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Questions And Answers - Tuesday, 21 November 2006

Questions And Answers - Tuesday, 21 November 2006

Questions to Ministers

Stadium—Legislation

1. KEITH LOCKE (Green) to the Minister for the Rugby World Cup: Is the Government prepared, in the words of constitutional law expert Dr Bill Hodge, to damage “the constitutional fabric of New Zealand” by ramming through a waterfront stadium requiring legislation that “would override almost every law it came across, including the Local Government Act and the Public Finance Act, as well as the Treaty of Waitangi”; if so, why?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Acting Minister for the Rugby World Cup): It seems very likely that whether Eden Park or a waterfront site is preferred as the Rugby World Cup’s final venue, resource consents will need to be delivered through special legislative mechanisms in order to ensure certainty of completion of the venue in time for the event. I note that the National Party has already committed to support such legislation in respect of Eden Park.

Keith Locke: Is not the Government forcing Auckland City Council and the Auckland Regional Council to break the law by imposing a 2-week time limit for a stadium decision and thereby not allowing time for the formal consultative processes that are mandatory under the Local Government Act, such as having development options open for public inspection, inviting submissions, and holding public hearings?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: That would not be my view. We have asked for views from the Auckland Regional Council, as to what its preference would be. That does not mean to say that other processes would not follow in either case. In the case of either Eden Park or the waterfront there will be a need for special legislation, and that legislation will go through normal parliamentary procedures, with select committee hearings.

Keith Locke: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. My question was not in relation to subsequent legislation that may override the Resource Management Act. It was about the Local Government Act procedures prior to the Auckland local bodies making decisions this Thursday and Friday. Could the Minister answer that question?

Madam SPEAKER: I thought the Minister did actually address the question.

Keith Locke: Does he agree that no matter what the design, a 37-metre stadium—about the height of a 10-storey building—will dominate the Auckland vista and create a solid visual barrier between the city and the sea?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: No, because looking from the sea, it is dominated at the moment by the Sky Tower, which is much taller but was designed by the person who says that the stadium will be too tall.

Dr Pita Sharples: Kia ora tātou. What meaningful discussions did the Minister have with the board of Ngāti Whātua o Ōrākei in the light of the advice from the Waitangi Tribunal and the courts about the requirement for consultation to ensure informed decisions are made through meaningful discussion, and what resolutions were arrived at?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: We are advised that the Minister for Economic Development has met with the chief executive of Ngāti Whātua o Ōrākei. He indicated that they were not interested in pursuing the matter as Ngāti Whātua had limited interest in the port land, but further discussions will occur with Ngāti Whātua if a waterfront option is proceeded with.

Dr Pita Sharples: What implications will the construction of the stadium have on the agreements with Ngāti Whātua following the deed of settlement signed on 9 June this year?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: No implications other than, obviously, the need to maintain consultation with Ngāti Whātua around any development.

Dr Pita Sharples: Does he recall the words of the late Sir Hugh Kāwharu: “… Māori must have an effective say in respect to the ongoing control, administration and management of the area of land. The key is the retention of mana.”—authority—and in what ways will Ngāti Whātua retain their mana in the ongoing issues relating to the construction of a stadium on the waterfront?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I repeat: the chief executive of Ngāti Whātua o Ōrākei has said that Ngāti Whātua has limited interest in the port land, and that any further involvement would be in the usual manner with Auckland City Council around design and development issues, and with Auckland City Council’s offer to meet and discuss matters further with Ngāti Whātua before any decisions are taken.

Keith Locke: Is the Minister aware that the ANZ bank was recently forced to take control of Sydney’s former Olympic stadium, which now owes $140 million, and who does the Government think will carry the financial can should its waterfront stadium costs blow out to a billion dollars and its operation incur substantial ongoing losses?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I know of no major stadium that, taken within its narrow confines as a pure commercial venture, would make a profit. I assume that that is why the Eden Park Trust Board has so far not presented a proposal to the Government about how it intends to fund a $387 million stadium and associated works.

Keith Locke: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I asked who would carry the financial can. I do not think the Minister really answered that question. He just answered a question about Eden Park.

Madam SPEAKER: The member did actually ask several questions in his supplementary question, and certainly one of them was addressed.

Heather Roy: Would his Government contemplate retrospective legislation should any concerned citizen injunct the Auckland City Council or the Auckland Regional Council for not consulting Aucklanders about a waterfront stadium in the manner required by the Local Government Act 2002—law introduced and passed by his Labour Government?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: The effect of any injunction on the Auckland City Council, of course, does not affect the ability of Parliament to pass legislation. If Dr Hodge wants to take on parliamentary sovereignty, I invite him to do so.

Stadium—Prime Minister's Statement

2. Dr DON BRASH (Leader of the Opposition) to the Prime Minister: Does she stand by her statement to the House on 7 November 2006 that “I have formed no view whatsoever” about whether the Stadium New Zealand proposal should be preferred ahead of the rebuilding of Eden Park?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Acting Prime Minister): Yes. As she has said, she will enthusiastically support whichever option is chosen.

Dr Don Brash: Has the Prime Minister seen the estimate for the cost of a waterfront Stadium New Zealand, done by two separate quantity surveyors and released by the Eden Park Trust Board, of more than $900 million, a figure that according to Mr Mallard’s formula would lead to the region and the Government each having to come up with $375 million; and is she prepared for the project to go ahead if the cost is anything remotely close to that figure?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Should eventually a preference be expressed for the waterfront stadium, then, clearly, further work would need to be done. Work will need to continue in relation to planning for Eden Park as a back-up. The Government will release all information into the public arena; I invite the member to release all his information into the public arena, as well.

Dr Don Brash: Can the Prime Minister confirm that the Minister responsible for the Rugby World Cup, Trevor Mallard, has proposed a $10 per head Auckland International Airport departure tax, which I am advised would raise about $27 million per year—a sum too small to pay even the interest on the regional contribution, if the estimate of $900 million is to be believed—and what other revenue-raising measures does her Government have under consideration?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Neither option—and I hesitate to sound like a broken record—has a fully costed budget, or an explanation in full of how it is to be paid for. In one instance, Eden Park, the board seems to be trying to persuade the public that it is paid for, but is looking to the Government to pay for it; in the other instance, it is quite clear that the means will be found to pay for the stadium. Those facts will be published as they are available; I invite the member to publish all facts in his possession.

Dr Don Brash: Can the Prime Minister confirm that the Government’s current offer of contribution, based on Mr Mallard’s $500 million guesstimate, is around $175 million if the stadium is located on the waterfront; and if Aucklanders decide on the Eden Park proposal, can she tell the House what level of Government contribution it would receive?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: To the first question, yes. To the second question, the Eden Park board is yet to make any proposal, based on full and final costings, about where the money will come from for the Eden Park option. Clearly, by far the cheapest option is Jade Stadium. All the facts will come into the public arena as and when they are made available. I invite the member to table all his facts—including any book he may have in his possession!

Dr Don Brash: Is the Prime Minister aware that when London bid to host the 2012 Olympic Games, the estimated cost of the facilities was ₤2.4 billion, and that UK Treasury officials already expect that cost to exceed ₤6 billion—150 percent above the original estimate?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Yes; and I note also that the Eden Park project is already 150 percent above its original estimate, and potentially still climbing.

Dr Don Brash: Why, more than a year after New Zealand won the right to host the Rugby World Cup, is the Prime Minister’s Government giving Aucklanders just 2 weeks to choose between two very expensive projects, with the cost, design, feasibility, and financing of the project preferred by the Minister for the Rugby World Cup being entirely unclear?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: The cost, financing, and feasibility of the Eden Park project is almost equally unclear at this point. The reason we are in this process is because the Eden Park project came back with 150 percent cost inflation on the latest estimates. At that point the Government asked whether we really want to spend $400 million on putting a stadium in the middle of a suburb that may be used only 25 days a year. I say to the member, again, that the full facts will come into the public arena; will he let the full facts about what he has been up to over the last 3 or 4 years come out?

Navy—Project Protector

3. DIANNE YATES (Labour) to the Minister of Defence: What progress is being made on the revitalisation of the Navy under Project Protector?

Hon PHIL GOFF (Minister of Defence): Good progress. Project Protector is on track towards adding seven new vessels to the Royal New Zealand Navy by 2008 and being within its $500 million budget. The first and largest ship, the Canterbury, will give New Zealand much-needed sealift capacity. The multi-role vessel will arrive in New Zealand in the first half of next year. The second, the offshore patrol vessel Otago, was launched in Williamstown on Saturday and will be commissioned in the second half of next year.

Dianne Yates: How does the Canterbury compare with its predecessor, the HMNZS Charles Upham? [Interruption]

Hon PHIL GOFF: If I can be heard over the embarrassment on the other side of the House, I will answer. There is no comparison. The National Government bought a lemon. That vessel was unstable, it was not fit for purpose, it was never used for the purpose for which it was purchased, and it was then disposed of at a huge loss. The Canterbury, by comparison, on its maiden voyage from Europe to Australia handled 9-metre waves—that is sea state 8—with ease and, according to the Navy officers on board, much better than the Anzac frigates. It is a large ship. It is 130 metres long and is capable of transporting 250-strong company groups, their vehicles and equipment, and five helicopters. It represents a huge increase in deployment and disaster relief capacity.

Dianne Yates: What capacity will the new offshore patrol vessel Otago add to the Navy?

Hon PHIL GOFF: Again, a lot. It is an 85 metre - long ship. It will undertake a variety of tasks, including border protection, working with police and the New Zealand Customs Service, surveillance of our exclusive economic zone, and, if need be, counterterrorism. It has a range of nearly 10,000 kilometres, which is much the same as a frigate. It is helicopter-capable, ice-strengthened, armed, and able to carry 30 embarked troops. Like the Canterbury, it will considerably increase the New Zealand Navy’s capacity. I have to agree with what Hank Scouten said in an article, which is that this is the biggest revolution for the New Zealand Navy since it was established 65 years ago.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Is this the same Charles Upham vessel that Tau Henare told this House he had proof that Ron Mark had supported purchasing, even though it was purchased 2 years before Ron Mark got to this House—

Hon Tau Henare: Tell us about the dogs!

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Well now, he wants to talk about the dogs. That will be his speciality. If he wants me to talk about the dogs, I will talk about his speciality. I am asking whether it is the same Charles Upham that he told this House he would table evidence that Ron Mark had supported purchasing, even though Ron had not been a member of the House at the time it was purchased?

Hon PHIL GOFF: If Tau Henare made that remark—and he has not denied it in the House since the question was asked—then he was clearly in error. It is the same Charles Upham that the National Government—which spent very little on the Navy—spent millions of dollars on. It was bought secondhand, it was not fit for purchase, it was an absolute disaster, and it ended up carrying lemons in the Mediterranean—and it was just that: a lemon.

Ron Mark: Can the Minister confirm that the major challenges facing the Navy over the next year are not only the introduction into operational service between January and December of the seven new vessels that are part of Project Protector whilst at the same time delivering outputs to the current fleet but also the staffing of all those vessels, to ensure that they are all able to put to sea and do the job they are designed to do?

Hon PHIL GOFF: Staffing is always a challenge, but I am really pleased to report to the member that our attrition rates are down and our recruitment rates are up. We increased the Defence Force’s personnel by 600 last year, and we have put $4.6 billion aside in the Defence Sustainability Initiative to ensure that we can increase our overall defence forces by 12 to 15 percent—this after the National Government ran down the defence forces for a decade during the 1990s, halving their spending and cutting their personnel.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Is this the same Charles Upham vessel that was purchased in 1994, in a time and a year when Tau Henare was a member of Parliament for New Zealand First, a party that was not supporting the purchase; should he not have remembered that when he got up in this House and claimed he would table evidence that Ron Mark supported it?

Madam SPEAKER: No, the second part of the question is out of order; the first is all right.

Hon PHIL GOFF: I am sure it is the same Tau Henare, but he articulated a lot of statements then that he is now saying exactly the opposite about—and does not even have the good sense to blush about the contradictions.

Otago District Health Board—Fraud

4. Hon TONY RYALL (National—Bay of Plenty) to the Minister of Health: What reports, if any, has he received on an alleged $16 million case of fraud at the Otago District Health Board, and what do these reports say?

Hon PETE HODGSON (Minister of Health): I have had a number of oral briefings on this issue, all consistent with the no-surprises policy we have in place. A number of the matters are likely to be dealt with in court, in both a civil and a criminal context. As a result, I cannot comment on them as freely as I might otherwise.

Hon Tony Ryall: Can the Minister confirm that the alleged fraud, which involves the board’s former information technology manager, Michael Swann, and which is now being investigated by the Serious Fraud Office, relates to $16.9 million of contracts, over a 5-year period, with a single company, supposedly for computer maintenance and software licence agreements; and is he concerned that the chief executive officer has now admitted that none of these multi-million-dollar contracts were ever tendered?

Hon PETE HODGSON: I can confirm some of those facts, but I cannot confirm all of them. I will just say to the member that this issue is under very close scrutiny from the Serious Fraud Office. There is a story to be told, and I am confident that it will be told.

Hon Tony Ryall: Is the Minister aware that Michael Swann bought a former marine research vessel in Hawaii, berthed it in Dunedin—where it underwent a massive refit, becoming a 50-metre luxury launch, reportedly with a plasma television set in each room—and, despite this high-profile activity, is the Minister telling the House that no one at the district health board asked how a former bankrupt and hospital manager on $200,000-a-year could afford such extravagance over such a period of time?

Hon PETE HODGSON: The alleged extravagance is actually greater than the member portrays, and I cannot confirm that there was no earlier investigation—I cannot confirm that.

Hon Tony Ryall: Have you asked?

Hon PETE HODGSON: I most certainly have. It is not in the public interest for me to reveal more than I have, and the reason is that we have a serious investigation before us, and I am determined that the investigation will be allowed to proceed utterly unmolested.

Hon Tony Ryall: Is the Minister aware the Otago District Health Board has now secured asset-protection orders over property that Mr Swann has an interest in—including 30 vehicles, mostly luxury cars; several boats, including the 50-metre luxury launch Townsend Cromwell; a substantial home and other property in Wānaka; a residence in Dunedin, with a Government valuation of $1.1 million; and a property in Central Otago; and is the Minister telling us that no one ever asked about how a former bankrupt and district health board manager could afford such a lifestyle, with no one ever asking about it over the 5 years he was doing it?

Hon PETE HODGSON: Let me just repeat that the first part of the member’s question and its content is substantially correct. I will not confirm that no one ever asked questions in earlier years, and I will not reveal—because it is not in the public interest at this stage—what questions were asked, in what year, and by what persons.

Hon Tony Ryall: What eventually prompted the Otago District Health Board to sack its chief information officer, Michael Swann: “for gross mismanagement of the district health board’s IT procurement, including failure to comply with delegation of authority and purchasing policies”; and what action is the Minister taking now to assure the people of that region and this country that district health board information technology procurement policies and other such policies are safe, and to ensure that the public’s money is protected, despite what appears to be 5 years of extravagance when a district health board did nothing?

Hon PETE HODGSON: I say gently to the member that the issue of extravagance may exceed 5 years. District health boards around the country need no further incentive to ensure that what has happened in Otago does not happen elsewhere.

Paula Bennett: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I just thought that there might be something wrong with the Minister’s microphone, because we are having a lot of trouble hearing him back here.

Madam SPEAKER: I think there might be trouble with a lot of microphones today.

Hon PETE HODGSON: I repeat for the member that the issue about 5 years of activity might actually be short of the mark. Secondly, district health boards need no further incentive to ensure that they take care with their information technology contracts or, indeed, any of the other contracts of any size in district health boards.

Hon Tony Ryall: Have you told them how it happened?

Hon PETE HODGSON: I say to the member that they do not need to be told by me, because the story has spread very quickly—well before it became available to the member who asks the question. Finally—in case the member wants to ask—I cannot give an assurance that there are no issues of fraud elsewhere in the health sector. There are some 16,500 active contracts in the health sector. There was serious fraud about 10 years ago in the New Zealand health sector, involving about $5 million. I say to the member that that is why we have law against fraud.

Jo Goodhew: Can the Minister confirm that he has just told us that he does not know whether there are, perhaps, some Mr Swanns still lurking in the system who are misusing highly sought after health dollars?

Hon PETE HODGSON: I have just proactively said that I will not give an assurance that there is no other case of fraud in the health sector. There are about 16,500 contracts that I know of in the health sector. I remind the member that about 10 years ago there was a significant fraud case in the health sector. Unfortunately, fraud occurs from time to time in this society, which is why there are laws written against it. I say to the member that this investigation will be completed, will be thorough, and will become public as the months go by.

Police—Legislation

5. MARTIN GALLAGHER (Labour—Hamilton West) to the Minister of Police: What progress has been made on modernising the legislative environment for the New Zealand Police?

Hon ANNETTE KING (Minister of Police): In March this year I announced a comprehensive review of the Police Act 1958 to bring the legislation up to date for the 21st century. Since then, consultation has been occurring around the country, and, so far, seven issue papers have been released by the New Zealand Police team that is coordinating the review. This evening the process goes one step further, when I open the New Zealand Police - Victoria University of Wellington School of Government symposium on the future of policing in this country. I expect this to be a challenging and invigorating symposium at which overseas policing and criminology experts, and academics will join local people in one of the most important debates to be held on policing in New Zealand for many years.

Martin Gallagher: What support has there been for the review of the current Police Act, which I understand is almost 50 years old?

Hon ANNETTE KING: I have found considerable support for the review and the process being followed. The rewrite of the Act will take around 2 years to complete, thereby giving many New Zealanders an opportunity to have an input. The New Zealand Police staff are taking a very keen interest in the review, as are the Law Commission, many other Government departments, and members of the public. I am particularly pleased with the political parties that have agreed to be part of a multiparty approach to the important rewrite of this legislation.

Simon Power: Can the Minister confirm that it is proposed, as part of the review of the Police Act, that police should receive the proceeds of assets that they confiscate from criminals; and is this the reason why the Criminal Proceeds and Instruments Bill sat for a year on the Order Paper before being pulled before its first reading?

Hon ANNETTE KING: No, I cannot confirm that. As the member knows, his having received each one of the discussion documents that went out, a series of questions have been asked in those documents; they do not pose answers, nor do they suggest the direction that, at the end of the day, this Parliament will take when we rewrite that Act. The discussion documents ask the questions; they do not give the answers. It will be up to this Parliament and the people of New Zealand to give the answers.

Immigration Service—Confidence

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

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

Dr the Hon Lockwood Smith: Did the New Zealand Immigration Service raise with the previous Minister of Immigration, the Hon Paul Swain, concerns about the representations made by Taito Phillip Field on behalf of failed asylum-seekers, and about the number of those representations resulting in the exercise of ministerial discretion by the previous Associate Minister of Immigration, Damien O’Connor; if so, what was the particular nature of those concerns?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: I am advised that the Department of Labour workforce deputy secretary raised with the previous Minister in very general terms the number of failed refugee cases being brought forward by Mr Field.

Dr the Hon Lockwood Smith: Given that Mary Anne Thompson, now the Department of Labour workforce deputy secretary, told the Transport and Industrial Relations Committee last Thursday that after her meeting with Mr Swain she “went back to the department and had a chat with Mr Tavita”—the group manager of service international of the Department of Labour—“and said it might be a good idea to let the Associate Minister, Damien O’Connor, know more generally about our concerns.”, did Mr Tavita tell the then Associate Minister, Damien O’Connor, about those concerns; if not, whom did Mr Tavita tell?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: I can confirm that that is the gist of what the workforce deputy secretary told the select committee. I can further confirm that Mr Tavita, the group manager of service international, attempted to communicate with the previous Associate Minister’s office. However, the Associate Minister’s private secretary has no recollection of that attempt to communicate, and the communication was not passed on to Mr O’Connor.

Dr the Hon Lockwood Smith: What was the response of the previous Minister of Immigration to the concerns raised with him by Ms Mary Anne Thompson, and did that Minister discuss those concerns with his then Associate Minister, Damien O’Connor, who was granting the approvals on Taito Phillip Field’s submissions that were causing such concern at the most senior level of the New Zealand Immigration Service; if not, why not?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: I am advised that it is the recollection of the Department of Labour workforce deputy secretary that the previous Minister agreed that she should notify the group manager of service international. It is, however, not my understanding that the Minister spoke directly to the then Associate Minister.

Dr the Hon Lockwood Smith: Given that Mary Anne Thompson told the select committee last Thursday that the group manager of service international, Kerupi Tavita, had drawn her attention to the number of failed asylum-seekers who were having those decisions reversed following submissions from Taito Phillip Field, how many failed asylum-seekers did the then Associate Minister, O’Connor, approve following representations from Taito Phillip Field?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: I do not have that specific information with me, but I would be happy to get it to the member.

Dr the Hon Lockwood Smith: What changes were made to the approval process of the previous Associate Minister of Immigration, Damien O’Connor, following Mary Anne Thompson’s raising with the previous Minister of Immigration, Paul Swain, concerns about the number of approvals issued by Mr O’Connor for failed asylum-seekers in response to submissions from Taito Phillip Field, or did the Minister fail to act on those serious concerns from the most senior level of his department?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: The chief executive has acknowledged that the department could have done better in its attempts to communicate this information to the Associate Minister. In particular, the best way to do so would have been to note the matter on the application management system records. Because this did not occur, the review branch, which was preparing the briefing for the Minister, was not privy to the information.

Climate Change—New Zealand Policy Leadership

7. Hon MARIAN HOBBS (Labour—Wellington Central) to the Minister responsible for Climate Change Issues: What reports has he received on New Zealand leadership in climate change policy?

Hon DAVID PARKER (Minister responsible for Climate Change Issues): I have received reports that climate change is now firmly on the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation group’s agenda. APEC leaders in recent days pledged to find further ways to reduce their countries’ carbon emissions. This move was personally led by Prime Minister Helen Clark. Labour is proud to have a strong and decisive leader who recognises the importance of climate change. Some other parties are not as lucky as Labour is.

Hon Marian Hobbs: Has the Minister received other reports on New Zealand leadership on climate change policy?

Hon DAVID PARKER: Indeed, I have received a report from a recent climate change event in Auckland that indicates that a prominent American was: “particularly impressed with the tremendous leadership that New Zealand is providing.” That report, praising the New Zealand Government’s leadership, was from the former vice-President of the United States of America, Al Gore. It is clear that the Government’s leadership on climate change will bring both economic and environmental benefits to New Zealand.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: What sort of leadership is New Zealand providing, when the official United Nations’ figures on emissions show that during Helen Clark’s prime ministership to date New Zealand’s emissions have grown by 8.6 percent, as compared with the United States’ growth of 3.8 percent or Australia’s growth of 5.1 percent—or does this Government dispute the official figures published under the Framework Convention on Climate Change?

Hon DAVID PARKER: New Zealand’s emissions, excluding our agricultural emissions, have increased substantially, but at a lower rate than Australia’s.

Peter Brown: Does the Minister share New Zealand First’s view that by getting climate change on the APEC agenda, the Prime Minister has advanced the possibility of the issue being effectively addressed by the nations that are actually responsible for the majority of the problem, and that this is a far greater achievement than penalising New Zealanders and making them feel guilty about switching their lights on?

Hon DAVID PARKER: I agree that it is a significant advance that APEC is now looking at further emissions cuts. I do not agree—if the implication was intended—that the Kyoto instrument is a bad instrument. It is the best current instrument in the world and, indeed, is the most effective cause of emissions reductions around the world to date. But it remains true none the less that emissions reductions by other major emitters, including the United States and China, are vitally important in order to win the overall battle. So we see this as progress.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: What sort of leadership is this Government providing on climate change, when the policy has been one botch-up after another, including the failed carbon tax, the failed animal emissions levy, the failed energy efficiency strategy, the billion-dollar bungle over carbon calculations, the collapse in the negotiated greenhouse agreements, and the dropped tender round for projects to reduce emissions; and when the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment says that climate change policy in New Zealand is a vacuum, how does a vacuum equate to leadership?

Hon DAVID PARKER: That was an enormous list to try to respond to in an answer to a supplementary question. There are answers to virtually all of the points that the member misrepresented in that question. Suffice it to say that this Government has been consistent in its pursuit of policies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: Give us one!

Hon DAVID PARKER: I will give Dr Smith one example. The most recent flip-flop, of course, is in respect of the Permanent Forest Sink Initiative, which was passed last week in this House in substantially unaltered form to that which that member and the party he belongs to opposed strenuously at earlier stages.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: What sort of leadership is this Government providing on climate change, when forest plantings have collapsed from 45,000 hectares per year in 1999, when Labour became the Government, to a net loss of forest last year—the first time since 1953—and when the Government is turning a blind eye to the ongoing clear-felling of indigenous forests in Southland; and do not we have a Prime Minister who says one thing internationally, while at home her Government is doing exactly the opposite of that?

Hon DAVID PARKER: The greatest drop in forestry plantings actually occurred before this Government came into office.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: Not true!

Hon DAVID PARKER: It is true, and I will table a graph to show that when I have finished responding to this question. But it was not the National Government’s fault that that decrease in planting occurred; it was a consequence of the change in the relative economics of forestry compared with agricultural land use.

Jeanette Fitzsimons: Does the Minister agree with Stephen Tollestrup, the executive director of the TEAR Fund, when he commented at the end of the Nairobi conference of the parties to the Kyoto Protocol that “Sadly this conference has been marked by a lack of urgency and leadership. This must change quickly if we are to halt a significant climate shift in the future.”, and what did New Zealand do at the Nairobi conference to provide leadership towards greater action to prevent climate change?

Hon DAVID PARKER: I agree that it is clear from the really undisputed advice from the scientific community, coordinated by the United Nations, that the Kyoto Protocol emissions reductions already in the pipeline through annex 1 countries between 2008 and 2012 are insufficient to avoid the risk of quite extreme climate change, and that more needs to be done by both annex 1 Kyoto countries and other countries, including China and the United States. What is New Zealand doing? Members have already seen, in the last week at APEC, the Prime Minister taking a lead on this issue in an international forum.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: Why does the Minister, in explaining the collapse in forest plantings in New Zealand from 45,000 hectares a year when Labour became the Government to net deforestation last year, use the excuse of the relative economics of forestry as compared with other land uses, when across the Tasman Australia, with exactly the same economics as New Zealand, has been able to increase the amount of forest plantings in each and every year over the same period; why is Australia achieving substantial reforestation while this Government is overseeing massive, record deforestation?

Hon DAVID PARKER: Whatever Australia has done in respect of afforestation, it certainly has not been through the devolution of carbon sinks because, of course, that country does not devolve any.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I asked the Minister to explain why, in his response to an earlier question, he said it was economic factors that had resulted in a collapse of New Zealand forest plantings, and to explain why there was the opposite situation to that in Australia. The Minister’s answer did not in any way address the question; he just stated some irrelevancy around the fact that in Australia credits are not allowed for forest, as is the case in New Zealand. That was not an attempt to answer the question.

Hon Dr Michael Cullen: The policy announced by that member had no power to play in Australia’s policy, so therefore it was not the reason why there was a difference.

Madam SPEAKER: I am not sure that was a point of order. By virtue of the member raising the issue of Australia, I thought the Minister did address the question.

Hon DAVID PARKER: I seek leave to table a graph showing the rate of decline in New Zealand forest plantings over the last decade.

Leave granted.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: I seek leave to table the huge increase over the same period in Australia’s forest plantings.

Leave granted.

Question No. 6 to Minister

Hon David Cunliffe: In relation to the previous question from Dr the Hon Lockwood Smith, I seek leave to table two documents. The first is an email from the Chief Executive of the Department of Labour, Dr James Buwalda, which acknowledges the department could have done better in providing information in writing to Minister’s offices on immigration matters.

Leave granted.

Hon David Cunliffe: I seek leave to table an email from Dr Mary Anne Thompson, the Department of Labour’s deputy secretary - workforce, advising her staff to follow the new procedures set out by the chief executive.

Leave granted.

Carbon Neutrality—Prime Minister's Statement

8. Hon Dr NICK SMITH (National—Nelson) to the Minister responsible for Climate Change Issues: What progress is the Government making towards the goal of carbon neutrality, as stated by the Prime Minister at the Labour Party Conference 2006?

Hon DAVID PARKER (Minister responsible for Climate Change Issues): Recent progress towards the long-term aspiration of carbon neutrality includes energy efficiency improvements to the building code, a minimum bio-fuel sales obligation, solar water heating initiatives, the passing of the permanent forest sinks legislation, as well as Government leadership through reducing the footprint of governmental activities. Areas where further progressive policies can be expected include the New Zealand Energy Strategy, an updated National Energy Efficiency and Conservation Strategy, and choices about price-based measures such as emissions trading to reduce New Zealand’s carbon emissions.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: What credibility does the Prime Minister’s promise of New Zealand being carbon neutral have when Government officials told the select committee last Thursday that they had not been asked for any advice, either before or after the Prime Minister’s speech, on how New Zealand might be carbon neutral, and does this not tell us that the Prime Minister’s speech on climate change was just all hot air?

Hon DAVID PARKER: No it does not. I think all New Zealanders know that the Prime Minister is very committed to reducing New Zealand’s greenhouse gas emissions, and the initiatives we have recently made, which I listed in response to the last question, and the other initiatives we have coming up prove testament to that.

Charles Chauvel: Has the Government received any reports that its climate change policies are facilitating substantial economic opportunities?

Hon DAVID PARKER: Yes it has. On 14 November PricewaterhouseCoopers stated that the Climate Change Response Amendment Act passed last week, or the week before, “was ‘a major step’ as New Zealand moves towards price based measures for carbon…”, and that the new legislation “paves the way for New Zealand companies to participate in an exciting new market which has seen spectacular global growth in recent months.” PricewaterhouseCoopers noted that a recent survey by the World Bank and the International Emissions Trading Association puts the total value of transactions in the current market in the first 9 months of 2006 at US$22 billion.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: Can he explain how the Prime Minister’s goal of carbon neutrality fits with the Government’s State-owned enterprises Mighty River Power, which wants to proceed with a 320 megawatt coal-fired power station at Whangarei, and Genesis Energy, which wants to proceed with a 230 megawatt gas-fired power station near Helensville, when both State-owned enterprises have indicated that the Government supports these massive increases in carbon emissions, and how can that possibly fit with the Prime Minister’s goal of carbon neutrality?

Hon DAVID PARKER: As far as I am aware, Mighty River Power has never sought or been given governmental approval for Marsden B.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: Not what they said at the select committee.

Hon DAVID PARKER: With respect, I am not sure that the member represents that correctly, because my understanding is that Mighty River Power’s CEO Doug Heffernan said at that select committee that Marsden B is being prepared only as a back-up option should there be a future shortage of supply developing in the future, and that at that same select committee meeting he noted that there are more than enough renewable energy options, in the form of wind and geothermal, to meet demand through to 2015.

Peter Brown: Noting that answer, can I take it from the Prime Minister’s speech that the Government is not particularly interested in research into clean-coal technology, specifically that which will address the carbon dioxide problem, and if that is the position, and noting that the Prime Minister said that we need to be smart and determined, can the Minister explain why?

Hon DAVID PARKER: No, the member should not take that from her answer. Carbon neutrality could well be achieved through carbon capture and storage. Indeed, I think the amount of money that New Zealand spends on research that is involved in looking at carbon capture and sequestration is approximately half of the total energy research budget. If anything, it is actually an overrepresentation in that research budget, in my opinion, rather than an under-representation. None the less, it also remains true that carbon capture and storage is the technology that is likely to be developed mostly offshore, rather than in New Zealand. The United States and Australia alone are spending billions of dollars on that research.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: Will he be seeking specific advice from the Ministry for the Environment’s Climate Change Office on how carbon neutrality might be achieved; if not, why not?

Hon DAVID PARKER: The key to carbon neutrality is reducing one’s carbon emissions, and of course the New Zealand Energy Strategy will provide more information as to the way in which we see that carbon pathway developing.

Housing New Zealand—Subletting Investigation

9. PHIL HEATLEY (National—Whangarei) to the Minister of Housing: Why is he asking Housing New Zealand Corporation to engage a squad who will “look into allegations of subletting” and set up “a central file listing all details of those found subletting their homes”, and why has such action not been taken until now?

Hon CHRIS CARTER (Minister of Housing): In my letter of expectation that I sent to the board of the Housing New Zealand Corporation for the 2006-07 financial year, I asked for advice on ways to improve the utilisation of our housing stock. The corporation reported to me in September, and I agreed to the appointment of a new team of up to six specialist case managers who will primarily work with market rent tenants to identify alternative housing options, thus freeing up properties for priority tenants on the State house waiting list.

Phil Heatley: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. My question, which was put down very early today, specifically asked twice about subletting. The Minister did not address the squad working on subletting issues, and I would ask him to do so. He has had several hours to prepare for that.

Madam SPEAKER: I thought the Minister did address subletting. Is that the point?

Phil Heatley: He talked about high-income tenants in State homes, which is a matter that I canvassed in March. I am asking about subletting.

Madam SPEAKER: Would the Minister please clarify that.

Hon CHRIS CARTER: My understanding is that the member asked me a question about a special squad that is dealing with the issue of market renters. We set it up in September.

Phil Heatley: How can the Minister understand that I am asking a question about a squad dealing with high-income tenants, when the question on the sheet—and it has been there for several hours now—mentions subletting twice?

Madam SPEAKER: Would the Minister like to clarify precisely what his answer relates to.

Hon CHRIS CARTER: The squad that will be looking at working with and encouraging people paying market rents to find other housing options, and that will be looking at any allegations of subletting, was set up in September.

Phil Heatley: Why, on Thursday last week, did he deny that widespread subletting rorts existed, cynically asking the National Party to gather cases and do the job for him, yet on Friday he announced a squad and a database to track such illegal activity—why the sudden U-turn on subletting?

Hon CHRIS CARTER: The alleged squad, which is actually a group of six tenancy managers who will work with market renters, was set up in September. I repeat the answer I gave last Thursday: that member has yet to front up with a single case.

Tim Barnett: How successful has the Housing New Zealand Corporation been in securing better use of its 67,000 homes?

Hon CHRIS CARTER: New tenancies are allocated to priority applicants on the waiting list, with 98.1 percent of new tenants last month qualifying for an income-related rent. Last year tenancy managers made efficiency savings worth almost $300 million by encouraging tenants to relocate to smaller properties, and encouraging market renters to move into private rental properties or homeownership. The new team of specialist case managers will be able to focus on the remaining market renters, who now are only 9 percent of all tenants—tenants whom, I might add, were mostly taken on board during the time of the National Government.

Phil Heatley: Why did the Housing New Zealand Corporation say a central file of illegal subletting had not been set up before now because such situations were extremely rare, and why has illegal subletting increased so much under this Minister’s watch that a central file is needed now?

Hon CHRIS CARTER: I remind the House again that that member, in spite of his allegations, is yet to front up with one single example. The corporation advises that cases of subletting are very rare, which is why I did not consider it a valid use of resources to have staff comb through all 67,000 tenancy files on a wild goose chase for that member. However, I have asked for records to be kept centrally in the future to give the public greater confidence. I remind the House again that such cases are extremely rare, and that that member has yet to front up with one.

Phil Heatley: Why did the Minister say that recent illegal occupations were “not isolated incidents”, and that similar issues “appear to be arising regularly around the country”; why are they arising regularly, by his own admission; and why are they increasing under his watch?

Hon CHRIS CARTER: We seem now to have moved from subletting to illegal occupations. Anybody who illegally occupies a Housing New Zealand Corporation house will be removed. Again, that is a rare situation, and the member fails again to produce any statistics. Perhaps he has been spending too much time having coffees with Nicky Hager.

Madam SPEAKER: I say to the Minister that that was totally irrelevant to the answer. I remind members who are asking supplementary questions that if they ask more than one question, they are unlikely always to get a satisfactory answer to all of them.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Has the Minister read the claim made by Mr Heatley in the newspapers that he knows of—and I quote him—“countless cases”; if that is the case, why has the Minister not done his job and written to, personally called upon, or emailed Mr Heatley to ask him for just a few examples in writing?

Hon CHRIS CARTER: That is an excellent question. Yes, I am still waiting for Mr Heatley to front up with a single example. Come on Phil, where are the statistics?

Phil Heatley: How bad have subletting rorts and high-income-earner rorts got, given that the Minister is now asking for a dedicated squad to “look into allegations of subletting”, and to set up “a central file listing all details of those found subletting their homes”; how bad has it got for this U-turn to happen?

Hon CHRIS CARTER: The member alleges he has had many examples given to him. All I can do is to ask the member to please give me one.

Phil Heatley: How many State homes is he hoping to free up for needy—[Interruption] Madam Speaker.

Madam SPEAKER: Well, members from your own party are causing the disruption at the moment. [Interruption] Yes, they are—the back row again. Please give Phil Heatley the courtesy of allowing him to ask the question.

Phil Heatley: Why is the Minister continuing to deny in this House that there is not a subletting problem, when he has asked that a squad be engaged to “look into allegations of subletting” and for “a central file listing all details of those found subletting their homes”?

Hon CHRIS CARTER: The squad we are talking about is working with State house tenants who are paying market rents, to find them other pathways—either homeownership or private rentals—in order to free up our stock. Allegations have been made in this House about widespread subletting. I have not had any examples from Mr Heatley; I would welcome them. Any tenant who breaks the law will be dealt with accordingly.

Phil Heatley: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. How can the Minister possibly say that that squad and database are for high-income tenants, when I had to prove to the Clerk that the Minister had said clearly that the squad is to investigate subletting, and to keep a database of those subletting?

Madam SPEAKER: I have listened very carefully, and I think the Minister has addressed the issue several times.

Phil Heatley: I seek leave to table a statement made by the Minister—after a U-turn last week—that he has a squad looking at subletting, and is going to set up a database.

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

Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I ask you to have a look later today at the Hansard of that particular question exchange. My colleague Mr Heatley makes a very important point: we cannot get a question on the question sheet each day without our proving the veracity of the content of the question. The content of this question was about the Minister setting up a special squad, and the information provided to the Clerk was a quote from the Minister. It becomes an utter nonsense when a question like that is put down on the Order Paper, and has taken a lot of time, and the Minister comes in here and simply says the squad is not for that, and virtually says he did not say it. That is completely unreasonable, Madam Speaker. So I simply ask you to look at the Hansard of the exchange when giving your own response to Mr Heatley’s point of order.

Madam SPEAKER: Yes, I will, because I clearly recall the Minister saying that the squad was to include those matters. I will look at it, but I did distinctly hear that, because I had asked the Minister to address the question again.

Tonga—Inquiry into New Zealand's Relationship

10. Hon PETER DUNNE (Minister of Revenue) to the Minister of Foreign Affairs: What steps has the Government taken to implement the recommendations of the Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Committee Inquiry into New Zealand’s relationship with the Kingdom of Tonga, presented in August 2005?

Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS (Minister of Foreign Affairs): The Government’s response to the recommendations of the Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Committee inquiry was tabled in Parliament on 3 February 2006. In most cases, where the recommendations were directed to the Government, it was considered that ongoing activity within the bilateral relationship met the committee’s concerns. In respect of the recommendation that the New Zealand Government support change towards representative democracy, the Government’s continued support for democratisation was affirmed, whilst recognising that the process was one that Tonga had to manage as a sovereign nation. The Government is working on a number of other recommendations, as well.

Hon Peter Dunne: With regard to the Government’s response to recommendation 16, relating to change towards representative democracy in Tonga, that it “supports this recommendation and is already taking steps to implement it”, what specific steps has the Government taken, and have they been accelerated in the light of recent events in Tonga?

Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: The New Zealand Government has been proactive in its support for peaceful democratic reform in Tonga. Along with Australia, New Zealand has supported financially the work of the National Committee for Political Reform, and we offered the services of a New Zealand mediator to assist with the public service strike last year. Our consistent position has been, however, that the pace and timing of reform must be determined by the Tongan people themselves. It is appropriate that the process of democratisation be handled by Tonga as a sovereign nation.

H V Ross Robertson: Could last Thursday’s riots in Tonga have been predicted?

Madam SPEAKER: I think that is a bit outside ministerial responsibility.

Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: I do not mind answering the question, because a so-called expert in Pacific affairs wrote just that the other day. I want to say that in the long history of protests and marches in Tonga, they have never ever been violent. In this case the march was one towards reform, happening in respect of a Cabinet that had not decided against reform but yet had risen for the day. It was not an event that we could predict—nor, I believe, could any others have predicted it, because if they did, then they did not tell any nation, including New Zealand, of the likelihood of it.

Hon Peter Dunne: Is the Minister satisfied that the current Tongan Government, led by the current Prime Minister, is acting in a way consistent with recommendation 16 of the select committee’s report regarding moves towards democratisation, and what steps is the New Zealand Government prepared to take to assist the Prime Minister and his Government achieve that objective?

Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: The facts are actually quite tragic, in the sense that we put together support for a reform inquiry. This was conducted by the prince who, tragically, died in San Francisco. That report came before the Tongan Parliament, I believe, in August, which is not a long time to assemble the findings from it. The Tongan Cabinet was deciding on that issue on the very day that the protest happened. I understand that certain demands were being acquiesced or agreed to when what began as a reform march all of a sudden turned quite ugly. Certain incidents that I cannot describe to this House suggest that certain planning was afoot—planning totally dissociated from the reform process—but it got out of hand.

Landfills—Prime Minister's Statement

11. NICKY WAGNER (National) to the Minister for the Environment: What, if anything, will he do to give effect to the Prime Minister’s statement at the Labour Party annual conference that “We can now move to … minimise, if not eliminate, waste to landfills.”?

Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE (Minister for the Environment): The goal of minimising, if not eliminating, waste to landfill is a long-term goal that aligns with the Government’s focus on sustainable development. Significant progress has been made, under the New Zealand waste strategy and the New Zealand Packaging Accord 2004, in minimising and diverting waste from landfill, and there is more we can do. Working in partnership with industry and local government to develop markets for recycled products, and supporting and strengthening product stewardship schemes are just two areas where we are currently focused.

Nicky Wagner: What does the Minister say to the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment’s comment that the Government’s failure to follow through on key actions of the New Zealand waste strategy “undermines the whole process of democratic engagement with Government”, with the result of a loss of confidence that “may raise questions about the Government’s commitment to the New Zealand waste strategy, and even to other strategies.”?

Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: The 2-yearly review of the waste strategy will be completed shortly, and the Government will need to consider that review before deciding what other measures might be desirable to support the Government’s goal of sustainable development, particularly in the area of waste minimisation. Can I say that I, and other members of this House I am sure, welcome the current interest of the National Opposition in recycling.

Dave Hereora: What specific progress has been made to date with regard to waste to landfill?

Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: In 1998 there were at least 209 landfill sites in New Zealand. Today there are just 60 landfill sites, and we expect another 10 sites to close within the next 18 months. By 2010 we expect to have reduced the total number of landfill sites to 43 quality, engineered locations. I can also advise the member that the volume of waste to landfill has decreased, on a per capita basis, since 2002. This is due, in part, to a substantial increase in the amount of material that is recycled. I acknowledge there is still a great deal to do, but we will continue to make good progress working in partnership with local communities and industry.

Nandor Tanczos: Does the Minister agree that the excellent Waste Minimisation (Solids) Bill, currently before the Local Government and Environment Committee, provides a package of measures to give effect to the Prime Minister’s statement, including provision for economic instruments—which was the subject of the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment’s report—and will the Minister be encouraging Nicky Wagner and the National Party to give effect to their new-found enthusiasm for waste minimisation by supporting my bill?

Madam SPEAKER: The second part of the question is not relevant, but the first is.

Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: I am pleased to advise the member that the key principles of the Waste Minimisation (Solids) Bill do align with Government policy. In particular, the Government is supportive of the introduction of a legislative framework to back up or support industry-led product stewardship schemes, where that might be necessary or appropriate. The Government also supports the concept of a waste levy, to assist or improve waste minimisation initiatives. The member has conceded previously that some parts of his bill are overly prescriptive, and I agree with that view, but I look forward to seeing how the bill develops and progresses in the select committee process. Yes, I would certainly encourage members of the Opposition, including National members, to support aspects of the bill.

R Doug Woolerton: Is the Minister considering increasing levies and taxes on waste going to landfill?

Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: I note the support of a substantial number of the industrial sector, and the overwhelming support of local government, for exactly that sort of levy.

Nicky Wagner: Why has that Minister’s ministry kept secret the October 2005 ministry report on packaging and recycling, which found this Government’s strategy to be useless, when the original research contract makes it plain that this document would be publicly released?

Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: I am not aware of any document that the ministry has kept secret.

Nicky Wagner: What sort of leadership is the Minister’s ministry providing in meeting the Prime Minister’s goal of eliminating waste, when the ministry’s own figures show that waste has grown from 41 kilograms per staff member in 2003 to 101 kilograms per staff member in 2006—an increase of 250 percent in just 3 years?

Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: I am very pleased with the ministries’, and general Government departments’, compliance with the Govt3 programme. The member might be interested to know that, for example, in terms of packaging material across the country there has been a very substantial reduction in the amount of material that goes to waste.

Nicky Wagner: What sort of leadership is the Government showing on eliminating waste, when the annual reports published by Government departments total over 26,000 copies and, when stacked, exceed the height of the Beehive by four times; or is this just another case of the Government saying one thing and doing the opposite?

Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: It is a substantially preferable leadership than that shown by submitting written questions asking how many pages are in such reports.

Nicky Wagner: How can the Minister seriously say that his Government can minimise, if not eliminate, waste to landfill, when the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment found that the ministry had made little progress in improving waste data, vital for evaluating the effect of current policies, that current legislation is acting as a barrier, and that an independent review is needed to oversee and report on the New Zealand waste strategy, giving his Government has made such appalling progress?

Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: Easily.

Hon Dr Michael Cullen: Has the Minister received any reports of people combing through landfills, trying to retrieve hard copies of embarrassing leaked emails; if so, will he encourage or discourage such activity?

Madam SPEAKER: That is not a valid question.

Nicky Wagner: I seek leave to table the leaked internal Ministry for the Environment report—[Interruption]

Madam SPEAKER: I remind members that points of order are meant to be taken in silence. [Interruption] No, I warned before also.

Nicky Wagner: I seek leave to table the leaked internal Ministry for the Environment report of October 2005 showing that the Government’s waste strategy is flawed.

Leave granted.

Nicky Wagner: I seek leave to table the Ministry for the Environment’s financial review of 2005, which promised a review of the New Zealand waste strategy by the end of 2006.

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

Nicky Wagner: I seek leave to table a press release from the Packaging Council of New Zealand admitting that there is not currently any consistency to the measurement of waste recovery across New Zealand.

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

ENDS


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