Questions And Answers - Thursday, 14 Sep 2006
Questions And Answers - Thursday, 14 September
Questions to Ministers
Speech from the Throne—Political Integrity of Parliament and Electoral Process
1. 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 in the 1990s.
Gerry Brownlee: If the final report of the Auditor-General finds that the Labour Party has unlawfully appropriated funds from the leader’s budget, will she now guarantee to the New Zealand public that she will follow the advice of the Auditor-General given in the New Zealand Herald on Sunday last week that the remedy is to reimburse it; if not, why not?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: The Labour Party has consistently taken the position that it acted within the rules as they were understood at the time.
Gerry Brownlee: When she states, as she has done on numerous occasions; “That is why I say political parties are entitled to fairness, consistency, and natural justice.”, is she suggesting that she has no confidence in the Auditor-General, who, in simply carrying out his statutory obligations, discovered the outrageous rort of the taxpayer fund by the Labour Party to pay for the $446,000 pledge card?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: The Prime Minister is saying that the pledge card was essentially the same as the National Party’s pledge pamphlet and advertising put out in 2002, that the rules were essentially the same, and that if one was outside the rules then the other was outside the rules.
Gerry Brownlee: Has the Prime Minister seen any reports that during the year 2003 the Parliamentary Service Commission met on numerous occasions to discuss the rules because there was dissatisfaction with the 2002 election, and the consequence of that was a reaffirmation of those rules, with an addition to state that party leaders and members would be responsible for that expenditure, and a commitment to stick to those rules; if she has not, why has not the Deputy Prime Minister handed that information on to her?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Contrary to yet another factual mistake by the Opposition, the Deputy Prime Minister was not on the group that carried out that survey.
Gerry Brownlee: Oh, yes he was.
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: No, he was not. The Deputy Prime Minister has Mr Burton representing him on the Parliamentary Service Commission and has done so since the 1999 election.
Gerry Brownlee: Has she seen the statement today from Michael Morris, chair of Transparency International, saying: “By using money intended for legitimate parliamentary purposes to help get votes, and then to avoid the issue of culpability, brings the law, the people who make the law, and the system that generates the law into public contempt.”; if so, what is her response to Mr Morris and Transparency International?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: My response is to congratulate them on also observing that setting up front organisations through which funds can be channelled in excess of legal limitations or smuggling hidden slush funds into party coffers is to be deplored.
Gerry Brownlee: Has she been party to any discussion about the future use of her Labour leader’s office funding, and can she assure us that the 2008 pledge card will not be funded from that source?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I am sure the Prime Minister has been party to discussions about the use of the Labour leader’s fund. No decision has been taken yet as to whether the Labour Party will issue a 2008 pledge card. The one thing that is sure is that if we do, we will keep our promises. If National does, and by any chance it gets elected, it will break them.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: In the interests of “restoring public confidence in the political integrity of Parliament and the electoral process”, what is the Prime Minister’s view in respect of a political party using its legal advisers to advise an outside third party on how it might collude to avoid the outside third party’s costs being included in the political party’s election and campaign expenses?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I think given the matter that is being referred to, the first thing to be said is that it does not meet the fundamental standards of Christian morality.
Gerry Brownlee: Has the Prime Minister seen any reports suggesting that New Zealand First has used considerable amounts of that taxpayer funding for its election campaign activities—
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. With respect, that is not in the purview of any Minister, and the deputy leader of the National Party for the time being knows that.
Madam SPEAKER: The question was phrased in terms of reports, and this is a very general question relating to public confidence and integrity. [Interruption] The member has not finished the question?
Gerry Brownlee: I was asking the Prime Minister whether she has seen any reports suggesting that New Zealand First used considerable amounts of that sort of funding for its election campaign, and did any of those reports include the line: “Don’t worry. We can fix it.”?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: On the latter point, New Zealand First is helping the Government to fix it, and, particularly, is fixing National. On the former point, I am aware of reports that every party in this House has used that fund for similar purposes.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: On the issue of restoring public confidence in the political integrity of Parliament and the electoral process, what is to be made of a party’s denial of knowledge and understanding of, and involvement with, a third party outside this Parliament spending $1.2 million in a campaign to assist the political party inside this Parliament, when their legal advisers were the same people?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I think that literally meets the definition of the term “cover-up”.
Light Armoured Vehicles—Suitability
2. RON MARK (NZ First) to the Minister of Defence: Is he confident that the purchasing of 105 light armoured vehicles has resulted in value for money for New Zealand’s defence needs?
Hon PHIL GOFF (Minister of Defence): Yes. The Army advises me that the vehicles have met all operational expectations, and, in fact, it is very pleased with their performance.
Ron Mark: Why is one of the $7 million - light armoured vehicles purchased by the Government currently gathering dust in a warehouse in Canada for use by the manufacturer as a “reference vehicle”?
Hon PHIL GOFF: I am advised that that is a standard practice. We have one of our light operational vehicles, the Pinzgauer, also with the manufacturer for the same reason.
Shane Jones: What reports has he seen concerning the level of protection provided to soldiers in a combat situation?
Hon PHIL GOFF: In regard to the light armoured vehicles, they provide a very high level of protection. Although we, fortunately, have not had to engage those vehicles in combat, the Stryker vehicle, which is the US equivalent, has been involved in combat in Iraq. The commander of the brigade there stated that in 10 suicide bomb attacks on the vehicles, not a single soldier’s life, limb, or eyesight was lost. The US Army Chief of Staff, General Schumacher, has described the Stryker—which, I repeat, is the same as the light armoured vehicle in most respects—as the most survivable vehicle in Iraq today.
Ron Mark: What great difference is there, particularly given his last answer, between the standard Canadian light armoured vehicle and the New Zealand variant that justifies the New Zealand taxpayer funding a $7 million reference model for the Canadian manufacturers, which have produced thousands of almost identical vehicles in the past?
Hon PHIL GOFF: As I pointed out before, it is a standard procedure to leave one particular vehicle with the manufacturer for testing and other purposes. I could also point out to the member that we, in fact, have 105 light armoured vehicles. Because they are not currently deployed overseas, that vehicle would not be needed in use in New Zealand today.
Shane Jones: How have the New Zealand light armoured vehicles compared in joint exercises with Australian light armoured vehicles?
Hon PHIL GOFF: We deployed a company group of LAVIIIs to exercise with the Australians in northern Australia at the end of 2004. The Australian brigade commander described the LAVIII, compared with his own vehicles, as his vehicle of choice. They proved to be more capable than the Australian vehicles—both the M113s and the ASLAV2s. They were quieter, faster, better protected, and had better gunnery systems. So all round they were a superior vehicle.
Ron Mark: Has the decision to leave one of the light armoured vehicles with the manufacturer in Canada—and now, as we know, one of the light armoured vehicles as a reference vehicle—been taken for other prior or existing Defence Force purchase agreements; for example, is the Government planning to leave one of the NH90 helicopters or one each of the three different types of vessels comprising Project Protector with their manufacturers, and do we have a stray Anzac frigate lying around somewhere that we do not know about?
Hon PHIL GOFF: It is a little hard to take that question seriously. Of course, one would not leave one of two frigates, or even one of eight NH90s, with the manufacturer. In this case the LAVIII, given that it is not in immediate need of use in New Zealand, is considered by the New Zealand Defence Force to be more useful in Canada for testing purposes than in New Zealand.
Shane Jones: In what sort of circumstance would the LAVIII be deployed overseas?
Hon PHIL GOFF: I think everybody in this House would prefer New Zealand not to be involved in the level of combat where an LAVIII would be required. But one buys one’s defence equipment to cater for a worst-case scenario. If we were in a situation such as we were in Bosnia, back in the 1990s, we would find the LAVIIIs to be of critical importance because of their mobility and their ability to do convoy escorts. If the situation were to seriously deteriorate—and we hope it will not—in Timor, Afghanistan, or the Solomon Islands, then the LAVIIIs would obviously be applicable in any one of those environments.
Ingram Report—Review of Immigration Matters
3. Dr the Hon LOCKWOOD SMITH (National—Rodney) to the Minister of Immigration: Does he stand by his statement on Tuesday 12 September that he has reviewed the immigration matters covered in the Ingram report?
Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE (Minister of Immigration): Yes. As I said then, a number of immigration matters are covered in the Ingram report, which I have read on a number of occasions.
Dr the Hon Lockwood Smith: When reviewing the immigration matters covered in the Ingram report, what information did he find had been provided to the Ingram inquiry by Ross Robertson MP regarding the involvement of Taito Phillip Field with Thai national Mr Sunan Siriwan in Samoa?
Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: I would prefer to take that question on notice and reply to the member when I have checked the report further.
Dr the Hon Lockwood Smith: If the Minister had, in fact, reviewed the immigration matters, what steps has he taken to ascertain why Ross Robertson MP did not volunteer information to the Ingram inquiry, yet in August 2006 he freely offered information to the New Zealand Herald that he had socialised with both Taito Phillip Field and Mr Siriwan in Samoa in March 2005, and that he had the impression Mr Siriwan was working for Mr Field?
Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: It has been previously traversed in this House that a number of MPs briefly visited Mr Field’s home in Samoa and saw several Thai immigrants, but did not have extensive conversations with them and were not briefed on their immigration status.
Dr the Hon Lockwood Smith: When reviewing the immigration matters involved, what steps did he take to ascertain why Ross Robertson MP withheld information from the Ingram inquiry on Taito Phillip Field’s involvement with Mr Siriwan in Samoa, given that after confirming to the New Zealand Herald that he had the impression Mr Siriwan was working for Mr Taito Phillip Field in March 2005, Mr Robertson refused to deny that Taito Phillip Field told him that Mr Siriwan was working for him?
Madam SPEAKER: Before the Minister replies, I just note that the Minister is responsible for immigration matters, but he is not responsible for the procedures and the taking of evidence in the inquiry. But I ask the Minister to address the question.
Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: Further to your point, I am responsible for neither the conduct of the Ingram inquiry nor the conduct of Ross Robertson MP—not that I have any doubts as to its integrity.
Dr the Hon Lockwood Smith: If the Minister has read the Ingram report several times, as he has told this House, can he confirm that Taito Phillip Field denied there was any arrangement for Mr Siriwan to work on his house in Samoa, as reported in paragraph 77 of the Ingram report, and that Mr Field’s evidence to the Ingram inquiry, as recorded in paragraph 115, was that he was unaware of any financial support given to Mr Siriwan, until June 2005, and that Ross Robertson MP held that information—which was materially relevant to the truth of Mr Field’s representations—yet refused to volunteer it to the Ingram inquiry?
Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: It is a longstanding convention that there is no such thing as proof by repeated assertion. Mr Robertson’s actions are not the responsibility of the Minister of Immigration and nor is the Ingram inquiry.
Dr the Hon Lockwood Smith: What does it say about the administration of the immigration portfolio under Labour, when the Associate Minister’s private secretary makes four conflicting statements to the Ingram inquiry as to whether the Associate Minister knew of Taito Phillip Field’s involvement with Thai nationals in Samoa, prior to making his decision on their cases, and that a senior Labour member of Parliament refused to volunteer information he held to that same inquiry?
Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: Clearly, members of this House are as bored with the member’s repeated questions—
Madam SPEAKER: That is not the point. Would the Minister please be seated. Would the Minister please address the question. I thought I had made it clear that answers and questions should be given directly, without these asides.
Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: Madam Speaker, my apologies for the previous comment, which I withdraw.
Dr Wayne Mapp: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I would have thought that a remark like that should be both withdrawn and apologised for.
Madam SPEAKER: I am sorry Mr Mapp; I have dealt with the matter.
Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: If it assists progress of the House, in the previous sentence I both apologised and withdrew but the member may not have been listening. As we have already established, Mr Ross Robertson is not the responsibility of the Minister of Immigration. The administration of the department, it has already been established, could have been improved, in the sense that information should have been provided in a demonstrable way to the then Associate Minister, which it was not.
Food Miles—Environmental Impact
4. DIANNE YATES (Labour) to the Minister of Trade: What evidence, if any, has he received with respect to the concept of food miles that suggests the further food has to travel to the market, the worse its impact on the environment?
Hon PHIL GOFF (Minister of Trade): The evidence I have seen totally debunks the concept that the distance food travels provides any meaningful measure of the amount of energy used in its production and its impact on the environment. A study just produced by Lincoln University looks at the total energy use and carbon dioxide emissions associated with farm production and transport to the United Kingdom. It concludes that, for our major export products, the energy used in production and transport of New Zealand products is a fraction of the energy used for equivalent goods produced in the United Kingdom.
Dianne Yates: Can the Minister give some specific examples of the relative energy use involved in equivalent products from either country?
Hon PHIL GOFF: Yes, the United Kingdom, for example, uses twice as much energy per tonne of milk solids produced than New Zealand uses, even taking into account the transport of those goods over 11,000 miles. The energy used in producing lamb in the United Kingdom is four times higher than the energy used by New Zealand lamb producers, even taking transport into account, and for apples the New Zealand energy costs for production are 60 percent of those in the United Kingdom, including the energy used in production. That is why, when we get this sort of advertising campaign in the United Kingdom—which is an attack on New Zealand products as not being environmentally sound—it is just so much rubbish.
Peter Brown: Noting that shipping uses less energy than many other forms of transport, what role does the Minister expect to play in the development of a maritime action strategy following the Government’s apparent favourable response to the draft maritime transport strategy presented by the New Zealand Shipping Federation to the Minister of Transport, given that sea transportation is essential to the trade of this island nation?
Hon PHIL GOFF: Obviously the overwhelming bulk of New Zealand export produce is taken to the market by sea. The question that the member asked is in the responsibility of my colleague and benchmate, the Minister of Transport, but I am more than happy to be involved in any relevant activities.
Sue Kedgley: If the Government is going to counter the growing international concern about food miles by arguing that New Zealanders are much more energy-efficient farmers, will the Government—as part of that campaign—be encouraging farmers to convert to organic agriculture, which is considerably more energy efficient than conventional farming, given that a tiny 0.24 percent of our agricultural land is in organic farming; if not, why not?
Hon PHIL GOFF: Obviously organic products have their place in our export trade and some of them do very well. Equally clearly, it is not practicable for the vast majority of New Zealand production to be organic. But I would like to tell the member that on current production techniques, in each of our major export products to the United Kingdom the amount of energy utilised in both producing and transporting the goods to that market is only a fraction of the energy utilised in producing the same goods in the United Kingdom. I would hope that the Green Party and environmental groups would stand out against the sort of nonsense being portrayed in Europe and in the United Kingdom that misrepresents that fact to consumers.
Dianne Yates: Why then has this question of food miles become an issue?
Hon PHIL GOFF: It has become an issue because if it is left unchallenged, given our geographic location, the food miles concept has the potential to threaten our food and beverage exports to the United Kingdom and to Europe—and, of course, a third of our food and beverage exports go to the United Kingdom. The question of food miles is being made an issue by some European producers and non-governmental organisations that have a vested interest in protectionism. New Zealand exports have been singled out as being bad for the environment in the sort of advertising campaign that I have shown to the House. That is why the studies carried out by Lincoln University, which are done on an objective and scientific basis, are so important; they actually demonstrate that New Zealand production is more environmentally friendly.
Nandor Tanczos: Does the Minister accept that his argument around looking at the full embodied energy costs, although something to be commended, actually continues to leave New Zealand agricultural exporters at risk until New Zealand properly addresses the reality that New Zealand farming is relying on increasing amounts of energy and other imports, particularly into dairy farming in many areas, because of a massive drive towards intensification; issues that were raised so effectively by the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment in his report Growing for Good: Intensive Farming, sustainability and New Zealand’s environment?
Hon PHIL GOFF: I think our producers will always be looking for ways of producing in both more energy-efficient ways and more environmentally sensitive ways. That does not deny the fact that right now, our agricultural production is produced in a more environmentally sensitive and far more energy-efficient manner than most of the countries that we are exporting to, notwithstanding the distance that we have to transport our produce to the market. [Interruption] If Gerry Brownlee wants to ask a question, maybe he could be invited to take to his feet and do it formally rather than informally.
Sue Kedgley: Does the Minister agree that if we had country-of-origin labelling of New Zealand food, New Zealanders would be able to make sure they were buying locally produced, energy-efficient, New Zealand food; and why, therefore, did his Government veto a Food Standards Australia New Zealand - mandatory country-of-origin food labelling system, which would have enabled New Zealanders to work out whether the food they are buying has been produced in an energy-efficient way in New Zealand or has travelled from the other side of the world and been produced in a much more energy-inefficient way, as the Minister has been discussing?
Hon PHIL GOFF: I think the member has missed the point of what I was saying. Actually, the distance—
Hon Maurice Williamson: We all did.
Hon PHIL GOFF: Well, if the member had listened, then perhaps he would not have missed it. The point the member needs to take into account is that transportation costs for a product when it reaches its final market are only a small percentage of the overall energy costs. If we want an efficient way of measuring environmental impact, we have to take into account all of those factors. New Zealand produce, of course, when it goes to the market, is labelled as being made in New Zealand, because we are proud of our overall clean and green image in the world.
Sue Kedgley: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. The Minister seems to have misunderstood my question. I was asking why we did not have mandatory country-of-origin labelling in New Zealand. We may very well have some exporters labelling their food as being from New Zealand, but he did not seek to answer my question.
Madam SPEAKER: No, the Minister—at great length, actually—addressed his answers to the questions. I remind both those who ask questions and those who answer them that the Standing Orders do request that that is done succinctly. The Minister did address that question.
5. Hon Dr NICK SMITH (National—Nelson) to the Minister of Energy: Did the Government promise Roy Hemmingway that the Electricity Commission would be independent of the Government; if so, why has this, in Mr Hemmingway’s words “not turned out to be true”?
Hon DAVID PARKER (Minister of Energy): No.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: Is the Minister telling the House that the statement by Mr Hemmingway: “When I came to New Zealand three years ago, I was promised that the Electricity Commission would be independent of the Government’s wishes.” is a lie?
Hon DAVID PARKER: I am saying that the Electricity Commission is able to take its day-to-day decisions independently, but it has always been bound to give effect to the Government policy statement.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: Can the Minister confirm that last year Minister Trevor Mallard pressured the commission to seek alternatives to the Waikato line, so as to deflect political pressure at the time of the election, but that after the election Ministers pressured the commission to get on and approve the line; and is that blatant manipulation of the commission not just further evidence that this Government will break any law and bully any independent statutory officer to cling on to power?
Hon DAVID PARKER: No, it is not. The Hon—
Madam SPEAKER: Would the member please be seated. We will hear the answer, please, so that the Minister does not have to repeat it.
Hon DAVID PARKER: No, it is not. The Hon Trevor Mallard quite rightly directed the Electricity Commission to considers alternatives. This Government still supports that course.
Maryan Street: How does the Minister respond to suggestions that he has stacked the board of the Electricity Commission in order to push through the Waikato upgrade decision?
Hon DAVID PARKER: I reject that suggestion, too. The Government’s only appointment to the Electricity Commission in the last 3 years has been the very competent Hon Stan Rodger. His appointment stated he will not be participating in the Waikato upgrade decision. I also point out that his appointment—just like that of the Rt Hon Jim Bolger to the gas industry regulator—was uncontroversial. Finally, it is also pertinent to remember that the four other commissioners who have served with Mr Hemmingway remain.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: Why should New Zealanders have any confidence that the decisions of the Commerce Commission, involving hundreds of millions of dollars, in relation to Vector will be able to be made independent of the Government, when its fingerprints are all over the workings of the Electricity Commission?
Hon DAVID PARKER: Because the Commerce Commission has statutory independence from the Government—it is actually a bit different from the Electricity Commission in that regard. I further point out that the reality here is that once every 3 years someone in my position has to take a decision as to whether an electricity commissioner is appointed for a further 3 years. I took that decision because I decided it was unwise to appoint Mr Hemmingway for another term. I take responsibility for the decision and believe it to be the correct one.
Maryan Street: How does the Minister respond to those who say that because he has not appointed Mr Hemmingway for a second term, no one will want to chair the Electricity Commission?
Hon DAVID PARKER: The chair’s $300,000 salary is substantially more than what a university professor is paid. I expect there will be significant interest in this prestigious role.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: Will the Minister—noting the importance of independent statutory offices like the Electricity Commission to the integrity of Government—initiate an independent inquiry into the very serious accusations made by Mr Hemmingway yesterday of interference, of politicisation, and of pressure from Ministers, so that the public might know whether it is Mr Hemmingway or him who is telling the truth?
Hon DAVID PARKER: No, I will not. It is the responsibility of Governments around the world to appoint those who participate in, and are chairs of, regulators. That is all that has happened here.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: Does the Minister agree with the statement made by Mr Hemmingway yesterday—given that he was handpicked by Labour, and given Mr Parker’s own statement that he has a “huge depth of knowledge of electricity issues”—on radio that Labour’s policies would drive up electricity prices unnecessarily and that the Government’s policies were a “confusing muddle”?
Hon DAVID PARKER: Of course, it is somewhat ironic that that member who has just resumed his chair actually opposed the creation of the Electricity Commission. We already know from the draft Electricity Commission decision that it will carve substantial costs from the Transpower proposal, however it proceeds.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: How can the Minister retain any pretence that the Electricity Commission is independent of the Government—noting the importance of that—when the Government owns over $10 billion worth of electricity State-owned enterprises; and is not the Electricity Commission now just a poodle to be used as the Minister’s plaything?
Hon DAVID PARKER: No. The duty of the Electricity Commission is set out in law as being to give effect to the Government policy statement.
Peter Brown: What is the Minister’s view on the assertion being made by some that, in the interests of independence, it would be better to dispense with the Electricity Commission entirely, and to have its duties and functions undertaken by the Commerce Commission?
Hon DAVID PARKER: The Government is looking at what the relative roles of the Electricity Commission and the Commerce Commission should be. It is, however, absolutely clear that more regulatory oversight is required for lines companies that are absolute monopolies—including Transpower—than was the case back in 1998, when they were left unregulated to plunder the country.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: How was it fair for the Minister yesterday to justify sacking Mr Hemmingway on the basis of the tensions between the Electricity Commission and Transpower, when the Government itself has been the cause of those tensions by pressuring the commission last year to kick the Waikato line project for touch during the election campaign, and then, post-election, changing tack and pushing it as hard as it could; and is not Mr Hemmingway just being used as a scapegoat for Labour’s political shenanigans?
Hon DAVID PARKER: Not at all. The breakdown in the relationship between Transpower and the Electricity Commission at the most senior levels is something that neither organisation should be proud of. It was not caused by this Government, but we will fix it.
Hon Dr Michael Cullen: Has the Minister seen any reports indicating that the Dr Nick Smith who has been asking the questions today is the same Dr Nick Smith who urged the Government to do something to resolve the issue of transmission supply into Auckland, and that his benchmate, Judith Collins, is the same person who called on the Government to stop the transmission line upgrade into Auckland?
Hon Dr Nick Smith: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. Not only are the statements of the Deputy Prime Minister untrue; they are also totally beyond the responsibilities of the Minister. I know he is a new member.
Madam SPEAKER: Having listened to the question, I say that there is responsibility as to whether the Minister does something.
Hon DAVID PARKER: I am indeed aware of that history.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: I seek leave of the House to table a statement made by the Minister on 15 July 2006 that he was pleased with Mr Hemmingway’s performance, and that Mr Hemmingway had in-depth, expert knowledge of the electricity sector.
Madam SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection? There is objection.
Whales and Dolphins—South Pacific Ocean
6. Hon MARIAN HOBBS (Labour—Wellington Central) to the Minister of Conservation: What initiative is the Government taking to protect whales and dolphins in the South Pacific Ocean?
Hon CHRIS CARTER (Minister of Conservation): Tomorrow, in Noumea, the Associate Minister of Conservation, Mahara Okeroa, will sign a memorandum of understanding on behalf of the New Zealand Government that will significantly increase the protection for whales and dolphins in our region. For the past 3 years Pacific nations, through the South Pacific Regional Environment Programme, have been working on the memorandum of understanding, which commits signatories to work actively to protect whale and dolphin habitats.
Hon Marian Hobbs: What are the strengths of this new agreement?
Hon CHRIS CARTER: New Zealand is a leading conservation nation, like the UK. This memorandum, under the convention on migratory species, provides an effective alternative to the International Whaling Commission for Pacific countries interested in pursuing whale and dolphin protection. A significant feature of it is that non-governmental organisations can now join, providing a united voice on marine mammal issues. I just heard Judith Collins call out: “Boring!”. I support conservation; I thought that member would, too.
Judith Collins: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I take offence to that comment. I did not call it out and I do not find conservation boring, even if that Minister is.
Madam SPEAKER: Thank you for clarifying that. That was not a point of order, and it was also compounded by the member making a flippant statement. I remind members on all sides of the Chamber that when they are making points of order, or when they are asking or answering questions, they should stick to the point. [Interruption]
Hon Dr Nick Smith: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker—
Madam SPEAKER: The member will please be seated. I understood that the member was clarifying that she had not made that statement, and that she did not find the subject boring but found the Minister boring. If she is in fact asking for the Minister to withdraw his comment that she had called out “Boring!”, then I would ask him to withdraw it so we can move on.
Hon CHRIS CARTER: I do apologise. I thought that voice was unique, but it clearly is not.
Madam SPEAKER: No, you will just reply. I ask members to please be silent, so we can move on.
7. SIMON POWER (National—Rangitikei) to the Minister of Corrections: Does he have confidence in his department; if not, why not?
Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR (Minister of Corrections): Yes, but there is always room for improvement.
Madam SPEAKER: I shall wait for Simon Power’s own colleagues to be quiet, so that we can hear his supplementary question.
Simon Power: Why has it taken his Government 7 years to address mental health screening for prison inmates, when current assessment tools ask officers to observe whether new prisoners appear “ill or very sad” and “irrational or threatening”, or is his talk of new assessment techniques an acknowledgment that inmates with mental health issues have previously fallen through the cracks?
Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: As I have stated publicly, the issue of mental health care within prisons is a very difficult one. There are issues about what are psychological problems and what are psychiatric problems. We are always moving to improve the level of care within the community and within our prisons for those people who have psychiatric and psychological problems.
Simon Power: Does he agree that questions on inmate questionnaires such as: “How would you say you’ve been feeling in general since you arrived in prison?”, “Is prison different from the way you thought it would be?”, and “Is there anything in particular you are worried about?” are hardly the sorts of searching questions that cover the range of mental illnesses prisoners might suffer from?
Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: I suggest that the member see a psychologist and ask him or her why those questions have been deemed the appropriate ones to ask prisoners when they first come into prison. We are always working through the processes in order to improve them wherever necessary.
Simon Power: Are inmates arriving in public prisons screened by mental health professionals, as they were at the Auckland Central Remand Prison when it was under private management, or has the level of mental health expertise of those conducting the screening got less?
Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: The level of screening within the corrections system has been consistent for some time now. We are currently working on methods of improving it and of identifying the needs of prisoners as they come into prison.
Simon Power: Why can the Department of Corrections not say how many prisoners suffer from an acute mental illness, or how many are taking medication for psychiatric conditions, when presumably the department dispenses this medication?
Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: The Department of Corrections can accurately assess the medication going to prisoners. It is always very difficult to accurately assess the difference between a psychological problem and a psychiatric problem for prisoners. If that member cared to visit some of the prisons and find out for himself, he would understand that we are dealing with very difficult and challenging people, and we do our very best.
Simon Power: Why has he not answered my written question of 1 month ago as to whether any of the four new prisons have plasma or LCD screen TVs, and when can I expect an answer?
Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: Because I do not know, and—[Interruption]
Madam SPEAKER: This is verging on a relapse of previous behaviour.
Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: I would expect there would not be any other than the exceptional one that might be for treatment or programmes within the prison system. We do not provide TVs for prisoners in the New Zealand corrections system.
Johnsonville Railway Corridor—ONTRACK Ownership
8. Hon PETER DUNNE (Minister of Revenue) to the Minister of Finance: Can he confirm the Johnsonville railway corridor, including the lines, signalling, and the overhead systems, is owned by ONTRACK on behalf of the Crown, and that neither the Greater Wellington Regional Council, the Wellington City Council, nor the Bus and Coach Association has had any discussions with ONTRACK about the line’s future, notwithstanding the fact that the joint councils’ North Wellington Public Transport Study considering the future of the line is in its second stage?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Minister of Finance): The Crown owns the land; ONTRACK owns the facilities on top of the land. There have been no discussions with the Wellington City Council or the Bus and Coach Association. ONTRACK is a participant on the regional land transport committee with the Greater Wellington Regional Council, but no recommendation has been received from the regional land transport committee about its views on the future of the line.
Hon Peter Dunne: Can the Minister confirm ONTRACK’s view that it strongly favours the retention of the rail service as being consistent with the National Rail Strategy and achievable at a cost of just $5 million for upgrading the line, as opposed to conversion to a guided busway at a cost of up to $115 million and at least 2 years with no service while the conversion is undertaken, even before any buses are bought; will the Government therefore point out to the Wellington City Council the sheer folly of its proposal to convert the Johnsonville line into a busway?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I am advised that ONTRACK strongly supports the retention of the line, and considers that the line should continue to be operated and further developed as a rail line. Neither ONTRACK nor the Government has received any proposal to convert the Johnsonville line into a busway. We would certainly not support that.
Hon Peter Dunne: Will the Minister give an assurance that in the event the councils do decide to proceed with that conversion, the $115 million minimum cost of conversion to a busway would not be borne by taxpayers but would be a charge against the Wellington City Council, for it to then have to justify to its ratepayers?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: As I have said, we have received no proposal. If we did receive a proposal with that sort of cost, I doubt very much that we would want to give it very serious consideration at all. I see no reason why the taxpayer should fund such a conversion.
Sue Kedgley: If the rail operator, Toll, is not interested in running the passenger rail service the Overlander or properly marketing it, would the Government be willing to fast track another suitable operator into running the service, by making a clear statement that ONTRACK will grant it fair access to a reliable track at a reasonable price; if not, why not?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I understand that the Overlander does not run on the Johnsonville line.
Sue Kedgley: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. That was another of the witty put-down remarks by the Minister of Finance. Would it be possible for him to try to address the question? It was a little wide—
Madam SPEAKER: I think the difficulty is that the question was very specific, and the member has considerably broadened it. We will have another go, if the Minister would like to answer it in the interests of moving on.
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: The member asked a question that was specifically about the Johnsonville line. I fail to see what that has to do with the Overlander, which is a shorter train than the trains on the Johnsonville line. It does not run on the Johnsonville line, and it is not a commuter passenger service. Indeed, it meets nothing in relation to the original question, at all. It is a train.
Sue Kedgley: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. Could I rephrase my question so that it deals exclusively with the Johnsonville line?
Madam SPEAKER: Please do.
Sue Kedgley: Does he agree that a one-way guided busway, such as has been proposed on the Johnsonville line, would be the only one in the world; would he agree therefore with Peter Dunne that it would be a complete folly to rip up an ongoing rail-track and put in a one-way guided busway, which does not exist anywhere else in the world—it has no other precedent?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: It does seem very strange, but I assume it goes the other way in the evening; otherwise there would be serious congestion in central Wellington before too many days were out.
Social Security (Long-term Residential Care) Amendment Bill—Progress
9. JUDITH COLLINS (National—Clevedon) to the Minister of Health: What progress has been made on the Social Security (Long-term Residential Care) Amendment Bill?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Leader of the House) on behalf of the Minister of Health: I understand that the bill has been reported back.
Judith Collins: What advice has he received as to why the Social Services Committee failed to endorse his bill?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: The advice I have received is that one of my colleagues was tied up in another select committee and therefore there was a tied vote. However, unfortunately for the member, the current Leader of the House had the prescience in 1996 to ensure that such bills were reported back without amendment, and the House can subsequently consider them in the Committee of the whole House.
Anne Tolley: Has the chairman of the Social Services Committee admitted to him yet that, despite Labour having the majority on the committee, the bill was voted down because Mrs Pillay was late that day, and has Mr Barnett, the senior Government whip, admitted that he walked out before the vote, thinking everything was under control?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: As the amendments that had been put are all in favour of the general public, we rather thought the National Party would be sensible enough to vote in favour of the bill.
Paula Bennett: Does the Minister ever consult the chair of the Social Services Committee regarding the likely fate of his bills in that committee; if so, what advice has the chair given him?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I am sure the member does, I am sure the Minister does, and I am sure members are given good advice. I can assure the member that the bill will be coming to the House, a Supplementary Order Paper will be moved in the Committee of the whole House, and then we shall find out whether the Opposition will vote against taking back from 28 days to 90 days the benefits within the bill.
Judith Collins: What changes, if any, have been made to the bill by the Social Services Committee?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: After careful deliberation, the bill is reported back without amendment, but this is not something we will cry about.
Judith Collins: Is the Minister confident that the bill will pass through its remaining stages, or is it likely that his party will forget to have the numbers during the Committee stage as well?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: In just over a year the Opposition has had one small victory in one select committee, with a tied vote. It has not quite reached the point where those members can say: “We won. You lost. Eat that!”.
Internet Access—Government Initiatives
10. MARTIN GALLAGHER (Labour—Hamilton West) to the Minister of Communications: What has the Government done to improve New Zealanders’ access toInternet services?
Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE (Minister of Communications): Five Broadband Challenge applications totalling $16.3 million for urban fibre network projects have been approved for Auckland’s North Shore, the lovely city of Hamilton, Porirua - Hutt Valley, Nelson-Marlborough, and Christchurch. A $24 million Broadband Challenge fund is to provide seed funding for broadband Internet access as part of our digital strategy to transform the New Zealand economy.
Martin Gallagher: What reports has he seen about the Broadband Challenge announcement?
Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: I have seen a number of reports, including this statement from Hamilton City Council corporate group general manager, Mike Garrett, welcoming the $3.2 million of Broadband Challenge funding for that lovely city’s fibre network. Mr Garrett stated: “There is no question that this is great news for Hamilton and it means as a city we can be at the forefront of community led broadband accessibility.” I seek leave to table this media release from the city council of the lovely city of Hamilton.
Question No. 7 to Minister—Amended Answer
Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR (Minister of Corrections): I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. In my answer to question No. 7, I said that we do not provide TVs for prisoners in New Zealand. That is not correct. There are two instances. There are TVs provided in common rooms, and in the previously privately owned Auckland Central Remand Prison TVs were provided to every prisoner and they have, in fact, not been removed. I am not sure whether we are actually charging prisoners in that previously privately owned facility. We do charge in other cells.
Court System—Access to Justice
11. KATE WILKINSON (National) to the Minister for Courts: Does he still stand by his statement in the House on 7 September disagreeing that justice delayed is justice denied; if not, why not?
Hon RICK BARKER (Minister for Courts): Delays in a hearing, or, alternatively, a delay in justice, may be for many good reasons. A defence lawyer may seek and be granted a delay in a trial that facilitates justice, not denies it.
Kate Wilkinson: Which answer is correct: (a) his response to question for written answer No. 11335 on 31 August, which shows that the total number of court staff in the South Island has decreased; (b) his answer in the House on 7 September, which stated: “… the number of staff in the Christchurch court has been increased.”; (c) his announcement on 31 August of the actual creation—even though not advertised yet—of six additional positions in the Christchurch District Court; or (d) the Ministry of Justice website advertising for just one part-time receptionist in the Christchurch District Court?
Hon RICK BARKER: (c).
Kate Wilkinson: Which answer is correct: (a) his answer in the House on 7 September that he has put “$165 million” into the courts; (b) his statement on 29 August 2006 in the House that he has put a “massive injection of $156 million … into both the courts and justice,”; (c) his press release dated 7 September 2006 advising “an increase in total baseline funding of $156 million to Courts.”—not justice; or (d) is this just another $9 million bungle?
Hon RICK BARKER: All of those statements are correct, because this Government inherited a court system with a collection of unreconstructed 100-year-old buildings. We had virtually no computer systems in our court system. Charles Dickens would have recognised our court system as being Victorian.
Madam SPEAKER: I will ask the Minister to repeat his answer in silence. If anyone interrupts, I will be asking that member to leave the House.
Hon RICK BARKER: No one can deny that this Government has injected a massive sum of funds into the court system, because we inherited as a legacy a court system that Charles Dickens would have recognised as Victorian. With hardly a computer in it, the court system had had a 20th century bypass. We have put in a case management system, we have put in videoconferencing, we have digitalised courts, and we have increased the numbers of staff. We have done a fantastic job in bringing the court system up to a modern standard.
Kate Wilkinson: Which answer is correct: (a) his answer in the House on 29 August “that an extra 44 courts have digital audio technology,”; (b) his letter dated 29 August, which stated: “There are currently 38 courtrooms that have digital audio technology installed.”; or (c) the same letter, which stated: “The first batch of courtrooms to be digital audio technology - enabled will be completed by February 2007.”; or (d) he has the equipment but cannot, or does not, use it?
Hon RICK BARKER: The last option is not correct, and that is certainly for sure. I can say that we have done an enormous amount to digitalise the court system in this country, and I am reliant upon my staff giving me accurate information. I do not personally count it, but—[Interruption]
Madam SPEAKER: Again, the Minister will answer in silence. The Minister will answer succinctly. If anyone interrupts, he or she will be leaving the Chamber.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. In the last two questions, my colleague has asked quite a specific question. The first one was about numbers; the second one was about the number of courts. You have insisted that we, on this side of the House, be absolutely silent, but you have not insisted that the Minister simply answer the question about which of the figures are correct.
Madam SPEAKER: I am sorry, members cannot prescribe the nature or the content of the answers. What the Standing Orders require is that the question be addressed. The Minister is to be heard in silence and he is to be succinct.
Hon RICK BARKER: The last option put by that member is certainly not correct. But what I can say is that we inherited a court system that was very antiquated, and we have invested heavily in digital recording because that will ensure that the cases are heard more quickly and justice is sped up.
Sue Moroney: What reports has he received regarding the performance of courts?
Hon RICK BARKER: I have seen a report that states: “‘Mr Barker claims to be “doing heaps”, but how does increasing the number of judges to three, and then only in Wellington and Auckland, help the High Court in Christchurch …”. The report goes on to state: “In fact the median waiting times for High Court jury trials has increased in each and every South Island court”. Firstly, the Government has not increased the number of High Court judges by three; in fact, they have been increased to 33. Secondly, as of 30 June 2006 my staff advise me that there were no outstanding jury trials in Blenheim, Nelson, Invercargill, or anywhere in the South Island. The evidence, again, is that that member, Kate Wilkinson, picks her way through the facts and does not always tell the truth.
Madam SPEAKER: Would the Minister please withdraw and apologise.
Hon RICK BARKER: I withdraw and apologise.
Kate Wilkinson: How can the Minister justify his answer in the House on 7 September that there are “substantial reductions in many, many registries”, when his boasted reduction of outstanding civil and High Court cases of 50 percent in Timaru amounts to a reduction of only one case, the 40 percent reduction in Dunedin amounts to a reduction of four cases, and the 22 percent reduction in Palmerston North amounts to two cases; and what would he not accept as being substantial?
Hon RICK BARKER: That member occasionally plays with statistics and adds statistics up to make them look bad. What she did not say—
Madam SPEAKER: Would the member address the question.
Hon RICK BARKER: What the member did not say or acknowledge is that her general claim was that court waiting times have gone up substantially, across the board and without exception. Those examples show that waiting times have, in fact, gone down.
Kate Wilkinson: What explanation can he give, further to his press release to the Marlborough Express on 11 September, as to how the “modernisation of the reception [and] public waiting … areas” will help reduce the massive median waiting times for a hearing in the Blenheim Court of 372 days—the worst in the country—and surely the parties are not expected to wait in posh waiting rooms for over a year for justice to be delivered?
Hon RICK BARKER: Delays in the courts can be many. There can be delays sought by either the defence or prosecution, there can be delays in getting expert evidence, and there can be delays in getting forensic evidence. There are many reasons for delays, not all of which are the responsibility of the court.
Hone Harawira: Kia ora, Madam Speaker. When the member said on 7 September that justice delayed is justice denied, how many years would have to pass before the Minister would say justice delayed was justice denied?
Hon RICK BARKER: The New Zealand Bill of Rights Act gives every citizen protection from undue delays in court processes. I am pleased to note to the House that the number of cases that have been granted a stay of proceedings this year for systemic reasons is zero.
Hone Harawira: Would the Minister then agree that Te Arawa has been denied justice because of the delays since 1909, when they turned to the court for a ruling to determine ownership of the lakes; and how would that denial of justice be justly remedied?
Hon RICK BARKER: I think the Minister in charge of Treaty of Waitangi Negotiations is in a better position to answer that question than I am.
Waitematā District Health Board—Waiting Lists
12. HEATHER ROY (Deputy Leader—ACT) to the Minister of Health: What advice has he got for doctors at Waitematā District Health Board, when they are forced to explain to patients that they are one of the 800 to be culled from waiting lists to avoid a $3 million penalty, the result of his ministry’s requirements?
Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR (Minister of Corrections) on behalf of the Minister of Health: I am assured by the chief executive of the Waitematā District Health Board that clinical managers at that district health board have thoroughly reviewed the clinical priority of each patient, case by case, who has been waiting for more than 6 months for a first specialist assessment. This review has included speaking with patients and, where appropriate, their general practitioners. Patients referred back to their general practitioners will be receiving active care, and may be reassessed and, if necessary, referred again for specialist referral.
Heather Roy: What advice does he have for patients who notify the district health board that they cannot make their appointment but are told they cannot be rebooked before 30 September—as per an email that was distributed to clinicians yesterday—and because of this Minister’s heartless policies will now be sent back to their general practitioner, instead of getting the treatment they need?
Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: This is not new. There are sensible rules that recognise that if people do not keep their out-patient appointments, and if they just do not turn up, call, or make a time that suits them better, then it is not fair to have consultants’ time unused when other patients are indeed waiting to be seen.
Heather Roy: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I do not think the Minister quite heard my question. It asked what advice he had for patients who notify the district health board, not those who just do not turn up.
Madam SPEAKER: It was not phrased as a question, in that sense. Would the member please rephrase her question, so that I can hear it again?
Heather Roy: What advice does he have for patients who notify the district health board that they cannot make their appointment but are told they cannot be rebooked before 30 September—as clinicians were notified by email yesterday—and because of this Minister’s heartless policies will now be sent back to their general practitioner instead of receiving the treatment they need?
Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: I am aware of a leaked email, but I am not aware that those who have notified their specialists will be dropped. As I said, those who do not notify the district health board and do not turn up will be dropped.
Ann Hartley: How is the Government supporting the Waitematā District Health Board to increase its elective surgical throughput?
Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: The Minister has approved funding for the Waitematā District Health Board to complete one new theatre early next year and three more theatres in 2008-09.
Dr Jonathan Coleman: If the Minister considers the impact of waiting list performance measures on the waiting list cull, can he advise whether there will be more strike action by radiographers next week, and what action is under way by district health boards, or the Government, to avert it?
Madam SPEAKER: That is broader than the primary question, but would the Minister address it please.
Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: I cannot tell that member whether there will be strike action next week, but I understand that district health boards have handled, the situation this week very well. I thank all those people who have cooperated.
Heather Roy: What will be the total financial penalty imposed on the 21 district health boards if they fail to cull the required number of patients from their waiting lists by 30 September, and what service does he recommend hospitals cut to meet the cost of this “Hodgson’s choice”?
Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: I am not aware of the cost of cuts to any district health boards, but I can say the estimate of $3 million relates to whether payments are made early in the month or later in the month. There is no intention at all to change the time that the money is paid to the Waitematā District Health Board. So the board will still have its $3 million, which that member claimed it would lose.
Hon Tony Ryall: I seek leave to table a leaked email from the Waitematā District Health Board, which means that if a patient has been waiting 5½ weeks for a specialist appointment, and then rings up and says he or she needs a 2-week delay because of a death in the family, that person will be culled from the waiting list.
Questions to Members
Residential Tenancies (Damage Insurance) Amendment Bill—Consequences
PHIL HEATLEY (National—Whangarei) to the Member in charge of the Residential Tenancies (Damage Insurance) Amendment Bill Has she received any advice since introducing the Residential Tenancies (Damage Insurance) Amendment Bill that the proposed legislation would have a number of negative unintended consequences; if so, what are these negative consequences?
MARYAN STREET (Member in charge of the Residential Tenancies (Damage Insurance) Amendment Bill): I am aware that a number of submitters thought there might be unintended consequences, which is not the same thing as there actually being unintended consequences. But one such putative unintended consequence was that of the establishment of a list of uninsurable tenants, or a blacklist. My bill carries no such intention or implication. It simply asks that non-liable tenants not be pursued for costs, in the event of damage being caused by another tenant.
Phil Heatley: What is her response to official statements made by the Government’s Department of Building and Housing that her legislation “will create more problems than solved”, that “many people will be uninsurable and will not get accommodation”, that “first-time and at-risk renters are particularly disadvantaged”, and that “there will be significant compliance costs for all parties”; has she, as yet, had the courage to tell the Deputy Prime Minister this is yet another small victory for National in the Social Services Committee, as the committee has unanimously dumped the legislation, even though everyone was there to vote?
MARYAN STREET: I am very aware that the purpose of the bill remains as an issue that has been taken up by the Department of Building and Housing’s current review of the Residential Tenancies Act, with the full knowledge and support of the Minister.
Phil Heatley: I seek leave to table the Department of Building and Housing’s damning report on Maryan Street’s bill.
Madam SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that report. Is there any objection? There is objection.
Phil Heatley: I seek leave to table the select committee report recommending that the bill does not proceed.
Madam SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection? There is objection.
Nandor Tanczos: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. Mr Heatley has been a member of this House for some time. I think it would be useful for you to remind him that the point of tabling papers is to provide information that members of the House cannot otherwise get access to. Seeking leave to table a report of a select committee is a waste of time.
Madam SPEAKER: I thank the member. That is not a point of order, but what he said is true.