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Questions& Answers for Oral Answer 18 May 2005

( Uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing. For corrected transcripts, please visit: http://www.clerk.parliament.govt.nz/hansard )

Wednesday, 18 May 2005
Questions for Oral Answer
Questions to Ministers

1. Economy—OECD Rating
2. Childcare—Access
3. Taxation—Thresholds
4. Labour Force Participation—Women
5. Taxation—Australia - New Zealand
6. Children of Separated Parents—Initiatives
7. Labour Force—Strikes
8. Television New Zealand Charter—Local Programming
9. Health Services—Waiting Lists
10. Alcohol and Drug Abuse, and Suicide Prevention—Programme Funding
11. Ministerial Behaviour—Prime Minister's Statement
12. Gender Reassignment—Background Checks
Question No. 10 to Minister

Questions for Oral Answer

Questions to Ministers

Economy—OECD Rating

1. Dr DON BRASH (Leader of the Opposition) to the Prime Minister: Does she stand by her statement that her Government has a “goal of economic transformation and a return to the top half of the OECD ratings by 2011.”; if not, why not?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK (Prime Minister): That statement was raised by a previous Leader of the Opposition more than 2 years ago, at which time it was made clear that that target date was not Government policy.

Dr Don Brash: Did she see the graph in the Sunday Star-Times last Sunday, showing that growth in average after-tax weekly earnings in Australia has outstripped its GDP growth by over 10 percent in the last 5 years, whereas in New Zealand the difference was a miserable half of 1 percent, and what is her reaction to that statistic?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I am advised that GDP growth per capita is up over 12 percent under this Government, and I am confident that now we have monetary policy that does not crush growth every time the economy gets some steam up, we are doing a lot better.

Rodney Hide: Has the Prime Minister got a date for when she intends to put this country in the top half of the OECD, or is that another one of those goals on the never-never, and could she explain to this House just how monetary policy has changed under the new Governor of the Reserve Bank, given that the policy has not?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: Firstly, obviously the policy targets agreement has changed. Secondly, we have a Governor of the Reserve Bank who accepts right now that the economy is capable of growing at about a sustainable 3.7 percent, which is significantly above what was accepted before, and thirdly, I will be very happy to re-evaluate a target in 2011, as Prime Minister.

Dr Don Brash: Did she see the speech of the current Governor of the Reserve Bank, Dr Alan Bollard, in January this year, in which he noted that at present levels of productivity growth, GDP growth would average only 2.8 percent over the next decade, and how does she expect New Zealand to reach the top half of the OECD at that rate of growth?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: A quick calculation suggests that such a figure may be about twice the OECD growth average.

Dr Don Brash: Is she alarmed at the figure of 600 New Zealanders leaving New Zealand for Australia every week—equivalent to the population of Gisborne every year—and what does she intend to do to bring those people back so they can take part in her so-called economic transformation?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: It is not a matter of what one expects to do. What one’s Government is doing is driving an economy that is capable of paying higher wages, but as the member obviously wants results on wages now, why does he not just come out in favour of the bus drivers’ claim, the medical technologists’ claim, and every other claim that is around at the moment?

Dr Don Brash: Has the Prime Minister seen the OECD statistics that show that 24 percent of all tertiary-qualified New Zealanders currently live overseas, and what does she intend to do about that statistic?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I am aware that that figure is very much the same as the figure for Ireland, which has an economy that is doing particularly well. The member may reflect on the fact that small countries often cannot offer the range of opportunities that larger ones can.

Childcare—Access

2. GEORGINA BEYER (Labour—Wairarapa) to the Minister for Social Development and Employment: What is the Government doing to ensure that access to childcare is no longer a financial hurdle for parents looking to return to work?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY (Minister for Social Development and Employment): I am pleased to announce today that the Government will invest an extra $55 million over the next 4 years in childcare and employer-support initiatives to enhance the work choices available to parents. The extra funding will see around 70 percent of all families with children eligible for extra assistance, including 96 percent of sole parents. The initiatives include increased funding for out-of-school care and recreation providers, increased income thresholds for childcare subsidies, and an extension of childcare subsidies to home-based care. When we came to office, just under $50 million per year was allocated to childcare subsidies; this year’s Budget will double that to just over $100 million.

Georgina Beyer: What else is the Government doing to ensure hard-working Kiwi families get the support they need to achieve a good balance between work and family life?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: It is too much to mention here. But let me just mention that we are making major investments to support the work choices of Kiwi families. Through the Working for Families package, childcare-assistance rates increased by 10 percent last year and will go up a further 10 percent in October this year. In addition, families in the $25,000 to $45,000 income band can now get an average increase of $80 a week in extra support, rising to $100 a week by the time the package is fully rolled out.

Taxation—Thresholds

3. RODNEY HIDE (Leader—ACT) to the Minister of Revenue: What dollar figure would the $60,000 threshold have to be lifted to in order that no more than 5 percent of taxpayers pay the 39c rate in 2005-06, and what would be the fiscal cost of making this adjustment?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Minister of Revenue): At around $80,000 the fiscal cost would be $275 million a year. Taking into account claw-back from increased GST and other factors, this would come to about $230 million a year.

Rodney Hide: Does the Minister concede that that is a small amount, considering the $8 billion-odd fiscal surplus that has been achieved for the first 9 months of this year; and would that not be a way of showing that, for once, this Government honours its promises and the pledges it has made to New Zealanders?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I suggest that the member read recent speeches made by the Governor of the Reserve Bank. Clearly, the governor is not arguing that the Government has been operating too tight a fiscal policy over recent times. Therefore, there has not been the room for the kind of fiscal expansion that he and Dr Brash now both believe in, with massive tax cuts, plus massive expenditure increases from Dr Brash.

John Key: Does the Minister think that wasteful Government spending, such as hip-hop tours, singalong songs, and a bloated State sector, ranks as a higher priority than letting hard-working Kiwis keep more of what they earn through threshold adjustments for inflation; if so, why is he allowing that to happen under his watch?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: The thresholds have not been adjusted since 1988. Certainly they were not, under 9 years of a National Government.

Rod Donald: At what level could a tax-free threshold be introduced at a fiscal cost of $230 million, and what benefit would that have for low to middle income earners compared with lifting the $60,000 threshold?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: That is asking a lot, off the top of my head, but I think that an approximately $500 tax-free threshold—around that kind of level—would be appropriate, which would translate for the lowest-income earners into $75 a year and for the highest-income earners into about $200 a year.

Hon Peter Dunne: Has the Minister seen reports and arguments that many families around the $38,000 income bracket, as a result of bracket creep, are now creeping into the second tax phase, which might well be offsetting any gains they achieve from the Working for Families package, and if he has seen such reports can he indicate what action the Government might be contemplating in respect of them?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I do not think that those who crept over that margin would lose much of a proportion of their family support increases that are coming through, which are, of course, very substantial. I am stopped in streets, supermarkets, and other places and thanked by people for those particular policies. But it is true that because incomes have grown substantially under this Government, despite what Dr Brash says, people have moved over thresholds.

Peter Brown: Does the Minister accept that a tax system, in general, should be fair, reasonable, and encouraging, and does he believe that our system reflects those qualities; if not, what will he do about it?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I suspect that everybody believes that the tax system should be fair, reasonable, and encouraging. The fact is that we do not agree on what that means. By that the National Party means that taxes should be slashed for those at the top end. We tend to favour increases in income for low to middle income earners.

Rodney Hide: Does he think it fair, reasonable, and encouraging that under his watch the average worker in New Zealand has seen his or her marginal rate of tax go from 21c to 33c, because of fiscal drag, and does he think it is important to lower that marginal tax rate for average workers?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: There are a range of marginal tax rates, depending on what other assistance people are eligible for. Of course, under the policy of the founder of the ACT party a very large number of workers would earn a 100 percent effective marginal tax rate.

Dr Don Brash: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I understood the Minister of Revenue to say that there were no threshold adjustments under National during the 1990s; is that correct? I just want to clarify that, because if it is what he said—

Madam SPEAKER: It is not a point of order, actually, but does the Minister want to answer?

Dr Don Brash: If the Minister said that, can I invite him to reconsider his answer?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I am prepared to reconsider. I think my memory does remind me that there was one, but the reality is, if the member cares to listen, the bottom threshold—the one that affects low-income earners—was not raised after 1988, and never has been.

Labour Force Participation—Women

4. JUDY TURNER (Deputy Leader—United Future) to the Prime Minister: Does she still stand by her intention to develop policy and actions designed to boost participation in the workforce, particularly in respect of women; if so, why?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK (Prime Minister): Yes, because there are currently many barriers facing women that restrict their choices about whether to join the paid workforce or not.

Judy Turner: Does she agree with a recent Treasury report that states that getting more people into work means less time for raising children, and that Government policy should actually take into account the importance of time spent with them; if so, why was that report removed from Treasury’s website only hours after it was posted?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: Obviously, those parents who choose to go to work have less time at home with their children than those who do not, but that is a value judgment each family must make for itself. With respect, the second part of the question was answered in a written question to the Minister of Finance a couple of weeks ago.

Judy Turner: Is the surge in the number of under-ones going into childcare this year the kind of outcome that her speech favoured, despite the fact that the Ministry of Women’s Affairs’ own research released last October indicates significantly worse outcomes for children who go into dawn-to-dusk care from such an early age; if so, why?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: Each family must make for itself the decision whether or not it wishes its members to enter the paid workforce.

Judy Turner: Is the Prime Minister aware of any adverse reaction to her speech from parents who interpreted it as an attack on their choice to stay at home, when they would argue that their work is very valuable and contributes to the country even though it does not register on clinical economic indicators; if not, why not?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: All women’s work is valuable, whether or not it is counted in official economic statistics.

Judy Turner: Has the Prime Minister seen the most recent population statistics that show that the number of births per woman has declined further and that women are having children later; if so, does she agree the biggest challenge to future growth that faces the Government is how to support an ageing population with fewer workers?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: The trend to smaller families is a long-term one. If we go back to my great-grandparents’ generation, it had rather large numbers of children, and the number of children per family has been falling very, very steadily. As everyone knows, all Western societies face the challenges of ageing populations, and we need to have policies that can support older citizens with a reduced taxpayer base.

Taxation—Australia - New Zealand

5. JOHN KEY (National—Helensville) to the Minister of Finance: Does he believe the tax cuts announced by Peter Costello in Australia last week put pressure on New Zealand to follow suit; if not, why not?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Minister of Finance): No. The Australian objective, as stated by Mr Costello, is to have 80 percent of taxpayers paying a top rate of 30 percent or below. In New Zealand around 75 percent of taxpayers are on a top rate of 21 percent or below.

John Key: Can the Minister confirm that even before the recent Australian Budget, official New Zealand statistics showed that 600 people permanently migrate to Australia each week—which is the equivalent of 4½ Boeing 737s leaving full and coming home empty—and does he concede that the Australian Budget will make this even worse; if not, why not?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: No. The numbers leaving in net terms have gone up and down quite a lot over the last 10 years. They have tended to fall for most of the last 5 years. Apart from that, the changes in the Australian Budget, for the great majority of workers, mean no more than about $6 per week. Even on the cheap fares available through Air New Zealand, it would take quite a few weeks to make up the difference.

Deborah Coddington: How come Australia can afford tax cuts on the basis of a 1 percent of GDP surplus, when we are sitting on a 4 percent of GDP surplus, yet he keeps saying we cannot afford a tax cut for every worker?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: The Australians report their surpluses rather differently from us in New Zealand. But the member will find out tomorrow that, as I have said many, many times, the Budget shows cash deficits—

Opposition Members: Oh!

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: —I am sorry the members are so disappointed, after their calling for them for so many years—in the out-years. What the member has to understand, even in her new, sharing and caring mode, is that a tax cut is something that goes through every year, not just this year.

Peter Brown: Noting those answers, will the Minister give the House a categorical assurance that as a result of the tax changes in Australia we will not be losing any more skilled people than we have been losing already?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I am not the Minister of Finance in a police State, and what New Zealanders choose to do is a matter for them.

John Key: Does the Minister agree with Peter Costello that reducing the tax burden helps attract and retain the skilled workers upon which a growing economy is built; if so, why has he done exactly the opposite in the last five Budgets?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Actually, the proportion of GDP taken by way of revenue is slightly lower now than it was previously. But, of course, one of the issues around Mr Costello’s Budget—as much as I agree with a very large amount of what he says—is whether in fact his tax cuts are affordable, and many Australian commentators have questioned that fact.

John Key: Is the Minister in any way concerned that Australia’s free-trade agreement with the US and new tax measures will together attract the investment and skilled workers that will see the income gap continue to widen between Australia and New Zealand?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Contrary to the claims frequently made by the Leader of the Opposition, that income gap has not been widening. He is simply using the wrong figures in that particular respect. We are keeping under advice some of the less - well reported taxation changes in the Australian Budget around the business tax area—but, of course, we have the largest array of business tax changes and business tax cuts in this year’s Budget of any Government since the 1980s.

Peter Brown: Will the Minister re-evaluate the position if he is wrong and we do lose a lot of skilled workers or corporates to Australia as a result of the Australian tax structures?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Unlike minor parties, I cannot pretend to print money to make up gaps between expenditure and revenue. One of the attractions of Australia has been that because of the rundown in our services through the 1990s, it has better health systems than we do, and, in many areas, better education systems. Those are also attractive to people wanting to migrate. New Zealand First, of course, believes that we can have Australian levels of expenditure on New Zealand levels of revenue.

John Key: Does the Minister believe that all Government spending undertaken by his Government in the last 6 years has been warranted and of acceptable quality; if he does not, what particular areas of his Government spending concern him the most?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: No, I could not give the House such an assurance. Almost every dollar spent on the Opposition over the last 5½ years has been a waste of money

Children of Separated Parents—Initiatives

6. TIM BARNETT (Labour—Christchurch Central) to the Minister of Justice: What initiative is the Ministry of Justice taking to deal with trauma and adverse impact on children caused by the separation of their parents?

Hon PHIL GOFF (Minister of Justice): The Government is conscious that parental conflict and separation can have traumatic effects on children, particularly when one parent seeks to turn children against the other parent. The Budget we are expecting tomorrow will provide $6.2 million over 4 years to provide a nationwide programme through the Family Court to help parents reduce conflict and the impact of separation on their children, and to counter the damaging effects that these things can have on children’s well-being and social behaviour.

Tim Barnett: What evidence does the Minister have that such programmes are effective and constitute a good investment of public funds?

Hon PHIL GOFF: Parent programmes of this nature have run very successfully for a number of years in both the United States and the United Kingdom. In New Zealand, last year the Auckland Family Court Association ran a pilot programme called Children in the Middle. It produced an increase in parental knowledge about the impact of separation and conflict on their children, a reduction in parental conflict, an improvement in the behaviour and the well-being of the children, and an extraordinarily high rate of satisfaction for those who participated in the pilot. We have every reason to believe that these very positive results can be replicated across the country, with major human and social benefits as a result.

Judith Collins: Can the Minister confirm that the $6.2 million package averages out at about $1.5 million a year, which—based on, for example, this Government’s Families Commission expenditure—would pay for two billboards and a survey; and is not today’s announcement just a half-hearted attempt to adopt Dr Brash’s policy of a much broader introduction of parenting skills courses for troubled families?

Hon PHIL GOFF: The answers are no and no, and I regret the negativism of the member. This funding will allow up to 8,000 couples a year to be referred to that programme. Far from being half-hearted, the programme will operate across almost every Family Court in the country. The member should be more supportive, and less carping and negative.

Judy Turner: Can the Minister confirm that a national roll-out of the North Shore Children in the Middle pilot programme, as proposed by United Future, would mean that parents who are separating would be given positive strategies to protect their children from conflict; and, as 97 percent of participants in the pilot said they thought the programme should be mandatory, will he consider implementing my member’s bill that would make involvement compulsory for parents seeking these orders?

Hon PHIL GOFF: I can confirm the very positive things that the member said about the programme in the first part of the question, and I welcome her support for it, and the support of United Future. In respect of the second part of the question, I have to say that it is not intended to make the programme as introduced mandatory, but if the evidence of the positive results that we certainly expect of this programme shows that it should be a requirement for every separating couple, I would certainly consider that.

Labour Force—Strikes

7. PETER BROWN (Deputy Leader—NZ First) to the Minister of Labour: Does he have any concerns regarding the increasing number of workers striking over their pay and working conditions; if so, what plans, if any, does he have to address this issue?

Hon PAUL SWAIN (Minister of Labour): The number of work stoppages has actually been steadily declining over time since the repeal of the Employment Contracts Act. It is the role of the Government to set the framework for the resolution of employment disputes, and in our view that is much improved since the days of the Employment Contracts Act. It is up to the parties to negotiate in good faith, and it is not for the Government to get involved.

Peter Brown: Is the Minister concerned that there is a great deal of dissatisfaction among many working people, who see managers leaving with golden handshakes, and senior executives receiving huge bonuses and other perks, yet at the other end of the scale they see fishing people losing their jobs, and New Zealand fruit pickers being dispensed with, but foreign labour being imported to work at less than the minimum wage—is he not concerned about the concerns of working people?

Hon PAUL SWAIN: Of course, there are a broad range of issues, such as the member has raised, across the labour market. The Employment Relations Act sets a framework whereby these things can be resolved, and the vast majority of them, around 70 to 80 percent of them, are resolved through the Mediation Service, which is an integral part of the Employment Relations Act.

Dr Wayne Mapp: Does the Minister understand that it is his discredited 2004 amendments to the Employment Relations Act that have led to the increased union militancy—an avalanche of strikes throughout April and May—and forced employers to give across-the-board wage increases; and that right now there is a threatened strike by radiologists that will mean many people will have operations put off?

Hon PAUL SWAIN: No, because it is not true.

Gerrard Eckhoff: Why, when a 5 percent pay increase across the board could be achieved without disruption to industry, does this Government steadfastly refuse to accept that the sensible tax policy of the ACT party would achieve that forthwith?

Hon PAUL SWAIN: As I said, the matters around labour relations are my responsibility and, as far as I am concerned, the Employment Relations Act sets out a framework by which parties can negotiate their wage increases according to each other’s needs.

Lianne Dalziel: Has the Minister seen any reports on any proposed future frameworks for resolving employment disputes; if so, what do they say?

Hon PAUL SWAIN: Fortunately, yes. I have seen a report from a person who wants to repeal the Employment Relations Act and return to the failed employment policies of the 1990s. I have also seen a report stating that the “business community is broadly happy with the Employment Relations Act”. The first report comes from National’s employment spokesperson, Dr Wayne Mapp, and the second comes from National’s leader, Dr Don Brash.

Sue Bradford: Will the Minister lift the minimum wage to $12 an hour so that the hundreds and thousands of workers on the lowest wages will not have to strike to get even the barest minimum needed to live on and support a family in this country today?

Hon PAUL SWAIN: The member will know that this Government has raised the minimum wage every year since it has been in office, and that has been a very, very big advantage to lots of low-income people.

Peter Brown: What is the point of raising the minimum wage for New Zealanders if the Government is going to allow foreign people to come here and work for less than the minimum wage?

Hon PAUL SWAIN: As the member will know, the report that came out the other day actually looked at how we can enforce more effectively minimum wage rates in the New Zealand fishing industry. That is a critical issue. The industry itself has agreed that this is an important issue to address. A lot of it has been around interpretation, and we are going to make constructive progress working with the industry to resolve these things.

Larry Baldock: Is the Minister concerned about the pay and working conditions of those who cannot take strike action for themselves, like the overseas fishing crews on foreign-chartered vessels in New Zealand waters; if so, will he stick up for them by taking action on United Future’s suggestion that inspectors from the Ministry of Fisheries and the Department of Labour should be on every foreign vessel, with the cost of this paid for by the New Zealand companies that charter them?

Hon PAUL SWAIN: As I said yesterday, if it was going to be an impost on the Government, obviously no Government would support that. However, there are some issues that the member raises, particularly around enforcement—how do we enforce New Zealand law on fishing boats that are obviously out at sea for some considerable time? I am very keen and happy to meet with the member to discuss some of these things and how we might progress them.

Peter Brown: Is the Minister aware of any funding by way of levies or what have you given to the Fishing Industry Guild by operators to encourage foreign people to work on fishing boats, or engage in contracting foreign fishing vessels, and if he is not aware will he make it his business to find out and advise New Zealand First—because New Zealand First takes employment issues seriously, whereas the Government seems to think it is a joke, judging by its response?

Hon PAUL SWAIN: I certainly do not consider this matter to be a joke. I have said that quite often, and I certainly said that yesterday. I am aware of some arrangement between the companies and the guild. I am not aware precisely of it but I would be happy to look—

Peter Brown: Will you find out and let us know?

Hon PAUL SWAIN: Yes, I would be happy to look into it, as far the member has asked, and get back to him.

Keith Locke: Will the Minister be following the lead of other elected officials, such as Auckland Regional Council chair, Mike Lee, or the Deputy Mayor of Auckland, Bruce Hucker, or Green Party MPs, and give some moral support to the Auckland bus drivers’ efforts to get better wages?

Hon PAUL SWAIN: No. The important point about a Minister of Labour—and this is a long tradition that goes back over many years—is that the Government sets the framework and it is up to the parties to negotiate. The Government does not get involved.

Hon Trevor Mallard: Given the advice the Minister has received from New Zealand First over recent days about the importance of New Zealand – born people working, would he support a resignation from the deputy leader of New Zealand First, which would cause a Kiwi to get a job in here?

Madam SPEAKER: I do not think that that is within ministerial responsibility. The Minister will not answer.

Hon Richard Prebble: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I think Mr Mallard was suggesting that an honourable member of this House was not really a New Zealander. As we are required to be New Zealanders in order to stand for election to this House, I think Mr Mallard’s comment is a great offence to the whole House. I think Mr Mallard should be asked to withdraw the comment.

Hon Trevor Mallard: I withdraw and apologise.

Television New Zealand Charter—Local Programming

8. SUE KEDGLEY (Green) to the Minister of Broadcasting: Why, since the TVNZ charter was introduced in 2003, has there been a 3 percent decrease in New Zealand programmes shown on Television One, and no increase in New Zealand programmes shown on TV2, during the hours 6 a.m. to midnight?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY (Minister of Broadcasting): This is due to the following reasons: coverage of large, one-off events in 2003, like the America’s Cup and the Rugby World Cup—if those sporting events were removed, for example, Television New Zealand would show an increase of 1.5 percent local content—and a reduction in repeat local programmes on both channels. Due to the time zone differences between New Zealand and Athens, there were about 80 hours of local sport content on Television One between the hours of midnight and 6 a.m. in 2004. There is also a reduction in children’s programme hours as a result of a change in requirement from New Zealand On Air, that funded children’s programmes would no longer be linked between overseas cartoons but instead will stand alone as entire programmes in the future. That raises the cost per hour of production, but I think it also produces better quality children’s television.

Sue Kedgley: Is it not time to admit that the TVNZ charter is failing, when the amount of local content programmes shown by our State broadcaster has decreased since it was implemented, despite all the charter’s fine words and the millions of taxpayer dollars going towards charter programming?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: The answer is no, and if the member had listened to the answer to her primary question she would understand the reason.

Mark Peck: What is the state of local content, relative to the increase in funding from New Zealand On Air to $93.8 million per year, and the provision of $36.8 million of charter funding to Television New Zealand?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: Television New Zealand is providing a wider range of New Zealand programming and is working closely with screen production industries to ensure that that programming is put to air. Local content targets are being established, and all major broadcasters are achieving them. The total of non-repeat hours of New Zealand programming has increased by 60 hours, from 2003. New Zealand television networks have an average ratio of around one in three programmes being New Zealand - made. There has been an increase of nearly 200 hours per annum of New Zealand content in prime time since the Labour-led Government came to power.

Sue Kedgley: When Australia has local content quotas of 55 percent for all its commercial television channels, the United Kingdom has on average 91 percent local programming on its television channels, Canada has 75 percent, Italy has 83 percent, and Germany has 91 percent, why does our Government allow our State-owned broadcaster to screen only a pitiful 38 percent of New Zealand - made programmes across its two channels?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: I think that question needs to be put in the context of the $93.8 million a year going to New Zealand On Air, and the $36 million of charter funding going to Television New Zealand. These figures are opposed by the parties on the other side of the House, on the whole. This Government has shown a great deal of commitment to New Zealand programming, and that is why the industry in New Zealand is so happy with this Government.

Sue Kedgley: When the chief executive of TVNZ says that the primary goal of the State broadcaster is “to reflect New Zealand to New Zealanders”, why are 82 percent of the programmes on TV2 foreign-made?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: Because the large amount of money that is now being committed to New Zealand programming is out there, and the programmes are being made as we speak. If the member cared to go and talk to the large number of people who form the industry, she would know they are doing exactly that.

Sue Kedgley: Does the Minister agree that it is a terrible indictment that the amount of children’s programming on TV2 declined by 71 hours last year to the lowest level in 5 years, despite the fact that some of the previous programmes were just overseas cartoons with a New Zealand front-person, and does he agree that this breaches TVNZ’s obligations to increase the amount of children’s programming?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: No, I do not. What Television New Zealand is doing is moving from using front-people on overseas cartoons to committing itself to making a lot more New Zealand programming—entire programming—available. That means we will now have the basis of a genuine industry around children’s television in this country, rather than one-off occasions when people just front up on television to say what the overseas programme is about. That is a major step forward.

Sue Kedgley: Does the Minister agree with the former Speaker Jonathan Hunt, who said on his retirement that we had to acknowledge that the charter was not working and that it was now time to look at other models to improve the quality of public service television, such as having one channel run along the lines of the SBS semi-commercial model in Australia; if not, why not?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: While I fully respect the words of the previous Speaker, given that he was also a Minister of Broadcasting and helped establish the system within which we are working, I do not agree with that statement. I think that what we are doing at the present time is a better way forward.

Health Services—Waiting Lists

9. Dr PAUL HUTCHISON (National—Port Waikato) to the Minister of Health: Does she stand by her statement, “people are not culled. They are sent to their general practitioners to be monitored”, and can she explain the difference to the thousands of patients who have been removed from waiting lists?

Hon PETE HODGSON (Associate Minister of Health), on behalf of the Minister of Health: Yes, the Minister does stand by that statement.

Dr Paul Hutchison: How can the Minister deny that people are not culled but are instead monitored; or is she denying the word of Mrs Peggy Griffiths, an orthopaedic patient culled from the Counties-Manakau waiting list in April, who said: “I’m sitting here in agony. I can’t even get across the floor. The devastating letter came from Counties-Manakau with absolutely no instructions regarding if I would be monitored, how I would be monitored, or when I would be monitored.”?

Hon PETE HODGSON: Under this Government, patients are either given surgery or are advised that, based on resources and their condition, they will not, or will not yet, be able to access publicly funded services. Under the previous National Government, people were placed on waiting lists, to wait and wait—

Madam SPEAKER: I cannot hear the member’s answer, and I am sure others in the Chamber could not, either. Would members please just lower the level of interjection. Barracking is not interjection. I ask the Minister to repeat the answer, please.

Hon PETE HODGSON: Under this Government, patients are either given surgery or are advised that, based on resources and their condition, they will not, or will not yet, be able to access publicly funded services. Under the previous National Government, people were placed on waiting lists, to wait and wait with no idea of where, when, or even if they would be able to access surgery. In fact, it was so ridiculous that the member who asked this question sent a letter to the Hon Annette King about someone who had been on a waiting list for knee surgery for 12 years. That has gone.

Steve Chadwick: How has this Government’s policy of providing New Zealanders with clarity and certainty on elective services been received?

Hon PETE HODGSON: If the polling data on managing the health system is a measure, then those changes have been received very well. Alternatively, members could take a look at the view of a number of groups. I instance Age Concern, which years ago pleaded for honesty and clarity in the system. This Government has delivered just that.

Barbara Stewart: Is the Minister aware that Christchurch Hospital’s emergency department reportedly sees hundreds of waiting list patients seeking urgent attention for conditions such as gallstones and hernias, and will the Government provide one-off funding so that those taxpayers can have their surgery performed in public hospitals, rather than having to rely on the charity hospital; if not, why not?

Hon PETE HODGSON: The member is apparently unaware of a series of one-off funding initiatives to reduce the waiting times for certain types of surgery. For example, in the last Budget the Hon Annette King announced funding that will see the number of orthopaedic surgical procedures rise by 100 percent over 4 years. Just the week before last, the same Minister put more money into the budget that will see cataract surgery rise by 50 percent over 4 years. This Government does get on with making sure that New Zealanders have good access to our health system.

Heather Roy: How does the Minister explain her own waiting list figures, which show that 15 people have been waiting in Labour’s hidden category of active review since Bill English was the Minister of Health; or is it her view that that is still Bill English’s fault?

Hon PETE HODGSON: I am afraid that I do not have to hand any data about an active review list, or whatever it was, but I would be happy to answer the member’s question if she would like to approach me with a written question.

Hon Richard Prebble: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. The Minister may have come to the House unprepared, but preparation was not required to answer that question. He was just asked, in respect of the fact that 15 people have been waiting since Bill English’s time, whether he took responsibility for that or whether we are all to believe that it is the National Party’s fault. He does not need any data for that; it is just a simple statement. He should let us know the answer. Is he taking responsibility, or are we to blame the National Party?

Madam SPEAKER: The Minister did address the question. The point of order is therefore not a valid one in this context.

Ron Mark: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I ask you, then, for a ruling on behalf of the Opposition, in particular. How appropriate is it, when we are allocated a question, to ask the Minister a perfectly acceptable oral question, and to have him simply acknowledge the question by asking the member to submit it to him in writing. Surely he should now take that request as a request made in this House and provide that information to the member, without the member having to ask a written question.

Madam SPEAKER: I thank the member for his intervention. I am sure that that is exactly what will happen. An answer that is specific to the question that was asked will, after preparation, be given by the Minister. If it is not, undoubtedly the Speaker will be approached.

Dr Paul Hutchison: Does the Minister deny that senior Ministry of Health officials, such as David Geddis, have informed district health boards and orthopaedic surgeons that they must actively manage their waiting lists—which means culling—or they may not receive funding for the orthopaedic initiative, such instruction being tantamount to bribery and an interference with ethical behaviour?

Hon PETE HODGSON: I really do not know what the member is on about with that question. I would have thought that the active management of waiting lists was a good idea, and that doubling the number of orthopaedic procedures over the next 3 years would be an even better one.

Dr Paul Hutchison: Does the Minister blame those orthopaedic surgeons who are refusing to compromise their duty to patients, and who simply will not be told to remove them from the waiting list or to use the deceptive, coercive techniques that she is making the ministry use so that the Government’s waiting list looks good?

Hon PETE HODGSON: I had the pleasure of attending an orthopaedic surgeons’ meeting about 2 or 3 weeks ago, during which time I spoke with a number of orthopaedic surgeons, all of whom are delighted with the attention that this Government is giving to orthopaedic surgery, and none of whom seemed to come up with the grizzle that that member wanted to drop in the House.

Heather Roy: I seek the leave of the House to table the Minister of Health’s own waiting list figures, showing that 15 people have been waiting in the hidden category of active review for 54 to 59 months or longer.

Madam SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection? There is; it will not be tabled.

Dr Paul Hutchison: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. The first point of order I wish to bring up relates to the statement by Minister Hodgson that a patient was on the waiting list for 12 years. I have since been informed that that patient, who Minister King and Minister Hodgson claimed was waiting for 12 years, had, in actual fact, no need for surgery by the end of the 1990s, but has over the last 3 years been unable to get surgery, and is still unable to get his definitive surgery date. Would Minister Hodgson like to reconsider his statement?

Madam SPEAKER: We thank the member for the additional information, but that was not a point of order.

Rodney Hide: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. You ruled that the Minister answered Heather Roy’s question when he said he would need to get the information and would get back to her if she put the question down as a written question. Heather Roy then did the appropriate thing, which was to seek to table the information for the benefit of the Minister and, indeed, of the House. We are now in the perplexing situation where the Government denied leave for that information to be tabled, and so that is the precise muddle that the House is in. The Minister will not answer the question because he has not got the information. We are now not allowed to table the information because the Government does not want to see it. I have to say, having seen the information, that I can understand why the Government wants to keep it secret.

Madam SPEAKER: The member can give the information to the Minister, who has given his word to respond to it.

Dr Paul Hutchison: I seek leave to table three papers. The first is a letter from Counties-Manukau District Health Board dated 3 May 2005, stating that Mrs P Griffiths is removed from the waiting list, and showing no evidence whatsoever of how or when she will be monitored.

Leave granted.

Dr Paul Hutchison: The second is the latest surgical waiting list from the Ministry of Health, which shows 23,129 patients were waiting for longer than 6 months in November 2004, increasing to 25,960 in March this year.

Leave granted.

Dr Paul Hutchison: The third is an article from the Christchurch Press dated 14 May 2005 entitled “Study urged on waiting list cull effects”, and stating Professor Laurence Malcolm is urging the Canterbury District Health Board to investigate the impact of striking thousands of patients from the waiting lists.

Madam SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table the press release. Is there any objection? Yes, there is. It will not be tabled.

Hon Jim Anderton: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. Can Dr Hutchison assure the House that he has the permission of the woman whom he is quoting in that letter to table it here in the House?

Madam SPEAKER: That is not a point of order, but—

Dr Paul Hutchison: I assure the House that that is the case.

Alcohol and Drug Abuse, and Suicide Prevention—Programme Funding

10. Hon MATT ROBSON (Deputy Leader—Progressive) to the Associate Minister of Health: What recent funding announcements has the Labour-Progressive Government made to combat the problem of drug and alcohol abuse and suicide prevention?

Hon JIM ANDERTON (Associate Minister of Health): In last year’s Budget $53.6 million over 4 years was secured to fight P, alcohol, and other drug abuse, and last week I announced that this year’s Progressive Party initiatives include a further investment of $13.5 million to continue the fight against drug abuse, and develop further suicide prevention strategies.

Hon Matt Robson: Why does the Labour-Progressive Government make these significant investments in programmes to reduce the harm caused by alcohol and other drugs in society, when all those millions of dollars, according to some parties in this House, could instead be returned to taxpayers in the form of income tax cuts?

Hon JIM ANDERTON: I think the truth is that, unlike the days of National-led coalition Governments in the 1990s, when individual income tax cuts were a higher priority than increased investments in essential social services, like health and education, this coalition Government is responsive to New Zealanders’ yearning for programmes and action to promote successful and safer communities.

Hon Brian Donnelly: Will the Associate Minister confirm that the lowering of the drinking age in 1999 has exacerbated alcohol abuse amongst young people, and can he also confirm that that legislation was voted for not only by the Hon Matt Robson but also by the majority of Labour members at the time, and was opposed by every single member of New Zealand First?

Hon JIM ANDERTON: My personal view is that the lowering of the drinking age was inappropriate, but other members of the House have different views. As far as the vote in the House is concerned, my recollection is that the Alliance members at the time—I think including Matt Robson, but certainly including myself—actually voted against the lowering of the drinking age, as I think Hansard will show.

Ministerial Behaviour—Prime Minister's Statement

11. RODNEY HIDE (Leader—ACT) to the Prime Minister: What standards of ministerial behaviour have she and her Government set, in light of her statement “New Zealanders should be able to look to their government for a lead on standards of behaviour and accountability.”?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK (Prime Minister): Ministers are required to be hard-working and conscientious.

Rodney Hide: What responsibility does the Prime Minister take for the growing tally of scandals in her Government, from John Tamihere rubbishing her, her Ministers, and her policies, to the 111 scandal, her covert knifing of a former Commissioner of Police, Peter Doone, the National Certificate of Educational Achievement (NCEA) debacle, and, now, one of her Ministers publicly being called a liar for his answers in Parliament?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: Obviously, one would take exception to a number of the statements in that question. But what is becoming a mounting tally is the member’s baseless smear attacks on a whole range of people. No wonder his party is turning to John Banks to be the leader!

Gerry Brownlee: Does the Prime Minister think the handling of the 111 crisis by George Hawkins, of the NCEA scholarship debacle by Trevor Mallard, and of the Te Wânanga o Aotearoa excesses by Steve Maharey, or her own misleading of the Sunday Star-Times with the off-the-record comments on the Doone case, are exhibits of hard-working and conscientious behaviour and show leading standards of behaviour and accountability?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: That question also contains a number of statements that are not true. I am satisfied that when Ministers in this Government have problems identified, they fix them.

Hon Ken Shirley: What confidence can New Zealanders have in her administration, when over 25 percent of her Ministers since 2000 have been sacked, suspended, or removed from Cabinet under a cloud, and I cite Phillida Bunkle and Marian Hobbs, on expense claims; Ruth Dyson, drunk in charge of a motor vehicle; Lianne Dalziel, deliberate deception; Dover Samuels; John Tamihere, taking a golden handshake when he said he would not; Tariana Turia, for desertion; and David Benson-Pope—does the Prime Minister accept that she has a recruitment, a retention, and a quality problem?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: Had the same standards been applied to Denis Marshall, Murray McCully, John Banks, Tau Henare, and numerous others, the tally would have been even bigger under previous Governments.

Gender Reassignment—Background Checks

12. RON MARK (NZ First) to the Minister of Health: Does the Ministry of Health conduct background checks, other than psychological and psychiatric assessments, before any decisions are made to fund sex-change operations; if not, why not?

Hon PETE HODGSON (Acting Minister of Health): No. No other checks are carried out.

Ron Mark: Is the Minister of Health aware that one person currently seeking a taxpayer-funded sex-change operation—a person who has also callously tried to court sympathy through the media—has committed a litany of child sex offences of the most depraved kind; and why does her ministry consider such operations as a priority for taxpayer funding at a time when health workers are striking over poor pay and working conditions, and when her own figures confirm that people on waiting lists are dying by the thousand each year?

Hon PETE HODGSON: The New Zealand health system does not allocate its services according to a patient’s criminal record. If people with convictions were excluded from accessing the system, then my personal conviction is that that would be wrong. I suspect that that would be the member’s personal conviction, too.

Madam SPEAKER: Mr Mark.

Ron Mark: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I know that the custom is to go across from one side of the House to the other when calling supplementary questions. I saw Dianne Yates calling for a supplementary question before me.

Madam SPEAKER: That is really kind of you.

Dianne Yates: Can doctors in New Zealand withhold treatment because a person has criminal convictions?

Hon PETE HODGSON: No, they cannot. A person who has a criminal record is not discounted from having access to elective or emergency surgery. There is no basis on which to decline a patient because of his or her criminal record.

Ron Mark: How many hip replacements, gall bladder operations, knee replacements, or hernias could be attended to with the $170,000 set aside by this Government specifically to fund sex-change operations for people convicted of perverse activities; and what does it say to the public about the priorities of this Government, when it is prepared to offer funding for sex-change operations to prison inmates and depraved paedophiles while many decent elderly people are dying while waiting for their surgery?

Hon PETE HODGSON: I cannot bring to mind the additional amount of money the Hon Annette King has put in for orthopaedic surgery, but I think it is $80 million, compared with $170,000. However, I think a more poignant piece of information for the member is this. An analysis was done of 2,000 transsexual patients in 13 countries over 30 years. In a recent letter to the weekend Press of Christchurch, the following sentences were submitted: “Perhaps the saddest statistic to emerge were the suicide rates. Up to 25 percent of male-to-female transsexuals, and almost 20 percent of female-to-male transsexuals, had attempted suicide at least once before beginning treatment.” I do not want to go on and say that paedophilia and the desire for a sex-change operation are linked, but I certainly could not say that they are not.

Ron Mark: I seek the leave of the House to table written answers from the Minister confirming that 3,701 people on the waiting list have died between 2001 and 2002.

Madam SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that written answer. Is there any objection? Yes, there is.

Ron Mark: I seek leave of the House to table an article from the Dominion Post confirming that this Government funded a sex-change operation last year for an inmate in jail.

Madam SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that article. Is there any objection? There is. It will not be tabled.

Question No. 10 to Minister

Hon BRIAN DONNELLY (NZ First): I realise that it is convention to ask for leave to table documentation immediately after a question, but I was taken by surprise by the Hon Jim Anderton’s lack of knowledge of the voting pattern of his colleague. Therefore, I now ask for leave to table the votes on the third reading of the alcohol amendment bill in 1999.

Madam SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection? There is.

( Uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing. For corrected transcripts, please visit: http://www.clerk.parliament.govt.nz/hansard )

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