Questions And Answers - Tuesday, 21 March 2006
Questions And Answers Tuesday, 21 March 2006
Questions to Ministers
Energy, Transport, Climate Change Issues, Minister—Confidence
1. Dr DON BRASH (Leader of the Opposition) to the Prime Minister: Does she have confidence in the Minister of Energy, Minister of Transport, and Minister responsible for Climate Change Issues; if so, why?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK (Prime Minister): Yes; because they are both hard-working and conscientious Ministers.
Dr Don Brash: Why yesterday, and as recently as this morning, did the Prime Minister continue to have confidence in Mr Parker in those portfolios, and can we take if from her acceptance of his resignation this morning that her judgment yesterday was wrong?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: What the member can take from it is the old adage that if one acts in haste one repents at leisure.
Dr Don Brash: What message does the Prime Minister intend to send to New Zealanders when she protects the Cabinet position of Mr David Benson-Pope, who misled Parliament, but required the resignation of Mr David Parker, who has readily admitted his mistakes?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I set out my views yesterday on the seriousness for an Attorney-General in making the mistake that Mr Parker did. After further consideration overnight, Mr Parker has determined that he should not hold any warrants.
Dr Don Brash: How can she have confidence in the Minister she has appointed to those portfolios today when all the appointments involve recycling Ministers into portfolios in which they have failed previously?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: On the contrary, I have great confidence in both Ministers.
Jeanette Fitzsimons: Does the Prime Minister have confidence that her new Minister of Energy will implement the Speech from the Throne delivered last November and prioritise energy from renewable sources, given her recent comments to the press supporting coal-fired power stations?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I have great confidence in the Minister of Energy. I also happen to believe that coal is part of the mix in the New Zealand power supply. In respect of that particular station, I have passed no view on whether it should proceed. I actually told the Southland Times that it was a commercial matter for the company.
Jeanette Fitzsimons: Does the Prime Minister have confidence that the new Minister of Energy will be able to turn round New Zealand’s current trend where renewable energy is decreasing every year as a proportion of electricity generation; and does she support reversing that trend so that renewable energy grows as a proportion of total electricity generated?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: Of course the Government, like the member, wants to see the proportion of renewable energy grow. Unfortunately, we are not living in eras of the past where any river could be dammed at any time to achieve that. It has to be done through the more difficult route of getting planning permission for things like wind energy, which has not proved terribly easy.
Jeanette Fitzsimons: When the Prime Minister said that New Zealand needed coal-fired power plants because the weather did not always come to the party, was she meaning the recent droughts in Canterbury and yesterday’s Cyclone Larry in Queensland; and will she be advising her new Minister responsible for Climate Change Issues that changes in the weather mean we should reduce our reliance on fossil fuels and take climate change more seriously?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I would love to see us reduce our reliance on fossil fuels, but frankly, if it is a choice between New Zealanders going without power and having a coal-fired power station to give it to them, I know what I am going to choose.
Hon Dr Michael Cullen: Is there any evidence that periods in New Zealand of low rainfall and lack of wind can be entirely be ascribed to climate change?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: No, I would not have thought so.
Sue Kedgley: Why, if the Government is serious about reducing our carbon emissions to 1990 levels, is the Minister of Transport, and the Government, supporting the building of new motorways that will significantly increase traffic growth and, therefore, carbon emissions, as well as our dependence on oil?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: New roading is part of the mix of solutions to a number of the local transport difficulties. I also am one who has considerable faith in technology. I know other countries are considerably more advanced that we are with flexi cars, triflex cars, and bio-fuels, and I hope that is a road we will be able to go down in greater haste.
Rodney Hide: Will the Prime Minister deny to the House that she has received new facts since yesterday that caused her to reassess David Parker’s suitability to be a Minister of the Crown in her Government?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I have not received any new information, nor about the member, today.
Question No. 2 to Minister
JEANETTE FITZSIMONS (Co-Leader—Green): I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I ask you to clarify whether there any circumstances where you will not permit the transfer of a question, or whether that is now an automatic right of the Government. The point of my question, question No. 2, was to ask the Prime Minister for clarification of her statement of support for coal-fired power stations in the interview with the press. The newly appointed Minister of Energy has no responsibility for those statements by the Prime Minister, so I am asking your guidance as to whether this means that there are no conditions under which transfers will not be permitted.
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Leader of the House): Madam Speaker, the Speakers’ rulings are very clear. Only in exceptional circumstances would a question that has been transferred be referred back by yourself. In this case, of course, the principal part of the question is in relation to a statement in the Speech from the Throne. The Speech from the Throne is not a personal statement by the Prime Minister; it is a statement of all the Government’s policy, including all Ministers within the Government.
Madam SPEAKER: I draw the member’s attention to Speakers’ ruling 138(3), which states: “Ultimately, the Speaker could refuse to permit a question to be transferred to another Minister for answer if the responsibility for a subject is so primarily held by a particular Minister as to mean that the transfer of the question would be an abuse.” I follow that Speakers’ ruling.
Prime Minister—Speech from the Throne 1999
3. Dr DON BRASH (Leader of the Opposition) to the Prime Minister: Does she stand by the statement in the Speech from the Throne in 1999 that her Government would “restore public confidence in the political integrity of Parliament and the electoral process.”?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK (Prime Minister): Yes.
Dr Don Brash: Does the Prime Minister believe that it was compatible with those lofty sentiments that either she or people working for her made a decision in the final weeks of last year’s election campaign to continue campaign spending, knowing that to do so put them in breach of the Electoral Act spending cap, thereby committing what the Electoral Act calls “a corrupt practice”?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: As I have advised the House before, I am not responsible for the Labour Party’s spending, and I will not answer such questions in the House. I have no idea how much the Labour Party spent.
Dr Don Brash: How has public confidence in the electoral process been restored by the party that is the Government of New Zealand cold-bloodedly breaking the Electoral Act campaign spending limits, and then relying on the police and Crown Law to once again let it off the hook?
Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I would like to quote to you a new authority on the Standing Orders. That person said that Helen Clark has no ministerial responsibility for the Labour Party. That is what Don Brash was quoted as saying yesterday. This is clearly a question that should go directly to the Labour Party. Don Brash has indicated that he cannot ask such questions in the House. He is quoted directly as making that statement, and now he has asked a question about something that is a Labour Party responsibility, not a parliamentary responsibility.
Gerry Brownlee: I suggest that that Minister, who is now very burdened with additional responsibilities, take a good look at the question. At the heart of this matter is a $500,000 spend straight out of the leader’s office, which Helen Clark does have responsibility for.
Hon Trevor Mallard: If the Leader of the Opposition had properly linked his supplementary question to that, the question could well have been valid. He did not do so.
Madam SPEAKER: I ask the member to please restate the question in a manner that is consistent with the fact that no member in this House is responsible for his or her party activities. So I ask Don Brash to please restate his supplementary question.
Dr Don Brash: Does the Prime Minister have concern about the fact that the police and Crown Law have let the Labour Party off the hook again, and does she have concern that this may undermine public confidence in the Government, in Parliament, and in the electoral process?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I do not accept the premise in the question. The police press statement, of course, makes it quite clear that the police decided not to prosecute the National Party, either, for what many would have seen as a very clear breach of the legislation, and I can assure—[Interruption]
Madam SPEAKER: Order, please! Members are entitled to be able to hear answers.
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I can assure the member that in the review of the Electoral Act, the Government will be paying particularly close attention to third party advertising, like that solicited by Dr Brash from the Exclusive Brethren.
Dr Don Brash: Did the Prime Minister see in the media statement released by the police last Friday any suggestion at all that the police had established a prima facie case against the National Party for a breach of the Electoral Act?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: Perhaps I could read from the police statement, which stated, for some curious reason, that the police could not attribute responsibility for the mistake in GST overexpenditure to either the National Party or its media buying agency.
Dr Don Brash: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. The Prime Minister at no point tried to answer my question.
Madam SPEAKER: The question was addressed. No member is entitled to a yes or a no or a direct answer. That is what the Standing Orders provide. We could change them, whereby we have only factual questions and factual answers, and I suggest members may like to thing about that.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Is the Prime Minister aware of any failure, in the past, to declare GST that has led to criminal charges and criminal convictions?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I would think that it is almost certainly true that a failure to declare GST has led to charges and convictions in the past. But, of course, the police could not find anybody in the National Party who knew anything about GST—including, presumably, Dr Brash.
Hon Dr Michael Cullen: How could the Prime Minister make that last statement and find it credible, when the leader of the National Party is the very man who chaired the Government committee established to introduce GST in the mid-1980s?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: That is only because I accept—as I would hope Dr Brash would accept—that he was not personally in control of the finances of the National Party.
Dr Don Brash: How is public confidence in Parliament and the electoral process to be restored when, on three separate occasions now, the police and Crown Law have found prima facie breaches of the law made by Ministers in the Government, including the Prime Minister, and by the Labour Party, but have exercised a discretion not to take any further action?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I suggest that the Leader of the Opposition take advice about what “prima facie” actually means. It does not mean that there is evidence that would stand up in court—unlike the evidence that stood up in court and saw two National Party front-benchers convicted in court: Dr Nick Smith of contempt of court, and Gerry Brownlee of assault. They seem to have no difficulty in sitting on the front bench of the National Party.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Has the Prime Minister received any reports as to how it could possibly be that the police were not able to establish more than a prima facie case, given that the party the police were investigating on a question of a failure to declare GST is led by an economic genius who claims to have had an unblemished record as the head of the Reserve Bank, has a number of lawyers in its caucus who are paid to be the brightest legal minds in this Parliament, and also has the only trained economist in this country, namely the leader of the ACT party, as one of its abiding, compliant principals?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: It is indeed strange, particularly when the National Party does not appear to have made the same mistake in any previous election.
Gerry Brownlee: Does the Prime Minister accept that $446,000-plus of the Labour Party’s election overspend came directly out of her leader’s budget for the illegitimate practice of spending on the pledge card, and will she now pay it back?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: The Labour Party, like all parties, awaits the outcome of the Auditor-General’s report on expenditure from leaders’ funds. And, of course, this little recruitment pamphlet, which was paid for out of parliamentary funds and liberally distributed by the National Party through the election campaign, will no doubt be of interest to the Auditor-General, as well.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Does the Prime Minister remember when GST first came into this country’s law—how many years ago it was—does she know how many business people or, for that matter, contractors or people who are engaged in any sort of trade or deal know the law, and has she received any reports as to whether old age may lead to someone forgetting what the law is?
Madam SPEAKER: That is unnecessary.
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I would have thought that after 20 years of GST being in operation, ignorance of its existence is a poor excuse.
Gerry Brownlee: Can the Prime Minister tell the House whether Mr Peters will have to pay GST on the $40,000 he owes Bob Clarkson and has not yet paid?
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. All supplementary questions must bear some relationship to the primary question. The second thing—
Madam SPEAKER: No, I am sorry—long bows have been drawn on this particular question.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I have spoken only one sentence—I have not finished.
Madam SPEAKER: Please be brief.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: What I really want to say to the National Party is this: laugh now, but cry later.
Madam SPEAKER: It was not worth waiting for.
Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I have asked a question of the Prime Minister.
Madam SPEAKER: I do not recall the question. The member got the call but did not actually ask the question.
Gerry Brownlee: Yes, I did.
Madam SPEAKER: Sorry—will the member please repeat the question.
Gerry Brownlee: Can the Prime Minister tell the House whether Mr Peters will have to pay—
Madam SPEAKER: That is where we are going again.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. The member has been around long enough to know that he should not trifle with the Chair.
Madam SPEAKER: This matter can be easily settled. As the member knows, one cannot seek a legal opinion through a question in the House. The member was seeking a legal opinion. He may rephrase his question.
Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I asked the Prime Minister whether she could advise the House. The Prime Minister said in her previous answer that after 20 years of GST, there should be no ambiguity about its effects. She has been answering questions about GST. I think my question is quite reasonable.
Madam SPEAKER: The way the member phrased his question was to ask quite specifically whether GST would be payable in a particular set of circumstances. That was, in effect, to seek a legal opinion.
Gerry Brownlee: OK, I will rephrase the question.
Madam SPEAKER: The member will ask a further supplementary question?
Gerry Brownlee: No.
Madam SPEAKER: I am afraid I ruled the previous question out of order.
Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. If you had ruled the question out of order, you would not have taken those trifling points of order from Mr Peters when it was originally asked. I think you are being extremely unfair and are now costing us the opportunity to ask the question.
Madam SPEAKER: I ruled that those points of order were out of order. They were not supplementary questions. If they had been put as questions, they also would have been ruled out of order. I do not want any further discussion on that point. The member knows that he cannot seek a legal opinion. If he wishes to rephrase the question in another supplementary question, he is perfectly entitled to do so.
Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I would like you to look at the Hansard later today and explain to me how my question sought a legal opinion. It was a simple question about whether GST would be payable. Of course we are talking about circumstances; that is exactly what the Prime Minister has done in her answers today.
Madam SPEAKER: I am happy to look at it. Mr Hide, do you have a supplementary question?
Rodney Hide: Yes, I am sorry—I dozed off there.
Madam SPEAKER: I thank the member.
Rodney Hide: I ask the Prime Minister—[Interruption] Is it not great that Mr Peters, who cannot make his point when he asks a question and cannot make his point when he raises a point of order, wants to sit on the sideline—
Madam SPEAKER: Would all members in the House please settle. You know that when a member is asking a question, there should be no comment. You are all on a final warning.
Rodney Hide: Would the Prime Minister care to take the opportunity in the House to attempt to restore some integrity to herself and to her Government, by explaining—when the facts, by her own admission today in the House, did not change—how matters went from yesterday morning, when she was able to attack Investigate magazine for running a smear campaign and say that there were no questions to answer, to David Parker having to stand down as Attorney-General late yesterday afternoon but being able to stay on as Minister of Energy and Minister of Transport, and then this morning having to resign entirely his portfolios when, by her own admission, there was no change to any of the facts that she had at her disposal?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I am very happy to oblige the member. I first heard of the matter at 6.30 yesterday morning. I immediately instigated inquiries among my staff and Mr Parker. That led to a decision by Mr Parker in the course of yesterday to resign as Attorney-General. He contemplated the matter further overnight, and came back to me this morning. Precisely 28 hours after I first heard of the matter, Mr Parker resigned all his portfolios. I believe that period of time was appropriate. A man’s career was at stake, and I believe he was treated fairly.
Dr Don Brash: Does the Prime Minister accept the findings of the New Zealand Police that there was sufficient evidence to establish a prima facie case against the Labour Party; if so, why will she not take the obvious step and pay the money back?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: The member is confusing a whole lot of issues. He is very confused. He probably does not realise that there are a number of different issues here, and the two he has connected are not connected in the way he tries to make them.
4. Hon MARK GOSCHE (Labour—Maungakiekie) to the Minister for ACC: What is the Government doing to reduce accident compensation levies for small businesses and self-employed people?
Hon RUTH DYSON (Minister for ACC): Almost 225,000 small businesses and self-employed people from 1 April this year will be able to apply for discounted accident compensation levies when they put workplace safety plans in place. That is very good news for those who run small businesses and for self-employed people in our country.
Hon Mark Gosche: How do today’s total average levy rates paid by self-employed people compare with rates from previous years?
Hon RUTH DYSON: The total average rates for self-employed people today are 14.6 percent lower than they were when the self-employed work account was created by the National Government in 1998.
Electricity Market—Information Accuracy
5. GERRY BROWNLEE (Deputy Leader—National) to the Minister of Energy: Does he believe the operation of the electricity market requires the provision of honest and accurate information from companies involved in that market?
Hon TREVOR MALLARD (Acting Minister of Energy): Yes.
Gerry Brownlee: Why does the Minister continue to have confidence in the Electricity Commission, which insists the lights will not go out this winter, when the major electricity generators advise that they fear the opposite and have gone over the head of the commission to appoint Toby Stevenson as dry winter coordinator for this year?
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: I think the idea that the generators work together in order to maximise power output from the available water and other resources is a very good one. That sort of coordination would have been possible in the old days before people hopped off the generation the way that the National Government did with Contact Energy.
Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. The Minister cannot mislead the House, surely, with an answer like that and be allowed to get away with it. Everyone knows that 80 percent of the electricity industry is still owned by the Government.
Madam SPEAKER: That is a debating issue, not a point of order.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: How does having three changes of energy Minister in just 15 months help address the huge uncertainty over electricity supply?
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: The one thing the Government can say is that it has been much more consistent than the Opposition, which shuffles its spokespeople like nothing on earth.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: Does the new Minister stand by the statement of his predecessor in respect of electricity supply: “I do recognise it is my responsibility to ensure that the lights don’t go out in New Zealand.”?
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: I am absolutely sure he said that.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. The Minister’s response did not in any way address the question. It is a matter of public record, it is a record of this House, that his predecessor, David Parker, said that. The Minister’s answer is simply saying that that is what his predecessor said. It does not my question, which was whether, as the new Minister, he stood by that statement.
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: I shall answer the question again. I am quite happy to stand by the responsibility of the Minister of Energy to ensure that the systems work—
Hon Dr Nick Smith: Do you stand by the statement? Answer the question.
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: Take your pills.
Madam SPEAKER: Please just continue. Would the Minister please withdraw that comment and just answer the question.
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: I withdraw.
Rodney Hide: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I do not think it is good enough for the Hon Trevor Mallard to just withdraw. If you reflect on that interjection, it was against you.
Madam SPEAKER: I am sorry; I have dealt with this, and, as the member is aware, once the Speaker has dealt with an issue, it is dealt with. Could we please just have a response to the question.
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: It is the responsibility of the Minister of Energy to ensure that the systems are such that sufficient generation occurs. There cannot ever be an absolute guarantee in a particular area, or at a particular time, that the transmission and generation systems will work entirely.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: Does the Government stand by the structure it has created in respect of transmission policy and investment with the confusing roles between Transpower, the Commerce Commission, and the Electricity Commission; if so, which should Parliament hold responsible if the transmission system fails?
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: I think there are a number of occasions when, and reasons why, transmission systems can fail. Clearly, climatic circumstances are the main cause of those, as the member who has an electorate in the Nelson-Marlborough area would be aware. But as the member is also aware, the House has passed legislation that will result at some stage in the Commerce Commission’s responsibilities being transferred to the Electricity Commission. The timing of that is a matter for the Government.
Child, Youth and Family Services, Minister—Physical Abuse of Child
6. KATHERINE RICH (National) to the Associate Minister for Social Development and Employment (CYF): Does she stand by her explanations to the House on 22, 23, and 24 June 2004 that a 6-week-old baby was placed with his mother, a woman who had abused and seriously neglected his two other siblings, as she “did not have a history of either physical or sexual abuse of her own children.”; if so, what is her definition of physical abuse?
Hon RUTH DYSON (Associate Minister for Social Development and Employment (CYF)): Yes, I do, and my comments have been affirmed by a case review undertaken by the office of the chief social worker. The definition of physical abuse is based on the department’s criteria, which were established in 1977 and are similar to those used overseas, such as in the United Kingdom. My comments do not in any way condone neglect as the member has implied in her media statements on this matter.
Katherine Rich: When she has stood in this House and confirmed her statements that there was no history of physical abuse, will she confirm to the House her view that the slow starvation of a 2-year-old boy so that he could not walk and weighed the same as an average 6-month-old baby is not, in her book, physical abuse, and that giving a child a black eye or throwing a telephone at the head of a child is not, in her view, physical abuse?
Hon RUTH DYSON: In answer to the former part of the member’s question, as I explained to her in the House on 22, 23, and 24 June the year before last, the assessment was that the woman concerned had no previous history of either physical or sexual abuse of her own children. In regard to the latter point, conflicting information had been given to the school, the social worker, and the police about how that child—who actually was not that woman’s own child—had received a black eye. The police decided that no further action should be taken.
Georgina Beyer: What further improvements have been made to the department since the Minister spoke about this case in the House in 2004?
Hon RUTH DYSON: There have been further improvements to the department’s ability to respond to notifications and to provide support for families. This includes a 32 percent increase in the number of social workers since 1999, and, despite a 22 percent increase in notifications compared with the previous year, a 16 percent drop in unallocated cases.
Katherine Rich: Is it true that this complex case dating back to 2000, which involved issues such as mental illness, drug addiction, violence, starvation, and neglect, was the very first case ever allocated to the junior social worker who worked on it?
Hon RUTH DYSON: I am not able to confirm that, no.
Katherine Rich: Why was the decision to place baby J with his two siblings, to be cared for by foster parents, overturned, and can she explain why her department’s sanitised report did not touch on the issue that there was major disagreement within that office about the overturning of that decision, which had dire consequences for baby J?
Hon RUTH DYSON: Since the member first made that allegation about the actions of a Child, Youth and Family Services social worker, I have asked for the issue to be investigated, and have been advised that no such information is recorded anywhere within the system; neither were any of the staff involved able to confirm that member’s allegation—yet again.
Katherine Rich: What kind of Minister has she become that she is comfortable standing in this House and implying that an unsafe house is fine for a baby if it is neglect, but is not if it is abuse, and does she think that her clever definitions mean anything to those siblings involved in this case?
Hon RUTH DYSON: The distortions that the member puts on just about everything presented from me to this House is not an acceptable way of conducting a debate about child abuse and neglect in New Zealand. The factors that led to the first two siblings being removed from the mother’s care were no longer evident. It was not a matter of their being acceptable; the living environment from which those two children had been removed had changed. Anybody who has changed his or her lifestyle, in my view, deserves a well-supported second chance.
7. MARYAN STREET (Labour) to the Minister of Health: What steps are now under way to improve maternity services in New Zealand?
Hon PETE HODGSON (Minister of Health): The Ministry of Health is currently leading discussions with leaders in the maternity sector, including the College of Midwives, the New Zealand Medical Association, the Paediatric Society, and many others. The talks are focused on achieving real improvements in maternity services through better coordination between lead maternity carers, primary health organisations, and hospital services.
Maryan Street: What other proposals has he seen on ways to address issues in maternity services?
Hon PETE HODGSON: I have seen at least two. One proposal calls for a review of maternity services; another proposal says that a review would be a waste of time and that the Government should instead encourage better coordination within maternity care. The problem is that both of these proposals come from the National Party. The first is from Tony Ryall and the second is from obstetrician and gynaecologist Paul Hutchison.
Dr Jackie Blue: How many more dead or brain-damaged babies will there have to be before the Government realises that there is a problem with the system?
Hon PETE HODGSON: A time-consuming review would stall the real progress that is being made in discussions led by the Ministry of Health. The ministry and the maternity sector are taking this approach because they know that action is needed now, not after a drawn-out review process. Further, of the 600 or thereabouts neonatal deaths that occur in New Zealand, that number has fallen sharply over recent decades.
Barbara Stewart: Does the national strategy for the development and retention of the medical workforce in New Zealand, which the Minister confirmed existed, during question time last week, include ensuring that an adequate number of midwives is employed by each district health board; if not, when will these midwife shortages become the responsibility of the Minister, if at all?
Hon PETE HODGSON: Midwife shortages, to the extent that they exist, are my responsibility now. There is an excess of midwives in parts of the country, and a shortage in other parts. Both of them are relatively minor. Both of them need constant attention.
Dr Jackie Blue: Why is the Minister’s committee looking to improve maternity data collection by proposing to collect information only on maternity deaths, but not on brain damage or other sad birth outcomes in live babies?
Hon PETE HODGSON: Plans are afoot to improve the collection of morbidity data, which indeed have been improved a lot since the late 1990s, but further improvements are due, and announcements will be made presently.
Conservation, Minister —Confidence
8. Hon Dr NICK SMITH (National—Nelson) to the Prime Minister: Does she have confidence in the Minister of Conservation; if so, why?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK (Prime Minister): Yes, because he is a hard-working and conscientious Minister.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: Can the Prime Minister assure the House that in respect of the Whangamata marina, all her Ministers support Chris Carter’s decision?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I do not have the slightest idea. It is not a Cabinet decision, it is a statutory decision by the Minister of Conservation.
Gordon Copeland: Does the Prime Minister believe it is fair that the Minister of Conservation can unilaterally veto the recommendation of the Environment Court, leaving the Whangamata Marina Society, which has followed due process, out of pocket by $1.3 million; if not, does she intend to address the issue of compensation, in the interests of fair play?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I think it is important to be clear about the decision-making process here. One cannot, of course, veto a recommendation. A recommendation can be accepted or it can be rejected. The final decision maker on restricted coastal activities under the Resource Management Act legislation is, indeed, the Minister of Conservation. Whether that should be the case is an entirely proper matter for public debate, but it is how the law works as passed in 1991 by the National Government.
Gordon Copeland: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. The central point of my question was in relation to compensation of $1.3 million to the Whangamata Marina Society, following the decision to can that project. I do not believe that the Prime Minister addressed the major point of the question.
Madam SPEAKER: As I recall the question, it was in more than one part. In a supplementary question, the Minister has only to address one part of it, and the Minister did address the question.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: Has she seen the report in the New Zealand Herald that two of her Ministers thought the Minister of Conservation’s decision was wrong, and why should the public have any confidence in the Minister of Conservation if her own ministerial colleagues do not?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: No, I have not seen any such report. The Minister, of course, is the final decision maker under the law. The marina society has indicated that it will be appealing the matter. No doubt the lodging of proceedings is imminent, and the matter will be sorted out in court.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: Is the Prime Minister aware that the Cabinet Manual includes collective responsibility to apply to individual decisions of Ministers, and as such, does she think it is acceptable that the Hon Dover Samuels has said that the Minister’s decision with respect to Whangamata was convoluted and lacked certainty?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I am not aware of the member’s comments as read by Dr Smith, but I will say this. An independent statutory decision made by a Minister in terms of the law is not something that a Minister takes to Cabinet for approval; nor should he.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: Will the Minister apply the principle of collective Cabinet responsibility to the decision of Chris Carter in respect of the Whangamata marina?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: No, because the Minister makes an independent statutory decision in terms of the law. The process I follow as Prime Minister is, where we make decisions together, everybody takes collective responsibility for them. Where a Minister makes an independent statutory decision, that is his decision and his decision alone, and it will be his decision that the Whangamata Marina Society challenges in court if it proceeds.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: Does she recall telling the local government conference last year that her Government believed in local decision-making by local people; if so, why did her Government overturn the decision of the Thames-Coromandel District Council and Environment Waikato?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: As I have said, the matter went right through to the Environment Court. The Environment Court made a report. The Environment Court is not the final decision maker; nor are the other bodies that the member referred to. The final decision maker on a restricted coastal activity is the Minister of Conservation. I might say I am aware that Dr Smith, when he was Minister, instructed the department to settle on the matter because frankly he has very little regard for the coastline of our country.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. Because the Prime Minister seems unfamiliar with it, I seek the leave of the House to table the Cabinet Manual, which makes it plain that individual decisions of Ministers still apply the principle of collective responsibility.
Madam SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection? There is objection.
Smoke-free Environments Act—Impact
9. STEVE CHADWICK (Labour—Rotorua) to the Associate Minister of Health: What reports, if any, has he received on the impact of the amendments made to the Smoke-free Environments Act 1990?
Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR (Associate Minister of Health): I have seen a report confirming that the majority of smokers support the smoking ban in bars and restaurants, and that the ban has delivered positive health, economic, and social outcomes.
Steve Chadwick: What other reports has he seen on the impacts of the amendment to the Smoke-free Environments Act?
Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: I have seen two. The first stated that the smoking ban was an example of the nanny State and went too far. The second stated that most New Zealanders had welcomed the move to restrict smoking in public places. The first quote was from “Wayne PC Eradicator Mapp” and the second was from the National Party leader, Dr Don Brash.
Madam SPEAKER: I just remind members that they must use members’ correct titles in the House.
Hone Harawira: What rationale does the Government have—given its stated support for a healthy population and its highlighting of the disastrous effects of cigarette smoking on the general population of this country, and in particular the Mâori population—for spending only 1.5 percent of the nearly $1 billion in tobacco tax on smoking cessation programmes?
Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: I acknowledge that smoking is a huge health issue for the whole country, but more particularly for its Mâori population. We are committed in a number of ways, including through the provision of Mâori health providers themselves going to speak with Mâori people, to reducing the rate of smoking in the Mâori population. That is a determination of this Government, and we hope we get full support for that from the Mâori Party.
Peter Brown: Is the Minister aware that there are several people who used to go to the pub to have a beer with their cigarette but who now go home and smoke in front of their families and children; if so, how does that deliver on the worthwhile outcomes he indicated earlier?
Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: We have a very active campaign that highlights the dangers of smoking in front of children. But I also remind the member that far more people go to the bars because there is now no smoking at the bars. So we have had a win for those bar owners, and with the campaign we are running to highlight the dangers of smoking in front of children, I am sure we will see a reduction in the incidence of that, over time, as well.
Hone Harawira: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. My original question, if I may just go back to it and shorten it, was: what rationale does the Government have for spending only 1.5 percent of the nearly $1 billion in tobacco tax on smoking cessation programmes?
Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: I have to say that we would like to spend far more on smoking cessation programmes, but we are committed to spending a lot of money actually dealing with the health problems that are the outcomes of people smoking previously.
Focus 2000 Ltd—Complaints
10. Dr PAUL HUTCHISON (National—Port Waikato) to the Minister for Disability Issues: Was she aware of complaints surrounding Focus 2000 prior to 2005; if not, why not?
Hon RUTH DYSON (Minister for Disability Issues): As Minister for Disability Issues, I have no record of receiving any complaints about Focus 2000 prior to 2005.
Dr Paul Hutchison: Does the Minister seriously expect New Zealanders to believe that although widespread allegations involving death, maltreatment, and abuse were documented as far back as 2002, she did not find out for over 2½ years?
Hon RUTH DYSON: As Minister for Disability Issues, I have no record of having received any complaints about concerns about Focus 2000 prior to the date that I have already confirmed, 3 weeks running, to that member in this House. What part of that does he not understand?
Dr Paul Hutchison: What has the Minister actually done, now that she is aware of the wide number of complaints surrounding Focus 2000?
Hon RUTH DYSON: I presume the member is referring, in terms of width, to the range of issues that have been raised, given that they range from literal abuse through to overpayment. As Minister for Disability Issues, I have discussed the matter with the Minister responsible for service delivery, and have confidence in the process he has in place for the auditing of those issues.
Sue Moroney: Has the Minister been made aware of any other complaints concerning disability issues?
Hon RUTH DYSON: I am aware of the very deep concern within the disability sector regarding comments that advocating for disability is too PC and divorced from the mainstream. Those comments were made by the National Party’s PC eradicator, Dr Wayne Mapp.
Dr Paul Hutchison: If the very serious 2002 complaints about Focus 2000 were kept secret by the Ministry of Health until recently, as is alleged by the New Zealand Herald, does she, as Minister for Disability Issues, agree that the Ministry of Health has covered up an issue that deeply affects thousands of disabled people?
Hon RUTH DYSON: In relation to the first part of that question, it is possible that on this one particular occasion the New Zealand Herald has got it wrong. I am not implying that; I just realise that it is a possibility. In response to the second part of the question, I suggest that if the member wants answers about issues relating to health services, he ask the Minister of Health.
Dr Paul Hutchison: Is the Minister not failing to fulfil her role as advocate for the disabled, when allegations including death by choking, maltreatment, and abuse remain widespread and are clinical issues very seriously affecting the disabled?
Hon RUTH DYSON: No.
General Practice Training—Funding
11. BARBARA STEWART (NZ First) to the Minister of Health: Is the Government planning on urgently increasing the number of general practice training places it funds each year; if so, by how many places?
Hon PETE HODGSON (Minister of Health): The Government has already funded an increase in the number of general practitioner training places, increasing them to 55, and is currently reviewing whether to lift that increase further.
Barbara Stewart: How is the Government planning to improve working conditions for general practitioners in order to ensure that those who have trained as general practitioners remain in that field, and has it considered providing more employment options for younger general practitioners than the self-employed or small-business model, which now appears to deter medical students from becoming general practitioners?
Hon PETE HODGSON: General practice is generally a private sector activity and not a public sector activity, so the Government does not employ very much at all in the way of general practitioner services. However, the Government’s Primary Health Care Strategy, which was described to me last week by a prominent general practitioner as one of the finest changes that there has been in health in 50 years, expressly addresses the issues that face general practitioners, namely by allowing funding to promote the use of the development of primary health care teams. That strategy is starting to address the very issues that the research of the general practitioner council of the New Zealand Medical Association is throwing up. So we have a very substantial solution coming in the form of the Primary Health Care Strategy. By 1 July next year, $560 million of taxpayers’ funding will be going into that sector.
Ann Hartley: What feedback has the Minister received from general practitioners on the continuing roll-out of the Government’s Primary Health Care Strategy?
Hon PETE HODGSON: Almost every general practitioner I have spoken to—and I have spoken to dozens so far—says that this Government has done more for primary health care than any Government in living memory. The well-known Auckland general practitioner leader whom I mentioned in my previous answer told me last week that this Government is responsible for the most proactive, enduring, and positive changes to primary health care in 50 years. The Primary Health Care Strategy is welcomed by the general practitioners of New Zealand.
Dr Jonathan Coleman: The member obviously has not spoken to me, but—
Madam SPEAKER: Would the member please be seated. We are really trying in this House not to preface questions with asides or comments. Would the member please just ask the question.
Dr Jonathan Coleman: Why, when the Government has data from 2001 that shows that it would require a 40 percent increase in general practitioners over the next 20 years, and given that it takes around 15 years to train a general practitioner, have we had to wait until the situation got to crisis point before we had any action?
Hon PETE HODGSON: A general practitioner who takes 15 years to be trained probably should have considered another career choice before he or she embarked on that training. However, the member may be interested to learn that the number of trainees who are sitting the Primex exam—the member will know what I am talking about—has increased from 66 in 2000 to 149 in 2004. So we have had an increase from 66 to 149 in a matter of 5 years—and that member says that this Government is doing nothing! That is a very substantial increase in quality for our registered general practitioners.
Barbara Stewart: Is it correct that the number of general practitioner graduates who are still practising in New Zealand 5 years after graduating is on the decline?
Hon PETE HODGSON: I am afraid I do not know, but I can tell the member that the number of general practitioners practising in New Zealand has risen by about 50 percent in the last 25 years. What is more, with the roll-out of the Primary Health Care Strategy and the increased involvement of practice nurses, physiotherapists, podiatrists, and a lot of other things that begin with “p” we will see the evolution of teamwork, which will allow doctors to spend more time doing what they are trained to do.
Taito Phillip Field—Conflicts of Interest Report
12. Dr the Hon LOCKWOOD SMITH (National—Rodney) to the Prime Minister: Has she been advised of the progress of the inquiry being undertaken by Dr Noel Ingram to investigate allegations of conflicts of interest involving the Hon Taito Phillip Field; if so, has she been advised of when she is to receive the final report?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK (Prime Minister): Yes and no, but I understand that it is nearing completion.
Dr the Hon Lockwood Smith: What has she been advised by Dr Ingram are the reasons for the delay in the report of his inquiry, which was announced by her on 20 September last year and due to report its findings by 4 October, yet which has still not been received 6 months later?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I have been saying throughout that 6-month period that Dr Ingram should take as long as he needs to in order to write a good report.
Ron Mark: Has she been advised of the progress of any other investigations being undertaken by any other ministries into any other members of Parliament, such as, for instance, the investigation being conducted by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs into the allegations of conflicts of interest and impropriety that involve the member for Wairarapa, Mr John Hayes; if so, what can she tell us about that inquiry?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: No, I do not have any information about that inquiry, although I am sure that if the activities alleged had been undertaken while the member was in the service of the ministry, then that would have been of considerable concern to it.
Madam SPEAKER: Would the members who were whistling in the House please refrain from doing so unless they wish to leave the Chamber.[Interruption] It is not a laughing matter; I take it very seriously.
Dr the Hon Lockwood Smith: Is she aware whether the inquiry is covering issues surrounding any involvement of Taito Phillip Field and prospective immigrants to New Zealand who are being offered jobs to Culvedern Group Ltd—trading as Pasifika Centre and Hospital—which is currently having its certification being reviewed by the Ministry of Health, and which has some staff under police investigation?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: No, I do not have any advice on that matter.
Dr the Hon Lockwood Smith: What action does she as Prime Minister intend to take if, upon the receipt of Dr Ingram’s report, Taito Phillip Field is found to have been misusing his position as a member of Parliament?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: As Prime Minister I have responsibility for Ministers; I do not have responsibility for members of Parliament.
Question No. 4 to Minister—Amended Answer
Hon RUTH DYSON (Minister for ACC): I regret that the information I gave was incorrect. Instead of 225,000, as I informed the House, the correct figure is 185,000.