Questions & Answers for Oral Answer 3 May 2005
Tuesday, 3 May
Questions for Oral Answer
1. Pharmac—Policies and Procedures
2. Police—Former Commissioner
3. Cataract Operations—Announcements
4. Immigration—Iraqi Former Official
5. Public Service—Staff Numbers
6. Police—Former Commissioner
7. Public Works Act—Land Acquisition
8. Police—Former Commissioner
10. Families Commission—Former Chief Executive
11. Neonatal Unit, Wellington Hospital—Staphylococcus Aureus
12. Police—Former Commissioner
Questions for Oral Answer
Questions to Ministers
Pharmac—Policies and Procedures
1. Hon PETER DUNNE (Leader—United Future) to the Minister of Health: Does she believe that Pharmac’s operating policies and procedures deliver consistently satisfactory outcomes sufficient to ensure the health and well-being of New Zealanders; if so, why?
Hon ANNETTE KING (Minister of Health): In the main, yes. Pharmac has ensured that New Zealand continues to have access to a wide range of high-quality pharmaceuticals at an affordable cost to taxpayers through a national schedule of subsidised medicines. However, the operating policies and procedures can always be improved and reviewed on a regular basis, as is currently the case.
Hon Peter Dunne: Given that the Minister told Susan Wood on the Close Up programme, and told the House this afternoon, that the operating procedures and policies of Pharmac were under review and that things like sole supply could be looked at as part of that review, how does she reconcile that statement with comments made by the chief executive of Pharmac that “Pharmac does not propose to make many changes to the operating policies and procedures”; and which one of them is telling the truth?
Hon ANNETTE KING: A full review of the operating procedures and policies is under way. I say to that member that the opportunity for members to have an input, and for the public and the pharmaceutical industry to have an input, is there. No decision has been made on what changes there will be. I believe that the chief executive would be stating that he cannot see many changes that need to be made, but that does not mean there will not be.
Mark Peck: When was the last review of Pharmac’s operating policies and procedures, and what input did the pharmaceutical industry have into that review?
Hon ANNETTE KING: The last full review was in 1999-2000, and at that stage the industry, patients, and medical groups were consulted. It is 5 years since that review. This latest review will be open to the same range of groups, including the industry, to have an input into operating policies and procedures.
Hon Peter Dunne: When the Minister says that New Zealanders by and large can be satisfied with the way in which Pharmac performs, does she include in that consideration the response to this year’s flu vaccine issue, particularly now as it appears the whole episode was unnecessary, given that the original vaccine apparently was effective anyway?
Hon ANNETTE KING: I assume the member is talking about the fact that we had a sole supply contract for the flu vaccine. That has been the case for the 7 years we have had a subsidised flu vaccine approach in New Zealand. That certainly will be looked at by the ministry, which gave the contract for this last year to Pharmac, and we will see the results of that in the near future. In terms of the flu vaccine, it was not possible for Medsafe to register a medicine that had not reached the standard that had been sought and set by the World Heath Organization.
Sue Kedgley: Can the Minister confirm that drug companies often play hardball in negotiations with Pharmac, and that switching suppliers is sometimes the only way to get a drug company to negotiate a realistic price for its product and therefore ensure affordable treatment for New Zealanders?
Hon ANNETTE KING: I totally agree with the member.
Hon Peter Dunne: Has the Minister seen the material provided to Asthma New Zealand - The Lung Association, in response to its questionnaire of patients concerning the switch from Ventolin to Salamol reliever for asthma sufferers, and in view of the strong rejection of Pharmac’s move to switch from Ventolin to Salamol, is she prepared to direct Pharmac to reconsider its decision in this regard?
Hon ANNETTE KING: Pharmac and Medsafe are investigating complaints about Salamol. In the meantime, Ventolin and Salamol will continue to be fully funded for patients until those investigations conclude.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Why is Risperdal Consta, an antipsychotic injectable used by professionals on a fortnightly basis and paid for by taxpayers in the OECD and Australia, not available in New Zealand where the comparison is the hand out of tablets, which are frequently not used by those patients, leading to wide-scale problems in our society; and why does she not make that drug available in New Zealand?
Hon ANNETTE KING: I do not have that answer with me; I will find out for the member. I am aware that a number of antipsychotic medications that are injected are available in New Zealand. I do not know about that particular one, but I will get the answer for the member.
2. Dr DON BRASH (Leader of the Opposition) to the Prime Minister: On what specific dates in 1999 and 2000 did she speak with the Sunday Star-Times regarding the actions of then Police Commissioner Peter Doone during a traffic incident in November 1999, and for what purpose did she have those discussions?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK (Prime Minister): I cannot recall specific dates from over 5 years ago. I would have answered questions put to me by the Sunday Star-Times, as is my normal practice.
Dr Don Brash: Does the Prime Minister, or anyone on her behalf, hold copies of the transcripts of telephone conversations she had with the Sunday Star-Times; if so, will she authorise their release and that of her brief of evidence on the matter?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: Journalists’ notes of some conversations, but not all, have been made available. Given that we are told that further litigation is pending, I do not think it would be wise to release them.
Rodney Hide: Has she seen the transcripts of her conversations with the Sunday Star-Times’ reporter and editor; if not, has she asked her lawyer whether he has seen the transcripts?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I have seen journalists’ notes of some conversations, but not of all.
Rodney Hide: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. My question also asked the Prime Minister whether she had asked her lawyer if he had seen the transcripts.
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: My understanding is that the lawyer has shown me all that he has received.
Dr Don Brash: Is it true that some of the Prime Minister’s five conversations with the Sunday Star-Times occurred following the publication of the original story on 16 January 2000, and that those reassured the paper that the information she had given it was correct and that it should hang tough and keep investigating the commissioner?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: The Sunday Star-Times ran stories on that matter every Sunday from 5 December 1999 onwards. The Sunday Star-Times, as I recollect, put it to me that the commissioner’s car had been approached by a constable with some kind of breath-testing device—I think it is known as a sniffer—which I would have confirmed. I would then, I am very certain, have said that there were differing accounts of what was said between the constable and the commissioner.
Dr Don Brash: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I asked the Prime Minister whether some of her conversations occurred after the publication on 16 January. She did not attempt to answer that question, at all.
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: They may well have done, but I have told the member that I cannot recall when, over 5 years ago, people spoke to me.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Is there a pattern developing here of the type that emerged in the Dover Samuels case, wherein the Prime Minister said that he could not remain a Minister while allegations were swirling about him, and it turned out that she was the chief “swirler” in that matter—as she appears to be in this case, as well?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: That most certainly is not the case.
Hon Ken Shirley: What briefing has the Prime Minister had from her lawyer on this issue, and on what date did she have her last briefing?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: Obviously, ever since the Sunday Star-Times’ lawyers made it clear to my lawyer that the paper would subpoena me if evidence was not provided, there has been ongoing interaction with my lawyer, including to this day. Those conversations are, of course, privileged.
Dr Don Brash: Why, when the Prime Minister had both the Robinson report and the Police Complaints Authority report—neither of which asserted that commissioner Doone had said: “That won’t be necessary”—did she verify for the Sunday Star-Times that he had indeed made such a statement?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: The member is quite correct that neither the Police Complaints Authority report nor then deputy commissioner Robinson’s report used those words. I can only imagine that the reporter put those words to me and I would not have been in a position to confirm them, because they were not in the reports.
Rodney Hide: Has her lawyer briefed her on the contents of the conversations that she had with the Sunday Star-Times 5 years ago, and is it not the case that she is not really trying to remember back 5 years, but just to the last briefing that she had from her lawyer?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: Those conversations took place over 5 years ago. There appear to be no tapes of them available. There are journalists’ notes of some conversations but not of others.
Rodney Hide: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. The Prime Minister did not address my question in any way, shape, or form. My question specifically was: has her lawyer briefed her on the contents of the conversations that she had with the Sunday Star-Times?
Madam SPEAKER: I listened carefully, and the Prime Minister did address the general point of your question.
Rodney Hide: Maybe you could tell us the answer, because I could not get it. [Interruption]
Madam SPEAKER: Would the member please stand, withdraw, and apologise?
Rodney Hide: I withdraw and apologise.
Madam SPEAKER: Calling a member a liar is unparliamentary.
Hon Ken Shirley: In view of the Prime Minister’s statement that there appear to be some journalists’ notes available, has either herself or her lawyer asked the Sunday Star-Times for the recorded transcripts of the discussions that she had with the editor and journalists of the Sunday Star-Times so that she is properly equipped to answer these questions?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: My understanding is that my lawyer does have what is available.
Dr Don Brash: Will the Prime Minister waive any entitlement to confidentiality and allow the release of the reporters’ notes and any available transcripts, so that the serious question marks that now stand over her credibility can be dealt with?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: Given that further legal action is being threatened, I do not think that that would be desirable. I should also say that the Leader of the Opposition might well draw no comfort from the fact that his counterpart in Britain launches ceaseless attacks like this to no good effect, as is the case here.
3. STEVE CHADWICK (Labour—Rotorua) to the Minister of Health: What announcements has she made about improvements to the number of cataract operations performed annually?
Hon ANNETTE KING (Minister of Health): Today I was delighted to announce that the Government will spend an extra $17 million over the next 3 years to provide up to 7,500 more cataract operations. Like the orthopaedic project I announced last year, the cataract initiative will dramatically improve the quality of life for thousands more older New Zealanders. When the cataract initiative is fully implemented in 2008, there will be 12,000 cataract operations publicly funded each year, compared with 8,000 now.
Steve Chadwick: What responses has she seen to today’s announcement of such a large increase in publicly funded cataract surgery?
Hon ANNETTE KING: I have seen a media release from the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Ophthalmologists, in which the college president, Dr Allan Rosenberg from Australia, and the chair of the New Zealand branch, Dr Stephen Best, welcomed the announcements. Dr Best said that the initiative is a major step in addressing the inequitable distribution of access to cataract surgery. He says that cataract surgery is a very effective intervention in terms of improving the lives of New Zealanders. I am very delighted with their support for this project.
Dr Paul Hutchison: What guarantee can she give to the 4,698 ophthalmology patients who at February 2005 have waited longer than 6 months for first specialist assessment—many of whom are going blind not only from cataracts but from diabetic eye disease, glaucoma, and amblyopia in children—that they will be seen promptly?
Hon ANNETTE KING: I thank the member for the question, because the guarantee I can give him—[Interruption]
Madam SPEAKER: Let the Minister answer the question.
Hon ANNETTE KING: The guarantee that the Government can give is that 12,000 cataract operations will be done a year, compared with 8,000 now, which, I have to say, is more than used to be done under the previous National Government.
Dr Paul Hutchison: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I asked a very specific question about what guarantee she can give that 4,698 ophthalmology patients, who have waited longer than 6 months for their first specialist assessment, will be seen promptly. She did not address that question.
Madam SPEAKER: The Minister did address the question. She may not have given the answer in exactly the way the member wanted it, but she addressed the question and that is what is required under the Standing Orders.
Barbara Stewart: Does the Minister believe that the lottery approach whereby the Government selects an ailment, and provides a one-off funding boost to reduce patient numbers, is an acceptable alternative to a properly run health system in which operations are performed as and when they are needed; if so, why?
Hon ANNETTE KING: Other elective procedures are run as they should be. However, there are two operations that the specialists in New Zealand, plus organisations like Grey Power, will tell the member give a quality of life above any other operations: cataract operations and major joint operations. We have not done enough of either of those operations in New Zealand. This Government was not prepared to sit on its hands and continue with that. We have taken the initiative. We are seeing the results now with the orthopaedic project, and we will see the results with the cataract project.
Judy Turner: Does the Minister agree that it is ridiculous that people suffering from mobility and eyesight difficulties are forced to travel distances to other district health boards for cataract surgery if their own district health board is too busy, when local private providers just around the corner have spaces available; if so, will she give an assurance that the private sector capacity will be fully utilised, and if not, why not?
Hon ANNETTE KING: I am pleased to tell the member that this project involves public facilities in public hospitals, neighbouring public hospitals, and the private sector, as well as the mobile surgical bus, which can go into areas where people are living so that they do not have to travel, as we saw this morning when a cataract operation was carried out in Kapiti, which we were able to watch in my office. Last month I saw a cataract operation carried out in Westport, so the ability to do that operation in different ways is part of the project.
Steve Chadwick: How does today’s announcement compare with the delivery of cataract surgery in New Zealand in the past?
Hon ANNETTE KING: I am aware of a number of cataract operations conducted from 1996. The highest number of cataract operations performed, without one-off funding from the waiting-times fund, was 7,000, in 1999. In the past we have performed 8,119 such operations, all from within sustainable funding. In 3 years’ time, we will be performing 12,000 operations from sustainable funding.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: Just spin!
Hon ANNETTE KING: Even the member who is calling out may qualify, if he needs one. He certainly would not have done so under his Government.
Dr Paul Hutchison: How many cataract operations could be done with the $170,000 she is spending on sex-change operations?
Hon ANNETTE KING: The sum of $170,000 is the total expenditure on gender reassignment. Interestingly enough, not one member in the National Government of the 1990s complained when it gave funds to carry out the same surgery. I wonder why it is not acceptable today, when it was all right under a National Government.
Dr Paul Hutchison: I seek leave to table a document from the Ministry of Health website, which shows that in February 2005 there were 4,698 ophthalmology patients who had waited longer than 6 months for their first specialist assessment.
Madam SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection? Yes, the document will not be tabled.
4. Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS (Leader—NZ First) to the Prime Minister: Does she still have confidence in her Minister of Immigration, given that a former Iraqi official of Saddam Hussein’s regime was allowed to enter New Zealand, yet he will not name him in spite of there being a revocation of his visitor permit?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK (Prime Minister): Yes.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Why, when her Minister and officials were told it was a person who had been a Minister in Saddam Hussein’s regime, did they produce someone who had been a diplomat and never was a Minister—in short, they went out for a wolf and brought back a rabbit? Why have we got the wrong person in this answer from the Minister of Immigration?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: If the member has evidence of a former Minister being present, he should come forward, because I can say that this Government would not knowingly admit, or allow to stay, such a person—but we require evidence.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Well, which part of this evidence fits the man whom she claims, alongside her Minister, to have found: a former Iraqi Minister for Agriculture and Agrarian Reform, a former delegate to the Food and Agriculture Organization and Unesco (Baghdad), who came here on a UN passport only about a month ago, and who consulted, for example, with the lawyers of one Ahmed Zaoui—already costing this country $2 million—McLeod and Associates? Which one of those facts fits the man whom she has found?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: None. I ask the member to give us his evidence.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Why would the Prime Minister keep in place a Minister who makes all sorts of claims about national security, yet cannot name, to enlist the help of New Zealanders and of Western society in general, the person he claims to have found?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: There are very good reasons for not putting such names in the public arena, and I think that for at least one of those reasons the member would have some sympathy. Once the name of someone who is a refugee status claimant goes into the public arena, the fact that the name is in the public arena can actually lead to a successful claim. The member will recall that one of the problems with the Zaoui case was that Mr Zaoui’s name was put into the public arena, and that then had weight in the refugee status application.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I ask the Prime Minister whether this is her quote, which she said at a Pacific round table on counter-terrorism: “The problem to be confronted in our region is not so much that terrorists will seek to attack the citizens or institutions of Pacific countries; it is rather that the Pacific might present a tempting target, either for an attack like the one on Bali, or as a base from which terrorist cells might undertake the planning and groundwork for an attack somewhere else.”; so why is she now showing no leadership on this issue by not demanding that the man be named?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: What I am asking is that the member provides any information he has about such a person to the authorities so that we can act on it—because we will.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: When last week the information was given to this Government that there was such a person in New Zealand—a former Saddam Hussein Cabinet Minister—and that he had been in this country for a month, would that not have been enough information for the Prime Minister or any half-way competent surveillance service to be able to find this man; why is this Government so incompetent?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: Following the member’s statements last week, extensive checks were made in respect of Iraqi passport holders. Mr Peters today has told the House that these people, this person, whatever, are UN passport holders. We would be grateful to have more information from him.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Can I ask the Prime Minister why she has been giving assurances in this country and abroad, as has Mr Goff on anti-terrorism legislation and as has the Minister of Immigration on the lines, for example, of having an Advance Passenger Screening system, when this man, as Mr Swain has acknowledged, entered from abroad, gave voluntarily information, and was still not picked up? What sort of circus is running on in this country under her leadership?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I am not sure whether Mr Peters is referring to the case where Mr Swain has revoked the visa application, or the one that Mr Peters is referring to today. In respect of the one where the visa has been revoked, clearly there were problems in the immigration systems, and they will be fixed to the best of the Government’s ability.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Does the Prime Minister mean to tell the country that, despite all the assurances and blandishments made since September 11 2001, she is not aware of Amer Mahdi Alkhashali, also known as Amer Mahdi Saleh Khashaly, a former Minister for Agriculture and Agrarian Reform in the Saddam Hussein Government at the same time that hundreds of thousands of Kurds were losing their lives under a regime of genocide; does she mean to tell me she still does not know that this person is living in this country, and has been for over a month now?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: If such a person arrived on a UN passport, he would not necessarily trigger any concern. I thank the member for now putting that evidence before us, and we will be following it up.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Does the Prime Minister recall being advised at the security intelligence committee, which she chairs, of the need to take seriously the issue of terrorism in this country as one that she should focus new resources on, and to start trawling through some of the applications in the way that other countries have done; and is it not a fact that she has not done a damned thing since she was given that advice by, namely, myself?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: As the member is a member of the Intelligence and Security Committee, he will know that expenditure in this area has been among the fastest-growing areas of Government expenditure, because of this Government’s determination to play a part in the international effort against terrorism. Now that Mr Peters has given details, checks will be made about this individual.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Coming back to my original question, how can the Minister be a hard-working and conscientious Minister when he does not have the remotest idea of which Arab—Osama bin Laden or anybody else—may be in this country, where he might be, or what he is doing here?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: The member will be aware that there are individuals who go to considerable lengths to cheat immigration authorities worldwide so that they can enter countries, and I would venture to say that no system is foolproof against that.
Stephen Franks: Can the Prime Minister explain whether she will be checking the competence of her Minister of Immigration, as he has apparently ordered another man “outski” on the next plane, with no further inquiry, after that man came here openly and, apparently, lawfully—his offence apparently being that he represented his country while the wrong thug was in charge—yet the Government cannot get rid of Ahmed Zaoui, a proven associate of terrorists, although it started trying 2 years ago?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I can say that information was received about the gentleman whose visitor visa Mr Swain has seen to it was revoked that would mean that he should not have been given rollovers of his visitor visa. I can also confirm, because I am not talking about a source within the SIS, that that information came from another source, and was incriminating. The slip in the system was that it was not linked with the file at an earlier stage. In respect of the comparison the member is trying to draw with the Zaoui case, I can say that if the man whose visitor visa has now been revoked decides to put in refugee status claim applications, no doubt the legal industry will be very busy trying to draw the case out, as it has done with Mr Zaoui.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Madam Speaker—
Madam SPEAKER: The member has had his supplementary questions—in fact, he has had one more.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Given the fact I have waited a week for some disclosure on this matter—
Madam SPEAKER: Is the member seeking leave?
Rt Hon Winston Peters: —hang on; I want members to know why I am seeking leave—and because I and the media have been given the name of the wrong person, I seek leave to ask one more supplementary question.
Madam SPEAKER: Leave is sought to ask a question. Is there any objection? There is no objection. The member may ask the question.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Is it true, in regard to the Prime Minister’s “hard-working and conscientious” Minister of Immigration, that we have 20,000 overstayers in New Zealand today, and that we have somewhere in New Zealand 400 people who came here with false, missing, or misleading travel documentation and whose whereabouts the Minister does not know?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: Of course there are overstayers in New Zealand—there were when the gentleman was Deputy Prime Minister—and every effort is made to get rid of them.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. There was a simple request as to whether it is true that we have 400 people missing in New Zealand who came here with false, missing, or misleading travel documentation and of whose whereabouts the Minister is not aware. Is that true, or not?
Madam SPEAKER: The Prime Minister addressed that question by saying, as I recall, that efforts were made to track down overstayers, as there always have been. That addressed the question. It may not be the answer the member wanted, but it did address the question.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker.
Madam SPEAKER: I am sorry but I have ruled on that point. Is this a different point of order?
Rt Hon Winston Peters: You might have, but, with respect, an overstayer may be someone who has been here with legal documentation, which has expired. I am talking about someone who is here illegally from day one. There are 400 of them, as the Minister has admitted in the past. I want to know whether the Prime Minister still believes that is true.
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: As the member knows, every year numbers of people come to New Zealand who have tried to put their passports down the toilet in the plane, or to do a variety of other things. Actually, the trend is down, and I think it would be rather down on what it was in the 1990s. Also, I heard Mr Peters in one of his asides during an earlier question assert that half Saddam Hussein’s cabinet was here. I have no evidence of that, but if he would like to provide it, we are happy to look at it.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. When in my prior questions did I make that statement?
Madam SPEAKER: I have no recollection of that.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: The Prime Minister is required to be terse and to the point. That is what the Standing Orders say.
Madam SPEAKER: It is a rhetorical question. The member knows that. Will he please be seated.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I will have my point of order made without interruption from you. If you do not mind, Madam Chair—
Madam SPEAKER: You may make your point of order. Please make it.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Can I make my point of order without your constant interruptions?
Madam SPEAKER: I am inviting you to make it, so please do that.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Please can I make it without your interrupting me every 5 seconds?
Madam SPEAKER: Yes, by all means.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Well, thank you for the courtesy, overdue as it may be.
Madam SPEAKER: I ask the member to withdraw that.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I withdraw and apologise. Can I now have my point of order heard in silence? Madam Chair, where in that statement from the Prime Minister was there any evidence that it was a repetition of something I had said? If it was not, then why did you not check her as you would any other person in this House who was detouring from the requirements of the Standing Orders?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: Speaking to the point of order, I want to say I made it quite clear that Mr Peters had made the comment in an aside. It was made as he was sitting down after one of his constant interventions.
Hon Tony Ryall: Has the Immigration Service check of appropriate files revealed any other Iraqi immigrants of interest—in particular, any ranking officials who may, in fact, have gained refugee status in New Zealand?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: The check has been of those who have had applications in the system over the past year or so, which was relevant to the circumstances raised by Mr Peters. I do not know of anything else that has come to light in the course of that check. I do not have any advice on whether others have slipped through the net in past years.
Rodney Hide: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I do so in order to be helpful and to clarify matters. Mr Peters has named an alleged Minister of the Iraqi Government. He said his name, but it might save some confusion if he were to take leave and spell it out.
Madam SPEAKER: I am sorry, but that is not a point of order. To assist the member, I am sure the correct spelling will be in the record, when, in fact, there is the opportunity to look at the Hansard.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I seek leave to spell out the name so that the officials might do something in the next few days to find this man.
Madam SPEAKER: Leave is sought to spell out the name. Is there any objection? Yes, there is, so the name will not be spelt out.
Rodney Hide: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. My concern is this: if the name goes out misspelt, it could be that the wrong person is named. I think it is fair, if a person is to be named, that we want it to be accurate.
Madam SPEAKER: Leave was sought. Would the member please sit down.
Rodney Hide: I want to explain it. I think that if the member puts the leave again he might get accepted, because the danger is that if the name is misspelt or misheard, we could have the wrong person being named.
Madam SPEAKER: Leave was sought by the member to spell the name. We will try it again for the final time. Leave is sought to spell the name. Is there any objection?
Rt Hon Winston Peters: No, no. I seek leave to table a document that has on it the name of this former Minister of Saddam’s regime.
Public Service—Staff Numbers
5. HELEN DUNCAN (Labour) to the Minister of State Services: What reports, if any, has he received on changes to the number of staff employed in the public service?
Hon TREVOR MALLARD (Minister of State Services): I have seen a report from Dr Brash stating that without policy analysts and information one cannot make good decisions. I have seen another report, from John Key, stating that the Government employs too many policy analysts. If, when in Opposition, they cannot come up with a policy on how to make policy, it is no wonder that no one trusts them.
Helen Duncan: Can the Minister advise the House how many Government employees would need to be sacked in order to reprioritise $200 million in spending?
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: There are a number of ways of looking at it. If one took lower-paid public servants, such as social workers, Work and Income case workers, call centre operators, and customs officers, then 5,000 people would be sacked to make Don Brash’s $200 million in reprioritisation. But, of course, if it were higher-paid people, such as teachers or nurses, one would have to sack only 3,500 Government employees. Don Brash said he would cut $200 million. He should tell us which ones he would sack.
John Key: Does the Minister realise that the hiring binge being undertaken by the State sector is adding to the skill shortage and wage inflation being felt by the private sector, and is this not one of the reasons that Dr Alan Bollard rated today, when he indicated that interest rates will rise in June for the eighth time this year; or does this Minister not care about borrowing rates that New Zealanders are paying?
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: Dr Bollard, unlike his predecessor, does not make statements like that.
John Key: I seek leave to table Dr Alan Bollard’s statement, in which he made that comment today—unusual as it is—between monetary policy statements.
6. RODNEY HIDE (Leader—ACT) to the Prime Minister: In light of the statement by Fairfax chief operating officer and editor-in-chief that “the full story is not being told at this time and is not being represented accurately in some public statements and reports.”, does she stand by her claim that she “would have drawn their attention to the fact that the evidence was contested.”?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK (Prime Minister): Yes.
Rodney Hide: Does she deny to the House that she assured the Sunday Star-Times reporter and editor that they were accurate in what they were claiming, after they had published it on 16 January 2000, and after Peter Doone had told them they had it wrong and was threatening suit?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I stand by my claim that I would have said that the evidence was contested. What I had in front of me were official reports that suggested that it was.
Rodney Hide: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. My actual question was: “Does she deny …”, and that question was not answered. It is a yes or no question. She could answer yes to the primary question; what about to the supplementary question?
Madam SPEAKER: As the member is aware, the Minister has to address the question, not answer it to the satisfaction of the member. That is the Standing Order.
Dr Don Brash: Can the Prime Minister confirm that she required the resignation of the previous Minister of Immigration, Lianne Dalziel, for lying to the media, and can she advise the House why she is applying a lesser standard to herself when she has clearly provided information to the Sunday Star-Times that she must have known, on the basis of the Police Complaints Authority report and the Robinson report, to be untrue?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I do not believe the assertions in the member’s questions to be true.
Public Works Act—Land Acquisition
7. TARIANA TURIA (Leader—Mâori Party) to the Minister for Land Information: What processes are taken into account to recognise the status, use, or significance of land acquired under the Public Works Act 1981?
Hon PETE HODGSON (Minister for Land Information): The due process of law is used under the Public Works Act of 1981, and, in the case of Mâori land, some additional requirements apply under Te Ture Whenua Maori Act of 1993.
Tariana Turia: Is it appropriate for Transit New Zealand to be threatening and humiliating a humble family over a period of 6 or more years in seeking it to dispose of a family homestead on Mâori freehold land, for the purpose of widening State Highway 2 in Tauranga?
Hon PETE HODGSON: Threatening and humiliating behaviour is not tolerable, and the member would be welcome to raise the issue with me. Indeed, she could have raised it in the primary question—I would have had a decent answer for her.
Metiria Turei: Is the Minister concerned that the Public Works Act has been used by Transit New Zealand and its predecessors to acquire thousands of hectares of land against the owners’ will, and to hold it for decades, and does the Government have any plans to limit the time for which Transit can hold land that has been compulsorily acquired but not used?
Hon PETE HODGSON: The answer to the first part of the question is, no, I do not have any concerns; that is why we have a Public Works Act. But I do think that an issue raises its head from time to time when land is held, for many decades in some cases, and not put to use. I think there does need to be a better process for returning that land to the original owner.
Tariana Turia: How would the Minister address the statement that the whânau must be no better or worse off, and take into account that this is the only family land that this family has left—or is this just another land confiscation that tangata whenua must accept from this Government?
Hon PETE HODGSON: I do not have any idea what sort of land the member refers to, because she has given me no notice of it. If it is fee simple land, then it will be treated through the Public Works Act. If it is multiple-owned land, then it will also require a process laid out in Te Ture Whenua Maori Act of 1993, the decision under which is appealable to the Mâori Land Court.
8. Dr DON BRASH (Leader of the Opposition) to the Prime Minister: Was she advised by the Attorney-General that a letter had been sent from the Attorney-General to then Police Commissioner Peter Doone’s lawyer on 12 January 2000; if so, what was the purpose of that letter?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK (Prime Minister): Yes, the letter set out the ministerial concerns about the Government’s ability to retain confidence in Mr Doone as Commissioner of Police, and offered Mr Doone an opportunity to respond.
Dr Don Brash: Does she not accept that her obligation, following the Attorney-General’s letter, was to preside over a proper process to determine whether the Government had confidence in the highest-serving officer of the New Zealand Police; if so, why did she sully and undermine that process by leaking material about Mr Doone to a national newspaper, especially when the assertions she leaked were wrong?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: There was a proper process, and the Government’s course of action was in no way impacted on by any media reporting, which had, of course, been ongoing since early December.
Dr Don Brash: Does she consider her behaviour in providing incorrect information to a national newspaper, right in the middle of a ministerial consideration of Mr Doone’s future as police commissioner, to have been appropriate or ethical, and was not her anonymous verification designed to publicly kneecap Mr Doone?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I do not believe that incorrect information was provided.
Dr Don Brash: Can the Prime Minister confirm that the Attorney-General’s letter outlined that Ministers were considering public perceptions of Police Commissioner Doone’s actions, and can she tell the House precisely what she expected to achieve from her encouragement of the Sunday Star-Times story about Mr Doone, if it was not to actually shape public perceptions in relation to Mr Doone?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: The issue of perception was specifically addressed in the report of the Police Complaints Authority. It was that on which the Attorney-General would have based her letter.
Dr Don Brash: I seek the leave of the House to table a copy of the Attorney-General’s letter of 12 January 2000, in which the point is made clearly that one of the questions that is being addressed is public perceptions of the commissioner.
9. MARTIN GALLAGHER (Labour—Hamilton West) to the Minister of Defence: What recent decisions has the Government made on defence spending?
Hon MARK BURTON (Minister of Defence): Yesterday I announced details of the Defence Sustainability Initiative, totalling $4.6 billion over 10 years. It is the fourth stage of a systematic approach by this Government to restore the capability of our Defence Force, after it was shamelessly run down throughout the 1990s. This major initiative will enable defence to move forward, secure in the knowledge that it has the long-term funding required to meet the country’s defence and security needs.
Martin Gallagher: Has he seen any other reports on defence spending?
Hon MARK BURTON: Many. Among them I have seen a number of reports from Dr Brash. In one he is reported as saying that the defence budget should be increased by 10, 15, or 20 percent, or by $100 million or $200 million. In another report he admitted that he had no defence policy at the moment, but said that he would reorganise the money anyway. That funding reprioritisation, as he called it, would presumably come at the expense of health or education. Today that man said that the Government’s announcement of a 44 percent increase may not be enough. Frankly, the only conclusion New Zealanders can reach is that Dr Brash and National have no policy—and on that performance, they will not need any.
Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. As entertaining as the Minister may be for the House, I would ask you to consider some of the comments he made towards the end of his answer. If it is to stand that he can make highly political comments like that, then we would expect a degree of disorder in the House to follow and indeed questioners to start making highly political comments in their questions.
Madam SPEAKER: The Minister should confine himself to his own responsibilities. He went a little off track towards the end.
Hon Ken Shirley: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. We have a specific Speaker’s ruling 145/5, which is an exact example of what we have just seen from the Minister.
Madam SPEAKER: I thank the member. As I ruled, the Minister did, in answering the question, go outside his responsibilities, so he was out of order. I thank the member for his assistance.
Hon MARK BURTON: I withdraw and apologise for any deviation from the Standing Orders.
Madam SPEAKER: I thank the Minister for that.
Keith Locke: Does the Minister agree that he could find the money for necessary Defence Force improvements without increasing the overall level of the defence budget if he phased out the naval combat force, the frigates that currently chew up $538 million or over 30 percent of the current defence budget, and that that course would be particularly useful as we have much better boats, the multi-role vessel and new patrol boats, coming on stream?
Hon MARK BURTON: I have not done the maths on that, because it is not the Government’s policy so to do. It was the previous National Government that made the decision not to have the third frigate.
However, I apologise. It is this Government’s policy to have a well-structured, balanced Defence Force. That is what we are building.
Hon Peter Dunne: What estimate does the Minister have, in the light of yesterday’s announcement, about the likely increase in recruitment numbers for each of the armed services and also of any implications for the growth of the Territorial Force?
Hon MARK BURTON: The overall anticipated growth is in the order of 2,000 personnel or thereabouts over the next 10 years. We anticipate a firming of the Territorial Force numbers, and then steady growth in the future.
Families Commission—Former Chief Executive
10. JUDITH COLLINS (National—Clevedon) to the Minister for Social Development and Employment: How much money was paid to Claire Austin on her departure from the position of chief executive at the Families Commission?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY (Minister for Social Development and Employment): The agreement between the Families Commission and the former chief executive includes a provision that the details of the settlement are confidential. I have conveyed to the Chief Families Commissioner that this settlement, and the process that preceded it, do not appear to be consistent with the clear expectations of the Government or with the guidelines that the State Services Commission and the Audit Office have developed in relation to the departure of a State sector staff member. A process is in place to work through with the chief commissioner the consequences of his decision.
Judith Collins: Does he agree with John Tamihere’s response to a question over whether New Zealand taxpayers have a right to know what Claire Austin was paid and why she left, when he said: “Oh, I think so. I think any payment out of the public purse should be made available.”; if not, why has the Minister changed his mind in terms of the responsibility for golden handshakes, since he got into Government?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: I have not changed my mind. I agree in general that “any payment out of the public purse should be made available.”. In the case of the Families Commission the fact of the matter is that, whatever our view, the confidential agreement exists now. However, as I have said, there is a process in place to work through with the Chief Families Commissioner the consequences of that decision. I point out that under section 152(1)(d) of the Crown Entities Act, put in place by this Government, confidential payments are something we are disapproving of.
Heather Roy: Has the Minister asked for an explanation from the commissioner, given that the current Prime Minister, when in Opposition, promised that Labour would stop golden handshakes, saying: “I’ve had a gutsful. I don’t intend, if I’m Prime Minister, to have to sit there and suffer one humiliation after another because of a culture of extravagance which has been allowed to grow in the public sector. Whatever is in there and hidden, we want out.”?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: The Prime Minister was absolutely right. Yes, I have discussed this with the Chief Families Commissioner, and yes, he understands exactly the Government’s position.
Hon Trevor Mallard: Can the Minister confirm that under the Crown Entities Act, which he referred to previously, when the annual report is tabled, it will be clear what the amount is?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: That is the case.
Hon Peter Dunne: Was the Minister in receipt of any reports or advice before this incident, or has he been in receipt of any since, of other parties in this House with strong views against the Families Commission that are simply using this incident as a further opportunity to bag that necessary body?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: I have seen reports that the National Party has an aversion to any independent advocacy on behalf of New Zealand families. After what it did to them in the 1990s, it is no wonder it does not want that kind of advocacy.
Georgina Beyer: What initiatives has this Government put in place that are in keeping with the mission of the Families Commission, which is to further the interests of New Zealand families?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: The answer is heaps. I will give just a few examples: Working for Families, which put $1.1 billion into the pockets of 61 percent of New Zealand families; Family Start, which has been expanded each Budget; paid parental leave, which was introduced under this Government; the Families Commission itself, which has been established to advocate for the interests of families; the Well Child programme within the Ministry of Health; Child, Youth and Family Services’ funding increase of over 50 percent since Labour became the Government; and we have committed ourselves to 20 hours per week of free early childhood education. I could go on, but I know that members want me to stop.
Judith Collins: Does the Minister stand by Helen Clark’s statements when in Opposition that a Labour Government would: “abandon the culture of golden handshakes,”, and that: “we are making commitments on which we will deliver. We are accountable to you.”; if he does, will Dr Prasad lose his job over this issue?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: Yes, we do stand by the statements made by the former leader of the Labour Opposition, now Prime Minister—absolutely. That is why there has been a change in legislation; that is why the Auditor-General has issued his statements; that is why the State Services Commissioner has made clear to State servants what they must do; and that is why we are working through this issue with the Chief Families Commissioner.
Judy Turner: Can the Minister give this House an assurance that the departure of the chief executive of the Families Commission will not disrupt the work programme of the commission?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: I have received an assurance from the commission that this will not disturb its work. The commission is well advanced on its key research programme, the first aspect of which will be delivered by the end of June.
Heather Roy: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. In light of the point of order I made earlier—and this one is relevant to this question, which is why I am raising it now—I think this is a very serious matter. I lodged a written question to the Minister for Social Development and Employment, and the answer was due yesterday but I have received none. In fact, it was the very same question that the National member Judith Collins asked in her primary question. As I said, the answer to the written question is overdue. I just refer to Speaker’s ruling 145/3. The second sentence in that ruling is, I think, pertinent: “If the Speaker feels that a Minister is trifling with the House, the Chair can permit a further question or questions to be asked.” I believe that the Minister was trifling with the member who asked the primary question. I believe that he is trifling with me in not answering the four questions that I asked on this matter of the chief executive of the Families Commission. I ask the Chair to consider now granting me an extra supplementary question—one of which I have already asked the Minister, but he has not responded to it—above and beyond the number of supplementary questions that ACT is entitled to today.
Madam SPEAKER: So the member is seeking leave to ask an extra supplementary question?
Heather Roy: No, I am not seeking leave. I am asking you as Speaker to make a ruling to give me an extra question, as Speakers’ Rulings make provision for.
Madam SPEAKER: My understanding is that the answer was due yesterday. Is that right?
Heather Roy: Yes, that is correct.
Madam SPEAKER: I think the Minister should take note to respond to that question immediately.
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: The member will have her answer by the end of the day.
Madam SPEAKER: Thank you. The assurance is given, so there is no supplementary question. The member will get the answer to her question today.
Neonatal Unit, Wellington Hospital—Staphylococcus Aureus
11. SUE KEDGLEY (Green) to the Minister of Health: How long after the detection of the new, particularly aggressive, gentamicin-resistant strain of the staphylococcus aureus superbug in the neonatal ward of Wellington Hospital was she advised of the outbreak?
Hon ANNETTE KING (Minister of Health): I was informed last Thursday by Capital and Coast District Health Board—after it had spoken with the parents of the babies of the situation in the neonatal intensive care unit, and the infection control action plan was already in place to eradicate the gentamicin-resistant strain of staphylococcus aureus.
Sue Kedgley: Has the Minister sought an explanation as to why Wellington Hospital failed to inform parents with babies at the neonatal unit about the existence of the aggressive superbug, or even to inform parents such as Maree Hood that their baby had died from an infection caused by the superbug; does she agree that the failure to do so was both deplorable and unethical?
Hon ANNETTE KING: I received a report from Capital and Coast District Health Board within a day of asking for it. To add to that, in terms of communication with the parents, all parents were contacted. They were given the appropriate information, and I understand that the families of the babies affected feel that they were fully informed.
Sue Kedgley: Given the aggressive nature of the deadly superbug, which is said to defy normal infection control procedures and has infected more than 37 people, why did the Ministry of Health keep the outbreak under wraps for more than 6 months and inform the Minister only last week; and would she not have expected to be alerted much, much earlier about such an aggressive outbreak, as would all the parents in the unit during that time, other hospitals, community laboratories, and other neonatal units?
Hon ANNETTE KING: The member is incorrect. It was not the Ministry of Health that informed me, it was Capital and Coast District Health Board. The board informed me through its clinicians that managing and handling outbreaks of infections in neonatal units is part of its daily routine and that it undertakes the highest level of infection control, which is up there with the best international practice.
Sue Kedgley: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. My question asked why the outbreak was kept under wraps for 6 months, and whether the Minister would not have expected to be informed earlier. I would appreciate it if the Minister would answer the question.
Madam SPEAKER: Does the Minister wish to address the question?
Hon ANNETTE KING: If the member looks at her question, she will see that she asked me why the Ministry of Health kept it under wraps. I said that I was advised by Capital and Coast District Health Board. I then went on to say that the hospital undertook normal practice. There are often outbreaks of such bugs in neonatal units around the world, and New Zealand is no exception. It was handled as part of the hospital’s usual routine. When there is a case, it does not constitute an outbreak. The member is incorrect. When the bug was first found, the unit immediately changed its infectious control techniques. It carried on testing, changed its infectious control techniques, and has managed this infection as it would be expected to.
Sue Kedgley: Is the Minister saying that she is quite satisfied that she was not informed until last week by Capital and Coast District Health Board—or for that matter by the Ministry of Health, which one would have expected to be fully informed of this outbreak—of an outbreak of this sort of seriousness?
Hon ANNETTE KING: Yes, I am, for the reason that I have already given in two answers and for the reasons that were given by microbiologists and by other paediatricians around New Zealand last week when they said that this is very much their daily job in terms of infection control. It is not something that they tell the Minister of Health about every time there is an outbreak of any bug within a neonatal unit—they get on and manage it.
Sue Kedgley: Why do we not have enough neonatal beds in New Zealand so that a unit can be closed down when there is an outbreak of such an aggressive and highly resistant superbug, as happens with serious outbreaks of methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus in adult wards, and when will the Minister respond to the national review of neonatal units that found last year that crowded and stretched neonatal units are endangering babies?
Hon ANNETTE KING: At any time of any day we know exactly how many neonatal facilities we have in New Zealand. Yesterday we had seven spare beds. There was no reason to close the unit down completely, because when proper infectious control mechanisms of international standard are used, units do not need to be closed down. Situations can be managed through a system of coding—red, orange, and green. Capital and Coast District Health Board has handled this situation with that method. I have the latest figures on the cases. One can see the improvement that has occurred through the use of that sort of method.
Sue Kedgley: Can the Minister confirm that an expert panel report dealing with superbugs recommended more than 6 years ago that the Government set up a comprehensive national surveillance and monitoring system of antibiotic resistance in humans and animals to assess how prevalent antibiotic resistance is and to enable rapid response to outbreaks such as this; and why, 6 years later, has her Government still not acted on this recommendation?
Hon ANNETTE KING: I think the first thing I need to do is correct the member. She calls this a superbug. There is no such classification of bacteria. Secondly, this bacterium is not resistant to the antibiotics used to treat the infection that caused it.
Sue Kedgley: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I asked a very specific question about whether an expert panel had recommended setting up a surveillance system, and why nothing had been done about that. The Minister has not responded and I would appreciate an answer to that.
Madam SPEAKER: The Minister did address the question. I listened really carefully and it was addressed. This is another example of the questioner not getting the answer that was desired.
12. RODNEY HIDE (Leader—ACT) to the Prime Minister: Did she advise the Sunday Star-Times to hang tough and continue their investigations into Police Commissioner Peter Doone after the publication of their 16 January 2000 story, as claimed in the Herald on Sunday this week; if so, why?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK (Prime Minister): It is impossible to recall specific words used in conversations of more than 5 years ago. I should note, though, that I had no reason to discourage the Sunday Star-Times from following a story it had been reporting on since 5 December.
Rodney Hide: Does the Prime Minister specifically deny to this House urging the Sunday Star-Times to stick to its story after the Commissioner of Police, Peter Doone, had threatened suit on the newspaper; and given that it is her honesty that is in question now, why will she not table the reporter’s notes that she says her lawyer has—what has she got to hide?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: As I said in the primary answer, I had no reason to discourage the newspaper from continuing to follow a story that it had been reporting on since 5 December, when it was quite clear that there were different accounts of what people had said in the incident. It is also worth pointing out that a Police Complaints Authority report found that Mr Doone’s behaviour was undesirable, and a police report found that it was inappropriate. With regard to the latter part of the member’s question, given that further litigation is being proposed it is simply not appropriate.
Dr Don Brash: Does the Prime Minister, with the benefit of hindsight, understand that without her encouragement and active support the Sunday Star-Times would not have felt able to run the article criticising the Commissioner of Police, Peter Doone, and does she wish to express regret to the House today for any of the actions she has taken regarding this matter?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: No. As the Sunday Star-Times lawyer has said, I was not its source. The newspaper had many sources within the police.