Questions And Answers - Tuesday, 9 May 2006
Questions And Answers - Tuesday, 9 May
Questions to Ministers
Cabinet Documents—Telecom New Zealand Ltd
1. Dr DON BRASH (Leader of the Opposition) to the Prime Minister: Does she have confidence in all her Ministers, in light of the leak last week of confidential Budget-related Cabinet papers that reportedly wiped $1.8 billion from the market value of Telecom New Zealand Ltd, and what steps has she taken to quickly identify the source of the leak?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK (Prime Minister): Yes. An inquiry has been established. One hopes it will have more success than investigations into leaked emails from Dr Brash’s office.
Dr Don Brash: Has she asked each of her Ministers individually for an assurance that neither they nor any members of their staff were responsible for the leak of the Government papers; if not, why on earth does she expect this Parliament to take her commitment to find the source of the leak seriously?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: No. I have set up an inquiry with the Minister of State Services. It has the powers of a commission of inquiry, which enables it to require evidence, enter premises, and seize documents, if required. Unlike the party opposite me, we trust each other over here.
Dr Don Brash: Why has the Government, in the past, used eminent counsel, such as the retired High Court judge Sir Rodney Gallen, Helen Cull QC, Kit Toogood QC, Ailsa Duffy QC, and Douglas White QC, to conduct inquiries into more minor matters, yet has decided that a leak of confidential Budget information from the Cabinet room should be investigated by an employee of the State Services Commission; and just what sort of signal does that send about the seriousness with which this matter is being pursued?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I do not recall that any of those matters involved leaks of Government information. The State Services Commission inquiry is a far more powerful inquiry than any of those ones.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Why does the Prime Minister not take advice from the Leader of the Opposition, who is something of an expert when it comes to leaks, given that I am holding in my hands leaked email documents from his office, including an itinerary from a trip to the United States prior to the 2005 election to recruit US strategists and funders for National’s election campaign; and does she not think that this is a classic case of the pot calling the kettle black?
Madam SPEAKER: I do not think that is a question for which the Prime Minister is responsible.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I have asked the Prime Minister whether she seeks to take advice—and it is within her ambit of responsibility to do so—from an expert, which the Opposition can dispute if it likes to do so, on a matter to do with leaks, which is the subject of the question. Which part of that is out of order?
Madam SPEAKER: I have ruled that the Prime Minister, as I understood the question, does not have responsibility for what the Leader of the Opposition is doing in that instance.
Dr Don Brash: Why, when previous inquiries have been conducted by independent Queen’s Counsel, is this inquiry being conducted by an employee of the State Services Commission, a person who reports indirectly to one of the Cabinet Ministers being investigated?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I repeat the information I have just given the member: those other inquiries, to the best of my recollection, were not about leaks. This is a classic course for investigating a leak, and is one used by my predecessor, Mrs Shipley.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Can I ask the Prime Minister whether in the past she has taken advice from members of Parliament, from whatever side of the House; if so, will she not take further advice from the Leader of the Opposition, an expert on leaks given that the leaked information regarding the National Party’s efforts to recruit expensive US strategists explains why National needed so much extra funding in anonymous donations and secret trust accounts compared with any other political party at the 2005 election?
Madam SPEAKER: The Prime Minister is not responsible for the Opposition, but she may address the general part of the question.
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: In seeking advice on how to investigate leaks, I obviously would not be seeking the advice of someone as manifestly unsuccessful in ever tracking one down as him.
Dr Don Brash: If, as has been reported, Telecom has already provided the State Services Commissioner with information that includes the name of the leaker, why has that person not been suspended pending the outcome of the investigation, given that he or she is a significant security risk in the lead-up to the Budget?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I am absolutely confident that if the State Services Commissioner had information that would identify someone who was indeed a risk to the security of the Government, he would inform people very quickly. But he has informed me that right now he has nothing relevant to report to me.
Dr Don Brash: Does the Prime Minister not understand that an inquiry into the conduct of her Cabinet Ministers that is being conducted by an employee of the State Services Commission and that could take up to a month to conclude looks like a whitewash and a cover-up; and what assurances can she give that the Government is serious about tracking down the source of this leak?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I repeat that I have absolute confidence in my Ministers, unlike the Leader of the Opposition, who cannot have any confidence in his front bench.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I seek leave to table two documents. The first is an email dated 20 July 2004, seeking to recruit US strategists and money, by the National Party.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: The second is the latest press release from the National Party, showing that it has done a somersault on the deregulation of telecommunications in this country and will support legislation being referred to the select committee.
2. SHANE JONES (Labour) to the Minister of Finance: What reports has he received on the Crown’s financial position?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Minister of Finance): The current financial statements for the end of March show that the Government, including the New Zealand Superannuation Fund—probably for the first time in our history—is in a net positive financial asset position.
Shane Jones: What have been the main factors contributing to the move to a net debt-free position?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: The main factors have been prudent operating and capital spending, strong economic growth, and, particularly over the last year, the returns earned by the Crown financial institutions, including the New Zealand Superannuation Fund. At 31 March its balance was $9.2 billion.
John Key: Can the Minister confirm that when his Government came into office expenses were approximately $40 billion a year, and that this year expenses for his Government will be approximately $64 billion a year; and rather than his being in some sort of self-congratulatory exercise of being a fiscal conservative, why does he not accept and understand that he has been the recipient of over $350 billion of tax revenue in the last 6 years, of which he has managed to waste a great amount?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: The only expenditure I seriously regret is that on the National Party over the last 6½ years, from which there has not been a single return to the New Zealand taxpayer. In fact, expenditure and revenue—particularly expenditure—remain roughly constant as a proportion of GDP and have gone down slightly over the last few years. But, of course, every day of the week members opposite issue press statements calling for more spending in every area they are responsible for.
Gordon Copeland: How does the Minister justify continuing to allow personal tax rates to increase in real terms, whilst the Crown’s coffers overflow with previously undreamt of riches, and can hard-working Kiwis happily expect a well-deserved tax break in the Budget?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: On the latter point, no. On the former point, those people who have been arguing that the Government will always run cash surpluses had better wait until Thursday afternoon next week. Starting at 2 p.m., the show is on here.
Jeanette Fitzsimons: Will the Minister take the opportunity represented by the 300 million - plus higher-than-expected operating surplus to invest in future-proofing the New Zealand economy against rising oil prices, climate change, and an ageing population by completing woefully lacking public transport systems in our cities, upgrading the rail system, and preventive health-care strategies?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: The member will have to wait until Thursday afternoon next week to see what the Government’s plans are on those and, indeed, on any other areas.
John Key: Oh, come on—we know nearly all of it.
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: It is not long to wait, even for the young and restless like Mr Key. It is only a matter of a week, or so. [Interruption] But I say further—when the young people opposite have decided to calm down just for a moment or two—that one cannot go around spending the increase in operating surplus that comes from the profits of investments in Crown financial institutions. Those are all in funds for dedicated purposes—all of which have liabilities that exceed their assets.
Shane Jones: Has the Minister of Finance seen any reports suggesting an alternative fiscal strategy?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Yes, I have seen three. One report confirmed that a policy of $11 billion in tax cuts, funded by significant borrowing, is still being pursued. A second report said that that figure was quite wrong; and the third suggested that lasting tax cuts were not possible. The first was from John Key, the second from Gerry Brownlee, and the third from Don Brash.
John Key: Can the Minister confirm that the deep, dark secret of Budget 2005 was tax cuts, and they have never arrived, and that the deep, dark secret of Budget 2006 is local loop unbundling, and it has arrived before the Budget.?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: There are a number of local loops opposite that I would love to unbundle!
Taito Phillip Field—Conflicts of Interest Report
3. Dr the Hon LOCKWOOD SMITH (National—Rodney) to the Prime Minister: How long has Taito Phillip Field got to respond to the draft inquiry report of Noel Ingram QC into alleged conflicts of interest?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK (Prime Minister): That is a matter for Mr Ingram QC to determine. He is not directed by me.
Dr the Hon Lockwood Smith: Is the Prime Minister telling this House that as far as she is concerned, Taito Phillip Field has as long as he likes to respond to the draft report into wrongdoings he is alleged to have committed?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: No, I said no such thing. I said that it was a matter for Mr Ingram QC to determine.
Dr the Hon Lockwood Smith: Has the Prime Minister, or anyone in her office or in the Government, discussed with Noel Ingram QC or Gareth Kayes this year any aspect of the inquiry into alleged conflicts of interest involving Taito Phillip Field; if so, what was she, or they, told?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I certainly have not spoken with Mr Ingram. To the best of my knowledge, I have never met him. Of course, in the course of setting up the inquiry and terms of reference he was in discussion with Mr Wevers and, from time to time, Mr Wevers would inquire about the progress of the inquiry—in order for questions in this House to be answered.
Dr the Hon Lockwood Smith: When the Prime Minister told Parliament last week that she had not read the draft report, had she, or any member of her staff or of the Government, received any briefing or advice on the content of the draft report; if so, when did that first take place?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: No advice has been received from Mr Ingram. As the member will be well aware, because it is in the paper this morning, Mr Field has a copy of the report. He is entitled to keep colleagues appraised of that if he wishes.
Dr the Hon Lockwood Smith: What meetings or discussions has the Prime Minister, or any member of her staff or of the Government, had with Taito Phillip Field since his receipt of that draft report?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I have no responsibility for Mr Field as a member of Parliament. He is entitled, as a member, to have discussions with colleagues if he wishes. I am not responsible for that.
4. Hon TONY RYALL (National—Bay of Plenty) to the Minister of Health: Is he concerned about the Government’s ability to meet New Zealanders’ need for elective surgery; if not, why not?
Hon PETE HODGSON (Minister of Health): Yes. Despite a 24 percent increase in hip replacements, a 52 percent increase in knee replacements, and a 75 percent increase in angioplasties since the change of Government, there are always improvements to make, and this Government will pursue those improvements with vigour.
Hon Tony Ryall: When the Hawke’s Bay District Health Board decided to cull 1,800 of its patients, why did he describe its doctors as “unethical”?
Hon PETE HODGSON: The issue of ethics is addressed not by me but by the Medical Council of New Zealand, and the Health and Disability Commissioner. Given that the member has raised the issue of Hawke’s Bay, he might be pleased to learn that now that the process of prioritising patients has been concluded, fewer than half of the 1,800 patients will be returned to their general practitioner.
Sue Moroney: What progress has been made in ensuring timely access to first specialist assessments for elective surgery?
Hon PETE HODGSON: The number of people waiting for a first specialist assessment for more than 6 months has fallen by 42 percent under this Government. Around half of the people in need of specialist assessment have a wait time of less than 2 months. The percentage of people with a wait time of less than 6 months has increased by nearly 10 percent since 2000. We now need to make sure that prioritisation is working in all of our district health boards so that we can do even better. We are not there yet.
Hon Tony Ryall: Who put the patients on the waiting lists in Hawke’s Bay and why are these people unethical?
Hon PETE HODGSON: People are entered into the booking system by referral to the general practitioner and acceptance by the district health board. The district health board has an obligation to ensure that it accepts as many people as it can manage and it gives them certainty that they will have their first specialist assessment, wherever possible, within 6 months.
Hon Tony Ryall: What did they do that was unethical?
Hon PETE HODGSON: I refer the member to the Medical Council of New Zealand’s view on ethics under resource constraints—and we do have one, it is called a health budget—in which the council requires or, indeed, states of its members that they must prioritise according to need under those circumstances.
Hon Tony Ryall: How is it unethical for the Canterbury District Health Board to dump another 2,000 patients, including some top priority patients rated category A by the hospital’s own specialists?
Hon PETE HODGSON: The issue of category A patients, to which the member refers, is a very difficult one and is related to the rheumatology and immunology clinic within the Canterbury District Health Board—which was indeed understaffed, partially through one of the consultants being away on sabbatical—to which an extra rheumatologist has just been added. As to the Canterbury District Health Board as a whole, I refer the member to a recent press statement by the chief executive in which he states that no one will be returned to their general practitioner until appropriate criteria are developed and approved by the board’s clinical advisory committee.
Dr Jonathan Coleman: How ethical is it for the Minister to pretend there is no crisis in elective surgery when across the three Auckland District Health Boards there has been, over the past 5 years, a 23 percent decline in the number of elective hernia operations, a 24 percent decline in the number of elective tonsillectomies, and a 45 percent decline in the number of elective varicose vein operations performed—or are these conditions he believes just get better if nothing is done?
Hon PETE HODGSON: Unlike the member, I am not myself a clinician but I am advised by clinicians that tonsillectomies are less inclined to be carried out these days than they used to be; the use of antibiotics is apparently an increasing method of managing that particular condition. As far as varicose veins are concerned, I am advised—again by clinicians—that compression treatment is now more widely used than it used to be.
5. KEITH LOCKE (Green) to the Minister of Police: Has she received any reports that the police are inappropriately using pepper spray; if so, what action does she plan to take?
Hon ANNETTE KING (Minister of Police): I sought and received an oral briefing from the Commissioner of Police regarding an incident on Thursday, 4 May outside the Fight for Life in Auckland. The commissioner informed me that the following actions have occurred: the incident is under investigation by the North Shore district commander as to the appropriateness of the officer’s action; secondly, the Independent Police Complaints Authority has been advised; and, thirdly, the commissioner will ask district commanders to ensure that the protocols for the use of pepper spray are clearly set out again in the annual refresher training, which forms part of the national training programme.
Keith Locke: Does the Minister think there is a legitimate policing reason for pepper spraying a man who is handcuffed and helpless on the ground, or, later, is in the back of a police van; if so, what is that legitimate policing reason?
Hon ANNETTE KING: In a case like that, in line with the protocols for the use of pepper spray it would not be appropriate. I will await the outcome of the inquiry to see whether the actions that the officer took on that occasion were appropriate.
Martin Gallagher: Has the Minister seen any reports on the number of assaults on police over the past few years?
Hon ANNETTE KING: Yes, I have seen a report on the number of assaults on police. I am pleased to say that the number of assaults on police has declined since pepper spray was introduced. The commissioner explained to me that when he was a front-line officer, the way one dealt with people who were causing a problem was to go in either with a baton or with fists. That is not appropriate in this day and age. In fact, the use of pepper spray has been a very important tool in being able to apprehend people who are violent or causing injury either to the police or to the public.
Keith Locke: Is the Minister confident that all of the 2,000 uses of pepper spray last year met the requirements of the police general instructions to use it only when police “fear physical injury to themselves or others and they cannot reasonably protect themselves less forcefully”, and will the latest shocking, televised incident provoke her to announce a more general inquiry into the police use of pepper spray; if not, why not?
Hon ANNETTE KING: I have no evidence to show that there is a systemic problem in terms of the use of pepper spray. However, I would say that of the total number of apprehensions by the police last year, 1 percent of those cases involved pepper spray.
Keith Locke: Why, then, does the Minister think that a police force that, on the evidence of the 2,000 cases, cannot be trusted to use pepper spray according to police general instructions can be trusted to go ahead with a trial of the 50,000-volt Taser gun, and will she be deferring that Taser gun trial until we are sure that the police do act according to instructions?
Hon ANNETTE KING: I repeat that I have no evidence to show that the New Zealand Police have a problem in terms of the use of pepper spray. That is not to say there are not individual officers who may inappropriately use pepper spray, but I have no reason to believe that the police do not, in the majority of cases, act responsibly.
Hone Harawira: What response has the Minister to reports from Amnesty International that within the last few years at least nine people in Canada and over 60 in the United States have died after being shocked with a Taser stun gun, which causes the instant incapacitation of the target by delivering a 50,000-volt electric shock; and will police be given the same freedom to use Taser guns as they have to use pepper spray as been highlighted by the media over the past few days?
Hon ANNETTE KING: In response to the second part of the member’s question, no. In response to the first part of the question, yes, I have seen those reports, but I am also aware of the assessments of Tasers by other jurisdictions similar to New Zealand that show that the operational and public safety of Tasers outweighs the potential medical risks. That is for both the people being apprehended and the public.
Hone Harawira: Following on from the question from Mr Gallagher, has the Minister seen any reports of assaults on the police by people lying flat on their backs on the ground with their hands behind their backs in handcuffs?
Hon ANNETTE KING: No, I certainly have not.
Keith Locke: I seek leave to table a copy of the section of the police general instructions stating that pepper spray should be used only when police fear physical injury.
Madam SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection? There is objection.
Keith Locke: I seek leave to table a judgment by Judge Weir dated 17 August 2005, where he expressed real concern over the misuse of pepper spray in a Rotorua case recently.
Keith Locke: I seek leave to table a press release by Global Peace and Justice Auckland, reporting on the case of Simon Oosterman, who was pepper sprayed in a Rotorua protest—the one that Judge Weir referred to.
Madam SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection? There is objection.
Keith Locke: I seek leave to table a press clipping from today’s New Zealand Herald headed “Broader probe urged into pepper spray case”, which details the shocking incident last Thursday.
Madam SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection? Yes, there is.
Hone Harawira: I seek leave to table the Amnesty International report that examines Taser gun use by law enforcement agencies, that finds a rising death toll and rising human rights abuses, ill-treatment, and torture, and that was released on Tuesday, 30 November 2004.
Madam SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection? There is objection.
National Certificate of Educational Achievement—Variation
6. Hon BILL ENGLISH (National—Clutha-Southland) to the Minister of Education: What public statements or formal reports has he seen as evidence for his statement in relation to the National Certificate of Educational Achievement (NCEA) “that every assessment expert whom 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 STEVE MAHAREY (Minister of Education): The New Zealand Qualifications Authority reported to me regularly over the exam season about variability, assuring me that the level was acceptable. I have also seen reports from the Post Primary Teachers Association, principals’ groups, the Ministry of Education, and various groups of that nature who indicate the same. I note recent comments made by Professor John Langley, the principal of Auckland College of Education, who has stated that the New Zealand Qualifications Authority has worked hard to iron out the early inconsistencies. I would include in these reports the meeting I had on 15 February with the Scholarships Processes Advisory Group—which includes Professor Hattie—during which the discussion turned to NCEA exams. We agreed that NZEA had enjoyed a better examination season and that we could have more confidence in the results this year. It was also noted that some of the practical steps taken this year to improve scholarship had also been applied to NCEA.
Hon Bill English: Can the Minister now confirm that, actually, there is no evidence from any assessment expert saying that NCEA variation is fine, and that nothing he said in his answer backs up the statement he made to this House, which was untrue?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: No.
Moana Mackey: What other reports or statements has he seen about the 2005 NCEA results?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: Arthur Graves, chair of the New Zealand Secondary Principals Council, has said: “I am one hundred percent supportive of NCEA.”, and Post Primary Teachers Association president, Debbie Te Whaiti, has said: “The 2005 NCEA results showed a big improvement.”
Hon Dr Nick Smith: The PPTA?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: They teach the students, I say to Nick Smith. The overall reduction in the variation between years shows the New Zealand Qualifications Authority’s better processes. Just this morning I received an email from a principal who commented: “Will some of the good news about education ever get into the media or will we have to keep putting up with negative comments, like the ones from Bill English?”, and Pat Newman, from the New Zealand Principals Federation, has said: “Bill English should stop grandstanding.”
Hon Brian Donnelly: Is it correct that some achievement standards are two-tiered; for example, for right-angle triangles at level 1 a standard includes both verbal problems and 3-D problems, and that much of the year-to-year variation in the NCEA can be explained by the relative difficulty of the particular tier assessed?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: The member has described it exactly as it is.
Hon Bill English: Why did the Minister tell this House last week that there is a Ministerial reference group on NCEA, when there is not; that he has opinions from assessment experts that the variation is fine, when he does not; he implied John Hattie had said the variation in NCEA was fine, when he had not said it, when he had not been asked to investigate it, when he had done no analysis, and never made such a statement; and why should this House believe anything this Minister says when he was willing to mislead it over a matter as important as the integrity of exams sat by hundreds of thousands of young New Zealanders?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: As I have said, there are a large number of people, including the New Zealand Qualifications Authority, who have proved that we have, this year, had better assessment systems. I called John Hattie myself prior to coming down to the House and he confirmed the exact words I said in my answer to the member, and I tell the member that if there is anybody in this House whose word I would not take, given his track record over the last few months, it is he.
Hon Bill English: Can the Minister confirm that he said to the House last week that every assessment expert the Government had had available to it, including people such as John Hattie, who had been part of the Ministerial reference group, had said, in reference to NCEA, that this year the variation was fine—and none of that statement is correct, and he cannot verify any of it?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: I said last week that everybody who was available to us agreed that we had a better season and I stand exactly by that. John Hattie came in as part of the scholarship process and talked about NCEA. I rang him before to confirm his remarks and I have just given them again.
Hon Bill English: Why did the Minister try to give the House the impression that assessment experts had been consulted over variation in NCEA and that they had said the variation was fine, when assessment experts have not been consulted over NCEA, when John Hattie has not been asked to do analysis and therefore has not come to the conclusion that the variability is fine, and why should we believe anything he says when he came to the House and said that every assessment expert said it was fine, when none did?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: As I said in answer to the primary question, every assessment expert available to us through the New Zealand Qualifications Authority who had reported to me regularly during this process has said that the variability is fine. I said that John Hattie came to see me as part of the expert group that has been involved with scholarship. We talked about NCEA during that meeting and he said—[Interruption] I never said he did. I said that he came to a meeting where we talked about this, and John Hattie has told me again today that I can use those remarks.
Hon Bill English: Has the Minister seen the analysis by one assessment expert, Professor Warwick Alley, that shows that—actually, the New Zealand Qualifications Authority does not disagree with it, it just avoids the question—in 140 mainstream standards sat by tens of thousands of students, over half of them fell outside the benchmarks set by the authority for fairness and consistency; that is, 87 out of 140 standards failed to reach the authority’s benchmark for consistency?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: According to Warwick Elley, 40 out of 140 standards in 10 large subjects have had variable failure rates. He wrote about that. The member should go to the New Zealand Education Review this week—I am sorry that the New Zealand Qualifications Authority disagrees with Mr English, but it does. It disagrees with Warwick Elley, and it provided a very, very good response to his criticism.
Madam SPEAKER: Question No. 7, Maryan Street.
Maryan Street: My question is to the Minister—[Interruption]
Madam SPEAKER: I ask members to be quiet, because I have called question No. 7, and Maryan Street was on her feet.
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. Bill English, who routinely lies, has just accused me of lying. I take exception to it and want an apology.
Madam SPEAKER: If the member said that, would he please withdraw and apologise to the member. It is unparliamentary.
Hon Bill English: I withdraw and apologise. I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I think you heard what the member said, and I am very disappointed that you did not take action yourself to enforce the Standing Orders of this House. When the Minister rose to make a point of order, he accused me of routinely lying.
Madam SPEAKER: If the member has taken offence, would the member please withdraw and apologise.
Hon Bill English: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker—
Madam SPEAKER: That is the rule, if the member takes offence. That is exactly what I did in this instance. I am being even-handed here. Would the Minister please rise, withdraw, and apologise.
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: I withdraw and apologise.
Hon Bill English: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I used unparliamentary language, and withdrew and apologised. I sat here and watched you sit in the Chair while a member made a point of order, in the hearing of the whole House, in which he accused me of routinely lying, and you left it to me to enforce that Standing Order. I think the House deserves an explanation, because I would hope that other members will not be treated in the same way by the Chair.
Madam SPEAKER: I was listening to question No. 7. I did not hear the exchange of those comments. Could we please now proceed to question No. 7.
Hon Bill English: So you did not hear the point of order?
Madam SPEAKER: I heard the point of order when it was raised, because the member rose.
Hon Bill English: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. You asked me to withdraw and apologise after the member had raised his point of order, which means that you did hear his point of order. The point remains that in that point of order he accused me of routinely lying. You left it to me to enforce the Standing Order instead of calling him to order. Will it now be the practice of the Chair that members can raise a point of order and in the course of it accuse other members of lying, and you will listen to that and do nothing?
Madam SPEAKER: I apologise to the member. I thought the Minister had made his comment, which I did not hear, before the point of order.
Hon Phil Goff: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. Given that the member insists on order being upheld, that member interrupted the questioner after she had begun the question. He should not even be in the House.
Madam SPEAKER: That is actually true. If I am meant to be able to apply the Standing Orders evenly, then I need the cooperation of members to do it. There was a particularly acrimonious exchange between the two members. We shall proceed now, but everyone is on their last warning.
7. MARYAN STREET (Labour) to the Minister of Health: What progress has been made on constructing new public hospitals around New Zealand?
Hon PETE HODGSON (Minister of Health): A lot of progress has been made. On Thursday the Prime Minister opened the new Wairarapa Hospital in Masterton. This is just the latest opening in what has been the most ambitious hospital building programme in living memory, with new hospitals being built from Kaitâia to Invercargill under this Labour-led Government.
Maryan Street: How does the Government’s record of building public hospitals compare with that of previous Governments?
Hon PETE HODGSON: The Labour-led Government’s historic investment in upgrading hospitals and opening new facilities stands in stark contrast to the previous National Government’s programme of closures and under-investment in New Zealand’s hospitals. Between 1991 and 1999 the National Government closed 38 public hospitals. The Labour-led Government has built, or approved for construction or extension, 22 hospitals.
Jo Goodhew: What is the point of showing off about those new hospital buildings when the Government has district health boards culling patients, who are in pain, to stop them from getting inside those brand-new doors?
Hon PETE HODGSON: One of the reasons for building or extending 22 hospitals in the course of the last 6½ years was to further increase surgery—for example, a 24 percent increase in hip replacements, a 52 percent increase in knee replacements, and a 75 percent increase in angioplasties, which is not the sort of thing one can do if one is closing hospitals right, left, and centre.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Would the Minister be prepared to correct the answer he gave in respect of hospital closures under National when he said that 38 were closed between 1991 and 1999, when for 2 years there were no hospital closures, in 1997 and 1998, and when, in fact, we opened two hospitals—a mental health unit and a heart unit in Canterbury—and would he be prepared to make those facts public so that no one is under a misapprehension as to which party was responsible in that coalition and which one was not?
Hon PETE HODGSON: I do not know in which part of the 1990s most of the hospital closures occurred, but I take the member at his word and I do so without any sense of surprise.
Hone Harawira: Why is the Government boasting about spending millions and millions of dollars building new hospitals around New Zealand, while, at the same time, it is engaged in a programme of shutting down perfectly good, well-run, and well-respected hospitals, particularly in rural areas like Kaitâia, and turning them into day clinics, against the wishes of the local population and the local medical fraternity?
Hon PETE HODGSON: I am sorry the member is so sadly mistaken about an area that he purports to represent. There is a new hospital in Kaitâia. It is worth $9.3 million, and the maternity part of it was opened last week.
Hon Tony Ryall: I seek leave to table the very long list of public hospitals closed by Helen Clark as Minister of Health.
Madam SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection? There is objection.
Hone Harawira: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I point out to the Minister that a new hospital has not been opened in Kaitâia—
Madam SPEAKER: That is not a point of order; it is a point of information. If you wish to ask another supplementary question, you may.
Hone Harawira: How do I correct the fact that he said something that was incorrect?
Madam SPEAKER: The member was raising a debating point. There is a general debate tomorrow. The member will have an opportunity then, or he could seek clarification with another supplementary question.
8. Hon TONY RYALL (National—Bay of Plenty) to the Prime Minister: What was the date and nature of the offer made to Plunket that she referred to in the House last week when she said, “I have received advice that Plunket was offered funding for more calls and did not take up the offer.”?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK (Prime Minister): I am advised that on 5 July last year McKesson New Zealand Ltd, which subcontracted the well child service to Plunket, wrote to Plunket offering increased funding for an agreed number of calls above that specified in the service agreement.
Hon Tony Ryall: Has she yet asked the basic question of her staff as to how many calls PlunketLine was actually contracted to make, and has she asked her ministry why Plunket was required to sign a contract that expressly prohibited PlunketLine from answering more calls and expressly prohibited Plunket from commenting on that contracted number of calls?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I have ascertained that the subcontract with McKesson was for a figure of 140,000 calls by the end of its 2-year contract, on 30 June. I am further advised that Plunket neither has achieved nor is on track to achieve that target, and I repeat, as I said to the member last week, that a rate of abandoned calls at 87.3 percent is not a good outcome.
Hon Tony Ryall: Why does she—[Interruption] Well, I ask the member to wait, because it is really good.
Madam SPEAKER: Would the member please proceed. Thank you.
Hon Tony Ryall: Is she the same Helen Clark who stated: “I want to make a special plea for government funding of Plunket Line. 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: Yes, and I confirm, as I told the member in the original answer, that Plunket was offered more funding to do more calls.
Hon Tony Ryall: Is she the same Helen Clark who said: “We will back to the hilt our PlunketLine.”, and why has she become so out of touch with New Zealanders on this issue?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I have worked very closely with Plunket over many, many years, and I also have a responsibility to make sure that a well child service is a good one. The contracted organisation was unable to meet the number of calls it was contracted for, refused more money, and abandoned 87.3 percent of the calls—it is a very strange Opposition that tells the Government to keep paying the money.
Jo Goodhew: Has the Prime Minister seen reports that the New Zealand Nurses Organisation, which is the union representing both PlunketLine and Healthline nurses, has backed PlunketLine; and has she also reviewed the postcard campaign she championed, which said: “Don’t Let the Hotline Go Cold”, while she has been freezing out that very same PlunketLine?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I never thought I would hear the day when a National member of Parliament would quote a union in this House—in its favour.
Jo Goodhew: I seek leave to table the press release from the New Zealand Nurses Organisation, “Nurses Organisation Backs PlunketLine Petition”, which states: “You can’t take the Plunket out of PlunketLine.”
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. The Prime Minister’s answer to that question could hardly be considered to have addressed the question. It was an interesting comment—perhaps an observation on her part—but it did not address the question.
Madam SPEAKER: I thank the member. I thought Jo Goodhew was going to raise the same point, but she moved on to seek leave to table the document. Perhaps the Prime Minister would like to add a little to her answer, please.
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: This Government is absolutely committed to funding 24-hour phone services, which is something that that member’s party never did, and we never heard her voice in advocacy.
Benefits—Transition to Work
9. GEORGINA BEYER (Labour) to the Minister for Social Development and Employment: What reports has he received on the Government’s progress on moving New Zealanders off benefits and into work?
Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE (Minister for Social Development and Employment): The latest quarterly benefit statistics show that in the year ended March 2006 the number of working-age New Zealanders on benefits dropped by a further 8,374, or 2.9 percent. That is a drop of around 118,000, or nearly 30 percent fewer New Zealanders receiving a benefit since this Government came into office.
Georgina Beyer: What reports has the Minister seen about the level of understanding of these changes in respect of the headline or net benefit numbers?
Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: I have seen a report of a person giving a thoroughly inaccurate account to a conference in Auckland when, despite the headline benefit numbers showing that there are almost 118,000, or one-third, fewer beneficiaries under Labour than previously, that person claimed nothing had changed. That person was, of course, National’s welfare spokesperson, Judith Collins. She clearly also had not wanted to remember that in the 1990s the number of people receiving the sickness benefit and the invalids benefit grew at a rate of 69 and 84 percent respectively.
Georgina Beyer: What reports has he seen specifically about the numbers of people receiving the unemployment benefit?
Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: The rate of unemployment has dropped by more than 72 percent under Labour. In 1999 there were 161,000 New Zealanders in receipt of the unemployment benefit. The latest quarterly figures show that that figure is now just over 44,500. The last time unemployment was as low as that was in the mid-1980s. Consequently, over 56,500 fewer children are living in benefit-dependent households since Labour came to office, which is a reduction of 20 percent.
Dr Pita Sharples: Kua wânangahia e te Kâwana te wâriu o âna kaupapa whakaiti mâtua i runga i ngâ mahi uruhina kia haere ngâ mâtua kei runga penihana ki te mahi mô te moni; mçnâ kâhore, he aha ai?
[An interpretation in English was given to the House.]
[Has the Government assessed the long-term impact of its policy to devalue the vital role of parenting by forcing beneficiary parents into paid work; if not, why not?]
Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: There is no forcing of anyone into work under this Government. But I would comment, in terms of Mâori unemployment, that the number receiving a benefit dropped from around 44,500 in 1999 to 15,800 in the year ended March 2006. That is a drop of 28,546, or 64 percent, and it is rather a good indication of, and testimony to, the focus of this Government on work for all New Zealanders.
Dr Pita Sharples: What is the Government’s view of the establishment of a 24-hour hotel for children of working parents; does that type of facility form part of the Government’s vision for our society, and is that the logical outcome of its policy of forcing beneficiary parents into paid work?
Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: I have no ministerial responsibility for that private initiative.
Judith Collins: I seek leave of the House to table my truly excellent speech to the conference of the northern region of the National Party a week ago, so that all members of the House can have the benefit of a speech on welfare, which is something we are still waiting for that Minister to give.
Madam SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection? There is objection.
Tsunami Warning—Information Management
10. Hon Dr NICK SMITH (National—Nelson) to the Minister of Civil Defence: Does he stand by his statement in relation to the tsunami warning last Thursday that the Ministry of Civil Defence and Emergency Management was “accurately on top of their job” and that “the BBC is at fault”; if so, why?
Hon RICK BARKER (Minister of Civil Defence): Yes. The Ministry of Civil Defence and Emergency Management had correctly assessed that there was no risk to New Zealand of a tsunami. The BBC is at fault because it ignored the caution on the first advisory at 3.42 a.m. from the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center, which said: “It is not known that a tsunami was generated.” It also ignored the 4.30 a.m. advice from the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center, taking New Zealand off the watch list, yet broadcast at 5.14 a.m., turning a possibility into a reality and saying that a wave was to hit Gisborne within an hour, when clearly it was not. The BBC was clearly wrong.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: How was it fair to blame the BBC for the shambles last Thursday, when its New Zealand correspondent, Greg Ward, was told by the Auckland Police Communication Centre at 4.55 a.m. that a tsunami was on its way to Gisborne, due at 6.20 a.m., and when he was told by Gisborne Hospital that an emergency was under way, that off-duty medical staff were being called in, and that its repeated calls to Civil Defence went unanswered; and just what would he expect a responsible media organisation to do with that information from the New Zealand Government?
Hon RICK BARKER: I cannot confirm that those were the words uttered by the police to Mr Greg Ward. It is not the advice I have. Secondly, the advice to the BBC initially alerting it to the possibility of a tsunami at 3.42 in the morning stated: “This center will monitor sea level data from gauges near the earthquake to determine if a tsunami was generated and estimate the severity of the threat.” These are the experts. They have all the equipment. They know what they are doing. I would have thought the BBC would go back to its original sources of information and check with them. They did not. On the last point, yes, communications from the Ministry of Civil Defence and Emergency Management could have been better, and they will improve in the future.
H V Ross Robertson: Will there be any changes to communication standard operating procedures in light of last week’s events?
Hon RICK BARKER: Yes. The updated standard operating procedure will ensure that a formal advisory is forwarded to Ministry of Civil Defence and Emergency Management partners, such as the police, the fire service, and all civil defence agencies around the country, at key decision-making points during the assessment of a warning. Similarly, media advisories will be provided during the assessment and a stand-down process. I expect the ministry, within a week, to conduct an exercise with both our civil defence partners and the media based on the new updated procedure. This will enable people to compare like with like.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: How can the Minister seriously say to this House that he stands by his statement that the Ministry of Civil Defence and Emergency Management was accurately on top of its job last Thursday, when it concluded at 4 a.m. that there was no emergency but did not put out any statement to any media organisation until 6.50 a.m.—2½ hours - plus later?
Hon RICK BARKER: The member misses out some critical information. Firstly, the ministry did give media press statements, and it issued media press statements verbally to the media prior to 6 o’clock. Secondly, it rang all the civil defence agencies on the East Coast between 5 a.m. and 5.30 a.m. What it did not do that I think it should have done—and that it will do in the future—was to issue formal notes to everybody the moment it made a decision, and then get on with it. That is what it should have done and what it will do in the future.
Craig Foss: Is the Minister aware that the people of Waimârama, about 200 kilometres south of Gisborne, were so frightened that many deserted their homes in the early hours of last Thursday, and were so unnerved by the incompetence of civil defence communications that 90 of them—about a quarter of Waimârama—attended a public meeting last Sunday, at which civil defence volunteers were unfairly criticised; and will he now apologise to those volunteers for having to bear the brunt of his ministry’s incompetence?
Hon RICK BARKER: If I thought the ministry was wrong in telling people there was a tsunami, when there was not—if I thought it was wrong in saying that a tsunami was going to hit the East Coast within an hour, when it was not—then I would certainly make it apologise to everybody personally. The fact is that the BBC told them that. The ministry’s media communications were not prepared for the international media comments on it, and that is a deficiency. It will be corrected—of that people can be assured.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: What does it say about the competence of his ministry that after 220,000 died in a tsunami last year his ministry is not prepared?
Hon RICK BARKER: Members should judge the preparedness of the ministry in a positive light. If at 3.30 a.m. it received a warning that a tsunami was on the way and it pressed every button it had available to it—the police, the fire service, and civil defence organisations throughout New Zealand—then I believe there would have been not tens of thousands, not hundreds of thousands but many, many more people shifting in those intervening hours. There would have been a mass movement. The fact is we had one wrong report and thousands of people moved. We should imagine what would have happened if we had decided to press the panic button and told people they had to shift. It would have been incredibly effective.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: I seek the leave of the House to table the statement by Greg Ward, the BBC correspondent in New Zealand, that he was told by the Auckland Police Communication Centre at 4.55 a.m. that a tsunami was on its way to Gisborne, due at 6.20 a.m.
Madam SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection? There is objection.
Hon RICK BARKER: I seek to table the bulletin issued by the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center at 3.42 a.m., advising that it was not known that a tsunami was generated and that it would be monitoring events.
Hon RICK BARKER: I wish to table a second document, issued at 4.31 by the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center, taking New Zealand off the list.
Question No. 11 to Minister
RON MARK (NZ First): I seek leave of the House to add two words to question 11 for clarity. It appears that the two words “pay for” were left out of the question, which does not make it very clear when one first reads it.
Madam SPEAKER: Leave is sought to alter that question, so it makes sense. Is there any objection? There is no objection.
Special Air Services—Hourly Rate
11. RON MARK (NZ First) to the Minister of Defence: What is the hourly base rate of pay for New Zealand’s Special Air Services soldiers, given that they are contracted with the Army to be on duty 24 hours a day, and 7 days a week?
Hon PHIL GOFF (Minister of Defence): Special Air Services personnel, like other Defence Force personnel, are not paid hourly rates; they are paid salaries, and those salaries vary according to rank. The base rate of salary for Special Air Services personnel is between $39,000 and $93,000 a year, but when the operation deployment allowance and the other benefits they get are taken into account, those figures translate to between $80,000 and $140,000 a year as their total remuneration package—based on last year’s figures.
Ron Mark: Does the Minister think it is acceptable that our elite Special Air Services soldiers, whom the Minister himself described as being “regarded as being among the best in the field by other coalition forces”, are being paid less than the average police officer, nurse, teacher, and mid-level bureaucrat, none of whom are charged with the responsibility of conducting highly sensitive and hazardous covert operations in some of the most inhospitable climates in the world?
Hon PHIL GOFF: Of course I stand by my comments about our Special Air Services being among the most professional and competent special forces in the world. They are, and the member and I have seen recent examples of that. But I cannot go along with what the member has said about Special Air Services personnel being paid less than nurses and police officers. On the figures I have given, the total remuneration package of between $80,000 and $140,000 a year is a good pay rate, and is richly deserved.
Dianne Yates: What change has there been in defence pay rates in recent years?
Hon PHIL GOFF: After the lean years of the 1990s and the National administration, Defence Force personnel generally have received pay increases in each of the last 5 years, consecutively. That never happened in the 1990s, when the pay rates were miserable and increases were generally not given, at all. I give as an example the fact that Special Air Services personnel, in the last 4 years, I think, have had pay increases of 19 percent, and general Defence Force personnel increases of about 11.6 percent. That is why they are much happier under this administration than they would have been under the past miserable National administration.
Ron Mark: Does the Minister not accept that the figures he has quoted are operational, which means they are less than the Special Tactics Group of the police force is being paid; and, further, why do we have taxation law that makes it possible for the ministerial committee, comprising the Prime Minister, the Minister of Defence, and the Minister of Finance, to determine Afghanistan formally to be an operational area—thereby exempting Special Air Services soldiers from income tax whilst deployed on active service in that country—if we are not going to use that law?
Hon PHIL GOFF: The making of base salary non-taxable, I think, has not been the case since the 1950s, but it is true to say that the operational deployment allowance is non-taxable. To give the member an example, I tell him that a lance corporal in the Special Air Services last year, for his or her operation deployment allowance, would have received $22,509 tax-free. Of course, if we looked at the total income of Defence Force personnel and of Special Air Services personnel, we would see that probably about 40 percent of their remuneration package is made up of non-taxable allowances.
Ron Mark: Is it not a fact that New Zealand right now faces the problem that the offers of service from international companies to our troopers and corporals are very attractive, and that that undermines our ability to sustain capability; and, given that pay is an issue for young soldiers with families, what would this Government’s response be to the New Zealand First proposal that an armed forces pay review board be established within the State Services Commission, and be tasked with reporting annually to the Minister on pay and conditions—thereby enabling the Chief of Defence Force to advocate more forcefully for his personnel?
Hon PHIL GOFF: To answer the first part of the member’s question, yes. Over the period of 2002-04 particularly, there was a very tight labour market for international private sector security operations. Anyone with the sort of training the Special Air Services personnel have could go to Iraq, if he or she wanted to go to Iraq, and be paid a gold-plated salary. That, of course, does not preserve such people’s lives if they are caught up in a situation—and that could easily happen—so there is a trade-off. Over that 2-year period of time we paid special retention allowances to Special Air Services personnel of $33,000, which did make a difference in terms of holding people in. In terms of the second part of the member’s question, I say that it is really a question for the Minister of State Services. But apart from the Remuneration Authority, which pays high salaries, the Government mostly does not get into having special boards to work out salaries. Those are determined by market conditions.
Border Control—Meat Imports
12. SHANE ARDERN (National—Taranaki-King Country) to the Minister for Biosecurity: Is he satisfied with current border control checks on meat imports, and was there a risk that foot-and-mouth disease could have been imported with the recent raw pork discovery?
Hon JIM ANDERTON (Minister for Biosecurity): Yes, I am satisfied, although not complacent, of course. New Zealand is internationally recognised as having some of the toughest border controls in the world. However, there is always a risk that mislabelled or smuggled product will pass through our borders, so the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, as a second line of defence, also checks retail outlets for prohibited meat products. One of those inspections uncovered the raw Korean pork. I understand that Korea is considered foot-and-mouth disease - free, following successful eradication of an outbreak a few years ago, so the risks associated with the raw pork are considered negligible. Nevertheless, as a precaution, the raw pork found has been destroyed, outlets are being reminded of their obligations not to feed raw pork to animals, and investigations are under way to see whether those responsible can be prosecuted and whether changes are needed in Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry systems.
Shane Ardern: Is the Minister satisfied that it took nearly a month to alert the public to the raw minced pork from Korea, a country that has had repeated outbreaks of foot-and-mouth; that the pork had slipped through the border controls between the months of August and December 2005; and what is he going to do about it?
Hon JIM ANDERTON: Any mistake made in biosecurity and any delay in discovering any mistake is, of course, significant and serious. As I said, an investigation is now under way and a recommendation will be made on whether to pursue a prosecution once evidence-gathering is completed. Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry security systems will also be part of that investigation.
Dave Hereora: Is the Government investing sufficiently in border control and related measures?
Hon JIM ANDERTON: The Government has substantially increased funding for prevention and border-related services over the 5 to 6 years that we have been responsible for that service. Funding has increased by 89 percent since this coalition became the Government in 1999-2000. It is also continuing to invest in further second lines of defence, for example, in vaccines. Last week New Zealand joined a small group of developed countries to have arrangements in place to provide, in commercial quantities, a vaccine for foot-and-mouth disease should it be required, following Government funding of this initiative.
Shane Ardern: Is this the same Hon Jim Anderton who said in his biosecurity speech on 9 December 2005: “We need to see the public as the front line in our defence.”, when the public were kept in the dark on this issue of a biosecurity breach for up to a month?
Hon JIM ANDERTON: No attempt was made, as far as I am aware, to hide any of this information. If the member knew of any of this information, which had not been released to the public, he would, of course, have reported that immediately, because not to do so would be irresponsible in the extreme.
Shane Ardern: Does this Minister agree with Treasury reports that state that a foot-and-mouth outbreak would slash $12 billion from our economy and turn New Zealand into a Third World economy?
Hon JIM ANDERTON: Of course an outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease would be serious for this country, but the member should not talk up that matter unless he has in mind doing the very act of sabotage that foot-and-mouth disease would do itself.
Shane Ardern: What changes will take place in our container surveillance and other border control systems to ensure that pallet loads of raw, illegal pork will not slip through our borders and be sold in grocery stores in the future?
Hon JIM ANDERTON: Pallet loads of raw pork—or raw anything else—are not allowed in New Zealand; it is illegal. We have significant border controls to prevent it. But as I know from all kinds of statements the member makes, he believes that there is a possibility of excluding every possibility of an incursion into this country, no matter where it comes from—on the air, in the sea, in containers, through tourism—and to believe that, is the most foolish kind of presumption that I, or anyone else I know in the biosecurity industry, have ever heard.
Shane Ardern: I seek the leave of the House to table the speech that the honourable Minister for Biosecurity made to the Canterbury branch of the New Zealand Biosecurity Institute on 9 December, where he stated that front-line defence depended on good public support.