Questions And Answers, Tuesday, 24 October 2006
Questions And Answers, Tuesday, 24 October 2006
Questions to Ministers
Election Advertising—Commencement Date of Legislation
1. Dr DON BRASH (Leader of the Opposition) to the Minister of Finance: When will the Appropriation (Parliamentary Expenditure Validation) Bill passed by the House last week come into force?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Minister of Finance): I am advised that it will very likely come into force tomorrow.
Dr Don Brash: How will the public know whether political parties are honouring their commitments to pay back the amounts that were validated last week, given that the legislation makes no provision for that information to be published; or is it the case that the Government intends the public should never know whether those promises are actually being kept?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I do not know whether the member has kept his promise, in that respect. I know he has not paid back the GST on their broadcasting, because he stated so, publicly; and as to the other matters—[Interruption] Oh, pay back the GST and the fine as well, eh? Why not pay the fine back, as well?
Shane Jones: What are the ramifications of the bill for Parliamentary Service expenditure on items other than advertising?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I am sure Dr Brash will be glad to know that once the bill does come into force it will clarify the situation around the leaders’ fund expenditure on staff employed to assist in election campaigns.
Dr Don Brash: Can the Minister confirm that he was advised by Treasury that the validating legislation is to be passed as part of the normal Budget legislative cycle; if so, why did he completely ignore that advice and ram validating legislation through the House under urgency?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: The member should not get Bryan Sinclair to write his questions. Treasury advised me of a range of options. We took one of those options.
Dr Don Brash: Why was the Minister so concerned to pass validating legislation under urgency, even though Treasury made no such specific recommendation, when he shows so little concern about the fact that New Zealand First, which props up his Government, has refused to make any commitment to pay back any of the $160,000 it owes?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I am not responsible for New Zealand First’s decision, or indeed that of any political party in that respect.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Has the Minister received any reports into Television New Zealand, a State-owned enterprise, not taking action against the National Party for failing to meet its GST bill, and is that part of the validation legislation as well?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I have not received any advice on that matter. Clearly it is a matter for Television New Zealand. No doubt if shareholding Ministers even asked about that question, they would be accused of vindictive behaviour, by the National Party.
Dr Don Brash: Does he accept that members of the public are entitled to know which parties are honouring their commitments to pay back the money they took; if so, why does his legislation make absolutely no provision for accountability and transparency in his mad dash to legalise the unlawful behaviour by him and his colleagues?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Apart from the fact that that gentleman has on occasion sought leave to pass validating legislation for his own overexpenditure that does not provide for the payment of the fine and the entering of the conviction that might otherwise occur, I remind him that there are parliamentary procedures and other statutory procedures under which he might try to seek the information.
Hon Member: Answer the question!
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I just did.
Rodney Hide: Just to make matters quite clear, I seek the leave of Parliament to table the receipts from Parliamentary Service that I, and the entire ACT caucus, received, showing that we have paid our money back, despite what is being claimed publicly by National.
Government Policies—Social Development and Employment, Minister’s Statement
2. SUE BRADFORD (Green) to the Minister for Social Development and Employment: Does he stand by his statement that “The Labour-led Government stands for social inclusion. We stand for policies that are supportive, not punitive … We believe in everyone having a ‘fair go’—that’s the New Zealand way.”?
Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE (Minister for Social Development and Employment): Yes.
Sue Bradford: Is the Minister confident that a ‘fair go’ was given to a woman with two children under 3 living in a Housing New Zealand house with holes under the door, whose power had been disconnected because she could not pay the bills, and who was told that she was ineligible for a grant for firewood because her children were not yet sick?
Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: I have not had that case drawn to my attention. If the member would like to pass me the details I would be delighted to have an investigation.
Georgina Beyer: What steps has the Government taken to make New Zealand a more socially inclusive country?
Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: The Government has taken many steps to make New Zealand a more socially inclusive country, including: the Working for Families tax relief; increases in family support for those on benefits; increases in minimum wage rates; the roll-out of the primary health organisations; 20 hours of free early childhood education for 3 and 4-year-olds; modern apprenticeships; improved case management support for sole parents receiving benefits; the introduction, of course, of income related rents; lower medical fees; the reduction in unemployment; the abolition of interest on student loans; and, among other things, increases in New Zealand superannuation.
Tariana Turia: What explanation can the Minister give to the 230,000 New Zealanders who are being excluded from the Working for Families in-work payment and who remain in poverty, as identified by the Child Poverty Action Group and other leading social commentators?
Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: As the member will be aware, those figures pre-date the introduction of the Working for Families package. She will also be aware that beneficiary families have already received an increase in assistance from that package on an average of $32 per week in the first year. They will get a further increase of $10 per week, per child, in April 2007.
Sue Bradford: Is the Government giving a ‘fair go’ to those people in Tai Rāwhiti who go off the unemployment benefit to do weather dependent field and pack-house work, and then, if it rains and they cannot work, have to go through a stand-down period before their benefits resume; if so, does he agree that such punitive treatment disincentivises those trying to get work in the first place and also flies in the face of Government reassurances that people doing seasonal work will not be subject to stand-downs?
Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: In respect of one of the elements of that question, the Hon David Cunliffe and I will be making some announcements in the next couple of days. I tell the member that, clearly, individual cases that she is concerned about I will be happy to investigate if she passes me that information, but that the policies of this Government make no apology for incentivising work.
Tariana Turia: How can social inclusion be maintained for 1,675 New Zealand workers and their families who stand to lose their jobs while the Government, the major shareholder in Air New Zealand, is outsourcing its work to China and Fiji to get cheap labour?
Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: I have no responsibility for Air New Zealand.
Sue Bradford: Does the Minister agree that due to the loss of discretion to grant the special benefit, many people around New Zealand are suffering extreme hardship and that food banks in some parts of the country are almost empty; when will this Government do something to address the impact of the abolition of the special benefit, other than just talking about Working for Families, a programme that fails to assist those New Zealanders in the worst poverty?
Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: No, I do not agree. I tell the member that when I last had the beneficiary advocates in my office, I invited them to come to me with any particular concerns they had about the change from the special benefit to temporary additional support, and they are yet to do so.
Sue Bradford: Does the Minister think that cases like the ones I talked about earlier reveal fundamentally inadequate provisions of welfare by this Government, at least in some parts of the country, or that they are demonstrations of systemic failure within his ministry to deliver the proper entitlements to those in need; whichever it is, what action will he take to make sure that the one in five kids growing up in poverty in this country get the fair go he claims he is committed to?
Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: No, no, and if the member gives me details, I will be happy to investigate particular cases, as I have twice said.
3. JOHN KEY (National—Helensville) to the Minister of Finance: Does he stand by his statement that personal income tax thresholds “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.”; if so, does this mean that any changes his Government intends making to personal taxes would take effect from 1 April 2008?
Rt Hon Winston Peters: They’re on their way.
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Minister of Finance): Yes; yes, if such decisions are made.
John Key: Does the Minister consider that, when the Minister of Revenue last week said in his newsletter that business tax changes will go ahead from April 2008 and will be accompanied by personal tax adjustments, that was an accurate statement, just as Mr Peters’ statement a few seconds ago “They’re on their way.” was accurate?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I am sure that represents the very deep intentions of the Minister of Revenue, and, of course, we are from the Government, we are here to help.
Hon Mark Gosche: Are fiscal constraints the only matters considered when assessing the appropriateness of changes to the personal tax regime?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: No. There are two other important factors. One is trade-offs in other areas of Government spending, particularly over the long term, as well as in the short term. But there is also the macroeconomic environment; with the current account deficit approaching 10 percent of GDP, the Government has to be careful how much fiscal stimulus it puts into the economy, and Dr Brash clearly agrees.
John Key: If, as a result of the business tax review, the Minister ends up cutting the company rate to 30 percent, leaving a 9c differential between the top rate and the company rate, widening out from 6c, does he consider that to be an issue; in which case, will he be doing anything about the top personal rate?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: The member will have to wait and see, but I would not raise the mortgage yet.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Has the Minister received any reports as to whether Mr Key, the National Party’s finance spokesman, is right when he says that the surplus is $11.5 billion—
Hon Tau Henare: Stick to foreign affairs!
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Tau is growing through his head again.
Madam SPEAKER: Please continue.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I would love to, Madam Speaker. Second, what reports has he seen on the kind of financial mind that argues that the surplus for taxation is $11.5 billion when, in fact, every other informed commentator knows that it is $3 billion?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Indeed, the operating surplus in the full level was $11.5 billion. Of that—[Interruption] I will wait. I have plenty time. I have years to answer this. Of that, $1.8 billion was merely an accounting change, but Mr Key had spent it the following morning, and $3 billion was the transfers to the superannuation fund, and the earnings on the superannuation fund—all of which were set aside for a specific purpose. A large amount of the rest represented the profits on the other Government investment funds. That is why Mr Key in the morning promised tax cuts of $11.5 billion and, in the afternoon of the same day, promised tax cuts of $2.5 billion.
Hon Mark Gosche: What are the implications for monetary policy of running a loose fiscal policy?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: In just the last few days we have seen the implications of running poor fiscal policy with Italy seeing a credit-rating downgrade by both Standard and Poor’s and Fitch Ratings. It is important that fiscal policy supports monetary policy. I am sure that Dr Brash could organise a seminar for Mr Key on these matters.
John Key: Can we now assume—given that the leaders of the two main support parties of the Government are now saying there will be tax cuts in 2008, and his own Prime Minister is running around the country telling any group that will listen there will be tax cuts in 2008—that the issue has long since passed being one of affordability and now is a question of political expediency, and that is why people are having to wait until 2008, in the very same way that Mike Williams, the Labour Party President, argued on Agenda on Saturday morning that the validating legislation went through under urgency only as a matter of political expediency?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: We will run it through again for the member. If the member really believes that, with a current account deficit of nearly 10 percent of GDP, the Government right now should be putting in an extra $2.5 billion of spending power with no corresponding cut in Government spending, it shows how stupid a background in money manipulation of financial market speculation is in running a small economy.
John Key: Has the Government been considering raising the trust rate to 36 percent, a rate that Mr Dunne as Minister of Revenue has been indicating may be case, in which case can he tell us when it is likely that the trust rate will be increased?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: There is no active consideration of that. The Inland Revenue Department did suggest it, I think, in its briefing papers, or something similar to that.
John Key: In the Minister’s forthcoming speech to the Labour Party conference this weekend, will he be explaining why, after 7 years of healthy and, particularly lately, bumper surpluses, after 7 years of fiscal drag, and after 7 years of seeing tax increase as a proportion of national income, he has finally come to the realisation that tax cuts might make sense; can he also understand why the workers in his audience listening to his speech on Saturday or Sunday— whenever he delivers it—who look across the Tasman will feel a 7-year itch when they see an Australian Labor Party that is arguing for tax cuts and has been doing so for quite some time?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: When it comes to 7-year itches, the Labour Party members know a working-class scab when they see one.
Student Loans—Borrowing Trends
4. MOANA MACKEY (Labour) to the Minister for Tertiary Education: What reports, if any, has he received on trends in student loan borrowing over the past year?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Minister for Tertiary Education): The annual report shows that student loan borrowing has tended to reduce over the past 4 years. The average time to repay a student loan has dropped from around 10 years 4 years ago to around 9 years today, and that trend has continued over the last year.
Moana Mackey: What reports has he seen on the effects of policy changes on student loan borrowing?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I have seen a number of reports suggesting that borrowing will skyrocket and blow out following the introduction of interest-free loans. They were from Mr Key and from Mr English. In fact, the predictions of the outstanding loan balance for 2009-10—in some 3 years’ time—that were made this June were only 1 percent higher than those made in June last year, before the announcement of the interest-free student loan policy. The increase in cost is about 10 percent of the estimates made by National Party supporters before the last election.
Hon Bill English: Can the Minister explain the forecast on page 41 of the annual report that shows that borrowings will go up—in the officials’ forecast—by at least 16 percent?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: There has been some increase in borrowings, and that is related in part to student numbers. If the member cares to look at it, he will find that the increase is a tiny fraction of that forecast by himself and National Party supporters outside the House before the last election, with figures of up to $1 billion being used at that time.
Ingram Report—Immigration, Minister’s Statement
5. Dr the Hon LOCKWOOD SMITH (National—Rodney) to the Minister of Immigration: Is it appropriate for any ministerial special directions to be issued in response to immigration submissions by Taito Phillip Field, since he told the House on 19 October 2006 that Mr Field’s failure to advise the Associate Minister of Immigration of all relevant information was an error of judgment?
Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE (Minister of Immigration): Decisions are made on the basis of the best available information at the time. The Minister of Immigration and his Associate Minister rely upon evidence provided by the Department of Labour; information put forward by individuals, advocates, immigration advisers, and members of Parliament; and verification processes.
Dr the Hon Lockwood Smith: When he told the House last Thursday that Taito Phillip Field’s failure to advise the Associate Minister of Immigration of all relevant information was Mr Field’s only error of judgment, does that mean he is now claiming that it was not an error of judgment for Mr Field to make a deal with Mr Sunan Siriwan for him to work on Mr Field’s house in Samoa without pay in return for a work permit for New Zealand; if it was not an error of judgment, how would he describe it?
Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: Last Thursday I answered questions in response to a previous statement to the House on 24 August, and it is in the context of that reply that my reply was given.
Dr the Hon Lockwood Smith: When he told the House last Thursday that Mr Field’s failure to advise the Associate Minister of Immigration of all relevant information was Mr Field’s only error of judgment, does that mean he is now claiming that it was not an error of judgment for Mr Field to employ Mr Siriwan’s partner, Ms Phanngarm, as Mr Field’s wife’s personal housekeeper in Samoa, where she worked without pay “like slave”, in exchange for a New Zealand work permit; if so, how would he now describe that behaviour?
Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: I made no comment on the matter to which the member now refers. My earlier answer referred to the Ingram inquiry’s report findings.
Dr the Hon Lockwood Smith: When he told the House last Thursday that Taito Phillip Field’s failure to advise the Associate Minister of Immigration of all relevant information was Mr Field’s only error of judgment, does that mean he is now claiming that it was not an error of judgment for Mr Field to tell Mr Siriwan not to submit his application for the 2-year work permit that the Associate Minister of Immigration had authorised, because Taito Phillip Field “got a problem in New Zealand”; if so, how would he now describe that action?
Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: As I told the House last Thursday, that matter is the subject of a conflict of evidence, and the allegation has been referred to the New Zealand Police.
Dr the Hon Lockwood Smith: When he told the House last Thursday that Taito Phillip Field’s failure to advise the Associate Minister of Immigration of all relevant information was Mr Field’s only error of judgment, does that mean he is now claiming that it was not an error of judgment for Mr Field’s family to tell people that Mr Siriwan had moved back to Bangkok when they knew he was still in Samoa and were throwing mail addressed to Mr Siriwan in the rubbish; if that was not an error of judgment, how would he describe those actions?
Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: The Minister of Immigration and his Associate Minister have the right to expect full information to be provided by any member of Parliament making representations on behalf of any constituent.
Dr the Hon Lockwood Smith: When he told the House last Thursday that Taito Phillip Field’s failure to advise the Associate Minister of Immigration of all relevant information was Mr Field’s only error of judgment, does that mean he is now claiming that paying Mr Siriwan over $500 in cash, then seeking to influence what Mr Siriwan might tell the police, was not an error of judgment; if so, how would he describe it?
Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: I repeat again, I think for the fifth time, that the matter to which the member refers is the subject of a conflict of evidence, and that that evidence and the allegation have been transferred to the New Zealand Police. Proof by repeated assertion is no more than innuendo.
Schools—New Zealand Teachers Council
6. Hon BILL ENGLISH (National—Clutha-Southland) to the Minister of Education: Which schools employed those teachers whose cases were published in the Herald on Sunday article on 22 October 2006, drawn from New Zealand Teachers Council decisions?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY (Minister of Education): Full information about the 13 cases reported in the Herald on Sunday is available on the Teachers Council website, along with a summary of council decisions. The Privacy Act 1993 prevents me from making available details that would identify the particular individuals concerned. However, I met with the Teachers Council this morning and I have been assured that the council closely monitors the terms of any conditions attached to an individual allowed to remain registered as a teacher. It is not legally possible for the Minister to overturn decisions made by the council; nor is it possible for the Minister to direct actions of the council in relation to a particular individual. However, for these particular cases the chairperson of the Teachers Council has undertaken to review the files and reassured me that, in all cases, conditions put in place have been followed to the letter. In addition, I have invited the chairperson of the council to provide me with any recommendations on any further improvements that can be made to current arrangements as soon as possible.
Hon Bill English: Does the Minister believe that parents should know if their child is in the care of a teacher who abused his 15-year-old niece for 2 years, or a teacher who played strip poker with female students and let them drink alcohol on a ski trip, or a teacher who imported Ecstasy?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: As the member knows, I am deeply concerned by these reports and I met with the Teachers Council this morning. I hope that parents will understand that the Teachers Council itself is at pains to point out that as a professional body there is no way that it would return anyone to the classroom who should not be there; it monitors closely any decisions that it makes; and, as a professional body, its members are the people to oversee this practice. As a Minister I am not able to interfere with those decisions and they cannot, of course, be changed by the council once made. But parents should take reassurance from the fact that the chairperson of the council has today, yet again, reiterated the robustness of the current arrangements.
Hon Marian Hobbs: What is the history of the process for teacher registration?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: Under the National Government in the 1990s the registration of teachers was voluntary until 1997. Although registration became mandatory in 1997, there was no professional body for teachers and no requirement for police vetting of teachers before they were employed in schools. When Labour took office in 1999 we immediately began to work on establishing professional standards for all teachers. Changes to the Education Act in 2001 required police vetting for all personnel in schools and early childhood centres. The Act also established the Teachers Council, which is the professional body of teachers. The body includes professional teachers, principals, leading educational professionals, and, of course, parents. It includes two independent disciplinary bodies: a complaints committee, and a disciplinary tribunal with powers either to deregister teachers or impose conditions on their ongoing registration. In 2004 new rules came into effect enabling the council to consider complaints of serious misconduct at any time rather than waiting until the expiry of the current registration. I believe that the arrangements now in place can give us confidence in the professionalism of the Teachers Council.
Hon Brian Donnelly: Will the Minister assure the House that the report he claims he is to receive from the Teachers Council into its decisions and monitoring surrounding these cases will be made publicly available in order to allow the public to decide whether it can have confidence in the teaching profession’s watchdog; if not, why not?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: The report I received was, of course, the verbal report of the Teachers Council and its chief executive. As I have said, I have invited them to consider whether any further improvements can be made to what, as I have outlined, are now quite robust arrangements. If they do that, I am more than happy to make them available.
Hon Bill English: Does the Minister take his role as an advocate for parents seriously and if so, does he believe that it is acceptable to parents that their children may be in the care—without them knowing—of a teacher who has been found to have abused his 15-year-old niece, another teacher who played strip poker with female students on a ski trip, another one who imported ecstasy, another one who was caught beating his wife and was convicted for it, and others with violent and drink-driving convictions?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: Yes to the first question, and of course, not to the second. That is why the Labour Government in 1999 changed the impossibly loose approach that was taken by Mr English’s Government in the 1990s when basically anybody could have been in the classroom at any time. I have said today that the improvements over the last 7 years have left us in a position where the Teachers Council is able to give us reassurance that it is a professional body overseeing a proper and robust process. I have also said that I have invited that council to report to me as quickly as it possibly can on any further improvements I can take, because, of course— I say to Mr English—it is offensive to suggest anything else. I take it absolutely as my role to ensure that young people are in a safe environment when they learn, as does the Teachers Council, the Post Primary Teachers Association, the New Zealand Educational Institute, and Secondary Tertiary Alignment Resource.
Hon Bill English: Why does the Minister not follow the suggestion made by Mr Brian Donnelly and make public a report from the Teachers Council on these cases so that those of us who have children in classrooms with these teachers can make a judgment on the professional standards rather than leaving it to the Minister and his union mates to decide in the Beehive?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: I welcome the member’s concern. I understand that he is a parent and has children in class at the present time and therefore, like all parents, he will want to be reassured in this matter. As I said to Mr Donnelly in answer to his question, when the Teachers Council prepares its report with recommendations of where we might or might not go further in this matter, I am more than happy to make that available. But right now I say to that member that, unlike the time when he was in Government, we have moved hugely in the last 6 years to ensure that we have a proper environment where registered teachers are properly registered. He might like to contemplate why he did not do that himself for the children of the 1990s.
Hon Bill English: Does the Minister believe that the behaviour that has been now outlined publicly and set out in detail on the Teachers Council website reflects the professional standards of the vast majority of teachers; and if he does not believe it reflects those professional standards, what does he intend to do about raising the standard of Teachers Council decisions?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: Of course, this does not reflect on the 80,000 teachers who are currently in our workforce from early childhood centres through to secondary schools. As to what we are doing about raising performance, as I said, the member might like to contemplate the vacant space that existed in the 1990s under his Government and compare it with what we are doing today, which is lifting the professional standards by the invention of a Teachers Council that is writing professional standards and overseeing the development of a professional body. This is unlike himself, when he left children in the classroom in the 1990s without these protections.
Hon Trevor Mallard: Can I ask the Minister whether at the same time as the protections were removed for children in the early 1990s, they were put in place for animals; vets were registered while teachers were deregistered?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: Further to the inquiry about the history of this matter, it was one of the major points made by many people in the 1990s that the National Government protected animals but did not protect children. The Labour Government protects children.
Hon Bill English: Is the Minister going to continue to protect teachers who have abused students in their care, who have imported drugs, who have drink-driving convictions, or is he going to expose these people to the principals who employ them and the parents whose children are in their classrooms; which is it?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: Once again, a good question from someone who is a parent as well as a politician in the House. As he knows, under the Privacy Act, I cannot reveal the individual circumstances behind each of the cases that are on the website. However, as I explained to the member earlier—
Hon Tau Henare: Come on, out with it—which one of your mates are you protecting?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: —if the member at the back would just like to listen—one of the things that the Teachers Council does is attach conditions to each of these decisions, which require the reporting back of principals about those conditions. My understanding is that that is exactly what goes on.
Madam SPEAKER: If I could just remind members, when they are asking and answering questions, that they keep them succinct and also that they avoid making any unnecessary comment in them.
Small Business—Small to Medium Sized Enterprises
7. H V ROSS ROBERTSON (Labour—Manukau East) to the Minister for Small Business: What is the Government doing to help small to medium sized enterprises in New Zealand?
Hon LIANNE DALZIEL (Minister for Small Business): Today I am releasing the Government’s response to the second report of the Small Business Advisory Group. The response shows that the advisory group and the Government share a vision on how to improve the business environment for small to medium sized businesses. The Quality Regulation Review, which I announced in May this year, will also produce results around several of the recommendations, including improving the quality of regulatory impact statements. The Government is also committed to a 2-year trial of the business cost calculator, which will identify explicitly the administrative costs of proposed regulation and any alternatives.
H V Ross Robertson: What other aspects of the Small Business Advisory Group report has the Government responded to favourably?
Hon LIANNE DALZIEL: Ten of the 12 recommendations have received a positive response from the Government, although with both exceptions the Government is looking at whether there are other ways of reducing compliance costs, such as the addition of an online holiday calculator to the Department of Labour website. The Accident Compensation Corporation and the Inland Revenue Department have already announced changes in the way they deal with minor misdemeanours and unintentional mistakes. Improved processes for hazardous substances and new organisms controls came into operation in July this year.
Dr Pita Sharples: Tēnā koe, Madam Speaker, tēnā tātou katoa. Has the Minister had reports on the potential for the creation and support of businesses in the East Coast area—that is, the area from Kaiti in the south to Potaka in the north; if not, why not?
Hon LIANNE DALZIEL: Unfortunately, that was not included as one of the recommendations from the Small Business Advisory Group, although I will say to the member that one of the issues it did raise was the question of champions within individual Government departments. Te Puni Kōkiri and the Ministry of Pacific Island Affairs were two departments where the group was concerned that there was proper information being given on the development and promotion of small business.
8. Hon TONY RYALL (National—Bay of Plenty) to the Minister of Health: What reports has he received, if any, on possible impacts on patients of planned charging for laboratory tests originating from private specialists in the Wellington region, and does the Government support this charging?
Hon PETE HODGSON (Minister of Health): I have seen reports that the Wellington region district health boards feel that making this change is correcting a historical anomaly that was diverting resources from patients who rely solely on the public health system. From the Government’s perspective, I have told district health board chief executives that we must have national consistency on this policy to ensure fairness from region to region.
Hon Tony Ryall: So is the Minister saying that it is the Government’s intention that charging patients for tests ordered by private specialists will be implemented by all district health boards; if so, when does he expect this to be implemented by?
Hon PETE HODGSON: Needless to say, the Wellington changes will occur first, and there will be some learning by doing, no doubt. District health board chief executives are next due to discuss this issue at their November meeting.
Hon Tony Ryall: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. My question was quite clear. I asked whether it was the Minister’s intention that all district health boards will charge, and I think it is important that he answers that specific question.
Madam SPEAKER: As the member knows, there is no requirement for a yes or no answer. However, the Minister did address the question; I listened very carefully to it.
Maryan Street: What is the likely annual savings resulting from various laboratory changes made in the Wellington region?
Hon PETE HODGSON: The total annual savings is in the order of $6 million to $7 million per annum, part of which is due to the planned changes to laboratory tests originating in the private sector. All of that money is now available to be reinvested back into the health of local people within the Wellington region.
Barbara Stewart: Does the Minister share the concerns of the New Zealand Medical Association chairman, Ross Boswell, that the imposition of charges could result in people choosing to get their tests done by their already overburdened general practitioners, possibly resulting in compromised care; if not, why not?
Hon PETE HODGSON: I have met with Dr Boswell on a number of occasions on this matter and other matters, and, yes, he raised a valid point of view. It is almost certainly overstated when one considers, for example, that CAT scans, X-rays, and ultrasounds are already funded privately. All of those things cost a good deal less, on average, than do laboratory services.
Hon Tony Ryall: What would the Minister say to an uninsured woman who has a lump in her breast, for which she is prepared to pay, say, $500 to see a specialist in order to find out whether she has cancer, when that woman will now face paying over $250 extra for laboratory tests in order to find out whether she has cancer?
Hon PETE HODGSON: I just point out to the member that the average cost of laboratory tests is well less than that—usually well under $50 for a range of tests, but some tests cost more than $200. But I would point out to the woman that if she persists with the private sector and needs a mastectomy, the cost to her will be probably $13,000. That gives members some perspective.
Dr Jackie Blue: What would the Minister say to a man with suspected prostate cancer—a cancer that is mostly treated in private hospitals and that is predicted to steadily increase in the next 5 years—when he is told that he will be facing additional costs well over $500; and how does the Minister think that that might affect public urology waiting lists?
Hon PETE HODGSON: The cost of prostatic cancer testing is a mere fraction of that which the member would have this House believe.
Dr Jackie Blue: What will the Minister say to a person who needs a cardiac bypass and is considering going private, thereby reducing the burden on the public sector waiting list, but is informed that he or she will have to pay thousands of dollars extra; and does the Minister think that this might be a tipping point for that person to decide to go public instead?
Hon PETE HODGSON: I would point out that various tests that people face, whether they are receiving cardiac surgery in the private sector or any other surgery—including those that I listed for the member from New Zealand First—are already paid for privately, and already cost a great deal more. This change—which was examined carefully by Bill English when he was Minister of Health, and he was not in the job long enough to go through with it; and it was examined on 1 July by Wyatt Creech when he was Minister of Health, and he was not in the job long enough to go ahead with it, either—simply removes a historic anomaly.
Hon Tony Ryall: If it is a historic anomaly that private patients pay for some tests, and because the public pays for diagnostic tests they should pay for that as well, is the Minister also saying it is an anomaly that private patients should receive subsidy for their pharmaceuticals, as well?
Hon PETE HODGSON: Strictly speaking one could argue that, but, of course, the Government has no intention of making treatment—[Interruption] The National Party might, because it has exorbitant tax cuts on its mind; it will have to do something in order to save the money. This Government invests in health, and it draws a distinction quite clearly between testing and treatment.
Hon Tony Ryall: No.
Hon PETE HODGSON: Yes, it does.
9. MARTIN GALLAGHER (Labour—Hamilton West) to the Minister for ACC: Has she received any reports on the effectiveness of ACC’s falls-prevention programmes for older people involving tai chi?
Hon RUTH DYSON (Minister for ACC):
Yes, I have seen an evaluation of the tai chi programmes offered by the Accident Compensation Corporation (ACC). The evaluation was done by the Auckland University of Technology and shows significant improvements in the strength and balance of participants. An evaluation of Christchurch classes shows a 63 percent reduction in falls, with 97 percent of participants having improved confidence as a result of the reduced fear of falling.
Charles Chauvel: Has she received any other reports concerning proposals that would jeopardise successful injury prevention programmes such as the tai chi programmes?
Hon RUTH DYSON: Yes, I have. I have seen reports proposing that the ACC scheme be replaced with a competitive market-based scheme. It is well accepted among injury prevention experts that successful injury prevention depends on collaboration and coordination. National’s proposal to privatise the scheme would do exactly the opposite, and undo the successes this Government has achieved.
Court System—Justice for All
10. KATE WILKINSON (National) to the Minister for Courts: Is he confident that our court system is delivering justice for all; if not, why not?
Hon CHRIS CARTER (Acting Minister for Courts): Yes.
Kate Wilkinson: How can he stand by his comments that court security is a high priority, when figures show that serious security incidents in the Family Court doubled in 2004-05; and what is he doing to resolve this issue?
Hon CHRIS CARTER: The Government takes court security very seriously. In the latter half of 2005 the number of security officers, for example, was increased from 18 to a total of 53.
Kate Wilkinson: Has the Minister seen the transcript of his answers given in evidence at the examination of the Department for Courts estimate, which includes the answer: “Every Budget we have put on extra security officers—38 this year. It is a high priority for us.”, then the question: “Thirty-eight this year?”, then the answer: “Eighteen is it? Sorry, I got the wrong figure.”; and the question: So there’s no increased security officers from Budget 2005?”, then the answer: “2006. nothing.”; and how much of a high priority is “nothing”?
Hon CHRIS CARTER: To be quite honest, I heard so many figures bandied around that it was hard to know which one the member was sticking to. I can report that, according to the information I have been given today, the number of security officers has increased from 18 to 53.
Jill Pettis: How is the Pay or Stay initiative helping to deliver justice?
Hon CHRIS CARTER: The initiative to collect fines at airports has already been very effective. Six people have been intercepted at airports, and more than $37,000 netted, since the campaign began less than a month ago. All six people intercepted owed reparation to victims.
Judy Turner: Is the 2-year trial of the parenting hearing programme intended to aid in breaking down the perception of anti-male bias within the Family Court; if so, what aspects of the programme does he expect to address directly the strained relationships between many fathers and court officials?
Hon CHRIS CARTER: The Government recognises that relationships between fathers and their children are important. As for the details that the member has raised, I will be happy to get back to her with that later, when I have more information.
Kate Wilkinson: How can he stand by his comments that court security is a high priority, when recent changes at the Family Court mean that security will not automatically be provided, due to prioritisation in other courts, when local lawyers are warning that they “have noticed an increase in the number of abusive and emotional outbursts in court, and that often there are no police or security officers in courtrooms”, and when two justices of the peace have moved to suppress their own names over fears for their safety—or is this another example of this Government getting its priorities wrong?
Hon CHRIS CARTER: I have already raised the issue of the increase in the number of security guards. I can add that $156 million in baseline funding has gone into the courts since this Government came to power. And there has been a number of structural changes. For example, now single entrances are designed, with scanning machines and security officers; that was not the case under National.
Kate Wilkinson: What more will it take to highlight the need for better courtroom security—another judge being punched and knocked over by an angry butcher, another judge being slashed with a machete, another judge being pelted with wads of wet toilet paper and clothing, or another judge being spat at—before this Government sheds its rhetoric and really demonstrates that court security is a high priority, or are those just incidences of the ebbs and flows that the Minister for Courts was referring to in the House on 29 August?
Hon CHRIS CARTER: Madam Speaker, I am sure I do not need to remind you or this House that courtroom security has been an issue in New Zealand for as long as the courts have existed. Attacks on judges are not a new thing. But what this Government has done is pour $156 million into baseline funding to try to fix up the courts.
Defence Force Units—Operationally Ineffective Level of Establishment
11. RON MARK (NZ First) to the Minister of Defence: What level of establishment must Defence Force units fall below to be deemed operationally ineffective, and how many units are currently below that level of establishment?
Hon ANNETTE KING (Minister of State Services) on behalf of the Minister of Defence: I am advised that all deployed units are staffed at 100 percent, fit for purpose, and equipped appropriately. I am also advised that effectiveness is not measured solely by establishment numbers. However, the Defence Capability and Resourcing Review, presented in February 2005, shows that there are a number of areas where operational and organisational capabilities are below what is required by Government policy. In answer to a written question in 2005, a summary table of the then current average strength was provided. I have asked for an update for 2006 to be provided, but it was not available in time to answer this question today. I am sure the member is also aware that these issues are being directly addressed through the Government’s $4.6 billion Defence Sustainability Initiative.
Ron Mark: How many of the units in New Zealand are currently operating under 80 percent of establishment, and can the Minister tell us the names of those units?
Hon ANNETTE KING: No, I am unable to tell the member that today, although I did seek that information before I could answer this question. As soon as I receive it I will make it available to the member.
Ron Mark: Can the Minister undertake to also report to the House and clarify the difference between the established strengths of the units, the authorised strengths—that is, the strengths that the Government has funded those units to—and the actual strengths, as we need to clearly understand the difference between those strength levels?
Hon ANNETTE KING: On behalf of the Minister of Defence, no I am not able to provide the answer to the member. I am told, however, that in terms of establishment it is not the only measure of effectiveness and that we need also to look at readiness, combat viability, deployability, and sustainability. But in terms of the substantial question, I could not provide the information at this time.
Gambling—Problem-gambling Service Providers
12. 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: Does the Minister stand by his statement that if these people are not able to meet the targets then “we will be requiring money back from them”; if so, when does he expect this money will be repaid?
Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: The Ministry is in active discussion and negotiation with the twelve at-risk providers and I hope to have a report by the end of next week on that. I cannot prejudge what might be required from those providers, or from the ministry, to rectify the situation.
Sandra Goudie: How long does the Minister think it is acceptable for teething problems to continue—teething problems such as the Te Rapuora health services paying $86,124 for counselling six clients—and is he aware that, contrary to his earlier claims, most of those providers have had contracts since July 2004?
Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: I am informed that five of the 12 are brand-new providers. The other seven have had contracts with the ministry before. However, they have been funded for a range of services broken down into different categories, and they range from brief and early intervention, peer support, community assessment and intervention, and community follow-up. These are all necessary services to try to get to the estimated 40,000 people in this country who have problem-gambling addictions.
Sandra Goudie: Why does the ministry continue to pay problem-gambling service providers hundreds of thousands of dollars when the Minister’s officials have seen quarterly reports that show providers were falling well short of contracted levels, and would not a competent Minister expect his department to withhold money for non-performance?
Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: I am asking for a review of the contracts themselves to make sure that they have realistic targets that can be achieved and that they have negotiated sensible contracts with providers, who often struggle to get people with the capability and the skills to do this very difficult job.
Sandra Goudie: Which are the 12 problem-gambling providers that are currently under review, and when does the Minister expect that review to be completed?
Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: As I said, there are 12 of them. They are included in the list that I have provided the member, and I am hoping for a report back on them by the end of next week.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Has the Minister received any reports suggesting that it is a bit rich for the National Party to raise this issue now, given its support, back in 1989, when the far right of the Labour Party brought in casinos and recent gambling outlets, all of which they were warned against; now we have 40,000 problem gamblers, and the National Party has finally woken up and is concerned?
Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: I am very aware of the problem. I am also aware of the irony of the situation and understand that the member on the other side of the House is rather enthusiastically supporting a gaming industry that, for the most part, delivers entertainment, but for 40,000 New Zealanders delivers a very sad outcome.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I seek leave to table the voting record of New Zealand First on this matter, which has been to consistently—[Interruption]
Madam SPEAKER: This is a point of order. The members who shouted out will please leave the Chamber.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: It was Mr Carter and Mr Hide.
Madam SPEAKER: Would they please leave the Chamber until the end of the day.
Hon David Carter withdrew from the Chamber.
Rodney Hide withdrew from the Chamber.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I seek leave to table the voting record of New Zealand First, which shows we opposed these issues when they were raised.
Madam SPEAKER: Is there any objection?
Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. The member has sought leave to table the voting record of New Zealand First. That is fascinating: on what?
Madam SPEAKER: That is not a point of order. The member clearly identified what it was on. He clearly identified, before he was rudely interrupted by members who are no longer with us, that he was referring to the voting on the introduction of casinos. Is there any objection to that? There is objection.
Hon Maurice Williamson: I seek leave to table the voting record of Winston Peters during 1989 on the legislation regarding casinos.