Questions And Answers - Thursday, 4 May 2006
Questions And Answers - Thursday, 4 May
Questions to Ministers
Information Technology—Broadband Availability
1. MARYAN STREET (Labour) to the Minister of Communications: What is the Government doing to make faster, cheaper broadband available to all New Zealanders?
Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE (Minister of Communications): The Government has announced a package of measures to increase competition in broadband markets. The measures include unbundling the local loop, full bitstream unbundling, information disclosure and accounting separation to promote transparency, encouraging investment in alternative infrastructure, and a rural package that recognises the needs of the rural community.
Maryan Street: What reports has the Minister seen on this package?
Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: I have received a large number of positive reports. A very recent one was from the OECD. It says: “The decision by the New Zealand Government to unbundle the local loop opens the door to more competition in the New Zealand broadband market.” Another quote, from the president of InternetNZ, says: “These decisions open the playing field for industry competitors to show their commitment to New Zealand consumers by investing in new infrastructure and services.”
Hon Maurice Williamson: Can the Minister give the House an assurance that this move, which was announced hurriedly last night, will now act as a guarantee so that this country can meet the targets he published in his digital strategy, and those are that New Zealand is to be in the top half of the OECD by next year, and in the top quartile of the OECD by 2010?
Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: For the second time today I suggest the Opposition spokesman read the Cabinet paper that is on the website.
Madam SPEAKER: Would the Minister please address the question.
Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: With the benefit of further research and the inclusion of advanced broadband services, it is now considered appropriate that we achieve the top half of the OECD by 2010, and the top quarter by 2015.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Has the Minister seen any other reports of attempts to open up the telecommunications market, and has he seen any reports as to what happened to those very worthy endeavours?
Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: I have a statement from 20 May 1998 made by the then Deputy Prime Minister and Treasurer, the Rt Hon Winston Peters, where he calls for a review of the adequacy of competition in the telecommunications industry leading to the types of measures that were announced yesterday. That review was quashed by the then National Government.
Keith Locke: Does the Minister agree with the need to regulate the Internet service provider access price to the unbundled loop, to prevent Telecom from overcharging competing internet service providers; if so, how does the process of regulating access pricing work?
Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: Access pricing principles will be legislated for and applied by the Telecommunications Commissioner to ensure there is a fair balance between the legitimate interests of the incumbent to earn a fair return and the needs of entrants into the telecommunications market.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Has the Minister seen a Treasury report of 1998, commissioned by yours truly, that recommended an opening up of competition in telecommunications, which then was promptly squashed by the National Party?
Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: I have not had the opportunity to review that document and I welcome the Minister tabling it, but it does fit with one’s assessment of National’s lack of policy—it has not changed in 20 years.
Keith Locke: How does the Minister plan to avoid the kind of excessive and drawn-out litigation processes that have accompanied the unbundling of some local loops overseas, which have resulted in years of stalling manoeuvres?
Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: This is a legislative process and not a judicially reviewable one. Legislative amendments already announced are designed to improve the speed and decisiveness of the regulatory process by the Commerce Commission.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Has the Minister seen, firstly, the Treasury report recommending deregulation of all telecommunications in this country; secondly, a speech made by myself in late July of 1998 making that recommendation; and, thirdly, the apoplectic reaction from Maurice Williamson when he found out his mates were going to be exposed to true competition?
Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: The speech concerned is on my reading list, and indeed I have heard that characterisation of the Hon Maurice Williamson before.
Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. We have heard a very interesting exchange between the Minister and the New Zealand First leader. I wonder whether the Minister would be prepared to take a minute of the House’s time to explain that perhaps this telecommunications package is just part of Winston’s dowry.
Madam SPEAKER: As the member knows, that is not a point of order. Please be seated.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I seek leave to table the Treasury recommendation, after months of hard work on its part, and also the speech that drove Maurice Williamson to a state of apoplexy because Telecom, which had been funding the National Party, was about to be exposed to competition.
Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: I seek leave to table recent statements to New Zealand by the OECD, and also the press release from May 1998 by the then Treasurer.
Hon Maurice Williamson: I seek leave to table page 29 of the Government’s National Digital Strategy in which it sets the top half of the OECD by next year and the top quarter by 2010 as its targets.
Cabinet Documents—Telecom New Zealand
2. Hon BILL ENGLISH (National—Clutha-Southland) to the Prime Minister: How did Telecom New Zealand Ltd obtain a copy of a commercially sensitive Cabinet document?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY (Minister of Broadcasting) on behalf of the Prime Minister: The State Services Commission is being asked to investigate the issue.
Hon Bill English: Has the Prime Minister seen reports that as long ago as last week, weblogs were speculating that the Government will “actually do something about it next week”, that local loop unbundling is on the table, that a structural separation of Telecom’s retail and wholesale operations is included, and that local loop unbundling is apparently a firm decision, but structural separation may be jettisoned, all of which is a very accurate description of what was in the commercially sensitive Cabinet paper?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: On behalf of the Prime Minister, I am aware of all sorts of speculation, none of which I am responsible for.
Hon Bill English: Has the Prime Minister heard reports that the Minister of Finance told a reporter that Telecom had known too much about the Government’s considerations on broadband for some time, and the report that leaking could have been going on for months or years; and, if she has heard those reports, why does she believe that the Minister of Finance took no action when he knew leaking was a threat?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: On behalf of the Prime Minister, not only am I aware of the reports, but also I have a report in my hand. It is from Duncan Garner. There are no quote marks in it. It is Mr Duncan Garner talking about the issue.
Hon Bill English: What does it say to the Prime Minister about the state of her Government when senior politicians, or senior advisers and staff, were willing to leak a highly confidential Cabinet document in a fashion that is unprecedented, and does she realise the seriousness of this leak for confidence in her Government?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: In response to the last matter, confidence in this Government is staggeringly high. On the first issue, an investigation is being prepared by the State Services Commission, and I have no intention of prejudging what it will do.
Hon Bill English: Will the Prime Minister’s inquiry include the matter of which Minister is ultimately responsible for this unprecedented leak, and will she therefore require the resignation of that Minister, after the style of Roger Douglas—in the only vaguely similar precedent—who offered his resignation when material that was less sensitive than this was leaked, although not by him?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: On behalf of the Prime Minister, I have no intention of prejudging this inquiry.
Hon Bill English: Why can the Prime Minister not come to a conclusion and judge the reported comments of the Minister of Finance that he believed Telecom knew too much about the Government’s considerations on broadband, given that the Minister of Finance had a chance to do something about that but he did nothing, and that the result was an unprecedented leak of commercially sensitive information?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: On behalf of the Prime Minister, as I pointed out before, I have the report that the member is referring to in my hand on my desk here. It is Mr Garner talking; it is not the reported comments of the Minister of Finance.
Hon Bill English: So he made it up?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: I am just saying that they are not the reported comments of the Minister of Finance.
Hon Bill English: If the Prime Minister is unwilling to prejudge the outcome of an inquiry, why can she not give a judgment on the event that has actually occurred, regardless of who leaked the paper, which is that a highly commercially sensitive Cabinet document was leaked, according to Telecom within an hour of the end of the Cabinet committee meeting, and that that kind of leak is unprecedented in the New Zealand Government?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: On behalf of the Prime Minister, I seldom do things to please Mr English.
Hon Members: How does that address the issue? How does that address the question?
Madam SPEAKER: Would members please just be silent for a minute. Would the Minister like to add to his answer.
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: On behalf of the Prime Minister, the member asked whether I would do something. I am saying that I will seldom do anything to please him.
Madam SPEAKER: I must say that he did phrase his question in that way. It may not be a satisfactory answer, but maybe the member would like to ask a more specific question.
Hon Bill English: Can I take it from the Prime Minister’s answer that she does not realise that this leak is unprecedented, and that she does not realise that now no one can trust the decision-making process of this Government to protect information that is highly sensitive and ought to be kept secret?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: People do know that they can trust this Government to act in a very capable and competent way. An investigation is being arranged now. I ask the member not to prejudge things, as he always does, but to wait for the results of the inquiry.
3. TARIANA TURIA (Co-Leader—Mâori Party) to the Minister of Health: What advice, if any, has he received on the effectiveness of Tamiflu in the advent of an outbreak of a bird flu pandemic?
Hon JIM ANDERTON (Associate Minister of Health) on behalf of the Minister of Health: The Minister has received advice from the World Health Organization that Tamiflu is effective in reducing the duration and spread of seasonal influenza illnesses. But until a pandemic virus exists and is identified, the efficacy of Tamiflu and its best use will remain unknown. The World Health Organization also advises countries to have reserves of anti-viral medication in case of an influenza pandemic, and the Government has acted on that advice and has sufficient doses of Tamiflu for 21 percent of the population.
Tariana Turia: What information has the Minister received on the efficacy of the human anti-viral medication Tamiflu, given reports that it barely alleviates some of the symptoms of the common flu; and, therefore, what assurance can he give the nation that the same human anti-viral medication will be effective in a bird flu pandemic?
Hon JIM ANDERTON: Until there is a pandemic of that kind, there will not be any definitive answer to that question. But we are taking the best advice we can get from the best clinicians, and we have taken every precaution sufficient to and above World Health Organization standards and advice.
Ann Hartley: How are New Zealand efforts to plan for an epidemic viewed in an international context?
Hon JIM ANDERTON: I am advised they are viewed very well. In fact, just this week an article in the Harvard Business Review stated that the New Zealand Government’s planning should be used as a guide for all Governments to follow. I quote: “Work to prepare for a pandemic is ongoing and includes not only the Government but also businesses and community groups around the country.”
Tariana Turia: Is the Minister concerned at the claims that a multinational corporate company, Gilead Sciences, which holds the rights to Tamiflu, is well connected in the Bush administration and has a vested interest in promoting the spectre of a looming bird flu pandemic in order to increase its profits; if not, why not?
Hon JIM ANDERTON: No, I have no information on that, and therefore I have no comment to make on it.
State Services Commission—Merger of Department and Ministry
4. JUDITH COLLINS (National—Clevedon) to the Minister of State Services: Is she satisfied with the way in which the State Services Commission offered advice on the Department of Child, Youth and Family Services - Ministry of Social Development merger?
Hon ANNETTE KING (Minister of State Services): Yes.
Judith Collins: Why, when the State Services Commission in December last year warned that a merger could “destabilise MSD” and create an “unmanageable chief executive position”, and that the capability and operational problems that the Department of Child, Youth and Family Services faced would not be fixed by a merger, did she ignore the commission’s advice?
Hon ANNETTE KING: No. The State Services Commissioner changed his mind over Christmas, and came back to the Government and said he had changed his mind.
H V Ross Robertson: What are the outcomes that the Government expects to receive from the merger?
Hon ANNETTE KING: The paper prepared by my official recommended a much wider range of initiatives than just the merger. That complete package of measures will include services for the most vulnerable children in New Zealand. They include the merger, of course, but also the improvement of systems-wide management, improved information management, improved youth justice capability, the addressing of the culture issues, and greater policy coordination.
Judith Collins: Which report from the State Services Commissioner is right: the one in December 2005 that says: “We do not think that the capability and operational problems faced by CYFS will necessarily be any more easily resolved in the context of a larger organisation. The potential is rather that the problems will be more difficult to address because of the inevitable loss of focus due to scope.”, or the report from January 2006—1 month later—that says the merger is “the best option for improving the delivery of services for children, youth, and their families”—and why?
Hon ANNETTE KING: The January report—the State Services Commissioner changed his mind.
Judith Collins: What changed the State Services Commissioner’s mind from December to January?
Hon ANNETTE KING: He had the period between December and January to give it greater consideration—which he did—and he changed his mind.
Judith Collins: What was the extent of the consultation between the State Services Commission and Child, Youth and Family Services and Ministry of Social Development senior staff before the State Services Commission report was signed off on 27 January this year?
Hon ANNETTE KING: I am unable to give the member the answer. I do not have it with me. I am certainly happy to find it out for the member.
Judith Collins: What other explanation is there for the State Services Commission’s dramatic change in position, other than the obvious one that her Government put political pressure on the State Services Commissioner over Christmas to change the advice?
Hon ANNETTE KING: The member is wrong. No pressure was put on the State Services Commissioner. That is made up by the member. The State Services Commissioner—as members of this House know—is an independent thinker and a man with a brain who is able to make his own decisions.
Aged Residential Care Funding—District Health Boards
5. BARBARA STEWART (NZ First) to the Minister of Health: Will he allocate specific funding, in addition to an inflation adjustment, to district health boards for the aged residential care sector to compensate them for the impact of the New Zealand Nurses Organisation multi-employer collective agreement, given that in his reply to written question number 1793 (2006) he noted the potential for the New Zealand Nurses Organisation multi-employer collective agreement to have an impact?
Hon JIM ANDERTON (Associate Minister of Health), on behalf of the Minister of Health: Public investment in aged residential care will increase significantly in this year’s Budget as has been agreed between the Government and New Zealand First. This funding boost will be in addition to future funding-track increases.
Barbara Stewart: Will the Minister be encouraging district health board representatives to meet residential aged-care sector representatives to discuss the impact of the New Zealand Nurses Organisation multi-employer collective agreement on wages and wage demands, given that residential care operators have now been trying to arrange such a meeting for over a year?
Hon JIM ANDERTON: The Government has a very proud record of delivering significant funding increases for the aged-care sector that will continue this year with the help and support of New Zealand First, and I am certain that representatives of the district health boards, encouraged by Government initiatives that are being worked through at the moment, will be in a very good position to meet with the aged-care sector representatives.
Darien Fenton: What is being done to support the role of nurses in New Zealand in addition to the New Zealand Nurses Organisation multi-employer collective agreement?
Hon JIM ANDERTON: The historic half-billion-dollar pay increase for our public hospital nurses is just one part of the Government’s work to support the vital role that nurses play in the health sector. We have implemented prescribing rights for nurse practitioners, expanded the number of nursing scholarships, and reaffirmed the importance of primary-care nurses with the primary health-care strategy.
Jo Goodhew: Would the Minister please explain why the paltry $12.5 million given to the aged-care sector in the 2005 Budget had so many tags on it that not only have a number of providers and home-care workers not yet received the money, but some who have are still working for a net $5 per hour?
Hon JIM ANDERTON: The member may well think that a $12.5 million increase for a sector is a minor matter, but I can assure her that it is a whole lot more than could be delivered by the party that she represents, which would have had tax cuts, instead of increases, in the health sector.
Judy Turner: Will primary health organisations receive any additional funding so that the primary health nurses can enjoy the same wage gains that nurses working for district health boards currently receive?
Hon JIM ANDERTON: Delivering fair pay for nurses employed in the public sector has been a top priority for the Government, and we hope other sectors will follow our lead. But the member should remember that the Government has already committed to a 7-year, $2.2 billion investment in the primary health sector.
Barbara Stewart: What is the Minister prepared to do to ensure that district health boards pass on to the aged-care sector the promised increased funding?
Hon JIM ANDERTON: Where public agencies at a local or national level have received funding from the Government for specific purposes, the Government would always require those agencies to pass on those increases, and Government agencies always work cooperatively with local and regional agencies to see that that occurs.
Health Services—Waiting Lists
6. 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 for a first specialist assessment and returned to their GP for ongoing care, and how does this compare with the previous year?
Hon JIM ANDERTON (Associate Minister of Health) on behalf of the Minister of Health: In the time available, I have been advised by 18 out of the 21 district health boards that about 10,000 people so far this year have been returned to their general practitioner for ongoing care, which the Ministry of Health advises me is broadly comparable with the number last year. Those 10,000 people represent about 2.5 percent of the more than 400,000 New Zealanders who have been seen by a specialist this year.
Hon Tony Ryall: Why have those patients been culled from the waiting list?
Hon JIM ANDERTON: The district health board authorities and commissions have taken the view that they have a certain number of patients who are in the system whom they can see. There are others whom they have reviewed, suggested or recommended be referred back to general practitioners for further assessment, and taken steps to see they are referred back. Under the circumstances, I do not think that is an unreasonable step for them to take.
Dianne Yates: What reports, if any, has the Minister received on increases in elective procedures under the Labour-led Government?
Hon JIM ANDERTON: I have seen two reports. One, based on fact—something that clearly the National Party does not know much about—shows that the number of people who received elective surgery has gone up by 8 percent, or 12.6 percent on a case-weighted basis, since the change of Government. The other report I have seen is from the National Party and shows the numbers are going down not up, but it does that by excluding all medical activity, all acute surgical activity, all case weighting, and all out-patient surgical activity, and by forgetting the year in which Labour was actually elected.
Tariana Turia: Given the Minister’s response to yesterday’s question, when he appeared to attribute responsibility for systemic bias to myself as one of two Associate Ministers to the Hon Annette King, now that he is the Minister would he be prepared to take responsibility for the systemic bias that currently exists in the health system that denies Mâori people access to it; if not, why not?
Hon JIM ANDERTON: All I can say to that question and answer is that if the member has evidence of that systemic bias and supplies it to me, I will get comment back to her.
Hon Tony Ryall: Can the Minister advise us how many people have been culled from waiting lists at other district health boards, when the publicly announced figures from the various district health boards I am about to list already total over 10,000: 1,800 from the Hawke’s Bay District Health Board, 2,000 from the Canterbury District Health Board, 3,000 from the Waikato District Health Board, 1,800 from the Counties Manukau District Health Board, 1,100 dumped from the MidCentral District Health Board, and 400 from the Bay of Plenty District Health Board? That figure is already over 10,000; how many people have been culled from the other 12 district health boards?
Hon JIM ANDERTON: In the time available to provide an answer to this oral question, I asked officials to contact all the district health boards to get that information. Three, I understand, did not reply, but when I asked officials they said that the range is regularly somewhere between 10,000 and 14,000, and that about 10,000 for the 18 out of 21 boards that replied is an accurate figure.
Hon Tony Ryall: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. The Minister has a list of the district health boards with their numbers with him.
Hon JIM ANDERTON: No, I do not have it.
Hon Tony Ryall: Will any of the 24,000 people who have currently waited more than 6 months to see a specialist be culled from the waiting list in the next year?
Hon JIM ANDERTON: Although the member is quoting the 24,085 people who have been waiting for a first specialist assessment for longer than 6 months, it is worth noting, for the benefit of the House and the people of New Zealand, that last year over 400,000 people received a first specialist assessment. The number of people waiting for a specialist assessment for longer than 6 months, which is what the member seems to be worried about, has actually fallen by 42 percent under this Government.
Hon Tony Ryall: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. A Minister cannot simply stand up and quote another set of numbers that are completely unrelated to the question. The question was, how many of the people who are currently waiting more than 6 months to see a specialist—many of those people are very sick—can look forward to being culled from the waiting list in the next 12 months? Will any of them be culled in the next 12 months?
Hon JIM ANDERTON: In the first instance, the figures I am quoting to the member are the figures I have received under advice that the number of people waiting for a first specialist assessment for longer than 6 months, which is the area we have to show concern about, has actually fallen by 42 percent under this Government. In so far as the question relates to what may happen to others, that is dependent on the professional clinical view of those who are responsible for looking at the interim reports they get from general practitioners and on the decisions they make to refer those patients back to their general practitioner for further assessment.
Dr Jonathan Coleman: Who does the Minister seriously expect reasonable people to believe on matters of elective surgery: himself—the four out of 10 Minister who says that the National Party is crisis-mongering and who has said: “It’s not fair, it’s not true, and it’s time it stopped.”—or the senior surgeon in New Zealand, the chairman of the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons, who says that talk of the crisis is not manufactured and, in fact—as we have heard—the numbers are getting worse? Who does he really think people will believe?
Hon JIM ANDERTON: I believe these two facts, because I know them to be absolutely correct: more than 400,000 New Zealanders have been seen by a specialist this year, and the 10,000 to 14,000 people who have been referred back to a general practitioner represent about 2.5 percent of those who have actually been seen by a specialist.
Hon Tony Ryall: Will any of the people currently waiting for a first specialist assessment be culled from that waiting list in the next year?
Hon JIM ANDERTON: I cannot answer that definitively, because that is in the judgment of those who are looking at the system. I do know that those who are referred back for further assessment are deemed by clinical assessment not to require urgent attention, and that it is deemed there is merit in having a further assessment at a general practitioner level. And any Opposition members who want to cast aspersions on the inadequacy of the general practitioner system in this country should actually look carefully at the important service to the country that the primary health care general practitioner clinicians offer in their own areas.
Hon Tony Ryall: I seek leave to table an interview where the Minister of Health said general practitioners who refer patients to waiting lists in Hawke’s Bay are “unethical.”
Madam SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection? There is objection.
Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I did not want to interrupt my colleague during that point of order, but during that particular exchange there was a very, very audible interjection from a section of the House that should well be in your eyesight. We do note that a number of our members have been asked to leave the Chamber at various times for similar interjections, but today there was no intervention from you and the particular offender was not required to leave. I just ask you to please look for consistency in the way you deal with the House.
Madam SPEAKER: I thank Mr Brownlee. Members are on their last warning for this session. Please do not make any comment at all, including chatting to each other, because I think we need to have absolute silence when questions are being asked.
Biodiversity Strategy—Hooker’s Sea Lions
7. METIRIA TUREI (Green) to the Minister of Fisheries: Is his decision to allow the squid fishery to kill 55 percent more Hooker’s sea lions, the rarest sea lion in the world, consistent with the New Zealand Biodiversity Strategy?
Hon JIM ANDERTON (Minister of Fisheries): The answer is yes. The Government’s biodiversity strategy states, as a desired outcome for marine biodiversity, that “any harvesting is done in an informed, controlled and ecologically sustainable manner.” In respect of the New Zealand sea lion, management of by-catch from the squid fishery is informed by annual surveys of sea lion populations and of all fishing activities. It is controlled by a fishing related mortality limit set by the Minister of Fisheries and enforced by satellite vessel monitoring and by observers. Finally, the impacts of the squid fishery are managed in an ecologically sustainable manner by ensuring that the sea lion by-catch is kept comfortably within what the best available science suggests is necessary to ensure that the sea lion population is maintained at a sustainable level.
Metiria Turei: Will he ensure the ecological sustainability set out in the biodiversity strategy is maintained by insisting the squid fishery uses jiggers instead of trawling in the Southern Ocean, given that the simple use of jigging technology will almost certainly completely avoid killing any Hooker’s sea lions, and would not this be a simple and relatively cost-effective way of gaining economically for the industry without threatening the extinction of this New Zealand endangered species?
Hon JIM ANDERTON: I am advised, as Minister of Fisheries, that the severe ocean conditions around the Auckland Islands—which is the area we are talking about where these sea lions are a by-catch—can be both difficult and hazardous for squid jigging vessels. For this reason I am unwilling to require extended no-trawl zones around the Auckland Islands in order to encourage jigging alternatives until such methods have been further tested and proven both feasible and safe in this fishery. Although I am concerned about the mortality of sea lions, of course, I am also concerned about the mortality of fishermen.
Metiria Turei: Does the Minister not think it is inconsistent for the Government of which he is a part to be criticising Norway and Japan for the hunting of minke whales while right here at home he allows the increased slaughter of the Hooker’s sea lion, a species classified by the World Conservation Union as being much closer to extinction than the minke; and does his decision not really mean that as long as there are a few of these animals left in New Zealand, the rest are allowed to die?
Hon JIM ANDERTON: I think that to compare the so-called scientific basis on which the Japanese are promoting whaling, when there is no effective market for whaling and there is a real threat to the whale population if they are hunted deliberately, with a by-catch of sea lions, the numbers of which are well within any sustainable range, is a far cry and a long bow. The best scientific advice I have in front of me is that there would be a level of up to 550 sea lions caught, and that that would be the limit at which we would start to concern ourselves about the sustainability of sea lions on a one-off basis. The decision I made to allow the squid fishery to continue when there is an abundance of squid and they are caught only once—use it or lose it—was made on the basis that 150 sea lions caught in one season would not come anywhere near the consideration of sustainability that scientists have advised me about.
Research, Science and Technology—Contestable Government Funding
8. Dr PAUL HUTCHISON (National—Port Waikato) to the Minister of Research, Science and Technology: Does he intend to move ahead with major changes away from contestable Government funding for science, research, and technology, given a University of Auckland report found that: “evidence from the operation of the contestable funding system clearly shows that its introduction saw … significant improvement in performance and relevance of services provided.”?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY (Minister of Research, Science and Technology): Contestability continues to be an important part of the science system, but too much contestability can affect the ability of our scientists and our science organisations to carry out their research. We want to move towards a more balanced system that does not have so high a level of contestability. I point out that the model we have in New Zealand has a very high level of contestability—in fact, it is the highest of any country in the OECD. Evidence from discussion with the sector, recent evaluations through parts of the Research, Science and Technology vote, and the yet-to-be-released OECD report that was produced recently when OECD officials went through the country all showed the need for a change to a more balanced science funding system. The foundation will now go out and talk with the sector about the details of this funding model before it is finally implemented.
Dr Paul Hutchison: Why did his Government introduce highly contestable performance-based research funding into New Zealand’s universities only a few years ago if it was a system that did not deliver quality results or could not be sustained?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: I imagine that the member is referring to the introduction of the Performance-based Research Fund—yes?
Dr Paul Hutchison: Indeed.
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: That was something I did. If members look at the model, they will notice that the model is based upon sustaining excellence—
Hon Bill English: Another Maharey mess.
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: I say to Mr English that I do not hear the member saying he would change it. The introduction of that model was, of course, something that allows for a 6-yearly reviewable cycle. This is not contestable in the sense that most science research is. It is an outstanding model that is having outstanding results.
Dr Ashraf Choudhary: What changes is the Minister proposing to make science and technology funding more stable?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: While maintaining appropriate levels of contestability, we intend to work with the sector to negotiate longer-term programmes for those who have a proven track record, to do a systematic technical review of science programmes, to reduce the cost and complexity of funding processes, to identify the essential backbone infrastructure, and to continue to increase the capability of our Crown research institutes. As well as strengthening the economic contribution of science, these changes will ensure that we retain scientists and ensure that they have a clear career path. That is why we are doing it.
Dr Paul Hutchison: Does science Minister Maharey disagree with the Steve Maharey who was an Associate Minister of Education who said: “The introduction of contestable research funding through the PBRF would lead to excellence and had the strong support of the community and the sector.”?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: As I said before to Mr Hutchison, the Opposition spokesperson on this topic, what we did with the Performance-based Research Fund was introduce a system that is 6-yearly renewable. That is a reviewable process, and it is exactly the kind of model that is being mooted for introduction to a larger amount of the science coming through the forced fund.
Dr Paul Hutchison: Why is he ploughing ahead with his plan when he can give no hard evidence of any benefits in his answer to written questions—and that is because the scientific and economic literature shows no benefits—or does the Minister assert that rigorous evidence need not underpin the design of science-funding systems?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: The Government is powering ahead, because that is what we always do as a Government, to introduce this new funding model. It is clear from the reviews of the science sector—reviews by such people as the OECD—that a more balanced model, closer to the kinds of models we see in some other very successful science communities around the world, will serve the country well.
Hone Harawira: Does he agree with the special rapporteur on the situation of human rights and fundamental freedoms of indigenous peoples, who recommended that social delivery services should continue to be specifically targeted and tailored to the needs of Mâori, requiring more targeted research, evaluation, and a statistical basis, or does he think the $1 million announced last week, out of a total vote of $633 million, or 0.16 percent, is enough to spend on indigenous Mâori knowledge, given that the Mâori population is 15 percent and rising?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: There were a number of questions in there about comments made by the rapporteur, and the answer would be that we still see the need to deliver services on the basis of need, and that need often is amongst Mâori, and that, yes, we think we do need to research and evaluate that expenditure so that we know it is making an impact on the needs of Mâori. On the question of whether we think that $1 million out of $653 million is enough for indigenous knowledge, I think that if the member checks he will find that there is a major strategy within the forced funding model, which will result in more than a million dollars being spent on that particular area of knowledge.
Dr Ashraf Choudhary: What further actions does he intend to take to ensure that New Zealand science drives the country’s economic transformation?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: The Government has a large number of proposals, which will result in the promotion of the uptake of science in New Zealand, the commercialisation of new research ideas, the stabilisation of funding for the sector, longer-term funding models for the sector, and working with the sector to ensure it is able to develop a highly skilled workforce—in other words, a very comprehensive programme indeed.
Dr Paul Hutchison: Does the Minister agree with his colleague the Hon Trevor Mallard, who said: “Contestable funding moves the emphasis to quality over quantity in research.”; if not, why is the Minister reducing the use of contestable funding for Crown research institutes?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: As I said before, contestability will remain part of the funding model where it is useful to what we are doing. In other parts of the model we will be adopting one of providing for capability development. We will be funding those long-term data sets, for example, that do not need to be contestable. We will be negotiating longer-term contracts with people. I would invite the member, if he does not like this, to put up an alternative model, and we will see how long it lasts.
Dr Paul Hutchison: I seek leave to table two documents. The first is a newsletter from the Labour Party’s own website, dated 4 May 2006, where Steve Maharey praises the contestable funding model.
Dr Paul Hutchison: The second document is a written question in which Minister Maharey fails to demonstrate any benefit to science from his proposed plans.
Madam SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection? There is.
9. MOANA MACKEY (Labour) to the Minister of Education: What is the Government doing to reduce bullying in schools?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY (Minister of Education): Today I announced a new $9.5 million fund to help schools promote positive behaviour and reduce the kind of disruptive behaviour that one sometimes sees in the House. This funding will contribute to our work around eliminating bullying, by providing resources and guidance to schools so that they can deal with the impact of disruptive behaviour. The new funding will help ensure that every school is able to provide a safe and productive learning environment for its students. It is part of a wider reducing-violence package to be announced in the Budget.
Moana Mackey: How will this programme improve educational outcomes for students?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: Disruptive behaviour in schools affects everyone’s learning negatively in some way. Offenders and their classmates do not get a chance to get on with their learning, teachers become stressed, and the links between school and home can break down. So this initiative will provide additional support for schools to ensure that children with severe behavioural problems can stay in school; better information and resources to ensure that there are good policies and guidelines for every school; a new behaviour screening tool that will help schools identify at an early stage children at risk, then act on the issue; and a continuation of Project Early in Christchurch and Auckland. All of those will help deal with disruptive behaviour in our schools.
Hon Brian Donnelly: Does the Minister agree that the sustainable alleviation of bullying in schools will not be effected by packaged programmes such as Kia Kaha, but can be achieved only by the creation of school cultures of physical and verbal non-violence; and how will this funding boost bring about the cultural changes required, so that we no longer lead the world in bullying levels, as the 1997 third international maths and science study report showed?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: The member is right. The major change that we want, of course, is consistency of behaviour across schools that leads to young people not getting themselves involved in disruptive behaviour. But I would add that it is impossible for schools to deliver this on their own; they have the pupils for only 6 hours a day. I think one of the most important things we need to do is say that that culture needs to extend into the home, so that the good behaviours that are developed in the school are reinforced there. As I have said a number of times, I urge parents to contact their school, find out what it is doing, and reinforce that same pattern of behaviour in the home.
Roading—Congestion Charges, Auckland
10. Hon MAURICE WILLIAMSON (National—Pakuranga) to the Minister of Transport: Does she support the reported comments by Auckland Mayor Dick Hubbard in relation to congestion charges for Auckland’s roads, that Auckland cannot afford to reject an idea being adopted increasingly by overseas cities; if so, why?
Hon ANNETTE KING (Minister of Transport): I am not prepared to prejudge the review. It has gone through a consultation process up to this point. Mayor Dick Hubbard is entitled to his views. He is a member of the public, and he is entitled to express his views.
Hon Maurice Williamson: Does she believe we should be looking for leads from huge cities like London, which has a very developed roading network and a world-class public transport system, or should we be looking to emulate more comparable examples, such as Sydney and Melbourne, which are rolling out massive amounts of new roading and not even contemplating congestion charging?
Hon ANNETTE KING: I think the study, with its five options, actually is looking at congestion charging, and that is what public opinion is being sought on.
Hon Mark Gosche: How many submissions were received on the Auckland road pricing evaluation study?
Hon ANNETTE KING: There has been a lot of interest. I understand that over 900 submissions have been received from organisations, local authorities, and individuals. Everyone has had the opportunity to have his or her say. The submissions have now closed. I am sure Maurice Williamson would like to have a say on it, and may well have don so, because he has had many years of experience, first as Minister of Transport and then as Opposition spokesperson on transport.
Hon Maurice Williamson: Does the Minister think it is sensible to be even contemplating a congestion charge to try to keep people off roads, when those roads do not even exist in Auckland, and the serious problem is a network that does not exist, and what would be even more bizarre would be then to add a congestion charge to keep people off the roads that are not there?
Hon ANNETTE KING: I understand that the study found that despite major planned capacity increases in the Auckland network—for example, the Mount Roskill extension, and even the completion of the western ring route—a significant additional investment in transport has also gone in, and in 10 years’ time Auckland could have up to 20 percent more congestion than it does at present. It is a bit like the chicken and the egg. Do we start planning for how we will address the congestion? Does that start first? How do we pay for it? Or do we start by saying we will finish the roads before we know how we will do that?
David Bennett: Does the Minister agree with recent media releases by both Waitakere City Council and North Shore City Council that claim there exists a pressing need to provide attractive transport alternatives, particularly public transport, prior to the introduction of road pricing measures?
Hon ANNETTE KING: I certainly believe we need to support public transport, and this study does have included in it a need to address public transport as well. But I could perhaps lead the member to a very good project that has already started in Auckland, called the North Shore busway. It is this sort of innovation that we ought to be looking at to help improve—[Interruption] Would the member like to get on his feet and ask me that question? I will get my staff to bring down my bus ticket. I bet I have been on a bus more often than that member has.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: Was it a booze bus?
Hon ANNETTE KING: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. Nick Smith has just made what I think was an unparliamentary comment. He insinuated something that I think he might perhaps want to reflect on, and withdraw.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: The Minister referred to travelling often on buses, and I asked whether it was a booze bus.
Madam SPEAKER: I think the member should please withdraw and apologise. The Minister has taken objection.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: I withdraw.
Peter Brown: Will the Minister clarify the position: is it not true that Auckland’s roading problems are in large measure a result of former National Government deliberate underfunding—[Interruption]
Madam SPEAKER: The member is asking a question. I have been asked to apply the rule across the board. If I did, most of the cross-bench members would be out. Please continue.
Peter Brown: —a result of deliberate underfunding policies of previous National Governments, voting against Winston Peters’ bill in 1995, and scaling back the 2.1c that was going from the Crown bank account into the National Land Transport Fund in 1999; has that not had an adverse impact on Auckland’s roading problems?
Hon ANNETTE KING: It most definitely has. We had almost a decade of abysmal underfunding in the Auckland region. It always makes one wonder how sincere the comments now are, when a party did not invest when it had the opportunity but then weeps crocodile tears at a time when it does not think a Government has invested. This Government has invested considerably. There has been 10 times more investment in major roading projects in Auckland since we became the Government, compared with when National was last in Government.
David Bennett: Following from that, does the Government intend to fund the Auckland Regional Council’s $700 million shortfall in passenger transport spending, recently identified in the draft long-term council community plan?
Hon ANNETTE KING: I think the member will have to wait and see whether there is anything in the Budget.
David Bennett: Given that road pricing is due in 2011 at best, and that the Auckland Regional Council shortfall will delay key public transport initiatives beyond 2011, what action will the Government take to alleviate congestion of Auckland’s roading network over the next 5 years?
Hon ANNETTE KING: I can tell the member that we are actively working on it right now.
David Bennett: How then does the Minister intend to gain approval for, and implement, a road pricing scheme if key passenger initiatives are not funded?
Hon ANNETTE KING: First of all, we will wait until the results of the review and we have heard the public submissions. We will then inform the House what we are going to do.
Women’s Affairs, Ministry—Nomination Service
11. SUE MORONEY (Labour) to the Minister of Women's Affairs: What steps is she taking in response to the proposal, in the New Zealand Census of Women’s Participation 2006, to allow the Ministry of Women’s Affairs Nomination Service to be used by private sector companies interested in women’s appointments to boards of directors?
Hon LIANNE DALZIEL (Minister of Women's Affairs): I have asked the Ministry of Women’s Affairs to explore how the success it has achieved in the public sector can be shared with the private sector. I have already informally raised the issue with both the chair and the chief executive of the New Zealand Exchange and I will be exploring ideas with them. My advice is that the nomination service was originally set up in 1979, under a National Government, as the women’s appointment file and was then included in the Ministry of Women’s Affairs as the nomination service by another National Government in 1992. I look forward to National members’ support.
Sue Moroney: Has the Minister seen the letter to the editor in today’s Dominion Post that states “shareholders are legally entitled to have the most qualified people available—regardless of gender—to manage a company’s affairs.”; if so, how does she reconcile that with the proposal?
Hon LIANNE DALZIEL: Yes, I have, and I fully endorse the comments apart from the mistaken reference to management rather than governance. The proposal is about ensuring the businesses concerned know who all of the qualified people are before they select the most qualified to meet the board’s requirements and shareholder expectations. Everyone knows that diversity adds real strength to decision making, and that is why I can explore the proposal in the way that I will.
Tsunami Warning—Information Management
12. Hon Dr NICK SMITH (National—Nelson) to the Minister of Civil Defence: Is he satisfied with the management of information arising from the tsunami warning this morning?
Hon RICK BARKER (Minister of Civil Defence): No.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: How does the Minister reconcile his press release of 30 March 2006—and I quote: “Never before has Civil Defence had such an effective network with councils and regions.”, and, “New Zealanders can be assured that the Ministry of Civil Defence and Emergency Management is ready and prepared for any emergency.”—with the debacle that occurred this morning, and which he has accepted the ministry messed up?
Hon RICK BARKER: There was no acceptance of a mess-up. If the BBC, which is a reliable news outlet, says there is a tsunami when there was not, says there is a tsunami heading to New Zealand when there was not, says it is aimed at Gisborne when it was not, and says there is police alert when there was not, and if people accept the value of that news report, then the BBC is at fault. The member cannot point the finger at the Ministry of Civil Defence and Emergency Management for that.
Steve Chadwick: What action did the Ministry of Civil Defence and Emergency Management take in response to that?
Hon RICK BARKER: The earthquake occurred at 3.27 a.m. this morning, and immediately afterwards the Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre in Hawaii was in contact with the national controller. There were discussions on and off until 4 a.m., when it was reasonably clear there was no significant risk to New Zealand. At 4.30 a.m. the Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre reissued its warning but excluded New Zealand. A message was then put on the emergency number by New Zealand civil defence. At 5 o’clock this morning, the national crisis management centre was staffed, and at 5.36 this morning the Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre cancelled its warnings because the sea level monitoring gauges at Niue, Apia, and Pago Pago indicated there was no risk of a tsunami at all. At 6 o’clock civil defence was monitoring the New Zealand media, and at that time the New Zealand media were carrying no warning of a tsunami. It was only at 6.45 a.m. that the national centre became aware that the BBC was issuing such bulletins, and it immediately issued its own notice saying there was no tsunami warning.
Keith Locke: Will the Government provide New Zealanders with waterproof radios, because on today’s performance we may well be swimming by the time civil defence manages to send a press release to radio stations as to whether a tsunami is on the way, given that it took 3½ hours this morning?
Hon RICK BARKER: There are about 20 events such as this each year. If the Ministry of Civil Defence and Emergency Management issued warnings for each one of them, New Zealanders would be sick and tired of reacting when there was in fact a civil defence emergency. Civil defence staff in New Zealand were on the case immediately after the earthquake warning. They were managing the situation, and they were accurately on top of their job.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: Can the Minister explain why, when there was an earthquake at 3.30 a.m., and when the Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre issued its warning at 3.40 a.m., there was no statement at all from his ministry until 6.50 a.m.; what sort of emergency service takes 3 hours to make any statement?
Hon RICK BARKER: The member, like a lot of Opposition members, misdiagnoses and then “misprognoses” the situation in that presentation. The fact is that moments after the earthquake the New Zealand controller was aware of the earthquake, was in contact with the Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre, and was constantly assessing the risk to New Zealand. At 4 o’clock the best advice the staff had, on the basis of their knowledge and local advice, was that there was no threat of a tsunami to New Zealand. No warning had been issued. There was no need for a warning to be issued. The only time it became necessary to issue a warning about a tsunami was when the BBC got the situation exactly wrong, by saying there was a tsunami when there was not, and when it got it exactly wrong by saying it was heading to New Zealand when it was not. We then had to correct the error of the media. The media have a responsibility to report matters accurately. They did not do so on this occasion.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Has the Minister’s department spent any time in the last year, or in the last 3 hours, on preparing documents to advise citizens on how to prepare for a tsunami when there is no tsunami?
Hon RICK BARKER: I think some good things came out of this event. The first thing is that some years ago a tsunami warning was given out on the East Coast, and people went to the beach to watch. The best thing about this event is that when people believed a tsunami was on the way, they fled. That shows a dramatic change in attitude by New Zealanders. People are now increasingly aware of the danger, and that is a good thing. I assure the public that we are better prepared today than we were 12 months ago, and in 12 months’ time we will be even better prepared again.
Moana Mackey: Would the Minister have been concerned if the Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre had not issued a warning, given the size of the earthquake in Tonga, and the very real risk at the time of the earthquake that a tsunami event could occur; and does he believe that had it not issued a warning, he would be standing here today and answering questions from the National Party about why one was not issued?
Hon RICK BARKER: The member is exactly right. As I have said to the House before, there are approximately 20 events like this in the Pacific every year, and they are managed intelligently and carefully by the Ministry of Civil Defence and Emergency Management. We cannot overreact to each one of them, because if we did the public would then get sick and tired of the warnings and would take no action when there was a genuine warning. We have a responsibility to tell people, to the best of our knowledge, what will happen. The BBC did not do that. It said a tsunami was coming, when clearly there was not.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: Can the Minister explain why, when Newstalk ZB and Television New Zealand repeatedly tried to contact the civil defence service between 5 a.m. and 7 a.m. this morning, they got no answer or an answerphone, and when they tried to phone the Minister they could get no answer or response; and what does that say about the level of preparedness New Zealand has for a real civil defence emergency?
Hon RICK BARKER: The Ministry of Civil Defence and Emergency Management is well prepared for a tsunami warning. I accept that some people were misinformed and misunderstood the situation. We will go through this event very thoroughly, and I am sure that the Ministry of Civil Defence and Emergency Management will change its operating procedures. But it is impossible to protect the New Zealand public against an erroneous message carried by a media organisation. I want to say to Nick Smith that my phone was beside my bed all night. I had one phone call at 5.30 a.m. from the Director of Civil Defence Emergency Management to tell me no tsunami was coming. No other person rang me. I can check the log, so if that member says that news organisations rang me and I did not respond at 6 o’clock, that is wrong.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: Why, this afternoon in the House, has the Minister proceeded to blame both the media and the National Party, when his own statement said that the response this morning was inadequate, and when in the answer to my first question he said that he was not satisfied with the civil defence management this morning; and can he be specific about what was inadequate in the management of the tsunami warning this morning?
Hon RICK BARKER: When I said “No.” in answer to the member’s question, I meant that the management of the information—principally by the BBC—was appalling. The corporation was wrong on every fact, and people took its reputation seriously and reacted to that. We realise that in the future we cannot afford to be blind-sided by media organisations that are not carrying correct stories, and we will change the way we advise the public and the media accordingly. There will be improvements. I say to the House that of the 20 such events we have each year, this is the first time that this thing has been wrong, and it has been wrong because of wrong information put out by a media organisation.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: Will the Minister, having accepted that the response by his ministry this morning was in his words “not good enough”, apologise to the thousands of New Zealanders who thought their lives were endangered this morning, and who were grossly inconvenienced because his ministry failed to make any statement till 3 hours after the event?
Hon RICK BARKER: I do not accept the member’s version of the words I used. I do not accept that, at all. Secondly, if anybody is going to apologise to the residents of Gisborne, it should be the BBC, because the BBC said there was a tsunami, the BBC said it was on the way to New Zealand, and the BBC said there was a police warning out. That is what the BBC said, and I think it should give an apology to the public of Gisborne.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I noted that the Minister said I had been incorrect in using his words that the response this morning was “not good enough”. I seek leave of the House to table the direct quote from the New Zealand Herald website titled: “Minister admits tsunami reaction not good enough”.
Madam SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection? There is objection.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: I seek leave to table the news releases from the North Shore, Gisborne, Napier, and Christchurch councils, stating how appalled they were at the communications from the ministry.
Madam SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table those documents. Is there any objection? Yes, there is objection.
Hon Phil Goff: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I raise it under Standing Order 400(b). Earlier, Dr Nick Smith told the House that he had not tabled a document requested by Winston Peters because he thought he had been denied leave. Every member in this House knows that when one is granted leave, one is approached by a messenger who asks for the document. Yesterday we observed Dr Smith being asked for the document, after he was granted leave. I therefore ask you, Madam Speaker, to consider whether Dr Nick Smith has deliberately misled this House by raising that excuse for not doing what he had undertaken to do.
Madam SPEAKER: No. There are proper ways to raise that matter, and that is not one of them. But I also note that I accepted Dr Smith’s word in the House—that his memory was that that document had not been accepted.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. With respect, the facts are that Dr Smith sought to table a document. He was then approached, obviously, by an official of the House as to the tabling of that document. I myself observed that, and that is why I raise the issue of his not being prepared to hand that document to the House’s official. He was on notice therefore, and his excuse today does not hold up.
Madam SPEAKER: No. I am sorry. If members want to raise that matter there is a proper way to do it, and it is not in this House. I ask them to do it in that way. I have also said what my ruling was at the beginning, when the matter first arose. But the member is perfectly entitled to raise the matter with me in the appropriate way.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. Two members have challenged my word, and I would draw the attention of the House to the fact that I actually sought to table several documents yesterday. I have checked back through the records, and those tablings were either denied or accepted. The other point I wish to raise is that my word has been further questioned in respect of the issue today of the civil defence ministry. I wish to inform the House that Newstalk ZB advised me this morning that it had attempted to phone the ministry—that it had attempted to phone it several times between 5 a.m. and 7 a.m.—and it also informed me that it had attempted to phone the Minister directly and had received no response.
Madam SPEAKER: I thank the member.