Questions And Answers - 21 February 2006
Questions And Answers Tuesday, 21 February
Questions to Ministers
Air New Zealand—Engineering Outsourcing
1. SUE BRADFORD (Green) to the Minister of Finance: Does he believe that, as 82 percent shareholder of Air New Zealand, he should have been more proactive in finding a solution that would keep Air New Zealand’s engineering work in New Zealand?
Hon TREVOR MALLARD (Acting Minister of Finance): No. I would hope that the airline and unions talk further, but as a matter of policy I, as shareholding Minister, do not intervene in the operational affairs of the airline.
Sue Bradford: Has the board of Air New Zealand shared with the Government shareholder its long-term strategic plan for this business; if so, does it show that what is happening at the moment is just the beginning of a whole series of changes that will lead to lay-offs and cuts in wages and conditions?
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: As Acting Minister of Finance, I am not privy to the details of the briefings between the board and the Minister of Finance.
Dr Wayne Mapp: Will the Government take on board the need to deal with ongoing problems with the Holidays Act and other legislation and issues of relevant daily pay, which Air New Zealand said added several million dollars to its costs, given that the Treasury briefing to the incoming Government that deals with changes to labour laws stated that the “cumulative effect may be significant, particularly in an economic downturn.”, which is exactly the situation facing the airline now?
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: I have never ceased to be amazed by the National Party’s approach to workers’ holidays.
Dr Wayne Mapp: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I asked a very specific question about whether the Government will take on board the issues of the Holidays Act and the Treasury briefing to the Government. The second point was certainly not addressed and the first point was hardly dealt with.
Madam SPEAKER: As the honourable member knows, in supplementary questions only one supplementary question is normally permitted. The Minister did address the question, although of course it may not be to the satisfaction—
Hon Dr Nick Smith: Point of order, Madam Speaker—
Madam SPEAKER: The Minister did refer to the holidays legislation, which was raised in the question. He therefore addressed it. The Speaker is not responsible for the quality of the answers; that is the responsibility of the Ministers and will be judged in this House and elsewhere.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. It is your role to enforce the Standing Orders. I draw your attention to Standing Order 377, “Contents of replies”, particularly Standing Order 377(2)(b) and (c), which quite clearly makes the answer from the Acting Minister outside the Standing Orders. The Standing Order quite properly states that any inferences, imputations, ironic expressions, or discreditable references to the House or any member of Parliament are outside the Standing Orders. All we got in the answer from the Minister was a shot at the National Party. He made no attempt at all to answer the question as a Minister of the Crown.
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: Speaking to the point of order, I in fact said that I never cease to be amazed by the attitude of the National Party to workers’ holidays. That is just a straight statement of fact.
Sue Bradford: Is the Minister aware that Air New Zealand has also put the jobs of over 100 cleaners on the line by putting cabin-cleaning work out to tender; and as a majority shareholder does he see any role at all in trying to get it to reverse its decision, especially in the light of Labour’s own industrial relations policies in the areas of contracting out and job security?
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: Yes and no.
Peter Brown: Can the Minister clarify exactly what he is telling the House—that with all these issues that have been raised in question time this afternoon it is acceptable for the Minister to sit on his hands and get cramp in them?
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: I want to make it clear to the member that the Minister of Finance has a very clear role as a majority shareholder in a publicly listed company. He is proscribed from doing many of the things that many of us might find desirable. Having said that, I point out that, as members of the House will be aware, other people, including the Prime Minister, are much freer to make the views of the Government generally clear.
Sue Bradford: How does the current Air New Zealand strategy of business transformation, which seems to involve slashing wages and jobs and contracting out, align with the Government’s strategic priority, as outlined by the Prime Minister last week, of economic transformation; if it does not, does the Minister think there is some way in which these two strategies can be aligned?
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: Without going into a lot of the detail, I think it is fair to say that many members of the House are aware that the future of Air New Zealand itself was at very serious risk when the Government bought back into it, and it is not out of the mire yet.
Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. My colleague Dr Nick Smith raised a very valid point of order with you. It was dealt with by you, and I am not going to question your ruling, but I do think that it stands in somewhat stark contrast to Speaker’s Ruling 154/1, whereby Speaker Hunt had a particular message for Ministers of the Crown who have been asked to account to the public. Mr Mallard gave us his own personal opinion. That may well be the opinion of the Cabinet, and it may well be his instruction not to give answers in this particular way. But this is the House of Parliament. We have a right to ask questions and, I think, a right to expect that a Minister will treat questions seriously and attempt to answer them.
Madam SPEAKER: I thank the member. Dr Nick Smith raised essentially the same point of order, although he referred to different Standing Orders. I note what the members say, but the Minister did address the question and will be judged on the quality of that answer.
2. Dr DON BRASH (Leader of the Opposition) to the Prime Minister: When she declined to meet the Controller and Auditor-General to discuss his report into Government and parliamentary publicity and advertising, was she aware of plans to spend over $440,000 of taxpayers’ money on the Labour party campaign pledge card?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK (Prime Minister): There was no such plan.
Dr Don Brash: At what stage prior to the election did the Prime Minister become aware that the Chief Electoral Officer had ruled that Labour’s pledge card was an electoral expense and that it would push Labour’s total electoral spending above the legal limit; and what did she do when she became aware of that fact?
Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I invite you to rule on whether the responsibility just referred to is a responsibility of the Prime Minister or of the leader of the Labour Party. If it is the responsibility of the leader of the Labour Party and not the Prime Minister, then the question should be ruled out of order.
Madam SPEAKER: I remind members that Ministers are only responsible for those matters that fall within their responsibilities as Ministers, not as leaders of parties. That goes for all parties in this House. I would merely caution the member who is asking the question to ensure that that question is addressed in the capacity of Prime Minister and not as leader of the Labour Party. The Prime Minister should answer the question in that capacity.
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: The first time the Chief Electoral Officer advised the general secretary of the Labour Party, or anyone else, to my knowledge, that he considered that the card might be an attributable expense was on 20 October. [Interruption]
Hon Phil Goff: Madam Speaker, I raise a point of order. I understand that when a person addresses a question, the House has to be silent. Almost every member of the National Opposition was interjecting at that point, contrary to the Standing Orders.
Madam SPEAKER: Yes, the member is correct. [Interruption] Would members please observe that ruling.
Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker.
Madam SPEAKER: Yes, someone did interject when I was making that ruling. Who was the member?
Hon Trevor Mallard: The Leader of the Opposition interjected while you were making that ruling.
Madam SPEAKER: Is that correct—because we have to have some order in this House? In the first week I was called upon by many members, mainly in the Opposition, to apply the Standing Orders strictly, so that order could prevail in this House. I did hear someone make a comment when I was ruling; that person should leave the House.
Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. This is getting to a point where it is utterly ridiculous. There is a Prime Minister over there who will not account for her bad behaviour and corrupt practice in office, and now a Speaker who is prepared to say that she has a different hat on—
Madam SPEAKER: I am sorry, but that is not a point of order, Mr Brownlee. Please be seated—
Gerry Brownlee: —so we end up with the Leader of the Opposition removed from the House.
Madam SPEAKER: Mr Brownlee, do you wish to remain in this House for the rest of question time, or not? I am on my feet, and you know that you should be seated. I have given a ruling that is perfectly consistent with the Standing Orders—as the member knows. Of course the Prime Minister is responsible, as are all Ministers, for what she does in her ministerial capacity. But leaders of political parties, whether they are Government or Opposition parties, are not subject to review in this House. I did call on the Prime Minister to answer the question in that capacity. A point of order was then legitimately raised, as points were raised all last week when I did not enforce the ruling because it was the first week back. Then, when I was giving my ruling today people interrupted. I am not sure what else I can do as a Speaker but to now enforce those rules. That is the point this House has asked me to rule on, and that is what I am doing.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. Last week you asked our whips to distribute a note to every member of the Opposition side of the House, asking that during the Prime Minister’s statement there should be silence. The members on this side of the House observed that, and gave the Prime Minister a very clear run. When my colleague Don Brash, the Leader of the Opposition, gave his response, there was constant barracking all the way through his speech, and you did nothing. Today, for a comment made by Don Brash, which I did not even hear although I sit four seats away from him, you will kick him out of the House. I think that that raises real questions about the bias of the Speaker.
Madam SPEAKER: No. Please be seated. I did intervene during that debate. I have spoken with members of the party Dr Smith belongs to on that. I have taken action, and since then, when I have called for order that call is probably observed in equal proportions on all sides of the House. I ask the member to withdraw his comment about bias of the Speaker, please.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: Madam Speaker, I ask you to reconsider asking Dr Brash to leave, under circumstances that are totally inconsistent with the way in which you treated Dr Brash last week.
Madam SPEAKER: No. I am sorry, but those are two totally separate points, I tell the member. Last week, undoubtedly, there were many breaches of the Standing Orders. I called attention to those. I am taking action, as I said I would to Opposition front-bench members who came to see me. We are now in a new week. I was also asked repeatedly at the end of last week to apply the Standing Orders. I am applying the Standing Orders. I did not know whether it was Dr Brash who made that intervention, but I am asked repeatedly not to show bias in this House and to apply the rules across the board—and fairly. That is what I am doing. Of course Dr Brash can remain in order to be able to ask his question, and any other questions he has.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I have two points. Firstly, in respect of the leaders’ debate, I say that it was not an occasion when members observed the issue of silence, as they well know. Some of us, of course, welcomed the interventions, because it is like taking candy off a baby. Secondly, that display from Mr Brownlee today is unprecedented in the sense that every time I have seen it in the past, the member concerned has been asked to leave the Chamber. He stood there, despite the fact that you were on your feet, and kept on arguing. On every past occasion when that sort of behaviour has happened, the member concerned has had to leave. So should Mr Brownlee be asked to leave.
Madam SPEAKER: Yes, I agree with the member. But I will give Mr Brownlee his final warning for today. It was he who constantly asked me, as Speaker, last week to enforce the Standing Orders. That is what will happen now. So could we please have the supplementary question asked in silence.
Hon Phil Goff: What other reports has the Prime Minister seen about complaints to do with election spending?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I have seen reports that the police—[Interruption] There they go, Madam Speaker. I have seen reports that the police are investigating an Electoral Commission complaint against the National Party for spending $112,000 more on its election advertising than it was allowed to spend, and that the National Party states it was not aware of the need to include GST this election, even though it was aware of that during the last three elections.
Hon Phil Goff: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. As the member who asked that question—and I am only three seats away from the Prime Minister—such were the constant interjections, and loudness of the interjections, during her reply that I doubt whether I heard a third of her answer. Could I please ask you to ask the Prime Minister to repeat her answer?
Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I would ask you to consider your earlier ruling today, when you said that Ministers should be questioned on matters that relate to their portfolios. That question no way relates to the Prime Minister’s portfolio. If it does, of course, then every question that we have lined up would be required to be answered by the Prime Minister.
Hon Trevor Mallard: The difference was that the Hon Phil Goff worded his question in a way that was appropriate to have it answered by the Prime Minister; Don Brash did not.
Madam SPEAKER: That is the question really—how the question is asked. When Dr Brash asked his question, of course it was clear that he was addressing the question to the Rt Hon Helen Clark in her role as Prime Minister, and it must be answered. When the supplementary question was put by the Hon Phil Goff, it was also asked in those terms.
Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. Last week Dr Brash asked the Prime Minister when she or any of her Ministers knew 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. There was some kerfuffle after that, but you yourself ruled that that question was in order. What has changed in the last few days?
Madam SPEAKER: I would need to have an opportunity to be able to review the Hansard on that, and I am very happy to get back to the member. But I know that last time, as I recall it, one supplementary question that was out of order was allowed to go through. I regret that, and that is why I am ensuring, in fact, that from now on there will be a clear statement so everybody knows what the rules are. But I am happy to look at that for the member.
Hon Phil Goff: Can I remind you of my last point of order, which you have not addressed yet. It is allowable in the House to interject on a Minister giving an answer, but those interjections are to be rare and reasonable. Those interjections were continuous and loud, to the extent that neither I nor most members of the House were able to hear the answer. I would like to hear the answer again.
Madam SPEAKER: I thank the member for his comment, and certainly I could not hear all of the answer either. So I would just tell members in the House that of course they can express their views on the answers, but they should do it in a way that is considerate, so that other members can hear the answers.
Dr Don Brash: Can she confirm to this House that the real reason for her declining to meet with the Auditor-General was that she knew that at that point she was up to her eyeballs in the decision to spend over $440,000 of taxpayers’ money on her pledge card, thereby flagrantly breaching the electoral spending cap?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: The Auditor-General did not seek a meeting either with me or the Leader of the Opposition to discuss this year’s spending. He wanted to talk about future rules. Our view was that that discussion was better had with all parties, and the Auditor-General made it clear that it was for after the election.
Heather Roy: Who is right: Labour Party president Mike Williams, who said that the pledge cards for the last three elections were not an election expense so could be paid for out of Helen Clark’s leader’s fund, or Labour Party secretary Mike Smith, who authorised the 1999 pledge card as an election expense?
Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. That one is absolutely clear-cut. I think we can say thank goodness that the Prime Minister has responsibility for neither of those persons.
Madam SPEAKER: Ruling on the point of order, that is correct. The member may wish to reflect on her question and rephrase it, but I will take the next supplementary question. That question addressed the Prime Minister in her role as a party leader, not as Prime Minister.
Heather Roy: Has the Prime Minister had any reports about who is right: Labour Party president Mike Williams, who said that the pledge cards for the last three elections were not an election expense, so could be paid for out of the Prime Minister’s leader’s fund, or Labour Party secretary Mike Smith, who authorised the 1999 pledge card as an election expense?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: Those matters have never been considered to be an election expense, any more than ACT’s one-third-of-a-page advertisement 2 days before the election was considered an expense.
Dr Don Brash: Will she pay the money back?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I remind the member that there are a lot of processes under way. When the Leader of the Opposition cares to engage with members of his party on what is attributable, he may want to raise with them why they did not declare up to $1 million of Exclusive Brethren spending, especially because Murray McCully had editorial control of it.
Dr Don Brash: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. Standing Order 377(2)(a) is quite clear that in giving answers to questions, Ministers must not use extraneous names and facts irrelevant to the question.
Madam SPEAKER: I note the member’s point of order. Certainly I would say that if that was the case, then probably many members’ questions and answers would be ruled out of order. But I take the point, because it is a legitimate point. I ask all members to show restraint when they are asking questions and giving answers, and to stick to the point.
Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. With all due respect to you, that is an unfair thing for you to say about the Opposition, because we cannot use that sort of material in questions. You know that; you stamp it out reasonably quickly. You have even gone to the extent today of saying that something you ruled to be in order last week is now ruled to be out of order. It is only the Prime Minister and her Ministers who use that sort of extraneous matter to try to divert attention away from what, in this case, is very evidently their corrupt practice.
Madam SPEAKER: I have ruled on the point of order. I will call for the next supplementary question.
John Carter: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. The question asked by the Leader of the Opposition to the Prime Minister was very simple: “Will she pay back the money?”. I listened very, very carefully to the answer. Despite a number of interjections—I had my ear to the microphone—I have to say that the Prime Minister went through a whole series of various issues, but did not address the question with a simple yes or no. She did not actually address the question.
Hon Trevor Mallard: Speaking to the point of order—
Madam SPEAKER: No—I thank the member. The question was strictly addressed to the Prime Minister as a party leader, because she has no ministerial responsibility in such matters. I would also note, however, as I have noted before, that Ministers are not required to give yes or no answers. They are required to address the question. I want there to be no further comment on this particular point of order. We have another point of order from Rodney Hide.
Rodney Hide: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. Dr Brash raised a point of order citing a Standing Order, and your response was to say you had noted it. I am left confused as to what is meant when the Speaker notes a point of order. Is the ruling in favour of the person who raised the point of order or against that person? It would help us further down the track if you would give a ruling, because just to say that you have noted something leaves us in the dark.
Madam SPEAKER: I thank the member. I said I noted it, and the member may recall that I went on to draw all members’ attention to that point of order and to the substance of the Standing Order, and I sought that they would in fact observe that Standing Order in the future.
Nandor Tanczos: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I invite you to reconsider your ruling on Heather Roy’s question—and I am sorry to go back a little bit. The issue is simply that in this House members quite often ask Ministers whether they agree with a statement of some political commentator or independent expert, and those questions are considered to be within the Standing Orders. I think that to say Heather Roy’s question was out of order, when she was asking whether the Prime Minister agreed with the statements of a Labour Party member, simply because they are both members of the Labour Party seems to me to have quite significant implications. So I would ask you to give that some thought perhaps and come back to us.
Madam SPEAKER: No, it was not ruled out of order solely on that. It is the capacity that the member has in relation to the question that was asked. There was no ministerial responsibility, at all. Of course one can be asked for comments and for reports, but one cannot comment on other parties’ activities for which one has no responsibility at all, either. I just draw the member’s attention to the rulings on that. I am happy to assist by giving a new ruling—to take that point under consideration and bring a ruling back, so it is clear to everybody. I can see this is a point that members obviously do need some guidance on, so I am happy to take it under consideration and to come down with a formal ruling on it.
Hon Murray McCully: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I had some difficulty in hearing what the Prime Minister was saying, but I took it from her most recent answer that she was making a suggestion that I was somehow involved in something improper or untoward in some way. I raise this point of order under Standing Order 116, because I do take offence at the suggestion that I believe the Prime Minister was making. I can assure her it is untrue, and I would like you to suggest to her that she take the appropriate action.
Madam SPEAKER: I could not hear because of the barrage of noise, but I say to the Rt Hon Prime Minister: the member has raised the question that a comment you made was a reflection on him. Would you please withdraw that comment.
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: The suggestion I made was that Mr McCully was not only well aware of but had some input into the publication of the leaflets. I am prepared to accept the member’s word that that was not true.
Hon Murray McCully: I asked her to withdraw.
Madam SPEAKER: You have to withdraw, Prime Minister.
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: And on that basis I will withdraw it.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Having regard to the last intervention from Mr McCully, would the Prime Minister advise the House as to whether she has received reports of a failure to declare expenses—for example, of over half a million dollars by the Exclusive Brethren church, which was in daily liaison with the National Party before the election and well after it, as every one of my colleagues full well knows from countless phone calls we got?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I am aware that the Chief Electoral Officer referred Exclusive Brethren pamphlets to the police because he concluded that they appeared to promote the party vote for National. Those pamphlets were not put in National’s return. I say to Dr Brash that estimated publicity of $1 million was not included.
3. MARYAN STREET (Labour) to the Minister of Energy: Has he received any recent reports on Project Aqua?
Hon TREVOR MALLARD (Acting Minister of Energy): Project Aqua was dropped because, inter alia, it was very unpopular amongst locals, there were issues relating to water rights, there were geotechnical issues that required extensive and expensive redesign, and it would have destroyed New Zealand’s finest braided river system. It has been replaced by a smaller-scale proposal, which is regarded as being very sensible by locals. I note in a report in the National Business Review that the National environment spokesperson, Nick Smith, wants to resurrect the older, rejected project.
Maryan Street: What other reports has the Acting Minister seen on Project Aqua?
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: They have been confused and contradictory. I have seen a report of Bill English supporting the project, of Nick Smith opposing a proposal to assist it, and of Don Brash just being confused—overall, an AC/DC approach to power.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: Is the Minister aware that in the last 5 years we have seen built only 460 megawatts of additional generation capacity—less than half of what was built in the previous 5 years—and that that lack of generation investment is driving up power prices and reducing security; will it take the lights to go out for this Government to realise that its energy and resource management policies are a flop?
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: Contrary to what the member says, in the last 6 years over 500 megawatts of renewable power has been brought on in New Zealand, notwithstanding the non-renewable power that has also been brought on. I say to Dr Smith that it is really important that when he comes to the House on energy matters, he gets his facts right first.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. It is not 2 minutes since you gave a ruling drawing attention to Standing Order 377, “Contents of replies”. I think it is time you did bring Ministers into line, because that last sentence of what was said by Trevor Mallard was clearly out of line with what you have just said to the House, and it is certainly contradictory to Standing Order 377(2)(c).
Madam SPEAKER: I agree with the member. The Minister should not have addressed Dr Smith directly. I ask him to withdraw that part of his answer, please.
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: I withdraw.
Gordon Copeland: If the project is to not proceed, in view of the opposition that has been voiced towards it, where, in his view, will that leave consumers in terms of future electricity price rises?
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: I think it is inevitable, and most members are aware, that there will be price rises in electricity over the years in New Zealand. We have had some of the cheapest electricity in the world. We are doing a lot of very good work in the renewable areas, including in the wind area, but I think it is fair to say that this Government will not override a decision-making process that rejected a scheme that just would not have worked, going on current public attitudes.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: In light of the comment made by the Minister that the scheme was inherently unpopular, I seek leave to table the election results for the Otago electorate, in which National’s Jacqui Dean thrashed David Parker by a considerable margin, despite the fact that Jacqui Dean supported Project Aqua, with suitable conditions, and David Parker sat on the fence.
Madam SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection? There is objection.
Corrections, Department—Public Safety
4. SIMON POWER (National—Rangitikei) to the Minister of Corrections: Does he agree with the statement contained in the 2004-05 Department of Corrections annual report that the “purpose of the corrections system is to improve public safety”; if so, is he satisfied that his department is fulfilling this purpose?
Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR (Minister of Corrections): Yes.
Simon Power: Does he agree with police officer X, who was interviewed on Radio Live this morning, and said: “I certainly don’t think the answer is to say that jails are overcrowded, let’s let them all back into the community. I mean, they’re there for a reason. They’re there because we need to be kept free from them and safe from them.”; and is it just possible that officer X, with over 20 years’ experience, has a better idea of who is and who is not a risk to society than the Minister with his catch-and-release policy?
Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I think it probably relates to Standing Order 377(2)(b), but that is from memory. There was certainly an ironic expression within that question. We have been asked to be strict about those things, and clearly that question was out of order. The bit at the end was absolutely unnecessary for the sense of the question.
Madam SPEAKER: I ask members just to try to restrain themselves from the little ironic twists that they put in questions and answers.
Simon Power: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. We find ourselves in a difficult position, because—
Madam SPEAKER: Yes, you do. And so do I.
Simon Power: Last week that phrase was not ruled out of order in any way, shape, or form, and the way members on the Opposition side of the House ask questions should not be interpreted in the same light in which that Minister’s reputation has grown with his little abusive remarks at the end of his statements.
Madam SPEAKER: Well, that last remark was unnecessary! But the member has a point, which is that if I as Speaker enforce those rules strictly, we will not really have much of a question and answer time. So some common sense has to be observed. But it was a timely reminder of those rules—as, in fact, we have had from the other side of the House before.
Hon Trevor Mallard: Point of order.
Madam SPEAKER: I am sorry; I have ruled on the point of order. Is this a different point of order?
Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. During your intervention before Simon Power’s latest point of order, Simon Power interjected while you were speaking. I ask that the same rules apply to him as are applied to Dr Brash. You were ruling on the previous point of order, and Simon Power interjected.
Madam SPEAKER: I thank the member, but I as Speaker also interrupted the member. So we will call that a draw.
Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: I do not know officer X, so I am not possibly able to comment on his competency to make a judgment.
Martin Gallagher: Can the Minister confirm that the number of escapes from prisons has dropped since Labour came to power in 1999?
Madam SPEAKER: Order, please. We want to hear the answer.
Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: Yes, indeed. In 1997-98 there were about seven break-out escapes per 1,000 prisoners; in 2004-05 the figure was about 1.5 per 1,000 prisoners—a considerable drop.
Tariana Turia: When will the recommendations from the report of the Office of the Ombudsmen regarding detention and treatment of prisoners be implemented, particularly those urgent recommendations relating to the need for humane conditions that meet international human rights standards?
Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: I have every confidence we are meeting those standards right now, and we are working on recommendations from that report to improve the rehabilitation of prisoners and their reintegration into the community.
Simon Power: How can the Minister reconcile his statement that “people who are spending less than 6 months in jail—that is, almost 30 percent of inmates—are people who are no risk to society”, with the purpose of the corrections system to improve public safety, when a quick trawl through the media shows that those inmates include people who habitually drink-drive, who defraud vulnerable people who are in their care, who sexually assault other human beings, and who thumb their noses at already-existing non-incarceration alternatives?
Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: Any offenders who pose any threat to society will not be allowed out into society or to be part of any new programme. I quote from a statement: “Non-violent first-time prisoners may get a small concession for good behaviour and rehabilitation. We would retain the option of home detention for non-violent offenders.” That statement was made by Don Brash, the current Leader of the Opposition, in July 2004.
Nandor Tanczos: Has the Minister read the 1989 ministerial review of the prison system, known as the Roper report, and if he has, which of its excellent recommendations does he intend to implement?
Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: I have read much since becoming Minister. I have not read the Roper report, but I understand there are many wise recommendations in it, and they will be part of the consideration that is currently taking place.
Simon Power: Who is right: the Minister with his decision to let out 30 percent of the prison population because they are no risk to society, or the previous Minister of Corrections, Paul Swain, who said in March 2005: “Inmate numbers are increasing because this Government has got tough on crime following the 1999 law and order referendum.”?
Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: We are both right.
Simon Power: Will the Minister just confirm that his policy is all about saving money, and not about victims’ rights, rehabilitating offenders, or public safety?
Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: It is not just about money. It is about all the things that the member mentioned in his question.
Work and Income New Zealand—International Representatives
5. HONE HARAWIRA (Mâori Party—Te Tai Tokerau) to the Minister for Social Development and Employment: What Work and Income protocols exist to support people representing New Zealand, internationally, while absent from New Zealand?
Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE (Minister for Social Development and Employment): The Government’s obligation to pay income support usually ceases when the client leaves the country.
Hone Harawira: E tautoko ana te kawanatanga i ngâ kaitâkaro o Aotearoa i a râtou e tû ana i ngâ whakataetae o te Ao, ngâ whenua e tuohu nei ki te Kuini o Ingarangi rânei, â, mçnâ, âe, he aha nei te âwhina ki a râtou i Te Tari Kore Mahi?
[An interpretation in English was given to the House.]
[Have New Zealand athletes been supported by the Government while competing at Olympic or Commonwealth Games; if so, what assistance are they given by Work and Income?]
Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: Not that I am aware, and my understanding is that under current legislation I do not have any discretion in such matters.
Hone Harawira: He aha tana whakamârama ki te take o Kahukura Bentson, kaimekemeke Mâori mô Aotearoa, kua tonoa kia whakahokia tana penihana i a ia e whakataetae nei mô Aotearoa i ngâ kçmu o Mânchester i te tau 2002, â, kua tono anô hoki kia whakahokia taua pehihana i a ia e whakariterite ana i Canberra mô ngâ kçmu e tû ana ki Melbourne?
[An interpretation in English was given to the House.]
[What explanation can he give for the fact that in 2002 Kahukura Bentson, a Mâori boxer, was made to repay the income benefit he had received while representing New Zealand at the Manchester Commonwealth Games, and that he has again been asked to repay the income benefit he received during a build-up tournament for the Melbourne Commonwealth Games in Canberra?]
Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: Can I repeat that my advice is that under current legislation I do not have any discretion in these matters. I would be happy to investigate the particular incidents raised by the member, should he provide me with the details.
Television New Zealand—Former Chief Executive
6. JOHN KEY (National—Helensville) to the Minister of Broadcasting: When did the chairperson of the board of Television New Zealand advise him of the board’s decision to strip former chief executive Ian Fraser of his remaining duties, and what form did that advice take, given his statement to the House last week: “The chairperson simply advised me that it had been done.”?
Hon PHIL GOFF (Minister of Defence) on behalf of the Minister of Broadcasting: The chairperson of the board of Television New Zealand advised the Minister by telephone in late December that the board had written to the former chief executive Ian Fraser, withdrawing his duties.
John Key: When the chairperson advised him that Television New Zealand intended to make a misconduct claim against Ian Fraser did he agree with that decision, and, if not, why did he not publicly lambaste the board as he did during the Judy Bailey fiasco, given that both issues are of an operational nature?
Hon PHIL GOFF: The chairperson of the board advised the Minister that this was the decision that had been made. That was perfectly appropriate. Otherwise it was an employment matter and not within the discretion of the Minister of Broadcasting.
John Key: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I asked the Minister quite clearly why he did not choose to take the form of action that he chose when he investigated the Judy Bailey fiasco. I did not ask him what the chairperson told him. We understand exactly what the chairperson told the Minister. We want to understand what the Minister’s view was, whether he agreed with that, and why he had a differing view to the one he took on Judy Bailey.
Madam SPEAKER: I ask the Minister to address the question.
Hon PHIL GOFF: It was not for the Minister to agree or disagree. It was an employment matter. He was simply advised of that by the chairperson, as is appropriate.
Madam SPEAKER: No, I think the member is saying that his question was about a comparison of two different situations. If the Minister is in a position to do so, would he like to address that?
Hon PHIL GOFF: The question asked why he did not take action. It was not for the Minister to take action; that is the answer to the question. He was advised of the situation by the chairperson.
John Key: I asked the member quite clearly what differentiated the Judy Bailey situation from the action that he took when he was advised that the board would take a misconduct claim against Mr Fraser. It is quite clear. We just want to understand what was going through his mind at the time.
Hon PHIL GOFF: Because the cases were different.
H V Ross Robertson: Can the Minister tell the House who has the responsibilities for the issues raised by Mr Fraser with respect to his employment?
Hon PHIL GOFF: The board is appointed to undertake the governance role at Television New Zealand. The responsibility for employment of the chief executive officer of any Crown entity is a matter for the board, and it is not subject to ministerial interference.
Hon Georgina te Heuheu: Is it not time that the Minister realised that Craig Boyce, chairman of Television New Zealand, is a liability to this Government and a dead weight who is dragging down the company, and would not getting rid of him now be the best way to draw a line under this whole sorry saga?
Hon PHIL GOFF: I very much regret it when a person abuses the privilege of this House to personally insult an individual and make unsubstantiated claims against him. That member has done just that. I invite her to repeat those claims outside the House, and then the person whom she is complaining about can take suitable action against her.
John Key: When the Minister was told of the course of action that the board of Television New Zealand was taking in relation to the misconduct claim, did it occur to him that that would lead to a breach of privilege; if not, does he think that his ignorance in this matter added to Television New Zealand’s predicament?
Hon PHIL GOFF: I doubt that it did occur to the Minister at the time that that might be construed as a breach of privilege. I do note, however, the ruling made by the Speaker in this House that normally in a matter like this whereby the board has apologised, it would be within the Speaker’s discretion to just move on. But there are matters that need to be clarified. I think that there are grey areas, and I think that members on the Finance and Expenditure Committee would agree with that and there is a good purpose for that matter being clarified before the Privileges Committee. It is not for me to pre-empt that committee in its findings in any way,
John Key: What responsibility will he take for a board that has overseen the abject litany of failure at Television New Zealand, including protracted employment disputes with senior presenters, golden handshakes to outgoing employees, breach of parliamentary privilege, and a landslide in rating?
Hon PHIL GOFF: Contrary to what the member has just said, last week Television New Zealand announced that TV2 ratings, for example, had reached a 30-month high. As it has some of the most successful and most popular programmes it is doing very well financially. I challenge the assumptions made in the member’s question.
John Key: Who should the public hold accountable for the self-inflicted litany of disasters that Television New Zealand has made in recent times; and if we are to believe that sole responsibility lies with the board of Television New Zealand, why does he still have confidence in the board, as he said to the House last week that indeed he did?
Hon PHIL GOFF: I believe that by and large the board has carried out its responsibilities competently. I do regret, of course—as every member in this House would regret—the disagreement between the chief executive and the board. It is not for me or the Minister to determine where the fault lies in an employment matter. That is sorted out by the board and is subject to employment law.
Labour Market—Contribution of Immigration
7. RUSSELL FAIRBROTHER (Labour) to the Minister of Immigration: What recent reports has he received regarding the contribution of immigration to New Zealand labour-market conditions?
Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE (Minister of Immigration): I have seen a report that Craig Foss, the brand new National MP for Tukituki, has attacked the Immigration Service for arresting illegal overstayers working as fruit pickers in Hawke’s Bay. Mr Foss apparently believes that kicking legitimate workers out of their jobs is one law for all.
Russell Fairbrother: Can the Minister confirm that the tip-off to the department came from workers who were sacked to make way for those illegal overstayers?
Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: Sadly, yes I can confirm that one of those sacked Kiwi workers was told that he was being laid off because new illegal contract scab labour had been hired at a lower rate.
Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. You will be aware that when primary questions are asked by the Opposition, verification has to be provided. The Minister has just said that he has proof, evidence—whatever—that some workers were laid off for others to be given a particular job. The only way he could have that would be if he actually had operational material from his ministry. We have been told repeatedly by Ministers and by yourself that such material should not be, and is not, available to them. I invite the Minister to table the information he has so that he can back up his allegations.
Madam SPEAKER: The member has raised a legitimate point. Questions certainly do have to be verified, but under the Standing Orders answers do not.
Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: I seek leave to table an article from Hawke’s Bay Today in which the member concerned is quoted on the matter, and another article in which the Hon Rick Barker is quoted on the matter. I can verify to the House that it was Mr Barker who was approached by the sacked worker.
Madam SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table those documents. Is there any objection? Yes, there is objection. They will not be tabled.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: I seek the leave of the House to table a clip from the Nelson Mail in which the local member of Parliament, Damien O’Connor, said that the orchardists required the Immigration Service to take a broad approach and not to prosecute where overseas persons—
Madam SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection? Yes, there is objection.
Russell Fairbrother: What advice does the Minister have for members of Parliament who criticise the arrest of illegal workers?
Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: My advice is to put the interests of their constituents first—not to toe the National Party line, which is apparently to align Kiwi workers’ wages not with Australia but with Vietnam, India, and Indonesia.
Craig Foss: Does the Minister truly believe that his department has seasonal work issues addressed, when desperate and frustrated growers in Hawke’s Bay with crops waiting to be harvested have given up on the Minister’s approval in principle process because of bureaucracy and delays; and, with over 6,000 forecast vacancies in the region, is this a clear sign that the Minister’s strategy for seasonal labour is not working?
Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: The industry has welcomed the launch of the Horticulture and Viticulture Seasonal Labour Strategy, which includes approvals in principle for grape and fruit pickers. I can inform the House that three approvals in principle have been issued for apple growers in the Hawke’s Bay. One of them was turned down by the department because of corruption on the part of the recruitment agency.
Dr the Hon Lockwood Smith: Do the Minister’s department’s criteria for picking up illegal overstayers in New Zealand target any particular groups for any particular reasons; if not, will we now see greater effort to pick up overstayers across all ethnicities and all regions of New Zealand?
Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: Most definitely the service does target that. It targets legal workers with the skills to do the job, wherever they come from.
Focus 2000 Ltd—Quality of Care
8. Hon TONY RYALL (National—Bay of Plenty) to the Minister of Health: What did he mean when on Friday morning he said: “officials are now of the view that the quality of care at Focus is no better or worse than the quality of care anywhere else around the country.”, and is he satisfied with that quality of care provided by Focus?
Hon PETE HODGSON (Minister of Health): I meant what I said. However, within an hour of my making that statement on Friday morning new information was provided to me and to officials that changed our view significantly. I can no longer express satisfaction with the care provided by Focus 2000, and have directed officials to meet with Focus 2000 this week to begin investigating a number of potentially serious allegations.
Hon Tony Ryall: The Minister having said on radio this morning that he was embarrassed to have given such an undertaking without knowing the full story, what is the nature of the new information or allegations that he has received?
Hon PETE HODGSON: I am not going to give—indeed, it is not in the national interest for me to give—details of the new information or, indeed, the sources of that new information. But I will say to the member that the information came from a variety of sources, mainly during the course of Friday, and a little more over the weekend.
Ann Hartley: Has the Government increased funding for disability support services; if so, by how much?
Hon PETE HODGSON: Yes, we have; by a lot. The increase in disability support services funding in the 12 months ended 1 July last year was about $100 million, or about 16 percent. Investments like this can be made only by a Government that does not put reckless, unaffordable tax cuts ahead of quality public services.
Hon Tony Ryall: Is the Minister going to leave this investigation of Focus 2000 in the hands of the same bureaucrats who have let the problem continue for the last 2 to 3 years?
Hon PETE HODGSON: The member seems to be unaware that it is normal practice for the Ministry of Health to contract independent quality auditors when it wants a quality audit done.
Hon Tony Ryall: If the Minister was expressing confidence in Focus 2000 amid reports of deaths, mistreatment, and understaffing, then just how serious is the new rash of information and complaints that has prompted this action?
Hon PETE HODGSON: The reports of deaths and people being injured—and, in fact, serious overpayment to this outfit, Focus 2000—go back 2, 3, and, mainly, 4 years. The reason that this has surfaced as an issue in 2006 is that a report leaked by persons unknown gave rise to further debate around the activities of Focus 2000.
Dr Paul Hutchison: Why has it taken the Minister so long to recognise the inadequacies of the Ministry of Health’s disability auditing system, which has been described as a seriously flawed tick-box arrangement, and which was rejected by the Standards and Monitoring Services Trust 2 years ago because it did not enshrine a quality of life - based philosophy?
Hon PETE HODGSON: I think the member must be confusing the range of audits that take place. A bunch of audits—typically named “certification”—are there to ensure that there are minimum standards. There is a bunch of financial audits, which are self-explanatory, and there is a bunch of quality audits. In the case of quality audits the auditor, typically independent of the ministry, actively questions residents or clients, and parents or friends of residents or clients, to ensure that the outfit being audited is satisfactory.
Dr Paul Hutchison: Does the Minister accept the claim that under the new auditing system of certification it is possible for an agency to receive a certificate based on the audit of a small selection of its homes, and that some homes could be certified without an auditor setting foot in the door; and what does he intend to do about it?
Hon PETE HODGSON: No.
Dr Paul Hutchison: Does the Minister feel embarrassed by his remark on Morning Report last week to the effect that the services provided by Focus 2000 are no better or worse than those of any other service provider in the country, and will he here and now apologise to the thousands of disabled people whom he has insulted?
Hon PETE HODGSON: My remarks at 7.30 a.m. on Friday were based on information available to me at that time. Within an hour new information had arrived that occasioned me to have a further meeting with the Ministry of Health, which later that day said that further investigations would now take place.
9. DIANNE YATES (Labour) to the Minister of Defence: What progress has been made on acquiring a new multi-role vessel for the Navy?
Hon PHIL GOFF (Minister of Defence): Good progress has been made, with construction being on schedule and within budget. The ship has been launched, with its initial fit-out currently under way at Merwede in the Netherlands. In July it will sail for Melbourne for its final fit-out, and for the addition of military equipment. The Ministry of Defence will accept the ship in December, just 20 months after the first steel was cut.
Dianne Yates: What capabilities will the multi-role vessel add to our Defence Force?
Hon PHIL GOFF: The multi-role vessel will provide tactical sealift, and patrol and at-sea training, for the navy. It is capable of carrying, for example, 250 troops; around 50 vehicles, including light armoured vehicles and Pinzgauers; four helicopters; and 33 containers. Its landing craft and its helicopters will increase our capacity for disaster relief in the Pacific. It will also work with a range of other departments to protect our borders.
Hon Murray McCully: Is the Minister aware that the process by which the contract for the multi-role vessel was awarded was a subject of an Ombudsman’s review that made a number of criticisms of the Ministry of Defence, and a number of recommendations; and can he give the House an assurance that all those recommendations have now been implemented?
Hon PHIL GOFF: I can tell the member that the process followed by the ministry was in accordance with the practice guidelines for procurement, which were put out by the Office of the Controller and Auditor-General. The process was properly audited by Audit New Zealand, which did not find fault with it. The Ombudsman came up with the conclusion that because one of the tenders had been inadequately prepared, the ministry should go back to that tenderer. Now, that does produce some difficulties, as the member will be aware, because if the ministry went back to one tenderer and said that the tender had not been adequately prepared, the ministry could be prejudicing the cases of other tenderers. The ministry is currently implementing those aspects of the recommendations, as appropriate, but it is also seeking Crown Law and private legal advice on the issue I have just raised.
Dianne Yates: Given the National Government’s experience of major instability with the last sealift vessel, the Charles Upham, what confidence does the Minister have that the new ship will not suffer from the same problems?
Hon PHIL GOFF: I am very conscious of the difficulties that were incurred by the Charles Upham—the “Chuck-Up”, as the seamen on board used to refer to it. As a result, we have gone about this process in quite a different way from our predecessors. We did rigorous tank-testing last year, which showed that the multi-role vessel fully met its sea-keeping requirements. The testing has shown that the vessel is capable of being fully operational in harsher conditions than weather that keeps the Cook Strait ferries in port. I think that that is a very good result from that testing.
Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I did not interrupt the member answering, because you had clearly decided he should answer. But I ask you to look at the Hansard record after this and consider whether that question was in order, and whether the answer was in order. It would be our assertion that, given the discussion earlier today, both question and answer were well out of order, and that Mr Goff had a bit of a free hit, as it were. But if we are to have rigid enforcement of the Standing Orders around questions that are contentious, I think that similar provisions should be applied to the question for which we have just heard an answer.
Hon PHIL GOFF: Very briefly, I say that the thrust of the question asked what confidence I have that the new ship will not endure the same problems that the previous sealift vessel had. That is absolutely within my responsibilities—absolutely appropriate—and the member’s point of order is without foundation.
Madam SPEAKER: I am happy to look at the matter for the member, and that was the essence of his point of order. There is a further point of order? It is a different point of order, I hope.
Gerry Brownlee: No, that is not the essence of my point of order. It is simply to say that had Mr Goff required the back-bench patsy question to be asked in that way, it would have complied. But he did not, and that really is the issue.
Madam SPEAKER: I am sorry—
Gerry Brownlee: If the Minister had kept his answers—
Madam SPEAKER: Would the member please be seated?
Gerry Brownlee:—only to that particular issue, it would have complied, as well.
Madam SPEAKER: Would the member please be seated? I said that I would look at the matter for the member. I can do no more at this moment.
Question No. 10 to Minister
JUDITH COLLINS (National—Clevedon): I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I seek your assistance on this matter, pursuant to Standing Order 369 and Speaker’s Ruling 145/2, as I see that I am to raise this issue with you during question time. I put in a question this morning for the Minister, when I asked whether he had been advised of any reports that stated he had misused his ministerial position. There is a report in Investigate magazine that makes that allegation. That question was ruled out of order, after it had been in the Clerk’s Office for about an hour, and I understand that you may have had something to do with that decision, Madam Speaker. I wonder whether you could give me some assistance so that that question does not get ruled out of order again.
Madam SPEAKER: I had no knowledge that the member had put in a different question before I received the list of questions that were to be put, then I was informed, as I was on several other questions—as I often am—that there had been an alteration to those. I personally have nothing to do with that.
JUDITH COLLINS: I seek leave to ask my original question.
Madam SPEAKER: The question was ruled out of order by the Clerk’s Office, but the member can seek leave to do that. The member has sought leave. Is there any objection? There is objection.
Social Development and Employment, Minister—Speeches
10. JUDITH COLLINS (National—Clevedon) to the Minister for Social Development and Employment: How many speeches has he delivered in his capacity as Minister for Social Development and Employment?
Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE (Minister for Social Development and Employment): Six.
Judith Collins: Did the Minister agree to speak at the 10th Australasian Conference on Child Abuse and Neglect last week; if so, why did he not front up to speak—was it because of the police finding of a prima facie case that he assaulted children in his care, and that to do so would be extremely duplicitous?
Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. The Minister was asked a very straightforward question on how many speeches he has delivered in his capacity as Minister for Social Development and Employment. He gave a very specific answer. Supplementary questions must relate to either the question or the answer. Why someone chose, or did not choose, to give another speech does not relate to either.
John Carter: That is really a silly point of order from this point of view. The question was about how many speeches the Minister has given. The supplementary question asked about the contents of those speeches, and was quite within order.
Madam SPEAKER: I understand the point of order as raised by the Minister, and one could say that, strictly, the question was only about the number of speeches. However, it was about speeches, so I rule that in fact the question is in order.
Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: I certainly do not agree with the proposition in the second part of the question, but I am only too happy to stand in line behind the Governor-General, the Prime Minister, and my colleague Ruth Dyson, who has delegated responsibility in this area.
Judith Collins: Does the Minister consider that an event of the size and importance of last week’s conference on child abuse, at which he was listed in the programme as a speaker, should have been one that he spoke at, given his ministry’s role in co-hosting?
Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: That is why I attended.
Judith Collins: How does the Minister expect to carry out his job if every time he is asked to speak on issues of child abuse he has to be aware that listeners are wondering how he has the cheek to lecture them about children’s rights when he has shown so little regard for them himself?
Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. It is clearly a very predictable point of order.
Madam SPEAKER: Yes, the word “cheek” is obviously what you are objecting to. Would the member like to withdraw that phrase, please.
Judith Collins: I withdraw it. I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I would like to insert the word “gall”.
Madam SPEAKER: I am sorry, but that is coming really close to trifling with the House. Would the member please withdraw the word and leave it at that.
Judith Collins: I withdraw.
Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: Without difficulty. Can I refer the member to the statement released by the police on 23 November last year.
Judith Collins: Was that the statement that also said there was a prima facie case that the Minister had assaulted children in his care?
Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: It was a statement that made it very clear that the police had fully investigated those matters and chosen to take no further action.
Overseas Investment Commission—Strategic Infrastructure
11. PETER BROWN (Deputy Leader—NZ First) to the Minister of Finance: Is he satisfied that the Overseas Investment Commission considers and protects New Zealand’s national interest when deciding on the fate of sales of strategic infrastructure, such as the port of Lyttelton?
Hon TREVOR MALLARD (Minister for Economic Development), on behalf of the Minister of Finance: Yes, under new overseas investment legislation that came into effect last year, criteria to assess a benefit to New Zealand was made more comprehensive to ensure that the value of sensitive New Zealand assets are recognised and enhanced by an overseas owner.
Peter Brown: Is the Minister aware that all our ports have had their security beefed up, principally at the behest of the Americans, and is he also aware that in the USA, I think six ports are up for sale, and the Americans are endeavouring to ban them, principally for security reasons, and if he is aware of that does he not think he should take a closer look at the sale of the port of Lyttelton?
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: There are no specific criteria in the Act relating to national security. However, the general law, for example biosecurity and customs legislation, applies to the port regardless of the nationality of the owner. If the member has specific concerns about this issue he could take it up with the Minister of Finance. If he has matters that go to international affairs he might like to talk to the Minister of Foreign Affairs.
12. Hon BILL ENGLISH (National—Clutha-Southland) to the Minister of Education: What proportion of parents are able to choose the school their child attends?
Hon TREVOR MALLARD (Minister for Economic Development), on behalf of the Minister of Education: Generally all, but 22 percent of schools currently have enrolment schemes that protect the rights of parents to have children attend their local school if that is the parents’ choice. This policy was introduced by National in 1998 after the disastrous results of its decision to abandon zoning in 1991.
Hon Bill English: If, as the member says, generally all parents have a choice about where their child goes to school, why is it then Labour Government policy to keep secret from parents information about schools that is contained on the SchoolSmart website?
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: Because this Government believes in undertakings made, when data is collected, being kept.
Moana Mackey: What reports has he seen on alternatives to the current system where students have a right to attend their local school?
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: I have seen an approach that would introduce a competitive market between schools, reintroduce bulk funding, and set up schools for privatisation. These policies are advocated by someone who says he does not care who owns our schools—the absent Dr Brash.
Madam SPEAKER: Would the member please apologise and withdraw that remark.
Hon Trevor Mallard: I apologise and withdraw.
Hon Brian Donnelly: Can the Minister confirm that when the then Minister of Education, Lockwood Smith, abolished school zoning in the early 1990s, the areas that were most negatively affected were blue-ribbon areas such as Epsom, and that the hue and cry from such areas became so strident that National, with the support of ACT and Mauri Pacific, reintroduced geographic zoning in November 1998?
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: Yes, I can confirm that all of that is correct. I can also confirm that as a result of the policy, 47 percent of Mâori parents who tried to enrol their children at schools with limited entry were unable to, compared with 10 percent of Pâkehâ. When principals selected, we got some results that were not random.
Hon Bill English: Which of the following data, collected by the ministry and available on the SchoolSmart website, does the Government believe is too dangerous for parents to see, and that they should be protected from seeing: ancillary staff hours, expenditure on property and depreciation, predicted roll compared with actual roll, roll-change comparison by similar schools, or suspensions per 1,000 students?
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: All that material is available.
Hon Brian Donnelly: Can the Minister confirm that when, under his administration, balloting of school students was introduced, principals such as John Morris warned the Government that parents would indulge in large-scale cheating in certain areas, and will he put in place some policies that might assist some of those schools in overcoming such practices of some parents?
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: I know that the former Minister of Education worked very closely with John Morris in order to work through some of those issues. They worked in a collaborative way and made a lot of progress. I note that currently there are 10 requests to the ministry from people who have been declined enrolment at Auckland Grammar who claim to live in the zone. So far, three of those cases have been resolved. There has been a direction to the school to enrol them. The other seven cases are being worked on.
Hon Bill English: If, as the Minister says, all the information available on the SchoolSmart website is publicly available, why has he stated publicly now several times that this information is too dangerous for parents to see and that he will not allow parents to have access to it, even though school principals and the ministry use it all the time to compare schools?
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: What the Minister answering for the Minister said in the House today was that the three pieces of information that the member asked for were all publicly available.
Hon Bill English: Is the Minister now telling us that parents must be protected from actually being able to use information that is publicly available, because, as he realises, the SchoolSmart website produces that information in a way that means that it can be compared from school to school? Does the Minister believe that the information is OK if it is publicly available, but is dangerous if it can be used?
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: Not at all.
Hon Bill English: Does the Minister understand how ridiculous it sounds when he says that information that is publicly available must be kept secret from parents in case they start using it to compare schools?
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: I can understand how ridiculous the member sounds.
Madam SPEAKER: If the Minister would just like to rephrase that answer.
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: I can understand how silly the question sounds in the House.
Hon Bill English: Can the Minister explain to members of the House—a number of whom are parents of schoolchildren—why this information on the SchoolSmart website should be kept secret from them, and what it is about parents that renders them so dangerous and stupid that they should not be allowed to see the information?
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: I would not consider most of the parents in this House stupid.
Finance and Expenditure Committee—Television New Zealand Inquiry
1. RODNEY HIDE (Leader—ACT) to the Chairperson of the Finance and Expenditure Committee: Does he have copies of my letter to him as chairman relating to the committee’s inquiry into Television New Zealand; if not, who has the copies that he referred to last week?
SHANE JONES (Chairperson of the Finance and Expenditure Committee): Yes.
Rodney Hide: Could the chairperson explain what determined this letter from last week to be a “so-called letter” and “not relevant”, and therefore able to be ripped up by him?
SHANE JONES: I have responded to the member’s letter. He has been invited to raise his concerns at the committee, which is the appropriate place to deal with his anxieties.