As usual, I do not think I need to comment.

Rodney Hide: Come on, Marc!

Mr SPEAKER: I tell Mr Hide that he has just stepped over the boundary. [Interruption] The member will please leave the Chamber, or he will be named.

Rodney Hide withdrew from the Chamber.

MARC ALEXANDER (United Future): I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Without belabouring the point, I now seek your guidance as to why, when a question is directed to a particular Minister and is clearly in his or her area of responsibility, it can somehow, at the Government’s whim, be redirected to another Minister simply because we may actually end up with a better answer.

Mr SPEAKER: As long as I have been in this House, the Government has been able to decide who answers a particular question. If Mr Alexander does not wish to ask his question, he does not have to. It can automatically be withdrawn and resubmitted another day. At this point I ask Mr Alexander to ask his question.

Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS (Leader—NZ First): I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. With regard to applying the rules in a consistent way, Mr Hide made a comment at a point when the question had not begun. If you look at the Hansard, I think you will see it will reveal that. More important, Mr Hide is a new leader, struggling to make a name for himself, and I think you should give him some leniency until he learns the ropes. There is more than one leader of that sort in this House.

Mr SPEAKER: I can assure the member that I had given Mr Hide a very, very long piece of rope before I stepped in.

Methamphetamine—Crystal Rock

3. MARC ALEXANDER (United Future) to the Minister of Justice: Is the Government planning additional measures to help the police combat the distribution of the new and more potent form of methamphetamine known as “crystal rock” by organised crime; if so, what are those measures?

Hon PHIL GOFF (Minister of Justice): Yes, a range of measures has already been taken in response to methamphetamine, to counter the danger it poses. They include legislation to increase the penalties for trafficking in methamphetamine, and strengthening the powers of the police and the Customs Service to deal with it. There has also been a huge boost in funding to crack down on the importation and manufacture of the drug. Other legislation in the pipeline includes a proceeds of crime bill to seize the assets of organised crime gangs and a misuse of drugs bill to prevent the importation of precursors. On the question of crystal rock, the police and the Institute of Environmental Science and Research advise me that they do not regard crystal rock as chemically different from, or more dangerous than, P or other forms of crystal methamphetamine like ice, which is already on the market.

Marc Alexander: Is the Minister concerned about reports that gangs in some areas now have free reign, because the police simply do not have the resources to monitor them—a fact highlighted only yesterday by the caravan park in Mângere that operated as a drug supermarket with impunity for years; if so, does he agree that plans to strip gangs of their assets will be nothing but words on paper if the police are not given substantial resources now?

Hon PHIL GOFF: No, I do not agree with the member. The police have been given substantial resources. If the member takes his mind back to last year’s Budget, he will find that $39 million was put into the police, the Institute of Environmental Science and Research, and the Customs Service to crack down on this awful drug. I also tell the member that the National Interception Centre, which undertakes electronic intelligence aimed at organised crime and gang involvement in the drug trade, has seen its staff increase from 13 to 31. That is a two-thirds increase in the number of staff aimed at cracking down on organised crime. The member simply cannot say that nothing is being done and that resources have not been put in. Patently, they have been.

Tim Barnett: What impact has the significant increase in Government funding had on cracking down on the trade in methamphetamine?

Hon PHIL GOFF: It has had a huge impact, and across the three departments I have talked about. First, the police clan-lab teams that have been established have detected and closed down literally hundreds of those laboratories, and there is some evidence now that manufacturing in New Zealand is in decline. Secondly, the Customs Service has intercepted and seized record levels of methamphetamine. Thirdly, the Institute of Environmental Science and Research, which does the scientific analysis, has now cleared up the backlog of its cases and is undertaking that analysis in real time. That is progress.

Ron Mark: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. If one listens carefully to the exact wording of that Minister’s last two answers, one can only conclude that he is reading directly from the Minister of Police’s portfolios. Everything he has been espousing is police policy and initiatives. It just suggests once again that either this man is rehearsing for the new appointments about to take place or the Government is slipping the defunct Minister out of the limelight.

Mr SPEAKER: That was not a point of order. In fact, the Minister spent quite a lot of his answer talking about the Customs Service and other portfolios.

Ron Mark: Two out of ten.

Mr SPEAKER: My goodness, the member is lucky. If I were to be strictly consistent, he would be leaving the Chamber. I just happen to be feeling very generous today.

Gerry Brownlee: Has he expressed any concerns to the Minister of Police that those distributing crystal rock and other drugs could go completely undetected provided they do not break the Road Code, now that the priority of the police is traffic enforcement; if not, what is it about the leadership of the Minister of Police that gives him confidence that he can lead the police to defeat organised crime in this country?

Hon PHIL GOFF: Contrary to the assertion that the member has just made is a quote from the assistant commissioner for crime reduction and public safety, Peter Marshall. He said, in response to that sort of attack on where their priorities were, that they have a holistic and balanced approach to reducing crime. That includes violence, drugs, and road safety—right across the board. That is what the public would expect.

Nandor Tanczos: Does the Minister have any real evidence that so-called crystal rock is becoming widespread, compared with the current influx of cocaine, for example, and does he not agree that Government policy should be based on something more substantial than rumours in a police newsletter?

Hon PHIL GOFF: I can assure the member that our policy is not based on rumours in a police newsletter. I can also tell the member—and the information is available to him if he wishes to look at it—that the vast growth in drugs in this country has actually been in the methamphetamine area, not the cocaine area or the marijuana area.

Marc Alexander: Will the Minister support measures contained in my member’s bill that would reverse the onus of proof for gang members, such that if the Crown can show that a gang member has been involved in serious criminal activity, his or her assets will be presumed to be of criminal origins and therefore forfeited unless the person can prove otherwise; if not, will the Minister replace the teeth I am suggesting with his rubber dentures?

Hon PHIL GOFF: The last comment by the member is absurd. No, I will not support his bill. His bill is based on the Western Australian model, which has proven less effective than the civil forfeiture bill, based on measures used in New South Wales, the United Kingdom, and Ireland, that I have foreshadowed and will be introducing this year. That civil forfeiture bill will make a huge difference in seizing the assets of organised crime and criminal gangs, and, for that matter, white-collar crime.

Ron Mark: When the Government failed to approve the initial requests made by the police for extra meth-lab teams, for extra staffing for drug investigations, and for extra staffing for Intell, all of which can be tabled, first, did the United Future party intervene and threaten to withdraw confidence from the Government if it failed to meet those requests immediately, and, second, can the Minister give the House an assurance right now that no detectives engaged in anti-drug operations have been pulled from their duties to do road traffic policing duties during the tenure of this Government?

Hon PHIL GOFF: In a moment I will seek the leave of the House to table exactly what went into dealing with organised crime and drugs in the last Budget, because the answer is too long to talk about in the House. But I will touch on a couple of points. The Budget provided for a third 12-person police clan-lab team, four chemical intelligence analysts, another $17 million for the Institute of Environmental Science and Research Ltd, and a third 6-person surveillance team, plus additional technical support. All of those things are addressing that problem.

Ron Mark: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. In the interests of saving time, I say that I asked the Minister about what the police asked for—not what the Government delivered, but what the police asked for. Did United Future threaten to pull confidence?

Mr SPEAKER: The Minister had just about finished his answer. I hope he gets there very promptly.

Hon PHIL GOFF: I have just told the member what the police asked for and what they have been given. Every department and every ministry that I am responsible for always asks for everything it would ideally like. In the real world, they do not get everything, but in this case the police, the Institute of Environmental Science and Research, and the Customs Service were treated very well. They were given the power to crack down on drug trafficking and organised crime, and the member knows it.

Gerry Brownlee: Can the Minister tell the House how many hours the police have spent on traffic enforcement, compared with the number of hours they have spent on trying to defeat organised crime?

Hon PHIL GOFF: I imagine that the hours that are spent relate to the volume of crime. The volume of crime that kills 400 people a year through drunken driving, etc., is obviously higher than the volume of crime that results in people dying from drugs. But I can tell the member that the police are giving every priority to methamphetamine, which the police, the Institute of Environmental Science and Research, the Customs Service, and the Ministry of Justice all regard as a top priority.

Home Invasion—111 Response

4. STEPHEN FRANKS (ACT) to the Minister of Police: Was he denying any of the facts when replying to my question about the Bentley case, “Why … would any frightened family … 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 textbook response?”, when he responded “I do not accept that the police are liars.”, and if the police were not lying, what were they doing?

Hon GEORGE HAWKINS (Minister of Police): I do not accept that the police are cold-blooded liars.

Stephen Franks: Does the Minister deny that Maggie Bentley was told that the police had surrounded the property when, in fact, no police were there for another 40 minutes and the officer in charge later admitted that it would have taken them 2 hours to get the squad in place around the property, and that Maggie Bentley was told—

Mr SPEAKER: The member will please come to the question. He has had too long.

Stephen Franks: Those are the facts behind the question.

Mr SPEAKER: Yes, but the member cannot go on forever. He will please come to the question.

Stephen Franks: Does the Minister deny that Maggie Bentley was told that her neighbours had been called when, in fact, there was never any intention to do so; if so, what does he call that conduct by the police?

Hon GEORGE HAWKINS: The police freely acknowledge that mistakes were made. That is part of the inquiry into, and review of, 111 calls.

Gerry Brownlee: Have the police made any changes to their operational procedures—I think that is the phrase the Minister used yesterday—as a result of the recent breakdowns in the 111 service?

Hon GEORGE HAWKINS: Yes, the commissioner has reminded staff that when they are on duty they are all available to attend priority one calls—every one of them, whether they are doing traffic work or any other kind of work.

Gerry Brownlee: So they haven’t been?

Hon GEORGE HAWKINS: He has reminded them of that.

Marc Alexander: How can the Minister expect New Zealanders to have confidence in his leadership of the police when the police spend a large proportion of their resources on giving out speeding tickets and seemingly cannot reliably respond to 111 calls, or is his grand plan now to contract out police surveillance operations to the posties, Jim’s Mowing, or Hire A Hubby?

Hon GEORGE HAWKINS: None of those.

Stephen Franks: What exactly does Labour’s police textbook say about the police telling the public things the operator simply does not know—

Hon Dr Michael Cullen: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. If one is going to ask a question with comments like that, there must be some relation to reality; there is no such thing as Labour’s police textbook.

Mr SPEAKER: I wonder whether the member could come to the question without adding a little bit extra.

Stephen Franks: What exactly is the policy that was endorsed as “textbook”, and what does it say about the police telling callers things that, at best, the operator does not know and at worst are deliberate falsehoods , and how will people ever trust a 111 service if the police are told it is “textbook” to mislead the public?

Hon GEORGE HAWKINS: I am advised that the communicator handling the call believed that assistance was on the way. Clearly, that was incorrect. An honest and tragic error was made. It all forms a part of the review so that police can get it better.

Hon Dr Michael Cullen: Can the Minister confirm that the “textbook” reference was to the fact that neighbours were advised not to intervene in an armed offenders incident, and that remains police advice in these circumstances?

Hon GEORGE HAWKINS: Yes, absolutely.

Stephen Franks: What is the Minister’s answer to the two-thirds of farmers surveyed who say they no longer trust the 111 service and are turning to self-help, when the police officer who eventually turns up may be instructed to arrest them for threatening the criminals, and is more likely to do that than to ever catch the criminals in the hours after the offence?

Hon GEORGE HAWKINS: This is all part of the review.

Tertiary Students—Financial Support

5. LYNNE PILLAY (Labour—Waitakere) to the Minister of Education: What steps has the Government taken to increase the financial support available to tertiary students?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD (Minister of Education): We have taken numerous steps, including ensuring students pay no interest on student loans while studying, fairer student loan repayment policies, and more targeted financial assistance to those on low incomes through Step Up Scholarships, TeachNZ, and other scholarships. In Budget 2004, eligibility for student allowances was increased substantially.

Lynne Pillay: How many students are likely to benefit from the increased allowance eligibility?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: We estimate that as a result of the $110 million investment in student support announced in the 2004 Budget, over 36,000 students will benefit from the increased eligibility. This will go a long way towards easing the financial burden that students face, and decreasing the growth in student loan debt.

Bernie Ogilvy: Is it true that the reason the Government is removing the independent circumstances allowance is that it believes the allowance breaches the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act by discriminating against students who do not work to support themselves, and what kind of absurdity or excuse is that?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: It is my understanding that advice from Crown Law was that employment history is not a valid reason for discriminating in those cases.

Nandor Tanczos: Is the Minister aware that a 24-year-old student living in Auckland, who moved out of home years ago and whose combined parental income is $52,000, can get an allowance of only $88 per week, including the accommodation benefit, and how does he expect that person to survive when that will not even pay the rent?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: Like the vast majority of other students in similar circumstances, through a mixture of part-time employment and student loans.

Bernie Ogilvy: What does he say to the thousands of students this year who have busted their guts working for 96 weeks while studying and living away from home, but who now must go begging to their parents for the money to live, and how are the changes in the independent circumstances allowances fair to them?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: As the member is aware, all those students are eligible to that level of income through the loans scheme. The member does know that.

National Certificate of Educational Achievement—Scholarship Distinction Awards

6. Hon BILL ENGLISH (National—Clutha-Southland) to the Associate Minister of Education: What criteria did Cabinet use to retrospectively determine eligibility for scholarship distinction certificates?

Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE (Associate Minister of Education): The establishment of the new distinction certificate for 2004 was based on achievement in the excellence category of the National Certificate of Educational Achievement (NCEA) level 3, for those subjects in which the achievement pattern of New Zealand Scholarship was significantly lower than expected from the ability of the level 3 cohort.

Hon Bill English: Can the Minister understand that it may be a mystery to students, who wonder how Cabinet decided that out of 14,762 level 3 English students—an exam completely separate and different from scholarship—nine were worthy of Cabinet’s new qualification; and when will he table all the papers that set out the criteria behind these political decisions?

Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: The questioner is in error. Cabinet made no such decision. Cabinet made a decision based on the unacceptable level of variance that had occurred in some areas of the scholarship exam. In terms of the second part of the question, I am aware that the Official Information Act request has already been submitted by the questioner, and he will receive that information in due course.

Helen Duncan: How many monetary awards are expected as a result of the 2004 scholarship exams?

Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: In the various categories—top overall scholar, where there are two; New Zealand Scholar awards; scholarship awards; top scholar school awards; the new, level 3 distinction award—there are expected to be about 524 monetary awards.

Hon Brian Donnelly: Why did the New Zealand Qualifications Authority turn down the request of the Secondary Principals Association to be on the committee supervising the scholarship examinations, and is this evidence of an unjustified belief by the New Zealand Qualifications Authority that it knows better than those at the grass roots?

Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: I do not believe that the New Zealand Qualifications Authority position is as the member articulates. But I am advised that there was no clear expression of opinion against the New Zealand Scholarship exam from the teaching profession last year. Certainly, an examination of the minute that was tabled yesterday confirms that.

Bernie Ogilvy: Given that the Minister said yesterday that the outcomes of the scholarship exams were delivered by due process, and that they will stand, should the so-called internationally reputable NCEA scholarship exams create such controversy this year?

Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: I think it would have been totally unacceptable for the results of the exam to be manipulated, or, indeed, to be reset or re-marked, or for standards to be changed. I have no doubt that the integrity of the exam will stand up, now and in the future.

Hon Bill English: Can the Minister understand why it is much more important that students know the criteria for his distinction certificate than that I get the Official Information Act request, because they have to make a decision by Monday about whether to resubmit their papers for reassessment; and how can they make that decision if, first, they do not know whether they have received a distinction certificate—because no student has been told—and, secondly, they have no idea what criteria Cabinet actually used for giving them out?

Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: I would encourage any students who are unhappy with the outcome of their scholarship exam to follow the normal resubmission and re-examination process.

Hon Brian Donnelly: Does he believe that in the recent scholarship examinations the New Zealand Qualifications Authority achieved its vision statement of ensuring world-class qualifications for all; if, as it would appear, it has fallen far short of this, why has its chief executive officer not been asked to resign?

Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: No, I do not believe that that vision statement was achieved, but I think that the questioner would also acknowledge that the New Zealand Qualifications Authority is only one of the many parties involved in the setting of that examination.

Hon Bill English: Given 2 weeks of very adverse publicity about the scholarship exams, will the Minister give an undertaking to the House today that the New Zealand Qualifications Authority will not charge the $30 reassessment fee to those students who resubmit their papers to be assessed again properly?

Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: I will consider that matter, but I would certainly not give that undertaking without taking further advice and looking at the wider implications.

Hon Richard Prebble: Will the Minister concede that the introduction of the NCEA was done with strong cross-party support in this House, and that, indeed, only one party, the ACT party, has consistently opposed the NCEA as a dumbing-down of standards; if so, would he go even further and say to questioners that the fact Cabinet is now deciding who gets the scholarships was absolutely predictable?

Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: I am happy to answer some of those questions. I am happy to confirm that the NCEA was introduced with broad, cross-party support. I certainly do not subscribe to the member’s suggestion that there is any dumbing-down involved. In fact, the difficulty of this scholarship exam demonstrates quite the contrary.

Hon Bill English: Is the Minister aware that Auckland University gives significant weight to the scholarship results “for the purposes of ranking and selection into limited-entry programmes”, which include law; and what does he say to students who have missed out on selection to limited-entry programmes because of the chaos in the scholarship results, now that they know that even members of Cabinet thought the results were so wrong that they had to fix them?

Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Can I seek an assurance from the member that he is referring to this year’s policy and not to last year’s policy? I think he is quoting from something 12 months out of date.

Mr SPEAKER: No, the member cannot seek that assurance, at all. The question was properly asked, and now will be answered.

Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: I am aware that the New Zealand Qualifications Authority has already had extensive discussions with universities about the difficulties it is facing with regard to the scholarship exams. I have no evidence that the statement in relation to restricted entry has any substance.

Hon Bill English: I seek leave to table the Auckland University policy on the New Zealand Scholarship—which the Minister says has no substance. It sets out exactly how that university weights the scholarship results for the purpose of ranking or selecting students for limited-entry courses.

Hon Dr Michael Cullen: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I seek an assurance about the date on that policy document, because our information is that it does not apply to this year’s entry—that it applied to last year’s.

Mr SPEAKER: The member can ask the date of the statement. Could the member give the date of the statement, and then I will take the leave.

Hon Bill English: Yes—today.

Leave granted.

Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I am going to ask you please to take the Hansard record of the exchanges over this question, have a good look at it, and perhaps make some recommendations, as a result, to the Standing Orders Committee. One of the questions that Mr Benson-Pope was asked brought the answer that he was not going to answer the question because an Official Information Act request had already been put in, and the person asking the question in the House today would receive that information in due course. We all know how the Official Information Act works. We know that it is not unreasonable for people to request a whole pile of Cabinet papers, and we know that they do come in due course. But the substance of the question asked here was whether the Minister knew how criteria would be applied. Clearly, he does not, and he does not want to tell the House that, so he hides behind that Official Information Act request. That should not be allowed when a Minister is answering, particularly as this matter is quite clearly one of public interest, and it is in the public good to know exactly what Cabinet is up to.

Mr SPEAKER: Well, the member can make a submission to the Standing Orders Committee, and I encourage him to do so. The Speaker is not concerned with Official Information Act requests. It is up to Ministers how they reply. This is not my role at the present time.

Hon Dr Michael Cullen: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. We understand that leave was just sought to table a document, and the member has declined to make it available until he has removed some information from it. I think it would be appropriate that the document be tabled as it was presented.

Mr SPEAKER: That is not a point of order. It is up to the member what he decides to do.

Hon Bill English: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. That member has just made a comment that is absolutely wrong. I take offence at it, and I ask that he withdraw it. The messenger can actually corroborate what I did tell him about tabling of the document.

Mr SPEAKER: When offence is taken—and the member has taken offence—I want the Minister to withdraw.

Hon Dr Michael Cullen: I withdraw. I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Given that the member claimed that the document was dated today, I would invite him to table the document immediately.

Mr SPEAKER: That is not a point of order.

Hon Bill English: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Are you going to continue to allow points of order from that member that are designed to make me look like I am behaving in a dishonest manner? Actually, I will explain to the House what I said to the gentleman here. This is a web page. It actually does not have the link on it, because it was printed out without the link on the top. I said to the messenger that I will table the document when the link is on it, so that everyone knows it is genuine.

Hon Dr Michael Cullen: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The member has just made a very interesting admission—that it is the web page that is tabled today, not the policy statement.

Mr SPEAKER: That is not a point of order. As far as I am concerned, a request was made—[Interruption] As far as I am concerned, when the member insists that his word be accepted, it has to be accepted, and it has been by me.

Labour Market—Work and Income Programmes for Seasonal Workers

7. DAVID PARKER (Labour—Otago) to the Associate Minister for Social Development and Employment: What programmes are being run by Work and Income to meet seasonal labour demand?

Hon RICK BARKER (Associate Minister for Social Development and Employment): The Government has a two-tier approach, firstly working with seasonal industry to develop and maintain a long-term workforce; secondly, in the short-term assisting through Work and Income to ensure that all available and suitable New Zealanders on the unemployment benefit are made available for work, so it is Kiwis for jobs first. Work and Income, with the Department of Labour and the Immigration Service, are working to assist, where there is insufficient labour supply, with visa changes for visitors to be made quickly, and the Department of Inland Revenue is ensuring—

Mr SPEAKER: That answer is too long. That is sufficient.

David Parker: What impact are those programmes having on seasonal labour demand?

Hon RICK BARKER: As each region is different, the short-term plan has been tailored to their requirements. In Alexandra we have seasonal solutions in the form of a one-stop-shop, in Hawke’s Bay a web-based employment-matching programme that has had a surprising number of hits—2.3 million so far—with 1,932 job applications being received, and more surprisingly a high proportion of these—about 90 percent—are from Kiwis. Additionally Work and Income has written to superannuitants—

Mr SPEAKER: I just want to say for the second time that the Minister’s answer is too long. I presume he wants question time to finish. If he does not, well, then I am happy to let him go for an hour if he wants to.

Sue Bradford: Can the Minister assure the House that under the Jobs Jolt initiative relating to the work testing of 55 to 59-year-olds, this age group will not be compelled unreasonably to work in orchards, vineyards, and fields, as a way of getting them off the benefit?

Hon RICK BARKER: The work test will be applied fairly, as according to the rules, for every group.

Prime Minister—English Language

8. Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS (Leader—NZ First) to the Prime Minister: What impact, if any, does the understanding of the English language have on the way in which she administers her Government?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Deputy Prime Minister), on behalf of the Prime Minister: I believe that the Prime Minister has a reasonable understanding of the English language, sufficient at least to meet the needs of administering the Government.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: If that is the case, does she understand the English language test, which despite its failure by her administration to be administered, now has 300,000 people in this country who cannot speak English, and how on earth did that happen?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I am not sure whether that information or statistic includes those aged under 2, the great majority of whom do not speak any language, but we have had a number of immigrants from countries whose native language is not English. But of course there are a number of people I know of, not always that far from here, who claim to be native English speakers who I would not regard as functionally literate.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Why is it that we now have a $1.2 million language line interpretation service fitted into parliamentary offices, if the Prime Minister and her colleagues had been doing their job in respect of the English language test, which despite that test now sees 300,000 people in this country who cannot speak English—how did that happen?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: As one of my colleagues has recently pointed out, sadly many people are functionally illiterate in English even though they are born and bred New Zealanders. That is the result of some failure over a long period of time. We have people whose native language is not English and who may pass a modest English language test, but still find it useful in dealing with complex matters to use a language line. For example, the member recently claimed that the Government had changed the rules on superannuation to move away from consumer price indexation. In fact, section 15(2) of the New Zealand Superannuation Act provides for consumer price indexation.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. That last answer was totally irrelevant, for two reasons. Firstly, it did not address the question, and secondly, it was demonstrably wrong when it comes to superannuation policy. That is how they fell below 65 percent of the net average wage. His colleague Mr Barker admitted that twice in the House last year—once orally, and once in writing.

Mr SPEAKER: The member has made his point, but it is not a point of order.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Why is it that all these people coming into this country are now demanding all sorts of new language services, even to the extent that we have this service online in Parliament, when in fact they should follow the acronym of an old Chinese gentleman who said that the policy the Government should be following is “FIFO—Fit in, or fly off.”?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Unlike the member, the Government encourages and values diversity in New Zealand’s population. We know the member does not, but I do not think that is a view shared by the great majority of New Zealanders.

Primary Health Organisations—Closures

9. Dr PAUL HUTCHISON (National—Port Waikato) to the Minister of Health: Have there been any recent announcements of primary health organisations collapsing and public money being squandered; if so, where?

Hon ANNETTE KING (Minister of Health): Since the commencement of primary health organisations in 2002 two primary health organisations have ceased operation. In 2003 Counties Manukau District Health Board ended its contract with Middlemore Primary Health Organisation. All outstanding funds were returned to the district health board. On 20 January this year the primary health organisation contract between Te Kupenga a Kahu Trust and Lakes District Health Board was terminated following notification that the primary health organisation was insolvent. I am advised by the chief executive officer of the district health board that there have never been any accusations of squandering public money. There is a debt to the district health board of $102,000. The debt is against the trust. The trust has been advised by the district health board lawyers that it retains the right to recover the money from the trust, including exercising any remedies that may be available to it, whether pursuant to the primary health organisation agreement or otherwise in law.

Dr Paul Hutchison: Has the Minister taken any action to improve accountability for primary health organisation funding, given that her system allowed Te Kupenga a Kahu Trust to siphon $102,000 into administration that was dedicated for improving access to health services; if not, why not?

Hon ANNETTE KING: Yes, the Ministry of Health is watching very carefully the use of money in primary health organisations. I have to say that it is a much better system than the old independent practice association system, whereby some independent practice associations were given money by the Government. One independent practice association in particular received over $20 million of Government money that was unable to be brought back to the Government or spent by the Government, because there was no contractual obligation for it to be returned to the Government—the independent practice association has it to this day.

Steve Chadwick: Have any patients been affected by the closure of that primary health organisation?

Hon ANNETTE KING: I am advised by the chief executive officer of the district health board that the primary health organisation was made up of three providers, two of which were general practitioner providers. The largest practice now has an arrangement with the Rotorua primary health organisation, the second practice has been given a section 88 notice, and the third had no general practitioner service, at all. No patients have been affected, and the people in the community continue to get their general practitioner service.

Dr Paul Hutchison: Did the Minister or the member for Rotorua influence the establishment of Te Kupenga a Kahu Trust primary health organisation to ensure its approval in circumstances when the Lakes District Health Board had reservations about its formation?

Hon ANNETTE KING: I had no influence in the establishment of a primary health organisation in Rotorua. I cannot speak for the member—she can speak for herself. However, I do know that the district health board took responsibility for the establishment of that primary health organisation.

Hon Bill English: Who pushed it?

Hon ANNETTE KING: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker, about the comment made by Bill English, who said: “You pushed them.” That is totally incorrect. I ask him to withdraw and apologise.

Mr SPEAKER: Did the member make that comment? The member said that he did not. I have to accept his word.

Hon ANNETTE KING: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The member is not telling the truth. He did say that.

Mr SPEAKER: That is out of order and the member knows it. Because the member is the Minister answering a question, she will stand, withdraw, and apologise.

Hon ANNETTE KING: I withdraw and apologise. I did not influence that primary health organisation’s establishment in any way, at all. In fact, until it was established I had no knowledge of it. Any member of this House who accuses me of that is totally incorrect. The district health board made the decision on which primary health organisation would be established in its area, as every district health board does.

Steve Chadwick: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I will clarify, as I was named—

Mr SPEAKER: No, the member can seek leave to make a personal explanation in relation to this matter.

Steve Chadwick: I seek leave to make a personal explanation.

Mr SPEAKER: Is there any objection?

Gerry Brownlee: Can you leave it until after question time?

Mr SPEAKER: It can be after question time. There is objection.

Heather Roy: Can the Minister deny that under her primary health organisations, doctors’ visits for 18 to 65-year-olds enrolled in interim primary health organisations cost, on average, over $55, a huge increase since she became the Minister; if not, what is the average charge for that group of patients?

Hon ANNETTE KING: To date the Government has not put in any additional funding for those people aged between 18 and 64, so doctors may charge whatever they like, but there are those in that age group who have community services cards, and they are entitled to cheaper fees. However, good news is on the way. This Government intends to fund all New Zealanders in order that they can access more affordable primary health care, and I know that that is supported by most New Zealanders.

Dr Paul Hutchison: Why does HealthPAC fund services before they have been delivered, and even before they have been defined; and is that not a case of lack of accountability?

Hon ANNETTE KING: Is it not interesting that in this House, HealthPAC has been accused of not funding services soon enough. If the member has a particular issue he wishes to raise, he should write it down and we will look at it. However, I recall a question in this House asking why HealthPAC was so slow. It does a very good job. It provides funding to thousands of providers around New Zealand. If the member has a particular case, he should tell us what it is.

Dr Paul Hutchison: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I asked a very specific question that I believe the Minister did not answer.

Mr SPEAKER: No, the Minister addressed the question. Did Steve Chadwick have a point of order at this stage? She may ask for leave again.

Steve Chadwick: I seek leave to make a personal explanation.

Mr SPEAKER: It is in relation to the comment earlier in a supplementary question. Is there any objection?

Gerry Brownlee: Yes, it should be at the end of question time.

Mr SPEAKER: This is the end of this question. There is objection.

Dr Paul Hutchison: I seek leave to table two articles. One is an article from New Zealand Doctor that highlights the failure of the Government to manage the smaller primary health organisations.

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

Dr Paul Hutchison: Secondly, I seek leave to table a press release from the Lakes District Health Board that states, to paraphrase, that the Lakes District Health Board had always wanted a collaborative primary health organisation, but that Te Kupenga a Kahu Trust had an unswerving desire to put out on its own.

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

Drugs—Border Seizures

10. DAVE HEREORA (Labour) to the Minister of Customs: What reports has he received about significant drug seizures at the border in 2004?

Hon RICK BARKER (Minister of Customs): Reports from the New Zealand Customs Service show that there were 53 significant drug seizures at the border last year, compared with 28 in 2003. That includes the seizure of over 17.5 kilos of crystal methamphetamine in 2004, up from 748 grams in 2003, and 1.8 million capsules of precursors for the manufacture of methamphetamine, more than double that of 2003. The estimated value of the illegal drugs seized by the Customs Service was a staggering $52 million, compared with $34 million the year before.

Dave Hereora: What action has the Government taken to ensure that the Customs Service has the resources to reduce illegal drug importation?

Hon RICK BARKER: In 2003-04 an extra $1.9 million was provided for the recruitment and training of additional specialist drug intelligence and investigation staff, specifically to help to identify and investigate syndicates trafficking drugs in New Zealand. In 2004-05 $5 million was invested in passenger inspection at our international airports, and to lift the boarding of arriving vessels to 100 percent inspection—essential activities for the detection of illegal goods crossing our border, particularly drugs.

Asbestos—Compensation Payments

11. SUE KEDGLEY (Green) to the Minister for ACC: Does she have concerns that former employees of James Hardie Industries’ south Auckland asbestos factory, who are now dying of asbestos-related diseases, are entitled to a $68.77 a week “independence allowance” as compensation, while Australian victims have negotiated lump-sum payouts from James Hardie Industries that average over $272,000; if so, what does she intend to do to rectify this inequity?

Hon RUTH DYSON (Minister for ACC): I want to make two points in answer to this question. Firstly, it is incorrect to represent that these claimants receive only $68.77 a week, because that is only the independence allowance. They may also be entitled to weekly compensation, home help, childcare, treatment costs, personal care, medical products, housing modifications, and a number of other supports. Their estate, should the claimant die, may be entitled to funeral grants, and their dependants to survivor grants. The second point is that former union employees of James Hardie Industries’ south Auckland asbestos factory do have an agreement with the company for lump-sum compensation for employees who were employed on 1 April 1974. I will seek to table this document at the end of this question.

Sue Kedgley: Will the Government be applying the same sort of moral pressure on James Hardie Industries as the Australian Government applied, which successfully brought James Hardie Industries to the negotiating table in Australia, to include New Zealand sufferers from asbestos in its compensation scheme; if not, why not?

Hon RUTH DYSON: As I outlined in the answer to the primary question, there is already an existing agreement for union members who were former employees of the factory in south Auckland if they were employed on 1 April 1974.

Hon Mark Gosche: Why has confusion arisen about lump-sum compensation?

Hon RUTH DYSON: Confusion has arisen because the former National Government removed lump-sum payments from the accident compensation scheme in 1992. Our Government reinstated those payments from 1 April 2002. A High Court case is pending to clarify whether entitlement to a lump-sum payment for people with asbestos-related diseases should stem from the period of their exposure to asbestos or from the day on which they first sought treatment.

Sue Kedgley: Why is the Minister not prepared to go into bat for all asbestos sufferers, regardless of when they contracted the disease, and why is she allowing the Accident Compensation Corporation (ACC) to engage in a mean-spirited legal battle to challenge the lump-sum compensation that was recently awarded to a dying asbestos sufferer?

Hon RUTH DYSON: In my view, it is appropriate for a Minister to support his or her department or corporation in applying the law in the way that it believes that it is correctly interpreted. In this situation, I believe that it is appropriate to let the High Court determine its interpretation on that confusing aspect of deemed date of injury.

Sue Kedgley: Does she really believe that $66 a week is enough to compensate—and I was referring to compensation, I tell the Minister—victims of a debilitating workplace disease that will kill them, or are she and ACC just following Treasury advice that they should avoid any compensation payouts to asbestos sufferers who contracted the illness before 2002 because it could set a precedent for other gradual process illnesses, which is a risk that is explicitly identified in the Government’s financial statements?

Hon RUTH DYSON: Given that we had a 10-year period during which no lump-sum compensation was available and, therefore, no levies were collected in order to pay for it, it is a responsible response from the Government to listen to the financial implications of any retrospectivity of the reintroduction of lump-sum compensation. That is exactly what we did. How else would we pay for it?

Sue Bradford: Is the Minister aware that if ACC does succeed in its appeal against those extremely ill people, the accident compensation scheme itself will no longer meet minimum standards required under ILO Convention 42, ratified by New Zealand as long ago as 1938; if so, is it no longer Labour Party policy to uphold internationally required standards for workers’ rights?

Hon RUTH DYSON: I do not agree with that interpretation of the application of ILO Convention 42. That convention says that we must ensure that gradual process illness and injury has a comparable level of compensation with other injuries. If there were no retrospectivity at all, which is the matter being determined, it would be exactly comparable.

I seek leave to table the document, the James Hardie agreement, which I referred to in the answer to the primary question.

Leave granted.

Land—Public Access to Private Land

12. Hon DAVID CARTER (National) to the Associate Minister for Rural Affairs: When will legislation to enact the Government’s decision on public access to private land be introduced to the House?

Hon JIM SUTTON (Associate Minister for Rural Affairs): When it is ready.

Hon David Carter: Does the Minister stand by his press release dated 22 December last year, which stated: “The Government intends to introduce legislation by the middle of the year.”; if so, how does he reconcile that statement with the Prime Minister’s statement in the House on Tuesday, when she refused to confirm that the legislation would be introduced before the general election?

Hon JIM SUTTON: If the legislation is ready by the middle of the year, I will try to have it introduced by the middle of the year. The Prime Minister, unlike members opposite, does not make promises until she knows that she can keep them.

Jill Pettis: Could the Minister please advise why the Government is doing the work on providing walking access to land?

Hon JIM SUTTON: It is because access to the publicly owned assets of rivers, lakes, and beaches is part of a great New Zealand tradition, but the Queen’s Chain is fragmented and it is difficult to tell where it applies and where it does not. The work we are doing seeks to unify access rules in a way that makes access certain, practical, free, and enduring, with the least possible impact on landholders. Our proposed policy, where ownership remains in private hands and walking access is restricted to water margins, will fulfil that.

Dr Muriel Newman: What is the Minister’s response to rural women up and down the country who are saying that if this law is passed, the Labour Government will be putting their families’ lives at risk of rape, robbery, and home invasion, by giving gangs and other criminals the right to trespass legally on their property?

Hon JIM SUTTON: The 50 to 70 percent of New Zealand water margins where there is an existing legal right of public passage do not have that impact, and to suggest that filling in the gaps between those Queen’s Chains will have that effect is absurd scaremongering.

Larry Baldock: What is the Minister’s response to those who continually claim that the Government’s public access policy will seek to trample on private property rights, with provisions such as an unfettered right to roam?

Hon JIM SUTTON: My response is that they should read the newspapers occasionally, from which they would have learnt many months ago that the Government has rejected the policy of an unfettered right to roam.

Hon David Carter: Why did a spokesperson from his office tell Rural News in December last year that no work was continuing on the land access issue, and that none would be done in the near future, when, within days of that statement, the Minister released the Government’s plans?

Hon JIM SUTTON: Obviously, somebody misinterpreted someone from my office.

Question No. 9 to Minister

STEVE CHADWICK (Labour—Rotorua): I take personal offence at the intimation I was personally involved in the establishment of Te Kupenga a Kahu Trust, a primary health organisation with the Lakes District Health Board. I have the utmost faith in the Lakes District Health Board and its ability to manage the process and establishment of any primary health organisation, including Te Kupenga a Kahu Trust.


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

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