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23 November 2005 - Questions And Answers

Wednesday, 23 November 2005 - Questions And Answers for Oral Answer

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

Questions to Ministers

Schools—Innovation

1. Dr ASHRAF CHOUDHARY (Labour) to the Minister of Education: How is the Government supporting innovation in New Zealand schools?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY (Minister of Education): Today I am announcing that the Government will invest a further $600,000 to trial a further three innovative, new programmes in schools. One project on the Coromandel involves videoconferencing, to share teachers and lessons amongst 10 remote schools, another in Nelson looks at disparities in achievement between boys and girls, and a third in Christchurch will work to reduce underachievement and truancy rates. Through its investment in innovation in schools, the Government is providing support to those schools that have new ideas that may help them to respond to specific needs in specific areas.

Dr Ashraf Choudhary: What is the Government doing to support innovation in schools through the use of information and communications technology?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: The Government has invested more than $300 million in the last 5 years to transform schools into places where information and communications technology is at the heart of the learning. This year alone, schools will receive $50 million specifically for information and communications technology, over and above the $22 million provided as part of their operational grants. Every school in the country now has access to broadband, 33,000 teachers have new laptops, more than 600 schools are involved in information and communications technology clusters, and all schools now have access to free software, anti-virus material, and free web-based resources.

Dr Ashraf Choudhary: What innovative programme does the Government support to reduce underachievement?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: The Government funds two high-profile communications campaigns involving TV, radio, and print media. Those are Team-Up and Te Mana. The Team-Up campaign is fronted by none other than All Black Captain Tana Umaga, and is about motivating parents to take on new ideas and ways that they can support children’s learning. Along with the advertising campaign, a website, an 0800 number, and classroom activity resources have been developed. The response to that programme and to Te Mana has been nothing short of fantastic.

Hon Brian Donnelly: Is the Minister aware of the level of concern amongst schools at the additional compliance costs being generated by the raft of contestable funds, such as the innovation funding, introduced by this Government; if so, will that matter be addressed in the forthcoming review of schools’ operational funding?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: Yes.

Student Loans—Voluntary Repayments

2. Dr DON BRASH (Leader of the Opposition) to the Minister for Tertiary Education: What is the total value of all voluntary repayments made by student loan borrowers in the last 12 months?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Minister for Tertiary Education): The Inland Revenue Department’s latest estimate of voluntary repayments is based on the 2004 income year. For that year, $167.4 million of voluntary repayments were received.

Dr Don Brash: Is the Minister aware that section 56 of the Student Loan Scheme Act 1992 permits student loan borrowers who have made voluntary repayments to request a refund of those repayments, up to 6 months after the Inland Revenue Department issues receipts for them; if so, does he think the Government’s interest-free student loan policy will encourage more students to use this redundant refund mechanism?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: No, I do not think there will be any significant impact in that respect.

Dr Don Brash: Would the Minister be surprised to learn that last week one Thomas Banfield sought to exercise just this provision when he requested that the Inland Revenue Department refund the $15,000 he had voluntarily repaid just a few months earlier so that he could place that $15,000 on interest-bearing deposit; if so, why is he surprised?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I have no information about the case. By the sound of it, he might be a National Party supporter.

Dr Don Brash: Does the Minister think that Thomas Banfield will be the only student who has made a voluntary repayment on his or her student loan in the last few months who will now request a refund in order to invest his or her money elsewhere; if so, why?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I doubt that he will be the only one, but I will be discussing this matter with the Inland Revenue Department—[Interruption]—and I will take up the suggestion from Mr Gerry Brownlee.

Dr Don Brash: Why does the Minister continue to insult the intelligence of tertiary-educated people by suggesting that they are too stupid to take advantage of the interest-free money that the Government is offering them?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I am not insulting the intelligence of tertiary-educated people. I spent a considerable part of my life helping to train them.

Judy Turner: Can the Minister confirm that in 2004, 50 percent of borrowers used the student loan scheme for living costs, and does that not tell the Minister that living allowances are too restrictive and that eligibility for allowances must be widened?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Certainly, loans costs are for living costs. The member draws the point, obviously, that a large number of students are eligible for student allowances. It is Labour policy to extend the availability of student allowances, but I note that within the last week, two agencies—both Treasury and the Reserve Bank—have warned against significant further fiscal easing.

Dr Don Brash: If the Minister does make changes to the student loan scheme to prevent refunding prepayments on student loans, will the changes be made retrospective?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I doubt they would be made retrospective in the sense I think the member means. It is not uncommon, of course, in matters relating to the Inland Revenue Department, for them to be prospective from the date of announcement.

Judy Turner: Is the Minister aware of the increase in the number of allowance recipients who use the student loan scheme to supplement their allowance to pay for living costs, from 34 percent in 2003 to 49 percent in 2004, and is that not due to the stingy and miserly amount individuals on student allowances get; if not, how does he explain the jump of 15 percent in 1 year?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: It partly reflects broader eligibility, but, of course, in part it substantially reflects the rise in household incomes, which has taken more households out of the net of eligibility for student allowances above forecast.

Benefits—Eligibility

3. SUE BRADFORD (Green) to the Minister for Social Development and Employment: Will he consider introducing work testing for sole parents and basing eligibility for sickness and invalids benefits on a system more akin to that used by ACC, as proposed by the Ministry of Social Development in its briefing to the incoming Minister?

Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE (Minister for Social Development and Employment): Let me be clear that the Government has made no decisions about such proposals. We know that being in work, though, offers the best opportunity for people to achieve higher living standards for themselves and their families. The question the briefing papers properly raise is how best we can offer people such an opportunity.

Sue Bradford: Does the Minister agree with Steve Maharey’s 2002 comment that the vast majority of people currently receiving the widows benefit or domestic purposes benefit are highly motivated to move into work and do not need to be shoehorned into any job going, and that the new rules recognise that raising healthy, successful children is important and assist beneficiaries to move into paid work, but recognise that being a good parent must come first; if so, has the Minister reiterated that Government policy to the Ministry of Social Development—or is it just window dressing while a work-testing model is being developed?

Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: I have the greatest respect for the views of my colleague, and I am delighted to assure the questioner that I would not support any regime that I regarded as punitive.

Georgina Beyer: What is the trend in social assistance going to sole parents?

Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: Under the previous National Government, domestic purposes benefit numbers grew nearly 20 percent, to an all-time high in 1998 of 113,000. Domestic purposes benefit numbers have fallen under this Government, due to the hard work of my predecessor. The number of domestic purposes benefit clients has fallen by 4 percent, and if one considers only those sole parents in receipt of the domestic purposes benefit, it has fallen by 6 percent.

Anne Tolley: Does the Minister, by ignoring advice to work test from his own ministry, think that many widows and sole parents are incapable, by virtue of being sole parents, of returning to the workforce?

Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: I thought it was quite clear from my earlier statement that no advice will be ignored.

Sue Bradford: Is the Minister aware that stringent work testing of beneficiaries has been subject to intense criticism for forcing claimants into minimum-wage or low-paid jobs, and when he told the House just now that he would not be taking a punitive approach, did he consider that moving from an entitlement model to the Accident Compensation Corporation (ACC) type of work test would actually lead to very punitive outcomes for many people?

Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: I envisage a system that acknowledges and focuses on what clients can do rather than what they cannot, and it will be in that direction that I will be moving.

Sue Bradford: Does the Minister agree with the Prime Minister’s 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, does he have any concerns that forcing sickness and invalids beneficiaries and sole parents into low-wage, low-skill work may actually be undermining the Prime Minister’s vision?

Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: Yes, and there is no proposal to do the latter.

Sue Bradford: Does he have any concerns that the department appears to be shifting from a view that people with illnesses and disabilities who are entitled to income support should be moving to the ACC model, which is focused on limiting the financial exposure of ACC, or is he simply taking his orders from Treasury in letting the poor and sick and the very young carry the burden of fiscal responsibility, and can he assure us that he will not be taking up those suggestions from the Ministry of Social Development?

Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: I am pleased to inform the member that, as part of the work being undertaken on the core benefit, consideration will be given to providing a disability payment regardless of a person’s employment status. The rationale is that many sick and disabled people have costs that remain constant, whether or not they are working. The suggestion is that we create a payment that recognises the core costs associated with ill health and disability, and that the payment follow the disabled person whether or not he or she is in work. I assure the member that any policies that are developed will be in line with the Disability Strategy of this Government.

Economy—Consumer Behaviour

4. JOHN KEY (National—Helensville) to the Minister of Finance: Has he received any advice on the impact of lower nominal interest rates, bank advertising, and the banking price war on consumers’ desire to borrow and spend; if so, does this behaviour concern him?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Minister of Finance): Essentially, in broad terms, yes and yes.

John Key: If lower mortgage interest rates are encouraging New Zealanders to borrow more for housing and consumption—something the Minister claims he is very worried about—why does he not think that zero percent interest rates on student loans will encourage students to borrow more?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I certainly never said there would be no increased borrowing. I simply said that the original Treasury estimates were wrong, and Treasury now agrees with that.

John Key: Has the Minister reflected on the fact that in the same breath as lamenting that the average household debt to income ratio has now reached a whopping 143 percent, he seems mysteriously comfortable about encouraging an even greater reliance on household debt by handing out money to students with no interest charged?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: One of the key differences is that what students can borrow for is severely limited. It covers course costs and fees, and it relates to the remainder of living costs up to a maximum—which is scarcely generous, I think—$150 a week, whereas the borrowing being encouraged by the banks is for things like having holidays, buying boats, and doing things scarcely consistent with what I am sure the previous Governor of the Reserve Bank would have deemed desirable policy in this situation.

John Key: Why is the Minister considering intervention in the housing market after the election to stop people borrowing so much, when his student loan policy before the election was to drop interest rates to zero and, in effect, to tell students to pin their ears back and go for it?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I am not considering anything at the moment. I have simply asked Treasury and the Reserve Bank to prepare a report. I have already received a lot of comment from those in the financial sector deploring the adolescent response from the member opposite.

John Key: If interest-free loans are not an inducement for people to borrow more, why did Thomas Banfield borrow money interest-free when he was studying, repay it when it became interest-bearing, and then re-borrow it when it became interest-free under Labour’s new zero percent interest-free programme?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I just remind Mr Banfield that it is not interest-free yet.

John Key: When the Minister said to Dr Brash a few moments ago, in relation to Dr Brash’s question, that he would consult the Inland Revenue Department, and that he felt an Supplementary Order Paper coming, has it dawned on him that the Supplementary Order Paper will not actually help him with future loan borrowers, who will in effect just save the hassle of getting a refund, cut out the middleman, and put the money straight on deposit in the first place?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: There may well be some people who will do that. There will, however, continue to be large numbers of parents who will continue to support their young people at university and polytechnics. I realise that no National Party parents would do that, because they loved relying on the nanny State when they were the ones sucking on the teat.

Venture Capital Market—Development

5. MARYAN STREET (Labour) to the Minister for Economic Development: What steps is the Government taking to promote the development of the venture capital market in New Zealand?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD (Minister for Economic Development): The New Zealand Venture Investment Fund has been established to accelerate the development of the venture capital market. By doing so, we hope to speed up the commercialisation of new research and innovation, and turn that into successful business opportunities. The Government has also established the Seed Co-investment Fund, which will directly invest up to $40 million over the next 5 years into early-stage firms to help them get off the ground.

Maryan Street: What reports has the Minister seen on the success of the Venture Investment Fund?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: The reports that I have seen indicate that after a relatively slow start it is now going very well. I am advised that for every dollar we have put into the Venture Investment Fund, other sources have matched it two to one. The recommendations of an independent law and economics consulting group report support Government policy to stimulate the supply of venture capital, in order to increase productivity and innovation in New Zealand.

China—Trade Deficit

6. TIM GROSER (National) to the Minister of Trade: Can he confirm the $2 billion trade deficit between New Zealand and China referred to by the Minister of Foreign Affairs at APEC last week, and what steps are being taken to address any trade deficit?

Hon PHIL GOFF (Minister of Trade): All countries run trade surpluses with some, and deficits with other, trading partners, as the member, of course, knows well. New Zealand has a deficit in merchandise trade with China, but a surplus in services trade. Trade with China through Hong Kong also runs at a surplus. The negotiation of a free-trade agreement with China and the recent opening of the New Zealand Focus centre in Hong Kong are two examples of the steps being taken to increase New Zealand exports to China.

Tim Groser: Given the statement made by the Prime Minister: “The Foreign Minister, by necessity, is often a point of contact with other Governments,” did the Minister of Trade expect the Minister of Foreign Affairs to outline the Government’s position on a free-trade agreement with China when he met China’s Foreign Minister at the APEC meeting last week, notwithstanding New Zealand First’s well-known opposition to such agreements?

Hon PHIL GOFF: If I recall rightly, the Minister of Foreign Affairs pointed out to the Chinese Foreign Minister that he was dealing with foreign affairs, and that my colleague Jim Sutton and I were dealing with trade.

Dianne Yates: What impact would a free-trade agreement with China have on merchandise trade, and why? [Interruption]

Hon PHIL GOFF: The deputy leader should listen to this; he might learn something.

Madam SPEAKER: Would the Minister answer the question.

Hon PHIL GOFF: I am just waiting until the interjections stop. Modelling indicates that New Zealand exports to China would lift by something between $260 million and $400 million per year, while imports from China would increase by between $60 million and $100 million per year. As China’s tariffs are much higher than New Zealand’s, tariff removals on both sides would, clearly, benefit New Zealand exporters more.

Tim Groser: Can the Minister tell the House, in the light of the somewhat more cautious statements made by the Prime Minister last week regarding progress towards a free-trade agreement with China, what he regards as a reasonable time frame for such an agreement to be reached?

Hon PHIL GOFF: I do not think I would characterise the Prime Minister’s statements as being more cautious; in fact, they are entirely consistent with what she has said since she first reached agreement with President Hu from China to enter into these agreements. My advice from officials is that the negotiations, which are entering their fifth round at the end of this month, are on track. They are about where we would expect them to be. The Prime Minister has indicated that she is always reluctant to put a time frame on these things. We are, as the member knows, the first OECD country to enter into free-trade negotiation with China, and, therefore, anything we decide will be a precedent for the future. That means that both sides will be relatively cautious in negotiating this arrangement.

Dianne Yates: What is the largest component of New Zealand’s imports from China, and why have imports from China been growing?

Hon PHIL GOFF: Interestingly, the largest single component of imports from China, and the one that has grown most rapidly, is computers. Imports from China have grown overall because it has produced merchandised goods that are attractive to New Zealand consumers, and at cheaper prices than New Zealand can import those same goods from other countries.

Hon Murray McCully: Has the Minister seen a column in the New Zealand Herald this week, written by Audrey Young and referring to events at APEC, which stated: “Under a private agreement between Peters and Labour, the only person who can supersede Peters is Clark. But Goff came close this week, in substance if not form,”; and can he please give the House details of this agreement, which sets the rules for dealings between the Government and the Minister of Foreign Affairs?

Hon PHIL GOFF: I have not seen that column, but, from what the member has quoted, it is wrong on all counts.

Hon Murray McCully: Has the Minister seen the statement attributed to his ministerial colleague Mr Peters, who told a New Zealand Herald reporter at APEC: “Mr Goff has just called me to say that what you wrote in [today’s] Herald was a load of ‘inventive bullshit’.”, and can he please tell the House what he said to Mr Peters that would have caused such an outburst?

Hon PHIL GOFF: I of course would not repeat such language in the House, but I think that was a generally accurate account of what I had told Mr Peters.

Hon Murray McCully: Has the Minister seen an assessment of the APEC meeting by the President of the New Zealand First Party, Mr Dail Jones, who said: “If the situation has destabilised with New Zealand First, then people like Phil Goff would hope to be the winners.”, and can he tell the House whether this, in any way, helps to explain his actions at the APEC meeting?

Hon PHIL GOFF: If I were not replying in the House, I would use the same terms that I used about the New Zealand Herald reporter.

Housing—Affordability

7. PITA PARAONE (NZ First) to the Minister of Housing: Does he have any concerns regarding the availability and affordability of housing in New Zealand; if so, what are they?

Hon CHRIS CARTER (Minister of Housing): Yes, I am concerned that some New Zealanders are finding it difficult to access affordable housing and to own their own homes, which has social consequences. I am also concerned about the growing difficulties in finding suitable, affordable properties for State housing, particularly in areas like Auckland, where there is an acute land shortage. The Government is working on both issues.

Pita Paraone: Does the Minister agree that banks are playing a large role in fostering the overheated housing market by offering incentives, such as the 100 percent finance on homes; if he does, has he considered, on his own or in consultation with other Ministers, any options regarding that practice, and if not, what does he believe are the main drivers of the current state of New Zealand’s housing market?

Hon CHRIS CARTER: The current drivers of the housing market are the issues that I raised in my initial answer, which are the increased cost of housing, particularly in our large urban areas, and the legacy that we inherited from the previous Government, which sold 13,000 State houses.

Steve Chadwick: What steps is the Government taking to address the concerns around access to affordable housing, and to increase the supply of State housing?

Hon CHRIS CARTER: The Government is addressing concerns in three ways. We have a series of initiatives to increase home ownership, the most high-profile of which is the mortgage insurance scheme Welcome Home Loans; we are reviewing the accommodation supplement to improve access to the private rental market for people needing housing assistance; and we are constructing 1,000 more State houses a year to meet the demands of the needy, because the National Party sold 13,000 of them, mostly to speculators.

Phil Heatley: What is the Minister’s analysis of both the OECD advice and the Reserve Bank advice that rampant increases in Government spending are putting huge upward pressures on mortgage interest rates, which is making the first home out of reach for most first home buyers?

Hon CHRIS CARTER: As I said both in my initial, and one of my supplementary, answers, this Government recognises that there is a housing crisis for some people in this country. We are taking very proactive steps to address that, mainly because we inherited such a mess from the previous Government.

Pita Paraone: How does the current level of demand for State housing compare with the demand for housing in general, and what does the Minister plan to do if the demand for State housing grows faster than the demand for housing overall?

Hon CHRIS CARTER: I am proud to be part of a Government that has built 1,000 State houses a year since we came into power. Indeed, there are 6,157 properties now in the hands of tenants, who were suffering from the consequences of having 13,000 of them sold to speculators by the previous Government.

Hon Pete Hodgson: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. The deputy leader of the National Party was heard to interject something that I think you heard and that I think ought to be withdrawn and apologised for.

Madam SPEAKER: No, I am sorry. I did not hear it in the barrage.

Hon Trevor Mallard: He knows it.

Madam SPEAKER: Did the member utter an unparliamentary term?

Gerry Brownlee: You can perhaps help me, Madam Speaker. I suggested that what the Minister had said, when he suggested that those State houses had all been sold to speculators, was a lie. The problem we have is that it was in fact a mistruth on his part. So I will withdraw and apologise for any offence the House has taken at my using the term “liar”, but I would suggest that in future Mr Carter should not be so reckless with the truth.

Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker.

Madam SPEAKER: Are you speaking to the original point of order or is it a new point of order?

Hon Trevor Mallard: I am speaking to the original point of order to point out to you that both the withdrawal and apology, and the comment that followed it, were out of order.

Madam SPEAKER: I thank the member for withdrawing and apologising, but he knows that in those circumstances, one withdraws and apologises without making other comment.

Hon CHRIS CARTER: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I would like your guidance. Mr Brownlee, in his point of order—which he was entitled to make—quoted me. But he actually misquoted me, because I actually said that most State houses had been sold to speculators. I did not say they all had.

Madam SPEAKER: I thank the member for that, but so that we can make some progress and remain consistent with the Standing Orders, maybe Mr Brownlee would like to withdraw and apologise without making further comment.

Gerry Brownlee: Certainly. I do want to see order in the House. I withdraw and apologise.

Hon Dr Michael Cullen: Having been through this myself in the past, one can only withdraw and apologise. No other comment is in order.

Gerry Brownlee: I withdraw and apologise.

Madam SPEAKER: Thank you.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. The first breach of the Standing Orders actually occurred with the Minister. The Standing Orders are quite clear that Ministers are to answer for their responsibilities, and the difficulty with this Minister is that every time he gets into a corner, he starts reciting matters from yonks and yonks ago. I would suggest to you that if you enforce the Standing Orders that are required—for Ministers to be responsible for their governance—we would never have got into this difficulty.

Madam SPEAKER: I thank the member. However, if the member was taking a point of order, he should have taken it at the time, not later. The House has now moved on.

Avian Influenza—Preparation

8. Hon TONY RYALL (National—Bay of Plenty) to the Minister of Health: To what extent will he have adequate plans and legislation to deal with a potential influenza pandemic in place by the end of the year?

Hon PETE HODGSON (Minister of Health): The view of most experts, including that of Professor Webster on Morning Report this morning, is that New Zealand is as well prepared as any nation—better prepared than most—but that planning needs to be ongoing. The Government’s view is certainly that planning and raising public awareness is an ongoing matter. Plans to address legislative gaps or potential gaps were publicly discussed last week.

Hon Tony Ryall: Given that a pandemic is likely to see hundreds of thousands of New Zealanders isolated at home, who will treat those sick people and who has responsibility for doing that?

Hon PETE HODGSON: One answer is all of us, when the numbers get as high as that. I think it is probably important to reflect on the fact that social disruption would follow if all of us did not have some role to play. However, the Ministry of Health and the Government have a role, certainly in the distribution of any Tamiflu and the distribution of any advice on how to reduce the effects of the flu or, indeed, to reduce its contagious abilities. District health boards have a role, folk who work in the health sector have a role—because they have special abilities—and, of course, those of us with families have a role.

Barbara Stewart: Has the Ministry of Health advised district health boards that they will not have access to the national stockpile of antiviral drugs in the event of a pandemic, and if so, what is the likelihood of their being able to purchase sufficient quantities at this stage?

Hon PETE HODGSON: No, it has not. The situation with regard to district health boards and Tamiflu is as follows: for the past year or more district health boards have been free to go and get some Tamiflu. They have been invited by the Ministry of Health to consider whether they should; some have, and some have not. There is a stockpile of a little over 800,000 doses, which will be made available throughout the country in the event of a pandemic arriving here. Included in that distribution will, of course, be district health boards, because they will need some.

Hon Tony Ryall: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I want to be helpful to the Minister. He may have misheard the question, which asked whether the Ministry of Health has advised district health boards to prepare for additional supplies of Tamiflu—which they would have to do— and the Minister replied “No …”. He may, in fact, want to seek the Speaker’s indulgence to re-answer the question, because the Minister would not want to give the wrong information if he is aware of it.

Hon PETE HODGSON: I did not hear it correctly. The Ministry said to district health boards some time ago that they should feel free to get some Tamiflu—to consider it as an option—and some have done so. The issue about whether district health boards will get access to the national stockpile of Tamiflu is, as I said, that it will be made available to those who need it depending on the stage of the pandemic—whether we are trying to stamp it out or whether we are trying to manage it—and some district health boards, depending on where the pandemic flu is or has reached, will, of course, have access to some of the stockpile because they will need it.

Hon Tony Ryall: When is the Government planning a coordinated whole-of-Government rehearsal for dealing with a pandemic?

Hon PETE HODGSON: I think probably closer to the time. There is one scheduled under general emergency—[Interruption]

Madam SPEAKER: I just tell members that it is sometimes difficult to hear, and I am sure all members would like to hear the response.

Hon PETE HODGSON: Quinquennial planning has been going on. It first occurred in 2002, so it would not happen again until 2007. But if, indeed, there is indication of human-to-human transfer before then—and there may well be—then I am sure there will be a need for the planning that the member has in mind. I can say, in addition to that, that emergency planners from district health boards are meeting on a regular basis. The next meeting is, I think, on 15 December.

Sue Moroney: What steps have been taken by the Government to inform and engage with the public on influenza pandemic planning?

Hon PETE HODGSON: New Zealand has been planning around epidemics, including but not limited to influenza, for several years. We began in February 2002. The avian influenza planning has been going on for about 11 or 12 months. My predecessor, the Hon Annette King, ordered Tamiflu in, I think, November or December of last year. She was responsible for one of the first orders of its size in the world, and needs to be congratulated on that. Last week I released version 14 of our plan; the first version I saw was version 13. During the past 6 months the Ministry of Health has undertaken a wide range of public awareness - raising campaigns. More are under way.

Hon Tony Ryall: If the Minister had gone to the Health Committee meeting this morning, he would have learnt that the ministry is planning a coordinated whole-of-Government rehearsal for late 2007; and what sort of preparation is that?

Hon PETE HODGSON: That is precisely what I told the member. There is epidemic planning, not influenza planning, quinquennially. It was begun by my predecessor, the Hon Annette King. If it turns out that there is human-to-human contact—not for any old epidemic but for avian influenza—before then, then that planning will need to be advanced.

Dr Jonathan Coleman: Does the Minister of Foreign Affairs, as a Minister outside Cabinet, fail to qualify for the special reserve of the antiviral drug Tamiflu because, by the Ministry of Health’s criteria, he would be regarded as neither a key decision maker nor an essential service?

Hon PETE HODGSON: There is always a price to pay for making politics out of emergency planning. However, given the member has asked the question, let me give him an answer. The reason for having a list of people who might—

Hon Tony Ryall: You said there was no list.

Hon PETE HODGSON: I did. I did say there was no list. I said I was unaware of any list, and I became aware of it at 3.30 yesterday afternoon. The reason that list has been drawn up is as follows: officials needed to get an idea of what proportion of our 800,000 doses ought to be held back, so they listed the number of police, nurses, defence staff, etc., threw in 50 decision makers, and came up with a figure of about 10 percent in version one of that paper. I just say to the member that the early response to version one of the paper is that the 10 percent figure may be a little low.

Rodney Hide: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. We gave the Minister the courtesy of silence so we might hear the answer, and we actually did not get one. The question was whether poor Mr Winston Peters will get some of the vaccine. We have not actually heard an answer on that.

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

Peter Brown: Did the Minister hear the expert on Morning Report this morning—the one, I think, to whom he referred—actually say that this flu has, in a very minor way, gone from person-to-person contact, and does that make any difference to his answers this afternoon?

Hon PETE HODGSON: No and no.

Hon Tony Ryall: What else are his officials working on that he does not know about?

Hon PETE HODGSON: My response to that is to say that this Government began planning for this epidemic more than a year ago. It has taken the Opposition a year to get hold of the fact that this flu is a serious, serious potential threat to our economy and society. We are further advanced on this planning than almost any other nation, although, of course, it must continue.

Hon Tony Ryall: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I would be happy to offer the Minister a briefing if he would like to contact me at the end of question time.

Madam SPEAKER: That is not a point of order, as the member knows.

Question No. 9 to Minister

Dr PITA SHARPLES (Co-Leader—Mâori Party): I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I asked the question to the Coordinating Minister, Race Relations. As she is in the House, I ask why the question has been transferred.

Madam SPEAKER: The Minister who is responsible for answering the question is entirely a matter for the Government. The Government transferred that question to the Prime Minister.

GERRY BROWNLEE (Deputy Leader—National): I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. Just so Dr Sharples knows what is possible, it might be worth your while advising him that he could seek leave for the question to be held over until such time as the Prime Minister is able to answer it.

Madam SPEAKER: The member certainly can seek such leave, if he so wishes.

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Acting Prime Minister): I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. It is rather pointless. This question was transferred to the Prime Minister. It is not a question of somebody answering on behalf of the Coordinating Minister, Race Relations; it was transferred. It was transferred as a request out of my office as Acting Prime Minister.

Madam SPEAKER: Does the member want to speak to the point of order or ask the question?

Dr Pita Sharples: I will ask the question.

Human Rights—United Nations Special Rapporteur

9. Dr PITA SHARPLES (Co-Leader—Maori Party) to the Prime Minister: Kei te whakaae ia ki ngâ kôrero a te kairipoata mo te Roopu Whakakotahi tangata o te Ao, ara a Rodolfo Stavenhagen, ka raru te nohotahitanga o ngâ iwi mçnâ ka tapaina te kaupapa “kotahi anake te ture mô te katoa” i Niu Tireni?

[Does she agree with the United Nations special rapporteur on the situation of the human rights and fundamental freedoms of indigenous peoples, Rodolfo Stavenhagen, that the “one law for all” philosophy is a recipe for making race relations in New Zealand worse?]

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Acting Prime Minister): The Government is committed to an inclusive society. This means there is only one standard of citizenship, but there are instances where it is important to recognise the needs of particular groups in law or policy.

Dr Pita Sharples: Does the Prime Minister believe that the statement she made that the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination sat “on the outer edges of the United Nations system” is helpful to the promotion of good race relations in New Zealand when so many New Zealanders acted in good faith in taking a claim on the Foreshore and Seabed Act to that committee?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: A relatively small number of New Zealanders took that particular claim to that particular committee, but, yes, I believe the Prime Minister’s statement is a statement of fact in relation to the structure of the United Nations.

Hone Harawira: Given the United Nations’ rapporteur’s advice against the “one law for all” philosophy, that: “If States do not take that into account when they formulate their policies I think things may actually tend to become worse rather than better”, how will the Prime Minister accommodate the varying cultural and ethnic needs within our multicultural society, or will they all be treated the same?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: We already do a great deal to accommodate multicultural and multi-ethnic needs within New Zealand society. But, of course, there are also some fundamental issues of citizenship and, indeed, a great matter of law where we are all exactly the same and treated as such.

Dr Pita Sharples: Kei te whakaae te Minita ki te Minita Mâori, kei mua a Niu Tîreni i ngâ whenua katoa o te ao ki te whakatinana i ngâ kaupapa tautoko i te mana tangata; nâ, he aha ngâ rawa i hoatungia e tçnei kâwana itinga, arâ, te Kâwana Reipa, kia taea e te rahi me te iti o ngâ tângata o Aotearoa te kôrero, te tûtaki ki te kairipoata mô te Rôpû Whakakotahi Tângata o te Ao?

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

[Does the Minister agree with the Minister of Mâori Affairs that New Zealand is at the forefront of international efforts to promote and protect human rights and fundamental freedoms for everyone; and given this, how much support did this minority Labour Government provide in terms of time and financial resource to enable ordinary New Zealanders to meet and speak with the United Nations special rapporteur on the situation of human rights and fundamental freedoms of indigenous peoples?]

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Professor Stavenhagen is in New Zealand at the invitation of the New Zealand Government. It is a broad-standing invitation to the rapporteurs of this particular committee, but from there on, of course, it is a matter for the UN committee to be concerned with how they engage in interactions. My understanding is that approximately 65 percent to 70 percent of the time is being spent with Mâori and a small amount of time is being spent with the Acting Prime Minister tomorrow.

Police—Resources

10. SIMON POWER (National—Rangitikei) to the Minister of Police: Is she satisfied with the level of resourcing available to the New Zealand Police to carry out their duties; if so, why?

Hon ANNETTE KING (Minister of Police): I am satisfied with the progress we are making after the destructive years of 1998-99, following the Martin review, which saw cuts in the police budget and the proposal to remove 380 police staff. However, there is more to do, and we are committed to do so over the next 3 years.

Simon Power: How many of the 1,000 extra police staff agreed to be resourced as per the confidence and supply agreement with New Zealand First will be sworn, front-line police?

Hon ANNETTE KING: That has yet to be decided.

Martin Gallagher: Does the police budget remain on track, even through periods of high demand—knowing that the police are answering more 111 calls and general calls for service?

Hon ANNETTE KING: Yes. The police are working within their budget and prioritising the work, even though on an average daily basis police staff are answering something like 1,400 emergency calls and over 2,500 general calls for their services, around the clock. I commend them for their dedication. I know they are delighted about the promised extra resources, and we will be working with New Zealand First in terms of the allocation of those resources.

Simon Power: Which is correct about police number resourcing: the Speech from the Throne, which indicated the Government would provide an extra 1,000 police staff; or Mr Mark’s supplementary question of 16 November, where he claimed New Zealand First had successfully negotiated for the introduction of an extra 1,000 front-line police—which is it, 1,000 staff or 1,000 sworn, front-line police?

Hon ANNETTE KING: The agreement between New Zealand First and the Labour Party is for 1,000 police staff. That is available for anybody who can read to read, and I am surprised that Mr Power has not read it. However, the allocation between front-line, or sworn, and non-sworn staff is an issue that we are working through with New Zealand First and the police. I can assure the House that the priority for staffing is front-line police. I thought members would be cheering at that, but they are silent. The priority is the front line. The actual allocations will be worked through in an appropriate manner.

Heather Roy: How is she intending to recruit the 1,000 extra police promised to New Zealand First over three Budgets, and will she not actually have to recruit an extra 1,100 police to take account of the current attrition rate?

Hon ANNETTE KING: The police recruit for attrition already, and the way we will recruit is by carrying out a very vigorous recruitment campaign. I have no doubt that, over 3 years, we will achieve our aim. A lot of work is being done right now on a campaign, and resources have already been allocated. I am sure the member will be delighted to hear that.

Chester Borrows: What resources will she be seeking from Cabinet, in light of the worsening 111 response times since the communications centre review was completed in May this year?

Hon ANNETTE KING: I am pleased to say that extra resources were secured by my predecessor, George Hawkins, following the review. Those resources will see 73 more call takers at the communications centres by Christmas. Of course, we have had to recruit and train, but the money has gone in. I am sure Mr Borrows, as a former police officer, will be delighted to hear that.

Simon Power: Which is correct, the Speech from the Throne or Winston Peters’ claim to his party’s annual general meeting on 20 November that Greg O’Connor had written to him, thanking New Zealand First for its commitment to providing 1,000 sworn police officers?

Hon ANNETTE KING: What a conspiracy! If the members would like to read the agreement between the Labour Party and New Zealand First, they will see it states “1000 police staff”. I suspect, however, that most of them will be sworn staff.

Simon Power: I seek leave to table the interview in Investigate magazine with John Tamihere in which he said that Dr Cullen’s use of clever words was a useful asset for the Labour Party.

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

Hon ANNETTE KING: I seek leave to table the agreement between New Zealand First and the Labour Party regarding police staffing numbers.

Leave granted.

Hon Maurice Williamson: In light of the fact that a number of the exchanges during that question involved a party in this House, New Zealand First, and the fact that it may have already used its total entitlement for questions, I think it only fair to seek leave for New Zealand First to be given a supplementary question on this issue.

Madam SPEAKER: The member knows that he cannot—

Hon Maurice Williamson: Yes, we can seek that.

Madam SPEAKER: He cannot do so on behalf of another member.

Hon Maurice Williamson: Yes, we can seek that another party be given a supplementary question.

Madam SPEAKER: The New Zealand First members can seek that leave themselves, if they so wish it.

Ron Mark: I seek the leave of the House to take up the gracious offer from the National Party, especially given that it vetoed me off the Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Committee yesterday, which was a very ungracious act by that group of people, who still do not understand MMP.

Madam SPEAKER: What exactly is the leave that is sought?

Ron Mark: The request so graciously put by the Hon Maurice Williamson that New Zealand First be given—without penalty, I assume—an extra supplementary question today to allow me to ask a question.

Madam SPEAKER: Leave is sought. Is there any objection? There is no objection.

Ron Mark: Does the Minister share the same confidence that I have that any policy decisions and perceived misunderstandings between New Zealand First and Labour will be easily resolved, unlike some of the disagreements between New Zealand First and National that led to the break-up of the coalition agreement back in 1998?

Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. Far be it from me to say pat him on the head and call him a poodle, but it would be useful for us to know what disagreement Mr Mark is talking of.

Madam SPEAKER: That is not a point of order.

Hon ANNETTE KING: I can assure the House that Ron Mark is no poodle. I can also tell the House that I am very confident that the relationship between New Zealand First and Labour on this matter will be very good indeed, because Ron Mark and I met within a matter of a couple of weeks, and we have already been discussing these issues. That will be ongoing.

Tenancy Services—Face-to-face Centres

11. H V ROSS ROBERTSON (Labour—Manukau East) to the Minister for Building Issues: How many additional centres will receive face-to-face tenancy services as a result of the enhancements announced last week?

Hon CLAYTON COSGROVE (Minister for Building Issues): Face-to-face tenancy services will be available at 67 locations nationwide. This is 22 more than today. These 22 new locations include, to name but a few: Kaitâia, Kaikohe, Helensville, Te Puke, Tâkaka, Balclutha, and Cromwell. Clients will continue to receive face-to-face advice and mediation at all existing Tenancy Services locations.

H V Ross Robertson: Can the Minister outline to the House what these enhanced services are? [Interruption]

Hon CLAYTON COSGROVE: Hold on, help is on the way. Tenants and landlords will have the option to resolve straightforward disputes within 24 hours through a new telephone mediation service. Mobile mediators will be able to travel to locations to provide face-to-face mediation, rather than have people travel to their nearest office. In addition, expanded Internet services will allow people the option to make online applications 24 hours a day, and to pay online by credit card. As I have said, this is a huge increase in access for New Zealand.

Anne Tolley: Can the Minister confirm the advice of his department that these changes mean that the Gisborne office of Tenancy Services will close and there will be no staff in our region; and how can he have the audacity to claim that this is an enhancement of services for landlords and tenants in Gisborne?

Hon CLAYTON COSGROVE: I am advised that no existing offices will close, including Gisborne’s.

H V Ross Robertson: Has the Minister seen any response from the sector groups following his announcement?

Hon CLAYTON COSGROVE: Yes. The Real Estate Institute, the Tenants Protection Association, and the Property Investors Federation—these are the stakeholders that actually use the service—have welcomed these changes. The Real Estate Institute publicly stated that it appreciated the opportunity to be involved in the design of the new service delivery changes, and that it believed these changes will ensure a more consistent service throughout the country. The Tenants Protection Association indicated that the different service delivery approaches, including Internet and phone services, will be beneficial. Finally, the Property Investors Federation indicated that the new-look Tenancy Services will alleviate many difficulties faced by landlords.

Craig Foss: How can the Minister claim that these changes are an enhancement of services, when they involve cuts of a third in Hawke’s Bay Tenancy Services staff; and is it little wonder that Labour’s support plummeted in places like Gisborne, Timaru, Hawke’s Bay, Rotorua, and Whangarei when it has got Ministers who believe that disputes between landlords and tenants can be resolved via centralised 0800 phone and Internet services from Christchurch, Auckland, and Wellington?

Hon CLAYTON COSGROVE: Currently, Tenancy Services employs 75 people in 22 locations. Staff numbers will go up, overall, to 77. I say again to that member, because he has misunderstood, that the issue is that the SWIFTT 24-hour phone service is an option and the Internet service is an option. We have extended into 67 locations, and face-to-face, mobile Tenancy Services will be made available, with an appointment, in those locations. Going up to 67 locations—22 additional—I would call an enhancement. The stakeholders who actually use the service—both tenants and landlords—agree.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: Has not the Minister’s spin doctoring got a little out of control, when these changes mean that there will be cuts in staff in Whangarei, Rotorua, Tauranga, Gisborne, Hawke’s Bay, Nelson, Dunedin, and Timaru, and a centralised service in the main centres; and does he think these changes reflect the statement made by the Prime Minister after Labour took a pasting in the provincial seats that there was an important message that Labour Ministers needed to take on board?

Hon CLAYTON COSGROVE: I repeat that currently Tenancy Services employs 75 people in 22 locations. All of these offices will remain open. The decisions will have an impact on staff, with the location and nature of some roles changing. A small number of administrative staff and mediators will be affected. A number of new positions are being created, and affected staff will be encouraged to apply for them. Staff numbers, overall, will go up to 77. There may be a small number of staff who are surplus. Some staff will choose to take redeployment; others will not. The total overall number goes up by two. I will say finally to Dr Smith that instead of hawking a draft document that he got under the Official Information Act—a draft staff consultancy document that had no final decisions in it—and trying to do his own spin, he should have taken advantage of the briefing that the member for Kaikoura was offered a month ago and he would have been better briefed. He chose not to; he chose to play politics.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. Mr Peter McGowan of the department confirmed to me on the phone this morning that the Gisborne office of Tenancy Services would be closing. That contradicts the view that has been expressed by the Minister, and I wonder whether he would like to clarify that for the House. It seems strange to me that a member of the staff would say one thing to me, and the Minister would say something different in the House.

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

Hon Dr Nick Smith: I seek the leave of the House to table the Department of Building and Housing report on Tenancy Services changes, which was obtained by the very competent new member for Kaikoura.

Leave granted.

Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. You have just said that the situation outlined by Dr Smith, where a departmental officer tells us on the phone, as part of our process of verifying questions, that something is going to happen, then the Minister turns up in the House and says it is not, is not a point of order. It is almost like the Chris Carter situation before, whereby there is a selective use of facts, perhaps, or even a complete misrepresentation of what is fact. How are we supposed to get right to the nub of things if Ministers simply want to make up an answer to get them off the spot at the time they are in the House?

Madam SPEAKER: As the member is aware, the Speaker is not responsible for the quality of the answers given. Ministers take responsibility for that.

Immigration—International Student Policy

12. PANSY WONG (National) to the Minister of Immigration: Will he be making any changes to the international student policy, which came into effect on 4 July 2005; if so, what changes will be made?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE (Minister of Immigration): I have no such intention at this time.

Pansy Wong: Does he agree with the Minister of Foreign Affairs that the way to attract Chinese students is to send them home when they have finished studying, in light of comments made by the previous Minister of Immigration that granting graduate international students a 6-month open work visa would enable them to become excellent candidates for the skilled migrant category?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: The July policy announcements were designed to make it easier for international students, appropriately qualified, to study, work, and live in New Zealand. That is one reason that over 20 percent of qualified international students proceed to residence in this country.

Jill Pettis: What were the changes that came into effect on 4 July 2005?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: In summary, the main changes to student policy were a new guiding statement for student immigration policy to align it better with our international education strategy; limited work opportunities whilst studying, under controlled conditions, including the explicit approval of both schools and parents; and facilitation of the pathway from study to work, which, as I say, has contributed to over 20 percent of highly qualified students proceeding to residence in this country. That assists our goal of attracting the world’s best talent.

Pansy Wong: Will the Minister then be meeting with his colleague the Minister of Foreign Affairs to convince him that to send Chinese students directly home when they have finished studying—thereby effectively barring those graduates from applying for a 6-month open work permit—is in direct contradiction to the Labour Government’s policy?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: I meet regularly with that Minister, but the member may care to read again the terms of the enhanced confidence and supply agreement, which would indicate that that Minister is perfectly free to express views on matters outside his specific portfolio.

Pansy Wong: Is the Minister’s department now expecting a sudden influx of applications from Chinese students coming here, in light of the new-found support from Mr Peters and despite him previously supporting the view that Chinese students were responsible for “theft, fraud, fighting, assaults, intimidation, vehicle crashes, disorder, domestic stabbings, and a sideline of extortion and weapon carrying”?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: This Government welcomes qualified students from China as it welcomes those from other countries. We believe that international education has an important role to play in boosting not only New Zealand’s economy but our international connections and productivity.

Pansy Wong: Does the Minister believe that the Minister of Foreign Affairs is the right person to help reverse the 11 percent reduction in the number of student visas issued, given that Mr Peters has said: “The Government should stop this idiocy and educate our own people, and stop trying to make out that this level of imported student is some sort of salvation for New Zealand’s economy.”?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: It may come as a surprise to that member that the Minister of Foreign Affairs is not responsible for issuing student visas—or any other kind of visa.

Pansy Wong: Is the Minister aware from the briefing paper to the incoming Minister of Immigration that there is close linkage between policy development and cooperation between the New Zealand Immigration Service and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade—and hence the Minister of Foreign Affairs?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: Yes, and I am glad that the member has bothered to read the briefing paper for incoming Ministers. She will support the Government’s view that student immigration policy is there to support the national interest, and not the interests of individual consultants.

Pansy Wong: I seek leave of the House to table two documents. The first is a New Zealand Herald article dated 15 November 2005.

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

Pansy Wong: The second document, which was tabled by Paul Swain. details changes to international students policy, where the Government policy is to create more opportunity for international students to stay behind after they have completed their study.

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

Hon Tau Henare: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. During the questioning by Pansy Wong, I found that that lot of people over there gave an absolutely disgusting display of behaviour because of Pansy Wong’s—[Interruption] Absolutely! I want to suggest to you, Madam Speaker, that you do something about that, because I think it was an absolutely shocking display of what some could call racist behaviour—

Hon Member: Mocking.

Hon Tau Henare:—mocking behaviour. I take huge offence at that. Some of those people, who are supposedly descendants of English people, cannot even pronounce English properly. I think that this House should take note that members need to show a modicum of decorum in this place.

Hon Dr Michael Cullen: I am sure the member makes a fair point, but he needs to know that a number of his colleagues in front of him were also smiling at one or two comments. Many of us know that Ms Wong sometimes has trouble with some words, but the response was not meant in any kind of derogatory form, at all.

Madam SPEAKER: I thank members, and I think it is a useful reminder from both members who spoke on the point of order that this House should conduct itself according to the Standing Orders, which includes having decorum and respect for each other.

Pansy Wong: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker.

Madam SPEAKER: Is this a new point of order? I have already ruled on the other.

Pansy Wong: The point of order you ruled on concerns me personally. I am not aware of which part of my question the Minister of Immigration could not understand. So I would be delighted if members on the other side of the House would give me the courtesy of raising those difficulties in person and pointing out what their problem is. I am not too sure what gestures they were making that caused offence to my colleague.

Madam SPEAKER: I thank the member for her comment but I think the matter has been dealt with. I hope that members have taken note of all those comments.

( 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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