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Questions And Answers - Thursday, 23 November 2006

Questions And Answers - Thursday, 23 November 2006

Questions to Ministers

Tonga—New Zealand Defence Force

1. Hon MARK GOSCHE (Labour—Maungakiekie) to the Minister of Defence: What role is the New Zealand Defence Force playing in Tonga?

Hon PHIL GOFF (Minister of Defence): The New Zealand Defence Force was sent to Tonga, at the request of the Tongan Government, to enable commercial aircraft to resume flights to Tonga, and to facilitate a return to calm in the capital, Nuku’alofa. The role of the New Zealand Defence Force, in conjunction with the New Zealand Police, is to support the rule of law and to restore an environment for the peaceful pursuit of democracy in Tonga.

Hon Mark Gosche: How long does the Minister anticipate the New Zealand Defence Force will need to stay in Tonga?

Hon PHIL GOFF: That we are there at all is a reflection of the level of shock and dismay of Tongan people at the massive damage to Nuku’alofa, and the loss of six lives on 16 November. Since then the situation has been relatively calm. The king’s speech to Parliament today was positive. In his speech he encouraged rebuilding and reconciliation, and invited Parliament to develop and put to him proposals for reform, and a timetable for that reform. In these circumstances—and if the peaceful situation continues—the New Zealand Defence Force should be able to be withdrawn relatively soon.

Hon Mark Gosche: Will the effect of the New Zealand Defence Force and New Zealand Police presence in Tonga be to entrench the current system?

Hon PHIL GOFF: No. The purpose for our being there was to stop further loss of life and property, and to help create an environment where reform and reconciliation could be progressed. It is, of course, for the Tongan people, and not New Zealand, to determine their political future and the way forward. However, New Zealand has consistently expressed support for Tonga’s transition to a democratic and an accountable system of governance, and, on request, as the Minister of Foreign Affairs has pointed out, we have provided and will continue to provide further assistance to Tonga in order to help that transition to democracy.

Jeanette Fitzsimons: Can the Minister categorically assure the House that New Zealand troops will not be involved in any policing activity that could send a message, inadvertently or not, that we are there to protect the Tongan Government from the demands of its own people for democracy?

Hon PHIL GOFF: As I have just said, we are certainly not there to entrench the current status quo; we are there to protect lives and property. I note, for example, the Tongan Advisory Council yesterday put out a press statement in which it stated it unanimously supported the presence of New Zealand forces. But the democratic process will not assisted by massive damage and loss of life. It will be assisted by an environment in which the authorities are encouraged to implement the recommendations of the national committee that was set up. That committee was supported by the New Zealand Government, and it will continue to be supported by the New Zealand Government. There are no grounds for saying that New Zealand is there other than in the capacity of being a neighbour and a good friend and of creating the environment for progress.

Laboratory Workers' Strike—Hospital Services

2. Hon TONY RYALL (National—Bay of Plenty) to the Minister of Health: What reports, if any, has he received on the possible impact of the proposed week-long laboratory workers’ strike on hospital services?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Leader of the House) on behalf of the Minister of Health: I have received reports that the impact is expected to be—[Interruption] Well, I have killed one off today already! On behalf of the Minister of Health, I have received reports that the impact is expected to be significant but that contingency planning by district health boards is well advanced.

Hon Tony Ryall: Can the Minister confirm that public hospitals are now in high-level contingency planning over the laboratory workers’ strike, and that this strike will effectively shut down all elective surgery in every public hospital throughout New Zealand, and most elective surgery in private hospitals; and what action will he take to prevent what is becoming the worst industrial action in the health sector for some years?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: It is certainly true to say that a great deal of elective surgery will need to be delayed, but not necessarily all elective surgery. That will depend in part on blood and blood products requirements, and they may well take that position out of necessity. Of course, the member offers no solution. If the solution is simply to pay the union what it demands, then that is an interesting proposition; it is not the Government’s position on industrial matters.

Maryan Street: What progress has been made in ensuring the provision of life-preserving services during the strike?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I am advised life-preserving service provision has already been agreed and that this agreement was reached much earlier than in the three previous strikes this year. It in part perhaps reflects the fact that the same union negotiator and district health board contingency planners are involved.

Sue Kedgley: Does the Minister support the right of health workers, including laboratory workers, to strike; if not, why not?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Yes, but clearly we hope that that right will be exercised with a great deal of thought, given the impacts upon large numbers of people.

Hon Tony Ryall: When any activity involving a laboratory test or the New Zealand Blood Service will be badly affected by the strike, what action will the Minister take to prevent the cancellation of over 2,000 elective procedures over a week-long strike as hospitals prepare to contact unlucky patients over the next few days?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: As I have just said, life-preserving services will be provided; therefore, there is not an issue in that respect. There will be delays in elective surgery. That cannot be resolved immediately unless the district health boards simply concede to the claims of the union.

Hon Tony Ryall: Has the Minister actually worked out that we have had never-ending industrial action this year, meaning that thousands upon thousands of New Zealanders have been denied vital elective surgery; and is it not time that the Minister worked out that the consistent factor in this is a Minister of Health with an industrial relations policy that is divisive and is costing patients operations?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: On the last point, I do not have a clue about what the member is trying to say. If he is trying to say that the Government should give in to the union, whatever its demands are, that is an interesting position for the new National Party leader to take over from Monday next week. If he is trying to say that instead of that, workers should be denied the right to strike, then let us hear that very clearly from the National Party, as well.

Hon Tony Ryall: How many elective procedures will be cancelled before this Government acts?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I think the member has already given a number, which I have no reason to dispute at this point. He should also note, however, that the junior doctors’ settlement occurred last week. At the point when that occurred, the National Party again was calling either for direct intervention or for the Government to concede all the claims.

Dr Jonathan Coleman: Is it not time that the Minister admitted that despite all the hype that he would deliver more elective surgery, it is his inability to resolve industrial disputes that will mean that for the sixth year in a row this Government will deliver less elective surgery than in 2000, despite an extra $4 billion per year going into health?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: As usual, the member knowingly ignores the number of outpatient operations that occur, which significantly affects the totals.

Hon Tony Ryall: Can the Minister tell the House how many thousands of outpatient visits will be disrupted, since he was so happy to tell Parliament about the increased number of outpatient visits, which will be severely curtailed by 1 week of industrial action?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I do not have in front of me the information to answer that question. I say to the member that he should front up. Is his solution either to ban strikes or to concede to whatever any striking workers ask for?

Childcare Centres—Funding

3. Dr PITA SHARPLES (Co-Leader—Māori Party) to the Minister of Education: What is the Government doing to address disparities in the numbers of childcare centres accessing the highest rate of funding, illustrated by the fact that 85 percent of Christchurch City centres are on the highest funding rates, whereas in Auckland City just 16 percent of centres are accessing the highest rates?

Hon PAREKURA HOROMIA (Acting Minister of Education): The funding rates for early childhood services are designed to reflect actual costs. Centres that employ more qualified teachers receive higher funding rates because they have higher costs.

Dr Pita Sharples: Does the Minister recall his statement on 28 April 2006: “The 20 hour free policy will help to put quality early childhood education within the reach of all New Zealand families.”; if so, how will he explain to those New Zealand families who want quality early childhood education at kōhanga reo why no kōhanga reo appear on the current list of approved early childhood education centres that will benefit from the new 20 hours free campaign?

Hon PAREKURA HOROMIA: Cabinet has agreed that 20 hours free will be available to kōhanga reo that use qualified kaiako. But we also recognise that at this stage many kōhanga reo do not fit the current definition of a teacher-led service. We are working very closely with Te Kōhanga Reo National Trust and the New Zealand Educational Institute, and the ministry, along with the trust, is confident that we will get to a better place.

Hon Tau Henare: Why are only some of the kōhanga reo eligible for the 20 hours free when the whole movement of kōhanga reo—500 or so—is actually whānau-led, which means they will not be eligible for the 20 hours free, and has the Government now changed its policy on recognising whānau-led or parent-led early childhood centres for the 20 hours free?

Hon PAREKURA HOROMIA: Kōhanga reo have, like all early childhood centres, received substantial adjustments to keep pace with increased cost. They are also eligible for higher funding rates where they employ qualified teachers. A lot of work is going on at the moment in relation to the relevance of whakapakari and the utilisation of that.

Hon Tau Henare: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I asked specifically about kōhanga reo being whānau-led and the 20 hours free, not whether the rates in different early childhood centres were to be addressed. I asked why some kōhanga would be eligible for the 20 hours free, but not all of them.

Madam SPEAKER: I thought the Minister did address the question but if he has anything more to add, I am sure the member would like to hear it. No, he does not.

Moana Mackey: What is the Government doing to increase the number of qualified teachers available in the early childhood education sector?

Hon PAREKURA HOROMIA: The Government has invested nearly $500 million over the last 6 years to lift teacher quality. Initiatives to support teacher supply include 700 early childhood education TeachNZ scholarships, incentive grants to early childhood services, study grants and relocation grants, and free recognition of prior learning. Through these initiatives the Government is on target to meet its goal of 100 percent in 2012.

Dr Pita Sharples: Why have kōhanga reo been left off the list for the 20 hours, given that, for example, Hoani Waititi kōhanga reo has three trained, certified teachers in that kōhanga reo?

Hon PAREKURA HOROMIA: I am not too conversant in the exact facts about Hoani Waititi Marae, knowing that Dr Sharples has a lot of whānau there. But let me be clear again. Cabinet has agreed that 20 hours free will be available to kōhanga reo that use qualified kaiako.

Dr Pita Sharples: Does the Minister believe that the whānau whakapakari 3-year programme in professional development enables kōhanga reo to access the 20 hours free early childhood education entitlement; if not, why not?

Hon PAREKURA HOROMIA: As I said earlier on, there is work going on between the ministry, the board, and other interested organisations. We certainly wish to recognise the use and validity of whakapakari, and work in relation to putting it within the qualifications framework.

Dr Pita Sharples: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I particularly asked whether they will recognise whakapakari, since they have approved it as a 3-year course for training for early childhood. I specifically asked whether they recognise it, and I did not get an answer.

Madam SPEAKER: The Minister addressed the question but as members know, they cannot require a yes or no answer. But the matter was addressed.

Immigration Service—Communication to Associate Minister

4. Dr the Hon LOCKWOOD SMITH (National—Rodney) to the Minister of Immigration: What did the group manager of service international attempt to communicate to the previous Associate Minister’s office, when he confirmed to the House yesterday that “Mr Tavita, the group manager of service international, attempted to communicate with the previous Associate Minister’s office.”?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE (Minister of Immigration): I am advised that he recalls attempting to raise concerns of a general nature unrelated to any particular case.

Dr the Hon Lockwood Smith: Why did the Minister tell the House yesterday: “There was no question as to the previous Associate Minister’s decision-making.”, when the Department of Labour’s workforce deputy secretary, Ms Mary Anne Thompson, stated publicly on Thursday last week that the officials’ concerns were over the number of failed asylum-seekers who were getting those decisions reversed by Mr O’Connor, following representations from Mr Field?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: The member would do well to quote officials accurately. The concerns related to advocacy, not decision making.

Dr the Hon Lockwood Smith: What did the previous Minister of Immigration, the Hon Paul Swain, do himself with the information he possessed after being briefed by Mary Anne Thompson about the number of applications by failed asylum-seekers Damien O’Connor was approving, following representations from Taito Phillip Field?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: As we have already repeatedly explained to the member, his action was to ask the deputy secretary to pass on that information to the previous Associate Minister. She attempted to do via the group manager, service international. It is quite clear that the message did not get through.

Dr the Hon Lockwood Smith: As this Minister confirmed to the House on 20 July this year that the Minister of Immigration is accountable for decisions made when ministerial discretion is being exercised, why did the previous Minister, Paul Swain, fail to speak to his previous Associate Minister Damien O’Connor about the concerns raised with him by Ms Mary Anne Thompson—concerns that senior officials had about the number of cases involving failed refugee claimants who were being approved by Damien O’Connor, following representations from Taito Phillip Field?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: I am afraid that there is no State secret waiting to be unearthed here. Notification processes were oral and did not reach their destination.

Dr the Hon Lockwood Smith: Is it correct that the Minister told this House on 24 August this year that “the Minister’s private secretary was informed but did not pass that information on to the Minister”—that information being the fact that Mr Siriwan was working on Taito Phillip Field’s house in Samoa—and that he told the House on Tuesday this week that “the Associate Minister’s private secretary has no recollection of that attempt to communicate”, that attempt being the advice from senior officials of serious concerns about Mr O’Connor’s decisions in response to representations by Taito Phillip Field; if so, why does the Minister keep blaming Damien O’Connor’s former immigration secretary, when everyone knows she would have passed that information on to Mr O’Connor?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: It would appear in the first instance that the member has confused two different events, and in the second instance, has forgotten that it was he, not I, who identified an individual official in yesterday’s questions.

Dr the Hon Lockwood Smith: When the Minister said in this House yesterday that “naming individual public servants who are unable to defend themselves hardly does a member of Parliament credit”, what kind of credit does it do him, the previous Minister of Immigration, Paul Swain, and previous Associate Minister Damien O’Connor to keep claiming that the respected and highly competent immigration secretary to Damien O’Connor, Nicola Scotland, failed to pass on to the Minister on two separate occasions two crucial pieces of advice from the group manager, service international—one of the most senior officials of the New Zealand Immigration Service—when members of this House who have worked with Miss Scotland know she would have passed that information on?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: In the first place, I can only recount the facts as I am advised that they are. In the second place, the member would be better advised to be attuned to the reshuffling of the deckchairs on his own Titanic.

HIV/AIDS—Antenatal Testing

5. BARBARA STEWART (NZ First) to the Minister of Health: Has he been informed that antenatal HIV testing, now available to pregnant women in the Waikato, has already resulted in the discovery of one pregnant woman with HIV who is now undergoing treatment that will prevent her baby being born with HIV, and what is his ministry doing to ensure that such testing is available to all pregnant women as soon as possible?

Hon MITA RIRINUI (Associate Minister of Health) on behalf of the Minister of Health: Yes, I have been informed that the value of the antenatal HIV screening has already been demonstrated in the Waikato. All 21 district health boards are expected to have the screening programme in place by June 2008, although a great deal of work is required to make this happen.

Barbara Stewart: Is it correct that information on the HIV screening programme has been sent to every district health board, but that the boards have not been directed to start offering the tests; if so, why is such testing not considered a national priority?

Hon MITA RIRINUI: The member is correct; all district health boards were contacted in January about implementation of the screening programme. Although I understand the desire to have the programme implemented as soon as possible, recent experience in New Zealand and internationally has shown us that we need to be mindful of the requirements of a successful national screening programme, which are that it does not cause more harm than good.

Sue Moroney: What provisions are in place so that women who are at a high risk for HIV can be tested even before the screening programme is fully implemented?

Hon MITA RIRINUI: Any woman who believes she might be HIV positive, or whose general practitioner or midwife believes she might be HIV positive, can get free tests today. In fact, any New Zealander who feels that he or she might have been exposed to HIV can have access to testing today.

Dr Jackie Blue: Rather than creating a bureaucratic antenatal HIV screening programme, why does the Government not add the HIV blood test request alongside other routinely requested antenatal blood tests, such as for syphilis, the rationale and explanation of the tests being that they are part of the routine pregnancy consultation between the woman and her maternity provider—that is, part of best clinical practice?

Hon MITA RIRINUI: As with HIV screening, which can be accessed today by any woman who believes she might be HIV positive, a woman also has access to any other test she believes she might need to undergo.

Barbara Stewart: Is the Ministry of Health aware of a new HIV test that can produce a result in 20 minutes, and will it be encouraging the district health boards to make use of this test for antenatal HIV testing?

Hon MITA RIRINUI: Yes, I am aware that the New Zealand AIDS Foundation has started a pilot programme in Auckland with the 20-minute test, the first of its kind in Australasia. It hopes to expand the programme to Hamilton, Wellington, and Christchurch next year. This is a very exciting development that will be watched closely by district health boards and the Ministry of Health.

Corrections, Department—Confidence

6. SIMON POWER (National—Rangitikei) to the Minister of Corrections: Does he have confidence in his department; if so, why?

Hon MITA RIRINUI (Associate Minister of Corrections) on behalf of the Minister of Corrections: Yes, but there is always room for improvement.

Simon Power: Can the Minister confirm that the Chief Executive of the Department of Corrections, Barry Matthews, sent an email to all of his employees on 24 May this year, stating that the current review of the department’s head office “is not about cutting costs or reducing staff numbers”?

Hon MITA RIRINUI: I cannot confirm whether he sent an email of that nature, but I am sure that if he did, he had good reason to do so.

Simon Power: Can the Minister confirm that, in contrast to the email from the chief executive dated 24 May, an internal document for senior managers dated 12 May reveals that one of the project deliverables is to outline where savings can be made, including “where staff numbers can be reduced”; and how can the Minister have confidence in his officials when they are less than upfront with their employees?

Hon MITA RIRINUI: I cannot confirm whether the chief executive sent a letter or an email of that nature, at all. It is an operational matter. I am sure that if he did, he had good reason to do so. But I have to tell that member that in the last 2 years 1,221 new Department of Corrections staff have been employed.

Judy Turner: What possible justification can he give as to why his department fails to keep a record of the number of inmates with alcohol and drug addictions, when it is accepted that alcohol and drugs are a major cause of criminal activity and antisocial behaviour, and are widespread within New Zealand’s prison population?

Hon MITA RIRINUI: My understanding is that when inmates are convicted of a charge relating to alcohol or drugs, the probation service holds those records and they are supplied to the Department of Corrections.

Nandor Tanczos: Does the Minister accept the comment made by the Corrections Association president, Beven Hanlon, following a number of incidents of serious violence in the prison system—including the terrible murder of Liam Ashley—that managers have a vested interest in categorising incidents as minor or as “not requiring official notification”, because of incentive bonuses based on reducing incidents; if he does accept those comments, does this not, once again, highlight the need for an independent prison inspectorate that is capable of properly investigating what is really going on in our prisons?

Hon MITA RIRINUI: My advice is that the number of serious assaults has remained constant at about 30 per year, but there has been a steady rise in the number of minor assaults. The prison service acknowledges that, given the nature of the occupation, assaults and difficult situations will arise from time to time.

Simon Power: Can he confirm that in addition to staff being told they would not lose their jobs, the general manager also wrote to the Public Service Association (PSA) and the Corrections Association to tell them: “This review should not be regarded as a cost-cutting exercise.”; is this what the senior managers meant when they advocated a clear and transparent communications strategy to mitigate the risk of unsettling corrections staff?

Hon MITA RIRINUI: As I said earlier, the Department of Corrections in the last 2 years has employed 1,221 new corrections officers. That would fly in the face of what the member is saying in the House today.

Simon Power: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. My supplementary question did not address the number of employees or new recruits to the Department of Corrections. It specifically asked whether he was aware of a letter to the PSA and the Corrections Association. I understand the Standing Order, but that answer went nowhere near addressing the issue of correspondence.

Madam SPEAKER: As I understood the question it was about numbers, and the Minister addressed the question. Does the Minister wish to make any further comment?

Hon MITA RIRINUI: I answered that question earlier on when I said that, no, I was not aware of it.

Ron Mark: Why would there not be cuts in staffing at the head office of the Department of Corrections, when over the last 5 years we have seen bungles, incompetence, reduced morale, officers having sex with inmates, and the entry into prisons of drugs and cellphones with head office apparently having no ability to stop it; why would we not want to slash the 100 analysts currently on the staff of the head office of the Department of Corrections?

Hon MITA RIRINUI: The incidents that the member described were definitely happening in the Department of Corrections before 1999.

Heather Roy: How can he have confidence in his department when 62 personal grievance cases were raised with the department in the 2005-06 year—a much higher figure than for any other Government department—costing the taxpayer over $213,000 to settle out of court?

Hon MITA RIRINUI: I am not aware of the number of personal grievance cases within the Department of Corrections, but I am sure that any employee who feels the need to lodge a personal grievance has the opportunity to do so under the new employment legislation.

Simon Power: Can he confirm that despite the debacle surrounding the prison construction project, it will not be part of the review of head office, nor will other issues such as rehab programmes, contraband, or recruitment and retention problems; if so, what is his response to New Zealand First’s statement that the review would cover all those issues, given that those members claim that they convinced him to initiate the review in the first place?

Hon MITA RIRINUI: In answer to the first part of the member’s question, in relation to the increased costs in the building of some prisons, some of those matters are currently under a separate review.

Judy Turner: I seek leave to table the Minister’s answers to written questions Nos 12496, 12497, 12498, and 12499, which express that the Minister does not consider that collating a record of inmates with drug and alcohol addiction is a good use of his department’s time.

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

Heather Roy: I seek leave of the House to table an answer from the Department of Corrections to an Official Information Act request that shows that in the 2005-06 financial year 62 personal grievance cases were raised with the department, and they cost the taxpayer $213,000 to settle out of court.

Leave granted.

Solar Water Heating—Kyoto Protocol

7. JEANETTE FITZSIMONS (Co-Leader—Green) to the Minister responsible for Climate Change Issues: How will the Government - Green Party solar water heating programme contribute to meeting New Zealand’s obligations under the Kyoto Protocol?

Hon DAVID PARKER (Minister responsible for Climate Change Issues): I am advised that each solar water heating system installed on a house will prevent about 1.5 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions per year or about 30 tonnes over its 20-year life; thus, the 20,000 new systems expected to be installed will save about 30,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide per year or close to 600,000 tonnes over their lives.

Jeanette Fitzsimons: Can the Minister confirm that those 20,000 new solar water heaters are the equivalent in carbon savings to taking 7,000 vehicles off the road permanently?

Hon DAVID PARKER: Yes, I understand that to be the case. They are the equivalent of about 7,000 cars, which is a helpful contribution. On average, installing three new systems is equivalent in carbon dioxide savings to taking one car off the road permanently. I am also advised that we can expect that each residential household of 4 persons will save around $350 per year in energy costs.

Hon Marian Hobbs: What other recent initiatives besides today’s solar water heating will help New Zealand meet its Kyoto Protocol obligations?

Hon DAVID PARKER: The Permanent Forest Sink Initiative, which devolves Kyoto-complying carbon credits to forestry, is one such example. The Labour-led Government is the first Government in the world to do this. At the same time as creating incentives for Kyoto-friendly forest growth the Permanent Forest Sink Initiative provides business opportunities for landowners and also improves water quality.

Peter Brown: How many of the 20,000 solar water panels have been installed up till now, and when does he expect the 20,000 to be fully on stream?

Hon DAVID PARKER: None, and 5 years.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: Is the Minister aware that hot water heat pump technology produces greater energy efficiency and climate change gains at less cost than solar water heating, and that the Queensland State Government has extended its programme to support this new technology in parallel with solar water heating; if he is aware, why is the Government supporting only a single technology when there are other technologies that can do the job better?

Hon DAVID PARKER: I am aware that in some situations that is correct and the matter is being addressed.

Jeanette Fitzsimons: Can the Minister confirm that the innovation fund set up under the solar water heating programme is available to applications from both heat pump initiatives and solar water heating initiatives, and that the review in 3 years’ time, once heat pump technology has been subject to better performance testing, will look at whether other aspects of the programme can be open to that as well?

Hon DAVID PARKER: Yes, I am. Further, I am also aware that the Minister for Building Issues, Clayton Cosgrove, who is responsible for these efficiency standards in New Zealand, has already instructed his department to look at these issues of water heating efficiency and other technologies.

Peter Brown: Does the Minister accept that 20,000 solar water panels over 5 years is really but a modest figure, and would he consider recommending to the Government that it increases the subsidy, which is very minor, so that there is an even greater uptake?

Hon DAVID PARKER: I think this is actually a very significant advance, and it is well designed. Jeanette Fitzsimons has been clear that one of the things that needs to happen here is the building of industry capacity so that we can deliver these units at lowest possible cost so as to reduce the need for subsidies.

R Doug Woolerton: How does the Minister plan to reconcile the inescapable reality that New Zealand is an exporter of primary products with the emissions caused by our farm animals?

Hon DAVID PARKER: I agree that New Zealand’s emissions profile is very different from that of most countries, and that that means we have to be very careful in future negotiations to try to have our special circumstances taken into account. That is why, in response to a question yesterday, I emphasised progress in the recent Kyoto negotiations in Nairobi, which made reference to the ability of different sectors to reduce emissions through mitigation technology.

Jeanette Fitzsimons: What is the Minister’s view of the legislation that pertains in Israel and Spain, where solar water heating is mandatory in all new homes, and does he see opportunities in New Zealand to require higher energy efficiency standards for water heating in new houses?

Hon DAVID PARKER: I have been advised that solar water heating is mandatory in countries such as Israel. Of course, that country probably has more sunshine hours than is the average for New Zealand, so the economics of that approach may be better over there than here. None the less, I am aware that, as I have just said, the Minister for Building Issues, Clayton Cosgrove, has his department looking into that very issue.

Child, Youth and Family Services—Community Organisations and Service Providers

8. ANNE TOLLEY (National—East Coast) to the Associate Minister for Social Development and Employment: Does she support the statement that: “Child, Youth and Family is committed to improving our relationship with community organisations and service providers.”, as asserted in its annual report?

Hon RUTH DYSON (Associate Minister for Social Development and Employment (CYF)): Yes. Child, Youth and Family works with a wide range of community organisations and service providers, and it should be committed to strong relationship with these groups. However, relationships need constant nurturing, and there is always room for improvement.

Anne Tolley: How does the Minister respond to the report by the New Zealand Council of Christian Social Services, responsible for over 500 social service community agencies throughout New Zealand, which said that the hallmark of Child, Youth and Family is “patch protection, lack of co-operation and tunnel vision …”, and continues to fail due to lack of support, when she has been the Minister for all these 7 long years?

Hon RUTH DYSON: I regret to say that I have not been the Minister for 7 years. That remark is totally irrelevant, as well as being factually incorrect—like most of the members contributions on questions. I disagree with what the New Zealand Council of Christian Social Services said in its report, and I said so publicly at the time. But I believe that the relationship between Child, Youth and Family and that organisation is important and has been strengthened.

Russell Fairbrother: Why does the Government invest in improving its relationships with community organisations?

Hon RUTH DYSON: The purpose of these relationships is to ensure that New Zealanders get the help they need in the way they need it delivered—unlike the National Party, whose purpose for building relationships with community organisations has nothing to do with helping out New Zealanders, and everything to do with money. National builds relationships with community groups, like the Exclusive Brethren and the Business Roundtable—

Madam SPEAKER: No, that is not relevant. Would the Minister please be seated. The Minister knows that the second part of that answer was not relevant.

Anne Tolley: Has the Minister seen the New Zealand Council of Christian Social Services report, which states that after all these years of her leadership as Minister, Child, Youth and Family has no real respect for community sector knowledge or volunteers; and does this not show that her department is reflecting her own personal arrogance?

Hon RUTH DYSON: Yes, I have read the report, which actually does not say that at all; and, no, it does not reflect that.

Anne Tolley: How does the Minister reconcile her glowing picture of community partnerships with East Coast Presbyterian Support, which has shown that its funding from Child, Youth and Family does not even cover the petrol costs of its social workers, and is it little wonder that Child, Youth and Family is failing so many of our most vulnerable children on her watch?

Hon RUTH DYSON: I received a copy of correspondence recently from the East Coast Presbyterian Support services outlining that very point, but I have to say that, across the country, the over 200 providers who support the prevention of family violence received a 20 percent increase. That organisation was one of them, and I commend it for its work.

Anne Tolley: When Child, Youth and Family offered the East Coast Presbyterian Support services $500 as part of the over-hyped family violence koha to community agencies, what did she expect that $500 would do to combat family violence; and is she aware that East Coast Presbyterian Support services has declined its $500 on the basis that it is an insult to its staff, that it is “a small drop in an almost empty bucket”, and that it demonstrates “a lack of understanding of the community by Government and MSD”?

Hon RUTH DYSON: I certainly do understand the strategic consideration that led Presbyterian Support services to decline that increase in its contract price. But I also understand and support the fairness demonstrated by Child, Youth and Family, which offered to every single provider of family violence prevention services a 20 percent increase in its contract rate. Twenty percent of a small amount is a small amount; 20 percent of a large amount is a large amount. That was the increase in its contract price.

Madam SPEAKER: It is becoming very difficult to hear the answers.

Anne Tolley: Why, after all her supposed effort during these past years, is even the New Zealand Council of Christian Social Services—once her greatest supporter—suggesting that she and her department are arrogant, ineffective, and bureaucratic?

Hon RUTH DYSON: I support that organisation’s ability to express its opinion freely and frankly. I would not seek any injunction to stop it from expressing its views. I happen to disagree with it.

Accident Compensation—Physiotherapy

9. PETER BROWN (Deputy Leader—NZ First) to the Minister for ACC: What recent announcements has the Minister made concerning ACC and physiotherapy services?

Hon RUTH DYSON (Minister for ACC): Recently I announced the details of a review of the Accident Compensation Corporation’s interaction with and funding of physiotherapy services. This review forms part of the confidence and supply agreement between the Labour-led Government and New Zealand First, and I look forward to working closely with the member who asked the question on this very issue.

Peter Brown: Will the Minister advise the House on what the review will encompass?

Hon RUTH DYSON: The review will examine the way in which physiotherapy services are funded and accredited. It will also look at the rehabilitation outcomes of accident compensation claimants, as well as at the corporation’s relationship with the physiotherapy sector.

Peter Brown: Has the Minister received any reports about the funding of physiotherapy services?

Hon RUTH DYSON: Actually, I have. I have received a report that shows physiotherapy services were reviewed during the time of the last National Government. The review took place in 1992 and actually resulted in funding being slashed by 15 percent. A result like that will not happen under this review, as our Government is committed to having an appropriately funded and a sustainable physiotherapy sector.

Early Childhood Education—Free Hours

10. Hon TAU HENARE (National) to the Minister of Education: How many 3 and 4-year-olds will receive 20 free hours of early childhood education from July 2007?

Hon PAREKURA HOROMIA (Acting Minister of Education): On behalf of the Minister, based on current enrolments of 3 and 4-year olds in early childhood services, Labour’s 20 free hours policy will be available for up to 92,000 children.

Hon Tau Henare: Why did the Minister promise at the last election that 92,000 children would get 20 hours free childcare, when in Auckland and Wellington over 70 percent of providers said they would not be able to actually provide it?

Hon PAREKURA HOROMIA: There is mixed participation, but certainly the Minister is sticking by the statement he made before the election and now. We are tracking towards 92,000 early childhood participants.

Hon Brian Donnelly: Can the Minister explain the educational rationale for a policy that will fully fund a parent using early childhood care services for 4 hours per day, 4 days a week, but not a parent using services for two 8-hour days; and does not this policy discriminate against rural parents?

Hon PAREKURA HOROMIA: As I said, there are mixed assessments, but certainly it will not disadvantage those people.

Hon Tau Henare: Why did the Minister last week in the House deny knowing the existence of survey figures that show that over 70 percent of Auckland and Wellington providers would not offer 20 free hours, and when the chief executive officer of the Early Childhood Council actually met with him before last week, at short notice, and discussed the same figures?

Hon PAREKURA HOROMIA: A survey shows that most centres will not be able to offer free early childhood education. What we will be offering centres is a subsidy for 20 free hours. The rate is the crucial issue as to whether providers will take it up. That rate has not been set yet; we will announce it early next year.

Hon Tau Henare: Why is the Minister now using the term “up to 92,000 children” will be eligible for, or have “available” to them, 20 free hours, when what he actually promised before the last election was that those children would definitely get 20 free hours under Labour?

Hon PAREKURA HOROMIA: There are early childcare centres that do not even supply 20 hours of education per week.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: You broke your promise.

Hon PAREKURA HOROMIA: We have not broken our promise. We will fund 92,000 early childcare participants.

Hon Tau Henare: Which early childhood centres provide just 20 hours—or even less, as the Minister just told the House—of early childhood education per week?

Hon PAREKURA HOROMIA: I do not know exactly which ones. But in the work to develop free early childhood education rates we are considering whether we need to have different rates for different areas. Rates will not be sufficient for centres in areas like Auckland—as I think that member is alluding to. The most recent data shows that the average cost is similar in rural and urban areas, and that there is a wide range of costs in every area. The rate is the crucial issue as to whether providers will take it up. We will announce the rate early next year.

Hon Tau Henare: Can the Minister confirm that providers will be able to ask for optional charges, and that this may lead to the awkward position—as one Clevedon provider recently pointed out—of having to tell a child: “You might have your togs, honey, but mummy hasn’t paid for this optional extra, so you can’t swim.”?

Hon PAREKURA HOROMIA: The sector advisory group has given the ministry feedback on the simplest ways to implement the policy, and the ministry has taken that into account. I do not know about youngsters not wearing their togs, but as a youngster I knew a lot of Māori kids who used to swim in the river with no togs on.

Hon Tau Henare: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I am not sure whether it is a point of order, but I ask for your clarification of what the last part of the Minister’s answer had to do with the free 20 hours.

Madam SPEAKER: I think the Minister did address the question. It may not have been to the satisfaction of the member, but he addressed it quite fully.

Community Assistance—Policy

11. TIM BARNETT (Labour—Christchurch Central) to the Minister for the Community and Voluntary Sector: What steps is the Government taking to strengthen the capability and skills of communities?

Hon LUAMANUVAO WINNIE LABAN (Minister for the Community and Voluntary Sector): Recently I launched the Community Resource Kit. This kit contains practical information on setting up and running community and voluntary groups—for example, advice on good governance, financial planning, and management. It is specifically useful for new or emerging community organisations. The Community Resource Kit is available online at www.community.net.nz for anyone to download. It will make a real contribution to strengthening the sector.

Tim Barnett: What else has the Government done to strengthen the capability and skills of the community and voluntary sector?

Hon LUAMANUVAO WINNIE LABAN: This Labour-led Government values the contribution made by the community and voluntary sector. Recent practical examples include Keeping it Legal: E Ai Ki Te Ture, a resource kit to help voluntary groups manage their legal responsibilities; Managing Well, a catalogue of information resources and support; and the Digital Strategy Community Partnership Fund 2006-07 round, which I recently launched. This fund will assist communities to take full advantage of information and communications technologies and to use them with confidence.

Horowhenua Health Centre—General Practitioners

12. NATHAN GUY (National) to the Minister of Health: What reports has he received, if any, on the Horowhenua Health Centre, and how many GPs have been secured for the centre?

Hon MITA RIRINUI (Associate Minister of Health) on behalf of the Minister of Health: I am advised that the MidCentral District Health Board received a report on this matter last week. The report informed the board of the very good progress with building the Horowhenua Health Centre, and that negotiations are close to being finalised to secure four general practitioners for the centre.

Nathan Guy: What input have local, Levin-based general practitioners had into the overall design of the Horowhenua Health Centre, and is the Minister concerned that health planner bureaucrats have failed to listen to what local general practitioners wanted incorporated into this new facility?

Hon MITA RIRINUI: The information I have is that the only person who has not supported or got behind the local initiative for the health centre is that member.

Darren Hughes: How helpful is it to the people of Horowhenua for someone who has done no work on the health centre project to be actively undermining initiatives that my constituents support, such as the Horowhenua Health Centre?

Hon MITA RIRINUI: Not only is it not helpful to local people; it reveals that a small number of people want to see the project fail, including a member in this House so that he can score political points.

Nathan Guy: How does the Minister expect the Horowhenua Health Centre to satisfy the two clauses in the business case—which was signed off by Cullen and King in 2004— that talk about ensuring that general practitioners work at the new, 12-doctor centre, and that it is a central site for community after-hours care, given that local general practitioners are staying put in their own practices and do not seem to be moving?

Hon MITA RIRINUI: I understand that the new facility will accommodate something like 12 general practitioners for after-hours services. It would be a good idea for that person actually to talk to the local district health board, so that he can be better informed.

Nathan Guy: Why does the monthly quality assurance report for May 2006 by AuditLink state that the primary and secondary care integrated model will not be fully operational until 18 to 24 months after the centre opens; and are taxpayers getting value for their $16 million investment?

Hon MITA RIRINUI: To the latter part of the question, absolutely. To the first part, of course there are time frames in place for the completion of the Horowhenua facility. In November 2004 capital was approved for the MidCentral District Health Board to build the Horowhenua Health Centre in Levin, to replace the Horowhenua Hospital. The project was costed at around $16 million. In March 2006 construction began. In October of this year the MidCentral District Health Board reported that the construction was progressing very well. The centre is destined to open in April 2007. The member might even turn up on the day for the opening.

Gerry Brownlee: The outgoing member.

Darren Hughes: Mr Brownlee should not be talking about outgoing members, seeing as he will be packing up his office all weekend; he should be the last person in Parliament to say that! Can the Minister tell us on how many occasions in the 1990s the people of Horowhenua received $16 million in health projects for items like the Horowhenua Health Centre; how many times did that happen?

Hon MITA RIRINUI: Due to the good work of the local member, $16 million has been committed to this very, very important project, without any help from the member who asked the primary question.

Nathan Guy: With the building costs escalating from $13.9 million to $16 million, and with this health centre due to open in a few months, where will the extra $2 million come from?

Hon MITA RIRINUI: The member was told that $16 million has been committed to the project. It is actually running on track.

Nathan Guy: Who will cover the $2.5 million - odd from land sales required for the project, if there is a local iwi claim and it ends up in the Office of Treaty Settlements?

Hon MITA RIRINUI: There is the matter of a Treaty claim over the area, but that matter will be dealt with separately from this particular matter.

Hon Paul Swain: Could the Minister explain to the House whether that figure he mentioned was GST inclusive or exclusive; and whichever it was, could he explain the difference to the National Party member who asked the question?

Madam SPEAKER: I do not think that is a relevant question in terms of the context of the primary question.

Nathan Guy: I seek leave to table the business case sign-off in 2004, which states that a critical mass of general practitioners is required at this new, $16 million health centre—

Leave granted.

Nathan Guy: I seek leave to table the 2006 quality assurance report, which states that the primary and secondary care integrated model will not be fully operational until 18 to 24 months after the centre’s opening.

Leave granted.

Question No. 8 to Minister

ANNE TOLLEY (National—East Coast): I seek leave to table a letter from Presbyterian Support East Coast in which it declines the $500 koha on the grounds of its being an insult to its staff.

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

ENDS


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