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Questions And Answers - Thursday, 24 August 2006


Questions And Answers - Thursday, 24 August 2006

Questions to Ministers

Tourism—Overlander Rail Service

1. JEANETTE FITZSIMONS (Co-Leader—Green) to the Minister of Finance: Can he confirm that tourism is our major export earner; if so, does he wish to review his comment in the House yesterday that “We do not export anything via the Overlander.”?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Minister of Finance): Yes it is, only because of course agricultural exports are not combined; they are disaggregated. If they were combined, then easily agricultural exports would be our largest export earner. No, I do not wish to revise my answer from yesterday. The key word there is “via”. I was referring to the carrying of New Zealand goods to the market.

Jeanette Fitzsimons: Is he aware of a 400 percent increase in passengers, largely tourists, achieved on the Tranz Alpine line as a result of good marketing, and what will he do to help negotiate a package that will help the Overlander to achieve the same success?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I appear to have done so already. The announcement of the closure of the Overlander has led to a large increase in bookings until the point of closure.

Peter Brown: Will the Minister take this opportunity of clarifying his position: will he seriously consider a proposal from Toll that requires a modest subsidy for a short period of time, providing he receives a properly constructed business plan?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: In the extraordinarily unlikely event that Toll made that offer, I would seriously consider it. What I have received is an offer of an ongoing, in perpetuity, subsidy, which, given our experience with the current contracts on rail access, would no doubt be sought to being revised subsequently in Toll’s favour very substantially.

Sue Kedgley: How does the loss of the only long-distance passenger rail service in the North Island fit in with the Government’s National Rail Strategy, which commits the Government to “retaining the existing rail network” and “maximising the use of rail transport in New Zealand”; and why would the Government not consider a 2-year package such as has been proposed by the Green Party, rather than an indefinite subsidy?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I thank the Green Party for its offer, but it is not Toll. Toll has not made that offer.

Peter Brown: Would the Minister consider subsidising the service at a modest level for a short period of time if he receives a properly constructed business plan from an additional operator, other than Toll?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: In order for that to happen, the Overlander service must cease. That is part of the conditions of the current track access agreement with Toll.

Peter Brown: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I think we accept that the Overlander service will cease, but I am asking a specific question: would the Minister receive positively a proposal from another operator, albeit a few weeks or months after the Overlander service ceases?

Madam SPEAKER: That is not a point of order, but the Minister may wish to add to his answer.

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I am happy to comment further. I have not yet ruled out any further renegotiation with Toll. Mr Mike Lee of the Auckland Regional Council met with Toll today. Apparently at that meeting no progress was made, but Mr Lee is continuing work. I will certainly consider any approach around a new tourism-based venture that looks to have a likely chance of success, but I think also those regional councils that have been showing an interest should also come to the party. Everybody is keen to spend the Government’s money and to offer it up on their own platter.

Keith Locke: Will the Minister admit that he was wrong yesterday to complain about the Auckland Regional Council charging $200,000 a year for the Overlander to be at the Britomart rail terminal, when the council said today that it has subsidised the Britomart access fee from between $95,000 to $122,000 a year, and will he discuss with the Auckland, Waikato, Manawatu, and Wellington regional councils their proposal for a joint Government - local government financial rescue package to keep the service going while its long-term viability can be established?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: In answer to the first part of the question, yes. As to the second part, I have received no proposal from regional councils to subsidise the Overlander. I have received proposals that we should subsidise the Overlander.

Sue Kedgley: I seek leave to table the Government’s National Rail Strategy, with its commitment to retaining the existing network and maximising the use of rail transport.

Leave granted.

Keith Locke: I seek leave to table a statement issued today by Mike Lee, the chairman of the Auckland Regional Council, which proposes a joint financial rescue package that I presume both Government and local government would contribute to in order to save the Overlander service.

Leave granted.

Election Advertising—Auditor-General’s Report

2. Hon TONY RYALL (National—Bay of Plenty) to the Minister of Justice: Is the Ministry of Justice undertaking 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 Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Deputy Prime Minister) on behalf of the Minister of Justice: The Ministry of Justice has not seen the draft report, but it is undertaking a wide range of work around electoral law.

Hon Tony Ryall: What work, if any, is the ministry undertaking on options for retrospective action to try to legitimise unlawful spending identified by the Auditor-General in his draft report on parliamentary funding on election campaigns, and does any of that work involve amending provisions related to political corruption?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I am aware that the Ministry of Justice and Treasury have looked at ways in which validation might occur. Of course, validation occurs every year. That member’s party validated, for example, $50 million of unlawful tourism expenditure in one year.

Gordon Copeland: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I guess you will get used to this. I could not hear the latter part of the Minister’s answer to that question. I think it was an important answer that we, in this part of the House, would like actually to hear.

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I was explaining that validation of appropriations actually happens annually, as part of the annual financial review bill. Of course, the members opposite are not paying back the money spent on their billboards, nor have they paid back to the Exclusive Brethren the money it wasted.

Rodney Hide: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I still could not hear the answer.

Madam SPEAKER: I agree. Would the Minister please have another go.

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I will just briefly say that there is an annual financial review bill—[Interruption]—that is the truth—that validates expenditure almost every year, and that happened under the National Government.

Jeanette Fitzsimons: In that case, will the Minister be proposing legislation to validate the non-payment of GST by the National Party on its campaign spending?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: No—

Madam SPEAKER: I have not called the Minister. Members who ask questions are entitled to be heard; Ministers who answer questions are entitled to be heard. This House supports the notion of freedom of speech.

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: No; that matter, of course, was not an appropriation. I understand that the National Party has now paid the GST.

Hon Tony Ryall: In respect of his answer to my supplementary question, what specific items is the Ministry of Justice looking at that need validation, and why?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: At this stage it is not clear that there are any, of course, as we are yet to have the final report of the Auditor-General.

Hon Tony Ryall: Is he aware of any advice from the former Chief Electoral Officer, David Henry, on the Labour Party’s decision to include the cost of the pledge card in its election expenses before the election, and then, after the election, to withdraw that offer, so avoiding a negative public statement from Mr Henry before the election; and does he think any other body believes there is confusion about election expenses and corrupt practices?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I assume other bodies do, because the National Party has paid back some money that it thought it had spent legitimately in the first place.

Hon Tony Ryall: Has the Minister of Justice seen this paper from the then Chief Electoral Officer, David Henry, which was produced following a meeting with the police to discuss Labour’s election spending and the decision of the police not to charge Labour with a corrupt practice, because the police thought there was confusion about election-spending rules; if so, has he read that Mr Henry told the police that the relevant legal provisions were clear, that they had been discussed with party administrators before the election, and that the Chief Electoral Office had obtained Crown Law advice that confirmed Mr Henry’s repeated warnings to the Labour Party that its election spending needed to be declared?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I cannot speak for the Minister; I can speak only for myself. No, I have not seen that piece of paper.

Hon Tony Ryall: Is he aware of any other Ministers, or those who have the responsibilities of Ministers, who have seen the letters from the former Chief Electoral Officer, David Henry, sent on 2 September to the Labour Party, stating that the Helen Clark pledge card should be included as an election expense, or Mr Henry’s letter of 12 September advising that the Helen Clark fold-out brochure should be included as an election expense; if so, what action would he have expected honest Ministers to take to avoid their party committing a corrupt practice?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: No, I am personally not aware of that.

Hon Tony Ryall: Would he have any concerns if the former Chief Electoral Officer, David Henry, was invited to appear before the Justice and Electoral Committee during its inquiry into the 2005 general election, considering that Mr Henry was the key public official who warned Labour twice before the election that its Helen Clark pledge card was an election expense, and would he be concerned if Labour and Green MPs were blocking this whistleblower from coming before the select committee on the funding scandal?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: That is a matter for the select committee and its members.

Child, Youth and Family—Complaints

3. JUDY TURNER (Deputy Leader—United Future) to the Associate Minister for Social Development and Employment (CYF): Does Child, Youth and Family record the number of complaints received from those who feel unfairly treated by the actions, procedures, or decisions of the department; if so, how many complaints have been received in the last 5 years?

Hon RUTH DYSON (Associate Minister for Social Development and Employment (CYF)): I am advised that all complaints that the department receives are thoroughly investigated, but currently there is no central database that captures all complaints made to Child, Youth and Family staff.

Judy Turner: Does she agree that Child, Youth and Family should be accountable to an organisation outside itself, given its statutory powers; if so, will she support the call of United Future to establish an independent complaints authority for Child, Youth and Family?

Hon RUTH DYSON: I certainly agree that the actions of Child, Youth and Family staff, like all other public servants, should be accountable. In terms of the latter part of the member’s question, I am certainly prepared to review existing pathways for complaints to be made—for example, the Social Workers Registration Board, the Office of the Ombudsmen, the Privacy Commissioner, the Human Rights Commission, and any others—and will discuss the outcomes of those considerations with the member.

Georgina Beyer: What is Child, Youth and Family doing to strengthen its complaints procedures?

Hon RUTH DYSON: I am pleased to advise that work is under way to develop a new national database that will ensure that complaints can be collated centrally. The database is just one of the benefits we are seeing as a result of the merger between Child, Youth and Family Services and the Ministry of Social Development.

Judy Turner: Is the Minister aware that the Police Complaints Authority—for which the Child, Youth and Family’s equivalent could be considered comparable—costs approximately $2.1 million per year, yet its effect on public confidence and accountability is considered priceless; and, if so, is not a Child, Youth and Family complaints authority a very small cost for a very significant and necessary benefit for parents and families?

Hon RUTH DYSON: Yes, I am familiar with those figures and I will certainly take that information into consideration when undertaking the existing complaints pathways review.

Judith Collins: Why is Child, Youth and Family struggling to keep accurate records, and continuing to produce incorrect details of the delays around unallocated child abuse cases as it has on a number of occasions this year?

Hon RUTH DYSON: This is not a case of any department, including Child, Youth and Family, struggling. There is no database to collect that information centrally. With regard to the second part of the question, I agree that inaccurate information is totally unacceptable, and I have certainly relayed that view to the chief executive.

Labour Party Pledge Card—New Zealand Herald Article

4. JOHN KEY (National—Helensville) to the Minister of Finance: Does he stand by his statement to the House yesterday that “I do not think even the New Zealand Herald journalists believe that I have the capacity to bully them.”?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Minister of Finance): Yes, and I stand by my position. I did not, and never intended to, bully them.

John Key: Why then did senior New Zealand Herald journalist and senior political commentator John Armstrong write in his column on Saturday, 19 August that that was exactly what the Minister had done, by wording a press release that left the threat of retaliation hanging in the air?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I never did any such thing and I happen to disagree with John. I would be delighted if he would finally reply to the challenge to explain the moral difference, particularly given the New Zealand Herald editorial the previous day that compared the Labour Party to taxpayers having to pay back the tax they previously thought they did not have to pay.

John Key: If he had no intention all along of withdrawing the legislation retaliating against the New Zealand Herald’s owners, APN, and he was not trying to threaten them, why did he not make that clear when he made his statement on 15 August; and if he is not constantly trying to threaten the New Zealand Herald, why does he look up at them every time he answers a question? [Interruption]

Madam SPEAKER: I have not called the Minister. Please be seated. I will not be calling the Minister until the Minister can be heard.

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I invite members to look up into the gallery and see Audrey Young smiling at me. She does not take this seriously, either.

John Key: Why did the Minister not follow the advice of his own press secretary, Mike Jaspers, who warned him not to give this release and who warned him of the implications of the release; and why did he go off on his own tangent, knowing exactly what the implications of this press release would be?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: That is completely incorrect. What the member may prefer to explain is why he invited his local police area commander to a National Party fund-raiser without telling the area commander it was a National Party fund-raiser. [Interruption]

Madam SPEAKER: The member has a right to be heard in asking his question, so we will wait for silence.

John Key: Is the Minister aware that section 6 of the Tax Administration Act requires him to treat all taxpayers fairly and impartially, and, furthermore, to be seen to be treating all taxpayers fairly and impartially; and is it not a fact that raising the tax affairs of a newspaper critical of his Government puts him in breach of that very Act?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Apart from anything else, I suggest that the member read the Act again, and read who the responsible Minister is that the Act refers to.

Rodney Hide: Is it the Minister’s experience in politics that New Zealand Herald journalists are capable of being bullied; if so, would he share with the House how one does it?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I think one has to go back a long way, be significantly smaller, shorter, and wider, and grunt rather nastily.

KiwiSaver Scheme—Enhancement

5. Hon MARK GOSCHE (Labour—Maungakiekie) on behalf of SHANE JONES (Labour) to the Minister of Finance: What enhancements, if any, does he plan to introduce to the KiwiSaver scheme?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Minister of Finance): Today I announced a series of changes that build on the excellent work of the Finance and Expenditure Committee. Among these changes are the exemption for employer contributions to the KiwiSaver scheme and the specified superannuation contributions withholding tax, capped at the lesser figure of the employer’s contribution or 4 percent of the employee’s gross salary or wages.

Hon Mark Gosche: How will these changes benefit workers and employers?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: By making the employer contributions tax-free up to the 4 percent limit, we are making it more attractive for workers to save, as their balances will grow more quickly with an employer subsidy. We are also giving employers more choices when it comes to remunerating their workers, and I welcome the fact that even before these changes were announced, Fletcher Building became the first employer to propose a subsidised KiwiSaver workplace scheme.

Gordon Copeland: Will the changes announced today assist New Zealanders to build equity in their family home; if so, how?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: It is obvious that the changes announced today do, because they include a mortgage diversion scheme proposed by the member who asked the question. That will allow part of a person’s KiwiSaver contribution to go towards paying off the mortgage on his or her home.

Craig Foss: Can the Minister confirm that the indexation of personal tax rates, as promised in the 2005 Budget, will not now be implemented, due to a trade-off against the mortgage diversion changes to the KiwiSaver scheme, as announced today?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: No, help is on its way.

John Key: Can the Minister confirm that some employers will offset the cost of their contributions to employee accounts against future wage increases, so that, in effect, for those employees there is no free lunch here?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: No, I cannot confirm that. Obviously, it is a matter of negotiation between employers and employees. But for a member who has occasionally flirted in public with the idea of a compulsory scheme, that seemed a particularly strange question to ask.

John Key: Can the Minister confirm that, in effect, for some people who are currently in a match savings scheme that may become KiwSaver compliant—to take the example of someone in the State sector retirement scheme who currently has 6 percent of his or her income trapped in that scheme; 3 percent from the employee and 3 percent from the employer—now under the mortgage diversion changes, such employees will in fact be able to take the 3 percent out that they are contributing, and so for some people savings will go down and not up, as a result of his changes?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: No, because if it were the KiwiSaver scheme, they could of course withdraw completely, with a holiday on their contributions. The point of the mortgage diversion scheme is that they retain contributions into, and in connection with, the KiwiSaver scheme.

Taito Phillip Field—Advice to Associate Minister of Immigration

6. Dr the Hon LOCKWOOD SMITH (National—Rodney) to the Minister of Immigration: Is he satisfied Taito Phillip Field provided the Associate Minister of Immigration, the Hon Damien O’Connor, with all relevant information prior to the Minister’s decision to issue a special direction for a work visa for Mr Sunan Siriwan; if not, what additional information should Taito Phillip Field have provided in order for the Minister to make an appropriate decision?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE (Minister of Immigration): The Ingram report indicates he did not provide all such information.

Dr the Hon Lockwood Smith: Would the fact that Taito Phillip Field sent Mr Sunan Siriwan to Samoa, where Mr Sunan Siriwan tiled 460 square metres of Mr Field’s house without pay, be considered relevant information, and has Taito Phillip Field explained to him why he did not provide that relevant information prior to the Minister’s decision?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: The Associate Minister was entitled to receive from Mr Field all relevant information—as Associate Ministers are from any member making such representations.

Dr the Hon Lockwood Smith: Would the fact that Mr Sunan Siriwan laid a new floor at Maria’s Health Care Pharmacy, a business run by Mrs Field’s daughter-in-law in Samoa, be relevant information; if so, what explanation has Taito Phillip Field given for his failure to provide that information prior to the Minister’s decision?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: The Ingram report makes clear that Mr Field may have committed some errors of judgment—[Interruption] For the benefit of members opposite that is not now news. The Prime Minister concurs with that view and so do I.

Dr the Hon Lockwood Smith: Would the fact that Mr Sunan Siriwan was tiling Maxine’s Cake Shop, owned by Mr Field’s stepson in Samoa, for no pay be considered relevant information; if so, what advice has he received as to why Taito Phillip Field failed to provide that information prior to the Minister’s decision?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: To my knowledge I have received no specific advice on that matter.

Dr the Hon Lockwood Smith: Would it be relevant information that at the very time Taito Phillip Field was making representations to the Associate Minister that a special direction be granted to allow Mr Sunan Siriwan to be reunited with his child in New Zealand, that child was, in fact, living in Thailand; if so, what explanation has been provided by Mr Field as to why that relevant information was not provided?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: As I have said, and as we have traversed in this House, Ministers are entitled to all relevant information such as that.

Dr the Hon Lockwood Smith: Would it be relevant information that at the very time Taito Phillip Field was making representations for work visas to be granted to both Mr Sunan Siriwan and Ms Phanngarm to allow for the reunification of this family in New Zealand, Mr Field’s stepson had just paid to fly Ms Phanngarm and her child from Thailand to Samoa where Mr Sunan Siriwan was working without pay on Mr Field’s house, and has he received any explanation as to why that relevant information was not provided by Mr Field prior to the Minister’s decision?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: Yes and no.

Te Arawa Deed of Settlement—Ngāti Rangiteaorere

7. TE URUROA FLAVELL (Māori Party—Waiariki) to the Minister in charge of Treaty of Waitangi Negotiations: What interactions, if any, has he or his department had with Ngā Kaihautū o Te Arawa regarding the status of Ngāti Rangiteaorere, subsequent to the initialling of the Te Arawa deed of settlement at Parliament on 8 August 2006?

Hon MITA RIRINUI (Associate Minister in charge of Treaty of Waitangi Negotiations) on behalf of the Minister in charge of Treaty of Waitangi Negotiations: None.

Te Ururoa Flavell: Is the Minister aware that in the last 16 days Ngāti Rangiteaorere have withdrawn from Ngā Kaihautū o Te Arawa; and can he explain whether those associated with Ngā Kaihautū o Te Arawa will still receive the $36 million, which was inclusive of Ngāti Rangiteaorere, or will the allocation be reduced accordingly; if so, by what amount?

Hon MITA RIRINUI: Any withdrawal of Rangiteaorere’s membership, in terms of its registered affiliates, is really an issue between Rangiteaorere and the Ngā Kaihautū o Te Arawa Executive Council.

As for modification of the entire claim, that has been done in terms of an area known as Rangitoto maunga. It is acknowledged that Rangiteaorere do have interests in that maunga, and therefore the modification has taken place.

Te Ururoa Flavell: How will the Minister ensure that those members of Ngāti Rangiteaorere who declared Ngāti Rangiteaorere as their iwi, and who have now withdrawn from Ngā Kaihautū o Te Arawa, will not participate in voting, particularly in ratification votes for other tribes of Ngā Kaihautū o Te Arawa?

Hon MITA RIRINUI: I cannot give the member that assurance. Those of Rangiteaorere also whakapapa to other iwi involved in the claim.

Taito Phillip Field—Advice to Associate Minister of Immigration

8. Dr the Hon LOCKWOOD SMITH (National—Rodney) to the Minister of Immigration: When he told the House on Wednesday 26 July that his department “attempted to ensure that Mr O’Connor was in receipt of relevant information from Samoa about Mr Field’s relationship with Mr Siriwan”, how effectively did his department achieve that?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE (Minister of Immigration): As I have previously stated in this House, I concur with the Secretary of Labour’s view that the department’s processes could be strengthened to ensure in future that decision makers have access to all relevant information.

Dr the Hon Lockwood Smith: Is it correct that six sections of the department—namely, the Apia branch, the immigration intelligence unit, the Pacific division, the service international section, the short-term overstayers compliance team, and the failed refugee compliance team—were all in possession of the information that Mr Siriwan was working on Taito Phillip Field’s house in Samoa at the time the Minister was considering his immigration case; if so, how many sections of his department have to be in possession of relevant information before the Minister is told about it?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: It has been accepted by the Ingram inquiry that what is most likely to have occurred in this instance is that the Minister’s private secretary was informed but did not pass that information to the Minister because of the unconfirmed nature of the allegations.

Dr the Hon Lockwood Smith: Is it correct that the Apia branch, the immigration intelligence unit, the Pacific division, the service international section, the short-term overstayers compliance team, and the failed refugee compliance team were all in possession of the information that Mr Siriwan was working on Taito Phillip Field’s house in Samoa at the time the Minister’s department prepared the briefing for Mr O’Connor for his decision; and does the Minister really expect the public to believe that all six of those sections of his department coincidentally just forgot to pass on that information in their briefing to Mr O’Connor?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: I expect the public to believe the findings of the Ingram report, which are quite clear on that matter.

Dr the Hon Lockwood Smith: Is it correct that of the six sections of the department that were in possession of the information about Mr Siriwan and Taito Phillip Field, the Apia branch manager believed “Damien knew about that before he made the decision.”; if so, how many of the other five sections of the department also believed that the Minister knew, prior to making his decision?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: That matter has also been thoroughly traversed in the Ingram report. Mr Ingram found that the likelihood was that Mr Dalmer’s understanding—the Apia manager—was incorrect.

Dr the Hon Lockwood Smith: When Mr Field had written to the Associate Minister on 18 May claiming that the Minister had decided to consider favourably a 2-year work permit for Mr Siriwan and to cancel the deportation order on his spouse, is it reasonable to assume that the Associate Minister’s office would have been well aware of the Siriwan case; and how then does he explain the Associate Minister’s office forgetting a 5-minute phone call from the group manager of the service international unit of the Immigration Service querying whether the Associate Minister was aware of all the information they had on Phillip Field’s involvement with Siriwan?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: Mr Ingram concludes that the Minister’s private secretary advised him some time after the decision was made on the 23rd, and before her conversation with the Apia manager and others on the 28th.

Dr the Hon Lockwood Smith: How competent does it make his office, and the office of the Associate Minister, appear when he supports the claim that a direct call from a senior departmental manager to the Associate Minister’s office, querying whether the Associate Minister was aware of the serious issues surrounding Mr Field’s involvement with Mr Siriwan, could just be forgotten, and when the letter from Keith Williams to the Minister of Immigration, detailing the seriousness of those issues, was not received by the Minister for 6 weeks, as he alleged in this House yesterday, or are these lapses in both offices just part of an elaborate cover-up to quarantine the damage from the Phillip Field saga?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: It is unbefitting of the member to make such allegations against officials. The chief executive stated, on 13 April 2006, that the department did not meet the standard of ensuring that all relevant information held by the department was demonstrably available to the decision maker—the Minister.

Pupil-Teacher Ratios—Reduction

9. MOANA MACKEY (Labour) to the Minister of Education: What is the Government doing to further reduce pupil-teacher ratios?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY (Minister of Education): I have a spot of good news. Yesterday I announced a $26 million initiative that will allow primary schools to employ an additional 455 teachers from next year. This builds on the 3,040 new teacher positions that Labour has created since 1999 and brings our annual investment in extra staffing to more than $200 million a year. These teachers are above what is needed for normal roll growth and will reduce teacher-pupil ratios, ease teacher workloads, and improve learning outcomes for our students. I am sure the policy is endorsed by the entire House.

Moana Mackey: If the Government now spends more than $1.5 billion a year on school staffing, resulting in a reduction in class sizes, does the Minister intend to do anything further to reduce class sizes?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: This Government will continue to reduce class sizes in every New Zealand school. This includes a commitment to employ around 1,300 extra primary school teachers so that by 2008 there is a ratio of one teacher to every 15 students in junior classes. Our teacher supply policies are already having a major impact on the number of new teachers coming into schools, the number of Kiwi teachers returning to this country, and the number of overseas-trained teachers coming here to teach. Unlike Tau Henare from the National Party, we support teachers. He does not. That is why they vote Labour.

Pita Paraone: Would the Minister explain why teachers with 4-year university qualifications are still having to carry out crossing duties; would we not get more bangs for taxpayers’ bucks through the development of a paraprofessional group of workers in schools to carry out small-group and one-to-one tuition under the supervision of fully trained professionals?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: I think that is an interesting idea. It was one of the things that has developed around a discussion of support and ancillary staff in schools. The way schools operate these days one can see that those staff are becoming permanent. The debate is really as to what their future role will be, so that professionals can carry on with their core jobs.

Dr Pita Sharples: What progress has been achieved in implementing the recommendations contained in the report of the School Staffing Review Group that there should be a teacher-pupil ratio of no greater than 1:15 in kura kaupapa Māori and in total Māori immersion and qualifying Māori bilingual classes in regular schools?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: The implementation of that part of the school staffing report of course depends upon our ability to recruit teachers who are fluent in te reo. At the moment, as the member will know, that is one of the challenges we have in workforce development. But we still have that goal, and as fast as we can supply those teachers those numbers will come down.

Surgery—Elective Surgical Discharges

10. Hon TONY RYALL (National—Bay of Plenty) to the Minister of Health: How many elective surgical discharges were there in 2005-06 and how does this compare with the previous year?

Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR (Associate Minister of Health) on behalf of the Minister of Health: The 2005-06 year was the busiest for our public hospitals on record, with over 105,000 in-patient elective discharges. This compares well with the previous year, despite the thousands of elective procedures cancelled due to the junior doctors’ strike.

Hon Tony Ryall: How can it be that the Government spent an extra $800 million on health last year, yet fewer New Zealanders got elective surgery than the year before—indeed, fewer New Zealanders got surgery of any kind than the year before—when Labour promised more?

Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: I remind that member that elective surgery accounts for just 20 percent of all hospital in-patients. We have to acknowledge that, unfortunately, due to the strike of the junior doctors, fewer elective surgeries were carried out.

Madam SPEAKER: Would the Minister please be seated. I could not hear the answer to that question, so I ask the Minister to please start again. I also remind members who have changed their seats to the front row that barracking is not permitted under those circumstances. Would the Minister please give his answer again.

Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: I would like to remind the House and that member that since we came into Government, 6,000 more New Zealanders are receiving elective surgery every year. We are putting money into every area of health, and we will be working particularly on the Primary Health Care Strategy to hopefully reduce those numbers over time.

Maryan Street: How does the number of elective procedures performed last year compare with the number performed in the 1999-2000 financial year?

Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: I think it is important to remind that member once again that when we came into Government, 99,000 elective surgery procedures were carried out. Last year there were 105,000. That is 6,000 additional elective surgery procedures last year.

Barbara Stewart: What action, if any, is his ministry taking to establish the possible extent of unmet need in the health system, which may have financial implications for the public health system in the future?

Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: I am not aware of the particular survey, but I do know that we have spent a huge amount of additional funding in the area of primary health care—on mental health; in every area of the public health system; on new hospitals that the last National Government refused to build—which, over time, will reduce demand. Over time, the health system will be better able to meet all the needs of New Zealanders.

Hon Tony Ryall: If the Government is doing such a good job, as he claims, why then is Graham from Rangiora being culled from the hospital waiting list for a hip replacement, even though his need is so great that he was given maximum points to get his operation—and his name has been culled from the waiting list, along with the names of over 5,000 other Canterbury people?

Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: It is far fairer for those patients to go back to their general practitioners to get an accurate indication of when they will receive their elective surgery. I know of a situation where, under the previous National Government, a person waited for over 10 years to get a hip replacement. We will not allow that level of uncertainty in our public health system.

Barbara Stewart: Does he not consider that his ministry should be aware of the extent of unmet need, as this will also impact significantly on future workforce requirements?

Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: That member does make a valid point. It is important to know what the workforce requirements will be, and one of the first things we did on coming into Government was to plan for workforce developments. With regard to the unmet needs issue, with technology there will always be new needs that we have not accurately identified, but we are doing a lot more than the previous Government did to accurately identify and to fairly indicate to patients when they will get their procedures.

Hon Tony Ryall: How can a man who has been given maximum points to get an operation—who is in pain, who has had to give up his lawnmowing business, and who cannot live the life of an active 60-year-old—be unable to have that operation, when his specialist has given him maximum points to get care?

Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: I cannot comment on the individual case, but I am sure that if that person does go back to his general practitioner, he will be accurately assessed and, more likely than not, will receive access to surgery in a timely manner.

Hon Tony Ryall: Does this Minister not realise that this man went to his general practitioner, who sent him to the specialist who gave him maximum points to get an operation? He has had to give up his business and he is not able to lead the active life that this Minister leads. Yet the Minister is standing up in this Parliament and saying that everything is rosy in the garden of our public hospitals.

Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: I am saying that it is a whole lot better than it was under that previous National Government and—[Interruption]

Madam SPEAKER: Order!

Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: Thank you, Madam Speaker. I am saying that the system is a whole lot better under our Government than it was under the last National Government. And if the details of that particular case were to be forwarded to the district health board, I am sure that they would be looked at. It is not for me to comment on individual cases.

Hon Tony Ryall: I seek leave to table a schedule, based on official answers from the Minister of Health, which shows that the number of people who got elective surgery in our public hospitals last year was the lowest it has been in 6 years.

Leave granted.

Prisoners—Drug and Alcohol Rehabilitation

11. MARTIN GALLAGHER (Labour—Hamilton West) to the Minister of Corrections: What is the Government doing to promote drug and alcohol rehabilitation in prisons?

Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR (Minister of Corrections): Under the Effective Interventions package, which the Government announced last week, the Department of Corrections will be significantly increasing the number of drug treatment placements within prisons. We will also be expanding the availability in the community of drug, alcohol, and mental health services for offenders.

Martin Gallagher: What reports has the Minister seen on prisoner rehabilitation programmes?

Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: I have seen two. First, an editorial in the Nelson Mail stated: “Of real significance … is the funding of two new prison alcohol and drug units, and two general purpose rehabilitation units. The second report stated: “There has never been a stronger argument for effective rehabilitation programmes.” That comment came from Simon Power, and we welcome his support.

Simon Power: Can he confirm that the number of prisoners testing positive for amphetamine-type drugs since 1999 has increased five times; and, after 7 years in office, why is the Government doing something about it only now—given that only 74 inmates completed a drug treatment programme last year, yet 83 percent of inmates have drug or alcohol dependency?

Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: The member is rather liberal with the statistics. Although there has been an increase in the number of people tested for methamphetamine, the total number of people who have been identified through random drug-testing as using drugs in prison is the lowest level ever—far lower than under the previous Government—and we will continue to do random testing to identify those people.

Ron Mark: Is the Minister aware that of the 105,000-odd convictions in 2005— approximately 80 percent of which were alcohol and drug related—sentencing judges ordered less than 4 percent of offenders to undergo counselling and/or treatment programmes; if so, does it concern him that judges themselves may be contributing to the high levels of recidivism and reimprisonment rates, through their reluctance to order rehabilitative treatment as part of the sentence handed down, and what is his Government going to do about that situation?

Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: The Government is doing a number of things about that. We are improving the screening process for those issues, when prisoners come into prison. We have, through Effective Interventions, identified the need for a greater amount of drug and alcohol treatment, both within prison and within the community. We are confident that judges, knowing of these extra facilities, will sentence those prisoners to undertake drug and alcohol programmes.

Resource Management Act—Public Opinion

12. Hon Dr NICK SMITH (National—Nelson) to the Minister for the Environment: Will the Government reform the Resource Management Act 1991, given that this month’s Mood of the Boardroom survey found the most negative Government policy on productivity and growth was the Resource Management Act legislation, with 88 percent saying it was negative, 12 percent saying it was neutral, and 0 percent saying it was positive?

Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE (Minister for the Environment): I would like to thank the member for bringing to the attention of the House last month’s Mood in the Boardroom survey, which had this to say: “… Brash’s poor rating as an effective political leader by CEOs must raise questions over whether he will achieve the necessary political skills to head off the formidable Clark.”

Madam SPEAKER: Would the Minister please address the question. That is not relevant.

Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: Despite efforts by the member to misinform New Zealanders, he knows only too well, as do members of the House, that changes to the Resource Management Act last year addressed the concerns of many in the community, including those of industry.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: How can he claim that his amendment bill, which was passed over a year ago, has addressed the problem, when 88 percent of business leaders said this month that it is an impediment to growth and is in need of reform; and is that not saying that his bill was a failure?

Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: Easily and no. Those views are not reflected, for example, by more reputable groups in the community, such as Local Government New Zealand, KPMG, and Yale University, if I could cite those examples. Local Government New Zealand surveys have shown that compliance costs with the Resource Management Act are 10 to 15 percent lower than in one of our largest trading partners, Australia, and that, on average, New Zealand needed to lodge only half the number of applications to fewer authorities. A KPMG survey on costs in 2005 showed that compliance costs had declined by 28 percent from 2004, and 51 percent from 2003. The environmental performance index, which was produced by a team of experts from Yale University and Columbia University, rated New Zealand first out of 133 countries surveyed.

Hon Jim Anderton: Has the Minister received any other reports on the Mood of the Boardroom survey affecting political or economic issues that face New Zealand?

Hon Dr Nick Smith: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I know that Mr Anderton is a new member to the House, but this question is to the Minister for the Environment, and it needs to be within his ministerial responsibilities as Minister for the Environment, none of which Mr Anderton’s question addressed.

Hon Jim Anderton: The very question the member asked reflects on the Mood of the Boardroom survey of this organisation. I am asking the Minister whether he has had other reports on that survey, so the House can be informed about those, too.

Madam SPEAKER: The phrasing of the question does raise that point, but I think it is appropriate that the answers are confined essentially to the environment, and I also take the opportunity to remind members that both questions and answers should be succinct and concise. [Interruption] We have not got a question; that question has been ruled out of order. I will take a question from Steve Chadwick.

Steve Chadwick: What reports has he seen on the ease of doing business in New Zealand?

Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: Instead of the one-sided question in the Mood of the Boardroom survey, it might have been more helpful if chief executive officers had been asked whether they thought the Resource Management Act achieved a balance between economic development and environmental sustainability, or even how New Zealand compares internationally. As the member will know, the latest World Bank report, Doing Business in 2006: Creating Jobs, ranks New Zealand first in terms of the ease of doing business, and second in terms of dealing with consents and licences, such as with the Resource Management Act consent processes. Clearly, this Government, at least, has got the balance right in terms of balancing economic development and environmental sustainability.

R Doug Woolerton: Does the Minister accept that many businesspeople blame the Resource Management Act process for holding up projects that are often delayed more as a result of their own poor planning; and does he agree that any moves to streamline the Resource Management Act process must be balanced against any lengthy community consultation and significant ratepayer costs incurred by councils?

Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: Yes, I do. Negative Resource Management Act surveys are, no doubt, based on people’s experience of negative media reporting and the misinformation we consistently see from members opposite. The facts of the matter do not support those conclusions. Of the nearly 55,000 consents processed, 99.3 percent were granted, and 0.7 were declined. Ninety-five percent of applications are processed on a non-notified basis—the majority within 20 working days. The average median charge for a non-notified land use consent was $400. Of the 5 percent of applications publicly notified, just 1 percent is appealed to the Environment Court. Those are the applications the company bosses surveyed read about in the newspaper.

Madam SPEAKER: I did ask that Ministers please make their answers succinct. This is not the opportunity for speeches.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: Does he accept any responsibility for New Zealand dropping six places in this year’s IMD world competitiveness study, which noted that of the 61 countries surveyed New Zealand ranked as the absolute dunce of the class at number 61 for the effectiveness of its environmental laws, and why does he continue to refuse to reform the Resource Management Act when there is such compelling evidence that improvements are desperately required?

Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: I give no credence to results like that that are absolutely at odds with the details I read earlier.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: How can any credibility be given to all the Government’s talk about economic transformation and productivity gains, when in respect of questions about the Resource Management Act, he listens only to the views of local government and dismisses the views of 128 chief executive officers of New Zealand businesses as not credible; and does he really expect us to believe that those 128 chief executive officers, who are in the engine room of the New Zealand economy, are wrong and he is right?

Madam SPEAKER: Before the Minister replies, it is not only answers that should be succinct but questions, please. Would the Minister please address the question.

Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: Those 128 chief executive officers clearly consider the results they gave in this report to be—in their words—another nail in the Brash coffin. But in terms of the Resource Management Act, every year between 45,000 and 50,000 resource consents are issued, and 95 percent of them are processed without the formality of public notification.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: Does the Minister recall the promise from Labour in 1999 to deliver a national policy statement on biodiversity—a promise restated in 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, and 2005 but that still has not happened; and why should this Parliament give any credibility to the latest announcements by the Minister of Energy and himself that there will be a national policy statement on energy, when they have not delivered a single national policy statement in 7 years?

Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: Neither of those questions, as far as I can see, has any relevance to the original question.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. My primary question was in respect of the Resource Management Act. It was also in terms of business leaders’ concern, of which—in the “mood of the boardroom” survey—electricity in the Resource Management Act was a key component. The Government has recently announced, as part of its addressing of the blackout in Auckland, a national policy statement. A national policy statement is a key part of the Resource Management Act. For the Minister to suddenly argue that national policy statements are nothing to do with the Resource Management Act and the primary question is a very long stretch.

Hon Dr Michael Cullen: The policy statement for energy is issued by the Minister of Energy, not the Minister for the Environment.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: That is not correct—

Madam SPEAKER: I thank the member, but I do not any further assistance on this. The original question, as I ruled, focused on the Resource Management Act. The question was a long one, but it did sound as though it raised the question of energy. [Interruption] I ask members to please be quiet if they want to remain in the House for what is left of question time. However, the Minister, if he felt it was inappropriate, should have raised his point as a point of order, so the response he gave in that sense was not a proper reply. So we shall start again.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I have asked a question—a quite specific question—about national policy statements under the Resource Management Act—

Madam SPEAKER: Would the member please put his question again.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: I will be very happy to do so. Does the Minister recall the promise from Labour, in its 1999 Resource Management Act policy, to deliver a national policy statement on biodiversity—a promise restated every year since, but not delivered—and why should we give any credibility now to the promise of a national policy statement under the Resource Management Act in respect of energy, when it has not delivered a single national policy statement under the Resource Management Act in 7 years?

Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: Labour policy and Cabinet announcements on biodiversity will be made shortly. I have no responsibility for the policy on energy.

Hon Dr Michael Cullen: Is the Minister aware of the undertaking by Mr Maurice Williamson on behalf of the National Party—I think it was reported in Driver Magazine, from memory—to gut the Resource Management Act; and can he confirm that this Act to be gutted was actually passed by the National Government in 1991?

Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: I think it is unfortunate that a case of selective amnesia applies to the matters to do with the Resource Management Act—legislation introduced by the previous National Government, which now constantly refuses to acknowledge the importance of balancing the needs for economic development and environmental protection.

I seek leave to table an article in the New Zealand Herald, dated Tuesday, 8 August 2006, entitled:“Another nail in the Brash coffin”.

Madam SPEAKER: Leave is sought. Is there any objection? There is objection.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: To remind the member, given his comments about selective amnesia, I seek the leave of the House to table a tennis ball.

Madam SPEAKER: Leave is sought. Is there any objection? There is objection.

Question No. 1 to Member

Question withdrawn.

ENDS


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