Questions And Answers - Wednesday, 28 June 2006
Questions And Answers - Wednesday, 28 June
Questions to Ministers
Rates Rebate Scheme—Low Incomes
1. JILL PETTIS (Labour) to the Minister of Local Government: When do the Government’s new measures to improve the rates rebate scheme for those on low incomes come into effect? [Interruption]
Madam SPEAKER: This is a final warning. Questions are to be asked in silence.
Hon MARK BURTON (Minister of Local Government): I am very pleased to be able to tell the House that from 1 July an estimated 300,000 New Zealanders will be eligible for a rebate of up to $500 under the rates rebate scheme. This marks a significant increase from last year, when fewer than 4,000 people received a rebate. We now know that this is exactly the sort of scheme that the National Party would scrap to fund its tax cuts for the rich. That is why National joined ACT in voting against this part of the Local Government Law Reform Bill, which extended this coverage, both during the Committee stage and the third reading of the bill.
Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. You will recall last week that you pulled up someone on this side of the House for asking a question that you considered to be outside the Standing Orders. You referred to Standing Order 372. I believe that Standing Order 371, which is the mirror image of Standing Order 372, prevents Ministers from answering in the way that Mr Burton just did. So would I ask, Madam Speaker, that if you are to be consistent, and require that we adhere to the Standing Order in the asking of questions, that Ministers be required to adhere to the Standing Order in the answering of questions.
Madam SPEAKER: I recall that at the time I said that the Standing Order did apply to both questions and answers. I thank the member for reminding the House of that matter.
Jill Pettis: Could the Minister please advise how this new measure would impact on a single woman on New Zealand superannuation living in the community of Wanganui?
Hon MARK BURTON: Under the current thresholds, sadly she would not be entitled to any rebate. But, as of Saturday, if she was paying average regional and district council rates, she would be entitled to a rebate of $500 on her rates. That is very different from what would have happened had National and ACT got their way last week.
Mark Blumsky: Did the Minister take into account the impact on all ratepayers of the rates rebate scheme, considering that the Auckland City Council has complained that the administration costs alone have increased the rates bill of Auckland City by up to $160,000?
Hon MARK BURTON: We did indeed take into account the overall effect. I guess it illustrates the difference in the priorities of this Government and the National-ACT Opposition.
Jill Pettis: Could the Minister please advise the House what would have happened if Part 7 of the Local Government Law Reform Bill, which provided for the inclusion of uniform annual general charges in the rates rebate scheme, had not been passed?
Hon MARK BURTON: If the bill had not been passed, people in districts or regions where those charges make up a significant part of the rates bill would not have had their eligibility entitlement. So that is why people like Bill English’s constituents in Gore, John Carter’s in Kaipara, and Bob Clarkson’s in Tauranga would be outraged to know that their representatives voted against their getting that increase.
Rodney Hide: Could the Minster advise the House, in light of this rebate scheme, what the total extra cost is that central government has imposed on local government over the last 7 years—or does he not know or care—and what does he say to Auckland ratepayers who are staring down the barrel of a 37 percent rates increase over just 3 years?
Hon MARK BURTON: Firstly, this rates rebate scheme has not imposed any costs over the last 7 years; it is coming into effect only on Saturday. Secondly, considerable draft rates increases are being proposed at the moment. They are not yet finalised in most parts of the country. Many of them deal with long-overdue infrastructure investment, and I have to say that during the 1990s, a great deal of the effect of that under-investment was compounded.
Electricity—Transmission System Upgrade
2. Dr DON BRASH (Leader of the Opposition) to the Prime Minister: Does she stand by her statement to the House regarding the electricity transmission grid in New Zealand: “The transmission system needs an upgrade”; if not, why not?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Deputy Prime Minister) on behalf of the Prime Minister: Yes.
Dr Don Brash: How can New Zealanders have any confidence that the upgrades required in the transmission grid will actually happen, when Transpower is operating with one hand tied behind its back, thanks to the refusal of the Prime Minister’s Government to reform the Resource Management Act, and the continued use of the flawed grid investment test by the Government’s Electricity Commission?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Taking the first part, I say that of course last year changes were enacted to the Resource Management Act to include improvements requested by industries including infrastructure companies such as Transpower. That includes revised call-in provisions. The National Party voted against those specific provisions, which are able to be used in these circumstances.
Tim Barnett: What reports has the Minister seen on the construction of new lines and significant upgrades, over the last 7 years?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I have seen a claim by the Hon Dr Nick Smith that not a single additional kilometre has been added in the last 7 years. In fact, a number of new lines have been built, though admittedly building has been very limited—as was the case in the previous 7 years. In relation to the up-rating of lines, I tell members that over 2,000 kilometres of lines have been up-rated in the last 2½ years alone. Why Dr Smith does not know that, I do not know, because I hold in my hand a photograph that is captioned: “MP inspects progress” on the installing of another circuit on the Stoke to Blenheim line, and, holding the material as though he knows what is going on, is the Hon Dr Nick Smith.
Dr Don Brash: Is the Prime Minister aware of criticisms by Transpower, and more recently by the Employers and Manufacturers Association, that the grid investment test introduced by her Government’s Electricity Commission puts narrow economic tests well ahead of crucial social and business concerns about the security of electricity supply, and results in much-needed upgrades in the network simply not occurring?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I am aware of criticisms of the grid investment test. That is one of the reasons the Government is preparing, as a matter of urgency, a new energy policy statement, which will lay considerable emphasis upon increasing the margin for security. Of course, it is the previous Government that instructed Transpower to set up a committee whereby the consumers determined what upgrades should occur.
Dr Don Brash: How can Transpower effectively manage the grid network, and conduct vitally necessary upgrades, when her Government has tied the company in regulation from both the Commerce Commission and the Electricity Commission, and then continues to subject it to an overly onerous requirement of an unreformed Resource Management Act?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: As I said, the Resource Management Act was, in fact, reformed last year specifically with projects such as this in mind. Of course, the fact is that it was some of the member’s own colleagues who most vehemently opposed that upgrade, most noticeably Ms Judith Collins, who said she would fight to oppose higher pylons running through her electorate.
Dr Don Brash: When will she stop making excuses and passing the buck for every single infrastructural issue in this country, and actually admit that the initiatives taken by her Government, in creating the failed Electricity Commission and tying the various players up in Resource Management Act red tape, have actually made the situation markedly worse?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: It is quite clear that the failure that occurred in Auckland was not a consequence of the Resource Management Act. It was a consequence of reliance upon a single process through the Ôtâhuhu substation. The question of the major upgrade of the transmission line is one that, obviously, the Government is seized with. The Resource Management Act amendments last year are able to be used in that circumstance. The member’s own colleagues led the charge—both Ms Collins and Dr Paul Hutchison—and I ask him why.
3. PETER BROWN (Deputy Leader—NZ First) to the Minister of Immigration: Is his department addressing problems regarding immigration compliance within the maritime industry; if so, how?
Hon RUTH DYSON (Minister of Labour) on behalf of the Minister of Immigration: Yes, by working with the fishing industry to strengthen policy on terms and conditions for foreign fishing crew, while undertaking compliance activity.
Peter Brown: Does the Minister accept that some employers in the fishing industry advertise jobs to New Zealanders at minimum wage, have no takers, so then seek to employ foreign workers under the approval in principle system; and if she does accept that, will she concede that such a system is putting huge downward pressure on New Zealand wages and working conditions?
Hon RUTH DYSON: The Government does take this issue very seriously and is taking positive steps to ensure that working conditions and wages paid to New Zealanders are not undermined in the way the member indicated. The intent of all immigration policy is to ensure that no New Zealanders are deprived of opportunities for employment, to protect terms and conditions for New Zealand workers, and to facilitate employers sourcing labour offshore if no New Zealanders are available.
H V Ross Robertson: Can the Minister tell the House what is the Government strategy for foreign chartered vessels in New Zealand waters?
Hon RUTH DYSON: The Government is facilitating a legitimate high-quality foreign charter fleet to complement the New Zealand fishing industry, including ensuring that terms and conditions for New Zealand fishing crew are not undercut, protecting all fishing crew from mistreatment and exploitation, managing immigration risks, and ensuring that no competitive advantage is gained over New Zealand crewed vessels.
Peter Brown: Noting that answer, does the Minister share the New Zealand First view that jobs on fishing vessels should go to New Zealanders first and foremost, and that with better wages, conditions, and training there would be a greater uptake of these jobs; and if she does share that view, will she consider making it much more difficult for employers to engage foreign labour under the approval in principle scheme; if not, why not?
Hon RUTH DYSON: Yes. The Government has already taken action on this by tightening conditions around pay and pay deductions. I refer the member again to the basic intent of immigration policy: ensuring no New Zealanders are deprived of opportunities for employment, to protect terms and conditions for New Zealand workers, and to facilitate employers sourcing labour offshore if no New Zealanders are available.
Air New Zealand—Meeting of Ministers and Executives
4. JOHN KEY (National—Helensville) to the Minister of Finance: Which Ministers and which Air New Zealand executives were present, for all or part of the time, at the dinner held at the Boulcott Street Bistro on 13 March 2006?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Minister of Finance): The Ministers were myself; the Minister of Commerce, Lianne Dalziel; the Minister of Tourism, Damien O’Connor; and, for part of the time, the Minister of Transport, David Parker. The only Air New Zealand executive present was Rob Fyfe.
John Key: Does he agree with Air New Zealand’s chairman, John Palmer, who said over dinner that “The issue of the Tasman and, particularly, the impact of Emirates on the Tasman were certainly discussed.”; if so, what issues relating to the Tasman were discussed that night?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I can confirm that Mr Palmer also said the issue of code-sharing was not discussed. The issue of Emirates Airline was discussed, because, of course, it had been having a severe impact upon Air New Zealand on the trans-Tasman route. Air New Zealand had proposals around joint Government - Air New Zealand action to promote tourism.
R Doug Woolerton: Does the Minister believe that it is better to have dinner in a public place and discuss Air New Zealand and the welfare of the country, or to have discussions with the Exclusive Brethren behind closed doors?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: If I were to sup with members of the Brethren, I am sure they would bring a very long spoon, at least.
John Key: Did anyone present at the dinner raise or discuss any of the points relating to the Tasman route that chief executive officer Rob Fyfe has previously raised: that Air New Zealand is losing tens of millions of dollars annually, that too many empty seats are hurting Air New Zealand’s profitability, or that Air New Zealand could make a profit on the Tasman if some of the planes were taken off the route?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I can confirm that what was discussed was that Emirates Airline has an impact upon Air New Zealand—primarily, of course, because that airline avoids downtime in Sydney by going backwards and forwards across the Tasman at marginal pricing. That, of course, is why the member opposite supports the code-sharing arrangement, unlike his leader, who opposes it.
John Key: Can the Minister confirm that Emirates Airline is a competitor of Air New Zealand and Qantas on the Tasman route; when those present at the dinner discussed the impact of Emirates Airline, did anyone make the point that Rob Fyfe has been making publicly, which is that stiff competition from airlines like Emirates Airline is one of the key reasons that Air New Zealand’s Tasman routes are in their present form unviable, and hence a solution to that problem needs to be found?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: The reason why Mr O’Connor was there, as I am sure Opposition members have begun to grasp, is that the discussion was around how the Government and Air New Zealand might work better together in terms of tourism promotion. The Government had its own proposals at that point in time. If the member finally gets around to asking the right question, he may find out what that proposal was.
John Key: If no one at the dinner talked about competition on the trans-Tasman routes, about the viability of Air New Zealand’s current schedules, or about the possible solutions to Air New Zealand’s problems, does that not make a mockery of—
Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I realise that the member is reading from a prepared question, but he has already received an assurance that competition on the Tasman route between Emirates Airline and Air New Zealand was discussed. Therefore, to preface a question with: “If that was not discussed …” must be to doubt the word of the Minister.
Madam SPEAKER: I think that is a very long bow. The member can ask the same question twice, and presumably there will a response to that question.
John Key: If no one at the dinner talked about competition on the trans-Tasman routes, about the viability of Air New Zealand’s current schedules, or about possible solutions to Air New Zealand’s problems, does that not make a mockery of the statements of the Air New Zealand chairman that the issue of the Tasman was certainly discussed; or does he expect the people of New Zealand to believe his recollection of events over that of John Palmer?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: The problem with members reading out a prepared question when they do not listen to the answer is that they look like idiots. As I told the member and the House—[Interruption]
Madam SPEAKER: I ask the member to please be seated. I certainly could not hear the answer to the question. I know that members at the back could not hear it, either. As I reminded members yesterday, I am receiving an increasing number of complaints from those who listen to this broadcast but who also cannot hear the answers to questions.
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: As I said to the member in my previous answer, the issue of the impact of Emirates Airline as a competitor to Air New Zealand was discussed at the meeting.
Hon Tau Henare: Why did you say it wasn’t, then?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I said it was discussed.
John Key: When the Minister said yesterday that he did not recollect having a discussion on code-sharing, yet John Palmer confirmed there certainly was a discussion on trans-Tasman air services, is that a bit like saying there was no discussion about horses but just one about hoofed quadrupeds that eat oats and all happen to be born on 1August?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I answered that in my first answer. I can quote from Mr Palmer, who after all did sit on Ruth Richardson’s electorate committee at one point. He said: “I can absolutely confirm that the issue of the code-share application was not discussed.” The member may consider it appropriate to doubt my word, but by also going around doubting John Palmer’s word he will get himself into serious trouble.
John Key: Actually, we believe Mr Palmer.
Brian Connell: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I did not want to interrupt the Minister, but prior to his answer my colleague John Key was asking a question. During the course of it, Minister Mallard interrupted him. As you have already issued a final warning, I expect you to ask him to leave the House.
Madam SPEAKER: I have also had interruptions during other questions, and I ask members to please respect the Standing Orders about that. Otherwise, there would be no one left in this House.
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. As I was finishing my answer, Mr Key interjected, saying he accepted that code-sharing was not discussed. Can I be certain that that will be entered into the Hansard?
John Key: I did not say that. I said that I accepted Mr Palmer’s word; I did not necessarily accept the Minister’s.
Madam SPEAKER: Thank you.
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I seek leave to table the quotation from Mr John Palmer, where he states that code-sharing was not discussed—the word that Mr Key has just accepted.
John Key: I seek leave to table Mr Palmer’s comments, where he says that issues about trans-Tasman air services were certainly discussed.
Peter Brown: Will the Minister clarify the situation; is it necessary for Air New Zealand to get the Government’s permission to get involved in a code-sharing arrangement with Qantas, and if so, when is it likely that that permission will be granted?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Strictly speaking, I could say that I do not have responsibility for that, but I have received advice on it, obviously. Yes, Air New Zealand does require that permission from the Minister of Transport. Because the Minister of Transport’s electorate includes Wellington Airport and that well-known private sector monopoly has rather strong views on this matter, she has asked my colleague Mr Hodgson to take responsibility for making that decision, which I am sure he will do in the fullness of time and without discussing with me what the decision should be.
5. MARYAN STREET (Labour) to the Minister of Health: What progress has the Government made in reinvesting in New Zealand hospitals?
Hon PETE HODGSON (Minister of Health): I am pleased to announce that the Government has today approved a $36.7 million redevelopment of Wairau Public Hospital at Blenheim. This is just the latest chapter in Labour’s reinvestment in public hospitals, which is the largest hospital programme in New Zealand’s history. This is what can be achieved when a Government invests in communities, instead of pouring money into reckless tax cuts.
Jill Pettis: Does the Government plan to invest in any other hospital building projects?
Hon PETE HODGSON: Yes, we do. I am also pleased to announce today that the Government has committed nearly $30 million for the redesign of Wanganui Hospital. I recognise the member’s diligent attention to the progress of this project, as does my predecessor, the Hon Annette King. The redesign will ensure that people in Wanganui have access to the world-class health system services that they deserve.
Chester Borrows: To the Minister—[Interruption]
Madam SPEAKER: The member was hesitating. He was not in the middle of his question. The member needs time. Just give him the space and time to ask his question.
Chester Borrows: Will the unbudgeted $517,000 that the Whanganui District Health Board had to spend due to the ministry’s delay in approving this capital spending eventually be met by the ministry, or will this lead to a cut of half a million dollars in surgical services in Wanganui?
Hon PETE HODGSON: The member apparently does not understand, notwithstanding the fact that he is the current representative of the electorate, that this hospital is being built in partnership. The partnership is between the Whanganui District Health Board and the New Zealand Government. It is a partnership that is vibrant, that will be successful, and that could not have been successful had that member’s party won the election. Only 9 months ago he stood on the hustings and said: “We can afford tax cuts.” Now he has the gall to stand up in this House and ask: “What about a hospital?”. He can have the hospital, but only because the Labour Party won the election.
Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. Can we now take it that you have ruled that if a member asking a question pauses between being called and beginning to speak, interjection during that period is perfectly reasonable?
Madam SPEAKER: Yes, it is the interjection on the member speaking that is the purpose that lies behind it. Obviously, that member needed time to be able to think of his question in the light of previous answers.
Hon Dr Michael Cullen: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. Those rulings also apply to interjecting on the Speaker while she is giving a ruling. In the middle of your ruling, Madam Speaker, Mr Gerry Brownlee shouted towards the back benches. I do not know who to and why, but that clearly is out of order.
Madam SPEAKER: Yes, it is out of order. I would ask the member to take note of that and to please desist.
Hon Brian Donnelly: Could the Minister tell the House what plans there are—[Interruption]
Madam SPEAKER: I am sorry, but there was an interjection when the member was speaking. Can the House please settle. I know it is members’ day. As I said, the purpose of the Standing Order is so that we can hear the question. Would the member please get on with his question.
Hon Brian Donnelly: I would like to, Madam Speaker. I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. The problem I have is that I am not going to start my question while that raucous noise is coming from the other side of the House. I believe it is your responsibility to ensure that there is a platform on which members can ask their questions.
Madam SPEAKER: Thank you. Please proceed with the question.
Hon Brian Donnelly: Could the Minister tell the House what plans there are for upgrading Kaitâia Hospital and indicate the planned costs of this upgrade, and has this been the outcome of the diligence of the MP for that area?
Hon PETE HODGSON: There are two members of Parliament in that area. I have heard from neither of them in respect of the Kaitâia Hospital upgrade. However, I can assert that my colleague the Hon Dover Samuels continues to stay on my back. I am pleased to be able to report to him and to the rest of the House that the Kaitâia Hospital upgrade is proceeding according to plan, and we should be pleased about that.
Hon Brian Donnelly: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. There was no way I could hear the answer to that question. I asked the question because I was after some information, but because of the noise from that side of the House, I was not able to hear it. I ask that the answer be repeated.
Madam SPEAKER: Yes, would the Minister please repeat the answer.
Hon PETE HODGSON: Two members of Parliament serve the area surrounding Kaitâia. I have heard from neither of them. I have, however, heard repeatedly from my colleague the Hon Dover Samuels, who has been on my back over this issue—and, I am sure, on my predecessor’s back—for long enough. The Kaitâia Hospital redevelopment is proceeding apace. The cost the member asked about is, I think, a little over $8 million. The latest phase—which, as I recall, was upgraded maternity services—was completed only a few weeks ago, and we should be pleased about that.
Education, Courses—Written Question Number 2740
6. Hon BILL ENGLISH (National—Clutha-Southland) to the Minister for Tertiary Education: What types of courses are paid for out of the nearly $120 million referred to in his reply to written question number 2740 (2006)? [Interruption]
Madam SPEAKER: Did a member interject? I heard an interjection or a comment from someone.
Jill Pettis: Begging the Speaker’s pardon, I was not interjecting on the member; I was gesticulating to somebody. I apologise. I was not interjecting.
Madam SPEAKER: Members, please have some order here. My difficulty on this particular ruling is that frequently members talk—they do not interject; they talk amongst themselves—particularly those seated especially close to the speaker, and it is often difficult to determine whether they are in fact interjecting so that people cannot hear the question or whether they are having a conversation. We have no rule that says members cannot have conversations, so I ask members to please keep a level of quietness in this House so that we can conduct question time in an orderly way.
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Minister for Tertiary Education): Foundation studies courses.
Hon Bill English: Why, when the courses have cost the Government $120 million of public money and involve 79,000 students, is the Minister unable to give any definition of what those courses are?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Foundation level courses are those that are classified as mixed field. They focus on literacy, numeracy, life skills, employment skills, etc. I am advised that that is for a statistical purpose, and I will elaborate on that further when the member asks his next supplementary question.
Moana Mackey: Why is the Government investing in foundation studies courses?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: It is doing so because, clearly, issues of adult literacy are major issues within New Zealand. Clearly, too, it is desirable to try to reconnect people with the formal education system to address those issues. Of course, that does not mean to say the Government should not be very conscious about value-for-money elements, which is why my predecessor started taking some action in these areas.
Hon Brian Donnelly: Can the Minister confirm that data on foundation courses for the year 2000 is unavailable because the system his Government inherited from the previous National Government was so poor that the data is of insufficient quality to provide reliable numbers?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: That is the case—that is the advice I have—which is why we are able to make comparisons only from 2001 onwards. Those comparisons are available.
Hon Tau Henare: Why, 6 years after the beginning of the Modern Apprenticeships programme and after $100 million of spending, does the Minister still does not know how many apprentices actually drop out of those courses?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: What we do have are completion numbers. As I explained to the select committee, calculating completion rates is quite difficult when one has a developing scheme, because obviously the numbers gear up over time in terms of completion. The completion rate for the first year is almost 0 percent. Clearly, that tends to rise significantly from then on. We now have well over 2,000 completions.
Te Ururoa Flavell: Tçnâ koe, Madam Speaker; tçnâ tâtou katoa—how many foundation courses with a specific Mâori focus were cut over 2004-05, and what has been the impact on Mâori participation in the regions?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I am afraid I do not have that number in front of me. It would probably be very, very difficult to extract that level of data from the system. I will try to do my best to get back to him, but I doubt the data is available in that form.
Hon Bill English: Can the Minister confirm that he has told the House today that the Government last year spent $120 million of the money that was meant to subsidise students in tertiary courses—those offered at universities and polytechnics—on literacy, numeracy, and life skills, and does he think it appropriate that universities should be teaching those sorts of courses?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: There is some role for universities to teach those courses, it is fair to say, however, that very little of that money has been spent by universities. The only really significant provider at university level in that area is the Auckland University of Technology.
Hon Bill English: How can the Minister avoid waste in these large programmes—such as $120 million for student component foundation skills and $100 million on Modern Apprenticeships schemes—when his own officials have told him that the data-recording system can show students are completing those courses when they were never enrolled in them and that many tertiary institutions are themselves dismayed at the low quality of data about these courses, and how can he exercise any accountability for this $200 million?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I think the problem the member highlights is not one that relates, particularly, to the Modern Apprenticeships scheme. I accept there have been some difficulties elsewhere. It is part of the reason I took—I think—some six or seven different papers through Cabinet committee today on changing the system we inherited from the previous Government.
Hon Bill English: When will the Ministers answer the very simple question I put to him as a primary question, and have put to him a number of times in written questions, and that is to lay out in detail the types of courses and the institutions that were paid $120 million of student component—that is, tertiary student subsidy—for teaching foundation skills, and why will he not answer that question?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I am happy to table today data for 2001-04 in terms of foundation education courses. I would emphasise that these are self-identified by the institutions—
Hon Bill English: So you don’t know.
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: If the member waits for a moment—
Hon Bill English: 120 million and you don’t know.
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: If the member cares to shut up for a minute and control his anger—
Madam SPEAKER: Let the Minister answer.
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I was about to say something nice about the member but I will forgo that opportunity given his interjection.
7. SUE KEDGLEY (Green) to the Minister for Food Safety: When she recommended to the Cabinet business committee that New Zealand opt out of the proposed Australia - New Zealand country-of-origin food labelling standard following a review, why did she indicate “that consultation is not required with the government caucuses or other parties represented in Parliament”?
Hon ANNETTE KING (Minister for Food Safety): As it is longstanding Government policy not to support mandatory country-of-origin labelling, and as the Australian-only standard does not change the current situation in New Zealand, no consultation was necessary with parties in Parliament with which the Government had entered either coalition, confidence and supply, or cooperation agreements.
Sue Kedgley: Does she agree that a decision not to introduce country-of-origin labelling of food is of vital interest to New Zealanders, and that, as the representatives of New Zealanders, MPs and political parties have not only the right but the duty to engage with this issue; and is she concerned that by making this decision in secret—without any consultation—she has undermined the democratic process?
Hon ANNETTE KING: No, because the Government has made it clear for many years—as had previous Governments—that it does not favour mandatory country-of-origin labelling. We have not changed our mind. The member is able to use the democratic process. She has a member’s bill in this House, and that allows her to speak on the issue, and allows members of the public to give submissions on her bill.
Sue Kedgley: Is this Minister the same Minister for Food Safety who is quoted in today’s New Zealand Herald as saying that if the trans-Tasman therapeutic products agency fails to go ahead, there would be “transtasman ramifications”, and why, on the one hand, does she criticise parliamentary parties for not supporting her unilateral decision to harmonise with Australia, yet, on the other hand, behind our backs and without any consultation, she made a highly unusual and unilateral decision, with obvious trans-Tasman ramifications, to opt out of a joint food standard with Australia for the first time?
Hon ANNETTE KING: I honestly do not know where the member lives. It is not unilateral, secret, hidden, unknown; the Government’s position—as was the previous Government’s position—which is a sensible position, has been well known for years. I could ask that member why she is so in favour of strong regulations on food but does not want any regulations on complementary medicine.
Sue Kedgley: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. The Minister made an incorrect statement, and I ask her to withdraw and apologise. She said I was not in favour of any regulations.
Madam SPEAKER: That is not a point of order. [Interruption] Yes, it is a debating point.
Sue Kedgley: Why does the Government support mandatory country-of-origin labelling for clothing and footwear but not for food?
Hon ANNETTE KING: Mandatory country-of-origin labelling on footwear and clothing is a hangover from the phase-out of tariffs. That is why it is there. It is something of the past, and, obviously, is being reviewed—as is the country-of-origin labelling on wine. I think we have had a very sensible position in New Zealand, with cross-party support. It is not possible to argue against mandatory country-of-origin labelling by the rest of the world against New Zealand, and then want to impose it in New Zealand. That is a hypocritical position.
Sue Kedgley: Is the Minister saying she does not support country-of-origin labelling for clothing, footwear, and wine, as well, and why is her Government denying New Zealand consumers something as basic and democratic as their right to know where their food comes from, which is a right that consumers in most Western countries already have, and which 81 percent of New Zealanders said in a recent independent survey they want?
Hon ANNETTE KING: Most New Zealanders want to know whether the product is a New Zealand product. They want to buy New Zealand - made products. I think the Buy Kiwi Made programme that is being worked out with my colleague Trevor Mallard is a start in that direction. That, I think, is what most New Zealanders want to know. But if the member were to put to New Zealanders that they could have mandatory country-of-origin labelling, and then were to ask them to pay extra for it on top of the price of their food, I wonder whether the answer might be different.
Sue Kedgley: I seek leave to table documentation from the Cabinet business committee where the Minister advised her Cabinet colleagues that consultation was not required with the Government caucuses or other parties in Parliament on what is a fundamentally important issue of concern to all New Zealanders.
8. Hon TONY RYALL (National—Bay of Plenty) to the Minister of Health: What are the Government’s priorities in health?
Hon PETE HODGSON (Minister of Health): The Government’s top priority in health is to make a world-class health-care system affordable and accessible for all New Zealand families. I have also set out specific priorities for the coming financial year, which I would be happy to provide for the member if he is looking for ideas for his long-awaited National Party health policy.
Hon Tony Ryall: What does it say about the Government’s priorities in health that the Government is funding $1.5 million for a stop-smoking programme that involves giving away hundreds of free, state-of-the-art videophones, and what sort of message does that send to the many young New Zealanders who do not smoke and will not qualify for the free give-away of cellphones?
Hon PETE HODGSON: I invite the member to hold his judgment. He seems to be in favour of doing nothing to stop smoking, whereas we know that reducing smoking is one of the key ingredients in having a healthy population. The member has the view that we should do nothing positive to help someone get off smoking; that all we should do is just berate that person. That does not work.
Sue Moroney: Has he seen any reports on political support for the Government’s health priorities?
Hon PETE HODGSON: I have seen many reports of support from around the House but not from the National Party, which opposes affordable primary health care; opposes expenditure increases in health in general; wants to involve the private sector for the sake of doing so; is secretly wedded, even now, to part-charging for services; has nothing to say about beating diabetes; and seems to be against smoking cessation. The exception is Dr Brash’s view that people who overeat should not get dialysis treatment. That may be National’s policy. It is the only glimpse I have had of its policy after 7 years of it being in Opposition.
Barbara Stewart: What has the Cancer Control Council done, to date, to address its key purposes of reducing the incidence and impact of cancer, and reducing inequalities in respect of cancer treatment?
Hon PETE HODGSON: The Cancer Control Strategy, launched last year by my predecessor, is getting underway and will have a very significant increase in funding from Saturday. I met with the chief executive of the Cancer Control Strategy this morning. We launched a programme that ensures that people who had cancer as children receive better care as adolescents and adults, because it has become apparent that young adults who suffered cancer as children often suffer subsequent chronic disease. That is an interesting undertaking, it is the first time that any country in the world has followed children through into older age, and it is something the House should be proud of.
Hon Tony Ryall: Does he really think that wasting money on free videophones is a priority for the health system—and if he does not realise that some young people are going to milk this programme to get a free videophone, then he does not deserve to be Minister of Health?
Hon PETE HODGSON: I suspect that the member should suspend his judgment, take a closer look at the programme, get an understanding of how it is being made to work, and wait for its evaluation; then he can come up with his unctuous judgments. He should suspend them until then.
Hon Tony Ryall: Will he explain how giving away hundreds of videophones to young people will stop them smoking, and does he not realise that this sounds so much like the freephones offered by Te Wânanga o Aotearoa, where people stampeded to get the phones, only never to be seen again?
Hon PETE HODGSON: The member is a spoiler: by nature he is a negative person; by nature the glass is always half empty. He cannot stop grizzling. I ask the member what his viewpoint would be if, 1 year from now, we evaluate this programme—this new, different, innovative, has-not-been-done-before programme—and find that it works. I wonder what he would say then.
Dr Jonathan Coleman: How does the Minister reconcile the wasteful videophone giveaway with Mr Maharey’s stance on the use of inducements for enrolment in tertiary courses: “We want students to think carefully … and to not have these decisions influenced by free goods or other offers.”?
Hon PETE HODGSON: Has it not occurred to the member—
Madam SPEAKER: Order, please! It is again becoming difficult to hear.
Hon PETE HODGSON: Has it not occurred to the member that taxpayer funding is already going into Quitline, the subsidising of chewing gums, etc., and counselling, and that that is having an effect, because the prevalence of smoking is now down to 23 percent. What is more, it has become apparent that those who do smoke have reduced their daily consumption from 20 cigarettes to 13. Reducing the incidence of smoking is the most significant thing—apart from reduction of obesity—that can be done in the public health arena to improve New Zealanders’ health. I am appalled that the National Party opposes experimenting with it.
Dr Jonathan Coleman: What message does it send to young people who do not smoke that this Minister is prepared to give a videophone to their mates who do smoke, and does that not continue the Government’s theme that the more irresponsible people are, the more it will give them?
Hon PETE HODGSON: I offer the member the same advice that I offered his colleague. Would he please take the time to have a close look at the programme, to look at the incentives and disincentives embedded within it, and to take a look at those who have planned it, and see whether he can come to the view that maybe—[Interruption]
Madam SPEAKER: I am sorry, but I cannot hear, and the Minister is right beside the Speaker’s chair. Would the Minister please repeat the answer.
Hon PETE HODGSON: I am happy to do so, Madam Speaker. I advise the member in the same way as I advised his colleague. I invite him to take a close look at the programme, to look at its design, to see whether the incentives or disincentives may work, to suspend judgment until we have given this thing a go, and to consider the possibility that if it is successful because it is innovative, then we should be celebrating it. It is OK to take a risk with some taxpayers’ money sometimes, if the possibility exists that we can get kids to stop smoking. I point out that having kids stop smoking is a good thing to do.
Residential Care, Long-term—Spouses
9. GEORGINA BEYER (Labour) to the Minister for Social Development and Employment: How is the Government assisting superannuitants who have a spouse in long-term residential care?
Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE (Minister for Social Development and Employment): From 1 July this year all superannuitants and veterans pensioners who live in the community and have a spouse in long-term residential care will be eligible for the higher single rate of New Zealand superannuation and veterans pension. This will mean an extra weekly income of up to $60 for as many as 2,000 superannuitants and veterans pensioners living in the community who have a spouse in long-term residential care. This is, of course, another example of a Labour-led Government delivering on its election promises and correcting the injustice and unfairness of the 1990s under a National Government.
Georgina Beyer: What else is the Government doing to ensure fairer and more equitable treatment of older New Zealanders?
Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: From 1 July this year also, the sharing expenses rule, which currently prevents some superannuitants from receiving the living alone payment, will also be removed. Also, from 1 July a person carrying out volunteer work overseas for a recognised aid agency will be eligible for New Zealand superannuation or a veterans pension for up to 3 years. Currently the maximum payment period is 1 year. In addition to those improvements, from 1 April this year, thanks to this Government, 494,000 older New Zealanders were better off by up to $420 extra a year, thanks to increases in the rates of New Zealand superannuation and the veterans pension.
Barbara Stewart: Does the Minister have any specific plans to improve the fairness of pensions for New Zealand superannuitants who also have overseas pension entitlements?
Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: That matter, as the member is aware, is the subject of active discussions with myself and the Minister of Finance.
Judith Collins: Why has it taken 7 years of his Government, Mrs Barbara White’s petition, and the work of the Hon Dr Nick Smith, for his Government finally to take action to fix a situation that was clearly unfair to married couples?
Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: I know that most New Zealanders know how seriously to take statements by or about Dr Smith. But I do know that in 1995—and the member may not be aware of this fact—when National was in Government the then Minister for Senior Citizens, Peter Gresham, investigated exactly this policy. He even had it costed, but, typically, the National Government failed to do anything about it.
Budget 2006—Regulations Review
10. KATHERINE RICH (National) to the Minister of Commerce: Does she stand by her statement regarding the Government’s review of regulations announced following the 2006 Budget that “Nothing of this magnitude has been attempted before.”?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Deputy Prime Minister) on behalf of the Minister of Commerce: Yes.
Katherine Rich: If this is the biggest review of regulations that New Zealand has ever seen, can the Minister explain why she told the Commerce Committee: “We haven’t developed a budget for it. We’re doing it out of baselines.”?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: It is perfectly possible to do a wide-ranging review out of baselines. If that member ever gets the chance, she may find she has to.
Lynne Pillay: What responses has the Minister received to the Quality Regulation Review?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Support has been received from a wide range of business organisations, including the Chambers of Commerce and Industry, Business New Zealand, and the sector groups participating in the sector reviews. The only negative response that I saw was from Katherine Rich, who said there was a “collective groan” from business. It might have been one of those groans of pleasure, of course.
Katherine Rich: Why does the Minister continue to promote her review as being “horizontal, vertical, fast-track, and in-depth. In other words it’s dynamic”, when she cannot explain how the fast-track mechanism is going to work, and can say only: “Well, we haven’t got the paper finished yet, but what we are planning to do is look where departments can fix things.”?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: We already have buy in from business sector groups to the sector reviews. We have support from Business New Zealand. Work is ongoing, and the member should wait—she will have a long time to wait, in Opposition—to see these reviews unfold.
Katherine Rich: Can the Minister confirm to the House that her fancy “fast-track mechanism” is just an omnibus bill, a process that has always been open to the Government; is that not just another example of economic transformation spin?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: No, I do not have the document in front of me, but I am sure there is a large flow diagram associated with the fast-track review.
Chris Tremain: How can the New Zealand business community have confidence that the regulations review will be any more successful than other reviews conducted by that Minister, especially when the Small Business Advisory Group has already scored the Minister at as low as two out of 10 for the implementation of recommendations from its recent report into issues faced by small business?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: My recollection is that roughly 90 percent of all the recommendations of the Small Business Advisory Group have either been implemented or are being implemented. The one, of course, that is not is the proposal for a 90-day ability for employers to take on people and boot them out without any good reason.
Katherine Rich: Why does the Minister not just admit that her review is hot air, because she has no budget, no extra money at all, and no idea how the fast-track mechanism will work, and because she has directed that all key policy areas of interest to business are off limits?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Not all of that statement is correct, but the member will need to learn that it is possible to carry out change without spending more money. If she does not, of course, she will find it difficult to support programmes for large tax cuts, which imply increases in spending.
Katherine Rich: So which part of my statement was correct: that the Minister has no budget, no extra money, and no idea how the fast-track mechanism will work, and that she has directed that the main areas of interest to business are no-go areas?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Roughly speaking, it is all of those.
Sawmill Workers, Whakatâne—Health Services
11. TE URUROA FLAVELL (Mâori Party—Waiariki) to the Minister of Health: What resourcing, if any, has been made available from Vote Health to former sawmill workers in Whakatâne who have raised concerns about the numbers of deaths and ill health resulting from chemical poisoning?
Hon PETE HODGSON (Minister of Health): I thank the member for his interest. There has been quite a lot of resourcing. The member will be aware that the full range of primary and secondary services are available to this group, and that, in addition, the Bay of Plenty medical officer of health takes a special interest in ensuring that all services are able to be readily accessed, and that local general practitioners are kept up to date on health issues that may emerge from within the former mill workforce.
Te Ururoa Flavell: Kua rongo ia mô te rapunga kôrero o te tau 2001 i kî nei, nâ te pentachlorophenol, tata atu ki te 30 ôrau o ngâ kaimahi 62 o te mira kani râkau i mâuiui, â, he aha hoki te take kei te tirohia anô ngâ môrehu kaimahi o taua 62 i runga i te âhua, kei te môhiotia he aha i mâuiui ai?[An interpretation in English was given to the House.]
[Is he aware of the medical study conducted in 2001 of 62 former sawmill workers that found that pentachlorophenol was the probable cause of health problems in about a third of cases; if so, why are the survivors of the original 62 being forced to go through yet another series of tests to confirm what is already known?]
Hon PETE HODGSON: I think the member is making the point that this is an issue greater than dioxin—that it includes pentachlorophenol and, indeed, a range of other organic chlorines, as well. I agree with him that there is a mix in there. The member asks why we are going through further experimentation and research. The answer is that this is an issue for which there is no settled science, and we need to try to get some.
Judy Turner: Can the Minister explain, then, what results or amelioration have come out of the medical study carried out on the 62 sawmill workers in 2001, which found that pentachlorophenol was the probable cause of one-third of health problems amongst workers in this industry?
Hon PETE HODGSON: I am afraid that it is not as easy as we would like it to be to link a particular chemical to a particular condition in a particular population; it just is not. So the Government is continuing to explore relationships as far as it is able, with research as far as it can do it. But the most important thing is, of course, to look carefully after the health of those people who have been, or who may have been, exposed in a damaging way to a range of chemicals in an earlier time.
Judy Turner: Will the Minister consider compensating first-generation sufferers of dioxin poisoning even if all the research into its effects has not yet been completed, in light of the fact that many sufferers will be dead by the time the research is completed?
Hon PETE HODGSON: The Government’s approach has been to meet with, to talk with, and to provide services as necessary and appropriate to, this workforce. We do realise there is a high chance that they are damaged as the result of earlier chemical exposures. It cannot be proved and it cannot be disproved, but it is clear that, as a population, they suffer serious health issues that they should be receiving ongoing special care for, and we hope to deliver it.
Te Ururoa Flavell: I runga i te âhua o te whakapapa o te paitini dioxin, arâ, he ôrite ki ngâ ariâ kino o te Hanga Ârani, he aha te take kâore i te tirohia i tçnei wâ mçnâ kua pâ te mate ki ngâ uri, tamariki, mokopuna hoki o ngâ kaimahi tawhito o te mira kani râkau i Whakatâne?
[An interpretation in English was given to the House.]
[In light of the genetic aspects of dioxin poison in—similar to the effects of Agent Orange—why are the children and the mokopuna of the former sawmill workers of Whakatâne not being tested in current studies, to determine whether their health has been negatively affected?]
Hon PETE HODGSON: I do not have a detailed answer available for the member, I am sorry. My recollection—and I am afraid that we will have to go on that—is that there is research under way on DNA disruption. I think it is coming out of Massey University. That should help us understand whether there is a generational issue of consequence.
Housing New Zealand Corporation, Chairman—Confidence
12. PHIL HEATLEY (National—Whangarei) to the Minister of Housing: Does he have confidence in the Chairman of Housing New Zealand Corporation; if so, why?
Hon CHRIS CARTER (Minister of Housing): Yes, because under his leadership Housing New Zealand Corporation has been delivering the Government’s social housing objectives efficiently and effectively.
Phil Heatley: What date did he find out that the chairman knew about the now famous gagging clause a full 2 weeks before the media, yet did nothing?
Hon CHRIS CARTER: I have already delivered a personal explanation to the House correcting my answer to that question Mr Heatley asked me earlier. A mistake was made. The chairman apologised and informed me as soon as he became aware of it. I corrected my answer in this House at the first available opportunity. That is the end of the matter.
Phil Heatley: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. We know that the Minister corrected the answer in the House—that is what has brought about all these questions. I asked the Minister what date he found out that the chairman knew he had made a mistake in telling the Minister the wrong dates. I want to know what date the Minister found out so that he could correct the answer in the House.
Madam SPEAKER: That is not a point of order.
Phil Heatley: How can the Minister have confidence in the chairman when the chairman failed to tell him that he knew about the gagging clause, even though there was widespread adverse publicity week in and week out about what the chairman knew and when he knew it, and why did the chairman not tell him he already knew about the gagging clause?
Hon CHRIS CARTER: We have spoken at length about this issue already in the House. I can once again assure the House that as soon as the chairperson informed me of this matter—
Phil Heatley: When?
Hon CHRIS CARTER: On the first available day—it was during the parliamentary recess. On the first sitting day, in the first 2 minutes of the House, I corrected the answer.
Phil Heatley: Why did only media pressure convince the chairman that the gagging clause was severe enough to warrant an Auditor-General’s inquiry, and not the chairman’s own conscience and professionalism?
Hon CHRIS CARTER: It seems to me that to answer that would be quite speculative. I have absolute confidence that as soon as the chairman became aware of the matter Mr Heatley initially raised he spoke to me about it. I have to say that throughout this process the chair of the corporation has acted promptly. Indeed, the Office of the Controller and Auditor-General’s report tabled in this House says that there was no wrongdoing.
Phil Heatley: Why did the chairman not ask for an external Auditor-General’s inquiry into the gagging clause when he found out about it—why did he delay for 2 or 3 weeks until the media put pressure on him to call an inquiry?
Hon CHRIS CARTER: The member again seems to be confused over timing issues. We have already been through these issues several times in the House. I would like to repeat for the members who seem to be rather slow at picking it up that we acted very promptly. In fact, I could spend a considerable amount of time reading out media quotes about how promptly and effectively the Government dealt with the issue.
Phil Heatley: Why does the Minister say that he has dealt with the issue and that the issue was not serious, when, firstly, the Auditor-General was called in, now the chief executive is going home to Australia, and Gerald Coles’ job is still in limbo?
Hon CHRIS CARTER: The member may not be prepared to accept what I say, but this House surely must accept what the Auditor-General’s report stated, which was that no wrongdoing was done.