Questions And Answers - Tuesday, 10 October 2006
Questions And Answers - Tuesday, 10
Questions to Ministers
Taxation—Cost of Business Tax Cuts
1. SHANE JONES (Labour) to the Minister of Finance: What was the cost of the business tax cuts that came into effect on 1 April this year?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Minister of Finance): The total cost of these tax cuts is over $1.1 billion over 4 years. This represents the largest cut to business taxes since the late 1980s. There were no significant cuts to business taxes in the 1990s.
Shane Jones: What reports as he seen on alternative costings of these tax cuts?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I have seen a report stating: “No, no, no, Labour has not reduced a single tax in 7 years.” Dismissing over $1 billion in tax cuts in this way is rather remarkable for a former Governor of the Reserve Bank.
John Key: Can the Minister confirm that tomorrow the Government will be announcing a record surplus—a surplus that, after accounting changes, will be in excess of $10 billion—and, having now produced surpluses of over $20 billion in the last 3 years alone, can he understand why the public of New Zealand are getting fed up with his excuses for not delivering tax cuts?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: The member, who has spent much of the last 2 weeks boasting overseas that he will be the next leader of the National Party, has forgotten that his own leader, only last Friday, talked about incremental tax changes.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Does the Minister of Finance remember the Budget of 1998, when $1.1 billion of personal taxes were part of that Budget, and does he recall that it was not a National but a New Zealand First Treasurer who did that?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I well recall that fact. I also remember that in 1999 a National Government, without New Zealand First, legislated for tax cuts, then had to cut New Zealand superannuation to pay for them.
Election Spending—Repayment of Parliamentary Funds
2. Dr DON BRASH (Leader of the Opposition) to the Prime Minister: Does she stand by her statement to the House that “I have made it clear that if spending is within Parliament’s rules, there is no reason to pay it back.”; if so, did she mean that if it is found that spending is not within Parliament’s rules there is reason to pay it back?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK (Prime Minister): Yes; I meant what I said.
Dr Don Brash: Does the Prime Minister maintain the position she has previously expressed in this House that the use of the leader’s budget to fund Labour’s pledge card was parliamentary business and was inside Parliamentary Service rules, or does she now agree with her ministerial colleague Pete Hodgson, who declared the pledge card to be electioneering and said: “If it wasn’t we would put out a pledge card the day after the election not before it.”?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: Of course, as Prime Minister I am not responsible for the parliamentary Labour Party budget in the House.
Darren Hughes: What advice has the Prime Minister received on paying back any outstanding amounts owed to broadcasters from the time of the last general election?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I am aware that the National Party owes $118,000, which it refuses to pay back. If it would only agree to pay the $100,000 fine that goes with it, National could clear that debt to broadcasters, who are hanging out for it.
Dr Don Brash: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I seek leave of the House to introduce the bill that now sits in my name in the ballot in order to enable to the National Party to legally pay back the bill, noting the fact that the money owed is already sitting in a trust account for the payment of that bill.
Hon Dr Michael Cullen: All that means is that the National Party would not have to pay the fine if it is passed.
Hon Members: Pay the fine!
Madam SPEAKER: I did not hear the comment on the point of order. As it is the first day back, members are reminded that they do not interrupt during points of order. Leave is sought. Is there any objection? There is objection.
Dr Don Brash: Does the Prime Minister stand by the statement she made on 14 August that “Parliamentary Service authorised the spending”; if so, how does she reconcile that statement with the documents now available that show that invoices for the pledge card were forwarded to the Parliamentary Service by her chief of staff, Heather Simpson, and were clearly stamped by Ms Simpson “approved for payment”?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I repeat, as Prime Minister I do not have responsibility in the House for the parliamentary Labour Party.
Dr Don Brash: How does she reconcile her earlier statement that the Parliamentary Service authorised the spending with the letter now publicly available in which her chief of staff, Heather Simpson, instructed the payment of the pledge card invoices she had earlier authorised, directing the Parliamentary Service to “kindly ensure that the payments are made without further delay”?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: How asking someone to “kindly ensure” something can be read as a directive beats me.
Dr Don Brash: Can the Prime Minister tell the House how it could possibly be the case that invoices stamped “approved for payment” by her chief of staff, Heather Simpson, and a letter from Ms Simpson to the Parliamentary Service instructing it to pay the bill “without further delay” could possibly be interpreted as suggesting, as she has previously maintained, that the Parliamentary Service authorised the spending?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I repeat: as Prime Minister I have no responsibility in the House for those matters. Dr Brash, however, could authorise payment of $180,000 and pay the $100,000 fine for breaking election spending law.
Dr Don Brash: If the Prime Minister has no responsibility for what her chief of staff does, who authorised Heather Simpson to give those instructions?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: Just as I am sure that the Leader of the Opposition does not get involved in the details of administration in his office, nor do I.
Dr Don Brash: Will the Prime Minister and the Labour Party pay back the taxpayers’ money used to fund the pledge card during the 2005 campaign if the Controller and Auditor-General’s report due out later this week finds that such expenditure was outside the rules; if not, why not?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: The member is well aware that I do not answer for the Labour Party in the House. He, however, could pay the quarter of a million dollars he owes for the election overspend on broadcasting.
Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. Just thinking about the Prime Minister’s answers—or her refusal to answer some of those questions—I wonder whether we could have some clarification of Ms Simpson’s status. Is she employed by the Labour Party—or the Labour Party parliamentary organisation—or is she employed by Ministerial Services as the Prime Minister’s chief of staff?
Hon Dr Michael Cullen: I think that members need to think very carefully about this. There is a distinction between the parliamentary Labour Party and the ministerial role. If that were not so, the Government could ask a string of questions of the Leader of the Opposition about his activities as the leader of the parliamentary National Party—and we would relish the opportunity to do that.
Gerry Brownlee: That is an interesting sort of suggestion from Dr Cullen, but it is somewhat irrelevant. The question here simply is: who does Ms Simpson work for, and in what capacity did she authorise the payment of that money? If it is the case that she works for the Prime Minister as the Prime Minister’s chief of staff—and, therefore, it was a decision made by the Prime Minister—how can the Prime Minister claim that she has no responsibility to answer to this House for this matter?
Madam SPEAKER: In ruling on the point of order, I say it was not a point of order within the terms of the Standing Orders. Of course Ministers are responsible for their staff; the capacity they may work in, however, is a different matter.
Hon Members: What?
Madam SPEAKER: That means that if someone is working as a staff member under ministerial responsibility, then the Minister is responsible. But members also have other capacities and responsibilities that may not fall within the ministerial responsibility. So your question, Mr Brownlee, was an extraordinarily broad one. I am trying to define exactly where the responsibilities lie—whether they are within the ministerial responsibility.
Hon Bill English: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I know that Speakers have not had to give decisions on this matter before, and you may wish to consider what you have just said. We are now in a position in question time where Parliament is expected to accept that a person whose salary is fully appropriated by this Parliament—and it will be a reasonably substantial salary—whose expenses are all paid for by this Parliament, and who appears on the ministerial list as the chief of staff in the Prime Minister’s office is now free from scrutiny by Parliament because, despite her being fully funded by parliamentary appropriation, she is, at times that are selected by the Prime Minister, acting in some other capacity. That does stretch the limits of credibility.
Madam SPEAKER: I am sorry, but that was not the essence of my ruling. If a person is working within a ministerial responsibility and if a staff member is there, then, of course, there is a responsibility.
Hon Bill English: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. The Members’ Handbook of Services, which we understand is a Parliamentary Service publication, makes it quite clear—in fact, it has been changed since the last election—that the member of Parliament is responsible for the use of parliamentary funding for parliamentary activity. That is quite clear. There is no dispute about that; that publication is a publication of Parliament and is accepted by all MPs. In the context of this debate, Madam Speaker, you seem to be putting it to Parliament that a person who authorised money spent under an appropriation by this Parliament cannot be held to account or questioned, because that person did so in his or her role as a functionary in the Labour Party.
Madam SPEAKER: No, that is not what I am saying, Mr English. I am saying that if the person works within a ministerial responsibility, then of course he or she is responsible and the Minister is responsible for those actions.
Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. Surely that, then, would mean that the Prime Minister should answer the question, because—
Madam SPEAKER: Well, I am not sure what the question is, but if the member wishes to put a supplementary question—
Gerry Brownlee: Madam Speaker, we are on a point of order. The point is that your ruling would now seem to mean that the Prime Minister should have answered that question, which was: “Who authorised the expenditure?”.
Madam SPEAKER: But she addressed the question. If the member wishes to re-put the question, I am perfectly happy with that, in the interests of moving on. I will not take it as an extra question, but the member would please—[Interruption] Supplementary question?
Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. The Prime Minister most certainly gave an address to the question, but quite clearly her response was incorrect, according to your ruling. She said she had no responsibility in that matter. Where does that leave the House?
Madam SPEAKER: Thank you. The Prime Minister has responsibility for her office. However, the Prime Minister is not responsible to the House for her actions as leader of the Labour Party and for funding provided through the Parliamentary Service to the parliamentary Labour Party. That is not a line of ministerial responsibility. [Interruption] I am sorry, but that is right. It is a matter I have looked at very carefully. I admit to the member that this matter sometimes highlights the ambiguity of the positions. But that funding goes in that capacity, not in a ministerial capacity.
Climate Change Policies—Greenhouse Gas Emissions
3. NANDOR TANCZOS (Green) to the Minister responsible for Climate Change Issues: Does he stand by his statement that “There is a growing sense of urgency among governments … that action needs to be taken now” on climate change; if so, why will the Government not consider putting in place price-based measures across the economy to reduce greenhouse gas emissions before 2012?
Hon DAVID PARKER (Minister responsible for Climate Change Issues): Yes. The full quote from my speech on Friday is: “There is a growing sense of urgency among governments and—more recently—citizens that action needs to be taken now”. Growing public support has reached such a level that even climate change naysayer Dr Don Brash has decided his party needs a belated makeover on this issue. In respect of price-based issues, we have already signalled price-based measures for electricity generation for before 2012, and we will be advancing detailed options in respect of those measures with the New Zealand Energy Strategy.
Nandor Tanczos: If there is such a sense of urgency, why is a State-owned enterprise pursuing the commissioning of the proposed Marsden B coal-fired power station, which is projected to emit some 1.8 to 2.17 million tonnes of carbon dioxide per year?
Hon DAVID PARKER: Mighty River Power has pursued a Resource Management Act consent; it has not pursued the commissioning or the re-commissioning of that station. I am aware that Might River Power is awaiting the New Zealand Energy Strategy and our proposals in respect of carbon pricing in electricity.
Steve Chadwick: Has the Minister received any reports on a growing consensus on the need to act on climate change?
Hon DAVID PARKER: Yes, I most certainly have received a report that National has had a change of heart on climate change, and I suppose it is better late than never. National now says it supports a “cap and trade” scheme to limit emissions in electricity generation. It says it is interested in joining the Asia-Pacific Partnership on Clean Development and Climate—something the Government is already advancing. National has expressed support for biofuels, building code, and vehicle efficiency measures. These are all Labour-led Government policies. I suppose it was predictable that National would finally want a bob each way, and we hope its votes will now match its new rhetoric.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: Does the Minister accept that his Government’s greenhouse gas policies have failed, as since 1999 coal-fired electricity generation has trebled; major renewable energy projects, like the Aqua and Dobson projects, have been rejected, but new coal, gas, and oil projects—like those at the Marsden B, Huntly ep3, and Whirinaki facilities—have been approved; and when New Zealand emissions have grown at four times the rate of the United States and three times the rate of Australia; and, if that is not failure, can he explain what failure might be?
Hon DAVID PARKER: New Zealand has not built any coal-fired power stations for a long, long time, connected to the grid. I am glad that member is starting to care about climate change. Since last Friday, I have heard his party variously described as the “Donny come-latlies” or “Climate change fair-weather friends”. None the less, I welcome support for climate change policies and think the sincerity of National’s position really will only be shown by its position in votes in the House.
Gordon Copeland: Does he believe that the Permanent Forest Sink Initiative, whilst aiding New Zealand to meet its climate change goals, will also have wider benefits such as improving water quality and stabilising erosion-prone land—both issues that United Future is currently working closely with the Government on?
Hon DAVID PARKER: I do, and I thank the member and other parties for their support on that bill. It is true that many of the wide range of initiatives that we have with climate change benefits also have other substantial benefits. They achieve things that we would want to do anyway, like improving water quality, improving soil conservation, reducing New Zealanders’ electricity bills, reducing how much they have to pay when they fill up at the petrol pump.
Metiria Turei: Is the Minister genuine about his concern expressed on Friday that, unless the Government changes its policy, transport emissions will increase by 45 percent over the next 25 years; if so, would he now like to retract his rather emphatically made statement to me during a select committee hearing that “there is no connection between roading and climate change.”?
Hon DAVID PARKER: I do not remember making that statement in quite those terms. I do agree—because I have produced and released the document that shows it—that under current policy settings, if we do nothing to change the way in which we go about our lives in New Zealand, transport-related greenhouse gas emissions will increase by 45 percent over the next 25 years, and this Government should not, and will not, let that happen. The measures that are required to achieve that will be a combination of changing fuel sources, to the likes of biofuels and plug-in hybrids, in the future, as well as measures to improve the efficiency of the vehicle fleet, in addition to the sixfold increase already that we have had in public transport spending.
Steve Chadwick: What in the National Party’s announcement last week is different from the Labour-led Government’s climate change policy already under way?
Hon Dr Nick Smith: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I would be delighted to answer, as Minster, questions on National’s climate change policy.
Madam SPEAKER: Yes, I agree.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: I would be happy to seek the leave of the House to table those proposals, given that the Government has so few.
Madam SPEAKER: No.
Hon DAVID PARKER: The question asked what the differences were between that policy and Labour Party policy. That must be within the Standing Orders.
Steve Chadwick: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. Could I rephrase the question?
Madam SPEAKER: Please do.
Steve Chadwick: What in previous announcements has been different from this Labour-led Government’s climate change policy that is already under way?
Hon DAVID PARKER: I struggled to find points of new significance in recent announcements, but I did see that National has been calling for a new international negotiation for a post-2012 agreement. It shows that National obviously wants to go and sit in a room and negotiate by itself, because negotiations for post-2012 involving all of the world’s major emitters and New Zealand have been under way for some time. It is actually run by the UN, I say to Dr Smith, which works in a big building in New York, if he wants to go and check.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: Will this Government adopt National’s constructive proposal to “cap and trade” electricity greenhouse emissions now, so as to give an incentive for renewable energy and for forest planting, given the very strong support that this proposal has received from electricity generators, from foresters, and from environmentalists, and how is it possible for him to say that last week’s announcements proposed nothing new, when this is a very significant proposal to address climate change?
Hon DAVID PARKER: Far from being very new and significant, it is but a variant and a narrower version of the carbon tax that National previously opposed. Furthermore, when we announced at the end of last year that we were not proposing to proceed with a broad-based carbon tax, we specifically announced that we were considering the likes of a “cap and trade” in the electricity generation. As I said in response to an earlier question, detailed proposals in respect of that will be released within the next month in the New Zealand Energy Strategy.
Nandor Tanczos: Does the Minister agree that any domestic “cap and trade” system will be effective at reducing greenhouse gas emissions only if the cap is set low and rapidly sinks to the 1990 levels we have committed to under the Kyoto Protocol, and it has to be sufficiently broad to include transport, electricity generation, and agriculture?
Hon DAVID PARKER: The Government has not actually made up its mind as to how broad future price-based measures ought to be, post-2012. There are some difficult issues there. National has already made up its mind. National says it should exempt completely its mates in agriculture. We at least have an open mind on the issue. In respect of how low the cap should be, in my opinion it is most important that we curb marginal growth in emissions. That is the first and easiest step that we should take.
Peter Brown: Will the Minister confirm that carbon taxes were effectively stopped by New Zealand First in its confidence and supply agreement with the Government, the premise being that New Zealanders are already taxed enough, and that given the right guidance the vast majority of them care enough about the environment to work willingly towards addressing greenhouse gas problems?
Hon DAVID PARKER: It is correct that New Zealand First, and indeed United Future, both had as requirements in their agreements with the Government that we review the carbon tax.
Sue Kedgley: Further to his expressed concern about increasing carbon emissions from transport, does he agree that electrifying the remaining sections of the main trunk rail line and encouraging as much freight as possible, as well as passengers, to use it would be one practical way of reducing our transport-related carbon emissions as well as our dependence on oil; if so, will he be encouraging his Government to do this as part of its climate change strategy; if not, why not?
Hon DAVID PARKER: I agree that if that area of rail was electrified it would reduce carbon emissions. That is not to say that it is the most cost-effective carbon-reducing measure that could be taken and I am sure those decisions will be made by the relevant Minister, taking into account climate change considerations.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: I seek the leave of the House to table National’s blue-green vision.
Madam SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection? There is objection.
Election Spending—Law Reform Proposals
4. Hon BILL ENGLISH (National—Clutha-Southland) to the Minister of Justice: What options has the Ministry of Justice proposed in relation to election law reform, and have these been considered by the Cabinet?
Hon MARK BURTON (Minister of Justice): As I have informed the House on previous occasions, I am undertaking a review of the electoral finance regime, focusing on electoral expenses, advertising, and broadcasting. I have not yet put advice to Cabinet.
Hon Bill English: Is the Minister aware that, regardless of what findings the Auditor-General makes regarding the pledge card funding, the Chief Electoral Officer advised the Labour Party before the election that the pledge card counted as electioneering regardless of who funded it, and, therefore, Labour exceeded the campaign expenses limit set by section 214B in the Electoral Act?
Hon MARK BURTON: As I have previously also informed the House, it would be inappropriate for me to comment on what are any legal interpretations made by the Chief Electoral Officer in the course of his duties under the Electoral Act 1993.
Hon Bill English: Is the Minister aware that his Cabinet colleague the Hon Pete Hodgson agreed with the view held by the Chief Electoral Officer that the pledge card counted as a campaign expense—and therefore Labour exceeded the limit on campaign expenses—when Mr Hodgson said: “the public would say that it is clearly for political purposes … of course it is … If it wasn’t we would put out a pledge card the day after the election not before it.”; and when is his party going to start keeping the law instead of trying to change it?
Hon MARK BURTON: As to the latter, I say to Mr English that it is Parliament that makes and changes law; as to the former, no, I am not aware that that is my colleague Mr Hodgson’s view.
Hon Bill English: Is the Minister concerned that when Pete Hodgson said publicly in the Sunday Star-Times that the pledge card was electioneering, he directly contradicted what Labour Party officials told the police when they said that the pledge card was normal parliamentary activity?
Hon MARK BURTON: I am not aware that the comment the member refers to is an accurate reflection of any comment my colleague made.
Hon Bill English: Can the Minister think of any change to the law that would prevent abuse of it by a Minister who says the pledge card was electioneering, by party officials who told the police the opposite—when they said the pledge card was normal parliamentary activity—and by a governing party that blatantly exceeded the campaign expense limit by almost half a million dollars and seems to feel pleased it got away with it?
Hon MARK BURTON: I can think of a number of things that could be done with electoral law to prevent the hiding and channelling of vast amounts of money through mates’ trust accounts.
Hon Dr Michael Cullen: Has the Minister seen any reports indicating any substantive difference in type and nature between the pledge card put out by Labour and the pledge advertisement put out by the National Party when Bill English was leader—except, of course, that we intended to keep our pledges?
Hon MARK BURTON: Save the fact that, indeed, the Labour Party intended to keep both its pledges and its leader, I can see no real difference.
School Students' Performance—Reports
5. MOANA MACKEY (Labour) to the Minister of Education: What recent reports has he received on the performance of New Zealand school students?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY (Minister of Education): Last week I released the 2005 schools report, which shows that, as a result of changes made by the Labour-led Government, we are seeing a steady rise in the proportion of students going directly from school to tertiary education. Fifty-seven percent of students achieved level 2 National Certificate of Educational Achievement or better, which is up from the equivalent of 37 percent in the mid-1990s under the National Government; 32 percent of students gained university entrance or better, which is up from the equivalent of 25 percent under the former National Government; and Kiwi students continue to be the best in the world in reading, mathematics, and science. In other words, it is a very good report card.
Moana Mackey: What does the schools report 2005 show in relation to the financial performance of schools?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: The report shows that the financial position of almost all New Zealand schools continues to improve. In 2005, 94 percent of schools had a healthy working capital, up from 92 percent in 2004, and 64 percent of schools had an operating surplus, compared with 56 percent in 2004. Those changes are a result of Labour’s $4.5 billion-a-year investment in schools, which is up from $3 billion in 1999.
Hon Bill English: Can the Minister confirm that the schools report leaves out such negative information as the fact that 27 percent of 15 or 16-year-olds in New Zealand cannot pass a national standard in literacy and numeracy, and that the real information about school performance sits in the SchoolSmart website but he has banned parents from having easy access to it?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: I can confirm that we have one of the most transparent education systems in the world, and that this is just one of the many sources of information people might like to go to, to learn about their world-class system that Mr English continues to run down. Can I say that any parents listening to this who wish to access SchoolSmart data might like to talk to their schools, which will make that available to them as is appropriate.
Moana Mackey: To what does the Minister attribute the improved level of achievement among New Zealand school students?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: I would say that over the last 6 years this Government has focused on the quality of learning, rather than on the structure of schooling as National did during the 1990s. In other words, we have invested in foundation skills; doubled funding for early childhood education to $750 million a year; put more than $300 million into information and communications technology; invested $90 million a year in professional development; and focused on assessment for learning, rather than assessment of learning as was the style in the 1990s. In other words, this Government has focused on teaching and learning, rather than playing with the system as National did.
Reserve Bank, Governor—Confidence
6. JOHN KEY (National—Helensville) to the Minister of Finance: Does he have confidence in the Governor of the Reserve Bank; if not, why not?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Minister of Finance): Yes. Like the member, I think he is a considerable improvement on his predecessor.
John Key: When the Minister told Bloomberg and the Financial Times that “Some of the markets outside New Zealand have taken what Alan said as a harder message than was Alan’s actual intention,”, is he telling us that the governor did not accurately communicate that the risk of an interest rate hike in New Zealand had indeed increased?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Overseas markets had read what Dr Bollard said as if a rate rise was imminent, and that clearly was not what Dr Bollard said. I quote what I actually said to Bloomberg—one of the few quotes they have got—“The general consensus is that rates will not be raised, but that the beginning of the easing part of the cycle has been pushed off further into next year, possibly even into early 2008.” That is the general consensus view, which is all I ever say on these matters.
John Key: Does the Minister think it cuts across the independence of the Reserve Bank when he, as Minister of Finance, starts acting as some sort of global interpreter for the Governor of the Reserve Bank; surely in a world where monetary policy is set by the independent Governor of the Reserve Bank, if the governor thinks he is being misinterpreted, would not he go and correct that, or does he send the Minister off as some sort of global interpreter to sort it out?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: When somebody puts a question to me offshore that implies that the Governor of the Reserve Bank said that a rates rise is imminent, it is actually incumbent on me as Minister of Finance to correct that person. Unlike that member, I stand for New Zealand manufacturers and New Zealand farmers, not for international money market players.
John Key: Does he think a governor who chooses his every adjective with extreme care would appreciate the Minister going off the cuff with his thoughts about the chances of a Reserve Bank interest rate hike, then declaring “I think that’s really what the bank was saying.”?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: The member clearly has not listened to a single answer so far. Questions were put to me that stated quite clearly that the Reserve Bank was about to raise rates at the next, or at least one after, actions. That is clearly not what the Reserve Bank was saying in its last Monetary Policy Statement. As I used to, somewhat unwillingly at times, back up the previous Governor of the Reserve Bank, I do so with the current Governor of the Reserve Bank.
John Key: Were his statements not, in fact, a shot across the bow of the Governor of the Reserve Bank, via Bloomberg and the Financial Times, that he does not want to see an interest rate hike, given that that was exactly the strategy he played 2 years ago when he went offshore and started making declarations about interest rate hikes that time as well?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I will try to explain it again for the poor member. Overseas commentators had interpreted the Reserve Bank’s statement as meaning a rate rise was imminent. To quote again what I said—[Interruption] If the member would just shut up for a minute. Some of the markets outside New Zealand have taken what Alan said as a harder message than was Alan’s actual intention.
Madam SPEAKER: We did have an understanding last time that members would be heard. If they are not heard, then we get reactions like the House has just heard. I ask the Minister to please address the question and for other members to please respect that answer by enabling it to be heard.
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I will quote again what I said. Some of the markets outside New Zealand have taken what Alan said as a harder message than was Alan’s actual intention. The ANZ commentary was so prissy that it thought that calling Dr Bollard “Alan” was somehow an entrenchment upon his independence. Well, Don, it is not so.
John Key: How long would inflation have to stay above the 3 percent target—given it has been there for already a year, and given that the Governor of the Reserve Bank said it would be there, in his estimation, for at least a further year—before the Minister of Finance thought that the governor was outside of the policy target agreements?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: That is primarily a matter for the Governor of the Reserve Bank and for the board of the Reserve Bank, which, as the member’s leader could instruct him, is responsible for the monitoring of the governor’s performance, and it reports to the Minister of Finance.
North Korean Nuclear Test—New Zealand Response
7. PITA PARAONE (NZ First) to the Minister of Foreign Affairs: What has been New Zealand’s response to reports of North Korea conducting a nuclear test?
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS (Minister of Foreign Affairs): Madam Speaker—[Interruption] I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I have not even got to start my answer before one or two impertinent members over there call me by my first name, and given how junior they are they should not be doing that—let alone the other Standing Orders we have in this House. Could you possibly ask them to desist, so that we can get on with what is a very serious matter and answer this question?
Madam SPEAKER: Would members please restrain themselves so that we can get through question time with members being heard. I call the Rt Hon Winston Peters.
David Bennett: Spiderman!
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: Now the bald one is at it again. Madam Speaker, when you were making that ruling he started again.
Madam SPEAKER: Will the member please be seated. I will just remind members of the rules. In fact, interjections are permitted; barracking is not. Members are to be respected. They are to be heard when they both ask questions and answer questions. Would those members who persistently interject in that way please be on notice that they will be asked to leave the House if that disruptive behaviour continues. Would the Rt Hon Winston Peters please address the question. [Interruption]
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. Now Judith Collins decides she will join this—
Judith Collins: Point of order, Madam Speaker.
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: Sit down! I am on my feet.
Madam SPEAKER: Would you both sit down and we will start again. A comment was made by Paula Bennett. I did not hear a comment from Judith Collins. There may have been a mishearing—[Interruption] Yes, I am sorry, Ms Bennett, but you did make a comment—I saw you and I heard you. I ask members for the last time to please put themselves under control so that we can get the Minister to address this question. [Interruption]
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. There they go again. With respect, this is a serious matter, and I think they should be required not to break the rules of this House. Lockwood Smith is doing it right now—he has no right to be talking when a point of order is being made. If that is going to go on, I do not know why there is seemingly a special set of rules for those members, who speak in unison—at least 10 at a time—when serious questions are being asked and answered in this House. You have already told those members twice, and they started back again—Lockwood Smith in particular, and he cannot deny it. He is meant to be a member who has been around here for a time.
Madam SPEAKER: I do not need any more comment on this. This is becoming—[Interruption] Please be seated! I ask members to please refrain. Mr Peters, members are entitled to interject when questions and answers are being given. They are not, however, entitled ever to use unparliamentary language. I did not hear any unparliamentary language. So would you please—
Nandor Tanczos: Point of order.
Madam SPEAKER: I have not finished. I would now like—unless there is a totally new point of order—the Minister to address the question. We have almost forgotten what the question is. Now, a point of order from Nandor Tanczos—and it had better be a point of order.
Nandor Tanczos: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. My point of order is just to ask you to clarify that you will be applying the same rules to Mr Peters, whose interjections—
Madam SPEAKER: Yes, of course. So would the Minister please address the question.
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. With respect, if that was the view of the member who has just resumed his seat, then he should have said so then, and not made some contemptible attempt to get even now. That is what the Standing Orders state—raise it at the first instance. Now I will get on to the answer.
Madam SPEAKER: Thank you.
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: New Zealand utterly condemns North Korea’s claims of having conducted a nuclear test—[Interruption]
Judith Collins: Oh, come on!
Madam SPEAKER: Would the member please restrain herself. We need the answer to this question. Mr Peters, would you please continue to address the question.
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I am very happy to continue, but in the way that these members deserve. If they want a free-for-all, they will get it. But we have rules in this House, and those members should be abiding by them.
Madam SPEAKER: They are abiding by them at the moment. But would the member please address the question.
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: New Zealand utterly condemns North Korea’s claims of having conducted a nuclear test.
Judith Collins: Point of order, Madam Speaker.
Madam SPEAKER: We now have another point of order. I am sorry, Mr Peters, would you please be seated.
Sandra Goudie: Was this a question for Mr Speakers, Madam Speaker?
Madam SPEAKER: I do not know what the member is saying.
Sandra Goudie: I beg your pardon, Madam Speaker.
Madam SPEAKER: If members want to make interventions, please consider them before speaking. Now would the Rt Hon Winston Peters please address the question.
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: That has been the precise origin of the problem! Such action is inconsistent with the behaviour expected of a State seeking security under guarantees from the international community. Overnight, New Zealand’s disarmament ambassador at the UN conveyed those views during the general debate of the UN General Assembly’s first committee on disarmament.
Pita Paraone: What measures might New Zealand take against North Korea?
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: We will not be taking National’s traditional measure of sending a boat or a plane—the Carter position, from down south. New Zealand supports a firm international response that addresses North Korea’s unacceptable behaviour while avoiding further deterioration of the situation.
Gerry Brownlee: What does that mean?
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: What it means is what I said. If the woodwork teacher could keep quiet for 5 seconds, maybe his colleagues would be better informed. What it means, Mr Brownlee, is that the Government is taking a responsible position and not the five different positions the National Party has had in the last 5 years. [Interruption] We will not have it over by lunchtime—[Interruption] No, it will not be over by lunchtime, but we are working closely with others—
Gerry Brownlee: What does the third position mean?
Madam SPEAKER: Would the member please restrain himself to enable the question to be addressed.
Pita Paraone: Point of order—
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: I have heard—
Madam SPEAKER: Would both members please be seated. I am tempted to say: “Let’s go back and start again.” Members, this is an important issue, so please enable the Minister to address the question on what is to be done.
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: A firm position is not the shoehorn with which he gets himself into his seat every morning. We are working closely with others to identify actions that will deliver an unequivocal message to North Korea that it must stop its nuclear weapons programme and return to the six-party talks—a position I discussed last night with the Secretary of State from the United States.
Darren Hughes: Has the Minister received any reports or advice on firm positions on nuclear testing from any other organisations in New Zealand?
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: Not in the context of political parties, other than to say that it was my understanding that every political party in this country supported New Zealand’s present non-nuclear position, but there is one party that cannot make up its mind and keeps changing it every campaign.
Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. The Minister has addressed the question, but he has told us how serious this matter is. Why can he not tell us what he is going to do?
Madam SPEAKER: That is not a point of order.
Elective Surgery—Additional Funding
8. Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN (National—Northcote) on behalf of Hon TONY RYALL (National—Bay of Plenty) to the Minister of Health: What assurances can he give that the Government’s recently announced funding for 10,000 extra elective procedures each year will deliver that extra elective surgery, and why?
Hon PETE HODGSON (Minister of Health): Before the Government’s announcements, all district health boards were consulted and all indicated that they could perform more surgery if they received more funding. In the coming months district health boards will set targets for increased delivery of elective surgery and we will be able to say what types of surgery will be boosted in what regions.
Dr Jonathan Coleman: Can the Minister confirm that in the first year of the Labour Government 98,000 New Zealanders got elective surgery, but 6 years and $4 billion later just over 95,000 individuals got elective surgery, and what makes him think that $50 million a year will buy more surgery when $4 billion per year bought less?
Hon PETE HODGSON: If the member wishes to compare the last year of his Government with the current year of this Government, he will find that 6,000 more New Zealanders are getting surgery now. When this policy is implemented, 16,000 more New Zealanders will be getting surgery than are getting it now, and that is not counting the so-called non-admitted patient database that we have only just started collecting.
Ann Hartley: What reports has the Minister received on alternative approaches to managing the elective surgical system?
Hon PETE HODGSON: I have seen one report that says that delaying surgery for longer than the Government policy of 6 months will lead to dangerous complications, and that our main concern should be to see “operations performed as soon as possible”. I have seen a second report that the 6-month policy for elective surgery was designed for cynical political purposes and is merely playing with statistics. The first report is from Dr Don Brash and is the stated policy of the National Party. The second report is from National’s health spokesperson, Tony Ryall, who apparently is not yet familiar with his party’s views on this issue.
Barbara Stewart: Can the Minister assure all New Zealanders that the restructuring of pathology services currently being carried out by several district health boards will not result in poorer quality or delayed diagnoses, which in turn would impact on the performance of extra elective surgery?
Hon PETE HODGSON: The member should be aware—and I would be happy to give her further detail—that the quality of laboratory services, whether community pathology or hospital pathology—is the bottom line that may not be breached.
Dr Jonathan Coleman: How does the number of New Zealanders promised extra operations through this funding compare with the number of New Zealanders who have already been culled from waiting lists this year?
Hon PETE HODGSON: Just from memory, and just roughly, about 4,000 New Zealanders were returned to general practitioners this year without receiving surgery. A little over 100,000—
Dr Jonathan Coleman: 28,000!
Hon PETE HODGSON: I have the answer. The member asked the question. If the member has the answer, he did not need to bother asking the question, did he? Here comes the answer. Just over 100,000 New Zealanders got surgery. Around 4,000—
Madam SPEAKER: Members will be leaving the Chamber unless members can be heard.
Hon PETE HODGSON: A little over 100,000 New Zealanders received elective surgical services this year—they got their operations. About 4,000 people, or a little over, were returned to their general practitioners without getting their operations, and about 10,000 extra people will be getting their operations from this policy.
Heather Roy: How many of the 10,000 extra operations promised will be allocated for surgery for breast cancer sufferers, when surgery could have been avoided had Pharmac followed the lead of many other OECD countries and funded Herceptin; or are financial considerations the Minister’s No. 1 priority, and alleviating pain and suffering second?
Hon PETE HODGSON: I answer that question gently by saying that it was a number sufficiently small that we did not think it was worth a $30 million per annum investment.
Dr Jonathan Coleman: What has forced the Minister to change his opinion from previous months, when he said: “we have reason to be confident in the overall state of elective surgery.”, and when he called critics of the level of elective surgery “crisis mongers”; is it bad polling, or facing the fact that under his watch 28,000 New Zealanders have been culled from waiting lists?
Hon PETE HODGSON: When people say of the New Zealand health system that it is “rotten to the core” or “fundamentally flawed” or use language of that ilk, I happily respond and defend our health system. However, the point at stake is that we can either provide good services to the population of New Zealand or we can go ahead with reckless tax cuts. We had an election about that a year ago; we won. [Interruption]
Madam SPEAKER: I tell members that comments like that across the Chamber start to cause disorder from both sides. Would members please settle.
Dr Jonathan Coleman: Can the Minister confirm that the health budget increased by $750 million last year, but that the number of patients getting elective surgery actually fell by 2,000 people; would he explain why he thinks spending $50 million will see 10,000 additional people get elective surgery every year?
Hon PETE HODGSON: Because I am buying centrally and because I am paying on delivery.
Dr Jonathan Coleman: What is worse for the Minister—being ridiculed by the doctors because they have lost confidence in him, being ridiculed by the public because they do not believe him, or being ridiculed by his own back-benchers because they no longer respect him?
Hon PETE HODGSON: I might respond by asking when the member stopped beating his wife. The long and short of it is that New Zealand has a very good health system, and under this Government it is getting better.
9. Dr PITA SHARPLES (Co-Leader—Māori Party) to the Minister of Immigration: What is his response to the statement from Sealord’s Chief Executive, Doug McKay, that the Government’s recent proposals to intervene in arrangements with foreign-chartered fishing vessels “will threaten Sealord’s viability, punish the fishing industry in general, and hurt the New Zealand economy”?
Hon RUTH DYSON (Minister of Labour) on behalf of the Minister of Immigration: The Government is aware of the views of the fishing industry, and those views were taken into account by Cabinet in reaching the decision announced yesterday. That decision was that the minimum wage would be paid with no deductions below that level, with increases to that rate over time. There would be a guarantee from a New Zealand company to ensure accountability, employment disputes would be settled in New Zealand, and a mandatory code of practice for minimum working and living conditions would be implemented. The fishing industry is important to our economy, but it cannot be built on the exploitation, mistreatment, underpayment, and abuse of foreign crews. The wage adjustments required under the new rules for foreign fishing crews are modest and will take effect over time.
Dr Pita Sharples: Has the Minister received any advice from iwi that the Government’s proposals will have a disproportionate effect on Māori-owned fisheries quota; if so, what advice has he received from the chairman of Te Ohu Kai Moana, the Māori fisheries commission?
Hon RUTH DYSON: Yes, those views were received, and were considered by Cabinet, but there was no justification at all for making an exception to the requirement, so that iwi-based companies, as opposed to other organisations, could pay foreign crew fishing in New Zealand waters less than the minimum wage.
Georgina Beyer: Why is the Government requiring increases in minimum pay for foreign fishing crew?
Hon RUTH DYSON: Immigration policy requires that all temporary migrant workers in New Zealand are paid market rates for their work, not just the minimum wage. This is to protect New Zealand workers by ensuring that their terms and conditions and employment opportunities are not undercut.
Peter Brown: Noting those answers, can the Minister provide the House with one good, sound reason why he should permit foreign labour to be employed at less than the minimum wage on fishing vessels operating within our economic zone, and not do the same for shore-based industries?
Hon RUTH DYSON: I think the member has made an extremely valid point in his question. There is no justification at all for paying any workers employed in New Zealand situations less than the minimum wage. That is the new requirement and it will be enforced by our Government.
Te Ururoa Flavell: Tēnā koe, Madam Speaker; kia ora tātou. Could the Minister explain which New Zealand companies are not paying the minimum wage to crews on foreign-chartered vessels, and what action is he taking against those companies?
Hon RUTH DYSON: No information has been provided as to abuse of the current requirement to pay the minimum wage, although it is clear from the representations from the industry that the deductions that were made to the pay of foreign crew actually brought their level of payment to below the minimum wage. It is also clear from the information provided by representatives of the fishing industry that the costs that they calculate the new requirements would impose on them can be accurate only if, in fact, they are now paying under the minimum wage, which is not allowed under the current rules.
Dr Pita Sharples: What consultation has been undertaken with the Minister of Māori Affairs, and what has his response been to the claims from Māori involved in the fishing industry that unwarranted Government interference in arrangements with foreign-chartered fishing vessels will render many iwi businesses marginal or uneconomic?
Hon RUTH DYSON: Industry consultation has been ongoing for over 18 months. As I indicated in the answer to a previous supplementary question, the views expressed by the member in his primary question were considered carefully by Cabinet as part of our decision-making process.
Violent Offences—Increase in Number Reported
10. SIMON POWER (National—Rangitikei) to the Minister of Police: Can she confirm that the number of violent offences has increased by one quarter, from 40,090 to 50,644, since 2000?
Hon PHIL GOFF (Minister of Defence) on behalf of the Minister of Police: Yes. Recorded violent offences per 10,000 of population, however, remained relatively static over most of the period—in fact, falling slightly from 2000-01 to 2004-05, but increasing in the 2005-06 year.
Simon Power: How can she claim that an increase, to around 140 violent offences a day, comes down to better reporting, when detective inspector Steve Rutherford of Counties-Manukau Police District told the New Zealand Herald last month, “… the reality is [violence] has escalated …”, “Domestics are becoming more violent.”, and the violence inflicted by young offenders has increased as they are more likely to be armed with “… [pieces] of wood, hammers, axes, firearms, knives, baseballs bats”—or does she know better than a front-line officer with 34 years’ experience?
Hon PHIL GOFF: The police advise me that by far the fastest-growing rate of crime is, sadly, in domestic violence. It is growing at twice the rate of other violent crime. But the police have also advised me—and the member can see this himself from the statistics—that there are particular times in our history when domestic violence has surged at remarkable levels, not so much, we think, because there has been an increase in the actual offending but because there has been much better follow-up by the police and much better legislation. [Interruption] The member can say that, but he may recall that in 1993-94, under the last National Government, for 2 years in a row violent crime went up by 25 percent. That was a result, predominantly, of offending in the domestic violence area. Fortunately, today people regard domestic violence as being no less serious than violence in the community. There is better reporting of it and the police have better procedures now to ensure that when crime happens in the home, it is reported.
Jill Pettis: What further reports has the Minister received on the change in overall recorded crime per 10,000 population over the last decade?
Hon PHIL GOFF: Crime over the last decade is set out very clearly in the New Zealand crime statistics. They show that recorded criminal offences over the last decade have declined not only in absolute terms—from 482,000 to 426,000—but even more sharply when calculated, as the member asked, per 10,000 head of population. Overall, per capita reported crime over the last 10 years has, in fact, declined by a remarkable 19 percent—from 1,285 per 10,000 to 1,035 per 10,000. That is a pretty good record.
Heather Roy: How many of the 1,000 extra police promised by this Government will be based in Northland—an area currently with just 3.5 percent of total police officers—to combat violent crime, which has increased by over 24 percent in that region in the last year?
Hon PHIL GOFF: As the member suggests, there will be an additional 1,250 police staff—1,000 of them being front-line officers. That is the biggest increase in police staffing in the history of this country. Of course, the allocation of the police force is not done by politicians; it is done by the Commissioner of Police. It is done on the basis of criteria that place front-line police officers where they are most needed.
Simon Power: How does the Minister reconcile her view that a 6.9 percent increase in overall crime over the past year is due to better reporting with the view of her predecessor, George Hawkins, who last year stated that claims of under-reporting were “intemperate, misleading, and just plain wrong” and who also stated: “The methodology around recording and presenting crime figures is transparent and rigorous.”; who is right: her or Mr Hawkins?
Hon PHIL GOFF: I recall with some amusement that last year, when there was a more than 7 percent decline in the crime rate, National members would not accept the methodology. But whenever crime rates go up, suddenly they do accept the methodology. They should be consistent for one year after the other. [Interruption]
Madam SPEAKER: I do not need any assistance from members. That goes for members on both sides, I must say.
Simon Power: Does the Minister stand by her statement last week that the 6.9 percent increase in recorded offences in the last year had been well signalled and was not a surprise; if so, on what specific occasions has she told the public of New Zealand that crime was increasing on her watch?
Hon PHIL GOFF: She was absolutely right that it was well signalled. Somebody from the police leaked the information to the Sunday Star-Times.
Chester Borrows: Is the Minister at all concerned at a leaked email from Counties-Manukau area commander Steve Shortland to police headquarters that expresses concern about a major build-up of unassigned files, including 900 serious cases, and that states that the police’s ability to respond to the next major event is severely restricted, when in March last year an audit of unassigned files was ordered after the Minister admitted there were 1,134 unassigned cases in Counties-Manukau—or has nothing actually been done about that since then?
Hon PHIL GOFF: The police commissioner assigns staff where the need is greatest, and the police commissioner is very happy that he has 1,000 extra front-line police staff that he will be able to assign. When Chester Borrows was a member of the police force, he will recall that the National Government was planning to cut police numbers by 540, after wasting $100 million on a failed computer scheme.
Ron Mark: Will the Minister not accept that much of the violence that has now been reported in homes is a direct result of drug use, drug abuse, and drugs that have been distributed by gangs, and does he recall that in 1996 both he and Mike Moore said that 80 percent of the illegal drugs in New Zealand were distributed by gangs; if so, can he tell the House what this Government intends to do about gangs in this country?
Hon PHIL GOFF: I have a couple of points. Firstly, if the member reads the police commissioner’s statement, he will see that the drug that most worries the police is the drug called alcohol. That drug is regarded in every district as being the primary factor behind any increase in violence. Secondly, of course the member, and every member in this House, knows that drugs like methamphetamine make people more violent. The member knows full well that there is an increase in the number of clan-labs that have been set up—they are being very effective. Indeed, if the member looks at the police statistics for this year, he will see that the police have increased the amount of time spent on drug enforcement by 8 percent. That is a pretty good track record.
Simon Power: Can the Minister confirm that the number of violent offences remained relatively constant from 1997 to 2000—at about the 40,000 mark—but that over the next 5 years, under her stewardship, the number of violent offences increased to over 45,000, and in the last year it has increased to 50,644; does she agree that those statistics reflect a real increase in violent crime, or does she subscribe to the excuse put by assistant commissioner Grant Nicholls on National Radio that it is all because the police have changed their computer?
Hon PHIL GOFF: I need to defend the assistant commissioner.
Simon Power: Someone has to.
Hon PHIL GOFF: Well, it is easy for a member in this House to attack a public servant who cannot answer back. But if the member wants to know the answer rather than to just use political rhetoric, I will tell him. The basis on which the assistant commissioner said that was that a totally new computer system is in place now: the National Intelligence Application, which has replaced the Law Enforcement System. He will note that the bulk of the increase in violent crime came in one month: the first month in which the new computer system was set up. On that basis the assistant commissioner made that remark, and I think he was justified in doing so.
Elective Surgery—Access Improvements
11. MARYAN STREET (Labour) to the Minister of Health: What work does the Government have under way to improve access to elective surgery?
Hon PETE HODGSON (Minister of Health): I announced last week that the Labour-led Government will invest $200 million more over 4 years to provide elective surgery to an additional 10,000 New Zealanders each year. In addition, the Government’s historic health capital investment will see the opening of 22 additional operating theatres over the next 4 years. This sort of investment is possible only when a Government puts the health of families above reckless, unaffordable tax cuts.
Maryan Street: Will more funding alone be adequate to deliver the extra surgery?
Hon PETE HODGSON: No, it will not. That is why this Government is implementing a programme of elective surgery policy reform, alongside its investment of $200 million. These reforms will see district health boards being able to pay general practitioners to perform minor surgery, will mandate the setting of clear targets for increased delivery, and will involve clinicians closely in determining ways to make better use of our operating theatres.
Immigration, Minister—Ministerial Discretion
12. Dr the Hon LOCKWOOD SMITH (National—Rodney) to the Minister of Immigration: Does he stand by his statement in the House on 20 July 2006 that “The Minister of Immigration is accountable for decisions being made when ministerial discretion is being exercised.”?
Hon CLAYTON COSGROVE (Associate Minister of Immigration) on behalf of the Minister of Immigration: Yes.
Dr the Hon Lockwood Smith: Is it correct that the then Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Phil Goff, wrote to the Associate Minister of Immigration in 2004 requesting reconsideration of the case of Mr Thomas Yadegary, an Iranian asylum seeker now imprisoned in Mount Eden Prison without charge for 23 months; if that is so, does he agree with the detailed arguments made by Mr David Cunliffe MP in his 3-page letter of November 2004 supporting Mr Goff’s request for reconsideration of the granting of permanent residence to Mr Yadegary; if not, what was wrong with Mr Cunliffe’s detailed arguments?
Hon CLAYTON COSGROVE: I am advised that, as all members make representations on individuals, before becoming Minister if Immigration the member for New Lynn, Mr Cunliffe, made a representation to the then Associate Minister of Immigration, on behalf of Mr Yadegary, based on “the belief Mr Yadegary holds that he will be subject to persecution” if returned to Iran. The then Associate Minister of Immigration made his decision not to intervene, based on all relevant information. I am also in possession of a letter from the member for Rodney, the Hon Dr Lockwood Smith, who, when Mr Yadegary wrote to Mr Goff seeking his support, which Mr Goff, on advice, declined, also included a copy of the letter from the Hon Dr Lockwood Smith to Mr Yadegary, where the Hon Dr Lockwood Smith declined to make representations on Mr Yadegary’s behalf.
Hon Phil Goff: Did the member understand that question to mean that Dr Smith was criticising Mr Goff for taking up a case on behalf of a person referred to Mr Goff by Dr Smith?
Hon CLAYTON COSGROVE: Correct.
Dr the Hon Lockwood Smith: Does he agree with Mr David Cunliffe MP that Thomas Yadegary “has a plausible case”; that he “can expect to face severe repression in Iran”; and that the decision of the Refugee Status Appeals Authority to deny Mr Yadegary refugee status is inconsistent with precedent whereby a refugee status was granted in refugee appeal 72323/00 because the individual in question would not hide his or her religious beliefs; and if he does not agree, what was wrong with Mr Cunliffe’s argument?
Hon CLAYTON COSGROVE: I restate the fact that when Mr Cunliffe wrote that, he was not Minister of Immigration; he took a representation, as all members do, and dealt with it on the basis of that representation. Can I say, for the record in a general sense, that Mr Yadegary has on numerous occasions taken advantage of all New Zealand’s generous processes. Forgive the length of this answer, Madam Speaker. For instance, there have been three refugee status grants appeals, three Refugee Status Appeals Authority appeals, one Removal Review Authority appeal, six ministerial representations, and two High Court judicial reviews. He failed on all counts—
Dr the Hon Lockwood Smith: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. Had I asked the Minister what processes Mr Yadegary had gone through, that would have been a perfectly acceptable answer. But I did not; I asked the Minister very specifically what was wrong with the arguments about the Refugee Status Appeals Authority decision that David Cunliffe put to the Minister in 2004.
Madam SPEAKER: The Minister was addressing the question at great length, and I will not ask him to repeat it.
Dr the Hon LOCKWOOD SMITH: Does he agree with Mr David Cunliffe MP that although the Refugee Status Appeals Authority set a precedent in refugee appeal 74549/02, that Muslim converts to Christianity may be deported if they practise their faith in secret and their family will support this secrecy, Mr Thomas Yadegary should be granted permanent residence as an exception to policy, because his own family is hostile to his conversion to Christianity and will not protect him, thereby exposing him to “significant risk of persecution”; and if he does not agree with Mr Cunliffe’s argument, what was wrong with Mr Cunliffe’s argument?
Hon CLAYTON COSGROVE: What I say is that Mr Cunliffe made that representation as a member of Parliament, as we all do, and treated the representation on its merits. New Zealand relies—
Dr the Hon Lockwood Smith: What was wrong with the argument?
Hon CLAYTON COSGROVE: The member wanted an answer; he will get one. New Zealand relies on advice from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in respect of the appropriateness of repatriating foreign nationals to countries. There has been no advice from that organisation that indicating repatriation to Iran is inappropriate. I also quote the words of one Simon Laurent, convenor of the Auckland District Law Society’s immigration refugee committee, who stated in the New Zealand Herald today: “He [Mr Yadegary] has been through the legal process. He has legally exercised his rights. He’s failed. If he chooses to remain, then he has to choose to remain in custody.”
Dr the Hon Lockwood Smith: Does he agree with Mr David Cunliffe MP that the Refugee Status Appeals Authority has been inconsistent not only in not following its own precedent but also in its reasoning, given that it accepted that Mr Yadegary would not hide his religious beliefs, yet it declined his appeal, on the grounds that if no one found out about his conversion to Christianity, including his family, which is already hostile to that conversion, he would avoid the attention of the Iranian authorities; and if he does agree with Mr Cunliffe, will he intervene to grant permanent residence, as was advocated by both Mr Cunliffe and Mr Goff?
Hon CLAYTON COSGROVE: In making these decisions, all representations from all individuals are considered, and the facts, together with the many processes that Mr Yadegary has gone through, together with the advice from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, which has said that it has received no advice that says it is inappropriate to repatriate Iran nationals to Iran. If the member is suggesting that we throw out every transparent process that the department has, put our finger in the air and take a best guess, then he is entitled to that policy position. That is not mine.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Is the Minister concerned about the implications this may hold for other pending deportation cases—that is, where the proposed deportee refuses to sign an application for a passport—and would that also influence a recent case where somebody is way beyond $2 million of the taxpayer’s money, should it come to the question of an application for a passport?
Hon CLAYTON COSGROVE: Whilst it would not be appropriate for me to comment on the latter part of the question for obvious reasons, yes I am concerned, because if we do not deal with these cases in the appropriate manner—that is, go through appeals, representations, the Refugee Status Appeals Authority, the Refugee Status Board, ministerial representations, High Court judicial reviews, and, ultimately, also taking the advice of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees—and were to move away from that process and simply take a best guess, then, indeed, we could have a proliferation of people who choose to walk around the system, by destroying papers and falsely claiming they may be injured, or worse, if they were repatriated.