Questions And Answers - Wednesday, 21 November 07
Questions And Answers - Wednesday, 21 November 2007
Questions to Ministers
Electoral Finance Bill—Election Advertisements, Newspaper Editorials
1. Hon BILL ENGLISH (Deputy Leader—National) to the Minister of Justice: Is it Government policy that a newspaper editorial which, in an election year, encourages voters to vote, or not to vote, for a political party should be considered an election advertisement; if not, why not?
Hon ANNETTE KING (Minister of Justice): No, it is not Government policy; Labour strongly supports the freedom of the media.
Hon Bill English: Why then did the Minister say yesterday that a newspaper should register as a third party if it wants to say “Vote National.”?
Hon ANNETTE KING: If a newspaper wanted to register as a third party, I suppose it could, but I was making the point that it does not need to. It is exempt.
R Doug Woolerton: Can the Minister please inform us what instigated the rewrite of part of the Electoral Act, currently called the Electoral Finance Bill?
Hon ANNETTE KING: The rewrite was instigated by the activities of some unknown, unnamed people, who would not have been exposed if it had not been for the Green Party and others who identified the Exclusive Brethren as working to elect a National Government by using one million dollars that was to be unaccounted for. New Zealanders were outraged at that behaviour by the National Party and the Exclusive Brethren, and this Parliament has decided that that should not continue.
Heather Roy: Does the Minister agree with the statement in the commentary on the bill: “The news media play an important role in any democracy, and we consider unnecessary restriction on news publications to be undesirable.”’; if so, does this give the Greens carte blanche to comment on anything in their newspaper, the Green Times, and how will she stop the Exclusive Brethren from buying an existing newspaper and filling it with the same editorial content as their pamphlets contained?
Hon ANNETTE KING: The Exclusive Brethren could certainly buy a newspaper. They may well even already own a newspaper in New Zealand. [Interruption] Oh, so the National Party knows that they do? So the Exclusive Brethren and the National Party do own a newspaper? Well, I suppose in that case—[Interruption]
Madam SPEAKER: We are not having today what we had yesterday, when it was impossible to hear. I will be asking members to leave the Chamber.
Hon ANNETTE KING: Any newspaper published in New Zealand that has a circulation to the public is exempt under this bill. Newspapers are able to write, publish, and have editorials and political content, as long as they are publications for the public.
Hon Bill English: Is the Minister aware that under clause 5(2)(c) of the Electoral Finance Bill, newspaper content is exempted from the definition of an election advertisement only if it is “solely for the purpose of informing, enlightening, or entertaining readers”; so what does she think of the editorial in the Dominion Post this morning that states: “If voters remember that when they go to the polls next year, Labour and its friends will get no more than they deserve.”, and is that not going much further than just informing or entertaining readers but actually encouraging them not to vote for Labour, so it would count as an election advertisement?
Hon ANNETTE KING: Absolutely not. Editors have every right under this bill to write editorials like that. They are exempt. I have to say, if members pick up any newspaper in New Zealand, they will find it will inform them, entertain them, or enlighten them. One might not always agree with what is written, but I actually found that editorial this morning amusing.
Hon Bill English: Is the Minister now saying that a newspaper editor can say “Don’t vote Labour.” and give all the reasons why one should not, and that would be fine, but that an individual citizen cannot take out a half-page ad in the same newspaper, using exactly the same words, without being regulated and restricted by the Electoral Finance Bill; why has she written law that gives the media total freedom in what they can say but means that a whole lot of other people are now heavily restricted in their free speech?
Hon ANNETTE KING: There is no restriction on free speech in New Zealand. In this bill, there is the requirement for those who campaign for a political party or candidate as an individual or organisation to be open and transparent about doing that. That is what New Zealanders want. In this bill, the Justice and Electoral Committee made it clear that it wanted to ensure that our news media have freedom of speech. This clause was written by the select committee to ensure that they have freedom of speech and that they can enlighten, entertain, and inform people. They are not muzzled by this bill.
Heather Roy: In light of that answer, does the Minister stand by her statement yesterday that there ought to be a fair, open, and transparent approach to this bill; if so, what is fair, open, or transparent about it being legal for a citizen to write a letter to the editor under a pen-name, urging the public to vote against this Labour Government, but illegal to write exactly the same thing as a comment on an Internet forum?
Hon ANNETTE KING: A person writing a letter to the editor is able to do so without it counting because it must have the authorisation of the editor. It makes it clear, then, that it is exempt from election advertising. Under this clause, people have that exemption because publication of the letter is authorised by the editor.
Hon Bill English: If it is Government policy that there should be no restriction on what newspapers can publish as an editorial, then why does the Government not follow common sense and simply amend the Electoral Finance Bill to state that the media are completely exempt, rather than include the vague and uncertain provision that states that they are exempted only if the material the media publish is solely—that means only, if the Minister is not sure—about entertaining, informing, and enlightening people; why does she not have just a total broad exemption rather than that set of weasel words?
Hon ANNETTE KING: I say to the member that the only weasel words that we have heard on this bill have come from him. He dances on the head of a pin every day. Why does he do that? Because the National Party is desperate to stop this bill.
Hon Maurice Williamson: Answer the question.
Hon ANNETTE KING: Well, I say to the member that he should talk to his fellow member. All he does is to throw insults. When he is losing, he becomes personal—personal about the member; personal about the member’s family. That is his track record. But I will say to the member, in answer to the question, that the select committee wrote this clause in this way because the news media of New Zealand does those things—they enlighten, they entertain, and they inform people. I ask members to show me—apart from advertisements in newspapers—where a newspaper or the media does not do those things. Members will not be able to.
Hon Bill English: If the Government believes that the media should be able to write exactly what they like, then why does it not give the media a blanket exemption from the electoral advertising law?
Hon ANNETTE KING: The committee has decided that the definition in the bill is the appropriate one. [Interruption] I believe those members over there are all on something.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: We care for democracy.
Hon ANNETTE KING: Hemlock for that member.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: We actually care for democracy.
Hon ANNETTE KING: That member does not care about democracy. He would not have put out a pamphlet using parliamentary money, which tells people to change the Government and to have “nick4nelson”, if he did care about it. He has used parliamentary money to do that.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: I haven’t broken the rules, like that lot did.
Hon ANNETTE KING: Oh, yes, you have. We will wait and see.
Hon Bill English: Does the Minister realise that the new clause that she talked about yesterday, which stops Government agencies from publishing election advertisements, means that next year Television New Zealand will not be allowed to broadcast campaign openings or closings, or political advertisements; if so, was that the Government’s intention?
Hon ANNETTE KING: The member is absolutely wrong. Clause 5(2) specifically states that any television broadcast, news comment, or current affairs programme is not an election advertisement. That is the definition in the Broadcasting Act now. It has been in the Broadcasting Act for years, and it has carried over into this bill.
Hon Bill English: Has the Minister consulted Television New Zealand’s lawyers, who have come to exactly the same conclusion as we have, and can she explain to them and to the House what clause 55B means when it states: “The following persons and bodies may not publish or cause or permit to be published any election advertisement: (a) the chief executive … of a department of State or a Crown entity: (b) a department of State: (c) a Crown entity: (d) a State enterprise … or a Crown owned company:”—which Television New Zealand is—or “(e) any other instrument of the Crown.”?
Hon Dr Nick Smith: Whoopsie!
Hon ANNETTE KING: No, there is no whoopsie. There is a whoopsie from that party’s member, because, of course, broadcasting under the Broadcasting Act enables television to carry out comment, news broadcasts, advertisements, or whatever else it wishes to. Television is exempt under the Broadcasting Act. However, I would imagine that if the board of Television New Zealand was to decide to vote for National, then there might be a different connotation on it.
Hon Bill English: Does that now mean that clause 55B does not mean what it says, and that, in fact, clause 55B, although it does not say this anywhere in this Act, can be overruled by other exemptions in other Acts; if that is the case, why does the Minister not make it plain in the Electoral Finance Bill that there are Crown entities and Crown-owned companies that are exempt from this law?
Hon ANNETTE KING: No; and I refer the member to the Broadcasting Act.
2. CHARLES CHAUVEL (Labour) to the Minister of Finance: Has he received any recent reports highlighting the need for the KiwiSaver scheme?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Minister of Finance): Yes. Statistics New Zealand last week reported that in the year to March, savings from all sectors fell to a total of $1.3 billion, well under 1 percent of GDP. This is the lowest level in 14 years. This followed a report from the World Economic Forum earlier this month that showed that New Zealand ranked 108th out of 131 countries for our national savings rate. This underscores why the Government has made KiwiSaver such a significant priority.
Charles Chauvel: What reports has the Minister seen on the uptake of KiwiSaver?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: At the last numbers, well over a quarter of a million New Zealanders—closing in on 300,000 New Zealanders—are already enrolled in the scheme. But still the members opposite will not come clean on whether they support KiwiSaver, or whether, indeed, they support cutting New Zealand superannuation, as they did last week. The next test will come very soon, when the House will be voting on the legislation for the enhancements to KiwiSaver announced in Budget 2007.
R Doug Woolerton: Can the Minister confirm that had the retirement savings scheme been introduced in the late 1990s, as was proposed by New Zealand First, the New Zealand economy would now be reaping the benefits from the accumulation of 10 years’ worth of savings; and on that basis would he agree that KiwiSaver is better late than never?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I agree that if we had moved earlier on these matters, then it would be doing so. Indeed, I would go back to 1974 or 1975, when the third Labour Government introduced a savings scheme that was abolished, initially illegally, by the incoming National Government. Had that scheme proceeded at that point, New Zealand would have been in a far stronger economic position now than it is, and with a much stronger financial services sector, in particular.
Charles Chauvel: Has the Minister received any international reports on the links between savings and wealth creation?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Yes. I have seen a report from Boston Consulting Group, which found that personal wealth grew faster in Australia than in any other developed country in the 5 years to the end of 2006, due largely to the very large savings base accumulated through Australia’s superannuation scheme. That emphasises the importance of KiwiSaver’s proceeding in its current form and for Kiwis to get behind KiwiSaver and to ensure that it is highly successful.
Taxation—Australia - New Zealand
3. Hon BILL ENGLISH (Deputy Leader—National) to the Minister of Finance: Does he still stand by his statement “If, as some have suggested, New Zealanders are fleeing as tax exiles to Australia, one can only conclude that those individuals are functionally innumerate, and we are probably better off without them.”; if not, why not?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Minister of Finance): The statement I made in, I think it was, July 2005 remains correct in that respect. Now, of course the main attractions of Australia are lifestyle, family considerations, and wages, in that order—with wages being about 17 percent—not lower taxes. I note in a survey of financial professionals, perhaps the group most likely to consider tax implications, reported in the New Zealand Herald today, that tax rates were not even mentioned as a factor for those considering working overseas.
Hon Bill English: Is the Minister aware that people do take into account after-tax incomes, even if they do not specifically mention tax rates; and has he seen recent reports suggesting that even after adjusting for cost of living differences, the average Kiwi family would be more than $5,000 a year better off in Australia than in New Zealand, and what is his response?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Nobody has any doubt that wage and salary rates in Australia are higher than they are in New Zealand. Part of the reason for that has been the fact that until very recently organised labour in Australia was, in fact, stronger than in New Zealand, and the balance between the growth of wages and the growth of profits has been quite different in Australia from what it has been in New Zealand. The Employment Contracts Act, of course, was a considerable contributor to the reduction in working conditions in New Zealand.
Hon Bill English: Can he confirm that he has continued to treat New Zealanders as if they were functionally innumerate, by refusing consistently to move tax rates or tax thresholds at a time when our nearest neighbour and strongest competitor for human capital has shifted tax thresholds consistently now for 5 years, and plans further large tax cuts?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I note, first of all, that the Opposition voted against any movements in working conditions such as 4 weeks’ annual leave. I note the Opposition voted against tax cuts for business. I note the Opposition voted against tax cuts for savers. I note the Opposition, indeed, voted against every tax cut that this Government has introduced. But of course Opposition members have these sudden conversions on the road to Damascus. The problem is they keep finding themselves marching on Tripoli instead.
Peter Brown: Is the Minister aware that there are enterprising New Zealanders leaving for Australia, not particularly for tax cuts but because of greater opportunities, and higher wages—as he has just acknowledged—better working conditions, tougher policing, and a more efficient health system, and does he accept that many New Zealanders would prefer to see more investment in health, education, and law and order, in particular, than a tax cut; if he does accept those assertions, can he advise what he is doing to rectify the matter?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I think the last thing I can be accused of is not investing more in health and education over the last 8 years. Budgets over those years have expanded very significantly indeed. But the member underlines a very important point: there is no single set of reasons why people move from New Zealand to Australia. One should add further to that the fact that New Zealand has continued to maintain, and does so in the latest numbers, a net immigration of skills. This Government has moved the immigration system, from other criteria, to skills as the primary matter of concern. We are a net skills importer in New Zealand, not a net skills exporter.
Hon Bill English: Does that answer mean that the Minister regards today’s figures about the rate of immigration to Australia as good news because the dumb ones are going and we are getting brighter people instead?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Looking opposite, I could not possibly argue that the dumb ones are going.
Te Ururoa Flavell: Has the Minister any evidence to substantiate his statement that New Zealand is better off without those who leave as tax exiles; would he say the same of those who leave for Australia because of better economic opportunities, higher wages, and a lower cost of living?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I am not sure the last part is entirely true. For example, people going to Australia to buy a house are going to face very large stamp duties, which they have to take account of in terms of home purchasing. But certainly wages and salaries are higher in Australia than in New Zealand and that is primarily the result of the fact that between the early 1980s and the early to mid-1990s, Australia had a very much higher economic growth rate than New Zealand. Over the last 10 years, we have, in fact, matched the Australian growth rate on average.
Hon Bill English: Can the Minister confirm that, according to his own figures, under his Government while someone on the average wage has had his or her gross income increase by almost $10,000, that person is, in fact, in net terms only $1,700 better off in 2007 than in 2005; what happened to the rest of the money?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I am grateful that the member now admits that he got his original calculations some 70 percent wrong in that regard when he put out the original press statement on the growth in net incomes.
Te Ururoa Flavell: Does the Minister consider that Māori who are going to Australia because of the economic opportunities, higher wages, and the lower cost of living are also as functionally innumerate as those who are fleeing as tax exiles; if so, why?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: The member seems to think the main reason for “fleeing to Australia”, as he puts it, is tax. That is not what the surveys tell us. The surveys tell us the No. 1 reason—unfortunately—is for reasons of lifestyle, which is a thing we should all be concerned about. Secondly, there are family reasons because many people have family already in Australia. Thirdly, 17 percent was the figure for income, not tax. I very much doubt that most Māori who migrated to Australia were actually in the highest tax rate in New Zealand.
4. SUE BRADFORD (Green) to the Minister of Labour: What steps is the Government taking, if any, to review and strengthen legislation around the employment of children in New Zealand?
Hon TREVOR MALLARD (Minister of Labour): I have received a report on this issue from Caritas Aotearoa – New Zealand. I have also received a request to meet with the organisation to discuss this report. I intend to take up that invitation. Any further steps will follow from that meeting.
Sue Bradford: Can the Minister explain why the long delayed review of policy and law in relation to child labour, advocated by the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child 10 years ago, is still not complete—in fact, does not seem to have happened at all?
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: I think there is a fundamental difference between the view of New Zealanders, and the position of the United Nations, on this issue. Most New Zealanders believe that some work is not bad for children.
Russell Fairbrother: Is it the Government’s intention to ban children from working?
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: Notwithstanding the views of some people at the United Nations, or the International Labour Organization, no. The question is whether we have all the health and safety rules in place, especially where contracting is concerned.
Sue Bradford: Will the Government guarantee that any review of child labour laws will ensure that children and young people, 15 years and under, are fully included in the consultation process, alongside other stakeholders such as employers, unions, community groups, and so on?
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: That seems a sensible thing to do.
Sue Bradford: Is the Minister aware of indications made by Government members during the debate around my youth rates legislation earlier this year that the Government is seriously looking at carrying out a full consultation process and review, and will he speed that up given that the Caritas Aotearoa – New Zealand report he referred to states that some children are actually earning as little as $1.67 an hour?
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: I am a relatively new Minister in this particular area so I am not aware of the timetable and therefore I cannot say whether it will be sped up?
Sue Bradford: Does the Minister believe that New Zealand Post should follow the advice given to some child delivery workers, and advise their posties to talk to their parents if they have problems with dogs, difficult members of the public, or other dangers while on the job, and why should not child workers have the same protection as, for example, posties working for New Zealand Post?
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: I would have thought that one of the things a child employee should do when a problem occurs is talk to his or her parents. I would not exclude that. A number of other things could be done as well, but talking to the parents and getting advice is probably a good way to start.
Bail Laws—Remand Numbers
5. Hon TONY RYALL (National—Bay of Plenty) to the Minister of Justice: What reduction in remand numbers was projected from recent changes to bail laws “designed to assist the remand population by ensuring that the focus is on community safety when custodial remand decisions are made”?
Hon ANNETTE KING (Minister of Justice): A modest reduction in the prison population over time has been projected—10 beds by September 2009, and 40 beds by 2011.
Hon Tony Ryall: Why is community safety being sacrificed, when an Auckland man facing three rape charges, with even more rape charges likely to be laid, has been bailed not once but twice under Labour’s new bail laws?
Hon ANNETTE KING: Bail decisions are made by judges. It is quite obvious, from the numbers of prison beds that are being freed up by this very modest move, that community safety is not being sacrificed. The member thought the answer was going be to a very large number; in fact, it is a very small number, because the changes to the bail law still have to take account of a very important range of factors, and judges will make decisions on the evidence before them.
Hon Tony Ryall: Why would the Government make it easier to get bail, when this man faces multiple rape charges, including driving his third victim to a cemetery where he allegedly raped her, then demanded she change a flat tyre on his car before he raped her again; how can this man not be a real and significant risk to public safety?
Hon ANNETTE KING: Bail decisions are made by judges. They decide whether a person is a significant risk to the community. Members of Parliament do not direct judges as to whether they should give bail. I believe that judges make decisions based on the evidence they have before them, and long may that happen—that Parliament does not direct them on individual cases.
Hon Peter Dunne: Does the Minister have any information about forward projections for coming years of the number of remand prisoners; if so, can she give the House any information about how those prisoners might be accommodated, given the existing high pressure on prison resources and also the figures that she has quoted in the House this afternoon?
Hon ANNETTE KING: It is predicted that the growth in the number of remand prisoners will continue at quite a rapid rate. Obviously, what we want to do is to ensure that those who should be remanded in prison are in prison, and that those who can be on bail are appropriately remanded within the community. What the National Party is attempting to do is to say that it would put everybody in prison, in which case we would not have bail laws. We have bail laws so that judges can make those decisions, and so that people who are able to be in the community are remanded in the community. There is one fundamental rule here: people are still innocent until proven guilty.
Hon Tony Ryall: Why should anyone who is released on bail under the Minister’s new laws think that there will be any consequences of breaching his or her bail, when accused double murderer Chris Kāhui has today been granted bail for the fourth time, after breaching his bail conditions three times previously?
Hon ANNETTE KING: This is a very good example of a judge making a decision. The judge today—
Hon Dr Nick Smith: This is your new law!
Hon ANNETTE KING: Well, let me just quote what the judge said regarding the changes to the bail laws. The same judge who made the bail decision on Mr Kāhui today said that it “does not seem to me to put the test any higher than was under the previous legislation, but rather to emphasise the need for a proper inference to be drawn from proved facts, as opposed to the Court engaging in speculation or guesswork about the possibility of a risk.” The same judge decided today that Mr Kāhui would be granted bail. He said that the investigations had shown that the breaches were of a minor nature, and the fact that Mr Kāhui was in solitary confinement for his own safety for 23 hours a day was a relevant and powerful factor in favour of bail being granted.
Hon Tony Ryall: So does she agree that the judge got it right in that case?
Hon ANNETTE KING: It is not for me or Mr Ryall to decide whether—
Madam SPEAKER: I agree. That is not an appropriate question.
Hon Peter Dunne: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I have been following this question with some interest. I draw to your attention both Standing Order 111 and Speaker’s Ruling 28/6, which relate to matters that are sub judice. I would have thought that a line was close to being crossed here. Standing Order 111 states: “matters awaiting or under adjudication in any court of record may not be referred to … in any question …if it appears to the Speaker that there is a real and substantial danger of prejudice to the trial of the case.” That might be arguable in this particular instance, but I think it might be helpful, Madam Speaker, if you were to give the House some guidance on the application of the sub judice law when it comes to questions of this type being pursued, because they do occur from time to time, and there are clear implications for the rights of defendants in these cases.
Gerry Brownlee: I think that that is an interesting idea from Mr Dunne, but the reality is that this is a question about bail. Each case has related to matters of bail, and in each case the issue around bail has been determined. There is no attempt on Mr Ryall’s part to make a comment about the substance of the crimes these people are accused of committing.
Madam SPEAKER: I understand your point. The Standing Orders and Speakers’ rulings, I think, do make it clear that members should not make reference to matters that are before the court. However, members may discuss the law in general, which was the point being made about bail. In this line of questioning, however, there was reference to one particular case that is in fact before the court, so I ask members to please not cross that line.
Hon Tony Ryall: Does the Minister support the law under which the judge made this decision?
Hon ANNETTE KING: Yes, I do. I do support the law under which the judge’s decision was made, for the simple reason—
Hon Tony Ryall: That’s right; get it on the record.
Hon ANNETTE KING: —get it on the record, yes—that, obviously, it is the Government’s Bail Act amendment law. But it is a law that is sensible, and a range of factors must be taken into account. It means that 10 fewer people will be in prison than are there now, so there will hardly be a big increase in the number on remand.
Hon Tony Ryall: Those are Ministry of Justice figures.
Hon ANNETTE KING: I say to that member that I could go to any newspaper from the 1990s, pull out stories of people who were given bail, and say—
Hon Members: And you did.
Hon ANNETTE KING: No, I certainly did not; I do not think I had a spokesperson role in that. But Mr Ryall would today be saying that that law was too soft, I presume.
East Coast Forestry Project—Reports
6. MOANA MACKEY (Labour) to the Minister of Forestry: What reports has he received on the progress of the East Coast Forestry Project?
Hon JIM ANDERTON (Minister of Forestry): I have seen a report from the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry that provides the results of the East Coast Forestry Project 2007 grant funding round. All 33 applications considered, covering 3,184 hectares, have been approved for grant support. This represents a 58 percent increase in the area approved for planting in this first year of the streamlined grant-based approach. This is a very positive sign that East Coast farmers are increasingly recognising the importance of sustainable land management practices.
Moana Mackey: What other Government initiatives will contribute to better soil conservation in highly erosion-prone parts of New Zealand’s hill country?
Hon JIM ANDERTON: Several new initiatives complement the East Coast Forestry Project in targeting highly erosion-prone hill country. The Permanent Forest Sink Initiative provides landowners with carbon credits for regenerating scrublands or conservation plantings. There are 30,000 hectares in that regard on the East Coast. The $10 million Sustainable Land Management (Hill Country Erosion) Programme resources regional government to tackle erosion in critical catchments. The $50 million Afforestation Grants Scheme provides further resources to accelerate planting of these lands. The technology transfer and extension components of the $175 million Sustainable Land Management and Climate Change: Options for a Plan of Action will assist landowners to get the most sustainable mix of land use. Collectively, these initiatives represent the first comprehensive approach of any Government over many years in tackling the well-understood but neglected erosion problems that have significant impacts on downstream flood risk.
Moana Mackey: What further reports has the Minister seen on actions to address highly erosion-prone parts of New Zealand’s hill country?
Hon JIM ANDERTON: I think I just gave that answer, so I will not subject the House to it again.
State Services, Commissioner—Public Service Neutrality
7. GERRY BROWNLEE (National—Ilam) to the Minister of State Services: Does he have confidence in the State Services Commissioner’s ability to maintain a politically neutral Public Service; if so, why?
Hon TREVOR MALLARD (Acting Minister of State Services): Yes; because Dr Prebble is very experienced, and, in the words of Mr Hunn, gave a “comprehensive, cogent and correct” set of advice during the Setchell affair, amongst many other reasons for saying that he is experienced.
Gerry Brownlee: Has the Minister seen the letter from the State Services Commissioner sent to the Leader of the Opposition just a short time ago, in which he says he will be conducting further investigations into the appointment of Clare Curran at the Ministry for the Environment; and is he concerned that this may lead to an investigation of a wider-spread politicisation of the Public Service by the Labour Party?
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: Yes; and I would not make the assumption the member has as far as the second part of the question is concerned.
Gerry Brownlee: Do we take it from the Minister’s answer that his understanding is that the State Services Commission will not be widening the investigation into this matter, and can he tell the House whether he has been involved in directing the State Services Commissioner in that regard?
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: No, the Minister has not been involved. The Acting Minister was informed as a matter of politeness by the State Services Commissioner at the time he sent the letter to Mr Key.
Gerry Brownlee: Does the Acting Minister of State Services believe that there was political pressure or inappropriate ministerial interference in the appointment of Labour Party activist Clare Curran by the Ministry for the Environment; if so, why?
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: It is my view that a naive suggestion was made by a new Minister.
Gerry Brownlee: When in his report into this matter the Deputy State Services Commissioner says it was agreed by officials that Ms Curran was of suitable calibre to undertake the work, does this mean that Clare Curran was in fact not their first choice but simply had to be accepted because Minister Parker had personally recommended her?
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: No, absolutely the opposite: The Ministry for the Environment had been looking for someone, it was desperate to find someone, and this woman measured up.
Gerry Brownlee: Does that stand as an explanation for why Ms Curran was employed with such haste; and does it also explain the need for the ministry to have someone of Ms Curran’s calibre who would put a political flavour on the Government’s climate change policy?
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: Ms Curran was employed at haste because the ministry was dissatisfied with the quality of work coming from its communications unit, and it got someone who had experience working in strategic communications in this area for the Australian Government—which happens to be the Liberals, of course.
Gerry Brownlee: Does the Minister accept that what really happened here is that the Minister for the Environment, David Parker, decided he wanted to appoint a Labour Party activist to undertake the work of politicising the climate change policy, that the department had no choice but to appoint her, that she was appointed, and that it would be totally naive of the Minister to believe that the public will accept any other view?
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: The first allegation that David Parker was at the time the Minister for the Environment is wrong, and everything the member said afterwards is, as well.
Science—New Zealand Breakthrough
8. Dr ASHRAF CHOUDHARY (Labour) to the Minister of Research, Science and Technology: What reports has he received of scientific breakthrough led by New Zealand researchers?
Hon PETE HODGSON (Minister of Research, Science and Technology): I have received an abundance of reports. In the last week AgResearch scientists have announced the discovery of a new natural pesticide; a company called Orico Ltd in Dunedin has announced a pharmaceutical prospect for some types of muscular dystrophy; and news of a wound-healing gel derived from squid has just been made public by the chemistry department at Otago University. I think it is appropriate for this House to commend those remarkable advances, and I am sure we all do.
Dr Ashraf Choudhary: How are the recent Labour-led initiatives supporting the research and development environment in New Zealand?
Hon PETE HODGSON: Members will be aware that a 15 percent tax credit for private sector research and development spending means that a company investing $100,000 in research can now get $15,000 back straight away. New Zealand’s total research and development spending has increased by about 10 percent in the 2 years from 2004 to 2006 and now stands at $1.8 billion. I am in no doubt that this tax credit will substantially increase that figure.
9. RON MARK (NZ First) to the Minister of Justice: Does she stand by her statement that one would be “dreaming” to say that outlawing gangs would minimise their impact on the community, and what progress can she report on proposed amendments to section 98A of the Crimes Act 1961 and to the Sentencing Act 2002 with respect to organised crime?
Hon ANNETTE KING (Minister of Justice): Yes, because I believe that no one tool by itself will minimise the impact of organised criminal groups in our communities. Progress is being made on legislative amendments to the Crimes Act 1961 and the Sentencing Act 2002, and I thank the member for his support for the Organised Crime Agency, which is currently being set up to help fight organised crime in New Zealand, which obviously includes gang-related crimes.
Ron Mark: Is she aware that the South Australian Parliament is introducing legislation to outlaw gangs, which will enable the police to dismantle gang headquarters, confiscate gang assets, prevent gangs from communicating with one another, and force them to reveal the source of any unexplained wealth; if so, does she think that that Parliament too is dreaming if it thinks those measures will work?
Hon ANNETTE KING: I read in the paper today about that move by an Australian state. I have to say that I do believe we need to use a range of tools. I think that the amendments nearing introduction into this Parliament—for example, doubling the maximum sentence for the offence of participation in an organised criminal group from 5 years to 10 years under section 98A of the Crimes Act, and the changes to section 9 of the Sentencing Act that will direct judges to regard offending as aggravated whenever it is committed for the benefit of, or at the direction of, or in association with an organised crime group—will help to go a long way towards addressing our organised crime problems in New Zealand, and our organised criminals. But I also believe that being able to use the greater powers that come with those changes, such as deploying listening devices and otherwise intercepting communications, will also help. I believe that we need a range of tools to fight organised crime and gangs.
Gordon Copeland: Can the Minister envision a gang and drug - free New Zealand, noting that one often goes hand in hand with the other; if so, will she give consideration to following the South Australian lead by putting in place a work programme, including all necessary law changes, to strike a lethal blow aimed at ending both the trade in P and the existence of the gangs themselves?
Hon ANNETTE KING: I do believe it is important that we do all we can to outlaw organised crime, gangs, and illicit drugs in New Zealand, but I think we have to be realistic. To outlaw something completely would be very difficult. I think we have seen in the past that we have tried to outlaw things, only to find that they go undercover and underground, and sometimes because they are outlawed they gain even greater status than they had. So I think we need to address the issue with a range of tools and with commitment, which this Government has shown.
Chester Borrows: Can she confirm that the Government receives support from New Zealand First for laws that make it easier for gang members to get bail?
Hon ANNETTE KING: No, I certainly cannot.
Ron Mark: Has the Minister seen the comments of the Labor Premier of South Australia, the Hon Mike Rann, where he describes gangs as “terrorists within our community” and “evil within our nation” and declares that his state Government will target at least eight groups with new laws allowing the Attorney-General of South Australia to declare a bikie gang to be an outlawed organisation; if she has seen those comments, does she not see the striking similarity between the comments of the South Australian Premier and the comments of New Zealand First, and why, if that is the view of her Labor colleagues in Australia, does she not accept it and move with New Zealand First to pass laws to outlaw gangs, as well?
Madam SPEAKER: I think it is appropriate at this stage to say that the Standing Orders and Speakers’ rulings require that members ask their questions succinctly and that the answers be given accordingly. There has been a trend for ever-lengthening speeches to be given.
Hon ANNETTE KING: I say to the member that I am very happy to work with New Zealand First on a range of proposals, and, in fact, have already been working with the member and New Zealand First around organised criminal activity. I think that we are making progress, and I would hope that the member will support the amendments that we intend to make to section 98A of the Crimes Act, which will give additional support to the fight against organised crime.
Ron Mark: Is the Minister aware of the comments and reports from the police Ministers conference held here in Wellington in June of this year, where the South Australian representatives made very clear the successes they were having with regard to gangs, called for a Commonwealth or a Federal approach to the problem, and pointed out that their successes were causing gangs to move out of South Australia across state borders; if those observations are accurate, can she not see the danger to New Zealand—[Interruption]
Madam SPEAKER: Would the member just get on with his question. It is a long question, ignoring what I suggested before.
Ron Mark: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I know you have made that ruling and that caution to us as members quite frequently. I have taken the time to count the number of words in some of the questions asked by John Key and Bill English, and I ask for some consistency. It appears that I might have some things wrong and might have totally misinterpreted how long my question should be—
Madam SPEAKER: Would the member just ask his question, please—succinctly.
Ron Mark: Does the Minister not see the danger that New Zealand First sees that as the states of Australia combine under a national policy to tighten up on, break down, and eliminate gangs, there is a very real danger, if we do not move with Australia, that rather than moving into states in Australia, the gangs will move their corporate offices to New Zealand?
Hon ANNETTE KING: One of the advantages of being part of the ministerial council of police Ministers is that we share information with Australia. In fact, there is a meeting of police Ministers in New Zealand tomorrow in Christchurch. I have no doubt this issue will be discussed. We can learn from each other. We want to put in place the best possible mechanisms to fight organised crime in both our countries.
Ron Mark: I seek leave of the House to table the bill that the Hon Michael Atkinson, the Attorney-General for South Australia, is tabling today—
Ron Mark: I seek leave of the House to table from the South Australian Parliament the statutes amendment bill—
Electoral Finance Bill—Election Advertisements, KiwiSaver Publicity
10. CHRISTOPHER FINLAYSON (National) to the Minister of Justice: Does she stand by her statement, in regard to whether KiwiSaver publicity would count as an election advertisement under the Electoral Finance Bill, that “The member clearly knows that it would not count as it is talking about the Government. It is not telling people to vote for Labour or for National.”; if so, why?
Hon ANNETTE KING (Minister of Justice): Yes.
Christopher Finlayson: What is the crucial part of the KiwiSaver publicity that means that it clearly would not count as an election advertisement: is it the fact that it refers to the Government rather than naming any political party or parties, or that it communicates only facts and policies—as she said yesterday—or is it both?
Hon ANNETTE KING: It is information for the public.
Christopher Finlayson: Has the Minister seen comments made by the Auditor-General about the current campaign by the Independent Motor Vehicle Dealers Association and its advertisement entitled “Introducing Labour’s crazy car policy” that “It is an interesting one, because it doesn’t actually say anything about voting, does it, although it does attack Labour.”, and is it the Government’s intention that these types of advertisements should be classed as election advertisements if they are published in the regulated period, especially if the law of common sense is applied?
Hon ANNETTE KING: I will not decide whether that advertisement is covered, but I will give some advice to the used-car salesmen who this time are obviously supporting the National Party. The National Party had the support of the Brethrens last time; it has the used-car salesmen this time. I will give some advice to the salesmen: I would have the advertisement checked out if I were going to run it in an election year.
Christopher Finlayson: Is the Minister aware that clause 5(1)(a)(ii) of the bill states that an election advertisement can be something that—members should listen carefully— is “encouraging or persuading voters to vote, or not to vote, for a type of party … that is described or indicated by reference to views, positions, or policies that are or are not held, taken, or pursued (whether or not the name of a party or the name of a candidate is stated);” and that therefore her Government’s intention is not reflected in this legislation but instead lives in an imaginary world where courts can apply her new law of common sense?
Hon ANNETTE KING: No, I do not agree with the member in that respect. I think the courts would not in fact necessarily apply the common-sense law as I have been saying the National Party ought to; I think they are more likely to use the Interpretation Act. They will look at the entire clause to see what the meaning is; they will not do what that member has been doing, which is taking out one part of it and trying to make out that that is what the clause means.
Christopher Finlayson: How can the Minister expect the public to understand what an election advertisement is when she has given all sorts of answers to the House over the past few days that contradict the words of the Electoral Finance Bill, and when we were told today that the chief executive of the Electoral Commission thinks it needs more guidance on the rules of the bill because they are not clear and are likely to result in a lot of litigation?
Hon ANNETTE KING: The only people who have been contradicting themselves are Bill English and Christopher Finlayson. They have dredged up every example they can dredge up, but they move on as they do not get anywhere. Yesterday on Morning Report, Bill English said while he was having a little chat around the barbecue that using the phrase “Why don’t you vote Labour” would be an election advertisement. He is absolutely wrong. He does not use that example any more, so he thinks of a new example. Then it got to canvassing. That is not an election advertisement. I suggest to the member who asked the question that he reads the whole clause. We have to take the clause in context and interpret the whole clause.
Peter Brown: Noting the Minister’s earlier answer to one of the member’s supplementary questions, would it come as a huge surprise to her to know that other political parties in Parliament share the concerns of the used-car salesmen when it comes to the vehicle emissions rule?
Hon ANNETTE KING: I have no doubt that that member—who has a great interest in transport—may share some of the salesmen’s views. I also know about the member that he wonders why we allow into New Zealand used cars that the Japanese say are not good enough for their roads but that used-car dealers in New Zealand say are good enough for New Zealanders.
Christopher Finlayson: I seek leave to table an advertisement entitled “Introducing Labour’s crazy car policy”.
Madam SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection? There is objection.
Early Childhood Education Centres—Parenting Programmes
11. LESLEY SOPER (Labour) to the Minister of Education: How are early childhood education centres assisting parents to raise their children?
Hon CHRIS CARTER (Minister of Education): A total of 18 early childhood education centres have now begun offering parent support and development programmes, which is part of the Labour-led Government strategy to intervene early in families so our kids grow up safe, healthy, and confident. New centres offering the programmes include Newfield-Heidelberg Free Kindergarten in Invercargill, which offers support for parents of children up to the age of 3. The kindy held an opening of its new parents’ room recently, attended by the member Lesley Soper, and I want to thank it for its participation in the 4-year $6.6 million pilot programme, which has already helped 700 families in the past year to improve their parenting skills.
Lesley Soper: What practical support does the parent support and development programme offer Kiwi families?
Hon CHRIS CARTER: The parent support and development programme uses early childhood education centres as a community hub to provide support to stressed parents so they can do a better job raising their children. The programme offers parenting-skill workshops, promotes participation in early childhood education, reinforces the lessons learnt there at home, provides one-to-one support to vulnerable families and, where necessary, referrals to community agencies, and helps parents to build support networks in their home communities.
Paula Bennett: In light of the Minister’s new-found concern with assisting parents to raise their children, will he contact those 12 creches in gyms that he has closed, to which parents went just so they could have some respite and which helped them to actually raise their children; and can he assure Sunday schools that he will not put them under the same regulations as early childhood education centres—which might be the best assistance he can give to parents?
Hon CHRIS CARTER: The member raises two points, both of which she has been busy promoting misinformation about around New Zealand. Recently, she said on the radio that my ministry had closed 10 creches in gyms. We have closed none. Ten creches chose to close themselves. We did not close any.
Madam SPEAKER: We will have the rest of the Minister’s answer in silence. I hope it is succinct.
Hon CHRIS CARTER: I repeat that the Ministry of Education has not closed any creches in gyms. As far as Sunday schools are concerned, I say that there is absolutely no intention to make Sunday schools fit under the regulations around childcare centres. That is a bit of spurious nonsense that the member has been spreading around New Zealand.
Paula Bennett: I seek leave of the House to table the list that the ministry provided of the 10 creches that the ministry wrote to—
Madam SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection? Yes, there is objection.
Sexual Abuse Allegations—Ministry of Education Procedures
12. KATHERINE RICH (National) to the Minister of Education: On what date did the Ministry of Education first become aware of serious allegations of sexual abuse against the principal of Hato Pāora College?
Hon CHRIS CARTER (Minister of Education): The acting principal, on behalf of the board of trustees, formally notified the Ministry of Education on 3 August 2007.
Katherine Rich: Can the Minister confirm that the ministry in fact knew 2 days earlier that the serious allegations had surfaced, because of media calls received by a senior media adviser in the ministry that gave a full, detailed account of these allegations; and if his ministry’s first priority is, as he has told the House, to seek immediate assurance that the students of the school are safe, why did the ministry passively wait 2 days for the school to call—why did no one pick up the phone?
Hon CHRIS CARTER: I am advised that the ministry was asked two questions by the media on 1 August. Firstly, it was asked whether it was aware of allegations of misconduct against the principal, which it was not. Secondly, it was asked whether there is a requirement on schools to report such allegations to the ministry—which, again, there is not, as these are employment matters that are properly the preserve of boards of trustees. The ministry is able to offer advice in such cases, but it was not asked for assistance in this case. Schools are obliged, as I have repeated many times in this House in the last 2 weeks, to report such allegations to Child, Youth and Family and the police, which Hato Pāora College did.
Dianne Yates: Did the school, the Ministry of Education, Child, Youth and Family, and the police follow the 1996 inter-agency protocols for child abuse management in this case?
Hon CHRIS CARTER: Yes. I am advised that allegations were made to the school on 23 July, and it conducted its employment investigation and reported it in writing to Child, Youth and Family on 30 July. Child, Youth and Family received and logged this advice on 1 August, and reported it to the police, as it is required to do, on 3 August. The school also reported the allegations and the outcome of its inquiry to the Ministry of Education on 3 August, even though this was not required under the 1996 protocols.
Katherine Rich: Can the Minister confirm, then, that the date the Ministry of Education first knew of these allegations was not 3 August but 1 August?
Hon CHRIS CARTER: I can confirm that a call was lodged with the Ministry of Education by a journalist. I would also like the House to be aware that calls to the ministry concerning complaints about teachers are very common. On 3 August the ministry was officially informed by the board of trustees—which it was not required to be.
Katherine Rich: Can the House conclude that there has to be a formal complaint, not just a heads-up from the media or a call from the public—that the ministry will sit there, twiddle its thumbs, and do nothing until the school makes a call—and can the Minister tell the House what would have happened if the school had never made that call?
Hon CHRIS CARTER: It is astonishing how this story keeps changing all the time. The bottom line is—[Interruption]
Madam SPEAKER: This is a serious matter.
Hon CHRIS CARTER: It is a very serious matter, involving very serious issues with children and a school. The protocol, signed in 1996 during a period of National Government and adhered to ever since, provides that a board of trustees is required to inform Child, Youth and Family. So it is not the ministry that is required to do so but Child, Youth and Family. In this case it did. Child, Youth and Family was then required to inform the police, and it did so. The police then reviewed the evidence that the board of trustees had looked at, and it said that the board had come to the right conclusion. New evidence came later. The member keeps trying to hook the Ministry of Education into this. The Ministry of Education is not part of this. It offers support to schools, and it has been doing that with this school. The school was not even required to inform the ministry, but it did so on 3 August. The school has been providing support, but this is business between the board of trustees, Child, Youth and Family, and the police. It is also a case that is before the courts, and it should be allowed to go its course without interference from headline-seeking politicians in this House.
Katherine Rich: Can we conclude from those answers that if the ministry becomes aware of serious sex offence allegations made against the principal of a school, by whatever means, the ministry is not obliged to do anything—it is not obliged to pick up the phone or ensure that the school puts the complaint in the hands of the police—and that the ministry, basically, can just sit there, gather the information, and do nothing, even though it is the leader of education in this country?
Hon CHRIS CARTER: Once again, the member is trying to twist this into something negative against the ministry. Protocols in place since 1996 give boards of trustees a clear responsibility to carry out a series of actions. The ministry checks that boards have those protocols in place. At Hato Pāora College they were checked and they were in place. The board did all the right things that it was supposed to do. Rules that have been around since 1996—since that member’s party was in Government; they are good rules—had been well followed. The matter was acted on promptly. It is not—
Katherine Rich: It was not—it was 10 days later.
Hon CHRIS CARTER: The member is still yelling out. She is not listening. I would like to assure the member that the rules were followed and that the case was done correctly. Let us let this case stay before the courts to get this sorry business resolved.