Wednesday, 23 August 2006 - Questions And Answers
Wednesday, 23 August 2006 - Questions And Answers
Questions to Ministers
Speech from the Throne—Political Integrity of Parliament and Electoral Process
1. Dr DON BRASH (Leader of the Opposition) to the Prime Minister: Does she stand by the statement in the Speech from the Throne in 1999 that her Government would “restore public confidence in the political integrity of Parliament and the electoral process”?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK (Prime Minister): Yes, by keeping our promises, as we have—unlike National in the 1990s.
Dr Don Brash: Can she explain to the House how she expects the public to have confidence in the integrity of Parliament and the electoral process, when her Government has conveniently ignored and dismissed the rulings of the Auditor-General, the Solicitor-General, the Chief Electoral Officer, and the Electoral Commission by unlawfully spending taxpayers’ money and knowingly breaching the election campaign spending cap in the Electoral Act?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: The assertions in that question cannot be accepted. Of course, unlike the National Party, the Labour Party did not accept money from exclusive religious cults, which enabled National to free up its own parliamentary spending.
Dr Don Brash: Is it the case that the Auditor-General wrote to her on 28 April last year, seeking a meeting to discuss his concerns about processes for the expenditure of taxpayers’ money through the parliamentary leader’s budget, and can she tell the House how it assisted public confidence in the integrity of Parliament and the electoral process when she refused to meet him?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I seem to recall questions from the member on precisely this point, before. I was written to as leader of the parliamentary Labour Party, and representatives of the party met the Auditor-General.
Dr Don Brash: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. The Prime Minister has not remotely attempted to respond to either of my last two supplementary questions. She made an irrelevant comment, which was totally without foundation, about the Exclusive Brethren. There is no foundation for it, at all. Could you ask her, please, to address the two questions I have asked.
Madam SPEAKER: The Prime Minister certainly addressed the questions. It may not have been to the satisfaction of the member. Also, may I say it would be a little easier for the Speaker to hear the full answers if there were a little less barracking.
Dr Don Brash: Is it the case that she declined the request from the Auditor-General to meet with her to discuss the use of public money on political advertising because she already had plans, at that stage, to use nearly half a million dollars of taxpayers’ funding for the Labour Party pledge card; can she tell the House how those actions helped to encourage public confidence in Parliament and the political integrity of the electoral process?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I repeat that representatives of the parliamentary Labour Party met with the Auditor-General. Of course, unlike the National Party, we were not holding money back so that after the election we could put out ads like the one from Bob Clarkson, which invites people to a public meeting around the theme “Good jokers unite at the Razza in Upper Hutt”. If that is not an abuse, I do not know what is.
Rodney Hide: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker.
Madam SPEAKER: Yes, I think I am about to agree with your point of order.
Rodney Hide: It sounded like such an exciting meeting that I just wanted to hear what it was about.
Madam SPEAKER: Thank you. I agree with you. Would the Prime Minister please repeat her answer, for the benefit of those who were unable to hear a word she said.
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I repeat that representatives of the parliamentary party met with the Auditor-General as invited. I further note that unlike the National Party, so loaded with cash from big corporates and the Exclusive Brethren, the Labour Party did not receive money from them. The National Party held money back so they could use it for ridiculous branding advertising, websites, fake questionnaires, and of course, advertising this extraordinary meeting with Bob Clarkson—“Good jokers unite”.
Hon Brian Donnelly: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I believe that members in this House all have the right to hear the responses that are made to questions. We—myself, and the colleague beside me from United Future—are sitting fairly close to the Prime Minister. We were unable to hear the answer to that question, and we would like to have the answer repeated.
Madam SPEAKER: Perhaps the Prime Minister would like to summarise her answer.
Bob Clarkson: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. Madam Chair, I would like to hear—
Madam SPEAKER: I am sorry. It is “Madam Speaker”.
Bob Clarkson: I am sorry, Madam Speaker. It is a small point.
Madam SPEAKER: Would the member please be seated. We are trying to be consistent with the Standing Orders, so would the member please just make his point of order without any other comment.
Bob Clarkson: If I am getting accusations chucked at me, I would like to hear them. I am not hearing them. I am getting a bit pissed off.
Madam SPEAKER: Order! Maybe the member would like to have a word with some of his colleagues, and then we would all have the benefit of hearing the answers.
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: You invited me to summarise my answer, and, for the benefit of Bob Clarkson, can I summarise his advertisement with the parliamentary crest on it that calls on people “Good jokers unite”. I do not whether women were invited. It states: “Enjoy an after-work yarn with ‘Bob the Builder’ Clarkson”—all asked for at parliamentary expense.
Dr Don Brash: Is the Prime Minister aware that members of her Government have used their majority on the Justice and Electoral Committee to block an invitation to the former Chief Electoral Officer, Mr David Henry, to appear and explain the steps he took to warn the Labour Party about the consequences of spending half a million dollars of taxpayers’ money on the Labour Party pledge card; can she explain how that will contribute to public confidence in Parliament and the integrity of the political process?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: Clearly, the National Party is still smarting about not having a majority in the select committee. I want to point out the Labour Party does not have a majority in the select committee, either.
Madam SPEAKER: Would the Prime Minister like to elaborate a little on her answer.
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I am very happy to elaborate and point out that just as the National Party does not have a majority on that committee, and is clearly very sore about that, neither does the Labour Party.
2. RUSSELL FAIRBROTHER (Labour) to the Minister of Agriculture: What progress is the Government making to improve access for New Zealand stone fruit to export markets?
Hon JIM ANDERTON (Minister of Agriculture): Following the granting of access to export stone fruit from New Zealand to Western Australia, last week, there are currently no outstanding market access issues for stone fruit going from New Zealand to any export market. After a hard-fought battle for access—which seems to be the only kind with biosecurity issues—Biosecurity Australia released a policy memorandum last week that allows access for New Zealand apricots, nectarines, peaches, and plums to the Western Australian market. The first exports are expected in December, and will ultimately lead to exports worth around $14 million. I know that the National Party will be delighted in the success of biosecurity issues in this matter.
Russell Fairbrother: What practical access to the Western Australian market will there be for New Zealand stone fruit growers?
Hon JIM ANDERTON: New Zealand has been able to export cherries to Western Australia since 2003, but New Zealand apricots, nectarines, peaches, and plums have been prohibited because of concerns about the risk posed by the oriental fruit moth. Initially, these exports to Western Australia will for all practical purposes be limited to exports from the South Island, as this area is free of the oriental fruit moth. Stone fruit from the North Island will still be given access, but under different conditions, and those will be negotiated over the longer term. Although that limitation is of course of concern, apricots from the South Island make up 90 percent of New Zealand’s stone fruit exports.
R Doug Woolerton: How many representations has the Minister made to Biosecurity Australia in regard to the continuing problem of access for New Zealand apples to the Australian market; and what outcomes were achieved as a result of those representations?
Hon JIM ANDERTON: Impossible things we do daily; miracles take a bit longer! We are, of course, in close consultation with Biosecurity Australia. The industry and the Government have made submissions to its import risk-analysis process. We are expecting decisions before the end of this year, and New Zealand of course has the issue of apples at the World Trade Organization Sanitary and Phytosanitary Committee, and we will reserve our rights to take that further, depending on the outcomes of the risk-analysis process going on at the present time.
Labour Party Pledge Card—New Zealand Herald Article
3. JOHN KEY (National—Helensville) to the Minister of Finance: Does he agree that he made an “apparent threat to pull a piece of tax legislation in retaliation for the Herald’s coverage of Labour’s pledge card rort”, as reported by the media?
Simon Power: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. Halfway through my colleague’s question, the Minister for State Owned Enterprises felt he could bellow across the Chamber. You have given several warnings on this matter over recent weeks; the Minister should be asked to leave the Chamber.
Madam SPEAKER: No—
Hon Trevor Mallard: A week or two ago, when I was not here, I was listening to the radio, and listening closely enough to hear you give a ruling that made it clear that people could interject during questions. All I did was ask whether that question was drafted in Ireland.
Madam SPEAKER: That was perfectly consistent with the ruling. Would John Key please continue.
John Key: Does the Minister agree that at least two of the statements he made on the topic—namely, that the New Zealand Herald would be wise—
Hon Dr Michael Cullen: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. The Opposition frequently complains that Ministers do not answer questions; I did not get the chance in that case. It is quite a brief answer, but I would like to give it.
Madam SPEAKER: My apologies. I am sorry, Mr Key. Perhaps Dr Cullen would respond to your initial question, and then you may ask your supplementary question.
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Minister of Finance): No. [Interruption]
John Key: If you do not take the call, it is not my problem.
Madam SPEAKER: Would the House please settle so that we can hear the questions and the answers.
John Key: Does the Minister agree that at least two of the statements he made on this topic—namely: “The Herald would be wise to consider the consistency of its position.”, and that his message to it was just to think a bit carefully about the implications of what it is engaged in—were clearly intended to threaten the paper’s owners, APN, and that if the New Zealand Herald did not desist from both reporting and writing unfavourable editorial comments about the Government, there would be implications?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I cannot even find one of those quotes. In terms of the other one, let me refer the member to the New Zealand Herald editorial the previous day, which stated that this “does not sound any different from that of taxpayers who have claimed deductions on the best available advice and it turns out on legal scrutiny that they have to pay the money back.” The New Zealand Herald was in precisely that position, and we were legislating to remove it. Despite all of its bluster, it has failed to answer the question of what the moral difference is.
Hon Peter Dunne: Will the Minister confirm that the legislation dealing with that matter is actually in the name of the Minister of Revenue, and that he has made no approach to the Minister of Revenue about withdrawing or amending that particular provision?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: That is absolutely correct. Indeed, if the member and the New Zealand Herald had bothered to read the first press statement, they would have seen that it said: “As a result the government has agreed to support legislation which effectively retrospectively validates that understanding and relieves the Herald’s owners of that bill.” All the Muldoonism and bluster came from the New Zealand Herald, not from me.
John Key: If we are to believe the Minister that those comments were not of a threatening nature—that is, could result in a changed attitude towards APN’s tax issue—then was the purpose of his comments actually to remind APN that it owed him and his Government a favour, and it better not forget it?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: No, not at all. It was to remind the New Zealand Herald journalists that it is wise to be consistent. When one decides to climb on to a high moral horse, it is a damn good idea to make sure the saddle is firmly tied on.
John Key: Is it not a fact that the new modus operandi of this Government is that when it does not get its own way, it just bullies. It does not matter whether the victim is a Television One journalist, the APN owners, or the owners of Telecom—if this Government does not get its own way when it has its back to the wall, it just bullies them.
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: The only examples of bullying of journalists that I know of have certainly come from the member’s usual bench mate, who frequently bullies journalists, and the press gallery know it.
John Key: Is it not a fact that, whatever way one cuts it, it is just grossly inappropriate for a Deputy Prime Minister who is also the Minister of Finance and the Attorney-General to raise the tax affairs of a newspaper critical of its Government, when those tax affairs depend crucially on the support by his Government of pending legislation; if he was not intending to bully the newspaper, why did he include in his press release the fact that that money could be used for a lot of hip operations?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Because I was pointing out to the New Zealand Herald that a very large amount of money was involved, and that, for once, it might care to be consistent in its position. Of course, for that party—a party that accepted money from the Exclusive Brethren, denied it had done so, then admitted it, and denied it knew about the pamphlets—to talk about consistency is unbelievable.
Madam SPEAKER: I could not hear that answer.
John Key: You didn’t miss much.
Madam SPEAKER: Would the member please be seated. Could the Minister please summarise his answer, and would the members please have the courtesy to allow some of us to hear the answer.
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I think the brief summary is that the pot opposite is of a very dark colour.
John Key: Is it normal behaviour in some countries for Governments to condition their support of certain legislation in return for political favours; if so, is this the kind of behaviour he would like to see in New Zealand?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: As I said before, all I was doing was challenging the New Zealand Herald journalists to explain the moral difference. They have failed to do so, so far.
John Key: Can the Minister confirm—
Hon David Benson-Pope: Tell us about the Brethren at your house, Mr Key.
John Key: Go back to your tennis game, would you?
Madam SPEAKER: Interjections do provoke other interjections, so I remind members please to show courtesy towards each other.
John Key: Can the Minister confirm that he issued the press release against the advice of his own press secretary, Mike Jaspers; and when we consider this, coupled with the recent claims he has made against other journalists—that they are writing stories supportive of tax cuts solely on the basis of their own personal position—does that not show that he is rapidly losing not only objectivity but, in fact, credibility as New Zealand’s Minister of Finance?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: No, not at all, and I note recent opinion polls on the handling of the economy by this Government. I challenge that member to explain what promises with regard to accident compensation his party made to the insurance companies in return for their donations.
Madam SPEAKER: Point of order—[Interruption] Remember that there are no interjections during points of order. Point of order, Rodney Hide.
Rodney Hide: It is a supplementary question. Does the Minister deny attempting to bully New Zealand Herald journalists; and what did he make of the Prime Minister’s advice to the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr Winston Peters, that launching a jihad on the New Zealand Herald was not the best course of action when in difficulties and trouble?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I do not think even the New Zealand Herald journalists believe that I have the capacity to bully them. As a lifelong atheist, I am the last person to launch a jihad, in any shape or form.
4. JEANETTE FITZSIMONS (Co-Leader—Green) to the Minister of Finance: Is he sufficiently concerned about the demise of the Overlander service on 30 September to commit the Government to contributing financially to a rescue package; if not, why not?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Minister of Finance): No, because I am yet to see a sensible proposal for a rescue package.
Jeanette Fitzsimons: In view of the almost total lack of marketing of the service and the growing international market for rail tourism, would the Minister make a marketing campaign a condition of any Government-supported rescue package?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I am yet to receive any proposals for a package other than our spending as much money as Toll wants to carry on the service in the future, starting at $1.75 million a year plus $500,000. It is worth noting that the train is capable of carrying only three carriages, so, in fact, if it increased in popularity, it would run out of carriages. I also believe that the carriages may be required for the Wairarapa suburban service within the near future.
Te Ururoa Flavell: Tēnā koe, Madam Speaker, tēnā tātou katoa. What consultation has the Government undertaken with Tūwharetoa paramount chief Ariki Tumu te Heuheu, the chairperson of the United Nations World Heritage Committee, and what are the economic and cultural consequences that Tūwharetoa advise will result from the Government not supporting the financial viability of this service, particularly given that the Tongariro National Park is on the World Heritage List?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: No, I have not consulted, and I have received no advice. Given the fact that in terms of travelling from Wellington to Auckland and back there are an average of about 50 people per day, I doubt there will be that many economic consequences.
Peter Brown: Will the Minister clarify the situation: is he not aware that Toll NZ has apparently told the local community that it is prepared to operate the service at cost—it just does not wish to operate the service at a loss—and has nobody put any figures to him along those sorts of lines?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: We do not have figures that I think would be easy to disentangle the cost of the Overlander outside the general passenger services that Toll provides. Certainly Toll would claim that it was making a loss on that route, and certainly it has asked for $1.75 million a year. Given the number of people involved, that seems a very heavy level of subsidy.
Sue Kedgley: Is it sensible long-term planning to allow the termination of an iconic and potentially viable North Island long-distance passenger rail service, resulting in a greater use of fuel, cars, and planes, at the very time when international oil prices are rising sharply and New Zealand is struggling to meet its climate change commitments?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I very much doubt that running an extremely large diesel engine with three carriages that are usually less than half full is more economic than running a bus or two with significantly smaller engines over that distance.
Tariana Turia: Tēnā koe, Madam Speaker, tēnā tātou. What advice has the Minister given to Sue Morris, the Mayor of the Ruapehu District Council, who has sought a meeting with him to alert the Government to the way in which the economy of the district will be affected by the “loss of business operations and employment opportunities, loss of tourism dollars, and loss of transport options.”?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I have not given any specific advice to Ms Morris, but my general advice would be that I see very little future in this route as a standard passenger route. If there is to be a revived service of any sort I think it would be more likely to be a dedicated tourism operation along the lines of the Otago Excursion Train Trust and so on. I await any kind of offers in that respect. My good friends the Auckland Regional Council perhaps could help by ceasing to charge $200,000 a year for the train to be at the Britomart transport centre for half an hour twice a day.
Jeanette Fitzsimons: Why is it that he is prepared to bail out Air New Zealand to the tune of $885 million and spend an additional $1.5 billion of taxpayers’ money on roads, yet sit back and watch the Overlander go to the wall for the sake of less than $4 million?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Because very few people travel on the Overlander, compared with Air New Zealand. We do not export anything via the Overlander. We do not bring large numbers of tourists into New Zealand via the Overlander. The Overlander is not, if I can overuse that much misused word, the iconic symbol of the New Zealand travel industry overseas.
Peter Brown: Does the Minister appreciate that I think most people in this House would see $1.7 million as a huge loss, and would he be receptive to seeing some figures of a more modest level and consider a subsidy, at least for a short term?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I have been approached by a number of local authorities. My understanding at this stage is their notion of a business plan may be that we pay. I am waiting to see a business plan that has someone else also perhaps paying.
Keith Locke: I seek leave to table a press release issued by the Auckland Regional Council last night calling for a continuation of the Overlander for an interim period of 12 months, and the construction of a financial rescue package and an operational strategy saying that the service does have huge potential.
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Can I ask whether any member of the Auckland Regional Council who issued that statement has travelled on the train in the last year?
Labour Party Pledge Card—Chief Electoral Officer's Statement
5. Hon TONY RYALL (National—Bay of Plenty) to the Minister of Justice: Does he agree with the statements of the Chief Electoral Officer that the Labour pledge card and the A2-size pamphlet headed “Working together” “clearly encourages … voters to vote for the Labour Party” and that “the expenses of these publications should be included in your [Labour’s] return of election expenses.”; if not, why not?
Hon MARK BURTON (Minister of Justice): Madam Speaker, it would be inappropriate for me to comment on what are legal interpretations of the Chief Electoral Officer made in the course of his duties under the Electoral Act 1993.
Hon Peter Dunne: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. In this part of the Chamber we heard nothing beyond “Madam Speaker” in the Minister’s reply. I wonder if he could repeat the answer and that it could be heard in silence.
Hon MARK BURTON: It would be inappropriate for me to comment on what are legal interpretations of the Chief Electoral Officer made in the course of his duties under the Electoral Act 1993.
Hon Tony Ryall: Has the Minister seen the letter from the Chief Electoral Officer sent on 2 September last year, 2 weeks before the election, to the Labour Party that clearly states that Labour’s pledge card should, and must, be included as an election expense, and what action would he expect an honest political party to take having received such a detailed warning from the Chief Electoral Officer if it wanted to avoid acting corruptly?
Hon MARK BURTON: I am aware of the letter the member refers to, but it was not addressed to me. I have no ministerial responsibility for the correspondence in question.
Hon Tony Ryall: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. The Minister failed to address the question about what he would expect an honest political party to do that wanted to avoid acting corruptively having received that advice.
Madam SPEAKER: The Minister is not responsible for what a party would do.
Hon Tony Ryall: Has the Minister seen the advice of the Chief Electoral Officer, sent on 12 September—before the election—that this fold-out brochure, with a picture of a woman who purports to be the Prime Minister, should be included in the Labour Party’s election expenses, and what action would this Minister think an honest political party would take having received its second warning that this taxpayer-funded material should be declared an election expense to avoid acting corruptly?
Madam SPEAKER: I just note that the Minister is not responsible for the party, but if he wishes to address the question for matters he is responsible for then that is fine.
Hon MARK BURTON: Indeed, I am not the person who is responsible for the administration of the Labour Party. However, I repeat to the member that it would be inappropriate for me to comment on what are legal interpretations of the Chief Electoral Officer made in the course of his duties under the Electoral Act 1993.
Hon Tony Ryall: Can the Minister confirm that the Electoral Commission told the police that the Labour Party had spent more than it was legally permitted to, and that this was referred to the police despite repeated warnings to the Labour Party from the Chief Electoral Officer, and can the Minister confirm that under electoral law this is indeed a corrupt practice?
Hon MARK BURTON: It would be inappropriate for me to comment on any legal interpretation of the Chief Electoral Officer in pursuit of his duties under the Electoral Act. I do not have ministerial responsibility for the police’s response.
Hon Tony Ryall: Was the Minister advised by the Chief Electoral Office that 3 days before the election the Labour Party had offered to include the cost of this pledge card, which includes the Minister’s picture, in its election return, but in the days after the election, when the Chief Electoral Officer could not make a statement that would affect the election, the Labour Party advised that it would not be including the cost of the pledge card in its election spending, and can the Minister confirm that when a party breaks the law in that way it is indeed a very corrupt practice?
Hon MARK BURTON: No, I was not so advised, but I would not expect to be because it is not within the realm of my ministerial responsibility.
Hon Tony Ryall: Is the Ministry of Justice undertaking, or has it undertaken, any work on resolving the issues foreshadowed in the Auditor-General’s draft report on advertising from parliamentary funds; if so, what is that work?
Hon MARK BURTON: The ministry is undertaking a wide range of work around future electoral arrangements, and I will be engaging on that work with members of the select committee.
Work Permits—Ministerial Involvement
6. Dr the Hon LOCKWOOD SMITH (National—Rodney) to the Minister of Immigration: What involvement, if any, did the Minister have in respect of the case of Mr Sunan Siriwan either before or after the issuing of the special direction for a work visa to be granted as an exception to policy?
Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE (Minister of Immigration): I have had no involvement with this case other than discussing it in preparation to answer parliamentary questions.
Dr the Hon Lockwood Smith: What action did the Minister of Immigration take to review the special direction for a work visa for Mr Siriwan when he received a letter from a Mr Keith Williams dated 3 August 2005 alleging: “If Sunan Siriwan went to Samoa for 3 months to tile Mr Field’s house, he would be given a work permit after 3 months by the New Zealand Immigration Service.”?
Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: I am advised there is no record that the then Minister of Immigration received that letter until an attachment to an email on 7 September 2005. He replied to the letter on 14 September 2005 and his office forwarded it to the relevant Minister, the Associate Minister of Immigration, on—[Interruption] Madam Speaker, either members opposite want to hear the answer or they do not.
Madam SPEAKER: Just continue.
Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: I am quite happy not to give it, but if they ask the question, perhaps they may want to listen.
Dr the Hon Lockwood Smith: What specific actions did the Minister of Immigration take to review the special direction to cancel the removal order for Ms Phanngarm when he received a letter from Mr Williams dated 3 August 2005 alleging that: “If Sunan Siriwan went to Samoa for 3 months to tile Mr Field’s house, he would … be allowed to return to New Zealand. Following this outcome, his wife and child would return to New Zealand from Thailand.”?
Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: I repeat that the advice I have received is that the Minister received that letter on 7 September 2005, and I have no advice to hand on what action may have been taken with regard to Ms Phanngarm. I would be happy to come back to the member on that point.
Dr the Hon Lockwood Smith: What specific action did the then Minister of Immigration, Paul Swain, take to review the special direction for work visas for both Mr Siriwan and Ms Phanngarm when he was advised by Mr Williams in a letter dated 3 August 2005 that he, Mr Williams, knew of these arrangements by Mr Field, because Mr Field had sent Mr Williams to Samoa to accompany Mr Siriwan and to do the waterproofing on Mr Field’s house in Samoa?
Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: To cut a long story short, I should say that Mr Ingram found that Mr Williams’ claims were without credibility.
Dr the Hon Lockwood Smith: Did the Minister of Immigration discuss with Taito Phillip Field the allegations contained in the letter he received from Mr Williams, dated 3 August 2005, when that letter clearly outlined a possible conflict of interest in the actions of Taito Phillip Field during his ongoing representations to the Associate Minister on behalf of Mr Siriwan and his wife Ms Phanngarm; if not, why not?
Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: As I have described, the then Minister received the letter from Mr Williams on 7 September. He took the appropriate action, which was on 12 September to forward to the Associate Minister, who was the Minister acting on the case, a copy of the letter and acknowledged to Mr Williams on 14 September that his email had been received.
Dr the Hon Lockwood Smith: Is the reason the Minister of Immigration, the Hon Paul Swain, took no specific actions following his receipt of the letter from Mr Williams, dated 3 August 2005, that Mr Swain was fully aware of the involvement of Mr Siriwan in the work for Mr Field at his house in Samoa, because the Minister had met Mr Siriwan at Mr Field’s house on or about 18 March 2005, in Samoa?
Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: While Mr Swain has freely admitted that he may have met Mr Siriwan in a chance visit to Mr Field’s house, it is very clear from the Ingram inquiry and subsequent press reporting that Mr Swain played no part in the decision to grant Mr Siriwan’s discretion.
Accident Compensation—System Announcements
7. Hon MARK GOSCHE (Labour—Maungakiekie) to the Minister for ACC: What recent announcements has she made concerning New Zealand’s ACC system?
Hon RUTH DYSON (Minister for ACC): Last week I announced a forthcoming merger of the Accident Compensation Corporation (ACC) self-employed work account and the ACC employers account. These accounts were separated solely for the purpose of privatisation. Our Government is committed to a fair and simple accident compensation scheme, and it is our intention to continue to make accident compensation levy rates fairer for all.
Hon Mark Gosche: Has she received any other reports regarding potential changes to New Zealand’s world-class accident compensation system?
Hon RUTH DYSON: Yes, I have. I was stunned to read recently of a policy release from the National Party. Sadly, it was a rerun of the party’s 1990s privatisation agenda, driven either by dogged pursuit of ideology or the price the National Party has to pay for campaign funding from the insurance industry.
Tariana Turia: Tēnā koe, Madam Speaker. Is the Minister aware of the research from Dr Peter Jansen on Māori consumer use and experience of health and disability and ACC services that reveals Māori are currently not receiving entitlements to care, rehabilitation, and compensation at a level comparable to the proportion of Māori in the population, and how can she explain this, given the research also reports that Māori have greater need but less access to treatment?
Hon RUTH DYSON: Yes, I am familiar with that research and I share entirely the concerns indicated by the member in her supplementary question. It is obvious from statistics about workplaces for Māori in New Zealand that they are overrepresented in high-risk industries and under-represented in claims and entitlements from ACC. I am committed to ensuring that all New Zealanders receive the compensation and rehabilitation to which they are entitled.
Criminal Justice System—Prime Minister's Comments
8. SIMON POWER (National—Rangitikei) to the Minister of Justice: Does he agree with the statement of the Prime Minister in her speech on proposed changes to the criminal justice system last week, when she said, in comparing the increased number of prison inmates to the overall reduction in reported crime, that “Something doesn’t add up.”?
Hon MARK BURTON (Minister of Justice): Yes.
Simon Power: How does he reconcile the Prime Minister’s statement that “Something doesn’t add up.” with his own statement the same day that the impact of the Sentencing Act is “the lowest crime rate since the early 1980s.”, according to him; if he is right in stating that locking up more offenders has reduced crime, can he remind the public why he is letting them out earlier, by knocking a quarter off their sentences?
Hon MARK BURTON: The maths is simple. As well as the lowest offending rate, of course we have a much higher clearance rate by the police and quite a number of lower-end offenders are being sent to jail, as well.
Simon Power: They’re all in jail. That’s why they’re not committing crime. Sort it out.
Hon MARK BURTON: That is exactly what we did, I say to Mr Power. We are sorting it out with a raft of announcements that will make a difference, and that will give the courts a raft of alternative sentences for front-end offenders.
Simon Power: How can the 92 percent who voted for tougher sentences in 1999 view the Government’s announcement last week that sentences would be reduced by a quarter as anything other than a U-turn, when in 2002 the Prime Minister told the House that the sentencing and parole legislation “realistically addresses the public’s legitimate concerns about longer sentences for the most serious crime.”?
Hon MARK BURTON: Simply, because as the member quite well knows the Law Commission advice also said that the minimum sentence served should be two-thirds, so of course the actual time served would be roughly equivalent, even if there was an average 25 percent cut. In addition, of course, nothing in what the Government announced last week would reverse the decisions made in 2002 to ensure that serious, repeat, and violent offenders are locked up for longer—as indeed they are.
Simon Power: Has he or the Prime Minister apologised to former Minister of Justice Phil Goff for repudiating the sentencing and parole legislation that he staked so much political capital in, when he so proudly greeted news of the rising prison population as it “confirms that the Government is delivering on its promise to take a tougher approach to crime”, or is he happy to see the next Labour leader succumb to the “trade Minister’s curse”?
Hon MARK BURTON: Far from what the member suggests, this builds on the good work Phil Goff did as Minister of Justice. As Minister of Justice, Phil Goff was absolutely correct to ensure that serious, repeat, and violent offenders are getting longer sentences and serving longer sentences. What Phil Goff does not want, and what this Government does not want, is for first-time offenders and low-level offenders to get prison sentences when there are better alternatives that do a better job and are more effective.
Nandor Tanczos: Does the Minister agree that many of the excellent proposals for reducing crime contained in this package, such as an increased focus on early intervention and crime prevention, greater access to restorative justice, a greater array of alternative sentences available for judges, and more resources for rehabilitation, alcohol and other drug treatment, mental health education, and work skills, sound suspiciously like the policies advocated by the Green Party since being elected to this Parliament; when will we see more Green Party proposals announced by the Government, such as a public prosecutor’s office?
Hon MARK BURTON: I think it is fair to say that those members who care to look with any degree of honesty at the package announced last week will see that many of the aspirations of well-intentioned members of this House are contained in that package. I look forward to the day when all parties in this House can support positive and effective justice interventions.
Simon Power: Does the Minister recall the Prime Minister stating at Labour’s campaign launch in 2002 that “Judges can now impose minimum periods before parole of up to two thirds of a sentence for serious offenders.”, as in the case of a rapist who was sentenced to 17 years but was not eligible for parole until 10 years; now that he is proposing a 25 percent discount on the nominal sentence, can he confirm to the public of New Zealand that will mean that in circumstance a rapist could be out in 8½ years?
Hon MARK BURTON: No again, because if the member were to treat the facts and present them rather than to play politics with them, he would also have reported that there is no suggestion of a blanket 25 percent tariff. There is, clearly, an indication of intent that each category of offence would be considered, and sentencing guidelines would be created by a sentencing council. That could indeed result in some sentences going up and some going down.
Simon Power: Can he confirm that it was the Law Commission that approached the Government with strategies for managing the rising prison population on 2 December 2005, not the other way around—which was, coincidentally, at the same time that Cabinet was told it would need to cough up even more money to cover the prisons blowout—and can he tell us who the real Minister of Justice is: himself, the Prime Minister, or Sir Geoffrey Palmer?
Hon MARK BURTON: Firstly,I can say to the member that the work on effective interventions began before December last year. Secondly, clearly the ministerial warrant for justice sits with me.
9. GEORGINA BEYER (Labour) to the Minister for Social Development and Employment: What reports has he received on the number of New Zealanders employed and unemployed?
Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE (Minister for Social Development and Employment): I am pleased to inform the House that the household labour force survey for the quarter ended June 2006 shows that the unemployment rate has fallen 0.3 percentage points to 3.6 percent. That is New Zealand’s equal-lowest unemployment rate on record. Labour force participation has increased to 68.8 percent—the highest rate ever recorded—and 2,129,000 New Zealanders are now in work, which is the highest level of employment ever recorded and which is up 22,000 from the previous quarter. These results are, I believe, a strong endorsement of this Labour-led Government’s management of the economy.
Georgina Beyer: What other reports has he seen with regard to the household labour force survey?
Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: I have seen expert comment from the Westpac Banking Corporation that: “The unemployment rate is back to historic lows, employment growth was remarkably strong,”. That bulletin also states: “The results are in sharp contrast with business surveys,”. I have also seen a report about why this contrast might be so: “There has been a pattern emerging of companies shedding employees, and while it is a small stream it is constant. That reflects the economic slowdown, and it is only starting to be felt on the employment front.” That was John Key in April this year talking down the economy and demonstrating his ignorance of the fact that we have a dynamic labour market where for every 23 jobs lost, 26 are created. That equates to 44,000 more people in work now than at the beginning of this year.
Ingram Report—Labour, Department
10. Dr WAYNE MAPP (National—North Shore) to the Minister of Labour: Does she accept that the Department of Labour should fully investigate the nature of the work relationships raised in the Ingram report, in light of Dr Ingram’s statement that “if any of those issues [are] to be pursued further, that task would need to be undertaken by some appropriately authorised authority”; if not, why not?
Hon RUTH DYSON (Minister of Labour): No. The department has advised Dr Mapp that the work relationships referred to in the Ingram report appear not to be employment relationships, and that therefore the department does not intend to investigate these matters further. The department remains ready to receive any evidence or worker complaint that might suggest it should reconsider its view. Decisions on investigations are an operational matter for the department.
Dr Wayne Mapp: How can the Minister believe that the department has satisfied its obligations under the Employment Relations Act 2000 and the minimum wage legislation, to determine whether the immigrants were employees, when in fact all the department has done is actually read the report—which the rest of us have done, as well?
Hon RUTH DYSON: Well, the latter comment is not verified by the quality of the member’s questions, frankly. It is obvious in the Ingram report that the nature of the employment relationship was not one of a direct employment relationship, but one of a contractual relationship. As I have explained to the member before in the House, contractual relationships do not have any minimum wage provisions in New Zealand law at the moment.
Dr Wayne Mapp: How can the department’s inquiry be regarded as complete, when it consisted of simply reading the Ingram report, and did not involve interviewing any of the people concerned—whether the immigrants who worked on Mr Field’s numerous properties or, indeed, Mr Field himself?
Hon RUTH DYSON: The department did read the Ingram report. It did discuss with the author whether any additional information was available, and was told there was no further information available. It is not at all evident there is any employment relationship. Once again, I invite the member to provide the department with any information he has, in which case he has a written commitment from the department to reconsider its view.
Darien Fenton: What reports, if any, has the Minister received concerning entitlements under New Zealand employment law?
Hon RUTH DYSON: I have seen a report that explains that under New Zealand law there is no minimum wage in the contractual relationship situation. That issue is addressed in a member’s bill in the name of the member asking the supplementary question—Darien Fenton. I certainly look forward to the support of the National Party for that bill, because it does address the very issue that National is raising concerns about.
Dr Wayne Mapp: As Dr Ingram specifically said in his report that he was “concerned by the unsatisfactory nature of the explanations provided by Mr Field”, why would the department not interview the people concerned, rather than just reading the report?
Hon RUTH DYSON: Because there is no evidence or implication, at all, that any employment relationship is involved in the issues outlined in the Ingram report. If the member has any further information to provide, then he should hand it over to the department and it will reconsider its view.
Dr Wayne Mapp: Is the Minister aware that Dr Ingram in his report said that Mr Field gave three different stories on each of the three times he was interviewed in relation to the work at 51 Church Street, and surely that requires the department to actually interview the people concerned?
Hon RUTH DYSON: The department has an interest in investigating issues of an employment relationship only, not of a contractual relationship, because there is no minimum wage protection under a contractual relationship.
Dr Wayne Mapp: Does the Minister have any concerns that Dr Ingram was not satisfied about even the authenticity of the invoices provided by Mr Field for the work at 51 Church Street, and surely that means the department must investigate whether these people were in fact employees, because the invoices are quite probably false?
Hon RUTH DYSON: No.
Surgery—Canterbury District Health Board Classification
11. BARBARA STEWART (NZ First) to the Minister of Health: Has his ministry ever researched possible methods of separating acute surgery from elective surgery, as advocated by senior medical staff in Christchurch following the culling of 5,121 patients from Canterbury District Health Board waiting lists?
Hon PETE HODGSON (Minister of Health): Yes, the ministry is well aware of some very interesting work in this area that is actually being pioneered at the Canterbury District Health Board, and believes that it will help increase the elective surgery throughput—indeed, throughout New Zealand, if some of those ideas were to travel.
Barbara Stewart: Does he expect the public system to have the increased capacity necessary to perform all of the elective surgery required; if so, when?
Hon PETE HODGSON: The member may or may not be aware that in the case of the Canterbury District Health Board my predecessor, the Hon Annette King, released more than $20 million, 15 months ago, to build four new theatres just to the north of the city. They are due to open in March of next year and will be used, either substantially or exclusively, for electives.
Maryan Street: What reports has he received on the amount of in-patient activity in New Zealand’s public hospitals?
Hon PETE HODGSON: Data released today shows that the 2005-06 financial year was the busiest year on record in New Zealand’s public hospitals. It shows that since the election of the Labour-led Government, total surgery numbers are up by just over 5 percent and elective surgery within that is up by just over 6 percent. Medical cases have increased by 29 percent. Whichever way one looks at it, more people are being treated in our hospitals than ever before. [Interruption]
Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I know that standards have dropped somewhat, but the comment from Tony Ryall was clearly out of order.
Madam SPEAKER: Would the member please—
Hon Tony Ryall: I apologise.
Barbara Stewart: Does the Minister consider that managing surgical waiting lists by imposing financial penalties on district health boards is an acceptable long-term strategy; if so, why?
Hon PETE HODGSON: I think the best way to answer that question is to say that the Canterbury District Health Board has decided that the future is best managed by promising what can be delivered and not more than that. It is not acceptable to make a promise and then break it. It is not acceptable to say “yes” to all comers when some people need attention faster than others. That is the basis of the booking system introduced under National.
Barbara Stewart: Is he aware that Christchurch Hospital is reportedly failing to meet international standards of the speedy treatment of gallstones and risks compounding the problem by axing gallstone sufferers from its elective waiting lists, and when can those patients expect any improvement in their situation?
Hon PETE HODGSON: As it happens, yes I am aware. The Canterbury District Health Board is seriously considering treating all gall bladder removals as acute cases. It is under serious consideration now.
12. Hon DAVID CARTER (National) to the Minister for Land Information: Why did the Government commission the report from Donn Armstrong on the land tenure process, and when will it be released to all interested parties?
Hon DAVID PARKER (Minister for Land Information): The Government commissioned the report as part of its work on rentals for high country pastoral leases. I recognise the interest in the report and hope to be in a position to release it next month.
Hon David Carter: Why did he tell the South Island high country Federated Farmers conference on 9 June that he would release the report by the end of June; why has he failed to do so?
Hon Dr Nick Smith: He lies like everybody else in the Government.
Madam SPEAKER: Would members please restrain themselves.
Hon DAVID PARKER: I had hoped to release the report before now. The delays have been caused by my desire to seek legal advice to ensure that the provisions of the Land Act and the Crown Pastoral Land Act are correctly applied.
Hon David Carter: Why did he write to the Primary Production Committee on 27 June, stating that he would make the report available to the select committee by the end of July—and again, he failed to do so?
Hon DAVID PARKER: The reason for the delay is the same. I say again that the reason for the delay was that I sought legal advice to ensure that the provisions of the Land Act and the Crown Pastoral Land Act are correctly applied.
Hon David Carter: What is so unpalatable in this report that it prevents him from releasing it; or is there some other reason that he is not prepared to make it available to the high country farmers?
Hon DAVID PARKER: There is no hidden agenda here, but I am determined that the Crown correctly apply the provisions in the law to ensure that we charge and receive the legally mandated rents.
R Doug Woolerton: What action does the Government intend to take if indeed the report finds that the method of land valuation used so far in the land tenure process has either been flawed or unfair?
Hon DAVID PARKER: I am, as I said in reply to the prior question, of the view that the department has no choice but to apply the rent-setting provisions in the Land Act and the Crown Pastoral Land Act.
Hon David Carter: How much money did the taxpayer pay for this report, which the Minister, to date, has hidden from taxpayers?
Hon DAVID PARKER: I do not have that number with me today.