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Questions & Answers for Oral Answer 10 March 2005

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

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

1. Wages—Working for Families Package
2. Police—Culture
Question No. 1 to Minister
Question No. 2 to Minister
3. National Certificate of Educational Achievement—PPTA Views
4. Kiwibank—Performance
5. Residency—Employees of Relocating Businesses
6. Community Education Courses—Funding
7. Police—Inquiry into Historical Allegations
8. Road Accidents—Funding of Health and Social Costs
9. Cancer—Therapy Priorities
10. Police—Resources, North Shore
11. Communications Centres, Police—Staff Numbers
12. Tourism Strategy—Implementation

Questions for Oral Answer

Questions to Ministers

Wages—Working for Families Package

1. Dr DON BRASH (Leader of the Opposition) to the Prime Minister: Can she confirm her statement to the House yesterday that she had not in fact been advised that the impact of the Working for Families package on a five percent pay increase for a worker with two children earning $50,000 and receiving an accommodation supplement would only be $5.20 per week; if so, does she have any plans to review the package in order to ensure that more of the benefits of any wage increases flow to the worker rather than to her Government?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD (Minister of Education), on behalf of the Prime Minister: I can confirm, in respect of the statement in the member’s question yesterday, that the Prime Minister was not advised of that particular scenario because it was not relevant. The Working for Families package will dramatically improve the lives and opportunities of hundreds of thousands of New Zealanders, and this Government stands proudly behind it.

Dr Don Brash: Can the Prime Minister confirm that the Government’s Working for Families package will result in a worker with two children earning $45,000 a year, and in receipt of an accommodation supplement, receiving a mere $4.67 per week of a 5 percent wage increase—a pay increase that delivers a gross increase of $43.27 per week; almost 10 times the net increase that the worker will effectively receive—and can she tell the House what sort of incentive that provides for New Zealanders to get ahead?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: I can confirm on behalf of the Prime Minister, with regard to the example in the primary question, that a family paying a high rent in Auckland and with two children will get $156 a week out of this package. The members opposite are opposed to it, but we support it.

Sue Bradford: Will the Prime Minister support the call for a 5 percent wage rise across the board for workers, in light of research that showed that the chief executive officers of 25 leading New Zealand companies had an average pay increase of 25 percent in the past year, compared with a 2.4 percent increase in average ordinary-time weekly earnings?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: Matters of those sorts of negotiations are between workers, their unions, and employers.

Hon Peter Dunne: Does the Prime Minister have any information about the net impact on household incomes of the Working for Families package and other measures that have been adopted since she became Prime Minister; if so, could she share that information with the House?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: On behalf of the Prime Minister, I do not have the full list with me. I know that this package is worth about $1.1 billion. The changes in health are worth about $1,000 a year for each family; similarly in education. For this sort of package to be done out of taxes would cost $5.5 billion and result in cuts right through the public services.

Dr Don Brash: If the Government were so concerned about effective marginal tax rates that it specifically designed the Working for Families package to reduce the very high marginal tax rates facing beneficiaries, why did it then simply introduce a system that moved those very high effective marginal tax rates on to the average Kiwi working family?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: The average Kiwi working family, or the average family referred to by the Amalgamated Engineering, Printing and Manufacturing Union with a couple of kids and paying a high rental, will get over $150 a week out of this package. People like the cash, and getting the cash is much more important than the marginal amount they pay on the last dollar of tax. I ask that member whether he is saying they should not get the money, or is he saying their mates should not have a 5 percent wage increase, because they do not have children? He has to make up his mind. Previously he clearly wanted a low-wage, low-cost economy. That is not what this Government wants.

Dr Don Brash: Does the Prime Minister agree with the Cabinet paper on the Working for Families package that estimates that only 2 percent of sole parents will move off benefits as a result of the package, and that no couples at all will move off benefits as a result of the package?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: People have been moving off benefits because of the very good work done by Work and Income and because of the economy, which is booming.

Dr Don Brash: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I asked whether the Prime Minister agreed with the Cabinet paper that said that only 2 percent of sole parents would move off benefits as a result of the package, and that no couples would move off a benefit because of the package. The Minister, on behalf of the Prime Minister, did not answer that question.

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: The Cabinet paper is not relevant to people moving off benefits, because people are moving off benefits because of the good work of this Government and the booming economy. What a contrast that is to the time when we had a Reserve Bank governor who saw it as his aim to drive people out of jobs in New Zealand! That was Don Brash.

Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I note you have yet to rule on the requests that were repeatedly made of you yesterday to give the House an indication of how you would treat replies from Ministers, under Standing Order 370 and its various subparts. I would now like to know whether the answer Mr Mallard gave, and the style of it, is going to be the style of question time, so that perhaps from the point of view of supplementary questions members on this side of the House can make allegations of a sort similar to those that Government members, clearly, will continue to make in their answers.

Madam SPEAKER: The Minister addressed that question.

Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I did not ask you any question about the Minister’s answer to the question. I asked a question about Standing Order 370 and its subparts and your view of how it is to be applied, then a question specifically about whether your view was evident in the reply that Mr Mallard gave.

Madam SPEAKER: The reply that the Minister gave was relevant to the question asked. That is what is required.

Hon Richard Prebble: Does the Prime Minister accept that the poor design of the Working for Families package, and the statement made by the president of the Labour Party endorsing an inflationary wage round, are part of the reason why the Reserve Bank has increased interest rates today, and everyone who has a mortgage will have to pay more for it; if she does not, what responsibility does she take for the rise in interest rates?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: On behalf of the Prime Minister, I was not advised that either of those factors was part of the reason for the rates going up, when I was briefed by Dr Bollard. The reason for the rates going up is that he is concerned at the overheated economy in New Zealand.

Dr Don Brash: Does the Prime Minister agree with this statement from the Cabinet paper on the Working for Families package: “The package is likely to have relatively modest employment impacts. This effect is due to the fact that some groups, such as those on middle incomes, will now face higher marginal tax rates from family assistance, thereby reducing incentives to increase employment.”, and is this the reason why the Cabinet paper has now been removed from the Ministry of Social Development’s website?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: The particular objective of this package was to lift the standard of living of working and low-income New Zealanders. This package does that. It is actually very hard to have a big effect on unemployment when unemployment is at record lows—no thanks to members opposite, and especially Don Brash, who spent his time at the Reserve Bank trying to drive low-income Kiwis out of their jobs.

Dr Don Brash: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. That in no way answered or addressed my question. I asked whether the Prime Minister agreed with the Cabinet paper. The Minister made another gratuitous remark about my record as Governor of the Reserve Bank.

Madam SPEAKER: Would the Minister like to clarify his answer for the member.

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: The Cabinet paper referred to the matter in the way that the member suggested, but it was not the objective of this package to drive people into jobs; the objective was to drive up the standards of living of lower-income New Zealanders. We know that Tories would take that money off middle-income families; that is their policy. Their policy is to take $150 off the low-income families living in Auckland, and we look forward to campaigning on that.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Can I ask the Prime Minister whether the claim that the economy is going so well and is booming is not cause for us to agree that a 5 percent pay rise would be reasonable, if we have any intention of keeping people in this country rather than having them move to Australia, where they would be paid about 35 percent more?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: I repeat the comments I made earlier on behalf of the Prime Minister. Wages are negotiated between employees, their unions, and employers. In some cases, 5 percent will be justified; in other cases, it will not be.

Police—Culture

2. NANDOR TANCZOS (Green) to the Minister of Police: Is he satisfied that the police force has a healthy culture?

Hon PHIL GOFF (Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade), on behalf of the Minister of Police: Generally yes, but not in every instance.

Nandor Tanczos: What is the Minister’s view on the statements by the Tasman district police commander to the Nelson Mail last month that in the case of Terrence Hunt, who was found by a jury in a civil trial to have struck John Menzies with a police baton and a police torch, to have kicked him, and then to have fabricated evidence in order to wrongfully prosecute and imprison him, no disciplinary action would be taken and it was time to move on; and what does that say about police culture?

Hon PHIL GOFF: I think that every member of this House who deals with members of the police force generally would regard our police force in this country as being of a very high standard. That is not to say that police officers universally behave to the standards required, and I think it is important that our system is responsive to dealing with misconduct or any corrupt or criminal action by police officers, when allegations are made against them. We have seen that recently in south Auckland. It may be interesting for the member to know that last year 47 police officers were disciplined for misconduct for a variety of reasons, but that number represents only 0.5 percent of our police force.

Martin Gallagher: Further to the Minister’s immediate previous answer, how did the reported misconduct by a police officer in the Counties-Manukau Police District come to public attention; and what was the response of the district commander?

Hon PHIL GOFF: That is a case that everybody takes very seriously. It came to the attention of the police through allegations made to the police themselves. They conducted an internal inquiry and decided to press charges—which I think proves that the system does work. A judge made a comment that that case might represent a more widespread culture, and we are concerned about that. The police commissioner has announced a wider and independent inquiry, and announced today that Sir David Tompkins QC will oversee that inquiry. It will look at things such as whether there is evidence of a police culture that condones or encourages acts of violence or other inappropriate treatment towards prisoners. I think it is very important that that should happen.

Keith Locke: Could the Minister tell us whether that inquiry will focus on a particular police district or be more general, if it is really to address Judge Davidson’s comments that there is a sick culture, and Sergeant Nelson’s comments that that culture is widespread in police stations throughout New Zealand?

Hon PHIL GOFF: I think that the inquiry will focus in particular on the Wiri Police District, where the allegation that that culture exists has been made. If I may correct the member, Judge Davidson did not say that the culture was widespread; he said that it may be. It is important that when a member of the judiciary expresses that concern, or when there are actions like those that this man has now been convicted of, such an inquiry does take place, that it be independent, and that it restore any confidence that may have been lost because of the actions of a small minority of police officers that are not acceptable.

Stephen Franks: Can the Minister explain how the police culture can be healthy, when the Minister of Police could not give a straight answer yesterday to two requests in response to a simple question—are the police instructed not to deliberately or carelessly mislead 111 callers?

Hon PHIL GOFF: What that member has just said is his own interpretation of that answer. I can assure the member that the police are certainly under clear orders not to deliberately mislead or misdirect anyone. That stands to reason.

Keith Locke: Is the Minister aware of the comments of Mr Solomona’s district commander—to whom he referred earlier as Superintendent Steve Shortland—that staff who speak anonymously to the media are “traitors who do it for money, a free lunch, sex, or out of stupidity”; and is that not a culture of cover-up that helps to protect the sort of sadism we saw in the Solomona case?

Hon PHIL GOFF: I have no knowledge of the comments that the member has quoted, but I do know that the immediate response by the police to announce an investigation, plus the fact that they took action when their internal investigation found that misconduct appeared to have occurred, actually says exactly the opposite. I have in my hand a statement from the district commander, Superintendent Steve Shortland. He states that the conduct uncovered is totally appalling and that while he believes that it is confined to a very small group of officers, it is important that an investigation take place. That has been announced and it is under way. That is what is important.

Nandor Tanczos: Can the Minister confirm that Senior Sergeant Anthony Solomona may now be entitled to a golden handshake in the form of a “perf”, and that over recent years a number of police officers have left the force with full “perf” entitlements after being found guilty of, or admitting to, offences including indecent assault, use of excessive force, theft, fraud, and sexual harassment; and how long does the Government intend to allow corrupt officers to continue to rip off the system?

Hon PHIL GOFF: Clearly an internal disciplinary procedure will be initiated against Senior Sergeant Solomona and any other police officer who has been convicted of any offence. Should he resign or be sacked, he is entitled to one thing and one thing alone: his superannuation, which includes his own and his employer’s contribution. That is standard.

Question No. 1 to Minister

Dr DON BRASH (Leader of the Opposition): Trevor Mallard, in his answer on behalf of the Prime Minister to my last supplementary question on question No. 1, said that it was not a primary function of the Working for Families package to encourage beneficiaries into work. I seek leave to table a press statement made by the Hon Dr Michael Cullen entitled Families package good for growth, in which he makes it very clear that encouraging beneficiaries into work is indeed one of the primary functions of the Working for Families package.

Madam SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection? There is objection. It will not be tabled.

GERRY BROWNLEE (Deputy Leader—National): I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. Did the Labour Party members just refuse to allow Dr Cullen’s press release to be tabled?

Madam SPEAKER: That is not a point of order.

Gerry Brownlee: No, but it is hugely funny.

Madam SPEAKER: It may well be, but it is not a point of order.

Question No. 2 to Minister

KEITH LOCKE (Green): I seek leave to table a news clipping from the Dominion Post in which Sergeant Nelson from the Counties-Manukau Police District says that the practices referred to are widespread in police stations throughout New Zealand.

Madam SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection? There is. It will not be tabled.

National Certificate of Educational Achievement—PPTA Views

3. Hon BILL ENGLISH (National—Clutha-Southland) to the Associate Minister of Education: Does he agree with the view expressed in the PPTA report, Teachers Talk About NCEA, that, “The external moderation system, which is the quality assurance process for internally assessed components of the qualification, lacks credibility with the vast majority of teachers.”, and “There were huge concerns about the quality and reliability of external assessment.”; if not, why not?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD (Minister of Education), on behalf of the Associate Minister of Education: While I agree that there is room for improvement, I prefer to emphasise the views of 80 percent of participants who responded to this issue, who said “On balance, … the new system of qualifications is working better than the old system of School Certificate, Sixth Form Certificate, and bursary.”

Hon Bill English: What does the Minister say to the parents of the 100,000 young New Zealanders who have only National Certificate of Educational Achievement (NCEA) results as a measure of their achievement at secondary school—parents who believed his assurances that everything was all right with NCEA and that suggestions of problems were nonsensical but who have found out today from the teachers of their children that even the teachers did not believe that the internal or external assessment was credible?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: I would say two things to them. The first comes from the report: “On balance, despite the continuing controversy about aspects of the qualification, and despite the continued attempts of some people and groups to totally discredit it, it can be said the implementation to this point has been successful, thanks to that commitment of teachers and professional leaders.” I would also quote Allan Peachey, who said “A number of my colleagues have sought to keep norm referencing alive. I believe that history will judge them to have failed a critical test of leadership to the long-term disadvantage of students.” I suggest the member listen, on that one issue only, to Allan Peachey.

Hon Brian Donnelly: What will the Minister say to the Northland girl who sat three external subjects—English, statistics, and geography—whose scripts have been lost by NZQA, which, as a result, refused to accept that she ever sat the exams in the first place, even though school staff confirm that she did; and, given the appropriate information, will he do something about this deplorable situation?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: There has been a history, even going back to School Certificate, of scripts that have been lost, especially in the post. If the member gives me the details of this particular case privately, I will follow it up and we will fix it.

Metiria Turei: Does the Minister accept the report’s recommendation that operations grant funding be urgently increased to recognise the continuing financial impact of the NCEA on schools, or will he continue to support the creeping privatisation of the schooling sector, where parents are forking out as much as $740 a year in school donations?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: I think it is impossible to stop schools asking for, and parents giving, money for schools.

Bernie Ogilvy: Is the Minister aware of cases in which teachers have used assessment tasks made available to them by NZQA on its website, only to have the tasks slammed by moderators because they do not adequately test against the standard, and who does he think is getting it wrong—the authority, which set the standard and often provides the task, the teachers who assess the students, or the moderators who check that the assessment is appropriate?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: I would be happy to get the member a briefing about how the standards are set, because I think he clearly misunderstands that. There have been some standards that have been updated. There have been some teachers who have not followed the updates well. It has been slightly uneven from school to school, and that is something that is being looked at.

Tariana Turia: What is being done to address the quality and reliability of the translation of exams and the marking of papers written in te reo Mâori in external assessment?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: During the time of this Government, with the help of that member and especially of Parekura Horomia, there has been a lot done to ensure that students can study and be examined in a large number of subjects in te reo Mâori. That is generally done very well but there have been a few odd hiccups. I must say that the results for some of those subjects are excellent.

Hon Bill English: Is the Minister now telling the House that out of this report of the views of 100 teachers who teach NCEA, all he is worried about is whether he can win an argument about not going back to School Certificate, and is he completely dismissing the reported views of the teachers that neither the internal assessment nor the external assessment has credibility in the eyes of teachers; and when will he actually focus on what the students need fixed, and stop covering his backside as an incompetent Minister?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: It reminds me of the boy who got whipped in the ring. I make it clear that in my very first answer to the primary question I said “while I agree that there is room for improvement”. Those improvements will be made.

Bernie Ogilvy: Is the Minister aware that there is nothing to compel teachers to follow the recommendations of moderators and adjust their marking accordingly, and that the moderators’ views are often ignored when their assessment is way out of line with the achievement standards awarded by teachers; if so, how can the moderation process have any credibility whatsoever in maintaining national standards?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: I do not accept that, because there is an ultimate weapon, which I think has been threatened on one occasion, of removing a school’s right to internally assess.

Hon Bill English: If the Minister believes that there are no problems with the way that NCEA is marked and assessed, what is his response to advice to me that level 2 English markers were given a phone call part-way through marking and told to “soften the standard” because not enough students were passing? There are a good number of very confused and bewildered teachers out there; what does that email make of his fine theory that this is all about absolute standards?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: I make it clear again that there is room for improvement; it is not perfect. There has been a standard arrangement in examinations for at least the last 20 years—

Hon Bill English: The Minister said it was fine, and it is a shambles.

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: The member seems to be lacking in control of himself today. What has happened? What is wrong? For about the last 20 years, part-way into the marking of examinations, there have been communications from examiners to markers. That happened last year, it happened the year before, and I think it will always happen.

Kiwibank—Performance

4. MARK PECK (Labour—Invercargill) to the Minister for State Owned Enterprises: Has he received any reports on the recent performance of Kiwibank?

Hon PAUL SWAIN (Minister for State Owned Enterprises): Yes. Kiwibank recently declared a 6-month profit of $2.5 million. That taxpayer-owned business is now performing considerably better than originally projected in all target areas. Why the National Party would ever want to sell it off beats me.

Mark Peck: Would the Minister share with the House whether he has seen any recent reports on Kiwibank and the details of those?

Hon PAUL SWAIN: I would be delighted. I have seen a report in which Don Brash stated that he would sell Kiwibank if it were up to him. I have also seen a report stating that John Key, the National Party spokesperson on State-owned enterprises, would consider selling Kiwibank in the second term of any National Government. Fortunately for Kiwibank customers, given the hopeless state of the National Party at the moment their bank is safe.

John Key: Does the Minister support the ambitions held by Kiwibank’s management to expand the bank into business banking, and if he does, how much capital is the Government prepared to give to support that ambition held by the management?

Hon PAUL SWAIN: Any proposal for expansion is, in the first instance, a decision taken by the board, which then comes to see the Government. But I can say that this Government is absolutely, firmly committed to keeping Kiwibank—not to flog it off, as the National Party says that it will do. My message to Kiwibank account owners is this: they should just remember that the National Party members want to sell their bank, just as they want to sell other State assets that have been built up by taxpayers’ money over many, many years.

Sue Bradford: Is the Minister concerned that Kiwibank has not met its targets for the Kiwibank In Reach homeownership programme for low-income families, and what steps, if any, is he taking to ensure that it does meet those targets in future?

Hon PAUL SWAIN: Although the bank has reached its targets in many, many areas, I cannot comment specifically on that. I do know that there is huge confidence in Kiwibank. Now it is well on target to achieving 300,000 customers, when the National Party and the ACT party said it would fall over before it reached its first milestone, and the profits were down. I can say that under this Labour-led Government, Kiwibank is safe. We will continue to own it, New Zealanders want to own it, and the National Party would fiddle with that policy at its peril.

Hon Matt Robson: Can the Minister confirm that the people’s New Zealand - owned bank is on track to having half a million customers, or more, within 3 to 4 years, and why would any future Government disregard so many Kiwis’ interests by ever trying to sell that bank?

Hon PAUL SWAIN: Yes, I am delighted to confirm that to my colleague, but I cannot imagine any reason why a party that is serious about getting elected would ever contemplate trying to sell it—it just beats most people. Those National Party members, in thinking of selling and flogging off State assets, must know that people do not want that. They rejected it, and the National Party would pay the price for doing that.

Residency—Employees of Relocating Businesses

5. Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS (Leader—NZ First) to the Minister of Immigration: Has his department had any reason to question aspects of Jim Peron’s original residency application under the employees of relocating businesses category; if so, what are they?

Hon PAUL SWAIN (Minister of Immigration): Yes, Mr Peron’s application under the employees of relocating businesses category was declined because the relocating business did not meet New Zealand business definitions. Mr Peron appealed that decision, which was overturned by the Residence Appeal Authority. However Mr Peron withdrew that application and then applied under the long-term business visa category. This application was approved on 20 December 2002. This is a temporary work permit for 3 years, and he is not a permanent resident.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: May I ask the Minister as to whether he is concerned that Jim Peron, who claimed on Morning Report this morning: “I have never been arrested for anything and never even been investigated for anything”, had his shop raided in San Francisco because he employed a sex offender—and a serious one at that—and stocked publications about men having sex with boys as young as 8 years of age?

Hon PAUL SWAIN: I am not aware of all the details. What I can say to the member, though, is that in order to get some form of visa like the long-term business visa, Mr Peron would have had to have a police clearance from the countries he had been in. I am advised that those police clearances were given.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Is the Minister aware that the same employee was later jailed for 16 years for child molestation, that he was someone who had been employed for a long time by Jim Peron, and that the police raided Jim Peron’s Free Forum Bookstore in San Francisco in 1987, where copies of the newsletter of the North American Man/Boy Love Association, known as “NAMBLA”, were found, and why did his police clearance not reveal any of those facts?

Hon PAUL SWAIN: The police clearances came from the United States, and we rely on the police for that information. I am aware that there was a raid on that book shop, and I have been advised that some of the publications that member has raised were stocked at the bookstore. What the Immigration Service relies on is whether, in fact, the applicant has been arrested or has committed a crime, and whether that appears on police files. That is what we do. We check with the local police to see whether, in fact, everything is in order. I understand that the police clearance was given in both South Africa and the United States.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Did the police inquiry for Jim Peron’s residency application include the work of Sergeant Tom Eisenman of the San Francisco police, who conducted an investigation into the North American Man/Boy Love Association, including Jim Peron’s San Francisco Free Forum Bookshop, and who commented: “It is an organisation that promotes child sexual abuse.”; if not, what use are police checks at all?

Hon PAUL SWAIN: I am not aware of the information the member has just given. We rely on the police forces of other countries to give us information when we are making determinations on applications for immigration status in New Zealand. My understanding is that those police clearances were given by the various agencies that were asked for them.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I seek leave to table the following articles: two from the San Francisco Chronicle, linking Jim Peron to publications from the North American Man/Boy Love Association, which he does not today deny, and regarding Peron’s employment of a convicted child molester in his San Francisco store, who also participated in the North American Man/Boy Love Association meetings at Jim Peron’s store, and an article dated 2003 by Jim Peron entitled The Claptrap over Child Porn, in which he describes child porn censorship as an effective smokescreen to attack the free speech rights of all adults.

Madam SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table those documents. Is there any objection? There is objection.

Hon Richard Prebble: Apart from the shocking revelation yesterday that Mr Jim Peron actually knows Rodney Hide, does the Minister have any evidence that there is any truth in any of the defamatory statements that Mr Peters has been making under parliamentary privilege?

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I think you know, as a former law lecturer, what the defect in that question is.

Madam SPEAKER: There is no responsibility, I think, for that.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Precisely, and nor is the Minister qualified to give an answer.

Madam SPEAKER: Well, I would not go as far as that. But there is no responsibility for the Minister to answer that question.

Hon Richard Prebble: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. We have had Mr Peters, during question time and using the privilege of tabling documents, make a series of defamatory statements to the Minister, all of which the Minister has answered. I am asking now, after hearing all the questions today and yesterday, whether the Minister—and I am talking about the information that the Minister has—has any information as to whether any of those defamatory statements, apart from the shocking revelation that Mr Peron knows Rodney Hide, are true?

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Apart from the defect in the honourable member’s question, I just say this. This Minister could not possibly answer the question because he is not an expert in defamation law, for a start, which is what he is being asked to pass judgment on. But Rodney Hide’s association with Jim Peron is a long one, and he wrote to the Minister asking him to speed up that fart-blossom’s application.

Madam SPEAKER: The Minister has been responding to questions about what the immigration authorities know. I would note, however, that the word “defamatory” is not appropriate in this context.

Hon Richard Prebble: How about having an answer to my question?

Madam SPEAKER: The Minister can respond to the question in the light of that ruling. The Minister is responsible only for answering questions about the immigration authorities and what they know.

Hon PAUL SWAIN: In light of what Madam Speaker has said, my interest has been as the Minister of Immigration looking into those matters.

Hon Richard Prebble: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. If the Minister knows that there is any truth in the allegations that have been made, I invite him to tell the House, and if he does not, he should be man enough to tell us that there is no truth in them.

Hon PAUL SWAIN: As Minister of Immigration my major concern is looking at whether, in fact, the declarations that were made were accurate. One of the accusations, I think, that had been made was that somehow that person may have had a criminal record. As far as that is concerned, the advice I have from the officials is that the police have been contacted in various countries and no records were forthcoming. As a result, that person received a police clearance.

Community Education Courses—Funding

6. LYNNE PILLAY (Labour—Waitakere) to the Minister of Education: Has he received any reports on the effect of Government moves to reduce the amount of money spent on classification 5.1 community education courses; if so, what do they say?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD (Minister of Education): Yes, I have seen statements issued throughout the regions yesterday objecting to the Government’s decision to cut category 5.1 funding this year. Those statements were issued by the same person who spent much of last year advocating for 5.1 funding to be cut. Not only do those statements reflect yet another flip-flop by the National Party, they contain figures that are just plain wrong. Bill English should front up, tell the truth, get his facts right, and his story straight.

Lynne Pillay: What other steps is he taking to ensure greater value for money in tertiary education spending?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: This Government and the Tertiary Education Commission will not contemplate paying for courses over the 5.1 limit, as has been advocated by Bill English for his local polytech. He has to get it straight. Either they should be cut, or they should not be. When rules are put in place, they should be enforced. [Interruption] The old woodwork teacher is at it again.

Simon Power: Can the Minister confirm that under his watch as Minister of Education, funding for sub-degree and community education courses went through the roof and that polytechnics were forced to enrol students in those courses to cross-subsidise underfunded trade courses?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: No, I cannot confirm that, because the vast majority of polytechnics acted responsibly.

Lynne Pillay: Will the provision of trades training be impacted on by the Government’s push to get better value for money out of tertiary education provision?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: No, it will not. In fact, there is likely to be significantly more funding for trades training as a result of that value for money approach. There could well be a job for Gerry Brownlee after the election—teaching.

Police—Inquiry into Historical Allegations

7. Dr MURIEL NEWMAN (Deputy Leader—ACT) to the Minister of Police: What has been the total cost to date, including staff time, of the police investigation announced in February last year into historical rape allegations against the police, and what has been achieved?

Hon PHIL GOFF (Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade), on behalf of the Minister of Police: I am advised that the total operating costs of investigations into historical rape allegations, up to 28 February 2005, is $1,603,645. Further, I am advised that 48,500 hours had been spent on the investigations up to the date of 28 February. I should advise the member, however, that it is not appropriate for me to comment on ongoing police investigations or matters that are already, or may be soon, before the courts.

Dr Muriel Newman: Does the Minister have any concerns that when those costs that he has just given to the House—the costs to date of the police inquiry—are added to the $1.4 million cost of the now suspended Prime Minister’s commission of inquiry, it will mean that, when completed, this matter is set to be the most expensive criminal inquiry in New Zealand’s history; if he does have any concerns, what are they?

Hon PHIL GOFF: That question is interesting in conjunction with earlier questions where members in the House have stressed that it is vitally important that in matters pertaining to misconduct, or alleged misconduct, by the police there needs to be full investigation to maintain public confidence in the police. Yes, I regret that this sort of money has to be expended, but, yes, I also believe that it is necessary for the money to be expended. It will not have escaped the member’s notice that in the New Zealand Herald this week it is reported that charges have been laid against a former police officer who operated in Kaitâia in 1988.

Dr Muriel Newman: Does the Minister accept that setting up two separate inquiries at the same time has resulted in this explosion in costs; and, with the advantage of hindsight, does he think the Commissioner of Police was wrong to set up his inquiry, or was the Prime Minister mistaken in setting up an inquiry that has done nothing and so far has cost $1.4 million?

Hon PHIL GOFF: There are two separate purposes to the inquiry. There is, of course, an inquiry by the police, which will lead, or may have led, to actions before the court to determine the specific instances where allegations have been made. Alongside that, it is important that there is a wider inquiry into whether there was a systemic problem in terms of the culture of the police. That is the inquiry that will be carried out, led by the High Court judge and Margaret Bazley. It is important for public confidence that that inquiry does take place, but not before the matters before the court have been dealt with.

Dr Muriel Newman: Why is it good government to have initiated two inquiries, one of which has had to be suspended, but has cost $1.4 million, because it was set up too early; and if the Prime Minister and the public had any confidence in the Minister of Police, does he really think she would have insisted on a second and parallel inquiry at this time?

Hon PHIL GOFF: Of course, the broader inquiry was set up first. As matters unfolded and sufficient evidence was, apparently, gained by the police to take their inquiries further, the first inquiry had to be suspended. But I do not recall any members of the member’s party opposing the setting up of the committee of inquiry in the first instance. That party seems to have changed its tune.

Road Accidents—Funding of Health and Social Costs

8. LARRY BALDOCK (United Future) to the Minister of Transport: How much does the Government pay for the ongoing health and social costs of road accidents over and above those met by the Accident Compensation Corporation?

Hon PETE HODGSON (Minister of Transport): The Ministry of Transport estimates the total to be over $600 million, and a further more than $400 million from health costs arising from air pollution.

Larry Baldock: Does the Minister agree that investing in improvements to the safety of New Zealand roads that could prevent many road accidents is preferable to spending money in an effort to deal with road accidents after they have occurred; if so, how does diverting over $600 million of petrol tax into the Crown account, where it cannot be spent on road-safety improvements, represent the best approach?

Hon PETE HODGSON: Clearly, it is a good idea to do both—to invest in people’s health and in safer roads.

Peter Brown: What proportion of the $600 million that is taken and put into the Crown account is attributed to health costs?

Hon PETE HODGSON: It all goes to the Crown account and from the Crown account comes about, or a little over, $600 million for health and social benefit costs arising from accidents; and, as it happens, from the same Crown account comes a further $400 million or more from health effects arising from air pollution. All of these are exclusive of accident compensation costs.

Peter Brown: Why is it that the $600 million that goes into the Crown account, and subsequently goes into health, as the Minister has just indicated, comes totally from the petrol motorist; and, if these costs are legitimate, why does the Government not take something from the diesel operator, the truck operator, or anybody who uses other forms of fuel?

Hon PETE HODGSON: The member is right to an extent—that road-user charges, which total almost $700 million, go straight into the National Land Transport Fund. However, if a proportion were to be diverted from the Crown account, and a lesser proportion diverted from the Crown account and into the National Land Transport Fund, we would have a zero sum gain.

Hon Ken Shirley: Can the Minister say why the 5c per litre fuel levy, introduced in July 2004 by his Government for accident compensation costs associated with road accidents, is being applied to specialised off-road machinery such as steel track excavators, when such vehicles are specifically prohibited from using public roads?

Hon PETE HODGSON: If I understood the question correctly, the proper answer is I am not the Minister for ACC.

Larry Baldock: Can the Minister give an estimation of how much he thinks the recent road toll reductions can be attributed to better roads being constructed in New Zealand, rather than just police enforcement?

Hon PETE HODGSON: No, I am afraid I cannot. Despite endless attempts by people, I cannot give a straight answer to that question. What is worth saying is that investment in roads has two characteristics: firstly, they are very expensive, and, secondly, the safety benefits last a very long time.

Larry Baldock: Does the Minister agree that it is helpful if New Zealand motorists are given proper answers as to where the diverted portion of fuel excise taxes is spent, so they can make up their own minds about whether it is acceptable to now be paying an additional 5c from 1 April to contribute to better roads in New Zealand; if not, why not?

Hon PETE HODGSON: Successive Governments have spent some time and effort saying the diversion of fuel excise duty into the Crown account does not pay for health costs and never has gone anywhere near paying for health costs; and I welcome the opportunity to say it again.

Cancer—Therapy Priorities

9. Dr PAUL HUTCHISON (National—Port Waikato) to the Minister of Health: Does she agree that it is “immoral and unethical” to change cancer patients’ adjuvant therapy as a “cost-cutting measure”, as was alleged by the daughter of Mrs Frances Borich last month; if not, why not?

Hon ANNETTE KING (Minister of Health): Before I start, I inform the House that I have approval from Mrs Borich to discuss her case in Parliament. I am not qualified to comment on the clinical decision made by the specialist oncology service at Auckland District Health Board. However, I am advised by Dr Nigel Murray of the board that the change made for the treatment Mrs Borich received as part of her cancer treatment, from Zometa to Aredia, is based on the strong international evidence that there is no additional benefit from using Zometa. I am also informed that the two drugs have also been assessed by the expert cancer treatments subcommittee of PTAC, which concluded that both drugs have similar efficacy but that Zometa was considerably more expensive, and their minutes note that this higher cost cannot be justified.

Dr Paul Hutchison: Does she intend to change the policy that has allowed this callous practice of switching drugs mid-treatment for cancer patients like Mrs Borich, who was told on 16 February this year, 1 week after having had the drug she had faith in switched: “Go home. We’re too busy. We may be able to give you an appointment in 18 weeks’ time.”?

Hon ANNETTE KING: It is not for me to decide which cancer drugs patients will receive. The Auckland District Health Board carefully considers the range of treatment options for patients with cancer and, as a consequence, it regularly reviews its decisions. That is what the board is expected to do, not the Minister of Health. However, I would say that I do not believe that telling a patient what the member claims was said is satisfactory, and I would certainly want an explanation as to why that was said.

Dr Paul Hutchison: Why does she allow Pharmac to consider only the cost of the cheaper drug without considering the fact that it takes five times longer in hospital to administer, thereby reducing the number of patients who can be treated; it increases costs to the hospital; and it causes despair and anguish to cancer patients?

Hon ANNETTE KING: This Government is following the same procedure and policy with regard to decisions on pharmaceuticals in New Zealand as has existed for 10 years; that is, the decision on which drugs will be subsidised is made by the board of Pharmac after it secures advice from an expert advisory committee. We do not intend to change that, and I have not heard the National Party say that it will, either.

Dr Paul Hutchison: Why does the Minister not claim any responsibility for this practice, when up to 25 cancer patients were affected in the Auckland District Health Board region alone, and why does she not move to stop this inhumane and callous practice for at least the cohort of patients who are on the treatment?

Hon ANNETTE KING: I am aware that the member who is asking these questions spoke to Dr Richard Sullivan, the clinical director of medical oncology at Auckland City Hospital several days ago—clinician to clinician. The issues were explained to the member, including the international evidence available as to why those decisions were made. It is not for me to make those decisions, and I certainly would not tell Dr Richard Sullivan how he should make those decisions or what decisions he should make. It is not appropriate.

Dr Paul Hutchison: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I asked a specific question, which was: why does the Minister not claim any responsibility for this practice? It is within her power to change the policy of Pharmac.

Madam SPEAKER: The Minister answered the question.

Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I would just ask you to think about that. Effectively, the Minister’s answer to Dr Hutchison was that he had spoken to a medical colleague and that, on the basis of colleague to colleague, an answer was supplied to the him. The Minister then went on to say that it was not her decision. The question went right to the heart of her authority as the Minister of Health to address Pharmac policy—specific responsibility that she holds. She did not address that question. She obfuscated in the most extreme way.

Hon ANNETTE KING: The member asked an almost identical question one or two questions before it. I said that I would not change the policy, and I did not hear from the National Party that it intended to change it, either.

Madam SPEAKER: Ruling on the point of order, I have heard enough. The Minister did give her answer, which addressed the question. Members may criticise that answer, but that is not a point of order.

Dr Paul Hutchison: I seek leave to table three papers. The first is a letter from the daughter of Mrs Frances Borich, asking how a successful treatment can be withdrawn from a cancer patient and saying that it is immoral and unethical; the second is from a Mrs Winifred van Hoff, explaining that her drugs were stopped as a cost-cutting exercise and saying that it is false economy to persist with this policy on cancer patients; and the third is from Mrs Borich’s son, who says that his mother’s treatment was stopped without warning, advice, or consultation.

Hon Mark Burton: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. Could I ask the member to clarify for members whether he has the permission of the three authors of the letters to use them in this way, because, in my view, it would be inappropriate to table them without that permission.

Dr Paul Hutchison: I can confirm that.

Leave granted.

Police—Resources, North Shore

10. Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS (Leader—NZ First) to the Minister of Police: Were there any police cars in the vicinity of Forrest Hill, North Shore, at approximately 1350 hours on 20 December 2004 that were able to respond to any urgent request for back-up assistance in the area, but did not do so; if so, for what reason did they not respond?

Hon PHIL GOFF (Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade), on behalf of the Minister of Police: I am advised by the police that two traffic patrols were attending a serious vehicle crash in Forrest Hill Road from 1.17 p.m. to 2.56 p.m. I have asked the police to check the event log around the area and the time that the member has asked about, and they advise me that a preliminary check has not identified any request for back-up assistance in the area at that time.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Would the Minister be concerned to hear that on the date and time in question, a call was made over the police radio requesting back-up for an incident involving suspicious persons believed to be armed, and that that call was ignored by an officer in a traffic patrol car within a kilometre of the incident, who was instead content to continue to write out a traffic ticket for a former policeman who heard the conversation over the police radio; and is that not just further proof of the Minister’s ring-fencing traffic patrol cars in order to ignore emergencies?

Hon PHIL GOFF: No, it is not further proof. I do not know whether the allegations are correct, but of course if the member provides me with the specifics I can have them checked out for him. In terms of firearm incidents, I can advise that there was an alleged firearm incident that was attended. It turned out to be somebody practising with a BB pistol at the back of a Liquor King outlet, and maybe that is the event he is mistaking this for.

Hon Richard Prebble: I wonder whether the Minister would be prepared to short-cut this question and tell the House whether there is any evidence that any of the people responsible for this lamentable failure to respond to an urgent call, that may or may not have happened, was one Mr Jim Peron?

Hon PHIL GOFF: I have no evidence to that effect.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Why does the Minister have no knowledge of that incident, in view of the fact that if a call is made for urgent assistance, regardless of how it turned out, all those within the vicinity—in this case, within 1 kilometre of the event—should urgently go about assisting the police in that matter?

Hon PHIL GOFF: I have reported to the member that the police have no record of such a call for back-up assistance being made. Now, if the member wants me to check it out, and if he is genuine about his concern, I am more than happy to do that, but I cannot work on the basis of simple allegations and no facts. The member should provide me with the facts and I will check them.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Notwithstanding the Minister of Police’s past record of never wanting to get involved in any police operation, I seek leave to table a letter from the former policeman in question, and a copy of the traffic ticket setting out the time and place of the event. That is my evidence; what is his?

Madam SPEAKER: Leave has been sought to table those documents. Is there any objection?

Hon PHIL GOFF: I have a question, Madam Speaker, before I agree to the tabling. Is there anything in the documents—

Madam DEPUTY SPEAKER: No—would the Minister please sit down. We have to rule on it as leave has been sought. If members object to it, then they should object; if they agree, they should stay silent. I will put the leave again.

Leave granted.

Communications Centres, Police—Staff Numbers

11. Hon TONY RYALL (National—Bay Of Plenty) to the Minister of Police: How many staff were employed at the police communications centres as at 1 March for each year since 2001?

Hon PHIL GOFF (Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade), on behalf of the Minister of Police: I am advised that the total staff numbers in the communications service centres were as follows: 316 on 1 March 2001, 324 on 1 March 2002, 330 on 1 March 2003, 341 on 1 March 2004, and 339 on 1 March 2005. Further, I am advised that two training wings totalling 28 staff are due to commence a 6-week training course next month, which will take the expected total staff number to around 360, having regard for the possibility of staff turnover.

Hon Tony Ryall: When did the Minister first become aware that staff numbers in the police communications centres had dropped 23 since the month before Iraena Asher went missing, and what did he say to the Police Commissioner?

Hon PHIL GOFF: The figures I have read out to the member indicate that there has been a steady increase in staffing numbers at the communications centres up to the current date of 1 March—due, I understand, to staff turnover. But, as I have indicated to the member, the two training wings that are about to take place will take the staffing at the communications centres to the highest level ever.

Ron Mark: Is the Minister, from his last answer, therefore confirming this email, which says: “The com centre is back in the news. I hear that north coms has lost 24 staff in a 2-week period over January-February. The place cannot cope with that.”; and if that is a true reflection of the situation at the northern communications centre, can the Minister tell the House how much better would the situation be today if his Government had approved the police’s original request in the year 2002 for 100 extra front-line response staff and for extra staff in all communications centres throughout New Zealand—a request that was denied, in fact, slashed to the bone?

Hon PHIL GOFF: No, I cannot confirm the anonymous email. The member has been shown in the House in the past to be wrong, but I am happy to check it out if he wants to give it to me—preferably with the name of the person attached. I can tell the member that by the time those training wings are in there will be more than 40 extra staff, compared with the number in March 2001, in the communications centre, over a period of time when the crime rate has progressively trended down. In fact, there is 22 percent less crime than when that member’s party was in coalition with the National Party.

Marc Alexander: Given the response that the Minister gave to the first question, why is he able to answer the primary question to the House but we have been unable to receive similar responses to written questions lodged by myself, for which a response was due on 1 March?

Hon PHIL GOFF: I have no knowledge of the written questions, but if the member wants to give me a note, I will check it out for him.

Dave Hereora: What discretion does the Commissioner of Police have to allocate resources to areas of specific need?

Hon PHIL GOFF: The commissioner has broad discretion to allocate and reallocate resources to meet his operational requirements.

Ron Mark: Ring-fenced.

Hon PHIL GOFF: The member is quite wrong. There is a record annual budget of over $1.06 billion. There is a record complement of police officers, approaching nearly 10,000. If the police commissioner believes there is a need for more staffing in this area, he of course has the discretion to respond to that.

Hon Tony Ryall: Can the Minister advise how many of the 339 staff that he advised were there on 1 March were in the national communications management group as opposed to being in the front-line communications centres?

Hon PHIL GOFF: I do not know the answer to that. I can tell the member that the figures I have read out are comparing like with like. Those figures show that over a 5-year period there has been a steady increase—solid growth in the number of people employed in that unit—and that, with the extra training wings that are to take place next month, there will be a record number of people in that area, something that that member’s party never achieved when it was in Government and the crime rate was higher.

Ron Mark: Do the Minister and his Government not understand that bringing in new recruits who have no experience is no substitute for “that number of ex-cops who have come back to work there but after a length of time they too have walked away because of the demands and restrictions placed upon them”, and is his failure to understand the value of experienced communicators reflected by the comment in the Police Association newsletter, which we received yesterday, that states: “This sort of thinking tends to suggest that the Minister is on another planet regarding being in touch with the realities of policing today.”; is that the truth?

Hon PHIL GOFF: No, I am afraid it is the member who does not understand this area very well. The member is saying we should be recruiting more experienced people into this communications centre. To be experienced, they already have to be in it.

Hon Tony Ryall: Is the commissioner’s action in allowing the number of front-line call centre staff to fall from 362, the month before Iraena Asher disappeared, to an estimated 334 on 1 March consistent with the Government’s policy of rejecting the police budget bid for a substantial boost in the number of call centre staff?

Hon PHIL GOFF: The member’s figures are not consistent with the figures I have just given him. I prefer to rely on the figures the police have given me today. I remind the member that we have a record number of police staff, a record police budget, a record rate of police resolution, and a record decline in crime.

Hon Tony Ryall: Does the Minister not actually realise that the problem is identified in the official information that the Minister of Police gave me yesterday, which shows that the reason why we have these problems in the communications centres is that the police and the Government have allowed the numbers of front-line staff in the call centres to fall in the months since Iraena Asher disappeared; and what would have happened if those staff had been there when those calls were made?

Hon PHIL GOFF: As I have pointed out, there are dozens more staff there than when that member was Minister of Justice in the failed National Government.

Hon Tony Ryall: I seek leave to table information that it is clear the police have not provided to the acting Minister of Police: the answer to parliamentary question No. 2243, which does show significant decline in the number of front-line call centre staff since the month before Ms Asher disappeared.

Madam SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection? Yes, there is.

Ron Mark: I seek the leave of the House to table, again, a letter to the Minister of Police dated November 2002 that highlighted the problems front-line communications staff were having with understaffing—a letter the Minister did absolutely nothing about.

Madam SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection? Yes, there is. The document will not be tabled.

Tourism Strategy—Implementation

12. H V ROSS ROBERTSON (Labour—Manukau East) to the Minister of Tourism: What announcements has he made recently concerning the implementation of the New Zealand Tourism Strategy?

Hon MARK BURTON (Minister of Defence): I am sorry the Opposition does not like the unrelenting good news, but today I am releasing criteria for application to the tourism infrastructure scheme, which will help qualifying small communities to fund the water and waste-water infrastructure they need to maximise benefits from New Zealand’s thriving tourism sector.

H V Ross Robertson: Can the Minister tell the House what the key factors contributing to the successful implementation of the strategy have been?

Hon MARK BURTON: I would be happy to help the member. As with the development of the strategy, the success of its implementation has reflected this Government’s commitment to working with key sector interests and operators to build effective partnerships. I will add, for the member’s benefit, that this is in stark contrast to the wreckage left behind by the last National Government’s Minister of Tourism.

Mike Ward: What measures does the Minister have up his sleeve to persuade more New Zealanders to take more of their holidays in New Zealand, in view of the fact that so many overseas visitors find us irresistible, and might not doing that do more to make our tourism industry sustainable than our encouraging more people to come here from the other side of the world, burning up vast quantities of fossil fuels in the process?

Simon Power: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I apologise to the member, but members at this end of the House are having real difficulty hearing him with several conservations going on in the House. I am sure the Minister would want to hear what the member has to say, and so does the rest of the House.

Madam SPEAKER: Thank you, Mr Power. I hope all members of the House heard and understood that questions should be heard in silence.

Mike Ward: What measures does the Minister have up his sleeve to persuade more New Zealanders to take more of their holidays here in New Zealand, in view of the fact that so many overseas visitors find us irresistible; and might not increasing domestic tourism add more to the sustainability of the industry than our persuading more people to come from the other side of the world to visit us?

Hon MARK BURTON: The member is quite correct that this country is a highly desirable destination. I am sure he will be pleased to know that more than 50 percent of New Zealand’s income through tourism does still come from domestic tourism. It is an area in which I will continue to work with the industry, and I am happy to engage with the member as well. He clearly has a real interest.

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

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