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Questions And Answers Tuesday, 13 June 2006

Questions And Answers Tuesday, 13 June 2006

Questions to Ministers

Energy, Minister—Confidence

1. Dr DON BRASH (Leader of the Opposition) to the Prime Minister: Does she have confidence in the Minister of Energy?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK (Prime Minister): Yes.

Dr Don Brash: Does she have confidence in the security of power supply to the Auckland region; if not, what steps will she take, and when will she take them, so that she can express such confidence?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: Like all Aucklanders I am very concerned that this single event did trigger a stop in the supply to Auckland. Accordingly, I have asked for a report to be at the Cabinet policy committee tomorrow morning. The Minister of Energy is asking Ministry of Economic Development officials, the Electricity Commission, and Transpower to supply reports as quickly as possible. If there is a need to change policy, that can be done, but it may be that Transpower needs to speed up some investment around the Otâhuhu substation.

Dr Don Brash: Why, when Dr Keith Turner, Managing Director of Government-owned Meridian Energy, advised last year that “New Zealand’s electricity grid is so overworked that some lines cannot be taken out for servicing. That is unheard of in the Western developed world.”, did no one in her Government take this to be a serious warning from a very senior energy expert, and why is it that in the intervening period no one in her Government has taken any action as a result?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: On the contrary, improving transmission on the grid into Auckland is a very high priority for the Government. It might be rather nice if National MPs like Judith Collins and Lindsay Tisch did not put every obstacle in the way.

Dr Don Brash: Is she aware of the statement made by her Minister of Energy to the Parliament last November, following Dr Keith Turner’s observations, that “the problem is not as bad as the member would have others believe”, and does this still represent the official position of her Government?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: The transmission system needs an upgrade. The Minister, however, has not had an outage, unlike the Leader of the Opposition, who took 23½ hours to put out a statement on the matter.

Jeanette Fitzsimons: Has the Prime Minister sought any costings of what it would take to ensure that every electricity system in the country was duplicated so that even a freak storm bringing down a wire could never cause an outage, and has she had any advice from the leader of the National Party as to whether they would be prepared to forgo tax cuts in order to pay for it?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I think the cost of doing that doubling of all systems would be absolutely incalculable, but I understand that voodoo economics as proclaimed by the National Party says we can cut taxes and spend more on absolutely everything. So voodoo economics lives on, in the National Party.

Dr Don Brash: How many years does Labour have to be in office before it starts delivering solutions, instead of procrastinating and prevaricating?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: This Government has delivered immensely more investment in energy.

Housing—Families

2. GEORGINA BEYER (Labour) to the Minister of Housing: What steps is he taking to ensure families have access to quality, affordable housing?

Hon CHRIS CARTER (Minister of Housing): Budget 2006 takes the total funding for State house acquisition to $659 million over the next 3 years, when we plan to acquire an additional 2,000 State houses. The Labour-led Government believes quality, affordable housing is fundamental to the health and well-being of families and communities—unlike National, which sold 13,000 State houses in the 1990s, mostly to developers, not tenants.

Georgina Beyer: What reports has the Minister received on the value of State houses?

Hon CHRIS CARTER: I have seen a report that describes the building of State houses as “economic vandalism”, and states that land has a lot more potential than just somewhere to build a bunch of State houses. I have also seen a report that states that housing policy is not important, does not require a party leader’s time, and does not have financial implications. The first statement was from John Key, who, by the way, grew up in a State house, and the second admission from Don Brash confirmed that the National Party cares only about money, not people.

Tariana Turia: Tçnâ tâtou te Whare. What strategies has the Minister developed to ensure a Mâori person earning the median income of $23,600 can service a mortgage of $275,000, which is the median price for a house in the Waikato, Bay of Plenty, and Gisborne region, at 8.2 percent over 25 years?

Hon CHRIS CARTER: This Government has embarked on addressing the needs of low-income people in a wide variety of ways—not least of all the Working for Families package, which brings a lot more cash into low-income families.

Hon Dr Michael Cullen: Has the Minister received any reports of any National Party MPs who grew up in very expensive houses opposing building very expensive houses in their electorate, or is it only people who grew up in State houses opposing State housing developments that he has heard about?

Hon CHRIS CARTER: None whatsoever.

Electricity Supply—Energy, Minister’s Statement

3. Hon Dr NICK SMITH (National—Nelson) to the Minister of Energy: Does he stand by his statement “I do recognise that it’s my responsibility to ensure that … the lights don’t go out in New Zealand”?

Hon DAVID PARKER (Minister of Energy): Yes, I do. The situation in Auckland yesterday was unacceptable—as I said then. The Government is taking steps to prevent it from happening again.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: Does the Minister accept he was wrong on 17 November last year to minimise concern about New Zealand’s electricity system when I put to him the concerns of Dr Keith Turner, his own Ministry of Economic Development, and Treasury, and he replied: “... the problem is not as bad as the member and others would have us believe.”, and how bad will it have to get, our having had 700,000 people and our economic capital brought to their knees, for this Minister to accept we have a problem?

Hon DAVID PARKER: I accepted at the time, and accept now, that we have a problem. The issue on which I disagreed with the member at the time, I think, related to assertions that Auckland was equivalent to a Third World city, which is just not correct.

Maryan Street: What is the Government doing to ensure that the situation in Auckland yesterday does not happen again?

Hon DAVID PARKER: I will get a report within 2 weeks on why the wider system did not cope with the consequences of yesterday’s line failure at the Ôtâhuhu substation. It will be urgently considered, and remedial action will be taken promptly. As a priority, we are investigating whether an additional substation is needed to share the load at Ôtâhuhu.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: Why did the Minister tell the people of New Zealand on Campbell Live last night that a new circuit from Pakuranga to Penrose of 220 kilovolts was approved when that is not the case, when that proposal is not budgeted for, and when no resource consent has been applied for; why did he mislead the people of New Zealand last night?

Hon DAVID PARKER: I did not. I was referring to the fact that it is approved by Transpower, and is part of a request for information that it presently has out and is consulting upon.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: You said it was approved.

Hon DAVID PARKER: It is approved by Transpower.

Peter Brown: Does the Minister accept that New Zealanders basically require three fundamental factors, which are, first, a significant amount of new electricity, second, a fair and competitive price regime, and, third, security of supply; and is he in a position to assure the House that those three factors will be delivered upon in this term?

Hon DAVID PARKER: Yes, I agree; they are the three fundamentals to which we are striving.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: Does the Minister stand by his statement in the New Zealand Herald this morning that he had requested Transpower “to investigate separating out parts of the Otahuhu substation under its plan to upgrade transmission into Auckland after 2013.”; and does he believe that the people of Auckland should put up with insecure power supply for another 5 years under his incompetent Government?

Hon DAVID PARKER: No, I do not accept that characterisation of it.

What I did was refer to the current proposals that Transpower had already planned for the separation of some of the lines at Ôtâhuhu to another part of the site, so as to achieve some physical separation, and I went on to say that I had asked Transpower to consider whether it should advance that plan, or whether, indeed, there was a need for another substation at some distance apart.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: When—and I ask in the interest of learning from past experience—was there last a power blackout in Auckland, how many days, rather than hours, did it last, who had been in power for 8 years at that time, and which party did the then Minister of Energy come from?

Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. Because the member over there—the Government’s little lapdog—has referred to history—

Madam SPEAKER: I know that it is the first day, but when members are speaking to points of order they are entitled to be heard in silence.

Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. Before we deal with that point of order, an expression used by that member was absolutely unparliamentary. It should be ruled out, and it should not be repeated.

Gerry Brownlee: I withdraw and apologise.

Madam SPEAKER: The member has withdrawn and apologised.

Gerry Brownlee: Madam Speaker, my point is in the interests of history, and to assist you to work out whether that was a reasonable question. It is worth pointing out that the power failure in Auckland in 1998 was due to a large transmission line owned by Vector Energy, not by any State agency, and it had nothing to do with the Minister of Energy.

Madam SPEAKER: I thank the member. That is not a point of order.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. That member of Parliament has taken to raising points of order, throwing in some bad language that is totally outside the Standing Orders and the Speakers’ rulings, and getting away with it. Madam Speaker, if I began my response to him by talking about “Mr Cellulite” or “Teletubby”, you would stop me in my tracks immediately, and rightfully so. He should be warned that if he carries on like that, he will not get to make a point of order or ask a question.

Madam SPEAKER: I thank the members. As I said, we are starting a new sitting, so let us keep the points of order that are raised to actual points or order.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: To help the member who has asked the question, I seek the leave of the House to table Mr Winston Peters’ speech in the urgent debate on the 1998 power failure, when he said National could not be held responsible for it.

Madam SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection? There is objection. [Interruption] The question can be addressed, Mr Brownlee.

Hon DAVID PARKER: The year was 1998. The number of days was more than five times seven—because it was more than 5 weeks—so it was more than 35. As a consequence of the dire straits of many parts of the New Zealand infrastructure inherited by this Government, we are spending lots of additional resource on roads and public transport. In relation to capital upgrades to transmission lines, the amount of the capital works programme is more than five times the size of that which we inherited from the National Government.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: Does the Minister believe that this Labour Government has invested sufficient in New Zealand’s electricity infrastructure, when it has taken over $2 billion in profits from consumers and spent less than 10 percent of that money on new infrastructure?

Hon DAVID PARKER: The amount being spent on upgrades in and around Auckland this year is $83 million, the total amount being spent throughout New Zealand in the coming year is more than $300 million, and the total being spent over the next 3 years is more than $1 billion. If it takes more than that to do it to a higher standard, and a higher standard is necessary, we will spend that additional money.

Peter Brown: Is the Minister aware that Transpower pays the Government dividends—albeit a modest $10 million last year—and, in the light of the Auckland problems, will he recommend to the appropriate Minister that the Government forgoes the dividends until the Auckland problems have been completely fixed?

Hon DAVID PARKER: The answer to that is evident in the question. A dividend of a mere $10 million is not a capital constraint that is holding back Transpower’s investment in the grid.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: Why has the Government ignored the calls from Transpower in the 2002 annual report, the 2003 annual report, the 2004 annual report, and the 2005 annual report that the Resource Management Act must be reformed if Transpower is to be able to maintain and upgrade the grid in a timely way; and will this Government reconsider and reform that Act, so that New Zealand can have infrastructure that will service a modern economy?

Hon DAVID PARKER: I do not accept the proposition that the Resource Management Act is to blame for either the problems we had in South Auckland or the transmission upgrades we need to make through the Waikato. Further, I would note that practical progress is being made by the acquisition of land, on a voluntary basis, through the Waikato. If and when Transpower believes that it actually needs assistance to compulsorily acquire land from those who are holding out, I have no doubt it will come to the Government and ask us for permission to use the Public Works Act compulsory acquisition route.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Has the Minister received any reports of the likelihood of his receiving an attack today from a political party that was responsible for a 35-day blackout, in respect of a Government that is responsible for a 5-hour blackout?

Hon DAVID PARKER: Incredible though it seems, I expected it.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: I seek the leave of the House to table Transpower’s annual reports for the years 2002-03, 2003-04, and 2004-05, and its 6-monthly report, all stating that the Resource Management Act needed to be reformed in order for Transpower to be able to upgrade our transmission system.

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

Hon Dr Nick Smith: I seek the leave of the House to table the statement made by Dr Keith Turner in February last year that New Zealand’s electricity system was so bad that some lines, and specifically the lines into Auckland, could not be properly maintained, because they could not be taken out of action for servicing.

Leave granted.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: Noting that the Minister’s response earlier—in answer to my question to him about his having said that the problem was not that bad—that he had said that comment in response to my referring to Auckland as being of a Third World standard was not correct, I seek leave to table the Hansard from 17 November last year in which the Minister disputed Dr Keith Turner’s concerns and said that the problem actually was not that bad.

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

Rodney Hide: Has the Minister received any messages in the past 24 hours regarding the power blackout in Auckland from the Minister with responsibility for Auckland Issues; if so, what additional measures has he put in place for Auckland; if not, is he surprised that he has not heard from the Minister with responsibility for Auckland Issues?

Hon DAVID PARKER: Yes, I have; indeed, the Minister with responsibility for Auckland Issues sought and had an appointment with me to discuss her concerns that the outage of a line at Ôtâhuhu could cause such a widespread power blackout in Auckland. She is very keen to be kept informed as to the remedial measures I propose.

Ageing Population—Financial Implications

4. SHANE JONES (Labour) to the Minister of Finance: What reports has he received on the likely impact of an ageing population on New Zealand’s finances?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Minister of Finance): That is not a personal question. I recently received a Standard and Poor’s report that concludes that this Government’s programme of debt reduction and provision for future superannuation costs has made New Zealand one of the best-placed nations in the world to cope with the costs of an ageing population. The report also noted that tax cuts on the scale of Australia’s would be “very short-sighted” and questioned whether they would be sustainable.

Hone Harawira: Tçnâ koutou te Whare. In light of the significant difference in life expectancy, with Mâori dying an average of 8 years earlier than non-Mâori, what reports has the Minister received outlining the impact of that disparity on the economy, and is that a concern for the Government or is the Minister pleased to be saving money?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: It is very doubtful that that disparity saves much money, given the higher health-care costs that are incurred as a consequence of low health standards amongst many Mâori. I can report that publications due to come out in the near future will show that those disparities are being reduced under this Government.

John Key: Can the Minister confirm that one of the most important ways to prepare our economy for the demographic changes is to have a skilled and motivated workforce here in New Zealand, and can he also confirm that one of the most debilitating factors for our economy has been that so many skilled and motivated workers have in the past 6 years got up and moved to Australia because the wage gap has widened from 20 percent to 33 percent under his watch; if he cares so much about those issues, what does he intend to do about them before he retires?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Yes, and no. I can confirm that we have maintained net in-migration of 10,000 a year, that we show a net in-migration of skilled people, and that throughout every year in the 1990s, under a National Government, out-migration to Australia increased in net terms, including in the 2 years after tax cuts.

Shane Jones: Has the Minister seen any other reports on why alternative strategies may be short-sighted and unsustainable?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Yes. The Monetary Policy Statement from the Reserve Bank highlights the current inflationary risk facing the economy. In such an environment, it is clear that large-scale tax cuts without corresponding expenditure reductions would fuel inflation and increase interest rates, as a former Governor of the Reserve Bank would himself have said when he was the Governor of the Reserve Bank.

Terrorism Suppression Act—Designations

5. Hon MURRAY McCULLY (National—East Coast Bays) to the Prime Minister: Has she designated any individuals or organisations as terrorist entities under section 20 of the Terrorism Suppression Act 2002, apart from those designated under United Nations Resolution 1267 (1999); if not, why not?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK (Prime Minister): No. There has been no advice that such designation is justified at this time.

Hon Murray McCully: Can the Prime Minister tell the House whether it is the case that Rayed Mohammed Abdullah, also known as Rayed Mohammed Abdullah Ali, who was expelled last week under section 72 of the Immigration Act, was on an alert list held by the New Zealand border authorities and managed to slip past them, or that he was not on any such list at all?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I will not comment in the House on who is or is not on lists, but I can say that this man presented as a Mr Ali, which was not information the Government had.

Hon Murray McCully: Why did the Prime Minister ask the House to pass the Terrorism Suppression Act, in the wake of the September 11 attacks, to provide special powers for the authorities in dealing with terrorists designated by her under section 22 of that Act if she did not actually intend to designate any such terrorists; can she explain why Australia has designated 88 and Canada over 50 non UN - specified terrorists under their legislation, while she has designated none?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: That is a matter for those Governments, acting on advice. I will act on advice if I receive it, but I am not going to designate at whim.

Hon Murray McCully: What confidence can New Zealanders have in our security arrangements when Rayed Mohammed Abdullah, who was named in the official September 11 commission’s report as someone who flatted and trained with one of the September 11 hijackers, and who made extremist speeches at the local mosque, was not designated under the Terrorism Suppression Act or, apparently, placed on any other list of potentially dangerous individuals as someone whom we did not want to have in this country?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: The confidence the member should have is that this man was detected and summarily deported.

Hon Murray McCully: Can the Prime Minister confirm media reports that Rayed Mohammed Abdullah managed to get past the New Zealand authorities simply by adding the word “Ali” at the end of his name, and should any terrorists out there take that as a signal that regardless of any alerts held against them, they can gain entry into New Zealand simply by adding the word “Smith” at the end of their names?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I would not recommend trying that, no.

Hon Murray McCully: Has it crossed the Prime Minister’s mind that when Australia has used its post - September 11 anti-terrorist legislation to designate 88 separate terrorists or terrorist organisations, Canada has designated over 50, and the New Zealand Prime Minister has designated precisely none, she may just be giving the impression that New Zealand is a soft touch on matters of national security; if not, why not?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I would not have thought that the Order in Council enabling the deportation of a Mr Ali would lead anyone to conclude that.

Keith Locke: Would it not have been a bit silly to designate Mr Abdullah, or Mr Ali, when the United States interrogated him intensively after September 11 and did not see a need to deport him, even though he was not a US citizen, and could she, without disclosing operational details, give us a bit more of an explanation of why he was deported, in view of the fact that the United States did not deport him?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: My understanding is the same as the member’s: that this man was not deported from the United States. Personally, I consider it a no-brainer that someone who has been a roommate of a 9/11 terrorist, and who is having pilot training, is here for no particularly good purpose. He seems to have had perfectly adequate English. He applied to come here to learn English. That is not what he set out to do. And he has gone.

Finance, Minister—Confidence

6. GERRY BROWNLEE (Deputy Leader—National) to the Prime Minister: Does she have confidence in the Minister of Finance?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK (Prime Minister): Yes.

Gerry Brownlee: Does she agree with Dr Cullen’s statements that Television New Zealand and three of the countries largest newspapers were biased in their coverage of the debate over tax cuts and were running a personal agenda in favour of tax cuts; if so, why?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: Dr Cullen and I would not be the only people in New Zealand who thought the media had something of an obsession with this issue.

Gerry Brownlee: Did she have any discussions with Dr Cullen following the broadcast of television footage showing him criticising a number of senior journalists for stories about tax cuts, and did she give him any counsel about the inadvisability of shooting the messenger?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: Yes, we did have a discussion. The main conclusion of that discussion was to not trust that particular journalist again.

Gerry Brownlee: Has she told Dr Cullen that while 63 percent of New Zealanders believe he could have given tax cuts, his attacking journalists for doing their job simply reinforces the view that he has no acceptable reason for his heavy taxation burden on New Zealand workers?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I do not know how many times the National Party has to be told that New Zealand is not a heavily taxed country.

Gerry Brownlee: Does she accept that the poor response to the “Bondi Budget” is in large part due to Dr Cullen’s failure to deliver much-expected tax cuts, and can she confirm that it will take the retirement of Dr Cullen for Labour to deliver on New Zealand workers’ expectation that they will get tax cuts?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I expect Dr Cullen to keep on delivering better services and infrastructure—all the things that cannot be done if everything is thrown away in tax cuts as the National Party wants to do.

Food Standards Australia New Zealand—LY038 High Lysine Corn

7. JEANETTE FITZSIMONS (Co-Leader—Green) to the Minister for Food Safety: Does she have confidence in the recommendation in the draft assessment report by Food Standards Australia New Zealand to approve the sale and use of food derived from LY038 high lysine corn?

Hon ANNETTE KING (Minister for Food Safety): I have no opinion on the draft assessment for the setting of the standard of LY038 corn at this stage, as the application is part way through the process of consideration.

Jeanette Fitzsimons: Is she aware that high lysine corn is substantially different from normal corn in that its high level of lysine, when cooked with the sugars in corn, produces highly hazardous compounds, and is she concerned that the New Zealand Food Safety Authority has made no attempt to assess this demonstrated food hazard that results from cooking or processing?

Hon ANNETTE KING: I am aware of those comments and they have been made in a submission by Dr Heinemann to Food Standards Australia New Zealand. His submissions will be taken into consideration.

Darien Fenton: What steps need to be followed before a standard may be finalised?

Hon ANNETTE KING: As noted in the original answer, the assessment is still at the draft stage and the application for approval of LY038 corn is still in progress. When this is completed, a final assessment report with recommendations will be made and considered by the Australia and New Zealand Food Regulation Ministerial Council. The ministerial council will consider a draft standard. It can either accept the recommendation made by Food Standards Australia New Zealand or request two reviews before a final decision is made on a draft standard.

Sue Kedgley: Why on earth is Food Standards Australia New Zealand considering approving for human consumption something that has only ever been approved for animal feed, and does this mean that in future anything that has been approved for animal feed will now be allowed in our food supply; and if not, why not?

Hon ANNETTE KING: The answer to the last part of the question is no, but the reason this corn is being considered is that Food Standards Australia New Zealand wants it assessed to see whether it would be safe for human consumption if it should accidentally get into the food chain.

Jeanette Fitzsimons: When she meets with the Australian Ministers to make the final decision, will she be asking why the New Zealand Food Safety Authority used controls to assess the corn that do not comply with its own rules or with World Health Organisation standards, and is she concerned that this decision would set a precedent that Food Standards Australia New Zealand does not have to follow its own rules or those of the World Health Organisation, and set a precedent that testing for animal feed can substitute for testing for human food, and set a precedent that hybrids from this new corn would also be legal human food without further testing?

Hon ANNETTE KING: There is a lot of water to go under the bridge before it reaches the ministerial council, including an assessment of the final submissions on this application. This application will take account of those matters raised by Dr Heinemann—the very matters the member has mentioned. I am assured the council will consider them. However, Food Standards Australia New Zealand disputes the fact that it has not followed its own rules.

Question No. 3 to Minister

Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS (Leader—NZ First): I seek leave to table, in the interests of veracity and truth, a speech I made on 24 February 1998 on the question of granting a full inquiry into finding out why there had been a blackout in Auckland. In particular, I stated that we intended to discover what kind of operation Mercury Energy had been running and who was responsible for what had happened. It is as simple as that—rather than being the totally obtuse piece of misinformation given by Dr Nick Smith.

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

Hon Dr NICK SMITH (National—Nelson): I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I assume that that is the same speech for which I sought the leave of the House to table, so perhaps I should read its first line: “One would not have thought from that speech that in 1986 the Labour Government decided to deregulate the electricity industry.”

Madam SPEAKER: Is the member seeking leave to table that speech, or is this a point of information?

Hon Dr NICK SMITH: It is a point of information.

Madam SPEAKER: Well, that is not a point of order. There was objection to the tabling of the document, so we will now move on to question No. 8.

GERRY BROWNLEE (Deputy Leader—National): I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I want to make it very clear that Dr Smith was objecting to the fact that one cannot seek to table the same document twice in 1 day. Dr Smith previously sought to table the speech that Mr Peters wanted to table, but in fact he had leave to do that denied by Mr Peters. So it is not possible for him to seek to table it again.

Madam SPEAKER: Yes, one can table the same document twice in the same day, so that is not a valid point of order.

Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS (Leader—NZ First): I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. That is an exact illustration of what I mean about the National Party. The National member sought to table the speech, but now that the member has actually read it, the National Party does not want to table it again. National is wasting Parliament’s time.

Madam SPEAKER: No, I thank the member. He has made his point, but that was not a point of order, either.

Health Sector Strike Action—Junior Doctors and Radiation Therapists

8. Hon TONY RYALL (National—Bay of Plenty) to the Minister of Health: What is the latest estimate of how many patients will have their specialist appointment or operation disrupted as a result of strikes by radiation therapists and junior doctors, and what will happen to these patients?

Hon PETE HODGSON (Minister of Health): District health boards advise that more than 10,000 patients will have their specialist appointments or operations postponed, should both strikes proceed.

Hon Tony Ryall: What did the Minister mean when he told district health board chief executives earlier this year that the Government has an appetite for industrial action in the health sector this year?

Hon PETE HODGSON: I have never made any such comment.

Ann Hartley: Does the Government agree that an average working week of 55 to 58 hours needs to be addressed, and is that not a feature of the junior doctors’ claim?

Hon PETE HODGSON: Yes, the Government does agree—which is why the Doctors in Training Workforce Roundtable was established last year. The number of hours worked by registered medical officers has fallen steeply in recent years, but it can fall further. The issue at the heart of this debate is how to do that, and the choices appear to be either to reduce rigidities in the system or to seek to increase further the number of junior doctors.

Hon Tony Ryall: What advice or parameters have the Government given district health boards or their negotiators dealing with the junior doctors’ strike?

Hon PETE HODGSON: There are no parameters offered by the Government, and the key piece of advice for all parties is to remain within New Zealand’s industrial law.

Hon Tony Ryall: What is the Government’s preference: to get the extra junior doctors needed to cover the hours released by reducing the working hours of junior doctors, or to deal with the rigidities in the contract?

Hon PETE HODGSON: I think it needs to be acknowledged that 10,000 New Zealanders will have their out-patient appointments or surgical interventions postponed if this strike proceeds, and I regret that. I urge both parties, if they can see the possibility of a way forward, to resolve the issue before the strike begins on Thursday. If the strike is to proceed—and that seems to be distinctly possible—then, of course, all lifesaving procedures will occur, nonetheless, because the law requires that.

Dr Jonathan Coleman: When hospital nurses won a 20 to 30 percent pay increase did the Minister really expect that other health professionals would settle for 3 percent, and did the Government not foresee that it was triggering a domino effect of industrial action?

Hon PETE HODGSON: The member will be aware that in the case, for example, of physiotherapists, significant pay increases have been awarded since the nurses’ settlement. However, in the case of radiation therapists and resident medical officers, district health boards are of the view that their significant pay increase preceded those for nurses by some years.

Hon Tony Ryall: Why have things got so bad on this Minister’s watch that he has caused a domino effect of strife throughout the health sector, where the radiotherapists are on strike, the junior doctors are on the verge of a nationwide strike, pharmacy negotiations are in trouble, and general practitioners are rebelling against the Government’s plans to control their businesses; why is it all now such a mess when Annette King kept it so quiet?

Hon PETE HODGSON: This Government faces a range of challenges and vicissitudes every week and has done so for 6½ years, and always attempts to approach its challenges with commonsense and equanimity, a couple of features that I would commend to the member who seems easily riled.

Building Code—Review

9. STEVE CHADWICK (Labour—Rotorua) to the Minister for Building Issues: What reports, if any, has he received on the review of the building code?

Hon CLAYTON COSGROVE (Minister for Building Issues): I have received a number of reports supporting the Government’s review of the building code. The Construction Industry Council said the review will “ensure that New Zealanders get what they want from their buildings.” The Registered Master Builders Federation of New Zealand “welcomed the review.” The Auckland City Council also welcomed the review for “the opportunity it provides to bring in new standards and targets which are better suited to the modern building environment and sustainable development.” I have seen one other commentator, however, clearly still in denial over the terrible consequences of the building industry deregulation in the 1990s, who claimed falsely that building regulations would ban “the do-it-yourself builder.” That is wrong; they are protected. That commentator, of course, was the National Party building issues spokesperson, Nick Smith.

Steve Chadwick: Why is it necessary to review the building code?

Hon CLAYTON COSGROVE: The existing building code is over 15 years old and reflects that which I spoke about—the attitudes of the 1990s. The new code will set out a modern performance-based set of rules and standards for building design and construction so our homes and workplaces are built right the first time. It will have an emphasis on energy efficiency and sustainability, to reflect what people expect from their buildings in the 21st century. I encourage people to get involved in the review—if the members opposite can swallow their pride and admit they were wrong, I am happy for even them to submit.

State-owned Enterprises—Scope

10. KATHERINE RICH (National) to the Minister for State Owned Enterprises: Is he confident that expanding the scope of SOEs will result in broader benefits to the economy when the Treasury, the Government’s main policy adviser, says “the benefits of expansion are unlikely to be substantial”, and CCMAU says “that new initiatives can, and should occur, within the existing operating framework for SOEs”?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD (Minister for State Owned Enterprises): Yes, because—unlike the National Party—I do not take everything Treasury says as gospel, and neither comment is correct.

Katherine Rich: So, in backing this risky plan, what does the Minister know that the combined brains of Treasury, the Crown Company Monitoring Advisory Unit, and the Ministry of Economic Development—all of which have expressed concerns—do not?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: I would have thought that, being the day after yesterday, today is a very bad day to put a lot of confidence in people of that background.

Rodney Hide: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. It is very interesting to hear about this day being the day after yesterday, but pointing out that obvious fact cannot possibly be regarded as addressing that question.

Madam SPEAKER: No, the Minister did address the question.

Moana Mackey: Does the Minister believe that the boards of State-owned enterprises have the expertise necessary to give effect to this latest policy change; if so, why?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: Yes. The boards of our State-owned enterprises contain a lot of very experienced and talented business people, many of whom were appointed by the previous National Government. I note that John Key has said he believes that board chairs are Labour Party cronies. I wonder whether he told Wayne Brown, Wayne Boyd, Alison Paterson, Brian Corban, or Jim Bolger that they are Labour Party cronies.

Gordon Copeland: Why, when one of the lessons of the 20th century is that Governments are not good at running businesses, does the Minister steadfastly cling to State-owned enterprises having 100 percent State ownership when a minority sale to mum and dad investors has the potential to revitalise those businesses, lift local savings and investment, and advance the transformation of the New Zealand economy?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: Looking at Air New Zealand, Telecom, Tranz Rail, and other wonderful assets that were hocked off in the past in a way—[Interruption]

Madam SPEAKER: The Minister cannot be heard. As I said, interjections are permitted, but not barracking to the point whereby other members in the Chamber cannot hear the answer.

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: This time I would back the governance and management of State-owned enterprises against that of the privatised companies that have not been doing very well recently.

Katherine Rich: When the Minister has just expressed confidence in the current stable of State-owned enterprise directors, does he share the Ministry of Economic Development’s concerns: “about the ability of the current governance arrangements to cope with this new direction”, and that: “State-owned enterprises would require greater and different kinds of commercial acumen to that which is currently expected of State-owned enterprises boards and management”; if not, why not?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: We have been doing a lot of improving over the last 6 or 7 years. People like Michelle Boag, a former National Party president who is very close to the National Party; Michael Cox, who was the partner of a Minister at the time; Lindsay Tisch, who was at that time a recently failed MP; Margaret Moir, who was in a similar category; John Armstrong; and Graeme Reeves were all hacks who were put on to State-owned enterprise boards, and we are cleaning them out pretty well.

Gordon Copeland: Could the Minister please advise the House, in referring to Telecom, Air New Zealand, and New Zealand Rail, which of those companies, if any, had a partial minority sale down to mum and dad investors of New Zealand?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: From memory, Telecom did, and that—

Rt Hon Winston Peters: It had a monopoly.

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: Telecom was partially a trade sale. There was a float within New Zealand by way of application, and a lot of mums and dads bought into it.

Katherine Rich: Does the Minister stand by his Cabinet paper that indicates one reason for encouraging State-owned enterprises to diversify is that: “… we do not want SOEs to get into a rut, to become too predictable and boring for those who work in and with them.”; and since when has risking taxpayers’ money been about creating a workplace that is not boring or a State-owned enterprise that is not boring to work with?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: Frankly, a “steady as she goes”, “no change” approach has caused us to lose some talented State-owned enterprise executives. I would prefer their jobs to be challenging, and sometimes that involves those State-owned enterprises having a bit of skin in the game.

Katherine Rich: Is the Minister saying that is an OK reason to embark on a risky expansion programme to create a workplace that is not boring, and does the Minister know the difference between a State-owned enterprise and a social club?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: Clearly that is not the only reason one moves in that way, but I think if it does hold talented executives in State-owned enterprises, then that is another good reason for doing what is good transformational policy.

Hon Dr Michael Cullen: Can the Minister confirm that one example, which has already been undertaken, was Meridian Energy’s expansion into Australia, which enabled it to purchase wind power at much reduced cost and also led to a very substantial profit on the sale of those Australian assets?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: From memory it was either $600 million or $800 million in profit, which I think has made a very worthwhile contribution to Auckland roads. I know that members opposite opposed it at the time, but that does not surprise me.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Can the Minister confirm, on the question of State-owned enterprise management, sale or otherwise, whether he recalls the sale of the BNZ, which at that time had 60 percent—[Interruption] History is important for a young lad like that member. It might pay to learn some.

Madam SPEAKER: Would the member just ask the question.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: He should be shot out of the House. He intervened while I was asking a question.

Madam SPEAKER: The member is actually right. All members are entitled to the courtesy of not being interrupted when asking their question. Would the member please start again.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Does the Minister remember the sale of the BNZ in October 1992 by the National Party, which was then led by Jim Bolger, when the BNZ had 60 percent of New Zealanders as banking customers, and the subsequent taking up of the job of heading Kiwibank by one Jim Bolger, and is that evidence that the National Party has learnt something from its past experience or—going by that question today—that it has learnt nothing at all?

Madam SPEAKER: The Minister is not responsible for National Party members, but if it is within the responsibility of the Minister, in terms of the Chair, and it is addressed in that narrow way, then that should be within the Standing Orders.

Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. That is a very, very loose interpretation of the Standing Orders. It would lead us to the point where somebody who is sympathetic to a position the Government wanted to advance could ask any old question. A Minister could then attempt at least to give an answer that might placate both the proposer of the question and the Government’s own ends. Question time should be to question Ministers about things for which they are responsible. This is hardly one of those questions.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. The fact is that Jim Bolger was the National Party Prime Minister who sold the BNZ. He is also the former National Party leader who took a job as the head of Kiwibank. Surely, as he was not included in the list of hacks explained by the Minister, that is a fair question to ask. The question is whether the Minister takes that as evidence that some people learn from their experiences. He made the appointment, after all, not them.

Madam SPEAKER: The Minister does not have any responsibility for what National Party members may learn from their experience, so the question from that point of view is out of order.

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I do, though, I think have responsibility for what State-owned enterprise board chairs learn from their experience.

Madam SPEAKER: That may well be true, but that was not the question.

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: It was, actually. It was about the Kiwibank chair, Jim Bolger.

Madam SPEAKER: Would the member like to redirect his question.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. That member has made it his responsibility to get up and raise totally nebulous, silly, and irrelevant points of order, and he should not be allowed to get away with it. The fact is that Jim Bolger did sell BNZ, against a lot of opposition in this House. He then took the job as the head of Kiwibank, and my original question related to the matter of experience. After all, that Minister belongs to the Government that made the appointment, and I am entitled to ask whether he thinks it has got anything from it. The fact that the National Party is deeply embarrassed by it is neither here nor there.

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: I can confirm that Jim Bolger was the chair of New Zealand Post. He subsequently became the chair of Kiwibank. He is a very good chair and is someone who understands the role of State-owned enterprises expanding in order to add economic value. I do know that, both at the time and subsequently, National Party people opposed that expansion, because they just do not like the New Zealand taxpayer owning anything.

Madam SPEAKER: That is not relevant.

Katherine Rich: Does the Minister guarantee that State-owned enterprises will not diversify into markets already served by private sector businesses?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: I suggest that the member reads the Cabinet paper and the press statement.

Madam SPEAKER: No. If the Minister would like to expand on that.

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: It is made very clear, both in the press statement and in the Cabinet paper, that there is a requirement for spillover benefits. Shunting a private sector company out of a small niche market is something that just would not be acceptable under those criteria.

Dr Don Brash: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. Mr Copeland asked the Minister a question during the course of that questioning about whether Telecom had been partially sold down to mum and dad investors. There was quite a lot of noise going on in the House and I am not sure I heard the Minister correctly, but I think he said that, yes, Telecom was sold in part in a trade sale, and in part to mum and dad investors. My recollection is that Telecom was sold outright in 1990 by the Government, of which Helen Clark was Deputy Prime Minister at the time, to a series of large American corporates and a small number of—I think, two—New Zealand wealthy investors.

Hon Dr Michael Cullen: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. It would be very helpful to have all the facts. The member got as far as his memory took him; however, he forgot it was a condition of that sale that there was a subsequent on-sale down on the New Zealand share market.

Madam SPEAKER: This is all very interesting, but I want to rule on this point of order. They were not points of order, though they were points of information.

Gerry Brownlee: I seek leave to table a prospectus for the privatisation of Auckland airport, signed by the Rt Hon Winston Peters.

Leave granted.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I seek leave to table all the surrounding publicity for that sale, which was exclusively to the New Zealand market, in respect of those shares that went on the market that day at a price way above anybody’s expectations—so one could say it is the only successful privatisation this country has ever seen.

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

Aotea (Great Barrier) Marine Reserve—Tribal Fishing Rights

11. PITA PARAONE (NZ First) to the Minister of Fisheries: Is he satisfied that the tribal fishing rights of Ngâti Wai have been satisfactorily addressed in the process of creating a proposed marine reserve off Great Barrier Island?

Hon PAREKURA HOROMIA (Associate Minister of Fisheries) on behalf of the Minister of Fisheries: I can advise that the Minister does have some concerns about the potential impact the proposed marine reserve at Great Barrier Island could have on the customary fishing rights of Ngâti Wai. These concerns, along with all other potential impacts of the proposal on fishing activities, are currently being considered by the Ministry of Fisheries.

Pita Paraone: How many marine reserve proposals for the Northland area are currently being considered, and at what point does the Minister of Fisheries become involved in the evaluation and consultation process of marine reserve proposals?

Hon PAREKURA HOROMIA: I do not know the exact figure for marine reserve proposals in Northland, but I do know that the Marine Reserves Act 1971 requires the Minister of Fisheries’ concurrence with the Minister of Conservation’s decision. This ensures that fisheries stakeholders’ rights, including customary rights, are taken into account before marine reserves are established.

Pita Paraone: Will the Minister of Fisheries assign a weighting to the Ngâti Wai tribal rights in his consideration of whether he should give his concurrent consent to the establishment of a marine reserve off Great Barrier Island; if so, how?

Hon PAREKURA HOROMIA: On 23 May 2006 ministry officials also met with the Ngâti Wai Trust Board—Ngâti Wai in Whangarei—which is the iwi authority recognised by te iwi o Ngâti Wai under the Mâori Fisheries Act 2004, to discuss customary fishing around the region of Aotea. He is looking forward to more information from the officials.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I should not have to raise this point of order, but the Mâori affairs spokesman for the National Party shouted out: “Who are the Ngâti Wai?”. Well, they are the people of the sea—unlike the people all at sea, which is the party he belongs to.

Madam SPEAKER: That is not a point of order.

Taito Phillip Field—Conflicts of Interest Report

12. Dr the Hon LOCKWOOD SMITH (National—Rodney) to the Prime Minister: When does she expect to receive the Ingram report on alleged conflicts of interest involving Taito Phillip Field, given that she originally set the deadline for 4 October last year, just 9 working days after she first established the inquiry?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK (Prime Minister): When it is finished.

Dr the Hon Lockwood Smith: Has the Prime Minister’s maintenance of “regular contact” with Taito Phillip Field led her to stand by her statement of 14 September last year: “I think the only thing he is probably guilty of is trying to be helpful to someone.”; if not, why not?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: Indeed I think he was, but I am awaiting a full report.

Dr the Hon Lockwood Smith: When Taito Phillip Field told the media: “Only God knows the truth of what is going to happen … you should ask him”, did she take that as a commitment to his remaining a member of the Labour Party; if not, what commitment has she received that he will remain in the Labour Party in Government?

Madam SPEAKER: That question relates to the Prime Minister as a party leader, not as the Prime Minister.

Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. That question goes right to the heart of the Government’s ability to maintain a majority. I do not think the matter can be dismissed as being a Labour Party issue; it is very much an issue for the Government. Everyone knows that if Taito Phillip Field leaps to some other party, as he is entitled to do, then the Government would suddenly need to have a different set of arrangements to maintain a majority.

Hon Dr Michael Cullen: This is a very important point, because, of course, if that question is allowed, it is equally in order for us to ask questions of Dr Brash, in his role as leader of the parliamentary National Party, about members of his caucus. The fact that there is a differentiation in role between being the leader of a party and being the Prime Minister is fundamental to the way in which question time can operate. If the member cares to consult the Standing Orders, he will find that it is possible to address questions to a private member in relation to his or her parliamentary responsibilities, and if that question is allowed in the form in which it has been asked, then we can ask that member—and I am sure we would like to, frequently—questions about his colleagues and his responsibility for them.

Dr the Hon Lockwood Smith: The reason why I believe that that question falls within the Standing Orders is that the Prime Minister also has a responsibility to maintain the confidence and supply of this Parliament—in other words, a majority. If one of her members has an intention to leave her party, that brings into question her ability as Prime Minister to maintain a majority in this Parliament. She is responsible for that. [Interruption]

Madam SPEAKER: Order, please! This is an important point. The Prime Minister can certainly be asked about whether the Government has the confidence of the House, but the issue is about the individual member in terms of his party membership. So I ask the member to try to redirect his question towards the issue of ministerial responsibility.

Dr the Hon Lockwood Smith: When the Prime Minister told the media that Taito Phillip Field’s position is that “he is working through the issues in the report but I have no reason to doubt his membership of the Labour Party.”, was she saying that regardless of the seriousness of any of the findings in the Ingram report, no actions of her former Minister, while he was a Minister, could be sufficiently serious for her to question his continued membership of the Labour Party in Government?

Madam SPEAKER: That relates to when the member was a Minister, so if the Prime Minister can address any confidence she has at that level, not after the time when he stood down from being a Minister, then that would be acceptable.

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: The member is not a Minister, so I do not have responsibility for his actions.

Dr the Hon Lockwood Smith: During her “regular contact” with Taito Phillip Field, did he discuss with her the reasons that the Asian crime unit may have been investigating his activities?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: My contact with Mr Field is as the leader of the party, not as Prime Minister. I have responsibility here only as Prime Minister.

Dr the Hon Lockwood Smith: In ensuring that she maintains a majority in this Parliament, does she have any standards at all that she expects of members of her administration in meeting the normal legal requirements of this country, or are there no standards at all and would she accept any behaviour in trying to maintain the confidence and supply of this Government?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: Mr Field is not a Minister, and in terms of standards Dr Smith would never make the cut in this Government, either.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. You have just heard a most serious allegation made against a member of this House. I would have assumed that such a serious allegation would be backed up with some proof or documentary evidence, or with something to verify the reason that that question was asked. The question was not asked accidentally; it was planned. I do not know whether there is such evidence, but Dr Lockwood Smith owed it to this Parliament to provide some evidence before he asked a question in such a cavalier fashion, implicating a member of Parliament in a possible crime. I ask him to give us that evidence.

Madam SPEAKER: That is not a point of order.

Taito Phillip Field: I seek leave to make a personal explanation under the appropriate Standing Order of this House. I want to make it clear to this House, and to the member that has just asked those questions in relation to a possible investigation, that the only thing I am guilty of is to go overboard, or to go the extra mile, in order to help people who came to me in a desperate situation. I want to make that quite clear to that member, who has, on various occasions in the last few months, questioned the Prime Minister with regard to that issue. I want to make it quite clear that my statements to the media last week, in relation to the question the reporter asked me about my future, meant that I do not have a crystal ball. All I said, in response to that question, was that only God knows the future, and that the reporter should ask Him. If the member wants to make something out of that statement in relation to my loyalty to the Labour Party, then he is going down the wrong track.

ENDS

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