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Questions and Answers - Wednesday, 26 July 2006

Questions and Answers - Wednesday, 26 July 2006

Questions to Ministers

Taito Phillip Field—Ingram Report

1. Dr DON BRASH (Leader of the Opposition) to the Prime Minister: What steps has she taken to satisfy herself about the actions of members of her executive named in the Ingram report?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK (Prime Minister): I have read the report. I have discussed the matter with those concerned.

Dr Don Brash: What has the Prime Minister done to clarify the “real uncertainly” identified by Dr Ingram as to exactly when the then Associate Minister of Immigration, Damien O’Connor, knew that the Thai national on whose behalf Taito Phillip Field was seeking a ministerial discretion was also working on Mr Field’s house in Samoa?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I have seen the report in which Dr Ingram sets out what he believes to have been the most likely sequence of events. I accept his judgment on that. I also accept his judgment that the decision made by Mr O’Connor may be regarded as a justifiable exercise of that broad, discretionary statutory power he had.

Dr Don Brash: Is the Prime Minister aware of the clear evidence presented by New Zealand Immigration Service officials, including an explicit file note and a telephone record, that Mr O’Connor knew that Mr Siriwan was working on Mr Field’s house in Samoa prior to his granting him a work permit; if not, why not?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I am aware of the report and I am aware of the evidence of the officials. I am also aware of the evidence of the private secretary and I am aware that she was clear that she was unaware of the information at the time Mr O’Connor made his decision.

Dr Don Brash: Why does the Prime Minister choose to ignore a phone log and a file note from the head of the Samoa office of the Immigration Service, both of which make it clear that Mr O’Connor knew that Mr Siriwan was working on Mr Field’s house 14 days before he granted the work permit, and instead accept the bland statements of Mr O’Connor, who told a newspaper yesterday that he could not remember when he was told?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: The member needs to read the report carefully, because Dr Ingram does not draw the inference that Mr O’Connor knew about that issue when he made the decision.

Dr Don Brash: What assurances has she sought from the Hon Paul Swain and the Hon Phil Goff regarding their visit to Mr Field’s house in Samoa, and has she asked them whether they discussed the status of the Thai national while they were at that house?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I discussed these matters with those Ministers back in September or October last year when the matters became public, and I am absolutely satisfied that neither of them knew the identity of anybody hanging around the house at the time. [Interruption]

Madam SPEAKER: I called Dr Don Brash, but in the barrage, of course, no one heard me. So would members please just keep the level down.

Dr Don Brash: Is the Prime Minister seriously asking this House to accept that Mr O’Connor exercised his discretion without knowing of Mr Field’s involvement, despite the clear evidence from the file note and the phone log that he did; that Mr Swain, the then Minister of Immigration, visited Mr Field’s house in Samoa and met the Thai nationals working on Mr Field’s house without realising whom he had met; and that Mr Field, who had gone to great lengths to get Mr Siriwan to Samoa, did not realise he was actually working on his house there—because that, effectively, is what she is asking the House to swallow?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I am advising the House to accept Dr Ingram’s conclusions, which do not bear out the smears of the Leader of the Opposition.

Rodney Hide: Has the Prime Minister ever asked Taito Phillip Field whether he was advocating to Ministers on behalf of illegal immigrants in return for favours; if not, why did she not ask him; if so, what was his response?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I, obviously, as leader of the Labour Party, have had contact with Mr Field on this matter over quite a long period of time, and I am satisfied that he did not make such requests.

Rodney Hide: In relation to the Ingram report, was the Prime Minister concerned to learn that the honourable Taito Phillip Field was writing as a member of Parliament to advocate that people vote for the Labour ticket, including for a man whom Mr Field knew was to go up on fraud charges and, indeed, that Mr Phillip Field was using parliamentary resources in order to do so—was that par for the course for Labour MPs?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I would be very surprised if Labour members of Parliament were not supporting Labour candidates in their area. Of course, from time to time candidates of political parties do let their parties down, like the ACT candidate who posed as a paraplegic to collect money and kept a lot of it for himself.

Rodney Hide: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. It may be that the Prime Minister chose not to address my question, but my concern was actually the use of parliamentary resources. Am I to take it that the Prime Minister has no objection to Labour MPs using parliamentary resources to advocate in a local government election on behalf of a Labour ticket, just as she did with her $400,000 pledge card?

Madam SPEAKER: There is no ministerial responsibility for that matter.

Industry—Training Programmes

2. Hon MARIAN HOBBS (Labour—Wellington Central) to the Minister for Tertiary Education: What reports, if any, has he received on the Government’s industry training programmes?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Minister for Tertiary Education): I am pleased to say that today I was able to congratulate in person the 2,000th Modern Apprentice to have completed training, Mr Simon Jervis. Also, I have received an independent evaluation of the Modern Apprenticeships scheme. It shows that the scheme has had outstanding success in encouraging employers to hire and train more young people in the trades.

Hon Marian Hobbs: What reports has the Minister received of employer attitudes towards the Modern Apprenticeships scheme?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: The report I released today shows that the Modern Apprenticeships scheme is an outstanding success with employers. Ninety-five percent of employers of Modern Apprentices would recommend the programme to young staff. Ninety-four percent of employees would recommend the programme to other potential employees and employers.

Hon Bill English: Is the Minister aware that, as far as anyone can calculate it, the dropout rate for apprentices over the age of 20 in that scheme is about 70 percent; and why does he continue to refuse to release the figures that will show us the dropout rate for apprentices under the age of 20?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I agree with the member that some difficulties exist with some of the data being collected.

Hon Bill English: You don’t like the numbers!

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: But of course if he jeers at that I will not give him any more of an answer.

Hon Brian Donnelly: Does the Minister believe that lifting the proportion of women in Modern Apprenticeships from 7 percent to 8 percent is consistent with the requirement under section 17 of the Modern Apprenticeship Training Act to have particular regard to the employment needs of women?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I think moving from 7 percent to 8 percent might be regarded as an extreme form of Fabian socialism. We hope to do considerably better over the coming period of time, particularly as we extend the Modern Apprenticeships scheme to areas with a much larger concentration of young women who are available for training.

Taxation—Business Tax Review

3. JOHN KEY (National—Helensville) to the Minister of Finance: Does he stand by the comment he made last December when announcing the business tax review that “we envisage some very bold measures emerging. It will not be a matter of tinkering with the tax rules”; if so, can he confirm that the measures released in the review are in fact “very bold” and not at all a matter of tinkering?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Minister of Finance): The answer is yes and yes. I said also that some may prove to be “too big and too bold for a wide variety of stakeholders, including officials”. The business tax proposals are certainly much bolder than those proposed by National last year, which merely proposed to lower the rate by 3c with no other moves.

John Key: Has the Minister seen the opinion of numerous tax experts who think the report is superficial and timid, including Mike Shaw, a senior tax partner at Deloitte, who said: “I would have thought on a scale of 1 to 10 it was probably about a 2 or 3 mark.”;

in which case, is the Minister himself surprised that it took 7 months to produce such a lightweight document?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: That member is the last member to talk about being lightweight on matters of this sort. I am not surprised. It is my experience that whenever we spend more money on anything or reduce tax anywhere, everybody always asks for more. The problem that that member has not understood is that one cannot give more to everybody on everything people ask for.

Shane Jones: Has the Minister seen any reports expressing disappointment that the report expressly excludes consideration of a payroll tax?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Yes, I have seen a number of reports that seem to suggest great disappointment that a payroll tax was not included. Most of those reports seem to come from Mr Key.

R Doug Woolerton: Does the Minister agree that the proposals aimed at incentivising research and development and exports, which are endorsed by New Zealand First, are of vital importance in improving our competitiveness with Australia, and consistent with the policy programme within the confidence and supply agreement?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Yes, I do indeed. It is significant that much of the negative comment has come from so-called tax experts who are obsessed simply with the rate, not with other ways in which the tax system can help the economy grow.

John Key: How much money does the Minister think he can allocate to the business tax review and to any subsequent changes he might make to personal taxes, or is that a minor detail he has not yet bothered to calculate?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Only time will tell, but I would note that if we aligned all personal, company, and other rates to a top rate of 25 percent, which some people seem to think should have been in the document, the annual cost would be $4.3 billion.

John Key: How can he afford any of the changes proposed in the business tax review, let alone his late-night musings last night about personal taxes, when he still cannot confirm whether the changes he announced to personal tax thresholds in Budget 2005 will go ahead, and they would cost only $360 million?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: If the member bothered to read the Budget documentation, he would know there is a large difference between Inland Revenue Department and Treasury forecasts of revenue over the next couple of years. Secondly, if he cared to open the newspaper, he would notice that there was a certain degree of uncertainty in world affairs at the present time, which could impact on New Zealand’s economy. Thirdly, of course, my colleagues will have to show some restraint about future spending proposals, if we are to achieve anything in the taxation area. Unlike Mr Key, I do not get up and say that we can do everything that everybody wants and it is all just easy.

Shane Jones: What support has he received for the proposals?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I have indeed received some support. In particular, I was very pleased to see very positive feedback—though it did not seem to be widely reported—from Mark Weldon of the New Zealand Exchange, whom Mr Key was reported as trying to get into Parliament on the National ticket. He commended the focus on productivity and investment.

John Key: Did he find his road to Damascus experience last night on Television One’s Close Up programme, when he argued the merits and affordability of tax cuts, as bizarre as the viewers did, his having spent the entire election campaign doing the complete opposite?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: What I did say in the election campaign was that $2.3 billion of tax cuts on 1 April this year would have had to be paid for by cuts in health, education, and superannuation. The National Government in 1999 cut taxes by a small amount and cut New Zealand superannuation to pay for it. Mr Key wants the elderly to pay for a tax cut for him.

Peter Brown: Is it not true that in the confidence and supply agreement that the Government has with both United Future and New Zealand First there is a commitment to look at levels of taxation—to some degree, at least?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Indeed, that was a condition of the confidence and supply agreements of both New Zealand First and United Future. I worked in great partnership with the leader of United Future, the Hon Peter Dunne, on the report that we released yesterday. I repeat that it goes much further than National’s policy on corporate taxation, because it goes about three times as far, in dollar terms, as National’s policy does.

John Key: When he said last year that some of the options he was considering might prove to be “too big and too bold for a wide variety of stakeholders”, can he confirm that, sadly for him, the stakeholder who held that view turned out to be none other than his own Prime Minister; and is that not just further evidence that his days as Minister of Finance are over?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: No. I do wish Tony Ryall would stop waving his hand at me in that fashion—I could misinterpret it. There is no truth in that story, at all. The member has to stop making it up—lying in bed at night and not doing anything useful at all, but making up funny stories that appear to give him some pleasure.

Taxation—Business Tax Review

4. GORDON COPELAND (United Future) to the Minister of Revenue: What are the potential revenue implications of the business tax review?

Hon PETER DUNNE (Minister of Revenue): If all the measures that the Inland Revenue Department and Treasury have been able to cost were advanced, the costs could be up to $1.7 billion per annum, of which $540 million would be the cost of the company tax rate reduction to 30 percent. The adoption of uncosted items that were contained in the package would further increase the cost to around the $2 billion figure that I released yesterday.

Gordon Copeland: Why is a business tax review happening now, when the Minister of Finance stated before the last election that any reduction in the company tax rate would be a low priority during this parliamentary term?

Hon PETER DUNNE: The major reason for the business tax review having been undertaken, and for the ongoing work around it, was that it was a high priority in the confidence and supply agreement between the Labour-led Government and United Future.

Craig Foss: Was the Minister reported correctly in the Trans Tasman of February 2006 where, regarding tax reform, he stated: “There is little point in seeking quick-fix answers or in fiddling around just lowering the corporate tax rate from 33 cents to 30 cents to match the Australian rate” and that he is “thinking in terms of much deeper cuts”; if the report is correct, what has changed between the bold February report and the fiddling around of the business tax review?

Hon PETER DUNNE: I remind the member that the changes foreshadowed yesterday in their totality amount to the biggest review of business tax arrangements in this country since 1988. I regard that as bold.

Gordon Copeland: What implications could the business tax review have for personal income tax rates?

Hon PETER DUNNE: As the report yesterday indicated, any move to lower the company tax rate has an obvious implication for personal tax rates. But as the report also indicated, this is a review of business tax arrangements. Those implications will be considered at the time that decisions are made about the nature of any changes to business taxes.

Gordon Copeland: What is the next stage of the review process from here?

Hon PETER DUNNE: The document is currently the subject of public consultation and is available for submission until 8 September. In that context, I note that I wrote to Dr Brash and Mr Key before December last year to invite their participation in the review, and am still awaiting a reply. Those people who wish to make submissions can do so by either going to policy.webmaster@ird.govt.nz and marking their submission “business tax review” or writing to the deputy commissioner, policy advice division, Inland Revenue Department, PO Box 2198, Wellington, with their submissions. Decisions will then be made, probably early next year, once we know the revenue track and the forward forecasts on the matters contained in the document yesterday and any associated issues.

Overstayer—Refugee Status and Work Permit Refusal

5. Dr the Hon LOCKWOOD SMITH (National—Rodney) to the Minister of Immigration: Can he confirm that Thai overstayer, Mr Sunan Siriwan, was not only declined refugee status on 19 February 2002 but was declined a work permit by the Associate Minister’s office on 21 October 2004 and again on 15 March 2005; if so, why?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE (Minister of Immigration): Yes, I can confirm that Mr Sunan Siriwan was declined refugee status on 19 February 2002 and was declined a work permit by the Associate Minister on 21 October 2004 and on 15 March 2005, as the Associate Minister declined to intervene in both instances.

Dr the Hon Lockwood Smith: Is it correct that Mary Anne Thompson, the Department of Labour workforce deputy secretary, told the Ingram inquiry that had the application by Mr Siriwan for a work visa been made, not to the Associate Minister but to the New Zealand Immigration Service, “the application would have been unsuccessful”; if so, why would it have been unsuccessful?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: I cannot confirm what was in the minds of particular officials at particular times, but I can confirm that ministerial discretion exists on the basis of statute, precisely because every case differs and Ministers are entitled to rely upon the information that is put before them.

Dianne Yates: Could the Minister please explain the basis for ministerial discretion in difficult immigration cases?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: Ministerial discretion exists—

Hon Dr Nick Smith: What was difficult about this case?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. These are sensitive matters and I think it would assist the House if answers could be given.

Madam SPEAKER: Order, please. Everyone wishes to hear what the members have to say, both in questions and in answers.

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: Ministerial discretion exists because not all circumstances can be foreseen when policy is written. Members on all sides of the House accept this when they put forward representations for the exercise of ministerial discretion. For example, I note that the member for North Shore and the member for Pakuranga, by their own admission, have both made significant numbers of such representations to the Associate Minister.

Dr the Hon Lockwood Smith: What persuaded the Minister to change his mind to issue a special direction for work visas for Mr Siriwan and Ms Phanngarm after his two meetings with Taito Phillip Field in March and May 2005 when his department was advising so strongly against it?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: It is my understanding, based on the information I have seen, that the then Associate Minister took into account a range of factors including the presence of a child who was a New Zealand citizen, a relative shortage in the labour market, and a number of other factors. What is important is that Mr Ingram QC concludes in paragraph 179: “I consider that the decision by Mr O’Connor may be regarded as a justifiable exercise of that broad discretionary statutory power.”

Dr the Hon Lockwood Smith: Does he still claim that the New Zealand Immigration Service, in providing the Minister with information to assist his decision on whether to issue a special direction for a work visa for Mr Siriwan on 16 June 2005, failed to mention to the Minister that they were aware Mr Siriwan was working on a house owned by Taito Phillip Field in Samoa; and if so, how does he explain that failure by his department?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: The Ingram report concluded that the department attempted to ensure that Mr O’Connor was in receipt of relevant information from Samoa about Mr Field’s relationship with Mr Siriwan. It also concluded that it is likely that Mr O’Connor himself received this information only after he had made his decision to intervene.

Dr the Hon Lockwood Smith: I repeat my question to the Minister: how does he explain why his department failed to pass on to the Minister the information it was in possession of, which was that Mr Siriwan was working on a house owned by Taito Phillip Field in Samoa prior to the Minister making a decision for a special direction?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: Mr O’Connor believed that the department would consider all new information in deciding whether to actually grant the visa. At the time, the department believed that when the Associate Minister made his 17 June decision he had received the information, and understood that it had been transmitted to his office. The inquiry accepts that the most likely scenario is that he had not received it.

Dr the Hon Lockwood Smith: Does the Minister expect this House to believe that his department, which on multiple occasions had advised against a visa or work permit being issued for Mr Siriwan and was aware beyond doubt that Mr Siriwan was working on Mr Field’s house in Samoa, just failed to mention that highly relevant fact to the Minister when it briefed him prior to his decision to issue a special direction on 17 June 2005?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: It is not for members of this House to second-guess the findings of the inquiry. The inquiry concludes that the most likely scenario is that the Minister, as per his testimony, did not receive that information until after he had made the decision. The department also advises me that it decided in April this year that its processes for attempting to advise the Associate Minister of these matters in this case should be strengthened. Accordingly, I am advised that the Secretary of Labour has directed the department to ensure that it can in future demonstrate that decision makers have access to all relevant information.

Dr the Hon Lockwood Smith: When Mr O’Connor told the Ingram inquiry that had he known that Mr Siriwan was working for Mr Field and staying in his house in Samoa he would have “absolutely rejected” Mr Field’s advocacy for Mr Siriwan to be granted a 2-year work permit, why did the Minister, when he knew beyond doubt of those facts within 5 days of the special direction being made, not revoke it?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: I am advised that Mr O’Connor believed that the new information would be taken into account in the department’s processes and that no visa would be issued.

Dr the Hon Lockwood Smith: Within 5 days.

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: Yes, within 5 days. However, once he realised that this was not the case, he acted to reverse his decision. So on 19 September a warning flag was issued in the system. Mr Siriwan has never lodged a visa application and, to this day, remains outside New Zealand.

Hon Peter Dunne: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. Some weeks ago I raised with you the issue of Speaker’s ruling 150/1 by Mr Speaker Tapsell regarding interjections being out of order during question time. I understand that you have subsequently canvassed this matter with the Business Committee, but today’s behaviour suggests there has not been any great improvement and I now request you to enforce that Speaker’s ruling.

Madam SPEAKER: I thank the member, and I will take time to consider the matter. It is a serious one, and I suggest that perhaps all members would also like to reacquaint themselves with that Speaker’s ruling. I thank the member for drawing it to my attention, and I will get back to the House with a ruling.

Treaty of Waitangi—Principles

6. R DOUG WOOLERTON (NZ First) to the Minister of Justice: What reports has he received on the different versions and interpretations contained in documents, publications, and other information campaigns that have attempted to define the “principles of the Treaty of Waitangi”, and can he advise the House what the Government’s definition of the “principles of the Treaty of Waitangi” is?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Leader of the House) on behalf of the Minister of Justice: Many. In 1989 the Government released five principles by which it would act when dealing with issues that arise from the Treaty of Waitangi, and I will be quite happy to table that particular document again, because no Government since that point has actually rejected or amended it. In relation to references in legislation, those, of course, are matters for the courts to interpret, but, to give greater clarity, this Government has adopted the practice of giving a greater degree of definition, of specificity, to those references in order that such interpretation does not occur simply in the abstract.

R Doug Woolerton: Is he aware that when asked what the Government’s definition of the principles were in 2002, the Prime Minister stated: “I am not aware of an official Government statement on the principles of the treaty.”; and what has changed between then and now that has enabled him to provide a definitive answer on behalf of the Government?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: It is flattering to note that I gave a definitive answer in relation to that principal question. In fact, I have references to correspondence issued by the Prime Minister where she makes reference to that 1989 statement.

R Doug Woolerton: Is he aware that in 2002, when asked to define the principles, the Prime Minister stated that the principles had “preoccupied the courts, the legal profession, Maoridom, and the Government for many years. This process is clearly an ongoing matter.”, but declined to define them, and does he not realise that this lack of definition has come at a huge cost to this country, both fiscally and socially?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: That, I think, was in the context of the interpretation of legislation. That still remains a matter for the courts, and one reason it is left in that form is that the interpretation is not necessarily fixed through all time in all circumstances. Because the nature of society changes, the nature of the relevant framework changes. That is also a reason why this Government has adopted the process of giving greater clarity to any such references, so that it is not a purely abstract consideration. I seek leave to table the 1989 document.

Leave granted.

Taito Phillip Field—Ingram Report

7. Dr WAYNE MAPP (National—North Shore) to the Minister of Labour: Has the Department of Labour undertaken a full review of the Ingram report to determine if it should investigate whether or not Taito Phillip Field has breached New Zealand employment laws; if not, why not?

Hon RUTH DYSON (Minister of Labour): I am advised that the department has studied the report and found no evidence that an employment relationship existed in this case, and therefore there was no evidence of a breach of employment law. I want to thank the member for drawing the attention of the House to the fact that New Zealand does not have any legislative protection for people who may contract not in their own best interests, that is, contract below market rates, which was the point made in the Ingram report, rather than below minimum wage. I look forward to the support of the National Party should such legislative protection be introduced to this House in the future.

Dr Wayne Mapp: Given that the Department of Labour has investigated this issue and decided it was an independent contractor relationship, will the department release its report so it is clear on what basis it came to that conclusion?

Hon RUTH DYSON: The member may wish to familiarise himself with the provisions of the Official Information Act and make use of them.

Darien Fenton: What reports, if any, has the Minister received concerning entitlements under New Zealand employment law?

Hon RUTH DYSON: I have received a number of reports, some of which note suggestions that we abandon entitlements to any minimum wage, as well as minimum holiday entitlements, parental leave, and the moves to close the gender pay and employment gap. These are suggestions expressed by Dr Don Brash. I have also—

Madam SPEAKER: I am sorry, I cannot hear the member. Would members please keep their interventions lower.

Hon RUTH DYSON: I have received a number of reports, some of which note suggestions that we abandon entitlements to the minimum wage, as well as minimum holiday entitlements, parental leave, and our moves to close the gender pay and employment gap. These are suggestions expressed by Dr Don Brash. I have also seen reports that Dr Mapp, who asked the primary question, wants the right to fire people with no reason for the first 90 days of getting a job. There is a rich irony in his question.

Dr Wayne Mapp: Did the Department of Labour ask Mr Field to supply copies of all invoices for the work done, including GST records, for the people who undertook the work; if not, why not?

Hon RUTH DYSON: I understand that those questions are outlined by the member in a letter directly to the Secretary of Labour who, I am sure, will reply in a timely fashion.

Dr Wayne Mapp: Have Department of Labour inspectors, who have the powers under the Act, already interviewed Mr Field to determine whether there truly was an independent contractor relationship, or was it just an employment relationship dressed up as such, and what records have they already sought from him?

Hon RUTH DYSON: As I indicated in the answer to the primary question, no information at all contained in the Ingram report raises concerns about an employment relationship. If anyone, including the 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 that evidence to the department.

Dr Wayne Mapp: I ask the Minister again whether any labour department inspector interviewed Mr Field, asked for any records, or checked with all parties as to what the truth of the situation actually is, or did they simply look at the Ingram report?

Hon RUTH DYSON: As I understand from the review that the department has taken I assume that it would take the evidence as outlined in the Ingram report rather than speculation from Dr Mapp.

Dr Wayne Mapp: Is the Minister aware that Professor Hodge, one of New Zealand’s leading employment law experts, says that any employment contract made in New Zealand must comply with New Zealand law, and that means a much greater minimum rate than the $111 per week that Mr Field paid Mr Siriwan in Samoa?

Hon RUTH DYSON: I would certainly hope that Professor Hodge would acknowledge that any employment contract under New Zealand law would have to comply with New Zealand law. But I would add that I am sure if Professor Hodge was asked, he would also acknowledge that we have no legislative protection for contractual arrangements.

Minerals—Importation from Non-self-governing Territories

8. METIRIA TUREI (Green) to the Minister of Trade: What is the Government’s position, if any, on importing minerals from non-selfgoverning territories where these minerals have been taken without regard to the wishes and interests of the people in those territories?

Hon PHIL GOFF (Minister of Trade): Any company importing any product to New Zealand needs to do so in compliance with both domestic and international law, and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade advises that it has no evidence of any company acting contrary to this.

Metiria Turei: Is the Minister not aware that the vessel Bulk Sirius is currently in port at Tauranga bearing a cargo of phosphate fertiliser from Western Sahara; if so, does he have any concerns about New Zealand companies receiving minerals from non-selfgoverning territories under military occupation, as is happening at the moment?

Hon PHIL GOFF: I am aware of that fact, but I am advised that the New Zealand companies concerned are not in breach of either international or domestic law in importing phosphate from Morocco that may have been mined in Western Sahara. However, let me add that New Zealand has grave concerns about the political situation in Western Sahara and has strongly supported the UN processes and the peace plan designed to resolve the dispute between the Government of Morocco and the Saharawian people.

Metiria Turei: Does the Minister agree with Hans Corell, legal counsel to the United Nations, that it is contrary to the principles of international law to take minerals in disregard of the interests and wishes of the people in Western Sahara; if so, what evidence can he show the House and the people of New Zealand that it is in the interests of the people of Western Sahara to have their phosphate mined by a Moroccan State-owned company—the military occupiers—then exported to New Zealand?

Hon PHIL GOFF: I am aware of the opinion given by the UN Under-Secretary-General for Legal Affairs, Hans Corell, back in 2002 on the basis of the charter principle of recognising that the interests of the inhabitants of non-selfgoverning territories must be paramount. However, I am also advised that there are no legal grounds for banning the trade from Morocco. Indeed, to do so would be subject to a legal challenge from Morocco under international trade law.

Metiria Turei: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I specifically asked what evidence the Minister has that it is in the interests, and is the wish, of the people of Sahara to have their phosphate mined. I would like an answer to that question.

Madam SPEAKER: I thought the Minister addressed it, but if he wishes to add more he may do so.

Hon PHIL GOFF: I will add further. The member asked several questions and therefore she runs the risk of not having all of them answered. The answer is that I do not think anybody can say with any certainty what the local people in Western Sahara feel about the mining of phosphate resources. I certainly have no evidence about that. I am aware that the independence movement is opposed to that, but I am not aware of what the views of the ordinary people in Western Sahara may be, and how could I be?

Metiria Turei: Given that the Minister has said that he has no evidence that the people of Western Sahara have given their consent to having their phosphate mined by the military occupier, and hence this shipment is in breach of international law where there is no evidence of that consent, will he then stop New Zealand companies from receiving minerals stolen from a people under military occupation until there is proof and evidence that they have given their consent to the extraction of those minerals?

Hon PHIL GOFF: I have neither evidence that they have given their consent nor withheld their consent. But what I do know, and what I have advised the member several times now, is that the legal advice I have is that those shipments are not illegal under international law.

Keith Locke: What specifically is the New Zealand Government doing, following on from the Minister’s answer to the second supplementary question, to try to get Morocco to fulfil its promise made as far back as 1997 to allow a UN-sponsored self-determination process to take place to work out what the views of the people of Western Sahara really are on those matters and also on whether they want independence?

Hon PHIL GOFF: I regret to say that the member would have to address that question to the Minister of Foreign Affairs because it is within his portfolio area, but from general knowledge I can advise the member that New Zealand has steadfastly supported the procedures and the resolutions within the United Nations on a peace process coming to work in the Western Sahara area and people being given the chance to determine their future.

Metiria Turei: I seek leave to table two documents. The first is a Port of Tauranga vessels in port list, listing the Bulk Sirius, which is in port at present and is clearly from La’youn in Western Sahara.

Leave granted.

Metiria Turei: The second document is a letter dated 29 January 2002 from Hans Corell, legal counsel to the Security Council of the UN, clearly stating that if exploration and exploitation activities are to proceed in disregard of the interests and wishes of the people of Western Sahara, they are in violation of the principles of international law applicable to mineral resource activities in non-selfgoverning territories.

Leave granted.

Laboratory Services—Auckland Regional District Health Boards

9. Hon TONY RYALL (National—Bay of Plenty) to the Minister of Health: What reports has he received on the decision of the three Auckland regional district health boards to enter into a new contract for community laboratory services and what assurance can he give as to the future quality and continuity of those services in the region?

Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR (Acting Minister of Health): I have received reports that an Australian-based company has been chosen to take over from another Australian-based company for the provision of laboratory services and its contract in Auckland. I have also received assurances from the three district health boards that laboratory services will remain of a very high standard.

Hon Tony Ryall: What specific concerns have been raised with the Minister, and what has he done to investigate these concerns?

Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: I am aware there has been concern around the reduction in the number of collection points. However, Auckland currently has a higher ratio of laboratory collection points than any other city in the Western World and the view is that a reduction in number from 85 to 43 will in no way affect the service, or access to the service, in the Auckland area.

Hon Tony Ryall: When there is an international shortage of pathologists and laboratory technicians, what assurance can he give that there will be no disruption to community laboratory services in the region, and what happens if the new people cannot employ enough specialists?

Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: I have had an assurance that quality and standard of service will continue, and that the terms of the contract insist that those companies deliver that service on time when it is needed. Those are the basic components of any commercial contract, which members opposite should understand.

Hon Tony Ryall: Will the Minister give a categorical assurance that there will be no deterioration or decline in community laboratory services; if not, why not?

Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: I am aware there are some concerns around cervical screening and the laboratory testing of those samples. I can assure the House that the level of service in the Auckland area will remain. We are transferring the contract from one predominantly Australian-based company to another Australian-based company and I cannot understand how that party, which advocates for privatisation in the health sector, does not want to accept the realities of an open-market competitive tender process.

Peter Brown: Can the Minister confirm that the parent company in Australia is facing criminal charges at this point in time; if so, does he believe it is good business practice to transfer from one established organisation here to a company that has no staff and a parent company that is facing criminal charges?

Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: I am not aware of that charge. I am informed that the company is a credible partnership between professionals in New Zealand and an established company in Australia. I trust that the competitive tender process and the contract arrangements will secure services in the Auckland area.

Dr Jonathan Coleman: Has the Minister had concerns raised with him about potential conflicts of interest in the tender process and what has he done to satisfy himself that none exist?

Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: We are aware of the claims of conflict of interest. The one board member involved stood down for 6 months previous to this process and played no part in it. The National Party should full well understand the process when there is a potential conflict of interest. We are confident that that process has been upheld.

Dr Jonathan Coleman: Does the Minister accept that he bears the ultimate responsibility for ensuring there is no disruption to the provision of community laboratory services for the 1.3 million Aucklanders potentially affected by this change of service provider?

Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: I think Ministers full well understand that the ultimate responsibility for a public health system lies with the Minister. We uphold that responsibility with the utmost integrity and we are sure that this contract will continue to deliver services for the Auckland region.

Te Ihi Tū Trust—Violent Offenders Programme

10. TE URUROA FLAVELL (Māori Party—Waiariki) to the Minister of Corrections: He aha tā te Minita whakautu ki ngā kitenga i pānuitia i te Reo Irirangi o Waatea i tēnei wiki, e kii ana, ko te rōpū Te Ihi Tū o Taranaki, arā, he rōpū e whai ana i ngā tikanga me ngā mātāpono Māori, kua eke ki te whitu tekau mā toru ō-rau tōna angitu, hei karo i te hokinga tuarua, tuatoru, tuangahuru, aha rānei mō te hunga haratū whakawarawara?

[What response will the Minister make to the findings, reported on Radio Waatea this week, that Taranaki-based Te Ihi Tū Trust, which operates under tikanga Māori principles, is achieving a 73 percent success rate in its programme to prevent violent prisoners from reoffending?]

Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR (Minister of Corrections): I am delighted with the findings, and I am committed to furthering the success of rehabilitation programmes across the entire corrections system, as is the Associate Minister, the Hon Mita Ririnui. My department has advised me that it has confidence that the Te Ihi Tū programme is successful in reducing reoffending. There is currently an evaluation taking place to show evidence of that programme’s effectiveness.

Te Ururoa Flavell: He aha tana whakamārama mō te noho pāhikahika ā-pūtea o Te Ihi Tū, arā, ko te tekau mano taara ki ia tangata hara, engari ko te pūtea i ētahi atu whare ā-noho mō taua hunga, ko Montgomery House i Kirikiriroa ko te rua tekau mā rua mano taara kē, i Salisbury Tiriti i Ōtautahi, ko te rua tekau mano kē?

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

[What explanation can he give for the disproportionate allocation of funding for Te Ihi Tū Trust, at a cost of $13,000 per offender, when compared with the funding for the other two community residential centres for high-risk offenders—Montgomery House in Hamilton, at a cost of $22,000 per offender; and the Salisbury Street Foundation in Christchurch, at a cost of $23,000?]

Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: I am not familiar with the details of the contracts with those providers, but the Department of Corrections negotiates with a large number of providers to provide rehabilitation and reintegration services. If there are problems with those contracts, then I suggest those providers talk directly with—and I encourage them to do so—the department.

Hone Harawira: Kua rongo ia i ngā kōrero patipati o te Kaiwhakawā a Pateriki Toomey o te Poari Mauhere mō te taumata kua ekehia e Te Ihi Tū, he mahi kia pai te tūmanako me te pātai hoki “ he aha ngā mahi o tōna Tari kia whakatinanatia i ō rātou mahi rangatira i te mea torutoru noa iho ngā tāngata i tukuna atu ki taua kaupapa?

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

[Is he aware of the glowing testimony from Judge Patrick Toomey of the Parole Board, who has described the very successful outcomes of Te Ihi Tū Trust as “very encouraging”, and what efforts will the department make to respond to this testimony in addressing the low referral rates to the programme?]

Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: I applaud some of the initiatives that are taking place for community rehabilitation and reintegration. I have stated on a number of occasions that the Department of Corrections is now focused far more on rehabilitation and reintegration. We will work with more providers to ensure that the people who go through our system do not reoffend and come back in. Those providers that can show they are successful will be supported, and we will expand those programmes.

Martin Gallagher: Has the Minister seen any reports on the success of the department’s efforts in rehabilitation and reintegration?

Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: Yes. I have seen reports showing that prisoners who complete the Te Piriti programme have a reconviction rate of just 5.47 percent. I have also seen growing evidence that training for employment and education can reduce reoffending. That is why I and the department are committed to boosting employment hours from, currently, 2.9 million to 4.1 million, and lifting the number of New Zealand Qualifications Authority units attained from 4,800, currently, to 16,600.

Te Ururoa Flavell:He aha ngā kōrero kua kōrerohia me ngā iwi o Taranaki mō ngā whāinga arotau mō Te Ihi Tū, nā runga i tō rātou kore hiahia kia taea atu te hunga koeretanga, ki te kore, he aha ai?

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

[What consultation has been undertaken with Taranaki iwi on the eligibility criteria for Te Ihi Tū, in light of their consistent preference to preclude any offender with prior sexual offences from the programme; if there has not been any, why not?]

Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: I am aware that the programme struggled to fill the places early on. The criteria for eligibility for that have been changed. I am sure the Department of Corrections is happy to have ongoing discussions with the trust to expand the programme when it shows its success—as I am sure it will do, from the current evaluation taking place.

Legal Aid—Access to Justice

11. KATE WILKINSON (National) to the Minister of Justice: Does he have confidence that making legal aid available to an additional 435,000 New Zealanders will result in speedy and inexpensive access to justice; if so, why?

Hon RICK BARKER (Minister for Courts) on behalf of the Minister of Justice: Yes. The Legal Services Amendment Act 2006, which comes into effect on 1 March 2007, will lead to over a million New Zealanders being eligible for legal aid. The Legal Services Agency’s preparations are well advanced and will ensure that legal aid continues to be delivered efficiently and cost effectively.

Christopher Finlayson: If the Minister is confident about that, then why has he commissioned a survey to establish the demand for legal aid after increasing eligibility by 435,000 people but before establishing that there are sufficient lawyers prepared to undertake that legal aid work?

Hon RICK BARKER: The agency has conducted surveys before: once in 2004 and once in 2005. This is just part of an ongoing programme.

Christopher Finlayson: How can the Minister justify the statement made by the Legal Services Agency in the Auckland District Law Society’s Law News of 21 July 2006 that the agency is not aware of real supply problems generally for legal aid, when in Blenheim, for example, there are only two lawyers who are prepared to take one legal aid case a fortnight; how can that be speedy and inexpensive access to justice?

Hon RICK BARKER: The agency has conducted a number of surveys, and so far the surveys have shown that the requirement for legal aid services is currently being met.

Peter Brown: Noting that the expansion of legal aid is meant to be inexpensive, is the Minister able to tell the House how much the cost of providing legal aid to Ahmed Zaoui has been thus far?

Hon RICK BARKER: I have no figures with me on that matter.

Kate Wilkinson: How can he be confident in the legal aid system, when the Marlborough Women’s Refuge and Sexual Assault Resource Centre advised: “We find it almost impossible to obtain the services of a lawyer for clients who need protection orders as a matter of urgency and have been put in the position of having to assist clients to prepare their own applications”, or is this Government not serious about preventing family violence?

Hon RICK BARKER: This Government is taking the issue of family violence much more seriously than any prior Government. This Government has put more money into every agency responsible for reducing family violence. There are more police on the beat and more people in Child, Youth and Family, and we have put more resources everywhere one can think of. That member’s question is simply out of order.

Kate Wilkinson: How can he be confident in the legal aid system, when the Blenheim women’s refuge advised that due to a shortage of lawyers doing legal aid work: “If the respondent wishes to oppose the protection order, our client then has to speak on her own behalf in court. Many of our women find that too difficult to contemplate and simply withdraw from the process.”; do those difficulties explain why there is a reduction in the number of protection orders made, despite an increase in reported family violence?

Hon RICK BARKER: That does not explain the reduction in the number of protection orders. The member has raised a matter with which I am not familiar, and I will certainly investigate it.

Christopher Finlayson: I seek leave to table issue 27 of Law News from the Auckland District Law Society, dated 21 July 2006, which refers to the Legal Services Agency survey.

Madam SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection? There is objection.

Schools—Information and Communications Technology

12. MOANA MACKEY (Labour) to the Minister of Education: What is the Government doing to ensure information and communications technology is part of the learning environment in schools?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY (Minister of Education): Good news! Yesterday I launched the Government’s $65 million-a-year e-learning action plan. This is aimed at helping schools to make use of technology to tailor their teaching to the learning needs of students. To give just one example, yesterday we launched the “tablet” classroom at Brooklyn School. This involves students working on handheld computers, or tablets as they are called, and allows them to be directly involved in planning their learning. The e-learning plan also involves upgrading schools’ information and communications technology networks, providing laptops for teachers and access to the latest software.

Moana Mackey: What other support is the Government providing for innovation in schools through the use of information and communications technology?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: Since 2000 the Labour-led Government has invested more than $300 million in information and communications technology in schools. As a result, all children now have access to information and communications technology and the learning opportunities it offers. New investments funded in this year’s Budget include $812,000 to expand videoconferencing, $4.1 million to provide high-quality digital content for teachers and students, and $700,000 to help remote schools with satellite broadband. I did Google and surf the net in search of the National Party’s policy on information and communications technology, but just as was the case with regard to National’s speech from Bill English on mainstreaming, I was unable to find it.

ENDS

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