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Questions And Answers - Thursday, 27 July 2006

Questions And Answers - Thursday, 27 July 2006

Questions to Ministers

Taito Phillip Field—Work Permits

1. Dr the Hon LOCKWOOD SMITH (National—Rodney) to the Minister of Immigration: What did the Associate Minister’s office decide at the meeting with Taito Phillip Field on 17 May 2005 with respect to the issuing of work permits for Mr Sunan Siriwan and his partner, Ms Phanngarm?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE (Minister of Immigration): I am advised that no decisions were made with respect to those cases at that meeting.

Dr the Hon Lockwood Smith: Why did the Associate Minister’s office not act to correct Taito Phillip Field’s misrepresentation of the outcome of the meeting on 17 May when he wrote to the Minister the following day, stating: “As a result of my representations on behalf of Mr Siriwan, you have decided that you will consider favourably a 2-year work permit to allow him to re-enter New Zealand from Apia.”, if that decision was not made at that meeting on 17 May?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: I do not hold any information on that matter. But I would say that Ministers receive thousands of pieces of correspondence, and if that member would like me to trawl through his correspondence file to see whether he has responded to all of his, I would be very happy to do so.

Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. That member does not have a quiet voice. I have my head towards the receiver and I am having trouble hearing him. I am sure members opposite cannot hear him, at all. Madam Speaker, I was listening for a short time to the radio yesterday and had much difficulty in hearing members who were speaking.

Gerry Brownlee: Of all people.

Madam SPEAKER: I certainly could not—

Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. While I was on my feet for a point of order, Gerry Brownlee interjected. Normally that results in ejection from the Chamber.

Madam SPEAKER: I certainly could not hear the Minister’s answer, either. So I ask members to restrain themselves so that both those in the Chamber and those who are listening to proceedings can hear the questions and the answers.

Dr the Hon Lockwood Smith: Why did the Associate Minister’s office not act to correct Taito Phillip Field’s misrepresentation of the outcome of the meeting on 17 May when the following day he wrote to the Minister, stating: “You further decided that a special direction will be granted to cancel the 5-year penalty for his spouse.”, if that decision was not made at that meeting on 17 May 2005?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: I suggest the member reads the Ingram report, which states at paragraph 140 that “a direction was given by Mr O’Connor on 17 June 2005.”

Dr the Hon Lockwood Smith: Why did the Associate Minister’s office not act to correct Taito Phillip Field’s misrepresentation of the outcome of the meeting on 17 May 2005 when he wrote to the Minister the following day: “You further decided you would allow the reunification of this family in New Zealand by granting 2-year work permits for both Mr Siriwan and Ms Aumporn Phanngarm.”, if that decision was not made at the meeting on 17 May 2005?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: Further to paragraph 140 of the Ingram report, which states that a direction—

Hon Dr Nick Smith: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I have listened to the Minister’s answers very carefully. For the first three questions from my colleague Dr Lockwood Smith on this issue, he said he was not responsible for the Ingram report and refused to answer any questions on it. I am interested to hear that today he refuses to answer every question asked by my colleague Lockwood Smith and quotes a report that he told us earlier he was not responsible for. I simply ask you to get him to address the member’s question.

Madam SPEAKER: The Minister is addressing the question. Could he continue to give his answer, please.

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: Further to paragraph 140 of the Ingram report, which states—[Interruption] I am responsible, as I believe your rulings have clarified—

Madam SPEAKER: Order, please. It is impossible to hear the Minister. There is no point in him even attempting to address the question if no one can hear him. Would the Minister please continue.

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: The Minister of Immigration, as has been established, is responsible for the processes of immigration decision-making. The Minister is not responsible for the conduct of the Ingram report, but in this case the Ingram report has already answered the question raised by the member’s colleague. I suggest he reads it.

Dr the Hon Lockwood Smith: Is it correct that when Mrs Field went into the Apia branch of the New Zealand Immigration Service in Samoa on 8 June 2005, waving about her husband’s letter claiming the Associate Minister had made certain decisions, the manager of the Apia office emailed the immigration intelligence unit in Wellington and a senior Department of Labour official phoned the Minister’s office on the same day, passing on that information; if no decisions had been made at that critical meeting on 17 May, why did the Minister’s office not act on that information from Samoa?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: I believe we traversed yesterday that the Ingram report concludes the most likely scenario is that the Minister was not informed of the department’s concerns on 17 June when he made his decision. I remind all members that discretions are properly exercised by Ministers in favour of representations from all sides of the House on the basis of the best available information before them at the time.

Dr the Hon Lockwood Smith: When his department’s briefing notes, prepared on 16 June 2005, for the Minister to make his decision with respect to Mr Siriwan and Ms Phanngarm stated: “Normally the advice tendered in this case would be to maintain the Associate Minister’s non-intervention stance. However, if Mr Field’s account of his discussion with the Associate Minister is correct and accurate, the Minister may wish to intervene.”, can any other conclusion be drawn than the fact that Mr Field’s misrepresentation of the meeting on 17 May actually influenced improperly his department’s advice to the Associate Minister?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: I can conclude from the question that the member has misunderstood the word “if”.

Heather Roy: Has the Minister personally reviewed the file—including the correspondence with Taito Phillip Field—from Mr Sunan Siriwan and his partner, Ms Phanngarm; if not, why not, and if so, did he have any concerns regarding the management of this case?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: As Minister, I have—of course—considered carefully the Ingram report and I have looked at least at some documents in that file. But I repeat that it is not proper for a Minister to revisit the properly made discretions of former Ministers. Otherwise, how far back should one go?

Campylobacter—Poultry Contamination

2. SUE KEDGLEY (Green) to the Minister for Food Safety: Is she concerned that public health researchers estimate that contaminated chicken is likely to be causing at least 50,000 cases of campylobacter infection each year and more than 400 hospitalisations; if so, does she support their call to immediately switch to frozen poultry and seriously consider banning the sale of fresh chicken for human consumption?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Leader of the House) on behalf of the Minister for Food Safety: Yes. She has asked the New Zealand Food Safety Authority to provide her with information regarding action that is being taken—and it should be taken through the whole farm to supermarket to plate continuum—and she is expecting advice on that very soon.

Sue Kedgley: Why will the Government not recommend switching to frozen chicken, when all of the modelling shows that it would reduce tenfold to hundredfold campylobacter contamination of chicken, and how many more New Zealanders will have to become ill before the Government will take decisive action to reduce this entirely preventable epidemic?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: The Government is taking an evidence-based approach on this, and that is why the Minister has asked for advice on the range of actions that might be taken. It is important to note that people should not be left with the impression, as the member’s question might imply, that frozen chicken is automatically safe. Campylobacter survives freezing, which does not destroy all—[Interruption] It depends what one is doing with the frozen chicken, of course, Ms Bennett; in your case, I am not sure! In the case of frozen chicken, about 10 percent of campylobacter survives, and when the chicken unfreezes there are risks in terms of how to treat the fluids at that point.

Sue Kedgley: Does the Minister agree with scientists that the only way of getting rid of campylobacter in a kitchen is to disinfect everything with a chlorine bleach; if so, why is she allowing the Food Safety Authority to give false reassurance to the public by saying that washing one’s hands, boards, and utensils with soapy water will get rid of the bacteria?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I do not have evidence in front of me to suggest that chlorine bleach is the only way of approaching the matter. Of course, chlorine bleach presents its own health problems, if not handled correctly.

Sue Kedgley: Does she agree with the public health researcher Dr Nick Wilson that fresh chicken is literally dripping with campylobacter, that “everything it touches” can become cross-contaminated, and that blaming the public for not handling poultry properly is like blaming a consumer who finds half a mouse in a meat pie; why, therefore, does the Food Safety Authority continue to focus on blaming the epidemic on consumers, instead of reducing contamination at source, in the slaughterhouses of New Zealand, which, as its own research has found, are a major source of cross-contamination?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Clearly, there are serious risks here, which is why the advice is to handle chicken extremely carefully; obviously, people should follow that advice and follow through. But I repeat that the Minister has asked for full advice on the best way to treat this whole issue, and is not going to rush into action on the basis of one report.

Taito Phillip Field—Former Minister's Visit to Samoa

3. GERRY BROWNLEE (Deputy Leader—National) to the Minister of Immigration: Why did the former Minister of Immigration visit the house of Taito Phillip Field in Samoa on 18 March 2005?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE (Minister of Immigration): According to paragraph 99 of the Ingram report, apparently because Mr Field suggested it.

Gerry Brownlee: Did the previous Minister of Immigration meet with any of the Thai immigrants named in the Ingram report during his visit to the house, and did he discuss their immigration status with Mr Field at the house?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: This is old news; it appeared in the New Zealand Herald some 10 months ago. Yes, they did meet a number of workers on the house. They “shook hands and moved on”. Mr Swain made clear that he had no involvement in the case and had no discussion of immigration matters.

Gerry Brownlee: Why did Mr Keith Williams, a personal acquaintance of, and contractor employed by, Phillip Taito Field in Samoa, claim that: “Field had a talk with either Swain or O’Connor at the house”, and came back to him when they had left and said that he had had a “word”, and that the Thai man should stay out of New Zealand for 3 months and that he would be then granted a work visa for New Zealand?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: Mr Ingram QC describes that claim as: “That proposition is entirely implausible.” A work visa was never issued. The case concerned never re-entered New Zealand, and, of course, Mr Swain was there in the presence of a number of New Zealand police.

Gerry Brownlee: Has the Minister, over the last 10 months since this matter first came to light, considered how it could be that Mr Siriwan, who was denied a work permit in 1997, who had his refugee status application denied in 2002, whose case was considered hopeless by an experienced immigration consultant, who had twice been refused ministerial discretion for the issue of a work permit by the Hon Damien O’Connor in October 2004 and March 2005, and who had a partner who was deported from New Zealand with a 5-year ban on returning, was suddenly granted a work permit by Mr O’Connor in June of 2005 after the visit to the house by the Hon Paul Swain and the Hon Phil Goff?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: Discretion is necessarily broad. It would be about as likely as Dr Wayne Mapp applying a health waiver for a case where the person had a life-long, debilitating disease.

Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. How could that possibly be an answer?

Madam SPEAKER: The Minister addressed the question—obviously not to the satisfaction of the member, but he has an opportunity to ask a supplementary question.

Gerry Brownlee: Did the former Minister of Immigration receive any official advice from either New Zealand or Samoan-based Immigration Service staff regarding the use of Thai labour on Mr Phillip Field’s house in Samoa either prior, or subsequent to, his visit to the house; if so, when did he receive that advice?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: As I clarified to the House on 13 December 2005 the former Minister received no specific advice regarding the case of Mr Siriwan or his wife.

Gerry Brownlee: Does he then accuse immigration officials who spoke to Mr Ingram of lying?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: No. The Ingram report faithfully reports what officials submitted to Mr Ingram, and the report concludes the most likely scenario is that the information was not passed on to Mr O’Connor before he made the decision.

Gerry Brownlee: Does he believe he would be concerned if he had visited Mr Field’s house and seen the Thai workers working on that house; if so, what action would he have taken subsequent to such a visit, and subsequent to the pressure clearly put on him by Mr Field?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: The Ingram report concludes that the exercise of ministerial discretion by Mr O’Connor in this case was properly made, and, furthermore, that it was a plausible use of a proper ministerial discretion. I am no more going to revisit the decision of that former Minister’s use of discretion than I would, for example, that of Sir William Birch or the member for Rodney.

Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I asked the Minister what he would do in these circumstances. He has completely avoided that question, and certainly you could rule that he has addressed it. But I think it is relevant, because clearly there are other applications in the pipeline that he may need to consider, and I think the House does have a right to know what his own thinking is in these matters. I further point out that Mr Ingram said that Mr O’Connor’s position was “baffling”.

Madam SPEAKER: As the member noted, the Minister is required to address the question, and he did, but obviously not to the satisfaction of the member.

Māori Language—Government Policy

4. SHANE JONES (Labour) to the Minister of Māori Affairs: He aha i noho ai ko te tautoko i te kōrerotanga o te reo Māori, he kaupapa nui hei whai mā te Kāwanatanga?

[Why has supporting spoken Māori become a major focus for the Government?]

Hon PAREKURA HOROMIA (Minister of Māori Affairs): E tohu ana Te Rautaki Reo Māori a te Kāwanatanga, he reo e kōrerotia ana, he reo ka ora. Nā reira mātau e whakahāngai i ā mahi ki te tautoko i tēnei whāinga.

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

[The Government’s Māori language strategy emphasises that a spoken language is a living language. We have focused our efforts to support this.]

Shane Jones: He aha kē ngā mahi e kōkiritia ana hei tautoko i te wiki o te Reo Māori? What initiatives are under way to support Māori Language Week?

Hon PAREKURA HOROMIA: Kia ora. He whānui tonu ngā momo mahi e kōkiritia a mātou o te Kāwanatanga. E tū kaha a muri a te Kōhanga Reo, e tū kaha a muri a ngā take Māori e kāre e mōhio take noa. [Interruption]

Madam SPEAKER: Order, please!

Tariana Turia: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. It is about the absolute rudeness from the National back bench.

Madam SPEAKER: Yes, it was noticed and unnecessary. Of course members can interject, but I ask them to use some decorum. I ask the Minister to repeat his answer, then we will have the translation.

Hon PAREKURA HOROMIA: He whānui tonu ngā momo mahi e kōkiritia ana ki te tautoko i te Wiki o te Reo Māori, arā hei tauira: ki te tū kaha ake anō te Kāwanatanga a muri a Te Kōhanga Reo, kei te tū kaha ake ano te Kāwanatanga a muri a ngā take Māori, e kāre e mōhio ake anō wētahi e mau koretake mō te reo.

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

[A wide range of initiatives is under way to support Māori Language Week—for example, those te kōhanga reo initiatives fully supported by the Government, those relating to Māoridom, as well as those who are wanting in the language.]

Taito Phillip Field—Ministerial Discretion

5. Dr the Hon LOCKWOOD SMITH (National—Rodney) to the Minister of Immigration: Does he have confidence that ministerial discretion was exercised appropriately in the case of Mr Sunan Siriwan?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE (Minister of Immigration): The Ingram report describes the decision as “a justifiable exercise of that broad discretionary statutory power.”

Dr the Hon Lockwood Smith: Why did the Associate Minister grant Sunan Siriwan a work visa for New Zealand in part to reunite him with his child, as he suggested in the House yesterday, when that child had been living in Thailand and was, at the time the special direction to grant a work visa was given, already living with Mr Siriwan in Samoa?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: Those matters have already been traversed in the Ingram report. [Interruption]

Madam SPEAKER: Can the Minister please sit down until we have sufficient quiet to hear the answer. [Interruption] Members do not want to hear the answer, so we will move on to another supplementary question.

Dr Don Brash: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. The Minister was asked a straightforward question and is totally failing to answer it.

Madam SPEAKER: The Minister was not given an opportunity to answer the question. I ask for some silence, so that the Minister can have an opportunity to answer it.

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: Once again I refer members to paragraph 179 of the report, which states that it was “a justifiable exercise of … [a] broad discretionary statutory power.”

Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. My colleague Dr Nick Smith raised the issue before. This Minister dodged questions all of last week by saying he would not talk about the Ingram report. So we have couched our questions today to go right to the heart of matters he is responsible for as a Minister. They are matters pertaining to his department, and it is extremely irksome that he now chooses to hide his inefficiency as a Minister behind various paragraphs in the Ingram report. The fact is that there are answers required of him as a Minister that Mr Ingram clearly could not get to, and he needs to give them to the House.

Hon Dr Michael Cullen: Last week the Minister quite rightly pointed out that he was not responsible for the production of the Ingram report. Of course, the Minister responsible for that was the Prime Minister; the Prime Minister commissioned the report. You, Madam Speaker, quite rightly ruled, after points of order from the Opposition, that it did not mean the Minister could escape responsibility for matters relating to immigration where they were touched on in the Ingram report. The Minister is perfectly entitled to quote any evidence in answer to a question that is relevant to that question, even if he is not responsible for the production of that evidence.

Madam SPEAKER: Ruling on the point of order, I say that the Minister, although not responsible for the report, is, of course, entitled to rely upon it when he is in fact addressing the question.

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: I am quite happy to complete that answer, which is that paragraph 179 of the report concludes that the Minister’s actions may be regarded as “a justifiable exercise of that broad discretionary statutory power.”

Dr the Hon Lockwood Smith: Is it correct that when Taito Phillip Field wrote to the Associate Minister of Immigration on 25 February 2005 requesting that Mr Siriwan be granted a work permit, his submission argued that such a special direction was required “to allow him to continue working and supporting his child”, and is it correct that that letter from Taito Phillip Field failed to advise the Associate Minister that Mr Siriwan’s child was no longer in New Zealand, having left the country when his mother was deported earlier that month?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: The letter is a matter of record. The point is that the Minister can only rely upon the information put before him at the time. Ministers exercising statutory discretion routinely rely upon the word of members on all sides of the House.

Dr the Hon Lockwood Smith: When the Minister’s office discovered that Taito Phillip Field had misled the Minister with respect to the whereabouts of Mr Siriwan’s child and had failed to advise him that Mr Siriwan was, in fact, working on Taito Phillip Field’s house in Samoa, what steps did his department take to check on the 261 other special directions made by the Minister in response to submissions on immigration matters by Taito Phillip Field between January 2003 and October 2005?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: I do not have that information before me at this time, but I will be happy to come back to the member with an answer in writing.

Dr the Hon Lockwood Smith: How many of the 262 special directions made by the Associate Minister between January 2003 and October 2005 in response to submissions by Taito Phillip Field have been checked to ensure that no errors of fact or misleading information led to inappropriate decisions by the Associate Minister—decisions that possibly should have been revoked?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: I do not have that information before me at this time, but I can confirm that the Associate Minister continues to receive applications for special directions from members on all sides of the House. This year, in particular, he has received at least a dozen from the next leader of the National Party.

Treaty of Waitangi—Historical Grievances, Taranaki

6. H V ROSS ROBERTSON (Labour—Manukau East) to the Minister in charge of Treaty of Waitangi Negotiations: He aha ngā whakanekenekehanga a te Kāwanatanga i nā noa nei hei whakatutuki i ngā kerēme raupatu a Taranaki?

[What recent advances has the Government made towards settling historical Treaty of Waitangi grievances in Taranaki?]

Hon MITA RIRINUI (Associate Minister in charge of Treaty of Waitangi Negotiations) on behalf of the Minister in charge of Treaty of Waitangi Negotiations:

Last week the Government introduced the Ngāti Mutunga Claims Settlement Bill, the fourth settlement bill to address raupatu claims in Taranaki. The bill is a particularly important milestone in the continuing process of addressing historical claims. I therefore urge members of this House to support it this afternoon at its first reading.

H V Ross Robertson: Tēnā koe. He kōrerotanga kei roto i tēnei pire ki te Tiriti o Waitangi me ngā whakamārama, mehemea āe, kei te whakakorehia ēnei tū āhuatanga e te Kāwanatanga, he aha rānei?

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

[Does the bill make any reference to the Treaty of Waitangi and its principles; if so, does the Government intend to delete them?]

Hon MITA RIRINUI: E rua ngā pātai. Mō te pātai tuatahi, āe! Mō te pātai tuarua, kāo! There were two questions there. In answer to the first question, yes, and in answer to the second question, no.

Pita Paraone: Has the process towards settling historical Treaty of Waitangi claims in Taranaki to date included Mount Taranaki; if not, does he know why those settlements already completed have not included the mountain?

Hon MITA RIRINUI: He whakapapa tō ngā iwi katoa o Taranaki ki te maunga Titohia ki a Taranaki. Nō reira, nā runga i tēnā mōhiotanga ka whakaea te Kāwanatanga kia waiho ake ēnā tūāhuatanga kia mutu ngā kerēme katoa. It is a fact that all iwi in Taranaki have an ancestral association to Mount Taranaki. It is therefore prudent to leave negotiations in regard to the mountain until all the iwi of Taranaki are in a position to negotiate.

Tariana Turia: He aha i kore ai ngā uri o Taranaki i whiwhi te wāriu tōtika mō ngā whenua i murua e te Karauna?

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

[Why are the descendants of Taranaki not receiving the actual value of the lands stolen from them by the Crown?]

Hon MITA RIRINUI: He kaupapa anō tērā. Kua whakaea hoki te Karauna, kore e taea e te Kāwanatanga, kia whakatikatika i ngā āhuatanga katoa e pā ana ki ngā kerēme, mēnā ka whakatikahia, ka kore wēnei kerēme ki te whakatutuki. It is a very relevant point, and the Government has acknowledged that it is not possible to compensate for all land that has been confiscated from all iwi around the country. If we were able to do that, I doubt very much whether we would be in a Treaty settlements process at this time.

Tariana Turia: What has been decided on the claims of ngā hapū o Ngā Ruahine of Taranaki for oil, which the Waitangi Tribunal stated was a legitimate claim under the Treaty of Waitangi?

Hon MITA RIRINUI: Ki tāku mōhio, kua rirohia ai e te Karauna ērā āhuatanga i te tau 1938 i raro i te Ture. My understanding is that under the Crown Minerals Act all Māori rights to these natural resources were removed.

Taxation—Business and Personal Tax Cuts

7. JOHN KEY (National—Helensville) to the Minister of Finance: Does the Government have in mind a range of expenditure it is prepared to commit towards business and personal tax cuts in 2008-09 and in the following 3 years; if so, what is this range?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Minister of Finance): It is too early in the budgetary cycle to be clear about the possible available headroom.

John Key: Is the reason the Minister will not tell us the size of the fiscal headroom because that number will be determined by the polls, not by Treasury—a bit like his student loan policy was in the last election?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: It will in part be determined by, one, meeting our long-term fiscal objectives and, two, making sure we provide for essential social services—not, three, thinking up a number and pretending we can pay for it, as that member did with his tax policy.

R Doug Woolerton: Can the Minister give us an example of a successful economy that uses tax incentives as a method of encouragement for exporters?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Certainly the Australian economy does, for a beginning, but so do many economies around the world, including, of course, the United States, in a number of different forms.

John Key: Why are potentially billions of dollars worth of business and personal income tax cuts now seemingly affordable, when the Minister has spent the last few years telling us they are not, and when he has spent the last 9 months since he has been back in office saying that the $360 million of personal income tax thresholds probably are not affordable; is the reason they are now affordable, when they seemingly were not before, because his idea of affordability is a political concept, not an economic one?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: No, unlike that member, whose policy implied raising the level of debt in order to fund current consumption, this Government will ensure that its policies can be met while meeting its long-term debt objectives.

Dr Don Brash: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. That is a gross misrepresentation of the National Party’s position. There was no suggestion that we would borrow to fund current consumption, either in the election campaign last year or subsequently.

Madam SPEAKER: That is not a point of order; it is a matter of debate.

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Can I treat that as a supplementary question?

Madam SPEAKER: No, would Dr Cullen please complete the answer he started before.

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: The Government remains committed to its debt target. As I said, the Inland Revenue Department forecasts give some indication of available headroom. Other headroom will become available if we are able to constrain the growth in Government spending. That will be very difficult, as I have explained to the member many times.

Jeanette Fitzsimons: Can the Minister confirm that the funds available for personal and business tax cuts would have been $360 million more if he had not abandoned the carbon charge, and that moves to ecological tax reforms such as charges on pollution, waste, and the use of scarce resources would further enable income and business tax cuts to proceed while at the same time turning the New Zealand economy in a more sustainable direction?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: It is unfortunate that the Government is unable to proceed with the carbon tax at this time. Clearly, that is lost revenue. For the moment, it is not booked fully to account in terms of where the money is going to come from.

John Key: In relation to the Minister’s last answer, how would he have a clue what is going to happen to his debt target when he rolls out his theoretical tax cuts, because he cannot tell us how big the tax cuts will be, he does not know whether they will be business or personal, and he cannot tell us whether his indexation is in order—what he can tell us is that he is desperate to keep his job before Trevor snatches it off him, so therefore he has been dragged kicking and screaming to the tax cut table?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: The only influence in that regard was, of course, the confidence and supply agreements with United Future and New Zealand First. I hate to tell the member, who thinks he is the centre of the universe, that he had no impact on this at all.

Shane Jones: Has the Minister of Finance seen any reports of the impact on individuals of alternative taxation proposals?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Yes. I have seen a policy document that tells readers to visit the website taxcuts.co.nz. It states that on visiting that website, people will receive an alternative tax policy. The website states: “This domain is parked.” It is the National Party’s tax policy, and that is it, as of this moment.

John Key: The difference between our tax policy and theirs is that we actually deliver one when we say we will—we do not promise it—

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I suggest that when a member starts a question with such a long statement, the member does not actually get to proceed to ask the question.

Madam SPEAKER: Well, that was not a question.

Peter Brown: Will the Minister confirm that New Zealand First wanted the carbon tax dispensed with, we wanted the taxation regime as it concerned the racing industry addressed, and we wanted the corporate tax situation looked at—and the Government is doing that—and will the Minister confirm that we are over here, helping the Government, and Opposition members are over there, just making a lot of noise?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I can confirm that the member is over here helping the Government. But I would have to say, in all fairness, that I wish he had helped us to have the carbon tax.

John Key: Does he agree that what he has been saying about tax cuts in the last couple of days can be summarised like this: tax cuts would have a positive effect on the economy, they would help the well-being of New Zealanders, and potentially billions of dollars of tax cuts are affordable now—albeit his colleagues would need to show some restraint about future spending proposals—in which case, can he confirm that that was National’s policy in the last election?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: The answer is approximately no, no, no, and no, I think, to nearly all of those, because the National Party proposed a cut only in the corporate tax rate and nothing else for the business sector at all. That was its last priority. Under this Government, changes to business taxation in order to grow a bigger cake are the top priority for taxation changes.

John Key: Can he see why people are deeply sceptical about his born-again religious belief in the power of tax cuts to achieve higher productivity, growth, and incomes, when he has spent the last 7 years in the wilderness, raising personal tax rates and arguing against a cut in the company tax rate; and can he confirm once again that, when it comes to Labour, the idea of the affordability of tax cuts or their economic merits has nothing to do with anything other than him keeping his job and being dragged kicking and screaming to the tax cut table?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: If spending 7 years on this side of the House is being in the wilderness, I leave paradise to the member for indefinite future.

Algerian Refugee—Costs

8. PETER BROWN (Deputy Leader—NZ First) to the Minister of Justice: What is the latest estimate of costs to the Legal Services Agency, Crown Law Office, and the Ministry of Justice relating to the Ahmed Zaoui case?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Leader of the House) on behalf of the Minister of Justice: Some of these numbers do not lie within the ministerial responsibility of the Minister, but he has tried to obtain the figures for the member. In terms of legal aid to the end of June, the total was $483,744 in legal aid for Mr Zaoui. The Ministry of Justice also administers the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security. For the year ended 30 June 2006, that office had incurred roughly $357,000 in costs relating to the case. The Minister is advised by the Attorney-General that Crown Law costs to date are $1.273 million. The Minister is also advised that the court costs total is somewhere around $252,000. That makes a grand total, roughly speaking, of about $2.4 million.

Peter Brown: Noting those figures and that the review has been deferred, delayed, or postponed, has the Minister estimated what the likely final costs to those agencies will be, and has he any advice as to when the rescheduled hearing will take place?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: On the last point, I understand that the rescheduled hearing is likely to take place early next year. I have no estimate of the final cost, but it looks as though it would be at least enough to keep the Overlander running for another couple of years.

Keith Locke: I seek leave to table a tabulation of the four sets of legal proceedings involving Ahmed Zaoui, all of which the Government has lost or has substantively lost, and has wasted over $2 million of taxpayers’ money on.

Madam SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table those documents. Is there any objection? There is objection.

Keith Locke: I seek leave to table a tabulation of the sets of proceedings that the Government has won in the Ahmed Zaoui legal series. It is a paper with nothing on it.

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

Keith Locke: I seek leave to table the Refugee Status Appeals Authority decision of 1 August 2003, which, if the Government had accepted and gone along with it, would have saved about $2 million of taxpayers’ money.

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

Keith Locke: I seek leave to table a set of tax tables that show what Ahmed Zaoui would be paying in tax if he had been allowed his freedom and to take up a position in Islamic studies at a New Zealand university.

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

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I seek leave to table an equally blank document showing the costs that New Zealand would have incurred had Mr Zaoui returned to Algeria when the amnesty was declared.

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

Keith Locke: I seek leave to table the Amnesty International report of last month that explains how people in detention in Algeria today are tortured by the security forces and the police.

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

Peter Brown: Is the Minister aware of the assertions that the office of the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security is not adequately resourced; and can he, therefore, advise whether this issue will be taken care of, in order that in January next year, when the review is held, it will be fair, efficient, and as transparent as is possibly allowed, and, effectively, will make a final decision?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I am not aware of those claims. I am aware of claims from Mr Zaoui’s lawyers that delays are entirely the fault of the Crown. That those claims are disingenuous, to put it mildly, needs to be put on the record, I think.

Peter Brown: Can the Minister give the House an assurance that the office of the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security will, in its review, take proper and detailed cognisance of the judgments made in France, Belgium, and Switzerland that impacted on Mr Zaoui?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: No, I cannot give that assurance, because how the inspector-general deals with the inquiry he is undertaking is entirely a matter for him. It would be quite inappropriate for me to make any comment in that respect.

Inland Revenue Department—Follow-up of Media Reports

9. Dr the Hon LOCKWOOD SMITH (National—Rodney) to the Minister of Revenue: Does the Inland Revenue Department investigate reports of tax evasion or tax avoidance that are reported in the media?

Hon PETER DUNNE (Minister of Revenue): The Inland Revenue Department does take into account public information in determining whether any investigation activity is warranted.

Dr the Hon Lockwood Smith: Would the Inland Revenue Department investigate—to ensure correct tax treatment—a high-profile case of trading in properties, such as the purchase by Taito Phillip Field on 6 May 2004 of what appears to be at least his sixth house, at 51 Church Street, Ōtāhuhu, for a price of $259,000, and its subsequent sale for $395,000 in August 2005?

Hon PETER DUNNE: I refer the member to my original answer. I also remind him that under the Tax Administration Act, the discussion or disclosure of any individual’s tax affairs is protected by confidentiality and is certainly not appropriate to canvass in this House.

Dr the Hon Lockwood Smith: Where the Inland Revenue Department became aware that a taxpayer had claimed to be receiving no rent for a property but was in fact receiving rent for that property—as is the case with Taito Phillip Field and his former property at 51 Church Street, Ōtāhuhu—would the department check whether the rent had been accounted for correctly for taxation purposes?

Hon PETER DUNNE: When the Inland Revenue Department conducts an investigation into matters such as the member has described, all aspects will be considered. But I repeat: the tax affairs of any individual are not for disclosure in this House. In fact, as Minister, I am not made privy to those.

Dr the Hon Lockwood Smith: If the Inland Revenue Department became aware that controversy surrounded the employment of workers, such as in the case of the Thai immigrants working on various properties of Taito Phillip Field, would the department investigate to check whether either PAYE was properly deducted by the employer or tax returns were properly filed by a contractor; or does his department condone the cash economy that it appears Taito Phillip Field may have been part of?

Hon PETER DUNNE: The Inland Revenue Department certainly does not condone the cash economy. I repeat what I said previously: the tax affairs of individuals are confidential. It is not for me to disclose those. Indeed, officials of the department and I are prohibited from doing so by the provisions of the relevant legislation.

Dr the Hon Lockwood Smith: Where a public report such as the Ingram report establishes that Taito Phillip Field paid $300 in cash to a Ms Thaivichit for work done on a house he owned at 2A Prangley Avenue, Māngare, will his department investigate the extent to which Taito Phillip Field’s housing business activities have been conducted in the illegal cash economy; if not, why not?

Hon PETER DUNNE: At the risk of repetition, I give the answer I have given to previous questions: matters relating to the tax affairs of individuals are confidential.

Information and Communications Technology—Community Capability and Skill

10. SUE MORONEY (Labour) to the Minister for the Community and Voluntary Sector: What steps is the Government taking to improve capability and skills for communities to use information and communications technology?

Hon LUAMANUVAO WINNIE LABAN (Minister for the Community and Voluntary Sector): I recently announced 55 successful applicants to the Digital Strategy Community Partnership Fund, which is part of the Labour-led Government’s National Digital Strategy. The expanded use of digital technologies is vital to New Zealand’s economic transformation, and the community partnership fund will strengthen and better connect our communities.

Sue Moroney: What response has she received from successful applicants to the fund?

Hon LUAMANUVAO WINNIE LABAN: I have met with the New Zealand Spinal Trust in Christchurch, which advises that it will use its grant to turn a handbook for spinal injury patients entitled Back on Track into an interactive online educational resource about spinal injury. This is an exciting new initiative, in which communities and the Government are working together to realise community aspirations through the innovative use of information and communications technology.

Local and Central Government—Investigation of Cost of Legislation

11. JOHN CARTER (National—Northland) to the Minister of Local Government: Will he support and cooperate with the Local Government New Zealand investigation into the extent of costs imposed on local councils by Government legislation?

Hon NANAIA MAHUTA (Associate Minister of Local Government) on behalf of the Minister of Local Government: The Government will continue to support and cooperate with Local Government New Zealand.

John Carter: Does the Minister know that the passing of legislation by his Government that increases costs on local government is adding to ratepayer hurt?

Hon NANAIA MAHUTA: Let me just correct the record. The House may be interested to know about the issue John Carter is talking about and the 67 Acts he has raised. Our initial analysis is that 26 Acts do not appear to impose any costs on local government; 28 were specifically requested, in whole or in part, by the local government sector; and a number of the Acts have responded directly to major concerns, like the Building Act, the Resource Management Act, and the Dog Control Act. The member should get his facts right.

Hon Mark Gosche: What funding has been provided to local authorities by the Government over the last 5 years?

Hon NANAIA MAHUTA: There is a good story to tell. In fact, according to Statistics New Zealand, in the year to June 2005, councils received $661.4 million from central government, accounting for about 13 percent of council income. That went to extra funding for rates rebate, extra funding for new transport, extra funding for drinking water schemes, extra funding for water and sewage disposal schemes for small communities.

Hon Brian Donnelly: Will the Minister give serious consideration to New Zealand First’s call for a properly funded, independent commission of inquiry into funding mechanisms for local bodies that will enable members of the public to have input into seeking solutions to the myriad of issues currently confronting the country on this front?

Hon NANAIA MAHUTA: I am informed that there are reports from individual local authorities about this matter, and that there may be an investigation of cost pressures faced by local councils. We want to work with local councils, not against them. It is important to understand that our relationship with local council is at the forefront of any change in that sector. I understand from the Minister that no formal approach clarifying the issues of cost pressure has currently been received. However, if that is a matter brought to his attention, he will consider it.

John Carter: Is the Minister satisfied with the level of compliance cost analysis conducted for new legislation affecting local government, and did he discuss this with local government; if so, why are local councils and their ratepayers becoming increasingly irate at the hurtful costs?

Hon NANAIA MAHUTA: Can I reconfirm that the relationship we enjoy with local government is at the forefront of trying to work with it not against it. In fact, at the Local Government New Zealand conference, the Prime Minister herself said that through the central government and local forum, we have found a way of working together that is task-focused and looks to meet challenges and solve problems. We will continue along that track.

Gordon Copeland: Will the Government scrap GST on rates to ease the burden felt by New Zealand homeowners, as this simply equates to a tax—

Madam SPEAKER: Order, please. Would the member please start again. If we could just lower the level of intervention, please.

GORDON COPELAND: Will the Government scrap GST on rates to ease the burden felt by New Zealand homeowners, as this simply equates to a tax by central government on a tax imposed by local government, or, alternatively, will the Government lower the rates burden by returning the GST collected to local governments?

Hon Dr Nick Smith: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. The question is about GST and I wonder whether the member might not direct it to the leader of United Future who is, in fact, the Minister of Revenue responsible for the goods and services tax?

Madam SPEAKER: We thank the member for his intervention. [Interruption] No, it is not a point of order.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: The question is directed to the Minister of Local Government. Can you explain to me your ruling, given that you are very tight to members of the Opposition—unless there is a different set of rules for the Government—that questions need to be within Ministers’ responsibilities. I am not aware that the Minister of Local Government has any responsibility for GST. It is, indeed, the responsibility of his colleague the Minister of Revenue.

Madam SPEAKER: As I heard the member’s question, it did relate to rates, which are a local government responsibility. So perhaps we could therefore ask the Minister to address the question.

Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. That is a bit like ruling that the Minister of Local Government could have a view on the cost of postage because rates demands get sent out in an envelope. I think if Opposition members are constrained to asking questions on a tight frame, then so should those who are asking patsy questions of the Government.

Hon Dr Michael Cullen: It would be interesting if the members noted that, of course, this is a matter that had been raised by local government with the Minister of Local Government on any number of occasions. The Minister of Local Government has certainly been competent to respond on behalf of the Government that has a united view on this matter.

Gerry Brownlee: That is fair enough. I take the Leader of the House at his word. What is the Minister going to do about the cost of postage?

Madam SPEAKER: I thank the member for his intervention but the point is that if the Minister addresses the question in terms of the ministerial responsibility and not that of revenue, it will be in order.

John Key: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. The issue of ministerial responsibility is that the Minister of Revenue decides whether GST is applied to an element of spending or not, not the Minister of Local Government. The Minister of Local Government cannot change the rate of GST; it is an issue only for the Minister of Revenue.

Hon Dr Michael Cullen: That is not at all true, of course. Parliament decides whether GST is applied to rates. It is in the legislation, and would require legislation to amend. That legislation could be in the name of the Minister of Local Government, Minister of Revenue, or indeed the Minister of Finance because policy matters on tax are shared between the Minister of Revenue and the Minister of Finance.

Hon NANAIA MAHUTA: The answer to the question is no, not to my knowledge. However, if the member would like to direct that question to the Minister of Revenue or Minister of Finance, I am sure he would receive a response. But there is a good story to tell. The Government has put $50.6 million into the rates rebate scheme and an extra 300,000 families from that support.

Mark Blumsky: Did the Minister consider when the Government was writing legislation like the Building Act its cost to an authority like Wellington City Council and the hurtful impact of the $1.7 million extra cost that this Act imposed on its ratepayers, or does the Minister not care?

Hon NANAIA MAHUTA: The only response to that particular question is to put it into context. The cost drivers, in terms of local authority rates, include a number of things: growth in the city—people have to respond to growth—the need for more housing, and the need for more homes. In fact, local authorities need to make the decisions taking into account all the cost drivers, and so they should.

Dr Don Brash: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. The Minister failed totally to address that question.

Madam SPEAKER: The question was addressed at length, I thought—probably not to the satisfaction of the member, but it was addressed.

John Carter: Does the Minister agree with Local Government New Zealand Vice-President, Kerry Prendergast, that Labour’s new legislation has placed a huge burden on local councils; if not, why has Local Government New Zealand been forced to investigate this growing burden?

Hon NANAIA MAHUTA: The answer to first part of the question is no. It is hard to reconcile comments like that of Dr Brash that it is his view that New Zealand is currently on the brink of a crisis of confidence in local government, with the comments of Basil Morrison, President of Local Government New Zealand, who said that there have been some significant wins for local government. For example, the Government has expanded and revised the rates rebate scheme, directly addressed the issues of rates affordability at the individual household level, and in some communities up to 50 percent of households have become eligible for some kind of assistance. Those comments were made by Basil Morrison, President of Local Government New Zealand.

John Carter: Is the Minister aware of the growing wave of concern and ratepayer revolt starting to occur across the country, as mentioned by the leader of the National Party, Don Brash, and what is the Minister’s estimate of the percentage of annual increase in rates charged by local councils that is due to costs being passed on by this Government’s legislation?

Hon NANAIA MAHUTA: In answer to the issue of concern out in the community about rates, yes, the Government has heard a number of those concerns. However, that is a decision for local government. In answer to the next part of the question with regard to shifting pressures, I have already answered that question, but I can answer it again. Twenty-six bits of that legislation do not impose costs on local government, at all. Twenty-eight were specifically requested, in whole or in part, by local government, and a number responded directly to major public concerns. That is where it stands.

Corrections, Department—Confidence

12. SIMON POWER (National—Rangitikei) to the Minister of Corrections: Does he have confidence in his department; if so, why?

Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR (Minister of Corrections): Yes, but there is always room for improvement.

Simon Power: Does he stand by his statement, made in the Law and Order Committee, that the $490 million blowout in the cost of the four new prisons is due to the addition of 530 more beds, and, in light of the fact that this would equate to nearly $1 million per bed, does he now concede that his department has been reckless and wasteful in the spending of taxpayers’ money?

Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: There is no $490 million blowout. The projected costs of the total regional prisons development project have risen. The number of beds that we planned originally—1,000—has gone up to 1,600 beds. There have been issues of the additional costs of steel in a very buoyant economy, which is something this Government takes a lot of pride in having contributed to. I am confident that we will build four very good new prisons to deal with the issues ahead of us.

Simon Power: Can he confirm to the House that the reason he could not give the original target budgets for the construction of the four new prisons, in his answers to written questions, was that under the highly unusual contracting arrangements used, known as collaborative working arrangements or “CWAs”, there was no guaranteed maximum price?

Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: Collaborative working arrangements or other complex management agreements are part and parcel of large projects around the world today. That member cannot understand that an agreement like that, which shares the burden of any additional costs, is the best way forward. I am confident that the State Services Commission’s report will answer all those queries.

Simon Power: Can the Minister confirm that collaborative working arrangements are the brainchild of Mr Stewart Rix, who was contracted for almost a million dollars to establish contracting frameworks for the construction project without a competitive tender process, because he was “the only New Zealand - based provider of collaborative working systems”, and can he give one example of a project where collaborative working arrangements have been used successfully anywhere else?

Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: I cannot give details on the collaborative working arrangement, other than to say it is a programme of management designed to share the risk between the designer, the constructor, and the owner. I do know that up and down this country, there are challenges in courts of law as to the final costings for many projects, because that has been part and parcel of a growing, vibrant economy with huge market demands.

Simon Power: Can the Minister confirm that under the collaborative working arrangement approach, contractors lose a proportion of their margin if forecast costs are exceeded, but if costs blow out any further, “it is the department only taking responsibility”, as stated in a Department of Corrections report; why are taxpayers carrying the $490 million can for this suspect contracting arrangement?

Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: The reality is that under a Government that takes full responsibility for taxpayer-funded services across this country, we ultimately carry the responsibility and the costs over a whole range of Government services. We will continue to do that rather than privatise everything, as the National Party would—including prisons.

Simon Power: Can he confirm that the construction of the four prisons is being so poorly managed that contractors at the so-called “Milton Hilton” were asked to build a wall, then to take it down and build it somewhere else, then to take that one down and build it somewhere else, and finally to take that one down and rebuild it in the original spot; does the legend of the Velcro wall not simply epitomise the massive wastage that his department has incurred at the expense of the New Zealand taxpayer?

Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: I am not aware of any claims of a wall or a building being shifted four times. I can say that the Ngāwhā prison and the Auckland women’s regional prison were both finished within budget and on time.

Simon Power: Can he now advise the House of any construction programme anywhere in the world where collaborative working arrangements have been used successfully, better and more effectively than a traditional master-servant contracting arrangement?

Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: I am aware of a number of different arrangements around the world where the costs of any blowouts are shared between designers, constructors, and final owners. “Collaborative working arrangement” is just a title used in New Zealand; this is a common international practice.

ENDS


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