Questions And Answers - Wednesday, 14 Nov 2007
Questions And Answers - Wednesday, 14 November
Questions to Ministers
1. JEANETTE FITZSIMONS (Co-Leader—Green) to the Minister of Finance: Has he been advised of any central government forecasts that have more accurately predicted the trend of rising oil prices than Treasury or the Reserve Bank, given his statement in the House yesterday that, “there is a very, very high probability that any forecasts are likely to be wrong in this area;”?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Minister of Finance): Of course, a range of forecasts are prepared, and no doubt departments occasionally differ internally about what the forecast should be. But both Treasury and the Reserve Bank base their forecasts on the future market for oil. I should note that over the long term, of course, oil prices have shown very marked upwards and downwards trends, often moving quite sharply, contrary to earlier forecasts.
Jeanette Fitzsimons: Does the Minister agree that of the two projections in the Ministry of Economic Development’s 2006 Energy Outlook, the high oil price forecast, shown in this chart I am holding by the green line and described as the minority view, has so far predicted the oil price trend very accurately, in stark contrast to the mainstream view, shown on the chart by the red line, which has oil prices flat until 2030; if so, will he commit to taking the minority view more seriously, given the failure of the other three wildly optimistic Government forecasts to align with reality?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: It is true that in that particular case the green line is better than the red line, but the member should not draw too much comfort from that fact, necessarily, over the long term. The realities in the past are that we have seen forecasts of long-term increasing prices for oil, and then sharp downturns have occurred in those prices. For example, in the 1970s, after a very long period of declining real prices for oil, there were sharp upturns in 1974 and 1979, but the price then fell very sharply back again in the early 1980s, and tended to decline in real terms through to about 1999-2000.
Jeanette Fitzsimons: When the Minister said in the House yesterday that “it is worth reminding ourselves that oil prices now are not that much more in real terms than they were when they last peaked at a very high level”—and assuming that he was referring to 1979, as he just did—does the Government have plans for any form of demand management such as was found necessary by the Government in that year, leading to carless days and plans for petrol rationing?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I think the actual peak was in 1981. It is very questionable, in fact, whether some of the measures taken at that time, such as carless days, actually had very much of an effect, at all. Indeed, high prices may have one of the more significant effects, in terms of moderating behaviour, car engine size, efficiency, alternative fuels, use of public transport, and a range of other factors on which the member and I do tend to agree.
Jeanette Fitzsimons: Is the Minister aware that regional councils across the country have based transport planning decisions—and made long-term contracts with the companies supplying bus services, which are indexed to oil prices at around $60 a barrel—on the basis of the forecasts by Treasury, the Reserve Bank, and the mainstream Ministry of Economic Development forecast, and that with oil now above $90 a barrel the councils are unexpectedly scrambling to find millions of dollars to cover rises in fuel prices that the Government forecasts completely failed to predict; if so, how does he think the councils will get on if the price continues to follow the Ministry of Economic Development’s high oil price scenario, up to $120 a barrel?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Obviously, they will need to adjust their plans, as everybody else will, if very high oil prices continue and further increases occur in the short to medium term future. But there remains a great deal of uncertainty around those forecasts, because, of course, prices of oil over recent times have been affected not only by real economic factors—strong world growth, and particularly a lack of increased capacity in the refinery sector—but also by political factors. It takes very good crystal ball to be able to see how those factors are going to unravel over the next few years.
Jeanette Fitzsimons: Is the Minister then ruling out the idea that this is the start of a long-term trend of continually rising oil prices because the rate at which the world’s oil wells can produce oil is going to decline from now on, regardless of the discovery of new fields, and they cannot make up for the rate at which existing fields are declining?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I am not sure that the last point is still accepted, at all. There is still a great deal of argument about whether new discoveries can outpace the growth in demand over, say, the coming 10 years. Taking a very long-term view, I think it is a very safe bet that the long-term trend in oil prices is upwards in real terms, but whether that is from the current very high base or from a much lower base than that, of course, remains an open question. I remind the member again that we saw very sharp increases in oil prices in the 1970s, peaking in 1981. By 1999 oil prices were back in real terms to only about a fifth or a quarter of what they had been in 1981. So, clearly, these trends can show very sharp movements over the short to medium term. Over the longer term it is a reasonably safe bet that there will be a long-term trend of rising oil prices, because obviously there is a finite resource. We simply do not know how much of that finite resource there is.
2. JOHN KEY (Leader of the Opposition) to the Prime Minister: Does she have confidence in all her Ministers?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK (Prime Minister): Yes.
John Key: Does she, in light of the reports released today, believe that it was acceptable for Madeleine Setchell to have lost her job because of her partner’s political association, and is that in accordance with the generally accepted standards of the New Zealand Public Service?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: No, it was not acceptable for her to lose her job, and I note from the report it is quite clear that Mr Logan consistently ignored advice from the State Services Commission.
John Key: Is the Prime Minister aware that the reports released today paint a picture of considerable ministerial involvement in the employment of senior communications managers, and does she accept that this is an acceptable standard for what is meant to be a neutral Public Service?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: No, I have not inferred that from the reports. What I have read is that two chief executives themselves decided to approach Ministers on these matters.
John Key: Is the Prime Minister aware that Ms Setchell, having been removed from her job at the Ministry for the Environment, was subsequently denied employment at the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry after the chief executive consulted Jim Anderton, and did not even get an acknowledgement from the Ministry of Education; and is it now the case the public servants with partners engaged in a political role are effectively blacklisted from the Public Service?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: No. Again, I note from my reading of the report that when I believe it was the acting communications director at the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry asked Ms Setchell whether she would be interested in him looking for an employment opportunity for her, she herself raised the issue of whether that would be acceptable. The director then of his own volition went to the chief executive, who went to the Minister. The Minister simply quite properly made the comment that he would have some concerns that it might put Ms Setchell in a difficult position. He said nothing that was wrong.
John Key: Why would the chief executive officers bother to consult their Ministers about employing Ms Setchell if that was to have no outcome?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: That is, of course, a reason why Dr Prebble advised Mr Logan that he should not be drawing the Minister into it. Mr Prebble’s advice—and later Mr Rennie’s—was very robust that they should not be paying regard to ministerial views.
John Key: Does the Prime Minister think that a 2.5 percent pay cut is the appropriate penalty for the State Services Commissioner; and, if she does, how does she reconcile that with the treatment Madeleine Setchell got: she lost her job, and she was blacklisted in the Public Service under a Labour Government?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: The latter statement is not correct. Ms Setchell, of course, had a termination package that was confidential, so the contents of it are not available to the House. I note in respect of Dr Prebble that the report is very, very clear that his failure to recall the comment made to him by Mr Logan had no effect whatsoever on the outcome for Ms Setchell.
John Key: Is the Prime Minister aware that this is the way the New Zealand public see this situation going: an innocent young woman takes a job in the State sector, but because the State sector is no longer neutral under a Labour Government she loses her job, she is blacklisted, the only person who pays a price is her, and the reason that has happened is that the Labour Government intends to use the massive spending of Government ministries to try to buy its re-election—and is it any wonder Labour is on the way out?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: Of course those allegations are absurd. I hear allegations on this side of the House—tell us about your war chest, tell us about your secret donors, Mr Key.
Rodney Hide: Does the Prime Minister think it is acceptable that the Minister of Agriculture, the Hon Jim Anderton, gave an opinion that the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry should not employ Madeleine Setchell in a contract position on the basis of whom she was sleeping with; and, if that is the standard that is going to be run past her Ministers, given that this is Wellington, where will it end?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: Of course, that was not the opinion the Minister of Agriculture gave. He simply observed, when approached by the chief executive, that such an appointment could place Ms Setchell in some difficulty herself, but he made it very clear that employment matters were ones for the chief executive.
3. GORDON COPELAND (Independent) to the Minister of Housing: Is the Minister taking note of the evidence being submitted to the Commerce Committee housing affordability inquiry; if so, will she be taking that evidence into account in framing her policy response to the issue of severe housing unaffordability for New Zealand’s families?
Hon MARYAN STREET (Minister of Housing): Yes, as far as the Standing Orders allow. I will consider the report when it is reported back from the Commerce Committee.
Gordon Copeland: Is the Minister aware that evidence submitted to the Commerce Committee by Motu Economic and Public Policy Research indicates that land just inside Auckland’s metropolitan urban boundary is worth between eight and 13 times more than land just outside, much of it held by land bankers; if so, will she consider making such arbitrary interventions in the supply of land illegal, to drive down section prices?
Hon MARYAN STREET: The Government is considering a range of measures, particularly in the Auckland area, to deal with the issue of land affordability, which goes to the question of housing affordability. All possibilities will be considered and taken into account, and comment on them will be made in due course.
Hon Steve Maharey: What specific initiatives is the Labour-led Government exploring to make houses more affordable and accessible?
Hon MARYAN STREET: A lot of great work is happening—in fact, too much to mention here in a short time, but I will give a couple of examples. I expect to introduce the Affordable Housing Bill to the House soon, and that will enable councils to ensure that affordable housing is developed; KiwiSaver will soon allow first home buyers $10,000 to put towards their home; and the Welcome Home Loan scheme has already helped over 3,000 applicants secure a mortgage.
Pita Paraone: Will the Government consider tax incentives to help Kiwis buy their first home as part of a package to help improve housing affordability, and will the Government also consider measures advocated by Australia such as tax-free savings accounts for first home deposits?
Hon MARYAN STREET: The Labour-led Government has already introduced tax concessions for savings in the form of KiwiSaver and, of course, the KiwiSaver savings can be diverted into a deposit for a first home purchase.
Gordon Copeland: Does the Minister accept the evidence of Demographia that development levies charged under the Local Government Act are, in reality, new house purchaser infrastructure charges, which add thousands of dollars to the cost of a new home, and does she intend to bring that flawed process to an end in her policy review?
Hon MARYAN STREET: Demographia is well recognised as a reputable organisation. Certainly the points that it made in its submissions already to the Commerce Committee will be taken into account. I presume the select committee will give all of the submissions that have been presented to it on this issue considerable weight and discussion, and I look forward to its response.
Gordon Copeland: Is the Minister aware that the Registered Master Builders Federation has informed the committee’s inquiry that, as a result of the Building Act, although it needs just four or five pages of plans to build a new single-storey family home, it now needs 12 to 13 pages of plans to obtain the building consent; if so, will she give this unnecessary and expensive over-regulation the chop?
Hon MARYAN STREET: Yes, I am aware of those issues raised, and my colleague the Hon Shane Jones is working on those matters.
Phil Heatley: Why is it that housing unaffordability, average house price to average income, interest rates, and land prices, have all rocketed since 2000, well over and above the increases in the 1990s?
Hon MARYAN STREET: There are a number of factors that contribute to those items that the member opposite has just listed. Some of them are clearly to do with the increased growth and economic position of the country, but the fact that people are wealthier is one of the very considerable contributing factors.
Phil Heatley: I seek leave to table the comparative interest rate increases over the last 15 years.
Madam SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection? Yes, there is.
Phil Heatley: I seek leave to table the comparative land price increases over the last 15 years.
Madam SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection? Yes, there is.
Phil Heatley: I seek leave to table the comparative house price to income increase over the last 15 years.
Madam SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection? Yes, there is.
State Services Commissioner—Confidence
4. GERRY BROWNLEE (National—Ilam) to the Minister of State Services: Does he have confidence in the State Services Commissioner; if so, why?
Hon DAVID PARKER (Minister of State Services): Yes. I do not defend the State Services Commissioner for his mistakes, but the question for the Government is whether his mistakes were so serious as to justify bringing to an end his long and distinguished career as a senior public servant for this and previous Governments. In my opinion that would be an unjust overreaction, and he has my confidence to continue.
Gerry Brownlee: How can the Minister have confidence in Dr Prebble when it is clear that he failed to keep accurate records of discussions he had with Mr Logan about the employment of Madeleine Setchell, he failed to provide his deputy with information about that discussion, he failed to keep his Minister up to date with matters relating to that particular issue, he subsequently overlooked the fact that he had knowledge of the Minister’s involvement in this particular case, and he then failed to provide Public Service leadership to his chief executive officers, meaning that Madeleine Setchell not only faced a sacking from one Minister at the hands of a Minister but also was blackballed in another position by ministerial veto, as well?
Hon DAVID PARKER: The list of alleged errors that the member referred to was actually repetition of the effect of the same error. The omission by Dr Prebble to remember what Mr Logan had told him was behind the errors that were listed by Mr Brownlee. Dr Prebble has done nothing dishonest, and calling for his head would be disproportionate to his mistakes. To overreact would be to create another injustice, and I do not want to do that.
Gerry Brownlee: Is the Minister aware that Dr Prebble told the Government Administration Committee today that the sacking of Madeleine Setchell was a mistake, that it should not have happened, and that he advised Mr Logan not to take that particular course of action but the chief executive officer of the Ministry for the Environment was so timid of Mr David Benson-Pope that he decided to go ahead and sack her anyway; if so, how can this State Services Commissioner be expected to oversee the depoliticisation of the Public Service when so many of his chief executive officers are frightened of Ministers and will not take his advice?
Hon DAVID PARKER: I was not at the select committee, so I did not hear what was said. But I have read the report, and the report makes it clear that Dr Prebble did clearly express his opinion to Mr Logan. He also clearly expressed to Mr Logan that at law the decision was Mr Logan’s to take, and the report confirms that Mr Logan did indeed take his own decision. He has now been criticised for that decision and is suffering the consequences of that decision, which is rightly criticised.
Gerry Brownlee: Does the Minister think it was acceptable for Dr Prebble to write an op-ed, charitably described by Don Hunn as “only a partial explanation”, particularly when that op-ed explicitly stated that David Benson-Pope was not involved in the decision to sack Madeleine Setchell, a statement that Dr Prebble knew then to be untrue but has since explained away as being not critical to the issue?
Hon DAVID PARKER: Mr Hunn in his report has some sympathy for Mr Prebble wanting to reply to what Mr Hunn referred to as outrageous misrepresentations of events that were occurring in some editorials. Having said that, it was inappropriate for him to do that through an op-ed piece in one particular newspaper rather than through a general news release.
Tim Barnett: Was the National Party offered a briefing yesterday on the reports of Mr Hunn and Dr Prebble; if so, did it accept one?
Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker.
Madam SPEAKER: Points of order are to be heard in silence. People will leave the Chamber if they do not respect that.
Gerry Brownlee: The Minister has no responsibility for the National Party’s decisions. But, for the record, we were offered a briefing at 8.45 this morning, which was 15 minutes before Mr Prebble was going to give a press statement. We felt that a 15-minute briefing was the sort of joke and unprofessional way of doing things that seems to have characterised Mr Prebble’s behaviour throughout this whole issue.
Hon Dr Michael Cullen: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. Clearly, it is the Minister’s responsibility to answer questions in this House on the actions of the State Services Commissioner. The Minister is not responsible for those actions but he is responsible to respond to the House about those actions. Otherwise, a whole host of questions that members opposite ask would not be able to be answered by the Minister.
Madam SPEAKER: Yes. Listening to the argument, the question is in order, though I take note of what Mr Brownlee said.
Hon DAVID PARKER: The issue of whether the State sector had been inappropriately politicised in this issue was of obvious concern to both the Opposition and the Government. The State Services Commissioner, in an effort to be politically neutral, did, in fact, offer copies of the reports and briefings to the National Party, which were declined.
Hon Members: When?
Hon DAVID PARKER: Last night and this morning.
Gerry Brownlee: How can the Minister have confidence in Dr Prebble when Dr Prebble now leads a State service sector in which chief executive officers feel they need to consult Ministers of the Crown before they make employment decisions, and what does that say about New Zealand’s politically neutral Public Service?
Hon DAVID PARKER: The assertion in that question is plainly not true. Indeed, Mr Hunn’s report—I think on pages 37 and 38—includes a very good account of Mr Anderton’s response to Mr Hunn in respect of these issues. I think it is a very mature, considered, balanced, and proper response by Mr Anderton at the time to Mr Hunn. Amongst other things, it records the fact that in his 8 years as a senior Cabinet Minister, only two such instances have happened on his watch.
Gerry Brownlee: How can the Minister have confidence in Dr Prebble when Don Hunn devotes more than two pages of his report to Dr Prebble’s memory loss, and does he think the words that Mr Hunn uses in the report when he says that we all forget from time to time, particularly as the years advance, is some sort of veiled message to Dr Prebble?
Hon DAVID PARKER: No, I do not. I actually accept the findings of Mr Hunn. There was no dishonesty on the part of Dr Prebble. If the National Party were to apply the same impossibly high standard to its own members, there would be no Opposition members on those benches.
State-owned Enterprises—Social Responsibility Monitoring
5. CHARLES CHAUVEL (Labour) to the Minister for State Owned Enterprises: What is the Government doing to monitor the social responsibility of State-owned enterprises?
Hon TREVOR MALLARD (Minister for State Owned Enterprises): The Labour-led Government recently formalised a framework for corporate social responsibility, which will apply to all State-owned enterprises. State-owned enterprises will be monitored and measured against targets just like financial performance. Under this new framework, each State-owned enterprise will be required to assess its impact on the society and environment in which it operates, and to adopt specific corporate social responsibility programmes that are appropriate.
Charles Chauvel: Is the Minister aware of any State-owned enterprises that have already undertaken corporate social responsibility programmes?
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: Yes. Many are currently going on. The Genesis Oncology Trust is one example; the million freepost envelopes distributed to community groups by New Zealand Post is another. Of course, if the Tories had their way, and hocked off the State-owned enterprises to their mates, that would all finish.
Question No. 6 to Minister
Madam SPEAKER: I call question No. 6, the Hon Bill English. I have called the Hon Bill English.
Hon Trevor Mallard: Wake up, Bill.
Hon Bill English: Trevor should ask for his money back.
Madam SPEAKER: That is inappropriate, as was the Minister’s comment.
Electoral Finance bill—Government Departments, Election-year Advertising
6. Hon BILL ENGLISH (Deputy Leader—National) to the Minister of Justice: Does she stand by her statement yesterday, when asked whether Government advertising programmes would be caught by the definition of election advertising in the Electoral Finance Bill, “No, Government departments will not be caught, because they will go to the Auditor-General to have their advertising cleared.”; if so, why?
Hon PETE HODGSON (Minister for Economic Development) on behalf of the Minister of Justice: On behalf of Annette King—
Hon Member: “Mr Fix-it”.
Gerry Brownlee: It’s not broken yet, but he’s going to fix it.
Hon PETE HODGSON: Just wait for high tide, mate.
Madam SPEAKER: If there are any further comments like that I will ask the member to leave the Chamber. It only creates disorder.
Hon PETE HODGSON: Yes; Government departments are not allowed to electioneer. The Prime Minister said as much, again, earlier this week, and, moreover, the State Services Commission guidelines are in the public arena for all to see. Should any Government department have doubts as to whether it is within established guidelines, then it would be well advised to seek the advice of the Auditor-General.
Hon Bill English: Is the Auditor-General referred to in the answer to the question the same Auditor-General described last year by the Prime Minister as “overturning accepted and longstanding practices on electoral spending”, and the same Auditor-General whom the Prime Minister accused of smearing the reputation of Labour and other parties and of changing the rules on electoral spending after the final whistle had blown; if so, why has the Government developed a new-found respect for his judgment on the legality of election spending?
Hon PETE HODGSON: It is the same Auditor-General. If the Auditor-General says that the spending of the Government department in question is not electioneering, then I think we can believe that that is the case.
Ann Hartley: Has the Minister seen any examples of where taxpayer funding has been used for election advertising?
Hon PETE HODGSON: Yes, I have. I have here from the National Party, unsurprisingly, a full-colour, glossy product from National’s front-bencher Dr Nick Smith, and here is what it states: “Why New Zealand needs a new Government”, and “Nick for Nelson”. It was paid for by the New Zealand taxpayer—not in 2005, before the Auditor-General decided to have his say on the matter, but it was printed in 2007, which was afterwards.
Madam SPEAKER: Members are permitted to briefly display pamphlets or whatever they have, but not to throw them around the Chamber in the way that that was happening. I ask the member, who is perfectly entitled to display the pamphlet, to then put it down. The same advice goes to the Minister.
Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. That seems to me to be a particularly harsh ruling. Mr Williamson was not throwing the pamphlet around the Chamber. He was simply augmenting the extraordinary display of taxpayer-paid Labour signage that is throughout the House already.
Madam SPEAKER: No, that is not a point of order.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: I seek leave to table my newsletters from 1990, 1991, 1992, 1993, 1994, and, in fact, for every single year that I have been a member of Parliament.
Hon Dr Michael Cullen: I seek leave for the pamphlet from Dr Nick Smith that has just been displayed to be referred to the Auditor-General for comment as to its legality under the current spending rules in Parliament.
R Doug Woolerton: Does the Minister have any reason to believe that our impartial Civil Service will do anything other than the right thing during an election period with regard to advertising, and does she agree that National members should not judge others by what they would do themselves?
Hon PETE HODGSON: I thank the member for his question. It is an opportunity to put on the record that the State sector of this country across successive Governments maintains its neutrality. I say simply, given that we have heightened anxiety about these matters, should Government departments have any concerns about whether they are electioneering or even slightly electioneering they should rush off and see the Auditor-General and get clearance from that office.
Metiria Turei: Does the Minister agree with the Green Party’s electoral finance proposal to ban donations that originate from overseas, with the exception of donations from New Zealand citizens who live overseas and are entitled to vote, to ensure that political parties are not influenced or supported by international political and financial interests that are kept secret from the New Zealand public?
Hon PETE HODGSON: The formal answer to the member’s question is that I await the response of the select committee and its report back to the House; indeed, that is where the matters lie at the moment. But I make the comment that this is a House of Representatives and a not a House of Representatives who happen to have rich mates.
Hon Bill English: Can the Minister tell the House why the New Zealand public would have faith in Labour’s commitment to the Auditor-General’s processes when, before the 2005 election, he tabled a report in this Parliament telling MPs what the rules were and how important it was to stick to them, and then Labour, in a campaign of calculated deceit, went and broke those rules, breached the electoral cap, and had to pay the money back—Labour did that under the Auditor-General’s guidelines?
Hon PETE HODGSON: I have only a couple of points to make. The first is that the member needs to get the timing right. Labour got the judgment after the expenditure, not before—that is the first thing. There is no doubt about that. The second point is that members could not say that the Auditor-General is something of a soft touch, could they?
Hon Bill English: Can the Minister explain to the House why the public should believe Labour’s commitment to following the rules laid down by public officials when, during the 2005 election campaign, it was warned in writing by the Chief Electoral Officer that spending the money on the pledge card would breach the electoral cap, the Labour Party replied by acknowledging the problem and saying it would count the money for election spending, and then 3 days after it was elected it withdrew that undertaking; so why would the public believe Labour’s commitment to following the rules?
Hon PETE HODGSON: It seems to me that when the member fails to make a point in one aspect of his argument, he simply shifts his target. You see, on the issue of the Auditor-General it is a matter of fact that we were given advice after the expenditure—that is a matter of fact. On the issue of whether Government departments ought to go to the Auditor-General, the advice from this Government—from the Prime Minister down—is: “If you have any doubt, do so, and you won’t find the Auditor-General a soft touch.” It seems to me that the member is buying into the conspiracy that we found in the New Zealand Herald earlier this week, that somehow Government departments are going to be immune from the electoral finance legislation. In fact, the Leader of the Opposition made the same mistake in question No. 1. I can assure the member there will be no immunity or special treatment for Government departments under this Government.
Hon Bill English: When will the Minister of Justice finally understand what the law will be: that when the Electoral Finance Bill is passed it will not be a matter for the Auditor-General to decide whether Government department advertising is lawful, but a matter for the law—that is, the Electoral Finance Act, if it becomes so—to lay down a test of what makes election advertising?
Hon PETE HODGSON: There are guidelines on the State Services Commission’s website. The member should go to those guidelines and look at them, because the State Services Commission requires that they be followed by all State agencies. If any State agency has any doubt about whether it is following those guidelines, irrespective of what any law that does not apply to Government departments says, then they can go to the Auditor-General to get some further advice. The bottom line is this. [Interruption]
Madam SPEAKER: We will now have the rest of the answer in silence.
Hon PETE HODGSON: The bottom line is this. Government departments may not electioneer, they have never been able to, and they are not allowed to in this case, as well.
Hon Bill English: Can the Minister now remove the confusion created by his last answer as to whether it is Government policy that Government departments will be exempt from the election advertising rules, or whether they will be subject to the election advertising rules, as set out in the Electoral Finance Bill?
Hon PETE HODGSON: Not only are Government departments not allowed to electioneer, which is the case now, but there is a tighter test for Government departments than there is for the rest of us. It is to be found in the State Services Commission’s guidelines. If Government departments have any doubt as to whether they are following those tighter guidelines, then they can go to the Auditor-General for advice, and we recommend that they do.
Hon Bill English: How can the guidelines be tighter than the Electoral Finance Bill requirements, when the Electoral Finance Bill definition of an election advertisement states it is anything that encourages a person to vote for any party or candidate as indicated by reference to any position on any issue?
Hon PETE HODGSON: The member is inviting me—as other members did earlier this week—to comment on what changes might or might not be going on in the select committee. It is not proper for me to do so. I say to the member that he does not have long to wait.
7. Dr PITA SHARPLES (Co-Leader—Māori Party) to the Minister of Māori Affairs: He aha te mahi māna, tētahi atu hoki, ā, mā tana Tari rānei ki te whakautu i ngā ngaukino i tau ki runga i a Ngāi Tūhoe ake, i whakaputaina rā e te kaikōrero mō Tūhoe a Tāmati Kruger, i kī rā: “Ki ahau nei, ahakoa ko wai te tangata, he tika tonu kia riri a ia—pēnei hoki i a mātau. Me kaua rawa e warewaretia e tātau.”?
[What action, if any, will he or his ministry be taking to respond to the trauma specifically experienced by the iwi of Tūhoe, as expressed by Tūhoe spokesperson Tāmati Kruger, and I quote: “I think any normal, regular person would feel anger–and we do feel angry about what has happened. We must not forget it.”?]
Hon PAREKURA HOROMIA (Minister of Māori Affairs): I raro i taku tūranga, Minita mō ngā Take Māori, kei ahau te mahi kaitiaki mō ngāi Māori katoa. Kei te mahi kaha tonu ahau me taku Manatū ki roto i ngā taumata hapori ki te whakawhiwhi huarahi ahu whakamua mō te hapori, ngā tikanga, ngā ōhanga mō rātou o ngāi Tūhoe.
[As Minister of Māori Affairs, I have a duty to care for all Māori. I and my Ministry continue to work constructively at the community level to provide social, cultural and economic pathways forward for the people of Tūhoe.]
Dr Pita Sharples: Has the Minister been advised that the Minister of Police justified the over-the-top reactions of the police towards the people of Rūātoki and their subsequent effect on innocent people as being merely “collateral damage”, and what advice will he be giving the Minister about such a statement?
Hon PAREKURA HOROMIA: I rongo au ki ngā kōrero me ngā pirihimana e puta ana pērā tonu nā te mea, i roto i aku me ngā pīrihimana, te Kāwanatanga me ngāi Tūhoe e whiriwhiri i ngā take kei waenga i a rātou.
[I have heard statements of that nature which have emerged about the police, but that is something for the police, the Government, and Tūhoe to work through collectively.]
Dave Hereora: What support has Te Puni Kōkiri provided in the Tūhoe area?
Hon PAREKURA HOROMIA: Ko te tuku pūtea mō te Hui Ahurei o Tūhoe me ngā hui e whakanui o Matariki ēnei hui rongonui e tautoko ana i te Tūhoetanga. Ko te tuku pūtea hei tautoko i te whanaketanga whānau ki roto o Tūhoe, te tuku pūtea ki ngā kaupapa pērā i a Mauri Ora e pā ana ki te whakakore tūkino katoa ki roto i ngā hapori.
[It has invesed in the Tūhoe Festival and Matariki celebrations. These well-known events support Tūhoe culture. It has invested in supporting family development in Tūhoe and in projects such as Mauri Ora, which is about moving towards zero tolerance in communities.]Pita Paraone: Tēnā koe, Madam Speaker. Would the Minister agree that a number of people and organisations have contributed to portraying this issue as one about Tūhoe, when it is clearly not purely a Tūhoe issue, and that those people and organisations should be apologising for their part in needlessly singling out and alienating the Tūhoe people?
Hon PAREKURA HOROMIA: It is very clear that some people have gone out with zealot-type behaviour in blaming everybody else. But, clearly, there are three Tūhoe, there are three Māori, and there are a whole lot of Pākehā. I say it again: mad Pākehā and overexcited Māori do not make a good mix.
Dr Pita Sharples: Is the Minister aware that the recent Marae Digi-Poll confirmed that 75 percent of the Māori polled from the Māori roll considered the armed police raids in Ruātoki to be an unnecessary overreaction, and what work will his ministry be doing to improve the all-time low relationship between his Government and Māori?
Hon PAREKURA HOROMIA: I have read and studied the Marae Digi-Poll well, and I understand the small catchment that it cuts. There is only one poll that matters, and that is on election day, and we will see each other there. There is a clear factor in this issue in relation to the struggle for Māori rights in this country, which has been strong and enduring. It should never, never involve arms and violence. Some parties and people in this House have stirred it up to be something else, and they should wake up.
Dr Pita Sharples: Will the Minister be visiting the Tūhoe people to support them in this time of their trauma?
Hon PAREKURA HOROMIA: Absolutely! I was in Murupara in the weekend, and I went past Ōpōtiki the weekend before that. I will be there.
Ron Mark: Would he agree that the Tūhoe people have been besmirched by a very small number of extremists in their midst who, along with 13 others, 10 of whom were Pākehā, planned to commit acts of terrorism and murder, and that if any fault does lie with Tūhoe it is with those who knew that these activities were being conducted and that training camps were running, and who chose to do nothing about that?
Keith Locke: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I think that question prejudices the court cases by referring to numbers of people and assuming guilt. Is that not against your instructions?
Madam SPEAKER: I listened to it, and I think that it was close to the edge in the language it used. But I do not think that it actually referred to the cases that are before the court at the moment. I ask the Minister, in responding, to take that into account.
Keith Locke: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. There was a specific reference to a number—13—and obviously it gets—
Hon Dr Michael Cullen: If we are talking here about the number of people charged under the firearms legislation, of course that is a matter of public record. Indeed, I think that the number of those who were involved in potential charges under the Terrorism Suppression Act was also in the public arena.
Madam SPEAKER: No, I am satisfied that it does not actually step over the line.
Hon PAREKURA HOROMIA: I am aware of those matters, and the reason why police took action in the first place needs to be kept at the forefront of our minds. It is not about the performance on the day, but it is certainly about why they went there.
Ron Mark: Has the Minister received or seen any reports from other iwi who are upset at the alleged actions and plans of these suspected terrorists and at their negative effect on the portrayal of Māoridom as a whole, and who understand that the police have a job to do and must act against people who would plan murder and mayhem?
Hon PAREKURA HOROMIA: Yes, I have, from Timi te Heuheu, who was concerned that certain factions were trying to drag the arikinui into this episode of happenings of the moment. I have also heard from Naida Glavish, a principal spokesperson who did not agree with the performance of the police on the first day, but who certainly voiced caution in relation to people continuing to work with the police in an amicable way, and urged the police to do better in the sense of working with Māori.
Ron Mark: Can the Minister tell the House what credibility he can give to those people who would advocate that Māori who have been exposed to seeing men wearing masks, and Māori who have now been exposed to seeing men carrying guns, have been so traumatised that they need Government and State assistance to overcome that trauma, when daily we read in the newspaper of masked protestors, masked Māori gang members, and Māori gang members using firearms regularly in drive-by shootings and having firearms in their homes on a day-to-day basis—what credibility can those people possibly have?
Hon PAREKURA HOROMIA: To the tail end of that member’s question—none, whatsoever. But I remind that member that there are issues that Tūhoe have to sort out with Tūhoe, and there are issues between the police and Tūhoe that they have to sort out. This Labour-led Government is quite clear and keen on supporting the Tūhoe people coming out of that incident.
Keith Locke: I seek leave to table an article by Moana Jackson that criticises the sidelining of the iwi-police—
Madam SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that article. Is there any objection? Yes, there is objection.
Ron Mark: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I think I might well have used the supplementary questions allocated to me, so I seek leave of the House to ask one final supplementary question.
Madam SPEAKER: No, you have one more, so you can use your last supplementary question for your party on this question.
Ron Mark: No, Madam Speaker, I do not wish to use that one; that is for one of my colleagues. I am seeking leave for an extra supplementary question, to ask a final question on this question.
Madam SPEAKER: Leave is sought. Is there any objection? Yes, there is objection.
8. Hon BILL ENGLISH (Deputy Leader—National) to the Minister of Finance: Did the business tax cuts announced in the 2007 Budget meet his “four tests” for tax cuts; if not, why not?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Minister of Finance): As I made clear, the four tests relate to changes to personal tax. The main tests apply to the business tax package.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: Oh, a different test for companies.
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: It is very hard to apply a test of equity to business tax cuts. The main tests applied to the business tax package were fiscal affordability and the likely impact on economic growth. As with all tax reductions introduced since I have been Minister of Finance, the National Party voted against these tax cuts.
Hon Bill English: Why is he introducing a test of social equity now for personal tax cuts, when he did not apply it to his tax credits for KiwiSaver and his business tax cuts, possibly for the reason that they would not have met a test of social equity?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Let me just deal with the issue of KiwiSaver. Tax credits for KiwiSaver rise to a maximum of $20 a week. In other words, the maximum tax credit under KiwiSaver is achieved at $26,000 a year. A person on that level who can afford to save $20 a week—in some cases that means giving up less than two packets of cigarettes in a week—will get $40 a week, and eventually $60 a week, into his or her savings. A person, say, on $78,000 a year will have to save $60 a week to qualify for the same $20 a week tax credit. That is in fact a progressive assistance for savings.
Charles Chauvel: Has the Minister seen any other reports outlining appropriate tests to be applied when considering support for tax cuts?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I have seen a report basically that says tax cuts should be opposed if they are proposed by Labour. This can be the only reason why the National Party has voted against every tax cut this Government has introduced. But I should also note that I have gone back 40 years trying to search the records, and in not one of those 40 years—during most of which, of course, the National Party was in power—did National ever introduce a reduction in the standard corporate rate of business tax. The only change it made was in 1970, to increase it.
R Doug Woolerton: Can the Minister confirm the fact that his business tax cuts form part of the confidence and supply agreement between New Zealand First and Labour, and that new parties, such as New Zealand First, have had a greater role in cutting taxes for business than the National Party within the last two decades, given that National did not cut business tax at all when it was last in power?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Indeed it was the subject of the confidence and supply agreements of both New Zealand First and United Future. Of course, it is most unlikely one would ever have a confidence and supply agreement with National, because, for a start, we have no confidence in National.
Hon Peter Dunne: Can the Minister also confirm that as part of the business tax review, both in the original document and in its conclusion, it was acknowledged that any consequential changes for personal taxes would have to be considered, and that that is precisely what is on the agenda at this point?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: That is absolutely correct and, as I have said now on a number of occasions, as the economy is growing faster than anticipated and the Government has higher surpluses than it was previously forecasting, that means that the country at large can enjoy a dividend out of that. The question is how much, when, and to whom it goes.
Hon Bill English: Does he recall saying: “The actual benefit of a lower company tax goes to foreign resident shareholders, for whom it is, in the main, the final tax. Leaving aside the political question of whether our fiscal priority is to give tax breaks to foreigners …”; and, if that is the case, why should anyone take seriously a social equity test that he sets up, when he spent his first billion dollars of tax reductions on foreign resident shareholders?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: It is pity one cannot apply a social equity test to business tax cuts, because that is the nature of the ownership of business. It is equally clear that a number of people have noticed—perhaps it has gone missing in the minds of National members opposite—that the Australians have lowered their corporate tax rate. Of course, in that situation two things may happen: a higher corporate tax rate here may tend to bias investment into Australia rather than New Zealand; also, of course, it may tend to bias trans-Tasman profit activity to be in Australia rather than New Zealand to take advantage of the lower rate, even though, of course, in Australia corporates have to pay things like stamp duties, general capital gains tax, and a number of other taxes they do not have to pay in New Zealand.
Hon Bill English: Given his very recent attention to the comparison, does he recall saying: “Firstly, it is not valid to compare a 30 percent nominal company tax rate in Australia with 33 percent in New Zealand. … Australian corporates have other non-discretionary levies … Since this is a small increase in what is left over from profitable investment, is the business community really saying to me that the profit potential of investment options for foreigners here versus elsewhere is so finely balanced …”; and does not that mean that he never even believed in the company tax cut when he did it?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: As I said in the Budget, if the member cares to go back to the speech, businesses kept saying that they saw reducing the corporate tax rate as one of the most important issues for corporate profitability and investment. As I said in the Budget, they will now have a chance to put their actions where their words have been for some time. I am sure that any future Government will monitor very carefully what their response is, before considering further changes to the corporate tax rate reduction.
Hon Bill English: Why does the Minister not just own up to the fact that his new attention to a social equity test for tax cuts is an attempt to hang on to some shred of what he believes is his principled opposition to tax cuts, when he has been under enormous pressure from the Prime Minister to deliver personal income tax cuts and he will have to do it whether he likes it or not?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I have been under no such pressure at all. The member just keeps making that up, as he makes up almost everything he ever says on any issue. The member totally lacks credibility. The reality is that the National Party always argues for tax cuts where the vast bulk of them go to those on high incomes. It is not worried about people on low incomes. If we can afford a dividend, that dividend should go across the board, not simply to those on the highest incomes. That may be what the Macquarie Bank is paying for from National; it is not what it will get from a Labour-led Government.
Hon Bill English: Can the Minister confirm that a quick look at the facts shows exactly the opposite and that, in fact, National brought in the family tax credit when it was last in Government, and, as he said himself, did not reduce company tax, and that he who is meant to be the prophet on social equity, and so principled, has done just about the opposite—that is, his first $1 billion of company tax cuts have gone to high-income people, most of whom are foreign-resident shareholders?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: What a short memory a man has when he has to make it up as he goes along. The Government’s first big moves on tax were the Working for Families package, which is now worth $2.5 billion a year, which has increased the average income for families with two kids by about $100 a week, and which the National Party voted against and still will not endorse. Indeed, National says that any campaign to advise people of their rights to Working for Families is a political campaign—ipso facto, one that distinguishes Labour from National.
Working for Families—Number of Families Benefiting
9. RUSSELL FAIRBROTHER (Labour) to the Minister for Social Development and Employment: How many families are benefiting from Working for Families?
Hon RUTH DYSON (Minister for Social Development and Employment): At the end of September of this year some 290,000 New Zealand families were receiving Working for Families tax credits. It is predicted that by the end of the tax year, 360,000 families will benefit from the tax credits—that is three out of four New Zealand families with children.
Russell Fairbrother: What has been the impact of Working for Families on working families with children?
Hon RUTH DYSON: Working for Families makes it easier for New Zealand families to be in paid work and raise a family. It has increased family incomes. A couple earning $45,000 a year with two young children is now $7,000 a year better off. A couple earning $90,000 with four children is over $6,000 a year better off. It is making a real difference for real people, like Sophie Read from Dunedin. She recently started her career following some time on the domestic purposes benefit. Working for Families has made her better off by more than $150 a week. Alongside other Labour-led Government initiatives such as paid parental leave, free early childhood education for 3 and 4-year-olds, reduced doctors’ visit fees, and reduced prescription charges, Working for Families is enabling New Zealanders to make choices about working and caring that best meet their family needs.
Russell Fairbrother: What reports has the Minister seen regarding support for the Working for Families package?
Hon RUTH DYSON: I have seen many supportive reports, and I have also seen some conflicting reports. For example, in November 2005 there was the declaration: “National members will be opposing this legislation with every bone in our bodies.”; then, just 2 years later: “I like the fact that families get more because they face substantial costs. We have made it clear, we are not planning to make changes to Working for Families that would make people worse off.” That is despite the fact that just 2 months earlier at the National Party conference the leader had said exactly the opposite. That report suggested cutting Working for Families, with proposals that would lead to 60,000 families completely losing their Working for Families support. They are all different statements from the leader of the National Party, demonstrating his usual flip-flopping. Meanwhile our Government is getting on with the real business of providing real opportunities for New Zealand families to get ahead.
Question No. 10 to Minister
KATHERINE RICH (National): I seek leave to hold the question over until the Minister is able to answer it.
Madam SPEAKER: Leave is sought. Is there any objection? Yes, there is objection.
Sexual Abuse Allegations—Ministry of Education Procedures
10. KATHERINE RICH (National) to the Minister of Education: Does he stand by his statements to the House yesterday that “The ministry took every appropriate step it needed to” and that the Board of Hato Pāora “followed the appropriate steps” when dealing with concerns regarding serious allegations of sexual abuse made against the school’s principal?
Hon PAREKURA HOROMIA (Associate Minister of Education) on behalf of the Minister of Education: Yes, most certainly.
Katherine Rich: Why is he adamant that the school and ministry took appropriate steps, when the previous Minister of Education, Steve Maharey, told the media when contacted about the case in August that if schools become aware of allegations of criminal activity they are obliged to alert the police?
Hon PAREKURA HOROMIA: Under the inter-agency protocols police and Child, Youth and Family keep each other informed of allegations such as these. In effect, reporting to one is the same as reporting to the other, as this case shows.
Hon Mark Burton: Can the Minister outline to the House whether the inter-agency protocols were followed in this case?
Hon PAREKURA HOROMIA: They most certainly were. This document, Breaking the Cycle: Interagency Protocols for Child Abuse Management, was done by that party in 1996 and has been adhered to by those agencies. Those inter-agency protocols have been in place since 1996. Where allegations such as these are made, school boards, as the employers, are required to conduct an investigation and report the allegations to either the police or Child, Youth and Family. The police and Child, Youth and Family are also required under the same inter-agency protocols to keep each other informed of such allegations. I am advised that the protocols were followed in this case.
Katherine Rich: If the inter-agency protocols are so robust, then why did a senior sergeant in Palmerston North commenting on the case, say that if there is a sexual allegation against a teacher at any school it should be reported to the police immediately and “police are the best people to investigate these issues fairly and properly.”, but at the time the media contacted the police they had not heard of the allegations at all?
Hon PAREKURA HOROMIA: I have outlined how these allegations came about—from Child, Youth and Family to the board and to the police at the same time. That is the process in the protocols.
Katherine Rich: How can he stand by his statements in the House yesterday when the board’s investigation, aided by the ministry, found nothing, but the police investigation found sufficient information to press charges, which proves the point that such complex and serious allegations are best investigated by the police?
Hon PAREKURA HOROMIA: I am advised by the chair of the board of trustees that she has personally assured that member of the process that was followed. The police statements in the press I am not too sure about, but I am most certain that the Ministry of Education has done its darnedest to ensure that this matter gets to a better place.
Katherine Rich: If the ministry from this point has serious allegations of sexual abuse brought to its attention by a school seeking advice about what to do, will the ministry in future advise that school to take such concerns to the police, or is the Minister just going to rely on the media to perform that service for him?
Hon PAREKURA HOROMIA: That is outrageous.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: That is true.
Hon PAREKURA HOROMIA: That is outrageous, and the issue is that the ministry does its best, and most certainly it has been informed by the chair of the board, as that member was informed about the process. There is another issue that the chair informed the member about—stop politicising this ugly, grubby matter, and making it hard for those kids who are sitting their National Certificate of Educational Achievement right now; it is disgraceful.
Katherine Rich: When the Minister speaks of outrage, is it not more outrageous that the ministry can deal with the concerns of a school for months and not offer the common-sense advice that the allegations should be taken to the police, and is it not outrageous that the first the police hear about such serious allegations is from the local media when the police were contacted for comment?
Hon PAREKURA HOROMIA: That is not true. The Ministry of Education is responsible for providing advice to boards about the proper conduct of investigations, and the policies and procedures they have in place. Schools may also seek assistance from the New Zealand School Trustees Association, which is contracted by the ministry to provide boards of trustees with administrative advice. The Education Review Office reports of 2004 and 2005 into Hato Paora School report no issues regarding the board of trustees complaints procedures.
Gender Gap—New Zealand's Performance
11. SUE MORONEY (Labour) to the Minister of Women's Affairs: What reports has she received on New Zealand’s performance regarding the gender gap relative to other countries?
Hon STEVE CHADWICK (Minister of Women's Affairs): New Zealand has one of the smallest gender gaps in the world. We are now ranked fifth out of 128 countries in the 2007 Global Gender Gap Report. That is up two places from seventh position last year. New Zealand performed stronger than other countries because of the level of women in the workforce and their level of income.
Sue Moroney: What other reports has the Minister received about the benefits gained by women under Labour?
Hon STEVE CHADWICK: New Zealand is ranked fifth in the Global Gender Gap Report behind Sweden, Norway, Finland, and Iceland. Business New Zealand chief executive, Phil O’Reilly, says our gender gap should be celebrated and he hails the report as an endorsement of New Zealand business and our way of life. This proves that Labour policies are making a difference for women, with paid parental leave, Working for Families, and 20 free hours’ early childcare education. Although we are on the right track, the gender pay gap is 12 percent, and there is a lot more work to be done.
Hon STEVE CHADWICK: I seek leave to table the Business New Zealand press release on the small gender pay gap.
Madam SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection? There is objection.
Hon STEVE CHADWICK: I seek leave to table the Global Gender Gap Report, which states we are fifth out of 128 countries.
Madam SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection? There is objection.
Building—Tin-based Timber Treatment
12. BOB CLARKSON (National—Tauranga) to the Minister for Building and Construction: Will he support an inquiry into the use of tin-based timber treatment, noting the reports of builders coughing up blood, and suffering headaches, rashes, and nose bleeds; if not, why not?
Hon SHANE JONES (Minister for Building and Construction): I am advised by the Department of Building and Housing that investigations are under way in consultation with appropriate agencies. I assure the member that the Government takes health and safety issues seriously.
Bob Clarkson: Why does the Government continue to allow the use of tributyltin naphthenate treatment of timber when the Australian Government notes that it is toxic and has a chemical burning property, and when the US National Safety Council does not allow its use, and there are more modern preservatives, like azole, that will do the job just as effectively?
Hon SHANE JONES: Considerations of solvent abuse aside, as I said there are three agencies. Let me outline them. There is the Environmental Risk Management Authority, obviously, which dealt with the quality of the material the member refers to; the Occupational Safety and Health Service, in terms of safety and health; and the Minister’s department, the Department of Building and Housing, which deals with the building industry. All those agencies have been summoned together to deal with the issues the member has outlined, and if the member has further information I will gladly receive it.
Lesley Soper: Is the Minister aware of any steps taken to educate builders about the safe handling of treated timber?
Hon SHANE JONES: Yes. The department has published a booklet entitled Timber Treatment, which provides guidance on how to handle treated timber safely. I am advised that the booklet has been distributed to over 100,000 people who work in the industry. The department also recently published a safety code in the department sector magazine in the May-June issue. The member has raised a number of very important issues. He has written to the Environmental Risk Management Authority, he has written to the Occupational Safety and Health Service, and he has written to my officials. Rest assured that we will deal with the issue.
Bob Clarkson: Why has the Government made the timber treatment standard so complicated resulting in the use of unsafe chemicals, and why does he not give it a good dose of the “kiss” principle—keep it simple, stupid?
Hon SHANE JONES: Given that we are talking about people’s well-being, I will eschew any references to mirrors in relation to that member. I am advised that the treatment has been approved by the Environmental Risk Management Authority in terms of it being dealt with in an appropriate handling regime manner. But the member has raised very good question, and officials will be looking at it. Mr Clarkson is welcome to bring any additional information to me or indeed to come and see me.
Bob Clarkson: Does the new Minister intend to act quickly so that the carpenters can stop coughing up blood, or is he going to drag this out like the previous Minister, Mr Clayton Cosgrove?
Hon SHANE JONES: I repeat that I look forward to Mr Clarkson bringing any information that will expedite the settlement of these problems. It is an extraordinary allegation to make that any official in the department will not treat this matter with the urgency it desires; and given the member’s much-vaunted background in the sector, I look forward to hearing from him.
Bob Clarkson: Does the Minister think that someone has made a blunder when it is recommended by the timber treatment processors that carpenters should wear overalls, rubber gumboots, rubber gloves, a head cover, and a respirator; and will we end up with “ninja” carpenters?
Hon SHANE JONES: The president of the Registered Master Builders Federation of New Zealand has pointed out that this particular problem is actually diminishing, and indeed Mr Clarkson has probably been told that. If he has any additional information that will help in an examination of the issues, would he please come and see the responsible Minister.