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Questions & Answers for Oral Answer 15 November 05

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

Tuesday, 15 November 2005
Questions for Oral Answer
Questions to Ministers

1. Ministerial Responsibility—Cabinet Manual
2. Housing—Capital Gains Tax
3. Student Loans—Treasury Forecast
4. Employment—Statistics
5. Inflation—Government Policy
6. Air New Zealand—Engineering Outsourcing
7. Television New Zealand—Confidence
8. Air New Zealand—Engineering Outsourcing
9. Resource Management Act—Operation
10. United Nations—Tangata Whenua Consultation
11. Benefit Fraud—Control
12. Research, Science and Technology—Innovation


Questions for Oral Answer

Questions to Ministers

Ministerial Responsibility—Cabinet Manual

1. Dr DON BRASH (Leader of the Opposition) to the Prime Minister: Has there been any amendment or addendum to the Cabinet Manual to accommodate the arrangement her Government has reached with New Zealand First and United Future allowing their leaders to be Ministers, but not fully bound by collective responsibility; if not, why not?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK (Prime Minister): No, but it may be revised in future to reflect practice as it develops.

Dr Don Brash: How can she expect the public to understand her odd Governmental arrangements that involve, according to the Cabinet Office, Winston Peters and Peter Dunne wearing at least three different hats, when she has not even made changes to the Cabinet Manual to clarify the bizarre situation of Ministers wanting to sit with the Opposition?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I am sure the public would be guided by the same advice from the Cabinet Office, which is that the arrangements are entirely legally credible.

Dr Don Brash: Why would the international community believe that anyone but Phil Goff is the real Minister of Foreign Affairs, when her named Minister of Foreign Affairs does not even sit on the Cabinet external relations and defence committee, let alone chair it as in the past, and refuses to take any responsibility for the broader policies of the Government?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I would be very surprised if the international community took the slightest interest in who sits on a Cabinet committee in New Zealand.

Dr Don Brash: Why, when the Cabinet secretary advised that the complex arrangement she has come up with requires clarification at an early stage, has she not made any changes to the Cabinet Manual in the month she has had since the formation of the Government?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: In terms of time, if the Cabinet Manual were revised in a month, that would be galactic speed.

Dr Don Brash: Does she agree with the advice of the Secretary of the Cabinet that “the foreign affairs portfolio stretches across the whole of Government business”, and that the broad nature of the portfolios held by Mr Peters made this arrangement “complex to manage”; if so, how does she believe that the Government can balance Mr Peters’ strong views on issues with international dimensions, such as the proposed free-trade arrangement with China, with his role as the Government’s representative to the world?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: In precisely the same way as I assume Dr Brash would have done, given that we have Mr Peters’ word that Dr Brash offered him the Ministry of Foreign Affairs portfolio.

Heather Roy: How can the Prime Minister have any confidence in Winston Peters as Minister of Foreign Affairs, when he does not even have the diplomacy skills to keep his six New Zealand First MPs in the tent, without the waka-jumping legislation to give her the votes to prop up her Government?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: There is huge irony in that question, given that ACT is the only party to have used that Act.

Housing—Capital Gains Tax

2. SHANE JONES (Labour) to the Minister of Finance: Has he received any reports of support being expressed by the Governor of the Reserve Bank for the introduction of capital gains tax on housing?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Minister of Finance): I have seen a number of reports from the Governor of the Reserve Bank recommending a capital gains tax as an appropriate response to New Zealanders’ “obsession with property”, and a useful measure to “take the steam out of the property market”. I should of course make it clear, in all fairness, that those statements were made not by the current governor but by his predecessor, who is now the leader of the National Party.

Shane Jones: Is the Government planning to introduce such a tax?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: No. We take very little advice from the former Governor of the Reserve Bank who is now the leader of the National Party. I have asked for a report from Treasury and the Reserve Bank on possible instruments the bank could use to underpin the effectiveness of the interest rate mechanism. The terms of reference exclude consideration of such a tax. Of course, only one politician of note in the House has argued for such a tax, and that is Dr Brash.

John Key: Can the Minister confirm that, far from ruling out the introduction of a capital gains tax, last week’s terms of reference outlined by the Reserve Bank and Treasury simply delayed it “beyond the scope of the present review”; if this is the case, will he once and for all get up in the House and confirm that he does not intend to put in place a capital gains tax on property?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I can confirm it again, but Treasury and the Reserve Bank are independent bodies, and no doubt they foresee the possibility that at some stage in the long distant future, when Dr Brash is in his 80s, they may have to carry out a review at his request.

John Key: Why, having preached that New Zealanders should buy shares, and having lamented that they have far too much invested in property and not enough invested in shares, is he now proposing to apply a capital gains tax on New Zealanders who own foreign-domiciled shares, including most of the banks that operate in New Zealand and many of the utilities?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: What I have said in the past, and I think it is one area where Dr Brash actually agrees with me, is that too high a proportion of our savings is in housing, not because we have a love affair with housing—I do not agree with that—but because we do not save enough to save in anything else but our housing

Student Loans—Treasury Forecast

3. Dr DON BRASH (Leader of the Opposition) to the Prime Minister: Does she stand by her answer of 2 August 2005 to my question of whether she had asked Treasury to forecast the long-term fiscal impact of her Government's proposed interest-free student loan policy that: “No, this is a Labour Party policy, not a Government one.”; if not, why not?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK (Prime Minister): Yes.

Dr Don Brash: Is it not correct that Treasury had been asked to forecast the long-term fiscal impact of her student loan policy, but that she and her Ministers did not find its advice politically palatable because it showed that, on realistic assumptions, the policy would increase student debt by over $5 billion and Government debt by $14 billion?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: This matter was dealt with in the House back on 2 August with a question put to my colleague the Minister of Finance. It was made plain at that time that the student loan policy was Labour Party policy, and that Labour Party policy was not sent off to Treasury.

Dr Don Brash: Does she stand by her statement: “The cost of this policy will grow through time to a maximum of around $300 million.”, or was that just a politically convenient statement designed to deceive voters about the real financial impact of this irresponsible policy?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: Costings were given for the forecast horizon. This is a good policy, and it caught the Opposition napping.

Dr Don Brash: How does she reconcile her statement about the cost of the student loan policy with Treasury advice dated 22 June 2005 showing the policy would cost $390 million annually by its third year, rising to $500 million annually after 6 years and to almost $1 billion annually by 2019?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: Treasury made it plain at the time of the release of its figures that it did not place a great deal of store on them itself, and I am happy to tell the member that its most recent costings are substantially revised down.

Metiria Turei: Has the Prime Minister asked Treasury to consider the real, long-term fiscal impact of a generation growing up in debt who cannot afford to buy a house or have a family, and who are forced to seek highly paid jobs rather than going into public services such as teaching and nursing, and is it not time that we stopped point-scoring and considered the real consequences of this $8 billion mortgage against our future?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: It is entirely the real consequences of the student loan policy as introduced around 1991-92 that the Government is seeking to deal with, for the sorts of reasons to which the member has referred, and I thank her.

Dr Don Brash: Can the Prime Minister confirm that her Government’s interest-free student loan policy will result in $2 billion being written off the Crown balance sheet, and if she can confirm that is the case, why was that fact not made known to New Zealand voters before the election?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: In answering questions from the member himself, I said that we were well aware it had balance sheet implications.

Employment—Statistics

4. GEORGINA BEYER (Labour) to the Minister for Social Development and Employment: What reports has he received about the numbers of New Zealanders in work?

Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE (Minister for Social Development and Employment): Statistics New Zealand’s latest household labour force survey shows that there are now 2,093,000 New Zealanders in employment. That is more than 300,000 more New Zealanders in work today than were in work when the Labour-led Government came into office. That is approximately 150 additional New Zealanders in work every day since 1999, or 54,750 each year under Labour. That is a city the size of Nelson in extra jobs each year, every year, for the past 6 years.

Georgina Beyer: Given this exceptional result, what reports has the Minister received about the number of New Zealanders not in work?

Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: The same household labour force survey showed that unemployment had fallen in New Zealand to 3.4 percent—the lowest rate in the 19-year history of that survey. This means that New Zealand has the lowest rate of unemployment in the OECD. This is considerably better than the result in Australia, where the unemployment rate increased in the latest quarter to 5.2 percent, making Australia, by comparison, in about 10th place in the OECD.

Judith Collins: Are any of the newly counted in-work New Zealanders working for the Otago District Health Board, where 55 staff have just recently been discovered to be receiving taxpayer-funded salaries while at the same time receiving taxpayer-funded benefits; and how many of these fraudsters have been prosecuted to date?

Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: The member can be assured that benefit fraud will not be tolerated—[Interruption] I can tell that member that in October alone there was 97 percent clearance of prosecutions, and 12 prison sentences. As to whether, specifically, any of those members are in that figure, I am not able to provide her with that information at this time.

Ron Mark: Is the Minister concerned that the unemployment statistics he so proudly quotes come on the back of a low-wage economy delivering incomes to New Zealand workers that are 30 percent less than those of their Australian counterparts; and what impact will New Zealand First’s post-election gain of a pledge to have a minimum wage of $12 per hour by the year 2008 have on the average wage of New Zealand workers?

Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: I am pleased about both the most significant movement in unemployment ever shown in the household labour force survey, and the employment statistics. I am sure that the workers in this economy are starting to see the gains flowing through, as we have seen in recent wage settlements. I must say that the overall figure is more positive than many believe, because the total number of working-age New Zealanders on benefits has reduced by 21 percent since 1999.

Inflation—Government Policy

5. JOHN KEY (National—Helensville) to the Minister of Finance: Is he concerned about domestic inflation demand; if so, what actions does he support to curb this?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Minister of Finance): Yes. The primary contribution I can make is to maintain a strong fiscal stance, contrary to the fiscal profligacy advocated by National, and to ensure my messages are consistent with those of the Governor of the Reserve Bank.

John Key: If intervening in bank lending rules are to be so successful, will he start with the Government-owned Kiwibank, which has led the mortgage wars in both fixed and floating loans with brochures like the one I have here that reads: “No matter what home-loan option you prefer, Kiwibank is lower.”?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: It is certainly true that the New Zealand - owned Kiwibank, where all profits stay in this country, has provided cheaper services than the foreign-owned banks, which that party continued to support throughout the election campaign and continues to support today.

John Key: If the House is to believe that the Government’s earlier claims that one of the key benefits of Kiwibank is that it forced the other Australian banks into providing more competitive services, is it not a little ironic that the Minister now wants to regulate those very banks for following the course he has prescribed; if not, why not?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I will try to spell it out for the member again: I am simply asking for a report from Treasury and the Reserve Bank on what other instruments might be helpful in supporting the interest rate instrument, both on the upturn and the downturn. Unlike the member, I do not know what that report—which has not even started to be written—will say, and, unlike that member, I have an open mind about what needs to be done. What I do know is that promising $4 billion a year of tax cuts in an overheated economy is a level of adolescent silliness beyond even most of his fellow front-bench members. [Interruption]

John Key: If they clap for that they will clap for anything.

Madam SPEAKER: The question.

Hon Bill English: They clapped because he stood up.

John Key: Quite right, Mr English. Will housing programmes established by his Government and implemented by Kiwibank, such as the Kiwibank In Reach homeownership programme that allows first home buyers to access a 100-percent mortgage, be affected by the proposals that the Reserve Bank is suggesting, which would limit the amount banks could lend their customers; if they will, why did the Government bother fostering those programmes in the first place?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Unlike Dr Brash, whom Mr Key is subtly attacking with his questions, this Government supports ordinary Kiwi families buying their own home. Unlike Dr Brash, we do not believe in a class of capitalist rentiers and New Zealanders being peasants in their own country.

John Key: Does he agree with the Reserve Bank governor when he recently said that banks are putting homeowners at risk with loans they cannot afford; if so, does this include Kiwibank; if not, why not?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: The regulation of the banking sector is neutral on which bank it is. I note that the National Party is proposing that the rules for Kiwibank should be tougher than for foreign-owned banks. That is not the Government’s policy.

Air New Zealand—Engineering Outsourcing

6. PETER BROWN (Deputy Leader—NZ First) to the Minister of Finance: Does the Government have any plans to assist the 617 Air New Zealand heavy maintenance engineers in finding further employment in New Zealand if Air New Zealand proceeds with its plans to outsource its engineering work offshore; if so, what are those plans?

Hon Member: That’s a patsy question.

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Minister of Finance): It certainly is not a patsy question. The Government will assist where it can. As I said, in addition to any standard measures I am prepared to look at special retraining assistance if need be. But, of course, there is still some way to go in the discussions between the engineers union and the management and board of Air New Zealand.

Peter Brown: Noting that answer, does the Minister accept there is a major difference between making people redundant because there is not enough work and making them redundant because the work is being contracted out to an overseas contractor; if he does accept there is a difference, can he explain how as the majority owner of Air New Zealand he can allow work to be contracted out overseas, leaving 617 highly skilled New Zealanders jobless, after signing up two confidence and supply agreements that advocate Buy Kiwi Made initiatives aimed at promoting locally produced goods and services?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I can make it clear, firstly, that the Government is not going to get into the position of subsidising on a large scale New Zealand employers—they must make management decisions about how they arrange their businesses. Secondly, contrary to what has often been said in the public arena over the last couple of weeks, the fact that the Government is a majority shareholder—but not by any means a 100 percent shareholder—is a strong reason for not intervening in a case such as this, rather than a reason for intervening.

John Key: What are the differentiating factors that encouraged the Government to apply pressure to the board of TVNZ in relation to the contracts of Judy Bailey and Susan Wood but that do not encourage this Government to apply similar pressure to the board of Air New Zealand in relation to 617 employees?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I do not accept the initial premise of that question. My understanding is that TVNZ was trying to negotiate a reduction in salary for the two people mentioned. I do not understand that what is actually being talked about is a reduction in salary for 600 airline staff; those staff will go down the road, according to the plan that Air New Zealand has announced. If the Opposition member wants to stick up for people who cry when they do not get $800,000 a year, then that says something about the National Party.

Peter Brown: Is the Minister aware that aircraft engineer is one of the occupations listed on the long-term skill shortage list for the New Zealand Immigration Service, and will he immediately seek to have aircraft engineer removed from that list if Air New Zealand goes through with its plans to sack the 617 engineers?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: That is not in my portfolio area—a number of other matters are—but my understanding is that the lists are based on objective criteria. I would have thought that the department will be looking at those criteria in the light of the current circumstances.

Sue Bradford: How can the Minister say that the Government does not massively subsidise New Zealand employers, when both Working for Families and the accommodation supplement are huge daily subsidies to employers; and is he aware that New Zealand Trade and Enterprise actually identified aircraft maintenance as a key specialised manufacturing sector for this Government?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Regarding the last part of the question, that does not mean to say that the Government should subsidise jobs. We are not subsidising jobs with packages like Working for Families, any more than the previous Government did with similar moves. We are ensuring that people with family responsibilities can ensure that their children and families live in reasonable circumstances. It is a long time since people in New Zealand expected to be paid more for being married than for being unmarried—that last occurred in about the 1960s, from memory.

Peter Brown: I seek leave to table the intermediate skill shortage list from the New Zealand Immigration Service website, which states that there is a shortage of aircraft engineers in New Zealand.

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

Television New Zealand—Confidence

7. Hon GEORGINA TE HEUHEU (National) to the Minister of Broadcasting: Does he have confidence in the board of Television New Zealand; if so, why?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY (Minister of Broadcasting): Yes; because they are hard-working and committed board members.

Hon Georgina te Heuheu: Why does the Minister continue to have confidence in the board of Television New Zealand in light of the front-page scandals such as Ian Fraser’s sudden resignation and $420,000 golden handshake, Susan Wood’s highly public employment dispute, and falling advertising revenues, not to mention the Minister’s own derisory comments about TVNZ’s current affairs programming?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: Shareholding Ministers continue to have confidence in the company because it is returning a dividend on the investment we make, it is moving towards providing a range of chartered programmes, which is what we expect it to do, and it is performing extremely well in the market. In fact, the member might like to note that in the last couple of weeks TV3 has been able to get only one programme into the top ratings—all the rest have been on Television One or TV2.

Maryan Street: What information has the Minister received on any other success of the public television broadcaster?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: TVNZ is the most-watched television company in New Zealand. An average of 86 percent of New Zealanders watch TVNZ each week. In the last 4 weeks, TVNZ’s share of the commercial demographic of 18 to 54-year-olds has risen to 56 percent, which is one share point higher than at the same time last year. In the last year, for all ages across the country, every top-ten programme every week has been on Television One or TV2. The ratings concerns commented on in the media, of course, are just a fact of life. Those are concerns; those are things that the company is focused on; they are a fact of life.

Pita Paraone: Does the Minister, in the interests of protecting our assets and the ongoing viability of public broadcasting, support NZ First’s call for a full Finance and Expenditure Committee inquiry into the affairs of TVNZ?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: As shareholding Ministers have pointed out, there is no need for an inquiry; there is an annual report. [Interruption] It is just worth advising people like Dr Nick Smith on the other side that there is an annual reporting process. That happens this week. That goes to select committees. Then there can be a discussion. That is what I am sure the committee will do.

Gordon Copeland: Is the Minister able to enlighten the House as to what the TVNZ Chief Executive Ian Fraser meant when he cited political interference as the reason for his abrupt resignation; if not, does his inability to do so not indicate the need for a parliamentary inquiry?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: The member will know that Mr Fraser withdrew those comments, so the answer to the first part of the question is no.

Rodney Hide: Can the Minister explain to the public of New Zealand the three benefits that he sees from TVNZ being State-owned, particularly in light of his comments that privately owned TV3 is “a class act”; why is this Government so ideologically opposed to private ownership?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: The three top ones that I would argue are the return to the shareholder, public charter programming, and national identity.

Hon Georgina te Heuheu: Can the Minister confirm that the role of the Television New Zealand board is to protect the taxpayers’ interest in Television New Zealand; if so, does he not consider that the board may have acted against those interests by allowing its dirty linen to be aired in public, knowing full well that it would erode the value of the taxpayers’ asset?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: I am glad the member asked that question, because of course the value of Television New Zealand has been very stable over the past 6 years, which is in stark contrast to the erosion of shareholder value during the 1990s, when the disastrous decision to sell Television New Zealand - Sky shares was taken, which eroded 25 percent of the value of this company under a National Government. Thanks for asking the question.

Hon Georgina te Heuheu: Does the Minister not consider that he may very well have contributed to the erosion of the taxpayers’ interest, when he glowingly said of the competition: “Television 3 are a class act at the present time. They do very well. That is clearly a concern for Television New Zealand.”; and does he continue to stand by those comments?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: No, I did not erode the share value, at all—unlike her National Government. I am the Minister of Broadcasting, and therefore what I said about TV3 is clearly just an objective fact—it is performing better in the Auckland market, in the 18 to 34 age group, at the present time. I am sure Television New Zealand is planning right now how to take that back.

Hon Georgina te Heuheu: Does he agree with the Prime Minister that “When a news organisation becomes the news that’s when you have a problem.”, and as this appears to put him at odds with the Prime Minister, why does he not feel an obligation to ask the Television New Zealand board to resign, or to resign himself?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: I am never at odds with the Prime Minister.

Air New Zealand—Engineering Outsourcing

8. SUE BRADFORD (Green) to the Minister of Finance: Does he agree with the statement in the Speech from the Throne that New Zealand’s economic security will come from our firms being part of “a high skill, high productivity, and high wage economy.”; if so, how does the loss of 600 high-wage, high-skill engineering jobs from Air New Zealand contribute to this goal?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Minister of Finance): Yes, and, bluntly, not a great deal.

Sue Bradford: Does the Minister agree with the Aviation Industry Association that New Zealand will lose specialist engineering intellectual property and human capital if Air New Zealand maintains its long-haul aircraft overseas; and why does the Government not put its money where its mouth is, take a smaller dividend, and demonstrate that it really does have a commitment to keeping highly skilled, high-wage jobs in New Zealand?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Firstly, of course, we have had only one dividend. Dividends are an unusual thing in the airline industry, so a promise to forgo a dividend would not have a great deal of effect. Secondly, we are not a 100-percent shareholder. There are minority shareholder interests to be considered, and those are very important to consider in this kind of situation. Thirdly, I do not want to sound overly cynical, but if the Government gets into the business of subsidising jobs in order to keep them when a company wants to restructure, I have a feeling there would be an awful lot of New Zealand companies lining up to restructure and pass on the wages of 600 jobs to the New Zealand Government.

John Key: When did the Minister become aware of the fact that Air New Zealand was likely to lay off the 617 engineers, given the rumour that abounded that he was aware of this prior to the election?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I know of no such rumour. I know of attempts by the National Party to suggest it. I regard that as a slur upon the chair of the board. [Interruption] The answer—if the member cares to wait—is that it was 4 or 5 days before the public announcement was made, which was well after the election.

Sue Bradford: Has the Minister received any advice on what impact Air New Zealand’s decision to sack skilled Kiwis and buy offshore will have on customer loyalty, and hence on the value of the Government’s fairly large investment in Air New Zealand?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I have no advice on that. I have no reason to believe there will be an impact on customer loyalty. Major international airlines are already outsourcing their maintenance of this sort without any apparent impact on customer loyalty.

Resource Management Act—Operation

9. Hon Dr NICK SMITH (National—Nelson) to the Minister for the Environment: Is he satisfied that his Government’s changes to the Resource Management Act 1991 are working well?

Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE (Minister for the Environment): Yes. The Resource Management Act is about striking the appropriate balance between economic development and the protection of the environment. The improvements made through the recent amendments to the Act achieve this balance, and significantly strengthen local decision-making.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: Is the Minister aware that a Whangarei man citing treaty arguments has appealed, under Labour’s amendments, the Waitaki water plan, and that the effect of this appeal is that billions of dollars’ worth of infrastructure developments, including a 250-megawatt power station and 40,000 hectares of irrigation, are halted, at an estimated cost to the South Island economy of $12 million per week; and does this indicate that the amendments, as he said, are working well?

Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: I am advised that the court has not accepted Mr Wilkie’s appeal, on the basis of its procedural shortcomings. I am further advised that Mr Wilkie will need to seek leave from the court to lodge a late appeal, and to date this has not occurred. I would encourage the member to concentrate on facts and not on his fantasy.

Martin Gallagher: What has been the attitude of Local Government New Zealand—the organisation that represents every democratically elected local authority in New Zealand—to the changes to the Resource Management Act 1991?

Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: Local Government New Zealand has been strongly supportive of the Resource Management Act review process. Its national council member, David Walter, stated: “On balance a great deal has been achieved in an exemplary collaborative exercise and we will continue to work through that process.” He also said: “Again, I thank the Government for the high level of engagement in this reform process and commend the process undertaken.” I am also mindful of the comments made by that well-known economist and political commentator Rod Oram, who while commenting on National’s Resource Management Act proposal said: “All in all, National’s RMA proposals fall short on some basic measures, such as being practical, wise and well-considered.”

Hon Dr Nick Smith: Does he think it is good resource management process when a farmer in North Otago applies for the renewal of his water right in 2000, when he makes a submission to his regional council in that year but it is overruled by Labour’s ministerial call-in, on which he is asked to make submissions; when he then makes submissions to the select committee on the renewal of his water right, and when he then makes submissions to the special water board on the renewal of the water right, and he is now facing further delays because of the appeal, he is also facing a further round of submissions on the substantive application, and 4 years later, and after six lots of submissions, he is still 2 years away from having his water right renewal considered; is that, in the Minister’s mind, good process?

Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: I am sure we would all agree that the process introduced by my predecessor, Minister Hobbs, has gone a long way to solving a lot of the sorts of problems that Dr Smith is detailing, and I would say that those problems were caused not by the legislation or by the acts of this Government, but, rather, by the failings of Environment Canterbury.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: Could the Minister outline for me, given that answer, specifically how the Government’s amendments have helped that farmer in trying to get the renewal of his water right, given that it was under his Government’s legislation that they called in and overrode the resource consent process, and, after waiting 5 years, he still has at least another 2 years before his water right will be considered—how has the Government helped that farmer?

Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: I am sure it does not escape Dr Smith that the amendments to the Act were passed in this year, and he is talking about historical difficulties.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: Does it make sense, on a day when the Christchurch Press and other media lead with stories of power shortages, for the Waitaki River, which is our most important power resource, to be held up with further delays over a water plan that has now been 4 years in the making, and will he take responsibility for his mess in the Resource Management Act if the lights go out for tens of thousands of New Zealanders next winter?

Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: I find a certain irony in that member speculating about the lights going out, but what I would say is that I have confidence in the courts to make appropriate decisions in this matter.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: I seek the leave of the House to table the appeal of Mr Bevan Wilkie of Whangarei, citing treaty reasons for his High Court appeal against the Waitaki water plan.

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

United Nations—Tangata Whenua Consultation

10. TE URUROA FLAVELL (Mâori Party—Waiariki) to the Minister of Foreign Affairs: Tçnâ koe Madam Speaker. Kia ora tâtou katoa. Ko taku pâtai ki te Minita o ngâ Take o Tâwâhi, e pçnei ana:

[Greetings, Madam Speaker, and greetings to us all. My question to the Minister of Foreign Affairs is as follows:]

“Âe rânei, kâore rânei, ka kôrero mai te Kâwanatanga ki te tangata whenua mô ngâ kaupapa kôrero i a ia e kôrero ana ki te United Nations?”.

Does the Government consult with tangata whenua on relevant issues when attending United Nations forums?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Acting Minister of Foreign Affairs): United Nations forums cover a vast range of issues. The Government has a policy—

Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I fully accept the right of the questioner to ask his question in his chosen language. Even though it is written on the speech the Standing Orders require that the question is read as written on the sheet. Many members in this House have been pulled up by the Speaker in the past for not complying with that Standing Order. I would have thought that at least the question should be repeated to us by a translator.

Madam SPEAKER: I thank the member for that point of order. In future the question should be read as it is on the Order Paper. If there is then to be a Mâori translation at that point, it may be given.

Rodney Hide: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I think that for the guidance of the Mâori Party it should be clearer than that. It would be quite acceptable for the question to be written in Mâori, and then it can be asked in Mâori. The difficulty we have is that the question as it appears on the Order Paper is written in English. I think for the future guidance of the Mâori Party the requirement should be that it be written in Mâori, and then it can be asked in Mâori in the first instance. For those of us who are still struggling with te reo maybe the Clerk or the Mâori Party can arrange for an English version to be sent to us all in the morning.

Madam SPEAKER: My ruling still remains. If the member wanted the question on the Order Paper to be in Mâori then he should have lodged it in Mâori. Maybe that will be the course in the future.

Gerry Brownlee: The translation should be given.

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: It is already translated.

Madam SPEAKER: He did it himself. That was the point. He actually provided the translation, as he is perfectly entitled to. The legitimate part of the member’s point of order was that he should have originally read the question as it was on the Order Paper. [Interruption] The member may well disagree, but I have ruled on that. I now ask the Hon Dr Michael Cullen to answer the question.

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: United Nations forums cover a vast range of issues. The Government has a policy of engaging, where appropriate, with Mâori on issues that they have identified as being of interest to them.

Te Ururoa Flavell: What consultation with Mâori had occurred prior to the New Zealand delegates describing the draft declaration of the rights of indigenous peoples as “unworkable and unacceptable” in the sixtieth General Assembly held in New York on 20 October?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I understand that there was a great deal of discussion. Of course, discussion and consultation do not lead to those with whom the discussions occurred having their views necessarily reflected in the submissions made elsewhere within the United Nations. The Government, whoever it may be, is free to arrive at its own conclusions, and present those conclusions in the appropriate forms.

Hone Harawira: Tçnâ koe te Kaikôrero, tçnâ tâtou te Whare. Taku pâtai e pçnei ana.

[Greetings to the Speaker and greetings to the House. My question as follows.]

What was the rationale for New Zealand’s statement at the sixtieth General Assembly that New Zealand could not agree to a document that suggested there were two standards of citizenship, or two classes of citizens, particularly in the context of the Prime Minister’s statement that the Treaty of Waitangi was signed so that two peoples could coexist in one nation and we still have work to do in honouring the treaty?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Clearly, we do, but that does not lead to an assumption of two classes of citizenship or two sets of rules.

Te Ururoa Flavell: What events has the Government sponsored to recognise the second decade of the rights of the indigenous peoples, which started in January this year?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I do not have any particular information in front of me in that respect. Perhaps the member could put down another question and I will try to get that information for him.

Gerry Brownlee: Why did the Government invite Rodolfo Stavenhagen to New Zealand after ridiculing the UN report that accused the Labour Government of discriminating against the interests of Mâori over the foreshore and seabed legislation?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: The UN Commission on Human Rights suggested that we issue a standing invitation for the thematic human rights special rapporteurs to visit here. At the beginning of 2004 we issued a standing invitation to the thematic human rights special rapporteurs, which I should emphasise is United Nations language, not New Zealand Government language.

Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I asked why.

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: There was no special invitation to Mr Stavenhagen in this case. There is a standing invitation to the class of people of which Mr Stavenhagen is one.

Madam SPEAKER: I thank the member for the clarification.

Gerry Brownlee: Is the Government prepared to change the Foreshore and Seabed Act on the potentially embarrassing recommendations of Professor Stavenhagen, or is the Government prepared to accept that the United Nations is not always right about every single issue?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: We will listen carefully to any recommendations that Mr Stavenhagen makes. The United Nations is not infallible. Should Mr Stavenhagen, for example, recommend changes to the Cabinet Manual, I doubt that we would take too much notice of them.

Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. That may be an enormously humorous answer as far as Dr Cullen is concerned, but the simple question was: if he makes recommendations will the Government act on them? If the Minister would like me to rephrase the question so that he can give the House an answer then I am happy to so.

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Listen to the answer. I said we will listen carefully to any recommendations that he makes.

Madam SPEAKER: The Minister did address the question. It may not have been to the satisfaction of the member.

Gerry Brownlee: Will the Government change the foreshore and seabed legislation in order to comply with any recommendations from Professor Stavenhagen?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: We will carefully consider any recommendations that Professor Stavenhagen makes. If the recommendations are consistent with Government policy we will certainly look at that possibility. If they are not it is most unlikely that we will do so—unlike the National Party, which was prepared to give away every part of its Mâori policy before the election to try to secure the votes of the Mâori Party, but once that fell through it was back on scratching the old issues.

Benefit Fraud—Control

11. JUDITH COLLINS (National—Clevedon) to the Minister for Social Development and Employment: Is he satisfied that Work and Income is taking all steps to crack down on benefit fraud; if so, is he satisfied that only eligible persons receive taxpayer-funded benefits?

Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE (Minister for Social Development and Employment): This Government wants to make sure that everyone who is entitled to support gets it. Benefit abuse and fraud are unacceptable and will not be tolerated. All cases of deliberate fraud are prosecuted. It is a disappointing fact that some people attempt to defraud our system. Where debts are incurred they will be recovered. Currently, 96 percent of debtors on a benefit are repaying their debt. Prosecution rates in October, as I mentioned earlier, were 97 percent successful, with 12 sentences of imprisonment.

Judith Collins: Is Work and Income investigating rescued yachties Bruce Cox and Heloise Kortekaas solely because each was receiving a single person’s benefit while they were living together, and does the Minister agree that Work and Income should be asking why those two used any taxpayer funds to finance a yachting voyage?

Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: I do not have any information about that particular case, and if I did I certainly would not be discussing it in the House. Work and Income is committed to ensuring that people get their correct entitlements—no more, no less—minimising debt, and identifying and eliminating fraud.

Judith Collins: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. Perhaps the Minister would like to revisit his answer, given that that particular story has been all over the New Zealand Herald and the Press—Fairfax newspapers—just last week.

Madam SPEAKER: That is not a point of order.

Judith Collins: Is it true that Work and Income has no idea—as this Minister has just proven—whether someone has skipped off on a yacht for a round-the-world voyage, unless that person ends up being rescued, makes the front page of every newspaper in the country, and confesses to being part of a couple?

Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: It is certainly true that Work and Income does not have a camera in every bedroom.

Judith Collins: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I really do not think that that is any attempt to answer the question. The Minister has already shown that he does not know anything about his portfolio, he does not read the newspapers, he does not know what is going on—

Madam SPEAKER: That is not part of a point of order. Does the Minister wish to add to his answer? He does not.

Rodney Hide: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. It is not for the Speaker to ask whether the Minister wants to add to his answer; it is up to the Speaker to decide whether he has addressed the question adequately.

Madam SPEAKER: I thank the member. I understand the point he is making. I judge and rule that the Minister did address the question. I now ask Judith Collins whether she wishes to ask a supplementary question.

Judith Collins: How many of the other almost 300,000 working-age New Zealanders currently receiving a benefit are holidaying on yachts, gallivanting around the world, or simply choosing not to work for lifestyle reasons?

Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: My apologies; clearly, it would be impossible to have that information. I am happy to give the member the undertaking that I will give her the outcome of the investigation of the party she refers to, and assure her that if she has particulars of any other people who raise matters of such concern, I would be pleased to investigate them.

Judith Collins: As the Minister—[Interruption] Are we going to have interruptions during questions?

Madam SPEAKER: There was no interjection that I heard, but people do chatter through questions. If you want silence on every question, good luck. I would ask you to put your question, please.

Judith Collins: When Bruce Cox and Heloise Kortekaas were rescued, at a cost of nearly $1 million to the taxpayer, was either of them not available for work due to stress; if not, what other illnesses might have rendered them incapable of work but capable of taking a yacht on an intercountry voyage?

Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: I am happy to find that information out for the member, but I point out to her that the provision that stress is an appropriate and acceptable reason for benefit receipt was introduced by the National Government.

Research, Science and Technology—Innovation

12. Dr ASHRAF CHOUDHARY (Labour) to the Minister of Research, Science and Technology: How is the Government fostering innovation in the New Zealand economy through research, science, and technology?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY (Minister of Research, Science and Technology): Over the next 4 years this Government will invest just under $3 billion to foster innovation through research, science and technology. That investment will ensure greater certainty around funding, support areas of national research excellence, and ensure faster commercialisation of research. That is 50 percent more than the previous Government chose to spend on innovation.

Dr Ashraf Choudhary: What is the Government doing to support scientists?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: Over the next 4 years the Government will invest an extra $47.8 million into programmes directly aimed at supporting scientists, including $17.8 million to boost the capability of Crown research institutes, $17.1 million to expand the International Investment Opportunities Fund, $10 million to invest in the Marsden Fund, and $2.7 million to double the number of Fulbright scholarships. Under investments by the Labour-led Government the number of people working in research, science, and technology has increased by 32 percent.

Dr Paul Hutchison: How does the announcement made on 8 November by Industrial Research that it will axe 20 highly qualified scientists correlate with his innovation rhetoric and Labour’s pre-election statement: “We need to provide more security for researchers.”?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: I repeat, for the benefit of the member—and I thank him for the opportunity—that we have had a 32 percent increase in the number of people working in the sector, and we are investing 50 percent more than National would have invested. But, of course, in the case of Industrial Research Ltd, the difficulties with two of its subsidiary companies have caused it to change what it is doing.

Dr Paul Hutchison: I seek leave to table two articles. The first, dated 10 November 2005, is from the New Zealand Herald and is entitled “IRL cutback a blow to research”, and the second is an editorial from the New Zealand Herald of 14 November, entitled “No way to treat a scientist”. That is the record of the Labour Government.

Madam SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table those documents. Is there any objection? There is objection.


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

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