Questions & Answers for Oral Answer 12 May 2005
Thursday, 12 May
Questions for Oral Answer
Question No. 1 to Minister
1. Police, Minister—Confidence
Question No. 2 to Minister
2. Health, Ministry—Physiotherapy Industry
3. Police, Minister—Piha Incident
4. Early Childhood Education—Quality
5. Police—Former Commissioner
6. Health and Disability Assistance—Policy Announcements
7. Police, Commissioner—Prime Minister’s Statement
8. 111 System—Police, Commissioner
10. Court Buildings—Funding
11. Zimbabwe—Cricket Tour
Question No. 1 to Minister
12. Hospitals—Outpatient Services
Questions for Oral Answer
Questions to Ministers
Question No. 1 to Minister
Hon MURRAY McCULLY (National—East Coast Bays): I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. Before we make progress on this question, again under Standing Order 80 I remind you that you have the ability to determine the order of the House in the best way possible. You have indicated to the Acting Leader of the Opposition, Mr Brownlee, that he is able to ask his question, but then I understand he is expected to leave the Chamber. You also indicated that you had missed a disorderly interjection from a member on the other side who had been, in my view, quite disorderly. I ask you, in the spirit of getting the best order in the House for the afternoon, whether you might like to allow Mr Brownlee not only to ask his questions, but also to participate in the balance of question time.
Madam SPEAKER: I am happy for Mr Brownlee to ask question No. 1, then to leave the Chamber and come back to ask question No.5 and to remain in the Chamber thereafter.
1. GERRY BROWNLEE (Deputy Leader—National) to the Prime Minister: Does she have confidence in the Minister of Police; if so, why?
Hon PHIL GOFF (Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade), on behalf of the Prime Minister: Yes, because he is a hard-working and conscientious Minister.
Gerry Brownlee: Who does the Prime Minister hold responsible for the state of the police emergency system—a system with inadequate levels of service, where calls are not dealt with quickly enough, where patrol cars are not responding, and where public safety is at risk?
Hon Phil Goff: The report of the review committee sets out quite clearly the difficulties that exist there. They are predominantly operational difficulties, but it was the Commissioner of Police himself who asked for the review, and the Commissioner of Police who has committed himself to respond to each of those review recommendations to ensure that this country has a first-rate communications centre system.
Jill Pettis: Does the Minister believe that the Minister of Police has responded appropriately to the findings of the independent review of police communications centres?
Hon PHIL GOFF: Yes. The Minister committed himself in the House in November, and again in February, to deliver additional resources, on top of the additional resources he has already delivered to the police over 5 years, if the review concluded that they were necessary to address problems in the 111 system. That Minister, of course, has honoured that promise in full.
Ron Mark: Does the Prime Minister seriously expect the country to accept this Minister as being competent, when he ignored the advice given to him on 29 September 2002 by a communications officer as to the problems with the emergency 111 system; when he ignored the advice given to him by his own Commissioner of Police, dated 21 November 2002, highlighting the problems of the 111 system, in Auckland in particular; when he failed to take on board the very serious article published in Investigate in June 2003, and which cautioned that there would be a death; when he failed to approve the recommendations in the police bid for May 2003; and when he told this House that traffic officers were not sitting on the side of the road with their radios turned off, and we now know they were?
Hon PHIL GOFF: I will answer two of those questions. Firstly, the member is not quoting accurately from the first communication he talked about. That communication—he can table it if he likes—does not deal with communications staff; it deals with general staff. Secondly, it was not ignored. It was passed on to the Commissioner of Police, because it was an operational matter. Thirdly, this Minister, unlike Winston Peters when he was Deputy Prime Minister, has delivered an increase in the Budget for police each and every year that he has been Minister. I refer Ron Mark to 1997, when the Budget cut the appropriations on Budget night for the police. Winston Peters cut the police Budget. George Hawkins has seen it increase each and every year for 5 years.
Dr Muriel Newman: Does the Prime Minister agree that the substance of this report into the emergency 111 system comprises matters that a strong and capable Minister should have been able to find out without needing the assistance of the Australians and Canadians; if so, does she now not regret her decision to put the placating of the internal factions of the Labour Party ahead of the good of the country by keeping Mr Hawkins as Minister of Police, when it is patently obvious that her decision has put the lives of New Zealanders at risk?
Hon PHIL GOFF: The second point is absolutely wrong. On the first point, that member would have been the first member in the House to accuse the Government of an in-house whitewash if the review had been done internally. I congratulate the Commissioner of Police on getting top people from three different jurisdictions to produce a forthright and comprehensive report, then committing himself to implementing it—not before time.
Ron Mark: I know this is outside of the normal procedure, but I ask the indulgence of the House to seek leave at this particular point of time, specifically as it may impact on the supplementary questions that follow, because the Minister’s own statement, in Hansard, that the letter I quoted from was not communications related, and indeed—
Madam SPEAKER: Could you come to the point. What is your point of order?
Ron Mark: I want to seek the leave of the House and your indulgence, because this is not the time to do it—
Madam SPEAKER: What is your point of order?
Ron Mark: I seek the leave of the House to table a letter from the police Southern Communications Centre in Christchurch, dated 29 September 2002, written by K D Morrison, a communications police staff member.
Keith Locke: Will the Prime Minister be urging the Minister of Police to look at decentralising call centres and merging the call answering and despatch functions, as the review recommended, to avoid the problem of operators hundreds of kilometres away knowing little about the town the distressed person is calling from or about what police resources are actually available?
Hon PHIL GOFF: That matter is patently an operational matter that the Prime Minister, properly, should not intervene in.
Marc Alexander: How does the Prime Minister expect the public to have any confidence in the Minister of Police, and in the Government’s propaganda asserting that crime is falling, when yesterday’s independent report has clearly undermined police statistics on the true length of the time 111 callers had to wait for a response?
Hon PHIL GOFF: There is no question about the accuracy of the statistics, the way in which they are compiled, and the fact that that has been consistent over time. I find it remarkable that every member of the Opposition was absolutely ready to—[Interruption]
Madam SPEAKER: Would the Minister sit down. Interjections are permitted, but they must be at a level where the answer can be heard. Would the Minister please continue.
Hon PHIL GOFF: I find it absolutely incredible that when those figures were going up in some categories, every member of the Opposition had absolute faith in them. Now that they are going down in every category those members choose to disbelieve them. The population can take its own conclusion from that.
Gerry Brownlee: Does the Prime Minister accept that her repeated expressions of confidence in George Hawkins have put New Zealanders calling the 111 system at risk, and why does she continue to allow that incompetent and failed Minister to preside over that service when it clearly needs a new approach?
Hon PHIL GOFF: No, I do not accept that, but I draw Mr Brownlee’s attention to the fact that the previous National Minister refused to have an inquiry into the 111 system when it was sought in 1988. Secondly, I draw attention to this fact from the Police Association: the National Government planned to cut 285 non-sworn staff, including those who answered 111 calls. If that is not a case of double standards, I do not know what is.
Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. The examples the Minister has rather hopefully clung to are almost a decade old. I think it would be appropriate for you to indicate to the Government that it is totally responsible for the last 6 years and for the mess that has been uncovered in this inquiry.
Hon PHIL GOFF: Speaking to the point of order—
Madam SPEAKER: No, I do not think we need to have any more comment on this. The member has made the point. It is not for the Chair to comment on the quality of the answer. As members know, that will be done by others who hear it.
Rodney Hide: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. While Mr Brownlee was taking his point of order the “acting Prime Minister” Phil Goff interjected on him very clearly and very loudly. The appropriate course of action is to be consistent with the action taken in relation to Mr Brownlee—that is, when the “acting Prime Minister” has finished answering his questions, he should go out and come back in when he is due to answer them again.
Madam SPEAKER: I heard a general level of intervention; I did not hear a specific comment or interjection thrown across. I heard a general level only. I am trying to be consistent here. But I would say to members that the whole level of chat and talk in this House is too high in this question time.
Simon Power: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. Perhaps to move matters forward on the points raised by Mr Hide I could offer two options respectfully to the Chair. Firstly, any member on this side of the House would be happy to advise you who made the interjection. Secondly, perhaps you would consider asking the “acting Prime Minister” directly whether he interjected during the course of that point of order.
Madam SPEAKER: Did the Minister of Justice interject?
Hon PHIL GOFF: I said, and probably too loudly: “That’s not correct.”, in response to something that was incorrect.
Madam SPEAKER: Well, that was a comment. We are getting ourselves into a ridiculous position where there will be nobody left by the time we get to question time. However appealing that may well be to some people, it would seem to me that that is not the appropriate way to run the House. The Minister will have time out, also. I am not sure what other questions he will be answering, but we will do an equivalent to what I have decreed in terms of the tariff before. The Minister will remain until he has finished answering this question, unless members would like him to go without answering the question.
Hon Phil Goff: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. First of all, I apologise for the interjection, but your proposal creates some problems for me. I am answering question Nos 1, 3 5, 7, 8, and 11.
Hon Richard Prebble: It does create a problem, because it appears that Mr Goff actually is the Government today. [Interruption] Well, some might take some comfort from that. There is another alternative, Madam Speaker, which I do not think would reflect on your authority, and that would be to call it quits and allow Mr Goff and Mr Brownlee to stay. Part of the reason I think you could do that is that there is a complete difference, I think, between a person who makes a loud interjection that the whole House hears during a point of order, and someone who makes—how can I put it—an almost involuntary statement. I think that Mr Goff’s statement and Mr Brownlee’s statement were both in that category, and that might help. Also, you could use Mr Hunt’s guidance—you can exercise a lighter rule on Thursdays.
Madam SPEAKER: I think the member has made a sensible suggestion, so both members can stay for this question time. But I do make this point. I know it is Thursday and members are all anxious to go, but could we please make some progress by keeping the level of interventions to the appropriate times—not during the asking of a question and not during points of order. During the answers, of course there can be interjections, but not to the point where the answer cannot be heard. Can we please make some progress.
Peter Brown: Will the Minister acting on behalf of the Prime Minister acknowledge that members of the public and Opposition MPs—and none more so than my colleague Ron Mark—have expressed concerns about the 111 call centre on many, many occasions; and, if he does acknowledge that, will he make a commitment this afternoon that in future the Minister of Police will listen more seriously and genuinely to concerns raised about police operations, or will it be a case of the same old, same old—not listen to anybody, and call a report after a personal tragedy and see what the hell happens then? Which is it?
Hon PHIL GOFF: What I will acknowledge is that following the Bentley case and the Iraena Asher case it was clear that the system was not working as it should. The commissioner, first of all, acknowledged that by setting up this review, which, I think, was a very good review. The Minister acknowledged that by undertaking to fund whatever the review required to happen so that the public could have confidence in the system. I think that both of those actions were appropriate. We are now seeing the dividends from that. The system is being fixed, and $45.5 million has been put aside to ensure that that happens.
Peter Brown: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. That was a full and comprehensive answer, but it was dealing with the past. I asked the Minister about the future. I asked whether there would be a change in the attitude of the Minister of Police in listening to concerns that are raised on this side of the House. It is a simple question.
Hon PHIL GOFF: The Minister said before that he was prepared to work on the basis of the objective findings of a review, and he has done that. He did the right thing in the past, and I support him doing that in the future.
Stephen Franks: Will the Prime Minister now instruct the Minister of Police to go on his knees to Maggie Bentley with an abject apology for calling the 111 system’s handling of her desperate calls “textbook” and “exemplary”, and what more would it take for the Prime Minister to call for the Minister’s resignation when he fobbed off all questions in this House about Maggie Bentley’s case to the report, when the report does not mention it at all, and when she tells me today that she has never heard from the Minister’s office, that she has never heard from the commissioner’s office, and that she has never had any inquiry at all from any member of the New Zealand Police about that complaint?
Hon PHIL GOFF: Far from fobbing off the concern, the Minister has taken steps that will see an unprecedented $45.5 million invested in the service. In relation to the question of textbook requirements for police responding to 111 calls, the textbook requirement was that if there is a dangerous individual, then another person should not be put in the position of putting his or her life at risk in the meantime while the police are responding to the call.
Marc Alexander: Has the scathing review of the national management structures of the police 111 system, which are credited in the report as being “essentially defunct with low staffing levels, woeful and inadequate training, self-defeating, inefficient, and risky” changed the Prime Minister’s mind about the level of confidence she has in the Minister and in the Commissioner of Police; if not, what would?
Hon PHIL GOFF: In the interests of accuracy, I think the whole of the report of the review and its summation should be brought to the House’s attention. The review stated that we had a world-class technology system, it stated that we had dedicated and committed staff, it stated that the commissioner had already undertaken steps to address the problems, and—and this is most important—it stated that the system was readily fixable. It will be fixed and it will be world-class, just as the report indicated that it can be.
Dr Muriel Newman: Does the Prime Minister agree that the report into the emergency 111 system identifies that the serious problems were not the result of inadequate resources or technology failures, but of management and leadership; if so, when does she intend to apologise for leaving a broken-down Minister in charge of the vital police portfolio?
Hon PHIL GOFF: The comment made by the member does not follow. If the issue was not about resourcing but was about management issues, then that is operational and that is clearly outside the scope of the Minister to intervene. One aspect of the recommendations, recommendation 17, was about resourcing. It made the point that resourcing was just one issue. On the issue that the Minister clearly does have responsibility for, he has met his responsibility by acquiring the money needed to fix the system.
Marc Alexander: Can the Prime Minister explain why the Government has chosen to advance all her intrusive, busybody, social engineering policies while core State responsibilities, such as the safety and security concerns of the public—concerns long recognised by anyone who had even a marginal interest in law and order issues—have been all but marginalised, as is clearly outlined by the damning review of the police 111 system?
Hon PHIL GOFF: Of course, the whole emphasis has been on the safety and security of the public. That is why we have 1,000 additional members of the police force and why we have $200 million a year extra being spent. That is an indication of the commitment of this Government to better policing and to the safety and security of the public.
Stephen Franks: Will the Prime Minister now instruct the Minister of Police and the Attorney-General to apologise to those people who have been hounded to bankruptcy by pointless prosecutions for defending their families against criminal intruders, and reimburse them their legal costs now that we have independent proof that they cannot rely on police commander control or the 111 system to protect them?
Hon PHIL GOFF: I find it bizarre for anybody, but particularly for a lawyer, to suggest the Prime Minister should interfere with a judicial process where a court has made a decision.
Gerry Brownlee: Does the Prime Minister think that Mr Hawkins’ refusal to take any responsibility for the 111 crisis is a shining example of the Government’s lack of commitment to the new standards of accountability she so loudly heralded upon becoming Prime Minister?
Hon PHIL GOFF: The Minister of Police can be accountable. He can be accountable for the additional $200 million a year being spent on the police, he can be accountable for the 1,000 extra staff, he can be accountable for the lowest level of crime in this country in 23 years, and he can be accountable for the fact that the police now have a better rate of crime resolution than they have had at any time in 21 years.
Gerry Brownlee: I seek leave to table a document that shows that if one does not make the calls, one does not make the sales, and, similarly, that if one does not get the calls, one cannot make the arrests. That is how the Government has got its crime rates down.
Madam SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table a document. What document states that? The document has not been clearly identified.
Gerry Brownlee: If the House gives me leave, I will go away and write it.
Madam SPEAKER: The member is starting to trifle with the House. That is an example of being disruptive. Members will settle down.
Question No. 2 to Minister
PETER BROWN (Deputy Leader—NZ First): My question is to the Minister of Health, but I note that she is not in the House, so I seek leave to defer it until she is.
Madam SPEAKER: Leave is sought to defer the question. Is there any objection? There is.
Health, Ministry—Physiotherapy Industry
2. PETER BROWN (Deputy Leader—NZ First) to the Minister of Health: Does the Ministry of Health monitor the physiotherapy industry; if not, why not?
Hon MITA RIRINUI (Associate Minister of Health), on behalf of the Minister of Health: No. The responsibility lies with the Physiotherapy Board of New Zealand, which is an independent statutory board under the Health Practitioners Competence Assurance Act.
Peter Brown: Is the Minister aware that many physiotherapists are being treated like crooks and fraudsters in this country, with no evidence whatsoever, and if she is not aware of that could she make herself aware of it and investigate what the background is?
Hon MITA RIRINUI: No. But if the member is referring to a specific or personal case, I would be more than happy to hear from him and respond to him formally.
Peter Brown: Is the Minister aware that because of the roughshod treatment that has been dished out by the Accident Compensation Corporation (ACC), with the full knowledge of the Minister for ACC, many physiotherapists are contemplating leaving the industry, as several already have; if she is not aware, would she take positive action to address this?
Hon MITA RIRINUI: The positive action that I will take is to refer the matter to the Minister for ACC.
Peter Brown: Is the Minister aware that the Blair Government is putting a high priority on physiotherapy, and encouraging more and more people into the industry, but that we here, through ACC, with the Minister’s knowledge, are doing the exact reverse; if he is not aware of that, will he personally, with the Minister of Health, sit down and discuss these issues with physiotherapist organisations?
Hon MITA RIRINUI: I am not aware of that, but I would be more than happy to sit down and discuss these matters with physiotherapists.
Police, Minister—Piha Incident
3. Hon TONY RYALL (National—Bay Of Plenty) to the Minister of Police: Does he stand by all the answers he has given in the House since the Iraena Asher case, now that the report on the review into the 111 system has been released?
Hon PHIL GOFF (Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade), on behalf of the Minister of Police: Yes.
Hon Tony Ryall: Why does the Minister stand by his comment in the House that there are no ghost squads in the New Zealand Police, in light of the communications centre report that states that the police are switching calls to dummy units?
Hon PHIL GOFF: The Minister of Police made it clear at the time that there are Intel nodes. They take calls that do not require urgent—
Hon Dr Nick Smith: What’s the difference between a dummy and a ghost?
Hon PHIL GOFF: If the member would pause and listen, I will give him the answer. There are Intel—[Interruption] It is not good enough for the member to keep interjecting. If he wants to hear the answer, he will shut up and listen. The Intel node is there to take calls from the police that are not urgent calls and that do not need immediate follow-up, but that are important to log in on an intelligence basis, so that the police can determine where crimes are happening and can respond with their overall strategy to ensure that where there are hot spots, they give attention to them.
Martin Gallagher: Has the Minister received any reports on cuts to 111 communications centre staff?
Hon PHIL GOFF: Yes, I have received a report, and it is quite disturbing. I have a report here, dated 23 May 1999, in which the Police Association revealed plans to cut 285 non-sworn staff, including those who answer 111 calls. That, of course, was under a National Government. When Tony Ryall—the man now complaining about the inadequacy of resources—was Minister of Justice, he voted to support a cut in the staff who answered 111 calls.
Hon Tony Ryall: When the Minister of Police said on television last night—
Hon PHIL GOFF: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I am sorry to interrupt the member, but one of his fellow front-benchers interjected and said that I was making that up. [Interruption] He has just repeated that, and he is has just interrupted my point of order as well.
Madam SPEAKER: That is true!
Hon PHIL GOFF: I seek leave, then, at the end of this question, to table the document wherein the Police Association revealed plans to cut 285 non-sworn staff, including those who answered 111 calls.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: Point of order—
Madam SPEAKER: We have the seeking of leave to table a document. I will take that first, and then the point of order.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: I seek clarification. Where in the document does it state, as he said, that Tony Ryall, the Minister of Justice at the time, voted for that? There is no evidence of that in the document the Minister has.
Madam SPEAKER: That is not relevant to the tabling of the document, so we will deal with that matter first. Leave has been sought to table that document. Is there any objection? There is objection. It will not be tabled.
Hon Tony Ryall: When the Minister of Police said on television last night that the findings in the report were “the fault of the police in many ways”, which police was he referring to?
Hon PHIL GOFF: The report, of course, makes it clear that most of the areas that need remedying are operational areas. Where the responsibility is that of the Government in terms of resourcing, that money has already been granted—the $45.5 million plus $3.4 million for capital expenditure. I applaud the Minister of Police for securing that money.
Hon Tony Ryall: Has this Minister of Police not shown himself to be completely unworthy of the post and an embarrassment to his colleagues; and if he had one ounce of integrity, would he not go?
Hon PHIL GOFF: The answer to that is no, and at the end of the Minister of Police’s tenure, he will not have a referendum by the public of New Zealand, as happened embarrassingly at the end of Tony Ryall’s term as Minister of Justice in 1999, when the public voted 92 percent in favour of no confidence in the justice policies led at that time by Mr Ryall.
Marc Alexander: What responsibility does the Minister of Police accept for his lack of leadership in tackling systemic resource and management deficits in the 111 system debacle, and is not his praise of the commissioner’s performance simply a case of the rat clinging to flotsam while the police ship sinks?
Hon PHIL GOFF: I think that it is wrong for any member to suggest that our police force is not one of the best police forces in the world. That does not mean to say it is perfect. It has its faults, but it has an openness whereby it can itself ask for an independent review of a system that was not working, and then commit itself to act on that review. The Minister of Police has been far more successful than any of his predecessors, as he has been able to get nearly $50 million to give us the best system in the world. When the report’s recommendations are implemented, we will have just that.
Ron Mark: Following on from the Minister’s own answers, if we have the best police force in the world, and if we have the best systems in the world, where does the fault really lie: is it with the Government as a whole for the failure to provide the resources the police have consistently said they need, is it with the Minister, or is it possibly the fault of the citizens of New Zealand for ever daring to have any confidence in this Government or in the 111 system?
Hon PHIL GOFF: The people of this country have every right to expect that there will be an effective, an efficient, and a swift response to genuine emergencies when a 111 call is made. The review report makes the point, as the member will know from reading it, that the problems that we faced in New Zealand were very similar to problems facing other police forces around the world in the area of emergency call centres. I noted with pleasure the statement made today by the chair of the review panel that he congratulated the commissioner on responding so effectively to the recommendations of the report.
Early Childhood Education—Quality
4. HELEN DUNCAN (Labour) to the Minister of Education: What steps is he taking to improve the quality of early childhood teaching?
Hon TREVOR MALLARD (Minister of Education): New teacher registration requirements mean that early childhood education centres must now have at least one registered teacher present at all times. By 2012 teachers will need to be qualified and registered, although 30 percent may be in training. To help centres meet these new requirements, an additional 200 TeachNZ scholarships for prospective early childhood education teachers will now be available for July 2005 enrolments. The reason for this is that the scheme has been so popular early in the year that we would run out of places if they were not made available. So they are on top of the 700 that the House has previously agreed to. The scholarships cover fees and could be worth up to $20,000 over the full duration of study.
Helen Duncan: What additional steps is the Minister taking to increase participation in quality early childhood education?
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: From July 2007 all 3 and 4-year-olds will be entitled to up to 20 hours per week free early childhood education in teacher-led, community-based services. This is probably the most significant change in our early childhood system in the last 50 years. Our Government is committed to giving every child the best possible start in life and our early childhood policies are world-leading in reflecting that.
Hon Brian Donnelly: Is it not true that following settlement of the kindergarten teachers’ collective agreement, all the incentives are geared towards early childhood teachers studying for degrees; an outcome that exacerbates the circumstances that we heard about yesterday at select committee, where new graduates do not know how to wipe a child’s nose, but have in-depth knowledge and understanding of the works of Karl Marx?
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: One would be tempted to say that it is a good thing to know that they could read.
5. GERRY BROWNLEE (Deputy Leader—National) to the Prime Minister: Why did she agree to prepare a brief of evidence in relation to proceedings between Peter Doone and the publisher of the Sunday Star-Times?
Hon PHIL GOFF (Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade), on behalf of the Prime Minister: I was advised that if I did not provide a brief of evidence, I would be served with a witness subpoena. On that basis I agreed to provide a brief.
Gerry Brownlee: Was she threatened with a subpoena, because the only reason the Sunday Star-Times was being sued was that it printed an untrue statement on the basis of her having told the reporter and editor—not once, not twice, but five times—that the statement was true and that they should hang tough?
Hon PHIL GOFF: There were two questions. Firstly, the Prime Minister was not threatened with a subpoena. She was advised that one would be served. [Interruption] There is a difference. Secondly, the Prime Minister has said repeatedly that the words used were contested. I invite the member to read the police report on this matter, where he would see that the words actually used were contested by a number of different people, with a number of different variations said. The critical point was not what was precisely said; it was what the then Commissioner of Police did. Both the report made by the police themselves and the report made by the Police Complaints Authority said that this was undesirable and inappropriate, and that is why Commissioner Doone resigned.
Gerry Brownlee: Has the Prime Minister seen an article in the Molesworth & Featherston publication, written by a well-known cheerleader for the Government, that alleges that she wilfully misled the Sunday Star-Times on five separate occasions when she confirmed the accuracy of a statement that was never spoken, and does she agree that that is a true representation of her involvement in this case?
Hon PHIL GOFF: No, and no.
Ron Mark: How can the House have any confidence in the explanations the Prime Minister has given thus far with respect to this incident when we in the Opposition now know that in the high-speed run from Waimate to Christchurch—an incident of which she has said in this House that she did not know what was happening and she had her head down and was busy working—her car was travelling so close behind the escort vehicle that the front of it has had to be repainted and its front windscreen has had to be replaced, because of the excessive stone damage caused during the high-speed run by the vehicle in front throwing stones on hers; how can we accept her words when we now know that she could not possibly not have known that she was speeding at that time, something she has denied all the time?
Hon PHIL GOFF: Knowing the Prime Minister as I do, I know that she would have been hard at work in the back seat, using every minute of her time for the good of this country.
Gerry Brownlee: If we are to believe the answer the Prime Minister gave to the first supplementary question I asked today, why did she not clarify the situation with the Sunday Star-Times during the two telephone conversations she had with its representatives after it had published what the Prime Minister now agrees were words that were never spoken?
Hon PHIL GOFF: As the Prime Minister has said many times, the words that were alleged were contested. She made that absolutely clear to the Sunday Star-Times.
Rodney Hide: Does she still see a clear line, as she explained to Lianne Dalziel, between making a misleading statement and making an untrue statement, or is this a clear line that she, as Prime Minister, by definition can never cross?
Hon PHIL GOFF: The Prime Minister has never made a deliberately misleading statement in this regard.
Health and Disability Assistance—Policy Announcements
6. GEORGINA BEYER (Labour—Wairarapa) to the Associate Minister for Social Development and Employment: What announcements are being made today about assistance to people with disabilities or ill health?
Hon RUTH DYSON (Associate Minister for Social Development and Employment (CYF)): I am delighted that we are investing $27.7 million over the next 4 years for a major expansion of the new service for sickness and invalids benefit recipients that has already helped thousands of people move into work. This brings the total investment in the new service to $127.8 million over 4 years. We have already seen through this service a 13 percent increase in the number of people leaving sickness and invalids benefits since the service pilot began. It is clear that many people on these two benefits want to work, and now they are getting the support they need to do so.
Georgina Beyer: How will this additional funding improve the new service for sickness and invalids benefit recipients?
Hon RUTH DYSON: The funding will allow for work assessments to prepare 2,500 people a year for a long-term return to work, increased support for disabled job seekers and their employers, increased payments to designated doctors, and a nationwide roll-out of the programme enabling doctors to seek a second opinion to better assess sickness benefit eligibility. This is on top of existing features such as slashing case manager workloads and introducing Providing Access to Health Solutions in five regions.
Judith Collins: If the Minister is spending almost $30 million on more administration and more programmes to get 2,500 people off the sickness and invalids benefits, just how much more is she planning to spend on the staggering 120,000 working-age adults who reckon they are too sick to work, when under her watch their numbers have already grown by 39 percent?
Hon RUTH DYSON: Despite my outlining more detail of the expenditure in my answer to the previous supplementary question, the member was extremely selective in highlighting just one of many points. We have seen a 13 percent increase in the number of people moving from sickness and invalids benefits into work since the pilots began. I note also that under the last National Government the number of people on sickness and invalids benefits actually grew by 69 percent and 84 percent respectively.
Sue Kedgley: When will all New Zealanders experiencing depression or similar mental health conditions be able to benefit from the Providing Access to Health Solutions programme, or PATHS, and why is this key part of the new service only available in four regions rather than across the country?
Hon RUTH DYSON: I appreciate the member’s support for the continued expansion of this programme, and I can assure her that that is definitely on our programme.
Police, Commissioner—Prime Minister’s Statement
7. Hon TONY RYALL (National—Bay Of Plenty), on behalf of GERRY BROWNLEE (Deputy Leader—National) to the Prime Minister: Does she stand by her statement that “Mr Robinson is a strong and principled Commissioner”; if so, why?
Hon PHIL GOFF (Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade), on behalf of the Prime Minister: Yes, because that is what I believe and that is his reputation.
Hon Tony Ryall: Does the Prime Minister have full confidence in the Commissioner of Police and his performance?
Hon PHIL GOFF: Generally, yes.
Hon Tony Ryall: Will the Prime Minister continue with the “Helengrad” defence of holding no one accountable for gross failures within her administration?
Hon PHIL GOFF: The Government does find people accountable, and where action needs to be taken against them, it is.
Jill Pettis: Does the Prime Minister believe that the Commissioner of Police acted appropriately when confronted with evidence of problems with the 111 system?
Hon PHIL GOFF: Yes. The commissioner took the appropriate action in commissioning an independent review of the communications centre when serious problems became apparent. He took appropriate action in raising with the Minister of Police the need for additional resources specifically to address the problems highlighted by the review, and he has taken appropriate action now in committing himself to fix those problems. The Government is supporting him in that task. That is why it has granted nearly $50 million to ensure that we have a world-best 111 communications centre system.
Hon Tony Ryall: Which part of the commissioner’s performance is the Prime Minister unhappy with?
Hon PHIL GOFF: Nobody is perfect. Every chief executive officer does some things very well and other things less well. One makes a judgment on a person on the basis of the totality of his or her performance. The Government has been pleased with the totality of this commissioner’s performance.
111 System—Police, Commissioner
8. RON MARK (NZ First) to the Minister of Police: Will he be asking his police commissioner to resign in light of the scathing report into the 111 emergency call system; if not, why not?
Hon PHIL GOFF (Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade), on behalf of the Minister of Police: No, because the New Zealand Police, under the current commissioner, has overall been very effective in delivering record reductions in crime rates in New Zealand.
Ron Mark: How does the Minister expect the public’s confidence in the 111 emergency system to be restored when neither he nor the police commissioner, who has had a $70,000 per year pay rise and a 2-year extension to his contract, and who has known about these failings and the potential for disaster for 3 years, did anything, and when neither the Minister nor the commissioner has accepted responsibility?
Hon PHIL GOFF: I expect the public to have confidence in the system, because an independent and comprehensive review was ordered. The money was provided to implement the recommendations of that review, and the police commissioner not only has committed himself to implementing the recommendations but has already begun that process.
Tim Barnett: Is the Minister satisfied that the Commissioner of Police has delivered results?
Hon PHIL GOFF: I am satisfied that the commissioner has delivered results. He has taken the $200 million in extra funding that the Government has given him, he has taken the 1,000 extra staff members that the Government has given him, and he has applied those resources effectively to deliver crime reductions that mean that we now have a crime rate that is the lowest in 23 years.
Ron Mark: Then how does the Minister explain his comments on the radio this morning, when he said that the Government makes available the appropriate resources, that it is up to the police to provide the services, and that 99.9 percent accuracy in the emergency 111 system is not good enough; how does the Minister explain his criticising and chastising of the police this morning on the radio, when he is now saying that they are doing a wonderful job and that the commissioner should not be fired?
Hon PHIL GOFF: Easily, because overall our police force is doing a very good job. I, along with most New Zealanders, have had a gutsful of Opposition members who continually belittle and demean the police instead of getting behind them and supporting them. They are doing a great job overall, but that does not mean that everything they do is absolutely right. Where they are not doing things right, we expect an improvement. This review will deliver the improvement that we expect.
Hon Tony Ryall: Is not one of the reasons the Government is so happy to hang with the Commissioner of Police his compliance with the Government’s public relations demands, such that he would release this report, dated 12 May, a day early to try to help the Government, under the cover of the foot and mouth issue?
Hon PHIL GOFF: The member has just given an example of the sorts of attacks on the integrity of our top civil servants that I was referring to before. The member should know that that report was brought forward because the police senior team was gathered in Wellington on that day. It was released on that occasion. Whatever day it was to be released on, it was going to get the headlines it has received.
Ron Mark: I seek the leave of the House to table a quantity of press releases and reports from Mr Goff and Mr Mallard that criticise and attack top public servants like Christine Rankin, Peter Doone, and Mr Martin.
Madam SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table an assorted array of press statements. Is there any objection? There is.
9. RODNEY HIDE (Leader—ACT) to the Associate Minister of Education: Does he stand by his reported comments that: “Cyber bullying was nasty and had to stop,”, and is his policy one of zero tolerance to bullying in schools?
Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE (Associate Minister of Education): Yes, I stand by those comments, and I am sure that all members of the House would agree that bullying in schools is a problem that has no place in our educational institutions.
Rodney Hide: Is it correct that the Minister used to cane students particularly hard while teaching at Bayfield High School, and throw tennis balls at them in the classroom if they misbehaved; if so, how can he have any credibility in speaking out against bullying?
Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: Yes, I did use corporal punishment, in line with the school policy of the time, but, like many of my colleagues, I have come to believe that corporal punishment is a totally inappropriate form of discipline.
Lynne Pillay: What programmes has the Government introduced to increase cyber safety for students?
Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: I was delighted on Monday this week to attend the first of a series of around 200 NetSafe workshops taking place in 19 centres around New Zealand. That meeting was in Palmerston North. That workshop was an extension of a successful pilot series of 30 workshops held last year. The Government has provided $300,000 to enable these workshops to be delivered across the country. In addition to boards of trustees, workshops will be delivered to other key school personnel, school principals, cyber safety managers, information and communications technology managers, and library personnel. Members will be pleased to know that the NetSafe programme is world leading, and that educational officials from the US state of Georgia will soon be visiting New Zealand with a view to establishing the programme there.
The programme is also most significantly supported by Vodaphone. I am further advised that they are the first mobile phone providers in the world to have joined in such a comprehensive programme to eliminate text bullying.
Judith Collins: Did he ever tie boys’ hands together and jam a tennis ball into their mouths as punishment for talking when he was a teacher at Bayfield High School, and if these allegations prove to be correct does he believe they compromise his ability to promote an anti-bullying campaign in schools, or is that just corporal punishment?
Jill Pettis: You sat on that for months.
Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: I find such allegations ridiculous, and I refute them.
Rodney Hide: Did he ever smack a pupil with the back of his hand, sufficiently hard to make his nose bleed, at a school camp in the Catlins; if so, is that the reason, along with throwing tennis balls at pupils in the classroom, that he has the reputation of being a terrible bully, and that, in fact, his students to this day still suffer from his treatment?
Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: That is a disgraceful allegation and I refute it completely.
Judith Collins: When the chief Government whip called out “You sat on that for months.”, does that mean that the Prime Minister is aware of the allegations swirling around this Minister?
Madam SPEAKER: That is not a point of order.
Judith Collins: It is a supplementary question.[Interruption]
Madam SPEAKER: Sorry. So the supplementary question is to—
Judith Collins: Does that mean that he told the Prime Minister of these allegations?
Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. [Interruption]
Madam SPEAKER: No. Would everyone sit down please. So we had a point of order that then turned into a supplementary question. Is that correct?
Judith Collins: I did not call out “point of order”. It was a supplementary question.
Madam SPEAKER: I apologise.
Hon Ken Shirley: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. The chief Government whip was heard to call out on several occasions: “You sat on that for a long time.”, obviously, referring to you, as Speaker. You did not bring her to heel. We know that her colleagues refer to her as “paint stripper”; her voice is particularly penetrating, and I do ask that she be asked to withdraw and apologise.
Madam SPEAKER: I thank the member for drawing that to my attention. Could we please now have the supplementary question.
Judith Collins: When the chief Government whip called out before words to the effect that “you’ve sat on that for a long time”, does he believe that he has advised the Prime Minister of the allegations surrounding his conduct as a teacher at Bayfield High School?
Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: I have no responsibility for what the senior Government whip says. As I said earlier, I find the allegations made by the member opposite ridiculous, and I refute them.
Jill Pettis: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I just want to clarify to the person—who has now taken my title away from me!—that she has completely misrepresented my interjection, and I want to make that abundantly clear.
Madam SPEAKER: I am not sure that was a point of order, either. I do not want to get into tit for tat points of order on this.
Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. The Minister was asked effectively whether the Prime Minister was aware of these allegations. Certainly, the less-than-spontaneous response from the senior Government whip has indicated that. Although the Minister may want to refute those allegations, and that is his prerogative, it is of interest to the House to know whether the Prime Minister is aware of the allegations, as far as he is aware.
Madam SPEAKER: The Minister is not answerable for whether the Prime Minister is aware. In answering the question, however, he did address the point that was the substance of the question, or was part of the question also as to refuting the allegations that were made. I think the answer did address the question.
Rodney Hide: Will he resign as Minister if it transpires that, indeed, he did throw tennis balls at his students in the classroom, and tie their hands up and stuff tennis balls in their mouths, as punishment for talking?
Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: As I said, I refute the allegations made about what is quite clearly illegal behaviour, as such. If the member has any such information he should take that to the police.
Rodney Hide: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I note the Minister did not address my question. I specifically asked him, given that he has denied the allegations several times, whether he would resign if they turn out to be true.
Madam SPEAKER: The Minister, in answering the question, did address it by refuting the fundamental premise of your question. So it was addressed.
Rodney Hide: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. When you interrupted—
Madam SPEAKER: Is the member contesting my ruling?
Rodney Hide: Not at all.
Madam SPEAKER: Is this a new point of order?
Rodney Hide: Yes.
Madam SPEAKER: What is it then?
Rodney Hide: When you ruled on my point of order, I think the Minister was getting up to answer the question properly, and he sat back down. I wonder whether you could allow him to stand up and answer the question.
Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: I am quite happy to confirm, and repeat, my statement earlier that I have not been guilty of, or involved in, any inappropriate behaviour in my 24 years as a secondary school teacher. As well, I am not aware of any complaint of any kind.
Judith Collins: When he said: “Stuff like that can come back to haunt you.”, was he speaking of himself, or of his students at Bayfield High School?
Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: I was referring to the article that was the subject of the Otago Daily Times report about cyber bullying 2 days ago.
10. DARREN HUGHES (Labour—Otaki) to the Minister for Courts: What recent announcements has he made regarding funding for the improvement of court buildings?
Hon RICK BARKER (Minister for Courts): Today I announced additional funding of $39 million, targeted at five key buildings and property projects. The new Budget money is part of a long-term capital works programme to bring our courts back up to a modern standard and to make them a safe place to visit. The funding will provide new courthouses to replace the Levin and Invercargill courts, while the courts at Hastings and Manukau will be overhauled and expanded. The package will also include provision for the funding of land purchases at New Plymouth. It continues the Government’s commitment to improving court buildings.
Darren Hughes: Will those five upgrades, including the $6 million for a new courthouse at Levin, include improvements to courtroom security?
Hon RICK BARKER: Yes. The upgrade at Levin was welcomed by the local member and the local people. I can also say that the improvements will be a continuation of developments to provide the public with one point of entry, to provide court security staff with a greater degree of control. One point of entry will mean that security will be much like it is at airports. Courts will have a screening point, at which point they will have a greater level of assurance about staff safety and the safety of the judiciary. That is a significant improvement and is an advancement in providing a modern, safe court environment.
11. ROD DONALD (Co-Leader—Green) to the Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade: What advice, if any, has he given New Zealand Cricket on the actions that it could take to ensure the proposed Black Caps tour of Zimbabwe could not be exploited for political purposes by the Mugabe regime?
Hon PHIL GOFF (Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade): I have advised New Zealand Cricket of the Government’s concern that if it decides to go ahead with the tour, it may be drawn into situations where it is wrongly portrayed as endorsing the Mugabe regime. I have referred New Zealand Cricket to the actions that the English cricket team took when touring Zimbabwe last year, to avoid that possibility.
Rod Donald: Can the Minister confirm that the Prime Minister’s personal view is now the official view of the Government—that is, to quote from the Minister’s letter to me: “It would be preferable that the cricket team not travel to Zimbabwe.”?
Hon PHIL GOFF: Yes.
Keith Locke: Does he agree with the Prime Minister that New Zealand Cricket should not be going to Zimbabwe either on political or security grounds; and has he drawn New Zealand Cricket’s attention to the official advice on the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade website that, because of political unrest, independent travel to Zimbabwe is strongly advised against and that visitors should avoid public gatherings, which presumably include cricket games?
Hon PHIL GOFF: I am sure New Zealand Cricket is aware of the travel advisory, which is as the member has outlined—although it does talk about independent travel, which has a different connotation, of course, from travel by a cricket side.
Luamanuvao Winnie Laban: Has the Government sought to direct New Zealand Cricket not to go to Zimbabwe; if not, why not?
Hon PHIL GOFF: No, because no New Zealand Government has ever sought to direct New Zealand sportspeople or teams as to where they should travel or whom they should play sports with outside New Zealand. We are also conscious of the obligations that New Zealand Cricket has in respect of the rules set by the International Cricket Council, and the consequences it would face if it were to breach those rules.
Hon Richard Prebble: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. This is probably not strictly a point of order, but I would like to help the Minister. What about Robert Muldoon and the Moscow Olympics? Is he sure he wants to say that no Government will ever direct them?
Madam SPEAKER: That is not a point of order. The member is right; he has analysed that correctly.
Keith Locke: Does the Minister agree with the Prime Minister, who told the University of Cape Town in 2002 that “dubious ethics” were involved every time any New Zealand representative team played in South Africa while apatheid prevailed; and does he agree that it would similarly be a case of dubious ethics if the Black Caps tour of Zimbabee proceeds; if not, why not?
Hon PHIL GOFF: The answer to the first question is yes, and to the second question no. The reason for the difference is that there is a difference between playing sport against a team that was inherently part of the apatheid system and chosen on apatheid grounds, and the Zimbabwe cricket team, many members of which, I suspect, strongly oppose what their own Government is doing.
Rod Donald: What advice does he have for Black Caps captain Stephen Fleming on why the tour should not go ahead, in the light of Fleming’s statement that if the information he reads about Zimbabwe suggests that it is not wise to go and that a boycott will make a difference, he will consider pulling out?
Hon PHIL GOFF: Of course, any individual player can make his own choice in that regard. That is different from the team as a whole deciding not to tour, in terms of the consequences from the International Cricket Board point of view.
Rod Donald: Has the Minister sought legal advice on what steps the New Zealand Government could take to enable New Zealand Cricket to invoke the force majeure clause of its contract with other national cricket boards, so that its withdrawal from the tour would be acceptable non-compliance and therefore not subject to financial penalty; if not, why not?
Hon PHIL GOFF: No, because that is a matter for New Zealand Cricket itself.
Rod Donald: I seek leave to table the force majeure clause of the contract, which talks about any action taken by a Government or public authority of any kind, including, without limitation, not granting a consent, exemption, approval, or clearance, or imposing any restriction or prohibition.
Question No. 1 to Minister
RON MARK (NZ First): I seek leave of the House to table a document that shows Vote Police between 1970 and 2004, including the time from 1997 to 1998 when the Rt Hon Winston Peters was Treasurer, and when Vote Police was increased both times.
Hon PHIL GOFF (Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade): I seek leave to table a document that shows in at least 3 years under a National Government—and one of those was a National - New Zealand First Government—the Budget-night appropriation was down on the previous year’s expenditure.
12. JUDY TURNER (Deputy Leader—United Future) to the Minister of Health: Is she satisfied that hospitals have sufficient resources to ensure that New Zealanders requiring outpatient services get the treatment they need; if so, why?
Hon PETE HODGSON (Associate Minister of Health), on behalf of the Minister of Health: Yes, this year this Government will provide over $7.5 billion to district health boards. This money is fairly distributed between district health boards, according to the relative needs of their populations, and the cost of providing health and disability support services to meet those needs.
Judy Turner: Does the Minister consider that when patients at Wellington Hospital renal unit have been having their dialysis hours cut virtually in half and have been suffering debilitating symptoms, it is acceptable that staffing levels are used as an excuse when it takes as little as 6 weeks to train patients with no medical background in home dialysis, and surely skilled and trained nurses could be brought up to speed in no more than a couple of weeks?
Hon PETE HODGSON: Capital and Coast District Health Board advises that it has experienced a significant increase in the need for dialysis, that more staff are, therefore, needed; that a number of those staff have already begun; that it will be back to its new, bigger than before, complement on or about 3 June; and that it is unaware of any acute readmissions as a result of unmet demand for dialysis.
Sue Kedgley: Is the Minister aware of very successful trials of nurse-run outpatient clinics for conditions such as diabetes and respiratory illnesses at the Lower Hutt district health board, and does she agree that using these sorts of nurse-run clinics more extensively right throughout New Zealand would be one way of ensuring that more New Zealanders needing outpatient services get the treatment that they need?
Hon PETE HODGSON: No, I regret that I am not aware.
Judy Turner: Does the Minister concede that the level of further training for an already skilled nurse, so that he or she can work in the area of dialysis, is little more than a couple of weeks; if so, why is she prepared to tolerate 12 months of perpetual excuse of not enough staff in the Wellington Hospital renal unit?
Hon PETE HODGSON: I am not aware of a 12-month staff shortage, but I am aware that the Capital and Coast District Health Board will have a very large complement of dialysis staff on or before 3 June.
Judy Turner: Does the Minister consider dialysis a vital life support procedure, and that reducing it by a third, and having patients turn yellow, puff up, and pass out by the time they are on dialysis, is acceptable, and when will the patients there receive reassurance that they will not have to live week by week never knowing what level of treatment they will get, so that they can supply their employers, for instance, with clear messages regarding their wellness to work?
Hon PETE HODGSON: As I said earlier, Capital and Coast District Health Board advises that it is unaware of any acute readmissions as a result of unmet demand for dialysis. I am aware of a woman—maybe there are more than one—who was able to make it to work on Saturday before last and has medical advice to that effect. I am sure that it does affect lives to some extent. The answer to the last part of the member’s question is that it will be on or before 3 June.