Questions And Answers - Wednesday 29 March 2006
Wednesday, 29 March
Questions for Oral Answer
1. New Zealand Qualifications
2. Working for Families Package—Outcome
3. Working for Families Package—Income Limits
4. Greenhouse Gas Emissions—Agriculture
Question No. 3 to Minister
5. State Houses—Household Incomes
6. Teenage Crime—Principal Youth Court Judge's Comments
Question No. 3 to Minister
7. Focus 2000 Ltd—Complaints
8. Auckland Transport Infrastructure—Rugby World Cup
9. Border Security—Initiatives
10. Treaty of Waitangi —Historical Claims
11. Youth—Government Initiatives
12. Fungus Invasion, Northland—Biosecurity Plan
Questions for Oral Answer
Questions to Ministers
New Zealand Qualifications Authority—Scholarship
1. Hon BILL ENGLISH (National—Clutha-Southland) to the Minister of Education: Did the New Zealand Qualifications Authority implement 2005 Scholarship competently?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY (Minister of Education): Yes, the 2005 scholarship exams were a vast improvement on those of 2004. The exam season went smoothly and the scholarship results and distribution of awards have been fair. After the problems of 2004 I believe that there is now a solid platform for ongoing improvement of the system. Scholarship is about recognising and rewarding excellence, and that is now happening.
Hon Bill English: Why, then, did the New Zealand Qualifications Authority approve a calculus exam where 50 percent of the students scored less than 5 percent and students who scored 18 percent won a scholarship, and a visual arts exam where 8 students who scored 100 percent—that is, full marks—were not awarded the top award?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: Those are, of course, very good questions, and these are the answers. The answer to the calculus question is that I am advised that the level of achievement in calculus scholarship has been an issue for quite a number of years, but that scaling under the previous system meant it did not show up. I understand that the New Zealand Qualifications Authority and the scholarship advisory group have met with the calculus examiner to revise this year’s exam to ensure that more students can at least attempt the exam, while maintaining their high standard for Scholarship. I am assured, however, that for this year the right students were awarded Scholarship in calculus. Because the question is important, let me answer the other part of it as well, which is the visual arts question. Scholarship is awarded to a target percentage of students, to ensure a fair distribution of awards. In visual arts, the marking scheme made it a straightforward exercise to rank the top 25 students in order to identify the top 18 scholarship students.
Hon Bill English: And they all got 100 percent.
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: Given the number of students who got zero—if Mr English could be quiet just for a moment—I understand that the Ministry of Education will review the current requirement to achieve excellence in the National Certificate of Educational Achievement at level 3, which is currently a co-requisite of being able to get Scholarship. That is a problem, and that is something the ministry will review, because it seems to me, as I am sure the Opposition member would say, that it is impediment to people getting through to Scholarship. Perhaps it should go.
Moana Mackey: What measures have been taken to ensure scholarship results are fair and consistent?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: Following the issues of 2004, the New Zealand Qualifications Authority implemented recommendations from several inquiries and engaged independent expertise, including the internationally recognised assessment experts Gary Hawke, John Hattie, and Terry Crooks. Last year the Scholarship Reference Group, which involved representatives from the Post Primary Teachers Association, the New Zealand Principals Federation, colleges of education, the Secondary Principals Association of New Zealand, and the Principals Council, made 25 recommendations to Cabinet for improvements to Scholarship. Examples of improvement include the thorough process of daily checking and double-checking of marking processes, and a fairer system of distribution of awards to target percentages of students. The independent experts have gone on record as saying they are confident the results and distribution of awards for Scholarship were robust and trustworthy.
Hon Bill English: If the process is so robust and trustworthy, why, then, did the New Zealand Qualifications Authority, in the last few weeks, award two extra premier scholarships worth $10,000 a year to two students who correctly complained that the New Zealand Qualifications Authority had altered the criteria for that premier academic award without telling anyone?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: I am advised that the New Zealand Qualifications Authority did not clearly explain that three outstanding scholarships was a minimum requirement for a premier award. Two students who received three outstanding scholarships felt that they had been led to believe they would get premier awards. The New Zealand Qualifications Authority has now agreed to that, and we are making those extra awards.
Moana Mackey: What other feedback has he had on Scholarship?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: I have seen many reports and messages expressing confidence in Scholarship in 2005. One states: “We are confident that the right students got Scholarship.” The other states: “People should be considerably reassured about Scholarship.” The third claims: “The 2005 results show the range of scholarship marks are far more sensible than in previous years.”, and a fourth stated that: “No doubt there has been an improvement on last year.” The first quote is from Gary Hawke, the second is from Paul Baker, the rector of Waitaki Boys High School, and the third and fourth are from Bill English.
Hon Bill English: Given that two students have now been awarded separately scholarships worth $10,000 a year because they correctly complained about the New Zealand Qualifications Authority secretly changing the criteria, how many other students could pick up $10,000 a year by writing in and complaining about the same ridiculous and incompetent error on the part of the authority? What does the Minister think that those students think about his administration of the whole thing?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: I go back to the answer I gave before, because the New Zealand Qualifications Authority has been clear about this.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: Just answer the question.
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: I am answering the question. I am advised by the New Zealand Qualifications Authority that it did not clearly explain that three outstanding scholarships was a minimum requirement for the premier award. That involves two students. This was not secret. It was a mistake in the authority’s explanation, and no other students will be eligible.
Allan Peachey: Is the Minister concerned that worrisome difficulties with scholarship examinations for some subjects over the last 2 years have undermined the drive towards higher academic standards by our top secondary school students?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: No.
Allan Peachey: Have the problems that have come out of the last 2 years of scholarship examinations been caused by the Government’s requirement that the New Zealand Qualifications Authority use a standards-based methodology for Scholarship, when, in fact, that may not be the most suitable methodology to identify the top New Zealand secondary school students in this case?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: That is a very good point. One of the things that has happened since last year is a change in the system of assessment, which had tried to find the best of the best but did not seem to do that. That is why we have the 25 recommendations, that is why there has been the change this year, and that is why everybody except the loan credit officer believes we have made major advances, and are still doing so.
Hon Bill English: Can the Minister confirm that the two students who received the premier award worth $10,000 a year did so because the students themselves noticed that the criteria on the New Zealand Qualifications Authority website back in November were different from the criteria on the website in March of this year, that the authority did not pick up the problem and did not demonstrate good faith, and that it was not until the students picked up the problem and approached the Opposition and the authority that they were awarded the $10,000 scholarships, which they should have got in the first place?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: I think what I have said already is the answer to the question. The member can keep asking it, but I will give him the same answer. The New Zealand Qualifications Authority has made it clear that it thought it had explained the minimum requirements clearly. I confirm what the member said: the two students approached the New Zealand Qualifications Authority, which, in good faith, said yes, they had a right to say those things. It said it would change that, and they would now get the scholarships.
Working for Families Package—Outcome
2. DARIEN FENTON (Labour) to the Minister for Social Development and Employment: How is the Government’s Working for Families package supporting hard-working Kiwi families?
Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE (Minister for Social Development and Employment): From this Saturday three out of every four New Zealand families with dependent children will be entitled to tax credits through Working for Families. From Saturday a family on the average family income with two children will be better off by $90 a week. That also means that, in total, they would be $116 better off since 1 April 2005. Labour is targeting tax credits where they are needed for hard-working Kiwi families with children.
Darien Fenton: What is the Government doing to ensure that work pays?
Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: The Working for Families package is designed to make work pay, and to achieve a social assistance system that supports people into work. From Saturday the main work incentive parts of the Working for Families package are being rolled out with the new in-work payment, changes to the abatement of tax credits, and an increase to the family tax credit threshold. The in-work payment replaces and pays more than the child tax credit. It pays up to $60 a week per family with three children, and up to $15 a week for each other child. Couples must normally work 30 hours a week between them, and sole parents must normally work 20 hours a week.
Tariana Turia: What advice has been sought from Associate Ministers Horomia and Okeroa about the implications of the Government’s Working for Families package not reaching the estimated 63,000 Mâori families who are the poorest families with children and who get no benefit from this package?
Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: I certainly do not accept the member’s proposition. Very extensive advertising has been put in place to ensure that people are aware of and are receiving their entitlements.
Heather Roy: Does the Minister believe that a back-bench MP with five children, like myself, should qualify for additional welfare payments; if so, why?
Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: I do believe that the application of support of this kind should be done fairly. The unfairness of any other application is obvious. Across-the-board tax cuts, as suggested by the ACT party, for example, give no regard to circumstance, and deliver the biggest benefits to the people with the largest incomes.
Heather Roy: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. The Minister made absolutely no attempt to answer my question, which was very specific.
Madam SPEAKER: The Minister might like to clarify what he was saying.
Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: I would simply add that if that member has an entitlement and has enough children, then she should quite properly receive those payments.
Hon Dr Michael Cullen: Will the Minister tell the member who asked that question that if she feels embarrassed about receiving those payments she does not have to apply for them?
Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: It is certainly the case that people need to make application for those support payments. If that member were, indeed, not deserving of them, then I assume she would not apply for them.
Darien Fenton: What is the effect on child poverty of Working for Families?
Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: Working for Families is a significant investment in the well-being of New Zealand families with children. The majority of the poverty alleviation measures in the Working for Families package were put in place in 2005, although the further increases in family support rates in 2007 will have a further impact on child poverty. Using an income poverty measure of 50 percent of median household income, I am advised that after the full implementation of Working for Families, child poverty in New Zealand will be reduced by 70 percent.
Craig Foss: Is it fair that a hard-working Kiwi with no dependents who earns $25,000 per year, or only $480 per week, has some of his or her tax redistributed as part of the Working for Families package to someone earning up to five times that amount; if so, why is it fair?
Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: Yes, I think it is fair. I would like to share with the member this quotation: “I don’t think of Working for Families as a welfare programme. Many people in employment also receive money from Working for Families, so we have said clearly that what has been rolled out so far will be continued with, and we’re likely to roll out much of the rest of the programme as well.” Those are the words of former Reserve Bank governor and National Party leader Don Brash last year.
Working for Families Package—Income Limits
3. JOHN KEY (National—Helensville) to the Minister of Finance: What is the highest annual income a family could earn after 1 April 2006 and still receive a payment under the Working for Families package?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Minister of Finance): That depends on the number and age of children in the family.
Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. The Minister certainly addressed that question, but the Standing Orders require him when addressing a question to give an answer that is in the public good if he can. A maximum figure exists, and he knows that—a maximum number of children, and a parameter around the circumstance that creates that figure. He was asked to give it. It may be embarrassing for him not to know it, but if he does know it and has it in front of him, he most certainly should tell the House.
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Somebody may conceivably—I did not mean that as a pun, sorry—have 20 children. At that point that person would get significantly more than somebody who has two children.
Madam SPEAKER: I think the Minister did actually address the question.
John Key: I hate to tell the Minister this, but one could not have 20 children and still be within the eligible age group, but anyway—
Madam SPEAKER: Just ask the question. [Interruption]
John Key: Well, I suppose if one had quintuplets—
Madam SPEAKER: We will have none of this conversation; we will have a question and an answer.
John Key: Is the purpose of his Government’s TV commercial depicting a family living in an $800,000 house in New Zealand’s wealthiest suburb, with parents who think it is value for money to text their teenage daughter sitting 20 feet in front of them and listening to her iPod that dinner is on the table, to ensure that these needy families enrol in his “welfare for everyone” package; if not, what is its purpose?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: It seems extraordinary to me that a member who proposed tax cuts that do not reach their maximum amount until one earns at least $100,000 a year now objects to the possibility that somebody on $100,000 a year with kids will get targeted tax relief. Let me add that it may be news to the member but there are things like reconstituted families in New Zealand, and it is quite possible that one could have 20 children under the qualifying age. That may be beyond his dreams in life, and it is beyond my expectations, wishes, or even fears, but it can happen.
Steve Chadwick: Has the Minister seen any reports suggesting alternative approaches to targeted family tax relief? [Interruption]
Madam SPEAKER: If those members wish to remain here in question time, would they please be quiet. Members are entitled to have their questions heard in silence.
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I have seen reports of a package that would have a two-income family with no children and a combined income of $150,000 receive over $120 a week, but, under the same package, a two-income family on $50,000 with children would get only $16 a week, and the cost would be $11 billion over 3 years. That was the National Party’s tax package. [Interruption]
John Key: I hate to tell the seals that the numbers are not correct. Is it still the aim of the Working for Families package to make work pay and to address poverty, as he would recall was stated in 2004; if so, is he surprised to find that a recent Treasury report from officials from Treasury, the Inland Revenue Department, and the Ministry of Social Development states that the extension of Working for Families has very mixed work incentives and will not do anything to alleviate poverty, because, as we all know, the extension of Working for Families is focused on higher-income families, and, as a general rule, those living in $800,000 houses in Epsom are not deemed to be in poverty?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: The purpose of this programme is certainly not simply to deal with issues of poverty, though we make no apologies for reducing by, I think, something like two-thirds the number of children living in poverty in New Zealand, as a result of this package. If, of course, the member in his house worth however many million dollars is saying that living in a $800,000 house in Auckland makes someone one of the super-rich, then I think he should do a bit more door- knocking.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: In respect of the comments of the Minister of Finance on a report of a $11 billion tax package over 3 years, did that tax package go with a proposal to borrow to make it possible; if that is the case, how irresponsible is that?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: In the package that I referred to?
Madam SPEAKER: Could the member please just clarify.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I will rephrase my question. In respect of those reports of $11 billion over 3 years in respect of a particular party’s tax package, was it also in the report that such a proposal would require significant borrowing to enable those tax cuts to happen; and how irresponsible is that?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: The package that I referred to was predicated upon increased borrowing. That was admitted at the time.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I listened very carefully to the ruling you gave less than 10 minutes ago. In that ruling you said quite specifically that Ministers could comment on quotes of members of the Opposition but not on their policies. It seem extraordinary that we have now had three answers from Dr Cullen that breach the very Standing Order and Speaker’s ruling that you have just given. I wonder whether the same rules apply to the Deputy Prime Minister as to others in the House?
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Madam Speaker, you have just addressed that in your first comments this afternoon, when you said that reports of another party’s policy coming to a Minister’s attention could be mentioned in an answer. I am asking about the 2005 policy that National Party members campaigned on. They designed a plan to borrow significantly to give tax cuts. They admitted it then; why do they not admit it now?
Madam SPEAKER: The key issue is that the reports and the quotes that are sought must be within the Minister’s responsibility. It is not the Minister’s responsibility to comment on another party’s policies.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. What was asked of the Minister in an earlier question was whether he had received any other reports. The Minister got up and rightly said that, yes, he had—he had heard of one that involved tax cuts of $11 billion over 3 years. I am just asking whether, as part of that package, borrowing was involved to enable it to happen—and, of course, it was.
Gerry Brownlee: The first point is that this question is a long way from the original question that was set down on the sheet, which deals specifically with the Working for Families package. We know that Dr Cullen has mentioned the figure that Mr Peters now mentions, and we know that that clearly is the Government’s plan for the day. But perhaps we could get to a point where Mr Peters might modify his question by asking whether Dr Cullen has seen a named report—and perhaps he could name it, given that he has seen it—in which these two matters were traversed. That may get us closer to it. But I suggest, Madam Speaker, that the question as it stands, and as it has been amended, is a long way off the wicket when you line it up against the original question.
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: It seems to me that we have to be fairly careful here. Let me take two hypothetical questions. First, has the Minister seen the report of proposals by Federated Farmers to exempt farm dogs from proposed microchipping? I am sure the Opposition would wish that question to be asked and answered. Second, has the Minister seen reports by the National Party supporting the exemption of farm dogs from microchipping? Are we now to say that we cannot answer the second question, because the National Party said it—but we could answer it if Federated Farmers had said it? That would become an absurdity. I am not responsible for National Party policy, but I am certainly responsible overall for taxation policy, in conjunction with my colleague Mr Dunne, and I am responsible for commenting on any proposals that are put forward for changes to the taxation system.
Madam SPEAKER: Yes, and, of course, if opinions are sought, that is perfectly acceptable within the Standing Orders.
Gerry Brownlee: Except, Madam Speaker, you are also, surely, constrained by the intention of the primary question in the first place, which asked about the Government’s Working for Families package. To allow the question to be turned round, and have the Minister who is proposing the package answer questions about what he may or may not perceive to be an alternative to that package, is a heck of a long way off the mark from the first question.
Madam SPEAKER: It still relates to the package, though. As long as it relates to the primary question, it is in order. But I agree that one cannot extend it too far. Can I ask the Minister to address the question, please.
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: The point of the question was what, Madam Speaker?
Madam SPEAKER: Perhaps the member would like to rephrase the question in a manner consistent with the comments that have been made.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I will ask the question—[Interruption] Well, if you do not like your policy, do not go campaigning on it. [Interruption] That member is the biggest lightweight there has ever been in this Parliament.
Madam SPEAKER: Would members stop chipping across the Chamber. Would the member please just ask the question.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Did the Minister, who in answer to an earlier question referred to $11 billion of tax cuts—at the highest level, a cut of $120 a week for somebody on $150,000—also learn that that total cost of $11 billion would require borrowing by a Government to enable such a tax policy to work?
Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. You surely cannot let that question stand.
Madam SPEAKER: Yes, I am going to. I am sorry.
Gerry Brownlee: Well, Madam Speaker, I will put it to you this way. That question asks the Minister of Finance to comment on a hypothetical figure of $11 billion of tax cuts. We would assert that that figure is quite wrong, that those figures are wrong, and that the report itself came out of the Labour Party research unit and nowhere else. Dr Cullen has now been asked to comment on, effectively, a Labour response to an initiative moved by the National Party in the election. That has nothing to do with the actual programme that the Government has coming into place on Saturday. I think it is quite wrong of you to allow this question to be diverted to a point where the Minister of Finance, rather than answering questions about his own policy, is now reflecting on a Labour report about whether the Opposition’s policies going into the last election were affordable.
Madam SPEAKER: I thank the member, and I have some sympathy for him, but unfortunately hypothetical questions have been permitted since 1995. If members would like the Standing Orders to be changed, then I invite them to refer the matter to the Standing Orders Committee. It was a hypothetical question. Would the Minister now please address the question.
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: It is my understanding that that package implied a significant amount of borrowing—some billions of dollars—and my position as Minister of Finance—[Interruption] It was $3.5 billion of additional borrowing, to be precise, and that was accepted at the time and appeared in the publication, in the original version of the policy. But my view is quite clear: while borrowing can be justified for some capital expenditure, borrowing for tax cuts is particularly stupid fiscal policy.
John Key: When will—[Interruption]
Madam SPEAKER: If members wish to remain in the Chamber for question time, they will not interrupt members who are asking a question. Everyone is on a last warning.
John Key: When will the Minister finally admit the truth, which is that Helen Clark ordered the extension of this welfare package to higher-income New Zealanders, not because she thought that group needed saving from poverty or from food banks, but, rather, because she had seen Labour’s own polling that National’s popular tax message threatened her own political survival, and, by the way, she could not trust her Minister of Finance, who had made such a botch-up of Budget 2005?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: It seems very strange that I am still here, and so, of course, is the Prime Minister, and that member is still on the Opposition benches! The main purpose of the extension of Working for Families was to lift significantly the threshold at which abatement began, and at the same time lower the abatement rate. The effect of that was to apply significant additional incentives for moving into paid employment, because in fact there was a much smaller reduction in earned income as a consequence of the change to the package. Secondly, in New Zealand we have a very poor level of horizontal equity in our system compared with many other countries, and improving that situation can be achieved only by pushing the Working for Families package further up the income scale. I invite members opposite to go knocking on the doors of families who are on $80,000 and have two or three kids, and tell them that they should be paying the same net amount of tax as a single person earning $80,000 a year.
John Key: Is it a coincidence that the Working for Families extension is being rolled out on April Fool’s Day, and did the Government choose that day because it is treating as fools the literally hundreds and thousands of low and middle income New Zealanders who are not eligible for Working for Families who will see their taxes used to prop up families earning as much as $142,000 per year—the needy families that Helen Clark has identified in the extension of her package—and can he now understand why those very-low-income single earners are a little miffed about all this?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Not particularly, no. Of course, the reason why the date is 1 April—as the member could know, if he had spent a little longer in this country—is that that is actually the beginning of the tax year.
John Key: Does he think the architect of New Zealand’s welfare State, Michael Joseph Savage, would ever have foreseen a time when a family in the top income decile with all the toys, from iPods to a $4,000 fridge, would be considered in dire enough straits to be eligible for a welfare handout?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Yes. Mr Savage and of course Sir Walter Nash—particularly Nash—introduced a universal family benefit in 1946.
Greenhouse Gas Emissions—Agriculture
4. METIRIA TUREI (Green) to the Minister of Agriculture: What proposals does the Government have to decrease the greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture, given that they account for 49 percent of New Zealand’s total greenhouse gas emissions?
Hon JIM ANDERTON (Minister of Agriculture): Cost-effective technologies to reduce agricultural emissions are currently limited. The Government’s strategy is to find new technologies and prove their effectiveness. This requires, of course, research. This research has been under way for some time, under an industry-Government partnership, known as the Pastoral Greenhouse Gas Research Consortium, that currently has a budget of $3.6 million a year. There are a number of promising options, many of which both reduce greenhouse gases and increase productivity. As the member will be aware, the Government is currently undertaking a comprehensive review of climate change policy, including agricultural emissions. Decisions will be made this year on the future direction of climate policy.
Metiria Turei: Is he not concerned that all his good proposals and ideas are being undermined by the conversion of 1,200 hectares of forestry land to pasture each year for the next 20 years by the State-owned enterprise Landcorp, when the annual carbon cost of this conversion is about 1 million additional tonnes of carbon per year?
Hon JIM ANDERTON: Landcorp, of course, is a State-owned enterprise operating commercially within the same environment as other private landowners. The Government is concerned that investment decisions around land use in New Zealand do not currently take into account the effect on New Zealand’s greenhouse gas emissions. That goes for both State-owned and private enterprises. This issue is one that is being actively reviewed and considered with the climate change policy review. However, it is important that we develop policy that helps people to make the right choices for the social, environmental, and economic well-being of New Zealand.
Dr Ashraf Choudhary: What reports has the Minister seen on the issue of greenhouse gas emissions?
Hon JIM ANDERTON: I have seen a report from the leader of the National Party, which stated: “I am one who thinks the science of climate change is debatable.” This view is contrary, of course, to the view of UK Prime Minister, Tony Blair, who stated recently: “Apart from a diminishing handful of sceptics, there is a virtual worldwide scientific consensus on the scope of the problem.” This seems to demonstrate to me that the leader of the National Party is completely out of step with scientific thinking around the world on this issue, and if he is so unsure about an issue of such significance to humanity, how on earth can he aspire to run this country as the Prime Minister of it? [Interruption]
Madam SPEAKER: The last bit of the Minister’s answer was out of order.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. You just heard that response to the Minister’s answer, which was a barracking from the National Party—again—and I ask you to contrast that with the cross benches of the House here, where in the main people behave themselves and listen to the answers. I do not see why one section of this House can carry on like this, day in and day out. One would not mind if it were one or two interjections, but there are about seven or eight interjections at a time. Now that is—
Hon Dr Nick Smith: But the Minister was out of order.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: There he goes again—“Young Nick”.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: Speaking to the point of order, Madam Speaker—
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I was speaking to a point of order—sit down!
Madam SPEAKER: Please sit down. The member is speaking to the point of order. I would also put members on their last warning about interjecting at times when people are asking questions or making points of order. I ask that member for the last time to respect the rules of this House. Would the member now please come to the conclusion of his point of order.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: But that is my point. The fact of the matter is there is a barrage going on over there and we can barely hear the answers.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: The very ruling you gave today, Madam Speaker, which I have in front of me, makes it absolutely plain that the Minister’s response was out of order. It was not out of order for just one sentence, but it was for three or four sentences, and you chose to do nothing. So the Opposition had no choice other than to barrack at that sort of response. Equally, every single day, we have Winston Peters making irrelevant points of order—they are just cheap political pot-shots—and, again, we are given no choice but to respond. All it requires, Madam Speaker, is for you to enforce the very ruling that you have given today.
Hon Dr Michael Cullen: Even if there was any virtue in that point of order, if members feel that a Minister is in breach, then of course they raise a point of order. They do not all start yelling together, and that is the point made by Mr Peters. It is that the National Party continually just barracks and barracks and barracks.
Madam SPEAKER: I did agree, but the point was that the barracking was such that it is very difficult to hear. When I did hear that the answer was not consistent with the question asked, I intervened. The member probably did not hear the answer because of the barracking. The rules are that if members do not agree, they should raise a point of order. Then there will be silence and we can hear the answers. I ask members to please keep the level of noise down. We will now proceed with question time.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: Does the Minister believe that the paltry sum of $3.6 million a year spent on agricultural animal emissions is sufficient, given the scale of the climate change problem, the fact that 49 percent of emissions come from agriculture, the fact that New Zealand has significant research expertise in the area of animal husbandry, and the fact that the Government has had to decline a significant number of research projects because of the inadequate budget?
Hon JIM ANDERTON: It almost certainly is not enough, and the Government is looking at that this year. But I have to say that it is a lot more than would probably come from a party led by somebody who denies that climate change is a problem at all.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: Was that in order?
Madam SPEAKER: Yes, it was in order, Dr Smith. The Minister addressed the question. He said there was not enough.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. The first part of the Minister’s answer, in which he responded to my question, was perfectly in order. But can you please explain to the House how the cheap shot at the Leader of the Opposition, Don Brash, in any way complied with your ruling.
Hon Dr Michael Cullen: It used to be the case that this was a robust Chamber in terms of debate and exchanges, and people were not quite so precious about certain matters. I have listened to question after question today, which are questions about certain matters around integrity and various other aspects of various Ministers. That is the nature of Parliament. The fact is that the Leader of the Opposition has tried to deny that climate change exists, and that is a robust response from the Minister in terms of the question asked by the member. The Minister said that the problem was such a serious one that we should spend a lot more money on it.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: Are you going to give your ruling?
Madam SPEAKER: Yes. The answer was perfectly in order. That was my ruling.
Hon Mark Burton: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I apologise for there being another point of order, but I am increasingly concerned about the behaviour of the member opposite, which is something I would like you to consider. He raises points of order, but then directly challenges you in the Chair, not by way of a point of order but by yelling at you from his seat and trying to intimidate the Chair. It is absolutely inappropriate behaviour, and I ask you to give some consideration to it, because challenging the authority of the Chair it is not a practice we would want a whole lot of members to engage in.
Madam SPEAKER: I have ruled on the matter. I just ask the House to settle so we can proceed.
Metiria Turei: Is the Minister aware that the cost of buying credits to cover just the current agricultural emissions is about $400 million a year, and does he not think it would be much more cost effective both for the farmers and for the country if farmers are incentivised to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions now—for example, through the production of biogas from farm wastes, planting of forests, better fertiliser management, and the development of alternative seeds, as set out in the Green’s paper Turn Down the Heat?
Hon JIM ANDERTON: I think the member makes a number of fair points. I have looked at the policy paper of the Greens and congratulate them on being one of the parties outside of the Government parties that have put forward constructive ideas. The Government is considering these matters as it reviews its climate change policy.
Metiria Turei: What proposals does the Minister have to ensure that farmers are developing land and, particularly, water-use systems that are ecologically and economically sustainable, given the report of the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research predicting that due to climate change eastern New Zealand will be become markedly drier and when 58 percent of New Zealand’s farm area is on the east coast?
Hon JIM ANDERTON: These and a number of other issues like nitrification and the difficulties of quality and access to and supply of water are all on the Government’s programme in terms of the review of the climate change problem, and policy initiatives will be announced as the year goes on. I am expecting this review to be completed by the middle of the year.
Metiria Turei: Does the Minister agree with the Green Party’s Turn Down the Heat proposal to cap agricultural greenhouse emissions, and, moreover, does he not think that New Zealanders would be very shocked that New Zealand will have to buy credits from countries overseas because we simply failed to properly invest in Kiwi solutions today?
Hon JIM ANDERTON: As I said, I have looked carefully at the Green Party’s proposals and there are a number of them. I do not agree with them all, but a number are worthwhile. Can I just say that it would be entirely unattractive to the Government, and to the Minister of Finance in particular, not to take initiatives inside New Zealand and invest in our own development in terms of climate change, rather than handing money to anyone offshore.
Question No. 3 to Minister
JOHN KEY (National—Helensville): I seek leave to table a document from the Government’s website—and I apologise—in relation to question No. 3. I also apologise to the Minister of Finance. He is, of course, correct. It is possible to have a payment under Working for Families if one has 20 children. That payment would apply if one earned up to $385,000 a year, and I apologise for my oversight.
Madam SPEAKER: That is not a point of order. May I say that it is comments like that that lead to disorder in the House. Just remember the next time the complaint comes as to why this happens. But I will ask the House. Leave has been sought to table that document. Is there any objection? There is objection.
State Houses—Household Incomes
5. PHIL HEATLEY (National—Whangarei) to the Minister of Housing: Is the North Island State household with the highest total net assessable income earning $1,825.73 a week and the South Island State household with the highest total net assessable income earning $1,391.80 a week as at 23 March 2006; if not, what are the highest incomes?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY (Minister of Education) on behalf of the Minister of Housing: Yes, I can confirm that those are the highest net assessable incomes, and that those tenants were housed before the introduction of the social allocation system for State housing by the Labour-led Government in 2000.
Phil Heatley: How can the Minister let people who earn $70,000, $80,000, and $90,000 a year after tax stay in a State home when 14,000 people are on the waiting list, poor people are on the streets, and struggling young families are living in garages?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: I have to point out to the member that the high-income tenants living in State houses are a legacy of National’s failed market rent system. Those people have signed a tenancy agreement and they have rights. However, we are actively managing those tenants to encourage them to either buy a house or move into the private rental market. I tell that member that it is a little rich for National to have sold 13,000 houses and then for him to come in here and complain about a waiting list.
Georgina Beyer: What proportion of new Housing New Zealand Corporation tenants qualify for an income-related rent?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: The Labour-led Government scrapped National’s market rents in 2000, and introduced a new social allocation system that prioritises those on low incomes with the greatest housing need. Prior to that, one could have got the $300,000 annual income that Mr Key was talking about and got into one of those houses under National. Ninety-nine percent of new tenants housed last month, who qualified for an income-related rent, had an average net assessable income of $261.55 per week.
Judy Turner: Has the Department of Building and Housing, in monitoring rates of income for State housing tenants, determined at which point it would be ideal to approach a tenant with an offer for the tenant to purchase the property; if so, what is that income rate, and if the department has not made that calculation, why not?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: We would not be approaching the person to purchase a State house. We still have to get back the 13,000 houses that we lost under the National Government. However the trigger for talking to people about moving into an alternative private sector rental property or buying a house comes as they approach a market rent.
Phil Heatley: How fair is it that a Christchurch household can have a $70,000 income, but that cannot include the income of an adult son who is a chef, and does not include the income of another adult son who works in telecommunications and also lives at home, yet all the while poorer families go without housing?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: I reiterate to the member opposite that Labour’s track record over 6 years of housing people who were left in need by National’s policy is simply and utterly outstanding. If the member has a particular complaint about a particular house, he should give it to me and I will have a look.
Georgina Beyer: What is the Government planning to do to make sure people earning nearly $100,000 per annum are not occupying State houses?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: The Government has been, of course, extremely active in that area, unlike the previous National Government. For example, the mortgage insurance scheme was designed to get people into houses, and we prioritise people in State houses. The KiwiSaver scheme is designed to get people into houses. The new share equity scheme is designed to get people into houses. We are very active, because we believe that people should be in their own houses—preferably owning them—unlike the National Party.
Phil Heatley: Does the Minister think it is fair that a Christchurch family on a $70,000-plus income, with its two adult sons, remains in a State house so that—and this is the tenants’ quote—“the boys can save some money for overseas travel”, and “they can pay off loans for some vehicles”, while poor families go without housing?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: I would point out that those people pay a market rent, I would point out that we will be encouraging them to take up options like purchase or a shift into the private market, and I would point out that under the National Government it was the policy of that party to put as many high-income people into those houses as it possibly could, and when it sold them it sold them to speculators. It is unreal that this member is raising these questions.
Phil Heatley: Where is the Minister’s compassion and good sense of what is fair when a family can earn over $70,000 after tax, not declare its adult sons’ incomes, and save for overseas travel, yet all the while thousands of needy families are languishing on the waiting list?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: I repeat that 99 percent of people who got a house in the last month were income-related tenants. Under that member’s National Government people routinely had high incomes and got rental properties, and speculators bought a large proportion of those 13,000 houses—which we could use right now.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. This is getting to a stage where the treatment of various members of this House is different. The simple fact is that I counted 10 people over on the Opposition benches shouting during that last answer and the answer before that. The fact is that if we are required to keep quiet while questions are being asked, there should be a modicum of silence when questions are being answered. I do not mind there being one or two interjectors, but it makes a leaderless rabble to have 10 people interjecting—not the social welfare spokesperson but everybody. That is what is happening over there. I think it is patently unfair, and I say they should be stopped.
Madam SPEAKER: I thank the member. I ask members please to keep the barracking at acceptable levels so all members in the House can hear. That is the right of members.
Phil Heatley: I seek leave to table a press article about a four-income family saving for overseas holidays.
Madam SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that article. Is there any objection? Yes, there is objection.
Phil Heatley: I seek leave to table a valuation report documenting that that household has a Housing New Zealand ownership in a Housing New Zealand – owned home.
Madam SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection? There is objection.
Teenage Crime—Principal Youth Court Judge's Comments
6. RON MARK (NZ First) to the Minister of Justice: Has he read the reported comments of Principal Youth Court Judge, Andrew Becroft, that there has been a surge in the most serious violent crime being committed by teenagers; if so, does he share this view?
Hon MARK BURTON (Minister of Justice): I have seen the comments of Judge Becroft in an article that he wrote for the Justices Quarterly, in which he notes that the crime levels for this age group have stabilised over the last 5 to 8 years. He also notes that although serious offending grabs the headlines, it accounts for only a small percentage of the total number of offences. I think what the judge has rightly commented on is that in some cases the level of violence has escalated and he rightly—and I think as all members in this House would agree—draws attention to our concern about that.
Ron Mark: Would he agree that effective deterrents are a key part of the youth justice system, and that the sharp jump in serious violent offences committed by youths may indicate that there is currently a lack of effective deterrents; if not, why not?
Hon MARK BURTON: Again I think there is some confusion about what Judge Becroft was actually saying, but there is no doubt at all about the concern that he has rightly expressed—as I indicated in my first answer—to the seriousness of some of the violence. There is equally no question that we have to continue to look at the effectiveness of interventions. I have to say, however, there have been, and will continue to be, a range of programmes—such as Te Hurihanga, which is about to be built in Hamilton—which are about looking at how we address concerns around youth offending generally.
Nicky Wagner: Has he read the reported comments of Judge Becroft that responsibility for young offenders should be removed from Child, Youth and Family Services because it cannot do the job, and that when Cabinet papers reveal that a review of Child, Youth and Family Services youth justice services capability is 9 months behind schedule despite the high degree of concern from the judiciary, and what is he doing to show some leadership in youth justice.
Gerry Brownlee: Does the Minister want to talk about the Commonwealth Games?[Interruption]
Madam SPEAKER: Would members please settle. Each one has had a go, so we will have an answer to the question that has been asked.
Hon MARK BURTON: I would have thought that the member opposite would have wanted to treat this a little more seriously than he obviously does. I am not sure what particular document the member is referring to, and perhaps she will supply it to me afterwards and I could then confirm whether I have seen it before.
Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. The member opposite, who is not known for his athletic prowess, has just described me as a girl. It is not a terrible insult, but it is not, I think, an appropriate interjection to make during question time.
Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I most certainly did not refer to the Minister as being a girl. That is not an insult I would ever offer—it is just totally inappropriate. But I did call him a goon, and I think that name fits really well. I now seek leave for the Minister for Sport and Recreation to be given a couple of minutes to offer his congratulations to the Commonwealth Games athletes, noting that he was at an extended luncheon function earlier and was unable to participate in that debate earlier today.
Madam SPEAKER: No, I am sorry; the member cannot seek leave on behalf of another member.
Hon Trevor Mallard: I spent and hour and a half yesterday congratulating the athletes directly.
Madam SPEAKER: Well, I am not sure exactly what the points of order were about, but we will now hear the answer.
Hon MARK BURTON: To complete my answer to the member, I say that the Government has initiated a wide range of interventions, ranging from those that I think the member might agree are particularly important, such as early intervention, which is part of a long-term strategy to make a difference of crime reduction. There is everything from increased participation by Mâori and Pacific children in early childhood education, through to an extensive youth-offending strategy that includes, for instance, the creation of 30 youth-offending teams around the country, further training for police and Child Youth and Family Services, the introduction of health and education assessments for many young offenders, and so on. There is a great deal of work going on, but there is a great deal more to do.
Dr Pita Sharples: Has the Minister read the recent comments of the same Principal Youth Court Judge, Judge Andrew Becroft, that “youth crime is not skyrocketing”, and that whatever we need to do to avoid imprisonment, we must take up, because when a person is sent to prison “it is likely the person will come out a more serious offender”, and does the Minister share this view?
Hon MARK BURTON: Again, I am not sure whether I have seen the particular article the member refers to, but certainly the content of it is consistent with articles such as the one in the quarterly that I have referred to previously. Certainly, the judge does refer there to the relatively stable level of youth offending over the last 5 to 8 years. But I think, like virtually every judge I have ever spoken to—and I can say that there are a great many—tends to agree, that prison is seldom the best strategy for reducing long-term offending.
Ron Mark: Will the Government be supporting the referral of my Young Offenders (Serious Crimes) Bill to a select committee to enable the public to have their views heard on the youth justice system and on the tools available to police and the courts to deter young offenders from entering a life of crime and subsequently ending up in our jails, which, as the member has just pointed out, we possibly should not have because they do not work? [Interruption]
Madam SPEAKER: And which the member should not have pointed out while the question was being asked.
Hon MARK BURTON: Yes, indeed. The Government will be supporting the member’s bill, because I think it does offer an opportunity for consideration of some very serious issues, and I think the quality of the questions members have asked in the House this afternoon demonstrates that these are serious issues. They require serious consideration. I think this Parliament will benefit from the value contributed to the process by wide public involvement.
Question No. 3 to Minister
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Minister of Finance): I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. In light of a claim earlier that I had made up a costing of $11 billion over 3 years for National’s tax cuts. I seek leave to table the Newstalk ZB transcript from 9 February 2006, where Mr Key says: “I mean, it was $11 billion worth of tax cuts over 3 years.”
Focus 2000 Ltd—Complaints
7. Dr PAUL HUTCHISON (National—Port Waikato) to the Minister of Health: What action did Ministers take when they were first made aware of complaints surrounding Focus 2000 in 2002?
Hon PETE HODGSON (Minister of Health): As a matter of course when Ministers receive complaints about service providers, the complaints are passed to the Minister or to the Ministry of Health.
Dr Paul Hutchison: Why has he failed to prevent the ongoing incidents of abuse, maltreatment, and neglect that continue to occur under State disability providers, given that the reported 2002 incidents were so serious they included: “two deaths in the last 3 years, no staff present, both choked to death.”? Why has he failed?
Hon PETE HODGSON: The member is clearly referring to Focus 2000, which has been subject to a large number of audits, the repayment of $2.5 million, and a significant change in the way it does things. That has, however, not stopped the complaints. A further series of audits is under way now, and the ministry is meeting with Focus 2000 management on a weekly basis.
Dr Paul Hutchison: What has he done, other than to order more audits, to prevent incidents under State-contracted disability providers such as the recent report of: “an intellectually disabled autistic man who was kicked and later dragged naked around a rugby field”?
Hon PETE HODGSON: I have received a number of complaints—certainly in excess of the number that have been alluded to in the House today—that have caused me to ask the Ministry of Health to undertake a number of audits. Those audits include, first of all, an organisational audit—
Hon Members: More audits and reviews!
Hon PETE HODGSON: I can tell members if they like, or I can sit down if they do not like—it is their choice. Those audits include an organisational audit, which is an unusual audit for the Ministry of Health to undertake and reflects concerns about governance, as well as a financial audit, which reflects concerns about money. As well as those, there will be a number of quality audits, which were scheduled anyway, which reflect ongoing concerns about the provision of care. It is a matter of fact that I have also received a large number of pieces of advice saying that people are very happy with Focus 2000. There is a variety of views on the matter.
Dr Paul Hutchison: What will the Minister do, other than order more audits, to stop the ongoing abuse and neglect under State-contracted providers, when only this month a further complaint was made that the same blind, intellectually disabled, autistic man is being regularly punished by way of forced cold showers whenever he smears himself with faeces?
Hon PETE HODGSON: If the member has any complaint that he wishes to make available to me, I warmly invite him to do so, and I would like him to do so as freely and as often as he wishes. Finally, if the Ministry of Health—and specifically the Director-General of Health—holds the view that any residential facility ought not to continue, then she is entitled to issue a cease and desist order. That happens from time to time. It has happened, in recent times, other than to Focus 2000, and the member may be aware of that already.
Dr Paul Hutchison: Does the Minister accept that he was ill-informed and confused on 17 February this year, when he was asked by Radio New Zealand about the need for wholesale change or for a special inquiry into Focus 2000 and he said: “No, no, no, no, no, not at all.”, and will he now commit to a full-scale inquiry into shortcomings of care within the disability sector?
Hon PETE HODGSON: It is interesting that the member asks me to commit to a full-scale inquiry, when, on the afternoon of that very day, that is exactly what happened.
Dr Paul Hutchison: I seek leave to table three documents. The first article is from the Weekend Herald dated Saturday, 18 March 2005 and is entitled “Disability care in crisis”.
Madam SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection? There is.
Dr Paul Hutchison: The second article is from the Herald on Sunday dated 5 June 2005 and is entitled “Disabled patient ‘dragged naked around a field’”.
Madam SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection? There is.
Dr Paul Hutchison: The third article is from the Herald on Sunday dated 12 February 2006 and is entitled “Disabled ‘roughly handled’ by staff”.
Madam SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection? There is.
Auckland Transport Infrastructure—Rugby World Cup
8. Hon MAURICE WILLIAMSON (National—Pakuranga) to the Acting Minister of Transport: Is he concerned that the Auckland transport infrastructure will not cope with the demands put on it by the Rugby World Cup in 2011; if so, what special initiatives does he plan to implement?
Hon PETE HODGSON (Acting Minister of Transport): No, I am not concerned, because the Government is investing heavily in Auckland’s transport system, and by one measure at a rate 10 times faster than when the member himself was the Minister of Transport.
Hon Maurice Williamson: Is the Minister aware that if we can return to the optimistic August update, which included the $500 million upgrade—a point we are still not at—that will mean that in Auckland, during 2011, the Manukau Harbour Bridge extension project will be halfway through, the Avondale extension of State Highway 20 will have just started, the Auckland Harbour Bridge to city completion project will be about one-third of the way through, and we will be around halfway through the upgrading of the Newmarket viaduct, and does the member from Dunedin have any idea what that will mean for Auckland motorists in 2011?
Hon PETE HODGSON: I am sure that Transit, working with other organisations in Auckland, will manage issues around construction zones, as it did, for example, during other big events in Auckland such as the Lions tour and for the occasional visit and large conference, and so on. The point of the story is that we will have to stop work on very, very many projects, because we will have work under way on so many, many projects.
Hon Maurice Williamson: Has the Minister read the Treasury briefing note to the Minister of Finance dated 28 June 2005, which says: “A recent internal Treasury project examines the question of whether, from a national welfare perspective, expenditure on roads is sufficient.”, and concludes by stating that although Transfund is using a cost-benefit analysis, and that it may be sound, it suggests that substantial road infrastructure under-investment is occurring and that New Zealand seems to be passing up road investments that would earn a very high return, and is he concerned that that is Treasury’s view of this Government’s level of investment?
Hon PETE HODGSON: Since the date of the Treasury paper to which the member refers, the Government has increased investment. I urge the Opposition to try even harder to keep abreast of this fast-moving Government.
Taito Phillip Field: Can the Minister inform the House as to what key projects will be completed before the Rugby World Cup gets under way in 2011?
Hon PETE HODGSON: If I restrict myself to the major ones, I am sure I will get through the list before being sat down. It includes State Highway 18 Greenhithe deviation, State Highway 18 Upper Harbour Bridge duplication, State Highway 20 Mount Roskill extension, State Highway 1 northern busway, State Highway 1 all phases central motorway junction upgrade, continued double tracking of the western line, continued upgrade of a number of stations, a number of auxiliary lanes on a number of highways, and on and on it goes.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Has the Minister received any reports as to how far ahead in our state of infrastructural roading preparedness we would have been had Mr Williamson, as Minister of Transport, not opposed a 1995 bill to divert money from roading taxes towards roading, or, in 1999, not supported the repeal of the prior year’s budgetary provision to put more money into roading; how far further down the track would we have been without those actions from the previous National Government?
Hon PETE HODGSON: I have no reports on the specific matter the member raises but I do know that the quantum of money is sufficient that the distance would have been very substantial indeed.
Heather Roy: Is progress on State Highway 20 through Auckland painfully slow because, while overgrown construction in the Mount Roskill electorate is fine with the Prime Minister, she demands that a billion-dollar tunnel be built to accommodate the highway through her electorate?
Hon PETE HODGSON: No—and what is more, the Mount Roskill extension, which is the bit that is being built now, is a little ahead of schedule.
Hon Maurice Williamson: Why does the Minister continue to repeat the incorrect mantra that the Government is spending 10 times as much as the previous National Government on Auckland’s roads when in fact his own numbers, given by way of written answer, which he will be able to check, show that in the last year of the previous National Government $134 million was being spent on new roading in Auckland, and that that figure dropped—as the graph I have will show the Minister—under the first few years of the Labour Government and has only got back around the $200-million mark now, which is nowhere near 10 times, and in fact after correcting for inflation has hardly increased at all?
Hon PETE HODGSON: The member deludes himself. The criterion I referred to when I cited one measure in my answer to the primary question is simply a measure of all major projects. We are not talking about puddles and footpaths; we are talking about major projects. Spending on all major projects under way or recently completed is now worth $1.3 billion, and when we came to Government the figure was 10 percent of that. That is the fact of the matter, and the member has to wear it because his Government was hopeless.
Hon Maurice Williamson: Has the Minister seen the statement by the chair of the Auckland Regional Council, Mike Lee, when asked whether he thought Auckland’s transport infrastructure would cope with the Rugby World Cup: “I can say it will, but it will barely cope, and the point is we need to do better than that. We really need to be striving for excellence rather than putting up with the mediocre.”; if so, what will the Minister do to address the enormous shortfall in funding for Auckland’s infrastructure over the next 5 years before the Rugby World Cup takes place?
Hon PETE HODGSON: Chairman Lee would reply, if asked, that this Government is the best Government of recent times and a whole bunch better than the Government we replaced. He went on to say in his press statement of 28 March, yesterday, that the Auckland Regional Council is looking at a variety of alternative funding sources to achieve the level of investment necessary for public transport. The Auckland Regional Council is very, very pleased with the Government.
Hon Paul Swain: Could the Minister advise whether transport projects in Auckland would be due for completion by 2011 if the roading network had been privatised, as was promoted by the previous National Government?
Hon PETE HODGSON: The member, a former Minister, raises a very good question. The truth of the matter is that the Government spent much of the 1990s arguing about who in this country should own the roads. Who do members think should own the roads? [Interruption] OK, we should. That is the answer. It did not take a decade; it took a nanosecond. That is the difference between this Government and the previous one, which let ideology overcome common sense.
Peter Brown: Is the Minister aware of the ULTra personal rapid transport system that is being developed in Cardiff and, indeed, in some other cities; if he is aware of it, does he believe that such a system could be installed in Auckland in order to address positively Auckland’s transport woes?
Hon PETE HODGSON: I am afraid I am not, but I hope it does not “leek”.
9. Hon MARK GOSCHE (Labour—Maungakiekie) to the Minister of Immigration: What initiatives is the Government taking to strengthen New Zealand’s border security?
Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE (Minister of Immigration): New Zealand has recently signed a memorandum of understanding with the Ambassador of the United States that provides for the sharing of information on border security. The Regional Movement Alert List will enhance New Zealand’s ability to detect lost, stolen, or invalid travel documents that travellers are attempting to use.
Hon Mark Gosche: What evidence does the Minister have that this initiative will benefit New Zealand?
Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: Since 2003, New Zealand and Australia have had a similar arrangement to the Regional Movement Alert List. In 2004-05, 660 people were prevented from boarding flights to New Zealand who had either security alerts against them or travel documents that were invalid or stolen.
Peter Brown: Is the Minister aware that Britain has signed a memorandum of understanding with Jordan and Libya and is working on signing one with Algeria; if the Minister is aware of that, will he recommend that the Prime Minister talk to Tony Blair whilst he is in this country to ask how it is done so that we can send Mr Zaoui packing at the earliest possible moment?
Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: Yes and no.
Question time interrupted.
Questions for Oral Answer
Questions to Ministers
Treaty of Waitangi —Historical Claims
10. GERRY BROWNLEE (Deputy Leader—National) to the Minister in charge of Treaty of Waitangi Negotiations: How does he define “historical claims” as referred to in the Government’s 2005 election policy?
Hon MARK BURTON (Minister in charge of Treaty of Waitangi Negotiations): Historical claims relate to Crown acts or omissions prior to 21 September 1992. This definition has been consistently applied since its adoption by Cabinet in 1992.
Gerry Brownlee: When does he intend to introduce legislation to the House to give effect to the election promise to close off the lodgment of all historic Treaty of Waitangi claims by 1 September 2008?
Hon MARK BURTON: I can assure the member that the appropriate Minister will put the appropriate legislation before the House to ensure that the legislation is passed in plenty of time to meet that target.
Gerry Brownlee: What discussions has the Minister had with the Hon Nanaia Mahuta over the conflicting claims between Ngâti Te Ata and Tainui over the iron sands at Maioro?
Hon MARK BURTON: Whilst I meet frequently with the Hon Nanaia Mahuta, I have not had any meetings on that subject as such.
Pita Paraone: Does the Minister agree that the key to expeditiously resolving historical claims lies not in adopting a negative approach, unlike some parties in this House, but in adopting constructive ideas such as those contained in the Waka Umanga report, like having iwi groups establish mandated corporate entities at the front end of negotiations rather than during the final stages of negotiations; if not, why not?
Hon MARK BURTON: I entirely agree with the member’s assertion that constructive engagement to find creative ways to reach settlement is indeed the best way forward. Although not every idea that is advanced will necessarily be appropriate, improvements can certainly be made, and I am actively seeking to make them.
Gerry Brownlee: Is it a policy of this Government for the Office of Treaty Settlements to ignore Waitangi Tribunal findings; if not, why has the Office of Treaty Settlements decided to ignore a 1985 Waitangi Tribunal finding that the Crown should negotiate with Ngâti Te Ata over Maioro and decided to deal instead with Tainui?
Hon MARK BURTON: I would have to look at the documentation to see whether the member’s assertion is correct. Certainly, it is not the practice of the Office of Treaty Settlements to ignore the tribunal, but it does not always agree with the tribunal.
Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I ask you to reflect on that answer. He is virtually saying that I am wrong in making that particular assertion. He is the Minister; one would assume that where there is such a difficult conflict, he might have received some report on it. This is an issue that could see New Zealand Steel shut down within a very short time, and I do not believe for one minute that the Minister has not been acquainted with the difficulties that exist over that particular claim.
Hon Trevor Mallard: That may or may not be the case, but I think if one looks carefully at question No. 10, one will see that it is not clear this was a matter that was signalled as part of the original question. Some of the problems we had last week—or possibly the week before; I do not know whether I was here last week—were around these issues of having blind first questions, British House of Parliament style. People cannot expect Ministers to bring all the details of every Office of Treaty Settlements case in response to a question like that. If one wanted to go even further, one might want to question whether asking the Minister to define historical claims and then going to a specific claim is within the bounds of the original question, anyway. [Interruption]
Madam SPEAKER: No, I do not need further help; I thank members. The question was a general one. The member is entitled to ask questions within that general context, and did, but the Minister is equally entitled to express a view, which he did. If he felt that the member was wrong, then he is entitled to say that. I ask the member to ask a supplementary question.
Gerry Brownlee: Why is the Office of Treaty Settlements now deciding to deal with Tainui in matters that should rightly be dealt with through Ngâti Te Ata, on the basis that Ngâti Te Ata are hapû of Tainui, when in fact Ngâti Te Ata do not appear as one of the 23 listed hapû in the Tainui settlement legislation?
Hon MARK BURTON: Frankly, my colleague Mr Mallard made the pertinent point. I am simply not prepared to come to the House and debate the detail of—
Hon Dr Nick Smith: You don’t know what’s going on.
Hon MARK BURTON: I say to Mr Smith that the fact that I do know what is going on in the portfolio means I am not prepared to come to the House and discuss the detail of any one of 23 complex negotiations in a superficial way.
Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. That cannot be an acceptable answer from the Minister. These questions are set down early in the day. Surely a Minister would go to his office staff and ask what all the interesting, difficult, potentially troublesome settlements or claims around the countryside are that this question might lead on to. Surely, do we not have a right to expect that when the imminent closure of New Zealand Steel is at stake, the Minister may have received a briefing? Further, are we not entitled to imagine that these—
Madam SPEAKER: Could the point of order be brief, please.
Gerry Brownlee: The point of order is that you surely cannot allow Ministers to simply say that they did not anticipate the question, and that they will come back—
Madam SPEAKER: No. I thank the member.
Hon Trevor Mallard: Speaking to the point of order—
Madam SPEAKER: No. I need no assistance with this. I have already ruled, in effect, that of course the Minister did address the question. It is always appropriate for a Minister to ask for notice of specific matters that are raised as a result of a general question. That is perfectly in order as a response.
Hon Nanaia Mahuta: Can the Minister clarify that if there is a dispute within iwi over mandate, there is a process with the Office of Treaty Settlements for working that dispute through?
Hon MARK BURTON: Because the member asks a general question, I say that there is, absolutely, a process. Generally, questions within iwi are best solved within iwi, particularly as they relate to mandating, but often the Office of Treaty Settlements does lend assistance to that process.
Hon Trevor Mallard: Is it the Minister’s practice to work carefully through issues within his portfolio in a timely manner, to comment on them as appropriate when he has focused on them, and not to leave dozens and dozens of boxes of papers in his room, as the Hon Nick Smith did when he stopped being a Minister? [Interruption]
Madam SPEAKER: No. Would the Minister please rephrase that question without including the last phrase that has caused the problem.
Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. We have had a number of questions today that have asked for a bit of a narrowing of the way in which questions can be answered. I have been told repeatedly that my questions are too broad in relation to question No. 10 itself. How on earth can a Minister being asked to comment on his style of work in any way relate to question No. 10?
Madam SPEAKER: No. The problem with the question, Mr Brownlee, was that what the member asked was actually too specific and narrow, but your original question was fine. The point is that the Minister has addressed the questions here, we have to make progress, and if I receive any more frivolous points of order, then I will rule that the House is being brought into disrepute. So would the Minister please address the question without the member’s last part—an opinion on that, but without the comparison please.
Hon MARK BURTON: The member is entirely correct. This is a complex portfolio in which mistakes are costly in every sense of the word. We have managed to achieve in a relatively short time, in the term of this Government, six deeds of settlements. Thirteen groups have entered negotiations. We have 25 live negotiations proceeding right now. The portfolio requires extreme care and a degree of caution that is rare even in ministerial portfolios. It would be simply irresponsible to treat those issues flippantly and frivolously in this House.
11. DARREN HUGHES (Labour—Otaki) to the Minister of Youth Affairs: What changes is the Government making to improve the lives of young New Zealanders?
Hon NANAIA MAHUTA (Minister of Youth Affairs): From 1 April—this Saturday—interest-free student loans will be introduced as a core commitment by this Labour-led Government to improve the lives of many young New Zealanders. It is a good story to tell. For example, a graduate with a debt of $15,000 who earns $35,000 a year will save $6,935 and repay his or her loan in 7 years. Without the changes, the student would have taken 10 years to repay $21,935 in accumulated debt. There is a good story to tell to young New Zealanders.
Fungus Invasion, Northland—Biosecurity Plan
12. SHANE ARDERN (National—Taranaki-King Country) to the Minister for Biosecurity: Does Biosecurity New Zealand have a plan in place to combat the recently discovered invasive fungus threatening the Northland horticultural industry?
Hon JIM ANDERTON (Minister for Biosecurity): A new species of fungus called Phytophthora kernoviae has been identified in Northland. Biosecurity New Zealand is currently assessing its options for dealing with this fungus. In keeping with our international obligations, Biosecurity New Zealand has notified our trading partners of this find. However, it is not clear how long the fungus may have been in New Zealand. There are several other species of the fungus that cause leaf loss and wilting in trees. Standard crop protection techniques such as applying fungicide can be used to manage these varieties. It has not yet been determined whether that will also work on this variety of fungus.
Shane Ardern: Does the Minister agree with Biosecurity New Zealand’s proposal for a generic incursion response system, as outlined as one of the Minister’s priorities in the briefing paper to the incoming Minister?
Hon JIM ANDERTON: That is one proposal from the Biosecurity Ministerial Advisory Committee. I point out to the member that if New Zealand were to try to fund biosecurity systems that would prevent not only hundreds of thousands but millions of possible incursions in New Zealand, there would not be enough wealth generated in the whole GDP to guarantee that. I am advised, just as one example, that there are 30 varieties of this particular kind of fungus, and tens of thousands of varieties of fungus in New Zealand. So which hundreds or thousands of those particular varieties does the member have in mind that we deal with? That is only fungus.
Shane Ardern: Does this mean that the Minister was wrong when in his press statement dated 2 November 2005 he stated: “legally (and logically), you cannot have a pest management strategy before incursions happen—”?
Hon JIM ANDERTON: We have to know what particular incursions we are trying to deal with—or is it the millions that the member evidently knows more about than the scientists who advise us? I can say to the member that I do not think I was wrong about that, but I do know that the member was wrong when he said recently that didymo can be killed but that unfortunately one has to kill a river for a few years to do it, and that surely it would be better to sacrifice one or two rivers than to let it spread through the South Island. This Government is not prepared to sacrifice any rivers. It is not prepared to try to kill something that no one in the world knows anything about. New Zealand is now the leading country on scientific investigation into didymo. I wish that the member would wake up and smell the coffee about biosecurity and get a decent briefing from Biosecurity New Zealand, which I will offer him so he can get up to speed.
Shane Ardern: How does the Minister expect the New Zealand public to have any confidence in him at all, when clearly his own Cabinet colleagues do not, as was evidenced yesterday when he was rolled over the dog-chipping fiasco; and when will he actually take some notice of his own ministry when it advises him to have a generic response capability—as his Act requires him? He is required under the Act to have it, so when will he do that?
Hon JIM ANDERTON: In terms of resources for biosecurity, this Government has more than doubled the financial resource for the baselines of biosecurity and it has had extraordinary success in dealing with incursions. The painted apple moth, the Asian gypsy moth, and the fall web worm moth were all dealt with under this Government’s watch, and that is because we have resourced this department properly, unlike the previous National Government.
Shane Ardern: I seek the leave of the House to table Part 5 of the Biosecurity Act, which clearly states that a Minister has the power, and is required, to set up a—
Madam SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection? There is objection.
Shane Ardern: I seek the leave of the House to table the advisory papers to the incoming Minister, which clearly state that a No. 1 objective of Biosecurity New Zealand in 2005-06 was to put in place a strategic management strategy.
Madam SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection? There is objection.
Shane Ardern: I seek the leave of the House to table a press release from the Minister, dated 2 November 2005, where the Minister says that it would not be sensible and he cannot manage a strategy before an incursion happens.
Madam SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection? There is objection.