Questions And Answers - Thursday, 12 October 2006
Questions And Answers - Thursday, 12 October
Questions to Ministers
Marsden Fund—Code of Ethics
1. TE URUROA FLAVELL (Māori Party—Waiariki) to the Minister of Research, Science and Technology: Does he recall advising the House that the Marsden Fund is “run by researchers who are our very own senior researchers, making their own applications”; if so, what is the code of ethics that enables these very senior researchers to do this?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY (Minister of Research, Science and Technology): I thank the member for the question, which has undoubtedly captured the imagination of the House today. What I was saying in context yesterday was that Marsden is a fund that our most senior researchers apply to. Unlike most of our research funding, the funding is untargeted and therefore enables researchers to put forward proposals that they believe will advance their academic field, as judged by panels of their peers. Contracts between the Marsden Fund and researchers “must comply with the Royal Society of New Zealand Code of Professional Standards and Ethics and with other recognised codes relating to the type of research being undertaken”. I will seek leave to table the relevant code of ethics at the end of the question.
Te Ururoa Flavell: Does the Minister recall advising the House: “the Marsden Fund is based largely, almost exclusively in fact, on a Western tradition of knowledge.”, and does he consider this to be an instance of institutional racism, which a previous Labour Government departmental report described as “bias in our social and administrative institutions that automatically benefits the dominant race or culture while penalising minority and subordinate groups”?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: No, I do not regard it as a case of institutional racism. The point I was making yesterday is not that Māori knowledge cannot be studied, but that the Marsden Fund, like most funds of this kind around the world, comes out of a Western tradition of knowledge. That is how things are done. As a professional sociologist, could I say that the definition the member has read out is absolutely right and does not apply at all to this particular fund.
Dr Ashraf Choudhary: Could he tell the House what the process is for deciding what research is funded by the Marsden Fund?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: Preliminary applications to the Marsden Fund are assessed by one of nine panels, each made up of about eight leading researchers. The top 25 percent of applications are then assessed by international experts, and recommendations are made to the Marsden Council, which makes the final decisions. As an additional check, an independent councillor oversees the process. The fund is governed by strict conflict of interest procedures in order to ensure that panel members have no involvement in the assessment of proposals that they might submit. As I confirmed yesterday, to avoid any perception—and I emphasise the word “perception”—of a conflict of interest, the council agreed recently to prevent panel members from applying for funding from next year.
Dr Paul Hutchison: When will the report into the Marsden Fund that the Prime Minister said on Radio Pacific she would order, or the report that the Minister said was ordered, as reported by Radio New Zealand and the National Business Review, be available so that the public can be assured that process, prioritisation, and quantum of funding is absolutely robust?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: As I have said repeatedly, I am convinced that the Marsden Fund is absolutely robust and has been ever since the Hon Simon Upton launched that particular fund. What I have said is that the Prime Minister is able to access directly from the Marsden Fund numerous reports on how it works. Unlike the member, I have confidence in Garth Carnaby and the team to provide that information. I have no doubts about its processes.
Dr Paul Hutchison: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I asked a very specific question as to when the report that the Prime Minister ordered will be available to the public, and the Minister failed to answer that very specific question.
Madam SPEAKER: I thought the Minister did address the question, but if he wanted to just reinforce his point, he is entitled to do so. But he did address it as to reports.
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: As I have said, the report to the Prime Minister is available at any time she asks for it. She has asked for that report, the Marsden Council knows that it may be asked for a report, and, at any time that she wants it, she knows that it is available. But, like me, having discussed this matter, she has total faith in the processes—unlike that member, who now has to go out and explain to the science community why he is trying to undermine this particular fund.
Te Ururoa Flavell: In light of the Minister’s statement that the Marsden Fund is based “almost exclusively … on a Western tradition of knowledge”, what is he, as responsible Minister, intending to do to ensure that apparent Western bias is addressed, in order to reflect the multicultural nature of education?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: I cannot detect any bias, and, therefore, I will not be doing anything.
Dr Paul Hutchison: I seek leave to table one paper—that is, a report from Radio Pacific, dated 28 September 2006, in which the Prime Minister stated she would be asking for a report about the robust procedures relating to the Marsden Fund.
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: I seek leave to table the Royal Society of New Zealand’s code of professional standards and ethics, which applies to the Marsden Fund.
2. JOHN KEY (National—Helensville) to the Minister of Finance: What is the Crown’s actual operating balance for 2005-06, as reported in the last line of table 3 of the Financial Statements of the Government of New Zealand released yesterday?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Minister of Finance): The figure is $11,473 million, of which approximately $2.8 billion is accounting and revaluation changes, and $2.9 billion is investments and returns on the New Zealand Superannuation Fund.
John Key: Has he seen page 21 of the Financial Statements of the Government of New Zealand, which indicates that in the year 2000 tax revenue as a percentage of GDP was 28.8 percent, and that it has now risen in 2006 to 33.1 percent, at a time when GDP has clearly been growing; and how can he justify taking an even larger slice of the cake?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: In that time we have done a number of things. We have, for example, restored the level of New Zealand superannuation, which was cut by the previous National Government. We have removed the policy of very large increases in student fees every year. We have established interest-free student loans. We have massively increased the Working for Families payments, which count as expenditure as opposed to tax reductions in terms of the accounting principles. According to a report I have recently seen, New Zealanders are 88 percent satisfied with their quality of life in New Zealand. I suspect that that figure would be matched in very few countries in the world.
Hon Mark Gosche: Has he received any reports on the consequences of large-scale tax cuts in an economic environment with inflationary and current account imbalances?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I have seen reports of Australia’s experience of introducing large-scale tax cuts earlier this year. The result was higher interest rates and higher mortgage repayments, leading to a slump in consumer sentiment.
John Key: Is the reason that the Minister of Finance raised more revenue than could arguably be required that the Labour Party—as we now find out, in the very recently received report from the Controller and Auditor-General—had spent $768,000 of taxpayers’ money, and will he be decent enough to pay the money back?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: The member yesterday was terribly excited about an $11.5 billion surplus. The proportion of that figure that $750,000 represents is not even within the daily forecasting error by Treasury.
John Key: Is the Prime Minister not in the House because she is embarrassed, as the Labour Party is, that Labour owes $768,000?
Madam SPEAKER: Would the member please be seated! When I stand, members sit. That question is outside the scope of the primary question. Does the member have another supplementary question?
Hon Phil Goff: He’s too excited to be leader, really.
John Key: I am too embarrassed to be in that member’s party—that is for sure.
Madam SPEAKER: Would the member please withdraw that comment.
John Key: He interjected on me.
Madam SPEAKER: Would members on the Government side of the House also stop their interjections that are likely to provoke other interjections. Right from the outset, let us remember what the rules are.
John Key: When the Government increased its tax revenue last year to a whopping 33.1 percent of GDP, was it because the Government knew that it needed $768,000 of taxpayers’ money, and is that the reason the Prime Minister is not here today to defend that—because she is deeply embarrassed about the situation—or had she seen the report already?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: The expenditure referred to represents approximately 0.001 percent of total Government revenue for the year. What I would like the member to do is to explain what the National Party spent its leader’s budget on, as no invoices are available and the Auditor-General could not examine what it spent the money on.
John Key: If the $768,000 of taxpayers’ money that the Labour Party inappropriately spent is so insignificant at 0.001 percent of GDP, why does the Labour Party not have the courage to pay the money back?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I have no parliamentary responsibility for that question, as Minister of Finance or as acting Prime Minister. The Prime Minister will respond, when she has had a chance to read the reports.
John Key: Has the Minister seen page 19 of the Financial Statements of the Government of New Zealand, and if he has seen page 19 of the Financial Statements, could he explain why yesterday he told the House: “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.”—if he has read page 19, he will know that, in fact, the graph shows that the highest level under Sir William Birch was 3 percent of GDP, yet yesterday the surplus was 7.3 percent of GDP—and yesterday when he tacked on his pithy little answer: “The member just makes it up as he goes along.”, was he the member he was talking about?
Madam SPEAKER: Before members go any further, I draw their attention to Standing Order 371, to which reference was made yesterday. If members would like to consider that. They should ask their questions straight, without other comment, and the answers should be given in like way.
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I assume, Madam Speaker, that when the question has not been asked in that way, the answer can follow likewise. Of course, the member is so upset because he got the pith taken out of him yesterday.
Roading—State Highway 1, Picton to Christchurch
3. TIM BARNETT (Labour—Christchurch Central) to the Minister of Transport: What progress has been made on State Highway 1, between Picton and Christchurch?
Hon ANNETTE KING (Minister of Transport): Considerable progress has been made in the last few years. New Zealanders and visitors to one of the most beautiful parts of our country can enjoy the realignment and replacement of the narrow bridge over the railway line at the elevation just south of Picton, the Ōkiwi Bay realignment, the Saltwater Creek realignment, and the main north road four-laning project just south of the Waimakariri River—to mention just some of the improvements that have happened under this Government.
Tim Barnett: What action has been taken in respect of the Awatere Bridge?
Hon ANNETTE KING: The Awatere Bridge was completed in 1901 and has served the community well. But by the early 1990s there were intensified calls for the one-lane road-rail bridge to be replaced with a bridge suitable for State Highway 1. Under this Government, those calls have been heeded. Construction of the new bridge started in February. It is the largest roading project in the district in recent history—long awaited. Nine months into the project, all the foundations are in place, the road deck is under way, and the rail bridge is preserved alongside the new road bridge. That is due to the good work of the previous Minister of Transport, who got the project off the ground, whereas the National Government only talked about it.
Colin King: Can the Minister tell Parliament that while in Opposition Labour spent 9 years complaining about the Awatere Bridge, and then on becoming the Government took 7 long years before it did anything about it?
Hon ANNETTE KING: The Labour Government has done something about it. I just ask why the National Party, which has represented that district for most of its existence—most of the time since the bridge was built in 1901—and which had 9 years to do something about the bridge when the people of that member’s district were saying it was a problem, did nothing. It took this Government to take that matter seriously. The bridge is under way; it is being built and will be opened—no thanks to the National Party, at all.
Tim Barnett: What other reports has the Minister seen on the Awatere Bridge?
Gerry Brownlee: Oh, great question!
Hon ANNETTE KING: That is a very good question, because I happened to see a report, which I am sure Colin King has seen as well, in the Marlborough Express following a visit by Dr Brash to Marlborough. He made a speech to the Marlborough Chamber of Commerce, and said: “It’s unacceptable to have a one-lane bridge on State Highway 1 and I’m going to work towards its replacement.” Well, I say to Dr Brash that it is too late; the bridge is almost finished. And he is going to work towards its replacement? I need to ask Dr Brash what he is going to do. Will he dig some holes? Will he put a plank on the bridge? I tell the member that if he is serious about helping the people of Marlborough, he ought to become better informed.
4. Hon TONY RYALL (National—Bay of Plenty) to the Minister of Health: Does he stand by his comments to July’s rural health conference in Dunedin that claims of a general practitioner crisis were “exaggerated” and that he was “sick of the rural GP crisis syndrome”; if so, why?
Hon PETE HODGSON (Minister of Health): I have said more than once that we need more general practitioners in New Zealand. I said in July, as I do now, that claims of crisis will make it harder to encourage younger doctors to become general practitioners.
Hon Tony Ryall: In a week when the Minister announced a U-turn and a back-down on elective surgery, then announced a U-turn and a back-down on his view that there is no crisis in rural general practice, what is it that made him change his mind?
Hon PETE HODGSON: The member needs to pay more attention. In December of 2005, just before Christmas, I signalled publicly that we would need to increase general practitioner training places. Then the Royal New Zealand College of General Practitioners set about to find those training places. It has found them, and I was happy to announce last week that the details have been finalised and we can start training more general practitioners from next year.
Sue Moroney: What is the Government doing to ensure the stability of the general practice workforce?
Hon PETE HODGSON: In addition to our 7-year, $2.2 billion investment in primary health, which has seen the sustainability of general practices improve—which the Government celebrates, I might say—I announced last week that we would fund an additional 15 general practitioner training places a year. The places will be targeted for young doctors to gain experience in rural New Zealand, and has been welcomed by the College of General Practitioners. In addition, the clinical training agency has a review of general practitioner training under way, which should offer more advice about the next steps needed to further develop the general practitioner workforce.
Barbara Stewart: Is the Minister concerned that a rural general practice network survey shows that patients can be at risk because some rural general practitioners are so seriously sleep deprived, due to on-call demands, that they may be clinically unsafe; if not, why not?
Hon PETE HODGSON: Although the number of general practitioners in New Zealand is comparable with Australia but slightly lower, and comparable with Britain but slightly higher, there is disparity, region for region, where general practitioners are. There is no shortage of general practitioners in the eastern suburbs of Auckland, and in the southern part of the West Coast there have not been general practitioners for decades. That continues to be a matter of concern for this Government.
Hon Tony Ryall: In light of the Minister’s U-turns and denials, has he seen the unprecedented open letter to him from the Rural GP Network, referring to his claims of a rural general practitioner crisis being exaggerated, where it criticises him for implying that New Zealand does not have a general practitioner shortage, and says: “Minister, you are wrong. There is a problem that needs a solution. … Please don’t try to wish our problems away.”, and has the Minister considered what support he could give to rural New Zealand with the $768,000 that could make a difference if only Labour would pay it back?
Madam SPEAKER: Before I call the member, I will just remind members that when they are asking questions they do not preface them with editorial comment.
Gerry Brownlee: Madam Speaker, I would have appreciated you giving that advice to the House at the conclusion of Annette King’s much-editorialised answer.
Madam SPEAKER: Would the member please be seated. I am talking about questions, and the member knows exactly which Standing Order I am referring to. Of course the answer has to address the question, and it must actually relate to that question. However, I could not hear much of Annette King’s answer, so I am sorry I cannot help you there.
Hon PETE HODGSON: It is a matter of fact that in years gone by the number of general practitioner training places has been under-subscribed. It is now a matter of fact that they are over-subscribed because more young doctors want to become general practitioners. In December of last year the Royal New Zealand College of General Practitioners advised the Government of that over-subscription and suggested an increase. An increase has been delivered and I am very proud about that.
Hon Tony Ryall: Why is the Minister of Health paid $1,000 a day to deal with the pressing issues in our health service, such as the elective services crisis and problems in the mental health, maternity, and the general practitioner workforce, yet we have a Minister of Health who spends his day spinning for the Government and coming up with U-turn after U-turn—and will his next U-turn be that the Labour Government will, in fact, pay back the money that he said it would never pay back?
Hon PETE HODGSON: In respect of U-turns, it is difficult to see how a U-turn can have occurred when I have confirmed something that I first signalled in December 2005. However, the National Party’s current health policy, thin though it is, contains the advice that it intends to strip hundreds of millions of dollars from primary health. I want to know when it will change that policy and do a U-turn.
Jo Goodhew: When the Minister opened a Dunedin rural general practitioner conference and accused the Opposition of exaggerating and romanticising about a general practitioner crisis, was he referring to the stressful, sleep-depriving, poorly paid, on-call work that threatens general practitioners’ family life, or to the patient-doctor ratios that see the Hokitika general practitioner Anna Dyzel caring for 5,500 patients on her own, or to the struggle that rural communities like Twizel, Waimate, Kurow, and Levin have to attract replacement general practitioners—what is so romantic about that?
Hon PETE HODGSON: It is a matter of fact that that meeting the member refers to had no media at it. In fact, the only person who has spoken at length about it is the member who asked the question. I invite her to characterise my remarks fully and accurately because that is the honourable thing to do.
Jo Goodhew: When will the Minister admit what the Opposition has been saying for a year—that the best way to encourage medical students and registrars to live and work in rural areas is to give them lengthy experience in rural general practice, and that that is the key to solving the rural GP crisis? Maybe this will be his next U-turn.
Hon PETE HODGSON: The fact of the matter is that the Dunedin school of medicine has been pioneering in New Zealand rural practice. The Dunedin school of medicine is considering looking at longer experience in the undergraduate years—this is a matter for tertiary education, not health, of course. My colleague the Minister for Tertiary Education has—because he is not a person with reckless tax cuts on his mind—asked for a review to see whether the medical schools of New Zealand are being adequately funded, and the results of that review will be made available to him presently.
Jo Goodhew: I seek leave to table an article entitled “After hours biggest issue for rural GPs”.
Jo Goodhew: I seek leave to table an article in GP Pulse entitled “GP ratio
of 1 to 5,500 a tad high”.
Madam SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that article. Is there any objection? There is objection.
Jo Goodhew: I seek leave to table the New Zealand Rural After-Hours Primary Care Provider Survey: the impact of oncall on providers and their families.
Madam SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection? There is objection.
Jo Goodhew: I seek leave to table the New Zealand Rural After-Hours Primary Care Provider Survey: finding workable solutions to providing rural after-hours care.
Madam SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection? There is objection.
Jo Goodhew: I seek leave to table the Royal New Zealand College of General Practitioners Forecasting General Practitioner Workforce Capacity.
Madam SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection? Yes, there is objection.
Hon Tony Ryall: I seek leave to table two documents. The first shows Annette King as Opposition spokesperson on health saying there are not enough doctors in New Zealand, and that she would fix it.
Madam SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection? There is objection.
Hon Tony Ryall: I seek leave to table the second report, which shows that the number of doctors dropped every year she was Minister of Health.
Madam SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection? There is objection.
Question No. 3 to Minister
Hon ANNETTE KING (Minister of Transport): I seek leave to table an article from the Marlborough Express entitled “Don gets an ear bashing”, which sets out that Don Brash was going to fix the Awatere Bridge even though it has already been built.
Madam SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection? There is objection.
Hon ANNETTE KING: I seek leave to table Marlborough Roads, which sets out that the Awatere Bridge commenced in February this year—long before Don Brash went down to start the process.
Madam SPEAKER: Let me remind members, particularly some seated, I am afraid, in back rows, that when points of order are being made, there is no comment. That is the last warning.
Health and Fitness—New Zealanders
5. LYNNE PILLAY (Labour—Waitakere) to the Minister for Sport and Recreation: What is the Government doing to preserve the Kiwi lifestyle by keeping New Zealanders fit and healthy?
Hon TREVOR MALLARD (Minister for Sport and Recreation): The Government has invested $67 million over 4 years to give New Zealand’s young people and their families the tools to become active and healthy. The package includes the improvement of nutrition in schools and early childhood education services, school-based health promotion events, the creation of youth-focused websites to promote healthy eating and physical activity, the sponsorship of television and radio programmes that promote healthy choices, and Government departments leading by example in the promotion of healthy workplaces. The Labour-led Government is committed to giving young New Zealanders the best chance at a long and healthy future.
Lynne Pillay: What other initiatives is the Government undertaking to encourage New Zealanders to be more active?
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: The Push Play Nation campaign runs throughout October, culminating in Push Play Day on 3 November. This includes a challenge to find New Zealand’s most active region. It will be, again, the occasion of challenges between parties and the media, in order to show who is more active. I think it is very important, because people around this building are like most New Zealanders, with more than 50 percent of us overweight or obese. Push Play Nation encourages everyone to incorporate regular physical activity into their daily routines, to prevent obesity from becoming an epidemic.
Sue Kedgley: Does the Minister agree with a recent submitter to the Health Committee, Dr Miles Williams, that the best chance of giving young New Zealanders a long and healthy future is to reduce the overwhelming pressures on them to eat unhealthy food, by changes such as prohibiting the advertising, marketing, and sponsorship of energy-dense foods directed at children, particularly in the school setting and at sports events, if we are to be successful in averting the looming health crisis and in giving young New Zealanders a good chance for a healthy life?
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: The short answer is “No”. The reason I do not think that is the case is that I think all the informed evidence now is that taking a balanced approach is important. It is a matter of combining healthy, balanced eating—absolute bans have been shown not to work—and a good menu of physical activity, rather than being obsessed about one little area.
Election Advertising—Government Response to Report
6. Dr DON BRASH (Leader of the Opposition) to the Prime Minister: What steps, if any, will her Government take to address any findings or recommendations that may be made by the Controller and Auditor-General in his inquiry into election advertising?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Deputy Prime Minister) on behalf of the Prime Minister: The Government will take whatever steps are appropriate—[Interruption]
Madam SPEAKER: I am sorry. If members wish to remain in this Chamber they will allow the member who is answering to be heard. Otherwise, they will leave.
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: The Government will take whatever steps are appropriate when we have had the opportunity to properly consider the report, which was tabled approximately 32 minutes ago. [Interruption]
Madam SPEAKER: I remind members of Speaker’s ruling 23/8 that reference is not made to members who are not in the Chamber. Some members who made those comments have been here long enough to know that Speaker’s ruling.
Dr Don Brash: Will the Prime Minister, in light of the clear findings of the Controller and Auditor-General today, now do what she should have done in the first place and make a commitment to repay the more than three-quarters of a million dollars that was wrongly used?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: The Prime Minister will respond when she has had a chance to consider the report. However, I do notice that the Controller’s report rests heavily upon the legal opinion of the former Solicitor-General, and that that opinion is dissented from strongly by Mr Jack Hodder of Chapman Tripp. Where two of New Zealand’s leading legal minds, Jack Hodder and Terence Arnold, disagree, there is clearly room for uncertainty.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I ask the Deputy Prime Minister whether it is the case that he has, or members have had, insufficient time to read the report—
Hon Member: It’s out of order.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Well, what would the member know about parliamentary rulings?
Madam SPEAKER: Come on, both of you, please. Comments like that will provoke a reaction. Will the member just ask his question, please.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Precisely! What would he know about parliamentary rulings?
Madam SPEAKER: That is not the question.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: It is.
Madam SPEAKER: No, that question is out of order, then.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: Point of order!
Madam SPEAKER: No, would you both sit down, please. I am on my feet. That question, asking about the Standing Orders, is obviously out of order. Would the member now please address his original question to the Minister.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I hardly got started when a member of Parliament shouted out to you that it was out of order. With respect, he had not even heard what I was going to say, and you should have stopped him, rather than trying to rebuke me for countering him.
Madam SPEAKER: Would the member please just ask his question.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: Point of order!
Madam SPEAKER: No, I just want the member to ask his question. Is your point of order continuing on this point of order, or is it a new one?
Hon Dr Nick Smith: It is a serious point of order.
Madam SPEAKER: It is a new point of order? I have ruled on the previous point of order.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. Mr Peters began his question by asking the Deputy Prime Minister. You will know that the question is set down for the Prime Minister, and the practice is, even though she is not present, that one addresses the question to the Prime Minister. In that regard, Mr Peters was incorrect, and we rightly pointed that out.
Madam SPEAKER: Would the member please address his question.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I ask the Deputy Prime Minister, answering for the Prime Minister—
Madam SPEAKER: Just ask the question. [Interruption]
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Well, listen to that!
Madam SPEAKER: Mr Peters, please. Please be seated.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: No, Madam Speaker. You get them to cooperate.
Madam SPEAKER: Mr Peters, you will not be remaining in this Chamber if another comment like that is made, or any other member makes such a comment. The primary question is addressed to the Prime Minister, so supplementary questions must be addressed to that Minister. Of course the Deputy Prime Minister is answering on her behalf. So would the member please now ask his question.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Thank you, Madam Speaker. [Interruption]
Madam SPEAKER: If that member wishes to remain in the Chamber, he will please refrain from such comments. Would the member please ask his question.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Thank you, Madam Speaker. Is it the case that the Government and other parties have had insufficient time to study the report—a report that, I might add, Don Brash has not read, given that he said that it was clear in its findings?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I had noticed that, unlike myself, Dr Brash had not been reading the report but nevertheless asked a question on the basis of the report. The Prime Minister intends to read the information available before responding. She will respond.
Dr Don Brash: Does the Prime Minister regret, now that the Controller and Auditor-General has resisted her attempts to intimidate him, her previous statements that he had “a credibility problem”, and that he should “go back to the drawing board”; if not, why not?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I notice certain assertions in the report that are still contestable. They certainly relate to the legal interpretation on which the entire report is largely based. They also relate to the issue of the nature of the report made before the election in 2005, and I would be happy to discuss those on a later date.
Dr Don Brash: Does the Prime Minister now regret her earlier decision to totally ignore demands for the unlawfully spent pledge card funds to be repaid, and does she wish to make any expression of regret or apology to the New Zealand public in this regard?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: The Labour Party received a draft report—or a number of draft reports, of course, to individual members—and obviously until the final report, which was tabled today, is considered, a final response cannot be given. I do, however, emphasise to the member that if he cares to read the information just given to him, including the Speaker’s report, repayment does not make the unlawful nature lawful. Validation is still required.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Has the member seen this recommendation by the Auditor-General for the future operations of the Parliamentary Service, and I will read the first bullet point on page 54: “Ensuring proposed advertising is checked (either by Service staff or some independent person) before expenditure is incurred to ensure that the proposed advertising is for a purpose within the scope of the Party and Member Support appropriations.”, which is precisely what New Zealand First did on every occasion?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: It is a correct quotation. But what, of course, the Controller and Auditor-General says in his report is that the Parliamentary Service has not properly applied the interpretation of the rules. However, that interpretation—
Hon Bill English: Oh someone else’s fault!
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: That is what the Auditor-General says in his report, if the member would just read it.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: Blame someone else.
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Dr Smith should get a big-print version for himself. What, in fact, that also means is that again the Auditor-General is relying upon the previous Solicitor-General’s legal opinion, which is heavily contestable, as Jack Hodder’s legal opinion appended to the Speaker’s report makes clear.
Gerry Brownlee: Who’s he?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: “Who’s he?”, asks Gerry Brownlee about Jack Hodder! He is just one of this country’s leading lawyers. Gerry Brownlee has never heard of him. I tell members that long after Gerry Brownlee is dead and gone, Jack Hodder will have some influence on this country.
Gerry Brownlee: Just a Government lackey!
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. That is not what we say about people outside. Mr Brownlee has just called Jack Hodder a “Government lackey”. I suggest he talk to his colleague Chris Finlayson before he continues that kind of stupid commentary about a very, very good independent lawyer.
Gerry Brownlee: We have a report in front of us produced by the Auditor-General, an Officer of Parliament. We have a report in front of us produced by you, the Speaker of the Parliament. We have had various other institutions of the State, including the Chief Electoral Officer, express opinions on this. Apparently we are to put it all aside because the Labour Party’s own lawyer has a different view. Dr Cullen should not come in here and have a go at me over that. That is the sort of reason why his party is in trouble. Labour members are a bunch of thieves; pay it back!
Madam SPEAKER: The essence of the point of order is about comments made by members of the public who are not in this Chamber to, in fact, defend themselves. I ask members to confine their comments in an appropriate way.
Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I wish to withdraw and apologise for the comment I made suggesting that Mr Hodder was in some way in the pocket of the Labour Party. But I do point out that he is acting as the Government’s lawyer.
Madam SPEAKER: You have made your point of order and that is sufficient.
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: As the Government’s lawyer—
Madam SPEAKER: No, he is not.
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: —or even the Labour Party’s lawyer, he was not acting on behalf of either. Mr Rennie has acted on behalf of the Labour Party.
Madam SPEAKER: Please be seated. The Speaker hired legal advice, and that legal advice was Mr Hodder. He had nothing to do with any political party whatsoever.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I ask you how you have allowed a member—namely Gerry Brownlee—to get up and carry on protesting, long after you were on your feet; that is something you will not allow from any other member of Parliament, yet you leave him in this House. I know that it is a stylised piece of behaviour for tonight’s news, but it should not be tolerated in this House and I am asking you to address that issue now.
Madam SPEAKER: No, the member is quite right. I have been tolerant because Mr Brownlee is the Opposition leader in the House. But if that happens again when I am on my feet, I will ask Mr Brownlee to leave.
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I was going to make this point before the member intervened. Towards the end of his outburst, the deputy leader of the National Party made an accusation that is clearly unparliamentary. Not only that, but because it rests upon the finding of unlawful expenditure, it also applies to Katherine Rich and a number of other members of the House.
Madam SPEAKER: I am not sure what that is about. I did not hear, but did you make an unparliamentary statement, Mr Brownlee? If you did, please withdraw and apologise.
Gerry Brownlee: Madam Speaker, I want your guidance.
Madam SPEAKER: Thank you.
Gerry Brownlee: We are clearly here today asking questions about a report that relates to funds that are quite obviously—from reading those reports—misused. Now the question that comes to mind is, if those funds are misused, and if Dr Cullen is saying the only way that the use of those funds can be made legal is by changing the law to retrospectively validate that expenditure, then is it unreasonable to suggest that it could be considered theft of taxpayer funds?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Of course, even if there were some virtue in the argument, it is still unparliamentary to use the term the member used. I point out also that it applies to other members, including members of Mr Brownlee’s own party. I emphasise that if Mr Brownlee cares to read the reports, he will discover what I have already been advised by Treasury and Crown Law. That is, that repayment—whether or not it occurs—is irrelevant to the issue of the expenditure being unlawful in the first place, and validation has to occur; it is the only means of remedying the unlawfulness. [Interruption]
Madam SPEAKER: Yes we do, and we could progress if you withdraw and apologise. That was an unparliamentary comment.
Gerry Brownlee: That is my offer. I withdraw and apologise. I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I wonder whether you could tell us, then, what standing in this argument Mr Jack Hodder has, given that the Government wants to hang its hat on him? Can I further table a document showing that the Government itself appointed Mr Terence Arnold to the bench of the Court of Appeal. He was in fact the author of the original report.
Madam SPEAKER: That is not a point of order. [Interruption] Can I address the point of order; then you can have leave. Thank you. That is not a valid point of order, because you are drawing the Speaker into the debate. I suggest that people read both reports totally. You were asking leave, Mr Brownlee?
Gerry Brownlee: I sought leave to table a document showing that the Labour Government appointed Terence Arnold, the author of the original report, to the bench of the Court of Appeal because it respected his legal experience.
Madam SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that document.
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: The Government has no objection to that. I made it clear that both the gentlemen I refer to are distinguished lawyers. Of course, it was Mr McCully, who attacked Terence Arnold’s integrity before he was appointed.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I ask the Minister whether he has read page 55 of the report, which in particular refers to Part 5 of the Auditor-General’s 2005 report, then at bullet points 627, 628, and 629 sets out a series of future circumstances, all of which are critical of this report because they are at variance with what else he says in the remainder of the report?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I have only just been able to get to that point, in response to the member’s question. I have been a little busy on my feet in the last few moments, and I cannot actually read and answer questions at the same time, but I think what is said there is actually—
David Bennett: You can spend taxpayers’ money, though.
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Well, I can do what Lyndon Johnson used to say was important for a politician.
Madam SPEAKER: Members are starting again, and I say to Mr Bennett that that is the last time. You have a loud voice so you are heard when you intervene. It is your last warning.
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Indeed, that seems to be the recommendation. It does seem to me to be at variance with the Auditor-General’s claim that what he said in 2005 was absolutely clear. I think it is important that those rules are properly reviewed. That will take some time. It will also mean that any legislation will have to deal with the fact that currently considerable doubt is around a great deal of current Parliamentary Service expenditure.
Rodney Hide: Here is my cheque—where is Helen Clark’s?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I think that in the member’s case, Alan Gibbs may as well have signed it directly rather than going through the middleman. However, as I said before, the Prime Minister will respond when she has had time to consider the reports.
Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. Mr Hide could not have asked a more simple or clear question. For the acting Prime Minister to stand up and suggest that somehow Mr Hide is influenced from outside this House seriously breaches the Standing Orders. He should withdraw, he should apologise, then he should answer the question.
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I did not suggest that the member was influenced from outside the House. I merely suggested that he receives donations. Is the member now saying that the National Party does not receive any donations from outside the House? That is a fairly extraordinary claim. However, I accept that the first part of the answer was out of order. I repeat the second part—the Prime Minister will respond when she has had a chance to consider the report.
Rodney Hide: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I just want to make it plain to the House that this is a cheque in my name for the money found by the Auditor-General to have been spent inappropriately, despite the best advice. What I want to know is when Helen Clark will front up with her money. When will she write a cheque for the money spent in her name inappropriately? I would like that question addressed.
Madam SPEAKER: I thank the member. That was not a point of order. The Minister did address the question and, as members well know, there is no requirement for a yes or no answer to questions.
Dr Don Brash: What is the Prime Minister’s response to the clear finding in the Auditor-General’s report and the Crown Law opinion that because the use of her leader’s budget to fund the pledge card was unlawful, the cost of the pledge card was an election expense, clearly placing the Labour Party in breach of the campaign spending cap in section 214B of the Electoral Act?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: As I said, the legal opinion on which that is based is highly contestable. However, the Labour Party will not be bothering to contest it.
Dr Don Brash: Does the Prime Minister accept the Auditor-General’s finding that the Labour Party spent more than three-quarters of a million dollars illegally, and will she, as the highest elected official in the land, express confidence in Mr Kevin Brady as Auditor-General and in his findings?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: No, we do not accept that. We accept that that is the view of the Auditor-General, and that is the basis on which we have to act. We believe that the rules we operated within were such as to allow the expenditure that occurred.
Rodney Hide: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. You make it plain in your report that you consider that all members must seriously consider paying back the money if confidence in Parliament is to be maintained. I happen to share that view with you, and I think that there are other parties in this House that do so also. What I would like—
Madam SPEAKER: Look, I thank the member, but the member’s point of order is not a point of order. It is drawing the Speaker into the debate, and I suggest that members can all take an opportunity to read that report in full.
Rodney Hide: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I am not wanting to draw you into the debate, at all. What I am interested to know is what action you will be taking in order to see—this is an important point—
Madam SPEAKER: That is drawing the Speaker into the debate, I am sorry.
Rodney Hide: Madam Speaker, you have written that you suggest that the money should be paid in order to maintain confidence in Parliament. I accept that. Is that the end of the matter for you?
Madam SPEAKER: But if members read the whole report—and this is why I will not accept any more points of order like this—I will be reporting back to the House on the matter. So would members please read the report and not just make selective quotes from the report. There needs to be an opportunity for the whole of the reports to be considered.
Childcare—Eligibility for Assistance
7. GEORGINA BEYER (Labour) to the Minister for Social Development and Employment: What steps has the Government taken to extend eligibility for childcare assistance?
Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE (Minister for Social Development and Employment): I am pleased to advise the House that on Monday this week the income limits for eligibility for childcare assistance were increased by around $5,000, making approximately 1,250 families eligible for childcare assistance for the first time. In addition, approximately 3,900 families who are already receiving childcare assistance will automatically get a higher rate. More than 5,000 families now stand to benefit from increases to childcare and out-of-school care and recreation—known as “OSCAR”—subsidies.
Georgina Beyer: Can he inform the House how many families are currently receiving childcare assistance?
Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: At the end of August this year 34,900 families were receiving childcare assistance for over 43,000 children. I am pleased to inform the House that this uptake is greater than was forecast for that period.
Judy Turner: Has he considered, when extending the eligibility for childcare assistance, the need for respite care for kinship caregivers; if not, does he accept that the Government is at risk of taking advantage of grandparents who take on the burden of raising their grandchildren in their golden years, and that the Government should start to recognised those grandparents’ contribution to society?
Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: No, I do not agree with that member’s proposition. As she is aware, the Government is currently undergoing policy development work in line with the undertaking in last year’s election manifesto.
Controller and Auditor-General—Confidence
8. GERRY BROWNLEE (Deputy Leader—National) to the Prime Minister: Does she stand by her response to question for oral answer No. 1 on 11 October 2006 that it is not her position to “express judgment one way or another” when asked whether she had confidence in the Controller and Auditor-General?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Deputy Prime Minister) on behalf of the Prime Minister: Yes.
Gerry Brownlee: Has she reconsidered, in the light of today’s report, her position—like her colleague Peter Dunne has done—and why will she not now apologise for her earlier intemperate and misguided comments regarding the Auditor-General? Why is she digging in and saying she does not have confidence in him?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: She is not saying whether she has confidence in him, because it is a matter for Parliament. The Controller and Auditor-General is not an appointment of the Government.
Gerry Brownlee: Does the Prime Minister recall seeing on page 30 of the drafts provided to her earlier that the Auditor-General makes it clear that by publishing his report in 2005 and warning parties to stay inside the rules in election year, he expected MPs and parliamentary parties to be especially careful in that area; and does she now regret her decision not to meet with the Auditor-General to discuss her spending proposals for the 2005 election?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: On the latter part of the question, I have no advice. I myself believe that the Controller and Auditor-General’s interpretation of his own report is open to question. I do not think it is as clear as he now, in his 2006 report, makes out it is.
Gerry Brownlee: Can we assume from the answer the Prime Minister gave earlier to Dr Brash that it is the intention of the Labour Party to advance validating legislation to make legal the election overspend and the spending of Parliamentary Service funds on electioneering, and does that mean that the Labour Party has no intention of paying the money back?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I am now able to tell the member that the Labour Party will be paying the money back. I have been waiting for the Prime Minister to read the report and issue a response, which she has now done.
Hon Bill English: She’s not the Labour Party.
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Oh, you have finally woken up to that! However, validating legislation is still required. If the member cares to read the Speaker’s report—and I have received very similar advice from both Treasury and Crown Law—he will find that validation is required even if all the money is repaid by every party in the House. That is the only way of rendering the appropriation lawful—and that covers the spending by Katherine Rich and others.
Gerry Brownlee: Will the Prime Minister concede that that answer is only technically correct, because, of course, the expenditure has already been incurred, and that there is an obligation on the Labour Party to pay the money back?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: It is clear that the member was so stunned by the answer that he did not hear it. I will say this very slowly, for Mr Brownlee: the Labour Party—or perhaps the “Lay-ba Par-tee”, to use the National Party form—should and will be paying the money back. This does not affect the need for validating legislation—it remains unlawful.
Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I do apologise for asking the same question twice. I was just shocked by the first answer but, on behalf of the taxpayer, also delighted.
Madam SPEAKER: That is not a point of order. Is there another supplementary question?
Gerry Brownlee: Will the Prime Minister accept the criticism—
Hon Trevor Mallard: He’s one of their brighter ones!
Gerry Brownlee: Sorry?
Madam SPEAKER: Interjections are permitted. It was not an unparliamentary remark—unless the member objects, in which case I will ask the member to withdraw and apologise.
Gerry Brownlee: Does the Prime Minister accept the criticism of the Auditor-General, when he says: “I find it hard to accept that despite my 2005 Report and the message to be careful about advertising expenditure in the pre-election period, behaviour did not change.”; if she does not accept that, why not?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: No, the Labour Party and the Prime Minister do not accept that. The Auditor-General might have thought he was being clear; if he meant to be clear, he should have been clear.
Gerry Brownlee: When will the Labour Party pay the money back?
Madam SPEAKER: That question is not within the Minister’s responsibility.
Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. The two occasions today that Dr Cullen said the Labour Party would pay the money back were on the floor of this House. It is not an unreasonable—
Madam SPEAKER: I agree with the member that the remarks were made on the floor of the House. But the Minister has no ministerial responsibility for the Labour Party.
Gerry Brownlee: Has the Prime Minister been told by the leader of the Labour Party when the Labour Party intends to pay the money back, and will she pass that message on to the House?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I have no advice on that, but I am sure it will be very soon.
European Union—Butter Import Rules
9. R DOUG WOOLERTON (NZ First) to the Minister of Trade: What does the Minister estimate the likely annual revenue loss to this country will be if changes to the European Union butter import rules mean that Fonterra can no longer act as sole importer to the European Union for its products?
Hon PHIL GOFF (Minister of Trade): The suspension of New Zealand butter imports to the European Union in July clearly put New Zealand’s butter trade and revenue at risk. However, in working with officials we were able to first avoid disruption to the butter trade, then, through an interim arrangement, ensure that we could fill—and we have filled—our 2006 butter quota without loss of revenue to the New Zealand exporter. No decision or agreement, however, has yet been reached on rules that may apply in future years.
R Doug Woolerton: Does the Minister envisage any long-term loss of market share as a result of the European Union decision, and what steps, if any, are Government trade negotiators taking to avoid such a loss from occurring?
Hon PHIL GOFF: I am sure it would be the intention of the European Commission, if it thought it could achieve it, to remove the quota rent from New Zealand. However, New Zealand is staunchly resisting that. The negotiators have been in Brussels in the last two weeks of last month. We have made it absolutely clear that our expectations are that although the European Court of Justice decision is upheld, that will not be at the expense of a contract negotiated between, and accepted in good faith by, the European Union and New Zealand back in 1995.
Election Advertising —Statements of Chief Electoral Officer
10. Hon BILL ENGLISH (National—Clutha-Southland) to the Minister of Justice: Does he agree with the statements of the Chief Electoral Officer that the Labour pledge card, and the A2-size pamphlet headed “Working together”, “clearly encourages … voters to vote for the Labour Party” and that “the expenses of these publications should be included in your [Labour’s] return of election expenses”; if not, why not?
Hon MARK BURTON (Minister of Justice): The member’s question appears to paraphrase a statement setting out a legal interpretation of the Chief Electoral Officer—a statement that I have not received. As I have previously advised the House on a number of occasions, it would be inappropriate for me to comment on what are legal interpretations of the Chief Electoral Officer, made in the course of his duties under the Electoral Act 1993. Furthermore, I would not expect to receive copies of statements from the Chief Electoral Officer of any political party, including the Labour Party, because I do not have ministerial responsibility for political party expenditure.
Hon Bill English: In his capacity as the Minister overseeing the Electoral Act, is he aware that, following that opinion from the Chief Electoral Officer, the general secretary of the Labour Party wrote back to him agreeing, on 13 September 2005, to include the pledge card as an electoral expense that would be counted for the campaign spending limit, but after the election, on 3 October, wrote again to the Chief Electoral Officer saying that he had changed his mind and would not include the pledge card as an election expense?
Hon MARK BURTON: As I have pointed out to the member, it would be absolutely inappropriate for me to receive those communications between that statutory officer and political parties. Otherwise, I might equally have received copies of correspondence between the Chief Electoral Officer and the Exclusive Brethren on how it sought to avoid $1.2 million of an election advertising smear campaign on behalf of the National Party being counted in the National Party’s election campaign expenditure. I did not receive that, either.
Hon Bill English: Is the Minister aware that the Auditor-General’s finding today—that the Labour Party pledge card and brochure were electioneering—confirms the opinion of the Chief Electoral Officer, the Solicitor-General, and Pete Hodgson, Labour’s strategist, that Labour therefore breached the campaign spending limit, which is set down under section 214B of the Electoral Act, and that that is an act of corrupt practice?
Hon MARK BURTON: Of course, I have not read the reports tabled in this House today. Opportunity has not yet presented itself. If I had chosen to comment, having not read them, I might make the sort of silly mistake the member’s colleague Mr Brownlee made, attacking a very senior practitioner who was part of one of those reports. The member, who is so busily commenting on them, clearly had not read them. I have not read them, so, of course, I will not comment on them.
Hon Bill English: Is the member aware that the test of whether Labour’s publications amount to electioneering, and therefore count for the campaign spending limit, is not reliant on the Auditor-General’s report, but on well-known legal cases, such as the case against Reg Boorman in the Wairarapa in 1988, and Peters v Clarkson in Tauranga in 2005; and that that is how we know Labour breached the spending limit, because its publications breached the guidelines laid down by the court of New Zealand?
Hon MARK BURTON: The member does not seem to be able to grasp that I, as Minister of Justice, do not have responsibility for individual party expenditure. Otherwise, I might equally be called on to explain, and account for, the National Party’s overspend on its broadcasting activity.
Hon Bill English: Is the Minister aware that in respect of breaching section 214B of the Electoral Act, publications were authorised by Heather Simpson, and that she told the police she did not regard the pledge card as electioneering, because it was part of the 3-year publication plan, and does he believe that “planning” to break the law, means that one did not do it?
Hon MARK BURTON: I am afraid it is not my responsibility to provide that member with free legal advice.
Hon Bill English: What is the Minister’s view of an Electoral Act, which sets a limit on campaign spending, under section 214B—[Interruption] I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I think there were six interjections in the first sentence of my question. I am prepared to accept a reasonable level of interjection, but I think Parliament has a right to hear the question.
Madam SPEAKER: I would agree, but the same rule is also to apply to those who give the answer. All members in this Chamber are entitled to be heard.
Hon Bill English: Does the Minister believe that the Electoral Act, for which he is responsible, is effective when the Labour Party was able to break the campaign spending limit by over half a million dollars and get away with it, when Bob Clarkson went to court in 2005, and if he had gone over the limit, he would have been chucked out of Parliament?
Hon MARK BURTON: As I previously said, I do not have, and it is inappropriate for me to comment on, the legal interpretations of statutory officers, in my capacity. But I have informed the House previously, as I have informed select committees, that I do believe there is cause to have a good look at electoral law around the whole area of electoral expenses, donations, advertising, and broadcasting. And that work is well advanced.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: As Mr English has brought the question of Bob Clarkson to issue here, is the Minister aware that at the court Mr Clarkson denied knowledge of working with the Exclusive Brethren, yet just 3 weeks ago admitted he did?
Madam SPEAKER: I think that question is asking an opinion of the Minister on a matter that was raised, but I do not think the Minister has ministerial responsibility for that.
Hon Chris Carter: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I heard a very unparliamentary comment from the member for Hamilton East, which I think he should withdraw and apologise for.
Madam SPEAKER: Would the member please withdraw and apologise.
David Bennett: What for?
Madam SPEAKER: I did not hear what the member said, but would the member please—
David Bennett: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. What was the comment?
Hon Chris Carter: When Mr Peters was speaking I heard him yell out “liar”.
Madam SPEAKER: I am sorry but that is unparliamentary. [Interruption] It was Mr Clarkson who said “liar”, was it? Members, please, whoever made that unparliamentary comment, which was obviously heard by members, would he or she please withdraw and apologise.
Bob Clarkson: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I tell the truth, and he does not.
Madam SPEAKER: So you are calling the member a liar, and you are refusing to withdraw and apologise?
Bob Clarkson: Definitely.
Madam SPEAKER: Would you please leave the Chamber.
Bob Clarkson withdrew from the Chamber.
Hon Chris Carter: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I stand by my statement that the member for Hamilton East also called out “liar”.
Madam SPEAKER: If the member says he did not say that, I will take the member’s word.
David Bennett: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I did say that, as well.
Madam SPEAKER: The member did say it. Would he then please withdraw and apologise. Before, the member said he did not say it.
David Bennett: I never said I did not say it.
Madam SPEAKER: But you know that “liar” is an unparliamentary word. [Interruption] Please be seated. I understand that the member is a new member. Would he please now withdraw and apologise for using an unparliamentary term.
David Bennett: I withdraw and apologise.
Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I would like to remind you of your earlier warning to that member, that he was on his last warning.
Madam SPEAKER: That member is a repeat offender, but he has withdrawn and apologised so perhaps for the benefit of the rest of the Chamber he could just hold his counsel.
Hon Bill English: Is the Minister surprised that Winston Peters thought that if Bob Clarkson breached the electoral spending cap under section 214B, it was so serious that he had to take him to the High Court, but now he is busy—
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. That is a ridiculous prefix to a question, about which the member knows nothing. Surely it is not within the purview of the Minister, anyway.
Madam SPEAKER: I suggest that the member rephrase his question as a question.
Hon Bill English: Speaking to the point of order, I point out that the Minister is responsible for section 214B. There are, in fact, only three or four court cases regarding section 214B, and it is quite legitimate to ask him about the effectiveness of that section, given the behaviour of Mr Peters.
Madam SPEAKER: The Hon Mark Burton has been asked a question.
Hon MARK BURTON: I did not actually hear the question from the member.
Madam SPEAKER: Please repeat the question.
Hon Bill English: Does the Minister believe that the Electoral Act is effective, when Mr Peters took Bob Clarkson to court over the issue of whether Mr Clarkson had breached section 214B, but right now is supporting a Government that certainly did breach the section?
Hon MARK BURTON: I think the matters surrounding the case of Mr Clarkson are among many of the reasons why the review of electoral law, particularly as it relates to electoral expenses, donations, advertising, and broadcasting, is required—similarly as it applies to GST problems suffered by the National Party, and in particular the $1.2 million smear campaign funded in aid of the National Party during the last election campaign.
Rights of Indigenous Peoples—Draft United Nations Declaration
11. METIRIA TUREI (Green) to the Minister of Foreign Affairs: What is the Government’s position on the draft United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples?
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS (Minister of Foreign Affairs): The New Zealand Government cannot support the declaration.
Metiria Turei: Why is the Government maintaining its opposition, particularly in response to article 3, the right to self-determination, as that right is a repeat of the same article in other human rights documents, and does not threaten New Zealand’s State integrity, because the New Zealand situation in regard to its indigenous people does not fit the UN criteria for a lawful secession; if so, given this fact, how could he possibly justify not supporting that declaration, when from New Zealand’s perspective there are very few issues for it to consider?
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: I am not certain whether that was a question or a lame attempt at a legal opinion, but let me just say that New Zealand’s longstanding position in negotiations on the declaration was that it had to satisfy several fundamental requirements. It had, amongst other things, to be consistent with international and New Zealand law and policy; protect the rights of all citizens; and safeguard territorial integrity and political unity, as well as the responsibility of democratically elected Governments to govern for the welfare of all their citizens. The declaration fails to meet these three imperatives.
Hone Harawira: Tēnā koe, Madam Speaker. Tēnā tātou te Whare. Does the Minister agree with the statement of the United Nations Secretary-General: “For far too long, indigenous peoples’ lands have been taken away, their cultures denigrated or directly attacked, their languages and customs suppressed, their wisdom and traditional knowledge overlooked or exploited, and their sustainable ways of developing natural resources dismissed. Some have even faced the threat of extinction.”?
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: If one looks around the world, one can be less than satisfied—in fact, greatly dissatisfied—with developments over centuries, and, in some countries, even up until recent times. But New Zealand is not one of those countries. New Zealand is a country that, for example, in political terms has seen dramatic elevation of Māori representation in this Parliament. I am glad to have been part of that. In so many other areas New Zealand has made giant steps. I want to say, just in case people are arguing this point, that Māori were widely consulted from May 1997, under the then New Zealand First - National Government—Interruption]—quite rightly so; we started the process. There have been numerous—[Interruption] Well, I do not know where the Chinese were, but if the member wants to throw up over them, that is fine.
Hone Harawira: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. The question was whether the Minister agrees with the United Nations Secretary-General’s statement. It was not about the policy of New Zealand First in 1997.
Madam SPEAKER: The Minister was actually addressing that question until he went on a bit. Is the Minister finished?
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: I want to say, as to the question, that of course I agree. No rational, sane person with an understanding of history—
Rodney Hide: What about this Minister, though?
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS:—would not agree with substantial parts of the Secretary-General’s comments. When I said rational and sane, that ruled out Rodney Hide, of course.
Metiria Turei: Why is the Government maintaining this negative and destructive stance on the draft declaration when, in fact, the States and the indigenous peoples who have been negotiating the agreement have come extremely close to consensus on almost all of the articles, bar just two or three, and support the draft, which is to go to the UN General Assembly later this year, and when it would be extremely embarrassing for New Zealand to be added to the hold-out countries, given the impacts and the difficulty that so many indigenous peoples face across the globe, and knowing that this declaration could be the only protection available to them—yet New Zealand denies it to them?
Madam SPEAKER: I just remind members that both questions and answers have to be succinct.
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: What the House has just been told by way of a question is not in any way exact, precise, or true. In fact, many of the 47 countries, in respect of the United Nations Human Rights Council vote, registered their disquiet nevertheless about aspects of the text. That is the reality. Precisely, New Zealand does not believe that this matter really addresses, in the way it should, the needs, issues, and interests of indigenous people around the world. That is why we have not gone along with it.
Hon Dr Michael Cullen: In light of the last answer, can the Minister confirm he has received advice that a number of the countries supporting the text have actually privately said they propose to ignore it, and that the New Zealand Government does not believe that is a principled position to take?
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: Again, that is a fact. What we have are some countries that are just growing tired of the issue and allowing it to go ahead, even though they have expressed, now and then, their grave disquiet about its text. New Zealand has taken this issue very seriously; we do not bow down to criticism that we in this country have not stood up for the rights of indigenous people.
12. Hon Dr NICK SMITH (National—Nelson) to the Minister of Energy: Why has the price of electricity increased by over 39 percent since Labour became the Government in 1999, and what changes in Government policy, if any, will be made to provide additional renewable energy?
Hon DAVID PARKER (Minister of Energy): Because the so-called reforms of the previous National Government have not resulted in the decrease that residential users were promised at the time. In real terms—that is, adjusted for inflation—the increase over the last 7 years has averaged under 3 percent and totalled 18 percent.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: Rubbish!
Hon DAVID PARKER: No, it is absolutely true—in fact, I will repeat it for the benefit of the member, because it is true. In real terms—that is, adjusted for inflation—the increase over the last 7 years has averaged under 3 percent per annum and totalled 18 percent. Government proposals to improve electricity market arrangements in order to put downward pressure on prices will be announced with the New Zealand Energy Strategy. This strategy will incorporate a range of measures to support the development of additional renewable energy sources, including details of a previously signalled “cap and trade” option.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: Is the reason that New Zealanders have faced huge power price hikes not that this Government, through its electricity State-owned enterprises—as noted yesterday—has made a profit of over $1.1 billion, so that New Zealanders are being fleeced by this Government not just with high taxes but also with excessive power prices?
Hon DAVID PARKER: No.
Charles Chauvel: When will the New Zealand Energy Strategy become public for consultation, and what will it achieve?
Hon DAVID PARKER: The New Zealand Energy Strategy is expected to be released in draft next month, for consultation. I have no doubt that this strategy will provide New Zealand with a cost-effective, reliable, and environmentally sustainable energy system that New Zealanders will be proud of for decades to come.
Metiria Turei: What is the Minister’s view of today’s High Court decision that the climate change effects of Mighty River Power’s Marsden B coal-fired power station project may be considered in granting its consent—a decision that overturns a previous Environment Court view—and is he pleased that this should spell the end of new fossil fuel - burning energy projects in New Zealand?
Hon DAVID PARKER: I have not read that decision, so I cannot comment upon it. But it has been made clear by the Government for some time that we prefer and promote renewable alternatives over more thermal ones that produce greenhouse gas emissions.
Peter Brown: Noting that previous answer, does the Minister agree that if technology relating to the storage of carbon dioxide was on stream, New Zealand would have the ability to turn our vast coal reserves into enough electricity to power New Zealand for over a thousand years at very reasonable cost; if so, what is the Government doing to assist research into developing carbon storage technology, to help provide for our future needs?
Hon DAVID PARKER: A couple of points there. I agree that if carbon capture and sequestration becomes cost-effective and proven technology, the world needs to look at it. It is more important for the rest of the world than it is for New Zealand. The advice I have received is that our renewable alternatives are likely to be cheaper than the use of coal with carbon capture and sequestration.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: Does the fact that the electricity companies owned by the Government doubled their profits to over $1.1 billion confirm the statement by Roy Hemmingway that the reason he was sacked was that he was an independent commissioner, who was prepared to stand up against the Government State-owned enterprises in the interests of consumers?
Hon DAVID PARKER: Again, the answer is patently “No”.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: Has the Minister noted in the annual report yesterday from Meridian Energy that it endorsed National’s idea for a “cap and trade” system for greenhouse gases, endorsed National’s ideas for reform of the Resource Management Act, and endorsed National’s ideas for transferable water permits; and now, having had New Zealand’s largest electricity company endorse those three significant policy proposals from National, why does he not listen to National and accept that we have got it right?
Hon DAVID PARKER: I do note the comments that Dr Turner has made, and I agree with virtually all of them. I disagree with the National Party’s characterisation of them as reflecting long-term National Party policy. Indeed, it is only in the last week that National has at long last signalled support for Government policy relating to price-based measures in the electricity sector.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: How can the Minister say that Dr Keith Turner is supporting the Government’s policy, when Dr Turner specifically criticises the Resource Management Act in his annual report, saying that delays in the Project West Wind proposal have added $90 million to its costs, and advocating strongly for direct referral to the Environment Court, which National has long promoted?
Hon DAVID PARKER: Again, the member over-simplifies. I also note from that report Dr Turner’s express approval of the changes the Government has made to the National Government’s prior electricity policy settings—namely, the most recent amendments we have made to the Government policy statement, and to the section 26 notice to the Commerce Commission, both of which will encourage renewables.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. My question was quite specifically about Dr Turner’s comments in respect of the Government’s resource management policy and direct referral. There has been no comment at all on that, and the fact is that Project West Wind has gone up by $90 million in price as a consequence of delays. I ask the Minister to address Dr Turner’s concern about the Government’s resource management policies.
Madam SPEAKER: Does the Minister wish to add anything? It is outside the question, although it was raised.
Hon DAVID PARKER: I am very happy to, because I have the answer for Dr Smith. In respect of the pricing of the Project West Wind proposal, that price increase is caused by changes in exchange rates and steel prices.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: Delays—Dr Turner says delays.
Hon DAVID PARKER: No, it is not delays caused by the Resource Management Act processes. The delays that are encountered in consenting New Zealand power stations are no different from those experienced in most developed countries. The Resource Management Act is not the bugbear that the member would like to present it as; it is a necessary part of a developed country where we want to minimise environmental effects.
Madam SPEAKER: I thank the Minister.
Question No. 4 to Minister
Hon TONY RYALL (National—Bay of Plenty): I seek leave to table a transcript of the Minister of Health and Labour’s strategist, Pete Hodgson, in which he was directly asked if Labour would pay the money back, and he said “No, we won’t be paying it back.”
Madam SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection? There is objection