Questions & Answers Wednesday, 13 April 2005
WEDNESDAY, 13 APRIL 2005
QUESTIONS FOR ORAL ANSWER
Questions to Ministers
Passenger Clearance Service Costs—Funding Formula
Prime Minister—John Tamihere
Prime Minister—John Tamihere
Dioxin Exposure—New Plymouth
Meningococcal B Vaccine—Reports
Question No. 4 to Minister
Rates—Rebate Scheme Changes
Social Development and Employment, Minister—Confidence
Te Wânanga o Aotearoa—Enrolments and Courses
War Memorial Park—Plans
QUESTIONS FOR ORAL ANSWER
QUESTIONS TO MINISTERS
Passenger Clearance Service Costs—Funding Formula
1. CLAYTON COSGROVE (Labour—Waimakariri), on behalf of Hon MARK GOSCHE (Labour—Maungakiekie) to the Minister of Finance: What principles led the new funding formula for passenger clearance service costs?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Minister of Finance): The principle of fairness is based on the allocation of costs to the primary beneficiary, so the Government will pay the full cost for biosecurity and customs, and the airlines for aviation security. This leads to a rough 50-50 split between the two.
Clayton Cosgrove: How will the industry costs be allocated?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: They will be allocated through a uniform per passenger charge of $8.31, which will be collected by the airlines rather than the airports. This is in addition to the $1 Civil Aviation Authority fee, and represents a total increase of $4.31 over current charges. New international airports will move to the uniform charge at the end of their first year of operation, provided they have achieved a level of 9,000 departing passengers a year.
Peter Brown: Does the Minister accept that Rotorua is one of our tourism-centre jewels and that if it developed its airport to international standards, it should not charge any more per passenger than our current international airports; if he does not accept that, will he please explain why?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: We have provided for initial costs in relation to new airports, because when airports are starting up with small numbers of passengers the per-passenger cost is extremely high indeed. The Mayor of Rotorua has expressed his appreciation that the Government has listened to the submissions from him and other supportive mayors around the country.
Prime Minister—John Tamihere
2. RODNEY HIDE (Leader—ACT) to the Prime Minister: What did she mean when she said, in relation to John Tamihere, that she is “capable of infinite forgiveness”?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Deputy Prime Minister), on behalf of the Prime Minister: The Prime Minister meant what she said, which is that she is capable of infinite forgiveness, but she does like to see reciprocation.
Rodney Hide: In making that statement, had John Tamihere disclosed to her his involvement in the scam that has seen his former chief financial officer and electorate chairman, Mike Tolich, admit to the Serious Fraud Office that he had paid kickbacks to obtain pokie-machine moneys; and has she sought from John Tamihere a full disclosure of the scam for which the Serious Fraud Office is laying charges?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: That matter has been the subject of an investigation, which decided that no charges were to lie against Mr Tamihere.
Rodney Hide: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. My question asked whether Mr Tamihere had disclosed information to the Prime Minister. I cannot see how saying what everyone knows answers that question, at all.
Madam SPEAKER: The Minister addressed the question.
Gerry Brownlee: What happened between Monday night, when the Prime Minister was indicating that John Tamihere’s political career was all but over, and Tuesday morning, when he suddenly became a well-like, valuable political asset who puts in 150 percent on a good day?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Mr Tamihere came to the caucus and apologised for his statements.
John Carter: Does the infinite forgiveness mean that the new standard she has set for her Government allows an alleged rapist, a convicted forger, a habitual drink-driver, and a self-confessed liar to be tolerated in her caucus; if so, how low a standard will she set in her naked desperation to retain office?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: The Prime Minister indicated that much depends upon Mr Tamihere’s future actions, but I thought that member would have learnt that sometimes forgiveness in a leader can be quite important.
Rodney Hide: Does the Prime Minister or the Deputy Prime Minister, Michael Cullen, know anything at all about the kickbacks that were paid to obtain money from pokie machines, and how John Tamihere might have advantaged in that way trusts for which he was associated?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I am aware that the Deputy Prime Minister has read the report on those matters.
Rodney Hide: Did those reports explain John Tamihere’s involvement in those schemes, and what were those reports?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: As the member is aware, charges have been laid against one person in relation to those matters. It would be inappropriate to—
Rodney Hide: No, two.
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Yes. It would be inappropriate to comment further, which might influence the outcome of the court hearings on those matters.
Rodney Hide: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. Again, I beg your indulgence for the sake of question time. I asked a specific question. The Minister said he has seen some reports, and I asked him what the reports were. He did not address that in his answer.
Madam SPEAKER: The Minister addressed the question. He referred specifically to the reports.
3. Hon PETER DUNNE (Leader—United Future) to the Minister of Health: Is she satisfied that Pharmac’s practice of entering sole-supply agreements ensures that New Zealanders get the medicines they need; if so, why?
Hon ANNETTE KING (Minister of Health): In the main, yes, I am. Since sole supply began in 1996 savings of over $200 million have been achieved, and as well it has enabled New Zealanders to have better access to a wider range of subsidised medicines than previously. For example, over the last 5 years 53 new chemical entities have been added to the subsidised lists, including new treatments for diabetes, severe pain, and chronic obstructive lung disease. I note that sole supply was introduced when the honourable member was a Cabinet Minister in the previous Government.
Hon Peter Dunne: Why did Pharmac enter into a sole-supply agreement regarding the product Salamol, when it knew at the time that there had been problems with inhalers clogging in Britain, which has now been the experience here, or is it simply a case of cost saving at all counts and the New Zealand asthmatic sufferer having to pay the consequences of that?
Hon ANNETTE KING: In respect of the last part of the answer, no, and Pharmac has been notified of a small number of complaints regarding Salamol. Those complaints have been taken seriously, and Pharmac is working with the supplier of Salamol, and with Medsafe. However, Pharmac has been informed by Air Flow Products, the supplier of Salamol, that clogging can be addressed by simply cleaning the inhaler.
Lesley Soper: Has sole supply been an effective way of managing access to medicines in New Zealand?
Hon ANNETTE KING: Yes. In addition to achieving savings on prescription medicines, sole supply has led to an increase in the number of pharmaceutical companies present in New Zealand. Generic companies have increased from only three main ones in 1996 to more than eight now, resulting in greater price competition when Pharmac runs its annual tender. New Zealand is a small market, and sole supply helps to ensure that medicines that might otherwise be hard to obtain are secured for New Zealand patients. Sole-supply agreements are widely used internationally. For example, in the United States one of the largest health management organisations, Kaiser Permanente, uses sole-supply agreements.
Barbara Stewart: Is she aware of comments made by Diabetes New Zealand’s president that Pharmac’s limitation of the access of 40,000 people with type 2 diabetes to self-monitoring products will serve only to drive up the cost of managing diabetes in coming years; if so, does she find the trade-off of short-term gain against long-term pain acceptable?
Hon ANNETTE KING: There will always be debate about which products ought to be used and which ones ought to be subsidised. I am happy and confident that the supply of drugs for diabetes in New Zealand is a good supply, and I am quite happy with the work that has been done in that respect. We look at new drugs when they come on the market, and we subsidise them as soon as is practicable and when their efficacy ensures we ought to do that.
Hon Peter Dunne: What does the Minister say to those asthma sufferers who either are alcohol-intolerant or have a cultural or religious objection to the use of alcohol, and who are now being forced to use Salamol, which is an ethanol-based product, as an alternative to Ventolin, which will be going off the market in a month or so?
Hon ANNETTE KING: Where there is a difficulty in terms of a person being intolerant to a particular drug, we have the ability for that person, because of special circumstances, to receive another drug.
Sue Kedgley: Why did New Zealand purchase 200,000 treatments of antiviral drugs to fight bird flu—the drugs being the only possible protection against bird flu—which had passed their use-by date; and is it standard practice for Pharmac to buy outdated, second-hand drugs?
Hon ANNETTE KING: The member is totally wrong. She has been told that the doses we are receiving of the antiviral drug—which does not cure bird flu; the member is, in fact, wrong in that respect—have been made especially for New Zealand.
Sue Kedgley: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I specifically asked why the Minister bought the drugs last year. I am aware that new supplies are not second-hand, but that the ones purchased last year had passed their use-by date. Furthermore, I did not say that they cured bird flu; I said the drugs offered some protection against bird flu.
Hon ANNETTE KING: In respect of the 20,000 doses purchased last year, I can say that they have been certified by Medsafe as being able to continue to be used. That particular antiviral supply that we have is able to be used. The out-of-stock date was looked at. We checked to see whether the drugs could be used, and it was found by an expert committee that they could be.
Simon Power: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I am a bit unsure about just what occurred there. Sue Kedgley raised a point of order, and then the Hon Annette King made a contribution that seemed to be by way of an answer to an oral question. It seems to me that we have a sort of conversation by way of points of order occurring between members who are not satisfied with answers and Ministers who are taking the opportunity to spin their line a bit further.
Hon ANNETTE KING: I thought that clarification was being sought. I had not heard what the member had said about the 20,000 doses, so I took it from the look on Madame Speaker’s face, when her eyebrows shot up, that she was giving me the opportunity to expand my answer.
Madam SPEAKER: Certainly, the points of order were for not addressing the question. The Minister was prepared to expand on her answer because she had not heard the question. We aim to please, and normally the Opposition does like full answers, as I understand it—as full as they can get from the Government.
Hon Peter Dunne: How many more cases of the failure of the sole-supply policy will it take before either the Minister or Pharmac decides that change is necessary; or do New Zealand’s suffering patients simply have to continue to put up with what is going on at the moment?
Hon ANNETTE KING: There is no overwhelming evidence that we ought to change what we are doing now, and I would caution the member to try to get some of his accusations correct. He has received a letter from Pharmac very recently, in which it is shown that he made at least 16 errors of statement in this House or in press releases, around things that had happened with regard to Pharmac and particular stocks. I am happy to table the letter, so that everyone can read the response to what the member has said.
Peter Brown: Has the Minister noted the passion with which the Hon Peter Dunne has been putting his questions, and is she aware that this is the straw that is breaking the camel’s back and that, if the Labour Government does not agree with the Hon Peter Dunne, he may withdraw his party’s support on supply and confidence; if so, has she had any indication of that?
Hon ANNETTE KING: No, I have not had any indication. I would say of the United Future party and the Hon Peter Dunne that it probably takes a lot more than a few questions on Pharmac to be the straw that breaks the camel’s back—unlike, probably, the one too many glasses of whisky that broke the camel’s back under the previous Government.
Madam SPEAKER: Would the member please withdraw that last comment.
Hon ANNETTE KING: I withdraw.
Peter Brown: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I take that as a slight, because I do enjoy a glass of whisky a day, and people tell me that it is good for my health.
Madam SPEAKER: I thank the member. The Minister did withdraw.
Prime Minister—John Tamihere
4. GERRY BROWNLEE (Deputy Leader—National) to the Prime Minister: Does she stand by her response to question for oral answer No. 1 yesterday that “Leadership is about judgment, and I have exercised mine in the interests of the Labour Party.”?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Deputy Prime Minister), on behalf of the Prime Minister: Yes, she has exercised her judgment in the interests of the Labour Party and, indeed, of the country as a whole.
Gerry Brownlee: Does the Prime Minister realise that many New Zealanders consider Mr Tamihere’s censure to be meaningless, especially considering that he has been sent home on holiday—[Interruption]
Madam SPEAKER: What members interjected during that question? Who interjected?
Hon Annette King: I will own up to an interchange between the honourable member for Tauranga and myself.
Madam SPEAKER: Then will you both please leave the Chamber. You know the rules on this.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. First of all, you should do us the courtesy of asking both parties. It was not an interjection; it was simply a statement to the Minister who has just resumed her seat as to what that sort of allegation will bring in the future in respect of her party. It was not an interjection; I was just telling her that if she ever did that again, she would know what came next.
Madam SPEAKER: I ask both members please to leave the Chamber. I am conscious of the fact that the Rt Hon Winston Peters is to ask a question. He may come back for that question then leave again.
Hon Annette King: I have a question, too.
Madam SPEAKER: And there is a question for the Minister of Health. She may come back to answer that, then leave the Chamber straight afterwards.
Hon Annette King withdrew from the Chamber.
Rt Hon Winston Peters withdrew from the Chamber.
Gerry Brownlee: Does the Prime Minister realise that many New Zealanders consider Mr Tamihere’s censure to be meaningless, especially as he has been sent home on holiday without giving a public apology for his deeply offensive remarks about women and the Holocaust?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I think that if the member had been present in the Labour caucus, he would have realised that it was not exactly the proverbial slapping with a wet bus ticket, at all. Indeed, I think if he had actually seen Mr Tamihere’s body language immediately afterwards, he would have realised how shaken Mr Tamihere was by what the Prime Minister said.
Judith Collins: Whose interests were better served by the exercise of her judgment in favour of Mr Tamihere: the Labour Party’s or those of the New Zealand women whom he referred to as “front-bums”?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Mr Tamihere apologised to the Labour caucus for those comments. He accepted that they were completely inappropriate. As the Prime Minister has said, we shall move on from here in the light of Mr Tamihere’s subsequent behaviour.
Dr the Hon Lockwood Smith: When exercising her judgment on John Tamihere, what made acceptable his comments on the Holocaust—comments from which he has refused to resile publicly?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: The Prime Minister disassociated herself and the Government from those comments on Sunday, well before the Labour caucus met. They are not acceptable comments.
Hon Maurice Williamson: Was it good leadership and good judgment to place her need for the Labour Government to retain office ahead of the needs of the many New Zealanders insulted by Mr Tamihere, and how bad will it get before she takes some action on their behalf; is this just a case of mind over matter—she does not mind, and they do not matter?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: No. Mr Tamihere’s remarks were deeply offensive and the Prime Minister made that clear. It is also clear that he has been under enormous pressure over recent months, and his behaviour over the next few months will determine what happens going forward.
Gerry Brownlee: Has Mr Tamihere failed to apologise because the censure motion was drawn up by Dr Michael Cullen, and there is a possibility that there was just one word in it that made it completely meaningless?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: No. The censure motion was not drawn up by Dr Michael Cullen.
Gerry Brownlee: Did the Prime Minister ever envisage in her wildest dreams that she would be using her judgment to defend someone who holds the views on women, gays, trade unionists, and his own caucus colleagues that Mr Tamihere holds, by saying that almost everyone likes him and that he is a valuable political colleague who gives 150 percent on a good day?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: As the Prime Minister says, she is capable of infinite forgiveness in these matters, but I would remind that member that a number of his colleagues unburdened themselves of a whole string of homophobic and anti-women remarks during a number of recent debates in this House.
Rodney Hide: What sort of judgment has she been exercising when she has not bothered to find out just how John Tamihere benefited from the kickbacks that Mike Tolich has admitted to and is being charged for?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: That member has made many accusations under privilege that have been the subject of Serious Fraud Office and other inquiries, and have been found not to have substance.
Dioxin Exposure—New Plymouth
5. SUE KEDGLEY (Green) to the Associate Minister of Health: Will the Government offer free medical checks and free medical treatment to people who lived near the former Ivon Watkins-Dow plant in New Plymouth between 1962 and 1987, and therefore have elevated levels of potentially cancer-causing dioxin in their bodies; if not, why not?
Hon PETE HODGSON (Associate Minister of Health): Free hospital services are available to all New Zealanders already, as the member knows. If the member is referring to primary health services, free visits were offered to about 30 local residents in February. To date only four have taken up the offer.
Sue Kedgley: Why, when Viet Nam veterans are given free medical treatment for health problems caused by their exposure to dioxin, are residents in New Plymouth who have been similarly exposed to elevated levels of dioxin over many years not offered the same medical treatment?
Hon PETE HODGSON: The member will be aware that our history is littered with programmes that give thanks to veterans for their active service—this being one of them. But I remind the member that when we did give 30 people who knew they had higher than normal levels of exposure to dioxin access to free medical primary care, only four of the 30 took up the offer and the other 26 did not.
Mark Peck: What were the steps taken when releasing the Paritutu serum dioxin study to ensure that people were well informed and supported?
Hon PETE HODGSON: Everyone in the study was contacted and individually briefed. Briefings were also given to district health boards, general practitioners, medical officers of health, the Paritutu community health liaison committee, and other stakeholders.
Rod Donald: Can the Minister confirm that two reports written by the Institute of Environmental Science and Research have found that people who lived near the Ivon Watkins-Dow plant between 1962 and 1987 have levels of dioxin in their bodies that are as high as the levels in some Vietnamese who were sprayed with Agent Orange, and comparable with levels in people from Seveso, in Italy, the site of a disastrous incident; if so, when will he admit that this must be one of the worst examples of dioxin contamination anywhere in the world at any time ever?
Hon PETE HODGSON: No, I cannot off the top of my head confirm either the figures or the comparative figures. My best guess is that the Seveso event was somewhat more serious, but there is no doubt that the New Plymouth event is a matter of great concern and a matter of ongoing research.
Sue Kedgley: Can the Minister confirm that the 30 people he referred to who were offered medical treatment were those who had their blood serum levels tested, and that there are, in fact, many thousands of people whom the Institute of Environmental Science and Research report confirms were living within a radius of 2 kilometres of the plant and are likely to have significantly elevated levels of dioxin in their bodies; why is he not offering all of those thousands of people free medical treatment?
Hon PETE HODGSON: I can confirm that the number of New Zealanders with raised serum dioxin levels will be far higher than the few people who were part of the most recent study. I myself am almost certainly one of them, having gotten through veterinary school in part by spraying 2,4,5-T to control gorse. The really important thing to remember about dioxin exposure is that dioxin exposure and various subsequent cancers, for example, are very loosely linked, and that the science—the epidemiological activity to try to get a closer linkage, or not—is still continuing. We simply have very, very few links between certain levels of dioxin exposure and certain types of cancer.
Sue Kedgley: Can he confirm that the Institute of Environmental Science and Research report found that dioxin levels in the blood serum of the exposed group were, in fact, higher than those of a similar group in Seveso, and does he agree, therefore, that it was premature for the Minister of Health to state in a letter sent to residents in New Plymouth in 2000 that a comparison of the levels around the Ivon Watkins-Dow plant with those in Seveso would clearly demonstrate that the levels released at the plant were very low, and will he, therefore, be correcting that information sent to the people of New Plymouth?
Hon PETE HODGSON: I am not able to confirm comparisons between Italy and New Zealand off the top of my head. I certainly can confirm that the levels of dioxin amongst workers at the Ivon Watkins-Dow plant exceed the levels of dioxin amongst residents living around the plant, and my best guess is that the dioxin levels currently in the blood of the President of the Ukraine would be far higher still.
Sue Kedgley: What other evidence does this Government need before it honours a promise that was made by the public health director, Don Matheson, to residents in a community group meeting 2 years ago—namely, that if there is proof that Ivon Watkins-Dow caused the problem, the Government would seek recompense and sue it? Now that the report has confirmed that there is evidence, will the Government be suing Ivon Watkins-Dow?
Hon PETE HODGSON: The case for suing Ivon Watkins-Dow is a very modest case indeed, and therefore would almost certainly fail. I think it is more important to work out not what is happening to dioxin levels but what is happening with birth defects in New Plymouth compared with the rest of New Zealand, and with cancer levels in New Plymouth compared with the rest of New Zealand. Both of those reports are likely to come to us, and to be made public, mid-year.
Rod Donald: Does the Minister agree that if the Government does not sue Ivon Watkins-Dow, it will send a terrible message to multinational corporations that they can come to New Zealand, pollute our local environment, poison our local residents, and get away scot-free—indeed, with the assistance of the Government of the day?
Hon PETE HODGSON: Can I say to the member a little more directly that we have advice that the chances of success, if we were to sue Ivon Watkins-Dow, would be slight indeed. We operate by the rule of law, and if a court case will not succeed there seems to be little case for undertaking it.
Sue Kedgley: Is one of the reasons why the Government is reluctant to sue Ivon Watkins-Dow the fact that Governments in the 1960s and 1970s spent millions of dollars subsidising the chemical 2,4,5-T, which, of course, has given rise to this problem; and is the Government concerned that it could end up as a co-defendant in any legal action?
Hon PETE HODGSON: No and no.
Meningococcal B Vaccine—Reports
6. STEVE CHADWICK (Labour—Rotorua) to the Minister of Health: What reports has she received on the meningococcal B vaccine?
Hon ANNETTE KING (Minister of Health): There are regular updates on many aspects of the meningococcal B immunisation programme. The most recent advice relates to the safety of the group B meningococcal vaccine. The chair of the Independent Safety Monitoring Board set up by the Health Research Council, and made up of international experts in epidemiology, paediatrics, and immunisation, Professor Terry Nolan, has said publicly that there are no safety concerns around the vaccine after analysing data based on the first 525,000 doses delivered to 210,573 children.
Steve Chadwick: What is the latest report the Minister has seen on the progress of the roll-out of the $200 million meningococcal B vaccine programme nation wide?
Hon ANNETTE KING: Last week the Ministry of Health reported that the meningococcal B vaccine is now available to half of all under-20-year-olds in New Zealand, and that nearly 160,000 young New Zealanders have completed the three-dose vaccination programme. This has involved a huge amount of work and dedication from parents and health professionals, but, as programme director Dr Jane O’Hallahan said, our children deserve it. The aim is to vaccinate 1.15 million New Zealanders under the age of 20. They are the people most at risk of being disabled, maimed, or killed by this disease.
Dr Paul Hutchison: What practical help will the Minister provide to overworked general practitioners who totally refute her suggestion that the meningococcal vaccine roll-out will make it easier for them to administer the flu vaccine when it finally arrives 1½ months late after all her bungling?
Hon ANNETTE KING: I totally reject the comment that it was late because of my bungling. The member has already apologised to me personally for comments that he had made that were wrong. He may want to apologise for that one, as well. As everybody knows, this vaccine did not arrive on time, because of a manufacturing error. I do not know of many health Ministers who do the manufacturing of vaccines. I can say to general practitioners that for the meningococcal B vaccine programme, we have undertaken to employ—and district health boards have employed—a large number of nurses. It is mainly nurses who carry out the vaccination programme.
Judy Turner: Is the Minister satisfied that parents have been given sufficient ongoing education about the limitations of the immunisation programme and the fact that they need to watch their children for signs of the disease, given that the vaccine does not protect them from all strains, and given that radio advertisements playing today do not give parents sufficient advice of this risk?
Hon ANNETTE KING: I agree with the member that we need to ensure that parents remain vigilant about all strains of meningococcal disease. Meningococcal B is a particularly nasty strain, but we do also have meningococcal C in New Zealand. We are aware of that, and certainly efforts are being made by our public health physicians and others to ensure that parents are mindful of the need to be careful with any of these sorts of problems and to go straight to the hospital if they detect symptoms.
Steve Chadwick: Can we afford to relax our efforts to vaccinate our children against this terrible disease?
Hon ANNETTE KING: No, we certainly cannot. So far this year there have been 53 cases of meningococcal disease and three deaths. Recent well-publicised cases of the disease highlight the point that this epidemic will not go away on its own. We do not know when it will strike, and the vaccine is the best way to protect against this particular strain of the disease.
Dr Paul Hutchison: I seek leave to table a document from the Manawatu Standard entitled “Double-up a problem”, which points out just how difficult the delayed roll-out of the flu vaccine is to general practitioners.
Madam SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection? Yes, there is objection.
Question No. 4 to Minister
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS (Leader—NZ First): I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I am raising this point of order at the first available opportunity. I think that your ruling with respect to having me ejected from the House was grossly wrong, particularly as there was no attempt to feel for the circumstance in which the event happened. The plain fact is that the Minister was not insulted by my colleague Peter Brown, but she sought to fling an insult back to this side of the House. Naturally that sort of reaction would occur in any such circumstance. Not to take that into consideration and not to treat her the same as me with respect to that was, I think, wrong and unfair. I want to make it very clear that if people—including you—want cooperation in this House they will get it, but not when I get a ruling like that. I want to make it very clear that I do not think Jonathan Hunt, or any other past Speaker, would have done anything like that.
It was simply not an interjection. I did not interrupt the questioner. I did not interrupt the Speaker or the Minister. I was speaking to someone else, as many people have been doing in the last 10 minutes in this House. None of them have been ejected from this House at all. I heard colleagues speaking to each other as I walked back into the Chamber. I think that that sort of ruling might be attempting to set some sort of standard, but it is not a standard we will tolerate or live with. We want fairness in this House, and I think that that ruling was grossly unfair, given that the Minister made that allegation, which was a lie in itself—not true—and you almost allowed her to get away with it. I want to make it very clear that if you want disorder in this House, let that happen one more time and then some members will find out how rough the game can get when it comes to things that are personal.
Madam SPEAKER: The member knows well that this House has sought to have the rules enforced rigidly. I have been attempting to do that, but obviously with a modicum of common sense. We know that when people are asking questions, there are to be no interjections or chipping across the House. It was on that basis that I gave my ruling. The member also knows that members cannot argue with a ruling on a point of order. I have heard what he said. Now I ask him to ask his question.
7. Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS (Leader—NZ First) to the Minister of Finance: What was the percentage of the net average wage used to calculate superannuation payments for married couples in April 2000 and April 2001, and why was it set at this percentage?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Minister of Finance): In 2000 the rate was around 67.8 percent of the net average wage, delivering an increase of $21.42 a week for a married couple. That reflected the anticipated increase based on raising the floor back to 65 percent before the Government Statistician rebased the net average ordinary-time weekly wage index, which could have been used, of course, to justify a lesser increase. Following the normal annual adjustment, the married couple rate rose to 68.3 percent of the average wage in April 2001.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I ask the Minister of Finance this curiosity: if the rate of New Zealand superannuation was set at 67.8 percent and then 68.5 percent respectively in April 2000 and April 2001 to compensate for the drop in net average wages, which Grey Power estimated at the time to cost superannuitants $21 per week, why did he then allow the rates to drop back to 65 percent and below, as evidenced by this chart here?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: On 27 January 2000 I issued a press statement announcing the changed rates and explained the technicality around the change in the index. I said in that press statement that the rate at which the pension drifted to 65 percent of the average wage would depend on the relative movements of wages and prices over the next few years. For as long as it is over 65 percent it will be adjusted for inflation only, but it will never be allowed to sink below 65 percent again in terms of the 1 April figure.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Why is it OK for the Labour Government to have the rate above 68 percent, but grossly wrong for New Zealand First to suggest it in 2006, and what does he mean when he says he put out a press statement to set the new rate at a figure not to go below 65 percent, when his colleague Rick Barker has released the actual figures for March 2004 at 64.88 percent and for June 2004 at 64.83 percent; and what on earth is he talking about?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Facts and law. In this particular case it has been pretty much the same since 1976 when New Zealand superannuation was set at 80 percent of the average wage—that was at 1 April before the next adjustment occurred, then normally the figure would have drifted below 80 percent and then be restored to 80 percent. That has also been the case with the 65 percent floor. The reason for it being above the floor in the year 2000, I just explained, was that we had based the anticipated level of payment on the net average ordinary-time weekly wage index as it was at the time we became the Government. Shortly thereafter the Government Statistician announced a rebasing of the index, which could have been used to justify a lower rate of increase. That would have been seen, in our view, as a betrayal of the promise we gave people at the election only a few short weeks earlier.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Why is he trying to allow Treasury to be politicised with respect to the figures on these calculations that he released the other day, claiming that the total cost would be $1.68 billion 10 years from now; and on what fictional borrowing and drawings figures, earnings figures, and consumer price index figures was Treasury doing that calculation, or what clairvoyant did he use to make that statement to the media?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: In this year’s Budget, as in every Budget, the Government makes certain predictions around the rate of inflation and the rate of wage growth over the coming period—normally set at a 2 percent inflation rate, and 3 percent average wage rate over the long term. It is always Treasury practice, and I am sure the member may recall from his intimate, close, detailed involvement in budgetary provisions in 1997 and 1998 that when a major costing item is included in Government spending it is assumed that it will be paid for by additional borrowings, so in the long term the cost of additional financing also has to be included. That is the case in the spending proposals in this year’s Budget from the Government.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Why was 68 percent OK for his Government in 2001 when it was trying to keep its promise, but wrong in 2006 when New Zealand First will be back in the administration making sure that the promise is kept?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Because the 68 percent was seen as the level in 2000. As I said in the press statement it was anticipated it would drift back to the floor of 65 percent over time. The member is proposing a new floor of 68 percent rising to a new floor of 72.5 percent. That is over a 10 percent increase in the cost of New Zealand superannuation, and throws into question any long-term fiscal forecast.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I seek leave to table a document setting out the 67 percent and 68 percent rates of 2000 and 2001.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I seek leave to table an answer from Rick Barker in which he sets out that this Government has fallen below 65 percent on a number of occasions.
Madam SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection? There is objection.
Rates—Rebate Scheme Changes
8. DAVID PARKER (Labour—Otago) to the Minister of Local Government: What changes is the Government proposing to the rates rebate scheme?
Hon RICK BARKER (Minister for Courts), on behalf of the Minister of Local Government: The Government is proposing major changes to the scheme, which will provide significant benefits to ratepayers on low incomes. The Government has listened very carefully to these ratepayers. The maximum rates for rebate will increase from $200 to $500—a 150 percent increase. The income abatement threshold will increase from $7,400 to $20,000—a 170 percent increase.
David Parker: How many people will be eligible for a rebate under the revised scheme?
Hon RICK BARKER: Up to 300,000 ratepayers could be eligible for the rebate. This will include many superannuitants. I wish to pay tribute to Grey Power for drawing the need for such an upgrade on rebates to the Government’s attention. The House will be very pleased to know that we will be able to meet the needs of low-income superannuitants and other low-income ratepayers by injecting a budgeted $50 million into their incomes.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: If the Government is so concerned about rates why is his Government, in clause 9 of the Resource Management Amendment Bill, making ratepayers responsible for remediation of contaminated sites, at a cost that has been estimated by the Ministry for the Environment as $1 billion, and given that the Prime Minister is so keen to talk about the $50 million gift, why did she not also mention that the Government is proposing to dump on ratepayers this additional $1 billion cost?
Hon RICK BARKER: The Government is talking very closely with local government and has a funding project under way to address a variety of issues about funding, to ensure that local government is adequately funded.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. My question was quite specifically about the $1 billion cost that the Government is going to pass to local government and ratepayers in respect of contaminated sites. I did not hear any response at all from the Minister to that quite specific issue.
Madam SPEAKER: The Minister addressed the question.
Larry Baldock: Can the Minister confirm that increasing the income abatement threshold, and the amount of the rebate, has been something that United Future has raised with him on a number of occasions over the past year, and would he also acknowledge that another United Future proposal to remove GST on rates would reduce even further the financial burden on superannuitants and all ratepayers in this country?
Hon RICK BARKER: I am happy to confirm that United Future members have been in dialogue with the Government over this very issue, and it has been a very successful policy outcome.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: I seek leave of the House to table the report of the Ministry for the Environment for August of last year that estimates the liability of cleaning up contaminated sites at $1 billion.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: I seek leave of the House to table clause 9 of the Resource Management Amendment Bill that makes councils responsible for cleaning up contaminated sites.
Madam SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection? Yes, there is objection. It will not be tabled.
Social Development and Employment, Minister—Confidence
9. GERRY BROWNLEE (Deputy Leader—National) to the Prime Minister: Does she have confidence in the Minister for Social Development and Employment?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Deputy Prime Minister), on behalf of the Prime Minister: Yes.
Gerry Brownlee: What persuasion did she use on Mr Maharey to get him to change from his Monday night position, stated in the Evening Standard, that he was not accepting an apology from Mr Tamihere, to his position on Tuesday morning, when he said he was drawing a line under the issue and moving on because the Prime Minister had told him to do so.
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Mr Tamihere came to caucus and made a humble apology. My colleague Mr Maharey is a very generous man.
Deborah Coddington: Has John Tamihere retracted his description of Steve Maharey as “smarmy”; if not, what is the basis for her statement: “Everybody likes John.”?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Mr Tamihere has humbly apologised for the statements that he has made. Indeed, it is true that Mr Tamihere can be a very likeable person. As the Prime Minister said, he can also stumble in a big way. Unlike some people in this place, he does know when he stumbles, as well.
Deborah Coddington: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I specifically used the word “retracted”, not “apologised”. The Minister might have addressed the question if I had asked whether Mr Tamihere had apologised. He did not address the question, given that I asked whether Mr Tamihere had retracted the statement.
Madam SPEAKER: The Minister did address the question.
Gerry Brownlee: When was the last time the Prime Minister spent 2 hours with Mr Maharey, and was her experience one that left her walking away with screeds of paper, none the wiser from his very clever and smarmy dialogue, and knowing that the whole conversation was of no substance at all?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I think that the last occasion the Prime Minister spent 2 hours with Mr Maharey would have been on Monday morning at Cabinet. She would have come away, as she has come away on a number of occasions recently, knowing that Mr Maharey has contributed to a drop in the number of people on the unemployment benefit from 164,000 to 60,000, that he has introduced the first major benefit reform package since 1938, and that he has helped to drive unemployment down to the lowest level in the OECD. He is not only hard-working and conscientious but highly successful.
Te Wânanga o Aotearoa—Enrolments and Courses
10. Hon KEN SHIRLEY (ACT) to the Minister of Education: What action, if any, is he taking to investigate the validity of enrolments and courses completed at Te Wânanga o Aotearoa, which received some $239 million of taxpayers’ money last year?
Hon TREVOR MALLARD (Minister of Education): I have asked the Tertiary Education Commission to investigate all allegations of dubious enrolments as they have emerged. As I have already said, I am not satisfied that that wânanga has operated either ethically or appropriately, and action will be taken to address that.
Hon Ken Shirley: Did the report of Graeme McNally, the Crown’s former representative on the council of Te Wânanga o Aotearoa—reported to the Minister last year—raise the issue of fraudulent enrolments, and why is the Minister refusing to release that report, following my request under the Official Information Act?
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: The reports of the Crown observers and Crown managers are not generally released, for reasons of commercial confidentiality.
Lynne Pillay: What steps is he taking to address other concerns relating to Te Wânanga o Aotearoa?
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: Heaps, and even more will happen. A Crown manager has taken control of the finances. The Tertiary Education Commission is renegotiating its charter to ensure that it focuses on its core role. I have appointed new members to the council, including Wira Gardiner. And the Auditor-General is conducting an inquiry into conflicts of interest and inappropriate use of taxpayers’ funds.
Simon Power: Is he satisfied that the Tertiary Education Commission and the New Zealand Qualifications Authority processes for checking any falsified enrolments at the wânanga are satisfactory; if not, what further action does he intend to take to ensure that any such failures are rectified?
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: The Tertiary Education Commission and the New Zealand Qualifications Authority do not do a student by student check on enrolment forms. That would take the bureaucracy to a level that I think would be inappropriate. Where there are complaints and things are drawn to their attention, investigations do occur. I know that in at least one case Mr Shirley has drawn some things to our attention. The National Party has tended to defend Rongo Wçtere, but this Government is determined, when each case is brought to—
Judith Collins: That’s ridiculous.
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: That is not ridiculous. The leader spent the day at Ratana wandering around with Rongo Wçtere. I do not know why those members do that, but they are pretty stupid.
Hon Brian Donnelly: Did the report of the financial review of Te Wânanga o Aotearoa by the Education and Science Committee, tabled in December 2004, contain a minority report by the ACT party expressing its concerns about financial mismanagement at the institution; if it did not, how does the Minister interpret that omission?
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: Having looked at that report as part of my official duties, I cannot remember seeing such a—I am checking with the member; I did not miss it on the way through. All we can say is that it they are continuing to be slack.
Hon Ken Shirley: How can the Minister claim that the Auditor-General’s investigation will uncover inappropriate use of taxpayers’ moneys, when investigation into the validity or otherwise of enrolments is specifically excluded from his terms of reference?
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: Because I understand that the Auditor-General consulted with the Tertiary Education Commission, and satisfied himself that it was an inappropriate way to deal with that matter. If there has been fraud, in the end it will not be a matter for the Auditor-General; it will be a matter for the police.
War Memorial Park—Plans
11. RON MARK (NZ First) to the Minister for Arts, Culture and Heritage: Does she have any plans to create a national war memorial park where all theatres of war in which New Zealanders served can be represented; if not, why not?
Hon JUDITH TIZARD (Associate Minister for Arts, Culture and Heritage), on behalf of the Minister for Arts, Culture and Heritage: The Prime Minister said at the time of the interment of the Unknown Warrior that the Government has begun the process of negotiations towards acquiring land for a national memorial park. These negotiations are continuing, and we are confident that they will be successful.
Ron Mark: Why do the plans outlined by the Prime Minister not include an undertaking to build a memorial of the type and scale of those found in the United States and Australia to honour all men and women who served New Zealand during the Viet Nam War?
Hon JUDITH TIZARD: Every country decides what is appropriate in terms of war memorials to commemorate the sacrifice of those who have given their lives in battles across time. New Zealand has the National War Memorial, in Buckle Street, that recognises the service of people, from the Boer War to the Viet Nam War. There are many other war memorials around New Zealand. I do not think it is particularly useful to compare what happens in Australia and the United States, which are, of course, much bigger countries. However, this Government has paid extensive notice. We have, for example, published a series of oral histories commemorating the 60th anniversary of the Second World War. We are progressing plans to have a memorial to New Zealanders in Hyde Park in London. I believe that the service of people across New Zealand and across the services is very well attended to.
Madam SPEAKER: That answer was a little long.
Ron Mark: Does the Government not think about the fact that 37 New Zealanders lost their lives in Viet Nam, that more were wounded, that many more survived but had their health and the health of their children seriously affected by exposure to defoliants, and that for over 30 years these servicemen and women were stigmatised and denigrated for their service in that war; and does she not consider that those are very good reasons why the construction of such a memorial is the right and proper thing to do?
Hon JUDITH TIZARD: I am delighted to have the support of that member for the actions that this Government is taking, particularly the setting up of the Ministry of Veterans’ Affairs, and our proposal to work towards a peace park in Buckle Street.
12. Hon TONY RYALL (National—Bay Of Plenty) to the Minister of Police: How many sworn officers—full-time equivalents—were there in Counties-Manukau Police District on 30 June 2004, and how many are there today?
Hon GEORGE HAWKINS (Minister of Police): I am advised that in July 2004 there was a restructuring of police operations across the Auckland region that reclassified police from three districts, to three districts plus one support group, without affecting the number of police on the ground. Prior to the restructuring, on 30 June 2004 there were 795 sworn police officers designated as Counties-Manukau staff. Under the new structure some of those police were re-designated as Auckland metropolitan crime and operations service group staff, even though they continue to sit at the same desk and do the same jobs—
Hon Dr Nick Smith: Just tell us the number.
Madam SPEAKER: I am sorry—
Hon Dr Nick Smith: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I simply interjected that the member asked a very simple question—how many officers were there then, and how many are there now? We got a whole lot of garbage that the Minister mumbles into the microphone, when all that members want to hear is the answer to the question.
Hon Mark Burton: I, for one, am interested in the facts of the matter. The member may not be but I would like to hear the answer. If members opposite are not interested in the facts, that is revealing to members of the House.
Madam SPEAKER: Let us proceed. I do not need any more help with this. Would the Minister proceed with his answer.
Hon GEORGE HAWKINS: Under the new structure, 633 sworn staff are currently designated Counties-Manukau district staff. Police coverage in the district has not been affected by the new structure. In fact, police numbers across the Auckland region are up.
Hon Tony Ryall: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I think in the interchange that followed the Minister’s statement and the interjection by the Hon Nick Smith, the Minister gave us the pre-restructuring figure of 795. That was correct according to official documents. He did not give us the number after the restructuring that appears in nine official documents that I have on my desk, which is 683. Did he read that out?
Hon Dr Michael Cullen: Yes, the Minister gave the figure at the end of his answer. It would so help if people listened.
Hon Tony Ryall: No, he gave the figure 633, which is the figure at the moment. He did not give the figure that followed the restructuring in June. He gave the pre-restructuring figure—and I accept what he is saying—but he did not give the post-restructuring figure.
Madam SPEAKER: I am trying to work out exactly what the point of order is.
Hon Dr Michael Cullen: He was not actually asking a question. To get down to that level of detail in a point of order is irrelevant to the question. The Minister gave an answer that completely answered the question asked.
Madam SPEAKER: I think that is correct. The Minister did address the question. It may not have been the answer that the member wanted, but there is a supplementary question he could ask.
Hon Tony Ryall: He gave an explanation about the change of restructuring, but he never gave the figures.
Madam SPEAKER: Ask a supplementary question, please.
Hon Tony Ryall: What is the Minister’s explanation for the number of sworn officers in Counties-Manukau being run down in the past few months from 683 to 633—a reduction of 50 front-line staff—while there are over 1,000 unallocated cases in Counties-Manukau?
Hon GEORGE HAWKINS: Restructuring took place. There are now more police in the Auckland area than there were at the time of restructuring. There are now 2,088. There were then 2,072.
Stephen Franks: Is the Minister satisfied that the Northern Communications Centre has enough staff who are properly trained to do their duties; if so, on what basis?
Hon GEORGE HAWKINS: The police have conducted a review—they have had that done—and will make some announcements about that shortly.
Martin Gallagher: How has the reorganisation of some staff into the Auckland metropolitan crime and operations service group affected police service delivery in the Counties-Manukau Police District?
Hon GEORGE HAWKINS: Under the new structure, in addition to Counties-Manukau staff, North Shore - Waitakere has 622 sworn staff, Auckland has 637, and the Auckland metropolitan crime and operations group has 196. Although the same staff are sitting at the same desks in the same stations, the new structure is proving highly effective. I am advised that in North Shore - Waitakere, crime was down by 7.4 percent last year, in Auckland it was down by 11.9 percent last year, and in Counties-Manukau it was down by 11.3 percent. I hope most people would rejoice in that.
Marc Alexander: Is the Minister comfortable with our low police-to-population ratio in comparison with other jurisdictions, such as Australia, Britain, and the US, or is he simply unable to obtain resources from the Minister of Finance to ensure the public’s safety?
Hon GEORGE HAWKINS: We compare apples with apples. We look at what results were, and we look at them now. New Zealand’s police are doing a very good job. Crime has dropped down by 8.2 percent, which is the best it has been for more than 20 years, and the police are getting more and more resources.
Hon Tony Ryall: Why does the Minister not simply confess to the House that front-line police numbers in Counties-Manukau have been run down deliberately in the last 9 months to meet the Government’s funding constraints?
Hon GEORGE HAWKINS: This Government has given the police more money. That member was going to take it away. He sat in Cabinet as Minister of Justice when his Government was reducing police numbers by 540 and cutting $40 million to $50 million out of the budget.
Marc Alexander: Has the Minister put in a bid for more resources to fund additional front-line staff; if so, is he confident of receiving it; if not, why not?
Hon GEORGE HAWKINS: That member will have to wait until 19 May, when I will be smiling.
Hon Tony Ryall: I seek leave to table an official police document—the New Zealand Police monthly human resources scorecard—which shows 50 fewer—
Madam SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection? There is objection. The document may not be tabled.
Ron Mark: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I seek leave of the House to ask the Minister why his coalition partners do not know the details of the police budget that is about to be announced.
Madam SPEAKER: That is not a point of order.
Ron Mark: It is a point of order. I am seeking leave to ask the question why the coalition partner to the Government does not know the details of the police budget.
Madam SPEAKER: Leave is sought to ask that question. Is there any objection? There is. The question will not be asked.
Marc Alexander: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I would like to correct that member. We are not a coalition partner.
Madam SPEAKER: Thank you for that point of clarification.
( Uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing. For corrected transcripts, please visit:http://www.clerk.parliament.govt.nz/hansard)