Questions And Answers - Tuesday, 27 June 2006
Questions And Answers - Tuesday, 27 June
Questions to Ministers
Child Homicide—Multiparty Accord
1. Dr DON BRASH (Leader of the Opposition) to the Prime Minister: Does she stand by her reported statement that yesterday Cabinet agreed to seek a multiparty accord on ways to stem the rising tide of child homicide; if not, why not?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK (Prime Minister): Ministers have agreed to pursue a multiparty initiative in good faith. We hope that will be reciprocated.
Dr Don Brash: Why is the Prime Minister now proposing that such an accord will start in several weeks’ time, after her Government releases yet another report, when on Sunday the Minister of Mâori Affairs phoned the deputy leader of the National Party and told him that the first multiparty meeting on this issue was to be held last night?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: Firstly, I can say that Ministers will be inviting other parties to a meeting this week. It will be possible to have a well-informed meeting when the ministerial task force reports. The Government is keen to share that information with other parties.
Sue Bradford: Will the multiparty working-group be solution rather than research focused, and will it be given any real power to get any cross-party solutions implemented in terms of Government funding and policy priorities?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: We would welcome the Greens’ suggestions on how to take it forward. We are proceeding on this in good faith and I am sure, from the tone of the member’s question, so is she.
Dr Don Brash: Why has her Government decided that getting multiparty agreement and urgent action on the issue of child homicide is no longer important?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: As I have said in the House today, Ministers have agreed in good faith to pursue a multiparty initiative. I think it is rather unfortunate that the first statement made by the Leader of the Opposition on this tragedy has been to try to politicise it.
Dr Don Brash: Was the Minister of Mâori Affairs correct when he said: “I intend to lead a cross-party team to look at it from a whole-of-Government approach and really push it along.”, or will the accord be led by another Minister?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: The Minister of Mâori Affairs has taken the initiative to say that he will lead such a cross-party initiative. He will be working with other Ministers, and spokespersons from other parties who want to participate in good faith. I do hope the member’s statements are not an indication that the National Party does not wish to participate.
Dr Don Brash: Will the cross-party accord focus only on Mâori family violence; if not, why is the Minister of Mâori Affairs and not the Minister for Social Development and Employment or the Minister with responsibility for Child, Youth and Family Services leading an accord on child abuse?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: Of course the problem is not confined only to one group in the community. It is very appropriate that the Minister of Mâori Affairs has taken an initiative. He will be joined by other Ministers. As I say, this is being pursued in good faith. We have had many indications of good faith from other parties. We simply wait to see whether the National Party is more intent on politicising child homicide than finding constructive ways forward.
2. SHANE JONES (Labour) to the Minister of Finance: What reports has he received on economic growth in New Zealand?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Minister of Finance): I received a report in January of a prediction that New Zealand was “almost certainly headed for recession”—that is, the March quarter figure would be negative. The actual out-turn for the March quarter was growth of 0.7 percent, which is just below the assumed long-term sustainable rate of growth, despite Dr Brash’s attempts to talk it down.
Shane Jones: Has he seen any reports on the link between business confidence and economic growth?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I have seen reports suggesting that the misguided prediction of a recession was based on assumptions around business confidence. But those too have been proven wrong, with two recent reports showing business confidence coming off the very low base of late last year in both Auckland and Wellington.
R Doug Woolerton: What would have happened had the Minister put in place an across-the-board tax cut, as proposed by the National Party?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: In the short term, there would have been much further pressure upon demand, and therefore on the current account deficit, and therefore a credit rating downgrade, which the former Reserve Bank governor would have died to avoid when he was in that position.
John Key: Has the Minister seen the report from Westpac, which states that the rebound in first-quarter GDP growth is something of a false dawn and should not be read as an underlying recovery, that trend growth in GDP is only 1 percent a year, and that that trend rate is likely to persist or even weaken further through 2006 and 2007, as the fundamental drivers of slower growth remain in place?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Yes, but I did not need to see that, because I said exactly the same thing myself in response to the quarterly figure.
Jeanette Fitzsimons: Is the Minister satisfied that the growth assumptions underlying Treasury’s statement on New Zealand’s long-term fiscal position take adequate account of the economic consequences of accelerated climate change, ecological collapse of the oceans, loss of productive soils, and pollution and depletion of fresh waters—none of which are priced or recognised in current markets?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Yes, I am satisfied that a number of those factors have been taken into account. Although some of them, I think, are slightly less serious than the member implies with that somewhat catastrophic scenario over a 50-year time frame, we look forward to working with a united Green Party on those issues.
Well Child Freephone Service—24-Hour Funding
3Dr DON BRASH (Leader of the Opposition) to the Prime Minister: Does she stand by her statement “we will continue to fund a Well Child service 24 hours a day”?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK (Prime Minister): Yes.
Dr Don Brash: Does the Prime Minister believe that people calling Healthline will be speaking to a qualified Well Child nurse from 1 July; if so, why?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: Because I know that the people to run the service from 1 July already have six Well Child - qualified nurses and a paediatric nurse on staff, and will have a further five Well Child nurses signed up to commence on 1 July.
Dr Don Brash: Was it a service specification in the recent tender for the Well Child telephone advice service that Well Child nurses handle all calls, and that those Well Child nurses have “extensive and recent clinical experience in community Well Child nursing”; if so, why?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I do not have the micro-details of the contract in front of me, but certainly I am advised that, as I said, they intend to have 11 properly qualified people doing the service from 1 July.
Sue Kedgley: Will the Government admit that it made a mistake in cutting funding to PlunketLine and giving the contract to a subsidiary of a large multinational corporation, many of whose nurses have not had specific training in parenting issues, and will it therefore reinstate the service; if not, why not?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: The answer to the first part of the question is no. In response to the second part of the question, the Ministry of Health continues to be in discussion with Plunket about its contract going forward, and that of course also includes how best to integrate PlunketLine into the contract.
Dr Don Brash: Can the Prime Minister confirm that in fact the Ministry of Health and McKesson New Zealand Ltd are discussing not having Well Child - qualified nurses manning the phones; and how does she reconcile that with her answers to my previous two questions?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: No, I cannot confirm that, because the information I have in front of me is that there are already six Well Child - qualified nurses and a paediatric nurse on staff, and another five nurses begin from 1 July. That, of course, is a component of the overall total of 40 full-time tele-nurses.
Dr Don Brash: When the Prime Minister said “We have a Prime Minister who claims to be passionate about making life better for mothers and families but stands by while the Plunket telephone line collapses.”, did she have herself in mind; and why is she now standing by while PlunketLine collapses?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I had in mind a former Prime Minister who refused to fund a 24-hour Well Child health line—[Interruption]
Madam SPEAKER: Would the Prime Minister please be seated. I am receiving increasing numbers of complaints from the public that they simply cannot hear answers to the question. I ask the Prime Minister to please repeat her answer to the question.
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I had in mind a former Prime Minister who refused point-blank to fund a 24-hour Well Child health service. I am the Prime Minister who has ensured that a 24-hour Well Child health service is being funded.
Dr Don Brash: Is she the same Helen Clark who said: “We will back to the hilt our Plunket.”, and how can preventing thousands of New Zealand mothers and their babies from getting advice from a Well Child nurse be seen as backing Plunket to the hilt?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: The Government is presently in negotiation with Plunket about increasing the price of its contract. What about that does the Leader of the Opposition not understand?
Dr Don Brash: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I seek leave to table a memo from McKesson New Zealand to the Ministry of Health making it clear that it will not have Well Child - trained nurses available from 1 July.
Madam SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection? There is objection.
Child Homicide Case—Benefits Paid
4. RODNEY HIDE (Leader—ACT) to the Minister for Social Development and Employment: What is his estimate of the total weekly benefits and other subsidies and allowances paid to the occupants of the two Housing New Zealand Corporation properties that the family of Chris and Cru Kâhui lived in?
Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE (Minister for Social Development and Employment): I am not prepared to divulge information about individual family circumstances, but I can say that I have asked the Ministry of Social Development to look into this case to ensure that all benefits being paid are legitimate. If there is any evidence that they are not, the ministry will take appropriate action.
Rodney Hide: Does he understand the anger and frustration of Kiwis who work hard to look after their own children, and pay taxes, at providing an estimated $2,087.48 a week to a family who gave no care to their babies despite family members not having to work and having an income twice that of many families who do?
Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: Yes. Nothing excuses the sort of action we have seen, but I repeat the statement I made in my previous answer.
Georgina Beyer: Can the Minister advise in a general sense what the Government is doing to ensure the integrity of the benefit system?
Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: I can repeat my advice to the House that the Ministry of Social Development has a zero tolerance policy with regard to abuse of the benefit system. I can also advise that the integrity of the system will be further enhanced by the Housing Restructuring and Tenancy Matters (Information Matching) Amendment Bill currently before the House, which will permit further data-matching between the Housing New Zealand Corporation and Work and Income, and I would like to acknowledge at this point the support that other parties have given to that bill.
Sue Bradford: Does the Minister think the outcome for the Kâhui babies was likely to have been improved had there been no income-related rents or welfare benefits going into that home?
Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: No. But, as I said earlier, nothing excuses the actions we have seen.
Judith Collins: Why, when the Family Violence Intervention Programme was set up specifically to develop collaboration between Government agencies and departments, did staff at the neonatal unit of Middlemore Hospital fail to inform Child, Youth and Family Services of their concerns regarding Chris and Cru Kâhui?
Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: I have no responsibility for the actions of the staff at the neonatal unit at Middlemore Hospital.
Judith Collins: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. Perhaps the Minister could reflect on that comment, given that the Family Violence Intervention Programme is a Ministry of Social Development initiative—so he really should have some responsibility for how it has been operating.
Madam SPEAKER: No, that is not a point of order.
Rodney Hide: Does he believe he is overseeing a welfare system that sponsors responsible parenthood, or irresponsible parenthood, and what is he doing to ensure we have more responsible parenting in New Zealand?
Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: The answer is yes to the first part of the question, and I draw to the member’s attention the very considerable funding in the immediately past Budget for the current year of $35 million for initiatives to address that issue, among other things.
Air New Zealand—Meeting of Ministers and Executives
5. JOHN KEY (National—Helensville) to the Minister of Finance: Were any officials present, or notes kept, at the meeting held on 13 March 2006 between senior Air New Zealand executives and a group of Ministers including himself, the Hon David Parker and the Hon Lianne Dalziel?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Minister of Finance): No and no.
John Key: Does he agree that the Government has multiple objectives in respect of the proposed code-sharing arrangement between Air New Zealand and Qantas: that the shareholding Minister in Air New Zealand represents the taxpayer’s investment in the airline, whereas the Minister of Transport, who has to approve any code-sharing agreement, is concerned with the interests of consumers, and that those two objectives may well conflict?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Yes, and we do not talk about the matter.
John Key: Does he therefore think there is a potential conflict of interest involved in himself, as shareholding Minister in Air New Zealand, meeting with the chairman of Air New Zealand and the chief executive of Air New Zealand in the presence of the then Minister of Transport, David Parker, at a time when code-sharing was the biggest issue in the air transport area and foremost in every participant’s mind; if not, why not?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: No, because it was not.
John Key: Is the reason he and Mr Parker were happy to compromise their positions that they knew that no officials would be present and they knew that no notes would be taken, because they knew that the location of the meeting was to be a cosy dinner held in a private room at the Boulcott Street Bistro?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: The member should not let his jealousy of fine dining carry him away. There was, indeed, no secret Beehive meeting—despite what the Sunday Star-Times stated. It was a dinner meeting. Mr Parker was not present for very long, because he had another private engagement that he went to. I do not recollect, nor does anybody else who was at the meeting recollect, a discussion of code-sharing. The primary purpose of the meeting was to discuss proposals around tourism funding and promotion.
Peter Brown: Will the Minister clarify the Government’s position as to whether it believes it is better for the public if Air New Zealand stands alone, with the risk of prices increasing because of a lack of patronage on trans-Tasman routes, or, alternatively, whether the airline should have a code-share arrangement with Qantas, with the risk of prices increasing because of a lack of competition; which alternative does the Government prefer?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: As the other member quite rightly pointed out, the Government has a number of different interests. My interest is as shareholding Minister in Air New Zealand and in the protection of the Government’s shareholding value in Air New Zealand. I play no part at all in any discussions around regulatory issues.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: Yeah, right!
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: The member may wish to call me a liar, but I do not follow him in those kinds of matters.
Madam SPEAKER: Did the member call the Minister a liar? I am sorry, I did not hear.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: The phrase I used was “Yeah, right!”.
Madam SPEAKER: “Yeah, right!”; thank you.
John Key: Why on earth should anyone believe the Minister that the issue of code-sharing was not discussed—
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. That very question implies that I was not telling the truth to the House. The reason why he should believe me is that that is what the Standing Orders require. If he has any evidence to the contrary, he should try to present it.
Madam SPEAKER: Would the member please ask his question in a way that is consistent with the Standing Orders.
John Key: Can he understand why members of the public may find it challenging to believe that the issue of code-sharing was not discussed at the meeting, when it was the single biggest issue facing the airline at the time—as it is now—and, 5 days earlier, Treasury wrote to him advising that a subject for the agenda of the meeting would include code-sharing?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: The member must learn to read official documents correctly. That is not an agenda for the meeting; that is Treasury advising me on what it thought might be discussed. However, the member should also check his chronology. No application for a code-sharing arrangement was made at that time. The primary purpose of the meeting was to discuss tourism funding arrangements.
Lynne Pillay: Is it appropriate for the Minister of Finance, as shareholding Minister, to meet with Air New Zealand?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Yes, it is entirely appropriate. I do so regularly, and if I did not, I would no doubt be attacked by the Opposition for dereliction of duty. But to ensure that there are no possible or perceived conflicts of interest, I have delegated all responsibility for aviation regulatory matters to my colleague the Hon Phil Goff. I absent myself from any discussions or decision making relating to aviation. Right at the start that was delegated to Phil Goff, and I absent myself from any discussions on aviation regulation. I leave the Cabinet room or the Cabinet committee room if any of those matters arise.
John Key: Given that he said to the Sunday Star-Times: “As regards the issue of code share - as shareholding minister I must absent myself from any involvement in the decision-making process on Air NZ’s application”, when the issue was raised over dinner at the Boulcott Street Bistro, did he absent himself by hiding out in the toilets or did he just stick two fingers in his ears?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: The member has obviously had two fingers stuck in his ears. I told him that I have no recollection, nor does anybody else at that meeting, of that matter even being raised.
John Key: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I seek leave to table the briefing advice from Treasury to Dr Cullen on 8 March, advising him that the issue of code-sharing with Air New Zealand could well be on the agenda.
Madam SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection? There is objection.
Early Childhood Education—Teachers
6. MOANA MACKEY (Labour) to the Minister of Education: What is the Government doing to increase the number of qualified teachers in early childhood education?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY (Minister of Education): This morning the Prime Minister and I went to Childspace, an early childhood centre, to announce a $30 million boost to early childhood funding over the next 4 years, coming in from 1 July. Funding rates for all-day services will increase by up to 13 percent, session-based service rates will increase by up to 11 percent, and playcentres will get a 9 percent boost to their funding. This increase in funding will help services meet additional costs and allow them to employ more qualified teachers. This is on top of the nearly $0.5 billion worth of funding that this Government is putting into this crucial area of education.
Moana Mackey: What else is the Government doing to improve the quality of early childhood education and teaching?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: As Mr Goff said, it is probably just enough, being a huge amount of money we are investing—but wait, there is more: 700 early childhood education TeachNZ scholarships to support low-income students to enter teacher education programmes, incentive grants paid to early childhood services to support staff who are studying, study grants and relocation grants, and free recognition of prior learning to assist with the gaining of qualifications through specific training providers. Through these initiatives, the Government is well on target to meet its goal of having 100 percent qualified teachers in early childhood education by 2012—and all of this is in contrast to the fact that on the National Party website, there is no policy, at all.
Hon Tau Henare: When he says “wait, there’s more”, is he referring to the 2006 Education Amendment Act, which will have the effect of adding to the administration of playcentres through imposing greater compliance costs, red tape, and more bureaucratic requirements?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: No, I was referring to the 700 early childhood TeachNZ scholarships, incentive grants, study grants, relocation grants, free recognition of prior learning, and the fact that the National Party has no policy.
Te Ururoa Flavell: Tçna tâtou katoa. What has he done to address the under-representation of Mâori teachers in the early childhood education workforce, which comprises only 8.3 percent of teachers who are Mâori, compared with 19 percent of the early childhood population who are Mâori?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: As part of the early childhood TeachNZ scholarships, the incentive grants, study grants, relocation grants, and free recognition of prior learning, we aim to increase that number substantially.
Hon Brian Donnelly: Should an understanding of the philosophical and economic theories of Karl Marx be an essential part of our early childhood teachers’ qualifications, as it was in the 1990s under a National Government, or should such qualifications be focused more on how to optimise the intellectual, social, and emotional development of preschoolers?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: I go along with what the member says in the latter part of his question should underlie early childhood education, but I do have to say congratulations to the National Party on its open-minded approach to Karl Marx and its support for his recognition through the system.
Electricity Outage, Auckland—Report
7. Hon Dr NICK SMITH (National—Nelson) to the Minister of Energy: Does the report into the Auckland power blackout on 12 June identify why the failure of a single D-shackle resulted in 700,000 people losing electricity at an estimated cost of up to $70 million?
Hon DAVID PARKER (Minister of Energy): Yes. The failure was caused by two D-shackles breaking. The cost of the power outage is debatable, but was significant.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: Why did the Minister’s office advise the media that the report on the Auckland blackout would be available prior to question time today, but has subsequently advised media that the report would not be available because he could not get the photocopier in his office to work; and, if he cannot get the photocopier in his office to work, how the heck does he expect to keep the lights on properly?
Hon DAVID PARKER: The report was received by me on Friday afternoon. It was considered by Cabinet yesterday. I had a number of questions arising from the report that I wanted at least preliminary answers to before I released it. I was going to release it at 1.30, then I had a question from the member, and, as my staff were busy, I put the release back until 3 o’clock.
Maryan Street: What practical action has been taken?
Hon DAVID PARKER: I am advised that a detailed physical inspection of all the shackles at the Ôtâhuhu substation has been completed. Two additional shackles were replaced, in addition to the two that broke. Shackle connections throughout the country are being progressively checked, starting with those in situations where the adverse effects of failure would be highest.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: Noting that this month the Minister has overseen a massive blackout in Auckland on 12 June, a lunchtime blackout in Rotorua’s central business district on 19 June, a further Bay of Plenty blackout on the evening of 19 June, and a grid emergency last Thursday in Wellington— all caused by transmission grid failures—does he accept that our transmission grid is so fragile that more grid emergencies and failures under his Government are highly likely?
Hon DAVID PARKER: I do accept that the extreme weather events we have had, together with the peak power demand that that has caused, have put the system under extreme stress and that the safety margins we have in the system are not great enough. I am working to address that.
Gordon Copeland: Will the Minister ask for a similar report into the severe blackouts in the mid and South Canterbury regions that have left households without heating and in the dark during the coldest part of the winter, some for 16 days so far; if not, why not?
Hon DAVID PARKER: It is already apparent that most of the problems we have had in the Canterbury region actually are not with Transpower facilities but with the time taken to rebuild some of the breakages to local networks.
Peter Brown: Is the Minister aware that wherever a D-shackle is used in a strategic position aboard a ship, there is always a preventer system in place to ensure that if the shackle fails, the whole rig does not collapse; and, now that he is aware of that, does he think there is any merit in Transpower having some serious discussions with the maritime industry?
Hon DAVID PARKER: I was not aware of that, but I am sure Transpower will be looking again at its maintenance regimes and reliance on D-shackles in situations such as this.
Brian Connell: Given the long outages following the snow storm in south and mid-Canterbury—it has now been 16 days and some people are still without power—will the Minister be seeking a report from the Electricity Commission or his officials so that we can learn how to deal with these issues without affecting the power supply in the future?
Madam SPEAKER: I just remind members that we start questions with a question word.
Hon DAVID PARKER: I am sure that reports will follow the completion of the repairs to see what lessons can be learnt.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: Is the Minister aware that over 2,000 kilometres of new transmission wires were built in the 1950s, the 1960s, and the 1970s, that 900 kilometres of new transmission wires were built in the 1980s, and that another 300 kilometres of new wires were built in the 1990s, but that in the last 7 years not 1 kilometre of new transmission wire has been constructed, despite a 20 percent increase in power usage; and is it not blatantly obvious that his Government must accept some responsibility for the transmission system now being on the blink?
Hon DAVID PARKER: There have been significant investments in additional capacity on existing transmission routes during that period, but more does need to be done.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: What steps or reforms will the Government make to the confusing array of Government bodies with electricity responsibilities, which includes the Electricity Commission, the Commerce Commission, Transpower, and the Ministry of Economic Development, when there is a chorus of commentary from Treasury, the International Energy Agency, KPMG, and industry leaders describing the Government’s set-up as “confusing”, “needing clarification”, and, according to industry sources, “a bugger’s muddle”?
Hon DAVID PARKER: I note, as I noted last week, that the International Energy Agency made very supportive comments about the Electricity Commission, although it did agree that the division of responsibility between the Commerce Commission and the Electricity Commission needed to be sorted out. I can assure the member that one of the changes we will not make is to go back to the system left by the previous National Government, when decisions as to investment in the grid were left to a committee of consumers rather than planned by Transpower or any other Government agency.
8. RUSSELL FAIRBROTHER (Labour) to the Minister for Building Issues: What reports, if any, has he received on proposals to license building practitioners?
Hon CLAYTON COSGROVE (Minister for Building Issues): I have received numerous reports supporting the proposed licensing regime from building industry leaders such as the Registered Master Builders Federation and the Certified Builders Association. The industry leaders agree with this Government’s programme to restore confidence in the sector and to ensure that buildings are built right the first time. I have also seen media reports supporting the proposed regime, including one from the Nelson Mail that stated it is: “a step in the right direction that should help protect the public from shoddy workmanship.”
Russell Fairbrother: Has the Minister received any reports suggesting an alternative approach?
Hon CLAYTON COSGROVE: Yes. Indeed, I have received a report that a member of this House plans to promote a member’s bill that: “would allow New Zealanders to build their own homes, licensed or unlicensed.” That would allow the status quo to remain, whereby anyone could slap on a tool belt, call himself or herself a builder, do shonky work, and create havoc—which is what National gave us when it deregulated the industry in the 1990s. That report comes from Mr Bob Clarkson, associate spokesperson on building and housing for the National Party. Of course, as with Mr Clarkson’s comments on selling State houses made at a select committee last week, it may be that more senior members of the National Party will denounce these comments, as well.
Madam SPEAKER: I just remind Ministers please to make their answers succinct—and questions should be, also.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: Has the Minister visited the Kaiapoi home of former Labour Prime Minister Norm Kirk—in the Minister’s electorate—that he built with his own sweat and toil, including making his own blocks, a feat now outlawed by the Minister’s complex licensed building practitioner regime, which would have required Norm to have a licence for concrete work, a licence for blocklaying, a licence for roofing, a licence for carpentry, and a licence for external plastering; why does the Minister want to destroy with his politically correct red tape the proud New Zealand tradition of Kiwi battlers being able to build their own homes, when there is no evidence that the leaky homes problem was caused by DIY builders?
Hon CLAYTON COSGROVE: Unlike that member, yes, I have. And I can say to that member that the Government, unlike the previous National Government, has struck a common-sense balance. On the one hand we are not going to destroy 100-plus years of good old-fashioned DIY tradition, but on the other hand we are mindful of the need to run the cowboys out of the system. Therefore we have allowed the good old-fashioned DIYers to do basically what they can do now. For example, they can build a deck, a bathroom, or a woolshed. But significant work—that is, on the structural integrity of a building—has to be supervised or done by a licensed building practitioner. I say further to that member that Norman Kirk, if he were alive today, could indeed build every aspect of his home, but for parts of it he would have to be supervised by a licensed building practitioner. He could do the roof, he could do the concrete—he could do all of those things—but for parts of the work he would have to be supervised and a licensed builder would have to sign them off.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: I seek the leave of the House to table a picture of the house in Kaiapoi that Norm Kirk built—which, contrary to the member’s assertion, I have visited—making the blocks himself as well, and for which he would not have had a hope of paying the cost of a bureaucratic supervisor for its construction.
Madam SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection? There is objection.
Mâori Affairs, Minister—Statement
9. GERRY BROWNLEE (Deputy Leader—National) to the Minister of Mâori Affairs: What are the “whole lot of other issues” he was referring to when he said “There are several technicalities in relation to the retrospective decisions that need to be made in relation to a whole lot of other issues”?
Hon PAREKURA HOROMIA (Minister of Mâori Affairs): The Mâori Purposes Bill 2006 addresses a range of technical issues. It retrospectively validates certain decisions made by Mâori Land Court judges since the 1980s. These validations will provide certainty and clarity.
Gerry Brownlee: Can the Minister recall telling the House last week that the appointment of six more judges to the Mâori Land Court was all about the economy, and can he tell us what sorts of economic indicators we should look to in the future to evaluate the performance of the judiciary on the Mâori Land Court?
Hon PAREKURA HOROMIA: Because Mâori have more assets and resources to manage, we need to ensure that the judges’ workloads are catered for, and that is the economic part of this bill.
Dave Hereora: Why does the Minister think it is important to make the amendments provided for in the Mâori Purposes Bill 2006?
Hon PAREKURA HOROMIA: It is important that legislation that governs Mâori assets has clear provisions for accessing, allocating, and managing those assets. It is also important that the status of decisions made by the court are not in doubt.
Gerry Brownlee: Why do we need this bill if the Minister was correct in the House last week, in saying that the 83 cases dealt with by Judge Norman F Smith, when he had no warrant, were recognised as decisions he was able to make?
Hon PAREKURA HOROMIA: Judge Smith sat for 10 days, over the period of a month, in excess of his warrant. It is important that we have those decisions validated.
Te Ururoa Flavell: Tçnâ koe, Madam Speaker. Would one of the other issues that needs to be addressed respond to the concerns of Sir Hugh Kâwharu, chairman of Ngâti Whâtua o Ôrâkei, who recently stated that: “the Crown … will not accept that one acre of land in the Kaipara or in Invercargill has a different value to an acre of land in the Auckland CBD”; and if not, why not?
Hon PAREKURA HOROMIA: We have a Treaty settlement process but certainly this is about those sorts of issues within the Mâori Land Court.
Gerry Brownlee: When the Minister said in the House that this Government is about putting wrongs right, did he mean that his definition of right is to ensure that judges can deprive people of their customary or ancestral rights without any warrant to do so?
Hon PAREKURA HOROMIA: Most definitely not. I want to remind that member that it is not the first time that legislation has been introduced to validate decisions in the Mâori Land Court. I understand that the National Government introduced legislation in 1991 to validate the decisions of Deputy Chief Judge McHugh.
Gerry Brownlee: When he said in the House that the Te Ture Whenua Maori Act “provides tidy-up amendments that do not warrant enactment as separate amendment Acts” did he mean that requiring all Mâori to lodge Treaty claims within 2 years or forgo redress from historical grievance was a matter of such minor importance that it did not require a larger debate?
Hon PAREKURA HOROMIA: No.
Phil Heatley: Could the Minister explain the matrix of dysfunction of the explanatory note relating to Part 4 of the Mâori Purposes Bill—what it means by “restricting the definition of pre-commencement space to include areas subject to permits for exclusive occupation of space for aquaculture activities, including spat gathering but to exclude areas subject to permits for free-gathering of spat.”
Hon PAREKURA HOROMIA: I do not recall using the words “matrix of dysfunctionalism”; that member may be having a lapse. The definition in the Act inadvertently includes free spat-gathering permits that do not involve the exclusive occupation of coastal space. There are two permits involved.
Residential Care, Long-term—Removal of Asset Testing
10. DARREN HUGHES (Labour—Otaki) to the Minister of Health: What progress is being made towards removing asset testing for New Zealanders who need long-term residential care?
Hon PETE HODGSON (Minister of Health): On 1 July the Labour-led Government will invest $14.3 million to continue the phase-out of income and asset testing for aged residential care. This is on top of our initial investment of $93 million last year. Some thresholds will rise to $160,000, up from as low as $15,000 this time last year.
Darren Hughes: Can the Minister tell the House why the Labour-led Government has committed to the phasing out of asset testing for residential care?
Hon PETE HODGSON: This policy is about fairness. Older New Zealanders who have built up assets throughout their lives should not be unduly penalised when they need to go into residential care. National’s changes to asset testing in the 1990s were so harsh that people in rest homes could not afford to pay for their own funerals. Labour thinks older New Zealanders deserve better than that.
Crown Research Institutes—State Ownership
11. Dr PAUL HUTCHISON (National—Port Waikato) to the Minister for Crown Research Institutes: Does he support the continued ownership of Crown research institutes by the State; if not, why not?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY (Minister for Crown Research Institutes): Yes.
Dr Paul Hutchison: Why did the Minister tell the select committee last Thursday, regarding Industrial Research Ltd: “Right now, the only thing that is up for sale is a piece of land in Auckland.”, when MPT Solutions, a business unit of Industrial Research Ltd whose main asset is its intellectual property, will be sold to the American company Quest by the end of this week?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: Because at the time, that was a commercial matter.
Dr Ashraf Choudhary: What is the role of Crown research institutes?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: That is an outstandingly good question. Crown research institutes play a key role in the economic change that is going on in New Zealand. Through their operating framework, they are expected to undertake excellent science with sound financial management, for the benefit of New Zealand. They are also expected to transfer their knowledge widely and to commercialise their research wherever it is possible, for the benefit of the country.
Hon Brian Donnelly: Would the Minister agree that the establishment of Crown research institutes by Simon Upton in the 1990s has, by and large, been an applaudable success, and that the current move to reduce dependency on contestable funding is a step on the route of continuous improvement, rather than a restructuring of the Crown research institute structure?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: I could not have put it better myself. What is happening is that a model that was established in the early 1990s went from being a highly regulated model to, quite appropriately, going through a period of contestability and competition. Probably, I think most observers would have said that by 1996 any value out of that contestability had been gained. Unfortunately, the National Party was asleep at the wheel. Until Labour came into Government, the appropriate changes were not undertaken.
Dr Paul Hutchison: Does the Minister stand by his written statement of last year, regarding the sale of a Crown research unit spin-off company or subsidiary unit: “A key criterion when shareholding Ministers consider any such disposals is ongoing benefit to New Zealand, including the continual ownership of intellectual property.”, or, with MPT Solutions, has he conveniently changed his mind?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: No, I have not changed my mind. The whole model for commercialisation is, of course, benefit to New Zealand. The member might like to take a quiet look at the issue, and when he does he will understand that a case-by-case approach means there will be different ways to appropriately capture maximum value to New Zealand. That is exactly what we are doing.
Dr Paul Hutchison: How does the Minister reconcile the sale of a Crown research institute business unit whose strength is intellectual property, with his own claim that keeping intellectual property within New Zealand is key, and Trevor Mallard’s statement on Tuesday, 20 June that Labour will not sell off the family silver?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: Easily.
Dr Paul Hutchison: Should the public believe he is really going to transform the economy through science and innovation, or is this just another “Mahareyism” to, on the one hand, affirm that keeping intellectual property is a key criterion for New Zealand’s benefit, but, on the other hand, flog off a highly successful, innovative company when he thinks nobody is looking?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: No. They should believe it.
Treaty of Waitangi Settlements—Mâori Satisfaction with Time Frame
12. PITA PARAONE (NZ First) to the Minister in charge of Treaty of Waitangi Negotiations: What advice, if any, has he received regarding Mâori satisfaction with the current time frame for Treaty of Waitangi settlements?
Hon MARK BURTON (Minister in charge of Treaty of Waitangi Negotiations): I am aware that more groups than ever have chosen to enter negotiations with the Crown. This indicates to me that Mâori are as committed and determined as the Crown to resolve historical Treaty of Waitangi grievances by 2020.
Pita Paraone: Can the Minister confirm that by setting an explicit date for lodging historical claims, as contained in the Mâori Purposes Bill, a greater sense of urgency and focus has been brought to the Treaty settlement process?
Hon MARK BURTON: It is certainly the case that this Government is committed to further accelerating the Treaty settlement process and that the provision of a final lodging date in the Mâori Purposes Bill is part of ensuring that. It gives, I think, a legitimate opportunity for those with a grievance to lodge a claim. It also indicates to New Zealanders that an end point is in sight.
Gerry Brownlee: Can he confirm that after inflation, the Government’s so-called new initiative funding for Vote Treaty Negotiations in this year’s Budget sees funding fall by some $482,000, and is this confirmation that the Labour Government has a go-slow approach to Treaty settlements?
Hon MARK BURTON: I can confirm that in addition to additions in the provision for the Office of Treaty Settlements in 3 of the last 4 years, increasing its negotiation, research, and legal capabilities, the provision for the next 4 years contained in this year’s Budget will increase its negotiation capability overall, and that, indeed, people are being recruited and interviewed as we speak.
Te Ururoa Flavell: Tçnâ koe Madam Speaker. What would the Minister say to the rûnanga currently in negotiation with the Crown who wrote to the Mâori Party this morning stating: “We do not look on the settlement process as providing us justice. Recent performance in relation to Mâori issues has shown that the compromises that result are not in the interests of Mâori.”?
Hon MARK BURTON: I would say that I, and the Crown, enter into good-faith negotiations directly with parties, not through the media and certainly not through second-hand correspondence.
Pita Paraone: Will the Minister ensure that the Office of Treaty Settlements is sufficiently resourced to meet the increased demand that will inevitably occur with an explicit final date for lodging claims?
Hon MARK BURTON: As I have indicated in answer to an earlier supplementary question, as with my predecessors I am committed to ensuring that the Office of Treaty Settlements has the resources necessary to ensure that the target dates are met, and we are on track to achieving that.