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Questions And Answers - Wednesday, 6 December 2006

Questions And Answers - Wednesday, 6 December 2006

Questions to Ministers

Biometric Information—Collection and Use

1. GORDON COPELAND (United Future) to the Minister of Immigration: Why is the Government proceeding with the decision to “collect and use limited biometric information”, namely fingerprints, iris scans and facial recognition, from migrants and Kiwis returning home, when there has been no policy development to justify the need?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE (Minister of Immigration): There is no proposal to fingerprint or take iris scans from New Zealand passport holders.

Gordon Copeland: Has the Government not, in fact, got the cart before the horse when it comes to the use of biometrics, and why does it even court that possibility, when it has caused uproar in other parts of the world, no present need has been identified, and it is just not the Kiwi way?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: Due to the time frames required with legislative change we need to future-proof the proposed legislation now, so that we can respond rapidly to pressing future needs. The reality is that the technology exists now to do this, as does the attempt to circumvent it. The United States, the UK, Canada, and Australia, I am advised, all have provision to use biometric collections.

Gordon Copeland: Does the Minister not risk, in rushing ahead with biometrics, creating the impression that the Government is intent on taking New Zealand into some sort of Aldous Huxley Brave New World, when instinctively, and in my view correctly, New Zealanders do not want a bar of that?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: I remind the member that this whole issue is subject to further policy work and Cabinet decisions. A safeguard mechanism has also already been agreed to, requiring an Order in Council process to activate any such provision. This is, in a sense, the same process as now, where New Zealand citizens are checked against their passport photo at the border. The most that is contemplated is that that checking may be done by a machine rather than a person.

Peter Brown: Will the Minister confirm that New Zealand First made a substantial submission to the review of the Immigration Act and has been supportive of efforts to make our borders more secure, such as making it easier to remove people whose applications to stay are rejected and to stop suspect applicants at the border?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: Indeed it did, and I am further advised that around 80 percent of the individual submissions on this matter supported the proposed potential use of biometric information.

Keith Locke: Can the Minister explain how this biometric proposal and related heavy-handed measures announced yesterday, like kicking out permanent residents at any time during their first 5 years here on spurious or nebulous grounds, such as character, can help New Zealand to attract skilled labour in the global market?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: The member may wish to check his facts first. There is absolutely no proposal to kick anybody out of New Zealand on spurious grounds. A number of changes have been made since the original discussion document in April that put in additional safeguards. I note that there was a clean New Zealand Bill of Rights Act check on the bill before it went through Cabinet.

Keith Locke: I seek leave to table an article from this morning’s Dominion Post that indicates quite clearly that it is proposed in the legislation to fingerprint or iris scan New Zealanders, although this could be removed from the bill at the select committee.

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

Gordon Copeland: I seek leave to table the chapter on biometrics from the Government’s papers released yesterday, which says that the Government will use limited biometric information from New Zealand citizens at the border.

Leave granted.

Stadium—Funding Commitments

2. Hon BILL ENGLISH (Deputy Leader—National) to the Minister of Finance: What commitments, if any, did he make to funding the waterfront stadium option prior to the Government’s announcement that it was considering such an option?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Minister of Finance): No specific commitments were made.

Hon Bill English: Can the Minister confirm that he therefore agreed to allow Trevor Mallard to push the waterfront option with no financial parameters at all, and why is he so unwilling to commit any further funding to Eden Park when he offered a blank cheque to an uncosted option on the waterfront?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: As we are learning, there were no properly costed options for Eden Park, either. As I told the House many times before the decision was taken, the National Party backed Eden Park with a blank cheque.

Hon Bill English: Why were no financial parameters set for the Government’s favoured option of the waterfront stadium?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: There were no financial parameters set for either option. The Eden Park Trust Board is yet to come back with a coherent funding proposal that will say how much the Government is expected to contribute. I have seen figures appearing in the media; they do not necessarily indicate certain funding from any source for Eden Park.

Hon Bill English: Why did the Government abandon the Minister’s preferred option of the waterfront stadium?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: We said that we would listen to the consensus from Auckland. Auckland, perhaps to our great surprise, managed to disagree with itself.

Hon Bill English: Can the Minister confirm that he has made a number of statements that are critical of the Eden Park option, and can he confirm to the House that the reason he will not give it a blank cheque is because Labour wants to punish the Eden Park Trust Board for arguing its case and inconveniencing the Prime Minister?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: If the member is going to stay on as the seventh deputy leader of the National Party that I have faced, he will have to not let his paranoia run away with him. We will come to an agreement with the Eden Park Trust Board, but it will have to be based on something firmer than what the board has come up with throughout this process. It is National that committed itself to Eden Park with no proper design, no design drawings, no budget, and no funding plan.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Is it possible for any member of Parliament to make a decision that is accountable to the New Zealand taxpayer when the Eden Park Trust Board—members of which some of us know very well—began with a proposition of $60 million, then, realising there was possibly an open-ended cheque, came up with a further two propositions, now reaching $350 million?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Indeed, the first figure is correct, but I think the latter figure is now more like $385 million, plus, of course, additional expenditure in terms of public transport needs and related access matters, etc.

Hon Bill English: Can the Minister confirm that he committed the Government to the waterfront option with no budget, no plans, no builder, no governance, and a blank cheque?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: No. I can confirm that I did not commit the Government to either of two options—neither of which had final plans, neither of which had proper budgets, neither of which had funding sources, neither of which had resource consents, and one of which had a blank cheque from the National Party.

Hon Bill English: Can the Minister confirm that the Government’s financial statements include an unquantified, uncapped contingent liability for the Rugby World Cup, and when will he act consistently with his supposed reputation for fiscal credibility and put some kind of qualification or cap on the Rugby World Cup—or will he let Trevor Mallard wander around for the next few years with a blank cheque?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: No. When, first of all, of course, the Eden Park Trust Board has a final completed proposal, has consents for that, has a budget, has agreed with the Government on future governance for the future Eden Park and, hopefully, some of the member’s mates in Auckland will cough up with some of the money.

Keith Locke: I seek leave to table a briefing paper from the Eden Part Trust Board in June of last year that was presented at a briefing here in Parliament and supported by Labour Party members who attended that briefing, with the listed cost of $320 million.

Leave granted.

Hon Bill English: Can the Minister understand that Parliament and the public may be concerned that he seems to have taken such a strong dog in the manger attitude towards the Eden Park proposal, and does this put the timing of that project at risk, just because Labour does not like it?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: As I said before, the member must not let his paranoia run away with him. The Government is working with the Eden Park Trust Board. Auckland has spoken, and has said it does not want a gift of a brand new stadium from the rest of the nation. Instead it wants an upgrade of the existing Eden Park stadium. We now have to work through the processes to ensure that that stadium will be ready on time. I am quite sure—as I have said many, many times in this House—that Eden Park will be looking for a large sum of money from the Government. The National Party signed up to that blank cheque in a letter to Mr Mallard some time ago.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: What reports has the Minister received that suggest that the good people of Gore, or, for that matter, Dipton, want to pay, as ratepayers or taxpayers, for a city stadium—or regional stadium at best—that is not a national stadium, which is the type of undertaking that the National Party clearly gave to the Eden Park Trust Board?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I have a strong suspicion that if we were running a great whip-round in Southland for the upgrade of Eden Park, we would raise a lot less than the Labour Party has raised for its great whip-round.

Gerry Brownlee: I seek leave to table the letter mentioned by Michael Cullen, which will make it very clear that no such undertaking was made.

Leave granted.

Keith Locke: I seek leave to table a copy of an article from the Dominion Post that reports on Helen Clark’s speech at Dublin a year ago, where she apparently committed the Government to the Rugby World Cup without any financial costing.

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

Schools—Assessment Information

3. MOANA MACKEY (Labour) to the Minister of Education: What is the Government doing to ensure that schools have access to good assessment information on their students?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY (Minister of Education): Yesterday the Government announced a new resource that helps schools to identify the learning needs of every student and then fix them. The resource is part of asTTle, a world-leading tool that gives parents and teachers an accurate picture of how well their child is doing at school. It is used by over 94 percent of schools and it plots individual achievement, helps teachers adapt their teaching, and provides comparable data from similar schools. This is an essential tool to the Government’s strategy to deliver high standards that meet the needs of every student, in every school.

Moana Mackey: Is the Minister aware of any alternative policies for the use of assessment information?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: I am aware of a bill that would set national standards for literacy and numeracy. The approach of that bill would be to lock children into centrally imposed standards determined by their age, not by their ability. It would lead to a formula approach to teaching and put pressure on schools to teach to the test rather than to the individual needs of students. The New Zealand Educational Institute has described this policy as “School Certificate for 5-year-olds”. It will leave students frustrated and powerless, with no idea of what they need to do to improve. This is the narrow, centralised policy championed by the former education spokesperson for the National Party. I doubt whether someone as wise as Katherine Rich will take the same approach.

Hon Brian Donnelly: How many schools are at present undertaking assessment for better learning projects or contracts; and at the current rate, how long will it be before all schools in New Zealand are provided with such valuable professional support?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: I do not have the precise figures with me at the present time, but the figure is around half. I hope that if we carry on improving at the current rate, with the resources we want to put in, all schools will have access to such support within the next 5 or 6 years.

Greenhouse Gas Emissions—Fossil Fuel Usage

4. Hon Dr NICK SMITH (National—Nelson) to the Minister responsible for Climate Change Issues: Does he agree with Victoria University economics senior lecturer Dr Geoff Bertram that “New Zealand’s clean and green image is largely an illusion and our growing usage of fossil fuels is becoming problematic” and that “We’re going to be way, way up in our carbon dioxide emissions and our methane emissions relative to 1990—we’re miles in breach of our Kyoto undertakings.”, as reported on National Radio this morning?

Hon DAVID PARKER (Minister responsible for Climate Change Issues): No. Our environment is cleaner and greener than that of most overseas countries. Seventy percent of our electricity already comes from renewable sources.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: How can the Minister tell the House that 70 percent of our power is produced from renewable sources, when official statistics released yesterday by the department state that the figure was 57 percent, the figure was 66 percent when he came to Government and has declined in every single year since then, and next year’s new generation is scheduled to be 80 percent thermal energy, so the figures will only get worse; and how can those figures possibly meet Labour’s commitment when it came into Government in 1990 to lift New Zealand’s use of renewable energy?

Hon DAVID PARKER: The exact proportion year to year actually varies according to how much rain we have in our hydro catchments. In terms of new renewables, it is abundantly clear that the Government’s projects to reduce emissions have brought forward wind power development by 5 to 10 years.

Dr Ashraf Choudhary: Has the Minister received any recent reports about coal-fired power emissions and climate change policy?

Hon DAVID PARKER: Yesterday I had a question in the House asserting that the Government had been promoting thermal generation, and implying that National had opposed it. I cannot reconcile that position with an earlier report from National’s previous energy spokesperson that stated that National “welcomes the new coal-fired Marsden B”, and that “The development of this generation is exactly what New Zealand needs.” Indeed, he even went so far as to say: “The Government must ensure that it doesn’t let the RMA sink this desperately needed piece of generation.”—another National Party flip-flop.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: Why did the Prime Minister say yesterday, in response to questions from John Key on electricity—[Interruption]

Madam SPEAKER: Would the member please proceed.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: I will start again, seeing that Labour is very excited about it, because I think we deserve an answer on this. Why did the Prime Minister say yesterday, in response to questions from John Key on electricity: “all the major projects coming on stream are renewable projects.”, when the Minister’s own ministry identifies 570 megawatts of new generation coming on stream next year, of which 410 megawatts, or 80 percent, will be non-renewable—notably Genesis Energy’s ep3 at Huntly, and Mighty River Power’s Southdown gas extension? Who is telling the truth: his ministry or the Prime Minister?

Hon DAVID PARKER: I am sure that the Prime Minister shares my confidence that following the release of the draft New Zealand Energy Strategy, the vast majority of new generation capacity will be renewable.

Jeanette Fitzsimons: Does the Minister agree that our high and growing use of fossil fuels is largely because carbon pollution is free, and would it not be fairer to those who will pay for this—taxpayers picking up the bill in 2012; families who have invested in insulation, solar water heating, and more efficient cars; and firms using wood waste to replace coal—to put an economy-wide price on carbon pollution now?

Hon DAVID PARKER: I think the price of carbon is one of the relevant determinants as to its usage. It has been difficult to pass legislation in this Parliament to impose a price on carbon. Indeed, the same previous spokesperson from National, in a speech in August 2004, said that he was completely opposed to any form of carbon pricing on coal introduced by this Government, and would reverse it.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: Why did the Minister yesterday blame the drop in the proportion of electricity generation from renewable sources on economic growth and the weather, when it was his Government’s decision to build a new, oil-fired power station at Whirinaki, to underwrite the massive ep3 thermal station at Huntly, and to support the application by State-owned enterprise Mighty River Power for a 320-megawatt coal station, and at the same time to block and delay renewable energy projects like Project Aqua and the Dobson scheme; and does the Minister accept that the downward trend in renewables is a direct consequence of his Government’s decision to build more thermal energy stations and block new renewables?

Hon DAVID PARKER: For a start, I did not say that electricity proportions have decreased because of economic growth. I said that electricity usage—

Hon Dr Nick Smith: Yes, you did.

Hon DAVID PARKER: No, I said that electricity usage has increased because of economic growth, which is a slightly different statement. In terms of the Dobson scheme, as the Hon Chris Carter referred to yesterday, we did let Resource Management Act processes and Conservation Act processes take their course there. The outcome is that there is likely to be a proposal for the Arnold River, as a replacement for the Dobson scheme. It will produce not dissimilar amounts of power, with far less environmental effect.

Peter Brown: Will the Minister put the issue in perspective and advise how our electricity generated from coal, as a percentage of total generation, compares with that of Australia, the USA, and China; and does he share New Zealand First’s opinion that the National Party appears to be advocating, albeit slowly, the closure of the Huntly coal-fired power station?

Hon DAVID PARKER: I can advise that the proportion of New Zealand’s electricity generation that comes from coal is far lower than is the case for Australia or the United States. That is a very good thing that we ought to be proud of.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: Why should New Zealanders have any confidence that his Government will put in place a programme to ensure New Zealand meets its Kyoto targets in the year we have left before the agreement comes into effect, when, after 7 years of this Government being in office, experts conclude that we are miles in breach and do not have a bolter’s show of achieving the undertakings?

Hon DAVID PARKER: New Zealand’s commitment under the Kyoto Protocol is to have sufficient Kyoto-compliant emission units, and we will achieve that. Emission units can be obtained through the removal of carbon dioxide via forest sinks, or through investments via the Kyoto flexibility mechanisms. The member has to get up to date as to what the mechanisms under Kyoto are, if he is to participate in a meaningful way in these discussions.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: Can the Minister confirm to the—[Interruption] Oh, get a life, Clayton!

Madam SPEAKER: Would the member please continue with the question. And order, please!

Hon Dr Nick Smith: Can the Minister please confirm that Treasury has advised that there is no way that New Zealand can meet its Kyoto undertakings, except by having to spend hundreds of millions of dollars of hard-earned taxpayers’ money on buying credits off countries like Russia; and given his last answer, is he confirming that that is exactly the Government’s intention, and that New Zealand taxpayers will have to pay for Pete Hodgson’s bungle over Kyoto?

Hon DAVID PARKER: No, I cannot confirm that.

Jeanette Fitzsimons: I seek leave of the House to table a very interesting press release last Saturday from Mr Bob Field, the head of Toyota New Zealand, in which he calls for a price on carbon across the economy as quickly as possible.

Leave granted.

Hon DAVID PARKER: I seek leave to table two documents. The first is a press release dated 18 August 2004 in which the previous National Party energy spokesman welcomed the proposed Mighty River Power Marsden B coal station.

Leave granted.

Hon DAVID PARKER: I seek leave to table a speech of 30 August 2004 in which the previous spokesman pointed out that if the Government did introduce a price on carbon in respect of thermal energy, the National Party would oppose and, indeed, reverse it.

Leave granted.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: I seek leave to table the official advice from the Ministry of Economic Development that 80 percent of the new generation to come on stream next year will actually be—contrary to the Prime Minister’s assertion that all of it will be renewable— unrenewable.

Youth—Training and Work Opportunities

5. GEORGINA BEYER (Labour) to the Minister for Social Development and Employment: What steps has the Government taken to further improve training and work opportunities for young people?

Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE (Minister for Social Development and Employment): I am pleased to advise the House that yesterday the Government signed a new memorandum of understanding with the Mayors Task Force for Jobs, which represents 71 mayors, reaffirming a shared goal for all 15 to 19-year-olds to be in appropriate education, training, or work. At the same time we launched the task force’s campaign Our Youth, Our Future, with its particular focus on Māori youth, enterprise, and employment, on investing in youth locally, and on young people with disabilities. This is one of a number of Government and wider community initiatives that are contributing to the long-term economic independence and well-being of New Zealand’s young people. I am sure all members of the House will join me in congratulating the mayors on their efforts in this area.

Georgina Beyer: What reports has he seen on changes in the number of youth who receive benefits?

Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: In the 4 years following the signing of the first Mayors Task Force for Jobs memorandum of understanding in September 2002, unemployment benefit numbers for under-25-year-olds fell from 30,000 to 9,000. Unemployment benefit numbers among young Māori fell from 12,000 to 4,000, and the numbers among young Pacific people fell from 2,900 to just 800. Each of those reductions has been at a rate greater than the general drop in unemployment numbers. Since 1999 there have been 30,000 more young people now employed in the workforce.

Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority—Annual Report

6. GERRY BROWNLEE (National—Ilam) to the Minister of Energy: Is he satisfied with the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority’s annual report; if so, why?

Hon DAVID PARKER (Minister of Energy): Yes; the report is the work of a conscientious agency, currently working hard on the updated Energy Efficiency and Conservation Strategy, due to be released the week after next.

Gerry Brownlee: How can the Minister accept the annual report from the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority that begins with its chief executive stating in the foreword: “I am particularly proud of ECCA’s operational achievements this year.”, when the recent Government report found that the percentage of energy from renewable resources is falling, and concluded that a miniscule 0.4 percent had been gained under Labour’s energy efficiency strategy—which is far less than when Labour had no strategy at all?

Hon DAVID PARKER: Far from that being the correct position, I am advised that International Energy Agency statistics show that for the period 1990-98, the annual energy efficiency gains in countries like the Netherlands, Denmark, Australia, the UK, and Germany were all lower than New Zealand’s.

Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. How can you let that answer stand, when the Minister was asked a question about an organisation’s annual report that he signed off but has immediately told the House now is wrong?

Madam SPEAKER: As the member knows, the member cannot require a specific answer to the question. The Minister did address the question.

Charles Chauvel: What recent Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority initiatives are performing above expectation?

Hon DAVID PARKER: Quite a number of them. This year, for example, the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority received a Budget vote for retrofitting insulation to 6,500 pre-1977 homes. It has overachieved that target, out of that same Budget allowance, by retrofitting 8,800-odd houses. That is 25 percent more than was achieved in the previous year, and is a record the previous National Government came nowhere near to achieving.

Gerry Brownlee: Does the Minister have confidence that the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority can improve its performance by the 500 percent it needs to achieve, just to meet its current energy efficiency goals?

Hon DAVID PARKER: I am confident that the average annual energy efficiency gains in New Zealand in recent years have been higher than in most European countries. But they are also less than have been achieved in the USA and Italy, for example, and for that reason we will be more ambitious about what is achieved in years to come than we have been in recent years.

Gerry Brownlee: Why does the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority claim that four staff motivation seminars were held in the past year, with 150 participants attending, when the authority employs only about 70 people; or was that number achieved because of the staggering 17 percent staff turnover in the authority—and, noting, that, is the Minister certain that the authority is not running staff demotivation seminars?

Hon DAVID PARKER: I presume that is because some staff members went to more than one seminar.

Gerry Brownlee: Why did the Minister say that the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority is not reliant on securing funding from a partner in order to undertake research projects on energy efficiency in buildings, when the annual report states that no research projects on energy efficiency in buildings were undertaken because funding from other partners could not be secured?

Hon DAVID PARKER: I am not sure whether I have caught the import of that question correctly; perhaps the member could repeat the question.

Madam SPEAKER: Yes, would the member please repeat it.

Gerry Brownlee: With all due respect, Madam Speaker, we are in a bit of a difficulty here. We are working off a report the Minister has signed off, and in his first answer today he said that it is wrong. I am simply asking him—

Madam SPEAKER: No, I am sorry. The member—

Gerry Brownlee: I am explaining the question—

Madam SPEAKER: No. Would you please just ask the question. The Minister asked you to repeat the question; would you please just repeat it.

Gerry Brownlee: Why did the Minister say that the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority is not reliant on securing funding from other partners in order to undertake research into energy efficiency in buildings, when the annual report states that no such research took place because the authority was unable to secure funding from other partners?

Hon DAVID PARKER: Much of the research into energy efficiency in buildings is actually conducted by the Department of Building and Housing, under the auspices of the Hon Clayton Cosgrove.

Gerry Brownlee: Is the fact that the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority has failed so miserably on this goal—that is, the goal to do research into energy efficiency in buildings—the reason that it has now set such a low goal for home rating systems: namely, that only 1 percent of middle to high income earners are voluntarily improving energy efficiency in their homes under the Minister’s current energy efficiency strategy?

Hon DAVID PARKER: As I have already outlined to the House, the rate of energy efficiency improvements in New Zealand has actually been higher than in many European countries—

Gerry Brownlee: 1 percent!

Hon DAVID PARKER: Yes, at 1 percent. One percent per annum is the rate that is achieved by the United States. New Zealand has done less than that, and we do hope to do more.

Computer Systems, Ministers’—Security Concerns

7. RODNEY HIDE (Leader—ACT) to the Prime Minister: Does she have any concerns about the security of Ministers’ computer systems; if not, why not?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Deputy Prime Minister): on behalf of the Prime Minister: I have no specific concerns. I am advised that the security systems employed by the contractor responsible for the system are kept up to the appropriate industry standards, and there is no evidence of serious security breaches.

Rodney Hide: How can she have any confidence in the computer systems when clearly a secret espionage operation has been successfully directed for some years against the leader of the National Party, National MPs, and their parliamentary staff?

Madam SPEAKER: The Prime Minister has no responsibility for the Parliamentary Service, only for Ministerial Services.

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Indeed; to add to that point, the Ministerial Services’ system is a separate system from the Parliamentary Service’s system.

Hon Bill English: Have Ministers sought assurances from him about the security of the ministerial email system, and is he satisfied that its standards are matched by those of the parliamentary email system?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I cannot comment about the parliamentary email system. The ministerial system is managed by Unysis New Zealand Ltd and has a variety of security measures. I do not know who runs the parliamentary system or how that would compare with the ministerial system.

Rodney Hide: What assurance can the Prime Minister give to the people of New Zealand that Government offices and computers are safe and secure from secret and malevolent spying by anonymous forces, whose motives remain hidden—as, indeed, has happened to the National Party through the Parliamentary Service system?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: The member is making an assertion in his last comment, and I have no idea whether there is any truth in it. Many other rumours have run around this place—

Hon Bill English: The Prime Minister seems to know.

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Well, I think one was that I have managed to hack, but anybody who knows my manner of success—

Hon Members: Ha, ha!

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Thank you colleagues! I think they are commenting on my capacity to engage in that kind of activity. Clearly, one cannot give a 100 percent assurance in these matters, at all, but security systems on the ministerial system are kept up to date on a daily basis. There have certainly been incidents of people trying to hack into the system. These have been identified and specific blocks put in place.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: In the search for hackers, snoopers, conspirators, and agents provocateurs, has she read the quote from Dr Brash that states: “I have no doubt whatsoever that this information has been obtained by criminal activity by half a dozen or so of National Party people very close to my office”; and does this not prove that the suggestion that hackers from outside the complex have unlawfully gained access to emails inside the complex—

Hon Dr Nick Smith: You’ve got them! You know.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Oh, yeah—your mates. I’ll tell the member who it is—right amongst his mates—

Madam SPEAKER: Would the Minister please just ask his question.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Can I start again, Madam Speaker, because I have lost the plot here?

Madam SPEAKER: No, I think we got the gist of the first bit. Just complete it.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Madam Speaker—

Madam SPEAKER: Has the member finished asking his question?

Rt Hon Winston Peters: No, I have not.

Madam SPEAKER: OK, please continue.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Dr Brash said—and I quote him: “I have no doubt whatsoever that this information has been obtained by criminal activity by half a dozen or so”—

Hon Dr Nick Smith: Why don’t you tell the police what you know?

Rt Hon Winston Peters: —and we are hearing from one of them over there now—

Hon Dr Nick Smith: Why don’t you tell the police what you know?

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Well, why would the police be looking for something that Don Brash knows about?

Hon Member: No, no.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: —oh yes, you do—“very close to my office”, and does this not prove that the suggestion that hackers from outside the complex have unlawfully gained access to emails inside the complex is at least a tad far-fetched?

Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. You cannot possibly accept that question, because the question asked by Mr Hide relates to the Prime Minister and the Ministerial Services. Mr Peters is relying heavily on the absolute tripe written in The Hollow Men, a copy of which is being waved around by Judith Tizard.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: No, no.

Gerry Brownlee: Oh yes, it is. I think, Madam Speaker, that to try to say that this question allows Mr Peters to run off and take some misquote from Dr Brash, and go down this road, is wrong. The onus is on Mr Peters, actually, as someone who knows where the emails came from, to go to the police and to tell them. But he will not, because he is frightened.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Surely, the intent of this question is to ensure that MPs, parliamentary leaders, and Ministers—and, indeed, the Prime Minister—have security of communication. Surely, that was the intent of the original question. That being the case, I am quoting from the leader of the National Party last week, and this is his statement. I will table the document if the MP from Auckland who is making a lot of noise, but who has been demoted in the space of 12 months in a career wants to keep on arguing it. All I am saying is that if Dr Brash knows, then perhaps he can help the Prime Minister in the answer.

Madam SPEAKER: The question was in order, but in replying, the Minister has to be careful about ministerial responsibility—it did ask for reports.

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I have indeed seen the report that Dr Brash made that statement. I have to say from a Labour Party perspective, one certainly would not find six senior members of the Labour Party who would open their hearts up to Mr Hager, and I am surprised that there are six National Party MPs who did so.

Rodney Hide: What action, if any, has she taken to ensure the security of email systems in ministerial offices and, indeed, in Parliament, or is spying OK as long as it is directed at the National Party?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I am not sure what the last bit is meant to imply because, as I said, the ministerial system is quite separate from the parliamentary system. Certainly in respect of the ministerial system, there are firewalls designed to detect any unusual activity, and these are monitored regularly so that any unusual activity should be noticed. But, as in the case of any such system, there cannot be 100 percent certainty. I do not know whether the parliamentary system has similar kinds of firewalls in place.

Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. Does this not raise the interesting question of how parties like New Zealand First or United Future get on, because they have—

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Very well.

Madam SPEAKER: If there are any more interruptions, the members will be out.

Gerry Brownlee: I have no doubt that they get on well with each other, but the voters—hmm, it is not good at the moment. I would just point out that those parties have Ministers who are part of Cabinet, so they must be part of the ministerial system. Yet, those parties’ own members are, I presume, still part of the parliamentary system. So where are the points of integration, and how secure is that?

Madam SPEAKER: Well, I am not sure what the member’s point is, but there are two systems and they—

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: It is exactly the same as any party in Government. For instance, Labour Party back-benchers are on the parliamentary system and Labour Party Ministers are on the ministerial system. That member will always be on the parliamentary system.

Ron Mark: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I ask you again, please, as a member from one of the alternative parties. That was another gross example—and it was obvious once the member had got into the first sentence—of Mr Brownlee abusing the point of order process and the Standing Orders. I understand that I cannot interject when a point of order is being made, but when it is so clearly, obviously, and patently not a point of order, but simply the member taking an opportunity to slag, bag, and take political point-scoring opportunities, what protection do we have? We either interject and make the point, and get thrown out of the House, or we sit here and rely on you, as the Speaker, to deal with Mr Brownlee.

Madam SPEAKER: Well, I dealt with Mr Brownlee, but sometimes it is always important, as you well know, to wait until the member has completed his thought. Sometimes members take longer than others to complete a thought.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I seek leave to table a Sunday News 26 November article headlined “Brash blames party over leaked emails”.

Leave granted.

Primary Health Care Strategy—Cost

8. Hon TONY RYALL (National—Bay of Plenty) to the Minister of Health: What is the total amount of public money spent on implementing the Primary Health Care Strategy since it began?

Hon PETE HODGSON (Minister of Health): Over the years about an additional $1.2 billion, the majority of which lowers the cost to New Zealanders of seeing their family doctor and the cost of prescriptions—both moves opposed by the National Party.

Hon Tony Ryall: How can it be that he has admitted to the Cabinet in this report that the Government has failed to make any progress whatsoever in most of the objectives it set itself to improve the quality of primary health care in New Zealand under the Primary Health Care Strategy, despite spending hundreds of millions of dollars?

Hon PETE HODGSON: The member chooses again to mis-characterise and selectively quote. The long and short of it is that a Primary Health Care Strategy will take years to be fully embedded because it does take a lifetime of good health-care to give someone a good experience in his or her later years. We are very proud with this change to the primary health care system, and I say that there are already some health gain changes to hand.

Maryan Street: What reports has the Minister received about the costs of general practitioner visits recently?

Hon PETE HODGSON: The cost of going to a general practitioner for an ordinary practice has dropped from about $52 to about $26. In some areas, and the six practices in Taupō, Tūrangi, and Mangakino will do for an example, practices have agreed from 1 January next year that they will charge patients $10 if they are 6 to 17 years of age, and $15 if they are 18 years and older. That is the sort of thing one can do to improve access to doctors if one does not have reckless tax cuts on one’s mind.

Hon Tony Ryall: Can the Minister confirm that the Primary Health Care Strategy foresaw the primary health care team expanding to a wider range of health professionals beyond doctors and nurses, yet the latest Commonwealth Fund survey of primary-care physicians across seven countries finds New Zealand general practice second to bottom for the use of multi-disciplinary teams, and how can it be that, after spending hundreds of millions of dollars and a huge ministry bureaucracy, he has told his Cabinet colleagues that progress in this area is limited to a small handful of primary health organisations?

Hon PETE HODGSON: The member refuses to get the point, or if he is not refusing then he does not understand fundamental health policy. Let me remind him that not only does that Commonwealth Fund survey put New Zealand primary health care up near the top, but the very areas where New Zealand does not do well, including the one that he gave us an example of, are precisely the reason why the Primary Health Care Strategy was designed. The member will also notice that general practitioners’ preparedness to work with others in the health sector in the primary-care setting in that survey is the highest in the world. We can expect that position, therefore, to significantly improve—which is precisely what the strategy is designed to do.

Hon Tony Ryall: Can the Minister confirm that he told Cabinet in this document that the primary health care strategy envisaged a wider range of services provided in the primary-care settings in doctors’ clinics, such as maternity, hospital follow-ups, and well child, and why, after hundreds of millions of dollars and years of promises, was he forced to admit that, in his own words, “coordination between primary care and hospitals is still very weak.”?

Hon PETE HODGSON: Because that is the truth of it. The truth of it is that we still—

Madam SPEAKER: Please be seated. I am having a great deal of difficulty hearing. We have heard the questioner. He was given the courtesy of being heard in silence. Please do not interrupt the Minister beyond the normal level of interjection.

Hon PETE HODGSON: Thank you, Madam Speaker. I will be able to lower my voice a little. The member is correct. The linkages between primary and secondary health care in this country are still not good enough, but this Government never lacks ambition and is very happy to see continued improvement between primary and secondary health care. In fact, we think it is an area where there are very considerable gains to be made and we will continue to seek them year after year, for as long as we are in office—which will be a while yet.

Hon Tony Ryall: Can the Minister confirm that he has warned Cabinet of the rising risk of a further fragmented health system, with so many areas doing their own thing on information technology, and despite hundreds of millions of dollars and a huge Ministry of Health bureaucracy, the development of common information technology systems across the health sector is poor, even if some of the people developing them are not?

Hon PETE HODGSON: Further improvements to our information technology are needed but, be very clear, the member has a habit of putting down a question then talking through an answer. I will just say to the member that if he does not want to listen to an answer, some of his colleagues might. Why does he not put a sock in it? The member is correct in—

Madam SPEAKER: Members will be leaving the Chamber if this continues.

Hon PETE HODGSON: Thank you, Madam Speaker. The member is correct in suggesting that there is still further improvement to be made in our information systems, which is why I have trebled the capital investment since 1 July—the sort of thing we can do when we do not have reckless tax cuts on our mind. I say again to the member that the reason our system needs further improvement is that during the 1990s, when his Government decided that the health system should compete against itself, we ended up with a Tower of Babel in our information systems, which this Government is proudly fixing.

Jo Goodhew: Can the Minister confirm that now that he has confessed his primary health care strategy report card to Cabinet, describing his progress as limited, still weak, poor, and lagging behind policy development, that the summary of his report card reads: “Lots of money, no progress, should consider a new job.”?

Hon PETE HODGSON: No, I do not. Instead, I assert that the New Zealand Primary Health Care Strategy is one of the more significant changes in our health system. It is one that I am very proud of and this Government is very proud of. Members like to quote selectively what is an honest appraisal of a strategy that is still in the implementation phase. I will say again—that member comes from a party that wishes to double the fees for going to doctors and increase prescription charges by 500 percent. I do not think it will ever get there.

Hon Tony Ryall: I seek leave to table the Cabinet paper that the Minister of Health personally signed, describing his abysmal performance with the hundreds of millions of dollars he has had—

Leave granted.

Biometric Information—Collection and Use

9. KEITH LOCKE (Green) to the Minister of Immigration: What security risk to New Zealand justifies the proposal in the immigration review document released yesterday to subject New Zealand citizens returning from overseas to intrusive fingerprinting and iris scanning?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE (Minister of Immigration): To reiterate the answer I gave to oral question No. 1, there is no—I repeat, no—proposal to fingerprint or take iris scans from New Zealand passport holders.

Keith Locke: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. The Minister in his answer referred back to question No. 1, and in his answer to question No. 1, as I understood it, he admitted that legislation had been proposed that would allow such a proposal to be implemented. There is a contradiction between the two answers.

Madam SPEAKER: That is not a point of order. The Minister did address the question.

Keith Locke: Why, under another proposed change, should migrant workers be excluded from whole industries simply because employers in those industries misuse the visa information they are required to get from the Immigration Service, and, in the words of the Minister when speaking on the radio this morning, “would no longer be able to employ migrant labour”?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: Employers already, in current law, have a legal obligation to employ only people who are in this country legally. One of the ways they seek to satisfy themselves about that is to look for an Inland Revenue Department number. The problem is that workers can get such a number without a valid visa or permit. Therefore, we are ensuring that there is an ability for employers to do a valid check. It is not too hard.

Hon Maurice Williamson: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. It is with regard to the validation of material that one needs to provide the Clerk’s Office with to ask a question. I presume that Keith Locke would be subject to the same stringent requirements that National Party members are, and that the Clerk’s Office would not have allowed the primary question through without some material validating that the immigration review document released yesterday subjects New Zealand citizens returning from overseas to intrusive fingerprinting and iris scans. If the document did not do that, Mr Locke would not have been able to get the original question on to the Order Paper. Mr Locke got the question on to the Order Paper, and the Minister referred to his answer to question No. 1, which was that there was no proposal actually to use fingerprinting and iris scans.

Madam SPEAKER: I thank the member. On the question of authentication, the requirement for authentication does not mean that a Minister will necessarily reply to the question in terms of the authentication provided. Members cannot specifically require an answer that is directly related.

Gordon Copeland: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. This is a similar point but from a slightly different angle. I sought the leave of the House to table the Government document that was distributed yesterday, which does, in fact, include, as Maurice Williamson just said, subjecting returning New Zealand citizens to biometric testing.

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: There is a very simple explanation, and that is that reading against a photograph is considered a biometric, which does not include either an iris scan or a fingerprint.

Madam SPEAKER: Does that clarify it for members? Right.

Peter Brown: Will the Minister concede that in this volatile world, in order to maximise our security it might well become necessary to sacrifice some freedoms?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: This Government, like all Governments, has a constitutional duty to protect the security of our borders and our citizens. We need to recognise that a New Zealand passport is a very valuable document. It is under attack every day in many countries of the world by people who have been shown to use it for dishonest and nefarious purposes.

Keith Locke: How will the Minister stop employers from abusing, blackmailing, or paying minimal wages to migrant workers as a consequence of employers having added responsibilities and wider access to information on the immigration status of prospective migrant labour?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: As I previously explained, in the first instance, employers already have the same legal obligation, and, in the second instance, only an employer who is registered to hire a migrant labourer would be allowed to access that information under this proposal. If employers abuse the confidentiality requirements that are part and parcel of it, they stand to lose that accreditation, to the detriment of their business. That is a strong incentive.

Hon Dr Michael Cullen: Is it not a fact that both here and in many other developed countries people who are illegally in a country are far more at risk of blackmail and underpayment by their employers than are people who are legally in a country?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: I can certainly confirm that. I can further confirm that the presence of significant numbers of illegal workers is an age-old trick of driving down wage rates, to the detriment of all workers. I am sure the member would not support that, either.

Ingram Inquiry—Confidence

10. Dr the Hon LOCKWOOD SMITH (National—Rodney) to the Prime Minister: Does she have confidence in the Ingram inquiry into matters relating to Taito Phillip Field?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Deputy Prime Minister) on behalf of the Prime Minister: Yes.

Dr the Hon Lockwood Smith: How does the Prime Minister reconcile her statement made to the House on 30 August this year that Dr Ingram did not raise with officials a request to provide legal advice for a key witness, with the statement made by the head of her department that Dr Ingram had made such an approach to see whether the Crown would pay legal costs for Mr Keith Williams, the original whistleblower, on matters covered in the Ingram inquiry?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I do not have the information in front of me. The member would need to put down a separate question for me to be able to answer it.

Dr the Hon Lockwood Smith: Can the Prime Minister confirm that officials at Immigration New Zealand who asked for legal advice were provided with it, yet, after an approach from Dr Ingram, her office refused to provide that same legal advice to the key witness whom her department knew would not provide evidence to the inquiry without legal advice?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: No, I cannot confirm that. I do not have the information in front of me relating to that matter.

Dr the Hon Lockwood Smith: Why, when Mr Keith Williams was the only person, other than Maxine Field, who knew of the secret deal between Taito Phillip Field and failed refugee overstayer Sunan Siriwan, was the Prime Minister prepared to spend $486,000 on the Ingram inquiry but not $2,000 or $3,000 to ensure that such a key witness with crucial inside information could give evidence?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: In the report Mr Ingram states that Mr Williams declined to give evidence to his inquiry.

Dr the Hon Lockwood Smith: Why, given that on 21 June of this year the Prime Minister gave an undertaking in this House that anyone who had evidence of wrongdoing by Taito Phillip Field would receive immunity and protection, did her office refuse to provide legal protection to Keith Williams?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I assume that the statement made on 21 June refers to anybody referring matters to the police, and that is where matters should now go. The police are undertaking an inquiry.

Dr the Hon Lockwood Smith: How does it help disprove allegations that the Prime Minister set up a narrow inquiry doomed to failure when she herself told the House that Dr Ingram had not requested provision of legal advice for a key witness, when her own office has revealed Dr Ingram did just that, and when she told this House that people possessing evidence would be protected, yet her office refused to protect Keith Williams?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Now we come to a much more important point of principle. The inquiry asked whether there was any conflict of interest in Mr Field’s actions as a Minister. That is an appropriate matter for an inquiry ordered by the Prime Minister. If the member is indicating now that he favours the Prime Minister’s ordering inquiries into the affairs of members of Parliament, then I am sure we could launch one into the relations between the Exclusive Brethren and National Party members opposite—notably, Mr Key.

Maternity Services—Rural Midwifery Workforce

11. JILL PETTIS (Labour) to the Associate Minister of Health: What is the Government doing to support the rural midwifery workforce?

Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR (Associate Minister of Health): Much is being done in this area. There are two new funding streams that are available for rural midwives. The first, a fund of $200,000 per annum for the next 2 years, will provide financial support of $2,500 for every lead maternity carer who has provided postnatal support to women living in remote areas. In addition, a new fund of $2 million per annum will be used to support rural midwives. This fund will be available from next year, and will be allocated according to the rural ranking scale.

Jill Pettis: What further initiatives is the Government implementing to improve access to health services for people who live in rural communities?

Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: Again, this is an area where a lot is being done by the Labour-led Government. We have rolled out a number of initiatives. This latest announcement is one in a series of improvements, the first being $80 million as a rural adjuster for district health boards to compensate for the higher cost of delivering health in rural communities, the second being $4.2 million to pay for rural bonuses for the 461 rural general practitioners under the rural ranking scale, and the third being $8.4 million in rural workforce retention funding to help those people get locum supports, as well. There is much being done to help rural professionals in the health sector.

Barbara Stewart: Is the Minister aware of other maternity issues such as the overcrowding at Christchurch Women’s Hospital, described by the College of Midwives Canterbury West Coast chairwoman as being “so full the care of high-risk women was being compromised.”; if so, what is his ministry doing to ensure the safety of expectant mothers in Christchurch?

Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: I have every confidence in the Canterbury District Health Board working with midwives to look after all those pregnant women down there. As I announced, much is being done in respect of midwifery services and maternity care by this Government, not only in the rural areas but, in fact, in the urban areas as well.

Jo Goodhew: Can the Minister explain why he has not taken this opportunity to strengthen the multidisciplinary team approach to primary care, as required in the Primary Health Care Strategy, by bringing the midwives into the team with doctors and practice nurses and enhancing the choices for New Zealanders?

Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: Although I understand that at this point the midwives are not part of that official arrangement, this new move, which will allocate funding under the rural ranking scale, will bring them into line with the general practitioners in the way that they are funded. I have every confidence that through the primary health organisation model we will see total cooperation between all providers of health services in the rural areas: midwives, general practitioners, physiotherapists, pharmacists, and everyone else.

Problem-gambling Service Providers—Review Recommendations

12. SANDRA GOUDIE (National—Coromandel) to the Associate Minister of Health: What were the recommendations of the report into 12 problem-gambling providers under review by the Ministry of Health?

Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR (Associate Minister of Health): The report identified a number of problems, including missed service delivery targets, incomplete reporting, a decrease in client numbers, and a shortage of skilled staff. The Ministry of Health is reviewing the contracts of 12 problem-gambling providers. On 3 November the ministry provided me with a progress report, and work continues in this area.

Sandra Goudie: Will the Minister ever make the report public, or will he just wait until Christmas Eve in an attempt to hide evidence of an appalling abuse of money and a complete lack of financial oversight by his ministry?

Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: I believe that it may be into the new year before we get a final report. I am not pushing the officials; it is important that they go through those contracts thoroughly with the providers. There are natural justice issues, and I understand the challenges they face. We can be assured that a thorough report will be put before myself and, no doubt, eventually the House.

Sue Moroney: How many requests have National Party members lodged in the area of problem gambling?

Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: We take note of the great interest shown by the National Party in this area. Ninety-five written questions and three parliamentary oral questions have been asked, and 14 Official Information Act requests have been lodged, by the member. If she does not know all the answers by now, I guess she will never know them.

Madam SPEAKER: That last comment was not necessary.

Sandra Goudie: What recommendations does the report make about contracting and monitoring by the Ministry of Health, and does the Minister have confidence that he has been told the full story, given that the people who wrote the report are the very people who negotiated wasteful contracts that pay thousands of dollars in order for people to have a 16-minute telephone conversation?

Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: I have every confidence that we are going through a very robust process. We have had some healthy discussions in this area. It is a new area of responsibility for Ministry of Health officials, and it is a very difficult area. We are trying to identify people who have serious problems arising from gambling. We have a responsibility to reduce the harm caused by gambling. We also have a responsibility to make sure that the money is being spent wisely, and we will make sure that occurs.

Sandra Goudie: Does the Minister believe that the Ministry of Health has been adequately monitoring the performance of the problem-gambling providers in accordance with the recommendations of the Controller and Auditor-General, or was the ministry simply paying out on the basis of the quarterly reports sent by the providers until that sham was raised in the House almost 2 months ago?

Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: No, I do not think that the monitoring has been adequate. It is a new area of responsibility for the ministry—they are new contracts. We have to improve the performance of both the providers and the ministry in this area.

Sandra Goudie: What responsibility will the Minister accept for his ministry’s failure to operate in accordance with the statement of good practice on procurement issued by the Office of the Controller and Auditor-General, when a provider is paid $143,000 for counselling eight people?

Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: We will work with ministry officials to make sure that we spend the money wisely in this very difficult area of social responsibility. I am confident that there is a new level of awareness by both providers and the ministry as to the need to improve our performance.

Sandra Goudie: I seek leave to table a document from the Office of the Controller and Auditor-General entitled Procurement: A Statement of Good Practice.

Leave granted.

ENDS


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