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Questions And Answers - Tuesday, 12 December 2006

Questions And Answers - Tuesday, 12 December 2006

Questions to Ministers

Employment Relations Act—Review

1. DARIEN FENTON (Labour) to the Minister of Labour: Has she received any reports relating to proposed changes to the Employment Relations Act 2000?

Hon RUTH DYSON (Minister of Labour): Yes, I have. I have seen one report that states: “Under National, expect quite significant changes. There was nothing wrong with the Employment Contracts Act.” Another states: “Broadly speaking we weren’t planning to make major changes … we haven’t argued … that we would go all the way back to the Employment Contracts Act, …”. Both of these contradictory statements are from John Key.

Darien Fenton: Has the Minister seen any other reports on proposals relating to the Employment Relations Act?

Hon RUTH DYSON: Actually, I have. The first is a report stating: “We support flexible labour markets because countries with such markets have lower unemployment.” A second report states: “The Employment Relations Act has been one of the driving forces to New Zealand having low levels of unemployment.” Both statements, again contradictory, were from John Key, and both were made in the same month.

Darien Fenton: Has the Minister seen any other reports relating to proposed changes to the Employment Relations Act?

Hon RUTH DYSON: I have seen a report that the Exclusive Brethren sought to change the law in an attempt to bar unions from all their workplaces, regardless of size. They described employment relationships—

Madam SPEAKER: We are not having a repeat of what we had last Thursday. Members are entitled to be heard. Interjections are not to create disorder in the House.

Hon RUTH DYSON: The Exclusive Brethren described the employment relationship as one of master and servant. This unsuccessful attempt was supported by the National Party. A second report shows that National’s new industrial relations spokesperson, Kate Wilkinson, used to work for the Exclusive Brethren as legal counsel in Christchurch. Considering her close associations with the Exclusive Brethren, I wonder what concessions she wants to grant them.

Madam SPEAKER: Would the Minister please repeat the answer. I assume that is what Mr Mark was about to request. The member knows full well that reports are sought and reports are being given.

Hon RUTH DYSON: A second report shows that National’s new industrial relations spokesperson, Kate Wilkinson, used to work for the Exclusive Brethren as legal council in Christchurch. Considering her close associations with the Exclusive Brethren, I wonder what concessions she wants to grant them.

Heather Roy: Why does this Government have such a problem with two consenting adults freely engaging in capitalist acts for their mutual self-benefit?

Hon RUTH DYSON: It depends whether there are third parties to the relationship who are not willing and consenting.

Peter Brown: Has the Minister seen any reports, or is she otherwise aware, that many employers—particularly small employers—are not even acquainted with section 67 of the Employment Relations Act, which provides for probationary employment; if she is aware of this, will she take cognisance of the representations New Zealand First made to her that there should be an education campaign, particularly for small employers?

Hon RUTH DYSON: Yes, I am aware of that fact. It was very obvious during submissions on Wayne Mapp’s bill that was defeated recently by this Parliament. I have taken notice of the representation of that member and agreed to an education campaign.

Rodney Hide: Why is it this Government’s policy to insert a third party into the employment relationship when many New Zealanders do not want a bar of the unions?

Hon RUTH DYSON: We do have voluntary unionism in New Zealand.

Energy Strategy—Carbon Neutrality

2. JOHN KEY (National—Helensville) to the Prime Minister: Does she stand by her statement that New Zealand “could aim to be carbon neutral”, and does she think the Draft New Zealand Energy Strategy will help to achieve this aim?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK (Prime Minister): Yes and yes.

John Key: Why does the Energy Strategy that was released yesterday—presumably the document most likely to impact on climate change in New Zealand—mention “carbon neutrality” only once, and only then in the footnote; and is this the first of many attempts by the Prime Minister to back away from that very unrealistic goal?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: Obviously not, but then I have never been a climate change denier, like the member.

John Key: Does the Prime Minister agree with Michael Cullen’s statement in the House last week that “certainly the Government is committed to achieving carbon neutrality”; if so, can she tell the House in what document, and under what time frame, New Zealanders will be able to see that carbon neutrality is achieved by this Government?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: As I told the member in the House last week, it is an aspiration—at least we have them.

John Key: Since when has an aspiration become a commitment, outlined by the Deputy Prime Minister in the House last week?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: As the deputy leader quipped, I have the aspirations; he has to fund the commitments.

Jeanette Fitzsimons: Will the Energy Strategy prevent the building of the three big new fossil-fuelled power stations that are imminent: Contact Energy’s Ōtāhuhu C, Mighty River Power’s Marsden B coal station, and Genesis Energy’s gas station in Rodney, which, together with the almost built Huntly ep3 Power Station, total a 25 percent increase in current generation—all of it fossil—and if it will not prevent them, will not the huge increase in fossil fuel generation leave no room for new renewables and take us even further from the Prime Minister’s goal of carbon neutrality?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I would not have described any of those three that the member mentioned as imminent.

John Key: Does it not show that carbon neutrality is just a mirage when the best-case scenario in the Energy Strategy is that by 2030 our carbon dioxide emissions will be back to where they were in 1990, which is net emissions of 26 million tonnes—and that is only achieved after some pretty heroic assumptions; so when is carbon neutrality occurring?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: The Government is very committed to making a difference for climate change, rather than describing it as a hoax as the member did in this House last year.

John Key: Has the Prime Minister noticed that yesterday’s energy statement in response to climate change gave no commitments, no clear signals, no timelines, and just a bunch of statements prefaced by the word “could”; or does that explain why that under this Government 85 percent of new energy has been generated by coal, and, once again, her record does not stack up to her rhetoric?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: That question simply confirms that the member has not bothered to read the strategy.

John Key: Can I confirm for the Prime Minister that I have read the strategy; has she read the conclusion that has three lines and reads like a Confucius poem—and I say to her that if she had not put those three lines in there, the Government would have been forced to write “This page has been left intentionally blank.”?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: All I can say is that the very substantial policy being generated by the Government on climate change issues far outweighs—

Madam SPEAKER: I am unable to hear the Prime Minister’s answer. Would you please start again.

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: The substantial policy proposals being generated by the Government on this issue far outweigh the two pages the National Party has produced after 7 years in Opposition.

Assaults on Police—Stabbing or Cutting

3. RON MARK (NZ First) to the Minister of Police: How many assaults on police where a stabbing or cutting weapon was used have been committed in the years ending July 2005 and July 2006, and between July 2006 and today?

Hon ANNETTE KING (Minister of Police): For the year ending 30 June 2005 there were six recorded assaults on police where a stabbing or cutting weapon was used, there were seven such assaults in 2006, and the figures for the period since 30 June 2006 have not yet been compiled. Police statistics for the calendar year 2006 are due in April 2007.

Ron Mark: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. In my primary question I asked for the statistics for between July 2006 and today. Those figures, surely, must have been available to the Minister. She has had 4 hours to get that information, and she should have been able to present it.

Hon ANNETTE KING: I am advised by the police that the statistics for that calendar year from July 2006 come out in April 2007. I do not have them.

Ron Mark: What does the Minister have to say to the six officers who were stabbed in the period between June 2004 and July 2005—officers who were told in March in 2004 that stab-resistant body armour was to be introduced within 3 months—and will she inform the House when the police are to finally receive the armour they were promised more than 2 years ago?

Hon ANNETTE KING: I would say to those officers that I very much regret that the body armour has not been available for them. There have been problems in getting the stab-proof body armour for them. I can inform the House that the roll-out starts in Counties-Manukau on Monday, in Auckland City on 8 January, and all other districts follow by April 2007.

Ron Mark: What does the Minister have to say to the at least nine officers who were stabbed between July 2005 and today—officers who heard the Commissioner of Police promise he would resign if body armour was not introduced during that period—and how can police officers or the public have any confidence in the office of the Commissioner of Police, when no vests or resignations have been forthcoming and front-line police are still waiting?

Hon ANNETTE KING: I would repeat to those officers the same thing that I said in my original answer. The Commissioner of Police who made that promise and undertaking is no longer the Commissioner of Police. The deputy commissioner, Rob Pope, who is highly respected around New Zealand for his role as a police officer, undertook to have the stab-resistant vests in place as soon as possible; in fact, he flew to London to ensure that the problem they were having with the fabric was resolved. I have now given the member the dates for the roll-out of the vests.

Ron Mark: I seek the leave of the House to table a newspaper report from March 2004, whereby a police headquarters spokeswoman said that police planned to introduce body armour from June 2004.

Leave granted.

Ron Mark: I seek leave of the House to table a transcript from the Finance and Expenditure Committee, dated June 2005, whereby the police commissioner pledged to resign if stab-resistant body armour was not delivered within 1 year.

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

Ron Mark: I seek leave to table the Hansard transcript from September this year, whereby Nick Smith—[Interruption] I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker.

Madam SPEAKER: No. I remind members that during points of order there should be no comment. So would you please proceed, Mr Mark.

Ron Mark: I seek leave to table a transcript whereby Nick Smith objected to photos of stabbed officers being tabled as they were “not relevant to New Zealand”.

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

Ron Mark: I seek leave to table section 10 of the Health and Safety in Employment Act 1992, which states that an employer must make accessible to employees, and ensure the use of by employees, suitable clothing and equipment to protect themselves.

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

Keith Locke: I seek leave to table statistics from the United States FBI that show that in that police force, where there are guns and Tasers, the assaults on police using a knife or other cutting instrument are more than double those statistics for New Zealand.

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

Corrections, Minister—Resignation over Death in Custody

4. SIMON POWER (National—Rangitikei) to the Minister of Corrections: Has he tendered his resignation as Minister of Corrections over the death of Liam Ashley in Corrections’ custody; if not, why not?

Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR (Minister of Corrections): No; I have a clear responsibility to oversee changes to the corrections system to prevent such a tragedy from occurring ever again in the future.

Simon Power: Who is responsible for Liam Ashley’s death?

Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: George Baker committed the murder. The corrections system let Liam and his family down. Mistakes were made. That system has to be changed, to ensure that such a terrible tragedy cannot occur again. I am committed to making those changes.

Ann Hartley: What does the Minister intend to do to prevent a similar tragedy from occurring?

Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: Immediately following Liam’s death, I directed the department to ensure that all prisoners under the age of 18 years are kept separate outside of prison in all circumstances. That will continue to stand. I have directed Barry Matthews to urgently draft a plan of action to implement all of the recommendations outlined in the report, in order to prevent such tragedies. There will be further changes as necessary.

Nandor Tanczos: Is the Minister saying that no one at all will be held responsible either for systemic slackness in the corrections system—such as the established practice of regularly transporting young people locked in cages with adults, in breach of the law—or for specific errors such as the failure to communicate crucial information regarding risk at hand-over; is he saying that no one will be held responsible for that?

Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: A number of mistakes were made in this terrible set of circumstances. The system was not robust enough to protect Liam Ashley when those mistakes were made. I take responsibility for making the changes to ensure that that does not occur in the future.

Simon Power: Does the Minister concede that if just one of at least 10 mistakes committed at an operational level had not occurred, then this tragedy would not have occurred; if he does concede that, why does he not just accept responsibility, do the right thing, and resign?

Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: That member identifies 10—possibly more—mistakes made in the system. I have a clear responsibility to ensure that the system is changed, to prevent those mistakes being made in the future.

Ron Mark: Is the Minister concerned about the report’s scathing assessment of the performance and procedures of the Auckland Central Remand Prison and, given that the decision to change that prison from a successful, privately run prison to what is apparently now a failure under public ownership was based not on its performance but on blind anti-private ideology by the Cabinet with support from the Greens, what responsibility does the Government accept for the prison’s failures in this case?

Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: Yes, I am very concerned that such mistakes could be made anywhere in the corrections system at any prison. We have a responsibility, and I do as Minister, to ensure that we protect prisoners in the corrections system and that we make the changes necessary to prevent such a tragedy occurring in the future.

Simon Power: Has the Minister seen the comments of Liam Ashley’s mother, Lorraine Ashley, that his department is “incompetent through and through”, and that heads had to roll because “It’s like a pyramid. Someone has to be held accountable.”; and how can he, as the apex of that pyramid of incompetence, justify the fact that he will not be seeking any resignations or dismissals—least of all his own?

Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: I have offered the Ashleys my deepest sympathy at this terrible loss. I can understand their frustration, and I, too, am alarmed at the mistakes made in the corrections system. I have spoken to the chief executive. He has a clear responsibility to carry out actions and changes to make sure this situation will not occur in the future.

Simon Power: Can the Minister confirm that all of the 10 or more mistakes that contributed to Liam Ashley’s death came down to staff and contractors not following procedures; and, in light of the fact that his department had not even bothered to make sure that those procedures reflected changes to the law in 2004 and 2005, how can the public have any confidence that the Minister has enough control over his department to ensure it follows any new rules he decides to impose?

Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: The overhaul of prison transportation, as I have announced, will start right at the top, at head office, to clarify who has responsibility for laying down policies and reflecting changes in legislation. The overhaul will go all the way through the corrections system to any contractors that may be involved in the transportation of prisoners at any time in the corrections system.

Simon Power: Can the Minister confirm that despite the desire of the Ashley family for heads to roll, no one has resigned or been dismissed from the Department of Corrections; and what does it actually take for someone from his department to get fired?

Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: I know that the Ashley family wants an assurance—an absolute assurance—that the lessons learnt from this terrible tragedy, the loss of their son, will not be lost, and that we will make the changes to ensure that such a loss does not happen again.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Has the Minister received any reports that the tragedy of the Ashley family was enhanced by a political party that set up the system of moving prisoners in that way and that is now disowning all ownership of it—namely, the change in 1988 by the National Government—

Gerry Brownlee: 1988?

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I am sorry, 1998—to privatise—

Gerry Brownlee: New Zealand First—Ron Mark.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: No, it was not; no, we were not. If the big fellow just keeps quiet, I will tell him the facts. It was National in 1998, all by itself, with Jenny Shipley. It changed the system. So is the Ashley tragedy enhanced by the total disowning of that policy by National?

Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: I do not want to make a judgment on whether that was the particular factor. But I can acknowledge that in 1998 the system was changed, to allow Chubb, as a private contractor, to come in and carry out work in the corrections system.

Simon Power: Can the Minister confirm that both he and his chief executive, Barry Matthews, have claimed in the last day that they will not resign, because the mistakes that led to Liam Ashley’s death were systemic; if so, who is responsible for systemic problems when they are big enough to lead to somebody’s death?

Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: Barry Matthews and myself are responsible for ensuring that the corrections system operates properly. We are responsible for making the changes to rectify faults where they are identified—the changes in policy that need to be made to prevent this happening again.

Australia / New Zealand—One Country Proposal

5. SUE KEDGLEY (Green) to the Prime Minister: Does she agree that Australia and New Zealand should consider becoming one country, as proposed by the Australian House of Representatives Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs; if not, why not?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK (Prime Minister): No; the decision not to join the federation was made in 1901, and I see no reason to revisit it.

Sue Kedgley: If she does not agree that New Zealand should become the seventh state of Australia, why is her Government introducing legislation today that will transfer control of pharmaceuticals and dietary supplements to an offshore agency that is based in Australia, is set up under Australian law, is dominated by Australian staff, and has an unelected managing director who will have unprecedented powers to make delegated legislation; and how can she claim that this is anything other than giving up our sovereignty to Australia by stealth?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: There is a very long distance between becoming a state of Australia and having a trans-Tasman agency.

Sue Kedgley: Can she confirm that once the legislation has been passed, the unelected managing director of the new agency will have the power to make and enforce rules and orders that will have a direct effect in New Zealand, without requiring the approval of this Parliament, and that the only recourse that this Parliament will have against rules and orders set in Canberra will be if a member of the Regulations Review Committee successfully moves a motion to disallow a rule in this House—something that has never happened in this Parliament’s history?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: The member just answered her own question—there is a procedure for this Parliament to disallow such a rule. But I think it is important that she not spread misinformation about the nature of the agency, which is a truly trans-Tasman agency with, as the Minister for Food Safety will point out shortly, head offices in both capitals.

Hon Annette King: Is it the Government’s intention to help protect the health and safety of New Zealanders from, for example, complementary medicines that have harmful ingredients in them; if so, could she give an example of such products?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: There are a number of herbs and ingredients of concern that are used in these products. I note, for example, that there have been herbal products spiked with undeclared steroids and others spiked with the active ingredient in Viagra. There is a reason for regulation.

Sue Kedgley: I seek leave to table four documents.

Madam SPEAKER: I just remind members that the seeking of leave is to be heard in silence.

Sue Kedgley: The first is a human relations policy options document on the agency, which states that of 557 employees it is envisaged that 93 percent of them will be Australian and 7 percent will be from New Zealand.

Leave granted.

Sue Kedgley: The second is the unanimous report of the Health Committee into the trans-Taman agreement, in which it points out the power—

Madam SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection? There is objection. [Interruption] The member has to identify the document, not read it out in full. It was identified for members.

Sue Kedgley: The third is the treaty between the Government of Australia and New Zealand for the establishment of the joint agency, in which it points out that the managing director’s powers will be unprecedented.

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

Sue Kedgley: My final tabling is a number of documents in which New Zealand First assures New Zealanders it will not support this legislation, and a transcript from Radio New Zealand, in which Winston Peters says that those who believe in natural medicines—

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

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I seek leave to table the original legislation, which New Zealand First opposed, and which is light years away from the legislation going before the House today.

Leave granted.

Energy Strategy—Draft Action Plan

6. GERRY BROWNLEE (National—Ilam) to the Minister of Energy: What specific changes, if any, does he expect to see following his release yesterday of a draft New Zealand Energy Strategy outlining a draft action plan across six broad areas?

Hon PETE HODGSON (Minister of Health) on behalf of the Minister of Energy: I expect renewables and energy efficiency to advance. I expect some non-renewable initiatives to be rethought. I expect also the National Party to tie itself in knots, as it usually does, when Labour leads any debate on a sustainable future.

Gerry Brownlee: How does it give any certainty or direction to the energy industry when the best his draft strategy—with its draft action plan—can say is that when it comes to encouraging low emissions, a wide range of policy options are available: we could have an emissions trading regime; we could have a narrow-based carbon tax; we could have a mix of incentives, subsidies, and regulations; and we could have luck; and how is that supposed to be a strategy that guides anyone?

Hon PETE HODGSON: The idea of a strategic discussion paper is to put options before the public and invite them to make their response.

Shane Jones: Has he seen any reports on the extent to which climate change, which some say is driven substantially by the use of fossil fuels in the energy sector, is accepted as an issue of consequence?

Hon PETE HODGSON: Yes, I have seen two reports. The first states: “This is a complete and utter hoax, if I may say so. The impact of the Kyoto Protocol, even if one believes in global warming—and I am somewhat suspicious of it—”. The second states: “I firmly believe in climate change, and I always have.” Both of these statements came from the National Party leader, Mr John Key.

Gerry Brownlee: Back to the Government’s policy; does the Minister stand by his comments made earlier this year on Climate Rescue Radio: “You ask me by what date New Zealand would be carbon neutral. I think you’ll find that becomes clear over the next 6 months.”; if so, was this draft strategy not an opportune time to enlighten us all, and why does it not?

Hon PETE HODGSON: The idea of the Energy Strategy is to move this country towards a position of carbon neutrality. We have no difficulty in aspiring to a commitment and no difficulty committing to an aspiration.

Gerry Brownlee: Can the Minister confirm that page 26 of the strategy states: “using renewable electricity in place of new fossil-fuel-based generation need not make prices higher, provided economic renewable projects can gain consent and are built.”; and does he see the irony in that statement, given his Government’s track record of failed consents for renewable energy projects?

Hon PETE HODGSON: Yes and no.

Gerry Brownlee: Why did his press release on the draft Energy Strategy raise the question as to whether carbon neutrality is feasible, then not answer but say that the best we can do is take one of “several pathways available to achieve significant reductions in greenhouse gas emissions over the long term,”; and how far out does he think the “long term” is for carbon neutrality?

Hon PETE HODGSON: Aspirations are not built in a day, but the member should reflect on the fact that a variety of offset options are available to this Government.

Peter Brown: Does the Minister accept the assertion that is being made by some energy specialists that any penalty tax on thermal generation will result in significant power increases across the board, and, if he does accept that, will he advise what he expects to achieve except placing some people on low fixed incomes in hardship positions?

Hon PETE HODGSON: Earlier today in various media a number of commentators thought that “significant” meant a 10 or 20 percent increase in price. The Government’s view is that any increase would be a small fraction of that.

Gerry Brownlee: Does the draft Energy Strategy not just amount to a Christmas wish-list that reads: “Dear Santa, it would be nice to have bio-fuels, it would be nice to have electric cars, it would be nice to have wind farms, wave technology, and carbon neutrality rather than the large lump of coal you gave us last year, which we have been busy getting rid of in our numerous coal-fired generation stations.”?

Hon PETE HODGSON: I did say, in answer to the member’s primary question, that I did expect National to tie itself in knots. I had not expected it to take such a short time.

Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker—[Interruption]

Madam SPEAKER: I must say that the way the question was framed did invite the sort of answer that was given. But I will ask the Minister whether he would like to add a suitable reference to the question.

Hon PETE HODGSON: Why do I not invite the member to repeat the question and then we can all hear it again.

Gerry Brownlee: Is his Energy Strategy not just a wish-list, when he talks of bio-fuels, electric cars, wind farms, wave technology, and carbon neutrality, when this Government continues to be the biggest burner of coal ever in New Zealand’s history?

Hon PETE HODGSON: No, it is a vision for the future, and I enjoin the member to become part of it.

Te Arawa—Cultural Redress

7. TE URUROA FLAVELL (Māori Party—Waiariki) to the Minister in charge of Treaty of Waitangi Negotiations: What is the basis for the Crown being able to confirm that any overlapping claims in relation to any item of cultural redress for Te Arawa have been addressed to its satisfaction?

Hon MARK BURTON (Minister in charge of Treaty of Waitangi Negotiations): I am satisfied that the Crown followed a fair and transparent process in the Te Arawa Lakes and Te Arawa Kaihautū negotiations, ensuring that it was fully informed of all overlapping interests, and that these interests were taken properly into account.

Te Ururoa Flavell: Can the Minister confirm that there is an intention to transfer the asset of Ngāti Whakaue, namely Whakarewarewa thermal valley, Moerangi, and Roto-a-Tamaheke cultural redress sites into the hands of Ngā Kaihautū o Te Arawa, when the asset in question is part of the Wai 533 claim—the Ngāti Whakaue claim to the Waitangi Tribunal?

Hon MARK BURTON: I can confirm that part of the said asset has been transferred to the 24,000 people, or is proposed to be, and that adequate provision has been made to meet any future claims of the other groups that the member referred to.

Te Ururoa Flavell: What would the Minister consider to be the positive implications of the decisions to resolve a settlement by transferring the land owned by one group, who are not involved in a settlement, into the ownership of another, who are involved in a negotiated settlement with the Crown?

Hon MARK BURTON: I do not accept the member’s assertion that that is what is taking place. I would certainly tell the member that I think the positive outcome of this process is that the 24,000 claimants can proceed and get on with the positive development that is their clear aspiration.

Te Ururoa Flavell: What possible redress could a collective such as Ngāti Whakaue have if their resources are commandeered out of their hands, hapū relations are interfered with, and a fresh grievance is caused, all in the name of simply settling a grievance by another group?

Hon MARK BURTON: As I have said already, I do not accept the member’s assertion, but of course what is open to Ngāti Whakaue, as to others who have not yet settled, is in due course to properly appoint mandated representatives to negotiate with the Crown. I am confident that that is what will happen.

Christopher Finlayson: How can it be that the Minister and his officials failed to address the obvious issue of overlapping claims for cultural redress when negotiating the settlement with Te Arawa, and what does he propose doing about it now?

Hon MARK BURTON: Again, the member’s assertion is fundamentally incorrect. The Crown did not fail to address overlapping claims. One cannot settle an overlapping claim until the claimant group concerned lodges a claim and has mandated negotiators. What is critically important is that those groups and those hapū and iwi have the capacity to enter, in due course, into negotiations with their own mandated negotiators, and there are assets aplenty to settle such claims.

Primary Health Care Strategy—Goals and Progress

8. Hon TONY RYALL (National—Bay of Plenty) to the Minister of Health: What are the goals of the Government’s Primary Health Care Strategy, and what mark out of 10 would he give for progress on meeting those goals to date?

Hon PETE HODGSON (Minister of Health): There are many goals. One of them is to make primary health care more affordable for all New Zealanders, and towards that goal progress is faster than was originally planned.

Hon Tony Ryall: Does he accept the analysis of the New Zealand Primary Health Care Strategy in the latest edition of the British Medical Journal, which says that the Government does not have a clear vision of what it wants for primary care, and that questions abound over whether the reforms have been worthwhile; and how can it be that progress in improving quality is still so hopeless after spending $1.2 billion of taxpayers’ money?

Hon PETE HODGSON: The recent British Medical Journal article to which the member refers, though published only recently, draws substantially on material that is several years old. For example, just over half of the bibliography material was published in 2001 or earlier. Things have moved since then, and they continue to move.

Barbara Stewart: Does the Minister share the concern of Auditor-General Kevin Brady and health economist Bronwyn Howell that the limited accountability of public health organisations makes it difficult to assess whether patients are receiving the benefits intended in the Primary Health Care Strategy; if not, why not?

Hon PETE HODGSON: The member may be unaware that pursuant to the roll-out of the second to last phase of the Primary Health Care Strategy on 1 July this year, a number of steps were taken by the Government and agreed contractually to address those concerns.

Maryan Street: What reports has the Minister received about progress on the Primary Health Care Strategy?

Hon PETE HODGSON: I have received a number of reports that primary health organisations are now moving on from the implementation phase and that real gains are being made. Thanks to the reduction in fees alone, we are now getting reports that those with the highest need for services are going to their doctor, getting treatment, and picking up their prescriptions more reliably. I note again that work to lower the cost of seeing the family doctor is opposed by the National Party.

Judy Turner: Can the Minister outline the impact he anticipates of having a robust national medicines strategy on his ministry’s ability to better deliver on the Primary Health Care Strategy?

Hon PETE HODGSON: It seems to me that about a third of that strategy, released earlier today for discussion, particularly addresses the primary health care aspect of our New Zealand health system. I can see significant changes in the way that we deal with community pharmaceuticals and community pharmacies, and I think that the response from the public over the next few weeks, until 30 March, will be instructive in helping the Government to work out how to better improve medicine management.

Hon Tony Ryall: Is the Minister telling the House that a report written in the British Medical Journal published on 9 December, co-written by an adviser to the Government and Treasury, is seriously out of date; and what did he mean when he told Cabinet that progress towards the strategy’s aim of improving coordination between primary care and hospitals is “still weak”, despite spending $1.2 billion?

Hon PETE HODGSON: The answers to those two questions are “Yes” and: “Precisely what I said.”

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Can I ask the Minister—seeing that this is the last question time for 2006—whether, because primary health care quickly shades sometimes into secondary health care problems, Pharmac received advice from its cancer treatments subcommittee that Herceptin should have a low priority for funding; and is there not a conflict of interests here, where the advisers—or adviser—who recommended against the public funding of Herceptin stand to make profits out of making it available privately as private practitioners, and then on top of that the Government charges GST in such circumstances? Is he aware of that; if he is, does he propose to do something about it?

Hon PETE HODGSON: I need to answer that question from memory, so there is that caveat. From memory, the recommendation of the cancer treatments subcommittee, the original group of people who looked at it, was that it was not a low but a low-medium priority. Secondly, the cancer treatments subcommittee is obliged to look not at cost-effectiveness but at effectiveness only, and the Pharmacology and Therapeutics Advisory Committee, which then looked at cost-effectiveness, made a similar recommendation.

Hon Tony Ryall: Can the Minister confirm that in his $1.2 billion funding for the Primary Health Care Strategy he has funded the Care Plus programme, which has an objective of providing care in the community for people with chronic illnesses, like diabetes and heart disease, to keep them out of hospital; and can he explain why an evaluation of this programme shows that being enrolled as Care Plus patients actually increases hospital admissions by 40 percent?

Hon PETE HODGSON: The member continues to confuse and/or delude himself. The Care Plus programme was originally devised by the sector itself. [Interruption] The member may wish to listen. [Interruption] The member does not wish to listen, so should I give an answer if he does not wish to listen?

Madam SPEAKER: Please members. Sandra Goudie has a loud voice. It is creating disorder. The member is on her last warning. Other members in the Chamber wish to hear the Minister’s answer.

Hon PETE HODGSON: I would say to the member that Care Plus was originally devised by the industry—in other words, by folk from the Independent Practitioners Association Council. It was then instituted, as amended by the Ministry of Health. The uptake amongst primary health organisations exceeds 80 percent. There are, however, problems with it, so the Care Plus programme has been under review. The review is coming forth to the Government presently. Changes will be made.

Hon Tony Ryall: If the programme is a success, can the Minister explain why a programme that is designed to keep people out of hospital actually increases the likelihood of those people being admitted to hospital, and is that not exactly what the British Medical Journal was reflecting: that this Government has no idea of what it wants to achieve?

Hon PETE HODGSON: The member makes it up as he goes along. If I may be blunt, the member needs to decide whether he intends to be command and control and prescriptive, which is what his question implies, or whether he wishes to get rid of the Primary Health Care Strategy in its entirety and double doctors’ fees for New Zealanders, which is what National’ policy currently states.

Jo Goodhew: How does the Minister explain the disconnection between New Zealand’s apparently improved access to general practitioners and our record of access to elective surgery and hospital care, as reported in the Health Affairs policy journal, where long waiting times are reported—a frightening 85 percent of the time worse than those in Australia, Canada, the US, the Netherlands, Germany, and the UK?

Hon PETE HODGSON: That refers to research that was carried out earlier this year. In September of this year, 8 years after the policy was originally announced by National, most district health boards finally became compliant with the policy of successive Governments, which is to provide service within 36 weeks to folk who are entered into the elective surgical system.

Hon Tony Ryall: Does the Minister believe that the next extra dollar of health spending should be spent under the Primary Health Care Strategy, where the Government has no idea of what it wants to achieve, or would he prefer to put the money towards reducing cancer waiting times, now that a report out in the last few hours shows that waiting times for radiation therapy at Palmerston North Hospital have now stretched to 18 weeks—18 weeks, Minister—four times the recommended safe period for treatment?

Hon PETE HODGSON: Because this Government did not go to the last election with reckless—

Madam SPEAKER: Order, please! It is very hard to hear, with constant interjections. The member has asked his question. Please let us hear the answer.

Hon PETE HODGSON: Because the Labour Party went to the election last year without having reckless tax cuts on its mind, we do not need to concern ourselves with how we spend an extra dollar. We can concern ourselves with how we spend—

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Down at this end of the House we can barely hear any of the answers, because members of one particular party in the back bench are shouting at the top of their voices. I suggest you give them an early Christmas present or an early holiday, and ask them to remove themselves from the House, because, frankly, they have had every possible warning. We are coming now to the last of our questions; they have taken no warnings at all and are carrying on in the same way as before. They have been in Parliament only 5 minutes, so what is special about them?

Madam SPEAKER: I have sympathy with the member’s point. I hate to say this, but it is the back row. Would you please keep your interventions minimal for the rest of this session. I ask the Minister to repeat his answer.

Hon PETE HODGSON: In brief, this Government does not have reckless tax cuts on its mind, and as a result does not have to worry about how to spend one extra dollar. We have lots of money to put into health, and we are spending it well and wisely.

Hon Tony Ryall: I seek leave to table a number of documents. The first is the analysis from the latest edition of the British Medical Journal.

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

Hon Tony Ryall: Secondly, I seek leave to table the report, which the Minister said was soon to be released, into the review of the implementation of Care Plus that shows that it increases one’s chance of going to hospital.

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

Hon Tony Ryall: Thirdly, I seek leave to table a report out this afternoon that shows that waiting times for cancer radiation therapy in Palmerston North are now at 18 weeks.

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

Medicine and Dentistry—Education Standards

9. MOANA MACKEY (Labour) to the Minister for Tertiary Education: What is the Government doing to support excellence in medicine and dentistry education and training?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Minister for Tertiary Education): I have announced $24.6 million of additional annual funding for undergraduate medicine and dentistry education and training from next year. The increase in funding will support excellence in medicine and dentistry education and training, including the development and expansion of curricula to ensure that they are up to date and world-class.

Moana Mackey: How will this package assist in addressing the challenges relating to health care provision in rural areas?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: The package specifically includes support to expand training for future general practitioners in rural areas, which has been identified as needing development. This complements work recently announced by my colleague the Hon Damien O’Connor to increase support for rural midwives.

Jo Goodhew: What progress has the Minister made towards funding rural immersion experience for medical students in an attempt to address the general practitioner workforce crisis?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: As I indicated, this very substantial amount of increased funding is related to discussions with both the University of Otago and the University of Auckland around increasing activities in relation to the training of rural general practitioners. The University of Otago, of course, has been leading in that respect for a number of years. We would like to see the University of Auckland come up to at least the same level as the University of Otago in that regard.

Ingram Report—Scope

10. Dr the Hon LOCKWOOD SMITH (National—Rodney) to the Prime Minister: Does she still maintain that the Ingram report was “very comprehensive and thorough”; if not, why not?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK (Prime Minister): Yes.

Dr the Hon Lockwood Smith: What communication did the Prime Minister have with her then Minister of Immigration, the Hon Paul Swain, when she received the letter from whistleblower Keith Williams dated 3 August 2005 detailing Taito Phillip Field’s deal with failed asylum seeker Sunan Siriwan and stating that if Siriwan “went to Samoa for 3 months to tile Mr Field’s house”, he would be given a work permit after 3 months by the New Zealand Immigration Service?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: None. I understand that the letter was received and acknowledged by my office and sent on to the Minister of Immigration.

Dr the Hon Lockwood Smith: What discussion, if any, did the Prime Minister have with Ministers Phil Goff and Paul Swain, when the letter written to her by whistleblower Keith Williams dated 3 August 2005 not only detailed the secret agreement between Taito Phillip Field and Sunan Siriwan but also pointed out that both her then Minister of Justice, Phil Goff, and then Minister of Immigration, Paul Swain, had met Siriwan while he was working on the floor at Taito Phillip Field’s house in Samoa?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I have advised the member that the letter was received in my office, acknowledged there, and sent on to the Minister.

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, Maarten Wevers, to the Finance and Expenditure Committee that not only had Dr Ingram 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, but her department head also knew that Keith Williams would not give evidence without legal support?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: As the member is aware, Dr Ingram did not make that request to Maarten Wevers. He sought advice from the Solicitor-General as to whether Mr Williams’ expenses could be covered, and the Solicitor-General advised that that was not normal practice.

Dr the Hon Lockwood Smith: Has the Prime Minister made any attempt to discover why her former Minister of Immigration the Hon Paul Swain made—according to information released under the Official Information Act—absolutely no attempt whatsoever to discuss with his Associate Minister, Damien O’Connor, issues relating to Taito Phillip Field’s involvement with failed asylum seekers, after those issues were raised with the Hon Paul Swain on more than one occasion?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: Frankly, I have not. This matter was inquired into thoroughly by Dr Ingram, and he found that the Ministers had acted properly.

Dr the Hon Lockwood Smith: I seek leave to table a document, released under the Official Information Act, from the Minister of Immigration that points out that the former Minister of Immigration the Hon Paul Swain made no attempt—or at least there is no record whatsoever of his making any attempt—to communicate to his Associate Minister the issues he knew of surrounding Taito Phillip Field.

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

Nutrition—Children's Health

11. SUE MORONEY (Labour) to the Minister of Health: What progress has been made in improving the nutrition of New Zealand children?

Hon PETE HODGSON (Minister of Health): Further progress was made just yesterday, with the Labour-led Government signing an agreement with Coca-Cola Amatil and Frucor Beverages Ltd to remove all full-sugar fizzy and energy drinks from secondary schools by 2009. This agreement takes 1.1 million litres of full-sugar beverages out of schools over the next 3 years.

Sue Moroney: How does yesterday’s agreement position New Zealand internationally on the issue of nutrition in schools?

Hon PETE HODGSON: New Zealand can once again call itself a world leader in the fight against obesity. Yesterday’s agreement is the first in the world to be negotiated directly between Government and industry leaders. I thank Coca-Cola and Frucor for their leadership, and I hope others in the food industry will be similarly inspired to act.

Sue Kedgley: I seek leave to table a press release by the Obesity Action Coalition expressing its disappointment that the Minister has not followed his colleagues in France and the United Kingdom by removing all fizzy drinks, rather than allowing diet fizzy drinks to remain in vending machines in all schools in New Zealand.

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

Sue Kedgley: I also seek leave to table a press release by the Dental Association expressing its disappointment that Diet Coke will allow dental hygiene to be undermined in our schools.

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

Asia—Trade Opportunities

12. MARK BLUMSKY (National) to the Minister for Economic Development: Is he satisfied that by showcasing trade opportunities for New Zealand exporters in Hong Kong, China, and the wider North Asia region, he is on target to meet his objective of increasing exports to the region by $25 million over 3 years, now that 1 year has passed?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD (Minister for Economic Development): Yes. We are on track to achieve the targeted net economic benefit of $25 million to the New Zealand economy.

Mark Blumsky: Does the Minister believe that his Government has the skills to oversee its multimillion-dollar retail investment in Hong Kong, the New Zealand Focus centre, when feedback from many of the suppliers states that sales have been negligible, that inquiries from China have been minimal, and that a significant number of those suppliers have given up and removed their products from the store after only 1 year of operation?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: I can confirm that a number of firms that have graduated from the organisation now have good channels into China and no longer use it, as a result of the very good start they have had. I also note that this member’s mate missed out on the contract and has been whingeing ever since.

H V Ross Robertson: Is the Minister aware of any other export initiatives that might be of benefit to New Zealand exporters?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: Yes, I am. This Government is investing $33.75 million to increase New Zealand’s export capacity for Export Year 2007, which is something that has been welcomed by everybody but the National Party.

Mark Blumsky: Why did New Zealand Trade and Enterprise appoint Extra Rations Ltd to run the Government retail store in Hong Kong, the New Zealand Focus centre, and give it $1.3 million per year, as well as $1.4 million to establish the store, when that organisation was ranked last in New Zealand Trade and Enterprise’s evaluation in the category of retail experience; and has he been satisfied with Extra Ration’s performance?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: I have not been satisfied with its performance, but I will point out to the member that it topped its evaluation, which was independent, and it beat his mate’s firm, hands down.

Mark Blumsky: Why, when New Zealand Trade and Enterprise drew up the criteria for retail manager for the Government retail store in Hong Kong, as well as including criteria such as long-term strategic vision and management capability, was there not a criterion related to being just too busy, when that was used as the reason that the retail manager of Extra Rations, so loudly lauded by the Minister, has just quit after barely 1 year in the job—being too busy to do the job?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: The thing I know is that that company won an evaluation. It beat the company that that member used to be a director of, and he should stop whingeing about it.

Mark Blumsky: Did the Government take into account, when it selected the retail product for its retail store in Hong Kong, the market prices for the product it selected when, for example, a whole shelf in the store is dedicated to noodles costing HK$30 a pack, when similar noodles can be bought in neighbouring stores for only HK$5; it is a bit like coals—or should I say noodles—to Newcastle?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: Given the changes that have happened opposite, it is very clear that members know nothing about value added.

Madam SPEAKER: Members will be leaving the Chamber for the rest of the day unless they are quiet. The Minister may have thought he addressed the question, but he was a bit obscure for the rest of us. Would he please answer the question.

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: Unlike members opposite, given their recent changes, we recognise added value.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. The answer you had from the Minister was exactly the same choice of words that you previously ruled did not address the question. It was a very serious question about how marketing noodles in Hong Kong might help New Zealand’s trade interests, and the Minister should have to justify that.

Madam SPEAKER: Having had time, I understand now what the Minister was trying to say. He is being subtle; it would be easier if he could be clearer. Would the member please spell it out in words of one syllable for those members in the Chamber who cannot understand the answer.

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: It is better for New Zealand to have high-value goods being sold and to have additional profits. That is called value-adding, which is the opposite of what has happened in the National Party, where a useless leader has been traded in for one who is even worse.

Madam SPEAKER: That was not necessary.

Mark Blumsky: Was the new company that is replacing Extra Rations to run the Government retail store in Hong Kong, New Zealand Products Hong Kong Ltd, one of the original three companies shortlisted by New Zealand Trade and Enterprise; if not, having just replaced Extra Rations, why was no contract tendered for that position—the Minister is obviously very unaware of his favourite Extra Rations not being now the operator for this store?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: I am aware; I told the member earlier that I was not satisfied with its performance. That was one of the reasons it went.

ENDS


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