Questions And Answers - Wednesday, 10 May 2006
Questions And Answers - Wednesday, 10 May
Questions to Ministers
Hospitals—Public and Private Capacity
1. JUDY TURNER (Deputy Leader—United Future) to the Minister of Health: Why is the Government building more public hospitals when there is underutilised capacity in private hospitals?
Hon PETE HODGSON (Minister of Health): Although the use of the private sector to deliver publicly funded surgical and medical services is increasing year by year, the truth is that the total level of health provision under this Government is increasing even faster. That is why this Government has undertaken the largest hospital-building programme in living memory.
Judy Turner: Given the long lead times involved, how will building new hospitals solve the current waiting list crisis when there are empty beds in private hospitals?
Hon PETE HODGSON: That there are empty hospital beds in the private sector might reflect a lack of efficiency in the private sector, and therefore it might not be the case that there are as many empty beds as people might think. However, it is worth noting that in the annual report of the Ministry of Health for 2004-05 there is very clear evidence that the amount of medical and surgical work that is publicly funded but is done in private hospitals not only is increasing but is many times higher than was ever the case under a National Government.
Ann Hartley: What reports has he received on keeping public hospital services free for all New Zealanders?
Hon PETE HODGSON: I have seen three. One is a firm commitment to preserve free public hospital services for all New Zealanders. A second would strip all non-emergency care out of public hospitals. The third, which is unusually equivocal—or perhaps I should say “usually equivocal”—is that, in answer to a direct question, the respondent could neither confirm nor deny whether he supported charging patients who use public hospitals. We can guess that the first is from the Labour Party, the second is from the ACT party, and the third is from Don Brash, who is, for the moment, the leader of the National Party.
Barbara Stewart: How much underutilised capacity is there in public hospitals as a result of workforce shortages?
Hon PETE HODGSON: Generally, rather little, although one can end up with workforce shortages causing a shortage in a particular discipline within a hospital. Most public hospitals in New Zealand are run at a high or very high capacity by international standards. It is worth also saying that the most recent hospital to be opened, which was last Thursday by the Prime Minister, has been purpose-built so as to imbed, so to speak, private sector beds within the same building to allow staff to move freely between the two sectors, thus improving the efficiency of both.
Judy Turner: What steps is the Government taking to pursue actively the provision in the confidence and supply agreement with United Future that “appropriate private hospital capacity will be used to reduce waiting lists where this is feasible.”?
Hon PETE HODGSON: Most obviously, by requiring hospitals progressively to increase their service provision in very many medical and surgical areas. I would say that the very substantial increase in private sector provision of publicly funded services that we have seen in recent years is likely to continue, not least because of the agreement we have with United Future. First and foremost, there is a direct benefit to publicly funded patients from this activity.
Hon Tony Ryall: If there is direct benefit to patients from asking private hospitals to do operations when the public hospitals do not have the capacity to do them, why do we not do a lot more of that?
Hon PETE HODGSON: I have just pointed out to the House that not only do we do more of it but we do many times more than was ever done under the previous National Government. Further, I draw the member’s attention to the last paragraph of an article in today’s New Zealand Herald by an associate professor in health economics, who says: “It is important we have this debate about how the public and private sectors can work together more effectively. But the debate must be informed by the best evidence that is available rather than by ideological calls for change.”
Australian Budget—Public and Private Capacity
2. Dr DON BRASH (Leader of the Opposition) to the Prime Minister: Does she stand by her statement that “it is time to move to the next level in the economic transformation agenda.”; if so, how is that agenda affected by last night’s Australian Budget?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK (Prime Minister): Yes. It is not.
Dr Don Brash: Has the Prime Minister seen the package of measures announced in the Australian Budget, including across-the-board tax cuts and tax threshold increases worth A$37 billion, A$2.3 billion in road and rail funding, and tax simplification for small businesses; and, in light of those bold initiatives, does she see any hope now of New Zealand closing the income gap with Australia and stemming the exodus of skilled New Zealanders across the Tasman?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: Yes, I have seen the reports. They show that most wage earners will get about $10 a week while the rich will get hundreds of dollars a week, which I assume is why the Australian Budget appeals to the National Party.
Jeanette Fitzsimons: Is the Prime Minister aware of Australian Green Senator Bob Brown’s criticisms of the Australian Budget that it is good for politicians but it is not good for the next generation, and that the A$2.3 billion in road funding is all about the fuel-driven on-road transport system and not about fast, efficient public transport in the big cities where it is needed; and can she reassure New Zealanders that her Budget will not make the same mistake as that?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I have seen many comments about the Australian Budget and, of course, the National Party loves it for the reasons I pointed out before. But many others, like Senator Brown, have raised a range of issues, and I can assure the member that the Labour Government in New Zealand does see a very important role for public transport as part of the mix to address transport problems.
Dr Don Brash: What is her reaction to comments made by the Australian Labor Party finance spokesman, Wayne Swann, backed up by his leader, Kim Beazley, that the tax cuts in the Australian Budget are “modest and overdue”, and that they appear fair but do not go far enough in returning money to taxpayers’ pockets?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: It is no wonder the Australian Labor Party said they were modest, when most wage earners are to get 10 bucks a week and the rich hundreds of dollars. That is why Dr Brash likes it.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Does the Government intend to raise the top tax rate to 45 percent, which is what the top rate is in Australia after the last Budget, as appears to be advocated by Dr Brash?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: The Government has not the slightest intention of bringing New Zealand’s tax rates into line with Australia’s. If that is what Dr Brash wants, we look forward to his tax-raising policy being announced any day soon.
Dr Don Brash: Did the Prime Minister see in the Australian Budget that the Australian economy is forecast to grow at between 3.25 and 3.5 percent a year over the next 4 years, when our economy is currently not growing at all; and will she tell New Zealanders today whether her Government has any answers to the new challenges posed by last night’s growth-enhancing Australian Budget?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: Yes, I did see that forecast, and I am all ears as to how the Leader of the Opposition suggests that we shift to New Zealand large deposits of iron ore and bauxite, so we can ship them to China like the Australians do.
Jeanette Fitzsimons: Will the next level in the economic transformation agenda include putting sustainability at the heart of Government policy, rather than out on the fringes, by rapidly increasing energy and water-use efficiency, reducing reliance on fossil fuels, and incentivising forest planting for erosion and flood control and improved water quality?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: All of those are important policy options, and I want to acknowledge the work the member is doing, particularly on energy efficiency and sustainability issues.
Dr Don Brash: Is the Prime Minister aware that average after-tax incomes in Australia are already 33 percent above average after-tax incomes in New Zealand, and that the gap will obviously get wider as Australia continues to grow more quickly than New Zealand and as Australian workers enjoy tax reductions; and will it take until Australian incomes are 50 percent above those in New Zealand before her Government does anything significant to narrow that gap?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I think we should credit the average Kiwi with some common sense. Kiwis will not be crossing the Tasman for $10 a week.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Does the Prime Minister recall a former Governor of the Reserve Bank supporting to the hilt the Rogernomics revolution in the late 1980s, whereas Australia went down the path of incremental change; and is it not a bit rich that he now seeks to pick the eyes out of the results in Australia, given that he was a big fan of what Rogernomics started in the first place?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I agree with the member that the Leader of the Opposition is highly selective in what he wants to borrow from Australia. If he wants to borrow the lot, I look forward to his announcement of a rise in tax rates any day now.
Dr Don Brash: Is the Prime Minister aware that New Zealanders, to whom she credits a great deal of common sense, left New Zealand at a rate of more than 600 per week over the last 12 months; and is it not true that as Australia continues to grow faster than New Zealand and as the Australian Government continues to cut taxes, that exodus will only increase?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: New Zealanders, to whom I credited a great deal of common sense, actually did put a Labour-led Government back in office and not the profligate National Party, which offered to throw away money and fuel inflation.
Telecommunications Changes—Business Reaction
3. SHANE JONES (Labour) to the Minister of Finance: Has he received any recent reports on business reaction to the proposed changes to telecommunications regulations announced last week?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Minister of Finance): I have seen numerous reports of the overwhelmingly positive response of business to the changes announced last week, including even a front page editorial from the National Business Review applauding the decision. About the only negative reaction I have seen is from the Business Roundtable, Federated Farmers—which is yet to read the fine print—and the members opposite, who, of course, opposed it before they supported it.
Shane Jones: Has he received any reports suggesting significantly different approaches to telecommunications?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I have seen a report describing the decision as bizarre and an act of political desperation that will send New Zealand into the technological backwaters. I have also seen a report indicating that legislation to implement the proposals warrants support, at least as far as a select committee. The difference between those two reports may have come as a result of reading emails from the business community, because both reports have, of course, come from the National Party.
Australian Budget—Tax Rates
4. JOHN KEY (National—Helensville) to the Minister of Finance: Will he be following the lead of the Australian Treasurer, Peter Costello, by raising income tax thresholds and/or cutting tax rates in his 2006 Budget; if not, why not?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Minister of Finance): I have no intention of raising the top two personal tax rates to 40 percent and 45 percent, plus a 1.5 percent Medicare levy as in Australia.
John Key: Is he aware that Australian tax thresholds have been raised and/or taxes lowered in Australia in 2003-04, again in 2004-05, again in 2005-06, again in 2006-07; and why is it that we in New Zealand have to wait 3 years to get the better part of 67c, which he is telling us we probably will not get anyway?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: It has already been announced that the Hon Peter Dunne and I are undertaking a review of business taxation where those matters will be dealt with. The Australian Government, of course, last night projected what it called an underlying cash surplus of about $10 billion. The National Party’s policy would have implied, in fact, substantial extra borrowing in order to pay for it.
Hon Mark Gosche: What recent reports has he seen on the tax burden on the average New Zealand worker?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: According to a recent report from the OECD, New Zealand has the third-lowest tax rate for the average worker. Australia had a higher tax burden on the average worker than New Zealand had.
John Key: Can he explain why tax cuts are affordable in Australia, when they will be running a future surplus of 1 percent of GDP, but apparently they are not affordable in New Zealand when we will be running a surplus of 2.2 percent of GDP, even after he has fully funded the New Zealand Superannuation Fund?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: That really does show the member’s ignorance of how Government accounts are calculated. The Australians report what they call an underlying cash surplus, which is on the core Crown activity in Australia. This Government will not be reporting a cash surplus at all for the next 4 years.
John Key: Has he seen Australian Labor leader Kim Beazley’s comments in support of the Australian tax cuts when he said: “You can’t keep failing to give when you’re running surpluses like they’ve been running. You can’t keep failing to give to middle Australia a tax cut.”; if so, why does he think that Labor leader Kim Beazley thinks tax cuts are affordable when their surplus is half what New Zealand’s surplus is—or does he just think that Peter Costello is being totally irresponsible in announcing tax cuts?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I tell the member again, he does not have the foggiest idea how Government accounts are calculated. The Australians report on a different financial basis—
Madam SPEAKER: Order. Members know that barracking is not permitted; interjections are. It is very difficult to hear the member’s answer.
Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. You might require the Minister to answer the question rather than starting with the provocative statement that he did. If we could ask a question by saying something about the Minister of Finance’s inability to understand his capacity to deliver tax cuts, that might be fair. But for him to respond that way will, unfortunately, just lead to the sort of response we get.
Madam SPEAKER: I say to the member that the Minister was getting to his answer and I did notice that some questions have been prefaced by superfluous comments, as well. So perhaps we could all stick to the rules in future.
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: The Australians report their Government finances on a different accounting basis from New Zealand. Their headline rate is what is called the underlying cash surplus. New Zealand’s underlying cash surplus on the Australian basis is already lower than Australia’s and will be negative for the next 4 years. Large tax cuts in New Zealand over that period can only be paid for either by slashing social spending—and every member opposite calls for increases—or by increased borrowing and rising debt levels. Mr Costello’s proudest boast last night was that he had paid off Government debt, and Australia had a net debt of zero. We achieved the same position in March this year. Thank God we did not have a National Government!
John Key: Has the Minister bothered to reflect on the fact that if an Australian worker earns $30,000 or $40,000 a year—not a lot—he or she will pay $1,500 a year less in tax, or $30 less a week, than the equivalent New Zealand worker earning exactly the same amount of money; if so, what is he going to do about that for the New Zealand worker?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: That same person in Australia also pays a 1.5 percent Medicare levy. That provision is not payable within New Zealand; here it is met out of general taxation. That same person will also pay a very large payment of stamp duties, if he or she buys a house. That person would also be subject to general capital gains tax and, indeed, subject to a range of taxes that are not payable within New Zealand. That person would also qualify for a State pension that is income and asset tested, which it is not in New Zealand.
John Key: Has the Minister bothered to calculate that if a New Zealand truck driver earns $45,000 a year, his tax will be $9,720, leaving him a take-home pay of $35,280 to live on, and that when he emigrates to Australia he is likely to earn $60,000 for the same job and have a take-home pay of $48,400; or does the Minister not consider that the $250 a week extra that the worker would get in Australia is material?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I am always amazed that any members opposite still live in this country. If they think Australia is so good, then for God’s sake let us benefit both countries and let them all go to Australia.
Peter Brown: Will the Minister confirm that wages went down in this country as a direct result of the Employment Contracts Act?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I can confirm there were serious cuts in both wages and conditions for many New Zealand workers, particularly in terms of conditions such as time and a half on overtime, which of course Mr Key never does—at least, not in respect of his work. Indeed, the largest gap between wages in New Zealand and Australia occurred during the period when the policies that Dr Brash and Mr Key are most keen on were being implemented.
John Key: When the Minister finally gets to read the rest of David Cunliffe’s Budget next week, will the cheering from his back bench be because the whips have told them to fall into line, or because they have worked out that under the Minister’s financial stewardship they have the privilege of paying $6,540 more in tax than if they had earned their $118,000 back-bench salary in Australia, and is that why the Prime Minister has signalled that next week’s Budget will almost certainly be his last, because she agrees with the back bench that they deserve a tax cut?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I can understand that somebody who is worth $50 million would have had to arrange his affairs to qualify for a Wellington accommodation allowance as a member of Parliament, and would regard an MP’s salary as somewhat miserable. I have to say that most Kiwis would be happy to earn $118,000—and I would be happy if almost anybody on that side actually earned their $118,000!
Hon Dr Nick Smith: I was amused to hear Winston Peters criticising the Employment Contracts Act, and I seek leave to table the third reading vote on the Employment Contracts Act, which Mr Peters voted for but of course that was when he was on this side of the House.
Madam SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection? There is objection.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. Dr Smith should pay attention. I have not asked any questions today, other than the one to do with question No. 2 to the Prime Minister. I did not ask any questions in respect of the last line of questions, so why is he accusing me of having done so?
Madam SPEAKER: That is not a point of order. The member is quite right, on a point of information.
Treaty of Waitangi—Historical Claims
5. DAVE HEREORA (Labour) to the Minister in Charge of Treaty of Waitangi Negotiations: What recent steps has the Government taken to further its commitment to settle all historical Treaty of Waitangi claims?
Hon MARK BURTON (Minister in charge of Treaty of Waitangi Negotiations): On Sunday I announced new funding of $5.2 million over the next 4 years. That will provide the Office of Treaty Settlements with the additional staff and resources to further progress Treaty settlements.
Dave Hereora: What other initiatives have been taken through the Treaty negotiations portfolio towards meeting the 20/20 deadline?
Hon MARK BURTON: The new funding builds on the momentum of the past 6 years by the Labour-led Government to settle historical Treaty claims in a fair and a timely manner. We have continued to improve the claims process—for example, through funding a claims development team that facilitates claimants going into negotiation. That is in addition to bolstering policy, legal and, in particular, front-line negotiation capacity. These improvements are reflected in the escalating pace of negotiations entered into and of course, most important, settlements reached.
Cabinet Documents—Telecom New Zealand Ltd
6. GERRY BROWNLEE (Deputy Leader—National) to the Prime Minister: Why has she not asked each of her Ministers for an assurance that neither they nor any members of their staff were responsible for last week’s leak of the confidential Budget-related Cabinet paper?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK (Prime Minister): Because I trust my colleagues, unlike the member, and because the State Services Commission inquiry is under way. I do note that it is the deputy leader of the National Party who is asking questions about leaks today.
Gerry Brownlee: Can the Prime Minister explain why, given that only her Cabinet Ministers and their closest advisers would have had access to the Cabinet paper, which had a commercially sensitive header on every page, she or her staff did not take the most obvious step and ask each of her Ministers whether they or their advisers were responsible?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: The member is wrong. The material referred to, I understand, went wider than Ministers’ offices.
Gerry Brownlee: Is her failure to ask Ministers the obvious question because she knows that the answer she might get is an answer she does not want to hear?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: Absolutely not, although I appreciate that is probably why Dr Brash has not asked Gerry Brownlee, a recipient of the email, whether he leaked it.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Has she contemplated the investigation being widened to other MPs and their leaks of sensitive information—such as this email, which talks about targeting tactics, the most effective ways to achieve political objectives, a boast of being involved in a US$2 million to $50 million campaign, formulating a specific plan, and consultancy and strategic advice—and would she consider widening the ambit of investigations to include an email from two Americans to Dr Brash and Peter Keenan of the National Party?
Madam SPEAKER: No, the Prime Minister has no responsibility for that matter.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. With respect, this question is to do with investigations of leaks of sensitive information. I am just asking the Prime Minister—in fairness—why she would stop with her own administration when others in this House are having similar problems in respect of such behaviour.
Madam SPEAKER: Because, obviously, there is no responsibility for that matter, which is why I have ruled accordingly.
Gerry Brownlee: Would the Prime Minister be interested in receiving the advice that the only American bagman involved in the 2005 election campaign was a gentleman by the name of John Edward Foote, who has admitted he has connections to American political systems and has admitted that he was in receipt of funds from the US—and who was, in fact, the campaign chairman for the New Zealand First Party?
Madam SPEAKER: No, the Prime Minister has no responsibility for that matter. [Interruption] Could we please have supplementary questions that are within the context of the Standing Orders.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Is the Prime Minister interested in widening the ambit of investigations to include the Parliamentary Service, which provisions the offices of MPs, to do with leaks such as this one, in which a senior businessman from this group has suggested: “We can best serve your campaign if Sam and his family consider living in New Zealand for a period of time.”, and further: “This would be a unique opportunity to see one of the most beautiful countries in the world and change it for the better.” Does she not think that that sounds perilously—[Interruption] There are five people there that should be sent out of the House.
Madam SPEAKER: Yes, I know. But the Prime Minister has no responsibility for the Parliamentary Service, so if the member would like to recast the question to bring it into context.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. The Prime Minister may not have responsibility for the Parliamentary Service, but she sure has responsibility for investigations, and she can determine the terms of reference as wide as she might wish, including the Security Intelligence Service. That is what makes her responsible in the manner in which I have asked that question.
Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. It is also my understanding that under theState Sector Act, I think, the Prime Minister does have the ability either to invite or direct the State Services Commissioner to inquire into matters that involve Crown entities, as well as departmental spending. Therefore, for those reasons, I think the question does come within her very broad responsibilities.
Madam SPEAKER: I thank the members for their assistance. It is certainly true that it would be within the jurisdiction of the Prime Minister to widen the terms of reference, but unless she does so, it is not the subject of a question. So when she does that, if she does it, it would come within the context of questions in the House.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Would the Prime Minister consider asking the person in this House in charge of the Parliamentary Service to conduct an investigation into leaks from MPs’ offices of the nature I have just outlined today, which suggest interference from abroad to change the country and positioning people in this country to run strategic advice for a certain political party—in this case, the one led by Don Brash?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: Yes, that could be considered, but I doubt the Opposition would want the inquiry widened because the leak seems to come from rather too close in.
Gerry Brownlee: Speaking of leaks coming from close in, have any members of the Cabinet or their staff had their access to Cabinet papers revoked or restricted since last week’s leak; if so, in which ministerial office are they located?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: Not to my knowledge.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Was the Prime Minister aware, when Gerry Brownlee asked that question regarding one John Foote, that Mr Foote is a New Zealand citizen—
Hon Member: Is he American?
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Well, he was born in America, yes.
Madam SPEAKER: The member was asking a question. There was a deliberate interjection from a member of the party that is always asking for impartiality. You are all on your last warning. Would Mr Peters please start his question again.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Was the Prime Minister aware, when Gerry Brownlee asked that question, that John Foote, like many members of this Parliament, was born overseas but is a New Zealand citizen and has been for years, that there is no truth whatsoever about any funding coming from anywhere internationally to New Zealand First, and that, in fact, Mr Brownlee was just making it up as he went along?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I am intrigued that yesterday Mr Peters was accused of being anti-American, yet today National has attacked him because someone born in the United States helped with his campaign. Those National members should make up their minds!
Gerry Brownlee: Has the Prime Minister asked the Hon David Cunliffe for an assurance that neither he nor any of his staff were responsible for the leak last week; if not, why not?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: As I have said, unlike members opposite, I trust my colleagues. I know that Mr Cunliffe would no sooner have leaked that paper than flown to the moon.
Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. That answer was an interesting one. It perhaps addressed the question, but the answer certainly was not in the public interest. Although we know that David Cunliffe is an ambitious man, certainly we accept that he himself would not have wanted to leak such a document. But we do want to know whether he has been asked about his understanding of his staff’s involvement.
Madam SPEAKER: As the member indicated, the Prime Minister did address the question. As members know, answers are not required to be “Yes” or “No”.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Does the Prime Minister intend to ask the Speaker of the House, who is in charge of the Parliamentary Service and, therefore, for MPs offices, to tighten up security within those offices to avoid the kinds of leaks that concern two emails—the subject of which are a party leader’s denials—one dated 6 July 2004, which is about to be tabled today, and the other dated 20 July 2004, which irrefutably demonstrate his total knowledge of what was going on?
Hon Dr Nick Smith: How is that in order, Madam Speaker?
Madam SPEAKER: It is in order.
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I will leave the issue of investigation to the Speaker’s judgment, but I am indeed intrigued by the inconsistency between these emails and what Dr Brash said before the election. It does not add up.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Now that the National Party is flying a white flag, I seek leave to table the following document. It is an email from Sam Van Voorhis and Kurt Anderson to Dr Brash and Peter Keenan, dated 6 July 2004.
Madam SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection? There is objection.
Treaty of Waitangi Claims—Funding Increase
7. Dr PITA SHARPLES (Co-Leader—Mâori Party) to the Minister in Charge of Treaty of Waitangi Negotiations: I runga i te âhua kua tohaina te rima miriona târa mô ngâ tau e whâ, ka taea e te Minita te kî mai e hia ngâ tono e pâ ana ki te Tiriti o Waitangi ka oti i runga ake i ngâ tono i whakaritea kia oti, mehemea kâre i tukuna e ia te rima miriona târa hei pûtea?
[Given the $5 million funding over a 4-year period, how many Treaty of Waitangi claims does the Minister believe will be completed, over and above those that would have been completed had the $5 million not been made available?]
Hon MARK BURTON (Minister in charge of Treaty of Waitangi Negotiations): The additional funding will primarily be directed at front-line negotiation and will boost that capacity by around 20 percent. This will meet the increase in demand from Mâori seeking to enter into negotiations that in the last financial year alone have seen five groups have mandates for negotiation recognised by the Crown. The nature of the negotiations means that the number of settlements reached depends on mutual agreements being reached between the parties.
Dr Pita Sharples: Nâ te aha i mârama te Minita ka tere ake te âhua tono ki te Taraipunara o Waitangi mçnâ ka tukua e ia he pûtea rima miriona târa mô ngâ tau e whâ?
[An interpretation in English was given to the House.]
[How did the Minister determine that all that was necessary to speed up the process of Treaty claims was the expenditure of $5 million over 4 years?]
Hon MARK BURTON: Certainly, that is not the case. This is simply the latest increase—in fact, it is the fourth in the term of this Labour-led Government—that has enhanced the research, legal, negotiation, and pre-negotiation capability of the Office of Treaty Settlements.
Gerry Brownlee: Does the Minister intend to recommend to the Attorney-General that a person’s holding the dual roles of Chief Judge of the Mâori Land Court and chairperson of the Waitangi Tribunal is incompatible with the tribunal’s goal of quickly reaching determinations that may assist with more speedy settlements?
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Stop stealing our policies.
Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I have just been accused of being a thief by one of the great political thieves of this nation. I am upset, and I want him to withdraw and apologise.
Madam SPEAKER: I did not hear what that member said, but if the member took offence would that member please withdraw and apologise.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I merely said to the member that he should stop stealing our policies. If one looks at the chronology of events, one can see that that is precisely what National did on that issue.
Madam SPEAKER: The member took offence, and the convention of this House is that all the member has to do is to withdraw and apologise.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I withdraw and apologise. I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. Something has emerged in this House of recent date, and that is that the National Party just cannot take it. Their members come down to this House, fling all sorts of insults—[Interruption] This is a point of order, and there they go again.
Madam SPEAKER: The problem for the member is that it is not a point of order; it is a statement or a debating point at this stage. We have handled that matter so I would like us to move on, if we can.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. My point of order, if I had been allowed to get to it, despite about 20—[Interruption]
Madam SPEAKER: Members will be leaving the Chamber!
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: My point of order was simply that if we are going to have—[Interruption]
Madam SPEAKER: I am sorry. Who interjected at that point?
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Mr Bennett did.
Madam SPEAKER: There has to be some order in this House. No one is admitting to it. The laughter obviously came from outside the Chamber. Would members please respect the rules.
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: My point of order is that if we are going to have points of order raised on the basis that Gerry Brownlee raised his—that he took offence at someone accusing him of stealing this policy—then this House will be so puce and antiseptic as not to be worth joining in the first place. That is probably a suggestion that the National Party would like us to follow but, for my part, I think that this is a most robust debating chamber, and that people should have a bit more gumption that that.
Hon Dr Michael Cullen: One of the most famous sayings in 19th century politics is about the leader of one party stealing clothing from the other party’s washing line, and that saying is in relation to policy matters. We really have got to the stage where we will be so un-robust in terms of our language that Parliament will be like a PC kindergarten—and I wonder when the spokesman on PC eradication opposite will intervene in this debate.
Madam SPEAKER: Members have had their say on this matter. As members know, I try to conduct a robust debate. But the truth is that if members take offence, then there is a convention and that will be judged accordingly. [Interruption] Does the member have another point of order?
Gerry Brownlee: I was just going to say that I probably did overreact.
Madam SPEAKER: The member has said it. Could we now have an answer to the question, please.
Hon MARK BURTON: For those who have forgotten the question, the member asked me about referring a matter to the Attorney-General. Unfortunately, the member asked me to make a reference on a matter for which I have no ministerial responsibility. I am responsible neither for the Waitangi Tribunal nor for the Mâori Land Court. But, to be helpful to the member, I tell him I understand that the matter is under consideration.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Is the Minister aware that the policy of removing the head of the Waitangi Tribunal or the head of the Mâori Land Court appeared on a political party’s website a full 3 years before the National Party decided to purloin it?
Hon MARK BURTON: As it happens, I am; indeed, I recall that the New Zealand First Party supported that policy some 3 years ago.
Hone Harawira: Kei te manawa pai te Minita ki ngâ âhua whakatatû tono ki te Taraipunara o Waitangi ahakoa he rahi ngâ tono âtete, ngâ whakawehewehe ngau i waenganui i ngâ hapû me ngâ iwi, i runga i te âhua tuku tono, â, mçnâ kei te manawa pai, he aha i pçrâ ai?
[An interpretation in English was given to the House.]
[Is the Minister satisfied with the process for settling Treaty claims, given the counterclaims and iwi-hapû divisions that have occurred as a result of the processes adopted; if he is satisfied, why is he?]
Hon MARK BURTON: I am satisfied, generally, that the process, which is a difficult and challenging one, is making progress and accelerating. I think that the challenges include cross-claim tensions, but I have been extraordinarily impressed by the way in which most hapû and iwi resolve those tensions and work towards settlement. We saw a really good example of that just last week in this House, when the majority of members supported the first reading of the Te Arawa Lakes Settlement Bill.
Hon Nanaia Mahuta: Can the Minister confirm that it is very difficult to settle Treaty claims when a group sits on the fence?
Hon MARK BURTON: Yes, I can, because in the end the settlement process requires constructive engagement. When we engage and seek to find solutions rather than to sit on the fence, then we make the progress that this Government has indeed been making over the last 6 years.
Ron Mark: Does the response of the Mâori Party disappoint the Minister; and does he believe that the refusal of that party to support the Te Arawa tribe in their Treaty settlement is likely to undermine the interests of the Te Arawa tribe?
Hone Harawira: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. The vote by the Mâori Party was not in opposition to the desires of the Te Arawa tribe; it was against the decisions of the Labour Party to deny them justice in their claim.
Madam SPEAKER: That is not a point of order; it is a point of explanation.
Hon MARK BURTON: Yes, I do. Frankly, the claim the member has attempted to make by way of a point of order belies the fact that that was a negotiation between two parties. To suggest that the kaumâtua of Te Arawa are not capable, and that they do not have the mandate and the mana to stand and negotiate a full and fair settlement on their own behalf, I think is to insult them.
Dr Pita Sharples: Ka taea e te Minita te whakamârama nâ runga i te aha i whakaritea kotahi piriona, toru rau miriona, te wâriu o ngâ tono ki te Taraipunara o Waitangi, â, he aha hoki koirâ tonu te rahi o te pûtea ahakoa he aha; mçnâ kâhore, he aha ai?
[An interpretation in English was given to the House.]
[Can the Minister describe the formula and rationale used to determine the value of the Treaty claims, and the rationale for continuing to compensate claims on the basis of a $1.3 billion fiscal cap; if not, why not?]
Hon MARK BURTON: I take the latter part of the question first—no, I cannot, because there is no such fiscal cap. To the first part of the question, I say that each claim is unique and individual, and is negotiated accordingly.
Dr Pita Sharples: I seek leave to ask an additional supplementary question.
Madam SPEAKER: Leave is sought to ask an additional supplementary question. Is there any objection? Yes, there is.
National Certificate of Educational Achievement—Consistency
8. Hon BILL ENGLISH (National—Clutha-Southland) to the Minister of Education: Would a student sitting an NCEA external examination in 2005 have had the same chance of passing a given standard as he or she would have had in 2004 in the 10 mainstream subjects analysed by Professor Warwick Elley; if not, why not?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY (Minister of Education): Yes. Because the National Certificate of Educational Achievement (NCEA) has standards that stay the same, students have the same chance of achieving them. However, when we have different students in different years attempting different questions, different numbers of students, of course, may well reach the standard. What we can achieve in national school exams are acceptable levels of consistency from one year to the next, and I am reassured that the processes of the New Zealand Qualifications Authority are delivering on this. In the case of the 10 subjects quoted by Professor Elley, I am advised that student results in the mainstream subject areas are very much in keeping with what the New Zealand Qualifications Authority expected.
Hon Bill English: Is the Minister aware that the New Zealand Qualifications Authority told the select committee that a fluctuation in pass rates from year to year of 7 to 10 percent would be acceptable, and does he endorse that position?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: By way of clarification, I point out that I think the New Zealand Qualifications Authority is referring to the fact that we can have variation in standards that is equivalent to a question within a subject, and, therefore, we can have quite substantial variation, like 7 to 10 percent. But when we take the overall range of standards that make up, say, a subject like biology, we get an acceptable variation.
Moana Mackey: What processes are in place to improve year to year consistency in exam results?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: NCEA is now in its third year of full implementation, and with every year we get additional information about student results. That additional information each year informs the interpretation of standards, the development of examination papers and marking guides, and the training and monitoring of markers. Through experience, as is the case, of course, with all exams, we build consistency, and confidence in the NCEA.
Hon Bill English: How can the Minister say that NCEA in 2005 was fair to the 100,000 students who sat the 10 mainstream subjects analysed by Professor Elley, when that analysis showed that 35 percent of those standards—in fact, over 35 percent—fell outside the acceptable limit of 10 percent variation set by the New Zealand Qualifications Authority?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: Any exam system produces some variability because students sit different examinations. In the interests of fairness the level of variability must be contained, so that the same level of student performance is consistently awarded the same level of recognition. The New Zealand Qualifications Authority has publicly acknowledged that there are issues with a small number of standards and an even smaller number of subjects, and it is committed to working constructively to fix them. The problem with the member’s question is that he looks for examples of variability within particular standards that, as I said before, is the equivalent of one question in an exam, then implies there is something wrong with the whole subject or the whole system. The variability is coming from those particular questions. When we look across the whole of a subject, we get a variation that is seen as acceptable.
Hon Bill English: Can the Minister not see that it is the students’ point of view that matters, not his national statistics, and that the students who sat geography this year, then found out that 1,000 more of them had failed—out of 5,000—than would have been the case if they had sat the exam last year, might think it is unfair that whether they succeed depends on sitting the right exam in the right year, because his system will not deliver consistent assessment?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: One of the real strengths of the New Zealand Qualifications Authority’s NCEA system is that students not only have a system that is committed to being fair and consistent but also get their papers back. This is something that I think is unique compared with any other system in the world. So the students who are at the centre of this system—
Hon Bill English: Answer the question.
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: —as the member who is yelling out knows—are able, if they disagree with what has happened, to make sure that paper is looked at again.
Hon Bill English: How is NCEA fair to students when 35 percent of the standards, sat by 100,000 students, did not meet the New Zealand Qualifications Authority’s own benchmarks of consistency and fairness?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: I will try again. The point the member is raising is addressed by the New Zealand Qualifications Authority in its reply to Warwick Elley, where it points out that the problem with the question he is raising is that he is focusing on, essentially, a question within a subject—like an exam question. There may be variability on that particular question, but, overall, the variability is something that the authority is able to say is fair and consistent.
Hon Bill English: You don’t care about students.
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: Mr English may not like the answer, but it is the answer.
Hon Bill English: When will the Minister answer the question that is relevant to individual students—or is he not aware that students get results for the individual exams they sit—which is that if they fail the geography, geometry, accounting, or economics exam that they sit, when they would have passed it had they sat it in the previous year, then that is unfair, and that the New Zealand Qualifications Authority produced a benchmark that showed that 35 percent of its mainstream exams were not fair and consistent with last year’s?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: As I pointed out before, the member may not like the answer, but the answer is that he is looking at individual questions, for example, within a subject. The variation across that subject is acceptable. The students themselves are empowered to have this looked at, by the unique fact that they get back the exam script.
9. METIRIA TUREI (Green) to the Minister of Education: What initiatives is the Government implementing to support environmental education in light of the Labour-led Government - Green Party co-operation agreement?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY (Minister of Education): I am pleased to support today’s announcement by the Green Party of $13 million over a 4-year period for environmental educational support for teachers and schoolchildren. The funding, which will increase progressively over the next 4 years, will be used in the following three areas: $7.4 million will build and support the national coordination of the existing education for sustainability programme; $4.6 million will go to the Enviroschools Foundation to support its programmes; and $800,000 will go to resources and coordination for total immersion and kaupapa Mâori schools. Finally, I would like to thank the Greens for the way we are able to work our way through this Budget and for their strong advocacy of environmental education.
Metiria Turei: What reports has the Minister received about this most excellent initiative?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: As the member will know, we have had responses from all around the education system and outside it to say what a good policy this is. The Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment, Dr Morgan Williams, said that this is a significant funding increase and that he is delighted to see education for sustainability recognised. The World Wide Fund for Nature has also welcomed the investment, saying that this funding will give much-needed resources for environmental education for schools. I see that Irene Cooper, the national president of the New Zealand Educational Institute, has said that funding environmental education represents a sound investment in the future.
Steve Chadwick: How does this initiative build on existing environmental education programmes put in place by this Labour-led Government?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: This initiative does build on the already existing excellent policies of the Labour-led Government—initiatives in schools that have seen a doubling in the number of people employed to coordinate initiatives at a regional and national level, and enabling key programmes like Enviroschools now to be offered to 450 more schools. All of that builds on work around sustainable organic school gardens, the Sir Peter Blake Environmental Educator Award, support for learning experiences outside the classroom, and electronic resources and links on the Ministry of Education’s online learning centre.
Metiria Turei: Does the Minister agree that comprehensive environmental education from early childhood to tertiary will leave today’s children in a much better position to deal with the very serious issues of climate change, scarce oil resources, and environmental degradation, which sadly are our legacy and the legacy of previous generations?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: Yes, I do.
PlunketLine—Quality of Service
10. Hon TONY RYALL (National—Bay of Plenty) to the Prime Minister: Does she stand by her statement, “What I’m satisfied by is that PlunketLine, in terms of calls picked up, was not providing a good service”; if so, why?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK (Prime Minister): Yes. As I told the member last week, the rate of calls not picked up by Plunket was high, at 87.3 percent in the year ended December 2005. Plunket is not on track to answer the number of calls specified in its subcontract with McKesson.
Hon Tony Ryall: Why should the public believe a single word this Prime Minister says, when the Ministry of Health’s Dr Pat Tuohy has publicly stated that PlunketLine did not lose its contract because of the unanswered call rate; what is the real reason that her Government has abandoned PlunketLine?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I am sure the Minister of Health would be quite happy to give the member a briefing on the very thorough process that was followed to evaluate the PlunketLine contract. I understand that one of the critical issues is that the technology and processes that Plunket tendered on the basis of were not considered to be up to scratch.
Hon Tony Ryall: Why should New Zealanders believe a single word this Prime Minister says about PlunketLine; who is right: the highly respected iconic Plunket service, which has been caring for New Zealand kids for 100 years and which refutes the Prime Minister’s claim that PlunketLine was offered additional funding, or the Prime Minister, who in the previous answer has just changed her story yet again?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: The iconic service referred to, which was not supported by National when it was in Government, has indeed said that it was offered more money but that it did not like the conditions. Perhaps the member would like to know what the conditions were. They were conditions like PlunketLine being asked to add a recorded message along the lines of: “All our nurses are busy at present. Please hold the line if you would like to speak to a Plunket nurse, or press now if your child is unwell and you would like to speak to a Healthline nurse.” That would have meant that PlunketLine nurses would be in a better position to answer the volume of Well Child calls, as per their speciality and the service agreement.
Hon Tony Ryall: Is the Prime Minister the same Helen Clark who pledged: “Getting a good start [in life] is crucial to later success. My government will expand early intervention programmes. The first step will be to fund the Plunket Line service on a 24 hour a day, seven days a week basis.”, or is there a different Helen Clark who said that?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: Yes, and we did fund a Well Child service 24 hours a day, and we will continue to fund a Well Child service 24 hours a day—something that would not be possible if the National Party was trying to fund $11 billion of tax cuts.
Hon Tony Ryall: Is she the same Helen Clark who said this is “a symptom of the crisis in health in this country. What could be more dreadful than to see the most basic service in this country, well-child health-care, abandoned by a Government that cares more about competition amongst services than continuity of quality Plunket services in our community?”
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I hardly see the funding of Plunket to the tune of about $34 million a year from the Government as abandoning anything. Our Government, unlike the National Party, is committed to funding a 24-hour Well Child service, and we will do so.
Jo Goodhew: Can the Prime Minister remember making this scathing statement about Jenny Shipley: “We have a Prime Minister who claims to be passionate about making life better for mothers and families but stands by while the Plunket telephone line collapses.”; and does she not realise the irony that those words now describe her?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: Mrs Shipley and the National Party were not prepared to fund a 24-hour Well Child health service. The National Party now says that irrespective of the quality of the service, money should be spent on Plunket’s specific one rather than funding one that can do the job.
Hon Tony Ryall: I seek leave to table two documents. One is a press release from the Royal New Zealand Plunket Society, stating: “Plunket refutes offer of funding for PlunketLine”.
Madam SPEAKER: Leave is sought. Is there any objection? There is objection.
Hon Tony Ryall: The second is a document that shows that Plunket has cancelled the launch of its centenary celebrations, at which the Prime Minister was to have been the guest speaker next week.
Madam SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection? There is objection.
Work and Income—Services
11. GEORGINA BEYER (Labour) to the Minister for Social Development and Employment: What steps has the Government taken to ensure that Work and Income services are meeting the needs of New Zealanders?
Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE (Minister for Social Development and Employment): As a result of a 72 percent drop in the number of people receiving the unemployment benefit under Labour—from 161,000 in 1999 to 44,500 now—this Government is rolling out a new service approach throughout the country. It is reshaping services to provide comprehensive employment help to all Work and Income clients regardless of their benefit type. As a Government, we are committed to a modern, responsive social support system that actively encourages into work those people who are able to work, while ensuring that those who cannot work receive appropriate financial and social support.
Georgina Beyer: What further work is the Government undertaking in this area?
Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: The Government is currently working on reforming the social support system to replace the seven main benefits with a simplified benefit system. The purpose of these changes is to ensure that we have a modern, responsive system focused on what people can do, not what benefit type they are on, so that our benefit system is aligned to our work-focused new service approach.
12. SIMON POWER (National—Rangitikei) to the Minister of Police: Does she stand by her statement to the House on 8 December 2005 that “we will recruit another 1,000 sworn front-line police”, and does she mean that there will be 1,000 more sworn police on the streets by the end of this term on top of the current 7,657 sworn front-line officers?
Hon ANNETTE KING (Minister of Police): I stand by my statement. In line with our supply and confidence agreement with New Zealand First, this Government is committed to providing all the resources needed, over the next three Budgets, to recruit an extra 1,000 front-line staff, 250 non-sworn staff, and all the infrastructure to support these extra 1,250 police. The training schedule at the Royal New Zealand Police College has been drawn up to cater for all these extra recruits, as well as to have the normal recruiting and training programmes to cope with attrition.
Simon Power: Is it not true that the Government will not reach its target, when in the year to 30 April the police have lost 379 staff—with a 22 percent increase in resignations and a near doubling in the number of retirees—meaning a net increase of only 130 more staff than at this time last year?
Hon ANNETTE KING: No, to the first part of the question. I believe we will be able to recruit those numbers. When the member speaks of attrition, I tell him that the current attrition rate in the police is around 4.9 percent. Let me remind the member that when National was in Government in the 1990s the rate of attrition was 6.7 percent. Of course, the then Government did not have voluntary attrition; it was planning compulsory attrition because it intended to get rid of 500 police, as seen in its Martin report. That is how National treated the police when it was last in Government.
Keith Locke: Will the training for the new police recruits be revamped so that recruits do not, in any way, think it is OK to pepper-spray arrested people who are either handcuffed or otherwise restrained, as was the case with Scott MacDonald in Auckland last Thursday, and with Simon Oosterman on an anti-GE protest in Rotorua last year?
Hon ANNETTE KING: I am aware that the police are constantly looking at their training methods, protocols and policies. I am also aware that the commissioner is very interested in the current protocols for the use of pepper spray, and is already looking at them.
Simon Power: How can the Minister be sure the Government will reach its target when at the current rate of attrition of 4.9 percent, the 438 recruits that will be trained between now and October will yield a net gain of only 42 sworn officers, once resignations and retirements are taken into account?
Hon ANNETTE KING: I can be reassured by the police because they have informed me that their active recruiting campaign starts in July. They have not actually started an active recruiting campaign. Leaving that point to one side, I can tell the member that out of his own region the police have managed to recruit 50 people, and that was without that member’s help. Maybe if he did a bit more, they could have a few more.
Simon Power: Is it not true that the Police Association estimated that 2,500 recruits would be needed to be trained in order to meet the target of 1,000 new sworn police by the end of this term?
Hon ANNETTE KING: I know that the Police Association has accepted that all efforts will be made to recruit 1,000 extra police. In terms of the additional numbers we will need to train, that will depend on the rate of attrition. I am very pleased it is nowhere near the rate it was under the National Government. I have a lot of confidence in the ability of the police to get out and recruit. I know the member would like the recruitment campaign to fail but I think most New Zealanders want it to succeed.
Simon Power: How can she be sure that the Government will reach its target, when the average number of inquiries to the 0800 NEWCOPS line has declined by 22 percent since 2003, and when the number of applicants accepting a place at the police college has declined by 20 percent since 2002?
Hon ANNETTE KING: The member likes to quote figures from the 0800 NEWCOPS line. In 2003 there were 7,707 inquiries. The number dropped to 5,442, then went up to 6,630—and that was before we even started a recruitment campaign. The fact is that one does not have to ring 0800 NEWCOPS in order to be recruited; the police can recruit in many different ways. I am going to put my faith in the police’s ability to be able to recruit, not in that member’s wanting them to fail and going around New Zealand saying: “They’re not going to make it. They’re not going to be able to do it.” I believe that the police have a will to do it, and this Government certainly has.
Simon Power: Can she confirm that 51 out of the 76 UK police officers recruited in 2003 are still employed—an attrition rate of one-third—if so, how many of the 100 UK police officers being trained this year does she expect will remain in the force by 2008, given that she has confirmed in responses to written questions that those officers are not required to undergo a minimum period of service?
Hon ANNETTE KING: Yes, I can confirm the figures he has just given the House in terms of the number of UK police who are still in New Zealand. I can confirm the number who have left New Zealand and returned home or gone into other jobs. That is their right. And I can say we have 51 UK police in New Zealand—who have many years of experience—working hard on behalf of New Zealanders, and we can be pleased about that. We have 96 UK police officers in training now, and I hope many of them stay. But I also know that this is a democracy and they will have the right to leave if they want to.
Ron Mark: Just how good is it for the Minister to start off in this new role with all the resources allocated to her portfolio, courtesy of such a brilliant supply and confidence agreement—[Interruption]
Madam SPEAKER: Would the member just ask his question, and he is to ask it in silence, please.
Ron Mark: Just how good is it for the Minister to start off in this role as Minister of Police with such a supply and confidence agreement behind her—that gives her the resources to recruit not only 1,000 extra uniformed police but another 250 non-sworn police, complete with all the staffing, equipment, and resources they need to use in order to make New Zealand a safer place—and why would anyone in the Opposition want to continue to run down and demean such a brilliant position and policy for this country?
Hon ANNETTE KING: I have to say that it is about as good as it can get, and I cannot imagine why those whingeing, snivelling National Opposition members would want to go around trying to bag a really good policy. I suppose one could say it is a bit of green-eyed jealousy because they never got to do it.