Questions And Answers - Wednesday, 2 August 2006
Wednesday, 2 August 2006
Questions for Oral
Questions to Ministers
2. Road Safety and Infrastructure Development—Progress
3. Ingram Report—Residency Application for Overstayer
4. Church College, Hamilton—State Funding
5. Taito Phillip Field—Immigration Representations
6. Working for Families—Uptake
7. Corrections, Department—Ministerial Confidence
8. Senior Citizens—Positive Ageing Strategy
9. Taskforce for Action on Violence within Families—Protection Orders
Question No. 10 to Minister
10. Water Supply, Auckland—Local Government Act
11. State Houses—Damage
12. Gender Equity—Reports
Questions to Members
1. Taxation (Annual
Rates, Savings Investment, and Miscellaneous Provisions)
2. General Election 2005—Inquiry
3. Residential Tenancies (Damage Insurance) Amendment Bill—Advice
Questions for Oral Answer
Questions to Ministers
Ingram Report—Ministerial Actions
1. Dr DON BRASH (Leader of the Opposition) to the Prime Minister: Is she satisfied that all Ministers referred to in the Ingram report acted with propriety at all times; if not, why not?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK (Prime Minister): Findings in respect of Mr Field are well known. No conflict of interest with his ministerial role was found, but the report did imply that errors of judgment were made by him as an MP. There were no findings that other Ministers acted with impropriety, and I am entirely satisfied with that.
Dr Don Brash: Does the Prime Minister share the assessment of her former Minister Taito Phillip Field that all that is at issue here are: “some inferences which may have been drawn from reporting of the Ingram report.”, or does she accept that the issues raised about Mr Field’s conduct as a Minister are more serious than that?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I have constantly said that the report implied errors of judgment, and I have pointed out that, as a result, Mr Field was not reinstated as a Minister.
Dr DON BRASH: Has the Prime Minister seen Mr Field’s statement: “Much of the evidence presented in the report was untested. Some inferences which may be drawn are inaccurate.”, and will she now agree that everyone’s best interests would be served by offering protection to those witnesses who refused to talk to the inquiry, and letting the truth emerge?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: The statement that the evidence was untested is, of course, entirely true, because it was not a court of law. But, as I have told the member a number of times, I consider that more than enough money has been spent on this matter.
Dr Don Brash: Does the Prime Minister not understand that by declining to facilitate arrangements for Mr Keith Williams or any of the Thai nationals present at Mr Field’s house in Samoa to be interviewed by the Ingram inquiry, she leaves the clear impression that her then Minister of Immigration, Mr Paul Swain, and her then Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Mr Phil Goff, discussed and gave certain assurances about Mr Siriwan’s immigration status at that meeting—as asserted by Mr Williams?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: Absolutely not, because I have total confidence in those Ministers—far more confidence than I have in Dr Brash’s propriety in respect of the Exclusive Brethren.
Dr Don Brash: Whose account of the 17 May 2005 meeting of Damien O’Connor and Taito Phillip Field does she believe: Taito Phillip Field, who wrote the day after the meeting stating that, in the case of Mr Siriwan, Damien O’Connor would grant a special direction to cancel the 5-year penalty for his spouse and allow the reunification of Mr Siriwan with his spouse by granting him 2-year work permits to be issued in Apia; or Damien O’Connor, who advised Mr Ingram that the Siriwan case was not decided—as stated in Mr Field’s letter?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I am sure that the case was not decided at the meeting.
Road Safety and Infrastructure Development—Progress
2. MARTIN GALLAGHER (Labour—Hamilton West) to the Minister of Transport: What significant announcement has she made recently which contributes to both road safety and infrastructure development?
Hon ANNETTE KING (Minister of Transport): Last week I officially opened the long-awaited $83.5 million Mercer to Longswamp section of State Highway 1 in the Waikato region—a magnificent feat of engineering. This was an important event in terms of both road safety and infrastructural development. Not only has this project eliminated the Meremere crash black spots but it has also taken us a step closer to the completion of the Waikato Expressway. That is a vital project to reduce congestion and provide a more efficient long-haul route through the Waikato to Auckland and the Bay of Plenty.
Martin Gallagher: What is this Government doing to ensure the completion of the Waikato Expressway?
Hon ANNETTE KING: That is an excellent question. The additional $1.3 billion announced in the Budget, as well as the extra $215 million for the Waikato region from the Waikato joint officials group process, means that every remaining component of the Waikato Expressway is now moving forward. Over the next 5 years the additional funding will allow further investigation, then the design and construction of the Rangiriri Bypass, the design of the Ngāruawāhia, Cambridge, Huntly, and Hamilton bypasses, and the Longswamp to Rangiriri four-laning project. As well, a number of other projects in the Waikato region are aimed at improving safety and reducing congestion. I know that the National member from the Waikato ought to be pleased, but I do not hear much gratitude from him.
Metiria Turei: If the Minister is so obviously concerned about both money and road safety, will she prioritise Green Party initiatives to get as much of the intercity freight off and out of trucks and on to the rail network, which would help to save some of the $3.2 billion over the last 4-year period spent via accidents, and—much more important—would help to save the lives of some of the nearly 100 New Zealanders killed every year on our roads through truck accidents?
Madam SPEAKER: Before I call the Minister, I remind members that questions should be started with a question, not a statement.
Hon ANNETTE KING: I certainly am very encouraging of freight being carried on rail. However, we will always need trucks and roads, because rail does not go to every part of the delivery system. But I am very encouraging of freight going on rail, as this Government has shown, first of all by buying back the rail tracks of New Zealand, then by investing the money to ensure they are able to be operated.
Peter Brown: Noting that answer, is the Minister in a position to assure the House that, in the wake of the axing of the Overlander, no rail freight will transfer from rail to road?
Hon ANNETTE KING: I was not aware that the Overlander carried a lot of freight, and I do not actually see there being a lot of change in terms of the freight carried by rail. The main thing is that the main trunk line is retained in a good order, and this Government has been investing millions of dollars to ensure that happens.
Martin Gallagher: Has she seen any other reactions to the additional funding for the Waikato and the Bay of Plenty?
Hon ANNETTE KING: Yes. Even though the amount of money this Government is spending on the Waikato region is far in excess of anything the National Government ever spent, at the Transport and Industrial Relations Committee hearing on the Vote Transport estimates the member for Hamilton East complained that the additional $215 million on top of the budget for transport spending in the Waikato was not enough. However, his colleague Bob Clarkson is much more discerning and thankful. He acknowledged with satisfaction this Government’s commitment to the Bay of Plenty. That is a man who will go a long way.
Ingram Report—Residency Application for Overstayer
3. Dr the Hon LOCKWOOD SMITH (National—Rodney) to the Minister of Immigration: When was the Taito Phillip Field - sponsored application for permanent residence for Mr Chaikhunpol, an illegal overstayer for more than 5 years, received by his department, and when was the decision made to grant Mr Chaikhunpol a residence permit?
Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE (Minister of Immigration): The Ingram report does not say that Mr Field sponsored the application. The application was lodged under normal residence policy, and the sponsor in those circumstances is the New Zealand partner. The date upon which the application was recorded was 17 March 2004, and a residence permit was granted on 9 October 2004.
Dr the Hon Lockwood Smith: When Mr Chaikhunpol, a Thai painter, was being considered for permanent residence following his application supported by Taito Phillip Field in March 2004, would it have been relevant to possible conflicts of interest whether, between that time and the time of his department’s granting of a residence permit in October 2004, Mr Chaikhunpol was working for next to nothing on houses owned by Taito Phillip Field?
Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: I can find no such criticism in the Ingram report.
Dr the Hon Lockwood Smith: Is he concerned that Taito Phillip Field’s House at 51 Church Street was painted by Asians during that time period in 2004, and that Taito Phillip Field’s close friend Ms Thaivichit told the Ingram inquiry that she had organised a Mr Phimpadcha to do the work, which was a claim Mr Ingram found to be untrue—Taito Phillip Field himself told Noel Ingram: “I think I may have been involved”, which was a statement Mr Ingram found difficult to believe—and given that Mr Ingram was unable to determine who had done that painting, is it possible the cover-up was deliberate, because, had the truth emerged, it may have demonstrated a direct conflict of interest for Taito Phillip Field?
Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: I can find nothing in the Ingram report that—
Dr the Hon Lockwood Smith: Read it!
Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: I say to Dr Smith that I have done so many times. I can find nothing in the Ingram report that indicates any conflict of interest, in that any ministerial decisions preceded the painting in question.
Dr the Hon Lockwood Smith: Does the Minister share the concern of Noel Ingram QC that he was unable to establish the identity of the Asians who painted Taito Phillip Field’s House at 51 Church Street during a crucial period in 2004, a concern Noel Ingram states is “increased significantly when regard is had for the unsatisfactory nature of the explanations provided by Mr Field in relation to that painting:”; and does he consider it just a coincidence that the time period of that cover up was the time period when his department was considering the permanent residence application supported by Taito Phillip Field for immigrant painter Mr Chaikhunpol?
Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: I am not responsible for the conduct of the Ingram inquiry.
Dr the Hon Lockwood Smith: Is the Minister concerned that during the period that Taito Phillip Field’s representations for permanent residence on behalf of immigrant painter Mr Chaikhunpol were under consideration by his department in 2004, painting work was undertaken on Taito Phillip Field’s other house at 73 Blake Road, Māngere, by the same painters, according to Mr Field’s advice to the Ingram inquiry, who undertook the painting at 51 Church Street, yet the identity of those painters was also withheld from Mr Ingram so as to avoid a possible finding of conflict of interest involving Taito Phillip Field?
Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: The inquiry finds, as I read it in paragraph 313, that it appears that in the case of Mr Chaikhunpol, at least, his motivation for painting Mr Field’s house at a substantially discounted rate may have been some form of gratitude. What is clear is that the painting succeeded, not preceded, any ministerial decisions.
Dr the Hon Lockwood Smith: Does the Minister share Noel Ingram’s “difficulty understanding why Mr Field would be confused as to whether or not he personally was involved in the painting of 51 Church Street in 2004.”, or does he think it quite reasonable for a Labour Government Minister to forget whether he personally painted a house the previous year; and does he consider it to be just a coincidence that during this period of cover-up, his department was considering the permanent residence application of Thai overstayer and painter Mr Chaikunpol?
Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: I am not responsible for Mr Field’s memory, nor is the member able to achieve proof by repeated assertion.
Dr the Hon Lockwood Smith: Is the Minister concerned that Noel Ingram QC had experienced no problem in determining who did painting work on Taito Phillip Field’s various houses after the granting of a residence permit to Mr Chaikhunpol in October 2004, yet Mr Ingram was unable to determine who carried out painting work on some of those same residences prior to the issuing of that residence permit to Mr Chaikhunpol in October 2004; if that is not a cover-up, how does the Minister explain it?
Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: There is no evidence in the Ingram report, or indeed in the member’s question, that any ministerial action occurred after the painting took place. That is the key point that the member appears conveniently to continually overlook.
Dr Don Brash: What action would the Minister of Immigration take if another Minister, on ministerial letterhead, misrepresented his position on an issue he had not yet decided, as the Prime Minister has today confirmed Mr Field did in the middle of 2005?
Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: I would take such action as I considered appropriate, based on the facts at the time. What I have said to the House previously is that I do not consider it appropriate for this Minister to revisit the decisions of previous Ministers, otherwise where would one stop?
Church College, Hamilton—State Funding
4. Hon BRIAN DONNELLY (NZ First) to the Minister of Education: Has any State funding been provided to Church College in Hamilton for its students, with the exception of specific pupil funding such as the Ongoing and Reviewable Resourcing Scheme; if so, what was the fiscal impact of the funding received?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY (Minister of Education): The Government provides a capped pool of funding for private schools, with the amount given to each school calculated on a per pupil basis. With the exception of 2005, the proprietors of Church College have chosen not to access that subsidy. The school accepted funding of $690,000 in 2005.
Hon Brian Donnelly: Is it correct that the additional funding that was provided to Church College—given that it had not received any funding since 1958—in fact cost the Government nothing, because of the funding cap on independent schools?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: In effect, yes. The school has not claimed funding, so the only funding made available to it is that $690,000.
Moana Mackey: What changes have there been in Government funding for schools since 1999?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: We have come a long way since the early 1990s, when school funding did not keep up with inflation in real terms. Total funding for New Zealand schools is now more than $4 billion a year, which is up from less than $3 billion a year in 1999. The massive increase in funding has provided for 3,040 extra teachers above those required for roll growth, new classrooms, buildings, and increases every year in the operational funding for schools. When in comes to making real investments in education, this Government’s record is second to none.
Hon Bill English: Now that the Minister has told us that funding for students in the State system has increased by over 35 percent per head, why is it that he despises young New Zealand citizens who attend private schools so much that he has made sure their funding has been cut by about 30 percent per head?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: I reflect on the fact that the member is putting words into the mouths of other people—in the way he usually does—by saying people are despised, when, of course, they are not. Students who attend private schools are wonderful young New Zealanders, just like all other young New Zealanders. Now, of course, members on the Opposition side of the House are beginning the process of shouting, which is what they normally do, as well. I say to the member, our policy is extremely clear and was articulated well by Trevor Mallard during his time as Minister—that is, the Government capped that fund at around $40 million, and has been clear about capping it since then.
Hon Brian Donnelly: Can the Minister confirm, as he seems to have done, that the cost since 1999 or 2000 of schooling has had an increase of 35 percent and that the number of students going to independent schools has increased by 25 percent, yet the Government still spends exactly the same amount as it did in 2000 on independent schools?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: I can confirm that private schools receive around $40 million a year in Government subsidies, and that reflects the notion that Labour put forward in its 1999 election manifesto—that is, to cap the level of funding. That has been our policy since that time. But I say the portion of all students attending private schools has remained fairly constant, ranging from about 3.3 percent to 3.7 percent of all students, during that period of time.
Taito Phillip Field—Immigration Representations
5. Dr the Hon LOCKWOOD SMITH (National—Rodney) to the Minister of Immigration: Can he confirm that from 1 January 2003 to 30 September 2005, Taito Phillip Field made 438 representations to the Associate Minister of Immigration, not 261 as he claimed in his letter dated 31 July 2006?
Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE (Minister of Immigration): Yes. As I stated yesterday the letter to the member was provided on the basis of advice, which I undertook to check. Having done so, I can now confirm that the member’s understanding is correct.
Dr the Hon Lockwood Smith: Would the Minister exercise ministerial discretion to grant a work visa to someone like Mr Sunan Siriwan, who had shown such contempt for New Zealand law as to be an illegal overstayer for 8 years; who had worked illegally during that time; who had been declined refugee status, after not even bothering to turn up at his interview; and whose case was described by an experienced immigration consultant as “hopeless” and which, his head of immigration in New Zealand has said, the department would have declined—a ministerial discretion Phillip Field urged in order to reunite Mr Siriwan with his child, with whom he was already living; if so, why?
Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: The facts of the case have been placed on record and have been debated many times in this House. I hope that in making a decision, I would be able to rely upon the representations made to me by all members.
Dr the Hon Lockwood Smith: Would he exercise ministerial discretion to grant a work visa to someone like Ms Phanngarm, who had shown such contempt for New Zealand law as to be an illegal overstayer for 5 years, who was declined refugee status four times, whom the Refugee Status Board found to be: “an entirely incredible witness”, and who had been deported from New Zealand and banned from returning for at least 5 years—a ministerial discretion urged by Phillip Field in order to reunite that person with her partner, when she was already living with her partner; if so, why?
Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: As I have said, Ministers must make decisions on the basis of the best information available to them at the time, and they are entitled to rely upon the information provided to them by members on all sides of the House.
Darren Hughes: Is he aware of any members of Parliament advocating for overstayers or illegal immigrants, such as Mr Craig Foss who wanted overstayers to work in a vineyard in the Hawke’s Bay?
Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: I am aware of requests for ministerial discretion from all sides of the House. I hope Mr Foss has not asked the Inland Revenue Department for a similar discretion.
Madam SPEAKER: That last comment was not necessary. Would the Minister please withdraw.
Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: I withdraw.
Dr the Hon Lockwood Smith: If the Minister asserts to this House, as he has done just now, that two of the 262 special directions made in response to those 438 submissions from Taito Phillip Field involved false information from Taito Phillip Field, how many of the other 260 special directions in response to Taito Phillip Field’s submissions also involved false information?
Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: That is not what I have asserted to the House.
Dr the Hon Lockwood Smith: Would the Minister exercise ministerial discretion to grant a work permit to someone like Miss Ngaosri, who had shown such contempt for New Zealand law as to be an illegal overstayer for several years, whose application for a special direction had been turned down by his Associate Minister in 2001, and who had been declined refugee status in both 2002 and 2003—a ministerial discretion urged by Taito Phillip Field—if he would, why would this Minister do that?
Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: I would not, because as Minister I do not decide individual cases.
Working for Families—Uptake
6. CHARLES CHAUVEL (Labour) to the Minister for Social Development and Employment: What reports has he received on the uptake of Working for Families tax relief?
Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE (Minister for Social Development and Employment): In the month of June 2006, 70,500 more families were receiving Working for Families tax relief through the Inland Revenue Department than a year before. In the month of June alone, the Government paid out $140 million in Working for Families targeted tax relief to hard-working New Zealand families raising children. I am pleased to confirm to members of the House that the Working for Families tax relief package is tracking according to forecast.
Charles Chauvel: What reports has the Minister received about public understanding of targeted tax relief for working families?
Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: The impressive uptake in Working for Families targeted tax relief this year does indicate a high level of public awareness. But I have seen a report in the Dominion Post, dated 27 July, which demonstrates that Dr the Hon Lockwood Smith PhD does not realise that Working for Families tax relief was first implemented in the 2005-06 tax year, is very confused at the difference between the 2004-05 and the 2005-06 tax years, and does not realise that Working for Families tax relief is a progressive tax system that proportionately targets lower and middle income earners compared to higher income earners.
John Key: Is the Minister aware that his own ministerial staff have been directly contacting businesses and asking them to make presentations on Working for Families on the cafeteria floor because they are deeply concerned about the appropriate take-up rate, and is that further evidence that his $15 million advertising campaign is not working; in which case, will he commit today to saving the taxpayer a bit of money by canning the balance of the programme?
Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: Yes, I am aware—
Madam SPEAKER: No, I have not called the Minister; I cannot hear.
Brian Connell: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. Just to protect myself, I point out to you that neither Phil Connolly or Brian Connell said anything in that last exchange.
Madam SPEAKER: That was not a point of order.
Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: Yes, I am aware that staff are making approaches in workplaces to employers and to unions to ensure, as this Government has requested, that people do have access to the entitlements they should be picking up.
I can confirm the widespread support for this proposal in the House by reading the following quote to the member: “I don’t think of Working for Families as a welfare programme. Many people in employment also receive money from Working for Families. So we have clearly said that certainly what’s been rolled out so far will be continued, and we’re likely to roll out much of the rest of the programme as well.”, which was, of course, said by former Governor of the Reserve Bank, and current National Party leader, Don Brash.
Sue Bradford: Has the Government made progress in reducing the number of people who are required to pay back tax relief at the end of the financial year because of changing circumstances and their difficulties in assessing income; and what steps is the Government taking to cut further the numbers of those forced to pay money back?
Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: The normal process, as the member understands only too well, is at the end of the year to carry out the wash-up of people’s tax expectations. That process will continue as it has in the past.
Corrections, Department—Ministerial Confidence
7. SIMON POWER (National—Rangitikei) to the Minister of Corrections: Does he have confidence in his department; if so, why?
Hon MITA RIRINUI (Acting Minister of Corrections): Yes, but there is always room for improvement.
Simon Power: Will the Minister now explain to the House how collaborative working arrangements operate?
Hon MITA RIRINUI: Collaborative working arrangements, known as alliances, share the risks between designer, constructor, and owner. The risk is lower for all parties because the rewards and the risks are shared.
Simon Power: Why did the Minister’s department adopt the collaborative working arrangement method, when it has been described as “one of the first of its kind in New Zealand”, with project manager John Hamilton claiming that the department was providing “a major leadership role in undertaking the project in such an innovative way”; and does the Minister think it appropriate that a Government department take on the risk of experimenting with such an untested contracting arrangement, when it has clearly led to a half-billion-dollar blowout in the construction of four new prisons?
Hon MITA RIRINUI: Once again, the member is wrong. There is nothing new about closer working relationships, either internationally or in this country. I can give the member some examples. The central motorway junction in Auckland—the construction and expansion of Auckland’s central city motorway sections—was successfully completed last year. Fletcher Construction was involved in that. We understand that the cost of that programme was in excess of $1 million. Mighty River Power is another example. Would the member like me to go on?
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 a Department of Corrections report states; and why are taxpayers carrying the $490 million can for this suspect contracting arrangement?
Hon MITA RIRINUI: Once again I repeat for the member’s benefit that closer working alliances are nothing new. The risks and the benefits of the construction are shared. If the member does not understand that philosophy he should ask his back-bench colleague from Tauranga, Bob Clarkson.
Simon Power: Is the Minister confident that the reviews by the State Services Commission and Treasury will find that his department was competent in managing the costs of the regional prisons project; if not, why not?
Hon MITA RIRINUI: I will wait for the report to be released.
Simon Power: Can the Minister confirm the rumour that the corrections portfolio is in such a mess that all decisions relating to the construction of the four new prisons have been taken out of his hands and are now made on the ninth floor of the Beehive?
Hon MITA RIRINUI: No.
Ron Mark: Would the Minister not accept that many of the problems that have plagued the Department of Corrections over the past 6 years, and have led to a reduction in public confidence in the department, have arisen because many of the people in the middle management tiers and in head office are simply incompetent; if he does accept that that statement has some validity, can he tell the House what progress he is making on the restructuring of that office?
Hon MITA RIRINUI: I cannot affirm the member’s assertion. However, in answer to the previous question from the National Party concerning the rumours circulating around the department, such rumours exist—and I never listen to them—but they all pre-date 1999.
Senior Citizens—Positive Ageing Strategy
8. Hon MARK GOSCHE (Labour—Maungakiekie) to the Minister for Senior Citizens: What progress is the Government making in encouraging participation in the workforce among senior citizens as outlined in Goal 9 of the Positive Ageing Strategy?
Hon RUTH DYSON (Minister for Senior Citizens): Since the implementation of the Positive Ageing Strategy a number of initiatives have been undertaken, including the PeoplePower project by the Department of Labour and the Equal Employment Opportunities Trust, which provides information and employment strategies for older workers. Another is the Jobs Jolt package. An evaluation of the latter initiative suggests that the package resulted in a 4 percent decrease in the number of 55- to 59-year-olds receiving an unemployment benefit for a 9-month period.
Hon Mark Gosche: What reports has the Minister seen on obstacles to participation in the workforce by senior citizens?
Hon RUTH DYSON: I was very distressed to see a report that one of Parliament’s most senior members was prevented—in fact physically prevented—from effectively participating in his job yesterday by a man who has a very poor track record of dealing with senior citizens.
Barbara Stewart: How will the broader entitlements being made available to senior citizens by way of the golden age card interface with the Government’s positive ageing strategy?
Hon RUTH DYSON: As part of the confidence and supply agreement with New Zealand First, my associate Minister, the Rt Hon Winston Peters and I have been working well together to finalise the golden age card provisions. Those provisions will enhance the delivery of the Government’s Positive Ageing Strategy. I hope they are of some benefit to the current leader of the National Party.
Taskforce for Action on Violence within Families—Protection Orders
9. KATE WILKINSON (National) to the Minister of Justice: Does he stand by the Taskforce for Action on Violence within Families report, which claims that “Access to protection orders by victims will be enhanced.”; if so, why?
Hon MARK BURTON (Minister of Justice): As the question indicated, the statement the member refers to is a statement by the Taskforce for Action on Violence within Families. Although I am not a member of the task force, I am a member of the Family Violence Ministerial Team, which has received the report. The advice in the report is currently being considered, and the ministerial team, through the chair, will provide comment to assist the Government with its response.
Kate Wilkinson: How can the Minister not accept that the declining number of protection orders reported in the Ministry of Justice Family Court Statistics 2004 is indicative of the declining number of lawyers who are prepared to take on legal aid work and is reflected in the vulnerability that Blenheim Women’s Refuge and sexual assault clients face?
Hon MARK BURTON: The concern I have to ensure the long-term viability of legal services is reflected, firstly, in the enhancement of the current legislation to broaden access to legal aid, and, secondly, to the national survey being conducted right now by the Legal Services Agency to ensure that we have accurate nationwide information on which to base future decisions.
Sue Bradford: What will the Government do to ensure that Women’s Refuge will be able to provide adequate services to back up the recommendations in section 5 of the violence within families report given that some refuges can barely survive now, much less cope with the ongoing increased demand?
Hon MARK BURTON: Although I have no direct responsibility for funding decisions for women’s refuges—as I think the member understands—it is fair to say that the approach the Government is taking with the ministerial group and the senior officials who are involved in the task force is indicative of a determination to ensure that the quality of service that is available within the community is guaranteed and enhanced in the future.
Jacqui Dean: How can he have confidence in the legal system when judges are admitting to reading documents on protection order applications and making decisions on them “during a 15-minute tea break” and when every month since June last year there have been more breaches of protection orders than new orders granted, or is this the only way the Government can deliver speedy and inexpensive access to justice?
Hon MARK BURTON: If the member wants to raise questions relating directly to the courts portfolio she should perhaps address those questions to the Minister for Courts. But I can say to the member—[Interruption] if her colleagues will allow her to hear—that I am aware that my colleague the Minister for Courts is undertaking considerable work to review and improve court processes to ensure that the quality of service delivered is enhanced and improved.
Sue Bradford: Will the Minister be taking steps to make sure that hard-pressed groups like Women’s Refuge are not having to do the legal work for women needing to take out protection orders, as is happening in some cases at the moment, so that women who need them will be able to take them out regardless of their income?
Hon MARK BURTON: As I indicated in an answer to a previous supplementary question, work is being done now to look at the extent of legal aid requirement where it exists. In addition, I can inform the member that the Legal Services Agency will be getting more spending—the Minister of Finance says. The Legal Services Agency will be reporting to me in terms of the remuneration rates issued to look at an appropriate setting and process for reviewing those rates, as I have indicated earlier, to ensure that that can be done as soon as the new legislation is bedded in.
Jo Goodhew: How can the Minister justify a statement made on his behalf in the House last week that: “This Government is taking the issue of family violence seriously.”, when Family Court cases—such as a woman and her new partner being stabbed to death by her former partner while she was in the process of getting a protection order—raise serious questions about the speed of the process and availability of legal representation on protection order applications?
Hon MARK BURTON: I have previously answered, effectively, that question. The Minister for Courts is looking at the speedy resolution of such cases.
Kate Wilkinson: How can the Minister justify a comment made on his behalf in the House last week that: “This Government has put more money into every agency responsible for reducing family violence.”, when Women’s Refuge has warned that its services could be cut because of a recent $21 million Budget funding shortfall although it has an 80 percent increase in women who want protection from violent partners but want to remain in their homes?
Hon MARK BURTON: I can confirm the accuracy of the comment made on my behalf. An increase in funding has been received, including by Women’s Refuge.
Kate Wilkinson: How can the Minister justify a statement he made to a Blenheim law firm in response to the firm no longer undertaking legal services work that: “The work of legal aid providers is a vital contribution to ensuring access to justice for all New Zealanders, and the contribution of providers to our communities is something this Government does value.”, when all his Government has done is escalate the shortage of legal aid providers by increasing eligibility without addressing the lack of funding; and how does this deliver speedy and inexpensive access to justice?
Hon MARK BURTON: I can justify that matter because, contrary to the member’s assertion, there has not been a lack of funding. There has been a multimillion dollar increase in funding to ensure an extension of eligibility. I cannot apologise for the fact that the first priority of this Government was to ensure accessibility and entitlement to low-paid people before we put up the rates to lawyers.
Question No. 10 to Minister
RODNEY HIDE (Leader—ACT): I seek the leave of the House to hold my question over until the Minister with responsibility for Auckland Issues can fit Parliament into her busy schedule.
Madam SPEAKER: Leave is sought. Is there any objection? There is objection.
RODNEY HIDE (Leader—ACT): I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. Do we have an Associate Minister with responsibility for Auckland issues?
Madam SPEAKER: That is not a point of order. Does the member wish to put his question?
Water Supply, Auckland—Local Government Act
10. RODNEY HIDE (Leader—ACT) to the Minister with responsibility for Auckland Issues: Is she aware of any risks created by the Local Government Act 2002 to Auckland’s waterworks, given her reply to supplementary questions on 15 June 2006; if so, what action has she taken to address those risks?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Deputy Prime Minister) on behalf of the Minister with responsibility for Auckland Issues: I am aware of an issue in relation to section 225(d)(i) of the Act, and discussions are continuing with the Minister of Local Government.
Rodney Hide: Does she find it acceptable that anyone endangering Watercare Services’ above-ground pipes must advise Watercare Services but that such advice is not necessary, because of a drafting error in the Local Government Act 2002, if the pipes are below ground, so endangering Auckland’s water supply?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Indeed, that question relates to section 225(d)(i) of the Local Government Act 2002. But simply rectifying that by inserting a reference to Watercare Services in relation to the reference to a local authority would not have dealt with the issue that caused this question to arise.
Dr Richard Worth: Does she not realise that her covert support for the Auckland Regional Council proposal to take over the asset of Watercare Services from the constituent territorial local authorities and the removal of the statutory cap on water prices in the Local Government Act 2002 will hugely increase water prices for consumers in the Auckland region; why does she not back off?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I have never seen that particular Minister back off in her life.
R Doug Woolerton: Do the references to the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi contained in section 4 of the Local Government Act 2002 in any way affect the risk to Auckland’s waterworks; if so, how?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I am not aware of a risk to Auckland’s water supply from section 4 of the Local Government Act 2002, but I always welcome further representations from the member on those matters.
Rodney Hide: Is she aware that Genesis Energy recently did not tell Watercare Services, because it was not required to do so, of its intention to shift a huge transformer over roads that passed over underground pipes in South Auckland that carry the water from the Waikato River to Auckland, that if it had not been for an alert staff member in a water retail company a major source of water to Auckland could have been cut, and that because of that error Auckland runs the risk of having its water supply cut, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week; what is she doing about that?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: As I said to the member, it is not quite as simple as I think he assumes. Section 225 of the Act refers to the carrying out of work on or in relation to a waterworks, and the particular incident he cites, which is the cause of the concern that has led to the matter being brought to the attention of the Government, probably would not be covered by simply amending section 225 in order to refer to Watercare Services. That is why further work needs to be done to make sure this kind of situation can be covered in the future.
11. PHIL HEATLEY (National—Whangarei) to the Minister of Housing: Is he concerned that damage to State houses has increased 40 percent from $15 million in the 2004/05 financial year to $21 million in the last financial year?
Hon CHRIS CARTER (Minister of Housing): Any increase in costs of repairs is a concern. However, more than half of the total damage bill was for basic expenses that all landlords face, like mowing lawns prior to re-letting, replacing locks and shower curtains, clearing drains, and replacing flooring, which are also included in the tenant damage category in some circumstances.
Phil Heatley: Will the Minister concerned confirm that this staggering blowout is not from regular maintenance, as he would have us believe, but is, in fact, “not a result of fair wear and tear, but results from the action or inaction of a tenant or third party”, according to the Housing New Zealand Corporation’s own definition; and what is he doing to curb this skyrocketing damage bill?
Hon CHRIS CARTER: No, the member misrepresents what he is quoting from the Housing New Zealand Corporation. One of the reasons we are recording more tenant damage is because we are investing more in maintenance for currently tenanted properties, rather than waiting for them to become vacant before making repairs, and we are identifying more things that need to be fixed as a result.
Russell Fairbrother: What is the Government doing to recover the cost of damage to State houses?
Hon CHRIS CARTER: The Housing New Zealand Corporation has a very clear policy. When damage is intentionally caused by tenants or other parties, we go after the perpetrators and seek to recover the costs. Last year the amount we recovered from tenants increased by 25 percent.
Pita Paraone: Given the impact that damage to State houses is having on their demand, is the Minister satisfied that his Government’s claim that there are 5,700 more State houses than there were when the Labour-led Government took office is in any way adequate, considering the previous National Government reduced the stock by 13,000 during the 1990s; and has the Government any plans to restore the stock of State housing to the level available prior to National’s massive sell-off?
Hon CHRIS CARTER: I can say with confidence that we have increased the number of State houses by over 7,000 to start to make up for the 13,000 that the previous Government sold—mostly to speculators, not tenants.
Judy Turner: Does the Minister agree that the evidence is clear that people take greater care of property they own themselves; if he does, can he also see additional benefits in the rent-to-buy scheme for State houses, as proposed in a policy by United Future?
Hon CHRIS CARTER: I can confirm that the Government does recognise that people owning their own house is the best possible outcome. That is why we have brought in things like Welcome Home Loans to help them do that.
Phil Heatley: Why is it that of the $21 million of deliberate damage, only half is recovered from tenants; and how many tenants have been asked to leave over the past year because of their ongoing disregard of State houses?
Hon CHRIS CARTER: The member continues to misrepresent the figures. The two greatest causes of maintenance costs are the repair of broken windows and cleaning. Most of the cleaning takes place between tenancies.
Phil Heatley: Why is the Minister again budgeting $21 million in the next financial year to fix State house damage and vandalism if he thinks his softly, softly strategies will solve the problem; why is he budgeting the same amount if he thinks his strategies will work?
Hon CHRIS CARTER: I remind that member, and the House, that most of that money goes toward repairing the houses through normal maintenance. We really value the State house stock. We want it to be in good repair because we want people to live in decent houses.
Phil Heatley: How does the Minister think the 11,500 families languishing on the waiting list feel when others abuse the privilege of a State home; what does he say to those needy families when others—who have caused $21 million worth of damage—are allowed to abuse the homes given to them?
Hon CHRIS CARTER: I spend a lot of time explaining to people on the waiting list who come to see me that the previous National Government sold 13,000 of those houses.
Phil Heatley: Why is it that under this Minister, State house tenants can earn $95,000 before tax, can profit from four, five, or six paying boarders, and can now vandalise a place and still never be asked to leave, and all the while 11,500 needy families languish on the waiting list?
Hon CHRIS CARTER: The Government continues to have tenants who pay market rents. Most of them are tenants who were brought in during Mr McCully’s time, when all State house tenants paid market rents.
Phil Heatley: I seek leave to table the Housing New Zealand Corporation’s own definition of this $21 million, which is used not for wear and tear but for vandalism and damage.
Phil Heatley: I raise a point of order, Madam Chair.
Madam SPEAKER: No, it is the Speaker.
Phil Heatley: Sorry, there is a habit of getting names wrong in this House.
Madam SPEAKER: We all do it from time to time.
Phil Heatley: I seek leave to table the budget for vandalism and damage for this coming year, which is the same amount budgeted for damage as last year.
12. JILL PETTIS (Labour) to the Minister of Women's Affairs: What reports, if any, has she received supporting gender equity?
Hon LIANNE DALZIEL (Minister of Women's Affairs): I have seen a report that states: “the bedrock values I see as fundamental to New Zealanders are an acceptance of democracy and the rule of law, religious and personal freedom, and legal equality of the sexes. If you don’t accept these fundamentals, then New Zealand isn’t the place for you.” These sentiments were expressed by the current Leader of the Opposition, Don Brash, in a speech last Friday.
Jill Pettis: What other reports has she received on alternative approaches to gender equity?
Hon LIANNE DALZIEL: I have seen extracts from a book that identifies a lack of commitment to equality between the sexes. The book states, for example: “The girls don’t need a high level of education because they are not permitted to be in paid employment after they marry. This is, of course, unless the husband cannot work.” This book is about the practices of the Exclusive Brethren, funder of Don Brash and the National Party.
Te Ururoa Flavell: Tēnā koe Madam Speaker. Tēnā tātou katoa. What advice was sought from her ministry to permit the removal of the words: “a gender-inclusive curriculum, which acknowledges and includes the educational needs and experiences of girls equally with those of boys,” from the new draft curriculum statement; or, as with the deletion of the Treaty of Waitangi principles from legislation, does the Minister believe that not talking about the gender of Māori and non-Māori students enhances gender equity?
Hon LIANNE DALZIEL: I do not have any advice from my ministry on that particular subject. If the member would like to put down a question, I will be happy to answer it for him.
Te Ururoa Flavell: What advice was sought from her ministry about the removal of the words “non-sexism” or “non-racism” from the new draft curriculum statement, and does she agree that the removal of those words endangers gender equity?
Hon LIANNE DALZIEL: I have brought no information to the House in respect of submissions the Ministry of Women’s Affairs may have made on the curriculum. I do not know the answer to that question. If the member puts down a written question, I will be happy to provide the information to him.
[Points of Order to come.]
Questions to Members
Taxation (Annual Rates, Savings Investment, and Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill—Submissions
1. JOHN KEY (National—Helensville) to the Chairperson of the Finance and Expenditure Committee: How many submissions, if any, has the Finance and Expenditure Committee received on the Taxation (Annual Rates, Savings Investment, and Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill?
SHANE JONES (Chairperson of the Finance and Expenditure Committee): I roto i te reo Māori, 3,681.
[An interpretation in English was given to the House.]
[In the Māori language, 3,681.]
John Key: Is he aware that it is normal to receive about 50 submissions on a taxation bill, that it is highly unique that we have received approximately 3,600, and can he tell us, from his diligent reading of those 3,600 submissions, how many are opposed to the bill?
SHANE JONES: About 37 hours have been set aside to hear those submissioners who want to be heard, and I look forward to Mr Key wrenching himself from his leadership ambitions and joining us to hear them.
Madam SPEAKER: The member did not need to make that comment. Would the member please rise and withdraw the comment.
SHANE JONES: I withdraw and apologise.
General Election 2005—Inquiry
2. Dr RICHARD WORTH (National) to the Chairperson of the Justice and Electoral Committee: On what authority did she cancel the meeting of the committee on 2 August 2006 when the only item of business related to the inquiry of the committee into the 2005 General Election?
LYNNE PILLAY (Chairperson of the Justice and Electoral Committee): As chairperson of the committee.
Madam SPEAKER: Supplementary question, Dr Richard Worth.
Dr Richard Worth: Thank you, Madam Chair.
Madam SPEAKER: I am still Madam Speaker for questions to members.
Dr RICHARD WORTH: I apologise, Madam Speaker. Why, contrary to Speaker’s ruling 77/5, did the member cancel the meeting of the committee; was it to prevent discussion by the committee as to whether the expenditure of public funds by the office of Helen Clark on the Labour Party pledge card and leaflet was outside the scope of the relevant appropriation?
LYNNE PILLAY: As that member knows, the committee’s agreement to meet was conditional on a particular report, and, as that member knows, the report was not available.
Residential Tenancies (Damage Insurance) Amendment Bill—Advice
3. PHIL HEATLEY (National—Whangarei) to the Member in charge of the Residential Tenancies (Damage Insurance) Amendment Bill): What advice, if any, did she receive from the Insurance Council of New Zealand and the Real Estate Institute of New Zealand before introducing the Residential Tenancies (Damage Insurance) Amendment Bill?
MARYAN STREET (Member in charge of the Residential Tenancies (Damage Insurance) Amendment Bill): None before the introduction, but I have received advice from the Insurance Council of New Zealand subsequently. The bill was not drafted on the advice of the insurance or real estate industries; it was drafted in response to concerns raised by the judiciary in the course of giving reasons for a judgment.
Phil Heatley: Would it not have been smart, professional, and diligent to have talked to those two major players—the real estate and insurance sectors—because they tell us that under her bill landlords would struggle to get insurance for their tenants and tenants with a poor insurance history would be unable to get accommodation; as sponsor, why did she not seek their advice?
Madam SPEAKER: Members are reminded that questions, like answers, should be succinct.
MARYAN STREET: I have consulted the insurance industry, but I also place significant weight on the findings of Judge MacAskill, who, when hearing the case of the students in Dunedin who were ruined by an insurance company for damage they did not cause, stated: “The outcome of this proceeding, though in accordance with the law, is unjust. In general, the pursuit of substantial claims against tenants with respect to damage caused carelessly is oppressive in effect, and I respectfully urge that the law be reformed.” That is cause enough for this bill, in my view.
Phil Heatley: I seek leave to table a released submission before the select committee from the Insurance Council of New Zealand, which states tenants will struggle to get insurance.
Phil Heatley: I seek leave to table a released submission from the Real Estate Institute of New Zealand, which states that tenants will struggle to get accommodation.