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Questions And Answers - Thursday, 6 April 2006

Questions And Answers - Thursday, 6 April 2006

Questions to Ministers

Question No. 1 to Minister

Hon BILL ENGLISH (National—Clutha-Southland): I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I think we are all aware that the Prime Minister is temporarily delayed on matters of hospitality towards the Premier of China. It would seem to me to be appropriate that the first question is delayed until she can come to the Chamber, and I so seek leave.

Madam SPEAKER: Leave is sought. Is there any objection? There is objection.

Prime Minister—Investigations, David Parker

1. Hon BILL ENGLISH (National—Clutha-Southland) to the Prime Minister: Has she, the Prime Minister’s Office or the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet received any written advice, briefing or opinion from the Companies Office or the Ministry of Economic Development in relation to the investigation into legal declarations by David Parker; if so, what were the dates and titles of all such communications?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Deputy Prime Minister) on behalf of the Prime Minister: The only document that the Prime Minister is aware of that could be so classified, although at a stretch, is a print-off of an email from the Minister of Commerce’s press secretary to her press secretary on 27 March this year indicating that the Registrar of Companies had not completed the investigation, and briefly outlining the process to be followed. This was in response to media inquiries based on the belief that the investigation has been completed.

Hon Bill English: Can the Prime Minister see the difficulty presented to the public when the Ministry of Economic Development is answering questions from the media—the same ministry that was chief adviser to David Parker in his capacity as Minister of Energy?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: No. The Registrar of Companies operates independently within the ministry. As I said, the advice received was merely about process.

Hon Bill English: Has the Prime Minister seen any advice from the Companies Office, from her officials, or from Mr Parker arguing that Mr Parker may not be prosecuted because his partner Mr Hyslop lost his shareholder rights when he became bankrupt, and that a letter from the official assignee to Mr Parker led him to believe he could act in the way he did, and therefore he would not be prosecuted?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: As the Prime Minister said yesterday, Mr Parker has kept her informed of matters.

Hon Bill English: If the Prime Minister has been kept aware of matters, has she seen a copy of a letter from the official assignee, sent to David Parker in 1997?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I am not aware whether a particular letter of a particular date has been seen. I am aware that Mr Parker has kept the Prime Minister informed.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Has Mr English, who is raising these questions today, provided the Prime Minister with any evidence in the form of letters, from whatever official body, to back up the questions he is putting today; if not, does he wonder why not?

Rodney Hide: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. The “if not, why not” is clearly out of order, because the Minister cannot be asked why Bill English may have provided letters or material to the Prime Minister. That is completely out of order as a question.

Madam SPEAKER: Briefly, please, Mr Peters.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: It has long been a tradition in this country that if members raise a question by way of supplementary question, they may not be required to produce evidence at the very start of those questions. But if the questions go on, day in, day out, and they assert that documentary evidence—[Interruption] There are three people interrupting my point of order.

Madam SPEAKER: A point of order is being taken. Mr Hide was heard in silence, and Mr Peters will be heard in silence. I ask members to remember that. But I ask Mr Peters to please be brief, because I am ready to rule.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Madam Speaker, I do not want you to rule prematurely. It has been said in the past that if members wish to assert documentary evidence they should produce it. This is about day seven of this argument—day two this week. I am asking the Minister whether Mr English has provided any documentary evidence to back up his line of questioning and, if not, does he wonder why not.

Madam SPEAKER: The first part of the question is in order, but not the second part.

Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I would ask you to reflect very carefully on that. The member has asked Dr Cullen whether information has been provided to the Speaker to back up the question. Dr Cullen cannot possibly know that; nor is it appropriate that someone else answers for the Speaker in these matters.

Madam SPEAKER: I am sorry, I had not heard it was to the Speaker; I thought it was actually to the Prime Minister. But if there is any confusion I am sure we can clarify that now. The first part of the question was in order, because an opinion can be sought. The second part of the question was not in order.

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: No evidence has been presented by Mr English to the Prime Minister on this matter.

Hon Bill English: Is the Prime Minister aware that a complaint about Mr Parker’s conduct as a lawyer has been laid with the Law Society, and that that complaint is sufficiently serious that if it were upheld Mr Parker could be struck off; and will she wait until that investigation is complete before considering whether Mr Parker should be restored to Cabinet?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: The Prime Minister is aware of a complaint laid by Mr Hyslop against Mr Parker, in the same way that she is aware of complaints laid by her present Deputy Prime Minister against Mr Hyslop in the past, over his actions in failing to fulfil his obligations to people who had bought property off him.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: On that score, has the Prime Minister been provided with any evidence whatsoever to back up either Mr Hyslop’s claims or those being endorsed by Mr English in this House again today?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: No. No such evidence has been presented.

Hon Bill English: Will the Prime Minister answer the question I asked before, which was: will she wait until the Law Society complaint has been dealt with—because it is a serious complaint—before considering whether Mr Parker will be restored to Cabinet?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I have no information on that particular matter. It would be desirable, I think, to have some indication from the Law Society of how long any such inquiry might take.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Given that the assertion by the questioner is that this is a serious complaint, has she seen any information or evidence from Mr English or Mr Hyslop to justify the description “a serious complaint”?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: No. I have seen no evidence to back up Mr Hyslop’s complaint, as reported initially in Investigate magazine.

Hon Bill English: Can the Prime Minister account for the fact that there now appears to be widespread knowledge of the Companies Office position in respect of Mr Parker’s declarations, as confirmed by the interview carried out by the Companies Office with Mr Hyslop yesterday?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: No, I have no information on that matter.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Can the Prime Minister confirm that any information of the Companies Office is available to anybody who bothers to make an inquiry; so, that being the case, is she surprised that she has not received any evidence or correspondence to back up this line of questioning?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: The Companies Office information is normally available within the public arena. The fact of the matter is that so far no evidence has been presented at all on some significant matters, including particularly the accusations made by Mr English.

Air New Zealand—Services to London

2. H V ROSS ROBERTSON (Labour—Manukau East) to the Minister of Transport: What advances in the UK - New Zealand Air Services Agreement have been made to allow Air New Zealand to secure a second daily service to London?

Hon PETE HODGSON (Acting Minister of Transport): Yesterday Air New Zealand announced plans to launch a second daily service between Auckland and London Heathrow Airport. That is as a direct result of the air services agreement and the market access opportunities secured by the New Zealand Government, following an agreement with the United Kingdom last year. It is very good news for New Zealanders, for our tourism industry, and for Air New Zealand.

H V Ross Robertson: Can the Minister tell the House over what period the negotiations were conducted?

Hon PETE HODGSON: Constant efforts were made over 6 years, including efforts at ministerial level and in negotiations led by the New Zealand Ministry of Transport, until open access was achieved last year. Noting the welcome the House has just accorded my colleague Minister John Hill, I regret to advise that Australia has yet to achieve such open access.


3. Hon Dr NICK SMITH (National—Nelson) to the Minister of Energy: Does he stand by the statement from the Government on 14 March: “I can assure you—no rolling blackouts this winter.”; if not, why not?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD (Minister for Economic Development): Yes. Although no Minister could ever guarantee there will not be a power cut of some sort—for example, if a storm blew down a power line—I am confident, as I was the last time I was asked this question in the House, that, in the event of an electricity shortage, enough measures are in place to ensure that rolling blackouts will not happen.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: How can he have confidence in the Electricity Commission when yesterday it admitted errors in both the minimum zone and the emergency zone of 15 percent, amounting to the equivalent of the entire storage of Lake Benmore, and making it far more likely that we will, in fact, have an electricity crisis this winter?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: Taking that point, I think if the country were as pluvial as the member opposite, we would be a lot better off. [Interruption]

Madam SPEAKER: Would the Minister please address the question.

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: Well, we have always been allowed to call people “wet”. That member is clearly wet. [Interruption]

Madam SPEAKER: Could you both be seated, please! Could we please just have questions asked, then addressed, without irrelevant comments. Please would the Minister address the question.

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: I do have confidence. The fact the commission did not take into account a new, unplanned arrangement to take out a particular generator for a period of time is something that has been explained to my office. I do not think that was good enough, but I still have confidence in the organisation.

Maryan Street: What steps has the Government taken to minimise the impact of lower hydro lake levels?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: We are in a much better situation than in previous years. A supply of coal has been stockpiled—something that never happened under the National Government—so that if we do require it for coal-fired generators, it is there. The Government has commissioned the Whirinaki reserve generation plant—something opposed by the National Party, just as it has opposed the E3P station, which will provide considerable protection over the next 2 or 3 years. It will be running late this year or early next year. Again, the National Party said we should not do it.

Judy Turner: How does he foresee that superannuitants and others on fixed incomes will be able to pay their electricity bills if power spikes or rolling blackouts occur this winter, or is that not his problem?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: It is my understanding that those power spikes—the price spikes—affect those people who are on spot prices. I do not know any pensioners who are.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: What explanation has he sought from the Electricity Commission of how it managed to make an error of 220 gigawatt hours—the equivalent of the storage in Lake Benmore—and what action does he intend to take because the commission got such a critical issue for New Zealand so wrong?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: I am sure it will be the subject of a discussion at our next regular meeting.

Jeanette Fitzsimons: Does the Minister agree with the Government spokesperson on energy efficiency and conservation that taking sensible, zero-cost measures now—like switching off computer screens, lights, and heaters when not in use, and fixing leaky hot-water taps—can keep more water in the lakes, and give us an extra measure of security this winter?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: Of course, although I would say that that is something we should be doing anyway.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: Why did the Government 3 weeks ago back the view of the Electricity Commission in respect of the risk of a power crisis this winter over the view of Meridian Energy and Genesis Power, when, effectively, the Electricity Commission yesterday said that it had it wrong and that Genesis Power and Meridian Energy had it right?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: I would point out that, of Genesis Power, Meridian Energy, and the Electricity Commission, none of them thinks we have hit the minimum zone.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. My question did not ask whether Genesis Power or Meridian Energy thought we had hit the minimum zone—which was the answer I got from the Minister. The Minister did not address the question, which was why the Government believed the Electricity Commission over those two companies 3 weeks ago.

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: We have to take some action only when we hit the minimum zone. No one thinks we have. People thought 3 weeks ago that we were a different distance away from it. That has now been resolved.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: Noting that this is the third year out of 5 that we are facing winter power shortages, will he accept that this Government’s planning for new infrastructure and new energy sources has been quite inadequate?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: Absolutely not. That member voted for the Bradford reforms, which are the main cause of this problem, that member voted against E3P being built, and that member opposed the Whirinaki plant. Everything good that has been done has been done by this side of the House, and those members there did nothing.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: What does it say about the decision to build the new Whirinaki power station in the Hawke’s Bay that, only 2 years after $150 million was spent on its construction, major players in the industry, including Transpower and Meridian Energy, say it was built in the wrong place?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: It was put there because at the time that was the easiest place for which to gain consent. The possibility of shifting it was always under consideration.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: I seek leave to table the Electricity Commission’s document on the minimum zone and emergency zone, which shows that it had to be changed by 220 gigawatt hours because of an error.

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

Hon David Benson-Pope: I seek leave to table media reports from the Dunedin City Council and the Otago Daily Times displaying the reaction of Dunedin citizens to the compulsory sale of the Waipori power scheme.

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

Rodney Hide: What responsibility will the Minister take, as Minister, if there are power blackouts this winter, or will it all be someone else’s fault, too?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: I think that if the member had listened very carefully, he would have heard me not blaming any other organisation.

National Certificate of Educational Achievement—2005 Examinations

4. Dr ASHRAF CHOUDHARY (Labour) to the Minister of Education: What reports has he received about the 2005 National Certificate of Educational Achievement (NCEA) exams?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY (Minister of Education): This morning the New Zealand Qualifications Authority released the 2005 NCEA national statistics, which demonstrate the considerable advantages of the NCEA system. For example, the results show that more students than ever are gaining qualifications: 72.5 percent of students achieved level 1 literacy standard, and 78.8 percent achieved the numeracy standard, which is up from last year. The variability of standards—the key concern we had in 2004—has now been significantly reduced, ensuring that we have a sound platform to move forward this year.

Dr Ashraf Choudhary: How will the NCEA national statistics be used?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: This information will be used to further improve our secondary education system. These statistics give the most comprehensive picture yet of students’ strengths and achievements. Secondary schools will use the NCEA data to evaluate their teaching programmes, set goals around their students’ achievements, and better meet their teachers’ professional development needs. Using this information will further raise standards and ensure our students have the best educational opportunities in front of them.

Hon Bill English: If, as the Minister says, these NCEA results are the most comprehensive ever, can he explain to the House why he will not make them available to parents through the SchoolSmart website, which would enable parents to compare the results for their school with other similar schools in a way that would give them the kind of information that the school and the teachers will readily get?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: To any parents who are listening I just pass on to them the fact that they can get both the NCEA and SchoolSmart information from their local school, along with information about such important things as the environment that the school has, the kind of teaching programme the school has, and what actually happens in the classroom to benefit students.

Hon Bill English: Will the Minister answer the question I asked, which was why are this year’s NCEA results not available to parents through the website so that, in the comfort of their own homes and in the company of their own children, they can look at their own children’s results, and the results for the school compared with other schools; why will he not let that happen, but instead insist they make an appointment with the principal and watch him or her tap it out on the keyboard?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: As I have said a number of times, along with the New Zealand School Trustees Association, the Principals Association, the New Zealand Educational Institute, and Post Primary Teachers Association—everybody that we possibly could talk to about these issues—

Hon Member: Except parents.

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: The School Trustees Association are parents. That may be news to the National Party, but they were parents last time I looked. All of those organisations agree that the NCEA and SchoolSmart information is available to parents, and that the best way to get it is from a discussion with their local school. That is where they should go.

Australia and New Zealand—Single Economic Market

5. JOHN KEY (National—Helensville) to the Minister of Finance: Is he still committed to making progress on a single economic market with Australia?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Minister of Finance): Yes.

John Key: Will he be attending the Australia New Zealand Leadership Forum in Auckland on 5 and 6 May with other senior Ministers from New Zealand and Australia, chairmen and chief executives of the leading businesses, and heads of Government departments; if not, which New Zealand Ministers will be attending in his place?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Probably not, and neither will Peter Costello. I understand that my colleague Lianne Dalziel will be attending. I think Phil Goff is also attending.

Hon Phil Goff: Winston Peters is attending.

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: —and Winston Peters.

John Key: What will he be doing with his time, instead of attending a forum that will discus topics including the harmonisation of business standards, financial markets, taxation, and common borders, all of which fall squarely in his portfolio and would clearly contribute towards a single economic market with Australia?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: As the Deputy Prime Minister, Minister of Finance, Minister for Tertiary Education, Leader of the House, and Attorney-General, I suspect I will have quite a bit to do.

John Key: Does the Minister recall that the Australian Treasurer Peter Costello attended the previous forum in Melbourne last year, which was one that he pointedly snubbed—a decision that brought on an editorial comment from the New Zealand Herald at the time, which stated: “Without any doubt, it is a disservice to transtasman relations.”; if so, does he think he should turn up to the forum?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Mr Costello and I discussed attendance at the forum, and he indicated that he did not intend to come across to it.

John Key: The process is falling apart completely, is it, so he cannot be bothered going?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: No, but unfortunately, last year it turned into a Wailing Wall of people pushing their own barrows, as opposed to addressing the wider relationship. As a consequence, significant changes are occurring in the leadership on both sides of the Tasman in business, and the politicians are actually getting on with the real business.

John Key: If the Minister is not going to the forum, will he try to spend some of the time to dream up spin about the Supplementary Stabilisation Instruments report, which was released today—a report that he had for a month and that was released without a Government press release, 30 minutes before a State lunch, and on the last day of Parliament before a 3-week adjournment—or has he reached the same conclusion as the National Party before the report was even written that it was futile and made no sense whatsoever, but was simply a jawboning experience from a desperate Minister of Finance?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: The problem with that question, as with most of the member’s Tony Ryall imitations, is that it bears no relationship to the facts. The facts are that the report was prepared at the request of the Governor of the Reserve Bank and the Secretary to the Treasury. It is a report from them and to them, and what is more, it makes some very interesting suggestions. If, of course, the member does not want to think about any issues, and if he thinks from his vast knowledge as an international financial market speculator that he knows everything about central bank management, then he obviously should follow his leader, go to the central bank, and become the Reserve Bank governor, because he will never make a Minister of Finance.

Hon Phil Goff: Can the Minister confirm that in fact it was under a Labour Government that the partnership forum was set up, after years of National having a disastrous relationship with Australia across the Tasman; and can he confirm that all the reports say that there has been unprecedented progress towards a single economic market—progress that was not made under the National Government in its last term in office?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: It is absolutely accurate to say that when we became the Government, the whole CER relationship had been going nowhere since about 1989, and the Australians were very pleased that we picked it up and started to run with it. We have signed a whole range of agreements recently. We are making progress on a range of issues. To listen to Mr Shewan yet again say that the only issue is franking credits is not, in fact, a good use of my time.

Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I am somewhat reluctant to raise this because it was my own colleague who made the comment, but it may require a considered comment from you. I would have thought that to suggest someone was doing Tony Ryall imitations would, in fact, be unparliamentary and should have been ruled out of order.

Madam SPEAKER: That is not a point of order.

John Key: Is the reason the Hon Phil Goff will be attending the forum that it is part of his training wheels being attached, so that he will be ready to be Minister of Finance in the very near future?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I have terrible news for the young pretender: the old incumbent will be here for a lot longer yet.

John Key: Has the Prime Minister asked the Minister whether he will be attending next year’s forum as the Minister of Finance, or is she still confused about exactly what he will be doing next year and who the Minister of Finance will be?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Two things are clear: Helen Clark will be the Prime Minister, and I will be the Minister of Finance. What is doubtful is whether, if we invite along any representation from the Opposition, Mr Key will come along as Leader of the Opposition, or as the Opposition spokesperson on small business by that point.

Immigration Act—Discussion Paper

6. Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS (Leader—NZ First) to the Minister of Immigration: What reports, if any, has he received regarding yesterday’s release of the Immigration Act Review Discussion Paper?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE (Minister of Immigration): I have seen a number of positive reports, two of which were from Dr Lockwood Smith. After yesterday describing it as an “underwhelming document”, he stated on Radio New Zealand’s Morning Report this morning that he was not objecting to it. A further report was from Dr Donald Brash. He issued a press release stating that the National Party was pleased that Labour is reviewing the Immigration Act. It is good to see such support from across the House on such an important matter.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Has the Minister seen reports of Dr Brash saying that after 6 long years he is pleased that “Labour is waking up to immigration as an issue, after it was raised at Orewa this year.”; despite the inability to reconcile those two dates, does he think for a moment that the National Party has anything to do with this review at all?

Madam SPEAKER: The Minister can answer the first part of the question.

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: I have seen such reports and note that the Ôrewa speech the member referred to post-dates the start of the Immigration Act review process. The real driver for the review was the fact that New Zealand and its international environment have changed significantly since the previous Act was passed in 1987. Aussie Malcolm, a former Minister of Immigration for the National Party, agrees, and says today that “the world has changed, and it was time to do a review”.

Lynne Pillay: What does this review aim to achieve?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: It aims to ensure that immigration serves New Zealand’s national interests by helping to get New Zealand the skills we need, maintaining the security of our borders, and contributing to good settlement outcomes.

Judy Turner: Is it true that the National Party was excluded from yesterday’s briefing on the Immigration Act review; if so, what was the rationale behind that?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: Yes, because National was not relevant to it.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Has the Minister seen this comment: “I doubt it’s a coincidence that I flagged National’s attention to review immigration policy this year at Ôrewa and now Labour has announced restructuring today.”, and does he think that comment from Don Brash has any integrity or credibility whatsoever. [Interruption]

Madam SPEAKER: Yes, it is an opinion. Could the member repeat the question again because an opinion is sought, but you cannot actually ask for it on the National Party policy.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Could I ask the Minister this? Has he seen this comment by Don Brash, the leader of the National Party: “I doubt it’s a coincidence that I flagged National’s attention to review immigration policy this year at Ôrewa and now Labour has announced restructuring today.”, and was this comment, and prior work by the National Party, in any way related to the review that was agreed to between the Labour-led Government and New Zealand First after the last election?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: I can confirm that that member’s party has played a constructive role in policy development and stands in complete contrast to the “Donny come lately” approach of the Opposition.

Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I simply ask if you are going to allow that final statement to stand. The statement was, of course, made by the Minister who is proving himself to be the leash for Winston Peters, who is the poodle.

Madam SPEAKER: No, I think the question and answer were in order eventually.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I ask you to get Mr Brownlee to withdraw and apologise for that comment. For a start, it is an abuse of the Standing Orders to raise a point of order then add that to it, as well as being insulting. I could call him “bovver boy”, or a whole lot of words, and I will, if he keeps it up. You will invite disorder in the House if he is allowed to get away with that.

Madam SPEAKER: The member has taken offence at a term and the convention is that the member who uttered the offence withdraws and apologises so we can proceed with the business of the House. [Interruption] I have ruled on it, please. Let us settle this one. [Interruption] If we could all, please, just settle and concentrate. As I understand it, the Rt Hon Winston Peters took offence at a comment that was made about him. Therefore the convention of the House in those instances is that the member withdraws and apologises.

Gerry Brownlee: I withdraw and apologise.

Madam SPEAKER: Now we have another point of order.

Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker.

Madam SPEAKER: No, I am sorry, you have to go in the queue. Is this a point of order?

Gerry Brownlee: You did not deal with it.

Madam SPEAKER: No the member was on his feet with a point of order. I will get around to you all with your points of order. [Interruption] No, I am sorry, I have ruled on that.

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: I seek leave to table a copy of a National Party press release in which Dr Don Brash stated he was pleased that Labour is addressing—

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

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: I seek leave to table a transcript of a press release by National Party immigration spokesman Lockwood Smith that describes it as fantastic—

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

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: I seek leave to table a transcript of an interview with Dr Lockwood Smith in which he says he has no objection at all to the document.

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

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: I seek leave to table a press release by the Rt Hon Winston Peters whereby he stated that he was not sure if National was coming or going on the issue.

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

Gerry Brownlee: Talking about coming and going, I seek leave to table a photograph of David Cunliffe wearing a wetsuit the wrong way round—

Madam SPEAKER: I assume that is not your point of order.

Gerry Brownlee: —however, that would be trifling with the House and I do not want to do that.

Madam SPEAKER: Would you please settle. Now, we will come to the point of order.

Gerry Brownlee: Notwithstanding the fact that I did not make a single comment that—[Interruption]

Madam SPEAKER: Just settle please, so that we can hear the member.

Gerry Brownlee: So, in my point of order they are allowed to stay if they interrupt.

Madam SPEAKER: No, everyone has been interrupting so all members are on their final warning. We need to get through this question time with a modicum of order.

Gerry Brownlee: Notwithstanding the fact that I did offend Mr Peters and apologised for that, there was a substance to the point of order I raised and I think you need to take some action in that regard.

Madam SPEAKER: Could you please repeat the point of order you raised.

Gerry Brownlee: The point of order was that Mr Cunliffe made an extremely unparliamentary and inappropriate comment at the end of his answer to that question for which he should withdraw and apologise.

Madam SPEAKER: I am not sure I can remember what the comment was actually. Did you make such an inappropriate comment? If you did, would you please withdraw and apologise so we can move on.

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: I withdraw and apologise. I seek leave to table a photograph of that member fitting into a wetsuit.

Madam SPEAKER: Thank you very much. Well, I must say: “one-all”. Now Mr Hide has the next point of order. He has been on his feet. [Interruption] You can, after Mr Hide has made his point of order. Now please, silence.

Rodney Hide: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I just ask you to reflect over the adjournment about people’s sensitivities and the nature of this House. We have had a situation this week where you ruled that it is out of order to laugh because laughter is an interjection. Now we have had a ruling from you that a member can take offence because he was called a poodle. I ask you to reflect on the fact that right through the last parliamentary term I do not think a day went by when the Rt Hon Winston Peters did not accuse Peter Dunne and the United Future party of being poodles. He endlessly held up signs declaring “poodle power”, laughed all the way through United Future’s contribution to anything, and, now that he is actually showing what it is to be—

Madam SPEAKER: Please be succinct, Mr Hide.

Rodney Hide: —a small, diminished, inconsequential poodle, he decides to take umbrage—

Madam SPEAKER: This is a speech, not a point of order.

Rodney Hide: It is a point of order.

Madam SPEAKER: The Standing Orders requires that members give points of order succinctly.

Rodney Hide: I am asking you, Madam Speaker, to reflect on what will become of this Parliament if we cannot laugh because we might offend Mr Peters, cannot use the name of any particular dog or any other animal because it might offend Mr Peters, and if, during debates in this Parliament, we all have to tiptoe around on eggshells, because the Rt Hon Winston Peters, who props up this ragtag Government, might be offended.

Madam SPEAKER: The member will be seated. I do not want to hear any more conversation on this. I am always happy to reflect on what members say.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker.

Madam SPEAKER: The member is coming close to trifling with the House. We need to move on with the business of the House.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: With respect, my point of order is this: I objected to a point of order being taken by Mr Brownlee whereupon he added those words in. In the normal course of debate I would not have objected, but he cannot get away with it in a point of order. That is my point of order. The witless bloke over there does not understand that.

Madam SPEAKER: That matter has now been ruled on and settled.

Agent Orange—Joint Working-group

7. JUDITH COLLINS (National—Clevedon) to the Minister of Veterans’ Affairs: Does he stand by his statement that: “This Government encouraged submissions to the Health Committee, and agreed to the joint working-group comprising representatives of the Ex-Vietnam Services Association, the Royal New Zealand Returned and Services Association, and officials from the office of the Ministry of Defence and Veterans Affairs New Zealand to address the concerns.”; if so, why?

Hon RICK BARKER (Minister of Veterans’ Affairs): In reply to question No. 12 on 23 March 2006, my answer as recorded in Hansard reads: “office of the Ministry of Defence and Veterans Affairs New Zealand”. It should have read: “offices of the Ministers of Defence and Veterans’ Affairs”. It was a minor correction. The answer to the question is yes, because this Labour-led Government has accepted for the first time that our service personnel were exposed to a toxic environment in Viet Nam, and have set up a joint working-group so that about 700 veterans can make submissions to it.

Judith Collins: Has he read all five pages of the briefing to the incoming Minister, written by Veterans Affairs, which states in respect of the joint working-group: “Veterans Affairs New Zealand is not involved in this group.”, and why is he now claiming it is?

Hon RICK BARKER: With that minor correction—either a slip of the tongue, or of recording, I would say the answer is accurate. What I would say is lamentable is that this is a very serious situation. We are attempting to undergo here a healing process, and it is very lamentable that Opposition politicians are trying to nitpick in a petty way over an issue when we should be treating this with a great deal of seriousness.

Hon Phil Goff: Has the Minister received comment from Viet Nam veterans contrasting this Government’s acknowledgment of their exposure to Agent Orange with the literally decades of denial of that fact by a National Government that sent the veterans to Viet Nam, failed to acknowledge their service there, and refused to acknowledge the fact that they had been exposed to Agent Orange over years, over decades?

Hon RICK BARKER: I would like to put on the record of the House that the response to the joint working-group has been overwhelmingly positive. People have appreciated the opportunity to have their concerns aired directly. I would also echo the point made by the Hon Phil Goff that it will be to the everlasting shame of the National Party that it entered into a misconceived war, and, worse still, sent our soldiers there, in harm’s way, inadequately equipped and inadequately clothed, and entered into decades of denial.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Seeing that Judith Collins has put the issue of political integrity into the arena here, does the Minister recall who cancelled the class action funding for Operation Grapple veterans, arranged in 1997 by New Zealand First and then changed in 1999? Which party in power went back on its word on that arrangement?

Judith Collins: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. The member who has just resumed his seat is a longstanding member. He understands, surely, that he is supposed to ask a question with a question word. Surely you should call him to account for this matter.

Madam SPEAKER: Yes, it would be preferable if all members did ask questions with a question word and refrain from prefacing their questions with other comments. But I will ask the Minister to address the substance of the question.

Hon RICK BARKER: In response to the Rt Hon Winston Peters I can confirm that another layer of National Party shame is the back-down and refusal to fund what should have been done. It was, again, a U-turn. Those people are trying to politicise something on which we should be trying to engage in a process of healing.

Judith Collins: What assurances can he give the veterans, members of the joint working-group, that their report does not have to reflect Government concerns?

Hon RICK BARKER: The best surety I can give on that is the make-up of the joint working-group, which has representatives of the ex - Viet Nam veterans and a membership of the RSA. They are people of integrity and I will trust them to bring back a report. I would hope that the Opposition would stop trying to politicise a process that should be about healing.

Judith Collins: Does the Minister accept that the joint working-group was set up in response to the open letter to the Prime Minister, signed by 724 veterans or their families, who are deeply disappointed with his Government’s pathetic response to the Health Committee’s report?

Hon RICK BARKER: What I can say is that this Government is the first Government to recognise that our Viet Nam veterans were in a toxic environment—an acceptance that the National Party denied over and over again. I can confirm that this is the first Government in decades that has seriously addressed the concerns of Viet Nam veterans. The National Party should be deeply ashamed of its record of decades of denial, and apologise to this Parliament and to every Viet Nam veteran.

Dr Don Brash: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. My colleague Judith Collins asked a very straightforward question. The Minister in no sense addressed that question. I think you should direct him to do so.

Madam SPEAKER: Yes, the member is right. Would the Minister please try to address the specific question that related to the veterans’ concerns, as I remember it.

Hon RICK BARKER: I can confirm that as a process of resolving this issue the Government accepted the report of the Health Committee and followed it up with setting up a joint working-group in response to the concerns of Viet Nam veterans over decades, which is decades of denial by the National Party.

Hon Phil Goff: Can the Minister confirm that in joint meetings we had with the veterans they were very pleased that the Government had responded positively in the way it did, and what the veterans really despised was the party political point-scoring by those who were originally responsible for sending them to Viet Nam, but never acknowledged their service?

Hon RICK BARKER: I can, indeed, confirm that. The Viet Nam veterans are indeed very appreciative of the opportunity for their stories to be told. It is, I can confirm, lamentable that the National Party is trying to politicise a process that should be of healing. Judith Collins should be deeply ashamed of her petty politics.

Judith Collins: Will he now guarantee to Viet Nam veterans and their families that the joint working-group’s report will be released to the public unedited by his Government?


Hone Harawira: Ka tautoko ia i ngâ môrehu o ngâ pakanga i te pâtai ki te Minita Whakapâoho, he aha ai i whakakâhoretia e ia te tono pûtea a Whakaata Mâori ki te whakapâoho i te Hokowhitu-a-Tû, â, ki te whakapâoho anô hoki i te râ whakamaumaharatanga mô râtou o Ahitereiria me Aotearoa, arâ, te Râ o Anzac i te mea, he kaupapa nui, he kaupapa whakaharahara mô te katoa o Aotearoa çnei kaupapa e rua?

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

[Will he on behalf of the veterans ask the Minister of Broadcasting for an explanation as to why a funding application from Mâori Television to NZ On Air was declined, to broadcast the Mâori Battalion, and then another to broadcast Anzac Day commemorations, both of which programmes have huge significance for a nationwide audience?]

Madam SPEAKER: This Minister, unfortunately, has no responsibility for broadcasting, so it is not possible for him to answer that question.

Hone Harawira: The question was to ask this Minister whether he would be prepared to ask the Minister of Broadcasting.

Madam SPEAKER: I am trying to be helpful. However, the question does relate to Viet Nam veterans. That is the primary purpose of the question, and around that should be the supplementary questions. This is on a totally different tangent. Perhaps the member would like to change the question. One more go.

Hone Harawira: Could the Minister, having told us that all the Viet Nam veterans were so happy and overjoyed with the response of the Government and the joint working-group, tell the House why many, many Mâori ex - Viet Nam veterans are disappointed that the joint working-group and the Government are not prepared to take this matter to any of the marae throughout the country?

Hon RICK BARKER: I tell the member that the veterans have expressed support for the process, but I would also have to say that for many the jury is still out until they hear what is in the report and the Government’s response to it. In terms of where the joint working-group met, that was over to the joint working-group. It is not my responsibility. The working-group is independent; it makes its own decisions on how it operates, and that is as it should be.

Deaf New Zealanders—Barriers to Information and Services

8. LYNNE PILLAY (Labour—Waitakere) to the Minister for Disability Issues: What action is the Government taking to reduce barriers to information and services currently faced by deaf New Zealanders?

Hon RUTH DYSON (Minister for Disability Issues): I am pleased to announce the third reading and expected passage of the New Zealand Sign Language Bill set down for this afternoon, confirming New Zealand Sign Language as an official language. This will represent a significant milestone for the Deaf community, which has spent 20 years lobbying for recognition of its language and culture.

Lynne Pillay: How will New Zealand Sign Language reduce the barriers to information and services for deaf New Zealanders?

Hon RUTH DYSON: The immediate practical effect of the bill, once passed, will be to provide people with the right to use and access New Zealand Sign Language in legal proceedings, including in court. The bill also sets out principles to guide Government departments in their use of New Zealand Sign Language.

Tertiary Education—Senior Citizens

9. PANSY WONG (National) to the Minister for Tertiary Education: Does he stand by his statement: “We have already made significant progress in improving quality and increasing participation in the tertiary education sector.” in regard to senior citizens; if so, why?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Minister for Tertiary Education): I am not aware of any such statement made specifically in regard to senior citizens.

Pansy Wong: Is the Minister aware of the practice of some private training enterprises of offering cash-back rewards to migrant senior citizen students of as much as $3,000, as an incentive for them to draw down student loans to pay for fees of as much as $9,000, and is that what he meant by increasing participation?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: No, and I fail to see what that has got to do specifically with senior citizens.

Pansy Wong: How does the Minister explain the doubling in the number of senior citizens with student loans enrolling in English language courses from 725 in 2004 to 1,564 in 2005, and is he concerned that the kind of cash-back enticement outlined in my previous question is leading our senior citizens to be burdened with debt that some have little prospect of repaying?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: The answer to the first part of the question is immigration. The answer to the second part of the question is that one of the slightly stranger features of the student loan scheme is that once one reaches a certain age, in effect one does not have to pay the loan back.

Pansy Wong: Has the Minister’s attention been drawn to complaints made to StudyLink in Chinese and English about this issue, and the lack of response from StudyLink; if so, how can we be assured that Ministers and their departments take problems like this seriously?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: No, but if the member would care to take it up with me, I will certainly take it up with the appropriate agencies, as I have done with one or two other elements of obvious attempts to rort the student loan scheme.

Pansy Wong: Can the Minister assure us, now that he has been made aware of this problem and of the fact that 70 percent of senior citizens with student loans are learning English at tertiary institutes, that he will review alternative and more appropriate ways of providing English language lessons for senior citizens, to avoid their being burdened with hefty student loans?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I have to say I now find the member’s questions rather confusing. On the one hand she is asking me to make these courses available free; on the other hand she is complaining that we are making loans available for them.

Pansy Wong: I seek leave to table a letter from the AIS St Helens institution to StudyLink that states it refused to refund to a student a portion of the student’s StudyLink fee as a cash reward for studying with the institution.

Leave granted.

Pansy Wong: I seek leave to table the amount of student loans incurred by senior citizens—those aged 60 years and above—which has doubled from 2002 to 2005, with the total amount of student loans incurred by senior citizens being—

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

Pansy Wong: I seek leave to table the answer to a parliamentary written question showing that StudyLink dismissed complaints with regard to that issue, in respect of complaints made both in Chinese and in English, relating—

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

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I seek leave to table information in respect of a chartered flight arrangement between Auckland and Shanghai arranged by someone very closely connected to someone in this House, where three planeloads of tourists were left in Shanghai and never received any compensation at all.

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

China—Human Rights

10. KEITH LOCKE (Green) to the Prime Minister: What human rights issues, if any, has the Government raised with Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao during his visit to New Zealand?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Deputy Prime Minister) on behalf of the Prime Minister: The general matter of human rights was raised in the ministerial discussions this morning.

Keith Locke: What concerns has the Government expressed to the Chinese Premier during his visit regarding protection of the political, cultural, and religious rights of the Tibetan people?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: As I said, the general matter was traversed during discussions this morning. I am not aware—obviously, I have not had time to be briefed by the Prime Minister—of any private discussions so far today.

Keith Locke: Did the Government discuss the Iranian nuclear programme with the Chinese Premier, and did it agree with him that the best course is dialogue with Iran, not threats of sanctions or military actions as being pushed for by the United States?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: In the limited time available we traversed issues of more central importance to New Zealand.

Sue Kedgley: Why will the Government not come out publicly and call on the Chinese Government to engage in a political dialogue with the Dalai Lama to bring genuine democracy and autonomy for the Tibetan people; is it because this Government is not prepared to do anything—not even to raise our voice on behalf of the Tibetan people—that might ruffle the feathers of the Chinese Government and stand in the way of our craven pursuit of a free-trade deal with China; if not, why not?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Those matters in relation to Tibet have been raised many times with the Chinese Government by the Minister of Foreign of Affairs. We do note that some progress has been made by the Chinese in the civil rights area compared with, say, 25 years ago. We certainly do believe that a free-trade agreement with China would be in the interests of nearly all New Zealanders.

Disability Sector—Shortcomings of Care

11. Dr PAUL HUTCHISON (National—Port Waikato) to the Minister of Health: Will he confirm that he has now committed to a full-scale inquiry into shortcomings of care within the disability sector, or will his inquiry be confined only to shortcomings of care from the disability provider Focus 2000?

Hon PETE HODGSON (Minister of Health): Neither of the above.

Dr Paul Hutchison: Why has he confined his formal inquiry just to Focus 2000, when the New Zealand Assembly of People with Disabilities says that currently systemic abandonment and neglect exist throughout the sector, and when over the last year there have been further allegations and evidence of poor care and sexual and physical abuse at other organisations, such as Spectrum Care?

Hon PETE HODGSON: I disagree with the diagnosis of the Assembly of People with Disabilities, but it is a matter of fact that the Ministry of Health at any one time has a number of investigations under way. At the moment it has a number of investigations into Focus 2000, and one or two into one or two other places, as well.

Dr Paul Hutchison: Why has nothing effective been done to improve care at Spectrum Care, an organisation that received a damning audit in June 2005, which revealed only one out of 14 staff had completed the last sign-off page of the orientation induction manual and there was no documented evidence of employee medication competency?

Hon PETE HODGSON: I have with me the audit the member has referred to. It shows that Spectrum Care failed on, I think, six out of 27 counts. It passed on 21 out of the 27. Indeed, there is a particular issue concerning a particular gentleman at Spectrum Care that is under close review by the ministry, by the Taikura Trust, and by the gentleman’s court-appointed welfare guardian today.

Dr Paul Hutchison: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. The Minister has not answered a very specific question, which asked why nothing effective has been done to improve the care at Spectrum Care.

Madam SPEAKER: I think the Minister did actually address the question. The Standing Orders do not require that a specific yes or no answer be given, or that there be specific answers to questions.

Dr Paul Hutchison: Does the Minister consider it high-quality and appropriate care to continue to have no medical or nursing professionals—in fact, no one with any formal training at all—looking after five non-verbal, intellectually disabled, high-complex needs men, as has been happening for years at 8 George Street, Papakura under Spectrum Care; if so, why?

Hon PETE HODGSON: The court-appointed welfare guardian for one of the people at that address is of the view that certain employees should be moved out of the George Street facility and others moved in. Those matters are under discussion with the Taikura Trust today and will be discussed with Spectrum Care on Monday.

Dr Paul Hutchison: What score would he give this Government’s mismanagement of the disability sector, given his score of 5½ for the health sector; how much less than 5½ would he give for his management of the disability sector?

Hon PETE HODGSON: A score way higher than I would give the member when he tried to be the Opposition spokesperson on health, which, frankly, is something he has not decided to give up on yet.

Ambulance Services—Provincial Areas

12. CHESTER BORROWS (National—Whanganui) to the Minister of Health: Does he have confidence that ambulance services in provincial areas are appropriately resourced to ensure community safety; if not, why not?

Hon PETE HODGSON (Minister of Health): Yes, I do, and so does Mr Pennycock, the regional ambulance officer in Wanganui, who has said publicly that the city is adequately resourced and does not have gaping holes in services.

Chester Borrows: How can he have confidence when last month in Wanganui the failure of a recently installed dispatch system meant that an ambulance was dispatched 20 minutes late, by which time a rest home resident had died from choking, and when conscientious paramedics had complained for 6 weeks that calls were being missed and nothing was done?

Hon PETE HODGSON: I am not aware of that instance, but I can tell the member that the ambulance communication and education project for the country will be rolled out on 1 July this year. This will seriously significantly improve communications with ambulances.

Darren Hughes: When did the issue of ambulance services in Wanganui first come to public attention?

Hon PETE HODGSON: Most recently about 4 months ago to the day, at which point Mr Borrows said he was going to take it up with me. Apart from a few parliamentary questions, I am still waiting.

Dr Pita Sharples: He aha i âta whakaaro ai ngâ tohunga kaimahi me ngâ âpiha pukumahi o te Rôpû Waka Tûroro ki Whanganui ki te kore râtou e haere ki te mahi, kia whakaatu ai ki te ao i ngâ raruraru kua tau mai ki runga i a râtou me tô râtou hapori; â, he aha he mahi mâna, mâ te Minita ki te whakatikatika i ô râtou âwangawanga?

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

[Why have the professional and dedicated officers of the local St John Ambulance in Wanganui seriously contemplated going on strike to highlight the vulnerability of their community and themselves; and what action will he, the Minister, take to address their concerns?]

Hon PETE HODGSON: The Government pays St John Ambulance and other ambulance providers money to provide contracted services, and how that money is distributed is substantially up to the provider. It is a matter of fact that the amount of money paid by this Government for ambulance services in New Zealand has risen by 17 percent over 3 years—not the sort of increase that one could come up with if one was in a party that had large tax cuts on its mind, as the National Party does. One can spend money around here but once. One spends it either on services or on tax cuts.

Dr Pita Sharples: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. The question asked: what action will the Minister be taking on this matter?

Hon PETE HODGSON: Shall I say something more?

Madam SPEAKER: Yes. I thought you had addressed the question.

Hon PETE HODGSON: Let me explain to the member that the Government sets standards for ambulance services. It provides money to ambulance services to provide those services. How the money is distributed, one town to another, is up to the ambulance services involved.

Chester Borrows: Does the Minister believe that the people of Wanganui should be confident in the resourcing of their local ambulance services, when last month in Wanganui a single-crew ambulance officer was unable to manage a quadriplegic patient who was choking and turning blue, and who would have died if another vehicle had not been able to respond?

Hon PETE HODGSON: I am delighted another vehicle was able to respond.

Chester Borrows: Does the Minister still stand by his comment in the Manawatu Standard on 6 September 2005: “… there is no intention to double crew in all situations, only emergencies where more than one officer is necessary.”; or does he accept that an emergency service, such as an ambulance service, by definition is one where preparation should always be made for the best response to an emergency, or should people ring a taxi in the first instance?

Hon PETE HODGSON: The ambulance communication and education project, to be rolled out nationally from 1 July, will enable a degree of triaging, so that with some certainty we can send the right people in the right quantity to the right place at the right time.

Chester Borrows: I seek leave to table an article from the Manawatu Standard where the Minister of Health said, as Associate Minister of Health, that he had no intention to double crew ambulances.

Madam SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that article. Is there any objection? There is objection.


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