Questions & Answers for Oral Answer 11 May 2005
Wednesday, 11 May
Questions for Oral Answer
2. Taxation—Australian Tax Cuts
3. Trans-Tasman Therapeutic Goods Agency—Standards
4. Police—Former Commissioner
5. Biosecurity—Hoax Threats
6. Immigration, Minister—Confidence
Question No 5 to Minister
7. Police—Former Commissioner
8. Student Support—Discussion Document
9. Education Officials—Confidence
10. Trade—Access to Australia for Apples and Pipfruits
11. Youth—Employment and Training
12. Taxation—Australian Tax Cuts
Questions for Oral Answer
Questions to Ministers
1. GEORGINA BEYER (Labour—Wairarapa) to the Minister for Social Development and Employment: What reports has he received about trends in the number of working-age New Zealanders on benefits?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY (Minister for Social Development and Employment): The latest quarterly benefit figures show that the number of working-age New Zealanders on the unemployment benefit has dropped by a record 27 percent in 1 year. The number of sole parents on the domestic purposes benefit has fallen below 100,000 for the first time since 1995. The overall number of working-age New Zealanders on a benefit is down to 293,000, which is 21 percent fewer than in 1999, and for the first time in 16 years the figure has fallen below 300,000. Thousands of people are now moving back into work and achieving financial independence for their families. This huge drop in the number of working-age people on a benefit means that taxpayers have saved $1.2 billion since 1999.
Georgina Beyer: To the Minister—[Interruption]
Madam SPEAKER: The member will be heard in silence as she asks her question.
Georgina Beyer: What Government initiatives have contributed to this excellent result?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: I can understand the hubbub of excitement in the House today, so I will say that we are moving through seasonal-worker strategies, investment in Student Job Search, job partnerships with industry, personal development plans for people on the domestic purposes benefit, and the Pacific Wave strategy that has dropped Pacific unemployment by 50 percent since 1999, and we are now focusing on areas like the sickness benefit and the invalids benefit. Yes, I can understand how excited MPs are about this matter.
Sue Bradford: What specific measures is the Government taking to improve the situation for people, particularly those in the 50 to 65-year-old age group, who are not in work and who want to work?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: The main change worth mentioning is that people who in are in that older-age mature group have been work tested and, as a result of that, all the services of Work and Income have been made available to them. As a result, we are seeing the number of those people going into work increasing steadily.
Judy Turner: Can the Minister confirm that as at 31 March there was a total of 116,075 people on invalids and sickness benefits, which is more than double the number on the unemployment benefit; if so, is he confident that the pilot programmes he established last year, such as Providing Access to Health Solutions and ProCare, will prove effective in reducing those numbers?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: Yes, I can confirm those numbers; and, yes, I confirm confidence in those programmes.
Taxation—Australian Tax Cuts
2. RODNEY HIDE (Leader—ACT) to the Minister of Finance: Will he consider across-the-board tax cuts in light of the Australian Government Budget decision to provide across-the-board tax cuts for Australians; if not, why not?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Minister of Finance): The member will have to wait until next week’s Budget for an answer to that question.
Rodney Hide: How is it that Australia can afford across-the-board tax cuts, with a Government surplus of just 1 percent of GDP, but that this Finance Minister is running around telling New Zealanders that this Government cannot afford one, with a surplus of four times that amount?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: When next week’s Budget comes out, the member will find that he will have to revise his numbers.
John Key: Is it acceptable that approximately 585 people emigrate from New Zealand to Australia every week; and when will the Minister wake up and realise that Peter Costello’s Budget is a clear example of Australia launching a full-scale charm offensive on New Zealand’s most productive workers?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: At least he is not launching it on John Howard; I think that that has become fairly clear over the last week or so. The main result of the changes made by Mr Costello is that 80 percent of Australians will pay a tax rate of no more than 30 percent. However, they will pay that rate plus 1.5 percent for Medicare, and plus a surcharge of 1 percent for those earning over $50,000 a year. In New Zealand, 75 percent of taxpayers pay no more than 21c in the dollar.
Rod Donald: Does the Minister agree that Australia’s tax rates are still more progressive than New Zealand’s rates, with the top marginal rate at 47c in the dollar and no tax on the first $6,000 of income; and would he consider adopting the Green Party policy to make the first $5,000 of income tax-free and to introduce a suite of eco-taxes, including a carbon tax, to pay for that?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: The approximate cost of making the first $5,000 of income tax-free is about $2.5 billion a year. The net revenue from the carbon charge is about $322 million. It does not matter how often the Greens recycle that $322 million; it does not add up to $2.5 billion.
Kenneth Wang: How big does the surplus have to be before the Minister will proceed with tax cuts for all workers?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: The member will have to wait till next week. I can tell him, as I have already indicated on the basis of the December Economic and Fiscal Update, that the surplus is out in the forecast of the projection periods. It is sufficient only to keep the growth in the debt to GDP ratio constant, once provision is made for capital spending such as the contributions to the superannuation fund.
Trans-Tasman Therapeutic Goods Agency—Standards
3. SUE KEDGLEY (Green) to the Minister of Health: Has she introduced legislation to establish a trans-Tasman therapeutic goods agency; if not, why has she, with the Australian Parliamentary Secretary for Health, set up a committee to oversee the establishment of standards for therapeutic products under the new agency?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Leader of the House), on behalf of the Minister of Health: No. Legislation is being prepared, and Parliament will be fully consulted when it has been introduced. The establishment of the interim standards committee is a necessary and normal part of the preparatory work that is needed.
Sue Kedgley: Does the Minister agree that it is an important loss of sovereignty for New Zealand to give away the right to regulate key industries according to our own particular needs and preferences; and why is she proceeding to put in place the infrastructure for what amounts to a major constitutional change, without even a mandate from this House?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: The committee is an interim one. It has an equality of membership from Australia and New Zealand. If New Zealand is surrendering sovereignty to Australia, then equally Australia is surrendering sovereignty to New Zealand. I think it is stretching matters considerably to say that a body that will operate under parliamentary authority is some kind of major constitutional issue.
Barbara Stewart: Do the facts that she has met with the Australian Parliamentary Secretary for Health and has appointed an expert advisory committee to oversee the establishment of standards for therapeutic products mean that she is planning to proceed in the absence of enabling legislation; if so, does that not demonstrate a cavalier disregard for the democratic process?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: No, and I can assure members that any rules that proceed will be subject to a disallowance provision by either Parliament on either side of the Tasman.
Sue Kedgley: Why is she bulldozing ahead with the trans-Tasman proposal when the national interests analysis prepared by her own Ministry of Health warns that proceeding with a joint agency is likely to lead to “higher prices for consumers”, “higher compliance costs falling on manufacturers and suppliers”, and “pharmaceutical firms shifting their regulatory activities to Australia with the flow-on effect of tax revenues being forgone”?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: My understanding of the member’s position is that we should move to some form of mutual recognition. That would actually give New Zealand less control over these matters than it would have under the joint proposal.
Keith Locke: Will the United States - Australia free-trade agreement in any way restrain the trans-Tasman arrangements on medicines and therapeutics, such as by increasing the period in which Pharmac cannot bring in cheaper generic products?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: No, that is not my understanding. The member could note that in the Australian Budget presented yesterday, one of the means by which the tax cuts are being paid for is by seeking to reduce the costs that are being paid for pharmaceuticals.
Sue Kedgley: Why did she claim to have the support of peak industry bodies, in her press release, yesterday when Thompson’s Nutrition, the Charter of Health Practitioners, Citizens for Health Choices, Bionutrient Ltd, Nature’s Sunshine Products, New Zealand Nutritionals, Genesis Bio Laboratory Ltd, Pacific International Nutrition NZ Ltd, High Performance Health, and many other industry groups strongly oppose any moves toward a joint agency; and are the peak industry bodies she consults with simply a euphemism for those groups that support her or agree with her?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I think the great majority of the groups that the member mentioned come from what might be called the alternative medicines section. The view of the Minister is very clear: the fact that some medicines are sold by people who engage in basket weaving and waving beads does not mean that they should be considered less reliable than other forms of medicine sold by people regarded as more normal.
Sue Kedgley: Is she confident she will be able to get the necessary support in Parliament to pass legislation setting up a joint trans-Tasman therapeutics agency; if so, from whom?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: From a majority of MPs. But, of course, between now and the passing of this legislation the public probably will have some say on who the majority of MPs will be.
4. Dr DON BRASH (Leader of the Opposition) to the Prime Minister: When she stated yesterday that: “It is a matter of judgment for the Prime Minister how I use information from official reports. By definition, I cannot leak.”, was she confirming that she was the source of the material to the Sunday Star-Times asserting that commissioner Peter Doone said: “that won’t be necessary”; if not, what was she telling the House?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK (Prime Minister): No. I was telling the House that it is a matter for my judgment how I use reports I have received.
Dr Don Brash: Can she confirm that she is adopting the approach of former US President Richard Nixon, who stated: “Well, when the President does it, that means it is not illegal.”, and could this be the reason that her conduct was described by Fran O’Sullivan in this morning’s New Zealand Herald as “distinctly Nixonian”?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I repeat, it is my judgement how I use reports I receive, and the same goes for other ministers. I would observe to the House that Mr Nixon’s philosophy has far more in common with that of the National Party.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: As the Prime Minister has put her judgment into the debate, given that she said yesterday in response to a question on her treatment of Dover Samuels—when she passed on totally malicious and false information that did enormous damage to Mr Samuels—that we all make mistakes, has she ever bothered to apologise publicly to him?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I cannot accept the assertions in that question, but suffice it to say that Mr Samuels and I later came to an understanding, and Mr Samuels was readmitted to the ministry—unlike Katherine Rich, who is consigned to the outer circle.
Dr Don Brash: Can the Prime Minister confirm the statements in the brief of evidence signed by Oskar Alley that she was the source for his story of 23 January 2000, that she read to him excerpts of the then confidential Robinson report, and that having supplied the story, she then gave Mr Alley a quote for publication to the effect that she had no comment; and can she tell the House whether this is the level of candour and frankness New Zealanders should expect of their Prime Minister?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I cannot confirm that I gave Mr Alley a quote of “no comment”. I repeat, it is my judgement how I use information available to me.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Is it true that when the Prime Minister said that Dover Samuels could not remain in Cabinet while allegations were swirling about him, she herself had passed on the allegations, which were vicious, malicious, and without any evidence whatsoever, as proven by a later inquiry; and does she not think now that she owes this man a public apology?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: It is a matter of public record that letters received by my office were forwarded to the police. As I said, Mr Samuels is now a member of my ministry, and I enjoy a very good working relationship with him.
Rodney Hide: Does the Prime Minister believe that she is bound by the Cabinet Manual, and in particular by paragraph 3.19, which states, amongst other things: “Ministers and officials should not disclose proposals likely to be considered at forthcoming meetings, outside Cabinet approved consultation procedures.”, or does she put herself, as Prime Minister, above the Cabinet Manual and collective responsibility with her statement: “By definition, I cannot leak.”?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: It is a matter for my judgment how I use information that is available to me.
Dr Don Brash: Will the Prime Minister confirm the report in today’s issue of Molesworth & Featherston that states that perhaps the Sunday Star-Times: “felt it had been misled so badly and wilfully by the Prime Minister that she could no longer rely on its assurances of confidentiality.”;
if not, what is her explanation for the decision of the Fairfax Group to threaten her with a subpoena?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I could not substantiate that, at all. I think the member should substantiate the giving of those briefs of evidence to him, which he would not answer on Morning Report this morning.
Rodney Hide: If the Prime Minister believes that she did no wrong in reading out parts of Rob Robinson’s report and parts of the Police Complaints Authority report to the reporter, and that she can put out information at her discretion, why did she work so hard to keep that fact from public knowledge and, in particular, require the newspaper to report that she had no comment?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I repeat that it was a judgment I made at the time to make information available.
Rodney Hide: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. My question was not about the Prime Minister making a judgment on whether to leak it—because I know that by definition she now thinks she cannot leak—my question was, given that she has told the country that she can leak at her judgment, why did she feel the need to keep it secret and to work so hard to keep it secret? The Prime Minister never addressed that question one bit.
Madam SPEAKER: The Prime Minister did address the question. She may not have addressed it in the way the member wanted, but it was addressed.
5. TIM BARNETT (Labour—Christchurch Central) to the Minister of Justice: What changes to legislation did the Government initiate to deal more effectively with people who issue hoax threats which can be economically damaging to this country?
Hon PHIL GOFF (Minister of Justice): In 2003 the Government passed counter-terrorism legislation that created, among other things, new offences relating to the use of biological organisms to cause sickness in animals. It made the deliberate contamination of food, and infection of animals with diseases such as foot-and-mouth, serious criminal offences with a maximum penalty of 10 years’ imprisonment. It also made it a criminal offence to threaten or falsely communicate harm of that nature—in other words, to make hoax threats—with a maximum penalty of 7 years’ imprisonment.
Tim Barnett: What were the previous penalties for such offences?
Hon PHIL GOFF: The previous maximum penalty for the offence of releasing unwanted organisms under the Biosecurity Act was 5 years’ imprisonment, so the penalty for that has been doubled. For hoax threats, the previous maximum penalty, under section 24 of the Summary Offences Act, was a mere 3 months’ imprisonment, which, clearly, was grossly inadequate. The new penalties for hoax threats represent a 28-fold increase, reflecting the serious consequences of such threats, such as we are seeing at the present time.
Marc Alexander: Does the Minister recall, in overseeing the passage of the counter-terrorism legislation, whether that legislation received unanimous support; if it did not, does he recall which party did not support it because it objected to the heavy penalties for people threatening to engage in forms of protest action that would cause major economic loss?
Hon PHIL GOFF: I recall that that legislation when through with the overwhelming support of the House, but was voted against by the Green Party.
Tariana Turia: How does the Minister respond to a comment made to me that this situation could be a contrived hoax to create hysteria and fear so that the Government can take a patsy question today to describe to the country how prepared and alert it is to deal with such a critical issue?
Hon PHIL GOFF: I regard that suggestion made by the member as being, frankly, ludicrous. Anybody who considers the potential $10 billion loss that this country could face, including the loss of thousands of jobs, knows that a hoax of this nature is incredibly damaging and must be taken seriously.
Tim Barnett: Has he seen any reports that this threat is likely to be a hoax, and that the Government therefore should have covered it up?
Hon PHIL GOFF: Yes, astonishingly, I have seen a statement to that effect. I have it in my hand. It is a statement made by the Leader of the Opposition, Don Brash. I have seen another statement made by Annabel Young, the former National MP and current Chief Executive of Federated Farmers, who rubbishes Dr Brash’s suggestion, saying that we still need to tell everybody because otherwise we are in a kind of Chernobyl situation where people never trust us again. We cannot treat a hoax any differently from a real thing until we know that it is a hoax. Fortunately, every responsible authority has repudiated the ridiculous suggestion made by the Leader of the Opposition.
Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. If this were such a serious issue, why did the Prime Minister not come to the House today and make a ministerial statement, instead of jacking up patsy questions in question time to gain some cheap political points? This House should not be treated in such a scrappy manner, and I would request the Government now to seek leave, which we will grant, for a ministerial statement.
Madam SPEAKER: I thank the member, but that was not a point of order.
Hon PHIL GOFF: I seek the leave of the House to table two documents. The first document is a statement made by Dr Don Brash, which I have referred to previously. The second document is a statement made by Annabel Young, which I have also referred to.
6. Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS (Leader—NZ First) to the Prime Minister: Did she confirm to the House her confidence in the previous Minister of Immigration because she was a hardworking and conscientious Minister; if so, was she aware when she expressed this confidence, of a Najim al-Ali who allegedly came to New Zealand, was accepted as a refugee, and subsequently brought others to New Zealand to live here permanently?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK (Prime Minister): Yes, I did confirm that confidence. No, I had not heard of the gentleman referred to, until Mr Peters named in the question today. I can inform the House that allegations made against that person to the immigration authorities—and not by Mr Peters—are currently under investigation. I do urge the member not to name people who should be, or are being, investigated, as unfortunately that only increases their chances of being successful in an application to stay in New Zealand, when they might otherwise not be successful at all, and I am sure the member would not want them to succeed if they should not.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Can I point out to the Prime Minister that her last statement is constitutional and legal bunkum, as every lawyer knows; and would she tell me which part of this story is not true: that Najim al-Ali and his wife, Hessa, entered New Zealand on Bedouin status, or stateless with no citizenship, when they in fact hold Iraqi citizenship and used Iraqi passports to get into Jordan, which is where they left from to come to New Zealand; that the same al-Ali and his wife brought in 13 additional family members, claiming some who were his grandchildren to be his children, with one set of planned twins actually being one daughter and one granddaughter, to then have those children who were previously married in Iraq bring in their spouses as fiancés and to remarry them here in New Zealand, and then to have this bogus family structure re-formed into the family structures they once lived in when they were in Iraq now that they have cheated the New Zealand immigration system—all 15?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: A number of allegations have been made by the member, and a number of allegations have been received by the Immigration Service. What I can say is that the immigration people are investigating the substance of all the allegations. They are trying to make an assessment of whether lies have been told. They are reviewing the original refugee status claim, and they are fully investigating allegations.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Can the Prime Minister explain how this same man and several of his children were able to receive a benefit immediately on arrival and be provided two State houses, while he works for cash under the table at a meat shop and receives additional income from buying and selling cars; or does she not give a damn that the New Zealand taxpayers are being ripped off again?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: People who are judged to be refugees do get assistance. There is no country in the world that does not deal with cheats and liars when it comes to immigration. At the moment, these are allegations and they remain unproven at this time.
Hon Phil Goff: Can the Prime Minister confirm that the current number of spontaneous asylum seekers is about 120 to 130 a year, down from the more than 1,500 a year when Winston Peters was Deputy Prime Minister?
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. If the member is going to make that sort of a statement, which is demonstrably false, let him provide the evidence. He is an experienced Minister; he knows what stunt he is pulling here. He has tried it in the past. Let him now prove what he has said, or apologise.
Madam SPEAKER: That is not a point of order.
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: Speaking to the point of order, I would like to give the official figures when I respond to the question.
Madam SPEAKER: Thank you.
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I can say that spontaneous asylum seekers arriving in New Zealand in the last full year for which there is figures, which is 2003-04, numbered 714. That number is precisely 27 percent of the numbers in 1997-98, which were 2,627 when Mr Peters was Deputy Prime Minister.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: What percentage of those numbers that she claims is a higher record when I was Treasurer of this country were successful, as opposed to nearly everyone being successful under her administration; I also ask, what standard of incompetence is she prepared to tolerate from her immigration Ministers when the Immigration Service seems incapable of telling the difference between children and grandchildren of Iraqis and Bedouins, and who is married and who is not; and when will she start to show some leadership on the issue, make some meaningful changes to this type of fraud and stop it dead in its tracks?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I can say that roughly the same absolute number of people were judged to be genuine refugees in 2003-04 as were judged to be genuine in 1997-98. So, to throw Mr Peters a small bone, that means that the chances of success of the 2,627 were proportionately rather less, but the absolute number is about the same. I repeat that no country has found a way of stopping any cheat getting across its borders, but we work hard to eliminate it to the best extent we can.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Does she have any examples of the administration of which I was part taking hundreds of Afghans or refugees declined by the UN Commission on Refugees—does she have one example of that, in my time; and further, what will she say to Australian officials who have relied on New Zealand’s vetting process and who will now discover that, having duped New Zealand officials and this Government, some of those family members are now residing in Australia?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: Not surprisingly, I have not come to the House armed with numerous examples of compassionate acts by the administration of which the member was part; but this administration did behave in a compassionate way in accepting a number of people, including under-18-year-olds who were stranded on a boat in the Indian Ocean, and I stand by that decision.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Would it be too difficult for her, her Minister of Immigration, her Associate Minister of Immigration, or the hundreds of people she employs to make a simple chart of this family, showing who is telling the truth and who is not, and the fact that the man at the start of the story charged three people $30,000 each to come into this country?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: One of the things that the immigration authorities are investigating is whether lies were told about the make-up of that family. If the member has information that he could make available it would be appreciated. I invite him, again, as I understand he has already been invited by the Associate Minister’s office, to come up and go through the cases he has so we can discuss them.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Knowing the very obvious tactic of this Prime Minister, I seek to table a letter I wrote to Damien O’Connor today setting out the dates of the correspondence from his and other Ministers’ offices so that they cannot pull the stunt of saying that they do not know and they want to cooperate.
Question No 5 to Minister
GERRY BROWNLEE (Deputy Leader—National): I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. Now that we are able to see the document tabled by Phil Goff earlier in question time, it is abundantly clear to us that that document has been used and represented in a most dishonest manner. I would like you to tell us what our remedies may be, albeit that we accept that that is generally the pattern of the Government.
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Leader of the House): The remedy the member has—and I think that he knows it—is to raise the matter by way of privilege, as we did against Mr Key when he misrepresented a statement made by a member on the Government side of the House.
Madam SPEAKER: And I am sure that the member can write to me about it. He may like to write to me and put down the details, with the document, which I have not had a chance to look at.
GERRY BROWNLEE (Deputy Leader—National): Thank you. There is certainly a difference between misrepresenting and straight-out lying.
Madam SPEAKER: That was an unnecessary implication, and the member knows it. Would he please withdraw the comment about lying.
GERRY BROWNLEE: I withdraw the comment about lying and replace it with “being reckless with the truth”.
Madam SPEAKER: That is a qualified withdrawal, as the member knows. Would he please just make an unqualified withdrawal.
GERRY BROWNLEE: I withdraw.
Madam SPEAKER: I thank the member. I appreciate that.
7. Dr DON BRASH (Leader of the Opposition) to the Prime Minister: Does she stand by all of the statements in her signed brief of evidence dated 13 April 2005; if not, why not?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK (Prime Minister): To the best of my knowledge, the brief is accurate. It was informed by journalists’ notes made available to me under privilege, as it is not possible for me to recollect details of conversations 5½ years ago. After all, Dr Brash could not recall details of the “gone by lunchtime” conversation only 4 months later.
Dr Don Brash: Can we take from the fact that the Prime Minister went to some effort yesterday to distinguish, for the benefit of the media, between signed briefs of evidence on the one hand, and sworn statements on the other, that she took the same attitude to signing her brief of evidence that she took to signing a painting she did not paint?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: Not at all. I simply point out the difference between the two.
Dr Don Brash: By making it clear to the media that she had signed a brief of evidence and not a sworn statement, was the Prime Minister indicating that she felt under no obligation to tell the truth in her signed brief of evidence; if not, what was she indicating?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: No, I was simply pointing out the difference between the two.
Dr Don Brash: Does she accept that her signed brief of evidence states that she had a conversation with Mr Alley in which she confirmed to him: “The factual position he had discussed with me was, as far as I knew, accurate.”; if so, how does she reconcile that with her statement to the House last week: “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.”?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: The factual position was that the car was stopped and the then Commissioner of Police intervened. It is a mystery as to why Dr Brash wants to defend undesirable and inappropriate actions by a Commissioner of Police.
Hon Richard Prebble: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. There must come a point where the Prime Minister cannot be said to have addressed the question. Her answer to that question, which was about her conduct, was to denigrate a former civil servant. He may or may not deserve to be denigrated, but that had nothing to do with the question. I realise that the Prime Minister thinks in this case, and in the case of Kit Richards and others, that she is entitled to destroy the reputation of anyone she does not like, but I say that in her answer to this question she should actually answer the question that Dr Brash raised, rather than telling us what she thinks about Mr Doone, which we have already learnt via the Sunday Star-Times.
Madam SPEAKER: The member is again seeking an answer to a question. What the Prime Minister has to do—
Hon Richard Prebble: That’s right.
Rodney Hide: That’s what we are here for.
Madam SPEAKER: Would members please allow me to finish. The member is seeking a particular answer to the question. What is required under the Standing Orders is that a question is addressed. The Prime Minister did address that question. She may not have done so to the satisfaction of members or in the way that members wanted it to be answered, but the reference in her answer was the same. Matters were addressed that were in the question, but not, obviously, in a way that suited the member. That is what is required by the Standing Order.
Dr the Hon Lockwood Smith: Read it!
Madam SPEAKER: I have read the Standing Orders. Would that member please be quiet.
Hon Richard Prebble: Can I raise a further point of order?
Madam SPEAKER: Yes, the member can.
Hon Richard Prebble: We are in this position. It would appear that if any member were to ask the Prime Minister, for example: “Is she bound by the Cabinet Manual?”, she is allowed to get up and say: “Mr Doone is a scumbag.”, and you will say that she addressed the question. I say that apart from you and the Prime Minister, no one else can see how that possibly addresses the question.
Madam SPEAKER: It was clear that the Prime Minister’s answer did not address only that point. She repeated the point she had made before. So the question was addressed. There was additional comment to that effect, but the question was addressed.
Dr the Hon Lockwood Smith: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I am becoming deeply concerned that a tradition is starting to develop in this Parliament that appears to me to be inconsistent with Standing Order 370. Many members hold the view that in fact a Minister does not have to answer a question, and that is wrong. The first thing that Standing Order 370 states is that an answer must be given. In fact, Standing Order 370(1) states: “An answer … must be given if it can be given consistently with the public interest.” The only qualification to that fact—that an answer must be given—is that the nature of the answer must address the question. To make a statement that may in some distant way address the question is inconsistent with that Standing Order, because that Standing Order requires an answer to be given if it can be given consistently with the public interest. Making a statement that somehow vaguely addresses the question is not an answer to the question, and the Standing Order does not state that.
Hon Dr Michael Cullen: The member fundamentally misunderstands what Standing Order 370 means in that respect. What that is—
Dr the Hon Lockwood Smith: It means you answer the question.
Hon Dr Michael Cullen: No, what it—
Madam SPEAKER: Would the member please leave the Chamber. He knows that when a member is speaking to a point of order, one does not interject. I have been asked to rule on that before. Would the member please leave the Chamber.
Dr the Hon Lockwood Smith withdrew from the Chamber.
Hon Dr Michael Cullen: The point is that a Minister may not give any kind of response at all, if the Minister considers it is not in the public interest to do so. For example, there could potentially be one or two issues around the current biosecurity matter that mean, if a Minister was asked a question about them, that a Minister may consider it is not in the public interest to give any response at all. Standing Order 370 actually states: “An answer that seeks to address the question asked must be given if it can be given consistently with the public interest.” In other words, it requires that the Minister seeks to address the question. That is the basis of the ruling that you have given many, many times.
Madam SPEAKER: That is the nature of the ruling and the Speaker’s—
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker.
Madam SPEAKER: I am in the middle of speaking, Mr Peters. You may raise another point of order when I have finished ruling on this point of order.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: But I want to speak about this point of order.
Madam SPEAKER: I am sorry, but I said that I would take two calls on this matter.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I was on my feet before him.
Madam SPEAKER: I am sorry. I wish to rule on this matter. Members have raised this same point on several occasions, and it may well be that it is a matter that the Standing Orders Committee should look into, to make sure that the Standing Orders are made more specific as to the nature of the answer to be given. But as it stands at the moment, an answer must seek to address the question. In the last instance the answer certainly addressed the question. However, it may not have answered it to the member’s satisfaction. The answer also must be relevant to the subject matter of the question; otherwise it is out of order. In that instance, the answer was relevant to the subject matter. I also note that “answer” is a neutral word. The quality of the answer required by the relevant Standing Order comes from the use of the word “address”. That is the test of adequacy. So I suggest, if that is a matter of concern to members, that we address it in the Standing Orders Committee and not continually have these matters raised as points of order. Can we now please move on?
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. Before I start my point of order, I refer you to past Speakers’ rulings in respect of questions of seniority in this Parliament. I ask you to have regard to them in the future, please, or otherwise you will have some trouble in your position. We will not take being put down while someone who is of lesser service in this Parliament and of lesser authority in any other way that you would like to put it is preferred over us. Do not laugh, Madam Speaker. I was on my feet a long time before Dr Cullen was, and you preferred Dr Cullen.
Madam SPEAKER: And in seniority. Would you please make your point of order?
Rt Hon Winston Peters: My point of order is simply this, and you have referred to it. You said the Prime Minister went further than was required when she answered the question. The Standing Orders call for answers to be terse and to the point. She went much further than that. She had a further free hit at former Police Commissioner Doone, and made an allegation that she made yesterday and has made at other times when she is in the House, which is the key allegation behind the whole issue. She is having a free hit, and you are letting her get away with it. Can you please enforce the Standing Orders?
Madam SPEAKER: I am enforcing the Standing Orders. Thank you, Mr Peters.
Jim Peters: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. There seems to be a practice developing in the House whereby there is organised support on one side of the House or the other, as relevant members rise. It means that we are denied hearing the quality or otherwise of the answers and the questions. I feel that you ought to resort to a situation whereby all members can hear all questions and all answers.
Madam SPEAKER: I thank the member for that. It is a question of judgment and sound level. Answers are not normally heard in silence. However, if the House would like to consider that becoming the case, the Speaker would very much welcome it so that all members could hear the answers as well as the questions. It has been the practice that from time to time members wish to express their views on the quality of the answers, and that is what has happened. However, I take the member’s point. In future I will ask members to lower the level of their contribution on an answer.
Rodney Hide: Is it correct for the House to conclude that the Prime Minister considers former Police Commissioner Mr Peter Doone to be a toerag, and that it is therefore OK for her to confirm fake allegations against him, to leak secret Cabinet documents about him, and to breach the principle of collective responsibility; if that is not the correct interpretation of the answers she has been giving over these last couple of days, what does she actually think?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I accept the findings of the Police Complaints Authority, which were that Mr Doone’s intervention was undesirable. I accept the outcome of the deputy commissioner’s investigation, which was that his actions and intervention were inappropriate. And I stand by what I said: that it is my judgment as to what I release.
Rodney Hide: In light of her answer that it is her judgment as to what she releases from secret Cabinet documents, does she consider herself to be above the principle of Cabinet collective responsibility as she sees fit, and if that is the case, will she be seeking to amend the Cabinet Manual to reflect that; if not, why not?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: It is a matter for the judgment of any Prime Minister as to what he or she chooses to release, and I have made that judgment.
Rodney Hide: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. We come to the Chamber to ask questions, and we turn up expecting questions to be addressed. I ask you, given the nature of my question—and maybe you will not do it now, because you may not be in the mood to—to look at Hansard—
Madam SPEAKER: I ask the member to withdraw that comment. It was unnecessary.
Rodney Hide: I withdraw. I ask you to reflect on the point of my asking the question that I have just asked, because we can never get this Prime Minister to answer a question, or, indeed, even to come close to addressing it. The Opposition may wonder what the point is. We have a Parliament in order to hold the executive to account. The only way that we have to hold the executive to account in our democracy—in our parliamentary system—is question time. If the Chair is to rule that she considers whatever the Prime Minister says—she can say the moon is made of green cheese—to have addressed the question, then it actually undermines our concept of a parliamentary democracy and our ability as an Opposition to hold a Government to account. I think that is serious.
Madam SPEAKER: I repeat to the member that, particularly in that instance, there was no doubt at all that the Prime Minister did address the substance of the question that was asked.
Dr Don Brash: Why on earth does the Prime Minister not deal with all the serious questions about her integrity by authorising the release of the transcripts and the journalists’ notes, which would end all this debate and controversy?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: As I have advised the House before, journalists’ notes were provided under legal privilege to my lawyer. I could equally ask Dr Brash why he refuses to say where he got the briefs from.
Dr Don Brash: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I did not hear that wisecrack from the Prime Minister. I would love to hear it.
Madam SPEAKER: Perhaps the member could ask some of his own members to enable us to hear the answers to questions. Does the Prime Minister wish to repeat her statement? No. She does not.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: She does not want to answer the question.
Madam SPEAKER: The Prime Minister answered the substance of that question, and made an additional comment.
Student Support—Discussion Document
8. BERNIE OGILVY (United Future) to the Minister of Education: What was the single most popular suggestion amongst submissions made in response to the Government’s 2003 discussion document Student Support in New Zealand?
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: I am advised that the most popular suggestion was a tertiary education pre-savings scheme, although I am sure that United Future’s support for the scheme is based on principle rather than on the mass support and popularity that is evident for that scheme.
Bernie Ogilvy: Can the Minister also confirm that those submitters stated they were in favour of a tertiary education savings scheme because it would develop an expectation that children would work towards participation in tertiary education, and because the scheme would foster a savings culture and counteract the burden caused by student loan debt?
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: I am going to plead guilty to not reading all the submissions but, if the member gives me that assurance, I will certainly support him and we will work together on having this very good savings scheme—as he has been pushing me to ever since I took over responsibilities in the tertiary area. I want to thank him for that.
Lynne Pillay: What other steps has the Government taken to improve student support?
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: Of course, we do not have time to give the full list, but a short list would have it that every year since the Government took office there have been initiatives—[Interruption] Is someone causing that member some pain? She seems to be squealing.
Madam SPEAKER: Would the House please settle. I think these questions and answers are worth listening to, so would members please have silence while the Minister addresses the question.
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: Every year since Labour took office there have been initiatives to make life a bit easier for students. We have frozen interest on loans while students are studying, changed student loan repayment policy to make loan repayments easier and faster, put an end—
Judith Collins: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. Did I understand you correctly? Are you saying now that we have to listen in silence to this drivel from the Minister?
Madam SPEAKER: No. Other members in the House would like to hear the answer, even if that member does not. So I have been asking for members please to keep the noise down, and to note that some members have stronger voices than others. Would the Minister please address the question.
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: Do you want me to start again?
Madam SPEAKER: No, I do not want you to start again; I want you to continue.
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: We have put an end to spiralling fee increases. Under our Government, estimated loan repayment times have decreased from 14.8 years in 1999 to 9.3 currently. That is why even Lockwood Smith described our loan scheme last week as “one of the best”.
Keith Locke: How does the Government expect low and middle income parents to pay for their children’s tertiary education alongside their having to buy a house, pay off their old student loan debts, and save for their own retirement, when this year’s March newsletter of the Ministry of Consumer Affairs and the energy safety service said that over the past 12 months 28 percent of families have had to borrow to pay for such essential things as food and power?
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: Under the policies introduced as part of the last Budget, there are families earning up to $62,000 in which students—people under 25—are getting allowances. That is quite a high level of income, and I would have thought that for a low-income family to put $250, $500, or $1,000 into an account is relatively much more valuable than it is for a high-income family.
Bernie Ogilvy: Is the Minister concerned that if a child does not undertake tertiary study, the diversion of savings into superannuation may act to discourage parents from opting into that scheme when they are more concerned about giving their kids a kick-start in their adult life than providing a nest-egg for the end of their adult life, and will he consider allowing them to use some or all of the money to buy a house or start a business instead, as the Child Trust Funds set up by the Labour Government in the UK do; if not, why not?
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: I think the Government is still at the design stages of this and is certainly willing to have further discussions with the member around that. But I would say to the member that we do not want to take the approach that National took under student loans, where the Government provided student loans for people to go to Bali and that sort of thing. We want this money, if it is taxpayers’ contributions, to be used for a worthwhile purpose.
Bernie Ogilvy: Has the Minister considered alternatives for the way in which the funds may be directed into the savings scheme, such as allowing extended family members to contribute, allowing parents to divert a portion of their family assistance payments into the fund, or encouraging the private sector to contribute through, say, loyalty reward schemes?
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: I think the answer is yes to all of the above suggestions and, almost certainly, all of them will be included.
9. Hon BILL ENGLISH (National—Clutha-Southland) to the Minister of Education: Does he have confidence in the Secretary for Education and the chief executive of the New Zealand Qualifications Authority; if so, why?
Hon TREVOR MALLARD (Minister of Education): It has not been my practice either as Minister of State Services or as Minister of Education to indicate confidence or the lack thereof in any person for whom I am not the employer.
Hon Bill English: Can the Minister confirm that Ministers have refused to express confidence in Karen Van Rooyen, chief executive of the New Zealand Qualifications Authority, that he expects her to be sacked shortly, and that the Government plans to roll the authority into the Ministry of Education under Howard Fancy?
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: I think that I am responsible for the first and the last of those three questions. I have not until today been asked directly to express confidence, and there are no such plans at the moment.
Bernie Ogilvy: Will he consider merging the New Zealand Qualifications Authority, the Education Review Office, and the Teachers Council into one body called the “Education Standards Authority”, which will be charged with maintaining standards throughout the education sector, rather than restructuring the Ministry of Education and the New Zealand Qualifications Authority, as the Associate Minister of Education has suggested; if not, why not?
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: I am not sure that the Associate Minister has suggested that, at all. I think that he has done what I have done, which is to say that we are waiting for a report from the State Services Commission, Treasury, and the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet. When we receive that report, we will consider it.
Deborah Coddington: What, as Minister of Education, will he take responsibility for, given the crisis in education in New Zealand at the moment from the wânanga on life support, the Tertiary Education Commission funding dodgy courses, the Teachers Council having no confidence in teachers, schools fund-raising to buy textbooks, the New Zealand Qualifications Authority damned by two inquiries, to the Ministry of Education under fire, or has he moved on from the Westminster convention of ministerial responsibility?
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: I am left with some passion about politics and I am not running away. What I want to make clear is that we have an education system with some of the best participation rates—[Interruption]
Madam SPEAKER: Please would you just lower the noise level, so that everyone can hear.
Simon Power: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I fail to see how abusive comments hurled in the direction of the questioner are in any way relevant to addressing a question under the Standing Orders. I raised this matter with you in respect of another question yesterday. This is becoming a pattern that will result in disorder from all sides of the House unless Ministers are reined in when they are answering questions.
Madam SPEAKER: One of the difficulties is that when, in asking the question, additional comments are also put in, the chances are that we will get responses accordingly. I accept what the member has said. I have let some of those comments go in questions because I think that it is important to get the question out. But I would just ask all members to show some restraint in terms of both asking and answering the question and to stick to the main point.
Rodney Hide: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. Deborah Coddington’s question was entirely in order. What you have suggested is that somehow Deborah Coddington’s question was out of order.
Madam SPEAKER: No, I was not suggesting that. I am clarifying that point for you at this stage. I was not suggesting it was that member. I was taking the general point. I am sorry about that. The member misunderstood that.
Rodney Hide: The situation we have is that we take great care. The question was entirely in order, but the Minister’s answer was entirely out of order.
Madam SPEAKER: Let us hear the Minister’s answer, because he did not complete it.
Rodney Hide: No, let us hear him apologise and withdraw for the abuse that he hurled at someone who was asking a legitimate question in this House.
Madam SPEAKER: As I recall, the Minister said that he was passionate about education. Was that the matter that the member is objecting to, or was it the next sentence?
Rodney Hide: No, it is not. I will not repeat it, but I can tell you that I took offence at what he said. I think that he should be asked to withdraw and apologise.
Madam SPEAKER: I have difficulty because I am not entirely sure what he said. I heard him say he was passionate and was not running away. I am not sure whether they were the matters at which offence has been taken. Again, this is one of the difficulties that we are having. If people express themselves loudly, it is very difficult to hear exactly what is being said. We will take the next point of order, but I would like the Minister to be able to at least fully answer the question in silence.
John Carter: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. It is on the same point. The fact is that this issue has now become very serious indeed as far as the way in which this House is run. You have just said that you did not hear all the Minister’s comments, or perhaps you heard them and did not recall them.
Madam SPEAKER: I heard two of the comments.
John Carter: Well, you would be one of the few people in this House who did not understand what the Minister said and the implications of what he was saying. They were quite derogatory, quite unnecessary, and certainly well outside Standing Orders.
xxxfoWe do expect you to make sure that you keep control of this House. If you are not hearing and understanding what is being said, then you will not be able to control this House. That will lead to this House being unruly, quite honestly, and we will find that we get into all sorts of trouble. Minister Mallard made quite a derogatory remark about Deborah Coddington that was absolutely unnecessary. He should have been pulled up by you when he said it and asked to address the question.
Madam SPEAKER: I hope that the member, in making those comments, was not threatening the Chair. I will not take those comments to have that implication, but they came close to it. One member cannot ask on behalf of another member for a withdrawal, but if Deborah Coddington did take offence, then the Minister should withdraw his comment.
Hon Richard Prebble: On the point of order, Madam Speaker, one member may not ask for leave on behalf of another, but, in fact, when a member makes a discreditable reference to a member of the House it is actually an insult to the whole House, and any member may object. Even if the member himself or herself is prepared to let it run, if other members raise objections, that is correct. So, with the greatest respect, you cannot rule that it is OK for a Minister to make a discreditable reference to a member of Parliament unless that member objects. That is not the correct ruling. What this Minister did has been drawn to your attention. Mr Mallard makes it not quite an invariable, but a general, practice to start his answers with a comment that in this case comes, I think, under Standing Order 370(2)(c): “discreditable references to the House or any member …”, but normally comes under Standing Order 370(2)(b): “arguments, inferences, imputations …” etc. In fact he did start his answer in that way. A number of members have objected. The quickest way to proceed with question time would be to ask the member to withdraw and, given the level of objection, apologise.
Madam SPEAKER: I thank the member for his contribution. The Speaker’s ruling relied upon was 40/7: “It is not the Speaker’s duty to intervene if objection is not taken to the language used by one member towards another, unless the Speaker considers it is such language as requires the Chair’s immediate intervention.” In that instance I did not accept that the language was such that it required my immediate intervention. Another member has raised that point. I ask the Minister therefore, under those circumstances, to withdraw and apologise.
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: I withdraw and apologise. I am passionate about my job. I like results. During the term of this Government we have the highest participation rates and the highest quality early childhood education in the OECD. We have Programme for International Student Assessment
results that are right at the top of the OECD, and on value for investment are the best. We have very high participation rates in tertiary education. We are working on quality right through the system, and I intend to keep on doing that.
Hon Bill English: Will the Minister tell the House whether he has confidence in Mr Howard Fancy, who has overseen a blowout in bureaucratic spending in his own ministry, widespread charging of fees in State schools, requirements for parents to front up with $200 million a year for their children’s free education, widespread rip-offs in the tertiary sector, unexpected financial problems in the wânanga and polytechs, and plummeting public confidence in the secondary school qualification held by over 200,000 young New Zealanders, as well as all major education agencies being under performance reviews because of the mess?
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: As I said in answer to the original question, it is not my practice and will not be my practice as Minister of Education or Minister of State Services to express confidence or lack thereof in State servants who are not my appointments.
Hon Bill English: If the Minister will not express a view of confidence in Howard Fancy and Karen van Rooyen, does this mean that rather than officials being to blame, it is actually Ministers who are to blame for a succession of high-profile policy failures in education; and will he and David Benson-Pope promise to stay on in their jobs to remind the public continually what a mess Labour has made in education?
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: There have been some enormously good results in education, and I promise that David Benson-Pope and I will work hard for the next 5 years in this area as education Ministers if the Prime Minister lets us.
Hon Bill English: Does the Minister not realise that not only would it take a lot longer than 5 years to clean up his mess but also he now has so little credibility with New Zealand parents that he should not be allowed even to try?
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: I, unlike the member, spend quite a lot of time in schools and talking to parents. Parents tell me—and teachers tell me—that the education their kids are receiving in their schools has never, ever been better.
Trade—Access to Australia for Apples and Pipfruits
10. DAIL JONES (NZ First) to the Minister for Trade Negotiations: Is gaining access for New Zealand apples and other pipfruit to the Australian market a priority for this Government; if so, what actions are being taken to achieve this?
Hon JIM SUTTON (Minister for Trade Negotiations): Yes, the Government has strongly argued, and continues to argue, New Zealand’s case for apples access at every appropriate opportunity with the Australian Government. This includes recently applying pressure in a multilateral context.
Dail Jones: Has the Minister been aware of a large number of pest interceptions made on Australian fresh produce imports to New Zealand since 2000, including 471 interceptions on ginger, 1,014 interceptions on oranges, and over 2,000 interceptions on rock melons; and, now that he is aware, when will he make a stand on the issue of apple imports by Australia, by at least making a retaliatory move in banning imports of such pest-ridden Australian products until the Australians have cleaned up their act?
Hon JIM SUTTON: I assure every other member of this House that New Zealand administers its biosecurity rules on the basis of honest science, not on the basis of school playground tit for tat.
Hon David Carter: How long does the Minister intend to allow Australia to procrastinate; and why will he not do something concrete and initiate a World Trade Organization action to bring this 80-year-old issue to a conclusion?
Hon JIM SUTTON: The Government is perfectly prepared to take a case to the World Trade Organization for settlement, if necessary. However, taking such a case is a serious and costly issue, and the outcome can never be certain. We may get one shot at that, so it would be important to move at the most opportune moment. The pending outcome of negotiations on the implementation of the United States - Japan decision recently may well alter the situation.
Dail Jones: Does the Minister recall making a statement in 2000 with regard to Australian apple protectionism that: “If this is not scientifically based, we will take appropriate action.”; and now that he knows that Australia’s grounds for protecting apples are not based on any scientific evidence whatsoever, will he stand by his word, follow New Zealand First’s policy, and refer this matter to the World Trade Organization immediately, because, in the meantime, those Aussie battlers are being prevented from forming a union with a New Zealand Pacific Rose or even with a Braeburn, like the one I have here?
Hon JIM SUTTON: Clearly, the member does not know what he is talking about, but I can assure the House that the Government will take every feasible, practical step to advance our case. For us to initiate litigation when there is a legitimate scientific process under way at this time would be to invite failure.
Gerrard Eckhoff: If a New Zealand Government can take the United States of America to the World Trade Organization over access of our lamb to that country and win, why will this Government, after 6 years in office, not take Australia to that same organisation, with, likely, exactly the same result—a win for the apple growers of this country?
Hon JIM SUTTON: For us to take a case to the World Trade Organization when there is a scientific process under way would be to invite failure. Of course, the member who asked the question is accustomed to failure and apparently thrives on it.
Youth—Employment and Training
11. MOANA MACKEY (Labour) to the Associate Minister for Social Development and Employment: What is the Government doing to help young people into employment and training?
Hon RICK BARKER (Associate Minister for Social Development and Employment): We have put in place many initiatives to get young people off benefits and into work or training programmes that help them become successful contributors to society with a career. This Government has brought back apprenticeships; now there are over 7,175 apprentices, and we expect to have 8,500 by June. This Government has established industry training; there are now over 139,000 people upskilling themselves. We have introduced the Gateway high school programme, which builds a bridge between school and work, and we are opening, with Work and Income, the Youth Transitions Service in 14 locations. We have done a great deal.
Moana Mackey: How effective has that been in reducing youth unemployment in New Zealand?
Hon RICK BARKER: Very effective. There has been a drop in youth unemployment in New Zealand of about 70 percent. I have a graph here: under National, the blue side, the line is going up, and under Labour, the red side, it is continuously going down. Where there were 10 young people on the unemployment scrap heap while National was in power, there are just three today. In April 1999, under National, 45,054 young people were on the unemployment scrap heap; today there are just 13,000. [Interruption]
Madam SPEAKER: Would members please be quiet. Would the Minister please repeat the answer to the question so that we can all hear it. [Interruption] Well, then, please be quiet!
Hon RICK BARKER: We have been very effective. As members can see—
Dr Don Brash: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. The graph that the Minister produced was designed to incite disorder in the House. It is clearly a grossly misleading graph about unemployment that was very carefully chosen to show the point the Minister is trying to make. It is a very incomplete graph.
Madam SPEAKER: I thank the member. We have had many visual aids in the House today—apples, charts, and other charts. That in itself has not been cause for disorder, though you may have depicted it so. I ask the Minister to please answer the question.
Hon RICK BARKER: The Government has been very effective. The number of young people on the unemployment benefit has dropped by 70 percent since April 1999. Where there were 10 young people out of work, there are now three. This graph amply demonstrates it: under National, up until April 1999, the number of youth unemployed was rising; under Labour it has gone down. Where there were 45,000 young people unemployed in the period ended April 1999, there has now been a drop of 31,805. Just 13,000 young people are on the dole. Youth unemployment has dropped dramatically. In Canterbury—if Mr Brownlee would like to know—it has plummeted 82 percent; in the East Coast, my area, 83 percent; in Nelson, 89 percent; and in Madam Speaker’s area, Tauranga, a staggering 96 percent. That is a fantastic job.
Judith Collins: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I seek leave for the Minister now to have the opportunity to explain why sickness and invalids benefits have gone up 39 percent under his Government.
Madam SPEAKER: That is not a point of order. Would the member please sit down.
Rodney Hide: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I just want to draw your attention to a possible inconsistency. You sought that the House be quiet and asked the Minister to answer the question, whereupon he took approximately 4¾ minutes to give a speech.
Hon Member: It was not that long.
Rodney Hide: Well, that member might want to call out, but I would not. The point is this. When patsy questions get asked of this Government quietness is demanded, and a Minister can give a 5-minute speech in answer. When Opposition members ask questions about important matters of the day any old answer does, and one certainly does not hear the Speaker of this House say—as you did with Mr Rick Barker just now on a patsy question—that the Minister is to answer the question.
Madam SPEAKER: That is not a point of order, but that is also an accusation that the Chair is not conducting the affairs of this House in a fair and impartial way. I would therefore ask the member to stand, withdraw, and apologise to the Chair.
Rodney Hide: I withdraw and apologise. I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. My point was that there is a danger of this.
Madam SPEAKER: There may well be a danger, but it has not taken place.
Rodney Hide: Do I get to finish the point of order, or are you going to interrupt?
Madam SPEAKER: I ask you to withdraw and apologise for that remark, Mr Hide; you are making the same point that has already been ruled on.
Rodney Hide: I withdraw and apologise.
Madam SPEAKER: Now, does the member have a new point of order?
Rodney Hide: Well, actually, I do.
Madam SPEAKER: Please then give it to the House.
Rodney Hide: Is it the Speaker’s position that when a member is giving a point of order, it is OK for the Speaker to use her position to talk over the top of him or her?
Madam SPEAKER: It is certainly OK, as you put it, for the Speaker to be able to rule, when she has ruled on a point of order, that it should not be raised again. That is what I was doing in that particular instance.
Marc Alexander: Is the Minister, in any meaningful sense, concerned that of the 2,342 young people who received an independent youth benefit in the year ended 30 September 2004, 77 percent of them graduated on to an adult benefit, according to answers from his office to written questions; and what specific steps is he taking to avoid, and stop, the independent youth benefit from becoming the dole with training wheels?
Hon RICK BARKER: The member will be delighted to know that the number of people on the independent youth benefit has fallen yet again. It is down to 1,944 as of March 2005. The member will be delighted to know that more of these young people are moving directly on to employment than have done in the past. I seek leave to table the graph that I referred in my presentation.
Madam SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that graph. Is their any objection? There is objection. It will not be tabled.
Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. The National Party might reconsider its position if the Minister was able to say whether he coloured in the graph himself.
Madam SPEAKER: I thank the member for his contribution.
Taxation—Australian Tax Cuts
12. JOHN KEY (National—Helensville) to the Minister of Finance: Will his 2005 Budget contain personal tax cuts similar to those announced by his colleague in Australia; if not, why not?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Minister of Finance): The member will have to wait until next week’s Budget when all will be revealed.
John Key: Does the Minister stand by his press release of 24 March titled Surplus myth destroyed by data, where he said in relation to tax cuts: “The budget will show how unsustainable such cuts would be over the longer term. The current account deficit shows how foolish they would be in the short term,”; how does he reconcile that with his odd implication that his Budget could contain tax cuts—which his press release clearly rules out—because they certainly cannot both be correct?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: The member will have to wait and see, but I will point out to him, as I have already pointed out to Mr Hide, that the Budget will show that, over time, the gross debt to GDP ratio will flatten right out, and therefore further structural changes will be very difficult. But if he wants to understand why, when the economy is somewhat overheating, it is unwise to pump it up further, I suggest he talk to the former Governor of the Reserve Bank.
John Key: Is it not true that the underlying aim of Peter Costello’s Budget last night was to make Australia an even more attractive destination for skilled and professional workers, in which case for how long is this Government going to sit back and allow the wage gap between the average New Zealand worker and the average Australian worker to continue to widen?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Mr Costello was proud to announce that he has achieved his aim that 80 percent of Australians pay a tax rate of no more than 30c in the dollar—not, of course, including the Medicare surcharge or the compulsory superannuation scheme, both of which might be regarded as forms of taxation. In New Zealand, 75 percent pay no more than 21c in the dollar. If tax was the driver, then people would be coming back in the opposite direction, from Australia to New Zealand. The second point I would say is that I know that the member was overseas for a long time, making money out of nothing, as paper-pushers do in the financial world; in the real world one has to earn an increase in income, not just pay oneself an increase.
John Key: Does he agree with Brendan O’Donovan, Westpac’s Chief Economist, who in an article today, “Can Spend But Can’t Cut Taxes—Yeah, Right!”, wrote: “The Finance Minister reiterated his view that there is no room for tax cuts without long-term spending cuts or increases in debt, but we have yet to see the analysis to suggest this is the case. Furthermore, the massive increase in spending we’ve seen in recent years would suggest there has been considerable scope for reduced taxes.”?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I refer the member to two counterfactual arguments. Firstly, in the United States, of course, substantial structural tax cuts have not been accompanied by increased growth—rather, by massive, burgeoning fiscal deficits. Secondly, if the member cared to look at the rest of the Australian Budget, he would find a number of cuts in health spending. I am pleased to announce, therefore, that that is, clearly, now National Party policy.