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Questions & Answers Tuesday, 7 November 2006

( Uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing. )

Tuesday, 7 November 2006
Questions for Oral Answer
Questions to Ministers

1. Rugby World Cup 2011—Auckland Stadium
2. Business Capability, New Zealand—Enhancement
3. Energy and Climate Change—Prime Minister's Speech
4. Local Government Rating Inquiry—Key Objectives
5. Ingram Report—Work Visas
6. Quality Regulation Review—Progress
7. Business Tax Review—Finance, Minister's Statement
8. Gisborne Hospital—Financial Problems
9. Sickness and Invalids Benefits—Changes
10. Agent Orange—Treatment of Veterans
11. Health Services—Radiotherapy, Australia
12. Energy and Climate Change—Prime Minister’s Speech

Questions for Oral Answer
Questions to Ministers

Rugby World Cup 2011—Auckland Stadium

1. Dr DON BRASH (Leader of the Opposition) to the Prime Minister: What did she mean when she stated, in relation to a stadium in Auckland for the Rugby World Cup, “it’s a no-brainer if you can find a brown field site which could be developed on within the very strict time parameters that there are, you’d do it.”?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK (Prime Minister): I meant what I said.

Dr Don Brash: Are media reports suggesting a cost of $700 million for a waterfront stadium in Auckland accurate; if not, what is the estimated cost of Auckland stadium proposals under consideration by the Government?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: No, I cannot advise whether such reports are accurate. What I can advise is that today the Minister for Sport and Recreation has met with the National Party’s spokesperson on sport, and we look forward to working in a constructive way with Mr McCully and others on a way forward to get a world-class stadium for New Zealand so that we can make a great success of hosting the World Cup.

Dr Don Brash: Will the Prime Minister give an absolute assurance to the House that no commitment will be made to a stadium proposal without cast-iron guarantees that it can be completed well within the 2011 timetable, particularly given the reported statement of the Managing Director of Ports of Auckland, Geoff Vazey:“A rugby stadium on Bledisloe simply is not doable in time. The risks are overwhelming, and I don’t think you can go back to the IRD and say: ‘Hey, can we put the event back a bit?’ ”

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I can assure the member that buildability is a key factor. If the member were following this developing issue in any detail, he would know that attention had moved on from the Bledisloe Wharf. [Interruption]

Hon Harry Duynhoven: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. You have previously removed people from the House for making very strong interjections such as that one in the middle of questions, and I think Mr Hide is pushing his luck a bit to remain in the House, if he interrupts the question.

Madam SPEAKER: I am sorry, the intervention was quite appropriate. It related to the question and the answer.

Dr Don Brash: Does the Prime Minister accept that, given the importance of the Rugby World Cup event to New Zealand, and the potential cost of any stadium proposal development, there should be as little secrecy as possible around Government plans, and can she advise the House when the detail of the Government’s plans will be available to be shared with the New Zealand public?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: Of course the answer to the first part of the question is yes, and that is why the Minister for Sport and Recreation has taken the National Party into his confidence. When there is a proposal, or set of proposals, to be released, it will be released.

Ron Mark: What details were discussed between the National Party and the Minister this morning, and at what stage is the Minister for Sport and Recreation considering having similar discussions with other parties in the House?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I understand that the Minister for Sport and Recreation has already had at least one discussion with the member’s leader. [Interruption] If I were the National Party, I would not be laughing about that not percolating down the line, as clearly its spokesperson’s discussions have not percolated to Dr Brash.

Dr Don Brash: Can the Prime Minister assure the House that proposals advanced in relation to the North Harbour Stadium and Carlaw Park, amongst others, have been given serious consideration, and are any of those proposals still alive at this stage?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: As I have advised the member, he has a spokesperson who has been in discussion with Mr Mallard today. This is prior to public release of what proposals may be on the table. I can only hope we make better progress while Dr Brash is away in London.

Rodney Hide: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. We have an interesting situation whereby there is a lot of interest in the issue of the stadium, and the Prime Minister has said that it has moved on from Bledisloe Wharf and such and such a development and they have been in discussion with the National Party about that—and that is an answer in the House. But these are questions in the House. I think New Zealand First, the ACT party, the Green Party, and the Māori Party would actually like to know what the answers are to Dr Brash’s questions, rather than having the Prime Minister say that she has had a secret meeting with Mr McCully, and that is the answer.

Madam SPEAKER: I thank the member. His answer is that that was not a point of order, but he could ask a question.

Dr Don Brash: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. The point that Mr Hide raises is not unlike the one I was going to raise myself. I asked the Prime Minister to give the House information, to give the House an assurance, and to give the House an indication of whether certain other proposals had been considered. I am fully briefed on what Mr Mallard told Mr McCully, but I am asking the Prime Minister to tell the House.

Madam SPEAKER: The Prime Minister did address the question, but if the member wishes to ask another supplementary question, he is perfectly entitled to do so.

Rodney Hide: Given the Prime Minister’s desire to have New Zealand lead the world in climate change and policy responses, why is this Government considering building a $1 billion white-elephant stadium on the waterfront in Auckland?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I am struggling to see the connection between the two issues.

Dr Don Brash: Precisely which stadium proposal does the Prime Minister herself prefer?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: As the Prime Minister, myself, I have formed no view whatsoever on that. I can advise that I will enthusiastically support whatever is chosen.

Business Capability, New Zealand—Enhancement

2. MARYAN STREET (Labour) to the Minister for Economic Development: What steps is the Government taking to enhance New Zealand’s business capability?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD (Minister for Economic Development): The review of the Government’s business assistance programmes shows that generally they are helping New Zealand firms to be competitive at home as well as overseas. We are continuing to work on making sure the programmes are as effective as possible. This Government is committed to the continual improvement of performance in order to make the economic transformation of New Zealand a reality.

Maryan Street: Has he seen any reports on the results delivered by business assistance programmes?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: Yes, lots. One that I received recently was from CleanFlow Systems. It received an enterprise development grant for market development that enabled the company to travel through the US and Europe to promote its product and to gain access to a pool of potential customers. Since its launching in the US and European markets, sales of its profile have more than quadrupled, and global distribution networks are in place for Europe, Asia, North America, and Australasia. This is a very good example of how sometimes a little bit of support can make an enormous difference in creating jobs in New Zealand.

Energy and Climate Change—Prime Minister's Speech

3. Hon Dr NICK SMITH (National—Nelson) to the Prime Minister: How does she reconcile her speech to the Labour Party conference stating the aims for New Zealand “to be the first country which is truly sustainable” and “to be carbon neutral” with the record of her Government since 1999?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK (Prime Minister): Easily, as reference to many policy initiatives would show.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: Can the Prime Minister explain to this Parliament what she means by saying that New Zealand should be carbon neutral and when she intends New Zealand to meet that goal, noting that newspapers like the Sunday Star-Times have stated that the goal of stabilising emissions is formidable and that carbon neutrality is sheer fantasy?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: Carbon neutrality is a very ambitious goal and is not easily achieved, but I note that the member himself stated in a speech a number of years ago that his vision was for New Zealand to be environmentally sustainable. I agree with him. Perhaps a little more bipartisanship on some of these issues would be a good thing.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: Noting that the Prime Minister has encouraged a more bipartisan approach on these issues, could she explain to the House why, when I wrote to the Minister responsible for Climate Change Issues on 22 December last year on behalf of the National caucus suggesting that a bipartisan approach on climate change be taken, we did not even have the courtesy of a response? [Interruption]

Madam SPEAKER: Members are entitled to be heard when they ask their questions and when answers are given. If there is any more barracking, members will be leaving the Chamber.

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: My understanding is that, following such a letter, the Minister responsible for Climate Change Issues did indeed meet with Dr Smith. That was then followed by a series of quite partisan attacks from Dr Smith. If Dr Smith wants to make a fresh start, let us hear about it.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: Is the talk not a little out of step with the walk when the Prime Minister talks of carbon neutrality, a goal far more ambitious than has been set by any other country, but when figures released today in Nairobi under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change show that in the 7 years she has been Prime Minister, New Zealand emissions have grown at one of the very fastest rates in the OECD?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I do not believe that it is any more ambitious than the member’s own vision that New Zealand should be ranked the No. 1 nation in the world in environmental sustainability. Of course, we have issues with rising emissions, and it would be nice to see some of the initiatives being promoted by the Government supported on a bipartisan basis rather than being systematically shot down, including the carbon charge.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: Is the talk not out of step with the walk when the Prime Minister tells the Labour Party conference that afforestation is a key priority, but when, during her 7-year tenure as Prime Minister, forest plantings have dropped in every single year, to the point where in 2005 we cut down more trees than we planted—something that has not been achieved by any of the 12 Prime Ministers preceding her—and when, during the same period, Australia has been able to achieve substantial afforestation?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: Prior to Christmas a set of options around sustainable land management will be put out for consultation. Those options will, of course, include proposals around afforestation, reforestation, and land use. I look forward to the National Party, rather than just putting up its hands for incentives, looking at a balanced lot of policies that might take the country ahead on the issue.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: How does the Prime Minister’s aim of New Zealand being carbon neutral sit with her Government’s decision to spend $150 million of public money in 2002 on a new oil-fired power station at Whirinaki, to support the decision by the State-owned enterprise Mighty River Power to build a 320-megawatt coal-fired power station in Whangarei, but to reject the Dobson hydro scheme on the West Coast and the 540-megawatt Project Aqua; are not all four of those decisions made by her Government contributing to the climate change mess that is now such an embarrassment for us in Nairobi?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I would be surprised if the member were seriously suggesting that thermal capacity should not be part of the mix. As the member knows, the Government has put in place policies that have greatly accelerated the building of wind energy projects. Frankly, there is no difficulty in reconciling those positions; there is far more difficulty for Dr Smith in reconciling the fact that he is being led by a climate change denier.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: To the Prime Minister—

Hon Trevor Mallard: What does John say?

Hon Dr Nick Smith: Actually, he says a hell of a lot more than the Prime Minister does.

Madam SPEAKER: Would the member just ask the question, please.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: Does the Prime Minister believe that New Zealand would be better served by a Prime Minister like herself, who talks big about the climate change crisis but does nothing, and who has presided over the worst increase in emissions of almost any country, or by a person who has honestly stated that the science is not 100 percent but that the risks justify action, who has consistently backed afforestation and renewable energy projects, and who has, from the Opposition benches this year, led a party to announce a far more comprehensive policy on climate change than the Prime Minister has been able to deliver from the Government in 7 years?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I must say that I am unable to recognise such a person on the Opposition benches. Further, I note that the pretender to the throne has also cast doubt over whether global warming is a problem.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: Does the Prime Minister accept responsibility for the series of policy gaffes over climate change that has seen a billion-dollar bungle over New Zealand’s Kyoto balance; for a fart tax announced but then dropped; for a carbon tax announced but then dropped; for a tendering process for renewable energy projects launched but then abandoned; for a policy of negotiated greenhouse agreements initiated but then stopped; for an energy efficiency strategy whose results are worse than when we did not have a strategy; and for the fact that 7 years into her tenure as Prime Minister everyone from the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment, to the Green Party, to industry says we have a complete vacuum in New Zealand on climate change policy?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: Of course, that statement is completely untrue. Many initiatives have been taken, many are in the process of being taken, and many more are being proposed. The National Party, far from having a comprehensive policy, has no comprehensiveness in its document, at all.

Jeanette Fitzsimons: Will the Prime Minister, as a first step on the way to the ambitious goal of making the New Zealand economy carbon neutral, recommit to the goal in the Government’s 2002 climate change package of putting New Zealand’s net greenhouse gas emissions on a permanent downward track by 2012; if not, by what date does she believe we will be on a permanent downward track towards zero?

Hon Member: Very good question.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: Good question.

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: That is a good question, because we will need rather more bipartisan agreement across this House to get that on track. It is a bit rich for the National Party to attack every environmental initiative made by this Government and then to complain that there has not been more progress. That is absolutely ridiculous. If the National Party had been prepared to back Labour and the Greens on a carbon charge, we would have one today.

Rodney Hide: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I ask you to consider the Prime Minister’s answer. Everyone thought that was a great question. We were interested in the answer, but the Prime Minister basically said that she did not have the numbers to govern and that if she had the support of the National Party, maybe Labour could back up its rhetoric and its goals with some policy. But that was no answer, whatsoever. The question was about a timetable.

Madam SPEAKER: As the member himself indicated, the Prime Minister did address the question. It may not have been to the satisfaction of everyone in the House.

Hon Harry Duynhoven: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. In the middle of the Prime Minister’s answer there was a lot of barraging. I admire Mr Hide’s hearing; obviously it is better than that of those of us over here, because we could not hear the answer at all. Just earlier you indicated that people would be thrown out for barraging during Ministers’ answers, especially answers by the Prime Minister.

Madam SPEAKER: I could certainly hear, but members are on notice.

Keith Locke: Given the Prime Minister’s Labour Party conference statement that more public transport is needed to reduce climate change, will she be supporting the Green Party’s member’s bill to increase steadily the proportion of the National Land Transport Fund devoted to public transport, cycling, walking, and travel demand management?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I have not seen the details of the Green Party’s bill. What I do know is that this Government has been massively increasing spending on public transport.

Keith Locke: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I thank the Prime Minister for that answer, but my question was about what she is going to do in the future—in the context of the forward-looking speech she made at the Labour Party conference—and whether she will support an approach of steadily increasing the public transport proportion of the National Land Transport Fund.

Madam SPEAKER: I do not know whether the Prime Minister wants to add anything, but I thought the question was addressed. But it might help the member—

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: Far from steadily increasing it, we have been massively increasing it.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: I seek leave of the House to table the figures from the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change showing that New Zealand emissions have grown faster than those of any other OECD country since Helen Clark has been Prime Minister.

Leave granted.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: I seek leave of the House to table figures from the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry that show that New Zealand has had net deforestation for the first time since 1953.

Leave granted.

Jeanette Fitzsimons: Has the Prime Minister sought any advice on by how many years the conversion of the Marsden B power station to coal would set back our progress towards zero net emissions of carbon; if not, will she seek this advice and will she do anything about it?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: No; I have not had such advice, but I assume that the answer would lie in how often it was used.

Keith Locke: I seek leave to table a chart of National Land Transport Fund figures showing that expenditure on public transport is projected to decrease over the next 10 years.

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

Local Government Rating Inquiry—Key Objectives

4.STEVE CHADWICK (Labour—Rotorua) to the Minister of Local Government: What are the key objectives of the local government rating inquiry?

Hon MARK BURTON (Minister of Local Government): The objective of the inquiry is to consider issues relating to current local government rating and other revenue raising mechanisms, and to provide recommendations to the Government for enhancing rating and other funding mechanisms for local authorities.

Steve Chadwick: When will the panel for the local government rating inquiry make its report to this Government?

Hon MARK BURTON: The inquiry panel, which I met with this morning, will report its findings and recommendations by 31 July 2007.

John Carter: Is the Minister aware that Mr David Shand twice stood as a Labour Party candidate in the Wellington Central electorate, and that Dr Christine Cheyne worked in the Prime Minister’s office in 2001 and 2002; what steps has he taken to ensure that no conflict of interest exists that might undermine the independence of this much-needed inquiry, and is he sure that we will not end up with the same sort of thing we had with the Ingram inquiry?

Hon MARK BURTON: As my colleague just noted by interjection, similar steps to those that were put in place when people of the calibre of the Rt Hon Jim Bolger were appointed to important bodies. I note that in the case of the inquiry chair, David Shand, in the 32 years since his brief involvement with politics, which the member raised, he has held extensive international financial positions with the World Bank, the IMF, and the OECD, and numerous other positions—[Interruption]—auditor-general no less—in state and federal Government in Australia. I have absolute confidence in the integrity and competence of all three members of the inquiry panel.

Hon Brian Donnelly: Does the Minister agree that considerable dependence upon property rates by local councils in order to raise revenue has created genuine problems for those on fixed low incomes who happen to own homes with rapidly escalating values, and will the review consider the sustainability of rates being the major revenue raising tool?

Hon MARK BURTON: Indeed, the very people whom the member refers to are among those who have expressed the greatest level of concern, leading to this inquiry. The concerns raised by them and on their behalf will be very much within the province of the terms of reference of the review.

Hon Peter Dunne: How can the Minister have any confidence that this inquiry will deal with the underlying concern people have about rising rates bills when it specifically rules out addressing the major cause of rising rates, which is the activity of local government?

Hon MARK BURTON: Indeed, I do have confidence and I do not agree with the member’s interpretation. Although the inquiry rules out a first-principles review of the place of local government in the democratic arrangements of New Zealand, it most certainly does allow for quite extensive consideration of the long-term sustainability of rates and other forms of local government financing.

Hon Brian Donnelly: Can the Minister confirm that long-term community plans will require expenditure by local government of $30.8 billion over the next 10 years—three times more than in the past 10 years—of which over 80 percent will be on essential infrastructural development; if so, what effects would the capping of rates have had on these requirements?

Hon MARK BURTON: Indeed, I can confirm the member’s figures; they basically are consistent with the analysis that officials have done for me. The impact of capping on that fact would be negative at best. In the case of many of the provincial and rural based councils, capping would be profoundly limiting and would see the quite rapid rundown of their ability to finance core infrastructure such as roading, water, and waste water.

Ingram Report—Work Visas

5. Dr the Hon LOCKWOOD SMITH (National—Rodney) to the Minister of Immigration: Is it correct that the applications for work visas by Mr Sunan Siriwan and his partner Ms Aumporn Phanngarm have been declined; if so, what were the reasons for declining their applications?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE (Minister of Immigration): Yes. They were declined because the immigration officer processing them did not consider that they should be approved.

Dr the Hon Lockwood Smith: Can the Minister confirm that he told this House on 26 July that once the former Associate Minister of Immigration, Damien O’Connor, realised that Sunan Siriwan was working for Taito Phillip Field and staying in his house in Samoa, the Associate Minister acted to reverse his decision of 23 June 2005 to issue work visas for Mr Siriwan and Ms Phanngarm?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: Yes, by placing a flag in the department’s client management system requiring the referral of the case back to the Associate Minister.

Dr the Hon Lockwood Smith: Why, if Damien O’Connor acted to reverse his decision of 23 June 2005 to grant Mr Siriwan and Ms Phanngarm work visas, did the manager, operational support, of the Department of Labour write on 31 October this year that “in the absence of any subsequent direction from the Minister of Immigration or his Associate Minister” I consider this ministerial direction for work visas to have expired?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: The Associate Minister and the Minister were consulted on the question of whether the department should take the decision, which it did.

Dr the Hon Lockwood Smith: Why, if Mr O’Connor did reverse his decision of 23 June, did the Immigration Service decline the applications by Mr Siriwan and Ms Phanngarm because their 6-month eligibility period had expired, and not because the ministerial direction granting them work visas had been reversed?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: No ministerial direction or instruction was given on the substantive handling of Mr Siriwan’s or Ms Phanngarm’s application. The applications were considered quite properly by a senior immigration officer and tested in accordance with normal immigration procedures.

Dr the Hon Lockwood Smith: Why, if Mr O’Connor did reverse his decision of 23 June 2005, is senior management at the Department of Labour unaware of any action taken by the Minister or the Associate Minister subsequent to 23 June to reverse that decision—or did the manager, operational support, not tell the truth to the solicitors for Mr Siriwan and Ms Phanngarm when he wrote to them on 31 October 2006 with his decision?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: If the member is quoting from a letter from the department provided to him, I suggest the member table that letter in just the same way that I would have to if, as Minister, I was quoting from it.

Madam SPEAKER: I think the Minister should also address the question.

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: The department has quite properly considered this matter on the basis of normal immigration procedures and processes, and has made a decision.

Dr the Hon Lockwood Smith: I seek leave to table the letter of the manager, operational support, of the Department of Labour to Mr Siriwan’s and Ms Phanngarm’s solicitor declining their applications and not mentioning any reversal of a decision by the former Associate Minister.

Leave granted.

Quality Regulation Review—Progress

6. H V ROSS ROBERTSON (Labour—Manukau East) to the Minister of Commerce: What progress has been made on the Quality Regulation Review?

Hon LIANNE DALZIEL (Minister of Commerce): Excellent progress. The first milestone report has confirmed New Zealand’s regulatory environment is in good shape. However, the forums and sector interviews in particular have raised some specific concerns that the Government is committed to addressing. Cabinet has also signed off on a strengthened regulatory impact analysis process, which will be in place by the beginning of April next year.

H V Ross Robertson: What are the next steps in the review?

Hon LIANNE DALZIEL: Cabinet has directed Government departments to report back to Ministers by the end of the year on workable solutions in a number of areas, including the removal of duplicated or overlapping regulatory requirements, the provision of tailored information to meet the needs of business when dealing with regulation, the design of “safe harbour” provisions for business, and more rigorous risk analysis when developing and enforcing laws. Business has welcomed this approach to identifying and resolving barriers to growth.

Rodney Hide: If this Government is so proud of its Quality Regulation Review, why has it banned Labour MPs from fronting up to meetings to be held tomorrow lunchtime here in Wellington, on Thursday in Auckland, and on Friday in Christchurch, organised by the Institute of Chartered Accountants, to debate red tape in general and my Regulatory Responsibility Bill in particular—which is before this Parliament—or is it that the Government does not have the confidence to engage in debate on this issue before a business audience?

Hon LIANNE DALZIEL: I am not aware of anyone being banned from attending those meetings.

Business Tax Review—Finance, Minister's Statement

7. JOHN KEY (National—Helensville) to the Minister of Finance: Does he stand by his statement that the Business Tax Review is a critical part of the economic transformation agenda?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Minister of Finance): Yes.

John Key: Can the Minister confirm reports from the Labour Party conference that both he and Trevor Mallard told delegates that a cut in the company tax rate would, in fact, have little impact on efforts to transform the economy; if so, is his Government’s official position that a cut in the company tax rate is sub-optimal when compared with other changes he could make in the area of company taxation as it relates to economic transformation?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: No, I cannot. On the second point, there is no question that many in the tax community and, indeed, in a range of business sectors, believe that changes to the international tax regime in respect of business is more important than the headline rate.

John Key: If he cannot confirm that, why did he go to the Labour Party conference with Trevor Mallard and tell his delegates there that he was opposed to a cut in the company tax rate, then give a speech on the Monday saying the opposite?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I went to the Labour Party conference not with Trevor Mallard but with my wife.

John Key: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. Do you really think an answer to the question is that he went to the conference with his wife, as opposed to an answer relating to company tax—[Interruption] I know that it is very embarrassing for Mr Cullen that he did that, but—

Madam SPEAKER: No, the member is pushing his luck. The member should be careful with asking questions. You do put little flicks in your questions. However, I will ask the Minister to elaborate.

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I cannot confirm what the member said in any respect.

John Key: When he says that he might cut the company tax rate and that that will have implications for the personal tax rate, is that because he is concerned about establishing a gap between the mid-rate and the personal tax rate, and the company rate and the top personal rate, in which case does he mean that that will require him, when he says there are personal implications, to cut the rate, or can he achieve this just through threshold changes?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: There is an awful lot of water to flow under a number of bridges before that particular question can be answered. Not the least is the matter that the member keeps ignoring, which is the impact of any changes on the macroeconomic environment, and I invite him to ask his leader what those are.

John Key: If he is now worried about the personal implications by having a gap between the company tax rate and the personal tax rate—and I assume that is what he means when he says that there are personal tax implications of a cut in the business rate—why is he worried now, and why was he not worried in 2000 when he decoupled the top personal rate and the company rate?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: In terms of that particular issue the member might care to look across the Tasman. The company tax rate is 30 percent, and the top personal tax rate is 47 percent.

John Key: Has the Minister gone back to read his own speeches and done a calculation similar to the calculation I have done in relation to the annual costs of his tax package, which he seems to be indicating would be around $660 million to lower the company rate to 30 percent, around $100 million to support the initiatives he is discussing on research and development, exports, and skills, and around $700 million to $800 million to make even modest changes in income tax thresholds; in which case, does he agree with me that the package that he discussed in his speech on Monday, which he has been reiterating around the country, has an annual cost of around $2 billion?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I can make no such confirmation. As I said, first of all we will not engage in changes that threaten the macro-economic environment, and unlike National, we will not be cutting health and education to pay for tax cuts.

Gisborne Hospital—Financial Problems

8. BARBARA STEWART (NZ First) to the Minister of Health: Does he consider it acceptable that Gisborne Hospital is struggling to provide basic services to the area it serves due to financial problems; if not, what is he doing about it?

Hon PETE HODGSON (Minister of Health): In the past week I have been in contact with the Tairāwhiti District Health Board chief executive to discuss issues facing local health services in Gisborne. I am advised that members of the board and the management team are travelling to Wellington tomorrow for a meeting with Ministry of Health officials to discuss those financial issues further.

Barbara Stewart: Is he aware that Tairāwhiti District Health Board is responsible for significantly more people with higher needs—such as those over 65, Māori, and young people—than the proportion for New Zealand as a whole, and what, if any, extra funding does the district health board get for their care?

Hon PETE HODGSON: Yes, I am aware of that. On average, the people of Tai Rāwhiti, per capita, receive about 21 or 22 per cent more than the per capita figure for New Zealand as a whole. None the less, the performance of a population-based funding formula should always be kept under review. It is next up for review in 2007, and that is one of the issues that I am sure will be discussed tomorrow.

Anne Tolley: Will the Minister accept my invitation to come to Gisborne and meet with not just the health board but the staff, local iwi, and the rest of the public, to discuss the widespread concerns signalled by the district health board that hospital services are to be downgraded; if not, why not?

Hon PETE HODGSON: I was in Tai Rāwhiti not very long ago, speaking with all of the people the member mentioned. [Interruption] No, she was not there. I am in touch with the chief executive of Tairāwhiti District Health Board as often as I need to be. The chair and the chief executive both have my cellphone number, and I have theirs.

Moana Mackey: What reports has the Minister seen on improvements in hospital services in Gisborne?

Hon PETE HODGSON: The Tairāwhiti District Health Board has recently announced significant changes to the configuration of Gisborne Hospital’s emergency department. The district health board will take over the management of the department and will add two extra doctors to the department’s staff. Those changes will see all of the doctors and nurses working under the same management. That will bring significant benefits in both the efficiency of the department and the services it provides to local people.

Barbara Stewart: Should these financial problems not be described as belonging to the Government rather than the district health board, given that it is central government’s responsibility to provide adequate health-care for everyone, no matter where he or she lives?

Hon PETE HODGSON: I believe it is the Government’s responsibility to fund the health system properly. That is why I am very pleased we were able to form a Government with New Zealand First and other parties, because the alternative would have meant reckless tax cuts and associated cuts to health expenditure.

Sickness and Invalids Benefits—Changes

9. JUDITH COLLINS (National—Clevedon) to the Minister for Social Development and Employment: How many people are expected to move off a sickness or invalids benefit because of the welfare changes announced on 26 October 2006?

Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE (Minister for Social Development and Employment): I am advised that, when fully implemented, the reforms will assist between 3,000 and 6,000 sickness benefit and invalids benefit clients who would otherwise stay on benefits.

Judith Collins: Is the Minister trying to tell the House that no formal studies have been done to show any tangible success of these reforms; if that is the case, how can he describe this as the biggest restructuring of welfare in 50 years, as he did? [Interruption]

Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: I can tell the member, and other members opposite, that the trials that were run leading to the roll-out of this policy have been extraordinarily successful, and have yielded at least one in five new clients being found to be work-ready.

Judith Collins: Does the Minister stand by his comments on 27 October that 20 percent of the people with a doctor’s certificate that entitles them to an invalids benefit or a sickness benefit are able to move straight into work without going on to a benefit; if he does, why is he not changing the obviously flawed assessment criteria that show that one-fifth of the people who are being given a doctor’s certificate are not sick?

Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: I just made the statement that those people are work-ready, and unlike that member, I am certainly not about to attack the medical profession.

Chester Borrows: Can the Minister see that if one in five of the people who have been approved for a sickness benefit or an invalids benefit are in fact fit for work, there is a major problem with the assessment system?

Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: All I will do is to repeat the comment I have just made twice—that access to those benefits is determined by medical need and is signed off on by medical professionals.

Russell Fairbrother: What is the most significant change that these reforms bring to sickness benefit and invalids benefit clients?

Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: These reforms are about what people can do, not about the benefit category they may be in. This means that more New Zealanders will be able to take advantage of the rewards offered by employment, while we ensure that those who cannot work receive appropriate financial and social support.

Paula Bennett: Has the Minister considered adopting a designated doctor scheme like the one National had, which resulted in a drop in sickness and invalids beneficiary numbers—or is he comfortable to abdicate responsibility, as he did when he said: “After all, it is doctors who sign people up for those benefits, not Work and Income front-line staff or politicians.”?

Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: I am certainly not planning to adopt many of the models that the National Party trialled, which led to unemployment in this country being at 160,000 in 1999. I say to the House that since the 9 long years of that party being in Government, the unemployment figure has dropped from 160,000 to 40,000.

Judith Collins: When the Minister stated this week: “We have a zero tolerance policy about fraud,”, was he speaking about just the sickness benefit and the invalids benefit, or was he speaking about all benefits under the Ministry of Social Development?

Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: No.

Judith Collins: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I do not believe that the Minister has actually addressed that question. Is he saying that he was speaking about the sickness benefit and the invalids benefit, or that he was speaking about all benefits? He just said “No.”, but to what—to which part of the question?

Madam SPEAKER: That reply answered the question; it seemed to me that it did address the question. I think the member could perhaps put the question clearly—that is one of the difficulties.

Judith Collins: When the Minister stated this week: “We have a zero tolerance policy about fraud,”, was he speaking about a zero tolerance policy towards fraud in all benefits?

Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: Yes.

Agent Orange—Treatment of Veterans

10. TE URUROA FLAVELL (Māori Party—Waiariki) to the Minister of Veterans' Affairs: Does he agree with the Returned and Services Association national president John Campbell that the way veterans have been treated is a blot on New Zealand’s record, and when will the veterans of the Viet Nam War, who have been involved in a long campaign to gain compensation for the effects of herbicides such as Agent Orange, be given justice?

Hon RICK BARKER (Minister of Internal Affairs): Veterans’ Affairs New Zealand has a number of facilities available for Viet Nam veterans’ children, including counselling to help them understand the issues, and genetic counselling. There is also support directly for veterans’ children who have suffered from conditions such as cleft palate, spina bifida, and so on. What I will acknowledge to the member is that Veterans’ Affairs New Zealand does not have the extent of field support that I think it should have, and that is an issue I do want to address.

Te Ururoa Flavell: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I think the question was fairly specific: how many fieldworkers are available? Can the Minister please answer that question?

Madam SPEAKER: The Minister did address it, but if he would like to zero in on that point it would be helpful.

Hon RICK BARKER: I am not quite sure what the member means by “fieldworkers”—

Hon Members: Ohh!

Madam SPEAKER: The Minister is entitled to be heard.

Hon RICK BARKER: A number of the agencies—for example, Work and Income—do carry out work on behalf of Veterans’ Affairs New Zealand. Veterans’ Affairs New Zealand has staff, including its director, who travel around the country from time to time, and a telephone line is available so that people can talk directly to case managers about these issues. So there is quite a substantial amount of support there. The point I am making to the member is that I think we should do better.

Hon Marian Hobbs: When will the details of the Government’s response be made public?

Hon RICK BARKER: The Government’s response to the joint working-group will be made public when the discussions with the Ex-Vietnam Services Association and the RSA are complete. Both organisations have indicated they are comfortable with the progress to date and are willing to continue the dialogue until we have collectively reached a decision that addresses the issue of the Viet Nam veterans in a lasting and meaningful way.

Judith Collins: Why are Viet Nam veterans and their families still waiting for the Minister to release the joint working-group’s report—not his response, just the report—into the effect of Agent Orange on them, when on 6 April this year he guaranteed to Parliament that the unedited report would be released to the public; when will it be released?

Hon RICK BARKER: The joint working-group’s report to the Government will be released at the time that the Government responds to it. I want to say that the Ex-Vietnam Services Association and the RSA have made it clear to the Government that they are committed to continuing the talks, but they have told the Government that the timing cannot be to the detriment of a sustainable outcome, that they are confident that the current talks will deliver, and that they will continue to work with the Government to find an honourable outcome.

Pita Paraone: How many New Zealand Viet Nam veterans have died since their return and subsequent discharge from the Army, and how many of those deaths were, or could be, attributable to their service in Viet Nam?

Hon RICK BARKER: No, I cannot give the member the answer to that question off the top of my head.

Te Ururoa Flavell: How effective have the initiatives been in supporting the veterans who claim they have been affected by Agent Orange?

Hon RICK BARKER: The members who claim they have been affected by Agent Orange, and for whom service cannot be ruled out as a factor in their condition, have been supported by Veterans’ Affairs New Zealand in the form of a war disablement pension. I do not have the exact number but it is quite significant, and has been over a long period of time.

Tim Barnett: Can the Minister confirm that National was in Government for 18 years following the end of the Viet Nam War and undertook no action on this issue?

Madam SPEAKER: That is a broad question. It is not an appropriate question. The Minister has no responsibility for the National Party.

Te Ururoa Flavell: Given the information from Massey University’s Viet Nam veterans study, which found that veterans exposed to dioxin have DNA damage, will he be discussing with the Minister of Health the impact of such information that may have a bearing on the residents at Paritutu in Taranaki or on the sawmillers of Whakatāne, who have been subjected to dioxin poisoning; if not, why not?

Hon RICK BARKER: That report has been circulated and it is subject to peer review. It is widely available to anybody who is interested in reading it.

Health Services—Radiotherapy, Australia

11. Hon TONY RYALL (National—Bay of Plenty) to the Minister of Health: Does he stand by the Ministry of Health’s statement that “We are no longer having to send patients to Australia for radiotherapy; that was always a short-term solution until we had adequate staff trained and infrastructure in place.”; if so, why?

Hon PETE HODGSON (Minister of Health): The Ministry of Health advises me that such steps are always short term and are always taken to protect the health of patients. While the health system continues to have success in training and hiring more radiotherapists, district health boards have a responsibility to do whatever it takes to offer timely treatment to cancer patients when pressures arise, including any pressures brought about by industrial action.

Hon Tony Ryall: When 30 women in Auckland are to be sent to Australia for cancer treatment because of growing radiotherapy waiting times in New Zealand, will New Zealand be able to treat its own cancer patients going forward, or is taking cancer patients away from their families for weeks on end and treating them in Australia to become a normal part of the New Zealand health system?

Hon PETE HODGSON: Probably the best way to answer that question is to advise the member that approximately 30 women in Auckland have been offered treatment in Australia, and that somewhere over 2,000 people in Auckland are treated with radiotherapy annually.

Dianne Yates: What have been the results of work by the Labour-led Government to grow the radiotherapy workforce?

Hon PETE HODGSON: The Labour-led Government moved early in its first term to begin training more radiotherapists after National had ignored warnings about a workforce crisis since 1996. The results have been a 30 percent increase in the number of radiotherapists working in district health boards and a doubling in the number of trainees graduating. Still, the number of new trainees in training, coupled with the pressure of increased referrals and industrial action, means that radiotherapy services are not yet immune to delays.

Hon Tony Ryall: Does he agree with the former Minister of Health, Annette King, that sending patients to Australia risks the public thinking that New Zealand’s hospitals do not have the ability to treat our own cancer patients, and are any other cancer centres in New Zealand considering sending patients to Australia?

Hon PETE HODGSON: The answer to the first question is that in respect of 30 people out of 2,000 or 2,500, the perspective of how many can be treated in New Zealand is thus offered. In respect of the second question, I think the Capital and Coast District Health Board may be considering sending some to Australia. It has offered to send some patients out of Wellington already, although all patients so far have elected to remain in Wellington and be treated there.

Hon Tony Ryall: Does the Minister not realise that one of the most pressing responsibilities facing him as Minister of Health is to deal with these major workforce issues throughout the health system, and that despite 7 years, countless reports, and endless blaming of the previous Government, this Government still does not have enough staff or equipment to provide a sufficient level of cancer care for New Zealand women facing the trauma of breast cancer?

Hon PETE HODGSON: I am speaking in response to a question from a member who was a part of a Government that did nothing. Since this Government has come into office, the number of radiation therapists on the job has increased by 30 percent, and the number of radiation therapists we are training and who are graduating out of our school in this country has doubled. The member ought not to say we have done nothing. What we have done is fix up another disgraceful gap left by his Government.

Dr Jackie Blue: Why, 7 years after this Labour Government took office, 42 health reports later, and with the Minister’s own ministry predicting that the breast cancer burden is set to increase dramatically in the next decade, are the cancer centres still facing chronic staff shortages and a lack of equipment to meet future capacity?

Hon PETE HODGSON: The member has not heard that we have increased capacity extraordinarily, including an increase of 30 percent in the capacity of radiation therapists. More are coming, because the number of graduates coming through our school in this country has doubled. But, on top of that, we have opened breast cancer screening services around the country in order to better assess early detection of breast cancer. That will lead to further treatment, which will save further lives of New Zealanders.

Energy and Climate Change—Prime Minister’s Speech

12. JEANETTE FITZSIMONS (Co-Leader—Green) to the Minister of Finance: What fiscal, economic, and other initiatives is he considering to implement the Prime Minister’s vision that “New Zealand aim to be the first country which is truly sustainable” and “carbon neutral”?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Minister of Finance): The Government has a wide range of initiatives under way and under consideration in this area. For example, a bill currently before the House makes use of economic incentives to promote sustainability, and the Government is working with the member on the issue of greater use of solar water heaters.

Jeanette Fitzsimons: How seriously can we take a Government commitment to making New Zealand sustainable, while the Superannuation Fund continues to invest in the climate change deniers at Exxon Mobil and in uranium mining for the nuclear industry, and if the Superannuation Fund is about protecting our future, is it not time that our money was invested only in companies not dedicated to undermining our future?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: First of all, the Government does not directly control investments by the Superannuation Fund, nor should it. If that were ever under consideration, the best thing to do would be to wind up the fund and use the money to pay off debt; that would be a far better solution. Secondly, the investment in uranium mining is actually investment in two mining companies, both of which are subject to controls in terms of involvement in the nuclear armaments industry.

R Doug Woolerton: What is the estimated cost of implementing the Prime Minister’s vision of a carbon-neutral New Zealand?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: It would be impossible to arrive at an estimate, but it is worth noting that the Stern report tells us that the long-term costs of taking no action are probably greater than the long-term costs of taking action.

( Uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing. )

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