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Questions And Answers - Wednesday, 17 May 2006

Questions And Answers - Wednesday, 17 May 2006

Questions to Ministers

Economy—OECD Rating

1. Dr DON BRASH (Leader of the Opposition) to the Prime Minister: Is it still the goal of her Government to have New Zealand “return to the top half of the OECD ratings by 2011”; if so, will tomorrow’s Budget ensure that New Zealand achieves that goal?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK (Prime Minister): That statement was first raised by the previous Leader of the Opposition more than 3 years ago, at which point it was made clear that that target date was not Government policy. If Dr Brash is going to keep asking Bill English’s questions, perhaps he should move aside and give Bill English the job.

Dr Don Brash: Has the Prime Minister forgotten that she made that commitment in the Speech from the Throne in 1999?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I am certainly not aware that a 10-year date was set in the Speech from the Throne in 1999. Given that the member is so interested in the OECD, perhaps he should accept what the OECD actually said, which is that for New Zealand, increases in real GDP per person have outpaced the OECD 10-year moving average since 2000.

Dr Don Brash: Is the Prime Minister aware that the Australian, American, and Canadian economies are all forecast to grow at over 3 percent annually for the foreseeable future; and can she tell the House, with any confidence at all, that New Zealand’s economy will grow as fast as any one of those economies as a result of tomorrow’s Budget?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: It is fair to point out the New Zealand economy has been growing faster than all of those economies while Labour has been in Government.

Dr Don Brash: Can the Prime Minister confirm that, having promised that only 5 percent of New Zealanders would pay the top rate of personal tax when that was increased in 2000, 11 percent of taxpayers and 20 percent of full-time earners are now paying the top rate of 39 cents in the dollar; and can she tell the House how poor incentives like that will help New Zealand to claw its way back into the top half of developed nations?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: The incentives cannot be too poor; 300,000 more Kiwis are in jobs today than there were under a National Government 6 years ago.

Hon Dr Michael Cullen: Can the Prime Minister confirm that the incentives for extra effort are so great that at least 4 members of the Opposition front bench are trying to increase their income by becoming the Leader of the Opposition?

Madam SPEAKER: That is not a question that the Prime Minister is responsible for answering.

Dr Don Brash: Can the Prime Minister confirm that skilled New Zealanders earning less than 1½ times the average wage are taxed at the highest personal tax rate, and can she tell the House why, if those New Zealanders are so rich, they qualify for welfare payments under her Government?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: My understanding is that the family tax relief offered by the Labour Government is entirely in line with the kind of targeted family tax relief offered in many other Western countries.

Peter Brown: Does the Prime Minister accept that to have a successful economy we need to minimise unemployment, maximise productivity, pay reasonable wages, and develop first-class infrastructure in areas such as roading and transport, and, further, does she accept that that is the exact reverse of what National achieved when it was last in Government?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I entirely agree with the member, because I have a very clear recollection of the Employment Contracts Act and what it did to workers’ wages in New Zealand, making us lag well behind Australian wages.

Dr Don Brash: Can the Prime Minister confirm that average after-tax Australian incomes were 20 percent higher than those in New Zealand in 1999 and are now 33 percent higher than those in New Zealand, and that the Australian economy will grow at more than 3 percent this year while the New Zealand economy has stalled; and will she explain to the House how, on those trends, New Zealand after-tax incomes will ever again equal those in Australia?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I can confirm that after years of growing more slowly than New Zealand, Australia may have a better year than we have this year. I can also confirm that 9 years of the Employment Contracts Act kicked the struts out from under Kiwi wages. That was accomplished by Don Brash and friends.

Hon Jim Anderton: Can the Prime Minister—[Interruption]

Madam SPEAKER: Will the member please be seated. Members know that when members are on their feet to ask a question, they are heard in silence. If there is another interruption, members will leave the Chamber.

Hon Jim Anderton: Has the Prime Minister seen any reports that indicate that for the 30 years from 1970 to 2000, mainly under National Governments, New Zealand underperformed against the Australian economy to the extent of 30 percent per capita GDP in that time, and that since the year 2000 New Zealand has outperformed Australia in GDP per capita in those last 6 years?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I can certainly confirm the trend—that under a Labour Government in recent years the performance has outranked Australia’s—and I further note that National, having lurched from Muldoonism to “Ruthanasia”, never found an answer for New Zealand.

Police Numbers—Confidence and Supply Agreement, New Zealand First

2. MARTIN GALLAGHER (Labour—Hamilton West) to the Minister of Police: What steps has the Government announced which implement the confidence and supply agreement with New Zealand First in respect of police numbers?

Hon ANNETTE KING (Minister of Police): This Government has committed around $387 million in operating costs and $114 million in capital costs over the next three Budgets to enable the New Zealand Police to recruit and train an additional 1,000 front-line sworn police officers and 250 non-sworn police staff, as negotiated with New Zealand First in the confidence and supply agreement. This funding was announced yesterday in Whangarei, Wellsford, and Wiri police stations and will allow the New Zealand Police to intensify the current recruiting programme and training schedule.

Martin Gallagher: Does she stand by her statement yesterday that she does not underestimate the difficulties in recruiting extra police; if not, why not?

Hon ANNETTE KING: Yes, I stand by that statement. I have been saying publicly for about 6 months that the recruitment and training of 1,000 extra front-line sworn police and 250 non-sworn staff, which will be funded by this Government, is a challenge, but it is one that the New Zealand Police and the New Zealand Government is prepared to rise to.

Madam SPEAKER: It is very difficult to hear answers to questions, so would members please just lower their contributions.

Simon Power: How does she reconcile the fact that 50 of the 406 new recruits will be assigned to traffic patrol with the commitment to New Zealand First to consider separating traffic duties from police; and how did Ron Mark react when she told him, given his statement before the election: “Our communities are not safe, our children are not safe. And all for what? We’re chasing bloody traffic tickets.”?

Hon ANNETTE KING: In relation to the second part of the member’s question, a review of the separation of the police from traffic duties is being undertaken by the State Services Commission, in line with our agreement with the New Zealand First Party. In relation to the first part of the question, 50 of the 1,000 police are going into road policing duties and that is because we know that crooks also drive. The police are likely to pick up crooks on the road when they stop them—drunk crooks—and they are likely to pick up those who have stolen goods and weapons in their cars. So we believe that it is good policing to also have some police out on the roads.

Ron Mark: Can the Minister confirm to the House that the good news does not stop just with the introduction of 1,250 extra police staff, that under the supply and confidence agreement with the Labour Government, New Zealand First has secured a commitment towards achieving ratios in police per capita in New Zealand equivalent to that of Australia by 2010, and that the only thing that might interdict that might be the election into Government of a party whose only track record is to cut police numbers? [Interruption]

Madam SPEAKER: It is not for members to comment on others’ questions when they are in fact asking the question. Everyone is on their final warning. Would the member like to repeat his question, please.

Ron Mark: Would the Minister like to confirm to the House that the good news does not stop just with the introduction into service of 1,250 extra police staff, that under the terms of the supply and confidence agreement with the Labour Government New Zealand First has secured a commitment to achieving ratios comparable—that is, officers per citizen—with those of Australia by 2010, and that the only risk we can see to that occurring might be the election of a Government whose only track record in police numbers is that of cutting numbers?

Hon ANNETTE KING: Yes, and yes.

Telecom New Zealand Ltd—Communications, Minister’s Statement on Dividends

3. JOHN KEY (National—Helensville) to the Minister of Communications: Does he stand by his statement that Telecom shareholders “need to accept that in the short run there may be somewhat lower dividend flows or lower returns”; if not, why not?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE (Minister of Communications): As I said in the article referred to, and have clarified since, Telecom’s dividends policy is a matter for the Telecom board. The issue has been referred to the Securities Commission, and it is therefore not appropriate for me to comment further at this time.

John Key: Does he acknowledge that as Minister of Communications he is the Minister with the most inside information about the future of Telecom, including whether it will be forced by the Government to be physically separated at some stage in the future; if so, does he consider comments about its future dividends policy to be the actions of a responsible Minister?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: As I have said, the matter has been referred to the Securities Commission, and should the commission ask it, I will cooperate fully with it on this matter.

John Key: Is he aware that his comments being posted on the Bloomberg News wire at 12.30 yesterday immediately led to 75 million trades in Telecom stock yesterday afternoon, which was a massive increase in the volume of trade normally experienced with this stock; if so, does he consider that all participants in the New Zealand sharemarket have been fairly and equally treated by the dissemination of this information?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: I refer the member to my clarifying statement issued this morning, and I repeat that the matter has been referred to the Securities Commission, and if asked I will cooperate fully with it.

Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I think it was Dr Smith who just indicated that you had goofed. He has been around for a few years now, and he knows that he should not address that sort of comment to you.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: Madam Speaker, may I make it absolutely plain to the House that the goofing remark referred to David Cunliffe and not you as Speaker.

Madam SPEAKER: If the comment was directed not at the Speaker but at another member, and if it was not made when a question was being asked, it was perfectly in order. However, I would just warn members that implications about the Chair are to be taken very seriously in the future, as I have now counted up the number of statements that have been made as asides.

John Key: Is he aware that Bloomberg News is a wholesale news service, and is not accessed by retail investors, and that he was making his comments to a wholesale news service and not to the entire market; that the bulk of the $200 million lost by investors yesterday afternoon was borne by retail investors—namely, Kiwi mums and dads—and does he consider it fair that Kiwi mums and dads lost $200 million yesterday on the back of his statements?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: As I have previously answered, the matter has been referred to the Securities Commission, and I will cooperate fully with it.

John Key: What impact does he think it has on the professional image of the New Zealand Exchange and on the confidence that investors have in our stock market when a Minister with not only a vested interest but also inside information makes, at best, a grossly irresponsible and inappropriate comment that sees one group of shareholders—namely, Kiwi mums and dads—savaged by another group?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: The member’s question contained a number of presuppositions that are by no means established. The matter has been referred to the Securities Commission, and I will cooperate fully with it.

John Key: What was the purpose of his comments about Telecom’s dividend policy if it was not to send a signal to the company, when the Cabinet papers specifically state that the future separation of the company rests on the Government’s assessment of “Telecom’s cooperation in meeting the Government’s broadband objectives”?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: Telecom’s dividend policy is, as I have said, a matter for the Telecom board to decide. The matter has been referred to the Securities Commission.

John Key: Is he aware that the New Zealand Exchange has formally passed the matter to the Securities Commission for investigation, and if, as a result of that investigation, he is found to have breached the law, will he follow the lead of his bench mate, David Parker, and resign his warrants; if not, why not?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: I think it can be taken from my previous answers that I was aware of that referral.

Rodney Hide: What sort of signal does it send to investors—[Interruption]

Madam SPEAKER: The member will be heard in silence.

Rodney Hide: Thank you, Madam Speaker—they are excited to see me. What sort of signal does it send to investors, both here and around the world, when the Government pinches private property from Telecom, the Prime Minister hints that the company will be broken in two, and the Minister of Communications directs that the company’s dividend be reduced?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: However gratifying it is to have the member back in the House, I suggest that he checks his facts first.

Madam SPEAKER: There is no need for that comment. Would the Minister please address the question.

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: The assumptions in the member’s question are the subject of possible action by the Securities Commission, with which I will cooperate fully.

Rodney Hide: In his first attempt at an answer the Minister said my facts were wrong; which facts were wrong?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: As I have said, the matter is the subject of discussion with the Securities Commission, and I will cooperate fully with it.

School Attendance—Policy

4. MOANA MACKEY (Labour) to the Minister of Education: What is the Government doing to ensure that students stay at school?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY (Minister of Education): The Government is committed to the goal of all students staying at school until they are 16 years of age and they gain a qualification. The programmes that work towards this goal include $20 million a year to fund 18,020 student places in alternative education, 14 activity centres and 16 team parenting units, 782 specialist behaviour teachers and 109 specialist literacy teachers working nationwide, $8.5 million over 3 years to fund the Student Engagement Initiative, and the recently announced—just prior to this coming Budget—$9.5 million to help schools with disruptive students.

Moana Mackey: How has the Student Engagement Initiative encouraged students to stay at school until 16 and attain qualifications so that they are ready to enter the workforce or go on to further study?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: I am pleased to announce that results show that the Student Engagement Initiative is encouraging students to stay at school and to stay engaged with learning. The results show, for example, that truancy rates decreased in 11 out of 15 target regions, early leaving exemption rates have decreased in targeted schools from 541 in 2002 to 350 in 2004, suspension rates have dropped by 30 percent between 2000 and 2005, and suspension for drug offences has decreased by 15 percent. Those excellent programmes mean that young New Zealanders are staying at school, gaining qualifications, and benefiting from the amazingly successful economy that this Government is creating.

Judy Turner: What reassurances can the Minister give that New Zealand will meet the needs of new international secondary students, in light of recent Chinese media reports of neglect of international students in New Zealand and the associated drop in Chinese student numbers, and what steps will the Government take to ensure that New Zealand schools insist upon adequate support and age-appropriate supervision for all international students?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: As the member will know, one of the initiatives taken by the Government has been to ensure that all providers of international education sign up to a pastoral care code. Unfortunately, one of the problems we face is that there are people who run programmes outside registration and accreditation in this country, and I think that that is one of the issues we do need to get on top of.

Prime Minister and Cabinet, Department—Document Handling

5. GERRY BROWNLEE (Deputy Leader—National) to the Prime Minister: Is she satisfied with arrangements for the handling of sensitive Government documents by the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet; if not, why not?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK (Prime Minister): The systems in place for document handling have been in place for many years. I expect the system to be reviewed in the wake of this report, but I also accept that the best system will not thwart blatant dishonesty.

Gerry Brownlee: Does the Prime Minister think it is acceptable for commercially sensitive documents to be left lying around an office, and would she agree that if anyone was looking for a document worth pinching, the best place to look may be the basket labelled “For confidential shredding.”?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: Clearly, documents are not left just lying around; they are put in a tray for shredding, and they are removed for shredding by a person with the clearance to do so.

Gerry Brownlee: Can the Prime Minister explain to the House why a Cabinet paper that was so commercially sensitive that every copy was numbered and delivered in sealed envelopes was then tossed into a basket and was able to be read by anyone who walked into the office?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I am advised that the processes followed are those that have been followed in the department for many years. Those processes are now being reviewed.

Gerry Brownlee: Is it common practice for Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet messengers to view the agenda for Cabinet committee meetings?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: Again, I am advised that this man, who had the appropriate clearance, was the person responsible for distributing the Cabinet committee agendas.

Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. That was not an answer to the question. We know what this man did. The question is whether it is common practice for people distributing agendas to have access to read them.

Madam SPEAKER: I think the Prime Minister did address the question, but if she wanted to add any more she could. I think it was addressed. [Interruption] It was addressed. I was thinking about the question and the answer that was given. As members know, they cannot require a specific answer to their question. That is the point, really. If members want to change those rules, I would more than welcome an item being brought before the Standing Orders Committee to do so.

Rodney Hide: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I am happy with the rules. I am concerned about the fact that it is for you to adjudicate them, not to check with the Prime Minister whether the answer to the question was in order. It is for you to decide, Madam Speaker, and you alone.

Madam SPEAKER: Yes, and, in fact, I did make the ruling, Mr Hide. I do not need you to make a comment on my ruling.

Gerry Brownlee: Has the Prime Minister seen the terms of references for the Securities Commission investigation into the leak, in particular its intention to consider if any Government and/or State sector policies and procedures for handling non-public, market sensitive information related to securities were appropriate and properly applied in this case, and will she assure the House that the Securities Commission investigations will have unimpeded access to the offices of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet and any other Government or ministerial office they may wish to make inquiries of?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: No, I have not seen those terms of reference, but just as the Securities Commission is very anxious to see good process, so are we. I am sure that all relevant departments will work very closely with the commission.

Gerry Brownlee: I seek leave to table the terms of reference for the Securities Commission investigation into the leak in which the commission makes it clear it wants to investigate the activities in the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet and, it would appear, other ministries.

Leave granted.

Keith Locke: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. It is usual for Ministers to table documents they refer to. Given that the leaked Cabinet paper is well known to Telecom, to Mike Ryan, the Onslow Tarbabies cycle club, and who knows who else, will the Prime Minister put MPs in the loop, unbundle the Cabinet paper, and table it in the House today?

Madam SPEAKER: No, that is not a point of order; that is a supplementary question, and if the member had wished to ask a supplementary question, he was perfectly entitled to do so. [Interruption] That member may wish to leave the Chamber if he makes one more comment like that. That is not Mr Brownlee; it is his colleague at the back.

Gerry Brownlee: I seek leave to table the Cabinet paper in question, so that Mr Locke can catch up with the rest of us.

Leave granted.

Rail Services, Auckland—Finance, Minister's Statement

6. JEANETTE FITZSIMONS (Co-Leader—Green) to the Minister of Finance: Does he stand by his reported statement to the Auckland mayors that “rail will never work”?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Minister of Finance): No, because I have never said that. As I said yesterday, that would be a strange thing to say, coming from a Minister who ensured that the Auckland rail line was bought for Auckland, who is the shareholding Minister in ONTRACK, and who, not to mention this, spent 18 years as the member of Parliament for the electorate representing those working at the Hillside railway workshops.

Jeanette Fitzsimons: Is the Minister aware, then, that Auckland trains have double the capacity they had a year ago and are still completely full at peak times, and that there has been a 33 percent increase in rail patronage in Auckland in just 1 year, despite a fare increase; and is he supportive, then, of those Aucklanders who are filling up our trains in order to save money, time, or the environment, or does he think they will soon be back on the road and sitting in traffic jams?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I am totally supportive of them. That is why the Government is subsidising the operating costs of Auckland rail to the tune of $26 million in this particular year, and why it has approved the double tracking of the western line, despite the fact that the cost-benefit ratio at the time the decision was taken was only about one to one, which is well below the cost-benefit ratio for roading projects that get approved.

Jeanette Fitzsimons: Does the Minister accept Transit’s own figures that show that congestion in Auckland will be worse in 10 years even if billions of dollars are spent on motorways that fewer and fewer people can afford to use; and if he did not say that rail will not work, then what exactly did he say about rail to the Auckland mayors that had them become so upset?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: From what I hear of the feedback, a number of the Auckland mayors were not in the least upset by what I said at that meeting.

Peter Brown: Does the Minister accept that rail alone will not solve the mass transportation of passengers, that there has to be an alternative, and that we have to have roads, buses, cars, and taxis?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Maybe the member should have left that last bit out. I think it is fair to say that the bulk of public transport in Auckland will be provided by the bus services. I have suggested frequently to Aucklanders that the best slogan they can have, in terms of public transport, is “buses need roads, too”.

Keith Locke: Is the Minister aware that in Perth, a city with the same sort of population density as Auckland, rail patronage has increased from 7 million journeys annually in 1990 to around 40 million journeys today, through electrification and other improvements; and does he think that the people and planners of Perth are wrong?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: No. Perth, of course, is a very different shape from Auckland, and it has very different opportunities from Auckland in terms of rail transport. Auckland has two rail lines, with no real prospect of any further rail lines being built other than the two that are there. Therefore, Auckland cannot build a metro network to service the entire Auckland area that would also service the nature of movements within Auckland. What is more, business traffic, including service business traffic, cannot travel on rail. Plumbers will not cart their pipes and their gear on the train.

Sue Kedgley: Is the Minister concerned that while he has been assuring Auckland mayors and MPs in this House that the future lies with buses and roads, Land Transport New Zealand is using a funding formula for Wellington’s electric trolley bus network that is putting the entire network at risk; and can he assure the people of Wellington that this Government will not stand by and allow Wellington’s trolley bus network to collapse under its watch?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: The original question was about Auckland. As far as I am aware, the southern spread of Auckland has not yet reached Wellington, and we are not planning for that within the foreseeable future. The subsidies that apply to Wellington are the same as those that apply to the rest of the country, and the Government certainly will not give guarantees of open-ended cheques for any supplier of any particular service in public transport. So far, the proponents of electrification in Auckland, which is a new proposal in terms of the cost for the Government to bear, have not demonstrated that it actually bears any sensible cost-benefit ratio in terms of the outcomes. If it does, then the Government will be prepared to support it.

Police Numbers—Recruitment Issues

7. SIMON POWER (National—Rangitikei) to the Minister of Police: Does she stand by her statement yesterday that she does not underestimate the difficulties in recruiting extra police; if not, why not?

Hon ANNETTE KING (Minister of Police): Yes. I have been saying publicly for about 6 months that the recruitment and training of 1,000 extra front-line sworn and 250 non-sworn police staff, which will be funded by the Government in conjunction with our supply and confidence agreement with New Zealand First, is a challenge, but it is one that the New Zealand Police and the Government are prepared to rise to.

Simon Power: How will she recruit extra police when even temporary constables are not up to the job, according to a Christchurch police officer, who claims that some decoy cops have abused their status as sworn officers to have their home phones connected quickly, or to go through customs without being stopped, and also that some have used their uniforms to pull over drivers, or to give a talk at a primary school, although their experience is limited to guarding crime scenes?

Hon ANNETTE KING: Because the 1,000 police we will be recruiting will be full-time sworn police—they will not be temporary sworn police—

Hon David Carter: It’ll be a cardboard cut-out.

Hon ANNETTE KING: I am glad David Carter just interjected about cardboard police, because the only decoy cops I can remember were the cardboard cut-outs that National put into shopping malls when it was last in Government. Those were the last decoy cops we have seen. However, National was prepared to have temporary sworn police when it was in Government. I said last week that we have had temporary sworn police for around 10 years. I was wrong: we have had them for more than 10 years. They were OK under the National Government, but National is trying to make an issue out of them now. New Zealanders are laughing at those members.

Simon Power: Is the Minister concerned about the competence of potential recruits when, according to a Christchurch police officer, decoy cops have fallen asleep while guarding a crime scene, smoked and worn jandals while in uniform, and driven police cars with lights flashing because they did not know how to turn them off, which caused other traffic to pull over?

Madam SPEAKER: I remind the gigglers at the back of the Chamber that it is an interruption to giggle—and it is a member of their own party who is asking the question. I am trying to apply the rules evenly.

Hon ANNETTE KING: I do not have any doubt about the competence of the 1,000 sworn police officers whom we are about to recruit. They will be competent, because that will be a requirement. However, I know that Labour questioned the competencies of the cardboard cut-outs put in place as decoy cops by the National Government—and we should have questioned them. But I certainly have a lot more confidence in the New Zealand Police and its recruitment campaign than the National Party does.

Simon Power: Does she stand by her assurance in the House last week that these decoy cops surrender their uniforms once they cease duty, given that their exploits reported in the Christchurch Press clearly show that they have been using their uniforms while off duty to masquerade as fully trained officers; and will she now admit that last week, on this issue, she misled the House?

Hon ANNETTE KING: No, I will not admit that I misled the House. The member asked whether they hand in their uniforms when they leave their positions as temporary sworn police, and I answered that, yes, they do. That was the question; I answered it. I have no knowledge, and I have not been advised, that temporary sworn police are acting in an inappropriate manner, other than the reported comment that one was seen smoking—I do not approve of that, either; I do not approve of smoking.

However, I have not got that information. What I do know is that that member has misled the House. Last week he took the answer to a supplementary question that Tony Ryall had asked, about the number of temporary sworn police in 2004—he changed it to 2005 yesterday—during a muster crisis, and used it to say that that was the number of temporary sworn police in New Zealand. He misled the House.

Simon Power: Why has the number of decoy cops increased massively from just 17 in June last year, as reported in the annual report, to 330 now; and if they are counted by the Government as part of the total number of sworn officers, what is the real number of fully trained, sworn, front-line police officers?

Hon ANNETTE KING: They are not counted by the Government in our total number of fully sworn police officers. The member is incorrect. I can tell the House that, throughout the time that New Zealand has had temporary sworn police, they were never counted by the National Government. The New Zealand Police has no record of the number of temporary sworn police. However, I can tell the House that in 2003 there were 200 temporary sworn police, because we started to keep a record of the number we had. I do not know why the National Government did not do that, but I suspect that it was counting them as front-line police. This Government is not.

Simon Power: Can she give an assurance to the House that police recruitment staff are using objective criteria to identify which people might make the best recruits, and that they are encouraging applications from a wide cross-section of society?

Hon ANNETTE KING: I have been advised by the police that they are using the criteria they have used for some time. Recruitment is the job of the police. I am not involved in recruitment itself, but I have been told the police are using criteria that have been used for a number of years. I cannot add to that.

Ron Mark: Does she recall an incident in Christchurch a number of years ago, when a Government introduced the policy of employing Armourguard security officers to secure a crime scene, which comprised a house, and one of the Christchurch gangs implicated in the crime that had been committed in that house managed to sneak in behind the Armourguard security people and burn the house to the ground; if so, does that suggest that problems associated with employing temporary officers, or contract people such as Armourguard officers, are not new, and they are things that have to be worked through?

Hon ANNETTE KING: I was reminded of that incident very recently, and that it had occurred under a National Government.

Elective Surgery—Discharges

8. Hon TONY RYALL (National—Bay of Plenty) to the Minister of Health: How many elective surgery patient discharges were there in the financial year to March 2006, and how does this compare with the same period in 2000-01?

Hon PETE HODGSON (Minister of Health): There has been a 1 percent decrease in the two 9-month periods that the member has chosen. If, however, he had chosen the most recent financial year 12-month period, he would have demonstrated an increase on the previous year or the year before that, or an 8 percent increase since the change of Government, or a 15.4 percent case-weighted increase since the change of Government—in other words, to prove a decrease requires the member to be very selective with his electives.

Hon Tony Ryall: What does the Minister plan to do about the disconnect in Government policy where, on the one hand, the Government is encouraging more people to see their general practitioner, and, on the other hand, if they are sick, the Government does not want them anywhere near a hospital waiting list?

Hon PETE HODGSON: The member continues to make it up. Clearly, the member’s comments reveal that he is against prioritisation, against ongoing care for patients, and against the booking system created by his colleague the former Minister and former and future leader of the National Party, the Hon Bill English. He would rather have people waiting and waiting without being seen by anyone.

Sue Moroney: Does elective surgery discharge data include outpatient procedures; if not, will he take steps to include this information in the future?

Hon PETE HODGSON: No, elective surgery data does not include the growing number of procedures that have shifted to outpatient settings since the change of Government. From 1 July this year a new national non-admitted patients database will start to give us a real picture of how many elective procedures are being performed in New Zealand.

Dr Jackie Blue: Why is the Government’s relationship with the health sector so bad, when it was under better control under Annette King, but now, having been under Pete Hodgson for 6 months, we have fewer electives, the Minister calling the surgeons unethical, and general practitioners refusing to sign their contract—a contract that Annette King successfully negotiated on two previous occasions?

Hon PETE HODGSON: In reply to the member’s three questions, in respect of the first one, the number of electives is going up, not down. In respect of the—

Hon Dr Nick Smith: You said it was going down just before!

Hon PETE HODGSON: Oh, well, we will deal with just two of them then. In respect of the second one, the member’s colleague the Hon Tony Ryall has been telling the media breathlessly that this is the first red letter that has ever been sent. The Hon Tony Ryall is wrong on that point, as well—as he is wrong on most points. This is the third red letter to be sent. This is red-letter sending season.

Hon Tony Ryall: How does the Minister of Health explain putting out a press statement praising the Hawke’s Bay District Health Board for its surgical performance when answers to written questions show that he based that statement on data from a completely different district health board?

Hon PETE HODGSON: It is true that the Ministry of Health changes its data from time to time, and it did manage to swap half of the data between Taranaki and Hawke’s Bay recently. However, it does change its data less often than the National Party changes its leadership.

Dr Jonathan Coleman: Why did we never have any of this sort of embarrassment being caused for the Government when Annette King was in charge of health, yet under just 6 months of Mr Hodgson health is a permanent albatross around the Prime Minister’s neck?

Hon PETE HODGSON: The member continues to make it up. What I ask the member to take into account is whether a party that 8 months ago went to the hustings and said: “We will have $11 billion worth of tax cuts over the next 4 years.”, would then want to know how it is possible to also put more money into health. One has to make a choice around here. Either one is in favour of investing in health and education and the future of this country, or one is in favour of giving it away in tax cuts. One can spend money once, and I am glad we won that election.

Hon Peter Dunne: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I have been reflecting upon your comment earlier during this question time about your wish to enforce the rules even-handedly, and it occurs to me that an appropriate way in which you could do that would be to enforce Mr Speaker Tapsell’s ruling 150/1 regarding there being no interjections during question time. I think you would have a majority of support amongst members in this House if you chose to do so.

Madam SPEAKER: I thank the member. I think it is a serious suggestion and I will take it under advisement.

Hon Tony Ryall: I seek leave to table the Minister of Health’s press statement that praised the performance of the Hawke’s Bay District Health Board, and the figures he used to praise the board, and a second document that shows those figures did not relate in any way to that board. How incompetent is that!

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

Hon PETE HODGSON: I seek leave to table three documents: one showing an increase in the last financial year in elective surgery discharges compared with the previous financial year, a second one showing an increase of 8 percent in elective surgery discharges since the change of Government, and a third one showing a 15.4 percent increase in case-weighted discharges for elective surgery since the change of Government.

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

Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I want to check with you whether, in fact, it is necessary for the Minister to seek leave to table a document.

Madam SPEAKER: Yes, I am advised it is.

Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I ask that the Minister table the documents he quoted from.

Madam SPEAKER: I am sorry, but I do not understand that. Obviously, if the Minister quoted from an official document, then he can be asked to table it. Is that what the Minister was doing?

Hon PETE HODGSON: These are documents that I am happy to table and I am happy not to table.

Madam SPEAKER: Leave was sought to table them and it was denied, so that ends the matter.

Aged Care—Residential Care Funding

9. BARBARA STEWART (NZ First) to the Minister of Health: What steps is he taking to ensure that the significant funding boost to the aged residential care sector that is to feature in this year’s Budget is delivered to the aged-care sector in its entirety and in a timely fashion?

Hon PETE HODGSON (Minister of Health): The significant funding boost agreed between the Labour-led Government and the New Zealand First Party will be delivered to providers in a timely fashion. The aged residential care contract review process has already started and is nearly complete, putting us months and months ahead of where we were this time last year.

Barbara Stewart: How confident is the Minister that the funding reserved for aged care in this year’s Budget will be solely used for this purpose, given that some district health boards in the past have diverted such funding elsewhere?

Hon PETE HODGSON: There will be full flow-through, and there is agreement as to the algorithm for calculating that flow-through. The flow-through will occur only if the contracts are signed in time, but so far we are on track.

Darien Fenton: What increases in investment has the Labour-led Government delivered for the aged-care sector; and how will the Minister assure the public that the Government will continue to invest in the health of older New Zealanders?

Hon PETE HODGSON: The Labour-led Government has delivered a 30 percent increase in aged residential care funding since the change of Government. Funding for home-based care funding has at least doubled since the change of Government. Tomorrow’s Budget will lever these figures even higher. I can assure the public that this Government will be able to invest in the health of older New Zealanders because it opposes the reckless tax cuts that are still being called for by National that would mean the slashing and burning of vital public health services.

Jo Goodhew: Why does the Minister continue to blame district health boards, aged-care providers, and anyone but his Government’s lack of funding, for the workforce and funding crises in this sector?

Hon PETE HODGSON: The member clearly did not listen to my answer to the substantive question. I certainly do not blame anyone. Since the change of Government, there has been a 30 percent increase in aged residential care funding, and home-based care funding has more than doubled. These are the sorts of investments that can be undertaken if one does not have reckless tax cuts on one’s mind.

Jo Goodhew: I seek leave to table a newspaper article from the Wanganui Chronicle for Saturday, 23 April, “Petrol costs relief—home support staff still waiting”.

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

Jo Goodhew: I seek leave to table an article from the Timaru Herald of 2 May, headed: “Care workers still waiting”.

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

Aged Care—Abuse or Neglect

10. SANDRA GOUDIE (National—Coromandel) to the Minister for Senior Citizens: Does she stand by her statement that “As far as the Government is concerned, abuse or neglect of our older citizens in residential care—or anywhere else, for that matter—is abhorrent. It is simply unacceptable.”; if so, why?

Hon LIANNE DALZIEL (Minister of Commerce) on behalf of the Minister for Senior Citizens: Yes, because abuse or neglect of our older citizens in residential care—or anywhere for that matter—is abhorrent. It is simply unacceptable, and that is why the Government in last year’s Budget committed an additional $3 million over 4 years for elder abuse and neglect prevention services, details of which are contained in the speech from which the quote is taken.

Nathan Guy: Does she consider acceptable the printing of photos of our vulnerable elderly people, naked?

Hon LIANNE DALZIEL: I believe that it is unhelpful to make public statements in response to allegations before the precise nature of a complaint is determined and the facts of the matter established.

Madam SPEAKER: It was impossible to hear the Minister’s response. I just remind members that I am taking under advisement what the Hon Peter Dunne said. So would members please keep interjections to a level where other members in the Chamber can hear.

Nathan Guy: Is the reason the Minister has not spoken out publicly against this abuse that she is more interested in Labour’s relationship with the nurses’ union than in doing what is right for the elderly?

Hon LIANNE DALZIEL: No. It is because I believe it is unhelpful to make public statements in response to allegations before the precise nature of a complaint is determined and the facts of the matter established.

Hon Marian Hobbs: Could the Minister inform us as to how the Elder Abuse and Neglect Prevention services respond to complaints received in relation to a rest home resident?

Hon LIANNE DALZIEL: I am advised that, essentially, the role of such coordinators is to assess the nature of the complaint first, and then refer it to the appropriate agency as necessary. It is the nature of the complaint that will determine the nature of the referral.

Sandra Goudie: How does she think that the publication of these photos, and her dismissal of their gravity, helps further her Government’s goal of the promotion of positive attitudes towards older people, which is fundamental to preventing elder abuse?

Hon LIANNE DALZIEL: My reading of the statements in the newspaper about this matter would suggest that the issue is one of consent, and that is something that an older person is entitled to give.

Sandra Goudie: I seek leave to table the Kai Tiaki Nursing New Zealand magazine.

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

Sandra Goudie: I seek leave to table the New Zealand Herald article of 16 May, headed: “Row over pictures of naked patients”.

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

Sandra Goudie: I seek leave to table an article in the Dominion Post of Wednesday, 17 May, headed: “Family may sue over rest home photo”.

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

Tobacco Consumption—Reduction

11. STEVE CHADWICK (Labour—Rotorua) to the Associate Minister of Health: What initiatives is the Government considering to reduce tobacco consumption?

Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR (Associate Minister of Health): Last week I released a consultation document that proposes a series of warnings, including graphic pictures like the one I am holding up, and a text on both the front and back of cigarette packets, which overseas experience shows can be a significant deterrent, especially among young people.

Steve Chadwick: What reports has he seen on other Government initiatives to reduce tobacco consumption?

Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: I have seen two reports. One is a nationwide survey conducted recently, which shows that 74 percent of New Zealanders support smoke-free pubs and bars. The second report is one on the voting record for the smoke-free environments legislation, which both the Leader of the Opposition and their health spokespeople voted against.

Te Puni Kôkiri—Mâori Affairs, Minister's Statement

12. Hon TAU HENARE (National) to the Minister of Mâori Affairs: Does he stand by his translated statement in the House yesterday regarding Te Puni Kôkiri that it is not right to say here whether his ministry is “a waste of time for Mâori”; if so, where does he believe Te Puni Kôkiri should be held to account?

Hon PAREKURA HOROMIA (Minister of Mâori Affairs): Yes, I stand by the interpretation of my statement. It is not right to say here that Te Puni Kôkiri is a waste of time for Mâori. Te Puni Kôkiri is held to account in a number of ways to this House through the parliamentary process, which includes financial reviews.

Hon Tau Henare: Does he stand by his chief executive’s position that the laws of New Zealand, passed by this very Parliament and enforced by the courts, are not prescriptive but rather merely a set of guidelines one can follow if one wishes?

Hon PAREKURA HOROMIA: Part of that I agree with, but certainly I believe that people in glasshouses should not throw stones; that certain members who should abide by the legislation that binds this House to good governance go out and leak documents from financial review committees.

Dave Hereora: What will be the specific focus of Te Puni Kôkiri over the next 12 months?

Hon PAREKURA HOROMIA: Te Puni Kôkiri is on a roll. Certainly, I remember—[Interruption] Te Puni Kôkiri’s Mâori Business Facilitation Service—and I can tell that member that this Minister of Health is going to be here for a long time—won the Vero award for the best participation development between the private sector and the public sector, and we are going to do a lot more about that. We are about keeping Mâori out of prison, about putting more Mâori into jobs, and about helping Mâori achieve a higher level of education. That is what we will do.

Tariana Turia: Tçnâ koe, Madam Speaker; tçnâ tâtou te Whare. Further to the Minister’s answer yesterday, that monitoring reports were to be found in Te Puni Kôkiri’s annual report to Parliament, and in light of Te Puni Kôkiri’s 2005 annual report, which failed to provide any information on the output purchased monitoring of other State sector agency initiatives, can he tell this Parliament what monitoring reports Te Puni Kôkiri has produced and where they are?

Hon PAREKURA HOROMIA: Te Puni Kôkiri takes its monitoring and liaising role very seriously. Te Puni Kôkiri is meeting its responsibilities under its legislation and it is doing that well—and a whole lot more. The Office of the Controller and Auditor-General found in its audit for the last financial year that there were no significant legislative breaches, and it is noted that the office gave Te Puni Kôkiri a good assessment.

Hon Tau Henare: Given the Minister’s answer to my supplementary question, which asked: “Does he stand by his chief executive’s position that the laws of New Zealand, passed by this very Parliament and enforced by the courts, are not prescriptive but rather merely a set of guidelines one can follow if one wishes?”, which part of that question does he agree with?

Hon PAREKURA HOROMIA: I agree with most of it. But I want to talk about that former Minister when National had its time in Government, in the sense of the endless reports that that Government produced on negative statistics. We should look at what this Government is doing. It should not be about leaking and it should not be about members in this House who use it to ignore the rules.

Tariana Turia: Will he direct Te Puni Kôkiri to monitor the health of nearly 50 percent of Mâori children, some 93,423 children, who will benefit from the heavily promoted in-work payment because their parents are beneficiaries; or is the monitoring of the health and well-being of tangata whenua also a waste of time?

Hon PAREKURA HOROMIA: It is a role that the Ministry of Health, steered by this Government, is managing very well. I assure the member that we have delivered reports, and supports, and those developments that we take very seriously. Working for Families is about that, and making sure that those parents and those children are being looked after is something this Government takes very, very seriously.

Tariana Turia: I seek leave to table the annual report of Te Puni Kôkiri, which clearly shows that no monitoring of other State agencies was done.

Leave granted.

Hon Phil Goff: Can the Minister confirm that during his time as Minister in charge of Te Puni Kôkiri, Mâori unemployment has halved and that the real waste of time for Mâori people was the Minister from 1996 to 1998, Tau Henare, who promised to halve unemployment among Mâori but instead increased it by 5 percent?

Hon PAREKURA HOROMIA: Mâori unemployment has decreased by exactly 61 percent. Mâori enjoy being in work, and they enjoy being paid. That member set up three commissions, wasted a lot of money, and got nothing done for Mâori. We have done plenty for Mâori.

Hon Tau Henare: Is the Minister concerned that the recent financial review of his ministry found that it could not even answer questions about the delivery of its local level solutions programme; and when is he going to brief his ministry on what he is doing for his $180,000 per year?

Hon PAREKURA HOROMIA: It is actually $195,000. I tell that member that we have moved on, and the issue is that we are going to focus on Mâori potential. We are going to use those good deeds out of local level solutions that my friend Tariana Turia was involved in, and we are making better use of them—more Mâori in jobs, more Mâori in high level education, and more Mâori getting into asset development. It is great stuff.

Hon Phil Goff: Did the Minister find in that financial review that one Tau Henare had yet paid back the $47 he owed the department as a beneficiary, which he said he would not be paying back?

Hon PAREKURA HOROMIA: I am not too sure about that. But what did concern me is that that member flouted the laws and the rules of this great bastion of governance. He did that. He leeched us.

Hon Tau Henare: Does the Minister stand by his support of Mita Ririnui’s statement—support he gave in this House on 14 March this year—that advocacy of Mâori is tiresome; if so, what new career is he looking at now that he is tired of advocating for his people?

Hon PAREKURA HOROMIA: I do not believe that my colleague made such a statement. But if we are honest, and we are in this party, it is stressful at times—[Interruption] Totally honest! Those members should ask Dr Sharples. They should ask Hone Harawira. It is very hard working with Mâori. Tariana Turia will tell members that. So I do not know what people he is talking about, because our people are trying at times. But me and Mita Ririnui love them, and we will do our best while we are in Government to make sure they go forward, not backwards.

Hon Tau Henare: I seek leave to table the speech of Mita Ririnui—the one where the Minister of Mâori Affairs actually supported him.

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

Hon Tau Henare: I wish to make a personal statement relating to the accusations that the Hon Phil Goff just raised. I advise the House that some years ago, when this issue was raised, I did pay back the $47 to the then Minister of Social Welfare, Roger Sowry.

Hon Phil Goff: I seek leave to table an extract from the Sunday Star-Times of December 2000, in which Tau Henare said he would not be paying back a social welfare payment of $47, a debt he had incurred as a beneficiary 20 years ago.

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

Hon Tau Henare: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. Just a matter of clarification, I actually said that when I was in the House. I was not in the House in 2000.

Ron Mark: Does the Minister believe that the role played by Te Puni Kôkiri in promoting the ahu whenua awards and promoting Mâori excellence in farming such as that showcased in Rotorua last Friday evening is work of value, and what feedback did Te Puni Kôkiri receive from AgResearch, Federated Farmers, Dairy InSight, and the other key players in the agricultural industry in respect of Mâori farming and Mâori development?

Hon PAREKURA HOROMIA: It was all positive, and Te Puni Kôkiri has been involved in it. The big companies and the industry training organisations were there and they reaffirmed the 1,375 Mâori who are working in the agricultural industry training organisations and whom we will move on, and up, and into employment.

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

Madam SPEAKER: This is not in the guise of a supplementary question, I hope, Mr Brownlee.

Gerry Brownlee: No, it is not. I am extremely worried by the revelation in the House today that the Hon Parekura Horomia is getting a salary of $195,000. I am wondering whether we can seek leave to have him explain whether perhaps that is his salary, while other Ministers’ salaries are $216,000?

Madam SPEAKER: That is not a point of order; nor was it a supplementary question.

ENDS

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