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Questions And Answers - Tuesday, 25 July 2006

Questions And Answers - Tuesday, 25 July 2006

Questions to Ministers

Taito Phillip Field—Ingram Report

1. Dr DON BRASH (Leader of the Opposition) to the Prime Minister: Was Dr Ingram able to interview all the Thai nationals who allegedly worked on properties owned by Taito Phillip Field in return for immigration assistance; if not, can she assure the House that she has taken every step open to her to ascertain whether any serious impropriety occurred involving a member of her executive?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK (Prime Minister): No, he could not interview all those nationals, but I am satisfied that did not impact on Mr Ingram’s ability to come to conclusions regarding ministerial conduct. The conclusion was that there was no ministerial conflict of interest.

Dr Don Brash: Does the Prime Minister accept that for a member of Parliament to accept cheap labour or slave labour in return for immigration favours would be outright corruption; if so, why is she prepared to turn a blind eye to the clear evidence against Mr Field?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: There has been an exhaustive inquiry and there is no such clear evidence.

Dr Don Brash: Does the Prime Minister accept that the truth regarding the accusations that Mr Field accepted slave labour in return for immigration favours can be reached only by interviewing the individuals allegedly exploited by Mr Field; if so, why would she not follow the course normally followed under our laws and give the witnesses the protection they deserve and the authorities the power to question them?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I draw the member’s attention again to the words of Dr Ingram QC, who said: “Even if I had possessed the power to administer oaths, and to compel the attendance of witnesses and the production of documents, the process of inquiry may not have been significantly more satisfactory.”

Dr Don Brash: Is the Prime Minister aware that the Ingram report suggests very strongly that a current Minister in her Government, Mr Damien O’Connor, exercised his discretion in the manner requested by Mr Field whilst knowing full well that Mr Field was benefiting personally from his representations, and what steps has she taken to satisfy herself in relation to that very serious allegation?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: There is no such implication in the report.

Dr Don Brash: What is the Prime Minister’s response to Taito Phillip Field’s comment on Tagata Pasifika last week that he expected to be reinstated to his ministerial portfolios because: “natural justice is that they would look at reinstatement at some point. I think that that is only fair.”; and can she confirm that, notwithstanding the serious allegations that still hang over Mr Field’s head, she has led him to believe that he might, in future, be restored to her ministry?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: Natural justice does require people to be treated fairly, and of course people will always aspire to work their way back.

Heather Roy: On the question of Taito Phillip Field’s impropriety, is the Prime Minister aware of Mr Field’s key role in the election to the Manukau City Council of the Labour ticket, including the election of his close associate Mr James Papali’i, who is today before the courts on 14 counts of fraud and related charges arising from the operation of various trusts funded by the council, or does the Prime Minister not know what Mr Field has been up to in local body politics?

Madam SPEAKER: I just remind members that there is no ministerial responsibility for those matters.

Rodney Hide: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I have to say that that cannot be right. The question Dr Don Brash asked was directly about the impropriety of a Minister’s actions while he was a Minister; indeed, this election occurred precisely when Mr Phillip Field was a Minister and he was heavily involved in that election. The question asked whether the Prime Minister was aware at the time. She certainly has responsibility for her Minister.

Madam SPEAKER: I have made my ruling, but the Prime Minister had set up an inquiry that was to deal with that particular matter. The matter that was raised in the question was different, but, as I said, I have ruled on that.

Rodney Hide: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. The Ingram report covers this issue, so it is included. It is mentioned in the report, and it is discussed in the report. I cannot see how some matters in the report can have prime ministerial responsibility and other matters in the report are declared by you not to have such responsibility.

Madam SPEAKER: If, in fact, the question can be tied to the report, it is totally in order. The matter that was questioned was about something that was outside the report. That was the basis of the ruling, I say to the member. So perhaps the member would like to recast her question so that it is within the Standing Orders.

Heather Roy: On the question of Taito Phillip Field’s impropriety as discussed in the Ingram report, is the Prime Minister aware of Mr Field’s key role in the election to the Manukau City Council of the Labour ticket, including the election of his close associate Mr James Papali’i, who is today before the courts on 14 counts of fraud and related charges arising from the operation of various trusts funded by the council, or does the Prime Minister not want to know what Mr Field has been up to in local body politics?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: No, because I do not follow every local body campaign closely. I can say, however, that if there is to be guilt by association, then presumably ACT accepts it on behalf of Donna Awatere Huata.

Rodney Hide: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I note with interest the Prime Minister’s reference to Donna Awatere Huata. Does that mean we can actually draw a strong inference in questioning the Prime Minister that Taito Phillip Field’s behaviour was equivalent to her behaviour? The ACT party actually took responsibility and made sure that Donna Awatere Huata left Parliament, faced the courts of New Zealand, and, indeed, served time in jail—if that is the standard that Helen Clark aspires to, why is it not operating on Taito Phillip Field?

Madam SPEAKER: That is not a point of order.

Jeanette Fitzsimons: Are we to take it from the Prime Minister’s statements made today and previously that there are no consequences for one of her MPs who appears to have employed people at well below the legal minimum wage while using his position as an MP to advocate for those people; if so, what effect does she think that will have on the credibility of this House with the public?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: The consequence for Mr Field in this place is that he is no longer a Minister. If there are any further consequences people should refer them to appropriate inquiries.

Rodney Hide: Is it of no concern to the Prime Minister that one of her Ministers was, while a Minister, the effective chairman—in practice though not in name—of the Labour ticket in the Manukau City Council elections that saw a fraudster elected to office; if that is not of concern—

Hon Dr Michael Cullen: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. As far as I remember, the charges have been laid in the court. It is not for this House suddenly to find a person guilty before the trial has even occurred.

Madam SPEAKER: Would the member like to recast his question in more parliamentary language, please.

Rodney Hide: Is it not of concern to the Prime Minister that one of her Ministers was involved as chairman, in practice if not in name, of a ticket that saw elected to office a man who is before the courts for fraud—actually for defrauding the trusts funded by the council—and if that is not of concern to the Prime Minister, what standard does she set for her ministry?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I am sure it is of concern to any party when individual members let it down. The ACT party knows that as acutely as any, and I note on the National front bench there is one member convicted of contempt of court and another of using unreasonable force—they are still on the front bench of the National Party.

Rodney Hide: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I ask you how that answer can possibly be in order. The Prime Minister has no responsibility for the ACT party caucus—as good as it is and as large as it is. She has no responsibility for the National Party and its internal discipline. We are asking about her standard as Prime Minister for her Cabinet Ministers, for which she is directly responsible and about which she is ducking, diving, and weaving. If a Prime Minister is not to be held to account for the behaviour of one of her Ministers, then why have question time?

Madam SPEAKER: I remind members that points of order should be made succinctly and to the point. Speeches should not be given. The Prime Minister did address the question.

Schools—Mainstreaming

2. MOANA MACKEY (Labour) to the Minister of Education: What recent reports, if any, has he received on mainstreaming in New Zealand schools?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY (Minister of Education): I have received a report that states that the Education Act 1989 ensures that all young people with disabilities and special needs have “the same rights to enrol and receive education in state schools as people who do not”. The National Government supported this policy through the 1990s, parents support this policy because they want choice for their children, and the Labour-led Government has supported special-education policy through a 50 percent increase in funding for special needs since 1999.

Moana Mackey: What recent reports has the Minister seen on alternatives to mainstreaming in New Zealand schools?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: I have seen reports of a policy to “wind back the mainstreaming of children”.

The policy was launched, without consultation, at the National Party conference at the weekend. The Principals Federation responded with this comment: “Mainstreaming is working reasonably well, and National needs to reconsider any suggestion to scrap it. If National does intend to block the rights of some children to receive the same kind of education as everybody else just because they have a disability, they should have the courage to front up and say so now.”

Hon Bill English: Does the Minister intend to persist with a policy that may mean, for example, that a teacher who has to handle a knife-wielding child terrorising a classroom is told by the principal that nothing can be done about it and he or she just has to manage?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: I will not allow the member to weasel out of his criticism of mainstreaming, and now pretend that he was talking about severe behaviour problems in the classroom. It was mainstreaming that he said he would wind back. That means children with disabilities. Explain that to parents!

Hon Brian Donnelly: Does the Minister agree that mainstreaming is not necessarily the best approach for all special-needs children, and that some of the resistance to it was created by the misguided zealotry of some educational officials, in the early years of the Towards Inclusion policy, in insisting on under-resourced mainstreaming, or “main-dumbing” as it came to be known?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: I agree that during the early days of the 1990s—dark years they were—this policy was not well applied by the National Government. These days mainstreaming means a range of choices for young people. Resources do have to rise, and this Government has put in 50 percent more in the last 6 years.

Judy Turner: Is the Minister happy with current conditions for the provision of teacher-aide hours for severely disabled students in classrooms, as well as the conditions of employment for teacher-aides themselves?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: Once again, there has been a very significant rise in the amount of money going to teacher-aides. Any MP in the House would know that many years ago severely disabled students would have gone to schools with almost none; they now find a large number of aides in each of these classrooms. One of the things we want to do, though, along with the trade unions, is look at how to regularise their employment so that they are more stable and more secure.

Moana Mackey: What reports has the Minister seen on the views of parents of children in the education sector on mainstreaming?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: In 2004 the Ministry of Education ran an extensive consultation process that gave a wide range of new areas for action, and we will be funding them to the tune of something like $400 million in the year ahead. We are committed to mainstreaming in its various forms. In contrast, Bill English has said National will abandon mainstreaming. When the Parliamentary Library asked for the speech that contains that remark, Mr English’s office said there was not one. [Interruption]

Hon Dr Michael Cullen: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I think you know what the point of order is. The member opposite has been here long enough to control his anger and not to interrupt in a way that is outside Parliament’s Standing Orders.

Hon Bill English: This Minister has a habit, which he now picks up most days that he answers questions, of simply misrepresenting, and, in fact, often of not telling the truth. He says things are one way when they quite clearly are not. In this case he purported to represent a quote from me saying National had said it would abandon mainstreaming. He knows that that is a lie, but it has not prevented him from saying it in the House, and that is why there is disruption. If he tells the truth, then there will not be disruption.

Madam SPEAKER: But the member knows that that is not the way to address those issues—you do not call other members liars.

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: Speaking to the point of order, before the member withdraws, can I say there is one other way to clear the matter up. If we could have a copy of the speech, which no one can get hold of, that would actually give us the full text.

Madam SPEAKER: I ask the member to please withdraw and apologise for using that unparliamentary term.

Hon Bill English: I withdraw and apologise.

Dr Don Brash: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I seek your guidance. I understand that it is not parliamentary to accuse another member of lying, but when a Minister says something that is clearly untrue, are we obliged to sit and listen to that?

Hon Dr Michael Cullen: Yes, as we are obliged to listen to completely untrue assertions as part of questions.

Madam SPEAKER: It is well known that a member cannot say “lie” in this House. That is unparliamentary. The facility in use of the English language is such that most members know how to make their views known, and there are a variety of ways to do so under the Standing Orders. A point of order could be taken, as could a personal explanation, and there is always the general debate. [Interruption] The member did withdraw and apologise.

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: In answer to the question, we have run an extensive consultation process. We are funding this area of education to the tune of $400 million a year now. We are committed to mainstreaming. In contrast, Mr Bill English has signalled that the National Party wants to wind back its mainstreaming policy—that is abandoning it. What he needs to do is give us a copy of his speech, which even the Parliamentary Library has been denied, so that we can check on what he says he said.

Foreign Affairs, Minister—Confidence

3. GERRY BROWNLEE (Deputy Leader—National) to the Prime Minister: Does she have confidence in the Minister of Foreign Affairs; if so, why?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK (Prime Minister): Yes, because he is a hard-working and conscientious Minister.

Gerry Brownlee: Was it in New Zealand’s interests for our Minister of Foreign Affairs to interrupt mid-sentence the man who may well be the next President of the United States as he was outlining a case for better relations between New Zealand and the US, and, in particular, giving his advocacy for New Zealand getting a free-trade agreement?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: Senator McCain’s support for New Zealand is fantastic. We all heard it. Mr Peters was keen to get on with the meeting and hear more about it.

Gerry Brownlee: Can she assure the House, next time all the planets align and a senior US politician tells us we are allies and that he supports us getting a free-trade agreement, that she, Mr Mallard, or now, Mr Peters, will not inappropriately open their mouths or let their egos get in the way and put New Zealand on the back foot?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I very much welcome the strong support that Senator McCain has expressed for New Zealand, and I am pleased the Minister of Foreign Affairs’ visit was such a success that we got those expressions of support.

Gerry Brownlee: Can she confirm her call in her post-Cabinet press conference yesterday for Mr Peters and the media involved to repair their relationships “like mature adults.”; and can we take it that the Prime Minister shares the view of the vast majority of New Zealanders that her Minister of Foreign Affairs has behaved like anything but a mature adult?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: What I can confirm is that at the conference I called for a ceasefire of hostilities. If we would like to have one in the Middle East, it is fair enough to call for one here.

Peter Brown: Will the Prime Minister take this opportunity to outline to the House some of the many positive outcomes from the visit of the Minister of Foreign Affairs to Washington?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: The very positive outcome of the visit is that the New Zealand Minister of Foreign Affairs was received at the highest level of the foreign policy establishment in the United States of America. Further, the United States demonstrated a willingness to move further in the relationship with New Zealand than it ever did in 9 years of National Government. That is why National has tried to wreck the trip.

Keith Locke: When the Prime Minister talks about a ceasefire in the Israel-Lebanon conflict, is she calling for an unconditional ceasefire as some UN officials are pushing for, or a conditional ceasefire requiring, for example, the prior release of the captured Israeli soldiers as the United States is pushing for; if she requires any conditions prior to a ceasefire, how would she then justify the ongoing death and destruction that would ensue in both Israel and Lebanon?

Madam SPEAKER: The right honourable Prime Minister has had quite a long bow on that question, but—

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: There are a number of aspects to that question, but I want to say to the member that the New Zealand Government strongly supports the United Nations Secretary-General’s call for a ceasefire forthwith, so that the parties can get back to looking at some longer-term solutions to the problems in the Middle East. For a long time, New Zealand Governments have supported a two-State solution for Israel and Palestine, with both sides respecting each other’s security, boundaries, and right to exist.

Gerry Brownlee: Can she explain why, only minutes after she at her press conference called for Mr Peters to take a press secretary with him on important visits in the future, Mr Peters told her publicly to take a running jump, and can she confirm that Mr Peters’ relationship with her is now roughly on a par with that which he enjoys with the press gallery?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: Of course, Mr Peters said no such thing. He said he did not want to make the cost on the—

Gerry Brownlee: Rubbish! Come on!

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: Madam Speaker, every answer I have given has been interrupted in this way. I want to quote exactly what Mr Peters said—

Madam SPEAKER: Will the member please be seated. All members are entitled to hear the answers to questions, but it is becoming increasingly difficult for them to do so. I therefore ask members to please not make their interjections a barrage. The odd interjection is perfectly permitted, but other members and those who listen to Parliament are entitled to hear questions and answers.

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: The exact quote is: “I am not going to expand the cost when it is not required.” That is reasonable. The whole point about this is that the National Party has not been able to poison the trip. The trip was a great success, and the United States administration is moving on.

Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. We have now had three questions, and I assume this one is just about at its end. There has been a lot of interjection that you have pulled us up on, but the reason for it is the quality of the answers. I know that you do not arbitrate on that, but if Labour Ministers are to be reckless with the truth on almost every occasion, then where does that leave us? Obviously, it will leave us in a state of disarray and disruption.

Hon Dr Michael Cullen: We have had a plea on that position a number of times in recent years, with the National Party, via its deputy leader, threatening the Speaker and the order of the House. What the National Party, or what Mr Brownlee, is saying—it is a sort of top-of-the-stairs approach to life—is that if Mr Brownlee does not like the answer, then he and his colleagues deserve the right to behave in an unparliamentary fashion. Madam Speaker, you are the sole person to maintain order, not the National Party caucus.

Madam SPEAKER: I thank members for their contributions. That was not, of course, a point of order.

Immigration Service—Provision of Information to Minister

4. Dr the Hon LOCKWOOD SMITH (National—Rodney) to the Minister of Immigration: Does his department provide him with all relevant information prior to his making decisions and giving directions with regard to issuing visas as exceptions to policy?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE (Minister of Immigration): Decisions are made on the basis of the best available information at the time. The Minister of Immigration and his Associate Minister rely upon advice provided by the Department of Labour, information put forward by individuals, advocates, immigration advisers, and members of Parliament, and verification processes.

Dr the Hon Lockwood Smith: How does he explain the file note of Mr James Dalmer, the manager of the Apia branch of the New Zealand Immigration Service, which, as revealed by the Ingram report, records “knowledge of Thai cases—knows that Taito has had these people working for him—Damien knew that before he made the decision.”?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: As we have previously traversed in this House, matters pertaining to the Ingram inquiry do not fall within my jurisdiction as Minister of Immigration.

Dr the Hon Lockwood Smith: Has the Minister’s office been involved in a cover-up, when the Ingram report reveals that Mr James Dalmer, the manager of the Apia branch of the New Zealand Immigration Service, for which the Minister is responsible, emailed the immigration intelligence unit on 9 June asking: “The question I have is whether our Associate Minister was aware of the information we have received and all the circumstances involved regarding these Thai nationals when he apparently made these decisions following discussions with Hon Taito Phillip Field.”—an email sent prior to the Minister giving the special direction in the case of Mr Siriwan on 23 June 2005?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: This matter was traversed thoroughly in the Ingram inquiry. I repeat that the inquiry falls outside my jurisdiction, but I note that the Prime Minister has said that no such implication of foreknowledge was drawn by Mr Ingram in his report.

Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I ask you to consider the answer given by the Minister that the questions relate to matters that fall outside his jurisdiction. Is he the Minister of Immigration? Does he have that particular delegation, and if he does, why does he not have responsibility for things that have happened in that department, and why is he not responsible for advice that has flowed to his colleagues in that regard?

Hon Dr Michael Cullen: I listened to the Minister carefully. I think he clearly said that he is not the responsible Minister for the inquiry itself. Clearly matters that relate to the immigration portfolio and the administration of that portfolio do lie within the Minister’s competence, and questions on those matters are properly addressed to the Minister.

Madam SPEAKER: As I have ruled before, the Minister of Immigration is not responsible for the report but is, of course, responsible for matters relating to immigration.

Dr the Hon Lockwood Smith: Has the Minister’s office been involved in a cover-up, when the group manager for service international of the Department of Labour, Mr Tavita, telephoned the Minister’s office at 2.41 p.m. on 9 June 2005 to advise the Minister’s office of the information received from Mr Dalmer, the branch manager in Apia, prior to the Minister making his decision to issue a special directive in the case of Mr Siriwan on 23 June?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: While I repeat that I am not the responsible Minister for the report on the inquiry, I understand—[Interruption] Members opposite either want an answer or they do not.

Hon Member: We do want an answer.

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: Well, the members might want to listen, then.

Madam SPEAKER: Would the Minister please proceed.

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: I repeat, although I am not the Minister responsible for the Ingram inquiry report, I would note that the report draws the inference that the Minister at the time had no knowledge of the communications to which the member refers.

Dr the Hon Lockwood Smith: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. The Minister of Immigration is ultimately responsible for all decisions involving special directives. This question questioned the Minister about a special directive given on 23 June. I questioned the Minister about a call from an officer in the Department of Labour to the Minister’s office on 9 June prior to the Minister’s office making that special directive on 23 June. These are issues for which the Minister is directly accountable, and, much as he may not like it, he has to answer these issues.

Madam SPEAKER: The Minister is responsible, as I have ruled on several occasions, for matters relating to immigration. In terms of the last answer, he did in the second part address the question, though it may not have been a satisfactory answer from the member’s point of view.

Dr the Hon Lockwood Smith: Has the Minister’s office been involved in a cover-up when Mr Murray Gardiner, a compliance officer with the New Zealand Immigration Service for whom that Minister is responsible, served the removal order on Ms Phanngarm, Mr Siriwan’s partner, and emailed the Minister’s office with information on Mr Siriwan and Ms Phanngarm in Samoa on 27 May prior to the Minister’s decision to issue a special directive on 23 June; how does the Minister explain that if it is not a cover-up?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: I repeat that although I am not the Minister responsible for the Ingram inquiry report, ongoing matters do fall within my jurisdiction. The report concludes that the Minister had no knowledge of the matters to which the member refers, and further, the member’s question raises the issue of how far back in history current immigration Ministers should delve to investigate previous Ministers’ discretions. I warrant that there is a wealth of information on the other side.

Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I do not think there is any way you could conclude that that was a reasonable answer, given that the Minister was not asked to comment on the Ingram report, he was simply asked to comment on a chronology of events that happened in the office that he is responsible for, and that culminated in the Minister of Immigration making a decision in favour of a request from Mr Field, knowing that the person for whom the favour was granted was working for Mr Field.

Madam SPEAKER: Although the Minister started his answer with that preface, he did go on to address the substance of the question, although, as I said, it may not have been to the satisfaction of the member.

Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. With respect, he then went on to say that the report did not find as the questioner is suggesting. Quite apart from the fact that that is wrong, it is not an answer to the chronology of events that took place in the office he is responsible for.

Madam SPEAKER: It is not for the Speaker to say what is a right or wrong answer, it is whether the question was addressed.

Treaty of Waitangi—Legislation

5. PITA PARAONE (NZ First) to the Minister of Justice: Has he received any advice on the removal of references to the “principles of the Treaty of Waitangi” from legislation and the impact this may have on the relevance of the Treaty of Waitangi to New Zealand?

Hon MARK BURTON (Minister of Justice): Yes, I have received advice on the implications of the Principles of the Treaty of Waitangi Deletion Bill for current legislation.

Pita Paraone: Can the Minister confirm that removing references to the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi from legislation will not remove all references to the Treaty of Waitangi from legislation, as the principles and the Treaty itself are clearly different?

Hon MARK BURTON: Yes, it is my understanding that the assertion in the first part of the member’s question is correct. However, I cannot confirm that it would be without significant potential risk and negative impact on the relationship between many Māori and the Crown.

Pita Paraone: Can he confirm, then, that the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi and the Treaty itself are different, and that removing the undefined principles from legislation will not affect the Treaty of Waitangi and its relevance to New Zealand?

Simon Power: You can’t amend the bill during question time!

Hon MARK BURTON: Mr Power aspires to my job, but he has not got it yet. [Interruption] He will have a long wait. A lot of the Opposition members are aspiring, but they are growing old in their aspiration.

Madam SPEAKER: Could the Minister just address the question.

Pita Paraone: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I asked the question, but unfortunately I could not hear the answer.

Madam SPEAKER: I remind members—those asking the questions and those answering them—that if they just stuck to the questions and the answers and did not embroider them with any other comments, we would get through them more quickly.

Hon MARK BURTON: I apologise to the member for allowing myself to be distracted by members opposite. In answer to the member’s question, of course one draws from the other. He asks whether it is the case that the removal of references to the principles would have no effect. No, I cannot agree with that. Such a removal would amend several Treaty claim Acts, in effect affecting the apologies given, and I am afraid that that in turn would undermine the good-faith relationship between the Crown and those it settled with.

Te Ururoa Flavell: Tēnā koe, Madam Speaker; tēnā tātou katoa i Te Wiki o Te Reo Māori. Kua rongo ia mō ētahi kōrero pēnei i ērā i puta mai i te Minita Māori i te nūpepa i te rānei e kī nei, “Kāore te Wāhanga Māori i te whakaae ki te pire”, ā, he rerekē, he ōrite, he kōrero taupatupatu rānei ēnei kōrero ki aua mātāpono e pūtake mai ana i te Tiriti o Waitangi pēnei i te noho tahi, kia noho korekiko ai ngā nawe o te tangata whenua; ki te kore, he aha ai?

[An interpretation in English was given to the House.]

[Has he received any advice, as reported by the Minister of Māori Affairs in today’s newspaper, that “the Māori Caucus is not in favour of it”, and would he not think it inconsistent with the very principles embedded in Te Tiriti o Waitangi, such as partnership, if the concerns of the people of the land are ignored; if not, why not?]

Hon MARK BURTON: I am aware of the comments in the newspaper that the member refers to. I can say to the member that the comments of the Minister are not at any odds with the views of his colleagues. The Labour caucus will honour its undertaking under the confidence and supply agreement. That does not mean we will not engage in very full debate of the issues raised in the bill.

Foreign Affairs, Minister—Media

6. Hon MURRAY McCULLY (National—East Coast Bays) to the Minister of Foreign Affairs: Does he stand by his actions in interrupting Senator John McCain during media questions at last week’s meeting, and his subsequent description of media coverage as “a tissue of lies”?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Acting Minister of Foreign Affairs): Speaking as Acting Minister of Foreign Affairs, I believe this is a matter best dealt with between the Rt Hon Winston Peters and the media.

Hon Murray McCully: Does the Minister stand by the accusations in his press release of 19 July—the day of the McCain meeting—in which he asserted that the New Zealand media had “arrived late”, been guilty of “an unplanned intrusion”, then “proceeded to hijack the meeting” and had broken an agreement to ask only a couple of questions; if not, which of those accusations does he not now stand behind, and why?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: As I said, as Acting Minister I believe these are matters best dealt with between the Rt Hon Winston Peters and the media. I did watch Close Up last night, and, indeed, a couple of questions were mentioned before questioning began.

Hon Murray McCully: What specific lies was the Minister referring to when he called media coverage of the incident “a tissue of lies”?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I have always understood that a tissue is a kind of seamless web.

Hon Murray McCully: Does the Minister still stand by his statement of 17 November 2005: “We have to exhaust every potential there is to obtain an improved relationship with the United States.”; if so, can he explain how interrupting a senior senator—and potential United States President—in mid-sentence and overshadowing his visit with accusations that the media are retailing a tissue of lies would have contributed towards that objective?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: The matters referred to in the last part of the question appear to have had no impact upon the United States, at all.

Hon Murray McCully: Does the Minister still stand by his further statement of 17 November last year, in relation to his goal of improving New Zealand – US relations: “We have got to go into this with the best of optimism and using the best of our intelligence and see if we can effect a better outcome.”, and can he refer the House specifically to the displays of either optimism or intelligence on his part that were evident in Washington last week?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: What I can certainly refer to is the fact that Senator McCain—who has yet to confirm he is a candidate for the presidency, I noted in the interview relayed on Close Up last night; the National Party appears to be jumping the gun in this respect—said he placed no weight upon the problems that arose out of misunderstandings, and that discussions with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice had clearly resulted in New Zealand and the United States expressing a wish to move forward, which is something that did not happen under the National Government.

Hon Murray McCully: Can we conclude from last week’s tantrums in Washington that the Minister of Foreign Affairs has been taking media advice from the Minister of Finance, and that the journalists responsible for the alleged “tissue of lies” are secretly conspiring with the National Party in order to get a tax cut?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: If they are going to wait for a National Government for a tax cut, even Mr Espiner will have retired by that point.

Primary Health Care Strategy—Feedback

7. MARYAN STREET (Labour) to the Minister of Health: What reports has he received on support for the Government’s work to lower the cost of doctors’ visits and prescription drugs for all New Zealanders?

Hon PETE HODGSON (Minister of Health): I have received many reports stating that lower health costs have been warmly welcomed by New Zealand families. The National Party is, however, committed to raising costs back to where they were—that is, a policy to increase doctors’ fees by $27 and the cost of each prescription to increase by $12. That is current National Party policy—unless, of course, National is going to change its leader and change its policy.

Maryan Street: What work is under way to accelerate the implementation of the Government’s Primary Health Care Strategy?

Hon PETE HODGSON: On Friday I released a 5-year plan for primary health, focusing on the continued extension of affordable doctors’ visits and on population health. By contrast, at last weekend’s National Party conference Tony Ryall was the only member of the National front bench not allowed to give a policy speech. Why might that be?

Nathan Guy: Has the Minister seen any reports on how devastated the people are in Levin at today’s announcement that the Village Doctors practice is closing, leaving an extra 1,500 people in Horowhenua without a general practitioner—like Gisborne, Blenheim, Kapiti, Timaru—and why, after 7 years of a Labour Government, are doctors all over New Zealand in short supply, stressed out, and overworked?

Hon PETE HODGSON: The member might like to refer to a press statement made by the primary health organisation itself, that patients will be enrolled in a brand-new practice in Shannon as well as existing practices in Foxton and Levin. Things move quickly in health. He should try to keep up.

Elective Surgery—Demand

8. Hon TONY RYALL (National—Bay of Plenty) to the Minister of Health: Is he concerned about the Government’s ability to meet New Zealanders’ need for elective surgery; if not, why not?

Hon PETE HODGSON (Minister of Health): I have said many times that this Government is ambitious and assertive about the need for continuous improvement. For example, I have asked the Ministry of Health and the district health boards to work with clinicians in the college of surgeons, amongst others, to improve the efficiency of operating theatres and to lift elective surgery volumes. The ministry announced some detail today. That is another example of the Government being open and constructive with its policy approach, while the National Party refuses to confirm anything about its health policy—other than saying it is going to put up doctors’ fees.

Hon Tony Ryall: What sense of urgency is the Minister delivering in terms of the elective services crisis in New Zealand, when today his ministry and he announced a number of working parties on top of the addressing disincentives working party—including a new theatre efficiency working party, and plans for a working party on addressing acute demand—when New Zealanders have known about this situation for many years; why are we getting just another working party, when elective surgery would do the trick?

Hon PETE HODGSON: The member actually has not given us the complete list of working parties. This is a very busy space. We have still more than that, and the end result will be that we have a health system that produces more elective outcomes and results in more patients being seen in a timely way than has ever been the case, and I look forward to it.

Barbara Stewart: Does he acknowledge the steadily increasing gap between the health system’s capacity and the public’s expectations, and is any public discussion planned on the implications of this; if so, when will it occur?

Hon PETE HODGSON: Yes, just about every day in the paper. The capacity of our health system has increased markedly since the change of Government, and the Budget, the workforce, the number of new hospitals, and the provision of health care are all a good deal higher than they were 7 years ago. However, the member is also correct in that our society has expectations—as do, it appears, others around the world—such that one could argue there is no such thing as enough money for health.

Sue Moroney: What reports has he received on pressures on the public surgery system?

Hon PETE HODGSON: I have seen a report that migrants in this country are not putting undue pressure on public hospitals. That report goes on to criticise Tony Ryall and the National Party for their ignorance of health policy and their “Let’s kick a migrant.” attitude. That report is from a former National Party health Minister, Aussie Malcolm

Hon Tony Ryall: How will the health of 5,000 Canterbury residents be improved by their being culled from a hospital waiting list, on top of the 4,500 culled earlier this year; how will the health of those 5,000 Canterbury people benefit from their being culled off a waiting list?

Hon PETE HODGSON: The best answer is to say it is better for people to be seen by their general practitioner than by no one. I say to the member that if he has a copy of the advertisement, he should please read it or get someone to read it to him. He will see an openness and transparency in this system that is strange indeed to the National Party.

Hon Tony Ryall: Has any district health board notified the Government of its intention to reduce elective surgery this financial year; if so, which?

Hon PETE HODGSON: I am yet to complete my examination of all district annual plans, but, to my knowledge, none.

Hon Tony Ryall: Then how does the Minister explain the statement of intent of the Hawke’s Bay District Health Board that he tabled in the House last week, which clearly stated that in order to meet a funding shortfall the district health board intended to focus on reducing elective services?

Hon PETE HODGSON: I refer the member to, when he gets hold of it, the district annual plan of the Hawke’s Bay District Health Board. He may find himself needing to withdraw his remarks.

Dr Jonathan Coleman: Will the Minister admit that he is on target to deliver fewer elective operations—that is, fewer actual surgical procedures, rather than some mathematically concocted number—this year than 6 years ago, which means that New Zealanders will actually receive less elective surgery this year than when Labour took over?

Hon PETE HODGSON: No, I do not, nor do I think that repeating a lot something that is wrong makes it true.

Electricity Commission—Smart Meters

9. JEANETTE FITZSIMONS (Co-Leader—Green) to the Minister of Energy: Does he agree with the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment that small consumers and providers of demand-side energy management solutions are not adequately represented on the Electricity Commission’s advisory groups, and that the introduction of smart meters should be accelerated to give consumers more control over electricity costs; if so, what action is he planning to take?

Hon DAVID PARKER (Minister of Energy): The membership of these groups is under the control of the Electricity Commission, but I am aware that the chair of the commission believes that there should be consumer representation across all advisory groups and has invited consumer groups to make suitable nominations. On the issue of smart meters, I agree that they should be encouraged. One of the objectives of the New Zealand Energy Strategy is to identify key areas where we can improve energy efficiency, and I think smart meters are likely to play an increasing role.

Jeanette Fitzsimons: Does the Minister agree with the commissioner’s recommendation, also in this report, that more should be done to promote distributor generation; if so, when will the Ministry of Economic Development complete regulations to enable small-scale generation like micro-hydro, community-scale wind, and solar electricity to connect to the grid, as required by the 2004 Government policy statement on electricity governance?

Hon DAVID PARKER: I have spoken to the parliamentary commissioner about his report, and when he talks about micro-generation he actually includes demand-side management within the meaning of that term, which is a rather strange and extended definition of it. I agree with him that we do need to pay more attention to demand-side management, including smaller generation.

Shane Jones: Does the Minister agree with the parliamentary commissioner’s recommendation to develop an overarching policy framework for the energy sector?

Hon DAVID PARKER: Yes, I do, and I am pleased to say that that is exactly what the New Zealand Energy Strategy is being developed to do. It will put New Zealand firmly on the path to an energy system that supports economic development while being environmentally responsible.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: Is the Minister surprised at the damning comments from the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment over energy policy, when his Government has built a new oil-fired power station at Whirinaki, has supported its own State-owned enterprise building a new coal-fired power station in Whangarei, has blocked renewable energy projects like Project Aqua and Dobson, and has overseen increases in greenhouse gas emissions in the term of this Government that are three times that of Australia and four times that of the United States?

Hon DAVID PARKER: No, I do not agree with them when characterised in the way the member just did. I do accept that New Zealand needs to build more renewable power capacity. I would point out that the increase in outputs of thermal generation has not been caused so much by an increase in the number of thermal stations as it has by the greater efficiency with which those plants have been made available to the market—that is, they have been run more often.

Jeanette Fitzsimons: In view of widespread agreement that distributed generation should be encouraged, what action will the Minister take to address the concerns of electricity lines companies that if they build small-scale renewable generation—as the Act now allows them to do—they are allowed to sell it only through their competitors, the large generator retailers, and that if they were able to sell directly to consumers, many small renewable projects would become economic?

Hon DAVID PARKER: That is one issue that will be considered under the National Energy Strategy. But it is not an easy issue, because of the risk of allowing lines companies to be able to direct retailers that they will be able to shift costs and, effectively, subsidise those generation options out of the monopoly rents that they could extract from their lines businesses.

Electricity Costs—Senior Citizens

10. Hon Dr NICK SMITH (National—Nelson) to the Minister of Energy: Has he received any reports that the price of electricity is the thing most worrying Grey Power members throughout the country, as stated by the national president of Grey Power, Graham Stairmand?

Hon DAVID PARKER (Minister of Energy): I am aware of Grey Power’s concerns and accept that adequate and affordable heating is important for the elderly.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: Does the Minister agree with the statement made by Helen Clark to a Grey Power conference in April 1999 that superannuitants faced “a winter of misery” because of power price increases that were 3 percent, and what sort of winter is it for our elderly this year, who face power price increases of 10 percent?

Hon DAVID PARKER: I do agree with the comments the Prime Minister made then, which were made against the background of the slashing of the superannuation baseline for superannuitants.

Darren Hughes: Can the Minister tell the House what the Labour-led Government has done to assist low-income older people to meet their power bills?

Hon DAVID PARKER: The Government has restored the baseline for superannuitants that was cut by the previous Government, and has increased it further, pursuant to the confidence and supply agreement with New Zealand First this year. We have vastly increased the amount and eligibility criteria for the rates rebate scheme and have introduced a low fixed-charge option for those who use less that 8,000 kilowatts of electricity each year.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: How does he explain a 32.4 percent increase in power prices between 2000 and 2005, as compared with inflation over the same period of 12.5 percent and increases in power prices from 1995 to 2000 of 14 percent?

Hon DAVID PARKER: The main reason has been that Māui gas was running out. Until Māui gas ran out it was an artificial suppressant to the price of power, because the price of Māui gas, which set the market price of electricity, increased at half the rate of inflation. Because that gas was depleting, there was a need for more gas exploration to be done, and there was a need to encourage generation in electricity in all fields. Accordingly, it was necessary to remove price control from Māui gas, and that has been the cause of the price increases.

Peter Brown: Does the Minister accept it is distinctly feasible that the New Zealand First - Labour confidence and supply agreement item regarding the golden age card could, in fact, offer—

Gerry Brownlee: Where is the card?

Peter Brown: —distinct and significant power rebates when it comes to fruition later this year?

Ron Mark: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. You have consistently tried to encourage order in the House. You have in the past consistently dealt with members who break the Standing Orders and interject on a member while he or she is asking a question. From right beside you, the booming voice of Gerry Brownlee came through the House midway through Peter Brown’s question, and no censure was made. I ask you to deal with that.

Gerry Brownlee: Speaking to the point of order—

Madam SPEAKER: I do not need any assistance.

Gerry Brownlee: I was wrong.

Madam SPEAKER: Well, that is helpful.

Gerry Brownlee: I was wrong. I withdraw and apologise.

Madam SPEAKER: That is all right.

Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker.

Madam SPEAKER: Could I say something, please, Mr Brownlee? Thank you. I have been asking members, when both questions and answers are given, to respect the member who is speaking at that time. The odd interjection does not seem to me to impede the hearing of the question; it is a barrage that is offensive to everyone.

Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I think you need to let Mr Brown, who asked the question, know that asking a question about the non-appearance so far of the golden age card is not appropriate to the question on the sheet.

Madam SPEAKER: Well, it is quite wide of the mark—and we have had a couple of those today—but if the Minister would like to answer he should be very brief.

Hon DAVID PARKER: Conceivably it could, but I have no work programme to achieve that currently.

Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I am a little concerned now about our process, because that answer to a question may not have been heard. Are we to take it that the Government does not have the golden age card on its work programme for the foreseeable future?

Hon Dr Michael Cullen: No, the Minister of Energy gave a reply, and strangely enough the golden age card is not a ministerial responsibility of the Minister of Energy.

Madam SPEAKER: I think that that was in the realm of the hypothetical.

Ron Mark: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I seek clarification of the ruling you have just given. Are you now saying, contrary to the fact that in the past you have thrown members out of the House for interjecting on their own on a person who is asking a question, that the odd interjection during the asking of a question, as long as it is not part of a barrage, is acceptable? Is that a correct understanding of what you have said?

Madam SPEAKER: I have asked all parties—and the member may like to consult with New Zealand First’s whip—to get a discussion going at the Business Committee on how we can, in fact, get more order in the House. It is not the rigid enforcement of rules that is important; it is ensuring that both questions and answers can be heard.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: When we have a chorus as wide as Grey Power, the chambers of commerce, Business New Zealand, the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment, even Government sweetheart Colin James, and even the Government’s own power companies like Meridian Energy, Mighty River Power, and Genesis Energy all damning the Government’s energy policies, will the Minister accept that this area is just a shambles?

Hon DAVID PARKER: No, I will not. I also make the point, in relation to price increases, that some sectors have not actually had real price increases. Notably, the commercial and industrial tariffs have, in real terms, stayed about static. There has been quite a significant increase in residential prices, but that is not seen in the industrial and commercial tariffs in the market model.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: I seek the leave of the House to table the electricity price index from 1995 to 2005, showing an increase in power prices of 32.4 percent since Labour came to office.

Leave granted.

Social Welfare—Reports

11. JILL PETTIS (Labour) to the Minister for Social Development and Employment: What recent reports, if any, has he received recommending changes to the current welfare system?

Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE (Minister for Social Development and Employment): I have seen an extraordinary report that the Government should cease supporting sickness beneficiaries back into employment. I have seen also a report that controls on beneficiaries that are currently applied to some Australian Aboriginal communities should be introduced into New Zealand. These are the mad ideas of National’s welfare spokesperson, Judith Collins. Even she admits they are unacceptable to many in her own caucus, which is why National at present has no welfare policy, as is demonstrated by its weekend conference.

Jill Pettis: What other proposals has the Minister seen on changes to the welfare system?

Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: Despite unemployment dropping 22 percent in the last year to below 40,000 for the first time since 1982, I have seen a bizarre proposal to resurrect a make-work scheme at an estimated cost to the taxpayer of $103 million per year. Perhaps we can best sum up such proposals in Judith Collins’ own words: “… one of the challenges I’ve got … is actually trying to get our policy in a state so that we can actually sell it.” That is because as this Government gets more and more successful at getting people back into employment Judith Collins gets more and more extreme.

Te Ururoa Flavell: Tēnā koe Madam Speaker. He aha ngā whakarerekētanga kei te whakaaro a ia i runga i ngā kōrero i whakaputaina e te ripoata Tautikanga Ora i kī rā, e 61 ō-rau o ngā kaiwhiwhi penihana he tamariki ō rātau, he tino pōhara i te tau 2004, he tino rahi ake i te 41 ō-rau i te tau 2000; kai te whiwhita rānei tēnei Kāwanatanga i tēnei tū āhuatanga ka whakarērea te pani me te rawakore kia patua e ēnei kaupapa taurekareka.

[An interpretation in English was given to the House.]

[What changes will he be proposing to respond to the statistics as revealed in the living standards report that 61 percent of beneficiaries with children were in significant or severe hardship in 2004, a huge increase up from 41 percent in the year 2000; or is this Government prepared to stand by and continue to let our most vulnerable, the children of this nation, suffer from its policy of neglect?]

Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: This Government is not standing by and not supporting people in areas of need. I am pleased to inform the member that further detailed information will be released that contradicts those rather broad-brush statistics that he referred to.

Te Ururoa Flavell: He aha ngā whakarerekētanga kei te whakaaro a ia hei whakatika i ngā kaupapa toko i te ora i runga i te āhua kua piki ake te utu mō ngā koha pōhara mai i te 5 ki te 6 miriona taara ki te 11 miriona taara neke atu, ka noho rānei tēnei kāwana ka tukuna kia whara te hunga tino pōhara i ō rātou kaupapa whakaiti tangata?

[An interpretation in English was given to the House.]

[What changes will he be making to the welfare system to respond to the fact that hardship grants have blown out from around $5 million or $6 million, to over $11 million; or is this Government prepared to stand by and continue to let our most vulnerable, the impoverished, continue to suffer from its policy of neglect?]

Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: I do not need to remind the member of the extraordinary achievements of this Government in moving beneficiaries into work over the last period. I am sure he would agree that the likelihood of support for the less privileged in this community will certainly come from this side of the House rather than from those with whom he appears to align himself.

Taito Phillip Field—Ingram Report, Minimum Wage Legislation

12. Dr WAYNE MAPP (National—North Shore) to the Minister of Labour: Has she received any reports that the minimum wage legislation may not have been fully complied with in the activities covered by the Ingram report?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE (Minister of Immigration) on behalf of the Minister of Labour: No.

Dr Wayne Mapp: Maybe the Minister should do some reading. Does the Department of Labour plan to follow the suggestion of Dr Ingram, it being the “appropriately authorised authority”, to inquire whether the minimum wage regulations were breached, given that the Ingram report finds that Mr Field substantially underpaid Thai immigrants who were working to upgrade his numerous premises?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: I am advised that nothing in the Ingram report gives any concrete reason to believe that there are any issues around the minimum wage not being provided.

Dr Wayne Mapp: Can the Minister explain why the Department of Labour would not investigate breaches of New Zealand’s minimum wage laws in respect of work done at 51 Church Street, given Dr Ingram’s statement that he was “concerned by the unsatisfactory nature of the explanations provided” by Mr Field, and that Mr Field gave three different stories each of the three times he was questioned by Dr Ingram?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: The Minister is not responsible for the conduct of the inquiry. I am further advised that the department does not have jurisdiction to investigate the relationship between a principal and a contractor. As an example, New Zealanders engaging people to complete work on their houses, such as painters, do not normally enter into a direct employment relationship with the people providing the service.

Dr Wayne Mapp: Will the Minister ensure that the Department of Labour fully investigates breaches of employment law, given Dr Ingram’s finding that Mr Field’s story that his tenant would paint the interior of the house merely because she was a friend, as opposed to seeking immigration help from Mr Field, was a “highly unlikely, if not improbable, proposition.”?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: If any member has any evidence of an employment relationship in relation to this case, or breaches of the minimum wage, I would encourage them to provide this information to the department.

Dr Wayne Mapp: Does it now seem that the Minister does not even believe that breaches of the New Zealand law on minimum wages should be investigated, if it is the case that they involve a Labour member of Parliament?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: That suggestion is unworthy. I am advised that if the member has any information to put before the department or the Minister of Labour, it will be fully investigated. That member might be better off spending his time on marshalling evidence, rather than trying to drive down the minimum wage with a spurious bill that gives employers the right to fire within 90 days.

ENDS

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