Questions & Answers for Oral Answer 4 May 2005
Wednesday, 4 May
Questions for Oral Answer
1. Police—Former Commissioner
3. Police—Former Commissioner
4. Carbon Tax—Impact on Electricity and Petrol Prices
5. Immigration—Visa Approvals
6. 111 System—Ghost Units
7. Prostitution Reform Act—Policing
Question No 8 to Minister
8. Accident Compensation—Audit of Physiotherapists
9. Student Allowances—Applications
10. Carbon Tax—Response
11. Tairâwhiti District Health Board—Patient Referrals
12. Smoke-free Environments Amendment Act—Reports
Questions for Oral Answer
Questions to Ministers
1. Dr DON BRASH (Leader of the Opposition) to the Prime Minister: Does she stand by her statement yesterday in relation to the information she provided to the Sunday Star-Times regarding then Police Commissioner Peter Doone, “I do not believe that incorrect information was provided.”; if not, why not?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK (Prime Minister): Yes, because I am confident that I would have drawn their attention to the fact that what was said by Police Commissioner Doone was contested.
Dr Don Brash: Is it not true that the Sunday Star-Times and its lawyers would never have published the alleged Doone statement without tapes of the Prime Minister’s own voice affirming the story, and given that, why will she not allow the release of transcripts of those tapes?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: It is not for me to comment on what basis the Sunday Star-Times publishes.
Rodney Hide: Does she have any evidence to back up her claim that she thinks she told the Sunday Star-Times that the allegation was contested, or is she just relying on her memory?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I am confident that I would have drawn their attention to the fact that the facts were contested, because what was in front of me were two official reports where it was very clear that what was said was contested.
Dr Don Brash: If the statements made by the Prime Minister on this matter are true, what does she have to hide by refusing the release of the transcripts?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: This matter was dealt with extensively in the House yesterday. I have referred to the fact that journalists’ notes were made available to my lawyer, and I have also referred to the fact that litigation is threatened and it would not be appropriate for such matters to be released.
Dr Don Brash: Does the Prime Minister accept that the transcripts will become public at the time of any defamation proceedings, and can we therefore conclude that her game is merely to stage a cover-up until after the election?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: No such proceedings have been filed and it is simply idle for the Opposition to speculate how a case might be defended.
2. CLAYTON COSGROVE (Labour—Waimakariri) to the Minister of Revenue: What recent announcements has the Government made on business tax, and what response has he received?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Minister of Revenue): Last week I announced a raft of changes: cutting the most important fringe benefit tax rate, simplifying a whole range of tax measures in relation to fringe benefit tax and provisional tax, a subsidy for small businesses to assist with the employment of payroll companies, and other matters. Those were warmly welcomed. One tax practitioner, for example, described them as cutting out a huge amount of compliance work for small businesses.
Clayton Cosgrove: Have there been any other further reactions or reports?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Yes, the managing tax partner at Deloitte, Thomas Pippos, noted that the fringe benefit tax changes, in particular, were likely to benefit a large number of firms. A PricewaterhouseCoopers spokesperson said that the changes should drop a lot of firms out of the fringe benefit tax net altogether, and even the National Party said that they were a practical step towards reducing compliance costs.
John Key: What is the logic behind today’s announcement of a new carbon tax, which has the perverse outcome of seeing a large number of businesses paying a new tax that will, in part, be used to subsidise a much smaller group of their own, less efficient, competitors?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: The carbon tax is a market-based mechanism designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. I would have thought that the National Party would welcome market-based mechanisms, as opposed to purely regulatory ones.
John Carter: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. The question put by my colleague John Key asked why efficient businesses should subsidise inefficient businesses, and was not about whether greenhouse taxes are appropriate. The Minister did not address the question. He mentioned the words “carbon tax”, which does not mean that the question was answered. The question was about whether a business should be subsidised by another business. The Minister should address that question. The fact that he mentioned the words “carbon tax” does not mean to say that he addressed the question.
Madam SPEAKER: The Minister did address the question. This is another example of a member not, perhaps, getting the answer he or she wished to get.
Gordon Copeland: Does the Minister stand by his reported statement that those announcements, plus those to come in the Budget, are equivalent to a 2c in the dollar reduction in the corporate tax rate; if so, why does he not just simplify things and reduce the corporate tax rate to 31 percent, thus maximising the encouragement to new business investment in New Zealand, including that from overseas?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: It is absolutely apparent that given the propensity in New Zealand for the payout of any profit, doing that for onshore investors would simply result in a taxation timing change, and for offshore investors would result simply in net profit being repatriated out of the country. Neither would necessarily do anything to lift the rate of economic growth—as opposed to enhancing investment, as opposed to simplification, and as opposed to the use of new equipment.
3. RODNEY HIDE (Leader—ACT) to the Prime Minister: Did she confirm for the Sunday Star-Times that it was correct in asserting the Police Commissioner Peter Doone told the officer: “That won’t be necessary”; if not, what did she confirm for them?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK (Prime Minister): The substance of its story—that the commissioner had intervened—was confirmed in the official reports that were before me. I am confident that I would have drawn the paper’s attention to the fact that what was said by Commissioner Doone was contested.
Rodney Hide: Who are we to believe: the Sunday Star-Times, which told the court that the Prime Minister confirmed to it that Peter Doone had said “that won’t be necessary”, or the Prime Minister, who tells this House that she did not confirm it for the paper?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I am confident that I drew the paper’s attention to the fact that what the commissioner said was contested.
Dr Don Brash: Can I put it to the Prime Minister that many people believe that the Sunday Star-Times and its lawyers are sitting on tapes of conversations with the Prime Minister that would show her statements to this House to be utterly false; and can I challenge her to allow the release of those tapes?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: As I have told the House, notes from the journalist were made available to my lawyer. I do not have any evidence that tapes exist.
Hon Richard Prebble: Is it not the position now that the Fairfax newspaper has said that it published the statement “That won’t be necessary.” because the Prime Minister confirmed that that statement was true, and that the Prime Minister has told the House that she made no such statement; and, if there are transcripts, as the Fairfax newspaper says there are, is she not now in the position where an overseas newspaper can blackmail the Prime Minister of New Zealand at any time in the future by threatening to release those transcripts—is that not undesirable and should she not insist that the transcript be released so that the public is not in the position of thinking that an overseas newspaper is possibly blackmailing her?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: As I have said, I am confident that I drew the newspaper’s attention to the fact that the facts were contested.
Rodney Hide: In light of the Prime Minister’s repeated statements to this House and to the public of New Zealand that she is confident, will she request Fairfax and the Sunday Star-Times to publish the transcripts they hold, or is she not prepared to do that because she does not have that confidence?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I do have confidence that I drew their attention to the fact that the facts were contested. As the member knows, various litigation is being threatened and it is not appropriate for me to take any further action.
Rodney Hide: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. My specific question was quite clear. I asked the Prime Minister whether she was prepared to request that the Sunday Star-Times and Fairfax publish the transcripts. In no way did the Prime Minister address that. She could stand up in the House and say “Look, I am quite happy that the Sunday Star-Times publish the transcript in full, because of my confidence.” That was what my question concerned.
Madam SPEAKER: I thank the member. The Prime Minister did address the question. She addressed the question of whether the transcript should be released. She may not have given the answer the member wanted to that question, but it was addressed.
Hon Richard Prebble: Could the Prime Minister confirm that when the Fairfax newspaper revealed she was the source it broke one of the core principles of a free press—that the name of a confidential source is not released, unless that source has lied—and, if that is the case, is the explanation one that the Fairfax newspapers say she misled them, or are we in a position where the Fairfax newspapers in this country do not give a hoot about the principles of journalism; and can she imagine them doing that with regard to John Howard?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: It is my understanding that the Sunday Star-Times lawyers placed no such qualification on their decision to seek a subpoena.
Dr Don Brash: Why did the Prime Minister confirm to the Sunday Star-Times that Mr Doone said “That won’t be necessary.”, when she had both the Police Complaints Authority report and the Robinson report stating that no such words were used?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: The fact that I had both those reports before me strengthens my confidence that I would have drawn the newspaper’s attention to the fact that what Police Commissioner Doone said, when he intervened and inhibited a constable from doing his duty, was contested.
Carbon Tax—Impact on Electricity and Petrol Prices
4. JOHN KEY (National—Helensville) to the Convenor, Ministerial Group on Climate Change: Does the Government intend to impose a carbon tax; if so, what are the estimated impacts of this new tax on household electricity bills and petrol prices?
Hon PETE HODGSON (Convenor, Ministerial Group on Climate Change): The Government’s intention to introduce a carbon tax was announced 3 years ago, in 2002. Today’s announcement confirms that policy. The estimated impacts were also indicated in 2002, and today are confirmed at around $4 per week for a typical household.
John Key: Why is it necessary to put an additional tax burden of around $200 per year on every household at a time when the Government, in the last 6 years, has collected an additional $50 billion in extra taxes, and continues to run surpluses in excess of $6 billion per year?
Hon PETE HODGSON: The member fails to understand a very fundamental aspect of the carbon tax, which is this: it is not a tax increase; it is a tax—[Interruption]
Madam SPEAKER: Members will please quieten down. They have expressed their view. Now let us hear the Minister.
Hon PETE HODGSON: It is not a tax increase; it is a tax shift. The percentage of GDP flowing through the Government will not change. In fact, it will be reduced a little, as we shall see in 2 weeks’ time.
Rodney Hide: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I do apologise. It was hard not to laugh, but the Minister said that it is not a tax increase—that it is something else. I do not think anyone heard what the “something else” was.
Shane Ardern: Socialism!
Rodney Hide: I wonder whether the Minister could just say what it is if it is not a tax increase.
Madam SPEAKER: I did ask the members to keep their voices down, for that very reason. I will ask the Minister again, but I will not make a practice of doing that when members have been asked to lower their voices. Of course they can express themselves, as they did, but to go on so that the Minister cannot be heard does not seem to be reasonable. Would the Minister please repeat the last answer.
Hon PETE HODGSON: I am grateful to the House for a chance to explain Government policy, which is that the carbon tax does not represent a tax increase. It is a tax shift, by which—[Interruption]
Madam SPEAKER: Do members wish to hear the answer or not?
Hon PETE HODGSON: —I mean that all revenue collected through this carbon tax will be recycled through other tax changes to be announced in the Budget.
Dr Ashraf Choudhary: Who supports the introduction of the carbon tax?
Hon PETE HODGSON: Besides ongoing support from many businesses—for example, Fisher and Paykel, Infratil, and Toyota—there is support from environmental groups across the spectrum, from Greenpeace to Nick Smith’s Bluegreens, which states today on its website, www.bluegreens.org.nz, that to introduce a fiscally neutral, low-level carbon charge is a “critical but achievable” step in National’s next term of office.
Madam SPEAKER: Members will be quiet, please. I know that this is a particularly humorous topic, although no one else would have thought so until today.
Peter Brown: Noting those answers, does the Minister accept in any way, shape, or form that this increased tax—or cost, if he wants to put it another way—will impose a financial burden on fixed-income, low-paid people, on small-business people, and that it will give them some incentive to move offshore; secondly, can he tell the House how long he has been guided by Nick Smith’s policies?
Hon PETE HODGSON: It would appear, if I am to understand Nick Smith’s policies, that he is guided by us. However, the member referred to people on fixed-incomes. Of course, as those costs go up, they will be reflected in any consumer price indexation of superannuation or similar. As far as businesses are concerned, the member may recall that we have a policy called negotiated greenhouse agreements for large businesses, and another grants policy, which is only a couple of weeks old, for small, energy-intensive businesses. There will not be an economic downside. There will be, in fact, when we see the other half of this deal, an economic upside.
Hon Ken Shirley: Is there any chance or hope that the Convenor and his Labour Cabinet colleagues will at this late stage come to their senses, recognise the damage that the impact of their climate change policies will have on the New Zealand economy, and adopt ACT’s policy and simply dump the Kyoto Protocol?
Hon PETE HODGSON: None whatever. This Government is about protecting our environment—and, as I explained earlier, is not about raising revenue through the process. It is about ensuring that there is no failure to act, because if we do fail to act, that does threaten New Zealand’s economy and quality of life. I would suggest to the member that this House does have a responsibility to take action for future generations.
Jeanette Fitzsimons: Can the Minister confirm that Treasury’s policy development work on the operation of a carbon tax was done under a National Government in the 1990s, and has he received any suggestions at all from the National Party, since Simon Upton failed to convince his colleagues, of what measures New Zealand might take to address this most serious environmental issue, or have those members made none?
Hon PETE HODGSON: Apart from the Bluegreens, led by Nick Smith and recently endorsed by the leader of the National Party, Dr Don Brash, when no one else was listening, the National Party has done nothing but support the idea of the Kyoto Protocol and a carbon tax while in Government, and oppose it while in Opposition.
Larry Baldock: Is this not really just a case of the Government giving and the Government taking away, and still leaving our businesses facing competition from our major trading partners that will not face a carbon tax, and from China, which we are entering into a free-trade agreement with, and is there not a better way of incentivising investment so that we can actually solve this problem through new technology, rather than giving our economy in this country a smack over the head with a piece of four-by-two?
Hon PETE HODGSON: Any incentivisation will need to wait 2 weeks, but I remind the member that the negotiated greenhouse agreements announced 3 years ago, some of which have been completed, are designed precisely to ensure that we get an environmental benefit with no economic disbenefit. It takes a bit of imagination, but we can get there.
Dr Ashraf Choudhary: Could the Minister tell the House who else has courted the development of a carbon tax in recent years?
Hon PETE HODGSON: One group has a policy and I quote it: “To support current targets for the reduction of carbon dioxide emissions, and the introduction of a fiscally neutral carbon tax should these targets not be achieved.” Another group has consistently pledged a coherent plan to reduce carbon dioxide emissions to 50 percent of 1990 levels by 2020. The first group is United Future and the second group is the New Zealand First Party.
John Key: What is the logic behind punishing New Zealand companies that burn coal, while at the same time doing nothing about the fact that this very coal is likely to be exported to China, where it will be burned with no carbon tax being applied?
Hon PETE HODGSON: The member has a very limited understanding of the Kyoto Protocol. There is no carbon charge placed on New Zealand coal exports, in the same way that Saudi Arabia does not pay a carbon charge for petrol exported to New Zealand.
Jeanette Fitzsimons: Can the Minister confirm that if the carbon charge was recycled in the economy as a flat reduction in personal income tax for all taxpayers, they would each get about $180 per year, which is enough to tune their cars properly, wrap their water cylinders, install some energy-efficient lights, and reduce their energy bills by more than they would pay in carbon tax; if so, why does he not give them that opportunity?
Hon PETE HODGSON: I regret entering an arithmetic debate with the Green Party, but my best guess is that if we were to give tax-free status for the first $5,000 of income, as is proposed by the Greens, then the carbon tax would need to be not $15 a tonne but certainly in excess of $60 a tonne.
John Key: Why does the Government want to put New Zealand at a competitive disadvantage to Australia and America, both of which have refused to ratify the Kyoto Protocol or to add a carbon tax, because they know that that would be bad for jobs and bad for the economy; or does this Government care more about workers in Australia and America than it does about the ones here at home?
Hon PETE HODGSON: The member still does not get it. We will try again. The way the Kyoto Protocol policy in this country has been designed—[Interruption] I did not interrupt the member when he was asking his question. The Kyoto Protocol policy in this country has been designed so that there will not be a competitive disadvantage to New Zealand. In fact, the carbon charge has been fully modelled—it is in the public arena—and it is almost impossible to discern any effect at all. Contrary to the member’s view, one could easily argue that by bringing the future forward one advantages the New Zealand economy rather than damaging it.
5. DAIL JONES (NZ First) to the Minister of Immigration: How many visa applications under all categories, from people whose country of origin was one of the 54 high-risk countries, have been approved by New Zealand Immigration Service offshore offices since the Government was formed in 1999?
Hon PAUL SWAIN (Minister of Immigration): I am advised that from 1 December 1999 to 30 April 2005 approximately 385,800 applications have been approved by offshore offices in respect of 46 countries considered to be of security concern. The balance are considered to be a risk on matters other than security.
Dail Jones: Why in the post - September 11 climate did this Government continue to allow and employ foreign nationals in at-risk countries to process visa and other applications, despite repeated warnings from New Zealand First about the dangers of this practice?
Hon PAUL SWAIN: We were continuing a process that had been in place when, for example, New Zealand First was in Government.
Pansy Wong: Oh, come on!
Hon PAUL SWAIN: It is true. Secondly, we are moving now, in stages, to bring that process of approval back to New Zealand.
Dianne Yates: What else is the Government considering, following recent events regarding the two Iraqi visitors?
Hon PAUL SWAIN: The Government has identified a gap in the consideration of applications for entry to New Zealand from countries of security concern that has existed for decades, including during National and New Zealand First Governments. These applications are referred to the SIS for assessment to consider whether people are a security risk. The meaning of “security” is a narrow one contained in the SIS legislation. It does not cover judgments on whether applicants would be desirable or suitable to be in New Zealand. These judgments need to be taken by the New Zealand Immigration Service, supported by other agencies, and I am taking steps to ensure that this occurs.
Dail Jones: Why is New Zealand, unlike other Western democracies, not part of the high-level intelligence loops with a list of names of potential security threats that come up with a red flag as soon as these people try to gain entry; or does New Zealand have to resort to Google searches on the web to confirm information to the New Zealand Immigration Service once foreign nationals have already been approved for entry?
Hon PAUL SWAIN: In fact we are part of security loops around the world, and there are flags that come up. The problem in the cases that have been raised just recently, which is a problem that goes right back through the 1990s and 1980s, is the fact that, for example, somebody who is not a security risk as defined by the SIS legislation but should not be here is not considered for his or her suitability to be in New Zealand. That is what we are going to change.
Dr Muriel Newman: Since it is the responsibility of the Security Intelligence Service to scrutinise applications from high-risk countries with security concerns, is it not the case that at the moment the Government is blaming overseas offices of the Immigration Service for the problems that have arisen, instead of blaming the Security Intelligence Service, whose Minister just happens to be the Prime Minister?
Hon PAUL SWAIN: No.
Keith Locke: Why is the Minister interfering in the normal immigration process by expelling a former Iraqi diplomat, Zuhair Mohammed Al-Omar, halfway through the processing of his family reunification residency application, an application that I understand is backed by documentation from the new Iraqi Government?
Hon PAUL SWAIN: Primarily because we do not consider that person suitable to be in New Zealand.
Dail Jones: Has the Minister received communications of any kind from, say, Australian officials, their staff, or any other nations sympathetic to New Zealand, who are now fearful that New Zealand may have become a stop-off point for back-door entry into their nations via New Zealand for suspected terrorists and those associated with the Saddam Hussein regime, and if he has not received communications, why not?
Hon PAUL SWAIN: I cannot recall receiving any representations such as the member has outlined, and as to why not, I suppose it is because they have not written to me.
Hon Tony Ryall: Has the Immigration Service identified any other Iraqis of concern; if so, what are those details?
Hon PAUL SWAIN: As we announced yesterday, there is a major review of applications from those countries going back 2 years, and I will be able to give the member the results of that in due course.
Dail Jones: What has been the point of the $3 million Advance Passenger Screening system, and the $20 million boost to help the New Zealand Immigration Service manage risk, when now he is having to apply damage control to this national security mess, which is being resolved only as a result of the information being made available by New Zealand First, despite the fact that the Minister has a multihundred - million dollar department to support him?
Hon PAUL SWAIN: It is important to point out, for a start, that this is not a national security risk. As I said to the member, these people do not meet the standards of security risk under the Security Intelligence Service legislation; that is the first point. What is the advantage of the Advance Passenger Screening system? Well, it has actually been extraordinarily good, because, for example, in 1997-98—a period that the member may be interested in—2,627 refugee-status claims came through the border, and for 2004-05, as at February this year, there were 277. A lot of that has been brought about because of toughened border control and extra money that this Government has put into these things.
Hon Tony Ryall: Can the Minister give an assurance that the checks that his department will be undertaking of Iraqis who have come to New Zealand in recent years will include those who have been granted refugee status; if so, can he assure us that his department would be able to locate, say, a member of Saddam Hussein’s police force who may have been granted refugee status in this country?
Hon PAUL SWAIN: We are going over all applications, and as I said, if the review is going to be as thorough as the member requests—which I agree with—then it will take some time.
111 System—Ghost Units
6. Hon TONY RYALL (National—Bay Of Plenty) to the Minister of Police: How many 111 calls were referred to so-called “ghost units” in the past year?
Hon GEORGE HAWKINS (Minister of Police): I am advised that the number of 111 calls that the police receive per year is approximately 495,000. Many of those are not emergencies. The police have always recorded some incident reports for intelligence purposes rather than for immediate response. The police do not specifically record the number of 111 calls dealt with in that way.
Hon Tony Ryall: Is the Minister aware that the superintendent in charge of the Northern Communications Centre has confirmed that 61,000 calls in the last year were referred to so-called “ghost squads”, and how many of those reports would have been dealt with by police officers had the police actually had the staff they need?
Hon GEORGE HAWKINS: Those incidents that the police refer to are seen as ones where there is no need to make an immediate response. Those incidents do not form part of the crime stats, and they never have. In the days of paper-based systems, such incidents would never have found their way into the crime stats, either. In other words, the police gather intelligence for the purpose of resolving crimes overall.
Martin Gallagher: Have police Intel units made a difference to policing in New Zealand?
Hon GEORGE HAWKINS: Yes. Police Intel units have contributed to the overall crime reduction of 8.2 percent in the past year, the lowest rate for more than 20 years.
Hon Tony Ryall: Does the Minister stand by his statement that the police have all the staff they need, and can he advise the House of the total staffing of his “ghost squads”?
Hon GEORGE HAWKINS: First of all, I want to say that there are no “ghost squads” in the New Zealand Police. We have intelligence units, and that is completely different. I am satisfied that the police are very well resourced under this Government and that we have more police than we ever had in the past.
Prostitution Reform Act—Policing
7. LARRY BALDOCK (United Future) to the Minister of Police: Does he stand by his reply to my supplementary question in the House on 26 March 2003 concerning the Prostitution Reform Bill when he said: “if it is passed the Government will make sure that the police are adequately resourced.”; if so, why?
Hon GEORGE HAWKINS (Minister of Police): Yes, because the police have never been better resourced.
Larry Baldock: How does he reconcile his answer with the finding of the Prostitution Law Review Committee report, page 38, which states that in Auckland City alone there are 243 businesses of prostitution and 360 street workers, 20 percent of whom are under age, yet there is only one police officer, with 45 percent of his time, dedicated to prostitution?
Hon GEORGE HAWKINS: The police actively police this. Of course, one would have noted that yesterday a person was sentenced to 21 months’ imprisonment for hiring an under-age person to work in a brothel.
Larry Baldock: What specific police resources will he dedicate to stopping under-age prostitution, in light of the statements made by Manurewa’s Mâori wardens on TV3 on 11 April, when they said that every time they are out on the streets doing night patrol they see under-age girls as young as 13 or 14 years, some of whom are willing to sell their services for as little as 5 bucks, and that there is no one out there to police it?
Hon GEORGE HAWKINS: The resources that the police put in are over to the commissioner. However, I would say that the Manukau City Council is drafting a local bill on this matter, and I will be most happy to present it to the House.
Lianne Dalziel: In light of the answer to the supplementary question with respect to the outcome of the court case in Christchurch yesterday, where the judge said it was clear that while the law legalised prostitutes it landed heavily on those who broke the rules, is the Minister satisfied that the resourcing of the police is actually leading to good results?
Hon GEORGE HAWKINS: Yes, the police are actively policing that matter. The result of the court case yesterday will send a very clear message to the community.
Larry Baldock: Does the Minister acknowledge that, given that the report identifies that 20 percent of the 637 sex workers are under age, one prosecution in 2 years is an absolute disgrace and a sham and that not enough will be done about under-age people soliciting on our streets, unless the police are given more resourcing and special units to deal with these under-age people?
Hon GEORGE HAWKINS: There has always been prostitution. The new law toughens up in this area and protects young people.
Peter Brown: Does the Minister share our surprise on this side of the House that United Future now complains about the lack of police resources, after docilely rolling over and committing to supply and confidence for 3 years regardless of anything, or does the Minister regard United Future as a “Poodle Party”?
Hon GEORGE HAWKINS: Police resources have never been better. I do not mind repeating that, again. Of course, there is always crime out there and the police are now better handling it. They are getting better results, and that member must know they are better resourced than when his leader was Treasurer.
Peter Brown: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker.
Madam SPEAKER: The answer was not addressed in terms of the way the question was asked. The question commented on the coalition partner. I point out that there is no responsibility for the Minister to give an opinion on another party in this House.
Larry Baldock: Has the Minister received an approach from the Mayor of Manukau City, Sir Barry Curtis, requesting him to introduce a local bill banning street soliciting because of the problems with under-age sex workers and the increase in soliciting in general in Manukau, and has he seen the video surveillance footage of Hunter’s Corner showing girls as young as 12 and 14 selling themselves; if so, will he do the whole country a favour and introduce legislation to ban street soliciting in the entire country and prosecute those who try to purchase sex from them?
Hon GEORGE HAWKINS: I have had discussions with the Mayor of Manukau about this. The council is currently drafting a local bill that, as I have already indicated to the House, I will be pleased to introduce.
Question No 8 to Minister
PETER BROWN (NZ First): My question is set down for the Minister for ACC. I do not notice her in the House, so I seek leave to defer this question until she is here.
Madam SPEAKER: Leave is sought to defer the question. Is there any objection? There is.
Accident Compensation—Audit of Physiotherapists
8. PETER BROWN (Deputy Leader—NZ First) to the Minister for ACC: Does she stand by her answer to written question No. 5163 (2005) as it applies to physiotherapists, that ACC’s fraud unit is undertaking a survey of all treatment providers who invoice ACC on an hourly basis and that the New Zealand Society of Physiotherapists endorsed the audit protocols?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Leader of the House), on behalf of the Minister for ACC: In respect of the first part of the question, yes. In respect of the second part, no.
Peter Brown: Is the Minister aware that many physiotherapists who have been surveyed by the Accident Compensation Corporation (ACC) fraud squad do charge ACC on a per-patient basis, not on an hourly basis, and that the New Zealand Society of Physiotherapists has not agreed to any audit protocols—in other words, is the Minister aware that the written answer she gave me is not worth the paper it is written on; if that is true, what is the Government going to do about it?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: To answer the last part first, I will do exactly what I did just now, which is to say that the first part of the question was answered correctly. In relation to the second part, the Minister was advised that the society had endorsed the audit protocols. In fact, what happened was that the society was involved in discussions around them and wrote to the corporation. But, in general, the society considers the protocol to be thoroughly and clearly—
Peter Brown: So half-right is OK, is it?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: In general, the society considers the protocol to be thorough and clearly presented. That, of course, does not amount to a specific endorsement.
Peter Brown: Is the Minister concerned that physiotherapists being served by the ACC fraud squad are in the main being told that it is a random audit—which it is not—and that they are being interrogated rather than being interviewed, and is she aware that several have just been cleared already in recent months by a more orthodox random audit; and, if the Minister is concerned about that, what will be done about it?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Certainly, the interviews are based on targeted selection by billing patterns. ACC has taken steps to try to ensure that when people are being approached about this they are told that these are regular audit processes, and that it is not being implied necessarily that any fraud has occurred.
Peter Brown: Is the Minister concerned that some very significant and distinguished physiotherapists, and I am talking about physiotherapists who have been physios to the All Blacks and people like them, are highly brassed off—and that is a polite term, I might add—with the attitude of ACC that they have not been consulted, and indeed never have been; that the accreditation standards are flawed, if they exist; and that the cost of accreditation for a physio with a practice certificate in New Zealand is somewhere between $20,000 and $30,000 and the process takes 18 months, whilst in Australia it costs $500 and takes a matter of weeks; if she is concerned—[Interruption] well, the Minister answering might take it lightly—will she insist that ACC sits down and has meaningful discussions with those physios in order to address the issues?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I think that the member is complaining that ACC is having too meaningful a discussion with some of the physiotherapists. He needs to remind himself that the corporation is in charge of a large amount of money that has been extracted from people in businesses in New Zealand, and it needs to ensure that it is getting value for that money. I am quite sure that if any physiotherapist were discovered by the leader of New Zealand First to be committing fraud, particularly if he or she was a non - New Zealand-born physiotherapist, he would be the first person in this House to complain that we should never have allowed the person into the country in the first place.
Peter Brown: Is it not the truth that the Government wants all physiotherapists to sign up to the flawed and unfair endorsed provider networkscheme, and has given instructions to ACC to adopt bully-boy, Gestapo-like tactics to ensure that that is so?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: No.
9. NANDOR TANCZOS (Green) to the Minister of Education: When did the Government become aware that the number of student allowance applications received by StudyLink at 13 February 2005 was “22,430 fewer than were forecast for the October to mid February peak period”?
Hon TREVOR MALLARD (Minister of Education): On 17 February.
Nandor Tanczos: Will the Minister now admit that he was misleading the people of this country when he said on 9 March that: “The Government is investing around $223 million over the next 4 years to extend access to the student allowance scheme. This is designed to benefit an extra 36,000 students.”, when the Government had already been told, by his own admission, on 17 February that the number of people who received student allowances was down?
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: No, because it was so designed.
Lynne Pillay: Why are student allowance applications fewer than were forecast?
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: There is a variety of reasons why students have not applied for allowances in the numbers that we expected, including a decline in enrolments because, among other things, students are staying at school longer. The National Certificate of Educational Achievement literacy and numeracy requirements mean that university students now need to be able to read and count. Record low unemployment has made it attractive for some students to go directly into the workforce, rather than to undertake study. There is a move towards more students studying part-time, rather than full-time. More students are finding that they can earn much more through part-time work than by taking an allowance. Parents’ incomes have increased more than expected, driven by wage increases, and a drop in unemployment—for example, amongst 45 to 49-year-olds, a major parent group for university students, where unemployment fell from 2.1 to 1.2 percent. There are a number of other reasons, including people being involved in industry training organisations. Part of the problem with this issue is that it is just all good news.
Bernie Ogilvy: Has the Minister considered that the reduction in student allowance applications is due to the changes to the criteria that now disqualify married couples and independent adult students who have worked for 2 years, and will he give active reconsideration to United Future’s proposal to restore the independent circumstances allowance?
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: Clearly those numbers were taken into account in the original arrangements, so that has not driven the difference, although of course people who were otherwise eligible are now no longer eligible.
Nandor Tanczos: If it is “just all good news”, to use his own words, and if the Government was told on 17 February that fewer students were receiving an allowance this year than received one last year, why did the Government wait for a student journalist to dig up the facts before issuing a statement; why did it not come clean and tell the students the truth when it found that out?
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: We gave them the information to write the article.
Nandor Tanczos: Why has the Labour Government continued to travel around campuses, even last month, telling students that more of them are receiving allowances, such as during the panel discussions in Christchurch last month where Mr Donnelly was there—and he will confirm that?
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: I hope what people are saying is that more people are eligible for allowances. The fact that 11,000 fewer people are studying full-time because they have jobs—[Interruption] That member may not like that, but some people on the Government side of the House had jobs when they were students, rather than having the silver spoon in the mouth, as Bill English did.
Hon Bill English: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I know that Trevor Mallard may be used to being a “wooden spooner”, but that epithet was out of order.
Madam SPEAKER: The member has taken objection to the silver spoon comment. I would ask the member to withdraw.
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: I am absolutely happy to withdraw the silver spoon comment.
Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. That was a totally inappropriate way to handle the situation.
Madam SPEAKER: I am sorry. I was establishing exactly what the objection was.
Gerry Brownlee: That statement was well outside the Standing Orders. We thought that towards the end of the last parliamentary sitting, before the last adjournment, you had established with Ministers that when answering questions they were not to add inappropriate comments at the end of their answers, and that there would be difficulties for the House if the sorts of derogatory comments that Mr Mallard is so well known for were to be added to ministerial answers all the time. You may remember one day when Mr Swain, for example, persisted in adding all sorts of things to the end of his answers. He must have spent all his hours looking for those little comments to make. He certainly was not looking for any overstayers; that is pretty clear. However, to have said today that you are prepared to ask the member to withdraw and apologise only because Mr English has taken offence will see us get into a difficult situation. The Chair should have come down on Mr Mallard much harder, right from the start.
Madam SPEAKER: I thank the member. The comment was not well outside the Standing Orders, but it was irrelevant to the question. I accept that, and that is why when the member rose I established that he wanted that comment to be withdrawn. I immediately asked the Minister to do so and to apologise, which he did.
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I think that I did not actually apologise, and I do now.
Nandor Tanczos: Are the Minister’s answers not just sophistry, and is it not the real issue that fewer students are receiving an allowance this year than did so last year, despite the Government’s promises that an extra 36,000 students would benefit from the allowance changes?
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: This Government has increased the upper limit of income for families from $50,000 to $62,000 over the 2 years. That is an increase in eligibility—
Hon Bill English: So it’s the students’ fault.
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: The member interjects again. He does not like it when he gets a response. He runs away; he cries when he gets a response. He is a bit like a dog I knew that chased cars and barked—
Hon Member: What happened to that dog?
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: That dog got run over, of course, and the member will be, too.
Nandor Tanczos: Would the Minister please explain to the House what happened to the $223 million that the Government claimed would extend access to the student allowances scheme and benefit an extra 36,000 students, now that we all know that, in fact, fewer students have access to an allowance than did so prior to last year’s Budget; and will the Minister be using any of it to pay the invoice for $54 million from the New Zealand University Students Association, on behalf of the students who are not receiving a student allowance when the Government promised that they would?
Hon Dr Michael Cullen: They will be back in 10 years for a tax cut—the same ones.
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: I note the Minister of Finance’s comments about those students being back for a tax cut. I just remind the member that in a number of areas—student allowances are one of them, pensions are another, and unemployment benefits are another—we set the policy and the rates, and if more people are eligible than we forecast, then the very generous Minister of Finance does not cut the pensions, unemployment benefits, or allowances. It works the other way, too: if fewer people are eligible, the Government does not divvy up the extra cash.
Nandor Tanczos: I seek leave to table the invoice from the New Zealand University Students Association for $54 million, on behalf of students who are not receiving a student allowance when they were promised they would receive one.
Madam SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection? There is objection; it will not be tabled.
10. DAVID PARKER (Labour—Otago) to the Convenor, Ministerial Group on Climate Change: What response has the Government had to its announcement on carbon tax?
Hon PETE HODGSON (Convenor, Ministerial Group on Climate Change): The announcement has received broad support so far from, for example, Contact Energy, the Sustainable Business Network, the Business Council for Sustainable Development, Meridian Energy, the Tindall Foundation, TrustPower, the Waitakere City Council, the New Zealand Wind Energy Association, New Zealand Refining, Shell—both here and in Australia—IAG, Honda, Fletcher’s, Fisher and Paykel, and so on. Of those who oppose it, some think we are doing too much. That includes the Greenhouse Policy Coalition and a number of MPs in this House. Of those who think we are doing too little, I instance Greenpeace, the Environmental Defence Society, and Toyota.
David Parker: Why do those New Zealand businesses think that having a carbon tax is a good thing rather than a bad thing?
Hon PETE HODGSON: There are all sorts of reasons. Sustainable Business Network companies such as Honda, IAG, and Fisher and Paykel say that much more needs to be done to protect our climate. TrustPower and Meridian Energy say that it will cause us to better value our renewable resources. Contact Energy and TrustPower say that it will improve certainty. The Wind Energy Association and the New Zealand Business Council for Sustainable Development say that it will lay the path for the future of emissions trading. The Tindall Foundation notes that New Zealanders occupy a wonderfully privileged position in the world, and that the Government’s leadership in protecting that is to be supported.
Dr Don Brash: Is this not just another blatant Labour tax grab that will cost jobs, push up the price of electricity and fuel, and further erode our international competitiveness, given that three out of our four largest trading partners—Australia, the United States, and China—have no intention at all of putting in place a similar tax?
Hon PETE HODGSON: The answer is the same as when Dr Brash’s offsider the National spokesperson on finance asked the same question in question No 4: there is no disadvantage to New Zealanders’ competitiveness. I want to know why the Leader of the Opposition said recently that the Bluegreens are the best thing since sliced bread, when they are in favour of the carbon tax that he now opposes.
Tairâwhiti District Health Board—Patient Referrals
11. Dr PAUL HUTCHISON (National—Port Waikato) to the Minister of Health: What remedial treatment is she going to organise for the 591 patients sent back to their GPs by the Tairâwhiti District Health Board without a first specialist assessment, an action described by Dr Jonathan Simon as suggesting “the hospital system was so overwhelmed that it could no longer deal with routine cases”?
Hon ANNETTE KING (Minister of Health): There is no need for me to take any action, remedial or otherwise, in relation to the patients sent back to their general practitioners by the Tairâwhiti District Health Board over an 18-month period for the following reasons. Firstly, prior to any patients returning to their general practitioners their cases had been read by hospital specialists. Secondly, some cases needed more information. Thirdly, some patients no longer needed an appointment. And fourthly, those who did not meet the criteria for an appointment are monitored by their general practitioners and should their conditions change are referred back to their specialists. That is a big improvement from the time when they sat on an unpublished and hidden waiting list believing that one day they might get an appointment.
Dr Paul Hutchison: How many more patients will be culled from district health board waiting lists around New Zealand after they have waited for longer than 6 months, or are the 2,000 patients who were culled from Counties Manukau District Health Board’s lists on 1 April, and the 591 from Tairâwhiti District Health Board’s lists, the only ones who will be thrown back to a life of uncertainty, and often pain, by the Government?
Hon ANNETTE KING: The good news about the system that we have now, which was brought in in 1998, is that people are not culled. They are sent to their general practitioners to be monitored until a time when they meet the criteria for an operation, which is not what happened in the past when they sat on a list for years and years, and nothing happened to them.
Moana Mackey: What measures has the Tairâwhiti District Health Board taken recently to improve access to surgery?
Hon ANNETTE KING: I am pleased to say that the board has done very well. It has increased its surgical services by 4 percent in the last year. It has also appointed more specialists and it now has nurse-led clinics, which have increased the ability for more people to be seen. It is doing rather well.
Heather Roy: Why has the Minister got around 120,000 people waiting for first specialist assessments—over 28,000 of them waiting longer than 6 months—when she blustered while in Opposition that having 96,000 people on the waiting list was “criminal” and that “people could be dying”; and can she deny that the number of people waiting over 6 months has surged by 25 percent in the last 4 months?
Hon ANNETTE KING: Ninety-six thousand people were not waiting for first specialist assessments; they were waiting for an operation. The number of people who were waiting for first specialist assessment was not even counted. I tell the member that the real figure we look at is how many people wait over 6 months, and she has raised that issue. I am pleased to say that it has dropped from the year 2000 when there were 40,000 waiting.
Dr Paul Hutchison: Who does the Minister think is to blame for the Government’s waiting list fiasco: the district health boards, as the ministry claims, or the ministry as noted by Professor of Surgery, Dr Bryan Parry, who said: “The Ministry of Health has some explaining to do itself. Blaming health boards is a patent distraction ploy. A double jeopardy now exists. The elective surgical booking system has degenerated into the elective surgical blocking system.”?
Hon ANNETTE KING: I do not agree with that statement, because we have more people having operations than ever before. For example, 1,000 more people had first specialist assessment from the Tairâwhiti District Health Board in 2004, compared with the year 2000. That is an improvement, in anyone’s language. If the member wanted to put blame on anybody, I need to tell him that the system started in 1998. We have continued with that system. We should perhaps look back at the architects. I am not going to blame them. I think it is a much better system than we had in the past.
Dr Paul Hutchison: I seek leave to table three documents. The first is from the Gisborne Herald dated Wednesday, 4 May, which states that there were hundreds of patients taken off the referral list. As at March 2005, the number of people waiting for a first specialist assessment was 1,674.
Madam SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection? There is. It will not be tabled.
Dr Paul Hutchison: The second document is from the New Zealand Herald, written by Jonathan Simon and entitled “Just how sick do you have to be to get a hospital bed?”. It states: “When we look at the significant investment in the health sector over the past four years, it is devastating to see how little effect it has had.”
Madam SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection? There is objection.
Dr Paul Hutchison: The third article is from the New Zealand Herald on 27 April. Professor Bryan Parry says: “A double jeopardy now exists. The elective surgical booking system has degenerated”—
Madam SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection? There is.
Hon ANNETTE KING: I seek leave to table a letter from Dr Hutchison to me that is about a patient, with the patient’s name removed, who waited 12 years for knee replacement surgery—most of that time under the National Government. I am pleased to say that this person has had a procedure and is due for another one very soon.
Heather Roy: I seek leave to table a newspaper article from the Evening Post dated 19 August 1998, which states that 96,000 people were waiting for a first assessment, not for surgery as the Minister stated.
Madam SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection? There is. The document will not be tabled.
Smoke-free Environments Amendment Act—Reports
12. STEVE CHADWICK (Labour—Rotorua) to the Associate Minister of Health: What reports, if any, has he received on the implementation of the Smoke-free Environments Amendment Act 2003?
Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR (Associate Minister of Health): Reports from around the country show widespread acceptance of the laws. A report released last week found that 70 percent of people support the smoking ban in pubs and bars. The same survey shows that 42 percent of smokers themselves now support the ban, which is up from 22 percent in November. We consider this an outstanding success due to good law from this Government.
Steve Chadwick: What have been some other positive outcomes from the new law?
Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: The Hospitality Association of New Zealand reports that the industry is coping well with the changes. Over 50 percent of its members surveyed said that their takings had increased or stayed the same since 10 December. An additional benefit is that Quit Group has measured a 44 percent increase in the number of callers in December and January, compared with the same 2-month period last year. More people are wishing to give up smoking and that is good for this country.
Peter Brown: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I ask the Minister to clarify that answer. We could not hear it properly, but I think he said that the takings of 50 percent increased or stayed the same. Does that mean that 50 percent lost money?
Madam SPEAKER: That is not a point of order, but does the Minister very quickly want to clarify the answer?
Hon Damien O'Connor: The takings of over 50 percent of them have increased or stayed the same.