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Questions And Answers - Thursday, 22 June 2006


Questions And Answers - Thursday, 22 June 2006

Questions to Ministers

Current Account Deficit—Oil Prices

1. JEANETTE FITZSIMONS (Co-Leader—Green) to the Minister of Finance: What steps, if any, will he take to reduce the current account deficit, and, in particular, what steps will he take to reduce the impact of rising oil prices on the current account deficit?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Minister of Finance): I will continue to maintain a prudent fiscal policy, including the building up of the New Zealand Superannuation Fund, introduce the KiwiSaver scheme, subject to the approval of the House, and support the development of a better energy efficiency strategy. The Labour caucus is united on all these matters.

Jeanette Fitzsimons: If the Minister is keen to promote New Zealanders’ saving, what steps will he take to put limits on the trading banks’ aggressive marketing of credit to New Zealanders who cannot afford to keep on raising their mortgages to the hilt; and does he believe that prudential requirements for trading banks should be increased?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Prudential regulation of trading banks within the legislation is the preserve of the Reserve Bank. Of course, new rules relating to the Basel II two accords are being introduced in that respect. The Government has not interfered directly with credit controls of the sort suggested by the member for some 22 years now.

H V Ross Robertson: Is the Minister able to tell the House what reports he has received on policy proposals likely to exacerbate the current account deficit?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: What a good question! I have seen reports that continue to call for large tax cuts despite the current fiscal macroeconomic conditions. Such a policy is likely to aggravate our current account deficit, now in excess of 9 percent of GDP, as well as boosting inflation and raising interest rates. Of course, someone who takes out a mortgage only to qualify for a Wellington accommodation allowance is not worried about interest rates.

John Key: When the Minister issued his press release this morning congratulating himself on his economic management of the country, was he reading the same report I was reading—stating that the current account deficit is now worse than it has been at almost any time in New Zealand’s history; when he came out and said that there were hopeful signs that things would improve, had he bothered to read the report from Jason Wong at First NZ Capital that states things are going to deteriorate to 10.5 percent; and is this the same Minister of Finance who when he was in Opposition, and the current account deficit was 2 percent of GDP, campaigned on doing something about it, and what he has done about it has been that he has blown it out?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I certainly do not recall the last part. On the first part, indeed we have a very large current account deficit. I hope the member understands that the current account deficit is the gap between our investment and our savings. What that member wants to do is to reduce our savings further, and he does not back the Government’s initiative to lift savings through the KiwiSaver scheme.

Jeanette Fitzsimons: Is the Minister concerned that oil imports accounted for some 70 percent of the merchandise trade deficit and, further, that a drop in the value of the dollar resulting from the deficit will increase the cost of oil to New Zealanders even further; if so, is it not time the Government had a proactive strategy to reduce the dependence of New Zealand’s economy on oil imports?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: The Government has a proactive energy efficiency strategy being developed. The member is the Government’s spokesperson on that matter.

Jeanette Fitzsimons: How will the Minister’s refusal to build more passenger rail infrastructure in Auckland and Wellington, and his $1.5 billion roading binge, reduce our reliance on oil and improve our worst-ever current account deficit?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: The Government has increased spending on passenger transport some sevenfold already. Over the next 2 or 3 years it will spend many hundreds of millions of dollars upgrading the rail infrastructure in Auckland. I have not refused to invest in passenger transport in either Auckland or Wellington. What I have demanded of the Auckland Regional Council—the sole proponent—is that before it puts proposals it has to have a proper supporting business case, particularly if it does not expect to pay for the work itself.

Jeanette Fitzsimons: Does the Minister believe the Reserve Bank prediction that oil will return to $45 a barrel, the Treasury prediction that it will flatline at around $68 a barrel, or neither; and is he concerned that the difference between these two official forecasts made at the same time is greater than the total price of oil was in 2002?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Oil was very cheap in 2002. The current price of oil in real terms is very similar to what it was in 1981.

Hon Murray McCully: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I note that in the course of asking his supplementary question Mr Robertson was wearing a scarf carefully arranged to identify the name of Adidas, the international sportswear company, and to display it for the benefit of the cameras. Members on this side are, of course, alive to the wide vista of commercial opportunity now available to us as a consequence. Before we all rush off and make such arrangements, I invite you to perhaps give a considered ruling on the practice before we proceed too far down that track.

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Speaking to the point of order, I think that that is a very important point. Members opposite should wear scarves saying “Exclusive Brethren”, because they have already been sponsored.

Madam SPEAKER: As members are aware, the House has dress codes and standards. But as long as articles of clothing are decorous it is really a question of taste. I shall leave it at that and thank members for raising the point.

H V Ross Robertson: I just tell the honourable member that it is a Hurricanes scarf.

Tertiary Institutions—Financial Assistance or Intervention

2. Hon BILL ENGLISH (National—Clutha-Southland) to the Minister for Tertiary Education: What advice has he received on the Ministry of Education’s expectation that it will need to assist as many as 15 financially troubled institutions in the coming financial year and to introduce formal interventions at up to five?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Minister for Tertiary Education): The advice I have received is that the figures referred to are a statement of capability to be maintained, and do not reflect the situation pertaining to any specific institution.

Hon Bill English: Why would the Government be willing to fund the Ministry of Education to maintain the ability to help 15 troubled polytechs if the ministry believes that nothing like that number is going to get in trouble, and, if the fund is more than is required, why does the ministry not give the money back?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: For many years the ministry has maintained a capability in excess of likely demand, in the same way that the United States maintains what it calls a one-and-a-half-wars capacity, not expecting to fight one and a half wars at any particular time.

Dr Ashraf Choudhary: Has the Minister seen any previous similar capability statements relating to the monitoring of tertiary institutions?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Yes. These kinds of statements have been within reports for a long time. For example, in 1996 a departmental forecast report referred to avoiding the possibility of the financial failure of institutions, and estimated that 40 institutions were going to be monitored. I assume the Associate Minister of Education at the time, Mr English, did not expect as many as 40 institutions would actually fail in that year.

Hon Brian Donnelly: Could the Minister tell us whether any tertiary institutions had to be financially bailed out in the years 1995-99, what were those institutions, and what level of financial bail-out was required?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I am aware that three institutions were in significant financial difficulty during that period. Subsequently, the current Government had to act to rescue them all. For example, in 2002 Wanganui Polytechnic, Wairarapa Polytechnic, and, of course, the Central Institute of Technology were in very serious trouble indeed.

Hon Bill English: Can the Minister explain to the House why, in the example he gave of the Universal College of Learning in Palmerston North taking over the Wanganui and Wairarapa campuses, the Government injected $32 million into the Universal College of Learning to fund the write-off of Crown debts on Wanganui Polytechnic and consolidate the campus on one site, but 4 years later the campus has not been consolidated and the $32 million has gone?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: It is true that full consolidation has not occurred yet at this point. We anticipate it will occur at some time in the future.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: Where did the money go?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: The money has gone into restoring the balance sheet and covering the costs of the merger. There are a number of institutions where such injections will be required, and I am sure that members opposite will be the first to come with a begging bowl for their local institution, should that be necessary.

Hon Bill English: Is the Minister willing to provide to the House on another day, if he can, an account of the $32 million, given that some of it was provided to write off Crown debts and the rest of it was provided to buy out leases and consolidate the campus on one site, and 4 years later that has not happened—the leases have not been bought out, the building has not gone up, and not only has the $32 million gone but he has just given the institution another $3 million on top of it?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I do not have the information in front of me in respect of that. I will come back to the member with further information as soon as I can—hopefully by the end of the week.

Hon Bill English: Why does the Minister continue to run a funding policy that forces polytechs to subsidise their core trades and skills courses because they make losses on them, and to fund that with high-margin, low-cost courses like computing, and is that not the central problem for smaller polytechs, which he plans to merge when they fail?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: The member might have missed it, but the Government made key policy announcements a few short months ago, indicating that it is developing a new funding system to move away from the system inherited from the National Government—the so-called “bums on seats” policy.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: How many extensive reports or how much correspondence has the Minister got from the National Party front bench on the bail-out of the Wanganui Polytechnic to the tune of $10 million in 1998?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I have no correspondence in front of me on that matter, but I have no doubt that such actions took place. I also have no doubt that should any polytech in the country get into any significant difficulty, a local National Party MP, if there is one, unfortunately, will write to me seeking assistance.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I think that answer was important, but I had a barrage of interruptions from the National back bench, so I could not hear what the Minister was saying. Frankly, I will make it a policy that if I cannot hear an answer, I will ask that the question be answered again, until we get some proper courtesy in this House where the back bench on the Opposition side of the House is concerned. We simply cannot hear.

Madam SPEAKER: I ask members to be considerate of other members, and I also remind members that questions are to be heard in silence. In the last question there was, in fact, an interruption, so people are now on their last warning.

Hon Bill English: Is the Minister aware that the new funding policy he has just talked about has no certainty or rules as of now and will not come in until at least 1 January 2008, and that in the meantime most of the smaller polytechs are predicting that they will be in financial difficulty; what will he do about that between now and then?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Of course, there is no finality on a policy that is being developed. The difference is that we are developing such a policy. We inherited the failed “bums on seats” policy from Mr English.

State Housing—Changes

3. GEORGINA BEYER (Labour) to the Minister of Housing: What proposals, if any, has he received about changes to the provision of social housing in New Zealand?

Hon DOVER SAMUELS (Acting Minister of Housing): The Housing New Zealand Corporation allocates social housing on the basis of need. Low-income families qualify for an income-related rent. Last month 98 percent of those houses were in that category. I have seen two contradictory proposals this month. One proposal argued that the provision of State houses in National-held electorates was economic vandalism, while the other argued for more money to be spent on housing for low-income families. Perhaps John Key and Anne Tolley should get together and have a conversation.

Georgina Beyer: What other proposed changes to the provision of social housing in New Zealand is the Minister aware of?

Hon DOVER SAMUELS: I have received feedback from yesterday’s meeting of the Social Services Committee, in which a member of that committee Mr Clarkson advocated that the Housing New Zealand Corporation should turf out tenants and instead provide cash grants to needy families so that they can rent from private landlords like himself. I am also informed that the chair of that committee, Judith Collins, moved immediately to clarify that Mr Clarkson, a housing spokesperson for her own party, was not representing National Party policy. So that we can hear a third, contradictory, housing policy from the National Party, I think it is time for the real housing spokesperson, my colleague Phil Heatley, to stand up and tell the House exactly what National’s housing policy is.

Dog Control—Microchipping, Farm Dogs

4. Hon DAVID CARTER (National) to the Minister of Agriculture: Does he support the exemption from microchipping for farm dogs?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Leader of the House) on behalf of the Minister of Agriculture: [Interruption] And woof to you, too! On behalf of the Minister of Agriculture, as far as I am aware the exemption passed last night related to working dogs, not farm dogs alone.

Hon David Carter: Does he therefore support the exemption for farm dogs and working dogs?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Now that the member has learnt to beg correctly, I can say the answer is no. I voted for the microchipping of all dogs and voted against the amendment relating to working dogs.

Hon David Carter: How can the Minister credibly claim he represents the interests of New Zealand farmers, when last night he voted against the exemption for working farm dogs.

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: The Minister of Agriculture took to Cabinet a submission from Federated Farmers, in which they stated that the top issue for the farming sector in New Zealand was nothing to do with earnings, agricultural products, market access, or anything else; it was to do with the microchipping of farm dogs. That was the top issue facing agriculture in this country. Mr Anderton did take that to Cabinet, but Cabinet reaffirmed its position and Mr Anderton supports that position.

Hon David Carter: How much taxpayer money did the Minister waste sending out Primary News to every farmer in New Zealand, telling farmers they would have to microchip their dogs; and how arrogant is it of him to presume the wishes of this Parliament?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I do not know how long the member has been here, but Ministers have communicated the intentions of Government that require legislation for as long as I have been here and for a lot longer before that.

Nathan Guy: Will his Government learn any lessons from the flip-flops on the “fart tax”, the carbon tax, and microchipping; and why is the Government proceeding with a series of meetings to force the issue of public access over private land?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Taking the last issue, I point out that the Government’s policy is to seek consensus and consent around access across private land. If the member wants to try to heavy farmers to prevent access, then that would be very strange indeed, particularly where there are designated public roads.

Craig Foss: Is it arrogance, or is it just further proof of just how out of touch the Minister is with rural New Zealand that led him to vote against farmers’ wishes last night?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: What I regard as arrogance is that member going along to the Finance and Expenditure Committee, as he did, waving his own tax return, and asking for answers about why it was dealt with in the way it was—using a parliamentary select committee for his own financial purposes.

Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. The Minister has just made a very serious accusation. I am sure that no member of the House would do something like that. I think if it is true the member should resign; and, if it is not true, the Minister should apologise.

Madam SPEAKER: That is not a point of order.

Craig Foss: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I did not wave my own tax return around in any committee whatsoever yesterday. I ask the Minister to withdraw and apologise.

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I withdraw and apologise.

R Doug Woolerton: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. With due respect, I am a member of the Finance and Expenditure Committee and can vouch for the fact that maybe Mr Foss did not wave his tax return around, but he definitely told the committee he was speaking about his own taxation situation.

Madam SPEAKER: I thank the member. There is another way of handling any contradiction about this matter, and it is not in this House; it is, in fact, to refer the matter by way of complaint.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. The member had the right to make a personal explanation. He did not seek leave to do that; he just belted it out without so much as a by your leave—and it was wrong for you to have received it.

Madam SPEAKER: That is not a point of order. In fact, I do not think there have been any valid points of order so far today.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I said in my point of order that what he did was not within the Standing Orders or Speakers’ Rulings. That is a valid point of order.

Madam SPEAKER: Would the member please be seated. I have ruled on the matter. The member asked for the comment to be withdrawn and it was withdrawn. As the member may recall, that is what happened. The matter was dealt with. When it was raised again, I said there is a more appropriate forum for handling that.

Indonesia—Bilateral Aid

5. Hon PETER DUNNE (Leader—United Future) to the Minister of Foreign Affairs: How much of NZAID’s bilateral support to Indonesia is prioritised for strengthening governance, including law and justice, and accountability?

Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS (Minister of Foreign Affairs): NZAID is spending $11.5 million to aid—

Paula Bennett: Have you been microchipped?

Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: Well, I tell the House—in that member’s case they would need more than one microchip, would they not? [Interruption]

Madam SPEAKER: Would the House please settle. I assume that is not the Minister’s answer. Would he please continue.

Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: It will be, if she goes to Indonesia! NZAID is spending $11.5 million in aid to Indonesia this financial year, with 22 percent or $2.5 million of that directly focusing on strengthening governance, including law and justice, and accountability. In directing all aspects of the bilateral programme with Indonesia, and the governance element mitigating against corruption—

Hon Tau Henare: When are you going to East Timor?

Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: I am able to write my own answers, unlike that member, the clown—yes, able to write my own speeches, unlike that peon over there, who cannot think without the research unit doing everything for him. The aid will mitigate against corruption, strengthen local accountability and transparency, combat terrorism, and ensure positive outcomes for local communities—including the eradication of dunces.

Madam SPEAKER: I found it extremely difficult to hear the answer to that question.

Hon Peter Dunne: I did, too, Madam Speaker, and I sit two seats away from the Minister. With regard to the comments he made about anti-terrorism assistance, is the Minister satisfied that the NZAID funding is doing all that it can do to help the Indonesian Government play a constructive role in the global campaign against terrorism—as was outlined, I think, in his own ministry’s statement of intent?

Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: I suppose the answer is that we could always do more. But we are an active participant, alongside Australia, in an array of regional counter-terrorism efforts, including, of course, those of Indonesia. They run through APEC, the ASEAN regional forum, and the Bali ministerial process on counter-terrorism.

Hon Tau Henare: When are you going to East Timor?

Madam SPEAKER: Shh!

Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: Well, the last time that member went, he was homesick and came home early. Does he remember that? He lasted only 2 days, and came home because he wanted to see his mum.

Madam SPEAKER: Would the Minister please continue with his answer.

Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: Like Australia, we have signed a joint declaration of cooperation to combat international terrorism with ASEAN, and we are a member, along with Australia and the United States, of APEC’s regional movements alerts list.

Hon Peter Dunne: In the light of that answer, does the Minister and/or the New Zealand Government have any concern about the release of Abu Bakar Bashir after just 26 months of his sentence as part of the Bali conspiracy; if so, given the fact that New Zealanders lost their lives in that attack, has the Government expressed any concern to the Indonesians about it?

Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: The Government did express its concern at the time he was convicted and sentenced, although I think it is fair to say, in defence of the President of Indonesia today, that he was not in power at that time, and that since he has come to power he has been unequivocal in his commitment against terrorism. The Indonesian Government has taken steps to bring the Bali bombers to justice, and its relentless pursuit of Azahari bin Husin bore fruit in November of 2005, as we can witness.

Hon Murray McCully: Why has the Minister done nothing to publicly convey the concern of New Zealanders over the release of Abu Bakar Bashir, an architect of the Bali bombings in which New Zealanders as well as Australians were killed, when the Australian Prime Minister, Mr Howard, has taken that man’s release sufficiently seriously to raise it directly with the Indonesian President?

Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: The chronology of events is very important. That is why I said that that man was convicted and sentenced before the President came to power. That sentence was set in stone, so it is hardly befitting someone who was not the Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade at that time—Mr Goff was—to now intervene, when that decision is one for the domestic law of Indonesia. We do not interfere with the domestic law of other countries, but at the time I can remember Mr Goff expressing his concern.

Dr Wayne Mapp: Talk to John Howard.

Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: Talking about it now is a bit late—John Howard or no John Howard.

Hon Murray McCully: Is the Minister aware that the acting Australian Ambassador to Indonesia has raised Australia’s concern about the release of Abu Bakar Bashir directly with the Indonesian Foreign Minister, and specifically sought assurances about measures being taken to ensure that he does not engage in terrorist activities now that he is released, and can he tell the House whether the New Zealand Ambassador to Indonesia has done likewise; if not, why not?

Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: I want to point out to the member that the Government supports the rule of law. The facts are that this man was charged, was convicted, and was sentenced. That was the duration of his sentence. What can we now possibly raise with Indonesia that has any merit other than an attempt to interfere with the law of Indonesia and its processes, without any colour of right whatsoever? If the member thinks that the sentence was too short, so do I, and so do most New Zealanders. But if the member is suggesting that we can do something concrete about it other than attempt to interfere with another country’s domestic law, without having a law to rely upon in terms of the action, then frankly he does not understand his job or the law.

Hon Murray McCully: The Minister is asleep on the job.

Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: I was admitted to the Bar; that member never was. I wonder why he was not.

Hon Murray McCully: I seek leave of the House to table press clippings from Australia, outlining both the position adopted by Mr Howard and the statement also from the Australian Foreign Minister regarding his instructions to the acting Australian Ambassador to Indonesia.

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

Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: I seek leave to table the press accounts of the trial of Mr Bashir and the conviction and sentence. At the time, of course, the present person was not in office.

Leave granted.

Infant Homicide Review—Social Development and Employment (CYF), Associate Minister's Statement

6. JUDITH COLLINS (National—Clevedon) to the Associate Minister for Social Development and Employment (CYF): Does she stand by her statement to the House on Tuesday, in relation to the review on infant homicide: “It was always intended to be an internal report, as was outlined in the press statement issued by the acting chief social worker,”; if not, why not?

Hon RUTH DYSON (Associate Minister for Social Development and Employment (CYF)): Yes. My initial advice has been confirmed that the key outcome for this work is to feed back the results into internal planning and development processes within Child, Youth and Family Services and relevant agencies rather than for public release.

Judith Collins: Has the Minister actually read the press statement from Child, Youth and Family Services that she referred to on Tuesday, in which the former acting chief social worker stated: “The findings will be shared with community organisations and other agencies who work with new parents.”; if so, why did she tell the House that the report was not intended to be released when it clearly was?

Hon RUTH DYSON: I certainly have read Craig Smith’s press statement of 8 October 2004. It was that statement to which I referred in my original answers to the questions from the member and her colleagues on Tuesday. I certainly stand by that statement. There is a big difference between developmental processes and using report findings to improve them—that, of course, includes agencies other than just Child, Youth and Family Services that may be related to dealings with families—and the public release of a document.

Lynne Pillay: What proportion of child homicides in New Zealand concerns 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 who could perhaps have stepped in and made a difference. Child, Youth and Family Services is most often the last link in the protective chain.

Judith Collins: Why has the Office of the Children’s Commissioner stated that it has not been involved in the review when it is listed as a participant in the original press statement, when the Minister told the House on Tuesday that key stakeholders had been consulted, when it is part of the Children’s Commissioner’s statutory role to investigate any act done, or omitted, in respect of any child, and when it has a particular responsibility to monitor the actions of Child, Youth and Family Services?

Hon RUTH DYSON: My understanding of the reported comments made by the Children’s Commissioner is that she did not link the conversations she had had with the chief social worker with the report that was referred to her in questioning on Sunday evening by the reporter from the Press. My understanding is that of the four agencies that are named in the 8 October press statement, three have confirmed their subsequent involvement.

Judith Collins: Does the Minister agree with the statement made by the previous acting chief social worker that the report: “is about identifying those children who are most vulnerable so that all agencies can be cognisant of the support these families need as early as possible.”; if so, why on earth would she not want the findings to be circulated as widely as possible to help raise awareness of the factors that lead to child abuse, neglect, and homicide?

Hon RUTH DYSON: If I may repeat the comments I made to the member on Tuesday, I say that although the report was never intended to be a public report, frankly, if the findings of that report can help make a contribution to the work that the public of New Zealand do in order to help lower the incidence of child abuse and death, it would be worthwhile making that report public.

Judith Collins: Can the Minister confirm that New Zealand is ranked third-worst amongst 27 OECD countries for child deaths according to the Social Report 2005; and in light of the fact that Helen Clark described the situation as “shameful” when New Zealand was ranked sixth-worst, what adjective would the Minister use to describe the current situation, which has clearly become worse under her watch?

Hon RUTH DYSON: I could use many adjectives to describe that member’s response to child deaths and other tragedies in New Zealand, but probably none of them is appropriate as a parliamentary term. The fact that any child is killed in New Zealand at the hands of a parent or caregiver is unacceptable, and I am committed to continuing to do everything I can to eliminate that scourge from our society.

Judith Collins: Does the Minister agree with the view of Helen Clark, who said in 1994: “We have the sixth-worst record in the world for the abuse of children,”, and that more than just rhetoric was needed to remedy the crisis; if so, has the Minister been asked to explain to the Prime Minister whether she has done anything, other than spout rhetoric and abuse, while the ranking has slipped even further to third-worst?

Hon RUTH DYSON: Yes and no.

Driver Licensing—Older Drivers

7. DARREN HUGHES (Labour—Otaki) to the Minister for Transport Safety: What changes are being made to the driver licensing regime for older drivers?

Hon HARRY DUYNHOVEN (Minister for Transport Safety): Last week a new transport rule was signed, which will abolish the mandatory on-road driving test for those aged 80 and older, from December this year. The changes to older driver licensing will remove the stress and cost of taking the on-road test for most older drivers, permitting them to continue to drive for as long as they can do so, while ensuring that their safety, along with other road users, is preserved.

Darren Hughes: What educational and information initiatives are being introduced for older drivers, their families, and general practitioners to help them understand what the new licensing system will be about?

Hon HARRY DUYNHOVEN: The following educational initiatives will accompany the introduction of the new older driver licensing system: first, new funding for a nationwide expansion of the popular Safe with Age road safety classroom course; second, a subsidy for a private on-road driving lesson for Safe with Age course participants; third, new educational publications for older people on driving safely, maintaining mobility, and helping them plan for the future; and, lastly, regional seminars for general practitioners to educate them about the new licensing changes and what that will mean for general practitioners.

Peter Brown: Is the Minister aware that some general practitioners have some real concerns about having to determine whether an elderly person is fit to drive, being the last line of defence so to speak; if so, can he give the House an assurance that he has overcome the concerns of those general practitioners?

Hon HARRY DUYNHOVEN: Representatives from the Royal New Zealand College of General Practitioners were members of the consultative group that recommended changes to older driver licensing and they were fully involved all the way through. A large amount of work has been done with general practitioners, and the reason for having the educational programme, which will go on from now, is to outline the options available to general practitioners where they are concerned about an older driver’s ability to drive safely, even if the driver passes the tests that will be in place—and, indeed, are already in place. I am very confident that in circumstances where a general practitioner has examined a patient who is 75 or over and has decided that the patient is medically fit but is uncertain about the patient’s ability to drive safely, then the general practitioner will refer the patient, as necessary, for an on-road safety test. But I think that will be a rare event.

District Health Boards—Elective Service Policy Requirements

8. Hon TONY RYALL (National—Bay of Plenty) to the Minister of Health: Which district health boards, if any, have indicated they will be unable to comply with the Government’s elective service policy requirements by 30 June 2006?

Hon PETE HODGSON (Minister of Health): During question time on Tuesday I said to the member—and I quote myself: “We signalled last week that we would need to relax, somewhat, the period by which district health boards would become compliant …”. If the member wishes to ask the same question again next week, I would be happy to repeat myself repeat myself.

Hon Tony Ryall: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. The question was very clear, and it was worded as such because the Ministry of Health said in the Health Committee on Wednesday that at least half the district health boards have indicated that they will not meet the 30 June timeline. When we asked for the names, they said they could not give them to us at this stage, so that is why I have asked the Minister. It is a completely different question; it asked which district health boards have indicated that.

Hon PETE HODGSON: Is it not clear to the member that the ability to meet the requirements by the 30 June deadline has been relaxed? We announced it last week and I told the member on Tuesday.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: Which health boards?

Hon PETE HODGSON: All district health boards—it has been relaxed, somewhat.

Hon Tony Ryall: Can the Minister confirm that he has advised district health boards that the requirement to cull their waiting lists by 17,000 patients to meet his compliance requirement has been relaxed by 3 months, and can he confirm further that those district health boards that do not cull their waiting lists within those 3 months will, in fact, find that they suffer a financial penalty, and can he explain how taking money from district health boards will actually see more patients being operated on?

Hon PETE HODGSON: The member seems to have developed the logic that because operations on 17,000 people were delayed due to the strike, somehow New Zealand will have 17,000 people who will be unseen, forever. He forgets that our most excellent health system sees about half a million elective patients a year and it can accommodate many disruptions, whether it is a bad flu season, a junior doctors’ strike, or, indeed, disruption caused by the construction of yet another state-of-the-art hospital.

Maryan Street: What is the intent of the Government’s elective services policy?

Hon PETE HODGSON: The intent of the Government’s policy is to provide clarity, timeliness, and fairness to patients—things that were absent under the old waiting list policy. Under Labour, we are now closer to the full implementation of this policy than at any time since it was first introduced by the last National Government.

Hon Tony Ryall: How did he reply to the woman who wrote to him recently about her husband, who has a rare heart disease and who has been removed from the waiting list and sent back to his general practitioner, and what would he say to the woman’s niece, who has an ulcerative colitis and who has been removed from the waiting list and sent back to the general practitioner, and her daughter-in-law, who has coeliac disease and who has been dumped from the waiting list and has returned to her general practitioner; and how would he explain to one of those young women that because of his policy and the delays in her getting treatment, she now faces life with a colostomy bag?

Hon PETE HODGSON: The member may be aware that I do not, and cannot, comment on individual cases but I would be happy to follow up those cases if the member would like to approach me and give me the names of the people involved.

Heather Roy: Does the Minister believe that the district health boards’ inability to comply with elective service policy is the fault of doctors, district health board management, or his ministry; or, if none of these, what exactly is the problem?

Hon PETE HODGSON: District health boards are moving progressively, month after month, year after year, into full compliance. We are nearly there and I would like to thank all of those parties mentioned by the member in her question for their part played in getting there.

Dr Jackie Blue: Can he even dare to imagine what it is like for breast cancer survivor 33-year-old Aletia Hudson who was promised breast cancer reconstruction surgery but has been culled from the waiting list, and how would he feel facing the constant physical reminder every day of that suffering?

Hon PETE HODGSON: I thank the member for raising the question of that person with me again, twice in the same week. The answer I give the member today is the same as the one I gave the member on Tuesday. She may wish to check her Hansard.

Dr Jonathan Coleman: How does the Minister explain the fundamental disconnect in Labour’s health policy, whereby people can go to their general practitioner and be told they need an operation, but the public health system will not be able to do it for them unless of course they get a lot sicker, then they might just have a chance of getting on a waiting list that they might then get kicked off, or is he stealing policy ideas from old reruns of Yes, Minister?

Hon PETE HODGSON: This Government has a very proud record in health and I will rehearse it somewhat for the member. Not only has surgery in this country increased by about 15 percent under this Government, but within major joint surgery it is doubling over 4 years, so it becomes one of the highest intervention rates in the world, and on top of that we have increased cataract surgery by 50 percent over 3 years, on top of that we have introduced mobile surgical services into this country, and on top of that we have had very large increases in out-patient surgery and day surgery, some of which is not even recorded but will be, 10 days from now. I am proud of that record. The member comes from a party that went into the election 9 months ago and said: “We don’t need any increases in health. We can afford to give it all away in tax cuts.” Now he has the cheek to come to the House and say that he wants more money spent on health.

John Hayes: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I could not hear a word the Minister was saying because there was such a rabble making a lot of noise in the House. I ask that you bring the House to order.

Hon Trevor Mallard: I think what was actually happening was that we were getting feedback in the Minister’s mike, and possibly in yours, Madam Speaker, from the Hon Tony Ryall who was screeching right through that answer.

Madam SPEAKER: The same problem is arising now from all parties commenting on the question. All parties are guilty at some time. I ask members to please exercise some self-control and discipline in the interventions they make.

Chris Tremain: Can the Minister give an assurance that the proceeds from the sale of the Napier Hospital hill site will not be used to meet the current Hawke’s Bay District Health Board’s $13 million forecast deficit, and the proceeds will be used as promised—to build two new operating theatres for elective services, to rebuild the mental health in-patient unit, and, most important, to ensure that further services are not cut from Napier’s Wellesley Road health centre?

Hon PETE HODGSON: I suggest the member direct his question to the district health board in question.

Government Initiatives—Major International Events

9. SUE MORONEY (Labour) to the Minister for Economic Development: What steps is the Government taking to attract a greater number of major international events to New Zealand?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD (Minister for Economic Development): Heaps. The Government is providing assistance to organisations bidding to host international events. We are also working with key players to provide the required infrastructure. For example, the Government will provide $2 million for new facilities at the Taupô Motorsport Park to enable the hosting of big international motor racing events up to, but not including, Formula One. They will be the best facilities in New Zealand when they are finished.

Sue Moroney: What evidence has he seen that the Government support for motor events is paying off?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: An enormous amount. People will generally be aware that we are hosting the 2011 Rugby World Cup. Recently New Zealand was announced as the host for the 2010 World Rowing Championships. This is a huge win for New Zealand and shows, once again, that New Zealand has what it takes to host major events. Rowers from an estimated 50 countries are expected to compete at the championships. It is estimated the event will attract around 7,000 visitors to New Zealand and contribute an additional $105 million to the economy. In addition, it means that the hub of Rotorua, Hamilton, and Taupô is becoming known more and more as an events hub for New Zealand, showing it as an area that is capable of hosting great events and people, very well.

Peter Brown: Can I take it from the Minister’s answer that he has no concern about New Zealand’s infrastructure when we handle such events; and by infrastructure I mean roading, passenger transport, and hospitals?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: Certainly, I think in the case of the Taupô event, the track quality—the roading of the track—will be considerably improved by the investment that is occurring now. As far as public transport is concerned, in the rowing, I want to compliment the Hamilton City Council, which has taken the decision to provide free public transport to and from Hamilton for people who attend that event, thereby taking a lot of pressure off the road during that time.

Dog Control—Microchipping, Working Dogs, Publicity

10. JOHN CARTER (National—Northland) to the Associate Minister of Local Government: What publicity has she, or the Department of Internal Affairs, run explaining the microchipping of working dogs to farmers?

Hon NANAIA MAHUTA (Associate Minister of Local Government): Since the Dog Control Amendment Act was passed in 2003, including provisions relating to microchipping, the Department of Internal Affairs has provided information to all relevant parties about the microchipping requirements coming into force from 1 July 2006. The department has not run any publicity specifically relating to the exemption of working dogs from microchipping.

John Carter: What right did she ever have to arrogantly assume the outcome of the parliamentary legislative process before authorising the expenditure of thousands upon thousands of taxpayers’ hard-earned dollars?

Hon NANAIA MAHUTA: I reiterate that the decision to amend the Dog Control Act in 2003 included provisions regarding microchipping.

Hon Marian Hobbs: What is the Government going to do, given the very recent changes concerning the exemption of working dogs from microchipping requirements?

Hon NANAIA MAHUTA: The Government is working closely with Local Government New Zealand and the local government sector to ensure that they are prepared to deal with the new changes from 1 July 2006. The department has prepared a one page information sheet for councils setting out the changes and possible issues that they will need to consider over the next few days. This will be circulated this afternoon.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Could I ask the Minister whether the real answer to Mr Carter is that until last night, that precisely was the law—voted for by National—and perhaps he should get some legal advice from some of his colleagues, as that was the law until last night and that is why putting out the advertising would be justified?

Hon NANAIA MAHUTA: I can confirm that. Last night National successfully argued that we can have one law for some and one law for others. It just does not like the implications of that. [Interruption]

Madam SPEAKER: If some members wish to remain in the Chamber would they please respect the requirement that those who are asking questions are heard in silence.

John Carter: Did the Minister consult the Prime Minister for the Prime Minister’s approval on spending taxpayers’ money on a farm dog microchipping campaign before Parliament had even worked its way through the legislative process, or did she decide to waste thousands upon thousands of taxpayers’ hard-earned dollars all by herself?

Hon NANAIA MAHUTA: I reiterate that the decisions affecting microchipping were made in 2003, and decisions around ensuring that people had accurate information were made from that time on. The clarification around advertising in this regard was set out in answer to written question 6358 from David Carter.

Eric Roy: Did the Minister consult the Minister of Agriculture about how to spend taxpayers’ money on this brochure on farm dog microchipping before Parliament had even worked its way through the legislative process, or did she decide to waste thousands upon thousands of taxpayers’ hard-earned dollars all by herself?

Hon NANAIA MAHUTA: As the question has been repeated I am happy to repeat the answer. The decisions affecting microchipping were actually made in 2003. From that time until this time any responsible Government would ensure that people had accurate information around the laws on this particular matter.

Peter Brown: Would this be an issue at all if it had not been necessary to amend the local government legislation at this point in time?

Hon NANAIA MAHUTA: Regarding the information campaign, the decisions on making sure that people had accurate information would have continued. When National successfully argued only last night that we can have one law for some and one law for others, that raised issues, but we will work with local government to make sure that it gets accurate information regarding exemption provisions for working dogs.

John Carter: Are the reasons for the Minister’s assumption that microchipping legislation would be passed the Labour Government’s blind fixation on imposing microchipping on an unwilling public and the fact that she, Helen Clark, and the Labour-led Government are so arrogant that they thought they could ignore public opinion?

Hon NANAIA MAHUTA: The decisions around making sure people received accurate information were based on decisions made by Parliament in 2003. Last night Parliament—or a number of parties—changed its mind. We need to make sure that people receive accurate information. We are working with local government in this regard.

Moana Mackey: Has the Minister seen any reports on the opinions of the member who asked the question, John Carter, expressed in a speech he gave in this House in 1996 on the Dog Control Act in which he said that microchipping was a sensible way of identifying dogs, that New Zealand should move towards microchipping of all dogs, and that local government would inevitably take this up as a sensible way of identifying and controlling our dog population; and does she believe that this is another example of a National flip-flop?

Hon NANAIA MAHUTA: Yes, I do.

John Carter: Is the Minister aware that under the Dog Control Act any local authority may be able to exempt all dogs from microchipping?

Hon NANAIA MAHUTA: The Dog Control Act and any amendments made thereto are the responsibility of the local authority to implement. Just last night decisions were made exempting working farm dogs, and the local authorities will be obliged to implement the Act as it reads.

Hon Maurice Williamson: Does the current definition of working dogs include lapdogs?

Hon NANAIA MAHUTA: Only if the definition applies to flip-flops.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Is it not the case that in connection with the question asked by Mr Williamson, the answer lay in providing him with a mirror?

Hon NANAIA MAHUTA: Most certainly. If the definition applies to National flip-flops then it would be quite accurate.

Public Works Act—Land Acquisition, Paraparaumu Airport

11. TARIANA TURIA (Co-Leader—Mâori Party) to the Minister for Land Information: What processes will be taken into account to recognise the status, use, or significance of land acquired under the Public Works Act 1981, with particular reference to Paraparaumu Airport, which was originally taken during World War II?

Hon DAVID PARKER (Minister for Land Information): Land at Paraparaumu Airport acquired under the Public Works Act must be disposed of in accordance with that Act.

Tariana Turia: Has the Minister read the report by the Office of the Controller and Auditor-General that states that the Ministry of Transport failed to inform former owners before it sold the airport; if so, will there be retrospective legislation to remedy this injustice?

Hon DAVID PARKER: I am aware of that report because I read it in my former role as the Minister of Transport. My understanding of that report is that the method by which the airport was privatised and sold was in compliance with the law.

Darren Hughes: Is the Minister aware of any proposals that would attempt to provide processes for former landowners of airports like Paraparaumu Airport that were privatised by the former National Government?

Hon DAVID PARKER: Yes. I understand that Darren Hughes, the member for Otaki, has prepared a member’s bill that would provide another process for former landowners, particularly around Public Works Act obligations.

Tariana Turia: When will the legislated right to an offer-back be triggered?

Hon DAVID PARKER: The Public Works Act requirements are triggered by disposals of land that come within the purview of that Act.

Tariana Turia: Is the Minister aware of the statement from the local Otaki MP, Darren Hughes, that there has to be some justice for former owners; and how will justice, in the case of Paraparaumu Airport, not only be done but be seen to be done?

Hon DAVID PARKER: The original sale of Paraparaumu Airport happened in 1995. My responsibility and powers are limited to dealing with any dispossessions of land made under the Public Works Act.

Land Transport New Zealand—Excise Rebates, Liquefied Petroleum Gas

12. Hon MAURICE WILLIAMSON (National—Pakuranga) to the Minister of Transport: Is the letter sent by Land Transport New Zealand to retailers last week, informing them they could no longer claim excise rebates for liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) sold for non-automotive purposes, evidence the Government is planning to introduce a new “barbecue tax”?

Hon ANNETTE KING (Minister of Transport): No, the Government is not planning to introduce a “barbecue tax”.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: Yes, it is.

Hon ANNETTE KING: Mr Smith should listen carefully. I am advised that the letter related to the detection of what may be an anomaly in the rebate process for LPG sales dating back to 1992. [Interruption] Members should listen to this. A review by PricewaterhouseCoopers is continuing to investigate the extent of the anomaly. The results of the review will be known in the next few weeks. No changes to current practice have been implemented.

Hon Maurice Williamson: If there was no intention for any changes to be implemented yet, why did the letter state: “These changes will apply to LPG sold by a wholesaler or retailer on or after 1 July 2006.”

Hon ANNETTE KING: The letter from Land Transport New Zealand was sent out to retailers, telling them what the law is. It was followed up by a second letter, stating that no action would be taken until the review is finished. It is what the law states that is important. That is what the review will show us.

Hon Maurice Williamson: Why did the initial letter, dated 16 June this year, state: “As a result, we are introducing some changes to the criteria for refund”—when the Minister just said there was no intention for any change—and go on to state that those changes will take effect from 1 July, which I understand is in 8 days’ time?

Hon ANNETTE KING: For the member’s benefit, I repeat: Land Transport New Zealand has sent out a second letter.

Hon Bill English: Contradicting the first one.

Hon ANNETTE KING: Yes, contradicting the first one. The second letter stated there would be no changes until the review is finished. I will find out who has been caught out in a very short time.

Hon Maurice Williamson: Does the Minister intend to get a signal through to the Minister of Internal Affairs, Rick Barker—who I understand is snowed in somewhere in the South Island—so that he can pass on to all the concerned residents of the South Island, who are relying on gas canisters for their heating and cooking because they have been without power for so long, that they do not need to worry and a $2 tax will not be imposed on their barbecue canisters from next week?

Hon ANNETTE KING: I would not be surprised if that very good Minister was doing that at this very moment.

Hon Maurice Williamson: Why did the Secretary for Transport, Dr Robin Dunlop, stop short of giving any assurance that there are no plans for the buyers of LPG for domestic use to pay fuel excise, and say he could not do that until the review was completed, hopefully by the end of July?

Hon ANNETTE KING: He could not do that because the review has not been completed. But the review is investigating a 1992 letter that was sent out by the Secretary for Transport at that time, which changed the process for refunds and does not appear to be in line with the law of the day. That is what is being looked at.

Hon Maurice Williamson: Can I take it from that answer that it has still not yet been ruled out that there may actually now be a “barbecue tax” of $2 imposed on each 9-kilogram cylinder of LPG gas sold to ordinary consumers?

Hon ANNETTE KING: I have no doubt that the member is aware that any change in the levy on LPG is a matter for the Minister of Customs. I have discussed that matter with the Minister of Customs, Nanaia Mahuta. She has no intention to make any changes to the amount of the current levy on LPG.

Hon Maurice Williamson: I seek leave to table two documents. The first document is a letter from Land Transport New Zealand dated 16 June, which states that that organisation will be introducing some changes.

Leave granted.

Hon Maurice Williamson: The second document is a letter from Land Transport New Zealand dated 21 June, which states that that organisation has no intention of introducing any changes.

Leave granted.

ENDS


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