Questions & Answers for Oral Answer 28 Feb. 2006
Questions for Oral Answer
1. Social Development and Employment,
2. Kamo Intermediate School—Roll Audit
4. KiwiSaver Scheme—Reports
5. Social Development and Employment, Minister—Complaints
7. School Property Consultant, Canterbury—Investigation
8. Child Youth and Family Services—Review
9. State Sector—Spending Reviews
10. Avian Influenza—Preparation
11. Corrections, Department—Purpose
12. Transit New Zealand—State Highway Planning Process
Questions for Oral Answer
Questions to Ministers
Social Development and Employment, Minister—Complaints
1. JUDITH COLLINS (National—Clevedon) to the Minister for Social Development and Employment: What complaints, if any, has he been advised of that could seriously impact on his ability to carry out his job as Minister for Social Development and Employment?
Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE (Minister for Social Development and Employment): None.
Judith Collins: Does he accept that complaints asserting that he acted inappropriately as a teacher were made against him, and that his then headmaster, Bruce Leadbetter, had conversations with him about those complaints; if not, why not?
Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: Had the House allowed me to make my personal explanation, I would have discussed and traversed those matters, but I can tell the member that I do not believe that anything I did was outside the school policy at the time.
Judith Collins: Would the Minister now like to take this opportunity to revise his statement on 12 May 2005 when he asserted that he was not guilty of any inappropriate behaviour, and that he was not aware of any complaints made against him?
Madam SPEAKER: I think that question, from listening to it, asked the Minister to respond to a matter for which he is not responsible at this time, but for which he was responsible in a previous capacity. Would the member like to reconsider it?
Judith Collins: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. The Minister referred to the statement of 12 May 2005 in the answer he gave to the previous supplementary question, so I think that if you consider my question, you will find it is in order.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: The problem with the proposition put to you, Madam Speaker, by the member from the National Party is that Mr Benson-Pope is now being invited to do what National members denied him leave to do. That is totally inappropriate and it trivialises the proceedings of this House. Why did they oppose leave in the first place?
Madam SPEAKER: That is not a point of order. The Minister may answer. But the question as I heard it—and maybe the member would like to repeat it—was in an Associate Minister of Education capacity, which the Minister does not have at the moment. I ask the member to please redirect the question, so that there is direct responsibility for it.
Judith Collins: Does the Minister accept that the complaints that he denied on 12 May 2005 are such that they would affect his ability to carry out his job as the Minister for Social Development and Employment?
Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: No, and I remain convinced that my conduct as a teacher was not inappropriate. However, I do accept that the concerns of some former students were genuinely held, and to them I offer an apology for any upset.
Judith Collins: Can the Minister understand why many are sceptical that he has no recollection of complaints laid against him, when the former principal of Bayfield High School states that he had discussed the complaint with him and school policies were actually changed as a result of those complaints about his behaviour?
Madam SPEAKER: I think that the member is again going back to matters for which the Minister is not responsible now. Would she like to comply with the Standing Orders. The Minister is responsible for matters at the moment as the Minister for Social Development and Employment.
Judith Collins: Does the Minister agree with the views of John Armstrong, writing in today’s New Zealand Herald that: “Beneficiaries are obliged to be straight about their personal circumstances in their dealings with Work and Income.”; and, later: “… Mr Benson-Pope has lost all power of moral suasion in the portfolio.”; if not, why not?
Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: No, and had I been able to give my personal explanation I would have traversed a number of those matters.
Judith Collins: What is so special about this Minister that he does not have to meet the same standards of honesty as those expected of beneficiaries?
Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: I do not know what is special about this Minister, but I do believe that I am a hard-working and an honest Minister.
Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. Twice during that question exchange the Minister expressed the desire to make a statement to the House. Mr Peters suggested that it was our problem that he did not. The reality is that a Minister can make a statement to the House at any time. We would certainly not block the Minister from making a ministerial statement now.
Madam SPEAKER: That matter was put to the House, and it has been determined.
Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. The matter has not been put to the House. It is a Minister’s choice, at any time he or she likes, to make a statement to the House. Mr Benson-Pope can at any point seek to make a ministerial statement. He does not need the leave of the House to make the explanations that he so clearly desires to make.
Hon Dr Michael Cullen: There is a long convention in the House that when a Minister seeks to correct an answer in any shape or form, then leave is granted. The National Party chose to deny that leave. It is most unusual for a ministerial statement to be the vehicle for correcting an answer in the House. The National Party must now take the consequences of refusing that leave. Everybody will draw the appropriate conclusions.
Kamo Intermediate School—Roll Audit
2. Hon BRIAN DONNELLY (NZ First) to the Minister of Education: On what basis was the list of students drawn up whose New Zealand birth certificates, certificates of citizenship, or passports were required during last year’s roll audit of Kamo Intermediate School in Whangarei?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY (Minister of Education): I am advised that, as is standard practice, the names were chosen at random by the auditor, who has extensive experience in auditing schools-related funding claims.
Hon Brian Donnelly: How, in a Northland school with only 4 percent of its roll new-immigrant children, could the following list be described as a random selection: Sun Jung Kim, Ja Yeon Kim, Phillip Kwok, Suzanne Kwok, Wen Lee, Hollins Packijarajah, Melissa Wong, Karlis Zvirgzdins, Matiss Zvirgzdins, Jimmy Hei Hei, Miae Kang, Bhagwat Lal, Indigo Bouras, Yi Tin Lin, Ping-Yu Lin, and Karl Fountain?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: I do not know what the names of the rest of the pupils in the school are; they may well go on in the same fashion that the member outlined. But I can advise the member that I am advised that those names were chosen at random by the auditor, who has a lot of experience in auditing schools-related funding claims.
Hon Brian Donnelly: How does the Minister believe the parents of Melissa Wong, who is a third-generation New Zealander, feel about her being picked out on suspicion that she is illegally attending school, simply because of her name?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: If that was the case, then of course I would feel the same as those parents would feel: that that is not a good idea. But I want to say that it is common practice that a random group of students is picked, and, from what I am told, that is what happened in this case.
Hon Brian Donnelly: Would the Minister consider the list an example of his Government’s policy of ethnic exclusivity, or are students being selected for special scrutiny on the basis of presumed ethnicity?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: What members need to understand is that the audit was about people checking passports, birth certificates, and so on. What we found was that 17 students at the school could not be accounted for. The school was asked for more information. The list dropped to three students. Those three students are now fee-paying students, and the rest are registered at the school in the normal way.
3. Dr DON BRASH (Leader of the Opposition) to the Prime Minister: Does she have confidence in all her Ministers; if so, why?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK (Prime Minister): Yes; because they are hard-working and conscientious Ministers.
Dr Don Brash: How can she, or anyone else, have any confidence in the Hon David Benson-Pope, when last year he assured this House that there had been no complaints against him stemming from his time as a teacher, and it is now abundantly clear that there was at least one complaint alleging serious misconduct against him, stemming from as recently as 1997?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I believe that the Minister answered the question to the best of his recollection. It is worth recalling, of course, that the Leader of the Opposition could not remember a discussion with the Exclusive Brethren weeks after it had occurred.
Dr Don Brash: Is she seriously asking this House to believe that the Hon David Benson-Pope could have forgotten something as serious and as grave for a professional teacher as that he had walked into dormitories of 14-year-old girls when they were changing, and into bathrooms of 14-year-old girls when they were showering?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I believe the Minister to be an honest man who answered the questions to the best of his recollection. I am further satisfied that he behaved in accordance with school policy at the time.
Dr Don Brash: Is the Prime Minister calling the former principal of Bayfield High School a liar—for what other reason could there be for the differences between his account and that of the Hon David Benson-Pope?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: No, because the former principal has not said he ever showed the Minister a letter of complaint. Had National members been prepared to hear the personal explanation, they could have had more issues made plain.
Dr Don Brash: Is the Prime Minister telling the House that it is now acceptable conduct for a Minister to give absolute assurances as to matters of fact, knowing them to be totally untrue?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: Ministers should give answers to the best of their ability and recollection—just as Leaders of the Opposition should when confronted with facts they will not deny.
Dr Don Brash: Does the Prime Minister intend to ask the Minister for Social Development and Employment for his resignation; if not, why not?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: No; because I have no reason to do so.
Dr Don Brash: Does the Prime Minister not understand that all New Zealanders who can read a newspaper or who watch television have now reached their own judgment about Mr Benson-Pope’s credibility, and are now, seeing that she is protecting him, making up their own minds about her own credibility, also?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: The member should not assume that people make the same judgment that he has, just as I do not accept that everybody would have formed the same judgment as I have about his inability to recall a discussion with the Exclusive Brethren about election advertising weeks after it had happened.
Dr Pita Sharples: Kei te whakaae ia ki te whakapae i tika te kuhu a Hônore David Benson-Pope ki rô wâhi horoi ringiringi, wâhi moe mô ngâ kôtiro tekau mâ whâ ngâ tau, i a râtou e kore mau kâkahu ana ahakoa, kâore aua kôtiro i whakaae i tôna kuhutanga ake, nâ, ka taea e ia te kî kâore çnei whakapae e whakaiti iho i ôna mahi minita?
[An interpretation in English was given to the House.]
[Is the alleged behaviour that the Hon David Benson-Pope entered female showers and dormitories while 14-year-old girls were in various stages of undress appropriate or not, given that the girls themselves objected; and, as a consequence, does she believe that these allegations will lessen his ability to carry out his ministerial responsibilities?]
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I am satisfied that the Minister behaved in accordance with school policy at the time.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Could I ask the Prime Minister, in the interests of justice and fairness and not railroading someone out of this Parliament on the basis of a trial by media, whether it is likely that in a 24-year career there would be only one instance of the alleged behaviour, and, that being the case, perhaps the Minister should be believed?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: As I have said several times now, I am satisfied that the Minister acted in accordance with school policy at the time. I note that the Associate Minister of Education at the time was the Hon Dr Nick Smith, who does not seem to have had any complaints about Bayfield High School brought to his attention.
Jeanette Fitzsimons: Does the Prime Minister have confidence that her Minister of Finance has considered the impacts of peak oil on New Zealand’s future trade balance, given that rising oil prices account for nearly half the increase in imports to January this year?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: Yes, and I am sure that the Minister of Finance will also be fully supportive of policies to find other sources of energy, including the bio-fuels policy, which needs to be further developed.
Keith Locke: Does the Prime Minister have confidence in her Minister of Transport, and that he is sufficiently briefed on the rising oil prices; if so, can she explain why he gives priority to making up a shortfall in new motorway expenditure, as opposed to essential public transport expenditure?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: My understanding is that one of the reasons Transit posited a $686 million shortfall in the roading programme is that increased use of public transport has actually made a heavier call on land transport funds. The Government is investing very heavily in public transport, as well as in roading. Of course, buses do need roads.
Sue Bradford: Does she have confidence that her Minister for Food Safety considered the impact of peak oil on the cost of transporting food around the world, when she opted out of country-of-origin labelling and prevented consumers from limiting their food miles?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I could not, in all honesty, say that that had crossed the Minister’s mind. [Interruption] But the Minister assures me that it did cross her mind. Perhaps they could have a quiet chat later.
Jeanette Fitzsimons: Does she have confidence in those Ministers who stated, in response to an official information request last year, that they had no idea how much vehicle fuel their ministries consumed; if so, is she confident that they now have plans in place to prepare to make their ministries less dependent on imported oil?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: Whether Ministers have found the answer to that question, I do not know. But, as the member knows—because of recent discussions I have had with her—I am of the view that New Zealand needs to think a lot more boldly about issues of moving beyond being an oil-dependent economy. I am aware of other economies, like Sweden, which are looking at how to eliminate the use of oil in their economies within the next 20 years. I think we could well learn a great deal from others who are exploring those possibilities.
4. SHANE JONES (Labour) to the Minister of Finance: What recent reports has he received on the KiwiSaver scheme?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Minister of Finance): I have seen many positive reports on the scheme, both from within and outside New Zealand. A typical statement came today from the Investment Savings and Insurance Association: “The savings industry welcomes KiwiSaver as a major step towards an effective, efficient, and easily accessible long-term saving option.”
Shane Jones: Has the Minister seen any other reports on the need to stimulate future savings in New Zealand?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Yes. I have seen a 1998 report that states that increasing national savings is New Zealand’s key challenge. The report goes on state: “I’m frankly not sure how this culture of low household-sector saving can be changed.” Unlike the author of that report, the then Governor of the Reserve Bank, now the Leader of the Opposition, who could point only to higher interest rates as the solution, this Government does have ideas for addressing the challenges that face savings in New Zealand.
John Key: Would rising after-tax wages assist workers’ ability to save; if so, what is the impact on after-tax wages when a worker’s taxes are reduced?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Unfortunately in New Zealand, as after-tax wages have increased over the last 10 years, people’s borrowing has increased even further. I am afraid we show a high propensity to borrow, rather than to save, out of increased income, which may be why, privately, the member has been saying he supports the KiwiSaver scheme, while publicly opposing it.
Shane Jones: Has he seen any other reports that compare the scheme to other savings vehicles?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Yes, I have seen a report claiming that the scheme, which follows pretty standard managed funds savings schemes, represented a glorified Christmas club. Although saving 4 to 8 percent of one’s income may seem like Christmas savings to former merchant bankers, most New Zealanders would see that as covering a little more than a Christmas hamper.
Social Development and Employment, Minister—Complaints
5. Hon BILL ENGLISH (National—Clutha-Southland) to the Minister of Education: Does he agree with the statement of the previous Associate Minister of Education to the House on 12 May 2005: “I have not been guilty of, or involved in, any inappropriate behaviour in my 24 years as a secondary school teacher. As well, I am not aware of any complaint of any kind.”; if not, why not?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY (Minister of Education): I accept Mr Benson-Pope’s statements around these events. That has been explained and rehearsed during question time today.
Hon Bill English: Has the Minister—or has the Ministry of Education—investigated whether the principal of Bayfield High School appropriately handled complaints about Mr Benson-Pope’s behaviour on a school camp; in particular, has the Minister investigated whether that principal referred the complaint to Mr Benson-Pope as the teacher who was the subject of the complaint?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: No. Those events have been the subject of a police investigation. Of course we expect all schools to have the appropriate policies in place, and I understand that that is the case here.
Hon Bill English: In light of the statement by Mr Bruce Leadbetter, Principal of Bayfield High School, that he did, in fact, refer the complaint to David Benson-Pope, does the Minister now believe Mr Benson-Pope’s statement that he was not aware of any complaint of any kind about his behaviour?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: I draw the attention of the House to the Otago Daily Times report in which the principal is, in fact, reported as saying that he may not have shown the letter to Mr Benson-Pope. There were obviously differences of opinion around that issue.
Hon Bill English: Does the Minister agree with the new policy introduced by Bayfield High School, as a result of the complaint about David Benson-Pope, that only female teachers should carry out duties of supervision of female students in camps, dormitories, and showers?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: As I said before, I expect all schools to have appropriate policies to cover such issues as camps, and that school appears to have one.
Hon Bill English: Has the Minister considered whether Bruce Leadbetter, a Labour Party activist in Dunedin, may have colluded with David Benson-Pope to hide the complaint in order to protect Mr Benson-Pope’s chances of selection as Labour’s candidate in the red-ribbon seat of Dunedin South?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: No. I am advised by the laughter behind me—and people will be able to tell from that—that there is no suspicion that Mr Leadbetter has been colluding in this way, although I imagine that he would be available to give lessons to Mr English, who is obviously colluding at this moment to take over from Don Brash.
Hon Bill English: Does the Minister realise how much damage these events are doing to Labour’s stewardship of public education, when new allegations keep surfacing, despite Mr Benson-Pope’s denials, and when the Prime Minister appears willing to defend Mr Benson-Pope at all costs, regardless of the public perception of the dangers he posed to young New Zealanders when he was a teacher?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: As Mr Winston Peters pointed out, people in this House will want to know whether the circumstances here were rooted in fact. That is what people will want to base their opinions on. I accept the version of events that has been put to this House by Mr Benson-Pope. He is an honourable member, and I accept his word.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: How much credence does the Minister give to the National Party’s position, when an opportunity was sought today to provide an answer to this House, and the National Party members denied leave for that to happen?
Madam SPEAKER: No—the member has made his point. Would he like to rephrase the question?
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Has the Minister received any reports that go to the question of credibility and integrity with respect to the National Party position, when in fact an opportunity was sought in this House today for Mr Benson-Pope to give an explanation, and the National Party members denied it?
Madam SPEAKER: I am sorry—there is no ministerial responsibility for that, but the member has had the opportunity to put the point.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. If he has received a report, then it becomes a question of ministerial responsibility, and given that some members here want to conduct their daily affairs through laptops, he could have received that report in the last minute.
Madam SPEAKER: I thank the member. The member is actually correct—his question asked whether the Minister had received any reports. So would the Minister like to address the question, as the Minister of Education, not commenting on anything else in respect of the Opposition.
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: I can confirm that I have received no such reports confirming the lack of credibility of the National Party. However—
Madam SPEAKER: That is enough.
Hon STEVE MAHAREY:—I do believe that it is true.
6. JILL PETTIS (Labour) to the Minister of Police: What reports has she received on burglaries in New Zealand?
Hon ANNETTE KING (Minister of Police): I have seen the recent report of the Controller and Auditor-General, entitled New Zealand Police: Dealing with dwelling burglary—follow-up audit The report states that the police have made considerable improvements in how they deal with dwelling burglaries since 2001. That includes more effective use of forensic and intelligence analysis, increased accountability for results, and a greater sharing of good practice.
Jill Pettis: What recommendations did the report of the Controller and Auditor-General make?
Hon ANNETTE KING: The report made six recommendations, ranging from evaluating the role of some staff through to looking at the effectiveness of intelligence-led policing in reducing crime. The police are now working through those recommendations. There are some things the police could do better, and they are committed to doing just that.
Pita Paraone: Will the additional 1,000 sworn front-line officers and 250 non-sworn police staff secured in the confidence and supply agreement between New Zealand First and Labour have a significant effect on burglary resolution rates?
Hon ANNETTE KING: That is a very good question. Yes, we will continue to see very good work from our police in this area and in many other areas of crime that concern New Zealanders.
School Property Consultant, Canterbury—Investigation
7. Hon BILL ENGLISH (National—Clutha-Southland) to the Minister of Education: Has the Ministry of Education investigated allegations that a Canterbury school’s property consultant has taken kickbacks from contractors in exchange for ensuring they receive school contracts; if not, why not?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY (Minister of Education): The Ministry of Education is, of course, deeply concerned by allegations made in the Christchurch Press about School Support Ltd, and one of the company’s employees. The ministry has taken the appropriate action, and referred this matter to the police on Friday, 17 February. They have also written to the managing director of School Support Ltd asking for his comments about the allegations.
Hon Bill English: Is the Minister aware that Mainland Contracting, which secured $3 million worth of school building contracts through Mr Stuart Boyle, has built a garage at Mr Boyle’s home and painted his house, and that it appears that Mr Boyle has not paid for these services?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: I am aware of those allegations. That is why I am pleased that the matter has been referred to the police.
Darien Fenton: What processes does the Ministry of Education have in place to ensure schools get value for money from expenditure on property?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: There are two key processes to ensure schools get value for money. Firstly, property projects have a standardised budget, which provides some assurance to schools that the tenders they receive represent value for money. Secondly, guidelines for schools require them to run a process that is contestable and transparent. They must get three or more tenders if the project is greater than $15,000, and the tender process must be well documented and clear to ensure fairness for those tendering for the work.
Hon Bill English: Is the Minister aware that Calder Contracting Ltd, Ashphalt Contracting Ltd, Christchurch Electrical Ltd, and Hopewell Construction Ltd have also secured significant school maintenance through Stuart Boyle and they have also done significant work on Mr Boyle’s property, including a tennis court and a swimming pool, which Mr Boyle appears also not to have paid for?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: Those are the allegations contained in press reports and that is why the matter is in front of the police.
Hon Bill English: How can the public have any confidence in the Ministry of Education when it has been aware of these allegations of rigged quotes, kickbacks, bribery, and secret commissions, which undermine public confidence in the tendering of hundreds of millions of dollars of public money?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: The ministry was made aware of an unsubstantiated rumour about this company, I understand, last year. The ministry discussed this with School Support at the time. As there was no evidence and no direct allegation made, the ministry decided that it would not take the matter further at that time.
Hon Bill English: So is the Minister now telling us that the public have to rely on journalists and the Opposition to dig this material up because his ministry staff regards it as unsubstantiated rumour unless they trip over it and it knocks them on the head and then they will decide to investigate?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: I know that the Ministry of Education staff do not trip over and get knocked on the head, as has been pointed out by the member opposite, before they notice anything. They run a very good process in relation to tendering. In this case, of course, the school did not lose anything. What we are talking about are allegations between contractors and this person. That is why the matter is in front of the police. The ministry has taken the appropriate action.
Child Youth and Family Services—Review
8. JUDY TURNER (Deputy Leader—United Future) to the Associate Minister for Social Development and Employment (CYF): What is her role in the Cabinet committee on Government expenditure and administration’s review of Child, Youth and Family?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Deputy Prime Minister) on behalf of the Associate Minister for Social Development and Employment (CYF): As the Vote Minister, the Associate Minister for Social Development and Employment (CYF) will sign off on the terms of reference of the reviews jointly with her colleague the Hon Trevor Mallard. The Minister will participate in the progress on the reviews and the report back of the findings to the Cabinet committee.
Judy Turner: Is the Cabinet committee reviewing the difficulties and level of time-wasting that community agencies experience meeting the administrative requirements demanded for any funding and contracts with the department, and when can agencies expect an improvement in this appalling process?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: My understanding is that work is under way in terms of those areas. There are various tests occurring of certain initiatives, which I know the member has a close interest in, and these are on schedule. I fully support her concerns. The community agencies should be able to work effectively and quickly with Child, Youth and Family Services in that regard.
Steve Chadwick: Would the Minister outline the key performance achievements of Child, Youth and Family Services that are monitored and reported?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: The department has reduced the number of unallocated cases dramatically, despite a big increase in notifications. Children are being seen more quickly, and determinations of abuse and neglect are made more quickly. The number of social workers has also increased significantly under this Government and increasing numbers are being registered as registered social workers.
Judith Collins: How long has she been calling for a review of Child, Youth and Family Services, and does she now concede that it is not actually entering a period of “performance excellence” as the Minister claimed at the Social Services Committee last year?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: The baseline review of Child, Youth and Family Services of course started some time ago and has some time since been completed and is being implemented. Child, Youth and Family Services was set up in 1999 by the previous Government, was dramatically under-resourced at the time of its creation, and was a failing Government department when this Government came into office. There has been substantial improvement since that point, with something like a doubling of the vote for the department.
Judy Turner: How can the Minister have any confidence in the outcome of the Child, Youth and Family Services review when it does not include a review of the costs of staff turnover, which currently stands at an unacceptable 11 percent?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I am interested to hear that a staff turnover of 11 percent at Child, Youth and Family Services is being described as unacceptable. About 4 or 5 years ago it was something like 34 percent, which is the figure that comes to my mind as the level of staff turnover in the department.
State Sector—Spending Reviews
9. JOHN KEY (National—Helensville) to the Minister of Finance: Does he stand by his statement yesterday that he will be taking a clear line with State sector CEOs on labour costs, and will he be stressing this objective to his colleague the Associate Minister of Finance, as he oversees the forthcoming State sector spending reviews?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Minister of Finance): Yes. And the Associate Minister is certainly well aware of those matters already.
John Key: Does the Minister agree with Treasury’s assessment that there is little information to indicate that New Zealanders are getting more services and better results from the public sector in return for the large increases in resources provided; if so, was that one of the reasons the Government embarked on the State sector spending review; if not, why is the Government actually conducting the review?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: No, I do not entirely agree with Treasury on that—not if we look at the very large increase in the number of medical procedures being carried out within the hospital sector and at the very large improvements in the provision of primary health care within New Zealand. Also, we have just cited a two-thirds drop in the turnover rate of staff within Child, Youth and Family Services, we have seen an increase in police numbers and the first drop in the crime rate within New Zealand for a very long period of time, we have seen increasing enrolments in the tertiary education sector, and we have seen improved performance in literacy and numeracy at primary school level. I am happy to carry on for as long as you would like me to, Madam Speaker, but I suspect that I have just about used up my time.
John Key: Does he agree with Treasury that without reprioritisation, Ministers will find it very difficult to be able to fund new initiatives going forward; if he does agree, where wasted or unwarranted spending is discovered, will he support cutting that wasted and unwarranted expenditure, even if it requires job losses?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Certainly, Ministers are aware of the need for reprioritisation as part of this year’s Budget process, and of the fact that not everything will be paid for by increased allocations in this year’s Budget round. But I note, yet again, that the member, having shed crocodile tears for some redundancies only a few weeks ago, once again is calling for large job losses in the State sector.
John Key: Why does he think there is any chance of achieving real change, when the reviews will be conducted by policy analysts from the agencies concerned, who may themselves be personally affected, and when his good mates in the Public Service Association are closely involved in the reviews?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Unlike the National Party, we find it good to work with those who are affected by decisions rather than doing the crash-through or “no gain without pain, so-1980s” approach to Government within New Zealand.
John Key: Does he agree with Treasury’s own words, when it stated in the briefing to the incoming Government—that was the ideological burp; I am sure he recalls it—[Interruption]
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I think that—I have to swallow that; sorry.
Madam SPEAKER: We have an imputation here. I have constantly quoted to me a Standing Order that states there should be not be any personal reflections, and I have an intervention as a result of one, which is why we do not have them. Maybe we could start again, please.
John Key: Does he agree with Treasury’s own words, when it stated in the briefing to the incoming Government: “A significant proportion has also provided for an expansion of head offices.”; if so, was it the intention that such a dramatic increase in Government spending would be channelled into big glass towers for Government employees to work out of?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: There has been very little by way of new glass towers for Government servants to work out of. What I can say is that—in reflection to some extent upon my own officials—every time they launch a baseline review, as opposed to coming up with suggestions about how to save spending, they agree that spending ought to be increased in the department affected, which is one reason I have now become very leery about baseline reviews.
10. MARYAN STREET (Labour) to the Minister of Health: Has he received any reports on how New Zealand’s work to prepare for an influenza pandemic compares internationally?
Hon PETE HODGSON (Minister of Health): Yes, I have. Dr Omi, the World Health Organization Regional Director of the Western Pacific, said yesterday that New Zealand is among the best-prepared countries in the world for a possible flu pandemic. This is a significant endorsement of the efforts of communities, businesses, and the Government. But it is important to remember that there is still a good deal of work left to be done.
Maryan Street: Will New Zealand’s efforts to prepare for a flu pandemic be of use to other countries; if so, how?
Hon PETE HODGSON: Yes, they will. The World Health Organization will use the Ministry of Health’s public awareness campaign, including the brochures and broadcast advertising, as a model for other Governments to follow. That will be a significant help to developing countries with limited resources to produce campaigns of their own.
Maryan Street: Does the Minister have any response to the Health Committee’s recent report on a potential flu pandemic?
Hon PETE HODGSON: Yes. The report was helpful in part, but it is also the case that it was about 3 months out of date, and pandemic planning is a fast-moving business. That is why I wrote 2 weeks ago to all the health spokespersons in the House to invite them to make their contribution. I have had conversations with, or responses from, every health spokesperson in the House, with the exception of the National Party health spokesperson.
Hon Tony Ryall: If the Government is so prepared and so advanced in its pandemic planning, where is the plan on how we will mobilise people to care for the sick at home?
Hon PETE HODGSON: This is probably the umpteenth time that the question has been asked of me, and I again give the answer, as I have in the past, that in the event of a worst-case scenario pandemic, there will not be enough people who are fit and able to provide home-based services for all who need them. That is to say, most of the home-based services will come from families and close friends, in a worst-case scenario. There is no way that we can invent a population of fit and health people to do that, when 40 percent of the population have the flu.
11. SIMON POWER (National—Rangitikei) to the Minister of Corrections: Is he satisfied that his department is fulfilling the purpose of the corrections system, which is to “improve public safety and contribute to the maintenance of a just society”; if so, why?
Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR (Minister of Corrections): Yes, because it does a good job in a difficult area of Government responsibility.
Simon Power: Does the Minister believe that movies such as Getting Away with Murder, Interview with the Assassin, Wild Things 2, and Sex and Lucia, all rated R or R18, are suitable movies for prisoners to be watching; and what impact does he believe that watching such movies has on efforts put into prisoner rehabilitation and the maintenance of a just society?
Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: I do not believe that those movies are appropriate. The policy in this area has been breached, and the staff have been told again that it is not acceptable. I would like the House to note that I understand there was also a very good turn-out for other movies, namely, Babe, The Brady Bunch Movie, and 101 Dalmatians.
Simon Power: Why, if the department knew in 2002 that prisoners were watching movies contrary to prison policy, are prisoners still watching hundreds of movies that they are not permitted to—movies that show hard-core violence, drug abuse, and jailbreaks; and what will the Minister do to ensure that it does not happen again, other than wring his hands in 4 years’ time?
Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: I am not aware that Babe, The Brady Bunch Movie, or 101 Dalmatians have violence or any other sordid details in them.
Hon Paul Swain: Does the Minister agree with the comment in the media that many of the movies referred to were a form of “escapism”; if so, is this part of the Department of Corrections programme?
Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: I have seen that quote, but can I say once again that this was a breach of policy. Staff will be reminded about the policy, and we will endeavour to prevent it ever happening again.
Chester Borrows: Is the department using movies rather than rehabilitation programmes and work schemes to deal with prisoners, and is that why over 2,000 movies are being shown in 1 year, rather than prisoners undertaking work programmes that could see them making a valuable contribution to society on their release?
Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: As I have said before, we are reviewing the work programmes. We are committed to increasing the amount of work that inmates do, and I guess that there will be less time for watching movies in the future.
Simon Power: Are rehabilitation programmes and work schemes a better option for prisoners, or is it just easier to show films like Messenger of Death, Out for Justice, and Out for a Kill?
Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: Rehabilitation programmes are much better for them.
Transit New Zealand—State Highway Planning Process
12. Hon MAURICE WILLIAMSON (National—Pakuranga) to the Minister of Transport: Is he satisfied with Transit New Zealand’s 10-year State highway forecast process for planning State highways; if so, why?
Hon DAVID PARKER (Minister of Transport): Generally, yes, because it is a transparent process, which ensures appropriate prioritisation of projects that are competing for funding.
Hon Maurice Williamson: Why does the Minister have confidence in a process that sees Transit spending $75,000 on the printing of the glossy books alone, only to have several Ministers, including the Associate—and, at the time, Acting—Minister of Finance, within 1 hour come out and say that it is a complete load of rubbish and it will not happen, as well as the Hon Mark Burton stating in the Taupô newspaper that he will not accept the bypass being delayed and will have it corrected; what purpose is there to producing such a document?
Hon DAVID PARKER: My colleagues have not said that the prioritisation process is wrong. What my colleagues have said is that the Government is committed to the State highway building programme indicated in August last year by ensuring that additional funding is brought to bear. When that additional funding is brought to bear, the prioritisation process from the State highway forecast process remains appropriate.
Hon Maurice Williamson: Does he agree with the quote: “I am critical of the inadequate planning for what, to me, are obvious needs for State highway improvements.”; if he does not agree, why did he say so in his submissions to Transit in its 10-year process last year as the member for Otago?
Hon DAVID PARKER: The quote that the member refers to is an example of how the transparent processes under the draft State highway forecast process can be used by hard-working members to advance the interests of their electorates.
Hon Maurice Williamson: How does the Minister believe anybody can plan in an environment where a major roading project like the east Taupô arterial route, which was scheduled in the August plan to commence in 2006-07 but is now scheduled to start in 15 to 16-plus years—which means not actually anytime; it is beyond the never-never—and the Taupô District Council members sit with their heads in their hands saying that the council has even increased its rating to pay for its share, and now it has gone from even the 10-year plan?
Hon DAVID PARKER: Individual decisions in respect of specific State highway projects are decisions for Transit. They are prohibited from being taken by Ministers, so as to prevent pork-barrel politics. Having said that, I point out that it is perfectly appropriate for individual members of Parliament to take advantage of the process to transparently make submissions as to where they think Transit has got it wrong. This may be a case where Transit has it wrong and where the appropriate local member can help to address that issue.
Hon Maurice Williamson: If the Minister is worried about pork-barrel politics, how does he explain a letter to a number of organisations in Canterbury in June of last year, signed by Ruth Dyson MP, Lianne Dalziel MP, Tim Barnett MP, Clayton Cosgrove MP, and Mahara Okeroa MP, stating: “You will be pleased and delighted in the 10-year National Land Transport Programme announced today”, when the one that was announced only last week takes the actual start date of the Christchurch southern motorway extension from 2009-10 out to 2012-13 or beyond?
Hon DAVID PARKER: It is but a draft State highway plan. I encourage the member to do as Government members on occasions do—as I have done in the past—to submit on the draft plan so as to make the final plan better.
Peter Brown: Does the Minister concur that had our roading problems been addressed in the mid-1990s when the Hon Maurice Williamson was the Minister of Transport and was given the opportunity to transfer all the petrol tax into the roading account, we would be that much better off economically, there would be more people alive today, and Transit’s road planning would be a lot more straightforward?
Hon DAVID PARKER: I absolutely agree. I also suggest to Mr Williamson that he check his own party’s policy at the last election. Even as late as the last election, his party was not promising to put the petrol tax into the National Land Transport Fund. It said that it would increase the proportion at a slow rate over the following 6 years, which we are already ahead of.
Te Ururoa Flavell: Is the Minister aware of any funding allocation commitment made to the people of Te Teko for a roundabout; if so, will he honour that commitment?
Hon DAVID PARKER: No, I am not aware of that particular issue, but if the member cares to write to me I would be happy to look into it.
Te Ururoa Flavell: Is the Minister aware that 2 weeks ago in Moscow, Finance Ministers from the Group of Eight nations singled out high oil prices as the top threat to the world economy; and, given the advent of peak oil, when will he accept that current roading assumptions have changed and are no longer viable or sustainable?
Hon DAVID PARKER: The Government long ago began preparing for a different future from the history we have recently experienced. As a consequence, we have vastly increased the amount of funding going into public transport, and we are advancing other plans to reduce the carbon intensity of our transport fleet, including looking further at bio-fuels.
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS (Minister of Foreign Affairs): I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I cannot let it go unnoticed that in the absence of Rodney Hide we have actually finished questions before 3 o’clock. It demonstrates how much time he wastes in this House.
Madam SPEAKER: That is not a point of order. It is noted, however.