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Questions And Answers - 11 October 2006

Questions And Answers - Wednesday, 11 October 2006

Questions to Ministers

Election Advertising—Meetings, Auditor-General

1. Dr DON BRASH (Leader of the Opposition) to the Prime Minister: Has she, her Ministers, or any member of her ministerial staff met with the Controller and Auditor-General in relation to his inquiry into election advertising; if so, what was the purpose of those meetings?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK (Prime Minister): I have had no such meetings with the Auditor-General, nor have Ministers or staff met with him in their ministerial or portfolio related capacities.

Dr Don Brash: Does the Prime Minister stand by her statement of 23 September that for the Controller and Auditor-General to report exercising his Controller’s function would be “an inappropriate use of the Controller’s power”, and what is the response to the fact that Mr Brady has done exactly that anyway?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: How the Controller and Auditor-General chooses to report is entirely a matter for his judgment.

Dr Don Brash: What influence was the Prime Minister seeking to have when she responded to the draft finding of the Controller and Auditor-General that Labour’s pledge card had been unlawfully paid for from her parliamentary budget, by stating that “He has a serious credibility problem.”?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I have constantly drawn attention to the need for fairness, consistency, and natural justice, and pointed out that even political parties are entitled to that.

Dr Don Brash: What did the Prime Minister mean when she said in the Dominion Post of 22 September that the Controller and Auditor-General needed to “go back to the drawing board.”?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: The Auditor-General put up draft views, which the National Party leaked. No doubt he has been considering his views since then.

Dr Don Brash: Does the Prime Minister have confidence in Kevin Brady as Controller and Auditor-General; if not, why not?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: It is not my position to express judgment one way or another on a man who I understand is an Officer of Parliament.

Fiscal Policy—Advice

2. SHANE JONES (Labour) to the Minister of Finance: What advice has he received on fiscal policy?

Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I put it to you that this question is completely out of order. If the process that goes into questions each day is considered, one finds there is a requirement that those asking questions take down some verification to back up their questions. Michael Cullen has been Minister of Finance for far too long—7-odd years—and in that time would have received, I am sure, an enormous amount of fiscal policy advice. I wonder why the Labour Party appears to have got away with not turning up with absolute truckloads of advice and with perhaps being able to pin it down to one small bit of advice, without being specific about what it is.

Madam SPEAKER: That is not a point of order.

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Minister of Finance): Recently there have been a number of warnings about any large loosening of fiscal policy. Most recently, those have come from Standard and Poor’s, and also from Fitch Ratings and New Zealand private sector commentators. Those views are consistent with Treasury advice. They occur against the background of a very large current account deficit—nearly 10 percent of GDP—inflationary pressures, a tight labour market, and rising business confidence.

Shane Jones: What other reports has he received suggesting an alternative fiscal policy?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I have seen a report that suggested an approach of incremental tax reform and not big bang tax cuts, on the basis that “we will not be sacrificing valuable public services to lower taxes”, and I welcome that endorsement from Dr Brash. I have also seen a suggestion by Mr Key that taxes should be cut by $11.5 billion a year. In the absence of corresponding expenditure cuts—more than the entire spend on health—that would lead to gross debt rising from $36 billion now to $105 billion over the next 5 years. Twenty years of fiscal effort would be thrown away in a mere 5.

John Key: Has the Minister seen the comments of the former Deutsche Bank chief economist Ulf Schoefisch, who used the Dominion Post recently to describe him as “presiding over one of the most extreme approaches to fiscal strategy in the OECD.”; or does he just consider that to be an ideological burp, in the same way that he considers all the advice he gets from Treasury?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: No; I often respect the views expressed by Mr Schoefisch. He is an excellent economist in many respects, but he also tends to criticise the Reserve Bank, and has done so for many years, as I am sure Dr Brash will recollect.

Gordon Copeland: Is he satisfied that the burgeoning fiscal surplus meets one of the preconditions that will enable the business tax reductions and additional rebates for charitable gifts originally proposed by United Future, and now included in the confidence and supply agreement, to proceed; if not, why not?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: At this point, no, I am afraid I am not. It should be noted that the surplus for 2005-06, as a portion of GDP, is slightly lower than it was in 2004-05. But, more important, there is considerable doubt about the revenue track on the forward path, and that is what counts in terms of the scope of any tax cuts that will come into force on 1 April 2008.

Dr Don Brash: Does the Minister recall saying in a speech to a Hong Kong business audience in early 2000 that he favoured a company tax reduction as soon as fiscal conditions allowed; if a surplus of $11.5 billion in the latest year is not sufficient fiscal headroom to enable a company tax cut, what fiscal surplus would be needed to make that feasible?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: First of all, of course, a simple accounting change in revenue accruals, which accounts for $1.8 billion of that, should be completely ignored. Second, I am quite sure that if the member, after he is overthrown by Mr Key, should ever get back near to being a central bank governor, he would recognise that in a situation of inflationary pressures he would not favour a loosening of fiscal policy.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I ask the Minister, having regard to the alarming deficit, in his consideration of future tax cuts will he focus on the need to assist exporters more than any other group in this country, given, as I say, the deficit that we currently have?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I think that that is a very important consideration. It is interesting that the commentary on the business taxation review so far has tended not to represent well the views of exporters and those engaged in research and development, but basically to represent the views of the foreign-owned service sector, which simply takes profits out of the country.

Economy—Operating Surplus

3. JOHN KEY (National—Helensville) to the Minister of Finance: How large was the Government’s operating surplus in the 2005-06 financial year?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Minister of Finance): The operating balance excluding revaluations and accounting changes, which is the best measure, was $8.65 billion, or 5.5 percent of GDP. This compares with 5.9 percent of GDP in 2004-05.

John Key: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I made it quite clear in my question, which the Minister has had quite a number of hours to prepare an answer to, that I was asking what the Government’s operating surplus was, not what the operating balance excluding revaluations and accounting changes was. I would be grateful if you could ask him to answer the question, please.

Madam SPEAKER: I think that the Minister did address the question, but if he wanted to add anything more to it, then he is perfectly entitled to do so.

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: There are a number of different ways that I could express the figure. The other is that the cash surplus was $3 billion a year. [Interruption]

Madam SPEAKER: No, I am sorry. Members wanted to hear additional information. The Minister is providing it. Would members please give him the courtesy of being heard.

Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. In response to your instruction, John Key said “No”. Madam Speaker, you asked him to be quiet and he said “No”. I just wonder, firstly, whether that is being quiet, and, secondly, whether it is defying you.

Madam SPEAKER: Thank you. No, both Mr Key and Dr Smith were commenting when I was giving my ruling. That is the last warning. If that happens again, members will be leaving the Chamber. Now, would the Hon Dr Michael Cullen please continue, unless he is finished.

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I have indicated what the best measure of the fiscal surplus is—that is, the operating balance exclusive of revaluations and accounting changes. Most people—unlike the member opposite—know that when one has an accounting change that brings tax revenue forward, one cannot go and spend it every year thereafter.

Dr Don Brash: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. Everyone accepts that there are many different ways of defining a fiscal surplus. My colleague Mr Key explicitly asked for one particular definition of the operating surplus, and the Minister did not answer that question, at all—

Madam SPEAKER: I am sorry to interrupt the member, but that is not a point of order.

John Key: Can the Minister confirm that the last three surpluses have been $11.5 billion, $6.3 billion, and $7.4 billion, and that they represent the three biggest surpluses in New Zealand’s history, and can he tell us exactly why he has been so opposed to personal tax cuts over that period, given that his own Prime Minister is telling him that he should either cut taxes or move aside?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: The member just makes it up as he goes along. He is the only person—[Interruption] They just cannot take it when it comes back at them. He makes it up as they go along. The fact is that the largest operating surplus as a percentage of GDP, particularly excluding accounting changes, occurred when Sir William Birch was the Minister of Finance. The member should understand that the economy gets bigger every year in dollar terms.

Hon Mark Gosche: Does the operating balance give a full picture of the Crown’s fiscal position?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: There are a range of measures. The Opposition seems fixated on one, which is the final accruals operating surplus. But also there are issues such as the level of gross sovereign debt. At present, that is $36 billion. Under the scenario that Mr Key outlined on radio this morning, it would be $11.5 billion a year of tax cuts. That rises to $105 billion in less than 5 years’ time.

Keith Locke: Does the Minister agree that any tax cut should benefit all New Zealanders, particularly the poorer ones, by making the first $5,000 of income tax-free, and that any surplus provides a golden opportunity to future-proof our economy by investing more in public transport and renewable energy generation?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: The only way of giving tax cuts that deliver most to those on low to middle incomes is through the family support tax credit mechanism and things like the earned income tax credit kind of mechanism that we are bringing into place. Unfortunately, to simply make the first $5,000 of income tax-free would give me something like $1,950 a year, whereas somebody earning less than $9,500 would get a great deal less, about $750 a year—unless, of course, the top tax rates were increased in order to offset that reduction. I am sure the member—[Interruption] Oh, the member is arguing back—that is OK.

John Key: Does the Minister now accept that he misled the public of New Zealand during the election campaign, when he went around scaremongering and saying that tax cuts were both unaffordable and reckless; in which case, if the public could not trust his word during the election campaign, why on earth should they consider trusting a thing he says going forward?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Apart from the fact that that is pretty much what Dr Brash said at the end of last week, I refer him to the ANZ quarterly economic forecast released today, which states: “In the current political environment, fiscal constraint may well be a stretch. Any additional fiscal stimulus will only add to inflation pressure, forcing the Reserve Bank’s hands.” That man wants to give away tax cuts, then see the middle class pay more on its mortgages.

John Key: Does the Minister think that the largest surplus announced today adds any weight at all towards the affordability of tax cuts; if not, why not?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: It certainly was the largest surplus announced today, because it was the only one I announced today. But apart from that, what the member is actually trying to argue is that if last year he managed to pay off $5,000 extra on his mortgage above what he anticipated, that means that for each of the next umpteen years he can lower his income by $10,000 a year. That does not make sense.

John Key: Does he stand by his statement on Television One news, when he said: “Eight and half billion dollars surplus, and still no tax cuts? So? What’s the connection between the two? None, right.”, and will he be changing that to “Eleven and a half billion dollars surplus, and still no tax cuts? So? What’s the connection between the two? None, right.”?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Well, I do not know! The problem with what that member is saying, he having spent all morning in front of the mirror practising that question, is that of the $11.5 billion that he wants to give away in tax cuts, $1.8 billion is purely an accounting change bringing accrued taxation forward, $2 billion is the contribution to the super fund, another $1 billion-odd is the earnings on the super fund, $1.7 billion is retained profits by State-owned enterprises and Crown entities, and $1.8 billion is invested in schools and hospitals. This man proposes to borrow all the money for all capital spending and put a contribution to the super fund, spend all the State-owned enterprise surpluses, and spend any accounting changes. That is the most ludicrous fiscal policy that anybody in this country has ever put forward. He makes Sir Robert Muldoon look like a follower of the Chicago school.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I want to draw your attention, following on from Don Brash’s point of order, which you so conveniently dismissed, to Speaker’s rulings 153/2 and 153/3 in respect of answers from Ministers being given in the public interest. What you have allowed in this House is a very simple question from National’s finance spokesperson about what the surplus is—a very direct question. It is information that the Minister absolutely has, because since my colleague lodged the question, the figure is now in the public arena. You have allowed the Minister of Finance to give all sorts of lectures about Sir Robert Muldoon and all sorts of irrelevant things, but you have not required him to answer the fundamental question on the sheet. This House will turn into a farce, if you are going to allow Ministers to avoid basic questions of that sort. I ask you to either reconsider your point in response to Don Brash’s point of order, or give a considered ruling. Otherwise, frankly, question time in this House will become a mockery.

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Firstly, that point of order is now out of time; it should have been raised following the previous ruling. We have long since passed that point in question time. Secondly, it is directly questioning your ruling, which you gave quite clearly. I thought we had an understanding in this House that we were going to try to improve our behaviour in those kinds of respects.

Madam SPEAKER: I rule that that was not a point of order. I thought the Minister had addressed the question quite fully, and the response reflected the question.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Is the Minister saying that the last question from Mr Key is as moronic as the one put by the Television One journalist who seemed not to understand that one cannot just have a tax cut and surplus equivalents, and anyone who did not think that one could was somehow being mean or Scrooge-like?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I think what it emphasises is a strong misunderstanding on some people’s part about what an operating surplus consists of. It consists of a range of elements, and clearly Mr Key does understand and is pretending that a level of tax cuts is affordable, which would horrify Dr Brash, if he thought about the consequences on the macroeconomic stability of New Zealand.

John Key: Does the Minister recall telling the Finance and Expenditure Committee: “People who think there should be tax cuts on the back of the big surpluses should be taken out and quietly drowned.”, in which case, given his own Prime Minister’s and his Cabinet’s new-found desire for tax cuts on the back of large surpluses, can I inquire whether he will be characterising those drownings as suicide or homicide?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Apart from the fact that the member keeps making up what goes on in Cabinet, in his case I would be happy for the drowning to be very noisy, indeed, but I am sure he would arrange for the publicity photographers to be present.

Rodney Hide: Why does he not drop his ideological opposition to letting working people keep more of their money through tax cuts, especially now that even the Green Party is supporting cutting taxes?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: The thought of an Act-Green coalition is one that really puts the fiscal scares right up me, I have to say. Unlimited expenditure and reducing revenue would be the outcome of that particular combination. In fact, the member has not been listening to what I have been saying for some months. We are engaged in a business taxation review process. That will lead to changes on 1 April 2008, and there may well be consequential changes to personal rates. I remind members opposite again that we have received repeated warnings in recent times about significant fiscal loosening over the short term. If Mr Key wants to be the high interest rate leader of the National Party, let him be so.

Coastal Shipping—Roadways to Waterways

4. SUE BRADFORD (Green) to the Minister of Transport: Does she agree with the New Zealand Shipping Federation’s September 2006 report, Roadways to Waterways, that “Coastal shipping is the most fuel-efficient mode of freight transport, covering almost four times the distance covered by trucks per cargo ton for the equivalent amount of fuel.”; and what action, if any, will she be taking in response to this report?

Hon ANNETTE KING (Minister of Transport): I met with the New Zealand Shipping Federation on 14 September for it to present me with its draft maritime strategy. At that meeting I acknowledged that coastal shipping is an important part of New Zealand’s transport system and that there is room for improvement in the use of coastal shipping. Since that time I have agreed to the establishment of a joint working party, including officials and representatives of the New Zealand Shipping Federation, and I believe one meeting has already been held. I have had discussions around funding of coastal shipping with the chair of Land Transport New Zealand, and have an undertaking that it will clarify the use of funding for coastal shipping. I have undertaken to raise maritime training proposals with the Minister of Education, I will be discussing the draft strategy with infrastructure Ministers before the month is out, and further work is envisaged.

Sue Bradford: Is she aware that if the freight carried by New Zealand’s coastal fleet, excluding that of Cook Strait, was shifted to land-based transport it would mean an additional 180,000 20-tonne truck movements and 40 million kilograms of carbon dioxide emissions each year; if so, what more will she do to support New Zealand coastal shipping to get more freight off the roads, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and improve the health of all New Zealanders?

Hon ANNETTE KING: I think I outlined in my original answer a range of things that we are undertaking, with a commitment to having better coastal shipping in New Zealand as an important mode of transport. I accept that if we put all the freight that is currently on coastal shipping on roads, we would certainly see an increase in carbon dioxide emissions and use of fuel. I think a lot more work can be done in this area, and I have given a commitment to work on that.

Peter Brown: Noting those answers, can the Minister give a categorical assurance that there will be a constructive, tangible outcome from the Government’s response to the Roadways to Waterways report, and that such a response will not be similar to that of the National Party, which stonewalled very, very strongly when earlier shipping development and issues were being proposed whilst New Zealand First was in coalition with National?

Hon ANNETTE KING: Could I say to the member that in less than a month since that review was presented to me, more has been done than was done in all the time the National Party had the opportunity to do something.

Sue Bradford: What are the Minister’s views on the proposal in the New Zealand Shipping Federation’s report to establish a maritime promotions unit in one of the transport agencies?

Hon ANNETTE KING: It is an issue that we discussed, and it is an issue I have asked Land Transport New Zealand to look at. It does not have such a unit. We do have similar units for road transport within Land Transport New Zealand, and that is one of the issues I have asked it to look at.

Sue Bradford: Will the Minister also consider establishing a significant contestable fund for promotion, feasibility studies, trials, or pilots of coastal shipping, given the only funding currently available is the $1.5 million a year that is shared between the rail and sea freight allocation, and given that the only shipping money that is available at the moment is, strangely enough, for barging?

Hon ANNETTE KING: In fact, under the Land Transport Management Act, Land Transport New Zealand could use funding for coastal shipping other than barging, but the fact is that only barging has applied for funding under the current money that is available. There has been only one application. I gather there are four other applications for this next financial year, but that does not mean it is only for barging. In terms of the funding, it was $20 million over 10 years, which is a very small amount of money. I have asked Land Transport New Zealand to look at that. But we do need proposals that it could fund that are significant ones.

Health Services—Budget and Elective Surgery

5. Hon TONY RYALL (National—Bay of Plenty) to the Minister of Health: By how much money has the health budget increased since the year 2000, and how many more individuals got elective surgery annually in 2005-06 compared with 2000-01?

Hon PETE HODGSON (Minister of Health): The Labour-led Government has invested an extra $3.2 billion in the 5 years ending 2005-06. This historic investment delivered the largest hospital-building programme in New Zealand history, affordable primary health care for families, the biggest mass immunisation campaign ever undertaken in the country, and an extra 5,000 doctors and nurses in our hospitals, and has led to 6,000 more people receiving elective surgery last year than in our first year in Government.

Hon Tony Ryall: As a result of the Minister’s announcement of additional elective surgery and $30 million for the remainder of this financial year, how many extra people will get elective surgery in the year ending 30 June 2007?

Hon PETE HODGSON: It depends on negotiations with district health boards that are yet to be completed.

Hon Tony Ryall: So you don’t know.

Hon PETE HODGSON: No, we do not know. We put out funding sufficient to manage 10,000 operations per annum. I said at the time of the announcement that it will take district health boards a little time to gear up. I am expecting that several thousand New Zealanders will receive their surgery by 30 June 2007.

Maryan Street: What reports has the Minister received on reform of the delivery of elective surgery at a local level?

Hon PETE HODGSON: I have received reports that the Ministry of Health has been flooded with proposals from district health boards on ways to address disincentives in the delivery of electives, and to make it easier for clinicians to treat more patients. Later this month I will announce the best proposals, which will receive Government funding to implement these new ideas. It is clear that the Government’s reforms of elective surgery policy are already getting traction in our public hospitals and that the Opposition does not like it.

Judy Turner: By how much money have district health boards’ budgets for private hospitals to provide elective surgery increased since the year 2000, and how many more individuals got elective surgery in private hospitals annually in 2005-06 compared with in 2001?

Hon PETE HODGSON: I do not have either figure with me, I am sorry, but I am happy to say that the extra elective surgery that was announced last week will not only allow district health boards to provide themselves but also allow them to contract with other district health boards, with primary health care providers—especially general practitioners with a special interest—and, where spare capacity exists, with the private sector.

Hon Tony Ryall: When the Minister of Health has admitted in the House today that he does not even know how many extra operations he can promise the people of New Zealand, despite issuing a press statement promising that 10,000 extra people would get elective surgery, how can anyone in this country believe a single word he says? This statement is spin and deception. He promised 10,000 operations, and he does not even know what he is going to get.

Hon PETE HODGSON: Because this is a Government that is not preoccupied with reckless tax cuts, and instead is wanting to place emphasis on the improvement of public health services, we are in a position to invest more in elective surgical services for New Zealanders than a National Government could. The reason I do not know precisely what number will be done is that we actually will not know that until after 30 June has passed, but I am expecting that there will be several thousand such surgical operations in the remaining part of this year. I say again that we have funded district health boards to the tune of 10,000 extra operations in any full financial year.

Madam SPEAKER: I remind members that it is becoming increasingly hard to hear again.

Hon Tony Ryall: If spending an extra $4 billion since Labour came to power means, according to the Minister’s numbers, 6,000 additional people are getting elective surgery each year, how can the Minister seriously say that spending $50 million means 10,000 more people will get elective surgery each year—it just does not stack up?

Hon PETE HODGSON: The gentleman’s strengths do not include straightforward accounting. What we do is buy on case weights and pay on delivery. I tell Mr Ryall that that is where we get our figure from.

Hon Tony Ryall: If buying centrally and paying on delivery can, for $50 million, give an extra 10,000 people elective surgery, why does the Minister not adopt that approach for the rest of the hospital system?

Hon PETE HODGSON: Because we are not a control and command Government. We are a Government that does not believe in saying that the health system should be run on commercial lines, according to the whim of the National health Minister of the day. Au contraire, we say it is a good idea to have district health boards with elected people from the community on them who are able to govern what sort of service they want in their region. What is more, it looks as if the district health board model works pretty well, because about 88 percent of New Zealanders say so.

Keith Locke: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I found it rather difficult to hear from back here, and it may be that there will be an extension of the waiting lists because some of us have to have operations on our eardrums, if this continues.

Madam SPEAKER: I think the member is correct, I am sorry. I remind members for the last time that it was extremely difficult to hear what the Minister was saying. If this continues, members will be progressively leaving the Chamber.

Hon Tony Ryall: If buying centrally and paying on delivery can produce so many extra operations for $50 million, when bulk funding of $4 billion produces so few operations, why would the Government not do that; and will the Minister stand by his press statement and guarantee that $50 million will buy elective surgery for 10,000 extra people, when he says that out of that $5,000 per person he will pay for the person’s first specialist assessment, anaesthetic clinic, diagnostic testing, operation, and follow-up outpatient visits, and is that not just revealing that this Minister’s statement and pledge are all spin and deception, instead of his caring for the sick people of New Zealand?

Hon PETE HODGSON: The first part of the member’s question was actually embarrassing for the National Party. The second part was uncomplicatedly bewildered. I say to the gentleman that if he wants a lecture, a seminar, or even a brief lesson on how case-weighted purchasing works, he can talk to his predecessor, Dr Paul Hutchison, who did understand how the New Zealand health system works.

Hon Tony Ryall: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I realise that the Minister is under a lot of pressure, but for what reason would you accept that answer, when it was a commentary rather than an addressing of two very significant points? One is—it goes to the heart of Government policy—that the Government has always said—

Madam SPEAKER: I thank the member. I do not need to hear any more. Would the member please be seated. I ask the Minister to give us that seminar, but to do it, in fact, briefly.

Hon PETE HODGSON: Maybe it would help if I were to gently remind the member that there is a good deal more going on in the New Zealand health system than elective surgery—a good deal more. Secondly, I say to the member that we know what a case weight costs, and when it is delivered we pay for it.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. What gives Mr Ryall the right to resume his seat, having asked a question, and spend the rest of the time shouting while his question is being answered? It is not just him; it is Gerry Brownlee as well, and others. There has got to be some equivalent treatment around this House for every member, and not just one group getting away with it every darn day. From our point of view, we think that this is disgraceful, and that some members of the National Party, who are laughing as I speak, and jeering, should be sent out of this House rather than just warned every day, when other members at the back of this House are expected to behave themselves. But they carry on as if somehow they are special. Madam Speaker, I have never thought it right for someone to ask a question then shout the whole time it is being answered, but that was from a member right next to you, and you could not have missed hearing him.

Madam SPEAKER: I thank the member. Interjections are permitted, but members are bordering on making it very difficult for other members to hear. I thought we had an agreement. If we do not, from here on in, as I said, members will be leaving.

Hon Tony Ryall: I seek leave to table the ministerial press statement of the Hon Pete Hodgson promising to deliver elective surgery to an additional 10,000 New Zealanders a year.

Leave granted.

Laboratory Services—Moratorium

6. BARBARA STEWART (NZ First) to the Minister of Health: What is his response to the New Zealand Medical Association’s call for the Government to put an immediate moratorium on the implementation of changes to laboratory services while a national plan is developed and an independent ministerial review is done of all district health board decisions to date?

Hon PETE HODGSON (Minister of Health): I had a meeting with the College of Pathologists the day before yesterday on this and related matters concerning the workforce. I said that I would not yet consider taking such steps. The evidence I have been presented with shows that our pathology workforce is growing—not shrinking, as some claim—and that district health boards are proceeding well with laboratory service changes. For example, the Auckland District Health Board, which has caused so much recent comment, is running a little ahead of its schedule with its implementation plan. However, I have invited the College of Pathologists to present me with any evidence it has to the contrary, and I have agreed to consider that evidence fully and meet again as necessary.

Barbara Stewart: What reasons can the Minister give the House as to why a national plan for laboratory services should not be developed?

Hon PETE HODGSON: The fact that people call for a national plan does not mean that there is not one already. Roughly speaking, the Government’s approach to hospital and community laboratory services is that they should be provided by district health boards—either themselves or jointly with other district health boards—that district health boards are free to contract with whomever they wish to provide those services; that all services must be to an international quality, of course; and that where a private provider needs access to district health board premises, then there is a protocol in existence that must be complied with, the essence of which is that it must in the first instance be for the benefit of New Zealanders.

Moana Mackey: What reports has he received on the implementation of laboratory service changes in the Auckland region?

Hon PETE HODGSON: I have received reports that the new configuration of laboratory services in the Auckland region will allow an extra $15 million per year to be invested back into health services for Aucklanders. I have also received reports that the implementation of these changes is running a little ahead of schedule, and that the new provider is on track to building a high-quality laboratory service for Aucklanders.

Dr Jackie Blue: Does the Minister not realise that the uncoordinated and contradictory laboratory service changes around New Zealand are having a major impact on the laboratory workforce, which experts have warned will put standards and quality at risk, and is he prepared to see another Bottril-like scandal affect New Zealand patients?

Hon PETE HODGSON: I freely acknowledge the disruption to workers—medical laboratory scientists, pathologists, and others—if there is a change of provider and, therefore, a prospective change of employer. I have seen reports that some pathologists are planning on leaving. I have also received a report—yesterday, I think—that the new Auckland laboratory provider is receiving many inquiries each day, and already has more pathologists interested in taking jobs in some, but not all, of the areas of need. Yes, there are worldwide shortages of pathologists, and all district health boards are conscious that, as a result, that valuable workforce has the potential to be very mobile.

Barbara Stewart: Can the Minister assure New Zealanders that district health boards have contingency plans in place if new providers cannot deliver the services required?

Hon PETE HODGSON: All district health boards are required to ensure that those services are provided, and there are a variety of contingency plans that vary from district health board to district health board. I would be happy to provide the member with more information if she could give me more specificity.

Keith Locke: I seek leave to table the New Zealand Medical Association’s letter to the Minister dated 18 August, which does refer to undue risk in overturning the status quo of established relationships in favour of unproven and potentially unstable arrangements.

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

Keith Locke: I seek leave to table a statement by pathologists employed by the Auckland regional district health boards, where they are unwilling to cooperate with new services which pose a serious risk of undermining—

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

Keith Locke: I seek leave to table an article from this morning’s Dominion Post where it is reported that the Royal College of Pathologists of Australasia are very unhappy. They have a major concern with cancer diagnoses in particular, as a result of the change in pathology services.

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

Taito Phillip Field—Ministerial Representations

7. Dr the Hon LOCKWOOD SMITH (National—Rodney) to the Minister of Immigration: Can he confirm that from 1 January 2003 to 21 September 2006, Taito Phillip Field made 481 representations to either the Minister of Immigration or the Associate Minister of Immigration, including over 40 after the Ingram inquiry was established?

Hon CLAYTON COSGROVE (Associate Minister of Immigration) on behalf of the Minister of Immigration: Yes.

Dr the Hon Lockwood Smith: Does the Minister stand by his statement in the House on 24 August that the Associate Minister was entitled to receive information from Taito Phillip Field that he had sent Mr Sunan Siriwan to Samoa, where Mr Siriwan tiled 460 square metres of Mr Field’s house without pay; is it appropriate for a member of Parliament to gain material or financial benefit from making representations to the Associate Minister of Immigration?

Hon CLAYTON COSGROVE: All immigration cases are treated on their merits, and of course it would be not be appropriate for members to receive gain in the way the member says. I note also—[Interruption] If the member would breathe for a moment, he will note that there is a police inquiry—

Madam SPEAKER: Would the Minister please just address the question.

Hon CLAYTON COSGROVE: —under way at present. Again I say to Dr Smith that if he has further information in that respect, he has an avenue to explore that, and that is the police inquiry.

Dr the Hon Lockwood Smith: Should Taito Phillip Field have disclosed to the Associate Minister of Immigration that not only was Mr Siriwan tiling 460 square metres of his own house without pay but also that he had tiled Maxine’s Cake Shop, owned by Mr Field’s stepson in Samoa, for no pay, and that he had also laid a new floor at Maria’s Health Care Pharmacy, a business run by Mrs Field’s daughter-in-law in Samoa; is it appropriate for a member of Parliament to gain material or financial benefit from making representations to the Associate Minister of Immigration?

Hon CLAYTON COSGROVE: In answer to the latter part of the question, no. Again I say to the member that he will know that a police inquiry and investigation have commenced. I am not about to prejudice that inquiry by going into the matter. If the member has evidence, he should take it to the police inquiry. He has an avenue; he knows that.

Dr the Hon Lockwood Smith: Can the Minister confirm that Taito Phillip Field was less than truthful when he told Noel Ingram QC that it was not until June 2005 that he became aware Mr Siriwan had been working for him and his wife, when Mrs Field filled out in Mr Field’s presence, on 26 or 27 February 2005, a Samoan immigration form promising to be Mr Siriwan’s employer, and when Mr Siriwan was issued with a Samoan work visa prior to 17 March 2005 on the basis of his being employed by the Fields?

Hon CLAYTON COSGROVE: The Minister is not about to prejudice a police inquiry by trawling over those issues, even if the member wishes to prejudice a police inquiry. Again, my advice to him is that if he has concerns and evidence, he should take them to the police inquiry.

Dr the Hon Lockwood Smith: How would the Minister respond to an immigration representation from Taito Phillip Field if he became aware Mr Field had told someone who was seeking his help on that immigration matter that he would have to pay money for Mr Field’s assistance, and that the more money he paid, the greater would be the chance of success in getting a special direction from the Associate Minister of Immigration?

Hon CLAYTON COSGROVE: Firstly, I say all cases are treated on their merit, and all representations and relevant information are considered in respect of those cases. I tell the member again, in danger though I am of being shrill, that if he has evidence he should take it to the police inquiry.

Independent Schools—Funding

8. Hon MARIAN HOBBS (Labour—Wellington Central) to the Minister of Education: What reports, if any, has he received on the model for funding of independent schools in New Zealand?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY (Minister of Education): The Labour-led Government provides a pool of funding for independent schools, with the amount given to each school calculated on a per pupil basis. Labour, in its 1999 election manifesto, promised to cap this at $40 million per year. This provides for a range of independent schools, such as schools run by trusts and by various churches, including, for example, the Exclusive Brethren sect.

Hon Marian Hobbs: What reports has the Minister seen on plans to change funding provided to independent schools?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: I have seen reports from senior members of the National Party in 2003 and 2004 ruling out increases to any education funding. Then on 14 April 2005 Dr Don Brash announced that if elected National would “lift the State’s contribution to independent schools to a 50 percent contribution”. This means, for example, that the Exclusive Brethren schools would receive double their current funding—an additional $4.5 million over 3 years. That is not a bad return for $1.2 million invested in the National Party.

Hon Tau Henare: Will the Minister confirm that these announcements are simply another cynical and vindictive example of this Government punishing anyone who opposes it, and can he explain to the 1,300 children attending the Exclusive Brethren schools why he is singling them out?

Madam SPEAKER: We shall have some silence so that the Minister can be heard.

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: In answer to the first part of the question, the only people we ever seek to punish are the National Party members. In answer to the second part of the question, what people need to know from Dr Don Brash is where the diary entries are that tell us about the Exclusive Brethren church, and where the notes are that tell us about the $1.2 million.

Hon Brian Donnelly: Is it not correct that because of the capped nature of the independent schools fund, the Government’s allowing the 12 Westbridge schools to open to cater for Exclusive Brethren children since 2000 has, in fact, been at the expense of all other independent school students, because their per capita rate has been reduced, yet the Government has in fact made an overall saving of 1,300 home-schooling allowances?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: Yes.

Hon Marian Hobbs: What rationale exists for a change in the policy for funding—

Madam SPEAKER: Would the member please be seated. If there is any more shouting and members cannot be heard they will leave the Chamber.

Hon Marian Hobbs: What rationale exists for a change in the policy of funding independent schools only?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: There is no obvious policy rationale but there does seem to be a political one. It is clear that Don Brash and John Key met with the Exclusive Brethren at the time this policy changed. Don Brash now tells us he has the diary entries. He should tell us when those meetings took place and what was said, and he should answer the question about whether the National Party changed its education policy on independent schools in return for $1.2 million.

Hon Harry Duynhoven: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. Leaving aside the obvious shouting and interjections from the National front-bench members who were attempting to disrupt the Minister’s response to the question, on many occasions directly unparliamentary language was used to describe the Minister that would normally have seen a member either asked to withdraw and apologise or thrown out. I think the combination of the two should see someone ejected now.

Madam SPEAKER: I did hear the Hon Tau Henare—and there may well have been others—shout the word “liar”. That is unparliamentary. Would the member please withdraw and apologise for that.

Hon Tau Henare: I cannot, because he is a liar.

Madam SPEAKER: Well, would you please leave the Chamber.

Hon Tau Henare withdrew from the Chamber.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: As the person responsible for developing the education policy that provided the 50 percent entitlement for independent schools, I seek leave to make a personal explanation in respect to the allegations that have been made by Mr Steve Maharey, and to make plain that at absolutely no time did I meet with any member of the Exclusive Brethren in the development of that policy.

Madam SPEAKER: Leave is sought to make a personal statement. The member has asked for leave; is there any objection? Yes, there is objection.

Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I also referred to the Minister as being a liar and I withdraw and apologise for that. But I want to ask you, Madam Speaker, why you did not intervene when you knew that he was alleging blatant mistruths in the House.

Madam SPEAKER: It is not for the Speaker to judge the quality of questions or answers.

Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. So now we are being told that my colleague Tau Henare has to leave the House because he will not rescind a comment he made—a comment that was truthful—against a Minister who is making untruthful statements, and I am required, in order to stay here, to apologise to the Minister for saying something that was equally truthful.

Madam SPEAKER: No, I thank the member, but will he please be seated. No, the member was asked to withdraw and apologise for using an unparliamentary term. As the member well knows, Speakers never comment on the truthfulness or quality of questions or answers.

Hon Dr Michael Cullen: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I draw your attention to what Mr Brownlee just said. He said that what he had stated about Mr Maharey was truthful, although having just withdrawn and apologised for it. In other words, he repeated the assertion. I suggest he has to withdraw and apologise directly now, without any qualification, or he too will have to leave the Chamber.

Madam SPEAKER: This is the difficulty and why we have the Standing Order that says in these instances one withdraws and apologises and says nothing else. Unfortunately, the member is correct—the statement was repeated in the course of that. So for the sake of consistency, Mr Brownlee, would you please withdraw and apologise, and do not make any further comment.

Gerry Brownlee: I withdraw and apologise. I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. Can I refer you to Standing Orders 371(1)(b) and 371(1)(c). Both are very explicit directions to the House, particularly to Ministers who are answering questions. In no way at all did Mr Maharey’s answers comply with either of those requirements. He has brought into his argument inferences and imputations, he has attempted to bring in a discreditable reference, and he has, by any measure, been extremely reckless with the truth.

Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. As the Minister who did the negotiations with the Exclusive Brethren in order to bring them into the system, I had a number of discussions with them. I am not sure of the exact amount involved, but it is several million dollars. I want to make it clear that the facts outlined as to the large amount of money that has gone to the Exclusive Brethren as a result of advice that I gave them, which the Minister was speaking of previously, were accurate. As things have turned out, it is not something I am particularly happy with, but it was done in fairness to them at the time.

Madam SPEAKER: I thank the member, but this is why Speakers are not drawn into judging the quality of questions or answers—because it does lead to debate, which is what that point of order was doing. The answers as I heard them were consistent with the Standing Orders.

Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I do not want to prolong things, but I would ask you to please look at the Hansard and read what Mr Maharey said on no less than three occasions about matters that had nothing to do with this question, at all. It seems to me, Madam Speaker, that your claim that you will not judge the content of answers is somewhat rich in an environment where you have made a judgment by sending Mr Henare out of the House.

Madam SPEAKER: As I understand the member, he wants me to look at whether the answers related to the funding of independent schools. I am happy to do that.

Hon Brian Donnelly: Has the Minister seen the report by the New Zealand Institute of Economic Research carried out in 2003—before Don Brash met with the Exclusive Brethren—

Madam SPEAKER: In the interests of order, would Mr Donnelly please just ask his question.

Hon Brian Donnelly: —which demonstrated that if, at the time, the Government had increased the funding of independent schools from 30 percent to 46 percent, it would have, in fact, saved money; and can he explain why, since this report was written, the Government, rather than increase per capita subsidy levels, has reduced them by more than 7 percent?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: No, I have not seen the particular report the member is referring to, but I am aware of the argument that he is making—that is, that putting money into the independent sector means that those students are not coming into the State sector. But the member will know, and I know that he himself takes this view, that we, like countries such as Sweden, believe very strongly in a public sector where all students, regardless of their background, can go to achieve as much as they possibly can. That is where we make our investments.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I want to know why you asked my colleague to desist from putting a point of history into reference when he said “before Don Brash saw the Exclusive Brethren”. That is a totally appropriate statement; it is very brief. Yet, Madam Speaker, you allow National members to carry on every darned day making every sort of allegation they like, and to get away with every sort of behaviour unaccepted in most Parliaments. My colleague put something very briefly into reference, and those members are so thin-skinned that they cannot take it. Frankly, if they cannot take it, they should not dish it out.

Madam SPEAKER: Would the member please be seated. In the context in which the question was being asked, it appeared to me that it could be seen as being contrary to Standing Order 371, and it was important that the member just stick to the question so that the House could proceed. I have ruled on the matter, Mr Peters.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. My point simply is that putting it into perspective is what the issue is about. That is why the question phrased by Brian Donnelly in that way was, in my view, correct. It tells the public—and everybody is interested in this subject—just what the chronology of circumstances might have been. That is why it is important. Just because National members start moaning and groaning because they are found out for what they are is no reason for you to abscond.

Madam SPEAKER: No, I thank the member. [Interruption] Mr Brownlee, if you wish to remain with us for the rest of question time, please do not interject. I would just suggest to members, then—and I take the member’s point and I think it is a valid point—that I think it was more the way in which the question was expressed that caused the problem. So could we please proceed; I am not quite sure where we were, though.

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: I seek leave to table a speech made by Dr Brash, given on Thursday, 14 April 2005, in which he explains that an incoming National Government would lift the contribution to independent schools to 50 percent.

Leave granted.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I draw your attention to Standing Order 116 on page 43. The Minister said that National, in writing its policy to allow the 50 percent entitlement for independent schools, was improperly motivated by something to do with the Exclusive Brethren. I wrote that policy. I never met with the Exclusive Brethren once in the development of that policy. I take offence at—

Madam SPEAKER: I am sorry to intervene, but this is not a point of order. I have already—

Hon Dr Nick Smith: You bet it is! You bet it is a point of order.

Madam SPEAKER: No, it is not a point of order. Would the member please be seated. I have already undertaken, after a legitimate point of order made by his colleague Mr Brownlee, to look at those answers and to rule on them. Can we move forward.

Hon Brian Donnelly: I seek leave to table the report made by the New Zealand Institute of Economic Research into the funding for independent schools, which may well have been the source of the policy development for National.

Leave granted.

New Zealand Inc Campaign—Buy Kiwi Made Campaign

9. CHRIS TREMAIN (National—Napier) to the Minister for Economic Development: When will he announce details of the “New Zealand Inc” campaign that will run in parallel to the Buy Kiwi Made campaign, and how much will it cost?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD (Minister for Economic Development): After those details have been decided by Cabinet. But I can give the member an assurance that there will not be a preference given to people who make coffins, as appeared to be promoted by the Leader of the Opposition when he went to be measured up recently in a photo opportunity that appeared to be promoted by John Key.

Chris Tremain: Thank you Madam Speaker. [Interruption]

Madam SPEAKER: The member is entitled to be heard.

Chris Tremain: Can the Minister provide some clarity over the confusion that reigns regarding the second campaign, with the announcements yesterday about the $11 million Buy Kiwi Made campaign, when a spokeswoman was quoted in today’s Dominion Post as saying it would cost less than $11 million, but this morning the Minister said on National Radio that he did not know how much it would cost?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: I am sorry, but I think the member is talking about the first campaign, not the second one.

Peter Brown: Can the Minister confirm that New Zealand First pressure ensured that the Buy Kiwi Made campaign was not—[Interruption] Madam Speaker, is this tolerable? I do not mind—let them go, and I will go.

Madam SPEAKER: No. Some members, I will admit, have louder voices—

Peter Brown: Forty-eight to one is about fair.

Madam SPEAKER: Mr Brown, please be seated. Some members have louder voices than others, and they are in danger of not remaining with us for the rest of the session. Peter Brown, would you please start your question again.

Peter Brown: Can the Minister confirm that New Zealand First pressure ensured that the Buy Kiwi Made campaign was not widened to include foreign-produced goods, and will he confirm also that the tax revenue from “New Zealand Inc” participants will more than offset the cost of administering the second campaign on its behalf?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: Not really. I am not in a position to do so.

Charles Chauvel: Has he received any recent reports on this issue? [Interruption]

Madam SPEAKER: Please be seated. Members, I know it is members’ day.

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: Yes, I am advised that Phil O’Reilly, the chief executive of Business New Zealand, has supported the approach that the Government is taking. It is a pity that the Opposition did not consult with business leaders before making its ill-considered comments. If Opposition members spent more time talking to real business people and less time being measured up, then they would make some progress.

Dr Don Brash: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker.

Madam SPEAKER: Members are reminded that if they interrupt during points of order, they will leave the Chamber.

Dr Don Brash: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. The photograph that the Minister has just shown was taken at a sheltered workshop in Invercargill, where the participants are basically intellectually handicapped. It is totally inappropriate for him to refer to them in a derogatory manner like that—as their not being real business people.

Madam SPEAKER: I thank the member. That is not a point of order but a point of information.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker.

Madam SPEAKER: We now have another point of order. I ask members to remember that they will leave the Chamber if they talk during a point of order.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. From this far away I cannot see the photograph that was held up by Mr Mallard. I wonder whether he could table the photograph in the House, because from here it looks like the photograph was taken by a mortician.

Madam SPEAKER: That was not a point of order, either. But I am sure the Minister can follow that course at the end of this question, if he wishes to do so.

Chris Tremain: Is the only reason the Minister is going ahead with the alternative “New Zealand Inc” campaign, which he described as “not a top priority to the Government”, that Helen Clark promised that companies like Icebreaker would be included, and is $11 million a fair price for New Zealanders to pay so that he can avoid embarrassing the Prime Minister?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: I think two points should be made. The first is that, as I indicated in my primary answer, the amount of money involved has not yet been decided. But probably the more important point concerns when that member will stand up for a modern economy, whether he shares the values of those who say our economy is being hollowed out by overseas ownership, whether he values the farmers who grow the merino that goes into Icebreaker, and when he is prepared to back New Zealand designers. These are all examples of positive attributes of the New Zealand economy and our identity, and I want to know why the Tories keep running it down.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: How is that in order?

Madam SPEAKER: Please, Dr Smith. That answer was not in order, but neither was the question, because it actually offended Standing Order 371, if we were applying it strictly. As I have said in the past, some questions get answers that are consistent with the way in which those questions are asked. It is question time, not speech time; that is coming up, if we ever get to it, in the general debate.

Chris Tremain: What impact will the “New Zealand Inc” campaign have on companies such as Icebreaker, which already has 1,500 stores worldwide, already exports to over 20 countries, has $100 million in turnover, and experienced 800 percent growth over the last few years; and does he think this company needs a helping hand domestically?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: A wide variety of firms in New Zealand need to be valued, and I think people who run them down—[Interruption] No, I think the idea of having a generic campaign that values New Zealand design, values New Zealand ownership, and values New Zealand producers is something good. I just do not understand why Tories hate Kiwis who make money.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: How was that in order?

Madam SPEAKER: Well, that did address the question.

Chris Tremain: I seek leave to table a document from the Icebreaker website that shows its growing involvement overseas, and how it needs help in an overseas market not domestically.

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

Hon Trevor Mallard: I was asked previously to table the photo of Dr Brash, and I seek leave to do so.

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

Land Tenure Review—Report

10. Hon DAVID CARTER (National) to the Minister for Land Information: Why did the Government commission the Donn Armstrong report on the land tenure review, and what is the total cost of the report so far?

Hon DAVID PARKER (Minister for Land Information): The Government commissioned the report as part of its work on rentals for high country pastoral leases and tenure review. I am advised the total cost to date, including consultants’ fees and disbursements, is $156,476. The report examines issues that had not been closely looked at since the 1982 Clayton report, which found that charging on the basis of land exclusive of improvements is the most satisfactory basis for assessing the rentals of pastoral leases.

Hon David Carter: Which stakeholders in the tenure review process have been consulted since the Government received that report in February this year?

Hon DAVID PARKER: The report, and the Government’s preliminary response to it, will be released this Friday. We will start with lessees in Christchurch.

Hon David Carter: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. In no way does that answer address the question. I did not ask when the report would be released—on Friday. I asked whom the Government had been consulting with, as the Minister has had the report on his desk since last February.

Madam SPEAKER: I thought the question was addressed, but does the Minister want to repeat the answer?

Hon DAVID PARKER: Yes. I was making the point that stakeholder engagement on the report has not commenced. It will commence on Friday, and we will start with lessees.

Madam SPEAKER: That is exactly what the Minister had said.

Hon Marian Hobbs: What other review is the Government undertaking in respect of tenure review?

Hon DAVID PARKER: The Government is reviewing how well tenure review is dealing with biodiversity, particularly lowland biodiversity, and with landscape issues, especially around lakes.

Hon David Carter: Why has the Government deliberately avoided discussing the contents of that report with high country farmers to date, particularly when the Minister has made repeated promises to do so?

Hon DAVID PARKER: It has not.

Hon David Carter: Given that the Minister promised to release the report to farmers in July this year, promised to release it to the Primary Production Committee in July this year, and promised the House in September this year that the report would be made available, why has he broken those three promises?

Hon DAVID PARKER: On none of those occasions did I make a categorical promise. It has taken longer than I expected, but the report is to be released this Friday.

Hon David Carter: If the Donn Armstrong report concludes that current rentals are higher than can be justified, will the Minister stand by the assurance given by his predecessor, Pete Hodgson, that rents would therefore be lowered?

Hon DAVID PARKER: I am not aware of any undertaking given in those terms by my predecessor. The Government’s preliminary response to the report will become known on Friday.

Breastfeeding—Benefits

11. STEVE CHADWICK (Labour—Rotorua) to the Minister of Health: Has he received any reports on the benefits of breastfeeding?

Hon PETE HODGSON (Minister of Health): Yes, I have received many reports that the breastfeeding of children leads to significant health benefits. For example, children who are breastfed are less likely to suffer from a wide range of infectious diseases and allergies, are more likely to have better cognitive development, better visual acuity, and so on.

Steve Chadwick: Has he received any reports on the intersecting benefits of breastfeeding for the health and immigration systems?

Hon PETE HODGSON: Perhaps surprisingly, I have. I have received a report that reads as follows: “British immigrants fit in here very well. My own ancestry is all British. New Zealand values are British values, derived from centuries of struggles since the Magna Carta. Those things make New Zealand the society it is. So people who bring in these values, because they imbibe them with their mother’s milk, almost by definition make good immigrants.” This report comes from Dr Don Brash, who apparently believes that more white women should be encouraged to breastfeed their children. Let me assure Dr Brash that there is no evidence, as yet, that the spirit of the Magna Carta can be transmitted through breast milk.

Hon Tony Ryall: I seek leave to table a number of pressing issues in the health sector—from industrial relations through to falling hospital access. That is work the Minister of Health should have been working on this morning.

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

Marsden Fund—Administration

12. Dr PAUL HUTCHISON (National—Port Waikato) to the Minister of Research, Science and Technology: Is he satisfied with the administration of the Marsden Fund; if not, why not?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY (Minister of Research, Science and Technology): Yes. Established in 1995 by the Hon Simon Upton, the Marsden Fund supports groundbreaking research initiated by New Zealand’s top scientists across the full range of disciplines. Administration involves comprehensive peer review and strict conflict of interest procedures. Applications must be based on excellent ideas, have an innovative design, and build on a track record of achievement. An evaluation in 2004 reported that the fund is administered in a highly professional manner and aligned to international best practice.

Dr Paul Hutchison: Why has he failed to act fully on the 2005 report into the Marsden Fund that found, among other things, that there was doubt about the allocation process, there was doubt about priorities, and “there appeared to be some confusion in the sector about what the Marsden Fund should properly be funding.”?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: The member will know that the Marsden Council has indeed been busy implementing reports about its practice. One of the things that it has done more recently, which I applaud, is that although in actuality there is no conflict of interest, there has been a perception of that, and it announced recently prior to the questions raised here that it would be changing the way it sets up its panels to assess funding applications, and I think that is a move that is applauded by everyone.

Dave Hereora: What reports has he seen on the response to recent criticism of the Marsden Fund by National’s science spokesperson, Dr Paul Hutchison?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: In the last fortnight there has been nothing less than a backlash from New Zealand’s science community to Dr Paul Hutchison’s attack on the fund and his singling out of an individual researcher. Complaints have come from across the research community, and I would include the following as the main ones: the New Zealand Vice-Chancellors Committee, the Royal Society, the Council for the Humanities, the Association of Crown Research Institutes, the Marsden Fund itself, and from a range of leading individual scientists, like Professor Crispin Gardiner and Rob Ballagh, I think perhaps Dr Hutchison should acknowledge that his position now has put him so far offside with researchers and scientists, that the best thing he could do is apply for leadership of the National Party.

Dr Pita Sharples: Kia ora, Madam Speaker. Tēnā tātou katoa. He aha ngā tohungatanga o te ao mātauranga Māori kei ngā kaiwhakariterite o te Rōpū Toha Pūtea o Marsden kia taea te kī, i whiriwhiria tikatia ngā tono a ngā kairangahau Māori?

[An interpretation in English was given to the House.]

[What expertise do the Marsden Fund decision-making panels have in Māori knowledge to ensure that all the applications from Māori researchers were handled with competence?]

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: If I understand the member’s question correctly, in terms of Mātauranga Māori, in the sense that I understand the member’s own research background as one where he has sought to articulate a world view based upon Māori knowledge, I point out that the Marsden Fund is based largely, almost exclusively in fact, on a Western tradition of knowledge. Although there are Māori who are involved with the fund, who sit on panels, and who apply for money, they do it within a Western science model of funding, not within one that comes from a Māori world view.

Dr Paul Hutchison: Does he agree with Bob Brockie from the Dominion Post who says that at the very least the Marsden Fund should have the word “science” in its mission statement, and that some previous grants for studies, such as on women, poetry, and politics in England, 1603-1688, the literacy and cultural significance of the piano, and the editing of Jane Austen’s Persuasion would be better funded by Creative New Zealand?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: As the member will recall, when the Hon Simon Upton set up this fund under the National Government of the 1990s, it was applied to all forms of research, which includes humanities, social sciences, and the sciences that the member appears to want to favour. I would point out that Mr Brockie’s research, which was largely based upon animal roadkill, or road deaths, might also be seen by people as somewhat marginal to other forms of research that could be done on road deaths, but the member has to remember that this fund funds all forms of research. It is driven by the researchers themselves. I think the most insulting thing the member has said is the implication that he wants to be the one who will decide what the country’s top scientists will do.

Dr Pita Sharples: Kia ora Madam Speaker. He aha hoki he kōrero nā, ahakoa kua rahi ake ngā Māori kua riro i a rātou te Tohu Tākuta mai i ngā wānanga me ngā whare wānanga, kāre anō tātou kia kite kua whiwhi i ngā kairangahau Māori, he pūtea ka tohaina e te Rōpū Toha Pūtea o Marsden.?

[An interpretation in English was given to the House.]

[What could be a possible explanation for the fact that although the universities and wānanga are seeing increased numbers of Māori PhD graduates, yet we are not seeing Māori represented as researchers receiving funding from the Marsden allocation?]

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: I just go back to how this fund is run. It is run by researchers who are our very senior researchers, making their own applications—this is not a strategic fund, as most of our research funds are—to a range of panels that assess the research that is put before them. That goes to the council, which then makes an overall assessment of what research will be funded. If I have a criticism of the fund myself, I would simply say that for far too long it was not provided with additional funding, so that at the present time we have a situation where about 20 percent of the applications that make it through to the final round get funded. That means many applications that are of outstanding merit do not make it into that final group. One of the things I guess I am doing here, looking across at my colleague Mr Cullen, is saying that one of the things I see in this fund is the outstanding research of this country being funded, and perhaps one of the things we should be arguing about is how to fund it better.

Dr Paul Hutchison: Does he think that ordinary New Zealanders reacted in the same questioning way as he and the Prime Minister did when they learnt that nine members of the selection panel appeared to have $6 million out of a total of $38 million to fund their own project, and when will the reports that both he and the Prime Minister called for be released?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: I will start with the end of that question. I made it clear I had not called for a report. I regard the Marsden Fund as a well-run body. The Prime Minister is able to access, and is accessing, directly from the Marsden Fund its reports on how it is run. She understands that it is well run. I cannot remember the first part of the member’s question, because it was probably as silly as the rest of it.

Madam SPEAKER: No, that comment was not acceptable. I remind members that if they include in supplementary questions more than one thought or statement, then the Minister has to address only one of them.

Dr Paul Hutchison: Does the Minister agree with me that in a democracy such as New Zealand, it is absolutely appropriate to have open debate about our most prestigious science fund—particularly over the issues of quality, good process, and adequate funding—and does he commit himself to championing science at a time when the total science investment in New Zealand is less than half of the OECD average?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: Yes, it is appropriate to have open debate; and yes, I intend to champion research in this country. But I would say to the member opposite, who is the research, science, and technology spokesperson for National, that the chief researcher of the research that he chose to criticise was not the associate professor whom he singled out—because of her lesbianism, no doubt—

Madam SPEAKER: Would the member please refrain from such comments.

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: The researcher is Professor Barry Reay DPhil, University of Oxford, BA (Hons) First Class, University of Adelaide. He is someone the member may like to pick up the phone and ring. That person is an expert in the cultural history of sex. He is a gynaecologist; perhaps he and the member could have a good conversation.

Dr Paul Hutchison: I seek leave to table an article from the New Zealand Herald dated 9 September, in which Professor Christine Winterbourn says the Marsden Fund is woefully small.

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

ENDS


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