Questions and Answers - Thursday, 29 June 200
Questions and Answers - Thursday, 29 June
Questions to Ministers
Question No. 1 to Minister
SIMON POWER (National—Rangitikei): I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I note that the Minister of Corrections is not present in the House today, although I see that the Associate Minister of Corrections is. I seek leave to have this question held over until the Minister of Corrections returns.
Madam SPEAKER: Leave is sought. Is there any objection? There is objection.
1. SIMON POWER (National—Rangitikei) to the Minister of Corrections: Does he have confidence in his department; if so, why?
Hon MITA RIRINUI (Acting Minister of Corrections): The answer is yes, but there is always room for improvement.
Simon Power: Why do the new Northland, Auckland women’s, Spring Hill, and Otago prisons all have underfloor heating included in each cell when, according to a recent Building Research Association survey, 96 percent of New Zealand homes do not?
Hon MITA RIRINUI: It is important to note that the current building code, which requires an adequate interior temperature of no less than 16 degrees Celsius in habitable spaces and bathrooms in many public buildings, is not new. In fact, the Auckland City Hospital mental health unit, a large number of retirement homes and childcare facilities, and the Auckland and Canterbury universities also have underfloor heating.
Jill Pettis: Why is underfloor heating often used to heat public buildings?
Hon MITA RIRINUI: As I said, there is the matter of the building code requirements. In fact, that form of heating is the most cost-efficient.
Simon Power: What would the Minister say to the victims of crime, who are traumatised by the actions of prisoners who will now be warmer in their cells than many of the victims are themselves in their own homes?
Hon MITA RIRINUI: I say to victims of crime that the Government is sympathetic to their situation and is in support of them all the time. But I think there is a contradiction here. I heard a speech made by that member in the House last night where he supported legislation to allow mothers in prison to keep their baby with them. What does he suggest in terms of heating those prison cells—or does he want to put those mothers and their babies on ice?
Simon Power: Why does Ngâwhâ prison in Northland require underfloor heating, when figures from the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research indicate a mean daily temperature there of 16 degrees over the last 12 months?
Hon MITA RIRINUI: There are times when it is quite chilly in the north, but at most times the temperatures are warm. That member is very well aware of the building code requirements, and also that Ngâwhâ prison is very cost-efficient in terms of heating.
Simon Power: Does he stand by the statement he made last week when he opened Auckland women’s prison with the Prime Minister: “These prisons are not, and will not be, gold-plated.”; if so, how does he reconcile those comments with the fact that the prison was originally estimated to cost $58 million and ended up costing $158 million?
Hon MITA RIRINUI: The operational costs for the Auckland prison were factored into the original cost. As that member is aware, the costs for Auckland women’s prison went from $58 million to $158 million because we doubled the number of beds.
Simon Power: How can he have confidence in his department, when since the election New Zealanders have heard that prisoners are getting underfloor heating, access to cellphones and alleged prostitutes, steak and ice-cream, and R-rated movies; is he familiar with the radical notion that prison is intended to act as a deterrent to criminals?
Hon MITA RIRINUI: That member referred to a breach of security, or supposed breach of security, where a prostitute entered a facility. That is not the case, at all. In fact, the person entered a property next door—a training centre of the Department of Corrections. However, the department takes the matter seriously and is investigating it at this point in time.
Simon Power: Is he concerned that reports today from a Rotorua prisoners aid field officer and Salvation Army manager state that prisoners released from jail reoffend in order to get back into a warm prison cell, and has he finally formed the view that his department is inept and he has lost control of it?
Hon MITA RIRINUI: Absolutely not. The statement referred to was made by a local prisoners aid community person. I have difficulty with the figures mentioned, because she stated something like three prisoners a week were trying to get back into prison to get warm. That would make it something like 160 prisoners in Rotorua a year. I find that hard to accept.
Rodney Hide: Does he begin to understand the anger and frustration of taxpayers and victims of crime, who are paying for those prisons and see them as holiday camps that they themselves could not afford, with their underfloor heating, their gyms, and their three meals a day; does he understand the anger of people who have suffered from crime and who are now having to pay for what is like a holiday camp that they themselves could not afford?
Hon MITA RIRINUI: I can understand the feelings of the victims of crime in situations like that, just as I can understand those of the people of Epsom who elected a member of Parliament to take dancing lessons.
Tertiary Education—Advertising and Marketing
2. METIRIA TUREI (Green) to the Minister for Tertiary Education: Is he concerned that on the same day that he announced a funding boost of $26 million for universities over the coming year, the New Zealand University Students Association revealed that in 2005 public tertiary education institutions spent an estimated collective total of $28 million on advertising and marketing?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Minister for Tertiary Education): Yes.
Metiria Turei: Does he find it frustrating that he is having to bail out universities to the tune of $26 million because those universities say they cannot pay their staff a fair wage, and some, indeed, are making cuts to staffing and to courses, yet those same institutions are spending more than $26 million on TV ads and stupid gimmicks?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Yes; it underlines the stupidity of a funding system based on “bums on seats” and, therefore, advertising to attract those bums.
Moana Mackey: What reports has the Minister seen in relation to the $26 million funding boost?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I have seen reports from a variety of stakeholders that welcomed the announcement, including the New Zealand University Students Association, which has lobbied me on behalf of the staff.
Hon Brian Donnelly: Can the Minister explain why a staff member teaching a degree programme at Auckland University of Technology should be paid 3 percent more than a teacher of a similar degree at Unitec, simply because Max Bradford, for political purposes—and in his swansong—approved Auckland University of Technology’s application for university status?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: The last part of the statement is certainly correct, but this funding decision arose out of tripartite discussions between the Government, the vice-chancellors, and the Association of University Staff. Of course, therefore, it was a matter for the universities; Unitec is not a university.
Te Ururoa Flavell: Ka riro anô e ngâ wânanga e toru, arâ, Te Whare Wânanga o Awanuiârangi, Te Wânanga o Raukawa me Te Wânanga o Aotearoa he pûtea e ôrite ana ki te pûtea ka tukuna ki ngâ whare wânanga e waru; mçnâ kâore, he aha ai?
[An interpretation in English was given to the House.]
[Will the three wânanga, Te Whare Wânanga o Awanuiârangi, Te Wânanga o Raukawa, and Te Wânanga o Aotearoa, be receiving funding comparable to that of the eight universities; if not, why not?]
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: No. Only one of the wânanga has postgraduate qualifications of a standard that might be considered comparable with those of the universities. In any case, I repeat that this decision is a result of tripartite discussions between the universities, the Association of University Staff, and the Government. The problem here, of course, is attracting staff comparable with those overseas; that is not such a big issue in relation to the wânanga, it has to be said.
Metiria Turei: When the Minister’s Government announced its intention to invest $300 million a year in the interest-free student loan scheme, did he consider that because of the flawed competitive funding model, this public investment would be squandered on gimmicks to lure students, like the one that gives students a bottle of water from Victoria University, and comes with the message: “Your brain is 85 percent water. Give it a top-up.”—or perhaps that is just a cheap way of doing a Biology 101 lesson?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Yes, but of course when Victoria University is trying to compete with Otago University, it has to use any gimmicks possible.
Moana Mackey: What is the Government doing about the funding model that forces institutions to spend so much on advertising and marketing?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Cabinet is currently considering a review of the funding system, which will ensure that in the future institutions will focus on improving the quality and relevance of tertiary education rather than on chasing student numbers. Specifically, the new funding formula will also be related to, in part, the outcomes rather than the inputs. The numbers going in is the present basis for funding.
Metiria Turei: If the Minister really is committed to moving away from a “bums on seats” model for the tertiary sector, when will his Government lead by example, get its own members’ bums off their seats, and make the changes that need to be made to have a more collaborative and cooperative model for funding for tertiary institutions, and when can we see the results?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Of course, in this place the number of bums on seats is very crucial; otherwise, one sits in different seats.
Aviation Regulations—Finance, Minister
3. JOHN KEY (National—Helensville) to the Minister of Finance: Does he stand by his statement that “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.”?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Minister of Finance): Absolutely yes, where any such matter relates to my interest as the shareholding Minister in Air New Zealand.
John Key: Does the Minister consider it would be natural to assume, as Treasury did, that if he and the Minister of Transport were meeting the chairman and chief executive of Air New Zealand, there was a possibility that the subject of code-sharing would be raised; if not, why not?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: No. Treasury advises me on a whole range of issues, and the member himself yesterday specifically accepted Mr Palmer’s assurance that the matter of code-sharing was not discussed at the dinner.
Shane Jones: How is the Minister dealing with possible conflicts of interest arising from aviation regulation and the Crown’s shareholding in Air New Zealand?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: To ensure that no conflict arises in that respect, my functions as Minister of Finance in relation to regulations are delegated to the Associate Minister of Finance Phil Goff. Regulatory matters are dealt with by the Minister of Transport. Of course, in the mirror image, if matters were to arise at Cabinet relating to the ownership interest in Air New Zealand, then the Minister of Transport would take herself out of the room.
John Key: Is the Minister aware that the Cabinet Office Manual is clear that an apparent conflict of interest may be as significant as an actual conflict of interest; if so, how does he try to identify and mitigate apparent conflicts of interest in his ministerial roles?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: If there is any doubt around those matters, advice is taken from Cabinet Office staff. That has always been the practice, and continues to be.
John Key: Does the Minister think that when the dinner at the Boulcott Street Bistro was being arranged, he had in front of him the potential for a conflict of interest, or the perception of a conflict of interest, in the public’s eyes, given the roles of the people who were invited to attend that dinner; if not, why not?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: No, because I was aware that what was being particularly discussed were matters in relation to tourism promotion—Air New Zealand’s concerns around that—and some related matters to that. I think that if the member ever gets his head around asking me the right question, he might find out what the Government itself is discussing in that context.
John Key: Did the Minister take any practical steps to mitigate the potential conflict of interest relating to that meeting and, in particular, did he write to Air New Zealand and make it clear that code-sharing, or any subject relating to that, was under no circumstances to be raised; if not, why not?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: No, because both Mr Palmer and I understand our roles in that respect. If the member refers to Mr Palmer’s statement yesterday, about which he accepted Mr Palmer’s word, he will see that Mr Palmer is quite clear on that matter.
John Key: Does the Minister think, in retrospect, that it was appropriate to have had that meeting with Air New Zealand, in the presence of the Minister of Transport and two other Ministers, with no officials present and no notes taken, at a time when the code-sharing proposal was soon to be presented to the Minister of Transport for his approval, and when the success or otherwise of that proposal could have had a significant effect on the Crown’s investment in Air New Zealand; if not, why not?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Yes. I have meetings with Air New Zealand’s chief executive and chairman of the board from time to time, and will continue to do so. I have no intention of being put off by that member, who of course had a famous dinner with his leader in the Boulcott Street Bistro. It is the biggest gossip place in town, so there is no such thing as a secret meeting at that bistro.
Hon Trevor Mallard: Does the Minister have confidence in the integrity of John Palmer and, if so, will he continue to meet with him; and have the over - one dozen questions in the House from John Key had any effect on that, whatsoever?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Yes, I do. I will continue to do that. No, it has not. I also have confidence in Mr Rob Fyfe, even though he addressed a National Party electorate meeting for Mr Key.
Land Transport Programme—Key Features
4. DARREN HUGHES (Labour—Otaki) to the Minister of Transport: What are the key features of the Government’s land transport programme announced yesterday?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Leader of the House) on behalf of the Minister of Transport: The published National Land Transport Programme for 2006-07 includes a record $24 billion in spending for land transport infrastructure and services over the next 10 years—$2.3 billion for 2006-07 alone. This represents a 14 percent increase on last year and includes Crown and regionally distributed funds.
Darren Hughes: Has the Minister seen any reports of changes to priorities in the Wellington region, particularly in relation to Transmission Gully motorway?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Yes, I am pleased to report that Transmission Gully now has a high priority for funding and action. I wish to congratulate the MPs for Otaki, Mana, and Ohariu-Belmont on their efforts in securing this.
Hon Peter Dunne: Can the Minister confirm that the confidence and supply agreement with United Future enabled the Government to set aside the funding in the Budget, which has in turn enabled Transit to elevate Transmission Gully to the top of its Wellington priorities?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Yes, and of course had the alternative Government been in power, that money would now no longer be available, because it would have been given away in tax cuts on 1 April.
Hon Peter Dunne: Does the Minister therefore consider the comment by a senior Wellington regional councillor earlier this week, that a decision on Transmission Gully is at least 5 years away, to be consistent with both the spirit of that confidence and supply agreement, and with yesterday’s announcement by Transit?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: No, I do not. I would hope that we ccould complete the investigation work as quickly as possible to make a final go / no-go decision in relation to Transmission Gully.
Dave Hereora: What elements of the Government’s land transport package announced yesterday will contribute to economic transformation in the Auckland region?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: There is one major element in yesterday’s announcement, and an associated element. Obviously yesterday’s announcements mean we are picking up the Auckland network provision construction, and that is crucial. An associated matter, of course, because it is no longer part of this particular vote any longer, is that massive expenditure is going into the Auckland rail system over the next 2 or 3 years in view of the double tracking of the western line in particular.
Jeanette Fitzsimons: How will the Minister explain to passengers crammed into insufficient, dilapidated, full trains and buses that in these days of accelerated climate change and rising petrol prices she is spending only 14 percent of the total money on passenger transport, and how long will the Government hide behind the mantra that it is spending more now than the pathetic amounts that National used to spend?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I think the increase is something like eightfold, and in 2006-07 we are spending $300 million on passenger transport. What is more, to a very substantial extent that is demand-driven, so that if the private owners of those trains and buses—certainly, the buses are privately owned—care to buy more buses and put on more routes, then the Government will find itself almost certainly funding a greater degree of support for those services. But it is not our job to buy the buses for them, as well.
5. Hon MURRAY McCULLY (National—East Coast Bays) to the Minister of Conservation: Does he have confidence in his department, in light of the recent Auditor-General’s report Department of Conservation: Planning for and managing publicly owned land; if so, why?
Hon CHRIS CARTER (Minister of Conservation): Yes. The report found that the department manages publicly owned land well. As in everything, there is room for improvement—and improve, we will. Actually, this is a rather special question; since the election 10 months ago, this is the first oral question National’s official conservation spokesperson has asked me.
Madam SPEAKER: I do not think that last comment was necessary.
Hon Murray McCully: What is his response to the Auditor-General’s finding that the Department of Conservation—the largest landowner in the country—has no central record of the land it owns, nor any central oversight of the land transactions occurring within individual conservancies, and that rules for the acquisition and disposal of land are routinely breached, and can he tell the House what steps he is taking to act on the Auditor-General’s recommendation that those oversights be remedied?
Hon CHRIS CARTER: All records are held at the local conservancy level, where they are most useful. This morning when I appeared for the estimates before the Local Government and Environment Committee, this issue was raised. Strangely, that member, the official spokesperson on conservation for the National Party, failed to turn up at the select committee hearing.
Steve Chadwick: What were the main findings of the Auditor-General’s report? [Interruption]
Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. You made it clear yesterday that members interjecting while members are asking questions was unacceptable and would result in expulsion. Gerry Brownlee just did that.
Madam SPEAKER: Yes he did. I will warn members again, and I am taking this particular issue about interjections on questions and answers to the next Business Committee in this session. I also note, however, that I had warned the Minister that irrelevant comments in answers were likely to produce similarly irrelevant comments.
Hon CHRIS CARTER: Overall the department met most of the Auditor-General’s expectations. The Auditor-General, however, called for better connection between land planning, management, and information systems, and I am receiving advice from the department on how best to do that—as we discussed at the select committee hearing this morning.
Barbara Stewart: What action, if any, does he intend to take to reduce the use of set-nets following research findings that New Zealand’s common dolphin population may be under threat because of set-nets?
Hon CHRIS CARTER: A management plan for the preservation and enhancement of Hector’s dolphins and Mâui’s dolphins will be released by the department shortly, which will address that question.
Hon Murray McCully: Has the Minister seen the Auditor-General’s criticism of the two land transaction case studies contained in the report, which found that the documentation was not complete or clear in terms of the decisions that were made for either transaction and that the documentation highlighted significant non-compliance with the department’s standard operating procedures, and does he accept that that is not good enough in the department that is the largest property owner in the country?
Hon CHRIS CARTER: I will remind the member, of course, that the Department of Conservation does not own a single hectare in New Zealand; the public of New Zealand owns the land that is managed by the department. With regard to the two case studies the member refers to, I would like to make mention one of them: Waikawau Bay in the Coromandel, which, I am proud to say, was bought on behalf of the public of New Zealand. I instructed the department to ensure that this iconic piece of land was purchased, and it is enjoyed by thousands of Kiwis every summer. I fully back the process the department used to acquire that land in the Coromandel.
Te Ururoa Flavell: Following the disposal of land in 2004 from Victoria Conservation Park outside of the statutory time frames allowed in the Ngâi Tahu Claims Settlement Act, what measures have been put in place to ensure such areas do not occur nationally, and how have tangata whenua been involved?
Hon CHRIS CARTER: On that particular case we were deserving of criticism. We are working harder and will do better next time.
Hon Murray McCully: Can the Minister confirm that in respect of the first of the case studies criticised by the Auditor-General—the acquisition of Waikawau Bay, the transaction just mentioned by the Minister himself—the principal player in the breaches of the processes of the Department of Conservation and of the Land Acquisition Committee, and the person behind the sloppy documentation of the transaction is identified by the Auditor-General as being the Minister himself, and what explanation does he have for that?
Hon CHRIS CARTER: The explanation I have is that that iconic piece of beach is now owned by the people of New Zealand; the only beach in the Coromandel where not one single house can be seen. We are proud to have bought that for the people of New Zealand.
Hon Murray McCully: Can the Minister confirm the Auditor-General’s finding that in relation to the statutory reviews of seven of the 14 national park management plans, the department is in breach of both the Conservation Act 1987 and the National Parks Act 1980; and what steps is he taking to remedy these breaches of the law?
Hon CHRIS CARTER: I can confirm that the people of New Zealand now own the entire stretch of Waikawau Bay, and that for endless generations people will be able to camp there. It is the only beach in the Coromandel where a single house cannot be seen. It is now ours forever.
Hon Murray McCully: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I do not think there was so much noise in the House that the Minister would not have heard my question. It related to the statutory reviews of seven of the 14 national park management plans and referred to two pieces of legislation that require those reviews to be completed within a certain time frame and I asked about breaches of the law on the part of his department in that respect. He has just given an answer that is absolutely irrelevant to any of the matters raised in that question.
Madam SPEAKER: Would the Minister like to add to his answer to the question asked?
Hon CHRIS CARTER: Yes and I apologise to you, Madam Speaker and the House, for being so absolutely proud and excited about Waikawau Bay—which I am, of course. The issues that the member has raised in his first question ever to me in the House as conservation spokesperson is an important question. I have already conceded that we could do better. Overall, the Auditor-General said the department’s management was fine but there were processes we could improve, and we will.
Chris Auchinvole: Can the Minister confirm that the department has failed to complete the West Coast conservation management strategy, which should have been completed by 1995—11 years ago—but which is still in breach of completion, and what time frame has the Minister set for doing anything about it?
Hon CHRIS CARTER: I can confirm that under both the National Minister Nick Smith and myself this plan has not been finished. It is about time it was and I have told the department to get on with it.
Hon Murray McCully: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. You will have noted that a couple of times the Minister who has been the subject of the most recent question has mentioned my failure to be in the select committee this morning to offer any questions to him. The reason for that, of course, is that I was in the Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Committee, of which I am a member, at the time the Minister appeared in another committee. I wonder whether you might like to make a ruling that requires the sitting time of the Foreign Affairs Committee to be changed in future to accommodate the Minister’s obvious request for me to be there.
Madam SPEAKER: No, I decline to make that ruling but I will remind members of another. It is a longstanding convention that members do not refer to the absence of others. I ask members to observe that.
Court System—Confidence in Access to Justice
6. CHRISTOPHER FINLAYSON (National) to the Minister for Courts: Does he have confidence that the current court system is delivering speedy and inexpensive access to justice; if so, why?
Hon MARK BURTON (Minister of Justice) on behalf of the Minister for Courts: The Minister has confidence that, as a result of a massive injection of $156 million into Votes Courts and Justice, as well as a broad programme of review and service improvement that we are continuing to roll out, the court system has been steadily improving over the last 6 years of a Labour-led Government. This is in stark contrast to the gross under-investment in the justice sector through the 1990s under a neglectful National Government, which led to the urgent need for that review of baseline funding.
Christopher Finlayson: How can the Minister assure the House that the current justice system is delivering speedy and inexpensive access to justice, when the High Court in Auckland is full to overflowing, there are no spare courtrooms, no spare judges chambers, and no plans to increase capacity any time soon, and all this has happened on his watch?
Hon MARK BURTON: The Minister is aware that as a result of the roll-out of the resources referred to in the first answer, there are changes taking place. But, in conjunction with the judiciary, a national roster of judges has been introduced so that judges can be moved to different regions, as requested, to meet the various workload pressures. New judges have been appointed, the number of judicial support and criminal registry staff at the Auckland High Court has been increased, and work is being done with other agencies to ensure that cases are ready for hearing. This Government is getting on and addressing the challenges. They are real. Years of neglect by National made them so, but we are getting on and doing something about them.
Christopher Finlayson: How can the Minister assure the House that the current court system is delivering speedy and inexpensive access to justice, when defended summary judgment applications in the High Court in Auckland can take up to 4-6 months to get a fixture, and when all this has happened on his watch?
Hon MARK BURTON: I presume the member missed some of my previous answer. Numerous new programmes are under way, there have been numerous injections of resources, and additional judicial and administrative staff have been recruited to help address those very issues.
Kate Wilkinson: How can the Minister assure the House that the current court system is delivering speedy and inexpensive access to justice, when cases in the High Court in Wellington are being allocated trial dates as far away as August 2007?
Hon MARK BURTON: The member might not have heard the answer to the previous two questions. The additional judicial appointments, the additional administrative resources, the improvements to the administrative systems, and the technology that is being introduced are all beginning to address the issues the member raises.
Kate Wilkinson: How can the Minister assure the House that the current court system is delivering speedy and inexpensive access to justice, when cases in the High Court in Christchurch cannot be heard until March 2007?
Hon MARK BURTON: I refer the member to my previous three answers.
Kate Wilkinson: How can the Minister assure the House that the current court system is delivering speedy and inexpensive access to justice, when District Courts in South Auckland and Whangarei are under such pressure that court staff are refusing to allocate fixtures, even when cases are overdue for hearing?
Hon MARK BURTON: Although the member brings to the House further evidence of the success of the prosecution system—the numbers of cases that are coming before the courts—I refer the member to the four previous answers to supplementary questions.
7. MARYAN STREET (Labour) to the Minister of Health: Has he received any reports on the importance of investing in primary health?
Hon PETE HODGSON (Minister of Health): Yes. Last week’s New Zealand Medical Journal suggested that about 10 percent of the health budget is spent on hospitalisations that could be avoided through earlier treatment and a focus on prevention. The study is a ringing endorsement of the Government’s Primary Health Care Strategy, which takes its next step forward in 2 days’ time. We know that if we make it easier and more affordable to access primary care, we can reduce pressure on our public hospitals and improve the health of our families.
Maryan Street: What progress has been made in making primary health care more affordable for families?
Hon PETE HODGSON: From Saturday the cost of seeing the doctor will fall by as much as $27 for New Zealanders in the 45-64 years age group. The cost of most prescription medicines will drop from $15 to $3. Both moves are ardently opposed by the National Party. We are now just 1 year away from universal access to affordable primary health care. This will be one of the Labour-led Government’s most significant achievements and is a reminder of what can be achieved when we invest in families instead of pouring money into tax cuts for the wealthy.
Health Services—Government Priorities
8. Dr JACKIE BLUE (National) on behalf of the 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 same as yesterday. The Government’s top priority in health is to make world-class health affordable and accessible for all New Zealand families. I have also set specific priorities for the coming financial year, which I would be happy to provide for Mr Ryall if he is looking for ideas for his long-awaited National Party health policy.
Dr Jackie Blue: What sort of priority is it when the Minister told the House yesterday that sometimes risks have to be taken with taxpayers’ money in health; and does he believe that the tens of thousands of patients dumped from waiting lists will think he is taking a greater risk with their lives?
Hon PETE HODGSON: Yesterday’s question was about a research project funded by the Health Research Council and delivered by a university. Any research is uncertain—[Interruption]—because research seeks to create new knowledge—if something is known, it does not need to be researched—and therefore a risk must be taken.
Hon Dr Michael Cullen: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. Members are not allowed to move to another seat for the purpose of interjecting. That member has now been continuously interjecting on the Minister from the most favourable possible in the House in order to do that.
Madam SPEAKER: That is true, so I just remind the member of that House convention.
Ann Hartley: What reports has the Minister seen on the success of programmes to encourage young New Zealanders to quit smoking?
Hon PETE HODGSON: I have seen reports that phone-messaging programmes could double the number of young New Zealanders who give up smoking. Rather than support research to save lives, National is fretting that people will develop nicotine additions, go to a health service, ask for help, get checked, get referred to a clinical trial, and participate in 3 years’ research, all for a new phone. I invite National to fret about something else, which is that yesterday, while they were engaged in attacking an innovative research project, 12 New Zealanders died from smoking-related causes.
Barbara Stewart: What are the circumstances under which the Minister would consider that it was his duty as Minister of Health to intervene to resolve the dispute between the junior doctors and the district health boards?
Hon PETE HODGSON: The member will be aware—in fact, she just said—that the dispute is between district health boards and the Resident Doctors Association. My duty is to ensure that the dispute does not put the lives of New Zealanders at risk, and I wish to take the opportunity not only to wish both parties well in tomorrow’s talks but to reiterate my thanks to senior doctors, some junior doctors, nurses, managers, and everyone else who ensured that during the 5-day strike no New Zealanders’ lives were put at risk.
Dr Jonathan Coleman: When the Minister told the House that it was OK to take a risk with taxpayers’ money, did he not stop to think that getting operations for the thousands of patients culled from waiting lists should be a greater priority than offering video phones to those who choose to smoke?
Hon PETE HODGSON: Hope springs eternal that one day National members will alter their supplementary questions to take into account information received in the course of the questioning. This is a research project funded by the Health Research Council and all research is uncertain, because if one were certain about something, one would not need to research it.
Jo Goodhew: When the Minister said it was OK to take a risk with taxpayers’ money, was he referring to the risk he is taking by recruiting medical students from rural areas, by not giving them the training they need, and by making it highly unlikely they will ever return to work in rural areas?
Madam SPEAKER: I remind members that when they ask a question they do not start it with a statement. I thought we had agreement on that—we ask a question. I ask the Minister now to address it.
Hon PETE HODGSON: I believe that the greater risk is that if National cannot alter its line of attack in the light of new information, it will spend not 9 long years in Opposition but 12 years, or more.
Jo Goodhew: Can the Minister confirm that when he said it was OK to take a risk with taxpayers’ money, he was referring to the Government’s decision to ditch the well-respected PlunketLine in favour of McKesson’s—a company that does not have enough Well Child nurses to monitor calls—and what message is he sending to concerned parents?
Hon PETE HODGSON: May I say to the House one more time that this is a research project. It is a research project that is funded by the Health Research Council. The Health Research Council, as it happens, operates independently of the Government. Politicians are not allowed to pick research projects. All research projects are uncertain, because if they were not, they would not be researched.
Dr Jonathan Coleman: Does the Minister accept that following his billion-dollar bungle on Kyoto, and with his self-confessed appetite for risk, it is actually very risky for the country to have him in charge of anything larger than a Dunedin fruit stall?
Madam SPEAKER: Well, I think the answer will probably reflect the flippancy of the question.
Hon PETE HODGSON: I am afraid that I am now at the point where the question does not deserve an answer.
Security Guards and Firms—Licensing and Monitoring
9. RON MARK (NZ First) to the Associate Minister of Justice: Is he satisfied with the effectiveness of the current system by which security guards and security firms are licensed and monitored?
Hon MARK BURTON (Minister of Justice) on behalf of the Associate Minister of Justice: The Government recognises that there is a need to update the current system, and that work is on the Ministry of Justice’s work plan. I thank the member for bringing these issues to the fore. I can advise the member that the Government proposes to ensure that all security guards undertake relevant training; to extend coverage of the licensing regime to include crowd controllers, bodyguards, and other security staff; and to significantly increase the financial penalties on both firms and individuals. I know that the member has a genuine interest in this area, and I would welcome his further involvement in looking at the issues as we work through the reforms.
Ron Mark: Is the Minister aware that although industry sources estimate the number of security guards operating to be between 7,000 and 8,000, the Ministry of Justice lists only 4,714 security guards operating, and that 44 percent of those identified in the ministry’s figures are operating without licences due to an administrative backlog and outstanding police checks; does he consider that is acceptable?
Hon MARK BURTON: The Associate Minister of Justice has some familiarity with those numbers and I think the simple answer is no, it is not acceptable and we have to do better. The member will be equally interested to know that I think the industry itself has started to recognise, perhaps because of some of the attention that has been drawn to it, that it has to do better. The industry is reported to have recognised that by instituting an audit regime of its own to do random checks on maverick operators. I welcome that, but there is more that we can do as well—and we will do so.
Ron Mark: Does the Minister know how many of the 44 percent of security guards identified by the ministry as unlicensed have obtained temporary permission from the police to operate while their application is being considered; if he does not and if the ministry does not, would he agree with the statement—and clearly he does now—made by former Associate Minister of Justice Lianne Dalziel in 2003 that: “The number of unlicensed operators in the industry is a serious matter.”, and when will we see the bill come before the House?
Hon MARK BURTON: I do not have advice on that particular matter in front of me, but I think it is the case that there is no record of those members of the industry who have temporary permits. I do agree with the comment made by the former Associate Minister. As I have indicated to the member, the matter is now on the current year’s work programme, and I will welcome that member’s input into the work to fix the problem.
Ron Mark: I seek the leave of the House to table a document dated 21 January 2003. It is a letter from the Hon Lianne Dalziel, in which she agrees that the number of unlicensed operators in the industry is a serious matter.
Ron Mark: I seek the leave of the House to table a release dated 20 June 2002 from former Minister of Justice Mr Paul Swain, who stated that legislation was under way as a matter of urgency.
Taito Phillip Field—Ingram Inquiry Costs
10. Dr the Hon LOCKWOOD SMITH (National—Rodney) to the Prime Minister: How much has the Ingram inquiry cost to date?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Deputy Prime Minister) on behalf of the Prime Minister: As the Prime Minister has told the member in the past, information on costs will be released when the inquiry is complete and all costs are known. She does not consider progress reports on costs to be appropriate, as they could be deemed to be placing pressure on the inquiry.
Dr the Hon Lockwood Smith: Is it correct that the cost for the first 4 months of the inquiry was approximately $30,000 per month; if so, has the inquiry, originally set for 9 working days yet still uncompleted after 9 months, now cost taxpayers more than a quarter of a million dollars?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: The information on costs connected with the inquiry is not ready, but it is perhaps useful to remind members opposite that inquiries are always expensive and that they call for at least four or five a day.
Dr the Hon Lockwood Smith: Why was the head of the Prime Minister’s department unable to answer questions at the Finance and Expenditure Committee last week on the cost of the inquiry so far, when the Prime Minister had to seek from Cabinet approval for an additional appropriation of $119,681 to cover the cost of the inquiry for just the first 4 months and is clearly monitoring the costs closely?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Those costs come in from time to time, as I am sure a number of the member’s colleagues will tell him. We will not know the final cost until the inquiry is complete.
Dr the Hon Lockwood Smith: Who is causing the delay in the completion of the report: Taito Phillip Field and his legal counsel, Noel Ingram QC, or the Prime Minister?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Certainly not the Prime Minister.
Dr the Hon Lockwood Smith: If it is not the Prime Minister, how much longer is she prepared to allow the inquiry to drag on at a cost to the taxpayer of roughly $1,000 a day?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I am sure that if the Prime Minister was to attempt to speed up the inquiry, the Opposition would accuse her of interfering with its independence.
Skill Shortages—Labour Force
11. GEORGINA BEYER (Labour) to the Minister for Social Development and Employment: What reports has he received on the progress towards addressing skill shortages in the labour force?
Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE (Minister for Social Development and Employment): Investment by this Government in skills is clearly paying dividends. The latest Skills in the Labour Market report recorded the largest fall in skill shortage indicators in 15 years. Further reports released by the Department of Labour today on 14 specific occupational trades show that the number of people achieving these trade qualifications each year has almost doubled, from 1,600 in 2001 to 3,000 in 2005, and that the number of trainees enrolled in these trade qualifications has also doubled, from 8,000 in 2001 to 16,000 in 2005. That is clear evidence of our success in rebuilding a training culture in this country after National destroyed the apprenticeship system.
Georgina Beyer: What has been the cause of recent skill shortages?
Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: The Department of Labour advises me that the current cycle of shortages most likely began in the late 1990s due to the low level of trade training that occurred during the decade of the 1990s. Employers interviewed as part of these surveys indicated that changes to the apprenticeship system in the 1990s impacted negatively on the number of people entering training for trades. Labour has reversed that foolishness, and is investing in the people and skills that the economy needs.
Flat Bush—Education Restructuring
12. ALLAN PEACHEY (National—Tamaki) to the Minister of Education: Does he stand by his statement that “the arrangement in Flat Bush has not come from a ministry-driven restructuring of education. I think, really, people there had decided it would be interesting to do this kind of innovative approach.”?
Hon TREVOR MALLARD (Minister for Economic Development): on behalf of the Minister of Education: Yes, the Minister knows that his predecessor was interested in that model, especially after the repeated request to expand the zone of the new Albany Junior High School, by the member for East Coast Bays following representations from many parents in that area. My predecessor decided that people in Manukau should be able to consider what was working well on the North Shore, as part of the consultation. The Ministry of Education therefore put that model of schooling to the community, and the result of the consultation convinced the Minister that that was the way to go.
Allan Peachey: At what stage in the consultation process did the residents of Flat Bush decide that, in the Minister’s own words, “it would be interesting to do this kind of innovative approach” ?
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: I am informed that consultation over the area strategy began in October 2003. The ministry involved 28 identified groups—including schools from around the boundary of the area, iwi, Auckland Catholics, unions, the early childhood sector representing the parents of the children who were heading in that direction, community groups, and the Manukau City Council. Fourteen organisations or groups, and 25 individuals, made written submissions. That is hardly ministry-driven restructuring, but genuine, and, some might say, extended, community consultation. Whatever the options, that has got to be a better model than stabbing one’s local school in the back.
Hon Marian Hobbs: Does the Government have a policy on middle schools, or does it have a policy on quality teaching in the classroom?
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: I think it is fair to say the Government is indifferent to the question of a middle school - junior high school model. But what was quite clear was that that model was welcomed. Probably the person who was the loudest supporter of it for that particular area was Sir Barrie Curtis, who, as local mayor, looked at the issue very, very carefully; looked at what was happening in Albany, saw how Murray McCully was promoting the approach on behalf of the constituents, who loved it; and for reasons that became obvious put it to those people. The key, of course, is quality teaching.
Hon Brian Donnelly: Can the Minister confirm that far from junior high schools being a new idea, the first one was Kowhai Junior High School, which commenced in 1922, and that in the second half of the 1990s the National Government approved a number of such schools, starting with St Andrews Middle School in Hamilton in 1995?
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: I, of course, accept the member’s word as to the timing. I know that advice has been received about the benefit for middle schooling in New Zealand back as far as the 1930s, when, I understand, Don Brash was attending. [Interruption]
Madam SPEAKER: The member used an unparliamentary term by accusing another member of lying. Would the member please withdraw and apologise.
Gerry Brownlee: I withdraw and apologise.
Allan Peachey: How many of the options for the structure of Flat Bush schooling that were presented for the Minister to choose from were then taken to the community for consultation?
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: I do not have that advice with me. My understanding was that a preferred model was taken to the community.
Allan Peachey: I take that to mean “one”. Does the Minister acknowledge that his predecessor, Mr Mallard, pre-empted a community decision on the shape of schooling in Flat Bush in light of Mr Mallard’s indication in October 2005 that he—Mr Mallard—preferred a network that included junior high schools in Flat Bush?
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: It was very clear which model was taken to the schools. My predecessor, of course, looked at this very, very carefully, and he was well supported in education. He was someone who welcomed the bumper sticker that was used in Auckland during the last campaign, which stated: “Save Rangitoto. Vote Peachey.”
Allan Peachey: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. It never ceases to amaze me that you tolerate such mean-spirited, vindictive comments as we get from the Minister.
Madam SPEAKER: That is not a point of order. My patience and tolerance are tried at times. If all members would desist from such an attitude, then I think the House would be better for it.
Allan Peachey: I seek the leave of the House to table two documents that might put a slightly different light on the Minister’s answer. The first is questions for written answer 6966 and 6968.
Madam SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table those documents. Is there any objection? There is objection.
Allan Peachey: Will the Minister now give regard to the views of Flat Bush residents, who last Monday, 26 June, voted unanimously against his plans for the future schooling structure in Flat Bush, and undertake further consultation to ensure that the views of Flat Bush residents and parents are reflected in any future schooling structures for their community?
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: I do not have that information with me. I suggest that the member set the question down as a primary question if he wants a response to it.
Allan Peachey: I seek the leave of the House to table a newspaper report dated 28 June 2006, “Meeting rejects school’s plan”.
Madam SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection? There is objection.