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Questions And Answers - Tuesday, 29 August 2006

Questions And Answers - Tuesday, 29 August 2006

Questions to Ministers

Ingram Report—Confidence

1. Dr DON BRASH (Leader of the Opposition) to the Prime Minister: Does she continue to have confidence in the report of Dr Noel Ingram QC into matters related to Taito Phillip Field in light of revelations by the New Zealand Herald on Saturday, 26 August and the Television One Sunday programme on 27 August; if so, why?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK (Prime Minister): Yes, it was a comprehensive report on whether there was a ministerial conflict of interest. It found there was not.

Dr Don Brash: Can she explain how the New Zealand Herald was able to check the Samoan work permit application completed by Mr or Mrs Field and found it in total conflict with the explanations given to the Ingram inquiry by Mr Field, yet the report she commissioned from a Queen’s Counsel that cost half a million dollars and took 9 months to complete was unable to make that elementary check?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: Obviously, at no time did I seek to direct Dr Ingram on how he conducted an inquiry.

Dr Don Brash: Can she tell the House which version we should believe—the version retailed by her half-million-dollar Ingram report that says Mr Field did not know that Mr Siriwan was going to work on his house in Samoa, or the Samoan work permit record accessed by the New Zealand Herald that shows that Mr Siriwan only got a work permit into Samoa because he was sponsored as an employee of the Fields?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: No. I have no responsibility for telling Dr Brash what to believe.

Dr Don Brash: Why did the Prime Minister not seek to resolve those conflicting stories by simply asking her parliamentary colleague Mr H V Ross Robertson, who visited Mr Field and Mr Siriwan in Samoa and told the New Zealand Herald in relation to Mr Siriwan and Mr Keith Williams: “I got the impression they were there to help Phillip in whatever way they were there for.” but then refused to comment when asked if Mr Field had told him that Mr Siriwan was working for him?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: As the member is aware, the report was commissioned around the issue of a ministerial conflict of interest. There was none. I have drawn the obvious conclusions from it.

Dr Don Brash: Is it the case that Television One’s Sunday programme was able to obtain interviews and information where the Ingram inquiry was unable to do so, because she refused to provide basic legal advice to willing witnesses, and can she tell the House what reasons she could have had for that refusal other than a desire to see the report become a cover-up?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: It has never been the Crown policy to provide legal advice to witnesses.

Dr Don Brash: Is the Prime Minister now ready to concede that her strategy of orchestrating a cover-up and then toughing it out has been an abject failure, and will she now offer the New Zealand public the information, explanation, and action they have every right to require?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: Having watched National indiscretions over many years with never a commission of inquiry, I know what a cover-up looks like, and it is the cover-ups that party indulged in when in Government, for many, many years. I know what a cover-up looks like when Don Brash commissions support from the Exclusive Brethren then will not tell the truth about it.

Dr Don Brash: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. To the best of my ability I could not work out how that answer could conceivably have been regarded as addressing the question. It did not touch on the question, at all. Could I ask you to invite the Prime Minister to give a proper answer to that question?

Hon Dr Michael Cullen: Whenever members ask questions containing some kind of assertion of fact, they always open themselves up to the response being to question the nature of that fact.

Madam SPEAKER: Yes, the question did, in fact, make an imputation, which was then commented upon and refuted by the Prime Minister.

Dr Don Brash: Does the Prime Minister believe that Taito Phillip Field is a fit person to be a member of this House?

Madam SPEAKER: I will rule on the point of order. The Prime Minister has no responsibility for that question. As members know, Ministers are responsible for the actions within their ministerial portfolios. The Prime Minister is not responsible for a member who is not a Minister.

Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. It has been frequent practice in this House for the Speaker to give Ministers, or the Prime Minister, an opportunity to make comment, even when supplementary questions that are asked do not go right to the heart of their ministerial responsibility. In this case, the Prime Minister has not been given that opportunity and I think it would be only fair to let her make a response in that regard.

Hon Dr Michael Cullen: Were you to do that, of course, you would open up that kind of question in a way that would lead to a whole number of members opposite being unprotected, because it would be perfectly legitimate under the guise of some other initial supplementary question to ask whether the Prime Minister believes that the Hon Dr Nick Smith is a suitable person to be a member of this House, and the Prime Minister might care to elaborate on that answer, at some length.

Madam SPEAKER: I will rule on the point of order. The question did not go to the question of ministerial responsibility at all, and I think it should be left there. But I ask the member to ask another supplementary question, if he so wishes.

Ports—Infrastructure Development

2. PETER BROWN (Deputy Leader—NZ First) to the Minister of Transport: Has she received any reports on the development of New Zealand’s port infrastructure; if so, what action, if any, does she intend to take in response to these reports?

Hon ANNETTE KING (Minister of Transport): No.

Peter Brown: Is her ministry prepared to undertake research, in due course, into the flow-on effects of Maersk’s decision to reduce the number of ports it ships to, and specifically on how that will impact on regional economies and transport modes?

Hon ANNETTE KING: I have no doubt the Ministry of Transport will be looking at such issues as they arise, and if they arise.

Sue Bradford: Is the Minister committed to restoring a vibrant New Zealand - owned coastal shipping industry that could assist in rendering all our existing ports more viable, and will she be listening with an open and sympathetic mind to the maritime strategy that the New Zealand Shipping Federation will be putting to the Government shortly?

Hon ANNETTE KING: Yes, the Shipping Federation is meeting with me on 14 September. I certainly will be listening to what it has to say. The work it has been undertaking was work that was recommended by the former Minister of Transport, David Parker. I certainly will be consulting New Zealand First, in accordance with the spirit of our confidence and supply agreement.

Immigration, Associate Minister—Special Directions

3. Dr the Hon LOCKWOOD SMITH (National—Rodney) to the Minister of Immigration: How many of the 262 special directions made by the Associate Minister between January 2003 and October 2005 in response to submissions by Taito Phillip Field have been checked to ensure that no errors of fact or misleading information led to inappropriate decisions by the Associate Minister?

Hon CLAYTON COSGROVE (Associate Minister of Immigration), on behalf of the Minister of Immigration: None, because in order to conduct an investigation specific allegations and information are required. A check of the files in itself would not yield any further information as it would not reveal what information had not been provided.

Dr the Hon Lockwood Smith: Did Taito Phillip Field inform the then Associate Minister of Immigration, Damien O’Connor, that the Samoan work permit for Mr Sunan Siriwan, for which Mrs Maxine Field paid 700 to 900 tala, was completed in Mr Field’s presence during a meeting at his house in Auckland on 26 or 27 February 2005, as alleged at the Ingram inquiry, before Mr Field’s final submissions to the Associate Minister on 17 May, and would that information have been relevant to the decision the Associate Minister made on 17 June to issue a special direction for a work visa for Mr Sunan Siriwan?

Hon CLAYTON COSGROVE: I am advised that the Ingram report concludes that the Associate Minister did not have the relevant information at the time he made his decision on the Sunan Siriwan case.

Dr the Hon Lockwood Smith: Did Taito Phillip Field inform the Associate Minister of Immigration, Damien O’Connor, that his wife’s son, in order to clear a debt owed to Maxine Field, paid 5,052 tala to fly Thai overstayer and deportee Ms Phanngarm—Mr Sunan Siriwan’s partner—from Thailand to Samoa, and also paid for her work permit in Samoa; if not, would that information have been relevant to the Minister’s decision to issue a special direction to grant a work visa, and the cancellation of Ms Phanngarm’s removal order—decisions made by Mr O’Connor on 17 June 2005?

Hon CLAYTON COSGROVE: I reply again that the Ingram report concludes that the Associate Minister did not have the relevant information at the time he made the decision on the Sunan Siriwan case. I refer the member to paragraphs [157] and [158] on page 49 of the said Ingram report.

Dr the Hon Lockwood Smith: Did Taito Phillip Field inform the Associate Minister of Immigration, Damien O’Connor, that the work permit for which his wife, Maxine Field, paid 700 to 900 tala named the Fields as Sunan Siriwan’s employer in Samoa, in contradiction of Mr Field’s evidence to the Ingram inquiry; if not, how would that information have influenced the Associate Minister’s decision to issue a special direction for a work visa to be granted to Mr Sunan Siriwan on 17 June 2005?

Hon CLAYTON COSGROVE: In danger of being shrill, I repeat again that the Ingram report concludes that the Associate Minister was not in possession of that information before he considered the case.

Dr the Hon Lockwood Smith: Has the Minister seen any reports quoting Samoa’s Chief Executive Officer of Immigration, Mr Komiti, confirming that Maxine Field organised the work permit for Mr Sunan Siriwan, and that the designated employer on the permit was “the Fields”, in contradiction of Mr Field’s evidence at the Ingram inquiry, and how would that information have affected the Associate Minister’s decision to issue a special direction on 17 June for a work visa to be granted to Mr Sunan Siriwan?

Hon CLAYTON COSGROVE: The member will be aware, as I am, that a lot of general information is out in the ether. If the member has specific allegations and he would like them to be investigated, I am happy to do so; otherwise, he should take the specific allegations and information to the police.

Dr the Hon Lockwood Smith: Does the Minister still refuse to investigate any of the 261 other ministerial special directions over the period 2003 to 2005 inclusive in response to submissions by Taito Phillip Field, given the seriousness of the contradictions, omissions, and misrepresentations now emerging in respect of certain immigration submissions made by Taito Phillip Field?

Hon CLAYTON COSGROVE: As the member knows, there is a difference between allegations made in public or in the media, and specific evidence and information. If the member has said information, or evidence, or specific allegations, he should bring them forward; I will investigate them. And he should refer them to the police.

Gerry Brownlee: Why is the Minister so comfortable with relying on the Ingram report for his answers today, when revelations made by the Sunday programme and the New Zealand Herald newspaper make it abundantly clear that that report and its investigation were inadequate?

Hon CLAYTON COSGROVE: I rely on the Ingram report because it is an authoritative report written by a Queen’s Counsel. Secondly, as I have said to the member, there is a difference between allegations of a general nature raised in the media, and specific evidence and specific information. If he has said information or evidence, he should take it to the police or place it in front of me, and I will investigate it.

KiwiSaver Scheme—Reports

4. Hon MARK GOSCHE (Labour—Maungakiekie) to the Minister of Finance: What reports, if any, has he received on the reaction to the changes to the KiwiSaver scheme he announced last week?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Minister of Finance): I have received a large number of overwhelmingly positive responses. According to Jonathan Eriksen, they transform KiwiSaver into a state of the art, elegant, simple, yet effective retirement savings scheme. They have been welcomed by the New Zealand Exchange and its head, by the insurance and savings institute, and by “even the ranks of Tuscany”, in the forms of the Dominion Post and the New Zealand Herald, which “could scarce forebear to cheer”.

Hon Mark Gosche: What reports has he seen on the inflationary impact of the changes to KiwiSaver announced last week?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I have seen a report—a somewhat isolated and unusual one—arguing that increasing savings will be inflationary and could lead to greater consumer spending. That report comes from John Key, who now seems to have joined the Jacqui Dean school of economics.

Chris Tremain: Does the Minister agree with the report in Friday’s New Zealand Herald from Craig Macalister, tax director for the Institute of Chartered Accountants, which stated that KiwiSaver was receiving favourable treatment over other savings schemes; if so, what message does that send to the hundreds of thousands of hard-working Kiwis who are saving for their retirement already?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: That, of course, only applies when there is already an employer contribution, which in most cases is above the level that qualifies under the KiwiSaver scheme for the favourable tax treatment.

R Doug Woolerton: Can we take the Government’s willingness to use tax incentives within the KiwiSaver scheme as an indication that it will look to extend the use of tax incentives within its policy programme; if not, why not?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I was told that the first time would be the hardest, and the second might be easier in that respect.

Tariana Turia: Tēnā koutou katoa. What reports has the Minister received from Te Pūkenga Here Tikanga Mahi, the Public Service Association, regarding the retirement income report that noted that 30 to 40 percent of New Zealanders with low incomes were unlikely to have disposable incomes to save for retirement; does he agree, therefore, that KiwiSaver unfairly discriminates against a group of New Zealanders, a high proportion of whom are Māori?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: It is important to understand what the purpose of retirement savings is. Fundamentally, the purpose of retirement savings is to smooth out one’s lifetime income—in other words, to produce in retirement a reasonable replacement rate in comparison to one’s income during a working life. For people who are on very low incomes, New Zealand superannuation represents a reasonable replacement rate. That is why it is very important to maintain a strong consensus in favour of the current provisions around New Zealand superannuation and to secure the funding for that, which, of course, is what we have done with the New Zealand Superannuation Fund.

Te Ururoa Flavell: What reports has the Minister received from the independent actuary Kelvin Prisk that the $1,000 initial incentive for KiwiSaver is too low, compared with the tax incentives in many jurisdictions?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: On the one hand I have been advised that it is so large that everyone will rush in just to get it, then will have to continue to contribute for a year to KiwiSaver; on the other hand, I have been told that it is not big enough. I think it depends to a large extent on what one’s income is. To the kind of lofty people who write those kinds of reports, $1,000 is not very much. For a lot of people in the target group for KiwiSaver, that as a sweetener to get into the scheme is actually a significant increase, particularly spread over a lifetime as that money accumulates.

Craig Foss: Why did the Minister reject the unanimous opinion, formed after months of consideration, of the Finance and Expenditure Committee—which includes members of the Labour Party and United Future—and of senior Inland Revenue Department and Ministry of Social Development officials, as stated in the commentary on the KiwiSaver Bill, not to proceed at this time with a mortgage diversion facility?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: There were, of course, objections from some of the banking sector, which is why the scheme originally did not include that. [Interruption] It was not in the bill in the first place; Dr Nick Smith should read the first reading version of the bill. It was a decision taken by the Government. However, certainly United Future was keen to see that provision included in the bill, but, more important, I was always keen to provide a mechanism whereby people could stay in KiwiSaver while repaying their mortgage, as opposed to withdrawing completely from the scheme while they repaid their mortgage. I think the new version, which is different from that originally proposed, will achieve that kind of balance.

Chris Tremain: I seek leave to table the article in the New Zealand Herald dated Friday, 25 August 2006, in which Craig Macalister points out that KiwiSaver is receiving favourable treatment over other savings plans.

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

Visas or Permits—Age Requirements

5. Dr the Hon LOCKWOOD SMITH (National—Rodney) to the Minister of Immigration: For what categories of immigrants, if any, is evidence of age required when applying for a visa or permit?

Hon CLAYTON COSGROVE (Associate Minister of Immigration) on behalf of the on behalf of the Minister of Immigration: Categories with age criteria include the skilled migrant category, business investor policy, the Samoan quota, the Pacific access category, and categories within the family sponsored stream.

Dr the Hon Lockwood Smith: If it is correct for those categories that evidence of age is amongst the information required, in respect of establishing the age of an application would a birth certificate be considered a document under section 142(1)(c) of the Immigration Act 1987?

Hon CLAYTON COSGROVE: The Department of Labour verifies applicants’ ages as follows: in all cases the department requires the date of birth for confirmation of identity. Acceptable documentation includes passports and birth certificates. Passports are also checked when the applicant arrives at the border.

Dr the Hon Lockwood Smith: Would altering the birth date on a birth certificate that is then used in an immigration application, constitute producing a document that is “false or misleading” in respect of section 142(1)(c) of the Immigration Act 1987?

Madam SPEAKER: That question comes close to asking for a legal opinion. Would the member like to rephrase it so that it does not have that flavour about it, please.

Dr the Hon Lockwood Smith: What advice has the Minister received in respect of the alteration of a birth date on a birth certificate that was then used in an immigration application; and would that, according to any advice, constitute producing a document that is “false or misleading” in respect of section 142(1)(c) of the Immigration Act 1987?

Hon CLAYTON COSGROVE: I am always concerned if inaccurate or false information or altered documentation is provided in support of an application. The Immigration Act 1987 specifies penalties when an offence of this nature is proved in court. Again, I say to the member that if he has specific information, then I am happy to look at it for him.

Dr the Hon Lockwood Smith: Is it correct that the penalties the Minister has just referred to, provided under section 144 of the Immigration Act 1987, for committing an offence against section 142(1)(c) relating to the production of a false and misleading document, include a term of imprisonment not exceeding 7 years?

Hon CLAYTON COSGROVE: Section 144 of the Immigration Act 1987 provides a penalty for offences committed under section 142, as the member says, of up to 7 years’ imprisonment and/or a $100,000 fine.

Dr the Hon Lockwood Smith: Would a member of Parliament directing the alteration of a birth date on a birth certificate, as is alleged by Taito Phillip Field’s former electorate agent—a birth certificate that was subsequently used in an immigration application—be an offence against section 142(1)(c) of the Immigration Act 1987?

Hon CLAYTON COSGROVE: That is a hypothetical question better dealt with after legal advice. As I said to the member, if he has specific evidence he wants to put in front of me, then I am happy to look at it.

Dr the Hon Lockwood Smith: If a member of Parliament directed the alteration of a birth date on a birth certificate, as is alleged by Taito Phillip Field’s former electorate agent, and subsequently used that birth certificate to support an immigration application, would the penalty for that offence under section 144(1) of the Immigration Act exceed the penalty of imprisonment for a term of 2 years or upwards and force a parliamentary seat to become vacant under section 55 of the Electoral Act 1993?

Hon CLAYTON COSGROVE: Firstly, I have no responsibility for the Electoral Act; and, secondly, as I have said, section 144 of the Immigration Act 1987 provides a penalty for offences committed under section 142 of up to 7 years’ imprisonment and/or a $100,000 fine.

Dental School, Mt Eden—Sale of Building

6. RODNEY HIDE (Leader—ACT) to the Minister for Crown Research Institutes: What has been the cost to the taxpayer to date of the preparation for sale of the old dental school at 17 Kelly Street, Mt Eden, including remediation work, and what is the expected total cost of the work required for the sale to be completed?

Hon PETE HODGSON (Minister of Health) on behalf of the Minister for Crown Research Institutes: The cost to date is around $1 million. The total cost when it is completed is likely to exceed that figure slightly.

Rodney Hide: Does the Minister have confidence in his officials’ advice that it will exceed that figure just slightly when the property was sold for $1.6 million, $1 million has already been spent on remediation, and that Minister himself, relying on his officials’ advice, issued a press release on 27 October 2004 stating: “Remediation of the site is expected to be complete within a month.”, it is still not completed, over $1 million has been spent, and probably another $1 million of taxpayers’ money will be spent and wasted on this site?

Hon PETE HODGSON: In answer to the member’s first question, yes. In answer to the member’s second question, no, the Hon Steve Maharey was not the Minister in question; it was his predecessor. I say to the member that what is happening now is that the Institute of Environmental Science and Research is awaiting advice from Auckland City Council and Auckland Regional Council as to whether there is an all-clear. That is anticipated soon.

Rodney Hide: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. A point of clarification to help the Minister answer my supplementary question is that the press release back in October 2004 was actually from the then Minister for Crown Research Institutes, Pete Hodgson.

Madam SPEAKER: Well, that was a complicated way of saying it, but the member is right.

Rodney Hide: Will the Minister undertake to ask his officials what work is to be done to complete a sale that was agreed to over 5 years ago, and is still not completed, where $1 million has been spent when it was supposed to be only $600,000, and will he consider stopping the sale, as he can within the terms of the contract, thereby saving taxpayers some money and returning that land to some open space for everyone to enjoy?

Hon PETE HODGSON: The member is not aware, perhaps, that the sale 5 years ago was unconditional and that the reason for the delay in the clean-up is that this site used to be a dental school and through the 1960s and 1970s people seemed to throw spare amalgam out the window. It is not a good idea to have a lot of mercury in the middle of Auckland, and the Government is happy to play its part in cleaning it up.

Rodney Hide: Does the Minister’s happiness to spend taxpayers’ money on this one site include excavating 5,000 cubic metres so that the developer who picked up the site, who was the former chief financial officer of the Institute of Environmental Science and Research charged with selling the property, can have the car-park dug for his apartments, courtesy of the taxpayer?

Hon PETE HODGSON: My advice is that far from there being 5,000 cubic metres removed for a car-park, the total excavation is in the order of 1,700 cubic metres and that it is to remove heavy metals.

Keith Locke: I seek leave to table an article on this issue from Metro magazine in October 2004 detailing the sorry dealings of apparent insider trading involving the former Institute of Environmental Science and Research chief financial officer, Neil Wanden, and the purchase for $1.65 million of a 5,000 square metre site.

Hon PETE HODGSON: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker.

Madam SPEAKER: Leave is being sought to deal with this. Clarification, I think, is being sought. Is that correct?

Hon PETE HODGSON: It is a matter of clarification. The specific issue of insider trading was explicitly examined by the Auditor-General and was found not to be the case.

Madam SPEAKER: No, that is a matter of debate. Leave has been sought. Is there any objection? There is objection.

Election Advertising—Validation of Spending

7. GERRY BROWNLEE (Deputy Leader—National) to the Minister of Justice: What are the specific details of the work being undertaken by the Ministry of Justice in relation to validating unlawful spending of parliamentary funds on election campaign advertising?

Hon MARK BURTON (Minister of Justice): I am advised that the Ministry of Justice is not currently doing any such work.

Gerry Brownlee: Why, then, has the Government chosen, through the Leader of the House, the Deputy Prime Minister, Michael Cullen, to indicate that this work is being done and that the Government’s intention is to pass retrospective legislation to validate its $800,000 theft of taxpayer funds?

Hon Dr Michael Cullen: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. The member cannot accuse the Government of theft—

Hon Members: Yes, you can.

Hon Dr Michael Cullen: I am afraid members cannot; it is against the Standing Orders of this Chamber. We can certainly do tit for tat around that, if we want to do it all afternoon.

Gerry Brownlee: My apologies, Madam Speaker. I withdraw and apologise. I will reword the question. Why, then, does he think the Deputy Prime Minister and Leader of the House told the nation last week that this work is being done, and that it is the intention of the Government to retrospectively validate the inappropriate expenditure of some $800,000 of taxpayer funds?

Hon MARK BURTON: I have read carefully the answer the member gave on my behalf last week, and that is not what the member said. I can confirm to the member that the Ministry of Justice was consulted on its work on the electoral finance regime—a matter on which I briefed the Justice and Electoral Committee myself.

Gerry Brownlee: Does the Minister hold any concerns that the possible passing of retrospective legislation to validate the illegal activities of the New Zealand Labour Party tells New Zealanders that corruption within the Government is OK and that the theft of taxpayer money is OK—

Hon Dr Michael Cullen: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I am sure you can anticipate the point of order fairly easily.

Madam SPEAKER: Yes. The word “illegal” is not appropriate in this circumstance. The member, I am sure, can—

Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. How can this action be described in any other way?

Madam SPEAKER: No, I am sorry. To my knowledge, there has been no court action and no determination of this matter. There are allegations out there.

Gerry Brownlee: Fair enough. Does the Minister hold any concerns that the passing of legislation to validate the allegedly illegal activities of the New Zealand Labour Party would tell New Zealanders that corruption within the Government is OK and that the theft of taxpayer money to pay for election expenses made by the Labour Party is OK, as long as one has the numbers in the House to carry out a validation of that process after it has happened?

Hon MARK BURTON: Although I do not actually accept the underlying assertion the member makes, I would point out to the member that I have no responsibility for validating legislation. But validation is a normal part of the House’s procedure at least annually, through the financial review. I would remind the member that in, I think, the 1995-96 financial year, $56 million of tourism expenditure was validated through that instrument, and $12 million of corrections money in the same Budget was, in fact, validated through that particular vehicle.

Gerry Brownlee: Does the Minister accept that the vast majority of retrospective legislation that validates decisions—for example, those decisions being validated by the Māori Purposes Bill on behalf of the Government—does so because there was no knowledge of a breach at the time, and does he also accept that in this case the Chief Electoral Officer, David Henry, had made it very clear to the Labour Party that its dipping into this $800,000 of taxpayer funds was inappropriate and illegal?

Hon MARK BURTON: Perhaps I should have made it even clearer to the member that I have no responsibility for the validating legislation. However, no, I do not actually accept the member’s assertion.

Gerry Brownlee: Can the House take it that the Minister, on behalf of the Government today, has ruled out any possibility of validating legislation that would cover the $800,000 of inappropriate expenditure of parliamentary funds by the Labour Party on its re-election campaign?

Hon MARK BURTON: As I said to the member previously, I do not accept the underlying assertion he made, and he can make no such assumption.

Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. That was an entirely different question from the question that had been answered previously, and certainly when the Minister used that answer to address the previous question, it addressed the question. But in this case, it simply obfuscates what is necessary in order to address the question.

Hon MARK BURTON: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. The member included an assertion in his question that I simply do not agree with or accept. That is the point that I made in my reply.

Madam SPEAKER: Well, in that sense the question was addressed, but would the member like to ask another supplementary question.

Gerry Brownlee: No, Madam Speaker. We have a limited number of supplementary questions that we can ask, and we do not want to go over our particular number—unless, of course, you are indicating that we can do so.

Madam SPEAKER: Not today.

Gerry Brownlee: Well then, by way of point of order, Madam Speaker, can I ask you to consider how the member can refer to a previous question when, in fact, the content of the question had been ruled in order and the question still hangs out there—does this Government intend to retrospectively validate its decision to rob the taxpayer of $800,000 from parliamentary funding that was inappropriately spent on its re-election campaign?

Madam SPEAKER: Well, the member did address the question. That would seem to me, in that context, to have settled the matter.

Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. At the start of my questioning today, we had a flat denial from the Minister that the Ministry of Justice was looking at this particular issue. I refer you, Madam Speaker, to the Hansard of last week, where the Hon Michael Cullen, speaking on behalf of the Minister of Justice, made the following comment to the House: “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 …”, etc., etc. That answer surely indicates that it was an appropriate question for the Clerk’s Office to accept this morning, and it also indicates that the Minister has been less than forthcoming with regard to the truth of the Government’s intention.

Hon Dr Michael Cullen: If the member cares to read that answer again, he will notice that it states: “have looked at”. The question he asked today was: “What are the specific details of the work being undertaken …”. Those are two different tenses.

Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. [Interruption]

Madam SPEAKER: The member is entitled to be heard in silence when he is making a point of order.

Gerry Brownlee: In my point of order I would like to indicate to the House that the National Party would not block leave if the Deputy Prime Minister and Leader of the House were to seek the opportunity to tell the nation that the Government will not retrospectively validate its robbing of the taxpayers’ purse.

Madam SPEAKER: That is not a valid point of order.

East Asian Economic Partnership—New Zealand Support

8. DIANNE YATES (Labour) to the Minister of Trade: Will New Zealand support the proposal by Japan to establish a comprehensive economic partnership in East Asia consisting of those countries which are members of the East Asian Summit?

Hon PHIL GOFF (Minister of Trade): Yes. The proposal put forward by Japan to the East Asian economic Ministers in Kuala Lumpur last week aims to create a free-trade area that would have a combined population of 3.1 billion people and a gross domestic product of US$9 trillion dollars. We would obviously benefit from being part of that. However, at this point the proposal is at a conceptual stage. There is a considerable distance to go and there are practical difficulties to overcome before this could be put into practice.

Dianne Yates: How serious is this proposal, and what steps are being taken to carry it forward?

Hon PHIL GOFF: The fact the Japanese Government is prepared to put US$100 million into the proposal demonstrates it is a very serious one. It proposes to do this by working with the partner countries to set up an expert study into the implications of economic integration and establishing a research institute to do the work on the issues surrounding this proposal. ASEAN economic Ministers, together with Australia, New Zealand, and India, warmly welcomed the proposals as a means to analyse and report on the implications of economic integration for the region. I think that study will demonstrate there are clear benefits for all concerned.

Hon Brian Donnelly: Will the Government conduct comprehensive research into this prospective partnership to ensure we have the best possible match between what we are producing and the demands of these markets, so that local producers are not unfairly disadvantaged by any such economic arrangement?

Hon PHIL GOFF: Given the fact that New Zealand has very low tariff barriers, no quotas, and very few behind tariff barriers to the importation of goods from countries in this region, and that those countries have quite considerably higher tariff barriers and restrictions, New Zealand clearly would be a beneficiary. But to answer the specific point of the member’s question, New Zealand will be participating in this study and will probably be nominating an economic group in New Zealand to participate as part of it.

Dianne Yates: Is the Government likely to support this proposal in preference to trade liberalisation through the World Trade Organisation (WTO) or APEC?

Hon PHIL GOFF: The Government’s preference clearly remains a comprehensive trade liberalisation agreement through the WTO Doha development round, and we will continue to work with other countries to try to break the impasse in those negotiations. However, should progress continue to be blocked in this area, then, clearly, other regional mechanisms like APEC and the ASEAN plus six proposal raised by Japan will gain more attention.

Prisoner Transfer—Procedure

9. SIMON POWER (National—Rangitikei) to the Minister of Corrections: Did Department of Corrections staff, or its contractors, follow correct procedure in transporting Liam Ashley from court to prison, in light of the Prime Minister’s comment that “Procedures will have to be looked at.”?

Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR (Minister of Corrections): This issue is currently subject to five separate inquiries. Until the results of the investigations are made available, it would be inappropriate for me to comment. Yesterday, however, I issued a directive to the Department of Corrections that prohibits the transport of prisoners under the age of 18 in the same compartment as adult prisoners until the completion of the Inspector of Corrections’ investigation.

Simon Power: Can the Minister confirm that the agreement between the Department of Corrections and Chubb specifies at numerous points that prisoners under 20 must be segregated from all other prisoners when they are being transported “unless otherwise agreed with the Department of Corrections”; if so, does he agree that it is not the procedures that are the problem but the lack of adherence to them?

Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: As I said, I am not prepared to prejudge the outcome of those inquiries. For the member’s benefit, though, regardless of whether Chubb, the Department of Corrections, or the police are responsible, I say that the law states that when outside a prison, prisoners under 18 years of age must be kept apart from adult prisoners where practicable.

Hon Brian Donnelly: Can the Minister tell the House whether, leading to this tragedy, if Chubb Security is found to have been in breach of the terms of its contract, the Government will insist that the Department of Corrections withdraw the contract from it; if not, why not?

Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: That contract, which was initiated in 1998, will be looked at very carefully as part of the five inquiries currently under way. Decisions will be made at the conclusion of those investigations as to where to go next to ensure that this horrible tragedy does not occur again.

Dr Pita Sharples: Tēnā koe, Madam Speaker. Tēnā tātou katoa. Why did the Department of Corrections not take immediate action when the lawyer of Liam Ashley informed the court hearing last week that the deceased had been picked on by other inmates and had, prior to being transferred, required a mental health assessment, such was his level of stress; and what procedures are in place to ensure at-risk inmates are not placed further at risk?

Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: As I said, I am not prepared to comment on the sad and tragic set of circumstances that led to this horrible death, other than to say that protocols are in place that ensure the safe and secure transportation of prisoners under 18 years of age, and over 18 years of age. We trust that they are always implemented, but the investigations will identify where mistakes may have been made.

Nandor Tanczos: In light of the focus of questions today on the adherence of Chubb to the contracts and the support of many parties in this House for the privatisation of prisons, can the Minister assure us that the contracting-out of Department of Corrections’ responsibilities to a private company in no way contributed to this death?

Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: I am not going to prejudge the outcomes of the inquiries, but I will say that regardless of whether the contracts are with private providers or whether we are carrying out these services ourselves, we must ensure that we protect prisoners in prison and outside of prison as well.

Simon Power: Why has the Minister instructed the Department of Corrections to separate youths and adults without exception, when the agreement between the Department of Corrections and Chubb already specifies that prisoners under 20 must be segregated from all other prisoners “unless otherwise agreed with the Department of Corrections”; and is he suggesting that it is the Department of Corrections that is mixing young inmates with older inmates?

Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: As I stated before for that member, the law actually states that when outside of prison they should be kept apart from adult prisoners where practicable. Obviously, this will be one of the areas that will be investigated, along with the contract between the Department of Corrections and Chubb. I am not prepared to prejudge the outcome of those investigations.

Simon Power: Can he confirm that under the Corrections Act security monitors must be appointed for each contractor, who must report to the chief executive on whether they are complying with their contract every 3 months, and that under Chubb’s contract it must report to the security monitor every month, including information about the segregation of prisoners; if so, was there any suggestion in those reports of any problems?

Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: As the member states, there is monthly reporting on performance from these contracts. I am not aware of any issues that were raised. I will say, though, that since 1998, when his colleagues signed up to the original contract, there have been 220,000 transfers. Of those 7,600 were youths, and, thankfully, we have not had a terrible tragedy like this before. That is why we are investigating this incident thoroughly.

Nandor Tanczos: When the Minister says that the requirement to keep young people separate from adult prisoners has the rider “where practicable”, can he absolutely assure this House that that does not mean that a desire to cut costs by stuffing vans full of as many prisoners as possible will override the requirement to keep young people separate?

Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: I have moved in the interim to ensure that the “where practicable” requirement be set aside so that no prisoners under the age of 18 will be transported with adult prisoners until the conclusion of this inquiry. Obviously, the issue and the term “where practicable” will be thoroughly investigated. There are many issues—cost not being one of them—that we have to consider in protecting prisoners in courtrooms, in prison cells, and in their transportation to and from prisons and the courts.

Simon Power: What action will he take under the convention of individual ministerial responsibility if his department is found to be wanting in this series of tragic events?

Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: As I said before, I am not prepared to prejudge the outcomes of any of these inquiries. I suggest he looks for more information to his colleague the Hon Nick Smith, who signed up this original contract.

Land Transport—Programme

10. DARIEN FENTON (Labour) to the Minister of Transport: What decisions have been taken to give the land transport sector even greater certainty?

Hon ANNETTE KING (Minister of State Services): Good news—the guaranteed 5-year State highway plan announced in Budget 2006 will become a guaranteed 6-year plan to give the land transport sector even greater certainty. Before this year, funding was allocated on an annual basis; this guaranteed funding will provide certainty for Transit New Zealand, local government, and the construction industry. I can tell this House that the construction industry has warmly welcomed this announcement.

Darien Fenton: How serious is the Government about dealing with the neglect of the past, and investing in land transport in New Zealand?

Hon ANNETTE KING: The Government is very serious. Over the next 5 years, we will spend roughly $300 million more on land transport than we collect by way of petrol excise duties, road-user charges, or motor vehicle registration fees. We are serious because we are doing it. The National Party said that it would be committed to doing it over a 6-year period.

Peter Brown: Will the Minister clarify the position and assure the House that this is not a case of taking the 5-year funding package and spreading it over 6; that there will, in fact, be additional funding for the 6 years?

Hon ANNETTE KING: Can I assure the member that that is not the case. In fact, in each 3-year interview, the funding will be reviewed, and the plan will be reviewed and updated so there will always be a rolling 3 years in which the construction industry will know what money they have. It is not a matter of spreading the money over 6 years; it is having a 6-year funding certainty for the sector.

Jeanette Fitzsimons: Does the Minister agree that in a world of rapidly rising oil prices and accelerating climate change, a world-class transport network that “moves people and goods safely, sustainably, and efficiently”, to quote her press release, cannot rely only on cars and trucks; and what greater certainty can she offer that the rail system and urban commuter rail will be upgraded and services expanded?

Hon ANNETTE KING: Yes, I agree with the member’s comments, because they are the comments I have made today. This Government is committed to passenger transport, which is one of the reasons that we purchased back the rail, that we are investing $600 million below track in the Auckland area and $200 million on tracks around New Zealand, and that we are committing $356 million in passenger transport. I ask the member to compare that with the $40 million that was spent on passenger transport by the National Government each year over the 1990s; the amount was frozen at $40 million.

Court System—Access to Justice

11. KATE WILKINSON (National) to the Minister for Courts: Does he have confidence that the current court system is delivering speedy and inexpensive access to justice; if so, why?

Hon RICK BARKER (Minister for Courts): As I advised the member on 29 June in response to exactly the same question, yes; however things can always be improved over time. It is fair to say that the gross under-investment in the justice sector through the 1990s under a National Government led to a necessary review of baseline funding. As a result a massive injection of $156 million was made by this Labour-led Government into both the courts and justice, as well as a broad programme of review and service improvement that we are continuing to roll out.

Kate Wilkinson: How can he justify his answer in the House on 29 June 2006 that: “the court system has been steadily improving over the last 6 years of a Labour-led Government” when median waiting lists for a hearing date in the last 2 years in district courts have ballooned from 161 days to 372 days in Blenheim, from 198 days to 351 days in Nelson, from 187 days to 279 days in Wanganui, from 199 days to 343 in Greymouth; how does that rate as an improvement?

Hon RICK BARKER: The criminal summary cases around New Zealand from November 2003 to 2006 have reduced by an average of 20 percent overall. Yes, it is expected that from time to time some court caseloads will go up, and others will go down. The court itself has no control over the rate at which prosecuting authorities file notices. The increase in court caseloads should be applauded by the Opposition, because it is another indicator of how this Government is getting tough on crime and is resolving crime and bringing the criminals to court.

Jill Pettis: Can the Minister outline to the House what is happening to review and improve court processes?

Hon RICK BARKER: This Government is doing heaps. In just over a year we have seen the implementation of a 3-year service improvement programme, which includes court assessment and practice improvement, the introduction of a queue reduction strategy, training and development for District Court staff, and extending digital audio technology to 44 courts. I could go on. The point I am making is there has been a 20 percent reduction in court caseloads in the summary jurisdiction. That is simply one example.

Peter Brown: What is the current level of outstanding court fines?

Hon RICK BARKER: I cannot give that figure off the top of my head, but I will get it for the member and reply to him direct.

Judy Turner: Is the Minister concerned about the increasing number of dissatisfied fathers who have set up a campaign against the Family Court; if so, what work is his department doing currently to address those concerns?

Hon RICK BARKER: A great deal has been done to improve the quality and performance of the Family Court. The Government has invested in mediation programmes, and will continue to do more in that area. It has invested in education programmes for parents who have recently split up. But, unfortunately, we are not going to be able to resolve all issues in the Family Court to the satisfaction of each particular party.

Kate Wilkinson: How can he justify his answer in the House on 29 June 2006: “This Government is getting on and addressing the challenges.”, when in the last 3 years the median waiting-time for High Court jury trials has ballooned from 133 days to 222 days in Auckland, from 143 days to 203 days in Christchurch, and from 169 days to 263 days in Wellington; how does this show that the challenges are being addressed or that the queue reduction strategy is working?

Hon RICK BARKER: It is very easy to go and find a court here and a court there that has an increase in its queue. But let us examine the facts. This Government has increased the number of High Court judges by 10 percent. In 2000 we had 30 High Court judges; we now have 33. We have made a substantial investment in that area, and it is an issue that the Government is addressing. We are putting more resources into it and we are clearing cases more quickly.

Christopher Finlayson: Can the Minister please explain why outstanding High Court criminal jury trials have escalated in the last 4 years from nine to 26 in Wellington, and from six to 31 in Whangarei—an increase of 380 percent in those two High Court registries alone; how does that rate as an improvement or evidence that the “Government is doing heaps.”?

Hon RICK BARKER: The judiciary has now formed a national court roster, with the very purpose of reducing the backlog in some particular courts. If the member goes to the answer I gave, he will see that in a number of other High Courts around the country there has been a reduction in cases and waiting times. One has to expect the system will have ebbs and flows, ups and downs. We just have to manage them.

Christopher Finlayson: How can the Minister blame the workload of congested courts on the reclassification of methamphetamine P, when the Government did not even bother to consult the Ministry of Justice before it agreed on changes to the law, and, indeed, was warned as early as 2003 by both the Ministry of Justice and the Chief Justice that P cases would put additional pressure on the High Court’s workload?

Hon RICK BARKER: The member opposite sheds crocodile tears about the issue of the dangers of P. The Government wanted to send a very clear message to people who were selling P that this was a serious crime, and we judged that should be put in the High Court. That is the issue. If that member thinks that P is OK to distribute and should be a matter for an infringement notice, then so be it if that is the National Party’s policy.

Christopher Finlayson: When the Minister said the “Government is doing heaps.”, does that also include improving the recording equipment in the courts in order to enable trials to be conducted more expeditiously; if so, what is being done there?

Hon RICK BARKER: I am happy to tell the member that an extra 44 courts have digital audio technology, and there will be an increase in that number, as well.

Christopher Finlayson: Does that include the High Court?

Hon RICK BARKER: Yes.

General Practice—Low Fees

12. MARYAN STREET (Labour) to the Minister of Health: What progress has been made in supporting general practices that charge very low fees?

Hon PETE HODGSON (Minister of Health): From 1 October the Government will invest an additional $43 million over 4 years to support practices that charge very low fees. It is expected that this initiative will support around 15 percent of practices and allow them to continue to provide services to their often high-need communities.

Maryan Street: What reports has he received on support for the Government’s initiative?

Hon PETE HODGSON: A number! The initiative has been welcomed by the college of general practitioners, the New Zealand Medical Association, Health Care Aotearoa, and many, many others. I was not surprised, however, to learn that it was opposed by the National Party, which issued yet another call to raise the cost of seeing the family doctor. Affordable health care would be just one of the many things lost in National’s pursuit of tax cuts for its rich financial backers.

Barbara Stewart: What progress has been made by his ministry in actively working towards the objective of having free primary health care for under-sixes accessible to all New Zealand children, regardless of where they live?

Hon PETE HODGSON: There has been some progress. The member will be aware, I hope, if it is not too confusing—I am well aware of New Zealand First’s interest in this area—but the median fee is already zero, though the average fee is above zero, and, of course, for these practices they will all be zero for the under-sixes as part of the contract.

ENDS


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