Questions & Answers for Oral Answer 31 May 2005
Tuesday, 31 May
Questions for Oral Answer
1. Iraqi Immigrants—Saddam Hussein
2. Genetically Modified Organisms—Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety
3. Budget 2005—Taxation Thresholds
4. Budget 2005—Fiscal Proposals, Alternative
5. Budget 2005—Taxation Changes
6. Crimes Act—Repeal of Section 59
Question No. 7 to Minister
7. Weathertight Homes Resolution Service—Claims Resolution
8. Working for Families Package—Benefits from 1 April 2005
9. Apples—Australian Market Access
10. Misuse of Drugs Act—Proposed Changes
11. Foreshore and Seabed—Ownership, East Coast
Question No. 7 to Minister
12. Budget 2005—Defence Policies
Questions for Oral Answer
Questions to Ministers
Iraqi Immigrants—Saddam Hussein Regime
1. Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS (Leader—NZ First) to the Minister of Immigration: Is he aware of a Amir Salman of Bucklands Beach, Omer Ali of Howick, and a man named Jazwan, and whether they have connections to the murderous regime of Saddam Hussein; if so, what are they doing here?
Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR (Acting Minister of Immigration): At this point I am unable to confirm whether the individuals referred to by the member are living at the addresses, or whether the member’s claims are true. I invite the member to meet with me directly after question time and I will be happy to receive any further information he has on these individuals.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Why on earth would any member of Parliament do that, given that with respect to the Ali family and 16 fraudulent cases in this country brought to the Prime Minister’s attention by a person outside of this Parliament in April, any official whatsoever has yet to visit that family, and despite the comments from his colleague Mr Paul Swain, the Minister of Immigration, that this matter is in the hands of the Serious Fraud Office, if after 6 weeks nothing is done, why would I confer with him?
Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: Many claims are made in this House. If we do receive any information from anyone, be they members of Parliament or the public, we look at it very carefully. I remind the member that there is a danger for individuals in raising information in the public arena at times, as was pointed out to that member last week by a lawyer who said that identifying the person in question allowed that person greater access to refugee status.
Dianne Yates: What has the Government done to strengthen border security?
Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: We have done heaps. The Immigration Service has recently brought decision making on visa applications on shore, beginning with the highest-risk applications. A new category of undesirability is being developed, to allow staff to better judge the suitability of applicants. We have added more than $30 million over past years to strengthen border security. We have established a fraud unit. We have introduced an Advance Passenger Processing system, which has stopped 650 people from entering New Zealand. This Government is committed to proper border protection for this country.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Why would the Minister repeat the shyster views of a lawyer, who knew full well when he said them that the man he was talking about had already, before he was named, gone to see Ahmed Zaoui’s lawyers for the purpose of lodging a refugee application; why would the Minister, against all the chronological evidence, repeat that sort of view?
Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: Because the facts are that if one raises people’s names in the public arena, be it in this House or outside, it adds weight to their claims that they may be persecuted if they are sent back to their country. That adds to their case for refugee status. It is not something that this Government wishes to condone, at all.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: If the former Minister for Agriculture and Agrarian Reform in the Saddam regime came from Kuwait and not Iraq, why would he have to be sent back to Iraq and not Kuwait, where he happily lived for 10 months, when he came here for the purpose of bringing his son, as well? This is the real point: what is a former chief person in the police of Saddam Hussein, Omer Ali, doing here, and what are two Baath Party group leaders—key apparatchiks in the Baath Party—Jazwan and Amir Salman, doing here?
Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: As I said first up, I cannot confirm those claims at this point, but if the member wants to pass on any further information about these individuals, I will welcome that information. I am happy to meet with the member straight after question time.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: If a member of Cabinet is given the names and locations of people whose entitlement to be here is in question, why is that not enough information for all the agencies of the law in this country to act; or will we see the same thing happen that has occurred in respect of the Ali family—even though they have been challenged to have DNA tests, no one at this point in time is verifying anything about their fraudulent applications?
Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: The member has provided very little information. He has provided three names, one a man named Jazwan. That is not sufficient to accurately identify people, let alone to work out whether the accusations and claims the member makes are true.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: How many Iraqis from the Saddam Hussein regime has the Government caught thus far, since this issue was brought to the Minister’s attention many years ago?
Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: I cannot answer that question, but if the member wishes to forward a written question I will be more than happy to answer it. It would help if the member could provide more information around his claims. I am happy to meet him after question time to get that information.
Hon Tony Ryall: Is it possible for a Middle Eastern man who is facing very serious criminal charges in New Zealand to be granted refugee status?
Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: I cannot answer that question without knowing the details of the individual, his so-called convictions, and on what grounds he is claiming refugee status. There is an international protocol around the allocation of refugee status to anyone, and we abide by that process. I am more than happy to meet with even this member, after I have met with Mr Peters to get more information about that case.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Would the Minister take up this offer, that we have a meeting after he has spent at least a week with his own officials and all the other agencies of law enforcement that he should be using with regard to this matter, rather than putting up a pretentious, hopeless defence in Parliament on a daily basis?
Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: If those officials were provided with more accurate and detailed information, it would save this country a huge amount of taxpayers’ dollars. If Mr Peters would provide more accurate information, we would all be better off.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I seek leave to table four documents. Firstly, I seek leave to table a report from the Prime Minister that she has put the Ali family case in the hands of the various agencies.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Secondly, I seek leave to table the report from Paul Swain last week that he had put the matter in the hands of the Serious Fraud Office.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Thirdly, I seek leave to table a very illuminating article in the New Zealand Herald seeking to defend this family that has been put upon.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Fourthly, I seek leave to table another article in the New Zealand Herald, which sets out that the Ali family has been challenged to a DNA test, that at this point in time no official has been to see them, and that there has been a deafening silence since the DNA challenge was put out to the Ali family as to whether they will go through the process of finding out whether they are here legitimately.
Madam SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection? There is.
Genetically Modified Organisms—Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety
2. JEANETTE FITZSIMONS (Co-Leader—Green) to the Minister for the Environment: Did New Zealand support the imposition of strict liability on manufacturers of genetically modified organisms during the meeting of parties to the Cartagena Protocol?
Hon MARIAN HOBBS (Minister for the Environment): There was no such proposal at the second meeting of parties to the Cartagena Protocol, which is under way in Montreal. The focus of a working group on liability and redress that met last week was mainly on process—brainstorming possible elements of a regime. New Zealand wants all options considered.
Jeanette Fitzsimons: Why did New Zealand sign and ratify a protocol that has already set rules for liability and redress for damage, if it now intends to undermine the treaty by suggesting that rules on liability may not be necessary?
Hon MARIAN HOBBS: We suggested that the consideration—amongst another five considerations—that there be no rules for liability ought to be added in order to put it inside the tent to be considered.
David Parker: Why did New Zealand sign the Cartagena Protocol?
Hon MARIAN HOBBS: We signed the protocol because we are committed to comprehensive biosecurity and to countries sharing information about what is imported and what is exported. Ratification put us inside the tent, allowing us to influence the development of the rules—not to sign up to the rules, but to take part in the development of the rules—to protect our economic interests as an agricultural exporter. This means ensuring that rules do not become a barrier to trade.
Jeanette Fitzsimons: When the Minister says she is taking into account our economic interests as an agricultural exporter, is it code for a Government plan for New Zealand to become a producer and exporter of GE foods; if not, how can the lack of liability possibly help exporters of non-GE products?
Hon MARIAN HOBBS: No, it is not code for our developing GE exports.
David Parker: Would New Zealand support a strict liability regime under the protocol?
Hon MARIAN HOBBS: New Zealand has a very effective domestic regime, which includes general liability and penalties around breaking stipulated rules. If a similarly effective regime were proposed internationally, we would be interested.
Hon Brian Donnelly: Would the Minister confirm that if strict liability were to be applied to either GE or non-GE substances, no new products would ever be used in New Zealand, and we might as well go back to a Neolithic society—the prospect of which is cold comfort to all New Zealanders, with the exception of the Greens?
Hon MARIAN HOBBS: I would confirm that strict liability in an international regime might very well deter activities that are socially beneficial and would consequently stifle innovation and economic growth, which is contrary to Government policy.
Ian Ewen-Street: Why does the Minister believe that the New Zealand taxpayer is better able to cover the risk to our food producers from GE contamination than the worldwide insurance industry, which refuses to cover such risks, because a catastrophic event would be beyond its combined ability to pay for?
Hon MARIAN HOBBS: The insurance industry is, as I understand it, equally worried about the Kyoto Protocol and about storms, and, in fact, is very loath to take risks it cannot measure.
Ian Ewen-Street: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I do not think the Minister made any attempt to answer my question at all. The question very specifically asked why the New Zealand taxpayer is better able to cope with the cost of a catastrophic event than the worldwide combined insurance industry. She did not address that at all.
Madam SPEAKER: The Minister did address the question, in the sense that she addressed the reasons why the insurance companies were not taking that risk. That was part of the member’s question.
Jeanette Fitzsimons: Why, in opposing strict liability, is the Minister turning her back on New Zealand producers and exporters like Pacific Seeds and Sunrise Coast NZ, whose market depends on their being GE free and who have already lost substantially from GE contamination outside their control; and should she not be demanding, under this protocol, that overseas producers that contaminate businesses here take responsibility and compensate?
Hon MARIAN HOBBS: We will support our importers and exporters by ensuring the development of rules that are scientifically based. There is nothing currently in New Zealand law that prevents those New Zealand importing companies from suing the company from which they received exports.
Budget 2005—Taxation Thresholds
3. JOHN KEY (National—Helensville) to the Minister of Finance: What will be the weekly increase in after-tax income from 1 April 2008 for an individual earning under $38,000 per annum as a result of the adjustments in tax thresholds announced by him in the Budget, and what effect does he expect this increase to have on the economy?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Minister of Finance): Through the threshold change, an extra 67c per week.
John Key: Sorry?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Yes, for the member that would be sorry, but for the person on $38,000 per year, with two children and rent of $300 a week, with the Working for Families package that will come to $129.44 a week. As someone in this circumstance currently pays only $7,410 a year in tax, the 19.5 percent rate would have to be cut to 2 percent to deliver the same increase through the tax system. A tax cut of this size—roughly $10 billion a year—would be disastrous for both the economy and society, but would make Mr Key and his mates very happy indeed.
Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. You have been very firm with the House about trying to get to the heart of the issue of Ministers answering questions appropriately. I do not want to trifle with you, but perhaps it would be useful for the Minister to clarify that amongst all the plethora of numbers he just threw out there, the actual answer was 67c.
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: The numbers include all the changes that the Budget is paying for, which for that family comes to $129.44 a week, and for Mr Key comes to $10.24 a week.
John Key: Was the 67c tax break the deep, dark secret Labour Party president Mike Williams was touting before the Budget; and does the Minister think the president’s comments played a significant part in the Budget being so soundly rejected by all New Zealanders?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: No. I think that what happened was that certain print journalists interviewed their own typewriters, decided there was going to be a big tax cut, and, as the poor, benighted press gallery journalists must be earning a great deal more than I thought they earned, got very disappointed when the tax cut did not appear.
Gordon Copeland: Why did the Minister, in wisely picking up on United Future’s call of a bracket adjustment for inflation, defer its commencement to 1 April 2008, when, by his own admission, further inflation of about 6.12 percent will have occurred by then?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: The adjustment to thresholds is 3-yearly, for administrative reasons. It starts from the start of the current tax year, and therefore will come into force in 2008. I note, of course, that the National Party had tax cuts by Christmas that were gone by lunchtime.
Dr Muriel Newman: What is the Minister’s response to those hard-working Kiwis who feel angry that a Government sitting on unprecedented surpluses has revealed that the so-called deep, dark secret of the Budget is actually nothing more than a packet of Wrigley’s PK chewing gum a week, in 3 years’ time?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: What that hard-working, battling family will have, if it is a low to modest income family, is far more through Family Support changes than what tax cuts could ever deliver. It is only that party’s mates and funders who would gain significantly from tax cuts. That party is building expectations it cannot deliver on, as we saw last week.
John Key: In relation to the Minister’s first answer, then, does he agree with the Prime Minister that the New Zealand Herald put the words “deep, dark secret” into Mike Williams’ mouth, or does he agree that the tape of the interview shows Mr Williams stating, unprompted, that there was some deep, dark secret in the Budget?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: If Mr Williams said that, he forgot to tell me what it was.
John Key: Oh—yeah right! That is a choice billboard—[Interruption]
Madam SPEAKER: I know it is the first day back, but quiet please!
John Key: If the Minister was not using Mike Williams as some sort of Amway salesman for tax cuts, why did he not just come straight out and denounce the comments, immediately after Mike Williams made them, and well before the Budget was actually delivered?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: As I had no idea what deep, dark secret was being referred to, it was hard for me to do that without releasing the Budget. At least, I did not promise tax cuts by Christmas and then back off from that within a matter of days, as the National Party did.
John Key: At what point did the Minister inform United Future members that the changes to tax thresholds would not take place until 2008; and were they grateful for those changes or did they react with a combination of laughter, shock, and disbelief—as the rest of the country did?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: If there is a mass outbreak of insanity and that member ever becomes Minister of Finance, he will find that people are never grateful for what is in the Budget.
Budget 2005—Fiscal Proposals, Alternative
4. CLAYTON COSGROVE (Labour—Waimakariri) to the Minister of Finance: What reports, if any, has he received on alternative fiscal proposals to those contained within the Budget?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Minister of Finance): I have seen reports calling for a lot more spending on police and a lot more spending on justice, reports asking defence officials and staff exactly what toys they want—and proposing buying them all for them—and reports asking for very large cuts in revenue. All those reports have come from the National Party within the last 12 days.
Clayton Cosgrove: Could the Minister advise the House what the consequence would be of cuts in revenue?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Without increasing borrowing and, therefore, interest rates, every billion-dollar cut to revenue requires a 2.1 percent cut to expenditure. If evenly spread, that would include 497 fewer primary school teachers, 394 fewer secondary school teachers, 154 fewer sworn police, 112 fewer hospital doctors, 422 fewer hospital nurses, and 23 fewer front-line workers, as well as a cut of roughly $9 a week in New Zealand superannuation for a married couple.
John Key: What has the greatest impact on inflation: a dollar spent by the Government or a dollar spent by the private sector?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: What has the greatest impact is if the Government borrows money to increase demand in the economy, which is what the National Party is proposing, because if National was not to increase demand, it would have to cut expenditure by an amount equivalent to the revenue. The National Party cannot have it both ways. It has already promised to borrow money for roads; it cannot borrow the same money again for tax cuts.
Rodney Hide: Can the Minister of Finance confirm that the net worth of the Government is to increase by $5.5 billion each and every year over the next 5 years, that there is plenty of room for tax cuts, and that his argument that there is not is just another example of his getting his facts wrong—like he did this morning, when he attacked journalists for obtaining information under false pretences, and then had to issue an apology and a correction so that the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister of New Zealand would not be sued in court for defamation?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: In fact, Prime Television did engage in deception to gather evidence, in cahoots with that member. Secondly, the member needs to do a little more basic economics. The Crown’s net worth includes the growth in the Superannuation Fund, which he would abolish. It also includes revaluations of State assets, such as Archives New Zealand, roads, and various other things. That can be used to fund tax cuts only if we are prepared to flog those things off.
Gordon Copeland: Would the Minister give consideration, though, to funding earlier tax cuts by selling down up to 40 percent of selected State-owned enterprises, including the New Zealand Superannuation Fund, to investors, or would his party’s statist dogma and ideology again become a block to a common-sense, win-win opportunity?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: No. The Labour Party stays true to the views espoused by Mr Dunne when he was a member of it—that is, if State assets are sold, they are sold to reduce debt, not to fund current consumption.
Budget 2005—Taxation Changes
5. RODNEY HIDE (Leader—ACT) to the Minister of Finance: What is the total annual fiscal cost in 2009 of the tax changes announced in Budget 2005, and what is this as a percentage of total Government spending?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Minister of Finance): The fiscal cost of the business tax package and personal threshold changes is $456.4 million—some 0.8 percent of Government spending—which is offset by $319.2 million of revenue from carbon charges, making a net cost of $137.2 million, or approximately 0.2 percent of total core Crown spending.
Rodney Hide: Is this 0.2 percent reduction in Government spending, to be returned to hard-working Kiwis, the extent of the “deep, dark secret” that the Labour Party President, Mike Williams, hyped up to the New Zealand Herald, or was the “deep, dark secret” just another example of this Minister of Finance getting his facts wrong, as he did this morning when he had to issue a correction and an apology to avoid being sued?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I repeat again that Prime Television was engaged in underhand tactics, in cahoots with that particular member; we are well used to his tactics in those respects. No, in fact, the deep, dark secret—which is out there in the public arena, if members care to look—is that on 1 April next year many working families will get another $50 or more a week from the in-work payment plus changes to family support.
Kenneth Wang: Does he realise that his failure to cut tax rates has led to the lowest level of business confidence in 70 years; if he does not accept that, which Government policy has caused such a huge drop in confidence?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: As I am sure Dr Brash could inform the member, the purpose of monetary policy in situations such as the present is to slow down the economy. If the Government then chooses to re-inflate the economy by borrowing for tax cuts, the Reserve Bank will simply put interest rates up higher. That is how a modern Western economy works.
Gordon Copeland: Does the Minister not agree that a second-round effect of using proceeds from the partial sale of State-owned enterprises to retire debt is that the Crown accounts are left with a great deal more cash, which could be used for tax cuts?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: No. What happens, of course, is that if assets are sold, the future dividend income stream is lost from those assets, and that further has to be taken into account. The notion that one would sell off assets in order not to retire debt but to fund tax cuts does not make fiscal sense at all. The Government’s accounts would significantly deteriorate as a consequence of that.
John Key: Is not the real truth around the Budget that the Prime Minister recognised that this Labour Government was miles behind in the polling, on taxation; that she had to force the Minister of Finance begrudgingly to give some pathetic tax cuts in 3 years’ time; that the Prime Minister then dispatched the president of the Labour Party to go on his “Amway” sales course to pump up the Budget; and that, now that it is an absolute disaster, everybody in the Labour Party is blaming everybody else, and the truth is that this will be the longest resignation letter of the Minister of Finance?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: No, no, no, no, no, and no, if I can quote the French. But also I think that member could do with a public relations person to sell National’s tax policy. It has been a disaster over the last week.
Deborah Coddington: Will his proposed tax changes mean that families can double their net worth in the next 6 years, as the Government is proposing to do—going from $35 billion to $63 billion? If not, what does he say to families who are now complaining about “rich Government, poor people”?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Many families have doubled their net worth over the last few years, but what they have learnt, of course—and the member should take note of this—is that, in terms of a household budget, just as with a Government Budget, net worth does not pay the weekly bills.
Hon Ken Shirley: Does he concede that his Government’s carbon tax will be inflationary to the extent that it increases the consumer price of both electricity and petrol; if he does not concede that it is inflationary, could he explain to the House why not?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Yes, indeed. Clearly, the carbon tax will increase the consumer price index on a one-off basis, presumably by somewhere around, or just under, 0.2 percent.
Heather Roy: Why has he denied hard-working Kiwi families this $40 basket of groceries every week, instead giving some only this measly packet of chewing gum in 3 years’ time?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Firstly, I hope the member will return the plastic basket to the supermarket that it came from, and, secondly, could I point out that the scale of the tax cuts that that member’s party was talking about would lead to both a massive increase in interest rates—
Hon Member: Oh no.
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: —$5.7 billion—and a massive decline in funding for services that the very same family relies upon, unlike the people who fund ACT, who do not worry about health-care and education costs.
Rodney Hide: Why should New Zealanders believe anything the Minister of Finance says, when he went up to Hong Kong in April 2000 and promised that the Government wanted to reduce the 33 percent company tax rate when it could afford to; when he continues to make up stories about my friend Dave Henderson, when under attack; when he attacks TV3 journalists by making things up and accusing them of operating by false pretences; and when he continues to make things up by accusing me of working in with some Prime Television journalist whom I have never heard of and, as far as I know, have never spoken to; why does he not actually tell the truth?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Like, why does the member not apologise for his false accusations against Mr Tamihere, which he has never actually had the gumption to face up to and apologise for? I certainly made a mistake about TV3; it was Prime Television, and I make no apology to it for its behaviour in that respect. That member, of course, is well known for trying to dig up dirt on everybody around the place. The trouble with digging up dirt is sometimes it comes back to rest in one’s own boots.
Crimes Act—Repeal of Section 59
6. SUE BRADFORD (Green) to the Minister of Justice: Will the Government introduce legislation to repeal section 59 of the Crimes Act 1961; if so, when?
Hon RICK BARKER (Acting Minister of Justice): No decision has yet been made by the Government on whether to repeal section 59 of the Crimes Act, which provides a defence for parents who use “reasonable force” in disciplining their children. The Government is funding a campaign to provide information to parents on effective alternative ways to discipline their children without the use of physical force. A decision on the future of section 59 will not be made until that campaign has been evaluated.
Sue Bradford: Why is the Government not prepared to repeal section 59 immediately, when results of the court case in Timaru last week so clearly showed that this law still allows parents to assault and beat their children—in this case with a horse crop and a cane?
Hon RICK BARKER: The law does not give parents a right to assault their children; it gives them the right to a defence that “reasonable force” was used. “Reasonable force” can be used as a defence against accusations of assault, and the judgment of what is reasonable is determined by the jury.
Tim Barnett: Why has the Government decided to implement an information programme before considering changing the law?
Hon RICK BARKER: Because changing the law without first addressing attitudes to discipline, and educating parents as to effective alternatives, is likely to be ineffective.
Murray Smith: In light of the fact that the Ministry of Social Development SKIP: Strategies with Kids—Information for Parents report, released just this year, indicates that two-thirds of parents surveyed had used physical discipline but most had done so only as a last resort, does he agree that the most appropriate legislative response at this time is to clarify section 59, so that parents understand what constitutes reasonable force, as proposed by my member’s bill, rather than criminalising the actions of most New Zealand parents by banning smacking; if not, why not?
Hon RICK BARKER: The member will be pleased with the results of a recent New Zealand Herald poll, which showed quite a significant shift in the attitude of parents. In 1993, 25 percent of parents did not use physical discipline, whereas the latest poll showed that 49 percent did not. So there is a significant change in attitude, and that is a good thing. The best alternative will be decided by the Government, once the evaluation has been completed.
Sue Bradford: Is not the Timaru court case a sign that the $11 million SKIP: Strategies with Kids—Information for Parents programme, which the Minister has just talked about, to stop parents using excessive force against children and young people, is actually ineffective without the legislative support that repealing section 59 would provide?
Hon RICK BARKER: No, I do not agree with that, and I repeat the figures for the member. A recent New Zealand Herald poll showed there has been a significant shift in the attitude of parents. In 1993, 25 percent of them said they did not use physical force. In the latest poll, 49 percent said they did not use force. I would have thought that that was a dramatic shift in parental opinion.
Sue Bradford: Is it not true that repealing section 59 would not mean that every parent who lightly smacked a child would suddenly be prosecuted, any more than every adult who touches another is prosecuted right now for assault; and is it not true that the main effect of section 59 is actually to prevent early intervention in cases where parents have begun to brutalise their children?
Hon RICK BARKER: No and no. No one condones any situation where a parent brutalises his or her child. The law will be very effective in those cases.
Sue Bradford: Why is the Government happy to introduce legislation to protect animals and adults, such as animal welfare, criminal justice, domestic violence, and counter-terrorism legislation, while remaining unwilling to repeal section 59 of the Crimes Act so that our children might be protected against beating?
Hon RICK BARKER: The member focuses entirely on the law, not on the behaviour. I again draw to the member’s attention that the figures show a dramatic shift in parents’ approach to disciplining their children. The programmes are working. A significant change is under way. I would have thought that that member, like all the rest of the members in this House, would welcome a huge dramatic shift in parental opinion and attitude, as demonstrated by the New Zealand Herald poll.
Question No. 7 to Minister
Hon Dr NICK SMITH (National—Nelson): I note that George Hawkins, the Minister of Internal Affairs, is not in the House, so I seek leave for the question to be set aside until the next sitting day on which he is present.
Madam SPEAKER: Leave is sought. Is there any objection? There is.
Weathertight Homes Resolution Service—Claims Resolution
7. Hon Dr NICK SMITH (National—Nelson) to the Minister of Internal Affairs: Are owners of leaky buildings getting access to a “speedy” and “cost-effective” resolution of their claims, as promised under the Weathertight Homes Resolution Services Act 2002?
Hon RICK BARKER (Acting Minister of Internal Affairs): Generally, yes. The service established under this Act is now allocating an assessor within 1 month of claims being accepted. Assessments are generally completed within 4 months. Following assessment, the claimant electing mediation, and identification of the parties, mediators are ready to proceed immediately. Mediations are being completed within an average of 6 months from the date that the claimant elects mediation.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: How can the Minister describe this service as “cost effective”, when, on average, each settlement is costing $108,000, of which not a dollar is spent on repairing the home, and the average adjudicated settlement is $68,000; and is that not just a classic example of the Government wasting money on bureaucracy rather than repairing the homes?
Hon RICK BARKER: That member obviously knows the price of everything and the value of nothing. The price of justice is, in fact, to have a fair and an accurate process. The cost of an assessment is about $7,000 to $10,000, which is free to the person making the application. I would say that that is a very good deal for the people who have the problem.
Russell Fairbrother: Do people with leaky buildings have options to use other means of dispute resolution?
Hon RICK BARKER: Yes. The service is an alternative dispute resolution system to the court system. Assessments are free. Homeowners can opt either for mediation at $200 or for adjudication at $400. I would have thought that to be a very low-cost process, as an alternative to the court system.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: Why did the Minister say on TVNZ’s Sunday programme that most people are getting solutions from the Weathertight Homes Resolution Service, when the record of his own department shows that of the 3,260 cases only 325 have been settled 2½ years later; and since when, under this Government, has 10 percent been “most”?
Hon RICK BARKER: The point the member needs to appreciate is that the service started from zero. There were no staff. A workforce had to be built up and the programme had to start. Of the current claims before the service, 569 have been closed or found to be ineligible. The service currently has 215 mediations, 23 adjudications, and 91 claims under progress. I would have thought that was a very good start.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: What does the Minister say to the thousands of leaky-home owners who are going into their third winter with rotting and unhealthy homes, when—
Hon Chris Carter: Who caused the problem?
Hon Dr Nick Smith: Actually, George Hawkins. What’s the story, Madam Speaker?
Madam SPEAKER: Who intervened when the question was being put? Would that member please leave the Chamber.
Hon Chris Carter withdrew from the Chamber.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: What does the Minister say to the thousands of leaky-home owners who are going into their third winter with rotting and unhealthy homes, when, at the current rate of settlement under this Government’s policy, it will take 20 years to resolve the cases; and is it little wonder that leaky-home owners are declaring bankruptcy and leaving New Zealand?
Hon RICK BARKER: The member’s maths is wrong. In my initial answer I told him that the assessments of leaky homes are generally done within 4 months. Following the assessment, people can choose to go into mediation, and the mediations are being completed in, on average, 6 months. Currently 444 mediations and adjudications are in process. There is a very good rate of work here, and things are moving very rapidly. I can accept that from the beginning there were issues about speed and process, but that was because the service was in start-up mode. It is now working much more effectively and much more efficiently.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: Noting that the average number of claims being lodged this year—2½ years after the service was established—is 80 claims per month, that on average this year the service has achieved 10 settlements per month, and that there is a backlog of over 1,700 claims, how can the Minister possibly say that that is the quick and speedy resolution promised by the Government 2½ years ago?
Hon RICK BARKER: The advice I have is that the current rate of claims is 71 per month, not 80—the member always inflates things. The second thing is that the process does not have absolute control over that. The fact that people enter into a process does not mean that it will go all the way through. It may be found that there is no case, or people may find that there are other alternatives. There is a range of reasons for that not occurring. The point I want to make is that, on average, the mediation process is getting settlements within 6 months. That is a significant improvement and an outstanding result.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: I seek the leave of the House to table the annual reports and Budget estimates that show that the Government is to spend $99.2 million on the bureaucracy of the Weathertight Homes Resolution Service, not a penny of which will go on fixing homes.
Madam SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection? There is objection.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: I further seek the leave of the House to table the latest report of the Weathertight Homes Resolution Service, dated 26 May, which shows that less than 10 percent of claims made 2½ years after it was established have been settled.
Madam SPEAKER: Leave has been sought to table that document. Is there any objection? There is. It will not be tabled.
Working for Families Package—Benefits from 1 April 2005
8. MOANA MACKEY (Labour) to the Minister for Social Development and Employment: What reports has he received on how many New Zealand families have benefited from the 1 April changes to the Working for Families Package?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY (Minister for Social Development and Employment): The initial uptake figures show that around 200,000 families, with an estimated 385,000 children, received family income assistance in April. This figure is set to exceed 260,000 families by April next year and to reach 300,000 by the time the programme is rolled out. The average Inland Revenue family assistance payment was up $113 a week—a 33 percent increase on April last year. In addition, 3,500 more people are receiving an accommodation supplement, and 8,500 more people are receiving childcare assistance, than they did in April last year.
Moana Mackey: How many New Zealand families are predicted to benefit from the 1 April 2006 introduction of an in-work payment?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: An estimated 136,000 working families—nearly 30 percent of all families with children—will receive an in-work payment from 1 April next year. Around 75 percent of them will get the full $60 a week, or more, and they will be better off by between $15 and $45 than under the current child tax credit. Smaller families in particular will benefit from the move to the in-work payment. It will cost $192 million a year and ensure that thousands of families are better off by making the step into paid employment. I am told, however, that the National Party does not like this kind of support for people moving into work, so we can expect it to axe the in-work payment as well.
Apples—Australian Market Access
9. DAIL JONES (NZ First) to the Minister for Trade Negotiations: Why did he reportedly say on 23 May with regard to getting access for New Zealand apples into Australia that he is waiting on the result of both Australia’s import risk assessment and a World Trade Organisation compliance panel investigating Japan?
Hon JIM SUTTON (Minister for Trade Negotiations): Because those two events are clearly relevant to the resolution of this issue. The Japan-US case turns on a similar point. That is why New Zealand participated in the case as a third party. But that is not all we have done. We continue to argue strongly New Zealand’s case for apples access at every appropriate opportunity with the Australian Government. I can assure members that the Government will maintain these efforts until access has been gained.
Dail Jones: Why does the Minister persist in referring to the America-Japan case when as long ago as November 2003 that case was decided in favour of the United States; does the Minister not see the irony in Australia chairing the Cairns group of agricultural nations supporting free trade when Australia is blatantly blocking access for our apple growers, based on no scientific evidence whatsoever; and when will he ditch his softly-softly approach to Australian protectionism and use the World Trade Organization to uphold our right to free access to the Australian market for our pipfruit growers, as New Zealand First plans to do as part of its 2005 election policy on trade?
Hon JIM SUTTON: I shall confine myself to the first of those questions. The reason I continue to refer to the Japan-US case is that despite an initial decision in 2003, no apples have yet flowed across the border, and there is still a dispute over the implementation of the finding. So that is a very important precedent to the case many of us anticipate will eventually be taken by New Zealand against Australia. We have been assured by the Australian Government, however, that it will take into account the outcome of the Japan-US case in forming its import risk assessment.
Dr the Hon Lockwood Smith: Does the Minister think that Australia just might be giving both him and New Zealand apple exporters the run-around; if not, how long will he allow Australia to complete its import risk assessment, which it seems to recommence or extend every time a general election looms, before he does take Australia to the World Trade Organization?
Hon JIM SUTTON: I point out that the World Trade Organization disputes settlement is a legal process, and things have to be done in the right way if one hopes to get the success one needs. As the member will appreciate, legal processes can be frustratingly slow. I would also remind the member that this dispute went on throughout the 9 years of the National Government and that it did not do a blind thing about it.
Dail Jones: Now that the Minister has confirmed that in almost 6 years the Labour Government has not done a blind thing about it, when will he adopt the approach the Australians have adopted with regard to these matters—for example, the Tasmanian state Government Minister for Primary Industries and Water, Steve Kons, who wishes to probe New Zealand’s use of chemicals in vegetable production, which is really just another smokescreen for protectionism—and when will the Minister actually commence a World Trade Organization case, because the sooner it is started, obviously, the sooner it will be finished, and we do not want to wait another 6 or 15 years for New Zealand First to have to commence one as soon as possible?
Hon JIM SUTTON: I am really surprised that a New Zealand political party should advocate shonky protectionism against our trading partners. I remind the member that we are a small country. We cannot bully our trading partners. We rely on the rule of law, and the member would do well to remember that.
Misuse of Drugs Act—Proposed Changes
10. JUDY TURNER (Deputy Leader—United Future) to the Associate Minister of Health: Is he satisfied that proposed changes to the Misuse of Drugs Act 1975 will provide greater protection for our young people from harm associated with low-risk substances with psychoactive effects and other controlled drugs; if not, why not?
Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR (Associate Minister of Health): Yes, it will provide greater protection for our young people from both high and low-risk drugs.
Judy Turner: Can the Minister confirm that any move to decriminalise or lower restrictions on controlled drugs such as cannabis now has to happen through a full process of parliamentary scrutiny that involves the New Zealand public in the consultation process, rather than by slipping it through under Order in Council in an affirmative resolution, which is simply inappropriate for changes that would have such disastrous implications for our young people; if not, why not?
Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: I can confirm that, and I support the good work that the Health Committee did to come up with that outcome. I say once again that this Labour Government has made a commitment that there will be no change to the legal status of cannabis. We stand by that and welcome the support of our coalition colleagues.
Barbara Stewart: Why is the Minister satisfied that the level of protection offered by the bill in its present form is adequate, given the absence of any research into the long-term effects of benzylpiperazine, party drugs, and other psychoactive substances?
Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: We acknowledge the fact that there is still more work to be done on those drugs. This Government is aware that it is a growing problem in the community. That is why we moved, through this bill, to regulate the sale or output of those drugs. No one under the age of 18 will legally be able to consume those drugs, at all. We consider that to be progress, but there is still more work to be done in that area, along with an improvement in the attitude around alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs used in this country.
Judy Turner: Will the Minister give a commitment to developing stand-alone, restricted substances legislation that would replace these current changes at a later date and also include the regulation of other substances such as butane gas and aerosols, which have legitimate uses but are abused by many young people; if not, why not?
Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: It is inevitable that we will have to take a serious look at all those growing problems. A stand-alone bill would, I understand, have taken a long time to go through the parliamentary process, and this Government is committed to looking at that prospect and possibility in the future.
Judy Turner: Does the Minister find it ironic that the comments made about these changes are that United Future is obsessed with one particular drug, when the author of those comments is none other than Green MP Nandor Tanczos?
Madam SPEAKER: The Minister has no responsibility for another member’s statement.
Nandor Tanczos: Can the Minister confirm the accuracy of the statement last week, that United Future had threatened to withdraw support on confidence and supply unless the Government supported the amendment of Judy Turner, and can he also confirm that when Judy Turner said at the time that her amendment would stop cannabis from being declassified by a “mere ministerial sign-off”, she was factually incorrect—which is what the press release by the Progressive Party stated; if he can confirm those two things, should this House take it to mean that the member simply did not understand the law she is trying to change?
Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: I cannot confirm that. What I can confirm is that United Future has consistently advocated for the improvement in laws around unwanted substances in this country, be they legitimate or illegitimate drugs. We will continue to work with United Future to try to improve the situation in this country.
Foreshore and Seabed—Ownership, East Coast
11. GERRY BROWNLEE (Deputy Leader—National) to the Deputy Prime Minister: Does the Government intend to recognise “legal ownership interests” in parts of the East Cape foreshore and seabed claimed by East Coast iwi, as outlined in the terms of negotiation with those iwi?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Deputy Prime Minister): The Foreshore and Seabed Act gives the Crown full legal and beneficial ownership of the public foreshore and seabed. The terms of negotiations set out each party’s perspective of its foreshore and seabed interests. The terms also include a statement that the Crown maintains its legal ownership interest in the foreshore and seabed. The way in which these interests will be reconciled will be a matter for substantive negotiations.
Gerry Brownlee: If the Government is maintaining that it has ownership, what is it negotiating about?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: It is negotiating around a number of matters. Clearly, both Ngâti Porou and Whânau-a-Apanui have particularly close linkages to the foreshore and seabed, not least because, in terms of Mâori land that is owned down to the foreshore and seabed, the great majority of it is actually within those two iwis’ areas. Therefore, we are talking about how we recognise what, in effect, if they had gone the High Court route, would have been their territorial customary rights.
Gerry Brownlee: Have either of those iwi accepted the Government’s position that the Government, on behalf of the people of New Zealand, owns that foreshore and seabed; if so, what are they negotiating about?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: The issue is not whether they accept the Crown’s assertion of its legal ownership; the issue is what kinds of processes will be in place to enable the genuine customary interests of Ngâti Porou and Whânau-a-Apanui to be worked through. Even the member’s leader said that there were customary interests that should be properly recognised.
Gerry Brownlee: Why is the Government continuing to negotiate with a group that will not accept the Crown’s ownership of the foreshore and seabed?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: What is recognised by Ngâti Porou and Whânau-a-Apanui does not affect the actual legal position, which is that the Crown does have legal and beneficial ownership of the foreshore and seabed. In the same way, the Crown is not recognising that Ngâti Porou or Whânau-a-Apanui own the foreshore and seabed; we recognise that they assert they have ownership interests. Ngâti Porou once used to be strong supporters of the National Party; they have tended to change their minds on that matter, but I am sure that their hospitality would still extend to trying to explain exactly to the member their connection with the foreshore and seabed, should he care to go there.
Question No. 7 to Minister
Hon Dr NICK SMITH (National—Nelson): Earlier, with regard to a question on weathertight homes, the Acting Minister of Internal Affairs said that my figure of 80 claims per month was incorrect. I seek leave to table the answer from the Hon George Hawkins to written question No. 3973, which shows that the Acting Minister’s figures given to the House today were contradictory to those of the Minister.
Madam SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection? There is.
Budget 2005—Defence Policies
12. MARTIN GALLAGHER (Labour—Hamilton West) to the Minister of Defence: What defence policies were announced in the recent Budget and has he received any other reports of other defence policy initiatives?
Hon MARK BURTON (Minister of Defence): Yes, I announced the Defence Sustainability Initiative, which totalled $4.6 billion of new expenditure, in Budget 2005. This is the fourth stage of a systematic approach by this Government to restore the capacity and capability of our Defence Force after it was savaged and run down throughout the 1990s. I have also received a report of the Royal New Zealand Returned and Services Association’s response that this announcement represents a “very carefully thought out and measured approach”.
Martin Gallagher: What other reports has the Minister received on defence policy initiatives?
Hon MARK BURTON: I have received several reports. One shows that after 5½ years in Opposition, there is a party whose leader has no defence policy. His defence spokesperson will have a chat and think about what his party’s policy could be, but it will spend more anyway on whatever comes up. That party’s finance spokesperson will cut 2.1 percent annually from Government spending. This would result in abolishing the entire helicopter fleet, or tying up the frigates, or putting aside the entire army engineering corps. This is the National Party’s policy for defence.
Hon Ken Shirley: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I draw your attention to Speaker’s ruling 145/5, made in 1993 by Deputy Speaker Gerard. It makes it quite clear that a Minister, when responding to a question that asks if he has received a report, may not engage when answering in referring to hypothetical situations about other parties’ policies. That is exactly what we just heard from the Minister—a direct contravention of that Speaker’s ruling.
Hon MARK BURTON: The member suggests that it was a hypothetical situation. I therefore seek leave to table the following document: a transcript from Paul Holmes’ show on Newstalk ZB on 27 April, in which, in response to the question: “So you don’t have a policy?”, Dr Brash said: “Not right now.”
Madam SPEAKER: I will deal first with the point of order. The Minister did not breach the Speaker’s ruling in his answer to the question. I understand he now has a motion to table a document.
Hon MARK BURTON: I also seek leave to table a transcript from Focus on Politics on Radio New Zealand on Saturday 7 May in which, when asked by the presenter: “Are you going into the election with an election policy that says you will review defence? Is that going to be the substance of your policy?”, John Carter said: “Yes. That’s the substance of our policy.”
Madam SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection? Yes, there is objection. It will not be tabled.
John Carter: Does the Minister think that being the chairman of a Taupô peace group for 10 years qualifies him to be the sole judge of our nation’s defence policy, and is his background the reason why Labour has moved towards an isolationist policy, which has resulted in a serious exodus of trained personnel from our army?
Hon MARK BURTON: I think the advice streams to the Minister of Defence, including this one, come from the Secretary of Defence, the Chief of Defence Force, and the experts who are there for that purpose. As the member has apparently noted, it is not his job or mine to pretend to be the leading expert. I advise the member to read the joint statement from Senator Robert Hill and myself from last week at our very successful joint Ministers meeting, in which we further advanced the closer defence relationship between Australia and New Zealand.
Hon Trevor Mallard: Does the Minister consider that his qualifications are better than the experience of someone who, in this area, lost the cemetery records and got into Parliament after knifing his former father-in-law?
Madam SPEAKER: I fail to see the relevance of that question to the original question that was answered.
Ron Mark: Has the Minister read the article that appeared in the Dominion Post this morning that stated that the Army is currently suffering 19 percent attrition rates, that the biggest shortages are in the junior ranks, lance corporals—[Interruption] I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I really am—
Madam SPEAKER: There was no interjection. Members are chattering, but unfortunately members frequently chatter during question time. The member will please continue with his question.
Ron Mark: Has the Minister read the article in the Dominion Post this morning that highlights that the Army is suffering a 19 percent attrition rate, that the biggest shortages are in the junior ranks, lance corporals, corporals, and sergeant areas, and that almost all army units are under-strength and there are critical shortages; if so, would he not agree that the reason the nation is in this situation is threefold: firstly, because Jenny Shipley, the former National Government Prime Minister, refused New Zealand First’s request to increase pay bands for junior ranks—
Madam SPEAKER: I am sorry to interrupt the member. This is not a speech. The member will please come to the point of the question. That is why people chatter.
Ron Mark: Secondly, that this Government took 4 years to implement pay rises that it should have done in one fell swoop in 1 year; and, thirdly, that junior ranks have finally accepted that this “peacenik” Government will not deploy the infantry battalions overseas on operations except if they are in the SAS?
Hon MARK BURTON: In response to that very, very long speech—
Hon Trevor Mallard: It was more of a job application than a speech.
Hon MARK BURTON: Perhaps it was a job application. In response to some of those questions, let me say to the member that this Government responded in year one and in its first Budget, and in every Budget since, by putting more money into pay and salaries for defence personnel. Secondly, in this year’s Budget $4.6 billion has been allocated to the Defence Force, all but $209 million of which is going into the building and rebuilding of capacity and capability. It will take 10 years to absorb the sort of money that this Government is pumping into support. Thirdly, the Defence Force is having to compete, like every other industry, with a buoyant economy in which there are so many job options that it is competing for our best and brightest. I am confident that the Defence Force will be successful in building and rebuilding its capability.
Ron Mark: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I am not sure: was that a “Yes” or a “No”?
Madam SPEAKER: I call on Government order of the day No. 1.