Questions & Answers for Oral Answer 2 March 2006
Thursday, 2 March
Questions for Oral Answer
1. Social Development and Employment,
2. KiwiSaver Scheme—Business Reaction
3. Social Development and Employment, Minister—Personal Judgment
4. Foreign Affairs and Trade, Ministry Officials—Confidence
6. Accident and Emergency Services—Hospital Benchmark Report
7. Transit New Zealand—State Highway Funding
8. World Trade Organization—Viet Nam
9. Small Business, Minister—Employment Issues
10. Environment Court—Whangamata Marina
11. Accident Compensation Corporation—Performance, International Reports
12. Social Development and Employment, Minister—Allegations
Questions for Oral Answer
Questions to Ministers
Madam SPEAKER: I just remind members at the beginning of question time that, although there is always a level of chatter, there are to be no interjections while the question is being asked, and if we could have as much silence as possible, it will assist.
Social Development and Employment, Minister—Allegations
1. Hon BILL ENGLISH (National—Clutha-Southland) to the Minister of Education: Does he stand by his statement that: “I am also aware that Mr Benson-Pope has stated that his behaviour complied with school policy at the time.”; if so, does he believe that statement includes all allegations that have come to light about the Hon David Benson-Pope’s conduct as a teacher, including those investigated by police?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY (Minister of Education): Yes. I stand by my statement that Mr Benson-Pope has stated that his behaviour complied with school policy at the time. A large number of allegations have been made about Mr Benson-Pope’s conduct by members opposite, but they remain without foundation. The allegations contained in the police report were, of course, the subject of a wide-ranging investigation that resulted in no action being taken by the police, who noted at the time that these alleged events happened many years ago, and the victims were not motivated to lay complaints at the time.
Hon Bill English: Is the Minister aware of a complaint from a former Bayfield High School teacher that Mr Benson-Pope had bullied her, that there was a formal mediation, and that she received a letter of apology from Mr Benson-Pope?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: I am aware of that incident. I am also aware that the apology was mutual.
Hon Phil Goff: Do the comments on the files of the police investigation into Mr Benson-Pope that the Minister referred to support the innuendo of Mr English and Ms Collins, or do they indicate that, overwhelmingly, fellow teachers and students alike regarded David Benson-Pope as competent, as dedicated, and as a respected and popular teacher?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: I am well aware of the reports that say exactly that—that this was a person with a 24-year, respected, professional career.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Is the Minister aware of reports from Labour caucus colleagues that Mr Benson-Pope bullied them, but in every case their complaints were unwarranted?
Madam SPEAKER: There is no ministerial responsibility for that question.
Hon Bill English: Can the Minister confirm, in the case of the bullying complaint, that a complaint was certainly made, that it was dealt with formally, and that Mr Benson-Pope took action himself by writing a letter of apology; and does the Minister now accept Mr Benson-Pope’s statement to the House that he is unaware of “any complaint of any kind”?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: I am not intimate with every single detail of this event. I said before that those people laid complaints and mutually apologised to each other. I imagine that the same kind of bullying behaviour has gone on between Mr English and his party, but I am sure that no one has apologised to him—yet—for dumping him as leader.
Hon Phil Goff: What reports has the Minister seen that support Bill English’s assertion “that teachers’ unions and the public are united in their condemnation of Mr Benson-Pope”?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: I have not heard any such reports. Indeed, last night on television I watched the people of Dunedin say unanimously that they supported their local MP. I also heard the following comments on Television New Zealand’s Close Up programme, from Principals Federation president, Pat Newman—[Interruption]
Madam SPEAKER: Please be seated. In question time yesterday members complained they could not hear answers to questions. So I would remind members that of course they can interject, but they are to keep the barrage down so that all members can hear the answer.
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: I have heard no such reports. Indeed, I watched television last night to see the people of Dunedin unanimously supporting their local MP. I also heard the following comments on Television New Zealand’s Close Up programme, from Principals Federation president, Pat Newman: “It is not election year. Politicians have a responsibility to look at the harm they are doing to our profession by jumping on the bandwagon that’s not yet been proven. Stop demeaning male teachers, and stop attacking them.”—very good advice to Mr English.
Hon Bill English: Does the Minister share the view of the Prime Minister that the school camp complaints referred to in the House yesterday were not serious, so Mr Benson-Pope’s statement to the House—that he did not know of any complaint of any kind—was acceptable; if so, does the Government believe that the second bullying complaint is also too trivial for Mr Benson-Pope to remember, and that it is therefore acceptable for him to mislead the House about that complaint, as well?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: It is not my recollection that the Prime Minister said yesterday that the complaints were not serious. What she was saying was that they were not formally laid and did not lead to disciplinary action. That leaves open the fact that people often complain about what teachers might do—as Mr Brownlee knows—but that does not lead to disciplinary action.
Hon Bill English: Now that the House has established that there were certainly two complaints of a serious nature against Mr Benson-Pope, which he must have known about, is it still the Minister’s position that Mr Benson-Pope’s statement: “Nor am I aware of any complaint of any kind.”, was a statement of the truth?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: My understanding is that Mr Benson-Pope has consistently noted that he was referring to formally laid complaints that lead to disciplinary action, not the normal discussion that goes around any school. In that sense he has adopted an honest approach.
Hon Bill English: Is it now the Government’s position, in respect of the school camp complaints, that Mr Benson-Pope knew about them, but because he knew they were dealt with outside the formal disciplinary process, he did not have to tell the House; and in respect of the bullying complaints, Mr Benson-Pope knew about that matter as well, but he did not regard a formal mediation by his own union as a process that warranted rating it as a serious complaint—so he could mislead the House on that one, too?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: The accusations that Mr Benson-Pope has misled the House are simply wrong. He has consistently made it clear that the normal complaints that go around schools, which people such as Mr Brownlee will be aware of, do not constitute the kinds of formal complaints he was referring to.
KiwiSaver Scheme—Business Reaction
2. SHANE JONES (Labour) to the Minister of Finance: What recent reports, if any, has he received on the business reaction to the KiwiSaver scheme?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Minister of Finance): Among the many positive reports I have seen on the scheme is one from the Employers and Manufacturers Association (Northern). This notes that “Employers in general are supportive of KiwiSaver.” The report went on to express some concern around compliance costs for small business, something it was working to minimise. The report concluded that the future augers well for the scheme.
Shane Jones: Is that report representative of the feedback received from business?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Yes; for example, there is similarly positive feedback from ING and from AMP. The only serious report I have seen that is not generally supportive of the scheme is one that continues a nonsensical comparison of it with a Christmas club. I am sure that all the entire managed funds industry and financial sector of New Zealand will be pleased to know that Mr Key thinks they run Christmas clubs.
John Key: Should unions compromise their annual wage demands if they are asking employers to make matching contributions to KiwiSaver?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I think it is highly desirable that unions and employees think about the way in which they can move forward on KiwiSaver, and I would expect, obviously, that if unions are seeking some degree of salary increase as a result of KiwiSaver contributions to employers, that would be offset in part by salary sacrifice around their own straight wage demands.
Craig Foss: What proportion of KiwiSaver accounts does he think will fall dormant or remain with very modest balances, and how does he calculate that proportion?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: On the last part, obviously it is not possible to make calculations since we will not know until we have seen the scheme in operation. But, of course, if we set up a scheme that provides for lock-in until retirement and provides no ability for flexibility of contributions—for holidays, or to pay down the mortgage, for example—first, National will attack it because it did not have the flexibility, and second, very few people would sign up to the scheme.
Te Ururoa Flavell: Nâ runga i te kautenui o te tau 2001 i kî nei, ko te weheruatanga o ngâ utu mô te Mâori pakeke ake i te 15 tau he tekau $14,800, he whai kiko te whakaaro ka taea ç te Mâori te hoatu kia 4 ô-rau o tôna pûtea moni hua ki te kaupapa Kiwisaver; kua tono anô ia ki ngâ rangatira Mâori pçrâ i çrâ kei te hui, kei te wânanga i ngâ kaupapa â-pûtea hei whakamana i te Mâori kei te tû i te marae o Pipitea i tçnei rangi?
[An interpretation in English was given to the House.]
[In the light of the 2001 census data that the median income of all Mâori over the age of 15 was $14,800, how realistic is it to expect Mâori will contribute 4 percent of their income to the KiwiSaver scheme; and has he sought any advice from Mâori leaders such as those currently meeting to discuss Mâori economic empowerment at Pipitea Marae today?]
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I was not aware of that meeting until about an hour or so ago, so it is a bit quick for me to have received any response back from them, from an approach I have yet to make and probably will not make today. On the former matter, of course since then unemployment rates amongst Mâori have dropped very considerably indeed, and median incomes will have risen amongst Mâori. There is no reason why Mâori who are on the same incomes as Pâkehâ should not have similar savings rates, and every reason why they should.
Tariana Turia: What reports has he received from his Mâori MPs that the KiwiSaver scheme will have a discriminatory impact for Mâori because so few live past the age of 65 years and will therefore not access the benefits of the scheme in a proportional manner?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: That makes a fundamental error. Unlike New Zealand superannuation—which of course if one dies before the age of 65 one never collects—with a contributory scheme even if one dies before the age of 65, the assets within that scheme become part of one’s estate to pass on to one’s heirs. In that respect the KiwiSaver scheme is advantageous when compared with New Zealand superannuation.
Shane Jones: Has he any reports from business expressing concerns about the hardship criteria in the bill?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I have seen a report stating that the bill does not define financial hardship. That seems somewhat strange, since clause 11 sets out a quite specific set of rules around that definition, and perhaps before Mr Key utters further silly statements he might care to actually read the bill.
Social Development and Employment, Minister—Personal Judgment
3. JUDITH COLLINS (National—Clevedon) to the Minister for Social Development and Employment: How often does he exercise personal judgment in his role as Minister for Social Development and Employment?
Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE (Minister for Social Development and Employment): Often, and subject of course to existing Government policy and the collective decisions of my Cabinet colleagues.
Judith Collins: What does it say of his ability to make sound judgments for one of our country’s most important ministries, when his judgment has seen him call the tennis ball allegations “ridiculous” and say that he “utterly refuted them”, then change track and merely say he has no recollection of the incident, and when his judgment has seen him prematurely release parts of his police report and say that it “vindicated him”, when police found the nine witnesses against him credible and that there was a prima facie case of assault against him?
Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: Those allegations were exhaustively canvassed by a very lengthy police investigation, at the end of which the authorities made a decision to take no further action.
Judith Collins: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. The Minister was asked what it said about his ability to make sound judgments. I do not believe, if you consider his answer, that he actually addressed that question.
Madam SPEAKER: The Minister addressed the question.
Judith Collins: What does it say of his personal judgment that he referred to the latest allegations of improper behaviour as “nonsense”, only to acknowledge later that there had been complaints, and then to apologise?
Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: The quote referred to was in relation to the articles on the Wishart website, and those allegations were despicable—as despicable as the comments of that member in the House yesterday.
Judith Collins: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. Is that comment by the Minister in order or out of order?
Madam SPEAKER: It was not an unparliamentary term.
Judith Collins: OK—as long as we can now use “despicable”. What does it say of his personal judgment that he said to the House yesterday: “I completely refute the ridiculous statement that has just been made by Mr Hide”; and if does refute it, what does he now want to say to Geana Earl, who has backed up Mr Hide’s allegation?
Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: I would say to Geana Earl that she should recall not only my refutation of her allegation but also that of the school and the female staff member, Ms Armstrong, who was present at the same time, which was communicated to her parents some years ago.
Judith Collins: What does it say of his personal judgment that he said in this House he was not aware of any complaints made against him, when it has been alleged and verified that a student, a parent, and a teacher all laid complaints against him?
Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: Like any member of this House, I am human and sometimes make mistakes. [Interruption]
Madam SPEAKER: If you wish to remain in the Chamber in question time, please do not interrupt while the member is asking her question.
Heather Roy: What advice would he give, as the Minister for Social Development and Employment, to a mother if a male teacher had entered a dormitory when girls were getting dressed or changing, whether or not the school had a policy in place, and can he detail any circumstances when it would be appropriate for a male teacher to enter a dormitory unannounced?
Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: I would advise the mother or any parent or concerned adult to make an appropriate approach to the relevant authorities and ascertain the facts of the matter concerned.
Rodney Hide: Following his answer yesterday, does he now accept that he did enter a girls’ dormitory in 1998, after the policy had changed, when the young pupils were getting changed for a school tramp, to give them “a hurry-up”?
Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: I do not recollect, but if so it would have been subject to the school’s procedures, including the giving of an advance warning.
Hon Phil Goff: I seek the leave of the House to table a document, from a National voter, saying that he sees these personal attacks on Mr Benson-Pope as being from small-minded and malicious people who wish only to ruin a man’s reputation.
Madam SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection?
Judith Collins: Point of order—
Madam SPEAKER: I am dealing with something else, and I would like to complete it. Leave was sought. [Interruption] Does the member wish to raise a point of information?
Judith Collins: Yes, a point of information. How does the Minister know that that document is from a National voter, when, of course, votes in this country are secret and anybody can say he or she is a National voter—and, hopefully, there will be a lot more?
Hon Phil Goff: Simply, because the person states in black and white that he is a National voter, and “probably always will be although I still weigh all the issues up before voting”.
Madam SPEAKER: Leave has been sought. Is there any objection? There is no objection.
Hon Steve Maharey: I seek leave to table an email from a National Party voter, who says: “I am disappointed that the National Party in so far as I am concerned needs to dish dirt in order to make points.”
Madam SPEAKER: Leave is sought. [Interruption] I understand the point; members themselves can decide.
Judith Collins: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. Would the Minister please explain how he can be certain that the person is a National Party supporter.
Madam SPEAKER: That is not a point of order or a point of clarification. Leave has been sought. Members can decide for themselves whether that document should be admitted.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. Despite the fact that the person says they are, and has obviously put their name to it, the member cannot surely raise objection on the basis that that is two, and that is one too many!
Madam SPEAKER: That point of order was about as irrelevant as the others. Leave is sought. Is there any objection? There is objection.
Foreign Affairs and Trade, Ministry Officials—Confidence
4. NANDOR TANCZOS (Green) to the Minister of Foreign Affairs: Does he have confidence in his Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade officials?
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS (Minister of Foreign Affairs): It is early days, but I have found Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade staff to be conscientious and professional, and therefore the answer is yes.
Nandor Tanczos: When the Minister told the House yesterday, in answer to a question on the Convention on Biological Diversity, that: “there is no such international convention or treaty.” was that because his officials did not tell him or was it just because he forgot?
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: The member full well knows that he began with a convention on an issue called “the terminator” where it comes to seeds. That is what he started with, but where he went after that, I do not know. It puts me in mind of the old saying: I shot an arrow into the air. Whither it landed, I knew not where”. The fact is, if a member puts down a primary question and staff prepare the answer to it, that is likely to be what the answer is about.
R Doug Woolerton: Apart from the terminator gene, is the Minister aware of any other substances that effect sterility?
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: The answer is yes, for it is generally accepted that smoking cannabis has an impact on driving capacity, on mental capacity, on social capacity, and on the issue of sterility, which was the primary question asked yesterday. It can be a real terminator.
Nandor Tanczos: Is the Minister aware of reports that the United States, although not a party to the convention, has been working through other countries in an attempt to overturn the status quo on terminator technology, and is that what he meant when he said in a recent speech that New Zealand is working in the interests of the United States in the Pacific?
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: My answer is this: that is not what I said in my recent speech, at all. The member should refer to it in order to get the honest interpretation from it. What I did say at the time was this: that Ministry—[Interruption] Well, I can see why honesty would be so foreign to that member, but not to me.
Madam SPEAKER: Please just stick to the answer.
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: I am happy to stick to the answer. The trouble with National members is that they can dish it out, but they cannot take it. They cannot take it, and we know why: it can be lonely with one’s nose against the window for all these years.
Nandor Tanczos: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. The Minister is attempting to avoid the fact that he does not know the answer to the question, by obfuscating in this House.
Madam SPEAKER: I asked the Minister to stick to the answer to the question, and I accept that there was certain distraction and therefore we meandered into other areas. I ask the Minister to address the question.
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: I am well aware of what the United States is doing abroad on this issue. I am also very well aware that we will soon be sending officials to Brazil on an issue that relates to a conference agenda that was agreed to by the then National Government way back when Mr Storey was in charge of these affairs. But the real point is this: the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade is involved in amalgamating and coordinating the views of various departments. All those departments have a greater role than it has in respect of the issue the member seeks an answer on—in particular, the Ministry for the Environment. He has put his question to the wrong Minister.
Nandor Tanczos: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. The Minister seems to be unaware that officials of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade are, according to their own account, due to present to Cabinet fairly shortly prior to that meeting. Is he telling us that he is simply a puppet for the Labour Government and does no decision-making of his own?
Madam SPEAKER: That is not a point of order; it is a point of debate.
Nandor Tanczos: As New Zealand’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, is he concerned that the reputation of New Zealand is being damaged due to the widespread condemnation of our position in attempting to open the door to terminator technology, against the wishes of the vast majority of signatories to the convention?
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: What I am aware of is this: there are very few countries in the world that follow the prescription of the Greens. That is why Green parties are not in power anywhere in the world that I know of. The real issue is that we have provisioned a group of people to take part and perform their role at the next conference with respect to those matters abroad. They are well appraised of the views of the whole range of countries that will be there, and they will be governed by the domestic policy of this country, not by some policy made on the hoof.
Nandor Tanczos: I seek leave, for the benefit of the Minister, to table the list of parties to the convention that he referred to—188 parties.
Nandor Tanczos: I seek leave to table decision 5 of the Convention on Biological Diversity, which New Zealand is party to as a ratified member.
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: In the interests of helping that member, I seek leave to table a paper from the convention in respect of terminator technology, but I cannot, because there is no such convention.
Madam SPEAKER: That wasted the House’s time.
Rodney Hide: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I ask you to rule, Madam Speaker, on a situation where a Minister of the Crown gets up and asks for leave to table a paper that does not exist.
Madam SPEAKER: I did note, Mr Hide, that the Minister had wasted the House’s time, and that is not acceptable. I said that at the time, and I am sorry if you did not hear it.
Rodney Hide: That is not my point, Madam Speaker. Of course it is a waste of time, but it is also an abuse of the process, because one could seek leave for all sorts of things, and to table reports that do not exist. The problem is not that it is a waste of time. The point is that it is an abuse of the process to seek leave to table something that does not exist.
Madam SPEAKER: I take the member’s point, and I would make the point to all members in the House that when they raise points of order on any matter, those points of order must be relevant to what is in the Standing Orders.
Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I raise this with you now—I could have left it until the end of question time, but Mr Hide has brought up the issue of Mr Peters raising frivolous points of order. If you go back through the Hansard of this week, you will find that your instruction to the House last week that raising frivolous points of order should stop has been followed by the National Party. We have not had the sort of protracted time spent on points of order that we had last week. Mr Peters engaged in at least four of those points of order on Tuesday, in a number again yesterday, and he is so far up to three today. It seems that whenever he is involved, it is just a matter of: “Oh well, it’s too bad. It’s a bit of cross-banter, and we’ll let him off.” We do expect to see him be pinged at some point.
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: Those members who were paying attention know full well that yesterday the member from the Greens, Nandor Tanczos, asked a question on a convention in respect of the restriction of the use of genetic technologies. That is the convention that he asserted exists. He knew full well that there was no such convention, but he stuck to that argument. Today he wished to switch his argument.
Madam SPEAKER: That is a point of debate.
Gerry Brownlee: If the Minister knew yesterday that there was not one, why did he not tell him?
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: I did.
Gerry Brownlee: No, you didn’t.
Madam SPEAKER: Order! I take Mr Brownlee’s point that my rulings on points of order last week were that we were to try to restrain ourselves and confine them to facts. I intend in the future to rule very strictly on that, and I put everyone on notice of that. I do appreciate those members in the House who have been following those rulings. I ask those who have not been following them to please take note.
Gordon Copeland: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I ask you to check the Hansard record of the exact words that the Rt Hon Winston Peters used in that point of order, because I think that in referring to his willingness to table a document, and then telling us that no such document existed, he has come very close to misleading the House. I would like you to reflect on that point.
Madam SPEAKER: I take the member’s point, but I would like us now to move on. I think every member is on notice.
Nandor Tanczos: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I am sorry to extend this point of order to and fro, but I ask you to give consideration to this matter: when a Minister of the Crown uses a point of order to make a political point that is not a point of order, and to make an allegation against a member, such as Mr Peters has just done against myself, there is then no opportunity to reply to that, because it is unacceptable to use a point of order to reply to a political point. I have just tabled a document that demonstrates my point, and used the Standing Orders appropriately, but what come-back do members such as myself have when a Minister misuses a point of order to make a political attack?
Madam SPEAKER: The member has made a good point. He has obviously got his point of view through on this occasion. Could we just confine these particular proceedings in the House to questions and answers.
5. Hon Dr NICK SMITH (National—Nelson) to the Minister of Energy: Does he agree with the statements by Meridian Energy Chief Executive Keith Turner that electricity supply is “very tenuous” and: “This winter is the tightest we have ever had as a nation”, the statement by electricity industry consultant Bryan Leyland that “the risk of a severe shortage is quite high.”, and the supporting statements by Genesis Energy Chief Executive Murray Jackson; if not, why not?
Hon DAVID PARKER (Minister of Energy): The Electricity Commission has a published set of assessment criteria that are intended to assure supply against a 1 in 60-year drought. I am advised that, based on those criteria, although lake levels are well below average the probability of a power shortage this winter is low.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: Noting that the Minister has effectively dismissed the views of Keith Turner and those of the chief executive of Meridian Energy, Murray Jackson, both of whom this morning at the Commerce Committee—
Hon Paul Swain: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. It is a well-known practice in the House that one begins a questions with a question word, not “noting”.
Madam SPEAKER: Could we have the question.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: Is the Minister aware that the chief executives of Meridian Energy and Genesis Energy, the Government’s two biggest power companies, told a select committee this morning that they have no confidence in the Electricity Commission’s model and that lake levels are at the lowest level ever; why does he not face the reality that New Zealand is facing a severe electricity crisis?
Hon DAVID PARKER: It will not come as a surprise to the member to know that I do take an interest in lake levels. As a consequence, I spoke with Mr Turner about lake levels both before and after his comments yesterday. On both occasions he advised me that although he is concerned about lake levels, he considers that no additional action on the part of the Electricity Commission is needed at this point.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: How can the Minister say to the House that Keith Turner from Meridian Energy said that no further action was required, when both he and officials from Genesis Energy told the select committee this morning that the Government should fire up Whirinaki, a power plant that has been paid for by the consumers of New Zealand, and save water to ensure that we do not have a crisis this winter; why will the Minister not take that sound advice and do just that?
Hon DAVID PARKER: I am aware that Dr Turner today suggested that reserve generation at Whirinaki should be brought on at a lower price point, and it is a matter that I will consider.
Hon Dr Michael Cullen: Does the Minister recollect, in reference to the last question, that the National Party opposed the purchase of the Whirinaki power station by the Labour Government?
Hon DAVID PARKER: I most absolutely do. Were it not for the back-up facility at Whirinaki, the situation would be worse than it is.
Gordon Copeland: What assurances will he give to our senior citizens and families on fixed incomes that an electricity shortage this winter will not lead to price spikes; and, if it does, how does he expect those on fixed incomes to find the extra money to pay the power bill—by going deeper into debt or by going cold?
Hon DAVID PARKER: If there were to be a power shortage this winter then we would expect that there would be a spike in power prices, but we would find that most residential consumers would be protected from that because they are not exposed to the spot market.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: How does the Minister reconcile his answer that Meridian Energy had told him yesterday that no action was required by the Government with his answer to the next supplementary question in which he accepted that Meridian Energy does say that Whirinaki should now be fired up to save water?
Hon DAVID PARKER: Once again the member is confused. What I said in response to the first question was that Mr Turner advised me that no additional action was required on the part of the Electricity Commission at this stage, in his opinion.
Jill Pettis: What is the Government doing to address electricity sector issues?
Hon DAVID PARKER: It is abundantly clear to most people that we have put up with National’s ham-fisted design of the energy sector for long enough. As the Prime Minister said late last year, as a consequence we are developing a National Energy Strategy that will address these issues, including issues of security of supply, energy efficiency, and renewable energy sources.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: Is the Minister aware that all of the last three electricity crises in New Zealand showed that the Government had responded too slowly to lake levels being low, and given that lake levels are now lower than they were in 2003, 2001, and 1993 for the same time of the year, why does he not now do something rather than sit on his hands waiting for the lights to go out?
Hon DAVID PARKER: The Government already has put in place both reserve generation and the Electricity Commission to develop models—
Hon Dr Nick Smith: They’re not using it. It’s turned off.
Hon DAVID PARKER: Reserve generation does come in. It has been used this year. The price point at which it comes in is 20c. Mr Turner suggested that that price point should be lower. Of course, National opposed altogether the provision of any reserve capacity.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: I seek the leave of the House to table the graphs on lake levels that show that New Zealand’s hydro storage is at the lowest level ever in New Zealand’s history in terms of securing electricity supply.
Hon DAVID PARKER: I seek leave to table the Electricity Commission assessment of lake levels against the minimum zone required to achieve security of electricity generation through winter.
Accident and Emergency Services—Hospital Benchmark Report
6. BARBARA STEWART (NZ First) to the Minister of Health: Is he concerned at the findings of the latest hospital benchmark report, which shows that a majority of hospital emergency departments are struggling to meet target times for treating sick or injured patients; if not, why not?
Hon PETE HODGSON (Minister of Health): Yes, I am concerned, but at least in part for a different reason from the member, I suspect. I am concerned about the report as it fails to provide a real or accurate picture of the situation in emergency departments around the country.
Barbara Stewart: Would he agree that one of the main reasons that more patients need treatment at hospital emergency departments is the lack of after-hours and emergency services formerly provided by general practitioners; if so, what is his ministry doing to rectify the situation?
Hon PETE HODGSON: The member should be aware that in many parts of the country the service formerly provided by general practitioners is still provided by general practitioners. In respect of the second part of the member’s question, as the member will be aware we have a working party on after-hours care. That working party has made an interim report, which is out for consultation that is due to conclude shortly.
Ann Hartley: Does he share the concerns of the Australasian College for Emergency Medicine that the triage reporting process is flawed; if so, what will he do to address the problems?
Hon PETE HODGSON: Yes, I do share those concerns. At present a person’s waiting time begins when he or she is seen by a triage nurse, and ends when a doctor begins treatment. From 1 July the waiting time will stop when the treatment is started by a doctor or a skilled emergency nurse.
Barbara Stewart: Can the Minister assure the House that his ministry will not seek to artificially improve triage times by simply changing the way in which the start of treatment is recorded, so that we do not find ourselves in the ridiculous situation whereby patients are recorded as being seen as soon as they begin filling out their Accident Compensation Corporation forms in the accident and emergency waiting room?
Hon PETE HODGSON: I certainly shall not be part of artificially improving the statistics, but I would put it to the member that if someone comes in, in need, for example, of resuscitation, which would mean triage 1, and he or she is immediately resuscitated by a nurse, or resuscitation is begun by a nurse, that person’s waiting time has, in fact, come to an end. At the moment we record it in such a way that it is not until the doctor is able to see that patient that the person has somehow begun treatment.
Hon Tony Ryall: What mark out of 10 would the Minister give our hospital emergency departments?
Hon PETE HODGSON: A pretty good mark. Certainly, first out of the five countries—
Hon Tony Ryall: What number?
Hon PETE HODGSON: I have just answered the member’s question in part, and I will justify my answer now.
Hon Tony Ryall: What number?
Hon PETE HODGSON: First out of five. From the five countries that I draw my remarks—that is, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, UK, and USA, emergency room use in New Zealand is the lowest of all those countries. In respect of the waiting time in emergency rooms before a person is treated, New Zealand is the lowest of all five nations. In respect of difficulty in getting care on nights, weekends, and holidays without going to the emergency room, New Zealand is the lowest of those five nations. So in all of those cases, New Zealand rates No. 1 out of five. If the member wants to make that a mark out of 10, I will find another five countries to compare New Zealand with and I guess we will beat them, too. But we are the best of five nations. If the member has prejudices about the quality of our health care, he would do well to have them better informed by the facts.
Hon Tony Ryall: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I know that the Minister of Health himself is heading to be a consumer of the pharmaceutical budget with that sort of outrage, but the question was what mark out of 10 he would give emergency services in hospitals.
Madam SPEAKER: As the member knows, the question cannot prescribe an answer like yes or no, or 1 out of 20.
Hon Tony Ryall: What mark out of 10 would he give the health system generally?
Hon PETE HODGSON: A better mark now than was ever the case in the 1990s.
Hon Tony Ryall: I seek leave to table a newspaper interview where New Zealand’s Minister of Health, after 6 years of a Labour Government, and $4 billion extra, rated the New Zealand health system at 5½ out of 10.
Madam SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection? Yes, there is.
Transit New Zealand—State Highway Funding
7. Hon MAURICE WILLIAMSON (National—Pakuranga) to the Minister of Transport: Can he guarantee that the increased funding that will be made available to the National Land Transport Programme will be enough to ensure the completion of the August 2005 Transit New Zealand 10-year State highway forecast as published?
Hon DAVID PARKER (Minister of Transport): I am assured by the Minister of Finance that that is his intention.
Hon Maurice Williamson: Can the Minister, or anybody in the House, have any confidence in a process that had the chief executive of Transit asked on Morning Report: “Have you heard anything from the Government that they are going to make up the $685 million shortfall?”, and the chief executive replied: “I’ve only heard that advice this morning as you did on the radio.”, and is he worried that if the chief executive had been in the shower at the time, he may not have known the money was coming?
Hon DAVID PARKER: No, I am not worried by that. As I said before, I am assured by the Minister of Finance that it is his intention that we increase the funding to the State highway budget so as to meet the projections that were forecast in August last year.
David Bennett: How does the Minister of Transport explain the comments of Hamilton West MP, Martin Gallagher, in the Waikato Times on 1 March that: “It’s my credibility … You can imagine how I feel. I don’t like it one bit … I am just aghast at what’s gone on … It’s like groundhog day … Transit has put eggs on a lot of our faces.”, in regard to Transit’s 10-year plan for Hamilton, when both the Minister of Transport and the Minister of Finance knew late last year that Transit would be making such arrangements in the latest 10-year plan?
Madam SPEAKER: I remind members, even of the same party, that if they interject during questions they put themselves at risk.
Hon DAVID PARKER: I am sure that the member for Hamilton West—Mr Gallagher—the local councils, and the local population in Hamilton will be relieved and pleased when they see the final form of the State highway plan in June.
Martin Gallagher: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I seek leave for the member to table that Waikato Times article so that the House can clearly understand that the last three or four sentences attributed to me were not correct.
Madam SPEAKER: No, the member cannot seek leave on behalf of someone else.
Peter Brown: Does the Minister accept that had the Hon Maurice Williamson, when he was Minister of Transport, not stopped the gradual transfer of petrol tax from the Crown account into the roading account, there would now be billions of dollars—
Hon Dr Nick Smith: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. The question being asked by Mr Brown is clearly outside the Standing Orders. The Minister cannot be responsible for things that were done, or were not done, last century. Right from the beginning, the question was clearly out of order.
Madam SPEAKER: Would the member like to rephrase his question so that it is specific to the Minister’s responsibility.
Peter Brown: Is the Minister aware that had the Hon Maurice Williamson, when he was Minister of Transport, not stopped the gradual transfer of petrol tax from the Crown account into the roading account, there would be billions of dollars more in the roading account, and that our roading problems would be much less severe?
Hon DAVID PARKER: I am aware that, at the time, National blocked proposals from New Zealand First to divert more of the petrol tax into roading rather than the consolidated account. I am not surprised by that because, even at the last election, National was saying that it would not divert the fund until after 6 years.
Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. It is interesting that you allowed that question, after Nick Smith had questioned whether it was appropriate. It seems to me that it would be just as appropriate for someone on this side of the House to take a trivial point of order and suggest that the transfer was not made, and that the Government could pay for the absolutely dopey policies of New Zealand First that were part of the price of coalition, and then ask the question of how much more funding that should go to roads is being diverted now to pay the price of dopey policies and coalition arrangements with New Zealand First.
Hon Dr Michael Cullen: First of all, I am appalled that the member described the abolition of the surcharge on superannuation as a dopey policy. It was, in fact, the main condition New Zealand First imposed for coalition in 1996. But, more substantially, although the Minister has no responsibility for what Mr Maurice Williamson did—indeed, most of his colleagues have denied they have responsibility for that—the reality is that the consequences of that decision may still be current, and they are the responsibility of the current Minister of Transport.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. My complaint is twofold. Firstly, Mr Brownlee got up and added a whole lot of words into his supposedly valid complaint, and talked about New Zealand First’s dopey policies—funny that; National stole them all at the last election. My second point—
Madam SPEAKER: Would the member please come to the point.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Well, my real point is that Mr Bennett—[Interruption]
Madam SPEAKER: Members will come to order, or it will be a very empty House soon. I know the prospect is entertaining for some, but will the member please address the point succinctly.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: My second complaint is that Mr Bennett got up and, I believe, purported to read from a newspaper when that newspaper article, in the way he recited it, simply does not exist. Now, that is a very serious offence in this House, and if he wishes to dislodge that claim, he can table the document he said he quoted from.
Madam SPEAKER: He may well do that, if he is given an opportunity to do so, but it is too late, because the House has addressed that point of order. The point I want to come back to is the point raised by Mr Brownlee. When questions are asked, certainly historical comparisons are permitted—provided, of course, that they relate to the Minister’s portfolio. In that particular instance, they did.
Hon Mark Gosche: Is the Minister aware that if he had been looking in 1999 for a 10-year State highway forecast for highways to be built in Auckland, it would have looked like this blank sheet of paper—absolutely bare, with nothing on it—and if the then Minister, Mr Williamson had dropped it, it would have gone altogether.
Hon DAVID PARKER: As the—[Interruption]
Madam SPEAKER: It is very difficult to hear. I ask the Hon Mark Gosche, please, to rephrase his question in terms of ministerial responsibility—and I wish all members to hear that so I do not have to ask them twice, because they will lose their questions if I do.
Hon Mark Gosche: Is the Minister aware that if he had been looking in 1999 for a 10-year forecast for State highways to be built in Auckland in the following 10 years, it would have looked like a blank sheet of paper, and had the Hon Maurice Williamson then dropped the forecast, it would have gone altogether?
Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. That question cannot possibly be in order; otherwise it would lead the House to all sorts of questions of all sorts of irrelevant and extraneous matters. The question must be asked: why can a man of Mr Gosche’s experience—a former Minister of Transport—not ask something that is more helpful to someone on his own side?
Madam SPEAKER: I agree with the member, so that question is out of order.
Dr Paul Hutchison: How can the Minister justify the recent announcement of further delays to the upgrading of New Zealand’s most deadly highway, State Highway 2 between Pôkeno and Thames, where over 40 lives have been lost in less than 5 years, giving it the name the “killer highway”; and how many more lives will be lost before his Government commits to a four-lane expressway over that section of State Highway 2?
Hon DAVID PARKER: I am informed that work has already commenced on that stretch of highway. But, further, I note that the final outcome of the 10-year State highway forecast will not be known until June.
Dr Paul Hutchison: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I asked a very clear question of how the Minister could justify the delays, and he in no way—
Madam SPEAKER: No. The Minister did address the question. That is not a legitimate point of order.
David Bennett: What reports has the Minister of Transport received from the Hamilton City Council regarding a breach of contract by Transit in its recently announced 10-year plan, due to the council having taken actions in reliance on its agreement with Transit to complete the Avalon Drive bypass in the 2006-07 year; and what does the Minister intend to do about that?
Hon DAVID PARKER: I am, of course, aware of dissatisfaction in the Hamilton area with the current draft State highway plan. I envisage people will be much more pleased when they see the final version.
Martin Gallagher: Can the Minister confirm—notwithstanding the hard-working Hamilton West member’s frustration at aspects of Transit’s processes, which is shared by the Hon Trevor Mallard and other Ministers—that road funding in the Waikato has increased significantly under this Government?
Hon DAVID PARKER: That is, indeed, true, and will be even more so when the final State highway forecast comes out in June.
Martin Gallagher: To clear up any ambiguity, I seek leave to table the Waikato Times article alluded to by the member for Hamilton West.
Madam SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection?
Hon Dr Nick Smith: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I would just like clarification from the member who is seeking leave as whether he said in that article that this was another groundhog day.
Madam SPEAKER: That is not a point of order, and given, of course, that we are not having trivial points of order, that is out of order. Leave was sought to table that document.
World Trade Organization—Viet Nam
8. H V ROSS ROBERTSON (Assistant Speaker—Labour) to the Minister of Trade: What feedback has he received from the outcome of New Zealand’s negotiations with Viet Nam over its accession to the World Trade Organization?
Hon PHIL GOFF (Minister of Trade): I have received very positive feedback, in particular from our major exporters such as the dairy, meat, wool, and seafood industries. Fonterra’s estimate, for example, is that New Zealand’s dairy producers will be better off by around $12 million as a result of the negotiations. Although it is never possible to get all that one wants from negotiations, New Zealand clearly achieved significantly improved market access for both goods and services. I congratulate Jim Sutton and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade team on that result.
H V Ross Robertson: Can the Minister tell the House what the significance of achieving those outcomes is?
Hon PHIL GOFF: The outcome was significant because our trading relationship with Viet Nam is of growing importance. Our current goods exports, for example, are $140 million and rising, and Viet Nam is the second-fastest-growing economy in South-east Asia. That means that our service exports also have real potential there. These talks were, in fact, a one-off opportunity for New Zealand, and ended with a deal, after hard negotiations, that was regarded as fair and acceptable by both sides.
H V Ross Robertson: Can the Minister tell the House what areas, apart from dairying, will benefit from the outcome of the negotiations?
Hon PHIL GOFF: A reduction in final tariff rates was achieved for beef, sheepmeat, fish and seafood, fruit and vegetables, paper, and other manufactured products. Services in the areas of education, agriculture, and the environment will also be significant beneficiaries from that agreement.
Small Business, Minister—Employment Issues
9. KATHERINE RICH (National) to the Minister for Small Business: Does she stand by her reported comment that: “Unfortunately one of the main reasons why many very small businesses, ones with no employees, won’t take on staff is because they’re frightened of employment issues and of being subjected to professional grievance claims.”?
Hon LIANNE DALZIEL (Minister for Small Business): Yes, although I suspect the journalist wrote the word “professional” when I was referring to personal grievance claims.
Katherine Rich: What specific changes to employment law will she be promoting this year to assist small-business people who will not take on new staff because they are frightened of employment issues and of being subjected to professional grievance claims?
Hon LIANNE DALZIEL: I have yet to meet with the Small Business Advisory Group in order to discuss the fact that it has included its recommendation for a personal grievance - free period in the second of its reports. I have already told the group that I will not advocate for that solution.
Katherine Rich: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. My question asked the Minister what specific changes in employment law she would be promoting this year. She did not address that in any way.
Madam SPEAKER: The Minister did address it through her answer that she would be talking about that question with the group concerned.
Maryan Street: Did the Small Business Advisory Group include any other recommendations on employment issues apart from the recommendation of a personal grievance free - period; if so, what was the Government’s response?
Hon LIANNE DALZIEL: Yes Recommendation five requested that a complete checklist of issues to be considered when hiring an employee be made quickly and cheaply available to small businesses. The Government has, through the Department of Labour, produced a How to Hire Guide for Employers. As I reported to the House yesterday the Small Business Advisory Group gave the Government 10 out of 10 for this response.
Katherine Rich: Can the House take her previous answer to mean that she will be doing nothing in this area, and was she correctly reported on 21 November 2005 in an article stating: “Ms Dalziel says the employment arena has developed to a point at which decent employers who have dealt with difficult employees perfectly appropriately are being taken to the cleaners by employees,”; if so, what specific changes to employment law will she be promoting this year to make a difference to those small-business people?
Hon LIANNE DALZIEL: I know that some people think it is OK to sack someone without warning, without reason, and without an opportunity to meet the employer’s requirements. I do not. I have made it absolutely clear that I will work with the Small Business Advisory Group to find other solutions, as I am not prepared to advocate for that option.
Peter Brown: Is the Minister concerned that there are organisations encouraging the promotion of personal grievance claims on a “no gain, no pay” basis; if she is concerned, what plans does she have to address the issue?
Hon LIANNE DALZIEL: Yes. I have made a number of comments about the concerns I have that there are employment consultants in this country who work on a contingency basis, who say “no win, no pay”, and who are not interested in the worker getting his or her job back and in working with the employer to get a good result in mediation. All they want is enough money so that they can take their share—a fifty-fifty split, or whatever they can get. That is not in the interests of small business, and it is certainly not in the interests of this country.
Maryan Street: Does the second Small Business Advisory Group report state that the only solutions to the problems it describes are the ones that the group proposes?
Hon LIANNE DALZIEL: No, the report states that the group recognises that they are not the only solutions. However, the group thinks they would prove to be effective ones. My concern with the personal grievance - free period is that it takes the focus off the employment relationship, and especially that access to mediation, which is often so successful, is lost. I again express the view that mediation is undermined when employment consultants working on a contingency basis work to obtain a high financial settlement, rather than repairing and promoting an ongoing relationship.
Dr Wayne Mapp: Is the Government aware that Business New Zealand, in its publication just last week entitled Skills Perspectives, has said that New Zealand should have a probationary period for employment law in order to encourage businesses to employ groups with untapped skills; and how will she deal with that concern?
Hon LIANNE DALZIEL: I am well aware that that member and others have expressed the view that this will help new migrants, young people with few qualifications, and people re-entering the workforce. If that is help, I would like to see hindrance.
Dr Wayne Mapp: Why will the Government not allow a full select committee consideration in order to examine all the arguments of the Employment Relations (Probationary Employment) Amendment Bill, which is a member’s bill, so that these issues can be properly considered, instead of the cavalier approach that the Minister is apparently taking?
Hon LIANNE DALZIEL: My understanding of parliamentary proceedings is that it is the House that decides whether a bill is referred to a select committee.
Environment Court—Whangamata Marina
10. SANDRA GOUDIE (National—Coromandel) to the Minister of Conservation: Will he stand by the decision of the Environment Court made in October 2005 to approve the Whangamata marina development; if not, why not?
Hon CHRIS CARTER (Minister of Conservation): I am due to make a decision on that matter early next week.
Sandra Goudie: Does he believe in the integrity of the Environment Court and its processes; if so, why is he effectively allowing the relitigation of the decision made by the Environment Court?
Hon CHRIS CARTER: When I make my final decision, I will take into account only those matters that are relevant under the Resource Management Act passed by the previous National Government .
Jill Pettis: Has the Minister seen any reports of illegal Resource Management Act activity in the Coromandel area?
Hon CHRIS CARTER: Yes, I have a report from the Waikato Times dated 26 September 2005, stating that MP Sandra Goudie was involved in an illegal action in clearing mangroves. The article states that she was not worried about possible legal action and she would do it again. I believe in following the law; it seems that member does not.
Eric Roy: Given that he will be making a decision next week, does he consider that a half-day of lobbying is equal to over 10 years of judicial process; if it is, where will the justice be for the applicants and the people of Whangamata?
Hon CHRIS CARTER: I repeat: when I make my final decision I will take into account only those matters that are relevant under the Resource Management Act passed by the previous National Government.
Sandra Goudie: What implications does he think there will be for the integrity of the Environment Court and its processes in the future, if he vetoes the Environment Court’s decision regarding the Whangamata marina development?
Hon CHRIS CARTER: Unlike that member, who has a history of breaking the law concerning Resource Management Act processes, I intend to make my decision strictly according to the Resource Management Act passed by the previous National Government.
Jeanette Fitzsimons: Would the Minister like to explain to the Opposition that the matters he is required to consider in exercising his discretion under the Resource Management Act, under the coastal plan, are different from those considered by the Environment Court?
Hon CHRIS CARTER: Yes, I thank the member for that question. Indeed, they are different. I would be happy to invite the member for Coromandel to come and see me, and I will explain that to her in simple language.
Sandra Goudie: I seek leave to table the editorial from this morning’s New Zealand Herald, which is headed: “Minister’s veto power an outrage”.
Madam SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection? There is objection.
Hon CHRIS CARTER: I seek leave to table an article in the Waikato Times entitled: “MP joins illegal mangrove blitz”.
Madam SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection? Yes, there is objection.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: I seek the leave of the House to table the decision of the Environment Court in respect of the Whangamata marina, which the Minister is now considering vetoing.
Accident Compensation Corporation—Performance, International Reports
11. Hon MARK GOSCHE (Labour—Maungakiekie) to the Minister for ACC: Has she received any recent reports assessing ACC’s performance internationally?
Hon RUTH DYSON (Minister for ACC): Yes, as a matter of fact I have. A joint Australian - New Zealand report on workers compensation comparisons shows that although 8 years ago the Accident Compensation Corporation’s levies and Australian levies were similar, New Zealand rates have been steadily decreasing and are now, on average, just over one-third of Australia’s rates. This gives New Zealand a clear competitive advantage in most industries.
Social Development and Employment, Minister—Allegations
12. RODNEY HIDE (Leader—ACT) to the Prime Minister: Does she still believe Hon David Benson-Pope “to be an honest man who answered the questions to the best of his recollection”; if so, why?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Deputy Prime Minister) on behalf of the Prime Minister: I thank the member for his question, which was referred to him by the National Party. Yes, because she believes that he answered the question to the best of his abilities.
Rodney Hide: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I have been trying to understand how the first comment had anything to do with the answer, and what it was to do with.
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I was just pointing out that this was a question set down for the National Party. It was transferred to the ACT party by the National Party.
Hon Members: What?
Rodney Hide: No. We swapped Tuesdays.
Madam SPEAKER: I think all this is irrelevant. We will stick to questions and answers.
Rodney Hide: Could the Prime Minister tell the House whether she believes that the Minister was telling the truth when he said on 12 May in Parliament: “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.”, and if the Prime Minister believes that the Minister was telling the truth, could the Prime Minister explain in what way that was a truthful statement?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: The Prime Minister said in an answer to a previous question in relation to the matter of the complaint that she believes it an error of judgment that Mr Benson-Pope did not view the parent’s letter as a complaint because it did not breach school policy and was not dealt with as a disciplinary matter. It is a fact that it did not breach school policy and it was not dealt with as a disciplinary matter.
Hon Phil Goff: Given the testimony both by the principal and indeed by the students who made complaints that Mr Benson-Pope never, for example, entered the shower room, and that privacy of students was never compromised, to what does he attribute the repeated innuendo by Mr Hide, other than desperate political opportunism and dishonesty?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I believe that there has been concerted—
Rodney Hide: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I would ask you to reflect on that question and ask yourself how it can possibly be in order for a—[Interruption] Well, they can try to interrupt me during a point of order—and I notice they can get away with it.
Madam SPEAKER: I am sorry—everyone has got away with it today. That will be it for this week, and the next week we come back after the recess will be a new week.
Rodney Hide: How can it possibly be in order for a Minister to get up and ask another Minister and sort of try to make an inference and suggest that somehow my questioning is dishonest?
Madam SPEAKER: Was there an implication of dishonesty?
Hon Dr Nick Smith: Of course there was.
Madam SPEAKER: If there was, then I ask the Minister to withdraw it.
Hon Phil Goff: I withdraw that aspect of the question but mentioning political opportunism is absolutely within the Standing Orders, and desperate political opportunism particularly suits that member. [Interruption]
Madam SPEAKER: “Political opportunism” is not an unparliamentary term in the context of what we are debating here.
Lindsay Tisch: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. When the Minister withdrew his answer, he should not have qualified it after it was withdrawn, and that should be ruled out of order.
Madam SPEAKER: I agree. The Minister should just withdraw and apologise and then we can proceed. There will be no further comment.
Hon Phil Goff: I withdraw and apologise. I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. Does that mean I have to ask the question again in respect of political opportunism, because it is not clear from your ruling whether I need to repeat that question?
Madam SPEAKER: No. The question stands with that deletion.
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: It is clear that there has been a concerted campaign of continuous misrepresentation of what actually happened. In the case of the issue relating to the showers—[Interruption] I have the microphone and none of those member can be heard outside this place—the girls themselves and all other evidence is clear that Mr Benson-Pope never entered the showers and never saw any naked girls. When last night on television that assertion on TV3 was repeated and then the Prime Minister’s reference to an error of judgment relating to a different matter was run back to back, that just shows how concerted this campaign has been, particularly between TV3 and Mr Hide. I challenge Mr Hide to tell the public of New Zealand how much taxpayers’ money has been spent on him flying to Dunedin and back to try to gather together—[Interruption.
Madam SPEAKER: Order!
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: —his sleazy series of accusations.
Madam SPEAKER: Did everyone hear that answer or must it be repeated?
Rodney Hide: I missed the last bit, and I think it concerned me. I would quite like to hear it.
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I challenge Mr Hide to tell the taxpayers of this country how much money has been spent by them paying for his airfares to go backwards and forwards to Dunedin and elsewhere to gather evidence for his sleazy campaign.
Hon Bill English: Does the Prime Minister believe that any complaint of any kind was lodged against David Benson-Pope in his 24 years as a teacher?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Yes; it is clear a complaint was lodged.
Hon Phil Goff: Given the previous answer, does the Minister believe that the scurrilous allegation made by Mr Hide yesterday in this House was not only wrong but libellous, and is he aware that that member has ever had the courage to say it outside this House?
Madam SPEAKER: That question is not in order.
Rodney Hide: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I would have thought—
Madam SPEAKER: I have just ruled it out of order, Mr Hide, so I have addressed your point.
Hon Bill English: Can the Prime Minister confirm that she has just told the House that she does believe there were complaints of any kind lodged against David Benson-Pope during his 24 years as a teacher?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: As the Prime Minister made clear, she believed that Mr Benson-Pope had made an error of judgment in not viewing—[Interruption]—that member should keep quiet—the parent’s letter as a complaint because the matter did not breach school policy and was not dealt with as a disciplinary matter. The Prime Minister has already made that statement to the House.
Hon Bill English: Is it now the case that the Prime Minister believes that David Benson-Pope knew about the bullying complaints and the school camp complaints but did not reveal that to Parliament because he believed they were not formal and serious complaints; or does she believe that he just misled Parliament, as everyone else in this House believes?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I reject the last assertion. There are many members of this House who do not believe—
Hon Bill English: He lied.
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: He did not lie. The only person in this House I know of who has actually been found guilty of lying is Dr Nick Smith, to a court. The court found he had lied to it.
Hon Steve Maharey: Has the Minister seen any other reports relating to members of Parliament and school camps?
Hon Member: Get out the dirt.
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: No, not dirt at all, just the following extraordinary exchange on television: “Judith, you’d be the first person leaping up and down if a school did this and something happened and a paedophile was on the camp.”; Judith Collins: “No, actually, I wouldn’t really.” That was only a few nights ago, on television.
Judith Collins: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I seek the leave of the House to table the entire transcript of that particular interview, so that my position can be properly represented.
Rodney Hide: Who does the Prime Minister believe: David Benson-Pope, who told the House yesterday that he did not slap a pupil on the thigh, when it was against policy and against the lie; or Geana Earl, who went on camera and said that he did, and that it was her thigh, and a second witness to the slap, whom I have spoken to today? If he believes the Minister over these two former pupils, what is the basis of that belief?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I have seen the reply that was drafted by the school to be sent, which also cited evidence from the accompanying female schoolteacher that no slap was observed to have occurred.
Rodney Hide: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. The Minister was actually quite clever not to address the question and say whether he believed the Minister or the pupils. Can we take it that, in fact, the Prime Minister is not prepared to stand up and say that they believe this Minister any more?
Madam SPEAKER: Remember, we are not having these trivial points of order now. The Minister did actually address the question. It may not have been to the satisfaction of the member, or the answer he wished, but it did address the question being asked.