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Questions for Oral Answer - 30 August 2006

Questions for Oral Answer - Wednesday, 30 August 2006

Questions to Ministers

Numeracy—Development Project

1. Hon BRIAN DONNELLY (NZ First) to the Minister of Education: How much has been spent thus far on the numeracy development project?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY (Minister of Education): I have good news. Around $70 million has been spent since the year 2000, with the project achieving excellent results across more than 1,600 primary schools. A recent evaluation of the project showed major improvements in maths results across 400 schools involved last year, with the highest improvement being amongst students who were previously the lowest achievers, and a lift in the achievement across Māori and Pasifika students. The project, of course, has been strongly endorsed across the education sector.

Hon Brian Donnelly: Can the Minister explain the seemingly perverse findings by the National Education Monitoring Project, which show that despite the considerable investment in developing numeracy skills, students seem to have regressed in number facts and arithmetic algorithms, yet progress seems to have been made in algebra, logic, and statistics?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: The person who ran the project seemed to boil it down by saying that students were doing better, as was expected, in thinking and understanding the maths they were doing. So therefore they were doing better in complex tasks. But for year 4 students some questions went to the heart of their basic arithmetic ability, where they did not do as well as previously. It is very important to keep this in proportion. This is a sample of around 3,000 pupils—years 4 and 8. On some questions year 4 students did not do as well as previously on the basic arithmetic skills, and, as a result, we need to improve in that area.

Dr Ashraf Choudhary: What were the results of the 2005 National Education Monitoring Project’s evaluation of year 4 and year 8 students in relation to mathematics?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: As I have said in reply to Mr Donnelly’s primary question, the results of the study were very positive. Years 4 and 8 students are making gains in almost all areas of maths, particularly on more complex maths tasks. Averaged across 61 tasks, there was a 4 percent gain for year 8 students. Year 4 students showed a 3 percent gain on all tasks other than arithmetic, where there was a small decline. Work is now under way to improve students’ understanding and recall of number facts. As the researcher, Lester Flockton, has said: “I am personally quite confident that in 4 years’ time we will find that it comes back to the right level again.”

Gordon Copeland: Does the Minister recognise that there is a numeracy achievement gap between boys and girls; if so, what is being done within the numeracy development project to address that?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: Yes, the results show that there is a slight gap between the performance of girls and boys. Of course, that is what the numeracy project is all about—to try to change the way we teach maths, so that boys and other groups that have not been doing as well as others improve their performance. As the results show, that is beginning to happen.

Hon Bill English: When will the Minister require schools to report the results of numeracy assessments to parents, so that they can know how their child is doing?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: As the member will know, there is a large number of requirements on schools to report on their performance. But I would urge—

Hon Bill English: Not to parents!

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: Any child who is at home now would know that Mr English, as usual, has begun to yell in a way that he would disapprove of if that child did it. But can I say that each school, of course, would welcome a visit from those parents to talk about those results.

Madam SPEAKER: I just remind members, when asking questions and giving answers, to stick to the substance of what they are saying.

Hon Brian Donnelly: Would the Minister agree that New Zealand is the envy of other nations for having a system such as the National Education Monitoring Project to identify clearly, and in a timely fashion, the learning outcomes of our schooling system; would the Minister like to say when this system was introduced, and under which Government it was?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: I would like to say that, yes, I think we are the envy of many countries in that we do have the ability to take a snapshot in time, then use that to feed back into the results and improve the performance of students. The member himself knows that he had a direct hand in developing that project.

Ingram Report—Confidence

2. Dr DON BRASH (Leader of the Opposition) to the Prime Minister: Does she stand by her statement to the House yesterday in which she expressed confidence in the Ingram report into matters related to Taito Phillip Field; if not, why not?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK (Prime Minister): Yes.

Dr Don Brash: Can the Prime Minister confirm media reports this afternoon that she has not asked Taito Phillip Field for his resignation?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: Yes.

Dr Don Brash: Is the Prime Minister effectively telling the House that misleading the Ingram inquiry, taking bribes, altering official documents, threatening witnesses, and making false representations to a Minister to secure ministerial discretion are all unacceptable behaviour on the part of a Minister but quite acceptable behaviour for a member of Parliament; if not, why does she continue to block attempts to get to the truth in relation to these allegations against Mr Field?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: On this side of the House we do not ask for resignations over allegations. Apparently, that is the standard of natural justice that goes on over there.

Dr Don Brash: Can the Prime Minister confirm that Mr Ingram raised with her officials requests from witnesses who were prepared to appear before his inquiry provided they had access to legal advice and appropriate protection, and why did she decline to authorise such protection and legal advice?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I have no knowledge of such a request.

Dr Don Brash: Does she regret that no legal protection or legal advice was provided in the light of revelations in the Ingram report that on 2 October last, soon after the inquiry had commenced, Mr Field attended a meeting designed to establish the source of leaks to the media and to intimidate potential witnesses to the inquiry; and can the Prime Minister tell the House what construction can be placed on that action other than that she simply did not want to discover the truth?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: Indeed, I think Dr Ingram told me everything I needed to know about the course forward, and that was that Mr Field should not be a Minister.

Dr Don Brash: Has she discussed with her colleague H V Ross Robertson, the promoter of the parliamentary code of conduct, his obvious personal knowledge about Mr Siriwan’s engagement to work on Mr Field’s house in Samoa, in complete contradiction to Mr Field’s own account to the Ingram inquiry; if not, why does she not wish to see that conflict of evidence resolved?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: As I have advised the member, on the basis of the Ingram report I made a judgment; Mr Field is not a Minister.

Dr Don Brash: Does she now have any regrets about her decision to restrict the terms of reference for the Ingram inquiry, thus making it impossible for key witnesses to give evidence in the light of continuing revelations about Mr Field’s conduct?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I repeat, the Ingram report told me as Prime Minister what I needed to know. There was no conflict of interest—

Madam SPEAKER: Order, please. All members are entitled to hear both the questions and the answers.

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: Unlike Robert Muldoon, I do not go around ordering inquiries into private members, or I might start with Dr Brash—

Madam SPEAKER: I am sorry. Would the Prime Minister please sit down. I could not hear that answer, and after I had asked members to enable the answer to be heard, there was the barraging again. I ask the Prime Minister to repeat her answer, please.

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: Unlike Robert Muldoon, I do not order inquiries into private members. If I did, Dr Brash’s secret election funding, John Key’s electoral registration, and John Hayes’ rest home would all be good candidates for such investigations.

Gateway Programme—Reports

3. H V ROSS ROBERTSON (Labour—Manukau East) to the Minister for Tertiary Education: What recent reports, if any, has he received on the Gateway programme?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Minister for Tertiary Education): I have received reports showing that an additional 92 schools will be joining the Gateway programme next year, allowing more senior school students to gain valuable hands-on workplace experience.

H V Ross Robertson: What benefits for students will arise from the extension of the programme?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: This means the students in nearly three-quarters of schools will now have the opportunity to participate in 1 day’s work experience a week. The scheme helps students to make better career choices and helps employers to identify and attract staff, particularly in the crucial trades area. Last year 27 percent of students participating in Gateway ended up being directly employed, while another 57 percent went on to further secondary or tertiary study.

Gerry Brownlee: Would the Gateway programme help someone like H V Ross Robertson, the promoter of the code of conduct for members of Parliament, have a better memory when asked questions like those put to him by the New Zealand Herald last week as to whether he saw Thai tilers at the property of Mr Phillip Field and whether he knew that they were working for Mr Field?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: No more, probably, than helping people to remember pushing old people downstairs.

Speech from the Throne—Political Integrity of Parliament and Electoral Process

4. Dr DON BRASH (Leader of the Opposition) to the Prime Minister: Does she stand by the statement in the Speech from the Throne in 1999 that her Government would “restore public confidence in the political integrity of Parliament and the electoral process”?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK (Prime Minister): Yes, by keeping our promises—unlike National, which constantly betrayed the electorate through the 1990s.

Dr Don Brash: Why does she continue to use Mr Field’s vote to prop up her Government, when the allegations now being made against him are such that they damage the reputation of this Parliament?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: Madam Speaker—[Interruption]

Madam SPEAKER: I am sorry, Prime Minister. Please be seated. Would members please respect those who are attempting to both ask questions and answer them.

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: Allegations should go to the police, where the police can look at them. I do not believe in trial by media. Dr Brash may think it appropriate to sack people from Parliament on allegations. We do not.

Gordon Copeland: Would she consider a code of conduct for MPs, as advocated by the leader of United Future, the Hon Peter Dunne—perhaps as is now the case in the UK—with empowerment to investigate possible breaches of that code in order to restore confidence in the integrity of this Parliament?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: As Prime Minister, I am more than happy for such proposals to be considered by the Standing Orders Committee.

Dr Don Brash: Can we take it from the Prime Minister’s statement earlier this week—that Mr Field’s role as a Labour Party MP was “a matter for him and the Labour Party organisation to work through”—that she is asking this House, and the New Zealand public, to believe that it is beyond her control to deal with the fact that Mr Field’s vote is propping up her Government?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I have constantly advised the member what my responsibilities are as Prime Minister, and they have been fully discharged.

Dr Don Brash: Why, when the allegations against Mr Field include claims of abuse of ministerial office, misuse of ministerial staff, and knowingly misleading ministerial colleagues, is the Prime Minister not prepared to offer New Zealanders the explanation they deserve?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: In case the member has not noticed, Mr Field is no longer a Minister.

Dr Don Brash: I repeat a question I asked the Prime Minister earlier: is she saying that although it may not be acceptable for a Minister to abuse ministerial privileges and to misuse ministerial staff, it is quite in order for an ordinary member of Parliament in her party to misbehave in the ways alleged?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I am pointing out to the member what my responsibilities as Prime Minister are. Can I say that, unlike the Hon Nick Smith, Phillip Field has not been convicted of anything.

Health Services—Wanganui

5. TARIANA TURIA (Co-Leader—Māori Party) to the Minister of Health: What commitment does the Government have to retaining secondary health services in Whanganui?

Hon PETE HODGSON (Minister of Health): This Government’s commitment to health services in Whanganui is greater than any Government’s in recent memory.

Tariana Turia: Is the Minister aware of the current crisis in Whanganui around the shortage of specialist obstetricians and paediatricians, and what direction will he give to the district health board, which has not expressed a commitment to continue to provide 24-hour specialist cover to the people of Whanganui?

Hon PETE HODGSON: I am aware that a paediatrician has recently left, another paediatrician is on holiday, that an obstetrician is soon due to retire, and that these and other issues are currently challenging the Whanganui District Health Board—none of which alters this Government’s commitments to secondary services in Wanganui, which remain absolutely firm. I might say to the member that as we speak there is comprehensive paediatric coverage in Whanganui.

Jill Pettis: How does the Labour-led Government’s commitment to maintaining secondary services in Wanganui compare with previous commitments?

Hon PETE HODGSON: It compares very well. In June of this year I announced that $30 million would be put aside for a redevelopment of Wanganui Hospital, which is just the latest sign of our commitment to the health of people in the region. Members should compare this with the policy of the National Government, which planned major cuts to services, sending 3,500 people to the streets in protest. This Labour-led Government is proud of its record in Whanganui.

Tariana Turia: I am sorry that the Minister has been misled about what services are available in Whanganui.

Madam SPEAKER: Would the member please just ask the question and not make a comment.

Tariana Turia: Is the Minister aware that Whanganui’s ambulance service is also in crisis, and as a consequence ambulances often have to travel from Palmerston North to Whanganui and back to Palmerston North, resulting in a delay of up to 2 or more hours to complete the transfer; and what advice can he give to the community of Whanganui to restore confidence in the district health board and our health services?

Hon PETE HODGSON: I stand by my comment that today there is comprehensive paediatric services in Whanganui. As to the inter-hospital transfers with ambulances, I say that that is why we have them.

Chester Borrows: Does he agree with the comments from the Labour list MP resident in Wanganui who was reported in the Wanganui Chronicle as saying that the Whanganui District Health Board is “no worse off than many others”, and Wanganui people should not beat themselves up over this issue; or does he think that the situation at the Whanganui District Health Board is as good as it gets and all the other district health boards are in a worse state?

Hon PETE HODGSON: I do disagree with my colleague Jill Pettis when she said that Wanganui is no worse off. Wanganui is actually better off because it has the prospect of a $30 million new hospital development, something that could not have been contemplated under National because it was intent on giving the funding away in tax cuts to its rich mates.

Tariana Turia: What consideration has been given to the economic impact on Whanganui if the staffing crisis is not addressed urgently, given that we have already been told by real estate agents that people with young families are no longer considering Whanganui as a place to live because of the risks of not being able to access paediatric and obstetric services?

Hon PETE HODGSON: I acknowledged earlier in an answer that there are issues in Wanganui regarding both paediatrics and obstetrics, and that right now there is a comprehensive paediatric service. I wish the board well as it seeks to replace paediatric services and, indeed, in time, to strengthen obstetric services. I have no doubt that over time it will succeed.

Ingram Report—Status

6. Dr the Hon LOCKWOOD SMITH (National—Rodney) to the Minister of Immigration: Does he stand by the statement made on his behalf to the House yesterday that “I rely on the Ingram report because it is an authoritative report written by a Queen’s Counsel.”?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE (Minister of Immigration): Yes, because it is a comprehensive report.

Dr the Hon Lockwood Smith: How sound is his reliance on the Ingram report when Taito Phillip Field told Noel Ingram QC that it was not until June 2005 that he became aware Mr Sunan Siriwan was being financially supported by him and his wife, when Mrs Field had filled out a Samoan immigration employment sponsorship form promising to be Mr Siriwan’s employer in Mr Field’s presence on 26 or 27 February 2005, and when Mr Siriwan was issued with a Samoan work visa prior to 17 March 2005 on the basis of being employed by the Fields?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: As New Zealand’s Minister of Immigration, neither the conduct of the Ingram inquiry nor the issuing of work permits by the Samoan Government falls within my responsibilities.

Dr the Hon Lockwood Smith: How sound is the Minister’s reliance on the Ingram report when Taito Phillip Field told Noel Ingram QC that it was not until late May or early June 2005 that he became aware Mr Sunan Siriwan was working on his house in Samoa, and when Mr Field’s colleague Ross Robertson told the New Zealand Herald that he socialised with Mr Field and Mr Siriwan at the Fields’ home in Samoa in March 2005 and even then had the impression Mr Siriwan was there working on Mr Field’s house?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: It is, by now, not news that the member concerned committed a number of errors of judgment.

Dr the Hon Lockwood Smith: How sound is the Minister’s reliance on the Ingram report, which concludes that “The evidence does not support a finding that Mr Field knew that Mr Siriwan was working on Mr Field’s house in Samoa at the time that he wrote that letter.”—Mr Field’s final submission to the Associate Minister on 18 May 2005—when Noel Ingram QC failed to examine the Samoan work permit for Mr Siriwan obtained prior to 17 March, which clearly identified the Fields as Mr Siriwan’s employers?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: I repeat that the conduct of the Ingram inquiry does not fall within my ministerial responsibilities.

Dr the Hon Lockwood Smith: How sound is the Minister’s reliance on the Ingram report when, based on Taito Phillip Field’s evidence, Mr Ingram QC could not establish that Mr Field was aware of the fact that Mr Siriwan was working on his house any earlier than 26-30 May 2005, and when, had Mr Ingram examined Mr Siriwan’s Samoan work permit, he would have found that the work permit established the Fields as Mr Siriwan’s employer from March?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: That would be a matter between Mr Ingram, Mr Field, and, if necessary, the Samoan Government.

Dr the Hon Lockwood Smith: Is the Minister still satisfied to rely on the Ingram report when the evidence now clearly shows that Taito Phillip Field lied to either Noel Ingram QC or the immigration authorities of the Samoan Government; if so, why?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: Having commissioned a reputable Queen’s Counsel to undertake this inquiry, I am not in a position to second-guess the veracity of statements made by Mr Field, nor am I responsible for doing so. As my colleague Mr Cosgrove said to the member yesterday, if the member is in possession of new, additional information, he should provide it to the police or to me.

Feltex Carpets Ltd—Securities Commission Investigation

7. SUE BRADFORD (Green) to the Minister of Commerce: What investigation has been undertaken by the Securities Commission into the initial public offering of shares in Feltex Carpets Ltd, and what was the outcome of any such investigation?

Hon LIANNE DALZIEL (Minister of Commerce): I am advised, and it is on the public record, that the Securities Commission conducted an investigation into the 2004 initial public offering prospectus of Feltex Carpets Ltd. On 25 August the commission announced that it had found no breaches of the securities laws in the prospectus. However, I am further advised, and it is also on the public record, that the commission has not yet finished other aspects of its investigation that relate to continuous disclosure and financial reporting issues.

Sue Bradford: Does the Minister consider it appropriate for the Securities Commission to investigate its own role in this massive $200 million expropriation from New Zealand shareholders, given that it granted nine exemptions to Credit Suisse First Boston, the company that owned and floated Feltex?

Hon LIANNE DALZIEL: I am advised that the exemption-giving process is not unusual. Granting exemptions addresses a recognised technical problem in the law and has been granted in similar circumstances by the Securities Commission for over 20 public share offerings in the past 8 years. These matters are being considered, though, by the Government in its review of securities law.

Sue Bradford: Whom does the Minister suggest that Feltex shareholders turn to if they are not convinced that the Securities Commission will undertake a sufficiently independent and impartial investigation into the events before and after the Feltex initial public offering?

Hon LIANNE DALZIEL: I remind the member that the commission is an independent Crown entity, but I note for the record that there is a right of appeal on a matter of law in the Securities Act.

R Doug Woolerton: What effect does the Minister think the Securities Commission’s ruling in respect of Feltex has had on investor confidence in the New Zealand sharemarket, especially on the so-called mum and dad investors, whom the Government continues to encourage to invest less in property and more in equities?

Hon LIANNE DALZIEL: The only comment I can really make in that regard is that the Securities Commission is continuing to investigate other matters subsequent to the earnings downgrade announcement in April 2006.

Sue Bradford: Is the possible purchase of Feltex by Godfrey Hirst—a company owned by companies registered in the tax haven of Vanuatu—likely to give investors more or less confidence in the securities market than a bid by the owners of the well-known company Sleepyhead, which manufactures in New Zealand, employs New Zealand workers, and pays New Zealand taxes?

Hon LIANNE DALZIEL: I endorse the commission’s vision of having confidence in the securities market, which has driven the Government’s programme in respect of securities law reform. However, which securities individuals or corporate investors choose to invest in is a matter for them, not for the Government or the Securities Commission.

Peter Brown: Does the Minister understand what Godfrey Hirst means by “synergies” it wants to get out of taking over Feltex New Zealand, and does she share the view that it is just code for Kiwis potentially losing their jobs and their factories, and mum and dad shareholders losing a large part of their investment; and, if she does share that view, will she do anything to rectify the position?

Hon LIANNE DALZIEL: The first of those questions asked: “Does the Minister understand …”. Yes, I do believe I understand what was meant by what was said, but it is not within my portfolio responsibilities to comment on it.

Sue Bradford: I seek leave to table the Securities Act Feltex Carpets Ltd exemption notice of 2004, which grants nine exemptions to Feltex and Credit Suisse.

Leave granted.

Sue Bradford: I seek leave to table the news release of the Securities Commission dated 25 August 2006, which states that the commission has found no breaches of the securities law in the prospectus and that no further action will be taken.

Leave granted.

Sue Bradford: I seek leave to table two records from the New Zealand Companies Office, dated 30 August this year, showing that the shareholding in Godfrey Hirst is owned by a company whose address is in Port Vila, Vanuatu.

Leave granted.

Immigration Service—Ministerial Discretion

8. Dr the Hon LOCKWOOD SMITH (National—Rodney) to the Minister of Immigration: Does he stand by his statement to the House on Thursday 20 July that no ministerial discretion was exercised when the New Zealand Immigration Service approved a work visa for Mr Bulakorn Nakhen on 17 February 2005 in response to submissions by Taito Phillip Field?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE (Minister of Immigration): Yes. I am advised that the Associate Minister had previously declined to intervene in Mr Nakhen’s case and that Mr Nakhen was required to leave New Zealand.

Dr the Hon Lockwood Smith: When Ms Mary-Anne Thompson, Deputy Secretary of the Department of Labour, told the Ingram inquiry that the “issuing of a work visa to a failed applicant for refugee status could be viewed as a true exception to normal practice;”, why did Immigration New Zealand issue a work visa to Mr Nakhen, a failed applicant for refugee status, following submissions from Taito Phillip Field?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: Quite simply, it was because Mr Nakhen was married to a New Zealand citizen, and, with supporting information and documents, the department was satisfied the relationship was genuine.

Dr the Hon Lockwood Smith: When Mary-Anne Thompson told the Ingram inquiry that had failed refugee Mr Sunan Siriwan applied to Immigration New Zealand for a work visa, the application would have been unsuccessful, why was the application for Mr Nakhen successful following representations from Taito Phillip Field, when Mr Nakhen had twice applied for refugee status and been declined on each of those occasions, and had failed on appeals on each of those decisions?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: The answer is very simple. The member’s representations on behalf of Mr Nakhen occurred on 31 August 2004; that is, before the Minister declined to intervene on 13 October 2004. The subsequent decision by the department was made on completely different grounds.

Dr the Hon Lockwood Smith: If, as the Minister told Parliament on 20 July and has confirmed today, no ministerial discretion was exercised in the case of Mr Nakhen in response to submissions from Taito Phillip Field, why did Mr Field’s ministerial secretary email the ministerial secretary of the Associate Minister Damien O’Connor on 13 October 2004 claiming an agreement whereby Mr O’Connor would “grant Mr Nakhen a work permit if he voluntarily left the country for 2 months”?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: Clearly, I am not responsible for Mr Field’s secretary, and, equally clearly, she got it wrong.

Dr the Hon Lockwood Smith: If, as the Minister has advised Parliament, no ministerial discretion was exercised in the case of Mr Nakhen in response to submissions from Taito Phillip Field, why did his department not write back to correct the misunderstanding when Mr Field wrote to them on 27 October telling them of the understanding he had reached with Mr O’Connor whereby Mr Nakhen “would be allowed to reapply for re-entry via a legal permit, preferably a work permit”?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: MPs on all sides of the House are free to write in support of individual applications to Immigration New Zealand. However, the correct reporting line is from the department to its own Minister. The department does not follow the characterisation of its Minister offered by other MPs.

Dr the Hon Lockwood Smith: Did the fact that the Minister’s department did not dispute the claim of Taito Phillip Field that he had an agreement with Damien O’Connor whereby Mr Nakhen “would be allowed to reapply for re-entry via a legal permit, preferably a work permit” reflect the fact that his department believed Mr O’Connor had reached such an agreement, which was why his department approved a work visa for Mr Nakhen, an illegal overstayer who had four times been refused refugee status?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: Quite simply, because it is a truism that any person who legally leaves New Zealand is therefore legally allowed to apply for a work permit. It does not mean they will get one. It needs to be decided on the facts.

Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. It seems to me that in that exchange, if I recall comments that have been made in the House around this issue over the many weeks that it has been on the boil, it would seem that the role of Mr O’Connor may well have been misrepresented by his ministerial colleague in answers today. I rise simply to make it clear that should Mr O’Connor wish to use the personal explanation process to clear his reputation, we would not block that.

Madam SPEAKER: That is a debating matter. It is obviously not a point of order, as I am sure the member knows.

Lebanon—New Zealand Assistance

9. Hon MARIAN HOBBS (Labour—Wellington Central) to the Minister for Disarmament and Arms Control: Will New Zealand provide assistance with the clearance of landmines and unexploded ordnance in Lebanon following the recent conflict there?

Hon PHIL GOFF (Minister for Disarmament and Arms Control): Yes. New Zealand has been requested by the United Nations Mine Action Service to deploy a New Zealand Defence Force major to work in the mine and unexploded ordnance clearance area. That officer is currently in Beirut coordinating action to clear landmines and unexploded ordnance. That, clearly, is a critical job for the prevention of the further loss of human life, and for facilitating the delivery of humanitarian aid. A New Zealander, David Shearer, has also been appointed as the United Nations Humanitarian Coordinator for Lebanon.

Hon Marian Hobbs: Is the Government concerned that cluster bombs have been used in the conflict, and will it be registering its opposition to the use of such weapons?

Hon PHIL GOFF: Yes, New Zealand has consistently expressed its concern about the use of cluster bombs in urban and civilian areas because of the indiscriminate casualties it causes amongst the civilian population. We express that concern through the inhumane weapons convention, and the review conference will take place in November. We have also registered our concern in New York with the United Nations Security Council, and in Geneva with the Human Rights Council, condemning actions that target civilians, and we have supported the Secretary-General’s call for investigation into violations of international humanitarian law.

Keith Locke: Will the Minister go beyond his statement just made, expressing concern about the indiscriminate use of cluster munitions, and publicly advocate a universal ban on cluster munitions?

Hon PHIL GOFF: However desirable a universal ban may be, there is no prospect that that will get through the inhumane weapons convention. We will go for what we realistically think we can achieve, and, in particular, that will target areas such as the fact that many of the cluster bombs do not explode on impact, and that they should have a self-destruct mechanism. That is one of the things we think we can gain considerable international support for. Obviously, we will be working with other like-minded countries to prevent the use of cluster munitions in civilian areas, such as has been the case in the Lebanon where most of the casualties have been civilian, not military.

Keith Locke: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I am not sure the Minister entirely addressed the question. Although he did talk about some of the practical steps New Zealand is proposing, he did not really answer the question of whether New Zealand in principle supported a universal ban on cluster munitions.

Madam SPEAKER: The Minister did at some length address the question. Obviously, when a question contains several thoughts, as members know happens with supplementary questions, the Minister is required to answer only one, but I see the Minister is anxious to elaborate.

Hon PHIL GOFF: Just to remind the member, I started by answering his question directly, saying that no matter how desirable it was to have an outright ban, that was unlikely to be achieved. Therefore, New Zealand, in its usual tradition, will go for objectives that it thinks will take the world forward and that it can achieve.

Hon Marian Hobbs: What are the predominant problems caused by the use of such cluster munitions?

Hon PHIL GOFF: The first problem I have referred to already—that is, these cluster munitions will have the greatest effect on civilians when they are used in urban areas, as they have been. Secondly, the difficulty we have with cluster munitions is that about 10 percent of them do not actually explode on the ground on impact. Therefore, what happens is that these cluster munitions, which are about the size of a tennis ball or a Coke can, will lie on the ground. They will be picked up and played with by kids. The main casualties are kids and, 25 years after they were first used in the Lebanon back in the late 1970s and the 1980s, there are still fatalities being caused amongst the civilian population by these weapons. Now they have a whole new generation of weapons left on the ground by the latest conflict, which will continue to kill kids and unarmed civilians.

Health Expenditure—Priorities

10. Hon TONY RYALL (National—Bay of Plenty) to the Minister of Health: Is he satisfied that health expenditure is being prioritised appropriately; if so, why?

Hon PETE HODGSON (Minister of Health): The Government has undertaken a historic reinvestment in our public health system and, yes, I am satisfied that on the whole it is being prioritised appropriately.

Hon Tony Ryall: Is it the Government’s priority to fund race-based health programmes like this programme, which asks: “Are you male? Are you Maori? Are you aged 35 to 45? Would you like subsidised gym membership?”, and how does he square that with this Government’s undertaking to treat all New Zealanders fairly rather than on the basis of their race? [Interruption]

Madam SPEAKER: All members would like to hear the answer, I am sure.

Hon PETE HODGSON: I presume the member is referring to a programme near his own home town of Tauranga, which is run out of the Western Bay of Plenty primary health organisation. The main cause of death in that district health board’s area is cardiovascular disease. It is the leading cause of death amongst Māori men. The primary health organisation is doing precisely what primary health organisations were set up to do, which is to reach into the population, find the people who are most at risk, and start to deal to them.

Hon Members: What about the Pākehā?

Hon PETE HODGSON: And what is more, the idea of having a free gym membership is, of course, no more than a thing called a Green Prescription, an idea that began under National when the member’s mate, three to the left of where he is sitting now, was Minister of Health. The member needs to become a student of history as well as a student of the portfolio.

Barbara Stewart: What funds from the health budget are spent annually on migrant health screening and the treatment of conditions exposed by screening; has that figure increased over the past 6 years?

Hon PETE HODGSON: I cannot give the member a precise answer to the question without notice, I am sorry. But I can tell the member that funding to better integrate migrant communities was dispersed by my predecessor, the Hon Annette King, about a year and a bit ago. The whole reason for doing that was to make sure that migrants, especially those from sub-Saharan Africa, were integrated into our health system as early as possible.

Hon Tony Ryall: Why, when before the election this Government promised to do away with race-based funding, do the many thousands of other New Zealanders who are at risk from heart disease in the region not qualify for subsidised gym memberships, free lifestyle coaching support, and weight loss programmes; is that because they are the wrong colour under this Government? [Interruption]

Madam SPEAKER: No, I will not call the Minister until all members can hear the reply.

Hon PETE HODGSON: It is a matter of fact that New Zealanders of Māori descent die around 7 years younger than New Zealanders of Pākehā descent. That is something that I find shameful. I am delighted that a primary health organisation in the member’s own electorate is keen to do something about that. I am delighted about that, and I would say to the member that this is not race-based funding. It, self-evidently, is needs-based. And as long as there is a need to pay special attention to Māori health in this or that area—or Pacific Island health, or male health, or female health—we will do so and do so proudly.

Hon Dr Michael Cullen: Is it correct that in the example the member has referred to there are three identifiers—age, sex, and race—and has he understood why so far the member has picked on only race and appears not to worry about age and sex?

Hon PETE HODGSON: I could draw the obvious conclusion, but it would be, of course, unparliamentary to do so.

Peter Brown: Does the Minister believe that the humanitarian policy announced today, which has the potential to increase the prevalence of AIDS in New Zealand residents by almost 10 percent and cost the health system $3 million extra per year, will be viewed by the public as an appropriate prioritisation of health expenditure; if he agrees with that, could he please explain why?

Hon PETE HODGSON: Not only do I agree with it but I warmly endorse it. I say to the member straightforwardly that by taking this step we do not increase the prevalence of HIV in this country; we, of course, decrease it. We decrease it because this virus always flourishes wherever there is denial and cover-up. Whenever one shines a light on it, is open, and goes for early diagnosis, one will always get better control. That is the history of HIV throughout the world, and it is time the member got his head around that.

Heather Roy: Does the Minister think the $3.9 million of taxpayer money spent over 6 years on the Health Workforce Advisory Committee was well-prioritised health expenditure, when it produced nothing of any benefit at all to assist workforce shortages; would that money not have been better spent on 312 hip replacements or 1,700 grommet operations for children with hearing difficulties?

Hon PETE HODGSON: When the Health Workforce Advisory Committee was set up by my—[Interruption] I wonder whether the member would like to listen, given that she asked the question. [Interruption] When the member is ready, I will answer the question.

Madam SPEAKER: Would the Minister please be seated. Would members please lower the chit-chat across the Chamber, so that we can hear the answer.

Hon PETE HODGSON: When my predecessor, the Hon Annette King, established the Health Workforce Advisory Committee, New Zealand was coming out of a period when it was believed that there was no need to have a health workforce debate, and that somehow the market would take care of the situation. That is why this country has well insufficient dental therapists, for example; it is why we ran out of radiation therapists, for example. You see, the market, left to its own devices, does not work. The Health Workforce Advisory Committee has done this country an absolute favour by getting the health workforce on the agenda, to the point where even the ACT party is now asking about it.

Sue Moroney: Is the Minister satisfied that there is a broad appreciation of how to best balance competing priorities for health expenditure?

Hon PETE HODGSON: Sadly, I am not. I have heard calls to relieve the pressure on elective services by cutting primary health spending, which would, of course, make the pressure on elective services worse. I have heard calls to cut taxes but at the same time to provide more health services—go figure! I have heard calls to prevent disease, followed by calls to stop spending money on anti-smoking programmes. Today we have heard remarks like: “Let’s make sure we don’t deal to the most needy in our society.” All of those calls came from Tony Ryall. The more Labour does in health, the more bitter and strange that member becomes.

Madam SPEAKER: Those last comments were unnecessary. Would the member please be seated. This House is trying very hard to comply with the Standing Orders. Would the Minister please withdraw those comments.

Hon PETE HODGSON: I am happy to withdraw, Madam Speaker.

Hon Tony Ryall: Why is the Government continuing to fund race-based programmes when, before the election, it promised they would be stopped; will he tell primary health organisations and district health boards that they should stop dividing their areas on the basis of race and treat their patients on the basis of their need?

Hon PETE HODGSON: All personal health is done on the basis of need and all population health is done on the basis of what the population needs. The member really does need to begin to understand health policy.

Hon Tony Ryall: If the Minister is so keen that these programmes be based on race, can he explain why this programme targets not the most at-risk racial group in the region, which is in fact Indians; can he also explain why the Government is pursuing the race-based funding of primary health organisations when Mr Mallard, before the election, said that these programmes would be stopped, yet after the election Helen Clark and the Labour Party are back to their old tricks of dividing New Zealanders on the basis of race?

Hon PETE HODGSON: The Bay of Plenty District Health Board has identified cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancer, and renal disease as its highest-priority chronic conditions and has begun integrated programmes of care for all of those conditions for the four priority populations. They are: children and young people, Māori, older people, and people with disabilities. If the situation for Indians in the Bay of Plenty has been overlooked by the district health board, then I am sure a very good local member would draw that to the attention of the district health board.

Dr Jackie Blue: Does the Minister agree that the Western Bay of Plenty’s race and gender-based initiative to reduce cardiovascular disease, which targets 35 to 45-year-olds, is in fact targeting the wrong group, when it is a well-known fact that here and now the people at greatest risk of dying of heart disease—and that includes Māori men—are those aged 45 to 64?

Hon PETE HODGSON: I myself do not make clinical decisions, but I am delighted that the member has decided that she should take a population-based approach to health. She should ask National’s health spokesperson to follow suit.

Hon Tony Ryall: I seek leave to table two documents from before the election: first, a Cabinet paper which resolves that the Ministry of Health will be instructed to remove race-based funding from primary health organisations, and, second, a report from the Dominion Post of before the election in which the Minister, Mr Mallard, announces that race-based programmes are to be removed.

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

Heather Roy: I seek leave of the House to table question for written answer No. 7868 from 2006, showing that the Health Workforce Advisory Committee was funded to the tune of $3.9 million, despite the fact that it achieved absolutely nothing in its 6 years of existence.

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

Welcome Home Loan Scheme—Criteria

11. RUSSELL FAIRBROTHER (Labour) to the Minister of Housing: What changes did the Government recently announce to the Welcome Home Loan scheme, which assists New Zealand families to buy their first home?

Hon CHRIS CARTER (Minister of Housing): Changes to the Housing New Zealand Corporation’s Welcome Home Loan scheme from this month will enable eligible families to buy a $200,000 home on no deposit, or a home worth up to $280,000 on a reduced deposit. These changes reflect the Labour-led Government’s commitment to assisting modest and middle income families to purchase their own homes.

Russell Fairbrother: What reports has the Minister seen on reactions to these changes to the Welcome Home Loan scheme?

Hon CHRIS CARTER: I have seen many glowing reports from regional New Zealand, where we expect there will be great take-up of the Welcome Home Loan scheme. For example, Palmerston North mortgage broker Lee Johnson said it was exciting and would give people on the cusp of affording a house an opportunity. I have also seen a bizarre comment accusing the Government of encouraging young people into debt. This was from National’s Phil Heatley, who cannot produce a single case of anyone defaulting on a Welcome Home Loan. Over 1,800 individuals or couples have already taken advantage of the scheme. Does National not support homeownership?

Pita Paraone: Tēnā koe, Madam Speaker. Will the Government increase the borrowing and income limits in line with both general and house price inflation, to ensure the Welcome Home Loan scheme remains relevant to the market; if so, how often will the limits be revised?

Hon CHRIS CARTER: Our recent adjustment to the scheme reflects our continued monitoring of house prices. We have also announced, of course, that we are looking at new products, like shared equity schemes, to assist people to buy their own homes in a higher-cost housing market.

Phil Heatley: When exactly will this Parliament see the details of the Minister’s shared equity scheme, which was first announced in July 2003, announced again in April 2004, then announced again in July 2005 as an election promise of an up to fifty-fifty equity deal, then announced yet again recently, and mentioned today in this House; when will we finally see the details of this silver bullet—now 3 years on?

Hon CHRIS CARTER: The Government has not announced a shared equity scheme yet. What we have foreshadowed is that we will be announcing one before the next Budget.

Phil Heatley: I seek leave to table a range of documents outlining the announcement of the shared equity scheme. One in—

Madam SPEAKER: Do members—from both sides of the House—wish to remain in the House? This is your last warning. There are little pockets of members with penetrating voices. So would you please not make any comment during points of order.

Phil Heatley: I seek leave to table a range of documents announcing the shared equity scheme: one dated July 2003, one dated 2004, another dated 2005, and one dated 2006. We are yet to see the details but I would like to table these announcements.

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

Hon CHRIS CARTER: I seek leave to table an editorial from the Nelson Mail dated Tuesday, 15 August 2006 that states among things: “Welcome Home, then, provides a necessary step up on to the first rung of the home ownership ladder.”

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

Hon CHRIS CARTER: I seek leave to table an article from the Manawatu Standard dated 16 August stating “easier foot in the door for homeowners” about the Government’s announced homeownership scheme.

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

Phil Heatley: I seek leave to table an article entitled “Government help for home buyers likely”, which states the home equity scheme announced here in March 2005 will be rolled out in April 2005.

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

Hon CHRIS CARTER: I seek leave to table a document from the Hawke’s Bay Today—

Madam SPEAKER: Paula Bennett, I am sorry but I specifically issued a warning about interjections during points of order. Would you please leave the Chamber.

Paula Bennett withdrew from the Chamber.

Hon CHRIS CARTER: I seek leave to table a document from the Hawke’s Bay Today newspaper dated 15 August praising the Welcome Home Loan scheme, and saying that plenty of $200,000 houses are available in Hawke’s Bay.

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

Hon CHRIS CARTER: I seek leave to table an article from the Greymouth Evening Star dated 15 August praising the home loan scheme, and stating that there are plenty of houses on the West Coast in the price range, and that the home loan scheme will not push up prices.

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

Question No. 5 to Minister

TARIANA TURIA (Co-Leader—Māori Party): I seek leave to table the roster for Wanganui Hospital in the next fortnight that demonstrates that for 5 days there is no paediatrician cover at all and patchy locum cover at best.

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

Standards New Zealand—Approval Process

12. Hon Dr NICK SMITH (National—Nelson) to the Minister of Commerce: Does she stand by her reply to question for written answer 9163 (2006) about Standards New Zealand, and in particular her statement: “The Committee will make every attempt to achieve full consensus. In rare circumstances, however, a standard may be published without full consensus provided 80% of the committee members vote in favour of publication.”?

Hon LIANNE DALZIEL (Minister of Commerce): Yes.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: Does the Minister consider it acceptable for the Standards Committee considering a lowering of timber treatment standards to, in May, have two members vote against the change; then, in June, have those two members sacked off the committee, following industry lobbying; only to have, in August, the vote re-put and passed; and why would homeowners and builders have any confidence in standards adopted by that sort of process?

Hon LIANNE DALZIEL: That is not the advice that I have.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: I seek leave of the House to table the letter with regard to representations on the New Zealand standard 3640 committee, in which Mr Neil Mora from AgriQuality and Mr Paul Oliver, a timber treatment specialist, were sacked from the committee after voting against the change.

Leave granted.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: Has the Minister seen the statement made by the Department of Building and Housing in which, after the standard was adopted, it stated that it was not able to confirm that there is compliance with the building code; and if the Department of Building and Housing has no confidence in Standards New Zealand, why should anybody else?

Hon LIANNE DALZIEL: I am aware of that particular statement. I also have a statement made by Standards New Zealand explaining its position on the matter. If the member has any questions about citing the standard in the code, they should be directed to the appropriate Minister.

Shane Jones: Does she have confidence in the standards development process operating in New Zealand?

Hon LIANNE DALZIEL: Yes, I do have confidence in the process, and I believe that the consensus-based approach is one that works best. As the Minister for Building Issues said on Monday in the New Zealand Herald, a hands-off approach is not the answer to lifting standards; the approach created the problems in the first place. The deregulation of the sector in the 1990s meant there were almost no rules; and we know which Government was in place when that happened.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: Has she seen the statement made by the New Zealand Certified Builders Association saying it is “infuriated” that two Government agencies are now telling builders different rules on how houses are to be constructed; and can she today clarify the matter and tell us whether builders should follow the instructions of Standards New Zealand, or the instructions of the Department of Building and Housing?

Hon LIANNE DALZIEL: I am aware, because I have read the newspaper reports of those claiming confusion about the New Zealand building industry. I understand that Standards New Zealand and the Department of Building and Housing are working together to quickly provide clear guidance to the industry.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: Does the Minister believe that it is appropriate that the very same industry people who made the change a decade ago—to do away with timber treatment for framing—are now the same ones who have recommended, and changed the standard in 2003, to water down those standards; and does she think this will satisfy New Zealanders living in rotting, leaking homes that the lessons have been learnt?

Hon LIANNE DALZIEL: The statement made by Standards New Zealand, which perhaps the member has not seen, makes it very clear that there is support for the greater use of boron treatment, which is the issue at stake here; and that concern has been expressed about practical issues relating to the use of treated timber in houses, such as compatibility of treated timber with wallboard adhesives and building underlay. These issues are related not just to boron treatment but to a wide range of timber treatments, and they are not within the scope of the timber treatment standard. The member does not understand the issues he raises.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: How can the Minister describe the process as one of obtaining a consensus, when the members who voted against the watering down of the timber treatment standard were dumped off the committee, so a consensus could be obtained?

Hon LIANNE DALZIEL: As I said in an earlier answer, that is not the advice I have.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: I seek the leave of the House to table from the Department of Building and Housing its statement that it does not accept the change from New Zealand Standards regarding the watering down of timber treatment standards.

Leave granted.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: I seek leave to table the statement made by the Certified Builders Association of New Zealand saying it is infuriated that we have a Government where two different agencies are telling builders different things about how they should build homes safely.

Leave granted.

Hon LIANNE DALZIEL: I seek leave to table the Standards New Zealand statement, which states that the timber treatment standard is technically sound, and looks to finding some solutions to the matters that have been raised.

Leave granted.

ENDS


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