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Questions for Oral Answer - 25 October 2006

Questions for Oral Answer, Wednesday, 25 October 2006

Questions to Ministers

Inflation—Policy Targets Agreement

1. JOHN KEY (National—Helensville) to the Minister of Finance: Does he agree with the Reserve Bank’s interpretation of the policy targets agreement as “requiring CPI inflation to be comfortably within the 1 to 3 percent target band over the second half of a 3-year forecasting horizon.”; if not, why not?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Minister of Finance): That interpretation is, in my view, consistent with the medium-term focus of the policy targets agreement.

John Key: Does the Minister not think that that makes a mockery of the policy targets agreement, if adherence to the agreement is defined not by what actually takes place, but rather by the Reserve Bank’s own forecast of what might take place; and, therefore, it does not actually matter whether inflation ever really gets between 1 and 3 percent, all that matters is that the bank forecasts that one day it will?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: That is particularly silly. If the member would care to ask Dr Brash, under Dr Brash a policy targets agreement of 0 to 2 percent was interpreted as meaning 0.5 percent every quarter, which is utterly impossible. What the Reserve Bank does is to project out, all else being equal, what the inflation rate will be, and therefore it judges what monetary policy reaction it needs to have to bring back inflation within the target range.

Shane Jones: Has the Minister seen any reports of alternate fiscal settings that would make the job of the Reserve Bank more difficult?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I have seen reports that advocate a net injection of up to $11.5 billion per annum of spending power into the economy, notwithstanding the current macroeconomic climate. I suggest that Mr Key talk to Dr Brash about the implications of that for monetary policy.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I ask the Minister, while we are talking about making a mockery of the policy targets agreement, who was it who between December 1994 and December 1996, as Governor of the Reserve Bank, had the policy targets agreement outside the band in 8 of the 12 months, and is he now leader of the National Party?

Madam SPEAKER: That last comment is out of order.

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Over that period of 2 years the policy targets agreement was breached eight times out of 12.

John Key: Does the Minister concede that changes he made to the policy targets agreement in 2002 have played a part in raising inflation expectations, and will he be giving any considerations to calls made in the recent macroeconomic policy forum, organised by both the Reserve Bank and Treasury, to replace the inflation target band with a point target, and to put decisions about monetary policy into the hands of a committee, as is done in the UK and the US ?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: On the first point, all the countries that I know of that have a point target have a tolerance band around the point target, because nobody can possibly predict 0.5 percent exactly by managing monetary policy, or indeed any other policy that is available to anybody, anywhere around the world. Should one set up a committee? I suppose it will be the National Party’s economic policy in most areas to set up a committee.

John Key: If the Reserve Bank raises interest rates tomorrow, does the Minister accept that this will probably lead to a higher exchange rate and further Uridashi issuance; in which case will he send more officials to Japan to tell them that New Zealand is once again a lousy investment destination; urge the Reserve Bank to intervene; continue to talk down the currency, as he has since 47c; or order another supplementary stabilisation instruments report; or is it now the case that, having once asserted that he was not without options when it came to the exchange rate, he is rapidly finding that, in fact, he is?

Madam SPEAKER: I remind members that questions are meant to be succinct, as are answers.

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I think that was succinct for that member. What I will certainly not do is feed extra billions of dollars of spending power into the economy—as that member proposes, thinking it will have no effect on monetary policy.

John Key: Does the Minister stand by the comments he made to Bloomberg a couple of weeks ago when he said: “I won’t say what I expected because, well, I’m not allowed to, but the general consensus is that rates will not be raised … I think that’s really what the bank was saying.”; does he now think that his “wink wink, nudge nudge” comments about interest rates not going up are pretty foolish, given that 100 percent of the market is now pricing in a chance of a rate rise before the end of the year, and does he think he would have been just a little bit wiser to stop at the point where he said: “I am not allowed to …”?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Interestingly enough, the most recent survey showed that the expectations around a rate rise went from 19 percent, at the time I made that statement, to about 62 percent—but unlike the member, I do not tell the Governor of the Reserve Bank what to do.

John Key: Well, that proves they don’t listen to him; but anyway—

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. The member has a habit of little preliminary remarks—

Madam SPEAKER: Yes, I agree.

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: —when he asks a question—[Interruption]—and that, Madam Speaker, is a privilege he has yet to earn.

Madam SPEAKER: The member does editorialise. We all fall into habits, I know, so in future the member will please just ask the question. Thank you.

Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. During the last point of order John Key, inter alia, yelled out very loudly while Dr Cullen was making the point of order. I think that you have ruled on that matter on a number of occasions, and I wonder when it is going to be enforced.

Madam SPEAKER: It is a good point, actually. Many members intervened at that point. If it happens again, then the entire number of persons who intervened will leave the Chamber, and we will get through question time then.

Hon Harry Duynhoven: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. During the course of last week I was removed, having come into the House during what later proved to be not a point of order. But I thought it was a speech when I came in, because it was so long. I interjected as the member sat down and was then removed from the House, yet after a blatant outburst like that, members are still here.

Madam SPEAKER: No, I agree with—

Ron Mark: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I do not mean to challenge you, and please forgive me if it sounds like that but on 10 October you—[Interruption]—It is a point of order, Madam Speaker—

Madam SPEAKER: Who intervened, please?

Dr Richard Worth: I did.

Dr Richard Worth withdrew from the Chamber.

Ron Mark: On 10 October Nandor Tanczos rose to take a point of order, and was immediately warned by you—before he had said anything else—“This better be a point of order.” On 17 October I started a point of order, and you warned me: “This better be succinct.”, or “Make your point of order succinct.” I would like to know why there is one standard for the minor or alternative parties in this House, and blatantly and flagrantly different standards for the National Party.

Madam SPEAKER: No. The member has a very good point. Those members, then, who intervened on Dr Cullen’s point of order will please identify themselves and leave the Chamber. The member is quite right; I do give leniency. Obviously it is being abused. I now must enforce rigidly, because it is the only way to be fair.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. You asked those members who had intervened, when Mr Mark was on his feet, to leave the Chamber. Mr Worth did. Another member is sitting over there who knows full well what he said. He said: “What year?”. I ask Mr Roy to honour what the Speaker has asked him to do.

Madam SPEAKER: The member will please leave the Chamber.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: There’s a good lad.

Madam SPEAKER: No, there is no need for that. The member has done the right thing—please leave.

Eric Roy withdrew from the Chamber.John Key: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. Can I just point out to you that now that Dr Cullen would like to have me treat him like a nice soft cuddly bear without any kinds of interjections, maybe he would like to give the same respect back to me, in his answers.

Madam SPEAKER: No, the member did intervene. He may finish his question, then he will leave the House.

John Key: Does the Minister stand by his other comment on the possibility of interest rate rises—that “I think that what Alan was saying was ‘I haven’t got my finger on the trigger, but don’t forget that there is a gun in the drawer.’ ”; and when it goes off, will he accept that the gun is not only fully loaded but that the safety catch has been flicked off, and yet again the only role he will play in this vignette is that he will be the person who will be shooting himself in the foot?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: The gun referred to, of course, is in the hands of Dr Bollard, not myself.

John Key withdrew from the Chamber.

Research—New Zealand Firms

2. Dr ASHRAF CHOUDHARY (Labour) to the Minister of Research, Science and Technology: What is the Government doing to support greater uptake of research among New Zealand firms?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY (Minister of Research, Science and Technology): The Labour-led Government recognises that the stronger the links we can get between business and science, the better we will be in terms of transforming to a high-value, high-wage economy. So next week the Government and Business New Zealand will host a major summit in Auckland aimed at building new partnerships between investors and researchers, boosting research-led innovation by Kiwi businesses, and ensuring the research community can respond to business needs. The Capitalising on Research summit will bring together New Zealand’s top business people—144 of them—and 60 science leaders, along with international leaders in this area. The forum at the present time is oversubscribed and has a waiting list. The summit is just one part of the Government’s ongoing work to ensure Kiwi firms can make the best possible use of science pioneered in this country.

Dr Ashraf Choudhary: What else is the Government doing to ensure that the results of research are being applied to accelerate the growth of Kiwi firms?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: The Labour-led Government invests more than $300 million a year in programmes to develop new industries, connect firms to global expertise, match private sector investments in research and development, improve linkages between business, Crown research institutes, and universities, and ensure that science is a commercial reality for New Zealand business.

Meningococcal B Vaccine—Significant Adverse Health Events

3. Hon TONY RYALL (National—Bay of Plenty) to the Minister of Health: Have there been any significant adverse health events associated with the meningococcal B vaccine; if so, how many?

Hon PETE HODGSON (Minister of Health): There are a range of side effects associated with all vaccinations. However, significant adverse health events are very rare after vaccination with meningococcal B disease vaccine.

Hon Tony Ryall: Does the Minister stand by his answer last week to a written question that he is confident there are no significant adverse events associated with the meningococcal B vaccine, and is he aware that the Accident Compensation Corporation (ACC) has advised it has accepted 33 claims for adverse events related to the meningococcal B vaccine?

Hon PETE HODGSON: Yes and no. The member may be referring to some of the anaphylactic shock reactions that occur, or may occur, with any vaccine or, indeed, with any medication. They have occurred with the meningococcal B vaccine, but they have been extremely rare. There have been fewer than 10 of them, most of which have only a possible association with the vaccination procedure.

Maryan Street: How many cases of the epidemic strain of meningococcal B disease did we have in New Zealand prior to the roll-out of the vaccine?

Hon PETE HODGSON: About 200 children and young people each year used to contract this disease, almost a quarter of whom were left with a lasting disability or died. Saving our young people from either of those outcomes is a prime motivation for our hard-working health sector and for this Government.

Barbara Stewart: Is the Minister aware of concerns raised by New Zealand First at the time the vaccine was rolled out regarding its safety and effectiveness, and, in light of the latest evidence, is he willing to give the House an unequivocal assurance that the vaccine is safe, as his predecessor did in response to an oral question by the Rt Hon Winston Peters in 2004?

Hon PETE HODGSON: As I said in my answer to the primary question, significant adverse events are very rare after vaccination with the meningococcal B disease vaccine. Accordingly, I think it is appropriate to describe this vaccine as safe. It is certainly the most intensively monitored vaccine in New Zealand’s vaccination history.

Sue Kedgley: Is he confident that the Ministry of Health made the right call to proceed with a massive vaccination of 1 million New Zealand children before it had carried out stage three clinical trials of the vaccine—trials that are normally considered essential before any new medicine is approved—and does that not mean that basically the roll-out has been a gigantic experiment?

Hon PETE HODGSON: No, I do not agree with that. The member will, I am sure, be aware that at the beginning of this process the first 100,000 children under 5 and the first 100,000 children over 5 were part of a hospital-based surveillance scheme, in which any child who had been vaccinated and was then found to be in hospital for any reason was then carefully and closely examined, to see whether there was a link with the vaccine. No links were found, except in a few cases where there had been an anaphylactic reaction.

Sue Kedgley: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I specifically asked why there had not been a stage three clinical trial. The Minister gave us some comments about monitoring, but he did not address the issue of why there had not been a stage three clinical trial.

Hon PETE HODGSON: In vaccination that is what a stage three trial looks like.

Hon Tony Ryall: When he was advised by his ministry that there was no evidence of any significant adverse health event associated with the meningococcal B vaccine, was he aware that the ACC has accepted 33 claims of adverse reactions to the meningococcal B vaccine and has declined 42 because the injury reported was an expected result of the vaccine—bruising, redness, minor pain for a short time—and the fact that it has accepted 33 claims means that those cases are more significant than those expected outcomes; as a result of that information, what action will the Minister take?

Hon PETE HODGSON: No I was not aware of that, as I said in my answer to the member’s prior question on that matter.

Hon Tony Ryall: Would it surprise the Minister to know that while his officials are saying that there is no evidence of a significant adverse reaction to the meningococcal B vaccine, the ACC has accepted 33 claims, including the claim of an 8-year-old girl whose specialist has said she developed a severe blood disorder as a result of the meningococcal B vaccine; surely that must be a significant adverse event?

Hon PETE HODGSON: I am not the member responsible for the ACC, but it is the case that the Ministry of Health—[Interruption]

Madam SPEAKER: Order, please; let the Minister address the question.

Hon PETE HODGSON: —but it is the case that the Ministry of Health has looked hard for, for example, cases of meningococcal meningitis, cases of Guillain-Barre disease, cases of thrombocytopenia, and all of the things that might be associated with a vaccination, and has found no higher incidence of them after vaccination than before. That does not mean that a person who has been vaccinated might not develop one of those conditions, but it does mean that their prevalence has not increased at all.

Hon Tony Ryall: What action will the Minister take now that he has become aware for the first time that, while his officials have been telling the nation and the Government that there have been no reports of significant adverse events, the ACC has accepted that a meningococcal B vaccination caused a severe blood disorder, and surely the fact that 32 other claims have been accepted would warrant the Minister instructing his officials to start to investigate the serious cases that the ACC has accepted?

Hon PETE HODGSON: The member may not be aware that apart from 33 ACC claimants, this vaccine has been subject to three separate ongoing monitoring regimes—three of them. They have been of such a high standard that they are regarded by the independent scientific committee that oversees them as being of a gold standard and worthy of international attention, which, indeed, they received. This vaccine has been monitored harder than any vaccine in our history and most vaccines in anyone’s history.

Hon Tony Ryall: Does the Minister of Health actually appreciate how serious this information is, because the public have been assured by health officials that there have been no significant adverse events, and parents like myself have immunised our children on that basis, and what we are now discovering is that the ACC has accepted 33 claims? We are uncertain about the range of injuries that they are claims for, but we are aware that the ACC has accepted the claim that this vaccine caused a severe blood disorder in an 8-year-old girl. Surely the Minister realises that that puts in question the advice he is receiving?

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. What is so special about the National Party that members like Mr Ryall can get up and go on and on in question time, when we are asked on numerous occasions by you to truncate our questions? There should not be a special rule for Mr Ryall, particularly since 2 years ago he did not have anything to say about this issue, at all.

Madam SPEAKER: Members should be reminded that in supplementary questions there is only one question, and that all questions and answers should be succinct. There is a tendency for members on both sides of the House to make speeches.

Dr the Hon Lockwood Smith: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. If you check the Hansard, Madam Speaker, I am sure you will find that the last supplementary question asked by the Rt Hon Winston Peters did not start with a question. You have ruled many times that questions must start as a question. I would appreciate your sorting that matter out for the future.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Madam Speaker—

Madam SPEAKER: I do not need any help on that. Please be seated. Yes, if all members observed the Standing Orders all the time, it would certainly be very helpful.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. You do need help on this, Madam Speaker, and I will tell you why. If that point of order was to be valid, it had to be raised at the time that I asked the supplementary question.

Madam SPEAKER: Yes, that is quite right, but we are having a little general discussion here on how we are all going to observe the Standing Orders—and we are.

Hon PETE HODGSON: It may help the House if I offer the following advice. A range of serious blood conditions occur in children, and the question is whether they occur with greater frequency after the population of New Zealand children has been vaccinated. The view of the Ministry of Health is that they occur at no greater rate than previously. Although, of course, a child who has been vaccinated may nonetheless at some point develop a serious blood condition, the issue of causality is one that can be proven only epidemiologically, whether or not the ACC has accepted it.

Sue Kedgley: I seek leave to table a transcript of a Norwegian documentary that recently screened in Norway, in which three Norwegian professors of medicine expressed grave concerns about the safety of the meningococcal B vaccine—the so-called parent vaccine used in New Zealand.

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

Hon Tony Ryall: I seek leave to table the answer to a written question from the ACC. It is not yet on the written questions website, so it will be of interest to members. I seek leave to table the document, which shows 33 adverse events—

Leave granted.

Police Holding Cells, Teenagers—Principal Youth Court Judge

4. JUDY TURNER (Deputy Leader—United Future) to the Associate Minister for Social Development and Employment (CYF): Does she agree with Principal Youth Court Judge Andrew Becroft that holding teenagers accused of crimes in police holding cells is unacceptable; if so, what options is the Government planning?

Hon RUTH DYSON (Associate Minister for Social Development and Employment (CYF)): I do agree that holding young people in police cells for longer than 24 hours is unacceptable. That is why over the last 12 months we have opened a new residence in Canterbury, providing an additional 12 beds, with a further eight beds planned for December; established a further six beds, three in South Auckland and three in Dunedin; promoted supervision with activity; promoted a supported bail option; commissioned a new youth justice residence in Bay of Plenty to further increase bed numbers; and we are building three transition units attached to each youth justice facility.

Judy Turner: Is it feasible or acceptable to monitor young offenders through the use of supervised remand at home and electronic bracelets, as suggested by Judge Becroft, in home environments frequently unable to control the offending behaviours in the first place?

Hon RUTH DYSON: In my view, and I believe that it is a view shared by Judge Becroft, that would not be an appropriate environment in which to promote monitoring at home.

Russell Fairbrother: Can the Minister explain what longer-term options are being considered; if so, when they will happen?

Hon RUTH DYSON: Yes, I can. Longer-term options being considered include developing assessment tools for the Youth Court, which will be in place as soon as they are signed off by the appropriate officials; encouraging quicker turn-round of specialists’ reports, which is being implemented now; and the use of home detention in appropriate situations—as I mentioned in answer to the most recent supplementary question.

Anne Tolley: Why, when 330 young people were held in police cells for more than 24 hours in the first 6 months of this year, a 16-year old accused will spend his second night in a police cell because of a waiting list to get into a youth justice residence, the average occupation of three youth justice residences over the last 2 years has been 99 to 100 percent, violent youth crime is on the increase, and no new youth justice beds will be built this year or next—with all this happening—is the Minister doing nothing?

Hon RUTH DYSON: As I said in the answer to the primary question, in the last 12 months there have been an additional 12 beds in Canterbury, an additional 3 in south Auckland, an additional 3 in Dunedin, and here will be a further 8 in Canterbury this year. As the member may well know, a proper process of consultation has to be gone through—as we have been doing in Waikato - Bay of Plenty—in order to provide a facility that is supported by the local community as well. It would be really good if that member supported building of youth justice facilities instead of constantly coming into this House and undermining the progress.

Ron Mark: Is the Minister aware of comments made by Judge Andrew Becroft on 27 February stating that: “Serious crime committed by young people is becoming more savage and early intervention is vital to reducing youth crime”, and would she not agree that there is no place more suited to violent young savages than a police cell or a prison?

Hon RUTH DYSON: I agree with the first part of the member’s question, but I actually disagree with him on the second part. A police cell is not an appropriate long-term detention facility in which to either punish or rehabilitate an offender.

Tariana Turia: What has this Minister done to increase the use of supervision with activity rather than supervision with residence, as Judge Becroft asked, and what are the increased numbers in supervision with activity?

Hon RUTH DYSON: I certainly support the tenor of the member’s question. I am a strong supporter of supervision with activity as well. I do not have the increased figures, but the primary focus of Child, Youth and Family in this area has been on specific and ongoing promotion of supervision with activity where it is appropriate.

Judy Turner: Considering the concerns expressed by Judge Becroft, does she consider Child, Youth and Family services sufficiently resourced for the youth justice work it is mandated to carry out?

Hon RUTH DYSON: Yes, I do. Any implementation of any of the areas I outlined, in either the short term, medium term, or long term, are not delayed because of lack of resources. They are delayed because of ensuring that the entire policy work, research work, and, obviously, planning work is done appropriately.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Can I ask the Minister what reports she has received that the criminal community, particularly hardened criminals, had a collective knee-tremble when they heard that Tony Ryall had been appointed to get tough on crime?

Madam SPEAKER: I do not think that is a legitimate question.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. The Minister is responsible for certain aspects of criminality and penal policy responses. I do not think that question is out of order at all; I am asking what happened in the criminal community when its members heard that Tony Ryall was going to get tough on crime.

Madam SPEAKER: I am sorry, but a reaction to National Party policy is not within the Minister’s responsibility. That is the end and that is the ruling.

Hon RUTH DYSON: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. During the answer to the last question the Hon Bill English made a comment that I found offensive. I ask you to ask him to withdraw and apologise.

Madam SPEAKER: Would the member please withdraw and apologise.

Hon Bill English: I honestly cannot imagine what I had said that was offensive to the Minister. If she could tell me what it was, and if it was offensive, I will certainly withdraw and apologise. [Interruption]

Madam SPEAKER: The member has not withdrawn and apologised, but is waiting to hear from the Minister what the comment was.

Hon RUTH DYSON: Madam Speaker, it is not necessary for me to repeat an offensive comment. I have asked that the member withdraw and apologise. I know what he said; I have taken offence at it. That is all that is needed under the Standing Orders.

Hon Bill English: I withdraw and apologise.

Madam SPEAKER: Thank you.

Corrections, Department—Confidence

5. SIMON POWER (National—Rangitikei) to the Minister of Corrections: Does he have confidence in his department; if so, why?

Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR (Minister of Corrections): Yes, but there is always room for improvement.

Simon Power: Can he confirm that the project director for the construction of the four new prisons, Mr John Hamilton, and the manager of administration and consulting—both external consultants—were involved in the renewal process for each other’s contracts in 2004, including writing job descriptions setting out the attributes to be considered, the weighting each was to be given, and the suggested pay range?

Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: I am aware of their positions. I am not aware of all the details of how those contracts were negotiated.

Martin Gallagher: Given the many wonderful New Zealand men and women who serve our country in the Department of Corrections, can the Minister give some examples of why we should have confidence in a department that is ably served by those wonderful men and women?

Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: Yes, I am very happy to. Department of Corrections staff have overseen a difficult but improving situation for a number of years. Escapes have fallen by 78 percent in the last 10 years. Serious assaults on staff have fallen by 89 percent since 1997. Over the last 3 years we have more than doubled the contraband we seize from people before it gets into prisons. I think they are doing a wonderful job.

Simon Power: Can the Minister confirm that, as a result of Mr Hamilton’s contract being renewed in 2004, his daily rate went from $1,300 plus GST a day to $1,764 plus GST a day; and in light of the collusion that occurred with his fellow consultant over remuneration rates, does the Minister think the public has received value for money for the $2 million that Mr Hamilton was paid to February this year, despite the fact that he has overseen the biggest budget blowout in living memory?

Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: I am aware of their positions. I am aware of a pay rate similar to or approximately around the figure that the member has suggested. A number of issues have been raised in the Auditor-General’s report on the review of this project, which was an $890 million project to build four new prisons after years of neglect by the last National Government. Contracts between staff and the contractors themselves are the responsibility of the Chief Executive of the Department of Corrections.

Simon Power: Can the Minister confirm that consultant John Hamilton’s original contract in 2000 was not put out for tender at the time, was extended twice after that, and was awarded a matter of days after he had resigned as an employee of the Department of Corrections?

Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: I am aware of those claims, I understand they have been investigated, and changes have been made in that area.

Simon Power: Can the Minister confirm that, as stated in the report of the Audit Office dated June 2005, most of the members of the department’s steering group for the prisons project were not involved in the decision to renew Mr Hamilton’s contract; and is he at all concerned about the finding of the State Services Commission report that “… there was often considerable pressure to make quick decisions at Steering Group level, again based on little information or on verbal representations from the Project Director.”—Hamilton—“This often resulted in situations of so-called ‘no choice’ decisions …”, including the decision to adopt collaborative working arrangements; and does he not think that suggests his department really is deep in the mire?

Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: I am aware that some of these issues were raised in the review. Changes were made within the department, and further changes have occurred in that whole area of management of these projects.

Simon Power: Can the Minister confirm to the House that the contract for establishing the collaborative working arrangements was awarded to Mr Stewart Rix to the tune of $1.3 million, and was not tendered out, because “The department researched the market and found that [Rix] was the only New Zealand based provider of CWAs.”;

and is he at all surprised by that, when the State Services Commission report reveals that it was Hamilton and Rix who convinced the Department of Corrections to adopt collaborative working arrangements?

Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: I am aware of some of those claims and assertions. I would like to remind the House that this was one of the largest construction projects in the country. Two prisons have already been completed on time and to budget. The issue of cost overruns has been thoroughly canvassed in a couple of reviews. Changes have been made. I am confident that we will complete the final two prisons on time, and that they will be available to secure prisoners and keep the community safe, which is what we set out to do in the first place.

Simon Power: I seek the leave of the House to table a copy of the Audit Office report confirming that the tendering of those documents was completed by two external consultants outlining each other’s remuneration range.

Leave granted.

Fisheries Officers—Calls for Police Assistance

6. HEATHER ROY (Deputy Leader—ACT) to the Minister of Fisheries: How many times did fisheries officers call for police assistance for reasons of personal safety in each of the last 7 years?

Hon JIM ANDERTON (Minister of Fisheries): Fisheries officers regularly call for assistance from police, under a memorandum of understanding the Ministry of Fisheries has with the New Zealand Police. But neither the Ministry of Fisheries nor police keep a record of the reason for each and every call. However, I can advise the member that the number of occasions on which the personal safety of fisheries officers was compromised to the point of there being an assault requiring medical attention is nine times in the last 7 years.

Heather Roy: Why does the Minister continue to deny the 85 front-line fisheries officers the ability to protect themselves using pepper spray and batons, when his own figures show that they have a similar likelihood of being assaulted with a weapon as do sworn police officers?

Hon JIM ANDERTON: I imagine that all members of this Parliament are concerned about the growing culture of violence in New Zealand. But I believe that arming fisheries officers would continue to escalate this culture, not ameliorate it. In New Zealand we have a cultural ethos against the use of violence to enforce the law, unless it is absolutely necessary. When force is required, the police are the appropriate agency for doing so. The police are trained, equipped, and mandated by law for the use of force; fisheries officers are not. I do not believe that the current level of violence towards fisheries officers requires a review of that approach.

Phil Heatley: Why is the Ministry of Fisheries considering raising the count of shellfish that people can collect on Auckland beaches, because fisheries officers cannot enforce the current rules; how does that help the shellfish stock; why does the ministry not just police the current rules, or are officers so few they cannot police them or so afraid, they will not police them?

Hon Dr Michael Cullen: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. The principal question was about the safety of fisheries officers. I do not think one can expand that to every function that fisheries officers undertake, including in regard to shellfish on Auckland beaches. I do not think there is any suggestion of a large safety element involved in that.

Phil Heatley: My question asked why fisheries officers do not just police the current rules, or are they so few they cannot police them, or are officers so afraid, they will not police them, which is the whole point of the question.

Madam SPEAKER: The substance of the question is about personal safety. So if the member just considers his question, we will take another one. It is very broad, and actually just using “safety” at the end of it, about shellfish, does not bring it within the scope. If the member would just like to rephrase. Supplementary question, Phil Heatley.

Hon Bill English: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. You have given the member some direction about the question, and it would be fair just to allow him to go ahead and ask it now.

Madam SPEAKER: Well, he is. I have called him to.

Hon Bill English: No, you’ve called someone else.

Madam SPEAKER: No, I have not called anyone else. [Interruption] I am giving the member the opportunity to think. He does not need it; he can reframe his question. I called him.

Dr the Hon Lockwood Smith: I would have thought a point of order lasts from the time it is raised, till you complete your ruling on it. You were ruling on it, and several members on the Government benches were interjecting during that point of order.

Madam SPEAKER: Were members interjecting? If they were, they will leave the Chamber, please.

Hon David Cunliffe: Madam Speaker, I did interject.

Madam SPEAKER: Then please leave the Chamber.

Hon David Cunliffe: I am happy to leave the Chamber, but I ask your leave to return to answer Dr Lockwood Smith’s question.

Madam SPEAKER: Yes, you may.

Hon David Cunliffe: Thank you.

Hon David Cunliffe withdrew from the Chamber.Dr the Hon Lockwood Smith: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I could name at least four Ministers—

Madam SPEAKER: I am sorry; I call for suspects as well, and they identify themselves. At one point there was such a barracking, in fact most members would have to leave the Chamber. That is the point. I have to take the members’ word on it. I have taken their word on it. If anyone else interjected on the point of order, he or she should leave the Chamber.

Hon Dr Michael Cullen: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I heard some noise from people at the point—indeed, just after—Mr English sat down. If that is to be ruled completely out of order, then I am afraid Dr Lockwood Smith is about to leave as well, because he interjected from his chair, having just raised a point of order. He sat down and interjected, before you had finished ruling on the matter.

Madam SPEAKER: That is true. Let us get some sense into this. I did not hear anyone interject during the Hon Bill English’s point of order, but there was interjection at the end of it. So I accept that. The member has left.

Hon Bill English: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. We do now have to have consistent rules. Earlier on in this question time Winston Peters took a point of order. He said to you that Eric Roy had interjected during a point of order, and on that basis you ejected Eric Roy from the Chamber—not because you heard the interjection, or found it out of order, or because you knew who had done it, but simply because one member stood up and took a point of order. On that basis, my colleague Lockwood Smith should be allowed to get up, name the members who interjected, and then you eject them from the Chamber.

Hon Dr Michael Cullen: That would be an absurd position. I could quickly clear the House on that basis, and then take urgency for the remainder of Government business. Mr Roy stood up and accepted that he made an interjection, and left. The member seems to be—yet again today—trying to raise points of order by looking through the back of his head and not seeing what is happening behind him. We could see what Mr Roy did, from this side of the House.

Madam SPEAKER: That is true, actually. [Interruption] Please be seated. I am ruling on this point of order. I have heard enough comment. Mr Roy did identify himself and therefore left the Chamber. I have asked members to identify themselves. The member has identified himself and he has now left the Chamber.

Dr the Hon Lockwood Smith: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker.

Madam SPEAKER: Another point of order? It has to be a different one, because I have ruled on that matter.

Dr the Hon Lockwood Smith: Yesterday you asked members on this side of the House, if they had interjected, to be sufficiently honest to leave the Chamber. You did not know that I had interjected. I admitted I had, and in honour I left the Chamber. I think the second time—

Madam SPEAKER: No, you are talking to the same point of order.

Dr the Hon Lockwood Smith: I require my right to raise a point of order.

Madam SPEAKER: No, I am sorry, it is not a different point of order, at all. I have ruled on this matter. Members have identified themselves, but some may not have. There is nothing I can do about that.

Phil Heatley: Is the Ministry of Fisheries considering raising the count of shellfish that people can collect on Auckland beaches, because fisheries officers are so few they cannot police the current rules, or so afraid, they will not police the current rules?

Hon JIM ANDERTON: No.

Pita Paraone: Tēnā koe, Madam Speaker. Does the Minister agree that it is somewhat naive to expect fisheries officers to call the police when confronted with dangerous situations, given the often remote locations that officers work in, the ability of the overstretched police to respond in time to apprehend their poachers, and the resourcefulness and street smarts of the poachers themselves; if not, why not?

Hon JIM ANDERTON: I, like all other members of this House, would be concerned, and am concerned, about the safety of any public servant, including fisheries officers. My advice is that when police assistance is not immediately available to fisheries officers, which of course on occasion it is not, and they are confronted with an escalating situation, which is not the usual set of circumstances but it does occur, their training to date has allowed them, in the overwhelming number of cases that I have reviewed, to extract themselves safely from those situations.

Heather Roy: Does the Minister stand by his statement in today’s New Zealand Herald that the figures do not justify fisheries officers protecting themselves with pepper spray or batons, when one in 20 front-line fisheries officers is the victim of a serious assault every year, and does an officer need to be killed before self-protection is allowed?

Hon JIM ANDERTON: I have asked the Ministry of Fisheries to research the figures of serious assaults on fisheries officers over the last 7 years. The definition of serious is an assault that requires hospital treatment, which in no cases has meant overnight treatment but it could be stitches to a cut, or whatever. There have been nine of those in 7 years. I think, given the circumstances and knowing that we have bus drivers, taxi drivers, nurses, and Accident Compensation Corporation and Work and Income officials at the front line who have been injured on many occasions, if the suggestion is that we start arming all public servants in this area, that is simply ludicrous.

Heather Roy: I seek the leave of the House to table a letter from the Hon Jim Anderton, Minister of Fisheries, published in today’s New Zealand Herald.

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

Phil Heatley: I seek leave to table a New Zealand Herald article reporting that one of the ministry’s suggested solutions to people breaching shellfish takes is to raise the allowable takes.

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

Heather Roy: I seek the leave of the House to table a report by the Ministry of Fisheries outlining figures from January 1999 to December 2003 highlighting reported incidents of threat or assault.

Leave granted.

National Certificate of Educational Achievement—Pass Rates

7. Hon BILL ENGLISH (National—Clutha-Southland) to the Minister of Education: Does he agree with the statement that: “Suddenly the standards-based regime is beginning to look like it’s getting the norm referenced treatment. With an expected 70 per cent pass rate, it looks a bit like School C, which allowed a 60 per cent pass rate.”; if not, why not?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY (Minister of Education): No. The statement is from Saturday’s New Zealand Herald, which refers to a State Services Commission report of 2005 recommending measures to strengthen moderation of external assessment by: “defining normative grade boundaries which can function as a safety net for the 2005 external assessments:”. The report itself states that “bands of accepted tolerance” should be developed and that “variation beyond these bands should be brought within tolerances unless there is a defendable explanation for that variation”. As a result of this recommendation, the New Zealand Qualifications Authority developed profiles of expected performance. These provide a trigger to investigate marking when results suggest students are not consistently achieving what was expected when the exam was set. This was explained to the member last week. It is what is allowing the New Zealand Qualifications Authority to address problems with variability.

Hon Bill English: Why should parents, teachers, or students believe what the Minister says when he defended the results of National Certificate of Educational Achievement (NCEA) exams in 2004 as “just fine”, then brought in normative-based bands with variations to reduce the variability, then defended the results of the 2005 exams as “just fine”, and right now is trying to sneak in major changes to the way the New Zealand Qualifications Authority sets external exams; and does the Minister accept that 2005 was not “fine”?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: I have been the Minister for 12 months, so let me just focus on the second part of the question that the member raised, the part about 2005. Let me use that as an example. What I said about those exams is that we have improved a great deal and that we have laid the platform that will enable us to make more improvements, and that is exactly what we are doing. I have said this so often that I am beginning to think the member has a case of amnesia.

Dianne Yates: Further to the explanation already given, what is the process for ensuring that the results for the external assessments under NCEA are fair and consistent for all students?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: For each externally assessed standard, the profile of expected performance is developed using historical information and expert advice on the relative difficulty of various subjects. The profiles are used as a screening device to check that marking is consistent. If a profile is different from that which is expected, marking is suspended and the reasons are investigated. In a small number of cases the marking schedule is adjusted to better reflect the national standard in light of the students’ work. The papers and questions are then re-marked. That ensures NCEA exams are fair and consistent for every single student. I think I have answered that question numerous times over the summer period and my answer has not changed in its form.

Hon Brian Donnelly: Can the Minister confirm that pass rates for School Certificate Agriculture in 1998 and 2001 were 41.1 percent and 51.4 percent respectively and for Latin in the same years were 93.7 percent and 94.1 percent, and do not these figures make any comparisons with NCEA pass rates effectively meaningless?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: If I think very carefully I can recall every single one of those figures as being accurate; therefore I can confirm the member’s question as being accurate as well.

Hon Bill English: If the changes the Minister was forced to make to NCEA assessment last year were effective, valid, and credible, why has he this year set up a technical overview group comprising Professors Gary Hawk, Terry Crooks, John Hattie, Cedric Hall, and Jeff Smith to investigate fundamental changes to how the New Zealand Qualifications Authority writes, marks, and tests external exams?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: I am always interested that the member delivers such questions with such grim determination.

Madam SPEAKER: We are not going to comment on presentation.

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: I do not know how many times I have told the member that this is exactly what we have been saying, all summer, that we would do, and we are doing it.

Hon Bill English: Does the Minister stand by his statement that he had been saying he was doing this all last year, when it had not become public knowledge that he was using assessment experts to fundamentally change NCEA assessment until he answered a parliamentary question on Friday, 1 September, and when no school I know, and have spoken to, is aware that these changes are going on?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: I am really sorry to continue to disappoint the member, but I have been continually saying that there were 200-plus recommendations last year from the State Services Commission; that during the summer period every time there was a problem we would record it; that this year, if we could not fix it at the time, we would fix it now; that we would have the same kind of reference group for NCEA that we have for Scholarship; that we would have a leaders’ forum that would work with us on these issues; that I have asked the New Zealand Qualifications Authority to carry on doing work on these issues, and that I have said to the member repeatedly that if he ever has a good idea—which he never has—he might like to give it to me and we will change that matter, too.

Hon Bill English: Will the changes being investigated by the technical overview group—which amount to fundamental changes in external assessment—apply to NCEA exams this year, or not?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: As I said before, this is a process that will go on for a while, as we get these issues right. We are looking at issues this year, which have resulted, for example, in a change to the record of learning. There is nothing different there going on, at all—

Hon Bill English: Answer the question.

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: —and I am sorry, but I tell the member that I cannot answer it any differently from the way I have before. There are ongoing changes; some will tell place this year, some will take place next year, and, probably, some will take place the year after. But we will get this exam right. One of the good things about it, however, is that the last exam season meant that everybody, except him and Warwick Elley, thought we were on the right road now.

Hon Bill English: What would the Minister say to a parent who has heard the Minister’s conflicting and confusing answers to proposed solutions to problems he will never admit to, when this parent has made a public comment to this effect: “My daughter gained two maths credits last week by sitting a practice test the day before the real test. Both tests had identical types of questions but with different answers, and students who failed were given the opportunity to re-sit a third test.”?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: I would say that many times this member has raised issues in the House that have been wrong, so if he will give me the case I will investigate it.

Income Support—Fair and Equitable Administration

8. SUE BRADFORD (Green) to the Minister for Social Development and Employment: Is the Minister confident that Work and Income is administering income support in a fair and equitable manner across all parts of New Zealand?

Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE (Minister for Social Development and Employment): Yes.

Sue Bradford: Why, then, do some districts, such as the East Coast of the North Island, continue to show alarmingly high rates of people being denied entitlements—for example, people with medical costs not being offered, much less granted, the disability allowance, or people not being assisted with access to running water necessary for their dialysis treatment?

Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: I guess the quality control and audit of the consistency of decisions lie in a very extensive and robust review process. The member will be very aware of the review and appeal procedures for people who disagree with or do not understand decisions made about their entitlements. Generally, those procedures ensure that disputes are settled fairly and quickly. People can also discuss their situations initially, of course, with their case managers. They have 3 months subsequently in which to apply for a formal internal review. After that, there is a benefit review committee process, and subsequently, if dissatisfaction continues, people can appeal to an independent organisation, the Social Security Appeal Authority.

Steve Chadwick: What has been the particular contribution of Work and Income frontline staff?

Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: I am sure members would agree that we are where we are today, with historically low benefit numbers and unemployment, because of the focus and professionalism of Work and Income staff in applying Government policies. The staff of Work and Income need to be congratulated on the way they have assisted hundreds of thousands of New Zealanders into sustainable employment.

Sue Bradford: Does the Minister think it is acceptable that people who are struggling to survive, and, in some cases, people who are facing the danger of death, have to wait through the at-times very lengthy review and appeal procedures to actually get the benefits they are entitled to in the first place?

Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: I twice yesterday offered that member the opportunity to give me any particular case she would like me to investigate. I would be delighted and happy to do that. But if she chooses to grandstand around people’s disadvantages—

Madam SPEAKER: That is not necessary

Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: —I guess that is her call.

Madam SPEAKER: That is not a necessary comment.

Sue Bradford: Will the Minister be taking details of the long-awaited single core benefit reform to the Labour Party conference this weekend, and can he assure the House and the public that any such reforms under his Government will provide all eligible beneficiaries with a primary income that takes into account their real needs and circumstances?

Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: Cabinet decisions on those matters will be announced shortly.

Ingram Report—Immigration Submissions, Completeness of Information

9. Dr the Hon LOCKWOOD SMITH (National—Rodney) to the Minister of Immigration: Was complete information provided in immigration submissions by Taito Phillip Field; if not, in which cases was information incomplete?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE (Minister of Immigration): The Minister of Immigration is not responsible for the submissions made by members of Parliament, including those of that member.

Dr the Hon Lockwood Smith: What information was Taito Phillip Field trying to hide when, on 2 October 2005, he held a meeting with eight Thai immigrants, with the objective—as alleged by the Serious Fraud Office—of controlling leaks to the media about work the immigrants were doing on his numerous properties in return for Mr Field’s assistance on either their, or their partners’, immigration cases?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: I repeat that I do not have responsibility for the actions of a member of Parliament, including those of that member.

Dr the Hon Lockwood Smith: What information was Taito Phillip Field trying to hide, with regard to the material gain he was obtaining in return for making immigration submissions, when after the meeting on 2 October 2005 only three of the eight Thai immigrants would cooperate with the Ingram inquiry, one of whom, Mr Srikaew, claimed Mr Field was not at the meeting although Mr Field recalled seeing him there, another of whom, Miss Thaivichit, had her evidence described by Noel Ingram QC as “improbable”, and two of whom, Miss Thaivichit and Mr Chaikhunpol, refused to cooperate further after being asked to provide documentary evidence?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: I respond that I am not responsible for the statements or actions of a member of Parliament. I further note that all those questions are the same. No doubt Dr Smith sees them as being different, just as he advised the Evening Post on 3 August 1998, when he said: “I even knew all the ewes in the stud by sight. Some people think sheep look all the same but to me they all look different.”

Dr the Hon Lockwood Smith: What information was Taito Phillip Field trying to hide, with regard to the material gain he was obtaining in return for making immigration submissions, when, after the 2 October meeting, the police provided information that Mr Field had identified Mr Chaikhunpol as the leak to the media and that Mr Field had pressured Mr Chaikhunpol, and when Noel Ingram QC described Mr Field’s cooperation on the matter as “not particularly helpful”?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: I repeat that I am not responsible for the actions or statements of a member of Parliament. But I would observe that when demoting Dr Smith, Dr Brash said: “It was … time for a new face.” No doubt the member will be demoted further if he does not get a new question.

Madam SPEAKER: That is not relevant to the question.

Dr the Hon Lockwood Smith: What information was Taito Phillip Field trying to hide, with regard to the material gain he was making from immigrants, when Mr Field rang Mr Patrick Cole on 27 September 2005, 5 days after the Ingram inquiry was established, and told Mr Cole to tell his son to “back off” from his public comments on Mr Field’s purchase and subsequent resale of their home at 51 Church Street and that he was sending someone around to get Mr Cole’s signature on a form stating that he had nothing against Mr Field?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: I repeat that as Minister of Immigration, I am not responsible for the actions of a member of Parliament. However, to repeat those assertions constitutes an error of judgment, rather like posing—

Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. Two related interjections were made. In the end, when put together, they actually reflected very badly on you. They were made by Dr Nick Smith.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: I said the Government was rotten to the core, and that is true.

Hon Dr Michael Cullen: The member said: “You’re rotten to the core.” Whether he was referring to either you or Mr Cunliffe, both are out of order.

Madam SPEAKER: Would the member please withdraw and apologise.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: It is not what I said, but I am happy to withdraw and apologise. My reference was in respect of the Government.

Madam SPEAKER: If the member used that term, he has been here long enough to know that it is a reference to the Chair.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: I did not use that term, but I am happy to withdraw and apologise.

Madam SPEAKER: We will take the member’s word for it. There is nothing—

Hon Dr Nick Smith: I withdraw and apologise.

Madam SPEAKER: Thank you.

Dr the Hon Lockwood Smith: What information was Taito Phillip Field trying to hide when, last week, Mr Field provided Mr Sunan Siriwan with over $500 in cash, then sought to influence what Mr Siriwan may tell the police; and how can the Minister have any confidence in information provided by Taito Phillip Field, given that he has continually and consistently attempted to manipulate the flow of relevant information from immigrants from whom he has gained significant material benefit?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: I repeat that I do not have responsibility for the statements made by a member of Parliament. But, of course, the member concerned is expert in providing full disclosure, which he inflicts every month on his constituents via a pin-up calendar.

Madam SPEAKER: That is also irrelevant.

State Housing—Effective Usage

10. GEORGINA BEYER (Labour) to the Minister of Housing: What is the Government doing to ensure State housing is being used effectively?

Hon CHRIS CARTER (Minister of Housing): In the last year the Housing New Zealand Corporation has saved the taxpayer $292 million by shifting people into smaller homes when their families have grown up, and by encouraging market rent tenants to buy their first home or rent in the private sector. As a socially and fiscally responsible landlord we aim to meet tenants’ changing needs and ensure effective use of resources.

Georgina Beyer: What reports has the Minister seen about alternative ways to manage State houses?

Hon CHRIS CARTER: I have seen two rather alarming reports. The first is Dr Brash’s proposal to reintroduce market rents for State houses to trim the waiting lists, which is a shameful policy that led to food banks opening in every community during the 1990s. The other part of the proposal, confirmed as recently as last week by Phil Heatley, National’s spokesman on housing, is to resume the sale of State houses.

Phil Heatley: Why did the Minister say that the recent case of an inherited State house was “not an isolated one” and that cases are “arising regularly around the country”, then refuse to answer parliamentary questions detailing the number of cases; surely he should be bothered to find out how widespread subletting rorts are, given that many genuinely needy people could really use those State homes?

Hon CHRIS CARTER: Firstly, no State houses are inherited. Secondly, we have 11,700 people on the waiting list. That member’s Government sold 13,000 State houses.

Hon Dover Samuels: What is the Government doing about easing the housing shortage in Northland, and what assistance has he got from the local member of Parliament for Whangarei?

Madam SPEAKER: I am not sure that the second part of the question is in order.

Hon CHRIS CARTER: I will be happy to answer the first part. Recently the Hon Dover Samuels and I opened a new $4 million, 21-unit housing village in Kaumātua Crescent, in Whangarei. It provides new homes for older single tenants and for couples currently living in larger Housing New Zealand Corporation homes. Strangely, the local member could not be bothered turning up. That person is National’s spokesperson on housing, Phil Heatley.

Phil Heatley: I seek leave to table an official Government statement made last week, stating that inherited or sublet State houses were not isolated incidents but common “around the country”.

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

Family Violence Intervention Programme—Effectiveness

11. ANNE TOLLEY (National—East Coast) to the Minister for Social Development and Employment: Is he satisfied with the effectiveness of the Family Violence Intervention Programme; if not, why not?

Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE (Minister for Social Development and Employment): Yes.

Anne Tolley: Is the Minister aware that his ministry funded a Family Violence Intervention Programme to train Work and Income staff to address “immediate safety concerns and provide crisis support contact numbers, including New Zealand Police”, and does he not realise that paying $2.3 million for a course to teach Work and Income staff to hand out phone numbers is a waste of taxpayers’ money?

Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: Yes and—unfortunately the member is typically misinformed—no.

H V Ross Robertson: Can the Minister tell the House what the value is of the Family Violence Intervention Programme?

Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: The Family Violence Intervention Programme is one of a number of initiatives that this Government has undertaken to identify, reduce, and, hopefully, significantly prevent, family violence. This initiative will contribute to the reduction of family violence by upskilling Work and Income staff through training in the provision of information about family violence so that they are better able to identify clients they work with for whom family violence is an issue. It is also about those staff connecting people with appropriate information on services. When a client does disclose family violence, Work and Income case managers work with the client to address his or her immediate safety concerns and provide crisis support contact numbers, including the New Zealand Police.

Dr Pita Sharples: Tenā koe. Tēnā tātou katoa. Does the Minister believe in He Pūtahitanga Hōu, the Labour Party’s vision for Māori development, which the Prime Minister, Helen Clark, confirmed she had an absolute commitment to; if so, does he agree that “by Māori, for Māori” services will meet the needs of Māori in the area of family violence; if not, why not?

Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: I am very pleased to confirm that generally I find community-based solutions the most effective.

Anne Tolley: Why does the Minister support paying $2.3 million for an extravagant course in passing out phone numbers, and is this not yet more evidence of Labour’s politically correct waste of taxpayers’ money?

Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: I think it is unfortunate that the member continues to trivialise really important initiatives in this area. She might not be aware, for example, of over $35 million in this year’s Budget alone, $11.5 million over 4 years for a community prevention campaign around family violence, $9 million over 4 years—[Interruption] Well, I have to comment that the degree of violence being displayed by the Opposition does tell us where their heads are—committed to increased funding for family violence prevention, and $14.8 million over a further 4 years to continue the excellent strategies around the SKIP programme.

Hon Steve Maharey: Can the Minister confirm that the training for the large number of front-line staff in Work and Income began because staff found it difficult to deal with the large number of women who are assaulted and present themselves through the benefit system. They are therefore able to be recognised and helped. We are trying to ensure that women are placed in safe environments when they are in a benefit situation.

Madam SPEAKER: It was very difficult to hear the Minister’s last answer, and I did not intervene. But I will, and members will leave the Chamber unless we can hear the response.

Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: I can confirm that that is the situation, and we believe that it is really important to deal with this matter sensitively and to support people to make sensible decisions.

Judith Collins: Does he agree that spending $2.3 million to train Work and Income staff, not in counselling services but essentially on how to hand out crisis phone numbers, is totally excessive when that money could be much better spent by Women’s Refuge, which actually does something for women?

Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: No, the member will be aware of the extensive funding this Government directs towards Women’s Refuge, and I do find it sad that that member trivialises our efforts in this regard. [Interruption]

Dr Pita Sharples: Is the Minister aware that there are currently 275 practitioners registered and licensed through the hapū—

Judith Collins: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. The Hon Trevor Mallard made an extremely offensive comment to me, and I would like him to withdraw and apologise.

Madam SPEAKER: The member has taken offence. Would the member withdraw and apologise.

Hon Trevor Mallard: I withdraw and apologise.

Hon Pete Hodgson: But it was true.

Madam SPEAKER: I did not hear the comment. I do not want the comment repeated.

Judith Collins: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. The Hon Pete Hodgson has just gone on to say that the comment was true. I would like him to be asked to withdraw and apologise. I take offence.

Madam SPEAKER: The member has taken offence. Would the member please withdraw and apologise.

Hon Pete Hodgson: I withdraw and apologise.

Dr Pita Sharples: Is the Minister aware that there are currently—[Interruption]

Madam SPEAKER: Will the member please be seated. Could members please just stop the sideshow that is going on in the House, otherwise two members will be leaving the Chamber if they open their mouths again before the end of question time.

Judith Collins: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. The Hon Trevor Mallard has yet again made an offensive comment. It is a matter on which, as you are aware, Madam Speaker, I have written a letter to complaint to you, as the Speaker of the House, as a matter of privilege. I ask you to ask Trevor Mallard to withdraw and apologise again.

Hon Dr Michael Cullen: What the member said—and I have no idea whether it is true—was: “But the assailant was convicted.” One cannot take personal offence in this House about a comment made about somebody else.

Hon Bill English: Trevor Mallard interrupted in the middle of our colleague’s question. In every other single case you have thrown members out of the House for that offence.

Madam SPEAKER: No, that is not true. The member will be aware that the rules have changed. Members on his side of the House frequently call out, also. It is a question of whether interjections are permitted. They are permitted. It is the barracking so that members cannot be heard. I want to deal with this point of order. The member has again taken offence. Given that she has taken offence, would the member withdraw and apologise so that we can move forward.

Hon Trevor Mallard: I withdraw and apologise.

Gordon Copeland: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. You have correctly ruled that interjections are allowed during questions, but I understand that interjections are to be directed to the person asking the question or, in the case of the Minister, the person answering the question. What we had was an exchange between a member of the National Party on the one hand and a Labour member on the other hand, actually having a debate about who knows what, whilst Pita Sharples was asking his question. That is not an interjection; that is just disorderly behaviour. I believe that if you allow it to continue, we will continue to see the standard of conduct in this House go downhill.

Madam SPEAKER: I agree with the member. That is why I said that if either of those members opens his mouth again, unless it is to ask or answer a legitimate question, the member will be out of the House.

Dr Pita Sharples: Is the Minister aware that there are currently 275 practitioners registered and licensed through hapū and iwi as Mauri Ora practitioners; if so, what assurances can he give to these 275 practitioners that their skills in the area of domestic violence will not be neglected and ignored, as the contract negotiations conducted with the Ministry of Social Development have been?

Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: I am prepared to repeat my assurance to the member that effective programmes in this area will be supported by the Ministry of Social Development.

Judith Collins: Were Work and Income staff previously handing out crisis helpline numbers to those clients who disclosed family violence; if they were not, why were they not; and, if they were, why is a $2 million programme now required?

Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: The member will be only too aware that the workload of front-line Work and Income staff has reduced massively because of our success in moving people into employment. When a National Government was last in power, 160,000 people were unemployed in this country. Now there are fewer than 40,000. [Interruption] If the member would listen, I will answer the question.

Madam SPEAKER: Will members allow the Minister to answer the question, please.

Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: Because of that capacity, Work and Income staff now have the ability to provide a much more extensive service to their clients, including this work, for which they have been specifically trained.

Judith Collins: Is the Minister aware that when opening his Government’s family violence intervention wallet, the overwhelming image is of Māori and Pacific New Zealanders as the victims of family violence, and is that a fair reflection on the vast majority of Māori and Pacific New Zealanders who do not beat their wives and who do not beat their children?

Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: The member might not be aware that there are 39 of these very valuable resources. I must say that the family violence practitioners who use them, value them, and distribute them do not share that member’s reservations about the value of the resource.

Labour Force Issues—Horticulture

12. MOANA MACKEY (Labour) on behalf of DARREN HUGHES (Labour—Otaki) to the Minister for Social Development and Employment: What steps is the Government taking to assist the horticulture industry with regard to labour force issues?

Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE (Minister for Social Development and Employment): Assisting industry to meet its labour force needs is fundamental to the Labour-led Government’s economic transformation agenda. I am pleased to advise that the Government’s recognised seasonal employer policy will provide an accessible and productive labour force for New Zealand’s $4.5 billion horticulture industry. The recognised seasonal employer policy gives priority to New Zealand workers first, then workers from Pacific States. If there are not enough New Zealand workers available to avert critical labour shortages, industry will be able, from April next year, to recruit seasonal workers from Pacific countries for up to 7 months. I am delighted to report to the House that industry members have welcomed this new policy, on which they worked closely with the Government.

Moana Mackey: What measures are in place to ensure a smooth transition from current seasonal labour policy to the new recognised seasonal employer policy?

Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: The Government understands that employers are likely to require a period of time to get the recognition required and to make arrangements to recruit workers from offshore. That is why we are allowing the seasonal work permit pilot policy to continue until late 2007. The approval in principle policy—a policy that allows that employers to recruit workers from offshore—will also remain available until late next year. After that policy is closed, approvals in principle will continue to be used by other industries but will no longer be available to horticulture and viticulture.

R Doug Woolerton: Can the Minister confirm that these recognised seasonal employers will have to use New Zealand labour first, that skilled workers from the Pacific will be used only to fill specific, cyclical labour-market shortages, and that they will not come at the expense of jobs for New Zealanders?

Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: Yes. Recognised seasonal employers will have to demonstrate that they have made every effort to fill vacancies with local workers from the Work and Income register before they turn to workers from the Pacific. Work and Income approval will be a prerequisite for an employer to attain the recognised seasonal employer status. The recognised seasonal employer policy supplements the New Zealand workforce to fill critical labour shortages. Under no circumstances does it replace the New Zealand workforce or deprive New Zealanders of jobs.

ENDS


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