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Questions And Answers - Wednesday, 7 November 2007

Questions And Answers - Wednesday, 7 November 2007

Questions to Ministers

Tax Cuts—Funding for New Initiatives

1. JOHN KEY (Leader of the Opposition) to the Prime Minister: Does she stand by her assurance, given on Agenda, that she expects to have new initiatives and new programmes and new spending in health and education while still delivering tax cuts?

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

John Key: How does the Prime Minister reconcile her view with that of the Minister of Finance, who, last year, said: “When anyone promises tax cuts you need to read their lips carefully, because what they are actually saying is longer waiting-times for health care, longer queues for public services, lower pensions, and fewer police, and so on and so forth.”?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I am assured the Prime Minister always reads the Minister’s lips carefully.

John Key: Is this the first time since 1999 that it has been possible for the Government to fund new initiatives and new spending in health and education, while still delivering across-the-board personal tax cuts, or has it been possible in previous years?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I think this member referred yesterday to 2003-04 and advised that there was some increased fiscal headroom, and the Government at that point delivered very substantial increases in the family support tax credits, averaging about $100 a week for a two-child family. Of course, the National Party still refuses to commit to the entire Working for Families programme and is still promising to take back $10 per week, per child, from the poorest families in this country.

John Key: How does her finance Minister’s four tests for tax cuts have any credibility, when the finance Minister said, during the last election campaign: “It’s like a household budget: when you cut your income—that is, when you cut your taxes—you either borrow more or spend less. What John is going to try and get you to believe is that you can do all of it without borrowing more or spending less.”; and how come when John cuts taxes it means spending less but when Michael cuts taxes it means spending more?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: What the member seems to have forgotten is that he keeps saying, week after week, that the Government should be borrowing more and that the Government’s balance sheet is too strong. What he will not do is accept an invitation from Agenda to go on the programme and repeat that assertion.

John Key: Does it not strain the credibility of the Government’s position that only 6 months ago across-the-board personal tax cuts were so unaffordable that the Government cancelled $400 million of proposed tax cuts, yet, lo and behold, at the Labour Party conference all of a sudden tax cuts have become the high priority, affordable, and doable in an election year?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: What the member seems to have forgotten is that Treasury, over the last 2 years, has underestimated the total cash surplus by a total of over $7 billion. Why is that? It is because this Government has produced stronger growth than Treasury expected.

Jeanette Fitzsimons: Does the Prime Minister have enough confidence in the economic modelling at Treasury to ensure that any tax cuts will not be inflationary?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Treasury continues to advise the Minister of Finance that there is still significant uncertainty about the size of fiscal headroom. Both Treasury and the Reserve Bank are clear that any moves have to be calibrated carefully to avoid further inflationary pressure.

John Key: Does the Prime Minister anticipate that the Minister of Finance will have to phase in any tax cuts the Government may make, and is it likely that those tax cuts may well start before the election in 2008?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: As both the Prime Minister and the Minister of Finance have said, there are no decisions yet about the timing, size, or shape of any tax cuts. The one thing that the Prime Minister has been very, very clear about is that the Minister of Finance will be delivering those tax cuts—and that got the largest round of applause at the Labour Party conference.

John Key: When the Prime Minister said “Michael Cullen is the man to deliver tax cuts.”, was it because he is on the record as having said: “My view is that tax cuts are largely offered as a political bribe, not because of beneficial economic or social effects.”?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: The Minister of Finance certainly still believes that the notion that modest tax cuts would suddenly accelerate the growth in the New Zealand economy, long term, is a pure piece of nonsense—and ideological nonsense, at that. What the Minister of Finance has been very clear about is that any tax cuts will be across the board and have a substantial element of fairness—something the National Party has never promised in that area, at all.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: In regard to the complexity of our economy or similar economies, is it right and sound to describe a surplus being maintained, and tax cuts replacing that surplus as having the same potential economic effect—particularly in respect to the second half of my question?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I think that is true. The important point, of course, is that members opposite still cannot work out that an operating surplus is not what is available for tax cuts. Mr Key, at one point, when the operating surplus was $11 billion a year, promptly that day promised $11 billion a year of tax cuts, which would have required something like $9 billion a year of borrowing.

Jeanette Fitzsimons: What specific aspects of Treasury’s economic forecasting has the Prime Minister been informed needs revision, in light of Treasury’s recent admission that the surpluses are structural?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: It is important to remember that the most important factor in this is actually estimates around the growth rate in the economy. Treasury has consistently forecast over the last 3 years a declining rate of economic growth, and that has not actually occurred in the out-turn. Obviously, stronger economic growth means high revenue, more people in employment, and lower expenditure on benefits. Under this Government, after 8 years, we are still not spending an additional dollar on working-age benefits than we were at the start of the Government. After 9 years under National, despite cutting benefits, it was spending a vastly increased amount of money on working-age benefits.

John Key: If the Prime Minister just told the people of New Zealand that modest tax cuts do not have much impact on economic effects, can she now tell the country whether we are in store, under Labour, for large tax cuts or tiny tax cuts; and if previous form is anything to go by, should New Zealanders go to bed tonight knowing that not only will they be tiny tax cuts but, for the record, they will never be delivered?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: It may surprise the member to learn that between tiny and large there is a very large amount of space.

Rodney Hide: When the Government is designing its tax cuts for next year, will it be considering removing the taxes that it has introduced—in particular the top rate of tax of 39c, which is both unfair and inefficient to the economy?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: As I have said on many occasions, no decisions have been taken about shape or timing, or indeed even phasing, around any matters. Of course, if one is on the top tax rate it always looks unfair. Those people who would love to be earning more than $60,000 a year may have a somewhat different view.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I wonder whether the Deputy Prime Minister could outline what the differences are between our tax rates and Australia’s, seeing as Australia is so often used by certain members of this Parliament as a comparison, and unfavourably, against New Zealand?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: The largest differences are pretty simple. Tax rates are much lower at the bottom end in Australia—indeed they start with a zero rate—and they are higher at the top end. Equally important is that Australia has a range of taxes that do not exist in New Zealand, including a general capital gains tax, stamp duties, and a range of other taxes.

Child Cancer—Treatment

2. LESLEY SOPER (Labour) to the Minister of Health: Has he received any reports on the treatment of child cancer?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE (Minister of Health): Yes. I watched with concern the portrayal of Wellington’s paediatric oncology situation on Television One’s Close Up last night. Further, I have read reports in today’s Dominion Post regarding Capital and Coast District Health Board that add to my list of concerns. I wish to advise the House that as my first external act as Minister, I called in the chair and chief executive officer of Capital and Coast District Health Board yesterday morning. I conveyed to them the Government’s serious concerns at the paediatric oncology situation and more generally. I received an undertaking from the chair that she would report to me by the end of this month with recommendations on solutions to the paediatric oncology issue. She further advised me that the board would act immediately and comprehensively to address issues raised in the Telarc review. I expect that to be done.

Lesley Soper: Why is the Minister concerned, and what action might he consider?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: Unlike Gerry Brownlee, I am concerned because when children and their families are confronted with a diagnosis of cancer, they require certainty—

Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I take great umbrage at the inference that Minister is currently making. I take such offence that I think he should withdraw the comment.

Madam SPEAKER: The member has asked for a withdrawal. I would note, however, that an interjection was made on the Minister by the member at that time, and the Minister was responding to it. As we know in this House, if members make interjections they are likely to get a response. But I will ask, since the member has asked for that, for the comment relating to Mr Brownlee to be withdrawn.

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: I withdraw the comment and I repeat my answer. I am concerned because when children and their families are confronted with a diagnosis of cancer, they require certainty about where and when treatment will be given. Child cancer services are essential for our children and families, and there is no way that the Government will see that compromised. Measures that I, as Minister, can take if I am not satisfied include increasing the monitoring of the board’s performance and considering the position, potentially, of the chair and the board. The present situation is unsatisfactory; some fundamental changes may need to be made.

Barbara Stewart: Will he undertake to provide extra funding to improve paediatric oncology services at Starship Children’s Health and Christchurch in the event of such services being unsustainable in Wellington; if not, why not?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: I do not wish to pre-empt or foreclose any options, and the matters are ones for the chair of the district health board to bring to me in due course. It would seem logical that if there is any potential transfer of services downstream, there would have to be resourcing to match it.

Katrina Shanks: Does the Minister not realise that the situation with regard to the child cancer service at Wellington Hospital is symptomatic of the wider problems of the district health board, where there is a complete failure of leadership and a complete breakdown of relationships between management and staff?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: I think it is important for the House to recognise that although there is useful material in the Telarc report and it has been welcomed by the board, of course there is a relationship between that and various professional interest groups that should be recognised. As I have said, I have accepted an undertaking from the chair that the issues raised in the report that go beyond paediatric oncology will be comprehensively and immediately addressed.

Sue Kedgley: How can Wellingtonians possibly have confidence in their district health board when it is in such an obvious state of meltdown, with patient records and clinical records being stored on trolleys in public corridors and freely accessed by patients, with nurses dispensing medications prescribed by an unknown medical officer, with 20,000 radiological reports not being printed for 8 months because of computer error, and with staff morale being at rock bottom; and at what point would the Minister consider dismissing the board and replacing it with a commissioner?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: None of those things are acceptable—

Hon Tony Ryall: 8 years.

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: I ask Mr Ryall why he does not stay in his box. I am running this show, and he will probably not—[Interruption]

Madam SPEAKER: Please be seated. Interjections do, of course, as I have said, provoke responses. However, I would ask the Minister to stick to addressing the question.

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: None of those factors are acceptable, and they will be addressed in due course.

Capital and Coast District Health Board—Reports

3. Hon TONY RYALL (National—Bay of Plenty) to the Minister of Health: Has he seen reports describing the Capital and Coast District Health Board as a place of “Dysfunction, mistrust, morale at rock bottom”; if so, are these reports accurate?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE (Minister of Health): Yes, I have seen those reports. As I outlined in my previous response, I have significant concerns relating to the situation at the Capital and Coast District Health Board. I am considering the options I have relating to those reports and the situation they outline.

Hon Tony Ryall: Well, who has been running the show for the last 8 years, with the result that this document is testament to the fact that the people of Wellington have a service that is now characterised as being in a constant state of crisis control; who has run the show for the last 8 years, and what accountability are they going to take?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: Very clearly, the primary accountability rests with the district health board, and it would be inappropriate to reach over that layer of governance until the appropriate work had been done. But the message to this House is very clear: the Government expects that work to be done comprehensively and immediately.

Heather Roy: Will the Minister put a commissioner in place to sort out the multiple difficulties that this board has always faced, including an inability to balance its books without clever accounting practices, or will he continue to allow the capital’s public health services to limp along under a new, incoming board by instructing the board that its first duty is not to concern itself with the health needs of the local population but to implement Labour’s health policy, so nothing changes?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: As I have told the House, a full range of options will be considered. None have been ruled in or out.

Hon Tony Ryall: Who has been running the show for the last 8 years to produce such a toxic relationship between doctors and nurses and management at Wellington Hospital that it has been described as “disconnection, dysfunction and mistrust”, and does the Minister understand the impact that that is having on the confidence of the staff and patients of Wellington; if he does not know the answer to that, maybe he should be looking at the graveyard over there of Ministers of Health who for 8 years have let this happen and done nothing?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: I think that all members of this House would agree that the connection between clinicians, managers, and the district health boards is essential. I will be looking to see those connections strengthened, not only in this case but across the sector. But the member will have to do better than call previous hard-working Ministers names, if he is ever to get on this side of the House.

Hon Tony Ryall: Who has been running the show at Wellington Hospital and in the public health system over the last 8 years; and does the Minister think he can convince the staff and patients of Wellington City that this failed Labour Government is responsible for nothing over the last 8 years?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: The member can keep his warm cheap seat going for a long time yet, while we get on and recognise the many miracles that are happening around the country every day in our health system, support our clinicians, and deliver services to our people.

Dr Jonathan Coleman: Does the Minister realise he is the third Labour Minister of Health to run the show at Capital and Coast District Health Board; and why would the public have any confidence that he will be able to run the show properly, when Annette King and Pete Hodgson just could not, or will it take yet another Labour miracle?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: Last time I looked, I saw that this Government has had a lot fewer Ministers of Health than National has had Leaders of the Opposition.

Dr Jackie Blue: Does the Minister realise that his special adviser today at the Health Committee said that the safety issues at Wellington Hospital were no worse than those at any other hospital in the country; and how does the Minister think that patients in our nation’s hospitals will react to that astonishing statement, when faced with appalling headlines like the one in today’s Dominion Post?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: The Ministry of Health’s elevated level of concern about the Capital and Coast District Health Board is reflected in the fact that that board is monitored at an intensive level, which of course does not characterise the rest of the sector.

School Curriculum—Treaty of Waitangi

4. Hon BRIAN DONNELLY (NZ First) to the Minister of Education: Do the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi form part of the new curriculum launched yesterday; if so, why?

Hon CHRIS CARTER (Minister of Education): Yes. In drafting the new curriculum we recognised the fact that schools are already guided by the principles of the Treaty embedded in the National Education Guidelines. However, many consultation respondents felt that it would also be appropriate to include explicit reference to the Treaty of Waitangi as New Zealand’s founding document. We have responded to this feedback by making the Treaty explicit in the overall purpose, principles, and values of the curriculum.

Hon Brian Donnelly: What is the difference between having a requirement to operate under the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi, and having the Treaty of Waitangi as a guiding principle, as the new curriculum has?

Hon CHRIS CARTER: Both entrench the idea of a partnership that is fundamental to the founding document and the culture of New Zealand, which is about recognising the unique status of tangata whenua and the place of te reo Māori in our country, as well as the larger Anglo-Celtic culture of our country.

Hon Brian Donnelly: Is it not true that there is no reference at all in the Education Act 1989 to the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi or to the Treaty of Waitangi itself with regard to either preschools or schools?

Hon CHRIS CARTER: I think it is true that there is a reference in the physical education section of the Education Act, and in the education guidelines that guide the practice of the curriculum in schools it is clearly stated that the Treaty should be a guiding principle.

Dianne Yates: What reports has the Minister seen about support for the new curriculum?

Hon CHRIS CARTER: I have seen some remarkable reports. The Chief Executive of Business New Zealand, Phil O’Reilly, says the new curriculum sets the right goal for young New Zealanders. The Retirement Commissioner says it is a major milestone in improving financial knowledge, and has congratulated the Government. The Electoral Commission has praised the strong focus on citizenship.

Sue Bradford: Does the Treaty of Waitangi itself contain any principles that are important for Aotearoa New Zealand and therefore deserve to be a core part of our children’s learning?

Hon CHRIS CARTER: For education a fundamental theme of the Treaty is partnership, as I mentioned earlier, and a recognition of the unique status of Māori as tangata whenua, the first people of this land. This is not new in the education sector.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Just so that we are all very clear on the constitutional and historical position, why was no one in the UK in partnership with the Crown on 5 February 1840, yet the Māori were in partnership with the Crown on 7 February 1840—could he explain that to us, please?

Madam SPEAKER: I think that question is outside the Minister’s ministerial responsibility, but—

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. The Minister used the word “partnership”. He asserted the word “partnership”. I know what this House thinks about it, and what other Ministers think. I would like him to explain to the country just what the constitutional and historical evidence is.

Madam SPEAKER: I say to the Hon Chris Carter that he may address the question if he wishes to do so.

Hon CHRIS CARTER: As a historian I am very interested in the question. I remind the member that, of course, the signing of the Magna Carta, which is considered to be a fundamental document in the development of our constitutional history, was a partnership between the Crown and the barons of England.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I did not ask about the Magna Carta; I asked about the Treaty of Waitangi of 6 February 1840. I know what the Magna Carta is, but I want to know why the Treaty of Waitangi is being construed in the way he has just construed it in front of this House in answering the question. That is the question I want to have answered.

Madam SPEAKER: I think the Minister did address the question.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. Perhaps you could tell me, Madam Speaker, which part of his answer related to the question of partnership, because none of his answer did so; he talked about the Magna Carta.

Madam SPEAKER: It is not for the Speaker to interpret Ministers’ answers, or members’ questions, for that matter. But I did listen very carefully, and the word “partnership” was certainly used in the answer, as it was in the question.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. You are correct, Madam Speaker. The Minister referred to the word “partnership” in respect of the Magna Carta but not in respect of the Treaty of Waitangi of 1840. What is important about this is that we have heard this sort of argument parleyed around this House for the last two decades, and here we are on 7 November 2007, after two decades of discussion, and the Minister cannot answer the question.

Madam SPEAKER: As I pointed out to the member, if that question had been addressed to a Minister with ministerial responsibility, then maybe a more satisfactory answer could have been given.

Justice, Minister—Focus on Victims

5. SIMON POWER (National—Rangitikei) to the Minister of Justice: Does she stand by her statement last week that “I am determined to keep a focus on victims right at the forefront of my approach in this portfolio.”?

Hon ANNETTE KING (Minister of Justice): Yes. Victims’ rights have been enhanced considerably since this Labour-led Government came to office, and I have already asked Ministry of Justice officials to provide me with advice in respect of further initiatives that can be undertaken in this area.

Simon Power: Can the Minister confirm that, under the Prisoners’ and Victims’ Claims Act 2005, of the $91,408.11 in prisoner compensation that has been paid into the victims’ claims trust account to date, only one victim has made a successful claim, for $9,500, but four inmates have been paid out a total of $32,383.83; if so, why?

Hon ANNETTE KING: Yes, I can confirm that is the case. I can also confirm that the Criminal Justice Reform Bill extends the Prisoners’ and Victims’ Claims Act to 2010 to allow more time for claims to be made by victims.

Simon Power: Does she stand by her predecessor Phil Goff’s claim that the legislation would “restrict compensation for inmates to exceptional cases”, and that in those cases it “maximises the prospect that victims will be the beneficiaries”, and how does that square with a system where to date almost 80 percent of the amount paid out has still gone to offenders?

Hon ANNETTE KING: I think it is fair to say that we would prefer to see victims receive the compensation, and that is one of the reasons why there is an extended time—for victims to be able to make claims. But I would also add that it is under this Government that we have seen rights being given to victims. When one considers that it was under this Government that victims’ rights were actually put into law, in the Victims’ Rights Act 2002—5 years ago—and that there were many years in which a National Government could have put those rights into law but did not—I stand by our record of trying to redress the imbalance between victims and offenders.

Ann Hartley: What reports has she seen on enhancing victims’ rights?

Hon ANNETTE KING: I looked at the speech John Key gave last week on law and order to see what he had to say on this subject, and I have to tell the House I was very disappointed indeed, because all I found was a slur on the work of the New Zealand Police when it came to victims. The police, as everybody knows, are the first point of contact for victims, and I believe they do a magnificent job. Mr Key obviously does not think that is the case, because he says that he wants them to take family violence seriously. Well, I believe the police do take family violence seriously, and it is difficult work that they do. Rather than their being kicked by politicians for the sake of cheap political point scoring, I would have expected some more support.

Simon Power: Does the Minister stand by her predecessor Phil Goff’s claim that the 2005 legislation would provide a strong disincentive for any offenders who might be encouraged by other payouts to make a compensation claim themselves; if so, how does she explain the fact that, in the last year alone, inmates have made claims for compensation totalling more than $1.2 million?

Hon ANNETTE KING: I do stand by that claim, because if a change had not been made, considerably more compensation could have been paid out under the previous regime.

Peter Brown: Noting those answers and the obvious importance of the police to an effective justice system, will the Minister inform us of what recent reports she has seen regarding the Government’s commitment to recruit 1,250 extra police during this term of Parliament as a result of the confidence and supply agreement with New Zealand First?

Madam SPEAKER: I think that is outside the ministerial responsibility. That question is better directed to the Minister of Police than the Minister of Justice. Would the member wish to have the opportunity to bring the question within the ministerial responsibility?

Peter Brown: I take your point, Madam Speaker, but I suggest that the questions and answers going across the House are about criminals and the justice system, and the police are an integral, important part of that.

Gerry Brownlee: Don’t argue!

Peter Brown: Well, the members over there wanted a computer to replace about 600 police officers, as I recall.

Madam SPEAKER: Please be seated. Maybe the member would like an opportunity to reconsider.

Simon Power: Does she stand by the claim in 2005 of the Associate Minister of Justice Rick Barker that Labour would establish a new, independent prisoner complaints body by the end of 2006 to reduce the likelihood of future damages claims arising; and in light of the $1.2 million in claims in the last year alone, why has the establishment of that body taken so long—for simply giving the Ombudsman wider jurisdiction in terms of what they already do hardly counts as a new body?

Hon ANNETTE KING: I do not believe that most New Zealanders see the changes to the role of the Ombudsman in that way, at all. In fact, the enhanced role has been welcomed.

Simon Power: How can she continue to support a compensation regime that has given more money to inmates than to victims, and why did she vote only a matter of months ago to extend it for another 3 years?

Hon ANNETTE KING: I do not know whether the member was listening to the previous answers, but I think that on two occasions I said that it was to allow more time for claims to be made by victims.

Peter Brown: Noting those earlier answers and the obvious importance of law and order to an effective and efficient justice system for victims’ rights, will the Minister inform us of what recent reports she has seen in terms of running and administering an efficient law and order system?

Madam SPEAKER: That is pretty general, but the Minister may answer.

Hon ANNETTE KING: There are many parts to the justice system, as has already been pointed out. As I have pointed out, I have seen Mr Key’s speech on law and order. It made almost no mention of victims’ rights, at all, so so much for the crocodile tears we are seeing today! I can assure this House that by the time National members get round to drip-feeding their policy, which they have said they will do, our policy will be well bedded in, because we have not only policy but legislation.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: You’ve had 8 years.

Hon ANNETTE KING: Yes, we have had 8 years, and in those 8 years we have already put in 1,500 additional police, and 1,250 additional police staff are going in. Now we know, after 18 months of constant criticism from National, that Mr Key supports our drive for additional police. Having tried to destroy the whole programme, he has finally woken up to the fact that we needed those police.

Early Childhood Education—Free Hours Policy

6. MOANA MACKEY (Labour) to the Minister of Education: What reports has he received on the success of the 20 hours’ free early childhood education policy?

Hon CHRIS CARTER (Minister of Education): I have had wonderful news. The latest figures on the uptake of the 20 free hours of early childhood education show that after just 4 months of the scheme’s operation, all kindergartens in New Zealand are now offering the free hours. Eighty-three percent of eligible 3 and 4-year-olds are now getting their free hours, and 72 percent of teacher-led services are offering the policy. There has been a 13 percent increase in enrolled children since the policy began in July. It is a great success.

Moana Mackey: What reports has he seen about alternative approaches to early childhood education?

Hon CHRIS CARTER: I have seen very interesting reports. Some members of the National Party vow they would end this historic and visionary policy. Paula Bennett told Radio New Zealand News on 22 June that National would not offer the policy and that National members vowed not to continue it if they won the next election. However, her leader, John Key, told Television One news on 26 March: “We want these young kids to be able to have their 20 free hours.” Almost 77,000 children are currently benefiting from this policy. Just what is National’s policy, and could National be planning to stop the long-term educational gains our young students are enjoying?

Paula Bennett: Does the Minister support playcentres as a quality early childhood option; if so, how does he respond to Coromandel Playcentre, which may now close because enrolments have dropped by 50 percent because it is not included in the Government’s policy; and is parental involvement not recognised as being important by this Government?

Hon CHRIS CARTER: Parental involvement is valued by this Government, but this policy is available to teacher-led centres. I remind the House that 77,000 children are now getting their 20 free hours. That was an interesting question from a member who says she wants to abolish the scheme. But she is arguing for a centre to get into it. That does seem to be rather confusing.

Schools, Primary—Quality of Teaching

7. KATHERINE RICH (National) to the Minister of Education: Does he agree with the Government’s 2005 manifesto statement that “the quality of teaching is the single biggest determinant of learning success”; if so, why do almost 60 percent of the country’s primary school teachers fail to reach the top grade when it comes to teaching writing?

Hon CHRIS CARTER (Minister of Education): Yes, As a former teacher myself, I agree that quality teaching has a huge impact on student achievement. The Education Review Office report that the member may be quoting needs to be read accurately. It stated that 87 percent of teachers were teaching effectively, and that just 13 percent needed upskilling. The member continues to mislead over Education Review Office reports on the quality of teaching, by equating “less effective” with “ineffective”.

Katherine Rich: Does it concern the Minister that that same Education Review Office report found that a consistent 24 to 30 percent of teachers had either significant weakness or were ineffective in teaching writing, whereas 23 percent were teaching something they thought was writing but the Education Review Office said did not reflect the English curriculum?

Hon CHRIS CARTER: The Education Review Office’s assessment of literacy looked at six particular areas and then graded teachers through them. Teachers may well have been excellent in five areas and needing upskilling in one area in particular. Any such review of members of this Parliament would probably reveal similar gaps in specialty areas.

Dr Ashraf Choudhary: What steps is the Government taking to improve the quality of teaching in our classrooms?

Hon CHRIS CARTER: The Government is taking many steps. During the 2005-06 year alone, we invested $111 million in teacher professional development. This investment has helped teachers to improve their skills in key learning areas such as literacy and numeracy. We have put over 5,000 extra teachers in classrooms to ease workloads and provide teachers with more non-contact time for lesson preparation and professional development. I announced only yesterday an extra professional development day for all schools to use to plan their implementation of the new curriculum, which is a new curriculum that continues to emphasise the importance of literacy and numeracy.

Katherine Rich: Can the Minister confirm that the Education Review Office report found that one in three teachers “did not effectively collect and use assessment information to identify the learning needs of students” and that 50 percent of teachers did not analyse the student achievement information they collected; if so, what is the point?

Hon CHRIS CARTER: I remind the House again that we must not confuse “less effective” with “ineffective”. There are certainly areas that teachers can be upskilled in. The new curriculum will give greater guidance on how they implement their lesson planning, and hopefully will encourage schools to look at professional development for all their staff.

Katherine Rich: Can the Minister confirm that, in fact, most teachers—some 82 percent—had undertaken the very professional development programme he has mentioned and that even after that training and development they still had significant weaknesses in the teaching of reading and writing?

Hon CHRIS CARTER: I can confirm that New Zealand teachers when put against international criteria score very highly. In this House we must not confuse “less effective” with “ineffective”.

Katherine Rich: Why does the Minister not understand that the ability of teachers to teach writing, and the ability of children to learn writing, is an issue of vital importance to parents, and can he explain why he gives such flippant dismissals of such serious findings in Education Review Office reports when these issues are the very things that parents are most concerned about?

Hon CHRIS CARTER: I absolutely accept that literacy and numeracy are critical for a child’s successful education—and very important for parents as well. I also wish to assert very strongly that New Zealand teachers by international standards are excellent teachers. Why does the member despise New Zealand teachers?

Katherine Rich: If the Minister is quick to dismiss the findings of the Education Review Office, then what will he do to make sure that the reports of the Education Review Office are listened to and implemented, and changes are made to lift the standards, so that parents do not have to worry about his flippant dismissals?

Hon CHRIS CARTER: Once again the member distorts my comments. I do not dismiss the reports of the Education Review Office. I acknowledge that every one of us in our professional area could improve. I also acknowledge that New Zealand teachers do an excellent job in teaching. I also acknowledge that schools, teachers, and principals are absolutely committed to improving professional standards. This Government is committed to resourcing schools to do just that, and the figures I have given—$111 million, plus the release time that is now available to teachers in schools to upskill themselves—is an absolutely tangible sign that this Government is committed to having the best possible teaching service and the best possible teaching professionals that we can have.

Tourism Industry—Initiatives

8. DARIEN FENTON (Labour) on behalf of RUSSELL FAIRBROTHER (Labour) to the Minister of Tourism: What initiatives for the development of the tourism industry has he received recently?

Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I am just a little confused. The question on the sheet is in the name of Russell Fairbrother. Mr Fairbrother is here. Why then is the question being asked by a colleague, Madam Speaker? The rules are pretty straightforward, I would have thought.

Madam SPEAKER: I was also a little taken by surprise myself, but the question has been asked. It is appropriate. Would the Minister now please address it.

Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. Can you tell us where the Standing Orders allow this particular arrangement, because this would be a new ruling on your part?

Madam SPEAKER: The advice is that the member cannot ask it. So I will ask Russell Fairbrother to please ask the question.

RUSSELL FAIRBROTHER (Labour) What initiatives for the development of the tourism industry has he received recently?

Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR (Minister of Tourism): The New Zealand Tourism Strategy 2015 was launched today. The strategy provides a framework for the growth and development of tourism in New Zealand to 2015. The industry has set new targets to boost visitor satisfaction and to increase the amount of money that each and every visitor to this country spends. Implementing the strategy, which is a joint Government and industry initiative, will ensure that tourism is valued as the leading contributor to a sustainable New Zealand in 2015. And can I say that my benchmate Darren Hughes was very enthusiastic about the cover of the document.

Darien Fenton: How will this new initiative contribute to the Government’s sustainability objectives?

Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: Sustainability is at the forefront of this Government’s agenda. The strategy sets new targets to help us measure our progress in delivering our ultimate goal, which is sustainable tourism. The strategy encourages the tourism sector to take a lead role in protecting and enhancing our environment. This includes improving energy efficiency and reducing waste.

Housing New Zealand Corporation—Confidence

9. PHIL HEATLEY (National—Whangarei) to the Minister of Housing: Does the Minister have confidence in Housing New Zealand Corporation; if so, why?

Hon Dr Michael Cullen: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. If we are going to be insisting on questions being done exactly correctly, I point out that that was not the question as it is on the Order Paper.

Madam SPEAKER: That is true, actually. Would the member please read the question as it is on the Order Paper.

PHIL HEATLEY: Does she have confidence in Housing New Zealand Corporation; if so, why?

Hon MARYAN STREET (Minister of Housing): Yes; because it is doing an excellent job of providing housing for the most vulnerable in our society.

Phil Heatley: How does she justify the corporation’s spending of $2.8 million to do up 19 State houses at $150,000 a pop when a small home could be built for that amount?

Hon MARYAN STREET: There are occasions on which the Housing New Zealand Corporation is required to expend money: where considerable repairs have been done, where there is a modernisation programme going on, or for other reasons.

Lynne Pillay: What other support is the Labour-led Government providing to ensure that New Zealanders have access to quality, affordable housing?

Hon MARYAN STREET: Ensuring that vulnerable New Zealand families get access to quality, affordable housing has been a priority since the very first Labour Government. Since this Government was elected in December 1999 we have added 7,417 homes to our State housing stock.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: To take Mr Heatley’s extrapolation further, if one built 19 houses for $2.8 million but did not have any land to put them on, what would be the purpose of doing that?

Hon MARYAN STREET: I am very aware of the point the member is making. I reiterate that the Housing New Zealand Corporation works, at every turn, within its remit to provide quality, secure housing for vulnerable families.

Sue Bradford: Does the Minister believe that in order to make housing affordable and available to all New Zealanders we need to see an accelerated rate of investment in both State housing and community-sector housing?

Hon MARYAN STREET: The member raises a very good point. We are trying to address the issue of affordable, secure housing for vulnerable families through a range of options—a menu of ways—and that requires some creativity and some additional planning. This Labour-led Government has just those creative plans in train at the moment.

Phil Heatley: Why is Labour spending $150,000 each on these 19 lucky properties, when a fraction of that money could fix Savali Lapana’s house at 2 Iris Grove, Porirua, in respect of which she gave this signed statement: “My husband and I have been spending all our money cleaning the mould. Housing New Zealand just painted the ceiling but the mould keeps coming up. My son has asthma attacks. That’s why the five of us use just one bedroom to sleep in.”?

Hon MARYAN STREET: Whether it is an issue of crowding or of healthy housing, I say to that member that this Labour-led Government has done more about providing healthy housing than any previous Government. I assert further that if there are particular examples of houses with problems, then the neighbourhood unit of the Housing New Zealand Corporation needs to be made aware of that, and the corporation’s constant renovation, repair, and maintenance programme will address it.

Hon Chris Carter: Can the Minister confirm that half of the 67,000 State houses in New Zealand have already been retrofitted and that the Housing New Zealand Corporation is retrofitting three houses a day to try to get the rest done as soon as possible?

Hon MARYAN STREET: Not only can I confirm that but I can add further that the regular programme of maintenance and retrofitting is a major commitment of this Labour-led Government’s portfolio in housing, and it is one that will continue.

Phil Heatley: Why, with Labour’s long, proud record of quality, secure housing for vulnerable New Zealanders, is the Minister spending $150,000 on a single property, when a fraction of that could fix Stuart Matiaha’s house at 7 Sasanof View, Porirua, in respect of which he states: “It’s mouldy in all three rooms. Gaps around the windows cause draughts to get in. The toilet’s leaking. My children have sores all over them, so have been to the doctor. They got rid of them, but the sores came back. I have asked Housing New Zealand to do something. They came and took photos and that’s it. I asked if they could fix my oven. They said an electrician would be there in 5 to 10 days. That was 2 months ago.”; how long do Stuart and his kids, with their sores, have to wait?

Hon MARYAN STREET: The Housing New Zealand Corporation is responsible for 66,000 State homes. In those houses we house something in the order of 200,000 New Zealanders. There is always attention needed to those areas that are most at risk, and those properties that are in greatest need of repair. I do not for a moment pretend that such a case does not exist, but what I object to is this member’s sensationalising of the plight of very vulnerable New Zealanders for the sake of cheap political points.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Can I ask the Minister as to the precise date that this 7 Sasanof View property was brought to her attention—or is it the case that we have somebody headline hunting with other people’s misery?

Hon MARYAN STREET: The approximate date and time that that address was brought to my attention was 7 November at 2.52 p.m.

Phil Heatley: Is the Labour Government, with its proud history, getting value for money by spending $150,000 each on 19 single properties, when a fraction of that could fix Leonie Tawhai’s house at 25 Corinna Street, in respect of which she states: “My cupboards are full of termites. The windows shake, the walls are cracked from leaking, there’s mould in the bedroom and hallway.”; or Terry Vantal-Boyce’s problems at 13 Durham Street, in respect of which he states: “My son’s medical states that the fungus growth, mould, and mildew piling up—”

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. With the greatest respect, the member’s last question was long enough and this one is already long enough. But, more particularly, there is no reason for it to go on any longer, because he has not brought it to the Minister of Housing’s attention.

Madam SPEAKER: That is not a point of order, but the member does in fact raise the point that questions are meant to be succinct and not speeches or long statements. Would the member please ask his question succinctly.

Phil Heatley: Mr Vantal-Boyce states: “My son’s medical states that the fungus growth, mould, and mildew piling up are the reason for his skin disorders. Housing New Zealand still continues to give me excuses.”; after 8 years of this Government, why is its fourth Minister of Housing still giving excuses?

Hon MARYAN STREET: I am very prepared to look into any individual case that is brought to my attention. I will do that. My whole connection with this portfolio over the last 7 years has been one that connects with the most vulnerable people in our society and seeks to address the very issues that that member raises. I am happy to look into them.

Phil Heatley: I seek leave to table the answers to parliamentary written questions on the $150,000 do-ups.

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

Phil Heatley: I seek leave to table the 12 sworn statements about corporation inaction.

Leave granted.

Phil Heatley: I seek leave to table photographs of the mould and filth due to leaks, rain, and damp.

Leave granted.

Phil Heatley: I seek leave to table a statement by the then Minister of Housing a month ago that he would look into these housing issues.

Leave granted.

School Curriculum—Te Reo Māori

10. Dr PITA SHARPLES (Co-Leader—Māori Party) to the Minister of Education: Kua pānuitia e ia te kōrero a te Minita mō Ngā Take Māori, arā, “Koi nei te wā tuatahi kia whakanuia e te marautanga te mana o Te Reo Māori hai reo motuhake i raro i te ture”, ā, he aha i hipa ai te rua tekau tau mai i te whakamanatanga o te Ture Reo Māori o te tau tahi mano, iwa rau, waru te kau mā whitu, kātahi anō te Tāhuhu o te Mātauranga ka mōhio, he mana anō tō Te Reo Māori i raro i te ture?

[Has he read the Minister of Māori Affairs’ statement that “For the first time the curriculum also respects the status of te reo Māori as an official language”, and why has it taken 20 years since the Maori Language Act 1987 for education to recognise the status of te reo Māori as an official language?]

Hon CHRIS CARTER (Minister of Education): This is the first time that this Labour-led Government has completed a comprehensive review of the New Zealand curriculum. When the National Government published previous versions of the New Zealand curriculum in the 1990s, it failed to acknowledge the official status of te reo Māori. In line with this Government’s strong commitment to te reo Māori, we have taken this opportunity to recognise te reo as an official language of Aotearoa New Zealand.

Dr Pita Sharples: Is he aware that in 1993 the New Zealand Curriculum Framework, which I hold in my hand, recognised the Maori Language Act 1987, specifying on page 10 that te reo Māori was an official language; if so, how does he explain the statement of the Minister of Māori Affairs yesterday that te reo Māori has now been added as an official language, when its status had already been confirmed some 14 years ago?

Hon CHRIS CARTER: What the Associate Minister of Education and Minister of Māori Affairs said in his statement was that it was the first time its status was contained within the New Zealand curriculum. This is the first time that the New Zealand curriculum—the overall framework by which education will be practised in our schools—contains reference to te reo Māori as an official language of New Zealand. This is a first and important step in recognising the partnership between peoples in New Zealand.

Moana Mackey: What is the Labour-led Government doing to support the learning of te reo Māori in New Zealand schools?

Hon CHRIS CARTER: We are doing a lot. The Labour-led Government has a specific Māori Language Strategy, which includes establishing and investing in Māori television and radio, supporting Māori medium education in the kōhanga reo and kura kaupapa movement, and funding scholarships for teachers of te reo. This work has been driven with enormous enthusiasm and success by the Associate Minister of Education, the Hon Parekura Horomia. We are achieving wonderful results: nearly 22,000 successful National Certificate of Educational Achievement and Scholarship results were earned by students of te reo last year, and from 1999 to 2006 there was an increase of more than 12 percent in the number of students achieving te reo Māori at level 1. These are very pleasing results.

Dr Pita Sharples: Why has it taken 10 years for the Ministry of Education to do what the Government Māori Language Strategy was introduced in 1997 to do: to encourage Government departments to implement the Maori Language Act 1987?

Hon CHRIS CARTER: I applaud personally the member’s interest in, and passion about, te reo Māori. As I have just outlined in an answer to a previous member, our Government has done a lot to encourage and support the teaching of te reo Māori in New Zealand. Yesterday we launched our first new New Zealand curriculum for well over 30 years. It contains reference to te reo Māori as an official language of New Zealand. I am really proud that that document contains that statement.

Dr Pita Sharples: If 2007 is the first time that the curriculum has recognised the status of te reo Māori as an official language, what recognition did the Ministry of Education give to either the 1987 Maori Language Act or the 1989 Education Act, which provided formal recognition of kura kaupapa Māori and wānanga, our first kura having been established some 22 years ago, in 1985?

Hon CHRIS CARTER: I feel we are splitting hairs here. The education system gave a lot of focus to te reo in earlier periods, and so it should have, but for the first time we have explicitly stated in the document that is the framework for all New Zealand schools that te reo Māori is an official language of New Zealand. That is something to be applauded, and that is why my colleague Parekura Horomia made that statement, and so he should have.

Dr Pita Sharples: I seek leave to table page 10 of the New Zealand Curriculum Framework 1993.

Leave granted.

Conservation, Department—Policy Commitments

11. Hon Dr NICK SMITH (National—Nelson) to the Minister of Conservation: What policy commitments will she be ensuring the Department of Conservation delivers on in the next 12 months?

Hon STEVE CHADWICK (Minister of Conservation): The Government’s expectations for the Department of Conservation are contained in the statement of intent that was tabled in the House on 17 May 2007. I have initiated the process of discussing my priorities for the department for the upcoming year. Since 1999 the Labour-led Government has increased its investment in conservation by 67 percent. I am confident we will continue to make gains for biodiversity, heritage protection, and the recreational use of the conservation estate.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: Will she—noting the 175 square kilometre loss of New Zealand’s indigenous habitat highlighted in the critical 2007 OECD Environmental Performance Reviews: New Zealand—ensure that Labour delivers on its election promise of a national policy statement under the Resource Management Act on biodiversity?

Hon STEVE CHADWICK: The issue of biodiversity is one of the priorities I am discussing with my officials at this very moment.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. My question was quite narrow and very deliberate. It asked whether the Government would deliver on a national policy statement on biodiversity, as promised, under the Resource Management Act. I got a vague statement about biodiversity. I did not get an answer as to whether the Government would deliver on that commitment.

Madam SPEAKER: As the member knows, members cannot require yes or no answers. The Minister did address the question.

David Benson-Pope: Can the Minister detail for the benefit of the House the gains that have been made in conservation since the Labour-led Government was elected in 1999?

Hon STEVE CHADWICK: Very substantial gains have been made. I will list some of them: protection of the 130,000 hectares of lowland forests on the West Coast of the South Island, 17 new marine reserves, and 21 island pest eradication projects to establish sanctuaries for our unique flora and fauna.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: Does she stand by the unanimous report in her name as chair of the Local Government and Environment Committee that states: “We are disappointed that the national policy statement on biodiversity has not been completed.”; and now that she is the Minister, will she ensure that that very specific Labour promise is honoured?

Hon STEVE CHADWICK: In my answer to the first question, I said that we are establishing our priorities against the statement of intent, and that is one of those priorities in my watch.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: Which fact does she dispute: that Labour in its election policy specifically promised a national policy statement on biodiversity, or that Labour has ratted on that promise?

Hon STEVE CHADWICK: There is no dispute about that being a priority. We will undertake to commit to our policies as we stated in our manifesto, and I will be working on that, as I have already said.

Hon Chris Carter: Can the Minister confirm that 360,000 hectares have been added to the conservation estate in the last 5 years, thus protecting their unique biodiversity values?

Hon STEVE CHADWICK: Yes.

Conservation Estate—Family Usage

12. Hon MARIAN HOBBS (Labour—Wellington Central) to the Minister of Conservation: What steps is the Government taking to ensure Kiwi families can better use the conservation estate?

Hon STEVE CHADWICK (Minister of Conservation): This summer, five new camping opportunities will be provided on conservation land. There will be new camping grounds at Tākaka, D’Urville Island, Moturua Island, and Kaweka Forest Park, and 100 new campsites added at Port Jackson in the Coromandel Peninsula. This is the Government’s response to the demand for family-friendly, inexpensive holiday options in the great outdoors, and more sites will follow in response to demand.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: Can the Minister tell the House why Labour closed 14 Department of Conservation camping grounds between 1999 and 2006 and changed tack only after National’s blue-green vision called for 25 new Department of Conservation camping grounds, at which time Chris Carter said that that was actually not a bad idea; and is this policy not just another example of Labour “me too-ism” alongside Labour’s new policy on tax, Labour’s policy on charitable donations, Labour’s policy on an emissions trading system, and Labour’s new policy on trades academies in schools?

Hon STEVE CHADWICK: Issues on recreational access to the conservation estate are commonly shared values between most parties in this House. We will be ensuring that all our work areas are constantly reviewed to make sure we meet the highest priorities and that existing funds are used in the most effective way.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: Why did her Government raise Department of Conservation fees for huts for Kiwi families in 2001, 2002, 2003, and 2007—in fact just a month or two ago—so that for a family of two adults and two children doing the Abel Tasman National Park, the cost has gone up from $104 to $270, yet 3 months before the next election the Government has decided to reduce those same hut fees; or will she, like the Prime Minister on tax, be blaming officials for the contradictory policy?

Hon STEVE CHADWICK: It is a good question, because it fits in nicely with this Labour Government’s commitment to families—along with our extra week of annual leave and childhood obesity policy, actually. We want more young families, and children in particular, accessing our conservation estate. Targeted fees are just one of those initiatives, and the reduction in fees for under 18-year-olds is exactly along the lines of our expectations.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. My question asked why the Minister’s Government raised Department of Conservation fees in 2001, 2002, 2003, and 2004. The Minister told me that it was a good question, but she did not answer it. I would like an answer as to why the Government raised those hut fees.

Madam SPEAKER: I listened very carefully. The Minister answered it very fully.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I seek leave to ask to ask the Minister of Conservation one more question.

Madam SPEAKER: The Minister is seeking leave to ask a question. Is there any objection? Yes, there is.

ENDS

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