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Questions and Answers - Wednesday, 5 December 2007


Questions and Answers - Wednesday, 5 December 2007

Questions to Ministers

Climate Change—Two-degree Limit

1. JEANETTE FITZSIMONS (Co-Leader—Green) to the Minister responsible for Climate Change Issues: Does he accept the assessment of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that “If warming is not kept below two degrees centigrade … substantial global impacts will occur, such as species extinctions, and millions of people at risk from drought, hunger, flooding.”; if so, will he be advocating at Bali for a global agreement that this 2-degree limit should not be exceeded?

Hon DAVID PARKER (Minister responsible for Climate Change Issues): The New Zealand Government relies heavily upon the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s scientific advice. Its advice is that if temperature increases of 2 degrees Celsius are to be avoided, that would require greenhouse gas concentrations to be limited to between 450 and 550 parts per million in the atmosphere, and we will be advocating for the targets for the post-2012 agreement to be based upon scientific advice.

Jeanette Fitzsimons: Does the Minister agree that developing countries like China and India are more likely to come on board if a nation’s allocation is based on its population rather than on its wealth, and will New Zealand support per capita entitlements for nations rather than targets that entrench current inequalities?

Hon DAVID PARKER: Per capita emissions are one of the very relevant things that should have primacy in the negotiations. I would not agree that they are the only matter that needs to be taken into account, but I do agree with the general proposition that developed countries have to drop their emissions by more than developing countries can be expected to act.

Hon Marian Hobbs: Is New Zealand well placed to implement a post-2012 international agreement?

Hon DAVID PARKER: Whatever the post-2012 agreement is, yes, New Zealand will be well placed to meet it. The New Zealand emissions trading scheme introduced to the House yesterday, together with the previously announced New Zealand Energy Strategy and the National Energy Efficiency and Conservation Strategy, as well as the sustainable land management plan and other measures, mean we are very well placed to implement a post-2012 agreement.

Gordon Copeland: Can the Minister be confident, I guess even with the best will in the world, that a global agreement could ensure that the 2-degree limit would not be exceeded; if not, would it not be prudent for the global community to plan to mitigate the consequences of drought, hunger, and flooding through desalination, through the building of levies, etc., and through the movement and resettlement of people for their safety?

Hon DAVID PARKER: In respect of the first part of the question, it is rather a depressing spectre at the moment. The scientists themselves, in the quote that was in the primary question, state—and I will read the full sentence: “If warming is to be kept below two degrees this will require the strongest mitigation efforts and currently this looks very unlikely to be achieved.” That is rather depressing news, and really it just makes it all the more pressing that the countries of the world get together to make sure that the situation is not as bad as it could get. In terms of the second part of the question, yes, adaptation is also an important issue, and countries do need to take prudent measures to adapt to the levels of climate change that may be unavoidable.

Jeanette Fitzsimons: If the emissions trading system relies, after 2012, on us purchasing quite a lot of credits from overseas countries, and if his objective of all countries coming into a climate change treaty is met, where will New Zealand be able to purchase all those emissions from by 2025, when future targets are likely to be very tight?

Hon DAVID PARKER: The first point I would make is that the Government would expect that substantial emissions reductions will occur in New Zealand. The second point really relates to the member’s first supplementary question, which is that if the expectation is that developed countries have to do more than developing countries, the reality is that Kyoto mechanisms allow that some of that effort and expense on the part of developed countries may be most cost-effectively spent in developing countries, so they may be funding some of the emissions reductions in developing countries.

Jeanette Fitzsimons: Will the New Zealand Government be supporting, at least in principle, the Tropical Deforestation Emissions Reduction Mechanism, or “TDERM”, proposed by Greenpeace at Bali yesterday, which would allow developed countries to meet some of their target by paying to protect tropical forests in developing countries?

Hon DAVID PARKER: New Zealand has been supportive of the principle of avoided deforestation being included in an international agreement since that idea was first mooted by Papua New Guinea some 2 or 3 years ago, and New Zealand supported that at the first opportunity. So we remain supportive of the principle that avoided deforestation needs to be included in international efforts. I have not read the proposal that Greenpeace put yesterday, but I would expect that it would be a thoughtful contribution on the issue.

Electoral Finance Bill—Legal Advice

2. JOHN KEY (Leader of the Opposition) to the Prime Minister: Does she stand by her statement yesterday, when asked how she expects well-intentioned, honest, ordinary New Zealanders to understand the Electoral Finance Bill, that “One expects people to read it carefully and to consult lawyers”; if so, why?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Deputy Prime Minister) on behalf of the Prime Minister: Yes, because well-intentioned, honest, ordinary New Zealanders are not the focus of this legislation. Those who plan large advertising campaigns have always needed to be conscious of electoral law, which of course is why at the last election the Exclusive Brethren and the National Party colluded to stay just within the electoral law, meaning that a $1.2 million campaign could be run by the Exclusive Brethren without being charged against the National Party’s allocation.

John Key: Is the Prime Minister concerned that the legislation is so badly drafted that last night the Minister of Justice spent the evening telling the House that the views that she was expressing were her views and clearly not the Government’s views, and that the reason for that is the law is so incomprehensible the officials cannot even explain it to the Minister so she can present the Government’s views?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: No and no, but I do note with amusement that the Opposition keeps saying the law is badly drafted, then opposes every amendment to it.

John Key: Was the Prime Minister concerned yesterday, then, when the Minister of Justice was so confused in her interpretation that she said—and I quote from her Hansard—“I am prepared to say that my interpretation could be wrong. I might be wrong. In fact, I am prepared to admit that I could be wrong. I read the comments of Bill English today in a question to the House. He might be right …”; and is it not worrying to the Prime Minister that my deputy leader understands the legislation, when her Minister clearly does not?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: There is nothing wrong in this life with the fact that the Minister may admit that she may be wrong. The fact that even after 17 years in Parliament Mr English may occasionally stumble across a truth, should not surprise us.

John Key: Can the Prime Minister tell the people of New Zealand what other legislation this Government has passed that is so incomprehensible that the Minister cannot understand it, and officials cannot understand it well enough to explain it to even the dimmest of Labour Ministers?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: One thing I can be sure of in that remark is that the intelligence curve for this Government ends about where National’s front bench starts—certainly in terms of understanding anything that I am aware of. But I am aware of legislation where frequently judges come to conclusions that are contrary to those that almost every member of Parliament has thought obtained, in relation to legislation, and subsequent amendment is required. And with this legislation there have been useful suggestions from Mr Finlayson that the Government has picked up. I look forward to discussing further with Mr Finlayson one aspect of his Supplementary Order Paper a little later in the afternoon.

Sue Moroney: Has the Minister seen any reports calling for the abolition of limits on anonymous donations?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Yes. I have seen a report arguing that the right to donate large sums of money in excess of $10,000 in secret is as important to democracy as the secret ballot. This claim, which came from Gerry Brownlee, shows the real motivation for National’s opposition to this bill. It is so that large, rich, wealthy people can give lots of money anonymously to try to buy themselves a Government that will do things like putting accident compensation back into competition, for example.

John Key: If the legislation is so incomprehensible that the Minister of Justice cannot understand it, officials cannot understand it well enough to explain it to the Minister of Justice, Government departments cannot understand it, the Electoral Commission cannot understand it, and the Prime Minister thinks that for ordinary New Zealanders to try to understand it they should consult a lawyer, why, on the back of all that, is it being rushed through the House?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Actually, it is not being rushed through the House. The member may notice—[Interruption]—Well, I know that some younger members are used to a kind of leisurely process of working around this place, but I tell them that when the House is not working under urgency, it is not being rushed.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Has the Minister received any reports to explain the contradiction that those people who complain that money cannot buy elections nevertheless want to have no cap on expenditure?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: The member gets to the heart of the matter. What this bill is about—and everybody in this House understands what this bill is about—is stopping people from doing what happened in 2005, when a small cabal of wealthy people rorted the election law to try to buy themselves a National Government, in order to bring on Armageddon and the end of the world. That was actually their aim in life, amazing as it may seem. “Vote National for the end of the world” was the Exclusive Brethren’s purpose.

Hon Members: Point of order—

Madam SPEAKER: Is the point of order the fact that we cannot hear? Thank you. The Minister will please repeat, in silence, the essence of the answer, please, and no one is to interrupt.

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I repeat that the essence of this argument is that people at the last election tried to buy themselves a Government by rorting the election law, and the extraordinary thing was that the people who were trying to do that the most—the Exclusive Brethren—were trying to persuade people to vote for a National Government because that would actually have hastened the end of the world.

John Key: What is better for the Government—having the old Minister of Justice, Mark Burton, who pretended he understood the legislation, or the new Minister of Justice, Annette King, who has given up trying to pretend she understands it?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I have listened to a great deal of the exchanges in this House over the radio, and I have noticed that the Minister of Justice has been ripping the Opposition to shreds. I look forward to more of that gentle care and attention; I advise the member just to open his mouth and let “Auntie Annette” pull his teeth out.

John Key: If the Prime Minister is so in touch with the electoral legislation that governs New Zealand, can she just explain for a moment why she told the Holmes interview this morning that the Electoral Act of 1956 is still in operation, and are there any other things that are 37 years out of date that she thinks still apply?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: The Prime Minister was pointing out that certain features of the 1956 Electoral Act are still carried forward into the current electoral legislation, and that is absolutely correct. If the member had not been out of New Zealand for so long, he would know that fact.

Economy—Transformation Planning

3. MOANA MACKEY (Labour) to the Minister for Economic Development: Has he received any reports on plans to transform New Zealand’s economy?

Hon PETE HODGSON (Minister for Economic Development): Yes. Today I released plans to intensify work in six areas to achieve the next step-change in this country’s economic transformation.

Moana Mackey: Why has he chosen only six areas of focus, and what are these areas?

Hon PETE HODGSON: We have chosen six, not 16 or 26, because we wish to make good progress on a smaller number of key fronts. We will focus on improving broadband, investment in sustainable technologies, improved workplace skills, supporting the internationalisation of our firms, a better alignment of Government investment activity, and making Auckland a world-class hub of innovation.

Electoral Finance Bill—Interpretation of Clause 80(d)

4. Hon BILL ENGLISH (Deputy Leader—National) to the Minister of Justice: Does she stand by her statements last night, in relation to the interpretation of clause 80(d) of the Electoral Finance Bill, that “We are not going to put it in law; the commission has asked for an interpretation.” and “I am prepared to say that my interpretation could be wrong.”; if so, why?

Hon ANNETTE KING (Minister of Justice): Yes; and I am prepared to listen to the debate on clause 80(d) so that Parliament’s interpretation on the clause will be made clear to the electoral agencies, and that is all they ask.

Hon Bill English: Can the Minister clarify that this is the situation: MPs need guidance on how they can comply with clause 80(d); the Electoral Commission asks for some clarity so it can give guidance to MPs; the Minister says “Well, I’m not going to change the law, but here is my interpretation on it.”, then, next time she comes to Parliament, says “Well, I might be the Minister of Justice, but my interpretation is now probably wrong.”, and then says “Well, Parliament can sit around and try to decide this for itself.”; and how does she think that helps the public or the MPs to have confidence in this law?

Hon ANNETTE KING: I refer the member to the commentary that came back from the select committee, where it says that the committee considered recommending an amendment to clause 80(d) to provide guidance to the phrase “in his or her capacity as a member of Parliament” to clarify the kinds of activities intended. But as this phrase appears in a number of other statutes—it is widely used in a variety of contexts, including parliamentary procedures—it did not do that, but then went on to ask for the electoral agencies to provide that guidance. That guidance needs to be provided to the agencies from this House, and that is what this debate is about—and we are in the debate right now. The member does not wish to participate, but I did note that New Zealand First, when it had a contribution to make, decided it would participate. But then, National has not wanted to engage in this bill right from the beginning.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Can the Minister tell the House whether she has reports that suggest that the complaint about which Mr English is so voluble is in fact an environment that MPs have lived under for decades now in one form or another, and it is merely a refinement in the 21st century?

Hon ANNETTE KING: Yes, that is correct. In fact, clarification around the role of an MP acting in that role is something that the Electoral Commission has sought. I believe that this House could provide further clarification, because we are the ones who actually go out to be members of Parliament day in, day out, 3 years around, not just for 2 years and sit at home in election year. I believe that this Parliament could provide that advice to the electoral agencies.

Hon Bill English: Can the Minister confirm that it was her policy that MPs would be exempt from the provisions of the Electoral Finance Bill, and if it has been her policy that MPs should not be covered by it, when they have been covered by it for decades, then what kind of ridiculous situation is it when she cannot explain her own policy to the MPs of this House, who are directly affected by the law; and how did she manage to rip her own credibility to shreds so quickly?

Hon ANNETTE KING: I think what the public do appreciate is a Minister who is prepared to look at issues, who is prepared to consult, and who is not so arrogant as to stand up in Parliament and pretend to know everything. In the second reading debate I said it was my view. I never said it was the view of the Government. I said it was my view, and that view is open to interpretation. I have asked for members to give their views, and I would have thought that was what this Parliament was all about.

Hon Bill English: What credibility would the Minister’s final decision on the meaning of this law—which applies to MPs—have, when she has tried only once to give an interpretation of the many vague clauses in this bill; and the one time she has tried, she has turned out to make a stupid interpretation, which cannot work in practice, and she has had to admit she is wrong and is now effectively handing it to the Opposition to decide?

Hon ANNETTE KING: I certainly would not hand it to the Opposition to decide, because it made a decision not to engage on this bill. I would say I have a lot more credibility than a member who said that he would participate in talks with other MPs around election spending, and then, when he thought he would get some headlines out of it, he said he would not. The Electoral Commission chief executive, Helena Catt, has confirmed that National said that it would participate, and now it will not. National members will not participate, because they think the New Zealand Herald will give them another headline.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Has the Minister received reports that suggest that if Mr English had his way—treating candidates the same as sitting MPs—that would in effect paralyse the work of those MPs; yes or no?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: I have received a very confused report on what Mr English thinks, and if one looked at his questions to my colleague yesterday in question time in Parliament, one would not know where he stood, because one moment he rails against what MPs do and the next minute he wants them to be able to do anything they like. I could not tell the member where Mr English stands on the issue. He has no idea.

Hon Bill English: Will the Government agree with National’s longstanding position that MPs should not be exempt from the coverage of the Electoral Finance Bill and that for the last 3 months before an election the law should apply to MPs in exactly the same way as it applies to citizens and other community organisations—that is, they cannot broadcast electoral advertisements?

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. With respect, the questioner has just outlined a position that has never ever been the National Party’s position. He is just articulating it now, making it up as he goes along. [Interruption] Come on; give us the date that National announced that policy.

Madam SPEAKER: That is not a point of order.

Hon ANNETTE KING: I could certainly not confirm National’s latest position. It is not my job to do that, but what I do know is that National members will not engage on this bill as long as they think they might get a few votes. But what they are getting is the public asking what this is all about, why would they not want to disclose what money they have to spend, and that they must want to have money and spend it, and not tell the public about it.

Hon Bill English: So can the Minister confirm the circumstances as I understand them: she came to the House as Minister of Justice to give an interpretation of the law, she then was forced to admit that that interpretation was wrong because it could not work in practice, she then said to the House “Well, I am here to listen to what the House thinks”, I have just told her what the House thinks, which is to apply the law that exists and not to change it, and she has just said that she will not take any notice of that?

Hon ANNETTE KING: I certainly did not say that. But I did notice last night that making up stories about what I have said was the agenda for the whole evening. Can I say to members opposite—

John Key: This is your Hansard.

Hon ANNETTE KING: I have my own Hansard, thanks, I say to Mr Key, and he can have that one for nothing. I would suggest to Mr Key that he should look at Tony Ryall’s Hansard and see the sort of rubbish that was being said about what I had said in the debate. I would say that all we heard last night was a lot of political rhetoric and very little substance.

Hon Bill English: What chance does the New Zealand public have of complying with the law, when this House has seen such a chaotic shambles over how the Government believes just one provision that applies to MPs should actually work in practice?

Hon ANNETTE KING: There is no more confusion than when the last Electoral Reform Bill went through this House, in 1993, when over eight pages of amendments were tabled by the then National Government and over 46 pages of amendments from the Opposition were put forward to try to fix up the problems with that bill. So I say to that member that he is crying crocodile tears, because he certainly did not object to those amendments back then.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Could the Minister tell the House precisely when she or—[Interruption] I beg your pardon?

Madam SPEAKER: Would the member please continue.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Well, the temporary member from Te Atatū has something to say, skulking as he does in the third row there, as some sort of token representative.

Madam SPEAKER: Would the member please be seated. Members who interject will obviously get responses, so I ask people to keep their interjections to a minimum and to keep them relevant.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Could I ask the Minister as to when she or her predecessor in her position precisely was told of the National Party’s new position, as articulated by Mr English in this House today and as flaunted all over the media, unsuspecting as they are as to the truth of the matter?

Hon ANNETTE KING: I have to say to the member that I cannot give any date when that new policy was announced, but I do know that that member was a member of a National caucus and probably has more knowledge about what National’s policy is in this regard than most others would have.

Hon Bill English: Given that the Minister failed in her one attempt to provide interpretation for one provision of this bill and she turned out to be wrong, that the chief executive of the Electoral Commission has said that she does not understand it, and that the one issue on which the Minister tried to clarify it has turned into a shambles, where do members of the public and members of Parliament go to find out the meaning of the vague clauses in this legislation, given that if they fail to comply they can be liable for $40,000 fines and 2-year jail terms?

Hon ANNETTE KING: The member distorts what the Electoral Commission said—

Hon Bill English: Answer the question.

Hon ANNETTE KING: Well, the member raised it and I am answering this question. The Electoral Commission asked for clarification from this Parliament, and that is what it will get if people engage in this debate in a meaningful way. But I suspect that all we will have is what we have had so far from the National Party, which is hot air and a cover-up on what it wants to do at the next election.

Television New Zealand—Māori Programming Commissioner

5. HONE HARAWIRA (Māori Party—Te Tai Tokerau) to the Minister of Broadcasting: He aha ngā nekehanga whakamua kua oti i te whakatūnga o te Māngai Whakatakoto Hōtaka Māori, nā Te Reo Tātaki o Aotearoa i pānui i ngā marama e toru ki muri, hei wāhanga o tā rātau kapa ārahitanga whānui ake, ā, i runga pea i te whakaaro, ka mana tā rātau kawenata kia tino whai reo a ngāi Māori i roto i ngā mahi whakatakoto hōtaka, whakatakoto mahere hoki?

[What progress has been made in appointing the Māori programming commissioner, which Television New Zealand announced three months ago as part of its broader leadership team, and which presumably was intended to fulfil its charter obligations to ensure Māori participation in programmes and planning?]

Hon TREVOR MALLARD (Minister of Broadcasting): Ka nui te mahi. However, employment matters are an operational issue for the chief executive.

Hone Harawira: Is the Minister aware that Television New Zealand (TVNZ) has put its Māori programming commissioner position on hold as a consequence of Te Māngai Pāho’s decision to delay any further funding rounds until June 2008, and can he explain to the House why this unprecedented delay in television funding has occurred?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: I understand that the positions have been delayed while decisions are made by Television New Zealand as to the future of the Māori programming, which does go to funding issues.

Pita Paraone: Does an increase in the use of the Māori language outside Māori-specific shows such as Te Karere and Marae form part of Television New Zealand’s charter obligations, and would the Minister agree that the shift of Te Karere and Marae to less popular timeslots shows TVNZ is paying only lip-service to its commitment under the charter to promote the Māori language?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: In response to the last part of the member’s question, I am advised by Television New Zealand that the screenings have increased from two to three times a day, and, in fact, that there has been a 75 percent increase in programme reach as a result of that.

Hone Harawira: If there is no new funding, how will Māori Television be able to create and produce the new Māori language channel, which is due to be launched in March of 2008?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: Clearly, these funding issues are things that are being worked through at the moment. Priorities have to be set, and there is a big debate about how much of the content should be on TVNZ and get a very broad spread, how much should be on the first Māori channel, and how much should be on the Māori language channel. That is something that gets worked through.

Hone Harawira: Is the Minister aware that in August 2007 Māori Television recorded its highest ratings ever with a monthly cumulative audience of 767,000 viewers, and how does he suppose that Māori Television can satisfy its ever-increasing demand for programmes, given that independent production companies will not be able to access any funding for new productions for at least another 6 months?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: I do not accept that the assertion in the last part of the member’s question is necessarily correct, but the member is right that the cumulative numbers are going very well. I am sure many members of this House are responsible for three or four of those viewings during that month.

Capital and Coast District Health Board—Performance Management

6. Hon TONY RYALL (National—Bay of Plenty) to the Minister of Health: Who is accountable for the performance of the Capital and Coast District Health Board?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE (Minister of Health): Under the Crown Entities Act 2004 and the New Zealand Public Health and Disability Act 2000, performance is the responsibility of the board itself. The board in turn is accountable to the Minister.

Hon Tony Ryall: Does the Minister realise how pathetic it sounds to blame everyone else for the calamities at Wellington Hospital, when he and his predecessor Labour Ministers have appointed the chairman, the deputy chairman, and the four board members, and have had countless reports on how bad things are at Wellington Hospital, and when it takes the death of a baby before this Government will do anything to fix the crisis at Wellington Hospital, after 8 long years?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: By informing the public and the House of my concerns, and the fact that I am preparing to intervene at the Capital and Coast District Health Board, it is quite clear that I take my responsibilities seriously.

Lesley Soper: Is the Minister satisfied with the performance of the current Capital and Coast District Health Board?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: No. As members may be aware, the chief executive resigned today, with immediate effect. As I indicated in a media release yesterday, the performance of the board raises a question as to what action now needs to be taken by me. I am considering a full range of options. An announcement will be made shortly. However, in doing this I pay tribute to the hard-working and competent staff of the Capital and Coast District Health Board who are continuing to do their best for the people of Wellington in difficult circumstances.

Barbara Stewart: Does the Minister consider that making an example of one district health board will do anything to solve the operational problems throughout the health system caused by staff shortages; if so, why?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: The member makes a good point. There are cross-cutting issues throughout the system, and they need to be dealt with at a system-wide level. This particular district health board’s issues are being dealt with in a way appropriate to the circumstances of this district health board.

Sue Kedgley: Why should the Dominion Post—or any other individual or organisation, for that matter—have to do battle for more than 2 years just to work out how many serious or fatal mishaps are occurring in the Capital and Coast District Health Board, and will he, under his watch, finally lift the veil of secrecy surrounding hospital mishaps and implement the repeated recommendations of the Health Committee that all district health boards be required to report publicly and transparently each year on the medical mishaps occurring in their hospitals?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: In fact, many of the 23 cases reported today have already been widely publicised. Although there does needs to be transparency, we also need to make sure that people will not hide their mistakes because of fear of media attention. That is why we have organisations and processes, such as the Health and Disability Commissioner, that report on events but leave out the names of people and organisations where appropriate.

Hon Peter Dunne: Will the Minister acknowledge that there have been problems within the Capital and Coast District Health Board, its predecessor, the Wellington Area Health Board, and its predecessor, the Wellington Hospital Board, for at least two decades, and that the problem is not one that will be resolved by rearranging the furniture, but, rather, a much more fundamental change, such as the immediate appointment of a commissioner to sort out Wellington Hospital’s problems, is what is required?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: As I confirmed publicly yesterday, I am taking advice on a wide range of options. As I repeated today, I have not made a decision yet on any of them. The member has a point; deep-rooted, systemic issues need a systemic fix.

Heather Roy: How many more people have to die at Wellington’s killer hospital before the board, with its head stuck in the sand, will be sacked?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: I imagine that ACT’s Wellington Central candidate to be is not expecting many votes from nurses or doctors in the region.

Rodney Hide: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. The Minister in his answer may comment on what he likes—it does not bother us—but he is required to address a question. There was a question. There was no attempt to address it. ACT gets one question a day. I think the Minister could do us the courtesy of answering it.

Madam SPEAKER: Yes. I ask the Minister to add to his answer.

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: I thank the member for the opportunity to clarify my answer. The essence of my response was as follows. In finding a way forward for the people of Wellington, it is not sufficient to simply run down the hard-working and dedicated medical and support staff at this district health board. There are systems issues that will be resolved. In the meantime, I suggest that all members of this House try their best to support the people who are trying to do good in our community.

Hon Tony Ryall: How does his earlier answer that the Capital and Coast District Health Board is to blame for everything fit with his predecessor’s undertaking that the buck stops with her, and with his statement that he is “running this show” now, when this is a Government that is happy to take the credit for any extra spending but when services fall over and people die it blames everybody else?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: The member may attempt to become the sand in this oyster, but I am afraid the grain is too small.

Madam SPEAKER: Perhaps the Minister would like to clarify his answer.

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: How much—[Interruption]

Madam SPEAKER: Members will be leaving the Chamber!

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: It is not quite clear how much clarity members opposite would like, but I am happy to say that I take extremely seriously my responsibilities under the two Acts that I have referred to today, and members should judge me by the actions of the coming week.

Hon Tony Ryall: Is not the action that this House is going to judge this Minister on the silly answer that he gave previously, when the hospital in this country’s capital is under crisis? We have had report after report about people dying, babies have died, and this lot opposite appointed the board that has overseen the collapse of the hospital. He just gives some smart alec comment in the House, when the hospital down the road is about to tip over.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. Where in that series of words is the question?

Madam SPEAKER: Yes, the member is correct, actually. I myself was struggling to find it. Would the member like to clarify what his question is as opposed to the statement he made?

Hon Tony Ryall: When will the Minister demonstrate to the people of Wellington that he actually takes their concerns seriously?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: The Minister has not stopped taking seriously the concerns of the people of Wellington, and every action that I take over the coming week will reflect that.

Hon Tony Ryall: Does the Government take any responsibility for the fact that it has appointed, over successive years in office, the chairman of the Capital and Coast District Health Board, the deputy chairman of the Capital and Coast District Health Board, and four of the board members of the Capital and Coast District Health Board, and for the fact that a number of the board members of the Capital and Coast District Health Board are on the Labour Party ticket, yet this Minister says this Government has no responsibility for the fact that the hospital in this country’s capital is in crisis?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: The member just refuses to listen. I have already informed the member of the appropriate responsibilities of the board, and of mine in its appointment.

Madam SPEAKER: Any further supplementary questions? The member should call. Does the member want a supplementary question? I cannot hear over the noise; the member should call.

Katrina Shanks: Does the Minister think the people of Wellington were misled by the previous board at the last election when it suppressed the damning quality report that warned that services were substandard, and suppressed the shocking dossier of endless mismanagement at Wellington Hospital; why was the board not honest with the people of Wellington?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: The member uses presumptions in her question that probably do not bear scrutiny. In the first place, the sentinel report was provided to the Ministry of Health, which has been working on it. Many of the matters raised have been worked on by the Health and Disability Commissioner, and were previously in the public domain.

Prescriptions—Subsidies

7. LESLEY SOPER (Labour) to the Minister of Health: Has he received any recent reports on subsidised medical prescriptions?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE (Minister of Health): Yes. Pharmac has recently announced that during 2006-07 close to 33 million prescriptions were subsidised, which is a rise of 11.8 percent on the previous year. The Medical Director of Pharmac, Dr Peter Moodie, says that the biggest factor in this is the Government’s policy on access to primary care, such as cheaper doctors’ visits and reduced co-payments. These policies reduce prescription charges to $3 a shot and have halved general practitioners’ fees.

Lesley Soper: Are these desirable gains in primary care secure for the future?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: Certainly not, were the Opposition’s announced policies of basing general practice fees on market forces to be implemented. Many years of gain in primary health care would be reversed.

Question No. 8 to Minister

GERRY BROWNLEE (National—Ilam): At 2 o’clock today the Ministry for the Environment released a statement in the name of the chief executive, Hugh Logan, offering an apology to Erin Leigh for the fact that the material provided to the Acting Minister on 22 November in which Mr Logan claimed that Erin’s Leigh’s work was incompetent was totally wrong, and stating that her media work was professional and of good quality. That renders the primary question on the sheet somewhat irrelevant. I am quite happy to ask it, because we have numerous other supplementary questions and it is now clear that Mr Mallard did in fact mislead the House in a very serious way. So I seek leave of the House to ask a different question but one that is related to the topic.

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

Hon TREVOR MALLARD (Minister for the Environment): Yes, there is objection. I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I just want to make it clear that the statement issued today does not in any way say that the advice given was totally wrong. Those words are not in the statement.

GERRY BROWNLEE (National—Ilam): I seek leave of the House to read the brief statement from Hugh Logan.

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

GERRY BROWNLEE (National—Ilam): I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I assume now that the only course of action open to us is for me to go through the farce of asking the question on the sheet, and then to deal with other matters in supplementary questions.

Madam SPEAKER: The decision is yours, Mr Brownlee.

State Services Commission—Inquiry into Curran Appointment

8. GERRY BROWNLEE (National—Ilam) to the Minister of Justice: Does she stand by all the responses given on behalf of the Minister of State Services by the Hon Trevor Mallard to oral question No. 6 on 22 November 2007; if not, why not?

Hon ANNETTE KING (Minister of Justice): Mr Mallard based his answers on advice he was given.

Gerry Brownlee: Has the Minister seen the statement from Hugh Logan saying: “I am concerned that written material provided to the Minister in preparation for a question in the House led to a reflection on the work of Ms Erin Leigh in 2005-06 that was not intended by the ministry.”; if so, how does she explain Trevor Mallard’s very explicit claim that six pieces of work by Ms Leigh demonstrated incompetence?

Hon ANNETTE KING: I can explain it in this way. I have been advised by the State Services Commissioner today: “I have seen the information that the Minister used, and I agree that the Minister’s comments were understandable. The basis for the comments can be found in the information.”

Gerry Brownlee: Has she seen the comment of Hugh Logan saying that Erin Leigh’s work was professional and of good quality; if so, how did Mr Mallard get it so wrong—was it a case of Mr Mallard reaching any conclusion he possibly could out of the information provided by the ministry in order to protect his colleague David Parker?

Hon ANNETTE KING: I realise the member has written out a number of questions, but he ought to have listened to my answer, because I have just told him that the State Services Commissioner has said today that he has seen the information the Minister used, and he agrees that the Minister’s comments were understandable. The information the Minister received from the Ministry for the Environment came from Mr Hugh Logan and was given to the Minister. The State Services Commissioner has said that with the information the Minister used, he agrees that the Minister’s comments were understandable and the basis for those comments can be found in that information. That says to the member that my colleague used the information he was given by the Ministry for the Environment. Mr Logan has also said that he did not intend the note to reflect on Ms Leigh’s performance, but rather it was an attempt to explain some of the circumstances around her departure.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. With respect, when that question was being answered there was a barrage from the back bench of the National Party, particularly from the two Bennetts, who sit side by side. They at no time kept quiet during the answers, and people down here cannot hear them. Frankly, if the National Party leadership fails to demonstrate any control over its back bench, then you should throw those members out and give us a fair go in the House to hear what the debate is about.

Madam SPEAKER: I thank the member, and I am afraid the Bennetts are on their last warning.

Gerry Brownlee: Is the Minister of State Services saying to the House and the whole country that it is OK for Trevor Mallard to come into this House, rip the career and reputation of Erin Leigh to bits, churn it through the mill by misinterpreting the information from Mr Hugh Logan, and that that is OK because the State Services Commissioner says it is OK?

Hon ANNETTE KING: No, that is not what I am saying. I am saying that it was made clear that the information the Minister used—the information provided by the Ministry for the Environment to the Minister, and which the Minister used—was the basis for the comments he made. The member is trying to turn this matter to his advantage rather than really caring about the reputation of Ms Leigh.

Hon Dr Michael Cullen: Has the information used by Mr Mallard been released into the public arena in its entirety; if not, at whose request has it not been released, and why?

Hon ANNETTE KING: Ms Leigh is very happy for the statement that Mr Logan has made today to be released, and I will table it at the end of the question, because Mr Brownlee would like everyone to see it. It does not need to be read out; it will be tabled, and the media and everybody can see it. But I do need to say that it was Ms Leigh who objected to the release of the original note; she said that was because it was damaging.

Gerry Brownlee: Does that mean that the Minister responsible for this particular case is now criticising Ms Leigh for not releasing documents that are clearly defamatory?

Hon ANNETTE KING: I am saying that Ms Leigh has every right to make that decision not to have the note released. I support her right to do that. As much as the member may want her to do that so he could make more political capital from it, that is her decision to make, not his.

Madam SPEAKER: It is becoming impossible to hear.

Gerry Brownlee: Why has it taken 2 weeks for the truth behind Mr Mallard’s baseless allegations to come out, and can we assume that this is another case of Mr Logan and Mr Prebble sitting quietly on their hands until it all got too hot, just as they did in the case of David Benson-Pope and as they are doing in the case of David Parker?

Hon ANNETTE KING: No.

Gerry Brownlee: Will the Government require the Hon Trevor Mallard to make an apology to Erin Leigh for his mistake?

Hon ANNETTE KING: No. The Minister used information provided to him by Mr Hugh Logan, the Secretary for the Environment. He used that information in good faith.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Will the Government require the State Services Commissioner to apologise for comments that seem to bear out Mr Mallard’s judgment, as read out by the Minister today?

Hon ANNETTE KING: I am acting in my capacity as the Minister of Justice in relation to the inquiry that is currently under way. That question ought to be directed to the Minister of State Services.

John Key: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I ask you to reflect on whether the Prime Minister has misled the House. Yesterday, in answering questions to me in relation to this matter, I asked the Prime Minister about the statements that Mr Mallard had made. Firstly, she said she had read the Hansard and she considered the statements Mr Mallard had made to be rather mild by his standards. We now know, of course, that Mr Logan was in the process of preparing the statement he released today. We now know that whatever interpretation the Government wants to put on it, Miss Leigh has been defamed. That is quite clearly the case. The Prime Minister said, in answer to a further question: “I have no evidence that anyone is being defamed”. Quite clearly, yesterday afternoon the Prime Minister would have been well aware that someone was being defamed and that someone had been defamed. That person is Erin Leigh. I put it to you, Madam Speaker, that the Prime Minister of New Zealand would have been fully aware of that situation. She would have had that knowledge when she came down to the House, and she has misled the House. So indeed has Mr Mallard, who quite clearly now knows that he has defamed Miss Leigh. Finally, Madam Speaker, I say maybe that would go towards answering the question of why, when I asked them yesterday, neither Mr Mallard nor the Prime Minister would repeat those statements outside the House—they have not done that.

Hon Dr Michael Cullen: Apart from the fact that the member is raising an issue of privilege, this is not the way to raise it. He should have been here long enough by now to know that. But, secondly, we are now getting into Alice Through the Looking Glass territory. What is being argued here is that Mr Mallard, basing his answer on information given to him by the head of his ministry, gave an answer in conformity with that information. That information may have been wrong. Mr Logan may have got his facts wrong, but Mr Mallard was entitled to give an answer. The Prime Minister gave an answer yesterday based on the information available at that point. Mr Logan made a statement this afternoon. To the best of my knowledge, that information was not available to the Prime Minister yesterday afternoon. Even this Prime Minister is not as prescient as that.

Madam SPEAKER: The member has raised a matter of privilege, and this is not the appropriate way to raise it. There is another way to do so, and if the member wishes to raise it he should do so appropriately. It is certainly not for the Speaker to judge the accuracy of members’ statements in this House; otherwise there would be no end to it.

John Key: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. Just in relation to the earlier point of order I raised, I wonder whether the Government will be advising us then on at exactly which point the Prime Minister was aware of the briefing note Mr Logan was putting out and the statement he intended to put out. I go back, Madam Speaker—

Madam SPEAKER: I am sorry; I do not want to interrupt the member, but that is not a point of order. We are now getting into debating matters. They are not points of order. I have ruled on that. There is a process in which to raise these matters. All members know that, and they should follow the correct procedure, please.

Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. There are a couple of things worth noting in this. The first thing is that Mr Logan’s statement today makes it clear that Miss Leigh notified the ministry that she was ending her contract and ceasing to work for it. The implications given to the House by Mr Mallard were that her work was not of a sufficient standard and that therefore she had to be replaced. That is quite a different matter. In any event, it means that the House has been misled.

Madam SPEAKER: I am sorry; I do not want to interrupt the member, but I do not know how many times I can say this. This is a matter of privilege. There is a process to follow. This is not the process. I do not want to hear any more points of order on this particular point. There is nothing more to be said. I am happy to receive communications from members in the appropriate way.

Hon ANNETTE KING: I seek leave to table the statement made by Hugh Logan, the Secretary for the Environment, at 2 p.m. today.

Leave granted.

Volunteers—Contribution

9. DARIEN FENTON (Labour) to the Minister of Statistics: What statistics has he received regarding the contribution to New Zealand made by volunteers?

Hon DARREN HUGHES (Minister of Statistics): Today is International Volunteer Day. It is an opportunity to honour and thank those Kiwis who give tirelessly of their time to our community. Statistics New Zealand is committed to recognising the part volunteers play in New Zealand life and has today released statistics about unpaid work. This information shows that 89 percent of people aged 15 years and over undertook some form of unpaid work. In addition this year Statistics New Zealand has for the first time been able to provide extra information on the over 1 million volunteers who on average spend 5.1 hours each week volunteering in our community.

Darien Fenton: How do these reported measures recognise the contribution of volunteers to New Zealand?

Hon DARREN HUGHES: The new Non-profit Institutions Satellite Account launched this August can now measure the value of the combined 270 million hours of volunteer time as being worth over $3.3 billion. This translates to the equivalent of 4.9 percent of GDP and demonstrates beyond question how reliant we are on volunteers in the community. So it is a great day to say thank you to all of them.

Land Transport New Zealand—Confidence in Board

10. Hon MAURICE WILLIAMSON (National—Pakuranga) to the Minister of Transport: Does she have confidence in the board of Land Transport New Zealand?

Hon ANNETTE KING (Minister of Transport): Yes.

Hon Maurice Williamson: How can a Minister have confidence in a board that finished the last financial year with $224 million of unspent land transport funding, which was in error by over 1,000 percent on what it had budgeted for?

Hon ANNETTE KING: Because every dollar of that money has been allocated to projects around New Zealand—projects that members in this House want to see done.

Hon Maurice Williamson: It is not spent; it’s not happening.

Hon ANNETTE KING: Although the money is not spent at this time, it has been allocated to projects. It will be spent. I compare that with that member’s record, where year after year the Government funding agency posted a deficit—in other words, it spent money it did not have.

Hon Maurice Williamson: What does it say about the funding process that Land Transport New Zealand adopts, when in an area like the Bay of Plenty, for example, a whopping $26 million of money has not been spent; and does that mean that there are simply no roading problems in the Bay of Plenty that qualify for the money?

Hon ANNETTE KING: It certainly does not mean that, and they will get the money. It means that the projects were not ready to be done in the financial year in which the money was voted.

Bob Clarkson: Whoo-hoo!

Hon ANNETTE KING: The good news for Mr Clarkson—and probably more so for Mr Peters, who will get the benefit of it—is that that money will be spent in the Bay of Plenty.

Hon Maurice Williamson: Why is the Minister at present trying to put legislation through this Parliament that will allow regions to increase the regional petrol tax by 10c, when in fact Land Transport New Zealand now has amassed a surplus of $329 million in cash alone that it cannot spend?

Hon ANNETTE KING: Because that money is allocated to projects around New Zealand, and those regions are entitled to the money. The regional fuel tax is for projects that particular regions want, over and above the money in the Land Transport Fund. People in the rest of New Zealand say that it is fair enough that there is a regional petrol tax in Auckland, for it to pay for its electrification. Why should Southland, Christchurch, Wellington, or other parts of New Zealand pay for a project that is not in their region and that is outside the money already allocated on a fair basis?

Hon Maurice Williamson: I repeat my question: how can the public have any confidence in a Government that is putting legislation through to increase further the petrol tax, when Land Transport New Zealand’s annual report shows that it has amassed, in cash and in investment assets, a whopping sum of $329 million of unspent money—cash and investment assets of $329 million—which would buy eight Kōpū bridges or five Warkworth bypasses, neither of which are on the 10-year radar for land transport spending?

Hon ANNETTE KING: In terms of expenditure in transport, that sum is a matter of weeks of expenditure, actually. I need to say to the member that in terms of the Government funding agency there have been surpluses and deficits, in relation to that account, going back for years. For example, when he was Minister there was a $68 million surplus in 1996-97, and when that is compared with the little amount the National Government spent on land transport at that stage, it was a large amount. Of course, we never heard a word about it then, so what we are hearing from this member today, in my view, is just hype.

Hon Maurice Williamson: Why has the Minister reappointed members of the board of Land Transport New Zealand to the establishment board of the new transport agency, when they have clearly demonstrated that they are totally incompetent and unable to run a portfolio like land transport?

Hon ANNETTE KING: I think that that is a very insulting comment. Board members have shown that they are able to manage billions of dollars and build transport infrastructure around New Zealand, mainly because they have been given the money to do it. Secondly, they have been prepared to spend billions, not a few hundred million.

Hon Maurice Williamson: No, they haven’t. They haven’t spent it.

Hon ANNETTE KING: They will spend that money, and they will spend it in the regions. Already they have projects for the next financial year from those regions.

Hon Maurice Williamson: That’s what they said last year.

Hon ANNETTE KING: I have to say to that member, when he comes in with a question like that: “Do your homework.” He should do his homework and have a look at his own record. Most of the time the member ran a deficit, so he spent money he did not have. Then he ran a surplus, but that was not worth mentioning.

Rail Network—Renationalisation

11. PETER BROWN (Deputy Leader—NZ First) to the Minister of Finance: Under what circumstances would the Government fully or partly renationalise the operation of the trains run by Toll Holdings?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Minister of Finance): If the result of the continuing negotiations with Toll showed that this was the only satisfactory way to achieve a strong, efficient rail transport network.

Peter Brown: Notwithstanding that Toll has won awards for innovation and efficiency, does the Minister recognise that if rail were publicly owned, it could open the door to all sorts of innovative practices that occur in railway services in some other countries?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: The Government’s aim is to have a strong, efficient rail transport network, and it needs certainty around the ongoing situation. We have never had a settled implementation of the National Rail Access Agreement. Within weeks, almost, of that being finalised, Toll was attempting to relitigate. Indeed, I think it is fair to say that the view around what Toll is worth is largely based on the extent to which it is assumed that the Government will actually implement the National Rail Access Agreement.

Peter Brown: Does the Minister accept that with public ownership it would be possible to lease part of the rail services out, either in the long term or the short term; introduce rail freight grants as occurs elsewhere; and indeed allow bus or other operators to operate trains for a particular event—in short, is he aware that public ownership could really bring our rail services into the 21st century?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: As I said, the Government hopes to achieve a strong, efficient rail transport network, and, as I have confirmed, all options are on the table in order to achieve that.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I seek leave to table an article from the Dominion of 21 July 1993, where the National Party sold off New Zealand Rail to its mates without any—

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

Police Management—Confidence

12. SIMON POWER (National—Rangitikei) to the Minister of Police: Does she have confidence in police management; if so, why?

Hon ANNETTE KING (Minister of Police): Yes; I am confident that police management are providing leadership and direction, and, where areas requiring improvement are identified, are taking action to address those areas.

Simon Power: Is it acceptable that an offender who has absconded while on home detention and had a warrant out for his arrest tried to hand himself into a police station a week later but was told to go away because he was not on the computer, only to allegedly brutally assault an 83-year-old woman a month later?

Hon ANNETTE KING: No, it is not.

Simon Power: Does she have confidence in the 111 emergency system, when it took four calls for police to respond to two distressed teenage girls who had run to a nearby house after being held against their will by King Cobra gang members, only for the patrol car to turn up an hour later and after the girls had resorted to escaping by taxi?

Hon ANNETTE KING: I am always saddened to hear stories where there has been a failure in the 111 system, but I say to the member that huge improvements have been made in the 111 system since the review that was undertaken by my predecessor, George Hawkins. With the investment in terms of funding and staff that has gone into it, we now see a much-improved service from the 111 call line. It is unacceptable when it does not work, but there are times when errors are made.

Simon Power: Is she concerned that police have claimed that they were not aware of warrants to arrest Graeme Burton until 3 January this year, when they failed to pick up the two warrants issued on 22 December last year and then failed to act on the warrant to recall Burton issued on 29 December that had been hand delivered to the Wellington Central Police Station?

Hon ANNETTE KING: Yes, and the police advise me that they recognise there are some failings in the current systems associated with the transfer of information between agencies. These issues are being addressed by the police and the agencies, and I believe they will ensure this is not something that will happen in the future.

Simon Power: Why did police refuse to provide affidavits to back up their claims to the Department of Corrections about Burton’s criminal activities while on parole when they already had sufficient evidence to raid his house at the end of November, when it is the Parole Board that decides whether there are sufficient grounds for recall on the basis of whether he posed a risk to public safety, rather than whether he had committed any crimes?

Hon ANNETTE KING: I am unable to provide the member with that answer. I would need to ask the police why they did not provide those affidavits, and I am happy to do that for the member.

Question No. 8 to Minister

GERRY BROWNLEE (National—Ilam): I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I ask you to turn your attention to Speaker’s ruling 157/6. There are a number of things in this House that have developed over a period of time and become the conventions of the House. One of the conventions that I have always understood, for all the time I have been here, is that when a Minister makes a mistake in an answer, he or she at the first opportunity comes to the House and uses the provisions of the personal explanation procedure to make a correction, in order that the House is not misled. The earliest opportunity that Trevor Mallard would have had to correct this matter was yesterday. Given his failure to do so, I assume—given your comments before—that your advice to us would be that we have no alternative other than to bring a privilege charge against Mr Mallard.

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Leader of the House): The member made an assertion in that statement that is factually incorrect, to the best of my knowledge. He seems to have assumed that Mr Mallard was aware of what was going to be said by Mr Logan yesterday. There is no evidence for that at this point, at all. I might also say that Ministers give answers on the basis of the information available to them. If one is required to come to the House to make a correction if, some considerable time later, information comes to hand that suggests the answer was incorrect, one could end up rather endlessly coming to the House to make corrections.

Gerry Brownlee: Madam Speaker—

Madam SPEAKER: I am sorry but I do not want this matter pursued. This is precisely why the appropriate procedure is to refer the matter to me in writing, so that it can be fully investigated—so that we do not get into this kind of debate, which cannot be resolved here. The member, of course, if he wishes, is free to do so.

Questions to Members

Corrections, Department—Financial Review 2006-07

1. SIMON POWER (National—Rangitikei) to the Chairperson of the Law and Order Committee: When does the committee expect to report on the 2006-07 financial review of the Department of Corrections?

MARTIN GALLAGHER (Chairperson of the Law and Order Committee): The committee is in the final stages of its consideration of the 2006-07 financial review of the Department of Corrections, and we expect to report back to the House very soon.

Simon Power: When is the committee scheduled to make a decision on whether to support an inquiry into the Department of Corrections, now that it has a fairly light work programme, as it has postponed it numerous times since I first put it on the agenda in January 2006?

MARTIN GALLAGHER: That issue is currently before the committee. I cannot comment on proceedings that are still before the committee and are thus confidential.

Simon Power: Perhaps I could help. I seek leave to table a media statement from the committee of today’s date, advising that the matter of an inquiry into the Department of Corrections will be further considered on 20 February 2008.

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

Monetary Policy Framework—Progress

2. Dr the Hon LOCKWOOD SMITH (National—Rodney) to the Chairperson of the Finance and Expenditure Committee: What progress has been made on the inquiry into the future monetary policy framework?

CHARLES CHAUVEL (Chairperson of the Finance and Expenditure Committee): I am pleased to report that the committee has made sound progress on this inquiry. We have completed hearings. We heard from a wide range of interested parties and experts on matters relating to the inquiry. We have also spent time with our advisers to plan the timetable for considering the evidence and the issues raised during the hearings. The committee is optimistic that it will be able to complete its consideration of the inquiry by March 2008.

Dr the Hon Lockwood Smith: Can he confirm, under the terms of reference requiring the committee to examine the role of productivity, that official statistics received by the committee show that growth in both labour and multi-factor productivity since 2000 has fallen to less than half that achieved from 1990 to 2000, limiting the economy’s potential for non-inflationary growth under Labour’s policies—

Madam SPEAKER: No, that would seem to be a matter for the committee. The member may answer about process matters but not matters of substance. I will give the member one more go to ask his supplementary question.

Dr the Hon Lockwood Smith: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. The question related specifically to the terms of reference of the inquiry.

Madam SPEAKER: But it is before the committee, and I think it is a marginal call. I am happy to let you have another go, but we do not want to get into matters that are before the committee, and we do not want the chair to be asked to make a comment on matters that are inappropriate. But the member may have another supplementary question.

Dr the Hon Lockwood Smith: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. The question was very carefully worded, because I did not mention information that only the committee has. You will note that I referred to official statistics that the committee has, and those are official, public figures. So I am not asking the member to comment—

Madam SPEAKER: Can the member address that question without going into the considerations of the committee.

CHARLES CHAUVEL: I cannot confirm the matter that the member has adverted to. What I can confirm is that the material received by the committee on that question indicates that the evidence on it to date is inconclusive.

Dr the Hon Lockwood Smith: I seek leave to table the official statistics that show exactly what I said.

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

Capital and Coast District Health Board—Child Cancer Services

3. Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN (National—Northcote) to the Chairperson of the Health Committee: Has the committee been briefed by the Capital and Coast District Health Board on what steps it is taking with regard to child cancer services in Wellington; if so, when is the committee expected to report to the House?

SUE KEDGLEY (Chairperson of the Health Committee): Yes, the Health Committee has been briefed by the Capital and Coast District Health Board, and I am hopeful that the committee will be able to report to the House as soon as possible and in the very near future, but, obviously, as the member well knows, that is a matter for the committee to decide.

Dr Jonathan Coleman: Does the committee intend to call any other witnesses for this inquiry, and will the parents of child cancer patients have the chance to appear before the committee to tell their stories about their experiences at the Capital and Coast District Health Board?

SUE KEDGLEY: As the member well knows, I cannot reveal what the committee is doing, before it has deliberated upon the matter, so I cannot answer the question as to whether we will be calling further evidence at this stage.

Housing Affordability—Inquiry

4. PHIL HEATLEY (National—Whangarei) to the Chairperson of the Commerce Committee: What progress has been made on the committee’s inquiry into housing affordability in New Zealand?

GERRY BROWNLEE (Chairperson of the Commerce Committee): The committee has made good progress with this inquiry, having heard from 41 submitters between May and November, with another nine or more to be heard towards the end of this year and going into next year. There has been general acknowledgment amongst submitters that two main factors are influencing housing costs. The first is the escalating value of land, and the second is the cost and time spent working through the Resource Management Act and Building Act hurdles in order to build on that land. It further points to two main factors preventing young people from buying houses in such a costly environment—those are relatively low take-home pay, and interest rates that are now the highest in the Western World.

Phil Heatley: Has the committee received any Government reports confirming the general observation of submitters that land costs and regulatory costs are driving up house prices?

GERRY BROWNLEE: The committee has received a report entitled Housing Supply in the Auckland Region 2000-2005. It was prepared for the Housing New Zealand Corporation and the Department of Building and Housing, and states: “A number of factors have constrained supply. One of these has been a limited supply of land. Another contributor has been difficulties in the consent process, especially its time consuming nature; … The RMA process”—the Government’s own report says—“needs to be revamped …”. However, I have not seen any Government reports stating the Government will address land supply issues, compliance, consent costs, help get interest rates under control, or, for that matter, improve take-home pay for young New Zealanders.

ENDS


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