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Questions & Answers for Oral Answer, 27 July 2005

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

Wednesday, 27 July 2005
Questions for Oral Answer
Questions to Ministers

1. Tertiary Course Enrolments—Government Funding
2. Student Loans—Possible Changes
Question No. 3 to Minister
3. Weathertight Homes Resolution Service—Staff Function
4. Diabetes—Prevention and Education
5. Health Services—Free Provision for Under-sixes
6. Unemployment Benefit—Debt Repayment
7. Crimes Act—Repeal of Section 59
8. Child, Youth and Family Services, Department—Caregivers
9. Nuclear-free New Zealand—Status
10. Civil Union Act—Marriage Act
11. Transport Funding—Increase Since Change of Government
12. Human Rights Act—Mâori Protocol

Questions for Oral Answer

Questions to Ministers

Tertiary Course Enrolments—Government Funding

1. Hon BILL ENGLISH (National—Clutha-Southland) to the Minister of Education: How much funding has the Government provided over the last 3 years for student enrolments in Te Wânanga o Aotearoa’s Mahi Ora and Kiwi Ora courses and The Open Polytechnic’s LifeWorks course?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD (Minister of Education): The 2005 figures are not yet available. I am advised that the cumulative figure for the previous 3 years for Kiwi Ora is $45.74 million, for Mahi Ora it is $94.68 million, and for LifeWorks it is $37.33 million. I am further advised that these courses are good, that they do have value, and that they do reach a lot of people. That advice was from Bill English.

Hon Bill English: Can the Minister confirm that over the last 3 years, excluding 2005, the Government has spent $176 million on these three courses, that they are low-level courses equivalent to level 1 of the National Certificate of Educational Achievement, and that he has had advice that the measure of student retention in those courses has turned out to be wrong, and that in fact a large proportion of students is unlikely to have completed these courses, and is that a good use of taxpayers’ money?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: I do not think it is a good use of taxpayers’ money and that is why the changes, which were announced last Monday, did happen, but I must say that they happened with some opposition. One person has advised me: “What he needs to do now is to stop trying to run the wânanga, apply the same kind of criteria as he is meant to apply to all the other tertiary education institutions, and let them get on with the job.” That advice on the wânanga was from Bill English.

Dr Ashraf Choudhary: What further reports has he received on the wânanga?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: I have seen a further report, which says: “I’m right on side with anyone who can help people connect to education, get on the step, get on the escalator, and go up as far as the opportunity allows them and their capabilities allow them to go, and the wânanga has helped draw a lot of people to that start.” That comment was from Bill English, speaking to Willie Jackson on Radio Waatea, but then again, that is one of the things he says when he is speaking to brown people, as opposed to what he says in the House.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Can the Minister confirm that the wânanga funding first commenced in 1993, under the National Party Government of Jim Bolger, and, according to Nick Smith, National members are proud of it, and is that just another example of the two tired old parties screwing up yet again?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: I think it is fair to say that it did start then, and there was a significant change in 1999 when the funding was uncapped. I do accept that it has taken this Government too long to stop it.

Hon Bill English: Why did this Minister agree, in 2003, to the enrolment of 12,000 full-time students in these courses and, in 2004, agree to 15,500 full-time enrolments—larger than the total enrolments of either Victoria University or Waikato University—when he had doubts about the value of the courses and had advice that the statistics used to justify them were cooked?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: This Minister has never decided how many people go into these courses. That would be absolutely inappropriate. The idea that a Minister should decide how many enrolments go into a particular tertiary course is one that is novel, and I would be interested in the Minister and the member discussing that with the universities. What I did tend to do was to take the advice consistent from Bill English that the courses are good, they do have value, and they reach a lot of people, but of course I was listening to a radio station that mainly brown people listen to, not to his approach in this House.

Hon Ken Shirley: Is he satisfied with the integrity of the enrolment for the 27,000 students just referred to, with that total cost for those three courses of $176 million of taxpayers’ money, particularly in view of the fact that the terms of reference for the Auditor-General specifically excluded examination of enrolment integrity; if not, what will he do about it?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: No, and there are investigations that I am sure will result in repayments continuing.

Student Loans—Possible Changes

2. LYNNE PILLAY (Labour—Waitakere) to the Minister of Education: What reports, if any, has he received on possible changes to the student loan scheme?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD (Minister of Education): I have seen a proposal to scrap interest charges on student loans for all 436,000 people living in New Zealand who have a student loan, and to provide an amnesty on penalties for nearly 10,000 student loan borrowers overseas who have an overdue repayment obligation. This will encourage overseas Kiwis to come home. It will save those with an average-sized loan balance around $7,000, and those with higher loans much, much more—up to $80,000 in some cases. I am told there is considerable interest in this proposal. The website of the organisation had 133,000 hits yesterday, and this morning it had 78,000. The place to go is www.labour.org.

Lynne Pillay: What further benefits are there in abolishing interest on student loans for those who stay in New Zealand?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: This proposal will benefit all New Zealanders who have a loan, and their families too. It is particularly good for stay-at-home parents who do not earn any income. Interest will no longer accumulate on their loans while they are not in a position to pay them back.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: It doesn’t now. Tell the truth.

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: It is clear that the former Minister of Education does not understand that those inflation adjustments went on and the amount went up. The member for Nelson, despite being a member in Cabinet for at least 4 or 5 years, did not understand even that.

Hon Bill English: Why should taxi-drivers and construction workers pay all the interest on the loans of students, who can expect high incomes because of the qualifications they have invested in?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: Unlike members opposite, this Government thinks the children of taxi-drivers and construction workers should be allowed to get a tertiary education.

Nandor Tanczos: When will the Government, given that it has said it will abolish interest charges on 1 April 2006, ensure that half of all full-time students become eligible for an allowance—will it be shortly after the election, or shortly after hell freezes over?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: There has been an undertaking to do that during the next term of this Government, and in the term after that we will do something else.

Rodney Hide: How come the Government this year had no money for tax cuts, yet, within days of the National Party making its election bribe to students, Labour found an extra $300 million in operating expenses to cover the wiping of the interest charge, and an extra $800 million a year in capital to cover the extra borrowing that will occur as a result of this policy?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: It is a very small proportion of the $5.7 billion that ACT has promised in tax cuts.

Rodney Hide: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. That does not, in any way, address the question I put—that Trevor Mallard and his mates were going around saying they—

Madam SPEAKER: I agree with the member. Maybe the Minister would like to give a fuller answer.

Rodney Hide: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. It is not—

Madam SPEAKER: A new point of order?

Rodney Hide: Yes. It is not for a Minister to intercede on a point of order and say to the Speaker that he will answer the question.

Madam SPEAKER: I have accepted the member’s point of order. I was looking at the Minister to ask him to please address the question a little more fully than he did before.

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: The source of the funding is the same source as the member is using for part of his $5.7 billion tax-cuts promise—that is, the $1.9 billion that was clearly shown in this year’s Budget as out-year extra expenditure.

Hon Peter Dunne: Does the Minister recall in March disparaging as unaffordable my proposal for a reduction in the interest rate to 3.7 percent, and pointing out at that time that even the existing rate of 7 percent was barely sufficient to cover the costs; if he does recall his disparaging of that then, can he please advise the House and the country what has changed in the meantime so that he can now afford to abolish the interest rate altogether?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: We have, of course, since that time, been through a Budget round, and we have the ability to understand the strong state of the economy. It is also fair to say that the member stimulated a train of thought that has proved to be quite useful.

Hon Bill English: Given the length of time the Minister has supposedly had to investigate that proposal, will he give an undertaking to the House and to the public now that he will issue detailed costings of his proposal setting out the fully calculated long-term cost, including allowance for the significance increase in student debt that will result?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: The answer to that is I will discuss that with my colleagues. But I also say that that is rich coming from the party that promised to provide its full tax-cuts policy 3 days after the election announcement. Where is it?

Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. Notwithstanding the fact that the last part of that answer was clearly out of order and discredited the Minister more than it did anybody else, the first part was a complete circuit around the answer. Does the Minister seriously expect the House to believe that the Government can offer a $300 million package yesterday and not know the out-year costs?

Madam SPEAKER: The Minister did address the question—I presume that the point of order was about his not answering the question. It may not have been a satisfactory answer, but the question was addressed.

Hon Dr Michael Cullen: Can the Minister confirm that the operating expense of some $300 million for this policy is only about one-quarter of what the Opposition has already announced in proposed tax cuts, before it gets to the main menu of moving personal rates, and is less than half the cost of removing parole?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: I am advised that that is the case. If one adds the $3 billion to $5 billion cost of a $30 to $50 tax cut for the average worker, one sees that it is small change.

Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. That was a very interesting response from the Minister. Would he be prepared to table the advice he claims he has had?

Madam SPEAKER: That is not a point of order; it is a debating point.

Nandor Tanczos: Why does the Government not simply adopt the Green proposal of introducing year-for-year student debt write-off, given how many other excellent Green ideas the Government has adopted?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: I think there are two points. The first is the difference between $300 million and $7 billion—the latter being the cost of the Green policy. The second point is that the Green policy would much more heavily favour people on higher incomes, compared with this approach.

Question No. 3 to Minister

Hon Dr NICK SMITH (National—Nelson): I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I note the Minister Chris Carter is not in the House, and I seek leave for the question to be deferred till tomorrow when the Minister will be present.

Madam SPEAKER: Leave is sought. Is there any objection? There is.

Weathertight Homes Resolution Service—Staff Function

3. Hon Dr NICK SMITH (National—Nelson) to the Minister for Building Issues: Did the Weathertight Homes Resolution Service have a function for staff on Friday, 17 June at the Stamford Plaza Hotel; if so, what did the event involve?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Leader of the House), on behalf of the Minister for Building Issues: Yes, the claimed purpose was to improve staff communication with Pacific Island staff members and with Pacific Island people they interact with during their working-day.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: What was the cost for having the Weathertight Homes Resolution Service office in Auckland closed for 4 hours; for having staff from Wellington fly to Auckland; paying for the dancing Pacific Island girls who were contracted to provide services; for the kava drinking; for food and for the hotel venue; and how would that expenditure help those who have leaky, rotting homes?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I think I have the right one here. The 17 June function cost $6,679. Looking at the programme, it is not clear how it would have contributed to the resolution of leaky homes. The Minister has already written to the chief executive seeking an explanation for this event.

Moana Mackey: Were staff from the Weathertight Homes Resolution Service flown at the taxpayer’s expense, specifically to attend themed social functions?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: No. Claims made in the House yesterday that the staff were flown and accommodated to attend themed functions are simply not true. Staff travel and accommodation was so they could participate in normal management meetings and at the end of the working-day be able to attend social functions. Perhaps the member who made the claim might care to apologise, as he had to grovel in front of Basil Morrison and Gwen Bull for his behaviour at the local government conference.

Madam SPEAKER: The last comment was gratuitous and did not address the question. Please withdraw it.

Hon Dr Michael Cullen: I withdraw.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: How can the Minister deny that staff air fares were not part of the cost of the function when, at the time the function was organised, staff from Auckland were told that the meeting was just a front so they could all have a party; and why has the excuse changed, now the matter is in the public arena?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I am advised that those functions followed on from other seminars and exercises that were engaged in by staff. Incidentally, in terms of the theme elements of, I think it was, cowboys and Indians, and various other strange activities, staff hired their own costumes.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: What does it say about the culture of extravagance within the public service that $6,679 can be spent on a daytime party for staff of the Weathertight Homes Resolution Service, and that a spokesperson for the service has said that that was completely within Government guidelines; does the Minister now accept that those guidelines, which have been set by this Government, simply involve gross extravagance at the taxpayers’ expense?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: No, I do not accept the latter, any more than that when National Party members go off to a party conference in some resort area, a party caucus meeting is necessarily a culture of extravagance.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Is it roughly correct that the complained-of expenditure is $12,000 over four separate events, which compares rather favourably with the $52,000 of expenditure on a TVNZ night-time shindig on one occasion; and that that begs the question of why the media in this country are engaged in a protection racket, are not referring to their fellows, and are just hammering the bureaucracy?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: The Minister for Building Issues bears no responsibility for TVNZ, but I think it is well established that TVNZ sometimes engages in more expenditure than the Weathertight Homes Resolution Service does. In terms of the $12,000, although I personally think that the seminar that was carried out on Pacific Island affairs did not meet the needs outlined, to translate that into some kind of tax cut would involve a very tiny fraction of 1c in 1 year for each taxpayer.

Diabetes—Prevention and Education

4. TARIANA TURIA (Leader—Mâori Party) to the Minister of Health: At what point will she put in place a fully-funded public health strategy focusing on diabetes prevention and education?

Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR (Acting Minister of Health): When Labour came into Government it launched the New Zealand Health Strategy, with diabetes as a key priority. Last year the ministry launched the Healthy Eating - Healthy Action strategy, and then the implementation plan, with diabetes as one of its main targets. Healthy Eating - Healthy Action aims to improve nutrition, increase physical activity, and reduce obesity, and thus reduce the incidence of diabetes. In the past year Healthy Eating - Healthy Action implementation has received $12 million of Ministry of Health funding, in addition to district health board initiatives such as Let’s Beat Diabetes, for which the Counties Manukau District Health Board has allocated $10 million over 5 years.

Tariana Turia: How does the Minister intend to respond to the report from Associate Professor Robert Scragg, entitled “Preventing diabetes—time is running out”, or does she also suffer from the same degree of apathy and indifference to the diabetes epidemic that Professor Scragg describes as occurring amongst influential circles in the Ministry of Health and district health boards?

Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: I absolutely refute those ridiculous claims. This Government has made diabetes one of its main priority areas in all areas of health focus. We are spending millions of dollars, and we will gain some momentum when that member helps to advocate for Healthy Eating - Healthy Action and for better eating habits throughout this country.

Steve Chadwick: What priority does the Government place on diabetes prevention and education?

Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: Work is currently being done with both Diabetes New Zealand and the National Heart Foundation on a coordinated approach, but we are not waiting for that. Initiatives are in place, as I said before, such as the free “Get Checked” Diabetes Aotearoa programme for all New Zealanders, and the Counties Manukau District Health Board’s Let’s Beat Diabetes campaign. Although we accept that diabetes is reaching epidemic proportions, so too is the meningococcal B epidemic. How does that member reconcile her position of calling for diabetes prevention but not supporting preventive vaccinations for meningococcal B, when both diseases are devastating for Mâori health?

Tariana Turia: How has the Minister responded to the PricewaterhouseCoopers’ economic report Type 2 Diabetes: Managing for Better Health Outcomes and, in particular, its projections that the total cost of diabetes can be reduced over 20 years if existing services are increased as soon as possible?

Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: If the member would listen, she would know that that is exactly what we are doing. We are spending millions of dollars to increase services to promote healthy eating and healthy action. We, too, accept the PricewaterhouseCoopers report that says that with that expenditure we will reduce the cost of diabetes over time.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I seek leave to table the various charts from the Ministry of Health with regard to meningococcal disease to point out categorically that the Minister’s claim of there being an epidemic is absurd and not true.

Leave granted.

Health Services—Free Provision for Under-sixes

5. Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS (Leader—NZ First) to the Minister of Health: What commitment does she have to providing free health services for under-6-year-olds given that parents identified this in a recent Plunket study as the policy measure most likely to be of assistance to families and parents?

Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR (Acting Minister of Health): This Government’s approach has been to work with private practitioners to reduce the costs of primary health care for all New Zealanders. In particular, we have ensured that the subsidies for children under 6 and, in more recent times the primary health organisation capitation rate, have been reviewed and increased regularly. The Consumers Institute surveyed general practices in February this year, with a 75 percent response rate, and found that 79 percent of respondents provided services free to children under 6. The average charge throughout the country was $1.60.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Is it not a fact that New Zealand First’s policy initiative of free doctors’ visits for children under 6 was designed to keep pace with rising costs and inflation, and when will she take leadership on this issue and ensure that doctors receive an adequate subsidy to enable them to provide free health care for children under 6, which is, in many cases, much more than $1.25?

Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: In 1997, when that member was in Government and introduced that policy, doctors were paid $32.50 for each visit. In July 2002 we increased that to $35, and we are now paying $37.40 for each visit to the doctor for any child under 6. We maintain we have kept pace with inflation. We have increased the fees to doctors, and we would expect them to charge nothing for those under 6.

Lesley Soper: Could the Minister advise whether she has seen any other recommendations in the Plunket study?

Madam SPEAKER: I just note that that microphone is not working, either, so I ask that to be attended to.

Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: The Plunket survey, which I understand has been delivered to all MPs today, and from which the member asked his original question, recommended a number of things: extending paid parental leave from 13 weeks per year, introducing a universal tax credit system for families, accessing affordable quality day care, and using methods of guiding children to behave well. We are undertaking a number of initiatives in those areas. I also understand that today’s report to Plunket showed that 71 percent of parents said that smacking when children do things wrong was the least effective way to guide them to behave well. I would therefore encourage New Zealand First and that member to support Sue Bradford’s private member’s bill being referred to a select committee.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. What on earth was the last part of that answer about? He was asked about the full subsidisation of doctors’ visits for children under 6, which should be free, and now he is talking about anti-smacking laws. I do not know whether he is a soothsayer or whatever else he may be, but we have not had the vote on that bill yet. So perhaps he could be brought back to the point.

Madam SPEAKER: I thank the member.

Dr Paul Hutchison: Why has the Minister failed to deliver on the Government’s pledge, which stated: “Labour will maintain access to free doctors’ visits for children under 6 years of age.”, when today I telephoned four medical centres around the country and found that prices for such visits varied from $3 in south Auckland to $15 in Auckland and $10 in Christchurch, and when in a primary health organisation practice in Miramar, the Minister’s own electorate, I was quoted the cost of a visit for a child under 6 as being $18—but if cash is paid on the day it is only $15. Why has the Minister failed and broken her pledge?

Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: As I stated, we are dealing with general practitioners, who are private operators in the health system. We have increased, by hundreds of millions of dollars, the money for primary health care in this country. Dr Hutchison would do well to speak to some of his colleagues, who are receiving quite an additional amount of money for each visit to the general practitioner for each child under 6. We hope that general practitioners will see well to charge nothing for those children under 6.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Will the Minister accept that when we brought in free doctors’ visits for children under 6 in 1987, it was agreed with the medical fraternity that it would be a fair cost and therefore it would be free; and will she and her colleague, namely Mr O’Connor himself, spend their last few weeks as Ministers in keeping at least one promise that they so boldly made?

Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: We seem to be in some discussion with practitioners as to what is a fair cost and a fair charge. We continue to work on that, and trust that they will accept our policy and our general direction of providing access for all children under 6 to have free-of-charge general practitioner visits.

Dr Paul Hutchison: I seek leave to table a fees chart, dated 1 July 2005, which states that for children under 6 the fees are $15—and they are $18 in Miramar.

Leave granted.

Unemployment Benefit—Debt Repayment

6. Dr MURIEL NEWMAN (Deputy Leader—ACT) to the Minister for Social Development and Employment: As the highest debt owed by a recipient of the unemployment benefit at the end of May was $201,058.21 and this debt is being repaid at $10 a week, does he accept that at this rate the debt will be paid off in around 386 years in the year 2391?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY (Minister for Social Development and Employment): No.

Dr Muriel Newman: Does the Minister believe it is satisfactory that under the Labour Government there is also a sickness beneficiary who defrauded the taxpayer of $159,000, a domestic purposes beneficiary who defrauded the taxpayer of $183,000, and an invalids beneficiary who defrauded the taxpayer of $222,000; and with each fraudster repaying his or her debt at only a few dollars a week, is the Minister happy that the signal his Government is sending out is that crime does pay and that welfare beneficiaries need not be concerned about engaging in wholesale welfare fraud?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: The signal that this Government sends out is that it has a zero tolerance approach to fraud by staff or by clients. In answer to the member’s question, I say that in the first case she raised all but $1,000 of that debt was gained through fraud when the client was a domestic purposes beneficiary in 1988. Following an investigation, that client was prosecuted and went to prison. The current level of debt repayment is $20 a week, which is based upon the person’s ability to pay. How long that person will take to pay the debt will depend, of course, on future earnings, because repayment is always based on that.

Georgina Beyer: Can the Minister enlighten the primary questioner and the House as to what policies this Government has in place to address benefit fraud and debt?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: All cases of deliberate fraud are prosecuted. It is a disappointing fact that, despite best efforts, some people do manage to defraud the system. To ensure that all debts are recovered, weekly repayments are calculated as appropriate to each client’s present financial circumstances, at a level at which the client can afford to repay without incurring family hardship. Case managers work individually with clients to continually review the repayments as the clients’ circumstances change. The focus on moving people into sustainable employment ensures that if they are in employment and earning a higher wage, they pay back faster. This approach has meant that the proportion of beneficiary debtors repaying their debts has increased significantly, with 96 percent of debtors on a benefit now repaying their debts. That did not happen under the Government that the ACT party supported.

Judith Collins: Why does the Minister continue to refuse to acknowledge the real abuse of the welfare system and what a serious problem it is, by letting these sorts of fraudulent debts rack up and by ignoring his own ministry’s indication that the recent growth in sickness and invalids benefits is coming, in fact, from transfers from within the benefit system, indicating even more fraud?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: I repeat that this Government has taken a very strong approach to fraud. We now have a significant increase from the level under the previous Government in the number of debtors who are repaying their debt. The statement that people are transferring to the sickness benefit and invalids benefit is utterly stupid and wrong.

Georgina Beyer: What reports has the Minister seen on alternative approaches to debt recovery?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: I have seen a report that claims to have “a penalty system that ensures benefit crime … is treated with the seriousness it deserves”. Despite that claim in a media release, however, there is no mention whatsoever of this penalty system in ACT’s social welfare policy. In other words, ACT offers lots of complaints but, as usual, no solutions.

Dr Muriel Newman: When the Government was considering its “soft on welfare fraud” policy, did it give any consideration to the fact that ordinary taxpayers who have never been on welfare now feel like suckers, taxed to the hilt to let fraudsters steal enough for a house, when if ordinary taxpayers are a day late in paying their GST or child support they get hit hard with penal rates; or does the Minister’s Government not care?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: I would say to taxpayers that under this Government we now have 96 percent of these debtors paying back money. That was not the case when the Government that that member supported was in power. I also say to taxpayers that under this Government we have returned $3.3 billion of welfare spending to Treasury so that it can be spent elsewhere on their needs.

Question time interrupted.

Questions for Oral Answer

Questions to Ministers

Crimes Act—Repeal of Section 59

7. SUE BRADFORD (Green) to the Minister of Justice: Will the Government support referring my bill to repeal section 59 of the Crimes Act 1961 to a select committee today?

Hon MARIAN HOBBS (Associate Minister of Justice), on behalf of the Minister of Justice: Yes, the Government will support sending this bill to a select committee. Whether section 59 should be repealed or amended is still an open question that can only benefit from wide public debate at a select committee.

Sue Bradford: Can the Minister confirm that full repeal of section 59 has the support of large numbers of organisations that advocate for the best interests of children, such as Barnardos New Zealand, as well as both the Children’s Commissioner and the Chief Families Commissioner?

Hon MARIAN HOBBS: Yes. I understand that there are strong views on either side of the debate, and that is why the Government supports the bill going to a select committee—so that these very issues can be debated.

Martin Gallagher: Is the Government, by supporting this bill, taking away parents’ choices about how they discipline their children?

Hon MARIAN HOBBS: No. The Government does not support a ban on smacking. The Government is supporting an informed and public debate between two extremes. New Zealanders express genuine distress whenever a child has been assaulted. At the same time, New Zealand parents do not want to be held criminally liable for smacking their children in the sweets queue at the supermarket.

Murray Smith: Does the Minister of Justice agree that if section 59 is repealed, and smacking is therefore deemed to be abuse, what parents should primarily fear is not criminal prosecution but their children being removed by Child, Youth and Family Services, and the ridiculous situation resulting whereby the vast majority of New Zealand families could be subject to an investigation by Child, Youth and Family Services; if not, why not?

Hon MARIAN HOBBS: I cannot comment on the assertion that is made here about Child, Youth and Family Services, but I do have some sympathy for frontline Child, Youth and Family Services staff. They are condemned when they intervene and just as strongly condemned when they do not. What they and their Minister can be congratulated on is the significant reduction in the number of cases waiting to be addressed.

Sue Bradford: Is the Minister aware that similar steps in other countries—to repeal laws that are their equivalent of our section 59—have not led to police arresting parents for lightly smacking their children or physically restraining them when they are in dangerous situations?

Hon MARIAN HOBBS: I understand that while some countries, such as Sweden and Germany, have moved to end any physical disciplining of children, others, such as England and Wales, and the state of New South Wales, have amended legislation to define more closely and clarify what forms of discipline are reasonable and acceptable.

Murray Smith: Why is the Government supporting this bill, which will further disempower good New Zealand parents, when its other social engineering legislation this term has already done enough to lose it the election?

Hon MARIAN HOBBS: I do not accept the assertion that we are disempowering parents. Whether repealing or amending section 59 is the best alternative is the issue that needs examination at a select committee. This debate is a serious one. The community is divided. As parliamentarians, we should give the chance for this issue to be debated seriously.

Dail Jones: Does the Minister know that in Sweden the 1979 smacking ban contributed to a 489 percent increase in physical child-abuse cases classified as criminal assaults, from 1981 to 1994, with the perpetration of criminal assaults against 7 to 14-year-olds increasing most rapidly in terms of those age groups raised after the smacking law was passed?

Hon MARIAN HOBBS: No, I have not read that research, but I think that is just the sort of case that should be argued in front of a select committee. I believe that that member would not agree with physical assault or brutality on children, and nor would he agree with the criminalisation of parents who smack their kids. We need to sort this out and clarify it.

Sue Bradford: Has the Minister seen the recent Littlies Lobby research, which came out last night, that shows that 97 percent of the over 1,300 parents of preschoolers it had surveyed did not believe physical discipline was highly effective; and given this clear signal from today’s parents, will she support full repeal of section 59 of the Crimes Act?

Madam SPEAKER: I would remind members that when members are asking a question the convention is that members hear the question in silence. I ask the Hon Marian Hobbs to respond.

Hon MARIAN HOBBS: I heard about this research on radio this morning, but I am not sure that one could conclude that 97 percent of parents support the repeal of section 59. The research does, by inference, support the work of this Government in investing in strategies for kids and information for parents.

Sue Bradford: Does the Government agree that repeal of section 59 must go hand in hand with improved education and support for parents and would-be parents; if so, can the Minister guarantee that funding for groups that provide such education and support is secure under her Government?

Hon MARIAN HOBBS: I absolutely agree that legislation, or changes in law, must go hand in hand with education. Education about positive parenting and effective non-physical discipline of children that sets clear boundaries and teaches kids the difference between right and wrong is a priority for this Government. That is why we have invested $10.8 million over 3 years in the SKIP: Strategies with Kids—Information for Parents positive parenting programme.

Child, Youth and Family Services, Department—Caregivers

8. JUDITH COLLINS (National—Clevedon) to the Associate Minister for Social Development and Employment (CYF): Is she satisfied that her and the Child, Youth and Family Services’ response to concerns raised about the suitability of caregivers is consistent with her statement of 23 June 2005 that “we are now moving into a phase of what I would describe as performance excellence,”?

Hon RUTH DYSON (Associate Minister for Social Development and Employment (CYF)): Yes, I am satisfied that when concerns about the suitability of caregivers are raised prior to children being placed, or during their placement with a caregiver, that response is consistent with my statement.

Dr Paul Hutchison: What does she think of her own “performance excellence”, given it took her over 5 days to reply after I phoned and faxed her office for an urgent response because there was video evidence of child sexual abuse carried out by a Child, Youth and Family Services appointed caregiver, even though the local vicar, the parents, and I had written to Child, Youth and Family Services months earlier warning of the caregiver’s unsuitability?

Hon RUTH DYSON: When the member who raised that question first contacted my office he was advised, given his concerns were being expressed 3 months after the children had been removed from the placement with that caregiver, that that matter would be subject to an investigation, and I had confirmed that already with my secretary. When he became abusive on the second phone call to my secretary I rang him personally. He was in caucus at the time.

Dr Paul Hutchison: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I take personal offence at the Minister suggesting that I was abusive on the phone. I think I am generally known as a relatively mild and rational person. I can assure this House that when I phoned her secretary for the second time, I maintained absolute calm and decency because I was so concerned about this case.

Madam SPEAKER: It is not unparliamentary, per se, to use the word “abusive”, but I would ask the Minister to reconsider whether it was appropriate in the context of her answer in this case.

Hon RUTH DYSON: When I rang Dr Hutchison back on the Tuesday, I was advised that he was in caucus. I confirmed with his secretary that I understood his concerns, the children had been removed 3 months prior to his call the previous week, and that I would contact him again to have a discussion with him, which I subsequently did. Dr Hutchison was well aware of the fact that the children had been removed 3 months prior.

In regard to the second point that Dr Hutchison raised in his letter to Child, Youth and Family Services in November of the previous year, concerns were not raised about the safety of the children. Concerns were raised about the accommodation situation of the children’s parents and whether the children would eventually be able to return to live with them. Those were not issues dealing with the safety of the children, but nevertheless the safety of the children was investigated and confirmed.

Dave Hereora: Can the Minister outline Child, Youth and Family Services’ performance achievements?

Hon RUTH DYSON: I do not have time to outline them all, but I can highlight the fact that Child, Youth and Family Services has reduced the number of unallocated cases by 78 percent since May of last year, despite an 80 percent increase in notifications. Children are being seen more quickly, and determinations of abuse or neglect obviously made more quickly as well. The number of social workers has gone up by 26 percent under this Government. Many of those social workers are registered, and nearly all of them would be threatened by an incoming National Government.

Paul Adams: Can the Minister confirm whether her department has done anything to action the promise of her colleague the Hon Steve Maharey that it would move to ensure that grandparents raising their grandchildren are not short-changed by getting $30 less a week than Child, Youth and Family Services foster caregivers get; if not, is this just another example of where this Government is happy to ignore the needs of the natural family?

Hon RUTH DYSON: Tragically that is not a quote that I am familiar with, despite having frequent engagements with grandparents raising grandchildren, and Minister Maharey. I doubt that that quote is accurate, but I can confirm that significant progress has been made towards better supporting grandparents who are in that situation by both the Ministry of Social Development and Child, Youth and Family Services. I am delighted with the progress for grandparents, who certainly deserve that increased support.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Why is the taxpayer paying, through Child, Youth and Family Services, for one family to care for four Chinese babies—babies of Chinese students formerly in this country who have disappeared back to China leaving this debt with the New Zealand State for the rest of their juvenile lives?

Hon RUTH DYSON: I presume that if that is the situation, then the answer to the question asking why the Department of Child, Youth and Family Services is caring for them would be that if the babies were left on their own they would die.

Judith Collins: What does it take for the Department of Child, Youth and Family Services and this Minister to take seriously warnings of sexual depravity in the caregiver, if the warnings of parents, a local vicar, and a member of Parliament are ignored or dismissed, as we have just seen today, and how can she justify the fact that it took police action—it was the police who took the children out—before the Department of Child, Youth and Family Services woke up to the fact that they had put three vulnerable children into a home where they were likely to be sexually exploited?

Hon RUTH DYSON: As I indicated in the answer to the primary question, no such allegations have been made by Dr Hutchison in writing, by the children’s family, who confirmed their support of the placement of their children with that caregiver, or by any other member of the family. At the end of this question I will seek leave to table the letter from Dr Hutchison, with the family’s names removed, so that every member of our society can see that Dr Hutchison and Mrs Collins have grossly misrepresented his advocacy, which was non-existent.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: What responsibility does the Minister regard herself or her colleagues as having to the New Zealand taxpayer, when she thinks it is a laughing matter for four Chinese students to leave their babies here and shoot off back to China, leaving the charges to the New Zealand taxpayer for the next 21 years; why is that a laughing matter?

Hon RUTH DYSON: I was certainly not laughing, and I did not notice any member of this House laughing. I do not agree with the member’s assertion that it was a laughing matter. I was not amused by it. The point I made was that the Department of Child, Youth and Family Services has a State responsibility to be the parent for children when their birth parents are absent, and in this case tragically they were.

Judith Collins: Who first decided that something had to be done to remove the three children from the sexual pervert; was it the police or was it the Department of Child, Youth and Family Services, doing its job?

Hon RUTH DYSON: On 17 March, which was the first and only time that staff from the Department of Child, Youth and Family Services had notification of sexual abuse of the one child who was living with the caregiver, they removed that child immediately. The first and only time such a notification had been made was on 17 March this year.

Judith Collins: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I do not think the Minister has addressed the question, which asked who brought this abuse to attention; was it the Department of Child, Youth and Family Services or was it the police?

Hon RUTH DYSON: The first and only time that the Department of Child, Youth and Family Services was alerted to an allegation of sexual abuse was on 17 March of this year, by the police. Dr Hutchison has never made that allegation.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: In respect of the Minister’s department’s responsibility to bring these practices to the attention of the Minister of Finance, the Prime Minister, and herself, how many rip-offs of the New Zealand taxpayer have to happen before she and her colleagues realise just how serious this issue is, where all manner of costs are being imported into this country and imposed on the New Zealand taxpayers, whilst 1,329 New Zealanders died on hospital waiting lists because we never had enough money to pay for their operations; when will she stop thinking it is a laughing matter and do something about it?

Hon RUTH DYSON: Can I first repeat that at no stage of the question this afternoon have I found the assertions made by the member a laughing matter, but now that the member has brought to my attention the fact that some people are coming to New Zealand from overseas, having babies, and leaving them here, to be cared for at the State’s cost, I will certainly have that matter investigated.

Dr Paul Hutchison: I seek leave to table two letters. The first is dated 29 November 2004, which shows that my constituents are deeply concerned about various issues regarding their four children.

Madam SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that letter, which has been sufficiently identified by the member. Is there any objection? There is objection.

Dr Paul Hutchison: The second letter, dated 24 June and marked “urgent”, to the Hon Ruth Dyson states: “I believe this situation requires an immediate full and urgent inquiry.”

Leave granted.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. My point of order relates to the substance of the Minister’s answer to my question. We have four babies being placed with foster parents, through the Department of Child, Youth and Family Services, and the Minister says she does not know about it. I do not believe that that could have happened without it being brought to the attention of the department and the Minister. Perhaps the Minister at least could clarify that, in respect of her answer.

Madam SPEAKER: I thank the member, but that is not a point of order.

Paul Adams: I seek leave to table the question of Judy Turner to the Hon Steve Maharey on 10 May, which confirms the statement I referred to in my supplementary question, as to what Steve Maharey said.

Leave granted.

Hon RUTH DYSON: I seek leave to table Dr Hutchison’s letter to the Department of Child, Youth and Family Services of 29 November 2004, with all the family names deleted.

Leave granted.

Nuclear-free New Zealand—Status

9. LUAMANUVAO WINNIE LABAN (Labour—Mana) to the Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade: Does the Government intend to make any changes to New Zealand’s nuclear-free status?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Leader of the House), on behalf of the Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade: No. The Labour-Progressive Government is proud of New Zealand’s nuclear-free status, and our clear and consistent policy is to maintain that status.

Luamanuvao Winnie Laban: Has he seen any reports of proposals to change New Zealand’s nuclear-free status?

Hon Ken Shirley: Look on the Order Paper.

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Yes, apart from the matter on the Order Paper I have seen reports on six such proposals. One indicated that the ban on nuclear ships could be gone by lunchtime. The second indicated that the ban should go only following approval of any change from the United States and Australia. The third said that no decision could be made from Opposition. The fourth proposal is to repeal the ban following a referendum. The fifth proposal was to repeal after a campaign in favour of change. The sixth, and so far the last, report suggests that some or all of the previous proposals are still there but no commitment is made to any of them right now. No wonder the national council of the National Party was so concerned about Dr Brash’s tendency to flip-flop.

Luamanuvao Winnie Laban: What is the basis of the Government’s support for New Zealand’s anti-nuclear status?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: The Government has consistently maintained a position in favour of New Zealand’s anti-nuclear status now for some 20 years. It is one of the distinguishing features of New Zealand’s foreign policy and is part of our general opposition to the spread of nuclear weapons and the threat of nuclear warfare.

Hon Ken Shirley: Can the Minister confirm that the visits of any foreign warship requires the consent of the New Zealand Government; if so, can he explain the purpose of the legislative ban on nuclear propulsion when the Government can accede to or deny any visit of any ship, particularly in light of the Edward Summers report to Cabinet of 1992, which, after a year’s study, concluded that there is no environmental risk, or public safety reason or justification, for continuing the ban on nuclear propulsion.

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: The legislation does not give the Government the capacity to override the ban on nuclear propulsion. It requires the Minister responsible, the Prime Minister, to certify to the best of her ability that in fact no nuclear weapons are on board. In the case of the United States, of course, it has already stated that all its surface ships no longer normally carry nuclear weapons, and therefore presumably any United States surface ships that are non-nuclear powered will be able to enter New Zealand ports on request.

Civil Union Act—Marriage Act

10. LARRY BALDOCK (United Future) to the Prime Minister: Does she stand by her response to the question in Express Magazine last year whether she would consider amending the Marriage Act 1955 once the Civil Union Bill had passed to allow for same-sex marriage, that “I think you need to see how the civil union settles in … see how it goes, see how the times are moving and keep in mind international developments. We tend to be as progressive as any country on these issues.”; if not, why not?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Deputy Prime Minister), on behalf of the Prime Minister: Yes. The member should note that the Prime Minister did not say she would consider amending the Marriage Act.

Larry Baldock: Does this intention to keep the way open for same-sex marriage explain why she and the Labour Government were unwilling to give support to my Marriage (Gender Clarification) Amendment Bill, which would make it clear that marriage in New Zealand can only be between one man and one woman, in the same way that the Liberal, National, and Labor parties in the Australian Parliament did last year; if not, why not?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: No. First of all, I notice that the member is so keen on the bill that he has withdrawn it from the Order Paper for today, which is the last opportunity before the election for consideration of it. The second point is that the bill is pointless, because the law is clear. The courts have already ruled that marriage can only be between a man and a woman.

Larry Baldock: Is she familiar with the advice from the Ministry of Justice regarding my bill, which states: “Although it has been clear that the common law understanding of marriage is between a man and a woman, this could be overturned because of some overseas decisions and the recognition of same-sex marriage in some countries.”; if so, does she appreciate the concern of the majority of New Zealanders—confirmed in a DigiPoll this week—that my bill be passed to make our law clear; if not, why not?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I repeat that if the member was so keen to have the bill passed this week, it is somewhat unusual that he withdrew it from the Order Paper for today. Perhaps that is not to be regarded in this context as some kind of breach of promise! In New Zealand we have already had the case of Quilter v Attorney-General, on which the court has ruled extremely clearly indeed. I would also suggest that the passage of the Civil Union Act itself would suggest to a New Zealand court that in fact the Marriage Act does relate to a relationship between a man and a woman only.

Larry Baldock: Will the Prime Minister give an absolute assurance to the people of New Zealand and this House that if any case is lodged in the courts to challenge the common law position of marriage being only between one man and one woman, she—if she is the Prime Minister at the time—along with her Government, will move immediately, as it did with the foreshore and seabed legislation, to amend the Marriage Act along the lines of my proposed bill; if not, why not?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: That is more than hypothetical, because, certainly, the advice the Prime Minister has is that the courts are quite clear on this particular matter and are not going to change their minds on this particular matter. I might say, on the foreshore and seabed matter, that we did actually wait for the court decision before legislating.

Rodney Hide: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I want just to save confusion. Given Mr Baldock’s new-found enthusiasm for his bill that he withdrew, and that would have been voted on and sent to a select committee had he not withdrawn it, could you, Madam Speaker, please advise him that he could seek leave of the House to put his bill back on the Order Paper so that members can vote on it.

Madam SPEAKER: I thank the member. That is not a point of order.

Transport Funding—Increase Since Change of Government

11. Hon MARK GOSCHE (Labour—Maungakiekie) to the Minister of Transport: By how much has transport funding increased since the change in Government in 1999?

Hon PETE HODGSON (Minister of Transport): Total spending is up to a record $1.7 billion this year, which is more than 80 percent higher than when we took office.

Hon Mark Gosche: What progress has been made on major Auckland projects, compared with the 1999-2000 year?

Hon PETE HODGSON: One way to measure a Government’s determination to get things done is to look at major projects. All Governments are capable of putting in another passing lane or straightening a bend, but the big projects, which are defined as costing more than $30 million dollars, tell quite a different story. When we came to office the value of big projects in Auckland that were under way or recently completed totalled $130 million. Today, using exactly the same criterion, the big projects under way or recently completed total $1,300 million, which is a tenfold increase. That shows very clearly just which Government was responsible for Auckland’s gridlock and just which Government is addressing it.

Hon Maurice Williamson: Does the Minister feel that comparing absolute dollars today with figures from last century is about as sensible as saying: “Mine’s bigger than yours was then, but yours was bigger than ours was the time before that, and yours was bigger than ours the time before that.”, and why do we not get back to comparing what Nordmeyer and Nash spent between 1957 and 1960, which was only £85 million?

Hon PETE HODGSON: It is true that the more than 80 percent increase I gave the House is the nominal figure. If the member wants the real figure, it is a mere more than 65 percent. But it does not matter at all which way one looks at it; we are now addressing a land transport infrastructure deficit that was created during the time that the member who asked the question was Minister, and the underlying reason was that he was a member of a Government that had its mind on tax cuts—as it has now.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Can the Minister tell the House why the Transit board, which includes the president of the New Zealand Labour Party, has overruled the Transit executive management recommendation that the Tauranga Harbour Bridge be designated a State highway, as it fully met all the criteria to be funded from the land transport programme, if the whole programme behind this, from the Government’s point of view, is not a giant confidence trick?

Hon PETE HODGSON: The only advice I have received from the Transit board, or management, is that it believes that there are two choices for the harbour link in Tauranga. One is to build it now, with tolling, and one is to build it later, without. Later, according to Transit, means starting more than 10 years from now, and tolling would mean, if it were to occur, the bridge being opened in 2009. That is the advice from Transit. What is more, when the public of Tauranga were asked what they thought was a good idea, 72 percent thought it was a good, or a very good, idea to toll and 22 percent thought it was a bad, or a very bad, idea to toll. So 72:22 is a pretty clear result, although 2 percent did not know.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Can the Minister name one example of a place in this country that has two State highways on each side of a bridge where the bridge is not a State highway, and stop the obfuscation that says to the Western Bay: “You can have a bridge only if it’s tolled.”, and why does he not support the fact that the president of the Labour Party and that jacked-up board designed to get past their own advice so they would not have to pay for it right now?

Hon PETE HODGSON: It is true that if we did not have a toll on the bridge we could build a bridge, none the less, but we could not build it today. That is the choice. What is more, the issue of State highways is entirely irrelevant, because the first toll road, which was approved by this Government only a few months ago, happens to be State Highway 1 from Ôrewa through to Pûhoi. The construction of that road through some very difficult tiger country is now under way, whereas without tolling, it would not be.

Nandor Tanczos: How much has spending on passenger transport increased since the Greens and Labour began cooperating on transport issues? [Interruption]

Madam SPEAKER: Order, please. I am sure members all want to hear the answer to this question.

Hon PETE HODGSON: Spending on rail is up nearly 150 percent. Spending on bus and ferry services is up nearly 250 percent. The walking and cycling percentage increases do not exist, because under National there was no spending. If one adds capital expenditure on double tracking, busways, etc., total expenditure this year is set to top a quarter of a billion dollars. I acknowledge the consistent support of the Green Party in passenger transport’s come-back.

Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I know that you are not responsible for answers, but I wonder whether the Minister might clarify it. I certainly took it from that answer that Labour’s next tax move will be to tax cyclists and pedestrians.

Madam SPEAKER: That is not a point of order, but if the member wishes to raise a supplementary question, that is fine. But I think that his colleague the Hon Maurice Williamson has the call.

Hon Maurice Williamson: Do some of those amazing Auckland projects the Minister has referred to include State Highway 20, Mount Roskill extension, which Transit stated would start “this year” on its website back in 2000, which Transit stated on its website in 2001 would start “later this year”, which a glossy brochure dated 31 October 2001 stated would start “in May next year” and take 3 years and be opened by May 2005, which Transit has stated three times since then—including in a brochure that went to every household in Auckland—would start this year, and which, as all members of this House will know, has not yet started?

Hon PETE HODGSON: They just cannot take the good news, can they? Fifteen projects are going on in Auckland and huge numbers of—[Interruption]

Rodney Hide: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker.

Madam SPEAKER: You cannot hear, either.

Rodney Hide: This is going to be good. I think we should all try to listen to it.

Madam SPEAKER: Could members please keep the level of interjections down a bit.

Hon PETE HODGSON: They just cannot take the good news, can they? Auckland’s major project expenditure is up tenfold from the day we took office. The number of projects under way is now way higher than it ever was. The number of projects that are coming in ahead of time is now higher than it was. The number of projects new to the 10-year planning coming on, is higher than it was. But what do Opposition members do? They pick on the one roading project that went backwards, because there was a problem with another piece of legislation concerning a volcanic cone. That is the one thing they can do.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Why should the people of Mount Maunganui and Tauranga, who have paid for the old bridge, Route P, and all the rest with the tolls, have to put up with this confidence trick from his appointed body of changing the designation of the bridge not to be a State highway, when his Government allows the pouring into this country of 155,000 imported cars every year, most of which go to Auckland, and 40,000 to 50,000 immigrants every year, who go mainly to Auckland; why should we in Tauranga pay for that, and when will he agree to the New Zealand First proposition that the new bridge should be paid for straight out of State highway funds, and now?

Hon PETE HODGSON: The choice we presented to the good people of Tauranga was: “Would you like your bridge now with tolls, or would you like it later without?”, because that is how it is ranked. The good people of Tauranga voted, by a margin of 72:22, to have it now and to have it tolled. They said to the Government: “What’s more, we need more land transport infrastructure than that.” The Government has begun a process to see whether we should assist and, in due course, we will give an answer to that question.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I seek leave to table the survey done of the good citizens of Tauranga and the Western Bay of Plenty, which demonstrates that at no time were they asked the question: “Do you want the Government to pay for your new bridge?”.

Leave granted.

Human Rights Act—Mâori Protocol

12. STEPHEN FRANKS (ACT) to the Minister of Corrections: Why does his department require women to go to the back of the room and not speak at welcoming and farewell ceremonies just because they are women, and how does he reconcile this discrimination against women with the Human Rights Act 1993?

Hon MITA RIRINUI (Associate Minister of Corrections), on behalf of the Minister of Corrections: The department has no such requirement.

Stephen Franks: How does the Minister justify his answer to a probation officer, Ellen Armstrong, who complained about the same discrimination in March 2002, discreetly going through the proper channels but with absolutely no result; and why then did the Minister, on 7 March this year, tell me in writing that Josie Bullock’s similar complaint was being considered, together with a complaint against her from the Mâori staff network, when 6 months later she was told in writing that her complaint could not be assessed because the department has no policy or protocol on pôwhiri and poroporoakî, and now she has been suspended for publicly claiming her right as a woman to equal treatment from the Government?

Hon MITA RIRINUI: Firstly, employment matters are the responsibility of the chief executive of the department, not the Minister. However, I am also advised that the issue with Ms Bullock has nothing to do with her views on poroporoakî or pôwhiri, but with her conduct.

Nandor Tanczos: Is the Minister aware of reports of a real case of discrimination, whereby female inmates are having access to their children removed as a form of punishment, and was it the influence of the “United Fundamentalist Party” that led to a policy of visiting the sins of the parents on the children?

Madam SPEAKER: The Minister is not responsible for any other party, but may address the rest of the question.

Hon MITA RIRINUI: Yes, I am aware of that matter.

Gerry Brownlee: Notwithstanding the Minister’s denials today of any problems within the Department of Corrections in these matters, have any of the recommended reviews been carried out in respect of Department of Corrections Mâori-based rehabilitation programmes, and is the case of Josie Bullock an example of that department’s determination to place more emphasis on Mâori custom than on reducing offending, or on other human rights?

Hon MITA RIRINUI: I say once again, the issue with regard to Ms Bullock has nothing to do with her views on pôwhiri or poroporoakî. It is to do with her conduct.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I seek leave to table two documents. The first is from the New Zealand Herald, which shows the very clear story of Helen Clark being told by one Tîtewhai Harawira not to speak on the marae, and to sit down.

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

Rt Hon Winston Peters: The second document is from the next year, when Tîtewhai took Helen Clark on to the marae, and what sort of demonstration of consistency is that?

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

Heather Roy: What evidence does the Minister have that efforts by the Department of Corrections to reduce sexist aggression and bullying by male offenders are not undermined by Mâori cultural ceremonies, which emphasise the warrior dominance of males?

Hon MITA RIRINUI: I am not sure where that question is going, but there are no instances where Mâori culture has been used to undermine anyone at any institution.

Hon Richard Prebble: Is the Minister seriously telling the House that, despite having notice of this question, he is not aware that Ellen Armstrong complained about discrimination in 2002 in Mâori ceremonies and her being required to go to the back—and now we have a second case—or is it this Government’s view that it is satisfactory for a Minister to get up in the House and say: “Yes, I’m aware of it.”, and do nothing; does this Government actually stand against discrimination against women, and if so, what is he as Minister going to do about this disgraceful situation?

Hon MITA RIRINUI: Attendance at these ceremonies is voluntary, and usually the speaking order is predetermined and the seating arrangements are done accordingly. Ms Bullock sat in a seat that was reserved for a speaker.

Stephen Franks: I seek leave to table a letter from the Department of Corrections informing Josie Bullock that because the department does not have a policy or protocol on pôwhiri, there is nothing to assess her complaint against.

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

Stephen Franks: I seek leave to table a copy of a communication from the department advising staff to turn up to their training in pôwhiri, which states the males will sit in the front row and the females in the back seats.

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

Stephen Franks: I seek leave to table an email message from Ellen Armstrong to the office solicitor of the Department of Corrections in 2002, asking whether the workplace practice requiring females to sit behind their male colleagues was part of a discriminatory employment practice or policy.

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

Stephen Franks: I seek leave to table a message from Ellen Armstrong to me setting out the steps that she had taken to challenge that practice.

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

Nanaia Mahuta: Can the Minister confirm whether Western gender role distinctions reconcile with Mâori cultural gender distinctions in relation to protocols for pôwhiri and whakatau?

Hon MITA RIRINUI: In a marae situation there really are distinctions between who has certain roles. In an institution of that kind, as stated earlier on, there is no such policy, but training in protocols in relation to tikanga Mâori is available.

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

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