Questions And Answers - Thursday, 31 August 2006
Questions And Answers Thursday, 31 August
Questions to Ministers
Speech from the Throne—Political Integrity of Parliament and Electoral Process
1. Dr DON BRASH (Leader of the Opposition) on behalf of GERRY BROWNLEE (Deputy Leader—National) 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”?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Deputy Prime Minister) on behalf of the Prime Minister: Yes, by keeping our promises, unlike National, which constantly betrayed the electorate and the party’s promises throughout the 1990s.
Dr Don Brash: Can the Prime Minister tell the House how we can see the decision of the police to investigate the Ingram report allegations against Taito Phillip Field as anything other than a massive vote of no confidence in the Prime Minister’s handling of this entire saga, given that she has spent the last 6 weeks telling the House that no further action was required?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Given that the Prime Minister has consistently said that people with any allegations and evidence should go to the police, that is entirely untrue.
Dr Don Brash: Has the Prime Minister seen the comments made by Andrew Little, national secretary of the Engineering, Printing and Manufacturing Union, who stated that MPs are in a position of integrity and trust, and that Taito Phillip Field should resign; what is her response to that vote of no confidence in her Government’s handling of the Field saga from someone who heads a Labour-affiliated union?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I would refer Mr Little to comments made on yesterday morning’s radio programme, where it was said: “I think even for Mr Field’s sake it is not fair that he is hounded out of Parliament on the basis of baseless allegations.” That comment was made, of course, by the Leader of the Opposition. Let us await the outcome of the police inquiry, and if charges are laid let us await the outcome of the judicial process—
Hon Dr Nick Smith: They are not baseless.
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN:—unlike those made against Dr Nick Smith, who was found guilty of contempt and was applauded by his colleagues when he came into the House.
Dr Don Brash: What is the Prime Minister’s response to comments made by Hola Taue, the Labour Party Pacific Island vice-president, who also thinks Taito Phillip Field should resign as an MP because: “It’s a big conflict of interest what he has done. He is not available for any of us. He is very stubborn.”; what is her response to that vote of no confidence in the way she has handled this matter?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: The Prime Minister has consistently said allegations should be taken to the police. The police are now undertaking an inquiry. In a country that believes in the rule of law, that is where matters now rest.
Dr Don Brash: Has she seen today’s Dominion Post editorial, which states: “Every day that an uncleared Mr Field remains a Labour MP is a reminder that the Labour Party has fallen grievously short of the new standards Miss Clark promised to set when she took office.”; what is her response to that vote of no confidence in the way she has handled the Field affair?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: My response would be that the Dominion Post should remind itself about the rule of law.
Dr Don Brash: Did she, any of her Ministers, or any of her staff meet with Police Commissioner Howard Broad when he was in the Beehive this morning; if so, what was the purpose of that meeting?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: The Prime Minister certainly did not; she was in Napier. I would imagine the police commissioner met with the Minister of Police, as he frequently does—as I met with the tertiary education commissioner today.
2. SUE MORONEY (Labour) to the Minister of Health: What progress has been made in work to improve the oral health of New Zealanders?
Hon PETE HODGSON (Minister of Health): Last week the Government announced that over $100 million will be invested in a major reform of our public oral health system. The policy includes the revitalisation of the school dental service, and provision of community oral health facilities.
Sue Moroney: Has the Minister received any reports about the public discussion on the Government’s oral health policy?
Hon PETE HODGSON: I have seen reports that members of the oral health community have been angered by comments from Tony Ryall about the Government’s plan and National’s record on the issue. I have a copy of a letter sent to Mr Ryall from a registered dental therapist reminding him that it was National that foolishly made hundreds of dental nurses redundant, that it was National that nearly destroyed the school dental service, that it was National that closed down dental therapist training, and that it was Labour that moved early in its first term to start repairing the damage.
Barbara Stewart: How long does the Minister estimate it will take to fully implement the strategic vision for oral health in New Zealand, and what dental care is accessible to children and teenagers who are missing out in the meantime?
Hon PETE HODGSON: I hope the member enjoyed her briefing on the topic this morning. It will, of course, take a number of years to fulfil a strategy as broad as this. However, we are off to an early start; the first business cases will be coming in from district health boards in November of this year.
Hone Harawira: Tēnā koe, Madam Speaker. Why does the Government’s press release of 20 August hold National responsible for the worst oral health records for 5-year-olds in Northland since 1990, when today’s 5-year-olds have only ever lived under a Labour minority Government in charge of their dental health; and what will he do about the tragic statistics for Māori 5-year-olds in Northland today—only 14 percent of whom are cavity-free?
Hon PETE HODGSON: My predecessor, the Hon Annette King, herself a dental therapist, had restarted a dental therapy school in New Zealand, had staffed it, had the curriculum up, had the funding, and had students in the classroom within 15 months of a change of Government. That is what rapid repair looks like. She then opened a second school, not in Dunedin but in Auckland. Both those schools are now churning out graduates. Finally, we have started to lift the number of dental therapists in this country. It had fallen from 1,000 to 550, and now that we are repairing the damage wrought by National we are building dental facilities so that these new dental therapists can go to work.
Gordon Copeland: Can the Sisters of Compassion, who generously fund a dental clinic for children in the Hutt, expect any Government support any time soon from these initiatives—indeed, from any of the $100 million tag for oral health—giving some help to those who unselfishly help others?
Hon PETE HODGSON: I am afraid I do not know, but I can say that if they are an integral part of the local district health board’s dental health services, they will already be receiving funding.
Hon Tony Ryall: Is the Minister standing up in the House today and saying that it will take another couple of years to see any progress in the improving of oral health for young New Zealanders, considering in the last 7 years of the Labour Government there have been one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, 10, and 11 strategies, visions, and reviews, which this Government has done absolutely nothing on?
Hon PETE HODGSON: I now get a chance to rehearse the history again, and I will enjoy it. The long and short of it is that there used to be more than a thousand dental therapists in this country, but they got the sack from the previous Government. People stopped going to dental training schools. The schools closed and we ended up with an implosion in the workforce. That needed fixing, and one cannot teach a dental therapist in 3 weeks; it takes 3 years. One cannot open a dental therapy school in 3 weeks; that took 15 months. If the National Government had only kept the dental therapy workforce up—if only it had done that—none of those reports would have needed to be written.
Madam SPEAKER: I just remind members that gestures with hands can be misinterpreted.
Hon Tony Ryall: I seek leave to table the Oral Health Service Review, released in 2000.
Hon Tony Ryall: I seek leave to table the Review of Publicly Funded Oral Health Care in New Zealand: Final Report, March 2001.
Hon Tony Ryall: I seek leave to table Improving Child Oral Health and Reducing Child Oral Health Inequalities, May 2003.
Hon Tony Ryall: I seek leave to table the School Dental Services Facilities Discussion Document, September 2003.
Hon Tony Ryall: I seek leave to table Improve Oral Health 2004, edition 2.
Hon Tony Ryall: I seek leave to table the Dental Therapy Technical Advisory Group, Ministry of Health, Recruitment and Practice of Dental Therapists, June 2004.
Hon Tony Ryall: I seek leave to table the National School Dental Service Review: Final Report, December 2004.
Hon Tony Ryall: I seek leave to table the Review of Māori Child Oral Health Services, December 2004.
Hon Tony Ryall: I seek leave to table the Business Case Guidelines for Investment in Child and Adolescent Oral Health Services.
Hon Tony Ryall: I seek leave to table Community Oral Health Service: Facility Guideline.
Hon PETE HODGSON: I seek leave to table a letter—[Interruption]
Madam SPEAKER: There will be silence during points of order. During the last point of order, there were interruptions from both sides of the House. You are on your last warning.
Hon PETE HODGSON: I seek leave to table a letter from Barbara Morton, registered dental therapist, to Tony Ryall, which states, in part: “Annette King put in place some very good long-term planning, which has been carried on by Pete Hodgson. When a service has been badly run down over many years, as it was under National, it cannot be fixed overnight.”
Jo Goodhew: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. Unfortunately the Hon Tony Ryall has forgotten one.
Madam SPEAKER: I have not called the member. I call Jo Goodhew.
Jo Goodhew: Unfortunately the Hon Tony Ryall forgot one. I seek leave to table the 36-page latest strategic vision: Good Oral Health, for All, for Life: the Strategic Vision for Oral Health in New Zealand.
Madam SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection? There is objection. I remind members, when they make points of order, that they do not make any other comment but their reference to it.
Immigration Service—Apia Branch Contact with Immigration Intelligence Unit
3. Dr the Hon LOCKWOOD SMITH (National—Rodney) to the Minister of Immigration: Is it correct that the manager of the Apia branch of the New Zealand Immigration Service, Mr James Dalmer, contacted the immigration intelligence unit with information about Thai nationals’ involvement with Taito Phillip Field; if so, on how many occasions did that happen?
Hon CLAYTON COSGROVE (Associate Minister of Immigration), on behalf of the Minister of Immigration: Yes, I am advised that there were four occasions on which communication occurred. Of those, three mentioned Mr Field by name.
Dr the Hon Lockwood Smith: If, as the Minister has just advised the House, the branch manager in Apia communicated at least four times with the immigration intelligence unit, if Mr Dalmer actually discussed with the manager of the immigration intelligence unit on or about 10 May specific issues involving Thais working without pay on Mr Field’s house in Samoa and being promised work in New Zealand in return, and if all of that is correct, how does he explain that information being withheld from the Associate Minister, Damien O’Connor, if, in fact, it was withheld?
Hon CLAYTON COSGROVE: The Minister is advised that this was because the information they were dealing with was unconfirmed—that is, there was a possibility it was wrong. I also say to that member again—and I point to the Ingram inquiry—that the Ingram inquiry quite clearly stated that the Associate Minister of Immigration at the time made the decision unaware of the information because it had not been passed on to him.
Dr the Hon Lockwood Smith: Was Noel Ingram QC able to reach a firm conclusion as to whether the Associate Minister, Damien O’Connor, knew of the allegations in relation to Mr Siriwan’s involvement with Mr Field in Samoa prior to his decision to issue a special direction for a work visa for Mr Siriwan, or was Mr Ingram’s conclusion that “real uncertainty results from the available evidence as to when Mr O’Connor became aware of the allegations in relation to Mr Field.”?
Hon CLAYTON COSGROVE: In response, I make two points on behalf of the Minister. As I previously told the House, I am advised that the inquiry concludes that the Associate Minister did not have the relevant information at the time he made the decision on the Siriwan case. I refer the member to paragraphs 157 and 158 on pages 49-50 of the Ingram report. Further, Mr Ingram goes on to note in paragraph 179 that the original “decision by Mr O’Connor may be regarded as a justifiable exercise of that broad discretionary … power.”
Dr the Hon Lockwood Smith: Is it correct that the “possible sequence of events surrounding Mr O’Connor being informed of the allegations” constructed by Mr Ingram required Mr O’Connor’s immigration secretary, Ms Nicola Scotland, to forget a logged 5 minute - long phone call at 2.41 p.m. on 9 June from the group manager for service international of the Department of Labour, where he discussed with her whether Mr O’Connor was aware of the information received and all the circumstances involved regarding the Thai nationals in Samoa when he apparently made his decisions, following discussions with Taito Phillip Field—decisions Nicola Scotland knew were still pending—a possible sequence of events requiring her to forget that information, which she knew to be crucial?
Hon CLAYTON COSGROVE: It has been accepted by the Ingram inquiry that what is most likely to have occurred in this instance is that the Minister’s private secretary was informed but did not pass that information on to the Minister because it was unconfirmed. That is what the Ingram inquiry concluded.
Dr the Hon Lockwood Smith: Is it remotely credible that Ms Nicola Scotland, Mr O’Connor’s immigration secretary, would not have passed on the crucial information she received from Mr Tavita, service international group manager, on 9 June, when earlier, on 27 May, compliance officer Murray Gardiner had emailed her directly with information about the goings-on involving Taito Phillip Field in Samoa—Mr Ingram’s possible sequence of events requiring her to have forgotten to pass on that information to Mr O’Connor as well, if she did, in fact, forget?
Hon CLAYTON COSGROVE: As I have just pointed out to the member, the inquiry accepted that the most likely events to have occurred in this instance are that the Minister’s private secretary was informed but did not pass that information on to the Minister. Those are the findings of the inquiry and of Noel Ingram QC.
Dr the Hon Lockwood Smith: How does the Minister explain the file note of his Apia branch manager, Mr James Dalmer, that records: “Knowledge of Thai cases—knows that Taito had these people working for him—Damien knew that before he made the decision—tight labour market has been a factor.”?
Hon CLAYTON COSGROVE: I simply reiterate the findings of Noel Ingram QC, as I have previously stated.
Dr the Hon Lockwood Smith: Is the reason that Mr James Dalmer, Apia branch manager, told the Ingram inquiry that “his best recollection is that Ms Scotland stated that Mr O’Connor knew of the information before he made his decision.” because it is the truth?
Hon CLAYTON COSGROVE: I reiterate my previous answer. The findings are clear in Noel Ingram QC’s inquiry.
VIP Transport Service—Govt3 Programme
4. JEANETTE FITZSIMONS (Co-Leader—Green) to the Minister responsible for Ministerial Services: Is she confident that purchase decisions made by her officials in relation to the VIP Transport Service fleet are consistent with the Govt3 programme?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Leader of the House): on behalf of the Minister responsible for Ministerial Services: The Department of Internal Affairs is now taking into account the Govt3 programme in its purchasing planning, and I expect to see this reflected in the make-up of the VIP Transport service fleet over time.
Jeanette Fitzsimons: Why are most of the ministerial chauffeur-driven cars Ford Fairlanes and Ford LTDs that are identified on the Government’s own fuelsaver website as among the worst gas guzzlers in the country, using 14.5 litres per 100 kilometres driven?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I think there is only one LTD left in the fleet now, although I am not sure of that, they are nearly all Ford Fairlanes. These, of course, reflect past purchasing practices. Speaking personally—as myself, not as the Minister responsible for Ministerial Services—I find the Fords uncomfortable and noisy compared with the average 2-litre Japanese saloon.
Jeanette Fitzsimons: What message will it send to ordinary Kiwis who are buying smaller cars and making a personal commitment to address peak oil and climate change, when they learn that Crown cars each produce around 6 tonnes per year of carbon dioxide, which is almost three times as much as the most efficient, comfortable five-seaters available?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I am advised by the Hon Harry Duynhoven, who is an expert in all these sorts of matters, that the Ford fleet is doing considerably better in actual performance than it is rated for in the information the member refers to. But I shall take this up with the Prime Minister, preferring myself to ride in somewhat smaller cars than a Ford Fairlane.
Jeanette Fitzsimons: Why were all of these gas guzzlers—the worst ones—purchased since the Government announced the ratification of the Kyoto Protocol, and since the start of the Govt3 programme, launched in 2003?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I have not got the numbers. Some of the cars, certainly, have liquefied petroleum gas, and some of the cars in Auckland—it is not so in Wellington, I think—are Holdens, not Fords.
Jeanette Fitzsimons: Will the Minister commit to ensuring that all future vehicle purchases are in the best 10 percent of those available in New Zealand for fuel efficiency and carbon emissions?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: No. I think probably that the notion of using Toyota Echos as the ministerial fleet probably is not the wisest of moves. But I certainly believe that the ministerial fleet operators can look at more efficient vehicles than the ones that have been bought, in some form or another, for I think something like 25 years—since we ceased to use Chryslers at some point in the 1970s.
Jeanette Fitzsimons: I seek leave to table two lots of documents. The first is a print-out from the Government’s fuelsaver website, giving the fuel efficiency of the Fairlanes.
Jeanette Fitzsimons: I further seek leave to table a set of specifications for a number of vehicles available in New Zealand at the moment, which do not include the Toyota Echo, and which have fuel efficiencies around 4, 5, and 6 litres per 100 kilometres.
Election Advertising—Chief Electoral Officers' Advice
5. Hon BILL ENGLISH (National—Clutha-Southland) to the Minister of Justice: Did the Chief Electoral Officer write to New Zealand Labour Party General Secretary Mike Smith on 2 September 2005 warning him that in his view the costs of the Labour Party pledge card were election expenses under the Electoral Act 1993?
Hon MARK BURTON (Minister of Justice): As I said to the member’s colleague in response to question for oral answer No. 5 on Wednesday, 23 August, I am aware of the letter, but I was not a recipient of it and cannot comment on its contents.
Hon Bill English: Can the Minister confirm that having received that letter from the Chief Electoral Officer, with its warning about election expenses, the Labour Party then proceeded to spend over $500,000 on advertising in the last 2 weeks of the election campaign, despite the fact that the expenditure took it over the legal limit for election spending?
Hon MARK BURTON: Perhaps I could clarify for the member. I am aware of the letter, but I was not a recipient of it and therefore cannot comment on its contents.
Hon Bill English: What confidence can the New Zealand public have in the laws the Minister is administering to regulate election spending, when the Government of the day ignores the advice of the statutory officer designated by Parliament to enforce the law, then after the election proposes to pass retrospective legislation to validate its illegal actions?
Hon MARK BURTON: Considerable confidence—given that under the Electoral Act of 1993 the Chief Electoral Officer is responsible for the preparation and conduct of parliamentary elections, and the supervision of candidates’ election expenses and donations. It would be inappropriate for me, under that Act, to comment on what are legal interpretations by the said officer.
Hon Bill English: Has the Minister sought advice from the Ministry of Justice about who is right over the issue of the pledge card—advice as to whether it is Helen Clark and Dr Cullen, who believed that it was not an election expense; or advice on the views of the Chief Electoral Officer, the Auditor-General, and the Solicitor-General, that it was an election expense?
Hon MARK BURTON: Given that I am not a recipient of the correspondence, nor of any correspondence that the Chief Electoral Officer may have had with other political parties such as the National Party about election expenditure, I would not expect to be copied into such correspondence. It is therefore not appropriate for me to comment on a legal interpretation given by the Chief Electoral Officer.
Hon Bill English: In the Minister’s capacity as Minister of Justice, can he tell the House what credibility there now is in our electoral law when the Government of the day was able to ignore the advice of the Chief Electoral Officer, was then able to slip that past a police investigation, and then come to this House promising to pass legislation to retrospectively validate its actions, and why should any political party now take any notice of the Chief Electoral Officer and the sections of the Act he administers?
Hon MARK BURTON: Firstly, the member is incorrect to assert that I have ministerial responsibility for political party expenditure. I explicitly do not. As to the law, as I have informed the House on previous occasions, I am indeed undertaking a review of the electoral finance regime, focusing on electoral expenses, advertising, and broadcasting, which of course is within the purview of my ministerial responsibility, unlike the expenditure of political parties at the last election.
Hon Bill English: Can the Minister tell us whether he will be the Minister promoting retrospective legislation if it is brought to the House, given that he is the Minister who is responsible for the electoral law that governs election spending?
Hon MARK BURTON: I am hardly about to commit to, or otherwise, any legislation on an as yet unproduced report.
Hon Dr Michael Cullen: I seek leave to table the following documents, all of which were issued in June 2002, within 3 months of the 2002 election: a letter signed by Bill English, then leader of the National Party, outlining key National Party policies, which is on parliamentary letterhead paper; a pamphlet featuring Mr English, on parliamentary letterhead, on penal policy; a pamphlet from the Leader of the Opposition, on parliamentary letterhead, which deals with penal policy; a pamphlet from Mr English, on parliamentary letterhead, which deals with Treaty of Waitangi claims; a newspaper advertisement featuring Mr English, and with parliamentary letterhead, featuring Treaty of Waitangi claims; and a letter from Mr English—obviously a form letter—on superannuation and related matters, clearly calling for people to vote for the National Party in the 2002 election, also on parliamentary letterhead.
Hon Bill English: I seek leave to table a document from Nielsen Media Research Ltd showing the Labour Party’s expenditure on press advertising in the last 2 weeks before the election in 2005.
Skills Shortages—Labour Force
6. GEORGINA BEYER (Labour) to the Minister for Social Development and Employment: What reports has he received on progress towards addressing skill shortages in the labour force?
Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE (Minister for Social Development and Employment): The Department of Labour’s Skills in the Labour Market report released today shows that, despite a strong labour market, the number of firms having difficulty finding skilled staff has decreased by 59 percent over the last year and a half. This achievement is, of course, in the context of the lowest level of unemployment ever recorded in New Zealand, at 3.6 percent. This clearly shows that the Labour-led Government’s initiatives like industry training, Modern Apprenticeships, and industry partnerships—policies that were anathema to the last National Government—are having an extremely positive effect on this economy.
Georgina Beyer: What is the impact of this easing of the labour market on firms?
Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: The latest Skills in the Labour Market report, which I have just referred to, shows that only 15 percent of businesses say a shortage of labour was their main constraint on expansion, down from 26 percent in March 2005 and down by almost half in the last 15 months. The job vacancy monitor has shown the third consecutive fall in the levels of job vacancies, led by Auckland where the level of vacancies has fallen by 15 percent over the last year, and the number of trainees enrolled in key trade qualifications has doubled over the last 6 years. The Government now, thankfully, has policies in place to support industry, and this compares to the complete lack of support for the skill needs of the economy under National in the 1990s.
Madam SPEAKER: I remind members that answers are meant to be concise.
Prisoner Transfer—Service Delivery Agreement
7. SIMON POWER (National—Rangitikei) to the Minister of Corrections: Can he confirm that the agreement between the Department of Corrections and Chubb New Zealand Ltd for the provision of prisoner escort services includes a service delivery component that “Unless otherwise agreed with the Department of Corrections” prisoners under the age of 20 “must be kept separate from all other Prisoners”, and how does he reconcile this with his statement 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 DAMIEN O'CONNOR (Minister of Corrections): Yes, the agreement with Chubb specifies a higher level of protection for youth. The contract does not include the words “where practicable”. This separation of youth from adult prisoners should occur in all instances, except where the Department of Corrections and Chubb agree otherwise.
Simon Power: Did the Department of Corrections decide that Liam Ashley should be locked into a compartment with a violent offender on the way to prison from court, in light of the fact that, under the agreement with Chubb, that could occur only with the agreement of the department?
Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: I am not prepared to speculate on what might have occurred on that tragic day. That is what the inquiries and investigations will uncover.
Martin Gallagher: What has the Minister done since the death of Mr Ashley to protect youth who are being transported under the care of the Department of Corrections?
Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: On Monday, 28 August I issued a directive to the Chief Executive of the Department of Corrections for him to issue an instruction to both departmental staff and contractors that prohibits the transportation of youth aged under 18 years in the same vehicle compartment as adult prisoners. I can confirm that the chief executive’s instruction has been issued and is being fully complied with.
Pita Paraone: Tēnā koe, Madam Speaker. Is it not true that the department’s decision to use a private security company to transport prisoners, rather than trained departmental officers, is purely a cost-saving measure, and does he now feel that the savings might not be worth the associated risks; if not, why not?
Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: The contract for the Auckland region has been in place since 1998. Roughly 220,000 prisoners have been transported. Thankfully, we have not had an incident like this before. All these issues will be looked at. It is not a cost-saving exercise that drives this contract.
Simon Power: Who made the decision to lock Liam Ashley into a compartment with a violent offender on the way to prison from court; if the Minister does not know by now, a week after this tragic event, why not?
Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: I am not prepared to jeopardise, undermine, or prejudge the five inquiries that are taking place into this horrific tragedy.
Simon Power: Why was Liam Ashley locked into a compartment with a violent offender, when the judge sought an assurance that he would be kept separate in custody; if he did have to share a compartment, why was it not with a non-violent offender, such as the Indian overstayer?
Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: There has been much speculation and many prejudgments on this incident. I am not prepared to add to that. I await the outcomes of these inquiries to clearly identify what happened on that day, and if the recommendations are that changes should be made, then they will be made.
Simon Power: Does he agree with the reported view of Peter Williams QC that in cases such as Liam Ashley’s: “The Corrections Department must take the responsibility, even if they have allocated it to Chubb.”; if not, why not?
Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: There are a number of Government agencies involved—the courts, the police, the Department of Corrections—and a subcontractor. I am not prepared to prejudge where mistakes were made—if they were made—on that tragic day.
Simon Power: Does he agree with the Prime Minister that it is “totally unacceptable” and “abhorrent that a 17-year-old should be murdered in the back of a prison van. Something is very badly wrong.”; if so, has the Minister followed the convention of individual ministerial responsibility and offered his resignation to the Prime Minister?
Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: I agree with the Prime Minister that this is a terrible tragedy. We shall await the outcomes of the inquiries to discover what happened on that tragic day and what changes may need to occur.
Community-based Clinics—At-risk Children
8. JO GOODHEW (National—Aoraki), on behalf of Hon TONY RYALL (National—Bay of Plenty) to the Minister of Health: What evidence is there that the Government’s proposed community-based clinics will improve access for at-risk children?
Hon PETE HODGSON (Minister of Health): There is evidence from a number of sources, including a University of Otago study, that the Government’s plan will significantly improve access. The community model is also showing early, but significant, promise in those Australian states where it has been deployed. It should also be noted that the community-based clinics will make it easier for preschool children to access services, which is especially important as so many of the young people are developing cavities before they turn 5.
Jo Goodhew: What research-based evidence does the Minister have that at-risk 3 to 10-year-olds with rotting teeth will attend large, centralised clinics in commercial areas rather than clinics in their neighbourhood school?
Hon PETE HODGSON: I think the member might perhaps slightly misunderstand the Government’s approach. Although some school dental clinics will close—in fact, a number of them already have, and a number of others are barely open; they are open for only a few hours a week—many other school dental facilities will remain, a number of them will be expanded, and a number of them will have access for the public through a separate entrance so that they do not have to go through the school-grounds, etc. In addition to that, new community facilities will be built, and the links between those community facilities and the schools and early childhood facilities in the region will need to be built, as well.
Ann Hartley: Why did the Government not act sooner to reinvest in oral health?
Hon PETE HODGSON: A very good question—we have spent a little time on it today—and I will say again: because there were not enough dental therapists. Even today school clinics are, on average, open less than half the time—that is, for those schools that have them. We could, of course, have started to build new dental facilities in our first year, but there would have been no one to work in them. So my colleague the Hon Annette King decided that building dental therapist schools to train people was the first thing that needed to be done, and that is exactly what she did. The fact that New Zealand ceased training dental therapists during the 1990s is, in my view, a scandal. The size of the workforce halved, and it is no wonder that the dental health of our children is declining as a result.
Barbara Stewart: Will his ministry be funding public education campaigns in the near future, to cover shortfalls in free oral health-care; if not, why not?
Hon PETE HODGSON: Yes, indeed. Public education campaigns are an integral part of the vision for oral health-care. As the member may be aware, given her knowledge of the subject, an advisory group is meeting in the very near future to examine and advance that initiative.
Jo Goodhew: When the Minister announced that the percentage of children who are caries-free is at an all-time low, was he referring to the Labour Government’s 1999 to 2005 record in the area of the district health board of Waikato, where the percentage has fallen from 47 percent to 34 percent; the area of the district health board of Wairarapa, where it has fallen from 53 percent to 41 percent; the area of the district health board of Wanganui, where it has fallen from 49 percent to 39 percent; or, horrifyingly, the area of the district health board of Northland, where it has fallen from 43 percent to 33 percent?
Hon PETE HODGSON: It is interesting that the National Party today does not face the fact that it was a National Government that caused this situation. What is more, my predecessor, the Hon Annette King, herself a dental therapist, got on to the problem as fast as anyone could have done. There was no way of getting those schools to open earlier, because the National Government held the Treasury benches, and despite the fact that Annette King in Opposition said time and time again that it had to be fixed, that Government, when it was in power, did nothing.
Jo Goodhew: How does the Minister respond to the verdict of the MidCentral District Health Board Dental Service Clinical Director, Phil Marshall, who said the people who need dental care the most are the least likely to visit the new, centrally based community clinics, and: “The lower socio-economic groups will not access those facilities and they are the people who need it the most.”?
Hon PETE HODGSON: The aforementioned clinical director, Phil Marshall, will be one of those putting together a business plan for his district. Therefore, that gentleman and others like him around the country have the solution in their hands. In the same press statement, however, the same gentleman said: “The best time to fix the roof is when the sun is shining—in this case, when there is money around. We will need to do it quickly and well.”
Dr Jonathan Coleman: Does the Minister realise how silly it sounds when he angrily blames National for the state of children’s teeth, when one considers that most of those kids were not even born when the Government changed in 1999; and does he realise that the public just does not believe him?
Hon PETE HODGSON: I thank the member for his question; it allows me to rehearse history one more time. The number of dental therapists in this country roughly halved. It was a little over 1,000; it fell to 550. The reason for that was that during the 1990s the National Government stopped training dental therapists in this country altogether. I ask members to imagine if we had stopped training brain surgeons or plumbers; well, we did this with dental therapists—we stopped. It was beyond belief. Therefore, the dental clinics closed, the workforce fell further, and the kids’ teeth are suffering. To begin repairing this unbelievable problem one had to open new dental therapy training schools. My colleague the Hon Annette King did that. We have got both of them running, and running hard, and the graduates are starting to come through.
Jo Goodhew: Is it not time the Minister confirmed that despite a high pile of visions, strategies, and reviews, 7 years of promises by the Labour Government, and a former dental nurse having been in charge of health, the lack of progress on addressing oral health problems is best highlighted by a press release from the Prime Minister, Helen Clark, and the Minister of Health, entitled: Labour Revamping Dental Services for Young NZers, dated 31 August 2005—so no progress at all, Minister?
Hon PETE HODGSON: It is almost beyond belief, is it not? The long and short of it is that in the Budget that was announced by my colleague in May of this year about $100 million of capital was put on the table, and, as well as that, some operating funding is needed to pay these people whom we have trained. They have just come out of school. Maybe they came out in November last year. Some of them—the first lot—actually came out of the Auckland University of Technology the year before. They have only just arrived in the workforce. We are building dental clinics for them to work in, and as the numbers of dental therapists increase—and they will increase each year—we will have buildings ready for them to go into. That is what good planning is about. Bad planning is when we stop training dental therapists in this country completely.
Jo Goodhew: I seek leave to table the 1-year-old press release from the Prime Minister and the Minister of Health entitled: Labour Revamping Dental Services for Young NZers.
Madam SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection? There is objection.
Jo Goodhew: I seek leave to table the verdict of the MidCentral District Health Board Dental Service Clinical Director, Phil Marshall, in yesterday’s Manawatu Standard.
Madam SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection? There is objection.
Zimbabwean Refugees—HIV Testing
9. PETER BROWN (Deputy Leader—NZ First) to the Minister of Health: Does he believe the decision not to test Zimbabweans for HIV before entering New Zealand, despite Zimbabwe’s high HIV rate, was in New Zealand’s best interests, and if not, does he stand by his reported comments that criticism about the decision was “probably fair”?
Hon PETE HODGSON (Minister of Health): This Government does support HIV testing for long-term migrants, and it was this Government that introduced mandatory testing, a move—and I hope I am not being presumptuous—that I am sure New Zealand First supports, and we are grateful for that support.
Peter Brown: Does he accept that if New Zealand allows an extra 200 HIV-positive people to become residents, it would increase the 1,700 known residents living with HIV/AIDS in New Zealand by more than 10 percent, and how does he expect the public to believe his assertions that the policy will decrease the prevalence of HIV in this country?
Hon PETE HODGSON: Precisely because if those people are not identified, if they are not given a diagnosis, if they are not given support, and if they are not given close medical attention the spread of HIV in New Zealand will quicken, not slow down.
H V Ross Robertson: What has been the reaction to the Government’s announcement that Zimbabweans who test positive for HIV will be allowed to stay in New Zealand?
Hon PETE HODGSON: The decision has been welcomed by the New Zealand Medical Association, the New Zealand AIDS Foundation, the Human Rights Commission, and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, amongst others. These endorsements are a sign of New Zealand’s maturity on the issue of HIV and a credit to the work of successive Governments in advocating a pragmatic approach to the management of the virus.
Peter Brown: Is it possible that the prevalence of HIV/AIDS among Zimbabweans yet to apply for residency is higher than average given their reluctance to apply thus far, so it is possible that the worst-case scenario is actually a mid-range figure?
Hon PETE HODGSON: What the Government has done so far is process—
Paula Bennett: What about asking senior citizens or the people who are bumped off waiting lists?
Hon PETE HODGSON: If the member wants a question she should ask for it and seek it from the Speaker. The member may be aware there are 1,300 Zimbabwean citizens resident in New Zealand under this special resident policy. Five hundred of those have already been processed, if you will, and that processing includes testing for HIV. The prevalence rates amongst those already tested is about 8 percent, but we have said publicly that the prevalence rate for the remaining 800 people to be tested might be as high as 20 percent, precisely because that is the prevalence rate back in the entire Zimbabwean population.
Peter Brown: Is the Minister aware that these people were required to declare they were of both good health and good character when they arrived here, and that people who knew they had HIV at that time are, at best, dishonest, so how are these people able to pass the good character requirement when they have been dishonest in their initial declaration?
Hon PETE HODGSON: It is true that in the processing the Zimbabwean refugees will have to pass a good character test and a police check and so on. However, the member, if I might suggest gently, might miss the point. The danger to the public health of New Zealanders is not so much from people who know they have HIV but from people who do not know they have HIV.
Keith Locke: I seek leave to table this morning’s NewsRoom summary of the sort of disastrous Zimbabwe any people expelled would be returning to, where the reports by the Solidarity Peace Trust state that almost nothing has been done to house 700,000 people in Zimbabwe who lost their homes and livelihoods in the demolitions last year.
10. CHESTER BORROWS (National—Whanganui) to the Minister of Health: What representations, if any, has he received from the chair of the Whanganui District Health Board regarding recent public concerns over health services in the Wanganui area, and when did he receive these representations?
Hon PETE HODGSON (Minister of Health): I am in regular contact with district health board chairs, and I have spoken to Dr O’Connor several times in the past month. He is, in my view, a hard-working and dedicated chair and he makes sure that the issues facing the Whanganui District Health Board are well understood by the Government.
Chester Borrows: What representations has the chair of the Whanganui District Health Board made in respect of the 365 Wanganui elderly who had home care cruelly cut from them from 4 September, who in some cases have been receiving home care for 14 years, and who are unable to manage vacuuming, washing, and household chores, or move around as freely as he can; and what, if anything does the Minister intend to do about that situation?
Hon PETE HODGSON: The member may be aware that the Government has increased funding for home-based support services very substantially indeed—well over 100 percent since the change of Government. What is happening in Wanganui is that the demand has appeared to rise very quickly indeed. One figure I saw showed the demand rising by 22 percent in 12 months. Something is not right here; the way the funding is being allocated—it seems to me—needs to be reviewed.
Tariana Turia: Does the Minister recall his statement made in the House yesterday: “I stand by my comment that today there are comprehensive paediatric services in Wanganui.”, and how does he reconcile that with the fact that today, Thursday, 31 August, there is no paediatrician at Wanganui Hospital, and between now and 18 September there will be 5 days when Wanganui Hospital is without a paediatrician, which will affect the safety of children with chronic and serious conditions?
Hon PETE HODGSON: Yes, I am aware there is no paediatrician at Wanganui today, and that there are several days in the forthcoming month when there will also be—[Interruption] I said “comprehensive” coverage. Let me give an indication of what I mean. Since the paediatrician went on leave, of all of the children who have accessed a paediatrician in Wanganui, somewhere over 90 percent have accessed a paediatrician in Wanganui itself. That is to say, I think five, or perhaps six, children have travelled to Palmerston North in that time, and that is really no different from what happens between the paediatric services in Wanganui and Palmerston North, ordinarily.
Chester Borrows: What representations has the chair made in respect of the lack of specialist care for Wanganui’s acquired brain injury sufferers—those Wanganui people who have to be accommodated in New Plymouth by the same provider that now operates a facility in Wanganui and that wants to accommodate these Wanganui people locally but cannot, because the ministry will not allow it; and what, if anything, does the Minister intend to do about that?
Hon PETE HODGSON: There was a time recently—I apologise to the member; I do not have my timing absolutely right—when the Ministry of Health went into the Wanganui area asking for those who would like to provide services that the member refers to. It turned out that, at that time, it was suggested by the people who were consulted that there was no need for such a service. If a need has arisen since, the ministry will look to address it, but the ministry will not open a new facility if only one or two people need to go into it. If there are more, we would happily look at it afresh.
Tariana Turia: Does the Minister really believe that paediatricians and obstetricians are going to be attracted to Wanganui, given that the money he is giving to Wanganui will support only a basic birthing unit, or is this, as a member of the public announced at the community meeting earlier this week, a deliberate agenda of the Government to move secondary maternity services to Palmerston North?
Hon PETE HODGSON: I thank the member for coming to the point, and I can say to her, without any reservation at all, there is no secret agenda with this Government and the health services of Wanganui.
Hon Member: Yeah, right!
Hon PETE HODGSON: There is no secret agenda. We support the provision of secondary health services in Wanganui. We are delighted that Wanganui is about to have a $30-million investment in its hospital services. That is the sort of thing a Government can do for the people of Wanganui, when it does not have huge tax cuts on its mind.
Chester Borrows: Will the Minister now accept that with big problems in acute paediatric services, home care for the elderly, funding for palliative care, obstetric services, specialist services for acquired brain injury sufferers, and a shortage of ambulance services, health care in Wanganui is in crisis and that it is his job to ensure the safety of Wanganui people and to stop hiding behind the hard-working health providers in Wanganui?
Hon PETE HODGSON: I am not hiding behind anyone, and neither are the hard-working health professionals in Wanganui. The sort of thing the hard-working health professionals in Wanganui have done since the change of Government is to increase surgical discharges in Wanganui by 35 percent. That is the sort of thing that can happen when a Government pays attention to building a public health service, and does not have tax cuts on its mind.
Chester Borrows: Does he still stand by his comments made in the House yesterday that Wanganui is better off than most district health boards?
Hon PETE HODGSON: Actually, probably I do not. Because when I think about it, most district health boards are getting new hospitals. There are now something like 24 or 25 new-hospital, or refurbishment, projects in the scheme of things. Some are completed and some about to be started. That is a huge amount of investment from this Government into the public health system. When I think about it, the main difference between us and National is that it ran the hospitals down in the 1990s and we are building them, a lot.
Gerry Brownlee: I seek leave to table a document indicating that some 36 hospitals were shut down by Helen Clark during her term as Health Minister in the late 1980s.
Madam SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection? There is objection.
Financial Institutions and Business—Confidence and Innovation
11. CHARLES CHAUVEL (Labour) to the Minister of Commerce: What steps has she taken to enhance confidence in New Zealand’s financial institutions and promote business innovation?
Hon LIANNE DALZIEL (Minister of Commerce): Today I released nine discussion documents as part of the review of financial products and providers. The review is designed to develop effective and consistent frameworks for the non-bank financial sector. I would like to take this opportunity to thank the different parts of the sector that engaged so positively with the Government on developing these options and that have warmly welcomed the release of these documents today.
Charles Chauvel: How does this review relate to the Government’s economic transformation agenda?
Hon LIANNE DALZIEL: That is an excellent question. This review supports the economic transformation agenda by updating outdated legislation, reducing compliance costs for business, making regulation more effective, and improving consumer protection. This is just another example of the Labour-led Government getting on with business and ensuring the environment for business growth is the best it can be.
R Doug Woolerton: Is the Minister concerned that with nearly all our banks now owned by Australian interests her review will make it easier for Australian interests to now dominate the non-banking financial sector, as well?
Hon LIANNE DALZIEL: No. That is not the intention of the review.
Charles Chauvel: Is the review in response to the recent finance company collapses?
Hon LIANNE DALZIEL: No. The work on this review commenced in May last year and has engaged with all elements of the sectors involved in the discussion documents. Changes are proposed in these documents that may assist in improving disclosure to uninformed investors of the real risks they face when investing in products on the strength of a familiar face on TV rather than quality advice.
Community and Voluntary Sector—Relationships with Government
12. PAULA BENNETT (National) to the Minister for the Community and Voluntary Sector: What recent reports, if any, has she received regarding relationships between the community and voluntary sector and the Government?
Hon LUAMANUVAO WINNIE LABAN (Minister for the Community and Voluntary Sector): I regularly receive a range of reports from officials on the relationship between the community and voluntary sector and the Government.
Paula Bennett: In the voluntary sector is lafo offered at times in lieu of wages, and does she consider it appropriate for a member of Parliament to accept lafo while working in the community?
Hon LUAMANUVAO WINNIE LABAN: My understanding is that the issue of lafo is currently being looked at by Cabinet Office.
Tim Barnett: What is the Government doing to strengthen relationships with the community and voluntary sector?
Hon LUAMANUVAO WINNIE LABAN: The Labour-led Government initiated the Good Practice in Action Seminar Series, which promotes positive relationships between Government agencies and the community and voluntary sector. Another excellent example of collaboration is the Keeping it Legal resource, which helps community organisations better manager their legal responsibilities—over 6,000 copies have been distributed and it is being reprinted.
Paula Bennett: Has the Minister received any reports of voluntary labour on a significant scale from members of the Thai community being of particular benefit to one of her parliamentary colleagues, and are those reports in line with her own view of how the voluntary sector should operate?
Hon LUAMANUVAO WINNIE LABAN: No, I have received no such reports.
Dr the Hon Lockwood Smith: Would it be in line with her own view of how the voluntary sector should operate for a group of seven Thais, five of whom had received immigration assistance from Taito Phillip Field, to drive 658 kilometres from Auckland to Wellington in two four-wheel drive vehicles, along with their work tools, to stay at the house at 57 Kinghorne Street then owned by Taito Phillip Field, to do repair work involving both plastering and painting on that house, before driving the 658 kilometres back to Auckland; if not, why not?
Hon LUAMANUVAO WINNIE LABAN: That would be a good question to put to the Minister of Labour. However, I want to say that over 1 million people in New Zealand are volunteers. They provide enormous social capital to this country, and we are grateful for the economic and social well-being they provide for us.