Questions And Answers - Thursday, 16 February 2006
Questions And Answers - Thursday, 16
Questions to Ministers
Foreshore and Seabed Act—Policy Development
1. Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS (Leader—NZ First) to the Prime Minister: Has she received any recent reports regarding the development of policy around the Foreshore and Seabed Act 2004?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK (Prime Minister): Yes. Three iwi are currently in negotiations with the Crown pursuant to the Act.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Has the Prime Minister seen the leaked discussion document “National’s Relationship with Mâori” where it reads, in relation to the Foreshore and Seabed Act, the following: “We need to consider public opinion and decide on our position.”; and does the Government intend to follow this flip-flop or this idea of putting one’s hand into the wind to see which way the public feeling might prevail?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: Yes, I have seen this quite extraordinary—
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. That behaviour is simply intolerable.
Madam SPEAKER: Yes, I agree with the member. It is known that in fact people do not make any comment when a member is asking a question.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Can I repeat the question?
Madam SPEAKER: Yes, you may. Would you mind please starting from the top.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Thank you. Has the Prime Minister seen the leaked discussion document entitled “National’s Relationship with Mâori”, where it reads, in relation to the Foreshore and Seabed Act, and I quote from it: “We need to consider public opinion and decide on our position.”, and does the Government intend to follow this flip-flop or this policy prescription where one puts one’s finger into the air and sees what the public thinks?
Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I would like you to consider whether the Prime Minister, or any Minister for that matter, is able to give an opinion on a document that does not belong to them and is being grossly misrepresented by the Government’s new “poodle protector”, the Hon Winston Peters. I am quite certain that the Prime Minister will have a lot to say. Prime Ministers under pressure normally look for any excuse to take the spotlight off them. The fact is that her Government has been engaged in corrupt practice, and some comment about a leaked document, which is of no concern to us, adds nothing today, and I think you need to consider whether the Prime Minister should be allowed to get on her feet and gratuitously attempt to protect herself.
Hon Dr Michael Cullen: If you ruled that people could not ask questions about a document that they had not originated, which they have got from somebody else, that would lead to 12 patsies a day and no questions from anybody other than Labour or Progressive members.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: First of all, I did not seek an opinion. I asked whether the Government intended to follow such a policy prescription. The second thing is that during the time the member spoke, in his inimitable, unqualified fashion he started using all sorts of epithets that had no relation whatsoever to the point of order. I know he is struggling to keep his job, but this is not the way he should do it.
Madam SPEAKER: The member is right. Mr Brownlee would have been right if an opinion only had been sought, but a Government intention was sought, therefore the question is in order. I would also just like to remind members that points of order are not an opportunity to make speeches. It does help the Speaker if the essence of the point of order is, in fact, the subject of that point of order.
Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I have two things. First, I withdraw my comments referring to Mr Peters as being the Government poodle and security watchdog. Secondly, I seek leave of the House to table the so-called leaked document in order that there can be no misrepresentation of its content at all.
John Carter: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. During the course of the member Winston Peters asking his question, there were one or two interjections from the side on which you very firmly ruled and reminded the House that it does not tolerate interjections during questions. I must say that the same rule also applies during points of order, and at the time that Gerry Brownlee was taking his points of order there were a good number of interjections from across that side of the House. I just ask that we be consistent in applying the rules. If it is pertinent for this side to sit and listen to questions that are jokes, and not be able to object, then similarly the same rule should apply during points of order for the other side.
Madam SPEAKER: I thank the member. I assume he is not suggesting that the Chair is partial on this matter, or the Speaker is partial is on these matters. Of course the rule applies to everyone, and everyone is on their last warning.
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I have seen this extraordinary document and I have compared it with the National Party’s policy, which says: “Return the seabed and foreshore to Crown ownership.” I am therefore absolutely staggered that the National Party is open to the possibility of repealing the law that puts the foreshore and seabed beyond doubt in Crown ownership and that would leave us open to private exclusive title being issued over those very areas. That is my definition of a flip-flop.
Gerry Brownlee: If the coastline of New Zealand is so protected, as she claims, why is her Government in negotiation with Ngâti Porou Te Whânau-a-Apanui, Ngâti Porou ki Hauraki, and Ngâti Porou themselves when we all know that the only reason for that negotiation is that those tribes claim a proprietary interest in that 600 kilometres of coastline?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: The legislation, which the National Party opposed, always gave the ability for Mâori to have their customary territorial rights recognised. The National Party said that that was terrible thing and there should be only Crown ownership. But now, for political reasons, National members want to flip-flop and open up the possibility for private, exclusive freehold title to be issued. That is a flip-flop again.
Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. The Prime Minister is misleading the House and taking a position that can be described only as dishonest in suggesting that we are looking for private ownership of the foreshore and seabed. It is her Government that is about to give away 600 kilometres of coastline because a bunch of its friends have stuck their hands up and demanded it. This is a matter that perhaps should have been dealt with in different ways. It is bad legislation and I do not think it should be compounded in the public’s view by the Prime Minister being able to tell lies to the House.
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: Speaking to the point of order, Madam Speaker, firstly I ask that those comments be withdrawn.
Madam SPEAKER: The comments relating to?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: Accusations of lies and dishonesty.
Gerry Brownlee: I withdraw those comments.
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: Secondly, I put it to you, Madam Speaker, that there is no misrepresentation when we have the National Party prepared to consider supporting outright repeal of the Foreshore and Seabed Act, knowing that that would leave us with the situation we had before the Act was passed where it was possible for Mâori to move through to fee simple title. Those are the facts.
Madam SPEAKER: These are debating points, they are not points of order.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Has the Prime Minister seen a leaked discussion document titled “National’s Relationship with Mâori”, where it reads: “We have made it clear that we want to help New Zealanders on the basis of need not race, but any look at some of those statistics will show that the need does lie substantially with Mâori.”; and does the Government intend to follow National’s key election policy plank, which it knew to be completely untrue and that its credibility was on the line?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: From January 2004 the National Party, through its leader, set out to convey an utterly false picture of New Zealand whereby Mâori were somehow privileged. Mr Brownlee’s memo makes it clear that he recognises that actually the neediest people in New Zealand are to be found in Mâoridom, and that needs something done about it.
Metiria Turei: When the Prime Minister’s Government used the Foreshore and Seabed Act to confiscate the seabed, apparently for the benefit of New Zealanders, were New Zealanders told that the seabed was going to be leased to international seabed mining companies, with prospecting licences issued covering a third of New Zealand’s coastline, threatening our endangered dolphins and marine ecosystems, and with no consultation with affected coastal New Zealand communities?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I am told that it involves no change to mining legislation whatsoever. What the Act does is make clear the understanding that had been around for rather more than a century that these areas were in Crown ownership.
Te Ururoa Flavell: Has she received a report from Te Rûnanga a Iwi o Ngâti Tama-Te-Râ that strongly objects to what the chairman described as “the backdoor deals” being negotiated with Ngâti Porou ki Hauraki through the former Labour Associate Minister of Mâori Affairs, John Tamihere, and the whânau of the current Minister of Mâori Affairs, the Hon Parekura Horomia, in relation to Ngâti Tama-Te-Râ’s interests in Tokatea and Mataora, and will she follow the advice of Ngâti Tama-Te-Ra that the Minister of Mâori Affairs and the Attorney-General step aside from the process; if not, why not?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I have not seen such a report but I would have been very surprised at any serious allegation that people who were seeking to exercise their rights under a statute are in some way acting in an underhand way. In fact, to simply describe the chair of the rûnanga Ngâti Porou, Apirana Mâhuika, as somehow compromised because he might be vaguely related to a member of Parliament I think is simply ridiculous.
Te Ururoa Flavell: I seek leave to table a letter from Mr D Baker, the chairman of the Rûnanga a Iwi o Ngâti Tama-Te-Râ to the Hon Parekura Horomia, dated 26 January 2006.
2. Dr DON BRASH (Leader of the Opposition) to the Prime Minister: Did the Controller and Auditor-General seek a meeting with her to discuss his report into Government and parliamentary publicity and advertising; if so, what was the outcome of that meeting?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK (Prime Minister): The Auditor-General wrote to me, as I am sure he wrote to Dr Brash, offering the parliamentary Labour Party, as I am sure he offered the parliamentary National Party, a briefing prior to releasing his report to other parties. The Labour Party, unlike the National Party, did not think that was an appropriate course of action. Indeed, the Auditor-General had previously indicated in writing on 17 December that he would circulate a draft to all parties—which, in the event, is what he did.
Dr Don Brash: Does the Prime Minister accept that as the highest-elected official in the land she had an obligation to offer support to the Auditor-General as he sought to eliminate unethical or unlawful spending; and how can she therefore explain her refusal even to meet with him?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: To use the member’s words, as the highest-elected official in the land I also have a responsibility to ensure that small parties’ interests are properly looked after.
Dr Don Brash: When did she or any of her Ministers know that the Chief Electoral Officer had ruled that the pledge card constituted election material and should therefore be included in Labour’s return of electoral expenses; and what specific actions did they take to ensure that their overall spending did not exceed the maximum allowed?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: Those are matters for which the Labour Party determines the level of expenditure. They are not matters I deal in, just as I am sure the Leader of the Opposition would not want to be held personally responsible for his party not being able to figure out GST.
Dr Don Brash: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I asked the Prime Minister when did she or her Ministers know that the Chief Electoral Officer had ruled that the pledge card was an electoral expense item. She has totally failed to address that question.
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: The member will have to put that down in writing, because I am not the person who organises the budget for the campaign. It is quite clear that the Leader of the Opposition knew a great deal more about the Exclusive Brethren advertising.
Rodney Hide: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I am asking you to rule, because the Prime Minister’s first response to the question was that she actually had no responsibility for the question. Well, actually she does, because she is the Prime Minister 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and she was specifically asked about when she knew. Subsequently, she said that she did not know and that a question would need to be put to her in writing for an answer to be given. Madam Speaker, I would like you to rule whether the question was in order, so that a written question can in fact be put in.
Madam SPEAKER: I thank the member for his point of order. The Prime Minister did address the question when it was re-put to her, and she has obviously asked for that to be put to her in writing so she can answer it fully. So the question has been addressed. It was in order, as was the answer.
Dr Don Brash: Which other Ministers, or other senior Labour Party officials, were implicated with the Prime Minister in deciding to distribute the taxpayer-funded pledge card, knowing that it would put them in breach of the Electoral Act cap; and will they now at least show some remorse and repay the money to taxpayers?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: Such material has never been considered attributable in the past, and the Labour Party’s position is that it is still not attributable. But while we are on the subject of what is attributable expenditure, I wonder who paid for the simultaneous delivery, in the city of Gisborne, of leaflets put out by the National Party and the Exclusive Brethren respectively. Both leaflets went out at the same time. Was that attributable?
Dr Don Brash: Is the Prime Minister seriously asking this House to believe that she is smart enough to be Prime Minister of this country yet not smart enough to recognise that a pledge card she used at the launch of Labour’s campaign, and which was used throughout the campaign, was not somehow a campaign item that should have been included in Labour’s electoral expense return?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: Such material has never been considered attributable—just as I assume the National Party thought its material was not attributable when the party circulated it, and just as I am sure Dr Brash thinks it is not attributable expenditure to have the Exclusive Brethren take lines straight out of National Party policy and put them in leaflets. Where is that in his party’s election return?
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. You have had, again, a further demonstration of the National Party’s inability to have an answer given to them and to keep quiet so that the rest of us can hear it. That braying has reached a new tempo, and so early in the year. Those members may not like the news they are receiving, but they are bound, surely, to let the rest of us share in hearing it.
Madam SPEAKER: I agree with the member. We have had equal braying from all sides of the House, so perhaps we could keep the noise to a level where the rest of us can actually hear the answer to a question.
Dr Don Brash: Can the Prime Minister recall a few years back signing a painting that had been prepared for her, and is she now prepared to sign this cheque, which I have had my office prepare for her to sign, so that she can repay New Zealand taxpayers the $446,000 used by her office to fund an electoral expense?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I will be very happy to bring down to the House a similar document asking the National Party to refund to the Exclusive Brethren half a million to a million dollars, which National told the Chief Electoral Officer was not attributable because it did not know about it. But the Leader of the Opposition has confessed that he knew all about, agreed with it, and thought it was tremendous.
Ron Mark: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I seek your advice, as you clearly understand the rules of the House better than I do. Is there any protection for parties who bring innovative ideas to this House from parties who copy New Zealand First in bringing cheques to the House, as Mr Brash did? Is there any protection for us against such plagiarism?
Madam SPEAKER: Would the member please be seated. That is not a point of order.
Dr Don Brash: I seek leave to table this cheque for the Prime Minister’s signature.
Madam SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection? There is objection.
Ron Mark: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I note the objections and scorn that came from the National benches, but can I tell those members, through you, that if they have anything original that is not a direct copy of New Zealand First’s strategies, then maybe I would not object.
Madam SPEAKER: The member will please be seated. The member is coming very close to unacceptable behaviour in this Chamber.
3. Hon MARIAN HOBBS (Labour—Wellington Central) to the Minister of Education: What reports has he received on the levels of literacy amongst New Zealand children?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY (Minister of Education): I will try to not have an “unsmart” answer, as we learnt from the Leader of the Opposition before. I am advised that, in international studies of performance in reading literacy, our students were in the second-highest performing group of countries in the world. In reading we have the highest percentage of readers in the top category of any country. Last year the Government spent almost $46 million on literacy and numeracy initiatives. Next month I will announce results from the Literacy Professional Development Project, which show improvements across all students, with the biggest jump amongst students who were previously the lowest achievers. This is an endorsement of the hard work of teachers at all levels in our education system.
Hon Marian Hobbs: Is the Minister aware of any other comments made recently about the levels of literacy in New Zealand?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: Last night I saw an outlandish claim from the National Party school spokesperson that said that 150,000 children in New Zealand cannot read. This is a typical piece of misleading information from the National Party. New Zealand children achieve above average in international reading studies, and our best readers, as I have said, are in the top category of any country. Currently 11,058 students are involved in outstanding reading-recovery programmes. We have an outstanding, world-class system. The National Party needs to stop sticking the knife into the backs of hard-working teachers in this country and to stop undermining our system as it seeks to privatise it.
Judy Turner: Considering that our current vision screening detects only about 10 percent of vision difficulties, does the Minister think that all children presenting with low literacy levels should be entitled to at least a free optometrist test; if not, why not?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: I agree with the general principle and I would like to think that we would be working towards exactly that.
Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I just wonder whether we might be reminded again as a House that questions should start with a question word, rather than with the sort of preface that we have started to see in a number of questions over the last 2 days.
Madam SPEAKER: Do you want me to enforce that rule rigidly, Mr Brownlee?
Gerry Brownlee: Well, it worked very well for the National Party last time. It does not work so well for Labour members—they struggle. United Future has got absolutely no idea, New Zealand First will have nothing to say, and the Greens, of course, will continue giving their particular view of the world that no one can understand.
Madam SPEAKER: I thank Mr Brownlee and note the Standing Order.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. Mr Brownlee has taken to making supposed points of order and then spending the rest of the time slagging off other parties and other leaders. The fact, of course, is that he is the least qualified person in National’s whole caucus to be taking those points of order. It is obvious. But he should be stopped and asked to desist from that sort of behaviour.
Madam SPEAKER: I think the point was taken. I would say that Mr Brownlee is not the only member in this House who occasionally strays from the point of the point of order. We shall leave it there and move on.
Hon Peter Dunne: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I do not want to delay proceedings unduly, but I want to draw your attention to Speaker’s ruling 20/1, from 1891, I seem to recall, which indicates that the constant raising of trifling points of order is of itself disorderly. I want to ask you what steps you are going to take to enforce that Speaker’s ruling, because I think it would contribute to the good order of this House if it was enforced.
Madam SPEAKER: I thank the member for drawing my attention to that Speaker’s ruling, which I am aware of. I think the House has to be on notice that the time should be devoted to question time, not speeches through points of order. So I shall try to exercise discretion, but members are on notice that perhaps they could make their points of order more like points of order than points of debate.
Gerry Brownlee: Firstly, my point of order was a point of order. It raised, very much, a question about questions and started with a question. As to Mr Peters’ allegations, I simply say that I have spent many an hour in this House studying at the feet of the master, and, although I could never be as good at irrelevant points of order as the right honourable irrelevant gentleman himself, it is he who has set the pace in this House.
Madam SPEAKER: The member, of course, raised a valid point of order, and that was acknowledged. It was the speech that followed that was the cause of subsequent comments. As I have already said, if members are making a point of order, they must make the point of order and not give a speech to the House. That is a debating matter.
4. JOHN KEY (National—Helensville) to the Minister of Finance: Can he assure the public that income tax thresholds will be adjusted for inflation from 1 April 2008, as set out in the 2005 Budget?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Deputy Prime Minister): Not at this point, although I welcome the member’s conversion to the idea, given his long opposition to it.
John Key: Can the Minister confirm that Treasury documents estimate the Government surplus to be running at between $3.4 billion and $5.9 billion in exactly the same period that he is arguing that this Government will not be able to afford a $360 million tax cut, and if this Government cannot afford a $360 million tax cut when it is running roughly a $6 billion surplus, exactly how large would the surplus need to be?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: That is Treasury’s projection. A surplus at that level of $3.4 billion is completely insufficient to cover the Government’s capital expenditure, including the transfers into the Superannuation Fund. Mr Key believes in large-scale borrowing to fund tax cuts; he admitted so before the election. He is continuing to sing that irresponsible song when every independent commentator on the New Zealand economy is calling for the Government, if anything, to tighten fiscal policy rather than to loosen it. Unlike foreign exchange speculators, this Government will not borrow for the sake of trying to make some money.
Hon Mark Gosche: Has the Minister seen other reports on the personal income tax situation in New Zealand?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I have seen a number of reports. I have seen a report recommending a tax-cut plan that would cost the Government $11 billion over 3 years. That is notwithstanding the comments from every independent commentator, including the Governor of the Reserve Bank, that cutting taxes at this stage of the cycle would only exacerbate imbalances and end up putting more pressure on interest rates and the dollar. Of course, Mr Key may simply be trying to make more money for his former mates in foreign exchange speculation.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker.
Madam SPEAKER: That last comment was unnecessary, so would the Minister please withdraw it.
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I withdraw.
John Key: Does the Minister recall that in 1999 he assured the nation that only 5 percent of taxpayers would pay the 39 percent marginal tax rate—a number that turns out to be about 150,000 people—and is he surprised to learn that that number has now risen to a third of a million people, or 11 percent, in which case why is he in reverse gear about doing something about that?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Yes, and that just shows how much incomes have grown over the intervening 6 years. But I do remind the member that the indexation of tax thresholds was specifically rejected in the National Party’s policy before the election, and opposed by the National Party.
John Key: Does he remember, horrible though I am sure it is for him to recall it now, his Budget 2005 speech, when he said: “The Labour-Progressive Government has decided to adjust the thresholds every 3 years.”, in which case why is he trying to shirk on the deal?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I also recall that we were committed to a carbon tax, for which we do not have the numbers in the House. Unlike the Opposition member, I can count. He will need to learn to do so before he becomes a leader.
John Key: Does he stand by his comment to the Finance and Expenditure Committee yesterday that: “People who think there should be tax cuts on the back of big surpluses should be taken out and quietly drowned.”? If he does, have two factors occurred to him: firstly, that a majority of New Zealanders actually voted for political parties that favoured tax cuts, and secondly, on a more serious point, that New Zealand has one of the highest rates of drowning in the Western World, a rate twice the per capita rate of Australia; and how does he think that Water Safety New Zealand reflects on his comments, beamed across the TV channels last night?
Madam SPEAKER: I just remind members that normally there is just one supplementary question, so the Minister has a choice out of the three or four that were asked.
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I was pointing out that it is utterly foolish to argue that because we have strong surpluses at the top end of an economic cycle, one should then blow those and borrow one’s way—massive numbers of billions of dollars—to the bottom end, and then wonder why at the end of all that, debt keeps rising and we are leaving it our children and grandchildren to pay it back. That is exactly what the National Government did from the 1970s through to the early 1980s. If Mr Key was a little bit older, he might remember that previous period of National Government.
John Key: Was the deep, dark secret of Budget 2005 the fact that even though the Minister announced tax cuts on the day, the poor old public are now finding out that they are never going to get them, and is that the reason they were not on the pledge card that the taxpayer had funded for Labour?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: There are tax cuts coming into force in 6 weeks and 1 day. In 6 weeks and 1 day hundreds of millions of dollars of tax cuts come into force for New Zealand business, and the National Party voted against them.
5. RODNEY HIDE (Leader—ACT) to the Minister of Foreign Affairs: Is he satisfied that the taxpayer is getting value for money from the ministry’s overseas posts; if so, why?
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS (Minister of Foreign Affairs): The answer is yes. The ministry’s planning and operations are subject to rigorous internal scrutiny and annual external audit.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: You never said that in Opposition.
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: Oh, he does not miss much, does he? We can see why he did not last 5 seconds as deputy leader.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: What a poodle! Come on, poodle.
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: I can tell the member who looks like a poodle. He should have a look in the mirror; he will see who looks like a poodle—a French one. Can I start again, Madam Speaker? The answer is yes. The ministry’s planning and operations are subject to rigorous internal scrutiny and annual external audit. Audit New Zealand has assessed the ministry’s financial management control environment as being excellent. Our overseas posts are making commendable progress towards achieving the ministry’s stated objectives.
Rodney Hide: Does he believe that the taxpayer got value for money from the chef employed from New Zealand to cook full-time for the current deputy secretary, Derek Leask, at his residence when he was the ambassador in Brussels, or is that just one of the many baubles of office that this Minister is now in favour of?
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: I have to say that seeing that all this happened prior to my obtaining this office, I have no knowledge of it. If the questioner puts down a written question, I will find out whether it is true—[Interruption]
Hon Annette King: Somebody’s been cooking for him.
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: —knowing fully that somebody has been cooking for him for a long time and it is obvious.
Madam SPEAKER: That was unnecessary.
Hon Brian Donnelly: Does the Minister regard the priority given by publicly funded broadcaster TVNZ to allegations of financial mismanagement at the ministry post in Taipei as justifiable, given that these allegations have already been proven to be unfounded?
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: I made it very clear at the time to TVNZ as to what we believed the facts were, that we had followed the same rigorous administrative standards in Taipei, and that the New Zealand Government and public could expect that our representation overseas would carry on in that manner. The member can be assured that the matters raised have been fully investigated by the ministry, as TVNZ was told. But as usual TVNZ is on a headhunting venture, and is being helped by Rodney Hide.
Heather Roy: How can the taxpayer have any confidence in Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade spending when Taipei office administrator Rowan Tautari has blown the whistle on over-budget expenditure, questionable purchases, and a failure to adhere to foreign affairs guidelines—or has the Minister’s own niece got it wrong?
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: My niece got a job in Taipei 5 years ago, I understand, and the events about which the member speaks happened under my predecessor. Having said that, the investigation in Taipei has demonstrated that nothing untoward did in fact happen. Notwithstanding that, we do encourage anyone in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, wherever he or she might be around the world, who has a concern to promptly raise it. This issue was raised and it was investigated. There is nothing to be further accountable for in respect of this issue.
Rodney Hide: Given the Minister’s commitment to good spending of taxpayers’ dollars, does he believe in principle that the taxpayer should be funding chefs to cook for foreign affairs officials at their residences each and every day in Brussels and Paris, or does he think that is a waste of taxpayers’ money?
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: I would like to find out for myself the facts on that matter.
Rodney Hide: You’re the Minister!
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: Yes, but I do not know every event to do with dining, unlike the member himself. I might add that if the member puts forward a written question, I am happy to answer it. On the issue that was originally raised as to whether taxpayers are getting value for money, let me say that they were getting no value for money at all when this document was put out by the ACT party last year during the campaign proper.
Hon Annette King: Who paid for it?
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: It was paid for by the taxpayer—a parliamentary crest. A total disaster.
Hon Annette King: When was it published?
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: This was published in 2005 in the election campaign period, and was all paid for by the taxpayer. It states what ACT brings to Parliament—well, apparently—
Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. You will recall that on past occasions when Ministers have not been able to answer a simple question like this, the right honourable gentleman himself would have required them to reflect on the fact that they had the salary, they had the cars, they had the offices, and they should know the answer. I see that in this case there is a degree of confusion. I suspect it would be a good idea if one of the people from the Government who is responsible for him was to take him out the back and tell him what the question was, and we could get him back later to give us the answer.
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: Speaking to the point of order, I say that was the kind of desolate arrogance that the National Party is becoming famous for. Apparently, a Minister is meant to know the dining habits of everyone, wherever he or she might be in the world. I have given the members opposite a chance to have an answer if they put the question down in writing.
Gerry Brownlee: Madam Speaker—
Madam SPEAKER: No, it is all right; I do not need any further assistance.
Gerry Brownlee: It was a fair point of order.
Madam SPEAKER: Yes, it was a fair point of order. The Minister is responsible for matters relating to his foreign affairs vote. He is not responsible for the spending on publicity of other political parties. That part of the Minister’s answer was out of order. The other part was perfectly in order. He in fact, as he said, addressed that question.
Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. We get into a disorderly situation when a Minister comes into the House and is asked a straightforward question, stands up, reads the pre-prepared answer in which he says everything was above board, there was no problem here, and it was all fine, then is confronted with a situation that on the face of it looks pretty shonky, and says perhaps it was not all fine. So which part is right?
Madam SPEAKER: I am sorry, Mr Brownlee; please be seated. That is not a point of order.
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. My point of order is that the issue that was raised was whether the taxpayer was getting value for money, and that is why I used the ACT example by way of analogy.
Madam SPEAKER: Thank you for that explanation, but it was a long, long bow and I do not think it was a valid one in this instance.
Rodney Hide: I seek the leave of the House to table a letter and two memos that were prepared by Rowan Tautari on 10 November 2005.
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: I seek leave to table an advertisement from the Dominion Post of 15 September 2005, which was under the name of the ACT party—and what a waste of time it was.
Prisoners—Risk to Society
6. SIMON POWER (National—Rangitikei) to the Minister of Corrections: Does he stand by his statement that “people who are spending less than six months in jail, that’s almost 30 percent of the inmates,” are “people who are no risk to society”; if not, why not?
Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR (Minister of Corrections): I stand by my statement that almost 30 percent of inmates received into prison are sentenced to less than 6 months and some inmates in jail are no risk to society.
Simon Power: Who is right: is it Phil Goff and Paul Swain, who, during the election campaign heralded their “tough on crime”, “tough on the causes of crime”, campaign, or is it the Minister, who has decided that 30 percent of our prison population is of no risk to society and we should just let them all out?
Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: I am happy to say that both my colleagues are right, and I believe I am, too. The fact is that 30 percent of prisoners are sentenced to less than 6 months. The fact is that approximately 2,500 prisoners are classified as “minimum security”. Many of the inmates may be in both of those categories. We are considering alternative options to deal with those people within the prison system.
Simon Power: Who is right: is it the Minister’s colleague Phil Goff, who thought he was tough on crime and was happy to take credit for the burgeoning prison population back in February 2004, when he said: “I said that this law would be tougher law … there will be a 20 percent increase in the number of people in prison because of the tougher sentencing laws enacted by this Government.”, or is it the Minister, who, after 4 months in the job has decided to fling the prison doors open?
Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: Thanks to the changes in legislation promoted by my colleague, we have caught, convicted, and sentenced far more violent and dangerous offenders, and we have kept this society safe from those people. I am focusing on the 2,500 people in our prisons who are classified as low security.
Simon Power: How can the Minister claim that 30 percent of the prison population is of no risk to society and can be rehabilitated, when his confidence and supply partner, New Zealand First, has made it abundantly clear that it has no faith in the Department of Correction’s failing rehabilitation programmes?
Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: As I have tried to clarify for the member, the 30 percent relates to those who get sentences of less than 6 months. There are also 2,500 inmates, approximately, who are deemed to be low-risk, minimum security inmates. Some of those people may be the same. I acknowledge the facts exposed yesterday by New Zealand First that some rehabilitation programmes, when evaluated, are not delivering the results we would like. We will look at those programmes again and, if necessary, make changes.
Ron Mark: If the aim really is to reduce the number of people in prison, would it not be better to focus on the quality of the rehabilitation programmes being run by the Department of Corrections and, in particular, on the Straight Thinking programme, which the department’s internal documents describe as follows: “… the Straight Thinking programme would appear to adhere least to the established principles of effective programming …” as espoused internationally. “… it does not focus on specific criminogenic needs, has no after care or structured follow-up, and gives minimal attention to relapse prevention … International research has demonstrated that cognitive skills programmes have at best a modest effective on recidivism and at worse, may actually increase recidivism …”? That is an internal document; would the Minister like to comment?
Madam SPEAKER: Before the Minister comments, I would just like to remind members that questions should not also be speeches. They should be concise. Would the Minister now please answer the question.
Hon Damien O'Connor: Thank you, Madam Speaker. Yes, rehabilitation and reintegration are key objectives of our corrections system. We run many rehabilitation programmes. Some are more successful than others. We are reviewing all of those programmes to ensure we are getting the best value for money from each and every one of them.
Nandor Tanczos: Can the Minister confirm the comments made by a former leader of the Labour Party, the late Rt Hon David Lange, when he said it costs so much to keep people in prison that for less money we could keep them in the Hilton Hotel and, what is more, they would not try to escape; and what did the Minister learn overseas about how to use that money more wisely, especially with regard to non-violent offenders?
Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: I know that the former leader made a lot of very wise comments, and I accept his views. That is exactly why we are taking a serious look at all rehabilitation programmes and ways of reducing the costs of running the prison system in New Zealand.
Simon Power: With the Minister being so intent on letting out 30 percent of the prison population, since his return from Finland, has he taken the time to consider the signal that that sends to the victims of those 30 percent of offenders who, in his view, are supposedly no risk to society?
Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: There are no proposals to let people out of prisons. There are proposals and ideas to better manage their reintegration into society.
Simon Power: What was the Minister thinking, when his department is in such a shambles of budget blowouts, escapes, prisoners wandering into the control room at night at Ngâwhâ Prison but not escaping, and large numbers of contraband entering prisons, when he proposed opening the prison doors with his new catch-and-release law and order policy?
Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: I suggest that that member reads his local newspaper and the New Zealand Herald, both editorials of which say the proposals and ideas that are up for discussion are timely, necessary, and will hopefully be very, very productive.
Benefits—Transition to Work
7. GEORGINA BEYER (Labour) to the Minister for Social Development and Employment: What reports has he received on the Government’s progress at moving New Zealanders off benefits and into work?
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 ended December 2005 the number of working-age New Zealanders on benefits dropped by a further 17,600, or 6 percent. There are now almost 100,000, or 25 percent, fewer New Zealanders receiving assistance than there were under National in 1999. This graphic representation may help members understand the magnitude of this achievement.
Georgina Beyer: What reports has the Minister seen specifically about the numbers of people receiving the unemployment benefit?
Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: Unemployment has dropped by 70 percent under Labour. In 1999 there were 161,000 New Zealanders in receipt of the unemployment benefit; the latest quarterly figures show that that number is now just over 51,000.
Sue Bradford: When will the Government announce details of the planned new core benefit system, and can the Minister assure the House that there will be no benefit cuts under the new regime he has planned?
Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: Those decisions are to be coming to Cabinet in the next months, and the member will know that I am on record as saying that we will not adopt a punitive approach to these matters.
Judith Collins: How many of the 123,000 sickness and invalids beneficiaries moved off benefits into work last year?
Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: In the latest year ended December, the growth rate of the sickness benefit had fallen to just 3 percent. It is important for that member to be aware of the fact that sickness and invalids benefits grew at a rate of 69 and 84 percent respectively under the National Government. Again I state that we are getting on top of a trend that was out of control under National. I stress that these are the headline figures. Which part of “good news” does the member not understand?
Judith Collins: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. The member might like to reflect on that question. We do not want to have him trot down to the House in a few hours’ time to correct himself. He has, in fact, implied that the figures for sickness and invalids benefits went up under National, when actually for 2 years they went down, in the late 1990s—a point that he constantly ignores.
Madam SPEAKER: I thank the member for that information. [Interruption] Silence please! Members will be leaving this Chamber if they are not silent during question time.
Te Ururoa Flavell: What advice will the Minister be giving to the 27 staff, the majority of whom are Mâori, who have now been made redundant after fire destroyed an Ôtaki plastics-recycling factory, and who were given public assurances by Work and Income New Zealand staff at two meetings that they would be available to help staff retain their jobs?
Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: Work and Income is available for that purpose. I have already agreed to a meeting with the manager of the factory in Wellington next week, and will certainly try to provide what assistance I can.
Georgina Beyer: What reports has the Minister seen that might explain why there are so many fewer people on the unemployment benefit?
Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: I have seen one report from the Paul Holmes breakfast radio show on 2 February this year in which his guest explained that this drop was best explained by there having been jobs for Africa under Labour, and I quote: “It would be very foolish to say that there haven’t been jobs for Africa in the last so many years, and of course there have been.” That was, of course, National’s welfare spokesperson, Judith Collins.
Kyoto Protocol—Deforestation Liabilities
8. Hon Dr NICK SMITH (National—Nelson) to the Minister responsible for Climate Change Issues: What is the estimated cost of New Zealand’s Kyoto liabilities for the first commitment period taking into account the latest advice from officials that “forest owners intend to deforest about 47,000 hectares during the first Kyoto commitment period (2008-2012). If this level of deforestation occurs, it will add around 32 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) to New Zealand’s deficit (in effect nearly doubling it).”?
Hon DAVID PARKER (Minister responsible for Climate Change Issues): On 19 December 2005 the Government was advised that under current policy settings, projected deforestation during the first Kyoto Protocol commitment period is likely to total 47,000 hectares. The effect of this is to bring the projected first commitment period liability to $562 million under present policy settings. These settings include a 21 million tonne carbon dioxide equivalent cap on deforestation.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: How can the Government rely on a cap on deforestation for limiting the liability when the Minister of Forestry, Jim Anderton, has told the forestry industry that it will not happen and that there is no Government mechanism by which such a limit could be put in place?
Hon DAVID PARKER: I understand that what the Minister has said, what I have said, and what my spokespeople have said is that the cap on deforestation liabilities is not under consideration for removal without other policy. That is correct. What should happen to the cap, or, indeed, forest-sink policy, remains a live issue.
Steve Chadwick: What steps is the Government taking to update climate change - related policy settings?
Hon DAVID PARKER: In December 2005 Cabinet made a number of decisions to progress the future of climate change policy to address the projected deficit. Officials will be reporting back with policy options across 15 subject areas, which will be advanced by Cabinet in the coming months.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: How can the Minister tell the House that the Kyoto liability, as a consequence of the doubling of the carbon deficit, is now $562 million, when his predecessor told a select committee on 16 June—when he admitted to a 36 million tonne deficit—that the liability would be about a billion dollars; even in elementary mathematics, if the carbon limit has doubled then would we not expect the deficit to be about $2 billion?
Hon DAVID PARKER: The calculations as to the projected liability during the first commitment period are made by Treasury applying financial reporting standards based on projections. The reason for the change is that the projection changed and Treasury, applying financial reporting standards, accordingly made the adjustment to the Crown books.
Keith Locke: Does the Minister agree that the fastest-growing contribution to greenhouse gas emissions has been from road transport; if so, will he be talking to Nick Smith about speaking to his colleague Maurice Williamson about his focus on building new motorways—reflected in question No. 10—rather than a focus on public transport, which would reduce greenhouse gas emissions?
Madam SPEAKER: The Minister obviously has no responsibility for National Party communications.
Hon DAVID PARKER: I agree that one area of emissions that has been growing quickly is transport emissions, which is in large part a reflection of the high rate of growth we have had in New Zealand and, therefore, the increase in people’s ability to travel. I also agree with the member that part of the way in which we need to address transport emissions is with a continuing focus on public transport. But I disagree with any proposition that says we should not spend more money on roads as well.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: Who is responsible for the policy mess over Kyoto that has seen this Government propose then abandon a “fart tax”; propose then abandon a carbon tax; set up an emissions reduction programme then abandon it; do two backward flips on the carbon balance for New Zealand; and now accept that its Kyoto policies are causing excessive deforestation—who is responsible for this extraordinary mess in an important area of public policy?
Hon DAVID PARKER: By far and away the largest cause of deforestation is the relative economics of forestry now compared with 10 years ago. It is not driven primarily by Kyoto policy.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: I seek the leave of the House to table the report of the Auditor-General and the transcript of the select committee in which it was revealed that the Government had breached the Public Finance Act in not disclosing last year the extent of its Kyoto liabilities.
Rt Hon Helen Clark: Has the Minister had any approaches from Dr Nick Smith seeking to develop a bipartisan policy on this matter; if so, does he see any indication of that in his question line today?
Hon DAVID PARKER: Yes, I have, although in fairness I would note that they are at a very preliminary stage and may come to nought.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: Does the Minister accept the Auditor-General’s advice that the Government last year broke the law—notably the Public Finance Act—in respect of the declaration of liabilities from the Kyoto Protocol; and, if it did break the law, who was responsible for that?
Hon DAVID PARKER: No.
Economic Performance—Australia and New Zealand
9. SHANE JONES (Labour) to the Minister of Finance: Has he received any reports on New Zealand’s GDP per capita performance in relation to Australia in recent years?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Minister of Finance): For the last 5 years for which we have comparable data, GDP per capita grew 13 percent in New Zealand and 9.5 percent in Australia. So New Zealand’s rate grew some 40 percent faster per person than Australia’s.
Shane Jones: Has he seen any other recent reports comparing Australia and New Zealand?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Yes, I have seen many, but in particular a report this morning from the chief executive of Fletcher Building, stating that the personal tax situation in New Zealand is far more friendly than Australia’s, and that unlike Australians, New Zealanders do not pay $100 a week in road tolls, nor do they pay stamp duty when they buy houses, nor do they pay general capital gains tax. I have also seen a report from the same business leader, perhaps the most successful chief executive officer in recent years in New Zealand, stating that those who were trying to talk up a recession were being irresponsible—a report that specifically mentioned the Leader of the Opposition, Dr Brash.
Dr Don Brash: Is it not true that the brief period during which New Zealand’s GDP per capita has risen slightly faster than Australia’s GDP per capita is explained by a very significant increase in hours worked and a very poor record of productivity growth in New Zealand, and that unless our productivity growth improves markedly, Australia’s per capita incomes will continue to rise relative to those in New Zealand?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: It is interesting that the claim is made that Australian wages have risen faster than New Zealand wages over recent years, but doubtless there is always some difficulty with comparability because we have different kinds of indices. If that were true, it would show that Australian workers have captured a larger share of the benefits of economic growth than New Zealand workers. Undoubtedly, the major reason for that is a much more heavily regulated labour market and more powerful trade unions—policies that I am sure Dr Don Brash would not wish to support.
Dr Don Brash: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. The Minister of Finance in no way addressed the question I asked. I asked him whether it was not true that the faster GDP per capita growth in New Zealand in the last couple of years has been explained by a very large increase in hours worked plus a very poor rate of productivity growth in New Zealand, and that unless New Zealand’s productivity growth improves markedly, Australian incomes will continue to rise relative to those in New Zealand.
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I will elaborate further. One of the reasons why productivity growth is certainly stronger in Australia is that there is a higher cost of labour in Australia, and therefore a greater incentive to invest in labour-saving machinery. The National Party favours further deregulation of the labour market, which will lower the cost of labour as it did in the early 1990s, thereby removing the incentive for productivity growth.
Dr Don Brash: Can the Minister of Finance answer a question that the Prime Minister could not answer yesterday: can he name a single economist who believes that on present productivity trends on both sides of the Tasman, New Zealand incomes will overtake Australia’s within one decade, two decades, or even three decades; if so, who is that economist?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: If I were to believe what neo-liberal economists prescribe for this economy, we would ensure that wages grew even more slowly in this country, while Australia’s moved even further ahead. Unfortunately the prescription of deregulation in the labour market, asset sales, and tax cuts for the rich does not add up to an economic policy for this particular country.
Dr Don Brash: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. Can I understand that answer to be no?
Madam SPEAKER: The member can take from the answer that it did generally address the question.
Dr Don Brash: I assume it was no.
Madam SPEAKER: Ministers are not required to answer yes or no to questions; they are just required to address them.
Dr Don Brash: Question time becomes a total mockery if Ministers are asked a question that has a yes or no answer. As Mr Peters used to say, it is rhubarb, rhubarb, rhubarb.
Madam SPEAKER: I thank the member for his observations.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Madam Speaker—[Interruption]
Madam SPEAKER: Is this a supplementary question?
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Yes, and if the rabid dogs over there can keep quiet, I will get it out.
Madam SPEAKER: Please ask the question.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: You would have to be down here to hear the kinds of insults from the people on our right, purely because they have their noses pressed against the window for the next 3 years. [Interruption]
Madam SPEAKER: Would both members please sit down. Would members please just ask their questions and stop prefacing them.
Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I think Mr Peters should be asked to apologise for that. That was an unnecessary remark—an aspersion cast on the Opposition side of the House. I know how much he hates the new title “Sergeant of ‘Helengrad’s’ Republican Guard”, but we are not going to use that for him. We just do not want him to go down that track. I think his apologising would be a good idea.
Madam SPEAKER: I am not sure what he should apologise for.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: If I have to apologise for them having their noses against the window for the next 3 years I will, but that is a fact. I am sorry for them, but it is a fact. My question to the Minister of Finance is this: does he not recall a certain economist extolling the virtues of the Douglas regime and the Richardson regime, the very prescription that Australia refused to follow; and is it not the case therefore that there was such an economist and that his name is Don Brash?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: It is absolutely correct to say that since the early 1980s New Zealand has followed much more closely the prescription of the neo-liberal economists, of which Dr Brash is one, and as a consequence our growth rate has been slower than Australia’s for most of that period. The only period of over 5 years in which our per capita GDP has exceeded Australia’s in that period is that under this Government.
Transit New Zealand—State Highway Construction Programme
10. Hon MAURICE WILLIAMSON (National—Pakuranga) to the Minister of Transport: What action does he intend to take to ensure there is no “slowdown” in Transit New Zealand’s 10-year State highway construction programme?
Hon DAVID PARKER (Minister of Transport): The Government has doubled the amount spent on State highway construction annually from $248 million in 1999 to $600 million in the coming year. The Government’s commitment to its ambitious roading programme continues. Record levels of investment will continue to ensure ongoing progress on State highway upgrades.
Hon Maurice Williamson: Will one of the actions the Minister takes be to follow the advice of a number of august bodies, such as the Automobile Association, Federated Farmers, and others, who all yesterday asked the Minister to move over more of the dedicated petrol tax that does not go to roading but to the Crown bank account—an action that, I must say, most of his front bench voted for in the mid-1990s?
Hon DAVID PARKER: I note that the proportion of excise duty—
Hon Maurice Williamson: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. Twice before I finished my question, the previous member for Tauranga—he has lost Tauranga—called out: “Who stopped it?”.
Madam SPEAKER: That was an unnecessary comment.
Hon Maurice Williamson: It was an unnecessary comment, and I would like you to do something about it.
Madam SPEAKER: I must say that the member’s was, too. The Minister did interject at the end. It was a marginal call, but if I were to put everyone out of the House for marginal calls, there would be nobody left. I ask the Minister to please respond to the question.
Hon DAVID PARKER: I note that the proportion of excise duty going into road transport funding has been growing significantly in the last 6 years under Labour. I further note that at the last election National was not promising to put it all in.
Hon Dr Michael Cullen: Can the Minister confirm that by 2007-08 nearly the entire excise duty and road user charges will be going into the Land Transport Fund, and that that will by no means cover the full cost of land transport in New Zealand—in other words, there will be transfers from general taxation into land transport?
Hon DAVID PARKER: I can, and do.
Hon Maurice Williamson: Has the Minister seen yesterday’s press release from the New Zealand Contractors Federation chief executive officer, Richard Michael, which stated: “The Prime Minister’s claims on Tuesday that ‘the pressure on construction capacity has been escalating costs’ is simply not true.”; and when will he take some action to appraise the Prime Minister of her errors?
Hon DAVID PARKER: It is true that we have cost-price increases in road construction. It is not yet clear where those road construction cost increases are being driven from. Part of those increases relate to the high rate of increase in wages for low-paid workers as a consequence of our low unemployment rate and the ability of those workers to quite justly claim higher wages.
Darien Fenton: What steps is the Minister taking to assess whether cost increases in road construction are justified?
Hon DAVID PARKER: As Minister of Transport I am responsible for ensuring taxpayers get value for money in terms of our roading projects. To that end I am establishing a working-group drawn from the private sector and local government to help examine where cost savings in road design and construction can be made.
Hon Maurice Williamson: Is the Minister aware that in the press release from the Contractors Federation yesterday the chief executive also said: “There is considerable excess capacity in the sector at present, including the Auckland region, and this can be seen by the number of tenders that were at very competitive prices in the latest Transit project.”; and how does that square with the Minister of Finance going out and saying that tenders are being squeezed in price because of the lack of capacity that is out there?
Hon DAVID PARKER: Yes, I am aware of that press release and the contents of it. I am also aware that approximately 10 times the amount is being spent on highway projects in the Auckland region compared with when that member left office as the relevant Minister.
Hon Maurice Williamson: Is the Minister aware that even under the current Transit 10-year plan—and there are suggestions that that may need to be cut—State Highway 20 doubling of the Mângere Bridge, State Highway 20 Avondale extension, the Harbour Bridge to city link, and the refurbishment of the Newmarket Viaduct will all be approximately halfway through being built when the Rugby World Cup occurs; and is he happy for this nation to be showcased to the world as being nothing more than a parking lot that moves a few centimetres every hour?
Hon DAVID PARKER: I am absolutely confident that the roading network in Auckland will be immeasurably better by the time of the Rugby World Cup compared with the parlous state in which it was left in 1999.
Hon Maurice Williamson: Given that the Prime Minister gave an absolute commitment to the Rugby World Cup organisers that this Government would ensure that the adequate infrastructure would be available, how can it be that the major arteries that will be required for Auckland to function in 2011 will not be halfway through construction by the time of the Rugby World Cup?
Hon DAVID PARKER: I am confident that the Prime Minister’s statement will prove true. My confidence arises from the fact that this Government is committing $20 billion to Land Transport over the next 10 years, $12 billion of which is being spent on State highways.
Gender Survey—State Sector Boards and Statutory Committees
11. SUE MORONEY (Labour) to the Minister of Women's Affairs: Is she satisfied with the results of the stocktake of membership of all State sector boards and statutory committees by gender, recently completed by the Ministry of Women’s Affairs?
Hon LIANNE DALZIEL (Minister of Women's Affairs): Yes, the stocktake identifies that at the end of 2004 women represented 41 percent of the total Government-appointed membership of those boards. That compared very favourably with the most recent data, identifying that women represented only 16 percent of New Zealand Alternative Market companies’ board membership and a mere 5 percent of that of NZX-listed companies.
Sue Moroney: What are the benefits of appointing women who have the relevant competencies to governance positions?
Hon LIANNE DALZIEL: Emerging trends in international research are indicating a positive correlation between diversity in board membership and strong company performance. That is because having a wide range of perspectives brought to the board table broadens the ability of a board to identify risks and opportunities. The more narrow the range of perspectives, the greater the risk a board will not anticipate potential risks and opportunities. That is the danger in surrounding oneself with a group of yes-men.
Sue Moroney: Is the Minister aware of any barriers to increasing the participation of women in governance positions in New Zealand?
Hon LIANNE DALZIEL: A risk would arise if the Ministry of Women’s Affairs were abolished. That would mean the disbanding of its nominations service, which has been effective in deepening the pool of talent from which board members can be drawn. If anyone has to look for reasons why such a policy might make a party scary to women voters, that would be a good place to start.
12. Hon TONY RYALL (National—Bay of Plenty) to the Minister of Health: Why has he ruled out a full review of maternity services, as recommended by the Wellington Coroner, and what time frames are associated with any action he plans to take?
Hon PETE HODGSON (Minister of Health): In answer to the first question, because the Perinatal and Maternal Mortality Review Committee did not support the coroner’s findings. As to the second question, on time frames, recommendations on how to further improve information gathering are due in the next few weeks. Discussions to improve linkages between midwives and primary health organisations—planned before the coroner reported—have begun, and recommendations regarding midwifery and education have been in train, courtesy of the Midwifery Council, for over a year.
Hon Tony Ryall: Why will he not use the data collected in hospitals and by midwives around the country to provide a platform to strengthen maternity services in this country, so that we can protect mothers and newborns from the horror stories that prompted the coroner’s review?
Hon PETE HODGSON: We do.
Maryan Street: Is there general agreement that the current lead maternity care system works?
Hon PETE HODGSON: Yes, there most certainly is. At a meeting last week of general practitioners, midwives, obstetricians, gynaecologists, consumers, and the Ministry of Health, all participants publicly expressed support for the current lead maternity care system, and all emphasised the ongoing role of midwives in providing the bulk of maternity care and delivery services.
Hon Tony Ryall: Have there not been enough reports of botched births and tragic deaths for the Minister to realise that New Zealand needs to gather the evidence and find out what is going wrong with maternity services in this country?
Hon PETE HODGSON: Indeed, perinatal mortality rates are dropping in this country. However, a number of people think that a review of maternity services is an important idea; they include the Wellington Coroner and the member who asked the question, but not a lot of other people. Among the long list of people who think it would be a waste of time and money is the National Party’s previous health spokesperson, Dr Paul Hutchison, as stated in a recent edition of North and South.
Hon Tony Ryall: Why has the Government ignored for 6 years the recommendation of the National Health Committee that unless more information was collected there could be no assurance of the quality or safety of maternity services in this country?
Hon PETE HODGSON: The member fails to realise that since the 1999, I think it was, review of maternity service by the National Health Committee a very significant improvement in information around these matters has already been achieved. About 2 weeks ago I put out a 30-page—maybe longer—report that summarises all of that information gathering. However, the Perinatal and Maternal Mortality Review Committee suggested that further improvements are still needed. Decisions on that will come my way shortly.
Hon Tony Ryall: If one of the reasons why the Minister’s group has dismissed the need for a full review of maternity services in New Zealand is that there is simply not enough information to make a decision, why, then, is the Minister trying to stand up in the House and say that we do have the information for a review?
Hon PETE HODGSON: I am saying that we have much better information than we had in 1999, and that I am hopeful that we will have still better information. The Perinatal and Maternal Mortality Review Committee did not think that a review was worth the time and effort.
Hon Tony Ryall: How does the Minister expect to know what to do if he cannot be bothered to find out what has gone wrong?
Hon PETE HODGSON: That is almost an unanswerable question, and I intend to treat it as such.
Hon Tony Ryall: Has he found out from his predecessor, Annette King, why she ignored numerous recommendations to improve the level of perinatal data collection in New Zealand over the last 6 years, and what does he think Annette King’s agenda was that would cause her to ignore those recommendations?
Hon PETE HODGSON: Let me advise the House for the second and, I hope, the last time today that since the 1999, I think it was, National Health Committee report into maternal services there has been a very significant improvement in the quality and quantity of information gathered, and that information was recently amalgamated and released by me. I suggest the member look at this improved information.
Hon Tony Ryall: It is not going away.
Hon PETE HODGSON: However, although he continues to talk through my answer, I would just remind him that still further improvements have been suggested by the recent report of the Perinatal and Maternal Mortality Review Committee, and I expect to be responding to those further reports over the next few weeks.
Questions to Members
Finance and Expenditure Committee—Television New Zealand Inquiry
1. RODNEY HIDE (Leader—ACT) to the Chairperson of the Finance and Expenditure Committee: What letters, if any, has he received in relation to the Finance and Expenditure Committee’s inquiry into Television New Zealand?
SHANE JONES (Chairperson of the Finance and Expenditure Committee): I have received numerous letters and those that are relevant have been put before the committee.
Rodney Hide: Can the chairperson deny to the House that he told me and the media yesterday that he decided to rip up into a hundred pieces my letter of complaint to him as chairperson; what does he believe gives him the authority to rip up letters addressed to him as chairperson of the entire committee?
SHANE JONES: I have responded to the so-called letter and invited the relevant member to bring his concerns to the committee, which he chose not to do yesterday.
R Doug Woolerton: Can the chairperson confirm that a reply was sent to Rodney Hide on 7 February 2006, that the select committee meeting ended at precisely 1 p.m., that Mr Hide’s letter was not on the agenda, and, further, that Mr Hide neither sought leave to extend the meeting nor put the matter on the agenda himself?
SHANE JONES: The member’s recollection is reassuring and unnervingly accurate.
Rodney Hide: Can the chairperson confirm that he received my letter, responded to it as a matter of the committee, and then ended the meeting before considering it, saying that he had ripped it up; did he rip it up or did he not?
SHANE JONES: The meeting ended at the appointed time, and the opportunity available for the ACT member on the committee—2 percent of the time—is very limited.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. Rodney Hide’s question to the chair of the committee was quite explicit: did he rip up the letter that was received from a member of the committee? I think, when a member writes to a chair of a committee and the chair chooses not to address the question, it is a pretty important issue. I think it is proper for you, Madam Speaker, as you are in charge of the overall select committee system and how we operate as parliamentarians, to agree that it is a fair requirement that Mr Jones should answer that question.
Madam SPEAKER: I agree with the member.
SHANE JONES: The letter has been received by me. There are copies, one of which was certainly ripped up by me.
Rodney Hide: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I raise this because the Minister Chris Carter called out [Interruption]—the member can interrupt if he likes—that it was the most appropriate thing for the chairperson of the Finance and Expenditure Committee to do. I raised this matter with you yesterday, Madam Speaker, and I consider it very serious indeed. We have just had the chairman of the Finance and Expenditure Committee confirm that a letter from a member, which should automatically be an item of business, was ripped up by him. We have had a Minister call out that that is the appropriate thing to do. I ask you to consider the issue. How can we have any order or accountability if letters to select committees from MPs and members of the public are to be treated in this cavalier fashion?
Hon Chris Carter: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker.
Madam SPEAKER: No, I do not need any more assistance on this, if the member does not mind. I do regard it as serious and that is why I asked the member to answer the question directly, which I think is appropriate. Also, the way in which committee chairs conduct themselves in terms of committee business is an item I have put on the agenda for the meeting I am having with all the select committee chairs. So the matter will be addressed in that way.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. That member took a substantial time in the House yesterday to raise his objection. He has taken a substantial time today. The plain fact is that it was explained to him in chronological and logical order what happened. There is a copy of his so-called precious letter, which was able to be raised by him at the committee all the way to 1 o’clock yesterday, but he did not avail himself of the opportunity. In short, what we have here is someone who is headline hunting in Parliament every day on issues that he could have raised at the select committee in the whole 3 hours that committee met yesterday morning.
My point of order also includes this. As I was raising this point of order members commenced again to misbehave in this House. About five of them should be thrown out and should have been thrown out some considerable time ago. The fact is that the member has had explained to him today that he had yesterday’s opportunity to use, and he did not use it.
The member has made his point. The fact of the matter is,
however, that it is not unknown for members at times to
raise spurious points of orders to get headlines from time
to time. I do not approve of that practice and I take it
that members would like me in future to be much stricter in
my rulings and interventions on points of order that lead in
that direction. That will apply to all members of the