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Questions And Answers - Thursday, 19 October 2006

Questions And Answers - Thursday, 19 October 2006

Questions to Ministers

Pathology—Workforce

1. PETER BROWN (Deputy Leader—NZ First) to the Minister of Labour: What, if anything, is being done by the Department of Labour to ensure we have a pathology workforce that is able to meet our needs?

Hon RUTH DYSON (Minister of Labour): There is a worldwide shortage of pathologists. Pathology is listed on the Department of Labour’s long-term skill shortage list, meaning that New Zealand employers can recruit, without the need for a specific labour market test.

Peter Brown: Is the Minister concerned about the prospect of a significant loss to New Zealand of competent, experienced staff resulting from the decision of the three Auckland district health boards to change the provider of community laboratory services, given that significant numbers of staff and pathologists have indicated publicly that they would rather move overseas than work for the new provider; if she is not concerned, why not?

Hon RUTH DYSON: I share the member’s obvious concern about the loss of any skilled New Zealand workers, and particularly about those who would leave permanently. Could I refer the member to an answer given by the Minister of Health, who reported to the House that the evidence that he was presented with was that our pathology workforce was growing. He further invited the Royal College of Pathologists of Australasia to present him with any evidence to the contrary, which he would then consider. I invite the member to do the same.

Dr Ashraf Choudhary: What reports has she received about the growth of the health workforce in the last 7 years?

Hon RUTH DYSON: New Zealand has a hard-working, world-class and growing health workforce. There are 4,000 more nurses and 1,000 more doctors working in our public hospitals than there were in 2000.

Peter Brown: Does the Minister consider a cut from 645 full-time equivalent skilled jobs in an established laboratory, to around 450 in a phantom laboratory—a laboratory that does not yet exist—to be more of a reduction in profit, or of a blatant cut in the skilled workforce of this country?

Hon RUTH DYSON: The comparison the member has made is not between apples and apples. My understanding is that the total number in the workforce, regardless of who held the contract, would have been reduced because of the requirement in the contract for a significant reduction in collection points.

Peter Brown: Does she believe that the method of awarding a tender to a phantom tenderer and the impact of that on the staff are good ways to treat skilled, professional people?

Hon RUTH DYSON: I will make two points, if I may, in regard to that question. The first is that this is an existing Australian-based company, and, secondly, the tendering process is now a matter of judicial review, so it would be preferable for me to make no further comment.

Government Revenue—Comparison

2. JOHN KEY (National—Helensville) to the Minister of Finance: What was the amount of tax revenue raised by the Government in 1999-2000 and in 2005-06?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Minister of Finance): Excluding the accounting effect of the provisional tax change—the one-off effect in the last year—tax revenue has increased over the period from 28.8 percent of GDP to 32.0 percent. At the same time the economy grew by 24 percent, making it one of the fastest growing in the OECD.

John Key: Why has he allowed tax revenues to rise by 62 percent over the period of time that he has been Minister of Finance, when the economy as a whole has grown at 41 percent, and what justifies him taking a bigger and bigger slice of the cake?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: The year 1999-2000, of course, represented the bottom end of an economic cycle and therefore of the revenue cycle. Since that period we have had very, very strong economic growth and obviously, therefore, that has been a factor. There was, of course, a change to the top tax rate that has affected revenue as well.

Gordon Copeland: Is the Minister aware that personal taxation increased by $8.5 billion between 1999-2000 and 2005-06, and that approximately $1.85 billion of that was solely due to inflation, and will he now commit to adjusting the thresholds so that, at least in real terms and at a minimum, New Zealand taxpayers are put back to where they were as at 1 April 2000, in line with United Future’s advocacy to him over the last 3 years?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: My advice is that those figures somewhat overstate the case, but it is interesting that on the member’s own figures the so-called fiscal drag effect was about only 20 percent of the total movement in income tax returns. I acknowledge the continuing interest in the issues around tax thresholds, and of course they will be considered in the light of final decisions around the business taxation review in the context of next year’s Budget, for implementation on 1 April 2008.

John Key: Does he think people who are fed up with increases in local body rates realise that taxes have gone up faster than rates in recent years—growing 62 percent since 1999-2000, compared with a 45 percent increase in rates—and does he think that when people cotton on to the fact that central government taxes have been rising at a faster rate than rates, there will be not just a rates revolt but a tax revolt as well?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: The member makes a very interesting point, that rates have risen by only 45 percent compared with nominal GDP growth of 41 percent. In other words, they have scarcely shifted as a proportion of GDP, contrary to what National Party members often claim.

John Key: Does he think the enormity of tax increases will become even more stark when people realise that over the last 6 years the take from rates has increased, in nominal terms, from $2 billion to $3 billion—a $1 billion increase—while total taxes have risen, in nominal terms, from $32 billion to over $52 billion, which is a $20 billion increase?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Nearly $2 billion of that is simply an accounting change that will not be repeated, as the member well knows. Of course, one of the things that has also driven Government spending in that period is that we have now increased the subsidisation of local government to some 13 percent of its total revenue—an all-time record.

John Key: If his Government is supporting an independent inquiry into rates, can he now tell us whether his Government will also be supporting an independent inquiry into taxes?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: The Government has a business taxation review document out for public consultation. We are making decisions on that, in the context of next year’s Budget, and those will come into implementation on 1 April 2008. I am sure that if there are any tax cuts, and if they are big enough, the member will try to claim full credit for them, from his position as Leader of the Opposition at the time.

[Interruption] I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I note that the member just interjected on my statement that he would probably be Leader of the Opposition at the time. I do not know whether he meant to do that, but it is interesting.

Madam SPEAKER: That is not a point of order.

John Key: That is not even amusing. Can the Minister confirm that, according to the latest statistics, only nine OECD countries had a lower tax to GDP ratio than New Zealand in 1999 but that by 2004 a total of 15 countries were ahead of us, putting us in the bottom half of the OECD—a further sign that under his financial management our country is becoming less competitive, on a relative basis, than other countries?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I can confirm that a clear majority of OECD countries saw tax increase as a proportion of GDP over the period, including the United States. I can confirm that New Zealand had one of the best fiscal performances over that period—unlike, say, the United States, which was running massive deficits throughout that period. I can confirm that we are in a far better fiscal position, for the long term, than almost any other OECD country, along with Australia.

John Key: I seek leave to table three of the latest OECD revenue statistics, which clearly show that New Zealand’s position has slipped from 10th to 16th.

Leave granted.

Primary Health Care—Affordability

3. DARIEN FENTON (Labour) to the Minister of Health: What initiatives has the Government implemented to ensure all New Zealanders have access to affordable primary health care?

Hon PETE HODGSON (Minister of Health): In addition to our work to lower the cost of seeing a doctor for all families, the Labour-led Government’s extra investment in general practices that charge very low fees has proven to be more successful than originally expected. Two hundred and twelve practices have taken up the new funding. That is a higher number than the 166 projected to do so. Most of those practices serve high-need communities, and I am delighted that the Government has been able to assist in ensuring their financial stability.

Darien Fenton: What will the impact of the very low fees initiative be for patients?

Hon PETE HODGSON: The initiative is being implemented primarily to support general practices that charge low fees, not to lower fees for patients. However, the Government’s investment does mean that over 7,600 New Zealanders will have secure access to doctors’ visits at a cost of no more than $15 for adults, $10 for those aged under 18, and nothing at all for those aged under 6. From 1 July next year all New Zealanders will have access to low-cost primary health care. That is what a Government can achieve when it puts the health of families before reckless tax cuts.

Barbara Stewart: What work, if any, has the Ministry of Health done towards ensuring that the mean amount charged for general practitioner visits for children under 6 is zero, given that some parents face charges of up to $45 for a service that is supposed to be free?

Hon PETE HODGSON: It is true that National, with help from New Zealand First as I recall it, long ago introduced zero fees for under-6-year-olds. Regrettably, it managed to get the contracting wrong, and as a result of that a number of doctors—not too many—charge more than zero. The median level is zero, but the mean level is more than zero, and this funding will reduce it a little.

National Certificate of Educational Achievement—Variation

4. Hon BILL ENGLISH (National—Clutha-Southland) to the Minister of Education: Does he stand by his statement, in relation to the 2005 NCEA results, that: “Standards are set each year, and the standards this year were set in a way that people regard is fine, and the variation is fine.”?

Hon Brian Donnelly: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I do not know whether you have noticed, but there is a sign over on an Opposition desk that I do not think is within the Standing Orders or is acceptable.

Madam SPEAKER: Would the member please withdraw the sign.

Hon TREVOR MALLARD (Minister for Economic Development) on behalf of the Minister of Education: I meant to say that achievement standards are set. They are publicly available through the New Zealand Qualifications Authority website. Although some standards are reviewed periodically, they are not changed every year. To ensure we keep variability within acceptable levels, the qualifications authority has developed profiles of expected performance. That has allowed it to address problems of variability that occurred in the 2004 exam season and were highlighted by Bill English, and we have no reason to expect that this will be any different in 2006. Variability does occur for good reasons—for example, changes in the cohort of students sitting the standards or improvements in teaching—and that variation is perfectly acceptable.

Hon Bill English: Can the Minister confirm that despite his reassurances to the House that the National Certificate of Educational Achievement (NCEA) in 2005 was “fine”, he has since then taken advice from a range of assessment experts, and is now in the process of changing, fundamentally, the design of NCEA assessment; if so, what problem is he trying to solve now that he hid last year?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: No.

Hon Brian Donnelly: What is the Minister doing about the demotivating elements of NCEA uncovered by the Ministry of Education’s research into that issue?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: As I am acting for the Minister, I am not briefed on that supplementary question.

Hon Bill English: Can the Minister confirm that after the 2004 Scholarship debacle, the basis of assessment for Scholarship was changed, and that since then he is now using the same group of people to make extensive and fundamental changes to NCEA; and why did he give assurances to the House that the NCEA was “fine” in 2005, when he was already in the process of making fundamental changes to fix it?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: No.

Hon Bill English: Well, if the Minister says “No.”, why did he answer a parliamentary question by saying “Yes.”?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: Because that is not the question in the written question.

Hon Bill English: Can the Minister confirm that he is taking advice from the technical overview group, comprising Professors Gary Hawke, Terry Crooks, John Hattie, Cedric Hall, and Jeff Smith, to investigate the use of exemplification of standards, written scoring rubrics, and item analysis for external assessment; and can he also confirm that this is a fundamental shift in the way that external assessment is done, and that he said that this is a similar approach to that used for Scholarship 2005?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: Yes, no, and yes.

Hon Bill English: What are New Zealand students, teachers, and parents to make of all the assurances given by the Government over the last 2 or 3 years about the validity of NCEA assessment, when it has now become apparent that the Government is secretly changing, fundamentally, the way it runs external assessment in the NCEA?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: It is not.

Hon Bill English: Well, if the Government is making no changes, why is it using a collection of New Zealand’s only assessment experts to change the way the standards are communicated to teachers, to change the way the exams are written, to change the way the marking schedules are written, and to bring in pre-testing—which every other country has used for years and years—yet the Minister does not think that that changes the basis of NCEA assessment?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: Minor improvements are not fundamental changes.

Sedition—Law Commission

5. KEITH LOCKE (Green) to the Minister of Justice: Does he agree with Law Commission prsident, Sir Geoffrey Palmer, that in a free society like New Zealand, which respects the democratic value of free speech, people should not be able to be punished for defaming the Government; if so, will he act to implement the recommendation of the Law Commission “that the seditious offences set out in sections 81 to 85 of the Crimes Act 1961 be abolished.”?

Hon MARK BURTON (Minister of Justice): The Law Commission’s work on this matter is in response to the Government’s request for it to review seditious offences and to make any necessary recommendations for reform. The Law Commission released its consultation document 3 days ago, which includes this proposition. The Government will carefully consider and respond to the Law Commission’s final report, which will, no doubt, be written following this period of consultation.

Keith Locke: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I understand that the Government is considering the report, but the first part of my question asked about whether the Government agreed with Sir Geoffrey about the question of being charged for defaming the Government. Could I have a response to that part of the question.

Madam SPEAKER: The Minister did address the question, but if he wants to add anything more—

Hon MARK BURTON: No.

Keith Locke: Has the Minister any fears that Labour politicians could be in danger of sedition charges under a future National-led Government, given that three former leaders of the Labour Party were convicted of sedition under anti-Labour Governments—namely, Harry Holland, Peter Fraser, and Walter Nash?

Hon MARK BURTON: I have no fears in the foreseeable future. I do not anticipate there being a National Government for some time. Given the member’s question, I do think it is timely that the Government’s initiated sedition review takes place—as it is doing.

Dr Richard Worth: Why would New Zealand move to abolish seditious offences when, in just the last year, the Australian Government is moving in the opposite direction with its recent tightening of anti-terrorist laws as part of its war on terror?

Hon MARK BURTON: The Australian Government has reviewed—and, I think, quite significantly changed—the proposition and definition of seditious offences in that update. More to the point, the Government has not taken a position—only that it is timely to have a review, and, indeed, that is what we are doing. It is an opportunity for wide consultation with members of the public, and people will have their say.

Keith Locke: Does the Minister agree with Sir Geoffrey that if sedition offences were proposed today,they would attract an adverse report under the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act; if not, why not?

Hon MARK BURTON: As I said in answer to the primary question, 3 days ago a discussion document was released. It would be inappropriate for either me or the Government to offer an opinion on the discussion document rather than respond to what I am sure will be a final report.

Keith Locke: Does the Minister agree, in response to Richard Worth’s question, that the anti-terrorism legislation we have now is fully adequate to deal with any terrorist activity, that the sedition laws are a relic of a bygone era, and that those charged with sedition in the past now look like a roll-call of our heroes, from Te Whiti of Parihaka to the Tūhoe leader Rua Kēnana, to Catholic bishop James Liston, to conscientious objectors Ormond Burton and Bob Semple?

Hon MARK BURTON: The Government and I certainly agree that it is timely to have a look at the sedition laws, which is why we have asked the Law Commission to have the current review and to engage in public consultation, which is what is going on, and I await its report with interest.

Question time interrupted.

Questions for Oral Answer

Questions to Ministers

Ingram Report—Immigration, Minister’s Statement

6. Dr the Hon LOCKWOOD SMITH (National—Rodney) to the Minister of Immigration: When he told the House on 24 August 2006 that “The Ingram report makes clear that Mr Field may have committed some errors of judgment”, was he referring to Mr Field’s failure to advise the Associate Minister of Immigration of all relevant information, or were there other matters he was referring to?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE (Minister of Immigration): Yes; and no.

Dr the Hon Lockwood Smith: Was it merely an error of judgment that Taito Phillip Field kept from the then Associate Minister of Immigration the fact that Mr Field did a deal with Mr Sunan Siriwan for him to work for Mr Field without pay in Samoa in return for a work permit for New Zealand, as alleged in a sworn affidavit by Mr Sunan Siriwan; if so, why is that merely an error of judgment?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: The matter discussed is the subject of a conflict of evidence and has been referred to the New Zealand Police.

Dr the Hon Lockwood Smith: Was it merely an error of judgment that Taito Phillip Field kept from the Associate Minister the fact that Mr Field employed Mr Sunan Siriwan’s partner, Ms Phanngarm, as his wife’s personal housekeeper in Samoa, where she “clean everything, even her shoe, clean her house, clean her clothes by hands, and wash her underwear by hands, everything” without pay, in exchange for his assistance in securing a New Zealand work permit for her; if so, why is that merely an error of judgment?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: I repeat that the matters referred to are the subject of a conflict of evidence and have been referred in the proper way to the New Zealand Police.

Dr the Hon Lockwood Smith: When Taito Phillip Field kept from the Associate Minister of Immigration the information that Ms Phanngarm was working for Mr Field’s wife without pay in Samoa, “like slave, I still have to work even I’m sick”, in exchange for immigration assistance, does he consider that merely an error of judgment; if so, why?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: I repeat that the matters have been referred to the New Zealand Police, who are the competent people to investigate, and, where appropriate, decide that they are for the courts to determine.

Dr the Hon Lockwood Smith: When considering the latest immigration applications of Mr Sunan Siriwan and his partner, Ms Phanngarm, was it merely an error of judgment for Mr Field to take $2,000 in cash from Mr Sunan Siriwan, neither issuing a receipt nor returning the $69 overpaid for Ms Phanngarm’s deportation costs; if so, why is that merely an error of judgment?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: The allegations referred to, to my knowledge, have not been established as fact but have been referred to the New Zealand Police for further investigation.

Dr the Hon Lockwood Smith: When considering the latest immigration application by Mr Siriwan, was it merely an error of judgment for Taito Phillip Field to pay Mr Siriwan $1,000 in cash—cash he just happened to have in his pocket—when he met Mr Siriwan in Samoa last week, given that Mr Siriwan has signed an affidavit alleging Mr Field offered him the money to stop him from talking to the media; if so, why is that merely an error of judgment?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: I am sure that the matter to which the member refers will be further investigated by the New Zealand Police. The member is indeed brave to refer to things in people’s pockets.

Benefits—Transition to Work

7. GEORGINA BEYER (Labour) to the Minister for Social Development and Employment: What reports, if any, has he received on the Government’s progress at moving New Zealanders off benefits and into work?

Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE (Minister for Social Development and Employment): I am pleased to advise the House that Government policies like Working for Families and Work and Income’s new service approach are continuing to have success in assisting people to move off benefits and into work. In the year from September 2005 to September 2006 the total number of people on benefits fell by a further 10,000. This is one of the reasons why, under this Labour-led Government, we have the highest ever levels of labour force participation and record low levels of unemployment at 3.6 percent.

Georgina Beyer: What have been the changes in the number of people on the domestic purposes benefit?

Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: In the year to September 2006 the number of people receiving the domestic purposes benefit fell by over 5,000. This was nearly all accounted for by a drop in the number of sole parents on domestic purposes benefits, which in the year to September fell from 97,796 to 92,148.

Judith Collins: Has the Minister seen reports showing that the number of sickness and invalids beneficiaries has increased by 50 percent since his Government came to office; and, if he has, why are sickness and invalids beneficiary numbers increasing, despite his numerous employment assistance programmes?

Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: The member will be pleased to hear that over the past 6 years more than 800,000 people have left the unemployment benefit. Of those—

Hon Dr Nick Smith: What about the sickness benefit?

Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: Wake up, ugly! Of those people, only one in 11, or 9 percent, have transferred to the sickness benefit. I also remind members that sickness and invalids benefit beneficiaries are people certified by doctors as being in need of Government support.

Heather Roy: Why, when—as the Minister states—the number of people on the domestic purposes benefit has dropped by over 5,000, or around 5.2 percent, from 2001 to 2006, have the debts owed by domestic purposes benefit beneficiaries increased by more than $15 million over this time?

Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: I remind the member that we have a zero tolerance policy on debt fraud, but the reason for the increase in the figure, according to my advice, is that recoverable debts are also being included in that total.

Land Information New Zealand—Confidence

8. Hon DAVID CARTER (National) to the Minister for Land Information: Does he have confidence in Land Information New Zealand; if not, why not?

Hon DAVID PARKER (Minister for Land Information): Yes.

Hon David Carter: Why does he have confidence in Land Information New Zealand if he is going to have to personally vet every land tenure review proposal?

Hon DAVID PARKER: The Government has said it has concerns about outcomes of tenure review, particularly around landscape values in lakeside areas. That is the reason I am paying more attention to that issue at the moment.

Hon Marian Hobbs: Why has the Government said that it is reassessing landscape outcomes from tenure review, especially around lakes?

Hon DAVID PARKER: It is hard to think of a more important landscape issue in New Zealand. These landscapes are central to the vision we have of ourselves as New Zealanders and to our tourism. These are long-held values and they are well expressed on the memorial at Burkes Pass to Michael John Burke, a runholder back in 1855. That memorial includes the words “O ye who enter the portals of Mackenzie to found homes, … shall your mountain faces and river flats be preserved to your children’s children, and for evermore.” Those issues remain current and that is why I am paying more attention to them now.

Hon David Carter: Will he assure the House today that his decision to be personally involved in every land tenure will not delay any final decisions?

Hon DAVID PARKER: No.

Hon David Carter: What was the point of commissioning the Donn Armstrong report into valuation methods if the Government is going to ignore totally the findings of that report?

Hon DAVID PARKER: The Government is not totally ignoring the Donn Armstrong report and, indeed, it is clear that the process of that report has led to clarity as to the rules that ought to be applied. The Government has also made it clear—and I emphasise—that it values the contribution of sustainable high country farming in New Zealand, both to the New Zealand economy and to South Island communities. The Government wants that contribution to continue and it is confident that it will.

Jacqui Dean: Is the Minister aware of a proposal to transfer 20,000 acres at Mount Ida in Central Otago from Land Information New Zealand into the Department of Conservation estate, which will have the effect of probably forcing three farming families off their land, and does he care?

Hon DAVID PARKER: I am aware of the issues there that relate to the Mount Ida syndicate and the so-called Soldiers Syndicate. These are areas of land where the occupiers have no security of tenure because they are not pastoral leases, they are non-renewable pastoral licences.

Hon David Carter: Is this Minister ever going to stand up to the relentless march by the Department of Conservation and Royal Forest and Bird Protection Society to lock up vast chunks of the South Island, which has been farmed without detriment for over 100 years?

Hon DAVID PARKER: The only mechanisms that enable land to be returned to the Department of Conservation from pastoral leases—other than consensual sales—are through the voluntary tenure review process, which is voluntary, and there is no compulsion on either lessees or tenants. [Interruption] The member shouts out it is voluntary. There is no proposal from the Government to make it compulsory.

Fishing, Foreign Crews—Public Comment

9. SUE MORONEY (Labour) to the Minister of Immigration: Has he received any public comment on the recently announced policies for foreign fishing crews?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE (Minister of Immigration): I have seen an editorial in the Dominion Post of Monday, 16 October, that warmly welcomes the foreign charter fishing crew policy the Government announced last week. In particular, it notes that it was the fishing industry’s failure to drive out the “cowboys” that prompted the Government to act and that we “should not be put off by the squawks of those who cannot see past their own bank balances.”

Sue Moroney: Why will the fishing policy announced by the Government protect and promote the New Zealand fishing industry over the longer term?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: The policy promotes human rights and decent labour conditions, thus enhancing the reputation of the New Zealand fishing industry. It also prevents a race to the bottom, whereby legitimate New Zealand operators are undercut by cheap foreign labour.

Peter Brown: Can I take it from the Minister’s answer that he shares New Zealand First’s view that foreign fishing crews should be allowed only when it is proved that New Zealand workers are unwilling or unable to undertake the work, and does he also agree that adopting industry-wide minimum employment standards will encourage New Zealanders to do the work, which will reduce the reliance on foreign crews?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: It is a longstanding tenet of Government immigration policy that jobs should always be offered to New Zealand workers where they are available. Secondly, it is a longstanding part of Government policy that terms and conditions for foreign crews should be equivalent to those of domestic ones.

Tariana Turia: Would the Minister agree that the real concern for the minimum wages being paid to foreign fishing crews has more to do with undermining the Māori fisheries industry and assisting the Talley’s family to achieve cheap quotas and control of Māori fisheries because of that family’s relationship with politicians?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: It ill-serves a party that claims to represent some of the lowest-paid New Zealanders to be advocating that iwi fishing companies make a profit from the sweat of Third World workers being paid even less. The officials’ advice is that although there may be some economic impact on firms—[Interruption]

Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I have my speaker on high, I am trying to listen, and I cannot hear the Minister who is two benches behind me.

Madam SPEAKER: Yes, I know. I thank the member and I understand that that is also why the members were rising at the back of the Chamber. I ask the Minister, however, to just directly address the question.

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: I will directly address the question, again. It ill-serves a party that claims to represent some of the lowest-paid New Zealanders to be advocating that iwi fishing companies make a profit from the sweat of Third World workers being paid even less—

Tariana Turia: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I would like to ask the Minister to address the question.

Madam SPEAKER: So would I. I ask the Minister, please do not preface it with statements, but just get to the substance of the question.

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: Māori make up a significant percentage of the people working on fishing vessels, and it is important that their conditions are not undermined by allowing foreigners to do the work on substandard terms. The officials’ advice is that although there will be some economic impact on some firms, there is no evidence that iwi will be disproportionately affected.

Gambling—Problem-Gambling Service Providers

10. SANDRA GOUDIE (National—Coromandel) to the Associate Minister of Health: Is he satisfied with the Ministry of Health’s contracting and monitoring of problem-gambling service providers; if not, why not?

Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR (Associate Minister of Health): Yes, I am satisfied with the strategic progress being made, but there is always room for improvement.

Sandra Goudie: Can the Minister explain why his ministry paid the Pacific People’s Addiction Services of Hamilton $143,000 last year for counselling eight people at an average of $18,000 each?

Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: That provider, along with 12 other providers, is currently being reviewed. They are new providers in a difficult area of social responsibility in this Government. They have been funded to develop services to assist people with problem-gambling habits. The outcome of that review will identify whether any problems have occurred.

Sandra Goudie: Can the Minister explain why his Government overpaid the Pacific People’s Addiction Services of Hamilton $143,000 last year for counselling eight people, when that organisation’s official contract requires it to see over 300 people; and does he realise that his ministry agreed to pay this money for people who may only have had a 16-minute phone conversation?

Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: As I said before, a number of providers have been set up to assist in the problem-gambling area. This is one of those organisations. It, along with 11 others, is currently under review in order to ensure that the money provided has been spent wisely.

Sandra Goudie: Can the Minister explain why the Government paid the Waipareira Trust $180,000 for counselling only 13 people last year—an average of $14,000 for each person—when the contract required the trust to counsel 440 people for the year; and why is the Government overpaying when these contracts are not being met?

Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: Those questions will be answered by the review. I would like to remind that member—

Madam SPEAKER: Please be seated. Members will be leaving the Chamber if this continues. We have done quite well so far. People are entitled to be heard. Would the Minister please address the question.

Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: I would like to remind that member that we are dealing with a very serious public health issue here. Every day New Zealanders lose $5.5 million. Currently, 39,000 people are considered to be problem gamblers, and another 17,000 in this country are considered to be at risk. The Ministry of Health has taken over responsibility for this area, and it is developing work with problem-gambler providers.

Sandra Goudie: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I ask that the Minister address the question, which asks him to explain why the Government paid the Waipareira Trust when the contract was not being met.

Madam SPEAKER: The Minister did address the question. But the member is entitled, if she wishes, to ask another question.

Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. The Minister did not answer the question. The contract was for some 440 treatments. The organisation provided only 14 treatments, but it was paid out for the whole lot. Then he proceeded to tell us that 17,000 people in this country have a gambling problem. Well, how can we believe that, given that only 14 people turned up, the contract was for 440 treatments, and the money was paid? The member should just answer the question.

Madam SPEAKER: That is not a point of order. I have ruled on it.

Sandra Goudie: Why is the Minister happy to pay $14,000 for a 16-minute phone conversation or a single half-hour counselling session; and if he has known how poorly all these problem-gambling providers are performing, why has he given nearly all of them extra contracts worth tens of thousands of dollars more?

Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: I do not accept for a moment the claims made by that member. A review is currently under way. There will be a normal audit process of every one of those providers. They have been paid money to assist them to set up the organisation that they have, and if there are any problems they will be identified through the review.

Steve Chadwick: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. It is impossible to hear the Minister’s response at the back of the Chamber due to the constant interjections.

Madam SPEAKER: Will the Minister please repeat his answer succinctly.

Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. While you were ruling, there was again a barrage from Simon Power. I could hear you, but I am sure people at the back of the Chamber will have trouble in doing so if he keeps that up.

Madam SPEAKER: Mr Power has a loud voice and he sits right beside the Speaker. So I ask the member not to intervene in future. Will the Minister please succinctly address the question.

Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: That question, and a number of others, will be answered by the review that is currently under way.

Sandra Goudie: Does the Minister realise how bad this scandal looks, when only yesterday a casino was fined for not dealing with a problem gambler, yet this Government is wasting thousands of dollars overpaying counselling services; and is it not time that the Auditor-General was called in to blow the whistle on this misuse of public money?

Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: The fact that a casino was fined yesterday identifies the major problem that some organisations throughout the country are not taking responsibility to try to minimise harm from problem gambling.

Indigenous Rights—Consultation

11. TE URUROA FLAVELL (Māori Party—Waiariki) to the Minister of Foreign Affairs: What were the 13 occasions between 1997 to 2003 on which New Zealand has consulted “interested Māori and others” on the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and what are the names of the groups and individuals that were consulted on those 13 occasions?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Leader of the House) on behalf of the Minister of Foreign Affairs: They were on various days in May 1997, July 1997, October 1999, October 2000, November 2000, May 2001, November 2001, July 2002, August 2002, and August 2003. Many hundreds of people attended, so obviously one cannot list all of them. Amongst the groups involved were the Māori Women’s Welfare League, New Zealand Māori Council, National Māori Congress, Māori Legal Service, Rātana Church, Waitangi Tribunal, and the Māori Land Court.

Te Ururoa Flavell: What advice did his office give that led the Prime Minister to respond to Dr Pita Sharples, in a letter of 16 October 2006, regarding the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which states that some critics “have not even read the chair’s text or the many statements we have given on the subject.”; and what evidence does he believe the Prime Minister may have to support that claim?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: There is a great deal of misinformed comment on the declaration. One of the saddest things is that a number of countries indicated that they are voting for the declaration, but have no intention of implementing it.

Te Ururoa Flavell: What is his responsibility for the statement made on 16 October 2006, which was tabled at the 61st session of the United Nations General Assembly by a representative of New Zealand, which stated: “Social and economic policies are best determined on the basis of need.”, and where does he suggest that the notion of “rights” fits within this?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: The Government is a signatory, along with a very large number of other countries, to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Unlike many of those countries, we actually follow that declaration.

Te Ururoa Flavell: I seek leave to table a letter from the Prime Minister to Dr Pita Sharples concerning the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

Leave granted.

Te Ururoa Flavell: I seek leave to table the statement made by the representative of New Zealand to the United Nations General Assembly 61st session.

Leave granted.

Food Standards Australia New Zealand—Folic Acid

12. Dr PAUL HUTCHISON (National—Port Waikato) to the Minister for Food Safety: Does she intend to sign up New Zealand to the Food Standards Australia New Zealand plan, to add folic acid to bread, at the Australia New Zealand Food Regulation Ministerial Council this month; if so, why?

Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR (Minister of Corrections) on behalf of the Minister for Food Safety: The Minister is on record as being a strong supporter of folic fortification, and will take into account the submissions and advice she has received to date, and will continue to receive, when she participates in the discussion on the Food Standards Australia New Zealand proposal at the upcoming ministerial council meeting.

Dr Paul Hutchison: Why would she commit New Zealand to a rushed-through new plan for mandatory fortification of most breads with folic acid, when folic acid supplements will still need to be taken to prevent neural tube defects, when evidence of effectiveness is in doubt with this new plan, and when a public opinion poll shows that more than 80 percent of New Zealanders are against mandatory fortification?

Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: This is not a rushed process. When we came into Government in 1999 that member led the charge to have folic fortification. There has been much discussion about the level of fortification within bread, and it is important that we do not have levels that are unsafe. That member supports that position, and I am sure he will support—or he should support—the precautionary approach being proposed.

Steve Chadwick: Has she seen any reports on this matter?

Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: Yes, I believe she has, in the Sunday Star-Times of 23 July, where Dr Hutchison called for more time for consultation, which would delay the introduction of the one known means of reducing neural tube defects. The question I ask of Mr Hutchison is this: does he support this or does he not?

Madam SPEAKER: The member is not entitled to ask that question.

Barbara Stewart: Can we expect to see further Government action aimed at removing additives such as excess sugar from food, once a precedent has been set for the Government to interfere with food by adding folic acid to bread on a population-wide basis?

Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: Any proposal such as that is up for discussion between officials of Australia and New Zealand, which is the agreed process.

Sue Kedgley: Will the Minister listen to the appeals of the baking industry and the entire organics industry, and seek to exempt organic breads from mandatory fortification, thereby ensuring some consumer choice, or will she undermine the entire organics standard, which explicitly prohibits the adding of synthetic additives to organic products?

Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: I know that the Minister is aware of the issues around organic production, and will take on board those concerns when she has discussions with officials from Australia and her counterparts from Australia.

Dr Paul Hutchison: Why is she considering adopting mandatory fortification of most breads without due consultation, when even the New Zealand Food Safety Authority as recently as 31 July this year stated: “All the government departments involved in this joint submission have strong concerns at the very short consultation period provided for the proposal.”, and why is she going off, once again, half-baked?

Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: For that member to claim this has been a rushed consultation process is ridiculous. He himself was advocating for this in 1999 when we came into Government. There has been extensive consultation. The Minister is to have discussions with her colleagues in Australia, and decisions will be made then.

Dr Paul Hutchison: Can the Minister confirm that in the excellent article by Dr Paul Hutchison in the New Zealand Herald in 2000 he states that there would initially be voluntary fortification of bread; and that in the United Kingdom, 6 years later, in the light of new evidence, the UK scientific advisory committee on folate and disease has requested further time to consider potential risks and benefits of increased folic acid intake?

Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: I believe that member does support folate fortification. The approach in the proposal is a precautionary one. The proposed levels are quite low but will assist to reduce neural tube defects in the New Zealand population, which currently run at about 50 a year.

Madam SPEAKER: Would members just settle, please.

Dr Paul Hutchison: Has the New Zealand Government undertaken any substantial ethical processes relating to the introduction of mandatory fortification of most breads; if yes, what are they; if not, why not?

Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: I am not aware of the detail of that. If the member would like to put down a question, I am sure we can get a substantive answer for him.

Madam SPEAKER: I call Dr Paul Hutchison. [Interruption] Order! We need to hear the question.

Dr Paul Hutchison: Does she agree with the joint food standards submission that a comprehensive monitoring programme should have been developed as part of the draft assessment report, and can she offer proof that New Zealand is ready for a comprehensive monitoring programme; if not, why not?

Madam SPEAKER: Members, we need to hear the answer in the same manner—in silence.

Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: I am sure those assurances and those issues will be part of the discussion that the Minister will have next week in, I believe, Australia.

Hon Paul Swain: I seek leave of the House for Paul Hutchison to table the excellent letter from Paul Hutchison on this subject.

Madam SPEAKER: The member cannot seek leave on behalf of another member.

Sue Kedgley: I seek leave to table a document that indicates that at the ministerial council next week we will have one vote out of 10. The Australians will have nine votes, and we will have one.

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

Dr Paul Hutchison: I seek leave to table the excellent article in the New Zealand Herald.

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

ENDS


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