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Questions & Answers for Oral Answer 31 March 2005

( Uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing. For corrected transcripts, please visit: )

Thursday, 31 March 2005
Questions for Oral Answer
Questions to Ministers

1. Policing, South Auckland—Dairy Owner's Complaint
2. Student Debt—Medical Students
3. Police Case Allocation—Sex Offending
4. Working for Families Package—Accommodation Costs
Question No. 5 to Minister
5. Prime Minister—Use of "Environment"
6. Mâori Land Court—Government Policy
7. National Certificate of Educational Achievement—Scholarship Examination
8. Surface Transport Costs and Charges Study—Conclusions
9. Building Act—Department of Building and Housing
10. Youth Offending—Parenting
11. Influenza Vaccine—Programme
Question No. 12 to Minister
12. Judges—Conflicts of Interest
Question No. 3 to Minister

Questions for Oral Answer
Questions to Ministers

Policing, South Auckland—Dairy Owner's Complaint

1. RODNEY HIDE (Leader—ACT) to the Prime Minister: Does she stand by her statement that Sergeant Fogarty’s letter to the south Auckland dairy owner stating, “Due to the sheer volume of complaints and limited resources … I am left with no alternative other than to record and file this matter.” was ill-advised; if so, why was the letter ill-advised?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK (Prime Minister): Yes, I stand by the statement, because the letter does not appear to have indicated the extent of the follow-up inquiries that had already taken place into complaints made by the dairy owner over a period of time.

Rodney Hide: Does the Prime Minister have any sympathy for Sergeant Fogarty, who has the Minister of Police saying that he has all the resources he needs, when, in fact, he has only two staff when he is supposed to have six; that his three-man Papakura inquiry team has 80 assigned cases to investigate, and 300 unassigned as at the beginning of this week; and he now has the Prime Minister dumping on him for managing to get out a letter to a dairy owner stating that he simply does not have the resources to investigate the case?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I am aware that the police in the area had a good deal of contact with the dairy owner, and, indeed, have made considerable efforts to follow up on his complaints in the past. In recent days, following the publicity that the member has assisted in giving the matter, the police have been talking with the dairy owner again, and I am satisfied that they are doing their best.

Hon Ken Shirley: Could the Prime Minister explain to the House how she reconciles her statement in the House yesterday that both she and the Deputy Prime Minister have been at pains to uphold the operational independence of the police with the fact that her officials have been phoning the Counties-Manukau District police commander, Superintendent Steve Shortland, regularly over recent days to discuss that case; and could she explain why those activities of her office are not an expression of no confidence in both the Minister of Police, George Hawkins, and the Commissioner of Police, Robbie Robinson?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: No doubt if such calls have been made they have been made in order to elicit information to answer questions being posed by Opposition members in the House.

Hon Tony Ryall: When the Prime Minister’s officials were contacting the Counties-Manukau police and asked how many assigned cases there were in Counties-Manukau, what was the answer to that request?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I have not been asked precisely that question so I would not have been seeking information about that, nor do I seek from my officials every detail of every inquiry they make trying to follow up questions from the Opposition.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Why has the Prime Minister allowed the police force to become so under-resourced that rape complaints in Counties-Manukau have been left laying idle and unallocated for months on end and a pile-up of over 1,000 other complaints that were not actively being investigated; where the Minister of Police and the Commissioner of Police are trying to justify their traffic policy on the basis that women fear dangerous driving more than they fear rape; or where, for example, two child rapists were allowed to be placed on home detention, and then were able to go on to create five more female victims? How come she has allowed the police force to become so under-resourced in New Zealand?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: Over five Budgets this Government has increased police spending by just under 20 percent. That is very significant resourcing.

Dr Muriel Newman: When the Prime Minister’s officials this week contacted District Commander Superintendent Steve Shortland did they raise the fact that prior to Christmas Superintendent Shortland went into the Papakura Criminal Investigation Bureau office, where detectives had just finished an 18-hour shift, and berated them for being “lazy” because they had not issued enough traffic tickets; if so, is the Government not satisfied with the number of tickets going from 5,000 4 years ago to 17,000 last year; how many speeding tickets does this Labour Government actually want?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I have no idea as to the veracity of the various statements the member has made. She had a number of questions wrapped into one. But I will say that after the sadness of the Easter road toll I am surprised that anybody thinks speeding is not a problem in New Zealand.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Why does the Prime Minister thinks it is a laughing matter that the police are so under-resourced, as evidenced by the Commissioner of Police immediately pointing to further resources going to Counties-Manukau to try to solve the problem; why does she not admit that she has failed to resource the New Zealand police force properly?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I say with some pride that under this Government police spending is up almost 20 percent. I say with pride that the total numbers of police are up 12.3 percent. I also say with pride that the number of sworn officers is up 7.5 percent, after years of under-resourcing and plans to cut the number of police officers under a National Government.

Gerrard Eckhoff: What is the Prime Minister’s reaction to the fact that similar letters to Sergeant Fogarty’s letter have been sent by many other district sergeants stating that recording and filing can be their only response to serious crime at this time?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: What concerns me is that ACT has been so keen to publish those letters that in effect they act as an incentive to commit crime if the impression is around that people can be caught on a video surveillance camera and never apprehended. I would recommend to ACT the editorial in yesterday’s New Zealand Herald: “A dangerous message to criminals”, which ACT took part in giving.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: If crime is down, as her Minister keeps saying it is, and the resources are up, as she and the Minister keep saying they are, why do we have all around this country cases of uninvestigated crime—for example, rape complaints in Counties-Manukau left lying idle and unallocated for months; how can both those contentions by the Government be remotely true, and is it not a fact that she has failed to properly resource the police force around New Zealand?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: What the member cannot argue with is the spending increase of 19.7 percent over five Budgets; what the member cannot argue with is the lowest rate of crime since 1982; and what the member cannot argue with is the statement—[Interruption]

Madam SPEAKER: There is far too much noise. I cannot hear the answer to the question. That is the last warning for today. Please continue.

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: What members cannot argue with is a 19.7 percent increase in police spending over five Budgets; what they cannot argue with is the lowest rate of crime in 23 years, under a Labour-led Government; and what they cannot argue with is the statement made by the president of the Police Association, Mr O’Connor, who said only on 2 March this year: “It is worth noting that again the injection of sorely needed frontline police in the Auckland and Counties Manukau districts have had a huge impact on bringing crime down.”

Ron Mark: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I know that it is your intent to bring a little decorum to the House, and therefore you focus on reducing barracking—

Madam SPEAKER: Is this a point of order?

Ron Mark: It is. It is a request—

Madam SPEAKER: Could you please come to the point of order, Mr Mark.

Ron Mark: Well, my point of order now is your impatience and intolerance in allowing Opposition members to complete their points of order before you chip in. Can you rule on that, please?

Hon Dr Michael Cullen: Madam Speaker, you were perfectly right to intervene. The member, as usual, was making a series of comments that had nothing to do with the point of order he wanted to raise. It is quite appropriate for you, Madam Speaker, to get people to come to the point of order quickly and tersely.

Madam SPEAKER: My ruling on the point of order is that members know that they are not to make statements. If they want to make a point of order, they should make it clearly and succinctly. So would you please make your point of order, Mr Mark.

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

Madam SPEAKER: Is it in connection with the previous point of order?

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Yes. Madam Speaker, you were to prepared to hear out Dr Cullen, claiming that my colleague was making a series of statements. He had not got even halfway through his first sentence—

Madam SPEAKER: He had got through his first statement.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: With respect, he had not got through his first statement, at all—unless you are clairvoyant, which you are not. That is my point. At least he is entitled to try to frame, in general terms, what his point of order is. Would you please hear him out.

Madam SPEAKER: Yes. I want him to make his point of order, now.

Ron Mark: I am looking for your guidance, Madam Speaker. When Opposition members hear statements from a Minister that they violently disagree with, it does incite the House to respond. The question is: what is fair barracking, given the inflammatory nature of what the Prime Minister is saying and which a member can prove in writing—and I will in my supplementary question—is clearly untrue.

Madam SPEAKER: I have said several times in this House that the odd intervention and comment across the House when a Minister is answering a question are acceptable. However, when I and other members cannot hear the person who is giving an answer, or on occasion the person who is asking the question, then that is unacceptable. I could not hear what was being said.

Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker.

Madam SPEAKER: Is it speaking to the same point of order? I have just ruled on that point of order.

Gerry Brownlee: Yes, I know. This point is similar, but different. It is similar inasmuch as there would not have been that interruption from Ron Mark or from anybody else who has chipped in here, if Standing Order 370 had been properly applied. I know that the previous Speaker said that he allowed some latitude and suggested that if we were too tight, then the atmosphere of the House would not flow. However, in recent days some of the responses coming from Ministers, particularly those from the Prime Minister today, have been so wide of the restriction under Standing Order 370 that there will naturally be members expressing some upset that this House’s Standing Orders are not being upheld by the Chair.

Madam SPEAKER: The Prime Minister did address the question.

Stephen Franks: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker.

Madam SPEAKER: I do not need any more advice on that particular point of order, but if this is a new one, I will be happy to hear it. Ruling on that point of order, I say that the Prime Minister did address the question. As I have said, her answer was relevant to the question asked. It may not have satisfied the members, but that is all that is required.

Stephen Franks: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. It is to seek guidance. When the Prime Minister answers a question, or responds to a question, and she accuses the ACT party of inciting crime by raising a question, it is tending to disorder because no party will sit and be accused—when it is concerned about and is acting on behalf of victims of crime—of actually inciting the crime. I suggest that although we will accept your rulings about barracking when we have been barracking to the extent that the debate cannot be heard, the incidents will keep occurring if Ministers are not directed or steered towards answering questions instead of abusing the questioner.

Hon Dr Michael Cullen: The problem, I think, with that statement is, firstly, it is essentially debating material that the member is concerned about, and, secondly, the thrust of the Opposition’s questions has been that there has been crime because the Government is failing to provide resources. Of course, we are supposed to sit here and smile gently in response to that, but when we suggest that there might be some fault on the other side of the House, suddenly it is totally unacceptable. I think it is time for people to realise that this is a debating chamber.

Madam SPEAKER: The point of order was whether the Prime Minister addressed the question. The Prime Minister addressed the question. Could we now move on.

Ron Mark: When the Prime Minister answered by saying that the Opposition cannot argue with the Government’s increase in resources allocated to the police, can she also concede then that the Prime Minister cannot argue against the report from the Commissioner of Police to the Minister of Police, dated 21 November 2002, which stated that: “Of the 365 newly funded sworn staff allocated to strategic priority, the main beneficiaries have been road policing.”—285 of those positions; counter-terrorism, 33—and it goes on to state that: “The increase in resources has been welcome. However, the task-specific nature of these allocations has been eroding the flexibility historically available to me and to district commanders to distribute resources across emerging problem areas in a timely and responsive manner.”? Does that statement not prove that the resources given are all around traffic and not around investigation?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I think that that somewhat lengthy question contained within it a statement that he was quoting from a 2002 document. Over 5 years this Government has continued to increase the numbers of police and the resources that they get, prompting even the Police Association to issue a statement stating that the injection of sorely needed front-line police in Auckland and Counties-Manukau has had a huge impact in bringing crime down—and it has.

Rodney Hide: What was the inaccurate statement in Sergeant Fogarty’s letter of 25 February to the dairy owner that led her to conclude that the letter was ill-advised?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I have never used the word “inaccurate”. I said “ill-advised”.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. How can the answer we just had from the Prime Minister comply in any way with Standing Order 370, which states that an answer that seeks to address the question must be given if it can be given consistently with the public interest? Rodney Hide’s question specifically used the phrase “ill-advised”, but the Prime Minister simply repeated part of it and did not make any attempt to answer the member’s question.

Hon Dr Michael Cullen: The point is, of course, that that is not what the question asked. The question referred to a term that the Prime Minister had not used. If the questioner had been: “Why is the Prime Minister over 6 feet tall?”, the answer to that question would have been: “I’m not.”

Rodney Hide: The Prime Minister’s answer to my supplementary question, as I heard it, was that the letter was ill-advised because it did not present an accurate picture. My next question was: “Well, what was the bit that was inaccurate?”. Then she said that it was ill-advised, so I do not think she addressed my answer. The reality is that Sergeant Fogarty’s letter was bang on the money. That is why he is in trouble.

Madam SPEAKER: I rule that the Minister is entitled to disagree with the premise or statement made in the question, and that was what was in the answer.

Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. You should just think about that; you cannot let that go. You cannot offer that as a ruling for the House, because the Prime Minister would be commenting on her own advice. By your ruling, she would be saying that she disagreed with herself.

Madam SPEAKER: What the Prime Minister answered was that she did not agree with the statement made by the member who had asked the question. That was her answer to the member’s question, and the Prime Minister is perfectly entitled to make that answer under the Standing Orders.

Hon Richard Prebble: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. We have ourselves in an interesting situation here. We have a primary question, which asked why the letter was “ill-advised”. The Prime Minister then got up and said it was ill-advised because it was inaccurate. Then a member got up and asked why it was inaccurate. Then the Prime Minister said that she did not say that. Well, I guess if the Prime Minister wants to do that she can, but it makes a mockery of question time, does it not?

Hon Dr Michael Cullen: Apart from the fact that it is obviously a complete relitigation of your judgments and rulings, Madam Speaker—which I think is a matter causing some concern to the House—I quote the Prime Minister’s answer: “Yes, because the letter does not appear to have indicated the extent of the follow-up inquiries that had already taken place into the complaints made by the dairy owner.” There was no reference to the word “inaccurate”. If members only listened to answers, they might ask accurate supplementary questions.

Stephen Franks: What does the Prime Minister think of the frontline police description of the current policy they are forced to follow as “band-aid policing” instead of “zero-tolerance policing”; and if she is inquiring directly, why does she not ask whether the six officers lurking on the Desert Road waiting for the Hon Chris Carter’s lahar might not be able to assist in looking into crime?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I am sure that member would be first to get on his feet and accuse the Government of criminal negligence if a lahar actually killed people. That is a clear example of a word I cannot use in this House, and of the opportunism that is sometimes practised by Opposition members. I further put it to the House that it can hardly be a band-aid to have reduced the rate of crime to the lowest level in 23 years.

Hon Richard Prebble: Is the House to understand from the Prime Minister’s earlier answers that her position—on the fact that approximately 1,400 crimes in south Auckland are not being investigated by the police, including seven rapes that were not being investigated, at least, not until Tuesday—was perfectly satisfactory until the leader of the ACT party, Rodney Hide, raised the matter in Parliament and revealed that situation; if that is her position, does she have any understanding at all of how a woman in south Auckland would feel who was not being protected every day by members of the police diplomatic corps; and if she does have that understanding, why was her position satisfactory until Tuesday?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: In the numerous questions that formed part of that statement, two things were blurred. Firstly, my reference to ACT publicising the matter was with regard to the letter, which unfortunately has given the impression that one can be caught on a video surveillance camera and the police will never do anything about it. That is why the New Zealand Herald editorialised very strongly on the subject, and I agreed with what it said. The police have yet to be able to identify clearly who that person was. Secondly, there is the issue of the currently unassigned cases. Cases that are currently unassigned often have considerable work done on them and the House was given details yesterday about forensic evidence and other evidence being collected. I might say that of the rape files that have been identified as currently unassigned, two of them are historic and go back to 1974 and 1993.

Student Debt—Medical Students

2. BERNIE OGILVY (United Future) to the Minister of Education: Does he stand by his statement in the House earlier this month that “Student debt may be a reason for some people to leave, but as far as medical students are concerned it is a relatively minor one.”; if so, why?

Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE (Associate Minister of Education) on behalf of the Minister of Education: Yes. There is a long tradition among New Zealand doctors of spending several years working in overseas hospitals early in their careers. There are also some areas of specialisation for which doctors have to travel overseas to complete further study. The overseas experience is good for the New Zealand health system. Of those who graduated with a medical degree in 1997, 26 percent were overseas in 2001 but by 2003 that number had decreased to just 12 percent. They are clearly coming home.

Bernie Ogilvy: How does the Minister reconcile his answer with the findings of a survey of first-year doctors by the Medical Association that was released today, which show that 48 percent of respondents considered moving overseas specifically because of their student debt?

Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: I am not familiar with the Medical Association survey that was released today, but I would make the assumption that the graduates’ intentions do not match up with the subsequent performance of those intentions, as has been demonstrated with regard to the New Zealand University Students Association survey, which had similar information.

Lynne Pillay: What reports has the Minister seen on the average student loan repayment times for medical graduates?

Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: I have seen a report that confirms that, despite having generally higher debts when they graduate, medical students repay their student loans a lot faster. Of those who graduated in 1997, 40 percent had completely repaid their loans within 5 years, and 60 percent had repaid more than half. This compares very favourably with graduates in other areas who have smaller loan balances but take much longer to repay.

Craig McNair: Does the Minister have any concerns about the roles student loans are playing, the fact that more than 44,000 New Zealanders immigrated overseas in the year that ended in January, and that our most educated are being driven away in greater numbers than ever before; if he is not concerned, why not?

Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: Yes, I am concerned, as is the Government. That is why we have taken the actions we have. Fees were frozen in 2001, 2002, and 2003. We have abolished interest on loans while students are studying, and we have ensured that half of all repayments go toward the principal balance reduction of a graduate’s loan. We have increased eligibility for allowances and introduced Step Up Scholarships that provide very generous financial support for medical students from low-income backgrounds, and so on.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. The Minister has just made a statement that is demonstrably untrue. Half of the repayments going to the principal is a 1998 policy and nothing to do with the Labour Party at all. Why did he not own up to it?

Hon Steve Maharey: We did it.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: We did it, not those guys—in 1998.

Madam SPEAKER: That is a debating point.

Nandor Tanczos: Can the Minister tell the House why New Zealand medical students pay more for their education than they would if they studied in Australia, France, Austria, Greece, Finland, the Netherlands, Germany, Sweden, or Ireland; and how does he justify the exemption from the fees maxima given on medical student fees?

Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: I am aware of the unfavourable comparison with Australia, but I do not believe that the claim that such a comparison exists in relation to those other countries is, in fact, accurate.

Bernie Ogilvy: Can I take it from the Minister’s answers that he does not think there is any problem whatsoever with the debt that medical students take on, and with its effect on maintaining an adequate health workforce in New Zealand?

Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: No, I do not believe that that assumption can logically be drawn from my answers.

Nandor Tanczos: Does the Minister not think it absurd that, at the same time as the Minister of Health is having an inquiry into rising general practitioner fees, first-year doctors are clearly saying: “My student loan means I’ll charge more for my services.”, and “My debt deters me from becoming a GP.”; and will he helpfully provide this information to the Minister of Health for that inquiry?

Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: I think the issue of subject specialisation is one for both the medical practitioners concerned and the Minister of Health. I am happy to engage in conversations with her on that matter.

Judy Turner: Does the Minister agree with comments by Medical Association deputy chair, Don Simmers, that, because of mounting medical student debt: “Specialties that are perceived as lower paid, such as general practice and psychiatry, are much less popular with graduates.”; and, when 40 percent of respondents said that debt affects their choice of medical specialty, does the Minister have any concerns about how this impacts on the health workforce in New Zealand?

Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: One would naturally have to be concerned by that statement, and I can assure the member that that will the subject of the conversations with my colleague to which I alluded a moment ago.

Judy Turner: Does the Minister agree that when medical graduates increasingly report that they do not see general practice as a viable career through which they can pay back debt, and the general practitioner workforce has shrunk by 8 percent since 2002, the success of this Government’s much-lauded primary health strategy, which hinges on having sufficient numbers of general practitioners, is being jeopardised by its blind attitude to the realities of student debt?

Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: I am of course concerned by the issues raised by the member. I would say that on issues of workforce supply this Government has a very successful record, and I would expect our attentions to bear no less fruit in this regard.

Police Case Allocation—Sex Offending

3. Hon TONY RYALL (National—Bay Of Plenty) to the Minister of Police: How many cases are awaiting allocation in police districts, and how many involve sexual offending?

Hon GEORGE HAWKINS (Minister of Police): I am advised that, apart from the files in the Counties-Manakau district, 610 other files across remaining districts remain unassigned. I am further advised that, of those, three have been identified as rape cases, two of which are historic. Inquires have commenced in each of these three cases.

Hon Tony Ryall: Will the Minister give an absolute assurance that there has been no attempt to assign a whole lot of files in the last couple of days because of Beehive pressure?

Hon GEORGE HAWKINS: What I can say is that far more files are being assigned than would have been assigned if National had carried out its cuts—540 staff and millions of dollars in funding. The police are doing a good job in New Zealand.

Hon Richard Prebble: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I am actually interested in the Minister’s answer, and apart from the first three words, even though I had my ear as close to the speaker as I could get it, I did not hear a single word that the Minister said. Outrageous as it may be, I would still like to hear it.

Madam SPEAKER: I thank the member for his support in this matter. Would the Minister please repeat the answer for the benefit of the House. If anyone interrupts this time that person will be leaving the Chamber.

Hon GEORGE HAWKINS: I can tell the House that there are far more files being attended to than would have been the case—

Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. There are two things. Firstly, for the Minister to say or speculate that something might have happened, or might not have happened, had he not been part of the Cabinet is unacceptable and well outside the Standing Orders, and you could see that quite clearly. Secondly, he was asked whether he can give a guarantee. If he can, he should give it; if he cannot, he should say no.

Madam SPEAKER: The member should finish his answer and not be interrupted before he has had an opportunity to say everything he wants to say in response to the supplementary question. Would the Minister please continue with his answer.

Hon GEORGE HAWKINS: There are far more files being attended to than would have been the case—

Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. We are not going to sit here and tolerate a Minister speculating about what might have happened if he had not been in Cabinet. What he is doing is covering up his own incompetence. We want a simple answer from him. He owes it to the House. He either gives a guarantee on the supplementary question he has been asked or he says: “No, I can’t give it.”, in which case we will know that Helen Clark has climbed all over him and made the police get rid of some of these appalling statistics.

Hon Dr Michael Cullen: Madam Speaker, I suggest to you that the first part of that point of order was itself totally out of order. It is out of order for a member of this House to get up and say: “We will not tolerate certain things happening.” Anybody in this House tolerates whatever you rule to be in order.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: Standing Order 370(2)(b) is very clear. It states that a reply to any question must not contain “arguments, inferences, imputations, epithets or ironical expressions,”. George Hawkins’ answer about what might have occurred or might not have occurred is quite clearly a breach of the Standing Order, and members on this side of the House will disrupt the House if you do not enforce the Standing Orders.

Hon Dr Michael Cullen: Madam Speaker, that last point is repeating this attempt to bully you in terms of the nature of your rulings. It is totally out of order for members to state that they will not tolerate your rulings and that they will take the law into their own hands in this House.

Madam SPEAKER: Ruling on the point of order, I say that the Minister, of course, should address the question, but there is no reason, in the course of addressing that supplementary question, that the Minister cannot speculate on any matter. Of course, members cannot stipulate what answer a Minister should be giving. Would the Minister please repeat the answer.

John Carter: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. The problem that we now have is that if Ministers are allowed to speculate at length on particular issues that they might want to raise in the House, that limits us, as the people who are raising the questions, because we have to put our questions down in written form, or, if we are allowed to speculate in questions, then the ruling you have made is quite appropriate. But what you are telling us is that it is all right for the Minister to speculate but that it is not all right for the Opposition, who are asking the questions, to speculate. It has to be the rule, either one way or the other, but we you cannot allow one side to speculate without the other side being allowed to do so.

Hon Richard Prebble: You have ruled—and I appreciate that, because I wanted to hear the answer—that the House must listen in silence. Speakers have traditionally then said that that puts a responsibility on the person who is speaking not to speak provocatively. Why I was interested was—probably everyone has forgotten now—that the actual question the Minister was being asked was basically: “Have the police force suddenly reallocated a whole lot of files, and if they did, can he give an assurance that there was no influence by the Government?” There was no question asking: “Would you like to compare your wonderful performance with that of the terrible National Party?” He was not asked that question. He was asked: “Have the police suddenly reallocated a whole lot of files, and if they have, could he give us an assurance that it was not the result of political pressure?” That is the question that the House would like to hear the answer to.

Hon Dr Michael Cullen: I think Mr Prebble is absolutely right. If you have asked the Minister to give an answer with the House in silence, then it is incumbent upon the Minister to be less provocative than might otherwise be the case. In response to the point raised by Mr Carter, I point out that we long ago removed the ban on asking hypothetical questions, and I am afraid that it therefore does work both sides now.

Madam SPEAKER: Yes it does, and that is what I was going to rule—that that is precisely the position. Of course Ministers must address the question, but in doing so they can in fact speculate as much as they like on it as long as it is relevant to the question that was asked. Would the Minister now please address the question.

Hon GEORGE HAWKINS: It is the police that allocate and assign files, not the Minister, and, of course, the police are doing far better now than ever before.

Hon Tony Ryall: Can the Minister give an assurance that there has been no pressure or attempt to shift hundreds, maybe thousands, of files from one pile to another?

Hon GEORGE HAWKINS: Files are assigned by the local police commander and, of course, they will carry on doing that. I can say for the Counties-Manukau area that help is on the way.

Hon Dr Michael Cullen: Which advice from the National Party is the Minister going to take: the advice today that he should not interfere in police activities at the operational level, or the advice up to this point that he should?

Madam SPEAKER: That is not a question that the Minister should address.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: On the assurance that George Hawkins just gave that help is on the way, I seek leave for him to make his valedictory speech now.

Madam DEPUTY SPEAKER: That is not a valid point of order.

Simon Power: He sought leave.

Madam SPEAKER: A member cannot seek leave for another person. I am sorry; I should have made that obvious.

Hon Tony Ryall: What are the number of unassigned cases in each police district, and when was this data collected?

Hon GEORGE HAWKINS: In Northland there were eight; North Shore/Waitakere, 266; Auckland City, 410; Counties-Manukau, 1,134; Bay of Plenty, 16; Waikato, nil; eastern, 7; central nil; Wellington, 100; Tasman, six; Canterbury, 96; and Southland, nil, and that was as of today’s date.

Hon Richard Prebble: Is the Minister of Police telling the House that he is not aware of the fact, which I know, as a former Minister of Police, that since Rodney Hide raised the question of unallocated cases on Tuesday, a large number—hundreds, in fact, some have told me it is thousands—of cases that were unallocated as of Tuesday have now been dumped on detectives’ desks, and, in fact, there is no chance of those cases actually being able to be investigated by those over-worked detectives? If he is aware that that is actually the situation, does he not think that he has a duty to this House to tell us, and the country, that that is the situation, and to do something about it?

Hon GEORGE HAWKINS: I am not telling the member that. The police allocate and assign the files according to their workloads—

Hon Richard Prebble: That is not right.

Hon GEORGE HAWKINS: No, that member is not right, and he was not a very successful Minister of Police. Crime went up when he was the Minister.

Hon Tony Ryall: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. It appeared to me that the Minister of Police was quoting from an official police document, which he pledged would be made available to me as soon as he had received that information. It has not yet, and I would ask him to table that document.

Hon Dr Michael Cullen: That is quite a tricky point of order because, firstly, when a Minister reads out a list of numbers in police districts, it is, I think, stretching the point to say that that is “quoting” from an official document, at that point. Secondly, the member cannot require the Minister to table it unless he has quoted from it. Thirdly, I am sure the Minister is happy to make the document, in terms of the numbers, available to the member.

Madam SPEAKER: If the Minister was quoting from an official document in answer to a supplementary question, he does not have to table that document.

Hon Tony Ryall: What if he wasn’t?

Madam SPEAKER: If he was.

Hon GEORGE HAWKINS: At the end of the question, I am quite prepared to table the information, but I may need it later on to answer any further supplementary questions.

Madam SPEAKER: Are there any more supplementary questions? Therefore leave is sought to table that document.

Hon Member: He doesn’t need leave.

Madam SPEAKER: The ruling is that supplementary information that Ministers have with them are not official documents, so therefore the member does need to seek leave.

Leave granted.

Working for Families Package—Accommodation Costs

4. GEORGINA BEYER (Labour—Wairarapa) to the Minister for Social Development and Employment: How will the Working for Families package assist families with their accommodation costs from 1 April 2005?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY (Minister for Social Development and Employment): From tomorrow, housing will be more affordable for thousands of New Zealand families. The maximum allowable rates of accommodation supplement will increase in areas with higher housing costs, and a new accommodation supplement area with new higher maximum rates will be created in northern and central Auckland. This completes the Working for Families changes to housing assistance that began last October. They involve almost 100,000 people having their accommodation supplement increased by an average of $19 a week, at a cost of $480 million over the next 4 years.

Georgina Beyer: Can working families expect any further assistance beyond tomorrow’s changes?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: They certainly can. In October this year families with young children will see a further increase in the rates for childcare and subsidies for out-of-school care and recreation. This time next year the new in-work payment replaces the current child tax credit and pays at least $60 a week for each working family to ensure that the move from a benefit to a job is always financially worthwhile. Families will also be able to earn more before their family assistance is reduced. Finally, from April 2007 family support will increase by another $10 for each child in the household.

John Key: Why is the Government going to pay an accommodation supplement to 41 single people who earn between $50,000 and $80,000 a year, and 30 couples who earn between $50,000 and $80,000 a year?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: Obviously, I would have to check the figures but to put this in context, an estimated 133,000 families will be eligible for the accommodation supplement, including nearly 15,000 who are eligible due only to the Working for Families package. If there are a small number around the edges who have gained it as the member described, I will find out who they are.

John Key: As the member has asked for the information, I seek leave to table an answer to question for written answer No. 8943 from the Hon Michael Cullen that indicates that not only are 80 New Zealanders going to be earning up to $80,000 and receiving an accommodation supplement, but over half of the 266,000 people who are receiving the accommodation supplement are not families; they are singles.

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

Question No. 5 to Minister

JEANETTE FITZSIMONS (Co-Leader—Green): I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. This question was initially addressed to the Prime Minister, because it asked about a speech the Prime Minister had made and what she had said in that speech. It has been transferred to another Minister. I know that Speakers have often ruled that the Government has the right to transfer questions to other Ministers, but should that be the case when the question is directly about a speech made by a particular Minister? Is it the case that another Minister should have to answer on behalf?

Madam SPEAKER: As the member indicated, the Government can assign the question to whatever Minister. In this instance, the question does relate to the environment, and I notice that it has been assigned to the Minister for the Environment.

NANDOR TANCZOS (Green): I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I am not questioning your ruling, but I am asking for some guidance. Perhaps you would like to give some consideration to the matter and come back to the House with a ruling on whether there are any circumstances in which it would not be appropriate for the Government to reassign a question. The reason why it is an important question is that we are getting into a situation whereby the only way of assuring that a question will go to the Minister to whom it is addressed is to ask increasingly inane primary questions, which lowers the quality of the debate. In this case, to ensure that the question went to the Prime Minister, my colleague Jeanette Fitzsimmons would have had to ask whether the Prime Minister had confidence in the Prime Minister, and that, clearly, would be absurd.

SIMON POWER (Senior Whip—National): I would like to assist my colleagues from the Greens. Speaker’s ruling 130/2 does support Mr Tanczos’ contention where only one Minister could be expected to have personal knowledge of the subject at hand. In this case we are referring to the Prime Minister’s statement, presumably prepared by the Prime Minister, which only she would be in a position to comment on.

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Deputy Prime Minister): If the question is about the number of times the word “environment” appeared in the Prime Minister’s statement, as that statement was published and given in the House, I assume that all 120 members of the House would actually be capable of answering the question. It would only require one to go through the speech and add up the number of times.

Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS (Leader—NZ First): The member asked for some guidance. Could I suggest that he tuck his shirt in and get a haircut.

Madam SPEAKER: That is an abuse of a point of order. Speakers in the past, as I understand it, have on only two previous occasions refused to transfer questions to another Minister. The member might be referred for guidance on this to Speaker’s ruling 130/1, which sets out the grounds on which that can be done.

Prime Minister—Use of "Environment"

5. JEANETTE FITZSIMONS (Co-Leader—Green) to the Minister for the Environment: How many times did the Prime Minister use the word “environment” in the Prime Minister’s statement at the start of this year?

Hon MARIAN HOBBS (Minister for the Environment): The actual word does not appear, but actions speak louder than words.

Jeanette Fitzsimons: Does the Minister agree that the Prime Minister’s speech and the Government’s economic strategy are risking the future of our children and grandchildren by ignoring the importance of maintaining environmental services, given the findings of yesterday’s Millennium Ecosystem Assessment that the ability of the planet’s ecosystems to sustain future generations can no longer be taken for granted?


David Parker: Could the Minister name some of the environmental actions this Government has undertaken that do speak louder than words?

Hon MARIAN HOBBS: In the interests of brevity I will name just some. In relation to air, we have approved the first-ever national environment standards and we are undertaking the warm homes programme. In respect of water, we have the Water Programme of Action under way specifically working on water quality issues in Taupô and Rotoiti. There is the Dairying and Clean Streams Accord, the flood review, the Waitaki water allocation plan, the contaminated sites clean-up as in Mâpua, the Agrichemical collection in almost all regions, and 21 contaminated sites in eight regions being funded.

Jeanette Fitzsimons: Does the Minister agree with the report’s author, Dr Walter Reid, that there are steps we could take that really would reverse the degradation of some of these services but they are very significant steps and much more than the action that is being taken today; therefore, does she agree that her Water Programme of Action, which contains no actions, and her waste strategy and packaging accord, which are entirely voluntary, are woefully inadequate to deal with the magnitude of the problem?

Hon MARIAN HOBBS: Yes, I do agree that there has to be some solutions. In terms of one of them, I take note that in a speech that the member used in response to the Prime Minister’s speech, she said: “Look at the solutions that there are out there. I went to a sustainable living expo in Christchurch where there was clean-burning wood fires.” Why is somebody exhibiting clean-burning wood fires? It is in response to a national environment standard established by this Government.

Jeanette Fitzsimons: Does the Minister see any similarity between the millennium report’s finding that sudden and unprecedented releases of nitrogen and other nutrients have triggered massive drops in freshwater quality, and our own Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment’s report Growing for Good: Intensive farming, sustainability and New Zealand’s environment, which documented a 160 percent increase in nitrogen fertiliser application in just 6 years, and what is her Government proposing to do to limit the amount of nitrogen that runs off into the freshwater we all depend on?

Hon MARIAN HOBBS: Yes, I do, and in terms of actions speaking louder than words, we have committed $36.7 million to Taupô to address the question of nitrates flying into water. We have allocated $7 million to Rotorua lakes, and on both occasions we are involved in negotiations with the landholders there so that they can grow their economies and their farms and reduce nitrates.

Nandor Tanczos: Does the Minister agree with the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment report that the value of ecosystem services provided by free-flowing rivers and intact wetlands is often greater than their immediate economic value, such as for hydro and irrigation; if so, how will she change provisions for water allocation in the Resource Management Act to reflect this?

Hon MARIAN HOBBS: I refer to a question asked previously by Jeannette Fitzsimons when she said that all we are doing in the Water Programme of Action is talking. We are talking prior to developing the policy so that we can work out the property issues around water allocation and water re-allocation because they are severe and serious issues, and also issues around hydro-electric planning versus irrigation.

Jeanette Fitzsimons: In light of the report’s finding that the biggest cause of the problems is growth in economic activity beyond what the planet’s resources can sustain, when will her Government reorient its primary economic goal away from simplistic growth in GDP and towards improvement in human wellbeing within the limits of the planet?

Hon MARIAN HOBBS: There are a number of reports on these issues and I refer back to agenda 21 in the Rio accord, which argued for growth in economics, growth in social development, and protection of the environment. It is not a question of “either or”; it is a question of “both and”.

Mâori Land Court—Government Policy

6. Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS (Leader—NZ First) to the Minister for Courts: Is it the Government’s policy to retain the Mâori Land Court; if so, why?

Hon RICK BARKER (Minister for Courts): Yes, because the Mâori Land Court is an integral part of the court system, providing registry, land record, archival, and advisory services to Mâori landowners.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Has the Government’s view been influenced by the Mâori Land Court Chief Judge seeing fit to act outside the law in respect of an application for guardianship under the Foreshore and Seabed Act and his acceptance of kaitiakitanga in relation to a customary rights order, when kaitiakitanga is relevant only to a foreshore and seabed reserve application in the High Court, and the claimants’ failure, as well, to supply any evidence to link their application to a customary rights order?

Hon RICK BARKER: I am not prepared to speculate on whether an action of a judge is lawful or unlawful, or to comment on a matter that is currently before the bench.

Gerry Brownlee: Does the Minister accept that rather than changing the Mâori Land Court because of this one case, it would be better for the Government to amend the flaws in the foreshore and seabed legislation, which, according to an Eastern Bays newspaper today, is going to see not only Whakatôhea but also Ngâti Apa going to the Mâori Land Court to claim a customary right over the same stretch of coastline; does he not think that that is a bit tough for the Mâori Land Court to decide, and does he not think it also makes a joke of the protections that his Government claimed the foreshore and seabed legislation would give New Zealanders’ rights in the coastline?

Madam SPEAKER: There are several questions there.

Hon RICK BARKER: There are about four or five questions there. Firstly, I do not think there is any reason to consider changes to the Mâori Land Court. I do not accept there are flaws in the foreshore and seabed legislation, and the guarantees this House has given about the ownership of the foreshore and seabed will, I am sure, stand the test of time.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: How can the Minister be satisfied with the work of a court that has allowed a guardianship claim for claimants who are disowned by the elders of the tribe they purport to represent and whose elders said this of them: “This is an under-prepared knee-jerk case, with no consultation and no support from the hapû.”; where on earth is the mandate for that court to have accepted that in the first place and, given that the Mâori Land Court’s jurisdiction over customary rights orders was accepted by Parliament because of the court’s experience with the history of Mâori land and Mâori customs, is this the type of action he expects to continue from the Mâori Land Court?

Hon RICK BARKER: Because a case is filed, it does not mean to say that it will in fact succeed.

National Certificate of Educational Achievement—Scholarship Examination

7. SIMON POWER (National—Rangitikei) to the Associate Minister of Education: Will officials produce an assessment schedule that ensures New Zealand Scholarship students are ranked with marks or grades; if so, will students be permitted to see the marks or grades that they are assigned?

Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE (Associate Minister of Education): Yes, and I expect so.

Simon Power: Can the Associate Minister confirm that what the Scholarship Reference Group called for was a return to traditional assessment through marking or grading, and does he agree with reference group member Graham Young, who said it was nothing more than “spin” for the Minister to claim that these changes could be achieved through standards-based assessment?

Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: The exact terms used by the reference group were a ranking of candidates produced by marks or grades. That recommendation has been accepted in that form by Cabinet. Mr Young is one member of the group. There are many other voices that disagree with his position. I am certainly not responsible for his views.

Dr Ashraf Choudhary: What reports has the Associate Minister received from the teaching profession about Cabinet’s decision to endorse the recommendations of the Scholarship Reference Group?

Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: I heard the president of the Post Primary Teachers Association, Debbie Te Whaiti, say on the Breakfast programme on television this morning: “We think it is a pragmatic solution, and that teachers and students will gain certainty from it and be able to work through the scholarship scenario for the remainder of the year confidently. Ranking performance is what teachers have to do when they are marking assessments, so I think the idea of determining a system within each subject for ranking is entirely do-able. It’s what teachers are used to doing. They’re used to exercising professional judgment, and that’s what the panels will be asked to do. It’s workable. It’s not foreign to teachers or standards-based assessment.”

Hon Brian Donnelly: Will the Associate Minister guarantee to this House that the New Zealand Qualifications Authority will be able to produce standards-based assessment items in scholarship exams that will clearly define the top 2 to 3 percent of students in each subject area; if he can do that, will he also point out to members of this House where the flying pigs might be?

Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: I am sure that the authority, working with the examining panels, will achieve that target in some subjects—[Interruption] If I could finish. Clearly, because it is difficult or impossible to guarantee that 100 percent, the two interventions that have been recommended by the review group have been agreed to by Cabinet.

Simon Power: Is the Associate Minister aware that members of the Scholarship Reference Group have said that his stubborn desire to stick with standards-based assessment at scholarship level is “bizarre”, “absolutely illogical”, and “incomprehensible”; and why will he not just admit that no matter what one calls it, this year’s exams will use a fundamentally different assessment system from that used at other levels of the National Certificate of Educational Achievement ?

Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: I do not think there is a great deal of productive purpose in making the sorts of comments about individuals that Mr Morris has made in that regard. What I do assure the member about is that the Scholarship Reference Group recommended, and Cabinet agreed to, the following: firstly, that student performance could be assessed in the way that was earlier described; and, secondly—

Simon Power: It’s completely different from what was originally intended.

Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: If the member would listen, it might help. Secondly, that—

Madam SPEAKER: The Minister will be heard in silence, or members will leave the Chamber.

Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: Secondly, that inter-subject moderation or scaling be not used.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. Standing Order 370(2) requires that a reply to a question must be concise and confined to the subject matter of the question. I listened to Mr Power’s question very carefully. He made no mention at all of Mr Morris, yet we got a response from the Minister saying that Mr Morris was wrong because of this. How can that possibly comply with Standing Order 370(2)?

Madam SPEAKER: In ruling on the point of order, I say the Minister had not completed his answer. Would the Minister please complete his answer.

Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: The two points I raised, which were accepted by Cabinet, are not inconsistent with a standards-based approach, as can be confirmed by any discussion with all the members of the secondary review group.

Simon Power: Will the Associate Minister pay anything more than lip service to the Post Primary Teachers Association’s demands that the Government “immediately address complex problems with the NCEA, including a lack of consistency in exams and inadequate moderation”, or does he need another scholarship-type debacle to raise him from his slumber?

Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: It is exactly to provide the community, parents, and students with the certainty that they expect and are entitled to that the State Services Commission is conducting the reviews it is currently conducting, I say to Mr Power.

Surface Transport Costs and Charges Study—Conclusions

8. Hon MARK GOSCHE (Labour—Maungakiekie) to the Minister of Transport: What are the main conclusions of the Surface Transport Costs and Charges Study?

Hon PETE HODGSON (Minister of Transport): There are three main conclusions: firstly, that the charges paid by road and rail users do not cover the costs of those networks and that some costs, especially environmental costs, are not paid by anyone; secondly, that rail users pay a higher proportion of their costs than do road users; and, thirdly, that users of urban local roads pay a lower proportion of costs than users of either rural roads or State highways.

Hon Mark Gosche: How much money is paid into the Crown account by road users, and how much is paid out from it to cover road-related costs?

Hon PETE HODGSON: In 2001-02, the year that concerns the study, about $550 million of fuel duty was paid into the Crown account, while over twice that amount was paid out from it to meet transport-related costs.

Hon Maurice Williamson: Could the Minister tell the House whether the public have a right to be cynical about the time frame for the announcement of this stuff given that back in 2003 the Minister of Finance, Michael Cullen, said: “I expect the results of these to be released early in the new year.”; that at the beginning of 2004 the then Minister of Transport, Paul Swain, said: “I expect to announce the results of these reports within the next couple of months.”; and that now the report is magically available the day before the new 5c petrol tax kicks in?

Hon PETE HODGSON: No, the member is not entitled to be cynical. As the Minister of Transport, I required the Surface Transport Costs and Charges Study to be subject to a peer review, and then to be subject to a second peer review. Both peer reviews support the findings of the study, and it is important that the nation knows about it.

Peter Brown: In light of the Minister’s response, particularly to the questions of the Hon Mark Gosche, can I take it that in addition to the April Fool’s Day tax, which comes in tomorrow; the inflation tax, which comes in next year; the storage tax, which is likely to come in next year; and the carbon tax, which will come in the year after, the motorist will have to face yet another tax as a result of this Surface Transport Costs and Charges Study? Am I correct in that assertion?

Hon PETE HODGSON: No, the member is not correct. There are no policy implications from the study. There are no decisions to be derived from the study. It is for information. It will inform future policies of this Government and of future Governments, I am sure. It is not, however, the Government’s intention to raise petrol tax again.

Jeanette Fitzsimons: Can the Minister confirm that the environmental and social costs evaluated in this study are conservative and incomplete, and that diverting money out of the Crown account and into roading would simply result in road transport paying even less of its true costs?

Hon PETE HODGSON: I can confirm that. The environmental costs are conservative. The social costs are non-existent.

Larry Baldock: Can the Minister confirm that United Future has been constantly asking the Government to complete this study for at least the last 18 months, and can he explain what the study shows about the costs incurred by the transport sector met from the Crown account that are additional to the funding provided by petrol excise tax?

Hon PETE HODGSON: The answer to the first question is yes. The answer to the second question is that it shows that the cost of vehicle accidents to the health and social welfare system not met by accident compensation are around $670 million, that the health-related costs caused by vehicle emissions are around $442 million, and that those costs alone are around double the amount of fuel excise duty that goes into the Crown account each year.

Larry Baldock: Does this statement in the study: “Rates are fixed charges based on property values and bear no relationship to the use of the roading network by property owners. While it can be argued that most ratepayers use public transport and/or drive cars, using rates to contribute to the cost of roads creates equity issues, particularly as the demography of New Zealand’s population is changing.” indicate that the Government may consider adjusting the financial assistance rate, which is a heavy burden upon urban councils across this country and particularly upon farming?

Hon PETE HODGSON: Yes. The financial assistance rate is due for a review, and the member makes a good point. The study in general hints that the future should be less fixed charges and more variable charges.

Building Act—Department of Building and Housing

9. Hon Dr NICK SMITH (National—Nelson) to the Minister for Building Issues: What errors, if any, have been identified in the provisions of the Building Act 2004 that come into force today, and is the Department of Building and Housing knowingly breaching any sections of the new Act?

Hon CHRIS CARTER (Minister for Building Issues): There are some errors, additions, and inconsistencies, many of which are of a minor drafting nature. The process for fixing them is well under way. Yes, the department is technically in breach, under section 410 of the Act, with regard to copyright, but we are addressing this problem.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: Is the Minister aware that the new Act prohibits any building work without a building consent, but erroneously defines building work to include design, so that New Zealand’s 15,000 architects, engineers, and designers will today be designing buildings in contravention of the Act; if so, when will he fix this embarrassing flaw?

Hon CHRIS CARTER: My officials are working rapidly to address these problems.

Mark Peck: Why was it necessary to rewrite the Building Act in 2004?

Hon CHRIS CARTER: That is a very good question. It was because the regime established by the 1991 Building Act, enacted by a National Government, failed comprehensively and delivered New Zealand a terrible legacy of leaking homes and other problems with building design and construction. What was needed was an Act that ensured that buildings were designed and built correctly the first time. The new Act introduces a quality assurance framework that provides effective protection for building owners and users—very good news for all New Zealanders.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: I know that it is normal to seek leave to table documents at the end of a question, but given the answer that the Minister has just given, and to help the answering of future supplementary questions, I seek leave to table a Hansard from 1991 in which George Hawkins said that it was quite wrong for National to claim credit for the 1991 Building Act, that it was introduced by Labour, and that Labour claimed the credit for it.

Leave granted.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: How are building owners to comply with new section 108, which states they must have a warrant of fitness issued by a licensed building practitioner, when the Act makes no provision for the appointment of a licensed building practitioner until 2009; and does the Minister understand the serious implications that this has for building owners in respect of their insurance?

Hon CHRIS CARTER: This fault in the Act has been identified, and will be corrected.

Hon Richard Prebble: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I am not saying that the Minister has not addressed the question, but the second part of the question was about insurance, and the Minister must know that people building buildings who do not comply with this Act are in danger of having their insurance removed. There must be people in that situation right now, and I think the Minister would do the House and the country a service if he let us know whether the House was addressing that insurance question.

Hon CHRIS CARTER: Enforcement of the legislation is in the hands of territorial authorities, which, I have to say, have adopted a very responsible approach to it. With any piece of legislation with 451 clauses there are bound to be problems in drafting. I would like to remind members that the 1993 Companies Act, which was passed by a National Government, has been amended nine times. The 1991 Resource Management Act has been amended 13 times. Mistakes do occur, but the important thing is to fix them up.

Hon Richard Prebble: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. This is not my question; it is a question from Nick Smith, but it is a very good question. The Minister must have been told by his officials that it is standard in insurance policies that if a person has not followed the law, that person’s insurance is invalid. The Minister has been asked whether he is addressing that matter, but all I am getting is waffle about the Companies Act. Does the Government know about that insurance issue, and if it does, what is going to happen?

Madam SPEAKER: The Minister addressed the question.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: If it is the advice of officials that these problems were drawn to the attention of the Minister in January, when there may have been time to ensure that people were able to comply with the law, why is it that now, on 31 March, when this very flawed legislation comes into effect, he still has not introduced a bill to correct his botch-ups?

Hon CHRIS CARTER: The member’s question again makes assumptions that are not correct. Section 410 was drawn to my attention in January, soon after I had become Minister for Building Issues. Issues relating to section 363, and other matters that the member has referred to today and yesterday, were not drawn to my attention until 9 March. On 10 March I instructed officials to begin the process, very rapidly, of addressing these problems.

Hon Dr Michael Cullen: I think the member has raised some very important points, which clearly need addressing urgently. I would like to seek leave for the ability to include within the Legislation (Statutory References) Bill, which deals with the other matter, a Supplementary Order Paper that deals with these issues, and to take that bill through urgency the week after next. Obviously, I would expect the Minister to consult with Dr Smith about the content of that Supplementary Order Paper.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: Point of order—

Madam SPEAKER: Leave has been sought. Is the member seeking clarification?

Hon Dr Nick Smith: Yes, indeed. The Legislation (Statutory References) Bill was referred to the select committee on Tuesday, and was required to be reported back today. It includes amendments to the Commerce Act and to the Health Act that have nothing to do with building laws, yet we are being asked to rush it through the House. The problem the Opposition has is that it is rushed legislation that ends up with these sorts of botch-ups in the first place. So we will deny leave, but I invite the Minister to consult with the Opposition so that we can ensure that this very serious problem is repaired as quickly as possible.

Hon Dr Michael Cullen: It seems difficult for the Opposition to argue that urgent action is necessary, then to refuse leave to address that urgent action. As I said before, I would expect the Minister to consult with the member on the content of the Supplementary Order Paper. I am seeking leave because such a Supplementary Order Paper would be outside the scope of the bill normally, although the legislation deals with some issues within the Building Act.

Stephen Franks: The Minister spoke of consulting with the Hon Dr Nick Smith on this matter. The ACT party has opposed the Building Act all the way through. We have not been in a position to consider these matters in detail, but we did raise the issue of insurance. We certainly want a timetable that means we do not have the possibility of insurers taking advantage of this gap. Will that consultation be extended to us, if leave is granted?

Hon Dr Michael Cullen: To give a rough indication of the time, I would expect, from advice I have from the Minister, a draft Supplementary Order Paper to be available in about the middle of next week. I suggest the appropriate Minister consult on these matters not merely with Dr Smith but with other parties, including United Future. We would not be coming to the Committee stage of that bill until the following week. Obviously, at that point it would be possible for any consideration to be given to amendments suggested by members opposite. But this is a vehicle that will be available at that stage to deal with the issue urgently. Dr Smith has made the point, quite properly, that there are a couple of matters within the bill that need to be dealt with quite quickly.

Hon Richard Prebble: I find myself in sympathy with the points made by Mr Smith. I say to Dr Cullen that it is really not appropriate to ask the House to approve leave for something that we have not even seen. Speaking for the ACT party, we are extremely concerned about this matter. We think that people’s insurance will be invalid, and that is not something that one wants to take party political advantage from. I suggest—and this will not make any difference to the timetable—that Dr Cullen works urgently on the amendments and circulates them to members of the House. We will facilitate their being able to go through the House reasonably quickly. We would like to suggest to him some other amendments that would rectify some other serious problems with the bill, in the same cooperative spirit.

Hon Dr Michael Cullen: The member makes a helpful suggestion. I will have to withdraw my seeking of leave at this point. But I would just gently say to the member, having had some experience of him over a long period of time, that I hope that areas where there may be disagreements on amendments will not hold up the amendments to the matters that require urgent attention, such as the one that he raised.

Madam SPEAKER: The Minister has withdrawn his application for leave.

Youth Offending—Parenting

10. MOANA MACKEY (Labour) to the Associate Minister for Social Development and Employment (CYF): Has she received any reports recently concerning parenting of youths who have committed a crime?

Hon RUTH DYSON (Associate Minister for Social Development and Employment (CYF)): Yes. I have read various reports about the National Party’s proposal to punish parents of young offenders.

Moana Mackey: What has been the response to these reports from professionals working in the sector?

Hon RUTH DYSON: Cindy Kiro, the Children’s Commissioner, said that the parents of young offenders can already be ordered by the court to undergo counselling or training. Such orders, she said, are imposed fairly regularly. On the other hand, Dr Brash admitted on Checkpoint on 21 March that he had not read about the UK programme on which his policy was based, and could not provide any information on the specifics.

Judith Collins: Why would the Minister deny help and support to parents of the hard-core 5 percent of young offenders who account for a quarter of all crime in this country, when the same system trialled in the UK found that 90 percent of the parents would recommend the parenting orders, and that offending by their children had dropped by a massive 50 percent?

Hon RUTH DYSON: The help and support that the member referred to in the opening statement of her supplementary question are exactly what New Zealand’s youth justice system offers to the entire family, not just to the custodial parent.

Marc Alexander: Does the Minister agree that a key requirement placed on parents of youth offenders is to ensure that commitments made by the offender to the victim, agreed to at family group conferences, are actually carried out; and given that last year’s Ministry of Social Development report revealed that these commitments were largely being ignored, what is her department doing to correct this deficiency—or is this now what passes for justice to victims?

Hon RUTH DYSON: I think that is a misinterpretation of the Ministry of Social Development report, but I do agree that a primary role of the family group conferences is to make sure that the commitments made by all parties are adhered to.

Judith Collins: I seek the leave of the House to table a report from BBC News, entitled Parenting Orders: A Success Story.

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

Judith Collins: I seek leave of the House to table another report from BBC News, which states that a study has said that parenting orders work: “ ‘Going on the course certainly helped me’, said the mother”—

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

Influenza Vaccine—Programme

11. Dr PAUL HUTCHISON (National—Port Waikato) to the Minister of Health: Can she confirm that the Ministry of Health stated on 22 March that “From April 18, GPs and vaccinators will be able to offer one dose of Vaxigrip to the healthy population under 65 years.” and that “The full three-virus vaccine will be available for eligible funded groups from April 26 2005.”; if not, why not?

Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR (Acting Minister of Health): Yes.

Dr Paul Hutchison: Can the Minister confirm that, as of this afternoon, Pharmac has made no order or commitment to purchase any quantity of the Vaxigrip vaccine; and, if she does not know this fact, is she displaying the same ignorance of what Pharmac is up to that she displayed between 28 February and 7 March, thus repeating within 1 month the same inattention to a significant public health problem that affects thousands of New Zealanders?

Hon DAMIEN O’CONNOR: No, I cannot confirm that. At this point, this Government has a commitment to 1.38 million doses of Vaxigrip. We also have a commitment, through Pharmac, to purchase 518,000 doses of other vaccines to cover both those at risk and those at less risk. The flu vaccine programme is in order. This Government is monitoring the situation and we have every confidence that we will be in control of any possible flu outbreak, should it occur.

Steve Chadwick: Has the Minister read any media releases dated 23 March 2005 concerning a possible flu outbreak in several patients seen by an Auckland GP?

Hon DAMIEN O’CONNOR: Yes, the Minister of Health has seen two alarmist media releases issued that day by Dr Paul Hutchison, referring to a possible flu outbreak. In both releases he said that Auckland GP Dr Nick Cooper had seen several patients that day with “classic flu symptoms”. The Auckland medical officer of health has liaised with the GP and checked with the lab, which reports nothing unusual for this time of year. That member is wrong, and he knows it. There is no evidence of a flu outbreak in Auckland or anywhere else in New Zealand. Given current concerns, sensible surveillance of influenza in general practice will begin early this year, on 4 April.

Dr Paul Hutchison: Can the Minister confirm that the 368,000 doses of flu vaccine that Pharmac is to purchase from Glaxo Smith Kline will cost almost $4 million, which is twice as expensive as the original Sanofi Pasteur vaccine, and is she aware that Pharmac may not have a good case for compensation against Sanofi Pasteur MSD, because Medsafe indicated that it would approve the Sanofi Pasteur vaccine for use in New Zealand, when the Minister and Pharmac were scrambling around looking for options?

Hon DAMIEN O’CONNOR: I do not have those figures before me. What I can say is that it is an unfortunate situation that a mistake made by a commercial company has created this problem. [Interruption]

Madam SPEAKER: The member asked a question and was heard in silence. I ask him to have the courtesy to allow the Minister to respond in silence also.

Hon DAMIEN O’CONNOR: What I can say is that this Government is committed to protecting the public of New Zealand, and where necessary will spend the money to ensure that we have a flu vaccine programme in place. That is exactly what we have now, and I am confident that Pharmac will manage that properly.

Dr Paul Hutchison: I seek leave to table two documents. The first is from the New Zealand Herald dated Thursday, 17 March 2005, “Flu vaccine debacle puts many at risk”.

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

Dr Paul Hutchison: The second is from InPHARMation, a Pharmac publication, dated February 2005, which says that the Vaxigrip brand of influenza vaccine is subsidised for New Zealanders from March this year, and that the subsidised vaccine shots would be available from 1 March of this year.

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

Question No. 12 to Minister

DAIL JONES (NZ First): Madam Speaker, on behalf of the Rt Hon Winston Peters.

Hon KEN SHIRLEY (Whip—ACT): I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I raise a point of order with reference to both Standing Order 165, which is the declaration of pecuniary interest, and Standing Order 395(f), relating to potential conflicts of interests of members. Although you may not be able to give a decision today, I certainly would like a decision from you in due course. My question is whether a member actually gets out of a potential conflict of interest by passing a question on to a colleague. I raise this in the context of whether it is appropriate for a member to raise parliamentary questions about conflicts of interest of judges, when that member has had costs of $3,000 awarded against him as the plaintiff in a matter before the High Court and has failed to pay those costs to a defendant. Certainly as of 2 o’clock today those costs have not been paid.

DAIL JONES (NZ First): I have not the faintest idea what Mr Shirley is talking about. All I am concerned about is asking a supplementary question on behalf of a citizen of New Zealand, an 84-year-old woman who believes she has been badly treated. I am disappointed that the ACT party would want a citizen of New Zealand to be prevented from having her question asked in the House. Quite frankly, as far as I am concerned I know nothing about it and all I am doing is asking a question, perhaps on behalf of someone else, but it is now in my name. The relevance of another court case, really, is quite outside the Standing Orders. The member is referring to judicial proceedings that are currently under process, and clearly he cannot refer to them in terms of the Standing Orders. That is quite clearly excluded, and Mr Shirley is committing an absolute abuse of parliamentary procedure in referring to a case that might be under process, although I do not know about that, either.

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Leader of the House): I do not think that point of order can properly be raised on this question, because the question is phrased very generally. If, of course, a subsequent supplementary question impinged upon a matter that involved Mr Peters and the court, then, of course—

Dail Jones: It doesn’t!

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I think the member cannot possibly say that until he has heard the supplementary question. This question is phrased very generally indeed, and it is quite impossible to conclude from it that there is a potential conflict of interest. There might well be in a supplementary, but the member will have to wait for that, and then the point of order might be properly raised.

Hon RICHARD PREBBLE (ACT): I sympathise with the position in which Mr Dail Jones finds himself in respect of the 84-year-old, but in fact he rose in this House and said: “On behalf of the Rt Hon Winston Peters I ask the following question”. The conflict of interest runs back to Mr Peters, who is in a position where he is in conflict with the courts. The courts have made an award against him of $3,000 in a civil case. He has been told to pay it and he has not. It does not appear to me that it is appropriate, then, for an MP to get up in this House and start casting aspersions on the courts when it appears that he actually has a conflict as to why he is asking it. It may well be that he will try to take the question in a different direction, but it would seem to me that it is extremely unwise for a member of Parliament who has had an award made by the courts against him and has failed to pay that award, then to get up and start talking about conflicts of interest by the judges.

Madam SPEAKER: If the member has a conflict of interest in any matter at all, then it is up to the member to declare the conflict of interest he or she may have. But I think the matter, listening to the debate on the point of order, is about declaring an interest, as opposed to a conflict of interest—if I have understood that clearly. Standing Order 165 does not affect the validity of any question in such circumstances, though the MP may commit a breach of privilege if he or she does not declare an interest in those circumstances. Given that, would the member proceed.

Judges—Conflicts of Interest

12. DAIL JONES (NZ First), on behalf of Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS (Leader—NZ First) to the Attorney-General: Would he be prepared to introduce legislation to ensure that judges presiding over criminal and civil cases could not hear cases that involve them in a possible conflict of interest; if not, why not?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Attorney-General): No, because I am advised that it is not necessary, given that there is a well-developed body of case law on exactly this question.

Dail Jones: What will the Attorney-General do, and is he aware of the case in which Judge Nicola Mathers was apparently acquainted with the owner of malfunctioning medical equipment that caused 84-year-old Edna Brown to suffer extensive fourth-degree burns, leaving her seriously disfigured when the surgical freezing machine malfunctioned, but did not disqualify herself from presiding over this case, where there was obvious conflict of interest between her and the owner of that machine—that case having been completed in the courts, and no matter remaining before the courts on that issue?

Madam SPEAKER: The member has made a reflection on a judge, which is contrary to the Standing Orders, so I ask the member to stand and withdraw that comment.

Dail Jones: I am just quoting from the case, with respect, Madam Speaker. The judge in the case, in a number of paragraphs, stated that she was acquainted with the person. I am merely repeating what the judge said in the case. I am just asking the Minister whether he regards that as a conflict of interest, and whether he thinks something should be done about it.

Madam SPEAKER: As I heard the member, he was alleging that there was a conflict of interest as a statement of fact, which was, in fact, bringing that judge into disrepute.

Dail Jones: Perhaps if I rephrase the question—

Madam SPEAKER: That would be helpful. The member should withdraw the first comment, however.

Dail Jones: I withdraw and apologise to this person.

Madam SPEAKER: Thank you. Now proceed.

Dail Jones: Is the Minister aware of the case, which was referred to in the New Zealand Herald on 18 March this year, affecting 84-year-old Edna Brown, who suffered extensive fourth-degree burns that left her seriously disfigured with regard to a surgical freezing machine that malfunctioned—a machine that was owned by a person with whom Judge Nicola Mathers said she was acquainted, apparently in paragraphs 31,32, 35, 36, 37, 75, and 81 of her decision; and does he believe that something should be done about situations where judges indicate they are associated with people who own equipment, to ensure that they do not deal in such cases?

Hon Dr Michael Cullen: No, I am not aware of the case, but I would have thought that near-acquaintance for somebody in New Zealand would not, of itself, necessarily create a conflict of interest.

Dail Jones: In that case, what can the Attorney-General say to this 84-year-old woman who believes that she was denied justice? She was left permanently and severely disfigured, and no one accepts responsibility, particularly the surgeon responsible, who apparently offered Edna Brown $5,000 in compensation, providing she kept silent. Is the Attorney-General prepared to conduct an investigation into this case?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: No. Despite the obvious sympathy one has for the elderly woman involved, I do not think it is appropriate for the Attorney-General to step in and carry out investigations into judgments of this sort.

Dail Jones: I seek leave to table the report in the New Zealand Herald dated 18 March 2005 about this matter.

Leave granted.

Question No. 3 to Minister

Hon TONY RYALL (National—Bay Of Plenty): I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. The Minister of Police gave a figure as being the number of other unallocated cases around the country—I think he said it was 680 or something. The document that he tabled shows that to be quite a different number, and I wonder whether the Minister would be able to take the opportunity within the next hour to correct that information that he gave to the House.

Madam SPEAKER: That is a matter of debate, not a point of order. The point has been made.

( Uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing. For corrected transcripts, please visit: )

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