Questions And Answers Tuesday 14 November 2006
Tuesday, 14 November
Questions for Oral Answer
2. Public Broadcasting—Digital Technology
3. Ingram Report—Ministerial Review
4. Overseas Investment Act—Impact Forecast
5. Fraud—Zero Tolerance
6. Psychiatric Patients—Abuse Claims
7. National Certificate of Educational Achievement—Unit Standard Credits
8. Disability Strategy—Progress Reports
9. Closing the Gaps Policy—Outcome
10. Stadium—Auckland Waterfront
12. Business Law—Streamlining
13. Road Accidents—Young Drivers
Questions for Oral Answer
Questions to Ministers
1. Hon TONY RYALL (National—Bay of Plenty) to the Minister of Health: Are cancer patients getting appropriate timely access to radiotherapy treatment; if not, why not?
Hon PETE HODGSON (Minister of Health): As the House will be aware, radiotherapy treatment has been delayed in a number of centres. Multiple pressures have led to delays, including the pressure brought by industrial action.
Hon Tony Ryall: What is the latest information he has on the number of category C cancer patients—these are mainly people with breast cancer or prostate cancer—who have been waiting more than 8 weeks for radiation treatment, which is twice the recommended guideline according to the Cancer Society?
Hon PETE HODGSON: I have the information of the number of patients who have gone to Australia in recent times. I understand that about 20 patients have gone to Australia and a further 13 are likely to go next week.
Ann Hartley: What reports has the Minister received on survival data of New Zealand breast cancer patients?
Hon PETE HODGSON: I have seen reports that New Zealand’s 5-year survival rate for breast cancer is higher than the average rate of nine OECD nations studied by the Commonwealth Fund and better than the rates of Australia, the United Kingdom, Japan, France, and Germany. This is a testament mostly to the quality of cancer treatment services in New Zealand. However, the Government believes that our investment in breast screening will see our overall mortality rate improve still further.
Hon Tony Ryall: Is the Minister aware that the number of cancer patients waiting longer than 8 weeks for radiation treatment is now the highest it has been since the middle of the 2004 cancer treatment crisis, and what is he doing to help the many cancer patients now facing an uncertain and worrying period of up to 3 months to begin their radiation treatment?
Hon PETE HODGSON: It is important to realise that any patient with cancer in category A or category B is receiving his or her treatment within what is known as a good practice framework. However, some category C patients in Auckland, and prospectively, in time to come, in Wellington, may be offered treatment in Australia, because of the waiting-time extensions.
Hon Tony Ryall: If the Minister is blaming industrial action by radiotherapists for the growing delays, why has he not done anything to end the industrial action; and is he oblivious to the fact that patients have been contacted by the MidCentral District Health Board to be offered treatment in Australia, and that a woman has been offered treatment in Australia between Christmas and New Year, which means she will be away from her children and grandchildren or face receiving radiation treatment in the middle of February—14 weeks away?
Hon PETE HODGSON: I am aware that the MidCentral District Health Board is reviewing its situation weekly and is considering offering treatment to five patients to go to Australia. That is the sum of my information.
Hon Tony Ryall: Now that the Minister is aware that the number of patients waiting more than 8 weeks to receive their radiation treatment is now the highest it has been since the middle of the 2004 radiation treatment crisis, is it not time that the Government gave to all people facing a wait of over 8 weeks for radiation treatment the opportunity to get their treatment in Australia, or is he happy to sit by and let these people face an uncertain and worrying future?
Hon PETE HODGSON: There are six district health boards in New Zealand that provide radiotherapy treatment for cancer. Each of them is in a different situation. One of them has already indicated that it will—in fact, has—offered treatment for patients to go to Australia. It seems to me that Capital and Coast District Health Board may well join that list, as indeed may MidCentral District Health Board. These are district health board by district health board decisions, and I am satisfied that they are taken with appropriate clinical safety for New Zealanders in mind.
Dr Jackie Blue: If the Minister agrees that there is a link between escalating radiotherapy cancer waiting times and industrial strikes, why, when we are in the middle of a 9-day strike, with the promise of more to follow, has he done absolutely nothing but is content to sit back and watch the situation deteriorate?
Hon PETE HODGSON: We are in the middle of a 9-day strike for medical radiation technologists, or radiographers, as the member will know. These are medical radiation technologists; the primary question was about radiotherapy—that is to say, not about diagnosis but about treatment.
Public Broadcasting—Digital Technology
2. MARTIN GALLAGHER (Labour—Hamilton West) to the Minister of Broadcasting: What is the Government doing to support the future of public broadcasting in response to the challenge of digital technology?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY (Minister of Broadcasting): In June this year the Government announced funding of $25 million to support the establishment of FreeView, a platform to deliver free-to-air digital television to New Zealanders from 2007. Today we announced backing for Television New Zealand (TVNZ)’s digital content proposal, with funding of $79 million over the next 6 years. This investment will strengthen TVNZ’s position as our flagship public television broadcaster, and New Zealanders can expect such things as more local content and diversity, more in-depth programming, and opportunities for a wider range of audiences to view programmes at more accessible times.
Martin Gallagher: How does the Minister intend that progress towards a digital television environment be funded?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: Broadcasters across the board, not just TVNZ, will mostly fund their changes off their balance sheets, as will TVNZ. However, some revenue can be expected from stronger credit management. In particular, the sector is owed $112,000 by the New Zealand National Party, and I think the National Party could help this change into the digital era if it recognised that the law has been broken, that it owes money, and that it should just pay it back.
Pita Paraone: Does the Minister believe that by making the two free-to-air digital channels commercial free, TVNZ will be able to reduce the risk of bad debts being brought about by advertisers refusing to pay the GST content of their advertising bills, such as the one owed by the National Party?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: Because TVNZ will not be exposed to any commercial revenue on those two channels, it will mean that the problem it had with the National Party, which is still refusing to pay back its $112,000, will not arise.
Ingram Report—Ministerial Review
3. Dr the Hon LOCKWOOD SMITH (National—Rodney) to the Minister of Immigration: Does he stand by his statement to the House on Tuesday, 12 September 2006, that he has reviewed the immigration matters covered in the Ingram report?
Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE (Minister of Immigration): Yes. A number of immigration matters were covered in the Ingram inquiry report, which I have read on a number of occasions.
Dr the Hon Lockwood Smith: When reviewing the immigration matters covered in the Ingram report, what information did the Minister find had been provided to the Ingram inquiry by the Hon Phil Goff and Ross Robertson MP regarding the involvement of Taito Phillip Field with Thai national Mr Sunan Siriwan in Samoa?
Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: I have not turned my attention in particular to the question of what evidence was provided by those members. I am aware, however, that the members briefly visited Mr Field’s house in Samoa but did not discuss immigration matters.
Dr the Hon Lockwood Smith: In reviewing the immigration matters covered in the Ingram report, what steps has the Minister taken to ascertain why the Hon Phil Goff did not volunteer information to the Ingram inquiry regarding Taito Phillip Field’s involvement with Mr Siriwan, given that in March 2005 Mr Goff reportedly spoke to both Mr Siriwan and Mr Keith Williams at Mr Field’s house in Samoa, while Mr Siriwan and Mr Williams were screening the floor, and discussed with them the work that they were doing to level the floor in preparation for tiling?
Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: What information the member did or did not provide to the Ingram inquiry is not the responsibility of the Minister of Immigration.
Dr the Hon Lockwood Smith: Can the Minister confirm that Taito Phillip Field denied that there was any arrangement for Mr Siriwan to work on his house in Samoa, as detailed in paragraph 77 of the Ingram report, when Mr Robertson saw Mr Siriwan and Mr Williams screening the floor at Mr Field’s house in Samoa, and Mr Goff spoke to both men about the detail of the work they were doing, yet both Mr Goff and Mr Robertson failed to provide this material evidence to Dr Ingram?
Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: I am sure that Mr Ingram has correctly recorded in paragraph 77 what he was told by Mr Field, but the assertions that the member is making about conversations that other members of this House may have had in Mr Field’s abode do not square with my recollection of those members’ own statements.
Dr the Hon Lockwood Smith: In reviewing the immigration matters covered in the Ingram report, can the Minister confirm that Noel Ingram QC could not establish that Taito Phillip Field knew that Mr Siriwan was working on his house prior to his crucial meeting with Associate Minister Damien O’Connor on 17 May 2005, but that if Mr Ross Robertson had provided evidence that he saw Mr Siriwan screening the floor at Taito Phillip Field’s house in mid-March, and Mr Goff had provided evidence that he spoke to Mr Siriwan while he was doing that screening, the findings of the Ingram report might have been different?
Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: As the member knows, there are ongoing matters surrounding those issues that are currently the subject of investigation by the New Zealand Police. That is the proper process, and all members of this House will be very interested in their conclusions.
Dr the Hon Lockwood Smith: When reviewing the immigration matters in the Ingram report, did the Minister investigate why his senior Cabinet colleague the Hon Phil Goff failed to tell either him or the Ingram inquiry that he had met Keith Williams while Mr Williams was working on Taito Phillip Field’s house in Samoa, and knew his name, yet failed to come forward with that information when Keith Williams was named as one of the key figures in the instigation of the Ingram inquiry?
Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: I think it has already been established that the Minister of Immigration is not responsible for the individual representations of members of Parliament to the Ingram inquiry. However, I know the member in question to be a man of honour and integrity.
Overseas Investment Act—Impact Forecast
4. R DOUG WOOLERTON (NZ First) to the Minister of Finance: Was any forecasting done on the impact of the Overseas Investment Act 2005 prior to its passage; if so, how does the value of businesses, assets and property bought by overseas companies or individuals in the past year compare with that which was forecast?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Minister of Finance): There was a forecast in relation to the likely change in the number of approvals because that, obviously, was the issue in relation to resources required. As the initial proposal was to lift the business threshold to $250 million, but in eventuality this was lifted only to $100 million, clearly more approvals required to be considered than was originally forecast.
R Doug Woolerton: If we were to include transactions to overseas buyers in the past year, which were worth between $50 million and $100 million and are now no longer subject to official oversight, does the Minister think that the total value of such transactions has been in line with the intent of the legislation and the will of the New Zealand public; if so, why?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Yes. When one looks particularly at the total number of approvals, and the amount of land involved in the land approvals, in fact there is very little change. In a number of areas there has actually been a reduction, particularly in terms of land.
H V Ross Robertson: How is the Government using the Overseas Investment Act 2005 to protect waterways and New Zealand’s access to them?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Under the new legislation, foreshore, seabed, riverbed, or lake bed proposed as a sale to an overseas person must first be offered to the Crown. The Government has already accepted a number of such offers, at no cost to the Crown except for surveying and the like. We also required additional public access to be provided along some waterways by way of the equivalent of marginal strips, the most notable being the recent approval for the sale of the Carter Holt Harvey forest estate.
Sue Bradford: Is the Minister considering any means of restraining the ongoing influx of foreign investment into the housing market, given its upward pressure on house prices?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Generally speaking, except for subdivisions, that does not normally come within the purview of the Overseas Investment Act because the land areas are too small, or for other reasons. Often subdivisions do, because they back on to drainage reserves or similar. Usually, of course, at the end of the day they are onsold to New Zealanders. So the issue that the member raised is quite a different one from the Overseas Investment Act procedures.
R Doug Woolerton: Was it the intention of the Government to increase hugely the total value of sales to foreigners as a result of the Overseas Investment Act; if not, is the Minister satisfied with a 60 percent increase in the value of transactions compared with the average of the previous 2 years?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: In terms of the sales that have been approved, the gross value of consideration for the year to date 2006 is within a ballpark—or a stadium, at least—figure of the period for 2005, but the net investment is slightly up. Net investment is very, very much lower than the gross investment figure because many of these sales are from overseas owners to other overseas owners, but each registers as a sale to an overseas owner.
Sue Bradford: Does the Minister agree that there is a crucial difference between investment that grows wealth for this country and simple asset sales that produce wealth for the purchaser, with no increase in employment, technological innovation, or public good; and does the Minister plan to take any measures at all to make sure we get more of the former, productive kind of investment and less of the latter?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: In general I think it is true, and one of the issues under consideration around taxation changes is exactly how the tax system may lead to various changes in one direction or another. In this area, of course, business taxation fundamentally is simply a good business test, rather than a national interest test such as that which applies to land. We would be in serious difficulties in terms of our international agreements if we moved back to other considerations than a good business test in that particular area of business sales. I ask members to remember that not a single business sale has actually been declined since 1984, even though many have been through the approvals process.
5. JUDITH COLLINS (National—Clevedon) to the Minister for Social Development and Employment: Does he stand by his statement that his ministry has a zero tolerance policy for fraud?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY (Minister of Education) on behalf of the Minister for Social Development and Employment: Yes.
Judith Collins: Is his ministry conducting an investigation into student loan fraud at any prisons in New Zealand; if so, where?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: The cases around the prison that the member is referring to, of course, are matters that have not yet gone to trial and are under investigation. Therefore it would be premature to comment at this time.
Georgina Beyer: What are the trends for benefit fraud investigation and prosecution?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: In the past financial year the number of cases of substantiated benefit fraud fell by 11 percent. The total overpayments as a result of fraud fell from $41 million, roughly, to around $38 million. Thanks to the ministry’s early intervention of prevention strategies, 95 percent of benefit fraud prosecutions undertaken were successful. Audit New Zealand has recently upgraded the ministry’s status following its annual review of the ministry’s internal controls. The ministry has numerous data-matching identity checking systems in place, although it would not be wise to divulge all those at this time. The ministry recently established an intelligence unit similar to those in overseas benefit systems where identity fraud is more prevalent, and that is already proving to be effective.
Barbara Stewart: Does he consider that ease of public access to documentation such as birth certificates should be reviewed in order to reduce the risk of fraud to the welfare system, as occurred recently?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: That is an excellent suggestion, and one so excellent that my understanding is that the ministry is already looking into that matter.
Paula Bennett: When will the Minister share with Parliament the outcome of the investigation into student loan and student allowance fraud in New Zealand prisons?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: As I mentioned before, the cases, if they are the same ones that are being referred to as I have here in my notes, are not coming to trial yet at this point, therefore it would be prejudicial for me to comment on them.
Anne Tolley: When did the Minister first become aware of the investigation into student loan fraud at any prisons in New Zealand?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: Since I am replying on behalf of the Minister for Social Development and Employment, I ask the member to put that down as a written question. I am sure the Minister will answer it for the member.
Judith Collins: Was information about fraud by prisoners using student allowances and student loans omitted from the Minister’s ministry’s weekly risk analysis at any time this year?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: It is always the case, when acting on behalf of another Minister, that one does not have those particular details. So once again I would urge the member to put that down as a written question.
Gerry Brownlee: What have you been doing for 4 hours?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: But just to reassure members on the other side, including Mr Brownlee, at no time does the ministry accept any case of fraud, and it always gets its money back.
Judith Collins: What proposals has the Minister received to reliably determine the extent of welfare benefit fraud, and is it true that a proposal by the ministry’s general manager, benefit integrity services, for a study to reliably determine the extent of benefit fraud has been declined this year?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: My understanding is that the previous Minister for Social Development and Employment, if I can answer from that point of view, moved on a zero tolerance policy for a number of years, and reviewing why benefit fraud arises has been something that has been undertaken through a large number of studies. As to the specificity of the last question, once again that lodges in the Minister’s head, and the member would need to ask that in a written question.
Judith Collins: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I seek a point of clarification. Is the Minister saying that he does not know?
Madam SPEAKER: Well, I think the Minister addressed the question. That was not a point of order.
Psychiatric Patients—Abuse Claims
6. TARIANA TURIA (Co-Leader—Māori Party) to the Attorney-General: Will the Government commit to establishing a settlement process to respond to claims being made by former patients of Porirua and other psychiatric hospitals, along the lines of the inquiry headed by Sir Rodney Gallen into abuses at Lake Alice Hospital; if not, why not?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Attorney-General): No; the Government’s view remains that the claims are materially different in important respects.
Tariana Turia: Does the Government accept that the claims now being made by former patients of Porirua and other psychiatric hospitals are essentially similar to the claims made by the former patients of Lake Alice Hospital for which the Government has paid compensation; if not, why not?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: No, the Government does not accept that. There are a number of differences: the Lake Alice Hospital claims allegations related to a confined period; the claimants were all treated by the same doctor; contemporaneous medical records enabled the circumstances to be well established and verified; and also, of course, an approach was made in that case for discussion in terms of allowing people’s stories to be heard. There are, therefore, some significant differences. Obviously, we shall await what happens through the court legal process.
Dr Jonathan Coleman: Who took the decision to withhold $35,000 from the compensation awarded to Mr Paul Zentveld by Sir Rodney Gallen, and did that person or persons also order similar amounts to be withheld from the 87 other second-round claimants in the Lake Alice Hospital case?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I cannot be certain of this, but my recollection is that that was a collective decision in the end, and was not the decision of an individual Minister.
Tariana Turia: Why has the Government decided to force the victims of mistreatment, who have already been severely traumatised, to go through the torment of court procedures in order to seek justice; and would the taxpayer-funded costs be better used to reach settlement with the claimants?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I accept these cases are always extremely difficult. I do not deny the issues around the way people feel about their experiences. But one of the more difficult issues that always comes into play in these kinds of considerations is what was generally accepted at the time these things occurred, not what is the general acceptance at the present time as to what should have occurred. If we do not actually ask the former question, the Government could be liable for an extraordinary wide range of compensation across an extraordinary wide range of issues.
Tariana Turia: Does the Government accept that the claims now being made by former patients at Porirua and other psychiatric hospitals are evidence of a widespread culture of violence and abuse towards psychiatric patients that existed between the 1950s and the 1980s; if not, why not?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: There have been many changes in culture. We regarded it as normal in the 1950s and 1960s to lock up large numbers of people in mental hospitals, perhaps for the remainder of their lives—sometimes, merely because they had an intellectual disability, not any form of mental illness. These days we do not accept such forms of treatment or behaviour as being within the norms of a modern society. That does not mean to say the Government should be paying compensation to everybody who was kept in a mental hospital in the 1950s and 1960s. We have to be very careful here about how practices and attitudes have changed over time.
National Certificate of Educational Achievement—Unit Standard Credits
7. Hon BILL ENGLISH (National—Clutha-Southland) to the Minister of Education: What are the minimum requirements for an activity to qualify for unit standard credits in NCEA?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY (Minister of Education): The process to determine whether an activity qualifies for unit standards is that unit standards are put forward by a recognised standard-setting body such as industry training organisations, the Ministry of Education, and the New Zealand Qualifications Authority. They are then assessed by the New Zealand Qualifications Authority against registration criteria. Those include showing a need for the standard, and showing that it represents an achievable outcome worthy of certification and is fit for its purpose. Credit value is based on the time take to study, learn, and assess. Schools then select unit standards to shape courses that meet the learning standards of their students and as the spokesperson of the National Party will know, those criteria were pretty much established under the previous National Government when unit standards were put into the system.
Hon Bill English: Can the Minister tell us who decided that attending school for 20 days, keeping healthy, holding a conversation with a friend, understanding friendship, and gift-wrapping an item, among other activities, warrant two or three National Certificate of Educational Achievement (NCEA) credits, and does he agree with those decisions?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: As I mentioned before to the member, unit standards are put forward by recognised standards bodies, such as industry training organisations. They are then assessed against a range of criteria. In relation to the particular items that were raised by the member, I say all of those operate at level 1 in NCEA. They are not available at level 2 or level 3. If I take, for example, the gift-wrapping of customer purchases, of the 70,000 students who have gone through NCEA level 1 over the last little while, two students have taken that particular unit standard. Those two students are examples of students who have learning difficulties and who obviously exit the system quite early, and that is what most of those unit standards were put together for.
Moana Mackey: How does NCEA better recognise the learning of all students?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: NCEA enables all students, whether they are taking a maths programme or taking a lower-level programme at level 1, to leave school with a transparent Record of Learning that shows an employer or a tertiary institution what they can do and how well they can do it. Recent research into student motivation showed that students enjoy the flexibility of the system and that they enjoy being internally and externally assessed. It means that over the last 20 years we are now seeing a significant drop in the number of students who are leaving school with no qualifications at all, and that they can take those qualifications on to an employer. I say once again, in relation to level 1, that most of those qualifications are taken by students who are in supported learning situations. The fact that they have a qualification to take to an employer is a good thing.
Hon Brian Donnelly: Can the Minister confirm that the initial design of NCEA, as agreed to by New Zealand First and National, did not include unit standards, the achievement of which would have been only recorded on the certificate, and it was not until the break-up of the coalition Government that decisions were made to blend unit and achievement standards as integral parts of the NCEA, with associated credits?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: I can confirm that it was during that period of time that unit standards were put in, in the way that we now see them. I would defend, however, the view that unit standards have a place in our schools in the way that I have just described at that lower level, because they give students who will exit the system very early an opportunity to demonstrate what they can do and then take that to an employer. They cannot do those standards at level 2 or level 3. I would also say that, because of the debate around these issues, this issue is one of the ones that we are looking at. We want to make some improvements in this area.
Hon Bill English: Has the Minister asked any students what they think of a system that equates gift-wrapping an item and understanding friendship as level 1 credits alongside other level 1 standards with the same number of credits, such as describing ecological characteristics in two biological communities, examining a contemporary geographic issue and evaluating courses of action, and using geometric techniques to produce a pattern or object; and does he think that most students would regard it as fair that one gets the same number of credits for both lots of standards?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: As the member will know, research such as that undertaken by Victoria University into the motivation of students raised that very kind of issue. That is one of the reasons that—unlike the National Party—we are seeking to address that issue. I would point out once again, however, that before we go down a track of ridiculously undermining what is going on at level 1 of NCEA, these standards are available only at level 1. They are taken by students who are often in supported learning situations, and it allows them to go off to an employer and say that they do have some job-relevant skills, whereas the maths students being pointed out by Mr English will, of course, go on to level 2 and level 3 and, hopefully, on to further tertiary education.
Hon Bill English: In light of the Minister’s comments that these standards are taken by students in special circumstances—
Hon Steve Maharey: Usually.
Hon Bill English: —usually—why did the New Zealand Qualifications Authority first tell the media last week that the standards were from a “special supported learning section”, and that this would appear on the student’s record, only then the next day back down and admit the truth, which is that these are mainstream NCEA standards that earn the same kind of credit as every other standard, and that in fact the Minister has no guarantee that they are not used by schools with all sorts of students, and not just those he has mentioned in his answers?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: I will let the New Zealand Qualifications Authority speak for itself. But I need to make clear it that that appears on the Record of Learning. For example, in relation to the gift-wrapping of customer purchases standard, which two students out of 70,000 have taken, the standard appears under a retail distribution and sales qualification. That seems to me to be a reasonable thing for many students to take, if they were to move on to that; in a way, it is surprising that only two have taken it.
Hon Bill English: In light of the Minister’s emphasis earlier on the fact that more students are gaining a qualification, can he confirm that a student who shows up to school for 20 days, gift-wraps an item, holds a conversation, picks up litter, and understands friendship will earn enough credits to meet the ministry definition of a qualification, and therefore will appear in his statistics as someone who left school with a qualification?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: At level 1, that student could accumulate those kinds of credits. But let me just take one of the examples the member listed: the level 1 qualification that about 1,500 students out of 70,000 students have taken, over the last little while, in applied listening skills. The member may like, for example, to enter an MBA programme, where lecturers teach exactly the same communication techniques as those. Those are worthwhile techniques for the students who will always exit the system early, and hopefully they will apply them in getting a job.
Disability Strategy—Progress Reports
8. DARREN HUGHES (Labour—Otaki) to the Minister for Disability Issues: What reports, if any, has she received recently of progress on the New Zealand Disability Strategy?
Hon RUTH DYSON (Minister for Disability Issues): I have seen a report on the recent closure of the last institution for disabled people, the Kimberley Centre at Levin, and I was honoured to be part of a major celebration to mark this occasion at Parliament today. The celebration included many former residents of our 13 institutions. Deinstitutionalisation is about ensuring that disabled people can live in their communities and do the day-to-day things that most of us take for granted, which is a key aim of the Disability Strategy. The closing of the last institution is not only a historic milestone for disabled people but also a mark of our maturity and progress as a nation.
Darren Hughes: Has the Minister received any other reports concerning any potential obstacles to progress on our New Zealand Disability Strategy?
Hon RUTH DYSON: Actually, I have. I have seen a recent report that advocates backward-thinking arrangements for employing disabled people. It comes, not surprisingly, from the National Party, and I note that the Assembly of People with Disabilities has issued a media statement calling the National Party statement outdated and out of touch. I can only really strongly agree with the assembly.
Dr Paul Hutchison: Why did the Government fail to find suitable accommodation for people such as David Stephens in the North Island, close to where his relatives had explicitly requested he be sent, but instead send him to Dunedin, leading his mother to say of the process of deinstitutionalisation: “I was shocked and angered but am now devastated by the decision and the way it was handled.”?
Hon RUTH DYSON: Unlike that member, I will not breach Mr Stephens’ privacy by disclosing his wishes about where he wanted to live. But I can assure that member and the House that despite the member’s protestations, Mr Stephens is in a home where he feels secure, is safe, and is participating in the community. Not only that; he is very nearby to relatives who will actually visit him.
Dr Paul Hutchison: I seek leave to table two documents. The first is from a Listener dated October 2006, and quotes Mrs Stephens saying: “We feel like we’ve been bullied. We’re just stunned. We don’t know what we can do now.”
Madam SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection? There is objection.
Dr Paul Hutchison: I seek leave to table a letter from David Stephen’s sister, Sarah Nelson, dated 30 October 2006, that states: “David and others like him need a facility in the North Island in order to provide safe, secure, professional long-term care. The family was excluded from any court hearings.”
Closing the Gaps Policy—Outcome
9. GERRY BROWNLEE (Deputy Leader—National) to the Minister of Māori Affairs: Was the closing the gaps policy successful?
Hon PAREKURA HOROMIA (Minister of Māori Affairs): The results speak for themselves. They include the lowest level of Māori unemployment on record and the highest wage growth for Māori. Māori participation in early childhood and tertiary education is the highest on record. More Māori are involved in business. There are strong efforts to make a go at improving Māori health.
Gerry Brownlee: Does the Minister stand by his statement in the House on 25 May of this year that “this Government has achieved a 30 percent decline in Māori poverty”, given that the Ministry of Social Development has shown that the number of Māori living in severe hardship has increased 243 percent under his ministry?
Hon PAREKURA HOROMIA: Yes, I do. Using two internationally recognised income-poverty measures with poverty thresholds set at 50 and 60 percent of the median household income, the Ministry of Social Development has estimated that after the full implementation of Working for Families there will be a 70 percent reduction in child poverty at the lower threshold, and a 30 percent reduction in child poverty at the highest threshold.
Pita Paraone: Tēnā koe, Madam Speaker. How has closing the gaps assisted in addressing concerns regarding the escalating rates of diabetes, thus minimising any possible threat of Māori becoming extinct before the end of the century, as warned by Professor Paul Zimmet, director of Monash University’s International Diabetes Institute?
Hon PAREKURA HOROMIA: Building on the closing the gaps policy, the Government’s initiatives to help New Zealanders into homeownership—including the Welcome Home Loan package and the establishment of Kiwibank, KiwiSaver, and the homeownership education programme—are very clear, and the Government can do a lot more in relation to diabetes and all those sicknesses. But we do not see miles and miles of long, lengthy queues outside the food banks, as we did when that party was in Government, and we do not see people sleeping in cars any more, as they did then. We are doing something about it.
Rodney Hide: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I enjoyed that answer enormously, but, unfortunately, the Minister is required to address the question. My colleague Mr Paraone’s question was about diabetes—
Hon PAREKURA HOROMIA: Paraone, not Pareone.
Rodney Hide: The Minister can interrupt if he likes, but he should let me have a shot.
Madam SPEAKER: There are no interruptions during points of order.
Rodney Hide: The question was actually about diabetes, not about KiwiSaver, or homeownership, or getting into houses. Maybe if the Minister could draw it together a bit and say that somehow that will pick up diabetes, the House might be somewhat—
Madam SPEAKER: I thank the member. I got the gist of his point of order, and towards the end of the Minister’s answer, although I will say that members were starting to barrack again, I did hear him address the matter of diabetes.
Gerry Brownlee: Does the Minister accept that diabetes currently accounts for one in every five Māori deaths compared to one in every 25 non-Māori deaths, and the Ministry of Health reports that if current Government policies remaining the same, by 2020 one in every three Māori will die of diabetes compared to one in every 20 non-Māori; if so, what is he doing to fix that?
Hon PAREKURA HOROMIA: What has to be understood alongside that is that Māori are decreasing in the negative statistics three to four times quicker than Pākehā. The percentage gap the member is using is painting a dastardly picture. We understand that that is the case, and this Government’s policies are certainly trying to ensure that that percentage is not real. I can tell the member, and the person who has gone further than dictating—like a certain person talked about the derivation of our blood—that we will still be here in 50 years’ time, irrespective of the māuiui.
Gerry Brownlee: What specifically is the Minister doing to address the current appalling statistics for diabetes among Māori; and what will he do to ensure that by 2020 one in every three Māori are not dying from diabetes?
Shane Ardern: Just say “Free exercise bikes.”
Hon PAREKURA HOROMIA: That is right, exercise is part of this. The Government is committed to that in the sense of Fruit in Schools, better regulating forms of obesity, getting New Zealanders off the couch and into being more active, including us too—getting us off the couch and being more active. We are putting a lot into it. At the end of 2007 we will be injecting $1.6 billion in Working for Families, which will make a difference with better housing standards and ensuring that health improves.
Hon Pete Hodgson: Can the Minister confirm that under his Government there has been a substantial increase in the “Get Checked” programme enrolments from Māori; a substantial increase in the Care Plus programme enrolments for Māori; that the primary health care strategy is designed to take a population-based approach to disease, especially as it reduces inequalities that exist in our society; that last month the policy on very low fees was rolled out to those primary health organisations that often deal specifically with Māori populations; and that, for the most part, these moves have for years been staunchly opposed by the National Party opposite? [Interruption]
Madam SPEAKER: It is impossible to hear.
Hon PAREKURA HOROMIA: Proudly, most certainly yes. In areas like Wairarapa, where diabetes is high, let that lot over there remember that they sold 13,000 State houses, put people out on the road, and set a market rent. This Government brought that down. We share and care for our people in relation to diabetes, so do not come at that.
Rodney Hide: Point of order—
Madam SPEAKER: There is no need for a point of order.
Rodney Hide: I think there is, Madam Speaker.
Madam SPEAKER: No, I just want to remind members, including Ministers when they are addressing questions, that shouting does not necessarily aid the hearing of the answer. I also ask members who both ask and answer questions to do so succinctly.
Rodney Hide: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. You addressed a bit of my point of order, but it goes like this. We saw several breaches of the Standing Orders. The first thing was that the Minister of Health, who asked the question, actually answered it. I am sure that if members of the Opposition were in a position whereby they could ask a question and answer it at the same time, they would take that opportunity. The second thing is that the Minister is required to answer a question briefly and to the point. When the Minister said yes, he had done so. He did not need to go into a long rant, as interesting as it was, about State housing and what the National Party might have—
Madam SPEAKER: I thank you, Mr Hide, but you have made your point and, as you said, I had addressed it. I hope members heard it.
Gerry Brownlee: How can the Minister claim that he has closed the gaps for Māori when the employment gap between Māori and non-Māori has widened under Labour, and when the Ministry of Social Development—the very organisation whose figures he just quoted—reported this year that the employment rate for Pākehā has increased 88 percent faster than the employment rate for Māori, and if one randomly picked an unemployed New Zealander off the street, the chance that that person will be a Māori is now greater under a Labour Government?
Hon PAREKURA HOROMIA: That difference in relation to the labour market has been there for a long, long time. The closest the gap has ever been is right now. When we came into Government, the unemployment register for Māori was 50,000. What is it now? It is 13,500. That is about skills and knowledge, and about making sure that our people get a better life—
Hon Member: And they’re all dying of diabetes.
Hon PAREKURA HOROMIA: No. The minimum wage has been increased seven times. So there has been a real prop up in relation to employment. I ask that member to go back and check his record in his Government’s time.
Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. The Minister might want to clarify his answer. Did we hear him say that the cure for Māori diabetes was to repurchase 13,000 State houses?
Madam SPEAKER: That is not a point of order.
Gerry Brownlee: What does he say to Tahi and Marama, social workers in Hamilton, who told the Waikato Times on 12 August that they have been forced into a generational poverty trap; talked of their anger that their oldest son could only get ahead if he was to cut his ties with his family and his wider whānau by moving to Melbourne to get a decent wage; that they have yet to see any benefits in their community from the Working for Families programme; and that the best thing they thought the Government could do for them, and other low-income New Zealanders, was introduce some decent tax cuts?
Hon PAREKURA HOROMIA: I find that a bit rich coming from that member, because a lot of people go to Melbourne. I do not know the case, but if he refers it to me, I will certainly look at it. I want to talk about the tax cuts. This Government wants to ensure that the benefit of its expenditure is used to make sure that less well-off families are well cared for—not like that member, who tries to look after his rich mates.
10. RODNEY HIDE (Leader—ACT) to the Minister for the Rugby World Cup: At which Cabinet meeting was the option to build a stadium on Auckland’s waterfront first proposed, and whose idea was it?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Leader of the House): on behalf of the Minister for the Rugby World Cup: On 28 August, Cabinet requested a feasibility study on a range of options, including a waterfront stadium. This study was considered on 6 November. This matter has always had the primary carriage from the Minister for the Rugby World Cup.
Rodney Hide: Will the Minister stake his political career on the total cost of the stadium on the waterfront—should it proceed—costing less in total than a billion dollars; if not, why not?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I think it would be inappropriate for me, on behalf of Mr Mallard, to stake my ambitions and the study’s future on the costings of the stadium.
Keith Locke: Does the Minister agree with the Eden Park Trust Board that it can bring 74 percent of the World Cup crowd into the game by train, bus, or coach, compared with 58 percent for the waterfront option; and given that the waterfront option is considerably more expensive than the Eden Park upgrade, does the Minister not think that the extra money would be better put into upgrading Auckland’s rail infrastructure and bus services?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I have no idea on which basis the Eden Park board would make that claim. It may well be, of course, that what they really mean is that they cannot get as many cars arriving at Eden Park as would be available to go down to the waterfront stadium; but by deduction, therefore, the rest have to come by bus, train, helicopter, or various other means.
Darien Fenton: Has he received any reports on the process for selecting a venue for the Rugby World Cup?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I have, indeed. I received one today, for example, in which the stated proposal was criticised as being an abuse of the democratic process. I quote: “Rodney and I share concerns about the lack of proper consultation to date about any attempt to force parliamentary oversight into a rushed timetable.” Another one said that the Public Works Act should be used to confiscate private land at Carlaw Park. The first came from Keith Locke and Rodney Hide, the second from Rodney Hide alone.
Dr Don Brash: Can he advise the House how the estimate for the waterfront stadium came in at exactly $497 million, when most of the major components of that stadium cannot be estimated within the nearest $100 million?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Clearly, as with the Eden Park stadium, for which there are no final detailed plans at this stage, any estimates are precisely that: estimates.
Gordon Copeland: Has any consideration at all been given to the 62,000-seat Endeavour Stadium proposal on reclaimed land in Mechanics Bay, with its 12,500 car parks, 250 bus parks, two hotels, and new railway station with four times the capacity of Britomart, all at reasonable cost to the taxpayer, for completion by September 2009; if not, why not?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I must say that almost everybody is coming forward with alternative proposals, so I expect Aunt Jemima’s backyard to appear sometime soon from somebody as a site for the stadium. But, seriously, if one is suggesting that one can build a project of that size by September 2009 when there are doubts about the deliverability of either Eden Park stadium or the waterfront stadium by the end of 2010, then I think imagination is starting to run well beyond reality at that point.
Keith Locke: How does the Government’s overriding of the Resource Management Act in this case differ from the Muldoon “think big” era, when proper planning procedures were swept aside at the convenience of the Government and at the expense of local communities?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I invite them to read my exceptionally powerful speech on the second reading of the Clutha Development (Clyde Dam) Empowering Bill to understand the difference. The Clutha Development (Clyde Dam) Empowering Act overrode an already arrived-at process outcome, which is quite different from intervening before that begins to get consent, which is what both National and Labour supported on the America’s Cup. In the case of Eden Park, the risk is that we may launch upon a resource consents process that does not achieve consents, and then the Eden Park Trust Board will be back here not just for the money to build the stadium, because it does not have that, but also for legislation to override the fact that it failed to get the consents for the stadium.
Ron Mark: Can he confirm for the benefit of all Canterbury people that if Auckland does what most Canterbury people suspect they will not be able to do, which is to make a decision—[Interruption]
Madam SPEAKER: Mr Mark, please continue, without innuendo.
Ron Mark: Is the Government committed to the Jade Stadium option if people in Auckland simply cannot agree?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: It is clear that Jade Stadium remains a viable back-up, and its utility is that it remains a back-up through until 2008 because it is far easier to extend Jade Stadium into a 60,000-seat stadium. What I would expect is that if there is not express support from Auckland City Council or the regional council around the waterfront option, then presumably they will support the Eden Park stadium option. But I emphasise again, the Eden Park Trust Board does not have completed detailed plans and does not have the money to build the Eden Park option; it does not have final costings to build it, either.
Rodney Hide: In light of the Minister’s answer, is the Government then having second thoughts about the stadium on the waterfront, with polls showing Aucklanders two to one against the proposal and a large number of city leaders against the proposal, or has the Prime Minister got a touch of the “Muldoons” and will ram through the stadium on the waterfront, despite what New Zealanders say or think?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Apart from the fact that the Prime Minister is much taller, slimmer, and healthier than the late Sir Robert Muldoon, the answer is no. The only second thoughts I am aware of at this stage are that on Sunday the member appeared backing Carlaw Park, and today appears backing Eden Park.
Keith Locke: I seek leave to table an article from yesterday’s New Zealand Herald headed “Act now to prevent the barbarians running amok”.
Madam SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that article. Is there any objection? There is objection.
11. KATE WILKINSON (National) to the Minister for Courts: Does he agree that an accused has the right to be tried without undue delay; if not, why not?
Hon RICK BARKER (Minister for Courts): Yes, because that is what the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act states.
Kate Wilkinson: How can the Minister reconcile the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act guarantee of an accused’s right to be tried without undue delay with the 45 criminal jury trials in Blenheim that have been waiting for over a year and the seven that have been waiting for over 2 years?
Hon RICK BARKER: My staff advise me that the courthouse in Blenheim is undergoing a major refit. Blenheim has only one courthouse available at this stage. In consultation with both prosecution and defence, trials are being moved, where agreement has been reached, to Nelson, and other resources that can be deployed to the Blenheim area are being looked at.
Kate Wilkinson: When the Minister stated in the House that justice delayed is not justice denied, which of these was he refuting: the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act, which guarantees an accused’s right to be tried without delay; the Court of Appeal’s decision in the Martin case granting a permanent stay of criminal proceedings due to a 17-month delay to the proposed date of trial; the High Court decision in the Graham case last month resulting in a permanent stay of criminal prosecution because of a 22-month delay; or all of the above?
Hon RICK BARKER: Once again the member misquotes me. She does not quote me in total, as has been the case on a number of occasions. I say to the House that every stay of proceedings is to be regretted, and I have high expectations of the Ministry of Justice to make sure that cases are heard in a timely manner.
Jill Pettis: What is being done to review and improve court processes?
Hon RICK BARKER: This Government is implementing a massive 3-year, wide-ranging service improvement programme. Since this Government has been in office it has appointed 25 new judges. We have also appointed additional staff to support those judges. We have introduced videoconferencing. We have worked with the High Court bench to establish a national roster to ensure that resources are deployed to the best possible place. We are rebuilding courts as fast as we can—for example, I opened the Queenstown court last week. We are having a good deal of success. For example, in the criminal summary jurisdiction, which hears about 95 percent of the criminal caseload, we have reduced the number of waiting cases by 20 percent between 2003 and today.
Kate Wilkinson: How can the Minister justify his comments that he is doing heaps when the proposed alterations in Blenheim will not result in one single additional courtroom suitable for jury trials, when the median waiting time for criminal jury trials in Blenheim is 372 days—the worst in the country—and when in only the last few weeks there was a permanent stay of proceedings against a Blenheim drug dealer because of excessive delay?
Hon RICK BARKER: As I understand it, the Blenheim court will go from having one jury room and one small and completely unsuitably courtroom to having three available courtrooms, including a jury room. Of course, this means that when a jury trial is in progress, criminal summary matters can be heard, as well as Youth Court matters. This will improve the facility in Blenheim significantly.
Kate Wilkinson: How can the Minister reconcile the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act guarantee of the right to be tried without undue delay with his comments in the House that justice delayed is not justice denied because: “it depends on who caused the delay and for what purpose.”, or: “Delays in a hearing, or, alternatively, a delay in justice, may be for many good reasons.”; what can be good about delayed and denied justice?
Hon RICK BARKER: There is no good in denied justice, at all. The point I was making to the member, which she fails to recognise, is that delays in trials can be because the prosecution has yet to assemble all of its evidence and witnesses. A delay in a trial can be called by the defence also because it wants to review evidence, examine witnesses, and get specialist evidence. So there can be many good reasons for a delay in a trial that assist the process of justice.
Kate Wilkinson: What does the Minister have to say to the family of the murdered Tauranga toddler when the trial date is scheduled for nearly 24 months after the charge, or to the two Tauranga families who have to wait 19 months for a double murder trial to start, when a 17-month delay was determined an undue delay by the Court of Appeal in the Martin case, and when a 22-month delay was determined undue by the Blenheim court in the Graham case, both resulting in a permanent stay of proceedings; or is this just the case of another two criminals being allowed to go scot-free because of excessive delays under the watch of the Minister?
Hon RICK BARKER: My expectations for my staff and the Ministry of Justice are that every case is to be brought to trial as soon as possible. There are reasons for delays, which are beyond my ability to comment on, and they could be for very good reasons that the member asking the questions has simply overlooked.
12. MARYAN STREET (Labour) to the Minister of Commerce: What measures is she taking to streamline business law?
Hon LIANNE DALZIEL (Minister of Commerce): The passage of the Business Law Reform Bill—I hope, this week—will see the removal of unnecessary compliance costs and ensure consistency between different legislative requirements. For example, the vast majority of small companies will qualify under the new “two out of three” test and will be able to produce financial statements in a simple format under the exempt company regime, thereby reducing compliance costs significantly.
Maryan Street: Why is the Minister not including amendments to address the concerns expressed by the Takeovers Panel during its submission to the Commerce Committee on the Business Law Reform Bill?
Hon LIANNE DALZIEL: I am advised that the Takeovers Panel raised concerns that the Companies Act scheme of arrangement process had been used by companies to avoid the Takeovers Code. The Government approved a Supplementary Order Paper to address some, but not all, of the panel’s concerns, but it could not proceed as it was objected to by the National Opposition.
Maryan Street: What will the Government do now to address the concerns of the panel, given that the Supplementary Order Paper is not proceeding?
Hon LIANNE DALZIEL: Tragically, the issue has now had to be referred back to officials for further work before a decision is taken by Cabinet on whether broader amendments need to be made to the Companies Act, or whether the regulation-making power in the proposed Supplementary Order Paper would suffice. It is disappointing that the select committee’s unanimous support for change did not extend to the Committee stage of the current bill.
Road Accidents—Young Drivers
13. GORDON COPELAND (United Future) to the Minister for Transport Safety: Is he concerned that last year drivers aged 15 to 24 were involved in 142 fatal road accidents, in which they were at fault 83 percent of the time, and that the social cost of crashes in which drivers in this age group were at fault totalled roughly $1 billion; if so, what is he going to do about it?
Hon HARRY DUYNHOVEN (Minister for Transport Safety): Yes, I certainly am concerned. In the interests of further developing road safety policy, the Government recently ran the See You There—Safe As programme’s process of stakeholder engagement, which I hope United Future took the opportunity to be involved in. The young driver crash rate was highlighted as an area of concern, and I have always said it is. I hope that announcements on future policy direction will be made shortly, and I look forward to the support of United Future for those policies.
Gordon Copeland: Why has the Government so far failed to take decisive action to tackle young driver crashes, in spite of the appalling death and injury statistics, the cost to Vote Health, and the pleas for action now from the young victims of these road crashes—if they are still alive—and their families?
Hon HARRY DUYNHOVEN: I think it is a little unfair to say that the Government has not taken steps. We have done a large number of things, beginning some time back with the introduction of specific measures to tackle boy racers, such as Street Talk and defensive driving courses. The Government has taken a large number of initiatives, and we have had some success.
Ron Mark: Noting the Minister’s concerns, why has the Government not moved to make third-party car insurance compulsory, as a mechanism to make it harder for irresponsible drivers to own powerful vehicles and to misuse them?
Hon HARRY DUYNHOVEN: This has been an issue since I first raised it in the House in 1988. The insurance companies and Governments over that time have certainly struggled with the issue. There is a very good reason to proceed with compulsory third-party insurance, in my personal view. It is one of the issues that is currently being looked at by the Government in the process of the See You There—Safe As campaign, which has been very successful around the country. The particular initiative mentioned by the member has a large degree of support from the public.
Hon Mark Gosche: What progress has been made in reducing the road toll?
Hon HARRY DUYNHOVEN: Very good progress. Between the years 1999 and 2005—that is, the term of this Government for which we have accurate figures—the rate of road fatalities per 10,000 vehicles reduced by 35 percent. The number of fatalities in the last 12 months is at a level not seen since 1963, when several members of the House were not even born. Research shows there is an ongoing 8 percent reduction in young and novice driver crash rates. That reduction is associated with the graduated driver’s-license system, which was brought in during the fourth Labour Government, and is actually now being successfully copied by many jurisdictions overseas.
Chester Borrows: Does the Minister accept that the quota system for issuing traffic tickets, even though it is described as a performance target indicator, actually encourages police to sit at so-called fishing holes and issue tickets to lots of minor infringers, rather than sit at black spots and target those drivers at serious risk of causing death and injury?
Hon HARRY DUYNHOVEN: There is a certain amount of irony in that question being posed by the member; I think he, as a former serving police officer, would certainly agree that cutting down the average speed on the open road has actually benefited the road toll. But I certainly agree with him that we should be targeting those who are excessive offenders. For that reason there has been a real determination by this Government to make the highway patrol not only more visible but far more active.
Gordon Copeland: Is the Minister familiar with the call by the Automobile Association—with its 1.2 million members and associates—the Insurance Council, the Accident Compensation Corporation, and the police for defensive driving and attitudinal courses and for tighter rules around new-driver licensing processes?
Hon HARRY DUYNHOVEN: Yes, I certainly am, and I have been involved in discussions with those organisations over a number of years. The recent See You There—Safe As programme, which was extremely successful around the country with over 1,000 New Zealanders voluntarily participating, actually saw a considerable number of these issues raised. Members can be sure that these issues are being taken into account by the Government. I look forward to making announcements, with my colleague the Minister for Transport, who is also the Minister of Police, on these issues in the future.
I seek leave to table two documents. One is a booklet, Information for Stakeholder Engagement, on the See You There—Safe As programme that we ran.
Madam SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection? There is objection.
Hon HARRY DUYNHOVEN: The second is a document prepared by the Ministry of Transport on young drivers that gives a whole lot of very useful statistics on crash rates, causes, etc.
Madam SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection? Yes, there is objection.