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Questions for Oral Answer - Tuesday, 4 December 07

Questions for Oral Answer - Tuesday, 4 December 2007

Questions to Ministers

Fonterra—New Zealand Majority Ownership

1. R DOUG WOOLERTON (NZ First) to the Minister of Agriculture: Does he stand by the statement made on his behalf, with respect to the future capital structure of Fonterra, that the Government’s primary concern includes ensuring that New Zealand retains majority ownership?

Hon JIM ANDERTON (Minister of Agriculture): Yes, I do. The Government has been engaging with Fonterra to ensure that New Zealand’s national interests were considered as part of the capital structure proposal. The proposal that Fonterra has put to its shareholders places a significant focus on continuing New Zealand in farmer ownership of Fonterra. If the shareholders decide to accept the proposal, the Government will facilitate the development of the necessary legislation to ensure Fonterra can grow internationally as a New Zealand company.

R Doug Woolerton: Is he aware of the experience of Ireland’s Kerry Group co-op, which undertook a capital restructure almost identical to that proposed by Fonterra, where a maximum limit of outside ownership was agreed, yet 20 years later the shareholding in Kerry Group held by farmers has reduced from 90 percent to less than 30 percent, and does the Irish situation threaten the Government’s primary concern?

Hon JIM ANDERTON: Yes, I am aware of that, and that example has been studied carefully. It is interesting to note, however, that the contribution that the Kerry Group has made to the Irish economy is very, very significant, and it is tens of times more significant than it was before the capital restructuring that took place.

Dr Ashraf Choudhary: What opportunities does the Minister see for the New Zealand economy from this proposal?

Hon JIM ANDERTON: I see an innovative and internationally competitive dairy sector that will support New Zealand’s goal of economic transformation. The proposed capital structure would enable Fonterra to continue to pursue its strategy of growing internationally as a highly successful New Zealand company. Fonterra believes that there are significant opportunities in the international dairy industry and believes the company is uniquely placed to take advantage of these, and members of the House will have seen that in a number of countries around the world where Fonterra is investing as we speak. There are obviously significant and ongoing economic benefits for New Zealand in having large companies with global scale and reach based here in New Zealand. The Government is excited about international opportunities for the New Zealand dairy industry, but, of course, this is a matter for the Fonterra shareholders, who are the dairy farmers of New Zealand.

R Doug Woolerton: Does the Government’s concern for New Zealand ownership extend to New Zealand Dairies Ltd, which has been virtually taken over by the Russian company Nutritek, which was able to step around foreign ownership rules, despite more than 75 percent of dairy farmers supplying milk to New Zealand Dairies objecting to Russian control of the company; if not, why not?

Hon JIM ANDERTON: There will be, of course, in the case of Fonterra, a range of mechanisms to ensure that Fonterra monitors the New Zealand shareholding and can act to keep New Zealand ownership above 50.1 percent. The absolute guarantee of a 35 percent co-op ownership means that only 15.1 percent of further New Zealand ownership would be required to ensure majority New Zealand ownership. I expect that New Zealand farmers will be the first ones themselves to take up that 15.1 percent - plus, and therefore I am confident that Fonterra will be retained in New Zealand hands.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Does the Minister think that one shareholder with 49 percent does not have every chance of defeating a multitude of shareholders at 51 percent, which was the reason why New Zealand always had the 24.9 percent rule, and things started to fall apart in terms of our country’s domestic ownership being owned by New Zealanders when we changed that rule?

Hon JIM ANDERTON: The point I have to make to the House is, in the first instance, the shareholders of Fonterra—the dairy farmers themselves—will make this decision. It will be consulted widely, as I understand, in a series of meetings of shareholders. The shareholders will make the decision, and then Parliament itself will decide whether it will facilitate the passage of legislation to allow for that decision to take effect, because the legislation will need a change by this House. So we have the shareholders themselves carefully considering the proposition, and we then have the New Zealand Parliament considering their proposition to this House. So I think there is a fair amount of consultation and deliberation to take effect on this matter.

Electoral Finance Bill—Cabinet Processes

2. JOHN KEY (Leader of the Opposition) to the Prime Minister: Does she stand by her statement that the Electoral Finance Bill went through “full Cabinet processes”; if so, why?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK (Prime Minister): Yes; because I believe it did.

John Key: Why did Cabinet sign off on legislation that was so full of holes and so Draconian that, even after having some clauses knocked out by the select committee, the Law Society, most political commentators, and every major newspaper in the country are still saying it should be thrown in the bin?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I could quip, just like the DVDs. [Interruption] Well, no one over here is being accused of piracy.

Madam SPEAKER: If we can just have the Prime Minister address the question, please.

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: My understanding is that many organisations came to the select committee fully supporting the objectives of the bill. They had issues with the wording. The bill has been amended. There is a Government Supplementary Order Paper today. I understand there is also a Supplementary Order Paper from the Opposition, and I am happy to say that at first glance a couple of its suggestions already appear useful.

John Key: Can the Prime Minister explain why Cabinet agreed that the electoral period should begin on 1 January of each election year, thereby giving us the longest election period in the democratic world relative to the length of our electoral cycle?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I understand the United Kingdom period begins at the beginning of the year. If the member thinks that this is a long electoral period, he obviously cannot be watching the American election campaign.

John Key: How is a piece of legislation that is so complicated that the Electoral Commission admits it will have to tell people with questions to seek their own legal advice, and that its chief executive fears could lead to an Americanisation of New Zealand politics through endless court battles, going to enhance freedom of speech and democracy in New Zealand?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: The Americanisation came with the work of the “hollow men”. The member was one of the key bagmen who went around collecting the money, briefing the Exclusive Brethren, and knowing they were funding the campaign.

Jeanette Fitzsimons: Does the Prime Minister agree that the Electoral Finance Bill is designed to stem the flood of secret money into political parties—for example, the practices revealed by Nicky Hager’s book The Hollow Men, whereby the National Party in 2005 received secret millions of dollars from members of the Business Roundtable, including David Richwhite, Alan Gibbs, Doug Myers, and Peter Shirtcliffe?

Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I would ask you to consider whether that question meets all the requirements of the Standing Orders regarding the asking of questions. It does carry a range of allegations, suppositions, and epithets, and those are not allowed in questions. I believe it should be ruled out. The reality is that the member quotes from a work of fiction—[Interruption] No, this is fact. We do have Standing Orders in this House, and that question does not meet those Standing Orders.

Hon Dr Michael Cullen: I thought the member did something extraordinarily useful. She not only referred to certain data but provided authentication for that data in the middle of her question—a policy I recommend to many members who ask questions in the House.

Madam SPEAKER: I did not see anything particularly wrong with that, but I think the member, in raising the point of order, does remind us that imputations in questions and answers are contrary to the Standing Orders, so I will of course in the future take a harder line on that.

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: The member’s question reminded us of just how much big money was sloshing around for the National Party in the last election campaign. [Interruption] I know that the National Party does not like the “hollow men” to be exposed. They were exposed, and the reason for this new bill is so that they do not get a chance to do that again.

John Key: If the Prime Minister is really concerned about the use of big money, why does she not move to address the really big money in our electoral system—that is, the use of millions of dollars of taxpayers’ money for parties to spend on election material like the pledge card, and the use of tens of millions of dollars of taxpayers’ money for soft advertising from Government departments, which we know this Government now treats as part of its own political party?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: That is typical of the hyperbole that has come from the Opposition across the whole bill. I refer back to The Hollow Men and Mr Goldsmith’s email to Don Brash, which talked about Mr Key’s schedule being one of “meeting with loads of big donors”. That was his role in the last campaign—to thwart electoral law through the Exclusive Brethren and through big donors.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: In the interests of public harmony, is the Prime Minister prepared to switch her concern about the electoral legislation to a concern about commercial law—because, after all, anyone who is paying that sort of money is paying it for a product fit for the purpose: hopefully, that those invested in will one day be in Government and will therefore be able to implement the policies for which the money was supplied; and that being the case, surely it is to do with the Sale of Goods Act and someone should ask those business people to demand their money back, because clearly their investment in politics was wasted?

Madam SPEAKER: Well, I am not sure that the Prime Minister has ministerial responsibility for that.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. The Prime Minister can say she is in charge of any portfolio if a question is put to her, and I am putting to her a very rational, sane question about the ethics of business investment. If one is to invest in a political party for a result, one wants there to be a result, and not for there to be someone with his or her nose pressed against the window of power for the next 12 years—which is sad but true.

Madam SPEAKER: No. I have understood the member’s question, and I have ruled on it.

Jeanette Fitzsimons: In view of the millions of dollars in secret donations that, according to the evidence I just produced, the Business Roundtable has made to political parties of its choice, is the Prime Minister surprised, then, that the marches against the Electoral Finance Bill are being organised by John Boscowen, a member of the Business Roundtable?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: No, I am not surprised. I understand that he has also been the ACT party’s fundraiser. I would have thought that in terms of the return on the capital investment, spending $120,000 on automated calling to try to get the good people of Ponsonby out to a march, and getting 5,000 people there, was a pretty poor investment.

John Key: Is it not a sign of abject failure on the part of the Government that the Minister in charge of this bill, and the Minister before her, cannot explain it except to say that people will have to rely on common sense; and how does the Prime Minister expect well-intentioned, honest, ordinary New Zealanders to understand a bill that her Government cannot even understand?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: One expects people to read it carefully and to consult lawyers—as political parties always have done.

John Key: When is the Prime Minister going to admit that the reason she is forcing this legislation through is not that it is good legislation, not that it meets with the form of protocol and the processes of electoral law, and not that it is good for New Zealand, but that she is so paranoid that without it she thinks she has no hope of winning an election?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I would like our little democracy to be as free from big money, from Mr Key’s mates, as other little democracies are.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Is the Prime Minister aware that not too far from this country are smaller democracies—well, hopefully, growing democracies—where the character and shape of those democracies have been seriously perverted by the insertion of outside money for a particular purpose; and is that not what this country’s sovereignty is all about—which the National Party used to believe in when it knew what the word “national” meant?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I believe it is indeed true that in small neighbouring countries big money from outside has had a considerable impact—and, I submit, an adverse impact—and I think it is time our country kept up with international standards of best practice in electoral law.

Metiria Turei: Does the Prime Minister then agree and share the concerns of John Cain, a former Premier of Victoria, that in Australia a $10,000 party donation will buy one an audience with the Prime Minister, and does she agree that the Electoral Finance Bill is an attempt to stop that cancer of corruption and bribery from spreading from Australia to New Zealand?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: Most certainly I agree that the bill is a strong attempt to get rid of covert funding of the kind the National Party has always encouraged in politics.

Fiscal Policy—Reports

3. CHARLES CHAUVEL (Labour) to the Minister of Finance: Has he received any recent reports on the Government’s fiscal policy stance?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Minister of Finance): Yes. I have received Fitch Ratings’ New Zealand sovereign rating report, which notes that this Government has run “a broadly neutral fiscal policy stance”. The report also notes that since the early 1990s general Government debt has declined from close to 60 percent of GDP to 25 percent of GDP. Despite this positive review of the Government’s fiscal policy stance, we will remain conscious of inflationary pressures when we announce next year our personal tax reductions.

Charles Chauvel: Has the Minister received any reports on the revenue side of fiscal policy?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Yes indeed. Just today, according to the PricewaterhouseCoopers and World Bank joint study Paying Taxes 2008: The Global Picture, which offers data on total tax rates, payment frequency, and the time needed to comply with tax regulations, New Zealand is ranked second best in the OECD, after Ireland, and ninth best in the world out of 178 economies. The report goes on to note that—

Hon Member: Why is everyone leaving, then?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: —unfortunately, that member has not—outside of all rich countries and the Maldives, the top performers whose business tax systems may be successfully emulated by other countries are Singapore, Hong Kong, Ireland, and New Zealand.

Hon Bill English: Does the Minister believe that people on $39,000 who are paying 33c in the dollar in tax are grateful to him for the way he has accumulated all the money that he needed and that he thought they did not need?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: What endless public opinion surveys show is that people do not believe that we should borrow for tax cuts, unlike that member; people do not believe that we should cut social services to pay for tax cuts, which that member did in 1999; people do not believe that the entire benefit of tax cuts—

Hon Bill English: That’s not true.

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: That member in 1999 cut New Zealand superannuation and cut taxes. He is far too young to be suffering from that kind of premature amnesia, and I will continue to remind him and bring him up to date.

Ministers—Confidence

4. JOHN KEY (Leader of the Opposition) to the Prime Minister: Does she have confidence in all her Ministers?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK (Prime Minister): Yes.

John Key: Does she condone or approve of Trevor Mallard’s savage attack, using parliamentary privilege, on Erin Leigh when she blew the whistle on political interference at the Ministry for the Environment?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: My understanding is that the Minister spoke on advice. Having read the Hansard, I consider it rather mild by his standards.

John Key: Has she sought an assurance, then, from Trevor Mallard that he has the evidence to back up his career-wrecking statements about Erin Leigh; if not, why not?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I understand that when the Minister gave the reply he had advice.

Judy Turner: Does the Prime Minister anticipate a drop in confidence in her Minister of Health if he does nothing to reverse the current widespread policy to bring pressure to bear on mothers of newborn babies so that they leave hospital within hours of giving birth; and does the Prime Minister share United Future’s concern that this cost-saving policy is, in fact, a false economy and is putting at risk mothers and babies?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: The Minister and, indeed, the entire Government deplore the way the Capital and Coast District Health Board has behaved.

John Key: If the Prime Minister thinks that Mr Mallard’s comments were mild by his normal standards and if she is confident that he was acting on advice, will she, therefore, encourage Mr Mallard to repeat his comments outside the House, or will she repeat them on behalf of Mr Mallard outside the House?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I would encourage Ministers, and, indeed, the member opposite, to sit quietly while the State Services Commission reports.

John Key: Does the Prime Minister think that it is appropriate behaviour for a senior Minister of her Government, when he himself is having some problems, to look down the barrel of a camera and beg for sympathy from the people of New Zealand but then, on the very first opportunity he gets, to come into this House and rip some woman apart on evidence he does not have, and to do it in such a cowardly way that he will not repeat it outside the House?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I do not think any sensible person—

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. We have parliamentary privilege for a very sound reason. We have had it since the Bill of Rights 1688. The leader of the National Party may not understand that, but it is not because of taking preferential treatment against—[Interruption]

Madam SPEAKER: The member will be heard. There is to be no comment during points of order. I need to hear the whole comment. Please make it succinctly, Mr Peters.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I am doing it as briefly as I can. Just because they cannot understand it, is not a reason why I should not outline the principle of parliamentary privilege. The fact is a member may say something inside this House because he or she can speak honestly without the threat of legal intimidation outside of it. So to accuse someone of being a coward in the circumstances, which is what Mr Key did, is simply unparliamentary, and he should be asked to apologise.

Madam SPEAKER: No. I understand the member’s point but it is not a point of order.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. So is it OK with you for someone to be accused of being a coward inside this House? That is the first time I have ever heard that ruling. Is it OK with you for someone—

Madam SPEAKER: I did not hear the word. Would the member please be seated.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Well, I did.

Madam SPEAKER: Would the member please be seated, or he will be outside this House. I have ruled that the point the member made was not a point of order.

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

Madam SPEAKER: I have ruled on that point.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: It is a new point of order, Madam Speaker. I seek clarification from you. Is it OK in this House, from that ruling, for someone to call another person a coward?

Madam SPEAKER: I did not hear those words used.

Ron Mark: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I certainly heard those words being used.

Madam SPEAKER: Well, that is very helpful.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. If you look at the Hansard or hear the tape, you will know that two members have just told you what happened. The word “coward” was used. Just because you did not hear it, is of no great matter. We did, and that is why we are raising the point of order.

Madam SPEAKER: Unfortunately, it is of some matter. I did not hear it because of the level of noise that goes on in this House. It is almost impossible from this position to hear anything. I am quite happy to look at the record, but I ask the right honourable Prime Minister to please address the question.

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I have no doubt that Mr Key accused Mr Mallard of cowardice. That is clearly ridiculous, particularly when Mr Key himself could be accused of being a copyright pirate. [Interruption]

Madam SPEAKER: Please be seated. I would ask members please to respect the Standing Orders and to stop these personal references to each other in the asking and the answering of questions.

Ron Mark: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. In many instances in this House where one member has alleged that another member has said something unparliamentary, you have taken it upon yourself to ask the member who is alleged to have made the comment whether he or she did make the comment, and, if so, whether that member would care to withdraw and apologise. In this instance—

Madam SPEAKER: I have ruled on this matter, Mr Mark.

John Key: Does the Prime Minister think that it is a good idea that one of her senior Ministers comes into this House and uses parliamentary privilege to defame a member of the public, and if she does think that is the appropriate standard, is she surprised that he will not go outside the House and repeat those statements, as we would expect him to do if he has the information to back them up; and what message does she think that that behaviour from her senior Minister sends to the rest of the people who work in the State Service in New Zealand?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I have no evidence that anyone is being defamed except the regular defamation that occurs from Opposition members.

Hon Dr Michael Cullen: Is the Prime Minister aware that the last time a State Services Commission report on similar matters was presented, Mr Gerry Brownlee in this House described Don Hunn as a liar, described Dr Mark Prebble as a liar—

Gerry Brownlee: No, I didn’t.

Hon Dr Michael Cullen: —this is in the Hansard—if so, is she aware of whether any action was taken against the third-ranked member of the National Party by the leader of that party?

Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. That is a deliberate misleading of the House by Dr Cullen. I made no such comments about Mr Hunn.

Hon Dr Michael Cullen: Speaking to the point of order, I suggest that the member might care to look at his Hansard more closely—because I know exactly what he said. But he has just now confirmed that he did call Dr Mark Prebble, the head of the State Services Commission, a liar. He received no rebuke from his leader—no action at all—and why should we put up with Mr Key’s questions on these matters when, in fact, clearly he takes no action on these matters when they occur in his own caucus?

Madam SPEAKER: I would just remind members that we get into these situations by the language we use when we are asking our questions and giving our answers. I would ask the right honourable Prime Minister to address the question.

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: My understanding is that not only was no action taken against Mr Brownlee on that matter but that none was taken previously when he lost a civil case for assault, and none was taken against Nick Smith when a judge advised him that he simply did not believe the evidence that member had given under oath in court.

John Key: Will the Prime Minister send a message to the State servants of New Zealand today that they should feel confident that if they have a genuine case where they have seen political interference, they should be able to speak up, or will they know that they will be subject to the sort of callous behaviour that Trevor Mallard meted out; and can she explain whether the reason Trevor Mallard will not repeat his comments outside the House is that one appearance in the dock in a week is one too many and she does not want to make it two?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: My advice to public servants is to follow the whistleblowers legislation. With respect to appearing in docks, the member is lucky he did not do that himself on his electoral enrolment.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Madam Speaker—

Madam SPEAKER: I ask the member whether this is a supplementary question or a point of order.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: It is a supplementary question. I have given up on the points of order—[Interruption]—just temporarily.

Rodney Hide: Get Ronnie to do the same.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Is the member still alive? Why does the Prime Minister not take the standards set by the leader of the National Party, which is to be the beneficiary of an occurrence, which was that of Mr Connell rising in the caucus and telling the truth, thereupon getting totally expelled from the caucus and not reinstated, and he now being in the position has demonstrated that that succeeds in New Zealand politics—why does she not follow that standard?

Madam SPEAKER: I am sorry, but there is no ministerial responsibility for other standards in other caucuses, so that question is not in order.

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: Madam Speaker—

Madam SPEAKER: No, it is not in order.

Rugby World Cup 2011—Eden Park

5. RODNEY HIDE (Leader—ACT) to the Minister for the Rugby World Cup: How much is the upgrade of Eden Park expected to cost taxpayers, and how many seats does he expect to be available for New Zealanders for the 2011 World Cup final?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Leader of the House) on behalf of the Minister for the Rugby World Cup: The Government has agreed to underwrite the redevelopment of Eden Park up to $190 million. This will meet the commitments made to the International Rugby Board for a 60,000-seat stadium of a quality befitting a Rugby World Cup final. Ticket allocations for the 2011 Rugby World Cup are still to be finalised, and will be determined by Rugby New Zealand 2011 Ltd in conjunction with the International Rugby Board.

Rodney Hide: Has the Government made commitments towards the $270 million “legacy option” for Eden Park; can the Minister explain how the cost has escalated more than 150 percent in the last 10 months, and how much further is it expected to rise, particularly with the Government commitment, before the stadium is completed?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: No; the estimate of $270 million made by, I think, Mayor John Banks includes peripheral costs as well, such as stormwater and roading upgrades and other infrastructure development.

Rodney Hide: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I am sorry, but I just could not hear any of that answer. Could the Minister please repeat it? There was some disturbance to my left.

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: The answer to the first part of the question was “No”. The answer to the second part was that, as I understand, some of the estimates of apparent increases include peripheral costs—infrastructure such as stormwater, roading upgrades, and so on.

Rodney Hide: Does the Minister consider that paying $19,000 a seat for a one-off event is good value for taxpayer money, and has the Government considered what benefits this funding could provide for other sporting codes that are desperately short of any money?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: This is not just a matter of paying for a stadium for a one-off game; this is part of the Rugby World Cup. We expect to attract a significant number of overseas visitors, which would generate significant increased revenue for New Zealand—including increased taxation revenue.

Ron Mark: Does the Minister not realise that no matter how much money is poured into Eden Park we will still end up with a dog of a stadium in a dog of a location; why does the Government not simply cut from Auckland and put the money into completing the AMI Stadium in Christchurch, where the next All Black coach will come from?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I think the member is prematurely anticipating what may be the outcome of the Rugby Union’s deliberations, which, according to my latest information—newspapers, which of course, are to be relied upon in these matters—is far from settled in that respect. It is appropriate that the final of the Rugby World Cup is held in New Zealand’s premier rugby location, in New Zealand’s largest city. I am advised by the Prime Minister that that is Auckland.

Electoral Finance Bill—“Capacity as a member of Parliament”

6. Hon BILL ENGLISH (Deputy Leader—National) to the Minister of Justice: Does she stand by her statement that in her view the term “capacity as a member of Parliament” in the Electoral Finance Bill “excludes statements of policy made outside the House that are intended to be enacted by a future Parliament.”; if so, why?

Hon PETE HODGSON (Minister for Economic Development) on behalf of the Minister of Justice: Yes, that is what she said. However, she will be having further discussions with other parties who have identified possible concerns. If the member has identified possible concerns, she would be happy to have further discussions with him.

Hon Bill English: Is the Minister aware that the definition she has given Parliament means that a member of Parliament who said outside Parliament: “Our policy is to cut personal taxes.” would be publishing an election advertisement, and would have to meet the statutory criteria for publication of an election advertisement?

Hon PETE HODGSON: The Minister is yet to have any discussions with that member or other members about their concerns, but I can imagine, for example, a situation where a Government signals that legislation will be introduced after an election, and that might somehow cause members some concern in terms of their ability to take a public position free of any encumbrance.

Hon Bill English: Given that the Minister of Justice has had 2 years to think about what the term means, can she explain further her interpretation of the bill, in that if I as a member of Parliament say next year that National’s policy is to cut personal taxes, then whenever I write that down, including in letters to constituents, I will have to get the written authorisation of the financial agent of the National Party, and preface whatever I say with a statement of my name and address; why does she think that is a good idea?

Hon PETE HODGSON: I think the Minister might say that in a House of 121 MPs it is not only her view that is important; rather, it is the view of Parliament. I understand that the Electoral Commission has invited all parties to discuss this matter, and that—I could be wrong—all parties except the National Party are prepared to do so.

Hon Bill English: Is the Minister now telling us that statements the Minister of Justice made just 2 weeks ago, precisely for the purpose of recording in Hansard her policy intent so that the courts could refer to that Hansard, now do not count, and that he will have some kind of mini-summit with other political parties in the next couple of hours to sort it out?

Hon PETE HODGSON: Maybe it would help the member if I were to remind him that the law he refers to has been on our statute book for a little while. I have here the Electoral Act 1993. It is not new. The member voted for this legislation—as did I—14 years ago. The member ought to try to get over himself. This Act has been a New Zealand statute all this while.

Hon Bill English: Has the Minister advised the minor parties that are supporting this bill of the consequence of her interpretation as stated in Hansard for the purpose of aiding the courts when they inevitably pick up this issue, and has she told the Greens that if they put out a pamphlet that states that their policy is to introduce mandatory country-of-origin labelling for food, it will be counted as an election advertisement, even if it is put out by an MP; it will have to be authorised by the financial agent of the party; the cost of the publicity will have to be included as an expense in the Greens’ election return; and it will count against the Greens’ election spending cap?

Hon PETE HODGSON: One could be excused for being a little confused about the position of the National Party on this issue. The National Party now appears to be holding the view that somehow this Government is taking a line on parliamentary expenditure that is too harsh. I am advised that discussions with the affected parties—including the National Party, if it wishes to be involved—will take place in due course. As to whether they have started, I am afraid I do not yet know.

Hon Bill English: Would the Minister of Justice be surprised if other political parties were suspicious of her definition, because it has the effect that Government members will be allowed to talk about what the Government is doing, but Opposition members will not be allowed to talk about what they would do if they became the Government—and how ridiculous is that?

Hon PETE HODGSON: I say again that the position in respect of the Minister of Justice is that she will hold discussions with other parties that wish to hold discussions with her—including the National Party, if it is interested. Concerns have been raised of the order of those that the member raises—although a little less dramatically. The Minister of Justice is very happy to have discussions with those members.

Hon Bill English: Is the Minister of Justice aware that this provision will be debated today, or if not today then tomorrow; is she also aware that she put her comments on record 2 weeks ago in this House in order to clarify the matter, and now this Minister has stood up today—the day we will be debating the bill—and said that it will be resolved by her having talks some time in the future, when by the end of this week it could possibly be the law and no one will know what it means?

Hon PETE HODGSON: What the member has to decide is whether he wants to be part of these discussions.

Disability Issues Policy—International Response

7. JILL PETTIS (Labour) to the Minister for Disability Issues: What has been the international response to the Government’s disability issues policy?

Hon RUTH DYSON (Minister for Disability Issues): I am delighted to inform the House that yesterday I announced that New Zealand has won the Franklin D. Roosevelt International Disability Award for 2007. The Roosevelt award recognises a nation that makes noteworthy progress towards the goal of full participation of disabled citizens. The award recognises the “extraordinary leadership that New Zealand has shown in this area”. It includes our Government’s work nationally in developing and implementing the New Zealand Disability Strategy, and internationally in taking a lead role in negotiating the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

Jill Pettis: Can the Minister please advise what progress has been made on implementation of the New Zealand Disability Strategy?

Hon RUTH DYSON: I certainly can, but first of all I advise the House that the Roosevelt award trustees paid tribute to the fact that New Zealand is just one of a few countries in the world to have a disability strategy. The strategy requires the Government to develop and implement a comprehensive approach to disability inclusion. Our Government is continuing to deliver on that requirement. Highlights from the last couple of years include the enactment of the New Zealand Sign Language Act; work relating to the Building Act that will make a real difference in how disabled people can enter and use buildings; repeal of the Disabled Persons Employment Promotion Act; changes to the way we provide services to people who are receiving a sickness or an invalids benefit to focus on what a person can do rather than what they cannot do; and the closure, in New Zealand, of our last residential institution. We will continue to work towards achieving a society in which disabled people can lead the lives that the rest of us take for granted.

Question No. 8 to Minister

GERRY BROWNLEE (National—Ilam): I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I seek leave for this question to be held over until the Minister—

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

State Services Commission—Recent Initiatives

8. GERRY BROWNLEE (National—Ilam) to the Minister of State Services: What new initiatives have been undertaken by the State Services Commission since he became Minister?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Leader of the House) on behalf of the Minister of State Services: The Minister has been involved in a range of initiatives. [Interruption] I confess I was very closely going through Mr Finlayson’s Supplementary Order Paper with some interest. The Minister of State Services has been the Minister for only a short period; however, in that time the Minister is pleased to have launched a report transforming the State services. This is the second annual report on the development goals programme, which is designed to transform the State services in a way that is in line with Government priorities and delivers better results for all New Zealanders. A new initiative in 2007 has been the inclusion of a value-for-money State services goal as one of the six goals.

Gerry Brownlee: Under what initiative or protocol was the Acting Minister provided with the information that Erin Leigh had “repeated competence issues”; and who provided that information?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: All matters in relation to that have now been delegated to the Minister of Justice, who will reply to any questions in relation to those matters.

Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. You can see now, in relation to the point of order I raised at the start of question time today, what a difficulty we have got into. We have had a Minister standing up in the House and making a statement about Erin Leigh’s competence well after the investigation into those matters had begun by the State Services Commission, and now, some days later, realising that there is a problem around this, the Government has decided to use this particular provision of our Standing Orders in order to shield the Minister from having to make statements about the veracity of the claims made to this House. That is not the action of Ministers who are being accountable; it is the action of Ministers who are trying to avoid the sorts of questions they should answer in the public interest.

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: First of all, I could have raised a point of order about the relevance of the supplementary question to the principal question, which was about new initiatives undertaken by the State Services Commission. Secondly, the member was informed at the time he submitted this question about the fact that a delegation had occurred. He could therefore have put down the question to the appropriate Minister in this respect. The Government is perfectly happy to answer questions on this matter that are addressed to the appropriate Minister.

Madam SPEAKER: [Interruption] I have not ruled on your point of order—unless you would like me not to rule on it. I was going to say that I understood the member’s point. The member himself said that the Government’s actions were consistent with the Standing Orders and Speaker’s rulings, but I have undertaken to look at the issue, given that the member does consider it to be a serious issue.

Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. My point is simply this: here we have the Deputy Prime Minister, acting today for the Minister of State Services, saying that he cannot answer a question about a matter that relates to a particular issue occurring within the State services, and that, rather than being addressed to him, that question should have been directed to the Minister Annette King, who has been given the responsibility for dealing with it. It is clear to the whole House that Annette King is not present in the House today, either. That raises the question of who might have answered on her behalf, and the recent history of the Government suggests that it would in fact have been the Deputy Prime Minister.

Madam SPEAKER: I thank the member, but he is going over ground that has already been gone over. As was pointed out, he was given notice of this delegation, and if we had all had a little more notice of it, maybe we could have ruled on it.

Gerry Brownlee: Can he advise the House whether the person who provided the Acting Minister with the information was employed by the Ministry for the Environment, or was it someone employed in the Beehive?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: As I said, a delegation has occurred in relation to all those matters. The Minister with that delegation will be happy to respond to any further questions.

Gerry Brownlee: Can he, or any other Minister, provide the House with the information upon which Mr Mallard made his allegations last week?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: That question should be put down to the Minister with the delegated responsibility for this matter.

Wildlife—Protection

9. LESLEY SOPER (Labour) to the Minister of Conservation: What reports, if any, has she received about the Government’s work to protect New Zealand’s wildlife?

Hon STEVE CHADWICK (Minister of Conservation): In the past week I officially opened the new yellow-eyed penguin reserve on the Catlins coast in Otago on land bought jointly by the Department of Conservation and the Yellow-eyed Penguin Trust. Securing this habitat is a major victory for conservation. It highlights this Labour-led Government’s commitment to protecting New Zealand’s unique species.

Lesley Soper: What other work is the Government doing to protect endangered species?

Hon STEVE CHADWICK: The Department of Conservation is actively working to protect 239 endangered species at the moment, with projects including an intensive recovery programme for kākāpō, increased kiwi populations in the wild and in sanctuaries, boosting the survival of the whio, or blue duck, and captive breeding and supporting of wild takahē. So far this season, eight chicks have been incubated and two have already hatched.

Metiria Turei: Do any of the reports on the Government’s work to protect New Zealand’s unique species estimate how many fatalities of the Māui’s dolphin we might expect over this coming summer with increased risk from fishing, from set-netting, from pollution in the waterways, and from boat strike, given the Government’s procrastination about doing anything to protect this uniquely endangered New Zealand wild species?

Hon STEVE CHADWICK: The member is absolutely correct about this beautiful species of about 111 Māui’s dolphins, the rarest in the world. Yes, we have had an overwhelming response of nearly 2,500 submissions on the discussion document. Because they are so complex we do need to give them due time and due consideration, and we will be reporting on this around March next year.

Environment, Ministry—Employment and Contracting Guidelines

10. GERRY BROWNLEE (National—Ilam) to the Minister for the Environment: Can he assure the House that all employment and contracting decisions made by the Ministry for the Environment have been made according to ministry guidelines; if not, why not?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD (Minister for the Environment): No; my reasons have not changed since the last time I answered this question in the House.

Gerry Brownlee: What is his response to comments made last night by former communications manager Keith Lyons, who stated that David Parker had imposed Clare Curran on the ministry and: “He also wanted to boost his own profile. It sounded like, for him, that the appointment was not negotiable. The Minister wanted to ensure his own interests were promoted.”?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: My response is that this is a matter that is being considered by the State Services Commissioner, and that is the way it should be dealt with.

Gerry Brownlee: Why was Erin Leigh required to forward her work to the Prime Minister’s chief of staff for approval and comment, and was it the case that Heather Simpson ordered Erin Leigh to make changes that were to benefit the Labour Party’s political view?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: This is a matter that is being dealt with by the State Services Commissioner, but I can assure the House that comments on that work came from much wider than the Department of Internal Affairs.

Gerry Brownlee: Is the Ministry for the Environment party to the Partnership for Quality arrangements with the New Zealand Public Service Association (PSA)?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: I would have to consult with the Minister of State Services to give a definitive answer, but from my memory, going back as a former Minister, the answer is “Yes”—of course that applies to public servants.

Gerry Brownlee: Can the Minister confirm that the amount of Ministry for the Environment funding that has flowed through the Partnership for Quality programme to pay for PSA union delegates to undertake union activities has topped some $400,000 in recent times?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: No.

Gerry Brownlee: Is the Minister denying that the Ministry for the Environment has been funding from its vote time and salary for union delegates?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: No.

Gerry Brownlee: Can the Minister tell the House how much the Ministry for the Environment has used of its vote to pay for the activities of union delegates?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: No.

Gerry Brownlee: Is there anything this Minister knows about things going on in his ministry?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: Yes, and I know quite a lot about hot air. I have learnt more, though, from that member than from the ministry.

Emissions—Impact on Health

11. RUSSELL FAIRBROTHER (Labour) on behalf of Hon MARK GOSCHE (Labour—Maungakiekie) to the Associate Minister of Transport: What steps is the Government taking to reduce the impact to New Zealanders’ health caused by harmful emissions?

Hon JUDITH TIZARD (Associate Minister of Transport): The Government has taken a number of steps to reduce emissions from the New Zealand vehicle fleet. It has improved the quality of fuel, especially diesel fuel, lowering harmful emissions and enabling us to import vehicles to better international standards. The Government has introduced the visible smoke check at warrant of fitness to target the worst emitting vehicles on our roads, and last week it implemented the 2007 vehicle exhaust emissions rule, which sets minimum emission standards for vehicles entering our fleet, ensuring that vehicle emissions will continue to improve over time. The Government is now looking at in-service emission testing for the current fleet, and I expect this work will initially focus on diesel vehicles, which are the most damaging for health and air quality.

Russell Fairbrother: What else is the Government doing to reduce vehicle emissions and improve air quality?

Hon JUDITH TIZARD: The new rule for imported used cars is part of a package of Government measures to improve air quality. Further improvements in fuel quality will allow new technologies to enter the fleet. Other work programmes will see reduced traffic congestion, promoting public transport, and introducing biofuels. The Ministry of Transport recently completed a very successful trial vehicle scrappage scheme where 250 used vehicles were scrapped in exchange for 2-month public transport passes. The ministry is finalising its study on this scheme and I hope it can be continued and expanded in the future. The National Energy Efficiency and Conservation Strategy set a target for a 10 percent reduction in single occupancy trips, which will impact positively on emissions. Policies in the climate change area will reduce the use of vehicles and improve transport efficiency, especially for freight, and are likely to have benefits for harmful emissions as well.

Russell Fairbrother: What impact will this rule have on the importation of vehicles into New Zealand?

Hon JUDITH TIZARD: The rule will prevent the importation of used diesel vehicles made to older Japanese standards, and equivalent standards under other jurisdictions. In some cases vehicles that have been imported into New Zealand have been banned from the roads in Tokyo. These vehicles were actually making our fleet worse when they arrived; why should we allow the importation of used Japanese vehicles that the Japanese will not allow on their own roads? I believe this rule will result in a major improvement in the New Zealand fleet over time.

Peter Brown: Noting those answers, is the Minister aware of the assertion that these new diesel vehicles are a fairly rare species in Japan, and that they cost two or three times as much as an older one, and as a result many diesel operators will hang on to their vehicles for much longer; if she is aware of that, does she not accept that this will do little or no good at all to improving New Zealanders’ health?

Hon JUDITH TIZARD: If the member is talking about new diesel vehicles, then as long as they are manufactured to current Japanese standards they will improve the fleet. If he is talking about used Japanese vehicles coming into the New Zealand fleet, then the Japanese Government is continuing to improve their standards. We still have to keep a good eye on the fact that some diesel vehicles are a real problem. However, the vehicle standard is only one of the issues around better vehicle emissions. There is also the issue of better fuel standards, and the use and maintenance of vehicles. So, no, I do not accept the member’s assertion.

Health Services—Safety of Mothers and Children

12. Hon TONY RYALL (National—Bay of Plenty) to the Minister of Health: Does he stand by his reported comments, regarding the $100 “bribe” for Wellington mothers to leave hospital within hours of giving birth, that this was “one organisation’s response to a staff shortage and was not Government policy.”; if so, is he confident that the safety of mothers and children is a priority throughout the New Zealand public health system?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE (Minister of Health): Yes; and yes.

Hon Tony Ryall: What immediate action will he take to prevent a repeat of the tragic death of the baby reported here in Wellington today—and all members of the House will have great sympathy for the parents—and does he now understand the consequences of hospitals bullying midwives and mothers to get out and go home within hours of giving birth?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: May I first say that I share the member’s deep sense of sorrow at this recent tragedy. There is no sufficient answer for any parent who has lost a child, and I think all members’ hearts go out to this family and any others who have been in a similar circumstance. The Government takes this situation and any like it very, very seriously. We expect district health boards around the country to take it similarly seriously. By saying that the previous policy of Capital and Coast District Health Board was not Government policy, I think we have made very clear the Government’s expectations and that it was not appropriate. Having said that, this case did not reflect that policy, for several reasons. Firstly, this mother would not have been covered because she was a first-time mother and that policy applied only to second and subsequent births. Secondly, there was no bed shortage in the case of this birth, and there is no evidence that I have seen that, to quote the member, the mother was “bullied” out of hospital.

Hon Marian Hobbs: What indications are there of the Government’s concern with the safety of mothers and children?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: Perhaps the most telling indicator of the Government’s concern and effective action on it is that the infant mortality rate has declined from 7.1 deaths per 1,000 births in 1997 to 4.8 deaths per 1,000 in 2006. That is a 33 percent reduction. Additionally, of course, the Government has undertaken the MeNZB mass immunisation campaign, which has lowered the number of cases of new meningococcal B meningitis by 57 percent. However, I repeat that any infant death is a tragedy, and despite this progress we will relentlessly pursue further improvements. Our heart goes out to any family who suffers this kind of loss.

Barbara Stewart: Will he be approaching the country’s 3,000 general practitioners to find out how many of them would be willing to resume providing maternity services in order to alleviate the ongoing midwife shortage and provide a safer service; if not, why not?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: I have received a copy of some reporting on the nationwide workforce priority accorded to the midwifery sector. I am certainly willing to work constructively with the member and others to look at all options to address the shortfalls, and I encourage district health boards to do the same.

Te Ururoa Flavell: Tēnā koe, Madam Speaker. Kia ora tātou. Is the Minister aware that last weekend a woman went into the Capital and Coast District Health Board delivery suite to have her sixth child and was told that she had to go home even though she did not want to, and what action will he be taking with that district health board to address its deliberate refusal to comply with his statement last week that “no woman who needs to be in hospital after giving birth will be sent home.”?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: In the first case, if a member wishes to discuss an individual case or to seek information on it, it is always helpful either to get the name in advance or for it to be done in a primary question. Notwithstanding that, I understand that the district health board has had conversations with the Ministry of Health that would underline the point that no mother who is in need of care in hospital should be discharged and that no baby who is in need of care should be so discharged. I understand that the chief executive reaffirmed that position in recent days. Notwithstanding that, I remain very concerned and increasingly concerned at the situation at Capital and Coast District Health Board. I have recently issued a statement clarifying that I am seeking urgent advice on the options available to me, and a further announcement will be made shortly.

Te Ururoa Flavell: What will he introduce to respond to the fact that the number of annual practicing certificates issued to midwives has decreased significantly, from 4,914 in 2002-03 to 2,857 in 2005-06, and what does he believe has caused such a severe decrease in midwives?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: It would not be appropriate for me to try to diagnose the problems of the midwife sector. I do note that the District Health Boards New Zealand organisation has listed that sector as one of its top two workforce priorities, and that it is receiving the full support of the Ministry of Health in addressing a strategy for ensuring we have sufficient midwifery care around New Zealand.

Te Ururoa Flavell: What will this Government be doing to address the training and retention of midwives in the sector?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: As I have just said, the Government will be working closely with District Health Boards New Zealand around a strategy for ensuring that shortages are filled. It is very important that mothers and children around New Zealand get the care they deserve.

Hon Tony Ryall: Has the Minister seen reports that the Maternity Service Consumer Council says that district health board managers up and down the country are bullying—its word—midwives to get new mothers out of hospital quicker and quicker; and should not New Zealand mothers be entitled to more?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: It is always ironic when a member from a party that has long championed unaffordable tax cuts becomes the champion of more social services, because it is exactly those kinds of trade-offs that this Government, since it became elected in 1999, has stood to address. That is why there are 33 percent fewer dead babies under this Government than when that member’s party was in Government.

Hon Tony Ryall: Will the Minister meet with the Maternity Service Consumer Council, which has said that this sort of thing is happening up and down the country as we speak and that other hospitals are sitting on time bombs like this; and will he meet to discuss with the Maternity Service Consumer Council the fact that the council says that midwives around this country are being bullied to discharge mothers home earlier and earlier, and that that is not safe for New Zealand mothers?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: I fully respect the member’s efforts to stand up for vulnerable mothers, and I share his concern for those mothers. But the fact is that under this Government our infant mortality rate is one-third less than it was when that member’s party was in power. Of course, discussions will continue with District Health Boards New Zealand to ensure that Government policy is given effect to, and we will relentlessly pursue opportunities for improvement in this sector.

Te Ururoa Flavell: I seek leave to table data from the Nursing Council of New Zealand and the Midwifery Council of New Zealand from the year 2000 to the year 2006.

Leave granted.

ENDS

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