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Questions And Answers - Tuesday, 28 March 2006

( Uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing. For corrected transcripts, please visit: http://www.clerk.parliament.govt.nz/hansard )

Tuesday, 28 March 2006
Questions for Oral Answer
Questions to Ministers

1. Television New Zealand—Foreign Affairs and Trade, Ministry
2. Student Loans—Interest-free Policy Savings
3. Dog Control—Microchipping, Farm Dogs
Question No. 6 to Minister, 23 March—Amended Answer
4. Literacy—Improved Rates
5. Economic Growth—Second Half of 2005
6. Information Technology—CeBIT Exhibition
7. Corrections, Department—Confidence
8. Superannuation and Veterans Pensions—Changes
9. Elective Surgery—Capacity
10. Ministers—Confidence
11. Climate Change—Greenhouse Gas Reductions
12. Kyoto Protocol—Solid Energy Mines


Questions for Oral Answer

Questions to Ministers

Television New Zealand—Foreign Affairs and Trade, Ministry

1. Dr DON BRASH (Leader of the Opposition) to the Prime Minister: Does she stand by her statement in relation to the agreement between Harmeet Sooden’s family and Television New Zealand, “There’s been a lot of public interest and then to see the one media outlet try to scoop everybody else I don’t think is very appropriate.”; if so, does she approve of the decision of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade to attempt to facilitate such an agreement?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Deputy Prime Minister) on behalf of the Prime Minister: Yes. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade has provided a significant amount of support to the family, including in their dealings with the media, over an extended period of time. Although extending that role to pass on the family’s request for financial assistance for travel was, in my view, an error of judgment, it should be noted that the official who did so advised against that particular move.

Dr Don Brash: Does the Prime Minister think it appropriate for Government agencies and public servants to act as media agents for people trying to gain financial support in return for exclusive interviews; if not, will she be conveying this view to the Minister of Foreign Affairs and his ministry?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: On the latter point, I am sure the Minister of Foreign Affairs is already cognisant of the Prime Minister’s views. On the former, I think it is very important to be quite clear that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade was not involved in seeking an exclusive relationship with Television New Zealand. It merely passed on the request to both Television New Zealand and TV3—the family’s request for financial assistance for travel.

Dr Don Brash: Is she concerned about reports in the media this morning that Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade staff only contacted a private TV network to offer it an exclusive deal with the Soodens and failed to contact the State broadcaster, and does she believe the ministry should at least have been impartial when negotiating cheque-book journalism deals?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I have been aware of a number of reports but my advice is that the approach was made by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade to both Television New Zealand and TV3 and that they would have no role in negotiating any deal; that would have to be done directly with the family.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Would the Prime Minister accept that this was an extremely delicate situation over a number of months and that, in passing on the request of the family, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade may have unconsciously got itself involved in a possible negotiation process, even though it warned the family that that was a bad idea?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: That is correct. It is very important to note that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade did warn the family that this was a bad idea and also to place on the record that the ministry had, over an extended period of time, gone out of its way to assist the family, as had of course other Government agencies.

Keith Locke: Does the Prime Minister welcome media coverage of peace worker Harmeet Sooden’s critical assessment of the American and British military occupation of Iraq, and is it not very appropriate to have such media coverage at the time British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, is visiting this country?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I do not think Mr Blair has to come to New Zealand to face criticism of Britain’s role in Iraq.

Dr Don Brash: Is the Prime Minister aware that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade has negotiated exclusive deals of this kind in the past, and does she expect it to be negotiating any more such deals in the future?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I reiterate, that the ministry did not negotiate this deal. It simply passed on the family’s request—to both Television New Zealand and TV3. It was the family who sought an exclusive deal with Television New Zealand.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Would the Prime Minister confirm that at all points in respect of Harmeet Sooden the Canadian Government was the lead agency and that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade in New Zealand was purely engaged in trying to assist the Canadian Government in its attempts where he was concerned, and the United States and the UK in respect of the other three captives; and is it not the point that we as a Government and as a foreign affairs department have sought to do the humanitarian thing, without trying to make some cheap political points out of it?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: It is absolutely clear that the Canadian Government had the lead role throughout. Of course, Mr Sooden is a Canadian citizen. Canada acted entirely properly throughout and kept us informed throughout of any progress that was being made.

Dr Don Brash: Has she asked the Minister of Foreign Affairs whether he had any knowledge that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade was acting as media agents for the Sooden family; if so, what was his response?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: No, I repeat the ministry did not act as media agent. Firstly, it merely passed on a request, and, secondly, it stated to the family that it thought actually that was not itself a wise move, and, thirdly, it declined to be involved in any negotiations between the family and Television New Zealand, because that was a matter for the family.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Is it the Prime Minister’s position that if a member of the House wants to know what the Minister of Foreign Affairs did, it would be a good idea to ask him?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I think it is fair to say that the Minister of Foreign Affairs has always been extraordinarily approachable in terms of ascertaining his views on matters.

Gerry Brownlee: Does she think Television New Zealand got good value for the deal, as it appears to have paid $10,000 per second of air time and TV3 ran the same footage for nothing?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I think it is clear that if this were a value-for-money exercise it would fail to meet the criteria the Government might lay down in those respects.

Student Loans—Interest-free Policy Savings

2. MOANA MACKEY (Labour) to the Minister for Tertiary Education: How many borrowers will save under the interest-free student loan policy coming into effect on 1 April 2006?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Minister for Tertiary Education): Around 470,000 New Zealanders will benefit. Around 350,000 will get an immediate benefit from the policy, and around 120,000 people who are already studying interest-free under Labour’s 2000 policy will benefit when they finish studying.

Moana Mackey: Has the Minister received any reports suggesting alternative approaches to setting interest rates for student loans?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Over recent years I have received many such reports. One report states: “Interest has to be charged because you are using taxpayer money.” A second states: “Although the total of student debt has risen to over $7 billion, it is small when compared with private sector debt.” A third condemns student loans that will take many people decades to pay off, and a fourth highlights aspects of the previous scheme that are unfair. The first two reports are from Dr Donald Brash, the third is from new National MP Paula Bennett, and the fourth from Dr Lockwood Smith.

Hon Bill English: Can the Minister confirm that the Ministry of Social Development will incur additional costs of $3 million to process the extra applications for student loans, and can he advise the House how much the new information technology system that the Inland Revenue Department requires for student loans will cost?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I can confirm the first figure. I do not have the second figure in front of me, although I think it is fair to say that the Inland Revenue Department was considering its information technology systems in any case.

Peter Brown: Is the Minister aware that some wealthy parents who would normally have paid for their offsprings’ education at university will now, with interest-free loans, advise their children to borrow and put the money in the bank to earn significant interest; if the Minister is aware of that, how will he cope with that sort of scenario?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: There have always been some wealthy parents who fail to meet their parental responsibilities in those respects. All I can say in response to that is that on evidence so far, the number is less than what was forecast to be the case.

Dog Control—Microchipping, Farm Dogs

3. Hon DAVID CARTER (National) to the Minister of Agriculture: What action, if any, is he taking to further the cause to exempt farm dogs from microchipping?

Hon JIM ANDERTON (Minister of Agriculture): I made a commitment to the rural community that I would take the issue of the microchipping of farm dogs to Cabinet for the existing policy to be reconsidered. This I did over recent weeks, and I can inform the House that the matter was given full consideration by my Cabinet colleagues. After careful consideration of the issues, Cabinet decided on balance that successful enforcement of the policy required a consistent approach to microchipping across all communities throughout the whole of New Zealand.

Dave Hereora: What reports has the Minister seen on the enforcement of the Dog Control Act?

Hon JIM ANDERTON: I saw a report in Hansard of 13 November 2003 in which the National Party member for Port Waikato said: “We must clamp down on irresponsible owners, and achieve universal enforcement of the law around the country.” I note that only minutes after that statement was made the National Party voted 27 votes in favour of the Dog Control Amendment Bill and none against.

Nathan Guy: How can farmers be expected to have any confidence in this Minister, when after promising to help farmers affected by the Gisborne flood he failed to do so, and after promising to deliver solutions to exempt farm working dogs he has again failed?

Hon JIM ANDERTON: If that member knows any farmers at all he will know that the vast majority of farming opinion is against subsidies for weather events unless they are of the most exceptional circumstance. Secondly, Federated Farmers and other farmers in the farming community know that they have a Minister who will not bypass their issues on the basis that they might get defeated. He will raise the issues and do his best to advance their cause. It is a long time since any Government of the National variety had a Minister like that.

R Doug Woolerton: Why does the Minister think that Federated Farmers are so opposed to dog microchipping, when it is not only the savaging of people that is trying to be protected here but also the savaging of their own stock?

Hon JIM ANDERTON: There are a wide range of views on this matter throughout the country, as I am sure the member knows. Equally, there are a wide range of views on that matter inside this Parliament and even inside Cabinet. However, I am bound by Cabinet collective responsibility on this matter and I accept, unreservedly, the view that Cabinet has taken on this matter.

Gordon Copeland: Does the Minister intend to revisit this matter, utilising the opportunity provided by the introduction of the local government law reform bill, and in particular, the opportunity to amend the Dog Control Act 1996 to exempt farm dogs from microchipping; if not, why not?

Hon JIM ANDERTON: If the member has ever participated in a Cabinet Executive Government he would know that the opportunity for a member of Cabinet to take a matter to Cabinet and relitigate an existing decision would be very rare, indeed. I had the privilege to do that and I accept the decision Cabinet has made after further consideration, which it did not need to give, but in fact, did.

Craig Foss: How can apple growers have any confidence in the Minister’s ability to get New Zealand access to the Australian apple market when he has failed so miserably to achieve an exemption for farm working dogs?

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. Unless that member intends that there be a microchipping of apples, and to change the responsibility from the Minister of Trade to the Minister of Agriculture, that question is simply irrelevant and out of order.

Madam SPEAKER: Yes, I think it is a very long bow. It is actually a different issue, but if the member would like to reflect, and rephrase his question to bring it within the context of the primary question, which specifically relates to farm dogs, microchipping, and agriculture.

Craig Foss: Given the Minister’s failure to achieve an exemption for working farm dogs, how on earth can New Zealand apple growers have any confidence in him whatsoever as we try to gain access to the Australian market?

Hon JIM ANDERTON: Within a day of requesting the High Commissioner for Australia to get a copy of the report that we had been denied for some years, that report was tabled in my office, and the Government I represent took the Australian industry and Government to the World Trade Organization to examine this issue—something that National never did in all its years of office.

Hon Damien O'Connor: Can the Minister confirm that every single apple exported from this country has to be identified by a sticker?

Madam SPEAKER: I think that falls into the category of another long bow. Stickers and microchipping do not make it.

Hon David Carter: Does the Minister still agree with the statement he made after becoming the Minister of Agriculture: “OK, if you think you weren’t taken seriously before, what is it about No. 3 in the Cabinet you don’t understand?”, and how come No. 3 got rolled by No. 18?

Hon JIM ANDERTON: As the member may find out one day, there are people in Cabinet whom one accepts being rolled by, and he may well find out one day who they are. However, the situation with this Cabinet is that there is a consensus position drawn by Cabinet after full debate and discussion. That was the situation this time. I think the member will find that Federated Farmers know full well that they have a Minister who will take up issues for them, and who will do the very best in their interests to see that they are taken seriously.

Hon David Carter: Does the Minister also stand by his statement last November: “I got these portfolios because of my ability to bring people together to work on solutions.”, and how successful was he in getting his Cabinet colleagues to accept his pragmatic solutions?

Hon JIM ANDERTON: Innumerable numbers of pragmatic advancements have been made by this Cabinet for all Cabinet Ministers in the positions they take to Parliament. However, I have noted that I am acknowledged by the member who has just asked the question to be Labour’s No. 3 ranked Minister. I have to tell him that it may come as a shock to him that I have not been a member of the Labour Party since May 1989.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Has the Minister any reports contrasting the present action in respect of the World Trade Organization application concerning the access of Australian apples with that of 1997-98 when the then National Government did its best to derail that industry and sell it off, lock, stock, and barrel, to Fay Richwhite?

Madam SPEAKER: I thank the member, but we are on farm dogs and microchipping, so could we please bring it back.

Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Madam Chairperson. I think that perhaps it is appropriate for the House to grant leave in this case, since we are on dogs, to get a question from the poodle.

Madam SPEAKER: The member knows that that is not a point of order.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. If the initial question with respect to the linkage of the apple industry was allowed—

Madam SPEAKER: It was not allowed.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: No, no it was allowed. I will check the Hansard. But I am just saying, if that is the precedent, then surely my question is in order.

Madam SPEAKER: No, I am sorry. Would the member be seated. He can check the Hansard. The question relating to apples was put directly but questions must relate to the primary question. When the question was re-put it did relate to the primary question. Now I will offer the member the same opportunity if he wishes to rephrase his question, but the subject has to come back to the primary question, which is about exempting farm dogs, microchipping, and actions taken by the Minister of Agriculture.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I understand your ruling. But this point of order is in relation to the comment made by one Gerry Brownlee. If he thinks he is going to add that sort of comment to points of order, then he will get it back with doses of interest. I am asking that he be asked to withdraw and apologise.

Madam SPEAKER: Since the member has taken offence I will ask the member to withdraw and apologise. But I will state this first. The member is correct to this extent: if we have points of order that are not points of order, but do have inferences in them, then the member is right, there will be a response and there will be disorder in this House. I ask members to please refrain and to control their wit until they get outside, but to please keep their points of order to points of order that relate to Standing Orders. Now I invite the member to please withdraw and apologise.

Gerry Brownlee: I withdraw and apologise.

Hon David Carter: In light of the Minister’s previous answer to my supplementary question, is the Minister going to change his party’s website and slogan: “What Jim says, Jim does.”, in light of being rolled in Cabinet yesterday?

Hon JIM ANDERTON: What I said and what Jim said was that he was going to take the issue that the farmers raised to Cabinet for consideration. I also said—and the member can check with the president of Federated Farmers—that there was no guarantee of the outcome. I did exactly what I said, and I am sure the member will find that Federated Farmers has no problem about the issue of dealing with me, and the veracity of what I said to them.

Question No. 6 to Minister, 23 March—Amended Answer

Hon PETE HODGSON (Acting Minister of Transport): I wish to make a correction to an answer I gave in question No. 6 last sitting day, concerning public-private partnerships, and to apologise to you, Madam Speaker, for failing to raise it ahead of question No. 1 today. In my answer I referred to a paper authored by Mr Katz on the Treasury website. In fact, that paper will not be on the website until this Friday, 31 March.

Literacy—Improved Rates

4. MARYAN STREET (Labour) to the Minister of Education: What reports, if any, has he received about improvements in literacy rates in schools?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY (Minister of Education): I have released today a report on the first stage of the Literacy Professional Development Project, which shows that it is possible to lift literacy standards across all New Zealand students. The project recorded significant improvements in reading, comprehension, and writing across 85 schools over a 2-year period. Notably, the highest improvement occurred amongst students who were previously the lowest achievers. That tells us we are now gaining the tools to make significant improvements in literacy.

Maryan Street: Why is the Literacy Professional Development Project succeeding?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: There is much debate about what would improve reading and writing amongst students, but this project shows that because teachers are creating programmes in reading and writing that are tailored to the individual needs of the student, we are seeing rapid and good progress amongst those students. That was reinforced for me today when I went to visit Hutt Intermediate School, where both the teachers and the students were overwhelmingly positive in their feedback on the project. Feedback from the teachers included them saying that every student in the class had improved, and that the kids were empowered because they had been given the tools to improve their own learning.

Hon Bill English: Can the Minister tell the House why it is that last year 30 percent of year 11 students in New Zealand failed National Certificate of Educational Achievement (NCEA) literacy standards?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: The reasons for that, of course, are complex, as the member knows. But one of the good things is that, for the first time last year, NCEA gave us the baseline for literacy and numeracy in the country, which I am sure he applauds. Later this year we will get the results from this year, and then we will be able to begin to build the pattern of what we are achieving in literacy and numeracy. It is another reason why the member should give up on trying to undermine the NCEA, because this has given us the information that we need.

Maryan Street: What other support is available for teachers to further improve the literacy of New Zealand students?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: The Government currently invests around $32 million a year to lift literacy in schools. That includes the $3.8 million a year for the project that I have just outlined. We have literacy teaching assessment tools such as asTTle that give teachers good advice on how they can improve the practice of students. We also support students through reading recovery resource teachers, and we are involved in the professional development of teachers. This is an area that is showing some real gains.

Te Ururoa Flavell: What progress has been made in achieving the recommendations from the 2000 Education Review Office report Literacy Education in Kura Kaupapa Māori, particularly in the production of the Ministry of Education bilingual learning resources?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: Some progress, I think, is the answer, but not enough. It is one of the areas that we will be spending a lot more time on this year.

Economic Growth—Second Half of 2005

5. JOHN KEY (National—Helensville) to the Minister of Finance: By how much did the New Zealand economy grow in the second half of 2005?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Minister of Finance): The latest figures indicate the economy took a short breather of zero growth after 20 consecutive quarters of strong growth, which is the longest period of sustained economic expansion since the mid-1970s.

John Key: Have the recent announcements of growth data caused him to change his mind from only a month ago when he said: “… to talk, as some have, of falling into recession is both naïve and a little dangerous,”; if not, why not?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: No, I have not changed my mind on that. Firstly, we are yet to have the updated quarterly figure for the last quarter of last year. Given the fact that there are some oddities in those numbers, if one disaggregates them, they could well be revised upwards. Secondly, I notice a number of bank commentators suggesting the first quarter of this year was likely to be positive.

Shane Jones: Has the Minister received any recent reports suggesting business confidence is linked directly to economic growth?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: No—in part because those surveys go up and down so much that we would have to have extraordinarily short economic cycles to explain them. The most recent surveys have started to show confidence picking up again. For example, the Auckland chamber of commerce survey suggested that the net proportion of businesses expecting an improvement in their position has doubled between December and March.

John Key: Does the Minister agree with global investment bank UBS’s assessment of the New Zealand economy, that: “Despite some politicians and business leaders decrying the suggestion, the risk of recession looms large.”, and which politicians does he think UBS is musing about?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I assume it is musing about the intelligent ones. No, I do not agree with UBS in that respect. We still have a very tight labour market. Business investment is running at much higher levels in those latest numbers than was the case in 1998 and 1999—all of which suggests it is not likely to be a very deep downturn at all.

Craig Foss: Was the Minister surprised to find that the latest GDP figures show the Government administration growing by a whopping 10.3 percent in 2005, which is far ahead of the construction industry with only 4.2 percent growth, and does he think that, rather than experiencing a building boom in recent years, New Zealand has actually experienced a massive bureaucracy boom?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: No, I do not. In fact, those numbers are not consistent with the actual growth in Government spending. In the last quarter of last year there was a particular one-off factor in terms of substantial census spending, which is a 5-yearly occurrence.

John Key: Does the Minister agree with Westpac that the economy is “in the cack” and that we are likely to see negative growth in the first quarter of 2006, which means that New Zealand will be in recession, or does he intend to treat private sector economic advice with the same arrogance and derision that he treats his own Treasury officials when they tell him information he does not like hearing?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Treasury advice is that it is expecting the economy to bottom out at about 1.5 percent economic growth. Those numbers are likely to be revised before the Budget. Many of the same bank economists predicted the dollar would fall very slowly this year, to about 64c by the end of the year. I trust the member did not bet any of his substantial sums of money on that particular forecast.

John Key: If New Zealand was 20th in the per capita income tables of the OECD in 1999, and remains in the same place today, and if we are to assume that growth remains as moribund in the years ahead as it is currently, will New Zealand, far from surging into the top half of the OECD, be falling much further behind; in which case does he think he should take the same advice that his Associate Minister of Finance has been meting out to the Commonwealth Games athletes and start delivering on his potential?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I thank the member for recognising that in this stage of my career I still have great potential.

Hon Phil Goff: Can the Minister confirm that GDP over the last 6 years has increased at approximately twice the rate of GDP increase under the National Government that preceded this Government, and, secondly, that profits by private firms are approximately three times the level of those under the last National Government in its 6 years?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: It is certainly correct that growth has been faster under Labour. One of the interesting features of this growth is that a disproportionate amount of it has been captured by the business sector in terms of increased profits. I still hear moans from the Opposition about increased profitability under Labour.

Information Technology—CeBIT Exhibition

6. DIANNE YATES (Labour) to the Minister of Trade: What reports, if any, has he received on New Zealand’s presence at the CeBIT information technology exhibition in Germany?

Hon PHIL GOFF (Minister of Trade): I have seen two reports. The first, in the Australian Financial Review, states that the Australian exhibition was “overshadowed by the imposing presence of New Zealand’s Government-backed contingent”. The second, in the Dominion Post, reported the strongly positive views of the New Zealand firms, which said they had “scored good leads among potential partners, customers, and distributors.” This was an excellent Government initiative, well-organised by New Zealand Trade and Enterprise.

Dianne Yates: What is the importance of New Zealand’s presence at the fair, why did the Government provide financial backing for it, and what are the benefits?

Hon PHIL GOFF: CeBIT is the world’s largest information technology fair. It provided the opportunity for New Zealand, which has a reputation in Germany and Europe as being a very competitive and effective producer of agriculture, to successfully raise its profile also as a high-tech country that is innovative and has world-class capability. The Government assistance facilitated the presence of our generally small information and communications technology firms, which were able to get to know the international market, showcase their technology, network, and do business—and some of those firms have entered into multimillion dollar contracts.

Corrections, Department—Confidence

7. SIMON POWER (National—Rangitikei) to the Minister of Corrections: Does he have confidence in his department; if so, why?

Hon DAMIEN O’CONNOR (Minister of Corrections): Yes, although there is always room for improvement.

Simon Power: How can the Minister continue to have confidence in his department when in the last 7 months it has spent almost three times as much per head on transferring prisoners as it did in the previous year—much of it on commercial airlines—which at the rate of $100,000 a month will lead to a blowout of approximately $1.2 million by the end of the financial year?

Hon DAMIEN O’CONNOR: I acknowledge that there has been pressure on the prison system. We have a very large number of inmates, and from time to time we are required to transfer prisoners around the country to suitable prisons. I reassure the public that at no time has anyone been at risk. The record speaks for itself, and I can reassure the House that the prisoners do not get Airpoints.

Simon Power: Does the Minister agree with the claim on National Radio by Beven Hanlon of the Corrections Association that the Minister’s department is loading prisoners into vans and other transport facilities and moving them around the country because: “While they’re being transported they’re on nobody’s muster, so they’re not actually showing on a muster for a prison, so the prison itself wasn’t over muster until the van got in.”; if not, why not?

Hon DAMIEN O’CONNOR: No, I do not. I assume that what that member is quoting is referring to one incident at Mount Eden Prison about 6 months ago. We have since that time addressed that problem. I do not accept the claims made by Beven Hanlon or by the member opposite.

Chester Borrows: Does the Minister agree with the claim in today’s New Zealand Herald by his travelling companion in Europe Kim Workman, of Prison Fellowship, that the massive increase in spending on prisoner transfers is further evidence that his department is in crisis, and that rehabilitation programmes are being disrupted by these constant movements; if not, why not?

Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: No, I do not accept that the department is under crisis, but I do accept that New Zealand has the second-highest incarceration rate in the Western World, and it something that this Government—along with Kim Workman and any other party or person who wants to cooperate—is determined to reduce over time.

Simon Power: Why are some prisoners being transferred to other prisons—sometimes as far as from Auckland to Wellington—only to find they have to be turned round and sent back again, when the Department of Corrections’ own policy states that destination muster levels are considered before a transfer takes place, and that the transfer of a prisoner is agreed to between the relevant prisons before the approval to transfer is given, at least 7 days in advance?

Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: As I said, there are many reasons that we transfer prisoners, the primary one being that we need to have them secure in a prison cell. The reality is most New Zealanders do not want a prison at their back door, and therefore there often is not a local prison to accommodate those offenders who have been caught and convicted. We have a safe system. There has never been an incident relating to the safety of any of the prisoners who have been transferred by air. We will continue to do that only when necessary.

Simon Power: Can the Minister give this House and the country an absolute assurance that no prisoner has flown on a commercial airline unaccompanied by a Department of Corrections’ official?

Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: I am advised that every prisoner who travels on a commercial airliner is accompanied by a corrections officer or a staff person.

Superannuation and Veterans Pensions—Changes

8. BARBARA STEWART (NZ First) to the Minister for Social Development and Employment: How many superannuitants and veterans will benefit from changes to the rate of New Zealand superannuation and the veterans pensions from 1 April?

Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE (Minister for Social Development and Employment): More than 485,000 New Zealand superannuitants and over 9,000 veterans pensioners—that is, more than 494,000 older New Zealanders—will benefit from changes to the rate of New Zealand superannuation and veterans pension from 1 April 2006.

Barbara Stewart: By how much will the entitlements of recipients of New Zealand superannuation and the veterans pension increase as of 1 April?

Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: The rate of superannuation is increasing by 3.16 percent. That means an increase of $646.88 per year for a married couple, and an increase of $420.68 per year for a single person living alone.

Georgina Beyer: Is this the first change made to superannuation wage relativity by the Labour-led Government?

Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: No. The last National Government dropped the wage relationship for the married couple rate of New Zealand superannuation in 1998 from 65 percent of the net average wage to 60 percent. This affected the superannuation rates in 1999. The Labour-led Government restored the 65 percent floor from 1 April 2000.

Elective Surgery—Capacity

9. 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): Although 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 out-patient procedures are taken into account—there is always more to be done. This Government will never be complacent.

Hon Tony Ryall: Why did the cardiac unit at Auckland City Hospital cancel or unschedule 369 operations last year, which, in the staff’s own words, compromised patient care, grew waiting lists, and cut morale at that vital service?

Hon PETE HODGSON: When a question similar to that was put to me last week, the Auckland District Health Board released a press statement that gave a large number of reasons for that situation, and I refer the member to it.

Ann Hartley: What reports has he received on ways to reduce pressure on the elective surgery system?

Hon PETE HODGSON: I have seen one report that states the only way to reduce the pressure on elective services is to start charging patients for their surgery, so that only wealthy New Zealanders will be able to access public surgery services. That proposal came from Dr Don Brash, who firmly supports the Americanisation of health care in this country. This Government will never support such measures, because they directly contradict mainstream New Zealand values.

Dr Don Brash: That’s total garbage!

Hon PETE HODGSON: Total garbage? I will table it.

Hon Tony Ryall: How can it be that the cardiac unit staff in Auckland are saying, in these leaked minutes, that because of cancellations many more operations could have been done, that patient care is compromised, and that those lucky enough to be operated on are sicker and sicker; and why has this Minister not said a word to the Auckland District Health Board about the bureaucratic mess surrounding cardiac surgery there, when it is increasingly clear that there are quite serious systemic problems in the delivery of cardiac care in Auckland City?

Hon PETE HODGSON: There have been serious problems with the delivery of cardiac care in the Auckland District Health Board. The Auckland District Health Board last week released a press statement explaining what the problems were or are, and what it has been doing or is doing about them.

Dr Jonathan Coleman: Does the Minister believe that as a result of the 369 cancelled heart cases at Auckland City Hospital, 133 people are on a waiting list who exceed the points needed for treatment, and another 140 people have been on a waiting list for over 6 months; and what will he do about solving the problems at the Auckland heart surgery unit?

Hon PETE HODGSON: Yes, and the solution lies in an examination of the press statement that the Auckland District Health Board put out last week, in which it indicated what had been done, and what still needed to be done in order to address a bunch of problems that it had faced. One of the problems the Auckland District Health Board has faced is that it has shifted the entire services of Green Lane Hospital into Auckland City Hospital. That is the biggest health shift that I know of in New Zealand’s history. It has gone substantially without a hitch, except that there has been a temporary fall-off in surgery. If the member would like to know a little more, I will tell him; if the member does not, that is fine.

Dr Jonathan Coleman: Does the Minister stand by his answer in the House last week that the decline in cardiac surgery at Auckland is due in large part to increased angioplasty at Waitematā District Health Board, given that Waitematā District Health Board does not actually perform any angioplasty and never has done?

Hon PETE HODGSON: I refer the member to Hansard, where he will find I said to him that if he intended to hide behind a primary question that gave no idea of the supplementary question, then I would be forced to try to guess at an answer. I did guess at an answer.

Dr Jonathan Coleman: Would the Minister recognise that receiving a written question on something as vital as heart surgery is a pretty good clue that an oral one may follow, and is today’s tabling of a correction to an oral answer from the Minister something that we can look forward to on an ongoing basis?

Hon PETE HODGSON: I do not know how many hundreds or thousands of parliamentary written questions I receive—

Hon Dr Michael Cullen: Tens of thousands.

Hon PETE HODGSON: Tens of thousands, for all of us. Most of them are what one may call uneventful.

Ministers—Confidence

10. Dr PITA SHARPLES (Co-Leader—Māori Party) to the Prime Minister: He whakamanawatanga tō te Pirimia ki ōna Minita katoa; ki te kore, he aha ai?

[Does she have confidence in all her Ministers; if not, why not?]

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Deputy Prime Minister) on behalf of the Prime Minister: Yes.

Dr Pita Sharples: He aha i kore ai i riro i a Dover Samuels, te Minita Tuarua o Ngā Whare rāua ko Mahara Okeroa, te Minita Tuarua mō te Papa Atawhai, ngā tūnga matua i te wā kei tāwāhi a Chris Carter?

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

[Why then have the Hon Dover Samuels, Associate Minister of Housing, and the Hon Mahara Okeroa, Associate Minister of Conservation, not been appointed as Acting Ministers in these major roles while the Hon Chris Carter is out of the country?]

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: There is no standard rule that an Associate Minister is made Acting Minister when the Minister is absent, particularly when the Associate Minister is outside Cabinet; in fact, it is far more common for a Minister inside Cabinet to be made the Acting Minister.

Tariana Turia: Given the evidence presented in the House last week that the Hon Rick Barker had signed letters regarding Vietnam veterans that he had not even read, what confidence does the Prime Minister have in his ability to take up responsibility in two such critical portfolios?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: The member is incorrect. Mr Barker did not say he had not read the letter. She should not believe everything that Rodney Hide whispers in her ear.

Tariana Turia: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. It is very clear that the Minister signed out a letter that he had not read, because the letter was incorrect.

Madam SPEAKER: That is not a point of order; it is a debating matter.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Given Tariana Turia’s desire to promote Dover Samuels and Mahara Okeroa, has the Prime Minister received any reports that Tariana Turia has attempted to convince ACT party members to join the Māori Party?

Madam SPEAKER: No, that is not—[Interruption] I am sorry, no; I am not being difficult here, but I am struggling to see the connection.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Madam Speaker, with respect, when we see a political party holding a convention and inviting a leader of another political party, I think we are entitled to draw certain inferences—and that is what I am doing.

Madam SPEAKER: OK, yes—

Rt Hon Winston Peters: People cannot be saved, in the case of ACT, from its stupid invitation list.

Madam SPEAKER: No; please be seated. Such reports must always relate to ministerial responsibility. It is not the Prime Minister’s responsibility to comment on other political parties’ methods of organisation.

Dr Pita Sharples: Are these Māori members, these Associate Ministers, receiving special treatment; is it a matter of privilege that they are not being exposed to ministerial duties, or are they the last cab off the rank?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: No. They are both valued Associate Ministers outside Cabinet. But I am sure, of course, that the member will be keen to know that in the Labour Party members act as a united group. We do not have individuals going off in their own directions—unlike those in the ACT and Māori Parties.

Climate Change—Greenhouse Gas Reductions

11. Hon Dr NICK SMITH (National—Nelson) to the Minister responsible for Climate Change Issues: Does he stand by his statement in 2002 that “New Zealand should have made significant greenhouse gas reductions on business as usual and be set towards a permanent downward path for total gross emissions by 2012”; if not, why not?

Hon PETE HODGSON (Acting Minister responsible for Climate Change Issues): No, which is why that statement, which is the overall goal of the policy, is under review along with the rest of it. My personal view is that we will not be set towards a permanent downward path for gross emissions by 2012, but that by then New Zealand will have made significant greenhouse gas emission reductions on business as usual—indeed, we already have.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: How does all of his and the Prime Minister’s rhetoric on global warming, and their criticism of both George Bush and John Howard for not ratifying the Kyoto Protocol, stack up, when during that member’s time as Minister New Zealand’s emissions have gone up by 10 percent compared with, over the same period, Australia’s going up by 5 percent, and United States’ emissions going up by 2.5 percent?

Hon PETE HODGSON: I suspect our emissions have gone up by higher than that, and certainly those of the other countries quoted have. However, if the member is referring to gross emissions—which I presume he is—the fact of the matter is that under this Government we have had the most extraordinary growth rates that have been seen for 30 years, and have failed to fully de-link energy use and other use from that growth rate.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: There was a question from the Minister about the figures. I seek the leave of the House to table the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and the official figures for Australia, New Zealand, and the United States, which show that emissions in New Zealand have gone up at four times the rate of those of the United States under George Bush’s Government.

Madam SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection. There is no objection.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. There is a convention in this House that if one wishes to table a document, one waits until every member has asked every supplementary question, one gives them the courtesy of hearing them out, and then one seeks to table the document—not jump in halfway in between, which is the penchant of that member to do.

Madam SPEAKER: I know that is the convention. It is certainly helpful if the leave is sought at the end, but members are perfectly entitled to seek leave to table documents whenever they like.

Russell Fairbrother: What greenhouse gas emission reductions have been achieved through the Government’s Projects to Reduce Emissions programme?

Hon PETE HODGSON: The Projects to Reduce Emissions programme has delivered emission reductions of nearly 12 million tonnes, and brought forward wind energy in this country by, I guess, about 5 years, including the development of the largest wind farm in the southern hemisphere. If it were not for this Government’s climate change policy, we would have seen a lot more thermally generated electricity in this country.

Metiria Turei: Does the Minister agree that if the Government abandons the commitment to get greenhouse gas emissions on a downward trend, that would simply be a Trojan Horse for withdrawing from the Kyoto Protocol; and does he not agree that calling climate change science equivocal and pulling out of the Kyoto Protocol—both National Party proposals—is an irresponsible, fundamentalist, and, frankly, Luddite approach to this global crisis?

Hon Dr Nick Smith: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I am pleased to say that Pete Hodgson is not responsible for National Party policy, so the member’s question is clearly out of order and inaccurate.

Metiria Turei: It is not uncommon for members to ask questions asking for responses to various policy proposals from other parties on issues. The Minister is perfectly capable of responding to that question.

Madam SPEAKER: But it must always be within the ministerial responsibility. One can, of course, under the Standing Orders, ask for an opinion relating to a matter in the portfolio. That is how I heard the question. That is perfectly acceptable within the Standing Orders.

Hon PETE HODGSON: In respect of the first part of the question, I say that, no, it is not a Trojan Horse for withdrawing from the Kyoto Protocol—not under this Government. In respect of the second part of the question, I am saddened that National, which in the 1990s led the national and international debate so wisely and well, and was so effective, including at Kyoto—

Hon Dr Nick Smith: You didn’t say so then!

Hon PETE HODGSON: —we did say so back then—has not now decided that climate change is something that needs to be taken seriously. We find it difficult to find anything that is much more serious than climate change.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: Does the Minister agree with the statement in yesterday’s New Zealand Herald made by Dr Kevin Patterson, a senior public official with the Ministry of Economic Development, who said he was so disillusioned with the Government’s policies on climate change that he was considering joining the brain drain overseas, and who said: “Pete Hodgson stuffed it up …”.

Hon PETE HODGSON: That apparently senior official is a person whom to the best of my knowledge I have not met. That same person said that the carbon tax would be responsible for three-quarters of what we need to do on climate change. I do not think the most ardent optimist I know would conclude that that was a remotely reasonable remark.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: Did the Minister, as claimed by the Ministry of Economic Development senior official on energy policy, Dr Kevin Patterson, direct “staff to model the next target as if it had been accomplished.”; did he give that direction, as stated by that senior public official?

Hon PETE HODGSON: No. What is more, I do not even understand the allegation, and I do not think the Chief Executive of the Ministry of Economic Development understands it, either.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: Why is it so difficult for the Minister to understand that his Government grossly got wrong the numbers on the Kyoto Protocol—to the value of $1 billion—and that a senior official is now saying that that was because the Minister directed the ministry to make particular assumptions, and that the Minister, when it all went wrong, then blamed the officials?

Hon PETE HODGSON: The member needs to hear very clearly that these reports that come up to the Minister responsible for Climate Change Issues every May come up unasked by the Government and unmolested by the Government, and that the only thing I ever did in respect of those reports in my time in the portfolio was to seek a review of the May 2005 data.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: What could possibly motivate a senior public official and doctor, Kevin Patterson, to say in the New Zealand Herald: “Pete Hodgson stuffed it up … he basically directed the staff to model the next target as if it had been accomplished.”; what would possibly motivate a public official to say that, if it were not true?

Hon PETE HODGSON: I say again that to the best of my knowledge I have not met this apparently senior public official. I have not met that person, to the best of my knowledge. That same person, in the same interview, said that the carbon tax would reduce the gap, or something, by about 75 percent. He is not, apparently, well aware of Government policy, at all.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: Is the Minister aware that the same official said that the Government, with its project to reduce emissions and encourage more efficient energy use, was “dreaming”, and that the Government’s policies were a gross failure; if senior officials are saying that, what does that say about the state of his climate change policies?

Hon PETE HODGSON: I repeat that I have never met this apparently senior official. He certainly is not a senior official today—certainly not. The member quotes the guy as saying this, that, and the other thing; my best guess is that he does not understand the New Zealand climate change policy very well, at all.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: Does the Minister accept the premise in the statement made by Dr Kevin Patterson of the Ministry of Economic Development that this Government does not have a bolter’s hope of meeting its climate change obligations that the Minister signed New Zealand up to, and that will now cost taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars?

Hon PETE HODGSON: In my view, it is very unlikely that we will meet our gross emissions target—that is to say, a reduction to 1990 levels—by 2012. That is very unlikely.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: You got it wrong.

Hon PETE HODGSON: I do not know of a country that will, to be honest, except for those that have had their economies trashed, such as Russia and countries in Eastern Europe. But I say to the member that this Government is very serious indeed about making its contribution to what we see as one of the biggest global problems facing humanity, and one that will disproportionately affect New Zealand. I would like the member to start coming onside about that. I quote back to him his own remarks in his state of the nation address, when he said that if he falls “into the trap of becoming a full-time whinger, I would appreciate one of you rescuing me with a gentle reminder.” I remind the member now.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: I seek the leave of the House to table the statement made by Dr Kevin Patterson, who describes himself as a senior Government scientist in the Ministry of Economic Development.

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

Kyoto Protocol—Solid Energy Mines

12. METIRIA TUREI (Green) to the Minister Responsible for Climate Change Issues: What quantity of greenhouse gases will be emitted into the atmosphere as a result of Solid Energy’s mines at Stockton and Happy Valley in Westland, and what are the implications of this for New Zealand’s commitments under the Kyoto Protocol?

Hon PETE HODGSON (Acting Minister responsible for Climate Change Issues): If the two mines reach their production targets, and if all the coal is burnt, then the answer is about $6.5 million tonnes per annum, most of which will come from Stockton and a little from Happy Valley. The implications of this for New Zealand’s commitments under the Kyoto Protocol depend on how much of the coal is exported before it is combusted, and in the case of those two mines it is somewhere in excess of 90 percent.

Metiria Turei: What quantity of greenhouse gases will be emitted as a result of the use of coal in the Marsden B power station, if that proceeds; and does the Minister agree that this is in direct conflict with the Government’s commitment to renewable energy and to reducing emissions from the energy sector?

Hon PETE HODGSON: The situation with coal and electricity in this country is that coal provides our system with some resilience. We use rather little of it. Our total thermal emissions in this country are around 9 percent of our total emissions, and therefore, appropriately, they should receive about 9 percent of the attention. The point of the New Zealand electricity system is that it was, and is, renewably based, and increasingly so.

Metiria Turei: What quantity of greenhouse gases will be emitted from the conversion of forestry to pasture, as in the central North Island by Landcorp Farming Ltd and the Waikatea Station by the Bayly Trust, and does he agree that there is an urgent need for Government policy to incentivise maintaining forest cover, as proposed by the Greens paper Turn Down the Heat?

Hon PETE HODGSON: I congratulate the Greens on their paper, which I had the pleasure of reading over the weekend. I do not agree with all of it, I might say, but I do think the vast majority of it is really refreshing. Some of it is thoroughly useful and the ideas are welcome. I am sorry that other parties around Parliament do not seem to bother to do that, especially National, given its activity in the 1990s. However, the answer to the member’s question is that for every hectare cleared and turned into farmland, the carbon tonnage cost is something like 800 tonnes.

Metiria Turei: Does the Minister agree that the examples of Stockton, Happy Valley, Marsden B, and forest clearance for pasture, demonstrate why it is so vital that climate change be considered under the Resource Management Act, and will his Government be supporting Jeanette Fitzsimons’ Resource Management (Climate Protection) Amendment Bill tomorrow in the House?

Hon PETE HODGSON: The easiest way to answer that question is to answer the last part of it, and the answer is yes.

ENDS


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