Questions & Answers for Oral Answer 21 June 2005
Tuesday, 21 June
Questions for Oral Answer
1. Climate Change, Ministerial Group
2. Fiscal Objectives—Long Term
3. Kyoto Protocol—Carbon Sink Credits
4. Whaling—International Moratorium
5. Te Wânanga o Aotearoa—Timing of Action
6. Treaty Claims and Settlements—Legal Aid
7. Iraq—Combat Forces
8. Energy—Future Cost
9. School Enrolment Schemes—Possible Changes
Question No. 10 to Minister
10. Nuclear-free New Zealand—Nuclear Propulsion
11. School Boards of Trustees—New Zealand Bill of Rights Act
12. 111 System—Abandoned Calls
Questions for Oral Answer
Questions to Ministers
Climate Change, Ministerial Group Convenor—Confidence
1. Dr DON BRASH (Leader of the Opposition) to the Prime Minister: Does she have confidence in the Hon Pete Hodgson, Convenor, Ministerial Group on Climate Change; if so, why?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK (Prime Minister): Yes, because he is a hard-working and conscientious Minister.
Dr Don Brash: How can the Prime Minister continue to have confidence in the Minister responsible for making a billion-dollar bungle over New Zealand’s carbon credit position, who repeatedly abused critics who accurately told him that his assessment of our carbon credit position was flawed?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: Many members of this House, over a long period of time, have accepted officials’ advice about the projections. I assume that Nick Smith will be asking for his own resignation as National’s environment spokesperson.
Dr Don Brash: Does the Prime Minister think it is OK for a Minister to go around the country, selling a policy on the basis that its opponents would be “burning up a cheque for $200 million”, only to be then proven completely wrong; and what does she have to say today to New Zealanders who have been seriously misled by the Minister?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: As I have said, over many years many members of this House, and Ministers from previous Governments as well, have accepted the projections made by officials at the time they were made. Of course, New Zealand did not ratify the protocol to make money; it ratified it because we do not want to be freeloaders.
Dail Jones: Why does the Prime Minister still have confidence in the convenor, when he advocates a Kyoto policy that will now cost New Zealanders and this Government, on previous calculations, at least in excess of $1 billion per annum, which is in excess, for example, of the annual amount needed to implement New Zealand First’s policy to increase the retirement income of superannuitants from 65 percent of the average ordinary-time weekly wage to 72.5 percent, as provided by section 16 of the New Zealand Superannuation Act, and still have money left over?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: The member is throwing around figures a little loosely. I thought I heard the cost would be $500 million over 5 years. Given that under a Labour Government GDP growth has averaged $8 billion a year, I would say that we are in a rather healthy position.
Rodney Hide: How can New Zealand possibly have any confidence in a Minister who went down to Southland and assured businesses there that “the ACT party has been against this from the start, but New Zealand could stand to make a couple of hundred million dollars from this. Would they set fire to a $200 million cheque?”, and can she confirm that this cheque has now turned into a multi-hundred-million-dollar liability for the transition stage, and that beyond 2012 the Kyoto commitments will cost New Zealand many billions of dollars when they fully come into force?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I will credit ACT with probably being the only party in the House that has consistently opposed ratification of the protocol. Other parties, including the National Party, have consistently accepted officials’ advice that New Zealand would be in a net positive position.
Dr Don Brash: Does the Prime Minister believe that the Minister owes Dr Alex Sundakov an apology, after he described Dr Sundakov’s methodology in his analysis of New Zealand’s carbon credit position as “at the bottom end of credibility”, and the liability on New Zealand’s part as “unproven and unlikely”, given that Dr Sundakov’s analysis turned out to be very much more accurate than the Minister’s?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: As I am not aware of the methodology Dr Sundakov used, I could not comment. What I do know is that Governments for many years have employed officials to give advice, and the fact is that Ministers act on that advice. Former National ministers did. Nick Smith did, when he announced National’s policy. And now National has flip-flopped again.
Jeanette Fitzsimons: Does the Prime Minister see any irony in proposals by some in this House to withdraw from Kyoto just as the Pentagon has advised President Bush that climate change is a greater threat to humanity than terrorism, and would not abandoning our efforts to preserve a stable climate at this stage amount to economic sabotage?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: Abandoning the ratification now would see New Zealand stand with a very small number of countries that have refused to ratify. To comment on the science, the science academies of all the G8 nations now say that the projections about climate change, and the damage it will do to our world, are indeed valid.
Peter Brown: Will the Prime Minister be clear as to whether she is telling the House that she would have still ratified the Kyoto Protocol if she knew what she knows now, which is that we have moved from being a net seller of carbon credits to having a huge liability—something in the vicinity of half a billion dollars; would she still have signed?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: Absolutely, because the reason New Zealand went in was not to make money. It was so that we do not freeload on other countries’ efforts. National may want to freeload; Labour does not.
Larry Baldock: Does the Prime Minister think that New Zealanders sufficiently understand that according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s own figures, even if all the countries that have ratified Kyoto were to meet their promised commitments, which in New Zealand could mean a taxpayer bill of $1 billion, by 2050 that would reduce the estimated climate change temperature by only 0.02 percent, or 2 degrees centigrade; if so, does she think that that is worth $1 billion?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: If the member were talking about an effect of 2 degrees centigrade, that is actually quite a lot. A country like New Zealand, with its very significant pastoral and forestry industries and horticulture, does need a mild, stable climate. We have, long-term, a great deal to gain from mitigating the effects of global warming.
Larry Baldock: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. The Prime Minister may have misheard me, but I quoted 0.02 degrees centigrade.
Madam SPEAKER: Thank you for that clarification.
Jeanette Fitzsimons: Does the Prime Minister agree that the figures in this officials’ report are still just projections, based on the assumption that New Zealand will do nothing to reduce its greenhouse emissions between now and 2012; if so, will she commit to a whole-of-Government programme to improve energy efficiency and to develop renewable energy if she is re-elected in September?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: Yes, I understand that that is the assumption—that nothing would be done. Of course, a great deal can be, and must be, done. That is something I look forward to leading in my third term as Prime Minister.
Peter Brown: Does the Prime Minister agree with Philippe Sands, the British law professor who is currently touring the country, that countries such as Australia and the USA, and the exempted countries of China and India, which have not ratified the Kyoto Protocol, will ultimately have to pay a tariff on their goods and whatever else; if so, when will she start urging that that action should come into play?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I make two points. Australia and the United States are among the very, very few Western nations that have not ratified Kyoto. Secondly, China and India, as I understand it, have ratified it, but their obligations are to be negotiated for future commitment periods. In response to the substance of the member’s question, I say that I think it entirely likely in future that countries that are not meeting international environmental standards and obligations could well find new kinds of trade barriers erected against them.
Fiscal Objectives—Long Term
2. CLAYTON COSGROVE (Labour—Waimakariri) to the Minister of Finance: What are the Government’s long-term fiscal objectives?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Minister of Finance): They are to run surpluses in average across the economic cycle, sufficient to make contributions to the New Zealand Superannuation Fund while maintaining a prudent level of debt set at about 20 percent of GDP.
Clayton Cosgrove: What factors would threaten those objectives?
Hon Member: It’s only speculation.
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Oh, is it only speculation; not a promise? The biggest threat is the pretence that substantial ongoing tax cuts can be financed on the basis of a single year’s surplus and a few cuts at the margins in the public sector. That, of course, was balanced this morning by a failure to give an undertaking that child poverty and the use of food banks would not rise under a National Government. As Dr Brash expansively said: “Look there is a cycle to these things.”
John Key: If the levels of Government spending are appropriate, as the Minister maintains, and if everything is all going swimmingly in health and education, as he maintains, can he tell the House why he wrote in his Budget briefing document to Cabinet: “Growth in Government spending is unsustainable if we are to remain on track to meet our fiscal objectives, and significant reprioritisation will be important in the future.”; and maybe he would like to tell the country exactly what that reprioritisation involves?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Yes, I would love to, for another 10 or 15 minutes, but let me just pick it up briefly. That is why the Budget forecasts additional new spending of only $1.9 billion a year, compared with $3 billion over each of the last two Budgets. If the member is going to commit something like $4 billion on tax cuts, plus increased spending on defence, plus increased spending on police, plus increased spending on roads, plus increased spending on prisons and the corrections service, he will have to borrow a great deal of money on top of that, and he will need all his skills in financial market speculation to achieve that outcome.
Kyoto Protocol—Carbon Sink Credits
3. Hon Dr NICK SMITH (National—Nelson) to the Convenor, Ministerial Group on Climate Change: Does he stand by his statement during the third reading of the Climate Change Response Bill in November 2002 that “New Zealand will be in the fortunate position of being a net seller of carbon credits in the international carbon market”, and his statement in response to opposition to ratification of the Kyoto Protocol, “Would they set fire to a $200 million cheque?”
Hon TREVOR MALLARD (Acting Convenor, Ministerial Group on Climate Change): On behalf of my colleague, no, and no.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: Why did the Minister assert on 9 June that this report on New Zealand’s carbon balance was not yet complete, when it is clearly dated May 2005, and when the foreword is written by the Hon Pete Hodgson; and is this the sort of deception and dishonesty that we can now expect from this decaying, rotten Government?
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: That question is from a man who was called a liar by a judge! From that member the question is a bit rich. But he sits on a National Party front bench that will run up the white flag under any sort of pressure. They would do it on nukes and they would do it on greenhouse gas as well.
Madam SPEAKER: I ask the Minister, who has responded to the last part of the question, to now respond to the first part of the question.
Hon Richard Prebble: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. All that we could hear way down the back of the House was that the Minister’s answer was causing quite a lot of pleasure, or reaction, but we could not actually hear the answer. I wonder whether the Minister would be kind enough to repeat it?
Madam SPEAKER: That is not a point of order, but I would ask the Minister now to address the question.
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: I think the member had some experience in Government. I am not sure that he ever used to read papers, but people do get draft papers, write forewords, and release them.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. Because it is important, I think, that we get the record correct now, I seek leave of the House to table a document that is not a draft, it is nothing but the final report, as presented by the Minister to the Local Government and Environment Committee, which is clearly dated May 2005.
Dail Jones: Why has the convenor failed to resign over this $1 billion Kyoto fiasco when he should have known the false nature of New Zealand’s calculations—for example, failing to recognise that forests must be planted on grassland to meet Kyoto definitions, when it is clear to everyone in New Zealand that 16 percent of our forests are planted on scrub, so cannot be counted as forests for Kyoto Protocol definition purposes, thereby causing one of the reasons for this billion-dollar fiasco?
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: I think it is a pity we did not have the honourable member helping brief the Government 2 or 3 years ago, and making sure we had the appropriate information at that time. The official documents certainly show that some assumptions were made earlier on that are not now accurate. That is not a reason to run up the white flag and give up on this issue, the way Opposition members do on nukes, and other issues.
Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I think we have listened rather patiently today to Government Ministers start their answers with little political barbs, which, I have to say, will lead to considerable disorder if the situation continues. Your job is to give everybody in this House a fair go. Mr Mallard has no respect for your position as Speaker, and it should not be up to the Opposition to have to point out that you are being abused by Mr Mallard.
Madam SPEAKER: I thank the member for his contribution. I would also ask that those asking questions refrain from a similar practice, and we might then get answers that do not contain those comments.
Hon Richard Prebble: Is the Minister aware that on 27 June 1995 the original questioner, the Hon Dr Nick Smith, asked the then National Minister for the Environment whether New Zealand’s forests would be enough to meet New Zealand’s Kyoto commitments, to which the Hon Simon Upton replied: “New Zealand will meet its commitments under the convention through a combination of emission reductions and absorption by forest sinks. Forest sinks are expected to be the main contribution towards this target and, in fact, will enable us to go considerably beyond it.”; if so, is it not reasonable for the House to conclude that both National and Labour have been wrong about Kyoto, and wrong when they have told the country that we will be in a net credit situation?
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: I have a feeling that we are coming full circle. I find myself very much in agreement with the Hon Richard Prebble on this particular issue. I have no doubt whatsoever that National Party members have been supporters of Kyoto right back to the time of the Hon Simon Upton. The difference is that now they have weak-kneed, wobbly, doddery leadership and they are falling over.
Larry Baldock: Is the Minister aware of a hastily assembled special negotiation meeting this month, where European countries admitted the following: “Portugal, over its promise by 77 percent, Spain by 61 percent, Greece by 51 percent, Ireland by 41 percent, Luxembourg by 31 percent, Finland by 27 percent, Denmark 26 percent, Italy by anywhere from 13 to 23 percent, … France by 19 percent, Austria by 18 percent, Belgium by 16 percent and the Netherlands by 10 percent.”; if so, is it not beginning to dawn upon him that on current projections there will not be enough carbon credits available for purchase by non-complying countries to make a carbon trading system work?
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: I am sure the Minister will be aware of those figures. I think the member is talking about price, not amount.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: Why did Pete Hodgson release a press statement on 28 September last year, after the Castalia report, stating that the Audit Office agreed with his position in respect of the liabilities, when the Audit Office advised the select committee last week that it had given no such advice or report?
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: I was not at the select committee at the time. My understanding is that that is something that has not yet been reported to the House and, if that is the case, I am not willing to compound any breach of privilege.
Larry Baldock: Does the Minister agree that in light of the unreliability of Kyoto, it is best to adopt “no regrets” policies, such as the one United Future is proposing, which would mean that New Zealand and its environment will benefit regardless of whether Kyoto falls over, such as a reduction in the age of the vehicle fleet; hybrid vehicles being imported to New Zealand much faster; a massive planting of native trees around our rivers and lakes, so that we can absorb carbon; and other such policies, because they are not dependent on the success of Kyoto?
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: All those things will help us meet our Kyoto Protocol requirements. Gerry Brownlee is showing his ignorance again. All those things will help us meet our Kyoto undertakings. It is good to see a party that is looking at positive ways of doing that rather than saying “We give up when any pressure comes on.”
Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. Perhaps the Minister would like to tell us which particular clause in the Kyoto agreement allows a country to count plantings alongside riversides, hedgerows, and other such. The Minister is talking utter garbage, and he knows it.
Madam SPEAKER: That is not a point of order. However, is the member wanting a supplementary question?
Gerry Brownlee: No.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: Noting that emissions over the last 5 years have been going up at 2½ times the rate that they were during the 1990s—
Rt Hon Helen Clark: No growth!
Hon Dr Nick Smith: That has happened to me, Madam Speaker, and I have been booted straight out.
Madam SPEAKER: Yes. Interjections during questions are not permitted. I am sorry about that.
Simon Power: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker.
Madam SPEAKER: Would the member please sit down; I have not finished. Those rules, I am afraid, do apply to everyone. So I am sorry I will have to ask the Prime Minister to leave.
Rt Hon Helen Clark withdrew from the Chamber.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: Noting that New Zealand’s emissions over the last 5 years have, in fact, gone up 2½ times the rate of the 1990s—in fact, substantially faster than any comparison with growth would be—and that there are no prospects of any of Government’s policy getting New Zealand out of a substantial deficit position, is the Minister telling the people of New Zealand that they will need to send a $1 billion cheque to either the Russian or the Ukraine Government to meet the commitment that it has made under the Kyoto Protocol?
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: No, I am not saying that. What I am telling the member is that this Government is not prepared to take the same approach to emission reduction as the previous Government. The previous Government had lower emissions because it deliberately, on the part of Dr Brash, as Governor of the Reserve Bank, collapsed the economy.
Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I would just ask you to consider how the Minister’s answer complies, particularly, with Standing Order 370(2)(c), if nothing else. We understand that the answer was pathetic and hopeless. We had a man on his feet who had no idea of what he was supposed to be talking about. But to have answered that way is, I think, somewhat unacceptable. So I ask again whether you would consider that the answer to that question did comply with Standing Order 370(2)(c)?
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: I am happy to elaborate. What is clear to all people on this side of the House is that emission growth grows with a growing economy. During the late 1990s the economy grew hardly at all, and this time it has. We are not going to collapse the economy in order to reduce emissions.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: I seek leave of the House to table a press statement by the Hon Pete Hodgson on 28 September saying that the Auditor-General’s office agreed with his position with respect to liabilities, despite the fact that the select committee said it had given no advice.
Madam SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection? There is objection.
Rodney Hide: Who does the Minister think should take responsibility for the billion-dollar Kyoto stuff-up, and will the Government be doing an estimate of what it will cost New Zealand, particularly beyond 2012, when Kyoto really begins to bite on New Zealand and will be costing this country billions of dollars?
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: I understand that there are quite a lot of negotiations to take place as to the out-years as far as Kyoto is concerned. This Government will be calculating. However, we will be relying on the advice that was accepted by Nick Smith and his mates.
Rodney Hide: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. My question was quite plain about who should take responsibility. We heard from the Minister that it was not his fault. It is a matter of a billion dollars. My question asked who the Minister thought should take responsibility, and nowhere in his answer did he address that.
Madam SPEAKER: The Minister addressed the question. He is not required under the Standing Orders to give his opinion, but he did address the question.
4. JEANETTE FITZSIMONS (Co-Leader—Green) to the Minister of Conservation: Does he support lifting the international moratorium on whaling; if not, why not?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Deputy Prime Minister), on behalf of the Minister of Conservation: No; because successive Governments have been strong supporters of the moratorium.
Jeanette Fitzsimons: Is he concerned that New Zealand’s excellent stance at the International Whaling Commission may be compromised by the fact that a Japanese whaling company that cans and markets whale meat under the so-called scientific whaling programme owns half of our largest fishing company and an eighth of our total fishing quota?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: No.
David Parker: What has New Zealand done in the last 24 hours to further the cause of whale preservation?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: In conjunction with other like-minded countries, we defeated the pro-whaling nations on three important votes on the first day of the International Whaling Commission meeting in Korea.
Simon Power: Does the Minister agree with the comments of future Labour leader Shane Jones, who was reported in the New Zealand Herald on 8 November 2000 as saying: “The Green movement’s disgust over commercial whaling was a Pakeha cultural perspective only.”; if not, why not?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: No. The member was not speaking in a Labour Party role at that point, any more than I am sure that member would really want to be bound by the utter nonsense that Allan Peachey’s going round telling teachers about National’s education policy.
Jeanette Fitzsimons: What advice does he have for the chairman of Sealord’s, who was reported to have said: “We have no intention of being associated with any efforts to lobby against Japanese scientific whaling.”?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: None at all. This is a matter for the New Zealand Government on behalf of New Zealand. Other people are allowed to take different views.
Jeanette Fitzsimons: Does he still not agree that it was a mistake in 2001 to approve the sale of a major stake in Sealord’s to a Japanese whaling company, Nissui, or is it just that trade and business come ahead of environment and conservation, again?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: No. I am advised that the two Ministers who took that decision considered it extraordinarily carefully before it was made.
Te Wânanga o Aotearoa—Timing of Action
5. Hon BILL ENGLISH (National—Clutha-Southland) to the Minister of Education: Why has he, and Government agencies, waited until June 2005 to take action on Te Wânanga o Aotearoa, when an official stated on 17 October 2003 with respect to Te Wânanga o Aotearoa, “I’m tired of going to large meetings which are drawn-out and everyone agrees but no action comes of it all.”?
Hon TREVOR MALLARD (Minister of Education): The Government did not wait.
Hon Bill English: Given that the Minister himself has said that the wânanga has serious levels of financial risk, and that there is doubt about its ongoing capabilities, how did those problems escape the notice of three public agencies—the New Zealand Qualifications Authority, the Ministry of Education, and the Tertiary Education Commission—dozens of officials, and a consultant paid $4,000 a day to watch the wânanga over 2 years; or is the Minister now attacking the wânanga in election year because Labour believes that the wânanga supports the Mâori party?
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: I think the member has an interesting perspective on life. The wânanga ran into problems when this Government stopped its unlimited growth path. It was relying—[Interruption] In 2003 this Government capped the number of equivalent full-time students. That resulted in some financial problems for the wânanga. If the members interjecting spoke to their mates in the National Party they would know that.
Dr Ashraf Choudhary: Has the Minister seen any reports contesting that the wânanga is in financial difficulty; if so, what do they say?
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: I have seen multiple reports. I have seen a report that argues that there is no financial crisis at the wânanga, that the courses offered are valuable, and that the Government should let the wânanga get on with the job.
Hon Member: Who said that?
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: Bill English said that on Willie Jackson’s programme. I have seen also a report stating that there has been a huge amount of waste at the wânanga. Do members opposite want to ask again who said that? It was said by Dr Brash on Morning Report this morning.
Hon Ken Shirley: Could the Minister of Education explain to the House why, in the knowledge of advice from his own representative Mr McNally that the wânanga council was in breach of its statutory obligations with regard to financial management, Ministry of Education staff were enrolled at the wânanga at several places around the country and funded as full-time students when they did, at most, only one 3-hour course a week?
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: It is fair to say, in relation to another wânanga—the member is mixing his wânanga—that a ministry official was enrolled in a course in a way that I think was inappropriate. That has been discussed with the official, and that person has been reprimanded.
Hon Ken Shirley: I seek the leave of the House to table a letter from a staff member of the Ministry of Education that explains how that person and many other Ministry of Education staff members were enrolled this year in courses run by Te Wânanga o Aotearoa and were funded on a full-time basis, yet spent at best 3 hours a week on a course.
Hon Bill English: Will the Minister take the same actions against The Open Polytechnic as he took against the wânanga, given that The Open Polytechnic has doubled its size in the last 2 years and is teaching exactly the same large-scale courses as the wânanga does, by exactly the same delivery methods and with exactly the same excessive Government subsidy; and when will he crack down on it?
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: That member is aware of a number of things, I think. First, The Open Polytechnic, although not in flash financial condition, does not have the financial crisis that the wânanga has. Also, it is subject to the 15 percent per annum growth maxima over a period of 4 years, and it will meet that. Just because it dips down and comes back up again does not mean the receivers should go in.
Hon Bill English: Which way was that Minister looking while the Tertiary Education Commission signed out huge cheques specifically authorised by Cabinet that allowed both Te Wânanga o Aotearoa and The Open Polytechnic to breach the Government’s own capping rules, and why does he continue to blame everyone else when he has spent almost 6 years now as the principal Minister responsible for every dollar spent by both of those institutions?
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: The changes around the caps and the timing of the caps were consistent with Government policy. It is all very well for that member to be brave in here, but why does he say exactly the opposite when he is on Willie Jackson’s programme, which is listened to mainly by brown people?
Treaty Claims and Settlements—Legal Aid
6. DAIL JONES (NZ First) to the Minister of Justice: How much has been spent in legal aid on treaty claims and settlements, broken down for each year ending June, since 1999?
Hon PHIL GOFF (Minister of Justice): Expenditure on legal aid for treaty settlement process has increased as the Government has worked to settle historical claims so that we can start to look to the future. The number of open cases with the Legal Services Agency has increased from 151 in 1999-2000 to 377 in 2003-04. Legal aid expenditure on these claims for each of the financial years for which we have full-year information, from 1999-2000 to 2003-04, is as follows: $3.1 million, $4.4 million, $5.6 million, $7.2 million, and $6.9 million. Those figures are rounded.
Dail Jones: Is the Minister satisfied that the legal aid system is being used effectively for this purpose of treaty claims, given that in the period mentioned by him Treaty of Waitangi settlement claims cost the taxpayer about $22 million in legal aid costs, and given that in this time only six claims were settled; and does he agree that wastage is going on in what the race relations Minister calls the “treaty industry”?
Hon PHIL GOFF: The Act sets out clear criteria by which the Legal Services Agency makes its decisions on granting legal aid. I think, in terms of the sums of money expended, they reflect not wastage but, rather, the complexity of the claims, and the need for the research to be done thoroughly. If we are to settle this process properly and put it behind us, then we have to do it in that way. We have to have proper representation, it needs to be thorough, it needs to be independent, and both sides need to respect the finding at the end.
Tim Barnett: Why is it important to ensure that treaty claimants are adequately represented?
Hon PHIL GOFF: If we want settlements of the historical grievances that are robust and durable, it is important that claimants are properly represented. Failure to provide legal assistance would be counterproductive, if the objective is to settle the grievances—and they are genuine grievances in many cases—and move forward as a nation. This is the policy objective for the Government and, apparently, for New Zealand First and National as well, both of which provided legal aid for Treaty of Waitangi processes when they were in Government.
Gerry Brownlee: Has the Minister seen any projections as to how much the legal aid bill is likely to increase, now that the Government intends appointing six new judges to the Mâori Land Court; and has he seen any projections for what legal aid would cost if it were to be available to those making claims to the seabed and foreshore?
Hon PHIL GOFF: Legal aid cannot be used for foreshore and seabed cases. The short answer to the member’s question is that I have not seen such forecasts. National’s policy is to accelerate the claims’ process, settling all grievances by 2010. If National puts that in place, it will not need just six new judges; it will probably need about another 26 judges, to settle the claims in that time frame.
Dail Jones: Does the Government intend to put a cap on the amount of legal aid that can be granted for specific treaty claims, or perhaps to limit them to certain specific law firms, given that some firms are claiming over $1 million per year in treaty legal aid alone; and does he now realise why New Zealand First supported the passage of the Foreshore and Seabed Act 2004 on the proviso that legal aid would not be made available to those seeking customary rights orders?
Hon PHIL GOFF: The member has been a lawyer for many years, and I think he has probably done legal aid cases. He will know that legal aid has never been capped in the sense of a dollar sum but, rather, has been restricted by virtue of the criteria that are applied. To do it in the way that the member is supposedly suggesting would obviously produce major anomalies and injustices. It could not be done that way. In terms of the legal firms doing the work, if it is brought to our attention that any firm is acting improperly and against the law, then action will be taken against that firm or particular individuals within it.
7. LUAMANUVAO WINNIE LABAN (Labour—Mana) to the Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade: Is the Government prepared to commit combat forces in Iraq if a request is received from the United States Government?
Hon PHIL GOFF (Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade): No. The Government has provided Defence Force personnel to Iraq for a period of 12 months to perform humanitarian and reconstruction tasks, and they did that extraordinarily well. We currently have a military officer attached to the United Nations mission in Iraq. However, New Zealand did not support the invasion of Iraq and does not intend to provide combat forces for the ongoing conflict.
Luamanuvao Winnie Laban: What suggestions has he received that New Zealand should have provided or should provide combat forces in Iraq?
Hon PHIL GOFF: I have seen repeated suggestions made by Don Brash that New Zealand should have joined in the invasion of Iraq, but I have to say that the only risk of New Zealand combat forces being sent to Iraq in future would be if there was a Brash-led Government, which, of course, the country will be determined to avoid.
Keith Locke: Do not the arguments the Minister has just raised against sending combat troops to what he called the ongoing conflict in Iraq also apply to the unfortunate commitment of New Zealand SAS troops to Afghanistan, particularly when the people in Governments of both Iraq and Afghanistan have criticised the United States conduct of the war as violating human rights and in view of the fact that SAS troops in Afghanistan will be essentially serving under United States troops and passing prisoners over to them perhaps to be mistreated in the way we have read about?
Hon PHIL GOFF: No, there is absolutely no parallel. We are in Afghanistan serving with both our special forces and the provincial reconstruction team under a United Nations mandate. We are there because that was a country run by an abysmal regime—the Taliban—that hosted al-Qaeda, which launched terrorist attacked around the world. I am proud of what our troops are doing there. Having troops in Afghanistan is supported by almost every country in the world, and I am appalled that the member should think otherwise and be an apologist for the regime that was removed from there.
Luamanuvao Winnie Laban: Has he seen other statements that suggest New Zealand might blindly commit its combat forces overseas to please others?
Hon PHIL GOFF: Yes. I regret to say I have seen a statement of that nature. It was a statement from the former National Party spokesperson on defence Simon Power, who suggested that a National Government would join its allies in war, without reservation, and wheresoever our commitment was called upon. This Government, as I said before, has not hesitated to commit forces based on this country’s judgment of where it is necessary and appropriate to commit those forces. But it will not commit itself to blindly follow others, as Mr Power so naively and ingratiatingly undertook to do.
Simon Power: Which of these two statements made by the Prime Minister does the Minister agree with—her statement of 30 March 2003 on the question of Iraq: “I don’t think that September 11 under a Gore presidency would have had this consequence for Iraq.”, or the wording of her apology to President Bush for offence caused, which was delivered to the White House by our ambassador in Washington in early April 2003?
Hon PHIL GOFF: What I most certainly do not agree with are the statements that member made. He ingratiatingly said that the National Party would follow any country into any war without any judgment on our part. That was an appalling reneging of this country’s independent sovereignty and judgment, and it is no wonder he was sacked as an utterly inappropriate defence spokesperson for the National Party.
Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. It is not uncommon for Ministers, when faced with an embarrassing question, to choose to get round their obligations to give the House a reasonable answer by addressing it with just anything at all. In the case of Phil Goff, it was a bit of a vein-popping scream across the House. The Minister did not address that question, and it is very hard to imagine how he could have. He did not even mention the Prime Minister, who has clearly caused him so much embarrassment.
Hon PHIL GOFF: Having just made my comment about the member’s own comments, I can say that the Prime Minister made a statement in the course of a talkback show. She later regarded that statement as inappropriate because it could have been interpreted in a particular way, and she therefore apologised for it. She faced up to that. I do not think Mr Power has ever apologised for the appalling statement he made that led Don Brash to sack him, even though Don Brash actually agrees with him.
Ron Mark: Does the Minister recall his Prime Minister’s unfortunate statement, when Major John McNutt of the SAS was killed whilst training in Kuwait, that there was no evidence that the SAS were an effective tool for foreign affairs or for developing foreign policy; and has she not now considered, firstly, just how that sort of derisory comment was received by Major McNutt’s family, and, secondly, how things have changed, when we see that this Government relies oh so heavily on the use of the Special Air Services in extending its foreign policy and influence?
Hon PHIL GOFF: Firstly, no, I do not recall the statement. Secondly, I attended Major McNutt’s funeral, with Jim Anderton and a number of others, and paid tribute to him out of respect for his giving of his life—sadly, under friendly fire. Lastly, both I and the Prime Minister have the utmost respect for the capability and integrity of our SAS forces.
Ron Mark: I seek the leave of the House to table the Prime Minister’s quotes. They were the very first comments out of her mouth before she really thought about what she was saying.
Madam SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection? Yes, there is objection.
8. PETER BROWN (Deputy Leader—NZ First) to the Minister of Energy: Has he received any reports indicating that the future cost of energy is set to increase; if so, what does he believe to be the causes of any such increase?
Hon TREVOR MALLARD (Minister of Energy): Yes. With the Mâui gasfield depleting, we are losing a major source of cheap energy. We need to look for new sources. Some of those will be more expensive.
Peter Brown: Does the Minister accept that if the Waitaki water allocation scheme goes ahead, there will be major increases in electricity costs; and will he tell the House specifically how he intends to replace the electricity lost if that scheme goes ahead?
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: I just want to move slightly to the left as I answer this question. I think the provisional water allocation for the Waitaki is not good, and that is why the Government—
Hon Dr Nick Smith: You set it up.
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: The member should just take his medication. He should listen for a second. It is a serious issue.
Madam SPEAKER: Members should settle, please. Interjections do get responses that are not appropriate. Would the Minister please continue.
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: As I was saying to the member, I think it is particularly important for the Government to be heard in the submissions as far as the Waitaki is concerned, because I think it would be very serious for the country if the proposal was allowed to proceed.
Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. You sort of ruled on the offence that was taken there. I ask you to think again about how that answer from the same Minister complies with Standing Order 370(2)(c). It sits well outside the Standing Order by any manner of reason, at all. It is this Minister who habitually offends and causes the most disorder in the House. No sort of offensive comment was made to him, but he seems to think that that is the best way to reply. That may reflect the pressure that he and the rest of the Government are under at the present time, but if we could have a considered ruling from you, now that there have been two clear breaches of that Standing Order, it would be helpful.
Hon Dr Michael Cullen: The National Party, whenever it loses in the debate, tries to take a point of order to cover up its embarrassment. The fact is that the member who asked the question asked it in two separate parts. There is no requirement to answer both parts of the question. The Minister clearly answered the first part of the question.
Madam SPEAKER: That is correct. The Minister did address that part of the question.
Peter Brown: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I did ask a very serious question. I accept Dr Cullen’s acknowledgment that I asked it in two parts, but the serious part is the question about what will replace the electricity that will be lost. That is a question that I think the Minister should give us some indication about.
Madam SPEAKER: Does the member want to ask another supplementary question?
Peter Brown: In due course, I do.
Mark Peck: What steps has the Government taken to lower the cost of electricity for low-volume users, such as pensioners?
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: All power networks have been required to offer a fixed daily charge option. Lower power users are now saving up to $96 per year on their electricity bill, thanks to the policy. I am advised that 30 percent of electricity users have taken it up and are getting cheaper power because of it. I suggest that everybody who is below average in their use of power should check whether they can switch.
Peter Brown: Does the Minister accept that we need more electricity energy in this country, and is he aware that Australia generates 78 percent of its electricity from coal-fired power stations—and, indeed, is building more coal-fired power stations; if he accepts that, how does he think it makes good sense to impose a carbon tax on us, when we produce only 8 percent of our electricity from coal-fired power stations?
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: Yes, yes, yes, and I refer the member to questions Nos 1 and 3.
Phil Heatley: What is the estimated cost on a per household basis of any increases in the cost of petrol, electricity, or gas that will be required as a result of the bungle by his colleague the Convenor, Ministerial Group on Climate Change in the assessment of New Zealand’s carbon credit position under the Kyoto Protocol?
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: If one wants to really take that question literally, none.
Jeanette Fitzsimons: Has the Minister seen that today’s international price of Brent crude oil, which at just under $59 a barrel and tipped to go over $60 a barrel soon, is the highest it has been since 1979 in real terms, and is five times what it was just 8 years ago; does not Kyoto and the costs of Kyoto pale into insignificance alongside the effect of oil depletion, known as peak oil, on international oil prices?
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: That was a bit of a stretch from the original question, but no and yes.
School Enrolment Schemes—Possible Changes
9. LYNNE PILLAY (Labour—Waitakere) to the Minister of Education: What reports, if any, has he received on possible changes to school enrolment schemes?
Hon TREVOR MALLARD (Minister of Education): I have seen a bizarre report in the Central Leader of 15 June that would encourage the unconstrained expansion of already overcrowded schools by way of huge capital injections into building programmes. I have seen a sound response to that feckless policy idea, from John Morris, Headmaster of Auckland Grammar School, who said: “There has got to be a limit; we do not want to grow any bigger.”, which actually undermines Dr Brash’s policy.
Lynne Pillay: What other reports has he seen about proposed school policies?
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: I have seen a report in The Aucklander of 8 June that a well-known person was recently summonsed to a principal’s office to explain to members of the Papakura Principals Association his endorsement of an illegal trust school, and his criticism of Papakura principals, teachers, and schools generally. By the end of that meeting, when his punishment had been meted out, and the jandal had been applied, he flip-flopped, and said that he holds Papakura principals in high regard for their leadership and the quality of the schools they run. That flip-flopper was Dr Brash. It is hard to keep track of National Party policy from one lunchtime to the next.
Hon Brian Donnelly: Does the Minister concede that his new school transport policy will have huge impacts on the enrolment schemes of schools in rural and provincial New Zealand, and will he tell parents before the election whether he will proceed with this absurdity after the election?
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: The answer is that I hope to be able to. I think the policy was designed with good intent. It has some unintended consequences, and I have had a very good suggestion recently, which is that the policy should be applied on a voluntary basis. The big increase in funding that was going to be offered to directly resource schools can go ahead, and those who want to run buses into other schools’ areas can do that, alternatively. It is a good idea, I think.
Bernie Ogilvy: Does the Minister then concede that school zoning can lead to inequity, and that without some form of zoning it is impossible to guarantee that every child has the choice of attending his or her local school; if so, will he allow popular schools to expand the number of out-of-zone enrolments by ballot if they want to?
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: Notwithstanding the fact that I am Minister in Charge of Climate Change at the moment, we do not restrict schools from increasing the number of kids who come in by way of ballot if there are places in the school for those children.
Question No. 10 to Minister
Hon KEN SHIRLEY (ACT): I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. This question was originally submitted to the Prime Minister, and because the Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade has a different gender, I now need to change it to read “Does he accept”, rather than “Does she accept”.
Madam SPEAKER: I am sure that is permissible.
Nuclear-free New Zealand—Nuclear Propulsion
10. Hon KEN SHIRLEY (ACT) to the Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade: Does he accept the findings of the special committee on nuclear propulsion which found that: “The likelihood of damaging emission or discharge of radioactive material from nuclear powered vessels if in New Zealand ports is so remote that it cannot give rise to any rational apprehension.”, and that nuclear-powered vessels would “occasion no significant threat to the environment.”; if not, what rational justification is there for continuing the ban?
Hon PHIL GOFF (Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade): The likelihood of a nuclear emission or discharge from a nuclear-powered vessel is small, but accidents or acts of terrorism mean that the possibility cannot be ruled out. That is why so many ports, including those of London, Sydney, New York, and Boston, to name just a few, do not allow visits by nuclear ships. Although it is unlikely, if such an accident or attack occurred the consequences, of course, could be potentially disastrous.
Hon Ken Shirley: In view of the fact that the Somers report concluded that there is no environmental risk or public safety reason for justifying the ban, and given that the DigiPoll of 750 New Zealanders released over the weekend showed that 62 percent of New Zealanders favour the removal of the ban, what is the possible reason for the Government’s continuation of the ban?
Hon PHIL GOFF: There are two points. Firstly, the Somers report was done by a group of people handpicked by the National Government in 1992 to get a particular result and—surprise, surprise—they got the result. Having got the result, as the member himself pointed out, they did not have the guts to carry it into effect. They do not have the courage of their convictions, and they recognise that New Zealanders do not want a change to our nuclear-free status—
Simon Power: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. My understanding—
Madam SPEAKER: Yes, that comment was inappropriate. Would the Minister please withdraw it.
Hon PHIL GOFF: I withdraw it. Given the fact that the National Government, having received the Somers report, did not have the gumption to act on its convictions, it never carried through those recommendations. With regard to the DigiPoll, the question was actually so heavily loaded—by a group of people who had commissioned it but who did not have the guts to say who they were—that it asked: “If there were no safety problem, at all, would you be in favour?”, then 62 percent or something said: “Well, we should perhaps give some consideration to it.” But if the member looked at other polls, including the polls done for the National Business Review and Phillips Fox, he would be shown that a consistent group of New Zealanders—80 percent—are against nuclear arms, and two-thirds are against nuclear-propelled ships.
H V Ross Robertson: Can the Minister tell the House the purpose of the special committee on nuclear propulsion?
Hon PHIL GOFF: The Somers committee on nuclear propulsion was set up by the National Government in 1992. They wanted to change New Zealand’s nuclear policy, as National members still do now. The National Government commissioned the report, got the reply, but for 8 years did nothing about it, because it knows that New Zealanders are fundamentally not in favour of having nuclear-propelled or nuclear-armed ships in New Zealand when there is no need to have either.
Heather Roy: Why does the Minister and the Labour Government perpetuate the nuclear-free New Zealand myth when Auckland City Hospital alone releases twice as much more radiation into the environment every day than the entire United States naval fleet releases in 1 year?
Hon PHIL GOFF: Because that is not the issue. The issue is the risk of accident and the risk of attack. The USS Cole in Yemen, in an area that was dangerous but where the ship was properly guarded, was nevertheless able to be breached substantially by an attack on it by a group of terrorists. With regard to accidents, I have a list of no less than 34 major accidents that have taken place involving nuclear-propelled ships, the latest of which was an American nuclear submarine just last year.
Hon Harry Duynhoven: Is the Minister aware that the United States Government formerly had a ship-type nuclear reactor installed and operating at McMurdo Base, and if there is no environmental risk from ship-type nuclear reactors, why was that reactor and hundreds, if not thousands, of tonnes of contaminated material removed to the US for decontamination, leaving McMurdo once again reliant on diesel for electricity generation?
Hon PHIL GOFF: The United States made the deliberate and welcome decision to remove the nuclear reactor because of the difficulties with the use of nuclear power, particularly in a fragile environment, and because of the questions of waste. I say, too, that the Somers report, in terms of nuclear-propelled ships and accidents, makes this very curious comment. It noted that Sydney should not have the ships, but said that it could have been OK for Auckland and Wellington because there was less distance to the open sea and less population density in Auckland and Wellington. If we can take that comment directly from the Somers report, on page 171, as a measure of the reliability of the judgment of that commission, then we might, as Ken Shirley has, do a total flip-flop on his previous stance and accept it as gospel
Hon Ken Shirley: In view of the clear findings and recommendations of the experts on the Somers report, who included a chair who was a retired High Court judge, a professor of physics, a professor of medicine, and a professor of engineering, would the Minister be prepared to let the people of New Zealand express their view by way of a public referendum on this issue—yes or no; if no, why not?
Hon PHIL GOFF: Because unlike the ACT party, this party has the courage of its convictions and makes its decisions on principle, taking note of the fact that for 20 years the overwhelming majority of New Zealanders have shown their endorsement of a nuclear-free New Zealand, which is why, although Don Brash wants the nukes here by lunchtime, that will not happen because he knows that public opinion is against him.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I know that the Government is under some pressure, but that does not excuse its members from following the Standing Orders and Speakers’ rulings. I particularly want to refer you to Speaker’s ruling 145/5: “The Minister, in answering about the report, cannot be hypothetical about what may or may not be the effects of another political party’s policy.”, and furthermore to Standing Orders 370(2)(c) and (3), which have been repeatedly breached time after time by Ministers in question time today. I ask you to reflect on whether you intend to enforce Speakers’ rulings and the Standing Orders when the Government is obviously feeling the pressure a bit.
Hon PHIL GOFF: Far from being hypothetical I quoted from the Somers report, and I quoted things that are factually on the record, with one exception—that while in the records of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade Dr Brash said that the policy would be gone by lunchtime, he said he cannot remember saying it, so I guess we do not have that admission in the House to rely on.
Madam SPEAKER: I have listened carefully, because I know we are—
Hon Trevor Mallard: Point of order—
Madam SPEAKER: Is this addressing the same point of order?
Hon Trevor Mallard: No, Madam Speaker. You have tossed out the Prime Minister for interjecting on a point of order; Don Brash interjected on that point of order.
Madam SPEAKER: I want to rule on the first point of order and, yes, I did hear the interjection, and it was inappropriate. Would members please settle! In ruling on the point of order, I say that I have listened carefully today, to make sure that references to each other’s policies are established with some report or some evidence, and are not hypothetical. The Minister, I think, gave a response to the point of order that was raised, in that he was referring to what was on the record. Now, whether the record is correct is not a question for the Standing Orders; it is not hypothetical in that sense. I want no contesting of that ruling, unless there is a new point of order, and it had better be a new point of order.
Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. It is the point of order I referred to during your ruling on the previous point of order. During Phil Goff’s contribution to the point of order, Don Brash interjected across the floor, and was heard by all members, I think, on this side. I ask for you to rule in the same way as you did earlier in the day on people who breach the Standing Orders in that way.
Madam SPEAKER: I am afraid the Standing Orders do have to be applied equally, so, I guess, they will be applied equally. I ask the member to please withdraw.
Dr Don Brash withdrew from the Chamber.
Heather Roy: I seek leave of the House to table page 69 from the Somers report to the Prime Minister and Cabinet, dated December 1992, outlining that Auckland Hospital emits twice as much radiation in 1 day as the entire US naval fleet does in 1 year.
Madam SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection? There is objection.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. In respect of that which can be commented on, and the point of order I raised in respect of Standing Order 370, the intimation you made was that whether it is Government policy, or another political party’s policy, the type of questions should be the same. That is not what the Standing Orders say at all. This Parliament is about holding the Government to account and there is not the capacity for Ministers to comment on other political parties’ policies at all. That is not in the Standing Orders, because they have no responsibility in that regard. That is the Standing Order that you have not applied today, and that has long been the established principle of the House.
Hon Dr Michael Cullen: If we were to take that as the interpretation of the Speaker’s ruling, it would lead us into a logical absurdity. Let us suppose that it were the policy of a party that we should have the vote at age 18—which happens to be the law. If we were to take Dr Smith’s point literally, no Minister could comment upon a policy of having the vote at age 18, because it was another party’s policy. There is, in fact, a dividing line here between what is allowable and what is not. Secondly, I think, Madam Speaker, you would tend to agree, that overly rigorous interpretation of some of these rulings, of course, would then have to applied equally. I would be on my feet almost continuously, challenging at least half the supplementary questions that are asked in the House by members opposite, because they breach any number of the Standing Orders—usually those around imputation, epithets, and various other things.
Madam SPEAKER: I need no more assistance, because this is, in effect, speaking to the ruling I have made. I thank members for their contribution. I ask the Hon Ken Shirley to raise his point of order.
Hon Ken Shirley: I seek the leave of the House to table the DigiPoll conducted in the last week of May, and released last weekend, which shows that 62 percent of New Zealanders supported the removal of the ban on nuclear-propelled ships visiting our territorial waters and ports, 33 percent opposed it, and 4.3 percent did not know.
Madam SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection? There is objection.
Hon PHIL GOFF: I seek the leave of the House to table the National Business Review - Phillips Fox poll, which shows that 62 percent of people are against nuclear-powered ships being allowed into New Zealand waters and only 32 percent support it. That is two to one against.
Madam SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection? There is objection.
Peter Brown: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. During the course of the answers the honourable Minister made reference to a list he has of 34 mishaps, I think, involving nuclear-powered ships. I am not sure whether he has an obligation to table it, but if there is an obligation, I seek leave for the Minister to seek leave to table the document.
Madam SPEAKER: There is no obligation to table it, and we cannot ask for that.
Hon PHIL GOFF: I am happy to read it out, Madam Speaker, if I could take the time of the House.
Madam SPEAKER: No, I would prefer you did not. Perhaps the members would like to discuss this outside the House.
Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I ask you to consider where a point of order is, in fact, not a point of order, and whether your decision to be firm with the House, and I am not disputing that decision, over interjections—on questions in the first place, but particularly interjections on points of order—can in all cases be fair, particularly where someone is using the point of order process to make a political point that does not meet the standards of a point of order. This, of course, happens quite frequently. In the incident that has seen you exercise your prerogative to ask Dr Brash to leave the House, Mr Goff, in speaking to a point of order, referred to a meeting that he was not present at—a meeting where certain allegations have been made repeatedly by the Government, but where the Government has refused, at all points, to release any sort of corroborated transcript for their position. What we know is that there were senior US senators present at that meeting who do not back the Government’s position with regards to what was and what was not said. I think you can see that when a person is effectively accused of mistruth in the House, it causes a certain emotional response, and that is usually quite immediate. In this case, I think, given that it was not a point of order—or even part of a point of order—that Mr Goff was speaking to, it seems rather unfair that the normal procedure for interrupting a point of order was applied.
Hon PHIL GOFF: Speaking to the point of order, I say that we need to correct what the honourable member has just said. Far from not being prepared to provide evidence, I tabled in this House the written comments of the neutral public servant, which recorded word for word what Don Brash said in that meeting.
Madam SPEAKER: I think that part of the point of order was really a debating point. On points of order and interjections, I am aware that there is some provocation at times, but I have also been asked to ensure that questions and points of order are heard in silence, which is what I am endeavouring to do. While at times I understand that people are provoked, if we start having exceptions, then when will it stop? I have asked other members to leave the Chamber who have interjected on points of order. That is why I was consistent with that ruling. So I thank the member for his contribution. Unless there are any more supplementary questions on question No. 10, I would like to move to question No. 11.
School Boards of Trustees—New Zealand Bill of Rights Act
11. GORDON COPELAND (United Future) to the Minister of Education: Is he satisfied that, in accordance with section 75 of the Education Act 1989, school boards of trustees adhere to the general laws of New Zealand, including sections 13 and 15 of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990 which provide for freedom of thought, conscience and religion, and the right to manifest those beliefs; if not, why not?
Hon TREVOR MALLARD (Minister of Education): Generally, the answer is yes.
Gordon Copeland: Has the Minister seen the categorical and unambiguous legal opinion of Sir Geoffrey Palmer that the decision of the Seatoun School board of trustees in relation to the KidsKlub is contrary to the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act, unreasonable, and ultra vires the Education Act, which allows religious education to take place in State secondary schools; if so, does he agree with that opinion and, in any event, how does he intend to address this issue?
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: There are two or three points to answer. First, I have not read the full opinion. Second, Seatoun School is not a secondary school but a primary school; therefore it may or may not be relevant to this particular issue. I think that an intense debate is going on amongst a very small group of people, and fanning it from here is not helpful.
Hon Brian Donnelly: Is it not time for a review of the secular clause in the Education Act—which was entered into our law in 1877 to accommodate interdenominational disputes over which Christian dogma was to be taught—in light of the fact that the clause is necessarily breached in order to satisfy treaty requirements and the fact that curriculum documents dictate the development of spirituality amongst our students?
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: I think we need to note the difference between the encouragement of spirituality and indoctrination in particular religions.
Gordon Copeland: Would the provision of a prayer room for Islamic students at a State school in Christchurch be at risk if that school’s board of trustees were at any time to decide to end it; if so, does the Minister regard that situation as satisfactory?
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: Yes. One of the things we have in New Zealand is exceptionally autonomous schools. Boards of trustees are allowed to make decisions for their schools in ways that almost no other country allows. In a place like the United States, not only would all of this be excluded but also someone who lives on one side of a street must go to a particular school and a person who lives on the other side of the street must go to another. We have a very liberal system, but the problem is that, as a result of that, sometimes boards make decisions we disagree with.
Gordon Copeland: Does the Minister back the decision of the board of trustees at the Seatoun State primary school to ban KidsKlub, even though it was previously approved by the trustees of the school that every child attending the club would do so with the express written permission of his or her parents, and no new consultation with the school community was undertaken prior to the board’s revocation; if so, how can that be in harmony with trusteeship on behalf of the entire school community?
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: I do not back the decision, but I back the board’s right to make it.
111 System—Abandoned Calls
12. Hon TONY RYALL (National—Bay Of Plenty) to the Minister of Police: When did he first find out that almost 180,000 calls to the police communications centres in the past 12 months were abandoned, and how did the Commissioner explain this to him?
Hon PAUL SWAIN (Minister of Labour), on behalf of the Minister of Police: I am advised that the Commissioner of Police informed the Minister of Police of the May 2004 - May 2005 figures in early June. I am also advised that the issue of the number of abandoned general calls has been a concern to the commissioner, and that he sought independent advice on the performance of the communications centres, the results of which have recently been provided to the Government. The Government has allocated an additional $45 million to address the issues raised in the report.
Hon Tony Ryall: Why did it take the disappearance of Iraena Asher and the bashing of Peter Bentley in Te Puke for the Government and the commissioner even to look at the reliability of our emergency services, considering that almost 200,000 calls had been abandoned in the 12 months before Ms Asher disappeared?
Hon PAUL SWAIN: It is important to point out that 111 calls are not part of the abandoned calls, which are part of the general calls. But it is important to say that the commissioner was not happy about some of the performance of the communications centres, and introduced an independent report. As a result, the Government has put $45 million extra into communication services, to improve their performance.
Martin Gallagher: Can the Minister restate to this House what precisely the Government has done to boost resources in the police communications centres?
Hon PAUL SWAIN: As I have said, the Government has allocated an extra $45 million over 4 years, over and above the normal police budget, to improve police communication services. The extra $45 million will be used, among other things, to increase significantly the number of staff in—
Hon Tony Ryall: When?
Hon PAUL SWAIN: —well, about $11 million this year and $10 million over the next little while—police communications centres. That compares with the cut of $24 million to the police budget that was announced by the previous National Government in 1999. The member needs to tell the House what cuts would be made to the police budget in order to fund National’s tax cuts.
Stephen Franks: Can the Minister tell me how often in the past 12 months the Minister of Police has been delayed in getting through to the Commissioner of Police, and is the delay usually due to the commissioner’s mysterious overseas absences, or is the Minister just a victim of hopeless communication—along with 179,999 other New Zealanders?
Hon PAUL SWAIN: I am not sure, and no.
Hon Tony Ryall: Does the Government not realise that New Zealanders whose calls the police do not answer are just the tip of the iceberg of victims, as victims have given up reporting crimes because the police do have enough staff even to answer the phone?
Hon PAUL SWAIN: I have been trying to explain to the member that the number of abandoned calls are not 111 calls; 111 calls are prioritised, and if in the end they are not answered, they are followed up later, because the phone numbers are available via Telecom. The important point that the member is trying to raise is the fact that there does need to be extra staff, and $45 million has been budgeted. I would have thought the member would congratulate the Government on that, rather than continue to whinge and whine as he normally does.
Hon Tony Ryall: I seek leave to table the Mi-Quality report on the police communications centres, which confirms that many of the calls being abandoned would have been emergencies.