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Questions And Answers 8 November 2006

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

Wednesday, 8 November 2006
Questions for Oral Answer
Questions to Ministers

1. Climate Changes Issues, Forestry, Environment, Ministers—Confidence
2. Roading—Waikato Region
3. Immigration Service—Confidence
4. Paid Parental Leave—Uptake
5. Environmental Education—Initiatives
6. Police Roles—Civilian Employees
7. Benefit Changes—Minister's Comments
8. Cancer Treatment—Effects of Industrial Action
9. Water Quality—Lake Taupō
10. Corrections, Department—Confidence
11. Transport, Energy-efficient Vehicles—Consumer Education
12. Childcare—Grandparents

Questions for Oral Answer
Questions to Ministers

Climate Changes Issues, Forestry, Environment, Ministers—Confidence

1. Hon Dr NICK SMITH (National—Nelson) to the Prime Minister: Does she have confidence in her Ministers responsible for Climate Change Issues, of Forestry, and for the Environment?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK (Prime Minister): Yes.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: Will her commitment to New Zealand being carbon neutral be just like her promise to get New Zealand into the top 10 countries of the OECD by 2010, which she has now disowned as being unachievable; if that is not the case, will she be specific about what she means by being carbon neutral and when her Government will achieve it?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: In respect of the member’s reference to OECD placings, he is aware that was never a formal Government target.

Gordon Copeland: Does she consider that forestry, as a carbon absorber and storer, has a vital role to play in helping New Zealand to meet its climate change obligations; if so, why has the Government been so slow in encouraging landowners to plant new forests on the vast tracts of denuded, often erosion-prone land that is prevalent over much of New Zealand?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: The Government has announced the Permanent Forest Sink Initiative, which deals with exactly that issue. Before Christmas, proposals will go out for consultation with the sector on afforestation and reforestation measures.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: I try for a third time to get an answer to the question. What did the Prime Minister mean when she said New Zealand should be carbon neutral, and when does her Government propose to achieve that extraordinary goal?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: The goal is aspirational, but it would involve New Zealand aiming not to put more carbon into the atmosphere than it is able to offset by other means. Given the member’s own claims to wish to have environmental sustainability for New Zealand by 2020, one would think he would be enthusiastic about that goal.

Hon Jim Anderton: Has the Prime Minister received any reports of actions that have been taken by any individual or group in the community in reaction to any Government proposals to implement climate change policies?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: Plenty. I recall that when the Government proposed a mild levy for research on pastoral emissions, the National Party’s response was to drive a tractor up the steps of Parliament.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: How does the Prime Minister reconcile her commitment for New Zealand to be carbon neutral with her Government’s record of electricity generation from coal increasing from 1,200 gigawatt hours, or 3 percent of New Zealand’s electricity in 1999, to 4,000 gigawatt hours, or 10 percent of the electricity produced in 2005, which is a trebling in just 6 years; how is her record on coal consistent with New Zealand being carbon neutral?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: As I said to the member yesterday, I would be surprised if he is advocating that thermal generation should never be part of the mix. Of course, the Government’s projects to reduce emissions have led to a resurgence in wind energy proposals. Quite frankly, when I look at a party that refused to vote for the first reading of the Climate Change Response Amendment Bill or to support that bill at the Commerce Committee, I can only wonder at the hypocrisy of doing that.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I know that any other member of the House would be pulled up for using that word. Why is it OK for her to do so?

Madam SPEAKER: I did not hear what the word was, because there was so much noise. Would members please keep the level of noise down so that we can all hear.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: Does the Prime Minister recall the statement of Labour’s then environment spokesperson, Dianne Yates, on 13 May 1999 that it was a scandal that New Zealand’s emissions were growing; now that, after 7 years of Labour being in Government, emissions are growing at over double the rate they were growing at in 1999, why is she overseeing a double scandal?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I point out that the growth in emissions is rather less than that of either Canada or Australia. I also point out that the Government is taking many initiatives, none of which the National Party is prepared to support at this time.

Dr Pita Sharples: Tēnā koe, Madam Speaker. Tēnā tātau katoa. Ki te Pirimia: he aha ngā kupu tohutohu a tōna Minita Taiao mō te āhua o ngā tukinga o te Whare Hākinakina, arā, a Aotearoa, i runga i te taiao me te takutai moana?

[An interpretation in English was given to the House.]

[Thank you Madam Speaker. Greetings to us all. To the Prime Minister: what advice has she received from her Minister for the Environment about the likely impact of the Aotearoa Stadium on the environment, and the foreshore and seabed?]

Madam SPEAKER: The question is very wide of the mark, but maybe the Prime Minister would like to address it.

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: None that is relevant to this question.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: How did her Minister’s decision to reject the Dobson hydro scheme on the West Coast, which would have produced sufficient power by now to reduce carbon emissions by over a million tonnes, contribute to the Prime Minister’s goal for New Zealand to be carbon neutral?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: A commitment to do something about renewable energy does not mean that the Minister of Conservation should never uphold conservation values. I know that the National Party does not care about conservation values, but that is no reason to be a vandal with the conservation estate.

Dr Pita Sharples: Tēnā koe. He aha hoki ngā tohutohu a tōna Minita Taiao mō te whakaaro a te mana whenua mō te āhua tukinga o te Whare Hākinakina i ō rātou ake whenua tipuna?

[An interpretation in English was given to the House.]

[Thank you. What advice has she received from her Minister for the Environment about mana whenua views about the environmental impact of the stadium on their tribal lands?]

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: None that is relevant to this question.

Rodney Hide: Is the goal of carbon neutrality for New Zealand a Government goal, and how does it compare with the Prime Minister’s goal, on becoming Prime Minister, of closing the gaps and, indeed, with her recent goal of putting a giant bedpan on Bledisloe Wharf?

Madam SPEAKER: Again, that was very wide of the mark, but the Prime Minister—[Interruption] Well, it was a wide question, but I have asked the Prime Minister—[Interruption] It was wide of the question. However, I have asked the Prime Minister to address it.

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: If the member can actually bear to read my speech, he will find it quite clear that that is stated as a question and as an aspirational goal.

Rodney Hide: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I think that a member’s question should be ruled to be either in or out. It should not need a comment from the Speaker’s chair. The Prime Minister made it plain in her answer to a question that the goal of being in the top half of the OECD was not a Government goal, so my question, quite legitimately, was whether the goal of carbon neutrality was a Government goal. I fail to see how that can be wide of the mark, when that was exactly what the Prime Minister was discussing.

Madam SPEAKER: I thank the member. If his question had stopped there, it would have been perfectly acceptable. However, he is right; I should not show such generosity in the future.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: Why have her Ministers supported the decision of the Government company Mighty River Power to proceed with a 320-megawatt coal-fired power station in Whangarei—a plant with a life of 40 years, over which it will emit 36 million tonnes of carbon into the atmosphere—and how is that decision consistent with the Prime Minister’s aspiration that New Zealand should be carbon neutral?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: Again, I say to the member that I would be surprised if he is ruling out thermal options as a way of reaching New Zealand’s energy needs. However, we have a big priority on renewable energy. The draft energy strategy will be out shortly for the member to look it. But I want to know who from the National Party talks on climate change: Dr Smith or the climate change deniers Key and Brash?

Hon Dr Nick Smith: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I listened to the Prime Minister’s answer carefully. She gave me some advice about what my view may be. She gave some commentary on what Mr Key and Dr Brash may think about climate change. But I am none the wiser in terms of the Government’s policy on a 320-megawatt coal-fired power station in Whangarei, which I think it was very reasonable to question.

Madam SPEAKER: I thank the member. In between those two comments, the Prime Minister addressed the question.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: I seek the leave of the House to table official figures from the Framework Convention on Climate Change that show that, contrary to what the Prime Minister said, New Zealand’s emissions are growing significantly faster than those of Australia.

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

Roading—Waikato Region

2. MARTIN GALLAGHER (Labour—Hamilton West) to the Minister of Transport: What recent announcements has she made with respect to roading in the Waikato region?

Hon ANNETTE KING (Minister of Transport): Yesterday I announced the start of the construction of the Mangatawhiri deviation on State Highway 2. In July I attended the completion of the Mercer to Longswamp expressway project on State Highway 1. Both projects are priorities for the Waikato region as they provide safety and economic benefits. Both of these highways were considered safety black spots in terms of road deaths and injury. The value of large, State highway constructed safety projects has more than doubled since we became the Government, because we do take the safety of New Zealanders seriously.

Martin Gallagher: Has the Minister seen any criticism of the Mangatawhiri deviation?

Hon ANNETTE KING: Yes. I saw a report in the Waikato Times in which the local member of Parliament, Dr Paul Hutchison, criticised the design and funding for the deviation. I do not know who he has been talking to. The Mayor of Franklin District Council, Mark Ball, and the local people I received feedback from yesterday, are delighted with this $46 billion project. I was informed that a request was made for this deviation back in the 1990s but no action was taken.

David Bennett: Can the Minister explain why the Government has put money ahead of lives in consistently delaying the Mangatawhiri deviation, then re-tendering the project, then redesigning the project, when in the Transit plan of 2003 it had a completion date of June next year, and while five people have died on that road; and how many more can be expected to die while construction is completed?

Hon ANNETTE KING: What New Zealanders recognise is cant from the member opposite. There was an opportunity to fix that deviation in the 1990s. No notice was taken of that opportunity, and lives have been lost on that road for years. The deviation will be undertaken. I have turned the first sod, $46 million is going into it, and it will be completed on time and on budget.

Immigration Service—Confidence

3. Dr the Hon LOCKWOOD SMITH (National—Rodney) to the Minister of Immigration: Does he have confidence in the New Zealand Immigration Service; if so, why?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE (Minister of Immigration): Yes, because it is a hard-working and conscientious department.

Dr the Hon Lockwood Smith: Why were the applications for work visas by Mr Sunan Siriwan and his partner Ms Phanngarm declined because, as the Minister told the House yesterday, a processing immigration officer felt they should be declined, rather than because former Associate Minister of Immigration Damien O’Connor had reversed his direction of 23 June 2005 to grant Mr Siriwan and Ms Phanngarm work visas?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: The then Associate Minister reversed his decision by requiring that he be contacted before any visas for the return of Mr Siriwan or Ms Phanngarm were issued. When applications for visas were eventually lodged, Ministers were advised in accordance with the reversal decision. Ministers directed the department to process the applications on their merits. A senior immigration officer in the department then determined the applications in accordance with normal procedures and on the basis of current facts and circumstances.

Dr the Hon Lockwood Smith: Why were the applications for work visas for Mr Siriwan and Ms Phanngarm declined on the grounds that the 6-month eligibility period granted by Mr O’Connor had expired, when such grounds for declining their application would not have even been relevant if Mr O’Connor had in fact reversed his decision of 23 June 2005 to grant the work visas?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: I can confirm that the department did not decline the applications because the 6-month window had expired; rather, it determined that the earlier but now expired ministerial direction could no longer form the basis of any grant.

Dr the Hon Lockwood Smith: How can we reconcile his claim to Parliament of 26 July that Mr O’Connor had acted to reverse his decision of 23 June 2005 to grant Mr Siriwan and Ms Phanngarm work visas with the statement by the Department of Labour’s manager of operational support, that there was an absence of any direction from the Minister or Associate Minister after 23 June 2005?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: The flag was not mentioned in the 31 October letter to Mr Suriwan’s lawyer because it was irrelevant. It was an internal administrative procedure that had already been satisfied. The letter of 31 October was responding to an application. [Interruption] I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I am in the process of trying to give the member a frank and detailed response to his question, but his colleagues do not seem to want to hear it.

Madam SPEAKER: Please be seated. As the member knows, interjections are permitted. There was no barracking during the answer, but would the Minister please continue. [Interruption] That is not a funny comment, and the member will be leaving the Chamber if he makes any other such comments.

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: When the 25 September application was received the department referred the issue to me, in keeping with that flag. I then requested the department to make a decision based on normal immigration grounds. Ministers have not instructed the department in any way as to the substance of that decision.

Dr the Hon Lockwood Smith: Why, if Mr O’Connor had reversed his decision of 23 June 2005 to grant work visas for Mr Suriwan and Ms Phanngarm, was the deputy secretary of the legal division of the Department of Labour unable to answer a question from the New Zealand Herald as to precisely what action Mr O’Connor had taken to reverse his decision, and instead referred the question to the Minister’s office?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: I can confirm that when a journalist asked Dr Brash whether demoting Dr Smith was because he was an embarrassment—

Madam SPEAKER: I am sorry. Would the Minister please be seated. The Minister will be leaving the Chamber if he does not sit down when I am on my feet. That was not an appropriate answer. Would the Minister please address the question.

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: I have no specific knowledge of the particular conversation to which that member refers.

Dr the Hon Lockwood Smith: What has changed in Mr Suriwan’s and Ms Phanngarm’s cases, other than the fact that they have been exploited by a Labour MP, Taito Phillip Field, that makes them ineligible for work visas now, when last year former Associate Minister Damien O’Connor decided that they should be granted work visas?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: As it is still possible that this case could be the subject of further ministerial appeals, it would be inappropriate for me to comment on the substance of the decision. However, I can say that it is clear from the Ingram report that Mr O’Connor was not fully informed of all the facts when he made his decision.

Paid Parental Leave—Uptake

4. SUE MORONEY (Labour) to the Minister of Labour: What reports, if any, has she received on the uptake of paid parental leave?

Hon RUTH DYSON (Minister of Labour): I have seen a report showing that in this September quarter $25.5 million was paid to almost 6,000 new parents. This brings the total paid parental leave payments to $316 million and the total number of recipients to almost 90,000 since our Government introduced the scheme in July 2002. I can report also that in the first 3 months of the scheme being open to the self-employed, 403 applications were approved.

Sue Moroney: Has she received any further reports on the paid parental leave scheme?

Hon RUTH DYSON: Actually, I have. I have seen an extraordinary report that the Hon Dr Nick Smith is referring the scheme to the Human Rights Commission because it does not cover some seasonal workers. I acknowledge that issue, and assure the House that it will be included in the extensive review of the scheme that is already under way. But I would note the irony; the same member of Parliament who, for 5 years, has opposed this scheme and thus denied its benefits to all parents has suddenly become its most strident supporter.

Environmental Education—Initiatives

5. Hon BILL ENGLISH (National—Clutha-Southland) to the Minister of Education: Does he still agree that “comprehensive environmental education from early childhood to tertiary will leave today’s children in a much better position to deal with the very serious issues of climate change, scarce oil resources, and environmental degradation, which sadly are our legacy and the legacy of the previous generations”?

Hon PAREKURA HOROMIA (Associate Minister of Education) on behalf of the Minister of Education: Yes.

Hon Bill English: If the Minister agrees with that statement and with the aim of the Government to achieve carbon neutrality, why has his ministry instructed the board of Clydevale School to remove from the plans for its new school all the environmentally sustainable features, such as solar heating, high-grade batts, double-glazed windows, natural-light roofing, and a wood-pallet burner?

Hon PAREKURA HOROMIA: I am not too sure of the detail, but if that member is prepared to send me the detail, we will certainly look into it.

Dr Ashraf Choudhary: What is the Government doing to support environmental education, in light of the cooperation agreement of the Labour-led Government and the Green Party, and given the need for a bipartisan approach to the issues?

Hon PAREKURA HOROMIA: This Government is committed to lasting and progressive policies in this area. In this year’s Budget we announced $13 million over 4 years for environmental education—something that is short on that side. The funding will be used in the following areas: $7.4 million for education for sustainability; $4.6 million for Enviroschools; and $800,000 for immersion and kaupapa schools.

Hon Brian Donnelly: Will the Minister confirm that no learning area in the curriculum framework is specifically allocated to environmental studies, that any such curriculum has to be integrated across the existing areas, and that any comprehensive environmental education programme can be determined only at a local school or centre level, and cannot be dictated by the Government?

Hon PAREKURA HOROMIA: Yes; with the Government’s total support.

Hon Bill English: Is not the Government’s programme of spending $13 million on environmental education a total waste of time, when the Ministry of Education advised the Clydevale School when it was drawing up its plans to identify and verify spending on innovation and energy efficiency components of the budget, then, when the school had done that, turned round and instructed it to remove all those features from the design?

Hon PAREKURA HOROMIA: As I said earlier on, send us the details and we will discuss it. However, on the first part of his question, I tell that member that the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment, Dr Morgan Williams, said that this funding is a significant increase, and that he is delighted to see education for sustainability recognised. The World Wide Fund for Nature New Zealand has also welcomed the investment, saying that this funding will give schools much-needed resources for environmental education. It is a great policy.

Hon Bill English: Why should the public take seriously the Government’s commitment to carbon neutrality when it builds coal-fired power stations and refuses to build hydro ones; when it has achieved, for the first time in decades, more trees cut down than trees planted; and when it is instructing people who are doing their best to build a new school in one of the colder parts of the country to remove the high-grade batts, the solar heating, the double-glazed windows, the wood-pallet burner, and the natural-light roofing?

Hon PAREKURA HOROMIA: This Government would put its record, in the sense of environmental management, up against the record of that lot opposite. They are the same lot who brought in the land development encouragement loan that encouraged people to cut down native bush and remove trees from steep country for stock units, then they all went along and invested in forestry. That is what they did.

Hon Bill English: In the light of the apparent inconsistency between the Government’s environmental objectives and its plans for new schools, can the Minister make a commitment here and now, in order to demonstrate some sincerity about the Prime Minister’s speech, that he will allow Clydevale School to include solar-heating panels, high-grade batts, double-glazed windows, a wood-pallet burner, and natural-light roofing in the plans for the new school, which it desperately needs to get under way?

Madam SPEAKER: Would the Minister please be seated. The Minister is entitled to be heard, so would members please lower the level of their interjections.

Hon PAREKURA HOROMIA: Wise Ministers do not make rash and superficial decisions. But what I am prepared to say is that I will ask the Minister of Education to look into it.

Police Roles—Civilian Employees

6. RON MARK (NZ First) to the Minister of Police: In what capacity are civilians being employed by the Police to carry out roles traditionally performed by sworn police officers?

Hon ANNETTE KING (Minister of Police): Civilian police, or non-sworn staff, have been part of the Police for a number of decades now. Non-sworn numbers have increased over that time, focusing on roles that were previously undertaken by sworn staff, such as emergency-call takers, prosecutors, and legal advisers, to name but some of them. This has allowed sworn staff to focus on the roles that require their range of constabulary skills, experience, and powers.

Ron Mark: What plans are in store for the future use by the Police of civilians, and can she assure the House that their future use will not lead to an erosion of the responsibilities of uniformed police?

Hon ANNETTE KING: Like many jurisdictions, I suspect we will see a continued use of civilians within the New Zealand Police because they have a very good role to play, but there is a good opportunity for New Zealanders to have an input into the make-up of our police through the review of the Police Act that is currently taking place. It is fair to say that the use of civilians in the New Zealand Police has grown over time without much planning or looking forward as to their appropriate use. I think this is the time to look at how we could use both civilians and sworn staff within the New Zealand Police through the review of the Act.

Simon Power: Can the Minister confirm that two temporary decoy cops were directed to an incident in Wellington in January this year to deal with an intoxicated and extremely aggressive offender, but were unable to call for assistance because it took 10 minutes of wrestling before they pepper sprayed him and were able to handcuff him; and why has the situation got so bad that she is sending untrained civilians into situations that should be reserved for fully trained sworn officers?

Hon ANNETTE KING: That is not the right situation to send non-sworn staff into. These officers were temporary sworn staff, and even in that case the Police would prefer it did not happen. However, when a situation does arrive and there are people close to the scene, there are occasions when temporary sworn officers will go to the scene to see what action they can take. It is not ideal, and it does not happen very often. In fact, the member was able to find only one incidence of that out of the five incidences he received from an Official Information Act request.

Jill Pettis: Has the Minister seen any reports on the benefits of the increased number of non-sworn police staff?

Hon ANNETTE KING: Yes, I have. In fact, the use of non-sworn staff, particularly in answering 111 calls, has seen a big improvement in the ability to perform in call handling. This is an area where we have seen considerable improvement since the review of the 111 emergency calls, and a lot of those staff are non-sworn staff. We have seen much faster response times, and I believe that the public are getting a better service because of it.

Ron Mark: Can the Minister assure the House that the use of untrained civilians to undertake police duties will be restricted to ensure that civilian employees are kept out of dangerous situations, such as the one previously outlined by Mr Power?

Hon ANNETTE KING: I have been assured by the Deputy Commissioner of Police, Rob Pope, that that is the expectation of the New Zealand Police. That is what police are asked to do. As I said in a previous answer, there are times when temporary sworn police officers are used in other duties. The Police would prefer that not to happen but, having said that, I think that the public would prefer the people who were closer to that scene at that time to take some action.

Benefit Changes—Minister's Comments

7. JUDITH COLLINS (National—Clevedon) to the Minister for Social Development and Employment: Does he stand by all of his comments made in relation to the welfare changes announced on 26 October 2006?

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

Judith Collins: How does the Minister reconcile the following statement he made, in relation to sickness and invalids beneficiaries: “There are no losers under these changes, and this is entirely voluntary.”, with a statement he made the very next day: “If they’re not prepared to undertake work that’s offered, they can’t reasonably expect to continue to get financial support at that same level.”?

Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: Easily.

Georgina Beyer: How have these reforms assisted sickness and invalids beneficiary clients into work?

Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: A very good example is Mr Quinn of Wellington, who was on an invalids benefit with a permanent and worsening mobility disability when the new service approach was introduced. Pat indicated to his case manager that he was keen to return to work, and with the support of Work and Income and his own determination, he is now in employment. Mr Quinn tells us that working again gives him the ability to feel he is making a worthwhile contribution to the community.

Judith Collins: Which is it: are sickness and invalids beneficiaries going to be penalised for not undertaking work requirements, or not?

Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: No.

Chester Borrows: Why is the single core benefit, which has been promised since 1989, not due until 2011—22 years after it became Labour Party policy?

Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: The member, sadly, has a fundamental misunderstanding of the purpose of these benefit changes if he thinks that merely changing the name of benefits can assist clients. The Working New Zealand project is about changes to the services and support provided to people who wish to return eventually to the workforce on a full-time or part-time basis, irrespective of the label that any benefit system might place on them.

Judith Collins: If the Minister said, as I think he just said, that sickness and invalids beneficiaries will not be penalised for not undertaking work requirements, why then on 27 October, the next day, did he say that they would be penalised—why did he change his tune overnight?

Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: I refer the member to the extremely detailed information on the website. If she were to take the trouble to read the background information, she would not be displaying such a ridiculous level of confusion.

Judith Collins: I seek leave of the House to table a transcript of a Radio New Zealand Checkpoint interview with the Minister on 26 October 2006 where he said that there were no losers under his scheme.

Leave granted.

Judith Collins: I seek leave of the House to table a transcript of a Radio New Zealand Nine to Noon interview with the Minister on 27 October, the next day, where he said that they would be penalised.

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

Cancer Treatment—Effects of Industrial Action

8. Dr JACKIE BLUE (National) to the Minister of Health: What reports, if any, has he received on the “pressures brought about by industrial action” on cancer treatment?

Hon PETE HODGSON (Minister of Health): I have received reports that industrial action by radiation therapists, combined with other pressures, is leading to delays in some cancer treatment centres.

Dr Jackie Blue: What effect does the Minister think the threats of industrial action, workforce shortages, and women being sent offshore to Australia for radiotherapy will possibly have on mastectomy rates at Auckland District Health Board?

Hon PETE HODGSON: I am not sure.

Maryan Street: What protections are in place to ensure that patients needing very urgent attention can be cared for, in the event of a strike?

Hon PETE HODGSON: Under reforms introduced by the Labour-led Government, district health boards and unions are required by law to provide life-preserving services in the event of a strike. Life-preserving services agreements have been activated only very rarely during industrial action by radiation therapists.

Dr Jackie Blue: Is the Minister aware the mastectomy rate at Auckland District Health Board over the last 5 years has grown from 44 percent in 2001 to 59 percent this year, and is this acceptable in view of international evidence that with breast-screening programmes, mastectomy rates should be declining?

Hon PETE HODGSON: No.

Dr Jackie Blue: Why are women more likely to have mastectomies, and less likely to have breast reconstruction, in public hospitals than in private hospitals, when a survey of eight district health boards over a 2-year period, accounting for almost 2,000 women treated for breast cancer, revealed mastectomy rates of up to 60 percent and breast reconstruction rates of only 19 percent, which is in stark contrast to a survey of 1,500 women over 5 years treated at a private breast clinic in Auckland, which showed a mastectomy rate of only 21 percent and a breast reconstruction rate of 70 percent?

Hon PETE HODGSON: I do not know but I caution the member about drawing conclusions, when populations may be substantially different.

Dr Jackie Blue: When will the Government realise that, despite its own rhetoric, staff shortages and growing waiting lists are making some women choose to have their breast removed rather than to wait and wait for radiation therapy; and is it not time he recognised the urgency of this crisis for women and their families?

Hon PETE HODGSON: Now we finally get to the point of the question. The member is suggesting that because there is a shortage of radiation therapy, women are proactively changing their choices of the type of treatment they have. I cannot say that that is or is not happening. What I can say is that about 2,000 or 2,500 people in Auckland each year receive radiation therapy, and 30 have been offered radiation therapy in Australia; that is 30 out of 2,000 or 2,500. This leads me to the view that the influence of the offer of trips to Australia is small indeed.

Water Quality—Lake Taupō

9. STEVE CHADWICK (Labour—Rotorua) to the Minister for the Environment: What is the Government doing to assist with the protection of Lake Taupō’s water quality?

Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE (Minister for the Environment): I am sure all members will be only too aware of the iconic nature of Lake Taupō and the great significance of that lake to New Zealanders and to international visitors. I am pleased to inform the House that the Labour-led Government has committed $36.7 million towards the $81.5 million fund to protect the lake’s water quality. We have also approved the Lake Taupō Protection Trust as the administrator of that fund.

Steve Chadwick: Why has the Government committed substantial funding to the protection of Lake Taupō’s water quality?

Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: Water is clearly one of our most valued natural assets and at the heart of environmental sustainability. This philosophy is clearly expressed in the Government’s Sustainable Water Programme of Action. We are committing the $36.7 million towards protecting the water quality in Lake Taupō in order to reverse the increased concentrations of nitrogen leaching into it from the surrounding land, resulting in increased algal growth and decreased water clarity. We expect the project to achieve a 20 percent reduction in the nitrogen entering the lake over the next 15 years.

R Doug Woolerton: How much privately owned land is it anticipated that the Crown or local body agencies will need to purchase in order to attain the goals set down for water quality in Lake Taupō?

Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: That will be a matter for the protection trust to determine.

Corrections, Department—Confidence

10. 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 at Rimutaka, Waikeria, and Ngāwhā prisons there are 11 PlayStation and Xbox game consoles costing approximately $5,000, which includes 58 games that go with them; and can he also confirm that these games have been removed only since National started asking questions about their existence?

Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: I am aware of that. Most of those PlayStations were in the youth units. The question did prompt the department to look at its policy. We do not have a policy covering this area and management decided to withdraw those PlayStations until an appropriate policy could be developed.

Simon Power: Does he think it is appropriate for prisoners to use violent role-playing computer games where they fight with their fists, baseball bats, rakes, stakes, samurai swords, handguns, shotguns, machine-guns, chain guns, and chainsaws?

Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: It is far better to have the games than the real thing.

Simon Power: What does the Minister say to the public of New Zealand who on the one hand see prisoners getting access to PlayStations, LCD TVs, barbecues, and mobile phones yet on the other hand hear that only 19 percent of prisoners are on Department of Corrections inmate employment schemes—down from 26 percent in 2004?

Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: Forty percent of prisoners are currently working. The 19 percent that the member refers to is those prisoners employed by corrections inmate employment only. The rest of the prisoners are employed looking after themselves and running the prisons. With regard to the Xboxes, I think it appropriate that we have a proper policy covering those areas. No doubt at some stage before TVs and cassettes were allowed in prisons some may have had the same attitude as Mr Power. The reality is that technology has moved ahead of policy. That is why we are about to look at the policy and put a new one in place.

Simon Power: How can he be confident in his department when, in a year his chief executive has agreed is an annus horribilis due to all of the scandals in prisons and the budget blowout in prison construction, the man in charge of the Department of Corrections cheque book, Chief Financial Officer John Ryan—the Law and Order Committee was told today—is on sabbatical at Oxford; and who is paying for that sabbatical?

Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: I do not necessarily agree with the Chief Executive Officer; I do not think it has been a bad year for the department. It has done an outstanding job of looking after more prisoners than we have ever had in this country before, it has reduced the rate of inmate assaults, and it has reduced the rate of suicides within prisons. I think that the department does a very good job. Regarding Mr Ryan, I say that he does an excellent job as the chief financial officer. These decisions are not made by me, but I guess that if the chief executive has allowed him to go on sabbatical, then he has done it for a very good reason.

Simon Power: When the Minister stated last month in relation to prison construction that “changes have occurred in that whole area of management of these projects.”, was he referring to the establishment of the programme management office in February of this year; and how successful has that office been at managing the budget blowout, when it has spent almost half a million dollars employing 10 consultants in a matter of 5 months?

Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: I am informed that the department has been doing a very good job to get the completion of the last two prisons, at Spring Hill and Otago, completed on time and within the final budget figures allocated.

Transport, Energy-efficient Vehicles—Consumer Education

11. CHARLES CHAUVEL (Labour) to the Minister of Energy: What initiatives is the Government considering to assist consumers to choose more energy-efficient vehicles?

Hon DAVID PARKER (Minister of Energy): The Government yesterday released a proposal to provide vehicle fuel economy information at point of sale for both new and used vehicles. This will give New Zealanders information they need when purchasing a car. It builds on the fuelsaver website launched earlier this year. This Government-managed website provides fuel efficiency information for new and most second-hand vehicles. With vehicle labelling at point of sale, people will choose more fuel-efficient cars. This will not only save them money every week at the petrol pump; it will reduce particulate emissions, which are harmful to human health, and it will also reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Charles Chauvel: Are there concerns about how accurate the vehicle fuel economy information at point of sale will be?

Hon DAVID PARKER: In practice, we cannot test every vehicle every time it is sold. The best information at present available is the international data produced for the vehicle model when it was made. As vehicles age, their relative fuel efficiency compared with other similar vehicle choices will still be valid. It is good to provide energy efficiency information for washing machines and for dishwashers, for TVs and for fridges, but it is certainly more important to do it for cars.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: I seek leave to table the list of ministerial self-drive cars, so that the public might see the choice of gas guzzlers that this Government committed to zero carbons is driving.

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

Childcare—Grandparents

12. PAULA BENNETT (National) to the Minister for Social Development and Employment: Are grandparents raising their grandchildren going to be given the same assistance that foster parents receive; if not, why not?

Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE (Minister for Social Development and Employment): The 2005 Labour manifesto made the commitment that we would “Extend the support provided for grandparents raising grandchildren and other carers on a pension, in particular those taking on caring due to family breakdown, to provide them with the sort of allowances provided to foster parents”. We remain committed to that policy, and work is under way to deliver it.

Paula Bennett: Is it the Government’s intention to asset test grandparents and whānau carers?

Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: No.

Gordon Copeland: Can the Minister confirm that United Future’s Judy Turner has had sustained involvement in this issue by working with the Grandparents Raising Grandchildren Trust’s Diane Vivian, and lobbying the Government to achieve an equitable result for kin caregivers?

Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: Although I cannot comment on the work that United Future might have done with the Grandparents Raising Grandchildren Trust outside Parliament, I can confirm Judy Turner’s longstanding involvement in caregiver issues. In particular, I am grateful to that member for her insights into the issues faced by this group, and for the contribution she has made to the work that the Ministry of Social Development is doing on the issue. I commend Mrs Turner’s work and I hope that future work relating to the financial assistance of kin caregivers will continue to involve United Future.

Barbara Stewart: Does he acknowledge that learning, behavioural, and significant health problems are common among the children being raised by their grandparents; if so, why are they not eligible for the assistance given to children being raised by unrelated foster parents?

Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: It is exactly for that reason that we have this policy and are intent on delivering on it.

Paula Bennett: If it is not the Government’s intention to asset test grandparents raising their grandchildren, why did Lianne Dalziel, the Minister of Women’s Affairs, announce at the recent National Council of Women of New Zealand conference that grandparents would be asset tested?

Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: I am aware of that report, and I am advised that the Minister did not make the comment that has been attributed to her.

Barbara Stewart: Is the Minister aware of the barriers faced by elderly New Zealanders in finding employment; if so, why does the Government consider that grandparents deserve $3,000 less annually than foster parents, who are less likely to face the same barriers to employment?

Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: I can assure that member that Work and Income will continue to work effectively with all New Zealanders who seek work.

Paula Bennett: Why would a Minister in this Government make a statement about grandparents being asset tested when foster parents are not, when it costs the same amount to raise a 5-year-old whether or not one is related to the child?

Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: The statement I made was quite clear. I am advised that the Minister did not make the statement that has been attributed to her.

Paula Bennett: Why has this Government made so little progress in assisting grandparent carers, and why has the much talked about policy development with United Future still not been completed; or does the Minister think those children would be better off under the care of Child, Youth and Family?

Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: This is an extraordinarily complex issue, and it goes right to the root of caring and family responsibilities. There are no simple answers, but I must say that I see no similar policy on the National Party books.

Hon Lianne Dalziel: I wish to make a personal explanation in relation to the allegations that have been made. I attended the National Council of Women conference earlier on this year. I was asked a question in respect of the issue of grandparents raising grandchildren. I responded to the question, and in my comments made the point that people were eligible for the Working for Families package, which was means-tested—which is true. Unfortunately, the National Council of Women, through a misunderstanding, has reported that comment as my saying that work was being done on an asset test. That is incorrect. I have raised the issue with the National Council of Women.

Paula Bennett: I seek the leave of the House to table the November circular of the National Council of Women.

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

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

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