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Questions & Answers Oral Answer - Tues. 15 Feb.

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

Tuesday, 15 February 2005
Questions for Oral Answer
Questions to Ministers

1. National Certificate of Educational Achievement—Results
2. National Certificate of Educational Achievement—Scholarship Examination
3. Te Wânanga o Aotearoa—Funding
4. Labour Market—Reports
5. Police Priorities—Policy
6. Hearing and Vision—Testing in Children
7. 111 System—Prioritisation
8. Health Benefits—Proposals
9. Prime Minister—Comments on Institutions
10. Kyoto Protocol—Greenhouse Gas Emissions
11. National Certificate of Educational Achievement—Scholarship Examination
12. Energy—Capacity

Questions to Members

13. Disabled Persons Employment Promotion (Repeal and Related Matters) Bill—Reporting Date


Questions for Oral Answer

Questions to Ministers

National Certificate of Educational Achievement—Results

1. Hon BILL ENGLISH (National—Clutha-Southland) to the Associate Minister of Education: Does he stand by his reported statement that there was nothing unexpected in this year’s NCEA results?

Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE (Associate Minister of Education): It is important to remember that the National Certificate of Educational Achievement (NCEA) is a quite separate examination from the New Zealand Scholarship. I am advised that at the end of a 3-year process implementation of NCEA levels 1 to 3 has gone relatively well. I stand by the advice I have received that the results for NCEA are within expected parameters.

Hon Bill English: Is the Minister aware that level 2 standard 90380 is one of the standards included in literacy and numeracy requirements for university entrance, and is he aware that in 2003 28 percent of students failed that standard, in 2004 57 percent of students failed that standard, and is this difference of 10,000 students what he expected?

Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: I would have hoped by now that the member would understand that in a standards-based assessment regime—[Interruption]

Mr SPEAKER: I will not have that shouting out. That is quite enough. The Minister will have an opportunity to answer the question.

Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: I would have hoped that by now the member would understand that in a standards-based assessment regime—

Mr SPEAKER: The Minister will please come to the answer.

Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: —with lots of variable factors, such comparisons between years and cohorts are absolutely meaningless.

Lynne Pillay: What reports has he seen from the education sector about the implementation of NCEA?

Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: I am able to quote Chris Haines, president of the School Trustees Association, who said on 18 January: “It was clear the former system had long outlived its usefulness as a fair measure of student learning. What we have now is a system which more fairly recognises student achievement. This change was huge by any world standards, and the fact it was achieved in a tight timeframe is a credit to all those concerned, especially secondary teachers, stakeholder groups, and NZQA. … With any new system there will always be some fine-tuning.”

Hon Brian Donnelly: Can the Associate Minister provide the House with the chronological sequence, with rough dates if possible, of when the New Zealand Qualifications Authority management recognised a problem with the variance in the NCEA level 4 results, when the New Zealand Qualifications Authority board was informed of that, when the board advised its Ministers, and when the Ministers passed that information on to the Prime Minister and Cabinet?

Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: No, I do not have that information at hand at this time, but will be happy to provide it to the questioner in due course.

Deborah Coddington: Does the Minister realise that 30 out of 50 students—[Interruption]

Mr SPEAKER: There is too much comment. There is to be no comment at all while a question is being asked.

Deborah Coddington: Does the Minister realise that 30 out of 50 students who sat NCEA level 4 Mâori got scholarship, but only nine out of 1,000 students who sat biology got scholarship; if so, was that not an unexpected result, either?

Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: I think that the most useful response I can give is to quote two statements from a Cabinet paper, as follows. Firstly: “An NCEA Level 4 ‘scholarships’ will be introduced for the highest achieving students. The nature of assessment for this will require further consideration and consultation with … secondary schools …”, and secondly: “There will be no inter-subject scaling of the external assessment. This has been a source of dissatisfaction for some time because of the distortions that occur …”. Those statements were made by Wyatt Creech on the introduction of those exams in 1998.

Hon Richard Prebble: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. It is very interesting to know what Mr Wyatt Creech thought about the NCEA, but that cannot be regarded as an answer. The Minister was asked about his own statement that the results were not unexpected. He was asked quite a simple question about whether he expected 30 out of 50 students who sat Mâori to pass and only nine out of 1,000 who sat biology to pass. That was a simple question, and I would have thought he would say either yes or no.

Mr SPEAKER: The honourable Minister can come to the answer.

Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: I made it clear in my answer to the primary question that I was referring to NCEA levels 1, 2, and 3, and that the scholarship exam is quite a different issue.

Bernie Ogilvy: Why is the Minister surprised that extending a standards-based system to scholarship exams has created those problems, when the scholarship awards scheme requires students’ results to be compared and ranked, yet standards-based assessment is designed to focus on individual achievement; and what would have been so difficult about retaining the old-style approach for the scholarship exam, as it is separate from NCEA level 3?

Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: I was certainly surprised, as I believe most of the community was, about the wide variety of results generated in that exam and at presumably the lack of moderation and control systems to ensure that that was not the case.

Hon Bill English: Does the Minister stand by his statement to the House that all comparisons between years and subjects are meaningless; and what does he think that those students who were among the 10,000 extra students who failed one of the literacy and numeracy standards—which may have made the difference between them getting university entrance, or not—will think of that?

Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: I think that students who have been spending some considerable time and effort working successfully with the NCEA clearly have a greater understanding than has been demonstrated by the member opposite. They understand only too well—[Interruption]

Mr SPEAKER: The Minister will answer the question.

Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: The students understand only too well that they pass a standard if they reach the set standard, and if they do not reach that point, they fail. That is the simplicity of the system.

Hon Bill English: Can the Minister therefore explain to the House why in 2003 around 8,000 students failed the standard for reading an unfamiliar text, but in 2004 around 18,000 students failed it; what went wrong for those 10,000 students—did the teaching go through the floor or are they just dumb?

Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: Clearly, there are a number of factors involved. They would relate to the size of the cohort, any change in the standard, and also, I could suggest, the origin of some of the students setting those literacy standards in particular. I would be happy to obtain and provide that detailed information for the questioner in due course.

Hon Bill English: Would the Minister care to elaborate, for the benefit of the House and also for the benefit of those 10,000 students, just what he meant by the expressions “change in the standard” and “origin of some of the students” as an explanation for 10,000 more students failing that standard this year, compared with the number last year?

Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: What I specifically meant was the role of foreign, fee-paying students, who are speakers of other than English as a first language, in some of those results.

Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I am sure you are not going to accept an answer from the Minister that suggests 10,000 foreign fee-payers are the reason why the figures are different. In any event, he failed to answer the question about what he had said to the House was a change in standards I think that is pretty important, and he should give us an answer.

Mr SPEAKER: No, that is a political point, not a point of order.

National Certificate of Educational Achievement—Scholarship Examination

2. JILL PETTIS (Labour—Whanganui) to the Associate Minister of Education: What action is the Government taking to address public concerns about the administration of last year’s scholarship exams?

Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE (Associate Minister of Education): Having acted in the interests of fairness and addressed the issue of variability in last year’s scholarship exams by introducing the distinction award, the Government’s next priority has been to students who will sit the scholarship exam this year and beyond. I am pleased to be able to tell the House that I am assembling a group of educational practitioners and experts, including teachers, principals, and representatives of the tertiary sector, to review and provide remedies to any deficiencies in the scholarship system. That expert group will have 2 weeks to prepare a report, including recommended options that I will take back to Cabinet. I know it is not a lot of time, but we have teachers and students in classrooms today who need to know the shape of the exams to be held at the end of this year.

Jill Pettis: Can the Minister please advise the House who will form this new review group?

Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: I will be inviting nominations for one representative from each of the following organisations to sit on that review group: the Secondary Principals Association of New Zealand, the New Zealand Vice-Chancellors Committee, the Post Primary Teachers Association, the Principals Council of the Post Primary Teachers Association, the New Zealand School Trustees Association, and Independent Schools New Zealand. It will also include two additional principals nominated by me, and a person from the wharekura area. They will be assisted by senior representatives from the Ministry of Education and the Qualifications Authority.

Hon Bill English: Why is it that the Minister, in setting up a group that is meant to improve the operation of scholarship, has appointed a bunch of people who are political representatives of the usual organisations—a group that will be simply taken over by the Qualifications Authority bureaucrats in exactly the same way that all other advisory groups have been taken over?

Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: The Minister has not, and it will not.

Hon Brian Donnelly: Will the Associate Minister confirm that all examination papers would not have had to be recovered, as the Prime Minister was led to believe, in order to provide statistical moderation of scholarship marks; and, if that is the case, why was that course of action not taken?

Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: It is my understanding that the discussion over how—if at all—marks in this year’s scholarship exam can be moderated is still an ongoing statistical debate.

Jill Pettis: Given the Minister’s announcement about the review and the panel, can he advise the House whether that is the Government’s only response to concerns about the administration of last year’s scholarship exam?

Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: No, I have also written to the State Services Commissioner, Dr Mark Prebble, asking him to use his powers pursuant to sections 6(b) and 11(4) of the State Sector Act relating to the performance of Government institutions, including the discharge by the chief executive of his or her functions. I have requested that Dr Prebble review the performance of the New Zealand Qualifications Authority, firstly, in relation to the New Zealand Scholarship examinations in 2004 and, more generally, in carrying out its functions in the school sector. The terms of reference will be referred to Cabinet this week, although I expect them to cover the wider issues of the authority’s role in the educational sector. The priority will be identifying what went wrong with the 2004 scholarship exams.

Te Wânanga o Aotearoa—Funding

3. Hon KEN SHIRLEY (ACT) to the Minister of Education: What amount of Government funding did Te Wânanga o Aotearoa receive in the last financial year, and is the wânanga meeting his expectations relating to financial management?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD (Minister of Education): I am advised that the Tertiary Education Commission funding to the wânanga was $239 million, approximately. I am yet to be convinced that the taxpayer got value for money from that expenditure.

Hon Ken Shirley: Why does that massive level of funding of $239 million in 1 year continue when the Government’s own representative on the wânanga council, Graeme McNally, advised in December that there has been a serious breakdown in financial management, with a prevailing culture of non-accountability and extravagance in wânanga spending by senior management?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: I think that probably Mr McNally’s report was one of the reasons I said that I am yet to be convinced that the taxpayer has had value for money from the system that was set up by the previous National Government.

Tariana Turia: Does the Minister agree with the comments made by his previous Associate Minister of Education (Tertiary Education), the Hon Steve Maharey, on 17 May 2004, when he stated that: “Mâori enrolled in tertiary education is one of the great success stories of this Government and the bulk of Mâori tertiary enrolments are at wânanga, but the majority are at Te Wânanga o Aotearoa, which is providing a staircase into higher learning for tens of thousands of Mâori who have never participated in tertiary education before.”?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: I think the degree of agreement goes to the quality in the staircasing that actually occurs, and that is something that I want to see more evidence of.

Hon Ken Shirley: Is it appropriate for the wânanga to offer a security guard course to students in Queensland, Australia, with flights, accommodation, apparel, and passport costs, etc. provided free of charge as inducements to enrol, and to get New Zealand taxpayers’ funding for that?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: Not if it is getting New Zealand taxpayers’ funding. I do not know that that is the case for that course.

Tariana Turia: How many State agencies have scrutinised Te Wânanga o Aotearoa over the past 2 years?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: I know that the Audit Office has someone whom I have appointed who is currently there, the Tertiary Education Commission is having a look, and the New Zealand Qualifications Authority has had a look, but that does not mean that there is a satisfactory result yet. I want to make it very clear to the House that there has been a large increase of funding in the area, and I am not yet convinced that we have value for money.

Hon Richard Prebble: Can the Minister explain to the House how it is that he does not know that the country’s biggest university, which I understand the wânanga now is—

Hon Member: Southern Hemisphere.

Mr SPEAKER: There is to be no interjection during question time. This time I will be generous. Please start the question again.

Hon Richard Prebble: How can the Minister say to this House that he does not know whether this institution, which is now the largest university in the Southern Hemisphere, may actually be providing courses in being a security guard in Queensland, Australia, when he said he is aware he has had an adverse report, when he has sent in all those officials; and when the wânanga is spending $239 million, does he not think he has some obligation to know the answers to those sorts of questions?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: I think a number of questions sit in there, and I would like to correct one impression straight away. The wânanga is not a university, and it is very important that people understand it is not a university—notwithstanding its inappropriate advertising, which indicates that it is. A number of Australian institutions offer courses in New Zealand, and that is allowed under our rules. Our institutions are allowed to offer courses offshore. The key is that they are not allowed to use New Zealand equivalent full-time student funding to do so. If they are, that money will be recovered.

Hon Richard Prebble: Why don’t you know?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. As Mr Prebble indicated, I had not quite completed my answer, unfortunately. Universities in New Zealand and other tertiary education institutions offer tens of thousands of courses. I do not know the list off by heart.

Hon Richard Prebble: Why not?

Mr SPEAKER: I am perfectly happy for the Minister to complete his answer. Mr Prebble had quite a detailed question. The Minister was trying to complete the answer. I did not think it was an especially controversial one.

Rodney Hide: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. While the Minister was on his feet, I am afraid that the Hon Tariana Turia called out an epithet, accusing him of a position that was very unparliamentary. I know that neither the Minister nor you would have heard it, but we certainly did and I think she should be asked to withdraw and apologise.

Mr SPEAKER: If the member used an unparliamentary phrase, I ask her to withdraw and apologise.

Tariana Turia: I withdraw and apologise. I seek leave to table the Hon Steve Maharey’s press release of 17 May 2004, praising Te Wânanga o Aotearoa.

Mr SPEAKER: Is there any objection? There is.

Kenneth Wang: Just a point of order. I just want to know from the Minister—

Mr SPEAKER: Is this a question?

Kenneth Wang: What control or management system has been put in place to monitor the spending of the $239 million of taxpayers’ money by Te Wânanga o Aotearoa?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: Is this a question, rather than a point of order?

Mr SPEAKER: It is a question.

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: There has been extensive monitoring, as I outlined to the House earlier. I am not sure yet whether we have got to the bottom of the issue—that is, whether in fact the vast number of people who go to the courses actually graduate on to something worthwhile. The wânanga argues that they do. We are yet to see the evidence of it.

Hon Ken Shirley: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. My colleague Kenneth Wang raised that as a point of order. I hope for the sake of the record that it is recorded as such, and that the Minister was responding to that.

Mr SPEAKER: No. The member asked a question. I specifically asked him about that, and he did ask a question. However, I will take that into consideration.

Labour Market—Reports

4. GEORGINA BEYER (Labour—Wairarapa) to the Minister for Social Development and Employment: What recent reports has he received on the state of the labour market?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY (Minister for Social Development and Employment): The household labour force survey for the December 2004 quarter released last Friday reported that employment increased by 87,000 last year, taking the total increase in employment since the Labour Government took office to 264,000. That is 152 more people in employment for every single day of this Government, or one person employed every 10 minutes. Unemployment reduced by 18,000 last year. That is 37 percent fewer unemployed than when we took office. Unemployment now is at a record low of 3.6 percent, which makes us No. 1 in the OECD.

Georgina Beyer: Were any aspects of the December 2004 household labour force survey results unusual; if so, what were they?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: The Labour-Progressive Government was pleased to notice in the survey that six records had been broken. The first was the record high level of employment. The others were the record low level of unemployment; a record high 1.6 percent employment growth in the December 2004 quarter; a record high labour force participation rate of 67.7 percent; a record high 65.3 percent of those of working age now in employment; and, for the first time, all ethnic groups measured having an annual average unemployment rate of under 9 percent.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Why does the Minister want to associate himself with that sort of deception when he knows full well that the Finance and Expenditure Committee was told that that employment measurement can derive from a person getting just 1 hour’s work a week and that it disguises the fact that tens of thousands of New Zealanders have gone off the unemployment benefit to the sickness benefit and therefore are not measured against the Minister’s 3.6 percent index?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: Because, of course, it is not deception. This measure is the measure used throughout the OECD, so we are using the same measure. As I have explained to the member a number of times, the measure he should be looking at in the survey is underemployment, to tell whether people are getting the jobs that they actually want. I point out to the member that what we have is a movement of people from sickness benefit to invalids benefit, but that over the last 5 years, approximately 20,000 have moved from sickness benefit to invalids benefit and about 70,000 have moved back the other way.

Judy Turner: Has the Minister seen reports of Dr Alan Bollard’s recent speech to the Canterbury Employers Chamber of Commerce, when he stated that to increase growth it is more important to focus on improving the productivity of the current workforce rather than on expanding an already stretched labour force, and how does this sit with the Government’s pledge to encourage more mothers back into paid employment and away from caring for their children at home?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: It sits very well. In fact, if the member cares to read speeches from right across the economic portfolios of the Government she will hear the same message about productivity. But at the same time this is a country where more people can go back into the workforce, provided they have the support of such things as childcare, and provided that it is a free choice to do so. That is what we are aiming to provide for.

Georgina Beyer: How has this significant improvement in the employment situation been shared regionally?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: The Labour-Progressive Government has noticed that all 12 regions have reported, and benefited from, an improved employment situation. In every single region the unemployment rate is now under 5 percent. The annual average unemployment rate in Northland went down from 8 percent to 4.5 percent within a year, while that in the Bay of Plenty dropped from 6.3 percent to 4.7 percent. The disparity between the lowest rate, which is 2.5 percent in the Nelson/Marlborough / West Coast area, and the highest, which is 4.8 percent in the Hawke’s Bay / Gisborne area, is much smaller than it used to be.

Judy Turner: Does the Minister agree that a singular focus on increasing women’s participation in the labour market, in an effort to improve GDP relative to that of other OECD countries, ignores the fact that staying home to look after children is valuable work, even if it does not rate on a clinical economic indicator, and that by contracting out parenting through dawn-till-dusk childcare we may be putting economic rankings above family well-being?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: I would not want the member to think that the Government would focus on one singular policy to increase productivity. As she knows, the Government has more policy than the rest of the House put together on these issues, as well as on everything else. I also stress that the Government has placed an enormous amount of emphasis on the family. That is why we have a partnership on the Families Commission, as the member knows.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I seek leave to table two documents. One is the comparative record between the 2005 results, which were much lauded by the Minister, and the results from 1985, when the great economic experiment began under Labour, which shows that unemployment is higher than it was back then.

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

Leave granted.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I seek leave to table the second document, which debunks the view that there is a greater movement of people from the sickness benefit to the unemployment benefit than the reverse. The document proves that, under Labour, there are tens of thousands more people who are on the sickness benefit than there were before Labour came to power.

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

Leave granted.

Police Priorities—Policy

5. RON MARK (NZ First) to the Minister of Police: What policy determines how police are prioritised to solve crime?

Hon GEORGE HAWKINS (Minister of Police): The Government’s crime reduction strategy set seven priority areas aimed at particular at-risk groups of victims. This strategy is then reflected in the statement of intent, which records the annual agreement between the Minister and the Commissioner of Police.

Ron Mark: Can the Minister confirm to the House and the public that the sole purpose of the Criminal Investigation Bureau (CIB) is to investigate serious crime, and that its officers are not expected to fulfil traffic quotas?

Hon GEORGE HAWKINS: The Commissioner of Police has told all his staff that with priority one calls the nearest staff member should respond.

Ron Mark: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I appreciate the Minister’s answer but I did not ask about emergency services or priority one calls. I simply asked the Minister whether the CIB’s sole purpose is to investigate serious crime, and whether its officers are not expected to fulfil traffic quotas. It was a question about traffic quotas, not about emergency response. Can he answer it?

Mr SPEAKER: I ask the Minister to respond.

Hon GEORGE HAWKINS: The police do not have specific quotas.

Tim Barnett: How does the Government quantify the success of its crime reduction policies?

Hon GEORGE HAWKINS: The statistics show that recorded crime is at its lowest rate in 21 years. Crime resolution is up to 45.1 percent. In addition, we have reduced the road toll to its second-lowest annual rate since the 1960s.

Hon Tony Ryall: Has the Minister ever asked the Commissioner of Police whether he has enough resources to provide a safe 111 service; if so, when, and what was said?

Hon GEORGE HAWKINS: The commissioner and I often talk about resources and he is very pleased with what I get him.

Mr SPEAKER: The Minister will now answer the specific question that the member asked.

Hon GEORGE HAWKINS: I remind the member that this Government has provided resources for 111 calls over the last year since we talked about providing another 18 staff for the control rooms.

Rodney Hide: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The Minister in no way addressed the question—it was not my particular question, but I know that the public and the members of this House certainly have an interest in it—which asked whether the Minister himself has done his job and has raised the question of adequate resources for the 111 emergency service. The Minister studiously avoided addressing that. I know that you are not responsible for his answer, but he certainly has to address the question, and I took, from what the Minister said, that he did not address the question at all. I can only conclude that that was because the true answer would be embarrassing.

Mr SPEAKER: No, he did address the question.

Nandor Tanczos: Can the Minister confirm that the police would have the equivalent of 50 extra front-line officers to respond to 111 emergencies if they copied the British police policy of not charging people for cannabis offences—[Interruption]

Mr SPEAKER: Every member in this House who has been properly elected in the democratic system has the right to ask a question. I will not warn anyone again. Mr Tanczos has just as much right as anyone else.

Nandor Tanczos: Can the Minister confirm that the police would have the equivalent of 50 extra front-line officers to respond to 111 emergencies if they copied the UK police policy of not charging people for cannabis offences, and if he cannot confirm that, can he tell the House how many front-line officers it would free up?

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. You have admonished members of the House for making noise during that question. I point out to you that the questioner invited the Minister to accept a breach of the law—charging people who are caught in respect of such offences is clearly enough stated in our current law—and therefore, the question is ridiculous and should be ruled out of order.

Mr SPEAKER: No, I do not need any assistance. The question was in order.

Hon GEORGE HAWKINS: Police police all offences across the board and make sure they are even-handed in the way they apply that policing.

Nandor Tanczos: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. My question—

Mr SPEAKER: No, the Minister addressed the question. I heard him.

Ron Mark: Is the Minister willing to defend the categorical statement from a detective sergeant that it is police policy to contract a certain number of hours for the traffic police, that that is non-negotiable, and that if there is a shortage due to staff holidays, sickness, etc., then police are pulled from criminal investigations and used for traffic duties?

Hon GEORGE HAWKINS: I will not comment on that individual case, because I know that last week when the member brought cases to the House, they were proved to be wrong.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: If everything is fine in the Minister’s portfolio and if, as he claims, he is on top of his job, why did he go to the Prime Minister and complain that Ron Mark was bullying him, and what did the Prime Minister say to him?

Hon GEORGE HAWKINS: I did not go to the Prime Minister about Ron Mark. Everyone knows what he is like.

Ron Mark: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I understand that the Minister is under extreme pressure, and I know—

Mr SPEAKER: Please come to the point of order. What is the point of order?

Ron Mark: My point of order is this: is that member implying in this Chamber that Ron Mark, NZ First MP, is a bully? That is serious. I would have expected you to be first on your feet to bring the Minister back into line for casting aspersions.

Mr SPEAKER: No, I thought the question and the reply were within Standing Orders.

Hearing and Vision—Testing in Children

6. JUDY TURNER (Deputy Leader—United Future) to the Associate Minister of Health: Is he satisfied that the regime to test for hearing and vision difficulties in children is adequate; if not, does he have any plans to do something about it?

Hon PETE HODGSON (Associate Minister of Health): Not entirely and yes. The member will be aware of the hearing screening project under way in the Waikato, which, I trust, will give us good information on what steps, if any, need to be taken to further improve provision. On the subject of vision and hearing, I have read the member’s articles over this summer, and invite her to submit her source data from the Castlecliff School study to me so that we can take a look at it.

Judy Turner: If, after viewing the 2-year trial at Wanganui’s Castlecliff School, he is able to confirm that 40 percent of the children who passed the Government-funded screening test actually needed glasses, and that 23 percent needed retesting a year later, and given that the Health Committee has voted against an inquiry, will he initiate a ministerial inquiry into the performance of that programme, as those results suggest that the as many as 22,000 new entrants tested each year could be getting a false result?

Hon PETE HODGSON: If the situation is as serious as the member suggests, we probably would not need an inquiry. But why do we not take a good look at the source data, and, like any other experiment, assess it objectively?

Judy Turner: Can the Minister confirm that the Ministry of Health cannot tell us how many children complete their eight well-child checks—which this screening is part of—because a system to track that kind of information was put in place only 6 months ago; if so, does he think it is acceptable that the Government has no idea how many children have missed out, and are still missing out, on this care?

Hon PETE HODGSON: No, I cannot, but that does not mean that the member’s assertion is wrong.

Judy Turner: Can the Minister confirm that the Ministry of Health has not formally evaluated the effectiveness of the National Vision Hearing Screening Programme since its inception; if so, is he content to stand by while our children’s educational and social development is being jeopardised, when other screening programmes have been scrutinised much more seriously?

Hon PETE HODGSON: I was advised today that the National Audiology Centre, which, curiously, looks at both hearing and vision testing, considers that things are moving satisfactorily. But I said in my primary answer that I am not entirely sure that they are.

Judy Turner: I seek leave of the House to table the Castlecliff School vision testing report, as requested by the Minister.

Leave granted.

111 System—Prioritisation

7. Hon TONY RYALL (National—Bay Of Plenty) to the Minister of Police: Is he prepared to change police priorities to divert some staff from lower-priority traffic tasks, to improve 111 response times; if not, why not?

Hon GEORGE HAWKINS (Minister of Police): That is the responsibility of the Commissioner of Police. He is responsible for the effective allocation of staff resources to meet the strategic and daily priorities of policing. The commissioner has reinforced his expectation that all rostered sworn staff will make themselves available to respond to emergencies when they are on duty.

Hon Tony Ryall: Has he ever asked the Commissioner of Police whether he has enough resources to provide safe 111 services?

Hon GEORGE HAWKINS: Yes, and he has been provided with an extra 18, and there is a review. If the commissioner needs more resources, we will make sure that he gets them.

Ron Mark: Does the Minister believe that his priorities are acceptable when a Criminal Investigation Bureau officer writes:

“CIB have prided themselves for many years as an elite group of people in the police who investigate serious crime and are thorough in leaving no stone unturned when investigating crime. … How are they expected to continue with this level of service to the communities they serve when they are being pressured to put down their homicide and rape files and go do traffic?”; does he find that acceptable?

Hon GEORGE HAWKINS: As no name is given to that person the member is quoting, he sounds very much like doubting Thomas or his brother.

Hon Tony Ryall: Has police management raised any concerns about staffing levels at police communications centres at any stage, and what were those concerns?

Hon GEORGE HAWKINS: Last year police management said it wanted more prosecutors, and more people in its communications centres. We gave it 18 more people in the communications centres, and we increased the number of prosecutors.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: If everything is fine in the Minister’s portfolio, and if he is on top of his job, why are we seeing in the newspapers photographs of him appearing with the Prime Minister, and commentary regarding his being bullied by Ron Mark; and when did the Prime Minister say that she would make that statement?

Hon GEORGE HAWKINS: I am always happy to be with the Prime Minister and photographed with her.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I did not ask him whether he was happy or unhappy—I know he is pretty desolate most of time. But my real point is why such articles are appearing in newspapers—on the front pages at that—and when did the Prime Minister say she would make that statement. He must have known that the Prime Minister was going to make a statement at a press conference. He surely should be required to tell the House what the answer is.

Mr SPEAKER: That is not a point of order.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. If you thought my question was appropriate, then, with respect, it was a point of order. If you thought that what I asked was appropriate—and you did not rule me out of order then—and if that was his answer, then it was a very valid point of order. There are two questions that the Minister has failed to answer. If you know what the answers are, please apprise me, the House, and the whole country of them.

Hon Dr Michael Cullen: Firstly, the Minister has no responsibility for what photographs a newspaper carries; the newspaper is responsible for that. Secondly, the Minister is not responsible for the prime ministerial decision to make certain statements; the Prime Minister makes those decisions.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: The Minister could have given that answer, in respect of the first question. But, on the second question, it is not the prime ministerial responsibility I am asking him to acquit; it is his own. I asked him when the Prime Minister had apprised him of her intention to hold such a conference and make such a statement. That is in his knowledge, and that makes it his responsibility.

Mr SPEAKER: No, I do not agree.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Countless times in this House Ministers have been asked as to when they first learnt something. That makes it the Minister’s responsibility. Certainly, no one in this House, surely, believes that the Prime Minister went along to that media function intending to make a statement and did not tell the Minister that she was going to do that. I am asking the Minister when he was told—before the meeting or after.

Mr SPEAKER: As far as I was concerned, the Minister addressed the question originally.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Well, if he did answer the question, then please tell me what the date is.

Mr SPEAKER: I beg your pardon?

Rt Hon Winston Peters: If he did address the question, then please tell us all what the date was on which the Prime Minister advised him of that?

Mr SPEAKER: My job here is not to answer that sort of question. That is not my job, as Speaker. My job is to ensure that questions are properly asked, and I allowed the member’s question. My job is to ensure that Ministers address the question, and the Minister did.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. It is not your job to answer the question, but it is your job to make sure that the Minister does make some attempt to answer. If it is in his knowledge—and it must be—then surely he should be required to answer. When did the Prime Minister tell him that she intended to make that statement at a press conference?

Mr SPEAKER: The Minister is not responsible for newspapers, or the Prime Minister. The Minister responded in so far as there was responsibility, and I adjudged that he addressed the question.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I am not claiming that he is responsible for anything in the newspapers—none of us are. But he is certainly responsible in respect of my question as to when the Prime Minister told him that she was going to make that statement. He is the only one who knows. That is what makes him responsible, and I am asking now that he be asked to answer the question.

Hon Dr Michael Cullen: Apart from the fact that I am now informed that the Prime Minister first made the statement on Morning Report that morning, so there was scarcely anything to be said in Cabinet about it, the Minister cannot be responsible for what the Prime Minister said, even if she said it to him. He might be responsible for whether he heard it, but not for whether she said it.

Mr SPEAKER: That is precisely what I ruled.

Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. This has been a very long and rather interesting exchange. Do you not think it would have been a lot better had you just said to Mr Hawkins that he could expand on the answer and, at least, tell the House whether he knew that the Prime Minister was going to go to his defence?

Mr SPEAKER: Well, if the member had my job, he could have insisted on that. I did not; he has not.

Hon Tony Ryall: Is it not a fact that the police were actually seeking funding for an additional 60 communications centre staff to relieve pressure on the 111 system, as detailed by Mr Greg O’Connor on television; if so, why was this funding not forthcoming, and who made that decision?

Hon GEORGE HAWKINS: The police always ask for more than they are going to get. That always happens across every portfolio in this Government. The Commissioner of Police was well pleased to get the 18 extra staff.

Hon Tony Ryall: When the Commissioner of Police asked for those additional 60 staff, did he highlight to the Minister a stream of internal correspondence from within his department expressing concerns about the understaffing; and why did this Minister and this Government decide that 18 staff were better than 60?

Hon GEORGE HAWKINS: It was not a matter of 18 or 60; they were wanted for other areas as well, such as prosecution—

Hon Tony Ryall: No.

Hon GEORGE HAWKINS: The member can say “No.”, but they were wanted for the prosecution section and for police driver training. The commissioner was pleased because he got staff for all three areas.

Ron Mark: I seek the leave of the House to table a report to the Minister of Police, 2003 Budget Bid Initiatives, from the Commissioner of Police, dated 14 November, where on page 4 the commissioner asked for a total of 100 staff to deal with the Auckland response capacity.

Leave granted.

Hon Tony Ryall: I seek leave to table the transcript of the interview on television of Mr Greg O’Connor of the Police Association where he said in respect of this matter that the police applied for 60 staff and ended up with 18, many of whom did not arrive.

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

Health Benefits—Proposals

8. STEVE CHADWICK (Labour—Rotorua) to the Minister of Health: Has she received any proposals to scrap universal health benefits, and what would be the impact of such an approach?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Leader of the House), on behalf of the Minister of Health: Yes, the Minister has seen the statement made by the Opposition spokesperson that National will abandon the universal subsidies for primary care that have been announced by this Government. That would mean a return to the old discredited targeting policies. For example, under the community services card regime people who earned over $19,999 a year were rich enough to pay for their primary-care services. The public will also remember the failed attempt to introduce charging for hospital services that quickly had to be abandoned.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I wish to ask you to make a comparison. That Minister found himself responsible for learning when some other party made a statement, but of course just prior to that, when the Minister of Police was asked when he learnt something, that was out of order. How can this be in order, if that question was out of order?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: In speaking to the point of order, I say that the question was whether the Minister had received any proposals. Had the member cared to ask the Minister whether he had heard certain things from the Prime Minister that question would have been in order.

Steve Chadwick: What evidence has the Minister of Health seen of the benefits from the universal subsidies for primary health care now being rolled out through the primary health organisations?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: We are already seeing good results from the increased investment in primary health care. Preliminary figures show that people are accessing primary care based on their need, and not on some arbitrary targeting tool such as the community services card. People with the greatest health needs are now using services at a higher rate. That is exactly what one would expect, given their higher health needs. Under the old regime many people from the high-health need population were simply not getting adequate primary health care.

Dr Paul Hutchison: Can the Minister of Health guarantee she will have resources available to fix New Zealand’s woefully substandard cancer services, the mental health crisis, the obesity diabetes epidemic, and the pressing health needs of our ageing population?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I am happy to answer the question, but the question was about universal health benefits rather than the issues of cancer patients, etc.

Mr SPEAKER: No, the Minister said that he was happy to answer the question, and I ask him to do so.

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I certainly am. I will continue, on behalf of the Minister of Health, to place considerable pressure on the Minister of Finance to ensure that sufficient resources are available, but in the case of cancer treatment, I remind the member that in 1999 the then National Government refused to release a report on the shortcomings in cancer care, and since that time the Government has been progressively building up resources in that area that were left completely inadequate by National.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I note that there are four Associate Ministers of Health in the House. In the event that the Minister of Health is unavailable, why is it that those Ministers—Mr O’Connor, Mr Hodgson, Mr Anderton, and others—draw a salary but do not stand in for the Minister during her absence?

Mr SPEAKER: All I can say is that the Government determines who answers questions when the Minister is absent.

Prime Minister—Comments on Institutions

9. Hon KEN SHIRLEY (ACT) to the Prime Minister: Was she referring to any specific institutions—if so, which ones—when in her Prime Minister’s statement to the House she stated: “Low-quality providers and courses should not expect to survive. The money they have consumed can be far better spent elsewhere.”?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK (Prime Minister): No.

Hon Ken Shirley: Is the Prime Minister concerned with the lack of financial accountability of Te Wânanga o Aotearoa, and can she explain to the House how taxpayer funding went from $8 million in 2000, to $111 million in 2002, to $239 million this year, with inadequate checks on financial management and quality outcomes; is that not a case of double standards?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: As the Minister of Education said in his earlier answer, there are a number of issues to be looked at around that level of funding, and no, I could not say that I am satisfied there is value for money. In my statement to the House I said that I want value for money.

Hon Ken Shirley: How can the Prime Minister account for the spending of over a quarter of a billion dollars of taxpayers’ money in just the current financial year, when her own advisers on the governing body of that organisation have been saying that there is a lack of accountability, bad management, and gross extravagance by senior management; how can she just flush away taxpayers’ money on that scale?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: If the member listened carefully, he would find that I actually agree with him that there is an issue to be examined. I also draw attention to the statement: “… ‘that our educational programmes be funded in ways that are consistent with the … Treaty of Waitangi.’ ” That was a statement the ACT leader issued, stating that he agreed with Mrs Turia about that.

Rodney Hide: When did the Prime Minister first have concerns about the financial management of Te Wânanga o Aotearoa, and, in particular, about what Mr McNally said about there being possible breaches of statutory duty, serious cases of financial mismanagement, and that the Mâori university suffered from a culture of non-accountability and extravagance; and when does she think she will announce an investigation of the wânanga so that her Government can escape further questioning?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: There are, of course, a couple of investigations under way at the moment. One was initiated by the Hon Steve Maharey, who wrote to the Auditor-General in late August 2004 asking him to look at potential conflicts of interest at the wânanga, and another was initiated by the Hon Trevor Mallard, who is corresponding with the Registrar of Companies and inviting that office to exercise its statutory power in respect of the use of the term “university”. There has also been another audit of Te Wânanga o Aotearoa, and as the former Associate Minister will confirm, I have on many occasions raised with him concern. That was dealt with in my speech to the House. We will get better value for money.

Kyoto Protocol—Greenhouse Gas Emissions

10. JEANETTE FITZSIMONS (Co-Leader—Green) to the Convenor, Ministerial Group on Climate Change: Does he believe New Zealand will meet its target under the Kyoto Protocol, which comes into effect tomorrow, to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels; if so, why?

Hon PETE HODGSON (Convenor, Ministerial Group on Climate Change): On a gross basis, no; on a net basis, yes.

Jeanette Fitzsimons: Can the Minister confirm that New Zealand’s net emissions have so far risen 20 percent since 1990, and how does he plan to eliminate that 20 percent over the next 3 years?

Hon PETE HODGSON: The member will find that it is our gross emissions that have risen by about that amount. I simply say that the Government’s many programmes to reduce emissions—not to 1990 levels, but certainly to levels against business as usual—are now starting to bite.

David Parker: What reports has the Minister seen on business support for the Kyoto Protocol?

Hon PETE HODGSON: I have seen many reports, including one today from a group representing New Zealand’s largest energy users. They see the Kyoto Protocol as being an important first step, and are supportive of New Zealand’s efforts to reduce emissions and to protect business competitiveness at the same time.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: Does the Minister recall justifying the Government’s ratification of the Kyoto Protocol in 2002—ahead of our major trading partners—on the basis of having 56 million tonnes of carbon credits to sell; and given that with the collapse in new forest plantings, increase in dairy stock, and increase in emissions that figure is already widely discredited, does he now accept that he was in error on that fundamental point?

Hon PETE HODGSON: The answer to the last question is “No.” The fact is that New Zealand is likely to remain a net seller of carbon credits over the course of the 2008-12 period. The amount by which we will be a net seller will fluctuate up and down as projections continue to change.

Larry Baldock: Does the Minister support the view promoted by some that carbon dioxide should now be considered to be filthy, life-threatening pollution, or does he agree with the many sensible and balanced members of the scientific community who regard carbon dioxide as we always have regarded it: as a natural and necessary component of our planet’s atmosphere?

Hon PETE HODGSON: Like many things in life, carbon dioxide is good in moderation. Climate change suggests that carbon dioxide is now becoming an immoderate part of our atmosphere.

Jeanette Fitzsimons: Can the Minister explain, in light of his reply to my primary question, why the Government’s climate change website states that gross emissions have risen nearly 22 percent but net emissions have risen 20 percent; and is that figure on the website wrong?

Hon PETE HODGSON: I misunderstood the member, and I apologise. It is true that both gross and net emissions have risen.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: He is all over the paddock.

Hon PETE HODGSON: I am not all over the paddock. It is true that both gross and net emissions—[Interruption] The member is one of those with kangaroos in his top paddock, but I say to him, notwithstanding that, that New Zealand is still on track to meet its Kyoto targets on a net basis.

David Parker: Has the Minister seen reports with regard to what other conservative opposition leaders say on climate change?

Hon PETE HODGSON: Yes. The Conservative Party leader in Britain said last year, with simple clarity: “Like the war on terror or the drive for responsible free trade, no one can opt out of the fight against global warming.” Then, in October last year, the leader of the conservative party in this country said that he wished to renounce the protocol and that he was uncomfortable with even its underlying science. His language was starting to approach that of a bewildered conspiracy theorist.

Rod Donald: Can the Minister confirm that greenhouse emissions from transport have increased by over 60 percent since 1990; and when can we expect to see energy efficiency standards for all vehicles entering the country, so that within 10 years we can be using half the fuel to drive the same distance?

Hon PETE HODGSON: I cannot confirm the figure, but it sounds about right. My colleague Judith Tizard, the Associate Minister of Transport, is now piloting New Zealand’s first-ever emissions testing, and that will have its benefits. There is another issue in front of us, which is whether New Zealand should go to a mandatory, vehicle fuel efficiency labelling scheme. I have a meeting on that basis with officials tonight.

Jeanette Fitzsimons: Can the Minister confirm that emissions from thermal power stations increased by over 90 percent from 1990 to 2003; and how will firing up the antiquated, inefficient, mothballed power station at Marsden B on coal help to reduce those emissions?

Hon PETE HODGSON: Electricity generation accounts for about 8 or 9 percent of all greenhouse gases in this country, yet seems to account somehow for about 80 or 90 percent of public attention. Cars and cows are where our greenhouse gases largely come from. That said, I say that any coal user, for electricity or for other purposes, will have to face a carbon charge in the future. The details of that charge will be announced later this year.

Nandor Tanczos: Can the Minister confirm that the current rates of forest planting are nowhere enough to offset greenhouse emissions; and what is the Government doing to discourage the conversion of forestry land—which is a sink for greenhouse gases—to dairying, which he himself just described as a major contributor of those gases?

Hon PETE HODGSON: I can confirm that forest planting does not offset, and never was enough to offset, all our emissions. It is, however, enough to offset our additional emissions on 1990 levels.

National Certificate of Educational Achievement—Scholarship Examination

11. Hon BILL ENGLISH (National—Clutha-Southland) to the Associate Minister of Education: Does he agree with the Prime Minister’s statement regarding scholarship results that “… there are a whole range of issues here that NZQA has to face up to”; if so, what issues does he think the New Zealand Qualifications Authority has to face up to?

Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE (Associate Minister of Education): Yes, I do agree with the Prime Minister. As I outlined earlier, that is the reason for the initiation of the review by the State Services Commission. But among the issues that need to be addressed are whether specified processes were followed, and whether the examinations in each subject were fair and valid assessment tools.

Hon Bill English: Is the Minister aware that the membership of the review group that he announced today is remarkably similar to the membership of the Secondary Principals’ and Leaders’ Forum—namely, the Post Primary Teachers Association (PPTA), the Principals Council of the PPTA, the Secondary Principals Association, the School Trustees Association, and the Vice-Chancellors Committee—and that that group gave the Minister advice last year that scholarship would be a shambles; so why will he take any notice of the same group reappointed this year?

Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I think that when allegations like that are made, they should be properly authenticated. I received no such advice from that group.

Mr SPEAKER: The member asked a question. The Minister can respond.

Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: My understanding of the comments made by that group previously is that they were certainly not as unequivocal as has just been suggested by the member. I am confident that the group’s members are appropriate representatives of the wider sector and will give good—

Hon Bill English: It’s all the same people.

Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: They are not the same people, I say to Mr English. I am confident that they will give us good advice.

Hon Brian Donnelly: Will the Minister confirm that the decision to have New Zealand Certificate of Educational Achievement level 4 as a standards-based assessment was made by the Labour Government Cabinet, not by National; and given that it was that decision that created the current debacle, are his moves to sack the chief executive officer not simply passing the buck?

Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: No, I will not confirm that statement. Quite clearly, that decision was made in 1998. I earlier referred to the Cabinet paper over the signature of Wyatt Creech, to demonstrate that that is the fact of the matter.

Hon Bill English: Can the Minister confirm that a group called the Secondary Principals’ and Leaders’ Forum, whose membership is largely made up of exactly the same membership he announced for his review group today, told the chief executive of the Ministry of Education, and the New Zealand Qualifications Authority, on 25 August 2004 in respect of scholarship: “Entries are very conservative, teachers have been reluctant to enter students for scholarship when they do not know how it is going to be examined.”, and that the minutes also pinpoint subjects such as biology and graphics, which have turned out to be the subjects in which there were real problems?

Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: I cannot confirm that, but if that is the document that the member tabled in the House the other day, I can confirm that his quotation from it is extremely selective.

Hon Bill English: I seek leave to table the minutes again, to demonstrate that my quotes were precisely from the document.

Leave granted.

Hon Bill English: Is this Parliament meant to believe that when the Secondary Principals’ and Leaders’ Forum told the chief executive of the New Zealand Qualifications Authority, and the Ministry of Education—the Minister of Education’s principal advisers—that teachers did not know how students were going to be examined in scholarship, and that this reflected a lack of confidence in scholarship by teachers, those people did not tell the Minister that that was what secondary schools were telling him, in August last year?

Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: I am sure questions like that will be properly answered by the review that has been initiated today.

Hon Bill English: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. It makes a nonsense of question time when I am asking the Minister responsible, who has all the paperwork and who has a colleague Minister who would have been present, about what advice he was given, and he says to go and ask someone else who is not in the House. He is the Minister responsible, and Parliament is about ministerial responsibility.

Mr SPEAKER: Yes, I think that is a fair point. The Minister will expand on the answer.

Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: The whole point of the review is to answer exactly questions like that, which I am not able to answer because I do not have all that information.

Hon Richard Prebble: Mr Speaker, we are in a rather unusual situation. I have seen it before, but it is rather unusual. We have a Minister who has only just been appointed and we have, by way of interjection from the previous Minister, Mr Mallard, a clear indication that he, as the Minister who was responsible, does know the answer. I seek leave for that particular question to be redirected to Mr Mallard, who, I am sure, could answer it.

Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought. Is there any objection? There is not.

Hon Bill English: Can the Minister advise the House whether advice given to Howard Fancy, the chief executive of the Ministry of Education, and Karen van Rooyen, the Chief Executive of the New Zealand Qualifications Authority, was passed on to him, the advice being that given by the Secondary Principals’ and Leaders’ Forum on Wednesday, 25 August 2004, which includes in the minutes, under “Scholarship”, the statements: “Entries are very conservative, teachers have been reluctant to enter students for scholarship when they do not know how it is going to be examined. This may reflect a lack of confidence in scholarship examination by teachers.”; if that advice was passed on by his chief advisers, why did he proceed with the scholarship examination?

Hon Trevor Mallard: I have, over the last 24 hours, worked my way through the advice I received over that time period. I did not receive that advice.

Hon Bill English: I don’t believe it.

Mr SPEAKER: The member will now stand, withdraw, and apologise for that comment.

Hon Bill English: I withdraw and apologise.

Energy—Capacity

12. PETER BROWN (Deputy Leader—NZ First) to the Minister of Energy: Is he confident that New Zealand’s energy requirements are being met?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD (Minister of Energy): Generally, yes.

Peter Brown: Is it acceptable to the Minister—noting particularly that answer—that, with our lakes 100 percent full, the wholesale price of electricity is something between four and five times what it was this time last year; if that is acceptable, would he tell us that; if it is not, what will he do about it?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: The substantive question was about energy requirements, not price, and I answered it directly.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. My colleague asked the Minister whether he thought the energy requirements were being met, and his answer was “Generally, yes.” Then my colleague asked a totally different question about the issue of price and the huge escalation in price since this time last year. We never got an answer at all. The Minister just got up and said he had answered the question, then sat down again. Frankly, on an issue as important to New Zealanders as power pricing, he should be required to answer the darned thing.

Mr SPEAKER: I think the Minister could address the particular question.

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: I did not come to the House prepared to answer questions on price, because the primary question did not relate to price. I do not have the information to confirm the member’s suggestions.

Larry Baldock: Can the Minister confirm that coal-fired power generation will form an important and necessary part of the industry being able to meet New Zealand’s energy needs over the foreseeable future?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: Notwithstanding the coal research facility in my own electorate, I am not prepared at this stage to back particular winners for our future energy requirements.

Peter Brown: Does the Minister accept that one of the requirements of the electricity industry is to deliver electricity to every New Zealander; if he does accept that, is he concerned that the price of power in New Zealand continues to grow at a much faster rate than inflation, and that it has a much greater impact on those who are on a fixed income, particularly those who live totally on superannuation; if he is concerned, what will he do about it; if the answer is “Nothing.”, will he be honest enough to tell us?

Mr SPEAKER: That is four questions. The Minister can address two of them.

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: I have noted, as I have become better briefed in this area, the very good work done by my colleague the previous Minister of Energy in making sure that pensioners and others—people who use lower amounts of power—are able to get power at reasonable prices.

Jeanette Fitzsimons: Why, when domestic electricity prices have doubled since 1990, have we seen so little improvement in household energy efficiency, and what is this Government’s target date to see all homes adequately insulated, damp-proofed, and fitted with energy-saving lights, water heaters, and showers, to keep bills down?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: The Government does not have a date for that.

Jeanette Fitzsimons: Is the Minister satisfied that when the Electricity Commission assesses the new 400 kilovolt ampere transmission lines against alternatives, as it is bound to do by statute, it will have a properly quantified and costed package of alternatives to assess, including the relative contributions of distributed generation, improved energy efficiency, wood-fired cogeneration, peak-load shifting, and direct use of gas?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: Again, I am relatively new in the portfolio. However, the one thing I know in this area is that the commission will be reviewed to death if it does not do its job properly.

Questions to Members

Disabled Persons Employment Promotion (Repeal and Related Matters) Bill—Reporting Date

1. Dr MURIEL NEWMAN (Deputy Leader—ACT) to the Chairperson of the Social Services Committee: What is the report-back date for the Disabled Persons Employment Promotion (Repeal and Related Matters) Bill, and what extensions have there been to the report-back date?

GEORGINA BEYER (Chairperson of the Social Services Committee): I am pleased to inform the deputy chairperson of the Social Services Committee that the Disabled Persons Employment Promotion (Repeal and Related Matters) Bill is due to be reported back to the House by 31 March 2005. The House has agreed, by leave, to one report-back date extension.

Dr Muriel Newman: In light of the committee receiving only 16 submissions, even though the bill will impact on more than 3,000 workers, is the chairperson planning to take steps to ensure that families who will be affected have been adequately consulted; if not, why not?

GEORGINA BEYER: That is a matter for the select committee itself to determine.

Dr Muriel Newman: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. My question asked whether the chairperson is planning to take steps to ensure wider consultation. I understand that that is a matter on which the chairperson can report to the House.

Mr SPEAKER: No, the question was order and the answer was in order.

Sandra Goudie: Does she believe that the reason for the extension was to ensure that parents of disabled people in sheltered workshops have been adequately consulted, and, if they have not been, why not?

GEORGINA BEYER: No.

Rodney Hide: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I just raise with you a point of consistency. Last week you asked me very politely to leave the House because I interjected before a person had started to speak, and I did so. I did not get any warning, and I left. When my colleague Dr Newman stood up to ask a question, Ruth Dyson immediately called out and yelled at her. You said nothing, Mr Speaker. Then, while my colleague was taking a point of order, Jill Pettis called out across the House. Again, you took no action. I have to say, when I look at it, that it is hard not to feel somewhat aggrieved.

Mr SPEAKER: I think that the member can feel somewhat aggrieved. I was in error.

Sandra Goudie: I seek leave to table 750 signatures of people who say that there has not been adequate consultation.

Leave granted.

Rodney Hide: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I raise a point of clarification. Should I feel somewhat aggrieved that Ruth Dyson and Jill Pettis were not thrown out, or somewhat aggrieved that I was?

Mr SPEAKER: Take your pick.

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

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