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Questions And Answers - Wednesday, 13 Sep 2006

Questions And Answers - Wednesday, 13 September 2006

Questions to Ministers

Minimum Wage—Adjustments

1. Hon MARK GOSCHE (Labour—Maungakiekie) to the Minister of Labour: What reports has she received on adjustments to the minimum wage?

Hon RUTH DYSON (Minister of Labour): I have seen a number of reports that reflect the Labour-led Government’s commitment to continue annual adjustments to the minimum wage—and consultation on the 2007 rate is under way. Since 1999 this policy has seen the minimum adult wage rise by 46 percent. That stands in stark contrast to the last National-led Government, which over 9 years raised the minimum wage by less than $1 an hour.

Hon Mark Gosche: Has she received any other reports on future adjustments to the minimum wage?

Hon RUTH DYSON: Yes, I have. I have received one report that states: “I’m not one of the hard-core right-wingers who says: ‘Get rid of the minimum wage. You don’t need it.’ Some people take that view. I personally think it has a place and I don’t have problems with it rising.” I have seen a number of other reports stating that we should scrap the minimum wage altogether. The first report I quoted is from John Key. The others are from Dr Brash, who is presumably one of the hard-core right-wingers Mr Key was referring to.

Hon Mark Gosche: Could the Minister elaborate on some of those reports she has seen regarding the minimum wage?

Hon RUTH DYSON: One report, for example, suggests we abandon not only the minimum wage but also minimum holiday entitlements, parental leave, and the moves to close the gender pay and employment gap. Again, those are the wishes expressed by Dr Brash.

Peter Brown: Is the Minister aware that New Zealand First is very determined not only to ensure that the minimum wage exists but to have it raised to $12 an hour before the end of this term of Parliament; will she advise whether the Government is on track to achieve that aim?

Hon RUTH DYSON: Yes, I am aware of that commitment. It is a commitment that the Labour Party, along with its coalition partner, the Progressive party, signed up to with both New Zealand First and the Green Party as part of our Government arrangements.

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

2. 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”?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK (Prime Minister): Yes; by keeping our promises—as we have.

Gerry Brownlee: Has the Prime Minister seen reports that the board of Transparency International New Zealand, whose directors include former Ombudsman Mel Smith and former Auditor-General David Macdonald, has condemned Labour’s plans to change the law to validate any election spending found to be unlawful; will she take action to ensure that the leader of the Labour Party does nothing to harm New Zealand’s international standing and reputation?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: Yes, I did see that media report, and I think Transparency International should also be concerned about fairness, consistency, and natural justice in audit processes. I further saw the Transparency International report on basic patterns of illegal party funding and campaigning, where it stated: “These include setting up front organisations through which funds can be channelled in excess of legal limitations.”

Gerry Brownlee: Does it follow, in light of the Prime Minister’s statement to the House yesterday that “if spending is within Parliament’s rules there is no reason to pay it back.”, that if the Auditor-General finds the spending is unlawful and outside the rules, then there is reason to pay it back; if not, why not?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: Labour plays by the rules and is absolutely confident—[Interruption] I knew their good behaviour would last about 2 minutes—and we can respond in kind, if they wish. [Interruption]

Madam SPEAKER: The member will pleased be seated. I remind members that although interjections are permitted, members, both in questions and answers, are entitled to be heard. So if we could have the answer to the question, please.

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: Labour is very confident that it played within the rules—the same rules, materially, with the same spending that the Auditor-General gave an unqualified audit certificate to in 2005. That is why I say political parties are entitled to fairness, consistency, and natural justice—and I am not surprised that National members have broken their good behaviour bond, because they cannot take the truth.

Hon Phil Goff: Is public confidence in the political integrity of Parliament undermined by the sort of behaviour whereby a leader one day absolutely denied any knowledge of $1 million in covert funding, only to admit the next day that he knew all along about it, and in the meantime took the precaution to take out of his diary the repeated meetings he had had with the Exclusive Brethren?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: None of that enhances confidence in the electoral or political processes. Labour has been very careful, knowing of the extent to which Governments in the 1980s and 1990s let the New Zealand public down, to make promises it can keep.

Gerry Brownlee: Does the Prime Minister accept that for her and her colleagues to refuse to pay the pledge card moneys back, when 81 percent of New Zealanders believe they should, is about as good an illustration as we will get of this Government’s complete contempt for the public of New Zealand?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: If spending is within Parliament’s rules, there is no reason for anyone to pay anything back. What the Auditor-General would need to explain, if indeed he goes down the road the member suggests, is why he would give an unqualified audit certificate to the same spending under materially the same rules 3 years ago, and not now.

Hon Bill English: You keep attacking the Auditor-General. You’re above the law.

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: Mr English knows well that he had the same spending, under the same rules, for which the Auditor-General gave an unqualified audit certificate. He may not like the truth, which is why he has broken the good behaviour bond. [Interruption]

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. A new member from the Waikato region has just made a most unparliamentary statement, and I ask you to ask him to withdraw it.

Madam SPEAKER: I am not sure who the member concerned was—

Rt Hon Winston Peters: The one with the bald head.

Madam SPEAKER: Did the member make an unparliamentary statement? If he did, would he please withdraw and apologise.

Paula Bennett: There were no unparliamentary comments up here, at all.

Madam SPEAKER: Was that the member who made the statement?

Paula Bennett: I think he was referring to me, but I do not know. [Interruption] Oh, sorry—

Madam SPEAKER: Now, did the member make an unparliamentary statement? Would the member rise who made the comment. If he did, would he please withdraw and apologise.

David Bennett: Madam Speaker, my understanding is that it was not unparliamentary. But the response from the Minister was unparliamentary, and perhaps he would withdraw and apologise.

Madam SPEAKER: The member said he did not make an unparliamentary statement, and we have to accept—

Rt Hon Winston Peters: The member made an unparliamentary statement, and in trying to identify him I said he was the bald one. He knows what he said. Would he please apologise.

Madam SPEAKER: The member, when asked, said he did not say it. We have to accept that member’s word.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. He made reference to my own party’s personality. He mentioned something about a “lapdog”. He knows what he said. Would you please ask him to apologise.

Madam SPEAKER: The member has taken offence at the comment. Would the member please withdraw and apologise.

David Bennett: I withdraw and apologise.

Madam SPEAKER: Supplementary question, Gerry Brownlee.

Gerry Brownlee: To the Prime Minister—

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Madam Speaker—

Madam SPEAKER: We have a supplementary question, unless you are raising a point of order. [Interruption] I am sorry, but I have called Gerry Brownlee. I did not realise—

Gerry Brownlee: The member is more senior than me. He can go first.

Madam SPEAKER: Such courtesy; yes.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: That is appropriate—

Madam SPEAKER: If the member would just ask his question.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: That is what I am about to do. Does the Prime Minister believe that having a political party collude with a third party, through the provision of legal advice to ensure that the costs of electioneering by the third party are not attributed to the political party, helps to restore confidence in the political integrity of Parliament and the electoral process?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: No, I do not, and I believe it is exactly the sort of practice that Transparency International was getting at when it referred to basic patterns of illegal party funding, like setting up front organisations through which funds can be channelled in excess of legal limitations. It is quite clear Dr Brash knew what the Brethren were doing.

Gerry Brownlee: Would it be acceptable for the owner of a small business in dispute with the Inland Revenue Department over tax payable to argue that the auditors of its accounts got it wrong, and to refuse to pay; if not, what example is she setting by saying the Labour Party will not pay the money back because the Auditor-General got it wrong?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: The issue with regard to tax is whether people play by the rules, and exactly the same issue applies here.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: In the interests of getting daily closer to the truth, does the Prime Minister believe that the public—[Interruption]

Madam SPEAKER: Yes, that is unacceptable. We are asking just questions, not making comments on the side. Would the member please just ask his question.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. With respect, that is part of the daily prayer—getting nearer to the truth. How could anyone object to that?

Madam SPEAKER: Would the member please be seated. We were trying to comply with the Standing Orders, where members either ask questions or, if the question is addressed to them, then they answer it. They do not embroider their questions or their answers; they stick to the point.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Does the Prime Minister believe that the public would take an equally dim view of those perpetrating election cost avoidance schemes as they do of those who perpetrate tax evasion schemes?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: Most certainly I do, and the experience in the last campaign of National Party collusion with the Brethren is what is leading the Government to have a fundamental look again at election campaign financing.

Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. How could that answer be in any way in order? It makes an outrageous and untrue allegation, and further, the primary question talks about the Labour Party’s massive overspend on the election campaign and also its dipping into some $446,000 of taxpayer funds illegally. Where on earth can that fit with the answer given by the Prime Minister?

Madam SPEAKER: I thank the member. If we go back to the original question, we find it is a very broad question about restoring public confidence in the political integrity of Parliament and the electoral process. That therefore enables a very wide latitude in terms of supplementary questions.

Gerry Brownlee: Does she believe that if the Labour Party simply paid the money back, that would go a long way towards restoring public confidence in the integrity of the parliamentary process?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: If spending is within Parliament’s rules, there is no reason for anybody to pay anything back. The real corruption, as I have said, is in taking money and colluding with the Brethren on how to dodge campaign limits.

Te Arawa Lakes Settlement—Water Column and Airspace

3. HONE HARAWIRA (Māori Party—Te Tai Tokerau) to the Minister in charge of Treaty of Waitangi Negotiations: Was it the Government’s intention that the water column and airspace in relation to the Te Arawa lakes settlement should become Crown-owned; if so, is this the benchmark for all subsequent settlement legislation?

Hon MARK BURTON (Minister in charge of Treaty of Waitangi Negotiations): In the Te Arawa lakes settlement, the Crown and Te Arawa agreed that the Crown will retain ownership of the water column and airspace, while the beds of 13 lakes transfer to Te Arawa.

Hone Harawira: Given the Minister’s response, does he find it reasonable that Te Arawa should be paid a storage fee for holding the Crown’s water on its lakebed, and has that fee been factored into the terms of the Te Arawa lakes settlement; if not, why not?

Hon MARK BURTON: No; I do not think it would be reasonable, because the water itself will not be owned by either the Crown or Te Arawa. The water will continue to be regulated in accordance with the Resource Management Act 1991.

Hone Harawira: Following on from the Minister’s earlier comments about Crown ownership of the water, has the Crown considered what it would do if Te Arawa asked it to remove its water from the lakes, and how would the Crown ensure that the water it claims to own will never settle on Te Arawa - owned lakebeds; or does the Minister think that this is as silly a notion as that of the Crown stratum and its ownership of water?

Hon MARK BURTON: Unfortunately, I think the member either did not hear or did not understand the answer to the first supplementary question he asked, so I will repeat it for him. The water itself will not be, and is not, owned by the Crown or Te Arawa. It will continue to be regulated in accordance with the Resource Management Act 1991.

Hone Harawira: Given that the Government is confiscating Te Arawa’s rights to their lake water, does this mean that the Government will now turn to confiscate all water in all lakes and rivers in Aotearoa; if yes, why; if no, why not?

Hon MARK BURTON: In 1922 the Crown and Te Arawa signed an agreement that confirmed the Crown’s ownership of Te Arawa lakes, but even that misses the fundamental point, which the member still has not grasped—that is, the water itself will not be owned by either the Crown or Te Arawa.

Taxation—Overseas Share Portfolios

4. JOHN KEY (National—Helensville) to the Minister of Finance: Does he stand by his statement yesterday, regarding the taxation of overseas share portfolios, that: “Some variant of a deemed rate-of-return method is likely to emerge out of the select committee process, and I am perfectly comfortable with that,”?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Minister of Finance): Yes.

John Key: Can he confirm that the fact that he is suddenly perfectly comfortable with this proposed deemed rate of return method is a complete U-turn from the position he previously held when a similar scheme was suggested to him in the 2001 McLeod Tax Review, that it is a U-turn from the position he held when the officials reported back to him on the taxation of offshore investments in 2003, and that it is a U-turn of the position he held when he finally read the report into the Stobo report in 2004?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: That added up to four U-turns; presumably I am back where I started from. No. The risk-free rate of return method, which was a 2001 proposal—as I indicated yesterday in a media comment—still seems to have a difficulty around it, in that one ends up taxing people when they make a loss.

John Key: When he said recently: “I have considerable reservations around the risk-free rate of return method.”, is that because back then he agreed with me that taxing someone when his or her portfolio does not pay a dividend and loses money is patently unfair; in which case, will he confirm to the House today that if he introduces the deemed rate of return method, he will not in fact be applying that in a year when a portfolio loses money?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I said yesterday that I have difficulty with the notion of taxing people when they make a loss. If the member had cared to read the full news report, he would not have put out such a silly press statement.

John Key: Why, when over 3,000 submitters concluded months ago that the current proposal before the select committee was such a hare-brained, crazy proposal that it would not work, has it taken the Minister so long to work that out that he is now recommending something else?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: The member clearly still has not understood the original proposal, which is based on a version of a deemed rate of return with a final wash-up. The essential difference is that the proposal put forward by Mr Shewan and others, and any form of deemed rate of return, does not have a final wash-up provision.

John Key: Why is the Minister coming over the head of the Minister in charge of the bill, Peter Dunne, and putting his own seal of approval on the change before the select committee has reported back; why is he showing complete contempt for the generic tax policy process; why did he follow a similar contempt of process when he undertook the KiwiSaver Bill; and would it not make sense to put these things up front first so that people could make submissions and have their submissions heard—not change the rules right before the last minute?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: We are nowhere near the last minute. I have worked with Mr Dunne on this issue for some weeks, which will come as news to the member.

John Key: That’s not what I hear.

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: No, but I might say that the member’s hearing is always very faulty in these matters. If the member could make an intelligent contribution, maybe we could talk about it.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: In respect of Mr Key’s views and the representations made by Mr Shewan, could the Minister give us his view as to who on earth would park their money offshore for 3 percent when back home the banks in New Zealand are offering 7 percent?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I think one of the problems with Mr Shewan’s suggestion—apart from the fact that it would tax on losses—is that the 3.5 percent level is very low, indeed. The average rate of return on equities throughout the 20th century was about 8 percent. Even over more recent times the average rates of return have been more like 8 percent or so over a medium to longer run period.

John Key: Is it not the truth that the Minister does not like the deemed rate of return method any more now than when he disliked it back in 2001, 2003, and 2004 when he rejected it, but he cannot get support from New Zealand First and he cannot get support from United Future; maybe even more tragically for him, he cannot get support from his own Prime Minister, who has been running around the country telling people that she does not like the scheme any more than they do, and is that not just further proof that his new-found love of the deemed rate of return is like his new-found love of tax incentives for saving and his new-found love for tax cuts, and maybe it is further proof that she is about to give him the flick?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: It is that kind of shallowness that has put Bill English back in front as the challenger.

Hon Members: Is that an answer?

Madam SPEAKER: The interjections that were going backwards and forwards, the long question, and the flick at the end got that sort of reply, but, if the Minister wants to make a more substantive reply, he may. It was a very, very long question. The Standing Orders state that questions should be succinct. But I am quite happy for the Minister to address the question again if he would like to.

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I will try to explain to the member again that the current proposal in front of the select committee has, in effect, a deemed rate of return of 5 percent, and a tax on 85 percent of that on an annual basis, but there is a wash-up at the end on realisation. Indeed, a standard deemed rate of return method would not normally have the wash-up at the end, which is precisely what Mr Shewan and others have been proposing. I suggest to the member that what he needs to get his head around if we are going to have that kind of approach, which has simplicity, is that it also has to deal with the issue of not taxing on losses.

Polish Prison—New Zealand Detainee

5. R DOUG WOOLERTON (NZ First) to the Minister of Foreign Affairs: Has he received any reports regarding a New Zealander being held in a Polish prison?

Hon Maurice Williamson: Is this a leadership bid?

Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS (Minister of Foreign Affairs): We do not have leadership problems in the New Zealand First Party. I have seen—[Interruption] We do not have a leader to complain about in the way that the National Party has. I have seen several reports, mostly official reports from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade detailing its comprehensive efforts on behalf of Bruce Robinson, who is currently in jail in Poland. However, I also saw last night a hopelessly biased and inaccurate report from Television New Zealand’s Close Up programme that represented a totally false picture that the Government was doing absolutely nothing to help this man.

R Doug Woolerton: What, in fact, has been done by the Government to help Mr Robinson, and how does this correspond with the claims made by Close Up last night?

Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: The New Zealand consul at the embassy in Warsaw has travelled to Katowice—a journey of 2 hours and 40 minutes each way—to attend Mr Robinson’s remand hearing, and to visit him in jail on four other occasions beginning in February of this year, and has, in addition, taken him New Zealand correspondence, newspapers, and fruit. The consul has worked actively with Mr Robinson’s lawyer and has lobbied prison authorities over the condition of Mr Robinson’s detention and successfully prevailed upon the national prosecutor’s office to allow Mr Robinson to make telephone calls to his family—something that the British Embassy confirmed is routinely denied their prisoners in jail in Poland. He has obtained confirmation that Mr Robinson’s family will be able to make four to five visits this month. Some New Zealand representatives in Poland are making every effort to assist Mr Robinson and his family. This directly contradicts the appalling inference left by Close Up last night.

Dianne Yates: Has the Minister any power to change the penal policy of Poland?

Madam SPEAKER: I am not sure that that question is within the Minister’s responsibilities.

Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: Madam Speaker, it is. Let me just say—

Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. Winston Peters has just told the New Zealand Parliament that he thinks he can answer a question on the Polish penal system because he has some responsibility for it. Allowing this question would be turning the whole place into a complete joke.

Hon Dr Michael Cullen: The question asked whether the Minister made any attempts to change the Polish penal policy, and, indeed, it is a normal part of a Minister of Foreign Affairs’ duty to make representation to foreign Governments around a range of issues of this sort. I seem to recollect questions from the Opposition urging us to do it, on occasion.

Gerry Brownlee: I think I can just help by saying that perhaps he should answer the question. It would be nice to know that he is responsible for something.

Madam SPEAKER: That was not a point of order. That is exactly what creates disorder. Would the member Diane Yates please ask the question again.

Dianne Yates: Is the Minister making any representations about changing the penal policy of Poland?

Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: Contrary to the appalling inference—[Interruption]—That is possible, and in the member’s case, is about to—[Interruption]—slowly, slowly, catchee monkey. Despite the many powers that a Minister of Foreign Affairs or, in fact, a Minister or Prime Minister of this country might have, we do not, contrary to that appalling inference left by Close Up last night, have the power to change the traditional or penal policy of Poland, any more than it has of changing ours.

R Doug Woolerton: Did Television New Zealand accurately portray the interest that the Minister has taken in this case?

Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: Absolutely no. Television New Zealand last night completely misrepresented my letter to Mr Robinson’s family. Far from simply thanking them for their correspondence, my letter directly addressed the family’s concerns over the conditions under which Mr Robinson is being held, and set out the ministry’s efforts on his behalf; all of which Close Up knew before going to air, because my office sent them an email just after 11 o’clock yesterday morning with the details.

R Doug Woolerton: Why does the Minister believe that Close Up’s report is so at odds with other reports that he has received?

Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: This is a very serious matter, I might say. It might sound laughable, but in Laos, Cambodia, Thailand, and all around the world—as we demonstrated in Palestine recently, and in respect to Sooden—we go to every effort, at a cost of millions of dollars, on behalf of New Zealand people. Most of the reports are from reputable and highly professional Government agencies. [Interruption]

Madam SPEAKER: Order, please. Would the Minister please just—

Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: I am trying to answer the question about some poor guy who is in jail in Poland. I thought they might take it—in view of how serious it is—65 people died, and 150 were injured; this is going to be a very serious case. Most of the reports are from a reputable and highly professional Government agency—[Interruption] Well, Madam Speaker, you had a meeting on Tuesday, I understand. What happened?

Madam SPEAKER: Please, members. The question has been asked. The question is on a serious matter. Could we please allow the Minister to answer.

Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: Most of the reports on this matter are from reputable and highly professional Government agencies. The other report is a desperate attempt, with baseless tabloid journalism by a failing news organisation and its washed-up head of news, Bill Ralston, to win back the hundreds of thousands of viewers who are deserting Television New Zealand in droves. If this is the best that Mr Ralston has to offer the viewing public of New Zealand, it is little wonder that those who care about accurate news coverage that puts the facts before the egos of journalists are crying for his head.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker.

Madam SPEAKER: I think I can anticipate it, Dr Smith. The answer should relate to the question. It should also be succinct. So one more go—it is a serious matter.

Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: Members will recall the question: “Why does the Minister believe that Close Up’s report is so at odds with other reports he has received?”. Speaking to the point of order, I say that the fact is that on Monday, the makers of the programme had an interview with the family and were apprised of all the facts on Tuesday morning. Despite that, they went ahead with that despicable programme with not a fact in it. I am here to defend myself, as I am entitled to.

Madam SPEAKER: I have asked for order, so please be seated. We have had a question. The question was in order. Would the Minister please address it without the references that he was making to other people, please.

Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I think it is quite unfair for you to expect that the House will maintain order when Mr Peters pleads that this is a serious matter—and I accept that the substance of it is—and then goes on to mount some sort of an attack on Television New Zealand because he did not like the way it portrayed his handling of this situation. The other point I make is that the way in which he peppers his answer with all sorts of unnecessary comments is likely to provoke disorder in the House.

Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: I was asked why I believed, as Minister, that a certain report was at odds with the other reports I had received. I am setting out specifically why I believe that the report from Close Up last night was at odds. I am specifically setting out the facts. That is what the National Party does not like, but today it will get the facts.

Madam SPEAKER: That is enough. Would the Minister please address the question succinctly and to the point.

Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: I believe what I believe because the makers of Close Up did an interview with the Robinson family on Monday of this week. They were apprised of all the facts by my staff and others on Tuesday morning. Despite that, they went ahead with this programme with all sorts of innuendo and inference that suggested that my department was doing nothing. When I was in Poland on 4 and 5 July, because of logistics I could not get to see the man myself, but we did contemplate it. Last night’s programme, as I said, was a despicable effort by a head of news who has lost hundreds of thousands of viewers.

Madam SPEAKER: That is not relevant.

Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: I seek leave to table a transcript of the Close Up programme on Television New Zealand last night, including an interview on Monday morning on Close Up.

Leave granted.

Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: I seek leave to table a time line and details of the assistance to the Robinson family, got from the embassy in Warsaw.

Leave granted.

Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: I seek leave to table my letter to Mr Robinson’s family, dated 5 September.

Leave granted.

Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: I seek leave to table an email sent by my office to Close Up at 11.13 yesterday morning, detailing the efforts embassy staff had made to assist Mr Robinson.

Leave granted.

Labour, Department—Confidence

6. Dr the Hon LOCKWOOD SMITH (National—Rodney) to the Minister of Immigration: Does he have confidence in his department; if so, why?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE (Minister of Immigration): Yes; because it is a hard-working and conscientious department.

Dr the Hon Lockwood Smith: When asked on Thursday, 7 September who else from the various sections of the Minister’s department had attempted to advise the then Associate Minister’s private secretary of information on Taito Phillip Field’s involvement with the Thais in Samoa, prior to the Associate Minister making his decision on their cases on 17 June 2005, why did the Minister fail to tell the House that the Associate Minister’s private secretary had, in addition to being phoned by the group manager for service international, Mr Tavita, been emailed by a compliance officer, Murray Gardiner, on 27 May 2005 with further information about Mr Field’s involvement with the Thais in Samoa?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: The advice I have received is that the principal means by which the department felt it had informed the Minister was the telephone call from the group manager for service international.

Dr the Hon Lockwood Smith: Does he stand by his answer to this House on Thursday, 24 August that the reason information about Taito Phillip Field’s involvement with Thai nationals in Samoa was not passed on to the Associate Minister by his private secretary was “because of the unconfirmed nature of the allegations”; if so, what was “unconfirmed” about Taito Phillip Field’s letter of 18 May 2005, handed to immigration officials in Apia by his wife, which spelt out the Associate Minister’s agreement to issue 2-year work permits to both Mr Siriwan and Ms Phanngarm—people about whom his intelligence unit had received four consistent sets of information?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: Because, according to the advice I have received, there is a difference between what different individuals in the department thought they knew at the time and what the Associate Minister’s private secretary thought she knew at the time.

Dr the Hon Lockwood Smith: How credible is it that the Associate Minister’s private secretary did not pass on to Mr O’Connor information about Taito Phillip Field’s involvement with the Thai nationals in Samoa, when the source of that information was someone as senior as the group manager for service international, and when the information had been confirmed by Taito Phillip Field’s own letter, dated 18 May; by Mrs Maxine Field’s statements to the Apia branch of the New Zealand Immigration Service on 9 June; by the Apia branch manager, Mr James Dalmer, on four separate occasions; by a compliance officer, Murray Gardiner, in his email dated 27 May; and by the immigration intelligence unit, which held information dated 4 May, 10 May, 27 May, and 9 June?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: Very credible, because that is what Mr Ingram QC concluded.

Dr the Hon Lockwood Smith: When the group manager for service international of the Department of Labour rang the Associate Minister’s private secretary, Nicola Scotland, at 2.41 p.m. on 9 June, spoke to her for 5 minutes about Taito Phillip Field’s involvement with Mr Siriwan and Ms Phanngarm in Samoa, and asked specifically whether the Associate Minister, Damien O’Connor, was aware of this information, which of the following statements made by Nicola Scotland to the Ingram inquiry is correct: first, that she could not recall the conversation with Mr Tavita on 9 June; second, that she could recall the conversation with Mr Tavita on 9 June but did not think the detail contained in that call was confirmed; third, that she had not advised Mr O’Connor of Mr Field’s involvement until many weeks, if not several months, after 23 June; or, fourth, that she advised Mr O’Connor of Mr Field’s involvement within a day or two of his making his decision on 23 June—of all those statements that Ms Scotland made to the Ingram inquiry, which is correct?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: Unless the member is seeking to criticise Mr Ingram, we must all be guided by his conclusion, which is—for, I think, the 27th question in a row—that the most likely answer is that Miss Scotland did not pass on the information because she did not consider it confirmed intelligence.

Dr the Hon Lockwood Smith: How credible is it that after an off-the-record and unverified phone call from compliance officer Murray Gardiner, Miss Scotland would immediately rush into Mr O’Connor’s office to tell him of Mr Field’s involvement with the Thai nationals in Samoa, but would not attach any weight to or pass on to Mr O’Connor information from someone as senior as the group manager for service international at the Department of Labour—information verified by a senior compliance officer, the immigration intelligence unit, and the Apia branch manager?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: In addition to the word of Noel Ingram QC, the member can take some comfort from the word of the Chief Executive of the Department of Labour, who has stated, as I have reported to this House, that the department’s processes should have been stronger in that instance.

Dr the Hon Lockwood Smith: Was Nicola Scotland sent back to the New Zealand Immigration Service in late 2005 because she knew too much, or did she ask to be sent back because she was uncomfortable continuing to have to cover for Mr O’Connor?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: I think it is somewhat sad that after 7 weeks and 24 questions, the member’s questions have got to that low point.

Madam SPEAKER: Would the Minister please address the question.

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: The Queen’s Counsel attached no blame to Miss Scotland, and it is not the place of members of this House to attack officials who are unable to defend themselves.

Peter Brown: Noting the Minister’s answer to the principal question, does the fact that immigrants with HIV have entered the country reflect adversely on the competence of the ew Zealand Immigration Service?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: The question may be wide of the mark, but let me offer an answer.

Madam SPEAKER: It is a broad question.

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: I have general confidence in my department, and I have confidence in how it is responding to the issue of the health status of Zimbabwean people in New Zealand. Obviously, it is a difficult situation. What is important is that we do not stigmatise a community, and we allow those people to come forward for treatment, to the benefit of all New Zealanders.

Mental Health and Addiction Services—Central Region

7. HEATHER ROY (Deputy Leader—ACT) to the Minister of Health: Has he been advised of the Central Region’s Technical Advisory Services’ Regional Mental Health and Addiction Service Development Plan of June 2006; if so, does he agree that the changes to mental health and addiction services indicated in the report will serve the mentally unwell in the central region better in 2016 than 2006?

Hon PETE HODGSON (Minister of Health): I have seen a draft report; I believe that it shows the commitment of the central region’s mental health workforce to improving services for local people.

Heather Roy: Does he agree with the report’s focus that in 2016 “the approach to residential services will be substantially different. There will be few residential beds …”; and where does Labour believe those with mental illnesses are better off—sleeping in residential beds or sleeping rough on park benches?

Hon PETE HODGSON: The move to community-based provision of mental health services has been going on for some time. Clearly, it is not satisfactory for anyone with a mental health problem to be sleeping rough. I think that the member should take a look at the report—in particular, at the bottom of the first page of the executive summary—which I think puts in context where mental health services in this country are going.

Maryan Street: Has the Minister seen any reports on public support for improvements in mental health and addiction services?

Hon PETE HODGSON: I have seen a report that Heather Roy has come out against the policy of the deinstitutionalisation of people with mental illness, saying that the policy was driven by fiscal conservatives. The member need only look at today’s media coverage regarding the horrors of Lake Alice Hospital to know that deinstitutionalisation not only costs more but improves people’s lives.

Dr Jonathan Coleman: Can the Minister confirm that the development plan intends to devolve psychiatric care of the elderly from hospitals to rest homes; does he have any idea how unsafe that is, and is not this plan all about cost cutting, rather than treating older New Zealanders with the respect they deserve?

Hon PETE HODGSON: We have been moving older New Zealanders from hospitals to rest homes—or, more accurately, to dementia units and psychogeriatric units—for years. The member should know that it is not a cost-saving matter to look after people in the community. The member should also talk to the member of the ACT party, his colleague who seems to be somehow in favour of residential care for those with psychiatric illness, whereas the member seems to be against it.

Heather Roy: Does the Minister share the plan’s vision of “an increased uptake and dissemination of web-based medicine, telepsychiatry, and telephone based support”; if so, is it now Labour’s plan to have the health needs of Kiwis met by telephone psychics, call centres in India, radiologists in Lebanon, and the Internet?

Hon PETE HODGSON: The member should catch up. The idea that mental health workers might use phones to contact their patients is hardly radical. It has been going on all over the world for a lot longer than two decades. I tell the member that one of the central region’s district health boards, the Wairarapa District Health Board, already has no hospital beds, though it does purchase about 1½ beds in MidCentral District Health Board, through the gorge. But the member needs to catch up; that is where the provision of psychiatric services has been moving for about 20 years.

Heather Roy: I seek the leave of the House to table the Regional Mental Health and Addiction Service Development Plan for the central region’s district health boards.

Leave granted.

Heather Roy: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. The Minister, in one of his answers, referred to the executive summary in the same plan that I just sought to table. The draft I have is dated June 2006 and has no executive summary, so the Minister was quoting from a separate document. I invite him to table that.

Madam SPEAKER: That is not a point of order.

Heather Roy: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker—

Madam SPEAKER: You want a point of clarification, as I understand it, to the answer. Is that right?

Heather Roy: No, I am seeking to add to the point of order I have just raised. When a Minister refers to a document or a report, he or she is duty bound to table that document if so requested by any member of the House.

Madam SPEAKER: That is so at the time and if the Minister is reading from it. Could the Minister assist the member on this.

Hon PETE HODGSON: I am very happy to. I did not quote from the report. I will happily table it. I seek leave accordingly.

Leave granted.

Health Services—Wrongful Claims

8. Hon TONY RYALL (National—Bay of Plenty) to the Minister of Health: What reports has he received on doctors, pharmacists, rest home operators, and other health providers wrongly claiming public money, and what efforts are being made to recover this public money?

Hon PETE HODGSON (Minister of Health): I have received reports that a significant amount of public money that was misused has been repaid to the Ministry of Health as a result of comprehensive audit processes. The sanctions available to the district health boards and the Ministry of Health include prosecution and referral to professional bodies, but, often, genuine mistakes are made and can be resolved amicably.

Hon Tony Ryall: Should providers who wrongly claim public money, either deliberately or inadvertently, be expected to pay it back; if so, why?

Hon PETE HODGSON: Generally, yes. However, the Ministry of Health is always careful to ensure that people who may be in breach of rules are judged solely on the rules that were in force at the time, not tighter rules drafted after the event.

Ann Hartley: Has he received any reports on the proportion of health professionals who misuse taxpayers’ money?

Hon PETE HODGSON: I am advised that since 1993 only 36 serious cases of fraud by health professionals have required prosecution. That is 36 cases in 13 years for a work force of around 100,000 people. Nearly everyone plays by the rules. The bad guys go to court.

Hon Tony Ryall: If these people think they were following the rules and deny that they broke the rules, but the authorities say they did wrongly claim the money and it should be repaid, should not the Minister be requiring those people to repay the money that the authorities have said is owed?

Hon PETE HODGSON: Let me say to the member again that the Ministry of Health is always careful to ensure that people who may be in breach of rules are judged solely on the rules that were in force at that time, not tighter rules drafted after the event.

Hon Tony Ryall: Does he stand by the report today: “ ‘We won’t repay,’ says Hodgson as Labour hits back at auditor”, and is he aware that many of the providers that his Government is requiring to repay the money were audited, and were given clean bills of health by their auditors and by the Ministry of Health, yet are still being required to pay the money; why are there two standards of obligation with this Government?

Hon PETE HODGSON: This Government operates one standard of obligation, and we are very careful that we not only obey the law but obey the spirit of the law—that is to say, we do not think it is a good idea to launder 92 percent of our election budget through a trust, by way of example.

Hon Tony Ryall: Why does he think health providers who rip off the taxpayer have to pay it back, but does not think the New Zealand Labour Party has to pay it back?

Hon PETE HODGSON: The Labour Party remains resolute that we have not ripped off anyone.

Dr Jonathan Coleman: Is the Minister aware of the decision of the District Court that the withholding of public money from the compensation awarded to a Lake Alice Hospital second-round claimant by the Ministry of Health is unjust, does he not agree that the Government should pay back all other Lake Alice Hospital claimants who are in the same position, and does this jog his memory about any other debts he might have?

Hon PETE HODGSON: My understanding is that the member’s question refers to very recent events, so I will take my counsel on it.

Question No. 5 to Minister

RON MARK (NZ First): I seek the leave of the House to table a letter to myself from the Minister of Foreign Affairs, dated 10 August 2006, in reply to my letter on concerns about the incarceration of Bruce Robinson, dated 12 July 2006.

Leave granted.

Auckland—Greater Auckland Council Proposal

9. SUE BRADFORD (Green) to the Minister of Local Government: Is he concerned that the Greater Auckland Council proposal will undermine local body democracy in Auckland; if not, why not?

Hon MARK BURTON (Minister of Local Government): The Government has not given formal consideration to any such proposals. However, I would note that the Government is committed to democratic processes for Auckland local government structures—structures that can take Auckland forward as a 21st century metro-region, able to compete internationally.

Sue Bradford: Does the Minister agree that having unelected business people making decisions at the regional level—as proposed—that the city councils then have to implement makes a mockery of the democratic process, and threatens to hand local body governance over to what would basically be some kind of corporate board?

Hon MARK BURTON: As I said in the principal answer, the Government has not given formal consideration to any such proposals—and I note there are a number around. However, I repeat for the member that the Government is committed to democratic processes for Auckland local government structures.

Keith Locke: How does it help democracy when the proposed three or four councils within the Auckland region will have elected representatives “significantly reduced in number”, and when the mayors’ plan puts a question mark over the “role and value of community boards”?

Hon MARK BURTON: As I have indicated, the Government has not given formal consideration to any such proposals, but I would note that the Government is committed to democratic processes for Auckland local government structures.

Sue Bradford: Does the Minister agree that a key role of the Auckland Regional Council is to make sure we have environmental protection, particularly of air and water quality, through the administration of the Resource Management Act and other policies, and, at times, against the wishes of businesses and developers; if so, what concerns does he have that the mayors’ proposal seems to fail entirely to mention environmental protection, and, in fact, seems geared to getting rid of the Auckland Regional Council altogether?

Hon MARK BURTON: I would agree with the first part of the member’s assertion, as to the legal functions of the Auckland Regional Council. They are common to regional councils generally. But, as I have said, we as a Government have not given any formal consideration to any such proposal.

Keith Locke: Can the Minister confirm that the mayors propose to run Auckland’s parks by a so-named council-controlled organisation, “maximising business expertise and minimising political interference”, and if parks are seen as a business rather than a service, can we expect to see Auckland’s citizens paying to enter some public parks?

Hon MARK BURTON: I am sorry but I have to repeat that the Government has not given formal consideration to any such proposals.

Keith Locke: I seek leave first to table a paper by Sandra Coney, a member of the Auckland Regional Council, on the Greater Auckland Council plan that describes how it would bring about less democracy and less environmental focus.

Leave granted.

Keith Locke: I seek leave also to table an article in this morning’s New Zealand Herald by Brian Rudman, calling the proposed Greater Auckland Council a “Frankenstein monster” and saying it will result in “a less democratic and less independent Auckland.”

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

Question Time

Hon Dr NICK SMITH (National—Nelson): I know that it is normal practice to lodge applications for urgent questions prior to the beginning of question time, but I note that a statement has been issued by an electricity commissioner—an independent commissioner—just 5 minutes ago, saying that he is being sacked from office, and expressing extreme concern about the way in which his independent decisions have been interfered with. I seek the leave of the House—and I do so now so that the Minister of Energy might have reasonable notice—to ask an urgent question of the Minister, following question No. 12, in respect of the sacking of that electricity commissioner.

Madam SPEAKER: Leave is sought. Is there any objection? There is no objection.

Misuse of Drugs Act—Effectiveness

10. JACQUI DEAN (National—Otago) to the Associate Minister of Health: Does he believe the Misuse of Drugs Act 1975 is working effectively; if not, why not?

Hon JIM ANDERTON (Associate Minister of Health): Yes, I do. I am aware, however, that any system can be improved and I understand that the Expert Advisory Committee on Drugs is looking at ways to strengthen the consistency of classification of substances, especially new substances, by having clear criteria for assessing any individual or wider societal harm they might pose.

Jacqui Dean: If he believes the Act is working effectively, why are district councils such as Queenstown Lakes District Council now so fed up with the issue of party pills that they are drafting by-laws to ban the sale of party pills in licensed premises, or is he now content to pass off the matter as a local government issue?

Hon JIM ANDERTON: I am very surprised the member should suggest that the Government is passing up this matter. She knows, because I have written to her many times and answered many written questions, that the Expert Advisory Committee on Drugs is considering as I speak, and will be considering before the end of the year, at least four research programmes that the Government has commissioned on benzylpiperazine and party pills in general and what harm they pose in a wide variety of circumstances and groups in the community. If the member is suggesting that we should act as a Parliament in terms of banning any substance, on the basis of no evidence whatsoever before us and before we consider recommendations for change, then her concept of the system is very different from mine.

Jacqui Dean: Does he agree with Clayton Cosgrove that: “… party pills are starting many young people on a dangerous path to harder drug use, and the manufacturers and promoters of these pills can no longer deny this fact,”; if so, why will the Minister not take stronger action to restrict the availability of party pills and stop claiming that he needs further evidence from the expert advisory committee?

Hon JIM ANDERTON: With all due respect to my colleague, he does not have the evidence. The evidence is being considered by a wide range of research groups that will report to the Government and the Expert Advisory Committee on Drugs, and then the Government will be advised on a matter of fact. The surveys that have been taken partly support the view that if people use benzylpiperazine it might affect their decision to use harder drugs, but on the other hand there is sufficient evidence as well through those surveys that some people taking them are avoiding harder drugs, so “You can pay your money and take your choice.”

Sue Moroney: Has the Minister seen any reports on a party pill petition currently before the Health Committee?

Hon JIM ANDERTON: Yes, I did see a media release that I found somewhat confusing. It was a complaint by the member for Otago about the lack of progress over her party pill petition, which she accused the Government of ignoring. I realise the member is new to Parliament, but the Health Committee is not a Government committee and, in fact, four of her colleagues are on the Health Committee including Tony Ryall, the health spokesperson for the National Party. I suggest she should talk to her colleague if she wants her petition to make more progress on the committee, on which her party has four members.

Jacqui Dean: Does the Minister believe it is an effective use of taxpayer funding to publish pamphlets explaining how to use drugs, such as P, which state: “When using a new batch always be cautious about what you are using and only try a little at first.”, and: “If swallowing P, put it in an empty pill capsule or wrap it in a cigarette paper.”; if not, how does this discourage the use of recreational drugs?

Hon JIM ANDERTON: Of course, in a question like this in the House the member chooses selectively what she quotes. [Interruption] It is true. I will read out another quote: “P is illegal. Don’t use P.” I wonder why the member did not quote those comments from the pamphlet as well? The pamphlet, of course, takes—

Madam SPEAKER: Would the Minister please be seated. It is impossible to hear what is happening. A question has been asked, and we are waiting for the answer. We are part-way through it. Would the Minister please finish his answer. I just remind members also that both questions and answers are meant to be succinct.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. The member’s question was quite specific, about what a section of the pamphlet states. It did not invite the Minister to quote other parts. The Minister should address the parts on which the member asked the question.

Hon Dr Michael Cullen: I have two points. Firstly, of course the question asked about the pamphlet and therefore invited the member, if he wished, to address the pamphlet in its entirety, including those bits that the member obviously did not wish to have covered. But that, in itself, did not excuse the large amount of barracking that broke out on a very simple kind of question and answer session—after all the promises we had that we were not going to have that kind of barracking in answers.

Madam SPEAKER: I do not think Ministers should be so restricted, but I do come back and say to Ministers to please answer questions succinctly.

Hon JIM ANDERTON: This pamphlet, from an independent, non-government agency—[Interruption] It is independent of the Government; the Government does not direct how the agency works. The pamphlet takes a harm minimisation approach, which recognises that some young people do abuse drugs—

Jacqui Dean: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I have not named the pamphlet, so how does the Minister know which pamphlet I am quoting from?

Madam SPEAKER: I do not think that is a point of order.

Hon JIM ANDERTON: Ministers might be a bit more well informed than the member on these matters, I can assure the House. A harm minimisation approach is taken by this pamphlet, which recognises that some young people will and do abuse drugs, so the information tries to limit the harm they may suffer. It is very similar to advertising that recommends that people eat a good meal before drinking alcohol, and I do not think that the member would be adverse to that kind of advice.

Madam SPEAKER: Before the member asks her question, I would tell those members in that part of the Chamber that they are on their last warning. If we cannot hear the answers, then I will be asking members to leave.

Jacqui Dean: How can he claim that the Misuse of Drugs Act is working effectively when medical professionals are constantly calling for stronger legislation to prevent the escalating problems seen with party pills, when emergency departments are being inundated with teenagers suffering adverse effects, and when we are being overrun with anecdotal evidence of the ill effects of party pills—when will enough be enough?

Hon JIM ANDERTON: The Misuse of Drugs Act and the amendments that this Parliament has passed in relation to party pills with the ingredient benzylpiperazine are based on the 2004 advice of the Expert Advisory Committee on Drugs, which carefully considered the evidence before it and provided recommendations to me, which I put to the House. And I might remind the House that in trying to get the age limit for the sale of benzylpiperazine party pills restricted to 18 years and over, it was done with a good deal of opposition from members of the National Party Opposition. I recall that very vividly, and it is a bit rich for this member to be saying what we should be doing now when the National Party actually opposed even that modification.

Sue Moroney: Has he received any further advice on party pills from the Expert Advisory Committee on Drugs recently?

Hon JIM ANDERTON: I have not received direct advice, but my office has been in touch with the chair of the Expert Advisory Committee on Drugs over a report that the Otago MP Jacqui Dean would be demanding that the Expert Advisory Committee on Drugs take urgent steps to recommend a ban on party pills. I am advised by the chair of the Expert Advisory Committee on Drugs that he is yet to receive any communication at all from the member.

Jacqui Dean: I seek leave to table the following documents. The first is an article from the Otago Daily Times in which the Queenstown Lakes District Council seeks to ban the sale of party pills in licensed premises.

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

Jacqui Dean: I seek leave to table a Ministry of Health - funded pamphlet in which there is advice on how to take “nos”, including the advice to use balloons when inhaling the gas.

Leave granted.

Jacqui Dean: I seek leave to table a Ministry of Health - funded pamphlet on how to take P, which includes the advice that “less is more” and to use smaller amounts.

Leave granted.

Police Recruitment—Numbers

11. H V ROSS ROBERTSON (Labour—Manukau East) to the Minister of Police: What progress has been made on police recruitment this year?

Hon ANNETTE KING (Minister of Police): According to the New Zealand Police, between 30 June and 31 August the number of sworn staff has increased by 76—21 more than was anticipated—and police numbers are more than 200 ahead of those at the same time last year. I have also received reports that more people are attending recruitment seminars, that more people are completing recruitment registration, and that the attrition rate is 4.7 per cent. As I have said, it will always be a challenge to recruit the 1,250 extra police staff, but so far, so good.

H V Ross Robertson: Can the Minister tell the House what other reports she has seen on police recruiting?

Hon ANNETTE KING: Over the past few months I have seen a number of media statements released by Simon Power, in which he has been endeavouring to undermine the recruitment campaign. His latest release was yesterday, in which he claimed there had been a net loss of 41 sworn staff. That is not the case. He constantly gets it wrong. In fact, in the first week of September police numbers were up by 268, compared with those at the same time last year. [Interruption]

Ron Mark: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I am sorry, but given that I wish to ask a supplementary question at some stage, I would have liked to hear that answer. Could I have at least half of it repeated, because the interruptions coming from down the Opposition side of the Chamber just blacked it out.

Madam SPEAKER: Could the Minister please repeat the answer succinctly.

Hon ANNETTE KING: Certainly, Madam Speaker. I said I had seen a number of reports, over recent months, that came from Simon Power, who is attempting to undermine the recruitment campaign. He released a press release yesterday, in which he stated there had been a net loss of 41 staff. I said he had got it wrong and he constantly gets it wrong. In fact, by the first week of September police numbers were up by 268, compared with those at the same time last year.

Simon Power: Can she tell the House, once and for all, when the recruitment campaign for the 1,000 extra front-line sworn officers is supposed to start—was it 1 July, as she has told the House twice this year; was it 1 September, as her spokesperson told the New Zealand Press Association last month; or is it late October, as the police manager of human resources stated yesterday? [Interruption]

Madam SPEAKER: I do not want the Minister to have to repeat the answer, so would members please listen to the answer in a reasonable level of silence.

Hon ANNETTE KING: The recruitment campaign started on 1 July and, obviously, we are having some effect. The television campaign starts in October.

Simon Power: Does the Minister agree with the view of the Prime Minister when she said in August last year that “Some political parties are promising thousands of new police. Such promises are simply not credible.”; if not, why not?

Hon ANNETTE KING: I think any political party that was promising thousands of new police would struggle. I have already acknowledged that it is a struggle to get 1,250. However, we have promised 1,000 extra sworn staff over 3 years, and good progress is being made. It would have been really nice if there could be support across all parties in this House to increase the number of police in New Zealand. That is certainly what New Zealanders want. I think they find it a bit rich to hear the cheap shots from the Opposition on this matter.

Ron Mark: Does the Minister recall New Zealand First predicting that the commitment to recruit 1,000 extra uniformed police would have the flow-on effect of improving retention and reducing attrition, and that the rationalisation of the police recruiting criteria would result in more people applying to join the police; if so, can she advise the House, on the evidence to date, how we are doing?

Hon ANNETTE KING: I recall that all those points were made by New Zealand First. I point out to those who are listening that as part of our agreement with New Zealand First, we are recruiting 1,250 additional police staff. We have interest from those who used to be in the police, because they know that when there are additional staff it makes the load lighter and the job more enjoyable. It also helps to have an increased budget. I have taken particular notice of the police budgets for 1997-98 and 1998-99. I was horrified to see that in those years, under a National Government, the police budget was decreased, not increased.

Housing New Zealand—Investment Return

12. PHIL HEATLEY (National—Whangarei) to the Minister of Housing: Is he confident that Housing New Zealand Corporation’s current investment in housing is returning the most it can for potential residents in need?

Hon CHRIS CARTER (Minister of Housing): Housing New Zealand Corporation manages over 66,000 homes and has assets worth more than $11 billion. Of course, there will probably always be room for improvement. In the output agreement signed with the corporation this year, Ministers have asked the corporation to advise shareholding Ministers on ways to better utilise what is, in fact, the Government’s largest single asset.

Nathan Guy: Why has the Minister allowed Housing New Zealand to spend $8 million on consultancy fees to oversee the settlement of former Kimberley Centre residents, when that money could have gone into better housing and greater care for the residents?

Hon CHRIS CARTER: That money has gone into improved care for the residents. Under the contract with the Ministry of Health, Housing New Zealand’s role is to acquire and modify homes for the ex-residents of the Kimberley Centre. This is a project worth $55 million. It is a complex project, and we have to get it right.

Georgina Beyer: What has the Government invested in social housing since 1999?

Hon CHRIS CARTER: Since 1999 the Government has invested nearly $1 billion to acquire over 6,000 State houses and to assist families to buy or repair their own homes. In addition, nearly $2 billion has been spent on income-related rent subsidies and the accommodation supplement. Access to adequate, affordable housing is a key commitment of Labour Governments, unlike the Opposition, which extracted over $1 billion from hocking off Housing New Zealand’s assets—mostly to speculators.

Nathan Guy: How can the Minister justify consultants clipping the ticket at around $123,000 per property, costing a whopping 20 percent of the overall budget?

Hon CHRIS CARTER: I am not sure whether the member is very good at maths, but I remind him again that the total project is $55 million. This is a very complex project—

Gerry Brownlee: Point of order—

Madam SPEAKER: I know what the member is going to say. I remind Ministers to stick to answering the question without additional comments.

Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I think he should withdraw that, because this Minister in particular dodges answers to questions with smart answers like this all the time. I would not be at all surprised if we will be expected to allow him to correct his answers later in the day, because that is his usual pattern.

Madam SPEAKER: That is unnecessary also. If the member who asked the question took personal offence, then obviously the Minister should withdraw and apologise. He did not. Can the Minister please just answer the question without these asides.

Hon CHRIS CARTER: The member has alleged that 20 percent of the total project has been spent on consultancy fees. I remind the House again that this is a project that I understand will reach about $55 million; $8 million has been spent on consultancy, but we have to get it right. We are not talking about people buying and selling houses. We are talking about modifying extensively both existing and new houses so that people with very highly specialised needs can be accommodated.

Nathan Guy: Why were modern homes completely gutted and renovated, and which silver-tongued consultant got paid for those wonderful words of advice?

Hon CHRIS CARTER: I remind the House again that these houses and residences have been highly modified for residents who have very specialised health requirements. This is an expensive process. We have done it so that the patients can have a better quality of life.

Georgina Beyer: Has the Minister seen any reports of Housing New Zealand residents who have found that Housing New Zealand has in fact helped them in a time of need?

Hon CHRIS CARTER: Yes, I have seen a report from a former Housing New Zealand tenant who said that he appreciated the safety net a State house provided. I quote: “I really couldn’t give the answer of what would have happened to us otherwise.” That was John Key.

Nathan Guy: Does the use of costly consultants mean that thousands of employees at Housing New Zealand Corporation are not suitable to do the job, and how does this fit with the Prime Minister’s statement that “we have strengthened capability [in the public service] by increasing numbers of permanent staff and seeking to reduce reliance on consultants.”?

Hon CHRIS CARTER: The member who asked the question is, I understand, a local resident of the area where the Kimberley Centre is located. He must be aware, as some other members of this House surely are, that the residents of the Kimberley Centre are patients in permanent long-term care. This development at the Kimberley Centre—relocation of patients—is a highly specialised process where very specialised accommodation must be developed.

Nathan Guy: Does the Minister agree with a Housing New Zealand Corporation internal staff email released under the Official Information Act that it is hard to see value for these consultancy costs?

Hon CHRIS CARTER: I am not aware of that email; I would really welcome the chance to look at it. I am aware that the member who asked the question comes from a party that hocked off $1 billion of Housing New Zealand’s assets.

Nathan Guy: I seek leave to table a reply from the Minister to my parliamentary question stating that the total cost for the consultancy work for this project is $8 million.

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

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. This point of order is in respect of the last answer given by the Minister. In the interests of orderly conduct in the House I do not think a Minister should be able to talk about the hocking-off of $1 billion of assets by a political party, such as National, without being able to prove it.

Madam SPEAKER: I ruled that part of the answer out of order. It was out of order in that context. But the Minister, of course, is entitled to table anything he likes, like any other member.

Hon CHRIS CARTER: I seek leave to table a document demonstrating how much of the Housing New Zealand assets National sold off when it was in Government.

Leave granted.

Nathan Guy: I seek leave to table an internal email from a Housing New Zealand Corporation employee released under the Official Information Act that mentions how it is very hard to see value for these consultancy costs.

Leave granted.

Nathan Guy: I seek leave to table an address by the Prime Minister to Victoria University School of Government’s prize giving on 11 October 2005 where she states: “In the area of core public service we have strengthened capability by increasing the numbers of permanent staff and seeking to reduce reliance on consultants.”

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

Urgent Questions

Electricity Commissioner—Term of Appointment

Hon Dr NICK SMITH (National—Nelson) to the Minister of Energy: Does he agree with the statement today by electricity commissioner Roy Hemmingway: “I can only conclude that I am being removed from office because I stood up to the Government as an independent regulator should. I have insisted that regulatory decisions be on the basis of law and the facts and not on what politicians want.” and his further statement that the politicisation of the Electricity Commission by the Government will hurt both electricity investors and consumers; if so, why has the Government abused its powers and interfered with the work of the Electricity Commission?

Hon DAVID PARKER (Minister of Energy): No, I do not. The commissioner has served his full 3-year term, in accordance with the terms of his appointment. Neither Mr Hemmingway nor anyone else in his position has an automatic right to appointment for a second term. It is true that Mr Hemmingway has competently overseen a complex and heavy workload at the commission, for which I thank him. Nevertheless it is also true that a dysfunctional relationship between the Electricity Commission and Transpower has developed, which the Government has moved to resolve through changes on both sides of the divide. We have chosen to do that for the benefit of the electricity system as a whole and of consumers throughout New Zealand.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: What does it say about this Government’s respect for independent statutory officers, when the Prime Minister dismisses the views of the Auditor-General and he sacks an electricity commissioner for standing up to the Government; is that not proof of the adage that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely?

Hon DAVID PARKER: The commissioner has not been sacked. The commissioner has served his 3-year term. I repeat that given the dysfunctional relationship between the Electricity Commission and Transpower, the Government has moved to advance that issue through changes on both sides of the divide.

Madam SPEAKER: Standing Order 379(3) permits only one supplementary question.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: I seek leave of the House to table the statement from Mr Roy Hemmingway, which contradicts the statement put out also by the Minister and points out the interference and the confusion there is in policies, and how electricity investors and consumers will lose from that.

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

Hon DAVID PARKER: I seek leave to table a copy of my letter to Mr Hemmingway, confirming that he will not be appointed for a second term.

Leave granted.

ENDS

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