Questions & Answers for Oral Answer 17 May 2005
Tuesday, 17 May
Questions for Oral Answer
1. Student Allowances—Ministry's
2. National Certificate of Educational Achievement—Scholarship Exams
3. Rural Communities—Government Services
4. Immigration, Minister—Confidence
5. Legal Representation—Access
7. Banking—Interest-charging Procedures
8. Bullying, Alleged—Prime Minister's Statement
9. Modern Apprenticeships Scheme—Progress
10. 111 System—Adequacy
11. Information and Communications Technology—New Zealand Usage
12. Fishing Industry—Employment Conditions
Questions for Oral Answer
Questions to Ministers
Student Allowances—Ministry's Administration
1. NANDOR TANCZOS (Green) to the Minister for Social Development and Employment: Does he have confidence in his ministry’s administration of student allowances?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY (Minister for Social Development and Employment): Yes, I do. I am very pleased with the way that StudyLink has turned around the administration of both student allowances and study loans following the disaster we inherited in the year 2000. We commissioned an independent review by Karen Erenstrom Associates and committed $4.9 million in additional funding over 4 years, so that its recommendations could be implemented. Student satisfaction has risen substantially as a result. This is just one of the many instances where we have had to repair the damage done to the basic provision of Government services by the previous National Government.
Nandor Tanczos: Is he satisfied with the ministry’s position that if a student earns 1c over the allowable income limit of $135.13 a week, that student loses his or her entire student allowance for that week; if so, why?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: The thresholds were last set in 1995, during the period of the student discussion document. We have heard a lot from students that they would like to see those thresholds changed. Policy is set by my colleague the Minister of Education, who, I am sure, has listened very closely to those students.
Moana Mackey: What improvement has StudyLink made to ensure a better service for students who are applying for financial assistance?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: The recently introduced StudyWise pilot is helping students to make better decisions about options for financing their studies while they minimise the debt that they incur. StudyLink has also introduced a “highway to your future” information service for senior secondary students and their parents. StudyLink now enables students to apply for student loans and allowances online via the StudyLink website. During the years’ 2004-05 peak application period, approximately 40 percent of all applications received were made via that Internet process.
Bernie Ogilvy: Has he given any consideration, when administering student allowances, to raising parental income thresholds for every other child in the family who is in study, so that more students can access allowances—as proposed by United Future?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: That issue has been raised consistently by students, and in the student discussion document that I mentioned earlier it was one of the major proposals put forward by the respondents. I am sure that, once again, the person who sets policy, the Minister of Education, has listened very closely to those views.
Nandor Tanczos: Is the Minister aware of the decision of the Student Allowance Appeal Authority in December last that the ministry has been wrong in applying the income limit of $135.13 on a week-by-week basis rather than as an average over the period of eligibility, and will he ensure that his ministry now abides by that decision; if not, why not?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: The answer is: yes, I am, and the ministry is looking at that decision.
Nandor Tanczos: Why has the Government for the past 5 years pursued that interpretation of the Student Allowances Regulations, described by the Student Allowance Appeal Authority as a “flawed” approach with “irrational consequences”, when it meant that people earning $2,000 over their study period could have to repay around the same amount of their allowance as a person earning $11,000 over the same period, simply because of how their payments were timed?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: Because that is what was understood to be the proper legal position.
Sue Bradford: Does the Minister not understand that students who carry out casual work have variable hours and, thus, a variable income, and that it makes no sense at all to require a repayment just because that income exceeds $135.13 in one week, when it actually averages well below that; why would he support that policy?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: No, I understand exactly the position that the member is putting. It was put very forcefully to us during the preparation of the student discussion document, and I am sure that the Minister who is responsible for administering education policy, the Minister of Education, has listened very closely to those arguments.
Nandor Tanczos: Given that the decision made by the Student Allowance Appeal Authority is very clear, will the Government now admit that it is wrong, stop pursuing students for money they do not owe, and repay those whom it has wrongly penalised under that mean-spirited and penny-pinching interpretation of the regulations?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: The ministry has, of course, to administer literally billions of dollars. It does so under what it believes is the correct legal interpretation. When it receives a review of its policies in the form of the Student Allowance Appeal Authority decision that Mr Tanczos is talking about, of course it has to go back, look at the law, and change its behaviour if appropriate.
National Certificate of Educational Achievement—Scholarship Exams
2. Hon BILL ENGLISH (National—Clutha-Southland) to the Minister of Education: What responsibility does he take for the 2004 scholarship “debacle”, and does this responsibility conflict with his role as Minister of State Services, in charge of the body that conducted the inquiry into scholarship 2004?
Hon TREVOR MALLARD (Minister of Education): I take responsibility for deferring the 1998 decision to implement scholarship because there had been inadequate preparation by the member on that member’s left. As the recent State Services Commission report noted, the Government received inadequate advice on policy risks associated with the 2004 scholarship. There is no conflict with my role as the Minister of State Services, because, as the member knows, the State Services Commissioner—or in this case, his deputy—acts independently in discharging his or her inquiry function.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: Sure!
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: I am sure that the State Services Commissioner and his deputy do not like the sorts of slurs on their integrity that have just come from Nick Smith.
Hon Bill English: Can the Minister confirm that late last year he was moved out of the schools portfolio because he had become a political liability, but that now he has been given back the schools portfolio, which means that he is now back in charge of policies like the National Certificate of Educational Achievement (NCEA), about which even his own officials from the State Services Commission say that he and his ministry were primarily responsible for the debacle because they did not do the policy properly?
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: I remind the member that the vast majority of the work leading into the policy was done in the pre-1999 period. The premise of the member’s question is, of course, wrong. I was relieved of none of those responsibilities; I carried them, although I did delegate some of them to my associate.
Hon Brian Donnelly: What responsibility does the Minister take for allowing what were meant to be competitive examinations to identify our top academic students, to be run under an achievement-based assessment format that was the precise cause of the variability of results at the heart of the scholarship chaos?
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: I do take some responsibility for not changing the decision made by Nick Smith and his colleagues in 1998.
Deborah Coddington: How come the New Zealand Qualifications Authority Chairman, Professor Fraser, has gone, the Chief Executive, Karen Van Rooyen, has gone, and his Associate Minister of Education David Benson-Pope has been stood down, yet the Minister, who is solely responsible for the scholarship debacle, is still here refusing to accept any responsibility for the NCEA?
Hon Dr Michael Cullen: Personal charm!
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: The acting Prime Minister says “personal charm”. I think it is probably because I am a hard-working, conscientious Minister.
Hon Bill English: Can the Minister confirm that the leadership of our education system is in chaos, having, in the last 8 months, lost the chairman and the chief executive of the Tertiary Education Commission, the chairman and the chief executive of the New Zealand Qualifications Authority, had the Hon Steve Maharey removed from his portfolio for incompetence, David Benson-Pope stood down because of public allegations about his behaviour, and that it indicates Labour’s desperation on education that he is now in charge of everything?
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: I will deal with the first two questions, I think, rather than the other seven, and the answers to those are yes, and there was not one.
Hon Bill English: Is the Minister aware of the Prime Minister’s statement that a civil servant who loses his or her job because of incompetence will not be paid a cent; if so, why will Karen Van Rooyen be paid $50,000 by the Government after she resigns?
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: Because her resignation comes at the end of her notice period.
Rural Communities—Government Services
3. GEORGINA BEYER (Labour—Wairarapa) to the Minister for Social Development and Employment: What is the Government doing to improve access to Government services for rural New Zealanders?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY (Minister for Social Development and Employment): Heartland service centres have now been established in 30 locations across the country to help connect rural New Zealanders to Government services. This includes a Chatham Islands centre, which opened in January this year. The centres provide a one-stop shop for a range of agencies, including the Housing New Zealand Corporation, the Inland Revenue Department, the Accident Compensation Corporation, Career Services, the Mâori Land Court, and Work and Income. A customer satisfaction survey carried out by Colmar Brunton shows that 96 percent of the public are satisfied with the services they get when they visit a heartland service centre, and 75 percent said that they were very satisfied. These results show that Heartland Services is delivering for rural New Zealanders, and this is further evidence of the Government’s responsiveness to the needs of heartland New Zealand.
Georgina Beyer: What else does the survey reveal about Heartland Services, and does this reflect wider satisfaction with Government policies for rural communities?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: I think it does. Ninety-five percent of members of the public who have visited a centre believe that Heartland Services has improved their access to Government services, and 89 percent of community organisations report satisfaction with Heartland Services. Yes, these services build on rural-friendly initiatives such as Technology New Zealand scholarships for people who commit to teach in rural areas, a rural locum support scheme and the rural practice support scheme in health and, of course, the swift action on floods in areas like the Manawatû-Rangitîkei and the East Coast.
Metiria Turei: How can the Minister possibly justify his crowing about being rural friendly when his Government has slashed rural schools so that country kids have to travel for over an hour each way each day just to get their free public education, and when his Government has supported the Correspondence School board slashing staff and cutting critical education services to New Zealand’s rural children who have no other choice; how rural friendly is that?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: Easily, in the sense that I am just reporting on 30 heartland service centres, right across the country, that are restoring access to the Government services that were removed by the previous National Government. That is a fantastic policy that is well supported by New Zealanders throughout rural areas.
4. Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS (Leader—NZ First) to the Prime Minister: Has her Minister of Immigration, with regard to last night’s TV One News coverage of bogus job offers, and a reported lack of staff and funding within the New Zealand Immigration Service to deal with the problem, advised her of the case of a Mr Feng Li, from Innovatory Technologies (NZ) Co. Ltd, who allegedly uses phoney work permits for Chinese students who go on to gain permanent residence; if so, why does she still have confidence in her Minister of Immigration?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Deputy Prime Minister), on behalf of the Prime Minister: The Minister has not advised her about that specific case. She continues to have confidence in him as a hard-working and conscientious Minister.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: How on earth can she possibly have confidence in a Minister who has no idea of what is going on in his portfolio, and if he did have any idea, how has Mr Feng Li, from Innovatory Technologies (NZ) Co. Ltd, now in receivership, been able to defraud the immigration authorities with ease and accomplishment by running a bogus company, propped up by counterfeit job offers, tax avoidance, and fake employees who go on to become non - bona fide permanent residents then disappear into thin air; can any Minister who allows that to go on over and over again be hard-working and competent?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: A number of the matters the member referred to are not within the portfolio responsibility of the Minister of Immigration—
Ron Mark: Nothing is!
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Well, certainly revenue matters are not; I can assure the member of that. Of course, the Minister of Revenue is not able to know the actual incidents of individual taxpayers’ affairs. I am sure even Mr Mark realises that there is a good reason for that.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Which part is not within the purview of the Minister of Immigration: tax information in respect of people who are applying for permanent residence, fake documentation, fake employment records, and bogus company records, all of which led to a stack of people coming into this country; which part would not be the ultimate scrutiny responsibility of the Minister of Immigration and his department?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: As I said before, taxation matter would not. The other matters, of course, were why, in fact, the department had been investigating this outfit since late August 2004, and conclusions arrived at that the number of job offers was not in fact genuine. No permanent residence applications have been granted, arising out of the work applications, since those investigations began.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: How can the Prime Minister possibly have confidence in a Minister who said that he was going to review the Immigration Act—and he ordered that over a year ago purely to alleviate his embarrassment at his incompetence, and purely to disguise the proliferation of immigration failures—and why, after all this time, has the review not even had its terms of reference referred to Cabinet?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Work is going on. That is one of the most complex areas in terms of legislation. Not all of life is capable of being summarised in a simple bumper-sticker slogan, unfortunately for the member.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: In respect of the Prime Minister’s judgment that she has confidence in the Minister and thinks he is a hard-working Minister, which part of the following statement is not true or accurate: “The New Zealand Immigration Service relied too much on the honesty and truthfulness of foreigners to whom integrity is a strange concept. They do not respond to complaints from New Zealanders. Unless you write to the Minister there is no response, and then it is patronising and uninterested. The staff are uneducated about the cultures of the foreigners with whom they are dealing, and NZIS offices are staffed by foreign-born persons who can’t understand English enough to administer the Act.”?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I think it is clear that the recently appointed head of the Immigration Service is taking action to address some of the internal problems. I am sure the member is aware that there is no jurisdiction in the Western World that does not have some difficulties at times with immigration matters.
Hon Tony Ryall: Would this Prime Minister still have confidence in a Minister of Immigration who oversees a system where a refugee applicant who is facing serious criminal charges can be granted refugee status, then have all details of his background suppressed?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: If those details are suppressed, I assume that that would be by way of some form of judicial, legal decision. Although I know that members opposite find it hard to understand, this Government does believe in the rule of law.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Where is the Tongan rugby team?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I think the current Tongan rugby team is in Tonga.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I did not ask about the Tongan national team. I asked about the team that the Immigration Service lost 2 years ago and still cannot find.
Madam SPEAKER: That is a point of information more than a point of order.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Where is the Tongan rugby team that went missing 2 years ago?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I do not know. Its members may well be canvassing for the New Zealand First party by now.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I refer to the last part of that answer. To attack someone, when one is embarrassed, on a totally fallacious basis is not part of the Standing Orders. [Interruption] I know that he would not know that, because he is a junior boy in this place. But that Minister should know. I would ask you, Madam Speaker, to ask the Minister to stick to the answer, embarrassing as it might be, rather than try to attack another political party that is only doing God’s work in the House.
Madam SPEAKER: Would the Minister like to have another go at answering that question, without any interpolation.
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I have no advice in front of me in relation to the current whereabouts of any past member of the Tongan rugby team. I might say that we are very grateful to a number of Tongans who have been part of the New Zealand rugby team on occasion in recent years.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. Which part of that last answer was within the Standing Orders, and what part was outside of them? The reality is that the Minister is not an expert on rugby, in any way, shape, or form, and he is wasting the House’s time.
Madam SPEAKER: I thank the member for that last observation, and would merely say he is not the only one.
5. LIANNE DALZIEL (Labour—Christchurch East) to the Minister of Justice: What changes is the Government proposing so that access to legal representation and therefore to justice is not restricted to those with the ability to pay?
Hon PHIL GOFF (Minister of Justice): The Legal Services Amendment Bill (No 2) overhauls the financial thresholds and tests for legal aid, for the first time in 36 years. That will allow access by a much wider cross section of New Zealanders to legal aid if required. It will also be fairer to lower-income working families, who are currently disadvantaged in relation to those dependent on benefits. They are important changes so that access to justice is not restricted to those simply with the ability to pay.
Lianne Dalziel: What other changes are being made to ensure that the best use of public funding is being made, in the interests of justice?
Hon PHIL GOFF: A range of improvements are being made. They include regard being had in Family Court cases to any previous proceedings identifying whether the applicant has been excessively litigious. Existing provisions are amended to ensure that costs may be awarded against legal aid recipients for deceitful or misleading behaviour or misconduct. Criminal legal aid recipients will be treated in the same way as civil aid recipients for repayment purposes, and an extension of repayment requirements will ensure that aid recipients are more mindful of the cost of proceeding.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I seek leave to table an article from today’s Christchurch Press, in which the questioner, Lianne Dalziel, set out to defend those people who have been defrauding the taxpayers of this country.
Madam SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that article. Is there any objection? There is objection. It will not be tabled.
6. JOHN KEY (National—Helensville) to the Minister of Finance: When he said on Friday that “There is little room for large new initiatives, including tax cuts,” did he mean he was ruling out changes to tax thresholds in Budget 2005?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Minister of Finance): I meant there was little room for large new initiatives, including tax cuts. For any further details, the member will have to wait until Thursday.
John Key: Why, when the Government has an $8 billion surplus, is the public in store for yet another Labour lay-by Budget, which is packed upfront with hollow promises while the real goodies get delivered in the never-never?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: As I have indicated, the surplus/deficit position will move to a significant cash deficit in the out-years, which will make life very difficult for a party that is promising every road and everything else that everyone in the country wants at the present time.
Gordon Copeland: Does the Minister acknowledge that if the tax thresholds are not adjusted for inflation, which has been at 13 percent since 2000, then in purchasing power terms, which have increased under his watch, an adjustment is now overdue?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Whether anything is overdue is a matter of perception. I note that the Australian Budget, which was much-lauded on this side of the Tasman by the right wing, spent US$21 billion to give a tax cut of roughly $6 a week to most Australians.
John Key: Is the Minister’s rumoured U-turn on changes to tax thresholds evidence that his rhetoric regarding the unaffordable nature of tax cuts was incorrect, or has he just been plain overruled by an ever-desperate Prime Minister?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: The Prime Minister is never desperate, in my experience.
John Key: Is the Minister’s decision to break from tradition and refuse to be photographed with the Budget proof that he wants to be distanced from this document because he was rolled on the details of it by the Prime Minister, in the same way that she rolled him on the tertiary savings scheme that he did not want to roll out, but which was rolled out a few weeks ago?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I thank my colleague for reminding me. I was the strongest support of the tertiary savings scheme.
John Key: Not in the Sunday Star-Times you weren’t.
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: If the member relies on the Sunday Star-Times’ knowledge of life, he will remain as ignorant for the rest of his life as he is now.
John Key: What is the real value of the Minister’s billion dollars of corporate tax reductions when he deducts from it the following: additional revenue the Government will earn from carbon tax, the fact that accelerated depreciation does not change the amount of tax paid, but the timing of it, and the fact that the tax treatment of managed equity funds is a personal tax benefit, not a corporate tax benefit; and is he worried that corporates will see straight through the illusion of his numbers?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: No, to answer the last part of the question. What I do know is that those who stand by the largest companies that are foreign-owned will call for a cut in the corporate tax rate, because that is what benefits them most. Those who are interested in New Zealand - owned small to medium sized businesses will support the cost of tax simplification, depreciation changes, and other matters.
Hon Richard Prebble: Is it still the Minister’s position that the payment of over $2 billion a year of taxpayers’ money into the Michael Cullen superannuation scheme not only limits the ability of the Labour Government to offer tax cuts, but also limits the tax cuts that could be offered by a future National Government, unlike the ACT party, which has always opposed the idea of the Government saving for us and, according to Treasury’s own costing, says that we can afford to offer the people of New Zealand a low flat rate of tax so that they can save for themselves?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: On the last part, the member is wrong. Treasury has never said that, and the member’s own policies would lead to borrowing of the order of size of $7 billion a year by the end of the forecast period. I do not know why he bothered selling State assets in the first place if that is now his policy. On the first part of his statement, he is absolutely correct and he might care to remind the National Party of that. One cannot have everything all the time.
Hon Richard Prebble: I seek the leave of the House to table costings that have been done by Treasury of the ACT party’s proposed tax policies, which show that they are absolutely affordable.
7. GORDON COPELAND (United Future) to the Minister of Commerce: Is he confident that the interest-charging procedures of banks operating in New Zealand are subject to adequate legal scrutiny?
Hon PETE HODGSON (Minister of Commerce): Mostly.
Gordon Copeland: Is the Minister aware that Gray Eatwell and the Bank Customers Action Collective have made numerous efforts to have the interest-charging procedures of the Bank of New Zealand investigated by various authorities, including the Serious Fraud Office, the Commerce Commission, the Banking Ombudsman, and the Minister of Finance, yet, to date, a full investigation has not been undertaken; and does he think that is acceptable?
Hon PETE HODGSON: Yes, I am aware of the gentleman’s activity over many years, and I am aware of his group. I am also aware that the authorities that he has approached have pretty well universally come to the view that he does not have prima facie evidence apart from that in his own case, in which the Bank of New Zealand overcharged him and then refunded him about $20,000.
Gordon Copeland: Is the Minister aware of an overseas court finding that the National Irish Bank has been engaged in illegal interest overcharging, and given the fact that the National Australia Bank was the parent company of the National Irish Bank at the time, and is still the parent company of the Bank of New Zealand, has he considered whether the New Zealand authorities are giving this matter the amount of attention it properly deserves?
Hon PETE HODGSON: The answer to the first question is yes. The answer to the second question is that as soon as they are presented with sufficient prima facie evidence, I would be confident that they would act.
Gordon Copeland: Will the Minister consider appointing a suitable forensic accountant to conduct a preliminary investigation into this matter, so that the facts can be established and justice finally delivered to the Bank Customers Action Collective after its 10-year fight; if not, why not?
Hon PETE HODGSON: No, we already have investigative and enforcement agencies, in the form of the Commerce Commission or, if there is fraudulent activity, the Serious Fraud Office, and it is to those bodies, which are independent of the Crown, that Mr Eatwell or anyone else should turn.
Bullying, Alleged—Prime Minister's Statement
8. RODNEY HIDE (Leader—ACT) to the Prime Minister: Does she stand by her statement, in relation to alleged bullying of students by the Hon David Benson-Pope, that the allegations are utterly reprehensible, and that “this, I think, says rather condemnatory things about both Rodney Hide and TV3.”; if so, why?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Deputy Prime Minister), on behalf of the Prime Minister: I stand by the statement I made on Friday that it was utterly reprehensible for Mr Hide to make those allegations in Parliament, and then withdraw them, as Mr Hide was reported as having done on Friday morning.
Rodney Hide: Does the Prime Minister stand by her statement: “I accept the Minister’s word. The Minister has given his word in Parliament.”, and that, therefore, the five former pupils who have spoken out are lying; if so, why?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: The Prime Minister is receiving advice from the Solicitor-General on the most appropriate form of inquiry into those allegations. She notes that the Minister continues to refute those allegations, and it is appropriate, I think, to remind members that simply raising allegations by way of question is a reprehensible practice. Any number of members in this House are open to that, not least the member himself.
Judith Collins: If the statements made by the Hon David Benson-Pope to the House last Thursday are found by any inquiry to be incorrect, will the Prime Minister confirm that she would expect the Minister to resign from Cabinet and from Parliament?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: As I said, my Prime Minister is seeking advice from the Solicitor-General on the most appropriate form of any inquiry. There are plenty of consequences that flow from some possible outcomes of that inquiry but, equally, I would hope that that member would have the grace to apologise to Mr Benson-Pope should the inquiry find that the allegations are not demonstrably true.
Heather Roy: Does the Prime Minister find it acceptable that even in the 1980s a teacher would tie a student’s hands and force a tennis ball into a 14-year-old boy’s mouth; and what would it take for her to accept the word of the victim and his classmate over her stood-down Minister?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: There will be an inquiry into those matters, and the Government has no reluctance to ensure that the truth emerges. The member may regard an allegation as sufficient proof, but I would warn that member against doing so—as I have warned any number of members in the House. I get allegations about a number of members in this House in relation to a range of issues, of which I take no notice, at all.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: What is worse, or less acceptable: an over-strict teacher under section 59, of a previous era, or someone who facilitated the entry into this country of a paedophile who advocated sex with young children?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Clearly, the latter would be a very serious matter indeed, but so is the former matter—if it were demonstrated to be true.
Rodney Hide: Is it not a well-recognised tactic that bullies lash out at their victims to frighten them into silence; and why did Miss Clark use her position as Prime Minister to attack me and TV3, in an attempt to frighten David Benson-Pope’s victims into silence?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I am sure that that member is aware that bullies lash out at their victims.
Rodney Hide: Is it the Prime Minister’s position that asking tough questions of George Hawkins, Parekura Horomia, David Benson-Pope, and the other failed Ministers of this Government is somehow bullying them, and is somehow on a par with attacking a 14-year-old boy in a classroom—or can those Ministers just not take it?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Yet again, the member rushes to judgment before any proper inquiry is undertaken. I have not done that in relation to allegations that have been raised with me about him.
Judith Collins: I seek leave of the House to table a transcript of Radio New Zealand’s Nine to Noon programme from today, an interview between Linda Clark and Phil Weaver, one of the former Bayfield High School students.
Madam SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that transcript. Is there any objection? There is objection. It will not be tabled.
Stephen Franks: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I just ask whether the Minister who was answering for the Prime Minister was speaking for himself when he talked about “I”, or was speaking for the Prime Minister who has not rushed to judgment.
Madam SPEAKER: I am sorry, but that is not a point of order.
Hon Richard Prebble: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. We have an interesting situation here. When a Minister answers on behalf of another Minister, the views are supposed to be those of the other Minister. Mr Cullen has sort of indicated by sign language that he was actually giving his own opinions. I think he is not entitled to do that, and if he was giving his own opinions, he had better rethink and perhaps he should answer those questions again, realising that he is supposed to be giving us the Prime Minister’s views, not his views. If the Prime Minister does not have any information or allegations against Mr Hide, perhaps we should have a completely different answer from the person standing in her stead.
Madam SPEAKER: When a member is answering on behalf of another he is entitled to answer as he sees fit, on behalf of the Prime Minister in this instance, or, in any other instance, on behalf of the Minister.
Stephen Franks: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I cannot see how it cannot be a legitimate point of order. When the Prime Minister answered the question, through her Deputy Prime Minister, she stated, or we were entitled to assume she was stating, some facts that she knew, her judgment of those facts, and her response to them. I could not believe what the Minister was saying, because the Prime Minister did, in fact, attack, without evidence, Rodney Hide, and I needed to find out whether, in fact, it was the Prime Minister speaking or the Deputy Prime Minister choosing to switch persona and speak for himself. Because if we were looking at matters of privilege, we would need to know whether there was a breach.
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I make it clear that in those latter answers I was referring to my knowledge as Deputy Prime Minister, and merely making the point that the fact that allegations are made about members of this House is not a sufficient reason to go out and repeat them in the public arena, even under privilege. I doubt there is any member of this House who has not had some allegation raised against himself or herself at some time by some other person in the House.
Madam SPEAKER: I hope that clarifies the matter for the members.
Rodney Hide: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I just want to be clear about this and I ask for your assistance, because what happened then was that the Deputy Prime Minister made a snort of snide comment across the House that I should not be asking the tough questions, because either the Prime Minister or he himself had a bottom drawer of allegations against me. I was quite interested to learn who it would be, because I thought Michael Cullen himself had emptied his bottom drawer of the rubbish he had on me, when he was trying to defend John Tamihere—before he gave up. I do not think it is acceptable for a Prime Minister, or an Acting Prime Minister, to stand in the House and suggest that a member should not ask questions, because of something that he or she might have and might release some day. That is an intimidatory tactic in the House, and their job, as a Government, is to answer the questions.
Madam SPEAKER: I think the Minister did answer the question.
Modern Apprenticeships Scheme—Progress
9. LYNNE PILLAY (Labour—Waitakere) to the Minister of Education: What progress is the Government making towards addressing skill shortages through the Modern Apprenticeships scheme?
Hon TREVOR MALLARD (Minister of Education): I am very pleased to advise that 1,000 trainees have now completed the Modern Apprenticeships programme and, as at the end of March, 7,760 more were in training—a net increase of 585 since December. Our Government has pumped nearly $70 million into the scheme since 2001, and the scheme has been a huge success—even though the National Party pledged to abolish it.
Lynne Pillay: How is Modern Apprenticeships helping to address skill shortages in key industries?
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: It is filling a vital role in addressing skill shortages. There are over 1,100 Modern Apprentices in the building and construction industry, over 900 in the electrical industries, over 1,200 in engineering, and 1,300 in the agriculture, horticulture, and forestry industries. I just wonder what would have happened if the Tories had had their way and abolished them.
Hon Bill English: Can the Minister confirm that the amount spent on apprenticeships is tiny—and it has been capped—compared to the $1.5 billion he spent in his time as Minister on low-value tertiary courses that were finished by only 30 percent of the students who started them, resulting in the waste of over a billion dollars, when we could have given a trade to every young person who wanted one, if he had not wasted the money?
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: I can accept that the equivalent full-time student funding system, which was developed when that member was in Government, has been wasteful. The answer is not to promise to abolish apprenticeships, as the previous National Government did; it is to get the money out of that system and into apprenticeships, and that is what this Minister is doing.
10. Hon TONY RYALL (National—Bay Of Plenty) to the Minister of Police: Is the 111 system inadequate and a risk to public safety; if so, what evidence is there for his answer?
Hon GEORGE HAWKINS (Minister of Police): Those were among the findings of the independent external review. The review also noted that all the problems are readily fixable. The Commissioner of Police and the Government accept the findings of the review, and the commissioner has committed himself to fully implementing the findings.
Hon Tony Ryall: Who is responsible for the damning failures identified in the 111 external review?
Hon GEORGE HAWKINS: The Commissioner of Police undertook to bring in overseas experts for the review. The failures are operational concerns, and the Commissioner of Police takes responsibility for all operational matters.
H V Ross Robertson: Can the Minister tell the House what reports he has seen proposing changes to the 111 system?
Hon GEORGE HAWKINS: In addition to the independent review report, I have also seen a report from May 1999 in which the Police Association revealed proposals of the National Government—in which Tony Ryall was a Minister—to cut 285 non-sworn staff, including those who answered 111 calls.
Ron Mark: If it was so apparent to the Minister back in 1999 that problems in the 111 system were left to him, if he had received so much advice and information from the Police Association over the last 2 years, so many expressions of concern from New Zealand First as to the failings, and so much advice from staff in the communications centre who wrote to him personally and he did nothing, who accepts the responsibility now for the failures and for the disappearance of Iraena Asher?
Hon GEORGE HAWKINS: The police have apologised to the Asher family, and of course the commissioner takes responsibility for operational matters.
Stephen Franks: How on earth can the Minister or any other New Zealander hope for a turn-round in a service we now know was fatally unsafe, when the first requirement of leadership is the acceptance of responsibility, and neither the Minister nor the commissioner, or anyone else from the police, has stepped forward to accept responsibility for a disaster we have all been warning them about?
Hon GEORGE HAWKINS: The commissioner has accepted responsibility for the report and for implementing it.
Tariana Turia: Was a 111 call activated on the morning of Sunday, 8 May to justify the arrival of a riot squad of 10 police officers, storming teenagers outside a party in Ôtaki, and what response would the Minister give to Rev. Ian Campbell, who has pointed out that the incident has not done the police relationship with the community much good?
Hon GEORGE HAWKINS: That raises an operational matter, which lies in the domain of the Commissioner of Police.
Hon Tony Ryall: If the commissioner has accepted the report, as the Minister has told the House, why is the Minister still in denial, describing the 111 system as adequate and of no risk to the public—the direct opposite of what the report concluded?
Hon GEORGE HAWKINS: The report actually states that all the problems are readily fixable. The commissioner has undertaken to put those findings in place, and the Government has provided the resources for him to do so.
Hon Tony Ryall: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I seek your intervention. The Minister has not even addressed the question. His shouting the answer that he has given to an earlier answer does not address the question, which—unlike many supplementaries—actually followed on from what the Minister said. He said that the commissioner accepted the report. I have asked him how he could stand by that statement, considering that the commissioner has told the public of New Zealand that the 111 system is adequate and that it is no risk to the public of New Zealand. That statement is a direct contradiction of the two most important conclusions of the report, which the Minister says he accepts.
Madam SPEAKER: The Minister in addressing the question did make reference to what was in the report. Obviously, there was more than one point in the report, so in that sense the Minister did address that question. As we know, it may not always satisfy those who hear the answer, but it did relate to the question. The fact that it may well be repeating a previous answer does not make it any less valid in that context.
Tariana Turia: How will the Minister address the thuggish actions of the police towards the young people and their parents in Ôtaki, given their over-the-top and unprovoked response to a situation that the police had already intervened in?
Hon GEORGE HAWKINS: I have already told the member that it is an operational matter, but if she wants to bring me some facts, I will ask the police for replies.
Hon Tony Ryall: If the overseas reviewers diagnosed major failings in the 111 system after just a handful of visits to the call centres, why did neither Mr Robinson nor his senior staff spot the problems?
Hon GEORGE HAWKINS: The very reason that the commissioner called for a review was to have it looked at.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: What form of consistency is the Minister now adopting, whereby he has just told Tariana Turia that if she gives him some information he will pass it on to the police, yet when he was offered information and the same request was made of him in respect of the McNee case, which was a murder, he refused to do anything at all, even to the extent of not passing on information to the police? What standard of consistency is he adopting now?
Hon GEORGE HAWKINS: There is none. All I would be doing is passing on a letter from the member to the police.
Ron Mark: I seek leave to table a report that shows that when Mr Benson-Pope needed a policeman to collect $35, he got a patrol car and officer dispatched to do so.
Madam SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection? There is. It will not be tabled.
Ron Mark: I seek leave to table a further document, a speech from Helen Clark that assured the nation we would see the ushering in of a new era of accountability.
Information and Communications Technology—New Zealand Usage
11. RUSSELL FAIRBROTHER (Labour—Napier) to the Minister for Information Technology: What is the Government doing to ensure New Zealanders are getting the best results from their use of information and communications technology?
Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE (Minister for Information Technology): Yesterday I launched the Government’s Digital Strategy, which is a practical and an achievable action plan for ensuring that all New Zealanders benefit from information and communications technology. The coming Budget will provide an additional $60 million to implement that strategy, including a community fund and a broadband challenge—part of $400 million over 5 years for digital initiatives.
Russell Fairbrother: What has been the reaction to the strategy?
Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: There has been an extremely positive reaction from a wide range of groups. Vodafone has said that it wants to partner with the Government to bridge the digital divide. Local Government New Zealand has welcomed the strategy. TelstraClear has said that the strategy is focused on the right outcomes. The Telecommunications Users Association of New Zealaand has described it as bold, comprehensive, and achievable, and InternetNZ has welcomed it, as well. The New Zealand Herald stated that the Government has dug deep to wire this country.
Stephen Franks: Does the Minister feel just the slightest hint of shame or embarrassment at being a Minister in this Government and lecturing the New Zealand private sector on getting the best results from information technology, when three overseas police chiefs have told us that the New Zealand police have a “world class” information technology system in the 111 service, yet that they have been utterly unable to meet essential effectiveness, timeliness, buy-in, governance, command, control, recruitment, and training requirements, and instead have a “blame culture” of frustration, delay, and low morale?
Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: No, but if I were that member, I would be embarrassed to support policies like those of the National Party, which led to a decade of nothing when it was in Government.
Sue Kedgley: Why, when the Minister stated in his press release yesterday: “The government’s goal is to enhance competition between providers …”, and to provide an “open competitive framework” for information technology, is this Government still refusing to unbundle the local loop, which would provide for just such an open, competitive framework, and which most OECD countries did years ago?
Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: The Government’s decision to accept the Telecommunications Commissioner’s recommendation on the local loop—which was to unbundle parts of the bitstream—was made on the basis of certain commitments from the incumbent telecommunications provider—
Rt Hon Winston Peters: What about Telecom?
Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: —Telecom New Zealand, a company that that member failed to regulate when he was Deputy Prime Minister. The Government has—
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I would have thought you would bring the Minister up on his last answer, when he was asked about a certain series of facts in respect of the police and information technology. He then attacked National for doing nothing over 10 years—which is a bit of an exaggeration and is not true. Now he is attacking me for failing to deregulate the telecommunications industry, when he knows full well, if he knows anything, that I was the one who initiated the Treasury investigation and began the deregulation of the industry before I left power.
Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: Speaking to the point of order—
Madam SPEAKER: No, I think that if the member would just stick to addressing the specific point of the question, we would all be able to move forward.
Sue Kedgley: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. The Minister was answering my question, and he said that “that member”—I assumed he was referring to me—failed to unbundle the loop. I wonder whether that could be clarified.
Madam SPEAKER: Would the Minister please address the question.
Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: The phrase “that member” applied to the member who interjected—[Interruption]
Madam SPEAKER: Let us hear the member; otherwise he may have to repeat the answer again.
Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: I would be glad to do that. The Government has accepted the Telecommunications Commissioner’s recommendation on the basis of certain commitments from Telecom New Zealand. It has until the end of the year to deliver on those commitments. The Government is monitoring them very closely, and we have signalled that we will respond in proportion to the degree to which Telecom meets them.
Fishing Industry—Employment Conditions
12. Hon Dr NICK SMITH (National—Nelson) to the Minister of Labour: What action has he taken, and when, in response to the 2 December 2004 report on employment conditions in the fishing industry that found that “conditions amount to little more than ‘sweatshop’ ones”, that crew were subject to physical abuse, including being hit with an open hand or fish, pieces of wood and even hit on the hands with a hammer, and that “if anyone stands against this abuse, it has been known for them to be taken to a private cabin and beaten”?
Hon PAUL SWAIN (Minister of Labour): The report on employment conditions in the fishing industry focused primarily on whether two companies were meeting their obligations under the Minimum Wage Act and the Holidays Act. Since 2 December 2004 the findings of the investigation have been put to both companies for comment. In an appendix to the report, anonymous allegations were made, as the member has outlined. The allegations of mistreatment on charter boats are serious, and have been referred to the police, the Maritime Safety Authority, and the Human Rights Commission. I will be raising the matter of the report and related issues at a meeting with the industry shortly.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: How can the Minister say that he treated seriously the allegations of gross abuse, when he received the report on 2 December, sat on it for 5½ months, and referred it to the police, the Maritime Safety Authority, and the Human Rights Commission only a few days ago; and how can they possibly now take any action when both the fishing-boat and the crew are long gone?
Hon PAUL SWAIN: Firstly, the findings of the report were referred to the two companies for comment before its public release, as a matter of justice. I thought the member would have understood that.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: What about natural justice for the workers?
Hon PAUL SWAIN: Shh, shh! Secondly, as far as these allegations are concerned, the allegations of violence on board foreign vessels were made in confidence. The workers were advised that they would be able to make a formal complaint if they wanted to pursue any matter further, and that the Department of Labour inspectorate would help. The workers asked that the labour inspector not forward the allegations unless they came back to the labour inspector. They did not do so. However, since the report has been made public the allegations have been referred to the appropriate authorities, and, as I said, I am taking this matter up with the industry shortly.
Rod Donald: Why does the Labour-led Government continue to allow floating sweatshops to fish in New Zealand’s exclusive economic zone, and why does it not, instead, require all companies fishing in our territory, whatever their ownership, to pay New Zealand wages and provide New Zealand working conditions, so that there will still be a future for New Zealanders in this industry, instead of more and more foreign crews being exploited under the nose of the Minister’s Government, and more and more Kiwis getting out as their wages drop and their jobs are exported?
Hon PAUL SWAIN: There are a lot of issues there, but, firstly, the member is right: people are required to provide appropriate conditions and pay appropriate wages according to New Zealand law. That is “New Zealandisation”. Essentially, that was what that report was about—to try to look at whether minimum wages, primarily, were being paid, and the impact on immigration policy. The reality is that both those companies are now working to make sure that their practices do meet the common standard. The charter issue that the member is now referring to is the issue that was raised as part of the report around those allegations. The appropriate authority is involved, but, as well, the industry itself is concerned to hear about this, and it has some responsibility to ensure that those practices are stamped out of the industry.
Paul Adams: Will the Minister legislate to make the New Zealand companies that contract foreign charter fishing vessels liable for any breaches of New Zealand employment and minimum wage laws that occur on those vessels; if not, why not; if he will, will he accept an offer from United Future to support the urgent passage of such legislation during the next sitting of Parliament, to put an immediate stop to this appalling slavery in New Zealand waters?
Hon PAUL SWAIN: Those charter company boats are required to obey New Zealand law. Essentially, that was what the report was about—focusing in the first instance, as a first step, on looking at those that were involved, whether New Zealand crew on New Zealand boats, or foreign crew on New Zealand boats. This issue has opened up the whole issue of the conditions within that industry. As I said, there are some issues around allegations that have been made—anonymous allegations—and they are being pursued by the authorities. But in the end, as far as “New Zealandisation” is concerned, the fishing industry, whether chartered or local, needs to follow New Zealand employment law.
Lesley Soper: What action is being taken involving the two companies at the centre of the report, following concerns about payment of the minimum wage?
Hon PAUL SWAIN: As a result of the report, Sealord’s has agreed to work with the department and the New Zealand Fishing Industry Guild to change its pay practice, to ensure compliance with the law, and Amaltal has agreed to go to the Employment Relations Authority to resolve its issue. In addition, the Government is working with the fishing industry to develop a longer-term strategy to address labour and skills issues, to ensure that this important industry continues to contribute to the New Zealand economy.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: Could the Minister explain to the House where the natural justice is for the workers who were working in what was described by his own department as a sweatshop, who were beaten with pieces of wood and a hammer, while he sat on this report for 5½ months; what does he think the founders of his party would think about a Labour Minister treating such issues in this way?
Hon PAUL SWAIN: The Labour founders, hopefully, would be very proud of the Government actually starting to address issues that have been around in the industry for a very, very long time. But, as I said, those allegations were made anonymously. The workers making the allegations said they did not want those allegations forwarded until they came back to the labour inspector, and they did not do that.
Peter Brown: Is the Minister aware that if he had tabled this report on 3 December, he might not have been able to do anything much about the physical abuse, because that had already occurred, but he would have been able to stop dead in the water the 40c per US dollar that is paid to overseas agents from crews’ wages; is the Minister aware of that?
Hon PAUL SWAIN: Well, it is fair to say there was discussion about the natural justice issue of giving the companies the opportunity to talk—[Interruption]
Madam SPEAKER: I did not hear that comment. Was a comment made that the member takes objection to?
Hon PAUL SWAIN: Not really. A discussion around the issue of natural justice has taken place. But, as the member would know, foreign agents taking agents’ fees has been a practice within the industry for some considerable time. The only way, really, that this issue will be addressed is by the industry itself tackling the labour and employment issues, and we are working with the industry to make sure that that happens.
Paul Adams: Will the Minister legislate for Ministry of Fisheries or Department of Labour inspectors to be placed on board all foreign charter fishing vessels at the expense of the New Zealand companies that contract those vessels; if not, why not; if he will, will he accept an offer from United Future to support the urgent passage of such legislation during the next sitting of Parliament, to put an immediate stop to this appalling slavery in New Zealand waters?
Hon PAUL SWAIN: The member might recognise that putting inspectors on every single fishing-boat would be highly expensive and not likely to be supported by any Government or future Government. My having said that, it is important that we address these issues, and, in the long term, it is important that the industry and the Government work together. [Interruption] This is an important industry—one that that member relies on down in his own electorate. It is important that we get the matter sorted out, because we need to make sure that employment conditions are such that New Zealanders want to continue to go fishing in New Zealand waters.
Larry Baldock: Does the Minister agree that the argument put forward by some in the fishing industry that they cannot continue to harvest New Zealand’s fish without this appalling reliance upon foreign charter vessels is very similar to the excuses made when William Wilberforce was battling to abolish slavery in the British Empire, when it was said that the empire could not survive without depending upon slavery; if he does agree with that, will he make a commitment to the House that if these vessels cannot be cleaned up, the practice of chartering foreign fishing vessels will be banned in New Zealand?
Hon PAUL SWAIN: I do not quite see the relationship between the two arguments the member has made. But the allegations that have come forward are serious. There are allegations about the industry that have been around for some time. I make a commitment to ensure that the authorities who are working on the matter take action if those allegations are proved. One of the things we can look at, for example, in the future is the issue of approval for foreign workers to come to New Zealand, if those practices are found to be as described and are not improved.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: I seek the leave of the House to table the report to the Minister of Labour and the Associate Minister of Immigration, dated 2 December 2004, released last week under the Official Information Act.