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Questions and Answers - 22 November 2005

Questions and Answers for Oral Answer - Tuesday, 22 November 2005

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

Questions to Ministers

Foreign Affairs, Minister—Confidence

1. Dr DON BRASH (Leader of the Opposition) to the Prime Minister: Does she have confidence in the Minister of Foreign Affairs; if so, why?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK (Prime Minister): Yes; because he is a hard-working and conscientious Minister.

Dr Don Brash: Does she agree with the decision of the Minister of Foreign Affairs to announce that he would raise our $2 billion trade deficit with China with the Chinese Foreign Minister, or does she agree with the Minister of Trade’s criticism of Mr Peters that “You don’t actually even up the surplus or deficit by browbeating the partner.”?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I think the way we would like to tackle that particular deficit is by getting a good free-trade agreement with China.

Keith Locke: Has the Prime Minister discussed with the Minister of Foreign Affairs making the SAS contingent that returned to New Zealand this morning the last special forces unit to fight in Afghanistan with the US-led coalition force, in the light of the international criticism of the mistreatment of prisoners by that force, and the way that it conducts its operations with little regard for civilians?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: The answer to the first part of the question is “No”. In respect of the second part of the question, I want to say that the SAS has done a very, very good job in Afghanistan. The Minister of Defence welcomed the third contingent back this morning. We believe that the contingent acquitted itself well, and I certainly do not rule out future deployments for it.

Dr Don Brash: Does she agree with the comment of the Minister of Foreign Affairs at APEC that more could have been done by the Government to monitor the private language schools that have gone bankrupt, or does she agree with the Minister of Trade that Mr Peters’ view was incorrect, and that “We have actually made provision for the students at that school in a way that most other countries of the world would not have bothered.”?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: A good part of earlier periods of this Government were spent precisely dealing with bad practice in international education, which had given our country a bad name. We dealt with it.

Dr Don Brash: Does she agree with the Minister of Foreign Affairs that the reporting of his trip to APEC by the New Zealand Herald was “treasonous”; if not, does she believe that it is appropriate for senior members of the Government, such as the Minister of Foreign Affairs, to be making such wildly provocative—indeed, intimidating—comments about the New Zealand media?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I would not have used that term myself. In my experience in over 24 years in this place protracted rows with the news media are not particularly productive, and my advice to both the New Zealand Herald and the Minister is to get over it.

Dr Don Brash: Does she agree with the statement made by Mr Goff that having Mr Peters in the Cabinet would be like having one’s mother-in-law living in one’s house, in that “It’s much easier sometimes when she’s next door, and you’ve each got your own space.”; and whether or not she agrees with it, what does she think Mr Goff’s statement says about the relationship between him and Mr Peters?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: What is says is that Labour is absolutely determined to give smaller parties that work with it room to breathe—unlike the National - New Zealand First coalition, which collapsed because no room was left for that party to keep its identity.

Rugby World Cup 2011—Benefits to New Zealand

2. DARREN HUGHES (Labour—Otaki) to the Minister for Sport and Recreation: What will be the benefits to New Zealand of hosting the Rugby World Cup 2011?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD (Minister for Sport and Recreation): Hosting the Rugby World Cup will be positive, not only for New Zealand rugby but also because the tournament will deliver significant economic benefits and tourism spin-offs. It is estimated that it will attract around 60,000 extra visitors to New Zealand, will generate an extra $400 million for the economy, and result in an extra tax take exceeding $90 million.

Darren Hughes: What additional exposure does he expect New Zealand to gain from hosting the Rugby World Cup?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: In addition to the extra visitors we expect to visit New Zealand, television-viewing numbers for the last World Cup were 3.4 billion. That will be a fantastic opportunity to showcase New Zealand. However, I regret to inform the member that it will almost certainly not focus on the Courtesy Ford Levin Domain, notwithstanding that member’s representations.

New Zealand Qualifications Authority—Vulnerability

3. Hon BILL ENGLISH (National—Clutha-Southland) to the Minister of Education: Does he agree with the statement regarding the New Zealand Qualifications Authority that, “… the organisation is dealing with low morale, high attrition rates and an over-reliance on contract staff. All these factors place the organisation in a vulnerable position;”; if so, why?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY (Minister of Education): Matters relating to morale, attrition, and reliance on contract staff are raised in the briefing to the incoming Minister, and they refer to very well-canvassed issues. The New Zealand Qualifications Authority is, of course, dealing with those issues, and as Graham Young, President of the Secondary Principals Association notes: “It is not news; it’s old. We already knew about it.”

Hon Bill English: Has the Minister also seen the statement by the New Zealand Qualifications Authority that public confidence in the National Certificate of Educational Achievement (NCEA) is low, and why is it that the New Zealand Qualifications Authority is aware of that when he is not?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: I was not the Minister of Education during this year. However, unlike the member who was the spokesperson on education, I was fully aware of that, as was the whole country, and as was the State Services Commission, which did a review of the issue, published it, and had it discussed ad nauseam in the media. He seems to be only one who is not aware.

Moana Mackey: What specific actions has the New Zealand Qualifications Authority taken to address organisational issues?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: The New Zealand Qualifications Authority is working to put in place recommendations from a State Services Commission report published earlier this year, which include the recruitment of 30 new permanent staff, new induction procedures, training for managers, staff, and teams, the creation of new positions that provide career paths, and better use of exit interview feedback to assist mangers in improving performance.

Hon Brian Donnelly: Can the Minister explain to the House which party, when in Government, appointed a previous chief executive officer by the name of Douglas Blackmur, who departed the New Zealand Qualifications Authority under the cloud of a considerable number of expensive and inexplicable overseas junkets and left the organisation so directionless it still has not recovered?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: If my memory serves me well, that party goes by the name of National.

Allan Peachey: In the light of the Minister’s failure to give his personal assurance as Minister of Education to the students, parents, and teachers of New Zealand that he is confident that this year’s NCEA will be trouble-free, will he give an undertaking that he, unlike his predecessor, will accept ministerial responsibility and resign if the NCEA assessments are, in fact, not trouble-free; if not, why not?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: As I have said repeatedly, I am confident that all that could be done has been done, and that so far we are enjoying a good exam season. Of course, as Minister, I take responsibility from my portfolio.

Hon Bill English: Can the Minister confirm that he made this statement on Radio New Zealand on Friday, 18 November: “Yes, and in fact I asked your journalists not to put this news item on the air at the present time.”, and can he explain why he made that statement?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: It was conveyed to the journalist that issues noted in the briefing to the incoming Minister were well known and well canvassed on a range of media outlets and, in fact, come from the State Services Commission report published in the middle of the year. The New Zealand Qualifications Authority must front up on issues of public interest, but it must not be used as a political football, particularly when 156,000 young people are trying to sit their exams.

Moana Mackey: What reports has he heard on levels of confidence in the NCEA and scholarship examinations being administered by the New Zealand Qualifications Authority?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: I have heard many such reports—for example, Denis Pyatt from Papanui High School states: “There aren’t too many students nor teachers who will deny NCEA is considerably better than the system it replaced.” The Post Primary Teachers Association states in its latest report to the Government: “The changes in personnel and ways of working with the sector are a big improvement.” Graham Young, president of the Secondary Principals Association, commenting on the changes that have been put in place, stated: “I’ve certainly got some pretty good confidence about the season.”

Hon Bill English: When the Minister asked journalists—as he has said himself—not to put this news item on the air at the present time, how could the journalists have known whether that was not a direction he was issuing as the Minister of Broadcasting in charge of Radio New Zealand?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: They ran the item; I think they would know what they were doing.

Hon Bill English: Does the Minister understand that the Broadcasting Act prevents him specifically from issuing any direction to any journalist in Radio New Zealand about what news item it might run, regardless of whether or not it might run it?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: Yes.

Madam SPEAKER: I just remind the member that the questions are to be addressed to the Minister of Education, not to the Minister of Broadcasting.

Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. That raises a very interesting point about the arrangements the Government has for various accountabilities. Are you now telling us that a Minister can be accountable only for his or her portfolio at the time he or she is under question? It is quite clear that the Minister carries responsibility for all the Government—or is this Minister like Winston Peters, as well?

Madam SPEAKER: No. When the question is set down to the Minister of Education, then the Minister is responsible for matters relating to education. If there is a concern about a matter relating to broadcasting, then the matter is set down as a question to the Minister of Broadcasting.

Hon Bill English: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. The point of my questions is to establish whether the Minister thought about this from the journalist’s point of view, because when he was instructing the journalist not to put the news item on Radio New Zealand, the journalist would not have known whether the Minister was acting in his capacity as Minister of Broadcasting or as Minister of Education. Of course, if the Minister was acting in his capacity as Minister of Broadcasting he broke the law, because the law quite specifically prevents him doing what he did. If he was acting in his capacity as Minister of Education, then, of course, it was very unwise, because he happens to be the Minister of Broadcasting as well, and he may well have been hoping that a journalist would see it that way. That is the point of the question, which is why the question has to be in order.

Hon Dr Michael Cullen: I think the point that is being made here is an important one. Clearly, the question can be asked only of the Minister as Minister of Education, because that is what the principal question is about. But if I could help the member somewhat, it is perfectly possible to phrase the question along the following lines: “Was he aware, when he made that suggestion to the journalist, that the Minister of Broadcasting is prevented from doing certain things; if so did he see any conflict of interest in his roles at that stage?”. Perhaps the Minister could now answer the question.

Madam SPEAKER: I thank the members for their comments. The member’s first question was perfectly in order, because it was addressed to the Minister of Education. The second question was not, because it addressed him as the Minister of Broadcasting. But I suggest that the member asks the question in the terms that have been suggested by himself, actually, when he was giving his explanation.

Hon Bill English: When the Minister issued his direction to a Radio New Zealand journalist not to put the news item on the air at the present time—as he has stated himself—did it occur to him that the journalist may have believed the Minister was acting in his capacity as Minister of Broadcasting and, therefore, acting illegally?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: To go back to the original question, I did not direct or instruct. But I will, on all occasions, advocate for my portfolio, as all Ministers do. As I said on this occasion, the New Zealand Qualifications Authority will always front up to all public issues, as it should do. But I will not sit by and not say something about an area that I think is being used as a political football—for example, by the member—when 156,000 young people are trying to sit their exams.

Aged Care—Funding

4. BARBARA STEWART (NZ First) to the Minister of Health: Has all of the additional $71 million of funding made available in Budget 2005 to district health boards to pay for contracted providers of residential aged-care services been ring-fenced to be used for this purpose only; if not, why not?

Hon PETE HODGSON (Minister of Health): No, it has not, because the $71 million was allocated to do more than meet the price increases of the providers that the member refers to.

Barbara Stewart: Could the Minister have ring-fenced or specified in the Crown funding agreements where the extra money from Budget 2005 that was intended for aged care could or could not be spent; if so, why did he not do that, in order to ensure that the money intended for residential aged-care was actually used by the district health boards for that purpose?

Hon PETE HODGSON: At Budget time it was made clear that the money was to be broken into two lots. From memory, $38.5 million was to go to that purpose. But the health of older people in the residential sector is broader than private providers; it includes, for example, volume increases as well as price increases, and it includes, for example, assessment, treatment, and rehabilitation. On top of the $71 million, but not mentioned by the member, was further funding from this Government for the Holidays Act catch-up.

Dr Jonathan Coleman: Is it not true, though, that the Minister did promise $71 million of new money for rest homes before the election, but now, after the election, the rest home sector is actually receiving a considerably reduced amount; if that is true, how honest is that?

Hon PETE HODGSON: It is far from true, because the $71 million did not come out immediately before the election; it came out in the May Budget. That is not all. This Government decided to put some Holidays Act money into that sector, as well. That is not all. My immediate predecessor, the Associate Minister of Health Ruth Dyson, put a further $16 million into that sector. That is not all. Money went into home-based support services, as well. In fact, if members want to add all of it up, they will find that the total comes to more than $100 million over the last 12 months. A party that has tax cuts on its mind cannot spend that sort of money on the health of older New Zealanders.

Sue Moroney: What undertakings has the Government made to address the pressures in residential aged-care?

Hon PETE HODGSON: Quite apart from the more than $100 million that has been announced in the last 12 months from this Government, this Government has an agreement with the party whence came the principal question, New Zealand First. That agreement says we will address the issue of elder care further, as a matter of priority, in the 2006 Budget. That means that because this Government does not have tax cuts on its mind, it can deal to the pressures that exist in the health system, including, in this case, the health of our older New Zealanders.

Judy Turner: Has the Minister had any indication from contracted providers as to whether they intend to use any part of the additional money to address the issue of caregiver wages; if not, does he have any plans to rectify the current wages and conditions of both residential and home-based caregivers?

Hon PETE HODGSON: That is an excellent question. I think that in the residential aged-care sector we will see the additional money flow through to workers all right, for the simple reason that if these wages are not increased, there will not be enough people working in the industry. In the home-based support sector we have another problem, which is that we do not have, in my view, a fair travel policy for those folk who move from one home to another. I have made it a condition of any district health board signing any contract with any home-based support service industry that it has a fair travel policy. The details as to what is meant by “fair travel policy” are only weeks from being resolved.

Dr Jonathan Coleman: When the Minister made his pre-election promise of $71 million of new money for rest home care, why did he keep secret that $32 million of that money was actually long-overdue back pay that the sector was owed as of right?

Hon PETE HODGSON: Quite apart from the fact that the member obviously did not listen to my answer to his first question—

Madam SPEAKER: One of the reasons why the answer may not have been heard before is the level of noise in the Chamber. I would ask members—who of course may interject on answers—to please keep the noise at a more orderly level. Thank you. Would the Minister now please respond.

Hon PETE HODGSON: I refer the member to my press statement on Budget night 2005 and I will quote him a sentence: “It’’—the $71 million—“comprises $38.4 million to cover the cost of growing demand and inflation, as well as an additional $32.5 million.” We made no mistake that the $32.5 million would be used, in part or in whole, to catch up the district health board sector.

Barbara Stewart: Does the Minister agree that the money intended to sboost residential aged-care funding needs to be ring-fenced by some mechanism to ensure that the promises made in this year’s Budget in respect of aged care are kept; if not, will he be making further funding available to make sure the aged-care sector receives the money it was promised in May?

Hon PETE HODGSON: I say again to the member that I did not promise $71 million of price increases for the residential aged-care sector; the $71 million is to fund that and more besides. So the answer to the members two questions are no, and quite probably.

Prisons—Overcrowding

5. SIMON POWER (National—Rangitikei) to the Minister of Corrections: Is he satisfied that the Government is doing all it can to alleviate the reported current prison overcrowding crisis; if so, why?

Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR (Minister of Corrections): Yes, the Government has been closely monitoring the situation. Officials are working on a range of measures to manage prisoner numbers in the short and the longer term.

Simon Power: Does the Minister agree with his officials in the briefing to the incoming Minister that “there are no credible options that would definitely decrease the forecasts for the prison population post-2008”; if so, how does he expect to house the increasing number of prisoners in light of his own view that no more new prisons are being considered?

Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: The Government currently has a building programme. It has committed over $800 million to the provision of 2,000 new prison beds. We accept there is pressure on the prison system but we are doing everything we can to manage the situation correctly.

Simon Power: With prisoners being housed in vans, showered at rugby clubs, and kept in police and court cells, how can the Minister convince the members of the New Zealand public that they are safer since he became the Minister of Corrections?

Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: They are just as safe now as they were under my predecessor. With regard to the use of vans, the chief executive has said that that was a temporary measure at one prison, and he has instructed that it will not occur again.

Dr Pita Sharples: He aha te mahere rautaki kua whiriwhiria, kua whakaaetia e ngâ tari katoa o te Kâwanatanga nei, kia whakawhâiti haere te nama tino teitei rawa o ngâ tângata kei rô whare herehere i te mea, i te marama o Paenga-whâwhâ i te tau 1997, e 4,988 ngâ mauhere çngari, ka tae ki tçrâ Râhina 14 o tçnei marama tonu, kua piki ake te nama mauhere ki te 7,545, he pikitanga tçnei o te 51 pai hçneti, ahakoa kâre noa kia pau te iwa tau?

[An interpretation in English was given to the House.]

[What is the all-of-Government strategy to reduce the incarceration rate within our prisons, given that in the month of April 1997, there were 4,988 people in jail, but by Monday, 14 November last week, this number had climbed to 7,545, an increase of 51 percent in less than 9 years?]

Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: This Government accepts the fact that numbers have increased. The Government has cracked down on serious crime, and it is locking offenders up for longer. We accept, however, that a whole-of-Government approach is needed to try to reduce the number of people going into prisons, and to assist those who come out of prisons to stay out. This Government is engaged in just such that approach.

Simon Power: Does the Minister believe that responsible Government involves a Minister keeping his fingers crossed in the hope that, despite officials’ advice, prisoner numbers might reduce by 2008; if not, why is he doing that?

Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: I think we accept that prisoner numbers will increase. That is why we have embarked upon an extensive capital development programme to put more than 2,000 prison beds in place.

Nandor Tanczos: Does the Minister agree with the suggestion in the briefing from the Department of Corrections for the incoming Minister that pressure on resources has made rehabilitation ineffective, that assessment and management of prisoners with mental illness are inadequate, and that such are the inevitable results of a Government policy focused on its locking people up rather than on justice or the reduction of crime?

Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: The Government has an obligation to protect the public from serious offenders. They will remain locked up. We, however, accept the view that we must try harder in rehabilitation to prevent those going from prison from reoffending and going back in. We are focused on that area and we will continue to work hard.

Dr Pita Sharples: I rongo au ki tô whakautu mai ki ahau nâ reira ka tipu te pâtai, âhea tîmata ai te mahitahi o ngâ tari katoa o te kâwanatanga ki te whakaiti haere i te nama o ngâ tangata kei rô whare herehere?

[An interpretation in English was given to the House.]

[I heard the Minister’s response, and it gives rise to the question: when will all Government departments work together to reduce the number of people in prisons?]

Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: They are engaged in that exercise as we speak.

Simon Power: Why does the Minister not just admit that prison numbers and the Department of Corrections are in a shambles, swallow his own ideological burp, and allow the private sector a role—something his Government’s Corrections Act eliminated last year?

Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: This Government has for a long time accepted that it is the Government’s role to look after prisons in this country. If I can use the issue of prisoner assaults as a measure of the situation in prisons today, I can say that when that party was in Government in 1998-99 the number of assaults per hundred inmates was, in fact, 1.74. Today, or in the 2004-05 year, the number of assaults was 0.39 per hundred inmates—down by one-quarter is the number of assaults in prison. We believe we are managing the situation very well.

Ron Mark: Is it not a fact that one of the factors exacerbating the problems of managing the large number of inmates and the unacceptable officer-to-inmate ratios is still, to this day, the wage cuts implemented by the National Government in December 1999, which slashed wages by between $600 to $7,000 and entry-level officers’ wages by $12,000; and when will this House see prison officers being paid a decent wage so that good ones stay and more sign up and join the service?

Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: The member raises a very good point. In 1999 the conditions for prison officers were severely cut. Since then there have been two wage rounds. The department will begin negotiations with the unions early next year for another wage round. I am sure that all those issues will be debated at that time.

Hospitals—Upgrading

6. MARYAN STREET (Labour) to the Minister of Health: What progress has been made in upgrading New Zealand hospitals?

Hon PETE HODGSON (Minister of Health): This Government is committed to rebuilding the hospital infrastructure of New Zealand from Kaitâiato Invercargill. The Government has, under the watch of my predecessor, the Hon Annette King, shown that commitment by the largest investment in public hospital infrastructure for a generation.

Maryan Street: How does the Government’s hospital upgrades programme, then, compare with the efforts of previous administrations?

Hon PETE HODGSON: The Labour-led Government’s historic investment in upgrading hospitals and opening new facilities stands in stark contrast to the previous National Government’s programme of closures and under-investment in New Zealand’s hospitals. Between 1991 and 1999 the National Government closed 38 public hospitals. We are building new ones, and the difference between that party and this is that those members have tax cuts on their minds.

Tariana Turia: How can the Minister justify a reduction in the number of beds following the upgrade of Wellington Hospital, and what contribution will this reduction make towards reducing waiting lists?

Hon PETE HODGSON: The number of beds in New Zealand has been reducing for about a century. The new hospital, Wellington base hospital, being built by this Labour-Government will be a modern hospital, a good hospital, and suitable for the needs of the Wellington Capital and Coast region in the years 2005 and beyond.

Foreign Policies—Confidence

7. Hon MURRAY McCULLY (National—East Coast Bays) to the Minister of Foreign Affairs: Does he have confidence in all the foreign policies of the Government; if so, why?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Acting Minister of Foreign Affairs): Yes, because, particularly in respect of foreign affairs, this is a hard-working and conscientious Government.

Hon Murray McCully: Did the Minister see the advice tendered publicly by the previous Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr Goff, who appeared to be concerned by the Minister’s intention to raise the trade deficit issue with China, and cautioned him not to browbeat the Chinese Minister; and can he tell the House whether he followed his colleague’s advice?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: As I said in the House last week, when the Chinese Foreign Minister raised the issue of trade Mr Peters explained that that was the responsibility of Mr Goff.

Hon Murray McCully: Did the Minister see the statement made by the previous Minister, Mr Goff, referring to the Minister as the Cabinet’s mother-in-law; if so, what did he read into those comments about the state of their working relationship at APEC?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: As I said in the House last week, I have a good relationship with my mother-in-law, and on this side of the House we regard mothers-in-law as people one should have a good relationship with. Perhaps the National Party should appoint somebody for liaison with mothers-in-law. It would, of course, have to be somebody with a mother-in-law.

Madam SPEAKER: I ask the House please to come to order. There is a lot of chatter when members are asking questions. Please just calm down.

Hon Murray McCully: Can the Minister tell the House whether he agrees with the analysis of events at APEC provided by the new President of the New Zealand First Party, Mr Dail Jones, in the New Zealand Herald that it was about “Phil Goff wanting to destabilise the situation so that he might make a run as leader of the party if Helen goes”, or can he provide the House with a more flattering account of Mr Goff’s actions?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: No, I do not. My advice to anybody ever thinking about challenging the current leader of the Labour Party is that he or she would have to climb over the entire collection of rugby players in New Zealand before getting to her.

Hon Murray McCully: Has the Minister seen the further statement made by the President of the New Zealand First Party, Mr Jones, that “If the situation is destabilised with New Zealand First, then people like Phil Goff would be the winners”, and can he assure the House that he holds no fears for the conduct of New Zealand’s foreign policy as a consequence of the factors referred to by Mr Jones?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I hold no such fears. The only party I am aware of where there is chatter about the leadership is the National Party.

Hon Murray McCully: Can he explain why the Minister of Foreign Affairs refused to answer questions put to him by the Dominion Post about the matters to be discussed at his forthcoming meeting with the UK armed services Minister, Mr Ingram; and was it because he intends to establish a different foreign policy from that of the Clark Government with the United Kingdom, just as he has done with the United States, Australia, and China?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I do not accept the latter assertion. On the former matter, Mr Peters has specifically told the Prime Minister that he has supported the Government’s actions in respect to Iraq and Afghanistan.

Benefits—Beneficiary Numbers

8. GEORGINA BEYER (Labour) to the Minister for Social Development and Employment: What reports has he received on the number of people on benefits?

Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE (Minister for Social Development and Employment): The latest quarterly figures prepared by the Ministry of Social Development show that in the year to September 2005 the number of working-age New Zealanders on benefits dropped by a further 16,000, or 5 percent. There are 83,000, or 22 percent, fewer New Zealanders receiving assistance than there were in 1999.

Georgina Beyer: Given yet another remarkable result, my supplementary question asks: does the Government have an estimate of the value of moving so many people from benefits into work?

Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. You may be tolerant of new members starting questions like that, but this is not a new member and it should not be encouraged, or even allowed. One would hope, Madam Speaker, that you might ask the member to refrain in future from those sorts of comments. Further, I might add that we have noticed those sorts of comments coming through from answers today that have gone largely unchecked as well.

Madam SPEAKER: I thank the member for his comments. He is quite right. I direct his comments also to all members in the House. I ask members just to stick to the question.

Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: For each individual in the workforce, of course, the value to his or her self-esteem and sense of worth is immeasurable. Additionally, though, it is important to note that moving 83,000 New Zealanders into work amounts to a saving of at least $14 million per week. The reduction in expenditure, therefore, between 2003 and 2005 alone totals some $3.3 billion.

Judith Collins: When does he expect a decrease in the sickness and invalid beneficiary numbers, which, despite the glowing reports he has just given us, have continued to soar under his Government?

Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: There is no disguising what has been phenomenal success overall. Under this Government, 301,000 more New Zealanders are in jobs. We have the lowest unemployment rate in the OECD, and the total number of working-age New Zealanders on benefits is, as I said, 22 percent lower. It is true that there has been a slight increase in sickness beneficiaries, but the suggestion of the questioner does not hold water. Unemployment has decreased by 98,600. That is four times the net increase in sickness beneficiaries.

Judith Collins: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. The Minister has to address the question. The question asked when he expected a similar decrease in the numbers of sickness and invalids beneficiaries. We have just had an absolutely angry response from the Minister—he was angry that I have dared to ask this question. He has not actually addressed it. I ask him to address the situation of sickness and invalids benefits, and when we might see and expect a decrease.

Madam SPEAKER: I thank the member. The Minister, in his answer to the question, did address the question of sickness benefits. It was obviously not to the satisfaction of the member, but she has an opportunity to ask another supplementary question.

Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: The sickness and invalids benefits, it is true to say, grew at a rate of 69 percent and 84 percent respectively under the National Government. That is not to mention the unemployment rate, which climbed by 11 percent. In the latest year to September, the growth rate of the sickness benefit fell from 8 percent to 4 percent. We are getting on top of a trend that was clearly out of control under National.

Avian Influenza—Preparation

9. Hon TONY RYALL (National—Bay of Plenty) to the Minister of Health: What medicines has the Ministry of Health started stockpiling for the possibility of an influenza pandemic?

Hon PETE HODGSON (Minister of Health): I think the member may already know that the Ministry of Health has stockpiled the antiviral medication Tamiflu.

Hon Tony Ryall: Since most of the victims of the 1918 pandemic died of secondary infections like pneumonia, why have the Ministry of Health and Pharmac not moved to secure greater supplies of antibiotics?

Hon PETE HODGSON: The member asks a very good question. I suggest that when the Health Committee is briefed—I think tomorrow—the member should put that to folk. In the meantime, I offer the proposition that it would probably not be a very good idea to stockpile a lot of antibiotics early, especially when the bug itself is not yet known, simply because the expiry date—

Hon Tony Ryall: You’ve got to lift your stock levels.

Madam SPEAKER: Would the Minister address the question.

Hon PETE HODGSON: I am trying to get a difficult answer across to a member whose neighbour is not helping. The problem with pre-stockpiling antibiotics is that they often have a short expiry date, and that means that the antibiotics would be wasted.

Sue Kedgley: Why has the Government told district health boards in the recently released New Zealand Influenza Pandemic Action Plan that they should build up their own supplies of Tamiflu in the event of a pandemic rather than rely on the national stockpile; and given that the chances of obtaining Tamiflu at this late stage are very slim indeed, why has the Government waited until now to give them that advice?

Hon PETE HODGSON: It may help the member to know that New Zealand has enough Tamiflu doses for approximately 20 or 21 percent of its population—

Hon Tony Ryall: No.

Hon PETE HODGSON: It does have enough doses for about 21 percent of the population, which ranks it higher than, I think, almost any other country—with the possible exception of Japan—and which follows World Health Organization guidelines. That is somewhat higher than, for example, the US level, which is around 2 percent. District health boards have not been instructed to carry additional stockpiles, but they are certainly entitled to. On top of that, district health boards have been asked to lay in supplies of personal protection equipment, and because those supplies do not have an expiry date of any consequence they are being laid in now.

Hon Tony Ryall: Has the Minister secured, or begun to secure, sufficient stockpiles of all essential drugs and medicines, in order to meet the ongoing needs of ordinary New Zealanders if the borders are closed for several weeks during a pandemic?

Hon PETE HODGSON: No, and the reason is that it is a little early. I refer my colleague to my answer to his original question, which was that it is not a good idea to lay in a whole lot of drugs that have an expiry date when we do not yet have a bug capable of human-to-human contact.

Sue Kedgley: Has the Minister received any advice as to whether the Health and Safety in Employment Act and the National Health Emergency Plan: Infectious Diseases could require health workers to take Tamiflu prophylactically, conceivably every day for up to 12 weeks at a time, to offer them protection in the event of a bird flu epidemic; is he aware that if that was the case it could use up about half of New Zealand’s entire national stockpile of Tamiflu?

Hon PETE HODGSON: The short answers are no and yes, although it is the case that we will retain, I am sure, some Tamiflu for ongoing prophylactic use in the essential services, especially since the pandemic could come in more than one way.

Sue Kedgley: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I request the Minister to clarify his answer, because when he said “no and yes” I was not sure whether he was saying “no or yes”. Those are two quite different answers.

Madam SPEAKER: The member asked two questions and the Minister answered those questions, so that is not a point of order.

Hon Tony Ryall: If a vaccine does become available, how quickly could the population be immunised, considering that the meningococcal B programme started a year ago and the Government has still not immunised every under-5-year-old?

Hon PETE HODGSON: The member raises another good question. I think that the challenges of vaccinating an entire population, especially since it is likely to have to be done twice, in any short period of time is very challenging, indeed. I make a further point that if we have to bring people together to vaccinate them, we need to weigh the risks of bringing people together against the benefits of vaccination. So there is a lot to be asked yet about vaccination—questions that I am asking, and that I am sure the member and other members of the Health Committee will ask public health officials when they meet tomorrow.

Hon Tony Ryall: Why does the Government’s action plan not deal with who will actually treat the sick?

Hon PETE HODGSON: The Government’s action plan does. Beneath the released version 14 of the plan lies a great deal of other literature and thought, and I invite the members of the Health Committee tomorrow to put some of those questions to the public health people who are to be in front of them.

Hon Tony Ryall: Release the documents.

Hon PETE HODGSON: If the member wants documents to be released that are unreleased, can he please put the question to me. I am happy to release things that may be useful in explaining that.

Hon Tony Ryall: Why will the Government not release the draft list of who will get priority to the special reserves of Tamiflu, so that businesses and emergency services can plan in light of that information?

Hon PETE HODGSON: To the best of my knowledge, there is no such draft list, but if there were it would be unlikely to be of any value. One cannot have a useful response to who should get Tamiflu until the nature of the virus and the sections of the community it is likely to affect are known, and that is not possible until there is a bug to respond to.

Hon Tony Ryall: Is the reason why the Ministry of Health has not released its discussion on the reserve list that the Minister is on it?

Hon PETE HODGSON: I have not myself seen any such draft. If one exists it will be of limited use to anybody, because there is no case for drawing up how to distribute Tamiflu until the nature of the bug is known, and at the moment the bug does not exist.

Question No. 10 to Minister

RON MARK (NZ First): I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I would just ask you to bear with me as I explain my case. I am seeking that you strike out this question on the basis that it is simply coming from Mr Hide, and I will explain. I refer you firstly to Standing Order 59, which states that: “… at the commencement of each sitting the Speaker reads a prayer to the House …”. In this prayer, the House acknowledges our need for God’s guidance in all things and goes on to say: “Laying aside all private and personal interests, we beseech Thee to grant that we may conduct the affairs of this House and of our country to the glory of Thy holy name, the maintenance of true religion and justice, the honour of the Queen and the public welfare …”. I direct you further to Standing Orders 165(1) and 166(1), which stipulate and re-emphasise the rules regarding conflicts of interest.

Mr Hide’s question clearly relates to a property owned by a man whom he has described many times in this House as his very good friend, Dave “Hendo” Henderson. It involves a situation where a property, which Mr Henderson is the owner and landlord of, has been vacated by the Inland Revenue Department. This House, on many occasions, has heard that Mr Hide has received bids from Mr Henderson, has possibly received remuneration for doing work for Mr Henderson in Fiji, and has represented Mr Henderson on numerous occasions. Mr Henderson is a man who is reported to fund the ACT party and to support Mr Hide personally. Now, through the House, Mr Hide is seeking to get commercially confidential information that Mr Henderson would not otherwise have access to in order to put together his bid to retain the Inland Revenue Department as a tenant in his building.

In view of the prayer and the guidance we seek in the way in which we conduct business in this House, and in view of Standing Orders 165(1) and 166(1), which Mr Hide has not complied with, I say that if this question had been asked by any other member of the House it might well have been acceptable, but in its current form coming from Mr Hide—Dave “Hendo” Henderson’s close mate, who has represented Mr Henderson in this House countless times—this question is clearly out of order and should not be permitted to be asked by Mr Hide.

RODNEY HIDE (Leader—ACT): That is not a point of order in any way whatsoever—and I see that the Speaker is agreeing with me. Ron Mark can stand up and make all the complaints he likes, but that is not a point of order. There is no conflict of interest, and I know that the Speaker will rule accordingly.

Ron Mark: Madam Speaker—

Madam SPEAKER: No, the member has put his case very well and Mr Hide has responded succinctly. I just note that the prayer is aspirational, so no member is disqualified by it; that would certainly be a new ruling. I also point out that Standing Order 165 does not, of itself, disqualify a question or permit a question to be disallowed, so it does not relate to questions. I note however that if, in fact, Mr Hide does stand to gain financially as a result of asking the question, he has to declare it. But that does not make the question itself out of order. So I ask Mr Hide now to proceed to ask the question—

RON MARK (NZ First): I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker.

Madam SPEAKER: Is this a new point of order?

RON MARK: Yes.

Madam SPEAKER: I have already ruled.

RON MARK: I accept your ruling, Madam Speaker, but in respect of Standing Order 166(1): “A member must, before participating in the consideration of any item of business, declare any financial interest that the member has in that business.”, and for the clarification of the House, I request that Mr Hide be asked to declare that he has no financial interest whatsoever in dealings with Mr Henderson and that this question is not in any way aimed at helping Mr Henderson.

Madam SPEAKER: I thank the member. It is not for the Speaker to ask the member that; it is for the member himself to address the issue.

Inland Revenue Department—Directories House, Christchurch

10. RODNEY HIDE (Leader—ACT) to the Minister of Revenue: How much is the Inland Revenue Department paying per square metre for its accommodation in Directories House, Christchurch, and what is the total cost of the fit-out and move to Directories House?

Hon PETER DUNNE (Minister of Revenue): I cannot disclose those figures because they are the subject of a confidentiality agreement between the commissioner and the building owners. I do not have the total cost of the fit-out and the move to Directories House at this stage, simply because those costs have yet to be finalised.

Rodney Hide: Does the Minister consider it acceptable that the Inland Revenue Department moved into temporary accommodation in Christchurch at a cost of $330 a square metre, as reported in the National Business Review, plus a $2 million fit-out, when it could have stayed in its present accommodation in Henderson House paying $130 a square metre; if so, why does he think it acceptable?

Hon PETER DUNNE: The Inland Revenue Department could not stay in its current accommodation; that lease was due to terminate in December of this year. Negotiations regarding its renewal commenced in the middle of last year, and they were not concluded satisfactorily.

Rodney Hide: Does the Minister believe it was possible for the Inland Revenue Department to stay on in a building owned by a man the previous Minister of Revenue, Michael Cullen, falsely accused of being “one of the biggest and nastiest tax evaders”, and of running “the sex industry in Christchurch”; if so, why?

Hon PETER DUNNE: The member clearly knows Mr Henderson better than I do, and is therefore better placed to answer that question. I just make this point: at the time the Inland Revenue Department went into what is now known as Henderson House, the building was not in fact owned by Mr Henderson. I understand he acquired it subsequently.

Dr the Hon Lockwood Smith: Does the Minister consider his department’s almost 300 percent increase in Christchurch accommodation costs to be an example of Treasury’s recent briefing advice to the Government that: “There is little to indicate that New Zealanders are getting more services and better results from the public sector for the large increases in resources provided.”; if not, why not?

Hon PETER DUNNE: No, I do not believe that. In fact, when the process being embarked upon of reorganising Inland Revenue Department services in Christchurch is complete, taxpayers will get an even better service than they currently get.

Passports—Charges for e-passports

11. SANDRA GOUDIE (National—Coromandel) to the Minister of Internal Affairs: Does he stand by his statement regarding the new e-passport, “It’s people’s perception of its beauty and its quality and its integrity.”; if so, does he believe the “beauty” and “integrity” of the new e-passport is worth twice as much as the old passport?

Hon RICK BARKER (Minister of Internal Affairs): Yes.

Sandra Goudie: Does he believe that New Zealanders view the new passport as being so beautiful that they are happy to pay twice as much for a passport that now lasts half as long as its predecessor; if not, why not?

Hon RICK BARKER: The rate of applications for new passports at this stage of the year is higher than it was 12 months ago, and any New Zealander who is in a remote part of the world will tell one that the best thing he or she has to guarantee safe passage home is, in fact, his or her New Zealand passport.

Sandra Goudie: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. That answer clearly did not go anywhere near addressing the question. May I put the question again, please?

Madam SPEAKER: The member did address the question, obviously not to the satisfaction of the member.

Sandra Goudie: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. He absolutely—

Madam SPEAKER: I have ruled on that question.

Sandra Goudie: How did his department come up with the costing for the new passport, which had its price doubled, when he stated that it has an intangible value?

Hon RICK BARKER: The costing of the passports was done very carefully, and as I have explained to the member before, all of the revenue from the passports will go into a memorandum account. That will be open to public scrutiny, and also to this House, to ensure that the costs attributed to that account are, in fact, fair. If there is any underspend on that, then it will lead to a subsequent reduction in the cost of the New Zealand passport.

Sandra Goudie: How does he reconcile his statement that the new passports have an intangible value, with that of his department’s passport manager, who was able to specify that the cost of the new e-chip was exactly $22?

Hon RICK BARKER: That particular quote did not actually take into account the full cost of the passport, which is for not just the chip, but the encoding systems, the computer systems, and all of the other systems that support the New Zealand passport. To repeat my answer, all the revenue gained by the Crown for the cost of the passports can be spent only on passport matters. The money is deposited into a memorandum account and it can be subject to clear parliamentary scrutiny.

Sandra Goudie: Has the new passport had its physical appearance, such as its colour, changed; if not, why does he believe that the beauty of it has been enhanced so much that it is now twice as expensive as the old passport, which looked virtually identical?

Hon RICK BARKER: Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. But I would also make the point that if one wants to compare the cost of a New Zealand passport with another, there is the Australian passport. The Australian passport costs $185 for the same deal. The New Zealand passport is cheaper.

Conservation, Department—Island Pest Eradication

12. STEVE CHADWICK (Labour—Rotorua) to the Minister of Conservation: What progress has the Department of Conservation made in island pest eradication?

Hon CHRIS CARTER (Minister of Conservation): The Department of Conservation is a world leader in developing and applying techniques for eradicating introduced pests on offshore islands. The department has developed the skills and technology to eradicate rodents from large and steep islands. This progress greatly enhances our prospects of saving many of our special endangered species.

Steve Chadwick: Has the special biodiversity project on Secretary Island in Fiordland been successful?

Hon CHRIS CARTER: This week the Department of Conservation announced that Secretary Island has been cleared of stoats. This was a special biodiversity project announced in the 2005 Budget as being completed in record time allowing my department to reintroduce a number of endangered bird species, perhaps even, in time, kâkâpô—another example of a Labour promise fulfilled.

Questions to Members

Child, Youth and Family, Department—Financial Review

1. HEATHER ROY (Deputy Leader—ACT) to the Chairperson of the Social Services Committee: Is the Social Services Committee conducting a financial review of the Department of Child, Youth and Family Services; if so, on what date will evidence be heard?

GEORGINA BEYER (Chairperson of the Social Services Committee): I am pleased to inform the ACT party representative on the Social Services Committee that, yes, evidence will be heard on Wednesday, 23 November 2005, at 11.30 a.m. I look forward to seeing the member there.

Heather Roy: Will the outgoing Chief Executive of Child, Youth and Family Services, Paula Tyler, appear before the Social Services Committee tomorrow to give evidence?

GEORGINA BEYER: I can confirm that that will be the case.

Judith Collins: Will the outgoing Chief Executive of Child, Youth and Family Services, Paula Tyler, be required to answer questions regarding her failed employment?

GEORGINA BEYER: As chair of the Social Services Committee, far be it from me to speculate on what questions members may ask Ms Tyler.

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

ENDS

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