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Questions And Answers 1 March 2006

Questions And Answers 1 March 2006

Questions to Ministers

KiwiSaver Scheme—Reports

1. GEORGINA BEYER (Labour) on behalf of the Hon PAUL SWAIN (Labour—Rimutaka) to the Minister of Finance: Has he received any reports on the aspirations of New Zealanders that the KiwiSaver scheme will address?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Minister of Finance): I received a report of a very wide survey showing that homeownership remains the No. 1 dream for most New Zealanders. The KiwiSaver scheme is one of the practicable, affordable ways in which this Government is helping New Zealanders to realise that aspiration.

Georgina Beyer: Did the report reveal a preference for tax cuts over continued investment in strong public services?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: No, the report of a survey commissioned by Telecom revealed that the following were the top dreams of New Zealanders: to remain safe and secure for our families, to have the best health system in the world, to own our own home, to continue to stand up for ourselves, and to have the best education system in the world—nearly all of which require Government expenditure. So while some might promote the idea of slashing public services to fund unsustainable tax cuts, this Government stands up for the dreams of the great majority.

Georgina Beyer: What other Government policies support the aspirations recorded in that report?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: The report also reveals that New Zealanders are most proud of their beaches and empty spaces, of being nuclear free, and of the way in which we are often the first to accomplish important things in the world. We are committed to supporting those aspirations, unlike some, who on occasions seem to see nuclear-free New Zealand as a potential bargaining chip.

Social Development and Employment, Minister—Confidence

2. Dr DON BRASH (Leader of the Opposition) to the Prime Minister: Why does she still have confidence in her Minister of Social Development and Employment?

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

Dr Don Brash: Which David Benson-Pope does she have confidence in—the one who said the allegations against him were a nonsense and that he had never heard of the complaint against him, or the David Benson-Pope who yesterday effectively admitted he knew about the complaint, but changed his story to a denial that he had actually seen the letter of complaint?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: Madam Speaker, I would like the response that I am about to give to be heard in silence, and I have a right to request that.

Madam SPEAKER: The Prime Minister has requested silence for her response. I ask the House to respect that.

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I accept that to most people, including to me, a letter from a parent raising such issues would be seen as a complaint. It is clear that because the issues raised did not breach school policy, and were not dealt with as a disciplinary issue, Mr Benson-Pope did not see that as a complaint when he made his statement to the House on 12 May. In my view, that was an error of judgment, but I do not consider it sufficient reason to dismiss a Minister. That is my judgment.

Rodney Hide: Does it change the Prime Minister’s view of her Minister that he re-entered the dorms in 1998 on a school camp—after he had been spoken to by the principal and after the school had developed its policy—where there were 14-year-old girls naked and semi-naked?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: That is an allegation on a website; I am not aware that it has been raised in any formal sense. It does not appear to have been dealt with as a disciplinary matter.

Dr Don Brash: Does the Prime Minister really expect the House and New Zealanders to agree that it was acceptable for Mr Benson-Pope to enter showers and dormitories where 14-year-old girls were semi-clad, because there was no school policy at that time; if so, just what kind of message does she think she is sending the parents of New Zealand schoolchildren by her failure to act?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: There is no evidence whatsoever that Mr Benson-Pope entered showers. If the issues are as serious as the member alleges, they would have been dealt with as a disciplinary matter. The fact is that they were not.

Dr Don Brash: Has the Prime Minister seen the statement by the Post Primary Teachers Association (PPTA) President, Debbie Te Whaiti, that the PPTA, of which Mr Benson-Pope was a regional chair, had a clear policy in place prohibiting such behaviour well before 1997, and what message does she think her continued defence of Mr Benson-Pope sends to teachers and pupils about acceptable behaviour by members of the teaching profession?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: In respect of the PPTA, there are clear procedures in the collective agreement to be followed when complaints are raised about disciplinary matters. It does not appear that it was raised as a disciplinary matter.

Rodney Hide: Could the Prime Minister please tell the country why she continues to defend the Minister, who is demonstrably a pathological bully, liar, and pervert?

Madam SPEAKER: I ask the member to withdraw those comments and I refer him to Standing Order 377.

Rodney Hide: I withdraw. Supplementary—

Madam SPEAKER: No, you will withdraw and apologise for those comments.

Rodney Hide: I withdraw and apologise. Could the Prime Minister explain to the people of New Zealand why she continues to blow her credibility and the credibility of her Government on the Minister, who does not deserve it, rather than dealing with the big problems confronting New Zealand society over this economy?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I have to be guided by such matters as a principal who says that it was not a disciplinary matter and that it did not involve a breach of a code of conduct. Certainly, I would view it somewhat less seriously than being associated with shonky investment seminars in Fiji.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I could not hear one part of that answer. If National members wish to ask questions, surely they should entitle the rest of the House to hear what the answer might be—after all, we have not heard one fact from that side of the House yet.

Madam SPEAKER: Except for the last comment, I agree with the member. Although, of course, interjections are permitted, if people cannot hear the reply it does defeat the purpose of question time.

Dr Don Brash: Why is the Prime Minister so determined to defend Mr Benson-Pope, when in the past she has shown absolutely no hesitation in dismissing Dover Samuels, Ruth Dyson, Marian Hobbs, Lianne Dalziel, John Tamihere, and Taito Phillip Field, and can she tell the House what it is about Mr Benson-Pope that makes him so special to her?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: There is such a thing as natural justice, and for a man—[Interruption]

Madam SPEAKER: I have just asked the House to keep the level of interjections low, please. I could not hear the answer to the question from here.

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: For a man to be hounded from a job for matters that were not considered anything like serious enough to be raised as disciplinary matters with a school board, is quite wrong. I can assure members opposite that if I were to react in the same way to every letter of innuendo I get about many of them, this House would never hear the end of scandal.

Dr Don Brash: What credibility does Mr David Benson-Pope have as her Minister for Social Development and Employment, in light of these disturbing allegations; and is it not time the Prime Minister put the interests of the New Zealand public ahead of those of a man for whom there is a file of complaints that is growing every day?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: Disturbing allegations would have been dealt with as a matter of discipline; the fact is they were not.

Seed Sterilisation—Government Position

3. NANDOR TANCZOS (Green) to the Minister of Foreign Affairs: Does New Zealand support an international ban on the use of seed sterility technology, such as terminator; if not, why not?

Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS (Minister of Foreign Affairs): No. There is no international ban on seed sterility technology.

Nandor Tanczos: Is the Minister aware that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade does not regard genetically engineered terminator technology as either good or bad, even though it is specifically designed to make plants sterile so that farmers cannot replant their seeds; and hence will jeopardise food security for millions of people?

Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: I am aware of what the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade’s policy is. I am also very much aware that when such conventions or other agreements and treaties apply, and in fact exist—unlike the question’s imputation—then those matters will be decided by domestic policy, at which point I say that the Minister for the Environment and Minister of Agriculture should have been asked the question in the first place.

Nandor Tanczos: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. The Minister has implied that the primary question was factually inaccurate. As you, Madam Speaker, and all members know, we have to verify any question put down, so I find it extraordinary that the Minister has made that claim.

Hon Dr Michael Cullen: The member does not have to verify the question; he just has to authenticate it. That may merely be a newspaper clipping, which one would not necessarily regard as a statement of unquestionable fact.

Madam SPEAKER: The Minister is entitled to address the question in the way he did.

Nandor Tanczos: Why did New Zealand support the position that GE terminator technology should be able to be used, in opposition to the vast majority of signatories to the Convention on Biological Diversity, in Spain this January?

Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: Perhaps the member could best answer that question himself. He knows full well the domestic background to the origin of policy in respect of this matter from when the Greens were in a support arrangement with the Labour Government. He is best able to describe why he supported that; my job is to describe why we are doing what we doing now.

Rodney Hide: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. That cannot possibly be an answer to a question in this House—a situation where a Minister has got up and said that maybe the member asking the question is in the best place to answer that question. Nandor Tanczos is not a Minister; Winston Peters is the Minister, and the question was addressed to him. A question cannot be turned back—

Madam SPEAKER: I understand the point of order. The Minister did address the question. It may not have been to the satisfaction of members, but he referred back to the answer he had given before.

Nandor Tanczos: Will the Minister take into account when agreeing on the position New Zealand will take in Brazil this month the effects of genetically engineered terminator technology on the more than 1.4 billion people around the world who directly rely on seed saving for their own food security, especially in light of our commitment to eradicating poverty and achieving sustainable development around the world?

Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: As I sought to point out to the questioner, there is no such international convention or treaty. The second answer is that these sorts of policies on the international stage are determined not off the top of one’s head or on the hoof but rather by domestic policy agreed upon at home. That remains the position of this country, and that is why, if the member was seeking those answers, he should have asked the Minister for the Environment or the Minister of Agriculture.

Nandor Tanczos: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. The Minister’s answer was a total nonsense. In that question I made no reference to any international ban, which the Minister refutes. I asked quite clearly whether when agreeing on New Zealand’s position in Brazil this month he will take into account the effects I outlined. Is the Minister saying that he has no responsibility for the position New Zealand will take in Brazil this month?

Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: I am trying to point out to the member, who has been around long enough to know, is that if one wants an answer to a certain question relating to a specific portfolio then one should direct it to the right Minister. I was at pains to point out to him that although we might authorise, as a part of foreign policy, the people who are to appear in Brazil this month, nevertheless they are drawn from ministries that are directly concerned with this issue. That is the point he should know.

Nandor Tanczos: The Minister clearly is not in control of his own portfolio. I am asking the Minister whether he will take into account certain information when deciding New Zealand’s position at an international conference. I find it extraordinary that he says that I should ask the Minister for the Environment a question on that matter.

Madam SPEAKER: I think the Minister has addressed the question in his explanation as to how the policy that will lead to that answer being given is made. Of course the member is entitled to put down another question for the Minister for the Environment.

Social Development and Employment, Minister—Allegations

4. Dr DON BRASH (Leader of the Opposition) to the Prime Minister: Does she accept the Hon David Benson-Pope’s statement last Saturday that allegations he entered the girls’ shower block and dormitories were “a nonsense”; if so, why?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK (Prime Minister): The Minister was reacting to the Investigate magazine website, which clearly contained allegations that were sensationalist. I am satisfied that issues were raised with the school that it deemed not to be disciplinary matters, but following which school policy was changed.

Dr Don Brash: Is it the Prime Minister’s position, in continuing to support her Minister, that his statement of 12 May last year was correct because he had no knowledge at all of the complaint against him; if not, what is her position?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: In response to an earlier question I made it clear that I considered that the answer was an error of judgment.

Dr Don Brash: Has the Prime Minister asked Mr Benson-Pope why he has stated that the recent complaints, now backed up by a letter and by the former principal, were “a nonsense”; if so, what was Mr Benson-Pope’s response?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: As I have said, the allegations on that website were sensationalist. I do not intend to go through them one by one. Anyone reading them can see that they stretch matters far beyond the letter sent by the parent.

Dr Don Brash: Is the Prime Minister telling the house that she is the only person in New Zealand who does not understand that Mr Benson-Pope’s earlier denials in this House and his statements yesterday are totally incompatible, and why does she so resist coming to the conclusion that is blindingly obvious to everybody else?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: The member seems determined not to take on board what I have already said today, which is that the answer was an error of judgment but I do not consider that sufficient reason to dismiss a Minister. That is a judgment I have made.

Hon Dr Michael Cullen: Has the Prime Minister received any complaints or material relating to other former teachers in this House, including Mr Gerry Brownlee, some of which lead to serious conclusions; if so, why has she not used that material in the public arena yet?

Madam SPEAKER: I would just remind members that when members ask questions, they are to be heard in silence, and that goes for all sides of the House.

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I have indeed seen such material, but have abided by the normal convention that such matters are not suitable for raising in this House. I would observe, for the benefit of Mr Brownlee and other National members, that people in glass houses should not throw stones and overturn the old conventions.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Could I ask the Prime Minister who, in her experience or opinion, would be the more qualified to determine whether an action warranted dismissal: the headmaster who dealt with the matter at the time, or someone who wants a Titus Oates Star Chamber procedure to be the way we do justice in this country?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: Clearly, the principal, who has made it clear again today that he did not consider that the issues raised were disciplinary matters.

Dr Don Brash: Does the Prime Minister stand by her statement that the recent complainants should “put or shut up by going to the authorities”, and is she concerned that young women may interpret her comments to mean that they can talk about and expose abuse only if they are willing to go to the police?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: There was a 6-month investigation during which there was plenty of time to air these matters.

Dr Don Brash: Does the Prime Minister not yet understand that New Zealanders have already reached a judgment about the credibility of the Hon David Benson-Pope, and that the longer she continues defending her Minister, the more questions will be asked about her own credibility?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: As I said to the member in the House yesterday, he should not assume that the conclusions he jumps to are shared by others. I have a stack of letters supportive of Mr Benson-Pope.

Minimum Wage—Reports

5. Hon MARK GOSCHE (Labour—Maungakiekie) to the Minister of Labour: What recent reports, if any, has she received on the minimum wage?

Hon RUTH DYSON (Minister of Labour): I have received a report on a survey of Wellington businesses, which shows that nearly 70 percent of those businesses support the raising of the minimum wage.

Hon Mark Gosche: Has the Minister seen any other reports concerning the minimum wage?

Hon RUTH DYSON: Yes, as a matter of fact, I have. I have seen reports in which the need for a minimum wage at all is dismissed. That indicates how out of touch with New Zealanders and the business sector Dr Brash has become, because his views are quoted in the reports.

Hon Mark Gosche: Has the Minister seen any other reports that are opposed to the idea of the minimum wage?

Hon RUTH DYSON: Yes, I have seen another report that suggests we abandon not only the minimum wage but also minimum holiday entitlements, parental leave, and the moves to close the gender pay and employment gap. Again, those are wishes expressed by Dr Brash.

Sue Bradford: Does the Minister consider the survey results that came out the other day from Wellington businesses to be a more accurate reflection of the views of business around this country about the need for a higher minimum wage than some of the other reports the member has referred to?

Hon RUTH DYSON: I assume that the survey results accurately reflect the opinions of those who were surveyed in the Wellington business area.

Peter Brown: Noting those favourable answers, certainly to the principal question and to the Green member’s question, will the Minister recommend to the Prime Minister that the words “if economic conditions permit” be deleted from the confidence and supply agreement between New Zealand First and the Labour Government so that we can guarantee that there will be a $12 minimum wage by the year 2008?

Hon RUTH DYSON: I think that that would be a total breach of the good faith in which those negotiations were conducted.

Social Development and Employment, Minister—Allegations

6. JUDITH COLLINS (National—Clevedon) to the Minister for Social Development and Employment: What credibility can he bring to the position of Minister for Social Development and Employment, given the allegations surrounding his inappropriate actions in charge of young people?

Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE (Minister for Social Development and Employment): I do not accept the member’s proposition in that question.

Judith Collins: Does he agree that the numerous humiliating parodies of him, like this one, or this one, are indicative of widespread public opinion that he is deceitful, that he is a bully, that he is a pervert, and that he is not a fit person to be in control of children let alone be in control of an entire ministry charged with the well-being of all—

Madam SPEAKER: The member knows better than that. They are personal reflections. I refer her to Standing Order 377.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. The member cannot seek to hide behind the ill reporting of someone outside this House as a defence for that sort of behaviour. That member, being a lawyer, should well know that. She should be asked to thoroughly apologise, withdraw, and wash her mouth out. So should those in the media who seek to rush to judgment without one fact to back their story on.

Madam SPEAKER: Could the member please rephrase the question.

Judith Collins: Does the Minister agree that the numerous humiliating parodies of him, like this one, or even this one, are indicative that in the public’s opinion he should not be in control of an entire ministry charged with the well-being of all New Zealand’s young people, and will he now do the decent thing and resign that portfolio?

Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: No, I think they are indicative of the wealth of wit of cartoonists.

Judith Collins: How can he be a credible Minister for Social Development and Employment when nine students attest that he shoved a tennis ball into a student’s mouth, and he says that is “ridiculous”; when at least three women say he walked in on them getting changed, and he says it is “nonsense” and then apologises; and when a former principal—his former boss—says that he notified Mr Benson-Pope of a written complaint regarding his inappropriate behaviour, and the Minister now says he cannot remember it?

Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: Making allegations is one thing, but for every allegation that has been made I have received many supportive comments from students, parents, and teachers supporting my teaching career.

Rodney Hide: Does he think that, as Minister for Social Development and Employment, he has any credibility when in 1998 on a school camp with fourth-form girls he walked though the dorm while they were getting dressed in the morning not once but every morning, and when they complained about it his response was that they had nothing to worry about because he had seen it all before?

Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: I certainly do not accept those propositions. I repeat my invitation to anyone who does have concerns to take them immediately to the appropriate authorities.

Judith Collins: How does he reconcile his statement to the House yesterday that: “… I remain convinced that my conduct as a teacher was not inappropriate.” with the statement of his former principal that his actions at the time were “just not appropriate”, and does he accept that telling stories that are at odds with students, principals, and parents severely compromises this Minister’s credibility?

Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: I do not accept that statement either, and I am pleased to tell the member that one of the main reasons for that is contained in the document that I will be seeking leave to table when this question is finished.

Rodney Hide: Does the Minister believe that he can carry out his duties when he slapped a young girl pupil on the thigh, when it was against school policy, and he knew that it was—

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I am beginning to see the pattern of these questions from Rodney Hide. They do not come attached to any evidence whatsoever—

Hon Bill English: That’s not a point of order.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Yes, it is a point of order and you will shut up while I repeat it.

Madam SPEAKER: Will the member please withdraw that comment.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Yes, I will. I am entitled to be heard in silence and members are offending the House’s rules.

Madam SPEAKER: Yes, I agree. There is one rule for everyone to be heard in silence on the point of order. The member, however, should not tell another member to shut up in that way.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. That is not the first time today that I have raised a point of order again to a loud cacophony of sound from National members. It is wrong, and they are not getting away with it in this House as far as I am concerned. My point is that what this member is doing is, not once but on countless occasions, raising an allegation with no future preparedness to table any evidence to back it up. That is wrong, and as a former Speaker’s ruling once said, although he may get away with it once, if he repeats that pattern then someone is entitled to demand that he table the evidence now to back up the assertion, and I am making that demand right now of him. Rather than a whole lot of things that he says he knows, let us see just one of them that we all might know.

Rodney Hide: I thank the Rt Hon. Winston Peters for raising this issue and I make this point. Yes, I have raised questions for this Minister in this House—questions that he has vehemently refuted, said were false, and actually caused me some considerable discomfort. Every one of these questions was demonstrably shown to be true by the very authorities that Helen Clark is saying we should go to. I would like to put my track record for making allegations up against that of the Rt Hon Winston Peters, a man who has never got it right; it is me who has got it right, in respect of that Minister.

Madam SPEAKER: I understand the point of order from both members. I remind all members that this is question time. It is a time to ask questions, not to make allegations. Would the member please rephrase his question as a question to the Minister.

Rodney Hide: What credibility does the Minister think he has as the Minister in charge of social development, the infirm, children, and the elderly, when as a teacher he slapped a young girl on the thigh, which was against the school policy at the time and, indeed, against the law—or will he deny that, as well?

Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: I am happy for the New Zealand public to make its own judgment about my actions. I completely refute the ridiculous statement that has just been made by Mr Hide.

Rodney Hide: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I think this Minister’s answers are often quite important to subsequent developments in this House. I could not hear whether the Minister denied the allegation.

Madam SPEAKER: I could hear it. There was not the level of barrage there normally has been, so most members obviously heard it, as well.

Rodney Hide: Point or order—

Madam SPEAKER: It will be in Hansard, as the member knows.

Rodney Hide: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I ask, through you, Madam Speaker, to hear the answer, because you heard the answer and I did not, and I am sorry for that. Did the Minister deny slapping a young woman on the thigh?

Madam SPEAKER: Is this another supplementary question?

Rodney Hide: No, I am asking you, Madam Speaker, because we have to do supplementary questions. I never heard the answer.

Madam SPEAKER: The Minister has given his reply. If we have to interrupt proceedings every time a member did not hear everything, we would not get through question time.

Rodney Hide: Point of order.

Madam SPEAKER: I am sorry. I have ruled on that matter, Mr Hide. If it is a new point of order, you are perfectly entitled to make it, but it had better be a new point of order.

Rodney Hide: Absolutely new.

Madam SPEAKER: I am sorry, what was the last comment you made?

Rodney Hide: Absolutely new.

Madam SPEAKER: Thank you.

Rodney Hide: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. We do not get too many questions in the House. It is not my fault that other people call out and barrack so that I cannot hear. I am entitled as a member of Parliament to ask a question and to have—[Interruption] Well, it might be all right for Mr Peters to interrupt during a point of order when he complains about it, but I am entitled as a member of this Parliament to answer a question and to have a reply. I did not hear it. You said that you did, and that it would be in Hansard later. Well, that is good, but it is very, very hard to ask supplementary questions when one does not actually hear the answer. I was asking you, Madam Speaker, particularly from the perspective of a small party—which, sadly, is ACT—to give us a bit of help and say whether he denied it or whether he did not.

Madam SPEAKER: I thank the member. The member gets considerable help from the Speaker, I must say. I would point out to the House that it is not the Minister’s fault that the reply was heard not by the member but by others. So I say to all members that in future it would be wonderful if we could have question time in silence. I do not expect that, and that is not what is required, but I would ask us to move on now.

Judith Collins: Why did the Minister tell John Campbell of TV3 yesterday that he would be available for interviews, and then did not front up; does he not think that that sort of behaviour compromises his credibility as a Minister?

Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: That is not what I told Mr Campbell. I would note that I was subsequently disappointed that Mr Campbell did not have the integrity to say he was taping me. I said I would make a decision about that matter later in the day.

Judith Collins: Did the Minister ever enter a girls’ changing room after the school policy change in 1997?

Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: I am not aware of any further allegations in that regard. I am happy to confirm that I do not believe that any of my actions have ever been outside the school policy of the day.

Treaty of Waitangi—Historical Claims

7. PITA PARAONE (NZ First) to the Minister in charge of Treaty of Waitangi Negotiations: What initiatives, if any, are under way to ensure that historical Treaty claims are able to be settled expeditiously?

Hon MARK BURTON (Minister in charge of Treaty of Waitangi Negotiations): This Government has already implemented a number of initiatives to expedite the Treaty settlement process, such as establishing three additional teams to assist claimants to enter negotiations and to achieve settlements. It is our manifesto commitment that all historical claims be lodged by 1 September 2008, so that we can proceed to settle all claims by 2020.

Pita Paraone: Has the Minister seen the draft report from the Law Commission entitled Waka Umanga: A Proposed Law for Mâori Governance Entities, which contains the recommendation that Mâori-specific corporate entities should be established and mandated for iwi groups at the beginning of the settlements process; does he not agree that the adoption of that recommendation would speed up the entire Treaty settlements process?

Hon MARK BURTON: I am indeed aware of the report. I can say to the member that this year officials are working on a series of initiatives to further streamline all aspects of the claims process. The content of that report will certainly be taken into account.

Dave Hereora: What progress have those additional teams made towards just and timely settlements?

Hon MARK BURTON: As to the teams that I referred to in my initial answer, over the last 3 years we have seen six deeds of settlement reached, and 13 groups have entered negotiations—five of those in 2005 alone. Three settlement bills were passed last year, and I expect another three to be introduced this year. Currently, the Government is in negotiations with over 20 groups, covering several hundred Wai claims.

Gerry Brownlee: Can the Minister confirm that the briefing paper to the incoming Minister in 2005 indicated that terms of negotiations have been signed with only 10 outstanding claimant groups, and that at the current pace it would take at least 15 years to conclude those negotiations and settle claims; if so, how can his claim that he is making progress more speedily than before be believed?

Hon MARK BURTON: As I indicated in my answer to the initial question, the pace of settlement, in part because of the initiatives taken by the Government in the last few years, is increasing. In the last 3 years, six deeds of settlement have been reached. Three settlement bills were passed last year, as the member knows, and I anticipate another three being introduced this year. The pace is increasing, and I anticipate that it will continue to do so with the initiatives the Government is taking.

Pita Paraone: Does the Minister agree that the establishment of Mâori corporate entities, such as those recommended in the Waka Umanga report, that have sufficient flexibility to meet the legal demands of accountability and corporate governance, while also embracing Mâori cultural realities, is a positive step both for the settlements process and for Mâori in general?

Hon MARK BURTON: I agree that the proposals in the report warrant serious consideration, and they certainly will get it.

Social Development and Employment, Minister—Allegations

8. Hon BILL ENGLISH (National—Clutha-Southland) to the Minister of Education: Does he agree with the Prime Minister’s statement about the alleged 1997 incident in which, as a teacher, the Hon David Benson-Pope walked into the dormitory and bathroom of 14-year-old girls changing: “that he behaved in accordance with school policy at the time”; if so, what was that policy?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY (Minister of Education): I agree with the Prime Minister’s statement. I am also aware that Mr Benson-Pope has stated that his behaviour complied with school policy at the time, which, I understand, was for a staff member—

Hon Member: That makes it all right then, doesn’t it.

Hon STEVE MAHAREY:—does the member want to be quiet, so he can hear it—for a staff member, gender not identified, to give a “wake-up” or “hurry-up” call to students.

Hon Bill English: What standard of behaviour does the Minister of Education believe is appropriate for male teachers who are responsible for young teenage girls, many thousands of whom are on school camps right now?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: Standards that comply with policies set down by their schools.

Hon Phil Goff: Can the Minister confirm that the claims and innuendo made several times now by Mr English and Dr Brash have in fact been contradicted by the statements made by the principal, who made it absolutely clear that: “There is no question about anyone entering the showers,” there was no question about any compromise of privacy, and the hurry-up call was made from the door; and, further, that those statements were in fact supported by the girls who were quoted in the Herald on Sunday last Sunday?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: Yes, I am aware that the account given by the principal differs from the account given by people such as Mr Bill English. It is my understanding, of course, that Opposition members have embarked upon using sources such as that from Investigate as their sources of information. I do not think anyone in his or her right mind should use that journal as a source of information.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Has the Minister of Education seen any photo, fact—even if it is only one fact—or piece of acceptable evidence from Messrs English, Brash, and Hide, or from Ms Collins, in respect of these allegations; and what will this do for male recruitment into important professions such as the teaching profession, and for the retention of males who are in those professions now, if someone can be scandalised in this House without one fact being produced to back it up?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: I confirm that I have not seen any evidence from Mr English, from Ms Collins, or from Mr Hide. I imagine that all members in the House would like to see evidence, where it exists, because they, too, could have claims made against them at any time, and they also would want to see evidence.

Hon Bill English: Does the Minister believe that a school should hire a teacher surrounded by the following allegations: stuffed a tennis ball in the mouth of a student; hit a student in the face—accepted as prima facie by the police; slapped a teenage girl on the thigh; kneed a male student in the groin; entered a girls’ changing room while girls were showering; burst in unannounced on girls getting changed after a mud run; accused of bullying other teachers; and made pupils stand outside in the cold in their nighties, as verified by the police; should any school hire a teacher surrounded by that swirl of allegations?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: I would hope that any school hiring a teacher would ensure that it found out the truth about any allegation surrounding a person, and would not rely on the words of Bill English, who routinely misleads on issues relating to the education sector, as he is doing today.

Hon Bill English: Can the Minister confirm that last week the Government defended Mr Benson-Pope by agreeing with his statement that the allegations were nonsense, that yesterday it defended him by agreeing with his statement that he acted within school policy, and that today it has changed its position again and defended him on the basis of its statement that the principal did not regard the behaviour as serious enough to warrant formal disciplinary proceedings; and will the Government change its mind again tomorrow?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: The first point raised by Mr English was the one relating to the Investigate magazine, where Mr Benson-Pope referred to it as nonsense. I regard anything in the Investigate magazine as nonsense, by definition. The school policy at the time, as Mr Benson-Pope has pointed out, was for people to give a wake-up or a hurry-up call. That was the policy, and that is what he acted within, as I understand it. And, thirdly, do we rely on the principal’s statements? Well, he gives a range of statements and we have used those—just as he has—to provide evidence.

Hon Bill English: When will he show some leadership as Minister of Education and stop hiding behind sly half-truths and acknowledge that the behaviour that has been described is not the behaviour of a decent male, let alone a professional teacher?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: I would regard the behaviour of a decent male to be that of getting up in this House and providing real evidence for the assertions he makes. If Mr English has the courage of his convictions, he might like to try to provide a bit of evidence for a change, and be a real man.

Rodney Hide. In response to the Minister’s answer, I seek the leave of the House to table the police report that shows a prima facie case against the Minister for hitting a pupil on the nose—

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

Rodney Hide: —and for sticking a tennis ball—

Madam SPEAKER: I have understood, as has the House, the nature of the member’s comments. In raising this matter, the member needs only to identify clearly what the document is; it is not to give a speech. The document is the police report. Is there any objection to that report being tabled?

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I invite Rodney Hide to try to seek leave again, but if he gets up again and describes something as being a prima facie case, then how will the rest of us understand what on earth he is seeking to table?

Madam SPEAKER: My understanding is that what is being tabled is the police report.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: No, he said it had something to do with the police and that it was a prima facie report. With the greatest respect, I am not aware of that sort of document. Perhaps he could describe it to me.

Madam SPEAKER: I think the rest of the House understood that it was the police report. I shall put it. Is there any objection to the police report being tabled? There is no objection.

Leave granted.

Hon Bill English: Can the Minister confirm that it is now the Government’s position that there is no evidence for any of the allegations that have been made against David Benson-Pope, that the police report has no merit, that none of the allegations involved serious behaviour, and therefore there is no case to answer whatsoever?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: The police report is the police report. We have all read it, we all understand what is there, and of course, nothing was proceeded with from that. From the point of view of the Government, of course, we have heard a number of allegations, but we have not heard evidence that supports those. The member can provide that evidence if he would like to, but so far he has not been man enough to do so.

Madam SPEAKER: We are trying to eliminate those little innuendos and side bars. “Real man” has been mentioned several times in the House in different contexts.

Hon STEVE MAHAREY (Minister of Education): Madam Speaker, I would take your own ruling and say that if the member wants to serve it he will have to take it.

Madam SPEAKER: That is the difficulty we have, I must say; we do have responses across the House. So I think we should all note that for the future.

Hon Dr Michael Cullen: In light of one of the previous questions and answers, would the Minister regard it as appropriate for a school to hire as a teacher somebody who was convicted of pushing an elderly man down the stairs, or somebody else who was told point blank by a judge that he did not believe a word of what he had said, as happened to Dr Nick Smith?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: As I said before, I would hope that all schools would have policies that would allow them to understand the character of the people they were hiring. If they were given evidence of someone who was convicted for pushing someone down the stairs I would hope they would not hire that person. If they were given evidence of someone who misled the court, likewise I would hope that they would not hire that person.

Hon David Benson-Pope: During my question earlier I intimated my intention to ask for leave to table a document I had received, and I now do so. I request leave to table a letter from a parent who attended a 1997 camp at Tautuku in the Catlins discussing the accusations that have been made.

Leave granted.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. This is in line with a point of order I raised before. I seek the House’s leave for time to be set aside so that Messrs Brash, English, Hide, and Ms Collins can now table some evidence for the first time.

Madam SPEAKER: That is out of order. The member cannot seek that for somebody else.

Prisons—Health and Safety, Mt Eden

9. TARIANA TURIA (Co-Leader—Mâori Party) to the Minister of Labour: Will she be taking any action about the health and safety of employees following a Department of Corrections report into Mount Eden Prison which reportedly identified serious non-compliance with building codes and standards, fire, health and safety requirements; and a “medium” risk of sewage flooding into the exercise yards and other unsanitary conditions?

Hon RUTH DYSON (Minister of Labour): I am advised that since the Department of Corrections information was compiled in 2004, to which the member referred, all issues identified by the member have been addressed.

Tariana Turia: What workplace health and safety strategy has the Minister considered for Mount Eden Prison, which Department of Corrections officials report as facing a high likelihood of service failure, the consequences of which would be catastrophic; and why has it taken 2 years for the Government to respond?

Hon RUTH DYSON: I will start by first answering the last question that the member posed. It has not taken that length of time, at all. In fact, all the issues that were identified in the report have been addressed in the 12 months since that information was compiled. The Department of Corrections has a responsibility to take all practicable steps to comply with the Health and Safety in Employment Act 1992, and my officials will continue to work with the Department of Corrections officials to continuously achieve that goal.

Simon Power: What action will the Minister take to elicit an explanation from the Minister of Corrections, given documents that show: “The cost of approving the use of Corrections working capital to fund Spring Hill and Otago is that deferred maintenance risks such as Mount Eden will not be able to be met from the department’s existing funding streams.”, and does she consider that a satisfactory response to the ongoing health and safety issues at Mount Eden Prison?

Hon RUTH DYSON: My responsibility is to ensure that the legislation is complied with. How the Department of Corrections uses its finances, and whether it uses that as a negotiating point in budgets, is not my ministerial responsibility.

Darien Fenton: Does the Department of Labour automatically prosecute an employer, if health and safety standards are compromised?

Hon RUTH DYSON: No. Prosecution is not the department’s first reaction. The most important reaction is ensuring that the workplace is safe, and that the employer is committed to taking all practicable steps to ensure a healthy and safe workplace environment. In fact, the criteria for prosecution are that it is the only way of achieving compliance, but the employer has avoided compliance to gain a deliberate economic advantage; that there is a careless disregard for the safety of the workforce; and to ensure public accountability. In my view, that is an appropriate threshold.

Dr Pita Sharples: Kua kite anô ia i te ripoata a Bob Harvey, te Tumuaki o Waitakere, mô te whare herehere o Mt Eden e kî ana: “Kâre e taea e ngâ kaihanga atâmira mô te Ariki o ngâ Rîngi te hanga atâmira e weriweri ana, e kino ake ana i tçrâ whare herehere whakarihariha kei te môhiotia e tâtau. He makariri, he mâkû. Kâre e taea te whakamahana, te whakatikatika. I hangaia i ngâ tau 1880 mô ngâ mauhere 120. I tçnei wâ, tata atu ki te 360 kei reira. He wâhi aurere, mokemoke hoki. Ki tôku whakaaro ko ngâ raiona ahakoa kei roto i te râwhi whakaaturanga o Tâmaki, â, mate noa râtau, ka nui atu ake ngâ wâ e whakakorikori tinana ana, e hâkari ana, e paençne ana i te râ ki ngâ mauhere kei Mt Eden.”; nâ, âhea ka whakatikatika ai tçnei kâwanatanga i tçnei âhuatanga e whakamâ whânui nei i a tâtau?

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

Madam SPEAKER: I remind the member that it is question time.

Dr Pita Sharples: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. My question—as it will be revealed—contained a quote, in order to preserve accuracy, and that lengthened the question.

Madam SPEAKER: We will get the translation. I accept that, but I still remind members that it is question time.

[Has the Minister read the report from the Mayor of Waitakere City, Bob Harvey, about Mount Eden Prison: “A set maker for Lord of the Rings could not have created such an evil masterpiece as the real thing. Cold, damp, unable to be heated or renovated. It was built in the 1880s for 120 prisoners. It now holds nearly 360. It is a place of despair. I would think that the lions in the Auckland zoo, incarcerated for life, have more exercise, feeding and sunlight than the prisoners in Mt Eden.”; and when will this Government do something about this site of national shame?]

Hon RUTH DYSON: No.

Tariana Turia: Given that the previous Minister of Corrections, the Hon Matt Robson, believed that Mount Eden Prison should be replaced by the year 2003 because of the condition it was in, what response has the Minister made to the Corrections Association of New Zealand, which warned—after inmates were housed in prison vans last year—that Mount Eden Prison is particularly at risk, because ongoing muster problems have led to an increase in assaults on staff, and riots, and that even the death of a guard could eventuate?

Hon RUTH DYSON: I am not the Minister of Corrections; I am the Minister of Labour, and the responsibility of the Department of Labour is to ensure that the health and safety in employment legislation is complied with by all employers, including the Department of Corrections. My advice is that no complaints have been laid with the Department of Labour, in relation to any activity or concerns around Mount Eden Prison, since the middle of last year. The member raised a number of concerns in her primary question, and I have been advised that all those issues in relation to health and safety have been addressed.

Business Tax Review—Expected Outcome

10. JOHN KEY (National—Helensville) to the Minister of Finance: Does he stand by his statement that he envisages some very bold measures emerging from the business tax review currently under way?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Minister of Finance): Yes.

John Key: Is the Minister’s business tax review considering a cut to the corporate tax rate, together with the introduction of a payroll tax; if so, what does he consider will be the benefits of that scheme?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: A whole range of options are being looked at. Unlike many members opposite, Mr Dunne and I are not afraid to think.

John Key: Can the Minister recall that at his request in 2004 Treasury calculated that to cut the company tax rate to 20 percent, with no loss of revenue to the Crown, would require the introduction of a payroll tax of 5.4 percent; if so, does he find such a concept appealing?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I can recollect those numbers. They would be subject, obviously, to a great deal of recalculation. In both cases they would be significantly lower than the corresponding Australian rates.

John Key: Is an objective of the Minister’s business tax review that proposals be revenue-neutral; if not, how large does he envisage the impact will be on the Crown accounts?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Those matters will be settled as part of the review.

John Key: Did the Minister’s statement to the Finance and Expenditure Committee a few weeks ago that some of the options being considered by the review may prove to be “too big and too bold for a wide variety of stakeholders, including officials” indicate that the payroll tax scheme he is working on is his own idea, and that others will have trouble accepting it?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: It indicated that sometimes one can dream, and that other people do not like dreams.

Hon Peter Dunne: Does the Minister also recall seeing a statement that said: “we are not persuaded that reducing this tax”—that is, company tax—“… would have any materially beneficial effect on growth,”; and is he surprised to know that that came from the National Party’s 2004 economic policy position paper?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I remember the quote as if it were yesterday. It came directly from Dr Donald Brash.

Research, Science and Technology—Recent Initiatives

11. MOANA MACKEY (Labour) to the Minister of Research, Science and Technology: What recent initiatives will enhance education and science research in New Zealand?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY (Minister of Research, Science and Technology): Today I have some outstandingly good news. The Government has committed $43 million over the next 5 years to build the Advanced Network, which is a high-speed advanced communications network. It will link our universities with our Crown research institutes, and link them both to a worldwide network that will significantly enhance their ability to do research in this country. I should note that the $43 million put forward by the Government will be matched by the universities and the Crown research institutes themselves. It is a fantastic development.

Moana Mackey: What other investments is the Government making to accelerate New Zealand’s economic growth through science?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: There is so much good news that I will restrict myself to the following: the Government is investing around $175 million a year, or 15 percent of the total research and development budget, to support biotechnology research. A report I released this week reinforces the value of that investment, because it tells us that just four biotechnologies alone returned $400 million to New Zealand last year. That has to be put against the fact that 62 percent of all biotechnology is still in a developmental stage. We are clearly watching a rising part of our economy, from which we will get huge returns.

R Doug Woolerton: Why has it taken so long to regain the focus of agricultural science, given that it is now many years ago that Simon Upton initiated the disastrous changes that led to a 40 percent drop in agricultural science, according to Fonterra?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: Ever since the Labour Government has been in office, of course, that focus has been reversed, and we are now on the right track.

Small Business—Advisory Group Report

12. KATHERINE RICH (National) to the Minister for Small Business: Does she stand by her statement to the House on 14 February 2006 that her Government had accepted 18 of the 19 recommendations from the Small Business Advisory Group’s first report “outright”?

Hon LIANNE DALZIEL (Minister for Small Business): As I have said publicly, the word “outright” probably does not reflect the sense of immediacy sought by the Small Business Advisory Group in its recommendations, and reflected in its scorecard. That is something I will be discussing with its representatives when I meet with them on 14 March. The member needs to understand that the recommendation and report-back process is ongoing, and I am confident that the next set of scores will be improved.

Katherine Rich: Now that the Minister accepts that the word “outright” was an overstatement, when the Small Business Advisory Group gives her Government a lukewarm rating of five out of 10 for its response to its first report, does she accept that saying the Government had accepted 18 of the 19 recommendations “outright” was at best an exaggeration and at worst a porky?

Hon LIANNE DALZIEL: I would remind that member that it was this Government that set up the Small Business Advisory Group. There was no such thing, and not even a Minister for Small Business, when her party was in Government. The group made 19 recommendations to the Government, only one of which was rejected “outright”—the personal grievance - free period. Not surprisingly, that was the only one that the Small Business Advisory Group scored zero out of 10. Unlike the National Party, the Government does not agree that employers should be able to sack workers without reason.

Hon Dr Michael Cullen: Can the Minister confirm that the statement was made on Valentine’s Day, and that it reflected the love affair between her and the business sector?

Hon LIANNE DALZIEL: I can confirm that it was made on Valentine’s Day.

Katherine Rich: How does the Minister reconcile her claim of outright acceptance of the report’s recommendations with the group’s conclusion that the Government has “been awarded an averaged mark of 5.3/10.” and “done little to transform that response into tangible outcomes for business.”?

Hon LIANNE DALZIEL: As I said to the member, I am meeting with the Small Business Advisory Group on 14 March in order to discuss its response to the Government’s response to its first report. There is an issue in respect of its grading of some of the Government’s responses, because it divided it into two parts: policy and implementation. I want to discuss with the group some of the implementation stuff. We scored very well on the policy—we scored over five on 12 of the recommendations.

Maryan Street: Which of the Government’s responses to the Small Business Advisory Group recommendations were scored by the group in its second report, released on Monday, at 10 out of 10?

Hon LIANNE DALZIEL: Our responses to three of the recommendations got a full 10 out of 10, which I think is fantastic for the first report we have received. These recommendations include the Small Business Advisory Group’s No. 1 recommendation: “That the Government enhance funding to up-skill mentors and mentor co-ordinators in order to provide a superior service to clients and to market their services.” Our responses to the No. 5 and No. 6 recommendations were accepted by the Small Business Advisory Group as also having achieved a 10 out of 10 rating.

Peter Brown: Is the Minister aware that many employers employ people casually because there is no such thing as a grievance-free probationary period, and would she be more kindly disposed to a grievance-free probationary period if some rules governing casual labour were in place?

Hon LIANNE DALZIEL: The core issue here is the employers’ concerns, which have been expressed by the Small Business Advisory Group, about the risk of taking on new staff. The Government is actively addressing this by providing better information about good practice in employing and managing staff through, for example, the new Department of Labour publications How to Hire Guide for Employers and An Employer’s Guide to Employment Relationships.

Katherine Rich: Is it not pathetic that the Minister skites in the House today about three of the 19 recommendations her Government has accepted, when the Small Business Advisory Group has given her Government an overall rating of five out of 10, and what is the point of meeting, listening, and reporting, if she is going to ignore what the group says?

Hon LIANNE DALZIEL: I think it is a bit rich that those criticisms are directed at the Government by a party that, when in Government, had no Minister for Small Business and no Small Business Advisory Group. The Government’s policy program already addresses 18 of the 19 recommendations that have been made, and more are to come. I remind the member that the Small Business Advisory Group has included in its new set of recommendations only two of the previous recommendations, because it believes me, not her.

Maryan Street: Does the Small Business Advisory Group have any input into Government policy other than through its annual report?

Hon LIANNE DALZIEL: Yes, the advisory group has had significant influence, and is now regularly consulted on tax matters, and on policies and programmes run by the Department of Labour, the Accident Compensation Corporation, New Zealand Trade and Enterprise, and Statistics New Zealand, to name but a few. All of these issues are highly relevant to small to medium sized enterprises, and the Small Business Advisory Group’s advice has been extremely valuable. I am glad we have a Small Business Advisory Group. If I had wanted to hire yes-people who just patted me on the back for everything I did, without giving me the small business lens, then I would want to work for Don Brash—because that is all he wants from his spokespeople.

ENDS

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