Questions And Answers - Tuesday, 20 June 2006
Questions And Answers - Tuesday, 20 June
Questions to Ministers
Police Cells—Private Security
1. RON MARK (NZ First) to the Minister of Police: Do the police hire private security firms for the purpose of monitoring potentially suicidal inmates being held in police cells; if so, under what circumstances are they used for this purpose?
Hon ANNETTE KING (Minister of Police): I am advised that in some instances, yes. The decision as to who will undertake guard duties in police cells—for example, whether they are sworn officers, temporary sworn officers, or security guards—is a decision for district commanders.
Ron Mark: Does she have confidence in the vetting processes performed by the police before they hire staff from private security firms to work within police stations; if so, why?
Hon ANNETTE KING: It is my expectation that the police will always follow good and thorough procedures, and I know that that is also what the police expect.
Simon Power: Can the Minister confirm that temporary constables have also been used to guard those taken into custody with mental health problems; if so, have those decoy cops received the same specific training that police recruits and probationary constables do in managing people with mental illness?
Hon ANNETTE KING: Yes, I can confirm that temporary sworn officers are acting as jailers and guards in police cells, as they have for many years. However, I cannot confirm that they have the same level of training. I am happy to check that for the member. However, I will also check to see what sort of training they have had in the past and whether there has been any change in that training.
Sue Bradford: Will the Minister be talking to her colleague the Minister of Health about the urgent need to increase the capacity of adequately staffed mental health acute units, so that the frequency and length of stay of people with acute mental illness in police cells is reduced as soon as possible?
Hon ANNETTE KING: I can tell that member that not only has discussion taken place between the Minister of Corrections and the Minister of Health but also action has been taken in terms of increasing the number of forensic beds in mental health institutions, to help take the pressure off police cells. As the member may remember, a strategy was set out a number of years ago, and it has been systematically implemented.
Ron Mark: Is the Minister aware of a recent incident in which a male employee of a private security firm, who was hired to watch over a female inmate regarded as being at a high risk of attempting suicide while in a police cell, was revealed by subsequent checks to be a gang member with a long criminal record, including serious offences against women; if so, does she consider it appropriate to have such an employee, firstly, working within the inner sanctum of a large police station and, secondly, watching over a female inmate?
Hon ANNETTE KING: No, I certainly do not think it is appropriate. I thank the member for drawing that matter to my attention. I will seek more information on it.
Ron Mark: Is the Minister aware that after that incident, the very next security guard to take over the suicide watch shift within the inner sanctum of the large police station in question was also subsequently checked by the police and found to have a history of serious offending against children; does she consider it appropriate to have that employee, firstly, working within the inner sanctum of a large police station and, secondly, watching over a female inmate?
Hon ANNETTE KING: Obviously not. I will ask the member to provide that information to me. I am sure the Commissioner of Police will want to know about it, and appropriate action ought to be taken.
Electricity Supply—Capital Works
2. Hon Dr NICK SMITH (National—Nelson) to the Minister for State Owned Enterprises: Does he agree with the Minister of Energy’s statement on National Radio that “We’re spending five times as much on capital works in the transmission area as was being spent a few years ago, five times as much every year”, and does he agree with the statement of the Prime Minister in the House that “under the current Government, Transpower has been investing, on average, around $300 million per annum in its system.”?
Hon TREVOR MALLARD (Minister for State Owned Enterprises): Yes and yes, because I have read the whole quote from the Prime Minister, which is prefaced by the words: “The advice I have received today is …”. [Interruption] As it turns out, the advice the Prime Minister had been given was incorrect, because it included the word “average”—
Madam SPEAKER: It was impossible to hear the Minister’s response. As members know, interjections are permitted but barracking is not. All members in the House are entitled to hear both the questions and the answers.
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: It was incorrect because it included the word “average” instead of contrasting the low of $52 million with a rapid upward trend in spending. As acting Minister at the time I take responsibility for the incorrect advice, and the Prime Minister has made her displeasure clear to me.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: Can the Minister explain to the House since when the words “average”, “per annum”, and “every year” apply to a single year, and how can he say that this was the incorrect advice from Transpower when it is blatantly obvious from its annual reports that the Prime Minister’s figures were incorrect?
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: Because it was not advice from Transpower.
Shane Jones: How much has the average level of capital spending by Transpower increased under the current Government, and how much does the Minister expect it to increase in the near future?
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: I am advised that the average capital spend by Transpower in the 6 years before Labour became the Government was an embarrassingly low $78 million per year. Based on current capital planning, I expect the average spend by Transpower to increase to at least $500 million per annum over the next 6 years.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: Why, if the Government has been effectively investing so well in Transpower, do the annual reports show that in 6 of the last 7 years, depreciation has exceeded new investment so that the infrastructure assets have actually gone down in value by $106 million since Labour became the Government in 1999?
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: Because planning of major projects takes some time. It did not occur in the 1990s.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: Why does the Minister not just come clean and say that the Prime Minister’s spin machine got completely out of control last week such that she and her Minister would tell the public anything to be able to avoid responsibility—any responsibility—for the blackout in Auckland last week?
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: I have made it clear that I have accepted responsibility—
Hon Bill English: You made it up; you always do.
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: —for the incorrect information that was given to the Prime Minister, and it would be a pity if Bill English did not take responsibility for some of his errors. Of course, the long-term question—
Madam SPEAKER: I remind members again, interjections are permitted, but not barracking, otherwise the rest of the members cannot hear the answer.
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: The people who have put the long-term future of Auckland at risk have been Judith Collins and Paul Hutchison in the way they have wound farmers up for the last 12 months.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. We are on to question No. 2 today. I want to know whether there are special rules in this House for National members in this respect. They are making one hell of a din. They have done it since Parliament was called together. They are getting away with it day after day. Frankly, as someone who has been here a long time, I do not think they have any more rights than I or my colleagues have. The noise coming from the so-called National front bench is simply unacceptable, and someone should be thrown out of the House for it.
Madam SPEAKER: That was not a point of order but I do note what the member has said. I thought the barracking, in fact, had got better last week, but already on the second question—the member is right—it is very, very difficult for people to hear the answers. Would members please control themselves. Interjections are—or course—permitted but not the barracking so other members are denied the right to be able to hear the answer.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: Why should the public have confidence in Transpower when only a week after Auckland’s blackout, a Transpower failure yesterday at 12.50 p.m. caused a blackout in Rotorua’s central business district, affecting 12,000 businesses and homes, and our Transpower grid emergency also yesterday, at 5.40 p.m. caused the blackout for up to 3 hours affecting 6,000 homes in Tauranga; and how many more blackouts will we need before this Government will accept that the transmission grid is overworked due to underinvestment by his Government?
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: I accept all of that, other than the words “his Government”. The member should look in a mirror.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: Why does the Minister’s Government not just accept the obvious facts that electricity use has increased 20 percent since 1999 overall, and by more in areas like Auckland, Nelson, Bay of Plenty, and Christchurch, that investment in electricity infrastructure has not kept up with that growth, and that is why the lights keep going out?
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: I do accept that economic growth—during that period—has been stronger than predicted, and preparation did not occur in the 1990s for that to happen.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: I seek leave of the House to table the list of transmission investments for each of the years from 1995 to 2005, showing that in the 6 years of a Labour Government, investment was actually less—even in raw dollar terms—than the average in the previous 6 years.
Madam SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection? There is objection.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: I seek leave of the House to table from Transpower’s annual accounts its total infrastructure assets that show that since 1999 the asset base of Transpower has dropped by $106 million.
Madam SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection? There is objection.
3. MOANA MACKEY (Labour) to the Minister of Education: How are New Zealand schools accountable to their local communities?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY (Minister of Education): Schools are accountable to their communities through their elected boards of trustees, and to the Government for their public funding via the regular finance audit and the reporting requirements of section 87 of the Education Act. Schools are also subject to regular review by the Education Review Office as well as having to provide regular data returns to the Ministry of Education.
Moana Mackey: What is the appropriate procedure for a member of Parliament to raise issues about a local school’s performance?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: In the first instance they should raise their concerns with the relevant Minister and seek further information. It is not appropriate for a member of this House to threaten the principal of a school by saying that he has a knife in the principal’s back so the principal should be careful, to ask parliamentary questions and focus official information requests on one school while ignoring the other 26 in his electorate, to send his staff to report on this one school’s board of trustees meetings, and to write to the school demanding it report to him on its performance. Unfortunately, this unacceptable behaviour comes from one Allan Peachey, who is running a campaign that amounts to victimisation of the school concerned, and his senior colleagues should ask him to stop.
Hon Bill English: Why does the Minister continue to refuse to allow access to the SchoolSmart website, which would show every parent in the catchment of that school that its National Certificate of Educational Achievement (NCEA) results are not up to the average for similar schools, and what is wrong with the local member pointing that out when the Ministry of Education publishes exactly that comparison?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: I am advised that Selwyn College’s NCEA results are very close to the average for schools of similar decile. In fact, the information released to Mr Peachey shows that Selwyn College is ahead of the national average for schools of similar deciles in two out of three NCEA levels. If the member wants more information about the school, he should do what any other MP does and work directly through the Minister rather than running a campaign of intimidation against the single school he has focused on.
Hon Brian Donnelly: How likely is it that public condemnation by an elected MP, based on incorrect or invalid information of the performance of a school, will lead to its becoming a first choice school for the community; if it is highly unlikely, does he view Mr Peachey’s behaviour as either a personal vendetta or simple stupidity?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: I repeat that the usual thing for a local MP to do is to support his or her local schools, not run a campaign of victimisation that amounts to a personal vendetta against a school. I give advice to anyone in the House working with their local schools that their first point of contact for information is here, and if there are members on the other side who are senior to Mr Peachey, they may like to teach him that.
Gordon Copeland: Does the Minister consider that limiting the sale of junk food and drinks in schools is the responsibility of legislators or the responsibility of the schools and the communities, and to send the right signal in that regard what will he do to offset the thousands of dollars in revenue that the schools stand to lose by reducing the sale of junk food and fizzy drinks?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: At the present time, of course, it is the responsibility of schools to look after what occurs in the schools. I certainly hope that what they do at the present time is voluntarily look at the kinds of food available to students on their campuses. I seek leave to table one letter and one email. The letter is from Mr Allan Peachey to Selwyn College, demanding that it reports to him on its performance.
Madam SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection? There is objection.
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: I seek leave to table an email from a member of the school and community, asking whether there are any National Party leaders who are in Parliament today who might stop the lamentable behaviour of Mr Peachey.
Child, Youth and Family Services, Department—Infant Homicide Rate
4. JUDITH COLLINS (National—Clevedon) to the Associate Minister for Social Development and Employment (CYF): What reviews, if any, has Child, Youth and Family Services conducted into the infant homicide rate in New Zealand?
Hon RUTH DYSON (Associate Minister for Social Development and Employment (CYF)): Two reviews have been conducted by, or on behalf of, Child, Youth and Family Services into infant homicide rates. The first was in 1997, and recommendations have been implemented. A further report was commissioned in January 2005. The first draft of that report was received in March 2005. A second draft was received in September 2005, and further work has been undertaken with key stakeholders. That report includes a literature review about the incidence and nature of abuse of young children in New Zealand, analysis of data for admissions to hospital for serious inflicted injuries, Child, Youth and Family Services data, and information from police on homicides of children under 5 years. That report is expected to be finalised next month.
Judith Collins: If the Minister decided to go for the current review that she is talking about, instead of the multidisciplinary approach review announced in 2004, did she consider at that stage that it might be important to tell the Children’s Commissioner, Early Start Christchurch, the chief Child, Youth and Family Services social worker, or even the New Zealand public that she had changed the way that review was going to take place?
Hon RUTH DYSON: The way the review was going to take place has not changed. I advise the member to ask people who know the facts, rather than rely totally on the best daily newspaper in New Zealand, the Press, which, on this very rare occasion, was totally incorrect in both its headlines and the substance of the article.
Judith Collins: Just to assist the Minister at this stage, I seek leave of the House to table a report from 9 October 2004 that sets out the way in which the review was supposed to be taking place, including Child, Youth and Family Services staff, Ministry of Health, Starship Children’s Health’s child abuse unit, Early Start Christchurch, and the Office of the Children’s Commissioner.
Madam SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection? There is objection.
Taito Phillip Field: What proportion of child homicides in New Zealand concern children known to Child, Youth and Family Services?
Hon RUTH DYSON: Four out of every five children who are killed in New Zealand are not known to the department. For every child who dies at the hands of a parent or caregiver there are many other people around them who could have, perhaps, stepped in and made a difference. Child, Youth and Family Services is most often the last link in the protective chain.
Anne Tolley: Why is Child, Youth and Family Services incapable of completing reviews and reports anywhere near their proposed deadlines, and why are issues like infant homicide and youth justice not considered important enough to be given urgent attention?
Hon RUTH DYSON: First, I advise the member that before asking supplementary questions it is worthwhile listening to the answer to the primary question. I did explain to her colleague Judith Collins that the report, which was not prepared by Child, Youth and Family Services but commissioned by Child, Youth and Family Services, did, in fact, meet the terms of the contract and the draft report was delivered to the department on time.
Anne Tolley: What involvement has the Starship Children’s Health child abuse centre had in the review that the Minister referred to as having its first draft presented to her in March 2005?
Hon RUTH DYSON: In the draft report that was presented in March 2005 the clinical director of the child abuse unit of Starship Children’s Health was specifically and personally thanked for his contribution to the report.
Judith Collins: Why, after a 50 percent increase in funding for Child, Youth and Family Services since 2003, has this review not been completed to the point that it can be released, more than a year after it was due?
Hon RUTH DYSON: The report, as in the terms of the contract, was delivered to Child, Youth and Family Services on time. The subsequent period has been used for consulting on what are quite contentious issues contained within the report. It was always intended to be an internal report, as was outlined in the press statement issued by the acting chief social worker, Craig Smith, at the time. It was never intended to be a public report. Frankly, if the findings of that report can make any contribution to the work that the public of New Zealand need to do in order to help lower the incidence of child abuse and death in New Zealand, it would be worthwhile making that report public.
Judith Collins: How many reviews has Child, Youth and Family Services announced in the last 7 years, and how many of those reviews have resulted in one child’s life being saved?
Hon RUTH DYSON: Tragically, the causal link between reports and child deaths is not as simplistic as the member would wish. I wish it was as easy as that.
New Zealand Public Health and Disability Act—Te Tiriti o Waitangi
5. TARIANA TURIA (Co-Leader—Mâori Party) to the Minister of Health: Have instructions been issued to the Ministry of Health to prepare amending legislation to remove references to Te Tiriti o Waitangi from the New Zealand Public Health and Disability Act 2000; if so, why?
Hon PETE HODGSON (Minister of Health): No, there have been no instructions, and there are no plans to issue instructions.
Tariana Turia: Does the Minister agree with the former Minister of Health the Hon Annette King that a Treaty clause in the New Zealand Public Health and Disability Act provides a clearer exposition of what it interprets its Treaty obligations in the area of health to be, and can he tell the House what those obligations are; if not, why not?
Hon PETE HODGSON: Yes, I do, and they are in the Act.
Ann Hartley: How has Mâori health improved under this Labour-led Government?
Hon PETE HODGSON: Consistently.
Hon Tau Henare: Obesity figures are up!
Hon PETE HODGSON: Life expectancy for Mâori has improved by 2.6 years for males and 1.9 years for females, over the past 5 years, plus the gap in life expectancy between Mâori and all New Zealanders has at last begun to narrow. Further, rates of smoking—a major risk factor—have declined. I acknowledge the interjection from Tau Henare, who said that obesity figures are going up; that is a serious issue, and the Government has placed a good deal of emphasis on it.
Barbara Stewart: Can the Minister demonstrate how references to the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi in legislation have improved elective surgery outcomes for all New Zealanders?
Hon PETE HODGSON: Elective surgery is not done on an ethnic basis; it is done on a needs basis, and it always will be. However, many aspects of the New Zealand health system are directed towards Mâori, because the disparities between Mâori health and non-Mâori health, though we now hope they may be reducing, are still wide and still unacceptable.
Hon Tony Ryall: Why has the Government chosen to recognise the health needs of one part of the community over all others, on the basis of race?
Hon PETE HODGSON: The Government does not do so. What the Government does do is acknowledge that the disparities that cut across the various gradients of disparity in New Zealand are well known to this House, and if they are not, they should be. The disparities are substantially economic, as well as there being a further overlay of ethnic. In order to reduce disparities in our health system, the Government often targets policies towards people who are in most need, and that includes Mâori sometimes—including through Mâori providers. Interestingly, that policy was begun by National around 10 years ago.
Tariana Turia: Is the Minister satisfied with the way in which Treaty obligations are understood and implemented, when it was reported in the recent edition of the world’s leading medical journal, The Lancet, that there is growing evidence that Mâori have less access to, and lower quality of, lifesaving treatments; if he is not, what does he intend to do about this situation?
Hon PETE HODGSON: The idea of growing trends is due to the fact that we have been looking harder for those trends—that is, the Decades of Disparity study. That is a three-phase study, the third chapter of which I have had the privilege to release in recent weeks. What is really interesting is that those researchers said at the conclusion of the third phase of the Decades of Disparity study that the next time such a study is done it will be called something different, because the National Government has gone and, with it, the decades of disparity.
Tariana Turia: I seek leave of the House to table an article entitled “What is the contribution of smoking and socioeconomic position to ethnic inequalities in mortality in New Zealand?”, which was published 10 days ago in The Lancet, and the memorandum to Cabinet’s social policy and health committee entitled “The Treaty of Waitangi and health legislation”, which was issued by the Hon Annette King in August 2000.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Does the Minister recall one Doug Graham, Bill English, and Tony Ryall inserting such provisions in legislation to do with health, when they were in power, and what is the word for that?
Hon Bill English: Wasn’t in there.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Oh yes, the member was; he was there. He might not have been awake, but he was there.
Hon PETE HODGSON: I can. Indeed, I have a report from the then Minister of Health, Wyatt Creech, in 1999 stating that the Government will recognise the Treaty by ensuring that public health and disability support services are responsive to Mâori needs, and by continuing to enable greater Mâori participation in the purchase and delivery of health and social services. The National Party is in denial about its record on this issue.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. My question had two parts to it. I asked in the second part whether there was a word for that, and whether it started with “h”.
Madam SPEAKER: As the member knows, supplementary questions normally require one question, not more than one. The Minister is obliged to address only one question.
6. JOHN CARTER (National—Northland) to the Minister of Civil Defence: What did he mean when he reportedly admitted today that New Zealand is not as prepared for an emergency as previously thought?
Hon RICK BARKER (Minister of Civil Defence): A recent survey done for the Ministry of Civil Defence and Emergency Management shows that 35 percent of all New Zealanders—that is, more than a third of us—say that they are not well prepared, and 13 percent say that they are not prepared at all. In the recent events down south, civil defence and emergency management, power companies, and telecommunication companies worked incredibly hard in trying conditions, and they should be applauded for their efforts. What I want is for people to have a look in hindsight to see what we can learn in order for utility companies, local government, civil defence, and individuals to be better prepared for the future. That is a positive thing to do.
John Carter: What did he mean when he contradicted the Prime Minister’s statement on breakfast TV, when she said that she was satisfied with the response to the emergency disaster in South Canterbury and, as a junior Minister, he stated that he thought: “We could have done better. I accept that.”; who is right: the Prime Minister or him?
Hon RICK BARKER: When it comes to an issue between the Prime Minister and me, the Prime Minister is always right, of course. I do add the point that the civil defence people in South Canterbury did a great job, and there is no question about that. But there are some weaknesses in our infrastructure that I want to see identified, so that we are better prepared for the future. That is what we want to do. We want to be the best prepared that we can possibly be.
H V Ross Robertson: Can the Minister tell the House what he is doing in order to help prepare New Zealanders to get through a disaster?
Hon Members: Resign!
Madam SPEAKER: The member will be seated until the House is settled.
Hon RICK BARKER: On June 6 this year I had the pleasure of launching the second phase of a public education programme Get Ready Get Thu, which followed on from the schools-based programme called What’s the Plan Stan?. This is a $6 million programme that aims to help New Zealanders and organisations to be better prepared for disasters like the one we had last week. Reports of this programme have been largely positive, except for that of one person, who called the effort to be better prepared a “farce” and a “disgrace”. That person was National’s John Carter.
Peter Brown: Noting that answer to the principal question, what advice has the Minister for local residents of Matatâ, who have concerns in regard to the manner in which parts of their town are being rebuilt, believing it is possible to construct far more effective safeguards at less cost than those being built but being unable to get the local council operators even to listen to them?
Hon RICK BARKER: The member has the answer exactly right; it is a matter for the local council. If the local council supports those decisions, then of course the ministry will support that, but we have to be convinced that the engineering solution is adequate for the risk.
Jo Goodhew: What instructions, if any, has the Minister given to officials and the local community of South Canterbury about what Government assistance is now available to them, given that the ramifications of this weather event are likely to be felt in the weeks and months to come?
Hon RICK BARKER: The Ministry of Civil Defence and Emergency Management has a substantial amount of resources available for local councils. We have informed local councils of that, and I want to make sure that local councils are well advised of that. There is no question that the Government will not assist as much as possible in any adverse event, and we have put in every possible resource that was asked for, in a very timely manner, too.
John Carter: When the Minister said yesterday that “I think we learnt a few lessons” from the situation in South Canterbury, just what are those lessons; are they the same as, or different from, the lessons he said he had learnt from the tsunami fiasco more than a month ago?
Hon RICK BARKER: It is true to say that those who do not learn lessons from history are bound to repeat them. The lesson we learnt from South Canterbury was that the infrastructure in certain areas could have been better prepared for a civil defence emergency such as this. For example, water pumps that were mains-dependent did not have alternative jacks for an auxiliary supply. Such a jack is a simple thing to supply when pumps are being set up, and if that had been done at the point of set-up, then the water would have continued to flow when the mains supply was turned off. Those are good things to learn. We need to learn them and make sure we are better prepared in the future.
John Carter: Why did the Minister wait so long, doing nothing, until the Prime Minister prodded him into action, as she stated on breakfast TV on Monday morning; and was that the reason he waited 5 days—or was he too busy waiting for a BBC report on the situation in South Canterbury?
Hon RICK BARKER: I had already planned to go to Canterbury on Thursday and Saturday, and when the Prime Minister’s office asked me to it was a meeting of the minds. But I want to say that that is a bit rich, coming from that member, who, despite having access to taxpayer-paid airfares has never been to the area, and despite having a taxpayer-paid phone on his desk has never picked up the phone to go and ring anybody. That member has zero credibility.
Hon Member: It’s your fault, you know.
John Carter: It’s my fault—yes! Has the Minister had any response from the snow-bound South Canterbury families and farmers involved in the emergency disaster, in response to the Prime Minister’s TV comment last Monday, on the first morning of the disaster: “I am very pleased to see the snow. I love skiing, so it’s good to see they are getting off to a great start with the ski season.”?
Hon RICK BARKER: I think we can have too much of a good thing, and certainly in Canterbury there was far too much of a good thing. I have never seen so much snow in the Canterbury area before, and one local told me that this has been the heaviest snowfall they have had since 1943. It has done an enormous amount of damage, and I want to say to the people who have done a great deal of work in restoring the power and phones that they have done a fantastic job.
John Carter: I seek leave to table a paper reporting that Rick Barker has admitted that New Zealand is not as prepared for an emergency as previously thought.
Madam SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection? There is objection.
John Carter: I seek leave to table a report stating, as a consequence of a comment from the Prime Minister, that Rick Barker is not in touch.
Madam SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection? There is objection.
John Carter: I seek leave to table a report in which Rick Barker admitted: “We could have done better. I accept that.”
Madam SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection? There is.
John Carter: I seek leave to table an editorial from the Timaru newspaper, stating that it thought that at least the nation’s leaders would have shown they cared.
Madam SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection? Yes, there is objection.
Meningococcal B Vaccine—Mâori Uptake
7. MARYAN STREET (Labour) to the Minister of Health: What has the uptake of the meningococcal B immunisation programme been amongst the Mâori population and what impact has that had on cases?
Hon PETE HODGSON (Minister of Health): Almost half a million Mâori children have now been immunised. There has been a 90 percent reduction in epidemic strain cases in Mâori in the northern region since the immunisation campaign began. That is a huge achievement—
Hon Tau Henare: How can there be half a million? There are only 400,000 Mâori.
Hon PETE HODGSON: Because they have more than one dose. This is a huge achievement for Mâori and the New Zealand health community, and I applaud them for their efforts. [Interruption] It is also an example of what happens when health funding is targeted by ethnicity, and the National Party opposition to that sort of initiative is a disgrace.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. It is impossible to hear the answers from here. A challenge came from across the Chamber as to how there could be half a million children immunised. I know there is a logical answer to that, but I could not hear it. Could we have a repeat of it, please?
Madam SPEAKER: Would the Minister please repeat his answer—succinctly, if he can.
Hon PETE HODGSON: There has been a 90 percent reduction in epidemic strain cases in Mâori in the northern region since the immunisation campaign began. That is a huge achievement for Mâori and the New Zealand health community, and I applaud them. It is also an example of what happens when health funding is targeted by ethnicity, and the National Party opposition to that sort of initiative is a disgrace.
Maryan Street: How has the programme’s success impacted on young Mâori in South Auckland?
Hon PETE HODGSON: I am advised that the campaign has prevented two cases of epidemic meningococcal B every week just in South Auckland, and that awareness of the need for all immunisations has improved dramatically. That is what can be achieved in our communities when a Government is willing to invest in the health of New Zealanders.
Elective Surgery—Waiting Lists
8. Hon TONY RYALL (National—Bay of Plenty) to the Minister of Health: What reports, if any, has he received on the impact on patients of being removed from waiting lists for elective surgery or specialist appointments?
Hon PETE HODGSON (Minister of Health): More than half a million New Zealanders are removed from waiting lists each year because they have received their specialist appointment or their surgery. That number grows every year. My concern is with the few thousand each year who do not receive the treatment they should.
Hon Tony Ryall: How long will it take for the 17,000 or so patients whose care was disrupted by the junior doctors’ strike to get their appointments and surgery, and what effect will this have on others who are waiting for specialist appointments and elective surgery?
Hon PETE HODGSON: Those 17,000 people will be rebooked or rescheduled any time from today, over the next several weeks, or, indeed, in some cases, I would imagine, in a couple of months or more. That, of course, will cause a knock-on effect throughout society, but help is on the way. This Government increases health funding every year. It increases the amount of service delivery to the health system every year, therefore we will be able to catch up.
Darien Fenton: Has he seen reports on the number of people treated in public hospitals, including elective surgery, last year; if so, how does that figure compare with the position 5 years ago?
Hon PETE HODGSON: I have seen reports showing that Labour’s historic investment in public hospitals and clinical staff has led to a 20 percent increase in medical activity, a nearly 10 percent increase in case-weighted surgical activity, and a 12.6 percent increase in elective case-weighted surgical activity, in just the first 5 years of our Government. No matter which way the Opposition tries to spin it, our public hospitals are helping more New Zealanders than ever before.
Heather Roy: What reports has he seen about how much longer Wellingtonians and Hutt Valley residents will have to wait for an appointment with a public specialist, after 1 November this year when laboratory tests ordered by private specialists will attract a $13 encounter fee as well as the cost of the laboratory tests, but referrals from public specialists will not?
Hon PETE HODGSON: I have received no such reports but I do endorse the decision of those two district health boards.
Hon Tony Ryall: Is it not a fact that his own ministry has admitted that more people will be culled from hospital waiting lists as a result of the strike, because if one is going to take 17,000 people and fit them back in the system, then there will be a large number of people who drop off at the end because of the Government’s rule that patients will be cut off the waiting list, regardless of their illness, after 6 months?
Hon PETE HODGSON: The member should pay closer attention to the press reports around that issue. We signalled last week that we would need to relax, somewhat, the period by which district health boards would become compliant with their elective services patient flow indicators—it depends on the board. The reason for doing that is precisely to take account of the recent 5-day strike.
Dr Jonathan Coleman: What hope does the current management of the waiting list system give to Tayla, the little 8-year-old girl from Kapiti who cannot smile, raise her eyebrows, or move her eyes; who needs plastic surgery to restore those most basic functions and who has now been kicked off the waiting list for surgery, under that Minister’s direction?
Hon PETE HODGSON: The member raises a valid issue, which I first became aware of a couple of weeks ago. The Ministry of Health is working with the Hutt Valley District Health Board to assess the adequacy of scoring tools, the adequacy of provision, the degree to which general practitioners could be further dealing with minor plastic surgery issues, and so on. I hope we are able to make progress on that issue.
Dr Jackie Blue: What would the Minister tell Aletia Hudson, aged 33, who was diagnosed with aggressive breast cancer at Christmas 2005, had a mastectomy, was promised a breast reconstruction in a timely way, has since completed the chemotherapy and radiotherapy, fund-raised $12,000 for taxane treatment, and should be starting lifesaving Herceptin treatment this month but has not, because she cannot raise the $100,000 needed, only to find out 2 weeks ago that her breast reconstruction operation was no longer possible?
Hon PETE HODGSON: I too have reservations about that case, and several dozen like them. I look forward to seeing that issue resolved in the best interest of patients, using the techniques that I relayed in respect of the Hutt Valley District Health Board.
Hon Tony Ryall: Can the Minister confirm that the Ministry of Health has written to district health boards telling them that despite several weeks of industrial disruption the Government expects district health boards to make up for services lost during the strike, and to make those up in the remaining two and a bit weeks of the financial year or face a financial penalty, and is he not just continuing to delude himself that he can fix that problem?
Hon PETE HODGSON: No, I cannot confirm that. There was a change made to that letter about 2 weeks ago, and I made that change public. The member should try to keep on top of his portfolio.
Hon Tony Ryall: Read the letter!
Hon PETE HODGSON: I have read the letter; I had a bit to do with writing it.
Heather Roy: I seek leave of the House to table a letter, jointly signed by the chief executives of Capital and Coast District Health Board and Hutt Valley District Health Board, sent to specialists saying that laboratory tests ordered by private specialists, as from 1 November, will be charged for.
Hon PETE HODGSON: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. It has been drawn to my attention that I have inadvertently misled the House, and I want to rise and apologise in case I have. I had meant to say, and may not have said, that almost half a million doses have been administered to Mâori children, but I think I said that almost half a million Mâori children had been immunised, or similar. If I said the latter, I withdraw and apologise. It is half a million doses, of course—a spectacular result.
Madam SPEAKER: I thank the member.
Hon Tony Ryall: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. If the Minister is quoting from an official document, could we ask that that document be tabled. We are particularly keen to find out what percentage of Mâori have received full immunisation under this Government.
Madam SPEAKER: Is the Minister quoting from an official document?
Hon PETE HODGSON: No.
Madam SPEAKER: No, the Minister is not.
9. STEVE CHADWICK (Labour—Rotorua) to the Minister for Social Development and Employment: What reports has he received on the number of people receiving the unemployment benefit?
Hon RUTH DYSON (Acting Minister for Social Development and Employment): I can advise that at the end of May the number of people receiving the unemployment benefit has decreased to 41,000. That is 9,000 fewer people receiving the unemployment benefit than at the same time a year ago, and it is 120,000 fewer people receiving the unemployment benefit than there were when this Labour-led Government first came into office in 1999. That is a 75 percent reduction in unemployment benefit numbers under our Government.
Steve Chadwick: When was the number of people receiving the unemployment benefit last as low as that?
Hon RUTH DYSON: In order to find that date we have to bypass the whole period of the last National Government and go way back to 1986, to find the time when unemployment benefit numbers were as low as that.
10. KATHERINE RICH (National) to the Minister for State Owned Enterprises: Does he stand by his statement regarding what happens when State-owned enterprises fail, that “you’ve gotta remember with the SOEs that going bust doesn’t quite mean what it might mean for some other companies, you know for example if Meridian went bust you’d still have a lot of windmills and a lot of dams, so it’s a financial rather than putting all the assets at risk”; if so, why?
Hon TREVOR MALLARD (Minister for State Owned Enterprises): The essence, yes; the language is probably not very clear.
Katherine Rich: Has he seen today’s release from Victoria University’s survey of State-owned enterprise directors, which says: “The process for selection is too arbitrary, lacks adequate input from the chair and board, and is too heavily weighted towards political acceptability and correctness rather than capability.”; if so, what is his response given that last week in the House he confirmed that State-owned enterprise boards have exactly the expertise necessary for his new plan?
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: I reject the allegation that as Minister for State Owned Enterprises I have made politically correct appointments. If people look at the list of people whom I have appointed, I think I have probably appointed more people closer to the opposite side of the House than this side.
Hon Marian Hobbs: What benefits are there to the taxpayer from ongoing Government ownership of State-owned enterprises; and has he seen any reports of alternative policies on State-owned enterprise ownership?
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: Currently, State-owned enterprises are returning dividends of about $250 million to $300 million a year, not counting the one-off special dividend from Meridian. On top of that, Crown equity in State-owned enterprises has more than doubled since this Government took office. The dividend stream is money that the Government can invest in public services like health and education without having to raise it through taxes. We also want to put State-owned enterprises to work. By contrast, I have seen a report about a person arguing that he has long-since abandoned the idea—if he ever held it—that the Government should own major industries. That comment, of course, was from Dr Brash before he promised not to sell them. But, unlike what the National Party wants to do, Labour will not sell the family silver.
Katherine Rich: In the light of the research released today, what is his response to State-owned enterprise directors’ concerns that cronyism on boards hampers their ability to make good commercial decisions?
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: I think we will find that the people who have answered that are longer-term State-owned enterprise board members who are getting mixed up with the time when Bill Birch and others were running them.
Katherine Rich: Will the Minister now revisit his plan of “deliberately trying to get one spot on each of the boards for someone who’s got quite a lot of … life experience but doesn’t have governance experience ...”, in light of research released today that says that State-owned enterprise board members have major concerns about Labour’s appointment process and fear that it is not leading to good appointments that will give boards the right skill base around the table?
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: Every State-owned enterprise board member, including quite a sizable number who were appointed under the previous Government, has been appointed through this system. I will not revisit my practice of trying to appoint people to what are essentially training positions. I want to make it very clear that some of these are training positions for people who have had a lot of life experience, often as CEOs of major firms. Getting governance experience within State-owned enterprises is, I think, valuable both for the State-owned enterprises and for private sector boards, which these people move on to. I might say that it is not a requirement under our system to be a failed MP, which appeared to be the case under National.
Heather Roy: When taking into consideration the potential of a State-owned enterprise to fail, why has the Minister chosen the advice of Peter Harris, a union economist, over that of Treasury, which is concerned about weak accountability disciplines, Ministers with multiple objectives, and better alternatives—such as roading—for spending State-owned enterprise dividends?
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: I think it is fair to say that Peter Harris is one of the most respected economists in the country, and he is certainly not a union economist.
Katherine Rich: Why should Kiwis be confident in the ability of State-owned enterprise boards to handle this new direction, when directors of New Zealand’s largest State-owned enterprises themselves question the process and criteria for choosing directors and suggest that the system is too heavily weighted towards political acceptability and correctness rather than capability?
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: Probably some of the directors are not totally aware of how they got their positions. All the directors I appointed went through an interview process that included the chair. I worked through the recommendations with the chair, and in not one case did the chair say on balance, in the end, that they did not want a person whom I appointed to a State-owned enterprise board. In a number of cases I decided not to appoint a person who was my preference, because the chair decided that that person would not make a contribution. I just think that it is disgraceful when people like Bill English criticise Jim Bolger as he did.
Hon Dr Michael Cullen: Is this a survey of people appointed by the Labour-led Government who are expressing concern about their belief that they were incompetent to be appointed, or is it a survey of people appointed by the previous National-led Government who are concerned that they have not been reappointed by the Labour-led Government?
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: This survey is about the first time I have had reason to question my appointments.
Peter Brown: Given those answers, does the Minister think it reasonable that if State-owned enterprises are to get involved in additional operations that might, for whatever reason, appear somewhat risky it is only prudent that they make more regular financial reports—say, 6-monthly—than they do currently?
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: I get quarterly reports from State-owned enterprises, and I think that the compliance cost of shifting to something more regular would make it just not worthwhile.
Chris Tremain: Why does the Minister continue to promote himself as the primary candidate for the imminent replacement of the Minister of Finance—responsible in that role for the assets and liabilities of our nation—when he shows a lack of basic accounting knowledge and of understanding the relationship between the assets of a State-owned enterprise such as Meridian’s dams and windmills, and the liabilities of that organisation?
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: I think it is fair to say that I have a much better understanding than that member does. I also know that next term, the term after, or even the term after that, will be soon enough for me.
Digital Television—Local Content Funding
11. SUE KEDGLEY (Green) to the Minister of Broadcasting: Will the Government commit to a substantial increase in funding for local content, and put in place local content quotas to ensure there is a guaranteed amount of local programming on the proposed 18 new digital channels; if not, why not?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY (Minister of Broadcasting): No, the Government’s commitment is to support the establishment of a platform for free-to-air digital TV to ensure that all New Zealanders continue to have access to free-to-air broadcasting services. We are not intending to impose quotas. Our commitment is to provide up to $25 million over 5 years towards the establishment of Freeview and to provide access to frequencies estimated to be worth up to $10 million.
Sue Kedgley: Does he agree that without substantial increased funding for local content or local content quotas, digital television may simply deliver us high-quality images of low-quality overseas programmes and endless reruns of other people’s reality TV; if not, why not?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: No.
Jill Pettis: What is the Government doing to support local content on free-to-air television?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: The Government supports local content through funding of New Zealand On Air and through the Television New Zealand (TVNZ) charter. Combined television funding for these initiatives is now more than $83 million per annum—significantly more than the previous National Government funded. The Government’s policies promote the development of quality programming and a good example is children’s programming. This year, New Zealand On Air is funding a great range of children’s programmes, including Madigan’s Quest, Killians’s Curse, The Lost Children, Karaoke High, What Now, Studio 2, Mai Time, Stage Challenge, Squirt, and, of course, the ground-breaking Let’s Get Inventing.
Sue Kedgley: How many new channels does the Minister expect TVNZ to set up once digital television is established; does he agree that this presents a great opportunity for TVNZ to differentiate itself from all the other channels by making one channel an advertisement-free, genuinely public broadcaster; if not, why not?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: Six, and yes.
Sue Kedgley: Does he accept that many New Zealanders simply cannot afford the $300-$400 technology upgrade to switch to digital, and what will happen to those who have not been able to make the change before the analogue switch-off in 6-10 years; will he guarantee that no one loses access to television because of the cost of the upgrade?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: I have to point out this change will take place over 6-10 years. The most likely cost right now for a person making the shift would be $200 for a set top box and $30 to have someone come round to twiddle with the aerial. Over time, those costs may well come down to next to zero. For example, I imagine that within 6-10 years manufacturers will put the digital component inside the television set when a person buys it, and that will leave almost no costs at all to the consumer.
Venice Biennale—Creative New Zealand Report
12. CHRISTOPHER FINLAYSON (National) to the Associate Minister for Arts, Culture and Heritage: Is she satisfied with the recent report commissioned by Creative New Zealand into New Zealand’s participation at the Venice Biennale; if not, why not?
Hon JUDITH TIZARD (Associate Minister for Arts, Culture and Heritage): Yes.
Christopher Finlayson: Does the Minister agree with the Prime Minister’s comments in this House on 27 July 2004 when she said about New Zealand’s participation at the last biennale that “… the process has gone awry.” and “… that will have a bearing on my thinking about resourcing levels for Creative New Zealand in the future.”; if so, what action has she taken or will she take?
Hon JUDITH TIZARD: Yes, and the action was this report and the increased funding for Creative New Zealand in this year’s Budget.
Lynne Pillay: What recent reports has the Minister seen on Government support for the arts sector?
Hon JUDITH TIZARD: I have received a report that acknowledges: “Labour has been very successful in the arts area and the creative area, in persuading the general populace that it’s only the Labour Party that’s interested in these things. And in fairness, they’ve done a great deal to increase funding for the arts, which the National government in the late 1990s should have done.” That quote was from new National Party MP Chris Finlayson in the Sunday Star-Times on 4 June.
Christopher Finlayson: Does the Minister agree with the Prime Minister, who said that when half a million dollars of taxpayer money is involved, key personnel must include the artist, and that those key personnel should undertake ambassadorial and publicity responsibilities?
Hon JUDITH TIZARD: Yes
Christopher Finlayson: Why, when the Prime Minister herself said she had expressed concern about what appears to be a breach of the selection criteria, is the Minister not giving a direction to Creative New Zealand that further changes need to be made to those criteria, in light of the recent report, which recommended only minor changes and more funding?
Hon JUDITH TIZARD: Creative New Zealand is established by legislation passed by this House. It is not for the Minister to give direction to it about the creative nature of the arts. However, I am very happy to say that the present membership of Creative New Zealand—including the new appointees—is very aware of the Government’s views.
Christopher Finlayson: Following on from that answer, is the Minister not aware that Creative New Zealand is an autonomous Crown entity pursuant to section 7 of the Crown Entities Act, and that it must have regard to Government policy when directed by the responsible Minister?
Hon JUDITH TIZARD: However, under the Arts Council of New Zealand Toi Aotearoa Act 1994, Creative New Zealand has the right to make artistic decisions on its own. We are not Stalinist Russia yet.
Chris Auchinvole: Can the Minister confirm that if she attended fewer functions and openings, she could spend more time holding Creative New Zealand accountable for taxpayer funding, when everyone knows she would attend the opening of an envelope?
Madam SPEAKER: Before the Minister replies I just remind members of Standing Order 371. I suggest they read that in the future before they ask questions that obviously have matters in them that could be seen as contrary to that Standing Order.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I trust you heard what was an attempted question, but I would like to know what the question was, given that it was a vague attempt by somebody who has been irrelevant in this House to point out that he is getting paid for his existence. But it made no sense to me, at all. As for the suggestion of opening an envelope, I mean, how ridiculous is that?
Hon Member: What’s the Standing Order?
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Standing Order? That the member should keep his mouth shut when I am making a point of order—that is the first one.
Madam SPEAKER: The member has made his point. I understood what the content of the question was; it was just that it was contrary to Standing Order 371. We have a lot of latitude in this House in connection with that particular Standing Order. I am just reminding members of it for the future. I am aware that the question may well have been the first question the member has asked. I am doing that to be helpful to the House.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. You just saw a very good illustration of what these members are doing in the House. They should be silent when a point of order is taken. You distinctly heard that member shout out something—
Madam SPEAKER: Yes, I did.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: You know that the Standing Orders require him to keep quiet, and therefore he should pick himself up, depart from the House, and wait outside until the end of question time. That is what the usual Standing Orders and Speakers’ rulings require, so why does that not apply this time?
Madam SPEAKER: Yes, the member is right. We are in the last question, and I am trying to be helpful to the House on this occasion. But I know that Mr Brownlee also wants to be helpful with his point of order.
Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. Well, I do. I just point out to you that I think Standing Order 372, which deals with answers from Ministers, is a mirror image of Standing Order 371. If we are being clipped on Standing Order 371, I say that there have been numerous occasions today, particularly, when Ministers should have been pulled up for the way in which they answered the questions.
Madam SPEAKER: I agree with the member. Normally, the answers are in response; it was just that this last question went a tad too far in terms of the substance of the question. But I will ask the Minister now to address the question.
Hon JUDITH TIZARD: I am very happy to go to any event that New Zealanders who are interested in arts, culture, and heritage would like to invite me to. I also think that if that member of Parliament does not think opening envelopes is important, it may indicate why those members are on that side and we are on this side.