Questions And Answers - Thursday 30 March 2006
Questions And Answers Thursday, 30
Questions to Ministers
Taxation—Effective Marginal Tax Rates
1. SHANE JONES (Labour) to the Minister of Finance: What recent reports, if any, has he received indicating that effective marginal tax rates should be increased?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Minister of Finance): I have received reports suggesting that payments under Working for Families should abate at a rate that would mean that a person on a parliamentary salary of $118,000 with five children would not receive any payment under the scheme. This, of course, would mean a higher level of abatement, and therefore higher effective marginal tax rates. For the person referred to yesterday with 20 children to be abated out by that level of salary would imply an abatement rate of 70 percent and an effective marginal tax rate of 109 percent on all income above $60,000 a year.
Shane Jones: Has he seen any reports that indicate support for avoidance measures to rort the Working for Families scheme?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I have seen reports suggesting that a dual-income family with five children, where one income earner is paid $118,000 per annum, would be paid money under the Working for Families scheme. Of course, this would be true only if the family failed to declare the second income in the household. I hope that no one in this House would encourage the latter behaviour, which would, of course, be a serious rort of the system.
Dr the Hon Lockwood Smith: How is the Government encouraging people into work when a person on the domestic purposes benefit with three children who increases his or her wages from work from $10,000 a year to $25,000 a year would face an effective marginal tax rate of approximately 90 percent, leaving that person with less than $1,700 of that extra $15,000 earned?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: May I thank the member for the opportunity to answer that question, because yesterday the National Party asked questions implying the abatement rate was far too low. Dr the Hon Lockwood Smith is now asking a question saying that the abatement rate is far too high. I just wish the Opposition could work out this scheme and get their answers consistent from one day to the next. In any case he is using the old abatement rates, not the new ones.
Dr the Hon Lockwood Smith: Could the Minister please explain how the old abatement rates are being used when the figures I have used were supplied by the Inland Revenue Department yesterday as applying from 1 April this year—does the Minister not even know his own portfolio?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: That is very interesting, but my response to the member is that abatement rates at some point in coming off benefit of about 90 percent have been in the New Zealand system at any time since it was instituted, otherwise the member is getting up and asking me why somebody on $100,000 a year is still getting the domestic purposes benefit.
Income Per Capita—OECD Ranking
2. Dr DON BRASH (Leader of the Opposition) to the Prime Minister: Does her Government still have the objective of returning New Zealand’s per capita income to the top half of the OECD; if so, when does she expect this to happen?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK (Prime Minister): Yes. No target time has been set.
Dr Don Brash: What does she think of the recent stagnation of the New Zealand economy, with a real risk that we are already in recession and with the virtual certainty of very poor growth over the next several years—so poor that our economy has been described by one major bank as being “in the cack”? What does she think that recent stagnation and very poor prospects will do to our ranking in the OECD?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I am sure the member is praying for exactly such an outcome, but I have much more faith in New Zealanders and our economy than he does.
Dr Don Brash: Can she confirm that, unlike in 1997 and 1998, there is no Asian crisis currently under way, that there have not been successive years of drought, and that, therefore, in the absence of major external shocks, the Government has managed to bring us to the brink of recession all on its own?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: There is an old saying that one swallow does not make a spring. This country has just gone through something like 20 consecutive quarters of strong growth. The member is well aware that when the exchange rate of the dollar goes high and impacts on exporting, there is a period of rebalancing. That is exactly what the economy is going through.
Hon Dr Michael Cullen: Contrary to the claims made in the last question, can the Prime Minister confirm that during this Government’s period of office, there have in fact been 2 years of drought, that we have had a massive outbreak of international terrorism, a war in Iraq—
Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. Both after I had been called for a point of order and during the asking of that supplementary question, the relatively new member who sits on the front bench of the Opposition was running a series of interjections. I know that the Opposition supports the principle of one law for all, and that principle should be applied to him, as well.
Madam SPEAKER: It is early in this particular session. Members are all on their final warning today, and that includes one for the level of barracking. It was at the maximum level in response to the last question. So would all members please get on and let us have a question time where we can hear both the questions and the answers.
Hon Dr Michael Cullen: I will repeat the question. Can the Prime Minister confirm that contrary to the assertions made in the previous question, we have experienced 2 years of drought under this Government, plus a number of serious floods, a major terrorist attack that led to an international crisis around terrorism, a war in Iraq—
Darren Hughes: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I am sorry to interrupt my colleague, but Mr Smith interjected twice during Dr Cullen’s question.
Madam SPEAKER: I know he did. I am sorry, Dr Smith, but I specifically did not take action the time before when the question was being asked. I put everyone on a final warning, so would you please leave the Chamber until the end of question time.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: Point of order—I apologise.
Madam SPEAKER: I am frequently accused in this House of not upholding the Standing Orders. I try to be as fair as I humanly can, to enable a robust debate to take place. The matter was raised before. I gave a final warning, and you interjected twice, Dr Smith. It is not a question of an apology; it is a question of in fact obeying the rules. So I ask you to please leave the Chamber. You may, of course, come back if you have a primary question, and certainly you are permitted to come back at the end of question time.
Hon Dr Nick Smith withdrew from the Chamber.
Hon Dr Michael Cullen: As I was saying, can the Prime Minister confirm that contrary to the assertions in the previous question, there have in fact been 2 years of drought, a number of floods, a major outbreak of terrorism, a war in the Middle East, in Iraq, and that oil price have risen from about $20 a barrel to over $60 a barrel, which is a far higher increase than occurred during the late 1990s?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I can indeed confirm that under the Labour Government there have been some 20 consecutive quarters of strong growth, despite all those conditions—circumstances that I consider far more difficult to deal with than the Asian crisis was, which the then National Government exacerbated by cutting spending.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Given that Dr Brash has put at issue the response to the Asian crisis of 1997-98, which, in the Government’s view, as it points to the future, was the appropriate action: the then Treasurer ensuring that there was significant liquidity and a greater social welfare, health, and education expenditure, or Dr Brash tightening the currency at that critical time?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: Madam Speaker—
Madam SPEAKER: I think I understand your point of order about whether that is a responsibility and whether it is within the question. Would the member care to relate the question to—
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. Dr Brash put at issue the Asian crisis and response of 1997-98—
Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: The member should sit down. I am speaking.
Madam SPEAKER: Mr Brownlee, you must allow the member to finish and then you can have your say. Would both members please sit down. As I understand it—and I may have misheard—when the member Winston Peters rose, I assumed he was taking a point of order. I hesitated before the Rt Hon Prime Minister responded, because I was reflecting on whether or not the question was, in fact, in order. I will take the Rt Hon Winston Peters’ point of order and then Mr Brownlee’s point of order.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: My point of order is that Dr Brash put at issue the response to the Asian crisis of 1997-98. What is important with respect to that is that one needs to know what a Government’s likely response would be should such a thing happen again: the response of the then Treasurer to ensure that liquidity in the market and confidence were retained in New Zealand, or the very opposite response from Dr Brash—the then Governor of the Reserve Bank—to tighten liquidity, which is all a fact?
Madam SPEAKER: So the question asks for an opinion on a situation.
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I have no hesitation in backing the then Treasurer’s approach on that. Dr Brash was known for high interest rates, which crushed the economy regularly.
Jeanette Fitzsimons: Has the Prime Minister seen the report in The Economist of 6 February that the OECD itself is increasingly criticising GDP as a way of measuring well-being because it ignores inequality, pollution, and the depreciation of natural and built capital, and does she agree that we should instead aspire to a high ranking in social, environmental, and cultural well-being?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: The member is right in saying that GDP rates per capita are not the only indicator of well-being, although they are significant. Of course, average rates can also disguise very great polarisation between the very wealthy and the very poor.
Dr Don Brash: Is the Prime Minister aware that in 1999 New Zealand ranked 20th out of 30 OECD countries, and that the latest figures show we are still ranked 20th out of 30, and does it make her despondent to think that even during a period of strong international prices and good growing weather, we have not been able to get even close to No 19?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: No, I do not have that sort of despondent personality. I know this economy has been growing for 20 quarters on end, which is a far better result than Dr Brash—with his crushing policy on exporters—had for this economy, which he jolly nearly wrecked.
Dr Don Brash: Does the Prime Minister think we will ever meet the objective of getting to the top half of the OECD, when although the Minister of Finance has said that the first step in doing so is to raise our sustainable growth rate to 4 percent, Treasury has said that our sustainable growth rate in the future will only be around 3 percent?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: The Government has a series of policies that aim to have New Zealand with a higher sustainable growth rate over time. Those policies are working. They have produced 20 consecutive quarters of growth. The very minor minus 0.1 percent of the last quarter may cheer Dr Brash and his despondent personality, but it will not depress this Government, which has produced years on end of strong growth.
Jeanette Fitzsimons: I seek leave to table the article I referred to from The Economist of 6 February entitled “Grossly distorted picture”.
Madam SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection? There is none.
Climate Change—Cross-party Agreement
3. JEANETTE FITZSIMONS (Co-Leader—Green) to the Minister responsible for Climate Change Issues: Does he agree with British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, that “in terms of the long term future there is no issue that’s more important than climate change”; if so, will he support a cross-party agreement on the seriousness of this issue and the broad parameters for the way forward?
Hon PETE HODGSON (Acting Minister responsible for Climate Change Issues): Yes and yes. The Government support for a cross-party agreement would, however, be dependent on New Zealand responding assertively to the threat that climate change presents.
Jeanette Fitzsimons: Does the Minister agree that a first objective would be to form some agreement on the degree of seriousness and urgency of climate change, and of the need for action soon?
Hon PETE HODGSON: That would strike me as a very good place to start.
Steve Chadwick: Is the Minister aware of any examples internationally where there has been cross-party support for climate change policy?
Hon PETE HODGSON: Yes, we can learn lessons from those in other countries. I would particularly instance the Dutch and the Canadians, both of whom have had experiences we can learn from. I await with interest the response of other parties.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Is it fair to expect cross-party support on an idea enunciated by Tony Blair, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, when one of the MPs in this House has described him as an “absolute liar” and “somebody he cannot stand”, even though he has not met him, and who has further said that anyone supportive of such a meeting is “sucking up to the pommies”—views expressed by Tau Henare this morning on Paul Holmes’ show in respect of Tony Blair?
Hon PETE HODGSON: Yes, I have seen that transcript. I must say that I think the issue is now no longer Tau Henare’s behaviour as much as it is his leader’s response to it. I would like to know what the Leader of the Opposition intends to do.
Jeanette Fitzsimons: Does the Minister think it might be possible to reach agreement that there needs to be a price on carbon throughout the economy to give business certainty about investment; and is he aware that the former National Minister for the Environment, Simon Upton, told this week’s climate change conference that a carbon tax would be the simplest, most effective, and most transparent tool to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and that all parties that had rejected it should eat humble pie and reconsider?
Hon PETE HODGSON: Yes, I am aware of the Rt Hon Simon Upton’s comments, and I do believe that having a price on carbon is very valuable. If, however, we were not able to achieve that, we could achieve some measure of success by ensuring through other policy measures that capital investment was made in a way that took into account the carbon issues surrounding climate change.
Gerry Brownlee: Can the Minister confirm that subsequent to his extraordinary mishandling of this portfolio, he has asked the Prime Minister to relieve him of the portfolio in the forthcoming reshuffle?
Hon PETE HODGSON: I am the Acting Minister responsible for Climate Change Issues.
Jeanette Fitzsimons: Does the Minister agree with economist Steve Hatfield-Dodds, from the climate change conference, that under all economic models, cutting emissions significantly has only a minor impact on the growth of GDP; if so, is he concerned that sacrificing the future of the planet for the sake of a minor slow-down in GDP growth might not be sensible prioritisation?
Hon PETE HODGSON: I regret that I have not seen that particular economist’s remarks, but it is a matter of fact that the carbon tax effect on GDP was so hard to measure we could not quite manage to do it.
Elective Surgery—Ability to Meet Need
4. Hon TONY RYALL (National—Bay of Plenty) to the Minister of Health: What mark out of 10 would he give the Government’s ability to meet New Zealanders’ need for elective surgery?
Hon PETE HODGSON (Minister of Health): A mark of 5½—higher than was ever the case under the previous National Government. New Zealand’s health system scores a pass mark because it is a good health system staffed by a dedicated workforce that we can all be proud of. The reason the mark ought not to be more than 5½ is that our workforce continually seeks improvement, and this Government continually supports that attitude. We will never be complacent.
Hon Tony Ryall: Can the Minister think of anything worse for the mother of an 8-year-old boy with a brain aneurysm that, if it ruptures, can lead to brain damage, major stroke, or death, than—and how can he countenance—a health system that sees two long-awaited surgery dates for this boy cancelled?
Hon PETE HODGSON: The member should think twice before bringing individual cases to the House. His colleagues do not do so. They give me information privately in order that I can progress issues. This issue is being progressed.
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 directs public hospitals to manipulate elective surgery thresholds to conceal from the public growth in waiting lists. This was not just a report; it was a direct order from a former Minister of Health, Bill English.
Hon Tony Ryall: What would he say to the mother of this 8-year-old boy as she tries to explain to her son why his operations are being cancelled?
Hon PETE HODGSON: I will not speak in a public arena about a private case unless the person involved puts his or her name in the public arena first.
Hon Tony Ryall: Why is it taking so long for kids like this boy to get this vitally needed surgery, yet if the brain aneurysm did erupt he would get the operation, all right, but at the risk of brain damage, a stroke, or death?
Hon PETE HODGSON: I will say again that this case has been raised with me privately by two of the member’s colleagues, who have been in discussions with my office yesterday and last night. I do not feel it is ethical for me to put a lot of personal detail into the public arena, but if I were to do so, it would change the context of the member’s position significantly.
Hon Tony Ryall: How would he answer the mother’s question that surely it would be cheaper and safer to operate on her son in a controlled environment rather than in an emergency situation?
Hon PETE HODGSON: I will say again that this is an issue that has more than one side to it. I will not put the other side in the House because I do not think that is an appropriate thing to do, but I urge the member to please get across all of the detail of this case; he can get it from his colleagues, who understand it better than he does.
Hon Tony Ryall: Can the Minister please explain why another 143 people have been promised neurosurgery by the Auckland District Health Board but are still waiting and worrying after 6 long months?
Hon PETE HODGSON: Auckland City Hospital has gone through a very significant transformation in recent times, and this has been shown particularly in the area of cardiac surgery and elsewhere. The member’s colleague breathlessly raised some minutes in respect of Auckland surgery, just 2 days ago. Those minutes were 3½ months old. The response to those minutes has been that an action plan has been developed, and it is now partially implemented.
Apples—Australian Market Access
5. RUSSELL FAIRBROTHER (Labour) to the Minister of Trade: What action is New Zealand currently taking to secure access for New Zealand apples into the Australian market?
Hon PHIL GOFF (Minister of Trade): New Zealand yesterday raised the issue of apple access into Australia at the World Trade Organization (WTO) Committee on Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures in Geneva. This is the third time that we have taken the matter up at that committee and received strong support from others, such as the United States. Today New Zealand has forwarded a formal submission to Biosecurity Australia in response to its draft import risk assessment. In both cases New Zealand has strongly and clearly demonstrated why Australia’s proposed quarantine measures are not scientifically justified and must be changed.
Russell Fairbrother: What consultation was undertaken in putting together the submission to Biosecurity Australia, and does it have the support of New Zealand’s industry body?
Hon PHIL GOFF: The submission is a detailed and technically rigorous 102-page document drafted by Biosecurity New Zealand in close consultation with the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade. The industry body Pipfruit New Zealand was closely involved in its drafting and is supportive of the submission. The submission expresses the significant concerns of both the Government and industry about the conditions that have been proposed for our apples’ access.
R Doug Woolerton: How is it that this course of action was not followed years ago, like when National was the Government?
Hon PHIL GOFF: National members, who tend to be lions in Opposition, were lambs when they were in Government. I think the then Minister of Trade said that he did not think that the WTO was the appropriate area. I know that nothing actually happened under the National Government on this issue for 9 years.
Craig Foss: Does the Minister agree with the Australian Apple Access Group, which had in its submission on the draft import risk assessment that the final import risk assessment report be released by 30 June 2006, and, if this date is not achieved, what action will he take?
Hon PHIL GOFF: I have seen that from the apples action group. That group knows, of course, that the timing is in the hands of Biosecurity Australia; it is not in our hands. It is possible, of course, at any time that we could take this matter to the WTO disputes process. The difficulty is, of course, that the moment we do that the import risk assessment process would stop immediately and the WTO process, I am advised, would take 3 to 6 years, so we would be shooting ourselves in the foot to do what that member is implying.
Question No. 6 to Minister
PHIL HEATLEY (National—Whangarei): The Hon Dover Samuels was with us in the select committee only an hour or so ago. I am sure he is on his way to the House. I seek leave to have the question dealt with later in question time.
Madam SPEAKER: Leave is sought. Is there any objection? There is objection.
Economic Development, Associate Minister—Policy Development
6. PHIL HEATLEY (National—Whangarei) to the Associate Minister for Economic Development: What part has he played in general policy development as an Associate Minister for Economic Development since taking up the role?
Hon TREVOR MALLARD (Minister for Economic Development) on behalf of the Associate Minister for Economic Development: Dover Samuels has been involved in policy development at several levels, with a particular focus on economic policies that have enhanced Mâori participation in the New Zealand economy. He notes that Mâori unemployment has more than halved under this Labour-led Government so his work is obviously paying off.
Phil Heatley: Has the Associate Minister seen the statement in the Independent of 22 March by a Mr Dover Samuels, who claims to be a former district councillor, complaining that 400 days after the aquaculture legislation was passed no aquaculture management areas had been established, and that there was “huge frustration” amongst coastal Mâori about the unworkability of the legislation, and can he tell the House whether, as Associate Minister for Economic Development, he is able to confirm this sorry state of affairs?
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: On behalf of the member, the answer to the first part of the question is yes.
Phil Heatley: Has he seen the statement in the Independent of 22 March by a Mr Dover Samuels complaining that: “A number of hapu in my area are just so frustrated that nothing is happening,”, and that he “intended to pursue the AMA aquaculture issue further with PPSC members.”, and can he advise the House whether he is able, as Associate Minister for Economic Development, to confirm this sorry state of affairs?
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: On behalf of the Hon Dover Samuels, the answer to the first part of the question is yes.
Phil Heatley: Has he seen a statement in the Independent of 22 March by a Mr Dover Samuels that in relation to aquaculture economic development he “intended to pursue the AMA aquaculture issue further with PPSC members.”, and can he tell the House why he then voted against a committee inquiry into aquaculture only 2 hours ago?
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: On behalf of the Associate Minister for Economic Development, the Hon Dover Samuels, in answer to the first part of the question, yes.
Phil Heatley: Can the Minister explain why he was speaking out in the Independent against the aquaculture legislation for his local hapû in his local area, yet voted against an inquiry on aquaculture only 2 hours ago?
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: On behalf of the Associate Minister for Economic Development, yes. [Interruption] The question was: “Can the Minister explain …”. Yes, he can.
Phil Heatley: Has the Minister seen the report on Television One’s Te Karere programme last night that said: “His political future looks uncertain and there is a possibility of him losing his ministerial position.”, and is he aware whether this is because his senior colleague the Minister for Economic Development, Trevor Mallard, has no confidence in him?
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: On behalf of the Hon Dover Samuels, Associate Minister for Economic Development, the answer to the first part of the question is yes. It is also his understanding that the Minister for Economic Development has confidence in him.
Phil Heatley: I seek leave to table the Independent article in which Dover Samuels speaks out against aquaculture.
Madam SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection? There is objection.
Phil Heatley: I seek leave to table my appeal to the Primary Production Committee for an inquiry into aquaculture, which Dover Samuels voted against.
Madam SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection? There is objection.
7. TE URUROA FLAVELL (Mâori Party—Waiariki) to the Minister for State Owned Enterprises: Ki tana whakapono, e tika ana mâ Kaporeihana Whenua e hoko te whenua ki tçtahi rangatira tûmataiti, arâ, te whenua i murua mai râ i te hunga Mâori hei pâ tûwatawata; mçnâ âe, he aha ai, mçnâ kâo, he aha ai hoki?
[Does he believe it is appropriate for Landcorp to sell land, that was taken from Mâori for defence purposes and then transferred to Landcorp, to a private owner; if not, why not?]
Hon TREVOR MALLARD (Minister for State Owned Enterprises): I expect all State-owned enterprises to comply with the State-Owned Enterprises Act and the Public Works Act. I am advised that Landcorp’s policy is to alert the Office of Treaty Settlements before commencing any sale. If the Office of Treaty Settlements does not want the land then it is offered for commercial sale, subject of course to the caveats in the State-Owned Enterprises Act.
Te Ururoa Flavell: What consultation took place with the hapû of Tûwharetoa, Hikairo, and Whanganui about the sale by Landcorp of the Taurewa sheep station, which is part of the seven Tawhai north and Ôkahukura Mâori land blocks taken by the Crown in 1913 as a defence training ground?
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: Although I am not briefed on all operational matters to do with Landcorp, it is my understanding that the procedure is as I referred to previously. From memory, there would have been a section 27B memorial placed on the land so that if in the future a claim is successful, then it would be resumed by the Crown and offered through offer-back provisions to the original owners. I am also aware that Tûwharetoa, led by the leader of the member’s party’s new friend, is doing a lot of work in that area.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Does the Government intend to learn the lesson of the Paraparaumu Airport, which was taken from Mâori, was eventually sold on to private interests, despite the policy and the legislation requiring other action, and was the subject of a select committee examination, which all happened under the National Party when it was last in power?
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: I am one of those who hopes we can learn the lessons of history from that case. I think it is fair to say to both members who are asking about this particular issue that the relationship between the Minister responsible and the purchaser of the land is not quite as close as it was in the case of the Paraparaumu Airport.
Te Ururoa Flavell: Did the Minister not think it unusual that the land was advertised for sale a week prior to hearings of the Waitangi Tribunal inquiry into the national park taking place at the Chateau Tongariro, which is only 5 kilometres away from the Taurewa Station?
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: I was not aware of that timing.
Te Ururoa Flavell: Why has the protective mechanism for surplus Crown land failed to protect the surplus Landcorp property at Taurewa, particularly in terms of the possibility of land-banking that property?
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: It is my understanding that, as with a number of other cases of this type, before the land was disposed of the Office of Treaty Settlements was notified. Even if it had not been, the section 27B memorial—the caveat that sits on the title—makes it clear that the land can be resumed into Crown ownership if there is a finding of a sort that the member obviously wants.
Gerry Brownlee: Why were the Ôkahukura and Tawhai land blocks not offered back to the original owners when the Government decided it no longer needed them for defence purposes, and can we take it that the lack of due process followed is an indication that the Government is prepared to have one law for all dogs but many different laws for Mâori land law?
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: I have no idea of when that land was transferred from the Ministry of Defence to Landcorp. Landcorp obviously has hundreds of thousands of hectares and many, many blocks around the country and, unless I am asked questions that detail a particular block, I cannot answer those questions. I do not carry the details in my head of how those thousands of land blocks were obtained.
Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. It now seems to be a practice of Government Ministers simply to say that not enough detail has been provided in questions so they cannot give the answers. In this case, the question is pretty clear. It is about Landcorp selling land that was taken from Mâori for defence purposes, then subsequently transferred to Landcorp prior to the sale. It would seem to me that a Minister looking into this issue in the 4 hours this morning that he had to look at it might have simply asked the question of how many blocks taken from Mâori for defence purposes Landcorp has sold. I do not think the number would be a particularly large one. For the Minister to say he is unaware indicates that he is completely uninterested.
Madam SPEAKER: I thank the member for his point of order. The answer may not have satisfied the member, but the Minister certainly did address it.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: As a matter of precedent to be followed in this case, how was the much-vaunted one law for all applied in the case of the Paraparaumu Airport sale?
Madam SPEAKER: It is a long bow.
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: My understanding in that case—
Gerry Brownlee: Point of order—
Madam SPEAKER: Yes, I have some sympathy with you, Mr Brownlee, actually. I know that the question is being asked in the context of an ongoing series of questions, but maybe the specific supplementary question could tie it back, please.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. With respect, there is a recently passed law in this country that states that if the Government is selling any land that was procured under the Public Works Act, then it must first offer it to the owners or family who first had that land taken from them. It is a pretty fundamental principle I am trying to enunciate here. We have a question about one law for all, and I want to know whether, as a precedent for the future, the Government intends to follow “the” law or the one applied in the Paraparaumu Airport case.
Madam SPEAKER: I thank the member. That is a clarification, and it does relate to the principal issue. Would the Hon Trevor Mallard please address the question.
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: Obviously, the Government will follow the law and encourage all State-owned enterprises to do that. The one caveat I should make clear to members is that these laws have been passed at different times, and I am not sure when this land was transferred from the Ministry of Defence to the Department of Lands and Survey or to Landcorp. Therefore, if the particular block had been named I would have been able to get the history of it. Of course, as the Minister for State Owned Enterprises, I can say that these are operational matters and that it would be absolutely wrong for me to tell Landcorp who to sell the land to and who not to sell to.
Te Ururoa Flavell: Is the Minister aware that the land taken during World War II for a military airfield at Raglan was turned into a golf course in 1969, which resulted in a massive dispute for the people of Tainui-Âwhiro, led by Eva Rickard, and does he not think it ironic that the Taurewa Station is also being sold for the purposes of developing a golf course and grand apartments?
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: I certainly am well cognisant of Eva Rickard’s work around Raglan, and I would not count on a non-Mâori owner doing that development yet.
Family Start Programmes—District Health Board Funding
8. JUDITH COLLINS (National—Clevedon) to the Minister of Health: Is he satisfied that all district health board funding for Family Start programmes is being correctly applied; if so, why?
Hon PETE HODGSON (Minister of Health): No, not entirely.
Judith Collins: Is the Minister satisfied that Family Start contracts awarded through district health boards have been contracted in a manner untainted by personal considerations and benefits?
Hon PETE HODGSON: The member may be aware that one such contract involving the Southland District Health Board is now currently under investigation, and has been for a matter of weeks.
Georgina Beyer: Why has the Government increased investment in Family Start?
Hon PETE HODGSON: Because Family Start works. Last year the Government funded a $10 million expansion of Family Start to 11 new sites, bringing the total to 27 programmes around the country. Family Start is about building strong families and enabling them to work towards bright futures for our children.
Judith Collins: In what way were the best interests of the most vulnerable children in Invercargill put first when the Southland District Health Board rejected Barnardos’ proposal and award the $3.6 million Family Start contract to a trust reported to consist of three family members, two of whom hold senior positions with that very same Southland District Health Board?
Hon PETE HODGSON: The two people who hold senior positions with the Southland District Health Board have both stepped aside pending the results of a financial audit. The transfer of the Family Start programme to a new trust has already been effected, and the children and families of Invercargill have noticed seamlessness.
Judith Collins: When did the Southland District Health Board first become aware of potential corruption within Murihiku Whânau Services and its administration of Family Start Invercargill, and how much of the $3.6 million contract has been paid to Murihiku Whânau Services so far?
Hon PETE HODGSON: The Southland District Health Board carefully does not use the words “potential corruption”, and neither do I. There are, however, certainly more questions than answers around that contract at the moment. I am not sure when the board first became aware of the issue, and I cannot remember when I first became aware of it, either, but it was about 3 or 4 weeks ago.
Judith Collins: How many other Family Start contracts have been awarded by, and to, the same people?
Hon PETE HODGSON: I am not aware of any.
Judith Collins: Is the Minister satisfied that no other district health boards are awarding Family Start and other contracts to trusts run by board members and senior management staff; if not, will he now ask all district health board members and senior staff to disclose their personal interests in the millions of dollars that should be going to our most vulnerable families?
Hon PETE HODGSON: I am advised that the other four Family Start programmes funded through district health boards—that is, the Waitematâ District Health Board, the Wairarapa District Health Board, the Nelson Marlborough District Health Board, and the Otago District Health Board—continue appropriately and to a high standard.
9. JILL PETTIS (Labour) to the Minister for Economic Development: What steps is the Government taking to assist exporters enter key overseas markets?
Hon TREVOR MALLARD (Minister for Economic Development): Substantial, through the Beachheads programme, export awards, and Export Year. The Beachheads programme provides office solutions, clustering with New Zealand companies, access to expert and market advice and support, and an entry point to the contacts and networks needed to grow an export business. Beachheads is in place in the United Kingdom, the United States, Singapore, Dubai, and soon my colleague Jim Sutton will open it in Tokyo. Seventy high-quality companies—and I emphasise that; they have to go through a rigorous selection process—have joined the programme so far, with 35 in the last year.
Jill Pettis: What other steps is the Government taking to ensure that our export performance improves?
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: We have designated 2007 as Export Year, in order to help improve New Zealand’s productivity and growth.
Transit New Zealand—Commercial Investment Projects
10. Hon MAURICE WILLIAMSON (National—Pakuranga) to the Minister of Transport: Is he concerned that Transit New Zealand’s active opposition to a number of commercial investment projects is significantly impeding economic development right across New Zealand, and what does he intend to do about it?
Hon PETE HODGSON (Acting Minister of Transport): No, but I freely acknowledge the tensions between the desire for local economic development and the desire for Transit to ensure that State highways are not congested within a decade or two of being built.
Hon Maurice Williamson: Is the Minister concerned that the Rodney Economic Development Trust, which is contracted to implement the Rodney District Council’s economic development strategy, has calculated the cost to the district of Transit’s policy at 6,251 lost jobs and $129 million in lost export earnings?
Hon PETE HODGSON: I am aware of issues in general around the Rodney district, particularly in Wellsford and Warkworth. Warkworth is a very interesting case in point, because now the proposition is that there be a bypass built around a bypass because of earlier land-use mistakes.
Dr the Hon Lockwood Smith: That was 50 years ago!
Hon PETE HODGSON: If it was built 50 years ago, I ask Dr the Hon Lockwood Smith whether that means that in every town in this country we continue to build a bypass around a bypass around a bypass.
Hon Trevor Mallard: A triple bypass!
Hon PETE HODGSON: It is a triple bypass.
Hon Mark Gosche: Can the Minister give a good example of Transit New Zealand working in close cooperation with developers to achieve economic development in the region?
Hon PETE HODGSON: Yes, I can give many examples, but the member asked for one example. So I would offer the successful Smart Growth programme in the Western Bay of Plenty, which to date has been predicated on a strong commitment to collaboration and partnership between Transit, local authorities, and developers. That partnership is called Access, from memory. It is a significant level of cross-agency collaboration, and the benefits of Smart Growth are apparent in a number of planning exercises currently under way in the Western Bay of Plenty area.
Peter Brown: Noting the Minister’s answer in regard to Warkworth, is he aware that for some considerable period of time Transit gave the developers and the Rodney District Council encouragement for that development, and pulled the plug at relatively the last minute; if he is aware of that, can he explain why Transit took such an action?
Hon PETE HODGSON: I suspect there is a measure of truth in the member’s question, and I suspect that the reason for that will be the passage of the Land Transport Management Act. The point about Warkworth or Wellsford, if I may say this, is not that the locals decide on a particular solution, right or wrong, but that the locals and Transit work together for a solution, and if there is anything I can do to facilitate that I am happy to.
Hon Maurice Williamson: Does the Minister agree with the Rodney Economic Development Trust that Transit’s ability to listen to local concerns is so bad that “meaningful consultation is dead”, and “there is no point in working hard to encourage international companies and investment if a Government department is hell-bent on stopping them.”?
Hon PETE HODGSON: I am aware of tensions in that particular relationship. But it does take two to fight. I would instance a few other examples: MasterFoods, just south of Wanganui; Frankton Flats, just out of Queenstown, which itself was a difficult relationship until more recently; and Milton, south of where I live in Dunedin, etc., where Transit and the local planning folk have managed to work together to a mutually successful outcome.
Hon Maurice Williamson: Does the Minister recall giving a commitment to the people of Warkworth before the last election that “If I am still Minister of Transport after the election, or if not, my successor, will come to Rodney in October for 2 days. We will travel between Wellsford and Warkworth, meet with everybody, and bring the Auckland Regional Council and other interested parties to get this resolved.”, and given that we are only 1 day away from April of the following year, has he done so yet?
Hon PETE HODGSON: It would be a pleasure, indeed, to return to Rodney and meet with John Law and others again. Just now my diary makes that a little problematic.
Dr the Hon Lockwood Smith: Does the Minister believe it makes sense for a knowledge economy zone in Rodney, the largest industrial development in Auckland, to proceed with only 15 percent of the planned investment because Transit New Zealand refuses to spend $5 million on motorway on-ramps and off-ramps?
Hon PETE HODGSON: Intuitively my inclination is to challenge the figures, because if $5 million would buy an 85 percent improvement in economic development it would be the sort of thing that Transit would want to fund.
David Bennett: How does the Minister explain the large increase in legal services incurred by Transit, being an overexpenditure of $2.5 million in 2004-05, and Transit increasing its legal fees budget by $2 million for the 2005-06 year—costs that related to submissions on land-use applications—and what will the Government provide to applicants in those hearings so that they have equality of representation in any court or council hearing?
Hon PETE HODGSON: If it is true that Transit New Zealand has been overexpending its legal budget by $2.5 million, I would simply suggest that that would be a whole lot less than having to build a bypass around a bypass around a bypass.
11. GORDON COPELAND (United Future) to the Minister for Transport Safety: What has the Government done since the establishment of the transport safety portfolio to improve transport safety in New Zealand?
Hon HARRY DUYNHOVEN (Minister for Transport Safety): A lot, actually. The Government has introduced a number of important changes to improve safety across all modes of transport since the establishment of the portfolio of transport safety in July 2004. Of particular note is the continuing reduction in the road toll. The Government has passed key legislation to enhance the framework for safety and security in line with the Government’s transport strategy objectives and this includes changes to Acts of Parliament, regulations, and rules covering a wide range of safety and security improvements across all modes.
Gordon Copeland: Is the Minister aware that 80 people have died, and a further 70 have been seriously injured by trains—a total of 150 people—in the 4 years to June 2004, which are the latest figures that I could find, and does he believe that to be satisfactory?
Hon HARRY DUYNHOVEN: First, the question relates to the period before the initial question; the question the member just asked relates to the period before the portfolio of transport safety was established, but I will still do my best to answer the question. I tell the member that a large number of those fatalities, regrettably, occurred not at level crossings but at places where people were illegally on the railway track. I am particularly concerned when train drivers are faced with the horror and trauma of a person standing on the tracks in front of them with obvious results.
Hon Maurice Williamson: Is the Minister for Transport Safety embarrassed by the New Zealand Herald article today that shows that he is the only Cabinet Minister—or member of the executive, actually—to have had two self-drive accidents, and is he even more embarrassed by the fact that the road toll, which has been declining for the last decade turned round and started increasing directly at the time he was appointed Minister for Transport Safety?
Hon HARRY DUYNHOVEN: Well, I never asked that member those sorts of questions when he was the transport Minister, but perhaps I should have, because I would have had a great deal of fun. I can tell the member that, yes, it is quite correct that my ministerial car has had two minor scrapes to the paintwork, one attributable to me and one to my spouse. I can also tell the member that I am pleased to be able to say that the road toll for the last 12 months going back from today, is 380. I would like to see it improve further. I have not put out any statements on that, because I am aware that these things can go up and down when we have a bad month, a bad holiday period, or a spell of bad weather. What I can the member—[Interruption]—if the member is prepared to listen, is that 380 people have died on our roads, and that is the lowest-ever figure for a 12-month period, back from today.
Peter Brown: Does the Minister share my view that the Government has addressed many of the safety issues as far as the New Zealand shipping industry is concerned by making it difficult for the industry to survive?
Hon PETE HODGSON: I cannot claim the credit for the last part of the member’s comments. Mr Williamson might like to take a bow here. What I can say is that there have been significant initiatives in terms of maritime safety, and I am very proud to have played a part in those.
Gordon Copeland: Will the Minister commit to making changes to the legislation regarding level crossing safety, including barrier arms and vegetation clearance, given that 36 percent of fatalities and over 40 percent of cases of serious injuries caused by rail collisions occur at level crossings?
Hon HARRY DUYNHOVEN: The member’s figures are correct, but I also want to tell the member that many of those crossings would be closed if they had to have barrier arms and items of that nature put in place, because it would simply be uneconomic to keep them open. Many of those crossings are actually legitimate crossings with very low vehicle loads, such as crossings to farms, and so on. But the level crossing issue is one that causes myself and ONTRACK considerable grief, simply because of the stupidity of many of the people who drive through crossings when the warning signs are there and the bells are ringing.
Gordon Copeland: Should Toll NZ have an explicit responsibility to provide clear indications, such as a headlight on at all times and several toots of the horn, when their trains, which can slice through motor vehicles like a hot knife through butter, are approaching level crossings; if not, why not?
Hon HARRY DUYNHOVEN: It is an absolute requirement of all locomotives working on Toll Rail operations to have the headlights on at all times. Whether the horn is sounded is largely dependent on the operational policy applying, depending on the type of crossing, the location, the time of day or night, and whether it is in an urban environment, etc. I think we would have a lot more complaints if the horns were sounded in the way the member suggests on every occasion, day or night, whether or not there are vehicles nearby, or any other matter.
Hon Maurice Williamson: I seek leave to table a graph of New Zealand’s road toll showing the massive turn-round in the positive direction, in line with the member’s appointment to the transport safety portfolio.
Madam SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection? There is objection.
Hon HARRY DUYNHOVEN: I seek leave to table a document from the Ministry of Transport entitled Rail Safety Targets: Position Paper, December 2005.
District Health Boards—Laboratory Contracts
12. Dr JACKIE BLUE (National) to the Minister of Health: What reports, if any, has he seen on the tendering of district health board laboratory contracts?
Hon PETE HODGSON (Minister of Health): I have seen a number of reports, particularly relating to processes currently under way in the Wellington region, Otago, and Southland.
Dr Jackie Blue: Has he seen the views of Hutt Valley general practitioners who say that their collaborative working relationship with the current labs are at risk and that patient service may suffer, and how does he think that a district health board facing a $10 million dollar deficit can do a job better?
Hon PETE HODGSON: Yes, I have seen the views of the Hutt Valley general practitioners, and I am aware, sadly, that the private contractor—or one of the private contractors—currently providing the service is running a public relations campaign over the names of five pathologists and targeting patients. Service coverage and access are matters for the district health boards, which must assure me that patients overall will not be negatively affected.
Dr Ashraf Choudhary: Are all district health boards proposing to bring community laboratory services in-house?
Hon PETE HODGSON: No, not all district health boards are proposing to bring community service laboratories in-house. Many district health boards are putting laboratory services out to tender, but the tender results differ. In Otago or Southland, for example, the outcome may well be that the private sector wins out over the public sector.
Dr Jackie Blue: How can taxpayers be sure that a district health board considering awarding itself a major contract is not a conflict of interest and that the tender costings do not involve any cross-subsidy from another part of the district health board?
Hon PETE HODGSON: As the Minister of Health, it is my expectation that district health boards conduct their operational affairs in an appropriate manner. I have been advised that in the case of the Hutt District Health Board and Capital and Coast District Health Board tender processes for laboratory services, a probity auditor was appointed and has not raised any concerns.
Dr Jackie Blue: Has the Minister seen reports by the New Zealand Medical Association that state there is a risk that laboratory services will become fragmented, and why are some district health boards contracting out their laboratory services to the private sector because they get better services, yet here is a Wellington district health board that wants to do the complete opposite?
Hon PETE HODGSON: One assumes the market is at play. I have a question for the member: why, when she cancelled Southern Community Laboratory’s contract in Auckland when she was on the board of the Auckland District Health Board, and it complained to the public and to the Minister saying that the sky was going to fall in, did she not do something about it? Why is it that that member took a rational decision then but wants to do populism now?
Dr Jackie Blue: When was the last time the Government took over something from the private sector that maintained quality and cost less?
Hon PETE HODGSON: I am not sure, but quite possibly when we bought back Air New Zealand or when we took back rail. If the member is asking about the health sector, it was quite possibly when the West Coast District Health Board stepped into primary health. I seek leave to table a one-pager by Valley Diagnostic Ltd, which states to patients that this may be bad for them and that they may not be able to get testing within their region any longer.
Madam SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection? There is none.
Lindsay Tisch: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I did not want to interrupt my colleague Dr Blue’s question. When Minister Harry Duynhoven sought leave to table a document, there was objection to it being tabled from the member Dr Cullen. He is pointing to Minister Mallard. In fact, the Minister Harry Duynhoven did table a document. There was objection, and it should not have been tabled.
Hon Trevor Mallard: Can I please make it clear that I did withdraw my objection.
Madam SPEAKER: I was not sure whether there was an objection, which is why I asked whether there was. Frequently, there are murmurings around and people do, in fact, when it is repeated, either object clearly or do not.
Lindsay Tisch: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. The point of order is that, as Speaker, you did not put the question again as to whether there was any objection.
Madam SPEAKER: Yes, I did.
Lindsay Tisch: Well, we did not hear it over here. It was very clear on this side of the House that there was objection from the Minister, and that was not clarified from our point of view.
Madam SPEAKER: I apologise. I will speak louder next time.