Questions & Answers for Oral Answer 8 June 2005
Wednesday, 8 June
Questions for Oral Answer
1. Health Services—Public Confidence
2. State-owned Enterprises—Structured Finance Deals
3. Capital Spending—Government Borrowing
4. Health Vote—Treasury Concerns
5. Civil Aviation, Director—Confidence
6. Working for Families Package—Benefits by Region
7. Immigration Service—Refugee Status Appeals Authority
8. Schools—Quality of Education
9. Working for Families Package—Enrolment Rates
10. Treaty of Waitangi—Education Programme
11. Health Services—Performance
Question No. 10 to Minister
Question No. 11 to Minister
12. Student Loans—Total Outstanding
Questions for Oral Answer
Questions to Ministers
Health Services—Public Confidence
1. Hon PETER DUNNE (Leader—United Future) to the Minister of Health: : Does she believe the New Zealand public has confidence in the ability of the health-care sector to continue to provide quality services, in light of the survey published by the New Zealand Herald recently showing 73.8 percent of people believe Government-funded health-care has remained the same or worsened since 1999; if so, why?
Hon ANNETTE KING (Minister of Health): I believe the public can be confident. The poll refers only to part of the public health system. It does not take account of the fact that more than 50 percent of New Zealanders now receive cheaper primary health care and prescriptions, and we can be proud of our doctors and nurses in hospitals for what they are achieving. We are performing 44,000 more medical and surgical case discharges this year than we were in 1999. We are doing 27,500 more day procedures. I have to say that all of that would be at risk if tax cuts come, at the expense of health spending.
Hon Peter Dunne: Does the Minister believe that the same 73.8 percent of people would feel similarly about Pharmac, particularly given today’s announcement that it has backtracked on its decision regarding sole supply of Salamol and has instead extended the provision of Ventolin as well, for a further period, and given also the fact that that comes on top of back-downs over the sole supply of flu vaccine and cholesterol medication; when will she stop those cowboys acting in the way they are, in playing fast and lose with people’s health?
Hon ANNETTE KING: I think most New Zealanders will be very pleased at the work that Pharmac does. We have, in terms of access to pharmaceuticals, 80 percent of our medicines subsidised, and we have one of the highest ratios of publicly subsidised access to pharmaceuticals of any country in the world. I am pleased, however, that Pharmac listened to the advice it got from the public, which is what it has to do—it does have a consumer advisory committee, as well. I think we should applaud Pharmac for listening. I would hate to see what would happen to Pharmac if we have the tax cuts that some people here in the House are proposing.
Steve Chadwick: Has the Minister read any other polls recently concerning public satisfaction with the health system?
Hon ANNETTE KING: Oh, yes. The poll that is mentioned today surveys people on their perceptions of hospitals, rather than on their experiences. I think the polls that people ought to look at are those that survey patient satisfaction with New Zealand hospitals. They show a consistently high rating by people treated as inpatients and outpatients. The latest poll shows 88 percent of patient satisfaction. That is extremely high, but I would say that patient satisfaction will go out the window as soon as we get tax cuts.
Dr Paul Hutchison: Why does she continue to deny the opinion of the New Zealand public, as per the New Zealand Herald, when medical experts such as Dr Jonathan Simon have concluded: “When we look at the significant investment in the health sector over the past four years, it is devastating to see how little effect it has had.”?
Hon ANNETTE KING: I have to say that I am rather disappointed in Dr Jonathan Simon’s comments. However, I do note that he was often a critic of the 1990s, as well. I would say the money we have put into primary health care—and it has only been put in over the last 3 years—will take a little time till we get the full result, but we are already starting to see results. I do not have time to go through them, but I know they are at risk if we have the tax cuts that National is proposing.
Peter Brown: Is the Minister aware that the recent Budget raised health-care expenditure only to the level, as a percentage of GDP, that it was at when the Government came into power, and is she aware also that private health care has gone down—is shrinking—as a percentage of GDP, and what will she do about that; will she compensate one for the other, or will she just let things go?
Hon ANNETTE KING: Private medical insurance has been decreasing in New Zealand since 1990, when 50 percent of people actually had medical insurance. It is below about 30 percent now. Those are choices that people make; it has nothing to do with the Government. Probably people have more confidence in what this Government is providing, because they know that we have invested more in health. We have had to invest more in health to rebuild the health infrastructure of this country—that is, hospitals, the health workforce, and wages and salaries, to ensure that we can provide health care. I tell that member that everyone would be at risk if money was taken out in tax cuts.
Hon Peter Dunne: Does the Minister’s answer to my earlier supplementary question mean that Pharmac will now be deciding its policy on the basis of the feedback it gets from the public; if it does mean that, will the Minister therefore give the House an absolute assurance that we will not see any repetition of the type of events we have seen this year with regard to the flu vaccine, and now with regard to asthma inhalers?
Hon ANNETTE KING: Pharmac will make its decisions based on evidence and consultation, as it always has done. It does not intend to change that approach. It has worked well for us in the past; I expect that it will work well for us in the future.
Gordon Copeland: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I ask you to reflect on this question, in light of the fact that this is an election year. We have been asking questions of the Minister of Health, and in every single one of those answers, except where she had a slip of the tongue, and referred to health cuts when I think she meant tax cuts, she has answered about tax cuts in addition to the main answer. She is not the Minister of Finance; she is the Minister of Health. If she wanted some advice on tax cuts, I would be happy to give it to her at any time. But it seems to me to be a risk that, from now on till the election, it does not matter what questions we ask the Government on any subject, because we will get back the same litany.
Hon ANNETTE KING: Speaking to the point of order, I point out that, as Minister if Health, in any answer I give I must consider the impact of taking money out of health and the impact that would have on our ability to provide health services. [Interruption]
Madam SPEAKER: No, I do not need any more help with this. I do listen carefully to the answers, for the very reason the member has raised. Often, the questions are multi-pronged in their approach, but the Minister addresses the questions. There are, and I will be careful about them, irrelevant comments that do come in that do not relate to the question.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I ask the Minister as to whether or not she now admits the serious mistake of her so-called reforms, which have seen an increase in health expenditure and yet a lessening in the number of operations delivered to the people of this country, and whilst I am at it, where is my answer on Risperdal Consta she promised me weeks ago?
Hon ANNETTE KING: The member is incorrect. There are not fewer operations than there were. There were 44,000 additional medical and surgical case mix discharges now than there were in 1999, 27,500 more day-cases of surgery done than before, and over 100,000 more outpatients in accident and emergency alone. That does not add up to a cut in my book. In terms of the drug, I will make sure that the member gets an answer soon. I do not have it with me.
Judy Turner: Does she still stand by her comments in the House yesterday that after 6 years of her stewardship there is actually leadership of health workforce development, when her own Health Workforce Advisory Committee report states: “What seems to be missing is leadership and supporting infrastructure, and tinkering ad hoc approaches will not suffice. It is time for concerted action.”, and does she take that as a personal failing?
Hon ANNETTE KING: No, because, as the member will be aware, the Health Workforce Advisory Committee was set up by this Government. Before that, there was no health workforce planning, at all. In fact, Bill English rejected the health workforce planning that had been done in the past. The committee has come out with a report that gives direction in terms of medical training. We accept that direction, which is something that did not happen before.
Barbara Stewart: Does the Minister consider that the health-care sector will continue to provide quality services, despite the fact that New Zealand does not have a nationally coordinated recruitment and retention strategy for medical staff, in order to prevent future shortages?
Hon ANNETTE KING: We do extremely well at providing services, even though we do have shortages in the medical and nursing workforces. This Government has put in a lot of effort into recruitment and training, and I think that we do very well. However, we can do better and we will do better, and I think that people have seen a commitment from this Government that they have not seen from any other Government in the past.
Judy Turner: Why has she handed the responsibility for health workforce development and planning to the district health boards, when they have no control over national policies that directly impact staff numbers, such as tertiary education and student loans, and why has she refused to own the situation by heeding the recommendations of the report, when the only appropriate body to lead workforce development is her own ministry?
Hon ANNETTE KING: The member is incorrect. Health workforce planning is in the hands of three organisations that work together: the Health Workforce Advisory Committee, which gives the broad overview, district health boards, which must do the recruitment—after all, they employ the people and know whether they need another dozen nurses, three doctors, or whatever; it cannot be done by the Ministry of Health—and they also work with the Ministry of Health, which, over time, has done considerable health workforce planning in mental health and in nursing.
Dr Paul Hutchison: I seek leave to table an article from the New Zealand Herald of 4 May, which quotes Dr Jonathan Simon as saying: “When we look at the significant investment in the health sector over the past four years, it is devastating to see how little effect it has had.”
Madam SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection? Yes, there is.
State-owned Enterprises—Structured Finance Deals
2. JOHN KEY (National—Helensville) to the Minister of Finance: Have any State-owned enterprises engaged in structured finance deals that could have reduced the New Zealand tax liability of the investing counter-party in the previous 5 years; if so, what are the details of those arrangements?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Minister of Finance): To the best of my knowledge, checks having been made with all the larger State-owned enterprises, the answer is no. The smaller ones are probably too small to enter into such transactions.
John Key: If New Zealand financial institutions have not engaged in structured finance deals to reduce their tax base in New Zealand, can the Minister explain the logic of why two financial institutions yesterday refused to rule out any involvement in those transactions?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I assume it is for the same reason that Ministers sometimes decline to comment. For example, when questions are asked of the Minister in charge of the New Zealand Security Intelligence Service as to operational details—
Hon Dr Nick Smith: Come on, come clean.
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: The member who has asked me to come clean is the member who went to court and was found to be very dirty indeed, I might say. The Minister in charge of the New Zealand Security Intelligence Service always refuses to comment on operational details, because once one starts commenting, then, clearly, one is backed into a blind corner. I am sure that the banks took the same attitude.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Can I ask the Minister to outline now what the two deals in 1996 that were mentioned by the Prime Minister yesterday were; deals that she accused me of being associated with, and about which one Jane Clifton, in today’s paper, describes me as being “in a similar deal when he was in government”? What exactly were those two deals that the Prime Minister was talking about?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I am not responsible for Jane Clifton. All I can say is that—
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Nobody is!
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: That is not my understanding. All I can say is that Transpower certainly entered into a lease-out and lease-back arrangement in 1996.
John Key: If the Minister is so confident that everything is above board with these Transpower deals, why could neither his office nor Transpower answer in detail direct questions that were put to them last week about these deals, and why could he not answer the simple question I put to him in the House yesterday, despite the fact that he had 4 hours’ notice?
Hon Dr Nick Smith: Because it’s dodgy.
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: No, it is not dodgy at all. The deal is perfectly legal in the jurisdiction in which it occurred. Indeed, for reasons that are well beyond me, that particular jurisdiction actually designs tax loopholes to be exploited by a variety of companies.
John Key: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I wonder whether I can ask that the Minister answer the question. It was quite a straightforward question: why could not either Transpower or the Minister answer those questions we put to them last week?
Madam SPEAKER: That is not a point of order. The Minister did address the question. If the member wishes to ask another supplementary question, he may do so.
John Key: If it is proven that a New Zealand State-owned enterprise has engaged in structured deals that have allowed other entities to reduce their New Zealand tax base, will the Minister demand the resignation of the State-owned enterprise’s chief executive officer and board, and what responsibility will he personally assume?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: State-owned enterprises are allowed to enter into structured financial deals, subject to certain considerations. Final decisions are for the individual State-owned enterprise boards, subject to the usual consultation requirements. All transactions should be legal in all jurisdictions in which they have effect, and they should have sign-off from legal advisers and appropriate tax authorities. Ownership risks arising from the tax transactions should be remote. The normal expectations regarding the “no surprises” rule etc. should apply. In the particular case to which the member refers, I am completely satisfied that there was no tax loss to New Zealand as a result of the structured finance deal. Indeed, there was a tax gain to New Zealand as a result of the structured finance deal. I have more information on that, I am sure, than Dr Richard Worth does.
John Key: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I want to clarify that the Minister’s answer is that if a State-owned enterprise undertakes a structured finance deal here in New Zealand, and it reduces the tax base of New Zealand entities, he is happy with it.
Madam SPEAKER: That is not a point of order. It is a supplementary question. The member is entitled to a supplementary question.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I seek leave to table the Hansard record of the Prime Minister’s answer to question No. 1 yesterday, which, alongside the statement of the Minister of Finance today, demonstrates that when she made that allegation she did not have a shred of evidence to back it up.
Madam SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection? There is objection.
Capital Spending—Government Borrowing
3. CLAYTON COSGROVE (Labour—Waimakariri) to the Minister of Finance: To what extent is the Government prepared to borrow for capital spending over the next 4 years?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Minister of Finance): To the extent consistent with our capital investment requirements and with the objective of maintaining gross debt at around 20 percent of GDP. This translates into anticipated net borrowings averaging $1.9 billion a year between 1 July 2006 and 30 June 2009.
Clayton Cosgrove: Has the Minister seen any proposals to borrow more for capital spending; if so, why is the Government not adopting these proposals?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Yes, particularly from the National Party. The Government will not go down this path, because the effect would be to put pressure on inflation and interest rates—on inflation by exacerbating capacity constraints in the economy by feeding more demand in, and on interest rates as the Reserve Bank responds to those inflationary pressures, the Reserve Bank being concerned at the moment about the level of inflationary pressures within the economy. Furthermore, a good many parts of any Government’s capital expenditure, including those parts most called for by some Opposition parties, do not necessarily contribute to long-term GDP growth.
John Key: Would it be useful for me to remind the Minister that in Opposition Helen Clark made dozens of comments about the virtues of using debt, including the statement: “The Government is putting an undue emphasis on debt repayment at the expense of our failing services and infrastructure in New Zealand.”,
and am I correct to assume that what she meant when she made such comments was that there is quite some virtue in using debt to fund badly-needed infrastructure?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: It is true that the largest single reduction in debt in the last 15 years occurred during 1 year under the National Government. What the member seems to ignore is that there is a difference between borrowing on average over the cycle—which the Government is proposing to do, and proposing when the economy has been running very strongly and is in capacity constraints—and borrowing in such a way that one feeds inflation and demand. I invite the member to read the various statements from the Governor of the Reserve Bank and, instead of simply acting like another foreign exchange speculator, as he used to be, he might concentrate on sound fiscal management. His colleague used to have some knowledge in this matter before he became an old man in a hurry.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. Standing Order 370 makes it very plain that answers are to be concise, and to answer the questions, and it states quite specifically that answers are not allowed to make any references to other members of Parliament. Why did you not intervene on this question, or on any other answers from Annette King, or do we somehow not follow the Standing Orders these days in the House?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: There is no requirement under Standing Order 370 to make no references to any other member of Parliament. It states: “discreditable references to the House or any member of Parliament”. If one could make no reference to any other member of Parliament in a question or an answer, this would become an extraordinarily silent process at the start of Parliament each day.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: Speaking to the point of order—
Madam SPEAKER: No, I do not need any help. Thank you very much. I certainly would like the questions and the answers to be concise and to the point. I live in hope, and if I pulled up every question and every answer, then we would not get very far. But I think it is timely that the member has raised this for the House’s attention.
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. Given that ruling, could I ask for some further clarification? When a Minister is giving an answer and there is a barrage of interjections asking further questions, is the Minister actually allowed to continue to answer the questions further being raised by the members opposite as they go along in a kind of stream of angry consciousness?
Madam SPEAKER: I thank the member for that observation. Certainly, those who interject should not expect no response. It is a matter of judgment. If you interject, you are likely to get a response. Let us just keep this within the bounds of question time and the Standing Orders.
Peter Brown: If the Minister knew with some certainty that there would be huge economic gains from investing in a particular segment of our infrastructure, would he allow a State-owned enterprise to borrow against future income in order to advance those gains?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Yes indeed, which is why the Government has already authorised the issuing of debt for the financing of the Albany to Pûhoi realignment project.
Clayton Cosgrove: How indebted is the household sector in New Zealand, and what implications does this carry for the Government’s fiscal management?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: New Zealand’s household debt is amongst the highest in the OECD at 80 percent of GDP. Total debt, including Government debt, is already at over 100 percent of GDP. Clearly, if it continues to rise, the interest-rate premium New Zealand pays would also rise, pushing up interest rates for households and businesses over the long term.
Health Vote—Treasury Concerns
4. HEATHER ROY (ACT) to the Minister of Health: What action is she taking to address Treasury’s serious concerns about the sustainability of the current rate of growth in Vote Health, in particular the concern that, if the current rate of increase is maintained, Vote Health could be at least 13.6 percent of GDP by the year 2020?
Hon ANNETTE KING (Minister of Health): High health spending, especially growth in health spending, is an issue that New Zealand does not face on its own. In fact, both the level and growth in New Zealand’s health spending are in line with OECD norms and trends. However, sustainability of health expenditure is a question this Government takes seriously. The Minister of Finance and I have commissioned a review of Vote Health expenditure, and I have asked the Minister of Finance about the impact that tax cuts would have on health funding and about the cuts on health services that would be required to fund the Opposition’s tax cuts.
Heather Roy: Why do those damning Treasury papers, released under the Official Information Act, repeatedly declare that there is an: “unsustainable growth path of health spending over the longer term.”, when there is little change to the number of 180,000 patients on all waiting lists—leaving aside the Minister’s usual bluff and bluster answers?
Hon ANNETTE KING: Considerable investment has been made into the health sector by this Government; we make no apologies for that. We have had to invest in new hospitals. We have had to invest in the wages and salaries of our health workforce in order to recruit and retain them. But we have also invested in more services. I do not wish you to stop me from answering, Madam Speaker, but if I were to repeat all the improvements, then I am sure you would say that I was talking for too long.
Dr Paul Hutchison: Will the Minister ever accept that the massive bureaucracy she has created—in the form of 21 district health boards with all their committees and over 76 primary health organisations with their mass of committees, as well as through a 25 percent increase in staff numbers at the Ministry of Health—has contributed to the poor productivity and waste in the health sector as identified by Treasury; if not, why not?
Hon ANNETTE KING: That question is laughable. When it comes to health bureaucracy, let me talk about 23 hospital and health service enterprises. Let me talk about four regional health authorities, the Crown Company Monitoring Advisory Unit, and Health Benefits Ltd. Let us look at the number of bureaucrats there were in the mid-1990s—it is about the same number as now. I can tell the member that there has been a 0.4 percent increase in the total number of bureaucrats in the last 5 years that Labour has been in Government. I ask National members whether they matched that in the 1990s.
Mark Peck: How do New Zealand’s health expenditure and health outcomes compare with those of other countries?
Hon ANNETTE KING: We compare very well with OECD countries. In the latest data available, New Zealand’s total health expenditure was 8.5 percent of GDP. We ranked 16th out of 27 OECD countries. However, on life expectancy New Zealand now ranks even better against OECD countries—but then we did see years of disparity when tax cuts in the 1990s were made at the expense of the length and quality of the lives of New Zealanders. We will see that again if Don Brash gets his way.
Heather Roy: How has this Minister thrown a record extra $3.5 billion at health, a record 57 percent increase in just 6 years, yet her ministerial answers to me show that the number of operations from 2001 to 2004 has budged only 1.3 percent while the population has grown at the same time by 4.3 percent—which is an actual cut in operations per head of population—how can that be?
Hon Dr Nick Smith: Because she’s hopeless!
Hon ANNETTE KING: I can get the member an operation if he needs one. He should just tell me where he needs it. I do not know what part he needs it on.
Rodney Hide: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. That was an important question. I am quite pleased that Annette King is able to give out operations at a whim, because no one else in New Zealand can get them. But her job as Minister is to try at least to answer what is a very serious question, of concern to New Zealanders. I know that Annette King struggles in the job and that she does not like to give straight answers, but it is your job, Madam Speaker, to ensure that she addresses the question. Her cheap shot across the House in no way did that.
Madam SPEAKER: As has been noted, those who make interjections are likely to have responses. As long as those responses are within the rules, then they will be permitted. The Minister was about to answer the question, and she is known for answering questions very fully.
Hon ANNETTE KING: Yes I am, and I was just going to give a full answer. In fact, Treasury last year reported a 7 percent increase in funding and a 1.5 percent increase in outputs. Those outputs, I have to tell the member, explain only 44 percent of hospital costs. They are a poor indicator of the level of district health board output, overall. The member has been told that over and over again. She likes to interpret figures for her own political purposes.
Sue Kedgley: Why, when the ministry’s own research shows that diet and poor nutrition are by far the leading cause of death—accounting for about 30 percent of deaths—is there no specific Ministry of Health funding allocated for implementing the flagship Healthy Eating - Healthy Action strategy, other than a small fruit in schools programme; and why is the ministry not taking concrete measures to improve diet, such as getting high fat and sugar foods known to be unhealthy out of our schools?
Hon ANNETTE KING: The implementation of the Healthy Eating - Healthy Action strategy, as the member was told at the Health Committee this morning, is implemented through district health boards. If the member reads the district health boards’ annual plans she will see that they have plans, proposals, and policies in place to implement the strategy, alongside the Ministry of Health’s public health funding that is going into the fruit in schools programme, for example, through health-promoting schools—something that has been very successful.
Rodney Hide: How can the Minister explain that, when in 1999 a tragic 96,000 New Zealanders were queued up in pain waiting for their first specialist assessment—
Steve Chadwick: Not in pain!
Rodney Hide: Well, members may want to call out from the back—
Madam SPEAKER: I am sorry, I did not hear that. Who intervened? Would the member please leave the Chamber.
Steve Chadwick withdrew from the Chamber.
Madam SPEAKER: Would the member please continue.
Rodney Hide: I would like to start again. How come, when 96,000 New Zealanders were queued up in pain for their first specialist assessment, the Minister could say it was “criminal”, but under her watch and after spending an extra $3.5 billion a year, by her own figures 120,000 people are now queued up waiting for their first specialist assessment?
Hon ANNETTE KING: The important thing is how long people wait for their first specialist assessment, and the time they are waiting is considerably less than it was in 1999, and the number of people waiting is considerably fewer. So we have seen some real improvement in the number of people getting first specialist assessment. Over 400,000 New Zealanders are getting first specialist assessment each year.
Rodney Hide: Then, given the Minister’s answer, does she now accept that the number waiting for their first specialist assessment has indeed grown from 96,000 to 120,000, and that what she really meant to say when she was in Opposition was that it was not the number of the 96,000 who were waiting that was criminal but how long they had to wait; and does she think that that is some cold comfort for the 120,000 still waiting?
Hon ANNETTE KING: It is certainly the length of time that people wait that concerns them. I was more concerned about the 89,000 people who had waited, on a list, for operations in the 1990s. The National Party’s new policy as announced on Monday night is: “We’ll just put them on a list and miraculously they’ll feel better about it!”
Heather Roy: Why does the Minister persist with her bluff and bluster answers when it was announced in the Budget that deficits are blowing out to $100 million a year, that 120,000 people are waiting for first specialist assessments, that Treasury has reported that productivity is collapsing, and that the number of operations per head of population is reducing, and there is now the most damning Treasury report on health ever produced—all of that despite her throwing a record $3.5 billion at health from when she was elected?
Hon ANNETTE KING: It would be really good if the member were to read all the Treasury report. She loves to pick out the bits that suit her. What about some of the positive things Treasury had to say? What about some of the positive comments it makes? The member likes to run down the health system in New Zealand—a health system that is producing more operations, more outpatient services, more services for New Zealand, and lower-cost primary health care. She blackens the name of doctors and nurses. She does not believe that they should get an increase in their pay, and then she tries to tell us that we should be cutting taxes and cutting expenditure. One cannot have it both ways.
Hon Ken Shirley: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. The Minister ignored the question, totally redefined it, then gave us an extended blather about what she wanted to answer. The question from my colleague Heather Roy was very clear and very specific. The Minister changed the whole premise, created a hypothetical question, then went on with great gusto and at incredible length, and did not answer the question.
Madam SPEAKER: I thank the member. The question was quite long. It enabled the Minister to address it in the way she did, which was in a general way.
Rodney Hide: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I know that the Minister might think this issue is funny, but we actually think it is serious. My colleague Heather Roy asked a very specific question. It does not matter about the length; it is the specificity of the question that matters. The question was clearly in order, because you allowed it. Not once in the blather that the Minister delivered—and it was total blather—did she come anywhere close to answering a very specific question. There are people at home listening to this who are stuck on the waiting list. They would like to hear a Minister who fronts up and actually answers some questions rather than blathers on.
Madam SPEAKER: The Minister did address the question. The answer may not have been to the member’s satisfaction, but it did address the question.
Rodney Hide: I seek leave to table the statement where Annette King said that it was criminal that 96,000 people were waiting for a first specialist assessment. That appeared in the Evening Post on 19 August 1998.
Madam SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection? There is objection.
Heather Roy: I seek leave of the House to table two documents. The first is the Treasury Report: Budget Bilateral 2005 Health.
Heather Roy: The second document is a parliamentary written question I asked of the Minister of Health, showing that the number of operations from 2001 to 2004 has increased only very slightly, and showing that the total number of operations per head of population is actually down.
Madam SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection? There is objection.
Sue Kedgley: I seek leave to table the Ministry of Health document, Looking Upstream, confirming that 30 percent of deaths are caused by diet and poor nutrition.
Civil Aviation, Director—Confidence
5. Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS (Leader—NZ First) to the Minister for Transport Safety: Does he have confidence in the Director of Civil Aviation?
Hon HARRY DUYNHOVEN (Minister for Transport Safety): Yes.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Is it a fact that the office of the Auditor-General issued a scathing report about the Civil Aviation Authority’s performance on safety issues, and that there are serious complaints about conflicts of interest within the organisation relating to that man; and is it not vital that the public’s confidence in air safety be restored by a proper investigation rather than by some woolly, internal, independent inquiry from a “holistic perspective”?
Hon Dr Michael Cullen: Bring in an outside Iraqi.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. You would have heard, when I was asking that question, comments made by the Minister of Finance.
Madam SPEAKER: It was after the member had finished the question, actually. I did listen.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: No, no.
Madam SPEAKER: I am sorry, Mr Peters, but it was. I listened very carefully.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: No, he started when I got to “woolly” and I was still going on to “holistic perspective”. I am sorry, but you are wrong. Out he goes.
Madam SPEAKER: I am sorry, but I did not hear that. I heard the comment after the member had finished asking the question.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Well, that is amazing.
Hon Dr Michael Cullen: I give the House an assurance that the comment “Bring in an outside Iraqi” to look at the issue was made after the member had finished his question.
Madam SPEAKER: That is what I heard.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: So that is OK, is it?
Madam SPEAKER: Well, does the member take—
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Oh, very good. Now we know the rules.
Madam SPEAKER: No, does the member take offence at that comment?
Rt Hon Winston Peters: No, no.
Hon HARRY DUYNHOVEN: Given that the question was extremely wide, I have not come prepared with the detail of the particular answer the member requires. I can say that complaints have been made by some sectors of the aviation industry, for obvious reasons. Sometimes they have not liked the decision of the director. However, I can assure the member, in response to earlier questions—of which there were many—that we have investigated the issues previously exposed in the House in regard to conflicts of interest, and that new procedures have been put in place in the Civil Aviation Authority to ensure that conflicts of interest do not occur in the future, particularly in regard to the appointment and employment of outside contractors, and particularly in regard to staff members of the Civil Aviation Authority doing contracted work for other organisations. Those issues, and a policy on conflicts of interest, have been put in place and very seriously implemented. I think the select committee has looked at the issue, and I am not sure where the member is going with this question.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Is it a fact that the director of this Government agency has broken the Act under which he is supposed to enforce issues, by refusing licences to companies to operate, such as the South Taranaki company using Wessex helicopters and GarLyn Skydiving, not on the grounds of safety but for no other obvious reason than that those companies are in competition with other companies that are close to the director, and, if that is not a conflict of interest, what is?
Hon HARRY DUYNHOVEN: I am aware that a preliminary decision has been made to decline Heli Logging Ltd using ex-military Wessex helicopters for commercial logging. The director has made that decision on technical grounds. I am sorry, but I did not catch the name of the skydiving company—
Rt Hon Winston Peters: GarLyn.
Hon HARRY DUYNHOVEN: GarLyn—OK. I am aware that there is ongoing discussion over whether that company will be allowed to operate in the way that the member outlines. However, I say to the House that the director has an independent statutory position. I cannot interfere in his decision, nor can any other member of this House, because he is statutorily employed to make it. [Interruption] However, that does not stop me, as the member quite rightly points out, from questioning decisions, and I have done so.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Why does the Minister expect the industry and a great number of people, including pilots and experienced aviators, to settle for a woolly, internal, independent inquiry from a “holistic perspective” when, in fact, the matter now screams out for a fully independent inquiry into this person’s actions?
Hon HARRY DUYNHOVEN: The matter is really in the member’s own hands. He could attend the select committee, or have his colleague who is sitting alongside him attend the select committee, to raise questions on those issues. I am confident that the Auditor-General has investigated the issues properly.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I cannot run the Immigration Service and do that job, as well. That is a totally unsatisfactory answer. Now it is my fault.
Madam SPEAKER: We have noted the member’s comments about capacity. The Minister did address the question. The answer may not have been satisfactory to the member, but he did address it.
Working for Families Package—Benefits by Region
6. GEORGINA BEYER (Labour—Wairarapa) 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 in the Working for Families package by region?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY (Minister for Social Development and Employment): I have seen reports with figures such as a 25 percent increase in the number of Inland Revenue Department clients receiving family assistance in Gisborne. In Manukau there are now nearly 16,000 Inland Revenue Department recipients of family assistance, a 17 percent increase over last year. In Taranaki there has been a 130 percent increase in working families getting accommodation supplements, a 119 percent increase in Southland, and nearly 14,000 working families in Auckland are receiving it. There are now 4,300 recipients of childcare assistance in Canterbury, a 40 percent increase over last year, and a 50 percent increase in recipients in the Waikato. That is proof that this package is getting money through to heartland New Zealand.
Georgina Beyer: What reports has he seen on the implementation of the next stages of the Working for Families package?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: Reports from the Ministry of Social Development indicate this is proceeding smoothly. However, I have also seen a report that states: “For middle-income New Zealanders, quite a lot of them who may be eligible under Working for Families, probably will get less under us through that package, if anything.” That quote came from National Party finance spokesman, John Key, on Insight of 8 May. Of course, he needs this money for his tax cuts.
John Key: If the take-up rate for Working for Families has been acceptable from working families and the Government is not desperate to pump up the numbers on the programme, why is it that Work and Income staff have been trolling through old applications made and rejected in the middle and latter part of last year, and telling those people to reapply?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: Because we are committed to people getting their entitlement, unlike the member’s party, which during the 1990s oversaw an accommodation supplement take-up of only 19 percent and did nothing about it at all.
Judy Turner: Has he considered enabling working families to receive their entitlements by alternative means, such as a child tax allowance, rather than a tax credit, as an adjustment to the take-home pay of parents, paid through their employer, as a direct payment to the main carer of the child or by enabling them to divert into the workplace savings scheme or a tertiary savings scheme, or to capitalise to increase equity in a home; if not, why not?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: As always, I am prepared to consider outstanding ideas if the member gives us some details.
Georgina Beyer: What assurances can the Minister give that hard-working New Zealand families have gained their entitlements under this package?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: We have a communications strategy running through the Ministry of Social Development and the Inland Revenue Department that ensures that all New Zealanders understand the Working for Families changes; that everyone who is entitled to assistance is able to gain that assistance accurately; that all people who are eligible whose circumstances change—and I say this for all members in the House, that all people’s circumstances will change—we have to advise them about it, and that the wider public understands what is happening with their money. Unlike in the 1990s when the accommodation supplement take-up was only 19 percent under the National Government, we want everyone to get their entitlements accurately.
Immigration Service—Refugee Status Appeals Authority
7. Hon TONY RYALL (National—Bay Of Plenty) to the Minister of Immigration: For what reasons would the New Zealand Immigration Service choose to appear or not appear at a Refugee Status Appeals Authority hearing?
Hon PAUL SWAIN (Minister of Immigration): Officials do not choose to attend Refugee Status Appeals Authority hearings. They need to seek leave, and do so only where it will add some value to the hearing through the provision of information to the authority. The authority’s role is an inquisitorial one, to determine the appellant’s claim for refugee status. Accordingly, officials are not required to, and cannot, defend the original decision of the refugee status branch.
Hon Tony Ryall: Why did the New Zealand Immigration Service not seek to appear in case 75081, when serious criminal charges were then pending against the applicant, and when the Minister’s department must have known the man’s full background—or did it?
Hon PAUL SWAIN: I will not talk about a specific case, and the member knows that. But it is fair to say that in the vast majority of cases departmental officials do not attend those hearings because they are the ones who made the original decision, potentially, in the first place. That is why they do not attend, and they are specifically told that they cannot attend unless they seek leave. That was actually an instruction from the Refugee Status Appeals Authority in 1999, when that member was a member of Cabinet.
Hon Tony Ryall: Why does he not at least tell the public the reasons why blanket suppression orders have been issued by the Refugee Status Appeals Authority, or does he not know?
Hon PAUL SWAIN: The member knows that that has got subject suppression orders. It specifically comes from an independent statutory authority—the Refugee Status Appeals Authority. That authority was established by the previous National Government, of which he was a Minister. He should know the rules.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: In respect of the work of the Refugee Status Appeals Authority, why was the Minister so scathing about the concept of a flying squad to investigate properly the number of illegal aliens in this country, yet he had to admit at the select committee hearing this morning that he has set up—since last week—just such a 35-person squad; and when will he say: “Sorry, Winston. You were right in the first place.”?
Hon PAUL SWAIN: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. That member knows, unless he was out for a fag, that I made no such comment at the select committee this morning. I ask that he withdraw that comment.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Madam Speaker, you know full well that he cannot mention someone not being present at a select committee, or in the House. That is his first offence. The second one is repeating the awful porky he told the media in the first place—that he did not believe in the need for a flying squad. And now he has got one—
Madam SPEAKER: Well, the member—
Rt Hon Winston Peters: —and his chief executive said so at the select committee this morning.
Madam SPEAKER: The member must accept the Minister’s word that he did not say that. Those are the rules.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: His head person said it.
Madam SPEAKER: That is not what the member said.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. With respect, when a Minister comes along with officials, one presumes that the officials are there to talk on behalf of the Minister or on behalf of the ministry. It is the same thing.
Madam SPEAKER: I am sorry but the member did actually indicate to the House that it was the Minister who had said it. The Minister has denied it. Now, can we move on, please.
Hon PAUL SWAIN: What was said at the select committee is that there has been a border investigation branch since about 1998. There was a fraud unit established, and additional resources have been put into it. What we absolutely reject are the kinds of dawn raids that were part of National Party policy, and that are the kind of thing that that member wants to set up—horseback riders going up and down the country, acting as if they are something out of The Lord of the Rings. We are not having that, and we will not have that, under a Labour-led Government.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. Will you please arrange for him to get a Valium before he answers questions? He cannot rant and rave like that. If he wants to rant and rave like that, he should admit that the only time there were dawn raids was under a Labour Government, between 1972 and 1975. No wonder he feels guilty about it!
Madam SPEAKER: That is not a point of order.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. It is a point of order when I say that the Minister has gone right outside his responsibilities as Minister. He began a rant and rave about dawn raids and what have you, none of which is in our policy whatsoever, and he, again, refused to answer the question.
Hon Dr Michael Cullen: Unfortunately, the member opened himself up by referring to his own so-called flying squads policy. Of course, what the Minister was pointing out was that what has been in place since 1998 is not the flying squads referred to by the member; and if they are in place, then it is hard to understand what the member was trying to add with his flying squads’ policy—if it is all there at the present time.
Madam SPEAKER: Thank you very much for that. The Minister did address the question. The Standing Orders do not forbid “ranting and raving” as long as it addresses the question. So could we please move on.
Stephen Franks: What consideration has he given to challenging the decision of the Refugee Status Appeals Authority, so that the neighbours—who are currently innocent of any knowledge of this matter—of a Jordanian who threatened to kill an immigration officer and at least one other New Zealander, and who is staying here as a so-called refugee, might at least be warned of the risks they face?
Hon PAUL SWAIN: Once again, I am not talking about that specific case, and the member—
Hon Dr Nick Smith: Why not come clean?
Hon PAUL SWAIN: Those members passed the legislation. It is kind of hard to know where to start. However, my understanding is that the decisions of an independent body called the Refugee Status Appeals Authority are very rarely, if ever, appealed by the department, given that it is a statutory authority and makes its own decisions.
Hon Tony Ryall: Now that that man’s dubious claims to refugee status are suppressed, and all details of his court case involving threats to kill two New Zealanders are suppressed, how are ordinary New Zealanders and, indeed, this House to know whether this man is worthy of living in this country?
Hon PAUL SWAIN: The decision made by the Refugee Status Appeals Authority to suppress information is the decision of that body, which was established by the previous National Government, of which that member was a Cabinet Minister. It is quite clear what the legislation states.
Schools—Quality of Education
8. LYNNE PILLAY (Labour—Waitakere) to the Minister of Education: How is the Government improving the quality of education provided in schools?
Hon TREVOR MALLARD (Minister of Education): Our Government is committed to ensuring that every child can fill his or her potential. We have invested in over 3,000 extra teachers over and above those required for roll growth. We do not take a part-time approach to our duties. We have increased school operations grants by over 15 percent per student in real terms. Every teacher in the country can now get a laptop. We have invested in information and communications technology professional development, and key areas such as literacy and numeracy. There is a lot yet to come.
Lynne Pillay: Has the Minister seen any proposals for changing the provision of schooling in New Zealand?
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: Yes, I have. I have seen a very radical proposal that most schools would be privately owned and operated. The person advocating that also said: “For my part I don’t care who owns the schools.” The person who said that is Don Brash. [Interruption] Nick Smith said: “Very sensible.”, to get it on the record. I do not know whether that is helpful for the member, but the approach that appears to be taken is the approach that was used in Taranaki and other areas to privatise the electricity assets, shift them to a trust, and then hock them off to their mates.
Lynne Pillay: Has the Minister seen any proposals to remove a child’s right to attend his or her local school?
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: Yes. Under current legislation every child is entitled to attend his or her local school. I have seen a proposal to do away with that requirement and to introduce a scheme whereby school principals could hand-pick the kids that they want and the ones that they do not want. But the Opposition says: “No, that is not the approach.” Therefore, the only possible alternative is to build extra places at those schools that are currently zoned and full. If, say, 100,000 pupils—a relatively small percentage—decided to change schools and to go for that, the cost for the building alone would be $2,000 million dollars—$2,000 million for the school building, alone. Opposition members have an AC/DC approach to life, but they cannot have it both ways on this.
Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. If you are to allow that sort of answer from a Minister, then you will have to allow members to preface their questions with a similar sort of political comment, and I ask you to tell members now whether that will be the new rule or whether you will constrain Ministers to reasonably tight answers on the questions they have been asked. The Minister was asked whether he had seen reports. He could have said: “Yes, I have seen a report.”, and he may briefly explain what is in it, but then to go into the lengths of supposition and lies that he just did, is quite inappropriate.
Madam SPEAKER: I agree with the member that the answer was too long, as several answers have been today, and I have asked members to please keep both questions and answers to reasonable lengths. The member, however, called the Minister a liar, if I heard him correctly. Is that what you were saying?
Gerry Brownlee: Look, I did not mean to call the Minister a liar. I withdraw and apologise. But I do replace it with the suggestion that he was being extremely reckless with the truth.
Sue Kedgley: Does the Minister stand by his statement that: “I believe that schools have an important role in promoting healthy food choices to their pupils, and … promoting high-fat, high-sugar foods is, in my view, irresponsible …”, and will he, therefore, follow his excellent initiative to amend the educational guidelines to require schools to give priority to physical education by introducing a further amendment requiring that only healthy food can be sold in schools; if not, why not?
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: I certainly stand by the statement, which I am pleased the member has reminded the House of, and I think that the answer to the second part of the question is “Wait and see.”
Bernie Ogilvy: Would the Minister agree that character education improves the quality of education provided in schools; if not, is he aware of an Auckland University of Technology study showing notable improvements in the school environment through improved behaviour, fewer disciplinary actions, increased staff stability, and increased student attendance since the introduction of character education?
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: No and no.
Working for Families Package—Enrolment Rates
9. JOHN KEY (National—Helensville) to the Minister for Social Development and Employment: Of the 196,230 families who had registered for the Government’s Working for Families package as of 1 April 2005, how many families were not automatically enrolled because they were not previously on a benefit and, of that group, how many have in fact taken the step of voluntarily enrolling?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY (Minister for Social Development and Employment): Of those families with an estimated 385,000 children receiving family income assistance on 1 April, about 81,000 received assistance through the Inland Revenue Department rather than the Ministry of Social Development. About 14,000 of these were new to the system and had not received assistance previously. On top of this—[Interruption]—if the member would be quiet for a moment—there were 3,500 new accommodation supplement recipients. About 8,000 more people were getting childcare assistance. I think about 60,000 more families, most of them self-employed, will take their assistance at the end of the year in a lump sum. What the member needs to know, of course, is that all of the 260,000 families will have their circumstances changed as a result of this package. As a result of that, it is very important for them to understand that they use the website or call the phone number, so that they can understand better how their income will change.
John Key: If over 180,000 of the 196,000 people currently enrolled on Working for Families were automatically enrolled because they were on a benefit, while at the same time the bulk of those who are working are not eligible until 2006 or 2007, why would the Government embark on a $15 million advertising campaign a year ahead of time in election year 2005?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: It would be helpful if the member had actually listened during this question, and question No. 6, as well, because I said that 81,000 received their money through the Inland Revenue Department, not through the Ministry of Social Development, 14,000 were getting family assistance, about 8,500 are getting accommodation supplement and childcare assistance, about 60,000 self-employed people will need to have their circumstances worked out before the end of the year, and all 260,000 families will have their circumstances changed and will, therefore, need to be in contact with the phone number or the website to understand how that works.
Moana Mackey: How many more families are expected to apply for assistance from 1 April 2006?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: An estimated 136,000 hard-working families—nearly 30 percent of all families with children—will receive an in-work payment from 1 April next year. About 25 percent of them will be new recipients who do not receive its predecessor, the child tax credit. We also expect 28,000 people to become eligible for family support through abatement changes. All of this assumes that John Key does not get the chance to axe this part of the Working for Families package; thank goodness his tax cut package is a remote possibility.
Hon Ken Shirley: In view of the fact that 87 percent of qualifying families are automatically enrolled, why has the Labour Government budgeted $18 million for mass promotion of the Working for Families package, and are the display hoardings we are seeing around the country carrying the Labour Party logo and stating “You’re better off with Labour” funded out of the Working for Families package; if they are, can the Minister assure the House that this complies with the Auditor-General’s guidelines for expenditure on electioneering with taxpayers’ money?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: Working back through the question, I can say that the Auditor-General has, of course, approved all the expenditure in relation to the Working for Families package, as the member well knows. “You’re better off with Labour” is not, of course, funded through that package. The amount is not $18 million; it is $15 million. I could go through the other factual errors, but it would take too long.
John Key: How does the Minister reconcile spending that equates to $1,000 per family on advertising to households when the Inland Revenue Department already knows who they are, the fact that they are eligible, and their phone numbers and addresses; and is this just a case of taxpayers having to fund more of Labour’s election campaign?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: Over the next 3 years, $2.6 billion will be distributed to low and modest income households in this country. Unlike that member, whose party specialised in not telling people about their eligibility, so that only 19 percent of eligible households got the accommodation supplement, we will ensure that every single dollar goes to those households, and we will ensure that National never has a chance to institute its tax cuts, which would mean those households getting nothing.
John Key: Is the reason that working families have to wait until 2008 to get an extra 67c a week the fact that this Government thinks it is a higher priority to spend millions advertising to beneficiaries their entitlement to a scheme they are already enrolled in?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: In 2008, indexing, after a 3-year period, will come in. But right now—as we sit here today—New Zealand households are getting sums like $43 for childcare. They are getting sums for accommodation supplement, they are getting family support, they will get in-work payments from 1 April next year, and they will get further adjustments next year. Mr Key can eat his heart out—those tax cuts do not wash with the public at all.
Treaty of Waitangi—Education Programme
10. DAIL JONES (NZ First) to the Coordinating Minister, Race Relations: What has been the total cost across all Government agencies in the last financial year of providing internal or contracted Treaty of Waitangi - related courses and education material on the Treaty of Waitangi?
Hon TREVOR MALLARD (Minister of Education): I thank the member for his question and for the drafting of it today. There are nearly 3,000 Crown entities. The training for each is a matter for the chief executive, and I do not hold the details for all of them.
Dail Jones: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. My question was about the total cost, not the number of entities. Has the Minister not done his homework in the last 2 days to let me have the cost?
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: Just to make it clear, I have not chosen to instruct my staff to ring 3,000 Crown entities to ask them what they spent on these things, no.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: The 3,000 entities the Minister refers to include about 2,600 schools, and nobody is suggesting that they be included. When a Minister cannot provide the answer to such a question the normal practice is to say that it has not been possible to do so within the time, and that it will be provided to the library and to the member at the earliest possible opportunity. Question time becomes a farce when a Minister simply says that he cannot be blowed to get the information. I ask you whether you would require the Minister to answer the question within a reasonable time frame, through the normal practices Parliament has adopted.
Madam SPEAKER: There is no normal practice. Sometimes Ministers say that; sometimes they do not. It is up to the Minister how the Minister responds, and that response will be judged accordingly.
Dail Jones: What efforts will the Minister make to provide the information, at least by way of a written question in the usual time available for written questions; or is he of the view that spending about $50 million worth of taxpayers’ money on this farcical effort to introduce people to the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi is just a waste of time, and that the money should be better spent on something like reducing, say, exorbitant school fees or hospital waiting lists?
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: The total budgeted cost of the Treaty of Waitangi information programme in the agency for which I am responsible was $2.74 million. This year, that was money very well spent. I advise the Minister to have a good read of the information, because if he did so some of his attitudes might change.
Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. The position of Coordinating Minister, Race Relations was created by the Prime Minister specifically to look at these very issues in Government departments. The Minister has held this position for almost 18 months. Is it not reasonable to expect a better answer to Mr Jones’ question than: “I don’t know.”?
Madam SPEAKER: I thank the member for his comments and the information, but the Speaker is not responsible for the quality of answers. The Minister did address the question; others will judge the quality of his answer.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: Standing Order 370(1) states: “An answer that seeks to address the question asked must be given if it can be given consistently with the public interest.” The public have a very real interest in knowing how their money is spent. Your ruling is extraordinary. Effectively, if a member asks any Minister about how money is spent, the Minister can, with the precedent you have set this afternoon, say: “I don’t have that; I’m not providing it.” That is not the standard we have had from previous Speakers. I ask you to reflect on your ruling in respect of basic disclosure of financial information from the Government.
Hon Dr Michael Cullen: Indeed, the member read the Standing Order correctly, but misunderstood what it meant. It meant that the answer must seek to address the question if it can be given consistently with the public interest. He has raised this point of order in a number of different ways over recent months, and every time he gets it wrong. There are circumstances in which a member, consistent with the public interest, should not even seek to address the question, because of the nature of the information that might be involved. In this particular instance, the Minister certainly did address the question. One of the problems we have in this matter is that members opposite have a common tendency to phrase questions poorly and then complain when they do not get the answer they expected. The question asked: “What has been the total cost across all Government agencies …”. If the member really expects the Minister to go through every school, every district health board, every Crown entity and agency, and every department to elicit that information, I say, bluntly, that the time and cost involved is not reasonable and the Minister should not be expected to provide that. If, of course, what the member wanted was that within the core public sector and that within the administrative arm of Government, then he should have phrased the question properly, rather than using language that these days has a much broader meaning than, perhaps, the member has been accustomed to in the past.
Gerry Brownlee: Speaking to the point of order—
Madam SPEAKER: No, I will just rule on this first, because it is consistent, as Dr Cullen said, with the understanding of what is meant by “public interest”. His interpretation is consistent with the rulings that have previously been given. Speakers’ rulings in the past have also emphasised that it is not for the Speaker to judge the quality of the answers. It is not for the Speaker to do that; members do, and the public does. The member has to address the question, however, and he had addressed it. Is there another point of order? Stephen Franks, I think, had a slight precedent over Gerry Brownlee.
Gerry Brownlee: Not in my assessment he doesn’t.
Madam SPEAKER: Well, in my assessment on this he does.
Stephen Franks: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. My point of order is related, but different. I think the Minister’s answer, in which he said he had asked his unit—I am not sure whether he used the word “unit”, but that is what his staff in this role have been described as in the past—and they had said it was approximately two point something million, actually allowed him to narrow the scope of his responsibility way lower than when it was announced. He was expressly described as the Coordinating Minister, Race Relations. His job was described as to rove through departments and to establish whether programmes were addressing need instead of race. The Minister should not be permitted to duck by saying that he had asked his unit when his responsibility was expressly stated as being Government-wide. At the very least, he should be obliged to say whether he has ever bothered to try to find out what the expenditure is across the Government on this kind of race propaganda.
Madam SPEAKER: I am sorry, that is not a point of order. The Minister, as I heard, in answer to one of the questions, explicitly said he had not sought that information, so he addressed that point. But you are arguing again, if I may say, about the quality of the answer. That is for others to judge. The answer addressed the question.
Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. My point of order is much along the lines of the point that Mr Franks has made. But I want to point out that Dr Cullen has said that there is a problem with the way questions are being asked and the way understandings are being considered by members asking those questions. The reality is that the Prime Minister is the person who went out and said what Mr Mallard would be doing. It is the Prime Minister who gave the nation an expectation that Mr Mallard was the man to put his finger on the problem. It is not unreasonable that Opposition parties ask Mr Mallard whether he has managed to nail it down. I have to say immediately to you, Madam Chair, that you have ruled, and we accept that he has done nothing.
Madam SPEAKER: That was not a point of order.
Dail Jones: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. It follows on very nicely from Mr Brownlee’s point of order. In actual fact, New Zealand First tried to ask this question of the Prime Minister yesterday, because that is where all this started from. The office ruled that we could not ask this question of the Prime Minister. The Government decided that it would pass it over to Mr Mallard. We would have presumed that the Prime Minister passed it over to Mr Mallard because she thought Mr Mallard knew what he was doing and would be capable of answering the question. So far, it seems that we are out of luck on both counts: Mr Mallard does not know what he is doing and is incapable of answering the question. So I guess that is where the matter has to rest in the meantime.
Hon Dr Michael Cullen: Of course, the Government is perfectly free to transfer a question to the more appropriate Minister, but it is not for the Government to correct the inadequacy of questions asked by members opposite. If the member cannot frame his question correctly, it is not up to the Prime Minister to do it for him.
Madam SPEAKER: The member is right that, in fact, who addresses the question is a matter for the Government.
Dail Jones: Are we to take it in this House that when it comes to trying to get information about the many tens of millions of dollars that are being spent on this education programme relating to the Treaty of Waitangi and its so-called principles, the attitude of the Labour Government is that we should not ask such questions because the Labour Minister in charge considers them to be a waste of time, as he indicated in his answer to the House yesterday; is that a reference to the treaty programme itself, or to the way in which the money is being spent?
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: What I did indicate earlier is that the Treaty of Waitangi information programme is costing $2.74 million this year. That is certainly not a waste of time. There are, however, some programmes and some approaches run by Government departments that I would describe in that manner.
Stephen Franks: Why has the Minister not used his powers as Coordinating Minister, Race Relations to coordinate a stop to the hundreds of Government advertisements, which are a waste of time, that variously oblige bewildered mechanics, carpenters, or caretakers to show their “commitment to the Treaty of Waitangi” or “knowledge of the place of the treaty in New Zealand’s constitution”; even for the jobs that might need such mysterious knowledge, can the Minister tell us what that place is?
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: As I indicated to the member yesterday, it is not my job to do the job applications for him.
Madam SPEAKER: Would the Minister address the question.
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: As I indicated yesterday, it is my view that a number of job descriptions for the public service totally and unnecessarily refer to treaty knowledge or similar matters. I have talked to the Minister of State Services, and he has talked to the State Services Commissioner, and he has talked to chief executives. Unfortunately, somewhere down the line the message has not gone through absolutely brilliantly, and I am sure that the State Services Commissioner will have another discussion with chief executives at some time.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I am greatly concerned at the attitude this Minister has taken to what is a very, very serious question and a very serious political issue. He knows full well what we are after. We want to know the amounts being applied in respect of the portfolio that he has been given char of. It is simply a contempt of this Parliament to be told now, 28 hours after the question was first lodged, when the framing of the question was argued about, that he will not give any answer at all. That is what it comes back to. It is not that the Minister might be embarrassed—that is what a Government sometimes has to wear—but he is actually saying that he does not care what members ask, and that he will not be bothered to tell them. That is not a satisfactory way of conducting his responsibilities. Above all, it is an absolute contempt for Parliament. The Minister’s job is to come down to the Chamber and, in front of the whole country, answer the questions he has been properly asked. If you, Madam Speaker, judge the question to have been properly asked, then the Minister should properly answer it.
Madam SPEAKER: That is not a point of order. The member has made his point known, as have several other members. I have ruled on that point. It is not a point of order.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: You have not ruled on my point of order, Madam Speaker.
Madam SPEAKER: Yes, I have.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: My point of order is that it is your duty to make sure that the Minister answers the question, or makes some effort to answer it. He cannot say that he does not give a damn and therefore will not bother to keep himself appraised of the information and come down to the Chamber to tell Parliament what is going on.
Madam SPEAKER: It is members’ day.
Hon Dr Michael Cullen: That is not, of course, what the Minister said. The Minister said that the question asked across all Government agencies, and that it would be an enormous job to provide the information. For example, almost every school in New Zealand that I am aware of spends some time on providing internal education material on the Treaty of Waitangi. It is a pity, perhaps, that they did not do so in the days when that member and I went to primary school and secondary school. How on earth are we to disentangle those costs, which are part of courses run in schools throughout the country, to answer this particular question? The Minister did give information on the money that he is directly responsible for in terms of Treaty of Waitangi information material, which, I think, is some $2.74 million.
Madam SPEAKER: We are now into debatable material—
Hon Ken Shirley: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. It is new point of order.
Madam SPEAKER: I am ruling. We are now into debatable material. We are trying to get to a general debate; members may like to pursue the matter there. I would just like to note for members that Speakers cannot oblige Ministers to say anything. All that Speakers are responsible for is ensuring that the question is addressed, and addressed relevantly. Can we please now move on, or do we now have a point of order? It is on a different matter, I hope.
Hon Ken Shirley: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. It is certainly a different matter. I heard you say to the House that, after all, it is members’ day. You were implying that there is a lower standard of tolerance, that you are prepared to be more indulgent, and that if we are wasting members’ day, it is not of the same consequence. I think that if that was the case, then many members of the House would take exception to that. Members’ day has equal status, and the Speaker should not be more expeditious in encouraging greater constraint on time in support of Government business of the day over members’ business of the day. I am really seeking an assurance from you, Madam Speaker, that that was not the implication you seemed to make.
Madam SPEAKER: Of course, it was not. If the member took that inference, then, of course, I apologise. It is members’ day, and members are entitled to spend the time as they wish.
11. Dr PAUL HUTCHISON (National—Port Waikato) to the Minister of Health: Is she satisfied with the performance of the health system under the current Government, given that a recent poll found that 73.8 percent of people believed hospitals are offering the same or worse services as when Labour came into office?
Hon ANNETTE KING (Minister of Health): Question No. 11 is almost identical to question No. 1, so, for the sake of brevity, my answer is the same.
Dr Paul Hutchison: Why should a patient who presents at a New Zealand emergency department with a heart attack, massive bleeding, or concussion not be seen within the target time frames, in 14 out of 21 district health boards, given the extra billions of dollars of money that is being poured into health; and how many patients have to die before the Minister takes some responsibility and fixes the problem?
Hon ANNETTE KING: Any patients who present with those conditions should be seen within that time, and I believe they are.
Nanaia Mahuta: What recent statistics has the Minister seen in relation to how New Zealanders rate hospital services?
Hon Dr Nick Smith: We heard that a little while ago.
Hon ANNETTE KING: The member might have heard it, but he did not listen. In recent patient satisfaction surveys, which I think are probably more accurate than a snapshot poll, 88 percent of New Zealanders said they were very satisfied with the services they receive within New Zealand hospitals. That is an improvement, I have to say, over the last year.
Dr Paul Hutchison: Does the Minister recall her statement made in May 2004 regarding accident and emergency services: “The reason we know they need to improve is now we do look at the data; we collect the data, and we tell the public about it.”; if so, what, other than look at this data, is she going to do as Minister, considering that district health boards have been failing to meet benchmark time frames for triage for over 3 years, and that 14 out of 21 district health boards have failed in this quarter?
Hon ANNETTE KING: The benchmark report does report on triage times. The triage times are being looked at by the specialists themselves, because the times are reliant on the nurse or doctor recording on a computer the time that a person presents, at that time, to ensure that the right time has been recorded. That is seen by the specialists as a rather poor measure.
However, at least we do measure, and district health boards intend and try to improve each quarter, as they look at the operations they carry out. I think they are committed to improving, as this Government is.
Dr Paul Hutchison: How can she be satisfied with a health system that has failed for 3 years in a row to treat patients in accident and emergency departments within acceptable time frames, and that culls thousands of patients from waiting lists; and how can she be satisfied with a primary health system that shows no measurable improvement in health outcomes, despite billions of dollars having been poured in over the last 5 years?
Hon ANNETTE KING: There has certainly been an improvement in health outcomes, and I direct the member to the length of time that people are living, which has improved under this Government. I would point the member to the number of operations now being carried out, and to the number of outpatients now being seen. Most people are seen within the triage times, but if a person is seen 1 minute over the time that is recorded, then that treatment is recorded as not meeting that triage time. It is not a very accurate measure, but at least it is a measure—something we did not have in the past. I have to say this: to date, the only health policy we have had from Dr Hutchison is: “We will recreate a list, we will put people on a list, and then they will feel better.”
Hon Dr Nick Smith: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I wish you to refer back to your earlier rulings, and also to Speaker’s ruling 147/4, which makes it plain. Every time this Minister gets into a tricky spot and cannot answer the question, she starts making things up about National’s policy, and that is specifically excluded, both in the Standing Orders and in that Speaker’s ruling.
Madam SPEAKER: The Minister certainly fully addressed the other parts of the question, but that last part was not relevant to the question. The member is correct.
Question No. 10 to Minister
GERRY BROWNLEE (Deputy Leader—National): I should have brought this up at the end of question No. 10, which was directed to the Coordinating Minister, Race Relations. It relates to some comments the Minister made during his answers. I seek now to table a job advertisement—just one of many—from today’s newspaper that requires a health-welfare services manager to have a specific understanding of the Treaty of Waitangi in order to be employed by the Government.
Madam SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection? Yes, there is.
Question No. 11 to Minister
Dr PAUL HUTCHISON (National—Port Waikato):: I seek leave to table the district health board hospital benchmark information of October-December 2004, which shows that 14 out of 21 district health boards failed to achieve triage time.
Madam SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection? There is objection.
Dr PAUL HUTCHISON: I seek leave to table a press release by Victoria University, dated 30 May 2005, which states: “Concerns were also raised by some informants about the targeting of increased funding, with claims that it had been imprecise and that money had been wasted.”
Madam SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection? Yes, there is.
Hon ANNETTE KING (Minister of Health): I seek leave to table the transcript of the Television One news on Monday night when Dr Hutchison said that National’s new policy would be to have a list of people requiring surgery.
Madam SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection? Yes, there is.
Student Loans—Total Outstanding
12. NANDOR TANCZOS (Green) to the Minister of Education: How much has total student loans outstanding increased in the last 6 years and what level is this total forecast to reach by 2010?
Hon TREVOR MALLARD (Minister of Education): By the sum of $3,472 million dollars, and $10,017 million dollars, respectively.
Nandor Tanczos: Is the Minister aware that around 13 percent of the population aged over 15 now owe money to the student loan scheme—that, is over 400,000 people—and does he agree that student debt is affecting the ability of many of them to buy homes and raise families?
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: I am not aware of the exact figures, but I do know that the work that has gone on between the Inland Revenue Department, the Ministry of Social Development, and the Ministry of Education has shown that there is a slight deferral on people’s home purchase, but not a deferral on having children.
H V Ross Robertson: Can the Minister tell the House what has been the impact of the Government’s steps to reduce student loan growth?
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: Average loan repayment times are down from 14.8 years—that is, 14.8 years in 1999—to just 9.3 years now. Under our Government, the average student loan balance grew by just 15.4 percent from 2000-04, compared with a 76 percent rise in the last 4 years of the previous National Government. I must say, though, that the approach of the National Party to abolish the student loan scheme, and to—
Madam SPEAKER: The Minister knows that that is not relevant to answering the question.
Bernie Ogilvy: Will the Minister consider, as a way of reducing student loan debt, progressively lowering the age at which the eligibility for allowances is based—on students’ own income and not that of their parents, from the age of 25—now that the Greens have joined in supporting that proposal from United Future?
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: I will just tell the member that the Greens had that policy before United Future was born.
Nandor Tanczos: Why does the Government think it is cheaper for a student to rent a room than it is for other people, as reflected in the policy of a maximum student accommodation allowance of $60, as opposed to a maximum of $145 for someone on the unemployment benefit?
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: I think it is a reflection of a recognition on the part of the Government that student accommodation generally tends to be cheaper than that of the population generally.
Nandor Tanczos: Is the Minister aware that if current policies continue, by 2010 the Government will be earning almost as much from interest on existing debt—around $800 million—as it plans to lend in new loans to students each year, which is around $1,100 million?
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: I am aware that there is a point of balance at some point, and I do not regard that as much of a problem. The fact that we are in balance—money coming in, money going out—is probably quite a good thing for Treasury.
Nandor Tanczos: Well, can the Minister confirm that, according to current projections, by 2010 the Government will be relying heavily on student loans to meet its net debt targets, and that net Government debt would be nearly 45 percent higher if it were not for student loans?
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: I think the member has got that the wrong way round. Net debt, if it were not for student loans, would be a lot lower.
Nandor Tanczos: Is the Minister aware that student debt has increased by well over $78,000 simply over the course of today’s question time?
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: Given the length of this damn question time, I am surprised it is only as much as that.