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Questions & Answers for Oral Answer 3 May 2006

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

Wednesday, 3 May 2006
Questions for Oral Answer
Questions to Ministers

1. Health Services—Waiting Lists
2. Petrol—GST
Question No. 3 to Minister
3. Housing New Zealand—Chairman
4. United States - New Zealand—Partnership Dialogue
5. National Certificate of Educational Achievement—Results
6. David Parker—Reinstatement to Executive
7. Prison Service—Corrections, Minister’s Statement
8. Air Quality—Health Risks
9. Electricity Commission—Investment Process
10. Building Licences—Reports
11. PlunketLine—Quality of Service
12. Biodiversity Strategy—National Goals

Questions for Oral Answer

Questions to Ministers

Health Services—Waiting Lists

1. Hon TONY RYALL (National—Bay of Plenty) to the Minister of Health: How many patients does he expect this financial year will be removed from waiting lists and returned to their GP for ongoing care, and how does this number compare with the previous years?

Hon PETE HODGSON (Minister of Health): First let me thank the member for acknowledging that when patients are returned to general practitioners they are returned for ongoing care. About 5,000 a year have been returned to their general practitioners for ongoing care in previous years. So far this year it is about 6,500. Most of those have previously been placed in the active review category.

Hon Tony Ryall: How can the Minister stand in this House and say that only 6,500 people have been referred back to their general practitioner this year, when we know that the Hawke’s Bay is about to send back 1,800, Waikato has sent back 3,000, Counties Manukau has admitted to sending 1,800 back, Canterbury has admitted to sending 2,000 patients back to general practitioner care this year, and there have been 400 in the Bay of Plenty; is the fact this, that this Minister does not want to admit that this crisis is getting beyond him?

Hon PETE HODGSON: No, that is not the fact. The fact is that the member who has asked the question has confused surgery and specialist waiting lists. I have answered in respect of surgical waiting lists and will happily answer in respect of specialist waiting lists should he wish to put down another question another day.

Maryan Street: In what circumstances are people returned to the care of their general practitioner?

Hon PETE HODGSON: The main reasons are that their condition has not deteriorated as it might have—these are the people in the active review category that I mentioned in my first answer. The two other reasons are the booking system, introduced by the former National Government, the active review category, introduced by the National Government, and the “return to GP” idea, introduced by the National Government. But there are two other reasons. One is that the patient is currently medically unfit for surgery, and the other reason is that the patient has changed his or her mind.

Hon Tony Ryall: Is it not the case that this Minister does not know how many people have been dumped from waiting lists around the country—that the figure is up to 3,000 in the Waikato, 2,000 in Canterbury, 1,800 in South Auckland, 1,800 expected in Hawke’s Bay, and 1,100 in MidCentral District Health Board—and who is responsible for the fact that so many thousands of New Zealanders are being sent back to their general practitioners?

Hon PETE HODGSON: Now that it is clear that the member is talking about a specialist waiting list and not a surgical waiting list, I am happy to advise him as follows. There are 24,000 people waiting for a first specialist assessment who have been waiting for longer than 6 months. This is not satisfactory. Just to give the situation some context, however, I point out that when we became the Government the figure was not 24,000 but 41,000, and on top of that—

Hon Members: Oh!

Madam SPEAKER: Members know—[Interruption] Yes, members are losing control. Members are allowed to interject, but barracking so that others cannot hear is not permitted.

Hon PETE HODGSON: Not only were 41,000 waiting for more than 6 months, but a further 51,000 had been waiting for God knows how long. That totals 92,000. Now, in respect of the 24,000—noting that we have three-quarters fixed the mess left to us by the previous Government, so how about a bit of credit—some proportion will be seen by a specialist and some proportion will be returned to their general practitioner. These are individual decisions by district health boards. In Hawke’s Bay, for example—the area the member refers to—1,800 have been returned to their general practitioners in recent weeks. The Southland urology service, to give another example, had a very serious backlog, and every one of those people was seen by a specialist and none were returned to their general practitioner.

Tariana Turia: Is the Minister aware of the first national cervical audit undertaken by Auckland University in 2004 that revealed that for 21 percent of Mâori it took more than 6 months from their first high-grade smear until they were diagnosed, compared with 10 percent of non-Mâori, and is the latest debacle at Waitematâ another example of that systemic bias; if not, how can such delays be accounted for?

Hon PETE HODGSON: I regret to advise the member that I was not aware, but I do wonder, given the year that she spoke of, which of us was health Minister at the time.

Hon Tony Ryall: How many New Zealanders, many of whom, a specialist has said, need an operation, are now in the care of their general practitioner? How many people are in the care of their general practitioners—which has effectively become the waiting list to get on the waiting list to get on the waiting list?

Hon PETE HODGSON: Of course, one cannot answer that question except to say that there are approximately 16 million visits to a general practitioner each year, and that, I guess, is the starting point. Some of those visits might be for coughs and colds, however.

Hon Tony Ryall: Has the Minister inquired as to how many people culled from waiting lists in the last year have actually died because they did not get an operation?

Hon PETE HODGSON: The issue of people dying while on, or off, waiting lists was raised by the ACT party approximately 18 months ago in this House. For some period of time the crisis makers of the day decided that people were going to die on a waiting list from the thing that was the reason they were waiting. Actually, when we go back over all of the details—and the Ministry of Health did so back then—we find that there were virtually no deaths on waiting lists from the thing that caused the people to be on that waiting list.

Hon Tony Ryall: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. This question was quite specific in referring to general practitioner care. It is completely out of order, and in no way can be interpreted as addressing the question, for the Minister to give an answer to a completely different question that he did not receive. How many people have died while under general practitioner care because they were sent off a waiting list?

Hon Dr Michael Cullen: The Minister did give an answer to that, and the answer was that in terms of people dying of the thing for which they were on the waiting list, virtually none. The member might just as well ask how many people died who were not on a waiting list.

Madam SPEAKER: The Minister gave a very full answer. If he wishes to add anything more, I am sure the House would appreciate it.

Hon PETE HODGSON: What characterises the health policy of this Government is very substantial attention to primary health care. So if someone dies without seeing his or her general practitioner, or having seen his or her general practitioner only once, and having failed to go back to the general practitioner because of, for example, price, or whatever reason, then help is on the way. The most remarkable changes to our health system are in the primary health-care system. [Interruption] I say to the member now—but he has to stop talking for a little bit while I am talking, because he cannot listen and talk at once—that we will discover in years to come, as the primary health-care strategy rolls out, that a whole lot of people will get care these days that they never would have received under a National Government.

Dr Jonathan Coleman: What would the Minister say to the people of Counties Manukau, whose children are getting less than half the number of elective tonsil operations they were getting 4 years ago; is that what he means by prioritisation—that as each year goes by, South Auckland kids get fewer of the tonsil operations they need—and does that not make an absolute mockery of his claim in his speech 2 days ago that child health is a priority under this Government?

Hon PETE HODGSON: Child health is a priority under this Government, and we are very proud of the programme of health care that we will roll out over the next 3 years in the child health area. As far as tonsillectomies are concerned, the member, who is himself a doctor, might like to advise the House whether the fashion for tonsillectomies is as high now as it was some years ago, and whether that might have anything to do with the change in provision.

Petrol—GST

2. PETER BROWN (Deputy Leader—NZ First) to the Minister of Revenue: How much has GST per litre of petrol increased in real terms since April 2000?

Hon PETER DUNNE (Minister of Revenue): I am advised that GST per litre has increased in real terms by 6c over the last 6 years.

Peter Brown: Will the Minister inform the House as to what that represents per year in actual dollars?

Hon PETER DUNNE: I do not have that information to hand, but I can tell the House that because the rate of GST is 12.5 percent, the rate of increase over that period of time will have been constant. I can also tell the House that because GST is a consumption-based tax, there is no discernable impact on overall levels of GST income from a movement in one particular item, since people simply shift their budgets to accommodate that change.

Peter Brown: Does the Minister accept that much of that increased revenue is a windfall gain, and, noting the United Future party’s objection to a tax on a tax when it comes to rates, will he support New Zealand First’s call to abolish GST on petrol, or at least to reduce it; if not, why not?

Hon PETER DUNNE: The point I made in response to the previous question applies here. The rate of GST receipts over the period in question does not reflect a significant shift, because when people spend more on petrol they spend correspondingly less on something else.

Dr the Hon Lockwood Smith: What is the Minister doing to transfer a greater amount of the tax collected from petrol towards building new roads, rather than it being diverted into the Crown bank account, consistent with United Future’s policy at the last election—or was the bauble of ministerial office more important than United Future’s policy on petrol tax and roads?

Hon PETER DUNNE: There are two points in response to that question. The area of transfer comes through the excise tax, which is the responsibility of the Minister of Transport.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: Pass the buck.

Hon PETER DUNNE: I am not going to pass the buck; I am going to spend the buck. The second point I was going to make was that as part of the agreement between the Labour-led Government and United Future, the funding previously set aside for the Wellington regional roading programme, initially for the proposed coastal expressway, will now, as a result of the changes that have been made in the Wellington region, be going towards Transmission Gully. That is a huge windfall for the people of Wellington.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Has the Minister received reports from his department in respect of prior efforts to divert a far greater proportion of road taxes to roading, in respect of two circumstances: in 1995, when a bill came before this House to do just that, and in 1999, when again the National Government torpedoed such efforts; what reports has he received?

Hon PETER DUNNE: I am certainly aware of both of those incidents, having been in the House at the time. I am also aware that during the term of the last Parliament a very significant diversion into road funding was made, which beat any of the attempts that were formulated over previous years.

Hon Dr Michael Cullen: Can the Minister confirm that the introduction of GST was accompanied by a very careful programme headed by a committee that recommended a flat rate of GST on the broadest possible range of consumption, and that the chairman of that committee was one Dr Don Brash?

Hon PETER DUNNE: I am very happy to confirm that point. In fact, one of the points of envy from many other countries over the years has been the one rate, universal application of our GST system, which Dr Brash so wisely recommended.

Question No. 3 to Minister

Madam SPEAKER: I call question No. 3, Phil Heatley. Question No. 4 then, Dianne Yates. Oh, the member wants to ask his question, question No. 3.

Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS (Minister of Foreign Affairs): I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. With respect, Mr Heatley lost his chance. You moved to question No. 4. There are punishments in this Parliament for being asleep, not on the job, and not being focused. He has just learnt them. [Interruption] If he wants any advice on that he should ask Tau Henare—he is an expert on it.

Madam SPEAKER: I thank the member. I am sure the member’s attention was straying for just a moment. I ask Mr Heatley to please ask his question.

Housing New Zealand—Chairman

3. PHIL HEATLEY (National—Whangarei) to the Minister of Housing: In what specific ways did the Chairman of Housing New Zealand Corporation act “appropriately and promptly” in respect of the allegations of accounting irregularities made by a former contractor and the associated gagging clause of that contractor?

Hon CHRIS CARTER (Minister of Housing): As far as I am aware, once the chairman saw the text of the gagging letter he immediately indicated that he regarded it as inappropriate and inquired into it. As far as I am aware, once the chairman was fully aware of all the circumstances of the allegations he set in train processes to inquire into them.

Phil Heatley: How can the Minister have confidence that the chairman acted “promptly”, if he heard about the gagging clause from talkback radio some weeks before print media pressure forced him both to tell that Minister and to suggest an inquiry?

Hon CHRIS CARTER: It may come as a surprise to the member, but not everybody listens to talkback radio. I have an assurance from the chairman of the board of Housing New Zealand Corporation that he first learnt of the gagging order on 7 April—the day I learnt of it from him—and the inquiry was set up 3 days later.

Georgina Beyer: What matters will the inquiry conducted by the Office of the Controller and Auditor-General into allegations made against Housing New Zealand Corporation consider?

Hon CHRIS CARTER: Some of the matters the Auditor-General’s inquiry will consider include the allegations made by the former contractor in an agreed statement of facts, any other allegations made by the contractor that the Auditor-General considers desirable to investigate, and the events leading up to the signing of the settlement agreement with the former contractor, including whether the chief executive authorised the agreement and was aware in advance of its terms.

Phil Heatley: Why did the chairman say publicly that he knew of the gagging clause from talkback radio several weeks before he told the Minister, contrary to what the Minister is claiming in the House today?

Hon CHRIS CARTER: I am unaware of that allegation. I would be delighted to see some evidence from that member.

Phil Heatley: How can the Minister have confidence that the chairman acted “appropriately”, if he broke the no-surprises agreement?

Hon CHRIS CARTER: As I said in my opening statement to the House in answer to the first question, as far as I am aware, the chairman has acted entirely appropriately throughout this sorry saga.

Phil Heatley: How can the Minister have confidence that the chairman acted appropriately if the chairman went to a “please explain” meeting with him promising an internal investigation by Housing New Zealand’s usual auditors, Ernst and Young, but came out of the “please explain” meeting with the Minister promising an independent inquiry by the Auditor-General?

Hon CHRIS CARTER: People are entirely able to change their mind.

Phil Heatley: Is the Minister very, very sure the chairman did not know about the gagging clause soon after the letter was signed in December, given that he knew about the allegations of accounting irregularities in September and as a good chairman presumably would have followed this up by asking the chief executive if the matter had been resolved?

Hon CHRIS CARTER: I can only repeat to the House that the chairman of the board has told me that he found out about the gagging order on 7 April, the same day that I found out about it.

Phil Heatley: I seek leave to table a report stating that the chairman said he heard about the gagging clause on Newstalk ZB some weeks before he told the Minister.

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

Hon CHRIS CARTER: I seek leave to table the terms of reference for the Auditor-General’s inquiry into certain allegations involving the Housing New Zealand Corporation.

Leave granted.

Hon Paul Swain: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I wish to clarify that I objected to the earlier seeking of leave because I thought that the member was referring to a newspaper report. If the member can clarify that it was not a newspaper report, then I am happy to go along with the granting of leave.

Madam SPEAKER: I think the moment has passed unless the member wishes to put it again. Does Mr Heatley wish to put it again?

Phil Heatley: I seek leave to table a report where the chairman stated that he heard about the gagging order on Newstalk ZB a few weeks before he told the Minister.

Madam SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection? There is no objection—[Interruption] Sorry, is it a newspaper article?

Phil Heatley: It is a newspaper report.

Madam SPEAKER: Well, there is objection. That has clarified the point; at least we have that clarified.

United States - New Zealand—Partnership Dialogue

4. DIANNE YATES (Labour) to the Minister of Trade: What reports, if any, has he received commenting on the outcome of the United States - New Zealand partnership dialogue held in Washington recently?

Hon PHIL GOFF (Minister of Trade): I have received a number of reports, all favourable. I think the mood of the participants at the dialogue was best summed up by the New Zealand Herald, which stated that the event was “an overwhelming positive and can only help to create renewed understandings which will ultimately benefit New Zealand business.” I think the dialogue did move the relationship forward, in a way that was really helped by the delegates from this country taking a “New Zealand Incorporated” approach.

Dianne Yates: What level of support emerged from the American side to strengthen the relationship?

Hon PHIL GOFF: I think there was strong high-level support from the American side, which did succeed in taking the relationship forward. In particular, I welcomed the strong support that was received from assistant secretary of State Chris Hill for the relationship, and the very strong comments that came from the president of the US Chamber of Commerce, Tom Donohue, who was very much in favour of a free-trade agreement. But most important, I think, was the ground-breaking article co-authored by Richard Armitage and Randy Shriver in the Asian Wall Street Journal. That came out very strongly in favour of a free-trade agreement and a closer defence and security relationship with New Zealand.

Hon Tau Henare: Bring back Winston!

Hon PHIL GOFF: If Mr Tau Henare has anything to say, I invite him to ask a question.

Dianne Yates: To what extent will the dialogue help to achieve a free-trade agreement and closer security cooperation?

Hon PHIL GOFF: I think it was a step in the right direction. In trade, it builds on other positive support that New Zealand has received, and in particular the very positive letter from Senators John McCain and John Sununu to the President in support of a free-trade agreement. The National Association of Manufacturers has also put New Zealand in the top five of the countries it wants a free-trade agreement with. However, it is true that there are time and resource constraints with the United States Trade Representative, and that means our negotiations have to be seen as a medium, as well as a short-term, objective. Briefly, on the security front, I think the fact that New Zealand works very closely with the United States on counter-terrorism and counter-proliferation—and that point was highlighted—also helped with the relationship between the partners at the partnership dialogue. I would like also to congratulate National members on their positive support for the Government’s position in that regard.

National Certificate of Educational Achievement—Results

5. Hon BILL ENGLISH (National—Clutha-Southland) to the Minister of Education: What evidence has he received that supports his official’s statements that the NCEA process ensures “results are consistent and fair”?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY (Minister of Education): The National Certificate of Educational Achievement (NCEA) national statistics released 3 weeks ago demonstrated the fairness and consistency of NCEA results in 2005. They show that over 70 percent of the results of the 335 external standards were within expected ranges. Where they fell outside those expected ranges, the marking schedules were checked to ensure fairness and consistency, and in a small number of standards exams were re-marked to ensure no student was treated anything other than fairly.

Hon Bill English: Is the Minister aware that the evidence he has described is not regarded by assessment experts as giving any reliable assessment of the fairness of the exam; and can he tell us whether the New Zealand Qualifications Authority has any evidence that uses internationally standard measures of fairness and reliability, and measurement of error?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: Because the member never provides names of anybody, I assume he may be referring to Warwick Elley, who said that 40 out of 140 standards in 10 subjects had variable failure results. I just want to assure the member that the New Zealand Qualifications Authority disagrees with Professor Elley, and will be publishing a response to him in the next few weeks. In relation to whether we can talk about issues that the member often raises around, I think, a view that NCEA ought to be norm referenced, no, we do not have that kind of reliability. But we do rely, of course, on the fact that we have a very professional group of teachers who are setting and examining these results, and as we are able to develop over time the body of information that we get from the national statistics—which were released just 3 weeks ago—we will get a very reliable picture of NCEA.

Moana Mackey: What else did the NCEA 2005 exam statistics show?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: The national statistics show that more students than ever are gaining qualifications: 72.5 percent of students achieved the level 1 literacy standard, which is up from 69 percent in 2004; 78.8 percent achieved the level 1 numeracy standard, which is up from 75.7 percent in 2004; the percentage of year 11 students on the school roll achieving level 1 NCEA went up from 52.5 percent; to 56.4 percent. The number of Mâori and Pacific Island students leaving school without qualifications has fallen by 10 percent in the last 2 years and, of course, the New Zealand Qualifications Authority put in place improved processes to ensure consistency and fairness, so that we had an exam season without drama, except for the drama brought up by Bill English.

Hon Brian Donnelly: What is the nature of the research currently being undertaken by the Ministry of Education into the motivational effects of NCEA on students, and when will the results of this research be made public?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: We do have to look at the issue of how students view NCEA, and research has already been released around this, which is largely just the views expressed to researchers by students. A more reliable picture will build up in July this year when research that is being undertaken by the Ministry of Education will be released on student motivation, and that will be used by us as we go forward and look at what students are choosing to do.

Hon Bill English: Why has the New Zealand Qualifications Authority decided that results in NCEA can fluctuate by up to 10 percent per year, whereas every other test applied to New Zealand children, whether by New Zealand agencies or overseas ones, has a variation of a maximum 2-3 percent per year, and can he explain to the House why the authority’s standards are so completely different from those used by every other testing regime?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: One of the things about the history of the New Zealand Qualifications Authority’s work with NCEA is, of course, too much variability. But one pleasing thing this year is that we have seen much less variation, so that every assessment expert who we have had available to us, including people like John Hattie who has been part of the Ministerial reference group, has said that this year the variation is fine.

Hon Bill English: Can the Minister explain a geography standard on country development where 1,250 students passed the standard out of 5,000 who sat it, but if those students had sat the standard last year another 1,000 would have passed, and how fair is that to those 1,000 students?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: Accepting the point I made before that one of the admitted problems of NCEA historically has been its variation—which this year, pleasingly, has been brought within bounds that people accept is fine—I tell the member that one of the things he has to remember is that this—

Hon Bill English: That is wrong.

Hon STEVE MAHAREY:—would the member be quiet for just a tick—is a standards-based system. Standards are set each year, and the standards this year were set in a way that people regard is fine, and the variation is fine.

Allan Peachey: What evidence-based explanation can the Minister of Education give the House to explain why, in the 2005 NCEA assessments, failure rates fell outside the New Zealand Qualifications Authority’s expected levels in 47 of the standards?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: The member may not have been listening to my answer to the original question from Bill English when I pointed out to Mr English that for 70 percent of the 335 standards, things have gone exactly as we would have expected. For some of the standards the marking schedule was checked to make sure of fairness and consistency, and, in some cases, exams were re-marked so that we got fairness and consistency.

Allan Peachey: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. My question asked for an explanation, not for an excuse. Please can I have an explanation.

Madam SPEAKER: The Minister addressed the question quite fully.

Hon Bill English: Can the Minister explain why in two geometry standards, also taken by thousands of students, there were 2,000 more failures in each of these standards this year compared with last year, when international testing of similar tasks shows no change in the achievement of students in geometry, and why NCEA allows thousands more students to fail, when international testing shows the students are just as able this year as they were last year?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: Of course, this is one of the things one cannot do—the member is once again preferring his norm-referenced approach to exams over a standards-based approach and wants me to compare a standards-based system with a norm-referenced one overseas. But accepting that, and accepting that the member prefers norm referencing to a standards-based system, and a comparison cannot made, can he also accept that I have explained that in the recent history of NCEA there has been variation in the setting of the standards, but this year we have made a major step forward in that way. Can I also point out to the member that one of the real strengths of this system is its transparency. Students in this country even get their exam script back, so that if they do not think it is fair, they can go back and have it looked at again—as many of them have done.

David Parker—Reinstatement to Executive

6. RODNEY HIDE (Leader—ACT) to the Prime Minister: Following David Parker’s admission that he had “cut a corner and that was a mistake”, did she or her staff ask David Parker before he was reinstated into Cabinet whether there were any other corners that he might have cut that could compromise his ability to be an effective Minister; if so, was she satisfied with his response?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK (Prime Minister): Yes.

Rodney Hide: What is the Prime Minister’s response, then, to Mr Stephenson and Mr Clear swearing statements that David Parker made a false representation about the ownership of a major asset belonging to his company and arranged a series of preferential payments to creditors at a time when he knew his company to be insolvent?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I understand the matters referred to were dealt with in a normal liquidation process and no irregularities were found.

Rodney Hide: If Mr Clear and Mr Stephenson are telling the truth in their statements, would it be the Prime Minister’s opinion that Mr David Parker had done wrong?

Madam SPEAKER: I do not think the Prime Minister is responsible for that. Would you like to rephrase the question? I am aware you have only a limited number of supplementary questions.

Rodney Hide: If Mr Clear and Mr Stephenson are telling the truth, would Mr Parker be of a standard acceptable to her Cabinet?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I simply repeat that these matters were subject to a normal liquidation process and no irregularities were found.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Has the Prime Minister seen Mr Hide’s interpretation of the recent investigation in respect of Mr Parker, which was that a 1999 document was a whitewash of an event that happened 6 years later, and what does she think of that?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: What I think is that Mr Hide is simply unable to accept the outcome of any investigation that he does not agree with.

Prison Service—Corrections, Minister’s Statement

7. SIMON POWER (National—Rangitikei) to the Minister of Corrections: Does he stand by his statement: “The prison service is not in crisis; it is running really well.”; if so, why?

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

Simon Power: Has his department ever considered releasing remand prisoners back into the community on electronic monitoring, to alleviate overcrowding and costs; if so, when?

Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: The department is currently carrying out trials of electronic monitoring of people who might safely be held in the community rather than in prison.

Martin Gallagher: Further to the Minister’s answer to the primary question, in the Minister’s view, how do the Department of Corrections’ current key performance indicators compare with those of the 1990s, when the National Government was in power?

Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: A very good question. As a result of significant investment in, and commitment to, the Department of Corrections by this Government we have—to give a couple of examples—reduced the number of break-out escapes by more than 80 percent, and reduced the number of serious assaults on staff by inmates by more than 90 percent. And we have confiscated far more contraband items in the last 3 years, because we have put in place systems that identify and apprehend those people.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Is not the real answer to Mr Power’s first supplementary question that that idea is exactly what was proposed by the National Government’s Minister Nick Smith in 1997?

Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: I believe that could possibly be the truth.

Simon Power: What is the Minister’s reaction to the leaked internal Department of Corrections memo written by a prison manager that proposes releasing remand prisoners on electronic monitoring rather than putting them in jail, in order to “significantly alleviate operational costs and the constant media attention”?

Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: We welcome within our department any good ideas that may result in the better management of inmates in our prison system, but we will not do anything that puts the community at risk. We will continue to apprehend, prosecute, and lock up more dangerous and violent offenders—and we have done so.

Simon Power: Can he explain to the House why the leaked internal memo makes no mention of public safety, and mentions only the need to cut costs and to avoid the negative publicity associated with overcrowding in prisons?

Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: Nothing is done by the Department of Corrections without considering the underlying and primary objective of protecting the community from dangerous and violent criminals.

Simon Power: Can the Minister confirm that approximately 50 percent of prisoners remanded in custody go on to serve a jail sentence; and if he does proceed with his department’s plan to release remand prisoners into the public on electronic monitoring, how will he know which half are guilty and which half are not?

Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: By the member’s own admission, 50 percent of those people held on remand do not go on to serve custodial sentences. We have a very extensive process of justice in this country whereby judges and the Parole Board make such decisions. We will leave those decisions to those independent authorities and individuals.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Is it true that the party in Government that introduced bracelets for home detention was, in fact, the National Party; and will he release all the documentation of 1997 in which Nick Smith undertook to do just that—to make sure the public know who is responsible for this issue?

Hon Dr Nick Smith: The premise of the member’s question is incorrect. I seek the leave of the House to table the Cabinet paper—Winston was probably asleep—in which we looked at home detention; it shows we never proposed it for remand inmates.

Madam SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection? There is objection. Can we now proceed with the response to the question.

Simon Power: It was a point of order.

Madam SPEAKER: It was a point of order; it was addressed. The question still remains on the table.

Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: Evaluation of home detention has proved that the rate of reoffending is very, very low. Electronic monitoring has been used internationally to ensure that authorities can keep an eye on prisoners who are on home detention. We are currently conducting trials, and no decisions have been made.

Simon Power: What other plans is his department working on to “significantly alleviate operational costs and the constant media attention” without any reference to public safety?

Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: We are undertaking no initiatives without considering, primarily, public safety. To quote a member of the House: “There are a lot of people in prison that for my mind don’t actually belong in prisons. You know, their crimes don’t actually say that they should be locked up like other prisoners.”

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Who said that?

Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: Tau Henare said that. Perhaps Simon Power should speak to him.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I seek leave to table a series of Cabinet papers, including the one with National’s proposal in respect of private prisons. The deal was that it would have private prisons, and early release, with bracelets, on home detention.

Madam SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table those documents. Is there any objection? There is objection.

Air Quality—Health Risks

8. STEVE CHADWICK (Labour—Rotorua) to the Minister for the Environment: What steps has the Government taken to reduce health risks associated with poor air quality?

Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE (Minister for the Environment): I am sure all members of the House and most New Zealanders would agree that maintaining a clean and healthy environment is a strategic investment in the country’s future. That is why this Government has introduced 14 National Environmental Standards for Air Quality, banned activities that discharge toxins into the air, such as the burning of tyres, oil, and coated wire, reduced the sulphur in diesel from 3,000 parts per million to just 50 parts per million, and is looking at a further reduction, funded $800,000 of air quality monitoring equipment for regional councils to help them to meet those standards, established a Warm Homes project to investigate how to encourage a move to cleaner heating and warmer homes, and introduced design standards for new domestic woodburners.

Steve Chadwick: What is the most recent initiative the Government has undertaken?

Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: The Government has just committed a further $750,000 to assist Canterbury’s Clean Heat project and Nelson’s Clean Heat - Warm Homes scheme. In New Zealand fine particle air pollution contributes to an estimated 870 premature deaths a year, and the problem is clearly worse in some areas than others due to topography and climate. That sort of investment in clean and efficient home heating will doubtless help to reduce air pollution, and it is a most important investment in the health of New Zealanders in such areas.

Electricity Commission—Investment Process

9. Hon Dr NICK SMITH (National—Nelson) to the Minister of Energy: Does he agree with Electricity Commissioner David Close’s “fundamental reservations” over the way the commission approves investments in the national grid; if not, why not?

Hon DAVID PARKER (Minister of Energy): The application of the grid investment test is a matter for the Electricity Commission. Differing opinions within the commission are matters that the commission itself addresses.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: Does the Minister consider it acceptable in an area so critical to New Zealand as security of supply of electricity to have the commission last month make a mistake of over 15 percent in the amount of electricity supply in respect of the min-zone, and this month to have one of its own commissioners state that he has fundamental reservations about grid investment decisions, and with these sorts of shenanigans why should we have any confidence that the commission will be able to keep the lights on?

Hon DAVID PARKER: The current grid investment test was approved after wide consultation with the industry. Nevertheless, it is true that the draft decision of Transpower on the proposed 400 kilovolts upgrade into Auckland is the first time that that grid investment test has been applied in practice to a major proposal. I would naturally expect there to be debate about whether the test has weaknesses. If it does, those weaknesses will be addressed.

Hon Jim Anderton: Has the Minister received any reports on the accuracy of forecast by the leader of the National Party when he went down to examine the water storage in the lakes in the South Island and made some projections about what might happen to hydro generation in New Zealand?

Hon DAVID PARKER: I am pleased to say that there is more water in the lakes now than there was then.

Hon Steve Maharey: Did you set him up?

Madam SPEAKER: Order, please.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: When I did that, I got kicked out. Never mind—different rules.

Madam SPEAKER: I am sorry. Would the member please withdraw that comment. I had called for order. The member had hesitated, he had not started asking his question, there was no interjection, but there was loud muttering around the Chamber.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: I heard a specific interjection from Mr Maharey.

Madam SPEAKER: Well, I did not hear it. Would the member please ask his question.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. You asked him to withdraw and you should ask him also to apologise. If you do not, he will carry on behaving in that way, and he has been doing it for far too long.

Madam SPEAKER: No, I ask the member—the member has a pattern of behaviour of questioning the Speaker’s rulings. I did ask him to withdraw that comment. I ask him again so we can now proceed.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: I withdraw it.

Madam SPEAKER: Thank you. Please ask your question.

Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. Dr Smith most certainly has withdrawn but the point he makes is valid. You have been very, very staunch in insisting that when questions are asked, they aree asked in silence. By and large, we have made every effort to cooperate with that particular ruling. That was a deliberate interjection from Mr Maharey and I would have thought extremely difficult for anyone to miss. He knows that he has made that interjection. Maybe he should be required to apologise to the House for his behaviour as well. He is lucky he is staying here.

Madam SPEAKER: If in fact Mr Maharey had made that interjection when the member was asking his question, he would have been out, but the member had not started asking his question, which I would ask him to do at this moment, please.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: How does the Minister reconcile the statement by the Electricity Commission that its draft decision is “very robust” when one of its own commissioners has seen fit to publicly slam the decision-making process around transmission?

Hon DAVID PARKER: The commissioner concerned has not publicly slammed the commission’s decision; he has expressed a differing opinion. As I said in my answer to the primary question, differing opinions within the commission are matters the commission itself addresses.

Shane Jones: Is the expression of a minority opinion in line with the purpose and function of the Electricity Commission?

Hon DAVID PARKER: Yes, indeed it is. One of the reasons for having independent commissioners is to enable a range of informed opinions to be considered in the decision-making process.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: Does the Minister accept that his Government is already taking unacceptable risks in respect of transmission to Auckland, noting the statement from the Electricity Commission last week that “security is not at preferred levels now”, and the statement of Dr Keith Turner, chief executive of Meridian Energy, that lines are so overworked into Auckland that they cannot be taken out of service for maintenance, and that that is unheard of in the Western World? Do not those two statements show that this Government is already taking unacceptable risks with the transmission of power into Auckland?

Hon DAVID PARKER: No, they do not. The Government has long acknowledged that there is a need to upgrade power transmission capacity into Auckland. I would note that one of the problems we have had in New Zealand over recent years is that there was an assumption under the Bradford reforms that pricing signals would be given to Transpower in a way that would cause it to make an economically based decision, based on those pricing signals, as to when it should upgrade the grid. This Government rejects that proposal, and that is why we set up the Electricity Commission to do what it is doing.

Hon Dr Michael Cullen: Does the Minister take it from Dr Smith’s questions that the National Party is now supporting the 400-kilovolt upgrade of the North Island transmission line; if so, will he ask Dr Smith to convey that view to his colleagues, some of whom opposed that upgrade before the election?

Hon Dr Nick Smith: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. Based on your own rulings in recent weeks, the question by the Leader of the House is clearly out of order. I would be more than happy to answer it for him if it is the wish of the House.

Hon Dr Michael Cullen: I cannot see why the question is out of order. I have asked the Minister for his interpretation of the questions he is being asked and whether he will then be asking that member to engage in certain acts to clarify the confusion and division within the National Party on this issue.

Madam SPEAKER: The question is whether the Minister has responsibility for the actions of another party, and in this instance the answer is no.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: Why does his Government back the judgment of the Electricity Commission, a board with little engineering experience, over that of Transpower and Meridian Energy, which have a huge depth of engineering experience on security of transmission systems, when recent international history is littered with stories of major power failings in Queensland, north-east America, and Europe because Governments ignored the advice of transmission engineers?

Hon DAVID PARKER: As Minister Mallard commented when the draft decision was announced, the Government is keenly interested in ensuring that there is a consensus. The level of consensus between parties that were recently some distance apart is getting closer. The gap has narrowed, but we are concerned to see that the submission process, which ends on 9 June with the closing of submissions, further narrows that gap.

Hon Dr Michael Cullen: Is the Minister aware that the staunchest opposition to the 400-kilovolt upgrade came from Dr Smith’s bench mate Judith Collins; if so, will he be approaching Ms Collins and Dr Smith to encourage them to sort out their differences?

Hon DAVID PARKER: I am aware that some of the strident opposition to the 400-kilovolt upgrade came from National Party members.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: Does the Minister have confidence in the confusing structure his Government has created between the Electricity Commission, Transpower, and the Commerce Commission in respect of decisions about the management of the national grid; if so, why do the select committee, unanimously, the Government’s State-owned enterprise, and most players in the electricity industry say that the structure is a mess and is not adequate to keep the lights on?

Hon DAVID PARKER: I have confidence that the improvements that this Government has made to structures concerning investment decisions and transmission capacity have improved the situation. I do note that in a discussion paper the Government has put out, we do actually signal that at some time in the future we think it will be wise to bring some of the functions of the Commerce Commission into the Electricity Commission.

Building Licences—Reports

10. H V ROSS ROBERTSON (Labour—Manukau East) to the Minister for Building Issues: What reports, if any, has he received on proposals to license building practitioners?

Hon CLAYTON COSGROVE (Minister for Building Issues): I have received numerous reports supporting the proposed licensing regime for the building industry, which is part and parcel of the Government’s programme to restore confidence in the sector and ensure that buildings are built right the first time, while at the same time protecting the Kiwi DIY tradition. The Registered Master Builders Federation, for instance, stated that the regime: “would ensure only skilled and competent people could work in the industry.” The Construction Industry Council stated: “the days of cowboys in the building sector are clearly numbered.”, and: “The new regime will hold designers and builders of houses accountable.” Finally, the Certified Builders Association stated that the regime “is a significant milestone in the project to reform the building industry.” It is a sound policy from a sound Government.

H V Ross Robertson: How will do-it-yourself home handymen and handywomen be affected by the licensing regime?

Hon CLAYTON COSGROVE: The good old Kiwi tradition of having a go with a hammer and nails has been protected. Some in the industry wanted us to restrict all DIY work, but we have struck a common-sense balance. DIYers will be able to tackle nearly all the work they do now. For instance, they will be able to build a new kitchen, a bathroom, a deck, and a garden shed, and a farmer will be able to build a hayshed. But significant work will need to be supervised by a licensed builder. That includes new buildings and extensions, or major alterations to where people live and work, and it will ensure public safety and buyer confidence when a property is on-sold.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: Can the Minister give this House one single example of a leaky building constructed by a do-it-yourself builder that can justify changes in what Kiwis can do to their own houses; can he name one example of a leaky home problem that has arisen from a do-it-yourselfer, when the Weathertight Homes Resolution Service says there are none?

Hon CLAYTON COSGROVE: Let us be clear on this matter. As I have just said for the benefit of the member, do-it-yourselfers will be able to do basically what they do now, unless it is significant work. I say to the member we should be clear that the state of the construction industry today can be levelled at two things: first, the deliberate destruction of apprenticeships on the 1990s—[Interruption]

Madam SPEAKER: Order!

Hon CLAYTON COSGROVE:—and, second, the total deregulation of the industry in the 1990s—[Interruption]

Madam SPEAKER: Order!

Hon CLAYTON COSGROVE: The member let the cowboys in; we are booting them out.

Madam SPEAKER: Would the Minister please be seated. The Minister knows better than that. When I am on my feet, he is to be seated. Would the Minister please now address the question.

Hon CLAYTON COSGROVE: If the member wants to go around Auckland and Christchurch, he will find examples of leaky buildings all over the show. Yes, some were done by individuals. Under our regime, do-it-yourselfers will be able to do basically what they do now, apart from significant work. Hence, we will not get a leaky building problem. I say again that the legacy of the previous National Government was the deregulation of the whole building industry in the 1990s. Anything went—shonky, lazy cowboys were allowed into the industry. That was a symptom of the National Party caucus—it is gone, too.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: I seek the leave of the House to table two documents. The first of those is a speech made by the Hon George Hawkins, who said that Labour was responsible for the deregulation of the building industry in the late 1980s and that National had no right to claim credit for it.

Leave granted.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: The second document is a formal answer from the Weathertight Homes Resolution Service, which states that in not a single case out of over 3,000 leaky home cases were the leaks the responsibility of a do-it-yourselfer.

Leave granted.

Hon Dr Michael Cullen: Is there any point in people going to the Weathertight Homes Resolution Service to complain about a leaky home that they built themselves?

Madam SPEAKER: I remind the Minister that answers are meant to be succinct.

Hon CLAYTON COSGROVE: I thank the member for his question. I think the answer is self-evident: no. Dr Smith may disagree. He happens to be an engineer, but he has no credibility in the industry.

Madam SPEAKER: Would the member please withdraw and apologise for that last comment.

Hon CLAYTON COSGROVE: I withdraw and apologise.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. There is a tradition in this House that if a member seeks leave to table a document, he or she usually has the courtesy to wait until the end of the supplementary questions to a question. That is the first point. The second point is that Dr Smith has made a claim in respect of Mr Hawkins’ speech regarding who was responsible for the deregulation of the industry. I notice that he has asked for leave to table the document, and he has not tabled it. Can we please see it?

Madam SPEAKER: It used to be that members sought leave to table documents at the end of the questioning, and it certainly would be of assistance to the Speaker if that happened. I notice that in many cases it does not happen now, but that is members’ privilege. Also, members have until 10 o’clock this evening to be able to table documents, and I am sure they will do so.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: Why is the Government setting up a whole new Government bureaucracy to license builders rather than following the model for lawyers, doctors, engineers, nurses, and accountants, whereby the Government approves the professional associations to undertake that role; why does the Minister not trust either the Registered Master Builders Federation or the Certified Builders Association to license builders directly, rather than creating a dual structure with a Government bureaucracy?

Hon CLAYTON COSGROVE: The reason we have set this regime up is the botch-up and the legacy that was left to us, thanks to the Government that member belonged to. I am happy to table the support from the Registered Master Builders Federation, the Certified Builders Association, the Construction Industry Council, and the other trade associations. If the member is right, then everybody else who supported this regime is wrong. I will measure the credibility of people like Mr Pieter Burghout, chief executive officer of the Registered Master Builders Federation, against that member’s lack of credibility when he was Minister in the previous Government.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. This Minister has again, in respect of that answer, chosen to go outside your previous ruling by questioning my own credibility. But, more important, he did not answer my question. My question was quite straightforward, and it asked why the Government has chosen to set up a new bureaucracy to do the registration, rather than, as the Government has done in other areas of professional regulation, trusting either the master builders or the certified builders to do it. He has made no attempt at all to answer that quite specific and important question.

Madam SPEAKER: Would the Minister like to succinctly address that question further.

Hon CLAYTON COSGROVE: This Government works in partnership with industry associations like the Registered Master Builders Federation and the Certified Builders Association, which have supported the regime. They agree with us; we agree with them. We are doing what an industry wants and are protecting good, honest Kiwis when they buy a home, so that they get a licensed builder to build a building right the first time. We are doing that because it is supported by the industry and it is the right thing to do in order to protect consumers. That member over there in the Opposition did nothing to protect consumers. He hung them out to dry.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: I seek the leave of the House to table documents from the Registered Master Builders Federation, showing it would much prefer a self-regulation model rather than that imposed on it by the Minister.

Leave granted.

Hon CLAYTON COSGROVE: I seek leave to table media statements from the Registered Master Builders Federation of 23 April, the Construction Industry Council of 23 April, and the Certified Builders Association of the same date, where they support the Government announcement wholeheartedly.

Leave granted.

PlunketLine—Quality of Service

11. Hon TONY RYALL (National—Bay of Plenty) to the Prime Minister: Does she stand by her statement, “What I’m satisfied by is that PlunketLine, in terms of calls picked up, was not providing a good service”; if so, what did she mean by “not providing a good service”?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK (Prime Minister): Yes, because the rate of calls not picked up was high, at 87.3 percent in the year to December 2005. Plunket’s Well Child health advice itself is excellent and the Government is now discussing with Plunket and McKessons where to take the issue from here.

Hon Tony Ryall: Has the Prime Minister bothered to find out why the answer rate was so low, and if she has, did she find out that PlunketLine was contracted to answer only 58,000 to 70,000 calls a year and in fact answered 76,000 calls this year, and the reason why people did not know that information—that PlunketLine could not answer more calls—was, as the president of Plunket has confirmed today, that her Government expressly prohibited them from answering any more calls?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: On the contrary, I have received advice that Plunket was offered funding for more calls and did not take up the offer.

Sue Kedgley: Why would the Government allow a trusted and widely respected organisation like Plunket, with a century of experience in helping New Zealand parents, and that sees 91 percent of New Zealand babies, to be passed over for a subsidiary of a multinational corporation that has recently been involved in settling claims that it defrauded the US Defense Department?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I have worked with Plunket for many years and know it provides a good Well Child health service, and the Government is now working with Plunket to take the matter forward.

Hon Tony Ryall: Is she the same Helen Clark who led a nationwide petition to fully fund a 24-hour, 7-day-a-week PlunketLine service, and why has she now frozen Plunket out from delivering this vital extension of its services?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: Yes, just as Dr Brash is the leader of the same party that refused to give the service a penny in the 1990s, and further, I can say the Government will be funding a 24-hour Well Child health service. That is what the whole issue is about.

Hon Tony Ryall: Is she the same Helen Clark who stated: “We see real value in PlunketLine, and we want it to receive Government funding.”; if so, what did she mean by that?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: Exactly the reason a Labour Government funds 24-hour Well Child health services—something the National Party never did.

Hon Tony Ryall: Is she the same Helen Clark who stated: “I want to make a special plea for Government funding for PlunketLine. It was Labour’s policy to fund it because we have been very impressed by the service. With more funding to operate more lines, with more nurses, it could have been even better.”?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: Absolutely, just as that member is from the same party that complained in this House 2 years ago that PlunketLine was answering only one in nine calls.

Judy Turner: Will the Prime Minister be prepared to support my notice of motion on tomorrow’s Order Paper that: “This House calls for the Government to ensure funding to enable PlunketLine to continue its service to young New Zealand families?”

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: No, I do not propose to take up Government time with that. If the member from a party that does enjoy a constructive relationship with the Government would like to come and discuss the issue, I would be very happy for her to have a briefing.

Jo Goodhew: Can the Prime Minister confirm that she is the same Helen Clark who championed the postcard campaign “Don’t Let the Hotline Go Cold”, and the same Helen Clark who has completely frozen the iconic Plunket service out of delivering a vital service to New Zealand families? [Interruption]

Madam SPEAKER: Order! It is very difficult to hear. As I said, barracking is not permitted; interjections are.

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I imagine the member is talking to the same Plunket organisation that agreed to go into an open tender process. I understand that the member is from the same political party that attacked the Government for not tendering $1.5 million worth of contracts, when this was a $2 million one.

Hon Tony Ryall: I seek leave to table a newspaper article in which the president of Plunket confirms that the Clark ministry expressly prohibited Plunket from answering more calls.

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

Biodiversity Strategy—National Goals

12. METIRIA TUREI (Green) to the Minister of Conservation: Does he stand by the national goals of the New Zealand Biodiversity Strategy to “turn the tide on the decline of our biodiversity, and to maintain and restore a full range of our remaining natural habitats and ecosystems and viable populations of all native species.”?

Hon CHRIS CARTER (Minister of Conservation): Yes, that remains the vision and goal to be pursued within the available resources over time.

Metiria Turei: How, then, does the Minister reconcile these goals with his decision to permit Solid Energy to transfer 250 Powelliphanta augustus snails and then mine their natural habitat on Mount Augustus, given that this species may well become extinct directly as a result of his decision?

Madam SPEAKER: There were interjections during that question. Would the member please just leave.

Shane Ardern withdrew from the Chamber.

Hon CHRIS CARTER: In making our decision, the Associate Minister of Energy and I had to consider the welfare of Powelliphanta augustus under the Wildlife Act, and the economic benefits that flow from the efficient development and use of New Zealand’s coal resources under the Coal Mines Act. On balance we have decided to allow the snails to be moved. However, we are requiring a larger mitigation package than was originally offered by Solid Energy.

Gordon Copeland: Why are animals such as deer and thar still considered exotic pests when people of, say, Irish or Chinese descent who have been in New Zealand for the same length of time are now considered indigenous by Trevor Mallard, and in what circumstances will he accept deer and thar as an integral part of New Zealand’s biodiversity?

Hon CHRIS CARTER: I have never really considered animals to be the same as people, but I am happy to discuss the matter with the member further.

Dr Pita Sharples: Kei te âwangawanga ia, mô te pâpâtanga o te hangarau patu i ngâ kâkano, kua waia ki te whenua mô te maha o ngâ tau, arâ, ngâ purapura o te iwi tangata whenua me ô râtou pârekereke, â, he aha ngâ kôrero kua puta mai i ôna hui i te taha o te Mâori mô taua âhuatanga?

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

[Is he concerned about the impact that terminator technology will have on the ability of indigenous people to renew crops based on centuries of seeds that have naturally adapted to their environment; and what have his consultations with Mâori told him about that phenomenon?]

Hon CHRIS CARTER: The New Zealand Government does not support the technology.

Metiria Turei: Will Solid Energy be prevented from mining the endangered snails’ last remaining natural habitat until the relocation described by the Minister has been proven to be successful; if not, is this an example of his understanding of the precautionary principle?

Hon CHRIS CARTER: In exploring the option of how long we would monitor the site we were told it would be up to 20 years. That is why we have taken very extensive steps in mitigation, such as the relocation by hand of as many snails as possible, the establishment of an expanded new habitat, the protection of the area with an expensive, intensive predator-proof fence, and also a captive breeding programme. These are very extensive mitigation actions.

Metiria Turei: If the mining occurs, the relocation is unsuccessful, and all the snails die, will he have any qualms that as Minister of Conservation he and his colleague the Minister of Energy will have approved New Zealand’s first State-sanctioned extinction of an endangered native species?

Hon CHRIS CARTER: I take my responsibilities to protect New Zealand’s unique biodiversity very seriously. The issues involved in the application to move Powelliphanta augustus were finely balanced. In reaching the decision, I had to operate—as did my colleague the Associate Minister of Energy—under two statutes, that is, the Wildlife Act and the Coal Mines Act. The only possible decision I could make under those was the decision we made.

Hon CHRIS CARTER: I seek leave to table the document: A Vision, Goals, and Principles for Managing New Zealand’s Biodiversity.

Leave granted.

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

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