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Questions And Answers - Wednesday 22 November 2006

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

Wednesday, 22 November 2006
Questions for Oral Answer
Questions to Ministers

1. Otago District Health Board—Auditor-General’s Procurement Guidelines
2. Senior Citizens—Services
3. Schools—Quality of Education
4. Protected Disclosures Act—Amendment
5. Whangamata Marina—Minister's Decision
6. Stadium—National Party Support
7. Immigration Service—Communication with Associate Minister
8. Digital Content—Government Initiatives
9. Fraud—Zero Tolerance
10. Climate Change—New Zealand Policy Leadership
11. Te Puni Kōkiri—Confidence
12. Smoking—Marketing of Light or Mild Cigarettes

Questions for Oral Answer
Questions to Ministers

Otago District Health Board—Auditor-General’s Procurement Guidelines

1. Hon TONY RYALL (National—Bay of Plenty) to the Minister of Health: Does the Otago District Health Board follow the Auditor-General’s guidelines on procurement with respect to all of its contracts with suppliers and providers?

Hon PETE HODGSON (Minister of Health): I am advised that it is the practice of the Otago District Health Board to follow the contracting advice of the Auditor-General and of Treasury. I am also advised that some high-profile contracts the member may be aware of rather obviously did not meet those standards and are, therefore, the subject of an alleged fraud inquiry.

Hon Tony Ryall: What is the delegated authority to approve spending under contracts of the Otago District Health Board chief information officer, and what is the threshold before cumulative approvals are referred to the chief executive officer or the board?

Hon PETE HODGSON: I do not, of course, know the answer to that, because I am neither a manager nor a board member of the Otago District Health Board. I am happy to advise the House, however, that delegated authorities were tightened up a couple of years ago, and that procurement policies were tightened some 3 months after the change of Government.

Barbara Stewart: Would he concede that a health system divided into 21 separate entities—or 22, counting District Health Boards New Zealand—provides a fertile ground for activities such as those uncovered in Otago, and how does he intend to improve the level of accountability of the district health boards?

Hon PETE HODGSON: That is a point of view, I guess—that if we were to atomise the system more, we would get more cases of this sort, and vice versa. That did not seem, however, to work very well in the case of Enron, and I cannot imagine that 21 baby Enrons would have in any way increased the problems that that company already faces.

Hon Tony Ryall: When the Government apparently tightened procurement procedures 3 months after it came to power, did the Minister ever envisage that a mid-level district health board manager might be able to award untendered contracts that he monitored himself and for which he authorised payments of up to $5 million a year, unchecked?

Hon PETE HODGSON: The Government did not tighten procurement policy 3 months after the general election. As a matter of fact, the chief executive of the Otago District Health Board did, because he felt that the procurement policy was not at that point tight enough. A number of the contracts that are under inquiry pre-dated that—if that is not already clear to the member. I also point out to the member that in the course of this alleged activity, the Otago District Health Board has been subject to audit by Audit New Zealand on no less than seven occasions, that Audit New Zealand at no time found anything untoward, and that to those who know a little about the form that the alleged serious activity might have taken, it is no particular surprise that Audit New Zealand found nothing seven times. It is a matter of fact that the alleged fraudulent activity was first detected internally by staff members at the Otago District Health Board.

Hon Tony Ryall: What is the Minister’s expectation of what a district health board’s policy would be if it was informed that a board manager was driving to work in a late-model Lamborghini and parking it next to the board’s Corollas; what action would he expect a district health board to have taken in those circumstances?

Hon PETE HODGSON: I advised the House yesterday that I was unable to confirm there had not been any earlier questioning of the person who is now subject to serious fraud inquiries. I am not able to tell the House who asked whom what, in which year, or the employment that the gentleman was in at the time. I know a good deal more information than I am able to give the House; it is not in the national interest for me to give further information. We must let the inquiry proceed without it becoming some sort of cause célèbre in the meantime.

Hon Tony Ryall: Does the Minister think it is consistent with Auditor-General guidelines on procurement that a district health board might be put into a position where it is forced to pay for a professional sailing crew to fly to Fiji to return a 50-metre luxury launch back to Dunedin, and what assurances can he give that the residents of the Otago region will not be paying for this malfeasance for years to come through lack of surgery and services?

Hon PETE HODGSON: The people of Otago have already been paying for it, because this is money that has been, in part, lost to the health system. The hope is that there will be recovery of some proportion of the $16 million, and that there may be some recovery of some further proportion through insurance. The quanta are not clear, but they will not total the $16 million that are lost. The long and short of it is that the Otago District Health Board, I think, has managed the situation commendably since the point at which an employee or two of the board finally worked out what might have been going on. I think the actions taken by the board since an alleged fraud discovery was made have been managed well indeed.

Jo Goodhew: What policy would the Minister expect a district health board to adopt if, say, it became aware that a board manager owned a Lamborghini, a Formula One racing car, a Bentley, plus 27 other cars?

Hon PETE HODGSON: The truth of the matter is that some of these cars have come to light only recently—people have been finding Rolls-Royces in garages around the country, even in recent weeks. But it is worth repeating—and I will do so—that I am not able to give the House information about what challenges were made to an alleged fraudster, by whom, in which year, or indeed the nature of the employment the alleged fraudster had at the time. Those are matters that have to be discovered and put into a forthcoming court case.

Senior Citizens—Services

2. PITA PARAONE (NZ First) to the Associate Minister for Senior Citizens: What steps is he taking to improve access to Government services and improve the quality of life for senior citizens?

Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS (Associate Minister for Senior Citizens): On Saturday, 11 November I launched the much-anticipated Supergold Card, a dedicated seniors’ card that will deliver real and meaningful benefits for our citizens, and this is what it looks like—

Gerry Brownlee: Name one.

Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: I will name 50.

Gerry Brownlee: Just one will do.

Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: Well, ask a supplementary question, and I will name them, but do not shout it out in the House, rudely, as is the member’s wont. New Zealand First made this card a central feature of the 2005 election, and with the Government’s help we are delighted that from August next year the Supergold Card will be in the pockets and the purses of seniors across the country. This card will be sent automatically to those who qualify for New Zealand superannuation, including those receiving the non-qualified spouse entitlement and the veterans pension.

Pita Paraone: Tēnā koe, Madam Speaker. What other features of the card and information were part of the launch?

Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: The new card will have an optional photograph. In addition, a special directory of goods and services will be available from August next year—

Hon Dr Nick Smith: A photo of you?

Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: Well, if they want to upgrade it they can have a photograph of me, or they can downgrade it with a photograph of Nick Smith. They can take their choice. But, no, it will be the cardholder’s photograph. It will be Jane Doe’s photograph. It is optional. A campaign is under way to bring on board those businesses that want to be part of this programme.

Pita Paraone: How can people find out more information about the new card?

Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: Two freephone numbers have been set up in the interim, one for the many thousands of inquiries by seniors and the other for businesses. The numbers are 0800 254 565 for seniors with inquiries, and 0508 650 000 for businesses.

Pita Paraone: Are there any particular negotiated discounts that will be part of the card?

Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: I am very glad that my colleague has asked that question, because politics is about doing things, not just talking. It is about action, not like over on that side of the House where there is plenty of pre-sales talk and no after-sales service. Given that Parliament’s most prominent superannuitant is about to retire, we are hoping to negotiate—

Hon Members: Ha, ha—yes, you!

Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: No, I am a modern-day Adonis compared with him.

Madam SPEAKER: Members, please keep the interjections rare and, preferably, witty. There is to be no barracking, please. Would the Minister please continue.

Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: I am a modern-day Adonis compared with the person I am talking about. Given that Parliament’s most prominent superannuitant is about to retire, we are hoping to negotiate a special deal on, for example, fleecy pyjamas, corned beef, and frozen peas.

Schools—Quality of Education

3. Hon BILL ENGLISH (National—Clutha-Southland) to the Minister of Education: Does he stand by his statement: “Every student deserves the best from their time in school. We need the whole system to focus on this and making a difference for students.”?

Hon PAREKURA HOROMIA (Acting Minister of Education): On behalf of the Minister, yes.

Hon Bill English: Is the Minister aware of the statement in the Education Review Office annual report saying that of the schools the office has reviewed this year, 29 percent have “no useful information about the achievement or progress of their students”; if he is aware of that, what action does he intend to take?

Hon PAREKURA HOROMIA: The Minister is aware of that—that the Education Review Office found that 30 percent of schools did not have useful information about progress, as that member said. Research tells us that it is important to have good assessment information. The Government invested $8 million last year in developing good assessment tools for schools, and in providing professional development for teachers. These results are the Education Review Office’s early findings; the full report will be released next year.

Moana Mackey: What is the Government doing to focus the education system on making a difference for every child?

Hon PAREKURA HOROMIA: Lots! Since 1999 the Labour-led Government has increased education funding by more than one-third, doubled funding for early childhood education, increased teacher numbers by 3,000 above roll growth, and focused on the quality of learning, so that every student has a chance to reach his or her potential.

Judy Turner: Is the Minister happy with the current National Certificate of Educational Achievement (NCEA) internal assessment rules, which see students missing out on NCEA credits because their schools do not allow second chances to resubmit improved work for credits failed, while other schools actively encourage this practice; if he is not, will the Minister finally instruct all schools to offer this opportunity to students?

Hon PAREKURA HOROMIA: NCEA sets clear standards, and recognises excellence. The Government is committed to continued refinement of the NCEA changes for 2006, which include making the record of learning and results notice clearer to understand, having internal results available online earlier, and no longer recording the grade-point average. Those who promulgated NCEA have done a great job up till now.

Hon Bill English: Is the Minister at all concerned that after 7 years of Labour being in Government, a 35 percent increase in education expenditure, and 3,000 new teachers, the reality for parents is that their child has a one-in-three chance of being at a school that does not know the achievement of their child, and does not know what progress that child is making?

Hon PAREKURA HOROMIA: As I said earlier on, we are refining that, and building on it. When that member was in Government, nothing was done. He left a pack of rubbish, where kids had no chance, and where people who had been educated were left on the scrapheap. We have done something about it.

Hon Bill English: Does the Minister intend to spend some of his multimillion-dollar publicity budget—which he generally spends promoting himself—telling parents that despite 3,200 new teachers and a $1 billion increase in the schools budget, there is now a one-in-three chance that any New Zealand child is at a school that does not know what that child can achieve and that cannot measure his or her progress?

Hon PAREKURA HOROMIA: That is not true. New Zealand is transforming into a knowledge society, which means that our education sector needs to do that. But I can tell the member how good this Minister of Education has been. Rarely did Māori in the seventh-form go to university, 3 or 4 years ago. At Turakina there are 22 seventh-formers in total who are all going to university this year. Two of them are going to teachers’ training colleges, and two of them are going into the Navy. That is outstanding success, and it mirrors what is happening in the education forum. A lot of good things are happening.

Hon Bill English: Does the Minister intend to communicate with those 29 percent of schools that do not follow the sound educational practice that has been adopted in the other 71 percent of schools, or does he and union leaders and bureaucrats intend to sit around in the Beehive holding hands with their complacent consensus, while one-third of New Zealand children attend schools that do not know what is going on with those children?

Hon PAREKURA HOROMIA: There is nothing hollow about this Government’s role in relation to education. We are very, very clear that the bureaucrats—the public servants—work very hard, along with the boards, along with these Ministers especially, to ensure that children have a better chance in school. The results speak for themselves. Read them!

Hon Bill English: Can I take it from the Minister’s responses to the questions today that in light of the Education Review Office finding that 29 percent of schools reviewed this year have no useful information about their children’s achievement and progress, he plans to do precisely nothing about this scandalous problem?

Hon PAREKURA HOROMIA: In answer to the first part—no. If that member has not listened to them, I want him to listen to this. We base our progress on good information, like the example of the Clutha Valley School, which was raised last time. The Minister of Education had done plenty, but that member came in and made out he had done nothing. Now that the summary is done, and only one little thing has not been done, that member tries to make out it was in collapse—like the Education Forum. It is a lot of rubbish.

Hon Bill English: Can I take it from the Minister’s answer to that question that he regards the fact that one in three children in New Zealand attend a school that does not know what those children are achieving, as another “little thing” that is not done; and how would he explain that to the tens of thousands of people who are voters, taxpayers, and parents of children who attend schools that do not know what those children are learning?

Hon PAREKURA HOROMIA: I am not sure where that member has been in the last few years; because he knows that the education system is performing very, very well. What we need in the 21st century is not the archaic policies that he left behind, but certainly that our people are skilled, have the knowledge for the contemporary time, and that we take this education programme forward together—not be destructive like that member.

Protected Disclosures Act—Amendment

4. CHARLES CHAUVEL (Labour) to the Minister of State Services: Is the Government considering any amendments to the Protected Disclosures Act 2000?

Hon PHIL GOFF (Minister of Defence) on behalf of the Minister of State Services: Yes. The bill would give the Ombudsman an enhanced guiding, monitoring, and investigating role in respect of whistle-blowing. Other amendments would clarify and extend the group of people who can whistle-blow and come within the Act’s protections.

Charles Chauvel: Would the effect of the bill be to extend protection to whistle-blowers wanting to expose important public figures whom they believe have been acting unethically, dishonestly, and even illegally, and getting away with it?

Hon PHIL GOFF: The bill will extend assistance and protection to such groups. It may also discourage efforts to suppress such information by legal injunction—such as Dr Brash has done to try to stop the public finding out what his actual thoughts and actions were, and what motivated him. It is worth the Opposition thinking about the words of Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, who once said that sunlight is the best disinfectant. Dr Brash is clearly concerned about his actions being exposed to sunlight.

Gerry Brownlee: Do the answers that the Minister has just given to those two questions mean that the police were wrong when they asserted that they could not prosecute the Labour Party for its massive election overspend—its $850,000 corrupt dip into taxpayer funds for its pledge card—because it may involve a prosecution of a staff member, when at all times that staff member would have been protected by this legislation, and Helen Clark should have been put in the dock, had the police been more competent in their investigation?

Hon PHIL GOFF: It does not mean that, but before the member points the finger at somebody else, his party should pay back the $110,000 it has not paid for its advertising. National should admit that it went over the limit and face the punishment it will get by way of a fine. It should own up and pay up!

Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I know that when the Government asks itself a patsy question and it goes terribly wrong, Ministers like Mr Goff lose their cool. But that answer bore no resemblance to the primary question, whereas, in fact, my supplementary question to Mr Goff did. I would like an answer.

Hon PHIL GOFF: The answer is no.

Madam SPEAKER: The Minister has answered the question.

Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. Do we take it that this legislation would not protect the likes of Heather Simpson from police prosecution, should she have chosen to dob in the Labour Party—as she should have?

Madam SPEAKER: No, we are getting into a debate. But if the Minister wants to clarify the answer, he may. Then we will move on.

Hon PHIL GOFF: The answer is no. The premises on which the member asked his question were quite wrong.

Charles Chauvel: Would the legislation protect those responsible for leaking Government information, such as that with which the National Opposition has been involved over many years?

Hon PHIL GOFF: The legislation is designed to promote the public interest by facilitating the disclosure and the investigation of serious wrongdoing. It is doubtful that any of the National Party leaks could be defined in this way, but the definition most certainly would apply to the sorts of allegations made against Dr Brash and other senior National Party figures from within the National Party itself. The double standard is that the party that claims to believe in transparency and openness absolutely refuses to apply those same principles of transparency and openness to itself whenever it leaks.

Madam SPEAKER: If members wish to remain in the House for question time, they will please keep their interventions to a reasonable level.

Charles Chauvel: Are the amendments being proposed consistent with strengthening democracy?

Hon PHIL GOFF: They are absolutely consistent with strengthening both democracy and openness. By contrast, the use of injunctions to suppress information that is in the public interest, as Dr Brash has attempted to do, is, as the New Zealand Herald states today, “not healthy for our democracy.” Those who claim that they are ready to be trusted with power have to accept that their dealings should be open to scrutiny. The National Party is not prepared to accept that, and it is certainly not ready for power.

Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. Do I assume that the high-hatted attitude taken by Mr Goff means that Helen Clark will now release all the discussions that took place in her office over the decision to rort the taxpayer of $850,000 for electioneering purposes? Why cannot the Labour Party be honest, open, and accountable?

Madam SPEAKER: Please be seated. The member knows that is not a point of order.

Whangamata Marina—Minister's Decision

5. Hon Dr NICK SMITH (National—Nelson) to the Minister for the Environment: When will the Minister make a decision on the Environment Court recommendation for approval of the Whangamata Marina resource consents?

Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE (Minister for the Environment): I have written to the Environment Court seeking clarification of some issues, and once the Environment Court has responded to that request I hope to be in a position to make a decision.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: Why, when this resource consent has now been in the process for 13 years and when Ministers in his Government have been directly responsible for 14 months of delays, has the Minister not met the 20-working-day requirement for giving a decision by Friday 17 November, and, as he is the Minister responsible for the Resource Management Act, what sort of example is he setting for councils and others considering consents when he takes so long to make a decision?

Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: I need to make it clear to the member and to the House that this process is a court process and not any process that I have determined.

Sandra Goudie: Why has the Minister lodged a whole series of questions to the Environment Court on its decision on the Whangamata marina when it has spent over 20 days in hearings considering the evidence; and what does this say about his level of confidence, as Minister for the Environment, in the Environment Court?

Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: I lodged the questions because I wish for the court to clarify some issues.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: Who will pay the $90,000 awarded by the court against Chris Carter’s illegal decision?

Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: I have no responsibility for any such decision.

Sandra Goudie: Does the Minister, as Minister responsible for the workings of the Resource Management Act, consider it acceptable that the Whangamata Marina Society has had to spend $1.4 million and 13 years in trying to get a resource consent?

Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: I have no opinion on those two matters.

Peter Brown: Noting those answers, does the Minister appreciate that the people of Whangamata have spent a lot of time and money in going through the correct legal processes, and that they are entitled to an answer; and does he not feel inclined to at least recommend to his colleague that that answer should come immediately, and preferably in support of the Environment Court’s recommendation?

Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: Can I repeat for the member my answer to the primary question. I have written to the Environment Court seeking clarification of some issues, and once the court has responded to that request I hope to be in a position to make a decision.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: Does the Minister think it is fair that when a marina society wants to build a marina on the Whangamata waterfront it is subject to 14 years of resource management process, but when Trevor Mallard wants to build a 60,000 seat stadium on the Auckland waterfront, the Government will override all that law and have it done within a few months, and is this not a case of one rule for the average citizen and a different law for the Government?

Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: I am not about to enter into a debate about the member’s idle speculation.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. For the Minister to reply to a question—a quite legitimate question that is on the public’s mind, to the Minister in charge of the Resource Management Act, as to why there should be one set of rules for the Whangamata Marina but quite a different set of rules for a stadium—and for the Minister to say he just will not comment, I do not think meets the Standing Orders’ requirement for a Minister to address the question.

Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: Speaking to the point of order, the primary question was clearly about the responsibility that has been transferred to me in terms of this decision. It had nothing to do with my other separate responsibilities for the Resource Management Act.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: The Minister will note that question No. 5 is set down for the Minister for the Environment. The Minister for the Environment is responsible, by statute, for the administration of the Resource Management Act. For him to now argue that he will only answer this question in respect of the very narrow responsibilities delegated to him around the Whangamata Marina is quite out of order, and he should have to address the question.

Hon Dr Michael Cullen: Unfortunately, the problem the member has in this regard is that this question can only be addressed to the Minister for the Environment because he has been delegated this particular decision, and, therefore, the question is solely about that particular decision.

Madam SPEAKER: I thank the members. The question is rather narrowly expressed. However, I believe that the Minister addressed the question. Obviously it was not in a way that was satisfactory to the member, but he did address it and others will deter whether it was adequate.

R Doug Woolerton: Does the Minister believe that there will be compensation due to the Whangamata Marina Society and what figure would he guess that would be?

Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: I have no responsibility for any such opinion or decision.

Stadium—National Party Support

6. RODNEY HIDE (Leader—ACT) to the Minister for the Rugby World Cup: Is a decision by the Government to proceed with a stadium on Auckland’s waterfront dependent upon the National Party committing to support the necessary special legislation; if so, why?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Acting Minister for the Rugby World Cup): No, any legislation to empower the construction of any stadium will require 61 votes, which may or may not include the 48 votes of the National Party.

Rodney Hide: Has the Government had a commitment from United Future and New Zealand First to support the special legislation that is needed to ensure the waterfront stadium; if not, why not?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: The Government is involved in a process. We are awaiting an Auckland decision. The nature of that decision may well have a serious impact on the nature of any support that is given and therefore the potential to pass any legislation. I note—

Hon Dr Nick Smith: He doesn’t know.

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I do not know what the outcome will be. I note that the special legislation required—possibly—to ensure the Eden Park option can proceed is already supported by the National Party.

Rodney Hide: Is the Minister aware that the Eden Park Trust Board believes that it does not need special legislation; and is the Government putting a gun to the head of Auckland and telling it to decide this week when, in fact, the Government cannot ensure the numbers, and should Auckland decide in favour of a waterfront stadium or against, this Government cannot get the necessary legislation through?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: If the Eden Park option is adopted then clearly there will need to be further examination of the process around that. The risk, of course, is that if the process proceeds on Eden Park without legislation and then some problem occurs—for example, protracted legal process of a sort that we have just been referred to—Eden Park will not be able to be extended and we face a major difficulty.

Keith Locke: Why is the Government using up the goodwill of New Zealanders towards funding projects in Auckland by throwing so much money at a billion dollar waterfront stadium when clearly the greatest need in Auckland is for more money—hundreds of millions more dollars—to be spent on transport, particularly public transport?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: The Government is spending billions more on transport in Auckland, including public transport, not a mere hundreds of millions. If the Green Party might like to make that an offer, I am almost inclined to accept it and look at what else we could then spend the rest of the money on.

Immigration Service—Communication with Associate Minister

7. Dr the Hon LOCKWOOD SMITH (National—Rodney) to the Minister of Immigration: Does he stand by his statement to the House yesterday that “I can confirm that Mr Tavita, the group manager of service international, attempted to communicate with the previous Associate Minister’s office.”; if so, what did the group manager of service international attempt to communicate to Mr O’Connor’s office?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE (Minister of Immigration): Yes, because that is the information I received.

Dr the Hon Lockwood Smith: How credible is it that after the former Minister of Immigration, the Hon Paul Swain, agreed that the group manager for service international, Mr Tavita, should pass on to previous Associate Minister Damien O’Connor the concerns held at the highest levels of the New Zealand Immigration Service about the number of submissions by Taito Phillip Field that Mr O’Connor was approving, Mr O’Connor’s experienced private secretary for immigration, Nicola Scotland, would simply not pass on those concerns to Mr O’Connor?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: I am not aware that the former Minister had that conversation with the group manager of service international.

Dr the Hon Lockwood Smith: How credible is it that after an off-the-record and unverified phone call from compliance officer Murray Gardiner, Ms Scotland would immediately rush into Mr O’Connor’s office to tell him of Mr Field’s involvement with Thai nationals in Samoa, but would not pass on to Mr O’Connor information contained in a logged phone call from the group manager of service international, Mr Tavita, on 9 June 2005—information that Nicola Scotland knew was highly relevant to a decision she knew was in front of the previous Associate Minister, Damien O’Connor at that time?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: With respect to the member, may I simply restate that there is nothing new in his question. These matters were fully investigated in the Ingram inquiry, and the Ingram inquiry concluded as to what was the most likely chain of events. If I may, I will add that naming individual public servants who are unable to defend themselves hardly does a member of Parliament credit.

Dr the Hon Lockwood Smith: How credible is it to claim that Mr O’Connor’s private secretary would not pass on to him two separate major concerns from one of the highest levels of the New Zealand Immigration Service, the group manager of service international, the first about Mr O’Connor’s decision-making in response to submissions from Taito Phillip Field, when the former Minister of Immigration had agreed such concerns should be raised, and the second about Thai tiler Sunan Siriwan working on Mr Field’s house in Samoa while Damien O’Connor was actively considering Mr Field’s submission on Mr Sunan Siriwan’s behalf; why should that claim—failure to pass those two separate lots of information on—not be seen to be anything other than an organised cover-up?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: I respectfully reject the presumption of the question. According to the advice that I have received, there was no question as to the previous Associate Minister’s decision-making.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Do the Minister and his department support the dual process that is happening in respect of this matter—namely, the public inquiry being conducted by the police, and the private inquiry being conducted in this House every day by Lockwood Smith?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: I thank the member for his question, but I think that the questions from the member opposite hardly constitute an inquiry.

Dr the Hon Lockwood Smith: Did deputy secretary Mary Anne Thompson and the group manager of service international, Mr Kerupi Tavita, raise concerns about the number and nature of immigration submissions by Taito Phillip Field that Damien O’Connor was approving because their concerns mirrored those of whistleblower Keith Williams, who has reported that Taito Phillip Field boasted: “The Minister and I have got an arrangement between us. I do things, he does things, I’ve got an arrangement with him.”?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: I note that the Ingram inquiry found Mr Williams to be entirely without credibility.

Dr the Hon Lockwood Smith: How does it help to disprove allegations of an arrangement between Taito Phillip Field and the previous Associate Minister of Immigration, Damien O’Connor, when Mr O’Connor approved 60 percent of the representations made to him by Taito Phillip Field, while his successor, the Hon Clayton Cosgrove, has approved just 16 percent of the representations made to him by Mr Field?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: I am no more at liberty to second-guess the legitimate decisions of former Ministers, properly made in accordance with the law and the information put before them, than I am to assess that member’s work for his old boss, the Hon Tuariki Delamere.

Digital Content—Government Initiatives

8. LYNNE PILLAY (Labour—Waitakere) to the Minister for Information Technology: What reports has he received on Government initiatives to increase access to high-quality New Zealand digital content?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE (Minister for Information Technology): The Hon Judith Tizard, the Minister responsible for the National Library, and I launched the Draft New Zealand Digital Content Strategy last week. The digital content strategy is a 5-year plan that aims to help bring New Zealanders online. Creating Kiwi content is important to ensure that our unique heritage and national identity are strong, visible, and available in cyberspace, thereby creating an innovative and creative knowledge-based economy.

Lynne Pillay: Why is this digital content strategy important to the future of New Zealand?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: Digital content is important because it can foster new product development and knowledge that will contribute to economic transformation. It has the potential to be a major area of skilled employment and export-led growth over the coming decade.

Sue Kedgley: What is the point of investing in smart new high-resolution, high-tech, and high-quality digital television, if all we have to watch on it is the same old diet of mostly low-quality foreign programmes and reruns; and will he therefore urge the Minister of Broadcasting to seek much more funding for New Zealand programming, to ensure that all this investment in digital technology is actually worthwhile?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: The question would be better put to the Minister of Broadcasting. But my own view is that he has done very well already for Television New Zealand.

Fraud—Zero Tolerance

9. JUDITH COLLINS (National—Clevedon) to the Minister for Social Development and Employment: Does he stand by his statement that his ministry has a zero tolerance policy for fraud?

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

Judith Collins: Why would he have confidence in his officials’ ability to implement a zero tolerance policy for fraud, when 3 years ago they first noticed a discrepancy in the benefit being paid to Wayne Patterson, who went on to defraud the taxpayer of $3.4 million; and can he confirm that it was a bank worker, not his officials, who eventually raised the alarm?

Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: I would point out to the member that that case has not gone to trial.

Judith Collins: It has so!

Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: Sentencing has not been—[Interruption] Unlike that member, I am not about to risk compromising a successful prosecution and recovery by making any comments about the matter.

Judith Collins: Can the Minister confirm that, although his ministry first noticed a discrepancy with Patterson’s benefit soon after he started offending 3 years ago, were it not for the conscientiousness of a bank worker, Patterson would still be collecting $27,000 a week from New Zealand taxpayers—a crime for which he has been convicted?

Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: I repeat for the member that I will not risk prejudicing good recovery by talking about the details of any case currently before the court.

Madam SPEAKER: I just remind members of Standing Order 112, which covers the period right up to sentencing.

Judith Collins: Does the Minister have confidence in the Ministry of Social Development’s fraud detection, when Wayne Patterson’s $3.4 million scam was discovered only because of a conscientious banker, when prisoners have been ripping off StudyLink, when $35 million has been defrauded or overpaid in the last year alone, and when a study to determine the extent of benefit fraud has been declined by his ministry; just how many frauds will it take for him to consider that his zero tolerance policy for fraud is simply nothing more than spin?

Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: It might help the member if I elaborated on the meaning of zero tolerance. I would have thought most people would understand it, but I will attempt to make it clearer for her. Zero tolerance means that the ministry is clear that benefit fraud is a crime and is unacceptable in every circumstance. That means that the ministry investigates every instance or allegation of fraud, pursues recovery of all money that has been overpaid, and prosecutes in accordance with the Solicitor-General’s guidelines.

Judith Collins: Why has his ministry blocked a proposal made by its general manager of benefit integrity services for a study to reliably determine the extent of benefit fraud?

Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: It is clearly an operational decision that I would neither know about nor have any interest in, but I will say that I am completely satisfied that the ministry has made appropriate decisions with regard to the management of fraud. Indeed, I know from questions asked in this House last week that the member is aware that benefit fraud has dropped by around 11 percent in the last year.

Judith Collins: If it was not considered necessary for the Minister’s ministry to conduct a study to reliably determine the extent of benefit fraud in this country, then why did his general manager of benefit integrity services call for such a study; if the Minister does not know the answer, why does he not know it?

Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: I have just answered that question.

Judith Collins: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I do not believe that the Minister made even the slightest attempt to address that question. Could you ask him to elaborate?

Madam SPEAKER: The Minister addressed it by reference to a previous answer, but if the Minister wishes to elaborate, of course he is free to do so. But he does not.

Climate Change—New Zealand Policy Leadership

10. Hon MARIAN HOBBS (Labour—Wellington Central) to the Minister responsible for Climate Change Issues: What role has New Zealand played in recent international developments in climate change policy?

Hon DAVID PARKER (Minister responsible for Climate Change Issues): In addition to the Prime Minister’s leadership at APEC, New Zealand officials played key roles in Nairobi processes under the Kyoto Protocol. We co-chaired the programme on international cooperation of adaptation, which is of particular relevance to low-lying Pacific States. Perhaps more important, we were also active in negotiations of future commitments by annex 1 countries. New principles were agreed to be applied in deliberations on future emission reduction commitments post-2012. These principles, I would suggest to the House, are of fundamental importance to New Zealand. They mandate analysis of mitigation potentials and technologies available to countries like New Zealand, taking into account both sectoral dimensions and the means available to reach emissions targets. This is of importance to New Zealand’s unusual emissions profile; a substantial proportion of which is methane emissions from ruminant digestion for which there is currently no mitigation technology.

Madam SPEAKER: That was a very long answer.

Hon Marian Hobbs: What other steps were taken by New Zealand on the subject of agricultural emissions?

Hon DAVID PARKER: New Zealand is also at the forefront of research on the reduction of agricultural emissions, which will both improve farm productivity and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry and Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade officials held a very well-attended presentation on agricultural greenhouse gas emissions. This caused strong interest from both developed and developing countries interested in the coordination internationally and the co-funding of research on agricultural emissions. I pursued this in subsequent—

Madam SPEAKER: Would the Minister please wind up his answer.

Hon DAVID PARKER:—bilateral meetings, and those countries especially interested include Ireland, the UK, Argentina, and Brazil.

Madam SPEAKER: Thank you.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: Why did the Minister tell the climate change conference in Nairobi that the answer to climate change was greater cooperation, when he has refused point-blank any cooperation on policy in New Zealand by failing even to reply to a letter sent from National last December suggesting a cooperative approach, by locking National out of any discussions on a policy way forward, and by—unlike previous National and Labour Ministers—excluding any Opposition representation on New Zealand delegations that have been involved in discussions about climate change beyond 2012?

Madam SPEAKER: Before I call the Minister I will just remind members that although answers are meant to be of a reasonable length, so are questions.

Hon DAVID PARKER: For the last 7 years every positive move on climate change has been opposed by National. I have to admit there was an about-face 2 weeks ago in respect of the Permanent Forest Sink Initiative. Secondly, I would note that I went to considerable effort to invite every member of Parliament, from every party, to the free showings in both Wellington and Auckland of An Inconvenient Truth before it was on general release. Every major party was represented except National, which did not even bother to show up.

Hon Marian Hobbs: Has the Minister received any reports on alternative approaches to international engagement?

Hon DAVID PARKER: I have received a report stating that France is considering punitive taxes on imports from non-Kyoto Protocol countries. The European Union is also considering punitive measures. Both reports have caused considerable alarm in Australia. I have also received a report advocating that New Zealand consider withdrawing from the Kyoto Protocol. That report does not even mention important trading partners or the implications for trade with the European Union, Japan, the UK, etc.—all Kyoto members. The second report comes from the National Party, which does not even consider the implications for trade.

Peter Brown: If the Government is prepared to take a lead on climate change—as the Minister has just indicated—what is the Government’s attitude to China, which is Kyoto exempt until 2012 and is bringing on stream a new, large, coal-fired power station just about every week?

Hon DAVID PARKER: China is not exempt from Kyoto. It is not subject to mandatory annex 1 emissions reduction commitments during the first commitment period, but that is not to say that it is not making considerable efforts to reduce its emissions. It has to do more, but a report that was released at the Nairobi conference, by one of the thinktanks in the United States, showed that the emissions reductions below business as usual in China and India are greater than those that have been planned in the United States.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. Noting that the Minister has said that he has excluded National members from involvement in international climate change conferences because we had not seen Al Gore’s movie, An Inconvenient Truth—

Madam SPEAKER: The Minister did not actually say that. Would the member please come to the point of order.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: Well, that was what he insinuated, Madam Speaker.

Madam SPEAKER: That is the member’s interpretation, which is fine, but would you please come to the point of order.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. When does it become a point where the Speaker now becomes a commentator on the political—

Madam SPEAKER: Please be seated, Dr Smith. Points of order are to be made succinctly, not with great prefaces of comments and statements. That was my intervention. Will you please make your point of order without the editorialising.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: I seek leave to table the agenda of National’s blue-green conference at which the movie An Inconvenient Truth, was shown—6 weeks prior to the letter from David Parker inviting National members to see it.

Leave granted.

Hon DAVID PARKER: I seek leave to table two documents. The first is an article from the Reuters correspondent in Paris dated 14 November, entitled “French Prime Minister today proposed introducing punitive taxes on imports from Australia and other countries that refuse to sign the Kyoto Protocol”.

Madam SPEAKER: I shall remind members that points of order are heard in silence. If members wish to remain for the rest of question time today, please respect that. Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection? There is.

Hon DAVID PARKER: I seek leave to table a document, downloaded from the National Party website yesterday, advocating that New Zealand consider withdrawing from the Kyoto Protocol.

Leave granted.

Te Puni Kōkiri—Confidence

11. GERRY BROWNLEE (Deputy Leader—National) to the Minister of Māori Affairs: Does he have confidence in his ministry; if so, why?

Hon PAREKURA HOROMIA (Minister of Māori Affairs): Yes; it is a hard-working and a conscientious ministry.

Gerry Brownlee: When Te Puni Kōkiri expanded its staffing levels by 18 percent between 2002 and 2005, why did his ministry also feel the need to increase the numbers of contractors on the books, and consultants, by some 67 percent?

Hon PAREKURA HOROMIA: As that member would know if he were experienced enough, one has to get specialist help in any restructuring. My ministry has advised me that the expenditure on contracting and consulting has decreased dramatically.

Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. Expenditure on consultants has not decreased dramatically; it has increased by 67 percent. The question for the Minister asked why. He did not address that. He cannot address the question, surely, by saying that the facts we have had to provide to the Clerk’s Office are wrong?

Madam SPEAKER: As I heard the Minister’s answer, he did address that the increase had in fact come from a restructuring. There were two parts to the question. He only ever has to answer one.

Dave Hereora: What does the Minister see as the key strength of his ministry?

Hon PAREKURA HOROMIA: The Minister! Alongside their Minister, certainly it is the ministry’s 10 regional offices and the face-to-face connection and experience they have gleaned over years, even when working under Tau Henare, and the connection with iwi, hapū, whānau, and other Māori communities.

Gerry Brownlee: Why does the Minister name himself as being the key strength of this ministry, when, in response to written questions 7657, 7658, 7659, 7660, 7663, 7664, and 7665, he responded that the Minister of Māori Affairs has no responsibility for what Te Puni Kōkiri does?

Hon PAREKURA HOROMIA: That is true in the sense of directing the operational matters—[Interruption]

Madam SPEAKER: Please be seated. Members are going to leave this Chamber, because other members cannot hear the answers. Members are on their last warning—and it is the back row, again.

Hon PAREKURA HOROMIA: Operational matters are the responsibility of the chief executive. But this Minister certainly travels enough to have a look around the country. He does a lot more travelling than Tau Henare ever did in his reign.

Dr Pita Sharples: Tēnā koe, Madam Speaker. What support can Te Puni Kōkiri and the Minister give in having land no longer required for educational purposes returned to the original owners, or their descendants, such as the Whakaangiangi School on the East Coast; and would he not agree that this is an opportunity for the potential of Māori to be realised, as per Te Puni Kōkiri policy?

Hon PAREKURA HOROMIA: Just about 10 days ago I was at Whakaangiangi School as the Associate Minister of Education, after I had been all around the country. There is a land banking process in relation to support for the Treaty settlements, and, sadly, I join with the member from the Māori Party in this. We are ensuring that we cover those matters as quickly as we can.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: In the interests of comparison, I seek to table the evidence that in 1991—

Madam SPEAKER: Who is intervening? We have to get some order into this House, please. Who was intervening on that tabling?

Hon Tau Henare: I was.

Madam SPEAKER: Thank you, and so was the Minister. The Minister can remain until he has answered the question.

Hon Tau Henare withdrew from the Chamber.

Phil Heatley: Aw!

Madam SPEAKER: Who said “Aw!”? Phil Heatley—out!

Phil Heatley withdrew from the Chamber.

Hon Winston Peters: I seek to table the evidence that in 1991 the Māori Affairs budget was $239 million, and by the end of National’s reign with Tau Henare it was $39 million.

Leave granted.

Gerry Brownlee: Was he responsible for contract 7107, which reads: “To develop and provide an issues management system that will progressively deliver information and systems management functionality to Te Puni Kōkiri specific to the relationships in information whaihanga.”; if so, what does that mean?

Hon PAREKURA HOROMIA: One can always understand snide chuckles. But, no, it is an operational matter. Can I tell that member, and those sniggering over there, about what they have been up to. They started off with the Ōrewa Brash attack. They did that, then they moved on to discuss the delineation of Māori blood, then they went and had tea with my friends from the Māori Party to see whether they could curry up with some real Māoris, and now they continue with their cultural sniggering, which is utter rubbish in this great country.

Gerry Brownlee: Was the Minister involved in the description of another contract, which reads: “To contribute to the relationships and information project phase 2 by providing advice and cooperation development and implementation of sub-deliverables contained in phase 2 project plan to manage the SHAZ, to ensure certainty of service delivery during the change interpretation to SHAZ and its transition period, to establish professional relationships with all sectors of SHAZ and HINZ, to develop succession plans, documentation to Te Puni Kōkiri’s role in SHAZ and HINZ, to carry out such reviews of SHAZ and HINZ as may be necessary.”; if so, what the hell are “SHAZ” and “HINZ”?

Hon PAREKURA HOROMIA: That shows that the member does not understand the housing portfolio, and he is trying to make fun of a lot of effort put in by people. I want to know why he left the financial review this morning after 12 minutes. He did not bother even to stick around.

Gerry Brownlee: I left the financial review after 12 minutes this morning, because Te Puni Kōkiri had a script written by that Minister, and I did not understand a word its representatives were saying.

Madam SPEAKER: That is not a point of order.

Hon Dr Michael Cullen: In the light of the fact that the Opposition spokesperson on Māori affairs does not know what special housing action zones are, would the Minister like to organise a briefing for him, to try to rectify his ignorance on these key matters?

Hon PAREKURA HOROMIA: As long as he stays longer than 12 minutes, I will give him all the information he needs.

Gerry Brownlee: Would the Minister agree that in these nine pages of very tight type, where literally millions of dollars are dished out by Te Puni Kōkiri on contracts that appear to have very little to do with advancing the cause of Māori, there is a problem; and is that part of the reason why Māori lag so far behind the rest of the community on income statistics?

Hon PAREKURA HOROMIA: A lot of money is spent on Māori—understandably. I remind that member that when he was last in this House in Government, 41,500 Māori were on the unemployment benefit. That number is down to just under 14,000 at the moment. The average hourly earning rate—

Judith Collins: What about poverty levels?

Hon PAREKURA HOROMIA: The member should get her facts right. The average hourly earning rate for Māori has increased from $13.11 in his time, to just under $19 now. What is that about?

Gerry Brownlee: Does the Minister stand by his own statement to this House that Māori income, compared with non-Māori income, sees Māori households being around $9,000 a year worse off than non-Māori households; if so, what is he doing to demand better performance out of the Ministry of Māori Development?

Hon PAREKURA HOROMIA: The Ministry of Māori Development, along with other mainstream ministries, has put a lot of effort in. It is right that those households are lagging behind. But a fair bit of that comes out of the decrepit policies left by that member and his Government in their time. I can tell members that it was through their influence, and I will brief that member on information on that, because a hell of a lot of outcomes like this have come out: 50,000 more Māori are in jobs right now, 92 percent of all Māori who want to work are working, 86 percent of Māori children between the ages of 1 and 5 are in early childhood education, 10,000 more Māori are in highly skilled apprenticeships, and almost another 10,000 are adding, 18 months at a time, to skilled occupations. [Interruption] It is a lot more than you ever did, so put that in your pipe, big boy, and smoke it!

Hon Parekura Horomia withdrew from the Chamber.

Smoking—Marketing of Light or Mild Cigarettes

12. METIRIA TUREI (Green) to the Associate Minister of Health: Does he agree with the Smokefree Coalition that the descriptors “light” or “mild” for cigarettes are “deliberately designed to give the false impression that light or mild brands are less injurious to health than so-called regular brands when evidence has clearly established that this is not the case”; if so, does he have the power to ban the use of this kind of marketing?

Hon PETE HODGSON (Minister of Health) on behalf of the Associate Minister of Health: Yes; and yes. I agree that such terms may be interpreted by consumers as meaning they are smoking a less harmful product. Parliament does have the ability to pass legislation to ban the use of such terms. However, the Commerce Commission is currently reviewing potentially misleading terms on tobacco products, and I support this review. It is appropriate to await the outcome of the commission’s review, and I note that this is how the issue was dealt with recently in Australia.

Metiria Turei: Will the Government consider requiring that all tobacco displays in shops are put out of sight, so that children, for example, do not associate cigarettes with the lollies they see around them, and requiring all tobacco packaging to be generic—practices that would go some way towards curbing the kind of deceptive and dangerous marketing currently going on in New Zealand shops?

Hon PETE HODGSON: Yes, issues of that ilk will be considered.

Hone Harawira: Kia ora, Madam Speaker. Kia ora tātou. What actions will the Minister be taking, following the World Health Organization’s indigenous forum on tobacco control, held in Auckland last week, in which a consistent theme was that the severe lack of resources allocated to Māori tobacco control groups such as Te Reo Marama, Te Hotu Manawa Māori, and Aukati Kai Paipa was injurious to indigenous health; and does he not agree that the fact that 44 percent of Māori are still smoking is an issue that requires significant investment, for the betterment of the health of the nation?

Hon PETE HODGSON: As Minister of Health, I have advised the Associate Minister of Health that it is probably the case that there has been some underfunding of cessation programmes, and that further tobacco control funding might be expected in the May 2007 Budget.

Metiria Turei: Does the Minister agree that very few smokers make brand choices while in the shop—that is, that the brand a smoker starts smoking will be the brand that that smoker dies smoking; therefore, the only reason tobacco companies want to have their products on display in shops is as a marketing tool to attract, particularly, new and very young users to be hooked on tobacco?

Hon PETE HODGSON: The Associate Minister of Health has been advised that the sentiments behind the member’s question are, for the most part, accurate.

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

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