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Questions And Answers - Wednesday, 12 September 07

Questions And Answers - Wednesday, 12 September 2007

Questions to Ministers

Financial Organisations—Regulation of Non-bank Deposit Takers

1. Hon MARK GOSCHE (Labour—Maungakiekie) to the Minister of Finance: Is the Government taking any steps to improve regulatory oversight of non-bank deposit takers?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Minister of Finance): Yes. Today I have announced that all deposit takers, including finance companies, building societies, and credit unions, would have to be registered by the Reserve Bank and comply with minimum prudential requirements covering such things as the minimum amount of capital, the need for capital ratios, and the like. Those regulations should help, in particular in the longer term, to price risk more accurately.

Hon Mark Gosche: What other steps is the Government taking to improve the regulation of finance companies?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: We are taking a series of actions across portfolios to enhance the supervision of this sector. In addition to the announcement today, the Minister of Commerce yesterday informed the House that the Government is drafting regulations to ensure that all trust deeds provide trustees with robust powers to get the information they need in order to carry out their duties in the interest of investors. None of those steps alone, of course, is a quick fix, but together they will significantly improve regulatory oversight in this area.

Hon Bill English: Can the Minister tell the House when the regulations he has just referred to might be passed, and when the legislation that would back up his announcements this morning might come to the House?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I am advised by the Minister of Commerce that in terms of the regulations, she is hoping to have those within the next 2 or 3 weeks or so. In terms of the legislation, we would hope to get the principal bill into the House before Christmas, so that submissions can be called for over the summer period. I hope we can then make reasonably quick progress in the New Year in that regard.

Corrections, Minister—Confidence

2. JOHN KEY (Leader of the Opposition) to the Prime Minister: Does she have confidence in the Minister of Corrections; if so, why?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK (Prime Minister): Yes; because he is a hard-working and conscientious Minister.

John Key: Why did she refuse to accept Damien O’Connor’s resignation as Minister of Corrections?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: Because, in the words of the member who has just asked the question, “in isolation it wouldn’t be a hanging offence, to be perfectly honest.” Those words were uttered by Mr Key on Breakfast television this morning.

John Key: Does she think that the track record of Damien O’Connor as Minister of Corrections, a department that has seen a catalogue of errors resulting in the death of New Zealanders like Liam Ashley, a situation where there have been massive cost over-runs in prisons, where prison guards are on suspension for illegally bringing in contraband to prisons, and where the priority of the Minister has been to spend money on landscaping, not rehabilitation, therefore warrants his removal as Minister?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: Any Government has, with any Minister of Corrections, a history of prison escapes, riots, offending while on bail, and other undesirable behaviour. What we can also point to is a sharp reduction in prison escapes and serious prison assaults on staff and other prisoners. In other words, quite a lot of good is happening in our prison system.

Hon Phil Goff: Can the Prime Minister tell us how many National Ministers resigned when prison escapes were running at 166 a year under National, when under Labour last year it was as low as 20 a year—166 at a peak under National, 20 under Labour?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: As the member has indicated, there has been a very sharp reduction in the number of prison escapes under the Labour Government. One does scratch one’s head to try to find examples of National Ministers, who constantly made mistakes, ever being pulled up or put to other duties.

John Key: Will the Prime Minister therefore give New Zealanders an assurance today that Damien O’Connor will remain in his job as Minister of Corrections after the Cabinet reshuffle?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: No more than Mr English would give a guarantee of continued support for Mr Key.

John Key: Is the truth of the situation that the Prime Minister has no confidence in Damien O’Connor as Minister of Corrections, and that was why she was pretty quick to condemn him when she was at APEC, but that the reality is that she does not want to sack him today, because that would be to give another scalp to National—and when a Prime Minister has sacked as many Ministers as she has, it starts getting embarrassing?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I am proud as Prime Minister to have actually applied some standards, which is something no National Prime Minister ever did.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Has the Prime Minister received any reports on the construction of the parliamentary rugby team; and what does it say about a party’s character of vanity, egotism, and selfishness when the National Party half back did not know the name of the prison officer first five-eighth for the last 3 years and had never passed him the ball once?

Madam SPEAKER: There is no ministerial responsibility for the parliamentary rugby team.

John Key: Does the Prime Minister feel as though she has been out-manoeuvred by Damien O’Connor, who worked out when he was in the duty-free lounge at Hong Kong airport that the way to keep his job was to text to the Prime Minister that he intended to offer his resignation, knowing that she could not possibly take his resignation in isolation, and that the person who is now looking a fool is the Prime Minister?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: Obviously not.

John Key: Does the Prime Minister agree—

Hon Trevor Mallard: Have another go, John.

Gerry Brownlee: It’s going well.

Madam SPEAKER: Can we just get on with the question, and can we please keep the interjections to a minimum.

John Key: Well, maybe if Mr Mallard had gone on the rugby team they would not have had to include—

Madam SPEAKER: That does not help, Mr Key.

John Key: He could have made the numbers up.

Madam SPEAKER: The team did, in fact, win.

John Key: The team won, did it? Can I just check, is that because Trevor was not there?

Madam SPEAKER: OK; off we go. John Key, supplementary question.

John Key: Does the Prime Minister agree with the Dominion Post editorial yesterday that said she leads “a government that has lost touch with public opinion.” and is “dying a death by a thousand cuts and the cuts are self-inflicted.”?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I am proud to lead a Government that does not have someone on its front bench who thinks it is funny to make cracks about why people do not get fat in concentration camps.

Question No. 3 to Minister

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Attorney-General): I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I raise it in relation to this question because Mr Copeland has released a press statement expressing disappointment in my answers. As I have not given my answers yet, I wonder whether I should bother to do so, or whether I should table the press statement.

Madam SPEAKER: The member is entitled to ask his question, and it is up to the Minister to decide whether he replies.

New Zealand Bill of Rights (Private Property Rights) Amendment Bill—Government Support

3. GORDON COPELAND (Independent) to the Attorney-General: Will the Government support my New Zealand Bill of Rights (Private Property Rights) Amendment Bill, given that former Labour Prime Minister Sir Geoffrey Palmer has said publicly that “I took a deliberate decision to exclude this in the 1980s but on reflection I believe it should be included” in reference to the protection of property rights by the Bill of Rights?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Attorney-General): No. My understanding is the Law Commission, which is headed by Sir Geoffrey Palmer, has taken the view that before any such change should occur, there would need to be a great deal of work on what the legal implications of it might be. That work simply has not been done.

Gordon Copeland: Is the Attorney-General aware that my bill simply adds to the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act the property rights contained in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which was enthusiastically supported by Labour Prime Minister Peter Fraser when adopted by the United Nations in 1948; if so, why does the Government want to signal now a contrary intent by opposing this important addition to New Zealand law?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: The language of things like the universal declaration is not necessarily the language one would use in legislation that is enforceable within New Zealand. I think the member has not dealt with those issues. I do notice further, however, that Mr Copeland has an arrangement with National whereby his vote is cast with National in all matters, and that National is opposed to this bill. It appears he may have sold his rights rather too cheaply in that respect.

Russell Fairbrother: Is he aware of any unintended consequences that may arise from the bill as currently drafted?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: One of the problems I have had drawn to my attention is the use of the word “property”. The courts here and overseas have consistently given the term a very wide and liberal meaning, and the mind boggles at some of the legislative proposals that could fall within the ambit of the bill in that regard.

Gordon Copeland: Is he concerned that my bill would complicate the legal interpretation of property rights in New Zealand in relation to the Resource Management Act and the Waitakere Ranges Heritage Area Bill, thus exposing the Crown to possible legal challenges; if so, is it therefore now the position of the Government that it is more important to protect the Crown than to protect the private property rights of the citizens of New Zealand?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: No. Of course, if specific legislation passes, then in the context of making certain statements around property rights that would override any bill that the member might have passed by the House in any case.

Gordon Copeland: I seek the leave of the House to table the speech by Sir Geoffrey Palmer that was alluded to.

Leave granted.

Gordon Copeland: I seek the leave of the House to table the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948.

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

Electoral Act—Electoral Period

4. Hon BILL ENGLISH (Deputy Leader—National) to the Minister of Justice: Does he consider that the 3-month election period prescribed in the Electoral Act 1993 is a fair, reasonable, and realistic period; if not, why not?

Hon MARK BURTON (Minister of Justice): On balance, no; because we now know that early in the 2005 election year certain groups put in place plans to circumvent the spending limits and the 3-month regulated period set out in the Electoral Act 1993. Therefore, a longer regulated period, such as the period beginning 1 January in the year in which the Parliament is due to expire, is a fairer, more reasonable, and more realistic period to help safeguard the integrity of the New Zealand electoral system.

Hon Bill English: Will the Minister now answer a question I gave him notice of this morning, which is: what actual examples of political advertising occurring outside the current 3-month election period did Cabinet consider were unacceptable when it decided to lengthen this period for up to 11 months?

Hon MARK BURTON: One example is the $350,000 Wake Up New Zealand campaign, run by the Exclusive Brethren before they ran their $1 million campaign in collusion with the National Party, and they made very clear, in running this campaign before the 3-month regulated period, that its sole purpose was “getting party votes for National”. Another example that I think Mr English is personally well familiar with is the case of the Maxim Institute. The Maxim Institute, while purporting to be non-partisan, expended a large part of its $1 million budget coordinating a series of education releases specifically designed to support the National Party education policy programme. Again, that series of releases commenced before the beginning of the 3-month regulated period.

Hon Bill English: So is the Minister now saying that he is extending the period to 11 months to stop any groups from planning to take part during the 3-month period, and that he has extended the period to 11 months because he has found an example of someone whose political views agreed with those whom he opposes?

Hon MARK BURTON: That is clearly not what I said. The member should pay attention. First, I gave the member two examples of campaigns that started before the regulated period—they were not just discussed; they actually commenced—and involved hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of expenditure specifically designed to secure a particular electoral result whilst trying to avoid the electoral law of New Zealand. That is the primary target of the legislation. In the end, it goes back to the principle of whether our electoral system should be based on a contest of alms or bank balances, or on a contest of ideas.

Hon Peter Dunne: Does the Minister consider, in the light of this particular controversy, that in retrospect it would have been prudent to consult the National Party as well as the parties that were consulted in the preparation of this legislation, and, if he does consider that to be the case, is he now prepared to consult with the National Party over ways in which the legislation might be amended to make it more workable; if not, why not?

Hon MARK BURTON: The interchange with political parties began, in terms of this legislation, in front of a parliamentary select committee that included the National Party. There was a free exchange of ideas, and, in fact, the basis of this legislation came out of that discussion and the issues raised. Secondly, the matter is before a parliamentary select committee in which the National Party participates. That is a good environment—one where many New Zealanders are now contributing—in which to consider the merits of the bill.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Can I ask the Minister, seeing that Mr English has put into question the Electoral Act 1993 on the criteria of its fairness and reasonableness, whether this is the same member of a party that designed an Act to ensure that a new political party could not advertise in the 1993 election, on pain of having to pay $100,000 on each and every occasion it advertised on radio or TV; and how far and reasonable is that?

Hon MARK BURTON: It is certainly my recollection that that is the case, and I think the member asking the question has good grounds to be concerned about that history.

Hon Bill English: So can the Minister confirm that the whole case for extending the regulated period to 1 January, thereby restricting political opinion in New Zealand for almost a third of every parliamentary term, hinges on one pamphlet produced by one group outside the 3-month period?

Hon MARK BURTON: I cannot confirm that, because that is not what I said.

Hon Bill English: Can the Minister confirm that what he has produced in the House today is one pamphlet from one group that was published outside the 3-month period, and another pamphlet from another group, which he condemns because it agreed with aspects of National’s education policy, that that is all the evidence he has produced, that only the first one actually constitutes political advertising outside the 3-month period, and that that is his justification for shutting down all public opinion and any private body from having an opinion in election year?

Hon MARK BURTON: I cannot confirm the first assertions; they are wrong. The member’s assertions are fundamentally nonsensical.

Hon Bill English: Given that the Minister’s standard reason is that he picked a point between the Canadian time period and the UK one, why did he not just stick with the 3-month period, which falls between the 6-week period that applies in Canada and the 12 month period in the UK?

Hon MARK BURTON: Again the member, in his usual fashion, is being selective—either in his knowledge or in his understanding. I should perhaps explain that in Canada, for political parties, although there is a spending cap, there is a non-specified regulated period. In other words, the entire electoral cycle is regulated; every dollar has to be accounted for. So, in essence, the Canadian situation for political parties is much more stringent and controlled than even the UK one. The New Zealand example sits very much between those two, if not in a more liberal way, in terms of those two very similar jurisdictions.

Hon Bill English: How does the Minister feel about being put up by the leadership of the Labour Government to defend this indefensible legislation day after day, when he knows that it is going to sack him within a matter of weeks and hope that someone else will clean it up?

Hon MARK BURTON: I always feel much better about being “put up” by this side of House to defend legislation that is there to protect the participatory rights of New Zealanders in a fair electoral system than I would standing up on that side of the House day after day repeating the same silly questions and trying to justify wealth over ideas.

Hon Bill English: Can the Minister recall that one of the objectives of this exercise, set out in the Cabinet paper, was to encourage participation in democracy, and can he explain how a regime that regulates any opinion held by a private citizen or a community group for the whole of an election year and subjects it to very tight spending caps and difficult bureaucratic processes increases participation in democracy?

Hon MARK BURTON: That is not what this legislation does. It sets out to close the loopholes—or at least reduce them in size—that the National Party and its friends in the Exclusive Brethren Church, and others, exploited in 2005 in order to try to use large amounts of money to buy an election result.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I ask the Minister whether one of the objects of the bill is to prevent outside parties from using money, which is often raised outside New Zealand, to buy or govern political policy and political parties; is that one of the motives in the legislation that it is designed to stop?

Hon MARK BURTON: Indeed it is. I would note again, regarding some of the examples that Mr Burton gave selectively yesterday of other jurisdictions that had no regulated period, that he failed to mention they also had no electoral cap. Of course we see in some of those countries that the amount of money one can spend equates directly with the number of votes one acquires. That is something New Zealanders have rejected since the late 1800s; since then we have had statutes that have protected the notion that our electoral system is about a contest of ideas, not bank balances. This Government is determined to protect that tradition.

Rodney Hide: Does the Minister stand by his answer given in the House on 6 September that a regulatory impact assessment had been done on the Electoral Finance Act; or is this just another example that proves that this Minister does not really care whether what he says squares with the facts?

Hon MARK BURTON: As the member knows, I indicated that it was my recollection that that was the case. I subsequently checked, and, as the member also knows, such a statement had been prepared consistent with the law as it applied at the time the bill was prepared.

Rodney Hide: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. What we have had here is a Minister saying that it is OK to give an answer that is not true as long as one says that that is his or her recollection. The history of this is that if a Minister says it is his or her recollection that the answer is yes, and then he or she discovers that the “yes” was false, he or she is required by the Standing Orders to come down to the Chamber as soon as is practicable and correct the answer in the House. What we had here with this Minister is that he gave an answer: “Yes, to my recollection.”, which was a false answer, and then he subsequently finds out that the answer was not true. We have got it corrected only because I used up another supplementary question. The Minister now says that what he said on 6 September was not true.

Hon Dr Michael Cullen: When the Minister says “I recollect a”, even if he or she discovers that that is not the case, the fact is that that was his or her recollection at the time at which it was said. Therefore, in my view, a correction is not required. It is not the same as when a Minister is asked a question about, say, how much such and such is, and he or she gives the answer that it is 73 percent, only to discover later that in fact it was 37 percent and he or she may have got the number reversed.

Madam SPEAKER: Ruling on the point of order, it is not for the Speaker to judge the truth or otherwise of the statement. It is not uncommon for Ministers to subsequently qualify their answers if they do not have all of the details in front of them.

Rodney Hide: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. Maybe it would help the House if you would give a considered opinion of when it is appropriate for a Minister to correct an answer, no matter what qualification he or she puts on the answer. I think the expectation that I have—and that the public has—is that if a member says that his or her memory is “X” and then subsequently checks and find it is “Y”, he or she should actually correct it and say: “My memory was faulty, and my answer is ‘Y’.”

Madam SPEAKER: It is not for the Speaker to judge what Ministers should do; it is for Ministers to judge whether they need to have a correct answer. It is not for the Speaker to impose her opinion on that.

Harmful Substances—Public Protection

5. JILL PETTIS (Labour) to the Associate Minister of Health: What action is the Government taking to protect New Zealanders against harmful substances?

Hon JIM ANDERTON (Associate Minister of Health): The Labour-Progressive Government takes a multi-pronged approach to protecting New Zealanders from harmful legal, as well as illegal, substances. Our approach under the National Drug Policy is to put in place measures to reduce the supply of drugs, reduce the demand for those drugs, and treat those who are the victims of those substances. The list of actions taken by this Government is far too long for me to read out in the House today. However, the latest action was the introduction of legislation into this House yesterday to ban benzylpiperazine and related party pills—legislation supported by research, expert opinion, and an overwhelming number of members in this House.

Jill Pettis: Has the Minister been asked to refer any other substances to the Expert Advisory Committee on Drugs?

Hon JIM ANDERTON: Yes, I have. Recently I received a letter from a National member in this House asking whether the Expert Advisory Committee on Drugs would consider the substance dihydrogen monoxide, which may have been described to her as colourless, odourless, tasteless, and causing the death of uncounted thousands of people every year, and withdrawal from which, for those who become dependent on it, means certain death. I had to respond that the experts had no intention of doing so, because the substance in question was water. I seriously doubt that the Expert Advisory Committee on Drugs would want to spend any time evaluating that substance.

Corrections, Minister—Statement on Corruption

6. SIMON POWER (National—Rangitikei) to the Minister of Corrections: Does he stand by his statements that he takes corruption allegations “extremely seriously”, and that “We cannot afford to have our hard-working and dedicated staff tainted by the actions of a few.”?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Leader of the House) on behalf of the Minister of Corrections: Yes.

Simon Power: How will hard-working and dedicated staff see his decision to take a suspended prison officer on a parliamentary rugby tour as anything other than some sort of personal endorsement of that staff member, and does not this make a mockery of his claims that he takes such allegations extremely seriously?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: No.

Simon Power: Does he stand by his statement regarding allegations of corruption at Rimutaka Prison: “I encourage the individual who has made them to take the information to Mr Patten to have them thoroughly investigated.”; if so, how forthcoming does he think potential whistleblowers will be when they see that an employee who is suspended then accompanies the Minister on a parliamentary rugby trip?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Yes, the Minister does stand by that invitation. He does not believe that in that kind of circumstance, even though a bad call was made, the prospect of somebody going on a parliamentary rugby trip would deter somebody from levelling serious charges against that person. A number of parliamentarians who have been on parliamentary rugby trips have had a variety of charges levelled against them, not least in this House.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Having regard to the number of finance houses that have gone down recently and the number of serious crimes in our streets, is it proper use of Government or taxpayers’ resources to be hounding a man for playing a simple game of rugby, offshore, in his own time, even though he might be the subject of an inquiry that has yet to produce its findings, and how lily-livered is that?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I certainly think it is an example of playing the man, rather than the ball. But, of course, that is precisely what Mr Key was complaining of only a week or two back, when he was too weak to stand up to any such criticism.

Simon Power: Is it the Department of Corrections that is actually being punished by having a caretaker Minister who will not be able to make any important medium or long-term decisions in the weeks leading up to the reshuffle, at a time of year when prison numbers are at their peak, Budget bids are being put together, and a number of inquiries, including ones into corruption, are shortly due to be released?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Even assuming that there is such a thing as a reshuffle, presumably in the interim every Minister is holding his or her portfolio in anticipation that it may change.

Simon Power: How can the 5,800 Department of Corrections staff in New Zealand have any confidence that the case for their department is being advocated for in any meaningful way around the Cabinet table for the foreseeable future, when the Prime Minister has made it crystal clear that the Minister is in a caretaker role until a reshuffle occurs?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I can assure the member that all matters relating to the Department of Corrections portfolio continue to attract considerable attention from Cabinet. It is one of the few areas where, for example, every week we examine the number of people in custody, keeping track of what is going on within the prison system.

Simon Power: Does he think he has the confidence of the Prime Minister?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: The Minister of Corrections heard the Prime Minister say earlier that she has confidence in the Minister, and the Minister believes absolutely what the Prime Minister says on such matters.

Nuclear Weapons—New Zealand United Nations Initiative

7. DIANNE YATES (Labour) to the Minister for Disarmament and Arms Control: What initiative will New Zealand take at the United Nations General Assembly this year to reduce the risk of use of nuclear weapons?

Hon PHIL GOFF (Minister for Disarmament and Arms Control): New Zealand will introduce a resolution into the first committee of the United Nations General Assembly next month, calling for all States with nuclear weapons to remove such weapons from high alert and launch-on-warning status. This resolution is in response to the threat posed by having literally thousands of nuclear weapons on hair-trigger alert, and is consistent with the recommendations of the report of the Weapons of Mass Destruction Commission, which was released last year.

Dianne Yates: What is launch-on-warning status, and why in particular is it considered to be a threat?

Hon PHIL GOFF: Launch-on-warning status is a nuclear posture intended to ensure quick responses in the event of an apparent nuclear attack. For example, if the attack was to be between Russia and the United States, a nuclear-armed missile would take approximately 25 minutes to get from one continent to the other. If the attack was from a submarine-launched missile, it could be considerably less than that—a matter of sheer minutes. Any State that perceives there may be an attack on it, that has its arms on launch-on-warning status, and that then retaliates does not know whether the apparent attack is real, whether it might have been the result of terrorist infiltration into a nuclear facility, or whether the launch of a missile from the other side might have been the result of a technical malfunction or an accident. Clearly that is a high-risk situation, and to move those weapons back from hair-trigger alert makes a lot of sense and will be widely supported.

Dianne Yates: What other initiatives on disarmament is New Zealand likely to lead at this year’s United Nations General Assembly?

Hon PHIL GOFF: New Zealand will also lead a resolution, along with Mexico and Australia, promoting the bringing into force of the comprehensive test ban treaty. New Zealand will lead a second resolution, together with Brazil, to promote the building of support for a southern hemisphere free of nuclear weapons. We will work with our partners in the New Agenda Coalition to promote a resolution on nuclear disarmament generally. All of those initiatives are evidence of New Zealand’s ongoing leadership in our effort to rid the world of nuclear weapons of mass destruction. We should be proud of the lead that New Zealand is taking under a Labour-led Government.

Teachers—Staffing Ratio

8. KATHERINE RICH (National) to the Minister of Education: Does he stand by his statement: “The Government is committed to a 1:15 ratio; by the end of 2008, with the other Budget to come, that is what we will have.”; if so, is he satisfied that he will have enough teachers to staff new entrant classes to ensure that by 1 January 2008 “there are no more than 15 students in a class”?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY (Minister of Education): Yes; and yes, by the end of 2008.

Katherine Rich: Can the Minister confirm that his officials have advised him that he has no chance of meeting the Government’s promise of a ratio of 1:18 students, let alone the promise of 1:15, because there are not enough experienced teachers to teach new entrants, and there will not be for the next 2 to 4 years, and that his officials have told him: “Our analysis suggests that approximately two-thirds of the 700 positions will not be able to be filled.”, meaning that he is short by over 400 teachers?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: No, the ministry has advised me that although the situation will be tight next year, it believes that demand can be met.

Moana Mackey: What impact would the proposed introduction of bulk funding have on the available supply of teachers?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: I am told that if bulk funding were introduced by, say, a future potential—possible but not likely—National Government, then schools would employ teachers for lower wages and employ less-experienced teachers as well. It would put a cap on available funding and force schools to get by on the decreasing amount, and 2,600 schools would have to negotiate their own employment agreements, leading to widespread turmoil and a complete breakdown of the national teaching profession. By contrast—good news—the Labour-led Government has put more than 5,000 teachers above those required by roll growth in front of classes.

Hon Brian Donnelly: Did his predecessor not understand how school staffing under a ministerial reference group operates, when he stated there would be no more than 15 students in any class that had first-year students; or was he simply indulging in electioneering rhetoric, thus sending on to the Minister yet another hospital pass?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: No, my predecessor has an outstanding track record as the Minister of Education, and the sector acknowledged that over a period of 6 years—they are remembered as very short years. He managed to lift funding, lift the number of teachers, introduce professional development, raise the issue of leadership, get the curriculum review under way, and advance the work of the New Zealand Qualifications Authority. The list is so long that, of course, that could only be Mr Trevor Mallard.

Katherine Rich: Can he confirm that his officials have told him that in order to meet the shortage of teachers next year: “some schools might have to compromise on their quality criteria to employ extra teachers.”, and how does he think principals, parents, and other teachers would feel about that?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: As I said before, the ministry has advised that although the situation will be tight, demand can be met. Of course, that means that we have been putting in place a whole range of initiatives to ensure that the pressures can be addressed. If the House will bear with me, I will just read through some of the list. Study grants include the TeachNZ māori medium scholarships, the TeachNZ rural scholarships, and the TeachNZ loan support scheme for Māori medium teachers. Grants include the national relocation grant, primary and secondary; the international relocation grant, primary and secondary; transfer and removal reimbursements; the beginning teacher time allowance; the overseas teacher time allowance; the retrained teacher time allowance; and the national recruitment allowance. In other words, we have been monitoring this very closely because we are employing a lot of new teachers—for example, 5,000 above roll growth—so we are very aware of the tight situation and we are trying to address it with these kinds of measures.

Hon Brian Donnelly: Is the Minister saying that when this policy is fully actioned, every class in which there is a new entrant student will have a maximum number of 15 students?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: That is a very good question, because, as the member knows, we are talking about a ratio—that is, that the equivalent number of teachers for having a 1:15 ratio is available—but, as all of the schools have argued, what they want to be able to do is to have some flexibility. There is no guarantee with John Key—I know that; it rhymes and it is true—but there is a guarantee with Labour.

Katherine Rich: In light of his answer that he will be relying heavily on the use of beginning teachers, why is he going to rely on the use of beginning teachers to take up this role when he has previously said: “to guarantee that the intent of the policy is realised, the extra teachers must be experienced teachers with the knowledge of how to teach literacy and numeracy to 5 and 6-year-olds”; so why is he covering the gaps with beginning teachers?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: I do not recall anybody arguing that beginning teachers were the only people put into this particular role. In fact, one of the things we are doing here is trying to, for example, get teachers back from overseas who are fully experienced and ready to join the workforce here. I would take the member’s question more seriously if the National Government in power had done one single thing to reduce the student-pupil ratio—one single policy, and I would start to take her seriously.

Katherine Rich: With his mention of programmes to increase new graduates, can he confirm to the House that the number of teaching graduates has decreased by 30 percent between 2000 and 2005, and that of the 16,300 new graduates who graduated during that time just over a third were actually teaching in a classroom 1 year after they graduated, so just under two-thirds were lost straight after they graduated?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: I know that the member has a law degree, and I understand that teachers, just like lawyers, like to travel. The fact that they might not be in the workforce immediately after their training does not mean they will not be in the workforce forever.

Judith Collins: She’s not.

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: The member is not. She has left the legal profession; I understand that. Many other lawyers do not go straight into law, but they come back after they decide to take up the profession.

Katherine Rich: Can the Minister confirm that his own officials have advised him that he has no chance of meeting the 1:18 ratio, let alone the 1:15 ratio, and that if the only ideas he has are to crank up immigration, increase the number of beginning teachers, and cover the bases in other ways, he will undo any of the good work that lowering a ratio might do—it is more than having a ratio; it is actually delivering in the classroom?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: As I said before, the ministry has advised that it will be tight, but the ministry believes it can be done. I repeat: if we are going to talk about only having ideas, I ask for one single idea from the member in relation to student-pupil ratios. When National was in power last time, it did nothing. I have not heard one single promise from her today that said anything about ratios, and until she does, no one really cares what she says.

United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples—Government Support

9. HONE HARAWIRA (Māori Party—Te Tai Tokerau) to the Minister of Māori Affairs: Ka aki ia i te Kāwanatanga ki te tautoko i te Kawenata Whakapuaki o te Pāremata Kotahitanga o te Ao mō ngā Iwi Taketake o te Ao, āpōpō nei pōti ai, te tekau mā toru o Mahuru, rua mano mā whitu, arā, he kawenata whakapuaki kua mahi nei te iwi taketake ki te whakatutuki mō ngā tau rua tekau mā whā ki muri?

[Will he put pressure on the Government to support the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which will be voted on tomorrow, 13 September 2007, a declaration that indigenous people have been working on for the last 24 years?]

Hon NANAIA MAHUTA (Minister of Customs) on behalf of the Minister of Māori Affairs: No.

Hone Harawira: Does the Minister of Māori Affairs agree that indigenous peoples should have the right to maintain and strengthen their own institutions, cultures, and traditions; to establish, control, and provide education in their own language; to live in freedom, peace, and security as distinct peoples; to enjoy full and effective participation in all matters that concern them; to have full enjoyment of all human rights and fundamental freedoms; to freely determine their political status; to freely pursue their economic, social, and cultural development; to be free from discrimination; and to not be forcibly removed from their lands or territories?

Hon NANAIA MAHUTA: Many aspects of the Draft Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples will resonate here in New Zealand, but it would be difficult for the Government to take a position on an international declaration that is incompatible with New Zealand democratic processes and domestic legislation.

Darien Fenton: What is the Government’s position on the Draft United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples?

Hon NANAIA MAHUTA: I have been advised that the draft declaration is incompatible with the Government’s position. Tomorrow’s vote will reflect that.

Hone Harawira: Does the Minister of Māori Affairs agree with the comments of Ms Tauli-Corpuz, Chairperson of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, and co-ordinator of the Asia Indigenous Peoples Caucus, that the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples is a historic milestone for the indigenous peoples who have been working on it for more than 22 years, and that States have a historical and moral obligation to adopt the declaration, which she characterised as the “key instrument and tool for raising awareness on indigenous people’s situations and indigenous people’s rights.”; if so, when is he planning on speaking out against his own Government’s stated opposition to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples?

Hon NANAIA MAHUTA: There has been quite a long discourse on the Draft Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and quite recently it has been referred to as an aspirational document. In fact, during question time in the House last week one of the concerns I pointed to was that many countries intend to support it but have no intention of implementing it. That just cannot be the case.

Hone Harawira: Does the Minister of Māori Affairs agree with his colleague Nanaia Mahuta’s comments that “the Minister is well aware that New Zealand has called for open and transparent consultations on the text”—of the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples—“and he is disappointed that such consultations did not eventuate, despite the continued efforts of a number of countries, including New Zealand, to trigger such a process.”; given his support for the consultation process, can he please explain to the House why there has been no formal consultation on the declaration with any of the major iwi in this country, the New Zealand Māori Council, the Māori Women’s Welfare League, the iwi chairpersons’ forum, the Federation of Māori Authorities, or the Māori Party, which happens to hold the majority of the parliamentary seats representing the indigenous people of Aotearoa?

Hon NANAIA MAHUTA: No. Extensive consultation has been undertaken with a number of groups interested in this matter.

Darien Fenton: What has the Government done to improve opportunities for Māori?

Hon NANAIA MAHUTA: Regardless of any international instruments, this Government is committed to ensuring that Māori participate equally and successfully in New Zealand’s economy and society. The Government’s priorities have proven to be successful in improving outcomes for Māori. The measures show an increase in the average income of Māori in the workforce, and a record low rate of Māori unemployment. More Māori are getting degrees, more Māori are owning their own business, more Māori children are in early childhood education, and more Māori are taking charge of their own affairs and assets. That is positive progress.

Accident Compensation Corporation—Private Investigators

10. PANSY WONG (National) to the Minister for ACC: Does she stand by her answers to questions for written answer 13711 (2007) and 14994 (2007), dated 8 August and 27 August respectively, that she is not aware of any investigation by external authorities into any of the private investigators ACC hires; if so, why?

Hon RUTH DYSON (Minister for ACC): Yes; neither the Accident Compensation Corporation (ACC) nor I are aware of any investigations by external authorities into the ACC’s contracted private investigators. As the member may be aware, the very nature of investigations can often preclude details of those investigations being discussed with other parties.

Pansy Wong: Has the Minister been informed of the off-site meeting on 28 June of her ministerial adviser and her private secretary for ACC, where information was sought about a Police Complaints Authority inquiry into Mainland Information Consultants, an ACC contractor with contracts reported to be worth $172,000; if so, what has she been told, and what was the purpose of the meeting?

Hon RUTH DYSON: If I may start with the last question the member asked, the purpose of the meeting was to give the person involved—the third party to the meeting—an opportunity to express his serious concerns and directly raise allegations. One of the allegations made was that the Police Complaints Authority was making an investigation after referral, and that was the subject of a letter to both myself and the member, and was also the subject of insinuation in the Investigate magazine. The Police Complaints Authority is entitled to investigate the actions of the police rather than of private investigators. It has not informed me of any such investigation.

Pansy Wong: Why did the Minister twice then, on the public record in answering questions, say that she was not aware of any allegation or investigation of external authorities into the private investigators hired by ACC?

Hon RUTH DYSON: Frankly, because the answer is true. The fact that there is an allegation in reputable magazines or publications such as Investigate, in letters to me, or in any other correspondence to the member does not say that that information is true. I have no information from the Police Complaints Authority or from any other external authority that gives me the ability to confirm to her that any such investigation is taking place.

Sue Moroney: Would the Minister normally publicly comment on matters that potentially are, or could be, subject to a future investigation?

Hon RUTH DYSON: No, I certainly would not. As the member who asked the primary question should know, it is not generally appropriate for a Minister to comment publicly on such matters, because such comment has the potential to prejudice the outcomes or the process of an investigation. [Interruption] I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I take offence at the insinuation of lying to the House that was made by the member Sandra Goudie, and I ask you to ask her to withdraw and apologise. The statements I have made in written and oral answers are factually correct.

Madam SPEAKER: Would the member please withdraw and apologise.

Sandra Goudie: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. What was it that the member took offence to?

Madam SPEAKER: I did not hear what the comment was, but the Minister asked that you withdraw and apologise for implications of dishonesty. The Minister did not repeat exactly what you said, but from what I could understand, she was saying that you insinuated in your comment that she was lying. If you did do that, then I ask you to withdraw and apologise. Are you saying that you did not make that comment or insinuation?

Sandra Goudie: I made no comment about the Minister lying.

Madam SPEAKER: About her dishonesty?

Sandra Goudie: I made the comment: “So she did know about it.”

Madam SPEAKER: Well, it is a marginal call.

Hon Harry Duynhoven: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I think this raises a very interesting issue that you may like to consider and come back to the House on. The word “liar” has long been ruled out in this House. To state in the way that the member did, immediately after the Minister’s comments to the House, that those comments were incorrect by inference implies absolutely that the Minister was lying. I think that that and the way that it was done may be something you may like to reflect on. You may like to give us a ruling for the future as to how one can disagree with what a member says without actually being in the position of saying that the member is being untruthful or is lying. I think it is a very interesting issue to consider.

Gerry Brownlee: I do not think there is anything for you to consider here, at all. The comment from Sandra Goudie was quite reasonable, in the circumstances. It is patently evident from the—[Interruption]

Madam SPEAKER: Who made that comment?

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Well, I did.

Madam SPEAKER: I am sorry, but we know the rules in this House.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker.

Madam SPEAKER: No, we will finish with this one and then we will hear your point of order, Mr Peters.

Gerry Brownlee: That is not very satisfactory, Madam Speaker. You were about to make a ruling on your order in the House, and Mr Peters has circumvented that.

Madam SPEAKER: Would the member please continue with his point of order, so that I can get this matter settled.

Gerry Brownlee: My point of order is simply that it is patently obvious from the answers given by the Hon Ruth Dyson that she was aware of the circumstances. That is undisputable. So for Sandra Goudie to say the Minister knew is to tell the truth.

Madam SPEAKER: I think the issue about lying or not telling the truth is being confused a little bit. The general rule is that if a member thinks there is a personal reflection on him or her and requires another member to withdraw and apologise, then that is normally what happens. In this instance the Minister did believe a personal reflection was made. She asked for it to be withdrawn and for an apology, so I ask the member to do that. There is no implication about dishonesty. That is the normal rule. If a member takes that position, then the other member withdraws and apologises.

Sandra Goudie: I apologise.

Madam SPEAKER: Thank you very much.

Gerry Brownlee: At the risk of behaving a little like a head prefect or something, there was an issue with Mr Peters.

Madam SPEAKER: A comment was made—[Interruption] Please speak to your point of order, Mr Peters.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Mr Brownlee got to his feet and said to you that there was nothing in that point of order at all. That is a complete statement—a conclusion at the end of an argument. That is what one usually leads to when one makes out an argument as to why something is not a point of order. That being the case, I said: “If that’s the case, sit down, then.”

Gerry Brownlee: What I actually said—and it may have been difficult for Mr Peters to hear down there—was that there was nothing for Madam Speaker to consider here, and at that point I was interrupted. I think I am surely entitled, on a point of order, to explain what it is about.

Madam SPEAKER: I think we have resolved the point of order. I make the point that members are on their last warning about interjecting on points of order. That exactly illustrates the problems that arise.

Peter Brown: Is the Minister aware that there have been fraud investigations into both claimants and providers on a seemingly never-ending basis, sometimes over several years, resulting in several cases, if not the majority, where there was nothing found—zilch; not even a whiff of fraud—and will the Minister inform the House whether she condones that practice?

Hon RUTH DYSON: As the member knows, the issue of fraud investigations was the subject of an independent review by Doug Martin and associates recently. I welcomed the recommendations in that review. I think it was a rigorous review and the recommendations clearly indicated that although the rest of the ACC has moved on since the time the National-led Government of the 1990s and its attitude of secrecy and intrusion, the fraud unit had not. I welcome the opportunity for the board and ACC management to bring that part of the ACC in line with the rest of it.

Pansy Wong: What, then, does the Minister make of the letter written by the ACC and dated 9 July that stated it was aware of allegations against that private investigator and would rely on any findings made by the Police Complaints Authority before deciding on whether to continue the contract with Mainland Information Consultants, and will she hold anyone to account for that information breakdown to her?

Hon RUTH DYSON: I would highly recommend that the member read the correspondence she attempts to quote from before she misquotes it, because it does not say that at all. It says: “ACC is aware of allegations that have been made in relation to Mainland Information Consultants and will rely on any findings made by the Police Complaints Authority.” Mainland Information Consultants has private investigators working for it. The Police Complaints Authority cannot, under its statute—the Police Complaints Authority Act 1988—investigate anyone other than the police. It cannot investigate private investigators; that is the role of the Registrar of Private Investigators and Security Guards. If the member wants to ask me whether I know of anybody who is investigating the police, then she should ask that question—she asked about private investigators. Just to put it on the record, I do not know whether the Police Complaints Authority has been investigating the police, either.

Peter Brown: Noting the Minister’s earlier answer to the question I posed, if I were to supply her with the details of a never-ending case of fraud investigations over several years—in this case into a provider—that has resulted in absolutely nothing except the individual being overcome by stress and anguish, is she prepared to look into the matter fairly and to examine it in detail?

Hon RUTH DYSON: I would be absolutely prepared to pass it on to the chief executive, who is responsible for operational matters.

Pansy Wong: I seek the leave of the House to table the letter written by the ACC that stated it was aware of allegations and would rely on any findings—

Leave granted.

Pansy Wong: I seek leave to table an email of the off-site meeting between external parties—

Leave granted.

Government Computer Systems—Cyber Attacks

11. KEITH LOCKE (Green) to the Minister in charge of the NZ Security Intelligence Service: Can she confirm that she knows which foreign Government is behind cyber-attacks on New Zealand Government computer systems but will not say who; if so, is her reluctance to name names in any way related to New Zealand’s free-trade talks with China?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK (Minister in charge of the NZ Security Intelligence Service): Yes, I am kept well briefed on these matters. The answer to the second part of the question is no.

Keith Locke: Does she believe that New Zealanders have the right to know which foreign country is endangering the security of our Government information, and that public embarrassment is the best medicine—as it was when she publicly scolded Israel for trying to obtain false New Zealand passports?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: No and no.

Keith Locke: Does she think New Zealand can continue to effectively negotiate a free-trade deal with China if the Chinese Government is hacking into our computers and stealing information relevant to our bargaining position?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: The New Zealand Government has made no such allegation about China.

Keith Locke: Will the New Zealand Government be joining the Governments of the United States, Britain, and Germany in protesting to China following allegations at the highest levels of those Governments that they are also being subjected to hacking by Chinese Government authorities?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: The latest I have seen is that foreign Governments have declined to accuse China in the way the member says. However, their behaviour is entirely a matter for them. We judge what is appropriate for us when it comes to considering who is behind such attacks.

Nandor Tanczos: Why does the Government continue to rely on Microsoft products in Government departments and in Parliament when Microsoft is notoriously prone to security breaches; and when will we begin to see consideration given to open-sourced software that is more secure, more cost-effective, and anti-monopolistic?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: Madam Speaker, that might be a question more relevantly directed at you as Speaker. I am not responsible for the software used in Parliament.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Why does the Government not advise the Greens that the Chinese Government is still communist, which will then enable Mr Locke to change his mind and start supporting the present regime?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: As far as I am aware, the Chinese Government describes itself as “communist with Chinese characteristics”.

Keith Locke: I seek leave to table three documents. The first is from The Times of 27 August, and is headed: “China accused of hacking into—

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

Keith Locke: I seek leave to table the second document, also from The Times, dated 6 September, headed: “China ‘tops list’ of cyber-hackers seeking UK government secrets.”

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

Keith Locke: The third document is from domain-B magazine, 10 September, and is headed: “Chinese military hacked into US defence secretary’s office”.

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

Television New Zealand—Revenue Decline

12. Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN (National—Northcote) to the Minister of Broadcasting: What steps has he taken to assure himself that Television New Zealand’s strategy will reverse the company’s decline in revenue, following the announcement of the company’s worst ever financial result?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY (Minister of Broadcasting): As people will know, Television New Zealand (TVNZ) has developed a 5-year strategic plan. Sir John Anderson, the board, and the management have assured me that this plan will return TVNZ to profitability. The chief executive confirmed this on Radio New Zealand National yesterday when he said that the issues that had led to the loss have been addressed, and TVNZ is confident of returning the company to good, solid profits.

Dr Jonathan Coleman: Does the Minister really expect the public to believe his explanation in the House yesterday that TVNZ revenues will be increased by its moving to digital, cutting costs, looking for new ways to source revenue, and launching a plan to reach New Zealanders on every screen; if so, how exactly will the business model work, or are the mere financial details beneath him?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: Yes.

Maryan Street: Has the Minister seen any reports on the relative performance of TVNZ since 2003?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: Yes, I have. Yesterday Dr Coleman put out a press release on its performance between 2003 and 2007, in which he made a number of fundamental mistakes. He did not notice, for example, that there had been a separation of TVNZ and Transmission Holdings in 2004. He showed he does not understand the difference between shareholders’ equity and company value. He said that TVNZ launching two new channels was a strange thing to do when every public broadcaster in the world is going into a multi-channel environment. He also did not acknowledge that in the 1990s National sold off Sky shares—a major mistake—bled the organisation through rates of return of 23 percent on average, and prepared it for sale. All of that was absent from his press release, and that shows that it would be a really good thing if he talked to people around the sector about how it operates.

Dr Jonathan Coleman: Why, when the Minister has just admitted that the mere financial details are beneath him, is he blaming TVNZ’s financial difficulties on audience fragmentation and changes in technology, when the reality is that over the same period that he has managed to halve the value of TVNZ and reduce its revenue by $120 million, TV3, competing in exactly the same market, has actually grown its revenue and increased its value?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: I can only say that the member needs to go and talk to people in the sector. If a company is split in half, as TVNZ was, then half of the value goes off into Transmission Holdings and half stays with TVNZ. I think that changes the value of the company. TV3—to take another of the member’s questions—is a company that focuses largely on the 18 to 34 demographic in the Auckland market. TVNZ focuses on the whole country and on all demographics. That changes the fundamentals of both companies.

Dr Jonathan Coleman: How does the Minister explain that on his watch last year TVNZ turned a $34 million taxpayer investment into a $4.5 million loss—its first ever—and how can he possibly think that that represents a good return for the New Zealand public?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: Apart from the fact that this Government is not preparing the company for sale, as the previous National Government was, I would say that the chief executive explained it extremely well. I know that issues like the fragmentation of the audience, the reduction of the amount advertising available, the changes in the nature of analog broadcasting, and the need to move to digital are beneath the member, but they are very important to all broadcasters, and I am sure that if the member visits them, they will help him understand that.

Dr Jonathan Coleman: Would the Minister outline for the House what his charter has actually delivered for the New Zealand public apart from a $4.5 million loss, the halving of TVNZ’s value, a $120 million slump in advertising revenue, and Dancing with the Stars, which according to Rick Ellis is a charter programme but according to Michael Cullen is not?

Hon Dr Michael Cullen: It had Rodney Hide on it.

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: Dr Cullen was just observing that it was just one participant whom he thought was not up to the charter. I can point to TVNZ’s regionalisation of its news; its internationalisation of its news by putting journalists overseas; its higher presence of Māori and Pacific programming; its greater number of broadcasts with local content; its rising number of documentaries; its buying high-quality overseas programmes; its 5½ hours of coverage—a fantastic operation—of the Māori Queen’s funeral; and mainstream television’s adoption of Māori language. I could go on and on. There is its programme in schools. There is its work with independent producers of programmes. It is not a bad record, really.

Dr Jonathan Coleman: Now that the Minister has reduced the value of TVNZ by half during his tenure, does he reckon he has got time to chew through the other half before the 2008 election, or will he need another term as Minister to bring the value down to zero?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: The member can guarantee that we will have another term; that is something I want to say to the member. I imagine that during that time National will reinstate Maurice Williamson as spokesperson; at least he understood something about the portfolio, and he is probably sitting there cringing right now. But I go back to something very simple: if a company that used to have both TVNZ and Transmission Holdings in it is split, its value will change quite substantially.

Judith Collins: I seek leave of the House to table the Government’s plan to bring TVNZ back into profitability.

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

ENDS

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