Questions and Answers - Thursday, 15 November 200
Questions and Answers - Thursday, 15
Questions to Ministers
Public Service—Appointment Process
1. GERRY BROWNLEE (National—Ilam) to the Minister of State Services: Does the view expressed by the Minister of Agriculture that “the person who is in a vulnerable position will always have the bone pointed at them” indicate the Government’s thinking on the appointment process for senior positions in the Public Service?
Hon DAVID PARKER (Minister of State Services): Mr Anderton did nothing wrong. His comments were appropriate and showed the maturity and consideration that comes from his long experience.
Gerry Brownlee: Does he agree with the statement by the Hon Jim Anderton to the Hunn review that in his view the role of communications advisers has developed to be very different from what it used to be, because it increasingly involves communications strategy, and sometimes highly political strategy; and can he explain exactly why the State sector has become involved in highly political strategy?
Hon DAVID PARKER: The very nature of politics is political.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: So the State sector is a division of the Labour Party?
Gerry Brownlee: That is about the size of it. Has the Minister seen the quote of the acting communications manager in the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, which states: “Madeleine has been upfront about her relationship, which, in my view should pose no obstacle to her being able to take up the contract position I am offering. However, I am aware of some of the political sensitivities that may be present around this appointment and would ask, should you think it appropriate, you to raise this possible appointment with the Minister.”; and why does he think that the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry felt so obliged to defer to the Minister on this particular employment issue?
Hon DAVID PARKER: The inquiry makes it clear that the chief executive did not defer to the Minister.
Gerry Brownlee: Then why did he ask the Minister whether it was OK to appoint her?
Hon DAVID PARKER: He did not say that. Further, criticisms are made by the reports that are soft criticisms of the chief executive of the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry—
Hon Dr Michael Cullen: That well-known socialist.
Hon DAVID PARKER: —“That well-known socialist.”, as Dr Cullen said, somewhat parenthetically—because although things were not perfect at the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, they were not actually bad there.
Gerry Brownlee: Why did the State Services Commissioner have to tell Hugh Logan that increased emphasis on the environmental policy was not the same as close political management of the Minister’s political position, and does the fact that Mr Logan failed to listen not indicate that Mr Prebble lacks the authority to rebuild and restore the political neutrality of the Public Service?
Hon DAVID PARKER: The inquiry speaks for itself in respect of that. I think the point that the inquiry makes, and that we certainly agree with on this side of the House, is that all people should be employed on their merits. They should be dealt with on their merits, and that was the whole point of this inquiry. The inquiry showed that Madeleine Setchell had not been dealt with fairly.
Hon Dr Michael Cullen: In the light of references to political appointments under this Government, can the Minister confirm that the Deputy State Services Commissioner, Iain Rennie—appointed by this Government and supported by this Government—is a former senior member of the National research unit?
Hon DAVID PARKER: I can, indeed, and that is to speak no ill of him at all. He is a well-regarded public servant; he was appointed on his merits.
Gerry Brownlee: Why does the Minister continue to express confidence in Dr Prebble when it is clear from the evidence in the Hunn report that the Public Service, under his watch, has been heavily politicised?
Hon DAVID PARKER: Because it has not.
Dr Pita Sharples: Tēnā koe, Madam Speaker. Tēnā tātou katoa. What explanation can the Minister provide for the finding in the State Services Commission’s career progression and development survey that more Māori, at 24 percent, than non-Māori, at 17 percent, were likely to report they had been deterred from applying for a senior role because they perceived the selection process to be unfair?
Madam SPEAKER: That is very wide of the original question, but the Minister may wish to make a comment.
Hon DAVID PARKER: No, I do not. I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I do not think that was within the realms of the substantive question.
Madam SPEAKER: That is correct. The question was quite focused in its intent.
Fonterra—Future Capital Structure
2. R DOUG WOOLERTON (NZ First) to the Minister of Agriculture: What conversations has he had with Fonterra’s board of directors regarding options for its future capital structure, and which of the options put forward would he favour as Minister of Agriculture?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Leader of the House) on behalf of the Minister of Agriculture: The Minister has had a series of conversations with representatives of the board over the last year or so as Fonterra has considered its capital structure. These discussions have focused on the national interest. Fonterra’s board has put one preferred option to its shareholders. It is now up to the shareholders to decide whether the company will progress that option. The Minister has indicated that the Government is prepared to advance legislation in Parliament so that should the proposal be approved by shareholders, their decision can be implemented.
R Doug Woolerton: Was debt financing discussed as an option for raising capital, given that full ownership of the company would remain in the hands of New Zealand farmers under such an option; if so, what was the Minister’s attitude towards that option?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I cannot recall whether that specific option was discussed, but I think it would be fair to say that because of the cooperative nature of Fonterra as a structure at the present time, there are quite severe limits on the ability to debt finance expansion within the company.
Sue Kedgley: Could the Minister explain how it would be in the national interest to open up the cooperative to foreign investors, to allow up to 50 percent of shares to be held by offshore owners, and to allow those dividends to flow straight out of New Zealand?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: The view taken by Fonterra is that it has very large expansion plans, and it aims to maintain and enhance its position as one of the world’s major players in traded dairy products. To engage in that expansion, Fonterra needs significant access to capital. The current cooperative—an entirely New Zealand-based operation, in that respect—is not able to access that kind of capital, and therefore it needs to look at ways in which that capital can be raised. However, of course, the current proposal put forward by Fonterra includes limits on foreign ownerships and protection of the level of ownership by the farmers’ cooperative, which, in effect, would give it a controlling interest in the new organisation.
R Doug Woolerton: Is the Minister’s statement today that the Government is prepared to advance legislation in Parliament to implement any decision of Fonterra’s shareholders an indication that a partially foreign-owned Fonterra’s largely monopoly position would be under threat; if not, why not?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: No, it is simply to state that if the shareholders, who are the people who own Fonterra, decide that they want to change the current structure, then because that structure is set by legislation it is appropriate for Parliament to consider that legislation. Of course, at the end of the day it will be a matter for Parliament to decide whether to approve any such legislation that may come forward.
R Doug Woolerton: Was any consideration given by the Government on the potential effect on New Zealand’s balance of payments of the partial foreign ownership of Fonterra; if not, why not?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: As I indicated in my first answer, the Government’s primary concern is around the national interest. That includes ensuring that New Zealand retains majority ownership, that the farmers’ cooperative retains effective control, that the headquarters remains within New Zealand, that the primary listing of any such company remains within New Zealand, and, indeed, from the Government perspective, that the development of products, research and development, and the like takes place overwhelmingly within New Zealand. If Fonterra expands in that respect and if it significantly expands its offshore earnings, that, of course, is a factor that also has to be taken account of in the balance of payments.
R Doug Woolerton: Does the Minister share the concerns expressed by the Dairy Workers Union that the new structure will create pressure on Fonterra to undertake further commercial activities offshore that can be efficiently undertaken in this country; if not, why not?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Obviously there are issues around that, but in looking out over the long term, as there is a large expansion of world dairy consumption, we see that the issue facing Fonterra is whether it positions itself to remain, in effect, the largest player in terms of traded dairy products around the world. It is in New Zealand’s national interest that that is so, but it is in New Zealand’s national interest that Fonterra, in achieving that, does not become, in effect, a foreign company.
R Doug Woolerton: Is the Minister concerned at today’s admission by Fonterra’s chairman that the new structure will create tension between what farmers want and what shareholders want; and given that a publicly listed company is beholden solely to increased returns for the shareholders, how can the wishes of the farmers be addressed when a proportion of a company that they own decreases over time?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: My understanding is that the proposed structure will, in effect, ensure that the farmers’ cooperative retains effective control of the company. With a single shareholding of 35 percent, and with limits on any foreign shareholding well below that level, the cooperative retains, in effect, the effective control of the company. At the end of the day, of course, the first hurdle the board has to clear is to persuade its farmer shareholders that it is in their interests that this proposal proceeds. I have no doubt that that will be quite a large ask.
Electoral Finance Bill—Participation in Parliamentary Democracy
3. Hon TONY RYALL (National—Bay of Plenty) to the Minister of Justice: Does she agree with the statement of her predecessor that the Electoral Finance Bill “will help promote participation in parliamentary democracy”?
Hon PETE HODGSON (Minister for Economic Development) on behalf of the Minister of Justice: Yes. A good parliamentary democracy is characterised by freedom of speech on the one hand, and, on the other hand, by constraints on individuals or groups who seek to unduly influence a democratic outcome through the raw use of a lot of money.
Hon Tony Ryall: When this bill will form part of New Zealand’s constitutional framework, why is the Government continuing to withhold every single report that Ministry of Justice officials have written on the electoral finance issue; and is it not the case that if these reports were full of glowing praise for this bill, the Minister would have released every single page in a shot?
Hon PETE HODGSON: My understanding is that the Ministry of Justice is the adviser to the select committee and has provided the select committee with the wide range of reports that are available to the select committee. The select committee comprises a number of people, not including the Minister.
Lynne Pillay: What specifically does the Electoral Finance Bill do to constrain those who would seek to unduly influence a democratic outcome through the raw use of a lot of money?
Hon PETE HODGSON: The bill as introduced has a range of limitations on both the funding of special-interest group campaigning and the expenditure of special-interest group campaigning. The select committee soon will report any changes to the House. The purpose of these limitations is to ensure that the voices of ordinary New Zealanders in an election campaign are not drowned out by fat cats opening their wallets to distort the will of ordinary people.
Hon Tony Ryall: Why is the Government suppressing the release of every report and piece of advice the Ministry of Justice has given the Minister and the Government; and is it not the case that every single one of those reports is warning that this Government is doing irreparable damage to democracy in New Zealand, and that is why the Government will not release the reports?
Hon PETE HODGSON: I think I am entitled to say that reports characterised by words used in the member’s question simply do not exist.
Hon Tony Ryall: Why will the Minister not release these papers today?
Hon PETE HODGSON: I am not able to confirm that such papers exist, but I am able to confirm that the Ministry of Justice is an adviser to the select committee, and select committee members advise the Minister that the Ministry of Justice has provided a good deal of advice to the select committee. I just remind the House that the select committee comprises people from a wide range of parties.
Hon Tony Ryall: How can there be full and open participation and debate on this bill and this issue when the Government is suppressing the release of Ministry of Justice advice to Ministers and the Government—this information was sought months ago, it is now under appeal with the Ombudsman, and the Ombudsman has written to the Minister saying that the paper should be released, so why are these reports not being released?
Hon Dr Nick Smith: Because they are a bunch of sneaks.
Hon PETE HODGSON: I beg your pardon.
Hon Dr Michael Cullen: Dominion Post MP of the Year!
Hon PETE HODGSON: That is right. The member seeks to whip up a storm. I am not aware that any such weather event exists. I will say again that advice to the select committee is the property of the select committee. It will come out when the select committee reports back to the House, and the Minister expects that report back to be soon.
R Doug Woolerton: Would the Minister describe a bill that has had over 600 submissions as “suppressing public input”?
Hon PETE HODGSON: The member makes a very good point. This bill was introduced almost 4 months ago. It has been subject to a good deal of comment, a good deal of criticism, and a good deal of scrutiny. That has happened in a public arena. Is that what secrecy looks like—does it happen in a public arena? One would not know, would one, that this bill has been through a public consultation process. The claims of secrecy are bizarre.
Hon Tony Ryall: Is it the Government’s intention at any time before the Electoral Finance Bill is passed to release the advice that Ministry of Justice officials have prepared for Ministers and for the Minister of Justice herself on the Electoral Finance Bill and other issues—the advice has been prepared, it has been confirmed by the ministry that there is advice to the Government, but the Government is in dispute with the Ombudsmen—surely, if this Government wants full public participation in this bill, it would release the advice that its own constitutional and electoral advisers have given it; if it will not, what is it hiding?
Hon PETE HODGSON: The member continues to construct a conspiracy. He is making it up. Let me say to the member, without hesitation, that the Ministry of Justice complies with the Official Information Act of this land and with the processes that are inherent in it.
Metiria Turei: Does the Minister agree that if non-party groups run million-dollar advertising campaigns that are simply parallel party vote campaigns—just as the Exclusive Brethren did last election, with its blue pamphlets that stated “Change the Government”—then a cap on party election spending is simply pointless and we may as well just go to the American system of $1, one vote?
Hon PETE HODGSON: The member is absolutely right. Let us just briefly reiterate what happened in the last general election in this country. The National Party had a party cap of $1 million and electoral expenditure on top of that. There was a party cap of $1 million. That is the law. The law constraining us on how much we as candidates for election can spend has been around since 1895. That was the law for the last election—$1 million for the National Party, $1 million for the Green Party, and $1 million for the Labour Party. But, guess what? Along came the Exclusive Brethren, which spent more than $1.2 million in addition to the National Party’s cap. This legislation states that that situation is not a very good idea and that we should try to put a stop to it.
Hon Tony Ryall: Is the reason why the Government continues to suppress the advice of the Ministry of Justice to the Minister and the Government the fact that those reports point out that advertisements like the one I am holding, which had to be counted as an election expense last time, will not have to be included as an election expense this time, which means that the Labour Party can steal even more taxpayers’ money to steal another election?
Hon PETE HODGSON: It does not really much matter how much time that member wishes to devote to weaving a more and more elaborate conspiracy. It does not matter how much time he wants to spend on that. The fact is that the Ministry of Justice is bound to follow the Official Information Act in its entirety. It will follow the Official Information Act in its entirety and it will contest processes where it sees fit to do so. The ministry will do that.
Hon Tony Ryall: I seek leave to table the request on 24 July that went to the Government for the release of this information in the public interest.
Business Opportunities Overseas—Government Assistance
4. Hon MARK GOSCHE (Labour—Maungakiekie) to the Minister for Economic Development: What Labour-led Government assistance is there to help New Zealand firms take advantage of new business opportunities overseas?
Hon PETE HODGSON (Minister for Economic Development): Nearly 600 companies around New Zealand have signed up for the Government’s Market Development Assistance scheme in the last year. From an initial funding pool of $6.7 million in January 2005, the scheme has grown now to more than $50 million annually. That is $50 million of taxpayer support to mostly small or medium-sized exporters to help them break into new markets so that back home they can grow further and faster than would otherwise be the case.
Hon Mark Gosche: What advice has the Minister received about when we will see the beneficial effects from this scheme—will it be immediate or will it take a longer time?
Hon PETE HODGSON: The answer is really both. There are immediate gains for some exporters, but market development is generally a longer-term undertaking, as any exporter will confirm. Offshore markets take time to research, to enter, and to expand into. Our exporting community seeks to build strong and sustainable offshore markets, and now it has a Government that will pick up half the tab of doing so.
Dr Richard Worth: Why is New Zealand Trade and Enterprise not prepared to establish measurement mechanisms for the amount of money it expends on export support, unlike its Australian counterpart, Austrade—for then we would know what money was worthwhile and what money was wasted?
Hon PETE HODGSON: The member misrepresents New Zealand Trade and Enterprise. It is very keen on an evaluation mechanism, and indeed the first results from such a mechanism will be available in, I think, June 2008.
Sue Bradford: Does the Minister agree that the Ministry of Economic Development’s successful Buy Kiwi Made programme has provided a greater opportunity for New Zealand manufacturers to sell their products locally rather than export them overseas, and that the result of this is more local jobs kept here, more money returned and retained in our communities, and lower transport costs—all this better than if we had kept going with an ever-increasing dependence on imports?
Hon PETE HODGSON: The member is right, generally speaking, that the value of an import substitution is equal to the value of an export, and she makes a very good point. We must be careful, however, not to be tripped up by the tyranny of the word “or”. We must do both.
Agriculture, Minister—Setchell Employment
5. GERRY BROWNLEE (National—Ilam) to the Minister of Agriculture: Why was he consulted about the potential employment of Madeleine Setchell by the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Deputy Prime Minister) on behalf of the Minister of Agriculture: Because the chief executive chose to do so.
Gerry Brownlee: Does the Minister have any further comment in addition to that he made on radio this morning, when he said that his reasons for not appointing Madeleine Setchell were “if anything went wrong, she may have the bone pointed at her unfairly”; and does he not really mean that if a person has a family member who has a connection to the National Party, then there will be no job for that person, but if a person has a connection to the Labour Party, then everything will be all right?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: No, not at all. The Minister this morning was repeating the comments he made to Mr Sherwin that in these kinds of sensitive positions, if something happens, then no doubt the Opposition would be the first to point the bone, given half the chance.
Gerry Brownlee: Is the Minister concerned by this quote in the Hunn report from a mid-level manager inside the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry: “Of course I will accept any decision the Minister makes but I am extremely worried about the precedent here. We have a number of employees with potential ‘perceived’ conflicts that may come into play with a change of government.”; and does this not indicate that this Minister has created a climate of fear in his office and an understanding that he will blacklist applicants, and that he has also stacked his ministry with people who are of his political persuasion?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I am not sure which ones the member is referring to, but there is Mr Murray Sherwin, the former Deputy Governor of the Reserve Bank, and a well-known economic dry; or Dan Bolger, whose surname might suggest something to the member.
Gerry Brownlee: Has he seen the quote of the acting communications manager at the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, who said: “Madeleine has been ‘up front’ about her relationship which, in my view, should pose no obstacle to her being able to take up the contract position”; if so, why is it that the Minister then decided, very directly, that no, she was not to have the position?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: It is absolutely clear that Madeleine Setchell was upfront initially about her relationship and revealed a potential conflict of interest. It is also absolutely clear from both Mr Hunn’s report and Dr Prebble’s report that the decision not to employ Ms Setchell in the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry was entirely that of Mr Sherwin and was not a decision by the Minister.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: Yeah right!
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: So we now have the member opposite who was, of course, convicted of contempt of court and was commented on by the court for his veracity, saying that, in fact, Mr Hunn is a liar, and Dr Prebble is a liar, but the National Party stands up for the independence of the Public Service in saying so.
Gerry Brownlee: If we are to believe that the Minister did not express an opinion about the employment of Madeleine Setchell, why did Mr Sherwin convey a message to the mid-level manager of communications saying: “I have discussed with (the Chief of Staff) and he has discussed with the Minister. The answer is a clear ‘no’.”?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: If the member had managed to read a little bit further into the report he would have found that Mr Sherwin made it quite clear to Mr Hunn that the “no” was his “no”, not the Minister’s “no”. The acting communications director seemed to be acting under a strange impression from offshore that the Minister was going to make the decision anyway. The member actually asked almost for the Minister to make the decision—that is not what Mr Sherwin did, and it is certainly not what Mr Anderton did.
Gerry Brownlee: What does the Minister take the House for, when it is evident in the Hunn report that Mr Sherwin went to Mr Anderton and asked him whether it would be appropriate to employ Madeleine Setchell; if he did not do that, and he did not make that request for that purpose, why on earth is it in the report?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Because, indeed, Mr Sherwin did go to Mr Anderton and ask whether there would be any difficulty. Mr Anderton said that a problem could arise if something went wrong in terms of a leak or whatever; then it did not matter whether Ms Setchell was involved, the bone could be pointed at her. The report makes it abundantly clear that Mr Hunn is satisfied, and Mr Sherwin is clear, that Mr Sherwin made the decision alone. Now we have Mr Sherwin added to the list of those who are telling a lie. [Interruption] That is right. The head of the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry is telling a lie according to Mr Brownlee, and the head of the State Services Commission is telling a lie.
Gerry Brownlee: Yes.
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: “Yes”, he says. A former head of the State Services Commission is telling a lie, but of course the National Party would not attack the independence of the Public Service! Does the member not see some contradiction, so far, in his logic line?
Gerry Brownlee: Would the Minister care to believe that what I know is that Madeleine Setchell has been blacklisted by the Public Service, and the evidence is abundantly clear for that; and that not only Mr Benson-Pope decided to give her the heave after she had been appointed, after she had been headhunted, but also Mr Anderton, who knew that she had been through the difficulties at the Ministry for the Environment, decided to do exactly the same?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: That line can be followed only if Mr Brownlee continues to insist that Mr Hunn, a very distinguished ex - public servant, tells a lie; that Mr Sherwin, who has never been associated with the Labour Party in any shape or form as far as I am aware tells a lie; that Dr Prebble, who, I think for many years now has not exactly been on the left wing of politics, tells a lie; but who cares, as long as it is said under privilege! Why does the member not say it outside as clearly as that?
Greater Wellington Regional Council—Regional Strategy
6. HEATHER ROY (Deputy Leader—ACT) to the Minister of Transport: Does the Minister stand by her statement that the Greater Wellington Regional Council’s regional strategy “fits well with the Government’s overall goals of economic transformation and sustainability.”; if so, what are the benefits in terms of carbon emissions from the Government’s decision to fund 90 percent of Wellington’s new rail units?
Hon JUDITH TIZARD (Associate Minister of Transport) on behalf of the Minister of Transport: Yes. The new rail units are part of the ongoing commitment of the Government and the Greater Wellington Regional Council to a sustainable transport system for the region.
Heather Roy: Is the Minister aware that the business case used to justify buying rail units rather than diesel buses is full of errors, including using the outrageous assumption that buses use 2.8 litres of fuel per kilometre—10 times the real usage figure—to calculate carbon dioxide emissions, and that the Government is actually funding 90 percent of the cost of trains that will emit twice as much carbon dioxide as buses do?
Hon JUDITH TIZARD: We have moved in the last 8 years to follow the regional councils’ priorities expressed through their regional land transport strategies. This strategy for Wellington has been argued for many years, and given that the rail system provides 70 percent of public transport journeys at peak times and has serious bottlenecks, I am happy to say that I think this new provision will address the issues that Wellington and the Government are concerned about.
Madam SPEAKER: It is very difficult to hear, if members are chattering away.
Heather Roy: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. The Minister failed to address my question, at all. It was very specific, and asked whether the Minister was aware that the business case was full of errors. She described in great detail what a great strategy it was that she was endorsing, but she failed to answer my question, which was whether she was aware that the business case was full of errors. I cited a very specific example, and she referred to that not once in her answer.
Madam SPEAKER: Although members cannot require a specific answer, the Minister may like to address that point in the question.
Hon JUDITH TIZARD: It is a debatable issue, and it has been debated endlessly at most regional councils.
Hon Peter Dunne: Will she confirm the rail funding decision, and the announcement in the Budget earlier this year of the upgrade of the Johnsonville line in order to secure that line’s future, notwithstanding private criticism from the new chair of the Greater Wellington Regional Council that the Government was wrong last year to dismiss out of hand the flawed plan from the Mayor of Wellington and the Wellington City Council to close the Johnsonville line and turn it into a busway?
Hon JUDITH TIZARD: As the former Minister with responsibility for Auckland Issues, I have done my best to avoid many of the details of Wellington issues, but the Minister of Transport, undoubtedly, is aware of that issue and has taken it into consideration. Our concern is to make sure that we have a rail system in Wellington that is useful for both passengers and freight; that the older trains—some of which are more than 70 years old—are replaced; and that we have a rail system that provides affordability and sustainability, and an ability to increase frequency and capacity. I am delighted to say that it does that.
Sue Kedgley: Can the Minister guarantee Wellingtonians that the entire rail-track in the Wellington region will be upgraded in time for the arrival of the new, smart electric rail units in 2010, and that that will include fixing all the rotting poles, the parts of the track that have been buckling, and so forth; and can she further confirm that unless this upgrade is completed in time, these wonderful new, smart trains will not be going anywhere?
Hon JUDITH TIZARD: I can tell Wellingtonians that the key objective of the $885 million package is to make sure that the work is done on time and sustainably. I am told that the track upgrades are scheduled to coincide with the arrival of the new trains in 2010.
Heather Roy: How is her goal of economic transformation enhanced by giving a $200 million subsidy to rail at the expense of roading projects to relieve congestion, including congestion at Transmission Gully, Ngauranga Gorge, Kilbirnie, and the Basin Reserve; and how is sustainability achieved when her Government has endorsed a scheme that doubles carbon emissions by choosing rail over other infrastructure?
Hon JUDITH TIZARD: What we have in New Zealand is an intermodal system, which we hope is going to be better integrated. But I would also note that that member said in her own diary on the ACT party’s news website: “… our love affair with cars is too passionate—restricting emissions would mean restricting car use, which would lose votes. There has been much talk about public transport, … Overcoming the psychological barrier is a major undertaking.” I think that providing up-to-date rail services in a region where 70 percent of public transport is rail transport is probably a good way of changing the psychological mindset.
Heather Roy: I seek leave to table the Wellington commuter rail alternative to roading evaluation, which shows the—
Madam SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection? Yes, there is objection.
Heather Roy: I seek leave of the House to table the Wellington commuter rail network business case, which is released—
Madam SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection? Yes, there is.
Heather Roy: I seek leave of the House to table the Land Transport New Zealand board paper stating that funding for rail units will be at the expense of—
Environment Chief Executive—Confidence
7. Hon Dr NICK SMITH (National—Nelson) to the Minister for the Environment: Does he have confidence in the chief executive of the Ministry for the Environment?
Hon TREVOR MALLARD (Minister for the Environment): Confidence in a chief executive is a matter for the State Services Commissioner.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: Can the Minister explain why it has been necessary to increase the number of staff employed for public relations in his ministry from 3 in 1999 to 11, as well as having an eightfold increase in the budget for communications contracts?
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: No.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. The question asked the Minister to explain a large increase in the number of staff. Is it now adequate for a Minister simply to say that he is not going to bother explaining to the people of New Zealand and to this Parliament why there has been such a huge increase?
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: The question asked “Can the Minister explain …”, and the answer is no.
Madam SPEAKER: Exactly. I thought the Minister very succinctly, for once, addressed the question.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: Why did his ministry place advertisements that seek staff “to work on issues that are at the forefront of New Zealand’s political agenda”, advertisements which have subsequently been deemed inappropriate by the State Services Commission because of their political content; and is that not further evidence of Labour’s politicisation of this important ministry?
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: Because it had bad judgment; and no.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: Referring to the decision by the ministry to employ Clare Curran, the Otago-Southland representative on the Labour Party’s ruling council and the author of a 10-page strategy paper to Labour’s conference in 2006 entitled How Labour Can Take Charge of the Language of Debate and Discussion in New Zealand, why was she awarded an uncontested contract, with the assistance of MP and climate change Minister David Parker; and does that not show the extent to which Labour will abuse the Public Service and taxpayers’ money for its own political ends?
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: There were a lot of assertions in that question. The first point is that Clare Curran was not a member of the national council of the Labour Party at the time of the appointment. The second assertion is wrong. I am not sure whether the allegation was that it was Mr Parker or Mr Benson-Pope who insisted on her appointment; that is not correct.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: How is it that Madeleine Setchell lost her job in communications at his ministry on the basis of her being the partner of John Key’s press secretary, Kevin Taylor, who is neither a member of nor an activist for National but a professional adviser, when she had secured the job under an open, competitive process, whereas it is quite OK for Clare Curran to work in the same ministry on communications when she is a highly active member of the Labour Party and the author of a key political strategy document, and when that job was allocated uncontested; and does that not show the dodgy double standard in his ministry, where we are seeing an increased politicisation of such appointments and decisions?
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: On the first part of the question, I will not defend the treatment of Madeleine Setchell; that was wrong. On the second part of the question, I advise the contract is between $10,000 and $50,000. There is a requirement within the ministry’s operating policy to obtain at least three quotes. I am advised that that was done in this case.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: Does it not indicate a politically incestuous environment at the ministry when the key player in the firing of Madeleine Setchell was Steve Hurring, who just happens to be the Minister’s own campaign chair in Hutt South, and when Clare Curran, who is now challenging David Benson-Pope for his seat, was awarded that contract for communications at the ministry on Minister Parker’s insistence; and does that not all point to a dodgy Labour Government repeatedly abusing its powers for the politicisation of our Public Service?
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: I think that a number of points need to be addressed in that question, although it was quite a long one. Firstly, Steve Hurring is not my campaign manager.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: Was at the last election.
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: Well, yes; he has lived in the Hutt in the past, but he has shifted to town and is not my campaign manager—and that is just a slight matter of fact and truth that that member ignores. Actually, much of the rest of the story is the same. Can I make a second point? I do not condone the approach taken to Madeleine Setchell. I have said that repeatedly. They got it wrong; Don Hunn got it right.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: What about Clare Curran?
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: I say to the member that at the same time as, and subsequent to, Clare Curran’s employment, media advice was being received by Ministers’ offices and the senior part of the ministry from someone who has very close links to the National Party—someone who had a lot of experience in working as a political appointee of the National Party—
Hon Dr Nick Smith: Try and smudge someone else. Tell us about Clare Curran.
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: No, no. It is someone whom I really like, someone who did a really good job, and her name was Anna Hughes.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: I seek the leave of the House to table the advertisement for jobs placed by the Ministry for the Environment that seeks people who will be at the forefront of New Zealand’s political agenda.
Madam SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection? Yes, there is objection.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: I seek the leave of the House to table the paper by Clare Curran that says: “This paper is about Labour taking charge of the language of debate and discussion in New Zealand.”
8. Dr ASHRAF CHOUDHARY (Labour) to the Minister of Education: What steps is the Government taking to ensure all young people achieve their potential and make a positive contribution to New Zealand’s economic transformation and social development?
Hon CHRIS CARTER (Minister of Education): I recently received a report from the Ministry of Education that shows it is on track to halve the number of early leaving exemptions it will approve this year. In order to ensure that no young person is left behind, the Ministry of Education is working withCareer Services to develop personalised learning and career plans for many of those who previously would have been allowed to leave school early. These plans will provide a rational and practical step to encourage students to remain in, and engaged with, school and further education.
Dr Ashraf Choudhary: What else is the Government doing to ensure all young people are equipped for our 21st century economy and society?
Hon CHRIS CARTER: As the Prime Minister told the Labour Party conference recently, attachment to and engagement in education is critical to equip young people to participate in New Zealand’s economic transformation. Our Government has introduced many innovative policies, like 20 hours’ free early childhood education, Young Apprenticeships, and Modern Apprenticeships, to keep young people engaged in learning. But there is more to come. For example, through the recently ratified secondary teachers’ collective agreement we have agreed to a project that looks at the future of secondary schooling, and our new curriculum enables teachers to equip their students with the skills and competencies they need in order to succeed in the 21st century.
Sexual Abuse Allegations—Ministry of Education Procedures
9. KATHERINE RICH (National) to the Minister of Education: Does he stand by statements made on his behalf in the House yesterday regarding the actions of the Ministry of Education after being made aware of sexual abuse allegations against the principal of Hato Pāora College: “I am most certain that the Ministry of Education has done its darnedest to ensure that this matter gets to a better place.”; if so, why?
Madam SPEAKER: I understand the answer will be a little longer than normal.
Hon CHRIS CARTER (Minister of Education): Yes. This is the third time this week that questions have been raised about whether correct procedures were followed at Hato Pāora College over sex abuse allegations against the principal. I want to believe that the member is raising these questions to try to ensure that the systems dealing with such allegations are the best possible that we could have. To my knowledge, in this case they were. The member alleges that the police became involved in the case only through media inquiries. That is not correct. I am advised by the officer in charge of the case that police were informed of the situation by Child, Youth and Family on 3 August, which is the same day that the school board informed the Ministry of Education of the issues. Such notification is exactly in line with the protocols in dealing with child abuse allegations between the police, Child, Youth and Family, the School Trustees Association, and the Ministry of Education, which were signed in 1996. I remind the House that attempts to get a cheap headline out of this issue are having a very negative impact on pupils, staff, and parents of the school involved.
Katherine Rich: Why does the Minister pretend that there was a formal and planned notification to Child, Youth and Family and the police as part of an inter-agency protocol, when the only reason Child, Youth and Family found out about the case was not through a formal notification, and when police were contacted by local media in Palmerston North they had no idea about anything to do with the allegations?
Hon CHRIS CARTER: The member was clearly not listening to my initial answer. I have been advised by the officer in charge of the case that the police were informed of the situation by Child, Youth and Family on 3 August, which is the same day that the school board informed the ministry about the issue.
Lesley Soper: What reports has the Minister received about the effect that this continued publicity around these sexual abuse allegations at Hato Pāora College is having?
Hon CHRIS CARTER: I have received reports that the chairperson of the board of trustees has knowledge of students receiving hostile text messages about their personal safety following the publicity generated by Katherine Rich. I am sure the parents are very distressed about the potential impact on their sons’ education and on the reputation of their school.
Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I ask you to think about what the Minister has just said. That is a most outrageous allegation. I think you need to ask him to confine himself to answers that are within the bounds of the question that has been asked. He cannot possibly have even the slightest bit of evidence for the outrageous assertion he has just made.
Hon CHRIS CARTER: Speaking to the point of order, Madam Speaker, I point out that I would not make such an allegation without carefully checking it. That is an allegation that the chairperson of the board of trustees has made to my ministry, and that allegation was made today.
Madam SPEAKER: Certainly it is within the bounds of the original question.
Katherine Rich: If the Minister is 100 percent sure that the police found out about these allegations from the school at exactly the time that the school started its investigation, has he had it explained to him why the police only started their investigation some time after the board had completed its own internal investigation, and after they found out from the local media?
Hon CHRIS CARTER: Clearly the member did not listen to the answer I gave earlier in the week. When she asked that very question, I explained to her and to this House that the investigation done by the board cleared the principal. Further evidence was taken to the police by one of the children who had complained. This was new evidence, and it was on that basis that the charges were laid. The police themselves have said that on the evidence presented to the board the inquiry was carried out correctly, and that it had to come to the conclusion that it did. New evidence was presented to the police subsequent to the investigation by the board.
Katherine Rich: Why does the Minister keep repeating misleading statements in the House regarding my interaction with the board, when my office was told by the chair of the board, when she phoned my office: “It’s great that Katherine is taking an interest, and we are glad that she is raising this issue publicly.”?
Hon CHRIS CARTER: What an interesting question from the member. Exactly the opposite has been told to my staff by the chairperson of the board of trustees, who has condemned the member for her actions in publicising the issue, and who has told my office that students at the school are receiving text messages from their friends asking whether they are safe. She told us that she has personally told the member that she is putting enormous stress on the school just as National Certificate of Educational Achievement exams are about to begin. She told my office that she has personally told the member to desist from ruining the reputation of the school.
Katherine Rich: If his ministry is contacted tomorrow by a school that is dealing with serious allegations of sexual abuse, will his ministry advise the school to take those allegations to the police for investigation, as was suggested by the former Minister Steve Maharey when contacted about these allegations, when he told the paper that if schools became aware of allegations of criminal activity they would be obliged to alert the police; and why will his ministry not tell schools to do that?
Hon CHRIS CARTER: Once again, the member is distorting the facts. The facts of the matter are that the board of trustees is obliged to notify Child, Youth and Family when such allegations are made. Under the inter-agency protocol that I will attempt to table in a moment, Child, Youth and Family is required to notify the police, and vice versa. So what the member is asking for is actually happening, and in this case it did happen.
Katherine Rich: If Steve Maharey knew what to do when the ministry was faced with serious sexual allegations against a school principal, why does the Minister not know what to do, and why does he not just tell his ministry that in the event that this happens again it should offer the common-sense advice, which is to take these allegations to the police so that they can be investigated properly?
Hon CHRIS CARTER: Listeners and viewers of Parliament today must be mystified as to why the member cannot get it. The facts are that schools are obliged to notify Child, Youth and Family; Child, Youth and Family is obliged to notify the police. In this case it happened. So what is Ms Rich’s problem here? What is her question?
Madam SPEAKER: Was there a point of order in regard to the seeking of leave?
Hon CHRIS CARTER: I seek leave to table Breaking the Cycle: Interagency Protocols for Child Abuse Management, signed in 1996, which existed throughout the time of the National Government.
Food-borne Illness—Government Initiatives
10. JILL PETTIS (Labour) to the Minister for Food Safety: What Government initiatives have been put in place to address food-borne illness in New Zealand?
Hon LIANNE DALZIEL (Minister for Food Safety): Given that this week is Foodsafe Week, there are many food safety promotional activities being undertaken around the country, including television advertisements and brochures emphasising the importance of safe handling of food at home. I was pleased to present the Food Safety For Life Award to three students from Hastings Girls’ High School this morning for their clever and original advertisement stressing the importance of clean hands when handling food. The primary initiative of Government to reduce food-borne illness has been the establishment of the New Zealand Food Safety Authority as a stand-alone agency and its extensive programme, including the campylobacter strategy.
Jill Pettis: Can the Minister please advise why it has been necessary to develop a campylobacter strategy, and what does it involve?
Hon LIANNE DALZIEL: The campylobacter strategy aims to halve the number of human cases of food-borne campylobacter infections over the next 5 years. This is necessary as New Zealand has one of the highest notified rates of campylobacter in the OECD. The poultry industry has agreed to meet a 90 percent reduction in the number of bacteria on chicken carcases from 1 April 2008. However, it is important that there is vigilance across the entire food chain and that consumers play their part, as well, by adhering to the four C’s—clean, cook, cover, and chill—all of which are vitally important in reducing food-borne illness.
Sue Kedgley: Will the Minister consider, as part of her safe-handling strategy, requiring large warning labels to be placed on all fresh chicken sold in New Zealand stating “May contain campylobacter”, given the University of Otago’s recently released research that found that most chickens in New Zealand are contaminated, and that New Zealand should seriously consider banning the sale of fresh chicken for human consumption as a result?
Hon LIANNE DALZIEL: I do not think that labelling chickens in that regard would be of any assistance at all. The assertion that the member makes is quite correct—we do have an extremely high rate of campylobacter within our chickens. But I want to say to the House—and I think it is important given that we are heading into the barbecue season—that cooking chicken properly prevents the campylobacter from infecting humans by way of consumption.
Question No. 9 to Minister
Dr the Hon LOCKWOOD SMITH (National—Rodney): I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I apologise for not raising this point of order the moment it happened, but I was so gobsmacked that it has taken me a moment to work out what just went on. At the end of the previous set of questions, I believe I heard you, as Speaker, invite the Minister to seek leave to table documents. That is something that the Speaker should not be involved in. Members have a perfect right to seek leave to table documents, but where the Speaker invites them to do so, it implies a relationship between the Speaker and in this case the Government that could be seen to be inappropriate.
Madam SPEAKER: No, I have heard enough. The Minister, in answer to one of his questions, indicated he was going to table documents. Rather than interrupt the next questioner, I asked people whether they were going to table documents, because often members, unfortunately, forget. That was what happened.
SuperGold Card—Advertising Budget 2007-08
11. JUDITH COLLINS (National—Clevedon) to the Minister for Social Development and Employment: How much has the Ministry of Social Development budgeted for advertising the SuperGold card in 2007-08?
Hon RUTH DYSON (Minister for Social Development and Employment): The total communications budget for the SuperGold card in 2007-08 is $1.154 million. This includes not only the advertising of the launch of the card but also marketing activities and promotional materials.
Judith Collins: Why did the ministry advise in the 2007-08 estimates examination in June this year that it planned to spend less than $200,000 on advertising the SuperGold card in the current year, but by August it had changed its mind and decided to spend almost $1.2 million, which was a sixfold increase; and will this additional advertising spend meet the Prime Minister’s requirement that Government departments err on the side of caution when promoting policies?
Hon RUTH DYSON: In answer to the latter question, yes, it certainly will; in answer to the former question, departments cannot announce appropriations that have not yet been agreed.
Barbara Stewart: Can the Minister confirm that literally hundreds of potential business partners are currently in negotiations to join the SuperGold card scheme, to offer even more concessions to our seniors?
Hon RUTH DYSON: That is a very risky question from the member, who knows that her leader is out of the country, and neither of us should be pre-empting his announcements on further partnerships with the SuperGold card that will be made shortly. But I can confirm that, at the launch of the SuperGold card, 187 businesses were offering discounts and services to older New Zealanders; today 485 business partners have signed up, representing over 3,000 outlets throughout New Zealand. The list will continue to grow, with more being added every day.
Judith Collins: Who is telling the truth here: the Minister, who is saying that the Government could not announce in the estimates spending that was subsequently announced a couple of months later, or the ministry, which says the advertising spend was increased after the estimates, or the Associate Minister for Senior Citizens, who has confirmed in writing that the ministry decided after the Budget was debated to up its advertising budget by 600 percent—who is telling the truth?
Hon RUTH DYSON: All three parties that the member noted are telling the truth, but, consistent with every other question that member asks, she is not.
Judith Collins: Oh, she is getting angry now.
Madam SPEAKER: That was entirely unnecessary. Would the member just ask the question.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. Can you tell the House why, when a Minister clips on to the end of his or her answer a derogatory comment about the member, you are silent, but when the member, in seeking to ask a question, responds, suddenly you have a go at her?
Madam SPEAKER: No. I will tell the member what that ruling was about. The member, in her question, raised the issue of truthfulness. That was responded to by the Minister in her answer. The member then prefaced a supplementary question with a comment that was bound to cause disorder. As we have gone through the day, it has become increasingly difficult—at least, at this end of the Chamber—to hear the questions and the answers.
Judith Collins: Will her ministry seek the advice of the Auditor-General to ensure that its promotion of the SuperGold card meets the guidelines of the State Services Commission, the Auditor-General having forced the ministry to slash its advertising budget for Working for Families because it was such an outrageous misuse of taxpayer money on political advertising?
Hon RUTH DYSON: The guidelines of the State Services Commission are very clear. If there is any doubt by any department, including my own, I would certainly support its moving to consult the Auditor-General.
Judith Collins: How many taxpayer-funded publicity campaigns to promote Government policy, like the SuperGold card, will her ministry run until the next election?
Hon RUTH DYSON: The rules are very clear on electioneering: Government departments are not allowed to electioneer. There is only one reason that that member might be concerned about promotion of the SuperGold card being promotion of this Government’s policy, and that is that her party will be scrapping it. Thank you for that confirmation.
Emissions Trading Scheme—Reports
12. Hon MARIAN HOBBS (Labour—Wellington Central) to the Minister responsible for Climate Change Issues: What reports, if any, has he received on the proposed emissions trading scheme?
Hon DAVID PARKER (Minister responsible for Climate Change Issues): A number of independent reports have supported the scheme’s design. To name but two, the International Energy Agency—the IEA—in its recent report gave the scheme a positive review, and Terry Tamminen, who has been an adviser to Arnold Schwarzenegger on climate change recently, endorsed it on his visit to New Zealand.
Hon Marian Hobbs: What other reports has the Minister received on the proposed emissions trading scheme?
Hon DAVID PARKER: I have received reports that this scheme is amongst a number of emissions trading schemes around the world. A large number of countries have already signed up to such schemes. That includes the many countries in the European Union—between 20 and 30. Its scheme commenced in 2005. Other parts of the world that have a scheme in place or are developing one include Norway, Switzerland, various states in the United States, and, of course, Australia. All of New Zealand’s activity has led Gordon Brown to request our Prime Minister to get New Zealand to join the International Carbon Action Partnership, and this is good for New Zealand because it ensures that we are able to advance our interests as we help the world.