Questions And Answers - Thursday 23 March 2006
Thursday, 23 March
Questions for Oral Answer
1. Rates—Rebate Scheme Changes
2. Economic Development, Associate Minister—Policy Development
3. Cook Islands—New Zealand’s Relations with Pacific Island Neighbours
4. SchoolSmart Website—Data Use
5. State Sector Retirement Savings Scheme—Reports
6. Roading—Public-private Partnerships
7. Prime Minister’s Motorcade—Ponsonby Road
8. Climate Change—Policy Successes
9. Business—Legislative and Regulatory Changes
10. Elective Surgery—Service Provision
11. Renal Dialysis—Facilities
12. Agent Orange—Joint Working-group Draft Report
Questions for Oral Answer
Questions to Ministers
Rates—Rebate Scheme Changes
1. STEVE CHADWICK (Labour—Rotorua) to the Minister of Local Government: What steps has the Government taken to improve the rates rebate scheme for those on low incomes?
Hon MARK BURTON (Minister of Local Government): From 1 July, I am pleased to tell the House, there will be a significant increase in the number of Kiwis who will be eligible for a rebate under the rates rebate scheme. That is because the income threshold under which people will become eligible for a full rebate will increase from $7,400 to $20,000. In addition, the maximum rebate under the scheme will increase from $200 to $500, meaning there will be more money in the pockets of those who receive a rebate.
Steve Chadwick: How many more people will be eligible to receive the rates rebate as a result of the rates rebate scheme changes that come into effect on 1 July?
Hon MARK BURTON: The changes will mean many more New Zealanders, particularly older people and others on lower fixed incomes, will be eligible for a rates rebate. Whereas in the 2004-05 rating year fewer than 4,000 people actually received a rebate, now up to 300,000 New Zealanders will be eligible for a rates rebate under the new scheme.
Economic Development, Associate Minister—Policy Development
2. GERRY BROWNLEE (Deputy Leader—National) to the Associate Minister for Economic Development: What part has he played in general policy development as an Associate Minister for Economic Development since taking up the role?
Hon DOVER SAMUELS (Associate Minister for Economic Development): I mua i taku whakaututanga i te pâtai, kei te mihi atu ki te hoa o te kaipâtai ki a Nick Smith: “Haere mai, piki mai, hoki mai.”
[An interpretation in English was given to the House.]
[Before I reply to the question, I extend greetings of welcome to Nick Smith, colleague of the member who asked the question: “Welcome, welcome, welcome back”.]
I have been involved in the development of industry and regional development—
Hon Dr Nick Smith: How can that be an answer? I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker—
Madam SPEAKER: No, I am sorry. As I understand what is happening, that was a preliminary comment before the question is being answered. Is that right?
Hon DOVER SAMUELS: Yes, it was.
Madam SPEAKER: Well, would you please just get to the answer; we do not have preliminaries before. Would you please just answer the question.
Hon Tau Henare: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. As I understand it, that was not just a preliminary comment to the question. It was a sarcastic comment about the return of Nick Smith to the House. So I think you need to be a bit stronger with your condemnation of the Minister. I think that that is actually a poor use of the Mâori language in this House. The Minister is just trying to use Mâori language to get away with it.
Madam SPEAKER: I would ask the Minister to withdraw and apologise.
Hon DOVER SAMUELS: I withdraw and apologise for the welcome.
Rodney Hide: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I think you should reflect on this matter somewhat further and maybe give a considered ruling to the House, because what the Minister has done is quite serious. He has breached the Standing Orders deliberately, made a sarcastic comment—and we have had that confirmed; it was completely out of order—and put the interpreter in an impossible situation, because he could not interpret it properly. We have a Minister who is not prepared to stand up in the House and say, in an honest way, what he wanted to say. Instead, he tried to hide under the Mâori language and say something in a language that only a few people could understand. I think that that is an abuse that you should consider most carefully and give a report to this House on.
Madam SPEAKER: I thank the member. I will consider it. Would the Minister now please reply to the question.
Hone Harawira: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker.
Madam SPEAKER: Is it a new point of order?
Hone Harawira: Aye, it is. In terms of the sarcastic responses, be they in Mâori or in English, it would seem to me that Dr Cullen’s response to Rodney Hide was far more sarcastic than the response from our Minister over here. The fact that the Minister was speaking in Mâori and that it was interpreted should not in any way detract from it being part of his formal response to the question. Me mihi au ki a ia mô tôna kôrero.
I must congratulate him on what he said.]
Madam SPEAKER: I thank the member for his comment. The Minister, in his answer, can incorporate what he wishes, but would he please now address the question.
Hon DOVER SAMUELS: I have been involved in the development of industry and regional economic development policy at several levels.
Gerry Brownlee: Why did the Minister give an interview with the Independent newspaper about the decision of the Minister of Conservation in the case of the Whangamata marina?
Hon DOVER SAMUELS: The Independent journalist rang me when I was at a sitting of a select committee in Hokitika.
Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. The question asked why did he give the interview, not when or how.
Hon Dr Michael Cullen: He gave the interview because somebody rang him and asked to speak to him.
Madam SPEAKER: That was my understanding of it. There will be further questions.
Shane Jones: He aha ngâ kaupapa kua pau i a ia i roto i te wâ e tû ana ia hei Minita Tuarua mô ngâ take whanaketanga? What policy initiatives has the Minister been involved with regarding his delegated responsibilities as Associate Minister with responsibility for Mâori economic development?
Hon DOVER SAMUELS: In particular, I have been involved in the development of key Mâori economic policies, which have enhanced Mâori participation in New Zealand’s economy.
Hon Member: Which ones?
Hon DOVER SAMUELS: If the member will wait for a little while I will tell him. Namely, these are the formation and the strengthening of Mâori tourism structures, which has brought about a renaissance in the Mâori tourism sector. This sector is enjoying rapid growth. Tourism contributes more than $15 billion to the New Zealand economy, and I am proud to say that the Mâori nation, in terms of Mâori tourism, is making a valid and major contribution to the economy.
Gerry Brownlee: Does he stand by his comments in the Independent article, in which he said: “Ministers should not be allowed to overturn the decision of a jury or a court”, or does he stand by his comments in the House yesterday, when he said: “I believe that the Minister of Conservation should have overall jurisdiction in terms of the final decision under the Act.”; if he does not, why has he changed his mind?
Hon DOVER SAMUELS: The reality is that the Minister has the final decision. Those are the provisions of the Act. I remind the House that the legislation was put into place by Nick Smith and his National Government. The process that was followed by my colleague the Hon Chris Carter was an honourable one. The issues I have raised have been raised as a matter of process, and that process was in regard to the experience I had as a councillor some years ago.
Hon Jim Anderton: Can the Minister confirm that during the period 2002-05, as Associate Minister for Economic Development he was delegated a wide range of economic development initiatives to follow through, including the economic development of Northland and in particular the Mâori people of Northland, and could he comment on whether his sojourn in that position resulted in an improvement or a decrease in economic activity and well-being in Northland?
Hon DOVER SAMUELS: One of the major factors that our people realise, in terms of economic success, is how many people are employed. I say to this House that the majority of Mâori people in Te Tai Tokerau enjoy full employment at this particular time. That has been as a result of the economic policies that have been driven by this Government.
Gerry Brownlee: Why was the Minister so condemning of Chris Carter when he did the interview with the Independent last week, but today he is so very complimentary about the very decision he was railing against some days ago?
Hon DOVER SAMUELS: I tell that member that I was not condemning, and I have never ever been condemning of, my honourable colleague Chris Carter. I restated that situation yesterday in the House and I have not changed my mind since. Perhaps that member could learn a little bit about aroha to give to his own side, and if he wants to understand what aroha is all about, what integrity and friendship in a relationship is all about, I could brief him on all that after question time.
Gerry Brownlee: Has the Minister shared his “huge frustration” about the unworkability of the Government’s aquaculture legislation with his colleague the Minister of Fisheries, or will we have to wait for another Independent phone call to find out his real views?
Hon DOVER SAMUELS: No, I have not shared my frustrations with anybody, because I do not have any frustrations—unlike the member across the other side of the House.
Gerry Brownlee: Then why did the Minister tell the Independent that he had huge frustrations and that it undermines the integrity of the process when Ministers make those decisions, and why has he described the Government’s ocean policies as pie in the sky?
Hon DOVER SAMUELS: My observations and my comments to the Independent were ones of process involving the procedures under the Resource Management Act. That is absolutely what it was all about. I suggest that that member read my comments in context. At the end of the day, if that member wants to know what the impediments are in the Resource Management Act, and if he wants a briefing on it, and if he wants a way to be able to resolve those issues, then I will be free to brief him at the end of question time.
Gerry Brownlee: Will the Minister give his sign-off for the full tape of his interview with the Independent to be made available to this House?
Hon DOVER SAMUELS: I was not aware that the Independent had a tape. That is a matter for the Independent. Perhaps I should start taping the member’s questions.
Cook Islands—New Zealand’s Relations with Pacific Island Neighbours
3. R DOUG WOOLERTON (NZ First) to the Minister of Foreign Affairs: How are New Zealand’s relations with our Pacific Island neighbours, particularly the Cook Islands?
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS (Minister of Foreign Affairs): New Zealand has an important stake in progress being made in addressing the challenges facing Pacific Island nations. Our relations in the Pacific are a special priority for this Government. New Zealand has a strong and special bilateral relationship with the Cook Islands. That is demonstrated in the support provided by New Zealand through our aid programme, and through the many connections between our peoples and Governments.
R Doug Woolerton: During the Minister’s recent extensive visit to the Pacific Islands as Minister of Foreign Affairs, did he receive any reports regarding the foreign policies of political parties in New Zealand?
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: I most certainly did. A number of Pacific Island people in Government raised the issue of the comments of the National Party’s associate spokesperson on foreign affairs regarding the Tokelau islands and the recent referendum, and also the extension by analogy with Niue island. Mr John Hayes said that the whole referendum was ill-advised and a total waste of money. [Interruption] What he does not understand, and neither does Mr Nick Smith, is that, frankly, under article 73 of the United Nations Charter we are obliged to assist those islands into a state of self-government. That policy has been followed by successive Governments for the last 30 years. Obviously, Nick Smith and Mr Hayes do not know about their own party’s policy.
Keith Locke: How will the Minister be responding to the request from the Tongan pro-democracy MP Akalesi Pohiva for New Zealand to assist the Tongan parliamentary select committee looking at democratic political reform, following Mr Peters’ meetings with Mr Pohiva and with the select committee head, Prince Tu’ipelehake, and will New Zealand be providing any new aid to assist political reform and economic progress in Tonga?
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: We are already assisting the process by way of a grant to the committee, which is conferring with a number of interest groups and people in Tonga. In fact, about 40 meetings have already been held, and I am confident that the outcome will lead to progress. But as is the case throughout Polynesia, including in Tonga, the people who stay home—the people who keep the land warm—are the ones whom one listens to first, not expatriates in New Zealand. That was made very clear to the pro-democracy committee.
R Doug Woolerton: How do his recent relationship-building efforts in the Pacific, as Minister of Foreign Affairs, contrast with the first-ever visit to the Pacific by the National Party hierarchy today?
Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. The question is clearly out of order. How can one have a contrast between something that has happened and something that has not happened? Perhaps Mr Peters might like to ask Mr Woolerton to ask the question next week, when there will be only good news for him to report.
Madam SPEAKER: I ask Mr Woolerton to rephrase the question, please.
R Doug Woolerton: Does the Minister have any reports regarding visits by the National Party hierarchy today?
Rodney Hide: Pay the $40,000 now.
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: I tell Mr Hide that we will get around to talking about his tenancy for the last 2 years very soon—facts and data. It will keep in the meantime.
Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. This House dissembled into some disorder yesterday, largely because of irrelevant comments made at the start of questions, or answers, or other such, by Winston Peters. It seems that he is being indulged in a way that no other member is. That was the start of an answer to a question. If we are going to be asked to drop even the most minor of inappropriate expressions in asking questions, then he should be condemned and have some censure put on him for that sort of behaviour.
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: Speaking to the point of order, I point out that everyone heard the barrage coming from that side, and the comments, before I started. My simple message to Mr Hide and others over there is: “If you can’t take it, don’t try to dish it out.”
Madam SPEAKER: The reality is that interjections were made that were responded to. If the interjections had not been made, the response would not have been there. So I ask members to start again, please, and would the Minister please address the question.
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: Let me just say that it is rather confusing in respect of these reports, because I have this quote from Mr McCully, whom I understand is the foreign affairs spokesman for the National Party: “We will have a policy at the end of this parliamentary term in readiness for the election.”
Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. You made some interesting rulings yesterday about Ministers being able to answer only inside their ministerial responsibility. The question was about whether he had seen any reports of the National Party hierarchy visiting the Cook Islands. The answer would be “Yes.”, because he actually gave permission for that group to go, so he knows that. The rest of the stuff is just extraneous rubbish.
Madam SPEAKER: If the Minister has any official reports, then, of course, he comments on them. But as has been said many times in this House, there is no responsibility for other parties. So would the Minister please address the question in that context.
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: I am trying to, because I did not give permission for Dr Brash to go to the Cook Islands, at all; he went on his own accord—I do not know why. But can I just say this: he says in the Cook Island News today, I understand—
Rodney Hide: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker.
Madam SPEAKER: No. If there are official reports that the Minister has received, then he is perfectly entitled to address them in this House.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. Yesterday you took issue with my asking Dover Samuels questions about what he had said. Now we have the Minister of Foreign Affairs treating as official a report in a Cook Islands newspaper about what Don Brash might have said. How can it possibly be within Speakers’ rulings that a newspaper report is an official report that gives Winston Peters the capacity to go on a grudge match because National is doing so well?
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: Speaking to the point of order, I do not recall Doug Woolerton using the word “official”, at all. He asked whether I had any reports, and I have.
Madam SPEAKER: To clarify the matter for the Minister, he is responsible for matters that come to him as reports that are official; he is not responsible for the actions or policies of other parties in the House. If the Minister could address the question in that context, that would be appropriate. If not—if his answer is just a comment on another party—then that is not a matter that the Minister is responsible for, and that answer should not be given.
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: I was just trying to share some information, such as this—
Rodney Hide: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. That is the third time the Minister has defied your ruling. You have said to him three times that he is responsible only for any ministerial reports that he has got officially. He has just got up, having been told that for the third time, and said: “I’m just wanting to share with the House, X, Y, Z, and Uncle Tom Cobbleigh.”
Madam SPEAKER: Unfortunately, I could not hear the end of the Minister’s answer to the question, or at least the sentence, to know whether that was the case.
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. It is worse than that. I have not had a chance to get one sentence out without countless interjections and points of order coming from members on that side of the House. Unless they are mind-readers or soothsayers, I suggest they keep quiet until they hear the total answer.
Madam SPEAKER: Would the Minister then please address the question within the context that I have ruled—what he is responsible for in his official ministerial responsibility.
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: Well, I am responsible for this country’s policy in respect of Niue and the Tokelaus in particular. The special thing about that is the unique relationship we have with those countries. That relationship is not enhanced when so-called senior politicians make such grave mistakes against obligations we have with the United Nations.
Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I think you will recall that Mr Woolerton’s question, which I believe the Minister is now apparently addressing, related to the Cook Islands, not the Tokelaus or Niue.
Madam SPEAKER: Actually, the primary question was about relations with our Pacific Island neighbours, particularly, but not confined to, the Cook Islands. Can we please move on.
Hon Annette King: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I have been reflecting on your ruling that Ministers can comment only on official reports. I wonder whether you would give the House a ruling on Ministers having to comment on reports mentioned in Opposition questions that are not official reports—for example, quoting the Independent as a source, then asking a Minister to comment on it. Should a Minister be required to answer questions from the Opposition on reports that are not official?
Madam SPEAKER: I think it might assist the House if I take time to reflect on this matter and come back to the House with a ruling. Then we can move on and get on with question time today. I will reflect on what is, and what is not, an official report for the House, and rule accordingly.
SchoolSmart Website—Data Use
4. Hon BILL ENGLISH (National—Clutha-Southland) to the Minister of Education: Does he stand by his statement to the House yesterday that, “we are not releasing data that identify individual schools”; if so, why?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Minister for Tertiary Education) on behalf of the Minister of Education: Yes, given that the answer was in the context of the data on the SchoolSmart website.
Hon Bill English: If it is the case that it is the Government’s policy not to release data that identify individual schools, why then has he released to me large amounts of data that identify individual schools, including NCEA results, the proportion of students leaving individual schools with or without a qualification, and individual teacher turnover rates for individual schools; and does that breach his understanding?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: As I said, the Minister’s answer yesterday was in the context of the SchoolSmart website. Of course, that does not prevent people from obtaining information for individual schools from a range of other sources, including written questions to Ministers, Official Information Act requests, or indeed visiting the schools themselves to obtain the individual details on that school’s website, but with the school’s permission.
Hon Bill English: Can the Minister explain why it is, then, that it is acceptable to him that a parent can access information such as teacher turnover by individual school—information that will be on the parliamentary website by the end of the week—but is not allowed to access exactly the same information through the SchoolSmart website, where it is currently available?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: As I understand it, what the Minister was arguing yesterday is that the general principle that is being followed is that information should be seen in the broader context of the school itself. For example, as the member well knows, one can access at schools individual information about the school in the context of the aggregate information for similar kinds of schools. But in a general sense, if that kind of information was always on the SchoolSmart website, then it is capable of being taken out of context.
Hon Bill English: Since the Minister today and yesterday has referred to the right context in which parents are able to see information about their child’s school, can he explain to the House just what the right context is; is it sitting in the principal’s office, so the principal can answer any question, so every parent has to go along and make an appointment in order to see the information; or what is wrong with the context of parents looking at it on a website in the comfort of their own home, where they can discuss that information with their student child, and ask the school questions if they want to?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: My understanding of what the Minister meant in that regard is that the contextual framework is an informational one not a geographical one.
Hon Bill English: Can the Minister confirm that that is a point of view he holds as a junior sociological lecturer at Massey University, and not one that he could possibly hold as a Minister?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: As a senior historical lecturer at Otago, I could not possibly comment.
Hon Bill English: Can the Minister now explain to the House how his actions comply with the Official Information Act when he is making available individualised school data under Official Information Act requests and through parliamentary questions, but is trying to tell the House that he has an agreement with schools to illegally withhold that information if it is available on a particular website?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I think the member is now drawing an extraordinarily long bow—
Hon Bill English: It’s a nonsense.
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Even if the member holds it is a nonsense, it is not an illegal nonsense.
Hon Bill English: Do I take it from the Minister’s response that he now believes that it is a nonsense that information that is public information, available to anyone who asks for it under the Official Information Act, is kept secret in the SchoolSmart website?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: What the member can take from my answer is that I believe that he believes it is a nonsense.
State Sector Retirement Savings Scheme—Reports
5. ANN HARTLEY (Assistant Speaker—Labour) to the Minister of State Services: What reports has she received regarding developments in the State Sector Retirement Savings Scheme?
Hon ANNETTE KING (Minister of State Services): I have received a report from the State Services Commission that describes the success of the scheme. At 31 December 2005 30,990 State servants were members of the scheme—that is 16.8 percent more than a year before. Eighty-one percent of all members of the scheme contribute at least 3 percent of their salary to their retirement saving every pay day. That is outstanding. In only 18 months the scheme has shown that New Zealanders are prepared to save for their retirement.
Ann Hartley: Why did the Government establish the State Sector Retirement Savings Scheme?
Hon ANNETTE KING: The Government introduced the scheme in 2004 out of work in its Partnership for Quality agreement. We introduced the scheme because we are committed to a strong public service, and because we believe New Zealanders need to save more. It is important that the Government, as a major employer, shows leadership in encouraging workplace saving, and this scheme will ensure the living standards of many New Zealanders in their retirement years, as will the Superannuation Fund and KiwiSaver.
Ann Hartley: What reports has she seen about increasing saving for retirement?
Hon ANNETTE KING: I have seen two reports. One report stated tax breaks would increase people’s incentive to save. The other report stated tax deductions do not work. The first report was from John Key and the second was from Don Brash. I think it would help the debate on superannuation in this country if they could make up their minds what position they are going to take before they actually enter the debate, because this Government is committed to ensuring that New Zealanders save more.
6. JOHN KEY (National—Helensville) to the Minister of Transport: Does he stand by his statement yesterday in relation to public-private partnerships for road infrastructure that, “The fact that no one has yet to formally approach us probably reflects the fact that this Government’s huge increase in investment has, to some extent, crowded out opportunity.”; if so, why?
Hon PETE HODGSON (Acting Minister of Transport): Yes.
John Key: Has he seen a Treasury report, written after most of the Government’s major transport initiatives had been announced, that found there is still substantial under-investment in road infrastructure in New Zealand and went on to say that we are passing up road investments that would undoubtedly reap significant benefits for our economy, in which case why does he still think that the role of the private sector is minimal—and that is right, the Treasury report is out there?
Hon PETE HODGSON: I can refer to a Treasury report on the website—the name of the official is Mr Katz—which says that public-private partnerships have a lot going against them and details what that is.
Hon Mark Gosche: Has the Minister seen any reports on the ability of Aucklanders to use roading infrastructure to commute back and forth from suburbs across the city?
Hon PETE HODGSON: I have received advice that one Aucklander, who registered on the electoral roll in 2002 as living in Waimauku was also registered under the Companies Act as living in Parnell. His name was John Key. He clearly found getting across Auckland a breeze.
Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I do hope that the Minister was not about to pot the member from Titirangi. But where is the ministerial responsibility for individuals’ choices as to electorates they might be registered in, and how does this comply with the original question set down on the Order Paper?
Madam SPEAKER: I will be considering the matter about reports, as I have indicated to the House, and I will come back to members on that.
Rodney Hide: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. During that point of order from Gerry Brownlee, the Minister of Police three or four times interjected across the House. She did it on me. You said that you have given a last warning, but she is doing it again and again.
Madam SPEAKER: There has been a lot of chipping backwards and forwards today, so we can take it that as of this moment all members are on their final warning on that. Members must all just settle.
Peter Brown: Will the Minister confirm that a private organisation involved in public-private partnerships generally has to borrow money at a higher rate of interest than the Government and also has to build in a profit factor, and does that not represent extra costs that the toll-paying motorist will have to pay?
Hon PETE HODGSON: Generally, that is the case.
Gordon Copeland: Is not the real reason that business has not come forward with public-private partnership proposals that the present legal framework is inflexible and therefore non-commercial because the Government regards itself as beholden to the Greens?
Hon PETE HODGSON: I refer the member to the answer that I gave the very same member yesterday on the very same point. I will give it again. The Ministry of Transport has received informal advice that there is, in the view of the private sector, no legislative impediment to public-private partnerships.
Jeanette Fitzsimons: Has the Minister seen any reports on public-private partnerships overseas, for example in Australia, that describe major impacts on the public purse from provisions that have required Governments to compensate their private partners when they build public transport systems that take traffic off the roads, or any reports that describe big increases in the total costs of projects because of the large number of private lawyers, consultants, insurers, and others who clip the ticket before the road is built, and does he believe that New Zealand taxpayers should be protected from these risks?
Hon PETE HODGSON: Yes I have seen reports around those matters and others from many countries. It is true that in the case of Australia, some most unfortunate bail-outs have been necessary. This does not mean that public-private partnerships are wrong. It does mean that they have to be done very carefully, indeed.
John Key: Is he also aware that in the same report Treasury estimated that the private sector could earn returns on roading investments that would currently outstrip other investment opportunities; in which case, if his legislation is as enabling as he made out yesterday, why is the private sector not falling over itself to embark on this much-needed infrastructure?
Hon PETE HODGSON: It depends on which report the member refers to. If it is the report he refers to in his first supplementary question—no I am not. If he is referring to the report that I referred to in my first supplementary answer—it made no such claims.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Is the Minister aware of the background to this question today in terms of its political origin, and the fact that in 1998 the Budget had a taxation shift to move more money towards roading, repealed in 1999 by National, or that in 1995 a private member’s bill to move roading money, collected for that purpose, to roading was opposed by Minister of Transport Williamson and the National Government; and what is the word for that?
Hon PETE HODGSON: I will not be tempted to offer the word but I will say that I am aware that during the 1990s there was a substantial under-investment in roading infrastructure and other forms of transport infrastructure, and the only relief for that came from initiatives from within the New Zealand First Party.
John Key: Is the Acting Minister concerned that Treasury has also noted that when he was last holding the baton of Minister of Transport, not only were high-value projects not started but some relatively low-value ones were; in which case would he be kind enough to tell the House this afternoon which low-value projects were funded and which high-value projects had to be scrapped to accommodate them and why?
Hon PETE HODGSON: I am happy to tell the member that when Labour came into Government, in his city of Auckland $130 million worth of work per year was going into that city. Now the amount of money for the number of projects that have been started or are under way is precisely ten times that figure. Opposition members do not like it, but there has been a tenfold increase in investment in the member’s own city and he needs to start to recognise it. [Interruption]
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. It must be surely on the conscience of everybody watching this Parliament that the sort of behaviour we have just seen is unacceptable.
Rodney Hide: True.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: You have about 25 people—
Madam SPEAKER: There was an interjection. Who interjected please? Would you please leave the Chamber. I did say people were on their final warning. You can come back for your question, but please leave the Chamber immediately.
Rodney Hide withdrew from the Chamber.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: My point is that we have 25 people over here all screaming at once. I think interjections are OK, but not that number. They just demonstrate what a leaderless rabble those members are.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. The question to the Acting Minister by my colleague John Key was very specific about low-value and high-value projects during his period as Minister. The Acting Minister then proceeded to make a whole lot of comments about a time when he was never the Minister, for which he is not responsible, as per the Standing Orders. The reason concern was raised was that you did not intervene as Speaker to hold this Minister to the Standing Orders and require him to refer in his answer to the period in which he was Minister.
Hon Dr Michael Cullen: The Minister was giving an answer in the context of that question, and he outlined the spending for which he was directly responsible last year as Minister. He compared that with the pitiful level that was undertaken by the National Government in 1999.
Gerry Brownlee: The point Dr Smith raises is around some of your own rulings in the last 2 days. In straying into the territory that the Minister did, and in getting pretty animated in trying to get a point across—not that it was clear—he was completely ignoring your rulings by failing to talk about matters that pertain to him and his ministry.
Madam SPEAKER: Because I could not hear the answer to the question, would the Minister like to succinctly address the question?
Hon PETE HODGSON: No, I am not, but I do acknowledge that there has been a tenfold increase in investment in the member’s own town from the change of Government until now.
John Key: Does the Minister agree with his Cabinet colleague Dover Samuels that when he speaks it should not be assumed he does so as a Minister; if so, can he clear up for us now as to whether, when he next announces an injection into the roading system, he will be doing so as Minister of Transport or as a former vet?
Madam SPEAKER: When asking questions, we all know that we try to stick to the question without a flick—the vet comment. So I say to the Minister that he can reply to the substance of the question.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. Yesterday you determined that it was quite feasible for Mr Samuels to say he is a district councillor some of the time and a Minister of the Crown at other times. For my colleague to ask whether the professional vet opposite, who is also the Minister of Transport, will be talking as a professional vet or the Minister of Transport is entirely consistent with your rulings.
Madam SPEAKER: Would the Minister please address the question.
Hon PETE HODGSON: If I am speaking as the Minister of Transport, I am speaking as the Minister of Transport.
John Key: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I was just wondering how we will recognise him as a Minister of Transport and how we will recognise him as a vet.
Madam SPEAKER: The member knows that is not a point of order.
Peter Brown: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I wonder whether the questioner should clarify whether he is speaking as the finance spokesperson for the National Party or as a former schoolboy.
Madam SPEAKER: That is not a point of order either, but you have had one each in terms of irrelevant points of order.
Peter Brown: Does the Minister recall stating, in an answer yesterday on public-private partnerships, that private participants can often bring in new ideas in terms of construction and management; if so, is he aware that such expertise can be hired, even by public entities, and will he accept that to some degree that negates the need for public-private enterprise?
Hon PETE HODGSON: Yes and yes.
Prime Minister’s Motorcade—Ponsonby Road
7. RODNEY HIDE (Leader—ACT) to the Prime Minister: Does she stand by her reply to question for written answer No. 414 (2006), “On 9 December 2005 a VIP car transporting me was hit from behind in Ponsonby Road.”, when asked “Has the Prime Minister’s motorcade been involved in any accidents in the past 12 months; if so, on what dates, where and what are the details?”, and how many cars were involved in the accident?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Deputy Prime Minister) on behalf of the Prime Minister: Yes. The information I have suggests three cars were involved: the one that stopped suddenly, the car the Prime Minister was in, and the car behind her, which ran into the car the Prime Minister was in.
Rodney Hide: Does the Prime Minister remember her campaign promise given in Taranaki – King Country: “We will restore public accountability, openness, and honesty.”; and does she believe her reply to that question met the standard that she promised to the people of New Zealand?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Yes.
Rodney Hide: Did the Prime Minister believe that she could get away with telling Parliament and the people of New Zealand that her car was hit from behind, and failing to say that the car that hit her from behind was part of her own motorcade, the VIP police escort, and that in fact her car was shunted into the car in front; if not, why did she not actually provide the detail of the accident?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: The VIP car the Prime Minister was in was hit from behind. The information about that car is now still in the public arena, but it is not the normal practice to identify Diplomatic Protection Squad cars, which of course was the designation of the car following her. It is somewhat exaggerated, I think, to describe two cars as a motorcade.
Rodney Hide: Was the Prime Minister a little sensitive about her motorcade, given that it could not negotiate Ponsonby Road without incurring an accident, and that the Prime Minister had just been telling the people of New Zealand that she was quite safe and so were the public of New Zealand when she was travelling at 170 kilometres per hour through the South Island?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: The indications I have are that the car in front of the VIP car stopped suddenly. Why that happened, I do not know. The VIP car stopped suddenly. As the member may or may not be aware, a Diplomatic Protection Squad car follows very closely upon a VIP car. The Diplomatic Protection Squad car was unable to stop in time, and so rear-ended the Prime Minister’s car. There was no front-end damage to the Prime Minister’s car, and the occupants of the car in front of the Prime Minister’s car were checked for injury. There were no injuries reported.
Hon Rick Barker: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. You asked Mr Hide to leave the Chamber before—
Madam SPEAKER: Yes, I am sure he is just about to leave us.
Rodney Hide withdrew from the Chamber.
Climate Change—Policy Successes
8. Hon Dr NICK SMITH (National—Nelson) to the Minister responsible for Climate Change Issues: Which elements of the Government’s climate change policies covering new taxes, restrictions on deforestation, and energy efficiency would he describe as a success?
Hon PETE HODGSON (Acting Minister responsible for Climate Change Issues): Given the breadth of issues upon which an answer is sought, my answer might be slightly longer than usual. The carbon tax will not proceed in its present form, as the numbers do not appear to exist in the House to support that, and the so-called “fart tax” did not proceed because the agricultural sector reversed its position and, with the Government, is now funding some very promising but still early research. The forestry cap is under review yet again.
In the area of energy efficiency programmes, about 17,000 houses have been retrofitted. Energy audits for large energy users are these days saving about $15 million. Minimum energy performance standards have been set for 12 classes of equipment, saving $30 million. Solar water installation has doubled, and bio-fuels targets are under development. The building code has been strengthened, and is being strengthened again, and in areas related to climate change policy, wind energy has turned from a fringe industry into a mainstream industry—the future growth for which is likely to be spectacular.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: Does the Minister accept that his policy initiatives of an animal emissions tax and a carbon tax are a failure, and that his policies of removing climate change from the Resource Management Act, and the negotiated greenhouse agreements dependent on the carbon tax are now in tatters; does he accept responsibility for this policy mess?
Hon PETE HODGSON: The “fart tax” was never needed, because the industry came around the back door and said “OK, we give in.” The carbon tax—[Interruption] They did, and they funded the research. And I thank them, because this country has got some really good scientists and we have some promising—but early—research. Those are the facts, even if members do not want to believe them. The research is under way. In answer to the other part of the member’s question, I say that the carbon tax in its current form will not proceed, because it is apparent that we do not have the numbers in the House. My predecessor David Carter has suggested that some other form of incentive is needed, especially in the electricity industry, and that is part of the issues under review.
Hon Marian Hobbs: Does the Acting Minister see any evidence of a willingness by the Hon Dr Nick Smith to engage constructively on the development of future climate change policy, given his line of questioning today?
Hon PETE HODGSON: No, I do not. Apparently the member approached my predecessor seeking a bipartisan approach, although one would be hard-pressed to reconcile his apparent attitude then and his apparent attitude today. All of this is a little confusing, because earlier, when giving his “state of the nation” address, the member said that his ambition, in Opposition, was to be constructive and if, during the course of the next 3 years, he fell into the trap of becoming a full-time whinger, he would appreciate one of us rescuing him with a gentle reminder. That is now given.
Jeanette Fitzsimons: Now that the carbon tax has been abandoned, will the Government support my bill, to be debated next Wednesday, which reinstates in the Resource Management Act the power to consider climate-changing emissions when assessing air discharge consents—which was removed solely because of the imminence of a carbon charge?
Hon PETE HODGSON: I understand well the policy argument that the member makes, and I undertake to give the member’s bill very careful consideration.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: Does the Minister accept that his policy of a 10 percent cap on deforestation is a failure and is counter-productive for our economy and for our environment by providing an incentive to deforest before the first commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol; if so, why does he not put this stupid policy in the same rubbish basket as he put the carbon tax and the “fart tax”?
Hon PETE HODGSON: As I said in my answer to the primary question, the forestry cap is under review, again.
Sue Kedgley: Does the Minister agree that investing billions of dollars in building new motorways that will increase traffic growth and, therefore, carbon dioxide emissions is not a successful climate change strategy; will he therefore recommend to the newly appointed Minister of Transport that he not approve unbalanced transport strategies, such as the western corridor plan, which proposed to spend 90 percent of funding over the next 20 years on roads and only a pitiful 8 percent on public transport; if not, why not?
Hon PETE HODGSON: I point out to the member that this Government has increased expenditure on public transport by 600 percent. But I will say to the Minister of Transport that it would be a mighty fine idea if he could get on and get the bio-fuels targets done over the next few months, because we need, as a country, to begin the transition from fossil fuels as the only source of motive power.
Sue Kedgley: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. Very interesting comments were made by the Acting Minister responsible for Climate Change Issues, but he did not attempt to address my question, which was whether he would recommend not approving unbalanced transport strategies such as the western corridor plan.
Hon PETE HODGSON: I thought I addressed the question by providing the idea that we had balance with a sixfold increase in public transport. However, I can say that the Government is committed to completing current motorway construction.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: Does the Minister accept that his much-vaunted National Energy Efficiency and Conservation Strategy, which was launched in September 2001, is a complete failure, noting that on the targets for energy efficiency of 20 percent over 10 years, he has achieved only 2 percent, and on the target of creating 30 extra petajoules of renewable energy, he has created only 4, and that these results are less than what was predicted as business as usual?
Hon PETE HODGSON: If the strategy was a failure, as the member wants to characterise it, he might like to explain to the House how come 17,000 houses have been refitted; how come energy audits for large energy users are saving $15 million; how come minimum energy performance standards have been set for 12 classes of equipment, saving $30 million; or how come solar water installation has doubled. I could go on, and earlier I did.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: Does the Minister recall stating last year, in trying to minimise the flak over the deterioration in New Zealand’s carbon balance from positive 33 to minus 36, that the minus 36 was “conservative and pessimistic”, yet less than a year later, he has had to accept that the figure is now minus 64 million tonnes; and after he has erred so seriously—over $1 billion—not once but twice, why should this House believe anything he says?
Hon PETE HODGSON: Yes, I can, and the reason that I did and do is that all of these reports and things that have come forward from the State sector over the years are based on assumptions. I just gently offer the member two assumptions. The first is that the research programme I spoke of would have produced no results at all by 2008-12. That would be unusual in a research programme—that is what one of the assumptions is. One of the other assumptions, as I recall, is that the price of petrol would be $30. As I recall the price of petrol these days, US$30 per barrel—it must be about twice that. That gives the member some idea of why I say that those are probably conservative estimates.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: Can the Minister, having had policy failures on the carbon tax, the animals’ emissions tax, the energy efficiency strategy, and the deforestation cap, and having had to drop the tenders for the clean development mechanism and twice having made a billion-dollar bungle over New Zealand’s carbon balance, tell us of any greater public policy failure in the history of New Zealand?
Hon PETE HODGSON: Every time I go back to Dunedin I keep an eye out for those 410,000 jobs.
Business—Legislative and Regulatory Changes
9. H V ROSS ROBERTSON (Assistant Speaker—Labour) to the Minister for Small Business: What is the expected impact on small to medium enterprises of legislative and regulatory changes coming into effect on 1 April?
Hon LIANNE DALZIEL (Minister for Small Business): On 1 April small to medium sized enterprises will experience a number of benefits related to changes to the fringe benefit tax, a new accident compensation levy discount programme will be introduced, and changes to tax on offshore income will encourage new migrants and New Zealanders to return home, which in turn will increase access to skilled employees. These changes should reinforce the World Bank’s view that New Zealand is the easiest place in the world in which to do business.
H V Ross Robertson: Can the Minister give us an example of how a small business will benefit from these changes?
Hon LIANNE DALZIEL: The cost of fringe benefit tax on motor vehicles will fall from 24 percent to 20 percent of the vehicle’s cost, so if a company pays fringe benefit tax on a $40,000 car, the saving will be over $1,000. In addition, cellphones or laptops costing less than $5,000 that are used primarily for the business will be exempt from fringe benefit tax from 1 April this year.
Paula Bennett: Why does the Minister not take on board the fact that the most important change the Small Business Advisory Group wanted was probationary periods for new employees—or does she think she can fob it off with yet another round of trivial amendments?
Hon LIANNE DALZIEL: I will enjoy telling the Small Business Advisory Group that these amendments were regarded as being trivial by the National Party.
Gordon Copeland: Does the Minister agree that the amendment introduced by United Future’s Minister of Revenue to give the Inland Revenue Department the power to waive penalties in dealing with cases where taxpayers have taken an unacceptable tax position through genuine error will make it easier for small businesses to make a GST and a tax return?
Hon LIANNE DALZIEL: Absolutely, and I would like to take the opportunity to congratulate the Minister of Revenue, the Hon Peter Dunne, on this measure, as I have often been approached by constituents about genuine errors in those areas. I am sure it will be welcomed by the Small Business Advisory Group, as well, given that this is part of its No. 2 recommendation in its latest report.
Hone Harawira: Is the Minister aware of comments made by Alan Groves, a former investment manager for Mâori innovation at the Foundation for Research, Science and Technology, that young Mâori are being encouraged away from small business, and how will she address that type of attitude?
Hon LIANNE DALZIEL: No, I am not aware of those comments, but I know that the Associate Minister for Economic Development the Hon Dover Samuels is particularly interested in that matter.
Elective Surgery—Service Provision
10. Hon TONY RYALL (National—Bay of Plenty) to the Minister of Health: Is he concerned about the Government’s ability to meet New Zealanders’ need for elective surgery; if not, why not?
Hon PETE HODGSON (Minister of Health): While I am delighted that the number of elective surgery procedures has increased by 12.6 percent on a case-weighted basis under this Government, and by more than that when outpatient procedures are taken into account, there is always more to be done. This Government will never be complacent.
Hon Tony Ryall: If hospital budgets have increased by over 25 percent in the last 5 years, why do New Zealand patients need to have more and more points, and to be more and more sick, before they get any access to elective surgery?
Hon PETE HODGSON: I cannot remember by how much the member said hospital budgets had been raised. Could he repeat that? [Interruption] Well, whatever it was, it was less than 74.6 percent; yet that is the amount by which angioplasty interventions have increased since the change of Government—not bad, I would say.
Sue Moroney: What have been the results of the Government’s work to increase the total number of surgical procedures performed in New Zealand’s public hospitals?
Hon PETE HODGSON: The results have been significant. In 2005 there were over 300,000 case-weighted surgical discharges from our public hospitals—an increase of nearly 10 percent—not including the increase in outpatients. Under this Government more and more New Zealanders are getting the surgery they need, but, unlike the previous National Government, we are never complacent and we remain convinced that we can do even better.
Hon Tony Ryall: Which of those numbers quoted by the Minister includes the many thousands of New Zealanders who merely passed through a surgical ward and received no surgical services whatsoever in the years under review, yet have been counted?
Hon PETE HODGSON: The method by which surgical procedures are measured is unchanged over many years. If I could just give the member a little more detail, the precise method is that if someone is admitted, then not given—[Interruption] Oh, well, I will not give him the detail.
Hon Tony Ryall: How can he justify—[Interruption]
Madam SPEAKER: Who is talking out there? Who actually intervened? Could that member please identify himself or herself and leave the Chamber. [Interruption] Please leave the Chamber.
Hon David Benson-Pope withdrew from the Chamber.
Hon Tony Ryall: How can the Minister justify dumping from the waiting lists, in the last 2 months for which information is available, 1,100 people for whom medical specialists consider that elective surgery is the best option and who are likely to deteriorate without it?
Hon PETE HODGSON: To the best of my knowledge, anybody who crosses the treatment threshold is not dumped.
Hon Tony Ryall: Does the Minister not think that it is harder to cross the treatment threshold when the Government’s district health boards keep putting the points up?
Hon PETE HODGSON: I ask the member where the evidence is for that.
Hon Tony Ryall: I seek leave to table the evidence—documents from Capital and Coast District Health Board, from Northland District Health Board, from MidCentral District Health Board, and from Auckland District Health Board showing that points needed to get elective surgery in this country are going up in category after category.
Hon PETE HODGSON: I seek leave to table a letter from the Hon Bill English as Minister of Health to all Crown health enterprises, instructing them to raise the thresholds.
Hon Mark Burton: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. Yet again during that point of order we had a barrage of rudeness from that side of the House, including from the member who had just been given the courtesy of silence while he took his point of order.
Madam SPEAKER: Exactly. I will have to talk to the whips about that, unless some of you want to identify yourselves. I was asked to eject someone else from the Chamber for interjecting when there was a question, which I have done. When there was a point of order, I got interjections from this side. I have to be fair.
Gerry Brownlee: Self-identified. I’m off.
Madam SPEAKER: Gerry Brownlee has identified himself.
Gerry Brownlee withdrew from the Chamber.
Dr Jonathan Coleman: When the Minister makes statements relating to elective surgery, is the Minister wearing his hat as the Minister of Health, as a former vet, or as a former fruit and vegetable seller; and assuming that he places a different premium on the life of a human, an animal, and a vegetable, is it possible that he sometimes gets his hats confused?
Hon PETE HODGSON: If that member were my doctor, I would get a new one.
11. MARYAN STREET (Labour) to the Minister of Health: Is he confident that progress is being made on ensuring New Zealanders have access to appropriate renal dialysis facilities?
Hon PETE HODGSON (Minister of Health): Every developed country is facing increased demand for renal dialysis, largely because of type 2 diabetes. The Government is addressing this challenge at every level. For example, in the midland region several district health boards have developed regional services plans that allow people to come along of an evening, satellite dialysis has started in Tauranga and another facility is due to be set up in Rotorua later this year, and on it goes. I could point to similar examples around the country.
Maryan Street: Has the Minister seen any reports on how to decrease pressure on New Zealand’s renal dialysis services?
Hon PETE HODGSON: Yes, I have seen at least one proposal that suggests that people who overeat and develop type 2 diabetes should be refused access to public dialysis services and, presumably, left to die. This suggestion, surprisingly, came from Dr Don Brash, who himself does not overeat but, then again, should not change his diet from two slices of frozen corned beef resting on a pot of peas, to four slices.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. If you refer to Standing Order 377, you will see it states very clearly that a reply to any question must be concise, confined, and not include references to other members of the House. You stomped on me yesterday like you would not believe, for raising questions of Dover Samuels about things he had said, and now you are going to allow the Minister of Health to make references to a member’s diet. That is about as irrelevant as we can get. I simply ask that you uphold Standing Order 377.
Hon Dr Michael Cullen: Standing Order 377 refers to discreditable references to any members of Parliament, or any offensive or unparliamentary expression. If we have now reached the point that corned beef is an unparliamentary expression, I suggest it is time for us all to pack it in and let another 120 members come in here.
Madam SPEAKER: I will rule on this. This is getting silly. I ask members that, obviously, when they are asking their questions and also giving their replies they do so consistently within the letter as well as the spirit of the Standing Orders.
Dr Jonathan Coleman: Why would the House have any confidence that district health boards will be able to meet the staffing requirements of new dialysis facilities, when the Auckland District Health Board cannot even get the nurses required to staff something as vitally important as the Auckland heart surgery unit?
Hon PETE HODGSON: It is true that Auckland is facing staffing difficulties but that is not the only difficulty that Auckland is facing. Auckland has undergone a remarkable shift in recent months, involving 200 services and thousands of staff moving from Greenlane to Auckland City Hospital, and that, it seems to me, is part of the reason for Auckland’s drop in surgery, especially heart surgery.
Barbara Stewart: Is he aware that in January this year dialysis services in Christchurch were reduced so that all patients received a minimum of dialysis, and what assurances can he offer Christchurch patients that their services will improve?
Hon PETE HODGSON: No, I am sorry but I am not aware of that.
Maryan Street: What else is the Government doing to address the increasing numbers of people requiring dialysis?
Hon PETE HODGSON: The answer, of course, lies in prevention, especially in addressing obesity, and specifically childhood obesity. Across many departments and ministries there will be an assertive roll-out of the Government’s Healthy Eating - Healthy Action strategy, and the forthcoming Health Committee inquiry is a very welcome addition to that effort.
Agent Orange—Joint Working-group Draft Report
12. JUDITH COLLINS (National—Clevedon) to the Minister of Veterans’ Affairs: Will he agree to a request from Ms Freda Moffitt that the joint working-group into the plight of Viet Nam veterans and their families affected by exposure to Agent Orange bring its draft report and recommendations back to veterans and whânau before they are submitted to the Government; if not, why not?
Hon RICK BARKER (Minister of Veterans’ Affairs): No. The purpose of the joint working-group is to recommend directly to the Government for its consideration a package of actions and procedures to address the health and well-being needs of Viet Nam veterans and their families. Prior to making those recommendations, the joint working-group has consulted widely with Viet Nam veterans and their families. That consultation is complete, and it is time for the working-group to report its findings.
Judith Collins: Why did the Minister advise Ms Freda Moffitt last week, on 16 March, that: “The Government has yet to respond formally to the health select committee.”?
Hon RICK BARKER: I made that comment mistakenly on advice, and I regret it.
Judith Collins: Did the Minister read the letter before he signed it; if not, why not?
Hon RICK BARKER: Yes.
Darien Fenton: When was the joint working-group set up, and why?
Hon RICK BARKER: The joint working-group was established in February 2005, because it was only under a Labour-led Government that the concerns of Viet Nam veterans about their exposure to a toxic environment were accepted. This Government encouraged submissions to the Health Committee, and agreed to the joint working-group comprising representatives of the Ex-Vietnam Services Association, the Royal New Zealand Returned and Services Association, and officials from the office of the Ministry of Defence and Veterans Affairs New Zealand to address the concerns. The progress on this longstanding issue is in stark contrast with the record of inaction and denial from the previous National Government.
Judith Collins: Does the Minister accept that the exposure of Viet Nam veterans and their families to Agent Orange is the biggest issue in his portfolio, and that for him to sign a letter that stated that the Government had not responded, when the Government’s response was tabled in this House on 14 December 2004 and is on his department’s website, is a disgrace?
Hon RICK BARKER: I accept that I made a mistake. I have admitted it, I have accepted it, and I simply say publicly to the person to whom I wrote the letter that I apologise for that.
Te Ururoa Flavell: Why was the consultation sought by the Treaty partner, referred to by the Minister in his letter of 16 March 2006 to Freda Moffitt, a different model of consultation that is not applicable when one considers that 60 percent of the Viet Nam veterans are Mâori?
Hon RICK BARKER: The Treaty model is a process between the Crown and tangata whenua. This issue is between the Government of the day and those veterans who went to Viet Nam and their families. It is entirely a different purpose.
Judith Collins: When did the Minister first find out that the Government response to the Health Committee inquiry was tabled in this Parliament on 14 December 2004 and referred to on the Government website?
Hon RICK BARKER: I cannot recall the precise moment.
Tariana Turia: What is the Minister’s model of consultation with Mâori based on, and what is the rationale for that model?
Hon RICK BARKER: The Government has a process of consultation with Mâori on Treaty issues that is appropriate to Treaty issues. The Government has a process of consultation with the former service personnel who went to Viet Nam and their families that has been agreed to by the Royal New Zealand Returned and Services Association and the organisation that represents most of the Viet Nam veterans, the Ex-Vietnam Services Association. I find it incredibly lamentable that people are trying to make petty politics about that process, given that it has been 30 years since the issue arose. What the former service personnel of Viet Nam and their families want is for the report to be given to the Government and to get an answer.
Judith Collins: If the Minister cannot remember the precise time, or day even, when he first found out that the Government’s response was tabled in this Parliament on 14 December 2004 and is on his department’s website, can he tell the House whether he knew at the stage when he signed the letter to Ms Freda Moffitt that the Government had already formally responded to the Health Committee?
Hon RICK BARKER: On reflection, I do recall the Government’s response to the select committee being considered in the Cabinet process and sent off to be tabled in the House. At the time when the letter was put to me in draft form—and I did read it thoroughly—I overlooked that fact. The fact that I cannot remember the tabling of every document in every situation when I write a letter just shows that I am only human. I accept that I made a mistake. I have acknowledged I have made a mistake, and I tender an apology to the person. I can do no more than that.
Judith Collins: Does the Minister have the foggiest idea what is going on in his portfolio, or does he think that handing out a few certificates and the odd lapel pin will satisfy Viet Nam veterans; why does he not just let the veterans and their whânau see the draft report?
Hon RICK BARKER: The veterans will see the draft report as soon as it can be released. This Government, not the National Government, has taken the concern of Viet Nam veterans more seriously than ever before. Given that a National Government led New Zealand into the quagmire of Viet Nam, it is outrageous that a member of the National Party should criticise anything this Government is doing, when it is the only Government that has genuinely addressed the concerns of Viet Nam service personnel.
Hon Mark Burton: Can he confirm for the House that the process of consultation followed, including the process for the handling of the report, is precisely as agreed and negotiated by his predecessors with the appropriate veterans organisations, and to do as the member is suggesting now would be a breach of good faith with those representative veterans organisations?
Hon RICK BARKER: I can indeed confirm that, and I can report to the House that the Royal New Zealand Returned and Services Association supports absolutely the process; so does the organisation representing Viet Nam veterans, the Ex-Vietnam Services Association. They want this process completed as soon as possible, and the Government is considering the report. I think all those Viet Nam veterans who have turned up at these meetings would be appalled at the petty politicking on this matter by the National Party.
Dr Pita Sharples: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I must voice my disappointment sin the attitude of the speaker in referring to genuine questions about Viet Nam veterans, especially in regard to the fact that the Government is supposed to have policy for Mâori.
Madam SPEAKER: That is not a point of order.