Questions and Answers for Oral Answer 16 March 200
Thursday, 16 March
Questions for Oral Answer
1. Refugee and Asylum Seekers—General
2. Te Wânanga o Aotearoa—Audit Reports
3. Early Childhood Education—Quality
4. Small Business Advisory Group—Probationary Employment
5. Special Benefit—Abolition
6. Question No. 6 to Minister
7. Whangamata Marina—Minister’s Intervention
9. District Health Boards—Overseas Recruitment
10. Community and Voluntary Sector—Government Support
11. State Houses—Household Incomes
12. Mâori Economic Development—Expenditure Tracking
13. Focus 2000 Ltd—Complaints
Questions for Oral Answer
Questions to Ministers
Refugee and Asylum Seekers—General Requirements
1. PETER BROWN (Deputy Leader—NZ First) to the Minister of Immigration: What are the general requirements for those seeking political asylum and refugee status in New Zealand?
Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE (Minister of Immigration): Asylum seekers must be found to be refugees in accordance with the 1951 United Nations Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees.
Peter Brown: Has the Minister sought advice as to the legality and justification of the claims of one Mr Ahmed Zaoui for political asylum and refugee status, given recent developments in Algeria?
Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: Inquiries will be made at an appropriate time nearer to the point of ministerial consideration.
H V Ross Robertson: What has the Government done to ensure the safety of New Zealand’s borders?
Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: The Government has passed the Transnational Organised Crime Act, introduced Advance Passenger Processing, established the immigration fraud and intelligence units, and established the immigration profiling group, amongst other measures.
Peter Brown: Does the Minister consider that a politician from a nation that has a political amnesty in place, such as Algeria, which, as part of its Charter for Peace and National Reconciliation, has an amnesty that has seen more than 2,000 political prisoners released— including the deputy leader of the claimant’s own party, one Ali Belhadj—should normally be considered for political asylum or refugee status?
Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: That would depend upon the individual circumstances of each case, and it would be inappropriate of me to prejudge it at this point.
Keith Locke: In the Minister’s deliberations on the Zaoui case, will he be taking on board the assessment of Robert Fisk on the radio this morning that Algeria is effectively a military dictatorship; that the recent amnesty was primarily to let off the security forces, which have killed and tortured thousands of Algerians; and that asking Mr Zaoui to go back would be like asking a Jew to go back to Germany if the Nazis had been left in power after the Second World War and all of the SS and the Gestapo had been given amnesty?
Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: At the appropriate time the Minister will take into account all relevant considerations.
Peter Brown: Does the Minister not think that sufficient taxpayers’ dollars have already been devoted to the Zaoui claim, given that Mr Zaoui is the only person in New Zealand who has had convictions for terrorism and security-related offences in Western jurisdictions, and is claiming to be fleeing from a country that has an amnesty in place that sees his former comrades freely living in that nation; and will the Minister ensure that Mr Zaoui does not go past go, does not cost another $2 million, and does not appear on any more TV ads or music videos, but just goes home or somewhere else?
Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: It is evident that natural justice does on some occasions not come cheap. Many people have been surprised by the actual cost.
Dr the Hon Lockwood Smith: What is the status of the Cabinet paper due in March discussing options for managing the high demand for residence through family reunification, and what points has it raised with regard to refugees and their use of the scheme to bring in large extended families?
Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: To my knowledge, Cabinet has not yet considered such a paper.
Peter Brown: I seek leave to table my press release of 8 March, in which I offered willingly to drive Mr Zaoui to the airport if he agreed to leave this country.
Madam SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection? Yes, there is objection.
Keith Locke: I seek leave to table a press cutting relating to Mr Brown’s point about music videos, stating that Ahmed Zaoui does have quite a good voice.
Madam SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection? Yes, there is objection.
Te Wânanga o Aotearoa—Audit Reports
2. Hon BILL ENGLISH (National—Clutha-Southland) to the Minister for Tertiary Education: Has he, as Minister for Tertiary Education, at any time raised concerns with any agency about the validity of audit reports produced about Te Wânanga o Aotearoa; if not, why not?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Minister for Tertiary Education): I raised concerns with the Minister of Education and the Office of the Auditor-General about the timing of these reports, soon after I became the Minister. I am advised that previous Ministers raised concerns about their validity. By the time I become the Minister, of course, one was moving on to issues of resolution of the wânanga.
Hon Bill English: Is the Minister aware that the Auditor-General has now raised doubts about the audit opinions signed off by himself on the annual financial statements of the wânanga for 2003?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I have seen media reports to that end and that Mr Brady said he had no excuse for signing off of flawed audits.
Hon Brian Donnelly: What would the Minister say about the efficacy of the Tertiary Advisory Monitoring Unit if he were told that it had informed the Education and Science Committee on 20 October 2004 that it had no particular concerns about the financial affairs of Te Wânanga o Aotearoa, yet within 6 months that organisation was in serious financial difficulty?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: To some extent the Tertiary Advisory Monitoring Unit was relying upon the audited reports. In hindsight it is clear that that advice was not good advice.
Hon Bill English: Can the Minister understand the problems it creates for Parliament when the Auditor-General has now admitted he probably should not have signed off the 2003 financial statements given that his own report later on, and tabled in this Parliament, found that there were unspecified contracts, disputes over the ownership of assets, and potentially illegal transactions in the wânanga, but Parliament’s own watchdog signed off the accounts as true and fair?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Yes; of course I am not responsible for the Auditor-General. He is an officer of Parliament, not a Government employee. What I am responsible for is the actions that I took, against considerable criticism from members opposite, that led to the resignation of the chief executive of the wânanga.
Hon Brian Donnelly: Could it be that one of the reasons for the Tertiary Advisory Monitoring Unit’s assessment of the financial affairs of the wânanga at that time was that the wânanga had established in 2003 an audit and risk committee that included two external members, one of whom was a certain Shane Jones?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: It did indeed set up such a committee. It is my recollection it was chaired by Mr John Storey who, I think, is probably widely respected on all sides of this House. The committee made a number of recommendations. I am advised by Mr Jones that the wânanga consistently ignored the recommendations from the audit and risk committee and that was one of the reasons why Mr Jones resigned from that committee.
Te Ururoa Flavell: How has the Crown addressed the breaches of Te Tiriti o Waitangi identified by the Waitangi Tribunal, including the failure to ensure that a partnership agreement between the Crown and wânanga was concluded and that the Crown undermined its rangatiratanga—authority—and effectively took control of the institution.?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I do not accept that last part. If we had effectively taken control the problems would not have arisen. With respect to partnership, it takes two to tango. In this case, we rather more engaged in dirty dancing, I think.
Hon Bill English: How did the Minister and his officials for 2 years overlook a serious conflict of interest for Deloitte’s as the auditor of the wânanga and the Crown advisor; a conflict so bad that the Auditor-General said yesterday he has effectively sacked Deloitte’s from the audit contract for the wânanga?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I would emphasise that the Auditor-General stated in his view that the appearance, at least, of a conflict of interest had not contributed to the failure to spot problems. I am not responsible for the issues around the audit, given, of course, that there was a separation between the Hamilton office doing the audit and Mr McNally from the Christchurch office of Deloitte’s.
Hon Bill English: Does the Minister accept he is responsible for the appointment of a Deloitte’s senior partner as the Crown adviser in the wânanga right through this period; that that adviser was in a conflict of interest with his own company, which was the auditor, and that has left Parliament in the position where the Auditor-General has had to own up to breaking his own rules and signing an audit opinion he should not have signed?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: That last statement is incorrect. It is clear: the Auditor-General stated to the select committee, on the basis of reports I have, that even if there were a conflict of interest, that was not the cause of the problems surrounding the audits. In the case of the first question, the answer is clearly no. I suggest the member remind himself when I became the Minister for Tertiary Education.
Hon Bill English: Why, now that the Government is running the wânanga, have the financial accounts for the year ended December 2004 not yet been finalised or signed off by the Auditor-General?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: The Government is not running the wânanga. The council of the wânanga is running the wânanga, and it is moving to get a full council in place. When that full council is in place, some of the issues raised by my colleague Mr Flavell will be able to be discussed between the Government and the wânanga. The Auditor-General is responsible for that audit, and the Auditor-General is an Officer of Parliament, not an officer of mine.
Hon Bill English: Why did the Government appoint a Crown manager, called a Crown manager, who has control of the cheque book, if it was not the Crown’s intention to have significant control of the wânanga, and can he answer the question about why the accounts for the 2004 year have still not been signed off, 15 months after the end of the financial year?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: The purpose of a Crown manager is to address the problems that lead to the various things that the member is talking about. I am satisfied that the wânanga’s financial management is now considerably better than it was in 2003, 2004, and 2005. The Auditor-General yesterday declined to give the member the reasons for this—I do not know what they are.
Early Childhood Education—Quality
3. DIANNE YATES (Labour) to the Minister of Education: What reports, if any, has he received about improving quality in early childhood education?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY (Minister of Education): I recently approved funding for six new centres of innovation that will support innovative teaching and learning in the early childhood sector. Since the programme began in 2002 the Government has invested over $2 million in 16 centres across the country. The first six centres have already reported substantial improvements in teaching and learning, which has attracted international attention. Along with the early childhood curriculum, Te Whâriki, this is yet another world-leading initiative that the Government has put in place around improving the quality of early childhood education.
Dianne Yates: Has the Minister received any other reports about quality in early childhood education?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: Apart from the major manifesto commitment by the Government to provide 20 hours of free early childhood education to 3 and 4-year-olds, I would list the following initiatives: there have been an extra 2,615 registered teachers since 2003, a new funding system to recognise improved quality in services, 700 bonded scholarships that are worth up to $10,000 each, and an investment of $13.5 million in professional development. Those initiatives are part of $523 million invested in this year alone. This means that since 2002, when the early childhood strategy was started, funding has lifted by a phenomenal 60 percent, and it is forecast to increase by a further 57 percent by the conclusion of the plan in 2012.
Allan Peachey: Is the Minister aware that his Government’s early childhood policies have forced Clydemore Kindergarten in Ôtara to close, and have forced other kindergartens serving poorer communities to start charging fees for childcare that used to be offered for free; if so, how does he think that that helps underprivileged families who can no longer afford access to any childcare, let alone to his so-called quality childcare?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: The member might like to bring me the details of those individual cases. But I would say that that is curious against the backdrop of a 60 percent increase in funding since 2002 and massive increases in child subsidies through Work and Income New Zealand—the Working for Families package. Those are massive increases compared with what was done under the previous Government, and therefore I would like to have the details of those kindergartens or early childhood centres.
Allan Peachey: Is the Minister aware that the Government’s new requirements for the registration and training of early childhood teachers have created a huge shortage in experienced staff and that many centres are being forced to consider closure because of those difficulties; if so, how does he think that these new policies will improve the availability of early childhood education?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: As the member will know, the entire early childhood sector applauds and supports the early childhood strategy advanced by this Government. No one is offside with this strategy. The strategy includes the development of the workforce, including setting targets for registered teachers and bonding in terms of money being provided for people to be released in order to upgrade their skills. This is an extraordinarily well-supported policy.
Small Business Advisory Group—Probationary Employment
4. Dr WAYNE MAPP (National—North Shore) to the Minister of Labour: My question is to the Minister of Labour—who is not here, I note—and asks: Will the Government reconsider its rejection of the Small Business Advisory Group recommendation to introduce probation periods for new employees, now that the Employment Relations (Probationary Employment) Amendment Bill has been referred to the Transport and Industrial Relations Committee; if not, why not?
Madam SPEAKER: Before I call the Minister I just remind members to please just ask the questions without interpretation.
Hon LIANNE DALZIEL (Minister of Commerce) on behalf of the Minister of Labour: No, because the Employment Relations Act provides a framework to promote productive employment relationships and that already contains provisions to enable parties to enter into agreements that contain probationary periods.
Dr Wayne Mapp: Why is the Government rejecting the view of the OECD, which is clearly set out in its 2004 report, that New Zealand should introduce probation periods, given that it stated New Zealand was virtually alone in not having probation periods?
Hon LIANNE DALZIEL: Because the OECD economic survey of New Zealand taken in 2005 said that New Zealand was one of the most dynamic and flexible business environments in which to do business. We would not want to upset that.
Darien Fenton: What would be the consequences of repealing section 67, the current probationary provision of the Employment Relations Act, and replacing it with a provision that denied all Employment Relations Act rights and obligations during the first 90 days of employment?
Hon LIANNE DALZIEL: The consequences would be completely counter to the objectives of the Employment Relations Act principle of good faith, which involves building mutual trust, confidence, and fair dealings right from the outset of the employment relationship.
Peter Brown: Has the Minister taken on board New Zealand First’s concerns for casualised employees and does she share those concerns; if so, will she give this House an assurance that she will support making such amendments to the Employment Relations (Probationary Employment) Amendment Bill in order to give casualised employees protection; if not, why not?
Hon LIANNE DALZIEL: My recollection of the concerns that have been raised by New Zealand First is that they would be exacerbated by the passage of the bill, not made better.
Dr Wayne Mapp: Why does the Government not follow the example of Tony Blair’s Labour Government in the United Kingdom, which reformed its industrial law in 1999 and has probation periods of 12 months as a key part of its employment law—a Labour Government?
Hon LIANNE DALZIEL: Prior to coming down to the House I looked at the relevant website from the UK and identified that, in fact, there have been significant increases in other forms of action being taken by those who are denied access to the employment tribunal.
Dr Wayne Mapp: Why does the Government keep insisting that probation periods are some kind of Dickensian throwback, when every modern, 21st century economy has probation periods as a key part of their industrial law?
Hon LIANNE DALZIEL: If the member would like to look at the employment agreement builder, which the Department of Labour has on its website, he will find that there is a section that provides for periods of probation to be agreed between an employer and an employee. The statement in that particular clause reads: “The Employer will provide guidance and feedback to the Employee during this probation period.” That is what is important, and that is what is missing from that member’s approach.
Dr Wayne Mapp: Why does the Government keep insisting that it knows the right approach when every business organisation, including Business New Zealand in its recent publication on skills, stresses that probation periods are a key requirement for small businesses to take the chance to employ new and unskilled workers?
Hon LIANNE DALZIEL: The Employment Relations Act operates on the basis that employers treat all employees in a procedurally fair way, and that they must have substantive grounds for dismissal that are related to the agreed trial standards or to misconduct. The fact that an employee has the right to be treated in a procedurally fair way in all aspects of work should be independent of the length of their service, their salary level, or their seniority.
Darien Fenton: What initiatives is the Government working on to assist employers and employees to resolve their work-related problems?
Hon LIANNE DALZIEL: The Department of Labour has improved access to information, for example the comprehensive brochure on employers’ guide to employment relations which was completed with assistance and input from the Small Business Advisory Group. I understand from the Minister for Small Business that the Government received a 10 out of 10 rating on this recommendation.
Dr Wayne Mapp: Why, then, does the Government keep rejecting out of hand the concerns of the Small Business Advisory Group, who stressed that a 90-day probation period was a critical issue for small businesses to grow the employment in their sector?
Hon LIANNE DALZIEL: The Minister for Small Business has advised me that she has met with the Small Business Advisory Group and discussed this matter with them.
5. SUE BRADFORD (Green) to the Minister for Social Development and Employment: When he announced “more good news for 1 April”, in a media release on benefit changes, why did he omit to mention the abolition of the special benefit from that date?
Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE (Minister for Social Development and Employment): My announcement in “more good news for 1 April” was about the cost of living increase in benefits and student allowances. It was not about the replacement of the special benefit with temporary additional support.
Sue Bradford: What steps, if any, is the Minister taking to make sure that people who are new to the benefit system after 1 April this year will be able to survive, given the reductions in income that will occur when special benefits are cut?
Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: First of all, I think it is important to stress that beneficiary families have already received an increase in assistance from Working for Families of, on average, around $32 per week in the first year of that package. They will get a further increase of $10 per week per child in April 2007. I also assure the House that the announcements that were made about the grandparenting of current entitlements have not changed.
Georgina Beyer: Are these cost of living changes to benefits and student allowances in addition to the increases announced in the Working for Families package?
Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: Yes, and I am pleased to say that already 196,500 families receive family assistance from the Inland Revenue Department or the Ministry of Social Development, with an average weekly payment to working families of $108. Changes involving targeted tax relief from 1 April will see an estimated 85,000 additional middle-income families become eligible for family assistance tax credits. That brings the total number of New Zealand families benefiting from the Working for Families package to 348,000 families.
Sue Bradford: What advice on survival will the Minister be giving to people such as sickness beneficiaries who do not have children, who manifestly will not have enough to live on after the special benefit is abolished on 1 April?
Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: The Government is currently in the process of designing further reforms to benefits, and they will be brought to the House at the appropriate time.
Sue Bradford: What steps is the Minister taking to ensure that the Ministry of Social Development is doing everything it can to tell eligible beneficiaries that they can still, at this time, access the special benefit until 31 March, and that if they are on the special benefit by then, their individual entitlement will be secure into the future?
Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: These changes were announced in 2004. Work and Income does ensure that clients who are affected by changes are very well informed.
Question No. 6 to Minister
Hon Dr NICK SMITH (National—Nelson): I note with this question, as per the two previous questions, that the Minister is not present in the House. It is a very specific question about a conversation he had. I seek the leave of the House to set aside the question until Mr Chris Carter is in the House.
Madam SPEAKER: Leave is sought. Is there any objection? There is objection.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: Strange, that.
Madam SPEAKER: Will the member please just ask the question without comment.
Whangamata Marina—Minister’s Intervention
6. Hon Dr NICK SMITH (National—Nelson) to the Minister of Conservation: What did he say in his conversation with Bob Harvey in respect of the Whangamata marina that resulted in the 3 March John Wilson emails stating: “We have received confirmation from Bob Harvey who contacted Shanksy to say the Minister has got the balls to go ahead and stop the marina going ahead at Whanga.” and: “Chris Carter is going to pull the plug on the Marina but is asking for us to back him up.”?
Hon RICK BARKER (Minister of Internal Affairs) on behalf of the Minister of Conservation: As the Minister told the House yesterday, he told Bob Harvey no more than what was on the front page of the New Zealand Herald on 1 March—that is, he had concerns about the proposals, he was seeking further information from the Whangamata Marina Society, and he had not made a final decision. That same information was communicated to everyone with an interest in the issue, including the media.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: How can the House believe that the Minister gave no indication to Bob Harvey in that conversation as to his decision on the Whangamata marina, when such an explicit email clearly shows that he did, or are we to conclude that the email was just made up?
Hon RICK BARKER: The Minister of Conservation has no responsibility for what people put in emails, and I make the observation that just because a person says something does not mean it is true.
Steve Chadwick: Did the Minister follow the process set down in the Resource Management Act when making his decision on the two restricted coastal activity permits necessary to construct the Whangamata marina?
Hon RICK BARKER: Yes. There was great concern to ensure that the process was followed scrupulously as set down in the Resource Management Act, and further information was sought from the applicant to assist in making the decision.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: Having heard the Minister explain to the House that just because somebody says something, we should not necessarily believe it, can he explain to the House why we have two emails saying that Chris Carter indeed did inform Bob Harvey that he was going to decline the marina, and seeking support for it?
Hon Dr Michael Cullen: What did the court say about that, then?
Hon Dr Nick Smith: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. At the end of my asking a question, the Leader of the House, Dr Cullen, threatened me across the House. He has a habit of threatening “dirt files” and all sorts of things on members on this side of the House. I think members of the Opposition should be able to ask questions of Ministers without those sorts of threats being made across the House.
Hon Dr Michael Cullen: I certainly uttered no threat. I asked the member: “And what did the court say about that member?”. The court has said that what he said was not true.
Madam SPEAKER: We have clarified that matter.
Hon RICK BARKER: I repeat the advice I gave this House that the advice given to all those who made inquiries about the marina was that there were concerns, that information was being sought, and that a final decision had not been made. What others chose to make out of that is entirely over to them.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: Does the Minister of Conservation now expect the House to believe that he did not tell Bob Harvey that he was going to reject the marina, and that he never requested back-up and support, despite his admitting that he did have a conversation with Bob Harvey, despite Bob Harvey organising a campaign of support, and despite two very explicit emails saying the opposite?
Hon RICK BARKER: Yes. The fact is that everyone who made inquiries was given exactly the same information. I make the other observation that it is not the first time that a member of Parliament has been misrepresented or misreported, both outside this House and by other members of this House.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: So is the Minister saying to the House that Mr John Wilson was lying in his email?
Hon RICK BARKER: I make no such statement. All I reconfirm is that the Minister has no responsibility for Mr Wilson or his email. All people who made inquiries about this issue were told that there were concerns, that information was being sought, and that no decision had been made.
7. DARREN HUGHES (Labour—Otaki) to the Minister of Youth Affairs: What is the Government doing to increase opportunities for young people?
Hon NANAIA MAHUTA (Minister of Youth Affairs): In addition to over 8,000 Modern Apprenticeships, the removal of interest on student loans for all students resident in New Zealand, and the building of a confident future for young New Zealanders, the Government has launched the Youth Development Partnership Fund, and 12 projects across the country have been funded that will help more young people build confidence, become active in the community, and help them into training, education, or work. The fund aims to be responsible to the emerging needs and opportunities for young people by partnering with territorial authorities.
Darren Hughes: Can the Minister tell the House what types of projects are eligible for funding from the Youth Development Partnership Fund?
Hon NANAIA MAHUTA: Of course. A range of projects have been supported throughout the country. Essentially, the fund supports projects that are new and innovative; that have a final outcome; that have a strong involvement with, and support from, other agencies and youth-focused community groups; and that are in partnership with territorial authorities.
District Health Boards—Overseas Recruitment
8. Hon TONY RYALL (National—Bay of Plenty) to the Minister of Health: What overseas recruitment activity has and is being undertaken by individual district health boards?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY (Minister of Education) on behalf of the Minister of Health: District health boards regularly undertake a range of overseas recruitment activities. These include, for example, purchasing job advertisements in newspapers, and participating in career expos.
Hon Tony Ryall: How cost-effective is it for 10 individual district health boards to send representatives to a recruitment expo in London—some sending up to five staff members each—halfway around the world; and is that the best use of health dollars to meet the vital goal of overseas recruitment?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: That is a good question, and in fact I know that the Minister of Health—[Interruption]—now and again the member does have a good question—has been encouraging district health boards to work together. I will give one example of many of that good cooperation that is going on at the present time—South Canterbury District Health Board recently recruited a large number of psychiatrists. Too many applied to come and live in our wonderful country, so that district health board made them available to other boards around the country.
Maryan Street: What is the Government doing to encourage New Zealanders to enter, and remain in, the health workforce?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: This Government inherited a health workforce in crisis. Under National nurses were leaving the workforce in their thousands, medical student debt was out of control, and we faced a severe shortage of medical radiation therapists. In 1999 only 46 medical radiation therapists were being trained per year. That has more than doubled to 104. We have also provided over $500 million to deliver fair pay for district health board nurses, rather than see them disappear overseas as they did under National. In just over 2 weeks’ time interest on student loans will be waived for New Zealand - based graduates. I could go on but the list is rather long.
Barbara Stewart: Is there a national strategy for the development and retention of the medical workforce in New Zealand; if not, could that be described as a policy vacuum, and is anything being done to remedy the situation?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: The answer is yes, so the answer to the second part of the question is no, and the third part is also no.
Hon Tony Ryall: Does he have any concerns at all about the activities of the district health boards at the London expo where the stalls for the 10 district health boards—with up to five staff members each—were spread out across the expo venue, so that there was no coordinated New Zealand health presence?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: As I said before, on behalf of the Minister of Health, this is an area that we do need to do more on to get better cooperation between the district health boards. That is what he is actively seeking for them to do. But I just want to point out that there always has been a method of recruitment that has been adopted by district health boards and their predecessors around the world and, in fact, for the last 25 years the same proportion of people have been coming into the country to be part of our medical workforce as are coming now.
Hon Tony Ryall: How cost-effective is it for nine individual district health boards to send representatives to a recruitment expo in Manchester, with some sending up to five staff halfway around the world; is that the best use of limited taxpayers’ health dollars to fill the vital recruitment needs of our health system?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: What we understand is that each of these district health boards is spending its money effectively in the same way that the health system has been doing for 25 years in order to recruit the same proportion of people. But as I have also said, on behalf of the Minister of Health, more cooperation has been, and is being, encouraged, with good results.
Jo Goodhew: Is it really cost-effective for one individual district health board to send three senior staff halfway around the world to interview nine people and recruit four?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: I think it would be important for the member to take to the Minister of Health the individual case she has. For example, if seeking the services of highly skilled people to come into our district health board system requires senior staff to interview candidates face-to-face, that may well be a good use of district health board money. So let us have the individual case, rather than the innuendo, and we will see whether it stands up.
Hon Tony Ryall: Can the Minister not see how ordinary New Zealand taxpayers must feel when they see 10 individual district health boards sending up to five staff each to employment expos in London and Manchester; and how can he tell this House that that uncoordinated process is the best spending of the $2 million that district health boards are currently devoting to the vital task of recruiting overseas doctors and nurses?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: It is certainly an improvement, I think, on the massive fragmentation of the health system in the 1990s. As I have said to the member, this is something that the Minister of Health believes requires more coordination. Good examples are emerging and more will do so.
Community and Voluntary Sector—Government Support
9. TIM BARNETT (Labour—Christchurch Central) to the Minister for the Community and Voluntary Sector: What is the Government doing to support volunteers?
Hon LUAMANUVAO WINNIE LABAN (Minister for the Community and Voluntary Sector): The Government is serious about supporting volunteers, and it adopted a formal policy on volunteering in 2002. This week is Volunteer Awareness Week, and many of my colleagues are acknowledging the volunteer contributions in their communities by visiting volunteer groups and participating in activities such as speaking at volunteering awards ceremonies. This Government acknowledges that volunteers in sectors such as conservation, the emergency services, the arts, culture, and heritage, and the social services all contribute to our sense of well-being and national identity, and strengthen our communities.
Tim Barnett: What work has the Government undertaken to support the voluntary sector, and how does that relate to volunteering?
Hon LUAMANUVAO WINNIE LABAN: Since 2001 we have had a dedicated Minister for the Community and Voluntary Sector, and have established an office to address issues affecting the sector and raise its profile within the Government. We have invested in Volunteering New Zealand and in nine volunteering centres from Auckland to Otago. We have also established the Charities Commission and invested a substantial amount of funding into the sector, including $12 million per year towards the Community Organisation Grants Scheme, which supports the work of over 3,000 local organisations, and $6.5 million for volunteers in sport and recreation.
State Houses—Household Incomes
10. PHIL HEATLEY (National—Whangarei) to the Minister of Housing: Can he confirm his answer to written question 00910 (2006) that records a New Lynn State household total net assessable income of $2,184.65 a week and a Hamilton State household total net assessable income of $1,681.35 a week as at 31 January 2006, and what were the respective gross household incomes for the New Lynn and Hamilton tenancies at that time?
Hon RICK BARKER (Minister of Internal Affairs) on behalf of the Minister of Housing: I cannot confirm that the figure for New Lynn is correct, because it is not. As has already been communicated to the member, Housing New Zealand Corporation made a data entry error in the original answer to him. The current household total net assessable income for the tenancy in New Lynn is $662.43. The figure for Hamilton is correct. Housing New Zealand Corporation does not record gross income figures, because they are not necessary to its work.
Phil Heatley: Why could the Minister not give me correct answers in the first place—now 3 weeks ago—on State house tenant income, given that tenants’ rent is based on their income, which is what income-related rents mean; how sloppy is this system?
Hon RICK BARKER: The first point I make is that one mistake is one mistake out of many thousands of calculations that are made. The second point is that in the particular cases the member has referred to, those people applied for income-related rents, were found to have a net assessable income in excess of the threshold, and were declined. Those people are not paying income-related rents.
Martin Gallagher: What is the average income of tenants who are currently paying an income-related rent?
Hon RICK BARKER: Since the Labour Government changed the housing allocation system in 2000, 99 percent of all tenancies now qualify for an income-related rent, and the average net assessable income of those paying an income-related rent is $287.69 per week. In other words, we have fixed up the mess created by National in the housing portfolio.
Gordon Copeland: Is the Minister prepared to look favourably at a rent-to-buy programme with a percentage of the increase in value over the previous 5 years as part of the deposit, in line with the United Future policy and to enable State house tenants to realise the Kiwi dream of homeownership as their income increases?
Hon RICK BARKER: The answer to the first part of the question is no, and in answer to the second part I say we encourage people to take up the KiwiSaver programme.
Phil Heatley: Now that the Minister has confirmed that our Housing New Zealand Corporation tenant in Hamilton earns in excess of $85,000 a year after tax, can he tell us how much the single person in that household earns before tax?
Hon RICK BARKER: No I cannot, and we have no intention of doing so because the gross income of people is not of particular interest to the Government. However, I make the observation that a number of people who still currently have State house rentals got them at the time of National’s policy of market rentals, and it was only rich people who could afford a State house under National.
Phil Heatley: Can the Minister confirm that under his watch “wealthy State house tenants will not be forced to give up their homes to the needy”, as he was reported to tell Newstalk ZB listeners yesterday, and what dizzying heights do State house tenant incomes have to reach before the needy are housed instead?
Hon RICK BARKER: That is some irony, coming from that member, given that the previous National Government sold thousands of State houses. I also make this point: let that question be a warning to people in State houses. If National gets into office, they will be kicked out of their houses.
Gordon Copeland: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I must say that back here we heard not one single word of that response. I think it would be good if we could hear the Minister’s answer.
Madam SPEAKER: Would members please keep the noise down. I could not hear anything, either. Perhaps the Minister would now like to address the question.
Hon RICK BARKER: There is some irony in that question from the National Party member, given that National’s policy saw 13,000 State houses sold. If we still had those 13,000 State houses, we could house another 13,000 needy people. The second aspect is that implicit in the question from Mr Phil Heatley is that all State house tenants need to be on a warning. If National ever gets to the Government side of the House, they will be booted out of their houses.
Dr Don Brash: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. The Minister in no sense addressed the question that Mr Heatley asked him. Can you please direct him to address the question?
Madam SPEAKER: I agree with the member; that was a speech. Would Mr Heatley please redirect his question. I have certainly forgotten it at this stage, and therefore we will have another go at it. It will not come off the member’s allocation of supplementary questions.
Phil Heatley: Can the Minister confirm that under his watch “wealthy State house tenants will not be forced to give up their homes to the needy”, as he was reported to tell Newstalk ZB listeners yesterday, and what dizzying heights do State house tenants’ incomes have to reach before the needy are housed instead?
Hon RICK BARKER: The Government has no policy of kicking people out when they reach a certain income level, and we are not going to have one. What that would mean, if National had its way, is that any people who improved themselves would be booted out of their houses. That would be a disincentive. The problem has been created by National selling 13,000 State houses.
Hon Dr Michael Cullen: Can the Minister confirm that under this Government the needy will not be forced to give up their State houses to the greedy, as happened under National?
Hon RICK BARKER: I can tell the House that during the previous regime, when market rentals were imposed upon everybody, there was a constant stream of misery into my office because the poor could not afford State houses. That is not the case under the Labour Government.
Phil Heatley: Can the Minister then confirm that, in his own words, greedy people can stay in their State houses while needy people stay out in the cold?
Hon RICK BARKER: We have inherited a number of people in State houses who are on high incomes, as I said before. But that was the policy of the previous National Government. Labour will not have a policy of randomly kicking people out. We will not do that. If people have security of tenure, then we will respect that. I would have thought that the National Party would respect contracts.
Phil Heatley: Given that the Minister will not sell a State house to a very, very high-income earner who lives in it or ask the person to move on in order to make way for needy people, does he intend to keep buying State houses as the waiting list grows, and therefore to house everyone—everyone on $200,000 a year, everyone on $100,000 a year, and everyone on incomes under that figure?
Hon RICK BARKER: There are three aspects to that. First, as I said in answer to a supplementary question, 99 percent of the people who get into a State house now have an average weekly income of about $287.69. We have a legacy issue. Second, yes, we are building new houses, and, third, we do have a programme to encourage high-income earners to make their own way in the world.
Mâori Economic Development—Expenditure Tracking
11. HONE HARAWIRA (Mâori Party—Te Tai Tokerau) to the Minister of Finance: Ka pçhea te Wâhanga Kaitohutohu Kaupapa Rawa e whai môhio, e môhio rânei i ngâ whakapaunga pûtea Mâori i roto i te Kâwana, he aha hoki te rahi o te whakapaunga whai hua a te Mâori?
[How does Treasury track expenditure for Mâori across Government, and to what extent does this expenditure contribute to Mâori economic development?]
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Minister of Finance): Treasury does not track explicitly the split of all expenditure by ethnic groups across all sectors. However, all Government departments are expected to report on their progress in reducing inequalities, in their annual reports.
Hone Harawira: He aha te âhua o te ngâkau kino o ngâ mahi kei te whakahaerehia e te Tari Kaitohutohu Kaupapa Rawa i kitea e te rôpû whakawâ â-waho, arâ, ngâ kaupapa tâuteute, pupuri kaimahi, â, he aha hoki ngâ kaupapa hei ngaki i ngâ whakanôhanga kai kiri?
[An interpretation in English was given to the House.]
What was the nature of the unintended bias identified by external review as occurring in the operations of Treasury’s recruitment and retention procedure; and what initiatives have been taken to address institutional racism?]
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I certainly do not accept that there is institutional racism within Treasury. Indeed, the recent report released by the Controller and Auditor-General actually is quite supportive of actions taken by Treasury. However, it is fair to say that Treasury has not made as much progress as it would wish in terms of hiring Mâori staff.
Hon Bill English: How can Treasury track Government expenditure at all, when we found out today that the Government cannot organise the audit of the financial statements of a public institution, that the Government is paying for squads of district health board staff to fly halfway around the world and compete with each other for health employees, and that the Government has a policy that allows New Zealanders on incomes of $80,000 to $100,000 to stay in State houses intended for the needy?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: First, the Controller and Auditor-General, not the Government, is responsible for the audit of the wânanga—because, of course, the Controller and Auditor-General is an Officer of Parliament, not an officer of the Government. On the last point, it was National policy that lifted any notion of social targeting in the allocation of State housing. On the matter of the district health boards, it was the National Government that moved away from a small number of large area health boards to a large number of small district health boards.
Te Ururoa Flavell: He aha te whakautu a te Tari Kaitohutohu Kaupapa Rawa ki tçrâ i kitea e te Kai Ripoata mô te Rôpû Whakakotahi Tangata i te Ao i te tau kua taha ake nei, arâ, he waimeha te âhua o ngâ kaute hei whakaatu i tçnâ mâtâwaka, i tçnâ mâtâwaka?
[An interpretation in English was given to the House.]
[What response has Treasury made to findings from the United Nations special rapporteur late last year that there is a lack of significant disaggregated statistical data identifying ethnicity?]
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Some data is disaggregated but much Government spending is quite impossible to disaggregate. I have no idea how one would disaggregate the spending on roading, for example. It is very hard to disaggregate most spending within the compulsory health sector. It is very hard to disaggregate very large areas of Government spending into spending by ethnicity, by the very nature of the spending that occurs. It would make no sense to have spending for Mâori for roads, and for Pâkehâ for roads, unless we had separate Mâori and Pâkehâ roads.
HONE HARAWIRA (Maori Party—Te Tai Tokerau): I tçnei wiki i te ripoata o te Tari Tumuaki o te Mana Arotake, “he ruarua noa iho nga kaimahi” o te Tari Kaitohutohu Kaupapa Rawa “kei a râtou ngâ momo mâtauranga Mâori”, â, he aha aua momo mâtauranga?
[An interpretation in English was given to the House.]
What is the “particular expertise in Mâori issues” that the Auditor-General’s report released this week identified “a few staff” in Treasury as having?]
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: The report identifies that Treasury does recognise issues in relation to Mâori. It is now taking a more structured approach to engaging with Mâori through to a more responsive policy statement plan in 2000 that has been implemented and subsequently revised. It manages its staff to try to recognise and to respond to issues for Mâori.
Focus 2000 Ltd—Complaints
12. Dr PAUL HUTCHISON (National—Port Waikato) to the Minister for Disability Issues: How long has she been aware of the complaints surrounding care provided by Focus 2000?
Hon MITA RIRINUI (Minister of State) on behalf of the Minister for Disability Issues: The Hon Ruth Dyson, the Minister for Disability Issues, received a complaint in August 2005 about an incident that had occurred 3 years earlier regarding a client who was being supported by Focus 2000. This matter was forwarded to the appropriate Minister.
Dr Paul Hutchison: Does the Minister for Disability Issues seriously expect New Zealanders to believe that although very serious allegations involving deaths, maltreatment, and abuse were documented as far back as 2002, she did not find out for over 2½ years?
Hon MITA RIRINUI: I repeat that the complaint was received in August 2005, but it was about matters relating to service and should have been referred to the Minister of Health.
Lynne Pillay: Has the Minister been made aware of any other complaints concerning disability issues?
Hon MITA RIRINUI: She is aware of the deep concern within the disability sector regarding comments that advocating for disabilities is too PC and divorced from the mainstream. These comments were made by the “PC Eradicator”, Dr Wayne Mapp.
Dr Paul Hutchison: What did the Minister do when she was made aware of allegations that two people had choked to death unsupervised while under the care of Focus 2000; or did she do nothing?
Hon MITA RIRINUI: In fact, the Minister received those complaints. They are service matters that would have been referred to the Minister of Health.
Dr Paul Hutchison: I ask again: is two people choking to death while under the care of Focus 2000 a service matter?
Hon MITA RIRINUI: The member is referring to a matter that I have absolutely no knowledge of, but from the way he refers to them they pertain to services. I say again that the matter would have been referred to the Minister of Health.
Dr Paul Hutchison: What did the Minister for Disability Issues do about the complaint that a resident with Focus 2000 was chased by a caregiver, fell out of a wheelchair, which resulted in a fractured jaw, and was not taken to the hospital until 3 days later—clearly a clinical matter?
Hon MITA RIRINUI: I repeat: the Minister received one complaint in August 2005. If the member has another complaint, I suggest that he refer it to the proper Minister.
Dr Paul Hutchison: What has the Minister for Disability Issues actually done about the wide number of complaints regarding Focus 2000; and why is it that only after those incidents were splashed across the media her Government is taking even the minimal interest?
Hon MITA RIRINUI: I understand there is currently an audit and review under way pertaining to Focus 2000, and that matter is being undertaken by the Minister of Health.