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Questions And Answers Thursday, 16 November 2006

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

 

Thursday, 16 November 2006

 

Questions for Oral Answer

Questions to Ministers

Childcare—Free Hours Policy

National Certificate of Educational Achievement—Examination Process

Housing New Zealand—Subletting of Christchurch Tenancy

Health Services—Wanganui

Immigration Applications—Ministerial Discretion

Home Detention—Scheme Operation

Cancer—Radiotherapy, Australia

Unemployment Benefit—Reduction in Beneficiaries

Auckland Issues—Minister's Statement

Bottom Trawling—International Moratorium

Child Safety—Threshold for Removal of Children

Sale of Liquor—Proposed Review

 

Questions for Oral Answer

Questions to Ministers

Childcare—Free Hours Policy

1. Hon TAU HENARE (National) to the Minister of Education: Does he stand by his pre-election statement that “86,000 children will definitely get 20 free hours under Labour”?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY (Minister of Education): I stand by my statement, made prior to the election, that “86,000 children will be worse off” under National’s plan to axe the policy of 20 free hours and replace it with a complicated rebate system that offers nothing to low-income families. In contrast, based on current enrolments of 3 to 4-year-olds at early childhood centres, Labour’s policy of 20 free hours will definitely be available for up to 92,000 children. We would expect that figure to increase over time, as the number of qualified teachers increases, more parents take up the option of 20 free hours, and Labour’s investment continues in this very, very popular policy.

Hon Tau Henare: Why did the Government promise at the last election that 86,000 children would get 20 hours of free childcare, when in Auckland and Wellington over 70 percent of the providers will not be able to offer it, and nationwide as many as 40 percent will not be able to offer it?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: What the Government said at the last election was that up to 92,000 young people would be eligible for the policy of 20 free hours, and that the numbers would increase as the resources for this policy increased. But where the member gets his figures from, I cannot imagine, because the consultation finished only last week.

Sue Moroney: What is the Labour-led Government doing to put quality early childhood education within the reach of all New Zealand families?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: To use an overused word, heaps. Early childhood education is clearly one of the major success stories under Labour. This year we will invest more than $750 million in this area, including more than $128 million to implement our policy of 20 hours of free early childhood education. As a result of our investments, around 94 percent of all New Zealand children now take part in early childhood education. The number of qualified teachers has increased by 50 percent, and funding has doubled since 1999.

Hon Brian Donnelly: How will a national average subsidy across the whole country accommodate cost differentials such as property costs, staff salaries, staff qualifications, student-teacher ratios, etc; if those differentials are not accommodated, will that mean that many providers will have to reject the 20 free hours’ offer?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: They may not, and of course one of the things in the policy design has been to work out what the rate of subsidy should be and how it will address different regional variances in terms of costs. That is what people are out talking about now. The policy has been consulted on throughout the country over the last week, and we hope to set that subsidy rate prior to Christmas, or soon after.

Hon Tau Henare: How many children will be excluded from the promised 20 free hours, and when does he plan to tell the parents of those children that the children have been excluded and actually have no entitlement to the 20 free hours, because it is not compulsory for every early childhood centre in the country to provide it?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: The policy has been non-compulsory since it was first announced, so that is no surprise to anybody. No one is excluded from the policy. It will depend, of course, on how rapidly we can build up this policy to ensure that it is available to communities throughout the country.

Hon Tau Henare: Does the Minister believe he was premature with the announcement of 20 free hours for all 3 and 4-year-olds, and would it not have been better to do the sums and work out the detail, before announcing the slogan?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: My predecessor was not premature; he never is.

Sue Moroney: What reports has he seen on alternative policies for early childhood education?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: I have seen a report of a policy that would include scrapping Labour’s promise of 20 free hours; providing assistance for working families only, through a complicated tax rebate system—the more one earns, the more help one gets—not providing any help at all to low-income families; and leaving behind the children of beneficiaries. That is a summary of the National Party’s policy.

Hon Tau Henare: How will the Government deal with providers who decide they are able to offer, say, only 6 free hours instead of 20, and how does that sit with the Minister’s promise of 20 free hours for up to 86,000 children?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: I am not sure what the hypothetical case is that the member is raising about someone offering only 6 hours and not 20. What we are offering here is basically a subsidy for 20 free hours. The rate is the crucial issue as to whether people will take it up. As I say, we will announce it either this side of, or shortly after, Christmas. As I have already said, one of the components of this policy will be to make sure we have good teachers and centres around the country. Given our track record so far, it is no wonder that everybody believes us and not the National Party.

Hon Tau Henare: Will he reassure parents that their children will be able to access their 20 free hours, or is this just another cruel hoax being perpetrated on the young people of this country?Hon STEVE MAHAREY: I want to thank the member for his very strong endorsement of the policy on 20 free hours, given the advocacy through his questions today. It is good to see that the National Party is now adopting this Government policy, as well as others. Will I reassure parents? Yes, I will.

National Certificate of Educational Achievement—Examination Process

2. MOANA MACKEY (Labour) to the Minister of Education: What is the Government doing to ensure that the 2006 NCEA examination season delivers results that are fair and consistent for all students?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY (Minister of Education): Over this examination season 136,000 candidates will arrive at an exam room where they will receive a unique personalised booklet. Completed booklets will be submitted to panels of markers—all qualified teachers. The markers will put their results online on a daily basis. The performance of candidates will then be compared with a profile of expected performance. If any anomalies are identified, marking can be halted temporarily to allow investigation. At the end of this process, students can be confident that they will receive a fair and consistent result that reflects their achievement against the standard before the end of January.

Moana Mackey: What practical improvements have been made for this year’s examination season?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: The Government is, of course, committed to ensuring that the National Certificate of Educational Achievement (NCEA) is as good as it should be. After extensive consultation with students, parents, educators, and employers, we have changed the following areas: the Record of Learning and results notice is now clearer; internal assessment results will be available online earlier than last year; the grade point average will no longer be recorded; the profiles of expected performance have been refined; the achievement standard consistency has been reviewed; more professional development has been delivered; a new technical over-group of assessment experts is in place; new governance and management structures are in the New Zealand Qualifications Authority; and the Ministry of Education and New Zealand Qualifications Authority joint work programme on further design refinements continues.

Hon Bill English: Why has the Minister decided to abolish the grade point average, which was one of the few things that motivated more successful students to do better in NCEA; and why did he abolish it without making a public announcement until right now?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: I took the advice of the member, who said last year that the grade point average should be abolished; although this week he said it should not be abolished—consistency has never been the member’s strong suit. I think that everybody around the education sector understands that the grade point average was being translated into a percentage. That, of course, is not the way it works, at all. Therefore, it was misleading; therefore, it was meaningless; therefore, it should go.

Hon Brian Donnelly: What processes will be activated within the New Zealand Qualifications Authority if grades being returned by markers on a daily basis show variance from the profile of expected performance?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: As happened last year to 17 of the standards out of the large number of standards that are sat, when the forecast is not being met, a trigger can be pulled and out comes the standard. That process allows the authority to go back and look at whether the problem is with the assessment or the standard itself. In some cases, that has meant that parts of the standard or parts of the assessment guide have been rewritten before going back into the exam process. The same process will be used this year.

Gordon Copeland: Why does the Minister allow inconsistent policy that sees many students missing out on the right to retry for failed credits because their schools do not allow for this, whereas other students benefit from other schools’ policies that allow for a second or third chance; and why does the Minister not instruct all schools to offer students the same opportunity to retry for NCEA credits?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: As the member will know, it is not a case of retrying; it is a case of a student having an opportunity to go back and do the standard again. That is part of the system, and all schools can do that.

Housing New Zealand—Subletting of Christchurch Tenancy

3. PHIL HEATLEY (National—Whangarei) to the Minister of Housing: When did Housing New Zealand Corporation first learn that Rana Martin was allegedly subletting her State house in Christchurch?

Hon CHRIS CARTER (Minister of Housing): Firstly, I would like to say what a pleasure it is to see our former Prime Minister, Mike Moore, in the Chamber. Secondly, in answer to Mr Heatley’s question, on 3 October 2006.

Phil Heatley: Why did a Housing New Zealand Corporation spokesperson say that it only “began an investigation last month”, when neighbours contacted Ruth Dyson’s office in June, and Jim Anderton’s office in July, and spoke to Ruth Dyson in person in September, telling it that Rana Martin owns her own home and sublets her State house, and why was no action taken way back then?

Hon Dr Michael Cullen: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. It is an interesting question. I think you have to work through what the implications of the question are. Its implications are that somehow or other the Minister is responsible for whatever happened between those persons and the person making a complaint. I think the member could actually rephrase the question and bring it within the order of the House, but at the moment it is hard to see what the ministerial responsibility can be for the fact that approaches were made to certain individuals in their capacity as members, not in their ministerial capacity.

Madam SPEAKER: Yes. The member is correct. Would Mr Heatley just like to rephrase the question so it brings it squarely within ministerial responsibility.

Phil Heatley: Why did Housing New Zealand not take action way back in June when Ruth Dyson’s office was contacted, way back in July when Jim Anderton’s office was contacted, and way back in September when Ruth Dyson was contacted personally, because, presumably, those MPs contacted the Housing New Zealand Corporation?

Hon Dr Michael Cullen: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. The member has not actually managed to rephrase the question. I wonder if I could try to help him just a little bit. He needs to ask whether approaches were made to the Housing New Zealand Corporation on either of those days, and if so, why action was not taken.

Lindsay Tisch: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. Mr Heatley clearly, at the beginning of his question, not the end, brought it back to the ministerial responsibility of the Housing New Zealand Corporation. That is what he said, and the Minister should answer the question on that basis.

Madam SPEAKER: Well, if it is only on that basis then the Minister should ignore the second part of that question. I think that is what Dr Cullen was getting at; if it had stopped there the question is directly within ministerial responsibility. So if the Minister would like to address the question.

Hon CHRIS CARTER: I will ignore the second half of the question, but I can speak on the behalf of the corporation, which is what, of course, I have responsibility for. On 3 October it was alleged—[Interruption] Can I have a chance to answer? On 3 October it was alleged to the Housing New Zealand Corporation that the tenant was not living in her State house and that the property was being sublet. I also received a letter on 21 October making the same allegations. Because proof, rather than allegation, is required by the tenancy tribunal, the matter was investigated by the local housing manager. This particular investigation was made more difficult by neighbouring tenants providing conflicting information. Nevertheless the investigation is now concluded, and the tenancy has ended.

Tim Barnett: What reports has the Minister of Housing had from the member for Whangarei, National’s housings spokesperson, about alleged subletting of Housing New Zealand Corporation properties?

Hon CHRIS CARTER: Interestingly—[Interruption]

Madam SPEAKER: Would the member please be seated. I know the member is going to ask whether this is within ministerial responsibility. The ministerial responsibility, as I heard the question, was for a query that was made to the Minister in his capacity as Minister.

Hon CHRIS CARTER: Interestingly enough, despite Mr Heatley’s claims that he “gets more callers anonymously dobbing in State house subletting scams than any other issue”, he has not once provided any details of these allegations to either the corporation or my office. I ask Mr Heatley where the cases are. Perhaps it is time for that member to put up or shut up.

Phil Heatley: Has the Housing New Zealand Corporation briefed the Minister on the neighbours’ contact with Ruth Dyson’s office, when they told the office that Rana Martin owns her own home and sublets her State house, and which resulted in Housing New Zealand Corporation staff yelling at Ruth Dyson’s secretary, then doing nothing?

Hon CHRIS CARTER: No, it has not.

Phil Heatley: Can the Minister confirm that neighbours have been harassed by relations of Rana Martin this morning, who are also State house tenants, and can he confirm that the police have had to be called to deal with the problem and trespass orders have been issued?

Hon CHRIS CARTER: No, I cannot, and as far as I am aware none of my relatives have been there, either.

Phil Heatley: When I asked the Minister last month about the subletting of State houses and he said he was “unable to provide the exact number, length of absence of tenants, and whether they were investigations”, was he adamant, or will he now make sure that Housing New Zealand Corporation keeps records to see how widespread the rorting problem is?

Hon CHRIS CARTER: One of the problems in this whole case is that the member seems to confuse boarders and subletting. If he clarifies his written questions to me on that issue, I will be happy to provide the information.

Phil Heatley: When I asked the Minister last month about investigating the subletting of State houses and he said he was “not prepared to authorise such an undertaking”, was he adamant, or will he now give an assurance that he will launch a transparent investigation to see how widespread subletting rorts are, and fix them so we can house the 11,500 needy families on the waiting list, not these scammers?

Hon CHRIS CARTER: I am not sure where the member has got the quote from, but I can assure this House that all allegations of scamming or dishonest behaviour by Housing New Zealand Corporation tenants are investigated. Frankly, that member must be really embarrassed in the House to raise the question of the 11,500 people on the waiting list, because, after all, his Government sold 13,000 State houses.

Phil Heatley: I seek leave to table 30 parliamentary questions to the Minister about subletting, where he says he is not prepared to get the information or have any investigation.

Madam SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table those documents. Is there any objection? There is objection.

Health Services—Wanganui

4. JILL PETTIS (Labour) to the Minister of Health: What investment is the Government making in health services in Wanganui?

Hon PETE HODGSON (Minister of Health): This Labour-led Government is investing around $30 million to provide Wanganui with a world-class public hospital. We have granted approval, so construction can begin as soon as the district health board is ready. This is the latest chapter in the Labour-led Government’s historic public hospital building programme.

Jill Pettis: What reports has the Minister received on local action on health issues in Wanganui?

Hon PETE HODGSON: I received a report late last week that the local National member was “requesting information and asking questions to keep the health issues in front of me”. In fact, that member has not lodged a written question on health in 3 months. I have also received reports of that member saying that the Government should “just stump up”. That is an interesting proposition from a party that was prepared to deny funding to the health sector, in order to pay for reckless tax cuts.

Chester Borrows: If the Minister wants to score points for funding core health business in Wanganui, will he accept the blame for the appalling Government performance in respect of Wanganui’s home-care services, ambulance services, paediatric and obstetric services, recruiting, acquired brain injury care, funding for aged-care and hospice services, and accident and emergency department, which is so under-resourced that it took 22 hours to admit an elderly woman who had presented after a fall—or is that all someone else’s fault?

Hon PETE HODGSON: The member is terribly confused. That member stood on the hustings just over a year ago—[Interruption]

Madam SPEAKER: Please be seated. Courtesy was shown to Mr Borrows when he asked his question; courtesy will be shown to the Minister when he replies, so that we can hear.

Hon PETE HODGSON: The member cannot have it both ways. Money can be spent but once around this place, and it cannot be spent on health and tax cuts at the same time. I advise the member, with pride, that the average level of funding, per capita, for Whanganui not only has increased above inflation every year that this Government has been in office but is 22 percent higher than it is for the rest of the country.

Barbara Stewart: What is the Minister’s ministry doing to ensure that workforce shortages will not render the new hospital ineffective, given that the Whanganui District Health Board is currently short of its required medical staff?

Hon PETE HODGSON: The member raises a good question, particularly in relation to paediatrics and obstetrics, which are two services currently under review in Whanganui. Completion of these reviews, and the development of a long-term solution for both of them, are among the conditions the district health board must satisfy to receive final approval for the hospital redevelopment project.

Tariana Turia: How can the Whanganui District Health Board attract obstetricians, and how can midwives be retained, when the new maternity facility will have only three delivery rooms as opposed to the current six, and eight ante-natal and post-natal beds compared with the current 18?

Hon PETE HODGSON: I think the member should reflect on the fact that not only has the funding been given now so that the shell of the building can be begun, but the reviews, which are not yet completed, set out to determine what the future look of maternity and paediatric services will be—that is to say, the internal design is not yet complete.

Immigration Applications—Ministerial Discretion

5. Dr the Hon LOCKWOOD SMITH (National—Rodney) to the Minister of Immigration: Is it important that the Minister and the Associate Minister of Immigration have regard to all of the relevant factors when considering whether or not to exercise ministerial discretion?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE (Minister of Immigration): Decisions are properly made on the basis of the best information provided to the Minister at the time.

Dr the Hon Lockwood Smith: Is a letter from the Hon David Cunliffe relevant to the case of Mr Thomas Yadegary—a letter dated 11 November 2004, in which Mr Cunliffe provided detailed arguments as to why Mr Yadegary “has a plausible case”, that he can “expect to face severe repression in Iran”, and that the decision to deny him refugee status is inconsistent with precedent?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: In the case of the individual referred to in the question, it is true that I made representations as a local MP in 2004, and for that reason I have been fully recused from the case in my capacity as a Minister.

Dr the Hon Lockwood Smith: Is it correct that in the Hon David Cunliffe’s detailed 3-page letter of 11 November 2004 supporting Mr Yadegary, he pointed out “the presence of conflicting decisions and findings of refugee status appeals, despite strong similarity between appellant cases”, and went on to point out that the authority was treating Christian applicants differently, depending on their particular Christian denomination and the likelihood of such Christians to evangelise; if so, has the Minister made sure that his views were in the possession of the Associate Minister when he made his decision not to exercise ministerial discretion?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: As the member knows, I was recused from the ministerial consideration on that matter.

Dr the Hon Lockwood Smith: How reasonable is it for the New Zealand Government to discriminate against a person on the basis of religion, given that the Government has kept Mr Yadegary imprisoned without trial for more than 2 years, on the basis of an appeal authority decision arguing that it was safe to deport Mr Yadegary to Iran because he was Catholic, whereas if he were Protestant it would be unsafe to deport him as he might be more likely to engage in evangelical activities?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: Although I am not playing any ministerial role in that case, I am advised that the individual concerned has enjoyed the full processes available to him under the law.

Dr the Hon Lockwood Smith: Was the Hon David Cunliffe making a compelling representation when he wrote to the Associate Minister on 11 November 2004 that Mr Yadegary “can expect to face severe repression in Iran”, given that in February 2006 Amnesty International reported that since President Ahmadinejad’s election, members of Iran’s religious minorities have been killed, detained, or harassed solely in connection with their faith; if not, why not?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: I am advised that although the member to whom he refers is often compelling, he is not always agreed with.

Dr the Hon Lockwood Smith: Is it relevant that Mr Yadegary’s father was responsible for suppressing Islamic revolutionaries, his older brother was imprisoned for political reasons and the person he was with at the time was executed, and Mr Yadegary himself was arrested in 1986, in 1992 lost his job for anti-revolutionary activities, was shot at while being ordered to stop in the street, and had his house was searched on three separate occasions in 1992 and 1993; and how reasonable is it to maintain that Mr Yadegary has nothing to fear from the Iranian authorities?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: Although I am fully recused from the case, I am advised that Mr Yadegary has made a number of unsuccessful appeals to the Refugee Status Appeals Authority.

Gordon Copeland: Why are the Refugee Status Appeals Authority and other authorities looking at these matters not obliged to follow the conventions of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which specifically guarantees religious freedom to people, including the freedom to change religion; is that point understood by the Refugee Status Appeals Authority, and if not, should it not be brought to its attention?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: I am sure the Refugee Status Appeals Authority is fully cognisant of all of New Zealand’s international human rights obligations.

Dr the Hon Lockwood Smith: I seek leave to table the compelling letter of the Hon David Cunliffe in which he supports the case of Mr Thomas Yadegary.

Leave granted.

Keith Locke: I seek leave to table section 35 of the Immigration Act, under which Mr Yadegary could be processed after the failure of his refugee appeal.

Leave granted.

Dr the Hon Lockwood Smith: I seek leave to table a letter from Amnesty International, dated 26 October 2006, stating that it believes that it is not now safe for Mr Yadegary to be returned to Iran and that any such return would see New Zealand in breach of its international human rights responsibilities.

Leave granted.

Home Detention—Scheme Operation

6. RON MARK (NZ First) to the Minister of Corrections: When was the home detention scheme introduced in New Zealand, and what changes have been made to the scheme since its inception?

Hon MITA RIRINUI (Acting Minister of Corrections): Home detention was introduced in 1993 by the National Government of the time as a trial. It was rolled out in its current form by the National-led Government in 1999. It has had minor amendments since and has recently been subject to a review.

Ron Mark: Can the Minister confirm that the policy of back-end home detention, which has allowed prisoners to transfer from prison to home detention, was inherited from a National Government bill passed in 1999?

Hon MITA RIRINUI: Yes, I can confirm that this Government inherited a justice system that had been created by three successive National-led Governments, and that today’s current home detention policy is a reflection of the work enshrined in legislation in the 1990s.

Lynne Pillay: What evidence has the Minister seen that home detention is an effective sentence?

Hon MITA RIRINUI: Reports show that 99 percent of offenders on home detention do not reoffend when serving the sentence. Furthermore, 98 percent of offenders do not abscond while on home detention. Home detention assists the reintegration and rehabilitation of offenders by allowing things like accommodation, employment, and family relationships to be maintained.

Simon Power: Can the Minister confirm this statement of the general manager of the probation service at the time that home detention was first established: “Only prisoners convicted of non-violent crime would be eligible.”, and what has the Government done since then to allow violent offenders to make up one-quarter of all home detainees—let alone the fact that the combined number of violent, sex, and drug offenders makes up half the number of all home detainees?

Hon MITA RIRINUI: Given that the scheme was introduced in 1993, I cannot confirm what the member asks me. But in terms of what this Government has done, next week a bill will be introduced in this House that will abolish back-end home detention.

Ron Mark: Can the Minister tell the House whether it is true that the most serious violent and sex offenders who are currently on home detention are there as a result of back-end home detention, which was created by a National Government when it was in power?

Hon MITA RIRINUI: Yes, it is true that back-end home detention does allow serious offenders to be moved from prison to home detention. I am aware that New Zealand First as far back as 2002 has held some concerns over the number of serious offenders being granted back-end home detention.

Ron Mark: Is it not also true that New Zealand First started highlighting its objection to these happenings in our prisons in 2002, that we continued to do so up to the last election, and that, as a result of the confidence and supply agreement between New Zealand First and Labour, changes are to be made to the home detention scheme; and when will those changes occur?

Hon MITA RIRINUI: Yes, I can confirm that, and a new bill will be introduced in this House next week. The new bill will give sentencing judges the power to impose up to 12 months’ home detention on offenders who are a low risk to the community. Back-end home detention will be abolished, with offenders no longer being able to apply for home detention before their parole eligibility date.

Rodney Hide: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. This is just a suggestion in the interests of saving time in the House. We have just had an interesting exchange between Mr Ron Mark and the Minister, whereby Mr Ron Mark would stand up and read his carefully scripted question, then the Minister would read his carefully scripted answer, which was presumably prepared by Mr Ron Mark. I think it would be easier if, rather than our going through the charade of questions from New Zealand First to the Government, those members just tabled their questions and answers and we moved on.

Madam SPEAKER: That is not a point of order.

Cancer—Radiotherapy, Australia

7. Dr JACKIE BLUE (National) to the Minister of Health: How many category C patients are being offered radiation treatment in Australia?

Hon PETE HODGSON (Minister of Health): I am advised that 42 patients have so far accepted radiation treatment in Australia, about half of whom have already started.

Dr Jackie Blue: Are consistent criteria used by the cancer treatment centres to determine which patients are offered radiation treatment in Australia; if not, why not?

Hon PETE HODGSON: There are criteria that exist throughout New Zealand. My understanding is that treatment is offered typically—probably always, I would think—to category C patients.

Maryan Street: What advice has the Minister received about treatment for people needing urgent radiation therapy?

Hon PETE HODGSON: I am advised that almost all patients in clinical categories A and B—that is, patients for whom radiotherapy has a good likelihood of being curative or is being used to treat serious complications—do receive their radiotherapy according to accepted good-practice standards.

Dr Jackie Blue: When we have patients under Capital and Coast District Health Board being offered radiation treatment in Australia if they have been waiting longer than 8 weeks and a patient under MidCentral District Health Board being offered treatment because she has been waiting for 12 weeks, and when it is clear that the Minister’s own official has stated that radiation treatment at 4 weeks is best practice and that with treatment after 8 weeks there is uncertainty in patient outcome, why is there not a national policy that will provide certainty to patients and put a stop to this cruellest form of health care by postcode?

Hon PETE HODGSON: The member will know from her own experience that cancer patients fall into different categories and are treated differently. Different standards apply depending on the nature of the cancer.

Dr Jackie Blue: Does the Minister think that the category C patients who have been waiting longer than 8 weeks, knowing that their outcome could be compromised, will agree with his own official who described those cases as non-urgent, when we have an example of a woman under MidCentral District Health Board who is prepared to take the offer of treatment in Australia over Christmas and New Year, and to be away from her family and grandchildren then, because she does not want her cancer to return; does the Minister not realise that the crisis is worsening and that he must act?

Hon PETE HODGSON: District health boards are acting—they are acting day by day. I would anticipate that this is, hopefully, a short-term shortage issue. It could be worsening as the industrial dispute worsens, but one hopes that it will continue to be considered to be short term. The important things are that district health boards are responsible for these decisions and that they make them on clinical grounds. There is no impediment to more people being offered treatment in Australia, if indeed clinicians believe that is in their patients’ best interests.

Dr Jonathan Coleman: Is it not illogical to have a national Cancer Control Strategy, and then to have all 21 district health boards doing their own thing in cancer care; and is this treatment-by-postcode debacle not just another example of the fundamental disconnection between the bureaucracy in Wellington and what actually happens out there in the real world?

Hon PETE HODGSON: I think the fundamental disconnection may be between the member and the Cancer Control Strategy. There are not 21 radiation therapy centres in New Zealand; there are six.

Unemployment Benefit—Reduction in Beneficiaries

8. GEORGINA BEYER (Labour) to the Minister for Social Development and Employment: What reports, if any, has he received on the Government’s progress at reducing the number of New Zealanders on the unemployment benefit?

Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE (Minister for Social Development and Employment): The latest monthly benefit numbers show that the number of people receiving the unemployment benefit continues to plummet. When this Government first came into office in 1999, 160,000 people were on the unemployment benefit. Earlier this year the number of people on the unemployment benefit fell below 40,000 for the first time. I am pleased to inform the House today that the number of people on the unemployment benefit at the end of October was 39,001. This enormous success changes many lives, and New Zealanders should be well pleased about it.

Georgina Beyer: Can the Minister confirm that the overall benefit numbers are also continuing to fall?

Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: Yes. Contrary to the impression some Opposition members are trying to create in their local newspapers, overall benefit numbers have recently fallen by an even greater amount than the unemployment benefit. In the year to October 2006 the total number of people on benefits fell by 11,368. Although this period registered a small rise in sickness and invalids benefit numbers, unemployment benefit numbers fell by 9,938 and domestic purposes benefit numbers fell by 5,489. People coming off a benefit in the last year outnumbered those going on to any benefit by a ratio of 4:1.

Auckland Issues—Minister's Statement

9. Hon BILL ENGLISH (National—Clutha-Southland) to the Minister with responsibility for Auckland Issues: Does she stand by her statement in the House on 15 June 2006 when she said that “This Government is extremely busy on working for Auckland”; if not, why not?

Hon JUDITH TIZARD (Minister with responsibility for Auckland Issues): The member has truncated my actual statement. What I said was that this Government is extremely busy on working for Auckland and is starting to deliver infrastructure that will make Auckland internationally sustainable. I stand by my comment.

Hon Bill English: Is it the case that she has the second-highest ministerial bill for domestic flights because she goes everywhere except Auckland; and why does the Government expect support—[interruption] I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. Yesterday you made a ruling that one sentence was an interjection, but continuous talking during a question was barracking and was out of order.

Madam SPEAKER: No, I did not make that ruling, Mr English. I said that there can be interjections. Barracking is when the person asking or answering the questions cannot be heard. I ask members to give Mr English a fair go to ask his question.

Hon Bill English: Is it the case that the Minister has the second-highest ministerial bill for domestic flights because she flies everywhere except Auckland; and how does the Labour Government expect support in the provinces for spending of taxpayers’ money on Auckland projects such as the stadium, when she visits the provinces so often?

Hon JUDITH TIZARD: I am not sure how the member for Clutha-Southland, who lives in Wellington, expects an Auckland member to get home other than by flying. But I am also the Minister of Consumer Affairs, I am Associate Minister for Commerce with responsibility for intellectual property, I am Associate Minister for Arts, Culture and Heritage, I am Associate Minister of Transport, and I spend a lot of time visiting many communities around New Zealand talking about all of those issues, including how important Auckland and its economic well-being are for the whole of New Zealand.

Keith Locke: What consideration has the Government given to temporary seating for the Rugby World Cup games in the Eden Park and North Harbour proposals, particularly as the cheaper temporary seating option is increasingly common overseas; and will the Minister be attending the public meeting concerning the stadium being organised by myself and Rodney Hide this Sunday, 2 o’clock at the Aotea Centre?

Hon JUDITH TIZARD: I am not the Minister for the Rugby World Cup. As a local member of Parliament I have a great deal of interest but I will not be attending that meeting as I have other commitments on Sunday. I say to that member that the Government has appointed Trevor Mallard as Minister for the Rugby World Cup. He has had a look at a whole lot of options, which were assessed against the same criteria, including the likely cost, the sources of funding, the potential for profitability, access to public transport, hotels, restaurants, and other amenities, planning and Resource Management Act issues, technical issues, and governance arrangements. Through this process all possibilities have been assessed and I am sure temporary seating has been assessed. Fundamentally it comes down to a choice as to whether the final is in Auckland or in Christchurch. It is up to Auckland to decide whether it wants a stadium. This Government will work with every city in New Zealand to make the Rugby World Cup a success.

H V Ross Robertson: Can the Minister outline some of the issues the Government is working on for Greater Auckland?

Hon JUDITH TIZARD: Getting back to the initial question, I would be delighted to. We are spending in excess of $7.3 billion on Auckland roads and public transport projects over the next 10 years. We are diversifying Auckland’s power supply. The Energy Commission will make a draft decision by Christmas. We are strengthening our energy supply. Mighty River Power is supplying an extra 40 megawatts of power to Auckland from next month. Genesis E3P will have an extra 380 megawatts going to Auckland around April. We are making housing more affordable through a range of initiatives. We are working with Auckland local authorities to make governance and funding more sustainable. We have a range of projects, and it is fascinating that the Opposition’s only concern is that I work hard across the whole of New Zealand.

Hon Bill English: Is it correct that the Minister told Radio New Zealand that she would refuse the radio interview about Auckland stadium proposals because she did not want to be shouted at, and why does she think she would be shouted at by the polite people on Radio New Zealand?

Hon JUDITH TIZARD: I would note that the debate so far, particularly as conducted on Radio New Zealand and other places, has had rather more heat than light.

Hon Member: Did you say it?

Hon JUDITH TIZARD: Yes, I do not choose to be shouted at. I pick my fights.

John Key: If, as Minister with responsibility for Auckland Issues, she has not taken the lead role on the siting of the stadium in Auckland, and if she has not taken the lead role on the proposed local government reforms in Auckland, could she tell the House what issues she thinks are significant enough for her, as Minister with responsibility for Auckland Issues, to actually take the lead role on?

Hon JUDITH TIZARD: I take a great deal of pride in the fact that the whole of this Government has recognised that Auckland matters to New Zealand, and Auckland’s efficiency and effectiveness matters to New Zealand’s economy as a whole. I am very proud of the fact that a number of Ministers are regularly in Auckland, unlike a number of that member’s colleagues. I just think that—

Hon Member: Who?

Hon JUDITH TIZARD: Well, Trevor Mallard is there today, and we do not have to double up, because nobody in the National Party is doing anything for Auckland.

John Key: Does the Minister agree with the comments made by her colleague the Hon Trevor Mallard when he said that Aucklanders lack vision, and does he think the Minister was actually referring to her?

Hon JUDITH TIZARD: I do not think that Trevor Mallard thinks that Aucklanders lack vision. I can understand that he is a little frustrated, like many of us, when the reporting of any debate in Auckland is seen as Auckland being unable to make a decision. Auckland has a third of New Zealand’s population, and about one-sixth of New Zealand’s land area. We naturally have a range of views, and we in this Government are giving Auckland plenty of time to debate a range of important issues, including the siting of the Rugby World Cup stadium.

Rodney Hide: In her busy schedule, on what dates has the Minister responsible for Auckland Issues been consulting Aucklanders about the stadium on the waterfront option, and has she had any success, particularly given that the former mayor and Governor-General Dame Cath Tizard has come out publicly against the waterfront option as being a very bad idea for Auckland?

Hon JUDITH TIZARD: Given that the Government’s preferred option came out on 10 November and I was in the UK until 13 November, I have not had a great—[Interruption]

Madam SPEAKER: Some members will not be with us for the rest of question time today, if they continue not to allow the Minister to be heard.

Hon JUDITH TIZARD: I have talked to an enormous number of Aucklanders about the opportunities that the Rugby World Cup provides, including attending all of the sessions of the Metro programme, which that member obviously knows nothing about; and the START programme in Auckland, which has looked at the opportunities. All I can say is that I do not need a global positioning satellite to find my electorate—unlike that member.

Rodney Hide: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I asked about the dates on which the Minister with responsibility for Auckland Issues had consulted Aucklanders about the stadium. She started off with an answer that I was enjoying enormously. Then my colleagues in the National Party barracked her, and you intervened quite correctly, as Speaker, to allow the Minister to finish her answer. Unfortunately, she shifted tack, because she was explaining that she had been in the UK when the decision had been announced, and I do not think had had any opportunity—

Madam SPEAKER: I thank the member. The member is starting to make a speech.

Rodney Hide: What I would like—

Madam SPEAKER: Please be seated. The member’s point is that the Minister did not address the question. I listened very carefully, and you are right; it was difficult to hear what the answer was. The Minister did address the question. She does not have to address it in a way that satisfies the member. But she did address a very general question.

Rodney Hide: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker.

Madam SPEAKER: I am sorry; I have ruled on that, Mr Hide. If it is a new point of order, you are perfectly entitled.

Rodney Hide: Thank you, Madam Speaker. My suggestion is that if we could just find out—because I am sure this was going to be the next point—what date the Minister got back from the UK.

Madam SPEAKER: Oh, don’t be ridiculous. Please be seated.

Keith Locke: I seek leave to table a document relevant to the Minister’s answer on profitability. It is the editorial from yesterday’s Independent with the headline: “The insanity of Stadium New Zealand”, pointing out that it would be totally unprofitable.

Leave granted.

Bottom Trawling—International Moratorium

10. NANDOR TANCZOS (Green) to the Minister of Fisheries: Is he committed to protecting high-seas seafloor habitat from bottom trawling and taking every opportunity at the United Nations General Assembly meeting on sustainable fisheries, starting tomorrow, to seek an international moratorium on bottom trawling; if not, why not?

Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE (Minister for the Environment) on behalf of the Minister of Fisheries: I am pleased to confirm that the New Zealand Government is committed to protecting high-seas seafloor habitat from the adverse impacts of bottom trawling. At the United Nations General Assembly meeting, New Zealand will urge the adoption of a comprehensive set of measures to control bottom trawling on the high seas of all the world’s oceans. In particular, we will advocate for: firstly, an immediate interim prohibition on bottom trawling in unmanaged high-seas areas; secondly, strong conservation measures within a set time frame—preferably by 2008—to protect vulnerable areas in existing and contemplated regional fisheries management organisation areas; and, thirdly, a moratorium on bottom trawling in those areas if effective conservation measures are not adopted within that time frame.

Nandor Tanczos: I thank the Minister very much for that answer. Would New Zealand not be in a better position to advocate for an international agreement if the Government withdrew permits to New Zealand vessels to bottom-trawl in the high seas, including in the southern Pacific where New Zealand - flagged vessels are responsible for up to 90 percent of the bottom trawling; if not, why not?

Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: On behalf of my colleague I say I am sure that the member would agree that little would be achieved by forcing through such suggested action as the re-flagging of New Zealand vessels. Clearly, any resolution that imposed a moratorium would not be binding and enforceable on States. I think it would be much more desirable, through regional fisheries management organisations, to move to legally binding measures and the membership of all States in those organisations, with fisheries in those areas being enforceable.

Pita Paraone: Does the Minister agree that it is imperative we stop using fishing methods that destroy ecosystems; if so, does he not think that his expression of concern over a move by the European Commission, Russia, and South Korea to block a moratorium on bottom trawling at a South Pacific Regional Fisheries Management Organisation meeting rings rather hollow, given that New Zealand is responsible for 90 percent of the high-seas bottom trawling in the South Pacific region?

Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: On behalf of my colleague I certainly echo the concern about the Hobart meeting, and I report to the House the Minister’s comments in respect of that matter: “New Zealand worked hard to broker a range of strong measures that would protect fragile deep-water ecosystems in the South Pacific from bottom trawling. … I am particularly disappointed that the European Community refused to limit their current fishing efforts in the region. This went against the precautionary ecosystem-based approach that South Pacific and South American States were asking for.”

Nandor Tanczos: Is the Minister aware that currently the only high-seas areas with restrictions on bottom trawling are the Southern Ocean, the Mediterranean, and the north-east Atlantic, as shown in orange on this map, and will New Zealand officials be instructed to point out the colonialist hypocrisy of the European Union, which restricts bottom trawling in its own backyard but blocks international efforts to impose that in the Pacific and elsewhere?

Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: The Minister is aware of those facts and issues, and he and the ministry are working hard to build on the excellent initiatives of his predecessor.

Nandor Tanczos: Will the Minister call on all Pacific Islands Forum countries, which recently unanimously called for an international high-seas moratorium on bottom trawling, to refuse to refuel vessels that are bottom trawling in the South Pacific, in order to deter northern hemisphere countries that continue to think they can plunder the south after having devastated northern fisheries; if not, what specific measures will he take?

Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: On behalf of my colleague I would agree with many of those comments. I repeat the comments of Messrs Anderton and Carter and the Minister of Foreign Affairs on this matter: “We want decisive action to protect vulnerable marine ecosystems by 2008. If that does not happen, we will have no choice but to look at other options, such as a global moratorium.”

Child Safety—Threshold for Removal of Children

11. ANNE TOLLEY (National—East Coast) to the Associate Minister for Social Development and Employment (CYF): Is she satisfied that Child, Youth and Family Services’ threshold for removing children from unsafe homes is adequate?

Hon RUTH DYSON (Associate Minister for Social Development and Employment (CYF)): I am satisfied with the process for determining the threshold for removing children from unsafe homes. All of Child, Youth and Family’s processes are developed consistent with international best practices. I am also satisfied that social workers are using the risk-estimation system to make professional judgments about the safety of the child. But, of course, like every New Zealander I am absolutely dissatisfied about any child being harmed in his or her own home.

Anne Tolley: Does the Minister consider it a safe home environment when cannabis is given to a 6-year-old child as a reward for committing burglaries; if not, why did Child, Youth and Family not remove the young Christchurch boy who was known to her department from this situation?

Hon RUTH DYSON: In answer to the first part of the member’s question, no I certainly do not regard that as being part of a safe home environment. The information I have is that the original interventions between Child, Youth and Family and the family to whom the member referred focused on strengthening that family’s ability to provide a safe and functional environment in which that child should live. Some of those attempts were successful and others were not.

Steve Chadwick: Which agency is responsible to help protect children in unsafe homes?

Hon RUTH DYSON: All agencies that work with children and families need to be aware of risk to children and to work with each other to keep children safe. However, it is important to note that unless the wider community takes a responsibility for the safety of children and young people, the agencies’ efforts will never be enough. All people are part of communities and all members of the community have a part to play.

Anne Tolley: Why did it take until this boy stole a gun and shot his next-door neighbour before he was placed in Kingslea Residential Centre at just 8 years old, when over the previous 2 years he had committed 46 offences—38 of which were violent and included robbery with a knife and bashing people with bicycle chains—and what does the Minister think can be done with him now that this criminal violent behaviour has been allowed to develop and dominate this young child’s life, all the while watched by Child, Youth and Family?

Hon RUTH DYSON: I say to the House that the representation of that member is at the same level as that of the Sunday News, which on one page demanded to know why that child was not in Child, Youth and Family care earlier, and in the same article talked about him being condemned to Child, Youth and Family care. Frankly, they cannot have it both ways. A professional assessment is used to determine the best way to keep our children safe. In some instances not all interventions are successful.

Hon Member: It did nothing.

Hon RUTH DYSON: It is not true at all that that member’s interjection is correct. There were a number of interventions, some of which were successful; some were not. I would further note that for the last 17 months this child has not been involved in any problems with the police, at all. I would suggest that the member and her colleagues would do better to support the work of social workers, rather than constantly attacking them.

Tariana Turia: When children are removed from their homes for reasons of their safety, what assistance and resources are then given to the families of those children to ensure their safe and effective return?

Hon RUTH DYSON: The member raises a very valid point. The basis of the Child, Youth and Families’ system in our country is that the family should have responsibility and, therefore, it is a function of the State to give every support possible to that family so they can provide the functional environment and the child can be returned safely to that home. That is done. In the case that the member’s primary question referred to, a number of interventions were tried with the family. Some of those interventions were successful; others were not.

Anne Tolley: Has Child, Youth and Family now removed the other two children in this home, in particular the 3-year-old whose own father has advised is in grave danger of turning out worse than his brother; if not, why not?

Hon RUTH DYSON: I know that one of the three, rather than other two, children is in the care of the department, but the other two, I am advised, have not had any care and protection notifications alerted.

Anne Tolley: If Child, Youth and Family admitted yesterday that it knew about the Kāhui family, and that it had had previous dealings with the mother and her other children, why did it just have conversations about the family and not take action about any subsequent children going into that home, or are these two cases just another example of Child, Youth and Family abdicating responsibility, and when will the Minister take that responsibility for her department herself?

Hon RUTH DYSON: The member should not misrepresent the information that was provided at a select committee. As I said to the House in response to an earlier response, the member, just like the Sunday News, cannot have it both ways. The member cannot on one hand demand that children are taken immediately at birth despite there being no risk alerted to the department, then condemn the department for holding on to children. The department social workers make a professional assessment and judgment, and I am confident that those assessments are being carried out in an internationally regarded best-practice fashion.

Sale of Liquor—Proposed Review

12. CHRIS AUCHINVOLE (National) to the Associate Minister of Health: What input, if any, will the Ministry of Health have into the proposed review of the restrictions on the supply and sale of liquor to under-18-year-olds?

Hon PETE HODGSON (Minister of Health) on behalf of the Associate Minister of Health: The Ministry of Justice and Ministry of Health will work together in reviewing the restrictions on the supply and sale of liquor to under-18-year-olds. The role of the Ministry of Health will include the provision of evidence-based policy advice on the health implications of the review.

Chris Auchinvole: If the Associate Minister believes that there should be a review of the sale of liquor, and if he does not believe that the drinking age should be raised, why did he send a letter to Denis Hampton last month stating: “I support raising the minimum legal purchase age for alcohol to 20, regardless of where the person may purchase or consume alcohol,”?

Hon PETE HODGSON: I am sorry the member has not had the opportunity to stay up to date on that issue. It was, of course, a typographical error, for which an apology has been made both publicly and privately. It is possible that the member has never made a mistake in his life, but I have, and it will never happen again—until the next time.

Ann Hartley: What are the terms of reference of the review?

Hon PETE HODGSON: The terms of reference have not yet been finalised, but will include the effectiveness of the current restrictions, and the effect of changes that have taken place since 1999 when the supply of alcohol was liberalised. The review will include ways in which the current Sale of Liquor Act could be strengthened in relation to controlling the supply of alcohol to young people.

Chris Auchinvole: Did the Associate Minister read the letter to Denis Hampton before he signed it; if not, how many other documents has he signed without having read them?

Hon PETE HODGSON: I am not in a position to answer that question, of course, but it would seem that the member requires the Associate Minister to be word-perfect in every respect. I will say to the member that I have made a mistake every now and again, and I will never make a mistake again, until the next time.

Chris Auchinvole: Why, then—acknowledging that we all make mistakes—has the Associate Minister blamed the ministry for his mistake, saying it was a drafting error rather than a signing error made by none other than himself?

Hon PETE HODGSON: Because that is where the mistake originated. The Associate Minister, however, took responsibility and apologised privately and publicly some time ago. The member needs to stay up to date.

Chris Auchinvole: Given the replies we have had, what sort of mickey mouse ministerial office is the Associate Minister running when he signs out letters saying he wants the drinking age raised although his actual position is the opposite, and when his office is advised by officials of corruption involving Phillip Field but the Associate Minister is, supposedly, not told; with these two serious failings in his office—and I would suggest that they are more than casual mistakes—why should he continue to hold a ministerial warrant?

Hon PETE HODGSON: The member draws a bow so long as to be really rather incredible.

 

 

 

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

ends

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